May 2007 Archives

Media Matters’ latest study, “Left Behind,” looks at media preference for conservative religious figures over liberal ones (the full report is here). The study observes that “coverage of religion not only overrepresents some voices and underrepresents others, it does so in a way that is consistently advantageous to conservatives:”

…close to 90 percent of Americans today self-identify as religious, while only 22 percent belong to traditionalist sects. Yet in the cultural war depicted by news media as existing across religious lines, centrist and progressive voices are marginalized or absent altogether. […] Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts. [emphasis added]

Once again, the so-called “liberal media” outlets are doing conservatives’ bidding.

Atheist Revolution says what I've been thinking ever since the Congressional Democrats gave in to Bush's demand for a blank check for the Iraq War:

I am extremely disappointed and angry with the current crop of Democrats in Congress. By caving into Bush's war funding with no strings attached, this is now their war too.

I do not buy the rhetoric that this funding bill was merely a "temporary setback in their efforts to bring home American troops." This is spin to conceal a failure by many within the Democratic Party. Those who voted for this bill are not worthy of our support for they have betrayed the voters who elected them.

[...]

If the Democrats are not willing to stand on principle, to represent the will of the people who elected them, and to hold a corrupt administration accountable, I am not sure why the average voter should continue to support them. [emphasis added]

There is always the "lesser of two evils" argument, but that's hardly an inspirational sentiment.

hatemongers^3

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Michelangelo Signorile has the best commentary on the plot to blow up Fred Phelps and his protestors at Jerry Falwell's funeral:

Hatemonger dies. Hatemongers decide to protest his funeral, because the hatemongers even hate each other. Other hatemongers decide to blow up the protesting hatemongers in order to defend the original dead hatemonger.

Oh, and all this in the name of Jesus's love.


update (10:56am):
Gavin at Sadly, No! has an even better remark:

Honestly, in contemplating Fred Phelps getting blown up by a right-wing terrorist while waving anti-gay placards at Jerry Falwell’s funeral, ‘a tragedy averted’ is not the phrase that comes most readily to mind.

If black ops are considered acts of war, Bush may get his trifecta in the Middle East: Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Iran. ABC News broke this story a few hours ago (h/t: Hot Air):

The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.


I seriously doubt, after reading his commencement speech at Liberty University, (h/t: Eric at Classical Values) that Newt Gingrich will take a pass at the 2008 GOP presidential campaign.

There are two egregious failures in this address. The first is Newt’s repeated references—twelve, by my count—to “Dr Falwell,” in an attempt to give dogma the gloss of learning. I have mentioned Falwell’s lack of an earned doctoral degree before, as this does not appear to be common knowledge among his fans. (Interestingly, I have never heard Newt refer to Bill Clinton as “Dr Clinton,” despite the fact that Clinton also has three honorary doctorates. Double standards, though, are hardly new to Newt.)

The second issue I take with Gingrich’s speech is this passage:

A growing culture of radical secularism declares that the nation cannot publicly profess the truths on which it was founded. We are told that our public schools cannot invoke the Creator, nor proclaim the natural law, nor profess the God-given equality of human rights.

In hostility to American history, the radical secularist insists that religious belief is inherently divisive, and that public debate can only proceed on secular terms when religious belief is excluded.

In this contorted logic, the public square becomes more welcoming to the extent that it strips away and banishes all religious symbols and language.

Unfortunately, these false principles of secular absolutism have deeply penetrated the legal establishment. It is called upon to justify all sorts of judicial destruction. In New Jersey, school officials prevented a student from reading to the class his favorite story, because it came from the Bible. In Pennsylvania, a teacher's assistant was suspended because she wore a necklace with a cross. And in California, the nation's most persistent secularist has renewed his crusade to strike the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

[…]

We are supposed to invite all persons and all parties to the public debate. It is wrong to single out those who believe in God for discrimination. Yet today it is impossible to miss the discrimination against religious believers.

We often hear the need to celebrate free secular and artistic expression—but rarely for religious expression.

Too often, the courts have been biased against religious believers. This anti-religious bias must end.

The Carpetbagger Report has a few comments on this aspect of Newt’s speech:

I’m hard pressed to imagine what country Gingrich and the 12,000 people who applauded his worldview are living in. Out of the 535 members of Congress, 50 governors, the president, vice president, their cabinet, and nine Supreme Court justices, there is exactly one person — not one percent, just one guy — who does not profess a faith in God. If polls are to be believed, less than 5% of the population describes themselves as non-believers.

