Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Euro-Tizzy Over Guido Westerwelle and "The English Question"

Guido Westerwelle, the leader of Germany's Free Democratic Party and the likely new foreign minister for that country after the FDP and the conservative Christian Democratic Union won last weekend's elections, is under fire before he even takes office. It might be a sign of how opponents attack the government for the next four years: Don't go after the popular Chancellor Angela Merkel; target Westerwelle instead.

Why is he getting targeted now? No, it's not because he's openly gay. Thankfully, that is not raising eyebrows or ire in modern tolerant Deutschland.

The casus belli is Herr Westerwelle's remarks in his first post-election press conference, in which he refused to answer a question in English from a BBC reporter. He reportedly told the reporter that he'd be happy to have a discussion in English outside of the press conference, but in the press conference, "we're in Germany here."

There have been some commentators thrown into a tizzy by his response, acting as if he's the harbinger of a long-dormant radical German nationalism. That's silly. In fact, the real wingnut right-wing radical party in Germany, the National Democratic Party (NPD), did very poorly in this election, its support dropping.

Marius Ostrowski puts it into perspective. After all, the BBC sends a reporter to Berlin who doesn't speak English? That's, well, a very English thing to do.

Does anyone remember when George Bush reacted weirdly to being asked a question in French -- in France? Bush was wrong. Westerwelle might not have been the most politic in his response, but he's perfectly entitled to answer press questions -- where one wants to be sure that one picks one's words very carefully -- in the language in which one feels most secure.

Anyway, so Westerwelle's upset the Left, which didn't take much effort. Now wait until he upsets the Right: According to The Wall Street Journal, "The FDP, for instance, supports minority rights, higher immigration and curtailing the state's powers of surveillance. Mr. Westerwelle, who would be Germany's first openly gay foreign minister, has said he would cut development aid to countries that persecute gays."

Wow. A real libertarian!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Gundam Stuff: When 14-year-olds Saved the World

So, to put a temporary end to all this giant robotness on this blog, I figured I'd go into the wayback machine and share with you a column on Japanese giant robot anime that I wrote back in June 1999 for my friend Aaron Barnhart's TV Barn web site.

When 14-year-olds Saved the World
By John Zipperer

(June 15, 1999) In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when American animation viewers were watching such uninspired TV fare as Superfriends and Scooby-Doo, Japanese and other Asian audiences were treated to the likes of Mobile Suit Gundam. As Americans would later discover from watching bootleg copies of Gundam, their Pacific Rim counterparts had the better deal. More recently the series has resurfaced in legit form. To watch these vintage Gundam episodes is to realize how poorly served American audiences have been by their animation studios until very recently. In the spirit of this season of repeats, here's a summer project that will be both enjoyable and educational. Let's look at what we Americans have missed.

[Read the complete article here on my main web site.]

Maybe I'll Just Change This Blog into a Giant Japanese Robot Blog

So, the avalanche of giant robot stories continues, and instead of dribbling them out to you one by one, I figured I'd do some leg work and link a bunch o' them here.

The Japanese Keep Building Giant Robots

I hadn't intended this to become a blog series here, but InsightOnThingsThatMatter has a photo of yet another (non-Gundam) giant robot that's been built.

Even CBS News deems this worthy of a report!

Another Giant Gundam

Yesterday I posted a video about the giant (well, "life"-sized) Gundam that was built in Japan to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mobile Suit Gundam. A later report says that the closing ceremony for the statue was canceled due to an approaching typhoon.

But just because the ceremony was canceled, of course, doesn't mean the giant robot still stands. All good things must come to an end, so by now, the 18-meter-tall guardian of truth, justice, and the Japanese way is probably well off into the solar system, fighting the Zeon forces.

But seeing that video reminded me of some photos I took of a display of large (but hardly life-sized) Gundam robots at San Francisco's downtown Metreon shopping mall a half-dozen years ago. There was a full-body Gundam, a huge Gundam head, and a full Zaku suit. (Please forgive me; I don't know exactly which iteration of Zaku this one was.)

All three of the statues were up on the second floor, right outside the (now-defunct) Things from Another World comic shop, which also sold lots of models, figurines, books, t-shirts, etc.

It was a nice display, but it, too, didn't last. I'm just impressed that the Zaku and the Gundam never got in a fight. Woulda really messed up the store.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Giant Gundam Finally Built

In Tokyo, they built a giant Gundam to commemorate the anniversary of the long-running anime/manga/novel/model series. Above is an IDG video about the beginning of the giant robot's public exhibition. In a nice touch, they included Mr. Tomino, who created the series back in the 1970s and who was initially skeptical about the project of making a life-sized Gundam.

Now that the good guys have an actual Gundam to fight the bad guys, how will Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Glenn Beck be able to sleep at night?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Various Batmans Galore, Good and Bad

In the comments to my recent post about the Batman costumes at the local Bloomingdales, the claim is made that the photo of Batman's costume is from the Christian Bale pix and not the previous series of Bat-flix started by Tim Burton and run deep into the ground by Joel Schumacher.

I might be wrong about the Bat-costume. Okay, I probably am. As I now recall, the longer the Schu-flix continued, the more hard-core and nipple-endowed the Batman and Robin costumes became. Strange, then, that that the other costumes at Bloomies were these two pictured here. One is from Burton's Batman, and the other is from Batman Forever. Riddle me this: Does Bloomies know its superheroes or not?

Why Is Hearst Cover-Text-Crazy?

I recently mocked the venerable Esquire magazine for its repetitive and unimaginative cover designs, which are filled with (usually uninteresting) text.

Today, on a whim, I clicked through the link on Esquire's home page to all of the Hearst subscription offers, and I had one thought: Hearst itself is madly in love with excessive cover text, isn't it? Click on the image above to get a better view.

I remember my mother coming home after her magazine (yeah, it's a family trade) had been critiqued by a design pro. He had praised her magazine for meeting his rule of no more than three cover blurbs. Now, I don't think three cover blurbs is a realistic rule for a newsstand periodical, but you've gotta be able to do better than some of the Hearst titles, right?

