Tuesday, January 19, 2010

just because it's cute

While researching a story today I found this at http://cgi.www5a.biglobe.ne.jp/~mite/topics/topics.cgi

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mrs Underhill Book Club update

Word on the street is that end of Jan is TOO SOON for finishing The Brain that changes itself. Let’s try for Wednesday Feb 24th at 8pm – 10.30pm at my place to meet. Let me know if you think this is doable. Online comments in time for this meeting are welcomed too.

Our current book is THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF by Dr. Norman Doidge. Yep we are doing nonfiction. The book is available widely and Amazon is selling second hand copies of US$9.

As it happens Patsy Fox has reported that she has "just ordered the book from the Book Depository, for a price including shipping, which is free, of AUD 13.16. This site is bizarre and cheap. It has about 5 versions of this book - I went with the cheapest option, looks the same to me. Here's the link for anyone interested:

Thanks Patsy!

“Dr. Norman Doidge introduces principles we can all use to overcome brain limitations and explores the profound brain implications of the changing brain in an immensely moving book that will permanently alter the way we look at human possibility and human nature.” - See the website at http://www.normandoidge.com/normandoidge/MAIN.html

We will also discuss DISGRACE by J.M. Coetzee which is long OVERDUE!

I will check in for RSVPs the week before. We’ll just do after supper nibbles as before.

Looking forward to seeing y’all.

Til then, happy New Year.

PS: Knitted brain by artist: Karen Norberg, Location: Boston Museum of Science

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Behind the scenes in the musuem

I've said it before and I'll say it again. You may read fiction just for fun but along the way you'll end up learning something - despite your best efforts.

As usual, because I have some weighty tomes beside the bed waiting to be read, I turned to fiction popcorn. This time it was The Bone Vault by Linda Fairstein who, in 2002, retired from her position as head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office and turned to book writing. Over-achiever! Anyway, it's a formulaic gold mine with her DA protagonist, Alexandra Cooper, righting wrongs all over New York and beyond.

This time we got a behind-the-scenes look at the Metropolitan Museum and its offshoot for medieval art history, The Cloisters, as well as the New York Museum of Natural History. Funnily enough, with Mrs R and the bairn in town this week and spending two delightful nights at my place, we ended up at the Melbourne Museum looking at its wild taxidermy section. My mind was crossing over between fictional and non fictional representations.

Whilst reading The Bone Vault however I learned of Minik, an Inuit (AKA - Eskimo) who was brought to the USA from Greenland along with five other Inuit in 1897 by explorer Robert Peary. This little boy was only six or seven when he, along with three men and two women, were brought back as living specimens to the American Museum of Natural History to be studied. Can you believe it? To our modern minds it is bad enough to think of graves being plundered to bring back skeletons for scientific study but actual living, breathing human beings...

Surprise surprise the five adults all expired ASAP in the germy client of New York. Minik was farmed out to a man involved with the Museum who, sure, raised him alongside his own son but who is also thought to be the man who bleached Minik's father's bones to be put on display in the Museum at a later date. Get your head around that one.

Legend has it that Minik actually stumbled across his Dad's skeleton on display when he got a bit older and, of course, was destroyed by the experience. When older, and troubled, they tried taking him back to Greenland but by then he couldn't speak his native language anymore and his seal hunting and polar bear whispering skills were a bit rusty after a childhood in NYC.

There's an interesting article about all of this at the NY Times site because in 1993 the Museum of Natural History packed four skeletons into separate boxes and shipped them back to Greenland.

There is so much to think about and meditate on when you discover a story like this. It somehow puts new perspective on the reports we might see in the news such as the 2009 one when a skull and other bone fragments, discovered in the home of an elderly British academic, were handed over to the Australian government in a solemn Aboriginal ceremony. Australian diplomats had discovered the remains in an auction of the contents of the academic's home.

It's easy to feel removed from these stories because it all seems to have taken place so very long ago but imagine for a moment if it was one of your own loved family members up for display in a glass box somewhere. I mean it's not like these people donated their remains to this cause; most of the time they were in fact looted from the grave. Sensibilities have changed. Science is supposedly conducted with more sensitivity and humanity - we hope - but it has an unseemly heritage me thinks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where is James Cameron when you need him?

What a bad little blogger I have been. Ten days since my last instalment and not a valid excuse in sight.

I have been having fun. From dinner at The Exchange in Port Melbourne with one of my favourite women to completing and paying my July – Sept quarter BAS and tax (ok, not fun but a sense of dread is removed), and from seeing Avatar to returning to the suburban wasteland of my youth to attend an extremely lovely 60th birthday. If variety is the spice of life, my life has been a whopping big jar of All Spice.


Let’s discuss Avatar because my film studies self found this an absolutely riveting release. We saw the 3-D version. Mr U, the original student of film (he was buying books on the topic before he was 11 or so), said I was witnessing filmic history and this movie represents the kind of jump in technical possibilities that Star Wars did when it was released.

I will take that as gospel but still hate the feeling of the Poindexter glasses increasing my awareness that I am seeing a film rather than being part of something. Truth be told, however, that feeling died down after a half hour into the movie (it’s something like 2.5 hours long) and I stopped pulling the glasses up and down my nose to see what the screen looked like sans specs.

