San Francisco Institute of Possiblity

From the blog

Laughing our way to Tomorrow

Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig

You’ve probably never heard of Stefan Zweig.

I only discovered him recently.  He wrote this book, you see, back in 1942.  An autobiography.  It’s called The World of Yesterday.

All of a sudden, people out of nowhere were recommending it to me.  An old college professor.  A friend’s wife.  My mom.  My freaking mom asks me on the phone “Have you ever read Stefan Zweig’s autobiography?”

So I call up a local independent bookstore.

“Green Arcade books,” says the man on the other end of the phone.  “How can I help you?”

“Yes, hi.  I’m wondering if you have Stefan Zweig’s autobiography, The World of Yesterday?”

He responds immediately.  “You’re JOKING!”

I give this some thought.  “No, I’m pretty sure I’m not.”

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Top reasons San Francisco was picked to host Super Bowl L in 2016:

  • In San Francisco, a massive half-time show is called "Wednesday."

    In San Francisco, a massive half-time show is called “Wednesday.”

    Steadily increasing rent and home prices will have driven out all the protesters by then  

  • Ed Lee’s displays of personal athleticism
  • We’re the only city that really understands Roman numerals
  • Our opera kicks the Miami cultural scene’s ass
  • Willie Brown knows a guy
  • We can’t lose EVERYTHING to Santa Clara
  • MUNI buses should have gotten rid of the stink by 2015, tops
  • NFL players are really into Burning Man 
  • We offered to give them everything the America’s Cup hasn’t already made off with
  • 20 years of pranks by the Cacophony Society have made us strong and resilient against our foes

Pope Francis, Carrie Galbraith, continue decades long feud

One of the many Vatican bars Carrie Galbraith has been banned from.

One of the many Vatican bars Carrie Galbraith has been banned from.

Vatican City, Vatican, May 23 – A spokesman for His Holiness Pope Francis confirmed today that the Pontiff will refuse to review “Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society.”

According to Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope will also refuse to provide a blurb for the book’s press tour, or to Tweet about it on the Vatican’s Twitter account.

“His Holiness Pope Francis does not endorse this book in any way, and frankly doesn’t see what’s so funny about gluing toasters to the side of buildings,” Father Lombardi said.  “He prefers the sharp satire of a Mark Twain impersonator.”

The Pope’s refusal to read or promote the book is part of a long continuing feud between the Holy Father and former Cacophonist Carrie Galbraith, which began (according to sources in the Italian press) when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  In 1989 both Francis and Galbraith wore the same black frock and red sash to a Catholic Cabaret Party, leading to an embarrassment that the Archbishop called “devastating in the eyes of the Lord.”

Since that time His Holiness has written several poor Yelp reviews about Galbraith’s book art workshops.

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Fun with Robots

Any minute now you'll mistake this for your mother.

Any minute now you’ll mistake this for your mother.

The news that IBM’s supercomputer “Watson” will be put to use for business call centers got me thinking.

How is it that we’re so used to dealing with machines for everything in our daily lives?  I get how everything got so automated so quickly, but how did we adjust to it so fast?

There’s a Cacophony style story about this in Chicken John’s “Book of the Is.”  It goes like this:

I found a drivers license on Mission street one day. Just the license. From a guy in Santa Rosa, about 50 miles north of SF. I put it in my wallet, thinking I’d drop it in a mailbox. But then I had a better idea. I was doing a bus trip that night. I take people bowling after the Dr. Hal Show. I also was in possession of a robot suit. Arms like ventilation tubes. Silver box for a head. Totally stupid. We went bowling in Santa Rosa. At 2:00 AM, we went to this suburban neighborhood with my giant bus, suited Michelle up in the robot suit and sent her lumbering for his door. Knock knock. Knock knock.

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The British Consulate cannot help you

Someone here did something very funny.

Someone here did something very funny.

Somewhere in the depths of the bureaucracy of the British Foreign Office, there sits a hero.

He is anonymous:  we will likely never know his name.  But he did something so brave, so bold, so honest, that it touches the heart of any true cacophonist.

