March 2008 Archives

Over a month ago, as Obama was campaigning in Texas, MSNBC suggested that he "defended the 'liberal' label" with these words:

"Oh, he's liberal," [Obama] said. "He's liberal. Let me tell you something. There's nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home."

Continuing on his riff: "There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There's nothing liberal about saying that doesn't make sense, and we should so something smarter with our health care system."

Obama is quite clearly wrong in these statements. Although liberalism often reflects the common sense position, campaign finance reform, treating our military servicemembers honorably, and improving healthcare are all liberal positions. The Boston Globe has a more accurate take on Obama's words:

He's right, of course, that Republicans have turned liberalism, the philosophy that dominated politics from the '30s until the '80s, into a term of insult. But Obama might have pointed out that it's really no slur - in fact, tens of millions of Americans readily own up to being liberals, according to polls. Obama just isn't one of them.

The ongoing conservative disinformation campaign about liberalism have strenuously pushed their redefinition of the word liberal, but they are impotent in the face of liberalism's legacy: voting rights, civil rights, the forty-hour work week, unionization and other workplace protections, the minimum wage, unemployment compensation, food stamps, student loans, Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection...it's hard to imagine the sort of hell in which we would live if it weren't for the liberal achievements of the twentieth century.

If Obama would be willing to proudly carry the banner of liberalism, no one knows what we can achieve as a new liberal era dawns over the darkness of contemporary American conservatism. First, though, he needs to say it loud: "I'm liberal and I'm proud!"

JR Dunn wrote a piece on "The Disgrace of Liberalism" at American Thinker that I can only describe as delusional. He begins with this assertion:

2008 marks the end of liberalism as a governing force in the same way that 1968 marked the end of liberalism as a political doctrine.

This makes perfect sense, I guess, if one ignores the four decades of conservative governance between those dates: Liberalism is at the end of its viability because...conservatives have been in charge--and have failed monumentally--for forty years! Dunn's rhetoric continues to get the better of his logic throughout the piece, as in these sections:

The Democrats went into the 1968 presidential election as crippled as any political party in American history, choked with failure, bereft of ideas, and facing a general uprising from their own younger elements.

[...]

Liberalism will stagger on. It still has control of all those urban political machines, along with the unions and bureaucracies. But it has no future. Personality cults and ideology will take you only so far. We may yet live to see this albatross removed from the nation's back.

Let's try correcting that analysis so that it more closely resembles reality, shall we? Here's my attempt:

2008 will mark the end of conservatism as a governing force and as a political doctrine. The Republicans go into this presidential election as crippled as any political party in American history: choked with failure, bereft of ideas, and facing a general uprising from their own younger elements.

Conservatism will stagger on. It still has control of all those media outlets--along with the corporate boardrooms and executive suites--but it has no future. Personality cults and ideology can take them only so far, and we may yet live to see this GOP albatross removed from the nation's neck.

Reminder: only 296 days and 14 hours remain until our long national nightmare is over.

professor Obama

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Everyone has surely heard the conservative/Clintonite claim that Obama lied about being a law professor before becoming a Senator. The University of Chicago put the matter to rest, making a clear statement (h/t: TalkLeft) about Obama's actual teaching status at the school:

From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. [emphasis added]

That's right: Obama was telling the truth. His opponents were lying.

In a similar situation, many people have claimed since the madrassa smear that Obama is a Muslim; even after weeks of saturation news coverage about the former pastor at Obama's (Christian) church, many people cling to the Muslim myth. Pew reported yesterday that "One-in-ten voters believe that Barack Obama is Muslim; 14% of Republicans, 10% of Democrats and 8% of independents think he is Muslim." (I'd love to see statistics on how many people believe that he is the most liberal Senator, another of the prominently-publicized myths about him.)

What lie will they dream up next?

pure awesomeness

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Did you hear that the brutal Islamic dictator of Saudi Arabia wants to form an alliance with Jews and Christians to "safeguard humanity" against "the disintegration of the family and the rise of atheism in the world:"

"I have noticed that the family system has weakened and that atheism has increased. That is an unacceptable behavior to all religions, to the Koran, the Torah and the Bible. We ask God to save humanity. There is a lack of ethics, loyalty and sincerity for our religions and humanity."

