Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic: Twice the Fun

In 1988, I piled into an old Dodge Omni for a trip to New Orleans to attend the 1988 Republican National Convention as a college journalist. Joining me for the drive were three other editors of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Badger Herald student newspaper (the good one). Granted, we didn't get ringside seats to the convention speeches, being lowly northerner college boys, but we did get to sit in the auditorium during the final day's speeches (waaaaay in the very last row up in the rafters, I kid you not), and I got to sit next to my newspaper's sports editor (hey, we were The Badger Herald, America's premiere independent daily student newspaper, and if we wanted to bring our sports editor to the GOP convention, we'll bring the damn sports editor to the convention, okay?)

Anyway, the sports editor provided a running commentary wisecracking on everything that was spoken from the podium. It was great. Hilarious. He should have gotten his own comedy show. We barely escaped the wrath of the overdressed Republican woman sitting near us, who didn't like us sniggering about the political claptrap being served up on stage. But I was raised by my mother to not take the utterings of TV and other stars seriously, and that included taking a skeptical attitude toward politicos (my stepfather is a political cartoonist, after all).

When I discovered the great Comedy Central (later Sci Fi Channel) TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 sometime in the 1990s, I knew I'd discovered a secret show no one else could possibly know about. After all, the humans (and robots) on the screen were wisecracking their way through pretty horrible movies, many of them science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Add to that the fact that they had my sense of humor (I'll sue!), and because they were based in Minneapolis (the Scandinavian neighbor to my then-home state of Wisconsin) they were regularly using references of places and events that were a part of my life. (Any show that references Ashwaubenon gets points in my book.)

Classic stuff. Though I wish it were still around, MST3K was a treasure, and I should be happy that it existed as long as it did.

After Sci Fi Channel finally drove a stake through its wise-cracking Midwestern heart, its creators/writers/performers were flung to the far ends of the galaxy, hunted down by the clone stormtroopers ... wait, I'm getting carried away. They went and did other stuff.

The Film Crew. Remember it? Of course you don't.

Then one batch of the MST3K crew created Rifftrax, and another batch created Cinematic Titanic. There are some differences between the two, but basically all you need to know is that in both projects, smart and funny people make fun of (usually) very bad movies. We can't have MST3K back, but we now have two, not one, replacements. Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic. I love them both, and I heartily recommend them to all of you.

PS: Last I heard, the former Herald sports editor is now a TV sportscaster in Michigan. I hope they're paying him oodles of money.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

SFX Web Site to Undergo Welcome Overhaul

The web site for British science fiction/fantasy magazine SFX is announcing an overhaul, with the new site due to go live March 8.

First, the old (and, in my view, uninteresting) homepage:

Now, the new, much more visually interesting homepage:
Much better. Like leaping from 1997 to 2007.

My National Magazine Day Pile of Magazines

As I noted here the other day, today is National Magazine Day, in which Americans have been called to their highest potential during these times of war and economic crisis and American Idol judging changes: read those stacks of magazines we've collected but haven't gotten around to reading yet.

So, above you see my collection of recently accrued but as-yet-unread periodicals. The current issues of Vogue (Tina Fey article), the German edition of Playboy, Fangoria, the Simpsons quarterly, The New Yorker, Out (the great Ewan McGregor, natch), and The Baffler.

Heck, that's not even the entire stack, because it doesn't include the issues I'm carrying around in my bookbag or have on the magazine holder on my desk, such as the current New Scientist, SFX, Männer, GQ, the U.S. edition of Playboy, Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, and Zeit Geschichte. I think that officially qualifies my reading subject matter as broad and even eclectic. Let's not even mention the Esquire and the Entertainment Weekly in the living room.

Anyway, happy National Magazine Day.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Jimmy Jellinek Profiled in Chicago Magazine

Jimmy Jellinek, the young editorial director of Playboy magazine and chief content officer of Playboy Enterprises, is profiled in a good article by David Bernstein in the current issue of Chicago.

Jellinek's comments in the article back up his pledge when he was named to the editorial directorship of the magazine: reinvigorate the title by returning it to its 1960s and 1970s heyday of being an intelligent journal for men.

His potential for success is downplayed by none other than Mr. Magazine, Samir Husni, but in this case I have to disagree with Husni. If the question is whether or not Playboy can get back its one-time (and only brief) 7 million circulation, then of course not. But, as we saw recently, the magazine is able to make a profit, and it has done so through a combination of brutal cost cutting, outsourcing, combining two issues, and adding that Jellinek formula. I think he's deserving of respect; the magazine of late has actually been worth reading, worth saving, and worth anticipating (and I'm gay, so let's just skip the cliched "read it for the articles" line -- people have always done so).

The article is worth checking out because it also gives some interesting insight into Jellinek's CCO duties, rejecting ideas for magazine features or cable TV programs that are off-base. At least in the examples given in the article, he uses good judgement.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

National Magazine Day on February 27

In a couple days, we'll be celebrating the holiest day of the year for us magazine aficionados: National Magazine Day. More, from Mr. Magazine (natch).

It's the brainchild of Kevin Smokler. It's a day to attack those stacks of magazines we accumulate but haven't read. As Smoker notes, "I buy way more magazines than I could ever read so without designating time for them, they will remain next to my toilet gathering dust."

Well, I don't keep magazines next to my toilet. Instead, they stack up around my bedroom/office (see photo, and that's only a fraction of my collection). But if we can just get Obama and the GOP to agree on this one national cause, so much will start to fall in place for this wonderful country ...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fangoria Web Site Brought Back to Life

Since I covered this so extensively before, I thought I'd mention that the folks at Fangoria magazine have gotten their web site back up and running. Welcome back to the land of the living. (Note: If you were a forums user, you apparently have to create a new account and can't use your old one.)

Now, if they could just pay a little attention to their big brother,, which has fallen and can't get up (image at bottom).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Interview with My Brother

Since I am hyping people I know here today, here's a new interview with my brother, Andy, in which he discusses his music teaching career.

Think TV's One Big Wasteland? Get Aaron Barnhart's Tasteland

If you think television is one big terrible zone of reality TV awfulness and lowest-common-denominator drivel (i.e., reality TV awfulness), well, you're correct. But, it's a whole lot more, and Kansas City Star TV critic Aaron Barnhart has written a book that will show you what's really happening on -- in Harlan Ellison's words -- the glass teat.

 I've known Aaron for more than two decades, even before he started his cult-favorite e-mail newsletter focused on late-night television. That e-newsletter grew into the TV Barn web site (for which I wrote a weekly science fiction column for a year or two a decade ago) and eventually led to his perch at the KC Star. Fun fact: Aaron actually owned an Apple Newton.

I won't even pretend to be unbiased in this book-buying recommendation. Aaron's smart and talented and a good guy. But even biased people are sometimes correct, and this is one of those cases.

