Wednesday, August 31, 2011

T-Mobile Still on the Block for a Purchaser?

So if AT&T can't take over T-Mobile, who benefits (other than Sprint's lobbyists, who probably earned themselves big bonus checks)?

As a T-Mobile customer who dreaded having to put up with AT&T's infamously bad customer service but who very much looked forward to getting an iPhone with the new combo company, I'm obviously split.

T-Mobile has justly famous customer service; I still rave to people about the polite, helpful, friendly customer service reps I dealt with a year and a half ago when I switched my phones with the service. Customer service is something of a telltale sign of corporate intelligence, to me; companies – especially large public companies – tend to treat the front-line customer service staff as expendable, and they pay them poorly. That has always struck me as ridiculous and self-defeating; I likely will never talk to or correspond with the CEO of T-Mobile or Comcast, so their exorbitant salaries improve my service not one bit. But I will talk to and correspond with their customer service reps from time to time, and those are the interactions that determine whether or not I stay with the company and continue to help pump in enough money to overpay the C-suite employees.

And despite whatever the corporate honchos would surely tell us during and after the merger (probably crap like, "We will never cut customer service quality" or "Customer service and excellent customer care are always our top priority" or "We'd rather shoot our grandmother into the sun on a rocket than hurt customer service,"), customer service is exactly one of the places they'd look to get rid of "redundancies" and "excess spending."

iPhone should come to T-Mobile eventually anyway (hopefully before my latest HTC smartphone dies), so if all other things remain normal, I will be a happy customer. But it seems that Deutsche Telekom AG has been looking to unload T-Mobile for some time, so it's probably going to be sold to somebody at some point. And I don't want an iPhone with terrible customer service or coverage. If I wanted that, I'd have switched to AT&T a long time ago.

Watch and wait.

ST:TMP, TESB, Black Hole – Yes, 1980 Was a Magical Time

This was a special issue of Germany's Cinema magazine from 1980. If focused on the big science fiction films of the time, including the current Empire Strikes Back and the very recent Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Black Hole.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Germany's Philipp Lahm and the Gay Soccer Player Question

Germany's national team captain Philipp Lahm is getting a lot of flack these days for his new book, which includes criticism of teammates and competitors. He's backed off on some of that, reportedly, but today the hullaballoo is all about Lahm's comments that gay football players should stay in the closet and not publicly disclose their sexuality, lest they become the target of intense public scorn.

It's accepted as scriptural truth by many on the Left that every gay public figure should be public about their sexuality, because the more people see that gays and lesbians are all around the world, the more quickly prejudice will fall. I frankly tend to agree with that, and in fact I think that's what is causing the steady erosion in anti-gay prejudice here in the United States – more and more people are simply seeing that their neighbor, daughter, police officer, etc., is gay and they're realizing that it doesn't really matter, certainly not in a negative way. But I am also sympathetic to people in the public eye who fear that it would ruin their careers. You know what, it would for many of them. For every Neil Patrick Harris, there's one or more Rupert Everetts, whose advice is strikingly similar to Philipp Lahm's.

Gay-baiting in professional sports is pretty deep-rooted. Even in relatively tolerant Germany, it still makes headlines when the gay issue is brought up. The agent of Michael Ballack, the previous team captain, ridiculously accused the team's failure to win the World Cup on the presence of, in effect, a gay mafia on the team. The public reaction (at least reported in the German media that I was following) is indicative of a good trent; it seemed to treat Ballack's agent as the ridiculous figure he is and was generally supportive of the idea of gay footballers. After all, Germany has an openly gay foreign minister (Guido Westerwelle) in its conservative-liberal coalition government.

But Westerwelle's been known to be gay for some time, and his career isn't in danger, unless he doesn't improve Germany's shaky foreign policy performance. There are a number of popular gay politicians in Germany, including Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit. A young person trying to ensure that they have a career is facing a different constituency, if you will; football fans are fans of the players in a much more personal way than voters are fans of the politicians. And thus Lahm felt it necessary to let his readers know that he himself is not one of the gay players on the national team: "First, I am not a homosexual. I am not married to my wife Claudia for appearances and I do not have a friend in Cologne with whom I really live," Lahm wrote in his book, A Subtle Difference, according to The Local.

