May 2011 Archives

Michael JW Stickings writes about Palin's upcoming bus tour, asking "Notice how she's back in the news? Notice how we're writing about her again?"

This is what she wants. This is what she needs. This is what feeds her. Like any celebrity whose time is almost up, she's desperate for more, for the spotlight to shine brightly once more, for all the attention that fame brings. This is why she's back, and why she's dipping her toes into the pool.

And if and when she loses? Well, so what? She'll have been martyred and her admirers will be all the more devoted. And she'll be able to blame the loss on her usual targets, the coastal elites, the "lamestream" media, even the GOP establishment, anyone and everything beyond her bubble of self-aggrandizing delusion.

The NYT discusses a pair of health studies showing that "a person's fitness level at midlife is a strong predictor of long-term heart health, proving just as reliable as traditional risk factors like cholesterol level or high blood pressure:"

"When you try to boil down fitness, what does fitness mean?" said Dr. Jarett D. Berry, assistant professor of internal medicine and cardiology at Southwestern Medical School and a co-author of both papers. "In both these studies, how fast you can run in midlife is very strongly associated with heart disease risk when you're old. The exercise you do in your 40s is highly relevant to your heart disease risk in your 80s." [...]

From the study data, Dr. Berry calculated that a man in his 50s who can run a mile in 8 minutes or less, or a woman who can do it in 9 minutes or less, shows a high level of fitness. A 9-minute mile for a man and 10:30 for a woman are signs of moderate fitness; men who can't run better than a 10-minute mile, and women slower than 12 minutes, fall into the low-fitness category.

The categories make a big difference in risk for heart problems, the study found: Subjects in the high-fitness group had a 10 percent lifetime risk, compared with 30 percent for those in the low-fitness group.

PZ Myers writes about the Rapture-believers being wrong once again, noting that "everyone is laughing at Harold Camping now, except his followers... But you're missing the real joke:"

Look at every Abrahamic religion, with their myths of prophets and favored peoples and fate. Look at the crazy conservative church in your town, that preaches homophobia and anti-science and supports Israel because of the Armageddon prophecy. Look at the liberal Christian church down the street from you that has the nice Vacation Bible School and puts on happy plays for the older kids, and also teaches that one day you will stand before a great god and be judged. Look at your family members who blithely believe in death as a mini-apocalypse, in which they will be magically translated into another realm, again to be judged.

It's the very same rot, the poison of religion that twists minds away from reality and fastens them on hellish bogeymen. They're demented fuckwits, every one, and the big lie rests right on the fundamental beliefs of supernaturalism and deities, not on the ephemera of one crank's bizarre interpretations.

Ted Rall posted a top ten comics of all time list, and asked for his readers' favorites. Over the course of several tweets, I mentioned a few that I have here categorized and alphabetized:

comic strips
Calvin & Hobbes (Watterson)
Dykes to Watch Out For (Bechdel)
Gasoline Alley (King)
Krazy Kat (Herriman)
Little Nemo (McCay)
Pogo (Kelly)
Prince Valiant (Foster)
The Spirit (Eisner)
Tarzan (Hogarth)

mainstream
Dark Knight (Miller)
Fantastic Four (Lee/Kirby)
Green Lantern/Green Arrow (O'Neill/Adams)
Nick Fury (Steranko)
Swamp Thing (Moore/Veitch/Totleben)
Walt Disney Comics & Stories (Barks)
Watchmen (Moore/Gibbons)

alt/indie/underground
American Splendor
Cerebus (Sim)
Cheech Wizard (Bode)
EC war comics (Kurtzman)
"Master Race" (Krigstein)
Maus (Spiegelman)
Moebius
Persepolis (Satrapi)
Raw
Ring of the Nibelung (Russell)
Zap

As with my favorite books, I'm lousy at making a list of n anything--my mind seems to gravitate toward a list of 2n items. I have a strong temptation to pull several anthologies down from the shelves, and spend the afternoon perusing them...

Gingrichamesh

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Newt's spokesweasel Rick Tyler fired a floridly full-bore fusillade against critics of his boss:

The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment's cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won't be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.

It's ridiculous to suggest that Newt is anything but a Washington insider who makes his own living from distortions and falsehoods, but Rachel Maddow ridiculed the statement as "The Epic of Gingrich" for its overblown heroic rhetoric:

The text has also been adapted into a delightful cartoon (h/t: Alex Pareene at Slate):

20110519-newt.jpg

(Click here to see the whole thing.)

