January 2008 Archives

Comte-Sponville, Andre. The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality (New York: Viking, 2007)

Brief does not equal either shallow or narrow, as French writer Comte-Sponville packs a great deal of thought into this small-format book of just over 200 pages. Its three chapters ask (and attempt to answer) three important questions: Can we do without religion? Can we have ethics without God? Is there such thing as "atheist spirituality"? His answer to all three questions is a resounding "yes!"

In contrast to Americans such as Sam Harris, Comte-Sponville feels no need to attack believers, preferring instead to explicate his own position in a non-confrontational manner. As he writes:

I have too much affection for the believers among my loved ones to wish to offend them in any way. Disagreement among friends can be healthy, joyful and stimulating; condescension and contempt cannot. (p. 77)

What is there to be condescending and contemptuousness about? What exactly is religion? These two passages on the etymology of religion make a useful point:

Many authors, beginning with Lactantius or Tertullian, claim that the Latin religio (whence, of course, religion comes from the verb religare, which means "to bind" or "bind back." This hypothesis, often presented as simple fact, leads to a specific conception of religious reality--religion, it is claimed, is what binds people together. (p. 13)

Many linguists believe, as did Cicero, that the word derives not from religare but from relegare, which means "to contemplate" or "to reread." In this sense, religion is not, or at least not primarily, what binds, but rather what is contemplated or reread (or reread in contemplation)--namely myths, founding texts, teachings (Torah in Hebrew), a body of knowledge (Veda in Sanskrit), one or several books (biblia in Greek), a reading or recitation (Koran in Arabic), a law (dharma in Sanskrit), a set of principles, rules or commandments (the Decalogue in the Old Testament)--in a word, a revelation or tradition that is at once ancient and still relevant, accepted, respected, interiorized, both individually and communally. This is where the two possible etymologies can converge: Rereading the same texts, even individually, binds people together. (p. 19) [emphasis added]

In this sense, the "civil religion" of Americanism, evidencing a reverence for the Founders and their writings, is what truly binds our nation together--not Christianity, Judeo-Christianity, or any other name for the same form of supernaturalism. Writing from the more secular France, and not having any "Christian nation" claptrap to debunk, Comte-Sponville expresses something similar on a personal level:

I sometimes like to describe myself as a faithful atheist. I am an atheist, since I believe neither in God nor in any supernatural power, and yet I am faithful, since I acknowledge my place within a specific history, tradition and community, namely the Greco-Judeo-Christian values of the Western world. (p. 30)

I would have said "Greco-Roman values," but his point is well taken. Comte-Sponville writes for himself, and shies away from drawing conclusions beyond his experience. The following passage, written about a hike in the woods, resonated very strongly with me:

Above me, the starry sky was immense, luminous and unfathomable, and within me there was nothing but the sky, of which I was a part, and the silence, and the light, like a warm hum... [...] It was as if a perfect chord, once played, had been indefinitely prolonged, and that chord was the world. (p. 156)

I had a similar experience once: during a dark night of unsurpassed clarity, I stood slack-jawed in a remote campsite, staring upward in awe at the dazzling brilliance of the Milky Way. Contemplating its beauty and immensity was at once humbling and invigorating--even spiritual, if you prefer. The latter third of the book is a little too "woo woo" for my taste, but is still a worthwhile read for the personal mini-epiphanies from which Comte-Sponville formed his atheist spirituality.

For a different take on Comte-Sponville's book, check out Siamang's live-blogging posts at Off the Map: eBay Atheist (the first two are here and here).

Bush's final SOTU

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I didn't have the stomach for Bush's final SOTU, but The Rude Pundit did:

Now here's a little something from last night's State of the Union address, the final one by President George W. Bush: "Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time, our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined. We faced hard decisions about peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens. These issues call for vigorous debate, and I think it's fair to say we've answered the call."

Well, what the fuck else was he gonna say? That eight years ago, America was prosperous and at peace and, goddamn, how he fucked that up real good?

[...]

Then you look back on the last Clinton speech. And you remember that a goal of the entire Bush presidency was to undo what Clinton had done. You contemplate how degraded the nation has become in the wane of the Bush years, and you think, "Well, shit, there's one mission Bush actually did accomplish."

This reminds me very much of that great--and startlingly prescient--parody: "Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over" from The Onion:

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

[...]

"The insanity is over," Bush said. "After a long, dark night of peace and stability, the sun is finally rising again over America. We look forward to a bright new dawn not seen since the glory days of my dad."

Only 355 days to go...

Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Vintage, 2008)

The new 22-page afterword was reason enough for me to pick this up in paperback despite already owning a hardcover copy (reviewed here); it also increased the original book's page count by nearly a quarter. Harris' invigorating epistolary evangelism is still too briefly expressed, though; the afterword adds too little to a book that is still too brief. Harris discusses human sacrifice, transubstantiation, religious moderation, Pascal's Wager, and Mother Teresa's crisis of faith, but all in a very cursory manner. Unless you are building a complete atheist's library, skip this edition; there are better ways to spend $11.

Having said that, this passage almost made the purchase worthwhile:

Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism: because, while He may be many things, the God of the Bible and the Qur'an is not a moderate. [...] ...the more fully a person grants credence to these books, the more he will be convinced that infidels, heretics, and apostates deserve to be smashed to atoms in God's loving machinery of justice. (p. 105)

Moyers, Bill. Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times (New York: New Press, 2004)

Matt Drudge and Bill Moyers illustrate the difference between journalism as simulated on the Right and practiced on the Left: Drudge with his short, sleazy, and occasionally slanderous website; and Moyers with his thoughtful and contemplative PBS broadcasts. Drudge promotes a brash self-aggrandizement where Moyers encourages contemplation and community. Moyers quotes (accurately) sources across the political spectrum (from Thoreau and Adam Smith to Leo Strauss and Grover Norquist) in personable essays that illuminate--rather than obscure--our relationship to the news media. In spite of his reserved demeanor, Moyers sidesteps the perils of blandness to deliver criticisms of our money-driven "raw reactionary politics" (p. 10) and the media in their thrall:

Conservatives--or, better, pro-corporate apologists--hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words such as progress, opportunity, and individualism into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right. (pp. 10-1, "This Is Your Story. Pass It On")

Stretching from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to the faux news of Rupert Murdoch's empire to the nattering nabobs of know-nothing radio to a legion of think tanks paid for and bought by conglomerates - the religious, partisan and corporate right have raised a mighty megaphone for sectarian, economic, and political forces that aim to transform the egalitarian and democratic ideals embodied in our founding documents. (p. 129, "The Fight of Our Lives")

For faux populism--and Faux News--there is no shortage of right-wing media outlets. One wonders: how deep is the left/right divide between news and noise? Is it more than coincidence that the more ephemeral and demagogic media (Fox, talk radio, op-ed pages) are more conservative while the more deliberative and contemplative ones (magazines, books, NPR) are more liberal?

Moyers doesn't answer these questions, but thinking about his example can help us answer them for ourselves.

In his essay "God, Science and Immaterial Things," Dinesh D'Souza tries to dismiss a skeptic's disbelief in the supernatural deity, but errs when he states that "all the great religions, and certainly the Abrahamic ones, regard God as an immaterial spirit."

He might want to check these twelve bible verses: ten indicate that god has a corporeal body, whereas only two describe him as a spirit. D'Souza's god stands and walks; he has a face, hands, loins, and "back parts."

That doesn't sound very "immaterial" to me.

This two-parter by Chris (Liars for Jesus) Rodda at Daily Kos (here and here) on pending House Resolution 888. What is HR 888? Its page on the Library of Congress website describes its purpose as:

"Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as `American Religious History Week' for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith."

The resolution's method of "affirming the rich spiritual and religious history" involves a great deal of misrepresentation, as Rodda demonstrates. He analyzes many of the resolution's 75 "whereas" statements, some of which are sourced to prominent Christianist pseudo-historians David Barton and William Federer, and expounds upon the errors in HR 888's treatment of: the Founders' biblical citations, the history of the Liberty Bell, and deity references in state constitutions. Rodda also corrects errors in their use of quotations from Adams, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, and even Herbert Hoover.

This resolution is a nightmare, and Rodda suggests the following action be taken:

Let your representative know that if they do not oppose this resolution, they will either be demonstrating their own lack of knowledge of our country's history, or, worse yet, will be admitting that they are willing to be complicit in the perpetuation of lies in order to further the Christian nationalist agenda.

On a lighter note, this Cectic comic strip tackles the same legislative inanity from a humorous perspective:

Scott Horton writes at Harper's (as does Timothy Noah at Slate) about the history of a painting Bush brought with him from Texas and hung in the Oval Office:

Bush's memo to his staff said this:

When you come into my office, please take a look at the beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us. What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves.

(Charles Wesley wrote the hymn "A Charge to Keep I Have," which Bush used as the title for the "autobiography" that Mickey Herskowitz and Karen Hughes wrote for him.)

Horton and Noah both quote from Jacob Weisberg's new book The Bush Tragedy (which was preceded by this Salon article by Sidney Blumenthal):

[Bush] came to believe that the picture depicted the circuit-riders who spread Methodism across the Alleghenies in the nineteenth century. In other words, the cowboy who looked like Bush was a missionary of his own denomination.

Only that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled "The Slipper Tongue," published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors.

Horton concludes:

Bush's inspiring, prosyletizing Methodist is in fact a silver-tongued horse thief fleeing from a lynch mob. It seems a fitting marker for the Bush presidency.

