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Archives for July, 2007

July 30, 2007

The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #108

Daniel Radosh

Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon. Click here for details. Click here to see last week's results.


"Since we lost the baby, he just spends all day out there, in this 'garage' thing he built. It's like he can't even stand to be around me." —Ed C

"He clubs me, drags me by my hair to his cave. But who's the bitch now?" —Alison

"Whoa, from here the volchano looks like it's — hey, did I say 'volchano' when I tried to say 'volcano'? Ha ha! 'Volchano'! That's not even a word!" —Jonathan Harford

Continue reading "The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #108" »

July 27, 2007

The white gamer's burden

Daniel Radosh

Is it just me, or does the new trailer for Resident Evil 5 have disturbing overtones?

Yeah, I know they're zombies. And I know Our Hero shoots hordes of white people (sorry, zombies) in other games (and most likely other levels of this one), but just watch the trailer and see what you see: A heavily-armed white foreigner strides through an impoverished African nation like he owns the place, despite the wary and hostile looks of the savage dark-skinned natives. As often happens in response to colonialism, violence breaks out. But though the locals have the numbers and the passion, the white minority has the guns, and a bloodbath ensues. The scenes of the overwhelmed white man firing shotgun blasts indescriminately into crowds of men and women waving farm implements could be straight out of the Soweto uprising. Ditto the white enforcer's explanation: I'm just doing my job.

That said, the graphics are freakin' awesome.

July 26, 2007

Ten years after

Daniel Radosh

My friend David Shenk has recently written two absolutely amazing social history books — one about Alzheimer's disease and one about chess. I don't care if you think you're not interested in the subjects. Check them out. They're thoroughly engrossing.

He's in the process of doing it again, and you're invited to help him out.

But ten years ago, David wrote a different kind of book. Data Smog was an assessment of the information age we had then just begun to enter, and it established him as a kind of cyber-skeptic. Today in Slate, David re-reads his book to see what he got right and what he got wrong.

That prompted me to re-read my original reaction to Data Smog to see how it holds up.

July 25, 2007

In Memoriam: Tammy Faye Messner

Daniel Radosh

On Salon today, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the producers of The Eyes of Tammy Faye and One Punk Under God, have a tribute to Tammy Faye, the TV star.

Whatever Tammy Faye and Jim did — and never forget that much of what we know about that comes from Jerry Falwell, who played the Bakkers' fall for his own evil ends — it is hard to watch those documentaries and not come away impressed with her, and believing in the power of redemption.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released this statement: “Tammy Faye became an icon for our community. In spite of — and perhaps because of the hardships she faced — she embraced us, she refused to judge and repudiated those who did. As Bailey and Barbato say, "Do not underestimate how revolutionary this 'come one, come all' approach was among Christian circles." Tammy Faye was flawed, to say the least, but her values and courage led inexorably to the ministry of her son Jay, one of the most impressive leaders of the next generation of American Christians.

The Sundance Channel is airing in all six episodes of One Punk Under God, which nicely captures the relationship between Jay and Tammy Faye, tomorrow from 7 to 9:30 pm. It's entertaining and touching. Tammy Faye would want you to watch.

July 24, 2007

In Memoriam: Rabbi Sherwin Wine

Daniel Radosh

Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism, died on Saturday at age 79. Though he lived a long life, it should have been longer. He was killed in a car accident.

Sherwin's conviction that the cultural and spiritual traditions of Judaism need not be incompatible with modern nontheistic philosophy is the reason that I am today a practicing Jew and active member of a congregation, rather than the unaffiliated, and disconnected, secular Jew I was for most of my life.

I am also indebted to Sherwin for coining the term ignosticism to mean "finding the question of God's existence meaningless because it has no verifiable consequences." The Wikipedia entry is a little messy at the moment, but it's pretty much the only online source for further explication of the concept.

I met Sherwin a couple of times, but didn't know him well. It just seemed appropriate to pay tribute.

The Harvard Humanist chaplaincy's memorial has audio of recent interviews with Sherwin.

July 23, 2007

Another turf war

Daniel Radosh

Here's the deal, Gawker. I don't stalk B-list celebrities. You don't do crap like this.

Related: Anti-Caption Contest #77 (Attack on the Evrolet plant) has been discovered by the Giantess City user forums. My password has expired, so I have no idea what they're saying, but it's generating a lot of traffic. Let's hope Danny Shanahan has an adult baby cartoon up his sleeve. That should really perk things up.

