Pessimus Populus: The Worst People of 2009

Ah, January of 2009 . . . those were simpler times. We were so gripped in hope and change and whatnot that the future seemed a bastion of illimitable glowing possibilities illuminated by an infinity of suns. Doing another “Worst People” list seemed antithetical to what we hoped would be a new zeitgeist. That lasted about five metaphorical minutes. So here we go:

10. Joe “You lie!” Wilson

What a dick.

9. Mark Sanford

We don’t really care that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is the kind of dick who cheats on his wife. That’s dickish, sure, but not of heroically-dickish enough proportions to land him on this list. And his priggish refusal to accept federal monies to ensure that SC schools didn’t tank was pretty awful too. We don’t even care that he left his post and went AWOL to hook up with his mistress (lying to his staff, his family, and his constituency in the process). We just hate his hypocrisy. Here’s Sanford in ’98 blasting Clinton. Sanford, a bastion of family values, also was a strong proponent of SC’s hateful anti-gay “Defense of Marriage” Act. What a prick–yet another in a long line of right wing politicians who love to tell others how to live their lives yet fail to live up to their own standards.

8. Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck is a fatty-jowled pussy of the worst order, a crying little bitch who offers up conjecture and speculation–and no real information–to a dimwitted audience. His pandering to racist, xenophobic attitudes has made him millions of course. Oh, remember when he called Obama a racist?

7. Orly Taitz and the “Birthers”

Speaking of racist, xenophobic attitudes . . . Watch Orly Taitz. Her lunacy set an example for way too many Americans overeager to reclaim “their” country from a Harvard-educated, arugula-eatin’, biracial liberal (who occasionally smokes). Jeez.

6. Teabaggers, et al.

Have you seen this video?

Kind of sums up the insanity of the summer of ’09 (fueled in part by some of the assholes on this list). It’s marvelous to watch how quickly these people melt under the simplest questions or prompts to respond with specific information. God bless America!

5. Kanye West


4. Pitchfork

We’ve been reading the music review site Pitchfork since the late ’90s, when it was a simple html affair with pretty bad writing. It still had a letters page, and even if the reviews were amateurish, there was also a sense of fun. In the past decade, the site has become bloated and self-serious; it’s also arguable that Pitchfork’s expansion into festival promotion is at ethical odds with its ability to criticize fairly. We’ve quibbled with Pitchfork before, but they were especially egregious in 2009. Like a giddy teenager, Pitchfork shot its load prematurely, running its “Best of the 00s” series of reviews in the summer. They also devoted two entire weeks to revisionist criticism, reviewing Radiohead albums that have been out for years and Beatles albums that have been out for decades. Telling us Abbey Road is a 10.0 is like shooting retarded fish in a barrel. It’s also bad form for a site that pretends to be forward-thinking and trendsetting. Perhaps as a reaction to the hype-backlash cycle that infested indie rock and blogdom in the late ’00s, Pitchfork devoted much of its review space to reissues and greatest hits collections and consistently began lowballing albums by new artists. Oh, and for a site that aspires to professional criticisms, theirs is full of typos and bad writing.

3. Fox News

The worst part about Fox News is that many of their viewers honestly believe that the network is “fair and balanced.” It looks like we’re gonna forget to squeeze Dick “Dick” Cheney into this list, so we’ll do so now, noting that Fox has repeatedly given that grizzled draft-dodger airtime whenever he’s elected to emerge from his cave, wipe the blood from his lips, and try to scare Americans into thinking that they are unsafe and should relinquish more freedoms.

2. Sarah Palin

Sarah!’s book tour showed us that the only major city in “real America” is Dallas, Texas (Texas is, of course, so “real” that they might secede).

1. George Bush

Sure. Bush didn’t do much in 2009, ‘ceptin maybe clearin’ some brush (and lots and lots of biking). So why does he rank #1? Well, maybe it’s just for old time’s sake, or maybe it’s just a way to recognize all the evil he perpetrated in the aughties. Call it a victory lap. Thanks for the giant shit sandwich!

