Archive for Cool Concepts

Taxidermy

The animal is lost from us, has been taken out of us.  I don’t just mean in our city lives.  I also mean in nature.  You go out there, and they’re gone, the ordinary and the unusual, they’re two-thirds gone.  True, in some places you still see them in abundance, but these are sanctuaries and reserves, parks and zoos, special places.  The ordinary mixing with animals is gone.

People object to hunting.  That is not my problem.  Taxidermy does not create a demand; it preserves a result.  Were it not for our efforts, animals that have disappeared from the plains of their natural habitat would also disappear from the plains of our imagination.  Take the quagga, a subspecies of the common zebra, now extinct.  Without the preserved specimens now on display here and there, it would only be a word.

There are five steps in preparing and animal: skinning, curing the hide, preparing the mannequin, fitting the hide onto the mannequin, and finishing.  Each step, if well done, is time-consuming.   Fruitful patience is what separates the amateur from the professional taxidermist.  Much time is spent on the ears, eyes and nose of a mammal so that they are balanced, the eyes not crossed, the nose not bent, the ears not standing unnaturally, the whole giving the animal a coherent expression.  The body of the animal is then given a posture that reflects this expression.

We do not use the word stuffed anymore since it is simply not true.  The animal that meets a taxidermist is no longer stuffed like a bag with moss, spices, tobacco, or whatnot.  Science has shed its practical light on us as it has on every discipline.  The animal is rather “mounted” or “prepared”, and the process is scientific.

Fish are hardly done these days.  That part of the business has died faster than the rest.  The camera can preserve the prize catch quicker and cheaper than the taxidermist, and with the owner standing right next to it, for proof.  The camera has been very bad for the business of taxidermy.  As if the forgotten pages of a photo album were better than a wall holding up the real thing.

We get animals as a result of attrition in zoological gardens.  Hunters and trappers are an obvious source of animals; in this case, the supplier is also the customer.  Some animals are found dead, killed by disease or as a result of an encounter with a predator.  Others are roadkill.  The by-products of food-making supply us with the skins and skeletons of swine, cattle, ostriches, and the like, or with stranger fare from more exotic parts of the world – my okapi, for example.

Skinning an animal must be the taxidermist’s first perfection.  If it is not done well, there will be a price to pay later.  It is like the gathering of evidence for the historian.  Any flaw at this stage may be impossible to fix later on.  If the subcutaneous ends of a bird’s tail feathers are cut, for example, they will be much harder to set in a way that looks natural.  Mind you, the animal might come to the taxidermist already damaged, whether when it was killed by a hunter or by another animal in a zoo or in a collision with a vehicle.  Blood, dirt, and other spoilage can be dealt with, and damaged skin or feathers can, within reason, be repaired, but there are limits to what we can do.  The evidence can be so ruined as to prevent a proper interpretation of the event, to use the language of the historian.

The mannequin, the form upon which the skin will be placed, must be built.  Any number of frames and fillings can be used, and have been used, or better yet, a mannequin can be made from balsa wood.  For more elaborate projects, a mannequin is made of clay on a wire armature, a mould is built around it, perhaps in several pieces, and then a cast of fiberglass or polyurethane resin is made, resulting in a mannequin that is light and strong.

Sewing thread must match the colour of the fur.  The stitching is done close and tight, with care being taken that the amount of skin taken from each side of the stitch line is the same so that the skin is not stretched unevenly.  A figure-eight stitch is used because it brings the edges of the skin together without forming a ridge.  Linen thread, which is strong and does not rot, is the best.

The advantage of retaining the skull of an animal in its mounted version is that it can then be displayed open-mouthed, with its real teeth showing.  Otherwise, on a mannequin head, the mouth must be sewn shut, or an elaborate mouth must be constructed, with artificial gums, teeth, and tongue.  The tongue is the hardest animal part to get right.  No matter the effort we put in, it always looks either too dull or too shiny.  It’s generally not a problem to keep the mouth shut – but what of the snarling tiger or the snapping crocodile, whose mouths are so expressive?