FNG

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Our director announced that a new employee would be joining our group next week--someone with a common Indian surname. One of my co-workers remarked to a few of us later, "Why couldn't they hire an American?"

Given the existing ethnic mix of our co-workers--and the fallacy in determining someone's nationality by their surname--I had some fun with his racist/xenophobic attitude:

"Hey [Italian surname], there's something I wanted to ask you about.

I was thinking about some of our co-workers here, like [German surname] and [Scottish surname] and [British surname], and I was wondering what you would consider to be an 'American' name...something like Chief Ten Bears, perhaps?"

Obamabots

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Ted Rall writes about the rise of the Obamabots, beginning with the immediate aftermath of 9/11:

The media gorged on an orgy of psychotic right-wing rhetoric. Flags everywhere. Torture suddenly OK. In a nation where mainstream political discourse was redefined between Dick Cheney on the right and libertarian Bill Maher on the not-as-right, there wasn't any room in the paper for a left-of-center cartoonist. My business was savaged. Income plunged. [...]

McCarthyism--blackballing--made a big comeback. I had been drawing a monthly comic strip, "The Testosterone Diaries," for Men's Health. No politics. It was about guy stuff: dating, job insecurity, prostate tests, that sort of thing. They fired me. Not because of anything I drew for them. It was because of my syndicated editorial cartoons, which attacked Bush and his policies. The publisher worried about pissing off right-wingers during a period of nationalism on steroids.

"It feels a little weird to write this," Rall relates, but "there's less room for a leftie during the Age of Obama than there was under Bush." The problem he identifies is the willingness of Obama supporters to accept a tepid centrist in the White House--perhaps Teabaggers aren't the only ones who are confusing wingnut rhetoric (about Obama's alleged "radicalism") for reality. Rall continues by noting that Obama "has been a terrible disappointment to the American left:"

He has forsaken liberals at every turn. Yet they continue to stand by him. Which means that, in effect, they are not liberals at all. They are militant Democrats. They are Obamabots.

As long as Democrats win elections, they are happy. Nevermind that their policies are the same as, or to the right of, the Republicans. [...]

I don't care about Obama. Or the Democrats. I care about America and the world and the people who live in them.

Hey, Obamabots: when the man you support betrays your principles, he has to go--not your principles.

I really need to read his latest book, The Anti-American Manifesto.

long reading

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Although I've never read any Joyce--quite an oversight, given my love of wordplay--I always thought that the public reading of Ulysses on Bloomsday was an intriguing idea. Long reads--not that kind of longreads...this kind--is apparently a burgeoning activity in academia.

Literature professors are tackling not just the obvious candidates such as Homer for these marathon reading events, but also works such as Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy, Moby Dick, and even War and Peace. As long as such readings are focused on the text, and are more like events than stunts, this sounds like a great way to imbue students' lives with the classics.

Phil Zuckerman follows up on the secular studies major that I mentioned here, describing it as "an interdisciplinary programme focusing on manifestations of the secular in societies and cultures, past and present:"

It entails the study of non-religious people, groups, thought and cultural expressions. Emphasis is placed upon the meanings, forms, relevance and impact of political secularism, philosophical scepticism, and personal and public secularity. Students will be expected to take classes from various disciplines: philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, science ... and yes, religious studies.

Zuckerman notes that "for centuries, the weight of scholarship has been disproportionately on religion," and I fully expect this single small contrary example to provoke a torrent of Christianist commentary.

enraptured

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Richard Dawkins tears WaPo faith-heads a new one for treating the Rapture-happy loons (led--this time around--by evangelist Harold Camping) seriously. The paper asked, in part:

What does your tradition teach about the end of the world? How does end time theology impact real world behavior?

Dawkins responded:

Why is a serious newspaper like the Washington Post giving space to a raving loon? I suppose the answer must be that, unlike the average loon, this one has managed to raise enough money to launch a radio station and pay for billboards. [...]

So, the question becomes, why are there so many well-heeled, gullible idiots out there? Why is it that an idea can be as nuts as you like and still con enough backers to finance its advertising to acquire yet more backers . . . until eventually a national newspaper notices and makes it into a silly season filler?

