September 2007 Archives

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road: The Original Scroll (New York: Viking, 2007)

In the newest (and also the oldest) version of the classic Beat road novel, On the Road: The Original Scroll begins with a quartet of essays (totaling nearly 100 pages) that provides ample context for the text of the "original scroll." The absence of breaks for chapters--or even paragraphs--make this a book that should ideally be read in a single sitting; the single exception to this lack of breaks is the notation for Book 4 on page 350. In an ironic the-dog-ate-my-homework incident, the scroll's original ending suffered canine consumption; the last few pages are reconstructed from subsequent drafts.

On the Road details Kerouac's endless travels by bus and car (both driving and hitchhiking) from city to city in search of "kicks." The author and his companions--most often including Neal Cassady--visit Detroit, Denver, San Francisco, New York City and Mexico City (among other places). This colorful passage makes one long for the open road, but such linguistic triumphs are few and far between:

Soon it got dusk, a grapey dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries. I stuck my head out the window and took deep breaths of the fragrant air. It was the most beautiful of all moments. (p. 182)

The hipster lingo (referring to marijuana as "tea," calling compatriots "cat" as a noun and "gone" as an adjective) is easily parodied, but wasn't as overused and trite a half-century ago. The many derogatory uses of "fag" and "queer" grate on modern ears, particularly given Kerouac's friendship with gay writers Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs--both of whom are featured in On the Road.

Luc Sante reviewed On the Road for the NYT, Tom Vitale reported on it for NPR, and Penguin has this to say about the new version:

The differences between the two versions are principally ones of significant detail and altered emphasis. The scroll is slightly longer and has a heightened linguistic virtuosity and a more sexually frenetic tone. It also uses the real names of Kerouac's friends instead of the fictional names he later invented for them.

Howard Cunnell makes this observation in his essay "Fast This Time: Jack Kerouac and the Writing of On the Road:"

"Despite Kerouac's deletion of much of the sexual material and language, in particular the homosexual content, as part of the redrafting process, other scenes that survived into the 347-page draft, including the story of a sodomizing monkey in an LA whorehouse, were later cut for obscenity." (p. 28)

Some examples are this tea-room episode on p. 207:

There was a young man in a loud Kansas herringbone suit saying so long to his Minister father. A minute later I saw an eye watching me from a hole in the johnbooth as I sat. "I offer you anything on this side if you will put in through." I caught a glimpse of a loud Kansas herringbone suit through the hole. "No thanks" I said through the hole. What a sad Sunday night for the Kansas minister's son; what Wichita doldrums. (p. 207)

and this from one hundred pages later:

Warning him first that he had once been a hustler in his youth, Neal proceeded to handle the fag like a woman, tipping him over legs in the air and all and gave him a monstrous huge banging. I was so non-plussed all I could do was sit and stare from my corner. (p. 307)

Cunnell also notes that "The scroll version of On the Road is, however, a markedly darker, edgier, and uninhibited text than the published book." (p. 31) The evidence of this is scattered throughout the book, which I compared to a facsimile of the 1957 edition. This passage from the Original Scroll

"She says she loves his big cock---so does Carolyn---so do I." (p. 146)


"She says she loves him--so does Camille." (1957, p. 43)

and this one

He wrote of Neal as a "child of the rainbow" who bore his torment in his agonized cock." (p. 150)

is softened into

"agonized priapus" (1957, p. 48)

Later, this exchange

Louanne honeycunt you sit next to me, Jack next, then Al at the window... (p. 216)

is watered down to

"honeythighs" (1957, p. 114)

and this epithet

And do you know that the same thing happened to that dumb little cunt---the same visions, the same logic, the same final decision about everything, the view of all truths in one painful lump leading to nightmares and pain. (p. 284)

becomes the slightly less offensive

"that dumb little box" (1957, p. 184)

Combined with the insult "you dirty cuntlapper" (p. 178), the emotionality of the following passage suggests that Kerouac has some sort of personal issue with cunnilingus:

