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 Gripes

Crankshaft is still depressing

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: December 8, 2014 - 12:17 PM

Crankshaft takes place about twenty years in the past, according to Wikipedia. When it suits the comic’s purposes it lurches into the modern world so we can chuckle along with the nasty old misanthropist’s attempt to comprehend technology. (Note: by “chuckle” we mean stare stone-faced at the drawing before moving on to Pearls Before Swine.) LAst week’s strips seem to be playing with the timeline, as the local movie house is forced to close because studios are switching entirely to digital projection.

The comic:

For one thing, you wonder why everyone’s sitting in the back row. For another, you roll the word “comic” around in your head and consider the vestigal associations with “mirth” and “humor,” and wonder if you’re missing something. No, there doesn’t seem to be any molecules of amusement detectable by modern methods. Perhaps it’s setting up a punchline for tomorrow! So let’s look at Friday:

Ah. Well. Laughter is involved, it seems, but only the empty, bitter bark of someone cursed to live while all around him perishes, and he must make his way alone in an unrecognizable,  indifferent world. 

Then there’s the matter of today’s “Zits,” which appears to have redesigned the main character while keeping everything else in the strip intact, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see if this was a one-off or a sign that the strip is about to tackle the subject of eating disorders.

LITERATURE Good news: undiscovered work of Raymond Chandler. Disappointing news: it’s a libretto.

The 48-page libretto to the comic opera The Princess and the Pedlar, with music by Julian Pascal, has hidden in plain sight at the library since its copyright was first registered on 29 August 1917.

The work, a copy of which was obtained by the Guardian, was found in March by Kim Cooper, shortly after she published her debut novel, The Kept Girl, featuring a fictionalised Chandler in 1929 Los Angeles.

While looking for more information about Pascal, Cooper discovered a missing link between Chandler’s English boyhood and his detective fiction: a witty, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-inflected libretto for a fantasy-tinged romance between Porphyria, daughter to the King and Queen of the Arcadians, and Beautiful Jim, a “strolling Pedlar.”

Keep looking through the archives; maybe we'll find out why the car went off the dock into the water. 

PODCAST An interview with the parents of the subject of Serial, here in the Guardian. Does the mother listen to the podcast?

“After everybody goes to sleep,” she says. “Eleven, twelve o’clock, I lay down here on this sofa and I listen.” She says she sometimes plays just one part over and over. “It’s the bit at the beginning where the prison operator says, ‘This is a Global-Tel link prepaid call from …’ and Adnan says, ‘Adnan Syed.’”

“So sweet,” Shamim says. “I listen to that again and again and again.”

With the tinkly tip-toe caper music included, alas. The last episode of Serial didn’t say this, but anyone listening may have suspected the jury convinced Syed because they couldn’t stand his lawyer’s voice.

8-BIT ART Charming little gifs of life in modern Japan. More here. 

How not to make 7,000 people ill

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: November 17, 2014 - 12:17 PM

Just got off a ship. Almost 7,000 people on board. This did not happen to us:

The latest norovirus outbreak aboard the Princess Cruises' Crown Princess has infected 172 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least 158 of 3,009 passengers and 14 of 1,160 crew members came down with the virus aboard the Crown Princess during a 28-day cruise that docked in Los Angeles on Sunday.

The comments immediately tear into Fox News and start debating whether Christianity’s influence as irrevocably waned. While I was on the ship I avoided the internet entirely.

It was nice.

The cruise began with the usual safety drill. No longer do you go to the deck where your lifeboat hangs above, sweating in your lifejacket; now you sit in a big theater and see a movie about safety procedures, which of course you forget immediately. But there’s also a segment on washing your hands, and some people on the cruise balked a bit at the infantilization this implies. Speak to me like a grown-up, for Poseidon’s sake.

But it is cute. Wash your hands!

SCIENCE! Why Conventional Wisdom about 8-hour sleep needs are preposterous: here. You may think “that’s interesting; is there science involved?” Yes. But then you look skeptical and say “there might be studies and data, but I prefer such pieces to be preceded by several paragraphs of personal observations with no relevance to my own life, but seem to reinforce the modern trend to personalize everything at the expense of the reader.” Then this is for you.

