Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Toynbee Tile Mystery

Philadelphia's blogosphere of architectural propaganda is constantly asking you to look up. But as you're walking home from work, heading to the gym, or looking for that sexy mouse costume, take a look down at the street.

You may not see much more than black gum dots and cigarette butts, at least now. But twenty years ago, even ten, you may have seen something much more cryptic:

IN Kubrick's 2001

I've noticed these little tiles for years, but I always assumed they were a fading art project lingering from the 80s or 90s. Some are larger than a license plate, some smaller than a Post-it, most have been driven into the asphalt beyond recognition. 

While hundreds still dot the streets of Philadelphia, the phenomenon is global, with more than 500 spanning the Northeast and Midwest United States and into several South American counties. 

But what are they? An art installation that continues to inspire copycats in places like Salt Lake City and San Francisco, even the United Kingdom? Or the prophetic ramblings of one madman bent on spreading his message? 

Jon Foy's 2011 documentary, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles sets out to answer the questions behind these little linoleum plaques, and three sleuths featured in the award winning film came as close to anyone has to unwrapping the mysterious tar around these little things.

Without spoiling the movie, it's safe to say that these tiles are far more interesting, bizarre, and macabre than you may realize. 'Tis the season. What began in the 1980s, perhaps with an idea ingrained in one man's head as far back as the late 60s, involves Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, a little known David Mamet play, and the all encompassing fear of our own mortality.

Suffice it to say they are either the work of a self-taught genius or a certifiable lunatic, quite possibly both.  

If you want to see one, Steve Weinik, one of the sleuths featured in the film, has provided a map of more than 500 global locations thought to be original.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Twin Peaks Revisited

After decades - yes decades - of rumors and empty promises, David Lynch and Mark Frost's cult classic, Twin Peaks, is scheduled to be revived on Showtime in 2016. On October 3rd at 11:30am, the show's co-creators simultaneously Tweeted, "That gum you like is going to come back in style. #damngoodcoffee."

Fans went nuts. 

Not only was the reference to chewing gum and "damn good coffee" an obvious tease that the show might be resurrected, the twin posts by its co-creators was a nod to the duel themes and personalities that encompassed the show. It meant that finally, Lynch and Frost were serious about returning to the snowcapped mountains of Washington's mythical town, Twin Peaks.

With multiple superhero universes rebooted well within the time that Peaks has been off the air, it may seem farfetched to expect a Season 3 twenty fives years after the ABC series was cancelled in 1991. 

But "the owls are not what they seem." 

In other words, don't expect David Lynch, Philadelphia's original Master of Horror, to be anything but unusual. 

Fans of the series understand the significance of 2016, and it's hard not to wonder if the show's revival was all part of its creators' master plan: a lengthy, twenty five year work of art that is part cinema, part audience anxiety. 

When the show ended in 1991, it left countless unanswered questions. Did Audrey survive the explosion? Is Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge? And how old is Heather Graham, really?

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was released as a feature film a year after the show's cancellation, and fans were hoping it would answer all of our most pressing questions. Instead, befitting the frustration that trails behind David Lynch's works of art, he offered us a prequel posing even more questions. 

Despite the critics and popular opinion, Fire Walk With Me was David Lynch without the restraints of network television. It was Twin Peaks, and it proved that inexplicably B-list actors were truly great under masterful direction.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the story we've been left to wonder. Some fans had given up, enjoying speculation, fan fiction, and the annual Twin Peaks Fest. But the truest of Peak Freaks held out hope that the series finale in 1991 was nothing more than television's longest "To Be Continued."

And why not? David Lynch told us that twenty five years ago. The show's final scene took place in the Black Lodge twenty five years later. The show didn't end in 1991, it ended in 2016. Through sheer luck or absolute brilliance, David Lynch was either waiting for an audience that could appreciate a show decades ahead of his time, or he knew that audience would finally emerge.

Season 3's nine episodes will be written by Lynch and Frost, and directed by Lynch. So expect the best of the best of what you remember. Netflix is currently streaming the show's original seasons. If you were a fan who remembers the show through rosy (or Doctor Jacoby's 3D) glasses, sit down and watch them again. 

It gets incredibly soapy. Nadine goes off the deep end. And, really, how old is Heather Graham? 

