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 Outstate

Thomas the Tank Engine: Unjust and Immoral

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 22, 2014 - 12:43 PM

She’s kidding. Right? A Guardian columnist looks at the subtext of Thomas the Tank Engine:

. . .if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages.

For one, these trains perform tasks dictated by their imperious, little white boss, Sir Topham Hatt (also known as The Fat Controller), whose attire of a top hat, tuxedo and big round belly is just a little too obvious. Basically, he's the Monopoly dictator of their funky little island. Hatt orders the trains to do everything from hauling freight to carrying passengers to running whatever random errand he wants done, whenever he wants it done – regardless of their pre-existing schedules.

Yes, she’s kidding. Has to be.  Every parent does this: analyzes their kids’ shows to death for fun, because you’re stuck at home watching something inane. Everyone has that “hmm: this is a show about slavery, in a way.” It also lacks class consciousness:

Inevitably, the trains get in a fight with or pick on one another (or generally mess up whatever job they are supposed to be doing) until Hatt has to scold one of them about being a "really useful engine", because their sole utility in life is their ability to satisfy his whims. Yeah, because I want to teach my kid to admire a controlling autocrat.

Well, it’s Guardian writer, so yes, she does, but the proper kind.

BYE-BYE Roundy’s is leaving the Twin Cities. Some of the Rainbow stores will turn into Byerly’s, which is a head-snapping transition; others will become CUB stores, which isn’t too much of a change. From Roundy’s house brands to Everyday Essential, which is Cub’s boringly designed house brands. I stopped going to Rainbow for two reasons: the handles on the bags. They always broke. The glue used to affix the handles was actually spit, I think.

Also because the stores were depressing. One day I overheard - not that it was difficult - two bakery workers laughing about an enormous mess a co-worker had left in the break room lavatory, and that was the end of that.

UH-OH Plague in China. Bubonic Plague, the richest kind.

A Chinese town has been sealed off and 151 people placed in quarantine since last week after a man died of bubonic plague, state media said Tuesday.

The 30,000 people living in Yumen in the northwestern province of Gansu are not being allowed to leave, and police at roadblocks on its perimeter are telling motorists to find alternative routes, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said.

And how did the fellow get sick?

Other reports said that earlier this month the 38-year-old victim had found a dead marmot, a small furry animal which lives on grasslands and is related to the squirrel. He chopped it up to feed his dog but developed a fever the same day. He was taken to hospital after his condition worsened and died last Wednesday.

Somewhere someone is using a meme generator that has Yoda saying Begun, the Marmot Plague Has. Do I need to search for it and post it? No. We’re reaching the point where it’s sufficient simply to imagine them, knowing they exist.

SOUND AND FURY The Awl (no link, cuss word in URL because the author is full of RAGE and swearing proves it) says:

Last week, Amazon informed us that for ten dollars per month, Kindle users can have unlimited access to over six hundred thousand books in its library. But it shouldn't cost a thing to borrow a book, Amazon, you foul, horrible, profiteering enemies of civilization.

The author points out that there are free alternatives. Thanks!

Wonder if they have this one.

"Fargo" is renewed

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 21, 2014 - 12:27 PM

So says AV Club. Wonder what the plot will be. More Marge? Actual Fargo? Almost wish they hadn't; there's no way they can top Malvo as a bad guy. 

LIT Sad piece on Harper Lee, the “Mockingbird” author who decided it was one-and-done. The only other thing I’ve read by her was an essay in Life magazine, preceding the publication of “Mockingbird,” describing a Christmas gift that allowed her to write without having to worry about rent. This was before anyone knew who she was. From the Vulture article:

If our country had a formalized process for anointing literary saints, Harper Lee might be first in line, and one of the miracles held up as proof would be her choice to live out her final years in the small town that became the blueprint for our collective ideal of the Small Town. But at 88, the author finds her life and legacy in disarray, a sad state of litigious chaos brought on by ill health and, in no small part, the very community she always believed, for all its flaws, would ultimately protect her. Maycomb was a town where love and neighborly decency could overcome prejudice. To the woman who immortalized it and retreated to it for stability and safety, Monroeville is something very different: suffocating, predatory, and treacherous.