Note to Hearst: You pay your writers by the word, not your designers ...

Merkel Wins in Germany; Now a Gay German Foreign Minister?

Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has pulled off re-election in the German federal elections today, which makes her the first (and so far only) world leader to be re-elected during this economic panic.

One interesting tidbit: Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the FDP, the liberal (i.e., libertarian/free market) party, is likely to be foreign minister or some other very high-level official in her government. Why's that interesting? After all, the foreign ministership is practically a safe position for the FDP. But Herr Westerwelle is openly gay.

Change I can believe in.

Media Roundup: Controversial Magazine Covers, Christie Hefner, The Upper Room, Just Drive

The latest of interest from the worlds of media (with an emphasis on print):
  • The Web Designer Depot blog has a list of the most controversial magazine covers, which is worth a look. There is a lot of overlap with the American Society of Magazine Editors' list of all-time best American magazine covers.
  • A sale of Time Warner's print magazine business is said to be in the future, according to one source. That's according to a major shareholder; Time Warner itself ain't sayin' nothin'. Hmm, after they've unloaded print and AOL, doesn't that just make them a Hollywood film studio with a really tall building in New York City?
  • There's some more info about her exit from Playboy Enterprises to be gleaned from The New York Time's recent profile of Christie Hefner. She alludes to feeling the pressure of knowing her decisions affected the jobs of so many people, and she also was not looking forward to managing the company through yet another economic downturn. So last December she announced her impending departure from the top spot at the company her father founded 55 years earlier. She remains a political and media force. Though the Times notes some of the activities with which she is filling her schedule, I suspect it is only a matter of time before some big project or job comes along to fully utilize her talents.
  • Methodists have a long history of publishing, going all the way back to the tracts written by founder John Wesley. The Upper Room is a small (sized) big (circulation -- about 2 million) devotional magazine produced by the denomination. The Tennessean has a report on the magazine's new publisher, who already has a successful track record (ooh, a tract record??) making a Methodist publication a financial success.
  • My favorite recent newsstand find is a special issue from the UK's Car magazine. Epic Drives is a deluxe special publication (read that: high cover price, very nice paper, big size) featuring a collection of their recent road trips in various (usually high-end) autos around the world. Porsches, Lamboghinis, Koenigseggs, Jaguars, BMWs, Audis, Maseratis, and more. But you don't have to be a car nut (or a Car nut) to enjoy this collection of articles. Written with typical UK punchy journalism, the articles contain plenty of interesting atmostphere about the places visited, which include the highways of Scotland, the Arctic Circle, Moscow, South Korea, Turkey, and -- again -- more.
  • Journalism is dead; long live journalism schools? The Badger Herald reports on an increase in j-school students across the country. Well, someone's got to work at Borders.
My previous media roundup.

300,000 Books for Sale

Today is the final day of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale. The last day of the sale, all books are priced at just $1.

I went to the sale yesterday, when prices were a not-bad $5 or less per book. It was nice to be in a room where a reported 300,000 books (including a few DVDs, CDs, vinyl records, etc.) were being adopted by their new loving parents.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Bane of Mailing Labels: Better off With Them?

In 1983, writer Harlan Ellison wrote a column for the LA Weekly in which he described his lifelong hatred of mailing labels affixed to the covers of the magazines to which he subscribes. Reprinted in his collection An Edge in My Voice (1985), the column included Ellison's complaint:

But when you try to peel the labels, you find they don't put them on with a light-application glue that frees the paper without damaging the magazine. You wail at discovering they use a hideous concoction I suspect is made of unequal portions of flour-and-water mucilage, Elmer's Glue, stucco epoxy and ... cassowary jizzum. What is left on the cover are (a) bits of attenuated label paper, (b) ripped slick cover stock and (c) at least two thick, sticky lines of blue- or pink-tinted glue.

He then details how he has learned to remove the labels and try to limit the damage of the glue. Find the book to learn how (really; it's a great book). But you get the point. Mailing labels deface magazines, and it's a royal pain to undo the damage.

I have a pet theory of my own that accounts for a change in this disrespect shown to the subscriber. Over the past few decades, even after accounting for inflation, many magazines have become more expensive, and -- especially for those magazines that aren't totally paying their bills with advertiser dollars but rely heavily on subscription funds -- subscription costs have increased to the point where many magazines are now mailed in protective sleeves or in paper or plastic envelopes, thereby eliminating the need to glue anything directly to the cover of the periodical itself. If you're shelling out $40 or $55 for a one-year subscription, it darn well better arrive in pristine condition.

However, now a different crime is being perpetrated on some subscribers. Many publishers who do not enclose their magazines in such nice protection have done away with gluing labels onto their covers and instead print a large white box directly on the cover, and the subscriber's address is printed in that box. It's a double crime: Not only is the white box a part of the cover and therefore unremoveable, but the white box is even larger than the old mailing labels, so you're losing more space than you did with that stupid old paper label. Buy the magazine at a store, and there's no white box; instead you get the full cover image unblemished by a publisher's bad decision.

Subscribers should get better treatment than newsstand buyers. (It used to be not uncommon for subscription copies to have no stupid UPC symbol on the cover, so subscribers could get a truly unruined cover image.) But now subscribers of those magazines that do the Mammoth White Box of Hell are worse off than newsstand purchasers.

Of the magazines that arrive in my mailbox, five are mailed in protective envelopes, and the other nine do not. Those nine either still affix rotten old mailing labels or print that Mammoth White Box of Hell for the mailing address. So the forces of good are still outnumbered.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Meg Whitman Behind the Times on Climate Change?

This is one of those times when I have to stress that my views expressed here are mine and mine alone -- not those of my employer, which is strictly a nonpartisan/bipartisan nonprofit organization.

That said, this news story is likely to be seen by many to be reason enough not to vote for Meg Whitman. She doesn't appear to understand climate change, the new economy that's being built, or being a leader on a cutting-edge issue.

