Pop. Politics. Sex. So On.

Business 2.0

Happy Holidays. Hypothetical greeting cards from business luminaries, circa December, 2001. In Adobe Acrobat format.


The Ultimate Movie Collection: Christmas Edition. Freelancing is not the business to be in if you expect perks like "respect," or "money." But Gear falls even below my minimum standards. In 1999 I interviewed for a job there. The interview went very well. At one point I mentioned that I thought the magazine's Ultimate Movie Collection feature should sometimes be themed, and the editor asked if I could write, as a sample, blurbs for the three best Christmas movies of all time. In two days. I said sure. After turning those in, the editor called to say I'd made the first cut, and he asked me to write a critique of the magazine. Now, I admit I botched this assignment, but I still expected that someone would at least call to let me know their decision. Instead I only found out after contacting them myself a few weeks later that they'd hired someone else. And then the December issue appears, and there's my Christmas movies article. Without a byline. Repeated requests for payment went unanswered. Bottom line: I love Christmas as much as the next American Jew, but Gear is an evil, evil magazine. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.


No Strings Attached: A Survivor's Memoir. If I put as much thought and effort into all my humor pieces as I put into this old-fashioned casual, perhaps they would all come out this good. Not sure it'd be worth it, but it's a thought. I owe a debt to Jon Fine, who mass-mailed the NYT quote that inspired me.
The Trendspotting Generation. A trend story about the trend of writing trend stories. GQ actually got a letter from someone who accused me of committing the same sins I condemned in others, so I guess the piece qualifies as subtle.

May Contain Nuts

The PowerPoint Anthology of Literature. Great works distilled to their essence and presented in the most efficient form of communication ever devised. After originating on this site, an expanded version was selected for publication in May Contain Nuts: A Very Loose Canon of American Humor, and the concept was spun off for a feature in Slate.


Media Moments. Just some stuff that happened to catch my eye. Before I was not updating my blog regularly, I was not sending out these e-mails regularly. But McSweeney's was compiling them all.
Flops! A deconstruction of a humorous essay about Broadway disasters that I tried and failed to get right for publication in GQ. Dave Eggers put the beginning of this piece on the back page of the second issue of McSweeney's — an allusion to the fact that it was a comment on back page humor pieces — but he forgot to indicate that it was continued inside the magazine, so pretty much no one has ever read it in its entirety.

Modern Humorist

"Purple Dragon Lunchbox, Mr. President". Remember when West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin was busted with a bag of 'shrooms? This parody was significantly more funny back then.
Hit Me, My Lovely: A Mystery Incorporating the Fifty Most Popular Internet Search Terms of the Past Year.
Harry Potter and the Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Is the layout of this piece odd? Why is the link to the excerpt, which is the heart of the parody, below the link to the blurbs, which were just kind of tossed off?
Star Saga: Inside the Making of the Star Saga Saga. An elaborate behind the scenes of Star Wars parody of which I am still quite proud (written with Michael Tritter). Buy me too many martinis sometime and I just might break my confidentiality agreement and tell you the equally sordid real life behind the scenes story.
Merry Christmas. The e-card way.
Happy Valentine's Day. Ditto.
The Freakiest Geek. Recoil in horror as I shamelessly kiss Judd Apatow's ass.
Survivor Spoilsports. Relive the tedium of the second season of Survivor. Then see me go head-to-head with TV's evil Richard Hatch and TV's also evil Bryant Gumbel live via RealPlayer on the CBS Early Show Survivor Roundtable. (Scroll down to 4/20).
Modern Humorist's 2000 Convention Coverage. Relive the tedium of the 2000 Republican and Democratic conventions. There's actually lots of stuff here that was pretty funny at the time. I edited both pages and wrote the daily Spit Take column on the bottom right.