Also appropriate to mention is the fact that there are 360 days and 2 hours remaining in the Bush occupation, at which time he will very much resemble a smooth-talking horse thief fleeing a lynch mob.


update (10:42am):
Credit should go to Jonathan Hutson, who discussed the painting ("Horseshit! Bush and the Christian Cowboy" at Talk 2 Action) in May 2006--a year before Blumenthal wrote his piece at Salon.

Last night, I received a chain email with some (gorgeous!) images under this heading:

"This is very unique - but seriously..some people have wwwaaaaayyy too much time on their hands...."

The images, two of which I have included below, were described as: "Entries for an art contest at the Hirshorn Modern Art Gallery [sic] in DC. The rule was that the artist could use only one sheet of paper."

I thought many of the pieces seemed rather...similar, so I did a little research online. I found out that they weren't contest entries, and didn't have anything to do with the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum. All of these amazing paper sculptures were created by one person: Danish artist Peter Callesen. Check out his website for more examples of his work.

I find it offensive that artists are belittled by claims that they "have wwwaaaaayyy too much
time on their hands." If anything, artists are pressured by economic forces into having far too little time to create. Accordingly, I offer the following sentiment as my Quote of the Day:

[W]e shall never know how much genius has been lost to the world by reason of the need to make a living. We willingly provide free board and lodging for lunatics, but recoil before the idea of doing so for first-class minds. (Clifton Fadiman, The Lifetime Reading Plan, p. 172)

Libertards?

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In this essay, The Barefoot Bum eviscerates Libertarianism. He notes that "There's nothing wrong with individual liberty and property rights:"

Both are valuable tools for managing a productive economy which provides happiness and material benefits for everyone, not just the ruthless few. But they are human constructs; they were not written by God Himself into the fabric of the universe.

Libertarianism is nothing more than the infantile, puerile whining of children who demand to keep the toys the other children shared with them.

His bile rises when he observes that:

Libertarians refuse to be obligated to protect my rights, but demand that I protect their property. Fuck you. Defend your own damn property against robbery and theft. If those ten guys over there can overpower you and take your stuff, what business of it is mine? You should have hired more bodyguards. (And if your bodyguards realize they can take your stuff, too bad for you.)

Calling them Libertards may be a bit much, but he does have a point.

It is precisely that privileging of property over people that is the essence of my disagreement with doctrinaire Libertarianism. In the idealized Randian world, nothing would remain to curb crony capitalism or rein in the rampant rapaciousness of plutocracy; there would be no counterbalancing concern for the commons, the general welfare, or the interests of anyone except lobbyists and campaign donors.

To quote from Hobbes, life in such a world would truly be (for most of us) "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Dale (Parenting Beyond Belief) McGowan has a great post about kids, books, and knowledge that perfectly illustrates the open-mindedness of the secular humanist attitude:

Though there are certainly books in our collection we'll never get to, ours do get a workout. One message our kids are getting, I suppose, is that books are for reading, not for wallpaper. But I wanted to be sure they knew that they were part of the mix as well. So one day, shortly after my mother-in-law's story, I was taking a book down from a shelf and saw Connor, then about eight, reading one of his own books nearby.

"Hey Con, come here a sec." He did. I indicated the books on the bookshelves in our living room and asked whose books they were.

"Yours," he said. "And Mom's."

I told him they were actually for our whole family, and that if he was ever curious about any of them, he could take any book off any shelf anytime he wanted and look at it. I showed him which books were old and showed him how to open those carefully, supporting the spine, never flattening the pages. For a couple of days he played along, then lost interest, which was fine. The idea was the thing: he knew that there was in principle no prohibited knowledge.

Bravo!


update (1/25 @ 9:11am):
The following sentiment seems especially appropriate:

If I were rich I would have many books, and I would pamper myself with bindings bright to the eye and soft to the touch, paper generously opaque, and type such as men designed when printing was very young. I would dress my gods in leather and gold, and burn candles of worship before them at night, and string their names like beads on a rosary. I would have my library spacious and dark and cool, safe from alien sights and sounds, with slender casements opening on quiet fields, voluptuous chairs inviting communion and reverie, shaded lamps illuminating sanctuaries here and there, and every inch of the walls concealed with the mental heritage of our race. And there at any hour my hand or spirit would welcome my friends, if their souls were hungry and their hands were clean.

(Will Durant, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, p. 64)


Drudge, Matt. Drudge Manifesto (New York: New American Library, 2000)

Matt Drudge's Drudge Report website was revolutionary in the sense that Drudge's hyperlinked gossiping anticipated the era of blogs and RSS feeds, while Drudge himself was reactionary in his focus on libel and lasciviousness. Initially notorious for being sued by Sidney Blumenthal (after accusing him of spousal abuse), Drudge later broke both the Clinton/Lewinsky story (which Newsweek had--after internal discussion--declined to publish) and its notorious cigar incident.) As the US District Judge Paul Friedman noted in the Blumenthal v. Drudge lawsuit, "Drudge is not a reporter, a journalist or a newsgatherer. He is, as he himself admits, simply a purveyor of gossip."

Drudge's dedication of his book to Linda Tripp left a vomit-in-my-mouth taste that was, if anything, amplified by the book's contents. His writing style is annoyingly fragmented and disjointed; his salacious and braggadocio is easily mocked, as in the Sludge Report website. On paper, Drudge practically parodies himself:

I'm sought out--even venerated--by the very people who trash me. I have little ambition, but they make me famous. Which is interesting. And infamous. Not boring. Notorious. Even better. (p. 36)

There is as little actual content in this book as one might expect, and his scattershot style doesn't help. Neither does his poor scholarship. On page 141, Drudge recites a quotation--allegedly from Abraham Lincoln--that is widely known to be false:

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country... corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." (See this Snopes article for details.)

One might be tempted to hope--despite his myriad shortcomings--that Drudge would seek a broader series of targets in the post-Clinton era, but his assertion that "The person that sits in the Oval Office next will get my undivided attention." (p. 206, from a Q&A at the National Press Club, 2 June 1998) seems to have been disproved by the dearth of Bush-era bombshells. Drudge seems to prefer attacking Hillary--and even Gore--to helping salvage America from the ravages of Bushism. (In fact, Drudge is infamous enough to warrant his own section at the media bias site MediaMatters.)

Many lamentations have been written on the decline (and presaged demise) of traditional journalism, but one shudders to think that this sort of worthless tripe--bereft of erudition, shorn of context, lacking both style and substance--will be its replacement. This book is perhaps the saddest of many sad commentaries on American reportage, both online and off. Drudge does, however, provide a useful Quote of the Day:

"Sometimes, I think Matt Drudge and Don Imus have more influence than Bill Moyers and David Broder. And that's a pretty sad thing to say." (p. 97, Jay Harris, Chairman and Publisher of the San Jose Mercury News)

who's the fool?

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Dirk Diggler at UTI had a run-in with a neighbor who couldn't handle being confronted with an out atheist:

He started quoting the bible. I wish I could remember the verse. It was something about only fools deny god. Obviously it bugged me because here I am, four days later still thinking about the incident. I've seen trolls come here to UTI and quote bible passages, too. As if that settles the question at hand. Don't they realize I don't speak that language. You might as well be speaking Greek for all I care. I don't read the bible. I don't consider it an authority. It means nothing to me. Don't fucking quote the bible to me. Okay?

I left a comment for him:

The passage he quoted to you sounds like Psalms 14:1, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good."

If you aren't yet tired of pointing out Christian hypocrisy and Biblical contradictions, you can quote Matthew 5:22, "...whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire" back to him.

At least ancient Greek is intelligible, whereas much of the Bible is either useless genealogy or pointless gibberish.

Bush's big lies

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(I apologize if you've already seen this study; it's been all over the blogosphere this morning, and I've seen it at least a dozen times.) The Center for Public Integrity has released a study titled "War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War" It's a depressing--and, for those of us who were paying attention at the time, very familiar--tale, but it's a good summary of the Busheviks' mendacity:

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.

[...]

President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by Wolfowitz (with 85), Rice (with 56), Cheney (with 48), and McClellan (with 14). [emphases added]


update (3:09pm):
Dinesh D'Souza rushed to the administration's defense, claiming that "Actually Bush didn't lie," but whitewashing the White House is no longer convincing. Richard Clarke has been puncturing these defensive evasions for years; here's how Bush pressured him to tie Iraq to 9/11:

The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

In the absence of any facts, Decider Dubya simply decided that his whim was enough for war. He could just make an occasional triumphant claim that "we found the WMDs" and the compliant corporate media would accept his claim and move on to the next celebrity sex scandal.

362 days, 20 hours, and 50 minutes left.

Books discussed in this essay:

Rall, Ted. Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right (New York: Soft Skull Press, 2004) (Amazon link, my review)

Rall, Ted. Generalissimo El Busho: Essays and Cartoons on the Bush Years (New York: Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2004) (Amazon link, my review)

Coulter, Ann. Godless: The Church of Liberalism (New York: Crown Forum, 2006) (Amazon link, my review)

After reading a slew of books on liberalism last month, I spent a little time on the (mostly) lighter side of the liberal-vs.-conservative divide. At first glance, it might seem unfair to discuss two of Rall's books along with one of Coulter's; however, this doesn't begin to remedy the disparity in media coverage the two authors have received. While both Coulter and Rall are political provocateurs, Coulter is often considered newsworthy for penning her slanted screeds while Rall is usually pilloried for his political incorrectness. In the small (to some) area of accuracy, there is no question that Rall does a far better job than Coulter at expressing positions that are backed up by facts. She may be the more flamboyant and successful pundit, but he has more than mere opinion on his side.