The pose given to the animal, at least the mammal or the bird, is a crucial matter.  Standing straight, skulking, leaping, tense, relaxed, lying on its side, wings out, wings tucked in, and so on – the decision must be made early on since it will affect the making of the mannequin and will play a crucial role in the expressiveness of the animal.  The choice is usually between the theatrical or the neutral, between the animal in action or the animal at rest.  Each choice conveys a different feel, the first of liveliness captured, the second of waiting.  From that, we get two different taxidermic philosophies.  In the first, the liveliness of the animal denies death, claims that time has merely stopped.  In the second, the fact of death is accepted and the animal is simply waiting for time to end.

The difference is immediately grasped between a stiff, glazed-eyed animal that is standing unnaturally and one that looks moist with life and seemingly ready to jump.  Yet that contrast rests on the smallest, most particular details.  The key to taxidermic success is subtle, the result is obvious.

The layout of animals in a habitat setting or diorama is as carefully thought-out as the blocking of actors on a stage.  When done well, when professionals are at work, the effect is powerful, a true glimpse of nature as it was.  Look at the crouch of the animal at the river’s edge, look at the playfulness of the cubs in the grass, see how that gibbon hangs upside down – it’s as if they were alive once again and nothing had happened.

There is no excuse for bad work.  To ruin an animal with shoddy taxidermy is to forfeit the only true canvas we have on which to represent it, and it condemns us to amnesia, ignorance and incomprehension.

There was a time when every good family brightened up its living room with a mounted animal or a case of birds, some representative from the forest that remained in the home while the forest retreated.  That business has all dried up, not only the collecting but the preserving.  Now the living room is likely to be dull and the forest silent.

Is there a level of barbarism involved in taxidermy?  I see none.  Or only if one lives a life entirely sheltered from death in which one never looks into the back room of a butcher shop, or the operating room of a hospital, or the working room of a funeral parlour.  Life and death live and die in exactly the same spot, the body.  It is from there that both babies and cancers are born.  To ignore death, then, is to ignore life.  I no more mind the smell of an animal’s carcass than I do the smell of a field; both are natural and each has its attaching particularity.

And let me repeat; taxidermists do not create a demand.  We merely preserve a result.  I have never hunted in my life and have no interest in the pursuit.  I would never harm an animal.  They are my friends.  When I work on an animal, I work in the knowledge that nothing I do can alter its life, which is past.  What I am actually doing is extracting and refining memory from death.  In that, I am no different from a historian, who parses through the material evidence of the past in an attempt to reconstruct it and then understand it.  Every animal I have mounted has been an interpretation of the past.  I am a historian, dealing with an animal’s past; the zookeeper is a politician, dealing with an animal’s present; and everyone else is a citizen who must decide on that animal’s future.  So you see, we are dealing here with matters so much weightier than what to do with a dusty stuffed duck inherited from an uncle.

I should mention a development of the last few years, what has been called art taxidermy.  Art taxidermists seek not to imitate but to create new, impossible species.  They – that is, the artist directing the taxidermist – attach one part of an animal to another part of another, so the head of a sheep to the body of a dog, or the head of a rabbit to the body of a chicken, or the head of a bull to the body of an ostrich, and so on.  The combinations are endless, often ghoulish, at times disturbing.  I don’t know what they mean to do.  They are no longer exploring animal nature, that is clear.  I think they are rather exploring human nature, often at its most tortured.  I cannot say it is to my taste, it certainly goes against my training, but what of that?  It continues a dialogue with animals, however odd, and must serve the purpose of some people.

Insects are the eternal enemy of taxidermy and have to be exterminated at every stage.  Our other enemies are dust and excessive sunlight.  But the worst enemy of taxidermy, and also of animals, is indifference.  The indifference of the many, combined with the active hatred of the few, has sealed the fate of animals.

I became a taxidermist because of the writer Gustave Flaubert.  It was his story “The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator” that inspired me.  My first animals were a mouse and then a pigeon, the same animals that Julian first kills.  I wanted to see if something could be saved once the irreparable had been done.  That is why I became a taxidermist: to bear witness.

Excerpt from Beatrice and Virgil

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Green Milk?