That's all too bad. Because I'd love to see a female California governor. As Governor Shwarzenegger noted earlier today when he introduced several of the state's leading public policy experts on the environment, California wouldn't be the leader it is today on the green economy without those three strong women.

Luckily, this state has plenty of talent to draw from for its governor's mansion.

Photographing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Above: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger meets with three of the environmental public policy leaders in California. The meeting took place in the kitchen of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, right before Schwarzenegger spoke to Climate One at The Commonwealth Club about the state's leadership role in building a green economy. Below: Schwarzenegger makes a point to the audience. (Photo by John Zipperer)
Today at noon, I had the pleasure of being my organization's photographer for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's appearance at The Commonwealth Club's Climate One program in San Francisco.

Here are some of the images; you can read more about the event here.
Above: Schwarzenegger listens while a question is read from the Commonwealth Club's audience. Below: Schwarzenegger declares that California should not be a follower when it comes to environmental policy; it should be a leader. (Photos by John Zipperer.)

Media Roundup: Wednesday Comics, Starlog Contests, and Playboy & Gayness

The latest from the world of media (with an emphasis on print):
  • I just discovered a blog by my friend and former colleague from Internet World, Ruhan Memishi. It's called Media Musing, and it's a good addition to your reading list. Apparently, she's quite obsessed with her iPhone these days.
  • Lo and behold, another former Internet World colleague of mine, Brian Caulfield, will be appearing at The Commonwealth Club, where I work. Brian is now a Forbes senior technology editor, and on November 9 he will be on a panel discussing "Tech Toys for the Holidays: Must-Have Gadgets to Give and Get." It'll take place in Silicon Valley. Go to the event. Maybe ask him about being an altar boy when he was a kid. (For the sake of clarity, my views on this blog are always mine and mine alone, not my employer's).
  • So that's why I'm gay: By now, you've probably already heard about the conservative wingnut who declared that all pornography is gay and that reading Playboy makes you gay. He then said no 11-year-old boy would even think about reading a Playboy if he was told that it made him gay. Frankly, even an 11-year-old boy is smart enough to know his parents are nuts if they tell him such a thing. But now the temptresses at Playboy have admitted it's all true and that they've been caught red-handed.
  • To sort of maintain that theme here, blogger Matthew Rettenmund has an item about his former employer, adult gay magazine publisher Mavety. As the gay periodicals drop like flies, I'm left with the impression that there are a lot of good stories to tell behind those scenes. Now we need a right-wing nut to convince people that reading gay pornographic magazines makes you straight -- that'd probably boost the circulation of the remaining titles.
  • I noted here recently that there are some contests that people should be entering. Well, the contests just keep coming. Starlog has a handful right now, opportunities to win DVD box sets from Fringe, The Big Bang Theory, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. And Starlog has teamed with its sister title, Fangoria, to give away a costume from the movie Pandorum. Fango's also giving away a trip to its new horror extravaganza in Las Vegas. Don't miss these chances!
  • Why did it take me so long to discover DC's Wednesday Comics? This innovative, newspaper-format 12-issue special series was two-thirds finished before I stumbled across it, only because I saw it on the Mr. Magazine blog. So I've bought the final four issues as they've come out, but I don't want to read them until I get the first issues (thanks, Mile High Comics). But they look great -- printed on high-quality newsprint (i.e., not cheap newsprint) in full color, with big panels for the art. I hope this series has sold well, for two reasons: I'd like to see DC make this an ongoing weekly publication, and because I hope it will keep DC and Marvel and Dark Horse and all of the others innovating. If DC can revive newsprint for comics, what else can be done? A lot, I'll bet.
My previous media roundup.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lion Dancing at the Autumn Moon Festival

Only in San Francisco, it seems, is the month of September warmer than August. And this past Sunday, it was down right hot.

So hot, in fact, that I didn't spend as much time as I'd have liked for my visit to Chinatown's Autumn Moon Festival Street Fair. But what I saw was colorful and interesting.

Most of Grant Street running up the center of Chinatown was closed for pedestrian traffic and street booths featuring food, traditional Chinese musicians, and of course lots of product vendors.

Every hour, there was the lion dance, which you can see in one of these photos with the performers holding the costume above their heads.

But in the end, I got tired of trying to stick close to the buildings for what little shade there was, so I headed to cooler (i.e., air-conditioned) climes.

Batman Shops at Bloomie's, Apparently

After taking in the Autumn Moon Festival Street Fair in San Francisco's Chinatown this past Sunday, I sought refuge from the awful heat by heading into an air-conditioned mall downtown.

In the fourth-floor entrance to Bloomingdales, I noticed this fellow in life-size form and had to take a picture. There were also glass-encased statues of several other Batman movie characters. I'm not sure what the promotion was for (especially because these statues were from the previous series of Batman movies, not the Christian Bale ones).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stephen King Writes "Scary" Article for Fangoria

Writer Stephen King has contributed a massive 7,500-word article on "What's Scary" for the December and January issues of Fangoria magazine, reports -- well, Fangoria magazine.

According to the notice on Fango's web site, King says "I’ve wanted to be a Fango contributor ever since I purchased my first issue,” King says. “For me, this is a nightmare come true.” Hopefully, he'll be able to leverage this article into bigger things. This kid's got talent. Trust me. He'll be big some day.

Of course, another way of looking at that is to note that Fango readers have wanted King to be a Fango contributor ever since the first issue. So, a lotta dreams are coming true.

In the essay, King looks at what works and what doesn't in the making of horror tales. Presumably, the cover of the December issue won't look like this:

President Obama on Letterman

Video excerpts from the president's extended sit-down with late-night talk show king David Letterman last night. Obama did a good job mixing humor and seriousness. And Letterman continues to impress with his ability to conduct a good interview. I used to think he was quite weak on political stuff -- witness his bad attempts to take on Bill O'Reilly; I mean, if you can't hit the broadside of a barn, just don't try, right? But he did try again, and he hit it out of the ballpark (I'll just mix metaphors left and right, okay?) during the 2008 presidential campaign.

