Museums of Something Else

Looking for Van Gogh
in a Roomful of Clicks

You’re about to fulfill a lifelong dream: getting up close with your favorite masterpiece. This painting’s haunted your memories for years, and it’s now about to make living in this city all the worthier. But when you’re finally ready for its close up, your reverie suffers a low blow.
Between you and the frame, a phone-picture-taking crowd is busy, turning your dream into a blurry background to their selfies. Miffed, you swear never to come back again. Which brings us to today’s offering: museums are important, but don’t have to suck. Here’s why.
As depositories of humanity’s cultural and artistic achievements, museums have been incomparable. Often the sole local well of knowledge, they anchor communities around a shared past. No wonder they’re also useful for tyrants to stake a claim into the future.
Besides displaying disturbing mementos of our brutal heritage, and the vanquished civilizations we’ve helped destroy, these warehouses of memory and fractured narratives also face crushing competition of the present day’s increasing obsession with accessibility.
Round-the-clock knowledge at one’s fingertips is rendering irrelevant the need for an actual physical place to house art and the past. But the Internet has potential to turn voyeurism into something intimate and personal, in ways that museums seem to be faltering at.
We’re not ready to give up on them just yet, though; just pointing to alternatives that may enhance their mission. Read and click on the illustrations to open up new possibilities. It may sooth your soul and give you a healthy reason to skip that rude crowd this weekend.

THE MOURNING ART COLLECTION
For a place displaying death-inspiring art objects in its galleries, and housed next to a cemetery, the possibility of sudden demise should be never too far. But since its 1990 inception, the Museum of Mourning Art has thrived, even if it had to auction some of its artifacts to survive.
It sits next to Arlington Cemetery (no, not that Arlington), Philadelphia, and it did have to close briefly, while it sold some items. But unlike its neighbors, it’s bound to come back to life, and in line with Americans’ peculiar taste for anything related to the departed.
Its art focus is distinct from similarly lugubrious institutions such as New Orleans’ Museum of Death, Houston-based National Museum of Funeral History, and New York’s Morbid Anatomy Museum. Step into these places for a glance of what’s literally coming next.

POP-UP FEELINGS & BROKEN HEARTS
For an unfortunately brief time, New York had its throbbing pulse measured by art. The pop up Museum of Feelings mixed ‘social media and real-time data from local news, weather reports, flight delays’ and even the Stock Exchange, and translated them into colors.
It was the kind of tactile, refreshing experience traditional museums have to avoid these days, lest not give ideas to deranged minds. It’s now limited by the Web, but it still suggests an alternate reality (more)
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Read Also:
* Scary Night
* Broken Hearts

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Whole Shebang


Black Holes & the Metaphysics
of Perforating Internal Cavities

Planets have craters, caves, volcanoes. Our bodies have cavities, orifices, crevices. Thoughts have depths, flaws, gaps. In the 1960s, there were four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, as John Lennon reported on a song. Right now, there’re billions of massive ones, swallowing whole galaxies across the universe.
For such a geographic or anatomic accident, we do give holes a huge amount of attention, and scientific studies to back it all up. Let’s update our space files and see what’s out there, in the vastness of outer space, from the rarified atmosphere of improbable research to that ground hole that may already have our name on it.
10 BILLION SUNS
A noble thing about Albert Einstein is that he never let his religious beliefs interfere with his science. When he theorized that there must be something like a black hole, a force so powerful that not even light could escape it, he also said there should be a law forbidding it to exist.
There wasn’t, and his rigorous calculations prevailed despite himself. As Stephen Hawking and others proved and studied black holes, Einstein’s moral integrity also received a boost. What even now few are capable of conceiving is the size of these monsters.
The biggest one discovered so far, just the other day, is bigger than 10 billion suns. Before you ask it, though, if you absolutely have to, how astronomers come up with these figures, we must say, it’s complicated. But we’ll wait while you go on the Internet to check that out.