Hie thee to Amazon and buy a copy of Aaron Barnhart's Tasteland. I've already ordered mine.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Calling Star Blazers Fans -- iPhone App for Yamato Movie Released

Fanboy has some pix and a step-by-step guide to the new iPhone app promoting the recent animated Yamato movie (not, apparently, to be confused with the upcoming live-action Yamato movie, though I was initially confused).

Uh, what about us Nexus One (and other Android) users?

Friday, February 19, 2010

MST3K YouTube: Gumby's Robot

It's been a tough week, so I present the above YouTube video. It's a short from the late, great Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which Mike and the robots take apart a Gumby short.

"That's Wallce & Gromit's yard!" I needed that.

Have a good weekend.

Media Roundup: Enquirer Goes for the Gold, Comic Heroes Update, Profits at Playboy Mag, & More

The latest from the media whirl -- I mean, media world:

I noted here recently the intriguing news that UK-based SFX publisher Future was launching a comics magazine next month called Comic Heroes. One question I posed was whether the magazine would cover more than just the superhero-based comics that were being touted in the press I'd seen so far on the new magazine. Our friendly editors at SFX replied (via Twitter) that "yep, out 16 March - it will cover all kinds of comics." Good news.

More good news from the battered magazine publishing world: Playboy magazine, which has been a punching bag for the digital-only crowd for years, actually made a profit in fourth quarter of 2009, reports Folio:. The magazine's profit was powered by cost-cutting -- including the combined January-February issue (which went on sale in December) -- and by additional newsstand sales of its November issue, which featured Marge Simpson on the cover and which generated some of the greatest media buzz in the mag's history. The entire company had greatly reduced losses for that time period, too, so new CEO Scott Flanders at least has a promising story to tell investors. But Folio: quotes him as saying, "Although each of our businesses has promising opportunities, our operations are subscale in industries dominated by large players. In our business, size matters. Our mission is to create a stronger and significantly more profitable company."

A while ago I also asked in this blog whether Huffington Post magazine blogger James Warren -- a favorite of mine since my Chicago newspaper-devouring days -- was gone for good. I asked him directly (I know, a novel idea), and he responded that he does intend to return to his HuffPo perch; he's currently just too busy with his duties running the Chicago Reader. See, this blog is just full of good news today!

Let's keep the happy feelings wagon rolling, then. Mr. Magazine (aka Samir Husni) reports that January 2009 saw the largest number of new magazine launches in three years.

Let me dissent from the general shock-and-arrgh over the National Enquirer's bid for a Pulitzer in recognition of its uncovering the whole John Edwards affair/love-child scandal. The Pulitzer committee has accepted the tabloid's submission for consideration, so it's in the running. I'm no fan of the Enquirer -- never bought a copy, hope I neve do, and I don't like yellow journalism -- but I have absolutely no problem if it is deemed worthy of the award. Daily Finance blogger Jeff Bercovici agrees. Should it win? I don't know what else it'll be up against in the two categories for which it's being considered. But with the traditional media largely giving up on the expensive (and controversial, so it makes advertisers upset and it scares the MBAs who run the media) investigative reporting that is needed to keep the rich and powerful discomfited. Judge the individual work by its merit, not by the media outlet's whole.

Read my previous media roundup.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SFX Publisher Future Launches "Comic Heroes" Quarterly Magazine

'Twas just a matter of time, I suppose. Powerhouse UK publisher Future, which produces the 150-page science fiction media magazine SFX, among other titles, is launching a quarterly magazine devoted to comics. Called Comic Heroes, the new magazine will be unveiled in mid-March in the UK; no word yet when it'll show up in the colonies.

The new magazine will be 132 pages and will sell in the UK for £7.99; it will be 132 pages. (A normal issue of SFX costs just £3.99 and retails in the United States for about $9.99, so expect Comic Heroes to be a wallet-killer.)  The move to create a comics-focused magazine comes after a superhero special issue of SFX, which proved to be one of the most successful issues ever, according to The Guardian newspaper.

It's a good move, though I hope they won't be too parochial to superheroes. Of the two parts of its name, it's the "comic" that interests me the most. The Guardian article plays up the superhero aspect quite a lot, and it makes sense that they would focus on popular superhero comics, TV programs, and movies. But, writing as someone who never found superheroes to be all that interesting, I hope they will cover the vast array of other interesting non-superhero comics out there. In fact, it was always the lesser-known comics articles that interested me in (all three iterations of the late, great) Comics Scene magazine. That was the magazine that introduced me to Cerebus the Aardvaark, to mention only one.

(And, because this blog glories in diversionary asides, did you know there's a Cerebus Wiki? Yup.)

California Academy of Sciences -- Real and Unreal Animals

Some more visions from our recent visit to San Francisco's famed California Academy of Sciences. (See previous photos here, and short fish video here.) Click on the photo to view captions on Picasa site.

From California Academy of the Sciences 021510

From California Academy of the Sciences 021510

From California Academy of the Sciences 021510

From California Academy of the Sciences 021510

From California Academy of the Sciences 021510

Monday, February 15, 2010

Your Moment of Zen with the Fishes of the California Academy of Sciences

I'm not generally a fish person (a merman?), but I do think having a wall-sized aquarium would be a relaxing and amazing way to design a house or office. Then again, you'd end up looking a bit like a Bond villain, so maybe it's too much.

Dinosaurs, Roof Plants, and Evolution: Views of the California Academy of Sciences

We spent the early afternoon today at San Francisco's famed California Academy of Sciences, located in Golden Gate Park. There were more little kids there than you can shake a stick at -- and several exasperated parents probably would have liked to have done so. But I suspect the parents felt it was all worth it in the end; I overheard one five- or six-year-old kid exclaiming to his father, "This was the best day ever."
Above: Greeting visitors through the front door is this giant dinosaur skeleton. 
Above: The Academy of Sciences is famous for its living roof, planted with many different plants and designed with rolling hills. Visitors can't walk on any of it, but there is an observation platform on the roof from which they can admire the designers' handiwork and take photos.
Above: How nice to be in a building where science isn't treated as if it's a collection of myths, or a matter of opinion. How nice to be somewhere that actually dedicates itself to rolling back the waves of ignorance that so many politicians, fundamentalists, and others have spread across our land. End of sermon.
Above: It's an odd scene to be in a large room with alcoves along the walls, some sporting fake (or stuffed real?) animals and others sporting living creatures, such as these penguins.
Above: The four-story rainforest exhibit was a popular one, but you'll want to get there early and be prepared to stand in line for a while.

A New Cinefantastique? It's Rumors Time

Cinefantastique has a web site at So if you're surfing the web and you discover, you might naturally wonder if there's another site with a similar monicker. (After all, is currently just a blank placeholder.)

