Of Course He’s Just Like Batman – In the Bizarro Universe

If I’d had any cookies before reading this Andrew Klavan excerpt, they would’ve been tossed:

What Bush and Batman Have in Common
July 25, 2008

A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That’s not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a “W.”

You need glasses, you delusional fuckwit.

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.

You need a new brain, you delusional fuckwit.

Off your medication again, I see. Let’s just take a moment to do some kicking with the spiked boots: Batman didn’t ignore warnings that terrorists would strike in his city, stubborn stupidity and a habit of posing in flyboy outfits doesn’t equal “fortitude” and “moral courage,” and Batman fought strictly on the defense. He didn’t go around starting wars against the wrong damned people and then proclaim himself a hero for it.

And I really don’t think the Nolan brothers had Bush in mind when writing this film, except when they were writing the beating-information-out-of-people bits. I noticed they were a lot more thoughtful about the morality of that, now that Monkey Boy George has shown us exactly why such things as torture are banned by international treaty.

I see your insanity continues to spew forth. What now?

Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

Batman is villified and despised for being a dangerous, unknown quantity outside the law who also really fucks things up for the buggers getting rich off of other people’s misery. Bush is villified because he’s a raving fucktard who thinks he’s entitled to do whatever he wants. Batman struggles with the morality of what he does and makes every attempt to put serious limits on his own actions. Bush uses other people’s fear and uncertainty to grab as much power as he can, and you’d have to break his hands to pry it out of them. Batman ensures that the tools he has that could lead to people’s rights being violated are used for uber-brief periods of time, in as limited a way as possible, and then immediately ensures their destruction, further adding a layer of security by placing the really noxious tools in the hands of a man guaranteed not to abuse them. Bush recognizes no limits in either time or scope, places the dangerous toys in the hands of completely evil fuckers, and uses every trick possible to permanently expand his toolbox. Is that enough, or should I go on?

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

You just pulled that one out of your ass, buddy. It reeks of fresh bullshit.

Batman limits himself to one thing: making the dangerous people stop hurting the mostly innocent people. He won’t kill a criminal. He won’t use any more force than absolutely necessary. He hounds them only to the gates of Arkham, even when he knows there’s a chance they’ll break loose and wreak havoc again. You see, he has morals and a sense of proportion – neither of which your hero Georgie Boy possesses. He operates outside of the law, but he’s not lawless. Bushie, on the other hand, uses the excuse of “criminal sects” redefine the law to his liking, to accrue power to himself, and to satiate his own thirst for war.

By the way, just so you’re made aware of this, because I know it’s not something you and your reality-challenged buddies consider very often, especially not when you’re getting all hard over the latest round of torture and mayhem on 24, but: Batman operates in a fictional world. It’s not real. Heroes in fiction and heroes in real life sometimes have points in common (although not in this case), but they’re not the same. Fictional heroes, in fact, would quite often get their arses thrown in prison in this reality, no matter what kind of good they might be doing.

Things that work in fiction don’t work in reality. If Bush and his cronies had understood that, we wouldn’t have had government fucking officials citing Jack Bauer when trying to explain why torturing people is the right thing to do. The Jack Bauer Defense doesn’t make torture right. Saying that Batman’s feared and hated for the good he does doesn’t mean that Bush is feared and hated for doing good – he’s feared and hated because he’s a power-mad little fucktard who’s shat all over this country’s laws, ideals, economy and identity. He’s hated and feared because he deserves to be.

No amount of trying to equate him with Batman is going to change that. Get the fuck over it, Andrew. That big W on Georgie’s chest doesn’t stand for Wonderman, it stands for Whackjob.

Welcome to reality. Enjoy your brief stay.

Sapere Aude!

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.

- Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”

The Enlightenment. Those two words send a cascade of awe and delight down my spine. They set synapses to firing like chains of fireworks. Names and ideas erupt from the sparks: Newton, Spinoza and Leibniz released science and mathematics from their classical and medieval cages and advanced them by light years in a virtual instant. Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau struck through chains and risked their lives to set human minds free. Locke, Smith and Montesquieu set forth major components of political and economic philosophy that led to democracy and capitalism. Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton created a whole new kind of nation from scratch. Beethoven, Mozart, and Goethe elevated music and literature to heights they had never known before.

Men, and not a few women, dared to know, and changed the world.

There had been hints of an awakening for centuries. A few flames burned dimly in the Middle Ages. A few flames flared up brilliantly during the Renaissance. But the Enlightenment was a conflagration, a wildfire beside a candelabra. In less than two centuries, the scientific method arose and began advancing knowledge at an incredible pace; the foundations of democracy and liberalism were laid and thriving nations built on them; education was no longer a prerogative of the fortunate few, but a practical gift offered to a broad swath of the population. The entire Western way of thinking changed virtually beyond recognition. All of those ideas we take for granted – freedom of religion, equality, political and civil rights, and countless more – emerged because of men and women who refused to remain ignorant.

Look at the lives and work of any group of Enlightenment thinkers, and you’ll see similarities. They were desperate to know and understand. They were determined to use rational thought to overcome superstition. They believed in man’s ability to understand the world. They didn’t believe religion had all the answers, or even most. They weren’t afraid to challenge established authority; indeed, they often risked their lives to do so. They found ways to make end-runs around the censors, evaded every attempt to silence them, and believed beyond doubt that what they were doing was right, necessary, and valuable.

They argued with absolutely everyone, each other included. They accepted no limits to their curiosity. There was nowhere to them that Man was forbidden to go.

All is not lost when one puts the people in a condition to see it has intelligence. On the contrary, all is lost when you treat it like a herd of cattle, for sooner or later it will gore you with its horns.


In the salons of Paris, the coffee houses and Gresham College in London, in the dining rooms and halls of power all throughout Europe, intellect raged. Pamphlets, books, magazines, scientific papers all poured into the streets and captured the imaginations of men and women who then used those ideas to create new governments, societies, and values. Knowledge was passed into the hands of ordinary people, and those ordinary people did extraordinary things with it.

The two revolutions of the 18th century, the American and the French, get all of the attention, but neither would have been possible without the revolution in ideas that preceded them. Never before in the history of Western civilization had common people been entrusted to govern. Even Greece, that thriving original democracy, was more of an aristocracy than anything else. But the Enlightenment thinkers believed that all regular people lacked was education and the freedom to use their native intelligence. Given those things, a peasant could rise to rule. Peasants eventually did.

It wasn’t just the aristocracy and absolute monarchy that the Enlightenment thinkers overthrew. They broke the stranglehold religion had over the populace. Religion didn’t escape their scrutiny. The sacred got subjected to the same empirical analysis as the natural world, and where it was found wanting, it suffered the same scathing criticism unleashed on politics, pseudoscience, and ignorance. Some of them treated Christianity with respect and reverence, but they were in a minority. Most Enlightenment thinkers had no use for a Church that sought to keep people in ignorance and servitude, a faith that led to intolerance and claimed miracles it couldn’t prove, and religions rotten with hypocrisy.