July 23, 2007

The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #107

Daniel Radosh

Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon. Click here for details. Click here to see last week's results.


"What, did you graduate? Get the fuck back over there." —Bouf la Tete

"It just goes to show, you can ruin your marriage with drinking, but you can't teach a cat math." —Ed C

"I told her getting a cat is not going to solve anything." —al in la

Continue reading "The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #107" »

July 20, 2007

The HuffPo Potter wars continue

Daniel Radosh

My new attack and what I guess is supposed to be a response.

July 20, 2007

What to read after (or instead of) Harry Potter

Daniel Radosh

Over the next few weeks and months you'll probably be hearing a lot about Phlip Pullman's Dark Materials Trilogy. They're the books Harry Potter fans are supposed to "graduate" to — infinitely better prose, richer characters, more complex morality. They're all that, sure, and if nothing else you'll probably want to read the first one before the amazing-looking movie comes out. They are also, unfortunately, a little bit dull after a while. I recognize them as better literature than Harry Potter, but I didn't quite enjoy them as much.

And in any case, they're still children's books. There's nothing wrong with reading children's books, of course, but if you're looking for genuinely brilliant adult literature that shares the Potter spirit, I can enthusiastically recommend Susannah Clarke's epic 2004 novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. My favorite aspect of the Harry Potter books has always been the world that Rowling creates, with its fantastic yet credible artifacts, its sense of history and its well-considered rules and regulations. Jonathan Strange is not a fantasy book in the sense usually implied by that term, but it shares the same delight in imagining what a real world (in this case 19th century Britain) would be like if overlayed with magic.

Unlike Potter, Strange is decidedly slow-moving. Its plot is moved forward by the inner lives of its characters, not the onrush of events. But it is, in its own way, utterly spellbinding.

Related: Pimp my daemon.

July 19, 2007

I'll Huff and I'll puff

Daniel Radosh

Here's the kind of mensch Rachel Sklar is. She responded to my assault on her Harry Potter freak-out by inviting me to repackage it as an official Huffington Post blog entry, now up under the title Don't Cry Over Spoiled Hallows.

Also, she totally won the Obama Girl catfight and everything you've heard about her rack is 100% true.

July 19, 2007

No! No! No! No!

Daniel Radosh

Minka_Kelly_Friday_Night_Lights.jpg I've had a hard enough time convincing people that Friday Night Lights is one of the best shows on TV right now. It is so not going to help if they let Rosie fucking O'Donnell guest star.

Well, the first season DVDs are available for pre-order at the bargain price of $19.99, so give it a look before they fuck it up. As someone who doesn't care about football, and didn't particularly like the FNL movie, I was mightly impressed by this show, for these seven reasons and more.

July 19, 2007

Obligatory Harry Potter post

Daniel Radosh

Not here. In the HuffPo comments section, where I cast a Cruciatus Curse on Rachel Sklar for her freak-out over The New York Times advance review of Deathly Hallows.

Longtime readers will recognize it as an update of a rant I first unveiled before Order of the Phoenix (and adjusted following some valid criticism) about the shallowness of focusing so much attention on Spoiling the Ending. I look forward to the invective sure to come.

Update. I meant to point out that the fact that one-fifth of young readers plan to skip to the end -- essentially spoiling the book for themselves -- kind of proves my point that this obsession with the big reveal is antithetical to the whole purpose of reading books.

And maybe I should add (before you get trigger happy in the comments) that I don't actually want the ending spoiled for me either. I get the pleasure of discovery. Generally, when I know I'm going to read a book or see a movie regardless of what the critics say, I'll avoid reading reviews. Not because there's any big secret to the end of, say, Knocked Up, but because I prefer to go in fresh, without having heard any of the jokes. Hey, I'm watching the first season of Lost on DVD now, and, having managed to avoid reading about it for three years, I'm probably enjoying it more than I would if I knew every twist. But I would never say that newspapers shouldn't publish reviews just because I don't wanna know. Their responsibility is to the news, avoiding the news is my job. And even if I can't, I wouldn't say that knowing the conclusion would spoil all the pleasure of the journey.

Why Rowling is half a great writer.

Is Harry gay or just emasculated?

Translating the first Potter book for Americans.

July 18, 2007

Am I black enough for you?

