Thursday, October 30, 2014

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 10, Issue 8

                                         BtVS, 10.8, Cover Art by Steve Morris

     Since I posted the cover art, I listed the artist, but really, what this post is about is the genius team of  writer Christos Gage and artist Rebekah Isaacs.  This pair consistently produces a book that feels and seems like an episode of my favorite, yet defunct, show.
Dark Horse initially brought Gage and Isaacs on board for season 9 of the "Angel & Faith"  comic and right from the very first issue I could tell that they really had a handle on the voice and presentation of these characters.  Meanwhile over at the Buffy comic, season 9 proved to be uneven, even by season 8 standards.  The "Angel & Faith" had a clear vision of what story it was telling, and made it the book I must looked forward to each month.  I'll be honest, I was a little peeved when I learned that Gage and Isaacs had been shifted to Buffy for season 10.  I'm a big fan of the problematic Faith, and something of a fan of the ever brooding and long-suffering Angel.  I didn't want Buffy to improve at the expense of Angel & Faith...And 8 issues into season 10 I can say that while the Buffy book is the best it's ever been, Angel & Faith haven't disappeared down a hellmouth either.
There.  I wrote the whole thing without a single spoiler!
SPOILER!!!!!!!  ALERT!!!!!!!

Giles dies and is resurrected as an adolescent

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Babs & Pabs: A Very Special Collaboration

      Barbie & Pablo, Pittsburgh, 2014

In a rare stroke of pure and utter genius, I have paired Barbie with Picasso to create an entire portfolio inspired by the cultural impact these two 20th century icons left on history.  Actually, anyone following this blog at all has surely noticed that I have been tinkering with Barbie and the selfie.  For now I'm going to veer off from that exploration and instead focus in on what might've been had Barbie and Pablo collaborated, if Barbie had been the inspiration for the crying woman instead of Dora Maar.  Can Barbie cry?  Maybe more importantly I should ask; would Barbie cry?  Even or especially if she fell prey to Pablo's charms as so many women did, only to be jilted after a few years for a younger version.  The disposable muse.  Would Barbie cry then?  Or would she keep on smiling through the pain and rejection? 
Stay tuned for all the heartache and drama a plastic doll and man dead since 1973 can muster!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Queer Part Of Germany

                                St. George and The Dragon, Cleveland Museum of Art, 2014

The plaque that accompanies this sculpture indicates that this piece is from the early 16th century, made of wood and leather, and originated in either southern Germany or Austria.   Oh Lord, I thought after I'd read that last bit.  Like most Pennsylvanians, I have German ancestry, quite a lot, actually.  My paternal grandmother would loudly tell all and sundry that she was 100% German, and proud of it!  Her first husband, my father's father, was zero percent German and that marriage ended in tears when my father was but five years old.  Next my grandmother married a fellow German, but one that she always claimed cryptically was from 'the queer part of Germany'.  I had no idea what that meant and when we'd press her for clarification she'd yell that we (my siblings and I) didn't know nothin', and that the answer was somehow obvious.   We were blind idiots.
I suppose the answer was obvious, once I had the answer.  My grandfather, technically step-grandfather, but I grew up with him, so he was my real grandfather, for reasons relating to my father being something of a no-account swindler, left me in charge of his estate when he died.  While writing grandpa's obituary for the local newspaper, I discovered amongst his documents that his parents had immigrated from....Austria.  So, in my grandmother's thinking, this was the 'queer part of Germany'.  Austria. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Cup Is Already Broken

Sometimes I wonder what Schrodinger's cat would make of the shadows in Plato's cave.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blue Speak

         Blue Speak, Acrylic on Canvas, 2014

My oldest son is an artist.  There's something about the blue in this painting that calms me.  Everything else about the painting brings to mind destruction, but the blue still makes it all ok.
The Artist has a group show opening reception this week and, *fingers crossed*, I won't have to haul any of his work back home.
UPDATE 10/27/14:  SOLD

Monday, October 20, 2014

Vanitas, Ephemera, Calliope

     Stellula calliope, Calliope Hummingbird, Female, October, 2015

Friends of mine living in Montana, and very familiar with my photographic studies of dead things, thought of me when they found this dessicated bird in their home.  The calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United Sates and Canada, tipping the scales at only a tenth of an ounce.  Despite the small size, it still migrates over 5,500 miles from the western US/Canada to winter in southern Mexico.  Typical of birds, the male is much more colorful and visually striking, but also typical of hummingbirds, the female retains enough of the iridescent plumage to be spectacular too.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Death Trail, North Park

North Park Mountain Bike Trail, Pittsburgh, 2012

Some things are entirely self evident.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Barbie and 'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon'

Barbie Insinuates Herself Into 'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon', 2014

