Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chapter Eleven

There is a downside to making a pit stop. As much is I love the proverbial Slim Jim and Fanta, slowing down means you get to your destination later. And as fun as the last post was, I still have to actually slog through chapter eleven properly.

If you didn't get enough speechifying in chapter ten, well, hold on, chapter eleven is the headline act. Danny Bailey, Youtube sensation and mavericky straight-talker!

Before he hits the stage, Noah is getting the metaphoric tear in his beer on (is that metaphoric or proverbial? Nevermind) at his otherwise empty table by the stage. "He'd briefly considered playing a drinking game with himself, wherein he would pound one back each time he heard one of the dirty words progressive, socialist, or globalism, but by those rules he'd have drunk himself under the table within a few minutes." It's actually an interesting observation, as if Beck is acknowledging just how ridiculous the movement is.

I mean, Socialism? Really? Does anyone truly believe we, as a country, are on the verge of, heading toward, or anywhere remotely near Socialism? Because, let me tell you: We're not. And if you think we are, you have no idea what Socialism is.

Hollis sits down with Noah, because he looked kind of sad, according to the big man. How nice of him. Or maybe Hollis is just keeping an eye on Noah. Nah, if that were the case, Noah would have noticed, what with his "almost supernatural ability to tell when a person is hiding something."

Noah's night goes from bad to worse:

Tonight's headliner, the illustrious Danny Bailey, now took to the stage in a swell of heavy-metal music and an ovation that rattled every shelf of glassware behind the bar.

"Hello, New York!" Bailey shouted, like an aging rock star kicking off his annual farewell tour. He held out the microphone to pump up the roar of the answering crowd and made no move to settle them down. On the contrary, the clamor continued until he produced a piece of paper and took back the mike almost a full deafening minute later.

God damn if people just don't love Youtube stars! Anyway. If you listened to the audio of the speech, you'll already know something about Bailey's speech: It reads better than it it sounds out loud. Which is really saying something. This only goes on for a few pages, and I am going to spoil the end here, because Bailey is interrupted before he can finish. Oh, what thrilling thing happens, you ask? Does Blackwater storm the place? Does the fire marshal shut down the bar? Does America's crumbling infrastructure lead to a sudden power outage? Oh, just you wait. It's even better than all of those ideas!

Bailey continues:

Watch what they name things. If they call something the Patriot Act, you can bet it won't be long before they're using it to hunt down us patriots. If it's called Net Neutrality, it's going to be used to neutralize their enemies. If it's called the Fairness Doctrine, it's meant to un fairly put free speech under government control and create a chilling effect on your First Amendment rights.

That's right, kids, in an Orwellian twist, those bills are all named the opposite of what they really are! The Patriot Act is for rounding up patriots! Net Neutrality is for neutralizing dissenters. (Okay, that's not really an opposite.) The Fairness Doctrine is to unfairly do something to the First Amendment. God damn if Danny Bailey isn't a genius.

Plus, he has lots of paper. Like Beverly before him, Bailey makes his point by dangling papers in front of his audience. He's sort of a patirotic prop comic, but not funny. Like Carrottop.

Blah blah blah... Bailey goes on about unemployment ("almost forty percent if you're a young black man") and prisons ("of all the world's prisoners, we've got twenty-five percent of them right here in this country"), yet fails to make the connection between poverty and crime.

He does however note that the government is hiring Internment and Resettlement Specialists like nobody's business. There's more papers, more factoids, more statistics.

"And here"—he squinted as he read briefly from the document on top of his stack—"United States Air Force Civil Disturbance Plan 55-2 will authorize and direct the secretary of defense to use the U.S. armed forces to restore law and order in the event of a crisis. Under this umbrella plan they ran an exercise in 1984—so you see they do have a sense of humor—and that exercise was called Rex-84. The purpose was to see how efficiently they could pick up and corral all those disobedient Americans on their lists."

Bailey held up document after document as he continued. "What lists, you ask? All kinds of them. The FBI's ADEX list from the late 1960s—ADEX, that stands for Agitator Index—it was full of dangerous intellectuals, union organizers, and people who spoke out against the Vietnam War. Now there's almost a million and a half people on the DHS Terrorist Watch List, and it's growing by twenty thousand names every month.

"Have you registered a firearm? You're on a list! Have you made a political contribution to a third-party candidate? You're on a list! Have you visited my website? You're on a list! Have you given a speech about government lists to a rowdy group of patriots? You're on a list!

So, yeah. Big Brother is watching you, and making lists, and checking them twice (sorry) and you better be careful. They're hiring Internment Specialists to round everyone up. (Not really.) It would seem grim. If you lacked critical thinking skills.

It's interesting how Beck throws out all this random data, never really ties any of it together, not sufficiently anyway. Take that bit about the ADEX from the Sixties. What the fuck does that have to do with the DHS Terrorist Watch List? It is implied there is some connection between the two. But that's all it is. They are mentioned in the same paragraph, so I think we're to infer there is some credence to the plot fifty years in the making. But vague innuendoes aren't facts.

And this is when things start to get personal for Noah.

"Oh, and this just in, thanks to our friends on the Internet—a place where, at least for now, we can track them as easily as they can track us."

Noah felt his face getting hot. In Bailey's hand was a printout of the leaked government memorandum from that afternoon meeting at the office, the one he'd spent his entire morning trying to nullify. It was effectively harmless now, it was a nonissue, and he repeated that to himself, but the smug look coming from the guy onstage had already gotten under his skin.

"... if you speak out against abortion," Bailey continued, reading from the memo, "are a returning veteran, are a defender of the Second Amendment, oppose illegal immigration, are a homeschooler, if you've got a bumper sticker on your car that says 'Chuck Baldwin for President' or, heaven help us, if you're found to be in possession of a copy of the U.S. Constitution, then you good American patriots, you moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas, you guardians of liberty are to be approached with extreme caution and guns at the ready, because you may be a terrorist!"

