The Overton Window: Chapter 10
As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week it was particularly difficult to choose just one. So, to resolve a tie, I asked my wife to cast the deciding vote. She proved to have as much difficulty with this as I did, and so I resorted to a coin as a tie-breaker. The "honor" goes to Ken Houghton for taking us in a new direction:
"He slipped out of his damp shirt and into the fresh top he'd borrowed."
I think the last time I heard about someone borrowing a Fresh Top, a riding crop and whipping cream were involved.
I had been trying to figure out if the authors were trying to use Cowgirl Hall of Fame as their model, but now I'm more inclined to believe its The Ninth Circle.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, but don't you just hate it when gay men try to write heterosexual seduction scenes?
Well, I don't know about that seeing as how I have no idea how many of the heterosexual love scenes I've read were penned by gay men. But, that said, it is rather enlightening to wonder if Noah really stepped out to the bathroom because he's fond of the tearoom trade. Alas, poor Molly- he only wants you for a beard. Well done Ken and, indeed, everyone, and keep at it! Your comments keep my sanity at least somewhat intact.
And, with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). Tally ho!
Dramatis Personae: In an order chosen by fate.
Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.
Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.
Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high".
Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck.
Arthur Gardner Noah's father. Owner of Doyle & Merchant. Megalomaniac. Surprisingly vigorous for a 74 year old man.
Khaled: Lebanese cab driver. Sold out by Noah Gardener.
Hollis: Friend of Molly Ross. Very polite. From the country. May be a Yeti.
Danny Bailey: Some kind of YouTube celebrity. Former lover of Molly Ross. Kind of a dickhead.
Chapter 10: In which we suffer through the first of several thinly-veiled propaganda moments, meet Molly's mom, and wonder how it is that they decided to refer to this thing as a "thriller".
Recommended Mood Music:
Page 61, Line 1-3:
The jukebox abruptly faded downt to silence and a female speaker took the stage. She was maybe fifty-five years old, with a bright, easy confidence in her eyes.
For those who were paying attention last week, yes, this is the MNWLF. Also, for those paying attention, the last time we checked the music was being supplied by a live act rather than a jukebox (around Page 51). When did the switch occur? No idea. Well, continuity is over-rated anyway.
Page 61, Line 3-5:
The honest beauty she must have enjoyed in her younger days was still shining through, but mellowed and matured with the years.
Right, so, older women can't be hot. Glad we cleared that up. Anyway, she grabs the mic and starts to speak.
Page 61, Line 7-10:
"As I look out at you all, I remember what James Madison said of his country in those early days: 'The happy union of these states is a wonder; their constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world.'" (1)
I really hate it when people start speeches this way. The founders said an awful lot of stuff, most of it not really applicable outside the specific context in which it was said. But, hey, who doesn't love a good turn of phrase, eh?
Page 61, Line 13-15:
"The U.S.A. was that exmaple for many years, my friends, and I promise you, we can be again. But today we're facing a threat to our future unlike anything seen since the days of the first revolution."
Since the days of the first revolution? Um... that sounds a tad ominous, don't you think? It's like referring to World War One in the December of 1918. In any case, she goes on to mention that the U.S. is diseased- but with what, pray tell?
Page 62, Line 4:
"That disease is corruption, plain and simple."
Um... okay? Can you lay that out a bit more fully for me?
Page 62, Line 10-13:
"Our founding documents established this new form of government to protect us from the sickness that has destroyed freedom since the dawn of civilization: the inevitable rise of tyranny from the greed and gluttony of a ruling class."
Ooooohhhhhhh! So we're Marxists then! Oh, wow, that explains a LOT, you know? Wait, no, sorry, that doesn't explain anything. What the f-ing crap is even going on? Who is this "ruling class" supposed to be? I mean, there are lots of potential powerful evil overlords, so which ones are we talking about here? She doesn't say, but apparently she does have their playbook. And after a brief digression about Thomas Sowell and his concern with how decisions are made (2), we get to hear about it!
