The opposite of nostalgia

James Lileks is looking for a name for it:

What’s the word for an exaggerated dislike of a particular time? I know I am nostalgic for things I did not experience, and only see through the pop-culture elements left behind, which communicate incomplete and occasionally misleading messages. But I have antipathy for things I experienced at the fringe of adolescence — not because it was a bad time, or I didn’t like them then, but because they seem now to be the products of a culture that was getting cheap and lazy; it was full of gimcrack baubles turned out by an exhausted system that tried to adapt to the times, but had no strength to put forth any ideas or uphold any ideas that went before. The period from 1967 to 1975, with some stellar exceptions, was just a horrible time for everything, and you can reduce it all down to one middle-aged balding dude with wet hair plastered over his head in brown polyester pants and a mustard-yellow shirt approving one thing after the other because the kids will go for it.

I suspect we can generalize further: if anything worthwhile happened during your bête noire period, it happened in spite of that middle-aged balding dude.

My own “Oooh, take it away!” era runs roughly 1989 through about 1994 or so: it is delineated by changes in my own life, which had only just bottomed out and was in a tediously slow recovery, and by the fact that Mariah Carey was getting massive hit records by sounding like her record producer — Tommy Mottola, you may remember, lives on the road — had stuffed a live ferret into her pants.

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Songs that mattered

The Big Question on the back page of The Atlantic: “What is the most influential song of all time?” Lots of interesting answers, and two picked Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”: Rhett Miller of the Old 97s, which doesn’t surprise me, and Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call Me Maybe”), which does. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! comes out for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the basis of sheer ubiquity: even old pharts like me know it. Still, I have to follow the lead of “Weird Al” Yankovic, who justifies the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” this way:

Not many people had the courage to equate the word with the bird back in those days, but now it’s a widely accepted fact.

Except, perhaps, by James Lileks.

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Quote of the week

Two members of Congress who, you might think, ought to know better — until you remember that they’re members of Congress and therefore don’t know anything, better or otherwise — have proposed Federal regulation of photo manipulation. James Lileks says they’re aiming at the wrong target:

This still doesn’t address the real problem, does it? Advertising is the problem. Advertising holds up images of some ideal we cannot achieve, and thus causes aspiration, which ends in misery. Who among us hasn’t watched TV for half an hour, studied the ads like the revelatory playlets they are, then left the house to eat fried chicken, enlist in the Marines, buy a $47,999 car, and ask our doctor whether Vilevria is right for us? It’s all I can do after seeing an Oil of Olay ad to keep from running up to my wife’s drawer of potions, slathering the stuff on my face, and shouting HURRY UP AND DEFY THE RAVAGES OF TIME at my reflection. Ads are not suggestions. These are marching orders beamed directly into our quivering id, and we’ve no defense against them.

So we need to change the entire advertising paradigm: Companies will be permitted to show a picture of the product, and a monotone voice will describe its attributes as determined by an impartial board empowered to strike out any language that suggests that the consumption of this taco has any nominal advantage over the consumption of any other taco. The company will be allowed to assert that the “Mucho Fiero Grande” sauce has a more substantial “kick” than the competitor, based on lab analysis of the capsaicin content measured in Scoville units.

If you have a poor self-image because you don’t compare favorably to what you see in print or on television, you’re wrong; yes, you should have a poor self-image, not because you don’t own this or you don’t look like that, but because you’re credulous enough to think those things matter.

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Dot-conned

Remember that possibly apocryphal character who wanted half a million for his domain name? The prospective emptor might want to caveat a little more than usual:

In 2006, Cameras.com was sold for $1.5 million. Monthly traffic: 1,747 unique visitors. Computer.com was sold in 2007 for $2.1 million, and draws in an eye-popping 1,049 people per month. Vodka.com brought 3 mil, and gets 1,346 — no stats on Vodak.com, though, which might be what people type when they’re boozy and thick-fingered. Fund.com went for almost 10 mil in 2008, and doesn’t get more than 400 visitors a month. That just can’t be right, but that’s what BusinessInsider.com says.

“Vodak” is also an occasional Farkism for “vodka,” but then again, Farkers, by their own admission, are boozy, if not necessarily thick-fingered.

