Lifestyles TopTenz has a thoroughly interesting list of experimental towns and communes from around the world, including Scotland's Findhorn:
"Scotland’s Findhorn Ecovillage is perhaps the most notable example of a community founded on principles of environmental sustainability and renewable energy. The commune was started in the 1960s, but it didn’t take on its current form until 1982, when residents made a concerted effort to show that an environmentally unobtrusive community could flourish both socially and economically. The village still exists today, and has been noted as having the smallest environmental footprint of any town in the modern world. This is thanks to an ecologically friendly building code that encourages the use of found materials—several houses are built from recycled whiskey barrels— along with wind turbines and a water treatment apparatus called the “Living Machine,” which makes use of algae, snails, and plant life to purify the community’s water supply."
Findhorn's official website is here, and includes specifications for building your own eco-home.

WHO 50: 1973:
The Green Death.

TV For a split second, UNIT Captain Mike Yates gapes at the revelation of his colleague Jo's upcoming marriage, drops his head, pauses, then gazes towards the happy couple grinning.  At a time when we should really be sad to see the back of a popular companion, for a moment, just a moment, we think about someone other than the Doctor that she'll be leaving behind and someone she's entirely oblivious to.

Richard Franklin's performance is beautifully understated and it's interesting how few people have ever noticed it amid  The Green Death's bigger story issues of a companion leaving and the Doctor's silhouetted drive into the end credits, the Time Lord being replaced by Miss Grant with someone whose apparently a younger, hipper version of himself.

The actors continues his good work into the following scene, where the romance of Yate's loss is etched across his face, each new bit of exposition from the research grant onwards wounding him, a pat on the back from the Brigadier only helping a little bit.  Yates has been given a heart blow and he's showing it.  We've all been there, I think.  Me more than most.  Um.

After three years of apparent infatuation with Jo, she's grabbed out of his clutches at the last minute by some flash scientist with long hair who grows fungi. Typical. Meeting girls is probably one of the reasons Mike Yates gave on his application for joining the army. Then after presumably channelling all of his efforts into the Doctor's assistant, the one girl of his dreams, she goes into the jungle with some hippie. And unlike his army colleagues, he's inadvertently wearing a suit just to symbolically demonstrate how grey he is in comparison. Again, typical.

Before The Green Death, nowhere has Mike's love for Jo been signalled this brightly, and indeed before this moment in The Green Death he and Jo are barely in the same room together.  There's been no subplot, as might be the case in later decades, in which Mike watches the love of his life fall into the arms of another man.  Amid the mad computer and viruses and giant maggots this has been Jo's story, about her "flowering". Mike simply hasn't been in the frame.

That the Brigadier is the one to console him, revealing that behind the gruff, the cap and the moustache is a man who is actually paying attention to the lives and feelings of his officers also gives Lethbridge-Stewart a dimension that wouldn't be apparent again until Mawdryn Undead some years later. These are Mike's final scenes on screen embedded part of the UNIT family.  He's a traitor in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and in seclusion in Planet of the Spiders.  This would also be the last time we witness their mutual respect. From this moment on, everything would change.

Jagjit Chuhan, the new exhibition at the Victoria Gallery and Museum at Liverpool University

Art  Tonight, briefly, I attended the private view for the new exhibition at the Victoria Gallery and Museum at Liverpool University, a small retrospective of recent work by the artist Jagjit Chuhan.

Double Negative have interviewed her here.

She produces relatively abstract or impressionistic paintings of the female form filtered through preoccupations and influences as diverse as "Bacon and Manet, Indian artists like Ravinder Reddy, Marlene Dumas, Renaissance paintings" as well as Japanese art.

Much of the work is in reddish hues, though there are newer canvases which are multicoloured and almost sculptural in their layering of the paint.

Not everything is to my taste, but there are two pieces in which she applies her techniques to more conventional structures which I love.

A landscape in which a Japanese pagoda emerges after careful spectator study and a much more formal, but absolutely gorgeous portrait called Reverie, viewable here on the artist's own website.

A young woman reclines across a red coach surrounded by lilies her face enigmatic, though apparently content, happy.

Look closer and we realise she's underneath a duvet, her head across a pillow, this isn't perhaps her house, she a visitor though obviously not a strange.

Like the best portraits we're drawn in, we wonder and our mind wanders, so although it's perhaps the most formally obvious of the works in the exhibition, it's as complex as all the others.

Who is she?


