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.

Today's Internet Hoax is . . .

Posted by: James Lileks under Technology Updated: June 24, 2014 - 2:23 PM

. . . not surprising at all. It was Upworthy-ready: this little girl was ostracized in a KFC because she had facial scars, and what happened next will warm your heart-cockles, or something.

Well, no. The Laurel Leader-Call:

The heart-wrenching story of a badly disfigured 3-year-old child being asked to leave a Jackson KFC because her appearance was scaring other customers was a story generated out of whole cloth and resulted in the family bilking the public and professionals for more than $135,000 in cash, as well as gifts and free surgeries, sources with deep knowledge of the investigation said exclusively to the Laurel Leader-Call.

Says the family's  “Victoria’s Victories” website today:

I promise its not a hoax, I never thought any of this would blow up the way it has. The article circling the web calling this a hoax is untrue. The article it self say the investigation is not complete. It is not over until KFC releases a statement. The media outlet running this story is not connected with KFC. The family has not asked for anything, a attorney is handling all the media publicity for the family pro bono. Please do not believe untrue media. I have personally watched this family go without to provide for Victoria. They have not and would not do anything to hurt Victoria in any way.

Over 4,500 comments on that one so far. Read 'em all! A pattern does tend to emerge.

The newspaper article notes that the local KFCs have surveillance video of the days in question - although they don’t have video for the store the child’s aunt says they visited. Ah hah! you say. How convenient! Well:

The family initially told KFC the incident happened at the location on State and High streets, a claim backed by a Facebook post by Victoria’s Victories, a page run by Teri Rials Bates, the girl’s aunt that read: “Thank you for your support for Victoria. If you would like to file a complaint its the KFC on State Street in Jackson MS.” That store is not in operation and has been closed for several years.

The family retracted that claim after that was pointed out, insisting that the event did happen, but it was somewhere else.

The newspaper article, by the way, is not a model of objective reporting.

Mullins welcomed television cameras from Jackson while peddling the tale of deceit in an effort to bilk a public who lapped up the story with little regard to its validity. By the time those TV interviews had aired, the story had taken on a life of its own.

National and world media such as CNN, Nancy Grace, Huffington Post and The Today Show jumped on the story, lambasting the employees, KFC and YUM! Brands, KFC’s corporate owners.

“What, did they walk over to the table and say ‘hey, you’re ugly, you have to leave.’ What happened Dave?” wailed Grace, the (Headline News) hysterical talk show host, which was answered by little-known talk radio host Dave Maxson.

“No, Nancy, it was even worse than that. It wasn’t ‘you’re ugly.’ It was ‘you are scaring people. You must leave.’”

Wailing and hysterical are rather subjective. Accurate, but still.

Since the story went “viral,” people have been throwing sodas through the drive-through window and yelling at employees. Even though the original story seemed “fishy” in the sense that a trawler coming back to the docks after a week of dragging the ocean with enormous nets is “fishy.” An employee would ask a seriously injured little girl to leave because she was scaring customers? Does that really seem likely?

Speaking of social media: The WSJ yesterday had a piece about companies rethinking their social media strategies, a subject of almost boundless boredom to consider, but interesting in a cruel, cold way. It turns out that LIKES mean nothing. Who knew. It turns out that people don’t go on Twitter to learn about brands: the feather, it lays me low. It seems that most people go on Twitter to natter about things they did or ate or heard about second-hand through the usual uninformed sources.

Not to say it’s not a great news source; I check it constantly. But when you enter the parallel world of Twitter, where people who cannot spell and have the sense of history that makes a fish’s experience look like the recollections of Methuselah, you know that it’s not an inherently wise medium. Which one is? Right.

Survey says: 94% use social media to connect with friends and family. Twenty-nine percent use it to “follow trends / find product reviews and information.” That last one conflates two different objectives. Same with the next one: Twenty percent use social media “to comment on what’s hot or new / to write reviews of products.” But the big one: 62% say that social media has NO INFLUENCE AT ALL on their purchasing decisions. Millions upon millions spent to insert ads in your timelines, and while you may follow Campbell’s Soup, and may have signed up to get the “What’s Soup?” update email (I made that up) and might have liked the post about Andy Warhol’s birthday, the end result is diddly and/or squat compared to television ads. They’re more impressive because they have moving pictures and catchy songs and pretty people.

