Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Religion

Intelligent drama about intelligent design, or its absence. This is not a play that needs further introduction. At the end I turned to my companion and said: 'That was quick.' It was the usual length for plays at the Soho Theatre, 1hr 35 mins with no interval. It just seemed fast because it was gripping. Rather a good play On Religion. My companion looked at me with starry eyes and thanked me profusely for suggesting it. Always happy not to disappoint. And not since my brush with Heloise and Abelard have I heard fundamentalism so well attacked in a theatre. Which was not that long ago - the theatre's response to extremism is hotting up.

But it's well overdue that I post the pics that I took when I did indeed get to the Pere Lachaise cemetery to celebrate the intellectual lovers. Admittedly I spent a long time staring in the wrong place, trying to see any trace of their tomb, before I had my attention turned to a huge monument, quite the biggest tomb that isn't a full-blown sepulchre. (And there's me worrying that the Parisians had let their favourite lovers fall into neglect.) Anyway, pics will appear here as soon as I can get my CD disc drive to work.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hanging with the Crumpler Crew

Here is Donna with the new bag she bought. It's a Crumpler and she has shown me all the padding and compartments that make it cool. She allowed me to try it on, but, given its size, I look like a munchkin in it. Donna was pleased to have found a shop that sold them (George Street) as she only knew them from their web presence. Their web presence is worth a look – it features a very bizarre piglet and product descriptions such as:
The Salary Sacrifice
Okay, that’s it: we’re all gunna have to make some cut backs. No more celery for anyone. That’s right. You guys are gunna have to dig for big green sticks some place else. Hey, don’t stalk off when I’m talkin to you . . .
(that's a big laptop-carrying backpack to you, sir)

Once sensitised to the existence of Crumplers, I began to see them everywhere. My next chat at lunchtime was with John and he had a Crumpler with a reflective strip on it. His had been around a little but showed no signs of distress. At this point I still thought it a remarkable coincidence that Donna and John both had Crumpler bags. Yes, they were an all-Australian product and rather funkier to have than a hat with corks or a Driza-Bone oilskin.

But then it got serious as I caught two in one shot. The guy with the bag you can actually see part of is Mark, a student from Ontario who has four of the things. The muffled figure on the right is part of Bill, who was given a spanking new Crumpler as thanks for trekking out from England to talk about designing. (For some reason, no matter how many shots I took, I couldn't get a nice shot of Bill or the bag of the bag.)

Mmmmmm (to be read in a Homer Simpson 'I smell sausages' kind of a way). What's the chance that I come back to England without one? Viral product placement…

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Elephants as you've never Known them

Two pieces of elephant news recently. The first is a learned paper, Self-recognition in an Asian elephant by Joshua M. Plotnik, Frans B. M. de Waal and Diana Reiss. This is part of the abstract:

Considered an indicator of self-awareness, mirror self-recognition (MSR) has long seemed limited to humans and apes. ...MSR is thought to correlate with higher forms of empathy and altruistic behavior. Apart from humans and apes, dolphins and elephants are also known for such capacities. After the recent discovery of MSR in dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), elephants thus were the next logical candidate species. We exposed three Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to a large mirror to investigate their responses. Animals that possess MSR typically progress through four stages of behavior when facing a mirror: (i) social responses, (ii) physical inspection (e.g., looking behind the mirror), (iii) repetitive mirror-testing behavior, and (iv) realization of seeing themselves. Visible marks and invisible sham-marks were applied to the elephants' heads to test whether they would pass the litmus "mark test" for MSR in which an individual spontaneously uses a mirror to touch an otherwise imperceptible mark on its own body. Here, we report a successful MSR elephant study and report striking parallels in the progression of responses to mirrors among apes, dolphins, and elephants. These parallels suggest convergent cognitive evolution most likely related to complex sociality and cooperation.

Wow. Perhaps, more accurately, elephants as they've never known themselves...

(The picture above on the left, by the way, is of an elephant in India that stood patiently while we sat in an intensely aromatic enclosure with it and sharpened our charcoal on our pads. One of the best mornings of my life, I think. Though doesn't he look like a giant squid?)

And if that weren't enough, they've been tormenting pregnant elephants for pictures of their 'iccle ones. Elephant mothers were trained to sit next to the scanners, and cameras were stuffed up their wombs to take these pictures.

Were the resulting images not so amazing, I'd not be putting them up here. It must have been uncomfortable and undignified. (Perhaps like other mothers of young stars.)

But all credit to the guys making In the Womb: Animals, at Pioneer Productions. It's going out on the National Geographic Channel this weekend, then Channel 4 over Christmas, which is good as I'll be home by then. *Be aware that the weblink above has a truly excruciating talk-over. That in itself could merit an entry here, but not such a benevolent one.*