I heard them frantically rocking the bed back and forth: to my amazement I realized Neal was, shall we say, devouring her, and this was the usual routine with them. Only a guy who's spent five years in jail can go to such maniacal helpless extremes; beseeching at the very portals of the womb with a completely physical realization of the sources of life-bliss; trying to get back in there once and for all, while living, and adding to it the living sexual frenzy and rhythm. This is the result of years looking at dirty pictures behind bars; looking at the legs of women in magazines; evaluating the hardness of the steel halls and the softness of the woman who is not there. Jail is where you promise yourself the right to live. (pp. 232-3)

This passage (written in April 1951) is disturbingly prescient, given that William Burroughs accidentally killed his wife Joan during a drunken "William Tell" incident in September of that same year:

In New York he [Burroughs] once had a machinegun under his bed. "I got something better than that now...a german sheintoth gas gun, look at this beauty, only got one shell. I could knock out a hundred men with this gun and have plenty of time to make a getaway. Only thing wrong I only got one shell." "I hope I'm not around when you try it" said Joan from the kitchen. "How do YOU know it's a gas shell." Bill snuffed; he never paid any attention to her sallies but he heard them. (p. 247)

Although On the Road's literary resonance may have ebbed somewhat, its cultural influence remains undeniable. As Cunnell observes, it is part of its era:

"Kerouac's clattering typewriter is folded in with Jackson Pollock's furious brushstrokes and Charlie Parker's escalating and spiraling alto saxophone choruses in a trinity representing the breakthrough of a new postwar counterculture seemingly built on sweat, immediacy, and instinct, rather than apprenticeship, craft, and daring practice." (p. 2)

As a side note, this passage

They ate voraciously as Neal, sandwich in hand, stood bowed and jumping before the big phonograph listening to a wild bop record I just bought called "The Hunt," with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume. (p. 215)

refers to the July 1947 "Bopland" concert at the Elks Club in LA. The audience reaction for the Dexter/Wardell tenor sax battle was perhaps unsurpassed until Duke Ellington's Newport concert nearly a decade later, when Paul Gonsalves nearly sparked a riot with a 27-chorus solo on "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue.")

Whatever its flaws, On the Road is a raucous and riotous novel; it should not be missed.

This BeliefNet interview (h/t: Crooks and Liars) mentions the recent First Amendment Center survey; sadly, John McCain appears to be fully immersed in historical revisionism:

A recent poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. What do you think?

I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.

One would think that after years of being rebutted, the “Christian nation” myth would have ceased to function as a rhetorical device; it appears, despite its fundamental inaccuracies, to fulfill a need for a certain segment of the population. Tristero calls McCain “despicable” at Hullabaloo, but he’s off-base with this assessment:

He's lying. McCain has certainly read the Constitution and he knows it "established" nothing of the sort.

There is no reason to "engage" this trash with counter-arguments. McCain, in his desperate desire to pander to the absolute worst bottom-feeders in American political life, has stooped to the level of a Holocaust denier. Disgusting.

Despite their ideological similarity to Reconstructionists and other Christianists, there are many good-meaning and well-intentioned people who are simply misinformed about the religious aspects of American history; their leaders are “bottom-feeders,” true, but we should be careful about tarring the followers with the same brush. I remain unconvinced that counter-argumentation is not an appropriate and effective method to counteract the Religious Right’s pandering and revisionism; only ill effects can result when the truth simply cedes the public square to lies. Also, the “Christian nation” mythology should never be considered as being on the same level with Holocaust denialism, except when Christianists take that next step into neo-Nazi territory.

Schinder, Jason. The Poem That Changed America: "Howl" Fifty Years Later (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006)

The Poem That Changed America is a collection of essays (mostly by poets and other writers) about Ginsberg and his opus. It works well as a companion to the Barry Miles-edited edition of "Howl" that I reviewed last year, although it's nowhere near as essential. The hardcover edition of Schinder's book contains a CD of Ginsberg reading "Howl," which may be enough to justify the purchase.

amoral atheists

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PZ Myers pens a personal response to the “amoral atheists” slur, wherein he observes that moral behavior “doesn't involve gods or even belief in gods:”

It is completely independent of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, or atheism. It works — religion is irrelevant to morality. The surest way to create moral individuals is to build a stable society where desirable behaviors are rewarded, and the hoop-jumping frivolities of religion are not a requirement to accomplish that. Atheism is not a requirement, either; the only virtue of atheism is that it can free people of dogma and tradition and allow them to work towards a better society without the pointless spectacle and distraction of one kind of irrational belief.


