Two things I'm contractually obligated to blog about: slutty teenage girls and Christian pop culture.
Here's my latest for Huffington Post. What Would Jesus Do About Jamie Lynn?
The Reverse Cowgirl names my coverage of media self-censorship one of the top five sex stories of the year. It's an honor just to be nominated alongside robot-sex guy.
As you know, the cartoons the New Yorker uses for its caption contest didn't begin their lives captionless. But what were the cartoonists' original captions? In an exclusive for you fans of the Radosh.net anti-caption contest, New Yorker cartoonist Matt Diffee, editor of The Rejection Collection, a hilarious anthology of rejected New Yorker cartoons, tracked down the originals for some of the most popular.
But first he has something important to say: "We New Yorker cartoonists all come up with ten ideas every week. Occasionally Mankoff buys one of our ten for the caption contest. It's just one of our ten, and it's usually not the best. Sometimes, frankly, it's just filler. Bob chooses it because the image is ripe and open-ended enough to allow other people to join in the fun. Sure we could make the caption better if we could focus all our attention on it, but we can't. We've got another ten to come up with for next week. So don't judge, that's all I'm saying."
Now, here are five of your favorite cartoons, with their winning New Yorker captions, their winning anti-captions, and for the first time, their not-so-winning rejected captions. Thanks to Diffee, Drew Dernavich, Tom Cheney, and Frank Cotham for playing along.
Winning caption: "The hours here are obscene."
Winning anti-caption: "Half past a monkey's ass and a quarter to his balls? What kind of clock are you using?"
Original caption: "%#&@*! Look at the time!"
In a New Yorker review of the Yale Book of Quotations, Louis Menand remarked on how "quotable quotes are coins rubbed smooth by circulation." That is, the quotes that people known — "Greed is good," "Play it again, Sam" — aren't necessarily exactly what was originally said.
Menand went on to write that Yale editor
LarryFred Shapiro goes "to considerable trouble to track down the original utterances that became famous quotations."
But not always. Today, Shapiro released his list of 2007's most memorable quotes. Number 8: "(I have) a wide stance when going to the bathroom."
Of course, I'm still gonna make "wide stance" jokes, just like I'll never say anything but "nice guys finish last." Still, if nothing else, it would be nice to see a little credit go to Sgt. Dave Karsnia who actually put "wide stance" into circulation, even if it was in error.
[Thanks, Eric Effron]
The results from Anti-Caption Contest #126 are up. Sorry for the delay. It's crunch time over at Rapture Ready HQ.
When I posted about them at the time, I chided Mickey Kaus for saying that "the MSM seems to be strenuously trying to not report" the story. Even as I expressed doubts about the story itself, I replied, "I'll betcha anything this will be all over the MSM within a week."
What I meant to say was, "within two and a half months." I can now exclusively report that at least two news outlets are preparing to break new details on this story in the near future. I know because I've been contacted by someone at a reputable news agency trying to track down the source of the photo I used to accompany my post (I pulled it off Hunter's now vanished web site).
When asked why he wanted it, my correspondent wrote... Well, I don't think he quite understood the implications of e-mailing a blogger without first asking to go off the record, so I'll be somewhat circumspect and say only that his message ended, "If I were you I'd keep an eye out for this one."
Eww, now I feel all Drudgey.
Update: The National Enquirer rushes out a story that Hunter is pregnant with JE's child. What makes it almost believable: she says the father is actually Andrew Young, Edwards' former director of operations.
This may well have been one of the news outlets I was told was working on the story, in which case I apologize if my post was slightly misleading. My transition from last month's speculation about "the MSM" to this week's item may have given the impression that the "news outlets" I referred to were likely to be, well, not supermarket tabloids. Similarly, when I said I was contacted by someone at a "reputable news agency," I didn't mean to imply that the publications that ultimately ran with the story would themselves be reputable. People in the journalism business, but not necessarily casual readers, understand that even tabloids hire reputable agencies to perform certain tasks for them.
Oh yeah, Drudge now lists the story as "developing."
New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt gets all tsk-tsky about a photo spread of Ali Michael, "a 17-year-old model who looks younger," that ran in a recent edition of T, the paper's fashion supplement.
Hoyt demands to know "whether photographs of a semi-nude teenager with a certain Lolita quality to them are appropriate for the newspaper, regardless of their artistic merit."
Yeah, back off, T. That's my territory. (By the way, Ali's recent spread in W is less semi-nude but definitely more Lolita. Sadly, W does not have an ombudsman to complan to.)
I wasn't sure I needed to comment on this, but then Susannah Breslin pointed out that the URL for the online version of Clark's essay is http://www.nytimes.com /2007/12/16/opinion/16pubed.html.
Which is funny because the original title for T magazine was totally going to be 16 Pubed.