I previously noted the errors in Rall's Wake Up and Generalissimo el Busho in my reviews, but they were outweighed by at least one order of magnitude by Coulter's outright lies in Godless. In addition being much less frequent, Rall's mistakes were generally misattribution of quotes, where accuracy was not central to his arguments. Coulter's errors, on the other hand, were such that removing them from consideration destroyed the carefully knit fabric of distortions upon which her conclusions rely.

MediaMatters takes issue with Coulter's misinformation on evolution, which she charmingly parodied as the "Flatulent Raccoon Theory," citing factual errors in ten different subject areas:

Coulter devotes two whole chapters to the discussion of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Throughout, she offers falsehoods, misleading statements, and distortions of evolutionary theory, all packaged with smears of prominent progressive and Democratic figures as well as news reporters and media personalities.

Media Matters also notes that Coulter's endnotes are, as usual, "rife with distortions and falsehoods." They cite fourteen errors of documentation, concluding that:

Coulter routinely misrepresented the information of her sources, as well as omitted inconvenient information within those same sources that refuted her claims. Coulter relied upon secondary sources to support many of her claims, as well as unreliable or outdated information.

In addition to demonstrating her poor scholarship, this analysis also made clear Coulter's lack of respect for her readers, who she clearly assumed would believe anything she wrote, as long as there was a citation attached to it.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula examines Coulter's "No Evidence for Evolution" claim and, echoing MediaMatters' criticisms, is "at a loss to say in words how abysmally awful this book is:"

This far right-wing political pundit with no knowledge of science at all has written a lengthy tract that is wall-to-wall error: To cover it all would require a sentence-by-sentence dissection that would generate another book, ten times longer than Coulter's, all merely to point out that her book is pure garbage. So I'm stumped. I'm not interested in writing such a lengthy rebuttal, and I'm sure this is exactly what Coulter is counting on--tell enough lazy lies, and no one in the world will have time enough to correct them conscientiously. She's a shameless fraud.

Betty Bowers' review gives Coulter's book the treatment it really deserves; perhaps--if I had a greater gift for comedy--I should do the same in the future rather than refuting her falsehoods. Despite the tedium involved in documenting the never-ending stream of right-wing hypocrisies, Raw Story did some investigating and discovered that Ms Coulter is "unknown at [the] church she claims to attend." The Communications and Media Director of the church Coulter claimed to attend, New York's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, commented:

"The only thing I have heard is hearsay that she is an attender. Our database shows that she is not a member. [...] And I don't know anybody that would have seen Ann Coulter. We don't really know her."

Being a godless liberal, I might be completely off-base here...but isn't there a biblical prohibition against lying?

In all fairness, some of the criticisms levied against Coulter by her detractors are also valid in respect to Rall: Each is prone to callous insensitivity in the search for humor, each has quite an appetite for publicity, and each is both infuriating and entertaining--although partisans will disagree about which is which.

What separates them (besides the black cocktail dress) is that Ted Rall isn't full of shit.

Coulter, Ann. Godless: The Church of Liberalism (New York: Crown Forum, 2006)

The words "partisan" and "hack" often join to form the clichéd term "partisan hack" that identifies the conflation of ideological blindness and partisan fervor; although I strive to avoid overused phrases, nowhere is that trite term more appropriate than when discussing Ann Coulter. As the ever-witty Christopher Hitchens observes in his review of Godless in the UK magazine Liberal:

"Since her books always pull enough of a crowd to put them on the bestseller list, the editors and fact-checkers at her publishing house evidently go on vacation when the manuscripts float in. [...] Coulter finds herself inventing new ways in which to be wrong. As it goes on, the book begins to seem more like typing than writing, and its demonstration of the relationship between poor language and crude ideas becomes more overt."

Her publisher's website has an excerpt of Godless that was no doubt fashioned to showcase her undeniable talent for infuriating liberals, while simultaneously obscuring the fact that her ideological edifice is built on misrepresentations and outright falsehoods. Here is the opening paragraph:

Liberals love to boast that they are not "religious," which is what one would expect to hear from the state-sanctioned religion. Of course liberalism is a religion. It has its own cosmology, its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own churches, its own high priests, its own saints, its own total worldview, and its own explanation of the existence of the universe. In other words, liberalism contains all the attributes of what is generally known as "religion."

The most difficult aspect of reviewing a book by any infotainer (a category in which I include Al Franken and Michael Moore as well as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter) is in distinguishing the hyperbole from the humor, the arguments from jokes. (This is not an issue of missing subtleties, but in trying to gauge the gullibility of her wingnut fans; I had the same problem while writing my review of Coulter's Treason and Slander, and I felt compelled to tally each and every inconsistency, misrepresentation, and falsehood, which was both time-consuming and pointless.) I've been much more lenient on Coulter this time, although her arguments are as unconvincing and her jokes as unfunny as ever.

It's a sad commentary on American political discourse that she has any audience at all. Here are some passages from Coulter's book, followed by my commentary along with factual rebuttals. I have not attempted to completely correct Godless, but have chosen a representative sample of Coulter's assertions (in bold) that are easily disproved. (Even so, I feel it is necessary to apologize for the sheer length of this review.)


Although they are Druids, liberals masquerade as rationalists, adopting a sneering tone of scientific sophistication, which is a little like being condescended to by a tarot card reader. Liberals hate science and react badly to it. (p. 3)

Thanks to Ms Coulter's wisdom, I now understand why liberals are hostile to teaching evolution in biology classes, geology and cosmology in science classes, understanding climate change, promoting sex education programs, recommending STD/cancer vaccines, and funding stem cell research. Oh, wait...it's actually conservatives who are against those things. It looks as if Coulter's projection has struck again.


Throughout this book, I often refer to Christians and Christianity because I am a Christian and I have a fairly good idea of what they believe, but the term is intended to include anyone who subscribes to the Bible of the God of Abraham, including Jews and others. (p. 3, footnote)

Jews "and others?" Since Muslims also worship the Abrahamic deity, they must also be "Christians" under Coulter's definition. (Her Islamophobic readers either skipped this footnote or don't realize the lineage of Islam.)


Water. Liberals are worried we're going to run out of something that literally falls from the sky. Here's an idea: Just wait. It will rain. (p. 8)

Here's an idea: Look up "drought" in the dictionary. Then look up "aquifer" in an encyclopedia. Dumbass.


Liberals are constantly accusing Christians of monumental self-righteousness for daring to engage in free speech or for voting in accordance with their religious beliefs. (p. 18)

No, we don't have any objection to your self-righteousness; we just don't want it funded with our tax dollars. (It's that pesky First Amendment again!)


Throughout the 2004 campaign, the Democrats were looking for a Democrat who believed in God--a pursuit similar to a woman searching for a boyfriend in a room full of choreographers. (p. 19)

Virtually any Democrat would have fulfilled the "believed in God" criterion, both then and now. At the time Coulter wrote Godless, there were no non-religious national politicians. At present, there is only one: Pete Stark (D-CA).


"NARAL is an acronym for something with "abortion" in the title, but we don't know what because the NARAL webpage won't use the word abortion. (p. 20)

I used the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to see what the NARAL website looked like in January 2006, a full five months before Coulter's book was released. The site opened to a petition which mentioned the word "abortion," went to a homepage that mentioned "abortion," and also linked to an "About" page--the most likely destination for someone who claims to be unfamiliar with the acronym NARAL--which mentioned "abortion" seven times in as many paragraphs.


He [liberal minister Jim Wallis] leapt into the breach. He proposed to teach the Democrats how to "reframe" their language to make people think they believe in God. (pp. 20-1)

Coulter cites Matt Bai's "The Framing Wars," (NYT, 17 July 2005) which observed:

Wallis wrote a memo to the Democratic Policy Committee titled ''Budgets Are Moral Documents,'' in which he laid out his argument that Democrats needed to ''reframe'' the budget in spiritual terms.

Wallis quoted Proverbs 31:8-9 ("Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.") in his criticism of Bush's budgetary slaps in the face to millions of the poor and needy in America; there is no indication that he urged Democrats to bear false witness about their beliefs.


When Democrats were running the show, their idea for fighting crime was to spend $40 million to set up midnight basketball leagues... (p. 42)

I am *so* sick of conservatives ridiculing "midnight basketball" as a loopy liberal idea that I could...I don't know...point out that they're full of shit. Here's a passage from the relevant presidential address:

"Midnight Basketball has become a real community institution. And people come to play and to watch and to cheer and to find new hope and to shape their lives. Streets once littered with drugs and plagued by violence have become peaceful and passable. Not surprisingly, the crime rate has dropped by 60 percent since this program began."

Speaker: George H.W. Bush, discussing his 124th "Point of Light" (1991-04-12)
Source: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum


Even after Giuliani's triumphant success, liberals demean his accomplishment. Those who won't believe will never believe. They say the crime rate was already falling, as if the drop in the number of murders during the Dinkins administration from 2,154 murders in 1991 to 1,995 murders in 1992 was the equivalent of the Battle of Midway. It was probably a bookkeeping error. (p. 46)

According to the NYPD statistics on murders in NYC (available here in appendix table 4), murders under Dinkins (1990-1993) declined from 2,245 in 1990 to 1,946 in 1993 (the rate dropped from .307 to .265). Under Giuliani (1994-2001), murders continued to decline (from 1,561 to 649) and rates continued to drop (from .213 to .081). (The data curves for raw numbers and rates are nearly identical.)