I paid $35 for this domain in 1999. Monthly uniques: over 2,000.

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Quibbling over genres

About half of my music acquisition these days has been by way of the ponyverse, which has a thriving music scene and hundreds of worthy composers; if they haven’t yet produced a John Williams or a Thelonious Monk or a Joni Mitchell, well, it’s not for lack of effort.

A lot of the items I check off for future investigation are labeled “trance,” “ambient” or “chill.” Now “trance” I understand, more or less: faster than house, strict adherence to 4/4, and the breakdown somewhere in the middle of the track. The other two are not quite so clearly defined, so I went to someone who has had more MP3 tags than I’ve had breaths, and he explains it thusly:

Basically, if it can’t ever wake me up, it’s Ambient. If it’s something I can see playing while I’m standing on the balcony of a ship, it’s Chill.

On the basis of the above, I think we can call this Chill:

Though that ship had better be well out of port, I think.

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Quote of the week

However chilly it is down here in Baja Kansas, it’s just a hair worse in Minnesota, as James Lileks explains:

[A]ll of these fronts are coming from the south and the west. There isn’t anything sweeping down from Canada. We’re just in the path of this freakish insanity like the rest of the Midwest. The reason it rankles and galls has nothing to do with the length of the previous winter. It’s the fact that it’s consuming our ration of green.

The flowering trees are starting to sprout buds. The temps will not reach 60 until Monday.

Darth Weather has altered the deal, and we’re supposed to pray he does not alter it further.

In other news, it snowed today in Tulsa.

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Merch to be moved

Lileks is vending something called Tiny Lies, and this is what that something is all about:

Tiny Lies contains 150 + small ads from the back of old magazines and newspapers, annotated and commented upon with varying degrees of strained amusement. That’s right: less than a penny a page!

Provided you pay. If you don’t, there’s nothing I can do about that. This is an experiment, really.

Easily worth the equivalent of Daffy Duck’s quarterstaff. Hey, if it worked for Radiohead

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In future America, car drives you

Some of the way, maybe. James Lileks finds instances when this might not be such a good idea:

GPS and sensible routes cannot take into account Strategy. For example: When I come out of Trader Joe’s and head north on France, there’s four lanes. Just about everyone is heading for Target. Just about everyone gets into the right lane six or seven blocks ahead of their destination. The most efficient way to get to Target is to get in the left lane, cruise ahead of everyone, and make a series of safe, signaled turns that take me into the right lane ahead of everyone who’s starting and stopping and poking along. I never have to make a cruel merge and wedge in — something that would require The Wave of Thanks — because there’s space. If there isn’t, I stick to the left lane, turn left — the opposite direction I wish to go — and swing around a parking lot so I come at the street from the other direction. Computers cannot make that sort of decision. It’s illogical.

But driving is illogical, because it’s intuitive. You get a feel for the streets. You read the traffic; you forecast behavior.

And is Google going to pony up because their algorithms decided you didn’t really need to make a Cruel Merge some morning and you wound up with a garland of guardrail? Hold not thy breath, O Future Driver.

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Where all your time has gone

And by “your time,” I suspect I really mean “James Lileks’ time”:

Every day I encounter some site I like, but rarely promote to the daily bookmark. I find this interesting. Why wouldn’t I? Because it’s a peripheral interest, and I really don’t need to check up on someone’s vintage kitchen remodel for a month. If ever. So the list of secondary bookmarks grows and grows, until weeded out six months later after a cursory revisit. Each of these pages usually has a Facebook page. Never go there. Why would I?

I am something like that, though you should probably figure that if you read it here, I don’t consider that interest “peripheral.”

What I don’t like about all of this: the fragmentation of presence. If you just have Facebook, lucky you. If that’s what you want. But if you have a blog, you should tweet, and if you tweet, isn’t there a Facebook account and a Google+ account you might want to link to that? Ought not the Tumblr be chained as well, so all updates everywhere are sprayed across all possible platforms?

Short answer: no. Slightly longer answer: there are different audiences, at least in my case, for each of these platforms. (I don’t have a presence on Tumblr.) And nothing I say is so gosh-darn important that I have to push it out to everyone who’s ever heard of me.