This anonymous hero sent out a press release, to everyone in Great Britain, reminding its citizens that the Foreign Office cannot give them the contact information for Sir Paul McCartney’s wife.

It’s funny because it’s true.

“Over the last year, the FCO handled more than a million consular enquiries and supported some 52,135 British nationals in difficulty abroad,” this anonymous hero’s press release began. “However, our consular staff overseas continue to receive a number of enquiries that they simply cannot provide assistance for.”

He then lists some examples.  These are all true. (more…)

Cacophony in the era of Homeland Security

Your toasters aren't safe

Your toasters aren’t safe

It’s one thing to climb the Golden Gate bridge in the 1980s, when America’s biggest concern was whether Rock ‘n Roll had gone too far;  it’s quite another to climb it in the post-911 era, when only radical Muslims climb bridges.

The new Homeland Security regulations, as well as other new laws and restrictions, have made many of the Cacophony Society’s most cherished events and traditions illegal, and even dangerous.  Here’s a partial list of how:

  • The FBI now automatically profiles any fish that enter marathons
  • Sticking a toaster on the side of a building is considered terrorism by local law enforcement, especially if it’s set to extra-crispy
  • Dadaism on university campuses is immediately reported to the CIA
  • Police have been specially trained on handling a Santa-with-a-gun (more…)

Life is a carnival – the Cacophony Cosmology of Gary Warne

Don't you want to ride?

Don’t you want to ride?

If the Cacophony Society had a patron saint, it was Gary Warne.

The founder of the Suicide Club, Gary personally inspired the people who would go on to found Cacophony before his tragic death at 35.  Like Moses, he didn’t live to see the promised land:  but his words have inspired many who came after.

Gary wrote this piece, “Carnival Cosmology,” shortly after founding the Suicide Club in 1977 – and the fact that it’s quoted entirely in both Chicken John’s “Book of the Is” and the new “Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society” makes it as close to a seminal document as Cacophony culture has.

You should read it.  It’s important.

CARNIVAL COSMOLOGY – Gary Warne

The world is a midway; cities are its sideshows. The only difference between children and adults is that there is no one to take care of us. When we left home it meant we were lost on the midway and, unlike God, the carny boss will only let us ride as long as we pay. (more…)

Can you spot the John Law quotes?

John Law at the 1991 Burning Man festival.

John Law at the 1991 Burning Man festival.

Three of these quotes were actually said by John Law at Cacophony Society events in the 1980s – while the other seven are statements in support of the Cacophony philosophy by famous thinkers.  Can you tell the difference?

Play our quiz!  The answers are below!

1)       “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

2)      “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.”

3)      “Move the neon smiley face 10 inches to the left!”

4)      “Play is the exultation of the possible.”

5)      “Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good”

6)      “Turn off the flame thrower!  Turn OFF THE FLAME THROWER!”

7)      “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

8)      “Play is the highest form of research.”

9)      “The true object of all human life is play.”

10)   “Clowns go to the left, giant lizard monsters in tiaras sit in the front.”

Ready for the Answers?  They might surprise you!

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My favorite Cacophony Prank

Photo courtesy of the Steiff Museum, Giengen Germany

Photo courtesy of the Steiff Museum, Giengen Germany

There are so many to choose from … so many that had photographs … so many that got video taped … but in the end it’s a simple story that does it for me.

The Reverend Al got some big plush teddy bears. Cut open the seam on the back, gutted the stuffing. Replaced it with cement. Sewed the bears back up, and smuggled them into Toys R Us at Christmas. He and Sneery the Evil Clown made tags: Cement Cuddlers. Their UPC bar code came up as a Vienna Sausage. The reverse side of the tag included the following verse:

“Unfortunate child, do not mistake me for a living thing, nor seek in me the warmth denied you by your parents. For beneath my plush surface lies a hardness as impervious and unforgiving as this World’s own indifference to your mortal struggle. Hold on to me when you are sad, and I will weigh you down, but bear this weight throughout your years, and it will strengthen your limbs and harden your will so that one day no man dare oppose you.” (more…)