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Eleven years ago, as another Christmas approached, I called up my favorite libertarian priest, The Rev. Robert Sirico, for some unique and principled seasonal advice.

Sirico is not your ordinary parish priest.

He is not only the pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Parish in Grand Rapids, Mich., he’s the co-founder and president of The Acton Institute,

England's greatest Lord, Lord Acton.

England’s greatest Lord, Lord Acton.

a market-friendly think tank devoted to promoting “a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”

Father Sirico sums up the purpose of the Acton Institute, by reminding us of the beliefs of its great and brilliant namesake and relentless advocate of human freedom,  John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (1834-1902).

Lord Acton gave us much, much more than his most famous and always apt quote:

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.

Summing up his institute’s mission, Father Sirico says on his institute’s web site that, “Acton realized that economic freedom is essential to creating an environment in which religious freedom can flourish. But he also knew that the market can function only when people behave morally. So faith and freedom must go hand in hand. As he put it, ‘Liberty is the condition which makes it easy for conscience to govern.’ ”

Father Sirico has been a frequent contributor to the country’s top op-ed pages and a regular commentator on TV. Brooklyn-born, a lefty in his youth, he’s made it his extra-spiritual calling to educate future religious leaders about the principles — and moral virtues — of a free-market economy.

The Qs and the As:

Eleven years ago, when I was a real journalist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review doing a weekly Q&A with smart or important people like Father Sirico, I called up my favorite man of the cloth up and asked him about Christmas, gift giving and the health of Christianity.

Q: Why has Christianity been so successful for 2,000 years?

A: I think we have to understand that Christianity inherits a lot of its presupposition from Judaism, so we have to begin by linking Christianity to Judaism, which parenthetically is why Christianity has no place for anti-Semitism in it. I think that Christian and Jewish anthropology accounts for having laid the foundation for the building of societies that are free and virtuous. This understanding of who the human person is — in a transcendent dignity but a physical reality, a real-world embrace of contingency, of historical circumstance, indeed the emergence of economics — comes from this anthropological understanding. If I was to point to one thing, that would be the one thing that accounts for the success of Christianity and the building of Western Civilization.

Q: What or where are Christianity’s most important challenges today?

A: Today the greatest challenge of Christianity, both here in the United States and most acutely in Europe, is the challenge of secularism; the attempt to live off the legacy of Christianity without reference to its roots. What secularism does — and its moral companion, moral relativism — is attempt to have structures and appearance and success predicated on a Judeo-Christian ethic but without reference to the obligations and even the dogmatic formulations that are attendant and explicate those roots.

Q: Looking around the world, do you see Christianity gaining or losing its moral authority in our day-to-day lives, especially in politics and culture?

A: I think this is the struggle in the United States right now. In some sense, pockets of Christianity have lost a sense of moral authority. We’ve seen this in the mainline churches and to some extent in the more progressive elements of the Catholic Church– where these religious officials have substituted a confident proclamation of the traditions of the faith with a kind of politically correct and sociologically based agenda. So you see in the various statements of the religious headquarters a preoccupation with political, social issues — a kind of displacing of the theological paradigm, which is centered on God, on revelation, and in the case of Christianity, of Jesus Christ, with a sociological or psychological paradigm.

But the elements of Christianity that are growing are the traditional elements within Catholicism, in large part as the result of the encouragement of the model they received from Pope John Paul the Great and now Benedict the 16th and within evangelical Christianity, which has become rather sophisticated. It is not the kind of shad-belly, snake-handling, uneducated-preacher type any more. You have highly accomplished, intellectually sophisticated representatives of evangelic Christians.

Then on top of that, I think that the most interesting, exciting and vibrant dialogue that is occurring right withinreligious communities right now is occurring between evangelicals and traditional Roman Catholics … that is, Catholics who really believe in theteaching authority of the church.

Q: Does Christianity have anything to fear from Islam?

