at the fair

You know those mornings when you wake up, deal with the cat, and drink your cold brew coffee while you consider the list of things you ought to do, some of which are moderately important, but by the time you empty your mug you’ve decided to skip all those things and go to the state fair instead? That was me yesterday.

Young couple trying to see how many kids they can stuff in the cab of a really big tractor.

I like the state fair. I love the state fairgrounds more than I like the actual fair; I’ve spent a LOT more time noodling around the fairgrounds during the off-season than I have during the fair itself. But the fair is fun too. The noise, the smells, the crowds, the weird tension, the chaos, the confusion — I like all of that.

I like to look at farm technology. Tractors and combines and — okay, I have no idea what most farm tech is called. Or what it does. I confess, I have absolutely NO interest in the purpose of farm tech. But I’m fascinated by 1) how massive some modern farm equipment is, and 2) the fact that there are people who restore or refurbish old tractors. I like to listen to old guys (and it’s always guys) talk about their old tractors, even though I’ve no idea what they’re talking about. I recognize them as nerd-geeks who have a passion I can respect even though it’s entirely foreign to me.

Old guys talking about old tractors.

I also like that things I don’t understand are being judged by standards I also don’t understand. Like horses and sheep. Or cabbages and turnips. Or sewing and crafting. I look at the prize cabbages and I have no idea why one cabbage is superior to the next. I have no idea why this cow is better than that cow, or why the way that horse trots surpasses the way this other horse trots. But there are folks out there who DO know those things, and I find that notion wonderful. (By the way, I don’t need — or want — an explanation for why one horse’s trot is superior; I’m just happy that folks who DO know and care about such things exist.)

Some sort of horse judging thing. Or maybe a riding judging thing. There was definitely judging going on.

I like the people I see at the fair. Not just the folks like me, who show up and eat the deep fried vegan peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and marvel at the size of the biggest boar, but the folks who move to the fair for a week or so and show their animals. Again, I don’t know dick about farming or farm stuff. But I’m always impressed by the people — and especially the kids and younger folks — who spend their fair days washing and drying their cows or goats, or shoveling animal shit out of stalls and laying down hay (if that’s hay — what do I know from hay?). When I was a kid I had to do the usual chores — wash dishes, maybe mow the lawn, that sort of thing. These farm kids? They’re raising livestock and acting like it’s no big deal.

Blow drying a goat.

Kids. A tangent here. As a rule, I don’t photograph kids. I think kids going about their daily kid lives doing kid things are eminently photographable and interesting, but photographing kids these days is just a pain in the ass. It’s not the kids; it’s the parents. I have, in the past, been accosted by parents for shooting photos in the general vicinity of kids. Not photos OF kids, mind you; just photographs of stuff in a park where kids are playing — stuff with zero kids in the frame. Nothing is more embarrassing and frustrating and infuriating than being waylaid by an irate parent and basically accused, in public, of being a pervert. So I just don’t photograph kids anymore.

Except at the fair. I will occasionally shoot a photo of a kid engaged in some farm/fair related activity. Like blow-drying a sheep. I’m not photographing the kid, you understand. I’m photographing the activity. But sometimes there are moments when a kid is being so perfectly a kid that you have to make an exception. So I photographed a kid. I am NOT going to feel guilty about it.

Woke up from a nap, got chores to do.

Actually it turns out it’s almost impossible to shoot a photo at the state fair without including a kid. They’re everywhere. Which is as it should be, since fairs are all about being a kid. Sometimes when you’re taking a photo of a kid, you’re also shooting a photograph of somebody being a good, caring, thoughtful parent.

Cooling mist on a hot fair day.

When I got home I was surprised that almost every photograph I shot had a kid in it. Or an old person. Or a disabled person. Old folks and disabled folks on mobility scooters zipped around the fairgrounds like hornets, like pirates, like…well, kids. They probably shouldn’t have been eating funnel cakes or deep fried Twinkies or bacon-wrapped BBQ ribs, but they were. They probably should have been napping, but they weren’t. They probably should have headed inside when the sky got dark and it began to sprinkle, but they didn’t. They faired (and yeah, I know ‘fair’ isn’t a verb, but there ought to be a term to describe the act of enjoying a fair). Those folks faired like bosses. It was great to see.

