January 31, 2006

The World's Second Smartest Atheist

Because I figure #1 would have to be Richard Dawkins or the Pope or Stalin or somebody:

This eBay auction was up to $172.50 at post time:

I'm a 22-year-old Atheist from Chicago. I stopped believing in God when I was 14. Currently, I am an active volunteer for a couple different national, secular organizations. For one of them, I am the editor of a newsletter that reaches over 1,000 Atheist/Agnostic college students. I have written several Letters to the Editor to newspapers in and around Chicago, espousing my Atheistic beliefs when Church/State issues arose. My point being that I don't take my non-belief lightly. However, while I don't believe in God, I firmly believe I would immediately change those views if presented with evidence to the contrary. And at 22, this is possibly the best chance anyone has of changing me.

So, here's my proposal. Everytime I come home, I pass this old Irish church. I promise to go into that church every day-- for a certain number of days-- for at least an hour each visit. For every $10 you bid, I will go to the Church for 1 day. For $50, you would have me going to mass every day for a week.

The emailed and posted questions and answers are a hoot, too, especially those that appear to ask/answer earnest questions about the offer up for bid.

Well, maybe it's not all that smart: I guess it's only ten dollars an hour. But that's more than I'm getting and I'm not even kidding. I would totally consider doing something like this myself if I could do it without leaving the house... What would be really interesting is an auction where someone offered to convert to the religion of the winner's choosing. Has anyone ever done this? Because it would be interesting to know the market value of such a thing. Well, kind of interesting. I didn't actually mean to say "really" there; it just slipped out.

(via Relapsed Catholic.)

UPDATE: the seller plans to chronicle his wild ride on a blog called ebayatheist.

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I'm So Ronery

Hans Brix rules OK.

(via Hit and Run.)

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January 30, 2006

In a World Where No One is Ever Kidding...

Robert Kagan, on the state of not being a Straussian:

I have long admired the work of Allan Bloom, Harry Jaffa, Harvey Mansfield, and Thomas Pangle--though not, I must say, Leo Strauss himself, since I have never understood a word the political philosopher wrote. I mean not a single word...

It is true that I have known Straussians almost all my life. And the one thing I was taught about them from the earliest age is that they are wrong. The person who taught me this was my father, an ancient historian who spent a good portion of his time at Cornell University in the 1960s arguing with Allan Bloom. As a youngster of eight or nine I got to witness many of these arguments in the faculty lunch room at the Statler, where my father would take me on summer days. They were fun. For one thing, Bloom was an incredible character, though to my youthful eye he acted, talked, and dressed a bit silly. I remember being absolutely enthralled by his famous stutter. He would start a sentence by saying, "The-ah, the-ah, the-ah, the-ah, the-ah truth that Socrates was, ah, seeking . . . " Something like that. Also, whenever I saw him he would practically squeeze the life out of me with a bear-hug. It was actually painful. And he once accidentally stubbed a cigar out on my hand at a poker game.

But that's not the reason I never became a Straussian...

(via Clive Davis.)

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Heather King (Joe's sister) writes in Publisher's Weekly about James Frey and "lying to tell a lesser truth":

It's every writer's sacred honor to "get it right," but perhaps the burden falls heaviest on the memoirist. As a memoirist, it seems to me, something has to have happened to you that you're burning to tell. You've undergone some kind of transformation that matters not because it says something about you, but because it says something about the world; because it touches on the mysteries of suffering and meaning. There may be great leeway in being faithful to this emotional truth, but you have to have an emotional truth to begin with. The details you remember, your stance towards the people you meet, your interpretation of your experiences: all have to spring from this deeper level; this vision you carry around like a secret; the yearning to get it right that eventually drives everything you think, say, do. You have to have some kind of love for the world, with all its terrible suffering; you have to be willing to cut off your writing hand rather than betray by a word what it's taught you. The problem is that it doesn't seem to have taught James Frey much of anything, which is why A Million Little Pieces rings false, on both levels, from start to finish.
(via Ben.)
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The Christian Sound Bite

There's an interesting discussion over at Ann Althouse's blog about Steven Colbert, Paul Begala, and John 3:16.

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"An asinine, unredeemed bore..."

No, not me! That's Alfred Hitchock's Vertigo.

Norm Geras notes this rather embarrassing (in retrospect) passage from a 1959 piece by film critic Stanley Kauffmann:

The decline of Alfred Hitchcock is no longer news. It is quite clear that the director of The Lady Vanishes and The Thirty-nine Steps is dead and that an obscene ghost is mocking him by superficially imitating him. His last film, Vertigo, was an asinine, unredeemed bore. His latest, North by Northwest, starts more promisingly but soon loses us in cliche and preposterousness... [T]he urgent, encompassing reality of his first films is missing, and without it, his antics simply look foolish.

The scene in the cornfield in which a crop-dusting plane strafes Cary Grant is probably the low point in Hitchcock's career - pure comic-book stuff...

Here's a more recent bit from Kauffmann, from his (perhaps justifiably) tepid review of Woody Allen's Match Point in last week's New Republic:

The dialogue is, at least to an American ear, authentic... British dialogue is more difficult for American writers than might be thought, and Allen comes through it all right, even to the provincial dialects of two detectives who appear near the end.
I have to say that neither I, who have spent a great deal of time in Britain, nor my wife who was born and raised there, felt the film's portrayal of British manners was very persuasive. But we have never moved among the super-rich, so maybe that's the problem. However, if Kauffmann thinks that the Metropolitan Police really go around muttering phrases like "poor schmuck," he's watching different crime dramas than we are.
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January 29, 2006

A Dim Among the Brights

I have learned through experience over the years that it avails one very, very little to get in arguments with Chomskyists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Objectivists, vegans, postmodernists, Maoists, Scientologists, LaRouchies, Deadheads, Foucault dependents, and crusading atheists. (I'd add Catholics to the list, except that with them you usually get something to drink in the bargain: I mean, it avails you that, at any rate.)

