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 Newspapers

Technically, it's food

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: October 3, 2014 - 12:49 PM

When they say “Old Fashioned,” do they mean the cheese-like spackle that came out of aerosol cans, invented about 50 years ago? Seriously, there’s not a word on this label that makes sense, except perhaps for “Cheesy,” which suggests it has the properties of cheese but is not actually cheese itself.

Spred! Intentional misspelling is always your guarantee of fun and convenience.

AHOY Underplayed sentence of the day: "The HMS Terror has still not been discovered." The Terror! That's how you name warships. 

But they did find the Erebus. A long search for the lost exploratory vessel found the ship in well-preserved condition. Both ships vanished during the Franklin Expedition, an exercise in Arctic exploration that ended poorly for all involved by a variety of methods: “the entire crew perished from starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning and scurvy.” As if that wasn’t enough, there were allegations of cannibalism, which outraged the folks back home. The allegations, not the actual consumption of shipmates. Wikipedia on Capt. Franklin’s last voyage:

"In 1997, more than 140 years after Dr. Rae's report, his account was finally vindicated; blade-cut marks on the bones of some of the crew found on King William Island strongly suggested that conditions had become so dire that some crew members resorted cannibalism.” The same study also suggested that some crew members succumbed to botulism, in case there weren’t enough causes of the death to go around. More:

In October 2009, Robert Grenier (a Senior Marine Archaeologist at Parks Canada) outlined recent discoveries of sheet metal and copper which have been recovered from 19th-century Inuit hunting sites. Grenier firmly believes these pieces of metal once belonged to the Terror and formed the protective plating of the ship's hull.

I swear I've seen most of this story scattered around a dozen Star Trek episodes. Erebus, by the way, was a region of Hell in Greek mythology, an area through which the freshly dead go promptly once they arrive. After that I don’t know where they go, but they probably follow the signs that say BAGGAGE and GROUND TRANSPORTATION.

More on why Canada cares about this right now:

Canada has been attempting to assert sovereignty over the Northwest Passage in recent years, claiming the area as its own.

The US does not agree. Let us hope the diplomats are successful and can pull us back from the brink of war.

GAAAH The Roosevelts, a site whose connection to its namesake seems obscure, presents some “Terrifying Halloween Costumes Parents Made for their Children.” One of the less terrifying:

More here. Have fun, and sweet dreams.

Reinventing newspaper comics

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 16, 2014 - 12:48 PM

They’re mostly awful, except for that one you like. The trouble is, everyone likes a different one. I think we can be done with Peanuts, but no. The Peanuts people probably hate Mr. Boffo, which is the only strip that makes me laugh. I read other strips and have an internal reaction that approximates indulgent mirth, but that’s rare. Dennis the Menace? No. Beetle Bailey? No. After half a century it might be time to give the strips a gentle pat and say farewell.

Can the genre be saved? Well, Chris Ware is going to try.

Chris Ware, the artist behind the multiple Harvey- and Eisner-award winning Acme Novelty Library and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth, has teamed with The Guardian paper to demonstrate what a world-class artist can do with a whole lot of newsprint over the fall. His new graphic novella, The Last Saturday, is being published serially in the paper's pages over the fall, and the first installment was released over the weekend.

I wish it wasn’t this.

Those little-pictures-connected-by-lines are so much work. And the payoff, in this instance, is so slight. Before you scoff and shout PHILISTINE and tar me as someone who doesn’t get Ware, I have Acme Novelty Library #2, which came out in 1996, and every volume since. You want to debate whether the Rusty Brown sequence is better than Jimmy Corrigan, let’s go. You want to argue Big Tex vs. Rocket Sam: you're on. (Big Tex was better, and had that multi-panel homage to the old Sunday "Gasoline Alley," which told the story through a shifting prism of seasons; after all the hardy-har indignities Tex suffered at the hands of Paw, it was a sign of how Ware could nail you right in the heart without even showing a single character.) But I was dismayed by a lot of Building Stories, which seemed inert, laborious, and self-consciously packaged to celebrate Print in a way that couldn’t compensate for the morose, colorless main character, but just ladled on the Sad with a trowel.