I wouldn't be too hard on Lahm, whether he's straight or gay. He's not a raving anti-homosexual. Those people are on U.S. sports teams and running for the U.S. president, they're not popular German football players. Furthermore, Lahm's is not the only voice on this issue; his teammate Mario Gomez has given gay players the opposite advice: Come out, it'll be fine.

More and more, Gomez will be proven correct and Lahm incorrect, but that's just because the public is increasingly tolerant of homosexuality and uninterested in making it a heated topic. So I do hope that gay German soccer players will publicly disclose their sexuality, but I definitely respect the decision of any who decline to do so. Assuming they're not crusading against gay rights while they're in the closet, of course.

Microbes Turn Newspaper into Biofuels

So – HAH! – the print media does have a business model, after all.

It's just, um, not what they expected it to be.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy 262nd Birthday, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Today is the birthday of the German writer Johann von Goethe. He is 262 years old today, or he would be if he hadn't died in 1832.

Remembered most for his work Faust (which has been staged, filmed, and otherwise adapted countless times), Goethe produced a number of works in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and was, frankly, a giant of Weimar classicism.

Anyway, this blog frequently concerns itself with broad matters Weimar, so it is appropriate that we send very posthumous birthday greetings to the great von Goethe.

Friday, August 26, 2011

France 24 News Site at a Loss for Words

And you can count how many words they are at a loss for, in the text crawl box that has no headline other than the instructions to the headline writer. Oops.

la trag├ędie!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

As We Approach Second Issue of Galaxis, A Look Back at Issue One!

I've finished writing the last articles for the second issue of Galaxis: The Magazine of Science & Science Fiction. I figure it'll be ready to be digitally "published" and available on schedule, in about two and a half weeks of final production and editing.

So, in the meantime, if you haven't already seen the previous issue of the magazine, here's your chance. You can click on the image below and see the magazine full-screen on your computer. You can also save a copy to your computer or device, and you can print out any or all pages. It's all free.

The first issue features an exclusive interview with physicist Michio Kaku, shorter Q&As with Michael Medved, Mary Doria Russell, and others; plus SF reviews, industry news, an overview of David Gerrold's Star Hunt novels including comments by the author, NASA photos, a look back at the heyday of science fiction movie magazines, and much more. So take a look, send a letter to the editor, and get prepared for the second (and even bigger and better) issue in early September!

UPDATE: Issue #2 of Galaxis is here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cover Issues: Batman & Robin on German & English Starlogs

This post is really just for magazine geeks like me, though Batman geeks might also enjoy it. Below are three magazine covers.

The English-language Starlog #239 from June 1997 features the stars of Batman & Robin.

The same basic cover is used on the German edition of Starlog, though it was released as a special edition ("Starlog feiert Batman & Robin" – "Starlog celebrates Batman & Robin") in Germany. The German Starlogs were put together by the New York headquarters of Starlog Group, with the involvement of some German language translators and consultants.

And, finally, there's a special one-shot English-language Starlog Presents Batman & Other Comics Heroes magazine that utilizes a different cover photo but clearly the designers were enamored of the lettering used on the German magazine title.

All of this plus $3 will get you a cup of coffee, of course, but it's fun to contemplate magazine designs sometimes. Again, for geeks.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

NMA Animation's Pox on BART & Anonymous

Cover News: Fangoria Does Its First-Ever Split Run

For the first time in its 9,000-year history (something like that, at least), horror film magazine Fangoria has produced a split run of its next issue, #307, due out in September. See the two covers below.

This'll give buyers a chance to vote, in essence, on the widened "lifestyle" content in Fangoria, including the greater presence of music. Which will be more popular: Music or classic Howling?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kill Da Wabbit, Indeed

I'm in the process of editing a speech Hans Rudolf Vaget gave at The Commonwealth Club about the controversies surrounding German composer Richard Wagner. Women, money, anti-semitism, Hitler. Fascinating article. The speech will appear in a special digital edition of the Club's magazine, The Commonwealth, this fall.