Daniel Radosh

Tomorrow, I'll be a guest on News & Notes (aka, the NPR show that black folks listen to) discussing "the marketing of faith" alongside two other panelists. It's live at 1:00 in the afternoon here in New York, and will be online after that.

To my surprise, my publisher was not thrilled about this. They're worried about me giving away the milk before anyone can buy the cow. They want the topic to feel fresh when the book comes out. So this will probably be my last media appearance until next Spring. After tomorrow, nobody mention Jesus. Thank you.

Update. Listen to the show here. I enjoyed doing it, partly because I got to talk about an aspect of the Christian culture industry that I address only briefly in the book: its overwhelming whiteness. Given the vitality of the black church in America, and the starring role that black artists and entertainers play in mainstream pop culture, it's interesting that Christian pop culture is so pale.

On the other hand, it was hard to develop this theme much, or any other, because the three panelists were all coming from completely different worlds with completely different areas of knowledge. It was hard to get a conversation going, though host Farai Chideya tried heroically.

The best part of the segment came when I had to inform Chideya that she gave the wrong title for my book. At the start, she announced it as Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Strange Pop Culture of the Religious Right, which was a working title that didn't work, and that I really don't want out there (the book is not about the religious right, at least not exclusively). I let it slide, but then she started to say it again. As a result, she asked me to say the actual subtitle twice — Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture — which means that I got the name of my book on the air two times more than I would have otherwise. Now let's hope the people who excitedly jotted it down keep that napkin in their pockets for the next eight months.

Chideya jokingly blamed by publisher for getting them the old title, but as you know, my publisher had nothing to do with it. So where did they get it from? A little Googling tells me it was probably... Wikipedia!. The most trusted name in news!

July 18, 2007

Only Huckapoo will survive

Daniel Radosh


No one really wants to imagine is an earth entirely without people. What we groove on is imagining an earth with only one person, ourself. Last person on the planet stories are an age-old staple of speculative fiction, and with today's special effects, they're getting easier to visualize all the time.

Alan Weisman's new book, The World Without Us is something a little different: speculative non-fiction. I haven't read it, and don't necessarily plan to — seems to me like all that environmentalism might kill the buzz of an otherwise cool story — but I did get a kick out of these animations showing the world (i.e., New York City) being reclaimed by nature. Only question: where are the damn dirty apes?

[Via VSL]

July 17, 2007

Shorter David Brooks: OMG!! he talked 2 me for 110 minutes!!! i think he likes me!! :)

Daniel Radosh

I'll leave it to others to wade through the all vomit-inducing vomit that is David Brooks' latest column (free version here). But I just want to pull out and chew over one chunk that caught my eye.

The column is about how Bush "loves leadership." As evidence of this, "When Bush is asked about military strategy, he talks about the leadership qualities of his top generals. Before, it was Generals Abizaid and Casey. Now, it’s Generals Petraeus and Odierno."

And before that? It was Tommy Franks, who actually planned and led the invasion of Iraq. Bush sure loved his leadership qualities at the time. Today, its convenient for him to feel differently.

At the news conference, Mr. Bush was asked why — after failing to anticipate the ethnic divisions that would tear the country apart after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime — Americans should believe he has the vision for victory in Iraq. He responded by appearing to lay blame for mistakes in the war directly on one of his military commanders at the beginning of the war, General Tommy R. Franks, who led the invasion more than four years ago.

“Those are all legitimate question that I’m sure historians will analyze,” Mr. Bush said, adding that he had asked at the outset of the war whether his military commanders needed more troops. “My primary question to General Franks was: Do you have what it takes to succeed, and do you have what it takes to succeed after you succeed in removing Saddam Hussein? And his answer was, 'Yeah.' ”

That's right, Bush respects leadership so much that whenever he fucks something up, he can find just the right leader to blame for it. And don't forget that at the same time Franks was making his assurances, another military leader, Gen. Eric Shinseki, was saying Franks was wrong — that it would take "several hundred thousand soldiers" to secure postwar Iraq.

Bush had him fired. Yay, leadership!

July 16, 2007

Adventures in niche publishing

Daniel Radosh


July 16, 2007

The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #106

Daniel Radosh

Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon. Click here for details. Click here to see last week's results.


