Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon. Click here for details. Click here to see last week's winner.
"T.A. Winchler Name Plates, Ltd. Greg speaking." �Jazzy
"Hello, Human Resources? It's Tom Winchler in Accounting. Can you send someone down to clear away my wife's stuff? It's been over six months since Thersea Ann died, and keeping everything around as a shrine has proven to be morbid and depressing after all." �David John
"Hi, this is Winchler upstairs. Some joker stole my third desk. I'm going to lunch, and if it's not back before I return, heads are gonna roll." �Anonymous
William Safire returned to the New York Times Op-Ed page today for his 33rd annual predictions for the year ahead column. The Times allows Safire to continue writing this column because he is a professional pundit, and therefore better at predicting upcoming events than the average Joe. Or a chimp with a dart.
At the top, Safire alludes to the fact that his predictions for '06 "took a beating," but he doesn't quantify that. So I've done it for him. Out of the 14 predictions Safire made last year at this time, 3 came to pass. Maybe 3 and a half (In this year's column he gives himself credit for his prediction a year ago about the stock market. I'd call that generous.) In other words, William Safire is about as good at predicting the future as David Brooks is at predicting the past. Details after the jump.
If you're reading this site on Christmas day, or soon after, it's probably for detoxification purposes. Escape From It's A Wonderful Life should do the trick. This re-dubbed version of the official ultimate Christmas movie was made in 1996 by the Upright Citizens Brigade. It was supposed to air on Comedy Central but a copyright dispute kept it locked in a vault until the Internets set it free � by which time nobody cared anymore. Too bad. Barring a Sinbad joke here and there, it holds up nearly as well as the original. The 45-minute edit chronicles George Bailey's frustration with appearing in the same movie over and over again for 50 years and his efforts to make a sci-fi adventure � or maybe a gangster film � instead.
The New Yorker is off this week (why aren't you?) so there's no new anti-caption contest. If you're not burned out on this one, feel free to keep contributing. Just between us, I still think you can do better. In the meantime, results are in for the dead horse holiday bonus contest.
Now go have a merry whatever it is you people celebrate.
It looks like there's a new trend in music videos for lazy dino-rockers. String together a bunch of old clips so it looks like you -- or other people -- are singing the new song. I'm not complaining, mind you. Both of the recent videos to do this are pretty great. First Bob Dylan's Thunder on the Mountain and now U2's Window in the Skies. Dylan's is the better song by far, but the U2 vid is the more clever and technically proficient. Watch 'em both and see what you think. Has this been done before?
The Dylan video debuted on Slate as part of a contest: "identify the year in which each piece of footage was shot" and win a guitar. I wasn't on top of this quickly enough to realize, but I'm willing to bet almost anything that Slate fucked up. Identifying the year in which the footage appeared is easy enough for Dylanologists, but when it was shot? For instance, take image 7, a still from the video for Cross the Green Mountain, the theme song for the 2003 film Gods and Generals. Did Bob shoot his scenes for the video in 2001, when the film was shot? In 2002, after it wrapped? Or in 2003, just before it was released? I have no idea, and I'll be shocked if Slate does. Stay tuned.
As for the U2 song. I've become more interested in this band over the past year as I've become aware of the strange place they hold in the Christian pop subculture. In some circles they are totally embraced as contemporary christian music. But there are some radio stations, churches, etc. that will play cover versions of U2 songs by artists on CCM labels, but not the original versions of those same songs. Meanwhile, when I bring this up with non-evangelicals, they're often totally stunned, having had no idea that U2 is a Christian band. Or they'll say, "Sure, the band members are Christians, but the music is not Christian rock" (meaning, "It can't be, because it's too good/complex"). Maybe you have to know what you're listening for, since it's true that U2 rarely invokes Jesus by name, but other than that, they're not exactly hiding. Window in the Skies, to take only the latest example, is about as explicity Christian as you can get.
So, you know those photos that got Miss Nevada fired? They're all over the web � often censored, sometimes not. And here's what her lawyer says: "Katie wants the public to know she was 17 and had a lapse in judgment. This was an isolated incident that occurred more than five years ago when she was a minor."
