• Books by people who have raised apes in their homes

    Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

    As mentioned earlier, I collect books by people who have raised apes or monkeys in their homes, so, as a service to Boing Boing readers, I thought I'd review them for you.

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    Toto and I: A Gorilla in the Family, by A Maria Hoyt (1941)

    A charming memoir by an eccentric heiress who brought Toto home after her husband, working for the Museum of Natural History in New York, shot Toto's mother on the hunt for a specimen. Despite marrying a mommy killer, Hoyt goes to the wall to help young Toto, even moving to Cuba to accommodate her charge. There are lots of choice anecdotes in this book but my favorite involve sleep training the gorilla. Like many children, Toto insisted on sleeping with her parents. Caregiver Thomas and Toto slept in separate beds in Toto's room; each night over the course of month, Tomas moved his bed farther and farther away from Toto until he was actually out of her room. (Incidentally, this is essentially the same method recommended by the Sleep Lady.) Before Toto was weaned from cosleeping, however, she "punished" Tomas by locking him in her bedroom:

    [Toto] slammed the door after him, deftly locking it from the playroom side. Since the windows were heavily barred, Tomas was now securely confined with Toto, his jailer, dancing in triumphant joy in the other room…. For over an hour, he stayed there securely locked up. Then, growing a little weary of the game, he called Toto to the door, scolded her severely and told her to unlock it and let him out. Shamefacedly, she obeyed…

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    Lucy: Growing Up Human, A Chimpanzee Daughter in a Psychotherapist's Family, by Maurice K. Temerlin (1972)

    Touchy-feely account by a nut job (Maurice Temerlin, aka Maury) who goes to great lengths to maintain a relationship with his chimpanzee "daughter." Lucy is by all accounts an extremely precocious chimp; the stories here are lively and engaging but often for the wrong reasons. I could write at length about this book but instead I'll just share one telling anecdote. Maury, like many caretakers of primates, insists on calling Lucy his daughter. Most of such quasi-parents keep their charges in cages and use cattle prods or other devices to keep them in line. Not Maury. But he's got his own bizarre ideas of what it means to be a dad:

    Lucy attempts to mouth my penis whenever she sees it, whether I am urinating, bathing, or having an erection. As a matter of fact I think it is accurate to say that Lucy is fascinated by the human penis since she attempts to explore it with her mouth whenever she can, unless it is mine and she is swollen in estrus.

    So Maury frequently has erections in the company of his "daughter" and observes her putting penises (not just his own!) in her mouth. And, wait, there's more: "I found this a very interesting observation as throughout the years of my deep affection for Lucy I never experienced sexual desire for her. " Interesting? Really? She's supposed to be your daughter? And a chimp!

    Maury ended up getting fired from his job as head of the psychology department at the University of Oklahoma. Lucy, however, triumphed: after nearly 18 years with crazy Maury and his wife (a record), she became one of the very rare chimps who was successfully re-introduced into the wild in Africa.

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  • Let Go, Let Brown

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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    Are you one of those folks who loves God? I mean really loves God? As in enough to make the visual association between your Lord and a noted package delivery company?

    Because, friend, that's what it takes to wear this garment. If you're just one of those fly-by-night, loves-God-only-enough-to-associate-Him-with-a-soft-drink types, then keep walking.

    (Thanks, Galen!)

  • Movie recommendation: People of the Forest: The Chimps of Gombe

    Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

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    Though I consider myself an ape enthusiast, I've never really cottoned to movies starring chimps. Chimps dressed in clothing performing slapstick gags just isn't my thing. Documentaries about primates usually aren't much better; they tend to be dry and humorless, sucking all the spirit out of their subjects while portraying their depressing circumstances. Also, there's just something incongruous about watching "nature" documentaries on TV screens. But People of the Forest: The Chimps of Gombe transcends all this. In a word, it's awesome. The documentary draws on 20 years of footage to tell the stories of a group of chimps that Jane Goodall followed in Gombe, Tanzania. It's as sweet and funny and heart-rending as any great feature film. Highly recommended. (The movie is out of print, but Amazon has a few copies, or you may be able to get it via P2P.)

