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The name David Hicks may be currently unknown to most Americans, but that needs to change (h/t: Jason Leopold at TruthOut). An Australian citizen who converted to Islam and trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hicks was sold to US forces by the Northern Alliance and was spent several years in Guantanamo as detainee 002.

The details of his legal travails are at Wikipedia, but his memoir Guantanamo: My Journey is apparently unavailable in the US despite being released by a major publisher (Random House) and having been listed by Borders' Australian division. The Kindle edition is listed at Amazon with a cost of "Pricing information not available" and this geographic restriction:


The websites of Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Borders all responded with "no results" for the ISBN 9781864711585. Powell's has a listing with no product details, and not-so-helpfully notes that "This item may be out of stock." I visited a Borders store and asked if they could get a copy from their corporate counterparts down under; they could not. A few used copies of the book can be found online, but without listings from the major booksellers it effectively does not exist for American readers.

Who needs government censorship when corporations can already do it so effectively?

update (2/18):
Random House posted some excerpts from Hicks' book entitled A Chance Encounter, Captured in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.

Hicks gave a rare interview to TruthOut's Jason Leopold and another one [correction: it was an op-ed edited to look like an interview; please see the comment by Mr Leopold] to the Sydney Morning Herald.

...right-wingers kill people--with guns.

RIP, Representative Gabrielle Giffords one of the shooting victims.

Contrary to earlier media reports, Rep Giffords is still alive and in surgery. Best wishes to her and everyone else who was shot in the attack.

update 2:
Thanks to Brad DeLong for quoting from Clinton's speech after the Oklahoma City bombing. Clinton said that "we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other:"

They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see--I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today. [...] It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.

If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake.

Back in the day, Rush Limbaugh wrote a Newsweek op-ed disavowing any ideological affiliation with the bombers. No doubt Sarah Palin's handlers are preparing a similar defense for her website's [now-removed] violent imagery literally targeting GIffords and other Democrats:


update 3:
TPM unearthed this video where Giffords discussed Palin's crosshairs ad:

"For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list. But the thing is, the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that action."

Unfortunately, one of those consequences has been a disturbed individual going on a shooting spree.

update 4 (1/9):
Right-wing apologists have pointed out (h/t: TPM) that Palin's crosshair icons are from surveyors and not gunsights. Excuses for decades of the Right's eliminationist rhetoric--not to mention their actual violence--have not yet been provided.


A new Oval Office rug contains several famous sentiments:





"THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE IS LONG, BUT IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE" - Obama's favorite Martin Luther King quotation.

The source of the "moral universe" quote is not Martin Luther King Jr, as is commonly believed. Jamie Stiehm points out at the Washington Post that many people (myself included, on several occasions) misattribute those words, which were actually spoken by Theodore Parker in 1853: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

Unless you're fascinated by antebellum American reformers, you may not know of the lyrically gifted Parker, an abolitionist, Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist thinker who foresaw the end of slavery, though he did not live to see emancipation. He died at age 49 in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War.

A century later, during the civil rights movement, King, an admirer of Parker, quoted the Bostonian's lofty prophecy during marches and speeches. Often he'd ask in a refrain, "How long? Not long." He would finish in a flourish: "Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

King made no secret of the author of this idea. As a Baptist preacher on the front lines of racial justice, he regarded Parker, a religious leader, as a kindred spirit.

Bush's book

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Pretzeldunce Chimpy McFlightsuit has a memoir coming out--on a week after Election Day, no less:


The title isn't objectionable, but I would have chosen a different photo:


Update: I changed the title to "INDECISION POINT" and submitted it to HuffPo:


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When I read the idiotic Islamic claim that female immodesty caused earthquakes, I felt little more than the usual irritation at another drop in the torrent of unscientific religious misogyny; ignoring it as background noise seemed the best use of my limited time. Here's the relevant quote from Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi:

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes."

Jen "BlagHag" McCreight ("a liberal, geeky, nerdy, scientific, perverted atheist feminist trapped in Indiana") proposed a great response: follow-up post explained her thinking a bit more in light of the attention Boobquake has attracted:

I don't think the event is completely contrary to feminist ideals...[a]nd I thought "boobquake" just sounded funny. Really, it's not supposed to be serious activism that is going to revolutionize women's rights, but just a bit of fun juvenile humor. I'm a firm believer that when someone says something so stupid and hateful, serious discourse isn't going to accomplish anything - sometimes light-hearted mockery is worthwhile.


And to the scientists who are concerned with my methods - don't worry, I fully plan on doing some statistics after the event. I know many earthquakes happen on a daily basis, so we're looking to see if Boobquake significantly increases the number or severity of earthquakes. Or if an earthquake strikes West Lafayette, IN and only kills me, that may be good evidence of God's wrath as well (I'm not too concerned).

Geologists (with or without boobs) know that Iranian earthquakes are actually caused by its network of faults and the ongoing collision between the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plates which created Iran's Zagros Mountains--and forcing women into burqas won't decrease either the likelihood or severity of earthquakes in the region. Indiana will be comparatively more immodest during Boobquake tomorrow, but I doubt that anyone is overly concerned about the New Madrid Seismic Zone suddenly lurching back to life as a result.

Merchandising Charity fundraising [100% of the profit goes to charity, half to the Red Cross and half to the James Randi Educational Foundation] has, predictably, sprouted to celebrate Boobquake. I love the allusion made by this t-shirt:


Tax Day

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The observation that "Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public" opens this NYT article on their recent poll (with CBS) on the Teabaggers. Here are more of the results:

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.

They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. They are also more likely to describe themselves as "very conservative" and President Obama as "very liberal."

And while most Republicans say they are "dissatisfied" with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as "angry."

Much has been made of the educational component of the poll, partly because it goes against stereotype. Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte notes in "Stupid can't be cured with a degree" that the Teabagger stereotype is "based on the illiterate signage, the bad clothes, the obnoxious pride in having bad taste, and of course the mind-bendingly stupid shit they believe:"

And that's not just regarding the paranoid fantasies about Obama, but more straightforwardly asinine stuff, like that Medicare isn't government health care. It's easy to assume that these folks are just uneducated, and that they'd wise up if they got educated. And of course, the assumption that lack of education correlates with lower income is something that comes from demonstrable facts, so it's easy to leap to thinking the tea baggers are less wealthy than the liberal elite they carp about.

She continues the same line of attack, writing that "even though tea baggers are, in reality, highly privileged people who are motivated by a mean urge to sneer at and beat down the people they think are beneath them, they also come across as giant fucking morons. Which they are! But alas, the problem has nothing to do with lack of education. They have plenty of degrees and access to learning. But you can lead a horse to water, you know?"

No, tea baggers believe stupid shit because they want to. It's willful ignorance. They spin outrageous theories because they know that the naked truth about what they believe would make them look like giant bigots and big meanies. So, instead of saying, "I don't want health care reform because I like a system where poor people are shut out because that means I don't have to see them in my doctor's office," they start yelling about the slide into socialism. Instead of saying, "I'm an incredibly selfish person who wants to keep my government-funded Medicare, but I don't want to see that single mom down the street get health insurance because she's a slut and I want to see her suffer," they say that Obama's trying to take their Medicare and that's socialism. They're not confused because they were badly educated and don't have a grasp on critical thinking. [...] They're willfully ignorant, and this distinction should never be forgotten when trying to understand them.

Steve Benen writes that the poll results "confirm much of what we already know -- this is a confused contingent of conservative white people older than 45 -- but there were a few interesting tidbits:"

Tea Partiers are obviously not part of the American mainstream. Its activists are to the right of the Republican Party, they have favorable opinions of George W. Bush, and rely heavily on Fox News.

I haven't had a Quote of the Day for a while, but this one deserves the honor:

If you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle.

