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06.25.08

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Book Reviews


Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution and Made Us All Less Safe (and What You Need to Know to End the Madness)
Summing up the Republican Party's defensive strategy, Ariana Huffington cites an old lawyer's adage: "When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts are against you, argue the law. And when the law and the facts are against you, attack the plaintiff." That's how an entrenched White House survived criticism for the past eight years, despite a record that reads like the logbook of the Titanic. Huffington's book is both a polemic and a memory refresher. Years of exposure to the 24-hour-news cycle on TV tends to weaken the process of recollection. Here, then, the author rosters every debacle, from the anti-SCHIP propaganda campaign to the blackout of info on global warming, from the poisoning of pets and children by missing-in-action regulatory officials to the monumental mess of Katrina, Medicare reform, Walter Reed, the selling and bungling of the war in Iraq, et al. Taking on fellow members of the punditocracy, Huffington devotes special sidebars to the toothless Tim Russert and Bob Woodward's supine writing about W: "Praising Woodward for his very-late-to-the-party Iraq pile-on [namely the book Plan of Attack] was like a music critic writing a rave of "Let It Be" and getting credit for discovering the Beatles." Huffington laments John McCain's evolution from watchdog to lapdog, particularly in his latest incarnation as salesman for the war, retrieving McCain's 2003 comment that "there's not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias. So I think they can probably get along." Considering the provocation, Huffington is one of the most amiable of the left-wing pundits. She avoids personal attack in favor of a sober listing of quotes and deeds. Getting personal isn't a strategy she needs, anyway, considering these bad years behind us and before us. (By Ariana Huffington; Knopf; 390 pages; $24.95 hardback)

Richard von Busack

Going Dutch in Beijing: How to Behave Properly When Far Away From Home
The Zulu drinking toast is pronounced "Oogy wawa." Don't take a bottle of wine to a fancy French dinner party or marigolds to a Polish house. Give a citizen of Shanghai a clock, and you're hinting "I am counting the minutes until you die." Don't ever tell an Australian athlete you're rooting for him. Toasting "Chin-chin" in Tokyo makes the locals think you're saying, "Here's to little boy's weenies!" Oh God, let's just flip the rest of the world off and know what we're doing when we do it. Fortunately, the middle finger--known even to Julius Caesar's contemporaries as the "digit impudius"--is famous the world over. Globe-trotting author Mark McCrum displays good spirits about the multiplicity of customs on our planet. The adjectives "charming" and "delightful" recur throughout the book--never, as some of us might suggest, "risky" and "shame-inducing." This collection of anecdotes makes one contemplate how bad it is in America, even. The handshake: always a moment of anxiety. Should we do the dance of the Caucasian abrazo? Overseas, it's even more fraught; in Germany, you greet your host's wife first, and in Venezuela, it's the oldest man in the room. The Arabian man-smooch ("Don't initiate it, but if it happens you should reciprocate") is a matter too terrible to contemplate. This book reiterates that the key to good manners is watching your hosts and imitating them. But is it fair to rob foreigners--half the time stuffy, half the time over-familiar--of the pleasure of watching an outlandish Yank make some horrific social gaff? Isn't it your duty as a visitor to give them something to talk about? (By Mark McCrum; Henry Holt; 224 pages; $22 hardback)

Richard von Busack


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