Monday, October 31, 2005

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
It snowed! It snowed! It snowed a little bit! Also, below the fold, the incumbent mayor, who is the only mayoral candidate to appear on November 8's ballot, will step down if elected, creating a complicated legal predicament. Did you see that snow?

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All Hallow's Eve - Spooky Spots

Brian
It's that time of year again, as we approach the hour when all sorts of creepy ghouls come out to demand treats and threaten to devour the souls of those who would deny them. No, I'm not talking about Election Day. It's Halloween! In honor of America's only borderline-Satan-worshipping holiday, Forbes has compiled a list of the world's creepiest places. Wouldn't you know it?--the list features Philadelphia's own Mutter Museum:
The Mutter Museum may not be haunted, but there are plenty of items inside to make tingles go down your spine. The museum is dedicated to showcasing disease and injuries, and general medical abnormalities. There are over 20,000 strange items, ranging from specimens and photographs of Civil War injuries, to the remains of Siamese twins Chang and Eng. Visitors can also see the skeleton of a midget, monkey organs and a 27-foot long colon.

Link. Also, dude, "midget" is not the preferred nomenclature. The list also includes the Paris catacombs,
Ireland's Charleveille Castle, and Salem, Massachusetts, so you can see that it's not entirely Amero-centric. Instead, it's appropriately Euro-Amero-centric, because I can't think of any place in the world outside the United State or Europe that would be spooky.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Killing the Architect and Marrying the Building

Brian

Slate's Witold Rybczynski reviews Deyan Sudjic's book, The Edifice Complex, about the relationship between starchitects and the corporations that commission them to build sweet headquarters and project themselves as major corporate players:
The book is a catalog of well-known and obscure examples of how presidents and prime ministers, CEOs and despots, millionaires and mayors, have exploited architecture. Along the way Sudjic, a British architectural critic who writes for the Observer, takes on such examples of architectural self-promotion as American presidential libraries, Gianni Agnelli's art gallery (designed by Renzo Piano), and Rem Koolhaas' commission for Chinese state television. All underline the fact that, as the author observes, "Architecture defines a regime, but it is never the architect who frames the meaning of the definition."

But, Rybczynski points out, Sudjic misses out on "Parkinson's Law," which states that, when someone in a position of power builds an awesome structure as a self-tribute, it's an indication that that someone is on their way to a different position--prone:
St. Peter's in Rome was built by popes who were enmeshed in worldly affairs and had lost much of their moral authority; Louis XIV built his palace at Versailles several decades after his great military triumphs and at a time when his power was in decline; exactly one year after the Viceroy of India moved into his new imperial capital of New Delhi, the Indian Congress demanded independence. One can add more. When CBS built "Black Rock," its imposing black granite headquarters in Manhattan, Edward R. Murrow was gone and infotainment was just around the corner. Pan American Airways built its huge headquarters on Park Avenue long after it pioneered transoceanic air travel, but not so long before it ceased operations.

So, contrary to Sudjic's claim, the rich and powerful don't shape the world. They build what are, very often, glorious tombstones. Neither Microsoft nor Google has erected a "world-class" headquarters on Madison Avenue yet; when they do, watch out.


Link. This all makes me think of the direction Philadelphia is heading. As I walk through the streets of my fair city, my bosom has been known to swell with the pride of living here at a time with so much new skyscraper construction. The Cira Centre, pictured above, is West Philly's latest and first skyscraper and the home of the firm that may be my employer next summer and beyond. Lucky for them, Parkinson's Law doesn't apply: they didn't have the edifice built, but just moved there. Elsewhere in the city, Comcast is constructing a massive erection known as--dig this--the Comcast Center, which upon completion will be the tallest building in the state by thirty feet. If Rybczynski is right, this does not bode well for cable.

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Photo credits: Cira Centre # 18 by Many Cats 4 Me, acquired via Creative Commons license.

Threaten Your Political Enemies with Bogus Curses for Fun and Profit

Brian

A group from Bury, England calling themselves The Knights of St Edmund are pretty miffed at some property developers in their hometown, so they've done what any grassroots movement worth its salt would do--they've summoned a curse:
"The curse of St Edmund and St Edmund's reputation for extremely supernatural violence against those who threaten his liberty, abbey, town or shrine, was familiar to everyone in medieval England.

"On St Edmund's day November 20, a formal and public cursing ceremony will take place at Bury to once again summon the avenging saint and dread king to punish his 21st century enemies," the website states.