Ed Brayton responds with pure awesomeness:

I'm just not inclined to accept lectures about ethics from a brutal dictator whose regime beheads people for being of the wrong religion, puts gay people to death and has roving gangs (they call them police) whose job is to beat women who leave the house unattended by a male relative. You're gonna lecture me on ethics, you fascist asshole? Fuck you. And your little god too.

Bravo!


update (12:57pm):
There are more comments on King Abdullah's proposal from Skepchick and NoGodBlog.

Mike the Mad Biologist said something truly magnificent during a Boston Skeptics meeting (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula):

Last night, I concluded my talk with a quote from Dover, PA creationist school board member William Buckingham, who declared, "Two thousand years ago someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?"

My response was, "In the last two minutes, someone died from a bacterial infection. We take a stand for him."

This is how I think we need to argue. We need to put creationists on the defensive by arguing, part of the time, on behalf of the utility of evolutionary biology. Doing genomics without evolutionary biology is like drilling for oil with a dowser. Force creationists to defend the morality of their position.

That was, quite simply, a brilliant response!

We need to remind everyone that while ignorance is free, its cost is incalculable. The questions not asked, experiments not performed, treatments not tested, and technologies not developed (through whatever form of intellectual intimidation) can scarcely be estimated.

...this will be McCain's first ad:

20080325-sniper.jpg

Do really want another Swift-Boat campaign?


update (3/26 @ 8:14am):
CBS has video clips from Hillary's Bosnia visit that tell a far more damaging story. [That clip has been removed, but another version is here.]

Political junkies have been awash in Pastor Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory remarks (the Washington Post has a selection of them) for weeks, and Barack Obama responded admirably last Tuesday with a speech on race entitled "A More Perfect Union." Here are three passages from his speech which spoke most clearly to me about Obama's optimistically liberal patriotism:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. [...] I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election. [all emphases mine]

Obama recognizes the debt he owes to our nation, but tempers this with a humble acknowledgment of his place in history and its long arc toward justice. I consider these sentiments to be more important than race in understanding Obama's candidacy, although his denunciation of Wright's words made the remainder of the speech politically necessary.

We liberals can't excuse blame-America-first comments from Wright that we deplore when coming from Robertson, Falwell, and D'Souza. We need to look clearly at those statements, ignore partisanship, and make our assessment on principle instead of politics. We need to be no less diligent in condemning offensive divisiveness from our friends than from our enemies. Having said all that, I recognize that it's much easier for us to criticize the occasional Jeremiah Wright than it is for conservatives to disagree with the multitude of bible-thumpers that provide their political muscle: James Dobson, Tim LaHaye, Roy Moore, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, Randall Terry, and Donald Wildmon. Hitchens names a few more names at Slate, providing my Quote of the Day:

If you think Jeremiah Wright is gruesome, wait until you get a load of the next Chicago "Reverend," one James Meeks, another South Side horror show with a special sideline in the baiting of homosexuals. [...] ...his use of the term house nigger to describe those he doesn't like and for his view that it was "the Hollywood Jews" who brought us Brokeback Mountain. Meanwhile, the Republican nominee adorns himself with two further reverends: one named John Hagee, who thinks that the pope is the Antichrist, and another named Rod Parsley, who has declared that the United States has a mission to obliterate Islam. Is it conceivable that such repellent dolts would be allowed into public life if they were not in tax-free clerical garb? How true it is that religion poisons everything.

blog against theocracy

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When the subjects of theocracy and church/state separation arise, pundits and bloggers alike reach for quotes from the Founders. Whether found through personal reading or copied from websites, the sentiments of the demigods who separated their colonies from mother England to forge a new nation are rightly revered for the course upon which our nation was set. In determining the exact content of their opinions, reference books can be invaluable; few of us have time enough to read the entirety of the Founders' writings. I offer here my assessment of two such reference books.