And yet: At the site, there is a note dated November 14, 2009, that reads: "At present, this website is a placeholder for future construction. In the meantime, visit for news and reviews of science fiction film and television."

Someone has already posted a response to the site, asking if this means there will be a return to print for Cinefantastique magazine. No response yet. It might, after all, just reflect plans to replace with the shorter URL. But it's tantalizing nonetheless, especially in this age of a dearth of good science fiction media magazines.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Media Roundup: John Mayer, Esquire, Gay Capricans, Starlog, & More

The latest in the vast, wild, weird world of media:

  • For people looking for signs of life or death of print media  on the newsstands, Folio: interprets the disastrous second half of 2009 as evidence that things will be getting better, not worse.
  • The new Syfy Channel series Caprica has gone unwatched in my house, except for the previews and a five-minute taste of the first episode, both of which confirmed in me my disinterest. I would, after all, far rather see a continuation of the incredible Battlestar Galactica series -- arguably one of the best dramatic series on television in the first decade of the 21st century -- than this prequel SF-lite series. Nonetheless, it's their money, their choice. But I was happy to hear from blogger Nick Mattos that Caprica features a gay couple, and it's all done without hype or over-reaction. That was, after all, just what we wanted from Star Trek all those years, but Trek never gave it to us (and I refuse to be happy with the forced allegories of that Enterprise episode, or the sex-shifting metaphors in Star Trek: The Next Generation). Babylon 5 didn't have a problem with having a major gay character. Galactica gave us the lesbian leader of the Pegasus and bridge officer Felix Gaetta. But Trek's given us squat. So, congrats, Caprica. 
  • Let me reiterate my belief that one-time science-fiction media powerhouse magazine Starlog is dead, dead, dead. Happy to be proven wrong, but frankly I think this is a market opportunity for someone else. I doubt others will know how to exploit it (though I do), but that's the big leagues for ya. If the UK can produce two monthly science fiction movie magazines with more than 130 pages (SFX and Sci Fi Now), certainly the much-larger United States can do one. Right? 
  • If print is dead and Playboy is dead, the print edition of Playboy sure does seem to be getting a lot of press lately for what it's doing. Unfortunately, the talk at the moment is about its interview with idiot-of-the-month John Mayer, someone I'd barely heard about before this hubbub about his allegedly racist (and definitely sexist) remarks in his Playboy Interview in the magazine's March issue (see image). Whatever happened to the interview with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman we were promised? Why do we keep getting idiots like John Mayor and Sean Combs? Playboy is a much more intelligent magazine -- and is doing some really great work these days -- than these interview subjects would indicate. How about Krugman? How about Robert Reich? Michio Kaku? There's a long list of people who have much more interesting things to say than the know-nothings Playboy Interviews have featured for the past few years, with a few exceptions.  
  • Despite my frequent dissing of Esquire magazine on this blog in the past, I must say I've been impressed with a couple of their recent articles, which have risen above their standard snarky and overly attitudinal fare. In the current issue, check out the profile of Chicago movie legend Roger Ebert. And in the previous issue, I was surprised to find myself actually reading several articles, including a quite-good profile of the U.S. secretary of defense. Maybe the economic collapse has focused the minds at the Esquire office on the need to focus on quality writing rather than just cover gimmicks. Or maybe they were flukes. Either way, I'd like to see more of this.
  • And, for you comics fans -- and/or you Zac Efron fans -- who read German, here's a report on Efron's upcoming comics film role.
  • And, finally, let me complain about Google's blogger interface, which has all on its own added random underlining, reformatting and placing photos, and other ridiculous stuff while I tried to write this short blog post. Much wasted time. Don't they test this stuff? Who do they think they are, Microsoft?
Read my previous Media Roundup.

Roland Emmerich to Bring Isaac Asimov's Foundation to the Screen

Roland Emmerich, the German-born maker of large-scale movies in which the world often takes a beating, is tackling the classic science fiction Foundation novels by the late Isaac Asimov.

SFX magazine reports that Emmerich will bring Avatar-style technology to the movies (he envisions a trilogy of Foundation films). The high-tech 3D approach is the wave of the future for big films, he says.

Emmerich, of course, is the man who brought the world Independence Day, Stargate, 2012 and more.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Science Fiction Landscapes with Paprika, Fur, & More

The Daily Beast has a photo feature of images by Matthew Albanese, who creates amazing landscapes using ordinary material (paprika, moss, etc.). I'd give you a taste of the imagery, or at least something better than just a link, but the Beast's site is, well, beastly when it comes to using its "share" feature.

So, check out the feature here, and enjoy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Travel Through a Real Black Hole -- Better than the Disney Remake?

Since the new Disney remake of The Black Hole will reportedly strive to be more scientifically accurate than the 1979 original film, the director, writer, and producers might want to watch this video, courtesy of New Scientist magazine, showing what it might be like to travel to a real black hole.

The Black Hole Remake Coming from Disney

Tron: Legacy has gotten Disney all excited about resurrecting its almost forgotten and often not successful early forays into big-budget science fiction. Next up is a reboot of The Black Hole, according to Michael Hickerson at Slice of Sci Fi.

Joseph Kosinski, director of Tron: Legacy, wants to direct a remake of The Black Hole, the 1979 outer-space thriller that Disney gummed up with annoying robots and scenery-chewing acting. (Other than that, actually, there are some pretty good points in the movie.) The new version will reportedly retain some elements of the old version -- including the unique design of the big ship, the Cygnus -- but will strive to be more scientifically accurate.


EU Will Save Greece; Greeks not Happy

Just a follow-up to my previous post on the Greek budget debacle. My question of whether or not Germany would demand Greek reform its shell-game budgeting has been answered in the affirmative, according to the Financial Times. And the Greeks ain't happy about taking their medicine.

Space Battleship Yamato Readying Its Launch

The live-action version of former anime Space Battleship Yamato (known as Star Blazers here in the United States) looks to be making impressive progress toward its launch. The image on the home page of its official site (see above image) is pretty cool; go ahead, visit the site, there's a little bit of action that is neat, though it's still largely a place-holder.

Blogger Fanboy has the new poster for the movie, which is obviously part and parcel of the web site's image. And you can view the trailer for the film in my previous post on this topic.

Not due to be released in Japan until December 2010, American fans will have to either wait even longer for it to show up here or will have to book a trip to Tokyo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Starlog Web Site "Removed for Non-Payment"

So maybe this is how Starlog goes out, not with a bang but with a non-payment notice.

As of 5:46 p.m. (Pacific time) today, Wednesday, February 10, 2010, the web site -- which has been unavailable for days, and before that had only been up briefly since its last down-time -- currently displays the notice imaged on this page: "Site removed due to non-payment by The Brooklyn Company, Inc."