There are a lot of twists even the staunchest of fans have probably chosen to forget. But Season 3 has what it needs to be Lynch and Frost at their best. On Showtime, it will be free from network executives and test audiences. It will likely be loved by fans, and surely loathed by critics. It will be Twin Peaks.


Appropriately timed, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts is hosting a David Lynch exhibit, The Unified Field until January 11th. Lynch, who attended PAFA and lived in Philadelphia from 1965 to 1970, has credited the city as his greatest source of inspiration.

"All of Philadelphia had a kind of coal-dust patina and a mood that was just spectacular. There was violence and fear and corruption, insanity, despair, sadness, just in the atmosphere in that city. I loved the people there. All these things, whatever way it was, was my biggest influence.” - David Lynch

In case you don't remember, the show's hero, Agent Dale Cooper, was from Philadelphia.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Carry on, Philadelphia

Old reputations die hard. I had a completely ridiculous nickname in high school that I haven't since uttered. But twenty years later, what did I hear when I walked into the reunion? 

The same fate seems to be true of the adoptive city I've come to love. Wall Street, Hollywood, and the Silicone Valley could all relocate to Philadelphia and the national circuit would still be dubbing us the next Detroit.

Why? Well, twenty years ago it would have been because we were the next Detroit. But today it's because we are one of the few major cities that didn't spend the last twenty years royally fucking up. 

Yeah, I said it. Philly did good.

News Observer writer, Hope Yen spent way too many words on an article that tries to claim that Philadelphia is a city of fleeing residents and a collapsing job market. Then goes on to point out that we're doing better than Los-freaking-Angeles. She ends what sounds like a mental patient's manifesto with the point that Philadelphia's college educated immigrants are twice those without high school degrees. Nothing says "doom" like an educated populace.

What a tool. 


She claims that residents are fleeing the city despite the first population growth in half a century. Mid-wage jobs? According to Yen they're imploding. Does Chicago or Washington, D.C. have an abundance of mid-wage jobs? Probably. People have to shop somewhere. But those working at the DuPont Circle Gap aren't living downtown, they're commuting from towns closer to the Ohio state line than the District of Columbia.

Philadelphia bucks Yen's national norm that says "how dare a hotel clerk live amongst the skyscrapers." 

And it's infuriating.

She makes perhaps one valid point but it's laden with misinterpreted statistics. Philadelphia's economy has not recovered as well as it has in other cities. But Yen ignores why: Philadelphia's economy didn't do a giant pratfall. We didn't spend the early 2000s building ubiquitous condo towers that no one could afford. Philadelphia isn't a skyline of empty apartment buildings finally finding tenants a decade later. 

If that Yen's economic recovery, then Philadelphia never needed it. We're building now, pragmatically. 

But that's not what Yen's article is about. Like countless others, Philadelphia is Yen's go-to city for journalists and readers rationalizing their $4000 Georgetown rent. Detroit and Cleveland are too easy. No one from D.C. or San Francisco can relate. But Philadelphia, we're relevant. We're relatable. And we help a lot of people indentured to their mortgages elsewhere feel better about it by looking at nothing but screwed data that says Philadelphia sucks.

Yen's article is just self-coddling, "let's go after Philly because my city screwed itself" horse shit. And you know what? I love that this horse shit is out there, because it keeps those who ruined D.C., Manhattan, and San Francisco out of my back yard. 

Okay. Done ranting. Go Iggles.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Social Media Wins the Day

Last Thursday's brutal attack on two gay men near Rittenhouse Square was slow to make traction in the news. The papers buried it under stories about casinos sixty miles away and when it found its way on television, it was wedged between the weather and puff pieces.

One of the victims suffered skull fractures, a deep laceration on the face, and has his jaw will be wired shut for eight weeks.

However, the Philadelphia Police Department and the online community took it a little less lightly. After the police released very clear video surveillance footage of ten to twelve suspects, social media proved just how little we rely on newspapers and the six o'clock news. Even more, it proved just how swift we can be when we work together.

In a matter of hours, Facebook and Twitter turned these suspects into Philadelphia's Most Wanted. The Citizens Crime Commission initially offered a $1000 reward for information on the suspects, followed by three local businesses putting a $10,000 bounty on their freedom.

For a few tense hours, ten to twelve of the tristate's worst citizens must have been shitting their pants as they watched their faces walk across surprisingly clear surveillance footage. But that's when things took a 21st Century twist and went all Justice Leaguey, virtually speaking.