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Church, Forrest. The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's Founders (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004)

Selections from the usual suspects are here--Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia and letter to the Danbury Baptists, Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance and Detached Memoranda, The Treaty of Tripoli--but this small-format book of barely 160 pages can only contain so many pieces of the puzzle. As much as I appreciate Forrest Church's work, he made a sloppy error here:

Later a U.S. senator and third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, [Oliver] Ellsworth gets credit for coining the term, "United States." (p. 81)

Thomas Paine used the phrase "The United States of America" in his second American Crisis essay, written 13 January 1777. This predates Ellsworth's use of the phrase at the 1787 Constitutional Convention by a full decade.

An important--and often overlooked--point to consider with the "dueling quotations" that emanate from church/state debates is this: When the Founders wrote approvingly about religion, which they frequently did, it was nearly always for what they considered to be its positive influence on a personal level; they were far less sanguine about religion's sanguinary effects on the body politic. Can one find authentic words--not Bartonesque fabrications--from any of the primary Founders (Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Washington) on the wisdom of commingling church and state? I rather doubt it, but I await the arrival of such.

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Menendez, Albert & Edd Doerr. Great Quotations on Religious Freedom (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002)

A more useful book in unraveling the strands of the Founders' thinking on this subject--longer in both page count and historical depth than Church's book--is Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr's Great Quotations on Religious Freedom. The editors divide religious freedom into thirty subcategories, from Abortion Rights to the Voluntary Principle in Religion, and order the quotes alphabetically within the subcategories. The quotations are both useful and amply documented; the only suggestion I would have is that a second index in chronological order would be a wonderful addition to future editions of this highly useful book.

The only glaring omission is that of Roger Williams' comment proposing "[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." [from "Mr. Cotton's Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered," The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Volume 1, p. 108 (1644), a more complete version of which is available here.]

When discussing religious liberty and church-state separation in their Introduction, Menendez and Doerr make a statement that helps highlights concern about the Religious Right's political might:

It is significant, we think, that twenty-seven of our presidents have made statements on this subject. (With the exception of Ronald Reagan's groundless comment about God's "expulsion" from public schools, the residential utterances have been universally laudatory.) (p. 16)

Theocracy can happen here; we must remain eternally vigilant against it.


links:
American Civil Liberties Union
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
First Amendment Center
First Freedom First
Freedom from Religion Foundation
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
National Constitution Center
People for the American Way
Secular Coalition for America
Theocracy Watch


note:
I submitted this post to the Blog Against Theocracy blog carnival, and I recommend visiting their site for more commentary on this important subject.

This YouTube video (h/t: Tommy at Exercise in Futility) should satisfy anyone's RDA for Easter blasphemy: it shows the crucifixion from Mel Gibson's Passion, set to the theme music from Benny Hill.

(NSFW, I assume...)

The millions of White House emails that were presumed missing last April have apparently been destroyed, along with the hard drives which contained them:

Older White House computer hard drives have been destroyed, the White House disclosed to a federal court Friday in a controversy over millions of possibly missing e-mails from 2003 to 2005.

[...]

Under pressure to provide details about its computer system, the White House told the congressional committee that it never completed work that began in 2003 on a planned records management and e-mail archiving system. The White House canceled the project in late 2006 and says it is still working on a new version.

Why isn't anyone behind bars for this?

I have to thank Michelle Jones for this post at Learning Movable Type mentioning Byrne Reese's Promote This! plugin for MT, which adds all those social bookmark links at the end of each post. I installed it on Wednesday night and sent a thank-you email with a request for some additional functionality. He responded Friday morning with a new version...the Internet doesn't get much better than that!

Kudos all around!

PZ Myers wrote last night about being expelled from a showing of Ben Stein's creationist-friendly movie Expelled; it's a great story, with one of the best punchlines ever. Go read it, and be amazed at their ID idiocy. (There were barely 100 comments when I read it last night, and there are now nearly 800...)

His follow-up post here fills in a few more useful details.

atheism's power

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Greta Christina discusses the "doomed amazingness" of atheists, which she likens to the queer movement:

I think the contemporary atheist movement is amazing. I am inspired and enlightened and completely blown away by it, on an almost daily basis. Not to mention vastly entertained. I think the contemporary atheist movement is largely -- although far from entirely -- made up of people who are smart, thoughtful, ethical, caring, passionate, honest, funny, brave, and able to think for themselves... to an amazing degree.

