29 December 2009

An unpardoned Christmas beetle

Postprandially torpid from feasting on leaves,
too flashy to hide
even under the eaves,
they're a seasonal feast crunched by bat, bird, and beast
and by ants who pick meat out and leave sleeves.

Launched! Sky Whales and Other Wonders

edited by Vera Nazarian
published by Norilana Books

Table of Contents
Introduction — Vera Nazarian
"The Sky Won't Listen" Tanith Lee
"The Tin and the Damask Rose" Anna Tambour
"What a Queen Does with her Hands" Erzebet YellowBoy
"The Gifting of Nyla's Son" Linda J. Dunn
"Stone Song" Sonya Taaffe
"Sky Whales" Lisa Silverthorne
"Death's Appointment Book, or the Dance of Death" JoSelle Vanderhooft
"The Sugar" Mary A. Turzillo
"She Who Runs" Mike Allen
"Breaking Laws" John Grant
"Only One Story But He Told It Well" Robert Brandt

25 December 2009

A fly's bum

I was just puzzling over the identity of the depositor of five fresh scats (size and shape, components, type of smell) when this fly dropped in for a feast.

Speaking of feasts, I highly recommend the repast at Happy Horus Day by "the former fundie". And something that cries out for (hopefully, it will be heard) its own exhibition is the the superb collection of (mostly small household) statues spanning cultures, but all templates for the mother and child, even to the nursing pose —
in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Season's Dragons

Last year at this time, this goanna climbed up and had a taste around our balcony.

And yesterday, this much smaller goanna came up for a while.

20 December 2009

"The Eye of Nostradamus Summit" coming soon, and Jack Lorimer's whinge

Sparked by a minds-spanning, worlds-stretching painting by one of my favourite artists, Marc McBride, this eye-wash of a story by me is coming out in February (issue #44, edited by the Felicity Dowker) and is one of many good reasons to get into —

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

No time like the present, and a hootful present at any time
Buy by the issue or subscription—in paper or pdf.

The current issue #42 is edited by Edwina Harvey (I highly recommend her recently released The Whale's Tale. This would be an especially good present for that time after Christmas when everyone's bored with the presents given to them, and the vampires cease to satisfy.)

But onwards with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #42, in which I have a special interest:

Love Among The Lobelias . . . Rob Shearman
Over The Rim . . . Ripley Patton
Soldiers . . . Dave Lucket
The Name Thieves . . . Laura Goodin
The Hatchling . . . Anna Kashina
Dream (TM) . . . Simon Petrie
Pinked Djinn . . . Dave Freer
Inside Job . . . Jason K Chapman
The Good, The Bad, And The Donkey . . . Alex Kearney
Celebrity Skin . . . Felicity Dowker
The Arms Of Love And Death . . . Anna Tambour
Pageant Girls . . . Caroline M Yoachim

Steak . . . Steven Saus
An Open Letter Circulated Across The Web . . . Marcie Lynn Tentchof

Special Features
Tribute to Douglas Adams . . . Robert Jan
Parasitic Worms Of The Living Dead . . . J W Schnarr

Artwork by Tom Godfrey, Rob Jan, and Lewis P. Morley
Cover by Lewis P. Morley

Book reviews by Simon Petrie
A note about "The Arms of Love and Death"
Jack Lorimer is upset as only an expert can be, that I ended this report about him when I did. He's been such a pest about it that I swear I'll send out an update to any reader on request. Just write to me (at anna _ tambour at yahoo dot comatose) quoting the last three words of "The Arms of Love and Death" and you will be sent the next 400ish words of Lorimer's existence.

19 December 2009

Another work from the salon

At dawn today I woke scraping a bit of gunk off a knee, just knowing that
Yesterday the Art Removalist art movement was born.

18 December 2009

Gorgeous Turner Prize art (for a change) and a private show

The Tate should be congratulated and encouraged, for this year's Turner Prize winner is actually an artist, not just another gimmickist who parties with the right people.