In the last presidential election, one candidate announced during a presidential debate, “My faith affects everything that I do, in truth…. I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith.” This was John Kerry, the more secular candidate of the two.

The faithful added religion to the Pledge of Allegiance. They added religion to American currency. Both chambers of Congress not only have taxpayer-financed chaplains, but begin each day with a prayer. So much public money is available for religious ministries from the government, they’re hiring lobbyists to get more. The White House now has an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Every year for the last six decades, presidents have declared a National Day of Prayer, and honor Christmas as a national holiday.

In our culture, religion is common in the media — I can’t remember any recent month in which Time and/or Newsweek didn’t feature religion as a cover story — almost exclusively in a positive light. In sporting events, celebrating athletes routinely express their religiosity. At awards ceremonies, entertainers routinely “give thanks to God” from the outset, usually to considerable applause.

Gingrich sees all of this and believes an “anti-religious bias” dominates U.S. society. Exactly how much more religiosity will it take before he’s satisfied? Or is it more likely that Gingrich and his receptive audience yesterday revel in some kind of delusional self-pity because a victim complex sells better than reality?

Gingrich’s latest book, Rediscovering God in America, is also helping to position his (potential) candidacy with the religious right. This supports the “great possibility” (in his own words) that Gingrich will run in 2008.

Newt’s potential candidacy is a great possibility, all right…for Democrats.


update (5/21 @ 9:26om):
Jeremy Leaming posted a review of Newt’s speech at Americans United, and noted that “Only in the minds of fervid Religious Right followers is America a nation of God-haters:”

The reality is that the nation remains a place more than welcoming of Christianity. Indeed, some could conclude that government celebrates Christianity to the exclusion of all other religions. This is a nation’s whose motto professes trust in God, whose public school students recite a pledge that acknowledges God and whose currency includes the proclamation, “In God We Trust.” Fundamentalist Christian personalities are still all over radio and television airwaves, and many of them sell tons of books. It truly borders on delusional for someone to claim that America is somehow anti-God.

In a follow-up to his earlier comments on the late Christianist, Christopher Hitchens appeared on Faux News' Hannity & Colmes to discuss Falwell's legacy. In this clip [since removed; try this one] at YouTube, Hitchens refers to Falwell as "a vulgar fraud and crook," and Ralph Reed immediately began referring to him as "Dr Falwell." (Sorry, Reed: all three of Falwell's doctoral degrees were honorary, and only one of them was from an accredited institution.)

Hannity took self-righteous umbrage at Hitchens' remarks, and the segment degenerated into contentious rambling and Hitchens' mention of Reed's links to GOP racketeer Jack Abramoff. The best line came just as the segment ended:

"If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox."

Former deputy AG James Comey has quite a tale in today's NYT:

President Bush intervened in March 2004 to avert a crisis over the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program after Attorney General John Ashcroft, Director Robert S. Mueller III of the F.B.I. and other senior Justice Department aides all threatened to resign, a former deputy attorney general testified Tuesday.

Mr. Bush quelled the revolt over the program's legality by allowing it to continue without Justice Department approval, also directing department officials to take the necessary steps to bring it into compliance with the law, according to Congressional testimony by the former deputy attorney general, James B. Comey.

[...]

Mr. Comey, the former No. 2 official in the Justice Department, said the crisis began when he refused to sign a presidential order reauthorizing the program, which allowed monitoring of international telephone calls and e-mail of people inside the United States who were suspected of having terrorist ties. He said he made his decision after the department's Office of Legal Counsel, based on an extensive review, concluded that the program did not comply with the law. At the time, Mr. Comey was acting attorney general because Mr. Ashcroft had been hospitalized for emergency gall bladder surgery.

[...]

Mr. Comey said that on the evening of March 10, 2004, Mr. Gonzales and Andrew H. Card Jr., then Mr. Bush's chief of staff, tried to bypass him by secretly visiting Mr. Ashcroft. Mr. Ashcroft was extremely ill and disoriented, Mr. Comey said, and his wife had forbidden any visitors.