And yes, I kept thinking, "Kill da Wabbit!" One of the best cartoons ever.

Watch it on YouTube. Better yet, buy the video.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Murdoch Touch: My Latest Northside SF Column

My Common Knowledge column in the latest issue of Northside San Francisco magazine:
Les Hinton (photo by Sonya Abrams)
The Murdoch Touch 
By John Zipperer 
People like me, who grew up not only in newspaper-reading households but also in families of newspaper editors, almost instinctively mourn the death of any paper. Even weak papers or politically obnoxious papers still earn our respect when they expire. 
But I don’t think many people outside Britain mourned the News of the World when owner Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, announced in July that the U.K. paper would abruptly cease publication. The paper was sacrificed in the wake of a massive and ongoing scandal that has engulfed Murdoch’s media empire, the rest of the British news media, and Britain’s leaders – who have for decades looked for the support of Murdoch’s conservative papers.
read the complete article

Google+ Reviewed – and Liked

My latest article in Northside San Francisco magazine:
It's All Over, Zuckerberg
By John Zipperer 
Something funny happened on the way to Facebook accumulating almost as many users as McDonald’s has sold hamburgers. People began to regard Facebook with all of the wariness they usually reserve for the IRS or an angry dentist.
read the complete article

Google Buys Motorola Mobility: It's All about the Patents

Don't spend too much time trying to figure out how a cloud software giant like Google is going to use a hardware manufacturer. The purchase ain't about the hardware. It's all about the patents, and Google's need to undo the screwup it made in the recent auction of wireless patents.

I told friends at the time that Google would find someway to mitigate the damage, and it's nice when events bear me out.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Give Me a Sign

Real sign seen off Ocean Avenue in San Francisco.

Um, if you're a psychic, shouldn't you have at least one spirit from the netherworld who can correct your spelling?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

J-Pop Summit San Francisco

While passing through a street fair in San Francisco's Japantown this afternoon, I picked up a flyer reproduced here. It announces the J-Pop Summit Festival, which will be held in Japantown on August 27 and 28, 2011.

The back of the flyer shows some of the events and offerings of the event. So if you're in the Bay Area and looking for your J-pop fix, you know where to be in late August.

Friday, August 12, 2011

So then Are Bert and Ernie Ex-Gay?

Responding to an online attempt to have Bert and Ernie get married, now that it's legal in New York, Sesame Street let it be known that Bert and Ernie are not gay. The couple – er, uh, roommates "remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." Tell that to Tinky Winky.

Bert and Ernie have long been the targets of claims about their sexuality, so it's a surprise to hear that they have none. None. Perhaps they spent their summer recess at Marcus Bachmann's "clinic."

But Batman and Robin are still gay, right?

London Burns: Chaos Isn't As Fun As We Thought It Would Be

Readers and viewers of science fiction are familiar with stories of post-apocalyptic societies. Government authority is either non-existent or it has been reduced to some authoritarian remnant as a sliver of society tries to hold on. On the streets and in the countryside, gangs alternately destroy anyone who gets in their way and they try to defend their turf. For the good person stuck in such a place, it is hell.

Of course, in the movies and books that use such scenarios, it's hell, but exciting hell. Exhilarating. A test of brawn against brawn, with an occasional use of brain. These stories are places we can go to experience what we have not, thank goodness, had to experience in our own lives.

We have been lucky. History is full – full – of such times, pretty much everywhere in the world, where there is a breakdown in order and local gangs and warlords take over. In such situations, there is no room for brains, caution, and grace. In such situations – think of Baghdad during the botched U.S. reconstruction or Somalia today – the strong survive and the weaker ones get raped, pillaged, and/or killed. Here and there, we get a taste of other such stories in real life, even in places where the government isn't discredited and authoritarian and the situation is not post-apocalyptic. Here in the United States, we still get murder and mayhem following electric outages or unpopular courtroom rulings.