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Time life

1970s clock“Sweet smoking Jesus, what was the matter with these people?” asked James Lileks in his epic Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible ’70s (New York: Crown Publishers, 2004), and you may be certain that this ghastly clock, which I bought in an Eighties garage sale for $1.50 or so, does not actually hang in my crisp mid-century house, but in the garage, where it’s kept indifferent time for the last decade.

Usually it loses about three minutes a week; when it stops doing that, it’s generally time for a new C battery. Since New Year’s, it’s been gaining about three minutes a week; yesterday, it stopped dead. I duly fetched another C-cell from the pile, and it refused to start. Okay, fine, it’s more than earned its eternal rest. I set it back on its mount and started contemplating its replacement. About two hours later, I went out to the garage, and it had started up again. I assume it can’t be due to temperature variations in the garage — it’s been within a couple of degrees of 45 since Saturday morning — so it must be Just One Of Those Things.

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Justice metered out

James Lileks tries out the new parking meters in Dinkytown:

Parked at one of the new meters, which is a really nifty thing. You don’t pay at your car. You memorize a five-digit number, walk to the middle of the block, put in your money, then walk back past your car, realize you got one of the numbers wrong because your short-term memory is what was I talking about? or because you read the wrong pole. Then you go back and feed the meter again. The amusing thing, in a bitterly unfunny sort of way, is that the terminal accepted a number that did not exist on the street. It’s programmed to take anything. Or, I paid for half an hour for someone downtown. In which case you’re welcome.

The New World Order, Malparkage Division, thanks you for your support.

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We’ve heard it all before

Excuse me while I borrow a tweet or three from Megan McArdle:

As @terryteachout pointed out to me, Google fragments of your own writing and by seven words, you get only one hit.

True “accidental” plagiarism, in other words, does not exist. An example she provides is slightly startling:

It’s actually kind of amazing: even a phrase as banal as “I attracted a lot of angry comments last October” is apparently unique.

I had to test this for myself, of course. My best-known seven-word phrase, which is actually only six words long if you count that hyphenated thing as one, is my description of the Grim Reaper as “that scythe-wielding son of a bitch,” which shows up four times in Google, all by me.

But that’s fairly distinctive. I pulled up an eight-word phrase from Vent #750 — “No two people have exactly the same schedule” — which produced three sources, of which I was the third.

“You’re never too old to yearn” (from Vent #341) brought me first and third place, the second being occupied by a Florida newspaper. And the third was from a comment I made to that now-infamous bit of fanfiction I wrote, which undeservedly still gets 20-30 readers a day. Amused by this, I keyed in the five-word phrase that ushers in the ending. It landed second.

Still, the best comment on plagiarism — all this, of course, was prompted by Time columnist Fareed Zakaria’s suspension — came from James Lileks: “You realize that Tom Lehrer totally copied ‘Lobachevsky’ from someone else.” Then again, Lileks was meta before meta was meta.

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With August yet to come

Lileks wanders into the mall and encounters a time-displacement phenomenon. And he does not like it, no sirree, does not like it at all:

There were great sales on clothes, because July is when everyone starts thinking about wearing heavy brown stuff, right? Aren’t we all just itching to get into fall clothes? TO HELL WITH THAT. Target has school stuff up: TO HELL WITH THAT. There will come a day when something in the air, something in the angle of the sun, something in the quality of light through the leaves, makes me think: Oatmeal. Leaves. Nip in the air. Woodsmoke. Halloween delights. But on behalf of July, still standing, hand on the doorknob of the exit, TO HELL WITH THAT.

Although, you know, I won’t mind a whole lot if August moves along at high speed and gets out of the way. Apart from my daughter’s birthday, the only thing that happens in August is that I will be handed the worst electric bill of the year, which I don’t find particularly endearing.