Whoops! The leak that Doyle and Merchant thought they had fixed? Turns out: Not so much. They better check with HR, make sure no teabaggers are on the payroll. First place to look: The copy room. Or the mail room. Yeah, check the mail room! Also, see if anyone's been hanging up flyers aroung the office. Just a suggestion.

Oh, and about the line "heaven help us, if you're found to be in possession of a copy of the U.S. Constitution..." Wasn't Beverly just telling everyone to carry a copy with them at all times? But Bailey says that'll get you "on a list." Which is it? Maybe this is why I don't know what the teabaggers want: They don't know what they want.

There stuff about the Enduring Constitutional Government, Constitution Free Zones, a "continuous state of national emergency" blah blah blah.

"It looks bad, I know it does," Bailey began. "But do you know why we're going to beat them? We're going to beat them because once the truth gets out there'll be no stopping it. When enough people wake up they'll have no choice but to come out of the shadows and fight, and then we've got them. Remember what a great man once told us: First they ignore you—then they ridicule you—then they fight you—"

"And then they win," Noah said.

Uh oh! All eyes on Noah! Then the chapter wraps. Dang, what will happen next? Oh, the thrills! Chapter twelve, here I come!

Oh, and if anyone can guess what happens in chapter twelve, you get a prize.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chapter Ten

This one hurt.

It was like my own personal hell.

My own personal, badly written, nonsensical hell.

Eight of the nine pages in chapter ten are Molly's mother's speech at the teabag party. Oh Maude, what a speech it is. Pure neocon bullshit. I read the whole speech, and I hated every word of it. Empty, self-aggrandizing, pseudo-patriotic claptrap.

Beverly Emerson, Director emeritus, Founders' Keepers, according to Molly's flyer, takes the stage and lets go with a James Madison quote, as if to prove her patriot cred. She then sets about railing against corruption and power and Carrol Quigley's Tragedy and Hope. She continues, lambasting big government and the nanny state, lying the blame for that at Herbert Croly's feet.

His writings lived on, and they influenced every fundamental change brought on by what became known as 'the progressive movement' in the first half of the twentieth century, from the Federal Reserve Act and the income tax to the spiral into crushing debt and dependence that began with the New Deal.

Yeah, fuck the New Deal! The whole Depression was designed to weed out the weak, amirite? But seriously? Who pisses about the New Deal, for fuck's sake? Oh, yeah: Libertarians, neocons, and social Darwinists.

Beverly again sets her sights on corrupt politicians.

Danger comes when good intentions are hijacked and perverted by the culture of corruption—when those elected to represent us begin to act not for your own good, but for their own gain.

It’s the same today. People who, for their own gain, would replace equal justice with social justice, trade individual freedom for an all-powerful, all-knowing central government, forsake the glorious creative potential of the American individual, the beating heart of this nation, for a two-class society in which the elites rule and all below them are all the same: homogenized, subordinate, indebted, and powerless.

Oh, those elites and their tricksy homogenization. They wish to stomp on the heartbeat of America, what with their regulations and their rules that impede "the glorious creative potential of the American individual."

Out of kindness here, I am going to try not to quote too much. (Feel free to thank me by buying me something off of my Amazon wish list.) Noah looks around the room now and notices there are a few more interlopers, all with video cameras, recording Beverly's speech. There is more about lobbyists and elites and republics. But then it really gets good.

Beverly compares the size of the U.S. Constitution to the Federal Tax Code. Oh my! The tax code is 67,000 pages long! The Constitution just a few. So, I think what Beverly is getting at here is that the tax code is unwieldy, compared to the lithe little Constitution. Umm, okay. Fair enough. I'm not sure what that proves. But it is certainly something.

I do think I am beginning to understand what the teabaggers want: Lower taxes. Does that make Steve Forbes the Godfather of Teabaggers. There's more here about imbalances in power, different classes, fairness.

Our message of equal justice is impossible for any honest person to refute. How do I know that? Because it was the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Umm... what?

Let that settle for a moment.

Yeah, that's right. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now, remember a while back when Beck was saying his rally of angry white folk just happening to be on the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech was nothing more than a coincidence. Well, at first he said it was unintentional, then he said it was "divine providence."

And maybe that could be believable. Maybe. (The part about it being unintentional, not the bit about providence.) Except that Beverly goes on for a whole page about Dr. King, finishing up with this:

All we must do is find the strength and the wisdom to awaken our friends and neighbors, take back our power under the law, and restore what’s been forgotten. Restore. Not adapt, not transform ... restore.

Beck's Restoring Honor rally echoes too closely Beverly's speech in his book to be mere coincidence. It's branding. It's a tie-in. It's a marketing and PR coup. That last bit reminds me of something, now that I think about it.

Americans are still a fair and just people. They know the difference between racism and race-baiting, between violence and accusations of violence, between hatred and patriotism. Let them weigh the evidence for as long as they need, because when the verdict comes down, we will once again be on the right side.

Ah, yes. Americans know "the difference between racism and race-baiting." We're so post-racial. America is a multicultural paradise! Wait, no. White people aren't racist! That's what she meant.

This, perhaps (though I am open to suggestions otherwise) is the most ridiculous moment of the chapter:

Just like Dr. King, we aim to eliminate evil, not those who perpetrate it. To speak of violence in any form is to play right into the hands of those who oppose us. They’ve already invested countless hours into portraying us as violent, hateful racists, and they are just waiting for the chance to further that story line. Don’t give it to them. Instead of Bill Ayers, give them Benjamin Franklin. Instead of Malcolm X, give them Rosa Parks. Instead of bin Laden, give them Gandhi.

As an exercise, go ahead and parse the comparisons made by Beverly: Bill Ayers and Benjamin Franklin. Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. bin Laden and Ghandi. If you're not laughing you've more mettle than I. And if you're incensed, well, that's perfectly natural too.

Noah notes how Beverly has the crowd "in the palm of her hand." It's one of those expository moments that shouldn't need to be said, wouldn't need to be said if all the pages leading up to it were at all compelling. If the author needs to tell us the speech was electrifying, then it probably wasn't.

Beverly asks god to bless America (duh!) and exits the stage "as a Toby Keith song began to play over the sound system." Really.

