News you can useDaniel Radosh
Four months ago:
Four months ago:
...for anticaption contests #181 and #182 and The Week's What Next? contest. Sadly the editorial demands of an actual magazine with half a million readers meant that some of my personal favorites from you sick lot couldn't make the cut, though you're not entirely unrepresented, and, at the very least, you brightened up my afternoon.
The perils of automated censorship.
[h/t Bob Rust]
They're picking up on rumors -- in the form of typically shoddy college newspaper articles -- that have been bouncing around campuses for a few weeks now. The most direct source was probably an article in the UMass Amherst Daily Collegian, currently available only on Google cache probably because it got heavily Digged.
I first noticed this trendlette after Yahoo News fronted the Fox & Friends segment. The segment was typically jokey, but what was most odd was that it was almost completely unsourced. They had a pretty lady doctor on hand to say that, yes, people can get sick from sharing beer cups (or, she might have added, coffee cups or pencils), but that's hardly news. The heavy lifting was done entirely by the on-screen chyron which said, "CDC warns of spreading diseases." The Yahoo News headline similarly credited the CDC.
The CDC weighing in beer pong? Really? The NBC-LA web story was more specific: "According to the Center for Disease Control, reports of the virus in 2008 were up 230 percent from 2007 in people ages 17-21." That same statistic is quoted in the Collegian piece, which adds, "and it's all from sharing cups." But the NBC goes the next step and lists the CDC's "safe ponging" tips, which include, "Use the waterfall method."
Um, yeah. I'm sure the CDC said that.
It wasn't hard to track down the first citation of this alleged study, from July 21, 2008 on a College Humor knockoff site called Banned in Hollywood. That article (credited to the AP) quotes not only the CDC generally, as the current stories do, but a spokesman named Dr. Cole Desorio. When a commenter wrote that the story sounded bogus, the original writer replied, "Do me a favor. Step one, say Cole Desorio out loud. Step two, kill yourself."
The would-be satirist's error, clearly, was in underestimating the extent to which the heady combination of alcohol, sex, and young people -- the cornerstone of so many urban legends -- inevitably leads journalists to override whatever bullshit detectors they have. Perhaps had the initial humor piece been even remotely funny, everyone would have known not to take it seriously. But "Cole Desorio" was the only clue. Everything else was played straight down the line. It took only the shift in emphasis from herpes to mono (and the removal of the terrible pun) to turn this into a Weird News story that sounds perfectly plausible -- at least to drunken college students and Fox News editors.
In response to a query from this blogger (because, ahem, even when you know something to be true it still doesn't hurt to actually check), CDC Senior Press Officer Karen Hunter replied:
You are correct, it is bogus. CDC has not studied beer pong and transmission of diseases, so would not have anything to say about this issue. We are putting the following disclaimer on the CDC pressroom site: Alleged CDC Beer Pong/Herpes Simplex study is a HOAX Recent news stories about an alleged CDC study showing a possible link between the drinking game, Beer Pong, and herpes simplex 1, the virus that causes cold sores, are false. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not publish the referenced article .
Since I have complete confidence that reporters will check the CDC pressroom site rather than just do a Google search, I'm sure you will not be hearing this story... repeatedly for months to come.
It's been seven months since I've mentioned Peter Landesman even in passing, nearly a year and a half since I wrote anything substantive about the man and three whole years since my last sustained blogging about his work. As far as I'm concerned, he's more gone and forgotten than an ex-Clique Girl.
But Landesman has never let go. He's been holed up in his cave, licking wounds, nursing grudges, waiting for the right moment to exact his revenge. And now he thinks he's found it. Yesterday he sent me (and Jack Shafer and Debbie Nathan) the following e-mail regarding a recent underage prostitution sting.
Though many moons and stories have passed since our last correspondence, this was sent to me a couple days ago and I thought you'd be interested in seeing this. Much has happened in the last few years to support the thesis of the story, that sex trafficking in general - and the trafficking for sex of minors - is a serious and misunderstood problem in the US. But this operation appears to be the last necessary confirmation.
Sunlight remains the best disinfectant. Even more so in the world of so-called media criticism. The good news for you is that it still costs nothing, both economically and in reporting time, to simply decide that one knows something to be true (or untrue), and to upload it. (Not that that has anything to do with reality.)