I also think there was a ridiculous amount of media chatter about the president "over-exposing" himself with his marathon Sunday talk-show appearances and then the Letterman program. The U.S. president's main power is the ability to rally people for or against something, and it makes no sense to be attempting a historic change such as health care while keeping your gunpowder dry (metaphors, similes, whatever -- they're just rampant today).

He's the president. He's good on camera. He connects well over the airwaves. He's coherent, and he makes good cases for his policies. Now, just who might it be that would not want him to make a good case for his policies??

Watch CBS Videos Online

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Movie Review: Evangelion 1.0

In this first of four movie adaptations of the groundbreaking Japanese anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, we are (re)introduced to Shinji Ikari, a youth thrown into the middle of an apocalyptic conflict between humans and "angels" -- strange giant, um, things that keep appearing to attack Tokyo. Ikari's father is part of NERV, an international effort to deal with the angels.

According to the Wikipedia description of the film, these movie revampings of the series are supposedly going to clear up any of the many murky, confusing points from the original TV series. Well. The art in this movie is great. The story is intriguing. But if anyone thinks this movie clears up anything from the series, then they're using some pretty powerful drugs. I've seen the original series, I've read most of the manga of the series, and now I've seen Evangelion 1.0. Not without reason, I think I am a fairly intelligent adult. And I am still mystified.

The basic story of young man thrown into the chaos, piloting a giant robot to fight mysterious opponents, is easy to understand. It's the story of Mobile Suit Gundam, after all. Add in the story of Shinji trying to reconnect with his imperious and mysterious father, the attempts by the alienated Shinji to make friends with his peers, and a humanity struggling to re-establish itself after some giant disaster, and you get a story that can be quite rich and, well, understandable.

In the hands of the Evangelion crew, however, it goes who-knows-where. It's worth anticipating Evangelion 2.0 (already trumpted on the cover of the Japanese edition of Newtype magazine; see photo). But I'm beginning to wonder if, like Twin Peaks, I'll keep watching episode after episode of this story, expecting it to be understandable by the end episode, only to realize when I get there that the people making it aren't interested in clearing up anything. If it turns out to be as incomprehensible as the manga and original TV series were, then it will be a big disappointment.

When Media Runs Politics: Germany vs America

Politicians tend to love it when journalists write or say nice things about them. It used to be that journalists felt ashamed of writing or saying nice things about politicians, but those days are long gone and we're well into politics-as-entertainment and journalists-as-sycophants. Nothing new there, and it's a very bad thing -- at least for that small amount of the population that thinks politics is about life-and-death matters of shared public import.

In fact, today it seems as if many media organizations go out of their way to be shills for politicians, political movements, well-heeled sponsors, and the dross that goes with them. But is this inevitable? Can our media be otherwise?

In the September 2009 issue of the German edition of Playboy, writer Detlef Dreßlein reports on the German political party Die PARTEI. If you read German, you can read his whole article here -- don't worry; it's hosted on the site of parent publication Focus, so there's nothing that's NSFW on it. (Then again, they're Europeans, so everything's relative). If you only read English, here's a Wikipedia explanation of the party.

Die PARTEI has a platform of things such as rebuilding the Berlin Wall. See, Die PARTEI is a joke party; unlike the Bob Kasten School of Driving, it has no real hope of ever holding power. Dreßlein's article quotes PAREI leader Martin Sonneborn saying that "We are the political arm of the [factual] magazine Titanic." Titanic is a satirical magazine that Sonneborn used to edit.

So Die PARTEI is the political wing of Titanic. Does that make the GOP the political wing of Fox News? Since Titanic at least tries to be funny (and Die PARTEI knows it's a joke) and German politics are considerably saner than the American brand, I'd have to say the Germans win this contest hands-down.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Europe Now Richer than America

Who'da thunk the quasi-socialist universal-health-care-ists in Europe could even pull it off, but they are now richer in total assets than the rugged individualists in the United States, according to no less a source than conservative Forbes.

Badger Herald -- All Grown Up

I was pleased to read an online column by the new public editor of The Badger Herald, an independent daily student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In a compendium of topics, he notes that a former Herald staffer had become spokesperson for the student government, and that the paper was going to be very vigilant about ensuring that it didn't give the government a free pass because of the popular former colleague's new role.

Why am I pleased? I haven't lived in Madison for nearly two decades, and I don't read the Herald regularly even as nostalgia. But I'm pleased to see that they're addressing this potential conflict of interest head-on and pledging their best efforts to avoid problems.

That's a test the Herald failed during my own time at the paper. While I was a young editorial-page editor at the paper (oh, how I, a politically unreliable center-right-to-liberal-internationalist, became editorial page editor of the nation's premiere conservative student newspaper is a story I'll tell you some day as we sit around the fire drinking hot chocolate), our star columnist (and occasional editorial page contributor) was also student government president. He had won the post the previous year in what was one of the cleverest, funniest, and most exciting political campaigns on that campus (which is saying a lot; UW-Madison is, after all, the place that gave birth to the Pail and Shovel Party, which built a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the frozen Lake Mendota. One of the P&S leaders went on to be a leading light of the great Mystery Science Theater 3000 program, which is one more digression than this paragraph can probably handle.)

Our longtime columnist, Steve Marmel, was also a professional standup comic (over that hot chocolate, I'll tell you about accompanying him on some of his out-of-town gigs -- he's the guy who introduced me to the Shakespeare/Dr.-Seuss teamup). The party he founded with his cohorts was indelicately named the Bob Kasten School of Driving (okay, look, I can't get through this without major digressions; Bob Kasten was the then-GOP U.S. senator from Wisconsin, who apparently had some DUI history.) Bloody hell, where was I???

