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Archives for February, 2006

February 26, 2006

The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #40

Daniel Radosh

Submit the worst possible caption for this week's New Yorker cartoon. Click here for last week's results. Click here for an introduction and "rules" to this contest. Click here for amplification of those rules. Click here for contest index.


Considering that Anti-Caption contestants tend to jump right to sex even when the cartoon doesn't really suggest it, I'm already dreading this next batch of entries. Please, please, try to be more clever than this:

"Why do I always get the wet spot."

Results after the jump

Continue reading "The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #40" »

February 24, 2006

Cartoon conservative

Daniel Radosh

I have to admit that each time I posted about the cartoon jihad I'd get an uneasy sensation about the fact that I was more or less agreeing with Michelle Malkin about something for the first time since, well, ever. Well now I've found a way to draw a bright clear line. You see, while Michelle loves her some "Islam is a religion peace — not!" posts, I tend to think Islamofascism is mostly about fascism, not Islam. And as I've tried to point out, the fanatics who rioted over the cartoons were driven as much by politics as faith.

Last week, Michelle posted about 15 Nigerian Christians who were killed — in her har-har emphasis — "in the name of the prophet Mohammed." Then she went on to list other instances in which Nigerian Muslims killed Christians, because, you know, that's what those people do.

Yet strangely, Michelle, who has posted about every news story related to the Muhammad cartoons so far, has not yet had anything to say about today's news out of Nigeria's ongoing riots, "in which Christian mobs wielding machetes, clubs and knives set upon their Muslim neighbors." At the burned central mosque, "someone wrote in chalk on a charred wall, 'Jesus is Lord.' The message went on to warn that 'from today' there would be no more Muhammad." If that graffiti had been the same thing from a Muslim perspective, it would have made for the perfect darkly ironic Malkin headline. Well, maybe she'll get around to using it later. She won't just ignore this story, will she?

My point, of course, is nothing so simplistic as, "See, Christianists can be just as bad as Islamists," but to note, as the Times story makes clear, that places like Nigeria and the Middle East come loaded with complex backstories of ethnic and politicial tensions, and that pretexts for violence are often just that — pretexts.

Update: I still agree with Marlette. Except about the overall value of editorial cartoons in general.

Update: While we're talking about things Michelle won't post, Sullivan has a photo from the pro-Denmark rally of a woman holding a sign with a quote from Mencken: "The most curious social convention is that religious opinions should be respected." Maybe she can photoshop it so that instead of "religious" it just says "Muslim." That would work, right?

February 24, 2006

Bond fans insist series must maintain tradition of majorly sucking

Daniel Radosh


James Bond has a curious stranglehold on movie lovers' brains. We know the series has been dreadful for decades, but we keep showing up because we love this character and this world and we just hope — and sometimes we're rewarded — that each new flick will have just enough classic Bond moments to make the trip to the theater worthwhile. Of course we all know that what the series needs most is a good shakeup. It's clear that the consortium behind the series has made a conscious decision not to hire A-list writers and directors, which would be the best thing for it, so that leaves casting. Which is why it was a thrilling suprise when producer Barbara Broccoli announced that the replacement for Pierce Brosnan would be Daniel Craig, an actor — as in, he can really fucking act — who shares the young Sean Connery's dangerous charisma more than any Bond since. See Layer Cake if you need convincing.

But apparently there's a reason the later Bond movies have been the most successful ever: lots of fans don't want the series to be great, they want it to be familiar. They want it to be completely and utterly predictable. And they are now oh so very angry that Daniel Craig might be spoiling all that for them.

Unless this is a hoax, a savvy joke about idiot fanboys (and the AP didn't get it if it is), the "movement" to boycott Casino Royale and generally badmouth Craig represents an evolutionary advance for today's young audiences. No longer are we content to sit back and be spoon-fed whatever franchise dreck studios choose to put in front of us, these folks are declaring. From now on, we are going to aggressively insist upon dreck. We are going to demand it as our right.