Read the whole thing.


update (10:36am):
When you've finished reading the article, read Glenn Greenwald's commentary. After reviewing the details of Comey's testimony, Greenwald makes the following observation:

The overarching point here, as always, is that it is simply crystal clear that the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law. [...] But the more important issue here, by far, is that we should not have to speculate in this way about how the illegal eavesdropping powers were used. We enacted a law 30 years ago making it a felony for the government to eavesdrop on us without warrants, precisely because that power had been so severely and continuously abused. The President deliberately violated that law by eavesdropping in secret. [emphasis in original]

Greenwald also has a few questions:

Does this sound in any way like the behavior of a government operating under the rule of law, which believes that it had legal authority to spy on Americans without the warrants required for three decades by law? How can we possibly permit our government to engage in this behavior, to spy on us in deliberate violation of the laws which we enacted democratically precisely in order to limit how they can spy on us, and to literally commit felonies at will, knowing that they are breaking the law?

How is this not a major scandal on the level of the greatest presidential corruption and lawbreaking scandals in our country's history? Why is this only a one-day story that will focus on the hospital drama but not on what it reveals about the bulging and unparalleled corruption of this administration and the complete erosion of the rule of law in our country? And, as I've asked times before, if we passively allow the President to simply break the law with impunity in how the government spies on our conversations, what don't we allow?

If we had a functioning political press, these are the questions that would be dominating our political discourse and which would have been resolved long ago.

Christopher Hitchens took on Falwell's poisonous legacy in this CNN clip on YouTube (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula). These quotes are key:

...you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you'll just get yourself called "reverend." Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and god's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification? People like that should be out in the street shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign, and selling pencils from a cup.

The whole consideration of this horrible little person is offensive to very, very many of us who have some regard for truth and for morality and who think that ethics do not require that lies be told to children by evil old men.

[...]

It's time to stop saying that because someone preaches credulity and credulousness [and] claims it is a matter of faith that we should respect him. The whole life of Falwell shows this is an actual danger: to democracy, to culture, to civilization. That's what my book is all about."


update (9:30pm):
In this column at Slate, Hitchens calls out Falwell's enablers: "the editors, producers, publicists, and a host of other media riffraff who allowed Falwell to prove, almost every week, that there is no vileness that cannot be freely uttered by a man whose name is prefaced with the word Reverend." Hitchens went on to excoriate Falwell for his post-9/11 comments:

In the time immediately following the assault by religious fascism on American civil society in September 2001, he used his regular indulgence on the airwaves to commit treason. Entirely exculpating the suicide-murderers, he asserted that their acts were a divine punishment of the United States. Again, I ask you to imagine how such a person would be treated if he were not supposedly a man of faith.

As I observed at the time of the infamous Falwell/Robertson exchange:

What bothers me most about comments like theirs (aside from how many people agree with them) is that ignorance and hatred are often overlooked in our country when cloaked in the dominant religions. Imagine the furor that would result if a Hindu or Muslim group (or an atheist one!) spouted crap like this on TV...but (some) Christians can get away with it. An idiot like Louis Farrakhan would need police protection just to show his face in public, but Robertson and Falwell are still on the air - just like every other day. [...] My gripe is that the zealots' desires for an American theocracy are excused and eventually forgotten. The accountability, somehow, never happens.

amazon.com

Vonnegut, Kurt. A Man without a Country (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005)

After quoting from one of these essays in my obituary of Vonnegut a few months ago, it's past time for me to finish reading this collection. I've read several of them already, mostly from In These Times, but I looked forward to this volume anyway; Vonnegut's words deserve the permanence that a book provides. As this passage indicates, Vonnegut's observations are as keen as his wit is sharp:

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break! (p. 98)

I find it interesting that such a well-known atheist would pen this sentiment:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC

(p. 66)

I'd love to see an omnibus collection of Vonnegut's essays were available, however, as this one goes by too quickly. (At the very least, I hope for another volume of his ITT essays.)

Andrew Sullivan makes the following observation at the death of one of the Religious Right's most notorious hate-mongers:

Since I can think of nothing good to say about him, I'll say nothing. And pray for the repose of his soul.

I will second the first sentence of Sullivan's sentiment.


update (3:21pm):
Vjack at Atheist Revolution comments that "A successor to his legacy of intolerance and hatred has not yet been announced." Erica Barnett has an extensive collection of obits at at Slog. The best comment I've read so far is: "Somewhere, Tinky Winky is laughing."


update 2 (3:43pm):
This cartoon (NSFW) epitomizes the animus Falwell so eagerly fostered; that it will now define his career is a matter for which he alone is culpable.


update 3 (4:19pm):
Matt Foreman of the NGLTF comments on Falwell's death here:

“The death of a family member or friend is always a sad occasion and we express our condolences to all those who were close to the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America’s anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation’s appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation.”

