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November 18, 2004

My new moral hero

Roy Edroso leads the way.

A genuine testimonial
Hi Mr. Tomorrow;

Just wanted to drop you a note about the Christmas ornaments, which I ordered a while back and received late last week. Not only are they larger than they appear in web photos, but they are also much cooler. Much MUCH cooler. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay cool. And probably underpriced, too.

Also, congrats on your move to Tarcher Penguin. If nothing else, at least you're with a publisher that has "Penguin" in their name.

Warm regards,


Glad you like them, Eric. I think the Great Lakes people did a really amazing job--and I agree, for the work that goes into each one, they're way underpriced.

The link to order them is over to the left. I'll try to put some more pictures up later, to give a better sense of the proportions.

Reality check

I've been doing work in public for a long time now--fifteen or twenty years, depending on how you judge it. And there's a thing that you go through, when you've had absolutely no voice at all, and suddenly you find that you have a small voice that a few people are paying attention to--you tend to overestimate the level at which your newfound voice is being broadcast. It's a heady experience, when you first go from being completely obscure to being ever so slightly less obscure. You're the center of your own storm. And being at the center of your own storm--seeing the references to your work, receiving feedback from total strangers--can fool you into thinking that the storm is really, really massive.

But you know what? It's just not. You're at the center of your own storm, and your neighbor doesn't even know it's raining out. And this is the thing that you learn, and learn to make your peace with. Unless you are on the very top of the ladder, you're just another marginal voice. Having a small voice doesn't mean you're making a large impact on the world.

Anyway, I got to thinking about this after repeatedly noticing that some bloggers, having been given an inch, are apparently under the impression that they are rulers. For instance, when the New York Times asked a group of mostly middle-to-right leaning bloggers "What transformed politics this time around?" the answer several of them gave was, of course, their own blogging. And now, via Pandagon, I see that some bloggers are nominating themselves to take over William Safire's op-ed space.

I guess you have to have a fairly high opinion of yourself to keep one of these little weblogs, but you also need to keep things in perspective. A little bit of attention and a few small victories do not change the fact that you are still, for the most part, a novelty act, like a horse that can count by stomping its hooves. People may be amused and interested by the horse, but they aren't going to give him tenure in the math department at a prestigious university.

Bush health plan: don't get sick

The short term strategy of the Bush administration is apparently to ensure that even more people are without health insurance.

The changes are meant to be revenue-neutral. To pay for them, the administration is considering eliminating the deduction of state and local taxes on federal income tax returns and scrapping the business tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance, the advisers said.

Link, via Atrios.


November 17, 2004


Some changes ahead for the multimedia empire that is This Modern World. The big announcement is that, after six books and about fourteen years, I'm leaving St. Martin's Press and signing with Tarcher Penguin. My editor at SMP has been astonishingly supportive of my work over the years, and the decision to end our working relationship was not an easy one. But overall, it's pretty clear that I have reached a plateau at SMP, and sometimes it's better to start somewhere anew with a fresh group of people who might try to push things a little bit further.

So I'll have another "normal" size collection coming out (as opposed to the oversized treasury), and it's going to need a title, which is always my worst thing. This isn't a contest, per se, but I am open to suggestions, and if someone does come up with something I use, they'll certainly get a signed print, as well as my eternal gratitude.

The second announcement is that after the next issue, I'll be leaving The American Prospect. This was my decision, and not the result of any backstage dramas--I'm just a little burned out and want to cut the workload back, and maybe try to clear out some time for other projects. I've been running in TAP for about five years, and I just need a break from the extra monthly deadline.

Hey everyone! It's "Don't Bring Your Guns to Work" Day!
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Employees at a Little Rock office building have been asked to leave their deer hunting rifles at home because the president and three former presidents are coming to town to open Bill Clinton (news - web sites)'s presidential library.

Acxiom Corporation distributed a memo to the 420 employees in its 12-story sales and marketing building in Little Rock's River Market district -- near the Clinton library -- reminding them of its policy forbidding weapons on company property.

"This would not be a time to violate that policy," said Dale Ingram, spokesman for Acxiom.