Benen continues:

These folks claim to be motivated by concerns over taxes, but Tea Partiers tend not to know anything about the subject. They claim to be angry about the Affordable Care Act, but they don't know what's in it. They claim to hate expensive government programs, except for all the expensive government programs that benefit them and their families.

It's inherently challenging to create a lasting, successful political movement predicated on literally nothing more than ignorance and rage. In the case of Tea Partiers, we're talking about a reasonably large group of people who seem to revel in their own ignorance, but nevertheless seek an active role in the process. [...] The bottom line seem inescapable: Tea Party activists have no idea what they're talking about. Their sincerity notwithstanding, this is a confused group of misled people.

Politico notes the presence of GOP operatives among the Teabaggers, and that nuttiest of wingnuts, Michelle Bachman (R-MN), is being investigated regarding an anti-healthcare rally in November that "cost US taxpayers nearly $14,000" because she called it a press event. "An ethics group has raised questions about Bachmann's use of her congressional website to promote the Tea Party rally:"

But several Washington ethics attorneys and experts say that paying for the event's $13,600 bill with official funds likely fell within congressional rules, so long as it was not campaign-related. [...] Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint alleging that Bachmann had used her official website to promote "grassroots lobbying," which is prohibited under House rules. CREW also said organizers inappropriately bypassed permit requirements by calling it a press conference.

On a lighter note, Michael Silverstein suggests at The Moderate Voice that we should abolish taxes altogether. It's a parody, but it still makes more sense than the Teabaggers do.

[fixed typo]

Manhattan Declaration

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The religious right's latest manifesto, the Manhattan Declaration (website, Wikipedia), is online here. Full of both Catholic persecution complex and evangelical Protestant fervor, the MD focuses mostly on the authors' opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage:

...we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

To bolster their case, the MD strives mightily to take credit for every good work done by a Christian while simultaneously ignoring the evil done by Christians:

It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery... [...] The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.

Of course, racial equality was also opposed by many Christians--who used scripture (such as the Curse of Ham) to support prejudice just as their forebears used it to justify slavery. Peter Montgomery's piece at AlterNet about the MD notes the authors' inability to discuss abortion without comparing proponents of choice to Nazis:

Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben ("life unworthy of life") were first advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe. Long buried in ignominy after the horrors of the mid-20th century, they have returned from the grave. The only difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of "liberty," "autonomy," and "choice."

Montgomery summarizes: "In other words, the declaration suggests the only difference between Nazi master-race theorists and today's pro-choice and death-with-dignity advocates is rhetorical." Also interesting--at least from a psychological standpoint--is the fact that the MD authors can't see the difference between a woman making a decision about her own body and a woman having a decision forced upon her. That the locus of control is completely different somehow goes unnoticed.

When it comes to discussing marriage, the MD authors couldn't resist taking shots at "those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships" as being guilty of "immoral conduct:"

We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity...

...just not equal rights. (They bring up incest, too, despite its complete lack of relation--no pun intended--to same-sex marriage and polygamy.) Their pronouncement that "No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage" is also misguided. I would instead suggest, as did the Founders, that no one has the right to have their religious beliefs treated as law. When the MD authors turn their attention to religious liberty, this bit of idiocy stood out:

The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself.

Check out Deuteronomy 13:1-13 for a look at what the Bible teaches about religious tolerance. Demanding that believers in other gods be stoned to death is no better as the Koran's bloodthirsty injunction in Sura 9:5 to "slay the idolaters wherever ye find them," which says a great deal about the character of their god. The authors go on to make this claim:

It is ironic that those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law--such persons claiming these "rights" are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments...

Even more so than other claims in this declaration, this statement is pure unadulterated bullshit.

We liberals hold individual freedom as a primary principle: we want to let women make their own reproductive decisions, the aged and disabled to make their own end-of-life decisions, other adults to make their own decisions about choosing marriage partners, and we also want to keep impediment and coercion (not to mention government funding) out of religion. That's why efforts by the ACLU and People for the American Way to protect freedom of belief are so important, because in every instance they oppose conservatives' attempts to enforce their reactionary religious agenda both in private and in the public square by misusing government power.

The MD positions are described as "inviolable and non-negotiable" and thus the authors have no interest in compromise as part of the political process--only our obedience to their demands. The MD authors tout their determination to participate in civil disobedience as an illustration of their fervor, but it smacks of persecution complex when one considers their prominent social and political power in our culture. Montgomery also noticed this incongruity:

Given that in many parts of the world, Christians and people of other faiths are actively persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs, it's nothing short of shameful that these privileged and powerful public figures are pretending they run the same risk for their anti-gay and anti-abortion advocacy in America. After all, it isn't anti-choice activists in America who have been paying the "ultimate price," but doctors and other workers at clinics providing women in America with medical care who have been killed by advocates for "life."

Robert George, the first name on the MD drafting committee, was profiled as "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker" in the New York Times, but that assessment is only half correct: he's definitely a conservative Christian, but the appellation "big thinker" should mean more than what has here been demonstrated by Mr George. While it's refreshing to see a conservative who can discuss Aristotle, Hume, and Gaius Musonius Rufus as well as Aquinas, George's statements exhibit more rationalization than reason--using every source as a means to his faith's pre-determined ends.

The NYT highlights George's anti-gay animus, noting that "[m]ore than any other scholar, George has staked his reputation on the claim that same-sex marriage violates not only tradition but also human reason." Such a misguided stance may temporarily ally him with contemporary religious power, but it will sully his reputation over time, as the arc of the moral universe continues to bend in the direction of justice [* see note below]--for women, for same-sex and polygamous spouses, and for anyone who want to make a decision not pre-approved by today's Pharisees.

As an aside, the image used by Montgomery to illustrate his article


goes a long way toward showing the ultimate power behind the reactionary religious agenda: the threat of fiery eternal torture if we don't live our lives according to their demands. They can issue all the reasonable-sounding declarations they want, but their hatred remains just beneath the façade, barely concealed by the glossy sheen of faux tolerance and erudition.

The "arc of the moral universe" quote from King is actually a paraphrase of these words from Theodore Parker in 1853:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

See here for more details.

This Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll asked a question that is controversial in certain circles:

"Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?"

The demographics of the Birthers are not surprising: they are southern, (23% no/30% not sure) and Republican, (28% no/30% not sure), and/or over 60 (17% no/14% not sure). Washington Monthly's Steve Benen also noted the geographic disparity:

I was especially surprised by the regional breakdowns. In the Northeast, West, and Midwest, the overwhelming majorities realize the president is a native-born American. But notice the South -- only 47% got it right and 30% are unsure.

Outside the South, this madness is gaining very little traction, and remains a fringe conspiracy theory. Within the South, it's practically mainstream.

The Honolulu Advertiser reported on Tuesday that "Hawai'i's Health Department confirmed yesterday that it has President Obama's original Aug. 4, 1961, birth certificate in storage," but this will likely have no effect on the Birthers. Ron Chusid notes at Liberal Values:

It is doubtful that this will convince those who believe Obama is not an American citizen. Conspiracy theorists can always come up with a new argument since they are not bound by reality and they typically consider any source of contrary information to be part of the conspiracy.

Their minds are made up...

update (6/29/2010 @ 2:27pm):
Kos has uncovered statistical anomalies in the data provided by Research 2000 (see here and here) and writes "We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don't know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can't trust it."

Has anyone else been gifted with the arrival of "25 Mistakes of Obama's First 100 Days" in their Inbox? I received a variant of it a few days ago, and--as is typical of these right-wing lists--there's much more fallacy than fact among its assertions. The version I'm fisking here points to this Facebook user are the originator of the list; there are other versions in circulation, but--as you'll see from this example--answering each claim in every version would require far more time than I'm willing to devote.