17? Minor? Uh oh. That means these widely available images, distributed in part by an arm of Warner Bros., are almost certainly child pornography. Only technically? Tell it to Genarlow Wilson. A federal rap might be avoided since there are no genitals on display, but many states specifically include exposed breasts in their statutes. Put it this way: If these pictures were less widespread, say on the computer of one guy with no clout, do you doubt that he'd be in jail right now?
Hell, technically anyone who looked at these images could be prosecuted. Unless I'm mistaken, your only legal out would be if you saw them accidentally and immediately reported them to the authorities. What do you think they'd even say if you did?
Update. Nevermind! In the comments, Gina notes that the Divine Miss N has issued a new statement: "Miss Nevada, Katie Rees is issuing a correction on the statement released by her attorney yesterday regarding some photos that were published of her on the internet. That press release stated that she was 17 years old when the photos were taken. Miss Rees� actual age when the aforementioned photos were taken was 19."
YouTube makes me feel old � and not just because I came of age in an era before 15-year-old girls had internalized the aesthetics of strip clubs and had the technology to share the results with the world. No, I'm talking about this whole thing of people recording videos of themselves talking about stuff that no one else cares about. Isn't that what blogs are for? I know this shit is supposed to replace television someday, but, um, not in my house.
That said, I kind of love this girl. The first clip is a mildly amusing parody of stupid YouTube videos. The second one is an absolutely delicious reading of the hate mail she got in response. Both videos after the jump.
One of my favorite books as a college religion major was Mark C. Taylor's Erring: A Postmodern A/theology. I was a total sucker for deconstructionist punctuation, long before Justin Timberlake started doing it. After Nietzsche, Buber and maybe Heidegger, Taylor did as much as anyone to transform my understanding of the human condition.
Picking up his book 15 years later, of course, I can barely decipher it. Here's a random passage I underlined, meaning that at one point it was not only intelligable to me, but also important.
The purpose of the book is to render present the discourse of the world by bringing about the absolute proximity of perfect transparency of object to subject. Though not always obvious, this aim implies a self-negation of the book. In the course of approximating its goal, the book inscribes a paradoxical "progression" toward its own effacement. Perfect mimesis is no longer mimesis. If imitation were to realize itself completely, it would negate itself by actually becoming the thing imitated.
In 1999, I went back to Taylor for the first time when he created a computer game that I hoped would blow my mind, without requiring much actual reading. But by that time I was apparently post-postmodern again, and the game was just boring.
The good news is that the guy can put away the jargon when he wants to and turn out trenchant commentaries like his Op-Ed in today's Times about the important and underappreciated topic of religious correctness.
It seems the more religious students become, the less willing they are to engage in critical reflection about faith. The chilling effect of these attitudes was brought home to me two years ago when an administrator at a university where I was then teaching called me into his office. A student had claimed that I had attacked his faith because I had urged him to consider whether Nietzsche�s analysis of religion undermines belief in absolutes. The administrator insisted that I apologize to the student. (I refused.)....
For years, I have begun my classes by telling students that if they are not more confused and uncertain at the end of the course than they were at the beginning, I will have failed. A growing number of religiously correct students consider this challenge a direct assault on their faith. Yet the task of thinking and teaching, especially in an age of emergent fundamentalisms, is to cultivate a faith in doubt that calls into question every certainty.
Any responsible curriculum for the study of religion in the 21st century must be guided by two basic principles: first, a clear distinction between the study and the practice of religion, and second, an expansive understanding of what religion is and of the manifold roles it plays in life. The aim of critical analysis is not to pass judgment on religious beliefs and practices � though some secular dogmatists wrongly cross that line � but to examine the conditions necessary for their formation and to consider the many functions they serve.
On 60 Minutes this week, Scott Pelley visited the Bad Arolsen Holocaust archive, where he made this observation: "Totenbuch means death book, and just look at the names of the executed, crowded onto pages, single-spaced. It must have been tiring just to write this, let alone kill them all."
Somehow, this particular problem never occurred to me.
In which country did the following incident take place?