I've already mentioned the edifying spectacle of a young contrarian arguing with an older one over whether or not St. Paul was a "wanker." Natalie Solent's colloquy on Religion vs. Science and the Norm Geras/Ophelia Benson discussion are certainly more learned, urbane, witty, and interesting for the viewer than the "wanker" one was. But these arguments, where one person's philosophical, customary and aesthetic preferences about what it's reasonable to believe do rhetorical battle with those of another, always have more or less the same denouement, which is that they degenerate into a contest of who is more adept at associating the other's worldview with that of Hitler or Pol Pot. How many millions have died, and upon whose pretensions can we pin it? If only the world were free of people like you and Stalin! Oh, you're so naive, how typical, both say at the same time, how dare you! Snap!

(The rest of this post is after the jump for those who are interested. I don't necessarily recommend it - I doubt it's anything you haven't heard before.)

Now to my mind, "faith is a moral failing" is roughly on a par with "there is no spoon" as a contribution to human understanding. But someone over at Butterflies and Wheels recently came up with this bumper sticker-y formulation, to great acclaim and high fiving all around. Stewart can't wait to use it in the coming theist-atheist rumble. Imagine their reaction! "Faith is a moral failing." They'll never be able to "get around" that!

I'm not at all qualified to address the complexities of the relationship of faith to reason, though this line of inquiry does suggest other undesirable things we might want to consider doing away with (e.g., love and hope.) We'll have to see who wins the rumble. In the meantime, Ophelia's position is that Religion has, on balance, caused more evil than good and thus is "not worth the price." It is a facile answer to a vacuous question, as I see it, but she takes it very seriously, so you have to wonder: what remedy does she have in mind? Since she can't be proposing a project where we go back in time and try to undo the whole of human history up to this point and then do it over leaving the "religion" out, we must be content to eradicate the Evil from here on. (Even if we could, would it really be wise? With the Butterfly Effect and all, I mean? I've played enough Civilization III to know that you have no hope of getting the Cure for Cancer unless you've already discovered Monotheism, which you can't get without developing Polytheism, which you can't get without Ceremonial Burial. So if we try to skip Monotheism, would we still be stuck with horsemen without stirrups and only 2 attack points who lose a movement point every time they try to cross a river? In fact, maybe, just to be on the safe side, we should wait till our wise men actually do develop the Cure for Cancer before we rule out the Sistine Chapel, because I'd hate to miss out on that: it's arguably the best Wonder in the endgame.)

Yet even now, as much as in the past and like it or not, religious experience remains a feature of human experience and disentangling it from those experiences explored through philosophy, politics, culture, and art, and indeed disentangling those things from natural science itself, would be a bigger task than my, admittedly modest, powers of imagination can fathom. In fact, even if I thought it desirable, I really doubt it could be done; and quite honestly I doubt the "brights" really think so either. It is fun to think about though, in a "wouldn't it be neat if it rained martinis" sort of way.

But what if you have had an experience of transcendence, a brush with something unquantifiable? If you have actually come face to face with the terror of the absolute whatchamacallit, or merely felt that you have caught a glimpse of the deelybob beyond material reality or tasted the ineffable flavor of divine what's-it, or something of the kind? And if in groping for means to understand and communicate the experience you feel you must resort to the symbols, rhetoric, tropes, and traditions of those who have explored and examined such experiences before you? Well, don't tell Ophelia and Stewart. They don't want to know.

Or maybe they do want to know, as long as you clean up your language. Ophelia's comments on this blog reflect an interest in the topic, but an aversion to some of the façons de parler that people resort to when discussing it. "Modest speculation" on the Thing that Must Not be Named is all right, but "truth claims" about it send her into a tizzy. You can, presumably, avert the tizzy by choosing your words carefully. You can give it a shot, anyway.

Maybe the Brights are right and there is nothing there, and the very idea that there might be something to speculate upon is a lie or delusion, like that weird orbiting teapot they're always going on about. I mean, come on, who'd believe something like that? What nonsense! (What, am I using their straw man as my straw man? Sorry... Well, that's just the sort of thinking that led to the Holocaust. I know, I said I was sorry.) If that's what the Brights think, then I encourage the Brights to go right on thinking it.

But it does appear that much of it boils down to an aesthetic objection: "God talk" offends Bright sensibilities. I have a different aesthetic myself. Life is more than weights and measures, or rather, there are things in this world of ours that cannot be weighed and measured; and, for me, these tend to turn out to be among the most interesting things. So in fact, though I am a pretty modern guy, I'm not offended by "God talk." In fact, I quite like it. I love my Odyssey, my Heraclitus, my Plato, my Augustine, my Beowulf, my Dante, my 17th Century English translation of my Yahwist, Psalmist, and Evangelists; my Blake, my El Greco, my Bach, my Chesterton, my Narnia, my Hank Williams, my Pete Townshend; you get the idea. But of course, as I readily admit, I am one of those sloppy, soppy, floppy, emotional artistic types, at least, I am for the purposes of this post, and not any sort of hard-headed radical rationalist who will eat you for breakfast. Ophelia professes to love poetry as well, and I'm sure the profession is absolutely sincere. Can you love something, yet also burn with a desire to stomp out that which has inspired it? I guess you can. Life is full of contradictions. ("So if we skip Monotheism, can we still have the Psalms and Country Music?" "Oh, that's just a typical theist ploy!" "What, did you learn to say that from your friend Stalin?" "Your mother learned it from Stalin...")

Well, to each his own. Hanging out in a roomful of scolding "brights" is my idea of Hell, frankly, but they and Stalin and Pol Pot and Hitler are certainly welcome to whatever floats their boat.

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January 28, 2006


The Brooklyn Public Library has changed the call number on James Frey's A Million Little Pieces from 362.29 to FIC.