Really, there goes any hope I had for Friday the 13th Part 11.

February 24, 2006

Primetime Lies

Daniel Radosh

Earlier this month, Primetime Live ran a segment on "thousands of young American girls who authorities say have been abducted or lured from their normal lives and made into sex slaves." That turns out to be 100 percent true: Authorities do say that. They say it a lot these days to excitable media outlets. But as investigative reporter Debbie Nathan points out in an important new exposé, "the claim is specious. To make it, you have to play with language and omit facts — or bend them so far that they break."

Nathan, you'll recall, is the woman who led the way in debunking the ritual sex abuse scare of the 1980s and who has been a friend of this site since she demolished a key section of Peter Landesman's notorious comedy of errors. Peter is name-checked in her new article as well, which I love because you just know he's got a Google alert for himself.

The Primetime segment tells two stories about, yep, Girls Next Door, who became sex slaves. Considering that there are supposedly thousands of these cases, you'd think that they could find two that are exactly what they purport to be, to wit: "many victims are no longer just runaways, or kids who've been abandoned. Many of them are from what would be considered 'good' families, who are lured or coerced by clever predators." And yet as Nathan reveals, neither of Primetime's poster girls are quite ready for framing. Here's Primetime on Girl #1:

Debbie's story is particularly chilling. One evening Debbie said she got a call from a casual friend, Bianca, who asked to stop by Debbie's house. Wearing a pair of Sponge Bob pajamas, Debbie went outside to meet Bianca, who drove up in a Cadillac with two older men, Mark and Matthew. After a few minutes of visiting, Bianca said they were going to leave. "So I went and I started to go give her a hug," Debbie told "Primetime." "And that's when she pushed me in the car."...Unbelievably, police say Debbie was kidnapped from her own driveway with her mother, Kersti, right inside. Back home with her other kids, Kersti had no idea Debbie wasn't there.

Unbelievably is right. Here's what Nathan found:

Phoenix Police Department press releases describe Debbie as a runaway. Police spokesman Andy Hill told me earlier this week that she was having problems with her family. She left home willingly with a friend, the girlfriend of a pimp, and a few hours later was herself dragooned into prostitution. Debbie's is a story of gross coercion, but clearly there's some background here. The vast majority of US kids who get involved with prostitution are runaways; this has been so for a very long time. That fact makes for yet another stale story. So it was left out of Primetime's because it didn't fit the boogie-man theme pushed these days when sex trafficking gets discussed -- in the media and lately by the feds as well.

Continue reading "Primetime Lies" »

February 23, 2006

If you like the Anti-Caption Contest

Daniel Radosh

...you'll love the Anti-Oscar Pool.

February 23, 2006

It's the new LUG

Daniel Radosh

Don't get me wrong. I fucking hate MySpace as much as anyone, if not for the same reasons. But as much as it's done to impoverish the language, it apparently has inspired one neologism I can get behind. With apologies to Michael Malice, here's a conversation I overheard in the Slope recently:

Oddball high school guy: Do you ever get the feeling Maya's not really bi?
Quirky high school girl: I think she's faking it. I think she's a MySpace bi.

February 23, 2006

Banned in Britain?

Daniel Radosh

vendetta.jpg This post is the sexy pop culture finalé to the stuffy political rant just below. In case you read this one first (or only) I ended the previous one with a remark about the new UK law that forbids "glorification of terrorism." And while I may have promised in that post a hot photo of Natalie Portman, this still seems much more appropriate to my question: Will V for Vendetta be banned in Britain?