He then took aim at the question itself:

What my 'tradition' (or your 'tradition' or the Dalai Lama's 'tradition' or Osama bin Laden's 'tradition' or the bad-trip 'tradition' of whoever wrote Revelation) says about anything in the real world (including its end) is no more likely to be true than any urban legend, idle rumor, superstition, or science fiction novel. Yet, the moment you slap the word 'tradition' onto a made-up story you confer on it a spurious dignity, which we are solemnly asked to 'respect'.

Science is not a tradition, it is the organized use of evidence from the real world to make inferences about the real world...

In addressing a different instance of accommodationism, PZ Myers writes about his unconcern that "harsh criticism of cherished beliefs, like religion, leads to an immediate, emotion-based shutdown of critical faculties by the target, and makes them refractory to rational evaluation of their ideas:"

I don't care what happens in the mind of a believer five minutes or a day after I make an argument... [...] What I'm interested in seeing happen is the development of a strong cadre of vocal atheists who will make a sustained argument, over the course of years or generations, who will keep pressing on the foolishness of faith. I also don't mind seeing believers get angry and stomping off determined to prove I'm a colossal jackhole -- that means they're thinking, even if they're disagreeing with me. At the very least, I hope that a few of them will realize, even if they don't change their mind about the god nonsense, that quoting the Bible at me has no effect, and maybe some years down the road I won't be hearing as many idiots telling me "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" as if they've made a profound point.

I just saw what may be the dumbest bumpersticker ever:

20110512-obamabinbiden.jpg

How stupid are you? Let me count the ways...

...but you can't hide!

Newt's video announcement of his candidacy may not be worth discussing, but there are plenty of other things to talk about. Mother Jones posted Newt in his own words: 30 years of bomb-throwing, David Mixner reminds us of Newt's many "particularly harsh" failures on LGBT issues, and Paul Waldman dismisses Newt's "campaign of ideas" by describing a typical Gingrich C-SPAN speech about healthcare:

It was all future-y and visionary and fundamental and transformative, and after listening to it, I couldn't tell you a single thing he actually wants to do about health care. What Newt's "ideas" lack in depth, they make up for in rhetorical flourish and sheer volume; by the time you've asked, "What the hell did he just say?", he's moved on to three other fundamental transformations of society and government he wants to usher in, none of which have any substance to them, either.


update (5/13):
WaPo fact-checked Newt's announcement interview with the hacktastic Sean Hannity, spotlighting a mere half-dozen of Newt's "misstatements, bloopers, and exaggerations."

John (The Pun Also Rises) Pollack was a guest on NPR's Radio Times this morning, and I emailed a fellow punster out of courtesy. Along with thanks, I received some snark:

I notice the author was a speechwriter for Clinton, so I'm sure he's a master of fiction and fantasy.

My reply, after listening to the interview, began innocuously enough:

I liked the Samuel Johnson quote that was mentioned, but couldn't find an authoritative attribution; here it is anyway, just in case you liked it too:
"If I had hung my head for every pun I shed there would not be a puny shed in which I had not hung my punished head."

[I did find a variant in Get Thee to a Punnery]

Then I ventured forth with a few puns:

The callers to Radio Times have probably been hounded by their friends and family (doggedly so, I would imagine) for being far too tame when confronted with such a renowned punster, but I suspect that they would liken [lycan] the experience to being thrown to the wolves.

I couldn't let the obsession with Clinton slide unnoticed, and I contemplated listing a few WH speechwriters who penned some truly pernicious prevarications--Tony Blankley, Pat Buchanan, David Frum, Michael Gerson, Peggy Noonan, John Podhoretz, Tony Snow, and Ben Stein came to mind most readily--but I decided to try a less inflammatory tactic:

Your remark about Clinton seemed intended to start a flame war; I had originally planned to come out with puns blazing, but instead decided to temper my remarks. I don't want this to become a trial by ire between us, but I'll still give you a little morsel to stew over: I'm glad to see any speechwriter who is primarily a writer and only secondarily a partisan hack [too many to list]. I consume an unhealthy amount of half-baked punditry (little of which is well-done) and find the confluence of style and factual content to be quite rare.


update (5/12):
This fabulous Parthenon of punnery (h/t: Jim Culleny at 3 Quarks Daily) arrived in my RSS feed this morning:

