Friday, February 27, 2009

Top Chef Season 5 Finale

Top Chef concluded this week with Carla reverting to one of her earlier bad habits: Not speaking up about how she wanted one of her dishes to be executed. And just as this bit her in the ass in previous episodes, so did it cost her the crown this time around.
Hosea won. Six months from now ask someone who won TC 5 and they may very well look at you blankly, hem and haw, and then ask what Fabio's up to. Nothing against Hosea, but he's no Stephanie, or Hung, or Ilan, or even Harold. Wait. What's with all of the "H" names? 3 of 5 winners have names starting with H. I barely know any men with an H name. Living men, that is. I know a couple of dead Herbies.
But, in a larger context, beyond how immemorable Hosea is, is the alarming manner that the producers have chosen to edit the show. It started with TC4 and Evil Lisa. She provided conflict and villiany, so she got to hang around lost past her expiration date. We saw that once again with Leah in TC5, someone with marginal skill at best hanging on challenge after challenge while more talented cookies crumbled. I thought surely that Leah would be toast after she quit during a quickfire because year after year we've heard about effort and dedication and passion from the judges until we want to take a fistful of xanax with a bottle of cheap vodka.
Still, Leah remained.
Top Chef, I implore you to stick to the tenets of the show that you established. Force the contestants to work at the highest level. Expect more, expect better, accept no substitutions!
Which is my ham handed segue into the problem that is Toby Young. Does this person know the first thing about food and flavors? Even Padma, who is too nice for her own good, had to smack him down with his whole praise of Stefan's dessert by saying, It was pedestrian at best. Doesn't he know this? And then, why doesn't he know this? There have been great men and women of the culinary world sitting at that judges' table, and Toby Young isn't one of them. He cheapens the very process by just being there.
I sincerely hope that we've seen the last of Young on Top Chef. A glib remark doesn't make up for substance when it comes to critiquing food, or anything else for that matter.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Chaiken

I have a theory about the The L Word. Let me preface this with the disclosure that I have a terrible head cold and I may or may not be on some sort of dangerous herbal concoction that is altering my perception. I don't think there's too much cyanide in cherry bark.
Ok, so, what if this entire season of TLW is a collective subconscious effort by Ilene Chaiken and company to destroy the myth of The Chaiken. To deconstruct her psyche by having the character of Jenny serve as The Chaiken, evolving into an even more loathesome character than in seasons past and thereby serving as the perfect, if senseless, vehicle to utterly destroy The Chaiken, and just as the Phoenix rose triumphantly from a big ass pile of ashes, so shall The Chaiken be reborn in the sacrificial death of Jenny! Actually, this makes a tiny bit of sense since Ilene Chaiken has said that she isn't going to reveal who killed Jenny, because really, who killed Jenny doesn't matter. Jenny isn't a person, she's an id wrapped in a superego run amok. Without an ego there's nothing rational about Jenny, which is why she's the golem of The Chaiken, and why her murder isn't a death, but a device, if not public service.
And there you have my latest crank theory! Thoughts?

Best Quote

I'm nearly finished with Lorrie Moore's collection of short stories, 'Birds of America', and I'm willing to go out on a limb and declare this the best passage in this spare partial oeuvre:

"The thing to remember about love affairs," says Simone, "is that they are all like having raccoons in your chimney."
"Oh, not the raccoon story," groans Cal.
"Yes! The raccoons!" cries Eugene.
I'm sawing at my duck.
"We have raccoons sometimes in our chimney," explains Simone.
"Hmmmm," I say, not surprised.
"And once we tried to smoke them out. We lit a fire, knowing they were there, but we hoped that the smoke would cause them to scurry out the top and never come back. Instead, they caught on fire and came crashing down into our living room, all charred and in flames and running madly around until they dropped dead." Simone swallows some wine. "Love affairs are like that," she says. "They are all like that."

You can listen to a podcast of author Louise Erdrich reading this short story, 'Dance in America', on The New Yorker's website, or just click here. Nothing is quite as fun as listening to one author fawn over another, except for one author hating on another (the famous feud between Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman, anyone?).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Being and Nothingness

From Defamer:

We knew that celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz had some serious financial problems. But we didn't know they were so bad that she had to sign over all of her photos to a pawn shop:

The NYT today reveals that Leibovitz took out more than $15 million in loans from Art Capital Group—essentially a very high class pawn shop specializing in art.

Last fall, Annie Leibovitz, the photographer, borrowed $5 million from a company called Art Capital Group. In December, she borrowed $10.5 million more from the same firm. As collateral, among other items, she used town houses she owns in Greenwich Village, a country house, and something else: the rights to all of her photographs.