Richard Wright's wall paintings and installations truly are exquisite. They are not just visually resonant, but play off cultural and historical notes instead of cynically take from them like the Chapman brothers, previous Turner winners.

Wright's art is also surprisingly modest. How wonderful to be faced with something small, not another monumental portrait or vandalism on a Christo scale. And it isn't a gimmick that he wants his paintings to be temporary, to be washed off walls, that he sees impermanence as intrinsic to his art.

As Rachel Devine writes in The Times, he wasn't the bookies' fave, but was certainly the public's.
"Traditionally, the Turner Prize is an opportunity for those who question the relevance and merit of contemporary art to indulge their opinion that it’s all rubbish. There’s nothing quite like an unmade bed or a marinated cow to set alarm bells ringing. Expecting to be ridiculed or ignored, Wright considered turning down the nomination altogether." The Art of Shunning Posterity
Now no one who expects the public to fork out $$ for an artist's expressions, and particularly no one who enters a prestigious competition that keeps afloat on a sea of commentary and electronically wafted and permanently catalogued pictures not only of the artist, but the art, can claim to be shunning posterity. But that conceit can't be blamed on the artist, more the spinner of the story.

Not that I agree with all Wright says. "I am interested in placing painting in the situation where it collides with the world; the fragility of that existence. Being here for a short period of time, I feel, heightens the experience of it being here."

His paintings don't collide. They enhance.

And so do these artworks enhance (in the opinion of this impertinent critic who can't go to London to see the current king). Here are only a few pieces from the ongoing impermanent art collection in my gallery at home.

Detail of panoramic diptych

Like Wright's works, these are temporary installations, to be washed off.
And inspired by his example, I call these pieces: Untitled.

With thanks to the Tate Turner Prize for providing the commentary that I have adjusted to suit these works:

The Psittacid Arts Collective creates subtle and exquisite floor paintings that respond directly to the architecture in which they are created. Often awkwardly placed in indiscreet locations, they combine graphic imagery and intricate patterning from sources as varied as a gut, a gust, and a bit of human imagination.

by the Psittacid Arts Collective
All mixed media on board—including albumen, Alisterus scapularis feathers and Glochidion ferdinandi

Some reports say that the PAC belongs to the Incontinent art movement, but this is a lie. Not only are they quite deliberative painters (even the especially prolific Trichoglossus haematodus faction), but all Psittacids spend much time cleaning their tails.

Curator as artist
Curators are often as frustrated as pharmacists. The Collective has given this curator the shining opportunity to put my name also, to this collaborative work.
Shown below is:
A Work in Progress - of Removal

17 December 2009

Some of my best friends are k.a.'s

Ho ho hee hee! If only knitting addicts would boycott this blog, I could claim some readership! But before I get to them, I must say that my caution "If you're thinking of presents for any child, the 'gifts' of knitting addicts are SODDING" in Presents that go beyond themselves, sparked the question from Janine B:
"What do you have against knitting addicts???"

Nothing generic. Some of my best friends are knitting addicts, writing addicts, cooking addicts, etc. They don't need to reform because they don't inflict their problem on others. I don't say this as a blameless innocent. The baking addiction can lead to horrors, about which, possibly a confessional post.

But Janine B is no knitting addict. This discriminating and incredibly creative fine artist and designer is an expert in many fields including fibre arts. I've been meaning to list her incredible blog Feral Knitter.

Feral Knitter creations

Inspirational to many, educational on many levels, Feral Knitter is an exceptional publication that happens to be a blog. Janine's sense of colour, texture and form—always a sensual treat, even to this non-knitter. She is a teacher who takes the intimidation out of complexity, and is an observer and commentator about all kinds of interesting odds and sods—from books to the chaos that is life and intentions.

And—in a present of few words—she has given me the opportunity to have a long-repressed slagoff about out-of-control knitters whose droppings spatter innocents around the world, and whose knitted gifts corrupt little children—for this is the season when there kneed to be knitalyzers out in force.