A: Let me say that this encounter with Islam, for Catholicism, is not a new thing. Catholicism has encountered Islam in its various phases and various traditions over the centuries…. The important thing that I think was underscored by the Regensburg speech in Germany by Pope Benedict is that we must come to an understanding that religion must utilize reason in order to create the opportunity for conversation. If we simply resort to violence in settling our religious disagreements, then very soon there is bloodshed and things that would undermine the basis of civil order.

This is a warning not just directed to the more extreme elements of Islam. The speech by Benedict was really a warning to the West, which is rejecting reason along with Christianity. You find that many philosophers, especially those of the deconstructionist model, no longer believe that the human mind, and hence reason, has the capacity to apprehend truth — that there is no truth. This is associated with moral relativism.

So the threat comes not just from fundamentalist Islam, jihadist Islam, but also from highly secularized elements of European and American culture. I would like to think that the more moderate elements of Islam, who are repulsed by the hedonism and the secularism they see, might be willing to find some common cause with traditional Christians in promoting a society that can remain virtuous and retain a religious reference point.

Q: Christianity and Islam — didn’t they coexist rather peacefully at some point?

A: There was a period of several hundred years where they did. In the strict reading of the Koran, Christians would have to pay a tax for being Christians. But being people of ‘the Book,’ they wouldn’t necessarily be executed. They were certainly seen in the book — in the Koran — as second-class citizens. The question is whether Islam can formulate, or reformulate, an understanding of themselves that has a sense of tolerance and makes the distinction between the power and authority of the religion and the legitimate secular authority. Christianity did this predicated on Jesus’ words ‘Render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.’ Islam apparently has greater difficulty in doing that. In one sense, Islam is awaiting its Augustine, it’s awaiting its Aquinas, to help formulate and develop these distinctions. That really is the debate: Can Islam develop? The more-jihadists say no, the text is written and is fixed and there is no exegesis. There is no development the way you had in Christianity. Therefore there is no distinction between power — which is coercive and external, namely government or legal — and authority, which is internal and moral — which would be the church’s role. Both power and authority are forms of constraint, but one is coercive and the other is based on persuasion.

Q: Christians complain about the commercialization of Christmas. Secularists complain about the cold-hearted immorality of the marketplace. Is capitalism a natural enemy of Christianity, or vice versa?

A: I don’t think capitalism is a natural enemy of Christianity. Capitalism is really an inadequate word; it only describes one dimension of what is really human freedom and choice in the economic sphere. Choice is morally neutral. It’s the chooser who can be moral or immoral, not the ability to make the choice. You have to have the ability to make the choice in order to choose. I think it is a mistake for religious leaders to condemn the free economy based on some of the results. What they may want to do is condemn the choices that people make and the lack of moral formation that they have.

But the notion of gift-giving as being sinful at Christmas is absurd. Where do we get gift-giving from? The Magi. They brought the gifts to Jesus. But I think it is very easy to lose focus on the core meaning of the season, which is human relationships. A part of that is economic, but not the whole of it.

Q: You recently wrote a column about how the act of gift-giving relies heavily on an economic system that allows free exchanges between individuals. Can you explain?

A: You can’t be generous with which you don’t first have — with which you have not first produced and possessed. So there is this moral dimension to it. The real danger is when you lose focus and the mere act is an end in itself, or the mere giving, or the mere buying, is an act in itself. This diminishes the understanding of who human beings are.

Q: Does that mean that it’s the end and not the means that matters? Usually it’s the other way around.

A: I think it’s both a means and the end. You have to be headed in the right direction — the end. You need to choose the appropriate means for that and I think market activity is an appropriate means to a right end. But economics as such does not have a moral reference point. By itself, economics tells us nothing about what is good and bad. It will only tell us what is in supply and what is scarce.In order to bring the moral reference point, you have to have human beings who are formed with a moral sensitivity.

Q: What’s the best Christmas gift anyone can give another person?

