May 2010 Archives

Political wannabe Rand Paul, winner of Kentucky's GOP Senate primary last week, seems to be afflicted with some of the same ideological extremism and racist tendencies as his father Ron Paul (R-TX). His comments about the 1964 Civil Rights Act (overviewed here by MSNBC) were quickly followed by his demands for a "comfortable living" from Medicacre payments and remarks that criticizing BP for fouling the Gulf of Mexico is "un-American" (see FDL and ThinkProgress) because "maybe sometimes accidents happen." (Didn't conservatives once believe in personal responsibility?) Paul skipped out on his scheduled appearance on Meet the Press, but had to suffer the consequences:

Salon's Joe Conason looks at "The roots of Rand Paul's civil rights resentment" by tracing it back to the movement animus toward Martin Luther King Jr. (Fellow libertarian crank Murray Rothbard slurred King as "'Doctor' King," as if King's PhD from Boston University had somehow ceased to exist):

King's dream has since drawn closer to fulfillment with the election of Barack Obama. But the profound resentment of the first black president symbolized by Rand Paul and his Tea Party supporters arose from an old political fever swamp that has never been drained.

Julian Sanchez describes why Rand is both right and wrong, mentioning the movement's semi-covert racist appeals: "There's no doubt the libertarian argument, springing from the sanctity of private property, was adopted by bigots looking for respectable cover--and the line between them has not always been as sharp as this libertarian writer would like."

Richard Greener observes Paul's "transparent hypocrisy" at HuffPo, writing that "Rand Paul wouldn't be - in fact couldn't be -a doctor without the liberal generosity of the very social institution he is determined to be rid of altogether in America's health care - government." After naming federal student loans and grants, tax exemptions, Medicare, and Medicaid, Greener continues:

One wonders how much of Dr. Paul's personal income has come from these very same government sources. But, he insists we take him at his word. He's a principled libertarian. So, perhaps, as a matter of principle, Dr. Paul refuses payment from Medicare, Medicaid and Managed Care Government sources. Perhaps also, he rejects any hospital affiliation that receives government funds in any way. Someone might ask him. His answers could be revealing.

They're revealing, all right. Paul elsewhere admitted that 50% of the patients in his ophthalmology practice are on Medicare while saying that "[p]hysicians should be allowed to make a comfortable living" (which averages over $250K/year in his field, including substantial government contributions.) If you scratch a libertarian, it's all too easy to find a self-centered hypocrite.

AlterNet's Devona Walker notes that Paul is "worse than racist, he's libertarian" and suggests that reason "we don't have national libertarian candidates [is that] [w]hile their views may be based on principles, they are not based on reality." Similarly, Ross Douthat discusses "The Principles of Rand Paul" at Newsweek and notes the "self-marginalizing, and self-destructive" aspects of libertarian and other paleoconservative ideologies:

Like many groups that find themselves in intellectually uncharted territory, they have trouble distinguishing between ideas that deserve a wider hearing and ideas that are crankish or worse. (Hence Ron Paul's obsession with the gold standard and his son's weakness for conspiracy theories.)

Like many outside-the-box thinkers, they're good at applying their principles more consistently than your average partisan, but lousy at knowing when to stop. (Hence the tendency to see civil rights legislation as just another unjustified expansion of federal power.) [...] shouldn't come as a shock that his son found himself publicly undone, in what should have been his moment of triumph, because he was too proud to acknowledge the limits of ideology, and to admit that a principle can be pushed too far.

Politics Daily's David Corn writes in "Like Father, Like Son" that, while Ron and Rand Paul "do share libertarian and conspiratorial was clear that [Rand] was merely doing what he had seen his father do for decades: telling us what he truly believes." The (rotten) apple doesn't appear to have fallen very far from the (stunted) tree.

Addendum: I had this post drafted and ready to publish until I read Katha Pollitt's examination of Paul's anti-choice stance from The Nation. Pollitt notes that although Paul "theoretically wants to limit the government's power to do very much of anything," there is a glaring exception "in which Paul apparently wants the government to play a much bigger role: your womb:"

Women can forget about the "privacy" and "liberty" Paul touts on his website; warnings against government encroachment on freedom do not apply to female citizens of Paul's back-to-basics Republic. As per his website, we get the Human Life Amendment banning all abortion even for rape and incest, "a Sanctity of Life Amendment, establishing the principle that life begins at conception," a funding ban on Planned Parenthood, and a ban on the Supreme Court taking up abortion-related cases. [...]

How, after all, is a ban on abortion to be implemented except by a massive government intrusion into private and personal behavior? To say nothing of monitoring thousands of medical practices, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies--apparently the only businesses Paul would want to put under government oversight.

