This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Posts about Minnesota History

What advertisers thought MN looked like in '47

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 25, 2014 - 12:38 PM

Prince Albert’s 1940s ad campaign went to Minnesota, for some reason. It’s notable for the first panel, which presents what people apparently thought the state was like. For heaven's sake, did that diver have FAA clearance?

These people just can't shut up about Prince Albert. Also interesting that they're taking a canoe from Red Lake to Cass Lake, which is about 60 miles away. Well, maybe the water levels were high that year.

Finally, they reach Cass Lake:

They have to describe Paul, and yet they don't say "That Saxe-Colbert nobleman who married Queen Elizabeth, Prince Albert." It's as if they're not talking like real people at all.

MODERN TIMES This Newsweek story is lightly sourced, but for good reason. It's a look at the daily life of Putin, based on lots of conversations with people who don't want their words attributed to them, lest they get the jab in the shin. One fellow is brave enough to say this:

“. . . he knows he has failed to rule Russia in anything else but a feudal way. And the moment his grip falters... it will all come crashing down and he will go to jail... and Moscow will burn like Kiev.”

Worth reading. 

NIMBY: a new definition

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 11, 2014 - 12:34 PM

Criticizing new buildings has to come with a disclaimer: it’s good to have a boom. Better to see cranes than wrecking balls; better to have ordinary new buildings go up than live some place where the economy is flat on its back and the only thing anyone built in the last ten years is a buck-sucking big-box chain on the edge of town.

But this . . . well.

Never mind the hue, which appears to be product placement by French’s mustard. The yellow hue works off the tint of the Varsity theater down the block, so that works, and it’s laudable that someone tries to bring vivacity to the corner. Residents need never give their address; they can say they live in The Yellow One? in Dinkytown, and that’s enough.

There are two problems. One: the windows. Thin windows.The corner windows are nice, even if it looks like a hinge on a door that never opens, but the thin windows have that punchcard / bunker-slit look from the late 60s / early 70s, and staggering them doesn’t absolve all the sins.

Second: that . . . protrusion on the roof. The meaningless stylized angled protrusion, or MSAP, is practically required on all buildings these days, a stylistic tic that says “modern apartment building with an urban vibe and a gas fireplace in the lobby and it’s not a dorm even though seriously you guys someone barfed in the elevator after the last Gophers game. But otherwise we’re totally adults.” It’s like the brim of a baseball cap.

Then there’s this, a planned three-block development on West Broadway: It replaces a string of old tired buildings. Who could complain?

Well, I will. With qualifications. First of all, it should be built. If someone wants to sink money into that neighborhood and bring it up, applause. The design has enough variety to give it cohesion, but at least it pretends to be different buildings, instead of one long faceless glass thing or faux-historical brick mega-development doomed to fail.

Nevertheless, it’s a missed opportunity. No one’s saying the buildings it would replace have great architectural distinction. They don’t. Mostly one-story commercial structures from the Coolidge era. But a few buildings doomed to die for the development have a quality their replacement can never have: style, size, history, presence. This one:


View Larger Map

These buildings deserve to live. They deserve to be incorporated into a new project, and would lend the new project instant credibility. A newcomer, but not an interloper.

It’s not always done well. “Facadomy” was a term used to sticking big projects behind the fronts of old buildings; 2000 Penn in Washington DC, where I used to work, is a fine example. The buildings have nothing to do with the office building behind them, which looks like a cruise ship that steamed from one suburban office park to another. But it’s better than demolition.

The small-scale brick buildings abound around the city, but there are fewer now than before. We discount them because they’re common. They’re like the old men who hang around the barbershop: they contain the vernacular memory of the neighborhood, and are irreplaceable. You have to pick and choose, which is why the House of Hanson in Dinkytown was not worth saving, but the Simms Hardware building is. Why the middle-of-the-block buildings that would have gone down for a Dtown hotel weren’t worth preserving, but the Old College Inn and Gray’s Drug are.

“You can’t save everything“ isn’t an justification for tearing down anything.

Nice to meet you,  Mr. Strawman, you say. But push comes to shove, yes or no? Knock it down, or wait for a rehab, even if if means the neighborhood has to look at boarded up windows for another 15 years? Because the boom will end, as they always do.

I don’t know. It’s not an easy choice. The people who want to preserve these buildings often seem opposed to any development, and it seems to have less to do with preservation than Change. No Trader Joe’s on Lyndale! People will come here. No apartment building on Franklin and Lyndale! People will come here and it will take longer to get through the stoplight and the building will cast a shadow. No hotel in Dinkytown! Because, well, because. No dense structure in Linden Hills! People will move there and it won’t feel special and there might be noise.

If developers were talking about plopping big blocks in the middle of residential neighborhoods, I’d understand - but these locations are all commercial modes, streetcar stops. Density is in their DNA.

(Oh, the new definition of NIMBY? Never Intentionally Maul Buildings, Yo.)

(Okay, it needs work.)

Goodbye Coquette

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 19, 2014 - 12:21 PM

This is no small change, if you’re a Target shopper:

You may not care, but at least they hope you noticed. The old Archer Farms logo is gone, replaced by something that doesn’t have the same compact, if wordy, logo. Now it’s instructional. The panes on the bottom tell you how to construct a well-balanced meal, I presume.

Pasta is starch? Who knew!

Here’s the old logo that will, I presume, fade away as stock moves through the channels.

(The "Satisfaction Guaranteed" font is Coquette, by local fontographer Mark Simonson.)

MUSIC And she’s borrowing a stairway to heaven: allegations resurface that Jimmy Page’s opening to “Stairway” was, shall we say, inspired by “Taurus,” a song by Spirit. Business Week:

 . . . what if those opening notes weren’t actually written by Jimmy Page or any member of Led Zeppelin? What if the foundation of the band’s immortality had been lifted from another song by a relatively forgotten California band?

You’d need to rewrite the history of rock ’n’ roll.

 In 1968 a Los Angeles area band called Spirit put out its first album, the self-titled Spirit. Among the songs was an instrumental piece, Taurus, written by the band’s guitarist, Randy California. (Born Randy Wolfe, California got his stage name while playing with Jimi Hendrix’s band in New York in 1966. Hendrix took to calling him Randy California to distinguish him from another Randy in the band. California, only 15 at the time, chose to make it stick.) Taurus runs just 2 minutes and 37 seconds. About a minute of it is a plucked guitar line that sounds a lot like the opening measures of Stairway to Heaven.

Yes, indeed. Zep opened for Spirit on their first US tour, and that’s where the surviving band members suggest they heard the riff. The stakes aren’t small; the song has generated over a half a billion in revenue. Listen here, and make up your own mind.

HEY YOU Today’s bossy, know-it-all headline is from Gawker’s “The Vane” site:

I'm surprised the site doesn't say it's so Vane, You Probably Think This Site is About You. It’s about humidity and relative humidity, but you wouldn’t read that if you weren’t told someone is lying to you, intentionally, and that here’s one weird life-hack trick to figure it out. 

Also, WE are responsible for mass murder.

It’s an interesting piece, nevertheless - an interview with an observer of the trial of a Pol Pot prison warden. Relevant graf:

At the genocide museum in Phnom Penh, Duch’s victims are presented as victims, which they certainly were. But eighty per cent of them were themselves Khmer Rouge, and if they instead had been asked to be perpetrators the overwhelming majority would have obeyed. To accept that Duch tells us something about ourselves doesn’t mean we accept his crimes, and it doesn’t mean we risk showing him sympathy. It makes us think in more realistic terms about how mass murder operates and how it relies on people like us.

On ordinary people, in other words, doing horrible things for different reasons. This isn’t news. But the idea that 80% of the dead were Khmer Rouge was news to me.

Anyway, back to the original point: why must everything have to be about YOU to make it interesting?

LITERALLY Disappearing, that’s what the 90s are doing. Literally. You could make the point that they have already disappeared, literally, but what the guy’s talking about are the cultural artifacts in old formats. Salon:

My struggle is partially an artifact of the creakiness of my generation. My kids will never wrestle with this transition. They won’t knock their heads against my nerdy paradox: Even as I hang on to the Neil Young triple-album anthology “Decade” that I purchased as a 13-year-old, and pay 70-year-old men to keep my record player humming, I am letting go of the notion that music is something that should even be owned.

It’s another piece about giving up records and saying goodbye to CDs, which are not eternal. The article’s illustration is a TV with a fuzzy picture of the “Saved by the Bell” cast, which makes you think it’s about VHS. It’s not. The article notes a resurgence in vinyl, which is due to nostalgia and interest in all things “vintage,” not a generational shift to the sound of vinyl. VHS is different; it’s in a dire state. The number of tapes in boxes in basements probably numbers in the tens of millions, if not more; few people have the desire or time to transfer them to digital formats, to say nothing of the means. There might be a market for the old shows, but will people accept the low-res versions when they’re used to HD, or will future generations wonder why everything was filmed through a haze of Vaseline and hair spray?

Unless, of course, they were Super-VHS tapes. Those things were razor-sharp.

VotD If you could see this coming from the first seconds of the video, why couldn’t the driver?

Watch this building fall down

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 1, 2014 - 12:38 PM

If you haven’t been downtown lately, you’ll be surprised by all the activity around the Stadium / Downtown East site. The building across the street from StarTribute World HQ had a rather dramatic moment yesterday:

That takes skill. Looks like the entire floor plate slid away; good thing it went in the right direction. If that was the plan. You’d like to think that was the plan.

Anyway: Happy May. Or, as we call it lately, March. It was a bit colder last year on this date. Sixty-four in 2012; 36 on May 1st 2011; before that, mostly 50s and 60s, except for 2005, which was 37 at noon. This isn’t unusual, but neither is stepping on Lego in bare feet.

ART Nodding Donkeys: the art of small-town decorated oil pumps.

ADS This IMDB page had some interesting trivial about the movie:

More than three ciabatta buns were shipped to Italy for the film production.