History If you watched the superb Bettany Hughes documentary posted here last week, you'll know that Plato's writings on Atlantis contain uncanny descriptions relating to physical places. On the BBC's website, Dr Iain Stewart is cautious in attributing a single place as a location:
"Today, the myriad of theories - many of them breathtakingly fantastic ('Atlantis was an exploded planet'!) - ensures that the true nature of Plato's story is as elusive as ever. For those committed Atlanteans that believe Atlantis existed much as Plato described, the possible locations of the lost city are becoming increasingly exotic. Recent candidates lie as far afield as the Caribbean, South America, Antarctica, Ireland and French Polynesia."
All of which said, in one of the pull quotes, Stewart is clear as to the priorities of the rest of the populace, "...ordinary Greeks probably didn't speculate on the origins of the mythical Atlantis; they were too busy surviving its reality."

The Minotaur.

Music A revival of Harrison Birtwistle’s 2005 opera The Minotaur opened at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden last week. The Stage interviews the performer who originated the role Sir John Tomlinson, who judging by the photograph performed the piece in one of the most uncomfortable ways imaginable:
"Based on the Greek myth of a half-man, half-bull imprisoned in the labyrinth and fed sacrificial innocents, librettist David Harsent’s Minotaur is an emotionally tormented creature. “It’s all about the dichotomy between human and animal. Often the animal is the innocent part, with muscle and instincts; the human part can distort those things and is more often to blame for the rapes, murders and destruction the Minotaur reaps.” Tomlinson compares the text to his “benchmark English libretto”, EM Forster’s Billy Budd. “That’s great text to sing: pithy, economic, etched – you can almost chew the words. David is really in that tradition with The Minotaur.”"
The ROH has an introduction with copious clips, including this one which makes it look utterly barmy.

Fixing the X-Men movie universe again.

Film   Following on from my outlandish pronouncements and head-scratching the other day on the state of the X-Men film universe and the repair thereof,  Bryan Singer's given an interview to Empire which encounters this very topic. He says:
"I’m taking into account every movie – I’m not just grabbing my first two movies and First Class and smashing them together. I’m taking into account the entire universe as it’s been laid out so far on the screen, and really respecting it and trying to work with that. People took things in various directions, so there’s some clean-up. But ultimately I’m not just ignoring them either.""
Key phrase italicised.  Whatever could that mean.  How do you clean up something which has already been seen on screen?  Retcon.  Retcon.

Steven Soderbergh's exit interview.

Film  When Steven Soderbergh implied he'd stop making films at the age of fifty, it didn't seem like a realistic prospect.  He loves the medium too much to stop, it seemed, there'd always be an itch.  Well. it looks (unfortunately for us) that he's making good on his promise and has given what amounts to an exit interview to New York Magazine.  The interviewer's a bit obnoxious (Jennifer Lopez was also amazing in Antz, Jersey Girl and Selena) but that only seems to coax Soderbergh into doing all the things you can do in the best exit interviews in jobs: bitch about colleagues, the management, how you would do things better and what you plan to do in the future.  Which includes this awesome revelation:
"I’m overhauling Kafka completely. It’s funny—wrapping a movie 22 years later! But the rights had reverted back to me and Paul Rassam, an executive producer, and he said, “I know you were never really happy with it. Do you want to go back in and play around?” We shot some inserts while we were doing Side Effects. I’m also dubbing the whole thing into German so the accent issue goes away. And Lem and I have been working on recalibrating some of the dialogue and the storytelling. So it’s a completely different movie. The idea is to put them both out on disc. But for the most part, I’m a believer in your first impulse being the right one. And I certainly think that most of the seventies directors who have gone back in and tinkered with their movies have made them worse."
Of all Steven's films there's not a single one I haven't admired if not usually flat out loved, including Ocean's 12 and Full Frontal which are practically the same film or at least idea presented in different idioms.  But his other credits are just as intriguing.  He was a second unit director on The Hunger Games.  He was a producer on Rumour Has It...  He was a screenwriter on the film Criminal but asked for the credit Sam Lowry (presumably a Brazil reference).  I can feel another viewing project coming on.  But not soon.  I've the whole rest of Doctor Who to get through this year.  Perhaps in time for the dvd release of the new director's cut of Kafka, a sentence I never thought I'd type.

Moroccan burgundy.

Drink  The Morrocan wine industry has to exist as a kind of open secret due to its shaky status within the official life of the country due to prohibition.  But some growers are thriving reports SFGate:
"Inside the winery, Gribelin uncorked a bottle of wine. My heart leaped. For months, I'd been dreaming of how a good wine might pair with Morocco's hearty lamb tagines and fluffy couscous. In fact, wine's underground status had only increased its allure.

"He poured a glass. The wine, Volubilis gris, is named after the nearby Roman ruins. It was pinkish and sweet but not syrupy, and it paired perfectly with the Moroccan heat.

