“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” - Aristotle
We had our graduation ceremony in Melbourne today at the Melbourne Town Hall. Consequently, it was another very busy day, coming right after a very busy week, which has seen me finalise our Annual Report to the Office of Higher Education, which is to be lodged first thing on Monday morning. Tomorrow is a day of rest!
The graduation went very well and the Town Hall, which is a magnificent venue, was full of graduands, family, friends, academics and the official party. I gave the welcoming speech that was well received and two hours later, we had finished. The official party then went to dinner at Feddish Restaurant at Federation Square where we had a very pleasant meal with much mirth and merriment.
As a consequence, for Music Saturday, something quite appropriate. Here is the Allegro from the G major organ concerto Op.4 No.1 HWV 289 by George Frideric Handel. The organ in the Melbourne Town Hall is magnificent and was used to great effect in the graduation this evening.
“Chemistry can be a good and bad thing. Chemistry is good when you make love with it. Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it.” – Adam Sandler
Cream of tartar is one of those fascinating cooking ingredients that lives in the back of the pantry and one rarely uses, but which in certain recipes is indispensible. It is one of those “unnatural” natural ingredients that nowadays is manufactured in great quantities through chemical reactions, and most people will generally inveigh against because of this “chemical” identity. However, it is perfectly natural just as salt is, or soda, or vinegar – all of them are “chemicals”.
Potassium hydrogen tartrate is the proper name for cream of tartar, and it is an acid salt that has a number of uses in cooking. Most foods that we consume are mildly or considerably acidic, for example brown sugar, steak, plums, lemons, vinegar and apples. In fact, egg whites, baking soda, and milk are some of the few non-acidic (alkaline) foods we have.
When tartaric acid is half neutralised with potassium hydroxide, transforming it into a salt, we obtain cream of tartar. Grapes are the only significant natural source of tartaric acid, and cream of tartar is got from sediment produced in wine making. The scientific journal Nature reported some time ago, that traces of calcium tartrate found in a pottery jar in the ruins of a village in northern Iran, is evidence that wine was being made more than 7,000 years ago.
In the kitchen cream of tartar is used to help stabilise and give more volume to beaten egg whites. It is the acidic ingredient in some brands of baking powder. It is also used to produce a creamier texture in sugary desserts such as candy and frosting, because it inhibits the formation of crystals. It is used commercially in some soft drinks, candies, bakery products, gelatin desserts, and photography products. Cream of tartar can also be used to clean brass and copper cookware. Here is a recipe using cream of tartar.
FAIRY CAKES Ingredients
• 350g caster sugar
• 1 cup cake flour (soft plain flour)
• 12 large eggwhites
• 1 tsp cream of tartar
• 1/2 tsp fine salt
• 1/4 tsp almond essence
• 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
• 300 ml thickened cream
• 1/2 cup icing sugar
• 1/4 cup raspberry jam
• Extra icing sugar, for dusting
1) Preheat oven to 160ºC. Line a 12-hole patty pan with paper cases.
2) Combine half the caster sugar and all the flour in a large bowl.
3) Whisk eggwhites with an electric mixer on high speed until very frothy. Add cream of tartar and salt and whisk briefly.
4) Add remaining caster sugar to eggwhite, a tablespoon at a time, while whisking on medium speed, until soft peaks form.
5) Fold into flour mixture with almond essence and vanilla. Spoon mixture evenly into each paper case until half-full and bake for 18-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
6) Whip cream and icing sugar into soft peaks.
7) Cut tops off cupcakes with a serrated knife, then slice the tops in half. Spoon jam and whipped cream on cupcakes, then position halved tops to resemble fairy wings. Serve dusted with icing sugar.
“Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain’s majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.” - George Carlin
The Gulf of Mexico environmental catastrophe in the BP oil rig is getting uglier and uglier by the day. Since the explosion in the rig on April 20th, there has been constant leakage of polluting oil into the sea, which not only causes damage locally but which also contaminates shorelines and kills millions of living things in its wake. Not only has the disaster caused untold environmental damage that will take decades to reverse and has cost human lives, but also now it appears that al this could have been prevented.
