Newt Gingrich (And Other Portraits of Old, Rich White Men) by Thomas V. Nash

I recently saw this portrait of current Republican nomination candidate/constant font of regressive ideas Newt Gingrich on an image board I frequent. It’s by Georgia-based portrait artist Thomas Nash, whose website I had to visit after seeing this picture.

For some reason I can’t quite articulate, Nash’s portraits are surreal to me. I don’t think it’s purposeful, of course—he’s clearly a technically competent artist whose oil paintings are meant to confer a sense of power twinned in benevolence.

It must be my own sense of history, of power, of irony, that makes me feel thoroughly creeped out by this portrait of Newt—the manically glib glint in his eye (his left eyebrow ever-so slightly arched in cocky condescension), the sinister light that seems to emanate from his upraised, extended left hand, the mysterious document casually clutched in his right, the phallic authority of the Washington Monument jutting out from the Mall in the background as tiny tourists mill about, one even pausing to aim his camera from behind the scroll work at the viewer . . .

It’s odd, malevolent, and engrossing, but when paired against the other portraits in Nash’s collection of “Men,” like former Democratic Senator (and George W. Bush supporter) Zell Miller, it seems even more sinister and ironic to me, as if some evil scream lurked in the background, suppressed, detained, a black hood over its metaphorical head:

Or these guys:

In some sense, these paintings strike me as the strange dry twins of the work of sensualist John Currin, a subjective claim that is perhaps unsupportable but nevertheless seems true to me.

New Books from Dinaw Mengestu, Stephen-Paul Martin, and Susan Straight

Dinaw Menestu’s new novel How to Read the Air tells the story of a family over two generations. The novel opens in the 1970s as Mariam and Josef, a young married couple from Ethiopia, take a road trip through the American heartland. The pair has been separated for over three years–after just one year of marriage–and they hope that the trip will help renew their bonds and in some way forge their new identities as Americans. But they don’t really know each other, and perhaps they can’t; the violence they sought to escape in Ethiopia’s communist revolution recapitulates in their own marriage, eventually sundering it. Nearly 30 years later, their son Jonas–the introspective, sensitive, and inventive narrator of this novel–tries to come to terms with his own crumbling marriage, job, and identity, by re-examining the past. By literally recreating his parents’ journey, Jonas tries to convert his father’s pain and fear into a stable identity in this moving novel about family, place, and the need to move both our bodies and our souls. How to Read the Air is new in hardback from Riverhead Books.

There’s a thread of vengeful anger that runs through Stephen-Paul Martin’s new collection of stories, Changing the Subject. Although a tidy portion of that anger is reserved for George W. Bush and his nefarious gang (the stories seem to have been composed under last decade’s regime), Martin’s various characters also aim their anger at scientists, whalers, cell phones, born-again Christians, college students, journalists, fast food restaurants, Americans, and all the people of the world. That anger works best when working in a reflective mode, especially when Martin blends his vitriol with humor. The opening paragraph of the first story “Safety Somewhere Else” provides a nice illustration of Martin at his finest–

The greatest mistake of all time took place thousands of years ago, when God let Noah’s family survive the flood. God’s plan was to start a new human race with a man he though he could trust, but the limits of Noah’s moral awareness were obvious right from the start. No sooner had God’s rainbow vanished into the clouds than Noah was getting drunk and cursing his grandson, declaring that Canaan’s descendants–one-third of the human race–would be the lowest of slaves, a monstrous over-reaction that would have tragic consequences for countless generations of innocent people. Clearly, Noah wasn’t the man God thought he was.

The story then shifts into a bizarre picaresque involving revenge against a scientist who uses animals as research subjects (there’s also an attack on a whaling vessel, a fascinating reading of The Odyssey, and a woman whose son was consumed by a bear). Great stuff, but I think I would have been just as happy to hear more of Martin’s thoughts (or, his narrator’s thoughts, to be fair) on the Old Testament. Changing the Subject is new in trade paperback from Ellipsis Press.

