There are three problems trying to write about P.J. O'Rourke. One, enthusing about his writing might make it sound like you agree with it and you too think Hilary Rodham Clinton wears a tall pointy hat and throws fluffy kittens in cauldrons; two, you try to be funny, and you're not, not compared to him anyway; and three, it threatens to be nothing but quotes. Let's see if I can do this without too much quoting.

Holidays in Hell is a 1988 compilation of travel articles for various magazines, mainly Rolling Stone, in which O'Rourke tries to get his head around why so many people do stupid things. In another book, Parliament of Whores, the stupidity is in the United States government, but in this book it's largely in the trouble spots of the world, where people spend a great deal of effort trying to kill each other and/or seize power; or that are just, for one reason or another, hell.

  1. The Innocents Abroad, updated -- "On Saturday, 8 june 1867, the steamship Quaker City left New York harbour. On board was a group of Americans making the world's first package tour [apart from those conducted by Thomas Cook since 1841 - JudyT]. Also on board was Mark Twain making the world's first fun of package tourism." -- O'Rourke spends the most time on the excruciating dress sense of modern travellers, though also has a go at the bad food and the useless things to buy.

  2. A Ramble through Lebanon -- "Everybody with a gun has a check-point in Lebanon. And in Lebanon you'd be crazy not to have a gun. Though, I assure you, all the crazy people have guns, too." -- He joins the journalists drinking themselves silly in the bars of Beirut, strolls among the ruins, faces driving habitually worse than anything Amal, the Phalangists, or the Israelis can threaten. He risks rickety taxis and buses to see the different communities in the country and how many guns they've got, and blusters his way past Israeli checkpoints in the south and Syrian ones in the north, stopping off for some tourism to make fun of Kahlil Gibran's house.

  3. Seoul Brothers -- It's 1987 and Koreans want democracy and one of various presidential candidates all called Kim. P.J. gets caught up in tear gas and rioting.

  4. Panama Banal -- More rioting and tear gas trying to get rid of Panama's more than usually thuggish dictator Manuel Noriega.

  5. Third World Driving Hints and Tips -- "As a rule of thumb, you should slow down for donkeys, speed up for goats, and stop for cows." -- Also the use of the horn (all the time), the road-block (they'll shoot you if you stop or slow down or if you don't), and you'll just get scared if you look where you're going.

  6. What do they do for fun in Warsaw? -- "Commies love concrete, but they don't know how to make it. Concrete is a mixture of cement, gravel and straw? No? Gravel, water and wood pulp? Water, potatoes and lard?" -- What they do basically is vodka, bad imitations of rebellious new wave and punk music, and making jokes about the stupidity of the Polish communist government.

  7. Weekend getaway: Heritage USA -- Heritage USA is a sickening, squeaky-clean resort and "amusement park" created by disgraced evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker. Attempts to go shopping find nothing actually usable, but lots of imitation consumer goods on a Christian theme, like Born-Again Bunny.

  8. The Post-Marcos Philippines -- For a previous report in another book he covered the People's Power revolution that threw out the abominable Marcos and brought in the pleasant and harmless Cory Aquino. Now he returns to see how much has changed for the better. The gigantic pile of garbage that thousands of Manila's people live in is still there. The communist New People's Army is still fighting the Philippine government, so P.J. decides to go and visit them up in the hills.

  9. Christmas in El Salvador -- Death squads, civil war, oligarchs, killing, communists.

  10. At sea with the America's Cup -- When you're watching boats, they just move around a bit; when you're inside one you don't care what they're doing, you just want to get off. He makes fun of Australians for the tiny little glasses they drink beer out of. Somewhere, out at sea in the distance off Perth, someone wins the America's Cup.

  11. Intellectual Wilderness, Ho -- A Visit to Harvard's 350th Anniversary Celebration.

  12. In Whitest Africa -- He goes and visits rhinos, and Soweto, because they're dangerous, but mainly he gets very very drunk with the whites who still (then) control South Africa, and try to figure them out. Why are the Afrikaners so blinkered and stupid about it, and why are the English-speakers so pussy they don't join forces with the blacks and do something about it?

  13. Through darkest America: Epcot Center -- Disney, General Motors, and Exxon trying to be cute, futuristic, and appealing all at once, in a tacky imitation of some of the already tackiest parts of America.

  14. Among the Euro-Weenies -- The coffee and the beer are lukewarm, the radiators are freezing, there is no ice (apart from the radiators), the switches are upside down, the toilets flush in strange ways, and they don't like Americans. So, P.J. hasn't started exaggerating yet. There's some interesting shooting going on in Libya, or the Americans are going to start bombing it or something, so he tries to book a flight to Libya from Europe. There's a wonderful scene in a Belgian nightclub when an adorable blonde girl about sixteen years old orders her big tough biker boyfriend to kiss her toy bunny in public. Then he gets frustrated arguing with Europeans, especially the sincere ones in CND.

  15. Thirty-six hours in Managua -- An in-depth report. The usual anti-communist fact-finding in the elections in Nicaragua that pitted Violeta Chamorro against Daniel Ortega.

  16. The 1987 Reagan/Gorbachev Summit -- Through darkest America, part II.

  17. Mexican Border Idyll -- Capturing illegal aliens on the Mexican border, then going down into Mexico to talk to the opposition PAN about their plans to defeat the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party, a godsend of a name to O'Rourke).

  18. The Holy Land - God's monkey house -- Dressing as a Muslim and sneaking into a mosque would be fun. Arabs, Jews, refugee camps, fanatics, riots, terror, all add to the fun as expected.

  19. The 1988 Gorbachev/Reagan Summit -- back in the USSR.

  20. On the Blandwagon: the Democratic Party Convention -- "I've just come back from an entropic, specious, criminally stupid Democratic convention -- a numb suck hole full of feel-swell political bulk filler held in that place where bad malls go when they die, Atlanta -- a city with a midsummer climate like the inside of a locked van in the Kalahari at noon. And now I've barely got time to hose the Dukakis sludge out of my typewriter and scrape the talk of party unity off the bottom of my loafers before I leave to cover the Republican convention, an even bigger oleo high colonic." -- This little piece is possibly more full of venom than all the rest; he has a grudging respect for Jesse Jackson, and no-one else.

  21. The Piece of Ireland that passeth all Understanding -- An early (12th-century) O'Rourke helped cause the troubles in Northern Ireland, so he's curious here, but there isn't really much violence in it, just ridiculous heavy-handedness and, of course, stupidity.

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