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I'll Take Things That Are Bad for 200, Alex

If you find the argument over whether Religion has done more harm than Science or vice versa diverting, you might want to head over to Natalie Solent's place: she's arguing with Professor Anthony Grayling.

UPDATE: Hey this is almost just like the good old days!

Moira Breen, far less of a frequent blogger of late than I wish she were, writes to Natalie on Prof. Grayling and the current game of Spot the Evil:

I fear that either Mr. Grayling is misleading your Martian readers, or I am misinformed on certain finer points of history.

If the Martians were encountering Earth history for the first time in his recent response to you, they might reasonably conclude from his phrasing that the malignant United States - after all chock-a-block with religious enthusiasm and Southern Baptist types from the get-go - stood in opposition to the triumphant "secular, democratic and humanist offspring of Enlightenment [that] refused to accept either fascism or communism, and defeated the former in seventeen years and the latter in seventy". Maybe the persistence of American religiosity is just a product of sheer testy resentment at having been on the wrong side of history in the last century?

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Problems and Chores and Hopes and Dreams

A friend of mine found this letter between the pages of a copy of Gail Sheehy's Passages, which was in a box of books on the street in south Berkeley. The letter was ripped in quarters and placed in an envelope with the word "ART" written on it.

Put together, it looks like this:


Here is a transcript:

Dear Art,
I'm not quite sure what's happening so I decided I'd better check it out with you before there's any more misunderstanding.

I feel like I've been put on hold. I don't mind if I know why.

First you were including me in on Wed. - Monterrey. Then I was left out when you were going to Berkeley. I assumed either Marie was going to be involved or you were taking Charlie whoring. I didn't question it. It's not my nature. I trusted you.

Then when I invited you both to dinner last nite & you couldn't come until desert that was O.K. too. My goal was to cook for Charlie & introduce him to some of my friends.

I hadn't planned desert but I fixed one. I decided I could fix a plate of my soul food for Charlie to take home for lunch.

(It weren't easy since I invited Cher and Dave to fill in your places!!) Charlie could still meet Doni.

I didn't really start to feel bad until Doni & Ray started saying they had to leave about 9 & I called & nobody answered.

Nobody really said anything but I felt embarrassed. I kept thinking why couldn't you let all of us help you with your chores.

(Again I'm making the assumption its moving you were doing since you didn't say.)

I was also thinking you had to eat anyway. Why couldn't you stop in for a quick bite anywayhere.

I don't like feeling like a toy put on the shelf until playtime.

You said yourself I am "well-packaged." Be straight with me. Let me be involved in the problems & chores of your life also I like the stuffin, giblets & meat. Never have liked gravy alone.

How can I seek you out with my problems & chores & hopes & dreams when you are putting limits on our relationshipfriendship? My friends can be straight with me even if its to tell me I'm afraid to tell you because I'm not sure you'd understand.

People's imaginations are usually far more extreme than reality could ever be.

Love Hugs & kisses


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January 27, 2006

Jesus, St. Paul, Poland, Wankers, a horse-drawn hay cart, Larry, and Me

Speaking of religion, philosophy, spirituality, atheism, contrarianism, drugs, hippies, punk rock and what have you, Larry dredges up an anecdote from a drunken ramble through Poland in the summer of '92.

What he doesn't mention (and possibly doesn't know) is that shortly thereafter I, to the horror of many of the punks in our extended entourage, attended mass at the cathedral in Prague, and that it was one of the most moving, soul-shattering, beautiful and terrifying experiences I have ever had. And I still hear it echo and feel it reverberate in the soul I'm not supposed to have to this day. Blake said he knew there was a God because he had seen his face. It was something like that.

UPDATE: the other odd thing about this story is that, as I learned many years later (and if I have my facts right) Ken Layne and Matt Welch were at the show we played with Fugazi later that night.

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Man oh man, I sure do love things from the '70s. Well, except for Vietnam.

Treacher's Joel Stein parody is quite funny.

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Presented Without Comment

The BBC plans to mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ this Easter with an hour-long live procession through the streets of Manchester featuring pop stars from The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and featuring songs by The Smiths and New Order.

In the programme, called Manchester Passion, a character representing Jesus will sing the legendary Joy Division anthem Love Will Tear Us Apart before dueting his arch-betrayer Judas on the New Order hit Blue Monday, according to senior church sources involved in the production.

Mary Magdelene, the penitent whore of the New Testament, is also getting in on the act: she is being lined up to sing the Buzzcocks hit Ever Fallen in Love (with Someone You Shouldn't have) accompanied by a string band.

Former Happy Monday and Celebrity Big Brother winner Bez will play a disciple.

The climax of the event sees Jesus sing the Smiths classic song Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now as he is being flayed by Roman soldiers. He will then come face-to-face with his Roman prosecutor Pontius Pilate with the two of them singing a duet of the Oasis hit Wonderwall and its chorus:

"I said maybe
You're gonna be the one who saves me?
And after all
You're my wonderwall."

(via Pop Factor.)

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Total Retards

I just have to say how proud, stoked, chuffed, and generally pleased I am to run a weblog that can get comments that include the phrase:

as a punk rocker studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood...
That was in response to the post below on the debate between Norm Geras and Ophelia Benson as to whether Religion is all bad or only partially bad. And I'm in basic agreement with the commenter that a little humility in such matters doesn't go astray. The blithe assumption that we, with our enormous 19th Century Scientist-Positivist brains, have a better handle on the truth of existence and the life of the spirit than total retards like Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Cardinal Newman, et al., is unseemly at best. I know appeal to authority is a big no-no, and I'm really not sure who's right, in the end, but given the choice I'll always pick the less reductionist tack, if only because it's way more interesting that way. Materialism is boring. Oops - I guess I can't prove it! Sorry...

On the other hand, I am also thoroughly enjoying the salvos on behalf of Team Atheism by the Ophelia Benson commenter and Materialist Quarterback who goes by the name of Stewart (the source of the quote below.) We have the strategic advantage! Religion is going down! I kind of doubt it, actually, but I guess we shall see...