Starlog Group was once the behemoth of the science-fiction (and movie-related) periodicals world, at one point being the number-one publisher of licensed movie magazines in the country. Over the years, the company published dozens of magazines -- some great, some good, some stinkers, but almost always worth a look. A very entrepreneurial company at its best, based on a geeky magazine that started life as a Star Trek one-shot. Starlog itself was the unrivaled champion of the SF media magazine world, burying such competitors as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Questar, Fantastic Films, Sci Fi Universe, Cinefantastique, SF Movieland, Dreamwatch, Space Wars, and others. At its peak, hundreds of thousands of copies flew off the newsstand shelves each month. Today, it can't even pay its web server bills. How the mighty fell.

But give the company a few bankruptcies, two changes of ownership in less than a decade, a cessation of print publication last year, the resignation of long-time editor David McDonnell this past fall, and a whole buncha turmoil at sister magazine Fangoria this past month, and I am thinking Starlog might be dead as a doornail.

As someone who can still off the top of his head remember almost every article in the first issue of Starlog I bought with my allowance waaaaay back in 1980, I'm sad it's come to this. The awful economy -- in which even successful small businesses have been unable to get financing -- was, I'm sure, a contributing factor. But can't anyone buy this title and make it a winner? Give me the money and I'll do it, for pete's sake.

Oh, well, at least I guess this means I own the complete collection.

UPDATE: I checked again this morning, 6:47 a.m. Pacific time, Thursday, February 11, 2010, and the non-payment notice is gone, replaced by this message: "Internal Server Error. The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request. Please contact the server administrator, and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error. More information about this error may be available in the server error log. Additionally, a 500 Internal Server Error error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request." Either way, it ain't good.

Leon Wieseltier vs. Andrew Sullivan, Part II

Andrew Sullivan has responded at length to The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier's attack on him.

I wrote my my reaction yesterday.

Frankly, this entire fight -- including the reactions of many others who have entered the fray (you can find 'em easily by googling leon wieseltier andrew sullivan) -- makes me glad that, back in the summer of 1990, I did not get the coveted New Republic internship that was doled out by a collegiate nonprofit with which I was involved. My consolation prize was weird enough.

Flashback to Flash Gordon -- Aaaaarrrgh of the Universe

I went time-travelling this morning, reading an old copy of Future Life (#23 from December 1980 -- part of my project to read every page of that short-lived magazine). This morning I read an article about the then-upcoming Flash Gordon movie produced by none other than Dino De Laurentiis.

Writer (and former Future Life and Fangoria editor) Ed Naha noted, "... many of the fans of the [comic] strip and the science fiction genre are somewhat apprehensive about its quality; concerned by the fact that Dino De Laurentiis is producing it." Naha then quotes the production's art director, John Graysmark, who defends the film and says how much De Laurentiis "wanted it perfect."

If you've seen the film (the trailer is above), then you know it's perfect -- a perfect piece of schlock. In the Future Life article, Graysmark first takes the readers through the beginning of the story, including the ridiculous football-like action by Flash and the cheerleading by Dale Arden, and "erupts into soft laughter, 'Delightful.'"

I'm not picking on Graysmark. I think a certain amount of respect or at least understanding is due to people who spend months or years of their professional lives writing, directing, designing, acting, etc., on films, even turkeys. And the silliness of a film's story certainly isn't the art director's fault.

But this blog article also is something of a defense of film magazines (such as Starlog and Fangoria) which are sometimes accused of being cheerleaders (like Dale Arden) for films their editors haven't even seen yet, because their articles pass along the fluff statements of the interview subjects. Unless the editors have had a preview of a movie, there's no way they can tell if the interview subjects are delusional or lying, and anyone who's covered films for years knows that a film might look like a turkey or a masterpiece while it's being assembled, but it'll be bungled by a slash editing job or a studio's imposition of last-minute changes. Plus, anyone reading Graysmark's extensive preview of the movie's opening scenes got an accurate sense of what that film would be like. Let 'em make up their own minds about the film, right?

Flash simply was bad. It has its fans, and that's fine for them. I don't criticize them; I'm sure I like some films, TV programs, or books that they'd think were awful. But when I watched the trailer above, and I remembered sitting through the entire film with ever-increasing incredulity, I had to wonder why De Laurentiis, with his many millions of dollars to put into this film, couldn't make a film that was much better than the low-budget, soft-porn Flesh Gordon from the early 1970s. The Flesh trailer is below (don't worry, it's safe for work; though the film was rated X when it was released, it really would have difficulty getting an R these days, and the trailer is PG at most).

Both Flash and Flesh are bad movies, but the folks who put together the latter weren't laboring under the illusion that they were making the Next Big Thing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Comcast Changes Its Name to ... XFInity? What, There Weren't Any Stupider Names Available?

From the Chicago Tribune comes word that cable giant Comcast will change its name to XFinity later this week. Assuming you feel the same horror I do at this idiotic name change, I offer below a column I wrote for Internet World back in 2000 about the many companies that change their names from perfectly good names to ridiculous names that -- like XFinity -- look like they were worked over in a dark alley by a pack of MBA's with brass knuckles and a lack of talent.

Introducing the New Honda Verizon
By John Zipperer

(12/6/00) I think Kentucky Fried Chicken started it all. Years ago, in a mistaken belief that it was running out of letters of the alphabet, the venerable chicken chain shrank its name to KFC. It was joined by many other companies who transformed names that actually meant something into soulless initials. I for one don't know what a single letter in ABN AMRO stands for.

Though that earlier round of name changes was often a result of deeply felt corporate restructurings, in the Internet business world we are now seeing a rash of name changes that often amount to senseless corporate tweaking. In many instances the changes make a good name bad; in a few, a bad name is made even worse. E-businesses seem to be making several basic mistakes when they change their corporate identity or spin off a product:

Auto-derivatives: The biggest problem is that people are trying to be too clever. For example, NewsAlert is a Manhattan-based company that syndicates news for sites, mostly in the financial services arena. It's a good company; I've met its officers, toured its offices, and heard its aggressive business plan. Yet nothing I know about the company springs to mind when I hear its new corporate name: Inlumen. It sounds like a car name. NewsAlert/Inlumen isn't alone. E-commerce software company OpenSales recently changed its name to Zelerate. The company's president and CEO, Bonnie Crater, claimed in an announcement that "the name Zelerate reflects our accelerated approach to developing and supplying e-commerce applications." No, it doesn't. It sounds like the new Hyundai.

It sounded good at the time: Accompany, a Web group-buying company, changed its name to Mobshop. A hip and cool name, but one that also sounds like it was named by a bunch of college kids after one too many viewings of "Sopranos." This fits into a genre of names I think of as being cause for embarrassment when the companies' employees turn 40 years old.