“Let’s eat some Jesuit,” Voltaire wrote in Candide. Baron d’Holbach proselytized for atheism, churning out a flood of books and pamphlets proclaiming that there is no God, only nature, and that only a society of atheists has any hope of being truly moral. He often had to publish his books under innocuous titles to evade the censors. But other philosophes left nothing to doubt with theirs: among the books on offer was Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious. Pretty revolutionary for a world in which religion still ruled.

Other books might have seemed innocent enough until they were opened. Woolston’s Six Discourses on the Miracles of Our Savior proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ “the most notorious and monstrous Imposture, that was ever put upon mankind.” Voltaire, when completing the Philosophical Dictionary, wrote, “Theology amuses me. There we find man’s insanity in all its plenitude.” Jefferson removed all of the miracles from the Bible, a decision which Hume would have applauded.

The only sacred thing was the pursuit of knowledge. Rational thinking, empiricism, science, and intellect reigned supreme. The next world meant very little to them, if anything at all. People had to make a difference in this one. And that was exactly what they set out to do, and succeeded. They brought us the modern age.

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to Farce, or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

-James Madison

The Enlightenment never truly ended: its results permeate every aspect of our lives. But there hasn’t been another time quite like it since. The passion for knowledge has been eclipsed. We’ve entered an age in which ignorance rather than intelligence is celebrated. As Kant said, it’s easier to be immature, to let others do the thinking. We become habituated to the yoke: we become afraid of freedom. “The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult,” Kant wrote. “Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone.”

He could have been describing our age.

Fundamentalist religion is attempting to rein us in. Governments want to control, not serve, the governed. This has always been the case. The powerful never relinquish power easily, and they always desire more power. It’s easier for them to take it from people made willfully powerless.

War, poverty, ignorance and despair are rising all around us.

We should be thrilled

After all, the Enlightenment grew out of a desperate age. Europe was torn by war, crushed by despotic governments, ripped apart by religious strife, and it was from this harrowing that the philosophes grew. When I look at the conditions surrounding the Enlightenment, I see clear parallels. Strife can destroy people: it can also galvanize them.

I think we’re standing on the cusp of a new Age of Enlightenment.

Bloggers are the new pamphleteers. What bloggers are saying today about politics and religion, life and learning, show the same spirit as those tracts poured from the pens of subversive thinkers who went on to redefine the foundations of the world.

Comments threads and message boards have become the new salons, where ideas are exchanged and intelligence elevated. Those discussions wouldn’t have been out of place in the most illustrious gatherings of learned people.

All we need is the passion, the commitment, and the courage those revolutionaries displayed. Nothing is beyond us. But we have to step outside of the little boxes we’ve put ourselves in. Scientists need to brush shoulders with artists. Writers need to converse with mathematicians. Political philosophers and musicians should mingle. That cross-fertilization of knowledge is what leads to world-shaking ideas, quantum leaps in human understanding.

Politeness and deference are sweet social ideas, but we can’t defer to those who would impose ignorance and superstition. Contention was the order of the day during the Enlightenment. We should never shy away from it. Conventional thinking will get us nowhere. The world is on the cusp of a crisis: we’re never going to get anything solved if we don’t break away from tradition and habit. We won’t solve a damned thing if we don’t risk capsizing the boat.

The philosophes changed the world not by force of arms, but force of mind. Their ideas, their writings, their experiments, are what changed the world irrevocably.

It can happen again. Ignorance has no power to stand against those who dare to know. And those who dare have the power to change everything.

Here and today begins a new age in the history of the world. Some day you will be able to say – I was present at its birth.”

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The American Electorate: “I’m Voting for Stupid”

American anti-intellectualism could end up destroying this country within the next decade.

Our decades-long assault on intellect is turning us into a backwater. Just consider these results from a Programme for International Student Assessment study: the United States ranked nearly dead last in math, smack in the middle of the below average column. Search for our educational rankings, and you’ll find article after article talking about our failing grades. We’re becoming a nation of idiots.

Something tells me the neocons are rather counting on that.

Consider this series of columns by John Dean, former Nixon lawyer turned enthusiastic Republican basher. Dean first analyzes Obama’s speech on race and comes to some depressing conclusions, revealed right there in the title: “Barack Obama’s Smart Speech “A More Perfect Union”: Did It Reveal Him To Be Too Intellectual To Be President?”

Computers have made it rather simple to determine the intelligence or grade level of a speech by measuring it with the Flesch-Kincaid test, which is found on the Tools/Options menu of Microsoft Word. This widely-employed measurement device determines the degree of difficulty of the written (and spoken) word.

Enterprising linguists and others have applied the test to a wide variety of material. For instance, the folks at youDictionary have tested the inaugural addresses of presidents. They discovered that no president since Woodrow Wilson has come close to delivering speeches pitched at a 12th grade level. Bush II’s first inaugural address was at a 7.5 grade level, which ranked him near Eisenhower’s second address (7.5), Nixon’s first (7.6), LBJ’s only (7.0), and FDR’s fourth (8.1). Clinton’s two addresses, by contrast, scored at the 9th grade level (9.4 and 8.8 respectively).

I tested Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech and it scores at a 10.5 grade level, which by current standards is in the stratosphere. But maybe he was being too smart to win the presidency.

This, Dean says, is because “Republicans have spent the past half century dumbing-down the American presidency, for it has helped them win the White House .” Apparently, Republicans think it’s a fantastic idea to have only the finest dumbasses in charge of the nuclear weapons.

Obama’s ranking on this scale was one of the things that convinced me to vote for him. I’m sick to death of people talking to Americans like they’re nothing but a bunch of rubes and utter morons. All evidence to the contrary, it would be nice to have a president who believes we can think our way out of a brown paper bag. One of the secrets of creating smart people is to actually expect people to be smart.

Intelligence, however, is anathema to the neocons, because five minutes’ critical thought can blow enormous holes in their “reasoning.” I point you to eight years of miserably failed Bush policies and the overwhelming evidence that McCain’s policies are merely more of the same. Magical thinking abounds in Republican circles. We can still win in Iraq if we stay there 100 years. The tax fairy will pay for all the tax cuts and dramatically increased spending. Drilling for more oil in our pristine national wild areas will lower the price of gas practically instantly. I could go on, but you’ve got the picture: pick at the shiny gold coating Republican policies, and what you find underneath is bullshit.

