Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Top 10 continued

Top 10 fiction
I have listed authors rather than particular novels, because most of the people on this list have written more than one brilliant novel. I do have my favourites, though.
1. Charles Dickens. Bleak House is fantastic, but they're all good. The first page of Hard Times is a masterpiece.
2. Jane Austen. Emma is the best, in my opinion.
3. Shirley Hazzard. Because I've just finished The Great Fire and her wonderful writing style is fresh in my mind. The Transit of Venus is a good place to start.
4. Patrick White. Voss
5. Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn, of course.
6. George Eliot. Silas Marner
7. The Brontes. Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights. Poor Anne's Agnes Grey is wimpy by comparison, although it's just as good as other books by her sister, such as The Professor and Villette.
8. DBC Pierre. Vernon God Little. Apparently his new one -- Ludmilla's Broken English -- is also excellent.
9. D.H. Lawrence. Definitely The Rainbow, followed by its sequel Women in Love. But Kangaroo is good, too.
10. Tim Winton. Dirt Music, but all his novels are magnificent.

Top 10 poets
Once again, listed by author rather than particular poems.
1. Geoffrey Chaucer. "Whan that Aprille with its shoures swoot..."
2. John Donne. "I wonder by my troth, what thou and I / Did, till we loved?"
3. William Shakespeare. "Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising / Haply I think on thee and then my state / (Like to the lark at break of day arising / from sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate."
4. T.S. Eliot. "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time."
5. e e cummings. "you shall above all things be glad and young / For if you're young, whatever life you wear / it will become you; and if you are glad / whatever's living will yourself become."
6. Walt Whitman. "I celebrate myself."
7. Judith Wright. "This is the blood's wild tree that grows / the intricate and folded rose."
8. Les Murray. "There's a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can't stop him."
9. Kenneth Slessor. "Time that is moved by little fidget wheels / Is not my Time, the flood that does not flow."
10. John Shaw Nielson. "Let your song be delicate."

Top 10 children's books
These are all books I still love to read, as an adult.
1. C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the best after The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
2. Alan Garner. The Owl Service, Elidor, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath.
3. Tove Janssen. The Moomintroll books
4. Joyce Lankester-Brisley. Milly-Molly-Mandy
5. Roald Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, of course.
6. J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter series (since she hasn't written anything else. Will she ever, do you think?)
7. Patricia Wrightson. An Older Kind of Magic or I Own the Racecourse.
8. J.R.R. Tolkein. The Hobbit
9. Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows
10. Ethel Turner. Seven Little Australians

Monday, February 27, 2006

Sub's day off

Yesterday's Sun-Herald contained a page-three article about a "slither" of land with views over Bondi Beach that had been sold for squillions of dollars. The Aforementioned Engineer and I had a giggle. One could almost slide straight into the Bondi Icebergs' pool, we decided, if one had a spare $3.5 million.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Top 10

Yesterday's blogging about The Origin of Species got me thinking about important books and texts. I started trying to compile my own "top 10" and found it extremely difficult. If the top 10 must encompass both fiction and non-fiction, it's virtually impossible; however, trying to limit myself, here's my preliminary top 10 must-read books for an understanding of modern western/European culture:
1. The Bible. I still like the Revised Standard Version: reasonably modern English with some of the poetry of the King James retained.
2. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
3. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Plays and sonnets.
4. The Metamorphoses by Ovid/The Iliad by Homer (still deciding, but there's only room on this list for one classical epic, I think)
5. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
6. The Mabinogion (Celtic mythology)
7. Metamorphosis by Kafka. I might change my mind about this one and include In Camera by Jean-Paul Sartre instead.
8. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
9. Collected Poems of Judith Wright. Cheating a little. I wanted to include an Australian writer, a poet, and a woman in the list.
10. The Second Sex by Betty Freidan. I had to have a feminist manifesto on the list, but as I haven't read this book yet (although I've read Freidan's Fountain of Age) I would almost like to replace it with Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, or even The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, all of which were of more influence on me personally with regard to feminist thinking.
Of this list, I have yet to read the Communist Manifesto and the Second Sex. And now for the challenge: agree, disagree or write your own top 10. Leave suggestions in comments or by email. Next entry: Top 10 novels/poetry/children's books (in English, or in translation).