A pair of Religion Dispatches stories (from Sarah Posner and Julie Ingersoll) helped explicate this authoritarian streak in Paul's libertarian ideology--fundamentalist religion. The standard authoritarian impulses that are fellow-travelers with conservatism only go so far in a purely political realm; to really become corrosive, those retrograde habits often need assistance from religion--in this case, Christianism. Posner suggested that "one might hear an echo of Christian Reconstructionism" in Paul's comments that "Christianity and values is the basis of our helps a society to have that religious underpinning." Ingersoll examines that Gary North/RJ Rushdoony/Howard Phillips axis of Christianism, wondering:

How can they be theocrats and libertarians? This has puzzled those of us who write on Reconstructionists who see evidence of both libertarian and theocratic tendencies. In other words, how can they advocate limited government and, at the same time, application of biblical Law?

update (5/30 @ 2:26pm):
An AlterNet commenter uses abortion rights in another way--as an example of how Paul's libertarianism (a rather inconsistent "consistent philosophy") privileges corporations over citizens:

Rand Paul believes that the government should allow all private business owners to deny food, lodging, clothing, employment, etc. to members of whatever groups they don't like. He claims that this is because it's not fair for the government to force private businesses to do things they don't want to do.

Meanwhile -- Rand Paul also believes that the government has a *responsibility* to force private citizens to feed, house, care for and potentially be placed at great personal risk by a fertilized egg, zygote, embryo, etc.

What if the woman could declare herself to be a private business? Could she then abort based on the fact that she doesn't want to provide services?


Last week's passage of Financial Regulatory Reform may not be rigorous enough to prevent the next economic crisis, but it does represent progress--that must be why Republicans voted against it. James Galbraith's Senate Judiciary testimony lamented the state of the "disgraced profession" of modern (largely free-market fundamentalist) economics, writing that "Economic theory, as widely taught since the 1980s, failed miserably to understand the forces behind the financial crisis." His closing remarks warn that the consequence of government inaction may be "a failure extending over time from the economic to the political system:"

Just as too few predicted the financial crisis, it may be that too few are today speaking frankly about where a failure to deal with the aftermath may lead.

In this situation, let me suggest, the country faces an existential threat. Either the legal system must do its work. Or the market system cannot be restored. There must be a thorough, transparent, effective, radical cleaning of the financial sector and also of those public officials who failed the public trust. The financiers must be made to feel, in their bones, the power of the law. And the public, which lives by the law, must see very clearly and unambiguously that this is the case.

Eli dismantles "The Myth of the Free Market" at FDL with this analogy: "Isn't locking up the matches more effective than telling your kid he's grounded if he gets caught burning the house down?"

"The free market will sort everything out" is a convenient fairy tale for Chamber Of Commerce apologists, a vaguely plausible-sounding but empirically discredited rationale for giving corporations license to rape and pillage to their hearts' content. But we gave the free market every chance to prove itself, and it failed. Again and again. Tragically. Please let us lock up the matches now.

Ismael Hossein-zadeh identifies the "Vicious Circle of Debt and Depression" as a "Class War" at HuffPo, noting the perverse austerity that is being forced on those who didn't cause the crisis:

After transferring trillions of dollars of bad debt or toxic assets from the books of financial speculators to those of governments, global financial moguls, their representatives in the State apparatus and corporate media are now blaming social spending (in effect, the people) as responsible for debt and deficit! [...] ...these are roundabout ways of taxing the poor to pay the rich, the creditors.

It is increasingly becoming clear that the working majority around the world face a common enemy: an unproductive financial oligarchy that, like parasites, sucks the economic blood out of the working people, simply by trading and/or betting on claims of ownership. [...] This is of course a class war. The real question is when the working people and other victims of the unjust debt burden will grasp the gravity of this challenge, and rise to the critical task of breaking free from the shackles of debt and depression.

My latest Quote of the Day comes from Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture, who challenges the free-marketeers to face the facts about their ideology's role in causing the Great Recession while seeking to place the blame elsewhere:

Its way past the time to call out their intellectual dishonesty. If you cannot show any data, if you cannot prove what you are alleging with actual facts, you need to be called out for what it is you actually are: Proponents of a failed philosophy.

Of course, conservatism can only be considered "failed" if one doesn't understand that its stated aims are mere subterfuge for its real ends: distracted, ignorant, and fearful [of terrorism, socialism, liberalism, immigrants, gays and lesbians...] masses subdued by a plutocratic oligarchy. If the criteria for success include things such as a broad prosperity, a stable financial system, and economic security for workers and their families, then of course conservatism has failed--those are liberal goals, not conservative ones.

The aristoi mentality of conservatives demands an increased concentration of wealth for the top few and a race to the bottom for the rest of us, with society (and our communities) fractured along class lines. Ron Chusid's "True War Over Economic Dogma" notes this quite succinctly:

Liberals want to see a free market system in which everyone has the opportunity to participate and profit from their work. The results of Republican economic policies have been to transfer wealth from the middle class to the upper class and bring us to the brink of depression.

The corporate (and largely conservative) media outlets will--in their reversals of reality--continue to blame the victims and claim that, because we (the bottom 99%) have dared to notice and name the class war being waged upon us, we must therefore be guilty of instigating that war against the innocent overclass.

If I may be so bold as to rework Clausewitz's famous observation, economics is the continuation of war by other means.

FOX : news :: WWE : sports

"Turning on Fox when you want real news is like turning on wrestling when you want real sports. Much of it is rigged to please the audience." (Ron Chusid at Liberal Values)

Are you sick of the faux eco-friendly BP logo?


So is Greenpeace, and they're running a rebranding contest. The entries are on Flickr, and here's my favorite:


I would suggest tarring-and-feathering BP, but that's too easy--they've done half of the job already...


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I predict that many people will be wasting more time than usual at Google today:


Today is "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day," and Friendly Atheist has a great mosaic of Mohammad drawings. Many of the submissions referenced Mohammad's nine-year-old wife Aisha, of which this one is my favorite:


That simultaneous grilling of two sacred cows is much more aggressive than my piece:


(Apologies to both René Magritte and Kurt Westergaard)

For any Muslims out there who are offended, FA asks, "You know what is offensive?"

Killing or attacking people because they draw a picture.

Censoring people who are exercising their right to free speech -- as if free speech is allowed only when it doesn't upset your personal sensibilities. [...]

If moderate Muslims truly believe in free speech, they ought to be supporting the people who are drawing these images, even if they don't necessarily like them. I welcome their criticism of my atheism, because my convictions are strong enough that a drawing or a book isn't going to turn me into a loose cannon. I believe god doesn't exist and my logic, reason, and evidence are stronger than anything you can throw at me.

I stand by all those who dare draw Muhammad today.

Greta Christina has a simple stick-figure drawing of Big Mo along with some words of wisdom:

I'm drawing Mohammad to send a message to Muslim extremists -- and other religious extremists -- that their terror tactics will not work.

I'm drawing Mohammad to reject out of hand the attempt to make criticism of Islam -- or of any other religion, for that matter -- off-limits, simply out of fear of violence.

I'm drawing Mohammad because many people feel comfortable critiquing, or poking fun of, or indeed commenting on, any other religion... but avoid doing any of this with Islam, for fear of violent retribution. And I refuse to allow myself to be extorted in that way.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, I'm drawing Mohammad to spread the target around... so there are so many people drawing Mohammad, the terrorists can't possibly go after all of us.


Burfoot, Amby. The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life (New York: Skyhorse, 2007)

Runner's World editor and 1968 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot (website, Wikipedia, RW blog) has collected fifteen "lessons" under the title The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life. One of Burfoot's earliest observations rang truest for me, when he stated "running clarifies the thinking process as well as purifies the body. I think best--most broadly and most fully--when I am running:"

Running is the most vigorous exercise known to science. It forces your heart to pump vast quantities of blood throughout your body--including your brain. So the brain's getting all this oxygen at a time when it doesn't have any work to do. You're just running. You're not putting together business plans, solving quadratic equations, or trying to keep your drive from slicing off the fairway.

No wonder the brain spins out the most fantastical thoughts while you're running. No wonder fresh, creative ideas pop into your head when you're least expecting them. No wonder millions of runners consider their workouts the perfect time to reenergize both their bodies and their minds. (pp. 5-6)

His section "A Runner's Essential Reading" (pp. 121-129) contains an uncommon choice that's an old favorite of mine: Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach--a great illustration of the sort of things that my mind ruminates on while I'm running.

The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life would make an excellent stocking-stuffer for the runner on your gift list, except that you may want to correct this passage about a winter run:

There are no cars on the street, no wind rattling through the bare tree branches. The snow falls straight down, the big five-sided flakes dropping so slowly that I can spot one in mid-descent, run toward it, and stick out my tongue to catch it. I've never tasted anything as pure and coolly refreshing. (p. 64)

Minor faults aside, The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life is a worthwhile read for runners. Here's my Quote of the Day:

We runners are the luckiest of athletes. We don't need any special equipment or facilities or conditions to enjoy all the benefits of our sport. No clubs or gloves or racquets. No pools or courts or country clubs. We don't need to wait for a particular season--summer or winter--to go out and have a great workout. (p. 84)


Morrison, Grant & Frank Quitely. WE3 (New York: Vertigo, 2005)

Short for "WEAPON 3," WE3 tells the story of three animals (a dog, a cat, and a rabbit) who have been weaponized by the military and turned into a team of cybernetic soldiers. All is going according to plan until the top brass orders the trio "decommissioned" and their sympathetic handler releases them into the wild. WE3 searches for a new home while the military hunts them down.

This trade paperback volume collects the original three-issue miniseries by the Scottish creative team of Grant Morrison (story) and Frank Quitely (art). The opening sequence makes it clear that this isn't a bloodless Disney cute-animal tale, and the intensity gets ratcheted up from there. This scene of some rat mechanics from the military lab is particularly chilling:


WE3 is evocative, enjoyable, and well-done in every aspect. Morrison's script deftly touches on issues such as speciesism and militarism without being overly didactic, and his animal dialogue supports the team's interplay quite admirably; Quitely's art employs some nice storytelling devices to great effect. WE3 is a nice example of the comic medium's unique storytelling strengths--see the page-turn transition from pages 4 & 5 to pages 6 & 7 for a perfect example.

