Banksy’s modern Nativity, revisited in 2012

December 25, 2012

An encore post, from 2008.

Thomas Nast helped bring down the crooks at Tammany Hall with cartoons. Boss Tweed, the chief antagonist of Nast, crook and leader of the Tammany Gang, understood that Nast’s drawings could do him in better than just hard hitting reporting — the pictures were clear to people who couldn’t read.

But a cartoon has to get to an audience to have an effect.

Here’s a cartoon below, a comment on the security wall being built in Israel, that got very little circulation in the west at Christmas time. Can you imagine the impact had this drawing run in newspapers in Europe, the U.S., and Canada?

It’s a mashup of a famous oil painting* related to the Christian Nativity, from a London-based artist who goes by the name Banksy. (Warning: Banksy pulls no punches; views shown are quite strong, often very funny, always provocative, generally safe for work unless you work for an authoritarian like Dick Cheney who wants no counter opinions.)


Banksy’s modern nativity — does he ever bother to copyright his stuff, or would he rather you broadcast it?

*  At least I thought so in 2008.  I can’t find the painting now.  Anybody recognize a work underneath Banksy’s re-imagining?  Let us know in comments, eh?  Perhaps this one, by David Roberts?  Perhaps this engraving after Joseph M. W. TurnerTurner’s original?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Peoples Geography.

More, in 2011: 

More in 2012:

Banksy’s modern Nativity, revisited

December 19, 2011

An encore post, from 2008.

Thomas Nast helped bring down the crooks at Tammany Hall with cartoons. Boss Tweed, the chief antagonist of Nast, crook and leader of the Tammany Gang, understood that Nast’s drawings could do him in better than just hard hitting reporting — the pictures were clear to people who couldn’t read.

But a cartoon has to get to an audience to have an effect.

Here’s a cartoon below, a comment on the security wall being built in Israel, that got very little circulation in the west at Christmas time. Can you imagine the impact had this drawing run in newspapers in Europe, the U.S., and Canada?

It’s a mashup of a famous oil painting* related to the Christian Nativity, from a London-based artist who goes by the name Banksy. (Warning: Banksy pulls no punches; views shown are quite strong, often very funny, always provocative, generally safe for work unless you work for an authoritarian like Dick Cheney who wants no counter opinions.)


Banksy's modern nativity -- does he ever bother to copyright his stuff, or would he rather you broadcast it?

*  At least I thought so in 2008.  I can’t find the painting now.  Anybody recognize a work underneath Banksy’s re-imagining?  Let us know in comments, eh?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Peoples Geography.

More, in 2011: 

Newsbusters shows bias toward stupid

December 14, 2008

What’s the big deal here?  Newsbusters, appearing completely unfamiliar with the discussion format of real news organizations, reveals its Freudian slip:  Newsbusters has a bias, and that bias is toward stupid, and venal.

Jim Lehrer in no way defended the actions of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.  If Newsbusters can’t tell what’s going on in a basic television interview, they have no business claiming to be associated with news in any fashion.

Newsbusters owes Lehrer a retraction.


Dallas shows off dinosaurs on ice

October 7, 2008

Viewers of NOVA tonight get to see some of the pride of Dallas on display.  “Arctic Dinosaurs” documents the work of a paleontologist from the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science digging dinosaurs in or near the Arctic Circle.

NOVA takes viewers on an exciting Arctic trek as one team of paleontologists attempts a radical “dig” in northern Alaska, using explosives to bore a 60-foot tunnel into the permafrost in search of fossil bones. Both the scientists and the filmmakers face many challenges while on location, including plummeting temperatures and eroding cliffs prone to sudden collapse. Meanwhile, a second team of scientists works high atop a treacherous cliff to unearth a massive skull, all the while battling time, temperature, and voracious mosquitoes.

The hardy scientists shadowed in “Arctic Dinosaurs” persevere because they are driven by a compelling riddle: How did dinosaurs—long believed to be cold-blooded animals—endure the bleak polar environment and navigate in near-total darkness during the long winter months? Did they migrate over hundreds of miles of rough terrain like modern-day herds of caribou in search of food? Or did they enter a dormant state of hibernation, like bears? Could they have been warm-blooded, like birds and mammals? Top researchers from Texas, Australia, and the United Kingdom converge on the freezing tundra to unearth some startling new answers.