Most eye-raising line about her sister:

Alice, who retired two years ago at the age of 100, had inherited her partnership in the family firm from their father

Yeah, you’re looking at 99, you might want to slow down. (Book Jacket from this Buzzfeed piece about how book jackets have changed over the years.) Related: Do you have a novel in you? Could be gas. Here are seven reasons not to write a novel - and one reason you should. (It’s not money.) 

TYPEFACES Font geeks will enjoy this piece about the typography of “Grand Budapest Hotel,” and how it helped create the bygone world of Zubrowka. A note about the little things you never saw:

I was talking to Ralph Fiennes one night and he was really appreciative of graphics work in film - he particularly liked the personalised notebook we'd made for his character to keep in his pocket. When we were developing it, he had asked that the pages be lined, rather than blank, as he felt that was more in keeping with Gustave's style. It's that kind of small detail that the camera is just never going to pick up on directly, but goes some small way in helping the scene, for example, in which Ralph is striding through the hotel lobby taking his notes. Every department pays the same amount of attention to detail - costume, set dec, make-up, props - and it all adds up.

And that’s why the movie is so convincing.

ARCHITECTURE Atlas Obscura looks at some statues rescued from a demolished New York skyscraper. The wikipedia page on the St. Paul building is rather cruel:

The St. Paul Building was a skyscraper in New York City built in 1898 to designs by George B. Post that repeated the same Ionic order for each floor, to little cumulative effect. At 315 feet (96 m) it was one of the tallest skyscrapers of its era. The building was 26 stories tall. It was demolished without public expression of regret in 1958 in order to make way for the Western Electric Building.

Bonus: the statues were the work of Karl Bitter, who did the Thomas Lowry memorial in Minneapolis.

NORKS The world’s most thin-skinned tyrant is not happy over this, and is demanding that China do something.

Note: that is not really Osama Bin Laden gamboling through a field. At least we hope not.

WEB CULTURE Our long national nightmare is over.

Notes on the Joys of Travelling

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 14, 2014 - 12:12 PM

1974 interior design brochure picture, or 2014 Paris airport waiting room?

The latter, obviously. The Seventies couldn't have carried that off without slathering the floor in brown shag. I was just there - on Bastille Day, which was completely ignored in the massive CDG terminal - and found the Paris airport an interesting comparison with our own MSP. Much more stylish, with unified colors and themes; remarkable bathrooms. But far fewer choices for eating. Granted, the food was good; you'd expect that. But in terms of selection, it reminded you of the days when MSP was run by HOST, and HOST only. Granted, I was only in two terminals, and I think there were 146 others, so don't listen to me.

In other travel-related news: The Costa Concordia is rising from its (checking maritime cliches list. . . ) watery grave today, and Giz has a livestream. At the moment I’m writing this, it seems to be a board meeting of unhappy EU technocrats, but that could change.

I was just on a cruise ship a few days ago, and was reminded that one activity approximates the panic and tumult of a sinking, and that’s the Midnight Chocolate Buffet. When you remove the “eating lots of desserts” part and insert “fear for life” it becomes really chaotic, but not by much.

Related, only because I just had a long flight that began with sitting in an unairconditioned plane for an hour breathing the same air until everyone was light-headed and beginning to hallucinate - seriously, at one point we all imagined that the flight attendant cracked the mike and told us what was going on, which never happens; they just apologize for the delay when you finally push back, and you hope they weren’t doing something like “Fixing the Engine, Which was Broke” because you really don’t want to think you’re going over the ocean on a plane that got patched up with duct tape and chewing gum by guys who shrugged and said “well, it ought to hold” - anyway, Seven Activities for Long Flights. It’s Clickhole, so it’s not real. Also, it’s not very funny, so never mind.

Instead, go read this: a New Yorker piece on the designers who invent new spaces for First Class seating in new planes. You’ll learn a lot about the steerage amenities, such as they are, and add the word “delethalize” to your vocabulary. The notes about the price of the video systems on the back of the seats is eye-opening, but there’s a reason they’re so expensive.

It’s remarkable how we get bored and dissatisfied with miracles: whereas once we were agog at a TV SCREEN! in the CHAIR! where you could watch MOVIES! now you’re dismayed if it has the resolution of 2002 ATM screen.

