Sunday, November 30, 2014

Late Autumn

     Woods In Late Fall, Fombell, PA, 2014

The snow might be flying and all of the leaves have yielded to gravity, but it's not winter yet.  Yet, it feels like winter in late autumn.  There's no getting around it, despite the calendar.  The failed arbitrary nature of how we try and ascribe order to 'time' is  evidenced in every November day.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lab Rat

                                                       Alcoholic Rat, Pittsburgh, 2014

If I was a lab rat, and experiments were going to be conducted on me, I guess there are worse things than being force fed booze.  Although, it does sort of remind me of the ironic punishment realm of hell as defined by The Simpsons in "Treehouse of Horror IV" .  That aside, the importance and history of specifically bred strains of lab rats to study alcoholism has proven to help researchers understand the disease in humans.  It all boils down to your genes as to whether or not you are more susceptible to becoming an alcoholic, or whether you'll be able to set that bottle down and walk away after one or two.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Whores of Boiled Leather

16th Century German Halberd, Cleveland Museum of Art, 2014

I recently finished reading - actually listening to while I drove or puttered around the house - George R.R. (because one 'r' isn't enough!!!!) Martin's 5 book opus (so far, with more books to follow, eventually), "Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice".  While I am a HUGE fan of the HBO show, Game of Thrones, I am less enthralled by its work of origin.  Martin's insistence on repeating himself endlessly, describing each detail over and over again as if it were new, taking up pages and pages with tiresome minutiae that detracts more than it adds to the overall narrative.  When you trim off the fat you have what the show presents, which is lean, fast-paced storytelling at its best.
But what I found most disturbing about the 5 books came about  in the last two: "A Feast For Crows" and "A Dance With Dragons".  In both books the female characters are treated even more violently than in the previous three, and are nearly universally referred to as either 'whores' or 'cunts'.   This was shocking.  I applaud Martin's abilities in world-building, of which he is a master, but he is a wretched writer, or has become a wretched writer.  Despite the conflated verbosity of the first 3 books, the writing isn't so laborious that you want to throw the book across the room with great force, but there were enormous sections of the last 2 books when I left the room while the CDs spun their tales of boiled leather and whores.  I folded laundry, I went to the post office, I took the dog for a walk.  Never once did I lose the thread of the story because precious little was happening.  Whores!  Boiled leather!  Corn!
My only interest at this point in seeing Martin finish the series is for the sake of the show.  Although if he doesn't, at this point, I trust the show runners, D. B. Weiss and David Benioff, to finish the story of Westeros for him, and us. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Looking Along Broadway Towards Grace Church, 1981

Streetview, Cleveland, 2014

Red Grooms created this piece that now hangs in the Cleveland Museum of Art, a painting-like sculpture depicting the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan as he experienced it.  At once crowded and colorful, noisy and diverse, there's a mastery in how he constructs the sense of depth and place.

Friday, November 21, 2014

My Little Pony and Death of a Toreador

My Little Pony and Death of a Toreador, Pittsburgh, 2014

Unbeknownst to me, while I was researching some of Picasso's paintings and the inspirations behind them, My Little Pony wandered into the scene, witnessing first hand the gore and brutality that takes place within the lurid confines of the bullfighting ring.  Traumatized beyond all comprehension, she then withdrew, stage right, and has not been  seen since. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Urban Living Fossil

Ginkgo biloba Leaves, Pittsburgh, 2014

Those times when I start to feel depressed, for whatever reason, I try to remind myself that I am not just surrounded by wonder, I am immersed in it.  Such was the day today while walking down Fifth Ave in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I looked down and immediately recognized the distinctive fan-like shape of the ginkgo leaf.  Possibly one of the most fascinating trees on the planet, if the fossil record is to be believed (and I'm a believer), the ginkgo has existed for well over 200 million years, placing it in the Mesozoic Era alongside the dinosaurs.  The first deciduous seed producing tree, the ginkgo has witnessed the waxing and waning of countless species.  It's hard to imagine any form of life being able to adapt to various changes in climate over deep time, but the ginkgo has proven to be extremely resilient.  Today it's a popular urban tree for its tolerance of pollution. 
Those shed leaves cheered me a bit this morning as I made my way through the bitter cold.  All hail the mighty ginkgo!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Murder of Crows

Roosting Crows, Millvale, PA, 2014

While driving through Millvale the other evening on our way to somewheres else, we witnessed a large number of crows gathering to roost in the nearly barren treetops on a hill near a desanctified church.  The whole thing was more than a tad spooky and surreal.  But, it seems, that crows congregating to roost in huge numbers is very common during the fall and winter months.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hollywood Film Awards And Other Misrepresentations