Falwell's faith should not allow his hateful rhetoric to become obscured. Take, for example, this outburst in the wake of 9/11:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

Daniel Lazare reviewed several recent atheist books in “Among the Disbelievers” at The Nation: The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins), God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens), Atheist Manifesto (Michel Onfray), and The Meaning of Life (Terry Eagleton). Lazare attacks atheists by observing that, “while united in their resolve to throw the bum out--God, that is--the antireligious forces appear to have given little thought to what to replace Him with should He go.”

History has already furnished a reply. Voltaire was once asked "If you were to succeed in abolishing superstition, what would you substitute for it?" He answered that, "...when I deliver the world from a monster which devours it, I am asked what will I put in its place?" Removing the scientific, intellectual, and moral straightjacket of religion need not be followed by forcing mankind into another subservient relationship with another revealed “truth;” reality is the best fare for our needs.

Ellen at NewsHounds writes a little about the dismissal of Ann Coulter’s vote-fraud case:

Rather than allow the “rule of law” to take its course in the investigation into her false voter registration in Palm Beach County, an FBI agent has interceded on her behalf to have the charges dropped. Why would Special Agent Jim Fitzgerald, an FBI profiler who pursued the Unabomber and is based in Virginia, involve himself in a Palm Beach County election issue? The FBI wants to know, too, and has begun an internal investigation.

The answer seems to be, as Brad Blog reports, that Fitzgerald is an old boyfriend of Coulter’s. Meanwhile, as the Bush Administration (and FOX News) have made the issue of voter fraud such a priority, it’s curious, to say the least, that an FBI agent would step in to stop a bona fide investigation, especially where the evidence is so damning.

…but I have a Quote of the Day already (h/t: Daily Kos):

“Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it in R. To go forward, put it in D.” (TrueBlueMajority)

Political graphics are rarely as well-designed as “The Playmaker’s Table” from Politico (h/t: Eli Sanders at Slog).

Kudos!

This screed at TownHall against several recent atheist books is so poorly argued that I’m tempted to ask: Does Frank Pastore write book reviews for Publishers Weekly? This passage is particularly odious:

Since the pre-Socratics, atheists have been intellectual parasites living off the host of Western Civilization. Able to con-struct [sic] so very little of their own that is either true, good, or beautiful, they live on the borrowed capital of their believing intellectual parents. Atheists have been asserting the same basic mechanistic worldview, and with roughly the same suc-cess, [sic] for centuries.

That would be the “mechanistic worldview” that has brought us to an understanding—lesser or greater, depending on the subject area—of the mechanics of ourselves and the world. Parroting “god did it!” is not an answer, and does nothing to aid our comprehension of anything.

Pastore’s ridiculous summation of our species’ aggregated knowledge about a variety of subjects (cosmology, biology, psychology, anthropology, etc.) as “the ‘just popped’ theory”—as in everything “just popped into existence” —is ludicrous, as someone who (allegedly) has a pair of graduate degrees should know. Did Pastore receive those degrees for “life experience,” from mailing in the required number of cereal boxtops, or via attendance at an unaccredited bible institute? One wonders.

Much as Frank Miller took liberties with Herodotus when adapting the story of King Leonidas to the pages of his graphic novel, Zack Snyder took liberties when adapting Miller's work to the screen. The dramatic demands of each medium are different, and retelling a story requires changes from the source material. Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's LOTR trilogy proved, if nothing else, that some critics will never be satisfied with anything other than a slavish recreation of the original. The historian in me sympathizes with the desire for historical accuracy, while the artist recognizes that adaptations--particularly in collaborative media--demand some degree of compromise.

Kenneth Turan of the LA Times notes 300's stylism, stating that "The film has a striking visual panache, a distinctive style of putting images on film that heightens reality." AO Scott's review at the New York Times calls 300 "about as violent as 'Apocalypto' and twice as stupid," and opines that its script "is weighed down by the lumbering portentousness of the original book, whose arresting images are themselves undermined by the kind of pomposity that frequently mistakes itself for genius." Most media reviews tended to do the same: praising 300's visuals while decrying both its bloodletting and its dramatic license.

