Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Andrew Sullivan, who is himself a nest of hooks, came out for Ron Paul today--and maybe that shouldn't have been a surprise. Last week, Dr. Paul's earth-shattering write-a-check gala broke ALL records for a single day fund-raiser; yet, you had to listen somewhere past the health beat on the news shows to get the word.

Ron Paul, who visited here last week (I forgot and didn't go), is yet another reason this campaign season is a joy. None of the talking heads give him a ghost of a chance, yet he raises phenomenal amounts of money, while blistering Republicans in every debate they set. He's against the war, for pity sake; he thinks the Bush Presidency has been devastating for the nation; he carries ordinarily outlandish libertarian views on just about everything. But he's got something the rest of the Republican candidates don't have--a fiercely loyal constituency of folks who empty their wallets with apparent glee. They love him, which is something you can't say about any of the other Republicans wandering the territories hereabouts.

Today, I'm told, that big guy on Law and Order--yeah, what's his name?--will be in town somewhere. He's yet another story. The nomination was his to lose, people said before he entered. Well, he did. He was never again as popular. A couple of days ago, it was reported that in answer to the question, "What is your most treasured object?" he answered, "My trophy wife." I don't know that I've got enough irony in me to stretch that far.

But one line in Andrew Sullivan's tip of the hat to Ron Paul is really memorable. He's talking about his love for John McCain, despite McCain's go-in-alone war stance. "McCain, along with Lieberman," Sullivan writes in his blog, "still seems to believe that expending even more billions of dollars to prop up and enable a fast-devolving, ethnically toxic, religiously nutty region is somehow in American interests."

That sentence jumped off the page, not because of its opinion but because of the description--and because yesterday I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, the third book I've read in the last couple of years that's set in the Middle East. Before that, I'd read Hosseini's best-selling The Kite Runner, and Snow, by Orhan Pamuk.

I can't say I was charmed by any of them really. I can't say that I was deeply engaged either. Of course, I didn't read them per se; I listened to them while I worked out--and there's a difference, believe me. All three have shoot-em-up plots that don't lag for a minute, combined with incredible events that have the feel of what one hears daily on the nightly news.

What's compelling about all three is the window each of them open to a region of our world that I know absolutely nothing about. All three novels feature an Islamic world that is at once fascinating and terrifying. Whether or not you like the plots or the characterization or the style is largely immaterial; those three books are worth reading for no other reason than to give people like myself some sense of what we're up against by inhabiting this mad world of terror. And it is terrifying--it really is.

Bin Laden doesn't appear in any of those novels. For the most part, terrorism is seen only seen from afar, even though all three are set firmly in the Middle East, both of Hosseini's in war-torn Afghanistan. But the quality of life itself--or lack of it--in the cultures created in these novels is remarkably awful. If what those three novels present is anywhere close to the general day-to-day life people live in those regions, we have reason to fear, not only their Bin Ladens, but their dispossessed, the immigrants we keep collecting in the West. Life and death mean nothing. Nothing.

Murder in Amsterdam, which isn't a novel, has the same horrific quality, even though it's set in the Netherlands, of course. You read that book and weep too, not so much for what has happened, but for what might. I sound like a terrorist myself, a bigot, a man who hates Muslims. Shoot, I don't even know any.

But Sullivan's description--"a fast-devolving, ethnically toxic, religiously nutty region"--strikes me as being right on after finishing this latest Mid-East novel. I like to believe that all of the inhabitants of this globe share a common human nature. I like to believe that. But there's so much going on those three novels that seems, well, beyond the pale.

Really, really interesting. Really, really scary.

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