Tony Fiorillo, curator of earth sciences at the Dallas museum, is one of the scientists featured in the NOVA production.  The film highlights the museum’s efforts to push science work as well as displays for the public.

Previously, the museum had relied on Texas volunteers to help unearth and mount displays on prehistoric creatures from Texas, under the direction of Charles Finsley, a venerable Texas geologist.  One one hand, it’s good to see the level of science kicked up a notch or two.  On the other hand, it was great to have such a high level outlet for amateur and future, volunteer scientists at a major  museum.

In any case, the PBS program demonstrates that science goes on in Texas despite foolish creationist eruptions from the State Board of Education.  Every piece of accurate information helps eclipse the anti-science leanings of education officials.



Update:  Wonderful program.  There’s a lot of good science, and a good deal of geography in the program.  Geography teachers may want to think about using this as supplement to anything dealing with Alaska, or the Arctic.

Vigilante book banners

October 1, 2008

As we ponder how to keep freedom in America in the middle of Banned Books Week, I worry about the dangers of vigilantes acting to effect a ban on a particular book, despite official actions.

How to fight these anti-reading, anti-American vigilantes?  People in Lewiston, Maine, came up with the fantastic idea of simply buying more books.

Vigilantes sometimes check out the books they want to ban, and then simply don’t bring the book back to the library.  If there’s no book on the shelf to be checked out, they reason, no one else can check it out.  One such vigilante in Lewiston, an activist in favor of homophobia it appears, refused even a court order to return the book she wanted to ban, Robie Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal.

Cover of Robie Harriss childrens health book, Its Perfectly Normal

Cover of Robie Harris's children's health book, It's Perfectly Normal

Jail time for the vigilante?  Oh, the law would allow that.  But instead, freedom fighters purchased four more copies of the book for the library.

Voting with ideas.  What a concept!

Full text of the American Library Association press release, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oops! Gustav hammered Baton Rouge, no one noticed

September 8, 2008

While everyone is patting themselves on the back for getting people out of New Orleans in fine fashion, and nervously tracking Hurricane Ike, another tragedy unfolds out of public view:  Baton Rouge got hammered by Gustav.  A week after the storm hit, half the city is still without power.

Anna West, at right with her son Anton Guevarra, and Zahli and Mira Bhayroo at the Baton Rouge, La., home of Lori Waselchuk, a freelance photographer (New York Times)

Anna West, at right with her son Anton Guevarra, and Zahli and Mira Bhayroo at the Baton Rouge, La., home of Lori Waselchuk, a freelance photographer (New York Times)

Baton Rouge provided refuge for New Orleanians fleeing the devastation of Katrina.  While the city braced for a new wave of global warming refugees, it wasn’t prepared to get hammered itself.

Have you heard or seen much on the news about the levels of destruction in Baton Rouge?

What if we had a hurricane wipe out a city other than New Orleans, and no one noticed?

How many other places are in rather desperate straits, with no notice from national media?  The New York Times appears to have missed the damage, though a reader named Allison tried to tell them in comments to one post at the Lede:

I too am a Louisiana native and live in the nation’s capital. My family lives in Baton Rouge and I can’t quite figure out why Louisiana is treated like a third world country every time a major hurricane hits the state. They are still without power(day 4) and some are without running water. There are reports that it could be weeks before it is fully restored. If it were New York, Washington, D.C., or even Los Angeles every electric truck in the country would have been there days ago to help repair downed lines. Instead all we are hearing about in the media is how well Pres. Bush and Gov. Jindal prepared for this hurricane! Go figure!

— Posted by Allison

Some say Baton Rouge would not be swamp kill from Gustav, had Bobby Jindal been elected governor of Louisiana.


Old American Airlines pal Gil Brassard called to say he’s got a new generator, and can charge his cell phone to call out, but still doesn’t have any other electricity.  He complimented Jindal on the job he’s doing.  Is the rest of electricity-short Baton Rouge doing as well as Gil?  Who knows?

Do you think the McCain campaign’s presence in the early part of the storm distracted FEMA, the president and the governor?

Signs a news story is being missed:

Actors, not soldiers, in RNC video

September 7, 2008

I’m a bit relieved, actually, that they didn’t interrupt a soldier’s funeral to make a political ad — but should we otherwise be concerned?