The original claims are indented and bolded; my responses (true or false, with an explanation) follow each point. I labeled some claims "false" if I was unable to find any supporting evidence after making a reasonable effort. (I am, as always, open to correction from anyone who can provide proof from either better sources or a more diligent search.)

25 Mistakes of Obama's First 100 Days

I'd be interested in hearing a liberal's side of the argument why these choices are not mistakes but are actually smart moves on Obama's part. Help me understand.

1. Offended the Queen of England

False. Far from being offended, the Queen was "delighted" after her meeting with Obama.

2. Bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia

True. I'd agree that this was a mistake--although Obama's slight bow is rather less bothersome than Bush's kissing and hand-holding.

3. Praised the Marxist Daniel Ortega

False. When asked what he thought about Daniel Ortega's speech at the Summit of the Americas, Obama responded, "It was 50 minutes long. That's what I thought." If that's "praise," someone needs to consult a better dictionary.

4. Kissed Hugo Chavez on the cheek

False. There are photos of Obama and Chavez shaking hands, but I didn't see a kiss. (If one had actually occurred, I would consider it a mistake, but that doesn't seem to be the case.)

5. Endorsed the Socialist Evo Morales of Bolivia

False. The closest thing I could find to an "endorsement" was a report that Obama congratulated Morales on Bolivia's new constitution. Enacted by 61% of the vote, the constitution represents "the most significant advancement of economic, social and cultural rights the country has seen in many decades" according to Amnesty International. That sounds like cause for congratulations to me.

6. Announced we would meet with Iranians with no pre-conditions

True, but not a mistake. As President-Elect, Obama issued this statement:

"Barack Obama supports tough and direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to use the power of American diplomacy to pressure Iran to stop their illicit nuclear program, support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel."

Republicans may not like this change in policy from the previous administration, but ignoring Iran hasn't exactly been a successful strategy. Negotiation may prove to be a mistake, but it isn't yet.

7. Gave away billions to AIG, also without pre-conditions

False. The bailout happened last September, while Bush was in office. Obama spoke out forcefully against AIG bonuses when they came to light this year:

"This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed. Under these circumstances, it's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?"

(By the way, this "mistake" contradicts #21; the attachment of conditions to government bailout money must be either acceptable or unacceptable--not both.)

8. Expanded the bailouts

True, but not necessarily a mistake. As the global economy continued its catastrophic collapse earlier this year, the Obama administration recognized that more needed to be done to shore up our economy. Arguments can be made about specifics of the various stimulus and bankruptcy packages, but the necessity of doing something is hardly in doubt--except, perhaps, for die-hard market fundamentalists.

9. Insulted everyone who has ever loved a Special Olympian

True, but overstated. Obama did make a gaffe, and called Special Olympics chair Tim Shriver to apologize before it even aired: "He expressed his disappointment and he apologized, in a way that was very moving," said Shriver.

After eight years of Bush's made-up words, malapropisms, and general mangling of the English language, now conservatives are going to complain about a President's poor choice of words? Talk about selective outrage...

10. Doubled our national debt

False. According to the Treasury Department, the total national debt was $10,626,877,048,913.08 when Obama was inaugurated, and stood at $11,152,922,414,388.28 on 29 April (the end of his first 100 days). This makes the "doubled" claim off by a mere 95%. (Bear in mind that the federal government's fiscal year won't begin until 1 October, meaning that most of the federal spending to date continues to be from Bush's final budget.)

11. Announced a termination of the space defense system the day after the North Koreans launched an ICBM.

False. Missile defense expenditures will be $9.3 billion in FY 2010 (see page 3-34 of this DOD budget document).

12. Despite the urgings of his own CIA director and the prior 42 CIA directors, released information on intelligence gathering. Announced major restrictions on interrogation techniques used on enemy combatant prisoners.

False. Prior to Leon Panetta's tenure, there were 20 (not 42) people who served as either Director of Central Intelligence or Director of the CIA. Judging by his "Message from the Director: Interrogation Policy and Contracts," Panetta seems to feel that he can do his job with the "major restrictions" of obeying the law and not torturing detainees--although some of his immediate predecessors may feel differently due to their own compromised positions with respect to various crimes committed on their watch.

13. Accepted without public comment the fact that five of his cabinet members cheated on their taxes and two others withdrew after they couldn't take the heat.

False. Among other examples of his public comments, Obama went on NBC Nightly News and told host Brian Williams, "did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely and I'm willing to take my lumps."

14. Appointed a Homeland Security Chief who quickly identified as "dangers to the nation", groups including veterans of the military, and opponents to abortion on demand, and who ordered that the word terrorism" no longer be used but instead referred to such acts as "man made disasters.

False. The DHS report on 'Rightwing Extremism" that I discussed here has proven to be all too accurate given the number of right-wing extremists who have become domestic terrorists. The report notes the "willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups," but does not single out veterans' groups or abortion opponents as violent extremists.

Far from ordering that the word "terrorism" be avoided, DHS's Janet Napolitano said "I presume there is always a threat from terrorism" in this interview with Der Spiegel. In testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security, she said:

"At its core, I believe DHS has a straightforward mission: to protect the American people from threats both foreign and domestic, both natural and manmade - to do all that we can to prevent threats from materializing, respond to them if they do, and recover with resiliency."
15. Circled the globe so he could openly apologize for America's greatness.

False. Assertions repeated ad nauseum on talk radio and Faux News are not the same thing as facts. See "Conservative media smear Obama for purported overseas 'apology tour'" and "Fox hosts revive Fox-manufactured Obama 'apology tour'" for details.

16. Told Mexicans the violence in their country was because of us.......

False. Obama complimented Mexican efforts to combat the drug cartels during a joint press conference in Mexico City:

"I commend Mexico for the successes that have already been achieved. But I will not pretend that this is Mexico's responsibility alone. A demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business. This war is being waged with guns purchased not here, but in the United States. More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our shared border.

So we have responsibilities, as well. We have to do our part. We have to crack down on drug use in our cities and towns. We have to stem the southbound flow of guns and cash."

17. Politicized the census by moving it into the White House from its Department of Commerce origins and announced ACORN [the organization under massive scrutiny amid allegations of election fraud] would manage the process.

False. I love the smell of an ACORN conspiracy theory in the morning; it smells like...bullshit! The Census Department has not been moved (see "Myths and Falsehoods About the 2010 Census and the Obama Administration" for details), and ACORN is not "managing" it. ACORN is merely a "2010 Census Partner" (along with 30,000 other groups) helping to recruit some of the 1.4 million temporary workers needed for the job.

18. Appointed as Attorney General the man who orchestrated the forced removal and expulsion from America to Cuba of a nine-year old whose mother died trying to bring him to a life of freedom in the United States.

False. Then-Deputy AG Eric Holder appears to have had little to do with returning Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba, outside of making statements supporting the Justice Department's actions in the case. (It's nice to see that conservatives have found at least one illegal immigrant who they didn't want to be "forcibly removed and expelled.")

19. Salutes as heroes three Navy SEALS who took down three terrorists who threatened one American life and the next day announces members of the Bush administration will likely stand trial for torturing a terrorist who had played a part in killing 3000 Americans by pouring water up their nose.

True, but not a mistake. Torture, including waterboarding, is a violation of the military code of conduct as well as both national and international law--and has been recognized as such for decades. (In fact, we have previously prosecuted foreign nationals for waterboarding our soldiers during wartime.) To pretend that torture is "OK when we do it" is a reprehensible double standard.

20. Air Force One flew over New York City for a photo op without notifying local authorities causing widespread panic.

Partially true. Obama was "furious" when he heard about this flyover, and said "It was a mistake. It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again." (Are conservatives now suggesting that we hold presidents accountable for everything that happens while they're in office?)

[From the comments: I called it "partially true" because, although the flyover did happen, it wasn't an error that Obama himself committed. I wouldn't question its inclusion on a list of "mistakes made by federal government employees," but on this Obama-specific list it struck me as "filler" material trying to strengthen a weak case.]