Leaving the fair just as it began to sprinkle.

That was the fair. I saw a cabbage bigger than my head. I saw a massive horse with hairy hooves that looked like it ought to be pulling a Russian sleigh and escaping a pack of wolves. I saw farm tech that looked like mooncraft. I saw a sleepy young cowboy who’ll almost certainly look exactly the same in forty years. I ate a deep fried  peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a damned stick. I walked six and a half miles (unless my Fitbit is lying to me).

I faired moderately well.

pointless, sort of stupid, dorky = fun

My brother and I started geocaching last April and let me just start by saying flat out that geocaching is pointless and sort of stupid. But like a lot of pointless and sort of stupid things, it’s also fun.

Okay, so some a lot most of you are probably saying, “Greg, old sock, just what the hell is geocaching?” First, stop calling me ‘old sock’. Second, geocaching is…well, it’s described as an ‘outdoor recreational activity’. Which makes it sound incredibly dorky. (Also, when I said geocaching is pointless and sort of stupid, I should have included dorky, because let’s face it — it’s also fairly dorky.) Basically geocaching involves using a GPS-enabled device to locate a container hidden somewhere in the world.

Yeah, there’s a geocache hidden here.

That’s basically it. You may be wondering why you’d want to use GPS to locate a hidden container, especially if it’s pointless, sort of stupid, and dorky. That’s a perfectly valid question. It has a lot of answers, most of which can be boiled down to what I said earlier: it’s fun to find hidden things. Think of it like a treasure hunt. Only without the treasure. Oh, some cache containers include trinkets or toys or other swag, but most don’t — and really, nobody goes geocaching with the idea of finding anything more valuable than the fun of finding it.

There’s one under this bridge.

So how does it work? You download an app, of course. That’s how everything is done these days. The app shows you the general location of caches and gives you some idea of what to look for — the approximate size of the container (most range in size from an ammo box to a teensy tube no larger than the tip of your finger), the difficulty of the terrain (on a scale of 1-5), the difficulty of finding it (again, 1-5), and maybe a hint. Maybe. The app will usually get you to within 10-15 feet of the cache. Then all you have to do is find it.

Yeah, one hidden here too.

It sounds easy. Sometimes it is. Like the one we found yesterday. The map showed us where it was at. All we had to do was park in the lot of some electrical company, hike a third of a mile over a field to a pair of boulders, nose around a bit, and there it was: a dark metal tube on the ground. Easy peasy lemon breezy.

1) Find it on a map.

2) hike to the location.

3) Find the damned thing. It’s right there in the middle of the photo. Honest.

But sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes the cache is disguised. Sometimes it’s a false electrical plate on an air conditioning unit. Sometimes it’s a hollow chunk of dead wood in the crook of an old tree. Sometimes it’s in an old bird’s nest or in a magnetic box painted the exact same color as the metal girder to which it’s attached. Sometimes it’s a tiny container inside a hole drilled into a bolt screwed into an old section of railroad track.

Seriously.

The thing is, you never know. The cache might be out in the open or it might be cleverly disguised. You let the app get you close, then you just start looking. The only thing you expect to find in a cache is a logbook — which is often just a rolled up piece of paper. You sign the log, date it, put it back in the cache, put the cache back where you found it, and…well, that’s it. That’s the whole enchilada. Oh, except for this: don’t let anybody see you doing it.

Folks not involved in geocaching are referred to as ‘muggles’ — and yeah, the term was snitched from Harry Potter. As in the PotterVerse you’re not supposed to let muggles see you engaged in that thing you’re doing. Partly because muggles will, out of innocent curiosity or malevolent intent, fuck with a cache. They might take it, move it, destroy it, throw it away. Or worse — they might all the police.

And one hidden here behind a flood control barrier, though we never found it.

And who could blame them? If you see somebody sidle up to a light pole in your supermarket parking lot, lift the cover of the base, and remove or insert an object of some sort, you’d probably be suspicious. A couple of guys skulking around the flood control barriers looks dodgy as fuck. They could be hiding drugs or planting an IED or cheerfully murdering homeless folks. So you’d be forgiven for calling the police.