Was the murder rate already declining when Giuliani took the reins from Dinkins? Yes. Did the rate's decline accelerate under Giuliani? Also yes. It's hardly "demeaning" to note the first fact, although it disproves Coulter's assertion.


To this day, Democrats demand that we credit Clinton for the plunging crime rate in the nineties--which did not begin to plunge until Giuliani became mayor of New York. Clinton may have tried to socialize health care, presided over a phony Internet bubble, spurned Sudan when it offered him Osama bin Laden on a silver platter... (p. 49)

How many inaccuracies can Coulter cram into a single sentence? Let's just look at the first few. First, is she seriously claiming that Giuliani's election to the NYC mayor's office had an effect on crime nationwide? She can't be serious. According to the US DOJ, the national violent crime rate peaked in 1991. (The rates for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault peaked in 1980, 1992, 1991, and 1992 respectively.) Thus, by Coulter's logic, Giuliani (amazingly!) caused crime rates to drop nationwide several years before he took office on 1 January 1994. If you're going to demean someone, at least get your facts straight.

The managed competition model used in crafting Clinton's "Health Security Act" was not socialized medicine, except perhaps by defining socialism as "whatever conservatives don't like."

The dot-com bubble can hardly be laid at Clinton's feet--at least not any more than the housing bubble can be blamed on Dubya. Has Coulter never heard of the Federal Reserve? Wall Street? Venture capital? IPOs?

About the Clinton/Sudan/bin Laden claim: Please, don't make me refute that steaming pile of bull-slander again. One wishes Coulter (and the other conservatives who repeat this lie ad nauseum) would bother to read the 9/11 Commission Report; this claim was debunked in Chapter 4:

In late 1995, when Bin Ladin was still in Sudan, the State Department and the CIA learned that Sudanese officials were discussing with the Saudi government the possibility of expelling Bin Ladin. U.S. Ambassador Timothy Carney encouraged the Sudanese to pursue this course. The Saudis, however, did not want Bin Ladin, giving as their reason their revocation of his citizenship.

Sudan's minister of defense, Fatih Erwa, has claimed that Sudan offered to hand Bin Ladin over to the United States. The Commission has found no credible evidence that this was so.


Most people have trouble seeing the divine spark in people who take our parking spots. [Ashley] Smith could see God's hand in a multiple murderer holding her hostage. By showing [Brian] Nichols genuine Christian love, Smith turned him from a beast to a fellow sinner, still deserving of punishment, but also of forgiveness. This phenomenon, utterly unknown to liberals, is what's known as a "miracle." That's how a real religion responds to rapists and murderers. In the liberal religion, there is no grace, only lies and death, some of it everlasting. (p. 59)

This paragraph is borderline nonsensical, following as it does her paean to the death penalty as "the deliberative, sane act of an advanced civilization protecting itself from predators" (p. 27). In Coulter's upside-down world, the death penalty is a grace-filled miracle of forgiveness while rehabilitation (something at which she scoffs) is actually a barbaric practice. Huh?


And a lot fewer people saw the victim's Willie Horton ad than the NAACP's ad during the 2000 campaign assigning responsibility to George Bush for the murder of James Byrd. (p. 66)

The voiceover of the NAACP's TV ad does not blame Bush for Byrd's death, only for refusing to support a Texas hate-crime bill:

I'm Renee Mullins, James Byrd's daughter. On June 7, 1998 in Texas my father was killed. He was beaten, chained, and then dragged 3 miles to his death, all because he was black.

So when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate-crime legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again. Call Governor George W. Bush and tell him to support hate-crime legislation. We won't be dragged away from our future.


The transmitter of all liberal idiocy, Michael Moore, summarized what liberals think of Americans in Bowling for Columbine when he said, "[W]hether you're a psychotic killer or running for president of the United States, the one thing you can always count on is white America's fear of the black man"--as evidenced by Michael Moore, who has done everything possible to avoid contact with them. (p. 72)

Here is a passage from Moore's book Stupid White Men, where he laments the absence of African-Americans from his business life:

When I leave New York to go to Los Angeles for a few days to work and meet with people in the business [...] I can go days and never encounter a single African-American unless it's someone to whom I'm handing a tip. How can that happen? [...] For once I'd love to see a black person in the seat next to me at a Knicks game--or within twenty rows of me in any direction (players and Spike Lee excluded). For once I'd like to walk onto an airplane and see it filled with only black passengers instead of a bunch of complaining white jerks who feel a sense of entitlement in demanding that I give up my lap so they can put their seat in it. (p. 69)

Moore later proclaims "I'm done hiring white people" (p. 73) and issues this offer:

So if you're African-American and you'd like to work in the media--or already do but haven't been able to get out from behind that damn reception desk--then I encourage you to drop me a line and send me your resume. (p. 74)

That doesn't sound like someone who's trying to "avoid contact" with blacks.


At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, which nominated Bill Clinton, the Democrats wouldn't even allow a pro-life Democrat governor of a large swing state to speak. Governor Robert Casey was the enormously popular governor of Pennsylvania. But the Democrats wouldn't let him speak because of his pro-life views. (pp. 85-6)

This is false. Casey was denied a speaking slot at the convention because he hadn't endorsed the Clinton/Gore ticket. As noted in Wikipedia, "Other pro-life Democrats such as Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Senators John Breaux and Howell Heflin, and five pro-life Democratic governors did speak" at the convention.


In 2005, the New York Times triumphantly announced that the word abortion is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. [...] It doesn't have words like child rape either, but that doesn't mean Christianity is ambiguous on the subject. (p. 93)

One only wishes that some churches were less ambiguous on the subject, instead of coddling numerous child molesters and covering up their crimes for years if not decades.


The most important value to liberals is destroying human life. (p. 97)

Now it makes perfect sense: the reason why so many liberals are pacifists, object to wars of aggression, and oppose the death penalty is that they want to destroy human life. (As opposed to conservatives, who believe in the sanctity of human life...at least from conception to birth.)


It was treason to respond to Joe Wilson, who accused the Bush administration of lying about the case for war with Iraq based on Wilson's trip to Niger. [...] But no one could say Wilson's alleged expertise was based on a nepotistic junket he was sent on because his wife worked at the CIA. (p. 101)

No, it was treason to respond to Wilson by vindictively outing his wife as a CIA covert operative. (See the note for p. 112)


Conforming to a pattern, when a commission was convened to investigate intelligence failures that preceded 9/11, Republicans mistakenly imagined that the purpose of the commission was to investigate intelligence failures, not to be a partisan game for the Democrats to rewrite history. [...] The "Clinton Whitewash Commission" covered up a classified military data-mining project known as "Able Danger," for example. (p. 106)

The 9/11 Commission was a scam and a fraud, the sole purpose of which was to cover up the disasters of the Clinton administration and distract the nation's leaders during wartime. (p. 108)

The 9/11 Commission's flaws involved, among other things, whitewashing intelligence failures from the administrations of both Bill Clinton (who didn't do enough to stop al Qaeda) and George Bush (who did nothing until 9/11).

The Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the "Able Danger" program (which, in fairness to Coulter, had not been released at the time Godless was published) debunks several conspiracy theories and explicitly states the following:

...prior to September 11, 2001, Able Danger team members did not identify Mohammed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker. (p. 8)


If this PDB was so important, why has the media shied away from printing it? (p. 109)

Why didn't the media ever see fit to reveal the full text of the August 6 PDB? [...] The media deliberately prevented Americans from seeing the memo in order to attack Condoleezza Rice for saying the document contained only "historical information"--which it did. (p. 111)

The media didn't "see fit to reveal the full text" of the PDB because the Bush administration redacted portions of it. The unclassified portions were widely disseminated in April 2004, including (for example) CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even Fox "News." The PDB was also printed in Chapter 8 (pp. 261-262) of the 9/11 Commission Report.

That's "deliberate prevention?"


The man the Democrats wanted to be commander in chief, Senator John Kerry, said, "it's an 'act of treason' to reveal the identity of intelligence sources." (p. 118)

Here's a video clip of Bush I stating that, "I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors." (The CIA website has the full transcript.)


How does a published react to some pompous jerk who wants to call his book The Politics of Truth? Okay, seriously, what are you going to call it? (p. 121)

Are titles such as Slander, Treason, Godless, and If Democrats Had Any Brains They'd Be Republicans not examples of authorial pomposity?


Even if we skip over the absurd logic that because documents are forged, what they purport to show has been proved false--an old spy trick--it would later turn out Wilson had never seen the forged documents. (p. 123)

One wonders if Coulter would be willing to apply this supposition to the Killian documents discussing Bush's (not quite enough) time served in the National Guard.


Tellingly, liberals' one example of The Republican War on Science, as one book title puts it, is the Christian objection to Nazi experimentation on human embryos. (p. 192)

Coulter once again falls prey to Godwin's Law. Judging by these photos, where German Christians seemed to be rather supportive of Hitler (Christian) and the rest of the (also Christian) Nazi regime, I have to ask: what objection is Coulter talking about?

