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Old 12-26-2005, 02:01 AM
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In your P.J.'s

A writer's life: P J O'Rourke
(Filed: 20/12/2005)

The author and essayist tells Christopher Bray he'd rather clean the fridge than write.

"America has to act. But, when America acts, other nations accuse us of being 'hegemonistic', of engaging in 'unilateralism', of behaving as if we're the only nation on earth that counts. We are."



Who wrote this? That's right. It's P J O'Rourke, letting another poor booby tire himself out by bouncing pompously around the ring until such time as our man deems it fitting to deliver one of his knockout, two-syllable blows. No big words for P J. And never a great notion: "America is not a wily, sneaky nation. We don't think that way. We don't think much at all, thank God. Start thinking and pretty soon you get ideas, and then you get idealism, and the next thing you know you've got ideology, with millions dead in concentration camps and gulags. A fundamental American question is, 'What's the big idea?' "

That's as good a definition of conservatism as I know, and funnier than anything you'll come across in Reflections on the Revolution in France. You could say the same of every sentence in O'Rourke's latest book, Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism (Picador, £7.99), a never less than provocative collection of his occasional pieces on wars and the "poultry with BMWs" who don't want to get involved in them any more. He may disparage the idea of ideas, but O'Rourke does have a pretty big idea of his own: everything is up for grabs as fuel for the great engine of his comedy.

When I meet him, I stop chuckling only to start cackling. Was he, I want to know, funny from the get-go? "I guess so, yes. I think it's just the way your mind is wired. I count myself lucky because, obviously, I come from Irish stock, and I always say there are two kinds of Irish family: hitters and teasers. And I come from teaser stock."

It's a nice distinction, though quite how it makes itself felt in P J's pugilistic prose I'm uncertain. Is this paragraph, for instance, from an essay entitled "100 Reasons Why Jimmy Carter Was a Better President Than Bill Clinton", a tease or a hit? "We can't bring ourselves to make fun of the first daughter, especially since some of us have been going through an awkward adolescent stage for nearly four decades. But we can say, 'Damn it, Hillary, quit fussing with your hair and do something about Chelsea's'."

But then, O'Rourke's gags have long punched above their weight, the better to knock down the swollen claims of the great and the good. Even back in the late 1960s, when he was one of the long-haired liberal peacenik spoilsports in the pages of long-dead magazines such as Harry and Screw, O'Rourke was hitting hard.

But did the man who loves "that happy sense of purpose people have when they are standing up for a principle they haven't really been knocked down for yet" really swallow all that pseudo-Marcusean hippy claptrap? "Well, to swallow something you have to chew it first, and I didn't read a word of that stuff. Let's say I inhaled it. You see, the real reason I became a communist was to impress girls. Back then, all the pretty ones were revolutionaries. One of the things that's gone wrong for the Left is that their girls just aren't cute any more."

So that's one reason why O'Rourke subsequently took that familiar road - via the pages of National Lampoon, Rolling Stone, Newsweek and Vanity Fair - from Left to Right. Might he also, I wonder, have made the journey because liberals are too busy being po-faced to find anything funny. "Noooooooooo! That devil has all the best laughs stuff just isn't true. Humour is just busted logic - a surprise that reveals what you were thinking all along. And since what we were thinking all along is something we oughtn't have been thinking at all it ties in nicely with Protestant guilt. You enjoy it and feel bad at about it at the same time."

Which is essentially how he feels about his chosen trade. "Writing is agony," he grimaces. "I hate it." But any such agonies are invisible in his finished work, which is put together with the throwaway precision that comes only with hours of loving labour. Even his acknowledgements are laced with wit. O'Rourke once wrote that his cousin Dennis - "my friend, as opposed to relative" - "was the only person in my family to have read a book all the way through, for fun". Look at that final clause, the way it's so delicately ballasted by the infinitesimally small pause preceding it. The sentence reads like reflex rather than a thought - a sure sign O'Rourke thought long and hard about it.

All of which raises the question: is O'Rourke a closet Oscar Wilde? Can he exhaust himself by spending all morning taking a comma out and all afternoon putting it back in again? "Let's put it this way. When I'm writing, I spend a lot of time thinking, 'My, doesn't the top of the fridge look dirty'. It takes for ever. People think writing is easy, but just ask them to sit down and write a thank you note to their aunt, or something, and they turn purple. I like thinking about writing. I like having written. But actually sitting down and doing it…"

Sit down and do it he does, of course, though he no longer sits down in the O'Rourke household proper. Instead, he has built himself an office just far enough away across his New Hampshire fields to make it too much of an effort to walk back before lunch. A regular 9 to 5 routine, then? "It's more like 7.30 through 5.30. I take the kids to school and then go straight into the office." That's some day. "Well, there's lunch, and a dead spot in the afternoon when I attend to paperwork. Then, later on, I get a second wind. Four typed pages a day is the quota. That's about 1,000 words. I never yet heard of a writer who doesn't work similar hours and have a quota requirement."