Seriously. It’s happened. In Wetherby, England a waitress saw a man behaving suspiciously outside the restaurant.

He appeared to have a small plastic box in his hand and after fiddling with the container he bent down and hid it under a flower box standing on the pavement. He then walked off, talking to somebody on his phone.

She called the police, the police called the Army, the Army sent in the bomb squad with a robot to conduct a controlled explosion. There have been at least five geocaching bomb scares in the last few years. So yeah, when geocaching in urban/suburban you need to be somewhat discreet.

Okay, this is part of the reason we go geocaching.

But here’s the thing. It’s pointless, sort of stupid, dorky, and sometimes suspicious, but geocaching is fun. The brother and I used to get together and sort of lackadaisically noodle around the countryside, stopping at some point for food and beer. Geocaching allows us to lackadaisically noodle around the countryside, stopping at some point for food and beer, only now with a pointless and sort of stupid dorky purpose. We’ve only found about 40 caches, but we discovered a great BBQ place in the small town of Slater that serves a kick-ass modified Cuban sandwich and serves local craft beers. And a place in the small town of Norwalk that serves kick-ass egg rolls and serves local craft beers. And a place in the small town of Carlisle that serves a kick-ass mac & cheese made with some sort of spicy sausage and serves local craft beers.

Okay, maybe geocaching isn’t entirely pointless.

 

a mild defense of facebook

Facebook, I’m told, isn’t cool anymore. I’m not sure it ever was — but now, at this point in time, I’ve been assured by folks who have a more confident hand at the ‘this is cool’ wheel, Facebook is decidedly not cool.

Cool or not, Facebook is an integral part of my morning routine. Since I haven’t held a straight job since 2000 and since I have little native self-discipline, I rely on routines to make sure I get stuff done. Without routines I’d spend my entire day with a cat on my lap, researching stuff I don’t really need to know (seriously, how does a turtle pull its head into its shell–do the vertebrae collapse somehow, does its neck just curve a lot, what the hell is going on in there?), or entranced by the way the morning sunlight refracts off the sugar crystals on the top of the blueberry muffins, or indulging in the shame of politics (indictments of Jerome Corsi, yes please), or pointlessly unpacking all the elements of the most recent Doctor Who episode (what other sci-fi show would do such an intimate exploration of the Partition of India?).

Initiating my morning routine.

So routines (which are also not cool) are important to me, and Facebook is part of my morning routine, which is as follows:

  1. Check the perimeter (though c’mon, I’m living in an incredibly safe and boring suburb now, and the only thing I’m likely to discover when checking the perimeter is the weather) with the aid of the cat.
  2. Feed the cat her stink food.
  3. Make coffee.
  4. Read the news — general Google news headlines first, dipping into stories that interest me; Washington Post for fundamental news reporting; Daily Kos for the lefty take on events.
  5. Tell myself to read my email, look at my email subject headings, then usually ignore my email (unless it’s clearly hate mail, which I’ll generally read for some reason; today’s hate mail: “Are all you cunts ready for cw2? We are!” Which I probably shouldn’t have read, because now I feel I have to get ready for the Second American Civil War, and who has time for that?).
  6. Scroll through Facebook.

I should note that I don’t do Family Facebook. I keep my personal life separate from my online life, so I don’t ‘friend’ loved ones or family members (and I might as well confess that I’m really not at all interested to hear that somebody’s grandchild scored a goal at a soccer match over the weekend). Instead Facebook for me is about friends and art and politics, which may sound like three separate categories but in reality are generally all smooshed together.

Friends, art, and politics smooshed together through Panel Pulp.

What that means in practical terms is this: Facebook inserts serendipity and random weirdness into my morning. I like that. I like that I’ve become friendly and familiar with folks and I have no recollection at all how I came into contact with them. These are people who’ve come bouncing into my line of sight from some odd social angle and caught my attention in some pleasing or interesting way (and now that I say that, it occurs to me that the process is a lot like seeing the morning sunlight refracting off the sugar crystals on the blueberry muffin). It just happens and I’m lucky enough to notice.