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January 25, 2006

The Elvis of Religion

Oops, make that: the Evils of Religion. Sorry about that.

Am I alone in thinking that the question of whether or not Religion (qua religion) is "bad" or "good" is a rather frivolous one? Is Politics "good"? Or is it, on the other hand, "bad"? And what about Art? Good or bad? Well once we find the answer, we can just eliminate the bad categories of human experience and keep the good ones, and life will be much more pleasing, aesthetically and morally, with no more annoying religious people getting in the way of our good time. Is that the idea?

In reality, though (if I may use the term) even if Richard Dawkins were to make the bestest TV show in the whole world, this new improved version of humanity would still be quite unlikely to emerge. Who's being irrational here?

On the other hand, I recognize the value and pleasure of harrumphing about this and that. I do a lot of harrumphing myself. I hate everything, but not really. Everything is bad and should be eliminated, my inner harrumpher is always going around saying. Not that I think it'll change anything. Harrumph away, my fine anti-whatever friends, and I shall do the same.

I'm not saying the argument doesn't have its moments. For example, if you like, here you can observe two very, very smart people sparring over the goodness or badness of Religion: Norm portrays the atheist who is too broadminded to take his own side in an argument, while Ophelia, seeing through the lies, would rather have an accelerated program of deculturation. A world without faith and hope: what a beautiful dream.


UPDATE: Just to add: I think Norm wins, for whatever that's worth. But then I would, wouldn't I?

But here's an extraordinary comment from Ophelia's comment box:

It's not going to be easy to use, but I think we [people who hate religion qua religion] have the upper hand, and for one very simple reason: I think we can understand their reasons for belief better than they can understand our reasons for non-belief. They have had to blinker themselves, limit their mental horizons, artificially restrict their capacity for real thought, in order to be able to continue to believe. It isn't a question of out-arguing the other side. Their weapons to promote belief are less effective on someone who is already doing his own thinking. Or, to put it another way, we possess more rational tools to understand what lies at the root of their beliefs. I consider that a strategic advantage.
What is this, the regional division play-offs? Go team!
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God Made Me Special

I expect it could be seen as kind of gauche to point it out (not that I ordinarily let fear of gaucheness get in the way of a good time.) But I believe this is my first ever "staff pick" blurb, from the Secret Garden Bookshop in Seattle. Wow, thanks.

In other King Dork news, I had a chat with the Listening Library folks and it appears that the audio version is pretty much all done, save some final QA editing. They're going to include all five songs and an interview. Contrary to previous estimates, the whole program ended up being over twelve hours. (It turns out there is a formula for this: 9,500 words usually equals approximately an hour. Why the miscalculation? Well, my book is quite long for a YA novel and math is hard. Anyhow, there it is.)

Also, there is some discussion of putting up some of the songs on the web in some form in advance of the release date, perhaps on Amazon and maybe on iTunes as well. More on that as and if it becomes clearer.

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It Just Gets Funnier and Funnier

The latest thump on the controversial best-seller "A Million Little Pieces" is a Seattle federal court lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of consumers for the "lost time" they spent reading the book.
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Just Imagine How Great it Would Be if You Could Actually Read It

Hey, want to see the new New York Times blog? Here it is!

(via Andrew Sullivan.)

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January 24, 2006

No One Around Here Comprehends My Potato


Walt Disney Records takes devolution to the next level with Dev2.0: Devo reincarnated as telegenic kids.

Kind of creepy, yet kind of mesmerizing. My internal irony-o-meter was flashing like a strobe light and finally blew a hole through my skull during the video for "Beautiful World." It's never straight up and down...

(via Boingboing.)

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January 23, 2006


Congratulations also to Matt Welch, who is now an assistant opinion editor at the Los Angeles Times. Way to go, man.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Well done, sir

Congratulations to John Green, whose YA novel Looking For Alaska (one of my favorite books from last year) just won the Printz Award.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Who Owns Naomi's Soul?

According to this, Naomi Wolf has had a mystical experience in which she, as a soul inhabiting the persona of a teenaged boy, saw a "holographic image" of Jesus.

Not only that, but the Sunday Herald also predicts "a theological battle between the American Christian right and the Jewish lobby over the ownership of her soul."

Really? The "Jewish lobby?"

In other Naomi news, she and the self-confessed "eternal adolescent" Germaine Greer discuss "intellectual intercourse" in this partial transcript of an interview on Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

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Romanian-born writer Andrei Codrescu addressed the American Library Association's midwinter meeting in San Antonio, and raised the issue of the Cuban "independent librarians."

(I've written about it here, here, and here: the basic story is that the ALA has pointedly refused to condemn Castro's crackdown on and imprisonment of Orwell-distributing "librarians." At the heart of the rhetorical battle is the definition of "librarian." In the words of ALA anti-independent-librarian activist Ann Sparanese, "deep down, we know these people aren't librarians." To those of us whose status as actual official libarians may be even shakier than that of the imprisoned Cubans, this tacit approval of Castro's crackdown, on semantic grounds, really seems like an odd position for an organization dedicated to the celebration of free speech. Hence the controversy, stoked periodically by Nat Hentoff and others.)

Coderescu got to the heart of this semantic debate with ALA president Michael Gorman:

Then Condrescu addressed freedom of expression, citing his youth in Communist Romania, where "my good luck was to meet Dr. Martin, a retired professor, who had all the poets who were blacklisted." Because of ALA's record in opposing excesses in the USA PATRIOT ACT, Codrescu said he felt "great dismay" that the organization "has taken no action to condemn the imprisonment of librarians," the banning of books, and repression in Cuba...

Codresco said he didn't see why the Cubans should be termed "so-called librarians."

