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 Minnesota History

Worst Supermarkets in America

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 25, 2014 - 12:30 PM

We'll get to that in a second. It's the headline because no one's going to click to see fuzzy images of distant glories. So:

SCIENCE! A look at the latest awe-inspiring Hubble photo of a tiny corner of the universe, courtesy of Slate's Bad Astronomer:

. . . even the nearest galaxies you can see in this image are hundreds of millions of light years away! Some are billions; the most distant object in this shot are at least 9 billion light years distant. That’s a million times farther away than any star in the picture.

When the light we see here left those galaxies, the Sun hadn’t yet formed. When the Earth itself was coalescing from countless specks of dust, that light still had half its journey here ahead of it.

Zoom in, and the quantity of galaxies is astonishing. Not stars: galaxies.

Speaking of galaxies far, far away, Slashfilm says:

Several Star Wars websites reported Disney that Lucasfilm executives had an ultra-secret breakfast to discuss the franchise. Whether or not this meeting actually happened is already in question, which should paint this rumor in even a dimmer light. But one site is reporting much of the conversation centered on everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett.

Why is Boba Fett a bad guy, necessarily? Because he transported Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt? It was just a job. I guess we know he was BAD because he stuck around at Boba’s for the party, but that seems uncharacteristic; who wants to spend much time with bitt & his sycophants? That place must have smelled horrible. Well, he went screaming into a Sarlac maw, so there’s no suspense in a movie. Whatever happens, we’d know he survived, because we saw him die later.

He was interesting because we couldn’t see his face, and his few lines were delivered with menace. His suit was banged up - part of the battered, inhabited world that made “Star Wars” look different from previous sci-fi.

Wait, you say: he didn’t get eaten by the Sarlacc! Wookiepedia:

 . . .during the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon, Fett fought against the group of Rebel rescuers. However, he was inadvertently knocked into the mouth of the Sarlacc by Solo. Though no one in recorded history had ever escaped from the Sarlacc, Fett was able to escape, though not unscathed. Thanks to his iron will and Mandalorian armor, he was able to fight his way out of the beast's belly, and later killed the Sarlacc. Back in action, he resumed his work as a bounty hunter.

C’mon. And Greedo shot first. Right.

RETAIL The 13 Worst Supermarkets in America. Not one is aRound Your neighborhood, to my surprise. 

URBANISM No one will miss this:

Except that we will, when they’re all gone. Another large project - huge, really - is slated for Dinkytown, and while it’s a good sign, there’s a point at which the nature of Dinkytown is changed for good. You may say: blocks and blocks of new housing replacing tumbledown carved-up houses is progress, and for the most part I agree - but I hope the end result is the improvement of the century-old housing stock, not its abolition.

It’s just amazing to see these blocks rise one after the other, each more luxurious than the last; when I lived in Dtown everyone lived in rooms in sad old houses, cut up into tiny rooms with dented drywall.

VotD Your Russian dash-cam video for Friday. Wait for it.

Enjoy your Friday; see you on the other side of the weekend. 

The Interminable Minnesota Goodbye

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 24, 2014 - 12:37 PM

Never can say goodbye, as the song says. But not this song. Well, it does, but not in the way of that other song.

May I suggest this is a Minnesota female thing. Guys have no trouble getting up and going. If you’re with someone who lingers at the door for another ten minutes of chitchat, though, you build this into the schedule; if you want to leave by ten, you try to move everyone to the staging area at 9:50.

ART Digital art by Andy Warhol has been discovered on ancient floppy disks, and they’re just what you’d expect. From the article:

Warhol’s Amiga experiments were the products of a commission by Commodore International to demonstrate the graphic arts capabilities of the Amiga 1000 personal computer. Created by Warhol on prototype Amiga hardware in his unmistakable visual style, the recovered images reveal an early exploration of the visual potential of software imaging tools, and show new ways in which the preeminent American artist of the 20th century was years ahead of his time.

Preeminent American artist of the 20th century.

SCREEN Good news from the AV Club:

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back for a second helping of The Trip, the 2011 BBC miniseries-turned-film in which the two comedians play themselves, traveling across England together. The characters are ostensibly on the road to review restaurants, but that flimsy setup is merely an excuse for the actors to bicker, one-up each other, and trade impressions (most notably their dueling Michael Caines).