Strangely, I haven't seen this addressed anywhere, even though the movie opens in a matter of weeks. From what I hear, this dystopian futuristic gloss on the Guy Fawkes legend is gonna be a great deal of fun, and is pretty explicitly pro-terrorism — in the service of fighting a right-wing government that has stripped its country of civil liberties in the name of national security. The wingnuts are gonna go apeshit, mark my words. But, hey, that's their First Amendment right. The question is, will the British government apply its new standards to a Hollywood film? I seriously doubt it, of course, and that's just the problem with speech codes. When they attempt to be neutral — this one doesn't ban any specific ideology, just the concept of glorifying terrorism — in practice they are always applied with discrimination. We'll arrest Arabs who carry signs celebrating Islamic terrorism, but not Americans who make a movie celebrating intra-British terrorism. How can that be philosophically justified without admitting that it's really an idea — Islamism — that's being targetted? Hell, if an Islamic nation made this exact same movie but made the heroes Arabs and the time now instead of 30 years from now, I bet the movie would be banned.

February 23, 2006

Don't worry, four days from now I'll blog about port security and in a week, the civil war in Iraq

Daniel Radosh

The AP story on the sentencing of David Irving ends with a bit of whiplash: "Mr. Irving's trial came during a period of intense debate in Europe over freedom of expression, after European newspapers printed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that set off deadly protests worldwide."

I've written before that this is a bad parallel for a couple of reasons. Holocaust denial is inherently racist, whereas cartoons about Muhammad, while they can be Islamophobic (more on that buzzword later), can also be legitimate critiques of religious and social structures (not to mention entirely uncritical of anything). As an aside, Flemming Rose is surely being a tad disingenuous in his recent WaPo OpEd when he insists that he solicited the cartoons for purely high-minded reasons, but he's right about much else, including his gloss on what it means to "respect" religious believers: "When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy." The folks who argue that the cartoons should be forbidden because they offend all Muslims also have to deal with the problem of the 11 Islamic journalists currently facing prosecution for publishing the cartoons — some in order to condemn them. Media outlets that have steadfastly refused to run the cartoons even as elements of a news story (as opposed to as editorial cartoons) should also consider the implications of a moderate Egyptian quoted in the story linked above: "With the Islamization of the society, the list of taboos has been increasing daily. You should not write about religion. You should not write about politics or women. Then what is left?"

As another aside (yes, this is still the aside; be patient), Rose also gave a new spin on the meaning of the turban-bomb cartoon, something about oranges. Is his mytho-ironic interpretation correct, or is the cartoon really saying, as every other media outlet at least implies, that Islam is a violent religion? Washington Post readers are forced to guess, as the paper won't show them the cartoon so they can decide for themselves? (It does no good, philosophically, to say they can find the picture on the Internets. People can find 90% of the news stories and photos in today's Post on other online sources, but the paper doesn't stop publishing 90% of its content on those grounds.) Meanwhile, renegade art critic Edward Rothstein breaks the New York Times taboo of refusing to even describe most of the cartoons (while insisting that the reason it won't publish the images is that it could describe them if it wanted to) in a gleefully non-sequitorial coda to a review of a book about religion and biology. His take is a clear indictment of the Times' All The News That's Halal policy.

Continue reading "Don't worry, four days from now I'll blog about port security and in a week, the civil war in Iraq" »

February 20, 2006

The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #39

Daniel Radosh

Submit the worst possible caption for this week's New Yorker cartoon. Click here for last week's results. Click here for an introduction and "rules" to this contest. Click here for amplification of those rules. Click here for contest index.


"Airline seats today are so cramped that I need to remove my clothes to enjoy an extra 1/100th of an inch of space."

"Of course I'm wearing pants. That would be gross."

"Oh yeah, well the woman behind me has no face."

Results after the jump

Continue reading "The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #39" »

February 15, 2006

Pop this up

Daniel Radosh

If you've been seeing pop-up ads while visiting this site, there's an explanation. I put them there because I know everyone loves pop-up ads. Yay!

Oh wait, that's not it. What happened was this. Since the day I started this blog in July, 1988, I've been using a free stat counter called NedStat Basic. A few months ago, NedStat Basic became Webstats4u and "free" became "in exchange for littering your site with pop-ups." Now, I suppose I would have known this if I'd carefully read through the updated terms of service, but who does that? In fact, if you've been seeing pop-ups on other blogs, odds are those folks have no idea why either, so you might want to clue them in. Since the ads come and go, you might as well warn anyone whose blog displays this tell-tale counter image:


And if you happen to have a favorite free, and ad-free, stat counter, I'm in the market.

