July 2010 Archives


Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto & Steve McNiven. Marvel Knights Fantastic Four, Vol. 1: Wolf at the Door (New York: Marvel, 2004)

This volume collects the first seven issues of the 2004 Fantastic Four series, published under the Marvel Knights imprint. The superheroes-with-real-life-problems angle has been used by the medium's greatest creators since the dawn of the Marvel Age in the early 1960s, but the creative team on Marvel Knights Fantastic Four shows that this formula still has a pulse.

After nearly fifty years, the FF's intra-team dynamics are still rooted in a sense of family--one that is well-written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and superbly illustrated by artist Steve McNiven (website, Wikipedia). For one example, see this very nice single page at Scans-Daily. For more of a taste, check out this page


and then read the rest of this great sequence. If that intrigues you, the rest of MK4 delivers more of the same. Dave Wallace's review at Comics Bulletin notes that:

The book captures the essence of the characters well, with the usual tics in evidence (Reed's preoccupation with science at the expense of his family life; Sue's maternal, protective instincts; Ben's salt-of-the-earth, heroic outlook; Johnny's hot-headed immaturity) without ever feeling like it's all been seen before.

If you look back fondly to the magical time when Fantastic Four lived up to its tagline of "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine," pick up a copy of MK4 and relive some of that magic.

Thor trailer

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I saw a smaller version of the unveiled-at-ComicCon trailer for Thor, and it's pretty damn nice-looking! [Marvel is apparently issuing takedown orders as quickly as copies are posted online...fucking lawyers!] The trailer is still was online here, along with an assortment of media clips and photos.

Not to get all fannish about a series that I haven't read since the Walt Simonson days, but I was enjoying the Bill & Kelda subplot enough to consider buying the recent softcover collections--at least until I heard about the Thor omnibus due to arrive in October.

Also looking to the future, Comics Alliance has some nice images from the upcoming Matt Fraction/Pasqual Ferry/Matt Hollingsworth run; here's a spread from #615:


A series that looks that good might just be worth picking up in single issues, instead of waiting for the next collected edition.


Halpern, Justin. Sh*t My Dad Says (New York: HarperCollins, 2010)

After a breakup with his girlfriend at the age of twenty-eight, Justin Halpern moved back to his parents' house in San Diego and started tweeting his father's words of wisdom under the title "Sh*t My Dad Says" (blog, Twitter, Wikipedia). It became an online sensation, and this book--along with a sitcom, as I'll discuss later--is the result. Halpern's book is more than just a rehashing of the tweets; it weaves them into a narrative that fleshes out the characters of both Justin and his father, giving up a more rounded look at their relationship. The tweets are still the highlight, though, and here are a few of my favorites:

On My First Day of Kindergarten
"You thought it was hard? If kindergarten is busting your ass, I got some bad news for you about the rest of life." (p. 5)

On Slumber Parties

"There's chips in the cabinet and ice cream in the freezer. Stay away from knives and fire. Okay, I've done my part. I'm going to bed." (p. 33)

On Curfew

"I don't give a shit what time you get home, just don't wake me up. That's your curfew: not waking me up." (p. 78)

On Pringles Flavors

"I'm not eating something called 'pizzalicious.' That's not even a fucking adjective. You can't just add 'licious' to nouns. That's bullshit." (p. 114)

On Nontraditional Entertainment

"There's something to be said for sitting around and drinking a beer while you watch your dog try to fuck a punching bag." (p. 125)

On How to Tell When a Workout Is Complete

"I just did an hour on the gym machine. I'm sweaty, and I have to shit. Where's my fanny pack? This workout is over." (p. 139)

Gawker is less than kind to the "cliché-ridden pilot script" for the series starring (in case you haven't heard) none other than William Shatner. Here's a clip from the show, in all its laugh-tracked unfunniness:

It just doesn't work without shit and fuck--Hollywood has once again taken a decent premise and neutered its humor by bowdlerizing it. This should have been a slightly edgy late-night show, but instead it's been turned into...just another shitcom. In order to refresh your mental palate, here's an unvarnished discussion of eternity and mortality as my Quote of the Day:

"Jesus Christ. You need to take a fucking science course or something. What I'm trying to say is that what makes you up, it's always been around, and it always will be around. So really the only thing you should worry about is the part you're at right now. Where you got a body and a head and all that bullshit. Just worry about living, dying is the easy part."
Then he put down his spoon, looked at me, and stood up.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to do one of the best things about being alive: take a shit."(pp. 101-102)

Christopher (Born to Run) McDougall has posted the video of his "Reinventing Running" talk at TED from a few weeks ago:

It's a great condensation of the endurance running hypothesis, and McDougall packs plenty of other good bits in there as well...it's 15 minutes well spent!

Despite its name, the National Organization for Marriage is an anti-marriage group; their only seemingly purpose is to prevent lesbian and gay couples from getting married--or to deny legal recognition to existing same-sex marriages. [I mentioned NOM a few times last year: here, here, and here.]
Andrew Sullivan posted this disgusting anti-marriage placard from a NOM rally:


ThinkProgress interviewed Larry Adams, the NOM supporter whose sign is shown above. AlterNet's steved notes "How often have we heard that extreme right wing Christian groups love gay people. It's only the 'sin' of gay sex that they hate," and observes that "at least some NOM supporters don't love gay people so much as they would like to implement a 'final solution' to the gay problem based on their version of 'Biblical Law.'"

NOM's current logo looks like this,


which someone combined with the Leviticus-lynching image (h/t: Towleroad) to reflect its Biblical principle:


This just goes to show that atheist/liberal/LGBT opponents don't need to exaggerate religious beliefs--they are quite repulsive enough on their own.

Martin Wolf looks at the "political genius of supply-side economics," writing that "To understand modern Republican thinking on fiscal policy, we need to go back to perhaps the most politically brilliant (albeit economically unconvincing) idea in the history of fiscal policy: 'supply-side economics'."

Supply-side economics liberated conservatives from any need to insist on fiscal rectitude and balanced budgets. Supply-side economics said that one could cut taxes and balance budgets, because incentive effects would generate new activity and so higher revenue.

The political genius of this idea is evident. Supply-side economics transformed Republicans from a minority party into a majority party. It allowed them to promise lower taxes, lower deficits and, in effect, unchanged spending. Why should people not like this combination? Who does not like a free lunch? [...] Finally, if deficits did not, in fact, disappear, conservatives could fall back on the "starve the beast" theory: deficits would create a fiscal crisis that would force the government to cut spending and even destroy the hated welfare state.

It's not just a political power-play, but a policy that has real-world consequences:

This is extraordinarily dangerous. The danger does not arise from the fiscal deficits of today, but the attitudes to fiscal policy, over the long run, of one of the two main parties. Those radical conservatives (a small minority, I hope) who want to destroy the credit of the US federal government may succeed. If so, that would be the end of the US era of global dominance.

Paul Krugman noted Martin's "deeply pessimistic note," and lamented "I wish I could disagree." Andrew Sullivan observed that "Anyone who wants to cut the debt and restore fiscal balance in America would be insane to vote Republican this fall:"

Why? Because they have still not abandoned supply-side economics, which was taken to its logical extremes under Bush and Cheney. [...] The Republican party has long prided itself on strong national defense and conservative economics. In fact, their recklessness in foreign adventurism has destroyed the deterrent effect of American power for a generation, while their fiscal policies have hollowed out this country's core fiscal health that we have almost no room for maneuver.

And yet slogans and amnesia still seem to be winning against arguments and data.

Speaking of arguments and data, the NY Times reported that "the government's sweeping interventions to prop up the economy since 2008 helped avert a second Depression," noting that "two leading economists wielding complex quantitative models say that assertion can be empirically proved:"

In a new paper, the economists [former Fed vice-chairman Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi from Moody's] argue that without the Wall Street bailout, the bank stress tests, the emergency lending and asset purchases by the Federal Reserve, and the Obama administration's fiscal stimulus program, the nation's gross domestic product would be about 6.5 percent lower this year.

In addition, there would be about 8.5 million fewer jobs, on top of the more than 8 million already lost; and the economy would be experiencing deflation, instead of low inflation.

BlueGal mentioned that Palin's bio for kids is now on indefinite hold, and there's a Photoshop contest using the Little Golden Books as inspiration. Someone suggested "The Little Engine That Quit," so I took a crack at it:


There's a gallery of "Little Golden Books" here if anyone is looking for more raw material.

Slate's Ruth Graham has more information on the book (h/t: Tengrain at Mock, Paper, Scissors) and discusses several possibilities for its troubles before suggesting that "perhaps the book's postponement can be seen as a fitting reflection of Palin:"

Speaking Up has a glossy cover and bewildering content, its plans changed suddenly without explanation, and no one should be surprised if it resurfaces sometime before 2012.

Charles-Adam Foster-Simard has a piece about re-organizing his bookshelves that fellow bibliophiles should appreciate. Writing that his old system of classification was "far from optimal" and "create[d] rifts between ideas and eras, or tensions where there shouldn't be any," he decided to reorganize his 500-volume library: "I know it is time to take all the books out, dust off the shelves, and start again from scratch." Part of his problem was that this reorganization was of a living library:

I admit, with a hint of guilt, that I have not read all the books I own. Not even close. The majority of them, yes (I hope), but far from all of them. Despite the incredible amount of reading left for me to do before I really know my library, almost every week I buy more books. [...] While I have shelves full of books I have not read at home, I keep on thinking about which books I'm going to buy next. Although minor, this problem does create a fair amount of anxiety, essentially caused by the fact that I simply don't read enough.

