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 Architecture

When the Mayor Swears

Posted by: James Lileks 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.

New Internet Ad Idea to Annoy You Greatly

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 16, 2014 - 12:23 PM

Behold, online advertising’s absolute bottom: the ransom note.

Let’s get people to pay not to see ads. You don’t want to? Fine; sit through this 30 second ad before you see something that the site snatched off YouTube and slapped their watermark upon. That’ll build customer loyalty and many repeat clicks.

DEEP THOUGHTS Today’s editorial page has the Monday illustrated-quote cartoon by L. K. Hanson, whose Farley at the Fair cartoons are still missed every year. He usually picks a provocative statement; today has a Baudrillard quote: “Deep down, the US, with its technological refinement, its bluff good conscience, even in those spaces which it opens up for simulation, is the only replaining primitive society.”

Hmm. Well. Of course, he means figuratively so, because you have to be rather blind to believe that the US is literally primitive. He must have meant that the US culture channeled some primal forces other cultures had smothered or covered with the trappings of civilization.

Actually, with this guy, there’s no literal or figuretive. That’s far too jejune an idea. Baudrillard was a post-modernist and a post-structuralist, although you suspect he would have been a modernist and a structuralist if he’d been born a bit earlier. Wikipedia gives us a sample:

In Baudrillard's view, the (human) subject may try to understand the (non-human) object, but because the object can only be understood according to what it signifies (and because the process of signification immediately involves a web of other signs from which it is distinguished) this never produces the desired results.

I am looking at a coffee cup right now. It’s white; the style is mid-century Diner; it has a Krispy Kreme logo. Thus are the generic elements of his style immediately given locality and specificity by the corporate logo, signifying both the commodification of donuts and the evanescence of franchise agreements, which have the illusion of permanence but can be severed by legal means. There was a Krispy Kreme store in Eden Prairie. Now it’s gone. Life is futile. Why try?

That’s one way of looking at it. The other way is to point out that I have no trouble understanding my coffee cup, because it is a coffee cup, and that’s all there is to it. No one is paralyzed by uncertainty when they consider their coffee cup. The only people whose minds skitter off on a web of other signs are people who are paid to sit in nice rooms and think about things.

We continue:

The subject, rather, becomes seduced (in the original Latin sense, seducere, to lead away) by the object. He therefore argued that, in the last analysis, a complete understanding of the minutiae of human life is impossible, and when people are seduced into thinking otherwise they become drawn toward a "simulated" version of reality, or, to use one of his neologisms, a state of "hyperreality". This is not to say that the world becomes unreal, but rather that the faster and more comprehensively societies begin to bring reality together into one supposedly coherent picture, the more insecure and unstable it looks and the more fearful societies become. Reality, in this sense, "dies out”.

The job of many social philosophers is to point out how unhappy and delusional other people are. Especially the ones that seem happy and consider themselves well-adjusted. There has to be something wrong with them.

Oh but there’s more.

Baudrillard progressed beyond both Saussure's and Roland Barthes's formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically understood (and thus formless) version of structural semiology. The concept of Simulacra also involves a negation of the concept of reality as we usually understand it. Baudrillard argues that today there is no such thing as reality.

No man who has ever stubbed his toe against the leg of a table could say something so stupid, but Baudrillard’s career consisted of saying ridiculous things in a prose style designed to bluster the rubes into admiration.

n other unrelated news, WaPo Wonkblog:

There are roughly 11,000 Starbucks locations in the United States, and about 14,000 McDonald's restaurants. But combined, the two chains don't come close to the number of museums in the U.S., which stands at a whopping 35,000.

More museums than McDonald’s? C’est impossible!

ARCHITORTURE Via Things, a story about a building complex designed to host the G8.

The former Arsenal, partly planned by Stefano Boeri on the island of La Maddalena for the G8 in 2009, is one of the darkest moments of Italian politics in recent years - a polluted, abandoned and inaccessible site. The story of a disaster, symbolizing one of the largest financial and environmental squanders in recent years.

The trailer for a movie being made about the ruins:

VotD That’s a lot of geese.

Reminds me of “The Flood” level in the first Halo game.

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.)

Obviously, Eugene is a robot.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 10, 2014 - 12:01 PM

C’mon. No. New Scientist:

Two years ago, I met Eugene Goostman, a guinea pig-owning, 13-year-old boy living in Odessa, Ukraine. Now this quirky character – in fact a software chatbot – is making headlines with the claim that on Saturday, he became the first piece of software to pass the Turing test, the most famous test of machine intelligence.

Eugene, created by Vladimir Veselov, who was born in Russia and now lives in the US, and Ukrainian-born Eugene Demchenko who now lives in Russia, is certainly a clever, not to mention funny, piece of software. And it did fool 33 per cent of the people he chatted with into thinking Eugene was human. But here are a few reasons why the result may not be the milestone it seems to be.

It’s ridiculous.  I could tell it was a bot in three questions. I asked it a question about Odessa, which it had mentioned in the first response, and it claimed ignorance of Odessa in the third reply. This might be characteristic of a 13-year-old who isn’t listening because he’s playing Watch Dogs, but A) that’s not an impressive demonstration of AI, and B) he shouldn’t be playing Watch Dogs at that age. Try it yourself.

Elsewhere, corporate Twitter accounts are being scrutinized because they are . . . unnerving. By which the author means “they give the illusion of familiarity but lack the ability to personally comfort you in times of need. Really.

