Saturday, 31 January 2009


“He who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.” - Robert Browning

It has been a rather difficult week. Now, as the first month of the year draws to a close, what better to smooth one’s frayed edges, calm the spirit and sweeten the temperament than the divine music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Here is his Siciliano from the Flute Sonata No 2 in E flat. Melancholy yet restful, sweet yet having a tangy aftertaste, calming but also tinged with a disquietude that fascinates…

Have a great weekend!

Friday, 30 January 2009


“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.” - Russell Baker

Today, the thermometer showed 43.1˚C at 4:30 pm. Melbourne again endured a top temperature above 43 degrees on the third consecutive day, marking this occurrence as the first time since records began in 1855. Our public transport system did not cope well with the heat and despite the bribe of “free travel” on public transport today, the cancellations, reroutings, delays and trains not stopping at their designated stations (yes, I was a victim of this, last mentioned event) made us commuters a cranky lot.

Half a dozen homes were destroyed by bushfires at Boolarra North, east of Melbourne and firefighters were hampered by lack of water and a scorching wind. The Country Fire Authority and volunteer firefighters are doing a heroic job but the infernal conditions are beyond imagination. I feel rather petty now, when I think about this, and have become upset over the trifle of my train being late and missing my station. When I think of people losing their home and everything in it, I am thankful that I have a home to come to, even if I was delayed and heat-distressed.

Speaking of heat distress, both fire engines and ambulances were goin back and forth outside my window in the City today, almost no stop. Apparently, as the radio reported, ambulance staff in Victoria had to attend to 60 in a 16-hour period after suffering the effects of heat exposure. This no doubt flows on from the blackouts that we suffer from as a result of the extreme weather. Power was cut to 42,000 Melbourne homes on Friday alone. We had a power cut of about half an hour yesterday in our house. There are fears of further power cuts as a bushfire in Endeavour Hills threatens high-voltage lines that supply two-thirds of Melbourne's power.

It is not surprising of course that our water consumption soared as the temperatures rose. Melbourne Water showed water consumption at an average of 207 litres per day per person. This of course is well above the government’s target of 155 litres per person per day.

Dinner tonight was salad! Nothing else could be stomached. Long cooling drinks of water, and freshly cut salad kept us hydrated and nourished. The treat was some vanilla ice cream a few hours later as we watched TV. Fortunately, the air conditioner kept the temperature inside to a tolerable 28˚C while outside the mercury hovered in the high 30s well into the evening…

HOT DAY SALAD Ingredients

2 carrots very finely grated
1 beetroot very finely grated
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped into segments
3 Lebanese (small, gherkin type) cucumbers, sliced
1 witlof ( sliced finely
1 handful of baby spinach leaves, chopped
1 green capsicum, finely chopped
3 spring onions, shopped
2 sprigs of dill, chopped
2 sprigs of parsley, chopped
Salt, pepper to taste
1 teaspoonful dry mustard powder
Vinaigrette dressing

Mix all ingredients together except for the condiments and dressing. Dissolve the salt, pepper and mustard powder in the vinegar and then make the vinaigrette. Pour the dressing over the salad, mix well and serve with fresh, crusty bread.

Thursday, 29 January 2009


“What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?” - Alan Paton

Horrific news from all over the world continues to filter through and contributes to the rest of the terrible stories that we have become used to. The tragic story of a family being wiped out by a homicide and suicide a couple of days put a human face to the vicissitudes of the economic woes. Ervin Lupoe in LA was deep in debt when he killed his wife, five children, and himself. Lupoe was at least a month behind on his mortgage, owed thousands of dollars on credit cards, and owed the IRS at least $15,000. The couple were fired recently from their medical technology jobs at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in West LA. They allegedly lied about their income to try to qualify for cheaper childcare.

The couple pulled their kids out of school last week and planned to move in with a relative in Kansas. Detectives found the Lupoe’s SUV packed with children’s clothing and snow chains. It’s not clear why that trip didn’t happen, and instead the Lupoe family chose to solve their problems in such a deplorable way. It is a terrible indictment on a society and a system that spends billions to “help” banks our of their financial woes and fails people like the Lupoes.