Snyder's cinematic excesses (the Tree of the Dead, the rhinos, the Uber-Immortal, the Executioner) grate somewhat on my historical sensibilities, but their existence is neither essential to the film nor excessively detrimental. Perhaps they can be edited out as part of a "historian's cut" version on the DVD. His expanded parallel storyline back in Sparta--primarily focusing on Queen Gorgo's dealings with the traitorous Theron--serve the vital purpose of providing needed respites from the swordplay at Thermopylae.

An assistant professor of Greek history assesses the film and concludes: "the ways in which 300 selectively idealizes Spartan society are problematic, even disturbing." He talks about the agoge, the Ephors, Ephialtes, and finally the Persian invaders:

300's Persians are ahistorical monsters and freaks. Xerxes is eight feet tall, clad chiefly in body piercings and garishly made up, but not disfigured. No need - it is strongly implied Xerxes is homosexual which, in the moral universe of 300, qualifies him for special freakhood. This is ironic given that pederasty was an obligatory part of a Spartan's education. This was a frequent target of Athenian comedy, wherein the verb "to Spartanize" meant "to bugger." In 300, Greek pederasty is, naturally, Athenian.

Dana Stevens at Slate comments that "visually, 300 is thrilling, color-processed to a burnished, monochromatic copper, and packed with painterly, if static, tableaux vivants." She also has some caveats:

...to cast 300 as a purely apolitical romp of an action film smacks of either disingenuousness or complete obliviousness. One of the few war movies I've seen in the past two decades that doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity. In at least one way, the film is true to the ethos of ancient Greece: It conflates moral excellence and physical beauty (which, in this movie, means being young, white, male, and fresh from the gyms of Brentwood).

Some viewers were more than a little upset over 300's portrayals of the Persians. An online petition against the film is here (h/t: Mojoey at Deep Thoughts), calling 300 a "fraudulent and distorted...heresy" that "ignore[s] the proven obvious historical facts, and damage its own reputation by showing the Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae as some monstrous savages." An Iranian spokesperson complained about 300, saying that "Cultural intrusion is among the tactics always used by the aliens. Such a fabrication of culture and insult to people is not acceptable by any nation or government and we consider this attitude as hostile."

On a more reasoned plane, CNN discusses the film's "ahistorical sentiments about 'defending freedom' from Persian slavery and mysticism, though this hardly jibes with the regime the movie itself reveals:"

It's noticeable, too, how Miller and his collaborators strain to disavow any whiff of homosexuality (well known throughout ancient Greece), even as they strip their buff warriors down to highly impractical leather briefs. Athenians are dismissed as "boy-lovers," but Spartans are real men.

Meanwhile, Xerxes, the Persian king, is bedecked in jewelry and facial piercings, and has an effeminate, clean-shaven look. He's also distinctly dark-skinned and not at all Persian-looking.

Victor Davis Hanson writes at TownHall that despite the film's intention "to entertain and shock first, and instruct second," it nevertheless "mostly conveys the message of Thermopylae." Answering claims that 300 is "gratuitously violent," he observes that "the filmmakers omitted the mutilation of King Leonidas, whose head Xerxes ordered impaled on a stake." As to the dialogue, Hanson writes:

Many of the film's corniest lines - such as the Spartan dare, "Come and take them," when ordered by the Persians to hand over their weapons, or the Spartans' flippant reply, "Then we will fight in the shade," when warned that Persian arrows will blot out the sun - actually come from ancient accounts by Herodotus and Plutarch.

On his own "Private Papers" site, VDH writes that "the script, dialogue, cinematography, and acting all recall scenes of the battle right from Herodotus's account:"

If critics think that 300 reduces and simplifies the meaning of Thermopylae into freedom versus tyranny, they should reread carefully ancient accounts and then blame Herodotus, Plutarch, and Diodorus -- who long ago boasted that Greek freedom was on trial against Persian autocracy, free men in superior fashion dying for their liberty, their enslaved enemies being whipped to enslave others.

Ben Shapiro weights in, also at TownHall, with "Why the Left [allegedly] Hates 300." After some specious cracks about "decadent bisexual promiscuity," Shapiro is reduced to railing against nonexistent moral relativism: "it is not surprising that the left objects to any movie pitting freedom against tyranny and coming out squarely on the side of freedom." Actually, Mr Shapiro, we object to those who draw phantom parallels between historical bravery and contemporary idiocy. Also, the film's homophobia--braggadocio on the part of the Spartans--serves to do little besides support current prejudice.

