The movie, starring George Clooney as a Special Forces operative who trains "psychic spies," was widely regarded as an absurd comedy, but The Men Who Stare at Goats was adapted from a nonfiction book that documents how, beginning in 1979, a secret wing of the U.S. military's 1st Earth Battalion actually did try to create "warrior monks" capable of psychic feats that included walking through walls and killing a goat simply by staring at it. According to author Jon Ronson, some of the battalion's weird ideas actually inspired torture techniques used at Abu Ghraib and other notorious locations connected to the war on terror. One technique involved subjecting prisoners to round-the-clock repetitions of Barney the purple dinosaur's insipid song, I Love You. Supposedly the song eventually disoriented prisoners — a claim many parents will find plausible.
The first words of the book are, "This is a true story," and it must be true because no one could make this stuff up. Who could imagine, for example, a character named Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine III, who believes he can walk through walls? Well, maybe Joseph Heller, author of the surreal antiwar novel, Catch-22, could have come up with an officer that strange, but he's dead. And what author of fiction would dare claim, as Ronson does, that he met Stubblebine through Uri Geller, the self-proclaimed psychic whose claim to fame involved bending keys held between his fingers, supposedly with nothing but energy from his mind? (Geller, incidentally, also claimed to be a "psychic spy" working for a U.S. intelligence agency.) The Men Who Stare at Goats falls neatly between Ronson's first book, Them, about extremists, including members of the Ku Klux Klan and Muslim jihadists, and his most recent, The Psychopath Test, about those completely selfish and self-absorbed creatures, including politicians and CEOs, who lack all compassion for their fellow humans. We may want to believe that we live in a world run by sane, decent people, but as The Men Who Stare at Goats demonstrates, crackpots abound, and often manage to exert a shocking degree of influence and power over us.
In honor of the goats who managed to survive the men who stared at them, a goat cheese tart would seem appropriate, especially when grape tomatoes are embedded in it so the tart appears to be staring back at those about to eat it.
If you don't feel like making your own tart, try either a full-sized or mini frozen quiche available in the frozen food aisle of most grocery stores. They may not stare back at you, but they're tasty and satisfying.
Tom Valeo, special to the Times
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.