Compared to which, a social-media entry is a postcard. I nod and feel a cruel smile spread across my face, because I don’t like Facebook. I use it to post links to real work. Same with Google Plus, but every day I go to Google Plus to add the link, I have the same thought: oh, right. Google Plus. And this is something I use every day. I practically forget about while I’m there. Facebook is a many-headed hydra with a firehose in every mouth. But I don’t disengage from Twitter or the news, because I want to know what’s going on. Depending on who you follow, and who you learn to trust or respect, you can get a sense of events from Twitter stream if you treat it like Professor X using Cerebro

This Leon Wiseltier piece, written by an admitted non-Tweeter, sums up the perils of disengagement.

How Not to be Trampled

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Outstate, Praise Updated: June 23, 2014 - 12:38 PM

Chances are no World Cup game will end like this:

On an evening in January A.D. 532, pandemonium broke out in the Constantinople Hippodrome, a U-shaped chariot racetrack surrounded by stadium stands. Two factions, the Greens and Blues—the predecessors of today’s soccer hooligans—broke into a fight. When the rest of the spectators dashed to escape, many became trapped by the rushing crowd, couldn’t reach the exits, and were trampled and killed. That incident was the start of the Nika riots that almost ended the rule of Eastern Roman emperor Justinian the Great.

The article discusses what humans might learn from ants when it comes to not dying in a stampede, but i was struck by the reference to the Greens and the Blues. There were two others. From Roman Mysteries:

There were four major teams called "factiones": the greens ("prasini"), the reds ("Russata"), the whites ("Alba" or "Albata") and the sky/sea blues ("Veneti" or "Veneta"). Roman writers suggest that the colours were inspired by the colours of the four seasons of the year.

This tradition went back to the Republic, if I recall correctly - and that means that the names of the factions of a major sport were unchanged for over half a millenium. Which is like opening the newsfeed in 2514 and reading about the Vikings.

The New Republic notes that the great Argentinian writer Borges hated soccer; many Romans hated the chariot races, for the same reasons. PBS:

. . . not everyone was such a fan. Like the gladiators, chariot races were popular sports for the Roman masses, not the social elites, who disliked the mob behavior of the fans and found the sport unremarkable and childish.

One exception was the Emperor Nero. He was passionate about horses and even drove his own chariot. Nero’s enthusiasm for such a lowly sport scandalized Rome's elite, but endeared him to the masses. The historian, Tacitus, sneered at the mob for this: "For such is a crowd — eager for excitement and thrilled if the emperor shares their tastes."

Typical Nero. He also scandalized the upper classes by appearing in theatrical productions, which simply was not done, and some later historians suggest that the reason he has such a mad-man reputation has to do with his conspicuous enjoyment of plebeian diversions. It was immoral and low.

Well, that, and the whole murdering-his-mother business. And burning Christians in baskets. But we’re talking about post-Augustus emperors, who didn’t exactly follow an upwards trajectory in terms of acumen and quality.

ART Gorgeous little video game based on 30s cartoons:

If this does well, it would be great to see Cuphead in other cartoon eras as well, right through the ultra-cheap Hanna-Barbera era. Even as a very small kid I noticed that when Fred Flintstone ran through the house the same table and chair repeated behind him about six times. So either Fred’s house was very long - something belied by the exterior shots - and he has spaced identical pieces of furniture down the long corridor, or they were just reusing the pictures.

In related news of the era, sort of: (well, not really), AVClub asks “A Century Later, Why Does Chaplin Still Matter?”

The article doesn’t really answer the question. Another question comes to mind: does he? The comments immediately get into the Chaplin vs. Keaton struggle, with the inevitable minority opinion for Lloyd. All were great, and each were different; no need to compare. Except that Keaton and Lloyd never really came up with anything like the ending of “City Lights,” which has been scientifically proven to melt stone. Although Chaplin never had a thrill like the last sequence of “Safety Last,” and -

Oh, never mind. Here’s some Harry Langdon.

Thrill comedy: a genre in need of revival.

SPACE There are four possible reasons the “Magic Island” has appeared on Titan.

Northern hemisphere winds may be kicking up and forming waves on Ligeia Mare. The radar imaging system might see the waves as a kind of “ghost” island.

Gases may push out from the sea floor of Ligeia Mare, rising to the surface as bubbles.

Sunken solids formed by a wintry freeze could become buoyant with the onset of the late Titan spring warmer temperatures.

Ligeia Mare has suspended solids, which are neither sunken nor floating, but act like silt in a terrestrial delta.

It looks like this.

Won’t we be surprised some day if Titan launches a rocket to explore Europa.

FUN Boston Globe: How the Amusement Park Hijacks your Brain. Warning: it doesn’t to anything like that at all. Let’s try another way of putting it: amusement parts are “perfectly engineered to push psychological buttons you didn’t even know you had. Here’s how.” Bottom line: did you know that a lot of thought and effort goes into amusement park design? It’s true!

