New Year’s Resolutions Revisited

A few readers have gotten on my case for setting the bar too low for this year’s round of New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps rightly so, since my campaigns for 2011 consisted merely of learning to drive stick (which, as reader JD points out, ‘can be learned in one night in a parking lot by a 15 year-old’) and settling a petty score with Mission Mission (which in fact already ironed itself out. I was kidding, anyway… I love Mission Mission).

Lest this year become a flabby, ambitionless couch potato of a year, I’ve conceded that I should add something more challenging to the mix. So here it is:

Launch, win frivolous lawsuit against Facebook (2011)
Status: open

Inspired by a recent movie you may also have seen, I will patch together a baseless claim that I came up with idea of a social networking site litigiously similar to Facebook back in 1999. The suit will be filed by two identical twin plaintiffs, both of whom will be played by me– a masterstroke allowing me to double my profits from the damages that will surely be awarded to me. The case will conclude with a crisply-written scene in which I fly to California and deliver withering one-liner putdowns to Sean Parker and/or Justin Timberlake. If recent cinema has taught us anything, it’s that suing Facebook is a near guarantee of quick money, so I imagine that I should be able to wrap this up by sometime in October or November.

By the way: now that I’m no longer bearing a grudge against Mission Mission, I can draw your attention to a recent post over there that I enjoyed a lot, as it involves some good old fashioned dextrous punning:

I don’t think I like this: the space previously occupied by Papa Potrero’s Pizzaon 24th and Potrero will soon be “Wok and Go”.

It’s not that I have a problem with Chinese food or puns. In fact, if I ever open a Vietnamese restaurant I plan on calling it “Phở- geddabout it!” or “Banh Mi? Banh YOU!” (Just to be clear, it will also have a mob theme. Servers will wear track suits and slicked-back hair.)

It’s just that most puns are based on an existing phrase or premise. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term “Walk and Go”. A simple Google search confirms this. May I suggest, “Go for a Wok”? “All Wok and No Play”? Can’t go “Wong” with those.

Woah. So that’s what it sounds like when an entire neighborhood groans simultaneously.

[via annagaz]

Reader Mailbag: Attacking and Defending and Associated Research Partners

In response to the Attacking and Defending post from two weeks ago, I received the following emails from friends:


“I didn’t know you were a boxer. i am a pugilist myself, although i haven’t picked up the gloves in about three years. where are you sparring?”



[And a bit later:]

“I wondered why you never mentioned it. Me and Mike used to box together — was kinda fun.”

This is all good, except that I didn’t write that post about boxing. Krafty did. It’s apparently a little-known Mock Duck fun fact that this blog has multiple authors: I, Dan, write most of the posts; Krafty writes some; and then my Dad, under the Grandjoe nom de plume, has written three. It’s definitely a design flaw of the template I’ve chosen that the author name is so de-emphasized, so I don’t blame people for being confused (and it’s interesting to suddenly learn of their love of boxing, which you didn’t know about before). But, if something you read here seems to directly contradict a previously-espoused attitude or present a impossible gap in the space-time continuum (such as me being in LA and Austria at the same time, say), check the byline– it’s quite possible (although increasingly unlikely) that someone besides me wrote it. Once I even got a text message from a friend asking me about the contents of a post before I’d even read the post myself– boy, was that confusing.

[Note: I’m not actually mad about or annoyed by these incidents– that would be lame. It’s just something to write about. Important distinction.]


Meanwhile, in response to my account of the pre-written term paper industry, the Term Paper Kingpin wrote in with a spirited rebuttal where he presents this alternate history of our meeting:

“I guess honest men may differ in their recollection. As I recall it, I met Mayer when I was handing out copies of my self-published memoir (“Epiphanies in Gossamer: A Texas Hill-Country Boyhood”) on a street corner in the Mission District of San Francisco in exchange for donations. I was trying to make a living with an Esperanto Theosophy newsletter, and Mayer convinced me that if we went into termpapers we would soon be “farting thru silk,” a hair-raising vulgaism that I have been unable to banish from memory.

I seem to recall something about an Associated Research phone number, which was our only recourse after Pacific Telephone primly refused to give us an “unlisted” business account.”

Reader mailbag: Anatomical drawings and how to hold your breath for 17 minutes

In the ‘Lifestyles of the undead’ post below, I know-it-all-ishly implied that nobody’s yet done a modern update/parody of the those anatomical drawings where the subject is obligingly peeling off his or her own flesh. It turns out that my friend SP has done exactly this: “I wanted to show you the homage I drew to those weird anatomical illustrations where the women are serenely peeling back the flaps of their muscle layers,” she writes. “Life size, done while at SFAI, actually 2 layers on vellum, when you lift it it’s the fetus /womb underneath.”



