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 Newspapers

Fact-checking Crankshaft

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 18, 2014 - 12:17 PM

Today’s comic:

If nothing else, it gives you a look into the unrepentant DC fan. Not the cool DC of today, with Batman and . . . well, with Batman. But the old days when Flash comics had stories like “The DA Flash Weighed 1,000 Pounds.” From the issue description:

Grodd gets a job at a circus and with his knowledge of communicating with gorillas has the normal apes of the circus steal parts for him to construct a new device: One that increases the Flash's weight to 1000 pounds, rending him almost inert and striking him with amnesia, Grodd puts Flash in a display as part of the circus' freakshow.

Recalling who he is, Flash finds a way to remove the excess mass by deflating himself with a pin, he then beats Dawson unconscious and turns him over to the police.

Okay. Of course. With a pin. Is that really #115 in his hand? Seems like it. 

But Flash #115 came out in 1960. “Amazing Tales #15” came out in 1962. This doesn’t make sense. On the other hand, I think this comment over at one of the pages devoted to dissecting Crankshaft speaks for many:

Good point.

370 It’s been a trying time for those disinclined to believe in conspiracies. All the confusing details about the missing airliner seem to support the idea of nefarious doings, but there’s nothing conclusive or convincing. A few days ago we learned the pilot was upset because a political leader had been jailed on trumped-up charges, as if that would make someone kill everyone on the plane by climbing too high. then sitting at the controls for seven hours until he ran out of gas. Occam’s Razor, and all that. On the other hand, you should be suspicious of any explanation that feels right, because you’re looking to confirm something you want to believe. All of which is a roundabout way of saying “this is my preferred explanation of the day.” Fire in the cargo hold, says this Wired article.

Why the sharp left turn?

When I saw that left turn with a direct heading, I instinctively knew he was heading for an airport. He was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi, a 13,000-foot airstrip with an approach over water and no obstacles. The captain did not turn back to Kuala Lampur because he knew he had 8,000-foot ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier toward Langkawi, which also was closer.

This is being debunked by those who say the turn was pre-programmed into the computer, which was today’s piece of news. “Pre-programmmed” suggests it was done in advance as part of the Nefarious Plot. Or it could mean the pilot or co-pilot entered it intentionally during the emergency, right?

Everyone is learning just enough about how planes work to remind you that most of us don’t know anything about the subject.

GO BRAGH ETC Was there a Dark Side to green cupakes? I don’t know why, but this strikes me as BS. You know, Blarney Sociology. NPR:

Green food may mean party time in America, where St. Patrick's Day has long been an excuse to break out the food dye. But in Ireland, where the Irish celebrate their patron saint on March 17, green food has bitter connotations that recall the nation's darkest chapter, says historian Christine Kinealy.

The reason, Kinealy explains, is the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, which forced so many Irish to flee mass starvation in their homeland in search of better times in America and elsewhere. Those who stayed behind turned to desperate measures.

"People were so deprived of food that they resorted to eating grass," Kinealy tells The Salt. "In Irish folk memory, they talk about people's mouths being green as they died.”

I’m not Irish, so I didn’t grow up with a folk memory that said people died with green mouths. I assumed things were green because that was Ireland’s symbolic color. You know, the “Emerald Isle” and all that. But where did that term come from? It was first used in a poem by William Drennan, whose daughter married John Andrews, son of a family of successful flax merchants. (This is off the top of my head, but you can check Wikipedia if you like.) (Kidding. Cribbing it all from the entry.) One of their descendants was Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic. And now you know . . . well, there really isn’t a story here, at all. Let’s move along.

DESIGN Thank you, Mr. Craig Ward, for raising the issue of tiresome minimalist movie posters.

By and large, the industry players mandate that Mr Pitt's name be front and centre, at a certain percentage of the poster width. And yes, with a photo. And if you think the production company is paying for a poster without their logo displayed proudly on it then please think again.

All of those elements are, sadly, there for a reason, designed by committee. And to pretend that you're a better designer than someone else just because you can circumnavigate that whole process from the comfort of your laptop, is as good as saying that you'd be a better driver if there were fewer corners and no other cars on the road.

Read the whole thing. I find them annoying because A) they’re always served up by aggregator pages that insist they’re stunning and incredible, and because they only work if you know what the movie’s about. For example, would you go see a movie based on this poster?

Of course! JAWS was awesome! Here’s a real minimalist Jaws poster. Cute. But JAWS is not cute. The original has teeth and imminent mayhem - and it's actually rather minimal by 70s standards.

Hey, here’s another minimalist poster I just made:

They might get that one in France. At least it has the star's name. 

