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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Unimaginably huge

.... and so beautiful.

Catherine Hill Bay, NSW. Photo: Karl Lindsay

I did a piece a few years ago railing against the smallness of the imagination of most rabid right Christianists.  They focus on petty "rules" and "laws", when the universe is unimaginably vaster and more strange than anything they can imagine.

The recent discovery of nearly a thousand galaxies which were hidden from view by the stardust in our own galactic disk just emphasises this.  Our own galaxy has 200 to 400 BILLION stars.  And we are part of a pretty normal galaxy.  And now another thousand galaxies have been discovered.

You would think it was pretty hard to hide a galaxy containing tens of billions of stars – but nearly a thousand of them?
Hundreds of new galaxies have been identified within 250 million light years of Earth, hidden behind the glow of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The discovery is helping us understand the structure of our nearby universe and could challenge some of the assumptions of modern cosmology.

"The region we looked at is a very hard region to study; it's know as the 'Zone of Avoidance', another name for the plane of our own galaxy," Professor Lister Staveley-Smith at the University of Western Australia, told Fairfax Media

The centre of our galaxy is teeming with dust clouds and billions of stars. Very little optical light is able to penetrate the dense dust and gas. Even when it does, the foreground stars are so densely packed together that they blind our telescopes to the faint glow from more distant objects. Space behind the Milky Way is invisible to us on Earth.
Using novel techniques in radio astronomy, Australian scientist Professor Staveley-Smith and his team were able to detect 883 new galaxies, a third of which have never been seen before and the rest of which were barely smudges.

Read more here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Weight and psychology

When I was a lightie, I had a hellish time at school.  I was (am) Asperger-ish/mildly autistic and I was also effeminate.  In the brutal hell of a boy's school that was enough to make me an outsider and enough to provoke continuous bullying.  In one incident, I was partially blinded in one eye.  To this day, fifty years on, I have to dig deep into my reserves of courage to go into a room of male strangers.

I coped by retreating into my own world, and by eating.  Once a week, on Thursday, we drove into town to do the shopping, and we went to the library.  How magical that was!  I was allowed to take out two books.  I would read and re-read them over the next week, and my favourite way to do this was to lie on my bed sipping a cup of cocoa or eating a sandwich or a bowl of peanuts.  It didn't help that I was part of  family that loved food, and my mother would always push us to "clean our plates", so I would dutifully eat more, even though I was full.

I slimmed down in late adolescence and my early twenties, because I was so busy: surfing, mountaineering, walking, riding.  In those days, young people didn't have cars.  We walked everywhere.  For example, I used to take the train to uni, then walk a couple of miles uphill (U.C.T. is on the slopes of Table Mountain).  I used to ride my sister's horse up our street, which was a dirt road, into the nature reserve on the slopes of the mountain.  I would walk to my friend's house, which was a good five miles each way.  In summer, I would swim a mile 3 or 4 times a week.  My waist was a remarkable 28, my chest 38.

But then I got a desk job, and depression, which, to quote Georges Moustaki:

Ell' ne me quitte pas d'un pas Fidèle comme une ombre Elle m'a suivi ça et là Aux quatre coins du monde

                "ne me quittait pas d'un pas".  When I get depressed I eat.  And drink.

So my weight started to rise,  Every so often, I would go on a strict diet, and my weight would fall, but, my psychological need for comfort would eventually have me going back to what I was doing before.  I tried Weight Watchers, and I lost weight, but I was always hungry.  I tried this diet and that, and they all worked.  Temporarily.  I even tried hypnotherapy.

For a while, running and cycling kept my weight under control,  But then all the running I did damaged my knees and ankles,  Today I can't run at all, and can only walk short distances.  On the other hand, I'm not depressed any more.  Often, actually, I am piercingly happy. Despite my joints!