Maude help me, that was brutal. And I feel as though I should apologize for quoting as much as I did. Eight pages and nothing was said, really. Not so much. Nothing anyone with even a passing understanding of Beck's worldview wouldn't already be aware of. This is one thrilling thriller.

All that is left now is for Noah and Molly to discuss the presentation.

Needless to say, PR weasel that he is, Noah is noncommittal. He doesn't like to discuss politics. Molly, for her part, has had her fill of Noah for the evening, and storms off.

Awww, Noah, you blew it!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chapter Nine

Well, this is a disappointment. "Being between tans, Noah had opted to change his clothes in private." I know, I know! You were all looking forward to Noah disrobing in front of Molly. That'll have to wait.

The restroom at the Stars 'n Stripes reeks of weed, and Noah speculates that maybe the "single-issue hemp-heads ... were here to attach their cause to the larger group's ambitions." Noah knows what the group's ambitions are? Because I sure as hell don't. Not in this novel, not in real life.

Noah returns to the pub and engages in behaviour he knows is "a little creepy": He spies on Molly and her new table-mate from across the crowded pub. (Nevermind that earlier the pub was described as being so crowded "it was impossible to keep to a straight line as he walked," now it's clear enough to ogle his date from across the room.) Hollis (the Winnie the Pooh guy) has gone and a new man is sitting at the table with Molly.

They were sitting close together, hand on hand, talking and whispering, intent on one another, each finishing thoughts for the other, laughing easily. It was an intimate relaxation between them, a togetherness without any pretense, the kind of closeness you see only rarely between siblings, and sometimes among old friends, but often between two people in love.

Uh oh. Noah's getting jealous.

Hollis appears next to Noah, busting his creepy spy routine. There's a short conversation. Noah zeroes in on Hollis' accent (Appalachian) as the man offers up some exposition. The guy at the table is Danny Bailey. Noah pretends he doesn't care about Molly. The author repeatedly mentions Hollis' hulking frame. (Will that be important later?) Lastly, Hollis says "To be honest I don't know that much about him. But he scares me some."

Oh my!

Noah returns to the table and meets Danny.

If the twinkle in his deep voice was any indication, Bailey found himself pretty damned amusing. He had the air of someone who was accustomed to being seen from a stage or on camera and had put his look together accordingly. He was handsome enough, but up close you could see all the things the footlights would obscure.

In my mind, Danny is played by Stephen Baldwin. (Again courtesy of Joe Mande.) That doesn't mean you have to imagine him as Stephen Baldwin. But in all honesty, it's something I often do: casting famous people as characters in books. When I read Harry Potter, Neville Longbottom looked just like Sal Mineo in my head.

There is a silly conversation between Noah and Danny, the highlights of which I will share now:

"So, you must be Noah. Molly's told me almost nothing about you."

"I'm not surprised. We hardly know each other, and what she knows so far, I doubt she likes too much."

"Here's to new friends, and maybe a new fan."

"I'm sorry, you said a new fan?"

"Don't tell me you haven't seen the video."

Noah blinked, and shook his head.

"Overthrow, man, the video. It's gonna bring on the total downfall of the whole frickin' evil empire, thirty-five million views on YouTube. That's me. I'm shocked, you really haven't seen it? There's e-mails about me flying around all over the Internet."

"Well, I guess I've got a really good spam filter."

For a long moment the legendary Danny Bailey looked like he'd just been double-smacked across his face with the ceremonial dueling gloves.

"Down, boys," Molly said.

If you remember, back in chapter one, I joked about the inevitable Youtube reference that would pop up. Here it is. Not only that, but we have a veritable Youtube star in our novel. God damn if this book isn't timely and relevant!

Danny downs a couple shots and runs to the stage. Molly explains that "Danny's a good guy, he's just living in the past of this movement." Again with the nebulous "movement." Maybe I was supposed to ready Dick Armey's Teabagger Manifesto before picking up The Overton Window. Molly continues:

"You'll see what I mean when he speaks tonight. He doesn't have much of a BS-filter, and he gets people fired up about the wrong things, when there are plenty of real things to fight against. But, there's no denying he gets a lot of attention."

Then Molly and Noah get their eHarmony moment and tell each other something the other doesn't know about them.

"I have an almost supernatural ability to tell when a person is hiding something."

"No, you don't."

"I do. While the other kids went to Cub Scouts I was sitting behind one-way glass eating M&Ms and watching about a million focus groups. I know people." He thumped his temple with an index finger. "Human lie detector."

M&Ms! For authenticity! Right? I don't know. What an odd little fact to drop into the text. It fits, I guess, since everything about the writing is strange.

Noah identifies someone in the crowd, "an infiltrator," who doesn't belong. Oh, yeah, it gets better. Or worse, depending:

Molly nodded, took a deep breath, and then climbed up to stand on the seat of her stool and shouted across the bar. "Hey, you!" She pointed to the man in question, who had turned to face her along with most of those nearby. "Enjoying the show, are you? Look, everybody! We've got a Benedict Arnold in the house!"

Oh, that Molly Ross! What a firebrand! What a scamp! "I can sometimes be a little impulsive," she tells Noah.

Oh yes, he is definitely going to fall for her now, isn't he? He already did in chapter one, but now he's really, really in love.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chapter Eight

In my last post, I mentioned that getting shooshed by a car in the rain was a cliché. A whole bunch of readers (probably secret teabaggers, the lot of them) claimed they had had that happen in real life. So, the shooshing may be a cliché, but apparently it still happens. My apologies to the shooshed. May justice one day be yours. Now that that's cleared up...

I'm fifty pages into the book now. Fifty pages. That's a fairly big chunk of the story. Allow me a moment to sum up what's happened so far. I'll even do it in bullet points, for true Darthur Gardner authenticity.