The serendipity and random weirdness isn’t just how I’ve made friends on Facebook, it’s also an intrinsic and essential part of reason I keep this as part of my routine. People post the most unexpected and wonderful stuff on Facebook. I’m not talking about videos of amusing cats or goats playing balloons, though I often enjoy that stuff too. I’m talking about stuff for audiences that I didn’t even know existed. Like Panel Pulp (which is actually a Twitter account, but is often reposted on Facebook).

Another example: international marble racing. If not for my friend Young Jo, I’d have never encountered Jelle’s Marble Runs or seen these exciting qualifying races for the 2018 Sand Marble Race (I prefer the organic nature of sand marble racing over the more sophisticated manufactured marble racing tracks…but that’s just me; also, I’m inclined to be suspicious of Marbly McMarbleface).

Another bit of weird and random I love about Facebook is that I encounter folks who are open and unapologetic about their weirdness. So open, in fact, that they’re not even aware of how weird their weirdness is, and I find that completely endearing. I mean, who creates marble race tracks, records the races, keeps track of the stats of the individual marbles, and narrates the videos? Even weirder is the fact that these videos have an audience. I love that.

The most consistent thing that draws me to Facebook (aside from the politics) is that it exposes me to some really diverse facets of the arts. Bizarre sci-fi art, stark 1950s Japanese noir photography, beautiful original pen and ink art, strange and/or practical yarn art, and lots of personal photography. For example, this morning I saw this photograph by Larry Rose:

Larry Rose — West room corner.

I have no memory of how I became friends with Larry Rose. I know little about him as a person. But I know and enjoy his work. This wonderfully subtle photo kept me from doing the work I was supposed to be doing for maybe ten minutes. At least two different light sources, each operating at a different wavelength, creating strange but predictable shadows and colors. An antenna at an almost perfect 45 degree angle that creates a bit of visual tension against all the other horizontal and vertical lines. And that beautiful Borg Cube of a lampshade that seems to be floating in the corner. Without Facebook, I’d probably never have seen this photo.

Facebook isn’t cool. But there is cool stuff to be found there. There’s a chance I’d have learned about Burning the Clocks without Facebook, but probably not. And right now there’s an excellent chance that you’re wondering if Burning the Clocks is a band, or a movie, or who the hell knows what. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll click on the link and find out.

Is that cool? I kinda think so.

gibson got there first

William Gibson was there first. Of course he was. He almost always seems to get there first. I’m talking Pokemon Go, folks. Not the Pokemon part, but the Go part. The use of augmented reality for the enjoyment and/or education of…well, anybody.

In his 2007 novel Spook Country Gibson describes an art project referred to as ‘locative art’. Art that’s meaningfully tied to a specific location.

“Cartographic attributes of the invisible,” she said, lowering the bowl. “Spatially tagged hypermedia. The artist annotating every centimeter of a place, of every physical thing. Visible to all, on devices such as these.” She indicated Alberto’s phone, as if its swollen belly of silver-tape were gravid with an entire future.

Granted, what Gibson created in his head is a LOT more cool than Pokemon. His fictional locative artists created geo-located scenes depicting the deaths of celebrities — River Phoenix outside the Viper Room, Helmut Newton in the driveway of the Chateau Marmont. These scenes were invisible to anybody not using the tech, visible to those who were.

The concept of Pokemon Go is much the same — it’s not actually there, but it’s there to be seen. And in the case of Pokemon, there to be caught. I’m sure at some point Gibson will comment on Pokemon Go, but I wouldn’t even try to guess what he’ll think about it. It’s certainly not the sort of augmented reality he had in mind; he said he wanted locative art to be lowbrow, “almost like graffiti.” There’s nothing highbrow about Pokemon, but they are exceedingly commercial.

Gibson uses locative art as an example of the eversion of cyberspace. Turning cyberspace inside out. The ubiquity of cellular connectivity allows what used to be an activity located only in the “consensual hallucination” of the online world to filter into the physical world. In the novel, this sort of augmented reality artwork required a ‘visor’ and a phone. Niantic, the makers of Pokemon Go, have eliminated the visor. That means you — and anybody else — can now wander around your neighborhood and discover the shared hallucination of Pokemon lurking in the neighbor’s azaleas. Or on the sidewalk in front of a shop.