A cached interview with Morrison from Newsarama has a great discussion of WE3--without many spoilers, as it was conducted just after the release of the first issue--and features several more pages of art. WE3 may not be a groundbreaking work, but it's a solid and visually interesting story that could translate well to the big screen, for which it has been optioned. Check it out!


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Robert Elisberg notes at HuffPo that the "Tea Party" has been getting "pretty darn good PR for something that doesn't actually exist:

There is no Tea Party. Tea Folks are the disenfranchised [sic: disgruntled, disaffected, disappointed, dissatisfied, dismayed, or even disgusted would be correct, but disenfranchised is not] fringe of the far right wing of the Republican Party. The unwavering, blindly-supportive base of a Bush-Cheney Administration that brought you the Iraq War, warrantless wiretapping, economic collapse, divisive hatred, and so much less. And some clever PR marketing illusionists have figured out a way to bamboozle you, bamboozle the public and bamboozle the news media by rebranding something you threw out into thinking it is a Real Party - or a movement! - that can get the attention which the tiny, voiceless, discredited, radical conservative wing of the Republican Party that they are can't get on its own. [...]

It's not a party. It's not even a "movement." It's the far right wing of the Republican Party.

Paul Starr suggests in "Better Than Tea" that, media cheerleading aside, "Many progressives [are] envious of the Tea Party's angry crowds," a prospect that I find ludicrous. Many of us are envious of a bunch of yammering yahoos led by a chalkboard-scribbling crank and Caribou Barbie, neither of whom could reason their way out of a wet Weekly Standard? Starr observes that "Democrats are the party of responsible government, and America needs at least one of those," suggesting the following:

Let the Republicans drink the Tea Party's brew. Progressives shouldn't wish for the equivalent. Calm and intelligent leadership is ultimately a better formula for long-term public support.

They can brandish their nonsensical signs, threaten gun violence, vent their inchoate anger, and spout their paranoid conspiracy theories--while exaggerating the number of attendees--but we should neither envy nor emulate them. Adele Stan's long piece on Teabaggers at AlterNet tempers this idea, writing that "We dismiss the potential impact of the Tea Party movement at our peril:"

The right-wing strategy is not about electoral victories in the short term. It's about building a long-term movement based on raw emotion, fear of change and sentiment. The unifying principle is not internally logical ideology. It's resentment.

And there is no sentiment so imminently sustainable -- or destructive -- as resentment.

What do they resent? Their racism, jingoism, Christianism, paranoia, homophobia, and xenophobia all point to this observation by John Cole:

They don't care about the deficit. They care that a Democrat (and a black "Muslim," to boot), is in the White House. They don't care about fiscal restraint, they care that a Democrat is in the White House. They don't, as some foolishly pretend, care about the Wall Street excesses. [...] They care that there is a Democrat in the White House.

And those crowds of angry white old people screaming "keep government out of my medicare" and waving signs of "Drill, baby, drill?" They sure as hell don't care about the environment... [...] All they care about is that there is a Democrat in the White House.

Their aggrieved focus on electoral losses has led to a curious blind spot about their alleged signature issue: taxation. Jon Perr at Crooks and Liars notes that:

...for almost a year and a half, furious Tea Party protesters have been chanting "Taxed Enough Already." But as it turns out, "taxed enough" actually means "at the lowest levels since 1950."

His reference is to this USA Today report:

Federal, state and local taxes -- including income, property, sales and other taxes -- consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports.

Perr continues by lauding "the $160 billion in tax cuts delivered by the Obama stimulus program helped refill Americans' bank accounts," but notes that "you'd never know it, judging from the incendiary rhetoric flowing from the Tea Party movement and amplified by its media stenographers."

It's easy--and often enjoyable--to mock the Teabaggers for their ignorance, but our economic problems remain. If they ever stop fabricating conspiracy theories about radical Kenyan Muslim socialist Nazi death panel czars, then we'll know that they're serious about helping us solve those problems. Until then, their free-floating animus and its attendant fantasies are both a distraction and an embarrassment.

By the way, the BEA data is here. Dividing row 25 (personal taxes) by row 1 (personal income) yields this tax rate graph:


Take that, Teatards!

Lewis Black schools Glenn Beck on all those overblown Nazi comparisons (h/t: Salon):

"This is a guy who uses more swastika props and video of the Nuremberg rallies than The History Channel." [...] "It's 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,' except there's just one degree, and Kevin Bacon is Hitler. Can I play? Let's see. Mother Teresa had a mustache. Hitler had a mustache. Mother Teresa is Hitler!" [...]

"Glenn Beck has Nazi Tourette's."

We all remember some fascist parallels being drawn during the Bush era, about which Justine Sharrock asked author Naomi Wolf a while ago at AlterNet:

JS: People criticize [Glenn] Beck's use of that kind of language [Nazi references] as incendiary and hyperbolic. Why is your use any different?

