Category: H – Humor

How About Never Is Never Good For You? by Bob Mankoff

November 10th, 2014 — 6:06pm

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 11.11.11 PMHow About Never Is Never Good For You: My Life in Cartoon by Bob Mankoff- I have always enjoyed cartoons, especially those in The New Yorker Magazine. Although I must admit that for some reason we haven’t subscribed to it for the past few years. However, I try to catch up in a visit to doctor or dentist’s office. When I learned about the weekly cartoon caption contest that the New Yorker magazine holds each week, I started entering it online most weeks. In fact I must have been very close to being a finalist a few times as my caption was almost the same as one of the top three, differing by just a word or two. This introduction leads up to why my wife bought me this book as a present.

Bob Mankoff is the current cartoon editor of the New Yorker Magazine and the guy in charge of the caption contest as well. In this book he traces his growing up up in New York and the development of his interest in humor and cartoons. As a psychiatrist I do appreciate his insight into himself as best summed up in this paragraph:

My mother wasn’t logical or knowledable. What she was, was intuitive. She wasn’t really an audience for my jokes, she was a target. And, as my therapist would tell you, still is. Yet I’ve gotten a lot from her, including a mother lode of material, some of which I’m unloading here. Although my relationshiship with my mother was less than ideal from a relationship standpoint, from a development of humor standpoint it worked very well. Humor thrives in conflict

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.09.59 PMHe attended high school in New York at “Music and Art’ which is known for attracting creative and talented students. He then went to Syracuse University, which in my day was very strong in journalism. He went on to a couple of graduate schools and came up just short of a PhD in psychology. Humor and cartooning was his clear goal. It appears that he put his sights on becoming a cartoonist for New Yorker Magazine.

This book is filled with his cartoons and  those of some of the great cartoonists whom he admired. We learn all about various styles of cartoons as Mankofff develops his own. Should it be dots, block style or whatever? Mankoff’s story is really a lesson in fortitude and persistence, You certainly have to be able to handle rejection if you want to be a cartoonist because it does seem that you would be able to paper your walls with rejection slips. Mankoff does succeed.  Not only does he get published in the New Yorker numerous times but he eventually becomes the prestigious cartoon editor of this magazine. Now he supervises the handing out of rejection slips and the process of choosing cartoons for publication. He is also in charge of the Cartoon Bank which offers cartoons for sale.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.08.18 PMThen there was the book chapter that I was waiting for, Chapter 13, How to Win the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.  I learn that Mankoff’s trusted assistant does the first screening of all the entries. He looks at thousands of submissions and makes a short list of 50 of the best of them broken down into categories representing different comic themes. Now the New Yorker Cartoon Editor (currently Mr. Mankoff) chooses what he believes are the ten best. He then shows these to the various New Yorker editors and staff members asking them to rate each one as either, Unfunny, Somewhat Funny or Funny. Then the best three cartoons are chosen and the following week, the readership of the magazine will vote and chose the best one.

Mankoff gives suggestion how to approach the caption contest, advising the contestants to “free associate” and then “verbalize”, “conceptualize”, “topicalize” and finally “socialize”. Putting all these approaches together, he believes will help you come up with a caption for the cartoon that week. Still, I like just free-associating and trying to have an emotional reaction to the cartoon. Maybe his advice to be as brief as possible, novel and occasionally topical will help me. So while I didn’t learn too much about how to do well in the contest, I did enjoy seeing the different styles and appreciating the creativity of both the amateurs and the professionals in putting together the various cartoons that Mankoff showed in his book.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.56.15 PMI thought that occasionally the cartoons and some of the print size of the illustrations was a little too small to comfortably read all the details (It may be my age but a younger reader did agree with me). The overall journey through this book was worth the ride. I always look forward to the cartoons that have been chosen to be shown in the magazine and I can’t wait to try my luck in the next cartoon caption contest.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, H - Humor