In 2014, high-profile corporate voices on Twitter can be as casual, playful, and sometimes intimate as an individual user’s — and often more so. “~draw me like one of your French toasts~” the chain restaurant Denny’s coos from its Twitter account, raking in thousands of faves and retweets. The tweet is funny, a kind of Twitter humor tour de force that remixes a relevant social-media meme with a comforting Denny’s menu item.

And that’s that, right? There’s nothing more to be said. Well-played, Denny’s; aside from the people in the comments who will no doubt insist the company is run by the Klan, we can move along - hold on, no, there’s more.

At the same time, upon reading perfectly casual and on-meme corporate tweets like these in my Twitter timeline, I’ve begun to feel discomfited. To be perfectly honest, I feel unsettled, even usurped or displaced, by corporations’ perfectly on-point social-media voice.

Because Denny’s made a “Titanic” joke.

It isn’t enough for Denny’s to own the diners, it wants in on our alienation from power, capital, and adulthood too. While we giggle at corporate #weirdtwitter tweets, the corporate invulnerability that makes them easy to follow is also what makes their assumption of a human, familiar voice feel, despite our laughter and faves, cold and a bit pathological.

It’s a Denny’s Twitter account. For that matter, it’s a Twitter account. Expect nothing of it.

URBANISM   View all 467 replies! Gizmodo uses the Google Time Machine to show how San Francisco is changing, and people are arguing about turning old, abandoned neighborhoods into shiny, stable, residential neighborhoods where condos and apartments replace empty lots. If you want a local version, check out the comments on this building. It’s one thing to criticize the building’s style, but there are folks who are just . . . angry at the presumption that people want to live downtown. As for the style:

It doesn't have any. Although the article says: "The building will have some unique design features, including an above-grade parking garage that will be wrapped in a shimmering double layer of perforated metal screen."

If it shimmers, thanks to embedded motors that cause the facade to undulate gently like sails in the breeze, great, but I doubt that’s the case.

It’s good to see the block filled; beats a parking lot. Perhaps the economics of the site meant it had to fill out the space entirely with no setbacks, and it’s possible the lower-level parking ramp’s lack of windows will impart a sense of urban compression to the street, and WHO AM I KIDDING? I’m making excuses for what appears to be a dull tower that wandered in from an LA suburb c. 1967. Better than nothing - but it seems like another missed opportunity. 

The super-hero movie we supposedly don't want

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 4, 2014 - 12:40 PM

This site says no one wants an Ant-Man movie. Really? More interesting than another normal-sized guy with excessive abilities who attracts some type of megalomaniacal villainy that demolishes half the city. It’s been a while since we had a miniaturization movie. But it seems no director wants to do it. Blastr:

After Edgar Wright’s hasty exit from the project he’s been shepherding for the better part of a decade due to alleged rewrites, Marvel has gone into triage mode to try and salvage the film’s fast-approaching July 17, 2015, release date. With Wright out, the studio moved on to Adam McKay (Anchorman), who briefly flirted before removing himself from the running.

More from Grantland:

On May 22, Grantland published this story. In it, Mark Harris suggests (among other things) that if Marvel Studios and its competitors don’t stop making superhero projects that super-serve their nerdcore base while befuddling and alienating casual viewers, the whole comic-book movie economy could collapse.

Well, it looks like they won’t nerd-core super-serve, if Wright’s out. I’m not unhappy Wright isn’t doing it; the Cornetto Trilogy seemed to offer diminishing returns as it went on, but that’s just my opinion. Wright has big nerd cred, and would have turned out a comedy / mystery with limited appeal - the sort of thing that gets murdered by word-of-mouth by people who don’t like the director’s style or rhythm. Hard to get a studio to commit to spending lots of money on niche products whose audience consists of registered members of AICN forums.

I’d have seen it anyway, as a rental. But it wouldn’t be a BIG TENT-POLE EVENT and all our superhero movies have to be BTPEs these days. Which brings us to Dr. Strange: it's a go.

Of course he has to fight Dormammu; of course the plot has to involve Mordo, the Loser Magician, and course the story ends with the big battle where Dr. Strange comes to Dormammu’s aid to fight the Nameless Ones. Annnd you’re thinking:

Yes, Nerds. But it would be a different kind of superhero movie. Name another one where the hero joins the bad guy for the right reason. Plus, Dormammu’s head is on fire, which is cool.

But please, no Johnny Depp for Strange. Robert Downey Jr. might actually have worked, long ago, before he decided to wink and prance through every movie.

Finally: Seth MacFarlane’s Western was a flop, they say. Why? Perhaps everyone figured they saw all the jokes in the trailer.

CRIME The Google Street View Axe Murder has been solved. Whew.

EVERYONE LOVES A LOG Whatever became of the man who invented the Slinky? TIFO says:

In 1960, Richard James left his struggling company, which was deeply in debt, and moved to Bolivia where he became a missionary.  When Betty refused to go with him, he told her she could have the company and he didn’t care what she did with it.  Betty then took over the company and proved to be a much better business person than her ex-husband. The company expanded greatly under her leadership and to date has sold over 300 million Slinkies.

She also named the product. I remember two things about Slinkies: how they were ruined for good if they ever got tangled, and the metallic aroma they left on your hands after a while. It was a pleasant smell. Not up there with Ditto fluid, but still good.

VotD This stretch of Brazilian road has been listed as “troublesome” by the National Association of Top-Heavy Lead-foots:

ARCHITECTURE Finally: a look at the forbidding Masonic Temple of Detroit. Incredible. There’s an incredible city there waiting for rebirth. You fear it’ll never quite happen, and it’ll turn into a place where people pretend they’re in Rapture in Bioshock. At least on rainy days.

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