on August 23, 2009
I've lived in every corner of the continental United States and Hawaii, but about half of my 62 years have been spent in various cities large and small in Texas. Few writers have managed to capture the creepy folksiness, the numbing intellectual disconnect, and the vicious religiosity of Texas as well as Matt Taibbi. His acutely observed description of Hagee's San Antonio mega-cult is spot on. The author gleefully picks the chunks out of the mind vomit of homophobia, militarism and apocalyptic whackology such outfits specialize in, and clearly identifies how Hagee uses support for Israel (to be carefully distinguished from sympathy for Jewish people) to make powerful political connections. This is a marvelous LOL examination of the intersection of religious and political sleeze in an America that's DOA.
on May 15, 2008
I bought this book after reading the exerpt in Rolling Stone about the author's undercover immersion into the Hagee fundamentalist cult. I laughed myself sick and ordered it immediately.
Unfortunately, like most movie trailers, and exerpts published in periodicals, that chapter was the highlight of the book. I kept waiting for more of that sustained humor and bitting wit, but no other chapter came close. Thus, I was somewhat disappointed.
That said, Taibbi gives a good inside understanding of the inner workings of congress, the corruption that has become inherent in our system. His exposee on the 911 conspiracy theorist crazies, and cynical perspective of the Christian Zionist nut jobs and their pathetic flock is revealing and entertaining. Finally, he proffers how these desperate people and divergent groups of the far left and far right are actually a manifestation of American's disgust with, and powerlessness against, the deception and derangement that has become government.
I don't regret buying it, but if I had it to do all over again, I'd wait a few months and get it used at a deep discount.
on May 6, 2008
Got this book Monday, May 5th. Finished it once ... going back again. Matt reveals the absurdity that has this country by the throat. As a former church pastor, the narrative on Matt's adventure with John Hagee's nut bunch was point-on. This book is laugh-out-loud funny but what it reveals is very sad. This book should be required reading in every freshman high school and college civics/polysci course. It's interesting and ironic that Matt Taibbi, Don Imus, Bill Maher, and a very few others may save us from ourselves yet. Thanks guys ... from our kids ... and theirs.
Taibbi opens by observing that our politics are doomed because the debate no longer uses a commonly accepted set of facts. Instead, we've become a nation of reality shoppers, and vote mainly against enemies and not really for anybody. Political parties understand this - hence the bulk of ads are negative.
Much of the book focuses on the insider game in Washington, the non-functioning government bent on both sides twisting reality while continuing to rake in millions from big business. Meanwhile, Boeing, G.M., and Ford are headed towards becoming Chinese companies, and OPEC is likely to begin trading in the Euro. In between safaris into our government, Taibbi also reports on his immersions into both far-Right evangelical religion and far-left (?) 9/11 Truthers, finding them both living in an imaginary world. The common link in all this nuttiness - Madison Avenue and its world of make-believe messages and promises.
It was shocking to read that the "06 election saw political parties spend $160 million on negative ads, vs. only $17 million on the positive. Debate has mostly been removed from the House schedule - 79% of all bills passed during the Republican's recent majority were "suspension bills" where only 40 minutes of debate are allowed, no amendments can be offered, and a two-thirds majority is required for passage.
The Rules Committee can completely rewrite what passes the committee of jurisdiction (usually in the middle of the night) to include anything leadership knew could not survive public discussion. House members are supposed to have 3 days to read the Rules Committee output before it goes to a vote, but this has been waived in "emergency." Thus, virtually every bill passing the House during the Bush-GOP majority years was voted on just hours after emerging from Rules.
Conference Committees again can totally rewrite the bill (majority vote of members not required for passage) and again send the bill out for vote with only a few hours' notice.
Moving on briefly to the Army, Taibbi reports that their camaraderie is real - for a lot of them their unit is the best family they had, they are basically lonely. He also makes a similar observation regarding the far-Right evangelicals in Texas in which he immerses himself (including baptism) while revealing their inanity. Then its the 9/11 Truthers - a 2006 poll cited found 36% believed our government either "did" 9/11 or consciously allowed it, despite the preposterousness of their thinking.
