Posted in No Politics Friday on November 27th, 2015 by Ed

Growing up in Illinois and also living in Indiana for seven years as a young adult I became familiar with the annual controversy surrounding Indiana's historical refusal to adopt Daylight Savings Time. In 2005 the state legislature finally required all counties in the state to observe DST when it was agreed that it was ridiculous to have three different time rules in place in one state. There were (and still are) 12 counties on Central Time (border counties that are part of the Louisville and Chicago metro areas, both of which are Central), a bunch of counties on Eastern time without observing DST, and the remainder of counties on Eastern time with DST. It was really stupid. Equally stupid were many of the reactions to the change. People made dire predictions about the consequences and of course when the appointed day arrived in 2006 everyone just changed their clocks and instantly forgot about it in favor of, you know, going about their day.

Changing to Daylight Savings requires very little. Imagine the clustercuss it would create if we had to make a major change like, say, switching the side of the road on which we drive. Wouldn't that be crazy?

Sweden did it. In 1967. So we can just ask them.

Brief background. In 1960 Sweden realized that there were a number of economic disadvantages with being the only continental European country with shared land borders that drove on the left. Norway and Finland, neighbors with which it shares borders, drove on the right. Furthermore since cars in Sweden were left hand drive, passing on two lane roads from the left lane was basically an act of blind faith and courage, an example of whatever "Hold my beer" is in Swedish. Most traffic systems observe the "head in the middle" rule so the driver has the best view of the oncoming traffic. That's why the left-lane driving British have their steering wheels on the right hand side and…well, almost the whole rest of the world has the opposite. I've driven without the Head-Middle rule in the US Virgin Islands, where cars have American left-hand drive but British left-lane driving, and beyond the simple unfamiliarity I can attest that it is not a great way to navigate narrow, winding roads.

In 1962 Sweden had a referendum in which switching to right-lane driving went down in flames, with nearly 90% of the public opposed. People dislike change and wildly underestimate their ability to get accustomed to something like this so public reluctance was not surprising. In a moment of Good Government 101, though, the Swedish legislature passed a law anyway, doing the right thing and disregarding the fact that it angered voters in the short run. They were also wise enough to legislate a long period of time – two full years – to prepare Swedes and the nation's physical infrastructure for the change. The date chosen was September 3, 1967 for Högertrafikomläggningen ("right hand traffic diversion"). That doesn't exactly lend itself to marketing so it was publicized as Dagen H ("H Day") which sounds much better and also had a goddamn great logo:


Overnight on Sept. 2, a Saturday evening, all road traffic in the nation was halted around 4:30 AM and required to resume in the right lane at 5:00. Big cities had longer shutdowns while workers hurriedly changed signage and repainted intersections, yet even Stockholm finished its changes in less than eight hours. For the most part, a few images of confusion aside, Swedes appear to have handled it without much consternation. Accidents actually went down, albeit briefly before returning to normal levels as more and more drivers who had avoided the roads out of fear resumed their normal driving habits.

As part of publicizing the change the government gave out thousands of pairs of gloves with a red left and green right to remind drivers of the correct traffic pattern, but it turned out that people didn't need all that much reminding. Once the change was made drivers appear to have taken to it quickly, no doubt aided by the two years of reminders and preparation. I guess we're more adaptable than we expect. Well, at least the Swedish are. I'm not sure Americans could handle something like this. In fact looking at the way we handle any kind of social, economic, or political change I'm confident that we couldn't. Then again we might surprise ourselves.

But probably not.


Posted in No Politics Friday on November 20th, 2015 by Ed

So after a million or so Facebook users saw this post I got a bit of a surge of popularity on that ubiquitous social networking platform. One of the inviolable laws of the internet is that increased exposure brings trolls. Lots of trolls. And I've learned very quickly that motivated trolls are a big problem in that format.