Good to bad: Andersen Consulting, which should know better, recently changed its name to Accenture. This was part of something the company termed "brandstorming," in which employees were asked to submit names as part of an effort at rebranding. Now, Andersen Consulting is one of the most respected names in, um, consulting. It's even part of the name (a key strength, that). So the best that tens of thousands of employees could do was Accenture, which could be a car or a software company or a euphemism for corporate downsizing. This failure to achieve clarity is particularly surprising in light of Andersen's recent report "Beyond the Blur: Correcting the Vision of Internet Brands," in which the company takes to task Web companies that spend more time on branding and image than on delivering good service.

Others besides Andersen avoid perfectly good names. Bell South's wireless joint venture with SBC is called Cingular. Why the spelling? Why the word? With both Bell South and SBC being huge communications names, it takes a great lapse of common sense to come up with a different name that has to be -- forgive the term -- rebranded all over again.

Not clear before, still not clear: Denmark-based Belle Systems, a provider of services to telecommunications companies and service providers, changed its name to Digiquant, which CEO Erik Froberg said taps into two attributes: the DIGItal economy, and a QUANtum leap forward. Resonant Commerce at least had "commerce" in its name before it changed to the odd Optivo Corp.

Luckily, there are some good company name developments out there. Last year we gave an award to recognize its successful name change from the Mining Company. sensibly changed its name to Hollywood Media Corp. to reflect its varied entertainment services beyond its Web site. Print on the Net made what I consider a lateral name change to NexPub. And to show that creativity can still flourish, IDG Books Worldwide adopted the name of an online marketplace it acquired, going by the new name of

(Internet Whirl is a weekly column written by John Zipperer, associate managing editor of Internet World magazine. It appears every Wednesday.)

Google Buzz Looks to Avoid Friendster Fate (a la The Onion)

Internet Archaeologists Find Ruins Of 'Friendster' Civilization

Berlin to Lead Greece Rescue; How Tough Will the Love Be?

Markets in the United States and Europe rallied today on reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has finally accepted that it will have to lead a rescue of Greece, according to reports. Financial Times says Germany will seek to build a "firewall" around Greece, so that country's disastrous finances won't contaminate other weak EU states, such as Spain and Portugal. It is not known yet if the assistance will come bilaterally (directly from Berlin to Athens) or if it'll be an EU package.

My question is whether the firewall plan will come with enough strings attached to make Greece play by adult rules when it comes to government spending. In a separate report in yesterday's FT, "Halcyon no More," the paper gives a great in-depth look at how Greece has been a financial house of cards for decades, a disaster waiting to happen. And unlike in the United States, where our current troubles were brewed by private investment run amok, in Greece the culprit was successive governments that bought their popularity at the cost of future prosperity.

When you read reports that Greek public sector unions were going on strike against "austerity plans" that only would have frozen wages and hiring -- i.e., not reduced staffing, not reduced bloated benefits -- then one has to wonder why anyone would want to help them out until they come back to reality. After all, why should other EU citizens, who have had their wages cut or their jobs destroyed, pay to keep radical Greek unions from facing reality?

We'll know in a little while what Berlin plans. But now would be a good time to play to German stereotype and be very detail-oriented and specific in the changes required of Greece to pull its rear end out of the fire.

UPDATE: When I wrote the above, I was working with the knowledge I had gotten from earlier reports that the Greek government was planning freezes but not cuts. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times today, Greece does plan cuts. I think the criticism still stands, though; everyone else in Europe faces cuts, so why should Greece's overpaid unions be sacred? One union member tells the Times, "It can't be that civil servants pay for the mistakes of past governments." But in fact, yes the civil servants should, because if you'll read the "Halcyon" article linked above, you'll see that the civil servants and others on the Greek government gravy train have not been innocent bystanders but in fact were the root of the problem. They benefited. Now it's time to pay the piper. Sorry to sound like an unsympathetic hard-nose, but frankly I'm unsympathetic.

The New Republic Lumps Andrew Sullivan in with the Anti-Semites

and lo did Leon Wieseltier smite Andrew Sullivan, sending him forth to lament among the anti-semites ...
The New Republic's long-time literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, has penned (maybe in a digital age, he keyed?) a harsh attack on former TNR editor Andrew Sullivan, taking him to task for Sullivan's writings about Israel, American Jews, and Israeli-Palestinian relations. Read the article yourself via the above link; there's no way to do it justice here, merely to point out its significance.

Wieseltier writes in his conclusion: "About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive? To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left." That's taken out of context, but only so much. After reading the article, one does not need to be a defender or fan of Sullivan (and I am definitely neither; I find him tiresome and as ardent in his positions when he's laughably wrong as when I think he's correct) to conclude that William F. Buckley Jr. (again, I'm neither a Buckley defender or fan) did a better job tagging Buchanan as an anti-semite than Wieseltier's longwinded article does with Sullivan.

Sullivan was editor of TNR in the early 1990s, around the time I lost interest in the magazine that had once been my political bible. A family friend, knowing my precocious interest in politics, had bought me a birthday subscription to the magazine. I would subscribe almost uninterrupted for nearly a decade. (The first issue to arrive in my mailbox featured a cover story on KAL Flight 007, the Korean airliner shot down by the Soviets in 1983.) I was hooked immediately by the magazine's smart writing, sometimes snarky takes on serious subjects, and its editors' apparent deep wells of knowledge on topics.

But TNR's weaknesses get to you after a while. The closed-circle of Friends of the Editors who write for the magazine (or are endorsed for president, but that's another, longer story). The ethical shabbiness (part of what made me lose respect for the magazine was the way it mishandled complaints about alleged plagiarism by one of its writers). The buck-raking by its editors. I could go on with the list, but why bother?

Even as a former reader, I've followed the adventures and misadventures of the mag out of a corner of my eye. I've seen that there's no love lost between Wieseltier and Sullivan. Once Obi Wan Kenobi to Sullivan's Anakin Skywalker (if Wieseltier can quote W.H. Auden ...), Wieseltier's relationship with his padawan learner soured as the conservative/Catholic/British/gay Sullivan turned to the dark side. (The Economist writes that one big turning point in their relationship was when Sullivan published the controversial -- and debunked -- The Bell Curve in TNR.) Wieseltier also said that Sullivan had caused a great deal of unhappiness at the magazine when he ran it.

"About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot..." Wieseltier asks this time. But this is not the first fight between the two that has brought into question Sullivan's affection or lack thereof for Jews and Israel. Read this exchange, in which Wieseltier states Sullivan's not an anti-semite. Has Sullivan backslid since then? Possibly. But for the rest of us, we can perhaps request that these two keep any future kerfuffle between them and not air it publicly. It does little to illuminate the situation of Israel, the Palestinians, or how weird multi-hyphenate pundits like Sullivan can contribute or detract from the debate.

