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 Praise

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.

Anyone else hate the last few minutes of Mad Men?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 26, 2014 - 12:25 PM

Yes, yes, Robert Morse channeling his Broadway roots, I get it. But as I tweeted last night - a pretentious thing to say, yes, but I’m just signaling that I’m reusing material here - it was as if Matthew Weiner wanted to clam a little Dennis Potter territory, and that’ll work if A) you’ve been doing that through the whole series, and B) you are Dennis Potter. There were hallucinations before, IIRC, but I’d forgotten them because they seemed out of place, tacked on, inexplicable and trust-busting. So Don Draper is having psychotic episodes that encapsulate and contradict up the underlying themes of the show, eh? It’s one thing to have hallucinations, but it’s quite another to have them choreographed for your enjoyment.

Other than that, a spectacularly good episode, satisfying in just about every way. Now going over to Vulture to see if Matt Zoller Seitz is pointing out all the telescopes.

Okay, here’s what he says about the ending:

What a good many old-fashioned musical numbers have in common is that they occur in a sort of twilight dream space that's emotionally true but not "realistic" in any meaningful sense, and they're expressing what the characters are feeling, not merely advancing the plot. Bert is looking at Don, whose talent Bert always admired even when he wanted to strangle him. But really he's looking at the camera: at us. This musical number is for us. Don is merely the conduit, or the pretext, for its existence. And it's fun and surprising.

All of which is true, and I still didn’t like it.

On the way out: Sploid looks at the sets of Mad Men.

OUCH A round-up of bad reviews for Adam Sandler’s latest:, from Splitsider:

Blended is a movie with training wheels, where everything is spelled out and the path to Lauren (Barrymore) and Jim (Sandler) moving from ‘I hate you’ to ‘I do’ is lit up like a landing strip in the desert.”

VotD Wikipedia notes: “Compressed natural gas (CNG) (Methane stored at high pressure) can be used in place of gasoline (petrol), Diesel fuel and propane/LPG. CNG combustion produces fewer undesirable gases than the fuels mentioned above. It is safer than other fuels in the event of a spill, because natural gas is lighter than air and disperses quickly when released."

Probably a reason we don’t have it here in the states, available at the local station. Maybe that reason is this:

Unnerving Happy Thing

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 20, 2014 - 12:38 PM

This is not an improvement on a clown. Bloomberg:

McDonald’s today introduced “Happy,” a new animated Happy Meal character that brings fun and excitement to kids’ meals while also serving as an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating. Happy will be introduced nationwide May 23, and will encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice.

No:

It looks like you can’t pick him up without putting your fingers into the back of his eyeballs. His big, firm, squishy eyeballs. The Verge says the Memes Have Just Begun.

ART The creations of WW2 US airmen need saving:

They drew cartoons, graffiti, murals, glamour "pinups", combat scenes, mission records and maps. US servicemen at bomber and fighter bases in central and eastern England between 1942 and 1945 created a huge but largely unrecorded body of wartime artwork, some of which has survived more than 70 years in collapsing and overlooked buildings.

As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, a "last chance" search is under way to find and record the scattered vestiges and fading memories of the largest air armada ever assembled – before decay, demolition and redevelopment remove the final traces.

It’s the Guardian, so you steel yourself for the anti-American comments. Let’s see . . . Yep! First:

To be fair, the rest of the comments are supportive of the effort to defeat Nazism, and seem comfortable doing so without five minutes of apologetic preambles. That’s a relief.

ELSEWHERE Finally, a good practical use for Google Glass: taking pictures of North Korea while your minders aren’t paying attention. It looks like the minders knew exactly what was going on, though - everything seems Approved. Still interesting. From the comments:

Head on over and enjoy, then.

At the other end of the Planned Community spectrum, there’s this amazing document uploaded by BoingBoing: the original Disneyland prospectus.

Walt's vision for what the company at one point called "merchantainment" (!) was more ambitious than anything yet realized inside the berm. Page one boasts of a "mail order catalogue" that will offer everything for sale at Disneyland (a kind of super-duper version of today's Disneyland Delivears). This catalogue was to feature actual livestock, including "a real pony or a miniature donkey thirty inches high.”

You could bring one of those to Lilliputian Land:

There are four comments, two of which are anti-Disney on general principle. It is very important when someone sees something about Disney to remind everyone how much they hate it and its influences and products and behavior, and so on. You should hate it too and will be judged if you don’t.

MUSIC Kraftwerk would approve. And if you’re one of those people who grouses that pushing buttons isn’t the same as playing an instrument . . . just wait.

If only the original ringtones included a cowbell.

HISTORY The headline is a bit click-baity: “‘Bysantine iPad’ Found in Ancient Shipwreck.” But it is cool:

Probably belonging to the ship's captain, the wooden object, whose cover is finely carved with decorations, is the size of a modern seven-inch tablet, but it's much thicker.

It consists of a set of five overlaid rectangular panels carved with frames and covered with wax. Notes could be taken on those panels, as shown by writing in Greek which is still visible on the wax.

