Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

The New BMW 135i

Here is a video I made at the San Francisco International Auto Show yesterday, on Thanksgiving (BTW, the Packers won). I'm quite smitten by this car, the first of the new 1-Series from BMW. This is intended as the new entry-level series for the pricier BMWs. As much as I love my little Jetta, it may be followed by a 135i someday.

The 135i begins production in December 2007, and is expected to go on sale in the United States in March, according to a BMW representative at the Auto Show.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

News magazines, part III

During a visit to Borders yesterday, noticed:
Der Spiegel: 202 pages
Focus: at least 220 pages
Newsweek: 98 pages
Time: less than 80 pages
Still think you're getting your money's worth from American news magazines?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Department of Cool Magazine Covers

As a long-time fan of magazines, magazine designs, and magazine covers in particular, I always like seeing a cover that just grabs me and is, well, cool. So with this cover, posted recently in the "next month's issue" section of the Starlog site.

That's a cool cover.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Packers Could Go All the Wa--- Wait? What Happened?!?

So here I am, at home in San Francisco, the transplanted Wisconsinite that I am, actually able to watch a Green Bay Packers football game on local television, courtesy (and I use the word loosely) of Fox. I'm not a rabid football fan; the Chicago White Sox and Vfb Stuttgart are the teams I follow more closely and in the sports I like more. But I am a Green Bay fan, a fan of the city where I grew up and of which I remain parochially boosterish (to slaughter several language cutoms at once).

But the game. It was a rematch with rivals Minnesota, which claimed to be on the upswing after being rejuvenated by the previous week's win against San Diego. And the Pack, well, they're just the most exciting team to watch these days. Between the always-exciting Brett Favre and a high-achieving band of first- and second-year teammates, they've built up a winning record that has made the national media take notice of a town they usually don't talk about unless it's used in a sentence in December with "the frozen tundra of."

Oh, yeah, the game. So the Packers play a great game, beautifully executing a running game, the one component of a championship team they were supposedly missing. They stopped Adrian Peterson, the Vikings' supposedly heroic running back. They ran in for touchdown after touchdown, running the score to 27-0 midway through the third quarter. Then suddenly a Fox sports broadcaster cuts in and announces that because the Packers are so far ahead, Fox is going to switch to a "more competitive game." And so goes one of my few chances to see my hometown team out here on the West Coast. Thanks, Fox.

Now, presumably, Fox thought that West Coasters who were watching NFC Central game were only doing so because they were football nuts and would watch any game, so better serve them up with one that is more "competitive." But I differ. The people watching were a mixture of people like me, who specifically wanted to watch those two Midwestern teams (and a goodly portion of whom were happy to see li'l ol' Green Bay take the stuffing out of Minnesota), and the people Fox thought were watching the game anyway --they'd watch anything. So, if the second group of people will watch anything, why not let 'em keep watching a game that they'd be talking about on Monday morning at work? They'll be happy (being relatively easy to please, anyway) and the people like me would be happy, too.

Instead, Fox didn't let either group see the entire game.

Oh, the Packers won the game 34-0. I would have loved to have seen it. Some other network, please buy the NFL rights from Fox.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Thin News Magazines, Part II

From a visit to a newsstand store yesterday, some additional evidence supporting my previous posting:

Newsweek: about 68 pages
Time: about 70 pages
Der Spiegel: about 250 pages
Focus: about 250 pages

(page counts are approximate, due to unnumbered inserts, cover counts, etc.) So, which do you think provided more news this week?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Selling Short

For years we've been watching American media deal with media consolidation, closings of magazines that didn't meet public companies' margin needs, and assimilation of online media into the print/video-dominated world. Lots of jobs have been lost because of this, and many grand old magazines have been butchered because they didn't meet some half-baked ideas that people don't want intelligent content anymore.

But sometimes it helps to break out of our provincial worldview here in the United States and see that we're being sold a bill of goods. American magazines have been getting thinner and thinner for years, yet UK publishers roll out giant, high-gloss mags filled with ads and edit pages.

