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

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?

Watch this building fall down

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 1, 2014 - 12:38 PM

If you haven’t been downtown lately, you’ll be surprised by all the activity around the Stadium / Downtown East site. The building across the street from StarTribute World HQ had a rather dramatic moment yesterday:

That takes skill. Looks like the entire floor plate slid away; good thing it went in the right direction. If that was the plan. You’d like to think that was the plan.

Anyway: Happy May. Or, as we call it lately, March. It was a bit colder last year on this date. Sixty-four in 2012; 36 on May 1st 2011; before that, mostly 50s and 60s, except for 2005, which was 37 at noon. This isn’t unusual, but neither is stepping on Lego in bare feet.

ART Nodding Donkeys: the art of small-town decorated oil pumps.

ADS This IMDB page had some interesting trivial about the movie:

More than three ciabatta buns were shipped to Italy for the film production.

The voice of the Mega-Vac supercomputer was created using sounds from a dot-matrix printer, a dial-up modem and the mating call of flightless cormorant bird.

The water temperature during the after-credits sequence was only 48°F (9°C), forcing Mega-Vac’s Australian puppeteer to wear a wetsuit.

Absolutely no one on set who is married was attracted to the actress who portrayed Lucia.

Oh, I doubt that. Here’s the trailer:

ARCHEOLOGY Scientists have discovered that one weird trick the ancient Egyptians used to move enormous stone blocks:

Physicists from the FOM Foundation and the University of Amsterdam have discovered that the ancient Egyptians used a clever trick to make it easier to transport heavy pyramid stones by sledge. The Egyptians moistened the sand over which the sledge moved. By using the right quantity of water they could halve the number of workers needed.

Scientists investigated this theory after looking at ancient drawings of temple construction, and noted there was a guy standing on the sled pouring water. Hmm. What might that mean.

HISTORY Life magazine has some photos from Hitler’s bunker to celebrate the fall of Berlin. Interesting cipy:

In the spring of 1945, as Russian and German troops fought — savagely, street by street — for control of the German capital, it became increasingly clear that the Allies would win the war in Europe.

Yes, I think “occupying a ruined capital, having traversed the continent beating back the German army and reducing it to tatters” made it “increasingly clear” you might win this thing

The page also has a link to a Time mag story about World’s Fairs, and why they don’t seem to be a big deal in America anymore.

The next World’s Fair is scheduled for Spring 2015 in Milan Italy, but expo-goers who are looking to catch the latest glimpse at the “world of tomorrow,” will be disappointed. “A lot of Americans imagine World’s Fairs as they were in the 1930s and the 1960s, but the medium has changed,” says World’s Fair consultant Urso Chappell. “Whereas the focus was on progress or the space age and things like that at one time, the themes tend to be more environmental now,” he adds.

For a reminder of a time before the medium had changed, consult this round-up of 1900 Paris World’s Fair pictures - in color!

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.

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