A Stitch in TIME

I know, I know. I promise that the Rallblog is back, then I fail to update it for weeks. Weeks! This may not make me a liar on par with, say, a certain American dictator, but it’s still a broken promise. And for that, I’m sorry.

I don’t have an excuse but I can offer an explanation. Which is, quite simply, that I’ve been busy. I’m working on my new book, due out January 2006, with the working title “Silk Road to Ruin.” Using a similar mixed cartoon/text format as “To Afghanistan and Back,” this book will be a lot longer, as will be the essays and cartoons included therein. “Silk Road” will include seven graphic novellas, each covering a trip that I took to Central Asia. There’ll be long analysis pieces about the region, why it matters to you, why it’s interesting, why it’s essentially the new Middle East as far as we’re concerned.

I’ve got 48 of the total approximate 280 page count done and, though this doesn’t sound like much, any author will tell you that getting started is the hardest part. So I’m psyched. Visitors to the NBM Publishing table at the Book Expo America in New York last week picked up the limited edition sneak 48-page preview; a few copies will undoubtedly show up on eBay if you’re interested. (Sorry, I can’t sell you one. I’ve only got one.) But we’ll post a few teaser pages at http://www.nbmpub.com at some point.

I’m also starting the interview process for “Attitude 3: The Subversive New Media Cartoonists.” This time the focus is primarily on cartoonists whose strips appear exclusively online. Besides interviewing each cartoonist as I did for A1 and A2, I’m compiling more than 500 cartoons into a format that master Attitude designer J.P. Trostle can work with. So that’s work too.

Coupled with all that, this is what we in the toon trade call convention season. I’m writing this from 33,000 feet over Nebraska, en route to my third favorite reason for living (my first, cheesy but true, is my family and friends. my second? I’m sticking around for Bush’s show trial), the editorial cartoonists convention. 200 cartoonists from all over the country, and a few from overseas, converge on an unsuspecting hotel to drink, debate politics and talk shit about editors. There’s another convention next week, much less interesting but no less important.

My plans sometimes change, but it looks like the remainder of 2005 will be spent finishing the books along with a final trip to Central Asia–most likely Tajikistan and, to see what things look like four years after the U.S. invasion, Afghanistan. Republicans, start your death-prayer engines!

But enough of that.

I realized while perusing the last two issues of TIME magazine that this micro look at the media is an excellent primer at what’s wrong with journalism in the United States. I’ll run through a few examples of what I mean:

I won’t even get into coverage priorities. The June 13 issue features a cover story on the housing bubble (now there’s some exciting news you can’t find anywhere else!) and a puff piece about “Iranian twentysomethings” (They drink! They use illegal drugs! They have sex!) during a week in which Amnesty International condemned the United States as not only a horrific serial torture state on par with China, but also its most influential. “Why We Suck” or “Support Our Goons” seems like a more appropriate cover to me, but hey, that’s why I don’t get the big TIME dough.

(Disclosure: I drew editorial cartoons for TIME between 1998 and 9/11, the Day America Stopped Laughing. Editors–seriously!–told me that “humor is dead as an art form” and promptly scrapped their entire slate of cartoonists, including Jim Siergey (“Cultural Jet Lag”), Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Constitution and Don Asmussen of the San Francisco Chronicle. Reprints of syndicated material have recently made a reappearance in the newsweekly but the mag has a long way to go before reaching the heights of the pre-9/11 era. Also: where’s Joel Klein? But anyway…)

In the June 13 issue’s “Verbatim” section of notable quotes from the week, one entry reads: “Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned.” It is attributed to “Brigadier General Jay Hood, commander of the Guantánamo prison and head of an inquiry that turned up five cases of mishandling of the Islamic holy book by U.S. personnel, including one in which a guard’s urine was accidentally splashed on a copy.”

A casual reader might be forgiven for taking Gen. Hood at his, um, word–especially considering the 100 percent pure bullshit that follows his assertion. First, his inquiry didn’t “turn up” five cases. FBI debriefings of released (innocent) detainees mention dozens of instances of alleged Koran abuses (abuses, not “mishandling,” which implies carelessness rather than the malice that is alleged). Hood focused on nine of these, agreeing that five had occurred. Extrapolation naturally yields one to the conclusion that 55 percent of such cases are legit.

And how exactly does a “guard’s urine…accidentally” splash a Koran? According to other published sources, the guard pissed through a vent in a Gitmo cell holding a prisoner. The Koran got splashed then, as did the prisoner–who has never been charged or allowed to see a lawyer. The soldier might have not have had pissing on the Koran in mind when he peed through that hole into the tiny cell, but calling such behavior “accidental” is astonishing–not nearly as much, however, as the fact that the media seems to be OK with pissing on the detainees themselves. Just make sure the piss stays on the POW.

Always insipid TIME columnist Joe Klein (not to be confused with the brilliant humorist Joel) actually has the nerve to argue a two-page rant calling for increased globalization with this gem: “…and a preemptory withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq might leave civil war and a safe haven for al-Qaeda operatives.”

Ahem. As opposed to now? Wake up, Joe: all those Sunnis blowing and shooting Shiites and vice versa? Kurds killing Sunnis and vice versa? Hundreds of them a day? That is a fucking civil war, Joe. As for Al Qaeda, Iraq never became their stomping grounds until after we went and removed Saddam like big stupid douches. Now that the joint is hopping with Islamists, we’re obviously having the opposite effect: Muslim fighters are going to Iraq in order to fight American members of the low-rent occupation army. There may be a good argument to be made against getting out now, yesterday, two years ago, but we haven’t heard one yet.

Here’s a personal one:

Andrew Arnold, TIME’s comics critic, calls war travelogue cartoonist Joe Sacco “virtually a one-man subgenre of reportorial comic-making. Ahem. Did Arnold forget “To Afghanistan and Back”? He reviewed it, liked it. But whatever.

Back on May 30, TIME’s “Blogwatch” discussed bloggers’ reaction to the politics, or lack thereof, of the new Star Wars flick. They quote three blogs: “Blogs for Bush,” “Centerfield” and “Instapundit”–the first and last being so far to the right that they’d be aligned with banned fascist parties were they in Europe. Two out of three–for that kind of fairness and balance we can tune to you-know-what–without wasting money on a magazine.

Again, the execrable Joe Klein farts out a diamond about Iran: “Before we talk, give up your nukes.” No one, not even a Bush shill, has asserted that Iran has nukes. If we end up going to war with Iran down the road, this sort of faux factoid will be partly responsible for planting the mistaken impression among Americas that the war is justified: Klein is every bit as much of a liar as Bush.

Same issue: In an article about the Newsweek Koran desecration story and controversy, the magazine writes: “Defense Department spokesman Lawrece Di Rita called Newsweek on May 13 to say the story was wrong. Four days later, he told reporters there were no credible allegations of Koran abuse to look into.”

This wasn’t true, obviously. The Pentagon admits it found at least five confirmed incidents of Koran desecration at Gimto. But TIME still hasn’t retracted this lie.

It’s probably unfair to single out TIME for sins committed by its rivals and daily newspapers every day. I just happened to have those two issues handy. But I hope my point is made.

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