Real flag, but actors hands.  Screen grab of RNC video by CBS News

Real flag, but actor's hands. Screen grab of RNC video by CBS News

You remember that video of a soldier’s funeral shown at the Republican Convention on Tuesday night?  The funeral depicted in the video was stock footage, staged by actors — see “Fake soldiers used in RNC video.

But might we worry about a trend?  The video makers also screwed up and put up footage of a Walter Reed Middle School in a portion of a film intended to depict Walter Reed Hospital.  The principal of the school disavowed any connection to the campaign.  Oops.

Why not just stick to the facts that we have?

Them lyin’ newspapers: World Net Daily gets Bible class story exactly wrong

September 4, 2008

Sometimes you have to wonder if people are really that stupid, or if they are acting stupid for nefarious purposes.

The inveterate trash purveyor, World Net Daily, carried a column with this headline:  “Texas to teachers:  Bible will be taught.

It’s what you’d expect out of Texas, sort of, an order from the state to those darned secularists and atheists in the teaching biz, forcing them to teach the Bible to yearning-for-scripture chilluns.

But the story gets it almost exactly backwards:  Texas’s Attorney General ruled that schools do NOT need to offer special electives in the Bible under a new state law.

And to the consternation of Bible thumpers everywhere, it appears that instead of Bible study, tough academic courses that may include serious literary and history criticism of scripture will fill the bill.

The post here at the Bathtub was headlined, “Texas AG rules:  Bible classes not required.”  In the Houston Chronicle, religionists got what might be their most favorable headline, “‘Bible bill’ for Texas schools up for interpretation,” though the body of the story made things pretty clear, I thought.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram was clear:  “Texas Schools don’t have to offer Bible class, attorney general says.”

The staid, conservative Dallas Morning News said “Bible study class optional for Texas schools, attorney general says.”  The Austin American-Statesman:  “Bible course not mandated, but instruction is.”

The opinion, over the signature of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot, includes this clue to reporters: ” . . . the Legislature did not mandate that this curriculum instruction be provided in independent courses.”

So, how did World Net Daily get a story almost completely perpendicular to the facts?  Perhaps they hope that some hapless Texas school district superintendent or board member will read their story, and not the AG’s decision, and order a Bible class.  Especially if that class is the academically-discount version suggested by WND, from National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools in Greensboro, North Carolina, there is likely to be litigation — the school district will get sued and lose its shirt.

Who wins then?  WND gets to report on the story and editorialize.

It’s interesting that at least two people who know better got suckered in, Ed Brayton and P. Z. Myers.  If they can be fooled by WND, what school superintendent in Texas can be safe? Heaven knows what schools in other states might do.

You may want to check out:

Typewriter of the moment: Will Rogers

August 25, 2008

Will Rogers and his typewriter,

Will Rogers and his Remington typewriter, Will Rogers Memorial Museums, Claremore-Oolagah, Oklahoma

Caption from the Will Rogers Museums:

Daily writing
It didn’t matter where Will Rogers was when it was time to type his daily telegram. He just pulled out his trusty typewriter — in the car, on the movie set or in his home office overlooking the mountains of his Santa Monica ranch.

Rogers’ newspaper columns were carried by newspapers across America — 500 of them. His influence as an observer of the American condition was wide and deep.

See also this previous post about Will Rogers, for more resources.

Typewriter of the moment: Douglas Adams

July 26, 2008

Here’s a typewriter you can buy. NV Books in Great Wolford, Warwickshire, offers a first edition copy of Douglas Adams’ masterpiece, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, together with the autographed typewriter upon which he wrote it:

Douglas Adams's typewriter, a Hermes Standard 8, used to write the novel, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’s typewriter, a Hermes Standard 8, used to write the novel, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s yours, for just $25,112.92 (Today. Exchange rates may make the price wobble a bit). Abe Books in Denver lists the advertisement in the U.S.

THE HITCH HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, First Edition in FINE Condition. Sold together with DOUGLAS ADAMS’ TYPEWRITER owned by Adams (whilst writing ‘Hitch Hikers’) and SIGNED IN THICK FELT PEN BY THE AUTHOR across the original casing

Description: First Edition Hardback. A mouthwatering copy of this modern classic, the dustwrapper retains all of the notoriously fugitive blue and is wholly unfaded. The front image and lettering are bright and sharp and the book overall is in exceptional condition. Sold together with A UNIQUE ARTEFACT owned by Douglas Adams in the late 1970s, his Hermes Standard 8 typewriter. This is a thrilling object to possess with a fascinating history. It is as certain as can be that Adams wrote his most famous work ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy’ on this Hermes Standard 8. Aside from the supporting provenance, it still contains much evidence of his ownership and regular use. It bears an anti-apartheid sticker on one side of the object and is boldly signed across the front casing by Adams in his unmistakeable hand. It comes housed in its cardboard box which Adams used to transport it, namely packaging from Simon and Schuster, originally containing copies of Adams and Terry Jones’ collaboration ‘Starship Titanic’. An address label to Adams’ office at the Digital Village, London, remains stuck on the box too. The typewriter itself is in attractive condition to display, but is entirely unrestored and as precisely as it was when it was owned by Adams. It is frequently mentioned by all who knew him that writing was often a torment for him and as such his lateness was legendary. He once said ‘I love deadlines. I love the whoosing sound they make as they fly by’, and such was his difficulty in producing work on time that in a well-documented act of desperation his publishers once locked him in a hotel room until he typed enough pages to be let out! The keys of his typewriter all still bear the marks of Adams’ tortured labour. Significantly, the ‘x’ key is particularly discoloured. A unique piece of literary history then and a fabulous talking point, and simply the ultimate possession for a Douglas Adams fan. It is almost superfluous to mention that it is also a very secure investment for the future. A little bit about its subsequent history: Adams signed and donated the typewriter to a wildlife charity auction in 1998, and it was then kept in private hands for several years before being sold on. Adams was passionate about wildlife and in keeping with his memory (and his original intention for this item), a donation will be made to Rhino Recovery with this sale. ABOUT US: It is our philosophy at N V to provide the astute collector with high quality books for pleasure and investment, whilst offering a service that is always friendly and helpful. EVERY listing has a sharp digital image of the EXACT item(s) that you are perusing – with more photographs available on request. The accompanying description is meticulous and we guarantee that all items are authentic. Nevertheless, you are welcome to call us FREE on (0800) 083 0281 with any queries, or on +44 (1608) 674181 from overseas. In the meantime we wish you every success with your collecting. Bookseller Inventory # 000002

I can’t improve on Boing Boing’s commentary. Steampunk beat me to the story, too. (The typewriter was sold as a benefit for RHINO by Christie’s on November 30, 2005, for £2,400, about $4,100.)

Your students may not know who Douglas Adams was — Adams died prematurely in 2001, at 49, of a sudden and unexpected heart attack. He was working on the movie adaptation for Hitch Hiker’s Guide.

Douglas Adams, photo by Chris Ogle;

Douglas Adams, photo by Chris Ogle;

Hitch Hiker’s Guide started out as a BBC4 radio series, airing in 1978. The book version appeared shortly after that — I think I first read it in 1979, an interim year when I really lit up small corners of Utah. The book was immensely funny, very witty, and self-conscious in a way that most pure humor writing isn’t. Adams appeared to be familiar with science deeply. The jokes work on several levels. The book was popular with friends in public broadcasting who had heard the BBC4 series, and with scientists in laboratories.

One of the NPR stations in Washington, D.C., ran the series shortly after I moved there (WAMU? WETA? I forget which). Use of an Eagles instrumental for the theme caught my ear. Eagles? This series seemed blessed with the best wit, best writing, and best music.

Not so with special effects in the television series. The script was inspired, the narrative effects were fine, but special effects were of the cheesy, early-Dr. Who variety — which was okay, because it put the focus on the script and the story. And the story was the thing.

Through much of that time I was deeply involved in land management issues. We worked on wilderness, the old RARE II wilderness designation process, and segued into the Sagebrush Rebellion, where I found myself deep into rebel territory when the fighting broke out (think of Jackie Vernon’s story of being in Japan when World War II broke out; saying he didn’t really know what to do, he “became a kamikaze copilot”). Hitch Hiker’s Guide opens with Arthur Dent protesting the demolition of his house to make a path for a new thruway, with the authorities telling Dent that he had plenty of time to protest since the notice of demolition was posted in a town only a few miles away, and since he missed the protest period, he shouldn’t complain. He is “rescued” from this situation by a friend named Ford Prefect — like the little European Ford auto — who tells Arthur not to worry about the house; Ford turns out to be an alien, and he knows the Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for an inter-galactic thruway. The destruction crew notes with no irony to the Earthlings that the notice of destruction was posted on a nearby planet, and Earth simply missed the protest period. Ah. A good summary of many land management decisions.