I received the following via email over the weekend:


Excellent read!


There was a Chemistry professor in a large college that had some Exchange students in the class. One day while the class was in the lab the Prof noticed one young man (exchange student) who kept rubbing his back And stretching as if his back hurt.

The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while fighting communists in his native country who were trying to overthrow his country's government and install a new communist government.

In the midst of his story he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked, ' Do you know how to catch wild pigs?'

The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line. The young man said this was no joke.'You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come everyday to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming. When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in The last side. The pigs, who are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat, you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd.

Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how To forage in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity.

The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening to America. The government keeps pushing us toward Communism/Socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, tobacco subsidies, dairy subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP), welfare, medicine, drugs, etc. while we continually lose our freedoms- just a little at a time.

One should always remember 'There is no such thing as a free Lunch!' Also, 'You can never hire someone to provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself.

Also, if you see that all of this wonderful government 'help' is a problem confronting the future of democracy in America, you might want to send this on to your friends. If you think the free ride is essential to your way of life then you will probably delete this email, but God help you when the gate slams shut!

Although I felt some trepidation, it wasn’t enough to prevent me from responding:

To begin with, the statement that “You can never hire someone to provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself” is proven false on a daily basis by nearly everyone. The pittance for which I can hire a doctor to perform a regular checkup is a far lesser sum of money than what it would cost me to put myself through medical school in order to gain the same expertise. That’s an extreme example, of course, but the premise that no one can hire an expert to provide a service is ludicrous. None of us has the time, talent, or inclination to become proficient in every skill, which is why hiring others is necessary in modern society; specialization all but demands it.

While government is indeed too powerful a force in our lives, this email’s ire is misdirected at public assistance programs rather than the bloated “military-industrial complex,” to use Eisenhower’s famous phrase. Our future (heavily mortgaged via short-sighted, military-heavy, infrastructure-neglecting policies that that amount to little more than “trillions for defense, but not one penny for children’s health insurance”) is endangered on many fronts, but problems far larger than "free lunches" lie elsewhere.

The concept of pooling resources for the common good is no less valid when promoting the general welfare than when providing for the common defense, to take two phrases from the preamble to the Constitution. Shared risk (via programs such as Social Security and Medicare) and progressive taxation (aimed at helping the less fortunate through EITC—there is no such thing as “unearned income tax credit”—and “welfare”—meaning SSI, TANF, Medicaid, and food stamps, I assume) are hardly “free corn” leading us to slaughter.

One suspects that some conservatives' real problem with successful government programs (using Social Security and Medicare as prime examples) is that they are too good at ameliorating problems that the “free market” cannot. Environmental concerns are an excellent case in point, as the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) demonstrates:

CRP protects millions of acres of American topsoil from erosion and is designed to safeguard the Nation's natural resources. By reducing water runoff and sedimentation, CRP protects groundwater and helps improve the condition of lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Acreage enrolled in the CRP is planted to resource-conserving vegetative covers, making the program a major contributor to increased wildlife populations in many parts of the country.

The CRP can certainly be parodied as “payments not to plant crops,” but that’s as poor an argument against the program as Reagan’s mythical “welfare queen” was against public assistance. While some recipients are no doubt unhealthily dependent on such aid programs, it is ridiculous to suggest that the entire system is a conspiratorial effort to pacify the citizenry, as this email seems to do.

It would be more to the point to write an email titled “NO FREE WARS” that rails against the manner in which industry has been wooed by top-heavy tax cuts, pork-barrel deficit spending, corporate bailouts, no-bid contracts, and bloated military appropriations. Fiscal responsibility may ultimately be a secondary issue, but it matters just as much when the budget is wrecked by “borrow and waste” Republicans as it does when “tax and spend” Democrats did it in decades past.

The distraction posed by “free lunches” pales in comparison to the flag-waving idolatry, jingoism, and xenophobia with which the electorate has been frightened and coerced into giving up real freedoms over the past six years. It saddens me to see some people so consumed by the overblown specter of dealing with the IRS on April 15th (because of those "free lunches") that they willingly surrender so much liberty on every other day of the year. I’m far more alarmed about conservatives flirting with fascism that I am about the bogeyman of “Communism/Socialism.” We have less to fear from the Left (which wants to spend more on healthcare and the working poor) than from the Right (that invades other nations in the name of freedom while dismantling that very freedom here).