The Acxiom building overlooks the library, where President Bush (news - web sites) and former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Clinton are to speak.

Deer hunting season in Arkansas began last weekend, and overlaps with the dedication, on Thursday, of Clinton's library.


Just asking

Why--after noting that Safire's relationship with the truth has lately been a casual one at best--does Josh Marshall feel compelled to state that Andrew Sullivan would make an "excellent" replacement?

Josh is certainly aware that Andy's own relationship with the truth--and for that matter, with reality--is at least as tenuous as Mr. Safire's.

Is this just the sort of insider-pundit bonhomie you see on the shouting head shows as the credits roll, filtering down to the B-list on the blogs?

Oh Condi, Condi

The thought of Condi as Secretary of State made me think of that business management book from the Seventies, the Peter Principle, which posited that

employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent.

Of course, you could argue that Condi has long since passed her level of competence and has continued to be promoted nonetheless.

On a related note, the one quotation for which Condi should ultimately be remembered:

"I believe the title was Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside the United States."

Party of values
WASHINGTON (AP) — Moving to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay, House Republicans want to change party rules to ensure that DeLay retains his post if a Texas grand jury indicts him as it did with three of his political associates.

The House Republican Conference, composed of all GOP members in the chamber, was to vote Wednesday to modify a requirement that would force DeLay to step aside if charged with a felony requiring at least a two-year prison term.

Party rules require leaders to relinquish their posts after a felony indictment, but the change would eliminate the requirement for non-federal indictments.


Signs of the times

I didn't hear the story myself, so apologies if I get some small detail wrong--but NPR had a bit this morning on a small town high school in Texas, which has apparently had a wacky tradition for Homecoming (or some similar Big Game) day, on which the boys dress as girls and girls dress as boys. Well, as you can imagine, this outraged the local conservative Christians, who saw it as promoting homosexuality. So after a hue and cry is raised, the tradition is scrapped and replaced with--

--wait for it--

--Camo Day, on which the boys and girls come to school dressed as soldiers.

...here's the story.

Davies, whose 9-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter attend Spurger Elementary, said she viewed the day not a silly Homecoming Week activity, but as an effort to push a homosexual agenda in a public school.

"It's like experimenting with drugs," said Davies, who also has a 2-year-old daughter. "You just keep playing with it and it becomes customary. ... If it's OK to dress like a girl today, then why is it not OK in the future?"


November 16, 2004

Something is happening, but you don't know what it is...

...do you, Mr. Jones?

Bob Dylan's Masters of War is a hard-hitting, anti-war song produced more than 20 years before any current Boulder High School student was born.

More than 40 years after its release, the song has been resurrected at Boulder High with huge and confusing repercussions that prompted Secret Service agents to pay the campus a visit Thursday.

Some students and parents apparently let the Secret Service and talk-radio stations know they were unhappy with the plan of a trio of students to do a poetry reading of the song, accompanied by background music, according to Ron Cabrera, the school's principal.

Rumors were rampant that during an audition and rehearsal for today's talent show, the students changed Dylan's powerful last verse at the end of the song to say that they hoped that President Bush was going to die.

The last verse begins: "And I hope that you die; And your death'll come soon."

Secret Service agents interviewed Cabrera on Thursday to determine what all the uproar was about and whether any threats were being made against the president's life.

"They were following up and doing their due diligence," Cabrera said of the agents' visit. "They had been receiving calls from the community and, in the course of the talk show, felt like they had heard (the students) inciting physical harm to the president."

Cabrera said he talked to the students and teachers who have been working with them, and he was told the group, which calls itself the Coalition of the Willing, made no reference to Bush.

"I don't know why it surfaced," Cabrera said of the complaints. "I think they're surprised by all the allegations."

Cabrera said he also showed the agents the lyrics of the entire song. The agents appeared to have left satisfied that no bona-fide threat was being directed at the president, he said.

All right then. A couple of high school kids singing an old Bob Dylan song, as it turns out, were not threats to the life of the President. Glad we got that one cleared up.