"Ten years ago, they drank pretty bad wine, but now there is good production and they are able to choose good quality," Gribelin said. Still, the old reputation is hard to shake in nearby Europe. Morocco is directing its exports to fresher markets such as the United States or China."

Why has a Doctor Who story never been set in the American Revolution?

Politics During the Inauguration last week, I had a vague Twitter chat (is there any other kind?) on the topic of Doctor Who and the American Revolution. Surprisingly considering the franchise's propensity to hoover up major periods of history for the purposes of monsters and running, the Doctor has rare visited the period and never for a full length story. I suggested this was weird, and Allyn indicated then and again in this blog post that ...
"The reason, I think, is basic. Doctor Who is a British program, made for a British audience, and an American Revolution story would cast Britons in the role of the story’s villains. I’m vastly oversimplifying here, I know. The point is, the Doctor’s interests in the American Revolution wouldn’t necessarily align with the Doctor Who audience’s interests."
Which is true, but I'd propose, only to an extent.  It is still weird.  As Allyn notes at a certain point in the show's history, producers simply lost interest in making this kind of story but in the 60s, when the television iteration of Doctor Who was its most flexible and experimental, it's surprising John Lucarotti wasn't tapped to write a four parter set in Boston during the tea party, the Doctor and his companions on the opposite ends of an argument ala The Aztecs.

But even if it was perhaps too much for television, it's still amazing to me that across the Virgin New Adventures and Missing Adventures, the BBC Books Eighth Doctor novels and Past Doctor books, the various comics series and the whole of Big Finish's output, not a single writer has gone with the wind and looked at the moral ambiguities inherent in this essentially "British" in attitude alien turning up in this scenario and how his companions who almost certainly are British might react to events.

At this point, Big Finish seems the most likely venue and any combination of Doctor and Companion would react differently and be equally interesting.  My taste would be for a pure historical, the moral ambiguities offering more than enough story material, but again pick a monster and wedge them in if you like.  All of which said, given the co-production money, for all we know one of the bottom eight of season seven might be on this very topic.  We'll see.

But if you are a writer on the franchise, I'd be interested to know why you think it's never happened.

See For Yourself.

TV Find above the first ten minutes of "See For Yourself", a 1989 programme in which the BBC went behind the scenes on itself, an end of year report on its achievements and failures. Sadly it is only the first ten minutes because as the YouTube uploader notes: "it was right at the end of a tape." Nevertheless there are some amazing scenes, like the producer on 1988's Children in Need losing his rag because Joanna Lumley's microphone's broken and the tour de force of presenter Sue Lawley walking through sets and past props from the successes of the two main channels (though there is notably one line which will make you die a little inside).

Imagine if the BBC put on a show like this now. To an extent it doesn't have to. With the website, twitter and everything else its successes can be championed in real time, its failures gaping like open wounds for the tabloids to poke their biros into. But suppose, just suppose, a version of this programme presented by Sophie Raworth at the end of last year, with behind the scenes material on the Olympics, a walk through the production centre in Cardiff and management strawpeople turning up to be shouted at by the public for the Jubilee coverage or Saville, but with a general tone that says "We're brilliant aren't we? Eh? Yeah." Either that or broadcast Mitch in prime time. That would do too.


Ornithology  The Tomtit is a robin-like bird native to New Zealand and important within Mauri culture:
"To Maori the miromiro is one of Maui’s birds and is a significant bird, being esteemed with the huia, the royal albatross and white heron. An observant person is spoken of as –“ he karu miromiro” - “having a tomtit eye” and the Maori called tomtits “scouts” or “torotoro” due to their habit of appearing from nowhere in the forest. He manu aroha te miromiro - “the miromiro is the lovebird” and it had a place in Maori rituals for birth, tohunga, and a new pa."
Their department of conservation has recordings of the bird's song available for download. Interestingly they're not actually tits.  The assumption is that migrants from the British Isles clocked them as being relatively similar and the name stuck.  I prefer miromiro anyway.

Canine ejection.

Environmental Services  Chasing the dog poopers on the streets of Paris:
"Hamidou Traore is head of the incivility brigade for the city of Paris. He fills me in on things early one morning at headquarters in the center of the city. As it turns out, it's been illegal to leave dog poo on the streets of Paris since 1982. But Traore says it's hard to change habits.

"There are people who think because they pay taxes, the street cleaners should clean up behind their dogs," he says.

"Traore says Parisians have had enough time to learn the rules, and that his teams try to change mentalities through punishment. Around here, dog poo goes by its technical term, "canine ejection." And there's a $50 fine for leaving it on the pavement. But of course, you have to catch the person."
Don't do it. Please, just don't.