Saturday, February 25, 2006

On the Origin of Species

I am happy to report that I have finished it at last. Almost exactly three years to the day since I began, I have finished reading The Origin of Species.
The paperback book itself is tired, the covers and corners tattered and taped and the pages yellowed from being carried around in my handbag. (I always like to have a book on hand, to be pulled out at those moments when there is nothing else going on and nothing important to think about -- usually in cafes or on buses.) Some of the pages bear the telltale stains of solitary cappuccinos, and I have been using a Tusker beer bottle label (local brew from Bruce's bar on Hideaway Island, Vanuatu) as a bookmark.
I started reading Origin in Vanuatu while we were on holiday, three years ago. I’d taken it along as a back-up book if I finished the one I really wanted to read. Funnily enough, I can’t remember what the other book was! (I have a feeling it was Carl Sagan’s Contact, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as the Fun Policeman promised I would.)
You may ask why I wanted to wade through such a venerable tome as Origin. The answer is that it is one of the most important and influential books ever written: the back cover blurb says, ‘next to the Bible’. I have read the Bible, and many other books that appear on various lists of influential works of fiction and non-fiction, so I felt that I ought to round out my education by reading this one.
I began reading Origin well before I became aware of the current controversy about Intelligent Design. In fact, it was almost the other way around: I became aware of the controversy because I was reading Origin. Although modern biologists counter the accusations of ID by denying that they are Darwinists, pointing out that our understanding of natural selection and evolution has advanced in leaps and bounds and, in some cases, diverged from Darwin’s version of the theory, they do owe (and own) allegiance to him and his bold vision: just as western civilisation cannot escape the fact that we owe a great deal of our culture and current beliefs to the Christian bible, whether we believe it is divinely inspired or not.
I was pleased to discover that, in many ways, Darwin foreshadowed developments in science during the 20th century:

We shall never, probably, disentangle the inextricable web of the affinities between members of any one class; but when we have a distinct object in view, and do not look to some unknown plan of creation, we may hope to make sure but slow progress. (Chapter XIV)

Take a bow, Crick, Watson and Rosalind Franklin.

With respect to existing forms, we should remember that we have no right to expect (excepting in rare cases) to discover directly connecting links between them, but only between each and some extinct and supplanted form. (Chapter XV)

Thomas Huxley, you go, guy. Wilberforce has got nothing.

With respect to the absence of strata rich in fossils beneath the Cambrian formation, I can recur only to the hypothesis given in the tenth chapter; namely, that though our continents and oceans have endured for an enormous period in nearly their present relative positions, we have no reason to assume that this has always been the case…. (Chapter XV)

Thus was plate tectonics, a discovery of the mid 20th century, foreshadowed in the mid 19th century.

With respect to the lapse of time not having been sufficient since our planet was consolidated for the assumed amount of organic change… I can only say, firstly, that we do not know at what rate species change as measured by years, and secondly, that many philosophers are not as yet willing to admit that we know enough of the constitution of the universe and of the interior of our globe to speculate with safety on its past duration. (Chapter XV)

Hubble and Hawking meet Humanism. (That old chestnut, the “insufficient time” argument, was raised at the Darwin Day meeting I attended. Unfortunately I hadn’t read this chapter then.)

It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the “plan of creation”, “unity of design” &c., and to think that we give an explanation when we only re-state a fact. Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject the theory…. But I look with confidence to the future, — to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality. (Chapter XV)

There’s still nothing new under the sun, and Darwin has already answered his 21st century ID-believing critics.

Reading The Origin of Species, despite the fact that many would call the science it contains obsolete in the wake of 20th century scientific progress, gave me some important insights. Firstly, I became aware of the scope of Darwin’s mind: his careful study and experimentation, his inquisitive nature and his prodigious imagination. Secondly, I became aware of the leaps and bounds that science has made in the past 200 years. Thirdly, I became aware just how much Darwin’s work does underpin commonly held beliefs today, as well as scientific endeavours.
Do I recommend that you read this book? Not necessarily. Though it is well-written, it is not an absolute pleasure to read (hence the fact that it took me three years to get through it in dribs and drabs). But if you feel that you ought to read it to better understand the history of human ideas, then it is certainly worth digging up a copy and ploughing through it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A good cause

A former colleague of mine is currently working (and blogging) in Tanzania. Livin' the dream of giving something back to a world that has given so much to her: I admire her for this.