The Agamemnon Rag
.
Atlas, you're Homer. I am so glad you're Hera.
Thera so many things to tell you. I went on that
minotaur of the museum. The new display centaurs
on how you can contract Sisyphus if you don't use
a Trojan on your Dictys. It was all Greek to me, see.
When I was Roman around,
I rubbed Midas against someone. "Medea, you look like a Goddess,"
he said. The Minerva him! I told him to
Frigg off, oracle the cops. "Loki here," I said.
"In Odin times men had better manners." It's best to try
and nymph that sort of thing in the bud. He said he knew
Athena two about women like me, then tried to Bacchus
into a corner. Dryads I could, he wouldn't stop.
"Don't Troy with my affections," he said.
"I'm already going to Helen a hand basket."
I pretended to be completely Apollo by his behavior.
If something like that Mars your day, it Styx with you
forever. "I'm not Bragi," he said. "But Idon better."
Some people will never Lerna. Juno what I did?
Valhalla for help. I knew the police would
Pegasus to the wall. The Sirens went off.
Are you or Argonaut guilty, they asked.
He told the cops he was Iliad bad clams.
He said he accidentally Electra Cupid himself
trying to adjust a lamp shade. This job has its
pluses and Minos. The cops figured he was Fulla it.
He nearly Runic for me. I'm telling you,
it was quite an Odyssey, but I knew things would
Pan out. And oh, by the way, here's all his gold.
I was able to Fleece him before the museum closed.
.
(Jack Conway, from the July/August 2005 issue of Poetry)

One of Osama bin Laden's sons had the gall to complain about how OBL was treated by the US:

"We hold the American President (Barack) Obama legally responsible to clarify the fate of our father, Osama bin Laden, for it is unacceptable, humanely and religiously, to dispose of a person with such importance and status among his people, by throwing his body into the sea in that way, which demeans and humiliates his family and his supporters and which challenges religious provisions and feelings of hundreds of millions of Muslims."

Your father's "importance and status" was solely derived from his terrorist activity, and this was what truly demeaned and humiliated your family; the treatment he received from us was far better than he deserved.

Christopher Hitchens writes about unspoken truths at Vanity Fair, melancholic over the loss of his voice:

Deprivation of the ability to speak is more like an attack of impotence, or the amputation of part of the personality. To a great degree, in public and private, I "was" my voice. All the rituals and etiquette of conversation, from clearing the throat in preparation for the telling of an extremely long and taxing joke to (in younger days) trying to make my proposals more persuasive as I sank the tone by a strategic octave of shame, were innate and essential to me. [...]

We may not be, as we used to boast, the only animals capable of speech. But we are the only ones who can deploy vocal communication for sheer pleasure and recreation, combining it with our two other boasts of reason and humor to produce higher syntheses. To lose this ability is to be deprived of an entire range of faculty: it is assuredly to die more than a little.

Here's a straightforward welcoming video from Believe Out Loud, a group working toward LGBT inclusion within mainstream churches:

One would expect that Sojourners (a group of progressive-minded Christians) would be naturally allies of this effort, but Rev Robert Chase observes at Religion Dispatches that "Sojourners refused to run our ads:"

In a written statement, Sojourners said, "I'm afraid we'll have to decline. Sojourners position is to avoid taking sides on this issue. In that care [sic], the decision to accept advertising may give the appearance of taking sides." [...]

I called the folks at Sojourners and asked what the problem was, what the "sides" in question might be. The first response was that Sojourners has not taken a stance on gay marriage (the ad is not about gay marriage); or on ordination of homosexuals (the ad is about welcome, not ordination); that the decision, made by "the folks in executive" (why such a high level decision?) was made quickly because of the Mother's Day deadline. The rationale kept shifting. The reasoning made no sense.

I, too, am disappointed by Jim Wallis and Sojourners. Although he and his organization are allied with liberals on many issues, this is a big failure for them.

If you want to be a progressive ally, you've got to be fighting on the right side.


update (5/10):
After receiving bad press over refusing to run the Believe Out Loud ads, Jim Wallis made a statement about Sojourners' mission and LGBTQ issues, writing that Sojourners' calling "is much more focused on matters of poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the creation, and the defense of life and peace:"

Given the time Sojourners is now spending on critical issues like the imperative of a moral budget, the urgent need to end the war in Afghanistan, and the leadership we are offering on commitments like immigration reform, we chose not to become involved in the controversy that such a major ad campaign could entail, and the time it could require of us.

