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 Praise

About that "Mad Men" ep

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 27, 2015 - 12:19 PM

It’s always surprising when something actually happens, in the sense of “large events above and beyond the inner lives of the static characters.” Usually the action consists of a small but telling event that means nothing at the time but gets put under the electron microscope by the people who like to tease meaning out of everything. It’s possible, for example, that the red wine stain on Don’s floor is just a red wine stain, not a metaphor, not a call-back, not a sign that Megan was really killed by the Manson Family and this is a dream Don is having while drunk at the funeral.

Some fans were complaining that the show wasn’t wrapping up enough. Wasn’t spending its last moments right. We need closure on everyone! But the point of the show, it’s seemed to me for years, isn’t closure or growth, to use two tired words fiction is required to provide. It’s the absence of both. Megan’s story got closure, but she didn’t. Sally Draper may get one more knowing look of disgust, but she’s not going to grow anything but up. (She is, as Don informed her with the certainty of a bad medical diagnosis, like her parents.) Roger Sterling will float along until a vein in his head pops like a balloon.

Anyway, something happened, and it was startling, if soapy, and led to that tidy, almost poignant last shot: the partners have convened to calm everyone’s fears, and the staff simply gets up and walks out, leaving them standing in a row, like rocks in an ice floe after everything melted away. The line-up of the partners is a hallmark shot, from the first time they stood in the new offices to the shot in the McCann boardroom.

The move gives the last two episodes something to do, and gives us the ending the show seemed unwilling to provide. The firm is done. Don, far from falling to his literal or metaphorical death, lands on his feet with a Coke in his hand, the winner of the most American prize he could imagine. That’ll do.

Oh, by the way, I found this imagine in an old mid-60s New Yorker ad. Wonder if it was the inspiration. If anyone wants to do a story about advertising in the 1890s, it would fit.

VotD You’re probably wondering if the Chilean volcano eruption was observed by UFOs. Of course! Here’s proof.

This goes along with the UFO interesting in Chile’s copper mines.

Oh, great: dog flu

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 20, 2015 - 12:23 PM

You think they’re safe from such things, but then this comes along: dog flu.

"The dog population here has never seen this strain before," said Dr. Keith Poulsen, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The canine sickness causes symptoms similar to those of the human flu, such as coughing, nasal discharge, fever and loss of appetite, though a small percentage of dogs can be carriers of the virus without showing symptoms, Poulsen said.

A cough. That’s the strange part. Every dog sneezes from time to time, but I’ve never heard a dog cough. There’s a vaccine en route in case the current dog-flu vaccine is ineffective.

TURN IT OFF. It's anti-social-media week. Digg says:

In partnership with Showtime and HAPPYish, Digg presents Anti Social Media Week, a five-day exploration of the relationship between technology and happiness. Looking to science, philosophy, religion, technology, and just about everything else, we've found tips, tricks, and hacks that make us happy, or at least happy-ish. And before you send us a million emails decrying hypocrisy, yes, we appreciate the absurdity of using the Internet to tell people to unplug and take a break. But honestly, how else do you expect us to get get your attention? We've already lost too many carrier pigeons.

The article links to the sponsored video for Steve Coogan's new series. I am a big Coogan fan. This left me cold. As for not participating in social media, if that means not looking at Twitter, fine. If it means not checking texts, no. 

ARCHITORTURE  The New York Times reviews the new Whitney Museum, and the article itself is one of those Snowfall-type fancy things. The building itself looks like most modern museums, inasmuch as you can’t imagine a private company wanting to pay for something that ugly. The article also has nice things to say for the previous Whitney, which was hated by everyone until they just got used to the damned thing.

VotD Oh my. He doesn’t grab the wall, and the angle on the pizza joint is wrong, but otherwise this is perfect.

Tweets in Spaaaaace

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 17, 2015 - 12:14 PM

Twitter has grabbed a small gardening spade and waded into the Augean stables. AFP:

Twitter said Thursday that it is cracking down on mean, hateful or menacing tweets that cross the red line from free speech into abuse.
Twitter is overhauling its safety policy and beefing up the team responsible for enforcing it, along with investing "heavily" in ways to detect and limit the reach of abusive content, general counsel Vijaya Gadde said in an column published by the Washington Post.

Good luck. In related news, here’s why I like Louis C.K.: He realized he was being a jerk on Twitter, apologized personally to the object of some stupid and infantile tweets, and realized that whatever you write while stoned is probably junk:

While he had planned to take a year-long break between season four and five, a pot-smoking session triggered an idea for a plot arc involving the return of Doug Stanhope’s suicidal comic Eddie, wherein he and Louie would open a comedy club together. He called up FX and at the last-minute they were able to cobble together a deal for an eight-episode season.
He woke up the next morning feeling like he’d made a huge mistake. “I woke up and I looked at all the *#$@ I wrote when I was high, and I was like, ‘This is terrible stuff!’ I didn’t use a single idea. I had 10 pages written, 10 stoned pages,” he said. “It was just so stupid. I made a huge decision that had impacts on my, and a lot of peoples’ lives — cause a lot of people work for me — and I was stoned at the time!”

I’m still on season 4 As for those who think Twitter is useless nonsense, well, your opinion is nonsense, and useless. It’s all who you follow. The coolest tweet of the week:

If someone had told my 12-year-old self that I would be seeing messages like this on my pocket global communication device, I would have been very happy: so it’s true! The future is going to be just as cool as I hoped!