But this is fine with them. Republicans still have a chance at winning, because Obama’s smart and the electorate wants dumb. Consider Dean’s further evidence on this point:

In recent years, Democrats have nominated presidential candidates who are far more intelligent that their Republican counterparts. Common sense might suggest that high intelligence is necessary to be president,
and conclude that we should applaud such nominations. Election politics, unfortunately, usually punishes the more intelligent nominee.

He points out that the only Democrats to win in the last several decades have been Jimmy Carter (who was super-smart but whose Southern drawl makes him sound like a goober) and Bill Clinton (who played down his smarts, also spoke with a twang, and chased skirts for good measure). When it comes to electing a president, Americans seem to have an irresistible impulse to pull the level for the dumbest-seeming bastard they can find.

If this is truly what elections come down to in this country, Obama has absolutely no chance at the White House. He’s not only smart, he doesn’t hide it. And, horror of horrors, he expects Americans to be smart, too.

I’m afraid this may be too much for a nation of terminal under-achievers to handle.

So is Dean. And he’s got studies to back his pessimism:

Dr. Drew Westen, a clinical and political psychologist who teaches at Emery University, has literally looked inside the mind of partisan voters with MRI scanning equipment, and confirmed that emotions dominate our voting decisions. Westen writes about our emotionally-driven democracy in his recent book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotions In Deciding the Fate of the Nation (Public Affairs, 2007), and his findings are not good news for Democrats, unless they change their ways.

Westen and his colleagues found “[t]he political brain is an emotional brain. It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures, and policies to make a
reasoned decision.” Democrats, however, like to appeal to reason. While this resonates with many key elements of the Democratic Party, it simply does not work across the board with all voters.

In short, voters are going to react to McCain and Obama in the general election this fall with their hearts, not their heads.

If that’s the case, we are so fucked.

This country can’t afford another four years of stupid. Dean has some faint hope that the last eight years of utterly spectacular dumbfuckery has jolted the American electorate enough to realize that voting for the person who seems closest to you in general ignorance is the wrong thing to do. So do I. And yet both of us realize that many of our fellow countrymen are going to go for the man who throws a good barbecue rather than the man who has the intelligence to make the tough decisions and start picking up the shattered fragments of our nation. So what if McCain wants to keep us in a hideously unpopular war for a century, can’t tell the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’ite even if they’re wearing badges, and whose economic policy is guaranteed to bankrupt the nation? He doesn’t talk above the understanding of the average dropout, and his dry rub is to die for.

We just might.

America has to wise up. Somehow, we have to convince our fellow citizens to stop treating elections as popularity contests and start treating them as job interviews. The presidency is the most important job in America: it’s vital it doesn’t go to the dumbest candidate. We need a super-intelligent person in the White House, someone capable of running a complicated, dangerous, and threatened country. We need someone in charge who can think his way out of a brown paper bag.

The problem is, even if we end up with such a man, I’m afraid the below-average idiots who treat elections as an extension of American Idol are going to end up forcing him to tack stupid. We’re beyond a left-leaning politician having to tack right: if what John Dean and his sources are saying is correct, America will accept a left-leaner as long as he’s stupid enough not to threaten their fragile egos. They’ll forgive any number of idiotic mistakes – they’ve proven that time and time again over the last eight years – but they’ll never forgive a man for being smarter than they are.

That’s why we need to work hard to create a smarter America, my darlings. Intelligence needs to be prized again. Americans need to be encouraged to excel in academics, value smarts over personality, and above all learn how the fucking well think again.

This country is not going to survive as a superpower, or even a power, if it doesn’t get smart. If Bush’s idiotic antics have made our electorate realize that, then it’ll be the only good thing he’s ever done.

Let’s don’t vote for stupid this time, okay, America?

Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your dictionaries!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Nicole Palmby. You killed grammar. Prepare to die.

Okay, not really. But I needed some sort of introduction for my first post as sub-blogger of Dana’s Wonderful World of Snark. I am Nicole Palmby. And while you may not have killed grammar, it certainly is on its deathbed, and, as grammar is my mama, I plan to avenge its impending death.

I wrote this article late last week and edited it earlier this week, but I was a little reluctant to post it following Kaden‘s beautiful piece on grade inflation. I think, though, that what I have to say needs to be said, and I look forward to what you have to say about it, as well. Enjoy.


My current day gig is shaping the literary, grammatical, and writing minds of the future leaders of your local Target team.

Okay. Maybe that’s an unfair assumption. I could be shaping the minds of future political leaders. For example, I could be grading the vocabulary assignments of the next George W. Bush! Some days I feel like I am.

Regardless of the future endeavors of the attitude-wielding, SMS-ing, bleary-eyed nodes of apathy, I am entrusted to ensure each pile of flip-flops and hoodie is able to identify the theme of classic but boring novel title here> and write a competent, even if uninteresting, five-paragraph essay.

Anyone who knows me might smile and mutter some comment about the ease of my vocation–“You mean you get to talk about books and writing all day and get paid for it? Man! Your life is rough, innit?”–but let me assure you that getting paid to talk about books and writing is not what it once was.

There was a time during which schools valued the education gifted to their students (because education really is a gift) and parents cared about what their children were doing all day. It wasn’t so long ago that students went to school because they knew they had to, and the community was proud if it was the custodian of a “good district.”

It seems that while the days of the “good school districts” still exist (I teach in one), much of what makes a school “good” has morphed into something wholly unrecognizable.

It used to be that, upon graduation, students were not only capable of writing a five-paragraph essay, but an 8- to 10-page research paper in MLA style with print sources. They understood the mechanics of the English language. They were able to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively within those mechanics.

However, I have received numerous essays this year completed–grudgingly, mind you–in what is known as text-speak. Yes, that’s right: English Honors students turned in formal essays that used the number 2 instead of “to” (and in place of “two” AND “too,” for that matter), used “ur” for “you’re” and “yr” for “your.”

While I love the ease technology gives my workload, I can’t help but shake my head at the price American children are paying for the conveniences they have. My junior students–also Honors–have difficulty placing apostrophes properly. They can’t tell me the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.”

Programs that proofread, while I admit they can be helpful, have created a dependency. Students have no accountability for their own writing skills. After all, why should they remember that it should be “all right” not “alright” when Microsoft Word in its infinite wisdom makes the correction for them as soon as they strike the next key?

When I was younger and still taking math classes, my teachers usually allowed us to use calculators to check our work–after we had done the problems ourselves. Their logic was simple: you have to know the long way before you can use the shortcut. I think the same logic should follow in writing. Yes, you do need to know to correct the spelling of “there” to “their” so that when, later, the computer does it for you, you’ll know why.

Students today put no value on their education.

Although perhaps I shouldn’t put all the blame on the students. If they could they’d text and watch Flavor of Love all day. They don’t know enough to value their education.