Pessimus Populus: The Worst People of 2008

10. Joe the Plumber

Joseph Wurzelbacher, as manipulated by the McCain campaign, somehow came to stand for the “common man,” the “everyday” American (from real America, of course) who would just totally get dicked-over by a pinko like Obama. If Joe the Plumber does represent the average, everyday common American, that basically means the average, everyday common American is kinda dimwitted, slovenly, and prone to saying stupid stuff. And around Biblioklept Headquarters in Real America, we’re too patriotic to suggest such a thing. Olbermann takes down Joe:

9. Michael Phelps


Okay. We get it. You can swim fast. But please. Please. Don’t be such a smug dick–you’re not charming, as your awkward, unfunny appearances on SNL and The Colbert Report attest. Also, your skanky new girlfriend hardly lends you class. Thank god the Olympics only happen every four years.

8. Elisabeth Hasselback

Hasselback’s yapping maw jibber-jabbered at such a consistently shrill pitch for most of 2008, that even those of us who avoid The View like the special little plague it is were subject to take some notice. Someone has thoughtfully distilled Hasselback’s 25 most annoying moments into one dandy poisonous clip:

7. FOX News

6. Voters who voted for anti-gay ballot measures in California, Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona this year.

Evangelical leaders–many who claim to “love” everyone–consistently attempt to turn this fight into a matter of semiotics, into the meaning of the word “marriage.” Hogwash. Years from now–hopefully not too many–we, as a country, will look back on these anti-gay measures with the same sense of shame that now surrounds opposition to the Civil Rights movement. Anyone who claims that the issue is simply about what the word “marriage” means is being dishonest with themselves and everyone else. At least the loonies who follow Fred Phelps are openly and honestly bigoted.

5. John McCain


Dear Maverick McCain,

We used to like you, a little bit, way back in 2000, but yeah, we really did see you as an outsider for awhile, and sure, you’re a war hero (if getting shot down and surviving as a prisoner-of-war makes one a hero)–But–

Don’t you think the campaign you ran against Obama was kinda sorta most definitely shameful? I mean, like, aren’t you literally ashamed of the tacit and not-so-implicit and sometimes downright violent xenophobia and (yes) racism that you guys incited in your mobs? Aren’t you worried that any goodwill capital you built over you last 25 years in politics has been more or less spent? And Palin? Jesus! Seriously? Palin? Don’t get me wrong, your choice was truly a delight to watch, but come on, man. Show some sense.

4. Wall Street Investment Bankers

You oily pricks get what you deserve. Never have so many done so little for so much money. Also: Anyone who still believes that unregulated laissez-faire capitalism just “works.” Look around you.

3. The Bush Gang


Let’s lump them all together and let God sort them out. Or, better yet, let’s prosecute them. Or, better yet, tar-and-feather them, and run them out of town on a pole.

2. Sarah Palin

This year, Biblioklept is doling out a first: a special “Cunt of the Year” award, just for Palin. Aw, that’s kind of mean. Actually, it was really entertaining to watch Palin fumble through interviews (she reads “everything”!), wink and consistently drop the word-final “g” sound from her every utterance, and destroy any hopes that the GOP had of winning the ’08 election. And for every time she infuriated us (insinuating that there is a “real America,” one we are not a part of), she always made up for it with some comic gold. (The infamous turkey-pardoning-while-turkeys-get-slaughtered-in-the-background-video is a particular gem from 2008; (How, oh how, can Palin not see the irony here?)):

Of course, had McCain-Palin won–which is to say, if Americans had yet again made a bad, poor, ignorant, stupid, willfully stupid decision about who should lead them–we would not make light of Palin’s idiocy. But they lost. They lost! Ha ha, they lost! So, it’s perfectly fine and dandy to recall all of Palin’s flubs (Remember when that morning shock jock pranked her? Remember the debate?!) With a little luck, the Republican leadership will continue to stand behind Palin (literally!) and ruin any chances the party has to ascend to power again in 2010 or 2012.

1. George Bush

As of this writing, there are only 25 days left in the Bush presidency (keep track here if you want), yet it seems probable that he’ll manage to fuck something else up for the incoming administration. I say the decade officially ends this January. Let’s move on.