Or look to Germany for another case in point. Here in the United States, our news weeklies publish every week and deliver us – what? 68 pages? 72 pages? maybe 88 pages when they stuff in an advertorial? Newsweek recently revamped its design and laudibly promoted the fact that it would target READers. And how many pages were in its first redesigned issue – the one that should draw extra ads because of the publicity surrounding the redesigned mag? I believe it was something like 68. How many pages did Germany's newsweekly Der Spiegel have that week? 206. (Not the same issue that's pictured here; I picture what's available.) And Der Spiegel's not the only game in town in Germany; its competitor, the newsweekly Focus, was also over 200 pages. In fact, Der Spiegel and Focus (as well as Stern, a news/features/personality weekly magazine read by somethinglike one out of every nine Germans) are larger than 200 pages almost every week; on their "thin" weeks, they're only about 140 pages, which would be banner, bumper issues for an American newsweekly.

So if Germany can produce big weekly newsmagazines, why are we being sold short here in the United States with thin magazines that act as if they don't have enough content to fill a 100-page magazine? They add an awful lot of fluff about celebrities to accompany their often very good political and national news reporting. But Der Spiegel puts out a desk-thumping huge magazine every week, with few celebrities in sight, with lots of excellent (and deep, and famously well-researched) news on politics, national events, international events, commentary, trends, and even extremely readable history. (I still remember filling a cross-country flight reading a great report on the Enlightenment "revolution" in Prussia.)

American magazines can do better. They can also deliver a better value to their readers. Until they do, I'll find that value in the European press.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gen. Casey Downplays Need for New Draft

Speaking at The Commonwealth Club of California yesterday (Sept. 28, 2007), the U.S. Army Chief of Staff was asked about the possibility that the U.S. would need to reinstitute a draft because of the military being overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Still Hope for the GOP

Amazing. Someone who understands that leadership means taking your followers someplace they might not have gone otherwise. That's a big difference from what we usually see, which is "leaders" slavishly following every real and purported prejudice of their "followers" out of a desperate fear of losing a few votes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gays in Iran

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, trying to cozy up to America, told an audience at Columbia University yesterday that Iran doesn't have any homosexuals. Though such a result would surely please right-wingers (and I would not stoop so low as to mention Sen. Larry Craig here) (oh, I guess I would), it's as far away from the truth as many of Ahmadinejad's other dream-factory statements. See this story about Iran's execution of homosexuals.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nein, Danke

A rather jaw-dropping story from the great German newsweekly Der Speigel. It seems French President Nicolas "Speedy" Sarkozy is getting, well, odder as the weeks go by. He recently met with German Chanceller Angela Merkel and her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (a recent speaker at The Commonwealth Club of California, BTW) and offered nuclear weapons. In Der Spiegel's priceless reporting, "Both the chancellor and her foreign minister were speechless. The idea of possessing nuclear weapons is taboo in Germany. Sarzoky's predecessor Jacques Chirac cautiously brought up the issue 12 years ago, but he quickly realized it was pointless to pursue it."

Sort of a faux pax of Bushish levels, isn't it? As the above quote indicates, the offer itself is not unique; it was made "cautiously" 12 years ago by Chirac. But it strikes me that it's important because it shows Sarkozy doesn't really understand his neighbors – and his most important neighbor, at that.

Put me in the camp that thinks Germany needs to reasses its defense and security needs and procedures, and adapt itself to a new world in which the country's heartfelt revulsion toward the crimes of the Nazi regime have left it admirably restrained. But that restraint has also arguably left it vulnerable to foreign and domestic threats.

But even with that said, Sarkozy seems to display a tone-deafness when trying to figure out how to treat his neighbors. High hopes for Sarkozy's self-defined role as a reformer could be dashed if he doesn't ascend a steep learning curve.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ja, Stuttgart ist das Beste

Link: sevenload.com
The funny thing about following German soccer/football/fussball is that I kind of ended up adopting a team based on no solid reason. I chose Stuttgart because at the time I had learned that one branch of my family came from the Baden-Wuerttemberg area. So, Stuttgart. It paid off, emotionally, when Vfb Stuttgart won the German title last year.

Good thing I didn't learn until much later about the branch of my family that came from Berlin. Hertha Berlin isn't quite doing as well.

Now, if only Fox's cable soccer channel would start carrying Bundesliga games again ...

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Nation's Fiscal Challenge

David M. Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, discussed America's spending/saving/payment problems during a September 14, 2007, panel at The Commonwealth Club of California. The panel was part of a bipartisan Fiscal Wake-Up Tour.

Sobering stuff, this. I appreciated the fact that there were bipartisan views on the panel -- joining Walker was Alison Acosta Fraser from the conservative Heritage Foundation and Isabel V. Sawhill of the liberal Brookings Institution (and a former Clinton administration budget official). Both parties got us into this mess, and most Americans have participated in trying to vote ourselves rich.