He calls the process of emptying his shelves "long -- and tedious. Not in the physical sense, but in one that is, of sorts, moral:"

Removing all those books was the undoing of something that was set, a collection which, it seems, had built itself up, slowly, purposefully, into a cohesive whole. The work of an oyster.

After discussing the unread books on his shelves and the next volumes he intends to add to them, he writes that his library "is full of hopes and holes:"

Thus I have a second library, in my mind, of which my real, physical book collection is only the tip (to use that famous iceberg metaphor). Underneath my shelves lie all the books I want, all the books I should have (dictated by the canon, or recommendations from friends and famous people), all the books I need, like Borges' fabulous Library of Babel, extending out into book-lined room after book-lined room, infinitely.

Now, you will have to excuse me, but I have to stop this business -- I have some reading to do.

Plans for the Cordoba House Islamic Center--known in wingnut circles as the "Ground Zero mosque" despite being several blocks away at 51 Park Place, but that's the kind of accuracy I've come to expect from them--has now drawn flack from Newt Gingrich (h/t: Christopher Weber at Politics Daily). The Cordoba Initiative page about the project states that the center is far more than just a mosque:

Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture...a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores, restaurants...

In Newt's world, it appears that Muslim-owned swimming pools and restaurants are signs of an imminent North American caliphate. (At least he didn't make up any new words while complaining about Muslims being equal before the law in terms of receiving building permits.) I may be an "arrogantly dishonest apologist" in Newt's mind for pointing this out, but equating Cordoba House with "self deception" and "surrender" is ludicrous--and his assertion that "[t]here should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia" is just as poorly reasoned.

If we hold religious pluralism as an important American principle, then we would gain nothing by sacrificing it because other nations do not hold it. Punishing American Muslims by abridging their rights and wouldn't help Christians in Saudi Arabia--it would merely demonstrate that some political pundits talk a lot about freedom (as Newt does) but don't really support it when it's difficult or inconvenient. We need to show Muslims that we're better than that--and better than Newt.

Following Newt's logic, we should we likewise jettison our prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment--we can amputate thieves' limbs and stone adulterers to death, too--because that would send a message to those barbarians about who has the best judicial system! We could even declare ourselves an overtly "Christian nation" and demand second-class citizenship for anyone who doesn't live up to Biblical principles, like gays and lesbians (who lust after "strange flesh"), practitioners of other religions (who worship "strange gods")...it could be a long list, depending on how far Newt wants us to regress into the Bronze Age.

Liberals, by contrast, would rather have America leading the world by example than by descending to the lowest common denominator. I guess our desire to live up to our founding principles shows how un-American we are.

Regarding Palin's neologism-creating tweets, I have some comments about her asking mosque supports "doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland?" Aside from the awkward construction, her "heartland" bit is false on two levels.

First, land-locked states in the interior of the continent do not confer any sort of moral superiority or quality of insight on their inhabitants. Rural and moral may rhyme, but that's a coincidence--not a sign.

Second, consulting a map will reveal that Alaska is not in the American heartland. (If it were, Palin wouldn't be able to see Russia quite so well!)

update (7/25 at 10:24pm):
BeliefNet has an interview with the Cordoba House/Park51 lead developer, who points out that "this is going to be a community center:"

Park51 is not a political organization. We do not have a political agenda, and we will be open to all New Yorkers. What we do not have room for are extremist views and opinions. Radical and hateful agendas will have no place in our community center or in the mosque. We are building this center for New York City, because we're New Yorkers. We're Americans. We have families here and futures here. [...] I'd love it if Sarah Palin came to Park51 to see our community.

She'd see that we're just as American as she is. She'd get the chance to meet some of her fellow citizens who happen to be Muslims. Consider that an open invitation, Mrs. Palin. We'd love to see you. We want to welcome everybody who cares about this city and about this country.

CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) has released their annual report on the most corrupt members of Congress (PDF). Democrats hold 8 of the 15 positions on the list, which is not the kind of Democratic majority I wanted to see.

It is apparent that Teabaggers don't know much about either what they revile (taxes) or what they clam to revere (the Constitution), but the Constitutional Accountability Center (h/t: Digby at Hullabaloo) is trying to help. The CAC has put together a primer for them called "Setting the Record Straight" (PDF), writing that "As an organization dedicated to the text and history of the Constitution, Constitutional Accountability Center...think[s] the Constitution should frame our political debates and should be followed by our leaders, whatever their political stripe:"

But if the Tea Party wants to be taken seriously--and if it wants the media to continue fawning over it for its purported love for the Constitution--it should at least be required to make plausible claims about the words and meaning of our Nation's charter. A close look at the Tea Party's version of the Constitution shows that it bears little resemblance to our actual Constitution and could in fact threaten the constitutional values Americans cherish most. [...] The Tea Party's principal claim of a weak national government fits more with the failed, discarded Articles of Confederation than with the Founders' second and lasting attempt to craft a national charter, our Constitution.

Tom Toles has a humorous rebuttal to the Teabaggers' constitutionalist pretensions:

(Tom Toles/Washington Post)

CAC also addresses the Teabaggers' errant arguments against healthcare reform (parts one and two) and explain federal civil-rights protections, birthright citizenship, the income tax, armed rebellion, Elena Kagan, and democracy and corruption. More refutations are forthcoming...

Peter Brietbart's "Letter from a Young Contrarian" from the UK magazine Freethinker calls Christopher Hitchens "A man of true enlightenment principles" who "showed the devotion of an ideological and principled mind:"

He told me that a lifetime of education is worth having, and said with a twinkle in his eye, that if I learn enough, maybe someone will ask my opinion.

It is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. With that in mind, I raise my glass of Black Label to Christopher Hitchens, the badass of atheism, and to his speedy recovery.

Another round, please!

[By the way, I highly recommend the Hitchens book Letters to a Young Contrarian from which Brietbart took his inspiration.]

Rick Horowitz has some great satire at HuffPo, in the form of a GOP letter of sympathy to the unemployed:

Dear Unemployed Person or Persons:

These are tough times for Americans. They're especially tough times for people like you who have lost your jobs, and who still can't find new ones, because of the Obama Recession, which started at approximately 12 noon on January 20, 2009, after eight years of nonstop growth and prosperity under President George W. Bush. [...]

We're writing to set the record straight after weeks of misinformation put out by the Obama administration and their friends in the liberal media. You may have heard that Republicans have been opposed to extending unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans whose benefits have already run out.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is: Republicans haven't been opposed to extending unemployment benefits. We've been opposed to letting the Senate vote on extending unemployment benefits -- that's a totally different thing. [...] The other thing you might have heard about us is that we're "hypocrites," because now we oppose extending unemployment benefits, when we used to be in favor of them when George Bush was president. [...]

We have a very simple answer to these charges: Where's Obama's birth certificate?

Besides, those are just numbers -- we have the facts on our side. And the No. 1 fact is this: Everyone knows that Republicans stand for fiscal discipline and responsible budgeting. In fact, whenever fiscal discipline has broken down and the budget has gotten out of control, Republicans are the first ones to say who's responsible. (Hint: Not us.)

Mitch McConnell, our Republican Senate Leader, put it exactly right the other day when he talked about the dangers of excessive government spending to help people who can't even hold a job. "At what point," he asked, "do we pivot and start being concerned about our children and our grandchildren?"

To Republicans, the answer is perfectly clear: We pivot when there's a Democrat in the White House.

Christopher Hitchens goes after Mel Gibson's defenders, writing that "there have been those who diagnose Gibson's problem as a lack of anger management skills, combined perhaps with a touch of narcissistic personality disorder:"

This is extraordinary. We live in a culture where the terms fascist and racist are thrown about, if anything, too easily and too frequently. Yet here is a man whose every word and deed is easily explicable once you know the single essential thing about him: He is a member of a fascist splinter group that believes it is the salvation of the Catholic Church.

This schismatic crackpot sect is headed by Mel Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, a nutty autodidact with a sideline in Holocaust denial. [...] It would be highly surprising if a person marinated in the doctrines of this ideology did not display all sorts of symptoms that were also sexually distraught. Racism very often clusters with sexual revulsion, and Gibson's rants are horribly larded with this element. His obsessive loathing of homosexuality--so seldom a healthy sign--is also well-known.

Hitch wonders, "Why is there this reluctance to call something by its right name?"

It's not as if Gibson was issuing a cry for help. On the contrary, what he is issuing is the distilled violence, cruelty, and bigotry--and sexual hypocrisy--that stretches from the Crusades through the Inquisition to the "concordats" between the church and Hitler and Mussolini. Yet he's still reporting for work. When will Hollywood, and the wider society, finally decide to shun and spurn him utterly, both for what he is and for what he represents?

Both Hollywood and the larger culture represent the other side of the church's schism and are scarcely much better on issues of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and patriarchal sexism. They can condemn Gibson's violence, but they have trouble identifying his bigotry because its roots lie too close to their own religious beliefs.