  • Prologue: Eli Churchill makes a phone call, is assassinated
  • Chapter one: Noah buys a Tootsie Roll
  • Chapter two: Molly hangs up a flyer
  • Chapter three: Darthur plots to overthrow the government
  • Chapter four: Noah makes some phone calls
  • Chapter five: Noah walks down a hall
  • Chapter six: Noah is briefly detained by Blackwater
  • Chapter seven: Noah walks in the rain
Fifty pages and not much of anything has happened. There was a little bit in chapter three and a little in six. But mostly it's been filler. It feels to me as if Beck has maybe a 30 page story here and is desperately trying to stretch it out to 300. The two page chapters might give the illusion that the story is moving briskly along, but the truth is there's just nothing really happening here.

In chapter eight, Noah arrives at the Stars 'n Stripes, and is stunned by the size of the crowd. He thinks perhaps he should "write off this whole wretched night, and get home to that nice, hot Jacuzzi." But he heads inside.

And it's at this point that Beck really drifts into fantasyland.
Live music from inside was filtering out through the buzz of the crowd. There were so many people it was impossible to keep to a straight line as he walked. The diversity of the gathering was another surprise; there seemed to be no clear exclusions based on race, or class, or any of the other traditional media-fed American cultural divides. It was a total cross section, a mix of everyone—three-piece suits rubbing elbows with T-shirts and sweat pants, yuppies chatting with hippies, black and white, young and old, a cowboy hat here, a six-hundred-dollar haircut there—all talking together, energetically agreeing and disagreeing as he moved through them. In the press, these sorts of meetings were typically depicted as the exclusive haunts of old white people of limited means and even more limited intelligence. But this was everybody.
Look, if Beck and his teabagging buddies want to pretend their group of mostly-white, upper-middle class, racist tax dodgers are not a group of mostly-white, upper-middle class, racist tax dodgers (or whatever it is they're pissed off about), that's fine by me. But don't blame that on the press. Don't blame that on the media. And while you're at it, Beck, please stop pretending you're not part of that very American media that feeds "traditional American cultural divides."

Up on stage at the Stars 'n Stripes, someone vaguely Dylanesque sings a folk song, much to Noah's delight.
This music and the mood it was creating, it was a smart PR move if they could make it work. If their enemies were trying to paint them as a bunch of pasty-white NASCAR-watching, gun-toting, pickup-driving reactionaries with racist and violent tendencies, what better ploy could these people make than to subtly invoke the peace-loving spirits of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi? If nothing else it would drive their critics on the left right up the wall.
I'll leave to you to sort out. I'm not even going to bother.

Noah bumps into Molly, literally, and she leads him to a table near the stage. ("In a higher-class joint, seats this close would have been reserved for the VIPs.") As he orders a Sam Adams, she runs off to find him a dry shirt.

Molly returns momentarily with a friend in tow, "an enormous bearded man in jumpsuit coveralls and a Beech-Nut baseball cap." For some reason, the man, identified as Hollis [what an authentic, down home name!], has a voice like Winnie-the-Pooh. Seriously, that's how he's described.

She hands him a hoodie, and tells him to change. Noah, prima donna that he is, is aghast at the idea of changing his shirt in the crowded bar.

And... scene! Discuss.

[Note: There will be no Overton post tomorrow, as I've got plans this evening. I've a little teabagging of my own lined up tonight.]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chapter Seven

Okay, yesterday I mentioned this cab ride Noah took, and I admit, it was kind of bothering me.

The cab mounted the curb and surged forward at a twenty-degree tilt, half on and half off the street, threading the needle between a hot-dog cart and a candied-nut wagon on the sidewalk and the line of incredulous fellow drivers to the left.

That twenty-degree tilt really stuck in my craw. And because I'm weird about things like that, I sat down and figured out, like I'm one goatee away from being a fucking Mythbuster, what it would take to get a typical NYC taxi to tilt at twenty degrees.

I chose the Ford Crown Victoria, which, with no real evidence, I assume is the most common of taxi vehicles in the U.S. I did a little googling and found out the Crown Vic has a track width of about 65". Applying that figure, and the twenty degree angle to the Pythagorean Theorem, I discovered, that to get a five-and-a-half foot wide car to tilt at twenty degrees, you'd need some pretty steep curbs.

Twenty-two and half inches, more or less.

Now, it's been a long time since I've been to New York, but I certainly do not recall the city having curbs that were two feet high. I am also fairly certain that if they were that high, no taxi cab outside of a Hummer would be able to get up them.

All of which is to say this book really has some sloppy ass writing. But we already knew that. And one other thing: All this talk of Lenny's pastrami sandwiches, and crazed cabbies, and candied-nut wagons, it makes me wonder. Has the author ever been to New York? Or is he just using a Rough Guide as his sole source of information on the marvels (and perils!) of big city life?

Nevermind. That was all last chapter. What about this one? Well, Beck is back to his old self. Some might call it filler. Others might call it padding. I call it another chapter where nothing happens. Something happens, sure: Noah walks in the rain, but it isn't very interesting.

Unable to hail another cab, and being, I guess, completely unaware that New York City has one of the finest public transportation infrastructures in the world, Noah decided to "suck it up and hoof it rather than risk another ill-fated ride." Which, again, gives our author an excuse to serves us another tired cliché. An opportunity he never passes up:

Noah had drifted close to the curb on the sidewalk, an error no seasoned pedestrian should ever commit when it's been raining. Right on cue a city bus roared by, shooshed through a sinkhole puddle the size of Lake Placid, and a rooster tail of oily gutter water splashed up and soaked him to the waist.

Seriously? That shit doesn't even happen in the movies anymore.

Okay, so Noah heads to his teabagging party, and thinks, guiltily, about the cabbie being dragged away by Blackwater goons. But he pushes the scene from his mind, rationalizing away his complicity:

First of all, buddy, I'm not your friend. Second, it wasn't my responsibility. And third, there is no third required. You can't take them all under your wing. Once you start trying to rescue everybody, where would it ever stop?

Yeah, once you start trying to rescue everybody, where would it ever stop? Which is sort of the Libertarian ideal, isn't it? Fuck everyone else, right? Not that Noah is supposed to be admired, not yet. He's still in need of a Great Transformation, in which he goes from spoiled, selfish turd, to teabagging patriot fighting for freedom. Or whatever the teabagging types want. I'm still not sure, and they've been around for a good six or seven months now.