[...]

But that's not going to last.

We have to be prepared for that. And we have to not let our current amazingness go to our heads. We have to not succumb to elitism. We have to not fool ourselves into thinking that our amazingness comes from anything other than the difficulty of coming out, and the powerful self-selecting filter that this difficulty creates.

Barefoot Bum follows up with a post on "The Transformative Power of Atheism," calling her analysis "superficial:"

If it's no big deal to be an atheist, then obedience is no longer a virtue; rationally apprehensible mutual benefit, not Hobbesean submission to absolute authority, becomes the sine qua non of morality.

All rebellion is initiated not by those who choose not to submit, but by those who cannot submit, to whom submission is death. Only the queers could lead us all, straights as well, out of the grip of sexual conformity. Only the black people (in the US) could lead us out of racial conformity. Only the women could lead us out of gender conformity.

And only the atheists -- those who would rather die than mouth the lies and bend their knees to the supreme authority of God -- can lead us all out of the worship of obedience itself.

Well, then...if it's up to us, let's get cracking!

Iraq War II: five years

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Today is the fifth anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq, which should prompt some reflection upon where we are and how we got here. Accordingly, here are some of my (many, far too many...) posts on the mess in Mesopotamia:

2004
PIPA Study: "Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War"
"we caught the wrong guy"
"Bush Lied?" Yes, he did.
Gulf War II: one year later
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is a flawed film that MUST be seen

2005
Bush's speech on Iraq

2006
how many reasons did Bush give for invading Iraq?
timeline of the Iraq War (from Mother Jones)
Iraq Study Group Report

2007
fiscal conservatism in Iraq (billions of dollars missing)
CIA: "Bush didn't give a fuck about the intelligence"

2008
Bush's big lies (Center for Public Integrity's "War Card" report)
Pentagon: "no direct connection between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda"

I hope that the coming of a new administration in 2009 will bring this quagmire to a quick conclusion, because neither we nor the people of Iraq can afford carnage of this magnitude for much longer. As many as a million people are dead as a result of this war, which will cost well over a trillion dollars; both numbers reflect the true legacy of the Busheviks' bellicose neoconservstism.

I submitted this post to the March 19 Iraq War Blogswarm, and recommend that site to my readers:

Five years of an illegal and catastrophic war is five years too many. On the March 19 anniversary of the conquest of Iraq by the Bush Administration, there needs to be a loud volume of voices countering the pro-war propaganda from far too many politicians and corporate media outlets.

ARTICLES:
Patrick Cockburn "How to Destroy a Country in Five Years" (AlterNet)
Robert Pollin & Heidi Garrett-Peltier "The Wages of Peace" (The Nation)

LINKS:
Five Years Too Many: Bring the Troops Home
Iraq Body Count (civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion)
Iraq Coalition Casualty Count
Cost of War (National Priorities Project)
Timeline of the Iraq War (Think Progress)
United for Peace & Justice

Noted science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke has died at the age of 90. Clarke was best known for his short story "The Sentinel," which was adapted to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick as 2001: A Space Odyssey (IMDB).

My god, it's full of stars...

EJ Dionne lets the market fundamentalists have it with both barrels over the Bear Stearns bailout, writing:

Never do I want to hear again from my conservative friends about how brilliant capitalists are, how much they deserve their seven-figure salaries and how government should keep its hands off the private economy. [...] ...if this near meltdown of capitalism doesn't encourage a lot of people to question the principles they have carried in their heads for the past three decades or so, nothing will.

Nothing will, but I assume that his remark was meant rhetorically.

I don't fault Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, for being so interventionist in trying to save the economy. On the contrary, Bernanke deserves credit for ignoring all the extreme free-market bloviation. He doesn't want the economy to collapse on his watch, so he is willing to violate all the conservatives' shibboleths about the dangers of government intervention. [...] Wall Street usefully might feel a bit of gratitude, perhaps by being willing to have the wealthy foot some of the bill or to acknowledge that while its denizens were getting rich, a lot of Americans were losing jobs and health insurance. I'm waiting.