A: I think themselves. By that I mean love, relationship. Sometimes that will take the form of a material expression. The best gift is the gift of self, because in giving oneself, one is giving everything else. After all, this is what follows the model of Christ himself. In his condescension to come to Earth to be with us, he gives himself. There was a cute little takeoff of the Hallmark slogan years ago that Christians used — ‘God cared enough to give the very best.’ I don’t mean to be just poetic in saying it, but I think the best gift we can give people is ourselves.

With a little help from Wikipedia and some others, let’s dig up the holy remains of Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899), who, though a lawyer and a political leader, was one of America’s greatest publicists of individual liberty and bashers of religion.

As can be seen below in an excerpt from his famed 1876 Fourth of July speech, Bob Ingersoll was not only one of America’s greatest orators. He was “The Great Agnostic” who understood what the Christian and Muslim world still doesn’t understand — that no religion should ever be given the power of the sword or the bullet.

To put it simply, Ingersoll hated religion — he was a much smarter libertarian Bill Maher of the 19th century.

The whole Declaration of Independence speech in Indianapolis is kindly printed here, http://lectures-by-ingersoll.blogspot.com/2012/04/declaration-of-independence.html as are more than 40 of his other orations and lectures.

Here’s a video that introduces him to strangers.

Bob Ingersoll, unchristian

Bob Ingersoll — Go to Hell, Christianity.

Here are some great quotes from great men and women who praised the greatness of Ingersoll.

And here’s an excerpt that proves Ingersoll is a superstar of yesteryear who needs to revisited, revered and respected by libertarians of every stripe.

The Declaration of Independence

…. They met in Philadelphia; and the resolution was moved by Lee or Virginia that the colonies ought to be independent states, and ought to dissolve their political connections with Great Britain.

They made up their minds that a new nation must be formed. All nations had bee, so to speak, the wards of some church. The religious idea as to the source of power had been at the foundation, of all governments and had been the bane and curse of man.

Happily for us, there was no church strong enough to dictate to the rest. Fortunately for us, the colonists not only but the colonies differed widely in their religious views. There were the Puritans, who hate the Episcopalians; the Episcopalians, who hated the Catholics; and the Catholics, who hated both, while the Quakers held them all in contempt. There they were, of every sort and color and kind, and how was it that they came together? They had a common aspiration. They wanted to form a new nation. More than that, most of them cordially hated Great Britain; and they pledged each other to forget their religious prejudices for a time, at least, and agreed that there should be only one religion until they got through — and that was the religion of patriotism. They solemnly agreed that the new nation should not belong to any particular church but that it should secure the rights of all.

Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world. Recollect that. The first secular government; the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights, and no more; every religion has the same rights, and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sense, who had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword; that it should be allowed only to exert its moral influence. (Applause.)

You might as well have a government united by force with Art, or with Poetry, or with Oratory as with Religion. Religion should have the influence upon mankind that its goodness, that its morality, its justice, its charity, its reason, and its argument give it, and no more. Religion should have the effect upon mankind that it necessarily has, and no more. The religion that has to be supported by law is without value not only but a fraud and a curse. The religious argument that has to be supported by a musket is hardly worth making. A prayer that must have a cannon behind it better never be uttered. Forgiveness ought not to go in partnership with shot and shell. Love need not carry knives and revolvers.

So our fathers said: “We will form a secular government, and under the flag which we are going to enrich our air we will allow every man to worship God as he thinks best.” They said: “Religion is an individual thing between each man and his Creator, and he can worship as he pleases and as he desires.” And why did they do this? The history of the world warned them that the liberty of man was not safe in the clutch and grasp of any church. They had read of and seen the thumb-screws, the racks and the dungeons of the Inquisition. They knew all about the hypocrisy of the olden time. They knew that the church had stood side by side with the throne; that the high priests were hypocrites, and that the kings were robbers. They also knew that if they gave to any church power, it would corrupt the best church in the world. And so they said that power must not reside in a church, nor in a sect, but power must be wherever humanity is – in the great body of the people. And the officers and servants of the people must be responsible to them. And so I say again, as I said in the commencement, this is the wisest, the profoundest, the bravest political document that was ever written.