To be brief, if someone reports your post on Facebook you get blocked from posting for something like 72 hours. As best I can tell there is no human involvement. Someone reports your post, a text recognition algorithm or something equally insipid "reviews" it and they send you an automated message banning you for some apparently randomly chosen amount of time. This would not be so frustrating except that Facebook literally has no customer support. I don't mean they have bad support; they have none. There is no chat, no email address, no phone number, nothing. They have a Help Center online and a few forms that, once filled out, result in a terribly helpful canned "Thank you for your feedback, we will continually improve our product" message.

It dawned on me that "customer service" may exist at Facebook, but we would never know. We're Users. The advertisers and the data harvesting industry are its customers. They probably have a hotline with real, helpful humans on the other end. For its billion users there is no interaction available whatsoever. Go ahead and Google it; you can find just about anything on the internet. Anything except a person who has successfully managed to contact Facebook by phone or even by email.

If I were more than a hobbyist – say I was a cartoonist or comedian and I relied on FB as an integral part of my means of supporting myself financially – this would be a killer. I don't understand how they manage to get away with having no support staff of any kind (although the fact that I've been on FB for about seven years and this is the first time I've ever had any need to contact them suggests that they're just playing the odds well).

It's not going to take any money out of my pocket, luckily. But regardless, that's why there won't be any updates there for a few days. If I manage to find the center of the Matrix I'll let you know.


Posted in No Politics Friday on October 29th, 2015 by Ed

As I was rushing home from work to change, pack, and start rushing to the airport to catch a flight I thought, as I often do in these situations, how recent a development in human history the concept of punctuality is. Don't worry, this isn't going to get metaphysical. I mean actual time. On a clock. The idea that the time where I am standing is the same as the time at my destination is more recent than most people imagine. Clocks have been around for ages, of course, and sundials even longer. The idea of coordinating time from place to place, though, is 132 years old. In the grand scheme of things, that isn't much. With Daylight Savings upon us this weekend it seems an appropriate time to tell one of my favorite tales.

Prior to 1883 every local jurisdiction in the United States essentially kept its own time. They were at first widely divergent, and with 19th Century developments like railroads and the telegraph they diverged less but still bore only an approximate relationship from place to place. In 1880, for example, when it was midnight in New York it was 11:55 in Philadelphia, 11:47 in Washington D.C., and 11:38 in Buffalo. This disparity had two sources. One, each locality set noon at the point at which the sun was at its highest at that specific spot on the Earth, meaning that noon was not the same at any two points. Second and more importantly, the means of keeping time and communicating among different places to coordinate simply weren't that precise.

The biggest complainants about this system, predictably, were railroads and telegraph companies. A train could arrive in St. Louis with the conductor showing official railroad time of noon while everyone in St. Louis was under the impression that it was, say, 12:45. To make things worse, each railroad was setting its own time as were other entities like banks, Western Union, city governments, churches, and so on. In short an invitation to meet someone at noon on Oct. 1 would guarantee that all parties involved would be there at something approximating noon. You had to be prepared to wait around, not to tap your watch at 12:04 and say "That's it, I'm out of here."

Time Zones were the most logical solution to the problem, and I think most people would be surprised to know that before a bunch of railroad magnates met in Chicago in 1883 to adopt a universal standard time, they not only didn't exist but were considered a crackpot idea on par with alchemy or letting women vote. After debating proposals to divide the US into either four or five time zones they ultimately adopted the Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific time system we use today (with Atlantic time for the extreme eastern parts of Canada). A railroad baron named William Allen deserves the credit for the system adopted, although as early as 1870 an academic named Charles Dowd was advocating for something similar.

The big day on which every clock would move forward or backward to reflect the new temporal reality was Sunday, November 18, 1883. All United States and Canadian railroads would, on a telegraph signal from the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh at exactly noon, coordinate accordingly. Around the country people reacted with the kind of calmness with which Americans have always greeted useful changes.