One of the first things I noticed after moving to China was the milk.  When I drank it the first time, I thought it had a different, somewhat sweetened flavor and a very odd texture kinda like a Slimfast shake.  Where I come from, milk is stored and is refrigerated in the supermarkets for like 2 or 3 weeks max before someone’s gotta drink it.  In China, milk is stored at room temperature, likely for a long period of time, so at first I thought it wasn’t pasteurized.  Turns out, the milk that I’m used to drinking back home is treated by what’s called high temperature short time (HTST) pasteurization and Chinese milk is treated by a process called ultra heat treatment (UHT), or ultra pasteurization.

So, apparently UHT is another type of pasteurization that involves boiling at what they call ultra high temperatures for a fraction of a second, as opposed to exposure to lower temperatures for about 15-30 seconds at a time, increasing the shelf-life of milk from weeks to months.  Later I discovered that HTST milk, albeit less readily available, is also available in Chinese supermarkets, but it still don’t taste right to me (must be the cow).  UHT pasteurization is largely the preferred method of milk treatment obviously for economic reasons; however, UHT milk isn’t as rich in nutrients and loses some of its natural flavoring (which may explain the sweetening I noticed), further highlighting the unbalanced bias for development by leaders of this country not only over environmental concerns but over human health as well. 

What’s worse, you may have heard by now that the dairy industry in China was tangled in 2008, and again last year in a scandal involving melamine contamination.  Melamine is a chemical used to make various plastics and other industrial products and was added to milk because of its protein-like qualities in order to deceive health inspectors, but if consumed can cause potentially lethal health concerns involving kidney problems.  How some people can commit such devious crimes has always eluded me… babies depend on milk for sustenance and believe me there’s a LOT of frickin’ babies in China.  Seriously, I mean if you wanna be a bad guy go and rob a bank or something.  You don’t jeopardize the health of millions of peers and end lives before they even have a chance to begin.

A number of companies had their reputations tarnished by the scandal but only one has gone the extra mile to re-polish it.  Mengniu, a giant in China’s dairy industry, is collaborating with WWF to reduce carbon emissions through their Climate Savers programme, which is an international organization that promotes sustainable business partnerships with world-class producers.  Battling through economic obstacles towards GHG reductions and a low-carbon economy by facilitating companies to achieve ambitious emission reduction objectives in a profitable manner, a number of big name companies such as IBM, Sony, Nokia, National Geographic, TetraPak, Coca-cola and recently Volvo, have already established this relationship with the World Wide Fund for Nature.  As a world renowned NGO, the image created by a partnership with WWF is a necessary step for Mengniu to regain positive status, and is now leading the way as the first company to join the Climate Savers in China.

References:

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/how_we_work/businesses/climate/climate_savers/

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Sustainable Fashion

I read about this on my news feed the other day and thought it was pretty neat:

Newspaper ballgowns, recycled plastic sandals and coats made of wool from “happy and free” sheep — designers are showing clothes to make Mother Nature smile at GreenShows Eco Fashion Week. After a first run last September, the event’s second fashion week kicks off on Sunday, with 10 designers sending models down runways at an East Village building in New York City.

Even the location is environmentally friendly, complete with LEED-Gold certification — a high standard of environmentally sustainable construction. Models will strut their stuff for four days for GreenShows, timed to coincide with stylistas and tastemakers from around the fashion world flocking to New York City to view Autumn-Winter 2010 collections on display at Bryant Park.

While designer superstars, including Diane von Furstenberg, Isaac Mizrahi, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs and Catherine Malandrino, prepare to unveil their latest collections at New York Fashion Week, Samatha Pleet is putting the final touches on her line. The 28-year-old designer is planning to show 35 pieces next Tuesday at Eco Fashion Week, which is co-sponsored by natural cosmetics manufacturer Weleda and features hair and makeup demonstrations on the sidelines of the shows.

“You see this parka, it has a cracked paper look,” she said, pointing to a light brown matte jacket. “It’s silk created in China, buried in mud for two months, and then they use yams to dye the silk. It’s a traditional Chinese method,” the Pratt Institute graduate added.

Alongside the coat hangs a bustier dress made from a recycled polyester micro-fiber that looks like suede and a silk blouse dyed with pigments derived from pumpkins and red fruit. Pleet showed visitors flannel capes lined with organic wool. “This organic wool comes from Vermont, no chemicals are used and the sheep live a happy and free life. They only use pigments, no (chemical) dye,” she added.