And our children and grandchildren will rue the day they ever let us borrow the national credit card and hit the mall.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Carmen Policy Answers the Question: Are the 49ers Bluffing?

The Commonwealth Club of California, where I work, hosted a panel discussion today about the San Francisco 49ers' flirtation with suburban Santa Clara as the home of its future stadium.

I remember during the 1990s, when I lived in Chicago, Mayor Richard M. Daley was confronted by an ultimatum from the Chicago Bears: they wanted a bigger and better stadium, or they'd leave. Daley responded with, essentially, "Good riddance." And the Bears compromised and just renovated Soldier Field.

Then again, I grew up in Green Bay, so all the other teams can move around all they want. But the Packers? Never.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Lucy, Let Me 'Splain ...

He he he he. I like this.

For more Lahey political cartoons, see his blog here.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Another Republican Gay Scandal

So Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho is due to resign from the Senate today, according to most media reports. He is a member of an even more elite group of people than the clubby U.S. Senate: He is a politician who will be missed by neither party. And certainly not by me.

The GOP is desperate to get him out of office and to cut off this scandal quickly so the party can try to recover before the 2008 election, which currently is shaping up to be a Republican bloodbath. Good luck with that. (Since it's a completely GOP-made disaster, they are welcome to stew in their problems.) Meanwhile, the Democrats are glad to get rid of another arch-conservative GOPer, whose resignation, just coincidentally, will put into play an otherwise safe GOP seat.

This past week as I've discussed this strange case of Sen. Craig with friends, we've all marvelled at the man's self-delusion. ("I am not gay," he said repeatedly. Well, it's true that most gay men don't do the things you pled guilty of doing and certainly straight guys don't do them, but the record looks pretty bad for ya, pal.) But as I've thought about it, I think we can take him at his word, sort of.

By that I mean not that we should believe his claim of non-gayness. Oh, he's gay all right. But I can accept that he honestly, truly thinks he's not gay. Why? He has been a vociferous opponent of any bills that would make gay life more respectable, that would allow a more honest and responsible gay leadership to emerge, and that would in any way validate gay people as equal citizens.

Like many right-wingers (and some left-wingers, incidentally), he acts like he thinks homosexuality is a perverse urge that plagues potentially everyone. To him, illicit, dirty, anonymous, man-on-man sex is simply a physical act. What he can't conceive of is that two men could love each other, be faithful, endure all the mundane and extraordinary pains and challenges of life together, and even find joy in spending their evening watching an NBA game and reading a book in their living room or talking about their cat's flea problem. Sex? Oh, yeah, Craig and his ilk (and they are an ilk) think evil sexual urges are all around us and everyone is tempted by them from time to time. Thus, he can be just one more man who was tempted and succumbed. But he's "not gay." And, frankly, if he can't conceive of loving and living with another man for the rest of his life, then at least he's sparing another man real heartache.

Pity about his family, though.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Lot Is for Sale in Downtown Green Bay

Shoppers could always count on finding stuff to buy in downtown Green Bay when I was growing up there. The giant Port Plaza Mall had book stores, music shops, video arcades, restaurants, and a ton of clothing stores. The grand old Prange's (Green Bay's locally owned version of Macy's or Marshall Field's) offered upscale shopping and was later replaced by Younkers and Boston Store. The mall was ringed by the classic shops and offices you'd find in any downtown: barber shops, piano stores, luggage stores, magazine shops, banks, etc.

On my visit to Green Bay last week, I walked downtown and saw there was still a lot of stuff for sale, such as, well, downtown. The mall is closed and partly demolished. "For Sale" signs are to be found on almost every block, and many buildings were empty or at least looked deserted.

The signs of desertion were somewhat misleading. Green Bay isn't one of those dried-up rust-belt cities that started dying out in the 1970s and never recovered. In fact, Green Bay has done fairly well for itself over the years, and there are thriving (and constantly spreading) commercial districts on the city's outskirts. It's downtown is responding by turning into a venue for condos (not sure how big the market is for downtown condos in a city where land is relatively cheap and driving conditions are easy – good luck with that). But I do miss the downtown that was walkable, where you could do your banking, catch a movie, have lunch (probably not in that order), buy a book and get your new pair of pants without getting into your car four different times.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A White Sox Fan in a Strange Land

Today my company had a staff outing at a game of the San Francisco Giants. The visiting team was the Chicago Cubs. I went, took a bunch of photos (for more, see my Flickr page). The above photo shows a pitcher warming up in the Giants bullpen.

