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Great Books 2013
Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading. Research carried out at Emory University (US) found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.
One of the most hailed works of fiction in 2013 has been Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Booktopia’s Caroline Baum describes it as a dense, intelligent, complex and dark story about a small jewel of a painting that goes missing from the New York Metropolitan Museum following a bomb attack.
Jonathon Alley of Stack Magazine sums up the past 12 months of “tunes, ascensions and triumphs”.
17 year old New Zealand singer Lorde was the debut artist of the year – this You Tube clip has been viewed 116 million times, so you might have seen it.
Images of 2013
Reuters presents extraordinary images taken by its global network of photographers in 2013 (click “view all images” at the top left to open presentation).
Please note that some of the images are of extreme violence, which are distressing.
30 December 2013
The year in cartoons
So much insightful, funny and cutting commentary comes from Australia’s great cartoonists. Many people miss out. Inspired by Barrie Cassidy’s Insiders Talking Pictures, this Facebook page – Political Cartoons Australia – has a selection of the year’s best cartoons. Our personal favourite by Fairfax’s John Spooner accompanied the post The tide goes out, on the crumbling of the Gillard Government. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Best of life & stuff
Smarter cities, cheaper tablets…
..from expanded connectivity, drones and patent wars to cheaper tablets, monster games and smart wearables, and a bubble in “cryptocurrencies”, The Guardian previews likely directions in technology in 2014.
Life & stuff
Cricket’s on the radio
The sounds of summer
One of the sounds of an Australian summer is the cricket on the radio. And the sound is about to change with the imminent retirement of ABC commentator Kerry “Skull” O’Keefe. As Tim Lane describes it, the one-time peroxide-haired leggie, with an action more complicated than the deliveries it produced, grew from relative obscurity to cult figure status in the space of one or two guffaws of snorting laughter. The laugh and his idiosyncratic form of humour annoys some people but for most of us, Skull has given an added colourful dimension to the cricket. One of his more celebrated moments was the Frog Joke but Harsha Bhogle’s Naga Chillies was also a classic radio moment. He’s also an expert commentator on cricket.
19 December 2013
It was cool and wettish in Melbourne but November 2013 was a hot month for planet Earth.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that last month set a heat record. It says it was the warmest November on record, across Earth, since record-keeping began in 1880. It says average global temperature, for water and land surfaces combined, was 56.6 degrees (13.7 Celsius). That’s 0.78 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average. It was the 37th consecutive November with above-average temperatures. The last below-average November was in 1976. It was also the 345th straight month with above-average temperatures. That’s almost 29 years. Here’s a message from Santa, courtesy of Greenpeace.
23 December 2013
David Iredale, 17, died after becoming lost during a three-day hike in the Blue Mountains in December 2006, a victim of seeming indifference.
___________________________________________________________________________________________ 13 December 2013
A Christmas Song
‘Christmas Number 1′, the festive charity single released by triple j and the Red Cross, has made it all the way to number one on the Australian iTunes singles chart, knocking off international acts like One Direction, James Blunt and Redfoo in the process. You can keep the song at number one by purchasing it iTunes or Google Play, so that the song charts there when the official Australian ARIA charts are released on 13 December. If that happens, then commercial radio networks will be forced to play the song as well as a part of their weekly Top 40 countdowns. Lead by song writer and triple j Drive presenter The Doctor, the single parodies Christmas songs of the past, in a playful yet genuine effort to raise money for the Red Cross. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 7 December 2013
Free Mandela: the song that danced its way into history
Free Nelson Mandela. Free, Free, Free, Nelson Mandela.