Ernest, who also provided the title for this post, noticed a really swell concrete example of how media self-censorship muddles otherwise straightforward news stories.
The Denver Post article on Internet blog postings by church-shooter Matthew Murray reads,
"You christians brought this on yourselves," Murray writes in his 452-word harangue. "I'm coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the @#%$ teeth and I WILL shoot to kill.
It goes on to compare this to writings by Columbine killer Eric Harris:
In his notebooks, Harris proclaimed: "I'm coming for EVERYONE soon, and I WILL be armed to the (expletive) teeth, and I will shoot to kill."
The only substantive change Murray made to the Harris writing is replacing the name of Harris' target, classmate and neighbor Brooks Brown, with "Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world."
Why "@#%$" in one example and "(expletive)" in the other? Well we know that Harris actually wrote "fucking" so the only way to make sense of this is to assume that "(expletive)" is Post style for censored words, which means that Murray really did write "@#%$," and not "fucking" or some other swear word.
That could be an interesting comment on his psyche and his upbringing, perhaps indicating that his Christian education was far more successful at inculcating him with the commandment "thou shalt not say 'fucking'" than "thou shalt not kill." (Much as newspapers are far more easygoing about graphically describing violent crime than about using naughty language). And indeed CNN helpfully explains that the non-substantive change was "the exception of symbols used to replace an expletive."
But wait. Other sources say Murray wrote that he would be "armed to the (expletive) teeth," while yet others say he wrote "the -- teeth" (are there really any two-letter obscenities?). AP apparently originally put out "[expletive]" then corrected it to "@#%$." If the censorship habit makes things this confusing to professional editors, who have been known to curse themselves from time to time, you'd think their impulse would be to make them less confusing to readers.
But here's something even more confusing. Murray's original messages to the ex-Pentecostal forum have been removed, but he cross-posted to alt.suicide.holiday which preserves his comment as,
I'm coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the fucking teeth and I WILL shoot to kill. ….God, I can't wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don't care if I live or die in the shoot-out. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you … as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world. [ellipses in original]
So apparently Murray had no problem cursing sometimes. Which may mean he altered his language for his audience. Perhaps he knew his postings would be taken down from the Pentecostal board if he cursed... though, again, not if he threatened to gun down Christians! That actually says something newsworthy: he was in a rational frame of mind not long before the killings.
And just to muddy the waters one more time, this article quotes the teeth post (using the symbols) as well as a second post rendered, bafflingly, "You guys were awesome. It's time for me to head out and teach these (expletive) a lesson." So did Murray write "bastards" or "assholes" or "cocksuckers" the second time? Or did he write "(expletive)" or "@#%$?"
Don't expect an answer from the chicken@#%$ media.
"Violent crimes of any sort are tragic enough, but when innocent people are killed in a religious facility or a place of worship, we must voice a collective sense of outrage and demonstrate a renewed commitment to keeping our communities safe." — Colorado Governor Bill Ritter
Wait, shouldn't it be less tragic when people are killed in church? It means they're going straight to heaven. Let's save our collective sense of outrage for the poor bastards killed at strip joints.
Anyway, with the publication of my book just four months away, I'm launching a territorial pissing campaign of posting about Christian pop culture on Huffington Post. Pegging my first entry to a fatal shooting is probably as tackily opportunistic as it gets, but I couldn't pass up this chance to bring up the fascinating and disturbing subject of spiritual warfare.
A deadpan joke? Or a reporter's satirical protest against his employer's censorship policies? (I refuse to consider the non-ironic possibility.)
ReutersMetro (UK) article about a nun who read a list of banned swear words in class: "Sadly, it has not been reported exactly what swearwords the nun used, although it seems likely that ****, ****, ************, **********, *** and **** were on the list."
A cautionary tale. For anyone who still cares.
Does anyone still care?
"It gets worse. My ass is in a de Kooning." —Mike Mariano
"My God! I had thought that Mondrian had eschewed representationalism since the publication of "De Nieuwe Beelding in de Schilderkunst," or at least, since the founding of De Stijl. Now that I see a realist portrait in a late and otherwise neoplasticist work, I shall have to rethink some deeply held beliefs about the currents of modernist art." —kejo
"Have you ever wished for something so bad... And then when it came true you were filled with regret and remorse?" —jake
Quote of the week, from the nextdoor neighbor of MySpace hoaxer Lori Drew: "I just really hope that no one comes out here and does something insane. If they do, I hope they get the right house."
For years, a friend of mine in the TV biz has been pitching a reality show that would involve members of different religions competing against each other while confined to some awkward living situation. The mid-season twist would come when a team of atheists is added to the mix, and the religious believers learn to overcome their differences in order to fight against the common enemy.