I suspect that Dionne will be waiting for quite some time. After all, gratitude--like paying taxes--is for the little people.

In a modern parallel to the Pentagon Papers, ABC has released a redacted version (12MB PDF) of the Pentagon's "Iraqi Perspectives Report." The report was discussed by ABC several days ago, and discussed at TPM here and here, among many other places. After reviewing more than 600,000 documents and "several thousand hours of audio and video footage," (p. v, Foreword) the Pentagon's IDA (Institute for Defense Analysis) concluded:

"This study found no 'smoking gun' (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda." (p. ES-1, Executive Summary)

In light of this unsurprising revelation, I am issuing a retroactive Lie of the Day award to George W. Bush:

"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda: because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." (Washington Post, 18 June 2004)

Eric Lotke has written a fairly nice post at Campaign for America's Future called "Conservatism Is Dying." Here are his remarks on conservatives' desire to shrink government:

The modern conservative movement is united less by belief in small government--a traditional constitutional value--than by disdain for government. [...] "Starve the beast," conservatives say. But what they really starve are the triumphs of previous generations and investments vital to our future.

Lotke contrasts other GOP slogans with their disastrous results, and closes with an observation that conservatism is "far from alive and well." We have, however, heard many such pronouncements in the wake of the 2006 midterms. American Conservative magazine said "good-bye" to conservatism, and Commentary asked "Is Conservatism Finished?" Many others penned similar opinions, and they were all overstatements. Conservatism, as a fundamental socio-political outlook, will never die; it waxes and wanes, it ebbs and flows, it is in and out of favor in Washington, but is a permanent part of our national psyche.

Whenever we liberals falter or fail in our attempts at progress, conservatives will be ready with their claims that we should stop right where we are and defend the status quo. They will always attract those who fear the pace of progress, or the idea of change itself, seemingly without regard to any realistic assessment of the situation's risks and rewards.

FriendlyAtheist commented on "Funerals Make Me Glad to Be an Atheist" by Tobasco da Gama, where he discusses how his grandfather's funeral was hijacked by "Pastor Asswad." Here's my two cents' worth:

Horrible events like hijacked funerals are reminders that, as members of a misunderstood minority, we need to take responsibility for planning our own memorial services.

Write your own obituary (update it annually) and file it along with your will. Document your wishes for a non-religious event, pick the person to deliver the eulogy, select your own secular readings and music, and clearly explain all these things to your family and friends. When you're gone and they're suffering from your loss, the last thing they need is an insult to your memory from some fly-by-night-friar-Tuck who thinks he can get the last word in because you're no longer able to correct him.

[update: typo fixed]

no more torture

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Everyone should read Washington Monthly's huge article on torture, "No More: No Torture. No Exceptions," which is available in both HTML and PDF. It contains dozens of short essays from across the political spectrum (Bob Barr and Dick Lugar to Jimmy Carter and Nancy Pelosi) about the moral necessity of abolishing torture. Many of the contributors mentioned Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, whose case clearly demonstrates torture's ineffectiveness in obtaining useful intelligence, despite conservatives' fantasizing that "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles" via torture.

"The new president should formally declare in 2009 that the United States will not abuse or coerce detainees, maintain secret prisons where 'ghost' prisoners are secreted, or perform 'extraordinary renditions' of supposed terrorists to countries where they will likely be tortured. Only then can the United States more plausibly claim that she is the leader of the free world." (Peter Bergen)

"Let me be clear on one crucial point: it is the terrorists whom we won over with humane methods in the 1990s who continue to provide the most reliable intelligence we have in the fight against al-Qaeda. And it is the testimony of terrorists we tortured after 9/11 who have provided the most unreliable information, such as stories about a close connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. I never regret that the FBI didn't abuse its detainees. Had we done so, we would have had much less reliable intelligence, and we would have been morally debased. By instituting a policy of torture in the years following 9/11, we have recruited thousands to al-Qaeda's side. It has been a tragic waste."
(Jack Cloonan)

Chris Dodd referred to "Normandy, Nuremberg, [and] the Marshall Plan" as "the heights of America's moral authority in the last century." Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo--the legacy for which this administration will be most remembered--together represent the depths of American descent into Bush's moral depravity.