Gorman said there was a dispute about whether the activity of lending books "is being a librarian" and that "there is some dispute about the funding of these people who claim to set up libraries." Gorman also added that ALA's Council had "condemned the imprisonment" of the Cubans [actually, the phrase was "deep concern"], and that the stance had been misrepresented by columnist Nat Hentoff and Robert Kent of Friends of Cuban Libraries.

Codrescu intoned, "The man who lent us books was a librarian, and he was our librarian. I think ALA should make a stronger point in solidarity with these disseminators of books."

Later, in the Q&A, Codrescu was asked if "people paid to overthow the Cuban government" deserve the support he professed. He didn't engage the question but said wryly, "I think people should overthrow all governments."

(NB: the Library Journal article reports that Codrescu's remarks received "strong, if not unanimous" applause from the crowd, concluding that the ALA membership may have a "less measured approach" to the Cuba issue than the ALA Council.)

(via Bookslut.)

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Slow ride. Take it easy.


So now there's a King Dork Discography to go along with the King Dork Reading List.

It's a list of some of the records listened to, commented on, or alluded to by the narrator in the course of the book, along with little quotes from the text. (And I regret to say there wasn't room for Foghat on this one - they only give you 25 slots.)

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January 21, 2006

Online! It Was Online All Along!

Clive Davis is a great guy and runs one of my all time favorite blogs, so it has always bothered me a bit that he has been unable to leave comments or send trackbacks to this site. I knew it had to be because of a piece of text in my blacklist file that was blocking him by accident, but I have never been able to identify it. Till now, that is: Clive's url is "clivedavis-online.com" and I just realized that somehow the string "online" was on the list. I deleted it, so everything should work just fine now for those wanting to leave comments including the word "online." Knock yourselves out.

This also clears up a mystery from a ways back. A former reader and frequent commenter known as "JB Online" was having trouble posting comments, and thought I had banned him on purpose for some reason. He was kind of mad about it. I emailed back that I hadn't banned him intentionally, but I don't think he believed me because I never heard back from him. I used to like his comments, too. So JB Online, if you're still out there, come on back. If you want.

And that goes for anybody else who has trouble with the comments. If that happens, it is almost certainly some unfortunate coincidence, where something in your text or email or url happens to coincide with a url culled from spam-chunks. The first thing to try is to alter the stuff that has a ".com" or something else that might conceivably find itself in some malicious spam url (e.g., if your website is nakedfemalesxxx.com, try posting without that bit of text...) The Blacklist program allows you ban the spammy ones, but sometimes benign chunks of text slip through, which is what happened with "online."

I am very sorry about that.

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January 20, 2006

A Joanna Lumley New Avengers Figure


(via Bubblegum Fink.)

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January 19, 2006

So, they liked it then...

According to Kirkus, Macaulay Culkin's new "novel" manages to "lower the already low bar set for celebrity fiction," and "makes Ethan Hawke read like Philip Roth."

(via Galleycat.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Somehow, I Thought They'd Always Be There

Loompanics is going out of business, and holding a fire sale.

Head Loompa Mike Hoy explains, and suggests:


(via Maud.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:31 PM | TrackBack

King Dork Reading List

So I went ahead and made one of those "listmania" lists on Amazon, the King Dork Reading List.

Through the course of the story, the narrator Tom Henderson reads a whole bunch of books from the fifties and sixties, including The Catcher in the Rye and various others that once belonged to his deceased father. (It's a long story, but basically he's looking for clues about his father's allegedly mysterious death, and also for clues about what kind of a guy his father was.) Anyhow, I listed fifteen of them, along with little "reviews" from Tom, quoted from the text. (They only allow 200 characters, so they had to be brief.)

I have to say, I get a kick out of the fact that the King Dork Reading List appears on the page for Graham Greene's Brighton Rock and so forth, because I'm weird that way. The crazy, crazy internets...

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We've All Been There


How in the world did I ever manage to miss this awesome Chick tract dramatizing the dangers of D & D?

(via Bookshelves of Doom.)

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January 15, 2006


From James Frey's answers to "Seven Significant Questions" from Amazon.com, on the My Friend Leonard page:

Q: What is the worst lie you've ever told?

A: No way I can answer that.

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January 14, 2006

Bibliography is Destiny

I finally got around to running "King Dork" through the Lulu Titlescorer: according to it, and I'd sure like to believe it, King Dork has "a 63.7% chance of being a bestselling title," which seem like pretty good odds to me. They put out zillions of books, and very few of them get anywhere. If it were a horse, I'd probably bet on it. Then again, I lost a small fortune on horses in the 80s by following that sort of instinct and reasoning and wishful thinking. In the case of KD, betting on it and not betting on it describe pretty much the same activity, i.e., hanging around hoping with a mixture of anticipation and dread.

I'm not sure I answered all the questions correctly, though, because my grasp of grammatical terminology is, it turns out, pretty weak. KD refers to a person, but it's not a proper noun, right? Is it "noun modifying noun?" And are they "abstract" or "concrete?" According to Lulu's specific yet mysterious parameters, that sort of thing can make a difference in the title's marketworthiness. I suppose we shall have to wait and see.

By the way, I'm cross-posting this on my Amazon Connect blog. Have you heard of this thing? It's a relatively new feature of Amazon where authors can post messages that will appear on the Amazon pages of people who have bought or looked at the book. At least, I think that's how it's supposed to work.

Anyhow, it's a cool idea, if it works, though there's room for improvement. For one thing, you have to use their fairly cumbersome pop-up interface if you want to include links and so forth in your posts. When you're used to blogging normally (which I define as typing out your html-tagged text in a text editor, pasting the finished clump of text into the blog cgi's entry field, previewing, and re-editing as necessary) this can be a real deterrent to posting, which is one reason why I've only managed to brave it a couple of times so far. (And cross-posting this is going to be quite a project, believe me.) They also don't allow links on your "profile" page, for some reason, beyond a field to plug in a single "web page." (Who has just one web page anymore?) In a perfect world (or in a perfect Amazon, at any rate) links would freely pass from Amazon to the entire rest of the internet and back, with an author's Amazon bibliography as a sales hub that is easily and intuitively integrated with other faces of his or her web presence. At least, that's how I'd like it to be.

