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

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. 

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.

Poor Wally, Taco Lover

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 15, 2014 - 12:24 PM

This day in Minnesota History:

The schoolchildren of St. Paul select the city's official flower, the sweet pea, in an election sponsored by the city's women's clubs. Other choices included the coreopsis, marigold, petunia, and aster. News of their selection is overshadowed by reports of the Titanic's sinking

Astor corpse vs aster corepsis, I guess.

Sorry.

COMICS This has been bothering me since Sunday. Last panel of the “Stone Soup” comic:

What do they need to talk about? His infidelity? The cache of Boeing 777 pr0n she found on his laptop? The fact that he takes her car and never fills it up, not once, ever? Something gave her pause.

Here’s the strip. She says they need to talk because his willingness to go to the hardware store is a result of the taco cart parked nearby. He has not been honest about the taco cart. He has not mentioned the taco cart. Keep in mind that she’s sent him to the hardware store three times over the weekend, because she can’t fix anything herself. He’s still in trouble. They need to have a talk. After which he drives towards the hardware store and considers driving past and just driving as far as he can until he can sort out how his life came to be like this.

TECH The Time mag article says that the cover “explains why we’re so bad at tech predictions.”

We tend to think that new products will be a lot like the ones we know. We shoehorn existing concepts where they don’t belong. Oftentimes, we don’t dream big enough.

Well, speak for yourself. I wrote a book 20 years ago that had Google Glass, more or less, with the controls embedded in contact lens sensors. It seemed both obvious and currently impossible, and hence futuristic. Anyway:

Here we are in the 21st century. The tech industry has lately made progress on this smartwatch idea, but it’s still not a problem that anyone’s completely solved, which is why it still isn’t part of everyday life.

That’s because it isn’t a problem at all. There’s nothing to solve. There’s no gaping watch-sized hole in our lives, and there won’t be until someone invents something that seems completely new and utterly indispensable. A watch that vibrates when you have a text isn’t it.

Related: Google Glass Will Never Become a Thing. Four reasons, which can be summed up as “kludgy and useless.” Plus, people who aren’t wearing them will hate you for wearing one, because they don’t know if you’re filming them, and because just wearing them makes you That Guy. Who says phrases like "this is a thing." Of COURSE IT'S A THING. 

THE BURDEN OF FAME Harrison Ford had a Shatneresque “Get a Life” moment the other day, when asked about Greedo and the Catina scene:

One Redditor thought Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” with Ford this past Sunday was the perfect chance to get a straight answer about who shot first, but, unfortunately, Ford wasn’t willing to give a stance on it. “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he wrote. Thanks for the helpful input, Ford!

Even if you don’t care a whit about old roles that made you a star, and even if you’re sick to death of being connected with major pop-cultural franchises that stretch across decades and every imaginable media platform, would it kill you to play along? Would it just kill you? (via EW.)

Votd He never went outside again without his “lucky umbrella.”

REMINDER: tonight.

I like the Hamms-Beer vibe on that. Neil Justin's review is here, if you missed it. 

Ugliest house in Canada

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 11, 2014 - 12:32 PM

Or not; depends on your attitude towards smothering everything with crawly wallpaper. I bring this up because "Mad Men" returns this weekend, and mid-century enthusiasts may be disappointed; the show has moved beyond the narrow-tie-and-lapel era of swank into the pestilence of purple shag. Which brings us to this time-capsule home described thus:

A gem like you've never seen! A 96-year-old Toronto resident is selling what we at HGTV.ca could only call a tour de force: her home of 72 years, lovingly and impeccably decorated wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, in the 1950s and '60s. For the record, we wouldn't change a thing!

Hardly any 50s. Mostly it’s this:

This is better.

Tiny house with zero curb appeal; $700K Canadian. The whole tour is here. Yikes.

CURRENT AFFAIRS You may have heard that Hillary Clinton had a shoe thrown at her, providing material for innumerable GIFs:

Buzzfeed put it like this:

Security officials later ushered the woman who said she threw the shoe out of the event.

She was then arrested, but it remains unclear why she targeted the former first lady.

Research is hard! AP yesterday said the woman was carrying a “classified” document about the “Cynthia” project in Bolivia. Google that, and you’ll find references to the CIA’s presence in Bolivia in 1967, and how they assisted the government’s hunt for Che Guevara. The shoe-thrower is probably hears voices, alas.

GEEK CULTURE You are suffering from a moral panic. A healer will prescribe time and perspective. BBC:

Egbert later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980. Despite the evidence regarding his mental health problems, some activists believed Egbert's suicide was caused by D&D.

In 1982, high school student Irving Lee Pulling died after shooting himself in the chest. Despite an article in the Washington Post at the time commenting "how [Pulling] had trouble 'fitting in'", mother Patricia Pulling believed her son's suicide was caused by him playing D&D.

The piece concerns the Dungeons & Dragons freakout which almost included worries that kids would choke on the oddly-shaped dice. The 80s had other strange panics, such as the destructive nonsense about ritual Satanic child abuse. I’m sure in 30 years they’ll say it was misplaced anxiety over something else, just as the giant-bug movies were sublimated anxiety about the atom bomb. Perhaps they were really about scaring people with enormous ants.