"Many moons and stories," indeed. It's no wonder you're in such demand as a Hollywood screenwriter. Well, you're certainly correct that it will cost me little effort to respond to this. For the sake of argument, let's agree that the thesis of your New York Times magazine article really was that "sex trafficking in general - and the trafficking for sex of minors - is a serious and misunderstood problem in the US." So... why are you telling me this? From the beginning I've made clear that "No one is saying sex slavery isn't a genuine problem" What I questioned was not your thesis but your facts and your presentation of them. My interest in this matter has never been sex trafficking but journalism — something you obviously haven't gotten any better at if you think the article you sent is at all relevant to our previous debate.
On some level, of course, you must know that the criticisms of your article are valid or you would not still, after all this time, be looking desperately for scraps of retroactive fact-checking to shore it up. Sadly, you'll have to keep searching. This report of sad but ordinary teenage prostitution has little to do with your lurid tales of child slavery, murder and perversion. The girls rescued this week were not kidnapped, broken in bizarre rituals and traded at Disneyland. As the FBI's Daniel Roberts says, "the vast majority of these kids are what they term 'throwaway kids,' with no family support, no friends." There are no big brothers undertaking dramatic rescue missions. Indeed, "throwaway" is a term I first encountered in an article by Debbie Nathan specifically refuting the perception of the sex trade caused by articles like yours.
The truth is, at the time you wrote your article, the prostitution rings busted this week would not even have been considered sex traffic in legal terms. That designation is the result of a 2007 law that expanded the definition of trafficking to cover not just the kind of international smuggling you wrote about but virtually all underage prostitution. Cynics say the expansion was necessary in part because after all the money the Justice Department threw at sex trafficking around the time your story came out, they simply weren't finding the tens of thousands of victims they expected. Maybe the change in the law was good, maybe it wasn't. Like you, I haven't looked into it enough to know.
But let's not get into that, shall we. I have no wish to reengage with you at all, but if we must, let it be over the unfinished business of your original article rather than any extraneous new developments. I have no reason to think you actually want to defend your work so I won't bother listing all the still unresolved questions about it. But just in case, I will start with one very, very easy one. Here's a paragraph from your article:
A neat subdivision and cycling path ran along the opposite bank. The San Luis Rey was mostly dry, filled now with an impenetrable jungle of 15-foot-high bamboolike reeds. As Castro and I started down a well-worn path into the thicket, he told me about the time he first heard about this place, in October 2001. A local health care worker had heard rumors about Mexican immigrants using the reeds for sex and came down to offer condoms and advice. She found more than 400 men and 50 young women between 12 and 15 dressed in tight clothing and high heels. There was a separate group of a dozen girls no more than 11 or 12 wearing white communion dresses. ''The girls huddled in a circle for protection,'' Castro told me, ''and had big eyes like terrified deer.''
It has since been conclusively proven that this scene never took place (according to the local health care worker herself). The girls, the communion dresses, the big eyes — they did not exist. And you could have found that out with a single phone call and a shred of journalistic skepticism. You want disinfectant, Peter? Please explain why you think that paragraph belonged in print, and if it did not, call the New York Times and request a correction. Until then we have nothing to talk about.
On the remote chance, however, that you are unable to keep your mouth shut, I request that all future communications take place in public, on this blog. No more personal contact. Ever.
The Obama administration's Gitmo whitewash is only the latest in a string of betrayals on civil liberties/political transparency/war on terror issues that, as Glenn Greenwald notes are "piling up so quickly, it's becoming difficult to keep track" (see also: this, this, this and this). Seriously, it's about time for Marty Lederman to either step up or resign in protest.
One consolation in all this has been that, as Greenwald has repeatedly spotlighted (scroll to first break), most Americans have been adamant that they want investigations into whether the Bush administration broke the law in prosecuting the war on terror.
That's why I was sorry to note some depressing news buried toward the bottom of today's New York Times poll [pdf]. The analysis in the newspaper itself focused on economic issues, but the complete results feature these two questions:
Do you want Congress to hold hearings to investigate whether the Bush Administration's treatment of detainees, the use of wiretaps and other Justice Department practices broke the law, or don't you think that is necessary? Want hearings (37), Don't think necessary (58), DK/NA (5)
Some Democratic members of Congress are in favor of holding hearings to investigate the Bush Administration. Do you think the Democrats want to investigate the Bush Administration mostly because they think the law was broken or mostly for political reasons? Law was broken (27), Political reasons (68), DK/NA (6).
Since this runs contrary to several other recent polls, it's possible, if only remotely, that the issue here is whether Congress should be in charge of the investigations. The Times did not ask about criminal or independent investigation, which is what people have said they've supported in the past. Or maybe it's just an anomaly.