– Jerry Dammers/The Specials (1984)
A simple, powerful song in tribute to Nelson Mandela and the cause of freedom in the early 1980s made us feel we were part of something much bigger than the sum of its parts, writes Tracee Hutchison on the ABC Drum website. It was a simple song that packed a mighty punch, a masterstroke of music and politics, wrapped up in four glorious minutes of ska-infused beats from the pen of Jerry Dammers, of the UK group The Specials. The spirited and defiant lyrics were a clarion call to release one man from jail and an entire nation from the shackles of Apartheid. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 4 December 2013
A never-before-seen video of The Beatles cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Words of Love’
Apple Corps Ltd has released a never-before-seen video of the Beatles 1965 cover of the Buddy Holly song Words of Love to launch their new collection On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2. The video was made a year before the super band released the song and is an amalgamation of vintage black and white, and colour shots of the band on stage and messing about in the recording studio. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 26 November 2013
In the popular recent ABC TV series Redesign Your Brain , advertising executive and now TV personality Todd Sampson “trained his brain” to enable him to undertake new (for him) and demanding mental challenges, such as memorising the sequence of a shuffled pack of cards and doing a Houdini type of escape trick. Demonstrating what the experts call “brain plasticity”, Sampson shows that anyone can train their brain to be faster, stronger and more responsive – and counteracting the natural slow down of our mental faculties as we age. If you missed the series it is out on DVD and the series can be viewed on YouTube:
On the back of the series, the ABC has launched its own subscription “braining training” website, developed in collaboration with the Florey Institute of NeuroScience and Mental Health at the The University of Melbourne. Five tips on improving your brain power from a pioneer in the neuroplasticity revolution, Michael Merzenich of the University of California, San Francisco.
On Remembrance Day, 11 November, in 1993, then prime minister Paul Keating spoke movingly about the just-interred Unknown Soldier, whose remains brought from France that week lay at the centre of that year’s commemoration ceremony. On Remembrance Day 2013, a brass plaque will be dedicated in the Hall of Remembrance with the words from the speech:
He is all of them. And he is one of us.
We do not know this Australian’s name and we never will. We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was. Yet he has always been among those whom we have honoured. We know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war and one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars this century.
2013 Tafeclips Video Competition
1 November 2013 | Tafeclips, organised TAFE New England, by is a competition is open to all TAFE NSW and TVET students. This year’s winning entry was The Juxtaposition by Riley Cope , who is doing a Certificate IV in Live Production at Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE. The storyline:
We follow a man on his way down the street. We see how one simple decision he makes can have an opposite effect on his future.
Getting the wind up
A great public health ad from Canada
It puts a rose in every cheek
25 October 2013 | For the better part of a century, Vegemite has divided families and friends around the world. To date we’ve enjoyed over one billion jars and nearly 90 billion servings. But whether you’re an Edger (spread to the perimeter of your toast), Streaker (apply sparingly) or Nudist (sans butter or margarine), the iconic Aussie spread turns 90 on Friday 25 October, charging past the average Australian life expectancy. While it may not be the most epicurean ingredient, Vegemite scores a tick of approval from most of Australia’s top chefs (check out the recipe for Vegemite caramel chocolate cups at the end of this article). Although not Australian owned, it is an Australian icon with every jar of Vegemite produced in Port Melbourne and 90% of the ingredients sourced from Australia and sales of over 22 million jars a year.
18 October 2013 The Sydney Opera House plays a central role in Australia’s life and identity. It’s the world’s busiest performing arts centre, with seven performance venues open 363 days a year, offering audiences the opportunity to experience the best the world has to offer in every performing arts genre. According to a survey by Deloitte, the Opera House is considered internationally as a more “relevant and esteemed” brand than “Brand Australia” itself. Since opening in 1973 more than 65 million people have seen shows, nine million people have taken a tour and millions more have visited the precinct or engaged online.
At twilight on Sunday 27 October, the iconic venue will celebrate its 40th anniversary, putting together an incredible lineup of Aussie talent to mark the occasion. The Sydney Opera House 40th anniversary concert will see Deborah Mailman, Baz Luhrmann, Sarah Blasko, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, John Butler, Megan Washington, Paul Grabowsky and members of the Wharf Revue take to the famous stage, amongst many others. The festivities take place on Sunday, 27 October at twilight on the Opera House Forecourt, which will be back in business after three years of upgrades. Tickets: : sydneyoperahouse.com
For a virtual tour of the Opera highlighting its spaces and showcasing the genres it hosts see
Plant tomatoes on Grand Final Day, not Cup Day
27 September 2013 | Ever since anyone can remember, Melbourne Cup Day – the first Tuesday in November – has been the day for gardeners to start planting tomatoes in Melbourne, when warmer overnight temperatures are more reliable. But University of Melbourne “urban horticulturalist” Dr Chris Williams says due to climate change, AFL Grand Final Day, the last Saturday in September, should replace the time-honoured planting signpost in gardening folklore. He says that overnight temperatures through winter into early spring have warmed over the past ten years to make Grand Final Day the new seasonal signpost for tomato planting.