Shortly after posting the video on his Twitter feed, @greggybennett, former cast member of Real Housewives of New Jersey received and posted a photograph from a "friend of a friend of a friend" that showed a group of individuals matching those in the surveillance footage. 

The red vest is undeniable, and several others can be clearly made in the rest of the surveillance video.
It was almost immediately retweeted by @FanSince09. Minutes later followers had noted that the restaurant was Rittenhouse's La Viola. 

@FanSince09 used Facebook Graph Search to find profiles checked in at La Viola prior to the attack and managed to match a number of faces and clothing to the surveillance footage and the photograph which, at the time, was still available on Facebook and conveniently tagged by a few of the suspects.

By the time Detective Joseph Murray was contacted by @FanSince09, the hunt was essentially over. Late last night, lawyers representing a few of the suspects had contacted the PPD to make arrangements to surrender to questioning this morning. The police have not yet announced any arrests or additional information, short of deserved praise for @FanSince09, @greggybennett, and social media in general.

Despite the excitement that unfolded last night and the expectations many may have had this morning, Murray was quick to remind everyone that this is not an episode of Law & Order. With upwards of fifteen suspects likely to be brought in for questioning, it will take time to interview them all and sift through the evidence. It may be days, even a week, before arrests can be made.

As it is, it looks good for the victims (at least in terms of justice) and bad for those who chose to lawyer up late last night. Unfortunately, hate crime legislation that includes LGBT victims was struck down in 2002 and failed again in 2009. As it stands, the maximum sentence for aggravated assault that causes, or attempts to cause, serious bodily injury is twenty years and $25,000.

Without clear footage of the attack, it may seem it would be hard to prove which suspects were directly responsible for the injuries. However, given the large group of suspects, there is no question that two or more will sing like canaries and sell out their friends. And given the outrage spanning the nation last night, no District Attorney can afford to tread lightly. 

In the mean time, let's all sit back and think about the victims and their families. And on a slightly lesser note, what it's like to be part of a socially networked group of superheroes bent on spending their evenings hunting down the villains trying to ruin our Great City.

Molly's Daily Kiss

Monday, September 15, 2014

F*ck the Ten Dollar Minimum

Seriously, businesses, go fuck yourself with your $10 minimum debit card purchases. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 allows merchant's to require a $10 purchase limit for credit cards, not debit cards.

How many times have you purchased a magazine at the checkout aisle because you didn't meet the $10 limit? Or worse, spent upwards of $7 in ATM fees just to take out a twenty dollar bill?

The debit card minimum is a sleazy - and illegal - way to grab a few extra dollars from the growing number of consumers who don't carry cash, all on the baseless claim that merchants are charged a "swipe fee" on all card purchases. The swipe fee, which never exceeds 4% (that's a paltry 4 pennies on a Diet Coke), only applies to credit cards.

Friday, August 29, 2014

That Inflatable Rat

The inflatable "Fat Cat" has become a regular fixture at the Pennsylvania Convention Center's 12th Street entrance. The Teamsters and Carpenters at the picket line have brandished posters claiming a "lockout," that they signed an agreement with the center. But that claim leaves out one fatal detail, that they didn't agree to the new terms until after the deadline. 

"Buh-bye," said the center.

Their most recent protest, at least the unions' most prominent recent presence, was during this month's Veterans Wheelchair Games. A motorcade of large vans circled the block spouting worn rhetoric about diminished wages behind a clan of $20,000 Harley Davidsons. Others shouted from megaphones while many simply mobbed the sidewalks making it difficult for wheelchair bound veterans to enter the convention.

After the protest came to a close, a police escort led the motorcade along Race Street, through Chinatown towards the Ben Franklin Bridge, ferrying the "local" workers back to their homes in New Jersey.


The irony and hypocrisy is mind numbing. But the message and tactics behind many of the trade unions in the tristate area has become so routine that the numbed minds of many Philadelphians brush it off as white noise. 

Buildings continue to rise, businesses continue to open, many without union labor. "Crossing the picket line" has no significant meaning to a Center City swapping Baby Boomers for Generation X, even Millennials. They snap pictures of inflatable rats and the union members cheer, clueless that the photo winds up on Instagram hashtagged, "WTF?" New Philadelphians didn't forget about the union protests at MilkBoy and Goldtex, they never cared to begin with.

