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Friday, June 10, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 17

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that proves that not only is truth stranger than fiction, it's usually more entertaining as well. Last time we met a new character and learned Danny Bailey's fate. What happens this week? We continue the adventures of Danny and Stu who, despite hanging out on an airplane, still fail to actually move the plot anywhere. Actually, even when compared against the remainder of the book, this chapter still manages to come across as almost supernaturally dull, so brace yourselves. There's only so much I can do with this shit, no matter how hard I try.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Ken for the awesome reference to classic cinema:

I'm developing a deep envy of Eli Churchill. Not only is he a Jewish Brit, but he took one bullet to the brain and it was lights out.

We, meanwhile, are now 16 chapters in, waiting for the lights--any lights--to turn on.

It's like being a Morlock without Yvette Mimieux's heavy blue eye shadow for distraction.

Indeed, Eli Churchill is a lucky bastard in that his end was quick and painless, whereas our experience has been protracted and agonizing. And to be honest, at this point, I'd be more than happy to settle for Yvette Mimieux even without her eye shadow. Morlocks can't, after all, be choosy. Well done, Ken, and keep at it everyone- the best worst is yet to stagger down the road.

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.). On Donner, on Dancer, Blitzen, and whatever!

Dramatis Personae: In an order determined by hurling the characters down the stairs.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly Emerson: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's. Molly's mother.

Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works Vice president at a PR firm. Went to NYU. Is "witty". Frequently forgets where he's going and why. Not good at talking to women. Not really inclined to help out cab drivers. Low tolerance for alcohol. Lost his mother when he was young. Fond of chicken and waffles. Rich as shit. Views himself as a sexual panther.

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. Lost her father when she was young. Impressed by fancy cars. Cocktease.

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. Loves conspiracy theories and incoherent speeches. Sodomized by inmates following the rally.

Stuart Kearns: FBI agent. Works on homeland security matters. Kinda old and wrinkly.


Chapter 17: In which we learn more of Kearns' plan and Bailey makes an ass of himself.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 123, Line 1-3:
Over the intercom came an announcement that they'd just reached cruising altitude at 44,000 feet, and to punctuate that bit of news the NO SMOKING light went off with a quiet ting. [emphasis original]

So, yeah, we're on a plane. It rapidly becomes apparent, however, that this is not a standard commercial flight but instead is some sort of much smaller aircraft. Stuart Kearns, always looking to be helpful, pulls out some cigarettes and lights up. Danny Bailey announces his presence in this scene by asking Kearns what he thinks he's doing.

Page 123, Line 15-17:
"You can still smoke on a charter. On this one, anyway." Kearns extended the pack to him, shook a filter tip halfway out. "Come on, you know you want to."

Yeah, Danny: you know cigs are as good as money in the joint. After your recent "abuse" (Page 121, Line 17-20) I'd expect you'd leap at the chance. Alas, Bailey says he quit and opens the way for an exciting revelation.

Page 124, Line 3-4:
"Hey, remind me, how old are you?" [Kearns asked]

"I'm thirty-four."

Right, like damned near everyone else in this book. Still, treasure those lines, because it's technically an example of characterization.

Page 124, Line 5-6:
"In the decade you were born a man could still smoke a cigar on any flight across this country. Can you believe that?"

It's hard to say for sure what exactly the authors are implying here, maybe that regulations prohibiting smoking on aircraft are a violation of freedom? I actually remember those good-old days that Kearns is referring to, however, and can say without hesitation that they sucked. That jackass who decided to smoke a cigar on a cross-country flight was basically forcing everyone else on the plane to breathe his cigar stank right along with him. It's right up there with someone spitting in your food in my view. Regardless, though, we blow past this and Bailey asks what the hell it is that Kearns needs him to do, thus opening the way for a shit-ton of narration.

Page 124, Line 20-24:
The targets for the operation were low-level militia types with a desire to graduate to a full-blown act of domestic terrorism. They were in the market for funding, logistical support, and some serious weapons. If all went well then the only thing they'd be getting at the final handoff was arrested.

Okay, first of all, these guys sound like an entirely legitimate target for a government investigation. Just sayin' is all. Second, however: if they're in the market for funding, logistical support and weapons, then what do they have now, exactly? A couple of guys and a clubhouse? What? And what does Bailey have to do with this?