A primitive "app" is hidden on the bottom panel: a sliding lid revealing a hidden plate with carved spaces.

"When you draw the sliding part, there are small weights used as an assay balance," Ufuk Kocabaş, director of Istanbul University’s department of marine archeology and the Yenikapi Shipwrecks Project, told Hurriyet Daily News.

Elsewhere in the past: the German Stonehenge. It was discovered last year, but now they're releasing the details.

Schlosser is convinced the site was constructed for the observation of astronomical phenomena such as the movements of the sun, moon and stars, and for keeping track of time. These celestial cycles would have been important for the sowing and harvesting of crops in the early civilization.

But, Goseck isn’t merely a "calendar construction," Schlosser explains, "but rather is clearly a sacred building." Archeologists have found plenty of evidence to prove that Goseck was a place of prehistoric cult worship. The arrangement of human bones, for instance, is atypical of burial sites, and telltale cut marks on them indicate that human sacrifice was practiced at the site.

Typical. At least we’ve progressed; in millennia to come, if they ever unearth the ruins of 20th century observatories, they won’t find bones in the closet, suggesting that scientists had sacrificed a few locals before searching for quasars.

Votd Well, two ds ago, but it’s still cool. A supercell in Wyoming. The sort of thing the ancients probably believed they could ward off if they reallypicked up the pace on the human sacrifices.

Goodbye Coquette

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 19, 2014 - 12:21 PM

This is no small change, if you’re a Target shopper:

You may not care, but at least they hope you noticed. The old Archer Farms logo is gone, replaced by something that doesn’t have the same compact, if wordy, logo. Now it’s instructional. The panes on the bottom tell you how to construct a well-balanced meal, I presume.

Pasta is starch? Who knew!

Here’s the old logo that will, I presume, fade away as stock moves through the channels.

(The "Satisfaction Guaranteed" font is Coquette, by local fontographer Mark Simonson.)

MUSIC And she’s borrowing a stairway to heaven: allegations resurface that Jimmy Page’s opening to “Stairway” was, shall we say, inspired by “Taurus,” a song by Spirit. Business Week:

 . . . what if those opening notes weren’t actually written by Jimmy Page or any member of Led Zeppelin? What if the foundation of the band’s immortality had been lifted from another song by a relatively forgotten California band?

You’d need to rewrite the history of rock ’n’ roll.

 In 1968 a Los Angeles area band called Spirit put out its first album, the self-titled Spirit. Among the songs was an instrumental piece, Taurus, written by the band’s guitarist, Randy California. (Born Randy Wolfe, California got his stage name while playing with Jimi Hendrix’s band in New York in 1966. Hendrix took to calling him Randy California to distinguish him from another Randy in the band. California, only 15 at the time, chose to make it stick.) Taurus runs just 2 minutes and 37 seconds. About a minute of it is a plucked guitar line that sounds a lot like the opening measures of Stairway to Heaven.

Yes, indeed. Zep opened for Spirit on their first US tour, and that’s where the surviving band members suggest they heard the riff. The stakes aren’t small; the song has generated over a half a billion in revenue. Listen here, and make up your own mind.

HEY YOU Today’s bossy, know-it-all headline is from Gawker’s “The Vane” site:

I'm surprised the site doesn't say it's so Vane, You Probably Think This Site is About You. It’s about humidity and relative humidity, but you wouldn’t read that if you weren’t told someone is lying to you, intentionally, and that here’s one weird life-hack trick to figure it out. 

Also, WE are responsible for mass murder.

It’s an interesting piece, nevertheless - an interview with an observer of the trial of a Pol Pot prison warden. Relevant graf:

At the genocide museum in Phnom Penh, Duch’s victims are presented as victims, which they certainly were. But eighty per cent of them were themselves Khmer Rouge, and if they instead had been asked to be perpetrators the overwhelming majority would have obeyed. To accept that Duch tells us something about ourselves doesn’t mean we accept his crimes, and it doesn’t mean we risk showing him sympathy. It makes us think in more realistic terms about how mass murder operates and how it relies on people like us.

On ordinary people, in other words, doing horrible things for different reasons. This isn’t news. But the idea that 80% of the dead were Khmer Rouge was news to me.

Anyway, back to the original point: why must everything have to be about YOU to make it interesting?

LITERALLY Disappearing, that’s what the 90s are doing. Literally. You could make the point that they have already disappeared, literally, but what the guy’s talking about are the cultural artifacts in old formats. Salon:

My struggle is partially an artifact of the creakiness of my generation. My kids will never wrestle with this transition. They won’t knock their heads against my nerdy paradox: Even as I hang on to the Neil Young triple-album anthology “Decade” that I purchased as a 13-year-old, and pay 70-year-old men to keep my record player humming, I am letting go of the notion that music is something that should even be owned.