Noah thinks about his father, and his billions, and his thirst for power. (And really, did I just write "thirst for power"? Speaking of clichés.) It's also hinted that Noah doesn't really think Darthur is going to overthrow the government. It's all just a PR exercise, "empty carnival-barking." Now, it seems to me, that Noah may be as dumb as a fucked cake, so I am not sure how he's supposed to help save America from the New World Order. One moment he's in awe of his father's quest for power, and in the same breath he's shrugging off the whole NWO thing.

Maybe it's not Noah who's a dumbass. Maybe it's the author.

But, at long last, Noah reaches his destination, "the Stars 'n Stripes Saloon, a charming, rustic little dive down here in Tribeca." (Tribeca, for authenticity.)

The Stars 'n Stripes was known as something of a guilty pleasure, a little patch of down-home heartland kitsch complete with friendly, gorgeous waitresses, loud Southern rock on the jukebox, and cheap domestic beer on tap.

Because New Yorkers hate the heartland. At best, they find it kitschy, what with its love of domestic beer and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ha ha! Rubes! Those east coast elites, always looking down their noses at real Americans.

Noah had been holding out hope that the rally, or whatever it turned out to be, would be sparsely attended and quiet enough to allow him to corner this Ross woman for a quality conversation. The odds of a low turnout seemed pretty good. After all, how many right-wing nutcases could possibly live in this enlightened city, and how many among them would knuckle-drag themselves out of their subbasement bunkers for a club meeting on a chilly, rainy Friday night?

The depressing answer to that question, he saw as he rounded the final turn, was absolutely all of them.

I hope this transformation of Noah comes soon. I don't know if we can stick by him if he's gonna bad-mouth knuckle-draggers (Beck's audience, teabaggers) through this entire book. That being said, I am soooooooooo looking forward to stepping inside the Stars 'n Stripes with him.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chapter Six

Finally! Something happens! It's silly, but that's par for the course, so far. "So far"? Like suddenly this book is going to turn the proverbial corner and transform into a tale less frivolous? Forget I made that qualification.

But... Back to the story: Finally, some story! And what happens? Noah gets detained by Blackwater. In Manhattan! Oh my! Yes, I just ruined the surprise and suspense and thrills of the thrilling chapter of this thriller. But whatever, you're not expecting me to keep you entertained are you? If Beck et al. are going to ruin my evenings, be sure I'm going to pass that on to you.

When we left Noah last chapter he was on his way to "finish his conversation with an attractive but naïve young woman who might need to be straightened out on a thing or two." But before he could get to "that meeting of flag-waving wackos," he had a very sloppy metaphor to endure.

Over the years Noah had confirmed many times that there truly is such a thing as a bad night. When these doomed evenings arrive you can't avoid them. The jinx comes at you like a freight train, and by the time you're caught in the glare of those oncoming lights it's far too late to avoid the disaster. The best you can do is make your peace with doom and ride out the curse until sunrise.

There's some mention of a BlackBerry, GPS and Plexiglass along the way, all for authenticity's sake. Or maybe Beck has worked out some product placement deals for mentioning all these wonderful products. Hmmm... Probably not, since no one even advertises on his TV show now except Forex traders and gold hoarders.

And as if bad metaphors aren't enough for Noah to deal with, he's got his cabbie's "atonal Middle Eastern music blaring from the radio" to rattle him too. Noah had opted for a taxi ride instead of grabbing a company limo and it was all downhill from there. Not that showing up at the patriot rally in a limo wouldn't have made Noah look like a douche or anything. According to the text, taking a cab was both Noah's first and second mistake. (Don't ask.) His third was offering the driver an extra twenty bucks to get them out of traffic.


The cab mounted the curb and surged forward at a twenty-degree tilt, half on and half off the street, threading the needle between a hot-dog cart and a candied-nut wagon on the sidewalk and the line of incredulous fellow drivers to the left. The right-side mirror clipped a corner bus shelter as the driver pulled a full-throttle, fishtailing turn onto East Twenty-third.

Oh those crazy foreign cabbies! What won't they do for a few bucks? Well, I guess they won't get blown away by uniformed soldiers, not if they can help it.

The cabbie slams on the brakes, face to face with a soldier, standing on the corner, "cradling an assault rifle, which, while not exactly aimed at the cab and its innocent passenger, wasn't exactly pointed elsewhere, either." (No, I'm not sure what that means.)

It immediately became obvious that this cabdriver had seen a military checkpoint or two in his former homeland. With no hesitation the ignition was killed and both his hands were raised where the armed men outside could see them. Noah had no such prior experience to guide him. All he felt was the Lenny's hot pastrami sandwich he'd enjoyed at lunch suddenly threatening to disembark from the nearest available exit.

Uh oh, this can't be good. Soldiers in Manhattan, Noah on the verge of puking (or maybe shitting his pants, now that I think about it.) The soldier, who "looked to be all of nineteen years old, [with] a command in his eyes that made his rifle and sidearm seem completely redundant," orders Noah out of the cab and demands Noah's ID. Then something weird happens:

Another man in uniform had come near and held open a clear plastic pouch, and gave an impatient nod. Noah dropped the entire wallet into the bag, and after another wordless prompt from the man with the rifle, emptied his remaining pockets as well. The bag was zipped closed and passed to a nearby runner, who trotted off toward an unmarked truck parked up the block.

Is that standard operating procedure at military checkpoints in Manhattan? At military checkpoints anywhere? Anyway, the cabbie is roughed up for aggressive non-whiteness. Or maybe it was the driving on the sidewalk. I'm going with being a foreigner though. Because, if anything, this book is really biting social commentary disguised as crap writing.

It turns out, both presidential candidates are in town (what year is this?) as is "some emergency faction of the G-20, meeting downtown in response to the various calamities boiling over in the financial district" And "along with all those high-rollers comes high security; all the cops and evidently some division of the armed forces must be out combing the streets looking for trouble."