In closing, I'll note with approval one more swipe Wieseltier takes at Sullivan, who blogs at The Atlantic's web site. He says of Sullivan: "He is the master, and the prisoner, of the technology of sickly obsession: blogging – and the divine right of bloggers to exempt themselves from the interrogations of editors – is also a method of hounding." That's a beautiful observation, and a dead-on charge of Sullivan and many other bloggers.

He might have added that bloggers are quick to forgive themselves their errors and quick to hound those they find to be offenders.

UPDATE: Sullivan has posted an initial response, and promised more.

Penton Media Heads for Bankruptcy Filing

My one-time employer, Penton Media, is going to file for a pre-packaged bankruptcy soon that will see it emerge from Chapter 11 status after 30 to 45 days shorn of $270 million in debt, reports Folio:.

Penton, a B2B publisher based in New York City, has had gob-smacking amounts of debt for years. When I worked there in 2000-2003 at its now-defunct Internet World magazine, the company went from record profits to staggering debt -- I believe it was on the order of $700 million, mainly from some bad bets it had made in the technology publishing and trade show arenas. (Its San Francisco-based Streaming Media title was a particularly heavy weight on the company, I was told.) Anyway, the company labored under that debt for a while, before finally restructuring and merging with another company that assumed the Penton name. (And if any of you have ever worked for a public company in trouble, you know about the quarterly need to feed some raw meat to the Wall Street lions, thus the four-times-yearly tension about which titles were closing or which staffers were being laid off.)

I don't know if the $270 million is a remnant of the $700 million, or if it's new debt. If the latter, then I'm not sure how they'll avoid running up another few hundred million in debt in the next five years. We'll see.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Oscar the Nursing Home Cat Now Has Science on His Side

Remember the story a few years ago about the nursing home cat, the fish-breathed grim reaper who is able to tell when a patient was going to die? When a patient is about to die, Oscar the cat curls up next to him or her and stays there until the patient leaves this world.

The story caught the attention of millions -- and does to this day (the above cartoon, by veteran political cartoonist Lyle Lahey, has been viewed by thousands of people a month for the past several years). Most people probably thought the cat was either lucky, or magic, or that the nursing home attendants were just not observant of when Oscar curled up next to other patients.

But researcher Dr. David Dosa has been studying Oscar's case, and he's concluded that in fact the cat is detecting something in the dying people -- dead cells, or something -- and was not particularly friendly with other residents when they were living and well.

Read the report on the researcher and his results in an article this month in the UK's Telegraph newspaper.

Sarah Palin Bows out of Presidential Race -- Forever

Sarah Palin announced that she would consider running for president again if "it's right for the country."

So there you have it: She's promised never to run for president.

Now can we focus on something more interesting?

Friday, February 5, 2010

And a New Issue of Fangoria Is Unveiled

The folks at the Fangoria News blog have released the cover image (see left) and contents list for the next issue of Fangoria magazine, #291.

Considering all of the upheaval within the Fango/Starlog world, this announcement should go some way to calm fears that the title was going away. The news that Chris Alexander will succeed Tony Timpone as editor of the magazine will keep people talking for a while.

Timpone has been editor of Fango for longer than some of its readers have been alive. Beloved by many (though not by some), he will be watched closely for his next moves.

For now, at least subscribers can expect to receive another mag.

Chris Alexander the New Editor at Fangoria

There's a changing-of-the-guard at Fangoria magazine, reports Ryan Rotten. Long(longlonglong)-time editor Tony Timpone is said to be moving on to other duties in the Fangoria empire, while contributor (and Rue Morgue veteran) Chris Alexander will take the reigns in an issue or two. Managing Editor Michael Gingold will also be staying aboard.

Read Rotten's report, which includes the news (and some interesting comments about the internal turmoil at Fango's offices).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Behind the Scenes at the Fangoria & Starlog Turmoil

James Zahn, former director of new media development for Fangoria and its sister brand Starlog, has issued a statement outlining his reasons for leaving the company last month. He posted his long explanation on his Facebook page, so you can't read it unless you're his Facebook pal -- thus there's no point in my including a link to it here. (In other words, if you're in the fold, you already have read it.)

He has said that he doesn't like airing dirty laundry. I think we should respect that. But there are some items in his statement that I'm afraid are all too common in businesses, and so at the risk of spreading some dirty laundry, I want to look at some of it.

There's no way I can do proper justice to his heartfelt posting in a few words here, so I'll just pass along the major gist of the piece, at least as it affects the brands and their customers. Briefly, he contends that the company is being hobbled by unchecked egos, unprofessional behavior (conflicts of interest), unpaid writers, and cluelessness about adapting to changing media markets. I have no inside knowledge of how the Fango/Starlog offices function (or disfunction); my one visit there was a decade ago, in sunnier economic times and under a different company ownership. They seemed happy then, but even then the company was seriously missing the boat on the online business revolution.

My suggestions and complaints about the company in recent years have mostly revolved around the Starlog brand, which for the one-time "magazine of the future" has seriously missed the boat on the opportunities presented by the web, e-mail, online audio and video, and much more. Naturally, science fiction has always been of more interest to me than horror, so I did focus on Starlog rather than Fango. But Zahn's portrait of the company today suggests a company that is still out of digital touch, and that has let some editors who fear change and who have definite control issues warp its content and strategy, he alleges. A magazine badly in need of a design revamp goes along basically unchanged (except for a cover redesign) for more than a decade. Pals of the editors allegedly get too much coverage in the magazine, web site, and radio show. And so on.

The personal side of Zahn's explanation of his experience applies to far too many people in this country: overwork, unfulfilled plans, resistance to new ideas, backstabbing. Again, I don't know what daily life was like at the company, but I'm not surprised to hear a veteran say that it's poorly run.

Perhaps we'll hear the other side from insiders still with Fangoria and Starlog, or perhaps they'll prefer not to address it. It's their choice. But for a company that seems to have lurched from crisis to near-death experience to rebirth to crisis redux for the past decade, it would be nice to see some stability and wise management rule the day. As a magazine and new-media professional, I see a lot of value in those two brands. But as someone over the age of 12, I am not wide-eyed enough to expect that it will necessarily be brought out.

Buzz Aldrin Says Obama's Right on Space; Private Space Groups to Be Embraced

The Apollo 16 command and service module over the moon. Photo courtesy NASA.

Ever since President Obama announced his budget plans for NASA, there has been quite a bit of worry from supporters of the space program that by curtailing our return to the moon, the U.S. was downsizing its extra-terrestrial ambitions. Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin writes on the Huffington Post today that the truth is quite the opposite, that Obama is positioning us to be better able to pursue our goals in space and to reap the rewards of the burgeoning private space investment that has stolen NASA's thunder.