The Giants won 4-1. It was a good game, even though my own favorite team, the Chicago White Sox, was not playing. I will say that the Giants fans seem better behaved than home fans I've seen at Cubs, Yankees, or Athletics games.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Welcome to Packerland

Last week, one of my first greetings upon landing in the town where I grew up, Green Bay, is this sign atop the baggage claim machinery.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stardust Review

Stardust (08.12.07): Based on a best-selling fantasy novel by the team of Gaiman and Vess, Stardust is the immensely entertaining story of a young man out to impress his love by bringing back to her a part of a fallen star. Much ensues. Impossible to relate here. (For example, Robert De Niro as as a tough-acting gay pirate captain of an airship. It just gets more complicated from there.)

Charlie Cox as the young hero, Tristan, has to carry the storyline on his shoulders, but he gets much help from De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Peter O'Toole, and a ton of others, all of whom appeared to have had a grand old time making the film. Often when the actor's enjoyment comes across on screen, the audience is left with a sense of wonder -- wondering why we're not enjoying it as much as the actors. But this time, that's not the case. Much fun.

For this and other movie reviews, see here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dennis Kucinich on Gay Marriage

Kucinich, speaking at The Commonwealth Club of California today, gave a press conference after his speech. In this clip, he discusses gay marriage (and takes aim at my personal favorite candidate, Hillary Clinton; nonetheless, I appreciate his support and passion on the subject).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sports Heroes Pro and Con

So you've seen the news: Barry Bonds hit home run number 44,839,925,258 or whatever it is. (Though I'm a baseball fan, my team is the Chicago White Sox, so I don't follow the Giants as much as others do here in San Francisco, where I currently live). This has been the source of much hand-wringing from people in the worlds of baseball, sports in general, and non-sports.

It's made me think about growing up in Green Bay during the 1970s and 1980s, when our hometown team, the Green Bay Packers, was, well, less than stellar on the field and off. In high school, a common topic of lunchtime discussion was the latest arrest of a millionaire player on rape charges. When I moved to Chicago in the 1990s, my White Sox alternately soared and sucked, but they were mostly a group of seemingly good people. (Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, etc.) But every so often, the team's owners would decide they were going to bring in someone who'd help revive the team – and they'd misfire so badly. One was an accused wife-beater. Another had thrown a baseball at some fans. Neither served to exactly deepen my love for the team. Luckily, those dark forces were only on the Sox for a short period of time before leaving for other teams, and eventually the Sox would soar again, all the way to the 2005 World Series championship.

I continued to follow the White Sox when I moved to San Francisco in 2001, but I also began watching some European soccer (er, football or fussball, if you're German), and names of players there began to mean more to me than baseball players here. Timo Hildebrand, Michael Ballack (pictured above), Miroslav Klose. And you know what? Being separated by an ocean and a continent has helped keep me largely ignorant of detailed news of these players' lives. I assume if any of them was an out-and-out criminal, I'd have heard about it. But I only check the German fussball reports to see how my adopted teams are doing, not to get that sort of day-to-day dirt dishing that we seem to revel in here.

Distance has its advantages.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

When Should You Be Scared to See a Polar Bear?

When it shows up in lands that have never seen a polar bear before, which means their Arctic home is increasingly inhospitable and they're going farther and farther afield looking for food and land.

That was the case with polar bears spotted by some local Siberians, who told a recent Commonwealth Club of California travelers group that they were seeing the polar bears where they've never seen them before. The photo above is from that same Club trip, though of different bears.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on How it'll All End

The great astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke at The Commonwealth Club of California in early 2007, and in part of his talk, he describes the destruction that could be wrought by earth's collision with a comet.

Campaign Finance Reform Sanity

Monday, August 6, 2007

San Francisco's Easter Island Statue?

I'm pretty sure the Dutch weren't the original settlers of San Francisco. Nor the second or third settlers. In fact, they still might not have discovered this city. So why is there an ancient, wooden windmill a block away from the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Blade Runner, Redux

So the next issue of Starlog magazine will feature a report on Blade Runner's 25th anniversary and director Ridley Scott's final, final, final version. I'm actually excited about this.

And, okay, the new Flash Gordon looks cute, too.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Blog, Blog, Everywhere. Now Please Stop.