Check out her blog, and the website of the school she's working for. Admiration is cheap: if you think you can do more, so much the better.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dude sculpture II

Plasticene strikes again at sculpture club: this time in the form of a very decorative candle surround. After last week's effort, the Black Eyed Peabrain has been nagging his parents to buy some plasticene for him to make more teeny little underwater scenes. Now, we love to encourage creativity, but have you ever seen what that stuff does when it gets into the carpet? It's nearly as bad as the red wax covers off those little round cheeses you can buy in the supermarket, when they are left on the back seat of the car in the sun!
The Fun Policeman, living up to his name, quashed the plasticene request forthwith; however, the BEP proved quite resilient and persuasive (and promised faithfully that he would only play with the plasticene on the stainless-steel table top) so I relented and paid a visit to Eckersley's.
Now we have a happy little vegemite, but if so much as a skerrick of plasticene ends up squooshed into the carpet it will be my fault for giving in to him.
Parenting. It's that fine balance between encouraging creativity and independent thought in your children and maintaining your own sanity (not to mention upholstery).

This is the BEP's multi-level plasticene seascape, constructed in a small plastic bowl. There was a "scooper diver" -- as the BEP used to say -- but he took up too much room. Instead, you can see a clam measuring about a centimetre in diameter, and the cutest little crab cowering under a coral ledge. Unfortunately, no beche-la-mers: I will have to take him to task for that. Perhaps the scooper diver took them all home for dinner.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Gizoogle it

Ho-slappin' tha B-L-to-tha-izzack Eyed Peabrain (formerly knizzown as tha Dude). This impressive shina is tha result of a playground collision between tha BEP n his mate's foreheezee (I haven't seen tha otha gizzy but I believe he came off tha betta). Relax, cus I'm bout to take my respect.

This is the first paragraph of my previous post, transizliated into jive by Gizoogle.

Thanks to Kevin for the link.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Introducing the Black Eyed Peabrain (formerly known as the Dude). This impressive shiner is the result of a playground collision between the BEP and his mate's forehead (I haven't seen the other guy, but I believe he came off the better).

I also wanted to note that the RU486 bill passed the House of Reps on Thursday, much to the disgust of the PM and his parliamentary cronies who cried: "Don't you trust us to make decisions on your behalf, informed by expert advisers?"

Well, I don't know, John. Would those be the experts who advised you about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the ones who advised you about the children overboard, or the ones who advised you about the Australian Wheat Board's dealings with Saddam Hussein?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dude sculpture

The Dude had his first after-school sculpture club meeting yesterday and came home with this. He modelled a group of colourful plasticene penguins to represent our family (the Fun Policeman, me, the Airhead, the Drama Queen, and the Dude) then placed them in a jar of water.

The Dude said, "We were supposed to put glitter in the water to make it like a snowdome, but I didn't want to. I guess it's more of a rain-dome."

Tune in for more sculpture next week.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

50 years from now...

... according to Liberal Party backbencher Danna Vale, Australia will be a Muslim country because of all the little Aussies we're aborting today. (I wanted to put a link to the article that appeared in today's Sydney Morning Herald, but they haven't put most of the inflammatory bits on the website.)
WTF? This is wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to start! She says that she heard a Muslim cleric at a Sydney mosque make the claim that Australia would be a Muslim country in 50 years. So what? Go to any evangelical Christian church any Sunday and you'll hear the same thing with the word "Christian" instead of Muslim, but no-one gets upset about that. (Actually, most Aussies react to both claims the same way: "Yeah, whatever... when's the cricket starting?")
And how dare she bring race into the RU486 debate? It makes it sound like eugenics: "if only all those white middle-class girls weren't aborting potential Australians, we would be able to prevent the Muslims from carrying out their not-so-secret plan to convert the whole country". Which is a really screwed up way of thinking. If you take it one step further, perhaps Danna Vale would like to encourage Muslim women to have abortions, because it saves the Australian government the trouble of rejecting the kiddies' refugee applications, sinking their boats or blowing them up in Iraq when they grow up.
Please note: Amanda Vanstone has responded to her colleague's comments by pointing out that she's completely wrong, although I think Mandy's response still smacks of racism. Yet once again I find her standing up against the more offensive views of her fellow MPs, for which I grudgingly give her kudos. Eh, Chloe, next thing we know we'll be having cucumber sandwiches with her ourselves!
And also note: I have written this whole post without a single personal, emotive attack on Danna Vale. Except the bit about taking it one step further. True2life should be (a little bit) proud of me, because I was tempted to say much more.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Great Fire