Page 62, Line 21-30:
"You don't need to create a conspiracy theory to explain what's going on around us today. The ruling class had written and published their plans and their history, as plain as day."
She picked up and held out a massive hardbound book.
"This book is titled Tragedy and Hope. It's nearly fourteen hundred pages of the history and the relentless goals of the enemy. We know this book holds the truth because it's not a wild piece of fiction written by one of us; it's a calm and rational book of facts written by an insider and historian sympathetic to the goals of the power elite, and a mentor to presidents, by the way, named Carroll Quigley." (3) [emphasis original]
I'm not at all sure what to say here as the book "Tragedy and Hope" is, indeed, long as hell and I'm not going to read the entire thing just to be able to react to this chapter. What I will point out, however, is that Quigley was a bit of a conspiracy theorist and, as a result, may not be totally trustworthy. Not that such issues matter given the speaker's intriguing basis for trust in the book's conclusions. I mean, she literally says that we can trust this book because it was not written by the slack-jawed morons sharing the bar with her. That's a helluva statement about how the authors perceive their own side.
Page 62-63, Line 62: 32, 63: 1-3:
"If that's their history, then this is an early, published example of their plan of action. The Promise of American Life, by Herbert Croly, first printed in 1909, before the beginning of the great decline." (4)
The great what now? Huh? As for Herbert Croly... well, read about him yourself. He's a complex fellow who combines intense support for the military with intense support for labor unions; two things that typically don't mix in today's political climate.
Page 63, Line 9-14:
"Croly renounced his own life's work in the end, when he saw what he'd helped to set in motion. But 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."
In fairness, there were all kinds of issues during the great depression and that "spiral into crushing debt" was followed by the rise of American global hegemony, which was pretty good for us financially. Also, the first income taxes in the U.S. were applied by the Republicans during the Civil War (i.e. in 1861) and were only struck down later (i.e. in 1895, 34 years later) by the courts as unconstitutional. The income tax returned following ratification of the sixteenth amendment to the constitution in 1913. So it's an oversimplification to hang the income tax on Croly. Regardless, she goes on to argue that democracy is endangered when corruption screws up the loyalties of elected officials. Then things get weird.
Page 63, Line 26-31:
"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, powerless."
Okay, hang on a second: does anyone know of any political group whose objectives match what she's talking about? Because I'm at a loss. Also, I'm compelled to ask again: what elites? Economic elites? Military elites? That word, it does not mean what you think it means, crazy lady. Anyway, Noah takes a gander at the crowd and notices that everyone is engaged, suggesting to me that this woman is part of some sort of drinking game. There are exceptions, however, who seem to be subtly out of place, more interested in each other than the stage, and all fiddling with video cameras. So, you know, more spies I guess. But the speech rolls on unimpeded.
Page 64, Line 13-15:
"There are thirty-five thousand registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C." the woman said, to a scattering of boos and hisses that arose from the onlookers. (5)
Honestly, I feel inclined to boo about that as well, which is probably as close as I come to agreeing with the book's political philosophy. Well, to the extent that it can be said to have one at any rate. She goes on to mention how much money said lobbyists have been spending, which is, as you can imagine, quite a large sum (6).
Page 64, Line 18-23:
"With that money they buy influence, not on behalf of you, but to put forward the agendas of their clients. Huge corporations, international banks, the power brokers on Wall Street, foreign governments, media giants, and the real, self-appointed ruling class- their lobbyists write the bills, your congressmen work as scripted front men for the tainted legislation, and then they vote as they're told by their handlers."
In some ways this is just basic elite theory. In other ways it reminds me an awful lot of a speech from a committed Marxist. In reality, it's neither. Instead, it's just the incoherent screed of someone with no discernible plan. She's pissed about all this, but doesn't really have a solution, or even a specific target or issue. Instead, she- and by extension, the authors- just hurl accusations left and right in the hopes of feeding on the resulting anger. That's a profitable way to run a media empire, but as a basis for a political party it leaves something to be desired.