But now I have an incentive to lose weight.  In a year or so, we will be retiring, to a small coastal town in country Victoria.  I'll tell you more about that in another post.  And if I want to walk along the beach every day, then I will have to lose some weight.  The orthopaedic surgeon said that often in cases like mine, losing a lot of weight helps.  And I really do want to be able to walk on the beach every day.  To wear a speedo without looking like a blimp.   So that's what I'm going to try and do.  I have a real goal now.  Retirement, and my happiness when I am retired.

Road sign at Cabbage Tree Creek
Distances in kilometres

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Dressmaker

A few weeks ago, my lady and I went to see The Dressmaker.  What a wonderful film!  Funny, sad, moving, poignant, clever, pointed ....  Perfect.  Set in western Victoria in the wheat belt, it's a perfect picture of small town life.  Just when you think it's going to go in a predictable direction, it switches track and you are captured again.  When that happens it's sometimes funny but sometimes extraordinarily sad.  It's sumptuous, marvellous and so beautifully done, with some nice echoes of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, including a cross-dressing Hugo Weaving.  Oh, and Liam Hemsworth is ... very yum.  Not that Kate Winslet isn't extraordinarily beautiful.  I can't recommend it too highly.

Despite the director being an (Ozzie) Hollywood great, Jocelyn Moorhouse (How to Make an American Quilt) it's very much not the sort of film made in Hollywood, which will prolly mean, alas, that its sales outside Australia will be low.

Jim Schembri from 3AW says:

We've gone on quite a bit about what a great year it's turning out to be for Australian film, but not quite so far as to use a clumsy metaphor.

So here goes, folks: if the high-quality of local films in 2015 can be seen as an over-sized serving of luxury dessert, then The Dressmaker would be well-cast as the big, fat cherry on top.

It's a winning, whacky, hugely enjoyable slice of Australiana that begins with a whisper and ends with a heck of a bang.

Exuberant and brash, cheeky and sexy, sporting a dry sense of humour and a great ensemble cast, The Dressmaker unspools as a big, boisterous period comedy driven by a thirst for revenge, a desire for romance and - most important of all - a hunger to entertain.

Having been banished from her home town of Dungatar as a child, Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) defiantly returns in 1951 as a world-travelled fashionista. Accused of a school-yard crime, she is determined to face down the small minds of her small town, exact some justice and reclaim her good name.

But first she has to deal with her fiery, wheel-chair bound harridan of a mother (Judy Davis), who has let the family home deteriorate into a state as haggard as her face. Looking as though she was cloned directly into her clothes, Davis is a delight as she works hard to wrench the film away from Winslet.

Be assured, this is Winslet's film. Her classy combination of steely, single-minded purpose and down-home warmth are easy to embrace and relate to. Coupled to that, Winslet is now one of the most classically beautiful women in cinema, a quality the film's superb cinematography is completely uninterested in hiding.

Though the film's feisty centrepiece, she is surrounded by a heavy-hitting ensemble. There's Liam Hemsworth (as romantic relief), Hugo Weaving (a fashion-loving copper), Shane Jacobson (a shop owner), Sarah Snook (his frumpy daughter), Barry Otto, Shane Bourne, Caroline Goodall, Rebecca Gibney, Alison Whyte, Julia Blake, Kerry Fox, Sacha Horler, Gyton Grantley, Mark Winter and Terry Norris.

It's hard to recall the last time an Aussie film was crammed with so much top-shelf talent. Best thing is, they all get their moment in the sun - or, in some cases, the mud.

In what could easily have been called A Fistful of Dior, director Jocelyn Moorhouse merrily mashes the tropes of the spaghetti western genre familiar to fans of Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, etc) with high-key comedy, fashion and the more conventional beats of a romantic period film to deliver a delicious cinematic treat that quickly establishes a giddy hold on its audience and never lets go.

Read more here.  You can watch the trailer here.  And here's an interesting interview with Jocelyn Moorhouse, the director.

You may not get a chance to see it but if you do, go!  It will stay with you forever.