(By the way, "looking for trouble" doesn't mean what the author thinks it does.) Then Beck starts, ever so subtly, to lay out the concept in the title. The Overton window, is, if I may oversimplify here a bit, that range of things, typically in politics, though not exclusively, that are considered acceptable. The interesting thing is, that window can be moved. What is unacceptable at one point, can be pushed into the mainstream. E.g.:

Times had certainly changed, seemingly overnight, though Noah hadn't yet seen anything quite as intense as this. Fourth Amendment or not, with all the fears of terrorism in recent years, the definition of probable cause could become pretty blurred around the edges. People were getting used to it by now.

And this is, essentially, what the story is about: Using fear to change what people view as acceptable. Over the course of following chapters we will see Darthur and his cronies attempt to move the window, to impose that fascist new order on America, while the tea-bagging patriots valiantly fight back. (I hope I didn't spoil the surprise for you.)

Of course, this railing against fear-mongering is a bit hard to swallow when it comes from a professional fear-monger like Beck. That's the great irony, isn't it? This book, at its core, is fear-mongering, under the guise of anti-fear-mongering. Whut? No, don't think about it too much. It'll just make your brain hurt. It's a muddled mess of ideas. I have a hard time believing anyone takes this seriously. I am sure Beck doesn't. He certainly can't have put too much thought into it, because it just doesn't hold up under even the most basic scrutiny.

Back to the story: Noah is escorted to the "unmarked truck parked up the block." He notes the "gilded crest" on the logo on the side of the van (by the way, "unmarked truck" doesn't mean what the author thinks it does) and recognizes it as belonging to "Talion, the most well-connected private military consulting firm in the foreign and domestic arsenal of the U.S. government."

Noah is shoved inside and interrogated by a "severe" looking woman with "prematurely gray hair trimmed like a motel lampshade." Do I sense that all women in this book will be identified by their hairstyle? Nothing says characterization like a descriptive haircut. Noah sees his face on the woman's computer screen and she tries to get him to cop to more info so she can enter it into her NWO database.

I know someone who needs to get on a Do Not Track List, pronto. As a complete derail, why does no one use the word "pronto" anymore? I think we should bring that back into the American lexicon. I bet it would be perfect as a catchphrase for Charlie Sheen on "Two and a Half Men."

There is a silly conversation that follows wherein Noah asks if he needs a lawyer, and his interviewer seems incredulous. "I'm not sure I understand your reluctance to speak with us." As Noah storms out, she asks him about the teabagger flyer. Busted! Noah whips out his sassy on the woman, telling her she's got it all wrong.

"They have ties to the Aryan Brotherhood," she said, having begun to thumb through a file folder on her desk, "and the Lone Star Militia, the National Labor Committee, the Common Law Coalition, the Earth Liberation Front—"

"Hold it, wait up," Noah said. "The National Labor Committee? The National Labor Committee is a little shoestring nonprofit that busts sweatshops and child-labor operations. You want my advice, lady? You people had better update your watch list if you don't want to get laughed out of this nice truck. And, like I told you, I don't know anything about this group or what they do or who you think you've linked them to. I'm meeting someone there and then we're going somewhere else. Believe me, I wouldn't have many friends in the Aryan Brotherhood." He pointed to her computer screen. "But you've probably checked out my record by now, and you know that already."

"We know who you are, Mr. Gardner."

"By that, I think you mean you know who my father is."

"All right."

"Good. So unless there's anything else, I'm going to leave now."

I told ya! Sassy!

Noah walks off into the night and catches a glimpse of his cabbie being dragged away, pleading for his fare to help him. Noah ignores him, because he's kind of an asshole, and besides, he's got a date.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chapter Five

Texting! With Liss and Deeky!:

Deeky: IMFG. Chapter five is the worst one yet.

Liss: LOL! I can't wait.

Deeky: It is unbelievably bad.

Liss: That's such a surprise!

Deeky: It kind of is. I really thought the writing would be at least professional.

I know I complained, sort of, that nothing happened in chapter four. But somehow, even less happens in chapter five. What the fuck? Is this story going anywhere? In the last chapter there were phone calls and the burning of paper. Chapter five is just Noah wandering the halls of Doyle & Merchant.

Really, this is an excuse for another of Beck('s ghostwriter) to list off all the things he hates. In the guise of Darthur's brilliant PR accomplishments.

This particular corridor was the company's walk-through résumé, a gallery of framed and mounted achievements, past to present. Press clippings, puff pieces, planted news items and advertorials, slick, crafted cover stories dating back to the 1950s, digitized video highlights running silently in their flat-screen displays. It was a hall of fame unparalleled in the industry and the envy of all competitors.

So, what were these PR miracles? "Manufactured boy bands and teen pop music stars." Oh, how iconoclasty. Wevs. "Must-have Christmas toys (murders had been committed for a spot in line to buy some of these)." I'm rolling my eyes here. You can't see it, but I am. Of course, all conservatives hate Che Guevara T-shirts. I guess because he was a commie. "On a dare, Noah's father had once boasted that he could transform some of the century's most brutal killers into fashion statements." Okay. "And he'd done it; here were pictures of clueless college students, rock stars, and Hollywood icons proudly wearing T-shirts featuring the romanticized images of Chairman Mao and Che Guevara." Also note, the disdain for "college students, rock stars, and Hollywood icons." I'm guessing Beck loves country musicians. (Not the Dixie Chicks, of course.)

Other things Darthur invented, or at least created the PR for: Tobacco, pharmaceuticals, the lottery. As a youngster, Noah, it turns out, came up with the phrase you can't win if you don't play, "during a rare family chat at the Gardner dinner table." Apparently workaholics are to be despised too. And lottery players have been duped by a child:

No other product could demonstrate the essence of their work as perfectly as the lottery. The ads and jingles might remind all the suckers to play, but it was the PR hocus-pocus that kept them believing in the impossible, year after year. ... Take their money and give them nothing but a scrap of paper and disappointment in return, and then— and this is the key— make them line up every week to do it again.