Oh, yeah! So Marmel ran a campaign filled with some sub-Pail-and-Shovel promises (goldfish in one of the fountains, I think, was one) and the best campaign posters I've ever seen. Each one-sheet poster contained the usual schtick, but the real goodies were contained in the microscopic text at the bottom of the poster. (Which, by the way, was how we all inadvertently learned the sexual identity of another campus politico -- seriously, big mugs of hot chocolate, okay? It'll all become clear.) Marmel won big-time, and his party actually did quite a good job in government, running things pretty well and avoiding a lot of the usual lefty ridiculousness of other parties in power. An example: A successor administration gained notoriety by sending one of its co-presidents to a "peace conference" in North Korea. I think we can all admit that it's been many, many decades since northern Korea has been a legitimate spokes-site for peace.

To bring this back to the Herald: I think BKSoD won two successive terms in office, and all through the campaign and his administration, Marmel remained a contributor to the Badger Herald. His column continued to appear twice a week, and he continued to contribute occasional (bylined) pieces for my opinion pages. He was also a friend of numerous Herald staffers, including yours truly.

The people in the wrong in that activity were, of course, the editors of the Herald. (To salvage my own college journalism reputation now, I'll note that the editorial pages are supposed to be opinionated, so I'll throw the news editors and EIC under the bus here.) But really, though there were some voices on staff that at least raised questions -- often heeded -- I don't think an active office holder being a newspaper staffer is a good idea.

In the many years since those events, everyone involved has more than redeemed themselves, and Marmel, in particular, can be found with his name slathered all over numerous TV programs. A few years after I left campus, the student government there was actually voted out of existence -- a longtime goal of many on campus, not just right-wingers. It eventually reappeared, but chastened, I think. The Herald, I'm very glad to report, remains a vibrant and independent voice on campus.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Media Roundup: Vogue, Redesigns, Berlusconi, & More

This week's roundup of media news from the worlds of magazines and newspapers:

  • After enjoying The September Issue, the documentary about the making of Vogue's annual back-breaking mega-issue, I decided to purchase my first-ever copy of the magazine to see what it's really like. It took me more than a week to find a store that still had copies. I checked multiple Borders stores, a magazine shop, groceries and pharmacies that sell magazines -- all places I've seen the title before -- until I finally found a Safeway that still had a few copies.
  • The Vogue edition, which notes on its cover that it's "the REAL September Issue!", includes about 584 pages (you could fit 10.4285714 copies of the latest issue of my magazine in that page count), is three-quarters of an inch thick, has its first contents page on page 112 that jumps to page 126 that jumps to page 146 that jumps to page 176, and is heavy enough to be dropped by Predator drones on suspected terrorist hideouts in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • The Magazine Death Pool blog has its own fall preview. In its case, it's a preview of expected magazine deaths this autumn (when red ink will be the new black). You might quibble about some of their choices (after all, The New Republic has never been an advertising magnet), but it's at least snarky enough to perk up your morning caffeine intake.
  • What does an otherwise modern country look like when more than 90 percent of its residents don't read a newspaper? Italy. Architecture and food's great, but you get Silvio Berlusconi, a walking nightmare for good-government types (hey, I'm from Wisconsin). Financial Times has a good overview of the current political situation for the Italian prime minister and prospects (dim) for Italy coming to its senses. They might want to start by getting a subscription to the FT.
  • Folio: and the MPA report that magazine circulation has held up quite well in this media death season. It's advertising that hasn't pulled its weight. (Oh, how many times must I suggest that a few more magazines just think about rebalancing their revenue models to rely more on higher circulation revenue and less on advertising? Whatever.)
  • Samir Husni (aka Mr. Magazine) interviews Christianity Today's senior managing editor, Mark Galli, about the magazine's new redesign. Galli repeatedly notes that the redesign was made because editorial was moving ahead of design in terms of how stories and news were handled. Will be interesting to see how they handle it. (Read the interview for a few examples.)
  • Oh, let's finish up with Vogue again. Over at the Glossed Over blog (a very critical look at women's fashion magazines), they did a "live blog" of reading the giant September issue of the magazine. Wish I'd thought of that, but after turning all those pages, I think my fingers would be too tired to type.
My previous media roundup.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Washington Post's "White Hosue" headline

Maybe it's their April Fool's edition? (See headline in lower right portion of large image.)

Note: They fixed it pretty quickly. (See image below.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Michael Moore to Speak at The Commonwealth Club This Thursday

This just came together this afternoon, so if any of you are in the San Francisco Bay Area and you're a Michael Moore fan, here's the note I just posted on The Commonwealth Club's blog:

Here's an event you'll want to sign up for quickly; the tickets are sure to go fast.

The Commonwealth Club's InForum division has just scheduled filmmaker Michael Moore for a discussion at The Club's downtown San Francisco headquarters immediately following a free screening of Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story.

To get more information and to make your reservation, visit the event page.

Kanye, Serena, Joe Wilson - Can Project Runway Redeem Our Manners?

It almost sounds like a joke. Kanye West, Serena Williams, and Joe Wilson walk into a bar ... oh, forget it, nothing good will come of that.

This past week we saw all three of them behave horribly, whether it was West storming on stage to grab the microphone from a winner at a music awards show, or Williams swearing at and theatening a judge at a tennis match, or Wilson shouting a lie at the president during a speech to a joint session of Congress. USA Today put them together as the main story on its web site today (see image, right), and properly raised the issue of what we accept in this country as appropriate public manners.

The answer seems to be a lot of bad stuff. Just look at the people calling our president a Nazi just because he wants everyone in the country to be covered by health care, or the people at the recent Million Moron March making jokes about Ted Kennedy's death. In politics, we've come to accept this behavior as part of an anything-to-win mentality, and in the rest of society (sports, film, television, etc.) it has become part of an acceptance of whatever celebrities do.

Now, awful behavior in politics is as old as the American Republic, and anyone who paid attention in civics or history class remembers presidential candidates being accused of fathering illegitimate children and worse. ("Ma, ma, where's my pa? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!") However, the resurgence of such misbehavior (mostly, but not exclusively, on the conservative side these days) should not be accepted by good adults.