While some see a homophobic subtext in the film, others see a homoerotic one. One of Andrew Sullivan's readers calls 300 "perhaps the gayest movie that I've ever seen that wasn't porn." Dan Savage handles the film's homophobia this way:

I enjoyed 300 in part because the Persian Emperor is played by an eight foot tall black drag queen. Emperor RuPaul.

I mean, my God, the lengths the filmmakers went to in order to reassure the straight boys in the audience that there was nothing homoerotic about staring at men in thongs for three hours.

Frank Miller was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly here, and remarked on his artistic license with costuming:

I was looking for more an evocation than a history lesson. The best result I can hope for is that if the movie excites someone, they'll go explore the histories themselves. Because the histories are endlessly fascinating. [emphasis added]

One can only hope.

A homophobic reading of Thermopylae-era Greek masculinity is certainly ahistoric; it will not survive even a passing familiarity with Sparta's defeats at the Battles of Leuctra and Mantinea by the Thebans and their all-gay Sacred Band of Thebes. I'd love to see those 300 soldiers (150 pairs of lovers) headline a movie, but Hollywood wouldn't touch their history with a ten-foot spear.

Odious comments and comparisons still reign in mainstream political commentary, as do fantasies of Bush as a decisive and principles leader. For an example, check out Bill Walsh's nearly allegorical line of analysis at The Weekly Standard:

If 300 has something to say to us, it is not a facile analogy to our own times, but an occasion, however sensational and simple, for considering the meaning of values such as sacrifice, liberty, honor, and valor.

Such praise was typical of the conservative press: attempting, however tentatively, to draw a parallel between Leonidas and Bush. Lance Mannion's review "The 300 died for the oil" punctures the Busheviks' hero-worship succinctly:

You would have to be incredibly paranoid, in addition to being afflicted with crippling self-pity and narcissism, to see the position of the United States today as analogous to that of the three hundred Spartans surrounded and about to be overwhelmed and annihilated by the the [sic] well-trained, well-equipped army of the most powerful empire in the world.

And you would have to be entirely deluded by a homoerotic hero-worship to think that Leonidas, an actual warrior-king who personally led his Spartans into battle and lay down his life along with theirs, and George Bush have anything in common.

Which is why I expect a whole lot of bloggers on the Right side of the bandwidth to love this movie.

[...]

I'll get a kick out of thinking about the chickenhawks on the Right imagining they would have lasted five minutes in Sparta.

Digby's take on 300 also makes quick work of wingnut hero-worship:

These flabby keyboarders are just big babies like their hero Dick Cheney, getting all hot and bothered at the sight of all those rock-hard abs and all that death. If they want a piece of it, there are military recruiters everywhere who would be more than willing to sign them up and send them to the marine version of agoge. It's called boot camp. Once they get through that and do some time in an actual war zone then maybe they can cheer wildly at "gladiator" movies and talk about manly-men without sounding like a bunch of fools or closet cases.

This AlterNet review by Steve Burgess describes the wingnut mindset that endeavors to transform 300's celebration of honor and duty into a defense of the Bush administration. Burgess calls the film "an adolescent wet dream to its very core, a homoerotic paean to half-naked Greeks and their bloody, thrusting swords:"

300 will likely be a masturbatory experience for the Ann Coulter crowd. Cruel, militaristic Sparta is the ideal; weak, artsy Athens is mocked, particularly in a scene where Athenian soldiers are revealed to be potters, sculptors, poets. Brave men who leave what they love to defend their country? Bah! Weaklings, according to this flick. As a tribute to a particular world view, 300 could play on a double bill with Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.

And no doubt it will be screened at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. President Bush will certainly relish a film in which King Leonidas tries, and fails, to get authorization from Sparta's governing council for an attack against the forces of Persia, a.k.a. modern-day Iran. Leonidas goes ahead anyway. History calls him a hero. So much for congressional funding.

300 is worth viewing, but prepare to cringe at the worldview of those who blindly cheer the violence without comprehending the history.

this is rich

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Wingnut whining about Wikipedia’s “left-wing bias” led to the creation of Conservapedia, and now they’ve created a right-wing YouTube clone called QubeTV. H/t: Joshua Micah Marshall at TPM, who calls QubeTV “a digital innertube for folks who can't hack it out on the actual internet.”

Conservatives are so bereft of original ideas that they are reduced to cribbing liberals’ efforts…poorly.