In other words, it's the Mitt Romney presidential campaign.
At the heart of his speech yesterday was a plea for evangelicals to put aside their differences with Mormons and unite against "the religion of secularism."
The Washington Post gets it and Joe Conason rightly says that "If Romney is going to attack humanists and secularists as 'wrong,' then let him explain why they were so far ahead of his church on the greatest moral issues of the past half-century." It turns out that black people aren't Satanic, see? "Phonies like Huckabee and Romney complain constantly about the supposed religious intolerance of secular liberals," says Conosan, "But the truth is that liberals -- including agnostics and atheists -- have long been far more tolerant of religious believers in office than the other way around."
As a political move, of course, there's no harm in bashing secular humanists, but I doubt Romney's speech will help him much with Bible-believin' Christians. He was in a no win situation. He couldn't say he would govern based on his faith, because in the minds of the voters he wants to reach, his faith is an evil cult. And he couldn't say he wouldn't govern based on any faith, because that goes against God. So instead he told them he would govern based on their faith. Which makes him look like a -- what's the theological term? -- douchebag.
This photo triggered a reader outcry when it was published with a story in the Sanbury (Penn) Daily Item about two cows that "darted" onto the grounds of a middle school. My children read this newspaper! readers shrieked.
In response, the newspaper's editors confidently and correctly defended the decision to publish the picture: "The incident happened and it was extraordinary. It was news... The newspaper's decision to print the photo should help readers decide whether they think police acted appropriately. It provides context."
The editors reach this conclusion even as they acknowledge that "Photos have power that words cannot match. Decisions about publishing disturbing photos are never taken lightly." In other words, describing the photo would not be good enough.
Score one for journalistic principles. And yet... if the cop had said, "We shot that fucking cow," I can absolutely guarantee you that there's not a single mainstream newspaper in the country that would have published that extraordinary and newsworthy quote, context be damned. They would have settled for describing the quote instead.
Some words still do have the power to make even the most courageous journalists cower in fear.
[News item via Romenesko]
At last, music other than that damn dreidel song. From the LeeVees. [Thanks, Eric]
Back in October, I tried to explain why Sherri Shepherd might have said the world could be flat. When a commenter suggested the alternate possibility that "the woman is as dumb as a box of rocks," I strongly disagreed.
Now that Shepherd is insisting that Jesus came before the ancient Greeks, and, indeed, that "nothing predated Christians," I'm changing my mind. There is nothing about evangelical culture or teaching that can explain why a person would say this*. Indeed, as the headline implies, this should be foundational knowledge for any Christian. Or any bag of rocks.
*I'm going to disalow any claim that she is thinking of the theological teaching that Jesus is the alpha and omega, as the conversation clearly concerns human history, not cosmology.
Correction of the day from an AP article about a theft from the Zammit Ham and Bacon curers warehouse in Australia:
"This version CORRECTS word in company name to Ham, not Hand."
Downing, who is black and wears a short beard, said in his lawsuit that he was stopped by a state trooper and asked to show identification after he left the gate area and made a phone call in the terminal. When he declined, Downing said, he was told to leave the airport, but was then stopped again. He was surrounded by four state troopers and told he was under arrest for not failing to produce identification.
The cops can arrest you for obeying them? That does seem unfair.
Christopher Hitchens spreads a little holiday cheer today with an essay denouncing Hanukkah. Like all Hitchens' work on religion, it's smart, witty and totally frustrating. Hitchens, you see, is at heart a fundamentalist. I don't mean that in the way people usually do: that he is so dogmatic and evangelistic about atheism that he's the equivalent of a religious fundamentalist. Hitchens has countered that attack persuasively -- or mostly persuasively -- in several outlets since the publication of his book God is not Great.
Rather what I mean is that Hitchens' ideas about the religious faiths he rejects are based entirely on fundamentalist interpretations of those faiths. For him there is only one true form of any religion -- the one handed down by God as transmitted by ancient religious authorities. Any variation on that is a false or deluded form of religion worthy only of dismisal. That's just what the fundamentalists say.
So when it comes to Hanukkah, Hitchens tells the true and rarely heard, during this season, story of the Maccabean revolt and concludes that, "The display of the menorah... has a precise meaning and is an explicit celebration of the original victory of bloody-minded faith over enlightenment and reason." [emphasis mine] He outright rejects liberal rabbi Michael Lerner's reinterpretation of the holiday.