National Geographic Adventure

Web Links to Adventure. I did a lot of hack work for a lot of years (not anymore, of course). This piece is fairly typical. My editor (whom I like a lot, in this particular case) tells me the magazine wants something funny and quirky. I turn in a draft, only to have a more senior editor decide it needs to be less funny and more useful. In the end, the piece isn't bad, but I wonder why they didn't just do it in house, since it doesn't really sound like me anymore. Anyway, my Stim column got me a lot of gigs writing about odd Web sites for while, including a monthly column at Esquire for all of three months.

New York Press

Ironic. "Yet strangely—ironically, if you will—Ms. Morissette has almost no idea what the word 'ironic' means." This evisceration of Alanis Morissette's 1996 hit song is as fresh as it was in 1996, give or take seven years.
Too Young To Know: The Selling of Sassy. A eulogy for one of the best magazines of the 1990s, and an inside look at how it all fell apart. Jane Pratt hates me because of this article, which is sad, because I don't want anyone who was involved with Sassy to hate me. I did print some less-than-flattering comments that other people made about Jane, but they are not my opinions, and I tried repeatedly to reach Jane for comment before I published them. Also, this article landed me in a stupid pissing contest with another Sassy fan in the early days of the Web, which I have always regretted (the pissing match, not the early days of the Web; well, both, actually). Her version of the story is about 75 percent correct.
Knee Jerk: Only Correct. After I burned out on writing the popular 8 Days column for the Press, I briefly wrote a single-topic weekly column called Knee Jerk. This riff on The New York Times' corrections page was one of the better installments.

The New York Times

Let Women Compete for Best Actor. Some Oscar night many years from now, when all movies are in IMAX 3D, your grandchildren might ask you, "Why did there used to be different categories for boy actors and girl actors?" If that glorious day arrives, you will know that it was this New York Times Op-Ed piece that sparked the revolution (though I will not take the blame for IMAX 3D). Truth be told, I still prefer the less strident, slightly more funny version that the Times saw unfit to print, and that the London Guardian stole outright, apparently assuming that I'd never Google myself. (They were very apologetic when I called them on it, and agreed to pay me in their funny, colorful banknotes. Then they accidentally sent my check to the Times, which kept it).
Phantoms. Here's an expanded, color version of my Op-Art piece that appeared in the Times on the first anniversary of Sept. 11. According to the editor, I was the Op-Ed page's first ever crossover contributor. Suck it, Salman Rushdie!

The New Yorker

A Reluctant Poster Girl. "Contrary to what riders waiting for the crosstown bus at Amsterdam Avenue and Eighty-sixth Street have been led to believe, Dana Fisher would not, if she had a million dollars, 'buy a car and a cute driver to go with it.'"
Why American Kids Don't Consider Harry Potter an Insufferable Prig. Translating Harry Potter.

A Book In You. Blogging is so writing. This is the essay that earned me a Gothamist Interview.

The Pet Goat Approach. What Bush was reading on 9/11, and why.

The (London) Observer

In Bed With Fidel. A breezy profile of Marita Lorenz, Fidel Castro's mistress and attempted assassin.


Review: Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke. Of the dozen or so book reviews I've written for People, the only one I could find online was on the site of the Australian edition, Who. My editor attended the publication party for this book and told me he overheard Hawke muttering, "People ripped me a new asshole." I think that's overstating it. Delicately cut a new asshole, perhaps. The headline (which I didn't write) makes it sound worse than it is.


Bone Up Your Shakespeare: A Study Guide to the Complete Porno Films of the Bard of Avon. The version of this piece that appeared in Playboy was dramatically shorter, less informative, and less funny. Here it is the way I intended it to be. I learned about the bardcore genre from a Lingua Franca article by Andrew Hearst, who said he wouldn't mind if I did a lighter take on the same subject. WARNING: Contains language of the type you can reasonably expect from review of porno movies, plus a few images that are mild by my standards, but which you may not want on your monitor at the office.
It's the End of the World and the Writing is Bad. A humorous overview of Evangelical Christian end-times novels.

