Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


Summer Wars

January 9, 2011

Have you ever done math so hard that your nose bled? Summer Wars, a Japanese animated film, is about a young boy who goes on vacation to meet his friend’s family and finds himself accidentally enabling an evil AI to overtake the internet. This boy, Kenji Koiso, is a math prodigy, and, as with most young geniuses, is shy and nervous around girls. He receives a message on his cell phone that is a string of digits. He manages to decrypt it in a single night, thinking it is an amusing puzzle. In so doing, he inadvertently allows an AI to take over not only his account, but a variety of other online functions. To take back the internet from this AI before disaster hits, Kenji must use pure math to decrypt numerical sequences at break-neck pace, hence causing a nosebleed.

The internet in Summer Wars, called Oz, is basically an ultra facebook on which people store all their information, conduct their business, and run their jobs. This means that not only is credit card information on the internet, but also launch codes to nuclear missiles and global positioning systems for satellites. So, if a hacker with bad intentions were to access this site, he could disrupt all aspects of life, from traffic signals to medical information to defense. Which of course happens.



Oz is a wildly colorful, neon pastel-on-white wonderland of wacky animal avatars. The entire space is reminiscent of Takashi Murakami‘s work, blending cuteness, commercialism, and manga to create a coherent alternate reality. In it any function that one would ever conceive to do online can be done. This includes martial arts sparring, which ends up being a venue for attempting to take down the evil AI that overtakes people’s accounts. A note about this AI: it was created at “a robotics school in Pittsburgh,” and bought by the US government. It was never meant to be evil, it just got out of hand.

Luckily, by visiting his friend’s family’s house in the countryside, Kenji coincidentally is in the same house with the creator of the AI and the coolest fighting rabbit avatar owner that Oz has to offer. Said owner is about 11 years old, but can type really quickly.

The film does not entirely center around Oz, it mainly centers around the family, which has come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of its matriarch. The family consists of men who are vocal but passive, and women who are assertive, yet spend much of their time and energy in the kitchen. While the women remain unaware of the imminent devise of the Earth, the men find a way to get a supercomputer into their house, and play video games in such a way as to save the world.

This outside world, although visually not as fantastic as Oz, is nonetheless more compelling for its ability to



contain stories, conflict, depth and food. The film does not explore people’s actual lives getting taken over by the internet, but rather their virtual lives, namely, the information over which they have power. All the numbers and codes with which a person is associated, from his bank account to, say, the access codes to the city sewer authority computers, if one is the head of the sewer authority, are all kept in Oz. Although a person’s identity can’t be overtaken, his function can be assumed and abused. The repercussions reverberate in the actual world. This abuse is made visual by having the AI, whose avatar is a tattooed warrior, knock around the pieces of graphs, topple dominoes with points of data, and rearrange plates containing the commands to traffic signals. Luckily, there are young math geniuses and computer gurus to save the day.

Summer Wars is playing at the Harris Theater through January 19th.


Ron Donoughe

November 27, 2010

Ron Donoughe is a Pittsburgh artist known for his plein air method. He finds outdoor locations in and around Pittsburgh, sets up shop, and paints outdoors. Once he has created his painting, he brings it into his studio to create a larger version. He began his outdoor paintings years ago because he “wanted to do work directly from life in an honest way.” He is interested in light and shadow, as well as how colors change over distance.

When he had begun painting, the work he was doing was “clever. It felt like jumping through intellectual exercises,” and did not involve “experiencing the landscape.” He refers to this as “drawing from the interior rather than the exterior.” He switched to the plein air method because the plein air works were “more honest. They felt true to who I was.”

Donoughe comes from a large family and had seven siblings, one of whom is his identical twin. They grew up in the country, surrounded by cows and chickens, “immersed in the landscape.” During his youth he had a variety of jobs, including landscaping and grave digging, which he did with his twin. The graves were hollowed out with a back hoe, but he and his brother had to climb in with shovels to even them out. “It was a crazy job, but the undertaker always tipped well.” They also had a job that involved catching chickens in the chicken coup, which Donoughe describes as “character building.”

house shadowWhen he began outdoor painting, he painted rural landscapes in all seasons. He has since “warmed up to the urban landscape.” Nowadays he paints both urban and rural landscapes. With his twin brother he owns his parents home, which he frequently visits, finding locations in the area to paint. He also paints every day in Pittsburgh. “It’s part of my routine. I go out looking for subject matter. Something will stop me and call out to be painted.” In his urban paintings, he strives to “give voice to areas of Pittsburgh that don’t get a voice visually.” These days he has been painting in Garfield, Lawrenceville, and Braddock.