Coulter has obviously not read Chris Mooney's book, which gives numerous examples of right-wing obstruction of scientific inquiry and suppression of religiously incorrect conclusions. For anyone who wishes to be more informed than Coulter, the book's website is here, and much of it is available from Google Book Search here.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has put forth other examples as well, from their "A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science:"

In recent years, scientists who work for and advise the federal government have seen their work manipulated, suppressed, distorted, while agencies have systematically limited public and policy maker access to critical scientific information.


Liberals creation myth is Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which is about one notch above Scientology in scientific rigor. It's a make-believe story, based on a theory that is a tautology, with no proof in the scientist's laboratory or the fossil record--and that's after 150 years of very determined looking. (p. 199)

Projection.


...atheists need evolution to be true. [...] That is why there is mass panic on the left whenever someone mentions the vast and accumulating evidence against evolution. (p. 200)

This "vast and accumulating" evidence never makes an appearance in Coulter's argument; perhaps this is because it doesn't exist?


The only reason a lot of Christians reject evolution is that we are taught to abjure big fat lies. You can look it up--we have an entire commandment about the importance of not lying. (p. 200)

Irony.


...the fact that the eye has been cited as an argument against natural selection for 200 years is true, but this is hardly an argument in favor of evolution. Despite having 200 years to work on it, evolutionists still don't have an answer. (p. 207)

Coulter is right: We don't have an answer. Over the past 150--not 200--years, however, we have developed an extraordinarily well-supported theory, which is infinitely more than creationists have managed to cobble together in the past several millennia.

For the last time, "God did it" is not an answer!


They ridicule us for saying, "The Bible is true because it says so right in the Bible"--which I've never said, by the way. (p. 215)

You don't need to say it, Ann, when so many of your allies are saying it for you. (By the way, the relevant passage is 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.") I look forward to hearing Coulter disavow this circular sentiment the next time it is expressed by a right-wing biblical literalist.


From Marx to Hitler, the men responsible for the greatest mass murders of the twentieth century were avid Darwinists. (p. 268)

Marx died before the twentieth century dawned, making the assignation of blame for Soviet atrocities rather tenuous (even more tenuous than that of Darwin). Mao and Stalin were probably the two most directly responsible for twentieth-century deaths, and those are due more to Lysenkoism than evolutionary biology.


The eugenics movement wasn't a wild, irrational perversion of Darwinism. It was a perfectly logical extension. (p. 269)

Sure it was, in the same way that the Auschwitz gas chambers were a "perfectly logical extension" of pesticide development. (The term for this rhetorical tactic is "guilt by association.")


Hitler's embrace of Darwinism is not a random fact, unrelated to the reason we know his name. It is impossible to understand Hitler's monstrous views apart from his belief in natural selection applied to races. He believed Darwin's theory of natural selection showed that "science" justified the extermination of the Jews. (p. 271)

It is impossible to understand Hitler's monstrous views apart from his belief in the anti-Semitism endemic within German's Christianity in general and Lutheranism in particular (see here and here).


Once man's connection to the divine is denied, you can reason yourself from here to anywhere. As Jean-Paul Sartre said, "If God is dead, everything is permitted." (p. 277)

Sorry, Ann. I believe Dostoyevsky is the author you're looking for, who put the questions "But what will become of men then, without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?" in the mouth of Mitya in The Brothers Karamazov. (Coulter may have misjudged her audience by mentioning Sartre. He and Dostoyevsky wrote dense, meaningful books that will never be bulk-purchased by right-wing groups in order to create the illusion of best-seller status.)


Given Coulter's extreme problems with telling the truth, it is not too much of an exaggeration to re-use Mary McCarthy's quip about Lillian Hellman: "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."

anti-tracts

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Are you looking for an atheist answer to those ubiquitous religious pamphlets? Normal Bob Smith has what you're looking for! ("God Is Fake" is my favorite!)

The Luciferian Liberation Front has a selection of anti-tracts as well, for all those Jack Chick fans out there.

Today is the seventeenth birthday of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In honor of EFF's fight for bloggers' rights, I have added their badge to my sidebar.

If you're in San Francisco, there's a party tonight; if not, please visit their site and help support their work. They're fighting for you and your rights even if you didn't realize it.

atheist aphorisms

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Friendly Atheist has a top fifty list of atheist aphorisms. It's a great list, and here are my favorites:

2. Honk If Your Religious Beliefs Make You An Asshole

6. "Worship Me or I Will Torture You Forever. Have a Nice Day." God.

22. When the Rapture Comes, We'll Get Our Country Back!

42. Every Time You See a Rainbow, God is Having Gay Sex

47. Oh, Look, Honey Another Pro-lifer For War

Bravo!


P.S. The original list has a few additions in the comments, including this classic:

"Don't pray in my school, and I won't think in your church."

Gitmo redux

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Here are two more Gitmo-related links:
Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! did a look back at Guantanamo last Friday, and I should also mention the longstanding Witness Against Torture campaign.

[Note: Although closing Gitmo is still an important goal, I had to change the background color back to white; it was starting to feel like Halloween around here.]

silent challenge

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Ursula K. LeGuin, noted SF author, wrote about the recent NEA study about reading (which I blogged about here) in "Staying Awake" at Harper's. Her piece isn't online yet, but it contains this nice passage amid complaints about the publishing industry:

In its silence, a book is a challenge: it can't lull you with surging music or deafen you with screeching laugh tracks or fire gunshots in your living room; you have to listen to it in your head. A book won't move your eyes for you the way images on a screen do. It won't move your mind unless you give it your mind, or your heart unless you put your heart in it. It won't do the work for you. To read a story well is to follow it, to act it, to feel it, to become it--everything short of writing it, in fact. Reading is not "interactive" with a set of rules or options, as games are; reading is actual collaboration with the writer's mind. No wonder not everybody is up to it.

Rall, Ted. Generalissimo El Busho: Essays and Cartoons on the Bush Years (New York: Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing, 2004)

Generalissimo el Busho is a series of essays and cartoons from the early Bush era--hence its title. (I bought my copy directly from Rall during the 2004 campaign, and had it inscribed "Friends don't let friends vote for Bush!") Rall is quite successful in this format, with his essays and cartoons providing context for each other and clarifying his thoughts. I appreciated America Gone Wild! more than Wake Up...You're Liberal! for its greater exhibition of Rall's talents in the graphic medium.

From Rall's essays, I particularly appreciated his comments on Bush's post-2000 illegitimacy:

"Call him Governor Bush--once a governor, always a governor. Call him the Resident, the Thief-in-Chief, whatever. Just don't call him President." (p. 29, "The Resistance Begins Now")

and his reference to the Bush era as a "Supreme Court-ordered political occupation" (p. 111, "Drout du Seigneur: Bush As God").

This early 2004 cartoon (p. 177) is one of my favorites from the book. It's a prime example of Rall's snark:

Here's another cartoon (p. 182) that deftly illustrates Americans' differing perceptions of Bush:

Rall occasionally misfires, as in this comment on the Iraqi occupation from page 202:

I appreciate his point, but Godwin's Law nevertheless applies. (Rall published a similar cartoon, "Wehrmacht Funnies," a few months earlier.)

Overall, Rall's cartoons and comments have held up well over the past several years; they will likely continue to do so. If you enjoy political cartoons with an unblunted edge, Rall's work should prove to be satisfyingly incisive.

Gitmo follow-up

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The ACLU's "Close Guantanamo" campaign (discussed here) has been making waves: ThinkProgress discussed yesterday's protests, and includes photos from demonstrations around the world.

In other news: according to this Reuters article, a US appeals court declined to hold Rumsfeld and his henchmen responsible for Gitmo:

A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that four former Guantanamo prisoners, all British citizens, have no right to sue top Pentagon officials and military officers for torture, abuse and violations of their religious rights. [...] The men claimed they were subjected to various forms of torture, harassed as they practiced their religion and forced to shave their religious beards. In one instance, a guard threw a Koran in a toilet bucket, according to the lawsuit.

Interestingly, Reuters even notes the anniversary ("The decision by a three-judge panel to dismiss the lawsuit came exactly six years after the first detainees arrived at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.") and mentions the demonstrations.

None of that would have happened without the ACLU's campaign.

The Onion is often hilarious, but perhaps never more so than in this Rude Pundit-style rant under the name of our greatest ex-president.

Tomorrow--the sixth anniversary of the first detainees' extralegal imprisonment at Gitmo--is the occasion for the ACLU's "Close Guantanamo" campaign...and it's why my blog background is orange today. I have signed the pledge:

I pledge to join with over 550,000 ACLU members and supporters to declare that the unlawful and un-American prison at Guantánamo Bay must be closed.

I affirm my commitment to the American values of justice and liberty for all. I believe in the core values enshrined in the U.S. Constitution - that no person should be subjected to the use of torture, or cruel treatment, or indefinite and arbitrary detention. I call for the U.S. government to CLOSE GUANTÁNAMO.

What can one person do? Read the factsheet and the flyer, sign the pledge, download the toolkit, hang a poster in your office, write a letter to the editor or a blog post about Gitmo, add a button to your sidebar, wear orange, and explain to everyone who asks that for "the rule of law" must apply to everyone or it is meaningless. (The main page of downloadable materials is here.)

Also discussing the travesty of Guantanamo are the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.