After the next president has repaired some of the Bush-era damage (repealed the Patriot [sic] Act and the Military Commissions Act, restored habeas corpus and posse comitatus, stopped warrantless wiretapping and spying on Americans, closed Guantanamo, ended "extraordinary rendition," renovated the TSA’s infamous “no-fly list,” and restored fiscal sanity to the federal budget) I’ll gladly get into a discussion about the merits of farm subsidies and the Medicare drug benefit. Until then, we have bigger concerns than tall tales about exchange students discussing wild pigs.

update: SCHIP and scary socialists (9/28 @ 9:30am):
Philip Boffey writes about S-CHIP scare tactics “The Socialists Are Coming! The Socialists Are Coming!” and observes that “The epithet of choice these days for Republicans who oppose any expansion of government’s role in health care programs is ‘socialized’ medicine:”

The take-home message for voters is this: Look behind the labels to judge health care proposals on their merits. Whenever you hear a candidate denounce something as a step toward socialized medicine, it probably isn’t. More likely the politician is demagoguing the issue or is abysmally ignorant of the inner workings — and real, not ideological, failings — of the country’s multifaceted health care system.

update 2 (10/8 @ 4:08pm):
Here’s a section from an op-ed by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, chair of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health, from the Washington Post. Anyone who calls S-CHIP “socialized medicine” needs to pay attention:

Properly speaking, socialism is when the state owns or controls the means of production. Thus "socialized medicine" is when the doctors are state employees; when the hospitals, drugstores, home health agencies and other facilities are owned and controlled by the government.

Only one part of the U.S. system really is socialized medicine: the veterans' health-care system, which is wholly owned and operated by the federal government. Veterans love the system and vigorously oppose any suggestions of dismantling it and integrating them into civilian health care. By many measures, this bastion of socialized medicine may constitute the highest-quality and most efficient part of American health care.


It is absurd to call an expansion of government payments for health care in the existing private delivery system socialized medicine. Politics may be full of hype, exaggeration or partisan bickering, but there should be no place for overt deception. A serious debate about whether and how to reform the American health-care system requires that we eliminate comments whose only purpose is to mischaracterize and misinform. [emphasis added]

update 3 (10/11 @ 9:15pm):
Joe Conason writes at TruthDig about “Why ‘Socialism’ Evokes No Fear,” observing that the phrase ‘socialized medicine’ “sounds awfully dated, like a song on a gramophone or a mother-in-law joke or a John Birch Society rant against fluoridated water:”

Although the red threat still triggers an autonomic reaction among GOP true believers, the rest of the country no longer twitches to that high-pitched, far-right whistle. Most polls not only show enormous majorities favoring extension of coverage to every child, but substantial support for a radical change in how we pay and administer health insurance—including the possibility of a single-payer system.

update 4 (10/15 @ 9:16am):
This version (h/t: Freethinker in a comment at Invisible Opportunity) is much closer to reality than the original story, although the spelling (corrected here) was rather poor:

There was a theology professor in a large college that had some Exchange students in the class.

One day while the class was in the lab the Prof noticed one young man (exchange student) who kept rubbing his back and stretching as if his back hurt.

The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while protesting abuses of the Constitution in his native country by its President that was trying to suppress his country’s freedoms and install a new fascist government.

In the midst of his story he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked, ™Do you know how to catch wild pigs?’

The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line.

The young man said this was no joke. ‘You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come everyday to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming. When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in the last side. The pigs, who are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat, you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd. Suddenly, the wild pigs have lost their freedom.

They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how to forage freely in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity.

The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening to America. The government keeps pushing us toward a fascist government controlled state and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of protection against terrorism such as illegal wiretapping, tax shelters for the wealthy, subsidies for big corporations, payments for shipping jobs overseas, cheap foreign labor, unsafe medicine, excessive profits for un-needed drugs, etc. while we continually lose our freedoms- just a little at a time.