As I was coming home on the crowded train in this evening’s 44˚C heat, I read in the evening paper about an appalling crime committed today in Melbourne. A little girl, four-year-old Darcey Iris Freeman was thrown 58 metres down from the West Gate bridge in front of her two young brothers this morning just after 9:00 am. She managed to survive the fall into the Yarra River, but died of terrible injuries in the Royal Children’s Hospital several hours later. The culprit was her father, 35-year-old Arthur Freeman. The man was arrested outside the law courts in the City, apparently suicidal and leading his young sons by the hand. He has been arrested and will appear before the magistrate in May. The man is thought to have been involved in a protracted custody dispute with his wife. He was suffering from acute psychiatric distress and had to be treated.

What causes a family man, a father to go over the edge like this and murder his own child? What events could have pushed him to commit such a heinous act? I am trying desperately to understand and find ways to be compassionate, but I am afraid that it’s beyond me. Whatever dispute I had with my wife, whatever dire circumstances besieged me, whatever personal tragedies, disappointments and disasters, would I ever be driven to that terrible act? I cannot fathom any circumstances that would force me to say I would. The man was psychiatrically unstable, maybe that explains it… But still, one’s one child?

There’s a name in criminology circles for the apparent murder-suicide that claimed the lives of seven members of the Lupoe family in Wilmington in LA. Men like Lupoe in this case commit “despondent familicide”. We all know that “homicide” means killing another human being; “suicide” killing oneself; “fratricide” killing one’s sibling; “filicide” killing one’s children, “uxoricide, killing one’s wife, but now we are adding this new word to our vocabulary of despair: “Familicide”…

In the USA, a 2-year-old was burned to death by her father in Arizona after he tired of her requests to see her mother. A mother suffering from post-partum depression in Texas drowns her five children in the bathtub, while not long afterward, another mother in Connecticut beats and stabs her 15-month-old to death. And then, Randy Palm hangs his 5-year-old son Skylar, and then himself in the basement of his Hopewell home. In most of these cases, warped altruism is the most common cause, revenge the least common, as studies by experts cite.

The suicidal mother or father who thinks that she or he cannot abandon a child, or who kills to alleviate the child's suffering, either real or imagined is the one guilty of “despondent filicide”. If the spouse is killed also and the perpetrator commits suicide, the crime is one of “familicide”. In studies of familicide, there is often a history of domestic violence, but few warnings of any impending explosion, since the abuser may very often be despondent or withdrawn as opposed to threatening or overbearing.

We are becoming demented as a society. We have lost our equilibrium, we have misplaced our values, we have lost our shame and we are selfishly pursuing paths of least resistance, yearn for instant gratification, demand personal gain, have abandoned the common good for egotistical agendas. We see more of these offences, more dishonesty, more senseless crimes, more violence on all levels. The state of our economy is the end result of greed and the sacrifice of the general good of the community for obscene personal gain. Is this civilisation? Can such a sick society survive? Is it surprising that “familicide” is becoming more common?

combining form
1 denoting a person or substance that kills: Insecticide | regicide.
2 denoting an act of killing: Homicide | suicide.
ORIGIN via French; sense 1 from Latin -cida; sense 2 from Latin -cidium, both from caedere ‘kill.’

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” – Albert Schweitzer

Memories define who we are, can influence our actions, may shape the rest of lives. We often cling to sweet memories so that the bitterness of the present is tempered like coffee, sweetened with sugar. Painful memories are dulled by time so that their acrid essence is distilled into something more refined than the raw gut-wrenching agony we felt when we experienced the reality that birthed them. Some memories live on vivid and fresh, either to delight or torture. Strong emotional reactions engender long-lived memories. Here is a poem written about persistent memories.

The Party

I’ll throw a party and invite
Old wounds, my recent pain;
I’ll sing and laugh all night,
Forgive, forget, and feign
That all’s well, all’s bright.

My party’s doors are open wide
So that my memories may come,
To tell me that enough I’ve cried.
Past loves, that heart will numb,
File in, remembrances to chide.

The music sounds strong and loud,
Old bitternesses will dance and sway.
My soul will fly above the cloud,
Colours will cover all my gray,
Bright cloth replaces my shroud.

I’ll drink and sweet will be the wine,
My anguished mind will succumb
To blessed forgetfulness divine.
Cool logic will be struck dumb
And broken heart no longer pine.