As for non-political poor manners and lack or respect, well, that's exemplified by the trashy reality TV craze, in which producers seem to pick the worst housewives of various cities to see what types of fights they can get into, or competitors treat each other terribly all for the hope of winning the show's prize or becoming marketable personalities after the reality show's over. Or the enjoyment of the show seems to rest on seeing amateurs humiliated by millionaire judges

One thing I happen to like about the current season of Lifetime's Project Runway series is that there isn't the rampant back-biting and childish bitching that has characterized a number of contestants in previous seasons. When there was conflict, as in last week's episode where the contestants teamed up to produce their outfits, it was a natural outgrowth of the challenge and it also directly showed the team members' professionalism -- and the two contestants with the worst chemistry were among the lowest-rated teams that week. In previous years, the bad boys and bad girls often seemed to end up winners.

I may have spoken too soon. Who knows, it might just be a fluke that Project Runway doesn't look like Real Housewives of Hollywood this season. If the ratings dip, the producers may well decide they need "more conflict!" and amp up the stupid-factor. But for now, I'm going to enjoy them behaving like adults. It helps restore my faith in people, and helps me forget about transgressors such as Wilson, Williams, and West.

Monday, September 14, 2009

London Sentences Bomb Suspects ... for Now

A London court has sentenced three terrorist suspects who had been convicted of planning to destroy transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives. They've been sentenced to between 32 and 40 years in prison -- or until Britain needs to negotiate another trade deal with a Middle Eastern country.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The September Issue Movie Review

Judging from the clothing on the other audience members at the Kabuki Sundance Cinema crowd with me this afternoon, most people who paid to see The September Issue were there because it highlighted the fashion industry. I, however, was there for the fun of seeing just how they put together the magazine. Magazines 'R' my business, and my interest.

The September Issue is the new documentary focusing on the creation of Vogue's mammoth September edition. We see the issue come together as editors plan photo shots, discuss which clothes to feature, meet with designers to see their collections, travel to Europe for photo shoots, and much more. Running the entire process is Anna Wintour, the much-feared and much-accomplished editor in chief, and heading up most of the photo shoots is Grace Coddington, the magazine's creative director. There are other characters -- other editors, magazine designers, clothing designers, photographers, ad sales reps, Ms. Wintour's daughter, and many others -- but it's when Coddington or Wintour are on the screen that the movie is at its best.

This film more than lived up to my expectations. Wintour shows herself to be an extraordinarily talented and clear-sighted leader. She knows what she wants, and she doesn't waste time dithering over what's right. When she makes a decision about a potential cover photo having too much teeth or a model in a billowing dress looking pregnant, she's quick with her decision -- and she's correct. That's her job. Such editors are very rare, and I'm sure she's worth every dollar of the reportedly multi-million dollar salary Condé Nast pays her.

Whether the audience likes her or not is likely to depend on the individual audience member's attitudes about quality, publishing, strong women, and whether they liked their boss. I've worked for bosses who were tough. Sometimes I could see the what and why of their behavior; other times, I could comfortably conclude they were just jerks. My feeling about Wintour (as is probably already more than obvious) is that she might not be the most touchy-feely boss, but she'll make you better and she's damn good at her job.

There's no villain in this movie. And there's no drama about whether or not they'll put together a successful issue of the magazine. We already know they will (it was the September 2007 edition, the fattest edition in Vogue's history) and we can clearly see that the magazine's staff is competent and professional. But for me the drama came from seeing exactly how they made decisions and exactly how the issue came together.

Though I was not like the large portion of my fellow audience members in that I was more interested in the magazine part of the story than the fashion part, I think there's a lot of similarity between the two topics. Readers of high-fashion magazines, or car magazines, get much of their pleasure from seeing things they'll never be able to buy or own, at least not completely. (They might not be able to afford the entire ensemble that the model is wearing, but they see in the photo layout how they can add a specific accessory to their clothing to get the desired effect.) For me, it was nice to watch how a magazine at the top of the market is put together. How they spend tens of thousands of dollars on photo shoots, have large staffs that can pull off anything they deem neccessary for an issue, how they can worry about doing the right thing and not just whatever they can afford.

The September Issue is worth picking up.

Magazine Cover Spotlight: Cynthia Maddox redux and redux redux

There's of course no reason to have reality tv waistrel Heidi Montag on the cover of the September 2009 issue of Playboy. She and her husband simply take up space. But for magazine design people, it's worth noting because Ms. Montag's bikini-clad body is smeared with dirt and has the Playboy rabbit drawn on the dirt.

That, of course, is an homage to one of the most famous Playboy covers ever (image left), a very simple July 1964 cover featuring Playboy staffer Cynthia Maddox, the magazine's assistant cartoon editor. In a bikini, she appears to have drawn the bunny head around her navel with lipstick. (She appeared on several Playboy covers over the years. Apparently, working at the magazine was the best way to get into the magazine.)

Another homage to that cover came this year from Chicago magazine, with its recent issue on sex and love in the Windy City (including an article recounting life at the Chicago Playboy Mansion way back when). That issue was controversial, at least judging from the letters to the editor in subsequent issues (though not to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who was interviewed in the article and praised the issue in his own letter to the editor). But again, the cover was at least a cute wink back to the Maddox cover. Chicago's cover featured a model mimicking Maddox, complete with white bikini, blonde hair, sunglasses in one hand, lipstick in the other, and a liptstick-drawn character around her navel (though in her case, it was a heart instead of the ubiquitous bunny).

Playboy has revisited that image itself many times before Heidi Montag tarnished it. For example, in 1991 and 2001 covers featured very similar images, and foreign editions have also jumped on the bandwagon.

We are unlikely to have seen the last of the Maddox-inspired magazine covers. Whether it's a lack of originality on the part of modern art directors or it's a true love for the golden age of magazine cover design, it's a simple cover image that evokes fun. We'll see more of them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11 in New York

This morning, President Barack Obama is leading observance of the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed several thousand people and destroyed the World Trade Towers in New York. I can only imagine what this time of the year is like for the people who lost loved ones in those plane hijackings and the destruction of the office towers and part of the Pentagon.