Besides, it isn’t only students who devalue education in the United States. Some parents have a decreasing amount of involvement in their (not they’re) children’s educations. They blindly trust that the school is taking care of things.

Unfortunately, when a school budget is dangled by a thread of standardized test scores, many schools find themselves focusing the curriculum on test-taking skills rather than academic skills. I don’t agree with the practice, but when it comes down to teaching “real” curriculum or not having to eliminate instructional positions, I can’t say I’d act any differently.

I have my opinions about standardized testing, but that’s for another carnival.

Regardless, there is still a significant decline in the emphasis put on education in our nation. And yet, college enrollment (and graduation) is higher than ever. What kind of message are we sending to our children when they barely graduate high school and are admitted to colleges and universities once thought of as prestigious?

The result is a nation of employees who rely on the automatic proofreader in their word processors, and who are unable to be accountable for what they write.

The written word is a powerful weapon. Writers wield whole worlds with their pens, and, unlike surgeons, lawyers, and real estate agents, there is no examination that must be passed in order to become certified. Anyone can become a writer with just an idea, paper, and pen.

And instead of sanctifying this power, we reduce it to busywork assignments, let students take it for granted, and eventually, take it for granted ourselves. In fact, a colleague of mine suggested encouraging students to take their notes in text-speak in order to practice summarizing and resist the urge to write every single word. What an optimistic way of ensuring students are incapable of doing what every employee must do at one time or another: write intelligently, following general writing standards.

Unfortunately, this travesty has become so widespread as to be seen in every media outlet all over the world. Just today, in fact, while watching TV, the closed captioning on the television clearly read “presidentsy” instead of “presidency.” Really? I mean, really?

As what often feels like a single, tiny voice shouting into the wind, I fear there will be no end to the apathy toward the English language. Today prepositions are generally accepted at the ends of sentences. (I’m guilty of this myself when the “proper” grammatical construction reads/sounds awkward.) What happens tomorrow? “You’re” and “your” become one interchangeable word? Come on. (Oops! Preposition!)

Are Americans really so lazy that we’ve gone from omitting the “u” in various words—color, honor, etc.—to accepting English essays that use “yr” in place of “your,” which should really be “you’re”? I’m curious what Lynne
would say about American students (and adults, for that matter) English education and writing styles.

As a writer, as a teacher, as an American, I urge citizens and political leaders to work to effect (and that’s effect, not affect) a change in the state of English education in the United States. Write to your senators, representatives, school board presidents, governors…whoever will listen! We need to act fast or No Fear Shakespeare will become Shakespeare for Americans, and the Bard’s famous line, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” (Julius Caesar III.ii.74) will quickly become “Peeps, lstn ↑!!1!”

Robert T. Bakker Just Got Right Up My Nose

That’s right. That Robert T. Bakker. The dinosaur guy. The one who gave me all sorts of delicious ideas when I was using dinosaurs as the springboard to building a better dragon.

He got so far up my nose tonight he made my brain recoil.

Brian Switek at Laelaps interviewed Dr. Bakker several weeks ago. I didn’t read the interview. I was saving it for later, like an expensive bottle of wine: I was busy with the IDiot schlock at the time, Expelled was getting ready to come out, this blog was just a wee thing that needed constant feeding, and, well, I wanted to read it when I could actually savor it.

And then I dropped by Pharyngula today, and discovered that Robert T. Bakker’s been hating on atheists.

Even Dr. Bob.

Dr. Bob said this about us:

We dino-scientists have a great responsibility: our subject matter attracts kids better than any other, except rocket-science. What’s the greatest enemy of science education in the U.S.?

Militant Creationism?

No way. It’s the loud, strident, elitist anti-creationists. The likes of Richard Dawkins and his colleagues.

Dr. Bob, don’t take this the wrong way, because I love and respect you for your palentology and all of those awesome books on dinosaurs without which I couldn’t have built a better dragon, but… fuck you, okay?

Fuck you and your Pentecostal bullshit.

Not only have you jumped on the “atheists are anathema” bandwagon, but you’ve got to throw your lot in with anti-elitism, too? You, a learned man? You want to use “elitist” as an epithet?

You disappoint me, sir.

First off, I’m sick to death of the “atheists are the enemy” schtick. Creationists are the enemy. We atheists are allies, no matter how much you may dislike our views and our expression of said views, and, yes, our “elitism.” After all, no atheist is going to come in and shut your museum down because it doesn’t pander to our dogma. No atheist would kick your science out of schools, put you out of a job, and ridicule you because your knowledge of science doesn’t match a fairy story told by belligerant goatherders three thousand years ago.

You know who’s your enemy, Bob? Militant creationists.

Those fuckers were attacking science long before we loud, strident, anti-creationist atheists jumped into the fray. And you’d better be gods-damned glad we’re drawing their fire, because you know who’d be taking the bullets if we weren’t?

That’s right. You.

It’s bad enough we have to take rancid bullshit from the IDiot set, but then people like you, religious scientists, turn around and fire away. We take shit from every religious bastard in the universe. Forgive us for getting tetchy. Excuse us for biting at the hands raised against us rather than slinking off with our tails between our legs.

What’s wrong, Bob? Because I’m sure at some level, you know it’s absolute bullshit to think that if the atheists went away, the creationists would withdraw from the field, too. Do we gleeful unbelievers threaten your faith? Is that what led to this:

Dawkins performs clip-art scholarship with the History of Science and Religion, a field that over the last several decades has matured into a rigorous discipline with fine PhD programs, endowed professorships, well-funded conferences, edited volumes luxuriously printed by Oxford, Harvard, and The Johns Hopkins Press. With footnotes.

PZ already took you apart on this one, so I won’t do it. I’m just saying that your whole response to the critics from your original wrong-headed comment came across as the rantings of a terrified theist. And it’s pathetic.

You spend nearly the entire response frothing about “The Brights.” Are you fucking kidding me? I’ve been pretty deeply immersed in atheist circles for a while now, and I had no idea what the fuck Brights were until John Pieret put them down in a comment on this blog. Apparently, enough pathetic souls are hanging on to the silly notion to keep you in material, but I have news for you: the vast majority of atheists aren’t “Brights.” So spending nearly a full article ranting about how Darwin wouldn’t have been a Bright is just a joke.

And it’s not like anybody gives two tugs on a dead dog’s dick what Darwin was, aside from the IDiots who have a huge stake in him being an atheist. He could have been a rabid fundie, for all we care. It’s his science that’s important, not his religious beliefs. What, we’re supposed to be ashamed to be atheists because Darwin wasn’t? That kind of shit may be important to Christians, who seem to have a pathological need for arguments from authority, but we atheists don’t care, aside from the chortle it gives us when religious buggers’ arguments from authority go horribly awry (Einstein, anybody?).

