The Overton Window: 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.

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