Related: did Disneyland inspire better downtown architecture? I'd say no, because cities kept mauling downtowns for decades after it was opened. But it's a nice thought. 

VotD Close-call compilation. Yikes.

Good Building! And then there's another one.

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture Updated: June 20, 2014 - 5:24 PM

More apartment / condo news. It would be an odd day when someone didn’t release a new project. This: good.

Brash enough for a crossroads destination. The rest of it brings to mind early 80s suburban apartments, and I suspect people want balconies more than recessed coves, but if they can get the neighborhood approval and built it, great. Next.

(strained smile)

It’s great to see the Advance Thresher / Newton Implement building get a new life, and a skyway connection? Aces. But the new building has nothing to do with its neighbor. There’s no visual integration whatsoever. The neighbor was built in two stages, and managed to integrate itself seamlessly; one has more stories than the other, but you can’t tell by a quick read of the exterior. You’d like to think the third wing would reinvent the hue and style and rhythm of its neighbor, because otherwise it’s like plopping an IHOP next to a Cass Gilbert temple.

GAMES Best 100 video games of all time! It’s a SLIDE SHOW. You have to work the URL to bounce around if you’re curious what’s #22 (System Shock) or read the comments just to see what they left off. No Half-Life? Okay. Number 1: Bioshock, which angers up the blood in the comments, because other games were more influential. But it’s “Best” not “which one spawned 49 underwhelming immitations. Also one comment says “Wolfenstein? Doom? Leather Goddesses of Phobos?” Doesn’t indicate whether they made the list, because I don’t think anyone made it through. But if the game doesn’t have Doom, it’s ridiculous. (Note: it also lacks Max Payne. Forget it.

CLICKBAIT It’s called “Nine Things Only People Who Went to Sleepover Camp Will Understand."

School’s out! So it’s time to think about all those memories from sleepaway camp. Here are a few things you’d only get if you spent your summers at camp.

1. There is a sorrow to the sound of bodies in the lake. 

How I love Clickhole.

Now the new building isn't big enough

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Photos Updated: June 18, 2014 - 12:32 PM

We'll get to that in a second. First, stuff:

ART Sometimes it’s just sufficient to say: mid-century British library posters. That works for you or it doesn’t.

URBANISM New Apartment, according to this story; here’s the site.


View Larger Map

Meanwhile, this Smithsonian story makes you wonder if we’ve reached peak peak. The term “peak X” usually means when we start to run out of something, or the high point of attainability and abundance. So it’s ridiculous to ask if we’ve reached “peak suburb” - except that it suggests there’s some iron law governing the process. I mean, peak oil means you start to run out of oil because there isn’t any more. We haven’t run out of suburbs. It usually means someone has come up with data that shows not that the range of choices is expanding, huzzah, but some people are deciding to live in a way that validates the author’s preferences.

A growing number of walkable urban areas suggests that the era of sprawling suburbs may be ending

Growing. Suggests. May. Case closed! Also, it’s a false distinction: just because “walkable” urban areas are increasing doesn’t mean that sprawling suburbs will disappear. I mean, when the “era of dinosaurs is ending” they die out. When the “era of whale blubber used as a source of illumination is ending” it means people no longer use any whale blubber for lamps.

Washington D.C., New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago took the top five spots. But the report also found that traditionally sprawling cities, including Miami, Atlanta and Detroit, are well-positioned for increased walkability based on current development efforts.

Good! If more people want to live in the city, let the market build what they need. If more people want to live in the suburbs for whatever reason they have, let them live in the suburbs. This would seem to be a point upon which all can agree, no? No. It’s a contentious fault line, because some people want to shape things to encourage the proper choice. The article ends:

But in some places, the shift to denser living might not yet we welcome, said Mangum.

"There's not an easy fix," he said. "It would involve giving up some of the things people like.”

If people want to surrender the things they like voluntarily, make a trade-off to enjoy the benefits of walkable cities - which, in this part of the country, means “slippable” half the year, then let them. But the article suggests that the “giving up” part must be required.

As for building dense neighborhoods, let’s see how that’s working out on the Superior Plating site:

It's a rare story in Twin Cities development these days: A neighborhood group telling a developer that his proposal doesn't add enough density.

But that's what happened Wednesday night during a meeting over a proposed 500-unit apartment project on the 5.4-acre former Superior Plating site in Northeast, a block from Surdyk's. A Florida based firm is pitching the mixed-use development in place of the just-demolished industrial building.