In addition to the lawsuit for more than $700k from unpaid vendors, Leibovitz reportedly used the cash to pay back taxes and finance "a lengthy, costly and litigious renovation on the three adjoining town houses." Why one would pawn their town houses in order to raise money to renovate them, I do not know.

Obviously, a $2 million per year income is no savior from hard times. And hey, Julian Schnabel also pawned some real estate with the same firm to help finance his goddamn monstrosity of a pink, constantly-discounted celebrity condo building, Palazzo Chupi. Pawn shops prey on the rich just as they do the poor. Fairness!

-I don't know what to make of all of this except to say that obviously she doesn't handle money well. But to leverage your own work like that? I can't imagine! Money is money, but your life's work is like...your very being.

I love Leibovitz. I think that her portrait work is some of the finest ever conceived and executed and she's brought a lot of postive and serious attention to the craft of photography. I just hope that she hasn't made a deal with the devil to get her hands on ready cash.

Pittsburgh Passion Documentary

The Pittsburgh Passion's season starts on April 18th, but that's not the only thing the team has to be excited about:


Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Contact: Jen Yee

LOS ANGELES -- Pittsburgh Passion, documentary feature film, has been nominated for a 2009 Billie Award in Journalism. The Billie Awards honor extraordinary contribution to media coverage and insightful portrayal of women and girls in sports. With special honoree, Dick Ebersol, Chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, and special performance by Sir Elton John, the winners will be honored on Wednesday, April 1, 2009, at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, home of the Hollywood Golden Globes. A program of the Women's Sports Foundation, trustees include Billie Jean King, Sheryl Crow, Laila Ali, and Holly Hunter.

Pittsburgh Passion gives an inside look at the realization of women's professional football in the United States and follows the pioneers who overcame all physical and historical odds to build a new sport for a nation. It documents the ever impossible 2007 perfect championship dream season of the Pittsburgh Passion women's football franchise.

Pittsburgh Passion was produced by Back Light Productions LLC, a Los Angeles based motion picture production company committed to producing stories that enrich, inspire, and dignify the goodness of the human experience.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I've had a few computer issues of late, namely, my system crashed. Fortunately one of my son's friends was able to fix everything right up for me over the course of a weekend, but I did lose all of the pic files I had stored. Tragedy presents itself in many forms in the information age, but none is quite as bracing as the black screen of death, rising unexpectantly like a great gaping maw of destruction, devouring all and sundry in its path. I call it, Comp-U-Tar!
Anyway, I'm back up and good to go. Hopefully I'll have something either profound or silly to say later today...and with a little luck, both!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Newly Discovered Writers, By Me, At Least

I often feel as if I'm late to some literary party. Some great author has been around forever and I've only just discovered them. Forever being as subjective as discovery, I can only know something when our paths have crossed. Esoteric enough for a Thursday?
So it is that I've finally stumbled upon two authors I'd never heard of: Lorrie Moore and Sara Ryan. These authors have nothing in common, apart from both being women and thereby human, but as fate would have it, here I am ordering their books. Not that I don't have a stack of books glaring at me on the bedside table, I'm just not in the mood yet for 'Outliers', and let's face it, I'm never going to finish that one book by some guy who thought something about something but used too many words to never get to his point. I just can't commit any more time to someone like that. I've broken off the reader end of that relationship and unfriended him on MySpace.*
Like many readers, avid and otherwise, I depend on book recommendations from friends and reviews I peruse at my leisure on the interweb tubes. In all honesty, I probably rely more on reviews than on friends because ever since that 'Bel Canto' recommendation I've cast a rheumy eye toward what some people consider a 'must' read.
Now I just await the delivery of Moore's 'Birds of America' and Ryan's 'Empress of the World'.

*I'm not on MySpace, or Facebook, or Twitter, or classmates or really anything that makes me more accessible. I just can't resolve all that interaction with my hermetic world view.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A friend yesterday sent me a link to a Russian version of lolcats. Rolcats is, shall we say, not all warm and cuddly. My Russian isn't good enough, or even at all, to say whether or not the English translations are accurate. But no matter, because whether Yuri and Dimitri are real matters less than the cruel amusement offered therein. Although, given the way that English is used (We sleep with vigor...) I'd have to wager a guess that whoever is writing these captions has a knowledge of the Russian language, poetry and literature, and possibly the translation of same.
Just my guess.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