Suffer the little children
In the tragically hilarious new choice being considered in our state of New South Wales' public schools, parents could be asked, Religion or Ethics? As Teresa Russell reports:
"Unless you have sent a child to a public school in New South Wales, you won't have come face-to-face with the madness that is known as 'non-scripture'. For one hour each week, usually first thing in the morning during prime learning time, every public primary school in the state must divide its students into different faiths to receive 'special religious education' (SRE) from a wide assortment of adults, known collectively as 'scripture teachers'. If a parent wants their child to opt out of SRE, that child is not entitled, under existing education policy, to any instruction during this period. The policy specifically states that learning in the areas of 'ethics, values, civics or general religious education' must not occur." — Antique religious education needs reform
Trust me. This is getting somewhere.
Associate Professor Philip Cam from the University of NSW is developing a program for an ethics class proposed as the alternative for students whose parents don't want them fed religious indoctrination. Interviewed by Heath Gilmore in the Sydney Morning Herald, there is only one example of a dilemma quoted from the professor.
''Our kids will talk about granny knitting a sweater you hate, but you tell granny you like it. Now Mill would say that's great, you didn't hurt her feelings, while Kant would rail against the lie."
There is nothing wrong with knitting addicts who restrict their gift-giving to consenting adults. The problem comes when it's done to minors, and all people who are put in the position of having to pretend to be grateful, which includes recipients of those horrible squares-for-love charity blankets cobbled of odds and sods. These wraps should have to be worn by the givers, and cleaned by them in conditions such as that of the recipients. These “wraps of love” as well as used clothes (which btw, have devastated livelihoods around the world. See also "dead white people's clothes") are as helpful as dead bras, which have also amazingly, been turned into a charity cup. It is a common misconception that poverty means a person has no eye for style or sense of self, when the opposite is the case.

A man receiving charity practically always hates his benefactor - it is a fixed characteristic of human nature; and, when he has fifty or a hundred others to back him, he will show it.
— George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

The less one has, the more the small things matter, especially when dignity is one’s only possession. For instance, take any picture of starving people in Darfur and compare it to that of the crowd in a typical Western shopping center, and I rest my case.
Criminal acts of anti-style imposition are rife.
“Here is an account from a knitter whose “knitting life” was changed forever when she knit sweaters for orphans in Afghanistan: Knitting for others, especially those who don’t care about color or fit or a perfect increase or heel turn was liberating. The dozens of ideas that I had been incubating for years burst forth and suddenly I was working on several projects at once, trying many new constructions and techniques…released from my ego and the imagined criticism of finicky recipients among my friends and family…” — Knit Unto Others
When the real reason is to give an outlet to addicts, an outlet that has to consist of people outside of the addicts' communities, it should come as no surprise that people are starting to say NO. One quote from ABC News' Fijian bra program sparks charity debate:
"These kinds of projects really are only, I think, designed to focus on the donor, the person who feels good because they can give something that they would otherwise throw in the rubbish."
or, in the case of many sweaters knitted with undoubted love, hid by a child hopefully forever under a pile of last year's toys.

Further recommended reading:

16 December 2009

A pig illustrates balance of power

Public perception can be so much more level-headed than that of pundits. That's a given, since public perception is so much closer to the ground. But why should the public also be longer-sighted? It often is, inscrutably.

A few months ago, a term paper topic in the thinktank Atlantic Community was Does China Matter?

Today, Shawn Rein in Forbes reports a Pew Survey, the outrage this has sparked, and makes some cogent observations. Yes, China Has Fully Arrived As a Superpower

No more li'l buddy
Certainly, Australia looks to China for our bacon these days, and even non thinktank-belonging Australians know that having our prime minister speak Chinese and be at heart, a mandarin, is more important than us having a prime minister who gets tears in his eyes when some US president throws an arm around his shoulder. No other nation's deals and wants are as important to Australia. We've got to keep exporting coal and gas and other minerals, and taking China's global political aims as seriously as we do our wealth, so that we can maintain ourselves in the manner to which we are bloating.