Radical Society

Eminem Makes Steve Earle Look Like Toby Keith: Why Hasn’t Anyone Noticed? Toby Keith, you'll recall, by which I mean, you've probably forgotten, is the country singer who scored a hit with his all-American song about putting a boot in Osama's ass. Steve Earle, of course, was cast by the guardians of patriotism as Keith's polar opposite, thanks to his allegedly un-American attempt to get inside John Walker Lindh's head. Eminem, well, you know who he is. But somehow, his angry post-9/11 anti-American fantasies got no attention. Until I wrote this. Although, since I wrote it for a periodical with a circulation of 17, I'm not sure that counts. RadSoc, as it is inevitably called, is a hip, fun, smart journal of leftist politics, academia, and pop culture. You can find it here.


Moore is Less. This article will haunt me forever. Some years ago, I was one of the first writers to call Michael Moore on his bullshit. Once Moore-bashing became a cottage industry, people began contacting me out of the blue with stories of the big man's latest outrages, seeking my advice, or trying to enlist me in their anti-Mike crusade. Frankly, I'm way over Michael Moore. Despite that, and despite this article's fan base among insane right-wingers, I remain pretty happy with it. I probably should've left out the fat jokes, though. Be sure to read Moore's hilarious reply too. (He never did sue, of course.)
The New York Times' Refer Madness. In a shocking article, the newspaper of record reveals that many Net users are deviating from officially mandated Just Say No drug rhetoric!
Wow! It Fits In a Box: Old Media's Dumb-as-a-Post Gushing Over New Media Conceals a Secret Disdain. Ah, 1997. When people still said "new media" without smirking. Or at all. And yet, too much of this essay remains true.
Like Watching Ice Freeze. Relive the tedium of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Harry Potter: The Digital Remix. An interview with a guy who created a new voiceover for the first Harry Potter movie. I'm very happy with how this turned out, though I have to admit I would have been happier if it had appeared in The New Yorker, which it was going to until The New York Times scooped it.


News Quiz. Man, do I miss the Slate News Quiz. I was a regular player for a long time, and I guess Randy thought I was good at it, 'cause when he took a week off, he invited me to be a guest host. I'm particularly proud of my Gag Reflex Extra comparing New Yorker cartoons with The Lockhorns (scroll down).

The Pledge of Allegiance: The PowerPoint Version. The very likable David Plotz at Slate called out of the blue one day to say the site wanted more humor and did I have any ideas for a funny and inventive recurring feature? I assured him I did not, but that if he wanted brainless hackwork, I'd be happy to spin off my PowerPoint Anthology of Literature to cover current events. This was the first and best installment.
The August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief: The PowerPoint Version. I know you don't quite remember what this was now but it was all the talk of April, 2004.
John Kerry's Military Records: The PowerPoint Version. Slate readers had a very hard time processing the idea that I was making fun of both Republicans and Democrats.
My Life, by Bill Clinton: The PowerPoint Version.


A Very Special Webster: The Devil's Playground. The shortlived Stim (5/96-8/97) was one of the first Webzines (itself a fairly shortlived coinage). Backed by Prodigy (slightly longer-lived), it was one of those early attempts to get a handle on what this whole Web thing was about. My monthly column, A Very Special Webster, was built on the model of weekly column I had done for several years at the New York Press, only instead of riffing on dumb things in newspapers, I riffed on dumb web sites. Even then, there were a lot of them. This was the first installment. I recently rewrote it for 101 Damnations.
A Very Special Webster: Oh Sandy, My Darling. Return with me now to the thrilling Web of yesteryear, when a certain Sandra Bullock was the most popular lady around. Don't expect a single one of the links to work.
A Very Special Webster: Making Me Sick. Health and stuff.
A Very Special Webster: Ferret-Face. Man, did people slam me for this one. Apparently not everyone thinks ferrets are foul, loathsome creatures. This was probably the best of the Webster columns. A version of it appeared in the first edition of Mirth of a Nation.
A Very Special Webster: The Grudge. I'm sure all these people found that creating a Web site solved their problems.
A Very Special Webster: Safe Surfing. Around this time, Stim instituted a theme for every issue, and my column was expected to follow suit. What did I have to say about "security"? Not much, apparently, but it's kind of funny/sad that the first graf was actually a provocative statement for its time.
A Very Special Webster: Star Trek, The Web Generation. Some Trekkies are still mad about this one. Which was, of course, the point.
A Very Special Webster: Searching for the Truth. If words like "X-Files" and "HotBot" flood you with waves of late-90s nostalgia, you'll want to read this, maybe.
A Very Special Webster: Les Memes Choses. The French are funny. In that first graf, I probably meant "e.g." not "i.e." No one was really bothering to edit by this stage of the game.
Some Girls: In Praise of Skanky Chicks. If Maxim was around then, maybe this article would've gotten me hired. Looks like I put a lot of research into the sidebar too.
Bemused By All The Bemusement. I take on a pet peeve: overuse of the word bemused in hack journalism. Hard to believe Prodigy pulled the plug, huh?