The other drawback is that the word "bibliography" is meant quite literally, in that it can only include books. In my case, it would be nice to include CDs as well, so that purchasers of Revenge is Sweet, say, would be in the King Dork loop as well. I'm told they plan to include music in the plan at some later date.

Here's Cory Doctorow's rather more philosophical take on Amazon Connect mini-blogs and the "explosion of choice brought on by the Internet"; here's Shannon Okey's; and here's a NYT article.

Oh, and, uh, buy my book, ok?

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January 13, 2006

The Stuff of Nightmares

Ages ago I came up with this sort of instruction manual for how to visit London's Tate Modern.

I know most people disagree, and call me a philistine if you must, but I stand by my initial reaction: the "art" is lame, and the building gives me the heebee jeebees. The word "Kafka-esque" was once overused (though not so much nowadays, for some reason) and I hesitate to use it now. But there really is no more appropriate word for the terrifying feeling of standing within that cold, cavernous Nightmare Factory. What if those gates of steel and darkness were to come crashing down, trapping you forever within the Cathedral of Hate, the architectural simulation of the sound of a thousand human screams and the clanging of a single, powerful, terrifying machine? Man, it's creeping me out just thinking about it...

I guess I'm not quite as alone as I thought in that opinion, though. Clive Davis quotes a bit from an old article by Daniel Johnson, written on the occasion of the grand opening in AD 2000:

Tate Modern is seen as sublime because it is vast and intimidating: it panders to the giganticism and worship of power with which the new anti-art intends to impress us...

Fascist art is powerful. The taboo since 1945 has allowed us to forget just how powerful. It was an international style and it left its mark on Britain. Giles Gilbert Scott's Bankside power station could easily be the work of Albert Speer: not only the massive brick facade, but the vertical windows are reminiscent of the tribune at Nuremberg... It was Speer who, long before Lord Rogers, wanted to build the biggest dome on earth in Berlin, some six times higher than the Millennium Dome. And why did Sir Nicholas Serota have to dress his staff as blackshirts?

Well, it's fortunate that the Coal Hole is just down the road. (It's still there, isn't it?)

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Gay Britannia

In England you can be prosecuted for holding the opinion that homosexuality is immoral. And you can be prosecuted for saying that Islam is a "barmy" doctrine insofar as it supports that opinion. And you can be prosecuted for telling a police officer that his horse is gay.

Actually, that last one went a bit too far even for the sensitive, sensitive Brits, and the Crown has in the end decided not to prosecute. The police still believe they have a case, though, so I wouldn't mention gay horses too loudly in England if I were you. In the unlikely event that the subject should come up, I mean.

(via Clive Davis.)

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Hey, How About Some Frey/Leroy Action?

Chastened former JT Leroy enabler Susie Bright traces the "imaginative roots" of the JTL literary oeuvre (if oeuvre is the word I want) and concludes that they grew out of "slash fiction."

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The Daily Mail seems to have a bit of difficulty understanding the true meaning of the term "cheap publicity stunt," as that's how they characterize Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong's petition urging George Galloway to "respect his constituents not his ego."

Cheap or not, the lady has a point:

Yesterday the Respect MP was pretending to be a cat, purring and licking imaginary milk from the hands of actress Rula Lenska as he missed the vote in the Commons on the Crossrail project which affects his voters.

As Labour London Assembly Member John Biggs puts it:

I think there is a real need for politicians to engage with people but I do not think that being on Big Brother or pretending to be a cat is the best way to achieve it.
I say. Rather.


(via Harry.)

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Good Talk

There's a terrific interview with Paul Berman in the current New York Press.


I regard myself as of the left, and my complaint about a great many other people on the left is that they are stuck in the past. They are seeing events now through lenses that were ground in the 1960s, and lenses that were ground in the 1960s were partly derived from lenses that were ground in the 1930s that were partly derived from lenses ground in the 19th century.

There’s a way today in which there’s nobody more conservative than a standard leftist. My argument is that a standard leftist is someone to be avoided at all costs. I’m in favor of unstandard leftism, or anti-standard leftism. That ought to mean asking oneself these very fundamental questions, which the people I write about in Power and the Idealists are asking themselves, that have to do with this question of resistance—“What is the real oppression of our time?” Not what some ism tells us is the oppression of our time, but what is actually happening, who are the people that are actually suffering, and can something actually be done to help them?

What I know from having published Terror and Liberalism is that all over the world there are people who share the ideas in that book. There is a kind of sleeper political tendency that could be conjured into existence. You’re talking about clusters, but these clusters exist in every country, and I’ve been in touch with them. There is a kind of hidden continent of an alternative political view that exists. The great disappointment is that Tony Blair hasn’t articulated it better than he has. Bush has made things very confusing by using some of the language that this new tendency would use, but in a very disappointing way, because he talks the talk but he doesn’t walk the walk. He combines some of these principles with other principles that are dreadful and have nothing to do with a renovated left.

I get accused all the time on the left of not being any different than Bush and the neocons, but that’s not true because I think I’ve laid out some alternative principles that are very different. In Terror and Liberalism I called for a third force or a new radicalism, and that’s asking people to step forward and offer an alternative to Bush and the neocons on the right wing on the one hand, and the antique or conservative left on the other hand. I have to admit I haven’t gotten very far with that.

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January 12, 2006

The Scourge of Authenticity

The other day, in the midst of a flurry of emails on the general subject of James Frey, JT Leroy, identity or lack thereof, and the nature of truthiness, my editor asked: "I just want to check. Are you real?"