Thankfully, there are only 314 days left until the end of this pestilential presidency.

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Nader, Ralph. The Seventeen Traditions (New York, HarperCollins, 2007)

Ralph Nader's name and public history is familiar to everyone, but his personal story--one of four children born to Lebanese immigrants in a small Connecticut town--is largely unknown. In The Seventeen Traditions, Nader talks about the values he received from his family and gives a glimpse into the "mental landscape" of an American icon. His "seventeen traditions" are: listening, the family table, health, history, scarcity, sibling equality, education and argument, discipline, simple enjoyments, reciprocity, independent thinking, charity, work, business, patriotism, solitude, and civics.

As an atheist, I admit to scanning the list before buying the book, in order to judge how much talk about "god," "religion," and "faith" I'd have to endure in the process of reading it. It is refreshing to find a book on family and tradition that doesn't harp on religion as a primary category, although Nader does write that without belief "we couldn't hold to the principles and ethics that shape our daily lives" (p. 70). That error aside, Nader's discussion of religion is brief: he mentions his family's Eastern Orthodox heritage and their acceptance into the Episcopal and Methodist communities in town, but otherwise faith appears to be incidental to the traditions that informed his childhood.

One could hope for more depth in a work of this sort, but that would turn it into a "meaning of life" manifesto, which was not Nader's intent. For what it is--a narrative of only 150 pages--it is still a worthwhile and enjoyable read, and provides my Quote of the Day:

If today's parents are to fulfill their acknowledged desire to leave each generation stronger and healthier than its predecessor, cultivating these transcendent family traditions is a good place to begin. (p. 150)

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Russell, P. Craig. Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 1: The Selfish Giant & The Star Child (New York: NBM Publishing, 1992)


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Russell, P. Craig. Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 2: The Young King & The Remarkable Rocket (New York: NBM Publishing, 1994)

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Russell, P. Craig. Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 3: The Birthday of the Infanta (New York: NBM Publishing, 1998)

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Russell, P. Craig. Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 4: The Devoted Friend & The Nightingale and the Rose (New York: NBM Publishing, 2004)

Russell's art beckoned to me from the bookshelf where this set has been sitting for some time; I was finally unable to resist. These four volumes collect seven of Oscar Wilde's nine fairy tales:

Opus 33. The Selfish Giant (1992)
Opus 34. The Star Child (1992)
Opus 37. The Young King (1993)
Opus 38. The Remarkable Rocket (1993)
Opus 44. The Birthday of the Infanta (1997)
Opus 49. The Devoted Friend (2004)
Opus 54. The Nightingale and the Rose (2004)

The series is not yet complete; the two remaining tales ("The Happy Prince" from Wilde's book of the same name, and "The Fisherman and His Soul" from The House of Pomegranates) will reportedly appear in a fifth volume. After that, I hope for an omnibus collection of all five volumes in order to have all of Wilde's delightful tales--with Russell's peerless art--within one binding. At well under 200 pages, it should not be prohibitively expensive, even at this large 8 ½"x11" size.

Each of the stories is well-drawn, well-paced, and--not surprisingly, considering their provenance--well-written. Russell wisely stays close to Wilde's words--the silent dream sequences from "The Young King" are the most substantial departures--and has adapted the tales to the comics medium with his characteristically solid storytelling technique. Russell's layouts are never flashy or bombastic, but do exactly what they should do: tell good stories. His dramatic sense never falters, and his linework never fails to delight.

LINKS: Greg McElhatton has a nice review of volume four at Read About Comics, as does Joe Palmer at Gay League. The publisher's page for the entire series is here, and an alternate illustrated version is online here.

