You're an alien, you're invading Earth and you decide to do some homework first so you don't waste time attacking the inconsequential. So you pick up the current Time magazine, with its annual "Time 100" issue anointing the most influential people on the planet.
Oprah? Check. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - check, check. The mayor of New York, the governor of California, the anchor of NBC Nightly News, the head of Apple - all accounted for.
But reviewing a list that manages to span everyone from the Pope to a tennis player, our alien invader would feel quite confident bypassing 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. - unless, that is, he or she decided to launch the takeover last night.
President Bush somehow didn't make the cut at Time, although oddly enough, his guest of honor at last night's state dinner, Queen Elizabeth II, did. (Is there no end to the so-called "The Queen effect," wherein a charming movie becomes more real than reality?)
Bush probably has gotten more ink over being snubbed than he would have had he made the list, as he has in the past. Other than his absence, the list follows the usual formula - it has enough gravitas to be legitimate (Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Chinese president Hu Jintao) but enough wild cards to be interesting (Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen and Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy.)
"The feeling was that the office of the presidency carries an enormous power," said Adi Ignatius, the Time deputy managing editor who headed the process of selecting the 100 influentials. "But he has really squandered a lot of that influence."
With his popularity at an all-time low, and even members of his own party running away from him, Ignatius said the magazine's editors concluded "he doesn't belong on the list."
For J. Craig Venter, though, making the list is a little bit of payback, "having lost to him once before."
Gene-mapper Venter, who runs a research institute in Rockville, notes he could have won an even more prestigious Time accolade in 2000 - Person of the Year - if it weren't for Bush. Instead, the dramatic Supreme Court decision that decided the close presidential election that year put Bush in the White House - as well as at the top of Time's Person of the Year contest. Venter had to settle for being one of the runners-up. (Incidentally, that other person defeated by Bush in 2000, Al Gore, is also on the Time 100 list this year.)
Venter's going to tonight's gala in New York - all 100 are invited, as is anyone who has been named in previous years - and he said he's looking forward to meeting his fellow influentials. He already knows a number of them, including the one he wrote about in this week's issue, Svante P??bo, an evolutionary geneticist in Germany.
"It does cover a nice cross section of society," he said. "It looks like a pretty interesting crowd."
(By the way, the other Marylanders on the list include former Baltimorean Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, and romance novelist Nora Roberts, who lives in Western Maryland and "is to love as Masters and Johnson are to sex," according to Time.)
The list is heavy on the actor-activist set - those stars who want not just your adulation but your admiration as well - Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney and, of course, the ultimate Hollywood twosome, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Both make the list, serial adopter Jolie for her international do-gooding and Pitt for being such a swell actor that, according to Time, he makes "audiences forget that he's a big, handsome Movie Star." Hmmm, I seem to have a better memory than most audiences.
Then there are the truly baffling picks - what, do you suppose, are the odds that two of the 100 slots would go to supermodels? Maybe they had to balance one with the other: eternal waif Kate Moss the yin to Tyra Banks' yang, the latter making the list apparently for the unimaginable bravery of ... gaining weight. "She has used her own weight gain, the easy target of misogynist tabloids, as a teachable moment to confront the culture and speak out to girls and young women about embracing their bodies in all sizes," rhapsodizes her chronicler, Naomi Wolf.
Say what you will about the list as compiled by Time's editors, though, it sure beats the readers-choice version. The list would have been a true howler if the magazine had gone totally new media-pandering and digitally democratic on us (which, of course it already did when it named "you" as its 2006 Person of the Year.)
As now is required of every journalistic endeavor, Time this year, for the first time, ran an online list to see who "you" think are the 100 most influential. Really, it's all about what "you" think, and, my, what a list "you" came up with. Funnymen dominate - Stephen Colbert is No. 2, Dane Cook is No. 4. Some 19-year-old hockey player named Sidney Crosby comes in fifth; both imagined anti-terrorism hero Kiefer Sutherland (No. 8) and snarky blogger Perez Hilton (No. 16) manage to outrank investment wise man Warren Buffett (No. 29).
And No. 1? Rain. Not the weather phenomenon, but a wildly popular South Korean pop singer and actor. Who knew? (Well, actually, Time knew - the magazine included him in its Time 100 list of 2006, and on the list from which online poll takers could choose.)
Having scanned the results, genome mapper Venter is content to be on the editors' list even if he is absent from the poll's list - especially after seeing Sanjaya, that ultimate hair-today, gone-tomorrow celeb, near the top of the online list.
"That guy from American Idol is No. 3," Venter said, "so that tells you something."
Read columnist Jean Marbella blogs at baltimoresun.com/marbella