But here's where Hitchens' own powers of reasoning fail him. Hanukkah has never had a single precise meaning. No religious holiday -- hell, no religion -- ever has. As an atheist, Hitchens must affirm that religion is a human construct that evolves according to human needs. To traditionalists who say, "but that's not what God meant," the response is simple: God doesn't make the rules. Hanukkah provides an ideal demonstration of this phenomenon. It began not as Hitchens claims, with the Maccabees, but earlier, as a winter solstace celebration, Nayrot, that was probably little different from the celebrations of the surrounding cultures of the era. Later, this merged with the celebration of the Maccabees' victory and became Hanukkah. Six hundreds years after that, as Jewish society had become more theistic and introspective and less militaristic, the supposed supernatural intervention of Yahweh became the most important thing about the holiday-- as seen in the newly evolved story of the miracle of the lamps. In the 19th century, Zionists adapted Hanukkah to their nationalistic idea of Judaism. In 20th century America, Hanukkah became, for all intents and purposes, the Jewish Christmas -- or more precisely, the secular Jewish alternative to a secular Christmas. In some ways it came full circle -- a winter solstace celebration once more -- but the millennia of history now attached to it made it all the more rich and more meaningful.
It is still common to hear some Jews (even secular ones) say that Hanukkah is "not a major holiday." But that is experientially false. It may be a minor holiday for Orthodox Jews, but it is a major one for the rest of us, and there is nothing inauthentic about that. If there is no God, how can a religious holiday, or any religious custom, have an external meaning outside of human culture and discernment? Meaning must be conferred by our observances and our celebrations. Obviously, this is not a matter of individualistic, conscious redefinition -- though that can play a part. Nor am I saying that holidays "can mean whatever we want." Rather, customs evolve along with the human cultures and societies that nurture them. Only an organic change that reflects the needs and values of large groups will resonate in our hearts.
And Hanukkah has undergone that kind of organic change, as has everything else about the wonderful, awful, human-created phenomenon of religion. Humanists should light their menorahs proudly tonight. Say an extra secular blessing for Christopher Hitchens.
Here's perhaps the best example yet of a "news story" that old media outlets are rendered utterly helpless to actually explain due to their inane obscenity policies. Spirit Airlines has launched a promotion it's calling "Many Islands, Low Fairs," Or MILF.
Here's how ABC News tried to report the story: "Before MILF became shorthand for a Spirit Airlines promotion, the acronym hit the mainstream as an obscene descriptor of a mother considered to be sexy."
The only other outlet to pick this up so far, a Georgia local news broadcast, fared even worse: "Some Internet bloggers have pointed that "MILF" is known as an obscene acronym in some circles. It is used to describe an attractive older woman."
Well, at least the Internet bloggers meme is finally catching on.
Bonus ha-has from the ABC story:
Berkovitz said that it's a great example of a marketing campaign that will generate buzz as the "hipster" demographic takes notice and influences the "mainstream."
"The young, the hip, they get it and then they tell the mainstream media, 'Yo dudes, this is a hot slogan,'" Berkovitz said.
Yeah, this slogan is swingin' on the flippety-flop.
Can kosher bacon be far off?
[hat tip: mom (of course)]
The prize for this week's anti-caption contest is a copy of The Rejection Collection Volume 2: The Cream of the Crap, signed by a dozen New Yorker cartoonists. The book collects cartoons submitted to the magazine that didn't quite make the cut, and not necessarily because they weren't funny.
As you may know, the cartoons used in the caption contest begin their lives as rejections. But instead of killing them outright, editor Bob Mankoff strips off the cartoonist's caption and lets readers take a crack at improving it. Often, I'm told, the winning entry is very similar to the rejected original. But sometimes, the cartoonist's punchline is lost forever... until now.
As a special treat for Radosh.net readers, Rejection Collection editor Matt Diffee has agreed to contact his fellow cartoonists and ask them to reveal the original jokes for some of your favorite caption contest cartoons. Obviously, I'm already requesting The hours here are obscene, Everyone knows your parrot's a clip-on and There is a man pinned under this truck. Which others are you dying to know?
This week's awesome prize. Spend an extra minute polishing and/or scuffing your submissions this week, folks, 'cause the winner of this contest will receive a copy of The Rejection Collection Volume 2, a hilarious book of New Yorker cartoons that didn't make the cut, signed by ten or twelve New Yorker cartoonists, including editor Matt Diffee.
"Kenneth was always bringing his work back home with him. Unfortunately his work consisted of fellating four bald businessmen on the subway." —Mo Buck
"I thought that fortune cookie had a typo: 'Beware of financial analists.' But once you added the 'in bed' at the end, it not only made sense; it became surprisingly prophetic." —mypalmike
"A sevensome! A sevensome! Is that all you can think about?" — Joshua
From a New York Times profile of stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody.
Those trips down dimly lighted runways, followed by a short stint as a phone-sex worker — “You have to convince them that your parents don’t know you are on the phone and that you are just aching to get with your physics teacher” — became an unmentionably titled blog.
What, so now we can't even say Pussy Ranch?
[hat tip: Susannah Breslin. ]