They turned, as I tell you, everything squarely about. They derived all their authority from the people. They did away forever with the theological idea of government.

And what more did they say? They said that wherever the rules abused this authority, the power, incapable of destruction, returned to the people. How did they come to say this? I will tell you; they were pushed into it. How? They felt that they were oppressed; and whenever a man feels that he is the subject of injustice, his perception of right and wrong is wonderfully quickened.

Nobody was ever in prison wrongfully who did not believe in the writ of habeas corpus. Nobody ever suffered wrongfully without instantly having ideas of justice.

And they began to inquire what rights the king of Great Britain had. They began to search for the charter of his authority. They began to investigate and dig down to the bedrock upon which society must be founded, and when they got down there — forced there, too, by their oppressors; forced against their own prejudices and education — they found at the bottom of things, not lords, not nobles, not pulpits, not thrones, but humanity and the rights of men. (Tremendous cheering.)

And so they said, we are men; we are men. They found out they were men. And the next they said was: “We will be free men; we are weary of being colonists; we are tired of being subjects; we are men; and these colonies ought to be states and these states ought to be a nation; and that nation ought to drive the last British soldier into the sea.” And so they signed that brave declaration of independence….

FullSizeRenderJohn Kasich of Ohio is not BS-ing when he says he knows how to get things done in Washington.

He’s been proving it since he was a freshman at Ohio State.

In 1970, young John was so much in love with Richard Nixon he wrote a 3-page letter of encouragement to Tricky Dick.

Kasich was just an unknown, unconnected 18-year-old working-class Republican kid  from Pittsburgh  — a mailman’s son, etc. etc.

But his letter — probably the only love note Nixon ever got from a college student during the Vietnam War — was so persuasive the president invited him to meet him man-on-man in the White House.

Unfortunately, Kasich talked to the hometown press afterwards and said some sweet things about Nixon that he might wish now he hadn’t.

The mailman’s son told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he thought Nixon “was very dynamic.”

Worse, the young war hawk also defended Nixon, saying that before people criticize the president they should realize that he “knows more about Vietnam than the public does.”

Kasich is the last Pittsburgh native left in the presidential race. A good bet to beat Donald Trump in the Ohio primary, he’s the Republican establishment’s last hope to derail the Trump Circus Train.

What happens after Kasich wins Ohio, not even Joe Scarborough and Mika can predict.

****

Kasich is really not from Ohio.

He defected there after college, when Pittsburgh’s steel industry was dying, and made his political career in the Buckeye State as a Reagan conservative with a soft heart and a yearning for balanced budgets and a strong military.

Except that he’s not a union-loving Democrat, he remains a typical Pittsburgher.

He’s not a phony. He’s a regular guy, a rumpled, kind of cranky Everyman, forever the son of a mailman.

He’s still a big foolish hawk, unfortunately, but he’s grown as a Republican.  Now he’s also a big hugger.

It says in the PG’s article that Kasich is from Stowe Township, but he was really from McKees Rocks, which is just an extension of working-class Pittsburgh a few miles up the Ohio River.

He grew up in the humble 1950s suburban brick house pictured below, which,  if Republicans are luckier than they deserve,  someday may be the 20th-century equivalent of Abe Lincoln’s log cabin.

kasi

Rand Paul has virtually disappeared from the media and the polls.

Even his die-hard supporters can’t tell you what the senator has been doing or saying for the last month.

But if the presidential wannabe from Kentucky wants to return to viability — and visibility — as a 2016 candidate, he has to separate himself from the GOP’s boring herd at tonight’s debate on CNBC.

Here’s some free advice for Rand Paul from a career libertarian newspaperman:

DSC_0035

Rand Paul needs to follow his father’s path.

