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This is not funny
on 15 May 2011
"The Men Who Stare at Goats" is a book by Jon Ronson. The author has written several books on religious cults, conspiracy theories and other absurdities. He has also made TV documentaries on the same subjects. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" is arguably Ronson's most bizarre book ever. In fact, it might be the most bizarre book ever written.
The first part of the book is hilariously funny, so funny that I almost laughed out load when reading it at my favourite café and, later, at the metro. People must have wondered what the hell I was up to! Apparently, several high-ranking members of the US military believe in paranormal phenomena. They have attempted to create the ultimate soldier, a soldier with supernatural powers: invisibility, the power to walk through solid walls, killing people just by staring at them, etc. Some of these ideas originated with a New Age hippie who wanted the US military to become more peaceful and friendly. His ideas were seized upon by other operatives, more interested in "the dark side".
Are we to believe Ronson, the military actually recruited a number of "psychic spies" who attempted to kill goats just by staring at them (one of them says he can kill hamsters, too). They were also supposed to spy on Panama's then-dictator Manuel Noriega, a former CIA asset who later had a fall out with the US authorities. Noriega apparently believed in occult powers himself, and tried to defend himself from the psychic spying by erecting a crucifix on some distant shore in Panama. One of the clairvoyants later ended up at a mental institution, while another became a big star on Art Bell Show. Ronson also writes about his own experiences interviewing these somewhat shadowy characters. Apparently, the guy who can kill golden hamsters just by looking at them, quite seriously believed that Ronson (a Jew) must have been al-Qaeda!
I'm not surprised that the first chapters of "The Men Who Stare at Goats" have been turned into a comic flick by Hollywood. Unfortunately, the second part of the book is not funny, not funny at all...
It deals with MK-Ultra, suicide cults, the bizarre torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and in Iraq, and the disturbing mindset of music producers and media people in the United States. I wasn't laughing when reading the concluding chapters.
Jon Ronson's book "Them: Adventures with extremists" left me similarly bewildered. That book is also supposed to be entertaining, but when I read it, I got some kind of involuntary sympathies with the extremists.
I honestly don't know how to rate "The Men Who Stare at Goats". The book is just too bizarre and disturbing. After some deliberation, I nevertheless settled for a five star review.
But don't tell me I haven't warned you!