One should always remember ‘There is no such thing as a safety and freedom!’

Also, ‘You can never hire someone to provide protections of your freedoms if you won’t do it yourself.

Also, if you see that all of this wonderful government ’security’ is a problem confronting the future of democracy in America, you might want to send this on to your friends. If you think the claim of protection from terrorism is essential to your way of life then you will probably delete this email, but no one will help you when the gate slams shut!

This “State of the First Amendment 2007” survey from the First Amendment Center chillingly shows the depths to which “Christian nation” propaganda has sunk Americans’ knowledge of our history:

Sixty-five percent of Americans believe that the nation's founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation

Such dismal delusions prompted Charles Haynes to ask “What part of ‘secular nation’ do we not understand?” After noting the lack of any religion in the Constitution outside of the prohibition against religious tests for public office, Haynes concludes:

The United States is not now and never has been a Christian nation in any official or legal sense of the term. It is precisely because we live in a secular democracy with First Amendment protections that Christians — and people of all faiths — have more freedom to practice their religion here than anywhere else on Earth.

The SuckItJesus website has an anti-censorship petition (4782 signatures so far) about Kathy Griffin’s recent comments at the Emmys. H/t: Martin Wagner at Atheist Experience, who first lambastes Army-of-God (the pro-lifers who assassinate doctors) en route to getting really fed up:

In honor of free speech, and to show just how much respect I have for homicide-enablers like Donald Spitz and their cherished beliefs, I offer this:


And, since the whiner brigade doesn't think we have the cojones for this one...


There. Equal time. Satisfied?

The GOP has refused to let habeas corpus (stripped away by them in last year’s Military Commissions Act) be restored; in fact, they won’t even let it come up for a vote. Here’s commentary from Steve Benen at Carpetbagger Report:

A year after lawmakers abandoned American principles on the rule of law and stripped detainees of their right to challenge their detentions in court, the Senate today turned back an effort to return some sanity to our rule of law. A bipartisan majority supported restoring habeas corpus, but Republican obstructionism wouldn’t allow a vote.


…every Democrat in the Senate supported restoring habeas, including conservative Dems from red states who are up for re-election. There is a patriotic party that’s still willing to stand up for American principles; it’s called the Democratic Party.

Second, six Senate Republicans had the decency to break party ranks on the issue: Sens. Snowe (Maine), Sununu (N.H.), Specter (Pa.), Hagel (Neb.), Lugar (Ind.), and Smith (Ore.).

And third, Joe Lieberman supported the Republican filibuster and voted with the GOP. What a disgrace.

Keep in mind, this was just the vote to allow a vote. It’s one thing for conservatives to oppose habeas corpus, but these guys wouldn’t even allow an up-or-down vote on a basic principle of Western Civilization.

Indeed, it’s horrifying to think that supporting habeas is suddenly “old school” — as in Magna Carta in 1215 old school.

But that’s where we’ve come, thanks to the radicalization of today’s Republican Party.

This vote, while not unexpected, is simply appalling.

update (9/20 @ 9:41am):
Kevin Drum points out at Washington Monthly that this level of Senate obstructionism is unprecedented, despite the media’s reluctance to give any context to the votes:

Republicans aren't just obstructing legislation at normal rates. They're obstructing legislation at three times the usual rate. They're absolutely desperate to keep this stuff off the president's desk, where the only choice is to either sign it or else take the blame for a high-profile veto.

As things stand, though, Republicans will largely avoid blame for their tactics. […] You have to read [the news] with a gimlet eye to figure out how the vote actually broke down, and casual readers will come away thinking that the bills failed because of some kind of generic Washington gridlock, not GOP obstructionism. […] Would it really be so hard for reporters to make it clear exactly who's responsible for blocking these bills?

quote of the day

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Carlin Romano writes the following in “Are Sacred Texts Sacred? The Challenge for Atheists” from The Chronicle of Higher Education (h/t: Sam Harris) as a reply to the “angry atheist” slur:

“Polite respect ends when believers insist on sacred texts as God’s authorization of those believers to regulate, suppress, or punish the behavior of nonbelievers. In such situations, the atheist’s politeness goes out the window because the believer has thrown his politeness out the window first. Is there anything as impolite — a gentle word, to be sure — as forcing one’s moral rules on another because they supposedly come from a divine being whose existence the other doesn’t accept?” [emphasis added]