February 13, 2006

So do I get that nickel?

Daniel Radosh

I have no idea if Garrison Keillor was right about Bernard-Henri Lévy's American Vertigo, but I sure enjoyed his review in the Times a few weeks ago. It was, you know, funny. And that's not a word I normally use in conjunction with Garrison Keillor.

Christopher Hitchens does not agree. But he may just have missed the joke. His angry rebuttal in Slate today is dressed up with a lot of outrage, but it consists of only three actual criticisms. Here's one:

"As always with French writers," says Keillor, "Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions." I would give about, oh, five cents to know which ones Keillor has in mind. Perhaps he has been boning up on his Foucault or Balibar or Derrida, in which case he modestly makes no show of his own learning. He cannot mean Albert Camus or Olivier Todd or Michel Houllebecq.

No, he probably means to sound ignorant and bombastic for comic effect. The tip off comes exactly two sentences before the one Hitch quotes:

He admires Warren Beatty, though he sees Beatty at a public event "among these rich and beautiful who, as always in America . . . form a masquerade of the living dead, each one more facelifted and mummified than the next, fierce, a little mutant-looking, inhuman, ultimately disappointing." Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him.

And not just to him, it turns out.

February 13, 2006

Anti-Caption Contest bonus round

Daniel Radosh

The New Yorker has the week off (again), so there's no new Anti-Caption Contest. Contest #38 is still wide open. Please, no more bestiality jokes.

February 9, 2006

Frankly, radical Islamists are the only people who could get me to side with editorial cartoonists

Daniel Radosh

dario.jpg In the discussion following my recent post on the Cartoon Wars I mentioned my belief that 90 percent of editorial cartoonists are unforgivable hacks. Rare indeed is the editorial cartoon that makes me laugh, much less Think. Maybe it's the form. Any joke that requires big labels to explain itself is pretty much doomed from the start. It's become de rigeur when either attacking the Danish cartoons or defending them in principle to add that as cartoons they are insipid, unfunny, and thuddingly obvious. Well, what editorial cartoons aren't?

Daryl Cagle has a 20-page collection of editorial cartoonists' response to the cartoon wars. I found two (reprinted here) that I liked. One (from Mexico) is incisive in its simplicity, the other funny for daring, as none of the others do, to actually risk a little blasphemy. Very little, to be sure, but remember, we're living through a moment in which the ombudsman for the Chicago Tribune can defend the paper's decision not to run the Muhammad cartoons by saying that it also wouldn't quote somebody saying Jesus Christ as an interjection. The other hundred or so cartoons tread the familiar A-B emotional and satirical terrain of all editorial cartoons, and only a small handful actually risk a depiction of Muhammad. As with any topic, certain ideas are repeated over and over again. Fucking hacks. (OK, maybe there are more good ones that I missed. I didn't force myself to look at all 20 pages. I'll take some risks for my blogging, but I do have a family to think of).

I don't know how many of these will run in US papers. But if any do, it will be that much harder for the media to use quality as one of its excuses not to reprint the Danish cartoons.


February 8, 2006

Springtime for Hitlerettes

Daniel Radosh


Oh, those irony-lovin' hipsters. They've gone and written a Prussian Blue musical.

Snap judgment: only if it's a hell of a lot smarter and funnier than the press release.

Hat tip to Matt.

By the way, I once pitched a PB sitcom to a friend at a production company. His response: not even on HBO. Obviously off-Broadway was the way to go.

[Prussian who? Previous posts.]