Considered one of Picasso's pivotal early masterpieces, 'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon'  portrays five prostitutes (only four are visible here because of Barbie's antics) posing for the male eye, with two of the hookers wearing masks, to represent the fear and horror that Picasso had for sexually transmitted diseases.   I do realize, of course, that I am supposed to view this work on its own merit of unquestionable genius, and ignore the blatant sexism, but the hell with that.  This painting is base, approaching pornography, and so misogynistic that I can't believe no one has thrown a bucket of menstrual blood on it.  
At least with the addition of Barbie there is an element of objectified capitalistic empowerment that Picasso so clearly denies his sex workers, diseased women on the fringes of a patriarchal society that both created them and marginalized them.
As a final observation I would like to point out that Picasso, who was not a master of form, often hid or obscured the hands and feet of his subjects because his hand lacked the finesse to render these in a true manner.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Study in Detritus

South Side, Monongahela River, Pittsburgh, October 2014

It was an insanely clear day.  Not even the barest hint of haze in the air.  Early in the morning we found ourselves gathering with other volunteers to assist Friends of the Riverfront  in cleaning up and beautifying the trail along this section of the Monongahela River.  We were given the choices of either mulching the trees, planting daffodil bulbs, weeding, or picking up trash.  We opted for trash pick up because it would afford us the greatest freedom of movement.  There are so many things that you don't anticipate (put you should) when confronting urban litter.
By the time we found the second syringe we decided to interpret the entirety* of what we'd encountered through the filter of an anthropological study.
Lots and lots, too many to count, McDonald's bags, cups, boxes and wrappers.  Apart from one Burger King drink cup, no other fast food restaurant was represented in the assemblage.
5 stray socks
2 condoms (used)
2 syringes (used)
The theory my partner and I formulated postulates that two unknown actors of indeterminate gender and origin purchased McDonald's value meals, consumed them, then threw the trash on the ground instead of utilizing one of the garbage cans placed every 600 feet.  Afterwards they had protected sex in the parking lot behind a Toyota Corolla.  It is believed that at this point they procured heroin and shot up under the 10th Street Bridge and discarded their needles near the chain link fence that separates the rail from the railroad tracks.  At some point one or both of our actors goes into the weeds to poop, instead of using one of the Port-a-Johns situated on the trail.  Not having toilet paper to wipe with, they each remove a single sock and use it for that purpose, discarding the sock afterwards.  It is possible that they have protected sex again and one or both of them poops again.

Giving the experience a narrative sort of helped to soften the reality of the drug addicted homeless people we were both picking up after and intruding upon.  I can't pretend to know what happens in someone's life to lead them down that rabbit hole, to be in the grip of something so much bigger than yourself that all you do is wrestle with it forever.  You, I, want to be compassionate, but not an enabler...It's a slippery slope.

*Does not include the entirety of what we discovered.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Non-poisonous With A Caveat, and Then Poisonous

Laetiporus sulphureus, Sulphur Shelf Mushroom, and Deroceras reticulatum, Grey Garden Slug (immature), Pittsburgh, 2014

Sunday morning my wife and I, along with our ever intrepid beagle, took a stroll down to the convenience store to pick up the newspaper.  We used to get the Sunday paper delivered, but then Caty had a run-in with their circulation or billing department, words were said (at least I think words were said), we cancelled our subscription in a huff.  Ever since then we've been on our own securing the newspaper.  Usually we pick-up the early Sunday edition on Saturday so that we have more time to work on the New York Times crossword puzzle, a puzzle, I might add, that it used to take us jointly all week to finish.  Now, one of us can finish it in a day, if we devote enough time to it.  I miss us working together on it, bonding over the cringe-worthy punny clues/answers.
So it was, that on this past Sunday on our way to fetch the paper we happened upon this mushroom and its resident slug.  I am no mycologist, but I can identify some mushrooms, especially the obvious ones with no look-alikes.  The sulphur shelf, or chicken, is one such mushroom.  A stemless polypor, it can grow on either living or dead wood.  It is edible and it is, in fact, the very first wild mushroom that Caty and I ever ate.  We were out collecting with friends of ours, the husband, Al, being the expert and guide, and he found a clutch of Laetiporus sulphureus sprouting out of an oak tree.  He cut some off with a knife and the four of us retired to their house were he proceeded to clean the mushrooms gently with a brush first, and then water, patting the pieces dry, slicing them into moderately thin strips, and then sauteing them in olive oil.  When they were done he layered them on homemade pizza along with sun dried tomatoes and slabs of mozzarella.  It was really divine.
Since then we've eaten other wild mushrooms, but always with Al serving as our guide.  Finally, last year I found a huge outcrop of L. sulphureus growing literally in our backyard.  Our neighbor had cut down a tree on the border of our properties, and from the stump grew the fungi.  I cut the whole of it free with my pocket knife and brought it into the house.  I was ecstatic because I knew how delicious and edible the mushroom was...or did I?  I went to the trusty google to make sure that I was indeed in possession of the delicious and edible L. sulphureus.  I was reassured that yes, it was a sulphur mushroom.  But then I read the entire accompanying article.

