Home, Home on the Home Front
A book review
When you ride ALONE you ride with bin Laden
|By Bill Maher.
|132 pages, illustrated, $27.95.
Reviewed by Howard Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"When you ride ALONE you ride with bin Laden" is the new book by
comedian and commentator Bill Maher, former host of ABC TV's "Politically
Incorrect" and future host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."
The book is thought provoking and often funny, though a little uneven.
Maher's blunt with his opinions and everybody (including me) will get
offended at some part of the book. In other words the book is just like
Fans of his TV shows will notice that the book's words almost sound
like Bill's talking to them. And his bluntness is mellowed by humor and
The book is 132 pages, of which 81 are text. Most of the rest are
illustrations that Maher hopes the U.S. Government will make into posters
for the Home Front in the war against terrorism. My guess is that the
government will open a secret file on him if
they haven't already.
Maher doesn't seem to expect that the government will actually get
serious about civilian help in the war against Al Qaeda, but he certainly
wants all Americans to realize that there is a Home Front. And it
doesn't involve sucker punching the corner grocer just because he's from a
country most of us can't find on a map.
The book explores the responsibilities of American civilians in the war
against terrorism. The title refers to an illustration based on the World
War II era poster, "When you ride ALONE you ride with Hitler." During that
war conserving gas meant there was more for the war effort against Nazi
Germany and Imperial Japan. Wasting gas denied it to American troops under
fire from the enemy. As Maher points out, now when you waste gas you're
financing Bin Laden.
Incidentally, readers of the SF Call's
January 7, 2002 issue may
remember that this writer's article, "Driving Bin Laden to the Bank," came
up with the slogan "Bin Laden rides with you" several months before
Maher's book came out. Just another example of the cutting-edge Call being
out there ahead of everybody else.
Now, before I start picking apart "When you ride ALONE you ride with
bin Laden," let's get one thing understood: This is an important book.
Every American who still thinks it's OK to drive two blocks for a six pack
needs to read this book. This even includes the people who are getting
that six pack for me! And those of us who don't waste gasoline or
other natural resources except hops and
barley malt should read this book so that we
can educate others.
Some people still don't think there's such a thing as a Home Front in
the war against Al Qaeda. Look at it this way: Next time some
upper-middle-class Saudi with a self-esteem problem steers a 747 into a
building, it just might be the one that youre inside.
Bill Maher's book brings up many issues that need to be addressed. His
analysis doesn't always score and sometimes he's just plain wrong, but he
deserves mega props for putting them out there. Especially since few
Since 9/11 the Right has all but declared just about everything beyond
questioning. Indeed, it was in response to Maher's suggestion that suicide
bombers might have some guts that Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer warned
that Americans should watch what "they" say. (Notice that the Fleischer
referred to Americans as "they," not "we" but
that's a topic for another article.) And since 9/11 the Left has for the
most part failed to raise the issues that Maher addresses.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 demand a serious and concrete review of
our way of life, not just outdated rants. It has actually been Centrists
like Bill Maher and Arianna Huffington who have asked in practical terms
if our way of life just might be too extravagant
and ultimately dangerous.
Maher points out that corporations continue to seek offshore tax havens
even while we're at war with terrorists. Has anybody on the Left
noted that context?
When Maher says "We are bogarting the earth" (referring to Americans'
consumption of 30% of the planet's resources), he means we
as in all of us in the USA. The Left seems to
imply that only wealthy Americans do that. The Right seems to think that
30% isn't enough.
As I stated, not all of the book is on target. Maher repeats the common
error that U.S. armed forces overthrew the Taliban. That's not exactly
true. Our bombing campaign was an indispensable part of the defeat of the
Taliban. But after the U.S. air campaign weakened the enemy, it was the
Afghans on the ground who routed the Al Qaeda/Taliban forces from their
cities and forts. In consideration of the book's calls for Americans to
know more about the rest of the world and for moderate Muslims to take
action against the likes of Al Qaeda, this error about a poor but
important country deserves mention.
Like "Earth in the Balance" Al Gore's
bestseller about the environmental crisis
Maher's book never mentions the word "bicycle." His plan for combating
gasoline waste is car pooling. Nothing bad about that, but what about
bikes, electric cars, and public transit?
Maher's worst error is a comment that "people are sheep." This
remark is so contrary to the book's theme of citizen responsibility that
it almost leaps off the page.
The sometimes glaring errors make the book a bit uneven, but overall,
"When you ride ALONE you ride with bin Laden" scores more hits than
misses. The hits and even a few of the misses
make you laugh, think, or get angry. And with
only 81 pages of text you can easily read it in a couple hours and then
make it a present for a misguided friend or relative who still drives too
much or leaves the TV and lights on after leaving the room.
A slightly different version of this article appears in the latest
issue of Cognition, the newsletter of the San Francisco Bike