Just like last year, we find Dubya dancing:

DFW Memorialized, Homer Endorses Obama, Sarah Palin Is Never in on the Joke, and Hope for a New Zeitgeist

So let’s just say we’re too anxious around here to run a proper book review, okay? I promise to have reviews of new books up after Election Day. In the meantime–

Great, thorough, and touching essay by David Lipsky at Rolling Stone: “The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace.” Check it out. Also, there are plenty of online accounts of the DFW memorial last week at NYU’s Skirball Center, but I thought Andy Battaglia’s eyewitness account was pretty moving.


It leaked a few weeks ago, but it was nice to see Homer Simpson endorse Obama on this year’s Treehouse of Horror episode–

(The best part of the episode was the Mad Men parody, though).

Speaking of election humor, Sarah Palin continues to be a comedy goldmine. How could she be so readily duped by a French Canadian pretending to be President Sarkozy? She’s fucking stupid, that’s how. I’m reminded of her appearance on SNL a few weeks ago–unjustifiably lauded–where she smirked along as if she were actually in on the joke, and not being simply mocked.

Speaking of ignorance and ugliness, the aughties in America have been culturally and politically awful. Beginning with the one-two punch of the 2000 election debacle and the nightmare of the 9/11 attacks, this past decade has been an embarrassing series of disastrous blunders for the United States government, coupled with a spike in civic apathy at home. The results: our stock has fallen in the rest of the world’s eyes and a large portion of Americans have found solace and even pride in ignorance and xenophobia (what else could explain the ascendancy of an ignoramus like Palin?)

And for all the great things that I’ve experienced in my personal life this past decade (marriage, fatherhood), the idea of another decade like the aughties–selfish and cruel and ignorant–seems miserable. The Bush administration–and the American people who supported them–has been working hard to usher in a New Dark Age. Yet in the past few days I’ve seen some of my cynicism fall away, as I see friends and acquaintances and complete strangers excited about the prospect of change for this country. Watching Obama in Cleveland tonight, I found myself moved and excited and hopeful, not just for Tuesday, or for a new President in January, but for a whole new spirit in this country, one that embraces progressive ideals and puts them into action.

Cheat Code

Motoko Rich’s article “The Future of Reading,” published in today’s New York Times, discusses the emerging trend in publishing and education of reaching out to young readers via video games. According to the article–

Increasingly, authors, teachers, librarians and publishers are embracing this fast-paced, image-laden world in the hope that the games will draw children to reading. Spurred by arguments that video games also may teach a kind of digital literacy that is becoming as important as proficiency in print, libraries are hosting gaming tournaments, while schools are exploring how to incorporate video games in the classroom. In New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting efforts to create a proposed public school that will use principles of game design like instant feedback and graphic imagery to promote learning.

Loyal readers will recall that last year I wrote quite positively about the MacArthur grant to promote gaming literacy. However, the trend detailed in today’s article seems like a big step in the wrong direction. While graphic design and computer programming are vital skill sets we should be teaching our kids, trying to hook them on reading through video games is altogether different. It smacks of cheap gimmickry that dismisses outright that reading might be a pleasure unto itself. In an age when the majority of college students can’t handle complex but necessary reading tasks and high school illiteracy rates are woefully underreported, trying to hook kids on books with Dance Dance Revolution just doesn’t seem like a great plan. If anything, it’s yet another step in the dumbing-down of America, a land increasingly hostile to anything with a hint of intellectualism–reading included. No wonder the Nobel Committee are such dicks to the U.S. Buried at the end of the article, luckily, is a voice of reason–

“I actually think reading is pretty great and can compete with video games easily,” said Mark S. Seidenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who specializes in reading research. “So rather than say, ‘Oh, books are irrelevant in the modern era because there are all these other media available,’ I would ask shouldn’t we be doing a better job of teaching kids how to read?”

Professor Seidenberg seems like a wise and reasonable man. Let’s hope that we can get this country back on track and realize that the skill sets needed to survive and compete in a technological world do not replace but rather augment traditional literacy. Video games are great entertainment but it’s hard to imagine that they could ever trump the depth and breadth of philosophy and cultural currency contained in literature. Let’s not cheat our children out of that heritage by mistakenly believing that they cannot be taught to access it.