No I'm just kidding, people lost their shit. Fanned by histrionic newspaper editorials and whispers of sinister forces motivating the change (let's say, I don't know, Jews) the natural tendency of our nation to resist any and all change was on full display. The power and wealth of the railroads won out in the end though. Crowds gathered around public clocks in city squares and railroad stations to see man's foolhardy attempt to control nature in the flesh. At the appointed moment, clock hands were wound a few inches forward or backward. I wasn't there, but I'm going to assume that at this point everyone made that "Is that it? I stood outside for two hours for that?" face that is equal parts embarrassment and disappointment. Nothing could be less exciting than watching the adjustment of a clock, and I suspect that at least a few people learned a valuable lesson that day about getting caught up in hysteria.

But probably not.


Posted in No Politics Friday on October 23rd, 2015 by Ed

When I visited Alaska in June one of the highlights of my trip was seeing a number of large whales while visiting Seward on the Kenai peninsula. It was a total Tourist Moment and I was OK with that. The fact that humans can see whales at all today is something of a miracle; only luck and good timing allowed most of the major species to make it out of the 19th Century without being hunted to extinction.

Why was killing whales so profitable? It turns out that people don't like sitting around in the pitch dark and prefer to have their homes and community spaces lit. Despite what we might imagine, candles played a minor role in lighting homes and certainly weren't used for things like street lighting. Turn off every electrical device in your home and light a couple candles; try reading something at night this way. It doesn't work terribly well, does it? Whale oil was a substantial step up, offering the advantage not only of a brighter, steadier light but one that could be burned indoors without marking everything in the home with soot or slowly poisoning the inhabitants. With natural gas uncommon until the era of the automobile, whale oil was the gold standard. So in the 19th Century we killed a lot of whales. Like. Almost all of them. So that we could light lamps at night.

People who like animals should mark their calendars with the birthdate of a Canadian geologist named Abraham Gesner (May 2) who in 1846 developed a process to distill a liquid fuel from low-grade coal. It was cheap as hell to produce and burned even steadier and brighter than whale oil. For reasons unknown he named it "Kerosene", and every whale on the planet breached the surface simultaneously to say "THANKS ABE!" Whaling continued but declined.

The problem remained, however, of providing a truly bright light. Until electricity and suitable light bulbs were developed it was hard to produce anything more than, well…if you've ever used a gas lantern you know what you're dealing with. It's nice. It's better than a candle. But it's not really bright bright. Actually, brighter artificial lights could be produced but only via processes that were dangerous, difficult, expensive, or all three. The most popular was invented in 1820 by a Briton named, I shit you not, Goldsworthy Gurney and involved a small flame fed by oxygen and hydrogen directed at a lump of Calcium Oxide, aka quicklime or simply lime. Commonly called Drummond Lights (after an early developer of the process) or calcium lights, they were staggeringly bright (even by modern, electrified standards) but had to be attended at all times. They burned extremely hot and, you know, started a ton of fires. However, in applications in which they could be monitored they were quite popular. Lighthouses, for example, used them to great effect.

Another popular application was in theaters, where an extremely bright light was useful, when directed properly, in drawing attention to the featured performer on stage. And that is why to this day celebrities and other people on the receiving end of intense media attention are said to be "in the limelight."

And now you know that. It's a whale of an anecdote.



Posted in No Politics Friday on October 8th, 2015 by Ed

I'm not the most optimistic person. In fact I might be in the running for the least optimistic and most cynical. I've never bought into the persistent American belief that technology will solve all of our problems if only we wait long enough and believe hard enough. An honest appraisal of the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath shows that while we solved a lot of problems that plagued humanity for centuries, it also created new ones that we either can't or won't solve. We tried blind faith in the power of technology and science for a long time and it has made us cocky. "Whatever, we'll figure something out" has become our excuse for refusing to do anything that isn't convenient and preferably indulgent.

One future technology that I do think deserves a lot of attention, though, is a fairly mundane one at a time when people are less enthusiastic than ever about pouring money into space. The advances in materials science in the last ten years have been staggering, and we might be inching closer to the capability to construct space elevators. Here's why I think that's more important than most of us realize.