All Undressed and nowhere to go

Yeah, so my dad didn't have the surgery on Friday because before they could start the operation his blood pressure dropped dangerously and they had to abort. Also, now dad doesn't want surgery and is opting to get the rounds of chemo first, and then maybe reconsidering the surgery. While I respect my father's decision in this matter, it is afterall his body and his life, my oldest brother sees this as one more instance where dad throws in the towel. Now granted, our father does have a knack for quitting. No obstacle is too small to precipitate giving up.
But I don't think that that is what dad's doing in this instance. I think that he has carefully weighed his options and he's heading down the path of not least resistance, but best outcome.
Also, I have to give a shout out to UPMC Passavant's cafeteria. I had the best red bell pepper soup there the other day, and I mean that it was really delicious! Almost as good as my mom's stuffed bell pepper soup, which is saying something. I don't know how the cooks at a hospital cafeteria manage to make delectable food, but this is by far the best hospital cafeteria food I've ever had. The soup was far superior to the funky bisque that I had at the Carson Street Deli the next day. A word of advice: Never order a soup with seafood in it from a mid-range deli. Whatever you are thinking at the time ('How bad can it be?'), ignore that voice! Get a veggie wrap instead. Your intestinal tract will thank you later.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fringe Bonding

On Friday my father is scheduled to have surgery to remove much of his right lung. He's been battling cancer in various parts of his body for about a decade now.
My father and I have a problematic relationship. In some ways we're alike, we have the same sense of humor, but in other ways we're so diametrically opposed that it's difficult to believe that we're sharing the same plane of existence. Which also might explain why we both love Fringe.
So, yesterday I was at the hospital all day with my dad while he got biopsied and scanned. While we waited all he wanted to talk about was Tuesday night's Fringe. Which we did. My mother sat by the bed and knitted barely listening, sometimes interjecting something along the lines of: A cow in the lab seems unsanitary. I would argue that the cow is a metaphor for the easily led masses, but that seems to pat a conclusion to draw. For all I know the cow is just a cow, or maybe an ancient god reincarnated who is really leading Walter. Or the cow is just a cow.
Anyway, Dad seemed to be in much better spirits by the time I left, fully satisfied that we'd plumbed the depths of meaning within Fringe...and more importantly, his mind was off all of the medical stuff at hand. Better to bond late than never.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pitted Skull

Yes, that's an authentic German Navy parka I'm wearing there, accessorized nicely with a Finnish gas mask. You know, I don't think that I can actually wear one of those things, the gas mask, for an extended period of time. I'm not really claustrophobic, but there's something about having my whole head enclosed like that that makes me antsy and uncomfortable.
And the room I'm in here is in the Spider Kingdom, aka, my basement. The proximity of potential terror keeps me on my toes.

Once Was Snow

It's warmed up outside to such an extent that it's hard to believe that less than two weeks ago we were dealing with a foot of snow and temps in the single digits.
I took this pic while MK and I walked the dog around the streets of Pittsburgh's south side. I've taken to carrying a disposable Kodak camera with me (expired, because then I can buy them in bulk and get them cheap) and I have to say that the lack of refinement using this sort of 'equipment' lends a realism and immediacy that I might not otherwise be able to achieve.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Introspection, Narcissus

It's difficult to be introspective and not be self obsessed. My self obsession revolves around an infinitely miniscule and infinitely dense core of borderline self loathing. That helps to keep me in check. The introspection takes on a whole other meaning when it's balanced on who I am and who I want to be. The dark corners of my psyche sometimes stretch and yawn from the shadows. Times like those the only light being cast comes from the smoldering ashes of my dreams.
Not really, but it sounded good when I typed it.
For years this painting hung in my mother's house. I remember standing in front of it and wondering what he found so interesting to endlessly peer at his own image. I still think that when I look at this painting hanging in my brother's house now.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Violet Spring

After being subjected to nothing but a monochromatic world all winter I am sooooo ready for the violent explosion of color and life that awaits come spring. Bring on spring!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

And Now, soMe tHouGhts on Photography

Context is everything. But in viewing photographs you often get an image and nothing more. You fill in the blanks. Even if you do get contextual text, it might not make much sense, beyond being disturbing, and, depending on your feelings for clowns, fun.
Pittsburgh has more bridges than any other place in the world. One day MK and I were out walking and we passed beneath one of them. I shot straight up at the girders. I only shoot film because it's what I know and what I feel comfortable with. Here I was using a Pentax A 3000 loaded with Kodak Gold 100 film (expired). The original didn't come back from the processing lab very impressive, so I started digitally tinkering with the contrast. The rust on the main beam bled red while the bit of paint that remained on the lesser support emerged a more brilliant yellow. The shadows completely engulfed the rest of the structure so that I ended up with an incongruentous architectural representation of form without form. Does that even make sense? Gotta love open interpretation!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thoughts on the Economy