" ' We are bigger than the US for the first time. Our newly built homes are 7 per cent bigger than those in the US, double the size of those in Europe, and triple the size of those in the UK. '
Mr James sees the trend as evidence that Australians are, on the whole, happy with where they are living. " - Australians live in world's biggest houses, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 30 Nov, 2009

14 December 2009

Presents that go beyond themselves

Most of this year's media-recommended (or should I say pushed?) gifts are here today, landfill within two years. And when it comes to stuff for kids, the stuff is more than ever, just stuff.

It's nothing less than mass delusion-spreading that, say, standing on a bathroom-scale-size platform and swinging your arms, eyes glued to a screen, is exercise; and that a family that has enough thumb-boys stays together; and that the exorbitant amount spent on this stuff means it has value. The top-selling toys today, minus the hype, are really just great boredom creators.

This is crazy, since toys and presents, especially for kids, should be fun. And the more fun we have, the less we'll grow up. All great discoveries, innovations and inventions, including all creative works that give us joy and enrich our imaginations, have been made by people who never grew up.
"We all have an eye for detail when we are young and a magical sense of wonder that the business of life seems to hammer out of us."
— Paul Harcourt Davies, Nature Photography Close: Macro Techniques in the Field (a classic that has outlived camera models)
Nature beats Mario for happiness
Davies is both a superb photographer and a great teacher. He was given a camera as a child, and it extended his eyes and encouraged him to see a world outside walls. His blog post of two days ago talks about kids and their feelings of well-being: Getting back to nature—Italian style.
Look up the phrase, "gave me a microscope" and you'll find endless wonders, including these stunners by Lennart Nilsson, whose pictures have changed how we see the world.

What reading does for the soul: Books and scopes
Annie Dillard's personal discoveries about libraries, sleuthing, wrigglers and the incurious grown-up world, make one of the greatest essays of all time. Pure joy. I wasn't going to even quote it, because every word in it is as ringing as the next. But —
Not all great presents cost $s
A library card can open up worlds.
"The Field Book of Ponds and Streams was a shocker from beginning to end. The greatest shock came at the end. When you checked out a book from the Homewood Library, the librarian wrote your number on the book's card and stamped the due date on a sheet glued to the book's last page. When I checked out The Field Book of Ponds and Streams for the second time, I noticed the book's card. It was almost full. There were numbers on both sides. My hearty author and I were not alone in the world, after all."

Colour the imagination!
The smell, and feel and look of pencils, paint, crayons, ink, paper. Even clays. What child doesn't love them, given the chance to use them? And they can lead so far. A pencil can tell a story in many ways.
"I taught myself to read at five. Ironically, the Reading is Fundamental commercials scared the hell out of me. Those spots regarding an epidemic of illiteracy among kids much older than myself made enough of an impression that I started decrypting cereal boxes at breakfast, labels on canned goods, you name it. Fear is one of the great motivators. After a bit, I began to scribble rudimentary stories that were more akin to a series of captions adorning vivid crayon drawings of monsters, burning buildings, and corpse-strewn battlefields. My parents were largely disinterested in the whole affair; they seemed to shrug it off as a phase, so I can only surmise my need to write is deep-rooted and independent of learned behavior."
— Laird Barron (quoted by Jeff VanderMeer in his interview of LB in Clarkesworld)
acclaimed author of, amongst other stories, the collection The Imago Sequence and Other Stories (which would make a great present for a grown-up)
Fungi and shells and pieces of old watches, and boxes for treasure
All kids are collectors of the strange and precious, if they get the chance. Even things you work with can have untold value. When my father gave me a ship's rope, it wasn't to make every other kid jealous when we played jump rope with that rope (though they were). You might find yourself judged pretty amazing if you begin a collection with an offering that you've found and think intriguing, and a cool way to store it. To a child whose imagination hasn't been smothered, the most scrappy thing can have priceless worth (as parents have always complained). So a simple fishing tackle box or toleration for strange little beasts and curious chemicals (as both My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell and Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks illustrate [both stunning presents for parents and other animals, and two of my favourite books]) and a lifting of all that paranoia about kids being out in the unsupervised time and outdoors can make boredom and brattiness a thing that other kids have.