Well, you know, there is one other product that fits this description. They're called Glenn Beck books. Okay, sorry, that was too easy. But lottery players aren't the biggest suckers of all. No. It's the "do-gooders." Those foolish dreamers who believe they can make the world a better place. People like Che Guevara. Or Peace Corps volunteers:

Noah had a friend in college, not a close friend, but a self-described bleeding-heart lefty tree-hugging do-gooder friend who'd gone to work for an African aid organization after graduation. She'd kept in touch only casually, but her last sad letter had been one for the scrapbook. It turned out that after all the fund-raising and banquets and concerts and phone banks, all the food and clothing and medical supplies they'd shipped over had been instantly hijacked and sold on the black market, either by the corrupt provisional government, the corrupt rebel militias, or both. Most of the proceeds bought a Viking V58 cruiser for the yacht-deprived son of a parliament member. The rest of the money went for weapons and ammunition. That arsenal, in turn, fueled a series of sectarian genocidal massacres targeting the very starving men, women, and children whom the aid was meant for.

Saps! Fuck Africa. Helping them is just helping warlords, facilitating genocide, and buying yachts for black people. Screw that noise! This is why Libertarians don't help anyone. It's a waste. If Africa wants to improve its situation, it needs to grab its bootstraps, pull itself up, and get its shit together. Durr. Umm, okay, sorry, where was I? Oh yeah.

Darthur has also been the PR machine behind every president since JFK, excepting the "too high-and-mighty" Jimmy Carter and the "too cheap" Richard Nixon. Both those clowns were run out of office, weren't they? Darthur even had a hand in fixing Clinton's impeachment. Man, this PR firm does everything. And when they're not fixing elections, they're drumming up support for war.

Noah was nearly to the end of the hall when a small, unassuming case study caught his attention. There was no title or description on this one, just a silent running video, the testimony before Congress of a volunteer nurse named Nayirah al-Sabah. She was the fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl whose tearful story of infants being thrown from their incubators by Iraqi soldiers became a podium-pounding rallying cry in the final run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.

Undeniably moving, highly effective, and entirely fictional.

The client for this one had been a thinly veiled pro-invasion front group called Citizens for a Free Kuwait. The girl wasn't a nurse at all; she was the photogenic daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. The testimony had been written, produced, and directed by Arthur Isaiah Gardner, the distinguished gentleman sitting just behind her in the video.

Evil! Darthur is pure evil. Because all PR people do is lie. Which totally not what Glenn Beck and his ilk do. No, not at all. Anyway, I guess this New World Order thing is going to be a walk in the park. I mean, if he can fix the Clinton blowjob thing, and get Iraq invaded, he can certainly establish a new "political and economic and social structure." I wonder, is this is what's meant by "the banality of evil"? (The writing here. Not the starting of wars.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chapter Four

Chapter one was two pages. Chapter two was four. The third chapter was a whopping sixteen pages. I sensed a pattern developing, and figured maybe chapter four would be 256 pages. No such luck. That pattern was just an unfortunate coincidence. Turns out, chapter four is just over a page in length. A little more than 450 words. All of which is to say, today's post is going to be short. Nothing much happens on this page.

Noah has been sent by Darthur to make some phone calls. Part two of the Powerpoint is about to start, and Noah is to invite some "apparently VIPs" to the offices of Doyle & Merchant:

That meeting was still going on, but without him. His father had called a break and passed him a note with a list of phone numbers and a few bullet points of instructions—one last errand to perform before he could leave for the weekend. These were apparently VIPs to be invited for the after-hours portion of the presentation, provided the first part had gone as hoped. Evidently it had.

So, blah blah blah, Noah takes his list of numbers (no names) and calls around, gathering up attendees. All the calls are answered by various services and secretaries and aides. "There'd been audible indications of a scrambler during at least four of the brief conversations, and some sort of voice-alteration gizmo on one of them." Oooh, high tech! One question: Do they still make scramblers? That seems so 1980s. But whatever. It's all very secretive, see? No names, all hush hush. Except for this:

Noah had caught a last name spoken in the background during this final call. It was a Manhattan number, a 212 area code [authenticity!], and the name he'd heard was an uncommon one. He'd also seen it in the newspaper earlier in the day. That call had been to the private line of the most likely nominee for the next U.S. Treasury secretary, assuming the election went as forecast.

This man was also the current president of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve.

Uh oh. Not the Federal Reserve! This really is evil! I got shivers just reading that. (I didn't.)

Noah finds the whole exercise odd, what with Darthur's ability (as world's greatest PR man: inventor of bottled water and the Che Guevara T-shirt) to summon anyone who's anyone to his Powerpoint on a Friday evening, "but maybe it wasn't so unusual considering the circles in which his father was known to travel."

Okay. Let me get this straight. Noah sits through his father's presentation on overthrowing the government and establishing the New World Order and doesn't bat an eye, but summoning of a gaggle of "apparently VIPs" seems weird to him. I think maybe Noah isn't the brightest bulb in the toolbox.

While contemplating this, Noah follows his father's last instruction, and burns the list of phone numbers. Oh, brother. Yeah, nothing says intrigue and espionage like burning paper. Maybe I need to start some sort of cliché count. Maybe these are new measures since Churchill got snoopy with the recycling bins. I dunno. Maybe it's just poor writing. I'm actually feeling lucky this chapter was so short.

[For the record, this post is actually longer than the original chapter by about 100 words.]

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter Three

Chapter one introduced us to our hero, Noah Gardner. Chapter gave him a sidekick, Molly Ross. With chapter three comes our story's villain.

Arthur Isaiah Gardner: World's greatest PR man, head of Doyle & Merchant (the world's greatest PR firm, duh), Noah's father, atheist, mastermind behind the new order of things: The Great and Powerful Oz.

Like Noah, Arthur isn't described physically. We are again to presume he's white, since that's assuredly the default for Beck. He's seventy-four and silvery voiced and has a "taste for blood." Figuratively speaking, of course. Or not. Thanks to Joe Mande, Arthur Gardner is cemented in my mind as being portrayed by Jon Voight. (See image below.) So every time he speaks, and he speaks a lot, it's like watching Anaconda, or National Treasure 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold, but not as cleverly written.