At the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Donoughe is currently selling his smaller Melt linepaintings that he completed while outdoors. His winter paintings are some of his most famous for the way they show the play of light, shadow and color on snow. He has paintings from every season in both rural and urban environments.

For more of his work visit his website at : or go to the PCA shop.


Anxiety and Redemption at Melwood Galleries

November 3, 2010

Anxiety and Redemption, a collection of photographic works by Kerry Skarbakka,
will be in the Filmmakers Galleries from November 5th through December 5th.
The show is a combination of two series, The Struggle to Right Oneself and
Fluid. The Struggle to Right Oneself is a series of photographs in which Skarbakka
is falling, often from trees, through windows, or off of high cliffs and bridges.
Fluid is a response to global warming, showing surreal underwater images,
many of which are of Skarbakka himself, fully dressed in suits, looking anxious,
helpless or drowned.

Filmmakers interviewed Skarbakka about his upcoming show, and the symbolism,
history, and craft of his art.

Anxiety and Redemption captures the feelings of angst and helplessness that
have been predominant in our culture for the past decade. “Falling is a provocative
metaphor for loss of control,” says Skarbakka. His pictures capture “despondency,
all that pressure we put on ourselves as a society
just to live.” The images are
about “the act of losing control, of giving up control,” and the consequences

The pictures he creates are not altered;everything is shot on location, often
from great heights. He uses ropes, rigging, and landing pads, but has
nonetheless been hurt multiple times in the process, once even breaking a rib.

Many of his photos are serendipitous.”If I come upon a place that I feel may be
interesting, I infuse my
body within the scene with plausibility,” making it look
“as real as possible.” “Some are just going for
it, and some are controlled.” If he
finds an edifice or natural precipice that looks right for his series, he
sets up and
is “in and out quick and fast.” His art is guerrilla, and he doesn’t always have
permission to
shoot in the place he is shooting. “The cops have only come once,
” when he was jumping off a
billboard by the interstate north of Chicago.
The police were concerned about the activity, but more
importantly, about
his large 4 x 5 camera, which they mistook for something more sinister.

The underwater shots are planned out in advance, and involve scouting areas
underwater. The deepest
he has photographed was 100 feet, off the coast of
Honduras. With a team of divers, he dives, shoots,
then places himself in the
scene and shoots again. He wears gear to get to his location, but casts it off

for the pictures, so that the image is of a man in land attire underwater.

Skarbakka started creating the images for Fluid before the Indonesian tsunami
and before Katrina. The
underwater shots represent “the silent result of things,”
and are “more of a warning.” Global Warming
may not always cause us to be
physically underwater, but we will find ourselves helpless in an

Skarbakka grew up on a farm in Tennessee in a Pentecostal family. “The fear of
Death was used for
control. If you died impure, you were likely to go to hell.”
In 1999, his mother died, and he used his
portfolio of her death as his portfolio
for graduate school. His upbringing and the death of his mother
caused him to
think about “transcendence, death, rites of passage,” and experiences that are

“transformative,” themes that have been present in his work since the beginning,
and have intensified
over the last decade.

“September eleventh was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was an emotional,
serious time. The
world changed, and I needed to make serious, sophisticated art”
His works focused on the anxieties
that were no longer internal, but shared
throughout the culture. He combined that “bundled energy,”
along with his love
of rock climbing, martial arts, acting, and sculpture, and placed them into a 2

dimensional surface. For this reason, Skarbakka’s work is physical, visceral, and,
although made of
stills, has a strong sense of movement.