Well. First, a quick word about the technology. A space elevator is a means of putting objects into orbit without using rockets. A long (we're talking 100+ miles long) cable connecting a point on the surface of the Earth to a geosynchronous satellite and a counterweight (like a small space station) at the opposite end. Then simple mechanical means are used to move cargo up and down it, like a vertically oriented cable car. While it wouldn't make space cheap or easy in the sense of hopping on a bus, it would be vastly cheaper, easier, and more productive than moving things into orbit via rocket launch.

People like this idea because it can increase the amount of Cool Space Shit we can do for a given amount of resources. I think it holds a ton of potential to help us stop poisoning ourselves with things like toxic and nuclear waste. We accumulate hundreds of thousands of tons of dangerous waste every year and currently it's sitting around in surface holding areas until some (inevitably southern) state or nation gets desperate and poor enough to take it and bury it. Once underground, of course, it's only a matter of time until it comes back to haunt us. So when I first heard of this idea in sci-fi fiction as a kid (the idea of a space elevator has been around since the 1890s, with theoretical papers proving that the concept is feasible starting in the 1960s) it struck me as a great way to deal with some of the more aggressively lethal ways we've messed with the planet. Nuclear waste, for example, is sealed in large metal casks and then buried…or held for burial until we find a place to bury them. Instead, we could use a space elevator as a conveyor belt to take them into an orbital facility. Then, using small rockets in the absence of gravity, we point them on a trajectory to the Sun and let 'em go. They're incinerated down to the atomic level as they approach it.

It sounds a little nuts, granted. But in practical terms, why not? Graphene, carbon nanotubes, and diamond thread filaments – all developed in the last five years – are the materials we've lacked to build a sufficiently strong tether cable. In ten or fifteen years even better, stronger materials are likely to be developed. And once the material is in orbit, it's not like we'd be polluting outer space with it. You push it on a predictable trajectory and as soon as it gets near its destination, that's that. You can't damage the Sun. Hell, you can't even get anything man made remotely close to it.

I don't think we're going to see these tomorrow, or even in 2020. But any point in the past at which we've looked at this idea and said "It can't be done", the subsequent ten years have shown exponential advancements in the necessary materials and technology. Twenty years from now this is going to be feasible. It's an expensive way to dispose of our endless garbage, but only if you consider the price we pay for keeping it on Earth to be cheap. It might not require much money, but the hidden costs are staggering.


Posted in No Politics Friday on October 1st, 2015 by Ed

I am not a wine person. Emphatically not. I enjoy it and if you put it in front of me I will drink it, but I don't know anything about it and no effort is made to disguise that fact. The only adjectives you'll hear me use to describe it are on the level of "Good." or "This tastes like communion wine / Nyquil." Its history has some interesting moments though. Like the Great French Wine Blight in the 1860s.

Sometime in the 1850s – best estimates suggest 1858 – an unwelcome visitor made its way from the United States to Europe. No one knows where it went first or how it got there but it is known that by 1863 a North American aphid called Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, aka Phylloxera, was appearing in vineyards. The aphid specializes in the roots of grape vines. Being endemic to the Americas, American grapes are largely resistant to Phylloxera. In a reversal of the introduction of European diseases like smallpox to the Americas during colonization, European grapes had no resistance whatsoever to the new visitor. French wine grapes with famous names that became wine of exorbitant value died en masse. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

Well, there was one thing. But the French didn't want to do it. They could graft France's legendary wine grape vines onto American grape roots. In theory this maintained the integrity of the French grape varieties, but many purists thereafter considered French grapes tainted by the process of being crossed with their American cousins. Regardless of one's position on that issue one thing is certain: had the American roots not been used, most or possibly even all of France's legendary wine grapes would have been lost. So the bright side is that they all survived for us to enjoy today.