Well, no moon base. But then there are sentences like this, which is absolutely true: As one of our spacecraft approaches Pluto, our probe around Mercury is reaching the end of its life.

On April 30 MESSENGER will impact Mercury, falling down to its Sun-baked surface and colliding at a velocity of 3.9 kilometers per second, or about 8,700 mph. The 508-kilogram spacecraft will create a new crater on Mercury about 16 meters across. The impact is estimated to occur at 19:25 UTC, which will be 3:25 p.m. at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, where the MESSENGER operations team is located. Because the spacecraft will be on the opposite side of Mercury as seen from Earth the impact site will not be in view.

There’s a countdown here at Messenger’s home page. By the way, MESSENGER is all caps because it’s a long way to Earth so it has to shout. Actually, no. It’s this: “MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.” Which happened to spell Messenger.

It's done great work.

VotD A round-up of action movie cliches, complete with Sly Stallone, gathered together for the noble purpose of selling bread.

SIZZLEREveryone’s trying really hard to let everyone else know they have seen the Sizzler promotional film, and that they have the proper opinion about it. That was Wednesday and Thursday on the internet. Friday the Sizzler story reaches the Neutron Star phase of its life, which is the GIF. So:

We can now forget about Sizzler until it enters the Black Hole phase, which is even shorter GIFs in Kinja comment sections at year’s end.

Elvis Wept

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 17, 2015 - 3:05 PM

Yes, a very late lunch. Was in St. Paul at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the only such event that stops and backs up because people come up to the paraders to chat. Present was the one and only . . .

Actually, that doesn’t seem to be the case. There is another Irish Elvis on the internet and possibly dozens more. Well, this is ours, and he has the moves. And the glasses. The crowd loved him. There is also a Swedish Elvis, in case you're curious: Eilert Pilarm. His page says “Sweden's and probably the world's most original interpreter of songs made famous by Elvis Presley, Eilert Pilarm has stunned and entertained the public in equal doses for a couple of years now."

I think the ratio of “stunned” to “entertained” may not be as equal as they think.

An ugly thing you're supposed to admire

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 9, 2015 - 12:09 PM

. . . and a forgotten building you should. First: The head-scratching conundrum of Brutalist architecture: it seems as if the bigger the building, the more the public didn’t like it. Isn’t that just odd? And it had a theory behind it, too. But don’t take it from me. ArchDaily.com:

 . . . few ideas suffered a more tragic death than the nascent school of brutalism. A late addition to the modernist repertoire, it was vivisected in its prime by critics and the public alike for its perceived coldness and inhumanity. In a particularly cruel twist, its downfall was triggered not by its oversights but by the unpopularity of its strengths. The greatest masterpieces of North American brutalism—Kallmann, McKinnel & Knowles’ Boston City Hall, Murphy’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, Rudolph’s Art & Architecture Building, Pereira’s Library at UCSD—became its greatest liabilities.

In the derogating full-frontal assault on brutalist teleology, it seemed as if the higher the profile a building attained, and the further it pushed against the boundaries of the familiar, the harder it fell when the chair of social disapproval was pulled out from underneath.

This wasn’t tragic, unless your heart sings at the sight of dead concrete pressing its grey boot on the face of the city in perpetutity. There’s a reason the Chair of Social Disapproval was yanked out: the people who lived in the cities weren’t asked if these monsters should be invited to sit with the rest of the family.

The author discusses the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. It wasn’t going to abide by your uptight rules, pop; it was going its own triangular way. Dig?

Breaking free of the prescriptive Cartesian grid that had become ubiquitous throughout the previous half century of architecture, the design was guided instead by an isometric grid derived from the sixty-degree angle. Right angles are all but abandoned in the plan, which takes the shape of an equilateral triangle with smaller, triangular masses protruding from its sides. The three main profiles of the library, each one hundred meters long, assert a jarring interjection into the rectangular street plan of the university campus[.]

Some people just love it when buildings disrupt the grid, particularly if such a thing can be seen as a blow against Cartesian prescriptions. But if you like your library to remind people of a guard house and a crematorium, this is your baby.

Hail! The watchers have seen our Queen Insect approach! Make ready!

Pictures from Google Street View. Now, elsewere in modern ideas, here’s something that looks equally blunt, but has a rich and glorious past.


View Larger Map

And what’s that, you ask, and who cares? Let’s take another look. It curves:

Brutalism didn't curve. The Philly Ink architecture critic explains:

For many years, I also wondered what the peculiar, blank-faced behemoth at 1020 Market St. was used for. Because it has no windows, I thought it might have started life as a movie theater. It wasn't until 2013, when the building made the Preservation Alliance's endangered properties list, that I discovered its impressive pedigree. Thanks to the Alliance's Ben Leech, we now know that an older building at that address was taken over by Robinson department store in 1946. The new store was designed by Victor Gruen, a prominent Viennese architect who fled the Nazis in 1938 and ended up becoming the father of the American shopping mall.

That's one of Vic's? Indeed:

Before Gruen (originally, Grunbaum) rocketed to fame for the Northland Mall outside Detroit, he toiled away in traditional downtowns, giving modernist face-lifts to dowdy commercial buildings.

Northland Center opened before Southdale, but it wasn’t enclosed. That came later. This year Target moved out and Macy’s said it was giving up the ghost as well; this page says it’s closing for good in March. Anyway, the article notes that the blank facade once held an illuminated sign, and man, did it ever. A detail from this Flickr page:

Detail from here. The last days of downtown . . . before Gruen's work gave people another place to go. If only his Dayton's building in St. Paul had been so alive.

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