She was kidding, but it's a good question. I think I am mostly real. Like a lot of people (I assume) I feel like a great fraud from time to time, portraying an unpersuasive character in public, hoping no one will probe too deeply to discover the real story. Sometimes you want people to think you're better than you are; sometimes you want them to think you are worse than you are; and sometimes the only way to leave the impression that you are better than you are is to contrive to leave the impression that you don't care what impression you leave and that the cards have just happened to fall in such a way as to suggest the illusion of authenticity. And if you deliberately contrive not to do this or that with the cards, well, that's kind of fake, too. What you really are is kind of hard to spot from the inside, as it were. I think everyone experiences this to some degree. But most of us are spared the challenges and the great, big, huge, honking stacks of cash that arise from being in a position to do it under the scrutiny of an audience of millions. That is life's great tragedy.

I'm not a fan of the Self-Help I-have-been-to-hell-and-back confessional. I find Recovery Movement culture indescribably boring. If there's one thing worse than a slobbering druggie, it's a proselytizing former druggie. Give me a slobbering drug addict any day (though that doesn't mean I don't keep my eye on my wallet when I'm around them - I'm not an idiot.) Authenticity as such doesn't mean a great deal to me either, though I tend to suspect there is usually less to it than meets the eye, and it's fun when someone is caught out and pilloried on account of their unsupported pretensions.

But within recovery movement culture, authenticity is the basic minimum requirement. Blow your credibility, and you've got nothing. Frey's argument, tenuously endorsed in carefully chosen equivocal terms by Oprah (his "fairy godmother" in Ben's memorable phrase,) is: I stand by my Authenticity, which is so awesome and powerful that it overshadows all the fake details I used to shore it up. Lies serve the greater good of communicating a deeper truth. That won't wash. In a way, it's the whole idea of the literary novel, but it utterly fails as chicken soup for the soul. It begs the question. Lying about your authenticity, when authenticity is the matter under discussion, is a self-refuting tactic. (Unless, I suppose, if you were to claim that lying about your authenticity is itself an authentic sine qua non of the process of addiction: I actually expected Frey/Oprah to take this tack in the the interview, and I was disappointed that he didn't "go there." I have to say I'd have warmed up to Frey a bit if he had just said: "look, I'm a drug addict! We always lie about everything! And by the way, are you wondering who has your wallet, Larry? It's me! It's me! And I plan to spend your money on drugs! Heh heh heh!" An unrepentant rogue is way more lovable than a self-righteous blowhard.)

Frey's real sin was, in a way, biting off more than he could chew, writing-wise. He tried to bridge the gap between For Whom the Bell Tolls and Chicken Soup for the Soul, to be both a self-help poster boy and a Great Literary Artist at the same time, and he just wasn't up to the task. Many people have said that Frey's book would have been unpublishable as a novel, even though that's how it was originally pitched; too many clichés, too many ersatz characters straight out of central casting. Too much Hugging. I'm not sure I'm convinced by that (they publish a lot of crap these days) but of course, these negatives are pluses in the lucrative world of the I've-been-to-hell-and-back sermon. Can that circle be squared? Beats me, but it would take a very clever person to pull it off. The slow-witted Frey, despite his earnestness, falls a bit short.

Anyway, here's an angle on that, from within the bowels of the recovery movement, by Slate's Seth Mnookin:

In rehab ... it's fairly standard for new patients to begin their stays by boasting of their fearlessness, their criminal bona fides, their extreme debauchery. I used to brag of my own rap sheet. I'd elide over the fact that my two arrests resulted in no convictions. And I certainly didn't offer up that my first arrest occurred after a remarkably inept attempt to break into a high-school classmate's house was foiled when his mother returned home and found my car parked out front (I referred to that as a "b&e with intent to commit a felony"), or that the second arrest was the result of my pilfering underwear and some light bulbs from my college's bookstore.

For most people, the insecurity and fear that lead to these type of exaggerations needs to fade away before they can really start trying to figure out how to go about fixing what went wrong with their lives. One counselor at an in-patient facility I attended used to publicly humiliate new patients on their first day in the program by first making them tell the group what brought them there and then quizzing them on the specifics—how many CC's does a standard syringe hold?—until they crumbled and started telling the truth.

Fascinating as a case study in something or other; worthless as "literature." That's the inescapable verdict.

Or, as one girl I know put it:

This whole thing just pisses me off because I can peg Frey just by listening to him speak for 10 minutes. He is an overweight frat boy who fancies himself a gifted writer and literary critic. I bet I can drink more than him.
Me too.
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Reading is Believing

Novelist Christian Bauman considers the Frey Affair in the light of his own archive of rejection letters and makes a pretty good case that, ultimately, Dave Eggers is to blame.

(via Ross at Andrew's place.)

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January 11, 2006


Want to hear something crazy? Then get someone to read this aloud to you:

Random House will refund readers who bought James Frey's drug and alcohol memoir "A Million Little Pieces" directly from the publisher, a move believed to be unprecedented, after the author was accused of exaggerating his story.

(via Bookslut.)

UPDATE: "Random House," says Mr. Frey on his weblog, "is NOT offering refunds!" He quotes a statement allegedly from RH, but there's no link or attribution. Made-up? Or real? As soliciting customers to apply for refunds for a puffed-up memoir seems totally, utterly, unimaginably insane, I think it's more than plausible that the CNN report was in error, but you never know, and anyway it's kind of fun to imagine that he made that up, too. I mean, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?

UPDATE 2: I just watched the Larry King interview, and wow: just when you were thinking it couldn't get weirder, it got weirder. Frey, his mom, Jerzy Kozinski ("well, you know, he committed suicide - not that I'm suggesting..."), Ernest Hemingway ("they didn't have memoirs back then, it's a very new concept"), the nature of truthiness ("usually memoir is thought of in the genre of 'nonfiction'"), and a final climactic supposedly unexpected call-in from Oprah herself ("Anderson, we're going to have to go over: we've got Oprah on the phone! we've got Oprah!") who stands by her man, but blames the controversy on the publisher for mislabeling. And then Anderson Cooper mentions that Gloria Vanderbilt would have been mad at him if he had cut off Oprah. Let's hear it for mothers. Boy oh boy. God Bless America.