Meanwhile, reader JO brings to our attention this harrowing clip of magician David Blaine discussing the tricks of his trade:

The clip is primarily Blaine talking about his efforts to hold his breath for a world record 17 minutes while battling horrible convulsions and symptoms of cardiac arrest. But along the way, he also comments on a few other lively exploits including:

– Being buried alive in a coffin for a week

– Being frozen in a block of ice for 3 days

– Standing on a narrow 100 foot pillar for 36 hours

– Living in a glass box for 44 days while antagonistic members of the British press helicopter cheeseburgers around the box to tempt you

I think I nearly slid into shock just listening to this stuff. It’s amazing to think while listening to Blaine talk about hardcore training sessions in hypoxic tents that he nominally shares the title of ‘magician’ with guys like this:

It’s something like when you watch a tiny little dog sniff the butt of a great big dog 25 times its size– yeah, they’re both ‘dogs’, but they hardly seem to belong to the same species. Or, like comparing my friend who plays in the occasional badminton tournament compared to that nutcase Swedish guy who tried to ride his bicycle to Mt. Everest from Sweden and then climb the mountain– they’re both doing ‘sports’ in a loose definition of the term, but there’s a world of difference between the two. Blaine’s particular brand of magic is to removed from the traditional trappings of wands and top hats that it really does seem like something else altogether– a kind of endurance testing. But, he did come up worshipping Houdini and wriggling out of handcuffs and whatnot, so I guess that in his mind it all seems like an extension of the same thing.

Mailbag: Futurist camouflage and Ukiyo-E

I blogged a few months ago on Franco Grignani, distinctive zebra of the design kingdom:

Reader DS alerts me to the existence of so-called Dazzle Camouflage, the British navy’s unlikely attempt to appropriate the signature black-and-white op-art forms of Grignani and other Futurists for the purpose of military camouflage:


The technique was developed by English painter Norman Wilkinson, who clarified its seemingly-dubious application in a 1919 lecture:

The primary object of this scheme was not so much to cause the enemy to miss his shot when actually in firing position, but to mislead him, when the ship was first sighted, as to the correct position to take up. [Dazzle was a] method to produce an effect by paint in such a way that all accepted forms of a ship are broken up by masses of strongly contrasted colour, consequently making it a matter of difficulty for a submarine to decide on the exact course of the vessel to be attacked…. The colours mostly in use were black, white, blue and green…. When making a design for a vessel, vertical lines were largely avoided. Sloping lines, curves and stripes are by far the best and give greater distortion.

The painting of more than 2,000 ships was supervised by none other than Edward Wadsworth, who was the most well-known of Vorticist painters (Vorticism being essentially an English knock-off of Furturism with a different name, slightly different underpinning philosophy and no awkward fascist connotations). I’d seen Wadsworth’s boat paintings before, but had no idea that they were actually battle plans to be put into action:


Camouflage on the whole has been claimed by various avant-garde art movements from the very beginning. Picasso is supposed to have muttered  ‘We created this!’ to Gertrude Stein the first time he saw a camo vehicle roll out into the streets of Paris.


Meanwhile, in the comments section to the Japan/China and Japan/Russia Fantasy War Drawings post, JohnnyO points out some great Ukiyo-E resources. There’s a lot to choose from, but I’m particularly taken with the series called Gather Together Pictures:


Johnny adds a comment about Hokusai, the author of the famous wave image and all-around loon who gave himself over 30 different names during his lifetime:

Hokusai had some great political cartoons that were quite funny when you understood the context — this one shows an octopus dressed as a samurai, sitting on a pile of potatoes, battling a farmer.


You are certainly thinking “WTF?” (or at least “信じられない”) but there was a bad rice crop the year before and the government banned snacks, or something like that.

I could have sworn there was much cooler one where a rice snack was in a sword fight with a potato snack. That was pretty awesome. (That, or I imagined it, but it would *still* be awesome.)

Dutch update

The-Scene-appearsReader JW brings our attention to the Dutch Concert, which I hadn’t heard of before. The Dutch Concert, interestingly, gets two different definitions, both – of course – unflattering to the Dutch but different nevertheless. One vein of opinion classifies it as a general racket, cacophony, riot, row, ruckus, rumpus, uproar. The other defines it more specifically as a musical performance where the players are singing different songs to disastrous results. A slang dictionary from 1811 goes as far as to identify these noisemakers as “a party of Dutchmen in sundry stages of intoxication, some singing, others quarrelling, speechifying, wrangling, and so on.” Presumably this is then followed by many rounds of Dutch Oven.