First, rip off that ill-fitting Republican mask you’ve been wearing for five years and let people see your inner libertarian soul.

Then start sounding more like your father Dr. Ron, not less.

You need to start tapping more deeply into that young demographic that your father appealed to in 2012 merely by being his own lovable, Fed-bashing libertarian self.

For starters, and especially for early primary voters, Rand, tonight you need to begin branding yourself as an unabashed Pro Peace, Pro Pot and Pro Uber libertarian.

***

It’s probably already too late for Rand Paul.

But boldly pushing the principled libertarian angle on peace, pot, Uber and homeschooling in Iowa would have great appeal across both parties and independents and especially among college-age voters. Plus they are strong anti-establishment positions in a year when being against the establishment is no longer a strike against you but an asset.

Being for Peace, Pot and Uber for libertarian reasons would not just be more honest. It’d quickly bring Rand Paul the media attention he desperately needs before he mounts his next filibuster.

He’d be able to separate himself from the mangy crowd of GOP establishment candidates and their tired conservative ideas while allowing himself to proudly stick up for the principles and values libertarians love and want to implement.

Rand Paul should blast and shame Marco Rubio tonight for his awful prohibitionist stance on marijuana by sticking up for personal freedom; defending states rights comes second. Ditto for Christie’s horrible drug-czar position on drugs.

(Speaking of pot, our friend Matt Welch of Reason.org has a deeper, more substantive “Dear Rand” letter that urges Sen. Paul to separate himself from his fellow debaters this evening and foresquarely call for the legalization of marijuana.)

Rand Paul also should be mocking Rubio’s tough talk about using troops to fix the Middle East hell we made with our previous bloody foolish military interventions and regime toppling fiascos. Ditto for Fiorina’s sure-to-fail Mid-East foreign policy.

Trump, for all the dumb and dumber stuff he says, has done a huge favor for a libertarian like Rand.  Trump’s politically incorrect statements and ideas have lowered, or maybe raised, the bar on what radical things a candidate can say without being punished by the voting public or the media.

Because of Trump and his refreshing “so-what-if-I-said-something-politically-incorrect” attitude, the national liberal media, thankfully, has lost its power to destroy a candidate over a single gaffe at a coffee shop or something like Howard Dean’s scream in 2004.

Thanks to Trump, Rand Paul can take more radical libertarian positions on his natural issues without fear.

Homeschoolers, for  example, are often Christian evangelicals but they are almost all soft libertarians at heart; they deeply understand the importance of freedom from government and school choice and they have made sacrifices to practice it in their everyday lives. They should be Rand Paul’s natural constituency — not Rick Santorum’s.

Another issue tailor-made for Rand Paul is Uber.

I’m an Uber driver in Pittsburgh. I know from experience (1,700 trips, 3000-plus riders) that Uber is universally loved by young people.

It’s also a great libertarian issue because Uber’s ride-sharing business model — micro-transit at its best — is destroying the local government cab monopolies that have tortured the poor and carless citizens of every major city in North America for nearly 80 years with high fares and horrible service.

Only the bad guys hate Uber — existing taxi interests and their big-city political pals and protectors like NYC Mayor DeBlasio.

Uber is well established in Des Moines, for example. As far as I know, Rand Paul hasn’t publicized himself taking Uber rides in Des Moines or, better yet, becoming an Uber driver there for a weekend night.  Where are his campaign people sleeping?

Jeb Bush or Rubio should not be the Uber candidate; Rand Paul should be. He should own the Uber vote. Arguing with Hillary Clinton about the benefits of  the gig economy is not enough.

I’m sure others would like to see Rand Paul tear off his cheap Republican mask and unleash his inner libertarian.

He needs a unique brand. He needs to become the pro peace, pro pot and pro Uber candidate, not to mention the anti-war, anti-IRS, anti-Big Government, anti-Nanny State, anti-surveillance state candidate.