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What the Voice of the People is saying is: ‘Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?

Harry of Harry's Place points out the lesson of the George Galloway Big Brother affair:

This should be a lesson for any budding British demagogues. You can be a servant for a brutal murderous dictator, you can be pally with dodgy dealers ripping off Iraq's poor under sanctions, you can strut around the East End stirring up hatred and give your support to death squads in the Middle East.

But never, ever embarass your middle class supporters and media friends by hanging out with 'chavs' on Big Brother.

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January 10, 2006

I Could Do Hard Time for This One, Baby! AND Community Service...

By now I imagine most people have seen the Smoking Gun exposé on James Frey and his fake memoir A Million Little Pieces. I'm enjoying it as much as everybody else, of course, particularly as it presents an occasion to produce parodies of his wooden, terse (and yet somehow still overblown) prose style. Here's my contribution:

"I stared at the Floor. She stared at the Floor. We both stared at the Floor. There it was, the Floor that both of us were fucking staring at. What the hell. A Floor is a Floor when you get right down to it. Fucking Floor..."

"We were in discussions after we Sold it as to whether to publish It as fiction or as Nonfiction," he told the New York Times. It was a Tough Call. As it turned out, they guessed Wrong.

Anyhow, all that theatrical "I'm your worst nightmare - the guy your parents warned you about!" stuff was obviously fake, and everyone pretty much knew it all along. But the details about the degree to which it was fake are priceless. He wasn't Public Enemy #1. He was your basic, ordinary, frat boy. He never spent any time in jail or anything like that. Just a few hours in a police station. And there was a small fine. He was just a meek, timid, rather well-behaved nobody like the rest of us. But people tattooed his catch phrase on their bodies, an audience of millions wept, and he gave earnest interviews where he said things like "if I can do it - so can you!" with a straight face. I wish. The guy's a millionaire. I enjoy the momentary discomfort of anyone who has sold more units than me. You have to take the joy where you can find it. And of course, I'm not alone. There are millions upon millions of us.

The whole tale brings to mind a couple of iconic Seinfeld scenes. The first is where Newman brings Jerry in on a charge of mail fraud. "Oh, how I've longed for this day, the day when I would have the proof I needed to haul you out of your cushy lair and expose to the light of justice as the monster that you are..." Beat. "There will be a small fine."

The other is the episode where George is playing "the bad boy" to impress Elaine's co-worker, Anna. They're talking on the phone and Anna asks him what he's up to. George, ironing shirts in his underwear, says "You don't wanna know..."

I think that's how I will always prefer to remember James Frey, ironing shirts in his underwear, telling people he's their worst nightmare, the guy their mothers warned them about. If it weren't for the whole being a millionaire angle, you'd almost even feel sorry for him in a way.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:18 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

January 08, 2006

Hail Spode, Once Again

I honestly thought it was a joke the first three or four times I heard it, but it's for real: George Galloway has decided he can best serve his constituents by appearing as a contestant on Britain's Celebrity Big Brother reality TV program.

Harry's Place points out previous SWP objections to the program ("...by watching Big Brother you too become part of the dehumanising process...") which have now been clarified by the great one himself. Dehumanisation has its uses. As Galloway explains, he's doing it "for Palestine." And for The People.

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January 05, 2006

You Don't Win 14 Grammys Feeding Africans

Life imitates Onion once again.

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January 04, 2006

More Dorkiness

It appears they finished recording the King Dork audio book. According to this, anyway, it's six hours and thirty minutes on six CDs and it's read by this guy. Presumably the pronunciation of "Wig Wam Bam" and "Foghat" went off without a hitch.

(I'm not absolutely certain, but it's my understanding that they're going to include all five of the "book songs" I recorded last year as bonus tracks.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:12 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 02, 2006

To Be or Not to Be

In real life, it would give me nightmares, but on the internet it's just hilarious:

A mother in Dallas is one of several parents complaining about a new interactive book for toddlers in which Sesame Street character Elmo asks "who wants to die?" according to a Local 6 News report.

Family members said 16-month-old Miranda Boll's new book, "Potty Time With Elmo," was supposed to teach an interactive lesson using voice commands.

However, when the book's buttons are pressed, it reportedly says something it is not supposed to -- "who wants to die?"

(via Bookslut.)

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Talking to Robots

Neil Clark, the author of what may be my all-time favorite and most quotable piece of loopy alterna-wing journalism ("Milosevic, Prisoner of Conscience") has reviewed Oliver Kamm's Anti-Totalitarianism for the Telegraph. It can be read on Clark's relatively new blog. (He hasn't figured out how to make his blog text display line breaks and spaces, so the review appears in the form a single, long, relentless and rather indigestible paragraph; which seems rather apt, somehow.)

Kamm assembles some circumstantial evidence that Clark read no further than the book's dust jacket prior to writing the review. I won't comment on that, as I haven't read the book yet either (though it's on my list.)

The funny bit is in the comments, where we can observe Neil Clark's earnest attempt to engage a spam-bot in stimulating dialogue.

"Nadim" writes:

Thanks for letting us post comments - very cool of you. I work online with my own USED COLLEGE BOOKS website. Check it out if you get the chance. Thanks again. [hot link deleted -- ed.]
Then, the Nadim-bot adds another nearly identical message, informing Neil that he also runs a website called Muslim Matrimonial Guide, and expressing the hope that he "check it out" as well, at the first opportunity.

"Nice to hear from you, Nadim," writes Clark. "Isn't it revealing that so many neo-conservative, pro-war blogs do NOT allow the posting of comments?"

Sadly, Nadim has not been programmed to reveal whether or not it would tend to agree that the failure to allow comments on certain blogs is revealing. However (and this may or may not be revealing - Nadim? Care to weigh in?) Clark has now himself deleted several of the comments from his queue. Now we see the violence inherent in the system...

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