That said, it’s bookmarked. I just hope he hasn’t given up on Rusty Brown.

ARCHITECTURE Who's up for some ruins? The remains of Borscht Belt resort hotels. The Homowack bowling alley shot is almost painful. As for the Homowack itself - oh, stop snickering, this isn’t 7th grade - here’s a postcard I have from its glory days.

When was the last time you saw a hotel with a bowling alley?

The story behind "Oh hi Becky"

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 16, 2014 - 12:04 PM

My hunch is there's a sizable chunk of people who don't really grasp what plagiarism is or why it's wrong, and they kind of regard Twitter and social media as this giant free-for-all where everybody's just constantly taking and posting whatever they want from whoever they want. A perfect example of that might be this Business Insider piece about the infectious spread of the Oh Hi Becky tweet, which quotes the author of the infamous jape:

My hunch is there's a sizable chunk of people who don't really grasp what plagiarism is or why it's wrong, and they kind of regard Twitter and social media as this giant free-for-all where everybody's just constantly taking and posting whatever they want from whoever they want.

Oh - right, I stole that guy’s words and passed them off as my own. Well, no one really owns words, do they? Won’t the world be better off when we lose these antiquated notions of originality and just celebrate the fact that a thought or joke or sentence exists in the first place? SMH. Anyway, it’s a piece about how a tweet flowered and spread like kudzu, until the original author was accused of plagiarizing it. Warning: F-bomb, because of course you have to use the F-bomb these days. It’s only a matter of time before “Effbom” is in the top ten baby names.

Related: an English school sent parents a letter about how their kids are not mere results on a test score. Which came as a surprise to parents, I’m sure. What? My kid can draw and dance? I had no idea. The letter , got upworthied all over kingdom come because it warmed hearts, although not to the point where normal muscular activity ceases due to excessive temperatures. Buzzfeed notes:

The letter, addressed to the pupils themselves, was sent by Tomlinson and the head of year six, Amy Birkett. However, the letter is not original: Tomlinson said she found the words on a blog, and the letter (sent by a different school) was shared widely on Facebook in the US last year.

I googled the text to see where it showed up originally, and was treated to a cavalcade of British newspaper names. These are great.

Leighton Buzzard

Belper News

Spalding Guardian

Haverhill Echo

Worksop Guardian

Morpeth Herald

Harrogate Advertiser

Matlock Mercury

Peterlee Star

Pontefract and Castleford Express

Biggleswade Today

Hebden Bridge Times

Filey and Hunmanby Mercury

Malton and Pickering Mercury

Rye and Battle Observer

And that’s just a few. Makes you wonder what names the paper rejected before it settled on Buzzard.

APPS In case you’d forgotten what you were doing years ago, Daily Dot has this:

Six days a week, MorningPics sends a previous photo from an Instagram feed. On Sundays, subscribers receive the Sunday Edition, a round-up of photos posted to Instagram within the past week.

MorningPics’ subject line tells a subscriber how long ago a photo was taken and where, if a location was tagged. Mulligan describes reading the subject line as a mental guessing game to try and remember what happened however many days ago before opening the email. Once opened, a subscriber will see a photo they’ve posted, as well as the number of likes it got and any comments it received.

Apps like this remind you how it’s tough it would be to explain modern amusements to people in 1950. So, it’s like, every morning you get a letter -

“Every morning? The mail comes at noon. Is that close enough?”

Yes. Every morning you get a letter from the service, and -

“What’s the service?”

Well, it’s a . . . business, I suppose, that sends you a photo you took a few months or years ago.

“How do they have my pictures?”

They don’t. They take them from the other serv- the other business that does have your pictures.

“Why do they have my pictures?”

You gave them the pictures, so other people could see them.

“Why don’t they just come over and we’ll get out the slide projector and put up the screen?”

It’s a . . . different sort of sharing. Everyone who follows you can see the pictures.

“Do they follow me because I’m going to the place where the pictures are?”

No. The pictures just appear on your hand-held computer screen. Anyway, the service sends you one every day to remind you what you were doing a while ago.