"Dear Mrs. Miller,

The U.S. Military regrets to inform you that your son, Sergeant Bradley Miller, was killed in the act of duty..." —Brian L

"Well, Koko hardly ever blurbs so just be thankful for 'Sleep nose nipple stupid!' and get over it." —Kevin Guilfoile

"'Got your keys?' What does that m..." —Charles

Continue reading "The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #106" »

July 13, 2007

Welcome back, Kaplan

Daniel Radosh

About four years ago, my father forwarded me an e-mail that was making the rounds among historians of the Cold War. It had originally been sent to Yale professor John Gaddis.

Dear Prof. Gaddis,

My name is Gabe Kaplan. If you're not familiar with me, I am a Russian-born American actor and history buff. For the last ten years, I’ve been free to pursue my hobby of researching life in Russia during the Stalin era. As an expert in 20th century Russian political history, I am hoping you can help me out.

There is one area of Stalin's character that is either largely unknown or purposely ignored by historians and biographers. Now that it's the fiftieth anniversary of his death, I feel it should come out (if, of course, it's true). Before I begin, let me tell you that I have personally confirmed this story by talking to one actual eyewitnesses, the offspring of actual eyewitnesses, and people who just heard it through the grapevine.

It seems Joseph Stalin was a practitioner of genital origami, the ancient art of manipulating one’s genitals into familiar shapes and figures. Not only could he do the classic seven positions, he pushed way beyond that and took his passion to heights only achieved by 19th century Chinese masters. In 1946 he created his masterpiece when he twisted his package into a flock of geese migrating over the Kamchatka peninsula.

I have heard his remarkable gift was, at first, completely unappreciated by everyone in the Kremlin. However, with time, they actually looked forward to these performances and their applause and excitement was genuine. Even Beria became completely intrigued with the dicktator’s hobby. Please let me know what knowledge you have of this curious aspect of Stalin’s personality.

Let’s share information,

Gabe Kaplan

Now, Welcome Back Kotter was pretty much the first sitcom I ever watched. Certainly the first one I watched regularly. It was a defining piece of my media childhood. So I jumped on the chance to write to Kaplan, telling him that I knew this had to be a joke even if I didn't quite get it, and asking if I could write it up as a gossip item for the first issue of Radar.

Kaplan relates the story of our exchange in this interview promoting his aptly-titled new book, Kotter's Back: E-mails from a Faded Celebrity to a Bewildered World.

As the Gawker regulars note, Kaplan comes across as a nice, well-adjusted guy with a good sense of humor, and that's exactly how I found him in our conversations. It's refreshing when a celebrity you're fond of turns out not to be a dick.

I haven't read the book yet, but if the one e-mail exchange I saw is an example, the actual content isn't going to be particularly hilarious, not like The Lazlo Letters or even Letters from a Nut. What's funny is the half second where you believe Gabe Kaplan is trying to reinvent himself as an amateur historian and has gone totally off the rails.

July 13, 2007

Kurt Eichenwald is having a bad week

Daniel Radosh

You know all that stuff that's been drilled into your head about Internet predators? Well forget it.

In a separate study of 2,574 law-enforcement agencies, researchers found that online sex crimes rarely involve offenders lying about their ages or sexual motives. The 2004 study, published in Journal of Adolescent Health, said offenders generally aren't strangers, and pedophiles aren't luring unsuspecting children by pretending to be a peer.

I haven't read the actual study yet — and wire reports of scientific research are notoriously dicey — but if this is accurate, it's big news. Think of all the money and energy that goes into hammering home that message.

On a related note, remember that Debbie Nathan-Kurt Eichenwald kerfuffle? (That lawsuit is due just about the same time as Duke Nukem Forever.) It started when Nathan wrote an article for Salon called Why I need to see child porn. On her new blog, Nathan is back with a post cheekily titled Why I need to see child pollo-graphy. It has to be one of the worst puns ever, but it's a thought-provoking notion, comparing and contrasting the rationales for and against banning kiddie porn and banning images of cockfighting and other acts of cruelty toward animals.

My gut reaction is that the proper protest against Nathan's argument is not so much "children are not chickens" as "pornography is not a simple reproduction of an independent act." That is, with bullfighting or cockfighting, the viewing of images later is tangential to more important act of participating in the sport. With porn of any sort, the producers "participate" for the sole purpose of producing the images. I admit I haven't thought this out clearly, so I can't make a neat logical argument for why this makes a difference right now, but I believe it does — hence the concern about the extension of the animal protection law — originally targetted at crush porn (which people would not do for fun if they couldn't sell the images) — to cover cockfighting (which is best appreciated live, if that's your thing).