It’s difficult to get one’s head around the role a director plays in a movie like this where so little on screen time is given to bricks and mortar sets and live actors and so much is given to CGI sequences. I would LOVE to see behind the scenes to understand how it is achieved and how James Cameron’s role works.

This movie cost more than two hundred and thirty million (USA) dollars. What could that kind of money do to villages, hospitals and schools in different parts of the world? You just can’t think about it because it is kind of depressing. And, yet, the entertainment that movie brings to all of us with the luxury of time and money to go see it is undeniable. It’s one of those quandaries of modern life, hey?

The computer-generated aspects of this movie are basically magical. In the New Yorker they wrote: The digital elements of “Avatar,” he (Cameron) claims, are so believable that, even when they exist alongside human actors, the audience will lose track of what is real and what is not. “This film integrates my life’s achievements,” he told me. “It’s the most complicated stuff anyone’s ever done.”

[Read more: www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/26/091026fa_fact_goodyear#ixzz0cSAll5iQ]

The colours, the textures, the strange mining of all our stereotypes of magical forests, rainforest Amazon type locations, mythical creatures and prehistoric predators combines to create something incredibly original yet intensely familiar. Crazy! The colour is probably what resonates the most. Then there is the classic, stereotypical “hero’s journey” that main character, Jake Sully (AKA the very cute Aussie, Sam Worthington) embarks on. There are weird new age ideas of the noble savage and of modern man’s distruction of the planet and his lack of connection with the natural and spiritual world. I know, it all sounds like a bad mixed pasta from Lygon Street, complete with spaghetti with clams on a plate with curried rigatoni. It’s hard to explain. The thing works. It’s bigger than life and the most perfect advertisement for the real product that Twentieth Century Fox is undoubtedly going to make the real profits on – THE GAME!!! Even me, fat, forty and cyber-proof felt the urge to get out a console and occupy the world of the Na'vi people. Were they pumping drugs into the air of the cinema?

Other things

Book-wise I am still loving My Life in France and really, strangely, feel renewed in the spirit after this dose of Julia C. I can’t really explain it; I think low biorhythms had me off my normal enthusiastic view of life. Could be that, could be all the Christmas and New Year boozing that I am trying to distance myself from now. Could also be the thought of Mrs R and her brood landing on my doorstep soon and making me so, so excited (and busy – Mrs R is the tidiest, cleanest woman in the world. She deserves a dust free guest room!).

Of course I still can’t resist dipping into some crime porn (The Bone Vault by Linda Fairstein) and hit the library for a huge cache of books including The Children's Book by AS Byatt which I am in no way going to finish before it is due back. And, of course, the Mrs Underhill Book Club is meant to be tackling The Brain that Changes Itself AS WE SPEAK. Lordy, I love to read but there are just not enough hours in the day. I need an Avatar who goes to work, washes the clothes and exercises the body while another self sits and gorges on books. Where is James Cameron when you need him?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy freakin' New Year

The urge to declare resolutions, examine one's life, stocktake one's failings and promise new bursts of energy and commmitment as January 1 comes about is like a noxious weed. I want to stand apart from it, to deny it and remain separate but it's just too hard. The weed is in my garden and I keep fiddling with it.

We went OUT OF THE HOUSE this New Year's Eve and that alone should indicate the start of a very different year. I can't remember the last time Hank Williams was switched off (he died on NYE you know) and glad rags were put on. We went to a party/gig called Bam a lam at a place called Magnolia Courtyard in the charming Collins Quarter. Melbourne has a place called Pink Alley, did you know that?

Anyway it was a wonderful evening, too many margaritas bla bla bla, lost a shoe on the way home, lost a stunning vintage brooch while there. Now we all know why I stay home! You can see why I have resolutions for a more 'mature' 2010.

I've worked on and off over the Christmas New Year period. Contrary to popular belief it's quite a nice time to work. It's soooo quiet on the roads and there are not many people around to bother me with emails and phone calls. Mr Underhill and I have entertained and been entertained, mooched around, ridden our Santa bikes, and I've watched movies and read books.

I saw 'Volver' which renewed my love for Ms Cruz, the dreary 'Have you heard about the Morgans', the challenging 'Public Enemies' and the surprisingly wonderful 'Zombieland', possibly one of the best genre movies I have seen in ages. It's like a roadmovie, a buddy flick and a zombie movie all rolled into one but with some great writing, good gags, good acting and some interesting visual treatments. Get it!

Now I am all about the work, a fresh year, getting motivated and finding Nemo but not necessarily in that order.

Seriously though I have to stop watching crud TV to all hours of night, stay on the wagon for a few miles of the trip, read some of the clever books I buy and not just the fluff and get some projects happening to battle a subtle existential crisis that is currently permeating my being. I think I need to read some texts by smarter people who have already been where I am and were paying more attention when they got there. So I am off to the library to look at Richard Rose, H.P. Blavatsky and others. Luckily I have found an article called 'Existential depression in gifted individuals' which says: "Although an episode of existential depression may be precipitated in anyone by a major loss or the threat of a loss which highlights the transient nature of life, persons of higher intellectual ability are more prone to experience existential depression spontaneously."

And there you have it. Even my laziness and lack of focus points to my innate brilliance!