TECH This headline might be a bit extreme: “Popcorn Time is Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare, And It Can’t Be Stopped.” Except that Popcorn Time is Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare. Also, it can’t be stopped. TechCrunch:

Popcorn Time makes it as easy to watch pirated content as Napster did to download songs. It’s a nightmare for Hollywood.

The creators of the original Popcorn Time stated emphatically that it’s perfectly legal to run the app because neither you nor the app “hold” the movies – the Internet holds them. Once installed, however, the program throws a warning screen forcing the user to essentially agree that it’s a bit shady.

The article says it’s Napster for movies, but your average teen torrenting like mad might give you an odd look: Napster? What’s that? It’s more like Netflix for pirates. These things will flourish until there’s an app that lets you stream to your TV anything that’s available at Redbox for the same price. Even then they’ll thrive, because some people don’t want to pay for anything.

ARCHITECTURE Via a Gizmodo story that pleads with cities to stop commissioning interchangeable Calatrava fishbone bridges, a site devoted to - well, let them tell it.

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is perhaps even more renown for surpassing any budget and creating buildings with technical shortcomings than for his bombastic style of architecture. However nowhere a full list can be found of his projects, failures and overspending. This site aims to fill that gap. This is The Full Calatrava.

VotD Man tells dog not to get up on the bed. Man suspects dog is not obeying his wishes when he is gone. Man leaves camera running. Man gets 7 million hits in four days.

Man wishes he had enabled ads.

I don't get it

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 17, 2014 - 12:13 PM

Today's "Argyle Sweater" cartoon:

Michael Jackson and Elmer Fudd in 1980. I have no idea. (UPDATE: oh, man. There are TWO possible meanings.)

In related news, Sunday's example of the worst-drawn cartoon featured a woman whose use of a "Clapper" - you know, cutting edge modern tech - caused her husband's heart to stop:

Leaving aside the fact that "womp" is usually spelled with an H, the cartoon made me think of the previous week, which had the same incompetently rendered living room set:

I think he's had 30 years to get his style to this point. 

NYC  A collection of photos from NYC in the 70s and 80s, from -

Well, hold on a moment. First, an example. 

Hey, they had Instagram filters back then? No. But it’s not hard to bring them back to life. Voila:

Another:

The photos are from this site, which I wouldn’t have stumbled across if it wasn’t for a blog post about the pictures. And by “blog post” I mean the blogger took fifty pictures and put them up without comment, hoping to snag traffic for his bloodsucking website, so no link for him.

Speaking of New York: the Post revisits the infamous case of Kitty Genovese. If you recall, the New York Times “ reported that 38 of her neighbors had seen the attack and watched it unfold without calling for help.” Word spread:

The Times piece was followed by a story in Life magazine, and the narrative spread throughout the world, running in newspapers from Russia and Japan to the Middle East. New York became internationally infamous as a city filled with thoughtless people who didn’t care about one another; where people could watch their neighbors get stabbed on the street without lifting a finger to help, leaving them to die ­instead in a pool of their own blood.

Too bad it wasn’t true, as the piece reminds us. But it confirmed what people wanted to believe about other people - or at least what some people at the NYT wanted to believe.

COULROPHOBIA The Daily News says the nation may have already passed Peak Clown:

Send in the clowns — please!

As the “Greatest Show on Earth” returns to Brooklyn Thursday, circus folk fear a national clown shortage is on the horizon.

Membership at the country’s largest trade organizations for the jokesters has plunged over the past decade as declining interest, old age and higher standards among employers align against Krusty, Bozo and their crimson-nosed colleagues.

Here’s the sort of thing future generations may never see.

Surely they will curse us for not curating this cultural archetype for  subsequent generations. 

ART 3D GIFs: the oldest art form of the web continues to evolve. How did they do that? Go here for details. 

STYLE People who can’t wait for the next season of “Mad Men” might enjoy this perfectly restored mid-century modern rambler. They might also wish the show still took place in that era.

SCIENCE! Mystery of the rock that appeared on Mars next to Opportunity solved. No surprises, really.

ICYMI: Friday's video of the Home and Patio show, complete with bad JFK imitation. Enjoy the day, whichever President you choose to revere. 

Do women need pink motor oil?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 4, 2014 - 12:20 PM

No, of course not. It’s an absurd and insulting question. Don’t know why I brought it up! Anyway, let’s go to the Commentary page of today’s paper, where the author is trying to get her husband to switch to reusable grocery bags:

How to incentivize the spouse? First, reusable bags can’t be girlie, nor can they be emblazoned with the name of one grocery store if he’s heading to another — he’s sensitive. A bag should be so small and collapsible that it might attach to a key chain or a belt buckle, yet strong enough to carry a six-pack of Guinness cans with the floating widgets. The grocery list could be written on the side in erasable ink, and a rearview-mirror air freshener (bacon-scented?) could flash LED lights when the car door opens and the bags have been left in the trunk.