21. Took over the American Automobile industry and handed over 50% off to the unions [because he said he owed them].

False. "Taking over" an industry requires a great deal more intervention than offering loans--which went to GM and Chrysler, not to the UAW--as Bush did in December 2008 and Obama did in February 2009.

22. Continued his drive for absolute gun control activities, thumbing his nose at the 2nd Amendment.

False. There is no absoluteness or nose-thumbing in Obama's position on gun violence in cities, which reads:

Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.
23. Offered travel and living subsidies in the Hamas activists displaced from the Gaza Strip.

False Potentially true. False. The Presidential Determination in question refers to "Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza," not "Hamas activists." [As I mentioned in the comments: There is almost certain to be some overlap between the two groups. I was objecting more to the statement's Obama-supports-terrorists premise than anything else...]

[9/17/2009 @ 1:30pm. I revised this one back to false after more research.] FactCheck notes that the $20M in question "is put to use by the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. But in this case, the money would provide humanitarian aid, not migration assistance:"

PRM does bring refugees from some countries to the United States, and also provides for their basic necessities when they first arrive. But a spokesperson for PRM told us that there is no resettlement program for Palestinian refugees. "We don't resettle out of the West Bank and Gaza, full stop," the spokesperson told us.
24. Got more airtime [TV] than Oprah Winfrey and was seldom in Washington tending to the business of State.

Probably true, but not a mistake. Obama is leading the most powerful national on Earth during a period of worldwide crisis: I would expect him to be on TV more than a talk-show host with five hours of airtime per week. (Also, claiming that Obama is "seldom in Washington tending to the business of State" is designed to exclude his extensive diplomatic work overseas, which is necessary given our circumstances.)

25. Announced the closure of enemy combatants detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba but failed to address the issue of 'what' to do with the 200+ prisoners currently held there. Rumors persist that they'll be housed on U.S. soil.

True, but not a mistake. Since they are US prisoners, why shouldn't they be held on US soil until trial? Trying to create an extra-legal penumbra around their captivity has enabled many of the human-rights abuses (e.g., ghost detainees, extraordinary rendition, torture, murder) of the previous administration. Discontinuing Bush's mistakes is, I think, the minimum that should be expected from Obama.

This point leads me to another problem with this email--the implication that Obama's mistakes are being ignored by liberals--that is also demonstrably false. As noted by Glenn Greenwald (and commented upon by me), conservatives fall prey to leader-worship far more than progressives. Liberal criticism of Obama will continue to be plentiful as long as he continues perpetuating the errors (military tribunals, telecom spying immunity, DADT) of previous administrations.

After once again revealing a collection of right-wing claims to be mostly mendacious, I find myself even less inclined than usual to continue playing this game of debunk-the-bullshit. Without evidence, further lists of partisan BS such as this one will probably go directly into my trash--unless I'm feeling particularly snarky. If the people writing these things can't be bothered to do their own fact-checking, why should I do it for them? After all, it's evident that the truth is far less important to them than politics.

If we lived in a world where crazed conservative gun nuts weren't shooting up liberal churches and immigration centers, killing cops, assassinating doctors, and murdering Holocaust Museum security guards, shit like this (h/t: Chris at Cynical-C) might be marginally humorous:


Unfortunately, we don't live in that world...we live in this one. The latest "humorous" permit is similar to this old standard,


so I guess they're getting better at putting the same old hate in a shiny new package.

When will they stop?

I added the links to the Pittsburgh PA and Binghamton NY shootings after posting my first draft.

update 2 (6/12 @ 10:15am):
Steve Young wrote about this at HuffPo.

update 3 (6/13 @ 7:30am):
David Neiwert has what may be the first mention of the original permit, from June 2005.

"Obama vs. Marx"

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Alan (The Future of Liberalism) Wolfe writes in "Obama vs. Marx" that, interestingly enough, "one of them isn't a socialist." Conservatives may have trouble telling the difference between them, but Wolfe has a bit more perspective:

It was not so long ago that conservatives were equating liberalism with fascism; today, they have executed a 180-degree swing in order to argue that liberalism is actually synonymous with socialism.

That is true, but only because of the astonishing amount of projection spouted by the conservative punditry in the past few years. Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is the obvious example here, but Ann Coulter's Slander, Bernard Goldberg's Bias, and David Limbaugh's Persecution, also demonstrate their black-is-white way of viewing the world, pretending to be a besieged minority despite controlling most of the government and the media. Wolfe writes about Obama that "it is absurd to view his program as a step toward socialism," and asks that we "consider Obama's stances on the defining issues of our time:"

At most, his administration might nationalize banks temporarily; a socialist would nationalize them for good. He proposes to fix free trade, not abolish it. He does not favor a single-payer health care system, and any proposal he eventually puts forward is going to involve competition in some form. (It is worth noting that arguably the biggest beneficiaries of health care reform will be businesses, many of which struggle to pay their employees' health care costs.) To address global warming, Obama favors cap and trade, a market-oriented solution to our gravest environmental problem. That's right: This alleged socialist has so much faith in capitalism, he is willing to put the future of our planet more or less in the hands of a market.

What these ideas have in common is, first, an attachment to economic freedom that no self-respecting socialist would countenance. In fact, most of Obama's measures are designed to save, not destroy, the instruments of capitalism-- businesses and the markets in which they compete. Should Obama get everything he wants, liberals will have once again--as has happened so often in the United States--gone a long way toward rescuing capitalism from its worst excesses.

[typo fixed]

I've been critical of others for their misunderstanding of the marginal-rate income tax--such as here and here--but in "The Missing $1,000,000 Tax Bracket," Nate Silver discusses a factor that I hadn't considered. He points out "one thing that advocates of more progressive taxation (of which I am one) need to keep in mind:"

...although the top tax rates have been much higher throughout much of the country's history, they also kicked in at much higher thresholds of income than the ones we see today.

Matthew Yglesias' "Mobilizing the Lower Upper Class" also suggests adding additional marginal brackets for those with million- and multimillion-dollar incomes. Income taxes could stand to become more progressive, but I'm not too keen on the idea of "fostering class resentment." If everyone is seen as shouldering a fair share of the burden, maybe we can retire class-based antagonism.

I have to retract some of the positive comments I made about Rick Warren's AIDS-prevention efforts in Africa. Max Blumenthal writes about "Rick Warren's Africa Problem" at The Daily Beast (h/t: Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin) and observes that "an investigation into Warren's involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education:"

More disturbingly, Warren's allies have rolled back key elements of one of the continent's most successful initiative, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. [...] Warren's man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. [...] Ssempa's stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.

At Makerere University in Kampala:

Ssempa stormed on to campus...grabbed a box of free condoms, and set them ablaze. "I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!" Ssempa shouted as he prayed over the burning box.

Abstinence-only education is a proven failure, but this anti-gay (and anti-sex) ideology isn't value-neutral--by promulgating misinformation, people's lives are being endangered:

By 2005, billboards promoting condom use disappeared from the streets of Kampala, replaced by billboards promoting virginity...educational material in Uganda's secondary schools falsely claiming condoms had microscopic pores that could be penetrated by the HIV virus and noted the sudden nationwide shortage of condoms due to new restrictions imposed by on condom imports. [...] Due at least in part to the chronic condom shortage, HIV infections were on the rise again. The disease rate had spiked to 6.5 percent among rural men, and 8.8 percent among women--a rise of nearly two points in the case of women.

Will the rest of Warren's allegedly laudable programs be revealed to have similar hidden downsides, or are his AIDS efforts an aberration?

This WaPo article is flat-out hilarious:

To some staunch conservatives watching President Bush relinquish the reins of power to President-elect Barack Obama, a few too many ardent liberals are now crashing the gates.