Next up: the Secret Service visits Political Pet Toys, to investigate rumors that four legged carnivores are planning to chew on the President's head, and maybe chase after him if he is tossed across the lawn.

More important matters

I assume you've heard about this by now.

The U.S. military is investigating the killing of a wounded and apparently unarmed Iraqi prisoner inside a mosque during combat operations here, the Defense Department told NBC News on Monday.

NBC’s Kevin Sites, who witnessed the incident Saturday while assigned to represent a pool of news organizations, reported Monday that the man was shot by a Marine who appeared to be unaware that the Iraqi was a wounded prisoner and did not pose a threat.


One of the Marines noticed that one of the severely wounded men was still breathing. He did not appear to be armed, Sites said.

The Marine could be heard insisting: “He’s f---ing faking he’s dead — he’s faking he’s f---ing dead.” Sites then watched as the Marine raised his rifle and fired into the man’s head from point-blank range.

“Well, he’s dead now,” another Marine said.

And according to Bob, this is being defended by some of the same people who--just a few weeks ago--were busy denouncing John Kerry for acknowledging that sometimes bad things happen in wartime.

There's only one way this mindset is consistent: if you believe that Americans, by definition, are always on the side of light and therefore never commit atrocities.  Whatever Americans do is justified.

There are some notable people in the not-so-distant past who believed something similar.

American troops died in large number to fight them.

What followed was the creation of a large body of international law on what is and is not a war crime.  Much of this law was purchased with American blood.

And now... this is where we are.

One final point: the soldier in question has at least one defense I can think of, which is ultimately human and understandable, even without condoning what he did.  In the midst of a dangerous situation, furious from earlier combat, sleep-deprived, overheated, god knows what all the guy went through... he made a momentary, snap decision, one which he may or may not come to regret for the rest of his life.

OK.  That'll all be at the trial and so on.  That's one thing.

But the people condoning this sort of summary execution as we speak... words fail me.  They have no such defense.  Most of them are sitting in comfy chairs enjoying a broadband connection, with all the time in the world to consider moral questions.

And they say killing people in cold blood is A-OK.

Revisions, revisions

There was a post here, now there's not. The hardcore RSS fanatics and I will simply have to agree to disagree, because I have given this topic way too much time as it is. But for those of you who are happy even if I don't give you everything on a silver platter, and maybe come over and wash your car for good measure--and honestly, that's most of you--here's a partial RSS feed, which will notify you when there are new posts:


(If you're reading this entire post through some sort of aggregator or syndication site, you should know that my words are being syndicated without my permission and against my wishes, and I would encourage you to let the people responsible know that there's a legitimate RSS feed available.)

And that's it. That's all there is. This one is done.

Those ubiquitious yellow ribbons

In 1973, there was a pop song on the radio, by Tony Orlando and Dawn: "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree." The song told the story of a recently released prison convict riding a bus home, not sure if his sweetie is still interested. To spare them both an uncomfortable scene, he has informed her ahead of time to tie a yellow ribbon, etc., if she wants him to see him.

During the Iranian hostage crisis of the late seventies, one of the wives of the hostages appropriated the symbol, tying a yellow ribbon around a tree in front of her house. Before you knew it, there were yellow ribbons everywhere, expressing solidarity with the hostages and their families.

So when we use yellow ribbons to express support for the troops--are we admitting that they are, in a way, prisoners and hostages? After all, stop-loss programs are keeping a lot of people in the service who have already given far more than they ever expected. And now the military is apparently so desperate for bodies that they are trying to call people back to active duty who have long since fulfilled their commitments, and gone on and started lives and families.

In the last few months, the Army has sent notices to more than 4,000 former soldiers informing them that they must return to active duty, but more than 1,800 of them have already requested exemptions or delays, many of which are still being considered.

And, of about 2,500 who were due to arrive on military bases for refresher training by Nov. 7, 733 had not shown up.


"I consider myself a civilian," said Rick Howell, a major from Tuscaloosa, Ala., who said he thought he had left the Army behind in 1997 after more than a decade flying helicopters. "I've done my time. I've got a brand new baby and a wife, and I haven't touched the controls of an aircraft in seven years. I'm 47 years old. How could they be calling me? How could they even want me?"