NW: Every time I use those analogies, I am doing it with a concrete footnoted historical context. When people like Glenn Beck throw around the word Nazi without taking that kind of care, they are engaging in demagoguery. There's an important difference.

The reality-based community's mirror image is Faux News.


Moen, Erika. DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, Volume One (Portland, OR: Periscope Studio, 2009)


Moen, Erika. DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary, Volume Two (Portland, OR: Periscope Studio, 2010)

"Charming" is one of those adjectives--like "endearing" and "delightful"--that I tend to overuse when discussing cartoonists whose work I absolutely adore (Alison Bechdel, Amanda Conner, Scott McCloud, Craig Russell, Jill Thompson, Bill Watterson), but it's well-deserved in the case of Erika Moen. Instead of already having a lengthy career under her belt, Moen has been creating comics for only a few years--but her work is hardly novice-quality.

With several mini-comics and these two books, Moen has already built a great foundation for her cartooning career. Volume One features DAR! strips from 2006-2008, with Volume Two continuing through the final strip in 2009 and then returning to 2003 for the strip's beginning. Here's an episode from late 2009, which may help explain the cover of Volume 2:


DAR! is intended for adults, with plenty of NSFW bits that deal with love, sex, the creative impulse, and defining one's own identity. As the artist herself describes her creation:

DAR! chronicles the six year long autobiographical story of Erika Moen, who starts out as a lost 20-year-old lesbian artist-wannabe in college who falls in love with a boy in England and the evolution that her sexual identity undergoes before winding up marrying him as a queer 26-year-old full-time cartoonist. Along the way there are many vignettes about sex, farts, the queer community, the Brits, vibrators and figuring out sexual identity.

It ran from 2003-2009.

The swift maturation of Moen's art over that brief time is a portent of even greater things to come. I can't wait to see the next project born on her drawing board--whether it's a single-panel comic strip or a graphic novel, a work of autobiography or fiction, a solo effort or a collaborative one, adult-themed or kid-friendly, you can bet that it will be worth reading and savoring.


Erika Moen has an online portfolio, a section at Periscope Studio, a DeviantArt page, and an Etsy store (original art!)

Visit her (sorely missed) DAR! website and buy some of her comics, already! (She offers a customized version of each DAR! book--just a few dollars more for a signature and a sketch, which I highly recommend!)

update (10/7):
Greg Burgas writes an excellent review of the two DAR! books at CBR.

This clip shows Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin expressing their joint ignorance of our secular founding documents:

PZ Myers notes at Pharyngula that "O'Reilly even claim[ed] that the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments, which is also news to me:"

I've missed the parts that set aside holy days, demand worship of a single god, or outlaws coveting; it doesn't even make murder and theft illegal! The Constitution is all about laying out the mechanisms of a civil government, the division of powers, specifying what powers each branch has, etc.; the bill of rights lays out specific rights and privileges for citizens. Read it yourself. There's nothing Biblical in there, absolutely nothing derived from the old or new testaments, and likewise, there is nothing in the Bible that even approximates it in intent or substance.

Jesus, these people are morons.

I suggest The Godless Constitution as remedial reading for both of them.


Karnazes, Dean. 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days--and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance! (New York: Wellness Central, 2009)

A sequel of sorts to his first book, Ultramarathon Man, 50/50 is the story of Dean Karnazes during the North Face Endurance 50: running 50 marathons in 50 states on 50 consecutive days. From 17 September through 5 November 2006, Karnazes ran 26.2 miles each day--eight times as part of the official marathons held in various cities, and the remaining 42 times with a small group of volunteer runners over the official marathon courses.

Amid the usual running tribulations--Karnazes gets blisters, skips showers, and has trip-and-fall incidents just like the rest of us do--he also saw a few less common sights: encountering a gnawed-off moose leg during the Alaska marathon, and watching a fellow runner crawling across the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. His recitations of the marathons themselves (the weather, the courses, his finishing times) tends to blur into one another, but Karnazes keeps the narrative moving by discussing carbon credits for his tour bus, the second-wind phenomenon, diet, shoes, missing his family...all the things that he would probably talk about if you were running alongside him for a few hours.

As the Endurance 50 event neared its end, Karnazes noted that "[m]any people asked me what I was going to do after running fifty marathons:"

I laughingly told them the next Endurance 50 would consist of "Fifty couches, fifty pizzas, fifty beers." But that was just a joke to buy some time. In my mind I was asking myself the very same question. (p. 259)

After finishing the 50th marathon in New York City, Karnazes found his answer:

There had been one minor oversight in all the planning; No one had booked me a return flight from New York to San Francisco. So I decided to run instead. [...] For a month straight, I ran, over mountains, through cornfields, across plains, between cities both large and small. I began running as soon as I awoke in the morning, and stopped when I got tired at night. (p. 260)

After crossing the Mississippi River a few weeks later, he decided to end his run at the site of the first Endurance 50 marathon in St. Charles, Missouri:

In a strange but serendipitious way, the circle now seemed complete. San Francisco was still many miles away, but as I passed over this spot in Missouri, I felt an overwhelming sense of contentment. In a weird, almost Forrest Gump-esque moment, I stopped, turned to the group of runners who surrounded me, and said, "I miss my family. I think I'll go home now." (p. 261)

As noted in the LA Times, this aborted transcontinental running adventure was itself quite a feat: "Karnazes ran nearly 1,300 miles in 28 days. That doesn't include a hiatus in November to compete in a 24-hour race in Texas, where he ran 137.76 miles and finished fourth."