Last night I finished reading Shirley Hazzard's latest book, The Great Fire. I read it very slowly: it's the kind of book you want to enjoy to the fullest, so I didn't want to open it when I was just filling in time, or was too sleepy to take it in. And when I finally finished it, I felt as though I had had a box of exquisite Belgian chocolates and, although I was careful to conserve them as long as I could, I had just eaten the last one. I can still taste the sweetness this morning.
I read Shirley Hazzard's last novel, The Transit of Venus, as part of my Australian Literature course at uni. Being an impoverished student, all my books came from second-hand book stores and I remember turning up at the tutorial with my tattered paperback version in hand. The copy I had found was the kind of book that one of my lecturers would look down her nose at and term "airport literature": the title was in red foil letters and there was a slightly dated illustration on the cover of a blonde woman nearly popping out of a scarlet bustier. (The weird thing is, the heroine actually has black hair -- and I don't think she wears a bustier in the entire book.) My (richer) classmates had the brand-new version from the Co-op Bookshop, which had a very tasteful piece of modern art on the cover and a slim white serif font proclaiming the title.
Despite the off-putting appearance of its cover, I really enjoyed reading The Transit of Venus (and loved the debates we had in our AustLit tutorial about the ambiguous ending). So I was expecting a lot from The Great Fire. And I got it.
As well as rich, unpredictable characters and an intricate tapestry of plot threads, The Great Fire happens to be set partly in Hong Kong and Shanghai, where I have just visited. Not to mention Norfolk (UK) and Wellington (NZ) where I have also spent a little time. The postwar period setting notwithstanding, it was a kind of sweet synergy to have the characters treading in the streets I had so recently visited. Although I had to laugh when Peter Exley (a character who is originally from Sydney) describes working in the tallest building in Hong Kong, at 13 storeys -- these days, it would be one of the shortest (even our low-slung hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui had 14 floors).
We claim Shirley Hazzard as an Australian writer because she was born here. The Transit of Venus has an underlying theme of Australianness linked to the title: Captain Cook's voyage of discovery was primarily to observe the transit of 1776 from the southern hemisphere. Some of the characters in The Great Fire are Australian, too. But England, Japan, Italy, China and New Zealand are all beautifully represented in the scenery and characters of the book too. I think Shirley Hazzard is a truly international writer (in English), but nevertheless with a distinctively Australian sensibility.
I highly recommend that you read The Great Fire. It's just beautiful.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy Darwin Day

Today being the 197th birthday of the great Charles Darwin, the Dude and I attended a symposium at the Sydney branch of the Australian Humanists Society that was advertised on the Darwin Day website. The meeting began with a brief DVD viewing showing the argument at the Royal Society between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley that included the noted (but partly apocryphal) exchange:
"Do you claim descent from an ape on your grandfather's side or your grandmother's?" and Huxley's brilliant put-down in reply.
There was also a short section of footage of modern studies of finches in South America that the Dude, in mini-naturalist mode, found intriguing. Then the symposium was opened up for discussion. Opinions were bandied about but the chairperson did an excellent job of allowing everyone to have their say and reminding those who interrupted to wait their turn. The Dude, unfortunately, fell asleep in his chair, but was inspired enough to ask to visit the bookstore on the way back to the car, where we found and purchased a slim volume about Charles Darwin and his work.
I was surprised that there was next to nothing about Darwin/evolution/natural selection in the Children's science section, but I think the (adult) book we did find is simple and concise enough for the Dude to enjoy and comprehend.
On the way home we had a great chat about natural selection, which branched into cosmology and Stephen Hawking's statement that the Big Bang leaves room for God (the Fun Policeman and I had been discussing that a couple of days ago and the Dude was intrigued).

Now I've just got to finish reading The Origin of Species... I'm up to the last chapter, so it won't be too long!

Friday, February 10, 2006

RU 4 RU486?

I have been building up a head of steam for several days now about the legislative amendment that was passed in the Senate yesterday concerning RU486. It is absolutely horrifying the way the terms of the amendment have been completely hijacked and ignored by lobby groups from both sides of the abortion fence.

Let's get this clear, everyone. The amendment is about whether the Health Minister (that is, Tony Abbott, who is not a medical practitioner or a pharmacist) or the Therapeutic Goods Administration (which is a unit of a Government department) should be able to decide whether this drug is safe enough to be made available by prescription to Australian women. The amendment is not about whether women should be allowed to abort fetuses: it is not even about whether this method of abortion is safer than other (legal) methods of abortion. It is about who gets to make the decision.

Whether this amendment is passed by the House of Reps next week or not, the legal status of abortion will not change. The availability of RU486 as a method of carrying out abortions may not change, either, depending on the decision of the TGA. All that will change is that Tony Abbott will no longer have the right to make decisions about the availability of drugs that he personally will never use. So he can stop meddling with women's bodies and go meddle with his own.