Page 64, Line 24:
"Not all of them, mind you."
Yeah, that's true! I mean, not all congressmen are in the pockets of big banks or foreign governments. Some of them are in the pockets of preachers! Sorry for the snark, but what was I supposed to do? Anyway, she hauls out a copy of the U.S. Constitution and waves it to the crowd before continuing with the show.
Page 65, Line 3-9:
"This is the Constitution of the United States of America. It's just about fifteen pages when printed out like this, only four sheets of parchment when it was originally written out by hand. Here it is. That's all of it, the supreme law of the land, the entire framework of our system of government.
And do you know why it's so small? Because the government itself was meant to be small."
Now, there are a couple of interesting bits in the above regarding the Constitution. The first is that "four sheets of parchment" passage, which is true after a fashion. And by "after a fashion" I mean "if you don't count any of the amendments." This is a bit disquieting since amendments one through ten are otherwise known as the Bill of Rights and are, arguably, some of the most important parts of the Constitution. Likewise, I suspect that a few people in the audience are rather partial to the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth amendments as well. So, in short, the rather extreme brevity of the Constitution is only correct as depicted if we don't consider any of the additions to be valid, including the first ten which came from the founding fathers themselves. What this says about the authors' views on constitutionally guaranteed rights I don't want to contemplate. Second, and this is just interesting rather than anything against the authors, parchment is actually made from animal skin rather than wood pulp as most paper. Needless to say, this suggests none of the founding fathers were vegan. Third, I feel the need to point out that immediately after finishing this allegedly perfect framework for government the founding fathers turned right around and slapped ten amendments onto it. This would seem to suggest that even the people who wrote them in the first place didn't think those four sheets of parchment were sufficient basis upon which to found a government. And finally, that the constitution is small does not mean that the government was also intended to be small. What it means is that the basic rules for operating the government are not quite the same thing as the business of government, in much the same sense that Microsoft Windows isn't the same thing as all of your documents and programs. Besides, the Constitution is specifically written to be maleable- it can be amended so as to grow with the country. So, in other words, the founding fathers were wise enough to realize that what worked for the 18th century might not work forever. Now, if only someone would tell the authors. Anyway, she brings up one of Jefferson's classic lines about resistance to tyranny being obedience to God (7) and then we get back to it.
Page 66, Line 1-2:
She laid the document in her hand on a nearby table and picked up a dark blue volume the size of the Brooklyn white pages.
This, as it turns out, is supposedly the U.S. tax code (8) [As a side note: this last reference is to a USA Today blog and doesn't appear to actually point anywhere. The referenced blog post can be found here], and a sideways argument is made that if the constitution can get by with only fifteen pages, why is the tax code hundreds and hundreds of pages? Speaking for myself, I'm really pleased this sort of logic isn't broadly applied or else the criminal code could only be fifteen pages long, which would probably mean a lot more stuff would either be legal, or require hanging. She goes on to claim that the IRS doesn't need to give you due process- not really true- and invokes the old argument that "the power to tax is the power to destroy" (9). As it happens I agree with that statement, but feel the need to point out that the man who said it was John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the man who did more than any other to establish the principle of judicial review. And in my book, that makes him the ultimate activist judge. She also brings up IRS involvement in health care legislation (10) [I should note that the preceding reference also doesn't work and a search of the Washington Post doesn't turn up the article] and the Treasury department's involvement in prohibition (11) for weird, tangential reasons that don't make any damn sense.
Page 66, Line 17-19:
"But, you don't need a judge to tell you what is obvious to anyone who's ever tried to fill out a tax form. The tax code is not meant to be read and understood by the people."
