Chatroulette, Circa 1986

Yes, I watched Pretty in Pink last night. I’ll pretend it was because my wife hadn’t seen it, but it’s actually because I still dream of working in a record store with a Smiths poster on the wall.

With Chatroulette tearing up the Net, I was struck by this scene which, frankly, I’d forgotten. (Please forgive the awful camerawork; I’m not the responsible party.)

For those of you in high school in 1986 – remember that system? The one that had Internet-style information when the number of Internet-connected computers was, according to Wikipedia’s History of the Internet, hovering around 0?

Luckily, the government prioritized installing Internet-connected computers in high schools in Southern California.

And you probably remember how you could chat with random people, unsolicited, and anonymously.

Then, sans graphical user interface, relying only on a keyboard, you could instantly send a photo to your chat partner – a mere two years after the standardization of the Ethernet protocol! Girls in pink, boys in blue.

So, Chatroulette, don’t think you’re special. Andrew McCarthy had this process nailed 24 years ago – and I bet he encountered very few masturbators.

All of this, of course, is why I should never have watched that movie.

The Greatest New Yorker Valentine’s Day Covers of All Time

A beautifully-designed Valentine’s Day cover used to be an annual event for many magazines. Today, with the exception of an occasional women’s service mag, Valentine’s Day has almost disappeared from the newsstands. Thank goodness for the New Yorker, which has done an annual Valentine’s Day cover for over 70 years. And best of all, their covers keep getting better. We’ve collected 20 of the greatest New Yorker Valentine’s Day covers. Co-produced by Linda Rubes. For the full list of 20 covers, visit here. (Cover at left: February 12, 1990, illustration by Arnie Levin.)

February 15, 1993, illustration by Art Spiegelman.

February 10, 2003, illustration by Carter Goodrich.

February 12, 1949, illustration by Rea Irvin.

February 14, 1970, illustration by Pierre Le-Tan.

February 15, 1988, illustration by Lee Lorenz.

February 17, 1992, illustration by James Stevenson.

See the New Yorker’s great cover archive here.

Robert Newman has served as the design director of several magazines, including Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, and New York. His Facebook page can be found here.

Mediaite’s Rachel Sklar Talks Snowmageddon, Google Buzz on CNN

This weekend I was on CNN’s Your Money with host Ali Velshi and CNN’s Richard Quest, talking about a variety of topics including Snowmageddon’s effect on jobs and the claim by various analysts that around 200,000 jobs would be lost as a result (which we all viewed with extreme skepticism), whether it was still a Snow Day for those in computer-enabled industries who could work from home and what Google Buzz would mean for the social media – and media – world.

Ali very kindly pointed out that I was a hardy Canadian — like him! — and we all scoffed at weather wimps. I also got to give a shout-out to Geekosystem, Mediaite’s sister site. Aw. Here’s the video:

Here was my take on Google Buzz:

SKLAR: It’s a little early to know whether this is just another thing that we don’t need or the thing we didn’t know we needed. At first I found it annoying and wondered what the use was, but I admit I’ve started finding it useful. There are a lot of sharing features. People already sharing links, stuff coming in from their RSS via Google Reader. You can integrate your Twitter stream, which is a point that Google actually made in their press conference. You can geotag stuff, so where you post from can be visible…I mean there a lot of possibilities. And I think what will be really interesting is when they open up the API, which they are planning to do by May, according to Geekosystem, which is where I get my geek information from, it’s Mediaite’s sister site. The said they’re going to open up the API by may so that other developers can come in and use the service to create their own private application.

VELSHI: Which has been a big success for Facebook.

Quest made the point that each of these various web apps had begun with “a unique selling point, and then the others decided they had to steal their clones” — but then boggled my mind by asking me a question that I thought we were done with ages ago:

QUEST: What I question and I question Rachel is, there was one phrase that people always talk about never use with social media, what is the social usefulness.

SKLAR: Are you serious? It’s incredibly useful for exchanging information and seeing trends. Just for, frankly, for being social. It’s an incredibly useful system of communication. It’s changing everything. That’s the short answer!

