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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapters 22 & 23

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that is almost as much fun as the flu, but lasts twice as long. Last time Molly took Noah back to her lair and drugged the crap out of him. What happens this week? We check back in with Stuart and Danny who do absolutely freaking nothing.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Ken for giving some perspective:

""Come on up," she said. "See how the other half lives.""

I lived in NYC for fifteen years, the last ten in a very nice 2BR (NYC definition; 1BR anywhere else in the US)—on 163rd Street, during the height of the "crack epidemic."

If Molly's flat is "how the other half lives"—working for a large organization that keeps similar "cubicles" as living spaces for the their oft-traveled, well-compensated employees—then I and 99.44% of my neighbors who had guns pulled on them and cars busted and torn apart searching for coke and who had to call to be walked home the nights they worked late at Columbia Presbyterian don't exist at all.

Which is a nice summary of Glenn Beck's world view.

Indeed, it's hard to imagine how the authors- who seem much more familiar with and envious of crazy expensive cars and so forth- could ever relate to the "common man". And then you realize that they don't have to, so long as the "common man" relates to the authors. Who said reciprocity was essential? Thanks for the insight, Ken, and keep at it folks- we're gonna keep on, keeping on.

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.). Well, shiver me timbers!

Dramatis Personae: In an order determined by the contents of a fortune cookie.

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 Mom.

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. Likes bacon. Considers himself to be good at word games.

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. Possibly suffering from bipolar disorder.

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. Once dressed up as Colonel Sanders to infiltrate the United Nations.

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


Chapter 22: In which Kearns and Bailey have a conversation that's supposed to be dramatic. Or ominous. Or... something?

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 171, Line 1-4:
Agent Kearns had retired to the kitchenette of his double-wide mobile home to make breakfast. This left Danny Bailey sitting by himself in the parlor in his borrowed pajamas with a wicked sleep hangover, an ugly off-white cat, and a full-scale model of a small atomic bomb.

Wow. I've never been one for one-night stands, but that sounds like the most awkward "morning after" ever. "Walk of shame" isn't even going to begin to cover this one. More like, "Slouch of abject humiliation". That said, those two sentences were actually a fairly decent intro by the standards of this book.

Page 171, Line 6-7:
It would have been nice to see some headlines but the paper was a little too close to the cat to be safely retrieved.

Is this a ninja cat? Is it frothing at the mouth? Is Danny Bailey just afraid of cats? Are the authors afraid of cats? What the hell is the deal with the cat? Seriously- most interesting detail in the book so far. Anyway, Kearns asks Bailey if he's ever been to Winnemucca, Nevada before, Bailey gives a flippant answer in the negative.

Page 171, Line 14-16:
"If you [Bailey] think this burg is dead, wait until you see where we're going to meet these guys tonight. This whole part of Nevada was voted the official armpit of America by the Washington Post a couple of years ago." [emphasis original]

Actually, the authors declined to include one of their absurd endnotes here but because I love you I managed to track down that, yes, the Washington Post did, in fact, declare a part of Nevada to be the Armpit of America. Specifically, a town named Battle Mountain. Battle Mountain is about 53 miles from Winnemucca if you're curious.

Page 172, Line 1-11:
"I [Bailey] don't want to come off like a puss, but is this bomb-looking thing, like, radioactive?"

"Nah, not too much." Kearns returned with their coffee and sat in a nearby chair. "The core's inert; it's just a big ball of lead. There's some depleted uranium under the lining, so it'll set off a Geiger counter in case anybody checks. Here, look." He flipped a switch on a boxy yellow gadget on the table and brought its wand closer to an open access panel at the fore end of the model. The meter on the instrument twitched and a rapid clicking from its speaker ramped up to a loud, raspy buzz as the tip of the wand touched an inner metal housing. "Sure sounds hot enough though, doesn't it?"

It really seems to me that they could have found something slightly less freaky than depleted uranium to use in the casing but, hey, what do I know? Quite a lot, actually, because I've long had an interest in nuclear and thermonuclear weaponry. Hell, I did a science fair project on the bastards back in the day including a detailed model of a gun-style uranium fission weapon. What Kearns is describing sounds similar to a W54 type weapon, which I mention only because such a device- while small enough to be considered man-portable- nevertheless weighs about 50 pounds. Presumably, any effort to make a fake bomb would have to duplicate this weight, so this thing they're playing with is not gonna be too easy to move for an old FBI agent and a weenie YouTube celebrity. Just sayin' is all. Anyway, Bailey asks why the guys they're meeting would believe Kearns has an actual nuke and Kearns asks if Bailey remembers the "Barksdale thing" (1), which is a real "thing," but in this "factional" world, of the six nuclear warheads that were mistakenly loaded on a plane, only five were ever recovered. Oops?