Remember Mark Klein's revelation of the NSA's secret Room 641A in AT&T's San Francisco offices? Kevin Poulsen broke the news at Wired earlier this week about Verizon having a similar situation with "a mysterious 'Quantico Circuit' -- a 45 megabit/second DS-3 line linking its most sensitive network to an unnamed third party" that "expos[es] customers' voice calls, data packets and physical movements to uncontrolled surveillance" from the FBI. According to a (suspended) lawsuit filed in 2006:

Because the data center was a clearing house for all Verizon Wireless calls, the transmission line provided the Quantico recipient direct access to all content and all information concerning the origin and termination of telephone calls placed on the Verizon Wireless network as well as the actual content of calls.

The transmission line was unprotected by any firewall and would have enabled the recipient on the Quantico end to have unfettered access to Verizon Wireless customer records, data and information. Any customer databases, records and information could be downloaded from this center.

This is why it's so important to not grant telecoms retroactive immunity for their complicity with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretaps. We must find out the full extent of their actions in order to hold them accountable, but few seem interested in unearthing the facts. Scott Horton touches on this problem in his Harper's piece "Another Milestone on the Road to Serfdom," and provides my Quote of the Day:

We live in the age of the Great Betrayal, in an age in which too few are willing to state the obvious. There is still time to check the progress of tyrannical power, but the hour grows late, and the sounds of alarm no longer seem to register with a somnolent populace.

Amanda Marcotte has a great post about the Texas AG attempting pressure the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the ban on dildos. The YouTube clip embedded in the post features the late, great Molly Ivins, who would have had a field day with this lunacy. I miss Ivins' wit, but Marcotte's own comments are not to be missed:

"I'm trying to imagine the mindset of a man who doesn't realize that when you try to take dildos away from women, basically everyone with a brain and/or a sense of humor is going to assume it's because you're afraid you can't handle the competition." [emphasis added]

Could fear of the feminine be the real cause of the Great Texas Dildo Massacre? No, I'm certain that Marcotte is correct when she writes that:

"No misogyny, control issues, or wariness of female sexuality has any part to play in this."

....until the release of Zack Snyder's motion picture adaptation of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel Watchmen. Snyder posted some character images this morning to whet our appetites.

After Snyder's elegant visualization of Frank Miller's 300, which I reviewed here, I have high hopes for Watchmen, but also some trepidation that the novel's best qualities may not translate well into the cinematic medium.


update (12:43pm):
Here are the character photos along with images from the novel, for purposes of comparison. (Please, no one mention Mystery Men...)

For someone passionate about both reading and writing, finding the right balance between them is sometimes difficult. I frequently struggle over whether to read more books while blogging less frequently, or blog more while reading less; writing book reviews seems to be a way for me to scratch both itches. Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed some of these book reviews appearing on this blog with greater regularity. Posting them was one of my New Year's resolutions, and I am now caught up with the books I've read so far this year. (Getting them into publishable shape has eaten into the time available for reading and blogging, and temporarily reduced my posting frequency.)

I have an extensive backlog (over two years' worth, which is nearly three hundred books) of notes/reviews that I will be posting periodically as time allows. My reading has paralleled my blog subjects: a great deal of politics and current affairs, some media criticism, plenty of religion, and a smattering of the arts. Since you're already reading my blog, I hope you'll find my reading choices--and my reviews--interesting.

Click the link for the "books" category in the right-hand column; I'll be posting the reviews in reverse chronological order beginning with December 2007, so scroll down to the bottom to see what's new (old). Feel free to make comments or suggest additional reading. After all, dialogue is what makes the blogosphere so interesting...

Kurt Opsahl lists "Top Ten Questions for Journalists to Ask the White House" at EFF. It's a great list, and the answers (or, more likely, lies and evasions) would be truly revealing. Unfortunately, our press corps is too cowed by the incessant "national security" dodge that they don't have the stones (or the ovaries) to ask any of Opsahl's questions.

We need a real press corps.

We also need some Congressional oversight.

Many thanks to Jason Kottke for linking to this YouTube video of the Star Wars movie credits done in the style of Saul Bass. (Saul Bass did some of the most memorable film credits ever, including Anatomy of a Murder, The Man with the Golden Arm, and Psycho.)

Great stuff!

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