In his piece "In Defense of the Memory Theater" (h/t: Rod Dreher at BeliefNet), Nathan Schneider identifies today's "literary apocalypse"--which he defines as "the at least partial elimination of paper books in favor of digital alternatives"--as lying "not chiefly the books themselves, but the bookshelf:"

My fear is for the eclectic, personal collections that we bookish people assemble over the course of our lives, as well as for their grander, public step-siblings. I fear for our memory theaters.

Referring to his own library as "an annex of my own nervous system," Schneider calls this store of knowledge a "memory theater" like the historical thespian examples he cites. Today, however, he sees this situation changing as a result of technology:

In the age of inexpensive, printed books, our memory theaters have become both richer and more banal; we have entrusted them to our bookshelves rather than to tricks of mental contortion or cosmic schemata. As I look over my own shelf, I see my life pass before my eyes. The memories grafted onto each volume become stirred and awakened by a glance at the spine, which presents itself to be touched, opened, and explored.

Calling the Kindle "a catastrophe" with the iPad being "not much better," Schneider writes that "for all the wonders they offer, the digital alternatives to a bookshelf fail to serve its basic purposes:"

The space of memory and thinking must not be an essentially controlled, homogenous one. Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iPad are noxious ruses that must be creatively resisted--not simply because they are electronic but because they propose to commandeer our bookshelves. I will defend the spirit of mine tooth and nail.

In "The American Scholar" (h/t: Jamie Littlefield at Self-Made Scholar), Ralph Waldo Emerson cautions us against too much reverence toward the words of the past, writing that "We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe:"

Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The millions, that around us are rushing into life, cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests.

This broad point is later sharpened, and directed at American scholars:

"Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books. [...] Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst."

This deleterious effect can be seen in their exhortations for readers to "look backward and not forward." Scholars must aim for progress rather than mere imitation:

"The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation. [...] He is the world's eye. He is the world's heart. He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the conclusions of history."

TS Eliot's essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (which was mentioned in the pages of Lapham's Quarterly) likens the poetic mind to the catalyst in a chemical reaction:

The poet's mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.

Wikipedia discusses Emerson's "The American Scholar" and a book by Kenneth Sacks called Understanding Emerson: "The American Scholar" and His Struggle for Self-Reliance discusses the essay in greater depth.


Karnazes, Dean, et al. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners: 101 Inspirational Stories of Energy, Endurance, and Endorphins (Cos Cob, CT: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, 2010)

I know, I know...you're probably wondering why I picked up one of those tacky-kitschy-treacly Chicken Soup books; I was wondering the same thing as I stood there in the bookstore, thumbing through it and asking myself if I really going to buy it. My argument--that it's a book about runners, and I wasn't about to judge it by its cover--was more of a rationalization than an explanation, as I learned when I was mocked (not just once, but twice) by family and friends for buying it.

There are a few names in here that well-read runners will recognize--Matt Fitzgerald, Dean Karnazes, Mark Remy--but most of the authors are the unknown everyman/everywoman runners that are just like the rest of us. In fact, that's the problem with the book--too much familiarity, too little drama. However important the authors' stories are to them, reading a few dozen tends to blur them together into a mass of getting off the couch, losing some weight, and running a first 5K. That said, there are still some intriguing pieces--particularly a story about the Hash House Harriers (pp. 81-83) and another about the first post-9/11 NYC Marathon (pp. 109-112). One of the pieces--Amanda Southall's "Moving Forward" (pp. 43-45) about running in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre--was immediately familiar, and I recognized it as a reprint from The Ultimate Runner (pp. 99-102). Not that I mind the duplication--it's one of the better pieces in either book--but I was surprised that the publishers didn't demand exclusive printing rights. While I'm discussing good writing, here is a pair of quotes that I particularly enjoyed:

"We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon." (p. 216, Emil Zatopek)

"...the real test of a runner is not running for just 26.2 miles. It is running for a lifetime." (p. 266, P.R. O'Leary, "A Lesson in Running")

The religiosity for which the Chicken Soup series is known didn't surface until about halfway through the book. Gil Hannon's "Initially I Was Alone" (pp. 178-179) made me want to puke with its "This was a day the Lord had made...My training partner is always by my side" saccharine sentiments. Later essayists proclaimed "Jesus is the center of my life," talked about singing hymns and praying, and even hearing the voice of god (p. 234) and listening to what "God told me over and over again" (p. 256). What purpose this sort of faith fluff has in a running book is not at all clear to me, except to demonstrate the extent to which religion has a pervasive--although not pernicious--presence.

Even if you're desperate to read a book about running, there are far better options than Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners.

I owe a h/t to Colin Seymour for pointing out that today is Nelson Mandela Day. (For those who need a history lesson, Wikipedia's page on Mandela is a good starting point.)


• Mandela Day is an annual celebration of Nelson Mandela's life and a global call to action for people to recognize their individual ability to make an imprint and change the world around them.

• Mandela Day has been created to inspire people from every corner of the world to embrace the values that have embodied Nelson Mandela's life - democracy; equality; reconciliation; diversity; responsibility; respect and freedom - for these are the values of Nelson Mandela and they are his legacy to the world. [...]

• The Mandela Day brand icon represents Mr Mandela's hand and the passing of the torch to each of us and our individual ability to make an imprint on the world.

• Mandela Day is not a holiday - it is a day for all of us to opt in and show that we can all make an impact.

Although this is an international (and non-partisan) event, I'm still going to mention GOP efforts to whitewash their pro-apartheid history. As Joe Conason noted a decade ago, "some people were indeed in favor of keeping Mandela behind bars and keeping South African blacks in bondage:"

The roster of infamy begins with Ronald Reagan, who upon becoming president in 1981 immediately reversed the Carter administration's policy of pressuring the Afrikaner minority toward democracy and human rights. In an early interview with CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, Reagan called South Africa a "friendly nation" whose reliable anticommunism and wealth of strategic minerals justified stronger ties between Washington and Pretoria.

Overtly and covertly, the Reagan administration moved to strengthen the apartheid regime. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, fought every attempt to impose sanctions. The late William Casey, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, intensified cooperation with the South African Bureau of State Security and military intelligence agencies. He went so far as to secretly visit Pretoria to confer with the racist murderers who ran those agencies.

Meanwhile, of course, the Republican leadership in Congress, including Cheney, also opposed every effort to impose economic sanctions. He voted against sanctions in various forms at least 10 times between 1983 and 1988. There is no evidence that Cheney ever spoke up for freedom and human rights in South Africa -- although in that respect he was merely a typical Republican politician of his time.

In an interview with Amy Goodman, Michael Lapsley (a priest who lost an eye and both hands in a De Clerk bombing) reminds us that "it was clear to the people of South Africa during those years, that whilst there were a vast number of ordinary people in the United States, particularly African-Americans who stood with us, the Reagan administration was on the side of Apartheid:"

It was both Reagan and Thatcher who were giving succor to the Apartheid regime and in a sense prolonging our struggle. More people had to die in South Africa because of the support that came from western governments, particularly from Washington and London at that period.

Amy Goodman: What about this quote of former president Reagan, talking about the Apartheid regime as, quote, a country that stood by us in every war we have ever fought, a country that strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals.

Father Michael Lapsley: I think the interesting thing about that comment is that it focuses on profit. It doesn't focus on what happens to people. And of course, remembering that that regime that Reagan was supporting was a regime in which the majority of the people were voteless. The majority of the people had no legitimate way of removing an illegitimate regime.

Reagan spoke in 1986 of "calculated terror by elements of the African National Congress" in resisting apartheid-era repression, which placed Mandela and other ANC members on the US terrorist watch list--from which he was finally removed two years ago. It is incumbent on us, if we wish to carry on Mandela's legacy, to place morality above profit-taking and support today's freedom fighters before they spend 27 years as political prisoners.

Amnesty International
Freedom Now
Human Rights Foundation

Hugh Hewitt interviewed Christopher Hitchens earlier this week. Here are the passages that touch on Hitch's illness:

HH: Now Christopher, since we last spoke, your illness you disclosed on the web, and people will want to know off the bat how you are doing, and how your treatment is going.

CH: Oh well, I have, in case people are just tuning in, I have cancer in my esophagus, which has I think spread a little to my lymph nodes as well. And I'm two weeks into the chemotherapy course. So I feel pretty weak, and my voice isn't what it was, but that's supposed to be a good sign in that the amount of poison I'm taking is presumably working on the bad stuff as well as the good stuff. And this morning, I found that my hair was beginning to come out in the shower, which is a bit demoralizing, I have to say, even though it's the least of it.


HH: The number of people I'm sure who are praying for you, including people who come up to me and ask me to tell you that, people like Joseph Timothy Cook, how are you responding to them, given your famous atheism?

CH: Well look, I mean, I think that prayer and holy water, and things like that are all fine. They don't do any good, but they don't necessarily do any harm. It's touching to be thought of in that way. It makes up for those who tell me that I've got my just desserts. It's, I'm afraid to say it's almost as well-founded an idea. I mean, I don't, they don't know whether prayer will work, and they don't know whether I've come by this because I'm a sinner.

HH: Oh, I...has anyone actually said that to you?

CH: Yeah, oh yes.

HH: Oh, my gosh. Forgive them. Well...

CH: Well, I mean, I don't mind. It doesn't hurt me. But for the same reason, I wish it was more consoling. But I have to say there's some extremely nice people, including people known to you, have said that I'm in their prayers, and I can only say that I'm touched by the thought.


