Sunday, April 29, 2012

Obama Tells Jokes to Jokes

If President Obama is a celebrity, as non-celebrity Mitt Romney complains, at least he's good at it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Esquire Innovates All Over the Cover

Esquire's printer did not do the magazine or its readers a favor this month, if my subscription copy is anything to judge by. Note the placement of the mailing label in the image above.

I know, I know. Esquire's super-inexpensive in subscription form, so I shouldn't complain. At the rate I'm paying, I can't expect the periodical to arrive sheathed in a plastic bag, like the ones used by many magazines. But to slap the mailing label over the cover subject's head and the magazine's own logo is double damage; it's poor placement, and it's still that super-big mailing label publishers love today, rather than the thin ones of yesteryear.

Maybe it's just another of the magazine's "augmented reality" gimmicks. Maybe it's a sign that even Esquire publisher Hearst is getting sick of seeing Downey on the cover of this magazine. Or maybe they just screwed up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Beat Your Previous Score: The Week to Week News Quiz 4/20/12

My second Week to Week News Quiz is up on Huffington Post San Francisco. Do you think you know your news? This test takes you a bit beyond the deadlines. So sharpen your pencil, but don't use it because you'll just make marks on your computer.

Just click here to take the test, and let me know how you fared.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

100 Most Influential People: Time Blows It Again

I've mentioned on this blog before that I hate magazines running list features; they're usually lazy attempts to create buzz around something that is ultimately useless and devoid of value, not to mention devoid of credibility. Magazines try to come up with them because, first, they are inexpensive to create (no long-term investigative reporting and potential liability involved); second, they make the magazine (or whatever media outlet) look like an authority; and third, they get people to talk about your publication (magazine, website, TV show, whatever) so it does marketing and it fools some people into thinking it's serious journalism. Genius!

Time magazine released its cover story list of the "100 most influential people in the world," and it is a perfect example of these useless lists. One hundred people might sound like a lot, so it might be understandable – even forgivable – if a couple odd choices were included. But when you think about a global population of nearly 7 billion, even the most forgiving observer would have to agree that Chelsea Handler just does not belong in the top 100 most influential people. Even if you say she's one of the top 100 influencers just within the American entertainment industry, you might be stretching believability a lot. And I have nothing against Ms. Handler.

Read the list. It does include a handful of people who should be on any such list. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Tim Cook, Mullah Mohammed Omar, and a very few others. But the majority of the people on the list simply appear to be there for marketing purposes. Seriously, Marco Rubio is on the list? Someone most Americans couldn't identify in a lineup is one of the most influential people – not in the Republican Party, not in Florida politics, not even in American politics, but in the world? No, he's not. And Adele is not the world's most influential person, nor is she the most influential singer. She has a great voice and sells buckets of records, but that's not necessarily the same thing as influence and power. Come back in 15 years, and we'll see how influential she's been.

The pope does not make the list. You might like him, you might not like him. I'm not even Catholic. But I do know that he is one of the most influential people in the world, year in and year out. The leader of China, Hu Jintao, is not on the list. (Really?? Really.) Neither of the Koch brothers is on the list, and we're all living in their world.

Time has managed to do the very difficult task of taking a useless feature – the self-generated list – and make it even more useless, turning it into a parody of the genre. Genius!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Famous Magazines' First Covers

Huffington Post has an amusing (but slim) gallery of the first covers of some famous magazines, such as Sports Illustrated and Seventeen. See it here.

For those of you who come to this blog because of its widespread fame as a source of info on science fiction publications, well, then here's something for you. The first issues of some famed SF mags, mostly film mags.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Take My New News Quiz on Huffington Post San Francisco!

Today, I launched a weekly news quiz on Huffington Post San Francisco. It's 10 questions that I hope you will find to be smart and fun. Some answers you'll know easily; others might stretch your skull a bit.

Take the quiz!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


My latest Huffington Post San Francisco blog post, focusing on a Titanic survivor who spoke to The Commonwealth Club just three weeks after the ship sunk.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

All for One, and One for One

Once in a while, just a few minutes on the radio encapsulates some very telling features of our culture.

This morning, National Public Radio's Morning Edition carried a report about Germany's ancient tradition of apprenticeships, after first noting that youth (well, people under 25) unemployment in countries like Spain is around 50 percent while Germany has the lowest youth unemployment rate in Europe.

The successful German approach is a partnership between big businesses and labor unions that provides on-the-job and vocational training to a huge portion of the country's population. Something like 60 percent of high school graduates go into this system, rather than higher academia. They receive about a third of the pay of a starting wage for a full-time worker. The reporter interviewed a young aircraft mechanical technician, Robin Dittmar, who was working as an apprentice with Lufthansa. He splits his time between on-the-job training, actual on-the-job work on engines, and off-site vocational training. Ninety percent of apprentices complete their apprenticeships, and 50 percent of those are hired by the companies for which they apprenticed; the remainder presumably finding work with other employers in the same field or switching jobs/careers.

Right after that report, Morning Edition carried a story from Illinois about a young man who was recently named one of four Lego Master Model Builders. Like Robin Dittmar, Andrew Johnson had a long-time passion and obsession with Legos, and like the German aircraft mechanic, he is turning it into a full-time job. Unlike the German aircraft mechanic, there are only three other people who do what he does, and it's not, let's admit it, the most useful work to perform.

Let's not begrudge him his success; he's got a dream job, one that lots of people – Lego enthusiasts, at least – would love to have. But it was an illustration, certainly unintentional, of American attitudes versus at least one other country's attitudes. Americans love to hear about the one person who hit the jackpot, won the lotto, sold her dot-com for billions, won American Idol, earned $100 million in a business deal, and so on.

Germans like their high-achievers, too. There's even a German edition of American Idol. But their system itself isn't an American Idol or casino system; it's set up to try to be as useful for as many people as possible.

Now, America (or other countries) shouldn't just copy the German apprenticeship model. Shouldn't and couldn't. Germany has a situation in which its labor and business groups made lasting (and profitable) peace after World War II by agreeing to a consensus model of decision-making. There's no way that would be widely accepted in the United States, and that's not even taking into account the impending extinction of U.S. labor unions.

However, America and other nations should be considering approaches that address the needs of the majority of its population, not a casino approach with near-impossible odds but a small number of jackpot winners. It might be less razzle-dazzle, and more practical, but that's economics for you.