Saturday, 9 June 2012


“The world is full enough of hurts and mischance without wars to multiply them.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

The situation in Syria has become worse and worse with each passing week and the atrocities committed seem to have no end. The inhumanity of the killing bears no description and as more information filters out of the beleaguered country, the enormity and extent of the massacres is sickening. I can only think of the masses of innocent people whose lives have been turned upside down or who have indeed lost their lives.

UN observers reported from the village of Al-Kubeir, near Hama, that there was blood on the walls and a strong stench of burnt flesh, prompting Western governments to launch a push for tough new sanctions against Damascus. Nine women and three children were among 17 people killed on Saturday in a pre-dawn bombardment of a residential neighbourhood of the southern city of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Dozens more were wounded, some of them seriously, in the city which was the birthplace of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule which erupted in March last year.

In nearby Jordan, hundreds of Syrian refugees demonstrated at dawn in the border town of Ramtha to protest against the deaths in Daraa, Jordan’s official Petra news agency reported. The Syrian army has killed at least 23 civilians in two protest cities, a watchdog says, as international outcry mounts over a massacre in a central village.

It is unfortunate, but it looks very much like civil war and the situation is likely to worsen. Unless firm action is taken, the bloodbath will become widespread and many more innocent people will lose their lives. To have a country steeped in violence like this in this day and age is a crime against humanity and it is deplorable that the international community has not been more active in intervening.

A requiem tonight in memory of the innocent people who lost their live, whatever their creed, race or ideological background. It is the first movement of Tomas Luis de Victoria's (1548 - 1611) from the Officium Defunctorum of 1605, performed by The Choir of Westminster Cathedral.

Friday, 8 June 2012


“Work is the meat of life, pleasure the dessert.” - B. C. Forbes
A delicious recipe for an afternoon tea delight that we make every now and then and which pleases all who try it.


•    250 g unsalted butter, softened
•    1 cup caster sugar
•    1 egg
•    1 1/2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
•    1 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
•    200 g apricot conserve
•    200 g dried apricots, chopped and mixed with the conserve

1 Preheat oven to 180º C.
2. Line base and sides of a 30 x 20 cm lamington tin with baking paper.
3. Using an electric beater, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Add egg and beat until well combined. Add flours and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
5. Form 1/3 dough into a sausage shape, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 25 minutes or until firm.
6. Press two-thirds of dough into base of prepared tin. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden.
7 Put apricot conserve and chopped dried apricots in a small pan over a medium heat and stir until smooth and spreadable. Stand conserve for 10 minutes to cool, then spread evenly over dough in tin.
8. Take dough from freezer, remove plastic wrap and grate evenly over conserve.
9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Stand tin on a wire rack to cool. When cold, cut into squares or fingers.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.


“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” - Abraham Lincoln
The older one gets, the less attention one pays to birthdays. They tend to follow each other more quickly it seems than when one is young. And one definitely does not one want to make a song and dance about it, with birthday parties, cakes, presets and such like, less likely to be afforded much importance or prominence. Well-wishes and a card are the main expectations or perhaps a dinner out. Gift giving is likely to be confined to close family members and the day passes quickly into obscurity.

The birthdays of our childhood are memories, which time has gilded and sugar coated. Parties, cakes, presents and carefree laughter seem to be things of the past that are more difficult to attain or which certainly have lees of a lustre of excitement and enjoyment than one remembers from one’s younger years. It is part and parcel of growing older, more mature and perhaps even wiser one would think. It is a shift away from the “me” mentality to the “we” mentality, maybe.

A birthday dinner with the special people one shares one’s life with may be the most apt and enjoyable birthday celebration. Personally, I am now loath to engage in excesses of social interaction associated with birthdays. Parties have become tiresome and even a formal dinner party can be quite an effort, especially if it is attended by people one only marginally knows or likes. Small intimate gatherings of people one loves, likes or shares common interests with are much more preferable.