We found comradeship with people who understood that, once a decision had been made, often the best thing to do was remember not to panic, pick up one’s towel and hitch a ride to the next venue. I would not have been much surprised to turn to the appendices of an official BLM report and see that BLM had determined the answer to be “42,” and that a study group had been appointed for further study.

42. 42 is the answer.

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is numeric in Douglas Adams‘ series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the story, a “simple answer” to The Ultimate Question is requested from the computer Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Unfortunately, The Ultimate Question itself is unknown, suggesting on an allegorical level that it is more important to ask the right questions than to seek definite answers.

Others have wondered about the number.

In the original series, Arthur Dent has a Scrabble™ game with him. At some point it mystically spells out, “What do you get if you multiply six by nine? Forty-two.”

6 times 9 is 42 — except in base-13. But as Adams himself said, he did not write jokes in base-13

I have not seen the movie.

Douglas Adams, perhaps pondering the meaning of life, and everything

Douglas Adams, perhaps pondering the meaning of life, and everything

“So long, and thanks for the fish.”

Big tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Pamela Bumsted, who pointed this out to me.

Powerline jumps on the chance to screw up

July 19, 2008

As long as there’s a dogpile of screw-ups, Powerline thought they’d jump on, regarding the hoaxes about a change in position on global warming at the American Physical Society.

If a lot of people screw up, where’s the shame? Right?

Powerline said, contrary to the facts:

Most people do not realize that the U.N.’s IPCC report was a political document, not a scientific one. As such, it explicitly refused to consider any of the recent scientific work on carbon dioxide and the earth’s climate. That work seems to show rather definitively that human activity has little to do with climate change, which has occurred constantly for millions of years.

Anyone who still had illusions that Powerline thinks about anything before they post it, or that they have any controls on accuracy or care for the facts, has had that illusion shattered. Of course, Powerline is a political organ, with not a whiff of science about it.

Give a fool enough rope . . .

Other resources:

Desperate climate change skeptics misread the news

July 18, 2008

Internet-fueled antagonists of global warming reports probably grow weary of the constant drizzle of reports and stories confirming the bare, consensus conclusion that rising temperatures, globally, are contributed to significantly by human-provided air pollution.

So, can you blame them when they trumpet that a major organization like the American Physical Society reverses its stand on global warming, and publishes a paper by a fellow usually considered a hoax and tinfoil hat favorite, Lord Monckton?

Well, yes, you can blame them. That’s not at all what happened. It turns out that a division of APS simply opened a discussion on global warming, and in doing that, they published Monckton’s piece for discussion.

With this issue of Physics & Society, we kick off a debate concerning one of the main conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body which, together with Al Gore, recently won the Nobel Prize for its work concerning climate change research. There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution. Since the correctness or fallacy of that conclusion has immense implications for public policy and for the future of the biosphere, we thought it appropriate to present a debate within the pages of P&S concerning that conclusion. This editor (JJM) invited several people to contribute articles that were either pro or con. Christopher Monckton responded with this issue’s article that argues against the correctness of the IPCC conclusion, and a pair from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, David Hafemeister and Peter Schwartz, responded with this issue’s article in favor of the IPCC conclusion. We, the editors of P&S, invite reasoned rebuttals from the authors as well as further contributions from the physics community. Please contact me ( if you wish to jump into this fray with comments or articles that are scientific in nature. However, we will not publish articles that are political or polemical in nature. Stick to the science! (JJM)

Newsbusters, a right-wing, tinfoil hat driver site announced this morning that APS has abandoned its long-time position on climate change. Anthony Watts couldn’t wait to talk about it as a major hole in the case for doing something to clean up air pollution.  “Myth of Consensus Explodes” Daily Tech breathlessly exclaimed.

By this afternoon, APS had warning labels up at their site to advise the unwary who might have been misled by the deniers:

The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article’s conclusions.