Gary Harvey, a British designer who will be showing his recycled material line, has big plans in mind. “I believe we can contribute to an ethical fashion revolution,” he said. Harvey created a sensation in London in 2007, when he showed a couture-inspired tutu dress with a skirt made entirely from 30 copies of the Financial Times newspaper. At the Kaight boutique in Chinatown, Kate McGregor proudly displayed items by many of the eco-friendly designers who will present their work at GreenShows.

She also sells Vivienne Westwood shoes from a collaboration between the eccentric British designer and Brazilian brand Melissa. Fresh from collaborations with France’s couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier, Melissa’s factories are world specialists in the use of “Mel-flex” a flexible and sustainable plastic material used in shoes that range from ankle boots to high-heeled, peep-toe slingbacks. “Melissa has a closed loop system, no waste is generated (and) Mel-flex is a non-toxic plastic,” McGregor explained.

According to the Brazilian company’s website, Melissa shoes use no animal products and the manufacturer vows to treat its workers well and pay them fairly. GreenShows organizer Eric Dorfman said he was surprised by the event’s success. “I did not expect such a result. I had the idea to get eco fashion brands together and to do fashion shows,” he said. “Eco is more than a way of producing clothes, more than fair trade or fair pay. It’s about consciousness of life.”

From:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100210/ts_alt_afp/environmentfashionuslifestyle

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A Christmas Holiday Special: On the Origin of Santa Claus

Finally, it’s that time again, my favorite day of the year!  I hope you are all having a very enjoyable holiday season.  I can’t emphasize enough how much I love the snow but there’s so much to do and so little time.  My plan this year for a perfect Christmas is waking up first thing in the morning and opening my presents like an overjoyed toddler,  then enjoy a nice, hot cup of coffee doing some light reading while getting my daily trance fix.  Of course, I won”t forget a hearty breakfast; I’m thinking of making myself another one of my patented mega-omelettes complete with turkey, cheese, AND mushrooms.   During the day I am looking forward to all the hot chocolate and shinny I can handle, then later in the evening beer and hot sake and perhaps go old school tobogganing: something I haven’t done since my days as a child.  The thing I love most about Christmas is the fact that everyone gets the day off!  No work means no stress right?  We can all enjoy our one day of sheer free time.  All except one of course: the jolly old man from the great North Pole, sailing the skies by reindeer sleigh delivering presents worldwide in his usual red and white attire.

I was a little curious the other day about how Santa Claus came to be, so I did a little research on the topic.  Turns out old St. Nicholas has a mycological origin only a few would suspect.  Amanita muscaria, otherwise known as the fly agaric, is a red and white spotted mushroom known for its toxic and hallucinogenic effects.  The mushroom, once ingested, can cause a distortion in one’s perception of size… and for an odd reason Amanita intoxication has become a very popular concept making its way into many pieces of literature and other cultural depictions. 
Ring any bells yet?
In Chapter 5 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (big fan by the way), Alice encounters the Caterpillar smoking a hookah on top of a large mushroom.  “[She] waited patiently until it chose to speak again.  In a minute or two the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth and yawned one or twice, and shook itself.  Then it got down off the mushroom, and crawled away into the grass, merely remarking as it went, ‘One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you shorter.'”  Still not sold? Then perhaps you are more familiar with an Italian plumber and I think you know what happens when he eats the red and white spotted mushroom.

Anyhow, one of the earliest users of the mushroom were the Koryak: a tribe of Shamans known to herd reindeer.  These people believed the consumption of Amanita muscaria aids in the divination process and helps guide their spirit; their dependence on the mushroom has incorporated into many other aspects of their culture, from steeped tea to social drugs that eventually caused the mushroom to become an expensive commodity that even the reindeer themselves would indulge upon. It is said that the Shamans could allow their spirit forms to enter and exit their homes through a smoke-hole on the roof, which along with the red and white color of the mushroom led to the myth (yes, the myth.  Sorry kids.) of Santa Claus bringing gifts from the Gods…

… speaking of gifts it’s time to open them now!  MERRY CHRISTMAS ALL~!!

