Christian Science is a 362-page ramble about the religion of the same name, and hoo boy, is it ever a long slog. I will confess that for long swaths of the book my reading technique consisted of looking at each page, ascertaining that there were words on it, and moving on.

Why on earth did Mark Twain think this topic was worth 362 pages? It seems that around the turn of the last century, Christian Science was rapidly growing — so rapidly that Twain foresaw a Christian Science takeover of the United States government by 1940, with only Roman Catholicism remaining as an alternative to the new dominant faith. This disturbed him because he saw Christian Science as a cult of personality centered around Mary Baker Eddy, whose name today doesn't ring a lot of bells for most people but who Twain expected to be bigger than Jesus before long. For page after page after excruciating page Twain combs through the details of how Eddy's church is organized, how its publishing arm conducts its finances, which paragraphs of which book Eddy is likely to actually have written... it was like a printout of a 10,000-line post three weeks into a flamewar in a newsgroup I don't care about.

That said, one bit at the end struck me as worthy of note. There's an appendix in which Twain reprints Eddy's response to one of his earlier Christian Science pieces, in which he'd argued that by calling herself Mother Mary she was trying to supplant the Virgin Mary in the hearts of her followers. She declares that she actually doesn't like to be called Mother, and objected to it when people first started calling her that in 1895, but that it stuck and there was nothing she could do about it. Twain then produces a telegram of Eddy's from 1890 which she had signed, "Mother Mary." Bam.

For several years the only television show I watched was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Then for a while I didn't watch TV at all. Now the only show I watch is "The Daily Show." And the "Daily Show" staff is awesome at this sort of thing. Dick Cheney mocks John Kerry for using the phrase "more sensitive" in discussing how he'd conduct US anti-terrorism operations; most every news organization in the country runs the clip of this speech by itself; "The Daily Show" runs it, then runs a clip of Bush saying the same thing Kerry had said. ("Dude, I think the vice president just called you a pussy," anchor Jon Stewart added.) On Wednesday, Zell Miller ripped Kerry for referring to the US presence in Iraq as an occupation; "The Daily Show" followed this clip with three instances of Bush doing the same. The question is, why do we have to turn to a comedy show for this sort of thing? Take the recent Republican talking point about the recession. Speaker after speaker at the Republican convention say "George Bush inherited the recession." It is a fact that the National Bureau of Economic Research, the organization that defines when US recessions begin and end, holds that the recession began in March 2001, after Bush had already taken office. Is it not the job of any news outlet worthy of the name to point this out? Or, again, here's a speech by Cheney: "John Kerry is, by National Journal ratings, the most liberal member of the United States Senate. [...] And it's not based on one vote, or one year; it's based on 20 years of service in the United States Senate." False. For what it's worth — not much, as the National Journal itself notes — Kerry topped the list for 2003 only. Is it not the job of any news outlet worthy of the name to point this out?

More than anything else, this is what Stewart and the "Daily Show" staff seem amazed about: Ted Koppel and the rest of the mainstream media argue that the answer is no. They report, we decide if it's bullshit or not... by combing through our vast personal news archives, I guess. It's really not all that far from the back-and-forth on a recent "Daily Show" segment between Stewart and fake reporter Rob Corddry:

Corddry: I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called "objectivity" — might wanna look it up someday.

Stewart: Doesn't objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what's credible and what isn't?

Corddry: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well — sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! "Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality!" Listen, buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

When "The Daily Show" first came on the air with a different host, its slogan was, "When news breaks, we fix it!" At the time, it seemed like nothing more than wordplay. But it seems to me that, yeah, in fact the political operatives out there are trying to break the news, knowing that the mainstream media won't do anything about it, and "The Daily Show" is the only television program willing to fix it.

Finally, I just wanted to reprint the opening of Christian Science, because it certainly outshines what follows:

This last summer, when I was on my way back to Vienna from the Appetite-Cure in the mountains, I fell over a cliff in the twilight, and broke some arms and legs and one thing or another, and by good luck was found by some peasants who had lost an ass, and they carried me to the nearest habitation, which was one of those large, low, thatch-roofed farm-houses, with apartments in the garret for the family, and a cunning little porch under the deep gable decorated with boxes of bright colored flowers and cats; on the ground floor a large and light sitting-room, separated from the milch-cattle apartment by a partition; and in the front yard rose stately and fine the wealth and pride of the house, the manure-pile. That sentence is Germanic, and shows that I am acquiring that sort of mastery of the art and spirit of the language which enables a man to travel all day in one sentence without changing cars.

"And broke some arms and legs"... even well past his prime, the man had a way with a phrase.

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