(photo by Kora Foto Morgana)

(photo by Kora Foto Morgana)

In 2007 Gibson, through one of his characters in Spook Country, says this:

“The most interesting ways of looking at the GPS grid, what it is, what we do with it, what we might be able to do with it, all seemed to be being put forward by artists. Artists or the military. That’s something that tends to happen with new technologies generally; the most interesting applications turn up on the battlefield on ir a gallery.”

Gibson left out gaming. Clever guy, Gibson, but not 100% prescient. The gaming industry sometimes seems to exist at the intersection of the military and art, and they’re quick to embrace new technologies.

Regardless of Pokemon Go’s long-term success or failure as a game, this mixing of the real and the virtual is very cool and has a lot of potential for creative work. I hope this sparks a lot more uses of augmented reality by the gaming industry, by artists, and maybe even writers. Why the hell not?

William Gibson. I declare.

somewhat true detective

“Yo, Greg, you should watch True Detective.” That’s what everybody kept telling me. “Great acting,” they said. “Lyrical cinematography, complex characters, clever plot,” they said, “all wrapped up in a realistic crime drama that takes place in the South. You’ll love it.”

So I watched it. The entire first season — eight hour-long episodes — over the last four weeks. And hey, they were mostly right. I did love it. The acting was terrific, just like folks told me (I swear, Matthew McConaughey never blinked once during the entire season), and the cinematography was artful. I suppose the characters could be seen as complex, but they’re pretty much right off the Stock Character–Complex Model shelf. We’ve all seen the Marty Hart character before, the hard-working detective who drinks too much and thinks too little. And the Rust Cohle character is basically Serpico, the Cerebral Cop, quoting big chunks of Thomas Ligotti, who is the High Lord of Anhedonia. It’s the quality of the acting that makes these characters interesting, not the characters themselves.

true detective tree2

The plot? Well, it was fairly predictable. Let’s face it, there’s nothing original about two detectives solving a nasty crime committed by powerful people who use their influence to hinder the investigation. That said, the plot was elevated by being beautifully structured and through the mostly masterful pacing. I say ‘mostly’ masterful pacing because there were a few scenes that were stretched out because apparently HBO requires a certain number of minutes devoted to young women showing their tits and ass. (Disclaimer: I’m not opposed to tits or ass so long as they’re organic to the story and don’t disrupt the pacing; but c’mon, the only reason they included some of the sex scenes — including the pointless image in the opening sequence where we see a woman’s naked ass above a pair of spiked stiletto heels — is to attract a young male audience.)

But a realistic crime drama? Well, no — but nobody really expects this sort of show to be realistic. Real life investigation can be pretty dull, after all. However, I did appreciate how the writer, Nic Pizzolatto, demonstrated that good detective work often involves a buttload of time sitting alone in a room sifting through old files and public records. That facet of investigation almost never makes it to the screen. It doesn’t quite make up for Pizzolatto’s wholesale lifting of dialog from Ligotti, but you have to give the guy props when he deserves them.

So yeah, True Detective was excellent television and I’m really glad folks recommended it to me. But nobody — not one person — told me that True Detective was a classic Southern Gothic story. And lawdy, that’s the heart of the whole goddamn thing.

true detective house

Some of you are probably saying “Southern Gothic? I have never heard of this Southern Gothic. Qu’est-ce que c’est Southern Gothic?” Allow me to ‘splain.

Southern Gothic is a highly atmospheric literary genre grounded in the decay — both physical and moral — of the Old South aristocracy. Southern Gothic (and I’m just going to start calling it SG on account of I’m lazy) stories usually involve the decline of Southern gentility into perversion, grotesquerie, and madness. The descendants of antebellum families that once owned plantations and slaves have been reduced to living in house trailers parked out in the country, and they’re working odd jobs. The slaves are gone, the plantations either sold to Yankees or fallen into dilapidation (or worse, turned into tourist venues). The cotton fields have been plowed under, replaced by strip malls and big box stores.