Well, to remind you that . . . no, to reacquaint you with your past, and . . . you know, that’s a good question.

“You called it a business. How do they make money?”

Aaaaand that’s another good one.

Bad news in Beeville

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 2, 2014 - 12:12 PM

I grew up reading Parade magazine in the Fargo Forum. It had a comic about a very large dog, which I think was drawn by the same fellow who did that long-running account of marital misery, “The Lockhorns.” Googling . . . yes. Bill Hoest. To my surprise, the big dog comic, “Howard Huge,” did not start until 1981, long after I lived in Fargo. As long as we’re at it:

The character was based on a real family pet. According to Bunny Hoest, the character was based on a real pet acquired when the family was looking for a Labrador Retriever as a companion to an aging black Lab. The kennel was vibrant with lively Labrador puppies, but a quiet, little animal was alone in a small cage. When they took the furry, disheveled dog out for a stretch, he tried his paws and immediately sprawled on his belly.

The kennel owner speculated that the dog had been sent to the wrong kennel (where he remained unwanted) and had been taken from his mother too soon in the breeder's haste to find a Christmas buyer. The family was appalled, and with something less than enthusiasm, they kept looking at the playful Labrador puppies. But the littlest girl held the disheveled dog on her shoulder, where he promptly fell asleep. Without being able to come to a decision, the family started to leave and told her to put the dog back. The good-natured animal kissed her face and lay quietly alone. The family was captivated.

This good-natured, placid puppy was a Saint Bernard who eventually became an enormous, loyal and lovable member of the family for the next 13 years. Howard Huge is based on that Saint Bernard.

Awww. Anyway. The other feature I read was Walter Scott’s Personality Parade, wherein people asked Walter questions about famous people and popular culture, and Walter - having stated up front that the volume of mail made individual replies impossible - would answer. There was no Walter Scott. That was the pen name of Parade writer Lloyd Shearer, whose byline graced other Parade stories. From his obit:

Mr. Shearer received an average of 5,000 letters weekly. Although it was known that Mr. Shearer wrote many of the questions, Derek Shearer insists they were composites.

Ah HAH I knew it. But if you get 5,000 letters, why would you have to make up anything? Did he go through 5K requests and think “man, there’s not a useful query in the batch this week, again.

Anyway. This week’s Personality Parade had a question from someone who wanted to know whether the “Driving Miss Daisy” production coming to movie theaters was a film or a play. Why, it’s both! Which you would know, if you just googled the name of the thing. Or there’s the question about Jimmy Page remastering the first 3 Zep albums. Why did he do that? asks Ted J in Patterson, New Jersey.

Wonder how Ted’s friends reacted to that. Hey, you hear from Parade yet? No. Probably next week. Look, I’ve been reading lots about the remastering online; Page is a fascinating and articulate musician whose intuitive grasp of the studio technology of the day - both its limitations and possibilities - seem matched only by his recollect of the processes he invented to get that signature sound. Why, the New Musical Express - “

Shut up! I don’t want to know! Walter will tell me what I need to hear! I know he will!

As it happens, the question was most timely, since Parade has a clip of an alternate take of “Heartbreaker.”

When I was in high school listening to Zep the idea that Walter Scott would ever admit their existence, let alone point us to an alternate take, would have been insane.

BEES! This should not have been a surprise:

The town is in Bee County.

iSYNERGENATION What will Apple announce today? Please please:

VotD But that’s not the Video of the Day. This is: lots of dominos. In reverse.

What the NYT got wrong about Minneapolis

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 28, 2014 - 12:25 PM

Isn’t it great that Downtown East is providing a ray of hope for our tired, shuttered, depopulated, aging, tumbledown urban core? The New York Times thinks so. Downtown East is placed in Context straight away, one of those big projects the little cities out in provinces hope will turn around their fortunes.

The blueprint for a bustling downtown stands in stark contrast to the status quo: crumbling asphalt parking lots, tired buildings and limited housing.