QUEST: I can see that. I Twitter and I love to Twitter. I can understand it with a small group of friends, but do you always want to know who you went to school with and what they’re doing now? Do you really care?

SKLAR: It’s all information. Like I always like to say, it’s just a platform and it’s what you do with that platform. It’s not just for what I had for lunch. It’s, “This is an interesting article,” “You were talking about this yesterday and here is an update,” “These are photos you might find interesting,” “This event happened, did anybody else experience it?” It’s crowdsourcing. It’s not just one way or two way communication, it’s all way communication.

Richard Quest is a smart guy who clearly gets it, which is why I was so flabbergasted at the question. There is just no excuse for questioning the value of social media because you don’t care what someone had for lunch anymore. Seriously. We’ve now been through Iran, Motrin Moms, Miracle on the Hudson and Tiger Woods to name just a few examples off the top of my head where social media played a major role in information-sharing, media coverage and, in certain cases, decisions made as a direct result. No one questions the use of paper because sometimes people print idiotic things. It’s enough already. p.s. Richard, I just had soup for lunch. Yum!

Full transcript here.

Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies Evokes Classic Canadian Beer Commercial

For those of you who agree with me that Friday night’s Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies were quintessentially, perfectly Canadian, albeit through the soft-focus, affectionate lens of the ex-pat, you’ll probably also agree with me that despite feeling as familiar as a Coffee Crisp or a Canadian Heritage Minute, it represented an image of Canada that many of us struggled against for years in the face of our U.S. brethren cracking jokes about how we lived in igloos: No, really, we’re just like you. The Canadian’s we’d trumpet to our U.S. pals were the ones who’d made it over here: Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell, Celine Dion, Rachel MacAdams, Feist, William Shatner, Lorne Michaels, the hot football player from Glee. When Ann Murray got called out in “Blame Canada,” I was super proud that people in the U.S. had heard of her.

But at the same time, it was the “our own” stuff that made the crucial difference — and made me sort of a proselytizer. How could people not know about the Tragically Hip? Didn’t everyone make out in college to Blue Rodeo’s “Lost Together”? (If not, there’s still time!) I used to explain it by saying, “We watch your TV shows, go to your movies, read your books, listen to your music — we just have all that and our own, too.” That was usually before I would give someone a mixed CD filled with tracks from The Guess Who and the Hip and Great Big Sea and Sloan and Glass Tiger and Loverboy. Yes, Loverboy is ours.

The notion of Canadian “identity” was such a thing growing up, I remember. There was that classic analogy that the U.S. was a melting pot and we were a tossed salad (really. That is a seminal image from my youth). But there was also an obsession about it, about what it meant to be Canadian and who got to assert that, especially when Quebec would assert that really, really loudly. I can recall envying the U.S. its easy patriotism, how that really did seem to be what came first and foremost on this side of the border.

Of course, being on this side of the border gives me a perspective on Canada that I never would have had otherwise, and watching the Olympics on Friday night crystallized it all into an experience that was just so affectionate because it evoked so much from my childhood and growing up that I never knew I had taken for granted — stuff from field trips to the McMichael Gallery or the ROM or Black Creek Pioneer Village, and maybe stuff that I would roll my eyes out once I hit my tween years and felt the obligation to pretend to be cool. I painted my face ostentatiously with a goofy maple leaf for a Canada vs. Sweden hockey game when I lived in Stockholm, but I did so just goofily in Toronto at a 1995 rally in Nathan Phillips Square to support a united Canada on the eve of the Quebec Referendum (MY CANADA INCLUDES QUEBEC!). It didn’t occur to me that it was unique to have taken U.S. Federal Courts in law school, until I came to a New York law firm and found out that my colleagues had just taken a class called Federal Courts. In the same way, I never thought twice about my parents’ prime ministers. And when I moved to the U.S., the money looked weird in my wallet because it was all the same color (though I finally understood the term “greenbacks”).

It’s this twin sameness and otherness that is part of the Canadian identity, where we only become conscious of certain oddities when some American points it out. That resulted over the years in a little pushback (and a little U.S. bashing, which was vastly overshadowed by appreciation of the Big Stick to the south). But any doubts that Canadians had their own specific identity were put to rest by what has now become a Canadian classic — and, fittingly, it’s a beer commercial.

