Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haunted Heraldry

I never wrote about this at the time, but I was really impressed with Target's last Hallowe'en campaign: Haunted Heraldry.

I loved it because, in part, it brought me back to the romance and glory of my former goth days. When I was into goth I was really into it. Any time I found any home-deco items that appeared goth-appropriate, I updated my local goth message board with all the details, to give other interested parties a heads-up. I wasn't one of those goths who needed the exclusive "in" or accumulated obscure artifacts just to put myself ahead of my peers. I wanted to form a community, I wanted to grant access to all resources.

In part, this was probably why I was later branded "the wrong kind of goth." That, and my skull-face makeup.

Anyway, Target released this "Haunted Heraldry" campaign of Hallowe'en home decor. Their demographic was probably adults in their mid- to late-20s who were old enough to have some money and young enough to want to decorate for the holiday, more than black-and-orange crepe streamers and a plastic jack o'lantern. What was funny about this campaign is how elaborate it was: I learned the names of new decoration items, formal items, through this marketing. Case in point: chasers. I'd never heard of them before though I had seen them a number of times. If you asked any on-the-street jackoff what a chaser is, s/he'll probably say it's what you drink after a hard alcoholic beverage to calm your palate. It's hard to find the definition that would match the beaded placemat in the top photos, but once upon a time this was a traditional place setting.

And look at the tapestry-like weaving in the tablecloth, seen in the bottom four photos! I heightened the contrast in these shots but the actual effect was much more subtle, not at all garish. At first glance it simply looked like a black sheen with some lavish design, but as you studied it you could identify various plants and fanciful creatures. That raven looks like something from a Durer nightmare and the werewolf seems gleaned from a woodcut! It's not just that they chose frightening creatures of folklore, but they sourced these images from wonderful, integral artifacts.

What really stuck with me was the recurring theme of this campaign, the skull with a crown. Reminiscent of the Rider-Waite "Triumph of Death," this was a compelling image that appeared on everything from the banal to the elegant, from beer cozies to those elaborately beaded chasers. All I afforded myself were a couple of hand towels for the kitchen, but if I'd been living single and particularly flush with money, I would have snatched up the entire ensemble and had my friends over for a little feast. I would have bought some nice storage container to preserve this setup, too, ensure that I'd have it intact for years to come.

That is, were I still goth. Which I'm not.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Should Be Writing More

Do I even have a blog anymore?

I rarely update here. I used to be crazy about it, updating left and right with all sorts of weird, non-linear things. I was going to review those free MMOs, for one thing, but that fell by the wayside. How is it I had more time for online gaming when I had a job? The fact of that matter is that of course I technically have more time for writing while unemployed, but it seems disrespectful to do, like speaking ill of the deceased while at their own funeral. That's the best time to do it because they can't refute your statements, but it smacks of immorality. Instead of playing video games, I should be looking for work eight hours a day, that's how that works.

There are a few other blogs I operate. I have been updating faithfully every day (or playing catch-up some days) in 365 XN in 2010, wherein I take a picture of myself each day. It's fun. I tried it before in 2006 but I associated myself with a group of photo snobs who didn't approve some of my photos. I quit the group in a huff and dropped the project, but now I'm doing it all by myself. The month isn't complete yet but so far I've made a good show of it. I'll be down in New Orleans for four days and not updating online, but when I get back I'll once again backdate some of the shots and set it to look as though one picture has been taken every day. Oh, I'll take those pictures, they just won't show up promptly.

A potential client found me on Twitter, of all things. It's a good thing he was Web-savvy because anyone else might not have worked so hard to find the association from my Twitter account to this blog to some other connection that would provide him an e-mail address. When he told me what he went through to reach me, I swiftly reorganized my online strategy to make it contacting me very simple. That was a useful experience, and I'm not even fretting about how many other people have tried to reach me but gave up, because that probably never happened. I am excited, however, about finding freelance work--or having it find me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Sign Still Gets Juice

Location: Bryant, Minneapolis, MN, USA
This is something I've long wondered about, one of a few Minneapolitan mysteries that no one has ever been able to explain to me.