Perhaps that b & b is why Caitlin Moran recently wrote in The Times, These kids have TOO MANY SODDING TOYS. This column by "Alpha Mummy" has spread like spilt milk.

Personally, I think a child needs two dolls - so that they can go on adventures together - a pencil, and a notepad. That's it. Everything else is decadent Western corruption. When I was a child, we made our own amusements: drinking vinegar pretending it was whisky, flooding the garden with a hose, spitting contests. Punching each other really quite hard. Permanently mentally disturbing each other with constant, low-level psychological warfare. We didn't have Hannah Montana wigs, or Pixel Chix, or, or ... Puppies In Our Pockets. We made bows and arrows out of Rosebay Willowherb (that were rubbish), glue out of flour and water (that was wholly ineffective) and papier mache objects that, for some reason, never really dried out, and rotted on the windowsill, emitting horrible, oddly turnip-y odours.

That's why I want to - throw all the kids toys away!
And for adults, a special recommendation
Small Beer Press: 2009 Christmas Franciscan Fundraiser Sale
Fantastic books—and your money not only goes to a great small press (not only in the list they publish but the way this publisher treats their authors and customers), but to a cause and hospital that you've just gotta read about.

So to sum up
I'm not as barebones as Alpha Mummy with my recommendations, but I will say one thing. If you're thinking of presents for any child, the "gifts" of knitting addicts are SODDING.

Bones and glass

The king who thought he was made of glass (the "mad King" of France, Charles VI (1368-1422) and all the others who shared this popular delusion would have considered insane, today's idea of deliberately mending broken bones with glass.

But such is the case. And not only that. Metallic glass. And not only that, but metal that "dissolves in the body". And it's not just an idea.

Read "Mending Broken Bones Using Metallic Glasses" (in the always worthwhile AZo Journal of Materials) about the bone-mending work of Bruno Zberg, Peter Uggo-witzer and Jörg Löffler, researchers at ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, a science and technology university).

As to delusions, the glass delusion is an example of fashions in hysteria. Although it's hard to find a person anywhere in today's world who is unfamiliar with glass, the delusion is so nonexistent as to be a curious note in history. But to those wealthy enough to know glass when it was an indulgence, the hysteria was once as urgent and rampant as their need for jewels and starch and lace.

And the need for those necessities of civilized existence was as normal then and there as these now, in the Christmas buying guide of (Australian) Choice Magazine: "If you want your kids to have the latest and greatest console to make their friends jealous, the Nintendo DSi should do the trick. However, if your kids already have ... Playing Wii games isn't just about twiddling your thumb on a joystick; you can play games by waving your arms about or making a quick flick of the wrist to play tennis and golf. And for $150 you can add the Wii Fit ... It's no substitute for proper fitness equipment or a trained instructor."

Fashions in hysteria deserve greater scrutiny, and perhaps the works of what I'll call this hysterian should be more widely known, though they are the considered judgments of an expert in his field with the credentials to show to the outraged.

It is delightful, however, that the great works and projects that people generally know Dr Colin McEvedy for (and the background that should give added credence to his scholarly though controversial papers noted above), are the works of an amateur historian. As his fascinating obituary says in The Independent, "Why he didn't read History at Oxford, which he never regretted, probably had to do with his suspicion that the work he loved might be constrained by the conformity of the academic world."

From this lack of constraint came great creativity. And the shattering of constraint must have been the music that inspired the thoughts of how to mend broken bones with glass.

12 December 2009

"I say it is the sun."

"Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,
That have been so bedazzled with the sun

That everything I look on seemeth green"

No wonder beetles have inspired religious awe.

This member of the scarab family is not a dung beetle scarab like Khephri who had so much to do with the sun, but a chafer—a leaf eater and one of the 35 species of mainly Eucalyptus-munching Anoplognathus in Australia commonly called Christmas beetles.

In this household we call them bongers because this is the time of year they zzzzoom at night, banging into everything bongable. They always seem knocked cold, but get up groggily, to zoom again, out into the fragrant night. During the day, if you come across one on the ground, it's probably torpid, and it could be said to be the blessed sun.

This is the first time I've found one frozen in activity. The elytra (those hard, chitinous forewings that protect the membranous hindwings) are raised as though in flight. Usually, beetles die so neatly that one could think they were hyper-considerate to bereaved family members who have to pay by the micron for a coffin.

What is not shown in these pictures are the delicate transparent hindwings. They lie folded on the beetle's back. And excavating the treasures inside: a blur of ants.

Help Peter Watts, and help yourself

As does any fight against absolute power.

Read about him here, in Cory Doctorow's story in Boing Boing. Dr Peter Watts, Canadian science fiction writer, beaten and arrested at US border. His legal expenses will be a punishment in themselves.

The many comments are worth reading. I've had enough experience to believe the account, and to add that it's lucky that Peter has friends.

The experience of being an innocent attacked by government feels just like being raped. And having to pay for the privilege.

06 December 2009

Valerie Littlewood inspires the International Portrait Gallery

If there were an International Portrait Gallery instead of just the parochial National Gall's, then Valerie Littlewood's portraits would be renowned, for they would certainly be loved. They are full of life because of this artist's approach:
"The best possible scenario is to meet the model face to face . . . The more you know about your model the better job you will make of the painting."
I highly recommend her blog Pencil and Leaf, not only for the views of her works in progress, but for the details she gives about the private lives of her subjects. Many of them are bees. And as she has said:

"Once you have looked into the eye of an orchid bee there is no going back."

Littlewood takes particular care to learn about her subjects, and to let us know where she gets her information. Her writing is a pleasure to read whether it is about an individual, a species, thisorthats, or the techniques of making a living being come to life on paper.

We both share a love of Fabre's descriptive observations, and Littlewood says, "I am always struck by the lack of affectionate writing about nature these days."

I agree that when it comes to many published books, the only affection shown is to a person or two, especially when the book is in the first person. However, there are wonders to be found, especially on the web, such as the always thrilling Annotated Budak, another artist whose works I would include in the International Portrait Gallery (just as I would include writings by, amongst others, Asher E. Treat and George D. Shafer). Take, for instance, this sketch in Venus five, a recent post illustrated by Budak's excellent photographs: "The wooden railing that protects the stream from careless children and grown-ups who care less serves as an elevated thoroughfare for ants, termites and other less-organised wayfarers. Though largely unhindered, the route exacts a toll on its users in a scattering of fleet-footed highwaymen. Some, like this boxy little salticid, seek to suck the life out of luckless ants; others merely don myrmician garb to elude the attention of hungry arachnophiles while they pursue their own many-legged meals."

"I feel that "bee watching" time should be part of everyone’s daily routine."
— Valerie Littlewood

Watching—that essential to science, art, reportage. I reckon that the International Portrait Gallery would be a place where science, art, and biography would be as unable to be separated as we should be from the nonhuman nations and their countless personalities worth a gallery's shot towards immortality.

04 December 2009

The nymph and the bud

This shell of a cicada nymph is the only evidence left of what must have been a sense of urgency. Usually nymphs climb from their deep holes, along the ground and then up— some distance up a tree trunk or post before they grip, to shed their shells.

This bud hangs on hibbertia scandens, a vine that is supposed to be a climber, but here it hugs the ground.

Urgency, lowness and holes bring to mind the state of New South Wales' government. NSW voters are scheduled to emerge in 15 months.