Susan Straight’s
new novel Take One Candle Light a Room explores the physical and psychic traumas that evince from America’s long, painful, complicated history of race relations. FX Antoine, the novel’s narrator, is an LA-based travel writer who found herself, as a young girl, transplanted from rural Louisiana to California at the end of the fifties, in order to escape the rapes perpetrated by a local plantation owner on three of her sisters. In 2005, FX–Fantine to her friends and family–watches over Victor, her godson, a recent community college graduate. Fantine encourages Victor to expand his unlikely success (he is the son of a crack-addicted murder victim, one of Fantine’s childhood friends) by applying to four-year schools; however, after Victor is implicated in a shooting (wrong place, wrong time), he runs away to Louisiana. Fantine follows, attempting to save the young man and find some sense of personal redemption as well. The novel’s climax is set against the devastating backdrop of Hurricane Katrina. For more on Take One Candle, read Francesca Mari’s review at The New York Times. Take One Candle Light a Room is new in hardback from Pantheon Books.

Pessimus Populus: The Worst People of 2006

As the days of 2006 dwindle down, we take a hateful look back.

10. Condoleezza Rice.

Condi Rice has managed to tell more lies in just two years as the Secretary of State than she did in the four years she was the National Security Advisor.

condi rice demonstrates remaining US credibility

Above: Condi demonstrates remaining US credibility

9. Every kid who “starred” on an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16

My Super Sweet 16 illustrates so perfectly, so beautifully, everything that is wrong with a culture of consumerism that promotes selfish materialism. Watch and marvel at spoiled brats crying like babies while their narcissistic whims are indulged.

8. Rachel Ray

Look what happens to the commodified personality–they puncture any credibility they might have had to begin with and they end up overexposed.


For a good laugh check out Rachel’s sexy FHM magazine shoot.

7. Dan Brown

For dumbing down America. For ripping of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. For being the worst hack-job piece of schlock to ever pass for a worthy book. For fooling people into thinking they were learning something. For Tom Hanks’s creepy haircut in the movie version. For damaging the already-rotten sense of history Americans have with a brutal infusion of misinformation. This is what we’re choosing to read?

6. Ted Haggard

Pastor Haggard was the linchpin figure in the mega-church movement in the US. These churches represent the complete opposite of the teachings of the New Testament, advocating a “me me me” approach to religion: church as networking. In keeping with selfishness, Haggard, as ex-head of The National Association of Evangelicals, was largely responsible for rallying the religious right (as well as more moderate churches) to back Bush. Haggard recently stepped down as head of the NAE due to allegations that he’s been having sex with a male prostitute while high on meth.

(Editorial note: I’ve actually been working on this list for a while now. Haggard was on here before his recent woes. The outing of his hypocrisy is like icing on the cake, but is also part of the reason I decided to go ahead and publish this post with over 50 days remaining in the year–who knows how many more horrible things people will do, causing me to rewrite? I’d rather post what I have now, and amend later).

5. Everyone who used alcoholism or drug use as an excuse for horrible behavior, and then used rehab as an apology for that behavior.

That’s right, sugar tits–whether you’re a crazy, anti-semitic actor, a spoiled walking skeleton, or a two-faced Republican, drinking/drug-use doesn’t excuse you from being one of the year’s Worst People.

4. Ann Coulter


Getting fame by attacking 9/11 widows? Nice one, champ. This skinny bitch grows more evil by the minute. Check out Henry Rollins’s letter to Ann Coulter.

3. Rick Santorum

Santorum belongs on this list for so, so many reasons. But because biblioklept purports to be a literary blog, we’ll attribute his inclusion due to his ridiculous misappropriation of Tolkien in a recent speech:

“As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else. It’s being drawn to Iraq and it’s not being drawn to the U.S. “You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don’t want the Eye to come back here to the United States.”

Props to Dan Savage for savaging Santorum’s name.

2. Dick Cheney


Uhmm, where to start, where to start? I guess since this is a look at the Worst People of 2006, we should try our best to look at Cheney from a human perspective–do our best to ignore all the evil Cheney’s political/business enterprises represent, and just look at Cheney the man. So what type of person is Cheney, when he’s on “downtime,” just relaxing with regular folks? Let’s see: in February of 2006, while “hunting” quail, Cheney shot a 78 year old man in the face with a shotgun. The old man had a heart attack. So the Vice President is the type of person who would shoot an old man in the face. Dick Cheney is a bad, bad man. Go here for John Stewart’s coverage of the incident.

1. George W. Bush

Like you didn’t see this coming.


(Sorry, but after six-plus years I can’t keep up my outrage even long enough to write a decent post about this insane bastard. I can’t articulate how angry I am, and there isn’t enough room here to catolog all of Bush’s crimes. I’m tired of this shit.)