Given the disconnect between the local trade unions and their target audience, the inflatable rat has become a sign of progress. Both MilkBoy and Goldtex weathered the frustrations of daily protests, and both are now successful businesses. Boxers, a new sports bar opening in the Gayborhood is one of the most recent targets, specifically the Sheet Metal Worker's Union. The popular Manhattan and Brooklyn nightspot is opening its third location in Philadelphia and opted for market rate labor. Few outside the trades industries seem phased, and it hasn't impeded development.

Back in the day, City Hall turned a blind eye to some of the unions' more nefarious tactics. But increased surveillance, social media, and evolving popular opinion have put protesters in a place where they can't overstep their First Amendment rights. Even some politicians have denounced the unions' unscrupulous tactics where they manifest, or simply remain quiet on the subject if it serves their interest.

Meanwhile the media, once largely sensitive to the trade unions, hasn't shied away from stories about illegal union activity. In February, ten Ironworkers Local 401 members were arrested by the FBI and the local media aired their dirty laundry.

When your sole clique survives on whores to public opinion, never underestimate their willingness to turn in favor of that public opinion. And that is the exact problem with the trade unions' overall operation. It isn't just outdated, it sidesteps a community perplexed by their message, it refuses to engage with the developers who cut their checks, and it solely functions as a bully with friends in high places. 

Without a slick public relations representative or a fresh new image, trades unions in Philadelphia are DOA, resigned to collect the crumbs from developers that didn't get the memo, or can afford the luxury of a workspace free of an inflatable rat. A rat increasingly synonymous with a better, newer Philadelphia.

Outfitting Smallville, USA

My hometown, populated by roughly 30,000 residents and nowhere near a major city, just approved the purchase of the same MRAP used in Ferguson's recent protests.
I've lived in Philadelphia for ten years and I've never seen the same militarized presence in Ferguson or a MRAP in person. When the city rioted in 2008 the police largely gained control with billy clubs and horses. 
They policed. 
When Occupy Philly camped out their protest at City Hall, First Amendment rights were protected by police officers and leaders, many who likely disagreed with their message. 
They led.
When I return occasionally to Harrisonburg, VA, I hear more and more from friends and family a kind of rhetoric that seems dangerously fascinated with the prospect that something bad could happen at any moment. They seem beat down. Fatigued. 
"This is the world we live in now."
No, it's not. 

Ferguson is one small town out of hundreds of thousands, but social media fuels the delusion that Harrisonburg, or any other small town, is next. People become ever willing to trade their civic sense of reason and healthy communities for a militarized police presence. 

So why do small town residents seem to overwhelmingly live with a much higher level of fear than residents of Philadelphia or New York or Los Angeles? Are the bored? Is the prospect of imminent danger somehow morbidly exciting? Have residents of small, more conservative rural communities been duped by D-list politicians? Or are their small police forces truly ill-equipped and untrained in the event that something catastrophic does happen?

All are probably a little true, but in the case of the latter, the solution isn't outfitting any police force with weaponry and defense specifically designed for war. Police absolutely should have every resource at their disposal to serve and protect, but machine guns and tanks aren't designed to police. They're engineered to kill and defend against an onslaught of equally aggressive tactics. 

Perhaps, despite the fact that small towns like Ferguson find their way to the national spotlight, these towns are largely left out of the national dialogue. CNN and FoxNews lecture and debate, but they don't engage. When small town residents find their town on MSNBC, the subject of a crisis by pundits offering little in the way of solutions that don't devolve into partisan bickering, they find themselves in uncharted territory. Faced with the unheard prospect of violence on the streets of Smallville, USA, residents view their fate as dire and embrace unreasonable militarization.

Excessively arming any police department goes against the very core of our police force and our justice system. Like in war, it assumes guilt, that every citizen is a criminal. We live in a nation vastly consisting of just and honorable citizens, Americans capable of policing their own behavior. When the government turns on that self governance, reasonable people become less reasonable. Assuming everyone on the other side of a machine gun or MRAP vehicle is a criminal, creates criminals.

The tactics used by the Ferguson Police Department have been put into question both politically and publicly. But militarization in the broader scope of hundreds of other small towns has been ignored because it isn't newsworthy. When that kind of ammunition is warranted, the National Guard exists for that exact scenario. When that kind of ammunition is given to our Men and Women in Blue, it makes every citizen an enemy.