Actually, the tax code really isn't that difficult unless you make a lot of money and/or own a lot of property, in which case it understandably gets a bit trickier. And who the hell are these "people"? Can we get some sort of more specific definition? Because, like it or not, the industrialists are citizens too. In any case, she mentions how much is owed in taxes by current members of the government (12) (13) and moves on.
Page 66, Line 28-30:
"Those of us gathered in this room tonight aren't simply fighting taxes, out-of-control spending, or unsustainable debt, we're fighting for something much bigger: equal justice."
Which is exactly the sort of phrase I'd expect to come out of a left-wing kook's mouth right before he suggests slashing military spending and investing heavily in education. Why do I not think that's what's going to happen here? She mentions that John Adams was a big fan of the rule of law (14), and then it's off in an odd direction.
Page 67, Line 5-8:
"Your income, your family name, and your connections matter more than ever. They can help you succeed or they can ensure you fail. How can that reality coexist in a society where all men are created equal?"
So we support a communist state, then? Or do you just want a 100% inheritance tax? Because it kinda sounds like one or the other. Joking aside, I suggest that you sit down and make sure to remove any beverages from your mouth before you keep reading.
Page 67, Line 9-12:
"The answer is that it can't. That is why we are here. And it's also why 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."
Okay, wow, just... damn. Yeah, Dr. King wanted equal justice, but in his case it had more to do with being able to vote and not getting beaten by cops for drinking from the wrong water fountain. The comparison to a bunch of people whining about taxes and lobbyists is more than slightly distasteful.
Page 67, Line 17-18:
"While others throughout our history have resorted to violence to achieve their agendas, it's important to remember that they all failed."
Well... unless you count the revolutionary and civil wars. Those settled some things rather decisively. Still, I'm glad for at least a nod to passive resistance.
Page 67, Line 28-32:
"Dr. King once said that 'no lie can live forever.' (15) He knew that once the American people understood the depth of the injustice being perpetrated on them, they would choose the right side. Today we face that very same challenge, and if we are patient, we can expect the very same result."
I am honestly a bit queasy at this comparison. Really. I don't have anything new to say here, just to again comment that the travails of the modern TEA Partier are nothing- absolutely nothing- in comparison to what generations of African Americans had to endure, much less what they went through in the end to regain their rights.
Page 68, Line 1-3:
"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."
I should note that I do actually think that at heart Americans are a decent lot who are strongly inclined towards justice. That said, I'm also familiar with the Milgram experiment as well as recent history. Americans may be fundamentally decent, but that doesn't mean that they aren't also racist, bigoted, hateful and cruel. That's the beautiful and terrible thing about humans- we're both beautiful and terrible and both tendencies stem from the same source. Leaving that alone for the moment, however, the speaker goes on to plead with her audience not to turn to violence.
Page 68, Line 9-12:
"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 the storyline."
Right, so, all the crazy hateful things the right says? Totally just trumped up media bullshit. I'm glad we straightened that out. At the same time, I'm pleased to see this explicit condemnation of violence, even if the rest of the book is going to implicitly argue to the contrary. Keep an eye out for it, it'll be fun!
Page 68, Line 13:
"Don't give it to them. Instead of Bill Ayers, give them Benjamin Franklin."
Bloody hell, is the right still on about Bill Ayers? Yes, the guy was a terrorist, yes, he should have paid for it and, yes, he didn't because our system requires law enforcement to play by the rules. That's what you get sometimes when you work hard to avoid government tyranny. At this point the speaker reminds her audience that everything they need for the coming battle is to be found within the constitution itself. And then she gets poetic or something.