My connection to it is merely one of my memory starting with walking to work in Manhattan. The offices for Internet World magazine were located just a couple blocks north of Union Square, which means that if one went to a north-south street, one could count on seeing the twin towers. I had a nice four-mile walk from my li'l apartment further north, coming down Second Avenue, eventually cutting in toward Park Avenue South so I could stop at my favorite bakery. This is not just hindsight: I clearly remember thinking that morning as I headed to the office that it was an incredibly beautiful morning, just the perfect New York City weather to me. Warm enough that you didn't need a jacket but probably wore a light one anyway; cool enough that the air was dry and refreshing. Not many clouds, but not bright sunshine hurting the eyes. Just incredibly blue sky over a great city humming away as it got to work in the morning.

I've always tended to get to work 30 to 60 minutes before most of the rest of the staff, and as the office eventually filled up, we got a call from our web architect that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We started following it on the online news sites, which were too slow to do much more than choppy video and intermittent reports, but it was enough for us to realize something awful had happened. And then the second plane hit, and we all knew this wasn't just a terrible plane accident. Rumors of the White House being hit (false, of course) and the Pentagon (true) and a fourth plane crashing (also true, alas) spread quickly.

Again, I knew no one who was hurt in the attack. But I worked with one woman who lived in New Jersey. She and her husband went to the train station together every morning, and got on separate trains -- hers heading to midtown Manhattan and his ... to the World Trade Center station. Her train was already underway when the attack happened, and she got to the office fine. But the cell phones had become unusable after the attack, so she couldn't get through to her husband. She spent a panicked morning trying desperately to get any information about the trains or get through to him. In one of the few fortunate stories about that day, she eventually heard that her husband's train had just gotten started when the attack came, and it was called back; he was safe.

The rest of the day was a strange one. Our editors, publishers, and ad reps who lived outside of Manhattan had to scramble to get hotel or other lodging in the city for the night. A group of us IW editors went to a nearby pub to watch CNN and fret. Eventually, we started streaming home -- to actual homes or to their temporary overnight lodging. I walked up Park Avenue South -- everyone walked, no one drove -- with a colleague who lived near me. People walked in the streets, like a post-industrial city; they also walked on the sidewalks; they said "Excuse me" if they accidentally bumped into each other; and otherwise they didn't talk much.

My colleague's boyfriend (later husband), a city police officer, got through to her cell phone and told her to get off Park Avenue; try to stay away from high-profile landmarks. So we switched over and walked up Second Avenue, I think. As we passed the entrance to the Queens/Midtown Tunnel, we saw a building with a long line wrapped around it. Many residential towers in New York have large grocery stores in the basements, so our first assumption was one of disappointment: People were already hoarding food.

But as we walked further north, we saw the side of the building where the line entered, and it wasn't a grocery store. It was a blood donation center, and people were lined up around the block to give blood at this horrible time in the city's life. That scene choked me up, and it still does, because it shows New Yorkers at their best. Shaken, but not deterred from doing what's right.

September 11 was an awful time, and much of what has happened since has also been awful. But thank god it hasn't been repeated. It might well be; there are people who are willing to hurt any number of other people in their efforts to get what they want. No religion or country has a monopoly on such madness. But I remember one headline in the week that followed 9/11, though I don't remember where it was, so I'll just paraphrase it. It said that people really wanted it to be 9/10 again. Remembering my walk to work in that stunning blue-sky morning of 9/11, I can understand that desire.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Alan Turing Gets His Apology

Alan Turing, the British genius who cracked the Nazi's Enigma code during World War II and therefore helped to win the war but was then persecuted unto suicide by the British government because of his homosexuality, has finally received his decent apology from the British government.

Following a widespread online petition drive to get the Brits to acknowledge their disservice to this hero, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote the apology in an article in The Telegraph. I think it's actually quite a nice piece of work, and it's to Brown's credit. It properly notes the incredible injustices done to gay Brits throughout the years, and concludes with this:
It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe's history and not Europe's present. So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work, I am very proud to say: we're sorry. You deserved so much better.

The Disappearing Gay Magazine Market

To be more specific, today's blog post is about the disappearing gay adult magazine market, though even some non-adult gay magazines are having a tough time of it (for example, The Advocate). From Matthew Rettenmund comes word that Men and Freshmen will cease publication (or will go to newsstand-only distribution as quarterly themed magazines [warning: that last link includes some NSFW images], which, as Rettenmund correctly points out, is pretty much death for a magazine anyway. Advertisers don't consider quarterly magazines to be magazines, and readers tend to forget about a magazine three months after the last issue.

Rettenmund, for you uninitiated, is a popular novelist and magazine editor. Before his current gig, he had served as an editor at Mavety magazines, which published a string of gay periodicals that were all abruptly shuttered earlier this year.

The same thing is true about Men and Freshmen that was true when I wrote it about the Mavety magazines. These magazines had nothing more to them than porn. For years, gay skin magazines have launched with the promise to be the "gay Playboy," but they never delivered. If they had non-sex-related material in them (travel articles or interviews), those very soon disappeared so they could devote more pages to what they assumed their readers were buying the magazine to get: erotic stories and nude photos. I've got nothing against either, but I do note that Playboy is still around -- bowed and challenged, yes, but still publishing with millions of readers -- while competitor Penthouse threw away its millions of readers when publisher Guccione ramped up the sex content in a last-ditch (futile) effort to save his publishing empire. The nudity and sexual content can be gotten easily and endlessly online, so at best it is an added spice to a print publication. The print publication needs to offer something that is much rarer online, which in my humble (and constantly repeated) opinion should be longform journalism, good writing, and good reader service. Playboy still does that. Winq more or less does that. Men and Freshmen don't/didn't.