HH: And the audience would love to know, what are you going to work on next during your treatment, and how are you going to conduct yourself in the course of a long sort of chemotherapy?

CH: Well, I'm just hoping I won't be as exhausted in the next phase as I am now. It's been very nice talking to you. I hope I haven't sounded too weary, and, by the way, it's been less of an effort than I feared, but it's quite an effort now even for me to read anything very demanding. So I'm going to have to husband what I've got for a bit, and perhaps not make any too grand claims about what I intend to do.

William Zinsser's American Scholar piece about Maya Lin (website, Wikipedia) and the design of her celebrated monument to the civil rights movement mentioned ML King's famous quotation from Amos 5:24 ("let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream") and then has this poignant passage:

"The minute I hit that quote," she said, "I knew that the whole piece had to be about water." But she didn't anticipate the power that words combined with water would generate. "At the dedication ceremony," she told me, "Emmett Till's mother was touching his name beneath the water and crying, and I realized that her tears were becoming part of the monument."

The idea that tears have a permanent aspect has been rattling around in my cranium since reading that, clashing with the more common idea of their temporal and ephemeral nature. The best example I have to demonstrate this is the dialogue of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) from the climactic rooftop scene from Blade Runner (Wikipedia, IMDB):

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time...like tears in rain.

That, my friends, is capital-a Art. SF may not have the greatest reputation among film buffs, but I'd put Blade Runner up against anything else from its era in terms of cinematic achievement. [Digression: I received the four-disc Collector's Edition of Blade Runner as a Christmas gift 2½ years ago, and still haven't found time to watch it...what's wrong with me?]

I already have three box sets for Mahler's 150th anniversary--multi-conductor complete sets from EMI and Deutsche Grammophon along with a symphony cycle by Bernstein. There's at least one more set scheduled for release later this year (h/t: Zach Carstensen at Gathering Note): DG's Mahler: The People's Edition is to contain a cycle of his symphonies selected from the vast DG/Decca archives, based on votes tallied online here.


[The title and cover art seem more appropriate for a Soviet composer--think Khachaturian, Prokofiev, or Shostakovich--than an Austrian like Mahler, but I'm here to write about the music.]

I see two general possibilities for this set. The first would be a best-of-catalog box set--perfect for new Mahler fans who don't have a complete symphony cycle in their collection. The second would be a best-of-the-unavailable-discs set--better suited for seasoned Mahlerites who have several cycles in our collections already , and whose preferences tend toward the rare and unusual. Jens Laurson at IonArts points out that with our votes, we can make:

The difference between a cycle no one needs, because it just duplicates what we already have at home, or one that everyone will want to run out and grab. The key to that, apart from finding enough willing supporters of this idea, is to pick the most interesting, difficult-to-get, and out-of-print albums that DG/Decca offers us.

Laurson offers a full slate of suggestions, none of which I have heard. I would not ordinarily recommend unfamiliar recordings, but this voting opportunity may be the easiest way to get these rarities back on shelves. (Several of the other options interest me, and I hope that the long-OOP Boston/Ozawa recordings will be re-released as another complete cycle.)

Lawrence Mishel at Economic Policy Institute provides this telling graph (h/t: Ezra Klein) to explain the widespread dissatisfaction with Washington's economic policies:


As noted by Mishel:

Although corporate profits suffered in the early part of the recession, they have been steadily growing for more than a year and are now 5.7% greater than they were at the start of the recession. [...] Corporations have been able to restore their profitability in the midst of the worst economy in generations even though sales levels are still below those before the recession began. When employers are able to recover their profits many years before their employees can even hope to attain the income and employment levels they had prior to recession's devastation, economic policy is clearly skewed in favor of corporations and not workers.

more backfire

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I mentioned the "backfire effect" (the tendency to ignore evidence that contradicts one's preconceptions) before, and found out yesterday that the study has been published as "When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions"; h/t: Mike Finnigan at Crooks and Liars, Paddy at Political Carnival, and Joe Keohane at Boston Globe). The Globe article summarizes the study very well, pointing out that "Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite:"

In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger. [...]

In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we're right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

That's the Tea Party to a T--which is not surprising, because the backfire effect is more pronounced among conservatives: "The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation...even more strongly after being given the correction." Our media environment exacerbates the problem:

This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers -- alongside an unprecedented amount of good information -- endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it's never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they're right.
The study itself (PDF) notes that "the effect of the correction for individuals who placed themselves to the right of center ideologically is statistically significant and positive:"
In other words, the correction backfired--conservatives who received a correction telling them that Iraq did not have WMD were more likely to believe that Iraq had WMD than those in the control condition. [...] Currently, all of our backfire results come from conservatives--a finding that may provide support for the hypothesis that conservatives are especially dogmatic...

Ron Chusid at Liberal Values

David Dayen at FDL

karoli at Crooks and Liars

digby at Hullabaloo

The website Instant Oil Spill (h/t: TreeHugger) lets you envision any website under the effects of BP's massive oil spill in the Gulf. Naturally, I wanted to see http://instantoilspill.com/?url=http://bp.com what BP's own website would look like:


Meteor Blades points out at Daily Kos that the benefits of 38 long-term unemployed Americans expire every minute because Republicans have prevented those benefits from being extended. MB notes that "[f]oes of extending unemployment benefits keep spouting two excuses:"

First, benefits create hobos, layabouts who enjoy spending every day watching cable, drinking six-packs of brew and luxuriating on an average $315 a week instead of looking for a job. For a three-person family, that comes in at $16,380 a year, a couple of grand below the poverty line. Cushy, eh? The second excuse, which we've been barraged with for weeks, is that America cannot afford another extension because of the federal deficit. Between now and November, the extension would cost $33 billion.

These excuses are mere cover for what Republicans who have blocked the extension really want - to make life hard as possible until November. This, they believe, despite their disgraceful record at holding out-of-work Americans hostage to their ideology, will somehow give them cachet to trash the Democrats. And for what? For failing to achieve economically what Republicans have done everything in their power to keep them from achieving. [...]

They have a clear-headed agenda: economic terrorism. [...] ...and their shameless goal is straightforward: worsen the economic situation for millions of Americans' in hopes of scoring more seats in Congress so they can cause even more damage to people's lives. [emphasis added]

MB bemoans both GOP obstructionism and Democratic fecklessness, wondering "How large does the Democratic majority have to become before we see somebody with political clout actually doing something instead of merely talking about our chronic economic problems?" Paul Krugman's "Punishing the Jobless" analyzes this chronic problem and observes that "there are five unemployed workers for every job opening. Cutting off benefits to the unemployed will make them even more desperate for work -- but they can't take jobs that aren't there:"

One main reason there aren't enough jobs right now is weak consumer demand. Helping the unemployed, by putting money in the pockets of people who badly need it, helps support consumer spending. That's why the Congressional Budget Office rates aid to the unemployed as a highly cost-effective form of economic stimulus. And unlike, say, large infrastructure projects, aid to the unemployed creates jobs quickly -- while allowing that aid to lapse, which is what is happening right now, is a recipe for even weaker job growth, not in the distant future but over the next few months.

Of course, the GOP is in favor of some ways to increase the deficit--such as extending the dumb-then-and-dumber-now Bush tax cuts. Thus are their true priorities revealed.

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly says "Let's be real clear about this:"

When Democrats propose extending unemployment benefits in the midst of an unemployment crisis, Republicans insist that's out of the question and refuse to allow the Senate to even vote on the idea -- the deficit matters more. When Democrats propose aid to states to prevent hundreds of thousands of additional layoffs, Republicans insist that's out of the question and refuse to allow the Senate to even vote on the idea -- the deficit matters more.

But when tax cuts -- the single biggest cause of the current massive deficit -- are on the line, Republicans effectively say, "Screw the deficit. We believe deficit reduction is more important than economic growth, except when we believe the opposite."

It would be about this time that the Tea Party crowd, if it had any integrity or intellectual consistency, would pipe up and reject the GOP tax-cut rhetoric, reiterating its commitment to deficit reduction. Anyone prepared to place a wager on this one?

Did you see what he did there? He put teabaggers in the same sentence with "integrity" and "intellectual consistency"...now that's funny! (If only their malign influence on our politics were as laughable...)

Be Scofield's Tikkun piece "What Christopher Hitchens and the New Atheists Can Learn from Malcolm X" describes Hitchens as having a "fundamentalist attitude," likening it to the pre-Hajj militancy of Malcolm X.

He writes in God is Not Great that a Muslim cab driver went to great lengths to return a large sum of money that his wife had left in his cab. The cab driver told him that it was his religious duty to return the money and refused the reward that Hitchens had offered. In response to the Muslim cab driver's act of selfless service Hitchens states, "And if all Muslims conducted themselves like the man who gave up more than a week's salary in order to do the right thing, I could be quite indifferent to the weird exhortations of the Koran," (p. 188). This is a remarkable confession for someone who has waged such a vigilant battle against all things religious.

Scofield writes later that "NPR quoted Hitchens as having said at the University of Toronto, 'I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right,'" and wonders "Is he talking about the religion of the cab driver who did the selfless act of service?" The distinction overlooked here is that religion is synonymous with neither honesty nor charity--and especially not with morality in general, however much its adherents may wish it were so. Scofield goes on to pillory Hitchens for rhetorical imprecision

...despite having written a book about religion, participated in numerous debates on the matter and given several interviews Christopher Hitchens has never provided a consistent definition of religion. [...] The result is an intellectual carelessness that demonstrates just how misinformed his understanding of religion is.

while committing the same blunder himself:

Religious scholars, professors and anyone interested in the study of the world's religions knows that religion is an incredibly diverse category which includes theists, deists, pantheists, agnostics, atheists and everything in between. And of course there are liberal and fundamentalist interpretations as well.

