Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nearly Halloween

Today is the 29th of October here in Australia. Yes, I know - it is probably still the 28th in the U.S. of A. where Google Central masterminds Blogger Dot Com. There is no special festival for "two days before Halloween". Pity, I feel the need of a holiday, but that is maybe because I was outside this morning at 7.30am starting work on a modest retaining wall to use the hour before the sun gets hot. That will be the go from now on. It is still officially spring, but the summer heat is just around the corner and old guys like me wilt in the heat.

The little retaining wall is to tidy up a piece of the back yard (garden is too grand a term) where a large tuart tree was removed eighteen months ago after beetle attack killed it (and five others at the back of my block of land). The job is strictly non-essential so it qualifies as exercise therapy, and will happen in tiny happy bites.

I intend to close this blog-site soon, and shift it to one of my own domains. There will be a new title and links to "other stuff": health and wealth; futurology and technology; books, language, movies, music & on-line video; community and lifestyle.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bruce Beresford's film Mao's Last Dancer

Hi. Just back from three days in Adelaide where I saw, on the big former IMAX screen - now cleverly called Ex-imax by the East End Cinema family company who took it over - the superb Australian production Mao's Last Dancer. Director is Bruce Beresford, a national treasure surely.

The film presents the career of dancer Li Cunxin based on his autobiography. Li now lives in Australia with his Australian wife whom he met in Chicago after his defection from the Chinese People's Republic in the '80s. The film moves frequently between the narrative present of this "Chinese Baryshnikoff" and his years of training starting from when he was taken at age 11 in 1972 from a rural Shandong village school, first to Qingdao the provincial capital - and home of the famous beer as I remember - and later to Beijing.

We see the extraordinary development of the boy who is in effect abducted by state officials at the height of the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese just call that terrible time "the eleven years". I have spoken with some whose careers were devastated but who - unlike a million others - at least survived. The film-makers had access to hugely talented dancers, and the result is a delight, yet it's a film for anyone not only ballet lovers. I'm not, for example. I see dancers as elite athletes and admire the incredible dedication needed. Beresford's film pays tribute to that.

On Friday night our little group of pals got together and we discussed the subject of my last posting, the story of Ishi. Did you read it?

Then on Saturday night I caught the final-night performance of Unseen Theatre Company's latest effort at a play version of the Terry Pratchett novel The Last Continent. A spirited cast had the unevenness of almost any amateur group, but gave solid entertainment to a full house in the characterful Bakehouse Theatre in Angas Street, between the W.E.A. and the Hutt Street precinct.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ishi of the Yahi Yana Nation

The man called Ishi died 25 March 1916 in his rooms at the Anthropology Museum, California University. He was around 50. Tuberculosis killed him. For almost 100 years Ishi has mostly been referred to as "The last of the Yahi", the term used in 1979 as title of Heizer and Kroeber's book of assembled documents on his life and death.

Ishi was a native American whose reclusive people, the Yahi, had lived in remote wooded hills and gullies of northern California, east of the Sacramento River in the foothills of the Cascade Range. 10,000ft volcanic Mount Lassen was the eastern boundary of Yahi lands. To the immediate north were their Yana relatives; west were the Wintun; south-east the Maidu; still further south - Shoshone. The Yahi had remained hunters and gatherers.

We will never know Ishi's personal names. The word ishi in the Yahi dialect simply meant a full-grown man. Anthropologists Professor Alfred Kroeber and Thomas Waterman, knowing this much of native name taboo, never pressed him to reveal name-magic, and in over four years, living and working at the Museum demonstrating his people's traditional crafts, the Yahi man never volunteered it. So, just "Ishi" he became. Why was he so special?

On 29 August 1911, ill and emaciated, Ishi had been found in a state of collapse near the small mining town of Oroville, forty miles south of his tribal land and by grim irony at the corral of a slaughterhouse. The rest of his small band had fallen to starvation and influenza after years hiding in the hills. Much later, when he and the university researchers who befriended him were able to communicate somewhat freely, Ishi said he had expected to be killed. Theodora Kroeber in her book Ishi in Two Worlds, quotes her late husband's writings: "He knew the white man only as murderers of his people."

Studies in the 1990s, in part linked to legislation requiring the repatriation of native American remains from museum collections to the descendants, turned up a couple of new things about Ishi. His arrowhead-making skill (from obsidian flakes) has been shown to match not the type found in the archaeology of Yahi lands but rather that of different groups, which would indicate he had learned from incomers to the Yahi. Was Ishi himself of mixed heritage? The jury is still out on that. Could DNA evidence help?

As for repatriation of his cremated ashes, at first the Smithsonian (in 1999) "did not know he had living relatives" - but relationship was claimed by clans among the Yana. Ishi's remains were returned 10 August 2000 to be re-buried at an undisclosed location.

The loss of Ishi's tribe through deliberate killings and finally by disease could qualify as genocide. Documented massacres occurred, for example in 1865. The Civil War (1861-'65) meant that the Government saw other needs as more pressing than to protect small native American tribes from rifle-toting vigilantes styling themselves "Indian hunters", in effect guns for hire. The tragedy of the Yahi Yana played out with Ishi's death in 1916.