There is a segment of the wine enthusiast community that reveres wine made from the "pure" French grapes, i.e. wine bottled before the aphid made its journey and changed everything. While wine from before 1860 would be valuable today regardless, French wines of that era are especially sought after for their use of the untainted Gallic grapes. Stories of people paying insane prices for such bottles of wine are numerous. Two are particularly amusing to me. They will amuse you too, provided you are a terrible person like me.

In 1985 Malcolm Forbes, magazine publisher and father of 90s punchline presidential candidate Steve Forbes, paid over $150,000 for a bottle of something called Chateau Lafite 1787. Then he did as rich d-bags tend to do and showed off his grand acquisition in the most conspicuous way. He put it in a grand display case under a light. A very bright light. A very bright light that generated a lot of heat. Heat that dried and withered the centuries-old cork. Eventually it shrank and fell into the precious beverage. That was $150,000 well spent.

Forbes looked like a miser compared to wine collector William Sokolin, who paid over $500,000 for an 18th Century Chateau Margaux. While showing off his purchase at a social event in New York, Sokolin – wait for it – accidentally knocked the bottle off a serving cart and, in what I can only imagine was the slowest slo-mo in human history, watched it tumble to the ground and shatter. What does one even do in that situation? For half a million bucks I would get down and lick it off the carpet. I mean, if the alternative is having everyone at a fancy social event watch you have a complete emotional breakdown then I don't think it's any more shameful. At least get some on your finger and rub it on your tongue. No shame. Do what you gotta do.

The only potential consolation is that many wine experts believe that wine of such advanced age is likely undrinkable anyway. Sure, let's go with that.


Posted in No Politics Friday on September 18th, 2015 by Ed

In 1716 Edmund Halley (He of the comet, although he did not actually discover it – instead he determined that several previous recorded appearances of a comet were in fact the same one reappearing at intervals) published a paper showing how a transit of Venus could be used to calculate with remarkable precision the distance from the Earth to the Sun. A transit occurs when the planet passes directly between Earth and the Sun, and hence is observable as a black dot moving across the solar "surface" as viewed from Earth. Venusian transits are rare. We experienced two in our lifetimes but will never live to see another one; the solar system treats us to two separated by eight years (2004 and 2012) but then does not repeat the phenomenon for more than a century. The next one is in 2117.

Halley did not live to make anything of his idea, dying in 1742 and therefore missing out on the upcoming 1761 / 1769 pair of transits. Other astronomers took up the task, though. A worldwide effort led by Russian Mikhail Lomonosov attempted to coordinate hundreds of observations and measurements from every corner of the globe. Combining all of that data, even with the slow, cumbersome technology available in the 18th Century, would be a gold mine for astronomers. Some historians have suggested that this was the first truly international, coordinated scientific effort. Regardless, a great deal of data was collected and Halley's theory proved correct with time.

Many of the scientists who took part in the Venus effort were or would become famous. A pair of Englishmen, the famous Charles Mason and his assistant Jeremiah Dixon, would later become household names in America when they settled a border dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland with a surveyed line that still bears their name. One who was not famous, though, was a Frenchman grandly named Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil. He failed miserably in his attempts to make observations in a series of misfortunes that borders on absurd.

In 1760 he set out to observe from the French possession of Pondicherry on the eastern shore of the Indian subcontinent. Reaching Ile-de-France (Mauritius) he found that further progress was made impossible by the ongoing naval war between France and Britain (in fairness, Mason and Dixon were fired upon numerous times by French ships too). He finally secured passage on a private merchant ship that had secured permission to travel to India by both navies. Unfortunately it went off course in a storm and floated aimlessly for five weeks, and when they finally reached Pondicherry they found that the French had lost it to Britain and Gentil was not allowed to disembark. The ship instead was forced to return to Mauritius, and on the appointed day, June 6, Gentil was unable to observe the transit from the deck of a ship pitching and rolling around in the Indian Ocean.

