US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Drones for human rights (New York Times)

With use of drones, the world could get clear, instant evidence of atrocities in Syria, writes Andrew Sniderman.

2. The end of the road for Newt Gingrich? (Washington Post)

Gingrich is going down in his own style, leaving fabrications, insults and scorched earth all the way from Miami to Pensacola, writes Dana Milbank

3. Swift sanctions on Iran (Wall Street Journal)

The global financial network provides a loophole for Tehran, says this editorial.

4. Sarah Palin's attack on the GOP establishment (LA Times)

It's almost funny to have Palin suggest that Gingrich is somehow above "the politics of personal destruction," says Jon Healey.

5. The end of health insurance companies (New York Times)

Accountable care organizations will shift the focus of medicine away from treating sickness and toward keeping patients healthy, says Ezekiel J. Emanuel.

6. Save us from the politics of science (Chicago Tribune)

It's bad enough when politicians and true believers distort scientific findings for their own purposes. But when scientists do it, we've reached a dangerous point in intellectual discourse, argues Dennis Byrne.

7. Memo to Mitt Romney: People are people, too (Politico)

Romney is, at heart, the product of Harvard Business School, writes Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

8. Obama's deadly new PR firm (Washington Times)

Whatever happened to SEAL Team 6 being a 'secret' weapon? Asks J.D. Gordon.

9. Florida's voting fairness problem (Tampa Bay Times)

As Republican primary voters go to the polls today, there is a cloud over the state's voting process, says this editorial.

10. Bashing Payday Lenders (Wall Street Journal)

Obama targets another industry that serves low-income Americans, claims this editorial.

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A night out at the Punderdome 3000

Becca Rothfeld watches Brooklyn’s best punners battle it out with headline writers from the New York Post.

Girls just want to have pun, so last week I headed to Punderdome 3000, an epic pun-making competition at the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea. The event pitted previous Punderdome winners against headline writers from the US tabloid the New York Post, best known for gems such as “Osama Bin wankin’” (when US officials unearthed Osama Bin Laden’s personal stash of pornography) and “Headless body in topless bar” (self-explanatory).

Broad-shouldered and apparently corporate types nursed overpriced cocktails while women teetered tipsily in heels. The crowd seemed ill-fitted to the proceedings, which wed the raucous atmosphere of a fraternity party with the cringing embarrassment of a high-school talent show. When the hosts, Fred Firestone and “his alleged daughter”, the local comedian Jo Firestone, called on members of the audience to complete a series of terrible puns, I braced myself for an evening of campy spectacle. “When chemists die, we . . .?” they cried, to which the crowd responded in unison, “Barium!”

Gradually the teeterers and I succumbed to the earnest charm of the punners, who competed under pseudonyms such as Daft Pun and Forrest Wittyker. In the first round, reigning Punderdome champions had 90 seconds to come up with two minutes of puns on a given topic. The results were assessed by the Human Clap-O-Meter, a device operated by a blindfolded volunteer who moved a pointer to reflect spectator sentiment. The rankings ranged from “rotten tomato” (near silence) to “punderful” (thunderous applause). Riffing on “the digestive system”, the punner Words Nightmare vowed not to date men without feet, as she’s “lack-toes-intolerant”.

A panel of “celebrity judges” offered input during the elimination rounds. There was Bevy Smith, co-host of the television show Fashion Queens; Pat Kiernan, a morning news anchor of the NY1 news station; and Éric Ripert, a chef of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Bernardin – a Frenchman who speaks English poorly with a thick accent and was an illogical choice of judge (“Between the accent and the not knowing what’s going on it will be hard, but I will romaine calm,” he assured spectators).

In the final round, Ally Spier (Words Nightmare) and Jerry Gwiazdowski (Jargon Slayer) faced two New York Post writers for high-stakes prizes: “New York bragging rights” and the contents of two “mystery boxes”. The teams were asked to come up with pithy headlines for a piece that originally appeared in the Huffington Post under the punless title “Student forgets to plug in his headphones while watching porn”. Clad in matching “Headless Body in Topless Bar” T-shirts, the Post writers held their own with “Oral exam”, “He got a D” and “He studied hard”. But the Punderdomers triumphed with “Audio-erotic”, “Wacks on, wacks off” and “Masterbeats by Dre”.

The event put a face to the anonymous voices behind a local institution. “At work, it’s work, but here, there’s so much enthusiasm that it’s not work, it’s just fun,” Billy Heller, the deputy features editor of the Post and a Punderdome 3000 finalist told me. It was a wonderfully weird and wonderfully shameless way to spend an evening in New York. 

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism