Thursday, February 21, 2008

First Meal In Korea!

I'm typing this through a cloud of jetlag and confusion. It's so very strange to be a foreigner, but the strangeness eases me. I feel at home in airports, food courts, empty malls; there I have no responsibility other than to wait, to walk to the right gate, to board the right plane and sit in place, to eat. The ubiquitous novelty of foreignness feels easy. I have no responsibility but to look, to take in, to move.

More later. In the meantime, check out the photos.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Guess Who Got A Flickr Account?

Give up yet? It's me! Now that I set off for some travels, you can check my photos here.

New York Times + Cephalopods = Global Media Conspiracy?

New York Times video on a scientist researching cephalopod camouflage.

Same guy who did the legendary octopus video, embedded below.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Fact About Chicago

Image from Shorpy!

It seems that the adoption of the bowl would be a fairly straightforward process, but not in Chicago. Most of urban Chicago didn’t use bowls until the early 1930s. The social reformer Jane Addams called Chicago’s lack of adequate bowls “a disgrace of governance and civic will,” but it took a riot—the famed soup riots of 1933—to make the bowl a common addition to Chicago dinner tables.

The problem was simple: the various department stores in Chicago all got their flatware from a single supplier, S. N. Arch and sons and Silas N. Arch didn’t think there was much demand for bowls because of Chicago’s famed distaste for soup. “Steak, potatoes, that’s all a man needs,” the secretive Arch is reported to have said whenever the subject of bowls came up. “Bowls are for sniveling weaklings and the lesser races.”

Some families would have heirloom bowls, or bowls sent over from relatives, but surprisingly the majority of Chicagoans survived without the bowl for generations. Some were even proud of Chicago’s lack of bowls. “No soup here!” was the sign in the window of a prominent downtown café: soup, Chicagoans thought, was the food of the poor.

But during the Great Depression, charities set up to distribute food—mostly in the form of thin soups or gruel—found that they lacked the necessary bowls to get food to the stomachs of the hungry masses. On a dismal January night in 1933 after being denied food because of a lack of bowls, a horde of dispossessed young men stormed to the front of prominent department stores, demanding the missing piece of flatware. Police were called in, and twelve lives ended that cold night.

Silently, bowls entered the department stores—and kitchens— of Chicago and have stayed there ever since!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Random Facts, Anyone?

Mental Floss has just made a Random Fact Generator. People can make their own facts and send them in! Unfortunately, the facts have to be true. For a second there I thought I had a new career.

The last post was my 100th post on Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters, by the way!

Help me celebrate?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Quotes From The Times

No longer the bloody avatar of wounded American pride, he seems more inclined toward humanitarian intervention — a one-man N.G.O. with a machete. Will he show up in Darfur next?
“In the past, Britain was something that just happened,” he said. “You didn’t have to think about it."
Each slice was perched on a round of Italian bread, but most of the men ate only the meat and stacked the bread slices in front of them, tallying their gluttony like poker players amassing chips.
A single woman, courted by two eligible men, will be drawn toward the man who is superficially right but ontologically wrong for her before choosing, in the final 20 minutes, the man with the opposite qualities.

Hoax Time, Please!

Mental_Floss runs down four of history's best hoaxes. They're a bit predictable, though, so here are a couple of my favorites to supplement:

The Trojan Horse has to be the boldest hoax in history. The premise--that the Greeks would offer the Trojans a gift of a huge wooden horse--is just weird.. What sort of gift is a huge wooden horse, anyway? Scholars will tell you this is because the Trojans really liked horses. This explanation explains nothing. But it makes for a great hoax, mixing equal amounts audacity, cleverness, and misdirection.

Sadly for the Trojans, there was no candy inside. Only pissed-off Greeks.

The Count Saint German made his way through 18th Century Europe scamming courtiers, spreading rumors of his mystic prowess (including his miraculous ability to never die), and issuing a stream of prattle so wondrous it lightens the heart. Here's Cassanova on Saint Germain (who knows about the accuracy - it's from Wikipedia):
The most enjoyable dinner I had was with Madame de Gergi, who came with the famous adventurer, known by the name of the Count de St. Germain. This individual, instead of eating, talked from the beginning of the meal to the end, and I followed his example in one respect as I did not eat, but listened to him with the greatest attention. It may safely be said that as a conversationalist he was unequalled.

The greatest part of the story of Saint Germain is that even now--hundreds of years later--impressionable young occultists will swallow the Count's stories like they were peer-reviewed scientific truth. Poor creatures.

In the annals of hoaxing, chapters and chapters--whole volumes!--should be devoted to the Australians. Something about the climate makes tall tales a near Olympic sport. Maybe it's the climate of free-flowing beer. If you're ever out camping with a group of Australians, inevitably one will tell you about the deadly Dropbear, a carnivorous version of the cuddlesome Koala. The Dropbear's most favorite snack is a tourist. It drops on them. And eats them up. And it doesn't exist. It's just a story to scare poor confused Americans.
The Dropbear in its natural environment.

Even the cream of Australian culture can't help but engage in a little lying now and then. Pissed off about the utter nonsense of modernist poetry, two conservative poets sent in a series of meaningless poems to Australia's premier modernist poetry rag and signed them by the name Ern Malley. The hoax ended with the magazine's young editor Max Harris getting charged with obscenity for some reason. The funny thing about Ern Malley is that, well, even though his poems are meaningless twaddle, everybody likes them. I like them. Here's the first in the Ern Malley cycle:

Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495

I had often, cowled in the slumberous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters
Not knowing then that Dürer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
the black swan of trespass on alien waters.
I love those last four lines. Bonus points for this story is that back in my career as an up-and-coming young Australian writer I swept the youth section of the Max Harris literary awards. Hurrah.

Ern Malley was a great poet. Shame he didn't exist.

The Japanese have really been very innovative about hoaxing, exaggerating, contorting, and refining the technique the with the same aplomb that turned robots into GIANT ROBOTS. Now, to set the scene: poodles are all the rage in Japan, costing upwards of a thousand dollars. A Japanese celebrity is on a talk show, chatting about her poodle when she complained that her poodle didn't bark and refused to eat dog food. Turns out the poodle was a lamb and some scam artist was selling lambs as poodles. And it also turned out that the whole widely-reported story was a hoax. How's that for innovation, kids?

Pet Squid!

When I settle down I am going to get an aquarium and buy some pet squid.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

What Do You Think Of The New Color Scheme?

I was thinking that the whole white-text-on-blue-background might be hard to read. So I changed it. What do you think?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Days In Brendan Mackie!

This is it, folks! The last full week of Brendan at Utne! There will still be some Utne blogging, although it's unclear how much there will be.... But that means this here blog will be a little bit better maintained. Which means you (and by you I mean the internet) should start reading it. Come on! I'm a semi-professional writer now!

Media Lies Both Political And Scientific
From The Stacks: King-Cat Comix
The Not-So-Great Race
Fiction 2.0
London Times Caught Cheating Social Networking Sites
This New House

Drop a comment in this comment thread for fun! I would like to have contests up here, but I don't know if I have the critical mass to have contests. I probably don't. But as a game - a fun little game - if you read this, drop a comment in the comment box: and maybe I can write you your own personal squid fact. For free! Yeah, howabout that. If you drop me a comment in the comment box I will write you your very own personalized squid fact. So do it. So I know that you're out there.