But those who don't believe in maledictions even when they're real certainly don't believe in this made-up one:
The Knights of St Edmund claim victims of the curse of St Edmund have suffered madness, blindness, syphilis and being eaten alive inside out by worms.

But town historian Clive Paine said: "They have no historical authenticity – there is no such thing as the curse of St Edmund."

Cllr Stefan Oliver, St Edmundsbury Mayor, said: "St Edmund was noted for his wisdom and piety. For any group of people to suggest that they are calling down his curses is totally at odds with the character of the man. "

Link (via The Anomalist). I think the real problem here is that the English are novices at the maneuver we Americans know all too well as "negative campaigning." A red-blooded American politician, threatened by an antagonistic interest group wielding a fabricated hex, would quickly improvise a doubly potent counter-spell. After all, our leaders are no strangers to cursing.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Other Places for You to Go

Brian
Dear Those of You Who Keep Track of Such Things,

I've added a couple new links to the old Blogroll in the right margin. Nanobound is a businessy, sciency nanotech blog by some dude obsessed with nanotechnology. Overheard in Law School is just like Overheard in New York, but in Law School, and not necessarily in New York.

-TGR

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More Ebu Gogoes

Brian
Those of you who have followed the ongoing battle over H. floresiensis, the recently discovered hominid who matched up quite well with locals' legends of little people called Ebu Gogo, will be delighted to learn that the remains of eight more of the little fellows have been found in this cave:

The new discoveries include missing parts of the old skeleton - designated LB1 after the caved dig site at Liang Bua - and a collection of other bones, such as jaw and cranial fragments, a vertebra, arm and leg bones, toes and fingers.
. . . .
The researchers say they are now more convinced than ever that Homo floresiensis represents a distinct species and not some diseased individual of modern human (Homo sapiens) as some sceptics have suggested.

Link. Now the only thing that remains is for me to travel to Flores, collect a surviving specimen, and turn it into the star attraction in The Good Reverend's Travelling Wonder-Show.

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Perfectly Cromulent Words

Brian
Just as mapmakers have been inserting phantom streets and other elements into their work for years to aid in detecting map ripper-offers, dictionaries and encyclopedias often include fake entries. Get caught with such an entry in your competing dictionary, and you've got some pretty compelling evidence of copyright infringement. The New Oxford American Dictionary is the latest to make clear that it resorts to such shenanigans, monkeyshines and flimfalm to flummox its would-be copiers:

[W]hen word leaked out that the recently published second edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary contains a made-up word that starts with the letter “e,” an independent investigator set himself the task of sifting through NOAD’s thirty-one hundred and twenty-eight “e” entries in search of the phony.
. . . .

Six potential [fraud]s emerged. They were:

earth loop—n. Electrical British term for GROUND LOOP.
EGD—n. a technology or system that integrates a computer display with a pair of eyeglasses . . . abbreviation of eyeglass display.
electrofish—v. [trans.] fish (a stretch of water) using electrocution or a weak electric field.
ELSS—abbr. extravehicular life support system.
esquivalience—n. the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities . . . late 19th cent.: perhaps from French esquiver, “dodge, slink away.”
eurocreep—n. informal the gradual acceptance of the euro in European Union countries that have not yet officially adopted it as their national currency.

Link. The smart money, apparently, is on "esquivalience." Next time, rather than relying on a madman, I think Oxford might want to consult this list of neologisms from The Simpsons, including such favorites as "embiggens," "saxomophone," and "steamed hams."

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You Are Incendiary, My Solitary Infatuation

Brian
The best part of this video of "two Chinese students" in Rockets jerseys Ashleeing their hearts out to the Backstreet Boys is their roommate in the background, who just goes about playing his first-person shooter game as if this is their daily routine.



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Monday, October 24, 2005

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
Just when you think you've got this whole elementary school parking lot expansion project sewn up, somebody comes along and fouls everything up.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Top Forty Magazines

Brian

The American Society of Magazine Editors met last week to look at pretty pictures and vote on how good they were. That's how they came up with the Top Forty Magazine Covers of the last forty years. Pictured above, numbers three and seven.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
Dogs don't even attempt to bite man, but they do bark, and that's news to us.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bagged Me a Homer

Brian
I never thought I'd say this, but I've got to hand it to Ashlee Simpson. She did just what you want to do when you fall off your bike: get right back on. I still think her riding is crappy though. But then, I'm prejudiced against people whose first names end in a double-e.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

TheGoodReverend's Tour of Philly

Brian

Philadelphia is home to many strange traditions, but one of the strangest has to be The Mummers' Parade. Every New Years Day, bands of people dressed in outlandish sequin-and-feather getups that took a year to construct march down Broad Street through South Philly, dancing, playing instruments, and generally making merry. There are thousands of people who do this, most of whom, I kid you not, are members of gentlemen's clubs bound together for this express purpose. Nowhere besides South Philly, asylum to cheesesteaks and post-riches Rocky, has the right mix of immigrants from Sweden, Ireland, England, Germany, Poland, and Italy, as well as African-Americans, to make this all seem logical.