Syntactic Decay

Like many Americans, my main interest in last night’s Vice-Presidential Debate was the hope for a little schadenfreude: I wanted to see Palin dissolve in a “nucular” meltdown. And while the clumsy silences and passive aggressive volleys of her previous interviews weren’t on show last night, Palin still managed to cram her “answers” with stock speaking points and vague generalities–namely, what passes for political rhetoric today. What gets me is this: expectations for the doltish Palin were so low that without a spectacle gaffe, many pundits are today declaring her jabberwocky a success. For example, take David Brooks’s gushing op-ed piece in today’s New York Times:

By the end of her opening answers, it was clear she would meet the test. She spoke with that calm, measured poise that marked her convention speech, not the panicked meanderings of her subsequent interviews.

Okay, so, now, in 2008, as America seeks to prove that we can dare to be dumber than ever, it seems that anything above “panicked meanderings” equals success (Palin’s agitated mannerisms, particularly at the beginning of the debate, didn’t really strike me as “calm” or “measured” either). Fair and balanced FOX News reported that Palin’s “cool and confident performance . . . helped John McCain regain his footing.” I don’t know what specific data they have to back this claim up.

What FOX hailed as a “bravura performance” was yet another incoherent string of non-answers tarted up in sloganeering and divisive, diversionary rhetoric. Palin doesn’t understand the traditional purpose of debate; at one point she even said as much: “I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you [Biden] want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.” Near the end of the debate, when asked what her biggest weakness is, Palin simply didn’t answer: she just blasted out a bunch of talking points (I thought that I might’ve misheard the question, but no–check out the transcript here). Governor Palin, the point of the debate is to respond to questions and to respond and rebut your opponent’s responses. Is it too much to ask that you do this? Or is it that you simply have no answers? I believe it’s the latter.

What fascinated me most during the debate was Palin’s syntax. Her long, elliptical answers danced around the topic at hand in a showy, glittery masquerade of stock phrases, slowly disintegrating into the kind of glowing generalities that I guess Joe Six-Pack and his hockey mom wife are supposed to lap up (being an east-coast liberal elitist I simply don’t understand such realities of the Heartland; I’m far too busy eating latte salads in my Subaru while listening to gay operas and worshiping false idols to care about this kind of mundane peasant behavior).  At least one critic got it right. Also from today’s New York Times:

After a series of stumbling interviews that raised serious doubts even among conservatives about her fitness to serve as vice president, Ms. Palin had to do little more than say one or two sensible things and avoid an election-defining gaffe. By that standard, but only by that standard, the governor of Alaska did well. But Ms. Palin never really got beyond her talking points in 90 minutes, mostly repeating clichés and tired attack lines and energetically refusing to answer far too many questions.

Are specific answers too much to ask from our leaders? Or are we now okay with our politicians not even answering the questions that we ask?

Palin Bingo, or, What to do for Kicks as You Inwardly Reel in Horror while Watching Tonight’s Debate

(Image links to fun user-friendly pdfs)

There’s also this

Palin’s Poetry

This was too good not to repost. A few selections from “The Poetry of Sarah Palin,” courtesy of today’s Slate:

“On Good and Evil”

It is obvious to me
Who the good guys are in this one
And who the bad guys are.
The bad guys are the ones
Who say Israel is a stinking corpse,
And should be wiped off
The face of the earth.

That’s not a good guy.

(To K. Couric, CBS News, Sept. 25, 2008)

“Challenge to a Cynic”

You are a cynic.
Because show me where
I have ever said
That there’s absolute proof
That nothing that man
Has ever conducted
Or engaged in,
Has had any effect,
Or no effect,
On climate change.

(To C. Gibson, ABC News, Sept. 11, 2008)

And my personal favorite:

“Secret Conversation”

I asked President Karzai:

“Is that what you are seeking, also?
“That strategy that has worked in Iraq?
“That John McCain had pushed for?
“More troops?
“A counterinsurgency strategy?”

And he said, “Yes.”

(To K. Couric, CBS News, Sept. 25, 2008)

Great stuff.

