Review: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

The author begins in the conversational style of one relating an anecdote rather than of a journalistic relaying of facts.

Where Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia causes dangerous spikes in blood pressure, this book is written in such a way that the reader finds himself bemused rather than angered. It is as if the reader has been lulled by his vantage as a mere spectator, rather than victim. Similarly, the locales involved are shown nearly as bystanders to the economic train wreck.

I appreciate the novel approach of introducing each locale almost as a travel writer. Indeed, he even coins a phrase for it: “financial disaster tourism.” He begins each chapter with a description of the local character, then proceeds to implicate its contribution to the situation. From Iceland’s peculiar gender segregation to Greece’s pervasive tax evasion to institutionalized gelding of tax collection ability in California, Lewis uses the narrative of the disinterested party to take his audience beneath overt causation and into the deeper subtext.

I have no idea how I even got this book, but I found it fascinating. Presenting the backdrop upon which this tragedy cum farce has been painted leaves the reader with a sense of how the calamity is a patchwork quilt made up of widely disparate participants, most of whom were caught completely by surprise in what should have been obvious.

What I Learned at the Christmas Party

I attended the organization Christmas party the week before last. Up to that point, I was fairly pleased with our new director. Where he had a history of longwindedness, he was more terse as director. But he did make sure to give a brief speech at the party. Then he said (I’m paraphrasing) this: “… I wish you a Merry Christmas. That’s right, not holidays, but Christmas.” —claps and whistles from a handful of mouth-breathers— “This time of year, I am reminded of (some thing or other) and A Charlie Brown Christmas…” He then goes on about the meaning of Christmas according to the theology of Linus. I wondered if it was fitting that he so embrace the philosophy of a preschooler with security blanket issues.

Worthy of Reverence

Then it all made sense.

Fox Geezer Syndrome

Former Bush Jr. speechwriter David Frum over at FrumForum is posting some of the “Best of” from his site this year. I thought by FF contributor Richmond Ramsey sounded awfully familiar. My parents are not so much this way, but I know a number of members of their generation for whom this is spot-on:

… it turns out that our folks have all been sitting at home watching Fox News Channel all day – especially Glenn Beck’s program.

I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but she began peppering our conversation with red-hot remarks about President Obama. I would try to engage her, but unless I shared her particular judgment, and her outrage, she apparently thought that I was a dupe or a RINO. Finally I asked my father privately why Mom, who as far as I know never before had a political thought, was so worked up about Obama all the time.

Many of my co-workers in their mid 50s or later have begun to develop this personality trait. I had never thought that the trend extended across the nation. Perhaps I was wrong. I wonder how historians of the future will look back on the media of the early 2000s.

Nearly Done with Christmas

After completing all the necessary Christmas-related decorating, shopping, travel, and cultural crap, we had only one small thing left to do. We were to host a small dinner party. Everything had been timed perfectly, and I was just about ready to serve. As I pulled the Roast Beast from the oven, I threw out my back. So I suffered through dinner and after-dinner conversation trying my damnedest to grin through clenched teeth. On the rare occasion when this happens, I am reminded that old age is going to suck. Getting into and out of bed (or, for that matter, the car) can take minutes. I went to work yesterday, but the pain kept me from doing much. I went for a run after work, hoping it would provide a reprieve from the pain. It worked. Of course, after I had stopped running and sat down, the pain returned with a vengeance. So now I am laying prone on the living room floor, burning off a day of sick leave without enjoying it. On the plus side, we all survived Christmas without a hitch.

On Hitchens

Lindsay Beyerstein has collected what she calls Four Antidotes to Hitchens Hagiography.  I understand the anger at how so many members of the media have bent over backwards to sing his praises.  I acknowledge his jingoistic bent, his cruel streak, his drunkenness, and his misogyny.  Those character flaws do not make his brilliant prose any less correct when it is correct.  For that matter, the brilliance of his prose doesn’t make his invalid arguments any more valid.  We should look at each claim according to its own merits.

I read Hitchens’ God is Not Great and thought it was a fantastic book.  In addition to his formidable pen, he is a wonderful speaker and debater.  I cannot defend all of his many faults, but I do have a statement on that.  I thought of this post I wrote last fall after P.Z. Myers had the gall to quote H.P. Lovecraft:

I saw this quote up at Pharyngula yesterday.

As for the Republicans — how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provincial ideals exalting sheer acquisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes based on the bygone agricultural-handicraft world, and revel in (consciously or unconsciously) mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license or that a rational planning of resource-distribution would contravene some vague and mystical ‘American heritage’…) utterly contrary to fact and without the slightest foundation in human experience? Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead.

It is a brilliant quote, I thought. According to one commenter, it was cited as August 1936, Letter to C.L. Moore, August 1936 quoted in “H.P. Lovecraft, a Life” by S.T. Joshi, p. 574.

I was rather amazed at the vitriol spewed forth. Most of the comments seemed to be absorbed in the fact that H.P. Lovecraft was a racist bigot. Should we, then, eradicate the works of Nobel Laureate and DNA co-discoverer James Watson? He’s a racist, sexist asshole. Certainly, then, his ideas on genetics are rendered invalid. Mel Gibson is an antisemitic drunk, therefore anyone who watches the movie Gallipoli is an antisemitic drunk. The Pythagoreans were a mystical cult, so no rationalist should accept that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

I suppose my point is that if one agrees with Mr. Lovecraft’s assessment of the Republican Party’s basic tenets, then he should feel free to avail himself of the eloquent quote. There are a number of reasonable quotes on statecraft to be found in the writings of some of the most despicable characters in history. To the dirty hippies that are bitching about Myers’ use of the quote, do you really think every person you dislike is always wrong?

All that was said there goes as well for the writings of the late, great Christopher Hitchens.