That's what happens when you lose elections.

Conservatives fear that some of these Obama transition advisers are too far left on the political spectrum and are a sign of radical policies to come.

Of course, conservatives are filled with fear; the real problem for them is that the rest of us are no longer scared of their bogeymen.

"It is disturbing," said Roger Clegg, a conservative opponent of Lee's appointment who is now watching the Obama advisers at the Justice Department. "The transition team as described to me was made up of nothing but people on the far left.

Obama's Justice Department should scare the Bushies--not because it will be "on the far left," but because of the possibility that it will live up to its name. After all the war crimes (habeas corpus violations, military tribunals, extraordinary rendition, torture, and murder) and domestic high crimes (warrantless wiretaps, Patriot Act violations of the Bill of Rights, and who-knows-what-else hidden within Cheney's sulfurous cloud of secrecy) , the Busheviks must answer for much...preferably under oath.

There's plenty of sarcasm from Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, and Chris Bowers at OpenLeft gets in a good shot:

Really? There are some "staunch" conservatives who think Obama might be too much of a liberal? What was the Washington Post's first clue? Was it when McCain called Obama a terrorist and a socialist? Was it the vicious, rabid anti-Obama crowds at McCain rallies? Are the continuing claims that Obama isn't an American citizen, and is instead some form of Islamofascist Manchurian candidate, a clue that "some staunch conservatives" don't like Obama?

Josh Marshall at TPM nails it:

Republicans now accusing Obama of palling around with Democrats.

[fixed typos]

This one is for everyone who claims that Dear Leader Bush is an economic incompetent who has never done anything good for the manufacturing sector of the economy:

Shoe Hurled at Bush Flies Off Turkish Maker's Shelves By Mark Bentley

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The shoe hurled at President George W. Bush has sent sales soaring at the Turkish maker as orders pour in from Iraq, the U.S. and Iran.

The brown, thick-soled "Model 271" may soon be renamed "The Bush Shoe" or "Bye-Bye Bush," Ramazan Baydan, who owns the Istanbul-based producer Baydan Ayakkabicilik San. & Tic., said in a telephone interview today.

"We've been selling these shoes for years but, thanks to Bush, orders are flying in like crazy," he said. "We've even hired an agency to look at television advertising." [...] Baydan has received orders for 300,000 pairs of the shoes since the attack, more than four times the number his company sold each year since the model was introduced in 1999. The company plans to employ 100 more staff to meet demand, he said.

If you leave out the fact that Bush's positive effect has been limited to a single manufacturer--who is overseas, no less--it almost sounds like good news, doesn't it? (Hannity and Limbaugh, start spinning...I'm sure there's some way to turn a leather loafer brogue into a silk purse!)

(h/t: Jim Downey at UTI)

update (12:42pm):
Updated to reflect CNN's report that the shoe in question is a brogue, not a loafer.

Gitmo expansion?

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The Guardian reports on new estimates of Cuba's oil reserves:

...there may be more than 20bn barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba's share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.

If confirmed, it puts Cuba's reserves on par with those of the US and into the world's top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba's state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet.

H/t: Atrios at Eschaton, who makes this pertinent (and impertinent) remark:

We'd better invade them before they attack Israel.

[typo fixed]

No on Prop 8

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No on 8, the group leading the fight against California's Proposition 8--an anti-marriage ballot initiative--is being outspent by the usual culprits (Catholic groups, American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and the Mormons--here and here), and they need our help.


There is less than a month left in which to turn public opinion back against Proposition 8, which would effectively divorce thousands of California's same-sex married couples, but we can take strength from these words:

"Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." (Martin Luther King Jr, "Where Do We Go from Here?" 16 August 1967)[* see note below]

We can help nudge that arc toward justice by saying "no" to second-class citizenships for LGBT Californians. (And let's not forget that Arizona and Florida have battles of their own to win...)

Freedom to Marry
Marriage Equality

The "arc of the moral universe" quote from King is actually a paraphrase of these words from Theodore Parker in 1853:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

See here for more details.

Marsalis, Wynton. Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life (New York: Random House, 2008)

I've read each of Wynton Marsalis' previous books, and have been looking forward to Moving to Higher Ground since it was announced several years ago; it was not a disappointment. Marsalis begins with this declaration of purpose, as bold a statement as any:

In this book I hope to deliver the positive message of America's greatest music: how great musicians demonstrate a mutual respect and trust on the bandstand that can alter your outlook on the world and enrich every aspect of your life--from individual creativity and personal relationships to the way you conduct business and understand what it means to be a global citizen in the most modern sense. [...] I'd like to demystify listening to jazz and show you how the underlying ideas of this music can change your life. (p. xv, Introduction)

Chapter six, Lessons from the Masters, was the highlight of the book for me. Marsalis discusses thirteen of jazz's most accomplished musicians, and relates some tales of their attitudes and artistry that are liberally leavened with humor and humility. This one, about Marsalis' first encounter with fellow trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, is revealing:

I first met Dizzy when I was about fifteen years old at a club called Rosie's on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans. My dad said, "This is my son. He plays trumpet." Dizzy was standing near the dressing room doorway. He handed me his horn and said, "Play me something, man." He had a real small mouthpiece. I wasn't used to playing that--poooot. He didn't know what to say with my daddy standing there, so he said, "Yeaaah"--really drawn out, as I the length of it could help ease the awkwardness of the moment. And then he leaned down close to me and said, "Practice, motherfucker." (p. 136)

Far from being discouraged by such admonishment, Marsalis emphasizes the deep compassion in jazz musicians' interactions with each other:

For all of that hard, profane talk, there was an unusual type of gentleness in the way they treated one another. Always a hug upon greeting and--from even the most venerated musicians--sometimes a kiss on the cheek. A natural ease with those teetering on the edge of sanity. A way of admonishing but not alienating those who might have drug problems. Always the feeling that things in our country, in our culture, in our souls, in the world, would get better. And beyond that, the feeling that this mysterious music would someday help people see how things fit together: segregation and integration, men and women, the political process, even the stock market. (p. 5)

Whatever one's opinion of Marsalis' neoclassicism or his seemingly reactionary tendencies--he loathes much modern urban music--his vantage point gives him much to say about jazz. In Moving to Higher Ground he says it powerfully, and well. If I had but a single passage to summarize this book, I would choose this one:

It [jazz] is an endless road of discovery leading to more maturity and acceptance of personal responsibility, a greater respect for cultures around the world, an invigorating playfulness, an excitement about change, and an appetite for the unpredictable. It gives you a historical perspective, a spiritual acceptance of necessary opposites, an undying optimism born of the blues--and a pile of good listening. (pp. 10-11)

Amazon's interview with Marsalis is here

Chapter one is online here

[typo fixed]

Ross, Alex. The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise seemed to be a good choice to fill in the gaps from the Aaron Copland and Julius Jacobson books I've read recently; Ross delivered a stellar book that exceeds the praise it has received so far. Geoff Dyer's NYT review called The Rest Is Noise "a work of immense scope and ambition" and "a great achievement." David Schiff's Nation review called the book "engaging" and asked "Who would have thought that a 600-page history of music that few people love could be such a page turner?" Joseph Kerman's TNR review praises Ross' New Yorker pieces, says that he "writes very well about classical music," and notes:

That he never shies away from technical language gives him cred (as he might say) with his musician readers and bothers not at all the non-musicians, who seem happy to skim over the C-sharps and the minor triads rooted a tritone apart, knowing these will always lead to something interesting and even breathtaking.

For Ross is one of very few music critics who somehow create the illusion that you grasp the music they write about even if you have not heard it. This a rare gift.