The Molson “I AM CANADIAN” beer commercial rocked the Canadian world, especially of my flannel-shirt-clad Muskoka-deck-chair Tragically-Hip-loving generation, and it burned up the Internet in what was, in truth, the first viral video that I can remember. I got pinged with email after email as I sat in my office in New York, the facade of a grown-up lawyer completely melting away in the total explosion of delight and giddy glee I was feeling. I was alone in that office, and on the other side of the border, but it could not have been a more Canadian moment. I know it was a commercial, meant to sell a cold one, but it was a commercial that found its way into the pantheon of classic Canadiana just as surely as Margaret Atwood or Robertson Davies or The Group of Seven or — yes — Rush.

What I find interesting about the Molson ad vs. the Olympics Opening Ceremonies, though, was the absence of any pushback or apology from the Opening Ceremonies. It was almost as though Canada not only finally stopped apologizing for the parts of it that were different from the States, but, finally, no longer cared.

Aw. My little country’s all grown up.


The original Molson “I AM CANAIAN” commercial below:

I’m not a lumberjack, or a fur trader
I don’t live in an igloo or eat blubber, or own a dogsled
And I don’t know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada,
Although I’m certain they’re really really nice.

I have a Prime Minister, not a President.
I speak English and French, not American.
And I pronounce it ‘about’, not ‘aboot’.

I can proudly sew my country’s flag on my backpack.
I believe in peace keeping, not policing,
Diversity, not assimilation,
And that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.
A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch,
and it is pronounced ‘zed’ not ‘zee’, ‘zed’ !!!!

Canada is the second largest landmass!
The first nation of hockey!
And the best part of North America!

My name is Joe —
And I…am…Canadian!

Photo of the Opening Ceremonies via TwitPic, taken by Cory Monteith — aka, the hot football player from Glee. Represent!

Joe Biden Vs. Dick Cheney? More Like Meet The Press Vs This Week – Update

Its the battle of Vice Presidents, past versus present, and NBC’s Meet the Press vs. ABC’s This Week. Vice President Joe Biden was a guest on MTP this morning, and fired the first salvos towards former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration, particularly with regards the handling of the Christmas Day Bomber and the trying of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Biden said “Dick Cheney’s a fine fellow. He’s entitled to his own opinion. He’s not entitled to rewrite history.” We can expect Cheney’s response, and perhaps further attacks, during his appearance this morning on ABC’s This Week.
Huffington Post sets up the back and forth thusly:

Asked to respond to a range of harsh attacks on the Obama administration leveled by Cheney, Biden first gathered himself. “Let me choose my words carefully here,” he told David Gregory in a pre-taped interview for Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

Then Biden let loose with several minutes of his most pointed criticism of Cheney since the 2008 presidential campaign, when Biden claimed that Cheney had “done more harm than any other single elected official in memory in terms of shredding the Constitution.”

Speaking to Gregory, Biden charged at least four times that Cheney was “rewrit[ing] history” with his recent attacks, and declared that President Obama has amassed a success rate in countering terrorism that “exceeds anything that occurred in the last Administration.”

ABC’s The Note has excerpts from Dick Cheney’s interview with This Week:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney lashed out at Vice President Biden’s assertion that another 9/11-style attack is unlikely. In an exclusive interview on “This Week,” he called Biden’s view “dead wrong.”

“I think, in fact, the situation with respect to Al Qaeda, to say, you know, that was big attack we had on 9/11 but it’s not likely again – I just think that’s just dead wrong,” Cheney said.

“I think the biggest strategic threat the United States faces today is the possibility of another 9/11 with a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind. And I think Al Qaeda is out there – even as we meet – trying to do that,” Cheney said to ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

Hey – wouldn’t it be great if Biden and Cheney agreed to be on the same program so that they could debate with one another directly? Instead, they choose their own Sunday morning platform that will not allow for direct attacks from political foes. I’ll say it – wimps.