On one peculiar South Philly corner, 2nd and Washington to be precise, is a museum dedicated to comummerating the annual ritual year-round. The Mummers Museum, a brown masonry box with a movie-palace-like art deco spire, was built, and apparently last updated, in 1976. I'm not joking: one plaque has mayor Frank Rizzo's tenure lasting 1972-present. It costs $3.50 to get in, and if you go at 12:30 on a Saturday, you might be the first customer all day. The lady at the desk wanted to make sure that we weren't looking for the Mutter Museum, as most are, and offered to show us "the video" if we really wanted it. The museum is full of the real costumes used in past parades, as well as interactive exhibits detailing the history of the parade, which began as a group of drunk guys firing guns. Some of the exhibits remain unbroken: by pressing a series of buttons, you can hear the sound of most of the pieces in an authentic Mummers String Band.

It's probably fair to say the museum is a bit like the lovechild of It's a Small World and the exhibit hall at the county fair, if it were born with fetal alcohol syndrome--but I mean that in a good way.

Previously on TheGoodReverend's Tour of Philly . . .

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Two Can Play at This Game

Brian
The major catastrophes of the early 21st Century--9/11, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and now Hurricane Katrina--have made us all a little more conscientious in regards to charitable giving, and no group has been more visible in its support than celebrities. Brian "Lyin' in Bed Just Like I Did" Wilson came up with a great and novel idea a couple weeks ago--incentivise people to give by not only matching their donations, but also personally calling to thank them. From Sept. 22-Oct. 1, whenever someone donated $100 or more to B. Wil's specially set-up Paypal account, they'd receive a personal phonecall from the greatest non-themepark-inhabiting recluse in pop.

Well, this may come as a newsflash to some of you, but I lack the imagination, creativity, and resources of the genius behind Pet Sounds. However, I still want to do something nice. So, I'm going to rip off Brian Wilson. I've set up a Paypal account, and from now through the end of 2005, whenever you donate $20 to it, I'll whisk the money straight to Habitat for Humanity. I can't afford to match your donations, but I will pick up the Paypal fees myself, and you will receive a call from TheGoodReverend. You can talk to me, ask me a question, yell at me--whatever you want.

Just send $20 or more to thegoodreverendblog at hotmail dot com, and be sure to include the following information in the note: your name, your phone number, your email address, and some times when you'd like to be called. The more flexible you are, the more likely I'll be able to get ahold of you. If I can't reach you, I'll send you an email. I'm dead serious, I promise. If only 10,501 of you do this, we'll beat Brian Wilson.

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Rodents of Unusual Size?

Brian
Reuters has given me one less thing to worry about:
Quicksand is not the bottomless pit portrayed in Hollywood films that sucks in unsuspecting victims and swallows them whole.

It is true the more people struggle, the deeper they will sink into the soupy mixture[,] but its buoyancy makes it impossible to be completely submerged, scientists said on Wednesday.
. . . .

They also calculated the amount of force necessary to get a trapped foot out -- and found it was the equivalent needed to lift a medium-sized car. Their findings are reported in the science journal Nature.

If someone falls into quicksand they begin to sink and the sand packs densely around the feet, forming a type of trap. In films people sinking in quicksand usually grab on to an overhanging tree branch or are pulled out just as they are about to disappear under the mucky surface.


Link. Okay, so if you get stuck in quicksand, you're not going to drown, but it is going to be really hard to pull yourself out.

Just remember the words of Homer Simpson: "First I'll reach in and pull out my legs. Then I'll pull out my arms with my face."

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Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
Looks like the Susquehanna County Courthouse will be able to preserve those pre-1920 records after all!

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Chinua Achebe Despite that Fact Remains Quite Sexual

Brian

Well, the Foreign Policy / Prospect list of the world's 100 top active intellectuals is out, and, while it includes Paul Krugman, Fareed Zakaria, the Pope, al-Sistani, and Lawrence Summers, once again I'm noticably missing.

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