Here is a pay telephone pole on the corner of E 38th St and 3rd Ave S, in the Bryant neighborhood of Minneapolis. I've driven past it a dozen hundred times, on my way to Hosmer Public Library or anything along Hiawatha Avenue. It's just some old relic of the days when using a pay phone did not entail a drug deal. As the sign indicates, it's built to accommodate motorists, allowing them to access a handy telephone from their vehicle.

The time restriction is a response to the illicit abuse of this facility. I remember when there were more pay telephones in operation in downtown Minneapolis. When they instituted the phone curfew/shut-off, dozens of unsavory types were driven like rats into respectable restaurants and businesses they had otherwise left alone, and they begged and harassed the owners to let them use their phones. Not long after this, of course, signs were posted up and down Hennepin Avenue, advising the general public that their phones were not for public use.

But I digress.

What's interesting is that even though the pay phone has been dismantled and removed, the lit-up sign here still receives electricity. Who's paying for it? Whose property is this? Who knows? The city is diligently supplying electricity for a pay phone sign to which no pay phone is attached, much less in operation.

And it's been like this for as long as I can remember. I've been meaning to take this set of photos for over a year, once I was somehow shaken out of my complacency to take another look at my environment with fresh eyes and question the things I'd taken for granted. One of those things is this sign.

Soon, I'll go ahead and post another unanswerable mystery that has plagued me for much, much longer than this innocuous little pay phone sign.

Update, Sept. 19, 2010: The power has been cut off! I hope this wasn't my fault. Not only did they cut off the power to this sign, they actually took it down entirely. There's no way of knowing whether it went to a collector, back to the city for a private museum, to gather dust on a shelf, or simply right into the trash.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Thing With Monsanto

A lot of blogs are carrying a story similar to this one: Monsanto's GMO Corn Linked To Organ Failure, Study Reveals. Everyone's very excited about this because, despite arguably comprehensive testing to determine the effects of GMO products on human metabolism, many people want to believe Monsanto is an evil corporation: the indie documentary Food, Inc. shed some light on their corporate thuggery and unethical practices. I count myself among those naysayers but I also want to step back and look at what public information there is about the company and the issue.

What these blogs are wailing about is a study released by the International Journal of Biological Science, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health. The abstract:
We present for the first time a comparative analysis of blood and organ system data from trials with rats fed three main commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize (NK 603, MON 810, MON 863), which are present in food and feed in the world. NK 603 has been modified to be tolerant to the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup and thus contains residues of this formulation. MON 810 and MON 863 are engineered to synthesize two different Bt toxins used as insecticides. Approximately 60 different biochemical parameters were classified per organ and measured in serum and urine after 5 and 14 weeks of feeding. GM maize-fed rats were compared first to their respective isogenic or parental non-GM equivalent control groups. This was followed by comparison to six reference groups, which had consumed various other non-GM maize varieties. We applied nonparametric methods, including multiple pairwise comparisons with a False Discovery Rate approach. Principal Component Analysis allowed the investigation of scattering of different factors (sex, weeks of feeding, diet, dose and group). Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.
You dig? The artificial corn strain known as NK 603 "tolerates" the pesticide Roundup (also created by Monsanto) and therefore acts as a vehicle for this pesticide into any human or animal who eats that corn. The copyrighted lapsus naturae known as MON 810 and MON 863 contain in themselves proteins from the normally soil-dwelling bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly used for pesticides and widely regarded as eco-friendly and safe for human consumption. Yet after three months of consumption, researchers noted in rats a rise in triglycerides (linked to atherosclerosis, heart disease, and pancreatitis) which was not present in the control group--in fact, the control group's triglycerides went down.

The problem with this comparison, of course, is that rat metabolism is not the same as human metabolism. Any dose of a substance that would affect a rat would likely need to be increased dramatically to reproduce a similar effect in humans. However, as scientists mayn't ethically pluck luckless losers from prison and inject them with substances, mammalian testing is done on rats, monkeys, rabbits, &c.