In the United Kingdom this past week, there were four days of rioting allegedly sparked by the police killing of an armed (though non-shooting) man. People have died, including most recently a 68-year-old man who tried to get some of the rioters to stop setting afire a trash bin near his apartment building. More than a million people watched the YouTube video of the innocent Malaysian kid (bleeding profusely from a broken jaw given to him when the gangs beat him up) who was "helped" to his feet by rioters, who then robbed him.

The news programs, chat shows, political scream fests, blogs, and internet forums have been filled with people trotting out excuses for the rioters. Even when they include the caveat that "I'm not defending them" or "I'm not offering excuses," they are offering excuses.

The BBC quoted the state-run Chinese newspaper China Daily: "The riots offer food for thought not just for the UK but also for other developed countries. They were the outburst and explosion of a society that has been suffering in silence and which had reached the tipping point... Those who are taking to the streets are people who have nothing to lose."

And you know what? I don't buy it. I'm not exactly on the side of the right-wingers who are saying it's all a criminal matter, but frankly I think it mostly is. It is mostly people taking advantage of the absence of law and order by running rampant and spreading chaos. With the exception of China Daily and some others, what I'm mostly hearing is a lot of comfortable white Westerners parrot the ideological line that poor people are rioting because they they're poor and have no future.

Having grown up in the United States without money, at times in HUD housing, almost always in hand-me-downs, I simply think that's not true. Even if you take away the ridiculous notion that we'd have rioted in little ol' Green Bay, Wisconsin, you're still left with the fact that in no way would my parents, schools, city government, friends, or church have condoned crime as a response to not having what I wanted or needed. Yes, people have it worse off than I did, but when we are talking about the allegedly rioting poor in the UK, we have to acknowledge that there are billions of people who are worse off than they are. Usually unspoken in this political claim, but I think it's there so I'll go ahead and criticize it anyway, is the implicit allowance of crime as a response to joblessness or poverty.

I was particularly amused when some commentator, speaking after seeing a video of hooded youths rampaging through a UK city center, said something about poverty-stricken people of color having no other outlet for their rage. Of course, even with their hoods, we got enough glimpses of the youths to see that none of them looked "of color," unless we have now expanded that politically loaded term to include pink.

The desire to grant lenience to roving street thugs who burn, loot, assault, and kill is rooted in a political ideology that is in search of evidence.

Yes, I do think there is a bit of the economic explanation that is at work in these types of things. Maybe as an initial spark, or even in the initial reluctance by authorities to crack down too hard lest they be accused of overreaching. But I do not think it's the majority of the reason a small portion of people take to murder and pillaging. That requires a certain mindset that says that violence is in any way acceptable as a response; it requires parents who don't parent, schools that don't school, churches and other religious organizations that are afraid to teach, and governments that don't lead or protect. It doesn't require, but it certainly does benefit from, a reflex reaction from many people to blame the police and defend the rioters when rioters riot.

We hear the same weak logic with regard to terrorists. The story goes: Young Muslims are reacting to a lack of hope and possibilities, so they become terrorists. Last year, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was asked about that, and her reply (and remember, she is someone who has had Islamist death threats against her for years) was: "I have a problem with that. If we find it acceptable – if we even remotely entertain the idea – that if you lose your job, that there is one way to express your misery and that is by killing other people, we are really going down."


Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Perry Rhodan Reading Project: Get Caught Up

While researching an article on Germany's long-running space opera Perry Rhodan for the next issue of my magazine Galaxis (due out in early September), I discovered The Perry Rhodan Reading Project, a very engaging and interesting blog written by Kent G. Hare. He's a professor of early European history at a university in Louisiana, and he has been reading through the Rhodan series issue by issue, starting from the beginning.

Perry Rhodan, for those of you who don't know, has produced literally thousands of books, magazines, audio books, comics, and more since it premiered in 1961.

Hare's blog is his story-by-story chronicle of the plots and his reactions to each book. He also takes the occasional detour, for example with his review of the much-derided 1967 European film version of Perry Rhodan. And it's all illustrated with some great covers of the Rhodan books and magazines.

Check out The Perry Rhodan Reading Project for more.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stock Market Tumbles Again

Days like this make me glad that I am too poor to have a bunch of investments in the stock market. (And no, the above Apple dashboard gadget does not display my portfolio; merely stocks and indices of interest.)