Mandela Was Late by Peter Mehlman

January 19th, 2014 — 10:45pm

Mandela Was Late by Peter Mehlman my2YeQJRiyXnTugd66nUe09SJ4QLb1iPjsZ-Ktv1HKGyuotNLsOQkWDGM1dAaoPDR13k=s85– I picked this book up while in the middle of the quite long although certainly not tedious Bully Pulpit – soon to be reviewed here. The goal was to read something humorous and light during breaks from the other book. Well, it is certainly light and the chapters are conveniently succinct, sometimes just a few pages. Maybe his chapters are short because that is the way you have to write when you make a pitch for a TV program, which is what this guy does for a living. In fact, I chose the book because the author is proclaimed as a writer and Executive Producer of Seinfeld for nearly all of its nine-year run and is noted as the person coining such terns as “spongeworthy” and “yada yada.” Early in the book I learn that not only was he a key writer for one of my favorite TV shows but he is a New Yorker transplanted to Los Angeles but always appreciating New York as a native when he visits there. I thought I might be able to identify with that state of mind or even the names of all the Los Angeles streets and restaurants which he mentions, most of which I know as a New Yorker transplanted to LA myself.  However, I didn’t find the book particularly humorous or enlightening. The author seems to be writing about his life but as far as I can see all he does is pick up checks for residuals from the Seinfeld Show, write scripts for new sitcoms that sometimes get bought but hardly ever get made or if they get made they barely last. Not that there is anything wrong with that. He is single and we really don’t see any meaningful relationships in his life. Not that there is anything wrong with that either. Nevertheless I tried to relate to his youth in Queens in NYC (I am from Brooklyn but that should be close enough) when he tried to figure out the meaning of the number “69”). Maybe I have aged out of the demographic for this book. It may be a fortyish thing.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, H - Humor

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman -Guest Review by Lucy Blumenfield – 12 Years Old

June 17th, 2013 — 7:32pm

MausMaus I & II- by Art Spiegelman Reviewed by Lucy Blumenfield (Age 12) – Although there are other books that tell the tale of the Holocaust through a survivor’s perspective, this book is unique. It is the story, and it is true, about a man—Art Spiegelman, the author—who interviews his father—Vladek Spiegelman to preserve his story of the Holocaust, and illustrating this story in the form of a graphic book. Spiegelman uses animals to express the way different groups of people in this book might act. For example, he uses mice as the Jews, cats as the Germans, and pigs for this Poles. This really intensified the book because it kind of showed you who someone was and also made a political statement in my view. Spiegelman’s illustrations make this haunting story come to life as he tells about his father’s struggles: first hiding in house to house with his wife, trying to escape Poland, and finally being captured and put into Auschwitz, and after ten months being freed and reuniting with his wife. The book changes back between Art’s visits to his not-in-great-shape father in Rego Park, and his father’s experiences told by Vladek.

This book was a unique experience because I have not seen history told by graphic novels before. However, it was an experience that I want more of! It was informative, captivating, humorous in parts, moving, and—at times—heart breaking. I highly recommend this book to everyone, from adults to children because it gives you an insight to the horrifying experiences of the Holocaust in a whole new way.

1 comment » | H - Humor, HI - History, O - Other - Specify, P - Political, T - Recommended for Teenagers

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

June 2nd, 2013 — 5:38pm

Let's Explore Diabetes With OwlsLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (2013) – As far as I can recall there was nothing in this book about diabetes and just a tidbit about owls. David Sedaris is a 56 year old American humorist, comedian and writer who has written numerous autobiographical books like this latest one which have made him a best selling author. He lives mostly in Europe with his partner Hugh Hamrick and travels around the world including the United States where he reads his material frequently before it is published to test it on audiences before putting it in final form in his books.  To me he comes across as an interesting, mildly humorous guy who tells good stories, in the form of narrative essays, about his life and people that he has met. He related that he has been keeping a diary for at least 30 years starting when he was in his 20s. He will jot down notes during the day and then later diligently write up his diary entries. He did admit that that there probably is some truth to accusation that he is so busy recording his observations that he doesn’t so much live in the moment. An example how he will turn a conversation or an observation into a “piece” for his book is when he heard someone remark that today there is someone alive who will live to be 200 years old. This led him to reflect on what kind of condition would that person be in. He then concluded that it would be his father who would live that long…and he would have to take care of him for more than 100 years. In a related piece he reviewed how his father had been nagging him for 25 years to get a colonoscopy. He then went into detail about how he finally got one and what that experience was like. (It was funny of course). As far as I can tell he doesn’t have a compelling narrative  and is not a hilarious comedian. His reflections are interesting and usually bring about a good feeling or a smile. Taken all together his writing is probably a decent social commentary of our time but at least, this book is on the light side. He would probably be someone you want to read when you are in-between heavy books or genres or just want a pleasant read.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, H - Humor

Deadline Artists Edited by John Avlon, Jesse Angelo & Errol Louis

March 22nd, 2013 — 9:45pm

Deadline Artists – Edited by John Avlon, Jesse Angelo & Errol Louis9781590204290_p0_v1_s260x420