Endsville, Postponed: What if Frank Sinatra Had Lived? This one-joke comic is actually quite cruel when you think about it. And you have to understand, I am huge Sinatra fan. I don't know what got into me.
Skin-Deep Thoughts. Another comic. This one at the expense of Christy Turlington and Esquire. Again: what could have gotten into me?


How to be an X-Phile Without Being a Geek. C'mon, you remember Verge! Well, probably not. This tech-culture mag from Times-Mirror was around for a couple of years in the late 90s. I got this one article out of it (written just before the X-Files jumped the shark), and a nice working relationship with the editor in chief, who later went on to MH-18, which folded even before he could ask me to write for it.

The Week

Most of what I write as contributing editor at are short recaps of whatever the pundits are getting most worked up about this week. From time to time, I'll get to do a slightly longer Briefing, giving more extensive background information on a subject in the news. These get archived on The Week's web site, so here are a few:
The Biggest Little Man In Hollywood. What it takes to win an Oscar.
Settlers In the War Zone. What's up with Israeli settlements on Palestinian land? (Or, as The Week's strict objectivity policy demands that I say, "land claimed by Palestinians.")
The Newest New Journalism. What is this thing you call a blog?
TV's Phony Ratings Game. Do those Nielsen numbers mean what you think they do?
The Decline of Circumcision. Opinions on this subject are held so fiercely, it's nearly impossible to find a simple discussion of the facts. Until now. I'm a rare neutral party. I don't think there's any good reason for it (beyond the whole covenant thing), but I also don't think it does any harm.
The Rise of the Neocons. Everything you need to know about neoconservatives, except how to stop them (objectivity, remember?). At least one Week reader felt I neglected to explore a certain angle thoroughly enough, and he had a pretty good idea why. "Let me ask you a question first," he began his call. "Are you Jewish?"
Harry Potter and the Rise of Children's Books. By any measure, the Harry Potter books are the most popular children's books ever written. Whether that delights you or depresses you, you'll want to read this.
How Google Conquered the World. Hint: it involved blotting out the sun.
When Fido is a Tiger. Who can forget the great wild-animals-as-pets trend of 2003?
Forging A New Religion. I'm not gonna say which one here, since I don't want to end up on anybody's Google Web Alert, if you catch my drift.

The Weekly Standard

The Village Idiot. I'm not a personal-is-political kind of guy. Sure I disagree with 90 percent of what The Weekly Standard stands for, but if they want me to write for them about the other 10 percent, I'm not going to say no on principle. I'm also not a personal-is-political guy in the identity politics sense, so the editors there correctly guessed that they'd be pleased with my critique of the Village Voice, back in 1995 when the Voice was at a particularly low point. And yet, I do not like the Weekly Standard's editors slipping their own views into my work, which happened in this article. I mentioned Noam Chomsky, and someone there (I suspect Podhoretz) tossed in a bullshit parenthetical comment about Cambodia without telling me (I've removed it). I haven't written for The Standard since. Nor have I read the Voice, though I understand it's gotten better.