BREAKFAST OF STARS
Welcome back. As we were saying, someone’s discovered second-biggest ever, sitting pretty over 330 million light-years away from us, in the Coma Cluster of all places. Again, if you need to ask what’s a light year, etc, etc. And what an appetite. These fatties can devour millions of stars faster than you can finish reading this word.
The late great Muhammad Ali used to say he was so fast, he could turn off the light switch and get in bed before the room was dark. That’s the kind of fast we’re talking about here. Powerful too as you probably know. Black holes can warp space-time around them, so strong is their gravitational pull. But relax, no one is near us, so let’s move on.

ALMOST NOTHINGS
As it turns out, holes are traps that may have tricked, and tickled, some of the brightest philosophers of our time. And it all started in the 1970s, with some Gruyère cheese (yup, 10 years after Lennon sang about holes). Lore has it that two scientists named Lewis invented an imaginary duo of thinkers, Argle and Bargle, who’d get intrigued with what the holes in the cheese actually meant.
If we’re insulting your attention span, feel free to take a break. We’ll be as brief as our philosophical illiteracy will allow it. (more)
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Read Also:
* Tomorrow Never Knows
* Singing Suns
* Worlds Away

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Memberships

Choosing a Special Group
That Won’t Crush Your Soul

‘Accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.’ Groucho Marx had a point, but most of us do long to belong. More so now, when so many feel the world has turned against them. Fear not, anti-heroes of the moot field. There’s hope.
And an affiliation just for you. Not the adventurer type? choose among the Bureaucracy Club, the Cloud Appreciation Society, Dull Men Club or, if still follicle-endowed, the Luxuriant Hair Club, but have your PhD ready. In a wretched mood? the Death Cafe will do you wonders.
Sport aficionados get it. Religiously devout most surely do too. And an assortment of clubs that flourish on Facebook or England, of all places, are equally adept at adding names to a big list of people who like this, or don’t like that. Prefer red, or despise unsuspecting hamsters.
Deep down, most would like to qualify for the Explorer’s Club, but if you haven’t stepped on the moon, or climbed the Everest, forget it. In another life, perhaps. Better sign on for the Apostrophe Appreciation Society. It’ll won’t give vertigo. And you’ll be busy, guaranteed.
And before you disrespect good ol’ Groucho, misquoting him again, we know you’re actually jubilant that Twitter accepted your behind and your trolling galore. You don’t fool us. So go ahead, send out that form for the Mediocre Pun Brigade. They’re running a sale this week.

THE UNCOOL & THE RED-TAPE LOVER
Dull but not boring.’ That’s the main ‘virtue’ required by would-be members of the Dull Men Club. And while ‘optimization of bureaucracies and bureaucrats’ is in the Bureaucracy Club‘s mission statement, both place a premium on a particular personality type: L, as in lukewarm.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Nevertheless, members live fulfilling lives, as long as they don’t involve trying spicy food, taking cold showers, or wearing colorful underwear. They gather periodically to debate mild things. But we hear the coffee is extra strong.

DAREDEVILS & THE MANE-ENDOWED
Bald inexperienced need not to apply.’ Nothing is ever safe when The Explorer’s Club and The Luxuriant Flowing Hair Clubs for Scientists break from their accident-provoking agenda, and sit down for a dinner whose menu often includes fried tarantulas and hissing roach snacks.
Living Explorers Buzz Aldrin and Jane Goodall share (more)
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Read Also:
* The Aitch Old File
* Petty Crimes

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Present Time

Flexing Your Exquisite
Skills For Being a Gifter

It’s finally here (and you know you want it): our Peculiar Gift List. But why, you ask, another list of presents for other people, (instead of the ever more fulfilling one of things given to you)? Hasn’t the insanity of being nice run its course that time when all you’ve got was a lousy pair of socks and a 3-VHS package?
We’ll get back to you, you Grinch, but this year’s selections got you covered. Jesus Freak uncle? Check. Crazy nice aunt? Check. Serial killer trinkets? You’ve got it. Sure, you won’t please everyone, but they did give you the finger then, right? At least you’re not poisoning them or something. Just proceed with caution.
For that was that time when the little girl next door gifted you with her oh so cute drawing, and you got caught cold-sweating bullets. Her precocious rendition of your backyard, which impressed everyone, scared your shitless. That evil glint in her eye was a message.
As if saying, I saw you dragging that body out of your back door, the other night, and you thought no one was watching. Well, I was. That warning was all you’ve got, but who knows? What if this time she’s coming for a payback? Better be prepared. Hence having a handy list.
Dying people have their buckets, but yours is for protection. Just when they come for the killing, you stun them with a nicely wrapped memento. It’s the thought that counts, remember? Or the message. But just in case, don’t turn your back on her. And calm yourself down already.
Above all, it’s a list custom-made for the regifter at heart in you. As long as you’re judicious redistributing the goods, you’ll be fine. Oh, and don’t forget the scorpion vodka, the snake rum, and the 5-hour Darth Vader Yule Log playing on TV to set the mood. Go ahead, be merry.