We can't wait until after the inauguration to change things for the better...get started now!


update (1/11 @ 2:09pm):
Here is more commentary on Gitmo's anniversary: Andy Worthington at AlterNet, Anthony Romero at Salon, Rosa Maria Pegueros at Common Dreams, Moazzam Begg (a former Gitmo detainee) at Guardian, and some wingnut complaints from The Weekly Standard.

what do you think?

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Ann Coulter eulogizes her father here, in her inimitable way.

The Rude Pundit responds here, in his.

What do you think? Over the top, or appropriate?


update (1/14 @ at 12:15pm):
Here's another swipe at Coulter, courtesy of Chris Kelly at HuffPo. The "I can see your balls" line is priceless!

On the heels of this expose from The New Republic, "Angry White Man: The Bigoted Past of Ron Paul," Dan Savage quickly predicted "The End of Ron Paul." As much as I'm inclined to side with an underdog who is excluded from debates by Fox "News," (see here and here) this is a different situation entirely; Ron Paul appears to deserve his marginalization (and not just because he's scientifically illiterate).

The connection between Ron Paul and all manner of bigots has been known for some time (David Neiwert wrote about "The Dark Side of the Ron Paul Phenomenon" last November), but TNR's article was garnering sufficient attention to prompt a denial from Ron Paul himself (see the impromptu interview with Reason magazine here and his own press release here):

This story is old news and has been rehashed for over a decade. It's once again being resurrected for obvious political reasons on the day of the New Hampshire primary.

Such a statement might usually put such matters to rest, but Paul's disavowals ring somewhat hollow. If statements like the following (from the TNR expose) had been published under a masthead with my name on it, the person responsible would have been immediately fired and the statements themselves publicly denunciated:

* On the end of apartheid in South Africa: a "destruction of civilization" that was "the most tragic [to] ever occur on that continent, at least below the Sahara" and predicted a "South African Holocaust" at the election of Nelson Mandela

* On Martin Luther King Jr: "We can thank [Reagan] for our annual Hate Whitey Day."

* On gays and lesbians: "Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities." and "Homosexuals, if admitted [to the military], should be put in a special category and not allowed in close physical contact with heterosexuals."

* On the militia movement: "one of the most encouraging developments in America"

What was the reason for Paul's delay in publicly repudiating these remarks? If Paul's constituents never questioned these statements with him at the time they were published--which I find hard to believe, given his newsletter's 100,000-copy circulation--then that is a damning criticism of his base.

Ryan (The Elephant in the Room) Sager concurs:

It doesn't matter one bit if Ron Paul wrote any of this. It went out under his name, it reflects the views of many of his supporters, and he's at the very least tacitly endorsed all of it for years by not denouncing it. Ron Paul doesn't get to be judged by a lower standard because he's a fringe candidate anymore. If Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, or anyone else had stuff like this under his name, it would be a career ender. That it's not for Ron Paul shows exactly what his supporters are all about.

Ron Chusid follows this line of thought at Liberal Values:

The problem with the Paul movement is that it has become a cult. Far too many of the cultists not only are willingly blind to their leader's faults but have also begun to internalize his beliefs as they justify his writings and actions. If libertarianism is to have any credibility, libertarians must realize that Ron Paul's views are not really about freedom except for providing the framework to defend the freedom to discriminate and oppress.

Reason's cover story on Paul (here, with an editor's note here) makes one oblique reference to his support from the far-right fringe of the conservative movement:

There's one strain of the Paul movement, though, that often alienates his other supporters and potential supporters. Ranging from John Birchers to 9/11 Truthers, they're the type whose distrust of government is enmeshed in elaborate, complicated, and implausible conspiracy theories.

Their support for conspiracy theories involving the "industrial-banking-political elite" (code for "Jewish bankers" and ZOG?) has attracted all manner of tinfoil-hat-wearing, black-helicopter-imagining whackjobs to his side. There's a reason that nicknames for his supporters have devolved from "Paulistas" to the more-inflammatory "Paultards."

The real question is: will his support from bigots evaporate when they learn that he has (reluctantly, it appears) repudiated their racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia?

One can only hope.

I've been sparring (a little bit, as the mood strikes) with some of the responses to my two recent comments on Gore (here and here). Here is the back-and-forth of the two threads (identifying information removed to protect the inane), in all its ungrammatical and nonsensical glory.


:: thread #1 ::

TROLLS:

Here's another blow to Gore and his ilk, a just released Senate report:

"Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007: Senate Report Debunks 'Consensus'"

The names of these scientists from around the globe are listed, with quotes, at: http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.SenateReport
[...]

Maybe the problem is that Gore lives in a massive house to begin with. Perhaps it is relatively efficient compared to other massive homes, but if he wants to preach to us, perhaps he should consider a more modest personal lifestyle.

[...]

The IPCC has been known to falsify the "science" in the past and the UN has its own agenda. They have no true "factual argument." I wouldn't trust their findings and results at all.

[...]

Come back in twenty years and let us know how warm it is then.

Until then the only fact about Gore is that he travels on private jets and lives in a 10,000 square foot home. That home no matter how efficient it is still uses more energy than a traditional 2,000 square foot home built with raw materials.

Sorry Gore is no savior and America is not the enemy. If Gore really cared he would be in China right now trying to stop the hundreds of coal plants opening every year.

Now get on that jet and go to China and make a difference !

Remember that not only is the report you mention the product of the minority of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, it also represents a minority within the scientific community. While truth isn't determined by the number of adherents, the scientific consensus on this issue appears to be rather lopsided.

Do you have an example of falsified science from the IPCC? I'm not being sarcastic when I say that I would like to see it.

Gore's "massive" home seems much less so when one considers that it not only houses his family, but also contains offices for business and nonprofit use and space for his Secret Service detail. If the rest of us worked from home and had to provide additional space for other people, our homes would also be significantly larger than they are.

TROLL:

Stop making excuses for Gore. If I had his money I would practice what I preach. Gore does not have to have a SS detail. He can deny protection.

And the truth about Gore is he travels around the world constantly making Global Warming a POLITICAL statement. If he truly cared he would stay at home and broadcast a radio program or send the "truth" through a website.

By the way buying a tree after flying a jet can never remove the permanent "carbon footprint" of a flight. So is it a safe bet to conclude that Gore is promoting a whole new industry for personal gain? At the expense of the enviroment?

I cant stand Hollywood but here is ONE actor you have to admire.
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1689569,00.htm

At least we've moved on from blatant lies about Gore to a discussion of some substance; given our starting point, I consider that to be progress.

As for your example: Ed Begley has made what he feels are necessary changes in his own lifestyle, as has Gore...as have many of the rest of us who are not celebrities. Suggesting that someone else should or should not do make a particular lifestyle change is not an argument for doing nothing, which is what many denialists would seem to prefer. Is everyone who is concerned about the environmental results of our actions to be branded a hypocrite because we don't live off the grid in a mud hut?

You suggested previously that Gore should "be in China right now trying to stop the hundreds of coal plants opening every year," surely a political effort, but today you're deriding him for making political statements. These stances strike me as contradictory.

TROLL:

"You suggested previously that Gore should "be in China right now trying to stop the hundreds of coal plants opening every year," surely a political effort, but today you're deriding him for making political statements. These stances strike me as contradictory".

Not at all. Being in China would simply be an "enviromental" statement.

The sarcasm passes you easily. Gore has no right to speak on BEHALF of America or at the BEHEST of America when he travels abroad. Yet each of his appearances is a pure tyrannical political mud slinging.

When he was in the White House America had very little to say about Global Warming. This political issue has been front page ever since Gore lost his Presidential bid.

Take a guess why.

As you said nobody should tell you or I how we should make changes in our lifestyle. But it is Gore who does exactly that. Carbon "offests" are scientific rubbish. If one believes in purchasing carbon offets one must truly believe in living in a mud hut !! Simply put a carbon footprint is permanent therfore a carbon offset does nothing.

Do you have any examples of Gore claiming to speak on behalf of or at the behest of the United States...or any examples of "tyrannical political mud-slinging?" If he does so at "each of his appearances," such evidence should be both plentiful and easy for you to find. (That's OK, I'll wait...)

Gore's inaction on climate change during his years as VP remains a primary criticism of him among environmentalists, myself included. The publicity he has received since then is due to his Oscar and his Nobel Peace Prize, certainly not because the corporate media are giving him a free pass to make up for their abysmal treatment of him in 2000.

Recognizing our common interest in not damaging the planet (on which our lives all depend) and proposing courses of action is far from making tyrannical demands. I haven't seen Gore suggest any lifestyle changes for others that he hasn't been willing to make in his own life. (Besides, finding hypocrisy in the messenger would not disprove the message.)

Calling the concept of carbon offsets "rubbish" is not a convincing statement, for the very reason that a carbon footprint is not permanent. By way of analogy, imagine someone who discards a piece of trash while walking in the woods but later picks up and disposes of a piece of someone else's trash. On balance, the forest is in the same state because the second action has offset the first. In the same way, trees planted to remove carbon from the atmosphere do indeed offset waste from (for example) jet fuel combustion.

TROLL:

"Do you have any examples of Gore claiming to speak on behalf of or at the behest of the United States...or any examples of "tyrannical political mud-slinging?" If he does so at "each of his appearances," such evidence should be both plentiful and easy for you to find. (That's OK, I'll wait...)
WAIT NO MORE !!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HeTA1S7TXM&feature=related

He cleverly suggests he is not speaking on behalf of the US as a disclaimer. But are we really that stupid? Is this not the ex-VP?