Finally, Taibbi asks: "What about our corrupt medical insurance system, disappearance of the manufacturing economy, exploding prison population, takeover of politics by financial interests?" After setting aside those believing in aliens on earth, etc., it looks like there's not enough sanity left to care!
on November 13, 2008
'The Great Derangement' is something of a mongrel. As a writer for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi covers a wide variety of subjects. At times 'Derangement' felt as if Mr. Taibbi had stacks of notes on three different subjects, each set too large for an article but too short for a book on its own, and his solution was to combine them all in one book and claim that the combination was in an effort to compare and contrast. At that he is only marginally successful.
Where 'Derangement' is more successful is in actually reporting from inside of each of the three 'worlds' he covers.
The infiltration of Pastor Hagee's megachurch in Texas is where Mr. Taibbi shines most. Although my personal religious leanings are very similar to the author's, I grew up in the church (if a much more 'main line' denomination) and I recognize the individuals that populate Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. He manages to differentiate between the zealots running the show, the crackpot 'yes-men' that form the middle management, and the actual believers in the pews who, while overly credulous, are really just looking for some answers, stability, and a sense of belonging in their life.
While Mr. Taibbi puts forward a more sympathetic portrait of megachurch parishioners, he has no problem allowing Hagee and his ilk to damn themselves. 'Derangement' is a record of Hagee's willingness to lie to his congregation to further his political ends and ingratiate himself with his Washington benefactors.
'The Great Derangement' attempts to provide 'balance' to his critique of Evangelicalism by comparing it to the '9/11 Truth' movement, something that Mr. Taibbi characterizes as 'left-wing' though I find that claim a bit dubious.
I accept that each one is based on a similar sort of fact-free, take it on faith, 'I-want-to-believe' sort of movement. That said, the Truthers don't have a major political party beholden to them or hundreds if not thousands of adherents positioned within elected and non-elected government. People who think that the World Trade Center was dynamited may try to convince us to adopt their point of view but they're not trying to pass laws and/or change laws so that conform with their ideology. Also, Tiabbi fails to make any real connection between the 'Truthers' and any tenet of Liberalism. Conspiracy theories, and this one in particular, have very little to do with political ideologies.
The final set of notes that Mr. Taibbi used to fill out 'The Great Derangement' was on the combination of corruption and gridlock in Congress. While the Truthers come off as goofy and the Hageeites come off as unsettling, Mr. Taibbi's inside look at how ear marks work is just crushingly disheartening. The amount of disfunction is staggering. One is left wondering how anything ever gets done.
In the end, Mr. Taibbi's strongest point, one that I don't remember him stating directly, is that in today's America, a person can choose from a buffet of ideas and ideologies and there will always be somebody willing to spout reality optional 'facts' that support that position.
on January 8, 2011
A liberal friend gave met his book the other day. Being a conservative Christian, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, that's right. Matt attacks both conservatives and Christians throughout the book, and I laughed all the way through it. Not because of how wrong he is, but because of how right. I figure that if you can't laugh at yourself, you shouldn't believe what you believe. And if you want to laugh, there is almost nothing funnier than his chapter "The Three Longest Days of My Life." It was so funny I read it three times, once out loud to my wife.
The book is an odd mix of two riot-inciting topics: religion and politics. He takes us inside the inner working of Washington DC, and goes undercover into the Hallelujah-filled halls of John Hagee's megachurch. And Matt, though he comes from a different perspective than I do, confirmed what I have always suspected: people who are not conservative or Christian think we're crazy. And I'll admit it; we are crazy. In fact, for several years now, I cringe at the idea of being called a conservative or a Christian. I suppose in some circles that means I'm neither.
Which brings me to my only criticism of Matt's book. He seems to imply that all who believe in God and follow Jesus are like the tongue-speaking, demon-vomiting, gay-hating, environment-polluting Christians he encountered at Cornerstone Church. There are some of us who are more like Matt than he realizes. He can argue with me any time he wants. And I promise, I won't try to cast demons out of him.
on June 15, 2008
Matt Taibbi's new book, "The Great Derangement", finds him traveling near and far to investigate behind-the-scenes looks at religion, Congress and more. His conversational style makes this a breezy and often fun read, but it is sometimes maddeningly uneven. Geared to an under thirty-five crowd, Taibbi scores well when he's most passionate about political figures such as George Bush and Mitt Romney, for instance. Always appearing where least expected, he's kind of America's "Where's Waldo".