A woman who reported a vicious attack by an ad-hoc "modesty patrol" on a [public city bus] says she was traveling to pray at [a holy site] early on November 24 when a group of [religious] men attacked her for refusing to move to the back. [The 50-year-old woman] says that on the bus three weeks ago, she was slapped, kicked, punched and pushed by a group of men who demanded that she sit in the back of the bus with the other women...Throughout the encounter, [the woman] says the bus driver "did nothing." The other passengers, she says, blamed her for not moving to the back of the bus.
So what did you guess? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Try Israel. (You knew it was a trick question, right?)
"I said, I'm not moving and he said, 'I'm not asking you, I'm telling you.' Then he spat in my face and at that point, I was in high adrenaline mode and called him a son-of-a-bitch, which I am not proud of. Then I spat back. At that point, he pushed me down and people on the bus were screaming that I was crazy. Four men surrounded me and slapped my face, punched me in the chest, pulled at my clothes, beat me, kicked me. My snood [hair covering] came off. I was fighting back and kicked one of the men in his privates. I will never forget the look on his face."
But of course, religious rules against contact with women are about "respect", not sexism. So really this incident only raises one question: how did they manage to beat her up without touching her?
Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defended the abstinence-only approach for teenagers... He insisted there was no federal mission against premarital sex among adults. "Absolutely not," Horn said. "The Bush administration does not believe the government should be regulating or stigmatizing the behavior of adults."
The revised guidelines specify that states seeking grants are "to identify groups ... most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock, targeting adolescents and/or adults within the 12- through 29-year-old age range." Previous guidelines didn't mention targeting of an age group...
"The message is 'It's better to wait until you're married to bear or father children,' " [Wade] Horn said. "The only 100% effective way of getting there is abstinence....We wanted to remind states they could use these funds not only to target adolescents."
I don't want to open up the whole Joel Stein debate here. Not only is he one of those "love him or hate him" figures, you never know which side someone is going to come down on. People who generally share opinions about what's funny and not can split violently over Stein.
But I'm going to risk the firestorm because his column today, about the War on Hanukkah, is so full of delicious... what's the Hanukkah version of chestnuts?
THERE IS A WAR on Hanukkah. I know this because, even by late last week, I had absolutely no idea it was Hanukkah. Usually my grandmother sends a card, or the radio plays that Adam Sandler song, or one of those Chabad people in a Mitzvah tank picks me out on the street as Jewish and hands me candles, causing me to worry that I'm balding and short and my nose is too big. Apparently, disseminating self-loathing is a mitzvah....
These should be good times for Hanukkah and the Jews. After all, the Christmas story offers nothing besides a guy who erases all our sins, but the tale of Hanukkah centers on a magical, super-efficient oil that causes an eightfold decrease in carbon emissions....
You have deployed your most annoying Gentiles against us: John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly. So forget Al Franken. Once we find the alley that Pauly Shore is sleeping in, he'll be singing the dreidel song outside your house. We'll force storeowners to greet you with a "Happy Hanukkah" � and not the secular version but the one with the "Ch" in front and all the accompanying spittle. We're also going to shoot you. Us Jews hear war, we take it seriously.
Because if you're going tribal, we're going tribal. And though our tribe is small and often out of shape, we're scrappy. So think twice before you spill out too much vitriol about this war on Christmas that you're winning. When the empowered convince themselves that they're under attack, they often convince themselves that cruelty to the powerless is justified. These are the scary sugar plums that dance in Lou Dobbs' head.
Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon. Click here for details. Click here to vote for your favorite anti-caption from last week's contest. Click here to see the previous week's winner.
"Kids, remember when I told you about the miscarriage I had when I was fifteen? Guess who survived after all!" �Dave
"I told you Daddy would make it home for Christmas! Unfortunately, he can't stay long, as he's in the middle of delivering a prisoner." �John Tabin
"It's your daddy, Caleb. I had him exhumed. Remember that tantrum you had when I told you that he was dead and he couldn't be here for Christmas? and you started breaking things, kicking the dog, and screaming 'I don't care if he's dead, I want my daddy home for Christmas, not you, you old cow'?" �danny
Chrysler might not be tearing up holiday bonuses as you read this
Last month, Chrysler announced that it was shelling out multiple millions of dollars to be the sole sponsor of Time magazine's Person of the Year issue. It spent part of that money on a high-profile custom flash ad for the 2007 Sebring sedan. This is the ad everyone who reads the story online must sit through first.