Naomi Klein's piece "Disaster Capitalism" (from her upcoming book The Shock Doctrine) in the latest Harper's contains this stellar paragraph on the endemic problem of economic stratification and its effects on life and death in Iraq:

Everywhere in Iraq, the wildly divergent values assigned to different categories of people are on crude display. Westerners and their Iraqi colleagues have checkpoints at the entrances to their streets, blast walls in front of their houses, body armor, and private security guards on call at all hours. They travel the country in menacing armored convoys, with mercenaries pointing guns out the windows as they follow their prime directive to "protect the principal." With every move they broadcast the same unapologetic message: We are the chosen, our lives are infinitely more precious than yours. Middle-class Iraqis, meanwhile, cling to the next rung down the ladder: they can afford to buy protection from local militias, they are able to ransom a family member held by kidnappers, they may ultimately escape to a life of poverty in Jordan. But the vast majority of Iraqis have no protection at all. They walk the streets exposed to any possible ravaging, with nothing between them and the next car bomb but a thin layer of fabric. In Iraq, the lucky get Kevlar; the rest get prayer beads.

The book's website is here, and the book's release date is 18 September.

conservative op-eds

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The latest report from MediaMatters covers the preponderance of conservative voices in the syndicated op-ed columns of "nearly every daily newspaper in the country" (available in HTML and 6.1MB PDF). The report is filled with data, and the authors are not afraid to state the obvious conclusions:

The truth is that conservatives have a clear and unmistakable advantage. Conservative columnists appear in more papers than progressive columnists do, and conservatives reach more readers. Most states find their newspapers' op-ed pages dominated by conservatives. In short, just as in so many other areas of the media, the right has the upper hand.

Conservative domination of the editorial pages is not a new reality to savvy media consumers, although it does contradict the dominant mythology about media bias. As the report concludes:

Conservatives are often heard to complain about the "liberal media," a nefarious cabal of journalists and media owners supposedly endeavoring to twist the news to serve their ideological agenda. [...] ...while the right wing spends a great deal of time complaining about alleged bias in the media, when it comes to the nation's op-ed pages, it is the progressives who are getting the short end of the stick.

"suck it, Jesus!"

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Kathy Griffin’s remarks upon winning an Emmy were censored (h/t: SEB and PZ Myers). Upon accepting the award, Griffin said:

“Can you believe this shit? I guess hell froze over. … a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus.

So, all I can say is, ‘suck it, Jesus.’ This award is my god now.”

Can you guess which comments will be bleeped out of the E! telecast on Saturday night?

The similarities I mentioned previously between Tyler Bates’ score to 300 and Elliot Goldenthal’s soundtrack to Titus have been officially noted by Warner Brothers on the website for 300’s release on DVD:

Warner Bros. Pictures acknowledges and regrets that a number of the music cues for the score of "300" were, without our knowledge or participation, derived from music composed by Academy Award winning composer Elliot Goldenthal for the motion picture "Titus." Warner Bros. Pictures has great respect for Elliot, our longtime collaborator, and is pleased to have amicably resolved this matter.

As mentioned elsewhere, 300’s “Returns a King” borrows heavily from “Victorious Titus,” and Bates’ “Remember Us” owes a large debt to Goldenthal’s “Finale.” How large a debt Bates himself may owe to Goldenthal as part of the “amicable resolution” is unknown.

This study in Nature Neuroscience (conducted by New York University’s David Amodio) has an unsurprising abstract:

Political scientists and psychologists have noted that, on average, conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty. We tested the hypothesis that these profiles relate to differences in general neurocognitive functioning using event-related potentials, and found that greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern.

The LA Times article often cited as a reference to the study has this analysis:

Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results "provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity."