  • Kerry Tribe's H.M.

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

    Earlier this year, I did a bit of technical work for an artist, Kerry Tribe, on her installation/film project called H.M. It was a remarkable piece. At its core, it was a documentary about a man who had some experimental neurosurgery that left him with an active memory of 20 seconds. What made the piece so remarkable was that it played back on two 16mm projectors, the film being delayed by exactly 20 seconds from one to the other. The film was shot in such a way that the two projections, displaced in time by 20 seconds, worked together uncannily well, sometimes displaying complementary images, and even, in one visually notable part, forming a complete image that spanned over the two screens. It's pretty great.

    Kerry and I are in the early stages of a collaboration I'm quite excited about, but even if I wasn't I'd encourage everyone to check out more of her work. There's not really a good way to see H.M. online, since the mechanical projectors and the maze of looped film form such an integral part of the piece, but I think it is traveling around a bit, so the best I can tell you is to keep your eyes open for it.

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  • Coincidence?

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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    This is something I found a good while ago, and have posted at other places online; but it's just one of those things that I think merits looking back at, periodically, to help better understand the mysteries of existence.

    The top, of course, is that famous picture of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. The bottom is the cast of Bagger Vance, horsing around at the opening night party, as seen in Variety.

    Were they trying to recreate this image? If so, why the hell would they do that? Did the photographer see the resemblance? There's so many questions here, all vastly more interesting than anything Bagger Vance normally produces.

    Man. It gives me chills.

  • The Most Elephantest Switch You've Ever Seen

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

    This is a power switch salvaged from an old PC. It is also the switch that most resembles an elephant, beating out its nearest competitor by a factor of 5. In fact, on the SPRS (Standardized Pachyderm Resemblance Scale) it scored an incredible 8.4— a mammoth only scores 8.2!

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    Remember this day. One day, your kids will ask where you were when you saw it.

  • More Griping About Advertising: Bing Edition

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

    My previous rant about an advertising campaign had pretty mixed results, so let's try again. This time I want to talk about the television campaign for Microsoft's new search engine, Bing.

    My problem with these ads is that they rely on one of the oldest, hoariest advertising tricks in the book: make up the disease, then sell the cure. This has been done for years; occasional bad breath became the dread disease "halitosis" in the 1930s, thanks to Listerene (which had previously been sold as, among other things, a dandruff tonic), for example. Now Microsoft is going to save us from "Search Overload Syndrome."

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  • Old Ad for Fake Guns

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

    You know how hard it is to find that perfect gift for that special someone in your life who really wants to get killed by a cop, but doesn't want to actually endanger anybody? I think I may have the answer right here. All you need is $44.95 and probably a time machine back to 1977, because I can't imagine this is legal now.

    This ad brings up so many questions: who is this targeted at? Even in a theater prop sort of context, I don't see how the weight and feel would matter. Is it for potential criminals, who want the intimidation of a gun but are hedging their bets if they get caught, it won't be with a deadly weapon? It does say "will fool experts," I bet especially if the "expert" is looking down the barrel of it.

    The best line is, of course, "Decorate your den, office, rec-room." I can just imagine it. "Oh, your potpourri bowl artfully strewn with pistols is absolutely wonderful!" A few handguns tossed around in just the right spots really makes a rec-room, too.

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  • New book on viral culture: And Then There's This

    Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

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    My friend Bill Wasik has a book out now that should appeal to Boing Boing types, And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture. Several years ago, Wasik started the Mob Project, which launched flash mobs as an insanely popular fad in New York, then globally. We interviewed him in Stay Free! about it a while back.

    Wasik's book looks at how ideas spread online through social networks and other media channels. In each chapter, Wasik, who is an editor at Harper's magazine, conducts some sort of prank to explore the ways single messages can evolve and have massive ripple effects. I especially dug his observations on how the internet and mp3 swapping have affected indie rock (since, as a clueless middle-ager, I haven't kept up): with bands and their careers now playing a much smaller role than individual songs and musicians.