Given Obama's horrendous affirmations of Bush's policies, I'm not even sure how I'd respond today to the poll's central question of whether I approve or disapprove of Obama's performance. Certainly in many respects he's been pretty good -- and much better than Bush, though that's a low bar. But the restoration of Constitutional law was my top issue during the election, so I can't just overlook it. Perhaps if Obama were doing unquestionably great on the economy that would tip me into an overall favorable position, but he's actually been more like, "we'll have to wait and see, but it looks like a bit of a mess." Actually I'd struggle with this poll since it breaks everything down into domestic and foreign policy, while the issues I'm discussing are most accurately considered both -- even though they're not the ones typically thought of in discussions of either.
But the most tricky question in the poll? It's this one, on page 18:
Did you vote in the 2008 presidential election, did something prevent you from voting, or did you choose not to vote? IF VOTED, ASK: Did you vote for John Kerry, George W. Bush, or Ralph Nader?
No... but maybe I should have.
Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon.
[voice on phone] - "...press '2' if your Joan Miro painting has caused unusual behavior in your pets..." —MAtt |
"No matter what you say about still having a full life, I always feel like I'm missing things since I went blind." —David
"Did you do everything I told you to?"
"Yes, I did! PLEASE DON'T HURT MY FAMILY!"
"Did you tie up your wife?"
"Yes - and I tied up my kids."
"I turned out the lights."
"I wrote `Victoria Roberts' on the floor."
"I stacked the cats."
"I raped the dog."
"PLEASE DON'T HURT MY FAMILY!" —Damon
When I'm not blogging (and, OK, sometimes when I am) I'm a contributing editor at a fine publication called The Week. Recently the magazine instituted a contest called What Next? which invites readers to supply "an imaginative twist" to a recent news story. This week I'm filling in for the regular judge, so I'd like to extend a special invitation to you, my proven-funny readers, to play along. Here's the challenge:
The Dalai Lama has opened a Twitter account, which means he can now send a constant stream of updates and philosophy to his followers. Like everyone else, however, he must limit his messages to 140 characters. If you were a Buddhist master, what mindful Twitter message would you send?
Send your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. This time I'm not looking for funny-funny rather than unfunny-funny. Or just clever. But not pornographic. The prize is a year's subscription to The Week.
Please include your name, address, and daytime telephone number for verification; this week, please type “Dalai Lama” in the subject line. Entries are due by 5 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday, Feb. 23.
My mother and I jumped back with a start and saw a big, hairy creature with a small, flat head and long, menacing arms drop onto a low branch.
"A monkey!" I shouted.
"An ape," my mother corrected.
—Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father, p. 33
Egged on by Al Sharpton, numerous media outlets today — including Gawker, Editor & Publisher, the Chicago Tribune, Portfolio, Huffington Post, and TMZ — are stating or suggesting that New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas is racist because he drew a cartoon equating Barack Obama with a monkey.
This is flatly untrue. The cartoon depicts a chimpanzee, which is an ape. Apes are not monkeys. In related news, zebras are not horses. Also, Curious George is not a monkey. If you remember only one thing about this controversy, let it be this: monkeys have tails, apes do not.
As for the controversy itself, I have to say that I've been reading Sean Delonas for many, many years, and his offensive cartoons are not usually nearly this subtle. The fact that people even have to ask, "Did he mean to convey...?" suggests to me that he probably didn't. My gut feeling is that Delonas saw a story about a monkey (as he would likely have thought) and his hack brain leapt right to "a monkey could have..." after which he plugged in the default "THING DEMOCRATS HAVE RECENTLY DONE" parameter. Several people have pointed out that Obama didn't even write the stimulus bill, but to me that's less relevant than the belief that Delonas' hack circuits trump his racist ones (though not his homophobic ones, obviously). Maybe he did intend the racist overtones, or at least notice them later. Maybe he didn't. Either way, the deeper fault here lies with the editor who failed to realize that regardless of Delonas' intent, people would take it that way, with some justification, and that it shouldn't have run.
I would hope that it's not necessary to point out that such a decision would clearly constitute editing, rather than censorship. What I will point out is that as far as I can tell, every media outlet that has expressed outrage over this inexcusably offensive cartoon is, nonetheless, reprinting it for their own readers to see and evaluate. That's as it should be -- and as it wasn't when the cartoons were only offensive to Islamic fundamentalists.