July 11, 2007

Game theory

Daniel Radosh

Interesting article in the Times today about why the bestselling videogames are also the best-reviewed, which is not the case with movies or books.

The Top 10-selling games of last year — including titles like Gears of War and Guitar Hero 2 —had an average Metacritic score of 87.5. Only one of the top-selling games scored less than 80. (More about that later.) Meanwhile, the Top 10 box-office films of last year — including titles like “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”’ and “X-Men: The Last Stand” — collected a poor average score of 62.9.

Of Metacritic’s 10 best-reviewed films of last year — including art-house favorites like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “L’Enfant” — not one was among the box-office leaders.

The leading theories are that game critics are more like average gamers than film critics are like average moviegoers, and that gamers rely more on reviews because a $60/100hr game is a bigger investment than a $10/2hr movie.

Both of those make sense, but I think they leave something out. Writer Seth Schiesel, normally an astute obsever of the gaming scene, gets off-track when he notes, "Some executives in the game industry have their bonuses tied to the Metacritic scores their games receive. The problem is that following the critics so slavishly discourages people from taking chances and a dearth of creativity is the biggest problem in the game business." He adds, "I’m not suggesting game producers try to antagonize critics for the mere sake of originality."

But I think that's exactly backward. When game designers take chances and get creative, critics usually respond enthusiastically — while game buyers shy away. One of the best-reviewed games for the original Xbox was Psychonauts, a notorious bomb with customers. In other words, it was the equivalent of an "art-house" movie. The reason that disparity doesn't show up more often, the way it does with movies and books, is that the economics of the game industry don't allow companies to put out any small products aimed at niche audiences (though Xbox Live may change this in the future). The studio that release Pan's Labyrinth knew it wasn't going to be one of the year's top-grossing films, but it fit their overall strategy to make it anyway; if the company that made Psychonauts had known critics and a few gamers would love it, but that's all, they would have killed in in the cradle. I strongly suspect that if game companies could produce its equivalents of Oscar and Pulitzer-bait products you'd find the exact same divide between critics and audiences as you do with other media.

July 11, 2007

If it's too funny, you're too old

Daniel Radosh

Humor professional Charles Star points out a new study on how joke comprehension may decrease with age. To determine this, researchers showed participants the first three panels from old Ferd'nand comics and asked them to choose the correct punchlines. The problem is, for the example given at least, the wrong answer is about 100 times funnier than the right one, especially if you've been conditioned by the anti-caption contest.

Here's the joke: A businessman is riding the subway after a hard day at the office. A young man sits down next to him and says, "Call me a doctor ... call me a doctor." The businessman asks, "What's the matter, are you sick?"

Correct punchline: "I just graduated from medical school."

Incorrect punchline: "Yes, I feel a little weak. Please help me."

I just laughed out loud again.

July 11, 2007

28 Pop Songs Later

Daniel Radosh

It's been a quiet, oh, two years for my "Huckapoo" Google Alert. Basically, the only new appearances of that word on the Internet have been on Radosh.net, or from people reminiscing about the similarly-named 1970s shirts. And then suddenly this morning, the actual band is mentioned in an exciting new press release posted to Business Wire.

Before I get to the substance of this breaking news, let me just point out that the entire venture is already doomed by the poor public relations skills of its principals. I mean, there is exactly one member of the working press who is even remotely interested in news about Huckapoo — but does he get any advance notice, or even a copy of the press release sent directly to him? No, he has to find out from his freakin' Google Alert, which frankly, he had been on the verge of cancelling. What's the matter, Brian, don't you trust me with confidential information?

And yet even this lack of respect can not entirely diminish the tingle I experienced upon reading that Brian Lukow, Huckapoo's notorious Svengalabe, is teaming up with an outfit called Pop Starz Inc "for the purpose of either acquiring the rights to 'Huckapoo' or creating, launching and marketing of a new 'Girl Group'."

That's right, it's return of the living dead time. Details will reportedly be forthcoming after the deal is sealed on July 23, but as I read this, Lukow is going to revive Huckapoo one way or another — even if he has to call it something else, devise new "character types" and commission all-new songs. Presumably he'll be casting new talent either way. For one thing, the original Huckapoo girls are all in their 40s now.

photo3.jpg As for Pop Starz Inc, it's based in Florida and seems to have two missions: a hip hop dance camp for kids and an artist creation/marketing division. At right is one of the company's two current artists, Montana Tucker, the 14-year-old daughter of Pop Starz Inc's founder. The other is 16-year-old Morgan Hayes. From the available evidence, neither has a shred of talent.

