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Lileks @ Lunch

James Lileks writes about everything - except sports and gardening

How would you describe yesterday's aroma?

I went with “a box of burned Barbie Hair,” because it had both the incinerated-follicle aroma and an odd note of plastic. What seemed odd was the source of the fire: wood. When you hear that it’s going to get smoky because of a forest fire far away, you expect you’ll get that Campfire Smell that fills your sweater after a trip up north. But yesterday smelled like a giant cat blew up in an oil refinery.

WEB Verge is turning off comments to let things chill out for a while. That’s the word they use: chill. As they’re turning off the sun, exterminating all life, then turning it on again so the process of evolution can give rise to more sensible organisms with shorter fuses. No. Things will flare up again the moment they turn comments on, because there are people who live to be miserable, sneering jerks on the internet. Even requiring real logons - say, your Facebook profile - doesn’t assure sensible, measured responses. It just means people will call up your page and think “hmm, that nasty person teaches at a community college in Albany. How about that.”

There are two solutions: pay to post, as with sites like Tablet. They actually have a one-day rate that lets you comment for a small fee. Keeps out the riff-raff. Or have two different threads: The Decent and the Vile. Moderators would make sure the tone is consistent, and move people from the first to the second if need be. (Not too many people will need repositioning from the Vile thread. Say, we see you’re responding point-by-point with evidence that supports your thesis and directly addresses the critiques of others, and refrains from ad hominem. You must have got lost. Come this way. This goes for Twitter, too, but it would be harder to enforce. Sometimes it’s best to let people parade their mulishness, especially if they’ve perfected that smug, facile, broad assertion that just serves to inform their ideological foes that they don’t really get the arguments of the other side at all.

PS: After reading the Verge article, I actually scrolled down to see if there were any comments.

HISTORY Pompeii is in trouble. It’s falling apart, thanks to lousy management and crime. Ah, Italy. Smithsonian:

Irlando’s investigation led to government charges of “abuse of office” against Marcello Fiori, a special commissioner given carte-blanche power by Berlusconi to administer the funds. Fiori is accused of having misspent €8 million ($9 million) on the amphitheater project. In March, Italian authorities seized nearly €6 million ($7 million) in assets from Fiori. He has denied the accusations. Caccavo, the Salerno-based construction firm that obtained the emergency-fund contracts, allegedly overcharged the state on everything from gasoline to fire-prevention materials. Its director was placed under house arrest. Pompeii’s director of restoration, Luigi D’Amora, was arrested. Eight individuals are facing prosecution for charges including misallocation of public funding in connection with the scandal.

But there’s hope:

a private-public partnership, the Herculaneum Conservation Project, established by the American philanthropist David W. Packard, has taken charge of the ancient Roman resort town by the Bay of Naples and restored a semblance of its former grandeur. In 2012, Unesco’s director general praised Herculaneum as a model “whose best practices surely can be replicated in other similar vast archaeological areas across the world” (not to mention down the road at Pompeii).

Packard is the son of the fellow who was the H in H-P, Hewlett-Packard. All that computer money from long ago, rebuilding an ancient city. Nifty.

I was in Pompeii a few years ago, and it’s a strange, haunted place. You walk into a fast-food joint on a corner, see where the pots and benches went, and you’re back a couple thousand years. The recent movie about the city’s fate ruined any chances of an adaptation of Robert Harris’ excellent novel, but we can hope. I suppose it was mad to expect an intelligent retelling of the tale that didn’t involve a glowering gladiator, and Hollywood execs probably rolled their eyes upon hearing that Harris’ hero was a hydraulic engineer. But it’s a terrific book, and will delight anyone who loves stories of ancient Rome.

Anyway. When I was there, smoke drifted from Vesuvius. It’s odd to see the old mountain venting, but it does that all the time. Still. Some day it’s going to go off again, and on that day there will be tourists in Pompeii, thinking “I can’t really be surprised, but man, what are the odds.” Go while you can.