A memo has now shown that BP admitted to US congressional investigators its decision to ignore warning signs hours before the explosion in the rig. Tests indicated that something was wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, yet BP made what they termed a “fundamental mistake” in continuing operations (as the memo says). Two hours after the abnormal test results were recorded, the rig exploded and 11 workers lost their lives and the environmental disaster unleashed. However, that is not all. The memo also indicated that problems were found in equipment meant to provide fail-safe protection against a blowout.
BP today started the “top-kill” clean-up operation, while the world waits anxiously to see if this is effective. Heavy mud is being pumped into the oil-leaking rift undersea. If oil stops flowing to the surface in the Gulf of Mexico, BP officials will know that this latest effort to stem the continued leakage has been successful. It is hoped that this intervention will stemt eh flow of oil, but we won’t know until Thursday evening local time.
The gusher has spewed at least 7 million gallons of crude oil and has converted beautiful coastlines into nightmarish, polluted death traps for wildlife. Tourists are kept away, local industry has suffered, towns are beginning to feel the economic crunch, on top of already fragile finances. Dead fish, sharks and dolphins are washing ashore, while crabs, turtles and birds are being found soaked in oil as the slick invades into Louisiana’s wetlands. South of New Orleans, globs of oil have shut down public beaches. The spill is now impacting about 250 km of coastline. It is feared that the spreading oil slicks will catch the ocean current to the Florida Keys and up to the eastern seaboard.
The disaster illustrates highlights several home truths about our society and our present mindset:
First, our lifestyle is making demands on the environment that it cannot meet. The more we have the more we want and the more we despoil our earth in order to maintain a lifestyle that has extinction written all over it.
Second, multinational companies are motivated by greed and have a modus operandi set to increasing their profits and maximising the efficiency of their business. They have lost all sense of morality and have no ethics, allowing them to carry on their business in ways that bypass regulations and laws, and blatantly concentrate all their efforts on finding new loopholes to beat the system.
Third, our politicians are becoming increasingly corrupt, easily bribed and more and more involved in the nefarious deeds of big business, aiding and abetting the offenders.
Fourth, we as a population, as a society are becoming more apathetic and easily distracted by entertainment, material possessions, creature comforts and superficial values.
Fifth, those among us who still see the errors of our ways and cry out against the insanity around us have our voices drowned out by the multitude.
Can such a civilisation survive?
petroleum |pəˈtrōlēəm| noun
a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons that is present in certain rock strata and can be extracted and refined to produce fuels including gasoline, kerosene, and diesel oil; oil. ORIGIN late Middle English: From medieval Latin, from Latin petra ‘rock’ (from Greek) + Latin oleum ‘oil.’
“Days of absence, sad and dreary, Clothed in sorrow’s dark array, Days of absence, I am weary; She I love is far away.” – William Shakespeare
To be far away from the one we truly love is a tonic for a relationship that may be becoming too comfortable in its self-assurance and which may risk being taken for granted. The separation from one we love peppers our mind and body with the keenness of increased desire. Absence is the spice that we add to fondness, enriching it with the savour of passion. We reawaken memories of being in love and reanimate our endearment feelings of new ardour.
I write this while anticipating a rapidly approaching reunion…
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder,
But ever since you left, my heart is smaller, colder.
Now by myself, all of my time is mine to squander;
But so much time is worthless and I feel inert and older.
They say that absence from our love is worse than death
And feeling all that distance separating us, I sympathise;
My life is empty, cold, each gulp of air a dying breath,
A heart that’s stopped, a silent mouth and closing eyes.
They say that absence lessens small loves, increases great ones;
How true that seems, as my love for you grows evermore;
With absence watered, my rushing river of love, swells, runs
And takes all with it, till it reaches welcoming far shore.
They say the joy of meeting pays the pangs of absence,
But all I feel is pain and torture; no thought of future bliss
Will now console me, and your lack is my quintessence;
I abide your deficit, only to live again when we shall kiss.