HISTORY Roman silver on display. It’s not a new discovery:

Accidentally discovered by a French farmer plowing his field near the village of Berthouville in rural Normandy in 1830, the spectacular hoard of gilt-silver statuettes and vessels known as the Berthouville Treasure was an ancient offering to the Gallo-Roman god Mercury.

Worth it for the statue of Mercury. It’s oddly proportioned. The head is huge. It’s possible that archeologists are wondering about the religious meanings behind the enormous cranium, but it’s also possible the sculptor did a poor job, and everyone laughed at old Marcus Philiistinus. He was so proud of that stupid thing.

Sally Forth is Sad

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: November 5, 2014 - 11:58 AM

When a comic strip debuts in a paper, it starts on a Monday. Imagine what new readers of “Sally Forth” may have thought when this new strip appeared:

So it’s about a lonely office worker without friends, eh. Well, maybe tomorrow will be Funny.

Tuesday:

Is this some “24 Days Later” scenario about an office worker who’s the sole survivor of some planet-scouring plague, and is going through the motions of her pre-crisis life, wandering around the empty halls?

Today’s strip introduces another human, with whom Sally wants to chat; she is rebuffed. So Sally is intended to be pathetic, and worthy of our pity, I guess. Well, no reason Ziggy should be the only Loveable Loser on the comics page! Don’t worry, new readers. Soon you’ll meet her infantile husband and get one of those patented Sally side-smirks.

TRAVEL What are you supposed to get when your flight is cancelled? Or, as this Outslde mag article puts it: I've been the traveler stuck at the gate for 10 hours. What can I do to make sure I don't get screwed over by modern air travel? A: Don’t fly Frontier. But that’s one man’s opinion, me being that particular man. I spent ten hours at the airport the other week. Washington National, as it happens. Frontier was useless. Sun Country came through. Anyway, the article lays out your options; bookmark for next month when you’re bumped from a flight and looks like you’ll miss Christmas.

YES YES YES This piece on how “Star Wars” broke cinema addresses two things that stuck in my craw, and both were craw-related: the enormous worm living in a cave in the asteroid, and the Sarlac pit-monster in the desert. Neither made any sense. How did they survive? As the author notes, you’re not supposed to think about it. You’re just supposed to think: cool.

It’s a space worm. It doesn’t need to justify itself, nor make sense. It only needs to excite. And we’re so habituated to this worm that almost no one — not even the so-called adults — points it out anymore. And when someone dares to do so, too often they’re seen as elitist for insisting that a giant worm shouldn’t be floating around in outer space without a reason. The day will soon come when characters in a skyscraper will realize the skyscraper is alive and trying to eat them, all with almost no explanation — and when some objects that this doesn’t make sense, they’ll be accused of ignoring the fact that someone mentioned in passing that the building was an alien, or was hungry, and that only a killjoy would demand more.

I got into a bitter argument with someone on the killjoy point re: Zion in the Matrix movies. Who built it? How? Why? You weren’t supposed to care about that. What mattered was that it was there. Sorry.

Iron Man may be a bad guy.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: October 14, 2014 - 12:57 PM

Lots of news in the comic-book world today. And by "news" we mean the same old stuff that's supposed to make you buy the Special Issue. EW:

During a Comic Con panel on Sunday, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and Fantastic Four writer James Robinson announced the series will end in 2015. Robinson said during the panel that the Fantastic Four are “going away for a little while” and that he is “building up to the end of the Fantastic Four.”

Uh huh. And Superman was killed and stayed dead. Just as a new FF movie is coming out? Does it make sense to kill the comic? Well, it does it you consider that Disney owns Marvel, and the FF movie is made by Fox.

Speaking of comics, who’s up for Captain America 3? As you might have heard, he teams up with Tony Stark to defeat a terrorist organization that got control of an entire country and is planning biological warfare against the US and Europe. Ol’ Shellhead and Cap together again, trading quips, defending Western Civ! It’ll be awesome.

Just kidding. Variety:

The plot will pit Stark against Captain America's alter-ego Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, as they feud over the Superhero Registration Act, which forces anyone with superhuman abilities to reveal their identities to the U.S. government and agree to act as a police force for the authorities.

Stark supports the program, but Rogers does not, saying it threatens civil liberties, causing sides to be taken and Rogers, among others, to go on the run to avoid arrest. The moral question and battle with his Avengers teammate essentially makes Stark a villain of sorts in "Captain America 3," providing Downey with a meaty role he could play out into future Marvel films, including a fourth “Avengers.”