Ross' narrative effortlessly places composers, works, and performances placed into their historical and cultural settings to aid the reader's understanding, and never fails to maintain interest. He explains the tonality-to-atonality transition, twelve-tone serialism, the avant-garde movement, experiments with chance and collage, minimalism, and then sketches the way forward:

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the impulse to put classical music against pop culture no longer makes intellectual or emotional sense. Young composers have grown up with pop music ringing in their ears, and they make use of it or ignore it as the occasion demands. They are seeking the middle ground between the life of the mind and the noise of the street. (p. 541)

Part I kicks off with the 1906 premiere of Richard Strauss' Salome; and Part II with Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth in 1936, which leads into the well-known story of his immortal Fifth Symphony; Part III continues the tale from the end of World War II to the present. The middle section is the book's highlight, and Ross does a spectacular job of explaining and dramatizing Shostakovich's relationship with Stalin's totalitarian terror. I was unaware of the harrowing story of his Seventh Symphony, titled "Leningrad," which Ross brings to life here:

Against his own wishes, he [Shostakovich] was evacuated from the city on October 1 [1941], and spent the winter in Kuybyshev, formerly Samara, in the Volga region. [...] Besieged Leningrad heard the [Seventh] symphony on August 9, 1942, under the most dramatic circumstances imaginable. The score was flown in by military aircraft in June, and a severely depleted Leningrad Radio Orchestra began learning it. After a mere fifteen musicians showed up for the initial rehearsal, the commanding general ordered all competent musicians to report from the front lines. The players would break from the rehearsals to return to their duties, which sometimes included the digging of mass graves for victims of the siege. Three members of the orchestra died of starvation before the premiere took place. [...] An array of loudspeakers then broadcast the Leningrad into the silence of no-man's-land. Never in history had a musical composition entered the thick of battle in quite this way: the symphony become a tactical strike against German morale. (p. 246)

That is the sort of dramatic story that would be nearly unbelievable if it came from the pen of a Hollywood scriptwriter; the fact that it actually happened gives me shivers, and showcases Ross' ability to tell his story exceedingly well.

When Ross notes that Lenin "regarded [music] as a bourgeois placebo that covered up the sufferings of mankind" (p. 218), this struck me as a deliberate echo of Marx's "opiate of the masses" remark regarding religion; it is to Ross' credit that he assumes such historical familiarity on the part of his audience. His assumptions about musical knowledge may be less warranted, however. Readers who have never studied music theory may want to do some reading on intervals and modes to help understand Ross' detailed musical descriptions.

Don't be put off by the musical minutiae, because Ross has penned the best book I've yet read on music. His enticing explanations of the music have inspired me to take note of pieces I've not yet heard, in order to broaden my listening habits. (As encyclopedic as Ross was in The Rest Is Noise, his mentions of microtonality didn't include jazz trumpeter Don Ellis, who performed on a quarter-tone trumpet. A reference to the Modern Jazz Quartet in Ross' discussion of Gunther Schuller and Third Stream music wouldn't have been out of place, either.) Those minor details aren't much of a fault, as including every minor tidbit of information would surely have ballooned the book to over a thousand pages.

Ross constructs his narrative wisely, and has written the sort of book that I can't recommend highly enough. Avid music listeners should put The Rest Is Noise at the top of their reading lists.

Alex Ross' New Yorker columns
his book's website and bibliography
Wikipedia's article on "20th-Century Classical Music"

[typo fixed]

update (10/14 @ 2:10pm):
In conjunction with the release of The Rest Is Noise in paperback, author Alex Ross has posted a glossary with plenty of audio examples. It's a great supplement to the newly enlarged audio guide, particularly for non-musicians.

This morning, I got caught up in a casual discussion of politics with a coworker of allegedly* "eclectic" political opinions who claimed--in all seriousness--to be unable to vote for Obama "because he's a socialist."

<picks self up from floor, and jaw from lap>

First, I doubt seriously that many (most?) conservatives even know what socialism is; "socialist" is just another content-free slur (like "liberal") that is used to demonize political opponents. They neither know what it means nor care to learn, as that knowledge would deprive them of a useful rhetorical cudgel when dealing with others equally (or more) ignorant of economics.

Second, Obama is most definitely not a socialist. In addition to his largely common-sense economic proposals, and his center-right economic advisers, here's what he said in an interview with CNBC's John Harwood:

"I am a pro-growth, free market guy. I love the market. I think it is the best invention to allocate resources and produce enormous prosperity for America or the world that's ever been designed."

Obama is as much as socialist as Adam Smith, but you certainly won't learn that from the mainstream corporate media. I really wish people would get their heads out of Faux News' ass...the constant GOP genuflecting is execrable, and the view stinks. (One might call their propaganda "Effluent for the Affluent.")

Snopes doesn't have a page on the "Obama=Socialist" myth yet, but they should

Obama's Fight the Smears site should also debunk this myth

*This was an overstatement on my part. Our disagreements consistently begin when I debunk the errors of right-wing talking points, which suggests--but does not prove--ideological rigidity.

Moore, Alan & Brian Bolland. Batman: The Killing Joke (The Deluxe Edition) (New York: DC Comics, 2008)

In honor of the new Dark Knight film--featuring Heath Ledger's final (complete) film role--I revisited a classic from the Batman comics canon: the Alan Moore/Brian Bolland tale The Killing Joke. The newly recolored hardcover "Deluxe Edition" may seem unnecessarily extravagant at $18 for a 46-page story, but its brilliance outweighs its brevity. Van Jensen's ComixMix review says:

The Killing Joke is without question one of the greatest encounters between Batman and his nemesis, and the real reason is that the story serves both as a zenith for the Joker's depravity and for his pathos. [..] It makes a Joker that's more real, and more terrifying.

The Killing Joke isn't nearly substantial enough to be classified as a graphic novel, but it's a very successful short story and a great example of what talented creators can produce within the comics medium. (This edition also includes an 8-page Batman tale, "An Innocent Guy," from Batman: Black & White. Bolland wrote, drew, and colored this story; it fits well with The Killing Joke, and helps add a little more bang for the buck in this slim volume.)

I read the new Killing Joke side-by-side with the original version, and noted a few minor artistic revisions: the yellow oval around the symbol on Batman's chest is gone, and Bolland admits that "every page has something slightly different on it from The Killing Joke of 20 years ago" (such as the inclusion of a new background figure in one of the panels--can you find it?). Heidi MacDonald discusses the coloring at Publishers Weekly, and Jon Haehnle has several well-chosen recoloring comparisons here. My favorite compare-and-contrast example is this one from the Joker's origin sequence:


While John Higgins did a dramatic job with the original colors, Bolland goes for more contrast (and for bleeding eyes, as many observers have noted):


I'm largely a fan of the newer, more subdued color scheme, although Higgins' more expressive work on the original wasn't bothersome either then or now. Bolland's scene-to-scene transitions remain some of the best I've ever seen, being almost uniformly excellent. Here are the two transitions (pp. 6-8) which bookend the Joker's flashback from his purchase of a dilapidated circus to an incident with his wife about a failed nightclub gig:


After she consoles him, the Joker snaps back to the present:


The first and last panels of the story are identical, which ties the story together nicely. (I wish the Deluxe Edition had preserved the original use of the rain-puddle image on the endpapers, rather than using sickly green.)

Is The Killing Joke the perfect Batman/Joker story? No, although it's one of the best I've ever read. Batman's reaction on the last page nearly ruined the ending of the story for me, seeming quite out of character. <SPOILER> A silently dismissive response from Batman would have been more appropriate and would have echoed the tale's opening in a very intriguing manner. However, doing so may have required changing the story's title.</END SPOILER> The overall excellence of the rest of the book is still thrilling and explains why I--and, apparently, many others--still hold The Killing Joke in high esteem since its initial release two decades ago.