Do you have a favorite newspaper columnist whom you often read? Do you occasionally pass on a newspaper column that you have read to a friend? (or these days might it be a great blog?)Well, imagine if you had a chance to read some of the best columns that have been written over the past two hundred years. That is exactly what the editors of this book have offered us as they compiled what they believe are the best of the best. They did this by going to many sources and experts including some contemporary writers and asked them to suggest their favorites over the years. They divided the book into sections such as social issues, war, politics. humor, sports etc. Some columnists that may be familiar depending on your age are Nora Efron, Jimmy Breslin, Drew Pearson, Teddy Roosevelt and even Benjamin Franklin, Some of the chosen columnists are still writing such as Thomas Friedman.  You may know some of them as great authors and may not have realized that they started as newspaper writers such as Ernest Hemingway. Some of the pieces are classics such as the famous column which is reprinted in many newspapers every year whch starts off- “ Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” There are works by legendary sportswriters such as Grantland Rice’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There is  Ernie Pyle writing about the average soldier from the war front during WWII. Many of us read on the run or in-between things or a bit before we go to sleep. Since newspaper columns by their very nature are short pieces that you can digest as a little dessert. It also means that if  is there is a topic that is not your piece of cake or is so outdated that it no longer has meaning or interest (and there were a few in this category) you can just move on  to the next one. However, if you appreciate history in the making and are fascinated by social commentary of the times , don’t skip this book.

Comment » | H - Humor, HI - History, O - Other - Specify, P - Political, Uncategorized

Postcards From Tomorrow Square by James Fallows

October 20th, 2010 — 2:10am

Buy now on Amazon: Postcards from Tomorrow Square

Postcards from Tomorrow SquareThis book consists of 12 chapters which were written between 2006-and 2008 when Fallows and his wife were living first in Shanghai and then Beijing and were traveling through many other part of China. I read it just prior  to our trip to China. Fallows was writing for the Atlantic Monthly and is considered by many people as the chronicler of  life in contemporary China – at least to many American readers. Although he does not speak Chinese he works as a good reporter who has lots of friends and contacts and does seem to get close to the people. He also arranges interviews with interesting, some important and many typical people in various situations and locations. It becomes clear that China does not speak with one voice nor can it be easily characterized. The difference between life in the cities and life in the rural poverty stricken western part of the country is well described. The book clarified as best as one might, the complicated relationship between the Communist government on a national level and the local government officials as they impact life in this vast country. And vast it is . It is the size of the country and the 1.5 billion people that also makes this land and  it’s people such an important force in the world. The freedom or lack of it to communicate in public or on the Internet, farming in the countryside, the growth of factories and manufacturing, how America out sources such to China, the failure and minor successes of trying to become green and deal with the environment, preparing for the 200 Olympics are some of the issues which this book explored. The author is very conscious of how Americans are trying to figure out China and whether to be fearful or embrace this country as we move into the 21st century. This book doesn’t fully answer the question but it is a good primer on this subject.

Comment » | H - Humor, P - Political

The Audacity To Win by David Plouffe

November 28th, 2009 — 5:57am

Audacity to WinThe Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory by David Plouffe

Newly elected President Barack Obama encouraged his 41 year old campaign manager to write this book and tell the story of his presidential campaign which two years previously was quite improbable. It is the story of Barack Obama, a newly elected US Senator who and his close brilliant political advisor David Axelrod who brought in his junior partner to join their team and ultimately take the reigns of one of the most remarkable political campaigns in modern history.

Axelrod and Plouffe with perhaps several other close senior members of their team such as Ed Gibbss who became Obama’s Press Secretary put together a smooth running campaign machine which built an Internet network of millions of dedicated volunteers and contributors, the like of which has never been seen before. This certainly dwarfed the short lived Howard Dean Internet campaign of several years previously as well as that of any of his primary opponents or that of John McCain.

While the size ( in both persons and amount of money raised ) was quite unique, it was the free flowing frequent communications to this network, the discipline to stay on message and the confidence in their clear electoral strategy which probably best characterized the ingredients which made them so successful. They were experienced people who knew that they could not allow any leaks to the press and that they had to do their own polling and focus groups, which they did quite frequently. They paid meticulous attention to detail as professionals should do and they had intense prolonged daily conversations among their small group which of course included the candidate himself. Plouffe described the importance of these evening conversations where the every twist and turn of the campaign was analyzed and discussed usually among a very small group.

Of course the victor writes the history which will most likely stand as the record. The story does ring true and is consistent with what we know happened. The should be no contesting the information of how the troops were deployed and the money spent as that is on the record. Obama’s two major opponents Hillary Clinton in the primary and John McCain are for the most part treated and described with mostly respect and admiration. However their campaigns are at times depicted as inept , making blunders and miscalculations. Mark Penn one of Hillary’s most important advisor is shown particularly as making major mistakes.