Jonathan Miller spotted some ambivalence in Esquire magazine's obituary for the street cred of Facebook.
Perhaps you've heard that a Buffalo, NY man named Muzzammil Hassan murdred his wife last week. If you have heard about this, it's not because a man murdering his wife is news -- hey, boys will be boys -- but because Hassan is the founder of a television network created to show Muslims in a more positive light. The TV network was a great first step. Not murdering your wife would have been a nice follow-up.
Naturally, the Defenders of the West have been quick to condemn the media for covering up this story, which they heard about in the media. The MSM, you see, is afraid to call this incident what it is: an Islamo-fascist honor killing. This "despite the fact that she was beheaded, a particularly hideous practice all but unthinkable to any but Islamic fundamentalists." Islamic fundamentalists with scary Islamic fundamentalist names like Raymond Tanner, John Kelly, Alofa Time, Alex Perez, Jean Pierre Orlewicz, Vincent Li, Haiyang Zhu, and, with just a tiny bit more follow-through on the swing, O.J. Simpson. (We're still checking into the religious background of Jason Vorhees.)
But all this attention is distracting from the real scandal. The media cover-up of al Qaida-trained chimps ripping the faces off of wholesome American women. Laugh it off now, but when the chimps impose their own law and the rest of us are second-class citizens with no testicles, you're going to beg for something as pleasant as a beheading.
Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon.
"Aw crapolis!" —Zorba
"This is simply unacceptable. I suggest we offer the workers greater training and oversight. If that doesn't work, reassess the amount of rest and sustenance you're providing them. After two weeks of that, if there's still no improvement, force them to watch while we murder their wives." —Trout Almondine
"I designed a forum and these fuckers are building a stonehenge" — Richard H
Throughout the presidential campaign I said repeatedly that I thought Barack Obama was a centrist Democrat rather than the true progressive I would have liked and many of his supporters believed he was. So while I'd like to see, for instance, a Krugmanesque balls-to-the-wall stimulus package, I'm neither surprised nor terribly disappointed that we won't be getting one.
But I also said repeatedly that on certain issues, the Republican party had become so extremist that the centrist position (both ideologically and in terms of polling data) would be a radical return to sanity and Constitutional government. One of these, of course, was the matter of torture and the abuse of executive power in order to commit it.
This is why Obama's decision to embrace Bush's morally and legally bankrupt arguments in the case of Binyam Mohamed is both shocking and deeply disturbing.
Greenwald has the rundown, naturally.
What was abusive and dangerous about the Bush administration's version of the States Secret privilege -- just as the Obama/Biden campaign pointed out -- was that it was used not (as originally intended) to argue that specific pieces of evidence or documents were secret and therefore shouldn't be allowed in a court case, but instead, to compel dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance based on the claim that any judicial adjudication of even the most illegal secret government programs would harm national security. That is the theory that caused the bulk of the controversy when used by the Bush DOJ -- because it shields entire government programs from any judicial scrutiny -- and it is that exact version of the privilege that the Obama DOJ yesterday expressly advocated (and, by implication, sought to preserve for all Presidents, including Obama). ...
We don't actually have a system of government (or at least we're not supposed to) where we rely on the magnanimity and inherent Goodness of specific leaders to exercise secret powers wisely. That, by definition, is how grateful subjects of benevolent tyrants think ("this power was bad in Bush's hands because he's bad, but it's OK in Obama's hands because he is good and kind"). Countries that are nations of laws rather than of men don't rely on blind faith in the good character of leaders to prevent abuse. They rely on what we call "law" and "accountability" and "checks and balances" to provide those safeguards -- exactly the type that Democrats, when it came to the States Secret privilege, long insisted upon before January 20, 2009.
Our best hope now — and it's the longest of long shots — is that Patrick Leahy gets his truth commission — and that its mandate doesn't end at January 20, 2009.
Clique Girlz third wheel Ariel Moore says her farewell in a YouTube video that is a sheer delight for fans of Lie to Me, the entertaining new TV show based on the work of behavioral scientist Paul Ekman, who has trained himself, as Malcolm Gladwell explained a few years back, to read people's minds based on fleeting "microexpressions" in their faces.
Here are a few freeze frames of expressions I probably wouldn't have registered before I started watching Lie to Me. Bearing in mind that I've never actually tried this before and that I'm not a hundred percent convinced it isn't all a load of hokum, I'm seeing... sadness tinged with disgust when she talks about her former bandmates and flashes of anger when she talks about her fans and her future.