I would have more trouble believing that it's really been twenty years since The Killing Joke came out, but that same time period also saw the Grant Morrison/Dave McKean Arkham Asylum, and the Frank Miller/David Mazzuccelli Batman: Year One story. (Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns is slightly older at 22 years; without the reinvigoration of the Batman franchise provided by it--and, of course, by The Killing Joke--we may not have seen the 1989 Tim Burton film or any of its successors.)

The legacy of Bob Kane lives on!

[chronology errors fixed]

Wheaton, Wil. The Happiest Days of Our Lives (Arcadia, CA: Monolith, 2007)

After enjoying the hell out of Wil Wheaton's first two books (Dancing Barefoot and Just a Geek, reviewed together here) I was itching to get my hands on a copy of his third book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives. That itch has now been scratched, and it feels GOOD!

The book's highlights are "Exactly What I Wanted" (about a Sunday ice-cream trip with his kids) and "Let Go: A Requiem for Felix the Bear" (about saying goodbye to a beloved family pet). They are perfect little episodes that evoke just the right emotional notes; I laughed out loud at the first and teared up at the second. You can read them online (here for the first story, here and here for the second) or in print (pp. 33-35 and pp. 107-118) while you sit in the bookstore's coffeeshop waiting for the checkout line to shrink down to a tolerable length. If you like those stories, then buy the book already; if you don't, suck. Give up and go home.

Seriously, though: Wheaton is a great writer, and I'm now eagerly waiting the announcement of a publication date for his next book (or at least a convention appearance near me, so I can tell him in person how much I enjoy his work). When Wheaton writes that "I have been able to touch people's lives as a writer in ways that I never could have when I wore a spacesuit, just reading the words that other people thought I should say" (p. 104, "The Big Goodbye"), he's not exaggerating. It's great to have a Niven-reading, taiko-loving unrepentant geek writing such great slice-of-life stuff. Even when Wheaton writes about gaming and poker (two habits I never acquired) he does it so well that even a newbie can grok what he's saying.

Do yourself a favor and check out Wheaton's blog; then go read his books. For some levity, here are two Quotes of the Day that made my inner geek laugh:

My core cast [of Star Wars figures] was Han Solo (in Hoth and regular outfits), Luke Skywalker (X-wing fighter or Bespin version), Greedo (shoots second, goddammit, version), Obi-Wan Kenobi (I lost the plastic robe and broke the tip off the light saber version), Princess Leia (pre-slave girl "man I wish I could hit that" version), C-3PO (tarnished version), and R2-D2 (head stopped clicking a long time ago version). (pp. 43-5, "The Light Special")

...we had D&D fever, and the only prescription was more polyhedral dice. (p. 81, "A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Geek")

[typo fixed]

I received an email castigating me for being liberal:

"Regarding your liberal viewpoint - I consider it to be like braking with your left foot. It's novel and different, but sooner or later you outgrow it."

My initial reaction was to pen a dismissive response to this conservative condescension, perhaps quoting Christopher Hitchens: "what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." ("Mommie Dearest," Slate, 20 October 2003) Upon further reflection, I decided to write a more considered response. Bear with me as I address the three problems in the criticism above: the automobile analogy, the novelty accusation, and the maturity argument.

"like braking with your left foot"

This analogy is so inapplicable to political ideology that I hardly know where to begin. Its main flaw is the presupposition that there is exactly one right way (the Right's way, of course) to do something, and that any attempt otherwise is definitionally incorrect, improper, or (perhaps) sinful. "That's the way we always did it" is hardly an empirical position; if it were, we would still be--to stick with automobiles--hand-cranking the starter motor and manually adjusting the choke as we drove (slowly) on dirt roads.

It would also take us much longer to get anywhere, if we could get there without road signs, AAA maps, and GPS; if we could tolerate driving long distances without climate control, power brakes, and power steering; and if we survived the trip without ABS, seat belts, and airbags. This brings me to my next point:

"novel and different"

It behooves us to remember that every advance in human knowledge, every miniscule bit of progress from the status quo, every invention that improved our quality of life, was--in the beginning--novel, different, and untried. Only the liberal dissatisfaction with life as it is, our idealism that it can be better, and our willingness to ask questions and strive for improvement has made our (liberal) American experiment in freedom possible. Accordingly, here are some liberal Quotes of the Day:

"Is it not the glory of the people of America, that, whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience?" (James Madison, Federalist 14)
"I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, 12 July 1816)
"Nothing is wiser than that all our institutions should keep pace with the advance of time and be improved with the improvement of the human mind." (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac Harby, 6 January 1826)

"you outgrow it"

Since liberalism is as much a methodology as an ideology, I'm unconvinced that one could "outgrow" it without foregoing necessities like skepticism and critical thinking (although perhaps not everyone considers those things necessary). Because liberalism relies on analyzing arguments rather than simply accepting or rejecting them based on preconceptions, it can lead to conservative conclusions--if warranted by the facts. The liberal-heart/conservative-brain trope to which many I'm-more-mature-than-you conservatives refer (often misattributed to Winston Churchill, with many variants) is unsupported, as it relies on two errors.

The first error is the association of conservatism with intelligence, or sometimes with education. Liberalism is actually somewhat correlated with higher education, as one would expect when previously sheltered students are exposed to thoughts and arguments that differ from those of their family and neighbors. From the 2005 Pew study:

Liberals have the highest education level of any typology group: 49% are college graduates and 26% have some postgraduate education. But the Enterprisers also include a relatively high percentage of college graduates (46%), although fewer Enterprisers [Pew's name for the far-right typology] than Liberals have attended graduate school (14%).

The second error, the conflation of conservatism and maturity, is factually questionable at best. One recent study (mentioned here at LiveScience) observed exactly the opposite, that liberalism is something that one grows into rather than grows out of. "[N]ew research has debunked the myth that people become more conservative as they age:"

By comparing surveys of various age groups taken over a span of more than 30 years, sociologists found that in general, Americans' opinions veer toward the liberal as they grow older.

"All the evidence we have found refutes the idea that as people age their attitudes become more conservative or more rigid," said Nicholas Danigelis, a sociologist at the University of Vermont. "It's just not true. More people are changing in a liberal direction than in a conservative direction."

[Caveat: I've only read the LiveScience article and the abstract, so I'm off to the library to find the whole paper!]

If calling my general outlook "liberal" is supposed to frighten me into silence or equivocation in the face of conservatism's (claimed, but unproven) superiority, it has not worked. In a very real sense--despite my lack of wealth, notoriety, and power--I am one of conservatives' worst nightmares: I am a liberal who is not afraid to be called by that name because I know what it means--and the meaning of liberalism has nothing to do with the caricature that conservatives use for their villainous vilification. Even a casual reader of this blog will note that when I attack conservative positions, I do so by confronting errors with facts. (In fairness, let it be remembered that I also criticize Democrats and other putative liberals for their failures; for example, I did so yesterday in reference to the FISA scandal.)

[typos fixed]

This is a classic example of the Right's historical revisionism: Bush quoted Jefferson last week, but left out Jefferson's rather poignant criticism. Ed Brayton quotes from Bush's speech and offers an analysis:

On the 50th anniversary of America's independence, Thomas Jefferson passed away. But before leaving this world, he explained that the principles of the Declaration of Independence were universal. In one of the final letters of his life, he wrote, "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be -- to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all -- the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government."

Now let's look at the full quote, including the part that was cut out. This is from a letter he wrote to Roger Weightman reflecting on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (which, it turns out, was the day both he and John Adams died):

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.

Jefferson made many such statements, of course. Clearly they are best edited out by those who advocate nothing if not monkish ignorance and superstition.