  • Top 10 Ironic Ads From History

    Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

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    Earlier this month, Jason and I guest blogged at Consumerist. Here's something I posted there that might interest you all as well:

    Remember when you could buy barbiturates for the baby? Cover your house with asbestos? Or get heroin from the doctor? Okay, probably not, but thanks to the immortal beauty of advertising, you can take a trip back in time. Here's our pick of some of the most ironic ads in American history.

    (with apologies to my writing partner, Torchinsky, who loves Corvairs)

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  • Hidden Booze Treasure Ad Campaign

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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    I'm more used to being a critic of advertising, but I have to admit, I kind of like this old late 60s-early 70s ad campaign/stunt for Canadian Club whiskey. The idea is really simple: the company hid cases of the whiskey in remote locations throughout the world, and daring go-getter boozehounds with, I imagine, a good bit of disposable income, would go off in hunt of them. The ad I have here describes one at the bottom of Devil's Backbone Reef in the Bahamas. Here's an old article about it, too.

    Incredibly, as improbable as it would seem that a company would be allowed to just leave around cases of alcohol in our modern, fussier time, it looks like the contest was revived, in 2004, but they were in U-Hauls, which makes it lots less fun.

    Information about the event is a bit scant online, but I did find this one very, very informative comment:

    In 1967, Hiram Walker and its advertising agency began hiding cases of Canadian Club Whiskey around the world. In all, 22 cases were hidden and 5 remain hidden to this day. The 5 remaining cases were hidden: 1) At the North Pole; 2) In Lake Placid, NY; 3) In The Yukon Territory of Canada; 4) On Robinson Crusoe Island off the coast of Chile; and 5) In Ujiji. Of the 5 remaining cases, those in Lake Placid, The Yukon, and Chile have clues which are at best vague. Those cases will most likely never be found. Of the 2 other cases, both the North Pole clues and the Ujiji clues were quite specific. The North Pole clues included Longitude and Latitude, Minutes and Seconds. Unfortunately, due to its location, it most likely sank into the snow long ago. The Ujiji case remains the strongest candidate as to its potential discovery. If anyone is interested in learning of the Ujiji hidden case of Canadian Club whiskey, contact me @ james.willhoft@gte.net

    Wow! There's still 5 cases out there! I actually found a few other similar posts about the remaining 5 cases, signed by a "James W." Man, this guy really, really wants those weathered old cases of hooch. Maybe it's time to get up an expedition of discriminating drunks with lots of frequent flyer miles to burn, or willing to take up a collection and get poor, obsessed James a case of his own.

  • The Black Widow

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

    I've always been fond of VW Beetles, and any real Beetle lover should set aside a special place in their gas-fume-smelling heart for one particular Beetle, the Black Widow. The Black Widow started life as a 1955 oval-window Beetle, boasting a small stable of 36 horses for power. Then, the kooks over at Turbonique, makers of some truly bonkers small jet engines for daredevils and other fun-loving loons, put one of their engines in the Bug, along with the VW/jet engine transaxle they developed. The result was a Beetle that made about 850+hp and weighed about, oh, half of a modern Honda Civic.

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  • When These Robots Enslave Us, It'll Be an Adorable Enslaving

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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    As a kid, I remember that a suspicious number of my toy robots seemed to originate from Tomy, which I always pictured as a sophisticated Japanese concern, headquartered in a gleaming steel building on, probably, a hovering island off the coast of Hokkaido.

    I thought this because, unlike most toy companies, Tomy seemed to secretly long to be a real robot company. Sure, they had the usual little wind-up and remote control robots (and the less usual, like the owl-bot pictured here), but they kept sneaking into their line more and more sophisticated ones. This site gives a great rundown of the whole 70s-90s era Tomy Robot Army, so you can know just who your cute new plastic master is.

  • "Iraq Campaign 1991" by Phil Patiris is now online

    Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

    One of my other favorite films from the Illegal Art Exhibit was Phil Patiris' "Iraq Campaign 1991," a genius bit of agitprop he created in 1992 using TV footage of the first Gulf War. It was especially a hit at lefty media conferences. I wanted to put this up on the Illegal Art site back in the day, so I'm psyched to see that it has finally made its way online. Enjoy.

