The Book That Got the Bro Tazed
The Book that Got the Bro Tazed
I’m with you in Rockland
where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul
is innocent and immortal it should never die
ungodly in an armed madhouse
Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1955)
Greg Palast is an angry man, a funny man, a brilliant man, and an unapologetic egoist. You might say he’s like Sy Hersh and Mike Moore and Ed Murrow and Milton Friedman rolled into one. His book, Armed Madhouse, has been released in several editions, with various Swiftian subtitles, since 2006. This reviewer used the English Dutton edition from the Ann Arbor Public Library, which, bless them, has four copies.
The book is like a volcanic eruption. Where to start? Most anywhere, since Palast has dispensed with conventional narrative, chronological progression, and logical argumentation in favor of a thematic and topical approach which is much like his blog at gregpalast.com. Palast says, “I like to read in the loo, so this book, like my last [The Best Democracy Money Can Buy] can be read in short spurts, in any order. To that end, I’ve eliminated the consistency and continuity I despise in other books.” A pity, that.
I first became interested in Armed Madhouse during the infamous “Don’t Taze Me, Bro” incident at the University of Florida on September 17, 2007. A young man spent 90 seconds attempting to ask former Presidential candidate John Kerry a series of questions based on Palast’s book. The unfortunate young man, Andrew Meyer, was dragged to the back of the auditorium by campus police. While Meyer was waving a yellow trade paper edition of Armed Madhouse, he was pinned to the ground and “drive stunned” with a Taser while pleading “What did I do?… Don’t Taze Me, Bro!”
Public interest in the Andrew Meyer case has subsided since Meyer, on the advice of counsel, wrote a letter of apology exonerating the police who had taken him down, drive stunned him and arrested him for taking 90 seconds to ask an argumentative question. Meyer reportedly is to complete a “voluntary” 18 month probation, which if successful, will result in him not facing charges over the incident. Video of the incident was a YouTube phenom, with more than 2 million viewings to date. Interest in Palast’s book, which had reached the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list in May 2007, has resurged since the Tazing of the Bro.
Palast is savage in his treatment of President Bush Jr’s defining “Mission Accomplished” moment:
On Thursday, May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Forgetting to undo the parachute clips around his gonads, our President walked bowlegged on the ship’s deck in a green jumpsuit looking astonishingly like Ham, first chimp in space.
It is really quite disgraceful of Palast to make such a comparison to Ham, a perfectly respectable hero-chimp-astronaut.
Beyond his bombast, Palast clearly has excellent investigative instincts and deep national security sources. His investigations of Exxon and Enron helped blow the whistle on major scandals of the 1990’s. His analysis of the Bin Laden’s and Bush’s as motivated by the same oil-baron class interests is similar to the thesis of fellow BBC contributor Adam Curtis’ documentary The Power of Nightmares which we reviewed in Current in January, 2006. Palast says:
Fear is the sales pitch for many products…Better than toothpaste that makes your teeth whiter than white, this stuff will make us safer than safe… Real security for life’s dangers–from a national health insurance program to ending oil sheiks’ funding of bomb-loving “charities”–would take a slice of the profits of the owning classes, the Lockheeds, the ChoicePoints and the tiny-town big shot who owns the ferry company. The War on Terror has become class war by other means.
Palast’s investigation of ChoicePoint alleges this organization grew out of the now-officially-defunct “Total Information Awareness Office” at DARPA. He associates ChoicePoint with the database techniques used to “suppress” votes by millions of legally registered Democratic voters in the 2004 election.
Palast ties the war in Iraq to oil–not to an attempt to sell the oil but rather, to prevent it from being sold in order to drive up prices. He points out that there is no oil shortage geologically–world proven reserves, he says, top 1.189 trillion barrels. That’s 49,938,000,000,000 gallons of oil remaining by my calculation. He quotes Mobil Oil heir Lewis Lapham of Harper’s as saying that “we have been ‘running out of oil’ since the days when we drained it from whales”. Palast later refutes, or refines, his own theory in an afterword called “Return to Hubbert’s Peak: Why Palast is Wrong”.
Greg Palast’s website may be found at http://www.gregpalast.com/
Armed Madhouse is a work to taste, chew, and enjoy. A troubling work by a troubled man, and wicked funny. But I repeat myself.
You be the judge!
Copyright © 2007, 2008 Henry Edward Hardy
A version of this article has previously appeared in Current.