Some former soldiers acknowledge that the Army has every right to call them back, but argue that their personal circumstances - illness, single parenthood, financial woes - make going overseas impossible now.

Others say they do not believe they are eligible to be returned to active duty because, they contend, they already finished the obligations they signed up for when they joined the military. A handful of such former soldiers, scattered across the country, have filed lawsuits making that claim in federal courts.

...whoops! Here's the link.


November 15, 2004

Halliburton, cont'd.
Tom Crum, Middle East chief for Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) subsidiary, demanded that Kuwaiti Hilton staff get his wife a diamond-encrusted Cartier watch in the middle of the night, according allegations reported by internal United States embassy memos.

Meanwhile his senior managers, who have made the seaside villas at the hotel their headquarters for almost two years, were openly soliciting bribes from anyone who wanted to get a share of the multi-billion dollar contracts that the company oversees for the military occupation force in Iraq, the accusations claim.

At the very least, KBR staff are portrayed as arrogant and heavy-handed by the allegations, which largely date from December 2003 and the early months of 2004. At worst, the accusations paint a picture of illegal behavior.

The internal embassy communications also portray Richard Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, as anxiously pushing the Texas-based company to buy overpriced fuel from a specific company, Altanmia Commercial Marketing Company. Altanmia officials counter that KBR staff were deliberately undermining their bids.

The collection of documents, including e-mails, memos and reports were released to the media by California Representative Henry Waxman, to top ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform. They are only a small part of over 400 internal documents delivered to the committee, which wields oversight of U.S. contracts relating to Iraq.

"Get off your f&^%ing ass, put my wife in a car, and go get her a watch," Crum is alleged to have told Camille Geha, the sales manager at Khalifa Hilton resort in Kuwait, in early 2004. Aware that the company was spending up to $1.5 million a month at the hotel, Geha is said to have told an unnamed embassy staffer that he had a jewelry store at the Marina Mall opened in the middle of the night to get a new watch.

More, via Cursor.

Purging the disloyal
The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources.

Story, via Bob, who notes:

This is worse than it seems at first.  "Disloyalty" here is the act of disagreeing.  And since Bush and his cronies were wrong and/or lying about damn near everything in the run-up to the Iraq war, this means that everyone who actually did their job is in jeopardy of losing it.  Which will leave only sycophants, incompetents, and those who've learned to play the game behind.  And you can be pretty certain that Bush is gonna hear -- and act on -- whatever faith-based apocalyptic nonsense he wants in the next couple of years.

Bye bye, Colin

Remember back when people argued with a straight face that an experienced statesman like Colin Powell might have a moderating influence on the Bush administration?

So much for that.


If you pay any attention to the yammerings of right wingers, and lord knows it's increasingly difficult to avoid them these days, you've probably run across the reductionist caricature of the left/liberal who insistently screams "Halliburton" in lieu of an actual argument. It's a nifty way of avoiding the actual argument--pretend that there is no argument, that your opponent is just incomprehensibly fixated on a single word, not unlike a toddler learning to speak.

Well, anyone who's been paying attention--which is to say, anyone who actually reads newspapers--should know that there's a bit more to the story.

(Halliburton's) SEC filing Friday disclosed more trouble related to investigations by the SEC, Justice, a French magistrate and Nigerian officials into whether a consortium including Halliburton paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials involving a gas plant from 1995 to 2002. Cheney ran the company from 1995 to 2000, and Halliburton bought the unit involved in the consortium in 1998.

That followed by little more than a week the last bad news about Halliburton: that the FBI expanded a probe into charges of contract irregularities by Halliburton in Iraq and Kuwait. Lawyers for a Pentagon official said the FBI requested an interview with her over her complaints that the Army gave a Halliburton unit preferential treatment when granting it a $7 billion contract to restore Iraq's oil fields.

Halliburton also told shareholders that the Justice Department is examining whether operations in Iran by a subsidiary violated U.S. sanctions. The company received a grand jury subpoena in July and produced documents in September.