Things that have more women in them than Tony Abbott’s cabinet
20 September 2013 | Women aren’t particularly well represented at the higher reaches of corporate governance in Australia, with just 16% of ASX listed companies being women. Even to meet that low threshold, the Coalition cabinet would need three women members but could only rustle up one. The Junkee website published a small list, to put this in perspective: The Afghan government cabinet (3 women ) – Zoo Weekly‘s staff meeting (3) – The Augusta Golf Club (2) – The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia’s National Board Meeting (2) – The Supreme Court of the United States (3) – The Saudi Arabia Olympics Team (2) – Muammar Gaddafi’s personal guard (lots) – The Mad Men writers’ room (7) – Facebook’s board 0f directors (2) – The Iranian government cabinet (2) – Tony Abbott’s immediate family (4).
1 August 2013 | The London Fire Brigade has attributed a marked rise in the number of people trapped in handcuffs in recent years to the popularity of erotic fiction such as Fifty Shades of Grey. It advises people indulging in such play to “always keep the keys handy.” There are a remarkable number of things into which people insert themselves from which they need professional help to be extracted, including toasters and vacuum cleaners. As one Brigade member observes, ‘some of the incidents our firefighters are called out for could be prevented with a little common sense.”
26 July 2013 | So much insightful, funny and cutting commentary comes from Australia’s great cartoonists. Many people miss out. Inspired by Barrie Cassidy’s Insiders Talking Pictures, this Facebook page is simply about sharing some of the country’s great art works.
12 July 2013 | As we move forward to Election 2013, the higher education sector is seeking to raise politics above mere sloganeering and contribute to public engagement in the electoral process. A few recent initiatives include:
- University of Melbourne’s Election Watch 2013 – a dedicated website that brings together the University of Melbourne’s “most respected and experienced academics, to provide rigorous analysis and independent commentary on the Australian federal election campaign.”
- The Conversation’s Election FactCheck – Academics with subject expertise will check claims by politicians, interest groups and the media for accuracy. A second academic will independently review the check
- NTEU’s Democracy Advocates – university staff (both academic and general/professional) helping to promote participation in the democratic electoral process by encouraging young people to enrol to vote. .
There goes another icon
The Thin Captain has been produced for 146 years, first by Guest’s, which was taken over by Brockoff’s, which was taken over by Arnott’s, which was taken over by Nabisco. But the “prince of crackers” is no more. In March, it joined Rosella Tomato Sauce, Golden Circle canned vegetable and fruit products, Darrell Lea chocolates and other once staples of the Australian pantry in the discard pile. As James Campbell put it in the Herald Sun:
…the Thin Captain is an Australian classic with no peer anywhere in the world. Waterford crackers? Too thin and prone to becoming soggy in dips. Captain’s Table crackers? Ditto. Saos? Too thick and they don’t complement cheese well. Neither does the Ritz, a very overrated cracker in my opinion.
This vignette supporting equality in marriage rights was produced by Flowers Vasette and shot in and around Flinders Lane Melbourne. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
4 June 2013 | It is hard not to go woozy as James Kingston hangs one-handed from a 75m-high construction crane on England’s south coast.
When asked why he went up there to die, he replied: “I didn’t go up there to die. I went up there to live.”
As an occasional author for The Conversation, I get a monthly report on its “social impacts metrics”, which roughly translates as “what was hot” in the preceding month or what Twitter says “trended” (at least I think that’s what Twitter says). Here’s what impacted, was hot (“heated” ?) and/or trended in April:
- Six myths about vaccination – and why they’re wrong by UTS Post-doctoral fellow Rachael Dunlop (24,284 views)
- Sweet news: No evidence that artificial sweetener aspartame’s bad for you by Chris Forbes-Ewan of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (14,186 views)
- Penis size may be driven by women (oh, and it matters) by Professor Rob Brooks of UNSW (11,934 views)
- A tale of two NBNs: the Coalition’s broadband policy explained by Karl Schaffarczyk of University of Canberra (11,902 views)
- The Boomer housing bust: coming to Australia? by University of Sydney Associate Professor, Nicole Gurran (11,145 views).