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Genesis

The_Wasteland_by_KarezoidAnd God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. – [Genesis 1:28]

It is now 4.5 billion years ago, the beginning of earth and time.  A seemingly lifeless, watery grave of vast proportions, lies motionless in space except for its never-ending rotations and its orbit around the sun.  Eons pass and with the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere came biotic lifeforms.  At first only single-celled organisms called prokaryotes existed as obligate aquatic animals.  Some adapted early plant characteristics and developed the mechanism of photosynthesis, utilizing energy from the sun and as a result the oceans became saturated with oxygen, subsequently leading to higher organisms.

As the earth grew, so did the diversity of lifeforms.  The planet had never experienced an episode of mass extinction until about 450 million years ago, the Ordovician extinction, during which many species of bivalves (mussels, clams, oysters), echinoderms (starfish and seacucumbers) and other marine invertebrates as well as corals deceased.  Next was the Devonian extinction which resulted in the death of a large number of Agnathans: the jawless fishes.  Later episodes consisted of the Permian-Triassic, the Triassic-Jurassic, and finally Cretaceous-Tertiary, which resulted in the extinctions of insects, and of course the dinosaurs.

With each and every new extinction event, there seems to be a few survivors who went on to evolve into even more complicated lifeforms.  After the Cretaceous-Tertiary event, a small, hairy insectivore had evolved from reptiles.  The earth gradually became cooler as it slipped into the Ice Age and this was how mammals had arisen to dominance.  Their thick fur and endothermic physiology allowed them to survive the cold.  In time, the mammals evolved into highly intelligent primates, who would eventually adapt to a bipedal stance for locomotion and there we have our earliest hominid ancestor.  This was about 4 million years ago, when creatures like Ardi roamed the earth.

After the loss of more primitive characteristics, the genus Homo had been born.  Earlier species include Homo habilis, the hunters who used stone tools about 2.6 million years ago, and then came Homo erectus who discovered fire 1.5 million years ago.  The most famous of them all, and among the first of our own species Homo sapiens, were the Neanderthals.  These prehistoric people were already beginning to advance, utilizing their large brains to build tools and shelter, and cooking their food with fire.

Homo sapiens began to establish themselves and became civlized nations learned with the concepts of language, medicine, agriculture, arts and religion.  Indeed, like Genesis had predicted, Man has most definitely come into fruition and multiplied.  But ever since the Industrial Revolution things have been steadily going downhill, increasing problems with pollution and with maintaining a clean environment.  People thrived, but land was devastated to support such large populations.  Humans have by now increased to deadly numbers, and I don’t think God truly intended for us to dominate.  Not like this.  I think what he really meant to convey was sustainable development and a sense of moral responsibility.  Because the idealization of civilization lead to the greed for power which lead to war which lead to more destruction… more pollution.

And thus began the 6th and current episode of mass extinction…

References:
Last of the Wild: Vanished and Vanishing Giants of the Animal World – Robert M. McClung

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Homerevolution

I still think Matt Groening is an absolute genius… Here’s why:

Homer Simpson is such a versatile character!
Creating laughs for generations alike. =)

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Mr/s. Garrison’s Theory of Evolution

ms garrison

Mr/s. Garrison:

Now I for one think that evolution is a bunch of BULLCRAP.  But I’ve been told I have to teach it anyway.  It was thought up by Charles Darwin and it goes something like this…

In the beginning we were all fish, ok?  Swimming around in the water, and then one day a couple of fish had a retard baby, and the retard baby was different so it got to live.  So retard fish goes on to make more retard babies, and then one day a retard baby fish crawled out of the ocean with its MUTANT fish hands, andithadbuttsexwithasquirrelorsomethingandmadethisretardfrogsquirrelandthenthat hadaretardbabywhichwasamonkeyfishfrogandthenthismonkeyfishfroghadbuttsexwith thatmonkeyandthatmonkeyhadamutantretardbabyandscrewedanothermonkey…

and that made YOU.

So there you go.  You’re the retarded offspring of 5 monkeys having butt sex with a fish squirrel.  Congratulations.

HAHAHAH

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