The embracing of private space activities (including spending money to give U.S. astronauts rides on private spaceships) is causing consternation among two groups: people who think space should be strictly a public enterprise, and people who have made careers working in NASA-funded industries.

As I've noted here before, I'm thrilled with the private space activity. It gives me a feeling of "at last, we have traction." Things are really happening, and it's getting exciting for the non-astronaut, because our horizons are opening up. But I also think it makes financial sense. Let private industry do the investment. Government has to do certain things that private investment won't or can't sustain (including occasionally stepping in to save our necks when private financial firms nearly wreck the world economy, but that's another issue). But it needn't do everything, and it can wisely step aside when private initiative has its own momentum.

Anyway, we space enthusiasts no longer need to see NASA or the ESA as the standard bearers for the long-term project of ensuring that humanity isn't stuck on one planet forever. That's good news, because Western governments will be suffering long-term financial hangovers from this economic crisis of the past two years.

Furthermore, NASA's glory has been tarnished somewhat by the underwhelming performance of the space shuttle, slow progress on the international space station, and other issues. Part of the problem with NASA's operations and goals as set during the Bush administration is that ambitious goals of reaching Mars and of returning to the moon were combined with typical Bush tactics of not providing funding. Writes Aldrin of the moon project:
First, the President failed to fully fund the program, as he had initially promised. As a result, each year the development of the rockets and spacecraft called for in the plan slipped further and further behind. Second and most importantly, NASA virtually eliminated the technology development effort for advanced space systems. Equally as bad, NASA also raided the Earth and space science budgets in the struggle to keep the program, named Project Constellation, on track. Even that effort fell short.
I can't predict how well the Obama administration will carry out its plans. Our budgetary constraints are going to be severe in coming years, and American's don't seem to be looking to the skies for inspiration these days. Richard Branson might be helping to change that, and now Buzz Aldrin promises to pitch in his support.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Just a heads-up: Fangoria web site back up, but now's fallen and can't get up

This blog post's title pretty much says it all. Fango's web site, which has been down for weeks, is up as of this morning.

However, sister title Starlog's web site, which had resumed operation before Fango's, is down once again, this time with the error message shown below.
So this gives some impetus to the view that Fango's going to be sticking around. At least for a while. Additional updates from Jadedviewer blog.

UPDATE: As of 4:34 pm Pacific time, Fango's web site is down again. And is still down, though with a new error message. I'm sure President Obama will be making a statement soon on this serious issue of national import.

James O'Keefe and the Downward Trajectory of the Right-Wing Campus "Conspiracy"

Photo of the summer 1990 intern cadre posing with President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle. I'm the one wearing the dark blazer. 

A little background can really change your views of someone.

Conservative activist James O'Keefe was previously best known for releasing secretly made videos purporting to show ACORN staffers instructing a fake pimp and prostitute how to traffic in underage prostitutes. ACORN claims O'Keefe edited out the portions of the video wherein the staffers showed that they didn't take the conservative actors seriously. But the damage to ACORN (serving as a stand-in for the conservatives' real target, President Barack Obama) was done.

As I noted above, that was O'Keefe's previous reason for fame or infamy. These days, he's known for being part of a band of conservative activists who were arrested after allegedly lying to get access to a U.S. senator's communications system on federal property. Big-time federal crime, though it'll probably help them that one of the activists' father is a U.S. attorney in Louisiana. Just sayin'.

The interesting angle for me has come from writers who have highlighted the activists' involvement in the conservative movement since at least their college years, including involvement in conservative campus newspapers. If there is a vast right-wing conspiracy (and there is and has been for decades; Hillary Clinton was correct), a key cog in that network is the campus conservative movement groups that train the Karl Roves and Dinesh D'Souzas and the Ann Coulters. They bring them to Washington to meet conservative bigwigs, they give them money to start or support right-wing campus papers, and they give them internships and jobs in the government or in their connected networks of foundations or think tanks.

And I was sort-of almost kinda a part of it for a while.

Let me explain.

When I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1980s, I joined one of the daily student newspapers. (At the time, the UW was the only campus in the country that had two daily student papers competing. A point of pride.) There was the long-running Daily Cardinal, which was the campus left-wing paper. No, not liberal; left-wing. There's a difference. One famous low point for the Cardinal was when Saigon fell to the communists; the Cardinal's big front-page headline was "VICTORY!" Ugh. Anyway, back in 1969, a group of campus students created The Badger Herald as a libertarian-to-conservative counterweight. The Herald went from boom to bust to boom and back over the next decade, but by the time I joined the staff in 1987, the Herald was flourishing. Even without (and probably partly because it was without) any financial support from the university, the Herald had become the paper with the larger circulation, and it went from strength to strength.

An important factor in its appeal, I think, was that it wasn't a doctrinaire, ideological sheet. Nor was the Herald predictable. As editorial page editor for a year and a half, I relied on the "libertarian" part of our identity whenever I ran an editorial or opinion piece that wasn't in any way conservative. But what gave us cred within the journalism school was that we kept our politics in the opinion section and out of the news, entertainment, and sports pages. I was very proud when a staffer came back from her first day in a journalism class and related her professor's plea to his students not to work for the Cardinal because it was garbage. At that very liberal J-school, I'm sure there were plenty of professors who felt similarly about the Herald, but we were increasingly hearing good things from those professors, and that became one measure of our success.

The Herald wasn't part of any right-wing conspiracy. It was just a good student paper doing what a band of writers and editors should do: offer an alternative viewpoint and engaging in the issues of the day. (In the photo at right, circa 1987, the Herald's editorial staff sets alight a copy of the Cardinal. What scamps. But even in that photo, there is everything from a supporter of El Salvadoran Marxist rebels to a news editor to the right of William F. Buckley to apolitical editors to moderates. Healthy debate requires diversity.)

But early in my tenure as editorial page editor, one of the editorial page's Grand Old Dames (he was a man, not a woman, but it's hard to think of conservative elders in other terms) told me about the Institute for Educational Affairs, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that helped network a disparate group of conservative campus newspapers. IEA (which later merged with the Madison Center) provided some funding for papers, but for the Herald, the $10,000 or so that it might get wouldn't be worth it; our budget was something like half a million dollars a year, and we were profitable and proud of our independence. I think the only financial help we had ever received from IEA was help buying a photocopier, before my time there.