Coming out of his libertarian closet tonight won’t win Rand Paul the GOP nomination or the White House. It may even lose him his seat in the Senate. But it’ll make it a lot easier for him to stand out from his fellow Republicans in 2020, when he runs against President Clinton.

Ex-newspaperman Bill Steigerwald is a career libertarian and author of Dogging Steinbeck, which exposes the truth about “Travels With Charley” and celebrates Flyover America and its people. Blogs, photos, a 1960 Steinbeck/”Charley” trip timeline and more are at TruthAboutCharley.com.

 

The Huffington Post turns ten this week.

It’s seen by lots more eyeballs and it’s much better looking and reading than it was at its birth, when it was nothing but a lot of hype and hope and the political scribblings of celebrities. But the HuffPo is still just a liberal pimple on the big conservative ass of the Drudge Report.

I wasn’t going to celebrate the birthday of Arianna Huffington’s love child, but over the weekend The Today Show, or whatever it’s called by NBC, apparently spoke my name during its celebration.

I didn’t see or hear what Today said about me to the whole nation.

I hear they took a line or two out of context from the critical but fair and balanced magazine column I wrote about HuffPo’s birth to show what a big dummy I was for failing to predict it’d live to see its tenth birthday.

I forgot what I wrote on May 15, 2005,  but I looked it up and here it is:

Huffing & Puffing & Disappointing

Matt Drudge can sleep easy.

Arianna Huffington’s much ballyhooed “Huffington Post” — a new Web site whose chief gimmick is a Malibu Beach party’s worth of celebrity bloggers — is no threat.

If you haven’t heard, huffingtonpost.com features the daily blathering of scores of La-La-Landers — Rob Reiner, Bill Maher, John Cusack, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, et al. — and scores of savvy inner-Beltway politicos such as David Corn, Mike McCurry, Joe Scarborough and Danielle Crittenden.

From the advance hype, you’d have thought that the multiblog site, which debuted Monday, was going to do for the blogosphere what CNN did for TV news. It won’t.

It’s way too early to declare it a flop. But it’s easy to see why the media criticism has run from brutally cruel to “Could this possibly be this dull and uninformative forever?”

Not every celebrity embarrasses himself.

Quincy Jones’ rumination on Michael Jackson’s sordid decline is wise, but contains so much God-talk he may have his star on Hollywood Boulevard removed.

“Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David’s defense of U.N. Ambassador-designate John Bolton as a fellow abuser-of-employees is clever satire.

Rob Reiner’s ranting about the news media being stooges of the Bush administration and voters being misled on Iraq, etc., etc., would make a great sendup of a demented Hollywood liberal, except he’s being serious.

Reiner’s meat-headed rant gives credence to L.A. Weekly Nikki Finke’s conspiratorial suspicion that Arianna is now “a conservative mole.” Finke, a business/political columnist, covering entertainment, wrote in her Huffington Post-trashing column that the Greek-born author-pundit “has served up liberal celebs like red meat on a silver platter for the salivating and Hollywood-hating right wing to chew up and spit out.”

Finke could be right. Maybe Arianna — who has morphed from the right-wing conservative spouse of a multimillionaire Republican congressman to a divorced big-government progressive do-gooder — is a double agent for her mid-’90s pal, Newt.

There’s no doubt celebrities are going to be eaten alive by the pros — the politicians, pundits and journalists — Arianna invited to her 300-ring circus. Byron York has already bitten into sports guy Jim Lampley, who opined in his blog that he still thinks Bush stole Ohio last fall.

And conservative Danielle Crittenden, who knows how to mock Hollywood, blogged a clever parody memo to President Bush that plugs a new movie whose heroine is a brave, pro-life Republican congresswoman who fights for family values.

Assembling scores of celebrity bloggers in one place sounds like a really good idea — until you go there and find it’s mostly just a bunch of people with little to say talking to themselves.