There's a scare campaign going on that has convinced some wimpy politicians that Mr Abbott is the only person in the country who can protect Aussie women from gruesome and painful death. The campaign features ads that claim women will die if RU486 becomes available by prescription. But consider the statistics:
The Medical Journal of Australia says that the maternal death rate in Australia in 2003 was 8.2 deaths per 100,000 women. On the other hand, the death rate for women who used RU486 is 1 in 200,000. In other words, RU486 is about 15 times safer than continuing with a pregnancy.
*** Please note: these are statistics. I am not trying to prove that abortion by RU486 is better than pregnancy in all, or any, cases. I am simply trying to show that the scare campaign about women dying from RU486 is missing the point of both the abortion debate and the actual amendment to the legislation.***

You know, I love to keep in regular correspondence with my local MP, and I'd write to her about this but I know she's already on my side. But if you have an MP who may need encouragement to vote to get RU486 assessed by a properly qualified Government body rather than Tony Abbott, then join GetUp's campaign. Please.

Yes, I know the heading of this entry is also missing the point of the amendment. But it got your attention, didn't it?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Mardi Gras is nearly here

Can't wait to see a drag queen wearing this creation as she totters down Oxford Street on March 4!

Thanks to Cherie for pointing this out to me.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Get your mind blown!

First mind-blowing thing. I think this astronomy picture is the wildest and most amazingest thing I have seen in a long time.

Another mind-blowing thing is that my coffee grinder is working again. Having been disassembled and reassembled by at least four people, including an engineer (okay, her PhD is in Chem. Eng. but you'd still expect some kind of mechanical aptitude), the grinder was finally fixed by the Dude's best friend, an 11-year-old supergenius (and son of the aforementioned engineer) who is, from this day forward, my Best Friend for Life.

Third mind-blowing thing: yesterday the Aforementioned Engineer and I went to see the Amazing Human Body show at the Superdome at Olympic Park. We went with a mixture of trepidation and macabre fascination: there's a kind of reluctance to come face-to-face with dead people, even if they have been plastinated. I had read a couple of newspaper articles about similar exhibitions in Europe and the US and there seems to be a certain amount of controversy over whether the people who donated their bodies really meant for them to be put on display like this. One article I read even alleged a kind of Frankensteinian body collection process. For the purposes of this blog I choose to believe that the bodies have been obtained legally and with full consent, as we were assured by the curator at the beginning of the exhibition.
Having bidden goodbye to the Fun Policeman, the Dude and my Best Friend for Life (the boys sent us off with the words "Bring home something for dinner, okay?") we went off to have our minds blown. I loved the cast of the blood vessels of the kidneys, looking liike fluffy kidney-shaped pompoms. I was fascinated by the tendons of the feet (for those of you who don't know, the Dude was born with Talipes equinovarus and has had two lots of corrective surgery on the tendons, bones and muscles of his feet, so seeing a foot's internal structure gave me even more respect for his wonderful orthopedic surgeon). There was a marvellous display of plastinated blood vessels of the arm, with all the flesh, bone and skin dissolved away so it was just a lacy network of amazingly fine vessels in the shape of an arm.
The biggest complaint I had heard about the exhibition was the lack of female bodies. The curator explained that this was to deter the voyeurs who had apparently ruined early exhibitions. I am not sure if I accept this argument: I mean, couldn't you just have the wankers escorted out by security guards? There is only one female (full) body in the exhibition, although there are several uteruses (uteri?) and a pelvis. There are no breasts. Not even on the full female body. This was disappointing. Having seen the amazing internal structures of other parts of the body, the Aforementioned Engineer and I were bewailing the missed opportunity to look at, say, the mammary glands and milk ducts or the blood supply of a breast. The other annoying thing was the labelling of a "Pelvis" and a "Female Pelvis". Yes, it was good to be able to compare the two, but why not say "Male Pelvis" and "Female Pelvis"? The current labelling implies "here is a pelvis and here is a female pelvis, which is not like a normal pelvis".
It took nearly two hours to get through the exhibition, we were surprised to note as we exited. We had been fascinated and horrified by turns, but managed to hold on to our lunch. In fact, we laughed quite a lot, making irreverent statements about the way plastination is not kind to the penis (the limply hanging testicles brought back memories of dissecting rats in year 11 biology class). We also decided not to get pate de foie gras, steak and kidney, lamb's fry or osso bucco for dinner (a horizontally sliced-up human leg looks just like chump chops, we decided) so the boys had to settle for chicken and salad that we picked up on the way home.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The philosopher's tone (and a singing blog)

