The Incredible Shrinking Dinosaur

Good to see that evidence for the evolution of birds from dinosaurs is coming together. The Conversation has a story about the latest Australian study, which traced the evolution of theropod dinosaurs over 50 million years, from 163 kg land animals to birds weighing less than a kilo. The Guardian also has this article, with a comments section that houses at least two real, live creationists, a species as much to be marveled at as the dinosaurs themselves. They were happily pecking away at the evidence with complete confidence that Biblical truth trumps the facts every time. Drab plumage, though, unlike the dinosaurs’ brilliant livery.

I’ve always felt a weird sense of loss at the disappearance of dinosaurs after a meteor strike 65 million years ago, as if something amazing had been lost for ever. Judging by the success of Jurassic Park (1993), millions of other people felt the same fascination.

I remember, as a boy, watching a documentary about dinosaurs. I woke up screaming in the middle of the the night, having heard a cow mooing in the field opposite. And there was an April Fool’s Day news broadcast about a suspicious research establishment that bought huge amounts of meat from the local butchers. Roars and bellows were heard coming from the place. I was completely taken in, elated at the thought that dinosaurs were back.

Then there’s the possibility of cloning extinct animals. We should be trying to preserve the ones we’ve still got, but the thought of woolly mammoths roaming our safari parks, or even domestic dodos peering shyly from the shrubbery of suburban gardens, sets my heart a-flutter.

But at least we have the birds, and a few dinosaurs may even survive in Scotland.

The Art of Australia

The Gathering - Sidney NolanThe BBC recently broadcast The Art of Australia, presented by Edmund Capon, a former Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I knew nothing about Australian art, not even the names of any artists, so I watched the documentary to see what I was missing. A whole world, apparently – I was blown away by the energy, bravura, and sheer diversity of Australia’s artistic output.

The BBC series has packed up its tents and the programs are no longer available. Fortunately, the series is still being broadcast by ABC for Australian viewers, and their website still has the first two episodes online. The last won’t be broadcast till November 5.

As a taster, here’s the video of a talk in the Art Gallery of NSW about Sidney Nolan, one of the most interesting of the modernist painters featured in the series. He’s well-known for his iconic portrayals of Ned Kelly, as shown above in The Gathering.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman’s new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is out. It sounds so mouthwateringly good that I might even buy a copy new, rather than wait for it to show up in my local charity shop.

The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing, and Ideas, is a literary and publishing centre in Melbourne, where he recently gave a talk and read from the book. I like this Wheeler Centre, and I like the interviewer, a woman with the fetching name of Alicia Sometimes. It’s an Antipodean TED, only much more interesting because of the Australian attitude. TED tends toward the bland and corporate. I might dump the occasional TED Talks feature in favour of the Wheeler Centre videos.

And here’s Neil.

Christmas Lights Display at Melbourne Town Hall

I only know about this brilliant display of Christmas lights because Leanne Cole blogged about it and later posted this video. What makes it even better are the crowd noises off camera and the passing traffic. You feel as if you’re there. So thank you, Leanne, and I hope you don’t mind me using the video.

TED Talks: Simon Stone on what theatre is capable of

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

Simon Stone, Australian theatre director, does something quite ambitious here. He attempts to show what theatre is all about by demonstrating what it’s capable of, using one basic scenario played out in different lights, social contexts, background music, and with a varying number of actors on a bare stage. And all in less than ten minutes. A fascinating exercise in the craft of theatre.

TED Talks: Richard Gill on the value of music education

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

This talk by Richard Gill, an Australian conductor, is one of series of TEDX talks on the arts at a day-long conference in Sydney. He argues passionately for the proposition that music opens up a child’s mind to creativity, and is worth teaching for its own sake. Gill is an engaging and funny speaker, using the audience as guinea pigs, and getting them to make music in the same way as he teaches children.

Poetry Parnassus: Entering America (New Zealand)

Poetry Parnassus is a project of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, hosted at the Southbank Centre in London. It ran from June 26 to July 1, featuring 145 poets from around the world. Here is the Guardian’s interactive map, where you can click on a country and read its poem. I will be posting them on a semi-regular basis until they’re done.

Entering America, by Bill Manhire (New Zealand)

A line of men, tipped forward, stumbling.
They are taking off their shoes.

This is how you enter America:
under a gun and a stare.

Where a bastard is free to be a big bastard!
You can be sure of a welcome here!

And these men all in line,
coming home in their suits,

with deals in their pockets, with phones-beyond-phones,
whose tired feet have swollen their way
soared through the heavens –

are made to show the occasional toe,
not to mention their socks,

with those little designs at the ankles,
often, I believe, called ‘clocks’.

• ‘Entering America’ from Lifted (Carcanet Press, 2007),
© Bill Manhire 2005, 2007.