“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
African Liberation Day is celebrated on May 25th every year and on this day, many countries in Africa celebrate the hard-fought achievements of their freedom from European colonial powers. Many African countries and African communities around the world play an active role in organising events and celebrating African Liberation Day. Ghana, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, and the United States are all involved in maintaining the momentum of this commemorative day. In Ghana, May 25th is a public holiday. Various activities organised include formal gatherings with panel discussions, street marches, speeches by political and social leaders, rallies featuring cultural entertainment, poetry, and speakers.
The special connection with Ghana is that in 1957 Ghana was the first African country south of the Sahara to secure independence from colonial rule. The newly independent nation took its name from an empire that flourished near that region between the 4th and 10th centuries. African Freedom Day was founded during the first Conference of Independent African States, which attracted African leaders and political activists from various African countries, in Ghana on April 15, 1958. Government representatives from eight independent African states attended the conference, which was the first Pan-African conference in the continent. The purpose of the day was to annually mark the liberation movement’s progress and to symbolise the determination of the people of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.
Between 1958 and 1963 the struggle for independence in Africa grew bigger and there was much support and activism not only in Africa, but also around the world. During this period, 17 countries in Africa won their independence and 1960 was proclaimed the Year of Africa. On May 25, 1963, 31 African leaders convened a summit meeting to found the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). They renamed Africa Freedom Day as “African Liberation Day” and changed its date to May 25. The founding date of the OAU is also referred to as “Africa Day”. African Liberation Day has helped to raise political awareness in African communities across the world. It has also been a source of information about the struggles for liberation and development.
An outline of the map of Africa, or the shape of Africa, is often used as a symbol for the day. Pan-African colors, may also be used for the day, and come in different sets of three colours. For example, the green, gold, and red colors used in the flag of Ghana or the red, black, and green colors adopted by the American-based Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA)
After about 500 years of the most brutal suffering known to humanity, the enslavement of Africa and the subsequent trade in human souls, which cost Africa in excess of 100,000,000 of her children, the masses of African People in the 1950s and 1960s finally were able to shout with a single voice: “Enough! Let us be free and able to shape our own destiny.” The bell of freedom that rang then, still reverberates and fills Africans everywhere with pride, determination and renewed energy for continuing to fight for what is their birthright: Freedom, dignity, self-determination, prosperity and
Happy African Liberation Day to all Africans all over the world!
“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” – George Orwell
For Movie Monday today I’ll first talk about politics. Totalitarian democracy is a term made famous by Israeli historian J.L. Talmon to refer to a system of government where lawfully elected representatives maintain the integrity of a nation whose citizens, while granted the right to vote, have little or no participation in the decision-making process of the government. For example, the type of government that USA, or Australia or the UK have. This is in opposition to a direct democracy where the people participate directly in the decision making on a regular basis. Examples of this include Switzerland, where five million voters decide on national referenda and initiatives two to four times a year; with direct democratic instruments are also well established at the cantonal and communal level.
The “democracy” that most nations operate under is a representative democracy that if carefully administered attempts to take into consideration the will of the people as much as possible and reach decisions that please most (a consensus democracy), such as we have in Sweden, for example. Or if powerful factions begin to take control of government, the system becomes more of a totalitarian democracy, as happens in some countries where capitalism is rampant and a rich and powerful aristocracy move the strings and the puppet government moves. The people are placated by lip-service elections and much rhetoric about liberty and equality, while a small minority control government and its decisions so that the aristocratic minority benefits most.
Why all of this on Movie Monday? Because a couple of weekends ago we watched a highly political film. It was James Cameron’s 2009 “Avatar”. This director’s left wing sympathies are well known, so it was difficult not to view the film as a political statement. Or to not equate the Na’vi with the American Indians or the American blacks, or to not equate Pandora with Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or the other multitude of locations where capitalist interests have despoiled countries and people in order to make money.
The film is an allegory and as such can be interpreted on many levels. The more innocent amongst us may see it simply as a sci fi fantasy, boys’ own adventure with lots of action and even fighting robots and lots of explosions, yeah! Those with a guilty conscience, will no doubt say it is a cheap, sensationalist, left-wing piece of propaganda that bags white, middle-aged capitalists, who only want the best for everyone (and this of course can’t be done with some small sacrifices). Others may call it racist, especially when one sees the way the Na’vi are depicted - uncivilised savages who have to wait for a liberator in the face of Will, the “superior” and more civilised half-human, half-Na’vi Avatar. Whatever one’s point of view the film is worth seeing.