Fortunately, I gather that there won't be more than the loosest connection between these deadweights and the eagerly anticipated Hucka2. According to the press release, Angel2, Groovy2, Twiggy2, et. al. will be housed in an entirely new division of Pop Starz, which will be run by Lukow and his "long time friend and trusted business partner Randy Lawrence." Knowledgable insiders will read the words "friend" and "trusted" as coded "fuck you's" to Lukow's last business partner, the one from whom he is now trying to buy back Huckapoo.

My fingers are crossed for this new endeavor. I was critical of Lukow's business sense last time around. The guy's a genius on the conceptual level, and can spot a great tune with the best of them, but he fell short when it came to the actually getting the band of the ground part. Here's hoping Lawrence and Pop Starz can take care of that end of things this time around. The press release offers no real clues. I do note that it lacks the obligatory reference to "social networking," but I can't tell if that means they're way behind the curve or slightly ahead of it.

Stay tuned, Huckafans.

July 10, 2007

Now you're on my turf, pal

Daniel Radosh

pink-05.jpgHoly Huckapoo! As if it isn't bad enough when David Brooks writes about Iraq, now he's an expert on teen pop. In today's column (free copy) he riffs on three "pretty much unavoidable" summer pop songs: Carrie Underwood's Before He Cheats, Pink's U + Ur Hand and Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend.

If you put the songs together, you see they’re about the same sort of character: a character who would have been socially unacceptable in a megahit pop song 10, let alone 30 years ago.

This character is hard-boiled, foul-mouthed, fedup, emotionally self-sufficient and unforgiving. She’s like one of those battle-hardened combat vets, who’s had the sentimentality beaten out of her and who no longer has time for romance or etiquette. She’s disgusted by male idiots and contemptuous of the feminine flirts who cater to them. She’s also, at least in some of the songs, about 16.

Had we but world enough and time, there'd be no end of things we could say about this column, which goes on to draw grand conclusions about divorce, hookup culture and Charles Bronson. But let's stick to the basics. Would this character really have been unheard of 10, 20 or 30 years ago?

Hey, I can answer that off the top of my head! Last week, I put together a mix CD for my drive upstate (yeah, yeah —my iPod is dead) on which I just happened to pair Girlfriend with a certifiable megahit from 27 years ago sung by the same "character." Maybe you know it.

Well you're a real tough cookie with a long history/ Of breaking little hearts, like the one in me. / Before I put another notch in my lipstick case/ You better make sure you put me in my place.

Again, that's the example that just happened to be going through my head. Feel free to suggest your own. You only have to go back 10 years, but it's possible to go back 70 if you try.

Update: Vance points out that Brooks can't even get his ideas right when he steals them.

July 10, 2007

If it hurts after you hit yourself on the head with a hammer, you'd better not stop

Daniel Radosh

I've said this a hundred times before, but since the New York Times doesn't seem to be listening (it's like they don't even have the Internets), here we go again.

As the Senate prepares to begin a new debate this week on proposals for a withdrawal from Iraq, the United States ambassador and the Iraqi foreign minister are warning that the departure of American troops could lead to sharply increased violence, the deaths of thousands and a regional conflict that could draw in Iraq’s neighbors.

Let's be clear: to the extent that this is true, and I think it's quite likely, it's the invasion and occupation that will have caused it, not the withdrawal. The war has made these disastrous results virtually inevitable. We tried to warn you four and a half years ago. Yes, the continued presence of the U.S. military has forestalled the worst of it, but if bad shit is going to happen, it's going to happen regardless of whether America withdraws now or in five years or 10 or 25 — or simply stays until its resources are so degraded that it is no longer an effective deterent. Nothing this or any convceivable U.S. administration has done or could possibly do in the future is likely to bring about a different outcome.

Ever the optimist — this is me being optimistic — I'm still open to hearing a policy proposal that will change that. But there is none forthcoming. Instead we get the Iraqi foreign minister saying that the U.S. must stay "until the Iraqi forces and institutions complete their readiness" — as if the U.S. presence was in any way helping to accomplish that — and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker moving the goalposts.