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Art as an organizing principle

Lileks writes from beautiful downtown Helsinki:

There’s a stylistic similarity to the other grand structures — they belong to Europe, the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries; they speak of the old orders, the sustaining culture, the organizing principles and assumptions. This place above is the modern world, anywhere, rootless, vague, inert, remote. Oh, it’s interesting. But the heart doesn’t sing upon seeing it. The building on the right is the modern museum, and the tour guide said that when it opened most people were disinclined to like its contents, but Finns, being curious and interested in what’s new and wanting to talk about what everyone else is talking about, went there regularly. Not because they want to, but because there’s an assumption that this is what thinking people do. They go to art museums to see abstract things, “and if it makes you have a reaction,” she said, “then that is what art does.”

Actually, that would seem to depend on the nature of the reaction:

A bird flew into our veranda today, tried to get out, hit its head on the glass, defecated, and threw up a minnow. That was a reaction.

Even now, the Institute for Contemporary Postmodernism, or something like that, is trying to acquire the legal rights to that very ex-fish.

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No skirt, Sherlock

James Lileks is willing to accept a certain amount of revisionism, but the line must be drawn somewhere:

I’m not one of those people who insists that Sherlock conform to my preexisting parameters, but there are limits. He cannot be a woman, for example. Retrograde and sexist though this may seem, I am equally stern on the concept of turning Nancy Drew into a boy. He cannot be married; he cannot speak in slang; he cannot be a relaxed fellow full of bonhomie, just as likely to spend the evening at the theater enjoying a musical as he is likely to sit home playing his favorite instrument, the accordion. You can tweak the character, update him, shave off some minor quirks and add others, but you can’t ignore the core of the character. You might have a fascinating, delightful figure, but it won’t be Sherlock.

Which prompted this reply from Amanda Jean Carroll:

I imagine that for a guy the idea of gender swapping a beloved character would just seem silly or pointless or annoying or like a lame attempt at cleverness. And it can, of course, be all of those things. But for nerdy ladies there’s a sort of gleefulness to it because it eliminates the need to search and search for well-written characters we can actually relate to or maybe even aspire to be like.

A lot, I suspect, depends on the perceived motivations of the swap. In 1973 Bryan Ferry put out an album of covers, separate from his work with Roxy Music, and one song he essayed was Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” which he sang perfectly straight, so to speak, without changing any of the pronouns. Were Ferry a Sensitive Folkie, we’d assume that he was simply honoring the words of the original; but since Ferry was a medium-level minion in the glam-rock army, we’re more likely to assume, justified or not, a pancake-makeup-thick layer of irony.

That said, there’s still, says Carroll, an argument for “Shirley” Holmes:

[M]aking Sherlock Holmes a woman would be a way to create an amazing female character who wasn’t defined by femaleness the way Nancy Drew or Elizabeth Bennet or Jane Eyre or any other beloved heroine is (Though of course, Nancy Drew isn’t on the level of those two any more than she’s on the level of Holmes. She’s on the level of the Hardy Boys, because there isn’t truly any feminine analogue to Sherlock Holmes). It would mean having a female character who is all those things you described — scientific and obsessive, prepared to engage in fisticuffs, manic-depressive — all things women can relate to, and all things women are rarely portrayed as because they aren’t considered feminine. And it would mean enjoying fantastic classic characters in a way we ladyfolk usually can’t.

On the upside, our cultural arbiters would be at least marginally accepting of that sort of thing, though they likely wouldn’t extend that acceptance to males enthralled with female characters.

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Begun, the cola wars have

Almost any paragraph in James Lileks’ Tuesday Bleat about Nanny Bloomberg’s manifest obsession with the size of your Big Gulp could be celebrated as a Quote of the Week, but I figured that a proper QOTW would have to include the whole thing, and I’d just as soon not copy it all over here. (And I’m sure he’d just as soon I didn’t copy it all over here.) I will, however, reproduce one representative passage:

A culture that redefines food choices as moral issues will demonize the people who don’t share the tastes of the priest class. A culture that elevates eating to some holistic act of ethical self-definition — localvore, low-carbon-impact food, fair trade, artisanal cheese — will find the casual carefree choices of the less-enlightened as an affront to their belief system. Leave it to Americans to invent a Puritan strain of Epicurianism.

Besides, the Mickey D Must Die crowd, thinking themselves to be enlightened free-thinkers, would instinctively resist, even resent, being labeled as Puritans, which to me is one more reason why they should be.