The status quo for where, exactly? I’ve rarely seen a parking lot that could be described as crumbling. Tired buildings? You mean the refurbished low-income transitional housing here, or the rehabbed warehouse that’s now residential here, or the adjacent office building that looks as good as it’s ever looked? StarTribune World HQ may be tired on the inside here and there, but outside it’s still stark and clean, and the Armory, while in need of an overhaul, isn’t exactly a weary pile awaiting the sweet release of the wrecking ball. The Juvie center and the adjacent office structure are hardly old. There’s one Tired Building in the area, and it’s a nondescript old industrial building. The Haaf Ramp? Not tired. The jail? Not tired. The Freeman Building? Not tired; dead and gone, and hooray for that.

Limited housing? I’ll admit you have to walk an entire block to get to the rows and rows of condos on Washington, and the journey may deplete one so much the rest of the residential renaissance of downtown must wait for another day. If you knew nothing of Minneapolis, you’d conclude it was a barren expanse where the only residents were rummies in SROs working on a pint of Sno-Shoe.


Emily Dussault, an actor and city resident, welcomes the redevelopment. “When people visit, they anticipate a really exciting and fun place, and we’re like, ‘No, let’s go somewhere else,’ ” she said. Ms. Dussault said she steered out-of-town friends to the more artsy neighborhoods of Uptown and Northeast.

Because there’s nothing to do downtown. If only it had restaurants and bars.

Note that the person quoted “welcomes the redevelopment,” which has nothing in the way of an entertainment quotient.

Many cities have tried to generate urban renewal around a big project like a new stadium with mixed success over the years. It is often hard to persuade those who left for the suburbs to return.

Which is not the point of the project. At all. I don’t remember the part where they unveiled the twin towers of the Wells Fargo project and said “this, and the hotel, will be the spur that brings people to live downtown. We anticipate demand so strong armed guards will be required to restore order after the announcement that the units have been sold.” Downtown East is not meant to revitalize downtown. It is meant to revitalize the few blocks known as Downtown East, thereby complimenting the substantial development that’s taken place nearby.

For Governor Dayton, reviving the downtown means making good on a childhood lesson. “My father and his brothers were retailers, and they preached the downtown,” he said. “If left to its own, development goes to greenfield sites on the outlying areas and you end up with a doughnut hole. Once you get behind the eight ball with a downtown in decay, it’s very, very difficult to turn that around.”

He’s absolutely right. This would be the point where the New York Times mentions exactly what sort of retailers his relatives were, and what happened to the store, and how this kicky little thing called “Target” came out of it, but TMI, I guess.

Then there’s some recaps about the nature of the deal and some rah-rah booster quotes, and this:

Mr. Collins recalled 18 “intense” months of negotiations, culminating in a four-day, Diet-Coke-infused stretch that involved 30 conference calls, 10 law firms and 59 documents and ended with the closing of the Star Tribune property.

Fifty-nine documents! People stop me on the street and ask how many documents were involved in the sale, and which soft drink infused the proceedings. Always felt bad I had to shrug and plead ignorance.

Many local residents express cautious optimism about the redevelopment, dimmed by the protracted battle over financing of the new Vikings stadium, which passed by a 7-6 City Council vote.

I hate it when optimism of the cautious variety is subjected to dimming, but I really don’t think anyone watching the project arise finds their heart snag on the Protruding Nail of Recollected Financing Battles. No one who looks at the renderings of the park puts a hand on their sternum, and thinks oh what unalloyed joy I would feel had not the process been so lengthy or contentious.

It’s in the cutline of the photo, too: “Battles over its financing have dimmed many residents’ optimism about the redevelopment project.” They may have affected how people view the project, inasmuch as some people were opposed to any public participation, but this was baked into the project, and it’s not as if a great blaring blast of optimism has been sullied because people remember the financing battles they had willed themselves to forget.

It’s almost as if a narrative is being imposed on the situation, but c’mon, how likely is that.

The story needed conflict, I guess, because “healthy downtown that never really hit rock bottom revels in a burst of activity” doesn’t have the right worried tone. Will the Downtown East revitalize downtown Minneapolis? One must look to Cleveland in 1973. No, one musn’t. From the sound of the article, Minneapolis has staked everything on one big development, when it’s a culmination of disparate projects that made Downtown East not the savior of the city, but the latest thing.


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