Page 124, Line 25-28:
Danny Bailey would be brought along to the first in-person meet-up, to lend a crowning bit of credibility to the proceedings; he was currently the closest thing the Patriot underground had to a national spokesperson. In essence, Bailey would play the Oprah to Kearns's Dr. Phil.

Well, that's an analogy that's going to stick with me, I'll tell you what. Leaving that aside, I just want to say that this makes total sense. I mean, if I were part of an underground movement looking to launch terror attacks on U.S. targets, I would absolutely want to be buying my weapons and equipment from someone with a profile so high that a random asshole on YouTube probably knows who he is. That sounds like a great f-ing idea. It gets better, though.

Page 125, Line 1-8:
A few years earlier a website had been set up by the IT guys at the Bureau: The backstory on the site went like this: A former federal agent had been run out of his job when he'd tried to blow the whistle on some dangerous truths. After repeated death threats, this ousted agent had gotten angry and gone public on the Web in an effort to protect himself from retribution, and to continue his crusade to expose the dark forces intent on causing a global financial collapse and ushering in a one-world government.

Oooooohhhhhh! I know this guy! It's good old Dirk Burton from Left Behind! Ha! Wow, these authors are so freaking lazy, they're out-and-out stealing characters from other crazy books. Just shameful. On an unrelated note, though, if you actually type in into a web browser, you're redirected to the FBI homepage. I don't know if this is the FBI's doing or the authors' but, either way, it frankly bothers me a bit. On a somewhat more horrifying note, I've also just realized that there's a website for the fake organization founded by Molly's mom. There's also a site for Doyle & Merchant, although in this case I think it's probably just coincidence.

Page 125, Line 21-25:
This site and its inflammatory content formed what's known as a troll in the parlance of the Internet culture. Trolling is a fishing term; you toss your lure over the side and forget about it, letting it drag behind the boat in the hopes that something you want to catch will eventually take the bait. [emphasis original]

Yeah, if you don't get that, nothing I can say will help.

Page 125, Line 28-30:
The FBI and many other agencies maintained thousands of such baited traps; sometimes they paid off, most times they didn't.

Can't you just feel the excitement? Anyway, it comes out that a discussion group formed in a private chat room on the site- however the hell that could happen- and gradually five guys emerged who were ready, and willing, to launch a terrorist strike on the U.S. Aaaaand we're back to the "action":

Page 126, Line 18-19:
"These aren't my people," Bailey said. "You've gotta be kidding me, man, I've never told anybody to do any violence-"

Which is pretty much a constant refrain from people who actually ARE inciting violence, just not in so many words. Kearns basically says that and Bailey answers that he has to be inflammatory in order to get attention, and then asks whether the government investigated Tom Clancy after 9/11 given that he wrote about the use of a jet liner as a weapon (1). Kearns answers that they actually did bring him in for questioning though they did not arrest him. As a side note, if I recall correctly the U.S. military did pretty thoroughly investigate a science fiction author who published a story featuring a weapon very much like a cruise missile. Apparently they were worried the guy was trying to communicate defense secrets to the Russians. What does this have to do with the story? Nothing, really, but it's more entertaining than the plot. Returning to Bailey's original protestations of innocence, however, we should keep in mind that just a few chapters ago (Page 83, Line 7-14) Bailey told a room full of people that they were justified to resort to armed resistance to the government and that if a "war" was inevitable, they should start it on their own terms. What's a matter, Danny? Can't handle it when someone takes you at your word? Anyway, Kearns mentions he thinks that there might be "an agent" hidden among the crazies, whatever the hell that means, and then asks Bailey if he has any acting experience.

Page 127-128, Line 127: 20-32, 128: 1-4:
"Oh, you want to know if I can fool a handful of small-time desperadoes role-playing Red Dawn in their living room?" Bailey nodded, took off his dark glasses, picked up his surveillance file from Kearns's lap, and went through the stack until he found a series of photos a third of the way down. "Did you miss these?" he asked.

The photos, time-stamped from earlier in the year, all featured a man dressed and made up in a convincing impersonation of Colonel Sanders, complete with goatee, white suit, and black-string bow tie. In the top picture he was shaking hands with a distinguished-looking gentleman under a huge United Nations seal.