I love how he hates his country.

When Gore began his address in Bali (there's a decent transcript here) with the words "I am not an official of the United States," he disproved your claim that he claims to "speak on BEHALF of America or at the BEHEST of America when he travels abroad."

You first insulted Gore for (allegedly) making improper claims. You then linked to a speech where he said the exact opposite, and you used that to backpedal into an assertion that it's impossible for him to avoid it. Even without Gore's actual statement, you have destroyed your initial accusation with your new assertion that--by virtue of Gore being a former VP--he must necessarily be speaking on behalf of the US. The only way for him to avoid being guilty (in your eyes) is to avoid speaking, which is apparently your real wish. (If not, at least you've absolved yourself of the need to find an actual example of the rhetoric you claimed; you can now point to anything Gore says and claim that it's proof that he's really saying the exact opposite.) If your latest ploy fails to convince anyone, you can always claim that talking yourself in circles is some form of sarcasm.

I'm still waiting for the (alleged) "tyrannical political mud-slinging," but I suspect that it will never appear.


:: thread #2 ::

The same troll claimed that "The science is flawed in so many ways it is ridiculous," so I asked him to put up or shut up:

If the research that was linked to above can be rebutted, let's see some rebuttals. If there are flaws, please list some. Which arguments against man-made climate change do you consider the most compelling?

TROLL:

http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/13830

That's an interesting piece on the ubiquitous "hockey stick" graph, and I'm always glad to see statistical and analytical errors corrected...although the author doesn't address the (inevitable) flaws inherent in the set of allegedly "random" numbers used in testing.

While indeed a flaw, this is a disagreement about the amount of change, not in any way a debunking of it. The article's author is "concerned about global warming," "think[s] that human-created carbon dioxide may contribute," and calls climate change denialism a "mistaken conclusion."

That's a recognition of anthropogenic climate change, not a compelling argument against it.

TROLL:

"That's a recognition of anthropogenic climate change, not a compelling argument against it".

Also translated- a recognition of anthropogenic climate change that may have nothing to do with man. Millions of years ago climate changed. Vikings once farmed land on what is now frozen land.

http://www.populartechnology.net/2007/10/no-consensus-on-global-warming.html

You want to debunk each and every of the Phd's on this list.

Be my guest.

The phrase "anthropogenic climate change that may have nothing to do with man" is contradictory, because anthropogenic means "caused or produced by humans" (check the definition here).

Climate does indeed change, usually slowly and over long periods of time. Thus, the relatively large effects we are beginning to see (from burning millions of years of fossil fuels in a few centuries) should be cause for investigation and action, not complacency.

I didn't debunk the scientist you mentioned, and I didn't have to. I just pointed out that he recognized the existence of global warming and called denialism "mistaken." Besides, I hardly need to debunk every skeptic that you can point to, as the majority of the scientific community has already done so. By the way, has anyone else noticed that the lists of skeptics are often padded with non-climatologists (e.g., economists and MDs)?

TROLL:

Yes I know what anthropogenic means. It was sarcasm again. Whew !

On this list find me the Mds and economists. These people are skeptics of man made global warming.

http://www.populartechnology.net/2007/10/no-consensus-on-global-warming.html

You want me to "find the MDs and economists" on your list? That's easy: there are three MDs, including science fiction author Michael Crichton, under the first section of the list. Is he to be considered a scientific expert? (By the way, you missed the heading "Skeptical Scientists" when you copied-and-pasted this list.) The economists are all listed (along with some political scientists and an anthropologist) in the "Social Scientists" section.

This list (175 "skeptical scientists," 52 meteorologists, 22 social scientists, and 17 deceased, by my count) is less padded than some others I've seen, but it's still just a list of names. Are you going to show that these people are actually denying man-made climate change, and not--as with the previous example you gave--merely quibbling over the details?

By way of an example from your list, check out the work of William Nordhaus, who has written extensively on the economic aspects of global warming. Read "The Challenge of Global Warming: Economic Models and Environmental Policy" to see how much of a skeptic he is:

"The underlying scientific basis of global warming is well established ...there can be little scientific doubt that the world has embarked on a major series of geophysical changes that are unprecedented for the last few thousand years." (pp. 10-11)

When the definition of "skepticism" is stretched so far as to include its opposite, it becomes both meaningless and useless...much like your replies. Unless you can do better, I have more productive uses to which I can put my time.


:: epilogue ::

The only way to make trolls disappear is by no longer feeding them, so I have stopped replying to these threads. I simply don't have time for those who have such poor rhetorical skills (e.g., can't argue well, contradict themselves, provide "evidence" that doesn't support their claims, and refuse to listen to counter-arguments). There was one final rejoinder in each thread from the same troll, determined to get the last word, but I deemed any further participation to be worthless. The signal-to-noise ratios in these threads had dropped so close to zero that I finally gave up, although I confess to having second thoughts.


update (2/11 @ 9:18am)
Hank Fox posted this definition of "fractal wrongness" at UTI (which appears to be from this lexicon of computing):

Fractal Wrongness:

The state of being wrong at every conceivable scale of resolution. That is, from a distance, a fractally wrong person's worldview is incorrect; and furthermore, if you zoom in on any small part of that person's worldview, that part is just as wrong as the whole worldview.

Debating with a person who is fractally wrong leads to infinite regress, as every refutation you make of that person's opinions will lead to a rejoinder, full of half-truths, leaps of logic, and outright lies, that requires just as much refutation to debunk as the first one. It is as impossible to convince a fractally wrong person of anything as it is to walk around the edge of the Mandelbrot set in finite time.

If you ever get embroiled in a discussion with a fractally wrong person on the Internet -- in mailing lists, newsgroups, or website forums -- your best bet is to say your piece once and ignore any replies, thus saving yourself time.

That is why I avoid arguing with trolls: they are fractally wrong, and can potentially consume an infinite amount of time. The next time I'm tempted to feed the trolls online, I'll append that link to my final statement and call it a day.


update 2 (2/19 @ 9:16am):
Yet another example of the troll's errors was the claim that China is opening "hundreds of coal plants...every year." According to MIT's "The Future of Coal," "China is currently constructing the equivalent of two, 500 megawatt, coal-fired power plants per week," (p. ix, Executive Summary) or approximately one hundred per year.

(In wingnut world, being inaccurate by a factor of two is an improvement over their usual margins of error.)


update 3 (2/28 @ 12:17pm):
Joseph Romm's "The Cold Truth about Climate Change" makes a similar point about the skeptics listed on Inhofe's report:

As it turned out, the list is both padded and laughable, containing the opinions of TV weathermen, economists, a bunch of non-prominent scientists who aren't climate experts, and, perhaps surprisingly, even a number of people who actually believe in the consensus.

George McGovern's op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday morning is titled "Why I Believe Bush Must Go: Nixon Was Bad. These Guys Are Worse." It sounds both a call to arms

Bush and Cheney are clearly guilty of numerous impeachable offenses. They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly "high crimes and misdemeanors," to use the constitutional standard.

and a cautionary note:

Impeachment is unlikely, of course. But we must still urge Congress to act. Impeachment, quite simply, is the procedure written into the Constitution to deal with presidents who violate the Constitution and the laws of the land. It is also a way to signal to the American people and the world that some of us feel strongly enough about the present drift of our country to support the impeachment of the false prophets who have led us astray. This, I believe, is the rightful course for an American patriot.

McGovern has been calling for Cheney to resign since at least March 2007, as in this discussion with John Nichols from The Nation where he called Bush/Cheney "the most lawless administration we've ever had:"

"There is no question in my mind that Cheney has committed impeachable offenses. So has George Bush. [...] Bush is much more impeachable than Richard Nixon was. That's been clear for some time. There does not seem to be much sentiment for impeachment in Congress now, but around the country people are fed up with this administration."

Jonathan Adler points out at The Volokh Conspiracy that McGovern did support impeaching Nixon, seemingly contrary to this statement:

"After the 1972 presidential election, I stood clear of calls to impeach President Richard M. Nixon for his misconduct during the campaign."

Adler is technically correct, but McGovern's support for Nixon's impeachment didn't come until October 1973--nearly a year after the election. Accusing McGovern of being "misleading, if not worse" seems rather excessive.

Rall, Ted. Wake Up, You're Liberal! How We Can Take America Back from the Right (New York: Soft Skull Press, 2004)

George McGovern, who Rall calls "the last liberal presidential nominee of the Democratic Party," (p. 225) wrote the book's Foreword, where he likens Rall's writings to those of our most neglected Founder: McGovern calls Rall's book a "modern-day Common Sense," and claims that "Tom Paine would be proud of Ted Rall, just as I am." (p. ix)

Rall's book is less a description of America's liberalism (covered in chapters 2 and 3) than a paean to political pugilistics. Rall asks, in several different ways, why Democrats don't take off their gloves and fight the GOP on their own terms, culminating with this anguished cry: "why are Democrats such pussies?" (p. 3) He makes no apologies for wanting Democrats to win, even if they must "get down in the gutter" with the GOP to do so. Rall suggests--nearly demands--that Dems start playing dirty, too:

When Democrats finally win, they ought to strive to make a profound ideological impression. They should claim a mandate, demand enormous reforms, ask for twice as much as they want, pretend that their victory proves that their opponents have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Burn the crops, salt the fields, melt down their art and use the metal to raise a statue in your own honor. (p. 207)

Now for the book's shortcomings: The number of typos is annoying, but not fatal, to Rall's first all-prose effort. The bibliography, organized by topic, is not an adequate replacement for endnotes. Rall errs in several attributions, including the following:

"That government governs best that governs least," wrote Thomas Jefferson, hardly a conservative himself though his words have become a credo for right-wing attacks on big government. (p. 46)

That saying is commonly misattributed to Jefferson, but it actually came from Thoreau. HDT opened his essay "Civil Disobedience" with the phrase "That government is best which governs least," but had apparently borrowed those words from United States Magazine and Democratic Review.