The story arc is called the Civil War. I’m sure it’ll all be cleaned up for the movies, but here’s the wikipedia entry about the finale:

The Secret Avengers and their allies reached Riker's Island penitentiary. Betrayed by Tigra, they were met by Iron Man and the pro-registration forces, and a number of supervillains who were being controlled by nanites. Hulkling used his shape-shifting ability to assume the role of Henry Pym and release the incarcerated heroes, leading to an all-out battle between the two sides.

During the fight Cloak teleported the battle to the centre of New York City, where the pro-registration forces were joined by the fixed Thor clone and Captain Marvel, and Namor led an army of Atlanteans to assist the Secret Avengers. Captain America targeted Iron Man, whose armor had been compromised by the Vision II.

Look, I grew up on these thing. I still enjoy the Marvel movies. But things like “the fixed Thor Clone” are asking a lot.

Speaking of super villains, this guy might trying out for the job:

GAMES If you’ve been following #gamergate, you know it has to cast a black shadow over everything. So here's HeroComplex on the new indie game con:

While big-budget games with guns still rule, independent developers are opening up new avenues with games that tackle police brutality, explore the perils of dementia and address the difficult conversations parents have — or don’t have — with their children regarding sex. These smarter new titles are getting attention, and a very vocal, largely anonymous online game community isn’t happy about it.

Their fear? It’s the end of games as they know them.

I doubt that. It’s possible they’re tired of being told it’s the end of games as they know them, when they suspect that “big-budget games with guns” will probably outsell parental sex-chat simulations. Not a lot of guys are going to get together online for a night of exploring the emotional depths of dementia.

It just means there will be games for people who don’t like the run-and-gun genre, and that’s fine - just as there are small novels for people who tire of big-name serials.

LATEST HACK Was Dropbox compromised? No. That’s what the company says:

Recent news articles claiming that Dropbox was hacked aren’t true. Your stuff is safe. The usernames and passwords referenced in these articles were stolen from unrelated services, not Dropbox. Attackers then used these stolen credentials to try to log in to sites across the internet, including Dropbox. We have measures in place to detect suspicious login activity and we automatically reset passwords when it happens.

Why doesn’t Anonymous ever go after the password stealers and credit-card hacking rings?

Yeah, yeah, I know. Stupid question.

Why do we watch "The Walking Dead"?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: October 13, 2014 - 12:24 PM

Because we’re tired of zombies and need some cannabilism to spice up Sunday night? Because it's cool when Darrel puts an arrow into a festering eye socket? Because we're pulling for Rick to lead the band back to a safe place, where he can get a security guard job, perhaps?

 This review sums up the views of those who have much more invested in the show than casual viewers - if there is such a thing. Last night's  opening sequence was so horrible it made you wonder exactly what you’re getting out of this. Calm, detached butchers working their way down the line, stunning their victims and slitting their throats: That’s Entertainment. Plus - spoilers - you get to see Bing Crosby’s granddaughter eaten alive! Who-hoo! Cut to the grinning host of “Talking Dead,” who promises Conan O’Brien’s take. I didn’t hear it, but it’s possible he pointed out how the entire show set us up to cheer on the last few scene’s ballistic slaughter, because those guys deserved it. And I suppose they did. But this is miserable business, and I wonder how the zombie craze will look to future cultural anthropologists. Well, you see, they were displaying their anxieties by telling tales of horrible disease and people who cut off people’s heads.I see. And what were they anxious about? Basically, horrible disease and people who cut off people’s heads.So it’s an allegory, then. Exactly.

URBANISM A visit to “the living wreckage of Penn Station.” As the article puts it: ”No other train station in the world has photographs all over of the building they tore down!" Lewis said. It’s almost a defense of Penn Station, which is an indefensible rathole.

ELSEWHERE The nation of Bulgaria brings to mind Boris Badenov-types for some people, or grey Soviet-era cities punctuated with dour busts of Lenin. Try this: 100 Instagram pictures of Bulgaria. You may be surprised, depending on whether you have any preconceptions at all.

YUM On one hand, it’s practically inedible. On the other, it’s ridiculously expensive. Meet . . the ETROG.

VotD This Minnesota guy has a long commute, and he made a video to prove it. Scroll down and strap in.

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