[typo fixed]

In response to a recent comment on my review of William Martin's What Liberals Believe, I was asked to share a few of my favorite quotes from the book. I was going to share a "top ten" list, but decided to go for a baker's dozen instead:

Here's a wonderful retort to small-government conservatives:

"Other than telling us how to live, think, marry, pray, vote, invest, educate our children, and, now, die, I think the Republicans have done a fine job of getting government out of our personal lives." (p. 36, editorial page, Portland Oregonian, 19 June 2005)

I used this quote when criticizing George Will's ANWR errors:

"That's what happened to Jimmy Carter--he asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways, and promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who told them once again that they could do anything they wanted." (p. 125, Jane Smiley, "The Unteachable Ignorance of the Red States," Slate, 4 November 2004)

Although I'm an atheist, these two pro-Christian quotes are well worth pondering (the second one I had read a long time ago, but hadn't added to my commonplace book):

"Liberalism is secular Christianity." (p. 115, anonymous)

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth can save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." (p. 128, Jesus, The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas)

I laughed out loud over this one:

"Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich were shaking hands congratulating themselves on the introduction of an anti-gay bill in Congress. If it passes, they won't be able to shake hands, because it will then be illegal for a prick to touch an asshole." (p. 248, Judy Carter, "Editor's Bit," BC Magazine, 16 June 2005)

TR would be appalled at the depths to which his (former) party has sunk over the past century:

"There once was a time in history when the limitation of governmental power meant increasing liberty for the people. In the present day the limitation of governmental power, of governmental actions, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations." (p. 279, Theodore Roosevelt, Progressive Principles: Selections from Addresses Made During the Presidential Campaign of 1912)

Mencken was a hell-raiser of historic proportions, and funny to boot:

"It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry." (p. 340, H.L. Mencken, Minority Report, 1956)

So was the great anarchist Emma Goldman:

"The most unpardonable sin in society is independence of thought." (p. 380, Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays, 1910)

Krugman does a great job here:

"If Bush said the earth was flat, the mainstream media would have stories with the headline: 'Shape of the Earth--Views Differ.' Then they'd quote some Democrat saying that it was round." (p. 364, Paul Krugman, interviewed by Terence McNally, "The Professor Takes the Gloves Off," AlterNet, 12 November 2003)

This was depressingly prescient concerning Jonah Goldberg's screed Liberal Fascism:

"Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal." (p. 636, Ronald Reagan, Time, 17 May 1976)

We could really use a Schlesinger today:

"Human rights is not a religious idea. It is a secular idea, the product of the last four centuries of Western history. ... The basic human rights documents--the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man--were written by political, not religious, leaders." (p. 33, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., 1989 speech at Brown University, quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief)
"The great religious ages were notable for their indifference to human rights in the contemporary sense--not only for their acquiescence in poverty, inequality and oppression, but for their enthusiastic justification of slavery, persecution, torture and genocide." (p. 506, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History, 1999)

These words are especially apropos for this coming weekend:

"It occurs to me that my patriotic duty is to recapture my flag from the men now waving it in the name of jingoism and censorship." (p. 395, Barbara Kingsolver, "And Our Flag Was Still There," San Francisco Chronicle, 25 September 2001)

Today's NYT op-ed "Looking at America" opens with the plain truth that "There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country." After discussing a few of the "shocking abuses of President Bush's two terms in office," the piece concludes that "the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them:

We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.

Not only can we do better than Dubya, we must do better. As we look to the upcoming primary season, we must ask ourselves: which of the candidates is most capable of restoring the visage of America so defaced by the outgoing administration?

[typo fixed]

In a follow-up to his earlier comments on the late Christianist, Christopher Hitchens appeared on Faux News' Hannity & Colmes to discuss Falwell's legacy. In this clip [since removed; try this one] at YouTube, Hitchens refers to Falwell as "a vulgar fraud and crook," and Ralph Reed immediately began referring to him as "Dr Falwell." (Sorry, Reed: all three of Falwell's doctoral degrees were honorary, and only one of them was from an accredited institution.)

Hannity took self-righteous umbrage at Hitchens' remarks, and the segment degenerated into contentious rambling and Hitchens' mention of Reed's links to GOP racketeer Jack Abramoff. The best line came just as the segment ended:

"If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox."

Glenn Greenwald discusses “The Completely Unreliable Washington Post” and how it impacted his article last Friday about Senator Arlen Specter, about which I commented here. Greenwald notes that

Before I wrote the post, I searched for the actual text of Specter's bill in order to read it myself, but could not find it (Specter's website is one of the worst sites for any Senator, as it is usually a month or more behind). As a result, my post -- as I noted in a Comment -- was based upon the Post's reporting about Specter's bill, rather than my own reading of it.

As it now appears, the Post article was simply wrong in what it reported.


As soon as I realized this morning that my post on Friday was based upon the apparently false premise that Specter's bill contained an amnesty provision, I was mortified and furious that I posted something so inaccurate based upon the Post article. My immediate priority became looking into that error, figuring out what happened, and then posting about it in order to correct the inaccuracy. I would never leave a post uncorrected that I knew was likely inaccurate.

Crooks and Liars has the transcript of Specter and Wolf Blitzer, and a link to the video. In it, Specter states that the WaPo article

was an erroneous report. If anybody has violated the law, they'll be held accountable, both as to criminal conduct and as to civil conduct. And in no way did I promise amnesty or immunity or letting anybody off the hook.

Since my post on Specter was based on Greenwald’s post, and thus on the Washington Post article, I offer the same correction.

USA Today has a sizeable article on the NSA's domestic spying, with a Q&A here.

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY. [...] With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. [emphasis added]

Qwest is the only telecom firm to deny NSA access to its records; bully for them!

According to multiple sources, Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.


Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.

This entire program may be running afoul of the law:

Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.

The financial penalties for violating Section 222, one of many privacy reinforcements that have been added to the law over the years, can be stiff. The Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulatory agency, can levy fines of up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation.

There is much about this surveillance program that we may never learn, given the NSA's penchant for secrecy. Just this morning, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility had to terminate an investigation into another NSA domestic spying program because the NSA refused to grant investigators the necessary security clearance. As the head of the OPR wrote,

"we have been unable to make meaningful progress in our investigation because O.P.R. has been denied security clearances for access to information about the N.S.A. program."

Who watches the watchmen, indeed.

update (12:47pm):

Bush issued a defense of the NSA's telephone spying. The White House website has his full remarks, and USA Today has a summation.

After his usual "war on terror" boilerplate, Bush claimed that "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," which--at least according to the USA Today article--is blatantly untrue.

Bush then remarked that the program only targets "Al Qaeda and their known affiliates," but this doesn't square with the collection of data on tens of millions of Americans. If we have that many al Qaeda operatives, we're really in trouble. Bush also stated that:

Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country.

Dubya, you dipshit, you really need to re-read the Constitution. You were apparently so consumed with your Commander-in-Chief duties in Article II Section 2 that you forgot to read section 3, which states that you "shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed," and the oath of office, which requires every president to:

faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Bush's disdain for the Constitutional separation of powers and his inability--amply demonstrated by now--to stay within legal limits should give us all pause. I fully expect his poll numbers to be in the twenties before the end of the week.

update 2 (3:02pm):

Seventy-two members of Congress have files amicus briefs in two federal courts--ACLU v. NSA (1520KB PDF) and CCR v. Bush (49KB PDF)--seeking to stop Bush's illegal NSA wiretapping. It is to be expected that not a single member of the GOP has signed either brief.

[fixed transcription error]

Clooney update

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George Clooney apparently did not intend this as his first post; the words are his, but were compiled from interviews and ghostwritten by someone at HuffPo into a blog entry. As Clooney remarked to the LA TimesThe Envelope:”

I stand by my statements but I did not write this blog. With my permission Miss Huffington compiled it from interviews with Larry King and The Guardian. What she most certainly did not get my permission to do is to combine only my answers in a blog that misleads the reader into thinking that I wrote this piece. These are not my writings - they are answers to questions and there is a huge difference."

Arianna’s take on the situation is here.

[editor's note: fixed a typo.]

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