Hadfield’s Space oddity
A would- be shock jock on national radio recently ran a “festival of the worst of David Bowie”. Some of it was very bad, indeed – a song about a gnome was positively cringe-inducing. It included Space Oddity, which wasn’t really all that bad: it just wasn’t really good. Canadian astronaught Chris Hadfield, who came back to Earth after a five-month mission on the International Space Station, has given Space Oddity a whole new lease of life with a well produced cover version, videoed in space, and now distributed to the entire planet,via the Internet. Hadfield’s cover was hardly a spur-of-the-moment thing. Planning and executing the video took six months, included help from Canadian musicians, including the pianist Emm Gryner (who contacted Bowie to obtain permission). The video was also not Hadfield’s first foray into space-related art. During his mission, he posted hundreds of original photographs, some of other astronauts, others of the Earth as seen from space. Many are spectacular. He also recorded a holiday song, “Jewel in the Night,” which is being called the first original song created in space. Is Hadfield’s “Space Oddity” the first video made in space? News reports suggest that this is the case.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 23 April 2013
Australia glories in war and ANZAC Day has become an excrescence of national identity that feeds bellicosity and jingoism, according to Christopher Bantick (Anti-war poems can counter hero worship).
ANZAC Day was born out of the shock and grief of Australians to the terrible casualties at Gallipoli and later on Western Front. In the First World War, 60,000 Australian soldiers and other personnel died and there were in excess of 160,000 physically wounded soldiers and countless others emotionally and mentally wounded. For a country with a population of about 5 million, there was hardly a family in Australia that wasn’t touched by the death of or serious injury of a father, son or brother. That we honour our service men and women, especially the killed and maimed, is nothing to be highbrowed about. And neither should we be at all embarrassed at feeling some pride in the general conduct of Australian service personnel in war and in various humanitarian exercises, such as after 2004’s Boxing Day Tsunami.
Eric Bogle is best known for And the band played Waltzing Matilda, often described as one of the most profound anti-war songs. The Green Fields of France (originally No Man’s Land) is about Willie McBride, presumably a Scottish soldier, who fell in France in 1916 at the age of 19 years. It does convey a feeling of the terrible losses of war. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
With a love song
The New Zealand Parliament passed a law on 17 April enabling same sex marriage. In an extraordinarily touching scene, after the passage of the law, the public gallery burst into a rendition of a century old Maori love song. When we finally get around to such a law in Australia, which surely can’t be too far away, let’s hope we have something better in our kit bag than Waltzing Matilda. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
17 April 2013 | Or at least Black Caviar’s trainer Peter Moody has announced the champion’s retirement after recording an unprecedented 25 wins from 25 starts. Owners of the great mare have decided against racing her on and will instead begin a breeding career where her foals could fetch millions if put up for sale. Black Caviar won just under $8 million in prize money, capturing 15 Group One victories as the world’s top-ranked sprinter. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Virtual Choir Project
12 April 2013 | Eric Whitacre is one of the most popular and performed composers of his generation. In 2008, his choral CD Cloudburst became an international best-seller, topping the classical charts and earning a Grammy nomination. But he is perhaps best known internationally for his Virtual Choir” projects, bringing individual voices from around the globe together into an online choir, often involving many thousands of voices. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 9 April 2013
The death of Margaret Thatcher is said to have sparked celebrations in the UK everywhere north of Birmingham. Thatcher was a black and white, unnuanced politician – in the face of opposition, she declared “you can u-turn but this lady’s not for turning” (she was also nicknamed “Tina”, being “there is no alternative”). She was divisive, no doubt about that, and her policies might be regarded as having been socially and economically harmful; even her own party came to recognise that and turned to the more congenial John Major. But people bandying around terms like “wicked” and “evil” are way over the top. Billy Bragg has a sensible out take on his Facebook page.