This will her the one that finally makes Coogan a star in America! Kidding. Should happen, though, Brydon too. Speaking of English comics who made it big in the States: Ricky Gervais’ “Derek,” done for Netflix, made it to England, and the Guardian hates it. I liked it, but found Gervais the least interesting part; it’s worth it for Karl Pilkington and the sad scuzzy 80s guy.

MINNOW REDUX Sit right down and I’ll tell a tale:

Five castaways on a desert island off the coast of Queensland, Australia, scrawled out SOS in a nearby sandbar after their boat drifted out to sea Monday.

About nine hours later a rescue helicopter — sent out to find the lost vessel's crew — spotted the cry for help in the sand and saved the marooned group.

The happiest person to see the helicopter was the one who was in charge of Not Letting the Boat Drift Out to Sea.

WHY? McDonald’s has updated Ronald’s look, according to USA Today:

The question is why they need to keep him around at all. Do they think people who stop going to McDonald’s if they phased out a mascot who is loved by absolutely no one whatsoever?

VotD Just another Russian dash cam video.

Sort of.

Had you going for a second, didn't it. 

Architecture & Morality

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

Not just an 80s electro-pop album title. It’s the old dilemma: can you enjoy art once you learn the artist’s opinions, or discover what an utter cad he was? Let’s say an architect wrote this in 1938:

"The decline in fertility, so far as scientists have been able to discover, is unique in the history of the white race. In short, the United States of America is committing race suicide.”

And let’s say that architect’s name s on the IDS center, because it is.

Matt Novak pointed out Philip Johnson’s Nazi past at Paleofuture:

Johnson visited Germany in the 1930s at the invitation of the government's Propaganda Ministry. He wrote numerous articles for far right publications. He started a fascist organization called the Gray Shirts in the United States. He was with the Nazis when they invaded Poland and wrote about how it wasn't as bad as the American press was making it out to be. He was an ardent supporter of the notoriously anti-semitic Father Coughlin. And he was so in the tank for the Nazis that the FBI even suspected him of being a spy.

"You simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it," Johnson would tell an interviewer about attending a 1932 Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany. "...by the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing, as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd.”

Hilarity did not result in the comments, but it's a good summary of the arguments for keeping these facts in mind as well as setting them aside. 

Here’s how the IDS Center’s biography of Johnson puts it:

During the Great Depression, Johnson resigned his post at MoMA to try his hand at journalism and agrarian populist politics. His enthusiasm centered on the critique of the liberal welfare state, whose “failure” seemed to be much in evidence during the 1930s. As a correspondent, Johnson observed the Nuremberg Rallies in Germany and covered the invasion of Poland in 1939. The invasion proved the breaking point in Johnson’s interest in journalism or politics – he returned to enlist in the US Army.

The subject of Johnson’s past usually leads to a festival of loathing for his architecture, which has many detractors. Johnson committed the sin of being successful and pliable; instead of sticking to one style and marching through life with the steely gaze of the Olympian Genius, descending to the mortal plane every few years to deliver something brilliant and pure, he designed a lot of stuff that strikes some people today as a kitschy or ridiculous. But anyone who remembers skyscraper architecture in the early 80s recalls how dreadful tall buildings had become, and how the addition of new shapes, ornamentation, and historical references made for interesting additions to the American skyline. How much of it was Johnson, and how much of it was the work of his associates, I’ve no idea. I suspect he drew a few things on paper and let the rest of them sort it out. In any case, there’s no particular morality attached to architecture itself, OMD notwithstanding; we associate the architecture of Nazi Germany with evil because of the actions of the people who inhabited the buildings, not the stones themselves.

JUSTICE Your honor, we would like to instruct the jury to disregard the defendant’s neck:

A murder suspect who has the word "murder" tattooed on his neck is hoping to have the tattoo removed as he fears it will prejudice him in front of a jury.