Page 172, Line 24-28:
"Now we both know that something like that can't just happen, not as an accident anyway. It's like the Secret Service accidentally putting the president into the wrong car and then nobody missing him until noon the next day. It's impossible; there are way too many safeguards in place. Unless, of course, it was an inside job." [Kearns continued]

Yikes. Okay, first of all, the preceding passage shows such a profound ignorance of the cold war that I hardly know where to begin. It ignores how Petrov saved the world, how Able Archer nearly killed it, and in both cases it was a series of mistakes and miscalculations that nearly led to disaster. Second, once again I'm forced to wonder what the deal is with the authors: the government is so inept and stupid that it can't be trusted to do anything, but suddenly when it comes to internal security or military operations it's omniscient and omnipotent. What the hell? Anyway, Kearns explains that his cover story is that he got disgruntled at the FBI and then things get weird.

Page 173, Line 2-6:
"My [Kearns'] cover story was that, to get this bomb, I made friends with the right two people on those munitions crews through my website, one at Minot Air Force Base and one at the destination. They fudged the orders and arranged that flight, then helped me get the guts of one of those warheads onto a truck and on its way out of Barksdale half a day before anybody even knew it was missing."

Wow, that would have been an awesome conversation: "Weeeeellllll, I wouldn't normally do this, but, you've been so much fun to have at poker night... okay, I'll help you steal a nuclear warhead." Seriously, there would have to be some kind of massive payoff involved and, at the end of the day, if a weapon were missing do we really think the government wouldn't go apeshit about it? Regardless, Danny asks some questions, Kearns gets annoyed, then he serves them toast, eggs, and canned ham, all of which apparently taste like ass.

Page 174, Line 16-24:
"I only asked what I asked before," Danny said, "because I would have thought you guys had all kinds of labs and engineers back at headquarters that would have built a model like this for an undercover operation. You know, so someone like you wouldn't have to bother with any of it yourself."

"Yeah, they do, but these last few years I've gotten accustomed to working alone. The less contact you make when you're undercover, the safer it is. Hell, I've been out in the cold so long on this one, as far as I know only one guy inside even knows I'm still on the payroll."

No. Nuh-uh. No, this just doesn't make sense. See, just a few chapters ago Stuart Kearns marched into a New York police station, flashed a shit-ton of paperwork from Homeland Security (Page 117, Line 1-7), and basically confiscated a prisoner. That means that someone had to notify him of said prisoner and give him a chartered jet to get to New York, not to mention to get himself and said prisoner back to Nevada (Page 123, Line 15-17), and hand off a giant-ass file on Danny Bailey (seen on Page 119, Line 21 through Page 120, Line 19 or so). And now, all of a sudden, we're getting this "I'm in such deep cover only one guy knows I'm still a fed" bullshit? Puh-leeze. That's just really sloppy, half-assed writing and it's just absolutely shameful. But, of course, Danny misses all of this, because he's a frickin idiot.

Page 174, Line 25:
"Wow, you must really trust that guy."

Indeed. Kearns responds by waving a gun around (yes, seriously) and replies that he trusts everybody. Aaaaand, believe it or not, that's the end of the chapter. But don't be too depressed, because if there's anything that's even more of a disappointment than Chapter 22, it's Chapter 23!

Chapter 23: In which we hear vaguely about a phone call in a flashback.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 175, Line 1-2:
Sunday afternoon was spent with each of them going over the other's public background.

Is that a euphemism for something? I wish- what the authors mean is that Danny and Stuart spent the day learning about each others' cover stories so that they could answer any questions the crazy militia threw at them. Ah, well. And then we return to the exciting story of telephony that we remember so well from Left Behind.

Page 175, Line 6-10:
Kearns had used a hacker gizmo called an orange box (1) to fake the caller ID display the recipients would see. It would appear to them as though the call had come directly from Danny Bailey's private number; his actual cell phone was apparently still stuck in the bowels of some evidence warehouse back in New York.

Wow! That would be perfect if only we had any reason to believe that the crazy militia cell has Danny Bailey's private cell phone number! More seriously, though, if you follow the annotated link the authors provide above and read even a short way through the document, you run into something interesting. Specifically:

"(3) So does this mean I can totally hide my real Caller ID info and the person on the other end only sees the fake one?