I wonder what he has planned for his next big event.


Dean blogs at Ultramarathon Man

There is a documentary DVD of the Endurance 50 event

North Face is currently sponsoring a series of running events under the name Endurance Challenge

When BBC Music Magazine ran a story on Wagner's Ring cycle, there was an omission that I felt needed to be rectified. Here's what I sent them:

Michael Scott Rohan's "What's Wrong with Wagner?" article from your April issue was an encouragement to this "perfect Mahlerite" who has been somewhat daunted by the sheer scale of the Ring cycle. In the sidebar entitled "Five steps to Wagner fulfillment," Rohan mentioned--among various examples of "light relief"--a 1989 graphic novel version by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, which was described as "vivid but straight."

I would like to draw your attention to a more recent version of The Ring, completed over the course of five years and collected in a pair of softcover volumes in 2002 [Rheingold and Valkyrie; Siegfried and Gotterdammerung] by another legendary artist: P. Craig Russell. At four hundred pages, Russell's Ring adaptation is twice the length of Kane's--and of correspondingly greater depth as well.

Russell is no dilettante when it comes to recreating musical drama on the printed page--his other adaptations include everything from Wagner's Parsifal and Mozart's Magic Flute to Salome, Ariane & Bluebeard, Pelleas & Melisande, "The Godfather's Code" (from Cavalleria Rusticana), "The Clowns" (from I Pagliacci), and a pair of Mahler's lieder ("The Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrow" and "Unto This World").

In addition to illustrating numerous stories both classic (everything from Kipling's Jungle Book and Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales to a Robert E. Howard Conan tale) and contemporary (Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman), Russell has also illustrated several of his own stories. His work has a visual inventiveness that is well worth investigating; opera fans who remain unfamiliar with Russell's art are doing themselves a disservice.

Interestingly, Wikipedia's page on the Ring Cycle mentions neither the 1989 Roy Thomas/Gil Kane adaptation nor Russell's far superior version. The opening page from Das Rheingold is a prime example of his artistry:


I'm just doing my part to help turn some "Ring nuts" into comic-book fans.

Russell's website is here, and fellow fan François Peneaud has posted many samples of PCR's art here.

update (5/30 @ 10:14pm):
PCR was interviewed on the public radio show "Here and Now" (the audio is here), which echoes this LA Times piece. is the National Day of Reason!

Conceived as a response to the National Day of Prayer, NDOR is a great counter-event to help explain the concept of church-state separation. Freedom from Religion Foundation held a rally and also launched a new bus ad campaign entitled "America is not a Christian nation:"

The public is invited to attend and bring colorful signs and an irreverent attitude. And don't forget to keep an eye out as the buses roll by to give momentum to a move back to the secularism this nation was founded on.


The ruling (stayed pending an appeal) that recognizes the unconstitutionality of NDOP was praised as "a victory for religious freedom and separation of church and state in this country:"

The government should not be directing citizens to pray. In addition to being unconstitutional, it's also especially offensive to people who don't believe in a god and are made to feel excluded by the observance.

Here's a passage from Obama's NDOP proclamation:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 6, 2010, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us.

Revatheist (h/t: Friendly Atheist) notes that "it is better worded than those that have gone through administrations of the past, but still it amounts to the government telling everyone that it thinks that everyone should pray and what they should pray about:"

And of course, the Christians just don't understand why the atheists are upset about it. Well, if it's just peachy for the government to tell everyone to pray, then it should be OK to tell everyone NOT to pray too.

Here's the same passage from his hypothetical "National Day of No Prayer" version:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 6, 2010, as a National Day of No Prayer. I call upon the citizens of our Nation to cease prayer, nor otherwise give thanks to any gods, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for it has done nothing to uphold and support our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in refusing to ask for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection, as this has never helped in the past, and to instead work directly to meet the challenges before us.

Jason Arvak complains about "Toxic Atheism" at The Moderate Voice. His hyperbole runs amok, with wild fears of "the extinction or at least drastic curtailing of the free-expression rights of all non-atheists," fantasies of "aggressive atheists [who] demand religion be banned" and are "the mirror image of the authoritarian religious fundamentalists," representing "a grotesque and vindictive intolerance and hatred towards religious that is vastly disproportionate to the actual issues." His evidence for this is the aforementioned FFRF suit to abolish the obviously unconstitutional NDOP. Arvak's defense is as follows:

The courts have long held that purely "ceremonial" public invocations of religion are essentially harmless. "In God We Trust" on money and the always banal and benign prayer by a chaplain at the opening of Congress have been found to have no effect whatsoever on public policy and, therefore, no cause to enforce a ban. But the particularly militant breed of atheists continue to target them nonetheless. Why? The only possible explanation is that they feel harmed by the mere sight or sound of religious belief that they disagree with.