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    (Thanks to Craig B. back in the day)

  • 1972 ad promotes radiation

    Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

    I found this 1972 Investor-Owned Electric Light and Power Companies ad in a Taschen collection.

    Radioactivity. It's been in the family for generations. In fact, scientists can tell us just how old our remote ancestors are by measuring the radioactivity still in the bones of prehistoric cave dwellers.

    Was this really reassuring? All of the dead people you've ever heard about are radioactive! Why not: "Radiation: because EVERYTHING causes cancer!"

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  • We're in the Future: Scientists Warn of Robot Overlords

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with a common-law wife, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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    This article from the NY Times is a great read for those of you who feel, what with the lack of jetpacks and pizzas-in-a-pill, the present just really isn't the future you'd been promised. This is an article in a major, established, old-school publication talking about established scientists hand-wringing about how the robots we're building may become smarter than us, and, um, take over.

    It's a fascinating thought, and one that a number of years ago still seemed well within the realm of science fiction. Autonomy has come very far in recent years, and the use of armed, semi-autonomous drones is now commonplace; it just makes sense for scientists and technologists to start thinking about some of these big issues now.

    So, don't kick your Roomba.

    ( Also, it's interesting to take a look at where this all really started.)

  • Virginia, the Blind Dog

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with a common-law wife, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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    One of my dogs, Virginia, went blind late last year. I knew it was coming; she has glaucoma, and lost sight in one of her eyes a while before. We'd been keeping the other eye alive with lots and lots of medicine, but the vet told us it was just a matter of time. So, when the morning came and I found her running around crazily all over the house, nose to the ground, I shouldn't have been surprised.

    Still, I was pretty alarmed. And while I read lots on the internet about this, and even saw the articles that said not to panic, the dog will adapt, those articles were almost invariably written by the sort of hyper-caring earth-mother women who could say taking care of a limbless, eyeless, incontinent sea lion was an easy, rewarding experience anyone could do. I didn't really buy it.

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  • Test compares the way humans and chimps learn

    Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

    Here's an interesting clip from a National Geographic documentary that compares the way humans and chimpanzees learn. When asked to perform a series of motions in order to get a treat out of a box, the human child will copy the adult's motions exactly. The ape copies the motions as well, until the box is replaced with a translucent version. Once it is, the ape realizes that half of the motions are pointless and takes a shortcut to get the treat; children, on the other hand, continue to do the meaningless motions that they were taught.

    According to the filmmakers, this illustrates how both humans and chimps learn through copying, but children are "better" at it. That very well may be. But shouldn't the chimps should be given props for problem-solving here?

    Experiments like this always drive me a bit crazy because the social setup isn't exactly parallel. Children are being asked to copy other humans, whereas the apes are expected to follow a different species. Would children be as good at copying (or obeying) if chimps were the ones giving instructions?

    Of course, even if chimps were asked to imitate older chimps, they probably wouldn't copy as precisely as the children, and that's ultimately the filmmakers' point. The children are able to see rote repetition as the point of a game whereas the chimp might only be able to grasp "getting the treat."

  • Crows Recognize Human Faces

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with a common-law wife, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

    This NPR story basically confirms what I've always suspected: crows are very smart, and I never should have said those terrible things to that crow a few years back.

    I really like crows, and occasionally I'll get a, well, murder of them in my backyard, where they all sit around and caw and cackle to each other, making a huge cacophony that sounds like some large family gatherings I've tried unsuccessfully to avoid. Maybe it's some sort of crow senate. Regardless, they're smart, and they know what you look like.

  • Reptilian Alien Tearing Through Fake Human Face Thermos

    Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with a common-law wife, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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    Anyone remember the 1980s TV series V? I was a kid when they were on, and only barely remember it, but I do recall some reasonably creepy face-peeling by the reptilian aliens as they tore off their human masks to reveal their true, scaly selves.

    Honestly, that's about all I remember. But just based on that, I wouldn't have guessed it as a good candidate for a kid's lunchbox set. But then I saw this Thermos on display at a diner in the California desert, and I realized how much growing up I have to do.