"Is that you?" Kearns asked [revealing that he apparently doesn't know whose surveillance file he was holding in his own lap]

"That's me." Bailey pointed to the man standing next to him in the photo. "And that's Mr. Ali Treki, the president of the UN General Assembly, receiving an official state visit from the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, who'd been dead for almost thirty years at the time. Look." He flipped to the next picture. "He even let me sit in his chair and bang the gavel."

The first thing I wondered when reading this passage is why it is that the United Nations is somehow the arch nemesis of the people who write the shit novels I've been reading for this series. I mean, in Left Behind it's somehow a nascent world state, in this book it's... I dunno... important somehow as something other than a public relations stage. I dunno. It's just weird. The second thing I wondered, though, was whether this was an invention of the authors or an actual event. Turns out this actually happened. The main difference, though, is that whereas in the book Bailey does it to advertise for his new DVD on UN corruption, in the real world it was an advertising ploy by KFC itself. Apparently previous to the stunt, KFC had actually been lobbying the UN to admit the "Grilled Nation" as a member state. No, I'm not kidding. Oddly, however, despite all the absurd citations in the back of the book, the authors didn't see fit to mention that this incident was adapted from real life as well. No idea why, except that it makes me wonder how many of the other details in this book are "borrowed" from others without attribution. Anyway, Kearns asks the logical question:

Page 128, Line 9-11:
"How did you get past security?"

"What security? Security walked me all the way up to the president's office." Bailey smiled. "Everybody loves the Colonel."

Ha! That doesn't explain anything. It does, however, make Kearns' loins warm.

Page 128, Line 14-17:
Despite the circumstances, it was clear to see what people connected with in Danny Bailey. He had an easy charm about him, a certain smoothness that could draw you in like a great salesman does as he effortlessly talks you right down to the bottom line.

I'm almost glad the authors told us all that because, based on what we've seen of Bailey thus far, they sure as hell haven't shown it to us. I mean, thus far Bailey has uniformly appeared to be a total asshole. So, yes, I'm glad they corrected the impression provided by their own terrible writing. But will Bailey's "charm" be enough?

Well, if you want to find out, you'll have to come back next time, because this is the end of the chapter. Come back next time when we check back in with Noah and Molly, who are busy waking up from their night of chaste romance and preparing for the walk of shame walk of mild rebuke.

Good times.



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"As a side note, if I recall correctly the U.S. military did pretty thoroughly investigate a science fiction author who published a story featuring a weapon very much like a cruise missile. Apparently they were worried the guy was trying to communicate defense secrets to the Russians."

Possible. The standard story is that there was an investigation of Cleve Cartmill after his story "Deadline" was published in Astounding in 1943--he described something vaguely similar to the Manhattan Project and received a knock on the door from FBI agents, who quickly realized (1) that it was just a story plot originally and (2) that stopping the publication of such stories would be at least as much of a giveaway to the enemy as letting the fiction market continue.

"Kearns basically says that and Bailey answers that he has to be inflammatory in order to get attention, and then asks whether the government investigated Tom Clancy after 9/11 given that he wrote about the use of a jet liner as a weapon."

How memory has faded. The first episode of The Lone Gunmen had that plot, and was even aired in Australia around the time the planes were incoming. But they're writing to comfort the audience--Tom Clancy, Oprah, Dr. Phil--not inform them.

(I don't watch much non-kids television; is there some relationship between Oprah and "Dr." Phil that would make that sentence have made sense?)

"They were in the market for funding, logistical support, and some serious weapons. If all went well then the only thing they'd be getting at the final handoff was arrested."

For what? is a fair question. But let's look at the sentence again: if all doesn't go well, are they going to shoot down the Concorde, or at least blow up Stuart Kearns's car?

If the authors doubt the skills of the FBI agents this much, why should the reader trust them?

Friday, June 10, 2011 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Friends, I think we're looking at a clear product-placement commercial for KFC. "Everyone loves the Colonel" -- bitch, please. There is no other reasonable explanation for that entire fucking scene. Also, given that Oprah is a clear supporter/lover of the Colonel, I SMELL A CRISPY CONSPIRACY, PEOPLE!

If you consider that Bailey is probably a stand-in for Beck himself, it just makes this entire chapter all the more unbearable. It's kinda sad when you miss the good ol' days of volcano lairs, wise hillbillies and prison rape. But this book is quickly flushing itself down the narrative shitter.

Sunday, June 12, 2011 7:32:00 AM  

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