SCIENCE! The other day I said that apocalyptic predictions based on planetary alignment seems to have subsided. Wrong. Space.com:

There has been a lot of interest recently in an upcoming series of lunar eclipses that begins April 15. These are usually described as "four blood moons" and taken by some to prophesy upcoming disasters.

The total lunar eclipse of April 15 will begin a so-called tetrad series of eclipses that is making the rounds online as a potential harbinger of doom, due in part to a recent book on the four blood moons that makes the dubious claim.

Book? Books. Search for “four blood moons” on Amazaon, and you get several returns, including one by that old doomsday author, Hal Lindsey, who wrote about the moons in 1996 in novel form.No one ever reissues the books with a correction on the first page. “NOTE: The events predicted in this book did not come to pass.” They just move on to the next prediction.

VotD Inflection: lives depend on it.

Million-dollar rot

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 26, 2014 - 12:39 PM

Remember this?

No? It’s the Million-dollar homepage. Matt of Mefi asked someone to see which links were still live, and this Quartz story says that 22% of the links are dead,. Random clicking around leads to lots of parked domains. Looks more like 50% are 404d for all practical purposes. Some of the URLs make you wonder what someone was thinking:

http://www.zobius.com/I_AM_BETTER_THAN_YOU_AND_I_AM_FILTHY_RICH--I_AM_A_JERK/

We’ll take your word for it. The Quartz piece examines the problem of link rot, which I suspect will be less of a problem once every link to GeoCities pages finally goes offline. 

TWENTY PERCENT Says this story: Tips go up if there’s an option in the app, or the merchant’s Square payment screen has a tip option. This leads to a “digital tip trap,” in which individual judgment and personal choice are wiped out by relentless mind-control beams streaming out of the electronic device, or something.

Wasn’t that an annoying sentence? I’m disappointed I wrote it. But that’s how you disagree with something without taking the arguments on their merits and refuting them one-by-one: mischaracterize with exaggeration, then say “or something” to indicate you kinda nailed it. Lazy 

So you should read the story. I tip at the coffee shop, but I don’t tip when I pick up the pizza. Delivery, yes. Handing it to me from the hot shelf? No. But there’s a line on the receipt that says TIP and I always feel a twinge of guilt when I leave nothing. It’s not a digital trap, but it nudges you, and for many that’s all it takes.

MEANWHILE IN ITALY I learned today that the Venetian Independence movement is not following me on Twitter. That’s always something of a letdown, isn’t it? You call up a twitter account and the app informs you right off the start that they’re not following you. Then again, if the Venetian Independence movement was following me, I’d be concerned. Why? What did I do to merit their attention? Anyway, Venice wants to secede from Italy, if you believe the recent non-binding plebiscite. They also want to join NATO. Well, perhaps they could be used to practice marine landings. Made you wonder what Google Street View looks like for a city with streams for roads:

Just kidding. The Atlantic article reminds you that . . .

The Most Serene Republic of Venice, as it was officially known, dominated the Mediterranean Sea during its thousand-year lifespan between the seventh and eighteenth centuries. At its height, the state's traders and merchants sailed from the lagoons of the northern Adriatic Sea to the shores of Syria and Lebanon, carrying spices and silks from Asia to Western markets.

It’s always spices with these guys. And silks. Seems like that was the bulk of economic activity for hundreds of years: moving pepper and saffron around. Well, no, not just spices. Rugs. The Wall Street Journal has a review of a new show in New York that looks at Oriental rugs in European paintings. “From Rugs to Riches.

This illustrates a poignant feature of the exhibition, a clash of civilizations: The paintings are eloquent of individual, identifiable lives, while the carpets stand mute, abstract, narrative-free.

I like narrative-free carpets, but that’s just me.

The WSJ also has a look at the new film about Vivian Maier, the incredible photographer who worked as a nanny for decades, never showed anyone her work - even when she worked for Phil Donahue. A fellow bought a box of her negatives at a flea market a few years ago, and brought her work to light. The film raises the question of whether it’s right to show the work of someone who obviously didn’t want anyone to see it - and apparently the answer is yes, since interest in her work hasn’t abated since it was discovered. This line was remarkable:

Buying up and cataloging the messy contents of her life, he found trunks full of negatives as well as undeveloped rolls of film. Unable to elicit interest from museums, he has paid to have her film developed and negatives scanned. He has previously sponsored two splendid books of her photographs and numerous exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad.

What curator in his or her right mind would turn this down? In favor of what?

Votd On-the-spot payback for grafitti, Brazilian-style. The original poster says it translates thus:

“Say sorry”

"Sorry sir, I will never paint the base of police again”

"Now get out before i change my idea."

You suspect the crime was not spraying graffiti, but spraying it on something related to the police.

Finally, here's something that's almost impossible to resist!

It's such a pity they ran out of time and couldn't tell us what the story was about! Amost makes you want to click and see the rest of the story.

If you do, let me know. I boycott these things. Lottery tickets pay off more often than these teasers.

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