The characters in SG stories struggle to understand the world around them and find some way to fit their lives into modern society. Drug addition, alcoholism, confused sexuality, sexual paraphilia, mental and physical deformities, religious depravity or fanaticism, poverty, alienation, violence, the supernatural, illegitimacy — tie all that up with a bow of futile and pointless family pride and you’ve got yourself a classic SG story.

true-detective-episode-2

That sort of moral and spiritual degradation isn’t unique to the Southern Gothic genre; literature and film are full of examples of the moral corruption of European aristocrats. We’re talking everything from Count Dracula to the Marquis de Sade to Charles II of England. It’s not just power that corrupts — it’s also unquestioned privilege. Privilege allowed folks to whip and/or rape the young village boys and girls without any fear of consequence. Society can take that privilege away, but the desire to continue whipping and raping doesn’t necessarily go with it. That means the unwholesome behavior has to become more secretive. That’s been universally true. What makes the corruption of SG stories unique, I think, is its relationship to heat and defeat.

Heat is debilitating. It reveals itself through sweat, and sweat lubricates Southern Gothic stories. Sweat, not perspiration. In SG literature, sweat suggests either labor or animal lust. It suggests either being out in the field doing a job — which indicates a lower social status — or you’re driven by a sexual desire so strong that you ignore the fact that it’s just too damned hot to fuck. Either way, sweat suggests you’re not the master of your own behavior. All the decent, privileged people, after all, are sitting on the porch, sipping something cool and fanning themselves. They may perspire, but they do not sweat.

true detective detectives

In True Detective, we see all the main characters sweating — all but the Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle, who is never seen outside an air-conditioned building. He’s metaphorically still sitting on the porch, watching the lower classes laboring away. Except, of course, when he puts on a Mardi Gras masque and works up a sweat doing something really horrific to young girls. (We never actually see what he does; all we know is that it makes hardened law enforcement types scream when they see it.)

But more than the Southern heat, it’s Southern defeat that really counts. Yeah, we’re talking about the American Civil War again. We’re talking about the cultural resentment at the loss of status, property, income, and privilege. Loss — that’s really the wrong term. In SG stories characters don’t feel they lost their former status; they feel it was taken from them — stolen from them — and that sparks a deep, underlying current of bitterness.

In True Detective we see echoes of that bitterness mostly in the character of Errol Childress — the chubby, scarred, perpetually sweaty pervert who is descended from an illegitimate branch of the Tuttle family tree. He’s not only been deprived of the privilege his ancestors enjoyed, he’s even deprived of their name. At one point, the two detectives who are investigating Cohle happen across Childress and ask directions. They drive off while he’s still speaking — an insult he’s able to shrug off because, as he says, “My family’s been here a long time.”

true detective childress

There’s another thing we see a lot in Southern Gothic stories: symbolism. At the beginning of the series and very near the end (and periodically throughout), we see an old, gnarled tree standing alone in a corn field. The tree looks ancient, like it’s been there forever; its roots are deep in the land. The field, on the other hand, is relatively new and the crops are planted around the tree. The depravity of the Tuttle/Childress clan has been around a long time; it’s anchored to the land and it’s still here despite recent changes of society. Society, in fact, has shaped itself around the Tuttles, and left them largely undisturbed (while the Childress family has been left in a sort of socio-cultural backwater). The Tuttle/Childress family tree has many branches, and branches show up all over the show as bizarre clues and as set decorations. The symbolism is obvious, but not overwhelming.

There are lots of flaws and problems with True Detective. For example, it never bothers to explain the references to The King in Yellow or Carcosa (both of which come from classic gothic horror stories) or their significance in the murders committed by Childress. And then there’s this: what’s the story purpose of Cohle having visual hallucinations? They’re almost completely ignored except in the first and last episodes, and I can’t see how they contribute in any material way to either the plot or the character development.

true detective tree

But the flaws and problems are, I think, minor when compared to the overall success of the show (and I’m talking about artistic success, not commercial success). True Detective was an absolute pleasure to watch. But dammit, it’s not really a detective story. It’s Southern Gothic, baby, right down to its depraved heart.

i kinda don’t hate facebook

Yeah, Facebook. You hate it. Everybody hates it. It’s a timesink, an annoying distraction, a bog of pointless announcements and idiotic quizzes, a morass of maudlin appeals for support from people you barely know (or don’t know at all), a fixed point attractor for every cute cat video ever made (and usually made badly), a wasteland of recipes you’ll never make and articles you’ll never read. Facebook is an utter and complete waste of bandwidth. Everybody agrees. I agree as well.