FOR THE NICEST CAT LADY YOU KNOW
She’s spent the whole year forwarding you all sorts of links about silly, intriguing, and slightly disturbed cats. You even thought about a fitting revenge, but in the end, couldn’t be mean to your sweet aunt. Result: a bottle of cat forehead-scented Fluffy Fragrance Fabric Water.
She’ll love it. It says how much you care about her, and how nice would be for her to drown on the scent of her own multiple kittens. Who, of course, won’t care less. You know, cats. Still, you’ll impress the party. Or get all sorts of weird stares. Congrats.

HANDLE THE ‘JESUS MILITIA’ SUBSCRIBER
Family gatherings are always tricky, but the table clears ever so quickly when Uncle Bob starts talking Fox News politics. There’s always one point when you’re left on your own to defend lesbians, gun control, legal abortion, and Obama. But this time, you’ll win.
Give him the ‘Dancing With Jesus‘ DVD, and watch his face light up like the gun-themed Christmas tree you know he’s spent hours putting together at his place. Keep a straight face and you’ll see him (more)
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Read Also:
* Last-Minute Gift
* The Most Wonderful Time
* Holiday Fare
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Tell a Story in One Sentence

Say it All
in Six Words

‘For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.’ This Ernest Hemingway-credited ‘novel’ is arguably the best known example of how entire lives can be distilled into only six words. If ‘brevity is the soul of wit,’ to quote Bill Shakespeare, then this is probably how it’s done.
The concept’s also a suitable match to our age’s short-span attention, managing to beat Twitter at its own game, fit easily in a tiny phone screen, all the while delivering a potential knockout. Papa was on to something, and his story is as moving now as it was then.
The current revival that the concept enjoys nowadays can be attributed to Larry Smith, who launched the Six-Word Memoir Project in 2006. Few would’ve expected that the Website would be now home to over a million six-word sentences, by thousands of people, celebrities or not.
The latter includes yours truly, whose literary concoctions found their way into Six Words About Work, published in 2009, and Best Advice in Six Words, coming out this week (yes, it’s a plug). Both books are part of a growing collection edited by the Smith mag team. Hooray.
Thus we decided to show you some of our own contributions, gathered here in a sort of chaotic way, for your enjoyment. It’s also our humble way of thanking the good people of the Six-Word Memoir community, who obviously could’ve done just fine without our input. Still, we’re proud.
There’s something about the format. Not as complex as a Haiku, or functional as the 5-word limit Ig Nobel Award recipients are bound to keep on their thank you speeches, six words are perfect to strike a balance of just enough info and emotion, convey background, and leave much to be guessed.
None of these is at par with Papa‘s, mind you. Or Bill, for goodness sake. But they’re fun to compose and, honestly, addictive. You should try it sometime. Thousands have. What if you have just the perfect idea about what happened to those shoes? Cheers.