The first half of the book is clearly more readable than the second...and much more fun. His chapter entitled "The Longest Three Days of My Life", in which he goes underground to turn religious fundamentalism on its head, is terrific. Spewing up demons is not part of most people's lives, but here, the author unveils a laugh-a-minute approach to cleansing the soul. When Taibbi uncovers the preposterous nature of the actions of this church, it's the northeast vs. Texas and Texas doesn't stand a chance! Had there been more chapters like this one, the book would have held together better. "The Great Derangement" shows promise, but Taibbi could have delivered more.
on April 15, 2011
Most of the Amazon reviews I've read for this book hail from way back in 2008, which politically means a hundred years ago. I love Taibbi's work (especially Griftopia), but I believe The Great Derangement reveals a hint of the failed 2008 Obama euphoria that Taibbi seems to have fallen for back when it promised to Change the World. He would write a completely different book today.
Maybe, Taibbi exclaims, just maybe the American people have finally realized that they've been taken in by both parties, and that maybe, just maybe, it's time to love our crazed neighbors from across the aisle and get back to the task of Rebuilding a Great Country. I can almost hear Taibbi saying to himself today, "What the hell was I thinking?"
If you find this book in the bargain bin, go ahead and pick it up. It still has its moments. But it's stale bread today considering that the polarized crazies have reinvigorated their hatred in time for the 2012 elections.
on February 20, 2009
I first heard of the author when he appeared on Bill Maher's show. Of his writing I became aware when I read his rather biting appraisal of John McCain's campaign not long ago. Then he wrote a piece on Thomas Friedmann which had me rolling on the floor. So I couldn't resist this volume.
Taibbi "infiltrated" an evangelistic church. I don't recall whether he referred to himself as an atheist, but, to put it mildly, it wasn't easy for him to fit in with a bunch of bible thumpers.
Between the chapters on his experince in that realm, the author dabbled in a little political hypocrisy. Interesting, he didn't seem particularly thrilled with Barack Obama. That should be of interest to those who figured they're going to get a stock left-wing diatribe from the book. But he also dabbled in what may be the biggest embarassment to "the Left," the 9/11 Truth "movement." In at least one place, he acknowledged an uncanny similarity between the 9/11 truthers and the evangelists.
In at least one point in the book too, his text reminded me of the one episode of "Harry O" I saw about 35 years ago in which David Jansen played a private eye. Jansen--or Harry--was committed to a mental institution for one thing or another. After a while, he began to wonder: whose perception of reality is the right one?
Anyway, that was interesting.
If you're after something scholarly and boring this ain't your text. But if you want to laugh--I was sitting at the airport in, of all places, San Antonio where some of the story takes place, trying to control my laughter (so I wouldn't end up in the same box as Harry O!) It's an hysterical summary of a dimension of the time in which we live.
Read it and laugh. You gotta do that once in a while.
on July 22, 2008
An anecdote in journalist Matt Taibbi's book THE GREAT DERANGEMENT proves a snapshot of what's wrong with America. Covering the United States Congress in action, Taibbi witnesses legislation that is nothing more than a gift to well-off campaign contributors. Without shame, lawmakers approve it. The author attends a press conference regarding the bill where reporters ask zero tough questions, leaving the public they purportedly serve to figure out there's nothing in this for them except the tab they have to pick up.
The United States government is letting the moneyed interests from which it should protect citizens run it. And with corporations owning more than 95% of media and not about to report what they pilfer, too many Americans do not get the news they need to know.
In THE GREAT DERANGEMENT author Taibbi frames political debate as liberal-conservative, just as the corporate media does. He should pick up on populist writer/commentator Jim Hightower, who says the real struggle is not left-right but up-down, between the wealthy and poor. History and the world today are little more than the moneyed interests stealing from and dominating the people.
Taking it to the streets in THE GREAT DERANGEMENT, Matt Taibbi reports from the front lines of everyday citizens. The affluent divide and conquer the middle class and poor with red herrings and straw-man arguments. Mega-church pastors who must read Bush White House talking points more often than the Bible sway congregations to doubt global warming. The corporate media does not investigate why the Bush administration ignored over fifty 9/11 warnings (most famous the August 6, 2001, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S." memo to Bush), resulting in a frustration-driven movement claiming the U.S. government orchestrated the attacks. Stress, fear and confusion from thirty-plus years of declining wellbeing for most Americans turn citizens against one another when instead they ought to unite and march against injustice. Divided, America falls.
Read THE GREAT DERANGEMENT.