Except I don’t. Not really. Oh, I complain about Facebook, but the fact is I rather enjoy it. Every day — every single goddamned day — there are at least half a dozen different posts on Facebook that I find worthwhile. Or more than worthwhile. I find posts that make me think, that connect me to ideas and places and people and things I find fascinating, that give me information I want or need, that amuse me or delight me. And yes, yes of course, there are lots of posts that annoy the hell out of me. Sentimental pap, or faux inspirational quotations, or stupid hateful stuff about Obama, or stuff about…I don’t know…cars. Or basketball. But every single day, for me the good stuff on Facebook outweighs the annoying stuff.

For example, this morning on Facebook an Irish photographer, John Baucher, alerted me to the work of an Arizona-born artist (David Emitt Adams) who uses the wet-plate collodion process to create powerful  and photographs of the desert on old discarded tin cans found in the desert. It’s the perfect melding of subject and medium, as well as a profound statement about the effect of humankind on the environment. Adams says,

“I have never known this landscape without the forgotten debris of urban sprawl. Today, the notion of land untouched by the hand of man is so foreign it might as well be make-believe.”

David Emitt Adams

 

And this morning on Facebook, Barış Kılıçbay, a Turkish scholar, shared a short video edited by Jacob Swinney, in which the first and final frames of several films are shown side-by-side. It sounds simple and obvious, but it’s actually surprisingly sophisticated and compelling. It offers some real insight into how a narrative is — or should be — deliberately structured.

 

And this morning on Facebook the Des Moines Bike Collective posted a video about the Idaho Stop and showed me a photograph of an 83-year-old woman who’d stopped by the shop for help fixing a chain on her bike. The collective regularly posts information about cycling and how various urban areas are working to make cycling safer and more convenient. They also frequently feature local folks who are doing cool bike-related stuff.

bike collective - janet

 

And just now on Facebook, British science blogger Elise Andrew (who runs the brilliant I Fucking Love Science page) posted a link to an interactive exercise in speculative zombie epidemiology. By inputting a couple of variables (such as the kill-to-bite ratio and zombie velocity) and picking a location for Zombie Patient Zero to appear, you can follow the pattern and rate of a zombie epidemic in the U.S.

That dark area in the Midwest? That shows how in two weeks, a single zombie in Des Moines capable of walking less than one mile per hour and infecting 85% of the people it bit would have spread the infection far and fast enough to envelope both Minneapolis and Chicago. Who wouldn’t want to know that?

zombie infection rate

 

I don’t any of these people, really. I’ve never met John Baucher, though we occasionally correspond and we communicate frequently on Facebook. I have no idea how I came to know Barış Kılıçbay — through a friend, or a friend of a friend. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that our small interactions on Facebook have occasionally made my day more interesting. I’m not a member of the Des Moines Bike Collective, but I know they’re a force of good in the community and two or three times a week they inform me about something bicycle-ish I’d otherwise never learn. And I only know Elise Andrew through IFLS, but she’s expanded my understanding in dozens of science-related fields.

My point, if you can call it that, is that although Facebook really is horrible, it’s also really pretty terrific. If you like zombies. And bikes. And movies. And wet collodion tin can photography.

corn cribs, beer caves, kids on fire, taxi-leaping

I like a Sunday newspaper. Any local Sunday newspaper. I’m talking about an actual newspaper. A physical, hold-it-in-your-hand, lay-it-on-the-table. turn-the-page newspaper. There’s something uniquely pleasurable about the weight and heft of a Sunday paper.  Every other day of the week I’ll read the news online; I’ll weave my way through a couple dozen different news sources, national and international. But on Sundays, I go traditional.

It’s not entirely the physicality of the local newspaper that draws me. It’s the localness of the news. Since the Des Moines Register is Iowa’s only statewide newspaper, they have local stories from all over the state. Events that are important and/or meaningful to people who live in those communities. Here are some examples (these are all actual headlines and ledes from the first section of the newspaper):

Corncrib-Gazebo gets on neighbors’ nerves
Some residents of Carroll are annoyed when they look into a neighbor’s backyard and see a corncrib that’s been turned into a gazebo.