PROXIMITY MADE MY HEART GROW NASTIER

SIX PILLS REPLACED SEX & THRILLS

Wacky Dates

Pick a Day & Give It a Spin,
So Life Won’t Grow Too Stale

Calendars would be a boring way of marking time if we didn’t assign each day with a different meaning. In fact, some days no longer fit within a regular sequence of numbers and need to be movable, so to fulfill their main function: making us forget the inexorability of time.
Then again, holidays, specially those named after people and events, are also boring. Thus the wacky dates we pick to honor an odd occurrence, or a rare fetish, even an artifact made memorable by a work of fiction.
Tomorrow is Hug Your Cat Day, for instance. In the U.S., pretty much every day of the calendar has been appropriated, often unduly, by a war battle, a religious imperative, or perhaps worst, an industry seeking exposure. Boring, boring, boring. And let’s not get started with those for which many make a wise point in skipping altogether.
But finding a way to make a day feel different – apart from the reality that, indeed, no two are alike even though it all feels the same to most – is not an American monopoly. Around the world, people memorialize the weird, the bizarre, and the quirky, as if their hold on life depends on it.
It’s also human to name things, moments, even parts of one’s anatomy. It all fits within the confines of that other inexorability: sameness, or our fear of succumbing to it, and disappearing without trace. Which winds up happening any way, in one way or another.
But some of these out of the ordinary dates extrapolate not just that sameness, but also the 24-hour expiration time of each day, either spilling into a festival, or taking place at different places, so to make sure everyone gets in that opportunity to stand out.
Curiously, festivals such La Tomatina, which is a late August movable feast that looks like a pagan orgy in red, have the exact opposite effect: who can be singled out in a sea of bodies digging in the mud of smashed tomatoes? So much for a collective longing to be unique.

A DAY TO NOT STAND STILL
But mostly, whacky holidays are created in the spirit of fun, including the Indian Cow Procession Day (Nov.8) or the Thai Monkey Buffet Festival (Nov. 28), despite their sanctimonious pseudo-homage to animals. In the end, they could as well dive into the mud just for the sake of it.
Others, if not spectacularly dull like Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day (Jan.17), are at least kind of sophomoric such as Pillow Fight Day (April 4). And then there are those loaded with political correctness, such as the Buy Nothing Day, a nemesis for the ignominious Black Friday. No fun.
Of course they don’t come close to the ominousness of Meteor Day (Nov.6, and you know what it means). Instead, the rest of us would rather side up with the jocose, semi-fictitious Festivus (Dec.23) and, just for good measure, be totally, unwaveringly biased towards Global Orgasm Day (Dec.22).

IF IT QUACKS LIKE A DUCK
A favorite of quirky minds, and perhaps one with the best subtext among our mundane ephemeris, is the upcoming Dead Duck Day (June 5), which marks a scientific breakthrough: the ‘first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard.’ The back story is funnier than that, though.
It all started in 1995, when a male duck crashed against the glass wall of the Rotterdam Natural History Museum and died on the spot. Then, to the astonishment of everyone, another male mounted the corpse of the bird and proceed to copulate with it for 75 minutes straight!
The unusual event, and origin of the quacky, er, Continue reading

Sleigh of News

The Pope’s Hate Message, a Misnamed
Disease, & Other Christmas Oddities

It’s a season of joy, of much tra-la-la and all that. But it’s also a time prone to burst into disconcerting news, and we’re not talking about thousands of armed conflicts around the world that don’t even bother celebrating it and taking a break from killing people.
Just like many a regular business, war doesn’t close its doors during Christmas. Neither hate goes on holiday, judging by the pope’s annual message, rallying troops against gay marriage. In other news, though, science has finally diagnosed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Deer, oh dear.
Not to play a heavy hand here, but religion is often a factor at the trigger-happy start of any conflict, but retreats to irrelevance when it comes to demanding it to stop. No wonder a recent survey found out that nonbelievers now form the world’s ‘third-largest religion,’ which is startling oxymoron to begin with.
Somehow, though, people still care, at least enough to steal baby jesuses from nativity scenes all across America. Apparently, there’s an odd increase in reported robberies in 2012, compared to previous years. Religious fervor? Pranksters at play? We can’t say, or pretend, that we care one way or another.
But, as we said before, it is a time for reprieve, which is evidenced in the increase in charity donations, widespread acts of goodwill and a general feeling that yes, ’tis the season. And the Christmas Disease alluded to above, a rare type of hemophilia, is not even named after it, but by Stephen Christmas, a U.K. AIDS activist who died in 1993.

NO ALTAR BOY
That’s why it’s so baffling that the spiritual leader of 2.2 billion people in the world has chosen exactly this time to reach out to other religious chiefs in what can only be called a crusade against homosexuals. According to Benedict XVI, there’s a threat to the family every time a same-sex couple pledges each other eternal love.
Don’t blame us to bring this up, but when Pope John XXIII, for Continue reading