I haven't quite got my head wrapped around Arthur Gardner. He spends the bulk of chapter three pontificating and speechifying. Part of what he espouses is Beck brand neocon nonsense: hatred of: Social Security, government debt, corporate bailouts. But Gardner's solution is to replace the U.S. government with his own system: "a new framework that will survive when the decaying remains of the failed United States have been washed away in the coming storm." And while Beck hates Social Security, government debt, corporate bailouts, his solution is "Restoring Honor."

Chapter three opens with Arthur Gardner reading a classified memo titled "Constitutionalists, Extremism, the Militia Movement, and the Growing Threat of Domestic Terrorism." The memo lists groups of fringe elements that the government needs to keep an eye on. Mostly Beck's target audience: "Militant anti-abortion or 'pro-life' organizers, anti-immigration, border defenders, 'Tea Parties', third-party political campaigns, Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, tax resisters, 'End the Fed' proponents, gun rights activists." Then some more ... frightening ... elements are thrown in. "Christian Identity, White Nationalists, American Nazi Party, Holocaust denier, hate radio/TV/Web/print."

It's almost clever. See what's he's done here? He's lumped in his own audience with the more dangerous elements on the right and tied it all in with "hate radio." It is designed to appeal to Beck's audience's sense of persecution. The government is out to get them, as they see it, and this plays right into their paranoia: Those in charge hate the right, from the "pro-lifer" to the Nazi, they're all the same. That's probably the most insidious part. It's that sameness in the minds of the cons that normalizes and mainstreams those dangerous elements. If the government hates them all the same, then maybe the American Nazi Party is no more dangerous than the average "pro-lifer."

There follows a bit on the "detention / rendition / interrogation / prosecution" of these elements:

With U.S. citizens suddenly in the news in the place of al-Qaeda terrorists, some level of psychological resistance must be anticipated and then defused when it arises. It is the opinion of the committee that such a reflexive populist reaction would prove to be a major obstacle to progress. In fact, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event (on the order of a Pearl Harbor / 9/11 attack), there is a potential that the government's reasonable actions in this critical area may be met with significant public outrage and even active sympathy and misguided support for these treasonous/seditious elements and their hate-based objectives.

Gardner throws the report aside and addresses his newest client. A government stooge named Purcell, who's hired Doyle & Merchant to fix the PR nightmare that is the leaked memo, due to hit the front page of tomorrow's Washington Post.

Much to Purcell's surprise, Noah's already got the memo blamed on an "overzealous local bureaucracy." Like Molly said, PR people just lie.

All of this leads to ten-odd pages of Gardner addressing the guests in his conference room. It's far too long, but kind of fun to imagine Jon Voight delivering it on-screen. I mean, that beats just reading it straight. (How long until ABC puts The Overton Window miniseries into production, you think?) Gardner tells how the 2004 tsunami ruined his Sri Lankan vacation, all if which he use as analogy for the destruction of the U.S. He also tells of how he was the guy who invented bottled water. His greatest PR scheme, conning folks into buying water in plastic bottles instead of drinking it relatively free of charge from the tap. All the while he rails on about the ills of the U.S. government's overspending. Highlights below:

Bear Stearns, a cornerstone firm of Wall Street founded when my father was a young man, a company whose stock had quite recently been selling at a hundred and sixty dollars a share, was bailed out by the Federal Reserve and J.P. Morgan at two dollars per share. That was the beginning, my friends.

We are in the midst of what will become the most devastating financial calamity in the history of Western civilization, and just this week—please do correct me if my figures are wrong—the Congress and the administration have committed to funnel almost eight trillion dollars to the very institutions that engineered the crisis.

Over the last century you've saddled your hapless citizens with a hundred thousand billion dollars in unsecured debt, money they'll be paying back for fifty generations if there are still any jobs to be had by then. Meanwhile you're up to your necks in misguided, escalating wars on two unforgiving fronts with no sign of the end. That's trillions more in unpayable IOUs.

For heaven's sake, you nationalized General Motors just to get your union friends off the hook. As you know, those union pensions you just took over are severely underfunded, adding another seventeen billion dollars to your tab. Seventeen billion, I might add, that you don't have.

Just to stay afloat the government is borrowing five billion dollars every day at ever-rising interest rates from our fair-weather friends in Asia. Sooner or later the truth will be undeniable, that these massive debts can never be repaid, and there'll be a panic, a worldwide run against the dollar, and through your actions you've ensured that the results will be fatal and irreversible.

And all this will lead to the collapse of the U.S.

But that's okay. Gardner has a plan. He also has a Powerpoint presentation. And some hand-outs. (Which I guess is what Churchill got his hands on in the prologue.)

"Because we must, we will finally complete what they envisioned: a new framework that will survive when the decaying remains of the failed United States have been washed away in the coming storm. Within this framework the nation will reemerge from the rubble, reborn to finally take its rightful, humble place within the world community. And you," he said, looking around the table, "will all be there to lead it."

A hand went up on the far side, a question from the senior member of the party, who'd so far only listened in silence.

"Mr. Gardner," the man said. "What about the public?"

"What about them? The public has lost their courage to believe. They've given up their ability to think. They can no longer even form opinions, they absorb their opinions, sitting slack-jawed in front of their televisions. Their thoughts are manufactured by people like me. What about the public? There's a double-edged sword by which the public can be sold anything, from a three-dollar bottle of tap water to a full-scale war."

And not only does Gardner have a plan, it's gonna be easy to implement:

"The misguided resistance that still exists will be put down in one swift blow. There'll be no revolution, only a brief, if somewhat shocking, leap forward in social evolution. We'll restore the natural order of things, and then there will be only peace and acceptance among the masses." He smiled. "Before we're done they'll be lining up to gladly pay a tax on the very air that they breathe."

Kind of scary, huh? No, not Gardner's plan, but Beck's audience, who believe this. This reads less like a cautionary tale, and more like a call to arms. "The misguided resistance that still exists will be put down in one swift blow." I fear, the only solution, in the eyes of Beck, is a preemptive strike.