Following in revatheist's footsteps, let's perform a little thought experiment by reversing the situation. Imagine what the reaction would be to the motto "in no gods we trust" on our currency, the insertion of "one nation under no gods" into our Pledge, or presidential proclamations rejecting prayer...theists wouldn't shrug off those things as merely "ceremonial," and we would be awash in anguished cries about a tyrannical government that didn't respect religious freedom.

Government has no business either promoting prayer or prohibiting it.

Carlin Romano's review of Massimo Pigliucci's book Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk has garnered a fair amount of attention for this passage about scientific dismissals of mysticism:

Tone matters. And sarcasm is not science.

The problem with polemicists like Pigliucci is that a chasm has opened up between two groups that might loosely be distinguished as "philosophers of science" and "science warriors."

In contrast to what he sees as the reasonableness of Thomas Kuhn's "philosophers of science," Romano demonizes the "science warriors" who "often write as if our science of the moment is isomorphic with knowledge of an objective world-in-itself--Kant be damned!--and any form of inquiry that doesn't fit the writer's criteria of proper science must be banished as 'bunk.'" Later, Romano writes that Pigliucci "mixes up what's likely or provable with what's logically possible or rational:"

The creation stories of traditional religions and scriptures do, in effect, offer hypotheses, or claims, about who the designer is--e.g., see the Bible. And believers sometimes put forth the existence of scriptures (think of them as "reports") and a centuries-long chain of believers in them as a form of empirical evidence. Far from explaining nothing because it explains everything, such an explanation explains a lot by explaining everything. It just doesn't explain it convincingly to a scientist with other evidentiary standards.

This example proves Pigliucci's case far more than it does Romano's. The existence of scriptural creation MYTHS (and, tone be damned, THAT'S WHAT THEY ARE) and the history of belief in them has ZERO EXPLANATORY VALUE in a scientific discussion. Many people believing in something--fervently, over a long period, whatever--may have sociological interest, but this information is WORTHLESS when it comes to evaluating the myths of scripture.

PZ Myers went on a rhetorical rampage over Romani's complaints about the "tone" of arguments:

The only thing I agreed with in Romano's cranky review was [...] "Tone matters." It certainly does, but not in the way he imagines. [...]

Tone matters, because too many have been insufficiently fierce in their criticism of pious excuses for sloppy thinking. Tone matters because we haven't been rude enough in the face of special claims of privilege for religious inanity. We need to flip that tone argument around 180°--the problem isn't that our tone is so harsh, it's that yours is so inappropriately soft towards people who lie to children, who want to gut our educational system, and who want to taint science with a bias for magic.

Here's a great comment from Myers' post:

1. No matter how gently you phrase your criticism, someone will be angry that the content of their claim is being attacked, but they will disingenuously complain about your tone.

2. The complaint is almost never really about tone, it's about being wrong and called to account for it publicly. (Josh, Official SpokesGay, #37)

Here's another:

It's not tone. It's obeisance.

What pisses the religious people off is that real atheists aren't first willing to bend the knee before they state "I humbly beg to differ, acknowledging that your divine will guides me in all things." (Kirk, #65)

These thoughts were swirling around my cranium when I read Russell Blackford's open thread and longer post on the subject. I'm in agreement with Blackford that tone is "a very important part of communication," that "discussions of tone should not written off as automatically illegitimate or intellectually bogus," and that "intelligent discussion of tone is always in order:"

The problem is likely to be that a lot of discussion of tone is just not very intelligent - how many reviews of The God Delusion have you read that show a tin ear for Dawkins' control of tone? Many reviews don't show any sensitivity at all for the varied tones: the humour; the quiet thoughtfulness and introspection; or the comical intoxication with language itself in Dawkins' famous denunciation of the Old Testament deity. Generally speaking, the reviewers just don't "get" it. But the cure for that isn't less discussion of Dawkins' tone; it's more intelligent discussion of Dawkins' tone. A hackneyed adjective such as "strident" doesn't cut the mustard.

Let's not, in our quest for civil civic discourse, assume that all participants have similar goals. Some are in search of truth, where others want to protect their current position. As described by Quine and Ullian in The Web of Belief, "The desire to be right and the desire to have been right are two desires, and the sooner we separate them the better off we are:"

The desire to be right is the thirst for truth. On all accounts, both practical and theoretical, there is nothing but good to be said for it. The desire to have been right, on the other hand, is the pride that goeth before a fall. It stands in the way of our seeing we were wrong, and thus blocks the progress of our knowledge.