To say that "religion is an incredibly diverse category" and then not reveal the larger group of which this category is a part is nothing if not careless--and including agnostics and atheists among religious believers is ludicrous. (As the old saying goes, "If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color.") Scofield later attempts a definition:

The word religion stems from the Latin "religio," meaning to bind. And it connotes nothing more than a socio-cultural phenomenon of meaning making which includes values, beliefs, rituals, traditions, morals, ethics and is often accompanied by texts.

Religion may denote nothing more than the items on this list, but the things it connotes are much more varied, including a range of views from Scofield's rosy opinion to the more hard-edged one of Hitchens. Scofield concludes:

I'm not trying to make a substantive or nuanced comparison of Christopher Hitchens and Malcolm X. Rather I am interested in merely juxtaposing two men who have approached an important social issue in similar ways. By placing side by side X's idea that all white people are devils and Hitchens's that religion poisons everything I hope to illustrate the shared strain of fundamentalism and irrational thinking among them. [...] The question for Hitchens and the new atheists then becomes, is religion only a nightmare or can it become a dream?

Whichever view you prefer, remember that neither nightmares nor dreams exist once dawn has broken.

When I first read Julian Baggini's Guardian piece on stichometry (using standard line lengths to measure ancient texts) in the study of Plato, the thematic structure in twelfths (and the relation to Pythagorean harmonies) piqued my interest but also set off my Bible-code bullshit detector. There a good summary at Science Daily:

Dr Kennedy spent five years studying Plato's writing and found that in his best-known work the Republic he placed clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text -- at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, etc. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale. Some notes were harmonic, others dissonant. At the locations of the harmonic notes he described sounds associated with love or laughter, while the locations of dissonant notes were marked with screeching sounds or war or death. This musical code was key to cracking Plato's entire symbolic system.

The University of Manchester press release claims that "Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure - it was for his own safety:"

Plato's ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato's own teacher had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way to be safe.

This reminded me of Straussian esoteric/exoteric textual analysis, but I was intrigued enough to wonder if perhaps there's something there. The paper in question, "Plato's Forms, Pythagorean Mathematics, and Stichometry" (PDF), is indeed interesting, with as much tentativeness as triumphalism:

All this suggests the need to re-evaluate the scant remains of these early Neo-Pythagoreans. There is at least a prima facie case that they recognised the musical structure of the dialogues. [...] Though the evidence reported here will need to be verified and debated, it does clarify, in a surprising way, Aristotle's once puzzling view that Plato was a Pythagorean.

With that caveat, here's Kennedy via Julian Baggini:

"We've got some 2,000 pages of Plato. We now know that underneath all of those genuine dialogues there's another layer of symbolic meaning. This is the beginning of a big debate. It will take years to make sense of all this."

Well, it's taken 2500 years so far...

Kennedy blogs here

Rogue Classicist ponders Kennedy's work here


My first take on the Lapham's Quarterly staff's decision to devote an issue of their magazine to the subject of Arts & Letters is that it seemed to be an overly broad canvas, even for so substantial a magazine. The literary and poetic arts would seem to be a better fit for this eclectically wordy compendium. This great quip--for which I've been unable to find a solid attribution--came quickly to mind:

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture - it's a really stupid thing to want to do."

Lewis Lapham's introductory essay broadened the field further, with the observation that not all works are of constant appeal even for an audience of one:

On first opening a book that I'm not obliged to read for professional reasons, I'm content to let it pass by unless I can hear some sort of melodic line...after a decent interval of years I return to the book in question in the hope that I've learned to hear what is being said. When I was twenty I didn't know how to read Ford Madox Ford or George Eliot. By the time I was fifty I no longer could read J. D. Salinger or Ernest Hemingway. I've yet to learn how to read Finnegans Wake. (p. 14, Lewis Lapham, "Lady in a Veil")

"The Art of Writing" (p. 25) by Lu Ji is a beautifully poetic piece that has led me to search for Sam Hamill's translation, but its refrains were disrupted by the egoistic pomp of Christian kitsch painter Thomas Kinkade in this passage:

"The No. 1 quote critics give me is, 'Thom, your work is irrelevant.' Now, that's a fascinating, fascinating comment. Yes, irrelevant to the little subculture, this microculture, of modern art. But here's the point: My art is relevant because it's relevant to 10-million people. That makes me the most relevant artist in this culture." (p. 71, Thomas Kinkade)

This quote is sourced to The Guardian, which referred to the San Francisco Chronicle, but it appears to have actually originated in Susan Orlean's article "Art for Everybody: How Thomas Kinkade Turned Painting into Big Business" (15 October 2001) in The New Yorker (p. 130). [Update: Her piece is available here.]

Pianist extraordinaire Glenn Gould provides a contrastingly introspective counterpoint:

"When I was very young, I felt a certain sense of power when I walked onto the stage, especially to play a concerto. I frankly enjoyed that sort of thing when I was thirteen or fourteen. But the enjoyment wore off rather quickly because this mysterious, magical moment of insight that is supposed to be the net result of the coming together of artist and audience never happened for me. That is not to say that there were not occasional moments--perhaps when I was giving a concert with an esteemed conductor or playing a solo work in an especially fine hall--when some special feeling took hold of me. I wouldn't deny that. But it didn't happen because the audience was there; it could just as well have happened at rehearsal or in a practice session. I can honestly say that I do not recall ever feeling better about the quality of a performance because of the presence of an audience." (p. 121, Glenn Gould)

Venturing into the political realm, the following statements from Winston Churchill struck a sour note:

While on a visit to Italy in 1927, Winston Churchill remarked to journalists, "If I were an Italian I would don the fascist black shirt," later declaring on his home soil that Mussolini was "the greatest living legislator." (p. 195, Jamie James, "In the Gloom the Gold")

I initially doubted these statements' veracity, but finding their sources was a simple matter: Christopher Hibbert's Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce (p. 74) and Stanley Payne's A History of Fascism: 1914-1945 (p. 218). Interestingly, I've never seen mention of Churchill's pro-fascist sentiments from his many admirers on the Right.

Inconvenient remarks sometimes vanish, but others are manufactured to fill some need. I'm not surprised that an Islamic calligrapher would claim the following,

"The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, 'The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr.'" (p. 219, Sabiha Al Khemir, "The Sacred Word")

but (as I mentioned here) that utterance is of questionable veracity.

Overall, Arts & Letters is another top-notch issue of Lapham's Quarterly--may their magazine continue to resonate with intellectually curious audiences.

The WSJ article about US planning a "Cyber Shield for Utilities, Companies" could either be sensible or Big-Brotherish, depending on its scope and implementation:

The federal government is launching an expansive program dubbed "Perfect Citizen" to detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and nuclear-power plants, according to people familiar with the program. [...]

The U.S. government has for more than a decade claimed a national-security interest in privately owned critical infrastructure that, if attacked, could cause significant damage to the government or the economy. Initially, it established relationships with utility companies so it could, for instance, request that a power company seal a manhole that provides access to a key power line for a government agency.

With the growth in concern about cyber attacks, these relationships began to extend into the electronic arena, and the only U.S. agency equipped to manage electronic assessments of critical-infrastructure vulnerabilities is the NSA, government and industry officials said.

Bruce Schneier's CNN op-ed on cyberwar threats (also available here at his blog, with several updates) notes that "[c]learly we're not talking about real war here, but a rhetorical war: like the war on terror:"

We surely need to improve our cybersecurity. But words have meaning, and metaphors matter. There's a power struggle going on for control of our nation's cybersecurity strategy, and the NSA and DoD are winning. If we frame the debate in terms of war, if we accept the military's expansive cyberspace definition of "war," we feed our fears.

We reinforce the notion that we're helpless -- what person or organization can defend itself in a war? -- and others need to protect us. We invite the military to take over security, and to ignore the limits on power that often get jettisoned during wartime.

(See Raw Story for more information.)

Bush's brain Karl Rove had an idea to "take advantage" of Obama's call for more economic stimulus:

The first, $862 billion stimulus bill of 17 months ago has after all failed to work the president's promised magic.

Many of us were arguing at the time that the stimulus was too small, but it still had large positive effects. (Rove, please read the CBO report if you'd like to learn more.)

Nancy Pelosi joined the president in his bad bet by offering up the economic gem that extension of unemployment benefits "creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name." Really? Faster than, say, cutting personal income tax cuts or slashing the corporate tax rate?

If I were Rove, I'd be embarrassed to not know about the multiplier effect of economic stimulus. Didn't they teach Econ 101 back in his era?

A GOP growth agenda would keep intact the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Actually, this should read "GOP [deficit] growth agenda," as I mentioned previously.

A jobs, growth and prosperity agenda is a natural complement to austerity policies.

Sure, if by "complement" you mean "opposite."

Obama's brand of liberalism has given Republicans the opportunity to make a confident and bold case for conservatism.

By "confident and bold," Rove apparently means "mendacious and mistake-ridden."

Steve Benen points out the obvious idiocy in Rove's argument--which will be overlooked by wingnut ideologues. "Karl Rove's 'jobs and prosperity' agenda encourages Republicans to, quite literally, support the Bush/Cheney 'jobs and prosperity' agenda from the last decade:"

Look, I realize that Rove isn't the sharpest crayon in the box, but his advice to the GOP is so ridiculous on its face, I'm hard pressed to imagine why the Wall Street Journal published it. His argument is that the Bush/Cheney policies that already failed spectacularly might work if we just try them again. [...]

Republicans will win, Rove concludes, if they just tell voters we should go back to the policies we already know don't work. Bush failed miserably, but if we just give his painful failures one more try, everything will work out fine.

Honestly, maybe Karl Rove is just some kind of performance artist, hoping to make Republican pundits look foolish. It would make more sense than Rove actually believing this nonsense.

I've long been a fan of the Al Franken/Don Simpson Supply Side Jesus, and the website Tea Party Jesus (h/t: Katia McGlynn at HuffPo) has similarly piquant juxtapositions. Here's one of my favorites:

(GOP congressional candidate Glen Urquhart, quoted in The News Journal, Wilmington DE)

Lest anyone believe that Urquhart was misquoted, here is a video clip of his dumbassery (h/t: People for the American Way's Right-Wing Watch):

run free

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Someone who's not a shoe manufacturer should do a barefoot version of this ad:

(h/t: Frayed Laces)

CEO conundrum

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Fareed Zakaria reports in "Obama's CEO Problem" that, according to the Federal Reserve, "America's 500 largest nonfinancial companies have accumulated an astonishing $1.8 trillion of cash on their balance sheets." Although this amount is "higher than it has been in almost half a century...most corporations are not spending this money on new plants, equipment or workers." Zakaria notes that "[t]he key to a sustainable recovery and robust economic growth is to get companies investing in America," and wonders "why are they reluctant, despite having mounds of cash?"

I put this question to a series of business leaders, all of whom were expansive on the topic yet did not want to be quoted by name, for fear of offending people in Washington. Economic uncertainty was the primary cause of their caution.

Although corporate recklessness caused the crisis, businesses are blaming government--now that the bailout checks have padded their bank accounts--for their own cash-hoarding reticence. Zakaria admits that, although "[m]ost of the business leaders I spoke to had voted for Barack Obama...all think he is, at his core, anti-business:"

The economic crisis forced the government to expand its authority in dozens of areas, from finance to automobiles. But precisely because of these circumstances, Obama needs to outline a growth and competitiveness agenda that is compelling to the business community. This might sound like psychology more than economics, and the populist left will surely scream that the last thing we need to do is pander to business. But the first thing we need is for these people to start spending their money -- soon.

Crooks and Liars bluntly states that "Corporations aren't happy:"

They're kind of angry, actually, because after all the years of freedom from regulation, they're being regulated. And they're being regulated by a Democratic administration, which means they're actually being effectively regulated.

This restatement of the CEO's "anti-business" concern gets to the root of the issue--that our previous "CEO President" was touted highly by the business community--at least until his policies wrecked our economy:

There are no CEOs in his cabinet, he has no private sector cronies, and he believes in good government. See? Those are core Democratic values. Republicans, on the other hand, worship at the Altar of the Bottom Line, think CEOs should run the country and the world, and DROVE US INTO THE DITCH WITH THEIR BUDDIES CHENEY AND BUSH.

C&L continues by observing that attacks on the unemployed "offer cover for CEOs to duck the true questions about why they'd rather simply sit on the cash and forego expansion...until they have a puppet in the oval office who will do their bidding, who will call off the regulatory dogs..." Remember that the effects of economic insecurity benefit the corporate bottom line--workers are more nervous, more desperate, less likely to complain or go on strike, or do anything to jeopardize that chance at paying their overdue bills and keeping the landlord at bay. Individually, we'll work harder for less because (without a safety net) we have no choice.

As a citizenry, though, we do have a choice--we can vote.

We don't have to hand over the hard-fought gains of the past century (8-hour days, overtime, vacation, sick leave, workplace safety) to the CEOs--we can ignore their corporate-media fearmongering and vote in favor of our fellow workers.

Not much of a choice, is it?

RJ Eskow observes that "Their problem isn't politics - it's customers. As in, they don't have any:"

Business isn't spending because consumers aren't spending. Consumer expenditures are flat and savings rates are up. Households have the same concerns about the economy that CEOs have, and they're reacting the same way: by spending less and hoarding cash. [...]

Banks aren't lending to consumers, either, or they're lending at inflated rates. And thanks in part to the "Greedy Consumer" folktale, there is no political will to pressure banks to write off some of the inflated value of the mortgages on their books. That would free up more money for other spending while potentially reducing the foreclosure rate, and it would distribute the "moral hazard" of greedy behavior a little more fairly. But we're inevitably going to be told it's "politically impossible."

update 2:
Paul Krugman observes that "peddling scare stories about what Democrats are up to is a large part of what organizations like the chamber [of Commerce] do for a living:"

All the buzz lately is that the Obama administration is "antibusiness." And there are widespread claims that fears about taxes, regulation and budget deficits are holding down business spending and blocking economic recovery. How much truth is there to these claims? None. Business spending is indeed low, but no lower than one would have expected given widespread overcapacity and weak consumer spending. [...]

So where's the evidence that an antibusiness climate is depressing spending? The answer, supposedly, is that this is what you hear when you talk to entrepreneurs. But don't believe it. Yes, when you talk to business people they complain about taxes, regulations and the deficit; they always do. But the Obama's-socialist-policies-are-wrecking-the-economy chorus isn't coming from businesses; it's coming from business lobbyists, which isn't at all the same thing.

"Somehow," writes Krugman, "rather than blaming their peers for bad behavior, C.E.O.'s blame Mr. Obama for 'demonizing' business -- by which they apparently mean speaking frankly about the culpability of the guilty parties."

Glenn Beck U

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As soon as I saw the announcement for Glenn Beck University, I thought to myself: "Someone really needs to parody the hell out of this." Thankfully, someone has. Here are some of the Beck U courses from a Mother Jones article, along with readers' suggestions:

Great Military Heroes: John Wayne
Intro to Theology: Ayn Rand
Advanced Marketing Seminar: Rare Gold Coins
Psych 301: Paranoia as Therapeutic Alternative
Studies in Moral Courage: Joe McCarthy
Semiotics 101: Decoding Hidden Socialist Messages in Everyday Objects
Art (Revisionist) History 504: Identifying Communist Architecture
Elective Science - Quantum Functionality and Practical Theory of Magic Underwear

This trio of courses is my favorite:

Milit 504: WAR IS PEACE

Will Bunch discusses the buffalo's presence on the Beck U seal, writing that "Of course, when there's a buffalo, you always have to clean up behind it. And that messy task, my friends. is what the rest of us will have to do after Beck's bogus Christianist and gold-coin-crazed fictional rewrite of American history becomes ingrained in his legion of followers."

Paul Waldman writes that "It's actually pretty clever of Beck to market what's essentially a bunch of podcasts from sympathetic conservatives as a 'university:'"

Not only does it make it seem more substantial than it is, it also plays right into his fans' suspicion (regularly stoked by Beck, of course) that like journalism, the academy is a boiling cauldron of liberal indoctrination. You've got to give Beck credit -- few talk show hosts have come up with more creative ways to part their fans from those fans' money.

Steve Benen opines: "What's interesting to me about this is not just the silly notion of relying Beck for an education -- though that's part of it -- but also the fact that this self-described rodeo clown is just a remarkable merchandiser:"

Remember, between May 2009 to August 2010, Glenn Beck will have published four print books, a photo book, and two audio books. That doesn't include his tours and live shows, nor his paid online site.

This from a deranged media personality who reportedly takes in about $18 million a year. Does he really need to exploit his followers so shamelessly?

Sheep need a shepherd...

Have you even had a pun-laden conversation like this?


Yeah, I thought so...

What are the odds that my Quote of the Day would contain a pun? Pretty good, I'd say:

"No matter what other nations may say about the United States, immigration is still the sincerest form of flattery." (Jack Paar)

(h/t: Barry Ritholtz)

When The Telegraph asked Richard Dawkins about setting up a "secular school" or an "atheist free school" as an alternative to the existing ones that mandate "collective worship" as part of their programs, he replied:

Thank you for suggesting that I should start an atheist free school. I like the idea very much, although I would prefer to call it a free-thinking free school.

I would never want to indoctrinate children in atheism, any more than in religion. Instead, children should be taught to ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded.

If children understand that beliefs should be substantiated with evidence, as opposed to tradition, authority, revelation or faith, they will automatically work out for themselves that they are atheists.

I would also teach comparative religion, and teach it properly without any bias towards particular religions, and including historically important but dead religions, such as those of ancient Greece and the Norse gods, if only because these, like the Abrahamic scriptures, are important for understanding English literature and European history.

This is hardly the frightening atheist fundamentalism that the Right fearmongers about, but their Chicken-Little conservatism has always been more about maintaining an us-versus-them mentality than correspondence with reality. Toby Young had some comments about Dawkins' proposal:

What Professor Dawkins doesn't realise is the reason this approach is so badly needed in the state education sector is not to protect children from religious indoctrination, but from the far more rigid secular ideology that pervades the majority of comprehensive schools.