Bob Parks, former APS spokescurmudgeon, wrote about it in his weekly news comment, What’s New:

Science is open. If better information becomes available scientists rewrite the textbooks with scarcely a backward glance. The Forum on Physics and Society of the APS exists to help us examine all the information on issues such as global climate change. There are physicists who think we don’t have warming right, I know one myself. It is therefore entirely appropriate for the Forum to conduct a debate on the pages of its newsletter. A couple of highly-respected physicists ably argued the warming side. Good start. However, on the denier’s side was Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who inherited his father’s peerage in 2006. Lord Monckton is not a scientist, his degree is in journalism and he’s a reporter for the Evening Standard, an English tabloid. Whatever it is that Viscounts do, he may do very well, but he doesn’t know squat about physics and his journalism suffers from it. Worse, somebody fed the media the line that Monckton’s rubbish meant the APS had changed its position on warming; of course it has not. Few media outlets took the story seriously.

How desperate are the anti-Gore-ites? They are desperate enough they’ll turn off their bovine excrement detectors, and claim Monckton’s goofy stuff is a new position for APS, without bothering to check the facts.

How long will this hoax survive on the internet?

Other resources:

  • APS Climate Change Statement
    APS Position Remains Unchanged

    The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007:

    “Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate.”

    An article at odds with this statement recently appeared in an online newsletter of the APS Forum on Physics and Society, one of 39 units of APS.  The header of this newsletter carries the statement that “Opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum.”  This newsletter is not a journal of the APS and it is not peer reviewed.

  • Why Monckton is considered good for the tinfoil hat business
  • Tim Lambert on Monckton fantasies and deceptions before the U.S. Congress (for a very thorough vetting of Monckton, go to Lambert’s blog and do a search for “Monckton”)
  • A serious case against the conclusions of human causation for global warming, by Pat Frank, published in Skeptic’s online site, “A Climate of Belief.”  Dr. Frank is a careful and generally rigorous thinker, a physicist with no axes to grind against anyone involved, who has made a good case that we cannot conclude human causation; in discussions I’ve had with Dr. Frank, he’s limited his criticisms to the science.  I’m more of an effects guy myself — but this is the one article that keeps me hoping for more, better evidence (while we make plans to reduce emissions, of course — whether warming is human caused or not, we need cleaner air).

How to start a hoax against a presidential candidate

June 29, 2008

Hoax complaints against presidential candidates are old ideas. In 1796, Alexander Hamilton paid newspaper editors to print stories saying Thomas Jefferson was atheist. It was a minor theme in that campaign, but after John Adams’ political fortunes foundered on the Alien and Sedition Acts, among other missteps, Hamilton stepped up the attacks in the election of 1800.

Jefferson’s great biographer, Dumas Malone, estimates that by election day, fully half the American electorate believed Jefferson was atheist. Jefferson made a perfect target for such a charge — staunch advocate of religious freedom, he thought it beneath the dignity of a politician to answer such charges at all, so he did not bother to deny them publicly. Ministers in New England told their congregations they would have to hide their Bibles because, as president, Jefferson would send troops to confiscate them.

In a warning to hoaxers, we might hope, Americans elected Jefferson anyway.

Such nefariousness plagues campaigns today, still. Boone Pickens, who helped fund the Swiftboat Veterans’ calumny against war hero John Kerry, has an offer to pay $1 million to anyone who can show the charges false. In a replay of Holocaust denial cases, Pickens refuses to accept any evidence to pay the award, last week turning away the affidavits of the men who were present at the events.

At the Bathtub, we’ve already sampled a crude and steady attempt to brand Hillary Clinton a Marxist with creative editing of a few of her speeches.

The assaults on Barack Obama are already the stuff of legend. The comic strip, “Doonesbury,” is running a story line with a volunteer for the internet rumor stopping part of the campaign, The smears are real.

Doonesbury strip 6-28-2008

Matthew Most of the Washington Post wrote a lengthy piece in yesterday’s paper, “An attack that came out of the ether,” on the research done by a woman at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, on the origins of the internet hoax that Barack Obama is a Muslim — a rumor so potent that Georgetown University Prof. Edward Luttwak repeated it in a New York Times op-ed article, without the fact checkers catching it (the Times consulted five scholars of Islam who all agreed the foundation for the claim is incorrect).

Danielle Allen has tracked the rumor back to its sources, in a failed campaign against Obama in Illinois and a candidate who admittedly was looking for mud, and one constant sniper at It’s impressive sleuthing, and the article would be a good departure for study of how media affect campaigns in a government or civics class.