Brian Flemming wonders if the influential Publishers Weekly is biased against atheists (h/t: Friendly Atheist):

While books endorsing religion receive evaluations that use terms like "marvelous" and "engaging," virtually all books from an atheist perspective get negative or, at best, dispassionate reviews from Publishers Weekly, using terms like "intolerant," "ineffective" and "simplistic."

[…]

I could not find a positive Publisher's Weekly review of any book by an atheist.

After reading the provided examples, I saw the same pattern. Publishers Weekly should give atheist books to reviewers who are less aggrieved at the sight of their sacred cows being served as hamburger.

Parenting Beyond Belief offers some great advice for protecting freethinking children against their peers’ threats of hellfire and damnation:

Just as we inoculate our kids against diseases by putting small amounts of the bad stuff into their arms to build resistance, we have to inoculate them against toxic ideas that can paralyze their abilities to think freely so they can live without medieval ignorance and fear trailing them through their one and only life. So tell them about Hell, then don’t just ‘disagree’ with it: laugh it to smithereens.

Many thanks are due to the EFF for their defense of free speech in the digital era, including the recent controversy over posting HD-DVD decryption keys.

Silly me, I’ve forgotten what I was going to write about…

With this post, Andrew Sullivan has ended his debate with Sam Harris. Sullivan talks of the necessity of peace in the modern world, and summarizes his disagreement with atheism this way:

Religion has a bloody past that I do not begin to deny. Fundamentalist atheism's is bloodier.

Part of his argument, though, lies in how Sullivan excuses the role of religion (his own Catholicism, in this instance) in Nazi Germany, absolving its culpability by claiming that it was innocently “coopted by the state.” Careful readers will observe that atheism gets no such free ride when he mentions China and the Soviet Union; like guillotine-era France, they are called “atheist and rationalist.” Atheism is thus a cause of some nations’ totalitarianism, while totalitarian religion is excused from causation.

That is how Sullivan’s faith blinds him.

Dubya has decreed that henceforth he shall be known as “the commander guy.” Ron Chusid at Liberal Values notes that:

If Bush read the Constitution, he would know the actual title is Commander in Chief. If he also read the Constitution, he would also realize that there are limits on his authority.

What a maroon.

The post “Wondering and Questioning, Part 1” at Parenting Beyond Belief is a wonderful reminder of the childlike ability—lost by most adults—to inquire freely about the world:

My single greatest thrill as a secular parent is watching as my kids follow their wonder wherever it leads. My primary task in those moments is to run ahead down the corridor, flinging wide as many doors as possible—or much better yet, to just stay the hell out of the way.

I’m convinced that the ecstatic wondering and questioning I’ve marveled at in my kids owes a great deal to secular parenting. Religion, in addition to inspiring a certain degree and type of wonder, tends to also place real limits on the inquiring mind. Certain things are sacred, after all, or otherwise unquestionable, or at least inappropriate, or too complicated to explain, or beyond the poor grasp of our human minds, too unseemly, too shocking, too sad, too unthinkable. One can hear the barricades slamming into place, one by one.

There are no unthinkable thoughts in our home, no unaskable questions, no unbearable hypotheses. Not one. How can you decide whether something is right, I tell my kids, if you won’t even let yourself think it first? As a result of this simple policy, my children are growing up with minds that race through fields of possibility, unhindered by barricades erected by someone else’s fears.

I’d love to read the book, but the infinite wisdom of Borders has restricted their stock to 78 copies nationwide (Barnes & Noble has ordered a grand total of zero, claiming that “there’s no market” for the book).

They may not appreciate either the book or our purchases of it, but someone else will.

Here is a cartoon rebuttal to the "Christian nation" claptrap (h/t: Friendly Atheist):

20070502-yourenohannity.gif

It pains me to measure the distance our political discourse has fallen: from the heights of Jefferson, Paine, and The Federalist to the sewers of Faux News and talk radio in a mere two centuries.

Fulfilling his threat to veto military funding passed by Congress, Bush has issued a clear message to our troops:

20070502-bushfinger.jpg

Bruce (Imposters) Bartlett thinks ahead to the next presidental election, and suggests that conservatives should support Hillary Clinton:

At some point, politically sophisticated conservatives will have to recognize that no Republican can win in 2008 and that their only choice is to support the most conservative Democrat for the nomination. Call me crazy, but I think that person is Hillary Clinton.

ThinkProgress does an excellent job summarizing the four years since Dubya’s infamous “mission accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. The White House website has cropped the video from that day to make the banner disappear, as I mentioned earlier.

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