WEB This Daily Dot piece on “the Reddit Power user who helped bring down r/technology” has a graf that reminds you of things one might want left out of an obituary:

By 2011, Maxwellhill’s diligence paid off. He was proclaimed one of the most viral people of 2011 by Gizmodo and was the first redditor to collect more than one million karma points through Reddit’s gamified voting system, which rewards users for providing the community with popular content and which is completely useless in the real world.

Also on the world of personal accomplishments, from Vice: THIS GUY IS TRYING TO COLLECT EVERY SINGLE CPY OF THE MOVIE ‘SPEED’ ON VHS.”

Ryan Beitz owns over 500 copies of the movie Speed on VHS. He also owns 26 laser discs of the film, but those aren’t part of the collection. He just holds onto them so he can use them as bargaining chips to get more on VHS. His goal is a simple one: To collect every copy of Speed on VHS ever made. His other goal? To trick out his 15-passenger van to look just like the bus in the movie.

So you’d say the World Speed Project is awesome?

I think the World Speed Project is awesome in the truest sense of the word. It's larger than life. Imagine all of them in one place! It’s uncompromising.

Yeah, it’s like a radical dedication to uselessness.

Totally. I don’t give a (bleep) whether what I do is practical or not; I just don’t want to perpetuate society’s (bleepy) capitalism forever. If you see everything needs a use or an instrumental value as like part of a capitalistic worldview, then the World Speed Project is anti-that.

Now go out there and not see things as needing an instrumental value. But only after you watch this:

VotD Your Russian dashcam footage of the day gives us a motorist who decides to do something about a drunk driver.

The driver appears to freeze, like some small creature that plays dead to escape predation.

While we wait for the snow . . .

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 3, 2014 - 12:09 PM

A bit of Minneapolis history revealed: let’s all goggle at an old exposed brick wall!

It’s part of this 510 Marquette, which suffered the worst modernization of any building in Minneapolis.

It’s the interior wall, not the old exterior. All the classical details were scraped off and disposed here and there; two of the columns ended up at the MoZaic’s art park. Where they were before I can’t possibly imagine.

It was a Cass Gilbert building, the first Federal Reserve. Even before they plopped a tower atop the building, it was a forbidding thing.

From the newspaper the week it opened: Not even the Beagle Boys dared crack it!

Can’t find any pictures of what it’ll look like when it’s finished. It can’t be worse.

BTW: A commenter on the UrbanMSP forum makes an interesting suggestion:

If the Strib moved in, they could re-clad the first few floors of this with the exterior of the old Strib Building. I think it would actually match up fairly well.

That would be . . . unnerving.

MOVIES About that painting in “Grand Budapest Hotel”: there’s a reason art history majors were scratching their heads. From The Week:

In reality, "Boy with Apple" isn't a centuries-old masterpiece by a Czech painter. It was created just two years ago by the acclaimed English painter Michael Taylor. Fortunately, the real-life origin story of "Boy with Apple" is just as interesting as the one presented in The Grand Budapest Hotel. To get the full story on "Boy with Apple," The Week reached out to Michael Taylor and Ed Munro, the boy who served as the model for the painting.

The painter said Wes Anderson provided “a lot of input — particularly paintings by Bronzino, Holbein, Cranach; all sorts of stuff.” You can see the Cranach in the kid’s hand.

Related: Another lost silent film turns up in a closet. It’s this:

That was 91 years ago. The movie is “Love, life and Laughter, starring Betty Balfour, and it’s one of the British Film Institute’s 75 missing films. Well, 74 to go.

The article also has a complete copy of the movie’s ad campaign booklet, which ultra-20 images such as this: Betty did a comedy for that noted master of hilarity, Alfred Hitchcock. The entire film survives, and the print quality is remarkably good. Here’s half a minute from 1928. Even in a comedy he made the audience jump.

WRAPPED IN PLASTIC AV Club reports that Laura Palmer’s parting words are coming true:.

When Laura Palmer cryptically told Agent Dale Cooper “I’ll see you again in 25 years” in the final episode of Twin Peaks, she wasn’t talking about Twitter. Or was she? As of March 25, “1989,” a group of Twitter users operating under the banner of Enter The Lodge have taken it upon themselves to give Twin Peaks a third season.

More here.

VotD The page says “Flour Power,” but knowing Russia, it’s probably asbestos.