“The biggest problem we saw what that they were not proposing enough density in housing," said Victor Grambsch, board president of the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association. "They were proposing something like 500 units. We think it should be closer to 700 or more.”

Well, then, buy the site and build it yourself. Honestly. The block’s been a vacant eyesore for a long time, and who knows what hellish metals lurked beneath it. Someone comes along to put something up on the site and it’s not big enough. I agree: bigger would be better. I agree: another building that looks like all the other apartments going up is an opportunity lost. But:

Grambsch said they do not want the building to resemble the "second rate" wood-frame construction that has sprung up in their neighborhood and across the city. But building higher than five or six stories generally involves switching to a concrete frame, which is more expensive.

"[The developer] actually indicated that if it were required that they would build to this level of density, that they would walk on the project," Grambsch said.

Which is a new definition of “Walkable cities,” perhaps.

When the Mayor Swears

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Gripes, Praise Updated: June 17, 2014 - 1:56 PM

If you have trouble with this, you’re no fun. You’re a wet-blanket and a prude who denies the reality of today’s vernacular. Or so some think. Said the mayor of LA after the USA win:

“There are two rules in politics: they say never ever be pictured with a drink in your hand and never swear, but this is a big f—in’ day; way to go guys!” he said while holding what appeared to be an aluminum Bud Light bottle. A post on the official Twitter account for the mayor’s office reflected Garcetti’s comments: “There are a few rules in politics, one is never swear, but this is a #BFD”.

Well, it reflected them, but it didn’t repeat them. Almost as if the Official Twitter Account thought hmmm, standards for public discourse, right? So, initials. Totally scientific poll on the CBS website:

MOVIES Teller, of Penn and renown, defends “The Towering Inferno.” (Source: The Dissolve.) He thinks it’s well-written and compelling. There are times I almost agree and times I think no, it’s a flaming pile of shag that ends with a billion gallons of water dumping down on Fred Astaire and Red Buttons, but then you think: well, Steve McQueen is good. True. The theme is interesting; one of John Williams’ lesser efforts, but it’ll do. Google it if you're curious.

Related: why isn’t Steven Seagal in the Expendables? Follow-up question: why does anyone think he should be?

YUCK Terry Richardson’s work gives off a skeezy, pervy smell, and even if you didn’t know the stories detailed in the recent New York magazine cover you’d suspect something was ooky about the guy. Jezebel writes about the problems with the cover story’s premise, which should be obvious to anyone: “Is Terry Richardson an artist or a predator?” it asks, as if the two are mutually exclusive. As if the latter somehow excuses the former.

At one point, Wallace notes that there are now many "culturally engaged people, many of them young, who reject the sophisticated titillation that once greeted Richardson's work, seeing predation instead of transgression." He writes that this "is perplexing to the photographer, who finds himself maligned as repugnant for being the same person who was once broadly celebrated." This is a pretty damn specious way of looking at public rejection of Richardson's work: people aren't changing their views on the "sophisticated titillation" of his photos. They're learning that some of the women in them didn't consent to it.

True, but: it would also be good if people stopped applauding “transgression” because it made them feel naughty and modern and iconoclastic, when it’s the most boring default position available today.

The piece is here, and contains graphic descriptions of Richardson’s behavior, so don’t click if you’re offended.

URBANISM David Brauer sticks up for the suburbs in the SW Journal, and reminds people that the compact, walkable urban core wasn’t the result of a small-is-beautiful / anti-car philosophy. The piece is titled “Let’s stop the Suburb Shaming,” and good for him. BTW, as long as we’re on stopping things, let us ease off on the word “shaming.” It’s becoming a moral stance about people taking a moral stance about a moral stance. You should be ashamed for shaming.

SCIENCEThey’ve identified the most abundant mineral on the planet, and what they’ve called it might surprise you! Although the chances of that are quite low, since you have no preconceptions about mineral nomenclature one way or the other, and are just as likely to accept “plonkenite” as “manganorsterite.

It’s bridgmanite.

LIT To commemorate the immient release of “Grand Budapest Hotel” on DVD, a look at Stefan Zweig:

Zweig, who left behind an almost absurdly various and voluminous body of work, saw himself, at 60, as someone who belonged irrevocably to the past. He decided to stay there, and to those who seek him he can still be found, in an atmosphere of hedonistic refinement and intellectual passion, haunting the cafes and strolling the boulevards of a vanished city.

And with that said, I’d like to link or embed some music from the imaginary past, in the form of the “Grand Budapest Hotel” soundtrack. But it’s probably not authorized, and hence pirated . . . which is a BFD.

The F is for “Fargin’!” Roman Maroni, a great American.

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