At huffingtonpost.com , more is much less. There’s no strong single point of view, which is what all the best blogs have. There’s virtually no interaction or squabbling between libs and conservatives. Libertarians, as usual, apparently weren’t invited.

Arianna’s got lots of tinkering to do before she provides anything close to “a tantalizing mixture of politics, wit and wisdom.” She has to learn how to be an editor and a better ringmaster.

Maybe she’ll figure it out. Meantime, her Internet Free Hollywood may do America some good by forcing the cloistered Hollywood community to debate some nonliberal arguments and ideas it’s not used to even hearing.

Reads pretty good to me.

165341)  Cigarette Smoking Man (The X-Files)

Strangely calm — maybe it was the Canadian accent — and occasionally vulnerable (seemingly) in later seasons, there was something compelling about this guy. We seem him as the top villain for Mulder, but then we see that he is just a part of the much bigger conspiracy. He’s the guy they go to for clean-up and it has cost him a normal human existence. His centric episodes are never dull. (Always wondered why he didn’t just take out Mulder, though.) He smokes not like a villain trying to intimidate someone, but like a man with all the time in the world, who isn’t even thinking about any of it.

2) Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Iconic, duh. Think of him in the first movie when he’s the terrifying cyborg, but is beneath Grand Moff Tarkin. And he has that strange commitment to this mysterious religion. We learn more about him. He blows up a whole planet. He can choke people with his hand. He is willing to get into a TIE Fighter and fight — albeit, not very well. And though people usually mock Mark Hamill’s acting when he discovers the terrifying truth about his parentage, well, think how you would feel. Look at Luke Skywalker’s reaction and realize, it’s serious, horrifying stuff to be the son of this man.

3) The Joker (The Dark Knight)

The late Heath Ledger really did deserve those accolades, regardless of their inevitability after his tragic death. Ledger plays the Joker in a transformative, uncomfortable, annoying (those fucking sounds he makes, aaaugh!) disturbing way. It’s such good acting that it’s fun to watch. He’s the best part of the movie, and is on my short list of highly praised things that are not remotely overrated. The greater meaning of the anarchic character isn’t important. Just fucking watch him act.

4) Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones TV show)

Not the sadistic King Joffrey? Not the real power, Tywin Lannister? Nope. Give me Cersei, because we see her struggling to be a villain. She’s a woman, she’s maybe not as smart as she thinks she is, but she’s wily enough to fight hard for what she thinks is hers. She’s funny as hell. And she loves her scary-ass son, because he is just about all she has, but she knows he’s sick. She knows how women gain power, but she still yearns to be playing at the big kids table. You see her when her villainous swagger is on, and you see her being completely dismissed by her father and intellectually trailing behind her brother. She’s fascinating. And she has the world’s most flawless bitch face.

5) O’Brien (1984) and The Operative (Serenity)

Like all good top villains in a dystopia, O’Brien knows all the counter-arguments with which our hero has struggled. He knows them all and can beat them with authority, charm, conviction, and the terrifying certainty of his position. He inflicts the pain, and he is someone to whom Winston Smith can finally speak freely. He knows what he does and he does it because power exists to keep itself alive. No grand motives. Just keeping the system going.

The Operative sees even more clearly than O’Brien does that he does terrible things. But he thinks he is doing them to build something better. Yet, he also thinks there is no place in that world for people like him with so much innocent blood on their hands. He’s the mechanism for improvement at a terrible price, but he has no illusions about being warmly invited into into the new society. Strange character. Very human for a villain, but very frightening.

6) Angelus (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

God damn was he a better monster than a hero. Bland, self-hating (understandable, but still), earnest, when he had a soul, he was playfully sadistic without one. He tortured a woman into insanity, he toyed with a lovesick Giles (best character) after killing his ladyfriend. The contrast between that guy and the guy trying to do right makes even the dull fellow more interesting, just because we know what nastiness is inside of him.

What are some of your favorites, dear readers?