Because husbands are dumb and respond to bacon. Okay. Personally, I hate plastic bags. The paper ones come in handy for moving newspapers to the recycling bin. Use recyclable bags for one reason: they don’t tear. Recommendations:

The Lunds / Byerly’s bags fold up nicely, and they’re huge. The Trader Joe bags are sturdy and have interesting graphics. Sturdy handles. The Target bags are cheap, but if you put two containers of orange juice and two half-gallon milk jugs in one, the handles will eventually rip, so be careful.

By the way, you may have scratched your head over “Guinness cans with the floating widgets” - that’s actually the correct term for the carbonation-assistance devices in the cans. You learn something every day.

ART Yesterday I linked to some ugly 1960s Polish movie posters, just in case people needed a refresher on such things. In the same vein, but more interesting: B-Movie Title Design of the 1940s and 1950s. Like this:

Clips and more clips and technical details - it’s a graphics bonanza. What typeface would you use for “Hangmen Also Die”?

URBAN STUDIES Gentrification: good or bad? So asks New York magazine. As you might expect, the answer depends on whether you’re the gentrified or the gentrifeer. The article discusses a neighborhood waaay up around 207th street, and cites Dichter Pharmacy as a store that could stride the needs of there old and new. Who cares? you ask. That’s New York. Granted. Just setting up this interesting Google Street View:


View Larger Map

Click the right arrow, hidden down at the bottom. Time machine! Turns out the building had a fire in 2012. Turn around to see the quintessential old NYC apartment building, and imagine the heat in the summer, the absence of greenery. Hot, cramped, old, loud. I can understand why some people thrive in NYC, but find it amusing that they insist it’s the epitome of urban living.

Just ask Moby, who moved to LA because artists cannot afford NYC any more. True: downtown LA is going to be incredible in 10 years, if not sooner.

Speaking of cities: the title of Iric Nathanson's MinnPost piece would have seened preposterous 20 years ago: "Don't Tear Down the Skyways!" But now we're reduced to defending them. I'm on his side, but I have one request: let's stop using the word "vibrant" in any piece that describes urban life. Overuse has made me think of pedestrians who are luminiscent and trembling. 

How the Internet covered the West Bank Fire

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 2, 2014 - 12:29 PM

The ZITE app scrapes the web and assembles stories automatically - like Flipbook, without the sense that the pages never end and you’ll never read it all. You can scan articles, decide you want to read them later, shoot them to a read-it-later service, then ignore them until you delete them later. Anyway, the Minneapolis subhead was full of stores about the West Bank fire; here are a few.

Downtown? I don’t consider the West Bank to be “downtown,” but maybe that’s just me. The highway is like a moat, or the Miss - it defines downtown, contains it. Decades ago when the streets behind Cedar Square West (oh, all right, Riverside Plaza) connected with downtown, it might be considered the outskirts, but now? Looks odd. But then there’s this:

A “Minnesota” building. Well, better than “North American,” I suppose. From the Daily Mail in Northernmost Europe:

Now it's a house. Finally, the Free Republic:

Hint, hint, I guess. And it's not a complex. It's an old apartment building. The Complex is the thing behind it.

UPDATE In case anyone’s wondering about the Shia LaBeouf plagiarism tale, there’s this:

(Photo from his twitter feed, here.)

He hired a skywriter to say he was sorry. Too bad the object of the apology lives in another town. It’s almost as if it was meant for the public at large.

Bleeding Cool says they interviewed him, and the conversation is a masterpiece of pretentious drivel.

Richard Johnston: Tweeting with the voice of others. Is this art?

Shia LaBeouf: What does an artist do – they just point and say look at this.

RJ: No, that’s what a critic does.

This may be my favorite part - the interviewer asks if people who create things - like, oh, an illustrated novel - should be paid for their labors. Says LaBeouf:

“Authorship is censorship Should God sue me if I paint a river? Should we give people the death sentence for parking violations-You’ll not only have less parking violations but less DRIVERS.”

The interviewer gently notes that “God’s rights to rivers have entered into public domain now,” and says that you should pay your driving fines and refrain from parking on other people’s lawns, or stealing other people’s cars. In other words, he’s maneuvering the subject towards the subject of appropriating Daniel Clowes’ work. Here’s LaBeouf’s bold statement:

The word law is against my principles.
The problem begins with the legal fact that authorship is inextricably
bound up in the idea of ownership and the idea of language as
Intellectual property. Language and ideas flow freely between people
Despite the law. It’s not plagiarism in the digital age – it’s repurposing.
Copyright law has to give up on its obsession with "the copy"

The article’s update informs us that the last sentence is actually a quote from Lawrence Lessig. Follow it here, as people dig through the quotes to see if he said anything original. 