February 8, 2006

Confessions of a sex slave hit man

Daniel Radosh

September, 2004: Boulder Weekly reporter Pamela White writes a hard-hitting story about sex slaves. Some of what she reports is so bizarre and disturbing that "the average decent adult cannot fathom and often refuses to accept." But it's all true, and to back it up, she points to the work of New York Times stud Peter Landesman, who "received a letter of support from no less than Attorney General John Ashcroft, who wrote to the paper after Landesman was accused of writing fiction." Because the Attorney General of the United States would never stretch the truth. White's primary source, and the personality around whom the article is framed, is a man named David Race Bannon, a former Interpol agent who was assigned to track down and assassinate sex traffickers. Can't fathom it? Can't accept it? Maybe you should leave your comfortable basement in Park Slope, chum.

Flash foward to February, 2006: Pamela White has something embarrassing to report. "David Race Bannon [has] been arrested on suspicion of criminal impersonation, computer crime and criminal attempt to commit theft after an investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation." Interpol has denounced his book as "deceptive and irresponsible fantasy," and now that you mention it, the Johnny Quest connection was a little suspicious By her account, White initially treated Bannon with skepticism and worked diligently — much more so than Peter Landesman — to punch holes in his story. Had Landesman not already put her in the anything-is-possible mindset, her skepticism might even have won out. [Hat tip to Marjorie]

Speaking of hit men who should be treated with skepticism, I've been hearing rumors that John Perkins, the author of the bestselling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, has some credibility issues. I hasten to add that I have neither read the book no heard the specific charges, so I can't weigh in one way or the other. Though I've found nothing too damning on-line, readers have raised doubts on Amazon, news threads and blogs. The fact that Perkins claims he can shapeshift and teleport probably has something to do with the doubts.

As I said, I can't judge Hit Man at all, but it does seem like a good subject for The Smoking Gun to look into. At the very least, the producers of the forthcoming film adaptation will probably want to know how accurate their source material is. Let's see, who's writing that screenplay again? Oh, yeah: Peter Landesman.

February 8, 2006

Post Rejection Show report

Daniel Radosh

I had a fun time reading anti-captions at the Rejection Show last night (despite some organizational fuck-ups). The big reveal: The caption that Matt Diffee originally submitted with his snake on the couch cartoon, and that was rejected as not funny enough, was "He probably just smells your boa constrictor." Which is virtually identical to one of the contest finalists, "Oh, he probably just smells your python." Proving my point that 10,000 shmucks submitting captions are never going to come up with one that would be good enough to make the cut with the New Yorker under normal conditions.

February 7, 2006

At last they came for Mutts, but by then there was no one left to stand up

Daniel Radosh

Back in college I edited a stoopid underground magazine. Twice we published cartoons featuring Jesus — once in a fake ad for Jesus on Ice and once in a fake ad for the Cruciphone, a telephone shaped like Christ on the cross. (Sophomoric? Hey, we were sophomores.) Now obviously they weren't anti-Christian cartoons, they were jokes about religion and consumerism and the tension between the sacred and the profane. But could they have offended Christians? Almost certainly. There was no big conservative Christian contigency at Oberlin back then, but had there been, we probably would have gotten the same outraged response we got when we made jokes that offended every other cultural or ethnic group on campus. (Good times, good times.)

So clearly I'm not of the school that avoiding offense should be one's primary concern when publishing a newspaper. That said, I think reasonable people can disagree over whether those crazy Danes should have published the notorious Muhammad cartoons, just because they had the right to.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no valid argument for American media outlets not printing the cartoons now as part of their coverage of the ensuing riots. For several reasons, this cowardly abdication of journalism is not, as the Times claims, "a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols, especially since the cartoons are so easy to describe in words."

First, even if the original publication was arguably gratuitous, the republication in the context of news coverage would be highly germane. Knowing exactly what got people so worked up is essential information. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the Times ran photos of Piss Christ and Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin during those controversies; I'm absolutely sure that the paper has (rightly) reprinted antisemitic cartoons that have appeared in Islamic publications in the context of news stories.