Before I say anything else about the Sulphur Shelf or Chicken Mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus, see photos above and below), I need to emphasize that it is very important to know what kind of tree it is growing on! Since the tree is often dead, this can be a bit tricky—but it's important because when the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf grows on certain kinds of trees, it should be avoided! (There are actually distinct species, such as L. gilbertsonii which found on various hardwoods, primarily in California; L. conifericola, which grows on various conifers; and L. huronensis, which grows primarily on Eastern hemlock and is especially common during springtime.) Fortunately, the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf is usually found on trunks, stumps and logs that still bear some bark, which can be the vital clue to identifying the tree—IF you can identify trees on this basis. The bottom line is that if you cannot tell the bark of a black cherry tree from that of an Eastern hemlock tree, for example, you ought to steer clear of the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf unless it is growing on a living tree that you can identify.

SULPHUR SHELF MUSHROOMS GROWING ON ANY CONIFER TREE (PINE, HEMLOCK, SPRUCE, FIR, LARCH/TAMARACK, ETC.), EUCALYPTUS, OR LOCUST TREES SHOULD NOT BE EATEN! Also, as with a number of wild mushrooms and many other foods (e.g. shellfish, peanuts, and milk products), some individuals have allergic reactions to this particular species.

I was well aware that the stump upon which this mushroom was growing was a black locust.  I not only threw out the mushroom, but I scrubbed down the kitchen counter lest poison kooties be lingering there.  When we came upon this latest growth of L. sulphureus it was growing seemingly from nothing, just in the yard, which means that it was growing off the roots of a dead tree, an unidentifiable tree.  If I cannot ID the tree, then we can't eat it.  It didn't help that when I poked at the slug with the stem of a dried leaf it didn't react, and when I knocked it off it appeared to be dead.  Well, that's good enough to indicate deadly poison to me!  If it kills slugs, we are outta here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Center for PostNatural History

           Freckles, a BioSteel transgenic goat, Pittsburgh, 2014

Along a torn up section of Penn Avenue in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, there is a place unlike any place else in all of the world.  The Center for PostNatural History is in a nondescript building that houses its collection of all that man intends, and hadn't planned on, in genetically manipulating plant and animal life.  One may be inclined to think of genetically modifying an organism as something new, or newer, but it has been around for thousands of years, since the first wolf approached a campfire and bonded with those humans, since the first grasses could be coaxed into yielding larger grains and their seeds sown and the process repeated.  The former of these arguments is represented at the Center in the form of anatomical dimorphism in their assemblage of canine skulls.  I'll be honest, I never thought to compare and contrast a Chihuahua skull with that of a German Shepherd.  To me they are not just dogs, but pets, beloved members of the family unit.  Ah, but my naive prejudice borne out of my love of dogs prevented me from thinking meaningfully about the transition of wolf to dog.  Not a single dog, though, thousands of breeds of every size, shape, and color.  A wolf, generally, is a wolf.  The color may vary depending on climate, but the size and frame are so similar between wolves that they are what they are.
Pictured above is Freckles, the only BioSteel goat on public display in the world.  What is a BioSteel goat?  To quote from the FAQ posted by Freckles:  " A BioSteel goat has been genetically modified to produce the protein from Golden Orb Weaver spider silk in their milk".  Spider silk is one of the strongest fibers known to man, though the process by which the spider silk is gleaned from the milk is rather intensive, so I think it's going to be awhile before any sort of application of the stuff is seen beyond the prototype stage.  Still, the research was funded by the United States Department of Defense, so you know it's going to trot down a path best not taken.
The Center is a fascinating place and is highly recommended.  I hope that they're able to expand and add more exhibits in the future.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Self and Selfie

Topless Barbie Bathroom Selfie, With Assault Rifle, Pittsburgh, 2014

What does the selfie say about us as a society?   If I was forced at gunpoint to give a short reply, I'd venture that we're an incredibly insecure bunch of self-obsessed narcissists.  A longer answer would involve examining how we lost our sense of self to such an extent that we need, no DEMAND!, constant reinforcement from a variety of social media outlets.  I might also insist that the selfie means nothing.  Although, I don't believe that the selfie is nothing.  I believe that the selfie is the obvious point from which to examine the psychological fissures that are emerging from/through constant contact.  It's sort of like the phenomenon that occurs when you stare into a mirror too long and begin to suffer from the Troxler Effect.  There is an aspect of our psyche that cannot tolerate reflecting on our reflection (appearance), literally, for too long.  The selfie feeds into this desire to peer deeply, to gain some measure of reassurance of who and what we are, but there's no there there, and the next thing you know you're suffering from monsterism.