Today I signed up for a 10 week evening course in Philosophy. Why? It all started with the course I did on string theory last year...
In case I haven't whinged to you about it -- is there anyone in the world to whom I haven't whinged about it? -- this was a course I signed up for that was supposed to be about the history and philosophy of quantum science. The course was 10 weeks long, and we finally got onto quantum theory halfway through week nine. At the time I was disillusioned with the teacher who allowed the class to be constantly hijacked by people pushing religious/creationist agendas. I think he just liked arguing with them. One of the worst hijackers always sat in front of me, and the Fun Policeman's solution to my frustration was a recommendation that I take along a plastic ruler and flick him in the back of the head every time he tried to go off-topic. He reasoned, like Pavlov, that the guy would eventually learn to associate pain with thoughts of creationism... I didn't test the theory. I'm pretty sure they banned those kinds of human psychology experiments a couple of decades ago.
Actually, my favourite memory of the course was when I caught two of my fellow students -- namely, the annoying elderly WASP male who sat in front of me and a young hijab-clad Muslim teacher -- conspiring in the stairwell about how they were going to make the teacher admit that God exists before the course was finished. I could barely contain my laughter until I got to the ground floor and out of the echoing stairwell! I mean, say they succeeded -- which they didn't -- what were they going to do THEN? Which God were they going to get him to acknowledge?
To get back to my reasons for taking a philosophy course, there were actually a couple of students in that class who gained my respect for their critical and logical thinking in the face of all the ridiculousness. One was a 40-something Jewish man who, despite his obviously sincere and deep-rooted beliefs (he wore a yarmulka and full beard), was always able to distill the masses of information that we were dealing with and ask questions that were pertinent to the subject we were supposed to be learning about. Without pushing a religious agenda at all. His knowledge of philosophy and his grasp of logic were refreshing.
The other student I respected was a bundle of visual contradictions. He was also 40-something, had a conservative haircut and wore conservative rimless glasses. His conservative, short-sleeved business shirts, however, were worn under a battered leather jacket and revealed a pretty impressive collection of tattoos all over his arms and, I imagine, most of the rest of his body. I invented an imaginary life for Tattoo Guy that included years spent poring over philosophy books in prison (I may have been doing him a disservice but he sure looked the part). He had a mind like a steel trap and could always add positively to in-class discussions at times when my brain was turning to jelly.
Tattoo Guy became my hero when he accosted the Elderly WASP during the class break one particularly frustrating day. He simply turned to the Elderly WASP and said, "You just have to accept that we're not here to discuss 'why', only 'what'." When the Elderly WASP tried to argue, Tattoo Guy calmly stood his ground and repeated his reasoning. I was silently cheering him on (although part of me wanted him to lose it and just deck the WASP. It had been a very frustrating hour.)
This is how I was inspired to sign up for the philosophy course; to improve my understanding of philosophy, logic and critical thinking. I feel that I have some mental muscles that need to be developed further. I was raised to accept the status quo: scepticism has never been my strong point. And I really don't know much about the great philosophers of human history, apart from what I learned about Plato, Socrates and Aristotle from my studies in ancient history and classical literature.

And Monty Python's Bruce's Philosophy Song.
Now this term, I don't want to catch anybody not drinking, eh, Bruce?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Naked blocks

Here's the next stage of my soluble fabric stabiliser experiments. These six naked crazy patchwork blocks are about to head off on an adventure around Australia and New Zealand, to be embellished, embroidered and solvied by five other embroiderers before they are returned to me to decorate the last one.
They are part of a round robin challenge in which each person in the "chain" sends out six naked blocks, then each recipient selects one block to embroider and embellish, before sending all six blocks along to the next person in the chain. The only stipulation is that the embellishment must use soluble fabric stabiliser in some form. This is why I've been practicing: having never used the stuff before I needed to get my skills into shape.
I used small sections of my blue experimental piece as the centre of each of these six blocks, to set the colour scheme and the theme for the block. Now it's up to Jan, Sue, Faye, Alison and Joy to let their creativity run wild. Meantime, Joy's blocks should be arriving in the post at my place soon and I get first pick from her selection to embellish -- so look out for more experiments soon.
In six months' time my blocks will come back to me all pretty and embroidered and not naked any more, at which point in time I will have to decide what to do with them.
Going on past form, this will mean I put them in my suitcase full of UFOs and do nothing with them for several years.