Also, if Palin’s incoherence in real interviews isn’t enough absurdity for you, check out the Sarah Palin Fictional Quote Generator. Sample:

I’m not one of those who feel like whether that is part of the solution or not and we’ve got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time.

Sarah Palin, Vague Threats, and Why Banned Books Week Matters

We know Sarah Palin loves to read. In a great op/ed piece in today’s Washington Post, Ruth Marcus writes:

Asked in an interview for PBS’s Charlie Rose show last year ( about her favorite authors, Palin cited C.S. Lewis — “very, very deep” — and Dr. George Sheehan, a now-deceased writer for Runner’s World magazine whose columns Palin still keeps on hand.

“Very inspiring and very motivating,” she said. “He was an athlete and I think so much of what you learn in athletics about competition and healthy living that he was really able to encapsulate, has stayed with me all these years.”

Also, she got a Garfield desk calendar for Christmas 1987 that made a big impression.

Great stuff. Who doesn’t love to read? Books is where you gets knowledge. However, Palin is the sort of fundamentalist hardliner who thinks she knows what’s best for all of us to read–or not read. By now, you’ve probably heard of the pressure Palin exerted on the librarian of Wasilla. As mayor, Palin inquired how she might go about removing books from the library. Of course, according to most reports, including this one from The Anchorage Daily News earlier this month, “Palin didn’t mention specific books at that meeting.”

Huh. Hard to imagine that Palin didn’t get specific, right?

Palin then wrote the librarian in question a letter telling her she would be fired for lack of loyalty. Although public outcry prevented the firing, the librarian eventually moved away from Wasilla. Palin said at the time, and has maintained since then, that the question was “rhetorical”; she simply wanted to know how one would go about removing “objectionable” books.

Why would you ask how to remove books if you had no intention of removing them?

It’s too easy to dismiss Palin’s inquiries into censorship. Her moralistic will to ban what others read is really an attempt to control ideas, to control thoughts, to control bodies even–the ultimate goal of the far Christian right. It’s the middle of Banned Book’s Week, and it’s time to say “No” to the vacuous (a)moralizing of those like Palin who would presume to dictate what is and is not acceptable to be loaned in a public library. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to let a woman who apparently believes that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time” tell me what to think or feel or read.

Banned Books Week calls attention to not only the great currency of ideas we have in literature, but to also points out that there are still those who seek to suppress ideas with which they don’t agree. Even as we celebrate these books, we must attack those who would ban them–especially those who work so surreptitiously.

Language, Politics, Elitism, and Sarah Palin’s Horrendous Pronunciation

It wasn’t so much Governor Palin’s fumbling toward a semblance of specificity in her recent Katie Couric interview that made me cringe. It wasn’t her misapprehension that Putin is still the president of Russia (an honest mistake, I’m sure) that raised my hackles. It wasn’t her neocon-lite reduction of global politics to “good guys” vs “bad guys” that so irritated me. Even her ignorance of Henry Kissinger’s foreign policy philosophy re: Iran didn’t bother me. If anything, I delighted in watching Gov. Palin blather incoherently, especially after this fiasco two weeks ago. No, what really raised the hairs on the back of my neck was this exchange:

Couric: You recently said three times that you would never, quote, “second guess” Israel if that country decided to attack Iran. Why not?

Palin: We shouldn’t second guess Israel’s security efforts because we cannot ever afford to send a message that we would allow a second Holocaust, for one. Israel has got to have the opportunity and the ability to protect itself. They are our closest ally in the Mideast. We need them. They need us. And we shouldn’t second guess their efforts.

But, you see, it wasn’t what she said so much as it was how she said it. Or mispronounced it, rather.

Let me admit it. I’m an elitist, something of a snob I guess. I can’t help it. Although I didn’t go to five colleges, I did attend two universities to earn two degrees–nothing as prestigious as Palin’s hard-earned MS in communications, of course–but I do have some linguistic standards and expectations for our executive leadership. You see, Gov. Palin didn’t say “second guess,” as the CBS News transcript so generously credits her. No, Gov. Palin distinctly says “second guest.”