Although the fear and despondency that resulted from September eleventh have
affected his works,
none of his photographs reference that day. They are
symbolic of the feeling of loss of control, on both
personal and societal levels.
His work has, however, been misinterpreted in the past. One of his
shows Skarbakka falling past a window of the Museum of Contemporary Art in
The making of this photograph generated publicity, and many
journalists came to report on the scene.
One journalist who was not present for
the shooting claimed that Skarbakka was imitating people
falling from the Twin
Towers. This story gained traction, and was put in the Sun Times and the Daily

News without the papers doing any fact checking. The story spread to Brooklyn,
where Skarbakka was
living, and caused him to be the victim of death threats and
hate mail. Mayor Bloomberg called his
work “nauseatingly offensive.” He had to
grow a beard and disappear from the public eye. The furor
has mostly calmed down,
especially since Skarbakka’s appearance in April on the Today Show, where
he was
able to “put to peace” the situation. “My work is about crisis in general, not a
particular crisis.”

Anxiety and Redemption will be on exhibit in Filmmakers Galleries through
December 5, 2010. Kerry
Skarbakka will be giving an artist talk on Thursday,
November 18 with a reception from 5:30-8:00 and
the artist talk at 7:00 pm
in the gallery. Admission is free.


Paper Politics

August 19, 2010

Paper Politics , on display at Space gallery until October 24th, 2010 , is an exhibit of grassroots political posters from around the world. The images depict and react to political and social issues of the past ten years. The messages are of solidarity, revolution, and empowering communities and individuals against capitalism and war.

paper politicsTopics of the posters range from war to evictions, pollution, genocide, Abu Ghraib, women’s issues, health care, transgenic foods, and labor history in Pennsylvania.

Many images play on corporate imagery, essentially uncoopting youth culture from corporations. One shows the McDonald’s arches upside down, reminiscent of the upside down flag, a symbol of maritime distress.

One striking image shows Jesus driving an SUV that is equipped with a rocket launcher.

Many posters show images from war, or from the streets, accompanied by facts or quotes.

Why must these images be put on posters and hung in community spaces? These are images that are not shown in the mainstream media because they show an America that many are uncomfortable with.

Let’s take a minute and talk about our current national discourse. What images and ideas are given to the people? What facts are presented? What phrases are repeated? Our national discourse tends to involve one person or organization proposing legislation. An opposing group claims that said American discourselegislation is being ‘shoved down our throats.’ In order not to seem too overbearing, the legislation is nixed. If a party or organization makes unpopular legislation, blocks popular legislation, or suffers from corruption, they take some other story and blow it up into a media frenzy. The media reports on the emotions of people, and facts are left at the wayside. So, if you want to present information and images about the world we live in, a world with an undercurrent of violence, a world with poverty, unchecked capitalism, war, genocide, greed and weapons, what can you do? You can make a poster and hang it in a public space. Space has a collection of hundreds of such posters, many of which show real images accompanied by facts. All the posters show what we the people are concerned about, and what the media doesn’t address.

Let’s talk about what ideas are considered unacceptable in mainstream America. Marxism is taboo. It seems heretical to many Americans to say that workers should own the profits of their labors. One American mantra is that the rich create jobs, and should thus profit heavily and be taxed lightly in order to incentivize them to create more jobs. I apologize for using the nasty word ‘incentivize’. The fact that that word even exists shows a fundamental believe that people only do things in order to reap a tangible reward.

In America, another entrenched thought is that we are all at the will of the economy. The economy is our ultimate boss, the force that shapes our lives more than any other, and one we cannot control, but can only mildly affect. However, as the posters at Space point out, the economy is a social construct that exists because enough people believe in it to make it manifest. It should not control us. We should control it. If we, as a nation, decided that poverty must be ended, we could end it. We could improve housing, distribute healthy food, and give everyone health care. But these things, although doable, are seen as impossibilities in a capitalist economy. The poster makers at Space are angry about this situation, but also hopeful that given a sea change of opinion, this circumstance can be changed.


Another common notion is that war can make the world better. People are killed because of their political beliefs, or because they happen to live in an area governed by people with unsavory political beliefs. It seems obvious that guns cannot bring peace, but somehow that is not part of our national discourse. The media argues how many guns and tanks are necessary to secure an area for democracy, but no talking head ventures that zero might be the ideal number.

The posters in the Space Gallery present images that address these issues. They represent ideas that so many of us agree with, but that are never presented in the mainstream. Seeing these images is refreshing, engaging, and provocative. The best advice I can give you is to turn off your TV, never turn it back on, and go out into the world and see what ideas are floating around in our free, shared, public space.

Space gallery is free and open to the public.


Countdown to Zero

August 7, 2010

Quick quiz:

  1. How many nations have nuclear weapons?
  2. How much highly enriched uranium has been stolen?
  3. What was the access code to the minute man missile launch site?
  4. If the order were given for the currently online nuclear weapons to be fired, how long would it take for 500,000 people to die?                        (Answers at end)

In observation of the 65th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the film Countdown to Zero is currently playing at the Harris Theater. The film is a documentary about the current status of nuclear weapons around the world today and consists of three main parts: it describes how easily nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of nongovernmental terrorist organizations, how the weapons still on ready-alert since the cold war could easily fire by accident or miscalculation, and how many nations around the world are developing, or have recently developed, nuclear weapons or the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

countdown to zeroThe message of the film is that the common sense of the people, the majority of whom want to see nonproliferation and the dismantling of nuclear weapons, should be heeded. The film describes the dangers of nuclear proliferation and non-disarmament using facts about accidents, miscalculations, the commonplace occurrence of theft of highly enriched uranium. Interviewees in the documentary include Mikhail Gorbachev, Valerie Plame, and Jimmy Carter. Historical footage of Robert Oppenheimer, Ronald Reagan, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Before the showing on Friday night, Dr. Dan Fein spoke about nuclear proliferation. He referred to the US as the “avatar of nuclear militarism,” and cited that nuclear weapons are often seen as “the poor man’s deterrent against imperialism.” Indeed, in the film, Kim Il Jung is cited as saying that North Korea was not invaded by the United States on account of her nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto once stated, “we’ll eat grass, but we’ll make a nuclear bomb.” (On a side note, it has been much in the press that Pakistan, in theory a United States ally, has been providing weapons and training to the Taliban in Afghanistan.)

minute man missileThe film also discusses MAD, mutual assured destruction. This situation is known in mathematics as the prisoner’s dilemma, a situation where, when everyone works in what he sees to be his best interest, the worst possible situation for everyone comes to pass. When nations choose to build nuclear weapons as a deterrent to being invaded, or to having similar weapons used on them, then every nation eventually has nuclear weapons. And then we’re all in big trouble. Whether on purpose or by accident, an existent nuclear weapon is one that could be activated.

Because the probability of a nuclear accident is above zero, the inevitability of a nuclear accident is ensured. Given infinite time, that which can happen will happen. The questions then become: how probable is a nuclear accident, and how much time will nuclear weapons be around? As for the first question, there have already been a series of near-nuclear accidents, including planes taking off unknowingly carrying nuclear missiles, and the subsequent accidental dropping of nuclear missiles, once with five of six safety mechanisms malfunctioning. (That particular one fell in the Carolinas.) A number of planes and submarines carrying missiles have crashed and sunk in the oceans, the weapons of which have never been recovered. So, let’s go ahead and say the probability is not astronomically small. To reduce an accident, it is thus necessary to reduce the amount of time nuclear weapons are around, i.e, they should be dismantled.

The showing on Friday was sponsored by Remembering Hiroshima 2010, who promoted the signing of START, a disarmament treaty that is up for renewal. Before the film, Jo Schlesinger described the organization and its mission. She also invited Jasiri X to perform, and he wrote a piece especially for the occasion. The song was a conversation between a mother and her son taking place on the morning of August 6th, 1945 in Hiroshima, the son questioning what was happening and why. Before he performed, he stated that he wanted to “humanize individuals.” We often speak of war in the abstract, as I have done for this article, and don’t look at what war means for the individual people who are the victims of it. I highly recommend his work, which can be viewed at

Countdown to Zero will be playing through August twelfth at the Harris Theater.

Answers to quiz:

  1. 9 nations, with a combined total of over 23,000 nuclear weapons on Earth.
  2. It is unknown how much has been stolen. In all cases that uranium has been confiscated from thieves, it was originally unknown that the uranium had gone missing.
  3. 0000000000 – All employees at the facility were aware of this code.
  4. Half an hour.