Since Plouffe was so close to the candidate a and family during the campaign does seem to be some insight into the character and sincerity of belief of both Obama and his wife Michelle. Both candidate and campaign manager came across as caring people who loved their families deeply but accepted the necessary rigors of the campaign because they really believed that Obama had something special to offer which country needed at this time.

One of the most memorable lines in the book was at the time that the Reverend Wright inflammatory remarks became a factor in the campaign. It was at this time , the campaign advisors changed their previous position that it was not necessary for Obama the first black candidate to talk in any depth about race. Obama wanted to give an in depth speech about race and what it meant to be a black American running for President. He also felt he had to do the major writing of the speech. However there was little time to prepare and this major address. Plouffe recalls asking Obama if he felt he could pull it off. Obama relied , “ Don’t worry I have writing this speech for the past 30 years”

The book clearly spells out so many of the nuances of their strategy both in hard fought primary against Hillary Clinton and then the election campaign against John McCain. Each phase was mapped out in advance in a very thoughtful manner. IN the primary it was essential that they win Iowa which was the first and most important by their standards in order to get them clearly in the ballgame. They brought in a army of volunteers as well as mobilizing young people in the state. Similarly in the actual election campaign, the strategy was to win every state that Kerry had won in his previous unsuccessful election bid 4 years ago as well as specific additional electoral votes from states in which they thought they would stand a chance of winning in order to needed to bring them over the 270 mark was worked out in great detail. They left no detail unplanned. In fact they had several scenarios, which were determined to achieve so guarantee victory. How they conceptualized each subsequent state and how they calculated every convention delegate and ultimately the super delegates and then each block of electoral votes was a work of art or at least a work of political genius. For example , Nebraska is a rare state that divides its electoral votes. Plouffe calculated that Nebraska would go Republican except one small area in the state labeled Nebraska 2. Therefore this area was specifically targeted. And funds and volunteers were funneled into this one part of the state Although ultimately it was not needed for the landslide victory on election nite, the campaign Plouffe got great satisfaction in winning Nebraska.

Funding was essential in order to support their staff , Internet operation and to buy expensive TV adds and arrange events in each of the states. They made a very difficult decision NOT to accept federal funding which would have been something like 85 million dollars. Instead they would forgo that and try to raise even more than that amount through their Internet campaign mostly from small contributions. They ultimately achieved about twice that amount and the decision paid off for them. However it was a difficult one to make since they had initially made statements that they favored public funding of presidential campaigns If you accept federal funding you can’t accept additional funding so your supporters rather than give to the candidate would then give money to the Democratic National Committee ( DNC) or the Republican RNC in the case of McCain. . These entities then function as an Independent Expenditure and are not allowed by federal law to communicate with the candidate about strategy or coordinate their efforts so they mount an independent campaign plan. So in the end McCain who accepted federal funding had 85 million from them and the RNC raised 250 million which they could spend without coordination with McCain’s campaign.. Obama by not accepting federal fund could raise as much as they could (with the usual limitations of 2300 from individuals. Obama raised at least 450,000 million for his campaign since he did not accept federal funding. The DNC raised less than half that amount which they could spend for him but not with his coordination. So Obama out raised McCain by a significant amount and could much better coordinate the strategy and spending.

The Obama campaign from the very beginning made decision on what seemed best for Obama and was less influenced by what things cost. For example they spent the money to utilize Mile High Stadium so he could accept the nomination in a larger and more dramatic venue. At the conclusion of the campaign they bought air time for a 30 minutes speech to the American People about the economy and other significant issues rather than short less substantial advertisements. Most of the time money was no object for them

Plouffe is deservedly proud of how he set up and coordinated his close to five million volunteers. Not only could he repeatedly go back to them for contributions which they responded but he utilized them to get across any message that was needed at whenever it was needed. He communicated with his net work on a almost daily basis which means he could provide speaking points on any issue that came up. This mean t that there could be an immediate response to any question raised and the network of people would be speaking to their neighbors and co-workers the next day on message . The volunteers appreciated being kept in the loop and were very responsive when they were asked to knock on doors, write letters, make phone calls or even give more money.

In the end it was a real grassroots campaign and the Internet was the soil in which it grew. It was conceptualized by a team led by a brilliant young man who shared his boss’s vision and with odds against them in the starting gate but i they had the audacity to win.

Comment » | H - Humor, P - Political

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