Each passing year makes us older, each year added to our age makes us wiser, hopefully. Each year brings us closer to the inevitability of death, so perhaps there is the reluctance to acknowledge our birthdays the older we get. It is important for us to make the most of time, enjoy what we can, do as much good as we can and pay less attention to our age. A life well-lived is a life well spent. Birthdays have nothing to do with it. Some people live a short but eventful and useful life, while some elderly people die and lament their wasted lives…

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


“Venus favours the bold.” - Ovid
The world’s been rather a-buzz with excitement over the past couple of weeks regarding the rare event of the transit of Venus. A transit of Venus occurs when the planet Venus is observed to move across the face of the Sun. The first transit since 1882 occurred on 8th June 2004. The next transit occurred today, on 6th June 2012, was visible in many places around the world. In Australia, for example, the transit was visible Sydney from beginning to end, starting at 8.16am (1st contact) and ending at 2.44pm (last contact). Part of the excitement and the hype surrounding this event is that the following transit of Venus won’t occur until 2117, which is certainly beyond the lifetime of most people around during this transit.

Although it was quite overcast in Melbourne and thus we were unable to watch the transit of Venus first hand and “live”, a number of excellent photographic records of the event have been published and it is good to be able to witness this event, even second-hand, through technology. Some of the photographs that are being published are quite spectacular and fuel my fascination with all things astronomical.

There is a connection with Australia as far as the transit of Venus is concerned. On June 3rd, 1769, British navigator, Captain James Cook, British astronomer Charles Green and Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander observed and recorded the transit of Venus on the island of Tahiti during Cook’s first voyage around the world. This unusual astronomical phenomenon takes place in a pattern that repeats itself every 243 years, so there was considerable scientific interest in the event in Cook’s time. The event includes two transits that are eight years apart, separated by breaks of 121.5 and 105.5 years. These men, along with a crew of scientists, were commissioned by the Royal Society of London for the primary purpose of viewing the transit of Venus. Not only would their findings help expand scientific knowledge, they would help with navigation by accurately calculating the observer’s longitude. At this time, longitude was difficult to determine and not always precise. A “secret” mission that followed the transit included the exploration of the South Pacific to find the legendary Terra Australis Incognita or “unknown land of the South”.

After finishing his task in Tahiti, Cook proceeded to New Zealand, where he took formal possession of areas from both the main islands and accurately charted 3860 km of coastline for the first time. During 1770 he the discovered the east coast of Australia, which he charted and claimed for Great Britain under the name of New South Wales. The rest of course is history!

The image above is provided by NASA. The SDO satellite captured an ultra-high definition image of the Transit of Venus across the face of the sun on June 5th from space.

Monday, 4 June 2012


“In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.” – Aristotle

Today is World Environment Day, which is an annual event that is aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. World Environment Day activities rightly take place all year round, but the climax is on the 5th of June every year, involving people all around the world. The celebration of World Environment Day began in 1972 and since then has grown to become the one of the main ways that the UN stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action.

Through World Environment Day, the UN Environment Programme is able to personalise environmental issues and enable everyone to realise not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development. This day is also a day for people from all walks of life to come together to ensure a cleaner, greener and brighter outlook for themselves and future generations.

Everyone can become involved in celebrating World Environment Day: Organise a clean-up in your home, workplace, neighbourhood or community; stop using plastic bags and get your community to do the same; plant a tree or better yet organise a collective tree planting effort; walk to work or use public transport instead of driving; start a recycling drive; reduce your carbon footprint; grow your own vegetables and fruit; use solar power and other renewable energy sources; conserve water, and lots more. Your local council can provide you with a host of other idea around green living, conservation and sustainability.

The 2012 theme for World Environment Day is Green Economy, into which everyone can contribute, not just politicians and economists. A Green Economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It can be thought of as an economy, which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.

A Green Economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These investments need to be catalysed and supported by targeted special government budget-driven initiatives, legal and policy reforms and regulatory changes. Citizens can also contribute to this by lobbying politicians, joining action groups and supporting industries that prescribe to Green Economy ideals.

Oh, and perhaps the least you could do today is hug a tree!


“The punishment of criminals should be of use; when a man is hanged he is good for nothing” - Voltaire
We watched an interesting and rather amusing (in a black humour sort of way) Australian film last weekend, which we enjoyed. It was Gregor Jordan’s 1999 “Two Hands” (), starring Heath Ledger, Bryan Brown and David Field. It is set in Sydney and one sees the seamy side of this metropolis with all of its wheeling and dealing, crime and ruthless “settling of accounts”. There is an interesting set of characters and the film is very Australian, and some things may seem a little strange to those people seeing it abroad. However, overall, it was quite a good film although there are some violent scenes in it, one particularly that made my stomach churn and ever more wary when I am driving...