Mailbag: Muluqèn Mèllèssè and Paradise Lost

Reader JS – despite finding the Muluqèn Mèllèssè song I posted ‘nice but not memorable’ – pluckily set out for his local Ethiopian-manned newsstand to get some information on the mysterious singer. Here’s what transpired:

I wrote the name of the song and the singer on a sheet of paper and showed it to the Ethiopians at the newstand. As soon as they cast eyes upon it, the two Ethiopian guys behind the counter broke out in beatific smiles and launched into a duet rendition of the song in close harmony. It was like a real-life evocation of those moments in musical theater where people break into song without apparent premeditation, but unlike karaoke in that it was done by people with strong musical aptitudes who apparently had been preparing for this moment for a decade or so.  (Like the Beatles blackbird.) The singer is some kind of  legend in Ethiopian music, who produced this masterpiece more than 20 years ago, before he renounced “profane music” for sacred music. These days he lives in Washington D.C., pumping out spirituals. They offered me a CD of his profane music on the house, but they will have to root around in their house to find it. In any case, I am now a hit at the newstand just for knowing someone who likes the song, I suspect they will start singing it whenever I walk thru the door, and I may have to pressure them to take my money in exchange for newspapers. I like ethiopians. Now if I could just learn to like Ethiopian food.

So, there you have it: he’s now living in D.C. and singing church music. Thanks, JS!


Meanwhile, regarding yesterday’s post on quiet visualizations of evil, occasional guest-blogger and Milton scholar (no, really) Grandjoe provides some context for the image of Satan On His Throne:

Here are the lines that go with the wonderful illustration by John Martin of the infernal conclave in Paradise Lost. I’d never seen it –thanks.

High on a throne of Royal State, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers her Kings Barbaric Pearl and Gold,
Satan exalted sat . . .

Given that “sat’ must be the most undignified word in the language, Milton’s choice of it so close the gorgeous fanfare that starts with “High” plays a practical joke on Satan and on us as well, who started out impressed. There are many other places in the poem where Milton pulls the rug out. Why? Stanley Fish argues that Milton lures us into Satan’s point of view, so that he can then snap us out of it into a realization of our own sinful sympathies with evil. But that’s too moralistic for me. I think that Milton just takes pleasure in pulling off reversals and other kinds of surprises. It’s fun. Mozart enjoys springing surprises too. There must be artists also who trick us.

Pneumatic tube update

In response to the Pneumatically Prague post, readers TK and DS sent along this link with more info on the system, including this impossibly-cool photo of the control system…


… and this description of what sounds like a really fun technological show-down between pneumatic tube, messenger and telex system:

There was an experiment in about 1970 in which they tried to deliver 50 telegram forms (it is the maximum capacity of the capsule) from the Prague main post office to the Prague castle post office by the messenger, by telex system (with the fastest operator – winner of the typewriter competitions), and by the pneumatic tube system. The tube system was the absolute winner, taking 8 minutes to deliver the package.

If you could apply advertising trends from 30 years later to promote the tube, it would have been fun to print t-shirts that read Got Pneu?

Casey Stengel Community Supper

061403Guest-blogger Grandjoe checks in from his vacation in Vermont on a peculiar fusion of baseball, charity and cuisine:

This week, on June 30, the Woodstock Vt. community supper celebrated the the 119th anniversary of Casey Stengel’s birth.

The menu, as always, comprised, 5 courses.  This week: an hors d’oeuvre of baba ganush and bread; creamy fennel soup; cucumber delight salad; a main course of phylo chicken pie; and  pink pudding of some for desert.

The menu had nothing to do with  Stengel’s birth, which was just a pretext for dishing out another weekly dinner to anyone who wanted to come.

Unlike most  meals that are regularly served in the basement of a church, these are not specifically for people in need. The rich and the poor sit at the same long tables.  ( Woodstock itself is a boutique town; but poor people come down from the hills.)  A server asks you deferentially if you’ve  finished the present course before presenting you with the next. You’re being treated like royalty for no reason at all. Is this some kind of joke?

These meals have been going on for three years, now, week after week.  They make no sense to me. They might have something to do with Universalism, as the supper takes place  in a Unitarian-Universalist church, to which most of the cooks and waiters belong.