Bright lights to burn until the morn,
Feet never to leave the dance floor.
But in my side there’ll be pain, a thorn:
Your absence, still an open sore;
And in my party I alone will mourn.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


“The prudence of the best heads is often defeated by the tenderness of the best hearts” – Henry Fielding

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) the Austrian composer whose works represent one of the greatest peaks of Western music. His works, written in every one of the possible forms, combine beauty of melody, harmony and orchestration with classical grace and technical perfection. Mozart learned to play the harpsichord, violin, and organ from his father, Leopold Mozart, (1719–1787), also a composer and violinist. A remarkable prodigy, the young Mozart was composing by the age of five and presenting concerts throughout Europe as a child.

His Idomeneo (1781) is one of the best examples of 18th century opera seria. The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782), a singspiel combining songs and German dialogue, brought some success to him. He turned to the Italian opera buffa, creating the comic masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro (1786). Don Giovanni, considered “difficult” in its day but now recognized as one of the most brilliant operas ever written, followed in 1787. Eine kleine Nachtmusik (1787) is an example of the elegant occasional music and begins with one of the most well known melodies in classical music.

In 1788 he wrote his last three symphonies, Numbers 39–41, which display his complete mastery of form and intense personal feeling. In Vienna he produced his last opera buffa, Cosi fan tutte (1790). In The Magic Flute (1791) he returned to the singspiel, bringing the form to a great height. He then worked feverishly on a Requiem commissioned by a nobleman; it proved to be Mozart's own, and the work was completed by his pupil Franz Süssmayr. The composer died at 35 in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave.

The birthday plant for today is the tobacco flower, Nicotiana alata. The genus (named after Jean Nicot, the 16th century French Consul to Portugal) also includes the tobacco plant. Many species contain in their leaves the deadly poison nicotine, which in small doses is addictive. The plants are native to the Americas and the Amerindians used to smoke the dried leaves of the plant before the arrival of the white conquerors. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco to Europe in the 16th century. The flower symbolises forbidden pleasures and deadly addictions for obvious reasons...

Today we had a temperature of 39˚C. The weather bureau predicts temperatures above 40˚C in the next four days with a cool change on Sunday bringing the expected maximum down to 31˚C. These temperatures on consecutive days have not been seen for decades in Melbourne. Our climate is definitely changing and we had better get used to extremes of temperature and the breaking of weather records from now on. These weather extremes are not unprecedented, they have been recorded by palaeometeorologists who have found evidence of several changes in our climate over the millions of years of earth’s existence. Several of these climate changes may have been responsible for extinctions of species and one of them nearly wiped out the human species.

This particular disaster happened 70,000 years ago and was caused by a massive volcanic eruption on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. The volcano was Toba and where a tall mountain was in the past, now all that remains if a large lake. The eruption was a cataclysmic event which must have happened suddenly (so the geological records indicate). It spewed 2800 cubic kilometers of volcanic material into the atmosphere, making it the most violent eruption of the last two million years (The mount St Helen’s eruption, being the largest in living memory produced only one cubic kilometer of material in its 1980 eruption).

Scientists have traced Toba’s volcanic dust throughout the world, but worse over Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, with some deposits of ash as high as 6 metres in some digs in India. The dust and ash in the atmosphere caused immediate effects on climate, with about six years of a volcanic winter. Plant life and animal life was wiped out by the billions as global temperatures fell by an average of about 12˚C. A few tropical areas in Africa with high rainfall were able to sustain life.

It has been suggested that total human population was reduced to about 10,000 individuals. This is supported by genetic data and explains why the genetic diversity of today’s human population is so narrow. For centuries, each new generation of humans could have easily been the last. We owe our survival to those few thousands of resourceful humans that managed to survive the geological disaster that nearly wiped out our species. Sobering, isn’t it? Trouble is, it’s happening all over again and this time we only have ourselves to blame…

Well to cheer you up here is some Mozart! First the virtual “Mozartkugel”, a delicious chocolate bonbon of Salzburg with a centre of pistachio marzipan, almond nougat and dark chocolate. Now made to the same recipe in several cities it is available around the world. Secondly, here is a delicious musical bonbon by the master himself, the Andante from his Piano Concerto No 21, “Elvira Madigan”.

Monday, 26 January 2009


“Nationalism is both a vital medicine and a dangerous drug” - Geoffrey Blainey
Happy Australia Day, Australia! Happy Republic Day, India!

January 26th marks these national anniversaries and in both countries there are national holidays and general rejoicing as both countries celebrate their national identities.

Australia is a continent-country, in area the sixth largest country in the world, about 7.6 million square km in area. It gained its independence from UK in 1901 and its present population of 21,572,816 people has accrued through colonisation and large immigration programmes. The capital city is Canberra, but this is an artificial city, a created small administrative centre. The largest urban centres are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin. The North is subtropical and the South-eastern coast has temperate, almost Mediterranean climate. The majority of the continent is arid desert and scrub, making Australia one of the driest, if not the driest place on earth. Vast mineral, oil, coal and natural gas resources exist and the fertile plains around the coast make this a bountiful land. Immense open spaces make Australia one of the least density populated nations with only 2 people per square km. A country of largely underdeveloped rich resources, great natural beauty and relative isolation ensure Australia’s growing importance as a local and world power in the future.

In tribute to our national day today, here is my Movie Monday review of Baz Luhrmann’s, 2008 film “Australia”. The movie is of epic proportions (almost three hours long) and with sweeping themes as big as the Australian landscape. It is set in northern Australia at the beginning of World War II, where an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) inherits an enormous cattle station. Amid suspicions of foul play, and rampant English cattle barons who plot to take her land, she joins forces with a rough and ready stock-man (Hugh Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most rough and cruel land. They arrive in Darwin to witness its bombing by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor only months earlier.

The film is difficult to categorise, hence my characterisation of “epic” before. There is romance, adventure, mystery, war, period piece and I guess some would say even “Western”. It is a hodge-podge, true, but the majesty of the locations and the scene-stealing outback raise it to the level of an epic. There is humour in it and pathos, but one may recognize touches of “Gone with Wind”, “Out of Africa”, “Rabbitproof Fence”, Wizard of Oz”… But to be truly original is getting harder and harder nowadays. Luhrmann was given a big budget and he pulled out all stops. Good old-fashioned melodrama is what he achieved, replete with the clichés, the corny dialogue and the rather stilted acting at times.

Yet the film is engaging and if one goes into it not determined to can it, one can enjoy it. It has flaws (including historical clangers – the Japanese never managed to land on Australian soil in WWII, as the film suggests), but also one may enjoy its multiple virtues. Young Brandon Walters as the endearing young aboriginal boy Nullah will impress most viewers and the appearance of some well-known Australian actors such as Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown will entertain and amuse.

The film is quite controversial and has polarized viewers and critics. Some scream “garbage”, while others heap praise on it. As for myself, I can say it’s no masterpiece, but it was entertaining and undemanding. Escapist and not overly involving of one’s higher mentative faculties. There has been too much hype about it, which I don’t think has helped the movie. See it, make up your own mind.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


“Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.” - John Ruskin

It’s been a stressful day today with some sickness in the family and a trip to the hospital. All has ended well, however, and it’s now back to normal. Never rains, it pours, they say…

For Art Sunday, I decided to take a virtual trip to one of the great museums in the world, the Prado in Madrid. I have fond memories of visiting this museum when I was in Madrid and it's fantastic to now have the ability through technology to revisit it and focus in on some of the exhibited masterpieces in this museum.

The way to do it is to use “Google Earth”, which can be downloaded for free at . Once you have downloaded it, type “Prado, Madrid” in the search box and you will be flown to the museum where you will enjoy ultra-high resolution images of some of the most famous paintings in the world.

The screen shot above is from my virtual trip and you can see a detail of the marvellous “Las Meniñas” of Diego Velázquez, painted in 1656. The work's complex and enigmatic composition raises questions about reality and illusion, and creates an uncertain relationship between the viewer and the figures depicted. Because of these complexities, “Las Meniñas” has been one of the most widely analysed works in Western painting.

Las Meniñas shows a large room in the Madrid palace of King Philip IV of Spain, and presents a snapshot of several figures from the Spanish court of the time. Some figures look out of the canvas towards the viewer, while others interact among themselves. The young Infant Margarita is surrounded by her entourage of maids of honour (= Las meniñas), chaperone, bodyguard, two dwarfs and a dog. Just behind them, Velázquez portrays himself working at a large canvas. Velázquez looks outwards, beyond the pictorial space to where a viewer of the painting would stand. A mirror hangs in the background and reflects the upper bodies of the king and queen. The royal couple appear to be placed outside the picture space in a position similar to that of the viewer, although some scholars have speculated that their image is a reflection from the painting Velázquez is shown working on.

The painting has been described as “Velázquez's supreme achievement, a highly self-conscious, calculated demonstration of what painting could achieve, and perhaps the most searching comment ever made on the possibilities of the easel painting”.
Go visit the Prado, this weekend!