What surprises him is that writing hasn't got any easier. "Sure, I can look at some of my old pieces and see lapses of taste or clumsinesses of construction and think, 'wouldn't do it that way now', but that doesn't mean the process has become plainer to me. The thing is, when you get right down to it, and it's painful to say this, but, well, few writers get better as they get older. In fact, it's hard to think of one… On the other hand, maybe it's just laziness. I mean, I only read English in college because I already spoke the language."
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Old 12-26-2005, 04:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Botnst
A writer's life: P J O'Rourke
(Filed: 20/12/2005)

"America has to act. But, when America acts, other nations accuse us of being 'hegemonistic', of engaging in 'unilateralism', of behaving as if we're the only nation on earth that counts. We are."
I'm trying to think of other nations/empires who thought they were the only nation on earth who counted, and what happened to them.

It's ironic in a tragic kind of way that we celebrate our founding fathers' historic and improbable throwing off the yoke of British imperialism, yet we also now enthusiastically adopt the very British imperialistic-like mantle of being "the only nation on earth that counts." Sometime after 1776 and between the pointless US slaughter of Filipinos in 1900, it dawned on powerful Americans that while the Brits were major asses, they damn sure knew a thing or two about getting rich.

The list of examples of us stepping on the throats of small nations in pursuit of fun and profit is a long one. Perhaps the most serious problem we face in the world today, the growing power of Iran and the terrorist rebels they inspired, has its undeniable roots in our folly in '53 wherein we replaced their nascent democracy with a cowardly, despotic dictator, followed by a really boneheaded move, the training of his secret police by Israel and Uncle Sam.

In the preface to Stephen Kinzer's book, "All the Shah's Men," he tells of attending a book party for an older Iranian woman who had written her memoirs. She spoke at the event and mentioned in passing that her family was related to Mossadeq, the leader we overthrew. Afterwards, Kinzer asked her what she could remember of the coup in '53.

She became animated and said, "Why did you Americans do that terrible thing? We always loved America. To us, America was the great country, the perfect country, the country that helped us while others were exploiting us. But after that moment, no one in Iran ever trusted the United States again. I can tell you for sure, if you had not done that thing, you would never have had the problem of hostages being taken in your embassy in Tehran. All your trouble started in 1953. Why, why did you do it?"

I could offer an answer that even O'Rourke might agree with: for power and money.

O'Rourke is a coarse a$$ who thinks poking fun at Hillary and Chelsea Clinton's appearance passes for informed political debate or humor. He's the perfect humorist for those who believe the US will rule for 1,000 years.
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Last edited by cmac2012; 12-26-2005 at 04:37 PM.
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Old 12-26-2005, 05:39 PM
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More O'Rourke:

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.

With Epcot Center the Disney corporation has accomplished something I didn't think possible in today's world. They have created a land of make-believe that's worse than regular life.

American children grow up to be valuable citizens. Bangladeshi children grow up to be part of the world population problem.

Fretting about overpopulation, is a perfect guilt-free - indeed, sanctimonious - way for "progressives" to be racists.

Imagine a weight-loss program at the end of which, instead of better health, good looks, and hot romantic prospects, you die. Somalia had become just this kind of spa.

When a thing defies physical law, there's usually politics involved.

Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit. A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty - their power and privilege - to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by ... politicians.

And my favorite O'Rourke quote for today: Never fight an inanimate object.
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'Government is like a baby:
An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and
no sense of responsibility at the other'
- Ronald Reagan

Last edited by Botnst; 12-26-2005 at 05:51 PM.
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Old 12-26-2005, 06:21 PM
cmac2012's Avatar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Botnst
More O'Rourke:

American children grow up to be valuable citizens. Bangladeshi children grow up to be part of the world population problem.

Fretting about overpopulation, is a perfect guilt-free - indeed, sanctimonious - way for "progressives" to be racists.
Yeah, more of O'Rourke's pea-brained musings. I can't speak for others, but any time I see or read about a family, white American or brown third worlder, with 8 or 10 kids, I shake my head. One reason I can't stomach the Mormon church. They seem to think large families will be the norm for the next, oh, 1,000 years.

Exponential progression, anyone? But O'Rourke is not interested in looking at problems and wondering about a solution. He's interested in flinging mud on the DAMN LIBERALS, the source of all ill in the world. He's a heavyweight, that one.
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Old 12-27-2005, 02:33 AM
cmac2012's Avatar
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Well, maybe the guy's not all bad:

“Ann Coulter, on the cover of Treason, has the look of a soon-to-be-ex wife who has just finished shouting.”
P.J. O’Rourke

“If there are three words that need to be used more in American journalism, commentary, politics, personal life ... it’s the magic words ‘I don’t know.’ ”
P. J. O’Rourke
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