Surely that disappointed him, but he had another shot in the not too distant future. He remained in the Indian Ocean and took up projects like mapping the African coast, surveying Madagascar, and so on. He sent back word to France to let his family know that he would not be returning until after the second transit. After lengthy consideration he decided to observe the 1769 event from Manila. The Spanish colonial government, however, put him back on his ship when he arrived for some reason lost to history but probably having to do with the petty rivalries that defined the three great European powers in that era. Exasperated, he returned to Pondicherry (won back by France in a 1763 peace treaty) and set up his equipment to make his long-awaited observation. When it arrived – June 4, 1769 – Pondicherry, which had been chosen specifically for its unusually San Diego-like weather, was completely overcast. It was the first and only overcast day in more than six months Gentil spent at Pondicherry. He didn't see a thing.

Defeated, he returned to France on a ship on which dysentery broke out, killing many of the passengers and horribly sickening Gentil himself. When he finally arrived, haggard, half-dead, and spiritually deflated, he found that none of his letters to France had reached their destination. He had been removed from the Academy and declared legally dead; his wife re-married and avaricious relatives "enthusiastically plundered" his estate.

Only the direct intervention of Louis XVI, who found beyond pitiable the story of this man who had tried so hard to achieve something for the sake of the Academy and had been roundly kicked in the ass in return, restored him to something of a normal life. He was restored in his position at the Academy, remarried, and lived an additional two decades.

So if you had a bad week or you're having a bad day, it could be worse. You could be Guillaume de Gentil. Or on a ship when dysentery breaks out. Or both.


Posted in No Politics Friday on September 11th, 2015 by Ed

Three things to help you pass the time on Friday. All three officially beat working.

1. Since moving I've reacquired the urge to do things that are productive, if we define productive as anything short of a complete waste of time. As I also enjoy being obsessively thorough and complete with my hobbies, I've started making publicly available Google Maps (with downloadable .kml data) of architectural things. Here is a map with the location of every remaining structure from Frank Lloyd Wright. If you're interested in more varied and lighter fare, here is a map of the American Institute of Architects list of America's 150 favorite buildings. That list had an element of public input, so some of it is a bit soft. Nobody really finds Wrigley Field all that impressive as architecture. Overall it's not a bad overview though, although by no means a complete one of American architecture (I couldn't help adding 150a and 150b at the end. I mean. Come on.) Currently I'm working on a Louis Kahn map, and a few other ideas bouncing around for after that.

2. Things We've All Seen but Haven't Thought about In Ages: Those re-dubbed parody GI Joe PSA cartoons. You probably haven't watched them in years and therefore you're likely to have forgotten how amazing they are.

The first time I saw these was at the Chicago Underground Film Festival (1999? 2000?) in a room full of pretentious artsy film festival people. For the first two (maybe 60 seconds total) we collectively couldn't believe we had to sit through this low-brow, sophomoric shit. By about minute four a good 90% of the audience was literally doubled over and gasping for air. They're still funny even when you know what's coming, so it's hard to convey just how hilarious this was the first time we heard "BODY MASSAGE!" or the reggae one (@ 3:05).

3. Speaking of ridiculous things taken much further than anyone could reasonably expect, my shuffle playlist reminded me about Austrian Death Machine on a long drive today. It's a joke-metal outfit with songs that are all vintage Arnold Schwarzenegger movie quotes.

Enjoy hits like "Get to the Choppa!" and "Screw You Benny." Who is your daddy and what does he do, indeed.


Posted in No Politics Friday on September 4th, 2015 by Ed

Bonus NPF!

Several months ago a friend sent me this picture of a nearly perfect, impeccably maintained and restored vehicle from the automotive past.


In case you didn't recognize it – and honestly I'm a bit worried about you if you did – that's a 1979 Plymouth Arrow Truck. It's something of a punchline, the only truck produced by now-defunct Plymouth and a perfect example of the compact pickup boom of the El Camino era. In no real sense is it a Plymouth (it's a rebadged Mitsubishi Forte, predecessor of the Mighty Max) and in no real sense is it famous, highly regarded, valuable, or sought-after. 36 years have failed to make it collectible.