Universalists were originally reacting against the Calvinist notion that God has elected only a small group for salvation and heaven, the rest of us being predestined to eternal damnation. The community supper goes to the opposite extreme of letting everyone into the feast, scott-free.

If unmerited grace makes you uncomfortable, you can volunteer to wash the dishes– 5 courses multiplied by  60 to 80 people. Extracting dishes and silverware, still scalding hot from an industrial dishwasher, barehanded, rack after rack, is an exquisitely purgatorial payment for one’s sins.  But the people who put on these dinners don’t see them at all as an ordeal. They get some sort of kick  out of it.

Thursday nights, from 5-7pm– in case you want to pass through this strange experience.

Note: It’s not clear to me what – if anything – connects Stengel (longtime former manager of the New York Yankees, shown above) to Univeralism and/or Woodstock, Vermont. But perhaps we’ll get an update on that.

What Colonel Sanders listened to

Guest-blogger Grandjoe checks in by email on the subject of the real-life Colonel Sanders, whom I blogged on a few weeks ago:

In the mid-1950s, a friend of mine from college and his family owned a cabin in Keene Valley, NY that had previously been owned by Colonel Sanders. The latter left there a collection of 78 rpm records, including “There goes Barney Google with his Goo-Goo-Googley Eyes.”  We played it quite a lot, with fascinated amusement.  That’s it.

I had never heard “There Goes Barney Google…” before, but I gather it was something of a smash hit at the time:


In general, I’m pretty interested in early pop music from 1930s, 40s and 50s– not the jazz stuff that we now regard as classic, but the mainstream ephemera pop like “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” And when I say ‘interested’, I don’t mean that I think it’s good. Most of it is blandly cheerful, shrill and somewhat creepy. What I mean is that it interests me because it was the last beachhead of really white pop-culture music sensibility before basically everything became influenced (generally to its benefit, I would add) by African-American music. You can argue that later artists like Pat Boone provided a super-white alternative to conservative teens, but musicians like Boone operated in a kind of consciously reactionary way, presumably aware of their own non-blackness. ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?’ or, for that matter, ‘Barney Google’ are sung with no apparent awareness of their racial makeup, an awareness that was impossible to skirt after Elvis. As far as I can tell, Perry Como (who I do legitimately enjoy) is the the cut-off point, as he was the last big star before Elvis.

Another corollary group of interest is pop songs from the 40s and 50s that were in fact clearly influenced by African-American musical traditions, but seem to have a total lack of self-awareness about the point. I’m sure there are zillions of good examples of this, but the one that jumps to mind is the great scene in The Big Sleep where Bogart stalks Lauren Bacall to a party and inexplicably finds her singing with a band in some kind of parlor room:


What a knockout. Anyway, as a disclaimer, I should probably add that I’m grouping together three instances of pop culture that occurred in a 30 year span, so my generalizations about pre-Elvis pop aren’t terribly specific. Or informed. But, if it’s a necessary pretext to posting footage of a 22 year-old Lauren Bacall, so be it.

Pat Boone and the Disappearing Hitchhiker

booneReader JS agitates for a Pat Boone post and thereby provides a nice blog entry on the subject himself:

Why don’t you or Krafty do a music blog on Pat Boone, the loathsome twit from the 1950s who is still around? He was sort of the Great White Hope of Pap (as distinguished from Pop or Rap) Music in the 1950s, turning out castrated, salt free versions of Little Richard hits like Long Tall Sally that were deemed safe for consumption by Nice White Kids. He popularized the Legend of the Disappearing Hitchhiker. He claimed to have been tooling down Pacific Coast Highway in his Rolls Royce (he maintained that he was immune from criticism for owing such an automobile because he was only God’s steward, with real ownership of the limo resting with Jesus) when he stopped for an ethereal young hitchhiker. As they sped down the coast road, the Hitchhiker spoke out passionately against premarital sex, and articlulated his hope that all of Pat’s fans would return to God’s flock, his eyes burning like coals, etc. When he fell silent, Pat turned to the Hitchhiker to express his solidarity only to discover that he had disappeared into thin air!

I should add that JS was a teenager in the 50s, so he experienced the Boone phenomenon as a horrified first-hand witness, whereas for people my age, Boone is more of a kitschy relic. I do legitimately enjoy his In A Metal Mood: No More Mister Nice Guy album, where he does schmaltzy big-band covers of heavy metal songs. Check out, for example, his charming rendition of G’n’R’s ‘Paradise City’.