Page 68, Line 20-23:
"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." [emphasis original]
Yeah, this is an example of what I think of as constitutional inerrancy. It's as though they think that the constitution as originally formulated is equally perfect for all circumstances and time periods. They also seem to believe that turning the clock back is both possible and, indeed, a practical solution in a very different world. Never mind that throughout this speech there's never an explanation of what exactly "restoration" would entail. Would we repeal all the amendments? That certainly seems to be what she implies by emphasizing the first four sheets of parchment but that seems a little rash given the location of the Bill of Rights. Honestly, it's a whole lot of empty- and even incoherent- rhetoric that sounds nice if you're in a certain frame of mind but ultimately presents as many ideas for policy as your average episode of Pokemon. And hell, let's face it: pokemon occasionally teaches a valuable lesson.*
Page 68, Line 24-26:
"Let me ask you all a question. Many of us in this room are painted as 'anti-government'- but who loves America more, those who want to restore it, or those who want to transform it?"
Ah, hell. I never was any good at multiple-choice. I'm also, again, really curious what she means by "restore". Does she want to, for example, restore the 3/5 compromise? Because that was a clause to be proud of, I tell you what. But, hell, who needs reasoned argumentation when you have a false dichotomy?
Page 68, Line 27-31:
The hushed silence that had overtaken the room for a while evaporated in an instant. Enthusiastic shouts and chants came from all corners. The misfits at the bar even put their cameras down and turned their backs as if by its nature this material would be of no use to them.
Right. Because the deep cover spies in the midst of this little shindig would have to do something like that as oppposed to, say, relying on the minimally competent video editing skills of their nefarious overlords. Jesus, is the evil conspiracy run out of a friggin Denny's or what?** Anyway, when the crowd settles down she reminds us all that if you want to transform something, that's just another way of saying you don't like it.***
Page 69, Line 3-4:
"-things that have real value aren't changed or transformed, they're preserved."
Sort of like when you have this beautiful old house that you just love, you maintain it just the way it is, despite all the lead paint that junior eats by the handful. Because when you change anything, that means you don't really love it. Life must be really different in a world where there are more than two options to any given problem. Anyway, the woman finally shuts up after a final "God Bless the U.S.A", sparing us from any more of the stupid.
Page 69, Line 9-12:
The woman left the stage on the other side as a Toby Keith song began to play over the sound system, and Molly looked over at Noah as she applauded the end of the speech. Then she leaned toward him, raising her voice over the bar noise.
First off, Toby Keith? Look, I actually like country from time to time, but if this scene were any more jingoistic she would have rode off the stage on a giant bald eagle while waving an American flag and shooting red white and blue fireworks out of her ass.**** Second, it really pisses me off when people over-specify things in their writing. I mean, the crazy lady had just finished her talk, she had left the stage, and Molly suddenly starts clapping: do we really need the authors to specify for us that she was clapping at the speech? What the f-ing crap else would she be clapping at?
Page 69, Line 13:
"So what do you think?" [Molly asked, eyes brimming with the madness that has no name]
For once, Noah and I are of like mind and he attempts to dodge the question. That's really the best thing to do, because how can you possibly say anything about a shitstorm like that? And if you're trying to get into the panties of the person who asked, a person who clearly liked it? Dude, pretend to see bigfoot and then hope she forgets about the entire thing. Sadly, however, Noah does not sight the elusive sasquatch***** and he ends up answering.
Page 69, Line 17:
"I guess it sounds like she believes what she's saying."
Oh, lovely. Please tell me we aren't going back to the craziness of Left Behind where one's level of conviction was directly interpretable as their probability of being correct. Regardless, after pressing him more Noah admits to Molly that he just usually thinks of politics as a waste of time. Then she really goes batshit crazy.
Page 69, Line 22-25:
"So if I'm hearing this correctly, you're willing to grant that the person who was up there speaking- my mother, by the way- probably believed what she was saying, and yet it's not worth a second of your time even to think about?" [Molly asked]
First off, yep, that's about the size of it. For what it's worth, the dude down the street who is absolutely convinced that Patrick Stewart is actually a starship captain doesn't get a second of my time either because- say it with me- personal conviction is not the same f-ing thing as actual evidence. Likewise, that you believe something to be true does not automatically mean that I'm obligated to listen to it. Second, dude, that crazy hag is Molly's mom? Noah, the apple probably didn't fall far from the tree: fake a seizure and get the hell out before she goes all revolutionary on your ass.