No. The Orange Box talks directly to the Caller ID box on the other end. It can only do this when the telephone company has an open connection between you and the other line, and this connection only exists after the call has been answered. Your real Caller ID information (or PRIVATE if you dialed with *67) would appear on the Caller ID box on the other end before they answer, and the fake info would appear after you send it, which can only be after they answer."

So, as it turns out, this little plot device is bullshit. Awesome job, dumbasses: rather than invent a piece of fictional technology for your factional world, you rely on a factitious piece of technology whose functions, as you state them, are fictitious. Or is that the essence of faction? Man, I just don't know anymore.

Page 175, Line 11-17:
The man who'd answered had been suitably impressed to be talking to one of his longtime media heroes in the war against tyranny. The time and address of the meeting were confirmed and Stuart Kearns was heartily endorsed as a verified patriot who could absolutely deliver the goods. Before sign-off, the man on the other end had handed the phone around so everyone could have a moment to speak with their celebrity caller.

Yeah. I have a hard time seeing Bailey as a hero of the local Lion's Club, much less an active terrorist cell. I'm also not sure that the whole setup makes any sense at all. I mean, if I were planning to start some sort of Atheist militia,* I'm not sure getting a call from Richard Dawkins to vouch for some guy who wanted to sell me a nuclear warhead would exactly reassure me, you know? Anyway, the flashback continues, but Bailey finds himself bothered because a number of the things that the militia members claim he (Bailey) said don't sound like things he remembers saying.

Page 176, Line 17-22:
But even if not in precisely those words, those sentiments did sound awfully familiar. Maybe he had said those things, and it was only the current context that put them into such a stark new light. After all, things can sound different when echoed back by men who've decided to deliver their message with a fifteen-kiloton city killer instead of with a bullhorn.

Which is, after all, why many of us are bothered by Beck's lunatic demagoguery in the first place. But, leaving that aside, let's get on with the chapter.

Actually, we've gotten on with the chapter, because that's the end of Chapter 23. Yes, seriously- it was about half of page 175 and half of page 176 giving us a total of- let's do the math- one goddamn page. Truly, these authors were just phoning it in. And as long as we're on the subject of phoning it in, let's take stock: we've wrapped up chapter 23 and page 176. This book has forty-seven chapters plus an epilogue, which means that next week will take us to the halfway point in terms of chapters. In terms of pages, since this sucker ends on page 292, we're already past the halfway point. And in combination, those two facts tell you that from here on out average chapter length actually declines. Yeah, as if that were possible. But, on the bright side, at least we're most of the way done with this shitbird.

Anyway, come back next time when things "heat up" between Danny and Stuart and we almost meet some militia members.


* I can't even write that without snickering a little.



Blogger Mister Troll said...

The only things the authors write about are things that can be cited? This whole thing reads like one of those bad articles on wikipedia. Ugh.

Friday, July 15, 2011 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a weird selective blindness where a physicist reads a story about a supercollider at CERN and notes that the reporter got five or six major items wrong and didn't understand the interesting bits, and then turns the page and places full faith in the article about the Middle East (or the economy, or pottery...)

So let's say you want to change your transmitted CallerID. While you can't do this from your phone, you can certainly do it at any phone switch. All the VOIP companies have such switches, and setting up an account is merely a matter of a stolen credit card and five minutes typing at a web browser. Then you can login anytime you want and order new phone numbers, change identifying information... really, don't trust your CallerID.

It's much harder to intercept outbound calls *assuming* the attacker doesn't own the switch directly attached to your phone, so you can feel reasonably confident when you dial the number on the back of your credit card that you are actually reaching the bank.

Sunday, July 17, 2011 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous sassafrasjunction said...

Day 467 of my captivity, Comrades.

Today was a close call. My top secret diary, cleverly written on the neglected local newspaper, was nearly snatched by a foolish enemy. Fortunately, I was able to use my mind-melting powers and impressive hissing to frighten him away. Also, I have managed to record the requested conversations, Code Named "Bullshittery Log" and keep them safely hidden in my box of excrements.

Do not fear, Comrades. These fools have no idea how to use geiger counters, and I anticipate no trouble in subduing the fat idiot in glasses, Code Name, "Beck Stand-in."

However, my fur continues to take on damage from living in this armpit of the US and my only entertainment comes from completing the crossword in my mother Russian tongue to the befuddlement of Agent K, aka "Retarded Sparrow."

-Gray Death
(aka "Ninja Cat,"
aka "Mr. Puddles.")

Thursday, July 21, 2011 11:13:00 AM  

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