The plot concerns Jimmy (Heath Ledger), who is given a simple job by underworld “boss” Pando (Bryan Brown) delivering $10,000 to a particular address. However, when no one answers the door Jimmy decides to take a dip at Bondi Beach to pass the time, but he notices that his clothes on the sand have been messed up and the money that he has stupidly left unattended, is gone. Jimmy rings Pando to tell him the problem, but not surprisingly Pando doesn’t want to hear what he thinks are Jimmy’s lame excuses. Pando and his boys try their best to locate Jimmy in order to “take care of him”, just as they took care of his brother (unbeknownst to Jimmy). Jimmy goes into hiding and decides to join another two inept criminals to rob a bank to get Pando’s money back. Throughout these trials and tribulations, he meets innocent and sweet country-girl Alex (Rose Byrne) and together they try to deal with all sorts of “situations” that arise.

The film is shot in Sydney and Kings Cross gets quite a showing, with all of its glitz and tinselly showiness. Although there are no koalas or gum trees in the movie, it is very much Australian and Bryan Brown does a great job of portraying the typical Aussie bloke who while being an underworld kingpin manages to be a good father and husband in the suburbs. Heath Ledger does an excellent job of portraying the naïve but honest (in a dishonest way!) Jimmy, while Rose Byrne is perfectly cast as the young ingénue that provides a romantic interest. One cannot help but feel involved with Jimmy’s plight and despite the crookedness of his actions, one feels that all he needs is the love of a good woman (aka: Alex) to bring him back on to the straight and narrow.

There is an interesting thread of the supernatural injected into the film as Jimmy’s brother’s ghost enters the story now and then to comment on the proceedings and lend a protecting hand to Jimmy. The subplot involving the two teenagers that steal Jimmy’s $10,000 is poignant and dark and essential for the films dénouement.

We enjoyed this film, although some scenes could prove challenging for some viewers who are sensitive to violence and strong themes. It is best classed as a “black comedy” and it paints a fairly realistic picture of small time criminal life in a big city, although the naïveté and unlikeliness of some of the plot twists can be seen to be artistic licence to make for a more engaging movie.

Sunday, 3 June 2012


“Joy in looking and comprehending is nature's most beautiful gift.” - Albert Einstein
A relatively little-known artist for Art Sunday today, who during his life did not command much attention, also. Martin Johnson Heade (August 11, 1819 – September 4, 1904) was a prolific American painter known for his salt marsh landscapes, seascapes, and depictions of tropical birds (such as hummingbirds), as well as tropical flowers and other still lives. His painting style and subject matter, while derived from the romanticism of the time, are regarded by art historians as a significant departure from those of his peers.

Heade was born in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, the son of a shopkeeper. He studied with Edward Hicks, and possibly with Thomas Hicks. His earliest works were produced during the 1840s and were chiefly portraits. He travelled to Europe several times as a young man, became an itinerant artist on American shores, and exhibited in Philadelphia in 1841 and New York in 1843. Friendships with artists of the Hudson River School led to an interest in landscape art. In 1863, he planned to publish a volume of Brazilian hummingbirds and tropical flowers, but the project was eventually abandoned. He travelled to the tropics several times thereafter, and continued to paint birds and flowers.

Heade married in 1883 and moved to St. Augustine, Florida. His chief works from this period were Floridian landscapes and flowers, particularly magnolias laid upon velvet cloth. He died in 1904. His best known works are depictions of light and shadow upon the salt marshes of New England. Heade was not a widely known artist during his lifetime, but his work attracted the notice of scholars, art historians, and collectors during the 1940s. He thereafter became recognised as a major American artist. Although often considered a Hudson River School artist, some critics and scholars take exception to this categorisation. Heade’s works are now in major museums and collections. His paintings are occasionally discovered in unlikely places such as garage sales and flea markets.

I like his botanical paintings quite a lot as they remind me of a natural history textbook that we used in primary school. There is a strong feel of erudite and nostalgic 19th century naturalism in these paintings and part of their appeal is that while they are botanically accurate, they are also beautifully artistic and highly decorative. The “Orchid and Hummingbird near a Mountain Waterfall” of 1902 shown here is characteristic of Heade’s work in the natural history genre, but the other major part of his work, landscape, is also hinted at by the broad vista behind the main subject.