(This led to my one and only appearance in Rolling Stone magazine, and an education in how to talk to national media reporters. Sometime around the 1988 elections, Rolling Stone put together an article on the phenomenon of conservative college papers, and I came home one day to find a answering machine message from the reporter. I called him back and talked with him for an hour -- on my dime -- about the Herald, the UW-Madison campus, all the ways we were not a right-wing rag. None of that made it into the article he eventually published. Instead, the only bit of that expensive phone call that was immortalized in RS' pages was in a section about the financial assistance provided by IEA to conservative papers. Noting the typical $10,000 funding amount, I was quoted as saying something to the effect of "that's what we spend on beer in a year." So not only did he not include any of my comments that would have challenged his thesis about these fire-breathing right-wing papers, but the one bit he did use made us sound like a band of drunken frat boys, which we weren't. Sigh.)

Frankly, I rather liked IEA, or at least its Washington staff. They were intelligent, they had interesting backgrounds, and they had a good understanding of politics -- an important asset if, like me, you've always been interested in politics and the issues of the day. They also flew me to Washington, D.C., for conferences (with speakers such as conservative journalist John Podhoretz or Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). It offered the student journalists a chance to network with each other, see how other papers were surviving and how they met challenges. Since we were pretty much the only non-right-wing paper (i.e., we were moderate to libertarian to conservative, and we were a real newspaper, not just a political sheet), there wasn't a whole lot I could learn from the others, and, let's face it, a few of those papers were pretty scary. The Dartmouth Review (which gave us Dinesh D'Souza and won't take him back) had ridden to success by provocative and sometimes offensive attacks on its political opponents. The Cornell Review was also known for being over-the-top; no surprise that one of its founders was ultra-right provocateur Ann Coulter. And then there was the paper (I forget its name, thankfully) that liked to trade in Nazi insults and illustrations.

Though I never met Coulter (she is quite a bit older, anyway), I did meet a number of the other editors who were in the campus journalism wing of the vast right-wing conspiracy (to stick with the theme). They ranged from the sort of prep-schooled alumni to blue collar conservatives. Men and women. Very conservative to moderate. One could lampoon them -- after all, being serious about politics in college when most students are just trying to pass courses, find a date, and get drunk is a lampoonable offense in this country. But, even if I don't share much of their views, I respect the majority of them. Even the college kid who wore suits to all of the IEA conferences and had his own business cards. Even the grad student who tried to create a magazine that had no editorial rules whatsoever. Even the one who thought Ayn Rand provided step-by-step guides to life in the 1980s.

I was also the recipient of two IEA-arranged internships. The first was for a major conservative foundation in Milwaukee, where I spent a summer reviewing project files and writing reviews. I can't imagine they got much value out of two interns' views on their funding projects. The second internship was in the office of the Vice President of the United States, where I ... didn't do much at all. Most of the interns did not do much, apparently because most were there due to family connections and were hoping to cement future political roles. I, on the other hand, still saw myself as an editor and writer, and was pretty bored out of my skull, though I did discover that the library in the Old Executive Office Building had an excellent collection of New York Review of Books issues going back many, many years. Since it was the summer that I discovered John Updike and Philip Roth, I spent many an hour going through those old NYRBs looking up articles on their past books.

In the end, my politics solidified much more in the center of the spectrum, ranging from center-left to center-right. (Think German Chancellor Angela Merkel.) It would be wrong to assume that there weren't similar political evolutions for some of the other students who were involved in conservative campus newspapers; they didn't all grow up to be Ann Coulter. So the conservative campus newspaper part of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" isn't in itself something to worry about; it's just part of the lively debate of a civil society.

Where this comes back to James O'Keefe and his ilk, which I do consider to be something to worry about, is where campus conservatives aren't interested in engaging in discussions with their opponents. They don't grant their opponents the courtesy of having ideas or viewpoints that are worth considering and that might change the conservative's mind. They attack. They use deceit. They lie. They are not a political evolution but are instead a political dead-end, in particular the dead end of conservatism. At its best, conservatism can ask good questions about human nature and past attempts to change the world, and thereby provide a grounding by injecting realism into political debates. But conservatives of this radical sort today, who prefer the Ann Coulters and the Sean Hannitys (Hannity, by the way, provided James O'Keefe with his first post-arrest TV interview) to any sort of conversation with moderates and liberals -- that sort of conservative is not a good thing, and we have nothing good to expect from them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rumors about Fangoria's Fate

Blogger JadedViewer provides a roundup of rumors and questions concerning longtime horror film magazine Fangoria (and its related online operations and other media).

As I've noted recently (here and here), the web sites for Fango and science fiction sister brand Starlog have been down for weeks. Starlog's web site has been restored to life, or at least existence; but the Fangoria site has not. If you do some hunting on Twitter and Facebook, you can piece together a bit of the story. It sounds like the online staff walked off the job a in January. I haven't found out the reasons why, but generally when you have a mass defection from a company, either it's not paying its staff or there are terrible management problems.

Fango/Starlog have been through hell and back in the past decade. After original owners Starlog Group fell on rough times in 2001 and had to close most of their dozen-or-so titles, the rump company continued under that management for a few years before being sold to Creative Group. A couple years later, Creative Group went bust, and Tom DeFeo -- one of the Creative leaders -- bought the two brands and continued as The Brooklyn Company. Earlier this year, Starlog ceased publication as a print magazine, continuing as an online-only property; in December, longtime editor David McDonnell resigned -- again, no further info, but there's probably an interesting story there.

It's interesting to read the online comments from readers. There's the usual claptrap about "print is dying anyway," which simply isn't true. Magazine readership is actually up over the past decade. What there is right now is an advertising depression, and there's a near impossibility even for successful small businesses to get the financing they need to stay afloat. You can thank the global financial collapse for that. Companies generally need a steady supply of credit, because there is always a lag between the expenditure of money (salaries, printing costs, office rent, insurance, etc.) and the receipt of revenue (advertising, newsstand sales, etc.). I have no inside knowledge whatsoever about The Brooklyn Company's situation; I'm just suggesting that tight credit is hobbling a lot of companies these days and could well be a factor if there are money problems there. (The credit issue is the reason President Obama is planning to pump $30 billion into small banks for loans to small businesses. There's only so long a business can stretch and delay paying its suppliers before it runs into hard money problems.)

So how does this all relate to Starlog and Fangoria? As I noted, nothing conclusive. I suspect the two titles aren't dead (and magazines are kind of like Spock: even death isn't the end of life). Whether The Brooklyn Company knows how to make the titles flourish again as print magazines is an open question. Personally, I now believe the field is wide open for a smart publisher to create a new title and take over Starlog's old science fiction media magazine territory -- and I write that as a longtime Starlog supporter. It's sad, but I think it's true. And I'm working on something in that space. We'll see.

As for Fangoria, the magazine is still alive and lively. Inveterate readers of magazine staff boxes, like I am,  will probably glean some info from the next issue due to come out later this month. But by then, we might already have heard more about the future of the longest-running horror film magazine in this country.

UPDATE: Inside the turmoil.