So among the spittle-flecked lefties muttering about Halliburton, we must include the FBI, the Justice Department, and the authors of Halliburton's own SEC filing.

The Pentagon official mentioned above is, I assume, Bunnantine H. Greenhouse, who is--in addition to being a spittle-flecked leftie, obviously--the Army Corps of Engineers' contracting director. There's a profile of her today in the Times:

Things reached a climax as the Corps was thrust into the center of the Iraq war effort, given the task of distributing billions of dollars in reconstruction money. For the urgent repair of Iraqi oil fields, the Corps turned - too readily and too generously, Ms. Greenhouse charged in bruising internal debates last year - to the Houston-based Halliburton Company with one of the biggest single contracts of the war.

Now the Army Corps of Engineers is trying to demote Ms. Greenhouse, 60, or push her into retirement. To the surprise of no one who knows her, she is unbowed, charging in a much publicized letter of Oct. 21 that the Corps has shown a pattern of favoritism toward Halliburton that imperils "the integrity of the federal contracting program."


In March 2003, she saw no reason why the Corps should give the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, without competition, a five-year, $7 billion contract to repair oil fields. If an emergency required a quick deal, it should be for only one year at most, she argued. (The contract was given for five years over her objection, but later, after a public outcry, was cut short and put to competition.)

In December, she said, she was outraged when Corps leaders went behind her back to issue a legal document approving the unusually high prices KBR had charged for fuel imports to Iraq - prices that the Pentagon's own auditors called inflated by at least $61 million and that are now the subject of criminal inquiries.

This spring, she questioned why, after four years, an expiring Halliburton logistics contract in the Balkans had to be extended for an extra 11 months and $165 million on grounds that no other company could do the job in time.

"There is no legitimate explanation for what I witnessed," she said last week of the succession of disputes. The Corps, she said, "was at the point of knowingly violating federal acquisition regulations in favor of Halliburton. It can't get much worse than that."

To the Halliburton defense that critics like Ms. Greenhouse did not understand the urgency of wartime, she replies, "Of course I care about the soldiers who are dying."

"That $61 million could have gone for body armor for the soldiers," she said in the interview.

So the next time someone acts as though anyone who mentions the word "Halliburton" is a tinfoil-hat conspiracy freak holed up in his basement to avoid the alien mind control rays--well, you can cross that person off your list of trustworthy commentators, because they are either lying or stupid, but in either case not to be taken seriously by rational people.

The spirit of inclusion

A reader in Austin shares some perspective on the voters we liberals must reach out to and strive to avoid offending at all costs:

Since I've been here I lived in a rural very small town and in the Dallas area before moving to Austin and I've met some very nice Democrats in Austin, I knew a fair number in Dallas, too. Austin is NOT as liberal as they'd like you to think. I still don't let anyone know I'm a Democrats without finding out their political proclivities first.

Texas is unabashedly red and they make no pretense otherwise. As they say here what they intend to do with Democrats is "hunt them down with dogs and kill them" and they aren't kidding. The cultural difference in the Bay Area and Texas is enough for them to be on different planets.

Ha, ha. Hunt Democrats down with dogs.

...sigh...yes, yes, of course, many of you have different experiences. As has been previously discussed, I don't believe that everyone in a "red" state is a pickup-driving gun-toting Klan member. I don't even buy the red/blue division--I think it's more about shades of purple. But I also believe firmly that those who argue that there are no cultural regional differences are not being honest with themselves.


November 14, 2004

The secret landscape

I just finished Survival City, Tom Vanderbilt's look at the architecture of the Cold War, abandoned and otherwise--from old missile silos to the interestate highway system. Chock full of small, fascinating details. For instance, I had no idea that that big, windowless, and rather ominous phone company building in lower Manhattan (a few blocks from an old studio of mine) was actually designed to withstand an atomic blast. And who knew that a few blocks from the Las Vegas strip, there is--or at least once was--an atomic-age underground home, spread "over 5,200 square feet and...surrounded by an Astroturf lawn, fake trees, and an 'outdoor' grill designed to send smoke and fumes up a fake tree trunk"? The quote is attributed to a 1996 Houston Chronicle article, so maybe the home is still there today. Does some reclusive Nevadan take shelter from the nonstop blare of the Las Vegas strip by literally going to ground? Is there still, somewhere beneath the fake New York and fake Paris and fake Egyptian pyramid, a fake suburban home complete with a fake outdoors, fake trees and, presumably fake sunlight? Or has the home been abandoned entirely, like the legendary "forgotten" subway stations of New York City?