Mussolini, who famously observed that "fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power"... (p. 138)

Chip Berlet explains at Public Eye that this quotation is almost certainly spurious.

There was also this bothersome passage:

The outspoken new speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, declared the [1994] election a mandate for a "Republican Revolution" and unveiled a thereto-invisible "Contract with America" that attempted to elevate the GOP legislative wish list to the level of a direct mandate for radical change from the American people. (p. 159)

In all fairness to Newt, the Contract was not exactly "invisible" before the election, at least not in the sense of Rall's implication that it was "unveiled" afterward; as AB Stoddard writes in this retrospective:

"On Sept. 27, just six weeks before the 1994 election, Gingrich and his loyal soldiers signed the Contract in the Cannon conference room and then walked to the Capitol steps, where a band played in the sun."

Rall is correct, though, that the Contract was not a "mandate" for Newt, having had little effect on the electorate: this MediaMatters article cites numerous studies showing that "less than 30 percent of the American people had ever heard of the Contract With America [...] ...only about 18 percent of voters -- mostly committed Republicans -- gave it a second thought."

Someone with such an incendiary reputation isn't usually expected to put together a 300-page book of political analysis, but cartoonist/columnist Ted Rall has done a fairly good job with Wake Up...You're Liberal! Rall still skewers Republicans ideologues and throws the occasional jab at their enablers in the media--as well as feckless Democrats--but he also makes a few serious points along the way.

I have to thank Wil Wheaton for turning me on to another web comic: Penny Arcade. I visited the site through his post earlier today, and started clicking back through the comics. It didn't take long to find this gem:


(Click to read the rest...)

I already have a timesink problem with Sinfest and MegaTokyo--not to mention xkcd, This Modern World, TroubleTown, Ted Rall, Mikhaela Reid, and Dykes to Watch Out For--and now I have a new favorite...thanks a lot, Wil!

Jane Hamsher at FDL had the best comment about the GOP debate:

Someone once said "stand next to fat people, you'll always look thin."

No wonder Ron Paul's followers think he's a genius.

generation O

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Here's a great cartoon by David Horsey on Barack Obama's "lack of experience:"

Russell, P. Craig. Isolation and Illusion: Collected Short Stories 1977-1997 (Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2003)

This slim-by-comparison volume (120 pages) of short stories is a delightful dessert after the enormous entrée of The Art of P. Craig Russell. It collects the following nine stories, indicated by opus numbers (listed here on his website):

4. "Dance on a Razor's Edge" (8 pages, b/w)
29. "From Beyond" (10 pages)
32. "A Voyage to the Moon" (20 pages)
31. "The Gift of the Magi" (12 pages)
8. "La Sonnambula and the City of Sleep" (10 pages, b/w)
11. "Isolation and Illusion" (14 pages, b/w)
17. "The Insomniac" (12 pages)
9. "Breakdown on the Starship Remembrance" (23 pages, b/w)
39. "Devils" (3 pages)

I would have preferred to see the stories printed in chronological order, but I can understand the reason this wasn't done: the first half of the stories would have been black-and-white, lending the book a Wizard of Oz feel as it transitioned into the second (color) half of the stories.

The latter four stories were the ones with which I was unfamiliar, and this attractive and affordable volume proved to be the easiest way to acquire them. Russell's work has gained a whimsy with his artistic maturity, as evidenced by this image from Cyrano de Bergerac's "A Voyage to the Moon" (p. 40):

Here's an (older) favorite image (p. 72), this time from 1981's "Isolation and Illusion: A Symbolist Fantasy:"

While I would have included a few other pieces ("The Golden Apples of the Sun" in particular) in this book, this collection satisfies until a sequel (is one in the works?) arrives. I can't recommend Russell's art highly enough; following his career has been a joyful and rewarding experience.

Let's put the Iowa wins by Obama and Huckabee last night into perspective: there is a long primary season ahead, and it's ten months until the general election. With those caveats out of the way, this ABC analysis explains a very strong showing by Obama last night. Attaturck at FDL combines the Democratic and Republican numbers in a most interesting way:

Percentage of total vote
24.5% Obama
20.5% Edwards
19.8% Clinton
11.4% Huckabee (R)

Here's a transcript of Obama's victory speech last night, with some encouraging oratory:

"The time has come for a president who will be honest about the choices and the challenges we face, who will listen to you and learn from you, even when we disagree, who won't just tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to know.

[...]

I'll be a president who ends this war in Iraq and finally brings our troops home... (APPLAUSE) ...who restores our moral standing, who understands that 9/11 is not a way to scare up votes but a challenge that should unite America and the world against the common threats of the 21st century.

Andrew Sullivan, author of the recent Atlantic cover story on Obama, notes Obama's broad-spectrum appeal:

How can my core beliefs resonate with the libertarianism of Ron Paul and yet allow for support of an urban liberal like Obama? Good questions. One short answer: because conservatism faces a deeper threat from corrupt Republicans than from honest liberals. Because, after eight years of big government Christianism, a unifying liberalism is something I can live with. Because I want to win the long war against the Jihadists - and we need to unite the country again to do it. [emphasis added]

Wouldn't it be nice to have a true uniter in the Oval Office?

This Privacy International report has been mentioned all over the web since its release last week, and Scott Horton has the best summary at Harper's:

What do Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush and Hu Jintao have in common? They are the heads of the three most significant nations whose people live under "endemic surveillance"--that is to say, whose governments have a penchant for aggressively spying on their own people.

According to the report:

In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the US is the worst ranking country in the democratic world. In terms of overall privacy protection the United States has performed very poorly, being out-ranked by both India and the Philippines and falling into the "black" category, denoting endemic surveillance.

What other nations scored between 1.1 and 1.5 on the five-point scale, and are considered to be "Endemic surveillance societies?" Here's the list: China, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the UK and the US.

Dan Froomkin's WaPo piece on "Bush's Final Year" leads off with a description of the upcoming FISA fight between Bush and Congress as "a historic battle over the future of the country as a surveillance state," as if the last seven years haven't been disastrous enough.

Russell, P. Craig. The Art of P. Craig Russell: A Retrospective (Norcross, GA: Desperado Publishing, 2007)

$79.99 (signed and numbered edition)
$49.99 (unsigned edition)

I have been a fan of Craig Russell's work for nearly thirty years, since his "Killraven" stories from Amazing Adventures, his renowned Doctor Strange Annual, and the adaptation of Wagner's Parsifal that he did for Star*Reach. I have amassed quite a collection of his work, but this book contains many things that I hadn't seen before (images from his sketchbook and layouts for Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, for example) and others I hadn't even known about (such as his album covers). The insights afforded into Russell's working process by presenting so many rough sketches and penciled pages are priceless, and the chapter on storytelling from Neil Gaiman's Murder Mysteries was particularly intriguing.

Russell's choice of Dave (Cerebus) Sim to write the book's introduction was surprising, as the two seem odd bedfellows. I had anticipated another paean from Steranko, who wrote the introduction to Russell's 1979 Night Music volume.

The breadth of this volume is spectacular. The 29-page 1991 Comics Journal interview (where Russell famously came out as a "left-handed, night-dwelling, gay libertarian cartoonist") merely whet my appetite for the up-to-date and thorough look into Russell's career that this book delivers. The snippets of Russell's upcoming projects have me awaiting 2008: Coraline, The Mighty 12, and--especially--24 Songs, although the last is neither completed nor even tentatively scheduled. The prospect of seeing Russell's finely detailed penmanship at tabloid size very nearly makes me drool with anticipation.

Although I was almost exclusively focused on Russell's artwork while reading this book, I did notice a few typos (as Russell himself recently noted on a discussion board): the text misspells Jane Austen as "Jane Austin" on page 89, and includes this erroneous apostrophe on page 94: "Its' waking/dreaming shifts in tone..." Also, Russell discusses an unfinished "Killraven" story twice, first on page 31 and then again on page 213. Outside of these minor matters, my only complaint about the book is that some of the art is reproduced at too small a size; two inches square is enough for Russell to engage the eye, but not enough to fully enchant the viewer. I recognize that remedying this flaw would have made the book twice the size and twice the price, but Russell's art is so delightful that I would have gladly purchased it.

The book's only real drawback is its mentioning a number of Russell's works that the completist in me will now be compelled to add to my collection. As it is, I own but haven't yet read Russell's four volumes of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales, his 424-page adaptation of Wagner's Ring cycle, (volumes one and two) his three volumes of other opera adaptations (much--but not all--of which I've read elsewhere), and his book of collected short stories (ditto). (Expect several more book reviews in the near future as I peruse these volumes.)

For anyone unaware of Russell's art, check out Francois Peneaud's very useful website here. It contains numerous images from every era of Russell's career, and will give you a taste for his art. (Russell's own website is, of course, essential.) For everyone already familiar with Russell, just buy the book. It's a beautiful and enriching feast.

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