One last note: For a great fictional look behind the scenes at a New York-based gay magazine, read Rettenmund's 1998 novel Blind Items, which features the editor of just such a magazine trying to juggle his job, a new love, and celebrity closets.

UPDATE 1/20/11: This report has been updated and expanded in my new digital magazine, Magma. Read it free online.

UPDATE 3/25/11: Mate and Winq magazines team up.

What to Do When a Liar Lies?

GOP Rep. Wilson's childish -- and factually incorrect -- shout during President Barack Obama's speech (oh, just because it'll annoy the Wilsonite Right even more, let's reiterate that: President Barack Hussein Obama) claimed that the president was lying about health-care reform not providing coverage for illegal aliens. The fallout for him was swift, as was the help for his Democratic mid-term opponent, so there might be some hope for a sense of decency in this country after all. Worst of all for his party, Wilson's claim is now being widely and definitively debunked.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (and, full disclosure, my U.S. Representative) showed both political smarts and wisdom by downplaying the possibility of disciplining Wilson through the House governance. According to NPR, Pelosi said the House will probably "move on" and not censure Joe Wilson, adding that she didn't want to give the incident any more attention "than it deserves."

See, because it's already getting all the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bill Clinton Remembers Walter Cronkite

A touching memorial speech by the former president about Walter Cronkite, including the personal outreach Cronkite did to Clinton and his family during a very trying time.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Ethics Awards that Look Bad in Retrospect

California Assembly Member Mike Duvall, a conservative married Republican moralist, was -- as pretty much everyone knows by now -- accidentally caught on tape discussing two simultaneous extramarital affairs he was conducting, in some rather ungentlemanlike detail. According to the latest report, Duvall has resigned his seat following the publicity around his hypocritical caddish behavior. He had already been removed from a utilities committee he sat on in the Assembly, because, well, apparently both of the women with whom he was misbehaving were utilities lobbyists.

But wait, it gets better.

As KCRA 3 News notes at the end of its report:

According to Duvall's Assembly Web site, Chapman University awarded him the Ethics in America Award in 2000 for his "demonstration of the highest standards of ethical integrity" while a member of the Chamber of Commerce team.He was also named Legislator of the Year in 2008 by the California Attractions and Parks Association, according to his campaign Web site.

Oops. Can you retract an ethics award after it's been given?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mythbusters Interviewed by Moira Gunn

Last month, the hosts of TV's "Mythbusters" came to The Commonwealth Club of California to talk about their show, how they got into it, why it's interesting, and the joy of blowing things up. They were interviewed by Moira Gunn, host of public radio's "Tech Nation," who did a great job.

So, for all of you tech and science geeks, enjoy.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Inspired by Cerebus Again (After Nearly 30 Years)

Waaaaay back in the January 1983 issue of the short-lived Comics Scene magazine, there is a letter by yours truly printed on page 6 in which I mention the independent comic book Cerebus. I had begun reading Cerebus because of an article in Comics Scene, and I would read the comic off-and-on for years. In fact, after I'd stopped following it, I began to read it again after another article about Cerebus (and its creator, Dave Sim) in an issue of the reborn Comics Scene in 1987.

Comics Scene was reborn yet again in the early part of this decade, but it only last three issues and I don't recall an article about Cerebus in it. But last week I picked up the first three copies of Cerebus Archive during a visit to a downtown San Francisco comics shop, and I've enjoyed seeing Sim dig up his material from the mid-1970s. (So far, it's all been pre-Cerebus stuff; the "archive" really refers to Sim's career, not -- yet, at least -- to the famed misanthropic sword-carrying aardvark.)

Granted, unless you have a high tolerance for reprinted rejection letters Sim received from Charleton Comics, Playgirl, Warren, and other publishers, you might not be too interested in this archive. But there are plenty of other treats in the publication, including lots of correspondence from Gene Day, Sim's friend, supporter and collaborator, who appears to have been a wonderful soul but a terrible typist. Through it all, you get a nice glimpse into the bootstrapping world of independent aspiring comics creators.

Now here comes this development. There's going to be an announcement about Cerebus TV -- details at CerebusTV, appropriately enough. What's Cerebus TV? Haven't a clue.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Who Knew Twitter Had a Limit on the Number of Consecutive Searches You Can Do?!?

Reason #5,678 that Twitter isn't user-friendly (nor particularly useful). Nonetheless, if you're on it, try following me at jzipperer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Magazine News Roundup: Levi Johnson, Creepy, Gay GOPers, Obamas on Covers, & More

Oh, what a week in magazines!
  • Levi Johnson, the father of Sarah Palin's granddaughter, wrote an article in Vanity Fair that manages to surprise us even more -- and we thought we were immune to further Palinalia.
  • Oh, and Levi Johnson is reportedly going to pose nude or semi-nude for Playgirl (presumably for its web site, because it ceased printing issues last year).
  • Meanwhile, "actress" Linday Lohan has turned down nearly $1 million offered to her to pose nude for Playboy.
  • The Obama takeover of America's publishing industry continues. One of the Obamas will be on covers of a number of Rodale magazines, including the newly launched Children's Health. President Obama will be the cover man of Men's Health's October issue. They will not be nude.
  • Print magazines are dead, eh? Then why did a record 75 new titles launch in August? Huh, Mr./Ms. Smarty-Pants?
  • Disgraced South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's wife Jenny does a tell-all in the September issue of Vogue. And it doesn't look good for him.
  • Also, bad-boy Sanford is being tipped as the culprit behind rumors that Andre Bauer, his lt. governor and fellow Republican, is gay. It doesn't take a Ph.D. to figure this out: If Sanford is behind it, he's pretty clearly trying to scare off the easily-scared conservatives in the state government from forcing him out of office, because his position would then be filled by the presumably unfit-to-redecorate-the-governor's-mansion Bauer.
  • Dark Horse Comics launched its new comics-size edition of former magazine-sized comics magazine Creepy. It's got all-new material; it's still continuing to publish its excellent hard-bound reprint editions collecting all of the original Warren Creepy magazines (and separately the Eerie magazines).