Godzilla Backdrop, Pittsburgh, 2014

We, I, had the misfortune last evening of having left the channel on CBS and then being subjected to their phony Hollywood Film Awards.  These awards carry about as much weight as those trophies handed out to every kid who participated in t-ball.  Worse than meaningless, they are an insult to both the movie going public and the myriad of people who toil so hard* to create entertaining, engaging, thought-provoking cinema.  The HFA are the opposite of all of that.  It seems that the winners (there are no nominees, only winners) are chosen by a secret junta comprised of publicists.  The winning movie, actor, screenplay needn't have even premiered or been screened!  As long as the junta is in agreement, then okey dokey.
A few  lowlights:
Hillary Swank not told that writer Gillian Flynn's first name is pronounced with a hard 'G' as in 'gill' not 'jill'.  This is an honest mistake and one that we made up until I listened to an interview with Flynn on NPR.
Robert Duval, after receiving the Best Supporting Actor Award, delivered a nonsensical (what was not, sadly, to be the only nonsensical) speech about God only knows what.  Where is Meryl Streep when you need her?  No where near this hot mess, that's for sure.
It was painful to behold Queen Latifah trying to justify the very existence of these awards and lend them some semblance of credence.  She failed because there was no other option.
Career Achievement Award goes to...Michael Keaton.  Apart from the upcoming movie 'Birdman', Mr. Keaton hasn't made a film that I've been aware of since....I don't know when.  'Batman Returns', maybe.  That was another uncomfortable moment as they tried to justify giving him that sort of award.
The most uncomfortable moment came when a completely and utterly wasted drunken Johnny Depp took to the stage and rambled and cursed, rambled some more and then cursed up a storm.  This might be a bit amusing, except to see someone this inebriated is always sad, because you know they have a real problem, not just a tiny manageable problem like me.
All of this added up to the sort of embarrassment that one seldom sees, and doesn't necessarily ever want to witness again.
*Excludes anything by Tyler Perry or Kirk Cameron

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Eyes In The Sky

Helicopter Over Landscape & Highway, Cranberry Twp, PA 2014

At least with a helicopter, you know you're being watched.  With the camera drones, as they become more sophisticated and cheaper, you likely would have no idea.  recently when we were in Cleveland someone was flying a camera drone over a busy intersection just off the Ohio Turnpike.  I couldn't see who was controlling it and have no idea why they were doing it.
The larger issue is, of course, privacy, and how much privacy we can expect out in the world.  Constitutionally as Americans we have the right to privacy, but where that right applies is ever shrinking, and we're not pushing back enough to demand that this right be safeguarded.  No, our constitutional loons are all consumed with the 2nd amendment and their precious guns, sometimes they throw a bone toward the 1st amendment in defense of their tendency to threaten people or say hideous things on message boards and then scream "It was a joke!  Freedom of speech, y'all!!!".  Tools and douches, one and all.
The fact remains that as great as all of our technology is, it spies on us.  I tape over the camera on my computer because I'm not skyping and it's been shown that your camera can be hacked and controlled from the outside.  I don't want to think about what sort of desperate shut-in would even want to spy on a middle-aged would be crone such as myself, but we all know they're out there.  Living in their parents' cellar, drinking Monsters, eating Cheetos and not wiping the cheese dust off their fingers so their keyboards are all gummed up, hoping to gain a following of fellow losers on 4chan.  You know the type.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Image by : Michelle

Whilst raking leaves yesterday (I love trees, but every fall...when comes the sloughing off of their leaves, a curse is ever present on my chapped lips, long tines rasping over red and gold...) I found a few blue jay feathers, and then a few more, and then finally a pile of down that could only mean one thing:  A bad end.  It's not uncommon to find a dead robin in the yard, or evidence of a dead robin, but a blue jay is a new discovery.  Maybe he wanted to miss the upcoming polar vortex.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Eye In Its Wild State

Photogram, Cleveland, OH, 2014

Recently I viewed the Cleveland Museum of Art's Forbidden Games, their exhibition on modernist and surrealist photography.  They also have an interactive photogram display where you can create your own work and email it to yourself, which I did with the above image.  I find surrealist photography to be an exploration - an attempt - to understand how and why humanity is capable of such colossal inhumanity.  Think war, and how the public's view and understanding of war was forever altered with the advent of photography.  Mathew Brady's chronicling of the American Civil War, and then the horror in the trenches of World War I personalized the death and destruction.  It stripped away whatever 'noble cause' jingoism that someone might try to ascribe it.  Never have the dead spoken so loudly as when photographs of the corpses were published and the common person could see for themselves.  Reading about atrocities is one thing, seeing is believing.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Amusement Is Control