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy. […] Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas. [emphasis added]

It appears as if the much-derided concept of nuance, mischaracterized by the media as “flip-flopping” when exhibited by Democrats, has a basis in neurology. Reflection and consideration, of course, are not always appropriate; the trick is to determine which types of tasks are better suited to Republicans (rote) and Democrats (deliberative). As the study’s authors observed (h/t: John Holbo at Crooked Timber):

Taken together, our results are consistent with the view that political orientation, in part, reflects individual differences in the functioning of a general mechanism related to cognitive control and self-regulation. Stronger conservatism (versus liberalism) was associated with less neurocognitive sensitivity to response conflicts. At the behavioral level, conservatives were also more likely to make errors of commission. Although a liberal orientation was associated with better performance on the response-inhibition task examined here, conservatives would presumably perform better on tasks in which a more fixed response style is optimal.

I hope that this study inspires more investigative work in the neurocognitive arena.

update (9/14 @ 4:23pm):
The study from Nature Neuroscience is available (140KB PDF) from NYU (h/t: John Holbo at Crooked Timber).

update 2 (9/15 @ 7:30pmpm):
Will Saletan criticizes the study in this piece at Slate:

The conservative case against this study is easy to make. Sure, we're fonder of old ways than you are. That's in our definition. Some of our people are obtuse; so are some of yours. If you studied the rest of us in real life, you'd find that while we second-guess the status quo less than you do, we second-guess putative reforms more than you do, so in terms of complexity, ambiguity, and critical thinking, it's probably a wash. Also, our standard of "information" is a bit tougher than the blips and fads you fall for. Sometimes, these inclinations lead us astray. But over the long run, they've served us and society pretty well. It's just that you notice all the times we were wrong and ignore all the times we were right.

where's Osama?

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Bob Geiger, currently on hiatus, asks the question “Where’s Osama?” every week. Bush continues to fail to provide an answer to that question (possibly because Bush is "not that concerned" about the "virtually impotent" terrorist) although bin Laden remains atop the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list. It is now six years since American Flight 11 struck the North tower of the World Trade Center, beginning the events that fixed 9/11 as a day of tragedy in our history, and the current “Where’s Osama?” clock reads as follows:


Here's the amount of time that has passed since President Bush said he would get Osama bin Laden dead or alive:

2185 days, 8 hours, 46 minutes, and 31 seconds

As our military is mired in the Iraqi desert--after being called away from the hunt for bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora--the question “Where’s Osama?” is more relevant than ever. His recent message reminds us that he is still alive and free, and provides more evidence of Bush’s miserable failure to get him “dead or alive.”

Bin Laden’s address is even more incoherent than usual, but only one aspect of this has been widely noted: his observations that “the Democrats haven’t made a move worth mentioning” and have “fail[ed] to stop the war.” There is also a mention of Noam Chomsky, the suggestion of conspiracy in JFK’s assassination, as well as some invective against globalization, “major corporations,” and “the deception, shackles and attrition of the capitalist system.” However, bin Laden is a devoutly religious man who praises submission to god's will, decries the separation of church and state, and supports a flat tax; these alliances with distinctly Republican positions have gone unmentioned by the “liberal” media.

Andrew Sullivan taunted bin Laden’s beard-dyeing vanity in this post about “Just for Mullahs” coloring for facial hair; this reader’s response makes an excellent point about bin Laden and his effect on our politics:

He is a despicable low-life criminal who should have been arrested and put on trial ages ago. Instead, the Bush administration and the entire Fox News Fear Factory turned him into a large-than-life villain, and let him escape with impunity.

Now the Giulianis and Hewitts run around doing his work for him by terrorizing Americans, spreading fear instead of confidence, pretending that Bin Laden's pipe dreams of world domination should frighten Americans into giving up our civil liberties.

Now, more than ever, we need an FDR moment: we must turn our backs on fear, and live free and unafraid. When the West faced a truly existential threat from Hitler, we didn't spend our time terrorizing ourselves into a frenzy. We knew that confidence, humility and good cheer are far more valuable.

When we most needed a true leader, our president displayed inaction and incompetence:


In the aftermath of 9/11, the administration's response worsened; there was a dearth of leadership while we received admonitions to “watch what we say” and exhortations to avoid lamenting our lost liberty. The administration smothered the media with incessant scares about Iraq’s (nonexistent) “mobile production facilities” and their (nonexistent) nuclear program exploding a “mushroom cloud” over America, fanned the flames of fear with DHS color-coded threat levels, and suggested that we “[s]eal the room with duct tape and plastic sheeting” against chemical and biological weapons.