The “how to” list is really very short:

  • Pick an area of a candidate’s life that is not well known. As the Hamilton campaign against Jefferson demonstrates, it’s useful if the candidate does not feature the issue in official biographies, and more useful if the candidate doesn’t respond. Michael Dukakis let several issues slide in his campaign for the presidency, saying that he didn’t think the public would be misled. The public was waiting for a rebuttal.
  • It helps if there is a factoid that is accurate in the rumor. Obama’s father was Muslim. Most Americans were receptive to the false claim that in Islam, a child is considered Muslim unless there is a conversion. A part of the rumor claims Obama was never baptized Christian. Of course, no one has asked to see John McCain’s baptismal papers. One wonders whether a rumor about McCain’s not being born inside the U.S. could get similar traction among voters (McCain was born in Panama while his father was serving in the Panama Canal Zone in the Navy; children of U.S. citizens are automatically U.S. citizens regardless where they are born. The issue was litigated during Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, since Goldwater was born in Arizona before Arizona was a state.)

According to the Post story: [A] search showed that the first mention of the e-mail on the Internet had come more than a year earlier. A participant on the conservative Web site posted a copy of the e-mail on Jan. 8, 2007, and added this line at the end: “Don’t know who the original author is, but this email should be sent out to family and friends.”

Allen discovered that theories about Obama’s religious background had circulated for many years on the Internet. And that the man who takes credit for posting the first article to assert that the Illinois senator was a Muslim is Andy Martin.

Martin, a former political opponent of Obama’s, is the publisher of an Internet newspaper who sends e-mails to his mailing list almost daily. He said in an interview that he first began questioning Obama’s religious background after hearing his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

  • Repeat the claim, as often as possible, to audiences that are inflamed by it. No one would dare make such a claim before an audience of Democratic delegates from the Texas 23rd Senatorial District Democratic Convention, almost 80% of whom were black — at least not at the convention. However, flyers making the charge might show up on windows of cars parked during church services at Christian churches where delegates attend. A speaker at the Republican convention for the same district might not be hooted down. This rumor of Obama’s faith went to right-wing forums known for rumor hospitality, notably Free Republic. In forums at that site, rumors frequently appear to be judged on just how damaging they might be if true, not on their veracity.
  • Repeat the claim, even after denials.

The story is well worth reading. It can help educate us to how to avoid being victims of such rumors in the future.

Tip of the old scrub brush to e-mail correspondent MicahBrown.

From the basest of things, art: Scott Wade

June 27, 2008

A generalization:  Many creationists complain that evolution “can’t be true” because it doesn’t exalt humans enough.  This is the old Bishop Wilberforce whine, about whether you are related to the monkeys on your mother’s side or father’s side.

Nothing good can come from humble beginnings” is the thrust of the creationist argument, apparently with the creationists who make the claim losing every neuron they ever had that held the story of Jesus in their memory.

Nature, art, and life, keep pounding home the fact that the creationist argument is seriously in error.  But as Robert Frost wondered, how many times did the apple have to fall before Newton took the hint?  Scott Wade has taken the rebuttal to the creationists’ argument to new heights, and made art out of it.  From dust, is art:

Einstein, by Scott Wade

Credit Barcroft Media via The Daily Telegraph.

Click the thumbnail picture for a larger view:  Scott Wade creates Albert Einstein out of dust

Britain’s Daily Telegraph has a slide show with seven of Wade’s works.

Mr. Wade’s own website features a slide show demonstrating the creation of artworks, step by step.  Wade lives on a dirt road, a  half-mile from pavement.  In the course of coming and going, he gets a lot of material to work with.

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  If life gives you dust, make art.  If life gives you limes, make margaritas.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Science Notes.

Typewriter of the moment: W. H. Auden at Swarthmore

June 25, 2008

Poet W. H. Auden taught students at Swarthmore for three years, 1942-1945. Swarthmore’s library started rather early to collect Auden’s manuscripts and other materials, including the typewriter he used there — an Underwood, as you can see, below.

The library has a detailed, on-line exhibit of Auden’s work and associations with the college, material useful for student research and in-class presentations related to his work.

Auden’s poetry was contemporary, and it reflected the fears and passions of lovers, and lovers of liberty, in the face of the fascist threat of World War II.  Auden died, aged by tobacco, alcohol and barbituates, in 1973, aged 67.


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