Young isn't warning about the horrors of humanism or a similar bogeyman, but rather about anthropogenic global warming (if you can believe that). Dawkins' mantra of skepticism and critical thinking needs to permeate the scientific curriculum as well, to inoculate students against junk science from young-earth creationists, homeopaths, astrologers, and global-warming denialists--in addition to the purely religious crackpottery out there. This reminded me of these quotes from Brooke Lewis' "Get 'em while they're young" in the second-quarter issue of TPM: The Philosophers' Magazine about the importance of studying philosophy in grade school:

"We're arguing for the Four R's," he says, "reading, writing, arithmetic and reasoning. We want to try to argue for the importance of a good thinking program in the national curriculum because of the sense in which the Three R's depend so much on that which underlies them and that would be concepts. Because concepts are the framework on which the three R's are built, I argue that a good thinking program is essential as part of a national curriculum program." (philosophy teacher Peter Worley)

"In terms of education we know from the development of children that the ones who have been through sustained Philosophy with Children improve in almost every other academic area. So it's a fundamental basic really," she says. "Philosophers are traditionally asked awkward questions and to come up with alternative answers, and it really breeds independent thinking. If we want a generation of people who will begin to tackle and solve the problems we have, we need people who think for themselves and who think differently." (Dr. Catherine McCall)

Thinking differently....now where have I heard that before?

Speaking of unorthodoxy, PZ Myers suggests in his "Sunday Sacrilege" piece that we should "Ask any Christian on any Sunday morning about flocks and sheep and shepherds, and they will understand the metaphor even if it is highly unlikely that any of them have been in contact with any animal other than a household pet:"

Read your bible. It's saturated with this primitive herdsman mentality: God the Father, sheep and goats, lost lambs and the Lamb of God, flocks and herds. It's anthropologically fascinating, and it's also not necessarily an evil metaphor (unless, of course, you're a woman -- the patriarchy is also deeply misogynistic). One of it's most appealing aspects is that it makes the relationship with the universe a close and personal one, of a very simple kind of relatedness, that of father and child. It's one metaphorical generation, direct and immediate, and it colors everything about how we view our place in the world: dominant and submissive, leader and follower, wisdom and naiveté, master and servant, command and obedience. It also tangles up our relationship with the world in those paternal virtues of love and concern and discipline, and often with those less savory issues of the complicated relationships many people have with their fathers, because, face it, sometimes men are jerks. Which also fits with the portrait of the omnipotent god painted by the Bible. [...]

But here's the wonderful revelation. If you're a well-adjusted person, once you've discarded the unhealthy fictitious relationship with a phantasm, you can look around and notice all those other people who are likewise alone, and you'll realize that we're all alone together. And that means you aren't alone at all -- you're among friends. That's the next step in human progress, is getting away from the notion of minions living under a trail boss, and onwards to working as a cooperative community, with no gods and no masters, only autonomous agents free to think and act.

Robert Reich's new piece in American Interest, "Dear Mr. Corporation" (July/August, pp. 39-43), criticizes the Citizens United decision and its "anthropomorphic fallacy" of treating corporations as people:

Of all the bizarre decisions the U.S. Supreme Court has produced over its long and for the most part distinguished history, its decision in January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ranks right up there with Bush v. Gore and Dred Scott for lacking any basis in common sense and for making a mockery of democratic ideals.

In that opinion, the Roberts Supreme Court wrote that "if the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech." But a corporation, writes Reich, "is most certainly not an association of citizens:"

A corporation is a set of financial agreements. Real people do enter into them but not as "associations of citizens." They enter them as shareholders, creditors, executives, employees or suppliers. Such people, if they're American citizens, already have free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Reich continues that these "financial agreements are simply legal contracts:"

The notion that these contracts themselves have a voice, a will, a capacity for intention or a personality is absurd on its face: The Court's decisions in effect turn such contracts, and the corporation they constitute, into life forms. It might as well give First Amendment rights to the chairs we sit on or the light bulbs we see by.

He proposes a number of solutions, which show great promise:

A logical tax policy would eliminate the corporate income tax and require shareholders to pay personal taxes on all income earned by the corporation on their behalf...One important byproduct of this reform would be to puncture the false idea that corporations pay taxes and therefore deserve to be represented in the political process.

This could lead to removing foreign financial influence from American political campaigns, because--as it stands now--"Giving First Amendment rights to 'American' corporations therefore gives non-Americans the right to finance political elections in America:"

Nor does it make any sense to treat companies as "persons" with legal rights to challenge the constitutionality of duly enacted laws and regulations. Yet this is occurring all the time. [...] Real citizenship should be the core criterion for engaging the U.S. legal and political system; only people--actual living, breathing human beings, who are citizens--should be granted standing to challenge Federal or state laws and regulations on constitutional grounds.

Reich would also extend so-called "paycheck protection" laws (designed to keep labor unions out of politics) to corporations:

It would be logical to apply the same principle to protect shareholders from being forced through their investments to support political activities they oppose. "Stockholder protection" would require that shareholders specifically agree to any corporate political activity. [...] Mutual funds and pension plans would have to notify their shareholders of such political activity, and seek their agreement of acquiescence. Such political activity would thereby be financed only by shareholders who wish to spend their portion of company profits on it.

Would that Robert Reich's attitudes were ascendant in Washington, rather than those of John Roberts.

Ron Rosenbaum's "Agnostic Manifesto" at Slate tries to rehabilitate agnosticism's reputation for indecisiveness by claiming that "Agnosticism is not some kind of weak-tea atheism." He praises it as "radical skepticism, doubt in the possibility of certainty, opposition to the unwarranted certainties that atheism and theism offer." Rosenbaum proclaims that "it's time for a new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists:"

Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence--the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)

Although he decries "faith-based atheism," Rosenbaum accepts "most of the New Atheist's criticism of religious bad behavior over the centuries, and of theology itself:"

I just don't accept turning science into a new religion until it can show it has all the answers, which it hasn't, and probably never will. [...]

New Atheism offers the glamour of fraudulent rebelliousness, while agnosticism has only the less eye-catching attractions of humility. The willingness to say "I don't know" is less attention-getting than "I know, I know. I know it all."

A rebuttal from PZ Myers in "Same Old Ineffectual Wafflers" calls Rosenbaum's piece "a remarkably incoherent manifesto, and he says so many stupid things that I was confused into thinking it was a comedy piece for a while. It's like he's ripped off the worst theistic arguments and repackaged them into a mess that he proudly calls agnosticism." It's worth reading Myers' whole piece, especially for this quote from Dara O'Briain:

"Science knows it doesn't know everything, otherwise it would stop."

Julian Sanchez writes about "Agnosticism and the Varieties of Certainty:"

Rosenbaum's mistake is to suppose that atheists are committed to providing some kind of utterly comprehensive worldview that explains everything in the way religious doctrine sometimes purports to. But why? Can't we point out that claims made on behalf of one brand of snake oil are outlandish and unsupportable without peddling an even more wondrous tonic? [...]

Rosenbaum's challenge--explain, atheist, why there is something instead of nothing!--may well be unanswerable, but it doesn't require an answer. There's still no reason to treat God talk as anything more than another bit of human storytelling...

John Boehner (R-OH) thinks we should raise the retirement age to 70, and describes financial reform legislation as "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."

Republicans in general don't seem to like homeless veterans or the unemployed, but watering down financial reform and letting billionaires skirt the estate tax--those are necessary despite being fiscally irresponsible.

Jon Chait concludes:

Republicans have tried not to admit this, but Boehner pretty much spelled out what they think. The underlying problems in the financial system are minor ('an ant') and the main solution is just to hope regulators do a better job than they did before.

Steve Benen pounces:

Just to be clear here, what Boehner considers an "ant" was a severe economic crash that nearly collapsed the global financial system.

This was a crisis that led to 8 million U.S. job losses and $17 trillion in lost retirement savings and net worth. What's more, it was a crisis that could have been prevented had safeguards and accountability measures been in place to regulate Wall Street.

And now that Democrats want to approve such safeguards, Boehner's not only against the effort, he thinks the whole endeavor is unnecessary, since the crisis was just "an ant."

Writing about the UK's new budget, economist Joseph Stiglitz describes "a mood of retrenchment [that] has become the new received wisdom throughout Europe. But it is the classic error made by those who confuse a household's economics with those of a national economy:"

If you have a household that can't pay its debts, you tell it to cut back on spending to free up the cash to pay the debts. But in a national economy, if you cut back on your spending, then economic activity goes down, nobody invests, the amount of tax you take goes down, the amount you pay out in unemployment benefits goes up - and you don't have enough money to pay your debts. [...]

It's a vicious downward spiral. We're now looking at a long, hard, slow recovery with the possibility of a double dip if everybody cuts back at the same time. The best scenario is long and hard ... and the worst is much worse. If any one of these countries is forced into default, the banking system is so highly leveraged that it could cause real problems. This is really risky, really scary.

AmericaBlog suggests an alternative to austerity:

If anyone is looking for places to cut, corporate handouts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sound like much better options. Unfortunately the poor have a really crappy lobbyist program so they're going to take the brunt of the new nastiness programs.

Similarly, Paul Krugman's piece on "The Third Depression" laments that "over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy:"

We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost -- to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs -- will nonetheless be immense.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world -- most recently at last weekend's deeply discouraging G-20 meeting -- governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.