Second, the cartoons are not so easily described — not that the Times has made any attempt to try. In 10 articles on the subject, the Times has described, sort of, exactly three of the 12 cartoons, and emphasized, repeatedly, exactly one. Dispensing first with the two cartoons that were mentioned only once, the paper noted that not all of the cartoons were inherently offensive: "One depicted a Danish anti-immigration politician in a police lineup, and another lampooned [Danish editor] Mr. Rose as an agent provocateur." This doesn't even include several others that depict Muhammad neutrally, a religious taboo, but not a mockery of Islam. Despite that, most of the Times' other reports have lumped all 12 cartoons together as "satirizing Muhammad." [Update: Oops. Missed a few stories. Here's one that describes three more toons, bringing the total to six out of 12.]

The one cartoon that has gotten all the attention is typically described as a picture of Muhammad "wearing a turban shaped like a bomb." But even that is far less helpful than seeing the cartoon would be. As Choire Sicha notes in his passionate essay, that description only raises questions: "Does the image... mean that all Muslims are terrorists? Is it a commentary on the tragedy that Muhammad’s religion has given rise to Wahhabism? Or is it a reference to a racist Western conflation of Arabs and terrorists?" (Admittedly, he also notes that it's hard to tell from the cartoon itself, but, hey, that's information too.)

Continue reading "At last they came for Mutts, but by then there was no one left to stand up" »

February 6, 2006

Um, wouldn't a barnyard be the one place where talking about cocks wouldn't be obscene?

Daniel Radosh

"...a barnyard reference to 'cocks' in the new song Rough Justice also disappeared. —Reuters, on censoring the Stones.

February 5, 2006

The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #38

Daniel Radosh

Submit the worst possible caption for this week's New Yorker cartoon. Click here for last week's results. Click here for an introduction and "rules" to this contest. Click here for amplification of those rules. Click here for contest index.


Can you do worse than me?

"Well, this does call to mind Dr. Johnson's observation about a dog's walking on his hind legs: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. Ha ha ha."

"On my honor, Peter Landesman, this is exactly what they would make us do in that basement."

"That's a hell of an act. What do you call it?"

"I'm never going sailing on this damn lake again, Martha. It's just too small and crowded." (Said by a person in the sailboat on the left side of the framed picture)

Results after the jump

Continue reading "The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #38" »

February 3, 2006

Reminder: Anti-Captions at The Rejection Show

Daniel Radosh


As this delightful cartoon whipped up by Heart on a Stick illustrates, I'll be joining authentic New Yorker cartoonist Matt Diffee for a presentation on The New Yorker Cartoon Contest and my Anti-Caption Contest at The Rejection Show next Tuesday. Who knows, maybe you'll see one of your own captions projected onto the big screen using awesome PowerPoint technology! The timing is perfect, what with all the attention brought to contest parodies sparked by Gawker on Wednesday.

And now that I think of it, this is probably a good time to link back to my first stab at New Yorker cartoon commentary, the New Yorker or Lockhorns Quiz. It's trickier than it sounds.

Meanwhile, I'm seriously considering changing the name of the Anti-Caption Contest to the name I only recently came up with but should have thought of from the beginning: The New Yorker Craption Contest. That's funny, right? Right? Speak now or forever hold your peace.

February 1, 2006

You'd think he'd have learned his lesson

Daniel Radosh

This article was posted "1 hour ago" (per Google News) on FOXNews.com: Oprah to Have Disputed Author Frey Back on Show.

James Frey, the author of the disputed memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," will appear Thursday on a live broadcast of Oprah Winfrey's television show to address the dustup surrounding his book, according to a spokeswoman for Winfrey's Harpo Productions.

Harpo spokeswoman Angela DePaul also said Nan A. Talese, whose imprint at Doubleday published Frey's account of overcoming drug addiction and alcoholism, would appear with Frey, as well as several journalists familiar with allegations that parts of the memoir are fiction.

Either he's a glutton for punishment, or his last public shaming really goosed sales.

If only this was the least accurate story on Fox News today.

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