Pittsburgh Bike Fest 2010

August 4, 2010

August 6th- 15th

The ultimate goal is a multi-modal, safe, sustainable transportation system for Pittsburgh. The proximate goal is to have fun, meet folks, and ride bicycles.

Bike Fest 2010

Bikefest begins on Friday and consists of a variety of bike related activities. There are scores of organized bike rides, ranging from light, family-friendly rides around town, to arduous, uphill, 90-mile bikeathons. There are bike games such as polo, rodeo, and a scavenger hunt. There are classes on bicycle maintenance and repair. There are lectures on sustainable transportation. There are midnight rides, early morning rides, rides that cross bridges, historic rides, and city tour rides.

The best thing about Bikefest is that anyone can organize an event. Bike Pgh is acting as the hub for planning and information distribution, but the festival is essentially a people’s festival in which anyone can create or attend any event. So, if you want to, say, sponsor a naked bike ride, or a Halloween costume bike ride, a spray paint my bike pink and cover it with glitter activity, or what have you, feel free!

On Wednesday the 11th, Filmmakers will sponsor a free showing of The Great Muppet Caper, the greatest adventure ever to involve a frog, an elegant pig, and bicycles.

Muppets on bikes

Pennsylvania has been rated as one of the worst states for bicycling. In order to raise the ranking, the state needs to have more bike lanes, better maintained roads, larger shoulders, etc. It also needs more bikers. It may seem odd that increasing the number of bikers will increase biker safety, but there are a few reasons. First, if there are more bikers, drivers will expect them and take precautions. Secondly, there is safety in numbers. If ten people bike together, they are an easily noticeable force. Also, the more bikers there are, the stronger the biker lobby. Even if it is an unofficial lobby, one with no central organization or money, it could still be a powerful.

So, to make Pittsburgh a better place for all bicycles, for the environment, and for the future of mankind, get out there and play pick up bike polo!


5 Easy Pieces

May 17, 2010

Five Easy Pieces, which will be playing at the Regent Square Theater from Monday, May 17th through Thursday May 20th, is a film in which a young Jack Nicholson, in his typical fashion, plays a character who is miserable and takes his angst out on other people, somehow convincing them to accept it. He is just Ok enough of a guy to get away with it.

The movie takes place in the 1970’s, a time where the world is predominantly shades of orange and brown, and everything looks as though it tastes like Lipton Tea.  People have names like Elton, Twinky, Rayette, and Spicer. Waitresses wear cute one-piece peach colored collared dresses. The classier girls wear crocheted dresses.

Waitress car ride

Bobby (Jack Nicholson) is a musical prodigy who has given up the piano in favor of working on an oil rig and hanging around the sort of women who numbly chew gum with open mouths.  The point his girlfriend rightly makes about him is that he is “never satisfied.’ The movie starts by showing scenes form Bobby’s life, including drinking whiskey on the commute to work, overreacting to his girlfriend’s lack of bowling skills, and fraternization with a dipsy, curly-haired, squealy woman.  He is unhappy, yet reveling in his unhappiness.

About halfway through the movie, Bobby goes to his family’s home on a Puget Sound island to see his ailing father. There he falls in love with a woman who is more sophisticated than he is accustomed to. However, he is still able to win her over by knocking all the perfumes off her dresser, screaming at her, and slamming her door. Apparently, violent behavior was considered seductive in the 1970’s.

Jack Nicholson Pugent Sound Young Jack Nicholson

The most striking moment in the film is at a dinner party at his family’s house. An obnoxious, cold, pedantic woman is talking about aggression. She treats Bobby’s girlfriend not as a person, but as an example that typifies a class. Bobby gets upset and defends his girlfriend’s honor (for once). It is only at this scene that we can understand why he left his family and a life of social preeminence. It is because he would have to be pleasant to such bombastic egotists. He prefers the directness, sincerity, and humility of people who don’t think that they know everything.

One of the most important aspects of intelligence is the ability to recognize bullshit. This is an aspect that Bobby has in abundance. It causes him to suffer, to alienate people, and it thwarts his ambitions, but it also allows him to do and say whatever he wants, regardless of the repercussions.