Friday, February 25, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter Thirty-Nine

Book review time! No, not my review of The Overton Window, but Noah's review of Molly's Cut-n-Paste Patriot Quote Book. We're through the looking glass, people. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night! (Not really.) But fasten your seatbelts. The light just came on. See:

The fasten-seatbelt light had just blinked on above Noah's head, accompanied by an intercom announcement that the flight would soon begin its on-time descent into McCarran International.

He rubbed his eyes and they felt as though he hadn't blinked in quite a while. The time had apparently flown by as he'd been occupied reading and rereading the many quoted passages that filled the pages of Molly's book.

I am glad the flight is on-time. Good to know Molly and Noah will get wherever they are going without any delay. Unlike the rest of us who, it seems, may never get to the end of this story.

In the course of his supposedly top-shelf schooling he must have already been exposed to much of this, and if so, it shouldn't have seemed as new to him as it did. And in a strange, unsettling way—like reading a horoscope so accurate that its author must surely have been watching you for months through the living-room window—it seemed that each of these writings was addressed to this current time, and this very place, for the sole, specific benefit of Noah Gardner.

Here's the thing that bugs me about this book. One of the things. One of the many things. The constant bouncing from third- to second-person. Was the metaphorical astrologist watching you (me?) for months, or watching Noah? I don't know much, but I do know this is something one should learn in middle school grammar class, and I didn't even have the benefit of supposedly top-shelf schooling. (I went to Traweek junior high, a public institution. Go Titans! Or not. I didn't particularly like P.E.)

Noah learns some things from Molly's book. Like bad analogies:

The phrase "too big to fail" had been reborn for propaganda purposes during a brainstorming session at the office last year. This was in the run-up to the country's massive financial meltdown, the multiphase disaster that was only now gathering its full head of steam.

The original purpose of the phrase in business was to describe an entity that was literally too large and successful to possibly go under— think of the Titanic, only before the iceberg. But this newly minted meaning, it was decided, would be a threat, rather than a promise.

So, "too big to fail" meant a business that couldn't fail, because of its size, like the Titanic, which could never go down because it was unsinkable? Huh? What. Bad example, Noah. Bad example, Beck. Very bad example.

We have no choice—that was the sad, helpless tone of both the givers and the receivers of those hundreds of billions of dollars, monies to be deducted directly from the dreams of a brighter future for coming generations. AIG, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Citi, Bear Stearns, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Fannie and Freddie, and the all-powerful puppetmaster behind it all, Goldman Sachs—these companies are the only underpinnings of our whole way of life, so the breathless story went, and if they go down, we all do.

You know, if I had supposedly top-shelf schooling, maybe I'd know what "deducted directly from the dreams of a brighter future for coming generations" meant. The money used to keep the economy from collapsing would have otherwise gone to a brighter future? Whut? Though, I guess, Beck doesn't seem to think the world economy would have been in shambles if the government just let the U.S. banking system falter. Hey, Beck, have you taken a look outside lately? For all your common man pretenses, you really have no idea what the American populace goes through. Period. So, please, just shut the fuck up.

In Molly's book this quote was unattributed but the ideal it conveyed was ancient, and the central pillar of the rule of law. Thomas Paine, quoted on the same page, had put it a different way, in Common Sense: "In America, the law is king." Even the most powerful can't place themselves above it, the weakest are never beneath its protection, and no corrupt institution is too big to fail.

So that's what a principle is, Noah thought, as though he were pondering the word for the very first time.

Whut? Noah didn't know what principles were? Huh? Sure, he's unscrupulous, shallow, dim, easily manipulated, and seemingly disloyal. Faults, most of those. And certainly, I can understand not having principles, but somehow not even knowing what they are? And here's the thing about our hero: It's taken him all of two days to change his allegiance. He's turned his back on his father, the man who has gone out of his way to protect his son, got the awesome lawyer to spring him from jail, the mercenary henchman to rescue him, doctor to patch him up. And Noah turns his back on that to join the people who duped him, drugged him, burgled his house, and have basically manipulated and lied to him from day one.

Now, I'm not saying one can't become a better person, one can't do the right thing. People do turn themselves around. They have life-changing moments, they see the proverbial light. People do spend time reflecting, thinking, sussing out the way of the world and their place in it, and for better or for worse, change tack, and find a purpose. I'm just not sure how much soul searching one can do in three days, when most of that time is spent unconscious.

And given that Noah is so easily manipulated, so clearly out of his depth here, this is who Beverly chooses to look after her daughter? Noah is suddenly and unquestioningly allowed into the teabaggers' inner circle? I thought conspiracy theory-loving fringe groups were notoriously paranoid and suspicious and hostile to strangers. Let me just say: This book is not very realistic.

Blah blah blah, Noah reads more quotes from John Adams and Sam Adams and basically acts as Cliff's Notes for the reader, explaining what each bit means, in a modern context: "Put up or shut up, in other words; go hard or go home. Freedom is the rare exception, he was saying, not the rule, and if you want it you've got to do your part to keep it." And yes, that's a quote. Beck's interpretation of the words of the founding fathers is, essentially, a bumper sticker.

The plane lands, Molly wakes.

"Hey, Molly?"


He touched her hand. "I think I get it now," Noah said.

"You get what?"

"I really didn't before, but I understand what you're doing now, you and your people."

"Oh." She nodded, and continued to check over her things.

"I mean it."

"I know you do," she said, in the way you might address an overly needy child in recognition of some minor accomplishment. "Good. I'm glad."

Noah gets it now. I'm glad someone does. I think maybe we'd have all been better off reading Molly's book than we would have reading The Overton Window. It seems that maybe her book at least makes sense. Good for Noah, is all I can say.

On the concourse, Noah suggests they stop for dinner. Does McCarran have a Rainforest Café? I hope McCarran has a Rainforest Café. Oh, nevermind: Molly ignores the suggestion and demands Noah rent her a car. Noah, I think, is a little hurt by this. Really? The woman who lied to you, drugged you, stole your keys, isn't being nice to you?


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