Why do I like this picture so much? Because we see crap on the road every day. Only very, very rarely does one see perfect, mint condition crap. A restored, flawless car from 1979 is not in and of itself a rare thing. But the vintage auto market and "Trailer Queens" (cars of perfect appearance that are never actually driven) on the Concours circuit are universally high end. Lots of people restore 1970s cars – Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Corvettes, Rolls-Royces, and so on. When lower end cars are restored they inevitably come from the American Muscle Car genre – Mustangs, Camaros, Roadrunners, Challengers, Barracudas, and their ilk. What you see in this picture is the equivalent of seeing a perfect, factory condition 2001 Chevy Cavalier on the road in 2040.

It's so unusual that all I can do is stare at it and think, "Who would do this? Why that car?" And then I want to meet whoever did it and shake the magnificent bastard's hand. Like I wanted to do to the guy who spent $55,000 absolutely flawlessly restoring an AMC Pacer a few years ago.

It doesn't take much taste to appreciate a high priced Italian sports car from the past. Any nouveau riche hedge fund grunt can go to an auction and drop $250,000 on a 1970 Mustang that someone else restored to perfection. That's why I hate the auction/collector car market. It would be far more interesting, at least to me, if more people did things like this. There is nothing interesting about seeing an old Cadillac someone dumped six figures into because he remembers the first time he got a handjob in one back in the Eisenhower years. There's something compelling – if also ridiculous – about having a perfect Matching Numbers 1989 Dodge Shadow, Dodge Shadow Registry No. 0000001. Automotive history isn't just about the highlights. It's about the cars people actually bought and drove. That turquoise Taurus says more about the early 90s than your mint condition ZR-1.

Good on you, Mr. 1979 Plymouth Arrow Truck. If you're going to have an obsession, why have the same one everyone else has?


Posted in No Politics Friday on September 3rd, 2015 by Ed

Ever have an idea so ridiculous that you think it might actually be brilliant? For the past few months I've been haunted by the phrase "Ed Lauter Film Festival." That would be, as the name implies, an event organized around the most notable works of career character actor Ed Lauter. You might recognize him as That Guy who's in That Movie you like. Or that TV series. Ed Lauter was like an electron, simultaneously everywhere and nowhere at once.

Wait. Hear me out.

An academic friend and I are more than a bit unnaturally obsessed with Mr. Lauter, but the more I thought about our comedic suggestion that he be honored with a film festival the more I thought that it's just stupid enough to work. How could our irony-saturated society fail to love the idea of a festival held in middle America to honor the workhorses of Hollywood…people who form the backbone of your favorite movies and shows, adding layers beneath the leading men and women who get all the attention? Isn't that, like, almost poetic? In addition to being bullshit?

The fact is that I have no idea how one goes about organizing a film festival is an impediment. So is the obvious potential for it to be a disaster with nobody showing up. But if that is the worst thing that can happen, I'm pretty sure that's survivable. I happen to know a number of fairly successful people who might be talked into performing to add more entertainment to wrap around the Lauter films. I know a lot of people who write about movies and movie stuff to a substantial audience. And I can be pretty tenacious once I get obsessed with something.

Good idea, or the best idea? Or is it actually neither of those because it's a terrible idea? Maybe a Friday-Saturday event that wouldn't cost much ($20?) and could offer movies, live music at night, comedy, panel discussions and lectures on Ed Lauter, and more? Sure, it wouldn't exactly be Coachella, but with luck we could pack a whole lot of entertainment for not much money into a weekend. Aside from the potential that nobody would go because it's clearly a nutty idea, what are the most obvious roadblocks I should think about as I move from the "Hmm" phase to actual brainstorming? Do you think anyone (not necessarily you) would come to such a thing?

Moving was a great idea. I feel like doing things again. Even if they are Ed Lauter related and kind of illogical.