Ever since the housing bubble burst I've been thinking a lot, A LOT, about the economic foundations that currently exist in the United States. Where once, just a few decades ago, we had a strong middle class rooted in manufacturing and production, family run farms, and small shops owned by individual merchants. Now instead of Barnett's Bootery we've got Famous Footwear and Pay Less. Instead of Abels Dairy we've got Country Charm milk trucked in from Massachusetts. Instead of steel forged in Beaver Falls rebuilding a bridge in Pittsburgh we've got government subsidized steel shipped over from China. The disconnect is easy to see here. Chains replacing small businesses, local family farms squeezed out by Uber-Agra, and trade agreements that employ backwards troll logic to curry favor with an oppressive foreign government.
This is not an American protectionist rant. What I'm trying to get at here is that the local has been discarded for the global. I don't want to eat a 3,000 mile salad or drink a 700 mile glass of milk. I don't want cookie cutter strip malls stretching as far as the eye can see. And I definitely don't want to drive across a bridge re-enforced with Chinese steel.
But and still, the world does not turn on what I want. And I have to bear in mind that I do have control over how I spend my money, what I choose to buy and from whom. Not that I buy much. I'm ridiculously frugal, probably to a fault. Being so heavily influenced by my depression-era grandparents, how could I be any other way?
The economic road ahead is uncertain, and the best I can do is plan my garden for the spring. I look forward to enjoying a ten foot salad. Oh! And MK's colleague is raising chickens, so we've got fresh eggs coming our way soon too. I've never gutted and plucked a chicken, but I have a pheasant and a turkey, so it can't be that different, right?

Pick Me Up

I stumbled across a website that is all things 30 Rock. Pregnant Cornbread, a line shared between Tracy and Kenneth, has just about everything you might require if you find yourself in need of a 30 Rock fix. It was the perfect place to start my morning today because the snow, cold, and cabin fever are all conspiring to squash my indomitable spirit.
Tina Fey, we love you! And by 'we' I mean me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fringe Nuptials

According to the Los Angeles Times Anna Torv, aka Fringe's Agent Dunham, has married Mark Valley, aka Fringe's mostly dead Agent Scott. I guess they tied the knot in secret over the recent holidays, and I don't mean Ground Hog Day, and only now have revealed their union.
Good on them and I wish them all the best! Typical of most real life pairings, I just didn't see their chemistry on screen. Isn't it odd that off screen couples seldom look hot together on film? I'm chuckling to myself just idly recalling how disastrous Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were in 'Eyes Wide Shut'. Wooden, but not in a porn-y sense, leaps to mind.
But why is that noncouples have the best onscreen chemistry? Take Booth and Brennan on 'Bones'. What Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz bring to those two characters is really electrifying. It feel so real, but of course it's just fake. Maybe the reason that real couples can't project their chemistry is because they're trying to act and you can't bring something that's already there...And before I get more convoluted, I'll go to the post office.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII

After it was all said and done, and the Steelers had won their sixth Super Bowl, I just wanted to collapse. I wanted to enter into a vegetative state and relax with an hour long episode of The Office. But no. The Pittsburgh NBC affiliate, WPXI, opted to fore go airing the funniest episode of the year (I caught it on hulu this morning) and instead aired live feed of people going crazy in the streets. Celebrating, I think it's called. Yes, I know, we won, we're all deliriously happy and drunk. We're shutting down the city streets and setting cars on fire. We couldn't be more giddy if they put demerol in the drinking water!
But, and I love the Steelers, that game was emotionally draining! We almost blew it in the fourth quarter. My heart almost stopped when the Cards took the lead. Oh, and I don't want to have to tell you how ugly it got at my brother's super bowl party. The lowlights consist of him throwing our sister and her dumbass boyfriend out. I should've left too, but you see, the difference between me and them is that I hold out hope. Call me a starry-eyed dreamer, but I believed that Ben could bring us back from the edge of despair and bathe us in the shimmering light of boundless joy. And you know what? I was right, goddamn it!
Anyway, I desperately wanted to unwind with The Office. Curl up on the couch with the dog and giggle like a school girl at Angela tossing her cat to Oscar in the ceiling...If you haven't seen the episode, go now and do so. GO! NOW!
Congratulations, Steelers! Big Ben and all the rest, we love you like how a mental patient loves crazy!