It’s another piece about giving up records and saying goodbye to CDs, which are not eternal. The article’s illustration is a TV with a fuzzy picture of the “Saved by the Bell” cast, which makes you think it’s about VHS. It’s not. The article notes a resurgence in vinyl, which is due to nostalgia and interest in all things “vintage,” not a generational shift to the sound of vinyl. VHS is different; it’s in a dire state. The number of tapes in boxes in basements probably numbers in the tens of millions, if not more; few people have the desire or time to transfer them to digital formats, to say nothing of the means. There might be a market for the old shows, but will people accept the low-res versions when they’re used to HD, or will future generations wonder why everything was filmed through a haze of Vaseline and hair spray?

Unless, of course, they were Super-VHS tapes. Those things were razor-sharp.

VotD If you could see this coming from the first seconds of the video, why couldn’t the driver?

94 needs a third lane. Or more.

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

It’s a miracle there isn’t a 40-car pile-up every day on 94 between Rogers and the Twin Cities. For years I’ve taken Highway 10 up to Fargo, because I like the drive, the small towns, the sense of being in Minnesota instead of gliding through it like a plastic pellet. But time was short and the construction was minimal, and the speed limit’s 70, so it was 94 up and back. I knew the road would thicken after St. Cloud. I’d forgotten what it’s really like: damned near bumper-to-bumper for 40 miles, traveling at 65 MPH with less room between each car than the thickness of an issue of Newsweek.

Some studies say it'll be like this from the Twin Cities to the North Dakota border by 2040.  Yes, even if we built a high-speed train. That might push it back to Feruary 2041.

The congestion has three sources: trucks, which are operating at a safe speed and maintaining safe distances, which confuses the cars that think no more than 100 yards in advance, if that; B) the amount of traffic coming home on Sunday; C) the fact that the highway’s two measly lanes, when it should be three at the least. I know, I know: adding lanes doesn’t reduce the congestion, some studies say. You just get more cars. Well. It’s impossible for there to be more cars, and if there were three lanes there wouldn’t be the opportunity to think “this is the fast lane! Must get in it now!” and leave the right lane, adding to the density of the fast lane, which stalls because half the people from the right lane got in the left lane. Then the right lane looks faster, so people switch. About one out of five lane changes requires someone to break, which means red lights, which spreads all the way back half a mile.

If you had a third lane the slow-but-steady crowd would be taken out of the equation.

On another note: The entrance ramps jam things up even more, since there’s limited space to merge. At one point I was in the fast lane; a car on my right was puttering along, oblivious; a car was trying to merge, and the only way it could do so was to accelerate, which it seemed hesitant to do, or wait for the car in the right lane to get ahead of it. Neither was happening. I took my foot off the accelerator to drop back, in case the car in the slow lane was hit by the merging car, or needed to get out of the lane quickly. This irritated the large pickup behind me, which was already angry I wasn’t doing 107 MPH; the pickup was so close behind the driver could read the station on my radio dial.

This combination - lack of foresight and the conviction one is both immortal and entitled - characterized about every mile of the road, and it’s been that way for years. We need another lane. It wouldn't help to have better drivers, but that requires reshaping human nature, and we all know how that usually works out.

MAD MEN Although it is possible to turn your life around, cut back on the drinking, and find your better nature asserting itself - as we saw on last night’s episode, where Don Draper seems to reasserting the qualities that made the character intriguing. What’s the secret of his success? Having the script-writer on your side. Once you have that, all things are possible.

Other notes: pity about Ginsburg. I’ve no idea why they decided to turn his character into a joke, and have him go Van Gogh for the sake of providing the season with a Lawnmower Moment. At least we got to see things through his eyes for a few moments, providing a Kubrick callback in the computer room that will keep the recappers busy for days. Doesn’t that mean that Ginsberg was HAL, who also lip-read, and was going crazy too? If so, it’s a missed opportunity; he could have locked the door to the office, and Don would have had to ask him to open the door, just like in “2001,” which would mean . . . well, nothing. Like most of the show. I still enjoy it, but it’s just a soap.

Best recap, as usual, by MZS at Vulture,

URBAN STUDIES A look at an enormous 19th century Ghost Ad, restored on a building in England. Just to give you an idea of the scale of advertising in those days.

ART Another collection of “Alternative Movie Posters,” and some of them are remarkably good. But there’s the usual problem: unlike actual movie posters, which try to tell you something about the film, these assume you know the movie’s plot, or meaning, or role in popular culture. For example: remember that horror movie about the guy who was running away from something horrible, a possible future where he might be stretched out dead on the ground?

It’s good, but perhaps it's time to leave Saul Bass behind as an inspiration.

VotD In case you’re one of the 4 million people who have not witnesses the French chat run into an invisible glass door, or saw it yesterday, watched it ten times, then forgot about it:

Why did this one get such sudden popularity? At the risk of overanalyzing the obvious, it’s short; it reminds you of the essential role sound can play in achieving a comedic effect; it’s from a show that had nothing to do with cats whatsoever, and seems unconcerned with the concussive outcome. It does not stop and apologize and reassure everyone the cat’s okay. 

I'm sure the cat's okay.

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