Then there’s all of the whining about how we just haven’t read the science wuuuvs religion, and look, it’s got footnotes! literature. You go on and on about Dawkins not having enough footnotes in The God Delusion. You veritably sneer at the fact. You go on and on with the Harvard, the PhDs, the “luxuriously printed volumes….” Who’s being an elitist snob now, Dr. Bob?

I could spend a long time writing up a series of treatises for you, richly footnoted, even, explaining just how and why it is that threatened Christians look like such raving ‘fraidy-cats when confronted with an atheist who’s not silent about their views. I could, and if necessary will, demonstrate that creationists didn’t need strident, loud atheists to try to destroy science. But you already know all of that. You just don’t want to admit it. And I’m not going to take precious time away from my writing right now to whip up a scholarly treatise for a man who should know better.

Although if you come here and bitch to me, I’ll do it. Don’t make me pull out the Super-Deluxe Paddle with Footnotes and march you out to the woodshed, my boy.

Because, you see, in the end, this is just an annoyance and a disappointment. I expected better of you. I expect better of all Christians who have a brain that they employ for tasks other than apologetics. But I’ve learned that my expectations often won’t be met – something about atheists seems to turn you into raving lunatics – and so I can forgive you.

I’ll continue reading your books and articles and even interviews, although now I’ll be wincing in anticipation, wondering when you’re going to get sidetracked by that “atheists are the enemy” bullshit, and that’s just sad, because you’re a brilliant man and your paleontology is first-class. I mean, for fuck’s sake, you were largely responsible for one of the most incredible shifts in understanding ever. I know. I was there. I got raised on the din
osaurs-are-cold-blooded gospel, and then along came a heretic, and what do you know? They weren’t so cold after all.

See, Dr. Bob? See what heretics can do? We apostates and unbelievers, we shake things up, we change things, we can drive things in a whole other, entirely wonderful direction.

And I think you’ll be surprised when the loud, proud atheists force Christianity to a new level. Between the fundies who want to keep the faith static, and the atheists who don’t actually threaten to do away with it entirely but sure as fuck demonstrate that a happy, complete life can be lived God-free, you Christians are going to have to achieve a whole new level of faith. But you’re not going to get there knocking over straw men like Brights and snivelling about how Darwin wouldn’t have been one, oh, no.

You are a brilliant man. I know you are. That interview you did with Brian, aside from the silly comment about atheists being the real enemy, that was stellar stuff. That was a tour-de-force. So turn some of that savage intellect away from the whining and crying and engage us, for fuck’s sake. We’re not going to talk you out of God, and you’re not going to talk us in, so how do we reach both the faithful and the faithless? How do we defend this wonderful science of ours from the shitheads who want to do away with it no matter how many Christians say science and religion are bosom buddies? (And you do realize that’s useless, right, because in the militant creationists’ eyes, you’re no more a Christian than I am.)

The floor is open, Dr. Bob. Let’s get a dialogue going. Let’s stop sniping at each other and turn the fire on the fuckers who want to take science down.

Atheists are standing by to take your call.

Gather Round, Ye Elitist Bastards

(Postdated so everybody gets to play.)

Right, my darlings. We’re overwhelmingly for a Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, which must mean we’re all elitist bastards. ¡Viva los bastardos del elitista!

For those of you just joining us, or who haven’t yet decided to make your opinions known, there’s still time. Go here and weigh in. There’s room for more than one Carnival on this site.

And I do not want to hear, “But Dana, I’m not good enough to write for a carnival!”

Of course you are. We’ll have no more of this crazy talk.

I might hear, “But Dana, what is a Carnival of the Elitist Bastards?”

That’s what we’re here to discuss.

First, for those of you who already plumped for being elitist bastards, I’d like you to stop reading. Yes, right this instant. Go write down what you thought such a carnival would be, and then come back for the rest. Don’t let my opinions sully your original ideas.

Got it down? Good. I’ll just continue, then, shall I?

It’s always helpful in these cases to start with a definition. Being elitist bastards, we are likely elite, are we not? Here’s what the Free Online Dictionary has to say about that:

e·lite or é·lite
n. pl. elite or e·lites
a. A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status: “In addition to notions of social equality there was much emphasis on the role of elites and of heroes within them” Times Literary Supplement.

b. The best or most skilled members of a group: the football team’s elite.

2. A size of type on a typewriter, equal to 12 characters per linear inch.

Somehow, I don’t think #2 works for us, but if one of you clever buggers just felt an idea go “ding,” run with it.

An “elitist” is defined as “someone who believes in rule by an elite group.” Seeing as how we expect our fearless leaders to have two brain cells to rub together, I believe that puts us firmly in the elitist camp.

But what kind of elitists are we? Thankfully, they have a quiz for that.

I happen to be a Book and Language Snob.

You speak eloquently and have seemingly read every book ever published. You are a fountain of endless (sometimes useless) knowledge, and never fail to impress at a party.

What people love: You can answer almost any question people ask, and have thus been nicknamed Jeeves.

What people hate: You constantly correct their grammar and insult their paperbacks.

Yes, that’s me. Hi, me. And what sort of elitist are you?

And what’s so wrong with being an elitist, anyway? The Washington Post, never known for its brain power these days, likes to think it has our answer:

Other than being called a criminal, a philanderer or a terrorist sympathizer, is there an accusation in American politics worse than being branded an “elitist”?

The word supposes something fundamentally effete and out of touch, a whiff of brie and latte. There’s something about it that grates against our Jacksonian, egalitarian self-image.


Admittedly, it’s a fine line. It’s okay to be perceived as smart (Bill Clinton) but it’s not okay to be perceived as bookish and intellectual (Adlai Stevenson). And it’s okay to be elite. Olympic athletes are elite, as are Marines and Navy SEALs. But it’s not okay to be insufferably proud of your elite skills, which is just obnoxious.

Could we expect any better of a newspaper owned by Reverend Moon? Probably not. And that was a terribly elitist thing of me to say, wasn’t it? (Update: I just realized it’s the Washington Times that’s owned by Rev. Moon, not the Post. How silly of me. I wonder what in this article could possibly have led me to confuse the two? Apologies to the Post – you’ve actually displayed a little less fuck-wittedness than the average mainstream newspaper lately.)

Here’s how I see things: I think it’s time to plant a boot firmly in the arse of the anti-elitist bastards. I think it’s time to show the world that there’s nothing wrong with being “bookish and intellectual.” That, in fact, the world needs to celebrate more thinkers and fewer meatheads. Meatheads got us into this sorry state. Thinkers can think a way out.

It’s time we took the word “elite” back. Time we turned the tables on the “populists” and made their “anti-elitist” and “anti-intellectual” poses the obnoxious ones. What they’re basically saying is, people are stupid and enjoy mucking about with stupid people because they’re too stupid to appreciate intelligence.

I say bunk.

I call bullshit.

I think there’s all kinds of elites, and they’re just too damned afraid of being branded elitists to say so.

Is there anything wrong with preferring wine over beer? No.

Is there anything wrong with loving a complex, elegantly worded novel more than mass-produced, simplistic trash? No.

Is there really anything wrong with being so smart you need a bigger skull for your brain? No.

And what the fuck could possibly be wrong with being an expert in a field and knowing more than a layman? Absolutely nothing.

People like to spout off about the “wisdom of the masses,” but when the masses intentionally lower themselves to the mental level of their most intellectually deficient member, then the masses just ain’t that wise. I think it’s time for the masses to aspire to some of that vaunted wisdom rather than trying to flatten the bell curve with a sledgehammer.

I think it’s time we stop letting our culture celebrate willful ignorance and start promoting genius instead.

So that’s my view of this Carnival of the Elitist Bastards: we celebrate our cerebrums, jerk the sledgehammer out of the hands wielding it against us, and kick anti-elitists to the curb. We’ll delve into the delightful varieties of elitist and elite pleasures. We’ll wax philosophical and hold up the elite of our societies for praise.

I don’t think we’ll have any shortage of material.

But that may not be what first came to your mind when you decided that a Carnival of the Elitist Bastards would suit you right down to the ground.

So it’s your turn: what do you think this Carnival of the Elitist Bastards should be?

The floor is open.

Update: for more Carnival of the Elitist Bastards information, including contact info for yours truly, see this post.

Liv Tyler and Human Sexuality

I don’t slavishly follow celebrity news, but AOL’s newsfeed does, and yesterday it popped up an announcement about Liv Tyler splitting from her hubby. Then there’s the provocative post Paul’s got up over at his place, and it comes down to one thing.

Time to confront my latent potential for bisexuality once again.

There’s a backstory here. Stick with me and we’ll get there.

Back in the days before the X-Files went to total shit, a friend and I were having a scintillating discussion about television women while we were shelving books at the store. No customers were harmed in the making of this conversation. Seth and I had the place to ourselves, and we used the time wisely to debate the relative attractiveness of some TV stars. He mooned over Lucy Lawless. I told him Gillian Anderson was the only woman I’d become a lesbian for.

“Oh, my God, so would I!” he exclaimed.

“You don’t have that problem, Seth,” said I. “You’re a guy.”

“No, you don’t understand,” he said with the fervency of a born-again. “If I found out she was a lesbian, I’d have a sex change!”

I’m not sure if she’s the only woman he’d have a sex change for, but I know she remained the only woman I’ve ever been sexually attracted to until Liv Tyler burst on the scene.

Liv, many apologies if you ever read this. I don’t spend my nights imagining hot, dirty monkey sex with you, but ye gods. If you and Christian Bale both showed up on my doorstep clammoring for my hand, I’d have an extremely tough time deciding between you.

And that used to disturb me, because I didn’t think I “swung that way.” But as I’m getting older, I’m finding myself more and more drawn to feminine beauty. At this point, I don’t give a rat’s ass if Right turns out to be Mr. or Ms. I’d be happy either way.

(At this point in the conversation, I should probably mention my criteria: Mr. or Ms. Right will be wealthy enough to let me quit my job, absolutely fascinated by my writing, quite capable of amusing themselves for long periods of time while I’m busy with said writing, and dead-set against the idea of having children ever. Absolutely must have excellent brain. God Delusion Index should be virtually nil. Physical attractiveness a plus. And no, I’m not intending to get married ever, thus the high standards and the refusal to lower them. Thank you for playing.)

Where was I?

Anyway. So, yes, Liv Tyler makes me question my assumptions about my own sexuality, especially when she does cruel things like separate from her husband and thus reminds me that a running joke between me and my former roommate was who would beat the other one to the door if she ever showed up, a joke that got gracefully retired when Liv tied the knot.

It does not help that the best kiss I have ever received, bar none, was from a woman. Alas, not Liv Tyler. But a damned attractive woman nonetheless, and made all the sweeter by the fact that we had every man at the party sweating. There are moments when you need to put your habitual preferences aside for the sheer fun of blowing a circuit in a smug bastard’s mind.

Then Paul comes out with his “Why do Men Look at Teen Nudity?” post, and I got to thinking about it, and I realized I’m damned shallow. When it comes to men, I find a broad swath of them attractive, but my hormones only start singing at young, voluptious women who are not simply attractive but incredibly so.

Which, I suppose, is normal for someone who isn’t really honestly truly bisexual, but more of a dilettante.

My hetero guy friends, at least the few who are comfortable enough in their masculinity to admit as much, seem to be the same way: it takes an extraordinarily attractive man to get their attention. And they never drool over old guys. The cut-off seems to be around the mid-thirties for both sets of us. Of course, my guy friends who are old enough to be attracted to older folk are usually not of the generation that would admit such things, so my sample is deeply flawed.

Human sexuality is a fascinating thing, innit? I don’t think it’s so cut-and-dried as so many claim. What we find attractive is amazingly diverse. Attraction to the same sex doesn’t seem to be as rare as modern society would like to believe. Some of it seems hardwired, of course, but it seems to have mutable fringes. If that weren’t so, I don’t think so many societies that condoned homosexuality in varying degrees would have seen quite as much of it. It seems to me – and this is scientific by no means – that when the restraints are removed, we’re a lot more versatile in our likes than society would have us believe.

Me, I’m just going to enjoy drooling over whomever catches my fancy at the moment, be it male or female, young or old. And while I’m not going to wait for Liv Tyler to ring my doorbell – we all know how likely that is – I’m not going to cut off a good thing if it presents itself just because it doesn’t come in my usual flavor.

John Derbyshire Gives Blogger Heart Failure

I hear your two questions: “Who the fuck is John Derbyshire?” and “Which blogger?”

This blogger. Me. And this is John Derbyshire. Everybody say “Hi, John!” Yes, I’m asking you to say hello to a conservative columnist. A cheery hello, at that. Even though he’s a homophobic racist hypocrite (as he admits himself), we can extend a cautious hand of welcome. After all, for a conservative, he is, as he says, “a mild and tolerant” racist homophobe, which is damned near miraculous for a National Review Online columnist.

He immigrated illegally from Great Britian before he became legal and started hating on all the brown immigrants, so that likely explains why he’s the kind of conservative who can give me heart failure for being rational, reasonable, and uplifiting.

I found him on The Panda’s Thumb. He’s one of the rare few conservatives who’s been quoted as saying non-outrageous things about evolution. I still hesitated before clicking that “Continue reading A Blood Libel on Our Civilization at the National Review” link. I mean, it’s the fucking National Review. It’s fuckwit central. But I like to think I have courage, and at times even an open mind, although that’s been hard to keep open after the abuse it’s taken from the neocons. So I steeled myself and clicked.

His article has a promising start. Right under the title, it asks, “Can I expell Expelled?”

Absolutely, John. You most certainly can. By all means. I’d be delighted to hold the door open while you boot them in the arse, even.

Things then became a bit rocky, but I soldiered on:

What on earth has happened to Ben Stein? He and I go back a long way. No, I’ve never met the guy. Back in the 1970s, though, when The American Spectator was in its broadsheet format, I would always turn first to Ben Stein’s diary, which appeared in every issue. He was funny and clever and worldly in a way I liked a lot. The very few times I’ve caught him on-screen, he seems to have had a nice line in deadpan self-deprecation, also something I like. Though I’ve never met him, I know people who know him, and they all speak well of him. Larry Kudlow, whose opinion is worth a dozen average opinions on any topic, thinks the world of Ben.

Oh, deary, deary me. He loves Ben. No good can come of this.

So what’s going on here with this stupid Expelled movie? No, I haven’t seen the dang thing. I’ve been reading about it steadily for weeks now though, both pro (including the pieces by David Klinghoffer and Dave Berg on National Review Online) and con, and I can’t believe it would yield up many surprises on an actual viewing. It’s pretty plain that the thing is creationist porn, propaganda for ignorance and obscurantism. How could a guy like this do a thing like that?

Easy, my dear John. Ben Stein is an opportunistic assclown. He’s snookered you into thinking he has a frontal lobe. I am so sorry you had to find out the truth this way.

Heh. You said porn. Hur hur hur.

So far, not so bad. Gingerly, I continued picking my way through the piece, convinced that at any moment, I’d get my legs blown off by a sudden claymore landmine of neocon fucktardedness. There were moments where I’d stop, breathless, convinced I’d just tripped a wire:

The first thing that came to mind was Saudi money. Half of the evils and absurdities in our society seem to have a Saudi prince behind them somewhere, and the Wahhabists are, like all fundamentalist Muslims, committed creationists.

Awshit. Just when it was all going so swimmingly, here we go with the Islamofascists are responsible for everything bad!!1!1!!! spiel. What a fucking disappointment… holy fuck, what’s this?

This doesn’t hold water, though. For one thing, Stein is Jewish. For another, he is rich, and doesn’t need the money. And for another, the stills and clips I have seen are from a low-budget production. Saudi financing would surely at least have come up with some decent computer graphics.

Ye gods. Logic! Tortured, twisted logic, true, but considering we’re dealing with a conservative mind writing in the National Review, that’s pretty damned impressive. Most of them just leave it at “Islamofascists didit, blow them all to bits, the end.” The man questioned his assumptions. He tried applying reason.

This is where the heart attack happened. Clutching my chest, I continued to read:

It is at any rate clear that [the producers of Expelled] engaged in much deception with the subjects they interviewed for the movie, many of whom are complaining loudly. This, together with much, much else about the movie, can be read about on the Expelled Exposed website put up by the National Center for Science Education, which I urge all interested readers to explore.

Total. Heart. Failure. He, John Derbyshire, a conservative writer for the National Review, just referred his readers, nay, urged them, to visit ExpelledExposed.com, not to debunk or sneer but to learn.

I’d say “be still, my heart,” but you’ve stopped, so that’s redundant at this point.

My own theory is that the creationists have been morally corrupted by the constant effort of pretending not to be what they are. What they are, as is amply documented, is a pressure group for religious teaching in public schools.

My heart stopped already, right? Can it stop again? He even freely admits that these fuckers are trying to pass religion off as science!

One of my favorite comments came from “Pixy Misa” (Andrew Mazels) who correctly called Ben Stein’s accusing Darwin of responsibility for the Holocaust “a blood libel on science.”

I would actually go further than that, to something like “a blood libel on Western Civilization.”

Wow-e-wow. Just… wow. I know I’m dead, now. Conservatives in our country just don’t say things like this. I must have ended up going down the wrong leg of the Trousers of Time this morning. Total alternate universe. Has to be.

Western civilization has many glories. Ther
e are the legacies of the ancients, in literature and thought. There are the late-medieval cathedrals, those huge miracles of stone, statuary, and spiritual devotion. There is painting, music, the orderly cityscapes of Renaissance Italy, the peaceful, self-governed townships of old New England and the Frontier, the steel marvels of the early industrial revolution, our parliaments and courts of law, our great universities with their spirit of restless inquiry.

And there is science, perhaps the greatest of all our achievements, because nowhere else on earth did it appear. China, India, the Muslim world, all had fine cities and systems of law, architecture and painting,
poetry and prose, religion and philosophy. None of them ever accomplished what began in northwest Europe in the later 17th century, though: a scientific revolution. Thoughtful men and women came together in learned societies to compare notes on their observations of the natural world, to test their ideas in experiments, and in reasoned argument against the ideas of others, and to publish their results in learned journals. A body of common knowledge gradually accumulated. Patterns were observed, laws discerned and stated.

Glories! Yes! “Spirit of restless inquiry,” even so! Science, “greatest of all our achievements,” absolutely! I’ll even forgive you that little sneer at other countries for not having a scientific revolution, because by your narrow definition of a scientific revolution, you’re right. They didn’t have one. But you understand the glory and importance of science, John, and that…

…brings to us a feeling for what the scientific endeavor is like, and how painfully its triumphs are won, with what sweat and tears. Our scientific theories are the crowning adornments of our civilization, towering monuments of intellectual effort, built from untold millions of hours of observation, measurement, classification, discussion, and deliberation. This is quite apart from their wonderful utility — from the light, heat, and mobility they give us, the drugs and the gadgets and the media. (A “thank you” wouldn’t go amiss.) Simply as intellectual constructs, our well-established scientific theories are awe-inspiring.

This, my darlings, is where I began to cry. Because John Derbyshire, a conservative, stated precisely how I feel about science. He expressed perfectly my own sense of wonder, my awe and appreciation, my love. His passion and mine recognize each other joyously. This is what draws us together over the divide. This is what makes those differences in ideology solvable. A conservative gets it. He understands, and respects, science. This is hope, people. This is fertile middle ground, this is. He can’t be the only conservative in this country who feels this way.

And how does he feel about Ben, now?

And now here is Ben Stein, sneering and scoffing at Darwin, a man who spent decades observing and pondering the natural world — that world Stein glimpses through the window of his automobile now and then, when he’s not chattering into his cell phone.

Ouch. And Intelligent Design?