Breakthrough Technologies

I live just up the road from the Wattle Point windfarm - 50 huge wind-driven generators each with its 3-vane "propeller"; each one third the height of the famous Eiffel Tower. Non fossil-fuel electricity HAS to be the way of our future non-polluting power generation.

Setting aside (for the sake of argument right now) all nuclear options, there's wind, solar, wave and tidal, geo-thermal, hydrogen from water, and some others on the horizon,

Here's an interesting site for you to glance at:

What's that? Towards the end of November 2009, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (sure, you knew where Calgary is :) ) is a conference on Breakthrough Technologies, and the URL above - copy and paste it in the browser if need be - is a list of the topics.

An eye-brow raiser, for me anyway, was that a main sponsor is a left-field organisation called the Academy of Sacred Geometry. See? It is becoming more mainstream these days to merge the energies of old-style hard-science with radical alternative approaches to survivability on this wonderful planet.

Turns out that much of the "radical alternative" is capable of good science-based empirically validated research and development. The world is a-changing, and boy does it need to.

Go check it out. Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Death penalty: was Elizabeth innocent?

Here's an article I wrote recently with a Yorke Peninsula connection.

The only woman hanged in South Australia: Elizabeth Woolcock.

Was this a case of wrongful conviction? Even by the harsh standards of the time, the verdict of "murder by poisoning" was doubtful. The man who died was her often-drunk husband, Thomas Woolcock, who was almost certainly fatally ill from industrial poisoning, acquired in the lethally toxic environment where he worked as a miner in South Australia's "Copper Triangle".

Worked by men recruited from Cornwall, England – famous for their long mining traditions – these mines produced mainly copper but also tin and lead.

Elizabeth was 26 years old when she was hanged soon after dawn on December 30th 1873 in the Adelaide Gaol. Born in 1847 in the mining town of Burra, South Australia, Elizabeth Oliver was therefore only four years old when her Cornish immigrant parents took her east to the State of Victoria in 1851 where Australia's gold rush was under way.

Her mother went off with another man leaving her miner father to raise the young girl the best he could, but fate dealt a further cruel blow when the father died. Elizabeth was just nine. Little is known of her next nine years. But at the age of 18 she re-connected with her mother – not seen since Elizabeth was four – and the new family settled in Moonta, one of those three South Australian Copper Triangle towns, heartland of the Cornish immigrant community. Mother and daughter appear to have been on good enough terms after the long separation, and the stepfather was a decent fellow. Elizabeth at 18 was teaching in the Sunday School of the Wesleyan Church when she met and married Thomas Woolcock. What went wrong?

We will never know full details of the eight years between that time and her being accused of Woolcock's supposed murder, and Elizabeth's subsequent execution. Today we would probably call her marriage to Thomas Woolcock one of domestic abuse, going by witness statements during the trial. But did she poison him? Was he perhaps already dying from industrial poisoning?

This was a sad page in the history of the young colony, a mere 37 years from its founding in 1836. Visitors today can reflect as they read a memorial to Elizabeth Woolcock at the Old Adelaide Gaol which is now, ironically, a rather cheerful environment as a popular convention centre.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Minlaton Show

Two for the price of one, as it were. Our group did its monthly concert - brass band and singers - at the nursing home in Minlaton yesterday, on the same day as the annual Minlaton Agricultural Show. Even the bank closed for the day to let staff visit the Show.

Anyway, our smaller scale show was over by 2.30 so I hopped across to the west side of town (O.K., only two streets away) to the showground in time to catch the last of the horsey events in the arena, and certainly in time to avoid riding on any of the machinery designed to make the riders scared or sick.

Ever daring, I bought a strawberry plant for the garden, and a soft-serve ice-cream with chocolate topping for my afternoon tea, telling myself that chocolate topping can be very nourishing. And an elderly paperback of a Harry Harrison fantasy novel I hadn't heard of. Used to enjoy his stuff. I liked the cover art of an improbably huge dolphin-creature on some alien world. Don't know when I'll get around to reading it, since I have three books on the go right now. Books are just fine resting on the shelf by themselves for long periods. It doesn't do to wear out the print by too much reading.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Enjoy October

O.K., so it's October already. Just got an email from friendly Gwenda who saw the DVD I sent our musical director of last Tuesday's little concert. Gwenda said only our brilliant cast could have survived with such aplomb the various "miniscule" problems I'd mentioned - late entrances, forgettings of lines, awkward performing space and constant traffic of staff and residents. It's a nursing home! Everyone enjoyed everything :)

Oh, I guess I should mention that the Australian cricket team won that International Champions Trophy in South Africa, in the final defeating arch-rivals the New Zealanders (but we like 'em a lot). New Zealanders like Australia so much - but never admit it - that one million out of a total four million of THEM live in Australia. They even merge undetected in the general population, except when asked to pronounce the phrase "fish and chips". A modern-day Shibboleth. Right, go look it up.

My Huonville house is now under an unconditional contract to sell on 2nd November.