Transcript of this exchange (via Huffington Post):

DAVID GREGORY: Let me ask you about some of the criticism that’s been leveled at this Administration by former Vice President Dick Cheney. He has argued that this Administration has failed to treat the fight against terrorists as war. He cites the decision related to Khalid Sheik Muhammad to offer him a civilian trail as one example. Giving the Christmas Day Bomber the privileges of the American criminal justice system is another example. The decision to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison. What do you say?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Let me choose my words carefully here. Dick Cheney’s a fine fellow. He’s entitled to his own opinion. He’s not entitled to rewrite history. He’s not entitled to his own facts. The Christmas Day Bomber was treated the exact way that he suggested that the Shoe Bomber was treated. Absolutely the same way. Under the Bush Administration there were three trials in military courts. Two of those people are now walking the streets. They are free. There were 300 trials of so-called terrorists and those who engage in terror against the United States of America who are in federal prison and have not seen the light of day. Prosecuted under the last Administration. Dick Cheney’s a fine fellow, but he is not entitled to rewrite history without it being challenged. I don’t know where he has been. Where was he the last four years of the last Administration?

DAVID GREGORY: What about the general proposition that the President according to former Vice President Cheney doesn’t consider America to be at war and is essentially soft on terrorism? What do you say about that?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don’t think the Vice– the Former Vice President Dick Cheney listens. The President of the United States said in the State of the Union, “We’re at war with Al Qaeda.” He stated this– and by the way, we’re pursuing that war with a vigor like it’s never been seen before. We’ve eliminated 12 of their top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates. We are making, we’ve sent them underground. They are in fact not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past. They are on the run. I don’t know where Dick Cheney has been. Look, it’s one thing, again, to– to criticize. It’s another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?

DAVID GREGORY: You have often said, when I’ve asked you and others, that you never impugn a man’s motives. But why do you think Dick Cheney is speaking out and being so critical of the President and the Administration so publicly?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don’t know. I– I– I’m not gonna guess about his motive. All I know is he’s factually, substantively wrong. On the major criticisms he is asserting. Why he’s insisting on that. He either is misinformed or he is misinforming. But the facts are that his assertions are not accurate.

DAVID GREGORY: You would not be this outspoken or critical when you’re out of office. Is that fair to say?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I– I– I would hope I– look, it’s one thing to be outspoken. It’s another thing to be outspoken in a way that misrepresents the facts. And I– I guess– again, I– it’s almost like Dick is trying to rewrite history. I can understand where the– why that would be– you know, an impulse. And maybe he isn’t– literally, I’m not being facetious. Maybe he’s not fully informed of what’s going on. I mean, the progress we have made. There has never been as much emphasis and resources brought against Al Qaeda. The success rate exceeds anything that occurred in the last Administration. And they did their best. I’m not– I’m not impugning their effort. It’s simply not true that the President of the United States is not prosecuting the war against Al Qaeda with a vigor that’s never been seen before. It’s real. It’s deep. It’s successful.

And here’s video of Cheney speaking on Joe Biden on ABC’s This Week:

Chyron Of The Day: CNN Can’t Spell “Massachussettes”

Praise be to spell check! Without it, we’d reveal ourselves to be poorer spellers than we appear to be. An thankfully, its now ubiquitous; no longer just a feature in word processors – its now built into e-mail clients, blogging software, you name it. But one application that does not yet appear to have spell check? What ever program the CNN graphics department uses for their chyrons.

To be honest, Massachusetts is a tricky state name to spell – if not for spell check I’d get it wrong more than I care to admit. Then again, I’m not creating on-air graphics for the world to see, perchance mock.

Bill Maher: “We Love The Troops The Way Michael Vick Loves Dogs”

Bill Maher is, among other things, a provocateur. He says things that are not just meant to entertain, but also raise eyebrows, or even get called out by media critics who don’t know any better than take the bait. But that’s not us! No – we are simply pointing out another example of Maher’s polemical stand-up routine that premiered tonight on HBO. In this instance, his frank and candid portrayal of how he sees how we, as a society, treat the US military is…well, shameful.