The Ubiquitous Granny-Square Afghan

This could only be spoken by someone who lived through the Seventies:

Granny square vests, granny square shorts, granny square hats. Heck, I believe there was some kid out there who was forced to go to school wearing granny square underwear.

It’s a Slaton or Salte piece about why there’s an afghan throw rug in the granny-square style in “every TV show.” Well, no. #notalltvshows. There isn’t an afghan draped over Captain Kirk’s chair, although it would be amusing if there was. If Kirk had to bat some throw pillows from the chair before he could sit down.

That’s from the Slate Browbeat section, which looks at “culture.” Let’s see what else is going on.

Oh, go to hell. Elsewhere:

This is either a pro-peas piece or an anti-peas piece, but in both cases you have the bossy pants accusation right up top, so, here, author-person, take this chute, yes that one . . . yes, it lands in hell. You have earned it. Off you go! Oh, screaming in fear for your mortal soul, you’re doing it wrong. Try a higher pitch, something that suggests the sudden and immediate loss of sanity.

Finally, let’s see if there’s anything SHOCKING in the world of clickbait ad chum:

Is anything "Shocking" on the internet shocking at all? In the least?

SPACE We lost contact with the Pluto probe a while ago, and reestablishing contact and troubleshooting the problem is difficult. Not impossible, but image trying to help someone fix a computer over the phone by saying one letter at a time, with four and a half hours between each letter. But here’s the part that’s making the UFOlists say oh ho, what’s this?

Metro headline: “NASA probe sees weird ‘dotted line’ on Pluto – then signal cuts out.” Well, hours later. But still! Mysterious, right?

Actual science here at the WaPo. Three days to Pluto!

Sorry, forgot to tell you the SHOCKING story NASA DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW. From the WaPo comments:

As exciting as these photos will be, its funny how they are making it seem as if they sent this craft out just to visit Pluto. Its only a fly-by mission because its real destination is to look for a phantom planet the size of earth orbiting way outside Pluto's orbit. Of which its existence is a debatable subject. This mission has got "agenda driven science" written all over it.

Ah, our old Friend Planet X, or Nemesis, or whatever you wish to call it. Probably another base for the humanoid lizard people. Oh tell me something I don't know, you say. How jaded the internet has made us.

RUSSIA TODAY Turns out the trade sanctions have deprived Russians of something they'd come to take for granted: good cheese.

The Putin government, as well as some news reports, claim that the countersanctions have been a boon to Russian producers, including cheese makers. But most of what they have been able to produce is the subject of complaints and jokes. People often post photos of cheeselike objects they discover at grocery stores, and at least one St. Petersburg shop has installed tongue-in-cheek advertising of the domestic processed cheese it sells: Parodying a Vladimir Mayakovsky poem, it commands the customer to “stop whining” and “start chewing our own Russian-made cheese spread.”

Who? Well, here's a Marxist artist site's notes on the fellow:

. . . he refused to see Soviet reality in strictly rosy colors, at one point even going so far as planning to write a poem entitled “Bad”

Oh, that’s a dangerous game. He committed suicide in 1930. Here’s how the manifesto of the 1917 collection ends:

And if for the time being the filthy stigmas of your “common sense” and “good taste” are still present in our lines, these same lines for the first time already glimmer with the Summer Lightning of the New Coming Beauty of the Self-sufficient (self-centered) Word.

He also calls for people to stop reading Pushkin. Well, now he’s in the pantheon of beloved poets - obviously, since someone can make a parody of his poems today, and people get the joke.

Speaking of Russian Cheese:

“Cult” and “Past” seem to be apt ingredients.

VotD Dear Google: Please stop doing this.

Google says: ”Deep neural network hallucinating Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: how meta is that? Visualizing the internals of a deep net we let it develop further what it think it sees.” As a PSA against acid, though, it's probably more effective than anything.