It helps solve one of the most fundamental riddles of the universe: how the Big Bang created something out of nothing 13.7 billion years ago. In what could go down as one of the great Eureka! moments in physics — and win somebody or a lot of people the Nobel Prize — scientists say that after a half-century quest, they are confident they have found a Higgs boson, the elusive subatomic speck sometimes called the “God particle.” _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
22 March 2013 Three months ago, on 28 November 2012, the ABC staged a modest kind of public launch in Sydney for a lengthy and wide-ranging online documentary, The Opera House Project, which has been produced to mark the coming fortieth anniversary of the building’s official opening on 20 October 1973. As the date approaches, this remarkable film may be accorded some fanfare; it deserves it. It works on several tracks, and each of those splits and branches at your will, offering some twenty-six hours of history and commentary.
For a remarkable virtual tour of the Opera House see The Ship Song Project:
It started as a three-week project in the winter of 2010 to pay tribute to the Sydney Opera House, the arts epicentre of the nation. After drawing together Australia’s and the region’s best performers, it ended nine months later.
15 March 2013 Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who has been elected pope and taken the title Francis (it’s not actually Francis I – that doesn’t happen until there’s a Francis II), is from Argentina and so is the first non- European in more than a millenium to preside over the See of Rome and so the Catholic communion. The first non-European pope was the first one: Saint Peter, who was born in Bethsaida, which is thought to have been in modern-day Israel (possibly in the Golan Heights). A number of other popes were from once-Roman-controlled regions of North Africa. Here’s a list of the non-European popes , with each pope’s place of birth and the period of his reign: 1) Saint Peter: Bethsaida, modern-day Israel(33 – 64 A.D.) 2) Pope Saint Evaristus: Bethlehem, modern-day West Bank (97 – 105) 3) Pope Saint Anicetus: Emesa (today known as Homs), Syria (155 – 166) 4) Pope Saint Victor I: Leptis Magna, modern-day Libya (189 – 199) 5) Pope Saint Miltiades: Somewhere in North Africa (311 – 314) 6) Pope Theodore I: Jerusalem, modern-day Israel and West Bank (642 – 649) 7) Pope John V: Antioch, then Syria but today part of Turkey (685 – 686) 8) Pope Sisinnius: Syria (708) 9) Pope Constantine: Syria (708 – 715) 10) Pope Gregory III: Syria (731 – 741) _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
28 February 2013
Mega drinks companies have won a legal challenge to Northern Territory container deposit legislation, which the government says has encouraged people to recycle 35.5 million containers since it commenced in January 2012. The scheme, called Cash For Containers, forced bottlers to pay a 10 cent refund to customers who returned containers to approved depots. Coca-Cola, which produces Mount Franklin, Australia’s biggest selling brand of bottled water, says the refund acts as a new tax on its products and could hurt sales. If you have to buy bottled water….Thank You Water is a “social enterprise” the profits of which go to funding projects to provide drinking water for people who can’t buy bottled water. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
22 February 2013
Reaching across borders
1 person in 20 is affected by a rare disease.
Over 6000 different rare diseases affect children and adults.
Most are genetic, chronic and debilitating.
But above all they isolate patients and their families.
International Rare Disease Day is 28 February 2013.
Its theme is
Let’s take a journey together to break the borders of isolation.
15 February 2013
The manner of Benedict’s going – by retirement/resignation/abdication, call it what you will – has created a lot of comment. But if Benedict had gone in the normal way – death- that would have been just as newsworthy. The going of a Pope of course leads to a new Pope through what might be called the world’s most exclusive election, as Barney Swartz describes it in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald:
…where 120 elderly men employing ancient rituals amid great ceremony set the course for …the 1.2 billion people who call themselves Catholic.
The last Pope to retire/resign/abdicate was Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1405 in order to resolve a conflict that saw three men claiming to be Pope.___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________31 January 2013It’s called The School of Life, a place offering books and short courses about how to live wisely and well. Almost five years after it was founded in London by philosopher Alain de Botton, it has opened its second school in a Collingwood warehouse, complete with coffee shop and Readings bookstore. Courses on How to make love last and How to find a job you love have already sold out, while How to have better conversations will be repeated to meet demand. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________24 January 2013This is reposted from The Cove Facebook site.__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
So you think you can dance?
http://youtu.be/LXO-jKksQkM Younger readers of The Scan are possibly familiar with this clip. The dancer is 29-year-old Marquese Scott who goes by the moniker NONSTOP. To watch it fullscreen, click YouTube on the bottom right of the screen.