The ambassador also suggested what is likely to be another core element of the approach that he and General Petraeus will take to the September report: that the so-called benchmarks for Iraqi government performance set by Congress in a defense authorization bill this spring may not be the best way of assessing whether the United States has a partner in the Baghdad government that warrants continued American military backing. “The longer I’m here, the more I’m persuaded that Iraq cannot be analyzed by these kind of discrete benchmarks,” he said.

After the Iraqi government drew up the first list of benchmarks last year, American officials used them as their yardstick, frequently faulting the Iraqis for failure to act on them, especially on three items the Americans identified as priorities: a new oil law sharing revenue between Iraq’s main population groups; a new “de-Baathification” law widening access to government jobs to members of Saddam Hussein’s former ruling party; and a law scheduling provincial elections to choose representative governments in areas where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are competing for power.

But Mr. Crocker said there were better ways to measure progress, including the levels of security across Iraq, progress in delivering basic services like electricity to the population, and steps by Iraqi leaders from rival groups to work more collaboratively.

"Better ways to measure progress" sounds appealing — even if a skeptic might ask why these ways weren't mentioned until the first ways turned out to be unacheivable — but that's not really what Crocker offers. He says we should look at "progress" in various areas, but suggests no way in which that progress can be measured. If he were serious he'd say exactly how "levels of security" can be measured, how much "basic services" need to be restored and exactly which "steps" Iraqi factions need to take before the U.S. can withdraw. Without those specifics, what he proposes is a recipe for permanent occupation: either progress is being made, so we have to stay in order to help it continue, or progress is not being made, so we have to stay until it is.

Besides, he says nothing at all about how the U.S. presence is helping or can help this progress take place. Because it's not, any more than it helped Iraq meet its initial set of benchmarks.

Will a U.S. withdrawal be followed by a "grim" military and humanitarian disaster. Very probably. Will the withdrawal cause that disaster? No.

July 9, 2007

Cuddle Bunny was taken

Daniel Radosh

From a Washington Post article on the degaragification of garage bands:

Adrian Muñoz, 27, said he works at a sign store in Herndon because his boss lets his metal band, Snuggle, jam there after hours.

His metal band Snuggle? Google finds the context:

"We took it from the fabric softener," the Herndon High School grad said.

Prior to their current incarnation, the band was known as Full-Blown AIDS. Perhaps somewhat predictably, they found it difficult to win fans and convince club owners to let them play.

So, in 2003, the band gathered and decided that a name change was in order. "We said, ‘Let’s go in the opposite direction,’" Muñoz said. "When we were discussing [it] there was a commercial on TV. We thought it was a sign."

And he should know, working in a sign store and all.

July 9, 2007

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming

Daniel Radosh

While I was away last week, 100 million internets users selected a new batch of Seven Wonders of the World. Somehow they overlooked two of the most obvious choices: Radosh.net guest bloggers Kevin Shay and Jim Hanas. Were I capable of embarrassment, I would experience that very condition over the sudden rise in quality here during the week that they were in charge. (The promised third guest blogger, foreign affairs/affairs in general expert Slutwench, went AWOL. She will be dealt with accordingly.)

I know you'll join me in thanking Kevin and Jim for keeping the fires stoked, and I hope you'll follow their continuing adventures over at their own excellent blogs. Also, don't forget Kevin's delightful tragicomic novel The End As I Know It. If you're still looking for that perfect beach read — entertaining without being idiotic — I can't recommend it highly enough.

July 6, 2007

Loose Pence

Kevin Shay

Somehow it escaped my attention until just now, when I was looking around for anything interesting or odd related to tomorrow's 7/7/7 date (you know, because of my Y2K fetish), that the UK has a "7/7 was an inside job" movement that pretty closely parallels the whole "9/11 Truth" thing.

Oh, and look, the Spaniards too. (I knew something like this must be out there, but couldn't find it for a couple of minutes—until I realized it would be "11/3" rather than "3/11." Pesky Europeans.)

July 5, 2007

Now, if only he'd been caught driving drunk on Sterno, an alternative to fossil fuel, that would have been funny

Kevin Shay

dailynews_gore.jpgI understand that the press is honor-bound to harp on the type of car Al Gore's son was driving when he was busted for drug possession, despite the fact that it requires an Alanis-level understanding of "irony" to find any relevance or interest therein.

What I find revealing, though, is the information conspicuously missing from the following paragraph in this article:

In 1989, aged six, Gore almost died when he was hit by a car, and required extensive surgery and physical therapy.