Anti-Monsanto proponents should be pleased to note that the U.S. Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation against Monsanto. In 2014, Monsanto stands to lose its patent protection on the nation's most popular crime-against-nature crop, the Roundup Ready soybean. This soybean was developed to withstand inundation of their Roundup herbicide (but as seen above, the food can still carry the herbicide into the body). Understand that: they were killing their own plants with the amount of herbicide they wanted to use. Using less herbicide was clearly unreasonable, so they decided the simplest, easiest solution would be to genetically modify a plant that could tolerate an unreasonable quantity of Roundup. And in four years, Monsanto will lose the patent to that soybean, so they've created a new product: Roundup Ready 2 Yield, which promises not only to withstand the ludicrous pesticide inundation but also to generate a greater crop yield. What I don't understand is their quote from Bruce Tiffany, of Tiffany Family Farms (Redwood Falls, MN): why would he praise Monsanto's GMO soybeans and then turn around and claim to raise soybean for seed? And why is a Monsanto shill at all interested in being listed with a farming community Web site that espouses sustainable practice? I would think the other people on that site would be disgusted with Tiffany Family Farms, and that one of Monsanto's black SUVs would pull up onto his property in the middle of the night for an off-the-record conversation.

Monsanto insists they only want to ensure their loyal customers will still have access to their A-number-1 products. Their loyal customers, in turn, have complained about Monsanto's price-jacking once they're trapped into using their product, which is deuced hard to cleanse oneself of. It would cost more money to completely wipe the Monsanto blight out of your fields and start all over with buying new seed of normal, natural crops than you would earn from that crop's harvest. And then Monsanto has appropriated neighboring organic farms: those farms did not purchase Roundup Ready but their crops were cross-pollinated with copyrighted DNA from Monsanto-contracted farms. This is equivalent to a child running through a candy store, claiming that everything he he can sneeze on is legally his. Doesn't seem right, does it, but it hasn't stopped Monsanto from ruining American farmers' lives.

In fact, the Indian activist Vandana Shiva has been documenting 200,000 farmer suicides since 1997 which she attributes to Monsanto's presence. In India, Monsanto sells GMO cotton seed to farmers. Somehow, the seed doesn't produce as much as it should, demand for cotton rises (and perhaps Monsanto sees fit to once again raise its prices of its own seed), until the farmer has lost his farm and kills himself by ingesting Roundup. Shiva indicates what previous critics have claimed: the usage of Bt toxin only creates an evolutionary imperative for pests to survive, creating even more powerful insects: we now have a Diamondback moth (a.k.a. cabbage moth) that has developed a resistance to Roundup pesticide. And now India's Union Minister for the Environment has called a series of meetings to question the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee's (GEAC) decision to welcome a genetically modified eggplant into the nation. The GEAC now finds itself in a literal shouting match with scientists, activists, and local farmers, none of whom want this GMO eggplant in their country. Remember in 2002 when Zambia refused GMO-tainted corn?

But, a ray of hope: as this Forbes article relates: Associated Press investigation uncovered contracts showing that the St. Louis company's business practices squeeze competitors and protect its dominance over the genetically altered crops market.
Monsanto wishes to assure everyone that, according to its own standards, everything they've done is "fair, pro-competitive and in compliance with the law." That's for the DoJ to decide.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kitty Jazz

The first day of the year was yesterday but this is my first post (in this blog) for the year. I started another blog yesterday, 365 XN in 2010 (it rhymes if you say it aloud), that will be strictly a photoblog for my second attempt at a picture-a-day project.

But in this blog, I'm going to share a little of the creativity that living with cats compels. You won't believe this, but I just made up these lyrics on the spur of the moment. Sung in a slow, loungey style:
Toki is sniffin' at Bella's butt
Bella is walkin' awa-a-a-ay
Toki has paused to check out his options
Bella is checkin' his butt
I think cats spark both jazz and creative writing, for me. I could've made that rhyme if I wanted to, but I don't feel a need.

Oh, crap, I was also going to start writing a short story every day (again, but this time for a year) but I forgot to last night! Maybe I'll make a proviso where I can actually play catch-up but only for one day in retro.