When Wallis writes that "this is an issue we want to openly discuss on and through our editorial pages and not through our ad space," one could be forgiven for wondering if this reluctance is partially due to a desire to avoid alienating the well-funded anti-LGBTQ fundagelical bigots and their potentially lucrative ads.

Friendly Atheist isn't satisfied either, calling Sojourners' position "a cop-out:"

There's nothing "controversial" about the ad -- if anything, by publishing them, you're making the issue less controversial. Who knew promoting tolerance and inclusivity was such a timesuck from the rest of their mission...

Pitzer College is now offering a major in Secular Studies, led by Phil (Society Without God) Zuckerman:

Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like "God, Darwin and Design in America," "Anxiety in the Age of Reason" and "Bible as Literature." [...] Studying nonbelief is as valid as studying belief, Mr. Zuckerman said, and the new major will make that very clear.

"It's not about arguing 'Is there a God or not?' " Mr. Zuckerman said. "There are hundreds of millions of people who are nonreligious. I want to know who they are, what they believe, why they are nonreligious. You have some countries where huge percentages of people -- Czechs, Scandinavians -- now call themselves atheists. Canada is experiencing a huge wave of secularization. This is happening very rapidly.

"It has not been studied," he added.

Of course, there will always be those who prefer to slander secularism rather than learn about it--someone has to keep Faux News and talk radio in business.

Here are the beginning and the end of Jon Perr's excellent piece on Republicans rewriting history to credit Dear Leader W with killing bin Laden:

The only thing more predictable than Americans' jubilation over the killing of Osama Bin Laden is the Republican campaign to give George W. Bush credit for it. [...] Bush, after all, shrugged off Bin Laden's escape after the U.S. failure at Tora Bora by proclaiming, "I truly am not that concerned about him." And it was President Obama who as promised tripled American resources in Afghanistan and authorized unilateral strikes without the permission of Pakistan. [...]

It would have been helpful if President Bush had been worried about Osama Bin Laden when it could have made a difference. Bush, after all, responded to the infamous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief (the one Condoleezza Rice later told the 9/11 Commission, "I believe the title was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'") by telling his CIA briefer:

"All right. You've covered your ass, now."

According to one Israeli source years later, it was precisely Bin Laden's ass Bush was focused on. In a review of a 2007 biography of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli paper Ha'aretz included this purported exchange between President Bush and the now-comatose Sharon:

Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"

Whether that story was apocryphal or not, George W. Bush did not screw Osama Bin Laden in the ass. And, sadly for the Republican propaganda machine, he wasn't responsible for killing him, either.

Blue Gal shows where the GOP's historical revisionism may wind up:

20110503-gipperinpakistan.jpg

Politico reported last night on a "mother lode" of information on al-Qaeda:

Navy SEALs snatched a trove of computer drives and disks during their weekend raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, yielding what a U.S. official called "the mother lode of intelligence."

The special operations forces grabbed personal computers, thumb drives and electronic equipment during the lightning raid that killed bin Laden... [...] The material is being examined at a secret location in Afghanistan.

"Hundreds of people are going through it now," an official said, adding that intelligence operatives back in Washington are very excited to find out what they have.

CNN provided more details:

Among the items taken from the compound were 10 hard drives, five computers and more than 100 storage devices which include disks, DVDs and thumb drives, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

I hope that this intel will enable us to keep overturning the right rocks, and continue neutralizing those who would do us further harm.

Although it might seem prudent to wait for the official announcement, my tweeps are reporting that bin Laden has been killed. I'll just repeat my 2007 sentiment about the assassin of Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto:

They should wrap him in a bacon shroud, stuff a pork chop in his mouth and a hot dog up his ass, burn him on a lard-fueled pyre, and then scatter his ashes in the feed trough at a pig farm.

Today is a multiple holiday, bringing not only International Barefoot Running Day but also World Laughter Day (h/t: Disinformation) and International Workers' Day.

update:
Delaware Liberal reminds us that today is also Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah)

Sartre Wars

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"Sartre Wars," "Existentialism and Ewoks"...call it what you will, but this YouTube clip (h/t: Tyler Cowen) of mid-20th-century French philosophy dubbed over Star Wars is pretty funny:

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