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Lileks explains it all

“It,” of course, being Social Media:

Facebook? Still no. I have the page, but don’t go there. My entire attitude towards Facebook is like a man who knows there’s a surprise party waiting upstairs in his apartment, and spends the evening in a bar, talking to a stranger. I get so tired of being asked to Like something or follow it.

I don’t mean to say I find social media annoying or useless: on the contrary. Facebook is too static. Too slow. Twitter is a stroll down a busy street listening to different conversations; Pinterest is a museum / thrift store / attic you can visit when you please. Facebook seems like hamming pitons in a sheer cliff wall and climbing up, up, up, for no particular reason.

That last bit may backfire on us: what’s to stop Zynga from setting up a time sink game called CliffVille?

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The printers, they are against us

James Lileks has no better luck with printers than the rest of us, it appears:

The printer for people who don’t need to print. I use it for scanning, and that’s when the troubles began: it refused to scan because it was out of ink.

This is not unusual. (Just a google search for scanner won’t run without ink.)

What’s more, I wasn’t out of ink. Not really. I’ll bet if I cracked the cartridge open, my hands would be covered with Cyan, Yellow, and Magenta. The cartridges either hit their expiration date — the ink is made of milk, you know — or the sensor detected that 75% had been used, and so it was empty. (Which would be especially perverse: Why not just less ink and give the empty warning at 100%?) The only reason the scanner wouldn’t work was because the people who designed it, under orders from management, entered some code that bricked the machine unless you bought more ink.

Does my own printer/scanner (same brand) do that? I don’t know; I’ve never run out of ink, though I admittedly postpone replacements until the output looks like daguerreotypes overlaid with graffiti.

One of his commenters pointed out something perhaps pertinent:

Having worked for HP at some point in a spotty tech career, I learned that if you buy the printer and never update the software after installation, they work fine for years. I’m convinced that it’s the automatic updates that end up causing ink, scan and print problems.

And it doesn’t make a darned bit of difference as to the brand.

Which may explain why my turn-of-the-century DeskJet, still running on the nearly-orphaned Windows XP, continues to do what it’s told to do with a minimum of fuss.

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The things one finds on eBay

And by “things,” I mean this:

Genuine StarTribune Moist Towelette signed by James LileksThis is a one-of-a-kind item, obtained directly from the Minneapolis StarTribune writer, James Lileks, at the 2011 Minnesota State Fair. Lileks, a locally acclaimed satirist and cultural commentator, signed the moist towelette at 12:15, September 2, at the StarTribune state fair booth and presented it to me, an avid fan, in exchange for a pandering testimonial to his writing prowess. Alas, I must part with it, due to financial difficulties, but be assured, it is not easy to do so. This is the real thing, and your only chance to obtain such an article.

You were expecting maybe Juanita’s Fajitas?

Incidentally, Lileks himself vouched for its authenticity, which surely added something to the winning bid.

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Sitting in the back for the moment

Not a whole lot going on in Rebecca Black Land; she’s back from vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, and while everyone waits on that EP, she’s set up her own YouTube channel (which, “Friday” being still in dispute, is quite empty for now), and she’s taking questions at a Buzznet blog.

Meanwhile, I scooped this out of her Facebook fan page:

“Going into the studio has been amazing. I just want to prove to everyone I can do it. I’m not some rich kid whose parents paid for her to have success. That’s not me. I want to be a real artist with a real career. The record is coming out so cool. I’m doing a ballad, a dance song with a little bit of a Latin flair to it. And, the lyrics will be a little more challenging. It’ll sound completely different from ‘Friday’ because there’s not a crap load of auto tune in my voice,” laughs Rebecca.

Of course, there were a few people — enough to get it to #58 in Billboard, anyway — who actually liked “Friday.”

And there’s James Lileks, who here discusses with his daughter what might happen if the cereal RB’s gotta have somehow failed to materialize:

“What would befall her if she doesn’t have cereal? She says she has to have it, but that suggests consequences if she doesn’t. Why not a PopTart?”

“It doesn’t fit the lyrics.”

“Anything fits. ‘Bagel, bagel, gotta have my cream cheese.’”

Don’t ask what the young lady formerly known as Gnat had for breakfast.

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