Until a few hours ago, the folks at Chrysler's ad agency, who of course would not know the content of the Time story until it appeared, must have been very happy with the clever campaign they'd devised: "You might not be Time Person of the Year. But you can drive like you are."
In the photo, a dead horse lies in the street, roped off with string tied to stakes in the dirt road. A man in a top hat, bow tie and jacket sits on top of the horse, and people in the background are standing still, looking toward the camera.
"I always just assumed it was taken as a joke or something like that," said Bill Wangemann, Sheboygan city historian. "I was never able to find out anything about it. What the story behind that (picture) is, I don't have the foggiest notion."
A joke? Yes, but what joke? While the ShePre is requesting "information about the scene," I'm requesting a punchline. Provide your best caption � or anti-caption � here. A winner will be chosen by whatever damn method I please.
click to enlarge
"My name is Damien Hirst, and I come from the future!" �Pat Broderick
The great, great grandfather of Sentator John Kerry prepares to ride his faithful steed "Swifty" to victory. �jbolty
"I shall take this diseased horse to my factory and process it into a nutritious and delectable sausage. I � excuse me, my good sir! Keep your distance from this animal. I seen it first!" �anno-nymous
My pal Gersh turns up the promotion on his hacky novelty book. I'm adding YouTube to MySpace among the list of things I hope are no longer around by the time my book comes out. I'm doing all my promotion in Second Life.
From the depths of Wingnutistan comes a fusillade aimed squarely, and only six weeks late, at the "disgusting," "grotesque" and "anti-Semitic" stylings of Borat.
It's a typical rightwing rant � surprising only because the author, who writes and spells only marginally better than Your Entertainer, claims to be a former state senator and judge�� until the end, when he marshalls an unlikely amicus curiae.
Even Daniel Radosh, the publisher of New Yorker Magazine who doesn't mind poking a stick into anyone's eye (as long as he or she is Republican), took offense at Mr. Cohen's vulgarity. "It turns out that almost nothing about Borat's Kazakhstan withstands scrutiny," loftily intones the penultimate liberal Radosh.
I know, I should be happy with this swift and unexpected promotion from freelance writer to publisher, but the Yertle in me wants more! Who do I have to kill to take his spot as the ultimate liberal?
This amazing image is one of 76 from a new book called Rough Beauty, a collection of photographs of Vidor, Texas taken by my friend Dave Anderson, who decided, in his 30s, to chuck his life as a media/political operative/entrepreneur and become a fine-art photographer. His risk has been rewarded with glowing reviews, most recently from The New Yorker, which calls his current exhibit, at Clamp Art, "as clear-eyed and unsentimental as it is soulful and sympathetic."
Also, I'm almost positive his correspondent is Lindsay Lohan
In an post titled Whatever happened to Online Etiquette? David Pogue prints one of his typical e-mails: �Dear David, first off i would like to tell you that you are full of shit and did not research the zune enough to know your facts.... In my oppinion you should be fired for wrighting such a biast article in a (somewhat) professional newspaper.�
Pogue then goes on to say that it's "stunning is how hostile *ordinary* people are to each other online these days," and to offer his theories about why, including, "Many parents haven�t been teaching social skills (or haven�t been around to teach them) for years, but Web 2.0 is suddenly making it apparent for the first time. ('Web 2.0' describes sites like Digg and Slashdot, where the audience itself provides material for the Web site.)"
Um, douchetard, Slashdot has been around since 1997, but it's now supposed to be Web 2.0? You should be fired for that idiocy alone. Also, what the fuck is *this*? Learn to use the emphasis tag, twatwaffle.
Update: Bob and Harvey want you to be their snitch bitch
Last month, I wrote about the Weinstein Company's deal to give Blockbuster exclusive rental rights to its DVDs. Now Jason alerts me that non-Blockbuster rental outfits are suing.