One thing we immediately realised when viewing the film is why it didn’t win the Best Film Oscar. Such a controversial political hot potato couldn’t possibly be selected for an Academy Award. Instead of a film where the army are very much the bad guys (Avatar), the Oscar went to the Iraq war heroes, the army depicted as good guys (The Hurt Locker). It is the choice of a totalitarian democratic state defending itself. It is a natural choice, especially in these times of insecurity, lost national pride, global financial crisis and an overwhelming sense of needing to reassert what people hold dear to their hearts – good old-fashioned values that built nations and created empires.
Avatar is too much of an inflammatory thorn in the side of imperialist great powers. Belgium in Africa springs to mind, Holland in Indonesia, France in the Pacific, Britain in India and Australia and the US everywhere else. It is a criticism of our financial systems and capitalism where (until recently, at least) greed was good. It is a lament for the harm we are doing to our environment. Cameron has been quite open about his motives in making the movie: “Greed and imperialism tend to destroy the environment,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s a way of looking back on ourselves from this other world.”
Dryden’s and Rousseau’s concept of the “Noble Savage” very much underlies the film and the Na’vi are depicted as in touch with their environment, in a holistic, universal, harmonious way that we humans have lost. Humans are painted with garishly evil colours, especially the “civilised savages” of the army and the heartless capitalists whom they protect. Scientists are given better press, as it is they who attempt to understand the Na’vi and approach them so that they may come closer to them.
What has been described as a flaw in the film, and even labeled as “racist” is that Will, the white man in a Na’vi body is the “hero” who liberates the Na’vi. Will’s Na’vi body infact is a mixture of human and Na’vi DNA. As a hybrid he identifies more with his Na’vi genes and is recognised and accepted as part of the Na’vi ecosystem. It is a case of dominant and recessive genes and the Na’vi wins out in more way than one. When we see Will’s Na’vi Avatar we do not see a human we see a Na’vi.
I could discuss the film more, but I shall stop here as it is more of a discussion that lends itself to debate rather than monologue. It is a good film and contains much to think about.
“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” - Claude Monet
For Art Sunday today, something different. We watched an excellent 3-hour TV miniseries this weekend, called “The Impressionists”. It was directed by Tim Dunn and starred Julian Glover (as the elderly Monet), Richard Armitage (young Monet), Aden Gillet (Degas), Charlie Condou (Renoir), Andrew Havill (Manet), Will Keen (Cezanne) and Anthony Calf (Zola). It was a BBC UK production and once again, there was a beautiful sense of history and authentic detail, as the British know so very well to do. The costumes, cinematography and acting were first class, with some of the marvellous countryside and mise-en-scène being a living re-creation of some of the most famous paintings in the world.
The action centres on Monet who as an old man meets a journalist in his estate at Giverny, while he is painting one of his famous Japanese bridge pictures. Monet recollects the heady days of his youth when he and the most illustrious brotherhood of Impressionist artists - Degas, Renoir, Bazille, Cézanne and Manet shocked and astonished the artistic establishment of Paris. The series was based entirely based on documentary evidence, with some stunning authentic scenery transporting the viewer to 19th century France and the private lives of some of the most renowned of the world’s artists.
As we love the impressionists, this miniseries was visual feast, on which we gorged ourselves. The relationships between the artists, the historical setting, the artistic and social climate and their family environments put the impressionists’ art in context and made us understand a little more the artists and their works. I recommend this biographical drama most highly and if you like art, I think you will love this movie.
One of the surprises in the miniseries was Frédéric Bazille, a painter whom I had not heard of before seeing this film. It is understandable perhaps, as his oeuvre is very limited because he died at a very young age. His painting above “The Artist’s Studio”, depicts several of his artworks in progress along with himself (standing tall leaning on the easel), Manet, and likely Monet. This painting indicates the friendship and fellowship that existed between these painters and it is something the film highlights very well.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.