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE INTERNET The New York Times had a long piece about the eternal search for non-sugar sweeteners. The first comment is by someone who should well a bell in public so you can avoid her.

Hahaha - wow! What a long-winded (but interesting in scan-mode) article on the exhaustive efforts by the poor beleaguered beverage companies to come up with a people-approved sweetener for diet soda and other manufactured drinks. Whew - just imagine what would happen if they (and other frivolous product manufacturers) put their efforts toward World Peace.... or Renewable Energy... or such.

Somehow I doubt that strife on earth could be eliminated if we refocused our efforts to develop non-caloric food additives.  

Explain THAT comic to your kid

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: December 17, 2013 - 12:22 PM

Took a day, but Shia LaBeouf has apologized.

“In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation,” tweeted LaBeouf.

What’s this all about? Here’s Wired:

Shia LaBeouf’s critically acclaimed 2012 short HowardCantour.com was available online today — until people familiar with indie comics noticed its remarkable resemblance to Justin M. Damiano, a 2007 comic by Ghost World creator Dan Clowes.

By “remarkable,” we mean “lifted the words directly from the comic and used them without crediting the author.”

. . . both open with exactly the same monologue from their eponymous leads: “A critic is a warrior, and each of us on the battlefield have the means to glorify or demolish (whether a film, a career, or an entire philosophy) by influencing perception in ways that if heartfelt and truthful, can have far-reaching repercussions.”

And so on. The next scene is the same as the comic. And so on.

Don’t be too hard on Shia; it’s so easy to get lost in the creative process, put your name all over everything and forget the person whose work you hovoered up. Oh, there might be a nagging sensation you’re missing something, but heck, if it was important, you’d have remembered.

As for that apology, well, here’s BuzzFeed today:

LaBeouf claimed he wasn’t “copying” Clowes, but rather was “inspired” by him and “got lost in the creative process.” The first part of his apology is very similar to an entry on Yahoo! Answers written four years ago. A user named Lili wrote, “Merely copying isn’t particularly creative work, though it’s useful as training and practice. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work, and it may even revolutionalize [sic] the ‘stolen’ concept.”
LaBeouf wrote: “Copying isn’t particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work.”

That it is. Let us know when that happens.

SANTAS PAST Six blog entries left until Christmas; here’s the first of a half-dozen vintage plastic Santa statues, found at Hunt & Gather.

Santa’s boiled.

COMICS Odd moment in “Heart of the City” today.

The readers who like the strip are not amused.

RANDOM INFORMATION While looking around for a picture of the Paul Bunyan Restaurant in Yreka, California, I was drawn to the large portion of the town’s wikipedia page called “LYNCHINGS.” There were two notorious examples, the second of which concerned Clyde Johnson and Robert Barr in 1935. After a robbery they were stopped by the cops; there was gunplay, and a beloved local cop and WWI vet, “Jack” Daw, was killed. Clyde was caught; Barr hopped a freight and got away. After Daw’s funeral, a mob showed up at the jail, removed Clyde, took him out in the woods and hung hum. This page on lynching quotes the California Attorney General, referring to the recently delayed execution of an accused murderer, stated that the "uncontrollable unrest" was a natural result of the "apathy of the Supreme Court of the United States."

That’s not why I bring up Yreka. The guy who got away:

The movie was “Rose Marie," a Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald film. He's not in the imdb listning, but do you know who is? Iron Eyes Cody, the guy in the famous Native-American-Sheds-A-Single-Tear anti-littering ad. 

Anyway, Proving that the world was a more curious place in the 30s, and that newspapers knew how to give people what they want, here's another story from the front page:

I’ve no idea if they’re true, but this is what newspapers used to consider front-page material. Which, of course, it was. 

Oh but there’s more, at least about Yreka.

A group of young men gained national media attention when, brandishing hunting rifles for dramatic effect, they stopped traffic on U.S. Route 99 south of Yreka, and handed out copies of a Proclamation of Independence, stating that the state of Jefferson was in "patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon" and would continue to "secede every Thursday until further notice.”

That would be confusing.

Lest you think this happened recently: the desire to get out from under the thumb of the existing political order happened . . . .in 1941. Hope they weren’t intent on keeping the country out of WW2:

Coincidentally, the "state of Jefferson" was one of the few places in the continental USA to be the subject of an attack during World War II, when Japanese pilot Nobuo Fujita dropped bombs on the Oregon Coast near Brookings on September 9, 1942.

All that, a shotgunned ape, and an elephant legally executed by firing squad: the past is always stranger than you think.

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