Page 69, Line 26:
"That was your mother?" Noah asked.
Ah, Noah. He's such a brilliant boy.
Page 70, Line 1-5:
"Okay, then, listen. I [Noah] see how people of a certain mind-set could start to hate the government-"
"We don't hate the government. We're against an out-of-control government that's lost sight of its principles and has been overrun by corruption."
Okay, Noah? Look, here's what you do. First, back away slowly if you can do so safely. Running may stimulate her instinct to chase and attack. Face her, stand upright and maintain eye contact. Stay calm. Talk to her in a calm yet firm voice. Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run. If she behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. You want to convince her that you are not prey and that you may, in fact, be a danger to her. Fight back if she attacks. TEA partiers have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and bare hands. Remain standing or try to get back up. Oh, wait... shit, that's what you do if you're attacked by a mountain lion. I have no idea what to do here, man. I think you're pretty much screwed. Nevertheless, and in a shocking turn of events, Noah improvises by asking a reasonable question.
Page 70, Line 9-11:
"Things are bad, and they're going to get a lot worse before this crash is over, but all this"-he gestured around at the bar full of people-"what do you all think you're accomplishing here?"
Indeed, that is the question, isn't it?
Page 70, Line 12:
"We're getting together and taking a stand." [Molly replied]
No, you're getting together and having a few beers. That's a totally different thing. Noah doesn't point this out but does basically tell her that trying to change the status quo is futile. She gets irritated and asks him why he came then.
Page 70, Line 17:
He sighed, and sat back. "I guess I just wanted to get to know you."
And he means that biblically, which is to say, he wants to bang her in the parking lot.
Page 70, Line 18-22:
"Well," she said. "This pointless meeting, that deluded woman onstage, and all these other misguided people? That's me. Now you know me."
With that she gathered her things and left him sitting there alone with his beer.
And yet, the book doesn't end here. Goddamnit. Nevertheless, it is the end of the chapter, which means that we're free for another week. So what have we learned this week? Well, we've learned that the authors have no plan and, really, a pretty sketchy knowledge of the constitution. What they have, instead, is a whole lot of empty rhetoric. We've also learned that while Noah is no catch- really, he has all the appeal of a hagfish but without the skill at getting close to someone's heart******- Molly isn't much to get excited about either. To be honest, she comes across as a hysterical bitch, and I can't tell if that's just Molly, the authors' perspective on women generally, or just the kind of behavior they think is appropriate. Either way, I'm really starting to think that Noah and Molly deserve each other. Which is good when you think about it, because this hackneyed thriller is obviously simultaneously a hackneyed romance and you can't combine two different hackneyed stories without achieving an absolute literary disaster. Ah, yes, the authors may believe this book belongs to the genre of faction, but personally I think it's better classed as cluster fuction. Come back next week when we get to hear another absurd speech, this time from Danny Bailey, and then Noah does something.
It'll be great.
* For example, don't let your kids watch shitty Japanese commercials masquerading as entertaining cartoons.
** Man, I could really go for some pancakes right now. Who wants to drive?
*** Optimus Prime might disagree with her on that point, but I digress.
**** As a side note: anyone who can get me a well-done artist's rendition of that by next week is pretty much guaranteed to get the comment of the week.
***** Come to think of it, where the hell is Hollis? Is he looking for berries or something?
****** Zing! As always Total Drek pushes the humor frontiers with jokes about marine invertebrates.*******
******* Yeah, I said it, they're members of Craniata but not Vertebrata. What are you gonna do about it, taxonomy nerds, huh? I'll tell you what: nothing! Because Myxini don't have proper f-ing vertebra and are therefore INvertebrates. Wicked burn!
Labels: The Overton Window