The voice of the Mega-Vac supercomputer was created using sounds from a dot-matrix printer, a dial-up modem and the mating call of flightless cormorant bird.

The water temperature during the after-credits sequence was only 48°F (9°C), forcing Mega-Vac’s Australian puppeteer to wear a wetsuit.

Absolutely no one on set who is married was attracted to the actress who portrayed Lucia.

Oh, I doubt that. Here’s the trailer:

ARCHEOLOGY Scientists have discovered that one weird trick the ancient Egyptians used to move enormous stone blocks:

Physicists from the FOM Foundation and the University of Amsterdam have discovered that the ancient Egyptians used a clever trick to make it easier to transport heavy pyramid stones by sledge. The Egyptians moistened the sand over which the sledge moved. By using the right quantity of water they could halve the number of workers needed.

Scientists investigated this theory after looking at ancient drawings of temple construction, and noted there was a guy standing on the sled pouring water. Hmm. What might that mean.

HISTORY Life magazine has some photos from Hitler’s bunker to celebrate the fall of Berlin. Interesting cipy:

In the spring of 1945, as Russian and German troops fought — savagely, street by street — for control of the German capital, it became increasingly clear that the Allies would win the war in Europe.

Yes, I think “occupying a ruined capital, having traversed the continent beating back the German army and reducing it to tatters” made it “increasingly clear” you might win this thing

The page also has a link to a Time mag story about World’s Fairs, and why they don’t seem to be a big deal in America anymore.

The next World’s Fair is scheduled for Spring 2015 in Milan Italy, but expo-goers who are looking to catch the latest glimpse at the “world of tomorrow,” will be disappointed. “A lot of Americans imagine World’s Fairs as they were in the 1930s and the 1960s, but the medium has changed,” says World’s Fair consultant Urso Chappell. “Whereas the focus was on progress or the space age and things like that at one time, the themes tend to be more environmental now,” he adds.

For a reminder of a time before the medium had changed, consult this round-up of 1900 Paris World’s Fair pictures - in color!

Worst Supermarkets in America

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 25, 2014 - 12:30 PM

We'll get to that in a second. It's the headline because no one's going to click to see fuzzy images of distant glories. So:

SCIENCE! A look at the latest awe-inspiring Hubble photo of a tiny corner of the universe, courtesy of Slate's Bad Astronomer:

. . . even the nearest galaxies you can see in this image are hundreds of millions of light years away! Some are billions; the most distant object in this shot are at least 9 billion light years distant. That’s a million times farther away than any star in the picture.

When the light we see here left those galaxies, the Sun hadn’t yet formed. When the Earth itself was coalescing from countless specks of dust, that light still had half its journey here ahead of it.

Zoom in, and the quantity of galaxies is astonishing. Not stars: galaxies.

Speaking of galaxies far, far away, Slashfilm says:

Several Star Wars websites reported Disney that Lucasfilm executives had an ultra-secret breakfast to discuss the franchise. Whether or not this meeting actually happened is already in question, which should paint this rumor in even a dimmer light. But one site is reporting much of the conversation centered on everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett.

Why is Boba Fett a bad guy, necessarily? Because he transported Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt? It was just a job. I guess we know he was BAD because he stuck around at Boba’s for the party, but that seems uncharacteristic; who wants to spend much time with bitt & his sycophants? That place must have smelled horrible. Well, he went screaming into a Sarlac maw, so there’s no suspense in a movie. Whatever happens, we’d know he survived, because we saw him die later.

He was interesting because we couldn’t see his face, and his few lines were delivered with menace. His suit was banged up - part of the battered, inhabited world that made “Star Wars” look different from previous sci-fi.

Wait, you say: he didn’t get eaten by the Sarlacc! Wookiepedia:

 . . .during the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon, Fett fought against the group of Rebel rescuers. However, he was inadvertently knocked into the mouth of the Sarlacc by Solo. Though no one in recorded history had ever escaped from the Sarlacc, Fett was able to escape, though not unscathed. Thanks to his iron will and Mandalorian armor, he was able to fight his way out of the beast's belly, and later killed the Sarlacc. Back in action, he resumed his work as a bounty hunter.

C’mon. And Greedo shot first. Right.

RETAIL The 13 Worst Supermarkets in America. Not one is aRound Your neighborhood, to my surprise. 

URBANISM No one will miss this:

Except that we will, when they’re all gone. Another large project - huge, really - is slated for Dinkytown, and while it’s a good sign, there’s a point at which the nature of Dinkytown is changed for good. You may say: blocks and blocks of new housing replacing tumbledown carved-up houses is progress, and for the most part I agree - but I hope the end result is the improvement of the century-old housing stock, not its abolition.

It’s just amazing to see these blocks rise one after the other, each more luxurious than the last; when I lived in Dtown everyone lived in rooms in sad old houses, cut up into tiny rooms with dented drywall.

VotD Your Russian dash-cam video for Friday. Wait for it.

Enjoy your Friday; see you on the other side of the weekend. 

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