Related, sort of: Prodigy screenshots from 1992. It’s from this Atlantic article on rebuilding the lost interface of the long-dead service. Paleoarcheology of the early years of digital life.

From the Atlantic piece:

When any sizable online service disappears, a piece of our civilization's cultural fabric goes with it. In this case, the missing cultural repository is Prodigy, a consumer-oriented online service that launched in 1988 as a partnership between Sears and IBM . . .

Over its 11-year lifespan, a generation of Americans grew up with Prodigy as part of their shared cultural heritage. In an earlier era, we may have spoken about another common cultural experience—say, Buster Keaton films—as a cultural frame of reference for an entire generation. Everybody saw them, everybody referenced them. And while Prodigy was nowhere near as popular as Buster Keaton among the general public, hundreds of thousands of people with a computer and a modem in the early 1990s tried Prodigy at least once.

The Keaton-Prodigy ratio was probably about 1,000,000 to 1, but I see their point.

MOVIES On the plane I watched “Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” - ridiculous and fun. Turns out the Civil War was also about vampires. But this New York Times piece from last week notes something else that may have (checking martial imagery cliche list . . . ) turned the tide of war: java.

Did the fact that Union troops were near jittery from coffee, while rebels survived on impotent brown water, have an impact on the outcome of the conflict? Union soldiers certainly thought so.

Bonus points for not using “The Secret History of Coffee and the Civil War” in the headline. And now if you'll excuse me, Jet lag is about to kick zzzzzzzzzzz WHA?!?  Sorry. Never mind. Dozed off. 

How Not to be Trampled

Posted by: James Lileks 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.

How not to kick a trash can

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 5, 2014 - 12:42 PM

Want to be grossed out? Ear you go:

A model of Vincent van Gogh’s left ear — you know, the ear — is on display at a German museum, with plans to eventually bring it to New York.

Created using 3D printers and genetic material from a living relative of van Gogh, the Dutch painter, it was shaped to be the exact size of his ear and is kept alive in a nourishing liquid.

I’ve had an adverse reaction to the words “nourishing liquid” since the Star Trek episode, “The Cage.” This doesn’t help.

Speaking of nourishing:How do you get your own opinion into a news story, right up front? Here’s an example from Quartz:

Processed meat is of notoriously questionable nutritional value, but that hasn’t stopped a bidding war from breaking out over a major producer of hot dogs, sausages and lunch-meats.

Not just questionable, but notoriously so. Even though the hot dogs are notoriously questionable, some companies are competing to own a larger part of the market. Imagine that. There’s some stuff about the deal itself, then more of the author’s reminder that some people are terribly concerned about what other people are eating:

Despite repeated links between processed meat and health risks in recent years, Americans still consumed $20.8 billion worth of “chilled processed meats” (processed meats sold in the self-service shelves of retail outlets, including ham, bacon, and sausages) last year, according to Euromonitor. In volume terms, this is 3.37 million tonnes, up 2.5% from 2012 —maybe it’s something to do with bacon—but practically unchanged from where it was in 2003.

Got that? Despited REPEATED LINKS, Americans are eating the same overall amount of processed means as we ate 11 years ago, even though the population has risen - which would mean we’re eating less.

OOPS TIFO, which stands for Today I Found Out, discusses an oh-crap moment in oil exploration:

On November 20, 1980, crews on the oil rig in the lake ran into a problem. At just over 1,200 feet, their drill seized up. Not a major problem normally, they worked to get it loose. In the process, they heard several loud pops then the oil rig tilted like it was going to collapse. The men got off the rig and to shore as quickly as possible.  Not a moment too soon. Just 19 minutes after their drill had seized up, they watched from the shore as the huge platform (150 feet tall) overturn and sunk into the 10 foot deep lake…

Next, the astounded drillers watched as a whirlpool slowly formed, soon reaching a quarter mile wide and centered over the site of the oil drilling.  Whoopsadoodle.

Result? a ten-foot-deep freshwater lake turned into a 1,300-foot-deep saltwater lake. Whoopsadoodle indeed, and you don’t often get the chance to say that.

Votd Hope this isn’t a summation of your day so far:

It bears rewatching, if only for its hypnotic rhythm: cha-cha-cha-chonk / muffled ohh!

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT