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Australia or bust!

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Hello!

I’ve been in Australia for the last two weeks but haven’t had much chance to really post anything simply because we’ve been so busy. Here are a few photos for now, with more to follow including a dailyish log when I have time to wort through all the photos. ^_^

 

In the meantime, why not check out my review of Muppets Most Wanted? Captain America will follow shortly, too.

 

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This is a placeholder more than anything else to apologize for my relative radio silence. It wasn’t intentional. Lots of life has been happening and unfortunately the blog had to suffer. More to come in April for sure, but hopefully some this month, too.

And I definitely need to write a post on the differences in seals and sea lions because it’s THAT time of year.

If you need something to read in the meantime, I reviewed Stargate (1994) for International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club.
Over at Paper Droids I talked about the subversive nature of “selfies” given the historical context of self-portraiture.

More soon! ^_^

See? Creepy as all get out.
Photo from: http://supernatural.wikia.com

While watching a season 2 episode of Supernatural last night called “Everybody Loves a Clown” I was confronted yet again with the unsettling disquiet I feel every time I see someone dressed as one. While I don’t exactly have coulrophobia (fear of clowns) I also really don’t like seeing them. I find clowns to be highly disturbing. But why is that?

I never saw the movie IT as a child. Not that in and of itself that’s surprising, but I know some people develop an early fear of clowns through some type of accidental exposure to a horror film. But why is a clown even the subject of a scary flick?

To me, clowns perfectly illustrate the created sense of horror. If we look at the broader question of why things on a written page or a TV screen can scare us, then it starts to make a bit of sense. Horror stories are basically divided into two types: slasher and psychological. Either it’s scary because of the blood, guts, and gore, or it’s scary because it tricks your mind into feeling unsafe. Movies like IT often combine these elements, but I think clowns themselves fall solidly into the mind-trick category. Why is that?

To artificially create a sense of horror, a story teller must first evoke something that seems safe and then turn it around to become unsafe. The familiar becomes strange and therein lies the terror. Our brains are wired for patterns and recognition (which is why we see shapes in clouds or think we recognize people we’ve never met), which helps us remember things and develop relationships and all sorts of other handy things that make our lives better. So what happens when something we’ve previously experienced as safe becomes unsafe?

Think about coming home at night when you’ve left during daylight and forgotten to leave on a light. Does it feel a little disquieting? What if something has moved since you left? Maybe you forgot that you dropped that towel there, but suddenly coming across it in the dark might be enough to really give you a fright. It’s easy to feel “creeped out” in your own home simply because it isn’t exactly how you thought it would be. It’s the feeling of having a curtain-less window at night where anyone can see into the room from outside, but you can’t see them from inside the lit room. Unsettling. It’s the same room and window as before but now you can’t be sure of what’s beyond the light.

Back to clowns. With our brains wired to detect patterns and to read faces, a clown with her mask or face paint goes directly in opposition to that. The expression painted on her face might not match what she’s really thinking or feeling. It might be unsettling to be unable to “read” her expressions correctly. It might also be that there’s something just off enough about the performance of a caricature of a person by a person is what makes the clown frightening. A clown is the representation of something that is supposed to be expected (a human) but is hiding her true identity and attitudes for the sake of misdirection. It’s no wonder people find them disturbing.

Weirdly enough, I think this is the same reason I don’t like old dolls.

Why is this what you get when you wiki-search “doll” anyway?
Photo from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doll

Dolls are also representations of humans, and generally speaking new dolls are just fine. I’m not afraid of Barbie by any means. But Barbie doesn’t look “real” to me, either. When you’ve got an old doll, though, and it’s started to come apart at the seams, or has lost an eye, or simply looks like a discarded small person, then the creepy factor definitely rises.

I know movies like Toy Story and books like A Little Princess with tales of toys coming to life when the children aren’t present are meant to be endearing (and mostly are– I love Toy Story!), on some level the idea of a doll that can get up and walk around, but only when you’re not looking is actually a terrifying one.

And I suspect this is why the Weeping Angels on Doctor Who work so well as the stuff of nightmares. They only move when you’re not looking.

Well that’s enough about scary things for one Monday. Click here if you want to read more about coulrophobia. Lots of photos of clowns, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Thoughts on Copenhagen Zoo

copenhagen giraffeSo I’m sure by now you’ve heard about Copenhagen Zoo euthanizing one of its giraffes for “educational purposes” and feeding it to the zoo’s carnivores. If not, here’s the story.

I was struck by a particular response to this today in which someone I respect a lot (a natural history scientist and educator) pointed out that this was simply a business decision and actually very interesting from an educational standpoint. You can read the original post here. (WARNING: images of said giraffe-being-fed-to-lions.) While I can see the value of teaching the so-called “circle of life,” I disagreed with the statement on several points. Here is my response, slightly edited from the open letter form I used to reply. I may be a very small voice with a very small audience, but I come from the perspective of close association (and employment) with zoos and other animal organizations, so I feel that I can provide some further insight into the situation.

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Hi,

I’m really glad you took the time to respond to this situation as it has created so much controversy in the last 24 hours. It brings to light a different perspective than the knee-jerk reaction people are largely having, fueled by the media.

That being said, I think this response over-simplifies zoos in general and makes sweeping generalizations about them. I have worked and volunteered for multiple organizations that house and exhibit animals, so while I can only speak from first-hand experience and from an American zoo perspective (so, AZA and not EAZA), I fear that some of these simplified statements can harm the overall debate surrounding animals in captivity.

“Zoos are not in the business of saving wildlife, they are in the business of business.”
This is one of the statements that misrepresents zoos when made about all institutions. According to a 2012 survey, over half (54%) of zoos accredited by the AZA are non-profit organizations. Money they make goes to the care of the animals, paying staff, research and education. In fact, the AZA is actively working with other educational institutions like the Ocean Project to improve conservation education in zoos and aquariums around the world. Their most recent study results are here.

“Could the Copenhagen Zoo have sent the giraffe to another zoo? Maybe, but then that zoo would also be faced with the business problem of investing resources into sustaining this animal knowing full well it was not suitable for breeding.”
Not all zoos exhibit animals that have the purpose of breeding. In almost any zoo you visit, there are animals that were injured in the wild and rehabilitated (often re-relased into the wild if at all possible), or that are geriatric and will never breed, or are rescued from illegal private breeders. For examples, check the North Carolina Zoo’s Wildlife Rehab Center, Chattanooga Zoo’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, and the Texas State Aquarium’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program. The San Diego Zoo is also well known for its herd of geriatric elephants, also not used for breeding.

“…but I encourage someone who is truly upset about this issue to take their problem up with the nature of zoo breeding programs worldwide. Marius’ fate was quite possibly determined for him before he was born.”
“The nature of zoo breeding programs worldwide” is a vast and varied thing. Most AZA Zoos participate in the Species Survival Plan Program, or SSP. This program monitors how many of each species are in captivity, and strives for a rate of 95% genetic diversity. Animals are paired for breeding only when they are a healthy genetic match. The purpose of the SSP isn’t just for zoos to have animals without taking them from the wild; the goal of the SSP is to preserve these species in order to repatriate them to their native habitats. A good case study of this is the African Bongo. This antelope is being successfully reintroduced to Kenya, with the herd growing from captive-bred animals. Closer to home, the California condor’s success is directly because of the AZA and SSP. The red wolf has also survived because of the SSP and would be completely extinct if not for the intervention of the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. Red wolves are now being reintroduced to part of their native range in North Carolina.

“If this has to be the way in which zoos function – the continuous breeding, inbreeding and culling of their stock…”
This—“inbreeding and culling”— isn’t how all zoos function. It isn’t how they should function. This is why the Copenhagen Zoo is under fire, because the overall situation at that individual zoo is a problem. It may be a problem at large with the EAZA, but I am not as familiar with that organization and cannot speak to that. The AZA, however, has a contraception program in place specifically to avoid this type of situation.

Zoos worldwide do have problems. They are not perfect, and it is fair to criticize the way individual zoos are operated, and the way they treat their animals. We should also be critical of standards as they are now in terms of space and enrichment and diets for animals in captivity. It’s fair to question many aspects of zoos. But is it fair to make these generalizations about all zoos being for profit only, and serving no purpose for conservation, research, education? No. Should a young and healthy individual be put down simply for education? I also say no.

All of that being said, your perspective is an interesting one that I had no considered. Zoos lose geriatric animals as the population ages, and it could be highly educational if they allowed such things to be public. If this situation was different, if the giraffe was old or unhealthy (but not sick where he would harm the other animals), would I view this differently? I think I might.

What I am trying to say is that this is a very complex issue with more involved than the immediate knee-jerk reaction.

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So those are my thoughts. I do think the Copenhagen Zoo’s decision should be questioned. For instance, should this giraffe have been born in the first place if he wasn’t going to be in a healthy population? Why did they breed their giraffes if too-close-genetics was a problem? What can we do to change the situation for a better outcome in the future? What can the EAZA do to make it easier to transfer animals between facilities in these cases?

On a wider scale, how can we better regulate zoos with breeding programs not part of the SSP? To me, that’s a huge issue. There are so many institutions worldwide not part of the carefully monitored SSP, so how to we ensure that animals are genetically viable and healthy individuals, and that populations aren’t too large for the places housing them?

The Executive Director of the EAZA has issued a statement about the reasons behind the giraffe’s culling, which you can read for yourself here. He expresses that neutering the giraffe would create “side effects” and that it takes the place and resources of a more genetically viable individual. I still question how this giraffe was allowed to be bred in the first place if they knew he was going to be surplus for them. And then how did he reach the age of two?

I hope this helps put things into a little perspective. The situation at Copenhagen Zoo definitely shines a light on a broader problem with zoos worldwide, and I hope the zoo community can move toward a better future.

twelfth doctor costume

Last week the BBC released its first images of Peter Capaldi in his official costume as the Twelfth (Thirteenth if we count the War Doctor) iteration of our favorite Time Lord, the Doctor, and oh what a costume it is!

My basic reaction? Love!

His coat and vest is similar to the last rendition of Matt Smith‘s costume, which is a nice homage to Eleven, but gone are the bowtie and fez. Well, that really remains to be seen I suppose, but I really doubt Capaldi’s Doctor will have as much childlike pleasure in wearing different hats as Smith’s did.

In fact, here’s the direct quote from Capaldi about the new look:

He’s woven the future from the cloth of the past. Simple, stark, and back to basics. No frills, no scarf, no messing, just 100 per cent Rebel Time Lord.

I couldn’t agree more. To me this costume choice harkens back to the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee. During that time, the Doctor’s costume was almost like a dandy magician’s, with a cape that sometimes appeared along with the various velvet dinner suits he wore, including his iconic first costume that featured a very familiar looking red lining.

third doctor costume
You can see how the new is reminiscent of the old, and I wonder if Capaldi’s Doctor will be likewise a slight nod in that direction. The Third Doctor was the one banished to Earth for breaking Time Lord law, after all, and with Gallifrey sort-of-back, kind of a little bit, and with the amount of rule breaking the Doctor has done in the last several hundred years, he might be heading back into the full on rebellion mode again. This is also interesting because Matt Smith has said that he patterned his own Doctor after the Second, portrayed by Patrick Troughtan. Could there be similarities?

Regardless of any connections, real or implied, I’m excited to see what direction the show goes as it enters its eight season since the 2005 reboot. I’m ready for an older Doctor, and I think it will be interesting to see who he is after everything he’s been through, losing his home and then finding it again. I’m also still holding out hope for improved writing for Clara (seen below, with Capaldi wearing Smith’s last costume), who has so much potential but, in my opinion, not well utilized at all. But this isn’t about that. This is about costume. And I love the new look for the Doctor. Bring it on!

twelfth doctor, clara

Cosplay multi-taskers

I love cosplay. I should qualify this by saying I love costuming, and very rarely dress as a specific character (though I’m hoping to change that in the coming year), but I have found over the years that such hobbies can get to be pretty expensive. I’m terrible at sewing but I’m very good at finding and collecting, and I have accumulated an entire wardrobe of pieces. That being said, there are definitely some that were more expensive than others, so how do I manage to stay within my budget? By investing in pieces that can multi-task.

If you look in the pictures at the top, you’ll see that both costumes on the left use the same green bodice, as a fairy and as a witch. That same bodice is actually reversible, and the other side looks like a tapestry with leaves and animals for when I want to change the look (the fabric matches the pouch I’m wearing in the pirate photo). It set me back about $125, but it has lasted for almost 10 years as a staple in my costuming wardrobe. I’ve been a fairy and a gypsy, a witch and a hobbit, and of course I’ve done renaissance festivals for years. It’s a versatile bodice and, because it’s in a basic green, goes with almost everything.

The other workhorse in my closet is the black dress on the right. It’s similar to the green bodice (made by the same tailor) and I’ve used it dozens of times as the base of a great cosplay. There you see it as part of my pirate costume, though it’s been a vampire and a witch, not to mention a princess (with the right accessories!) and a general merchant’s wife look.

You may notice that there are three different tops in those outfits. I find that having basics like white and black are most useful, though the short-sleeve orange peasant top has been a fun addition. My black and white tops are actually designed for men– those are generally more affordable, plus look fantastic when you gather the sleeves, or if you want to wear pants instead of a skirt.

 breaking the fourth wallHere is another example of the multi-tasking items: notice I’m wearing the same white top as the pirate costume, and though it isn’t visible, the green skirt was also part of the fairy costume (although hitched up to make it shorter). J is wearing the same top and brown jerkin as in the fairy picture as well. This photo was to showcase the pieces we acquired in April: the pants for him and the corset for me.

The next thing I want to point out is that the colors we use for our costuming are mostly interchangeable. Having pieces that all basically go together makes putting them in new combinations much easier. I stick with greens, burgundy, and black mostly, while J tends to wear black, brown and gold. Because any given top, skirt, or pair of pants will go with any of my bodices or corsets, I can mix them up into many more outfits and therefore more costumes.

Cosplay cloaks

And that brings me to the last point. Successful costuming is really all

about the accessories. Having the basics for multiple costumes is essential, but the way to make each one different (so that it doesn’t look like you’re wearing the same thing every time) is to find accessories that are specific to each one, and don’t have to cost a

fortune. The pirate scarf and some skull jewelry came from Hot Topic and made that costume pop, and I found

black boots with large buckles at a thrift store for about $7. I got to reuse the black boots for my witch costume, and will probably find many other uses for them in the future. Multi-taskers. Makeup is important, too, but that will have to be another post entirely. ^_^

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Where I got my pieces:

Bodices and dress by Felix Needleworthy
Pirate scarf from Hot Topic (though it’s been a while ago, so no longer carried)
Skirts and blouses from Felix, and from Ophelia’s (I like the split-front skirt because it’s fun for layering)
Corset from Pendragon Costumes (steampunk/neo-Victorian section)
Flower headpiece was homemade by a friend.

Jewelry came from a variety of sources; I always keep an eye out for pieces that would work and get them when I see them. For instance, necklaces with coins on them work for pirates, gypsies, belly dancers, and more.
Honorable mention goes to Texas Body Hangings for the exquisite cloak I have, though they don’t seem to have a website anymore.

Good Intentions

day planners

All my good intentions live in a beautiful, make-from-recycled-paper day planner. Several, if I’m honest. I have such high hopes for every new year, and I go out and buy a lovely floral planner (you can see the two from last year above) and I carefully copy over all of the birthdays, anniversaries, and other events I want to remember from the previous year.

And every year, without fail, I’m done writing things in it by July. Sometimes I don’t even make it through May. For some reason, those summer months just don’t seem conducive to me planning things. I’m always forgetting commitments (or birthdays) or any number of things that would probably be found in a planner, but for whatever reason, I mentally can’t continue after that. It’s like my brain says “GREAT JOB being so ORGANIZED for SO MANY MONTHS we’re taking a break now until next January GOOD LUCK” and then I’m left on my own for autumn.

Maybe it’s an old, ingrained routine from my school days. Maybe it’s that come the end of May I’m ready to check out of schedules and have some adventures. Or maybe it’s just that my attention span for a project is only about five months. (Then again, I’ve had this blog thing for years so maybe not?)

I’ve found a really good use of my old, half-used planners, though. They make FANTASTIC notebooks where I can keep track of things like groceries, or phone calls I need to make, or blog entries I want to write, all scrawled across the blank squares with bold permanent marker…

day planner, writing

So I guess I’m using them for planning things after all. I’m just doing it outside of all the little boxes.

As usual.

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