Bill Cosby’s Three Proven Strategies

Books Bill Cosby’s Three Proven Strategies for reading faster.  It probably works best if you do the voice:
"Here’s how to preview: Read the entire first two paragraphs of whatever you’ve chosen. Next read only the first sentence of each successive paragraph. Then read the entire last two paragraphs.

Previewing doesn’t give you all the details. But it does keep you from spending time on things you don’t really want — or need — to read.

Notice that previewing gives you a quick, overall view of long, unfamiliar material."
I skim a lot. Over the years I've developed a memory which seems to be largely based on knowing where a piece of knowledge is rather than necessarily what it consists of. Which does mean I can also be a bit forgetful. The other day I saw a photograph from Christmas morning in 1998 and although I was holding and wearing presents I still have and cherish, I couldn't remember the moments in which I'd been given them.  Which is a bit worrying, but probably a "natural" sign of ageing.

Fixing the X-Men movie universe.

Film Bryan Singer, director (pleasingly) of X-Men: Days of Future Past, has tweeted:

Which is terribly exciting given that Page's Kitty Pride was one of the few good things about X3, though well done to Singer for noting one of the worst elements within the same tweet.

For the purposes of future smugness, here's my theory about a story element of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

One of the problems with this stream of X-films is that beyond the first two Singer directed parts, continuity has become messy or as Rob Bricken noted in one of his first posts after he moved to i09, "irretrievably fucked".

Some of this is because of scripting of First Class which in places looks like a complete reboot, so often does it contradict what went before, or rather after. But there's also incongruities between Wolverine and the films it really is supposed to be the prequel to.

But I don't think it is "irretrievably fucked".

I think having looked at the work Disney's been doing with their corner of the Marvel Universe, part of the fun of X-Men: Days of Future Past, with its time travel element, will be in sorting out, or explaining many of these continuity errors or at least why they might exist.

Here are three potential options:

(1)  The fiddly approach.  The writers make a big long list of all the messier elements and have them be explained as temporal fall out because of attempts to fix the timeline, X-Men: Days of Future Past becoming a kind of meta-narrative which has all of the other films occurring within it, montage sequences agogo.  By the end of the film only one Sabretooth will exist.

(2)  Retcon X3.  The ideal solution would be just to retcon X3 out of continuity, explain it away as an unseen element changing the timeline and causing all the nastiness and death and that none of it was "supposed to happen".  But that seems a big step for a film studio (even if it's the sort of thing which happens in comics all the time). Singer's tweet suggests that anyone who died in X3 will stay dead. Unless it's a joke and they'll bring who they like back (which also happens in comics a lot too).*

(3)  Retcon the whole lot.  Full reboot.  Given the storyline of the original Days of Future Past comic, its possible the whole of the first film trilogy and Wolverine will become the story of the possible future and the "First Class" version will become the official version moving forward.

Anyway, having done whatever it is they're going to do, this version of the Marvel Movie Universe will be in such position that the studio can then slot in whichever other characters they have the rights to should they want to like the Fantastic Four or Deadpool.

Of course, fans would be even happier if all of these studios sat down and agreed that they were all happening in the same universe and cross-pollinate the franchises so that an Avengers film can acknowledge the existence of mutants or a Spider-man film can feature the Kingpin, which will just make more money for all of them, but that's not looking terribly likely.

*  It's also possible that First Class was indeed a reboot and all of these actors are simply coming back to play older versions of those characters not the ones we had before.  But given the audience confusion over whether The Incredible Hulk was a sequel despite having entirely been recast, that doesn't seem likely.


Music  Commissions with the Kronos Quartet has reinvigorated Steve Reich's creativity reports the Winnipeg Free Press, thanks to their own record label Nonesuch. One of the latest collaborations is an elegy on 9/11, which drew on previous experience:
"Reich, the distinguished visiting composer at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival next week, was four blocks away from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. A decade later, he completed WTC 9/11, a piece that incorporates recorded snippets of NORAD and New York City fire department transmissions on Sept. 11 as well as interviews with some of the composer's friends and neighbours in lower Manhattan.

"Reich took a similar approach toward the Holocaust in 1988's Different Trains, which also used recorded voices. As a Jewish child during the Second World War, Reich made cross-continental train trips in the U.S. as he shuttled between divorced parents in New York City and Los Angeles. As an adult, he confronted the idea that Jewish children in Europe would have taken a very different sort of train ride."
NPR have uploaded an entire concert featuring both pieces to YouTube.