The Simpson's Opening Sept. 29, 2014, "Clown In The Dumps"

Somewhere in time, a distance future dystopia looms where humankind is even more dependent on constant visual distraction than we are now.  WooHoo!  While I am not so divine as to profess to know the future, I do recognize that we as a species do tend toward amusement and distraction, unless and until circumstances become such that we have absolutely no choice but to turn away from it.  That's a fairly grim assessment, but nonetheless all too often accurate.  When I was a kid the television was the opiate of the masses, now it is obviously the internet.  Everything at our fingertips.  All of the knowledge we have gained in thousands of years of civilization ready to be shared at the click of a link!  And yet we watch cat videos, engage with trolls on message boards, and post crap pictures from middle school on fb for throw back thursdays.  It's who and what we are, and one aspect of being human that seems to transcend whatever other differences we may share as a people.  Not that that is a positive take away in all of this, that there is a pervasive weakness underpinning our humanity to distraction, and the shiny that seems to retreat from us at the very pace we set to pursue it.  We are the fools who do not know we are foolish.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hipster Doofus, 1837

Portrait of Nathaniel Olds, 1837, by Industrialist Jeptha Homer Wade
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH

I would like to state right from the start that admission to the Cleveland Museum of Art is free.  Their collection is varied with some first-rate pieces, and some of spurious worth and origin.  I view this portrait by industrialist and philanthropist Jeptha H. Wade to be in the latter category.   But then Wade donated the land on which the museum, along with the Museum of Natural History, Western Reserve Historical Society, and Cleveland Botanical Gardens, sits.  Perhaps someone felt like they 'owed' him something and hanging one of works would pay that debt.
All artistic talent aside, the best thing about this portrait is the subject, perhaps the earliest expression of the phenomenon of the Hipster.  Here N. Olds is wearing dark glasses to protect his eyes from the harsh light cast by whale oil lamps.  There is no mention made that he had a condition that demanded this, although one could assume that...if not for his hair, to say nothing of his open and upturned collar.  I need say nothing of the collar because the hair will suffice to bolster my argument.  That seemingly haphazardly tussled hair that took 45 minutes to get juuuuuust right.  There is no greater identifier of the Hipster than the hair, not even the clothes, though we have the clothes here as well.
I present you with the first rendering of a hipster doofus.  Thank you, Cleveland!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Space Invaders

HOX-altered Mice (with extra ribs and no ribs), Pittsburgh, 2014

Last weekend people who are not us came to visit.  They stayed four days and were here to look at colleges in the area.  It was a nightmare.  Their teenage daughter took 40 minute showers ("Don't worry, Larry and I take short showers," the mother offered as apology/explanation), and every morning I was given specific breakfast requests, which essentially turned me into a short-order cook.  I partially blame myself for the latter thing because I had picked up a variety of breakfast foods (never once did any of them choose fruit or cereal).  In retrospect I should've only had fruit and cereal.  Then, to top it off, no one ever asked to help clean up.  Actually, none of them even brought their dishes to the kitchen.
Believe it or not, despite these people being Caty's friends, she was even more fed up with them than I was, and has sworn - NEVER AGAIN!  If the daughter does end up going to one of the many and varied local institutions of higher learning, the parents are just going to have to spring for other accommodations. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Toys R Us Sexist Bullshit 2014 Christmas Catalog

                 Sexist Bullshit Toys R Us Catalog, Pittsburgh, PA 2014

This morning in the Sunday newspaper there arrived 'The Great Big Christmas Book', or the Toys R Us 2014 Christmas catalog.  For whatever reasons the really cool science-y or action toys are still all associated with boys, and the girls are stuck with pink crap and tiaras because Princess.  Even the Lego spread associates the girls with fucking Disney and their version of Cinderella.  Really?  The boys are building a Star Wars Lego Death Star and the girls are waiting in the Lego castle for Lego Prince Charming.  The boys are shown with telescopes and dinosaurs and privacy violating camera drones, while the girls are playing house or crafting and that's just about it.  It detracts nothing from a boy's masculinity or a girl's femininity to have a girl peering into a microscope.  Why not show that then?  Instead of sticking the girl in a faux kitchen or beauty shop, which is just a tired cliche at this point and has no meaning or relevance.
It felt good to rant about all of that and I look forward to buying my future granddaughters super cool stuff with total disregard for what seems gender specific.  They are kids, who cares?  Plenty of guys end up in the kitchen and plenty of women end up in the lab.
UPDATE:  Despite being called out on their sexist catalog last year and promising to reexamine how they market toys,  nothing has changed in the Toys R Us corporate echo chamber.