So do we still want to put our all-critical Social Security retirement money into the stock market?

Oh, and just in the time it took me to write the above two paragraphs, the Dow dropped another 20 points.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Defy the Ban: Send a Student a Copy of Slaughterhouse Five

The recent move by a Republic, Missouri, school board to ban Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s anti-war classic Slaughterhouse Five is not occurring without consequence. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is offering to send up to 150 copies of the book to students in the high school who were going to read the book before it was banned.

The Library says, "We think it’s important for everyone to have their First Amendment rights. We’re not telling you to like the book… we just want you to read it and decide for yourself." Students can apply for the free books online at the Library's web site.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this move by the school board is that it was done at the behest of a Missouri University professor. He reportedly objected to the book's profanity, sexual content, and perceived insults to Christianity. The school board, never one to second-guess a learned professor, agreed to ban the book with reasoning that, with one or two word substitutions, could have come from North Korean censors: The book offenses include creating "false conceptions of American history and government or that teach principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth."

Yes, Biblical morality is being used by a public school system to ban one of the most celebrated books of the past century.

You can help the Library underwrite the cost of this effort by donating to the cause. And maybe buying a copy of the book yourself, and be sure to pass it along to a young person after you're finished reading it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pack Up the Bags, Honey, We're Going to Jupiter!

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41, a crane is lowered over the nose of the Atlas payload container enclosing the Juno spacecraft. Photo by NASA/Cory Huston
This morning, NASA is scheduled to launch its Juno spacecraft on a journey to explore the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. Able to look into the planet's cloudy covering, Juno might be able to learn the secrets of the gas giant. NASA says that, "The answer might confirm theories about how the solar system formed, or it may change everything we thought we knew." No danger of oversel there!

Juno won't arrive at Jupiter until August of 2016, so don't sit at your computer waiting for the Jupiter pictures. (Actually, you should sit at your computer awaiting NASA news, but in the meantime, while Juno is wending its way to Jupiter, check out the Cassini-Huygens mission reports.) By the time Juno finally arrives at Jupiter (presumably wheezing from the effort of running the entire distance), it will survey Jupiter and its moons for a year to draw up a map of its magnetic field. One of the results hoped for is the answer to whether there is a solid core underneath Jupiter's swirling clouds.

"If we could start to understand the role that Jupiter played and how the planet formed and how that eventually governed the creation of the other planets and the Earth and maybe even life itself," the mission's principal investigator, Scott Bolton, told NASA, "then we know a little bit about how to look for other Earth-like planets, maybe orbiting other stars and how common those might be and the roles that those giant planets that we see orbiting the other stars play."

I'm somewhat mentally focused on the gas giants these days, because I've been working on a pictorial spread featuring Cassini's cool Saturn visit, which will appear in the second issue of Galaxis, my free digital science & science fiction magazine. Something else to keep you busy until August 2016.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft took this true-color simulated image of Jupiter in 2000. Jupiter's little moon Europa is casting the shadow on the planet. Photo by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why Couldn't the New Spider-Man Be Asian?

NMA World wonders where the Asian superheroes are, in the wake of the announcement that a new Marvel Spider-Man would be part black and part Latino.

Of course, as the immortal KevJumba points out, Hollywood doesn't even want to have Asians play Asian characters:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Laugh It Up, Fuzzball

The Carol Burnett Show in the 1970s was a Saturday night fixture at my house, and at least part of the enjoyment came when one of the incredibly talented cast members would do his or her best to crack up his colleagues. An outtake:

Five Years of Rifftrax Highlights

A peek at one of my favorite sources of retail humor:

Sex and the City ... Berlin 1931, That Is

Deutsche Welle has an (English language) article about German novelist Irmgard Keun, who wrote a number of popular books, including The Artificial Silk Girl, which has been compared to Sex and the City.

I've increasingly been thinking about the idea that women in the West were more independent in the years between the world wars than they were after World War II, when they were sent back home and told to spend their time being amazed by their electric washing machines.

I haven't read The Artificial Silk Girl yet, but I've put it on my Amazon wish list. Thanks, DW.