Here's what I didn't realize the last time around. Apparently there's no legal way TWC can prevent Netflix, or anyone else, "from walking into Costco and buying the DVD and renting it," one of the Weinstein's partners acknowledges. "What we can do as a distributor is brand all Blockbuster DVDs with the Blockbuster logo, and all the DVDs that are out for sale will be clear to consumers as being for sale only. We�ll encourage people to call us if they did rent [a DVD that is labeled for sale]."
The lawsuit says such labeling is itself a violation of the law. But what gets me is the idea that we as consumers, having made the choice to rent from somewhere more convenient/less expensive/less generally odious than Blockbuster, would then turn ourselves in for failing to assist Bob and Harvey in their God-given mission to maximize their profits at our expense.
If that's the big plan, I certainly hope Netflix will tell TWC to fuck off. Having just rented Ong-Bak, I definitely don't want to miss The Protector. I'll take it as a good sign that Netflix already has a pre-release page up.
When we last left off, a handful of you suggested that the contest was better when I just chose a winner and two finalists without giving you the opportunity to vote. Others said that they thought some of my near-finalists were funnier than the actual ones, and that they would like to see the field of finalists expanded to give recognition to everyone who had a worthy entry, not just an arbitrary three.
Since I really dont give a shit either way my only goal is to please my readers, I'm going to let you decide the future of the contest. Stick with the voting? Go back to the old way? Expand the field of finalists? Choose one of the four options below. Voting ends in one week, on December 20.
May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.
The War on Christmas is still on! Help loyal Radosh.net reader Vance strike a blow against Santa's army and win big bucks from liberal moneybags Arianna Huffington by watching his latest entry in the Contagious Festival:
Jay Bakker, whom I profiled for The New Yorker in September, is making the media rounds to promote One Punk Under God, the unfortunately-named docu-series beginning Wednesday night on the Sundance Channel.
Hopefully you won't be sick of him before the thing actually airs, because it's well worth a look. Entertaining drama, but with an important message too. If we're very lucky � if there's a God, perhaps I should say, with a caustic inflection � Jay represents the future of American evangelicalism. Not his punk thing. "Pharisees can have mohawks too," as he says in this excellent Radar interview. But his, dare I say, heart. Jay will make several appearances in my book, and the way it's shaping up, he is likely to come off as a hero in a story sorely in need of one.
Proof that I have, in fact, been working this past year. My book on Christian pop culture, tentatively titled Rapture Ready!, won't be published until Spring 2008. But you can see a sneak preview of sorts in this week's issue of The New Yorker, in the form of a feature story about the Bible publishing industry. The material in this article will eventually form a chapter of the book, although the style will not be exactly the same, as the book is more of a first-person narrative. (The rest of the book is even more different. This particular chapter was the one that was most like a New Yorker article to begin with, as opposed to a David Rakoff or Jon Ronson essay � at least, that's what I'm shooting for.)
In addition to making the entire article available online, The New Yorker also helped me create an accompanying slideshow featuring some of the most visually interesting contemporary Bibles.
Last week there was a fair amount of discussion about how the finalists in the anti-caption contest are chosen. Some people even suggested that the judges might not always pick the bestworst most worthy entries.
Strangely, no one was able to name a specific instance in which a worthy anti-caption was passed over for a less worthy one. But I suspect many of the people who leveled these charges were closely watching that week's contest (couple imprisoned in terrible drawing) so that if such a snub happened again, they'd be able to call me on it.
In anticipation of this, allow me to desmystify the selection process by walking you through how I chose last week's finalists. If you still have complaints after that (and I just know you will) I'm all ears. Honestly, this is so important to me.
Behind the scenes at the caption contest. I'm amazed this article was so long in coming, and frankly it only scratches the surface. (For instance, how many people are aware that the cartoons used for the contest are originally submitted with captions for inclusion in the magazine proper? Or that cartoonists despise the contest?) Still, it's pretty neat, and I'm happy for the shout out.
And this time, I'm afraid to say, he deserves at least some measure of what he's got coming.