In "The Deficit Crisis Is a Fantasy," FDL calls our deficit hawks and their phantasms:

There is no truth to it, and it is a dangerous fantasy, because if one believes it, then that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The austerity they recommend for the long-term can make the slow growth and difficult times they project come true. It can catch us all in a nightmare of their making.

Unfortunately, we are already seeing these consequences and they are not pretty. They are failure to meet our unemployment problems, failure to meet our pressing need to repair our infrastructure, or to solve our energy problems, failure to extend the social safety net to those in need, failure to educate our young, failure to rebuild the energy foundations of our economy, taking Medicare for All off the table on grounds that it could cost more than $1 Trillion over a 10 year period and would contribute to an increase in the deficit and the national debt: failure, failure, failure, and more failure; and the destruction of real wealth as our country declines into insignificance. What's fiscally sustainable and responsible about that?

In "Sado-Economic Austerity," Bill Scher reminds us that "it was Republican pseudo-economics and incompetence that led to the housing bust, the financial crisis and the Great Recession." David Leonhardt writes in the NYT about today's parallels to the 1937/38 Recession--when FDR temporarily succumbed to conservative economic orthodoxy, with predictable results because Keynes "was not widely understood:"

The parallels to 1937 are not reassuring. From 1933 to 1937, the United States economy expanded more than 40 percent, even surpassing its 1929 high. But the recovery was still not durable enough to survive Roosevelt's spending cuts and new Social Security tax. In 1938, the economy shrank 3.4 percent, and unemployment spiked. [...]

In an ideal world, countries would pair more short-term spending and tax cuts with long-term spending cuts and tax increases. But not a single big country has figured out, politically, how to do that.

Instead, we are left to hope that we have absorbed just enough of the 1930s lesson.

From the earlier era of not yet understanding, we passed through other times en route to the current neocon era of deliberate forgetting. As Slacktivist writes (in a parallel to Mark 12:15-17):

But knowing their hypocrisy, he said unto them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a dime and let me see it."

And they brought one. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this -- FDR's or Herbert Hoover's?"

They answered, "Roosevelt's."

And he said unto them, "Right. So shut up. Have you morons already forgotten the 20th Century? When the choice is between imitating what worked and what really, really didn't work, why are you pretending it's terribly complicated?"

And after that, no one dared to ask him any question.

FDR's era was a triumph of liberalism over the failures of Hoover's conservatism--so of course it must be cast down the memory hole. If we let them get away with it, the consequences could be disastrous.

The Harvard study "Torture at Times - Waterboarding in the Media" )PDF) examined waterboarding coverage in the four highest-circulation US newspapers (USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times) and noted that "after the Bush administration authorized the practice" [of waterboarding] there was "a dramatic shift in coverage away from nearly a century of practice recognizing waterboarding as torture:"

According to the data, for almost a century before 2004 there was consensus within the print media that waterboarding was torture. Yet once reports of the use of waterboarding by the CIA and other abuses by the U.S. surfaced [in 2004], this consensus no longer held... [...] By straying from that established norm, the newspapers imply disagreement with it, despite their claims to the contrary. In the context of their decades-long practice, the newspaper's sudden equivocation on waterboarding can hardly be termed neutral.

Glenn Greenwald observed acidly that "None of this is a surprise, of course:"

I and others many times have anecdotally documented that the U.S. media completely changes how it talks about something (or how often) based on who is doing it ("torture" when the Bad Countries do it but some soothing euphemism when the U.S. does it; continuous focus when something bad is done to Americans but a virtual news blackout when done by the U.S., etc.). Nor is this an accident, but is quite deliberate: media outlets such as the NYT, The Washington Post and NPR explicitly adopted policies to ban the use of the word "torture" for techniques the U.S. Government had authorized once government officials announced it should not be called "torture."

(Remember that these outlets (NYT, WaPo, NPR) are bastions of the allegedly "liberal" media--not partisan conservative outlets like Fox News, the Moonie Times, or talk radio.) Greenwald continues:

We don't need a state-run media because our media outlets volunteer for the task: once the U.S. Government decrees that a technique is no longer torture, U.S. media outlets dutifully cease using the term. That compliant behavior makes overtly state-controlled media unnecessary

Adam Serwer commented, "I think it's actually the conventions of journalism that are at fault here:"

As soon as Republicans started quibbling over the definition of torture, traditional media outlets felt compelled to treat the issue as a "controversial" matter, and in order to appear as though they weren't taking a side, media outlets treated the issue as unsettled, rather than confronting a blatant falsehood.

Paul Waldman identified this reticence as "part of the 'he said/she said' pathology:"

You'd think that at some point, a major news organization would have the courage to say, "The fact that you're claiming this isn't torture is just absurd. We'll report your argument, but we're not going to stop calling it what it is." But they didn't.

Serwer observed that "this attempt at 'neutrality' was, in and of itself, taking a side, if inadvertently:"

It was taking the side of people who supported torture, opposed investigating it as a crime, and wanted to protect those who implemented the policy from any kind of legal accountability. Most important, it reinforced the moral relativism of torture apologists, who argued that even if from an objective point of view, waterboarding was torture, it wasn't torture when being done by the United States...

Anti-torture conservative Andrew Sullivan noted that [NYT Executive Editor] "Bill Keller, and the editors of most newspapers, along with NPR, simply rolled over and became mouthpieces for war criminals, rather than telling the unvarnished truth to their readers and listeners in plain English:"

The editors who insisted on these changes remain liars and cowards and a disgrace to journalism and a free society. They should quit for this kind of open deception and craven cowardice in putting power before truth.

Readers of Chris McDougall's Born to Run should remember Dr Irene Davis, who helped set McDougall on the path to running recovery.

In one of those little synchronicity-like coincidences, I spotted Dr Davis in two separate media pieces today; once in this interview by Matt Fitzgerald, and later in a nine-page feature article in Runner's World (not yet online) about a runner suffering from knee osteoarthritis.

When it comes to the pending expiration of the budget-busting Bush tax cuts, Ezra Klein suggests that the next few months will give Congressional deficit hawks "a rare and valuable opportunity:"

They can do nothing and bring the federal budget much closer to balance. At issue is the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. If allowed to lapse, they'd improve the deficit outlook by about $4 trillion over the next 10 years -- and more after that. [...] This will be a test for any politician who claims to care about the deficit. If they're willing to let the tax cuts expire -- a tough decision, given the politics of taxes -- it's good evidence that they're serious about cutting the debt. If they're not willing to let the cuts expire, it's irrefutable evidence that they're not.

This stance is echoed by Dave Johnson at Center for American Progress:

The real jobs and deficit test is coming when the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire this year. If Congress lets them expire, deficit fears and pressures are reduced considerably and there will be money to create jobs, maintain and modernize infrastructure, make the nation competitive in world markets, help the unemployed, upgrade health insurance and so many other badly-needed tasks.

The two dashed lines in this graph represent the federal debt under two scenarios: the lower one where the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule (fiscal responsibility) and the upper one where they are extended (fiscal conservatism):


Any questions?

The study "American Presidents: Greatest and Worst" (report and overall rank) from Siena College (h/t: Taegan Goddard) places Bush the Lesser as our fifth-worst president ever, noting that "just one year after leaving office, the former president has found himself in the bottom five at 39th rated especially poorly in handling the economy, communication, ability to compromise, foreign policy accomplishments and intelligence." The historians noted that "FDR ranks first in overall accomplishments," making him a much better choice for Mount Rushmore than the media-favored mediocrity of Reagan (who, as #18, is ranked below both recent Democratic presidents: Clinton at #13 and Obama at #15).

Thomas Edsall's review of Karl Rove's Courage and Consequence (from the latest issue of Democracy) has my Quote of the Day with this description of Bush's "staggering record of arrogance, recklessness, and negligence-a record awesome in its consequences:"

Time may have diminished [Rove's] recall of some of the details, but the magnitude of the damage inflicted by the Administration is indelible. [...] ...the real Bush/Rove legacy-the deliberate and relentless polarization of the electorate-lends itself to an ideologically rigid style of governing, a style that engenders the kind of missteps in the face of crisis characteristic of the disastrous years chronicled in these pages.

Yesterday's brief note from author Christopher Hitchens brought sad news:

I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.

I hope that his disease was diagnosed early enough to allow for a full recovery; it would be a shame to lose one of our greatest contemporary writers at an age (61) when he still has many essays and books ahead of him. Hitch wrote not long ago that he wants to die "Fully conscious, and either fighting or reciting (or fooling around)," and I hope that he still has a chance to do so.

To answer the sanctimoniously religious asshats who have piously announced that they will pray for Hitchens' recovery--or his deathbed conversion--here's a passage from his memoir Hitch-22 about prayer while facing death in the Sarajevo war zone:

Driving around Bosnia's bombarded capital city...I was often enough whimpering with fear but...I also discovered, as have many others, that the stupid old propaganda line about "no atheists in foxholes" is just that; it never crossed my mind to pray. I merely pass this on in case it's ever of any use. Meanwhile, though, I was kept warm and animated by my rage at what I was seeing. (p. 411)

Rage on, Hitch!

If you're a bibliophile, check out Bookshelf Porn for some great photos of bookshelves (h/t: Michael Rowe at Utne Reader). This one, although not an actual bookshelf, reminded me of that library parking garage:


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