This panic and paranoia fueled GOP electoral victories in 2002 and 2004, but the scales have since fallen from the eyes of all but the reddest of Busheviks; the symbiotic relationship between Bush and bin Laden has been clearly revealed. Six years of failure down; only 497 days to go.

Dawkins on Hitchens

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Richard Dawkins reviews Christopher Hitchens' god Is Not Great, which he refers to as "a splendid, boisterously virile broadside of a book." Dawkins praises the book, and exculpates Hitchens of the spurious "atheist fundamentalism" charge:

The onus is not on the atheist to demonstrate the non-existence of the invisible unicorn in the room, and we cannot be accused of undue confidence in our disbelief. The devout churchgoer recites the Nicene Creed weekly, enumerating a detailed and precise list of things he positively believes, with no more evidence than supports the unicorn. Now that's overconfidence.

Sidney Blumenthal reports that Bush was explicitly told that Iraq had no WMDs six months before the March 2003 invasion:

On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail.

According to Robert Draper’s new book Dead Certain, however, Bush maintained otherwise “all the way up until Card’s departure in April 2006, almost exactly three years after the Coalition had begun its fruitless search for WMD’s.” The two former senior CIA officials interviewed by Blumenthal had this to say about Bush’s obstinate nature:

"The president had no interest in the intelligence," said the CIA officer. The other officer said, "Bush didn't give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up."

update (2:16pm):
Digby, no friend of Dubya, has an even harsher assessment in light of Dead Certain that is worth sharing:

I do realize that I loathe Bush on a visceral level and always have, so I can't say that my impressions of him as person are particularly objective. He is a personality type I can't stand --- his privileged, macho arrogance and nasty, sophomoric social game of primitive dominance are about the least appealing characteristics I can think of in a man. Even if he weren't a complete idiot, which he is, he'd still be an asshole.

jazz and democracy

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Thanks to Ed Brayton for quoting this gem, in a piece on Nat Hentoff’s goodbye to jazz drummer Max Roach.

The following Quote of the Day is from this list of “Pocket Paradigms” of author Sam Smith:

“The essence of jazz is the same as that of democracy: the greatest amount of individual freedom consistent with a healthy community. Each musician is allowed extraordinary liberty during a solo and then is expected to conscientiously back up the other musicians in turn. The two most exciting moments in jazz are during flights of individual virtuosity and when the entire musical group seems to become one. The genius of jazz (and democracy) is that the same people are willing and able to do both.”

Renowned conservative writer Andrew Sullivan took a break from blogging to get married and enjoy a brief honeymoon, as he wrote here.

Sullivan--a strong proponent of marriage--compiled an excellent reader on the subject, Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con. He gave more credit to the anti-marriage argument than it deserved, and its vacuity is causing resistance to same-sex marriage to crumble everywhere from Massachusetts to Iowa.

Best wishes to Andrew and his husband Aaron on the start of their married life!

This story about an aborted white supremacist rally (h/t: digby at Hullabaloo) is the best thing I’ve read in weeks! An excerpt wouldn’t do it justice; read the whole thing.

What a wonderfully imaginative response to racist bigotry!


Gore, Al. An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It (New York: Rodale, 2006)

This is an easy-to-read, well-illustrated, and well-designed (excepting the too-narrow inner margin, into which text often disappears) book; its warnings of catastrophe are less well-crafted, perhaps, but infinitely more important.

Interspersed among the various environmental warnings are personal stories that help illuminate Gore's passion (yes, I used "passion" in the same sentence with his name) about the subject. Though presented as an emergency of the highest order, Gore's message here is far from making An Inconvenient Truth into an alarmist tract. He is often caricatured as a Chicken Little by the deniers, but emotional hyperbole is kept to a minimum in this presentation.

Learning some of the science behind environmentalism would help skeptics come to grips with reality, but that is likely due to non-scientific factors:

The truth about global warming is especially inconvenient and unwelcome to some powerful people and companies making enormous sums of money from activities they know full well will have to change dramatically in order to ensure the planet's livability. (p. 284)

Even if skeptics remain mired in the status quo until the effects of climate change become impossible to ignore, it falls to the rest of us to take action in the meantime.

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