Now, we already know that Palin has had some difficulty with one of Bush’s biggest stumbling blocks, that oh-so daunting word “nuclear” (as in “nü-klē-ər” not “nyoo-kyoo-lar”). Observe:

Unfortunately, as of right now there’s no full footage of tonight’s interview up on a site that WordPress will allow me to embed here, and most of the posted clips focus on Palin’s rambling knowledge of basic geography (even Miss Teen South Carolina still managed to get more specific than Palin — “They don’t have maps”).

VIDEO UPDATE–Palin mispronounces “second guess” as “second guest” at 00:17:

If you go to CBS News and wait patiently, Palin’s redneck phrasing pops up at 8:55, wedged neatly amid a vague heap of rhetorically empty catchphrases that the neo-cons and Bush administration have been excreting for the past decade.

In the best assessment I’ve read on Palin yet, Roger Ebert points out that most middle-class Americans would brag if their kids went to Harvard on scholarship; that most of us honor travel as a form of education and the signal of intellectual curiosity. How did we get here? When, exactly, did we decide that our president needs to have the qualities of a good drinking buddy? In short, why do we think that provincialism and ignorance, so summarily captured in Palin’s groan-inducing “second guest,” are the signs of a “real,” “true” American? If we’re going to elect smug, hypocritical leaders, is it too much to ask that they exhibit a modicum of intelligence, or, at the very least, don’t trip over their words?

Etymology for Republicans

Conservative Republicans seem to be having an awfully tough time with their vocabulary lately. They keep misusing words, poor old dears. In particular, these confused politicos keep using words that have traditionally had a positive connotation in a pejorative sense. Therefore, we present a little gloss that might help them with their sorry diction.

1. Liberal

“c.1375, from O.Fr. liberalbefitting free men, noble, generous,” from L. liberalisnoble, generous,” lit. “pertaining to a free man,” from liber “free,” from PIE base *leudheros (cf. Gk. eleutheros “free”), probably originally ‘belonging to the people'” (Online Etymological Dictionary)

From the Indo-European root “leudh,” meaning “grow, rise,” as in progressive (Joseph T. Shipley, The Origins of English Words)

2. Elite

“1823, from Fr. éliteselection, choice,” from O.Fr. fem. pp. of elire, elisre “pick out, choose,” from L. eligere “choose” (see election). Borrowed in M.E. as “chosen person,” esp. a bishop-elect, died out c.1450, re-introduced by Byron’s “Don Juan.” (Online Etymological Dictionary)

“1a singular or plural in construction : the choice part. 1b singular or plural in construction : the best of a class” (Merriam-Webster)

A Tender Hug Betwixt Mavericks
A Tender Hug Betwixt Mavericks

3. Maverick

“1867, “calf or yearling found without an owner’s brand,” in allusion to Samuel A. Maverick (1803-70), Texas cattle owner who was negligent in branding his calves. Sense of “individualist, unconventional person” is first recorded 1886, via notion of ‘masterless.'” (Online Etymological Dictionary)

Samuel A. Maverick refused to brand his cattle, ostensibly claiming that the practice was cruel. However, by not branding his cattle, he was able to claim any stray cows as his own property. What a devious genius! How’s that for laissez-fair?

Clearly, a maverick would never let himself be branded with someone else’s label. He’d cut his own path, forge his own trail, create his own hackneyed metaphor, and not, f’r’instance, vote with the President 95% of the time.

4. Conservative

“Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” ( Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary)

5. Change

“From the Indo-European root “(s)kamb: bend, change; exchange, barter . . . Fr, change, exchange. Gc, change, changeable, unchanging, etc. . . . This root is related to camp, campus, campaign, etc.” (Joseph T. Shipley, The Origins of English Words)

Synonyms for “change” include: modification, variation, transformation, revolution, conversion, adjustment, amendment, difference, and alteration.

When used in politics, the word connotes a dramatic shift in ideology from the previous regime to its successors (e.g. “The idea that a new set of Republicans would be a change from the old set was both a paradox and a misuse of language”)

Let Them Eat Cake!
Let Them Eat Cake! W and Mav McCain Enjoy A Tasty Treat as Katrina Drowns New Orleans