And while we're studying Miss Moore's face, I feel compelled to revise my previous remarks about her physical attractiveness. Freed from the Clique Girlz heavy-handed stylists she's actually quite decent looking.
By the way, do you think it's really hard to be a guest actor on Lie to Me? If the whole premise is that your expressions give away your lies, how can they not give away your, you know, acting?
Personally I don't care if the pope wants to surround himself with raving antisemites. We're talking about a guy who claims to rule an empire under direct orders from God... and we're supposed to be surprised or concerned when he does something nutty? If the Catholic Church wants to heighten its own contradictions, who am I to complain.
But I am intrigued by today's news that, "The Vatican on Wednesday demanded that a prelate who denied the Holocaust recant his positions before being fully admitted as a bishop into the Roman Catholic Church."
Assuming that the AP paraphrase of the Vatican pronouncement is accurate (and from the limited excerpts I can find that's far from clear), what can it possibly mean?
Williamson can't simply apologize and say that his opinions were wrong, because he didn't get himself in trouble for expressing himself in the language of opinion. Now, had he merely said, "Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil, and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism," forcing him to recant might make sense. He could say those were dumb opinions and he was wrong.
But his most recent comments were made in the language of fact: "I think the most serious conclude that between 200,000 to 300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber. I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, 6 million Jews having been gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler."
In other words, recanting now will necessarily mean one of the following equally unsatisfying and unlikely things:
1) He examined the historical evidence again and has now reached a different conclusion. Which just happens to be the conclusion he needs to reach in order to get his job back. Result: Williams looks like he's covering up what he still really believes and Benedict looks at best gullible and more likely complicit in accepting such a dubious recantation.
2) He admits that he never really looked at any historical evidence and simply lied so that he could have an excuse to say hateful things about Jews. Result: The Church sends the message that while it's generally wrong to say the Holocaust never happened, it's OK as long as you only did it because you hate Jews, not because you really believed it.
Seriously, can anyone envision an even remotely satisfying statement that Williamson could make at this point? Jewish groups that accept either of the above scenarios should be ashamed of themselves.
Also, will Williamson have to recant his conclusion that 9/11 was an inside job? 'Cause then that's gonna lose him half of my readers, and I'm not sure the Catholic Church can survive that.
"As the Obamas make their ritual visit to the Bush White House, disagreement over an economic stimulus package could ruffle an otherwise smooth transition." —Nov. 10
"The flap over Mr. Brennan, who served as a chief of staff to George J. Tenet when he ran the C.I.A., was the biggest glitch so far in what has been an otherwise smooth transition for Mr. Obama." —Dec. 2
"Obama, speaking directly for the first time on the [Rod Blagojevich] scandal that has distracted from his otherwise smooth transition, said he was 'appalled' by the allegations." Dec. 11
"New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's withdrawal from consideration as Barack Obama's commerce secretary was the first hiccup in an otherwise smooth transition to power." —Jan. 5
"Aides to Mr. Obama conceded that they had mishandled the [Leon Panetta nomination] process, a significant stumble of his otherwise smooth transition." —Jan. 7
"The delay [in Timothy Geithner's confirmation] is the second significant speed bump in an otherwise smooth transition to power for Obama." —Jan. 14
[hat tip: Eric Effron]
Perhaps you read today's New York Times editorial about how the cash-strapped Brandeis University is closing its acclaimed art museum and thought, "What can I do to help?"
Well here's something: The Museum of Bad Art is riding to the rescue with an eBay auction of a piece from its collection by Deborah Grumet, better known to Radosh.net readers as Deborah who always enters the anti-caption contest and sometimes wins.
This framed 18"x 24" piece portrays the human digestive system skillfully drawn in the styles of Keith Haring, Georges Serat, Rene Margritte (with mislabeled organs a la the Key of Dreams Series), and a Picasso single line drawing.
Says MOBA curator Michael Frank: "Whatever we get is not going to bring in enough to save the Rose, but if everybody did their part, maybe."
Submit the worst possible caption for this New Yorker cartoon.
• This week's prize: Mr Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream by Steven Watts. (Winner must post with valid e-mail address.)
"Thank god she was pregnant." —TG Gibbon
“What do you think she meant when she said, 'The water is only three feet deep and we can walk to shore - please let me go home, I miss my family?’”—Damon
"If this is your subconscious, the interpretation would be that: you’re helpless to steer the course of your life, you view women as void of any value save providing sustenance, and that you’ll forever be inferior to men with hair." —Weller