Sitting in the Metreon movie theaters waiting for the beginning of The Bourne Ultimatum (which I'll review on my other site, http://www.weimar.ws/kino.html ), and I notice someone a couple rows ahead of me has brought his laptop computer and is working or playing on it. I don't pay much attention at first, but later, out of sheer boredom (the movie started late, and the "pre-feature entertainment" was annoying), I glanced again at his computer screen and saw that he was blogging.

Blogging at the movie theater. Madness, isn't it? But then, if it means people will be blogging wherever they go and not talking inanely into their cell phones, I suppose I have to come out in support of the trend.

Free Robbie the Robot!

Robbie the Robot, star of Forbidden Planet and a subscription commercial by Starlog magazine (who says my references can't out-archane anybody?!?) (archania on the archane: that commercial also spurred a snarky negative editorial in Galaxy science fiction magazine at the time) ... er, where was I? Oh, yes, Robbie is imprisoned at the Metreon in downtown San Francisco, right outside the Things from Another Planet comics store on the second floor.
Free Robbie the Robot! August 4, 2007, photo by John Zipperer.

Perry Rhodan auf Deutsch and in English

I saw The Simpsons Movie the same day I watched an episode of The Simpsons, and frankly the blended together in my mind when I was later trying to remember what was in the movie.

A somewhat similar dissonance when I recently took a break from reading the German-language Perry Rhodan book, Kampf um die SOL, to read the English-language translation of a different Perry Rhodan book, Lemuria I: Star Ark (from FanPro, whose web site has since gone offline, so there may never be a Lemuria II). Having previously read a German-language Rhodan novel (Raumschiff in Fesseln, for you completists), so I knew what to expect when I read Kampf um die SOL, but it wasn't until I read the English novel that I learned how much of it I got wrong. (What? That character's not a robot? Huh?)

Goes to show how shaky my German still is.

Anyway, if you're not familiar with Rhodan and you're a science fiction reader, you should check it out – in some language (it's in German, English, French, Spanish, Czech, etc., etc., etc.). Begun back in the early 1960s, the Rhodan magazine, stories, and comics have been published ever since, making them the longest-running science fiction series in the world. Yes, longer than the Star Trek franchise. And it's still wildly popular. See the official German-language Rhodan site here [http://www.perry-rhodan.net/ ] and the English-language site here [http://www.perry-rhodan.us/ ].

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Host Comes to DVD

The superior Korean monster movie The Host is out on DVD now.

Here's the review I wrote on my film-review page [http://www.weimar.ws/wmrkino.html] after seeing this movie in the theater:

The Host (03.11.07): This fantastic balancing act of a monster movie from South Korea – wait, that gives away in the first sentence what I think about it. Let me be more circumspect. The Host is a Korean film about a family's struggle for survival against a man-made monster that is terrorizing the city and wildly entertaining the audiences. Hmmm, that also gives away too much. Let's try this: Balancing humor and horror is an act that Americans almost never pull off, but this Korean film does well, showing us endearing characters whose funny actions and reactions never sink to camp – even when they're rolling around on the floor fighting with each other at a little girl's wake.

There, that didn't give away the fact that I found this film incredibly endearing and immensely entertaining, did it? It's a difficult thing for a writer to do, at least this writer regarding this film. The Host is a B-movie, make no mistake. Though it makes some side-swipes at political allusions, it's really a film about a family trying to rescue a little girl from a monster. The actors do great jobs giving us characters who are imperfect yet for whom we root nonetheless (or even moreso, considering that they can be sort of stupid at times). And it's a pleasure to watch each of them on screen.

This fantastic balancing act of a monster movie from South Korea is awesome fun and shouldn't be missed. If a theater near you doesn't show it, then thank God for DVD.

Oscar the Deadly Cat

Editorial cartoonist Lyle Lahey is a 35+-year veteran of political cartoons, having been a daily cartoonist at the Green Bay News-Chronicle until its closure a couple years ago. His new cartoons can been see three times a week at his web site.

9-1-09: For an update on this cartoon's popularity, see this blog post.

Welcome to My Blog

Now that I've captured your attention, I can perform my crazy experiments on it! (Insert maniacal laughter here.)

No, actually this blog is a collection of -- and connection to -- my various other interests, web sites, online creations, and such. I'm sure this blog will evolve dramatically as I get into it, but for now: Welcome to my blog.