...well, that didn't take long--here's the scoop.

Voting wackiness

The New York Times has an editorial this morning about voting irregularities. This line jumped out at me:

The wild rumors about Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where the official results appeared to include an extra 90,000 votes, were a result of its bizarrely complicated method of posting election results, which is different in even- and odd-numbered years.

I'm sorry--the rules are different in even- and odd-numbered years? Jesus Christ. This isn't a coherent electoral system. It's that card game that Captain Kirk makes up on the gangster planet in order to distract his captors.

...Quick Google search later: Fizzbin! Here are the "rules":

Each player gets 6 cards except the player on the dealer's right, who gets 7. * The second card is turned up, except on Tuesday. * Two Jacks is 1/2 a Fizzbin. * Three Jacks equal a Slark, which means you're disqualified. * Another Jack is good, otherwise you'd need a King and a duce except at night when you'd need a Queen & a 4. * If you didn't get 3 Jacks, if you got a King, you would get another card except when it's dark when you'd have to give it back.

...whoops! A reader who has apparently had more coffee this morning than your humble host points out: "When did we last have a presidential election in an odd-numbered year? Seems to me the answer is 'Never.' That would make the different rules irrelevant..."

...though given our electoral system's complete lack of standardization nationally--different rules, different machines, etc., all at the whim of local officials--I still think there's something to the "Fizzbin" analogy...

* * *

Meanwhile, they're still coming up with inventive approaches to the process of democracy in Florida:

Florida, the state that decided the 2000 presidential race with hanging chads and botched ballot designs, added a page to its history of electoral quirkiness this week: a city council race that was decided by a coin toss.

G. P. Sloan, 77, and Richard Flynn, 75, each received 689 votes on Nov. 2. Two recounts did not determine a winner, so the candidates and three dozen supporters gathered on Friday in the community center of this town of 4,400 residents, 25 miles west of Orlando.

"This is a very unusual occurrence in this day and age when we have such sophisticated mechanisms to vote on, such as a touch-screen computerized voter system," Mayor Connie Fleetwood said. "We've come down to a coin toss."

Later, Ms. Fleetwood said she would have preferred a special election over the flip. "I think it's so primitive," she said.

Helpful advice

Bob Jones congratulates the President:

The media tells us that you have received the largest number of popular votes of any president in America's history. Congratulations!

In your re-election, God has graciously granted America—though she doesn't deserve it—a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. You have been given a mandate. We the people expect your voice to be like the clear and certain sound of a trumpet. Because you seek the Lord daily, we who know the Lord will follow that kind of voice eagerly.

Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you.

Full letter here.

...Maureen Dowd has some related thoughts:

You'd think the one good thing about merging church and state would be that politics would be suffused with glistening Christian sentiments like "love thy neighbor," "turn the other cheek," "good will toward men," "blessed be the peacemakers" and "judge not lest you be judged."

Yet somehow I'm not getting a peace, charity, tolerance and forgiveness vibe from the conservatives and evangelicals who claim to have put their prodigal son back in office.

I'm getting more the feel of a vengeful mob - revved up by rectitude - running around with torches and hatchets after heathens and pagans and infidels...


Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Dr. Dobson about his comment to The Daily Oklahoman that "Patrick Leahy is a 'God's people-hater.' I don't know if he hates God, but he hates God's people," noting that it was not a particularly Christian thing to say about the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. (Especially after that vulgar un-Christian thing Dick Cheney spat at Mr. Leahy last summer.)

"George," Dr. Dobson haughtily snapped back, "do you think you ought to lecture me on what a Christian is all about?" Why not? The TV host is the son of a Greek Orthodox priest.

...here's a good profile of Dobson.


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