The column concerns an IT guy who found porn on his boss's computer ��"including some of young children � clearly less than 18, possibly early teens." The guy wants to know if he must call the cops.
Randy says no.
Before I get to where he's wrong, I want to say that Randy deserves heaps of credit for not buying into the kiddie-porn hysteria that generally grips the media. And he actually begins with an argument against blowing the whistle that is very strong: "The situation is too fraught with uncertainty. These photographs might depict � legally � not children but young-looking adults." That the letter writer describes teenagers as being "young children" indicates to me that he's not the best judge of pr0n, so Randy is absolutely right to note that there's a chance � a very good chance, I'd say � that these kids are in fact legal adults. The girl in the picture above sure looks to me like she's under 18, possibly early teens, but the photo comes from an established softcore site with 2257 compliance. The very fact that the boss's porn is of the barely legal variety indicates to me that it is just that: legal. There are so many 18 and 19 year olds who can play 15-16 that (to the best of my limited knowledge) there's really not many pornographers making illegal pictures of genuine 15-year-olds. Why take the risk? (Randy also argues that "the images could be digitally altered," but that seems less likely, in part for the same reasons).
So if your takeaway from this column is simply, don't call the cops, then Randy is correct. This is a weak hunch that is not worth ruining someone's reputation and career over.
But then Randy attempts to deal with the broader ethical issues, and makes the argument that the law shouldn't be involved even if there was some way to verify that the pictures did depict underage teens or children: "Your boss may have acquired free (albeit illegal) images rather than bought them and provided a financial incentive to those who harm children. Someone other than your boss may have downloaded the pictures."
Sorry, but once you can prove that actual minors are involved, the balance of responsibility shifts. Yes, the boss may not be the culprit, and he may not have paid for the pictures � but that just means that maybe he is and did. Which means that there's a chance, however slim, that calling the cops could lead to the rescue of actual victims or capture of actual pornographers. At this point, that outweighs the risk to the boss. Hey, you download kiddie porn on the company computer, you deserve to have your reputation and career ruined.
Then Randy goes on to question the whole idea that possession of child porn should be illegal: "Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and an expert on sentencing, describes the rationale for these laws: 'We punish the kind of possession many concede is not inherently harmful but which contributes to behavior which produces much harm.' (In the longer podcast version, the quote continues, 'The criminalization of child porn consumption is premised on contestible utilitarian calculations.') That is, by stopping buyers, even those who have had no contact with an actual child, we hope to stop sellers, who do exploit children. Is this effective? Tough to prove."
First of all, "tough to prove," isn't the strongest argument. Yes, it's tough to prove, but it's equally tough to disprove, so all things being equal why not err on the side of preventing harm (sorry, preventing contributions to behavior which produces harm)? This debate has already been settled in the minds of lawmakers and the vast majority of Americans. If Randy or Berman want to reopen it, fine, but they're going to lose, and I'm not sure they shouldn't. If the boss had videos of a grown woman being violently raped, or of a child being beaten, I'd want him held responsible even if he didn't commit the crime itself. There's a larger benefit to society to not actively condoning rape and child abuse (which is what kiddie porn is) and despite Doug Berman's contesting, there's a reasonable chance that punishing people for possession will impede the networks by which such images are distrubted, which would in turn reduce the incentive to commit the initial crime. You break the chain where you can.
The fact that the scope of the child porn biz is overblown, that punishments are sometimes excessive, and that (as Randy also says in the podcast) spending money and resources going after it reduces our ability to combat more widespread economic exploitation of children, does not mean that when it does crop up it should just be ignored.
Update: Apologies to any Gawker readers who came here looking for an evisceration only to find a combination of qualified agreement and respectful disagreement. You know how those crazy kids like to sensationalize everything. Hey, at least you got a link to a teen porn site.
According to Jon Friedman, "In reporting the news, the best a columnist can hope to do is shift the public's opinions, shake up the status quo and keep the establishment honest." Maybe so, but, um, how would Jon Friedman know? Isn't that pretty much the opposite of his M.O.? Hell, giving his journalist of the year award to Kristof is probably the most opinion-shifting, status-quo shaking thing he's ever done. Oh wait.