Many people are far more interested in prideful position-protecting than they are in the ideal of a "more intelligent discussion." To return to Blackford's God Delusion example, they've determined that the atheistic Dawkins is a heretic, and their sole goal is damage control. Since his arguments are harder to attack than his tone, they go for the easier target. (Few of them will find any criticism acceptable because what they object to is that any criticism is being made.) The "problem" of tone is something with which I've struggled, with varying degrees of success, since I began blogging in the wake of 9/11:

How does one disagree with something without taking the chance at "offending" others' sensibilities? What may come across as needlessly confrontational - perhaps from my writing too many letters to the editor, where being brief and confrontational is desirable - is simply my refusal to give silent consent to things (such as freedom-hating televangelists) that I see as anathema to civil discourse. [...]

To make my writing palatable to everyone, I would have to mirror the preconceptions and prejudices of Christian fundamentalism; this would put me in an untenable position, for it is precisely those things with which I disagree. Why would I bother putting pen to paper at all if the end result would merely reinforce the systemic problems of the religiously correct mass-media echo chamber?

All too often, complaining about tone is an intellectually dishonest way to avoid discussing the substance of an argument. I've come to the conclusion that although a complaint about my tone indicates that my argument may be lacking tact, it also indicates that my opponent's argument may be lacking evidence, logic, and coherence.

Tone matters, but not as much as content.

Dave Johnston points out over at Campaign for America's Future that the BP mess in the Gulf is just one example of "the Reagan Revolution coming home to roost:"

So with the conservative government of Reagan and then later under the all-out anti-government conservative administration of George W. Bush we have had the opportunity of seeing just what happens when these "free market" ideas are given free reign to replace democracy. [...]

Taxes were cut to "defund" government in order to "starve the beast." The strategy was create huge deficits so the public would later demand cuts in government benefits. In the meantime the deficits would be used as an excuse to cut government oversight, inspections and enforcement of rules restricting the activities of big corporations. But all they did was create huge deficit that added up to massive debt. [...]

More recently we have been hearing about disaster after disaster and catastrophe after catastrophe, all caused by businesses running out of control, aided by conservative government that relaxed or just stopped enforcing regulations and laws. Each catastrophe is beyond the scope or willingness of private businesses to repair, requiring public intervention, at great cost.


It's a good thing that our "communist" Coast Guard has been on the job (along with other various government agencies) as this situation mushroomed from a search-and-rescue operation to a full-blown environmental disaster. (Of course, that hasn't stopped the right-wing liars from claiming that the Obama administration didn't do anything for eight, nine, ten, or even twelve days--but this looks less like "Obama's Katrina" than BP's Waterloo.)

update (8/4 @ 1:04pm):
They're still at it. Limbaugh claimed earlier today that the Obama administration "did nothing for 50 days" about BP's spill.

Rage, rage, against the lying of the Right...


Chase, Adam & Nancy Hobbs. The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running: Everything You Need to Know About Equipment, Finding Trails, Nutrition, Hill Strategy, Racing, Avoiding Injury, Training, Weather, Safety (Guilford, CT: FalconGuides, 2010)

One of the highest compliments I can pay to a book--besides rereading it--is wishing that I had read it years ago. Without going into too much detail, let's just say that it would have been helpful for me to have read The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running before taking participating in my first trail race [*see note below] last weekend. This tip alone could have saved me a fair amount of effort:

When confronted with rocks, fallen trees, water bars (the barriers that are placed to direct runoff to the side of the trail), and other obstacles that lay across the trail on mountain ascents, avoid stepping directly on the objects. Instead of wasting motion to lift your entire body weight straight up, time your steps to land as close to the barrier as possible so that the next step can easily clear the obstacle and land above it on the trail. (p. 32)

The authors include what appears to be just about everything: a little about acclimation to high altitude, some discussion of ultrarunning, strength training and stretching, trail shoes and gear, nutrition and hydration, injuries and hazards, and even information about organizing a trail race.

My treadmill gets used much less now that seasonally inclement weather has abated, I avoid track workouts as being only marginally more interesting, and I skip roads in favor of trails whenever I can. The authors make an excellent point that trails help runners in ways other than avoiding monotony:

When runners complain of overuse injuries, it's a safe bet to assume that they got hurt from running on roads. Pounding the pavement with little variation in stride or foot strike, mile after mile, just isn't natural. We're simply not made for logging big miles on the streets. (p. xv)

I knew that I had caught the trail bug when I started salivating over an announcement about a 50K lakeside trail race this fall. The rationalizations began almost immediately: I'll still be in good shape from the summer racing season, it's not too far a drive from home, the shaded course offers relief from UV exposure, and--my favorite excuse--it's a great entry-level ultra distance...only 5 miles longer than a marathon!

There's no doubt that I'll be rereading The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running as part of my race preparation.

*note: My first trail race was a spur-of-the-moment decision to add a little adventure to my marathon training--and the word technical has since acquired a much different meaning to me than the one to which I had been accustomed. "Technical rocky descents" and "a nasty uphill finish" left me rather sore for a short course--at this point in my training, anything less than a half-marathon counts as a "short run"--but I'm already looking forward to running it again next year!

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