The “intelligent design” hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization. It is an appeal to barbarism, to the sensibilities of those Apaches, made by people who lack the imaginative power to know the horrors of true barbarism. (A thing that cannot be said of Darwin. See Chapter X of Voyage of the Beagle.)

And yes: When our greatest achievements are blamed for our greatest moral failures, that is a blood libel against Western civilization itself.

Very ouch.

All that’s needed now is for more true conservatives like John Derbyshire to get so disgusted with the neocons and theocons that they wrest back conservatism from the assmonkeys destroying it. It can be done. That middle ground that I was pining for a bit ago, it can be created again. We’ll all be freely mingling in it, visiting from our respective ends of the political spectrum, cheerfully ribbing each other over what we consider each other’s silly ideologies, but able to debate rather than degrade, talk rather than shout.

That’s what this article has shown me. It’s still possible. The divide is not yet an impassable chasm. There are some people on both sides busily building bridges and caulking the cracks. They’re making it possible for us to reach each other.

And when we get there, won’t we ever have a delightful time bashing the IDiots? Once I get my heart started again, anyway.

Book Meme Mania

Book memes! I got these from John Lynch at Stranger Fruit, by way of PZ. And I’m gonna do them both. Just because I’m the kind of person who lurves literature. Actually, no. I love really good books and I hate pretentious fuckers who claim to love books but love prestige more.

Allow me to clarify: If you loved a classic because the story grabbed you, fantastic, you’re a person who lurves literature. If you’ve read every book on the classics list because that gives you snob value, you’re a pretentious fucker and you can bugger off.

So. Ones I’ve read in bold, ones I own but haven’t finished reading in italic, ones I’ve wanted to put through a chipper-shredder struck out.

These are the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New world
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Hmm. 30. I must be an unlettered bumpkin, eh? Don’t tell that to the hundreds and hundreds of books now threatening to combine my apartment with the one immeditately below.

Let’s see how we do with cult books, then.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (1957-60)
A Rebours by JK Huysmans (1884)
Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993)
The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (1971)
Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut? by Erich Von Däniken (1968 )
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968 )
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter (1979
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948 )
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (1979)
Iron John: a Book About Men by Robert Bly (1990)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson (1970)
The Magus by John Fowles (1966)
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1962)
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958 )
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971)
The Outsider by Colin Wilson (1956)
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1923)
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (1914)
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám tr by Edward FitzGerald (1859)
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954)
The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda (1968 )
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig(1974)

Not much of a cultist, either, apparently. And what the fuck is To Kill a Mockingbird doing up there in the cult books? That wasn’t cult, that was social fucking justice, that was. It was the only assigned book all throughout high school that didn’t make me want to vomit. Well, I take that back. I loved A Tale of Two Cities, actually. Yes, I’m one of those awful people who doesn’t think Dickens is too verbose. But the rest of them – I mean, for fuck’s sake, couldn’t we have read something in freshman lit that blew fewer goats than The Oxbow Incident? Like, oh, say, Moby Dick? And if you knew, if you even suspected, how much I passionately loathe Moby Dick, you’ll know just how bad The Oxbow Incident is.

Other than the part where some dude gets shot and there’s a gory description of one of his buddies heating up a gun barrel and cauterizing the wound. That was entertaining.

A quick note: The Annotated Dracula was awesome. I got my recipe for paprika hendel from it.

One last book note here: you’ll remember me mentioning Mr. Vail last night. He’s the reason I read Siddhartha. We used to have a lot of chats after school when he was supervising study hall, and one day, he looked at me and said, “You should read Steppenwolf. You’re just like the main character.” And I suppose he was right. I was ill-suited for the town I was in. But that didn’t matter half so much as the fact that Herman Hesse is an incredible author and I enjoyed the whole book immensely, even while being baffled by it. That’s why I snapped up Siddhartha, and loved it even more.

See? I read a few things outside of SF and non-fiction. I even like some of it.

And Now, A Note From Our Senior Teen Correspondent

Editor’s note: I met Kaden a few years ago in a writer’s forum, and he blew me away. It’s rare for an adult to actually meet a teenager who can think rings around the smartest people you know. So we became fast friends, and I’ve almost given up arguing with him because he’s too frequently right. It’s with great pleasure, then, that I extract the post he so cleverly tried to hide in the comments and emblazon it across the face of En Tequila Es Verdad for all the world to see.

I’m reasonably sure he was joking about being our Senior Teen Correspondent, but I’m making it official. At least until I have to give way to Chronos and appoint him as our Senior Young Adult Correspondent.

Without further ado, then, I present you Kaden’s report on abstinence-only education and the general fuckwittery thereof.

Being something of the Senior Teen Correspondent, I thought I’d shed my view on things.

SOME parents – I repeat, some – know what teens are doing these days. Some of _those_ parents know how to address those topics and have a mature, constructive discussion; but its only a small percentage of that smaller group of parents who also can summon up the courage to initiate that kind of discussion with their teen.

Other parents are about as clueless as a color-blind bomb defusal team. Abstinence-only education has NEVER worked. Of course, even in-depth sexual education won’t stop a hormonal teenager from doing what they really want to be doing, but at least they have an idea of what could happen.

Clearly, though, the combination of sex ed, increased parent/child discussions, media coverage and a general increase in public knowledge, has had positive effects. Teen pregnancy rates across the U.S. have declined since about the 90s. Though, unfortunately, some statistics say that its started to level out and climb back up again in recent years.

In any case, the question at hand. Should abstinence-only education be taught in schools? No, and for a few reasons.

One, the saturation of media in our culture makes that level of sheltering nigh impossible, and even dangerous if it were actually achieved. Things like YouTube, the limitless number of pornographic websites, late-night HBO, and just about any music video with the images or words: bling, pimp, ho, playa/er, gangsta/er, rap.. well, you get the idea. It all educates us youngin’s, in the wrong ways, if we were never educated any other way.

Two, on a more positive note, the culture has started to shift its paradigm as well. Condom commercials, which are frequent in most European locales, are finally starting to make their way into our networks. The younger age brackets right now are starting to learn things that we, as parents, will be able to more effectively teach our kids than our abstinence-fed parents were, by and large, not able to do for us.

Three, if you learn only one thing about us, its that the more obviously you try to hide the christmas presents, the more we’ll start snooping around in closets.

Four, sex ed does actually help. I go to a high school five days a week. I see it every day. Between rock stars, sex idols, playboy and, of course, the internet, we are one horny bunch of people. However, programs like Planned Parenthood, where we can get free, confidential contraceptives, means that its all fun and no kids. At least, more often than before.

So look, the evidence that sexual education is a positive, if not wholly effective method, is irrefutable. To try to deny that is just..

Wait, who are we arguing with?

Republicans? Oh..


-Kaden, Senior Teen Correspondent, En Tequila Es Verdad