A neighbor said the gazebo ‘would look nice on an acreage or a farm, but just doesn’t fit the character of the subdivision.’ So he started a petition to have the gazebo removed. The city, however, informed him that the corncrib met municipal building and zoning codes since ‘it’s being used for outdoor entertainment, not to store or dry corn.’ Another neighbor stated the corncrib-gazebo was more attractive “than junk cars or an old boat.”

Better than junk cars or an old boat.

Better than junk cars or an old boat.

Or, as Buckminster Fuller said:

Let architects sing of aesthetics that bring
Rich clients in hordes to their knees.
Just give me a home, in a great circle dome,
Where stresses and strains are at ease.

And then there was this:

More investigation ordered of beer caves
More investigation has been ordered for the 150-year old beer caves recently rediscovered under Interstate Highway 380.

That’s right, beer caves. During the summer, a routine inspection of a highway bridge revealed a small sinkhole nearby. An examination suggested there might be a couple of caves below the highway. Some geologists were called in. Using some sort of imaging device, they found at least 11 caves, and maybe as many as 14. The caves turned out to be storage for the Christian Magnus Eagle Brewery and Bottling Works. Back in the 1850s a pair of German immigrants established the brewery, and at one point were producing around 25,000 bottles of 4.5% beer annually. The brewery was built by Cedar Lake, and during the winter months the brewery workers harvested ice from the lake, which they put in the beer caves where the beer was stored.

Christian Magnus Eagle Brewery and Bottle Works (circa 1870)

Christian Magnus Eagle Brewery and Bottle Works (circa 1870)

The brewery was shut down during Prohibition, and then demolished in 1937. People forgot about the caves, and eventually a highway was built over the area. After the discovery of the caves, the Office of the State Archaeologist was called in to explore them. An archaeologist who went into the caves described them as “impossibly dangerous.” After fifteen minutes in the caves, he returned to the surface with a few photographs. The caves will most likely be filled in to stabilize the highway and bridge.

Beer cave

One of the many beer caves hidden below the highway

In non-beer-related news:

Man catches fire, gets help
Dave Allison heard a boom inside his business’s building. “Then I saw this young kid rolling out on fire.”

Allison said “I just did what anybody would do.” And what, you ask, would anybody do when faced with a kid rolling out on fire? “I took off my coat and went over there and smothered the flames.” Obviously. Who was the kid? What caused the fire? Who knows? But the kid caught on fire and he got help. What more would you want to know? Happily, Allison did not take photos of the flaming kid before helping him. Not every news story has photographs.

Not every story in the first section of the Sunday newspaper was local. The Des Moines Register recognizes that important news takes place outside of Iowa. Which accounts for this (presumably beer-related) story:

Nebraska fan hurt after hurdling Wisconsin taxi
A Nebraska football fan is nursing an injured face after he tried to hurdle a taxi early Saturday.

So the headline is misleading. The Nebraska fan did NOT actually hurdle the taxi. He only made the attempt. I declare, modern journalism is in a sad state. Still, it’s a story worth reporting.

Mr. Bryce Consbruck, 22 years old and apparently a fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, was in Madison, Wisconsin to watch his team play against the Wisconsin Badgers. Seriously. Cornhuskers and Badgers are the actual names of two college football teams. At any rate, young Mr. Consbruck decided, at around two o’clock in the morning, to…well, let’s read the newspaper account:

[H]e ran into traffic and tried to leap over the taxi. He missed and hurt his face.

Madison police described Consbruck as “intoxicated.” Quelle surprise! When the police officers spoke to Consbruck, he “responded with a profanity-laced statement expressing his hope that the Cornhuskers would defeat the Badgers.” He also apparently promised not to attempt any taxi-leaping in the future.

Consbruck was cited for (and I swear I am not making this up) Sudden Pedestrian Movement. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment. Also? The Badgers beat the Cornhuskers 59-24, thereby completely ruining young Mr. Consbruck’s weekend.

There you have it. All the news that’s fit to print. I knew you’d want to know.