So, Reuters, what was the gas mileage of that car? What was the gas mileage? Why aren't we being told the truth?

July 4, 2007

We Can Firework It Out

Kevin Shay

A little late in the day, I know, but from the indispensible Shorpy comes a batch of Independence-Day-themed photos:
Independence Day: 1939, Going Strong: 1918, Preparing for the 4th: 1936, Lincoln: 1942, Miss Liberty: 1942, Parade Day: 1942, Fort Belvoir: 1943, An Old-Fashioned Fourth (1922).

July 4, 2007

Happy Birthday, America!

Jim Hanas

I hope you like nonsense.

July 3, 2007

I Now Pronounce You Socially Irresponsible

Jim Hanas

Let me get this, um, straight. The premise of I Now Prounounce You Chuck and Larry is that two guys pretend to be gay so they can get married and ensure that one of the guy's pension benefits pass to his children. And this is because same-sex relationships are a bonanza when it comes to cashing in on all the benefits that have traditionally been reserved for married couples? Right. And Demi Moore is who you're worried about if you're concerned about sexual harassment.

July 3, 2007

Recently Fired NBC Employee Lashes Out

Kevin Shay

People were feeding the peacock French fries right before John Potts allegedly began beating it and screaming "I'm killing a vampire."

Speaking of television networks, how psyched was W.B. Mason about the creation of The CW (which I can never read without thinking "The Conventional Wisdom Network")? I don't think Time Warner would have let an office-supply retailer get away with an ad like this when Michigan J. Frog's network was around.

July 2, 2007

Atlas. Shrugs.

Jim Hanas

atlasofcreation.jpgEarlier this year, schools and libraries in France received thousands of unsolicited copies of a strange and elaborate book called Atlas of Creation, which argues (from an Islamic perspective) that Darwinism is to blame for everything from terrorism to fascism. Now it seems that this incredibly expensive marketing campaign has added American media outlets to its bulk mailing list.

I got a copy of it from a friend who works at a national magazine, where they apparently received eight copies of it. Each copy of the 800-page tome—which is basically nothing but full color images of fossils—weighs 14 pounds, mind you, and that's just volume one of a projected seven. What's it all about?

According to this Reuters report, the book's author—Harun Yahya—held "a bizarre news conference ... aboard a luxury yacht off Istanbul's northern Bosphorus shores near the mouth of the Black Sea" just last month. He refused to discuss his financial backers, however, and Reuters says speculation has ranged "from Turkish Islamists to U.S. Christian activists." If it's Turkish Islamists, that's pretty boring. If it's U.S. Christian activists, that would be interesting, somewhat sinister, and awesome. If, however, it's just some Borgesian design collective, well then someone's a genius, now aren't they?

Has anyone else out there received a copy of this wacky book? (It would be hard to miss in your inbox.) I'd be interested to know. At the moment, it's my own personal Huckapoo.

[Thanks to Rose for passing the Atlas on.]

July 2, 2007

The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #105

Daniel Radosh

Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon. Click here for details. Click here to see last week's results.


"Let's get another lawn chair to go with the chaise longue, I says. No, you says, I'll just bring one out from the dining room when I want to sit by the pool. What about when it rains, I says. Oh, I'll be sure
to take it in so it never gets wet, you says. Well I hope you're happy now, cheapskate!!!" —Vance

"I just love our Frank Gehry tool shed. It's much more interesting than a pool." —Deborah

""Oh, don't let him frighten you. The Pool's just upset because I left a toddler in him overnight." —TG Gibbon

Continue reading "The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #105" »

July 1, 2007

iPhone First Impressions

Kevin Shay

I don't have one yet.

July 1, 2007

Happiness is a Warm Stream of Aerated, Anally-Directed Water

Kevin Shay

If you work for a toilet-paper manufacturer, you should be very worried right now. (Mildly NSFW, especially if you work for a toilet-paper manufacturer.)

I find those six faces, and the human Casio keyboard they form, oddly mesmerizing. I just spent several minutes mousing over them in succession to see if I could get it to approximate the Close Encounters theme. Asian chick/middle-aged guy/goofy guy/redhead/toilet was the best I could do.

In other ass-cleaning news, struggling writers can now work through their frustrations with the agents and publishers who spurned them by having their rejection letters printed onto toilet paper.

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