Walking Dead and Morton Salt

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 31, 2014 - 2:45 PM

"The Walking Dead Finale was Brutal, Shocking and Heartbreaking," says i09. Agreed for the most part; not sure about “heartbreaking.” You have to feel bad for the gang; things would have worked out better, you suspect, if they weren’t in a TV show that needed a season finale. Comment that may be a spoiler at the absolute end of this piece, below the video. So you’ve been warned.

MPLS From the Strib archives, an old view of a bygone Minneapolis corner. Can you identify it? Don’t worry. It’s an obscure and forgotten building.

Can you find it in this picture?

Lower left-hand side. The building was the National, which was torn down for the two-tower skyscraper first known as the Pillsbury Building. Note the absence of electronics on top of the Northwestern Bell building, and the utter filth begriming City Hall. Now let’s look at the billboards:

The great age of conspicuous whiskey ads. Kentucky Tavern. Still made. Can you identify the other ads? Computer, enhance!

Both brands are still around, too. Now, in the background:

A national brand: this ran in Life magazine, at the peak of the company’s popularity:

For a while, the largest supplier of blankets in the country. The factory moved away and the building sat empty for decades, but it’s lofts now. The sign must have been a landmark for a while, lit at nigh. We need more of those. 

Speaking of ancient civilizations: Here are 10 that history forgot. The Zapotec structure is particularly surprising: huge and intact. Then there’s this: “Europe’s biggest prehistoric civilization, the Vinca, existed for nearly 1,500 years. Beginning in the 55th century B.C., they occupied land throughout Serbia and Romania.”

55th century BC. There’s bygones, and there’s bygones.

In more recent history: technological advances in uncovering Roman graffiti.

More than 1,600 years after the Romans fled this cold, damp island for the warm south, their secrets are still emerging, thanks to a new technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging, or RTI. By firing a flash gun at worn-away ancient graffiti from dozens of different angles and photographing it, suddenly the ancient world comes to life. It's a related technique to seeing inscriptions just before sunset, when the letters fall into shadow. Thanks to RTI, new Latin inscriptions have emerged at Hadrian's Wall, and Greek ones on Athenian pots.

Don’t miss the Latin-based pedantry in the comments; smart and amusing.

In related news: “Assyrian stele containing ancient curse will not be reunited with its other half.” Not until Ghostbusters 3, anyway. Which isn’t going to happen. Anyway, here's the curse:

Whoever discards this image from the presence of Salmanu puts it into another place, whether he throws it into water or covers it with earth or brings and places it into a taboo house where it is inaccessible, may the god Salmanu, the great lord, overthrow his sovereignty; may his name and his seed disappear in the land; may he live in a contingent together with the slave women of his land.”

So says the curse. More here, if you’re wondering where the two halves are and why they won’t be joined together again. Who was Salmanu? Wikipedia will tell you:

Salmanu was king of Moab during the reign of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745–727 BCE). He is mentioned in a clay inscription found in Nimrud as a vassal of Assyria. Eberhard Schrader theorized that he might be identical with the Shalman who waged war on Israel and sacked Beth-arbel (Hosea x. 14); though other scholars identify Shalman with one of the Assyrian kings named Shalmaneser.

It’s amazing we know these things, really. It makes you marvel at the amount of likewise information we’ll never know.

HMM Redditor spotted a map of Minnesota on the map of Minnesota. The Google one, that is:


View Larger Map

Votd Tired of car dashcams? Let’s look at a Tramcam.

Now, for no reason, Weird Al has a problem with his hotel door chain.

Okay, WALKING DEAD POSSIBLE SPOILER

1. Terminus is creepy because it has things written on the wall in a room full of candles. It seemed like a lot of candles, no? At some point I think the point's been made, and it seems like quite a lot of work. Maybe they all do it together and sing a song. If you're creepy and you know it light a match!

2. It takes a steely, determined leader to find himself stripped of weapons, heavily outnumbered, chased by sniper fire and locked in a hot train car to say "they're screwing with the wrong people." Or one who's completely delusional. At least we have a new bad guy who, we can be assured, will be gutted and brain-spiked at some point in season 5. 

Always something to look forward to on this show. 

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