Saturday 24 November 2007


“What luck for rulers, that men do not think.” - Adolf Hitler

This morning, bright and early we walked to our local polling station a couple of kilometres from our house and we voted. It is Election Day today and it is predicted that we have a cliffhanger of a poll on our hands. The reigning conservative government is up for election for its fifth term in office and the arrogance of its leaders is overwhelming. I am surprised that the Australian people are mistaking this condescending self-importance for confidence and ebullience. There has been the usual mud-slinging and scare campaigns and our prime minister is hoping to be re-elected, counting on the grey vote.

Some polls are predicting a Labor party victory and most people I have talked to are wanting a change. Steve Rudd who leads the Labor Party is younger, has fresh ideas and some more moderate, progressive policies. His plan to ratify the Kyoto protocol was good news for me, as our present PM has mulishly resisted to ratify it. In any case, I am not holding my breath and I am avoiding watching the reportage from the National Tally Room in Canberra. I’d rather read about it in tomorrow’s paper.

Now, for Music Saturday, I am much in need of something relaxing, classic and soothing. One can’t go past some Water Music by George Friedrich Handel.

Enjoy your weekend!

Well, I did get to watch a bit of the election coverage after a friend rang us to tell us how quickly the electorate’s swing against the government started to manifest itself. It is now official, we have a new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd and the country is now in the Labor Party’s hands. The Senate votes are still being counted of course, and even in the House of Representatives some seats are still being contested. However, the Liberal Party has been defeated, and to add insult to injury, John Howard has lost his own seat of Bennelong…

Let us hope that all the pretty flowery speeches of the new Prime Minister elect will be converted into meaningful action. It was about time we had change and the new leader brings fresh ideas for the future…

Friday 23 November 2007


“The Orientals have another word for accident; it is ‘kismet’ - fate.” – Thomas Babington Macaulay

I had a car accident today as I was leaving work to go home. Another car went against a red light and hit me. Fortunately neither of us was hurt and as for the rest, it can all be repaired it’s just metal and plastic. However, as the other car was speeding it was quite fortuitous that neither one of us was even injured. Now, a few hours later, sitting here at home and thinking about it, I have quite a lot to be thankful for. I am well and so is the other driver. I can look at the situation and be able to shrug it off. Looking at my mangled car, I can still smile as there was no injury, no fatality, no serious damage.

How ridiculous we humans are, at times thinking of ourselves as immortal, invulnerable, invincible… In the blink of an eye, in a split second our whole world could collapse, we could be injured, become maimed, our life could end. We think that a multitude of silly inconsequential things are vitally significant and the only important thing is our well-being, our health, our physical (and mental!) integrity…

I felt very sorry for the other driver. She was a young probationary driver, 19-years-old or so and she was terrified. She kept apologising to me, as she was shaking and crying. I had quite a job of calming her down. The police arrived shortly after the accident and I must confess that they were quite good and took control of the situation straight away. Fortunately both of us were insured (as it turns out with the same insurance company) and now it is only the inconvenience of having to go through the process of car repairs and the trouble of making arrangements for alternative transportation.

Still, my mind goes back to the other scenario… How many people today must have been in car accidents and they never made it home? How many ended up in intensive care in hospital, how many lost life and limb? A car is indispensable nowadays, especially in large sprawling cities like Melbourne where distances are enormous and to get anywhere by public transport takes hours. However, the roads with their ever-increasing traffic and congestion, the drivers who seem to be inexperienced and/or reckless, the frustrations of our modern society, all make driving more dangerous.

In Australia, we’ve had 1,184 road deaths in 2007 to the end of September. Many thousands of car accidents with serious injuries, many more thousands with minor injuries. I am thankful that I was in this last group. Enjoy your weekend, be careful not only for yourself, but for others too. Living in a society entails responsibility not only for our own safety and welfare but also for the welfare of others.

Wednesday 21 November 2007


“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you’, that would suffice.” - Meister Eckhart

Thanksgiving as celebrated in the USA is one of my favourite Public Holidays. It is a pity that we do not have such an equivalent day in Australia, or for that matter a worldwide Thanksgiving Day. People nowadays, especially in the developed nations of the world I believe, do not take enough time to reflect and contemplate all the wonderful things in their lives that they should be thankful for. To formally put aside a day and devote it to catching up with family and friends, to share a meal and join hands together in common gratitude for all the good things in our lives is a good honest tradition. It gives a positive message to young people and there are lessons there to be learnt about ingratitude and greed. Here is a nice short video on the history of Thanksgiving on the History Channel site.

The really important things in our lives are few and are universally held to be fundamental to our living a full and contented existence: Health, some food and shelter, loving and being loved. Not much, you may think but that is so much! How many people around the world will go hungry today? There 850 million chronically hungry people worldwide and 2.2 billion undernourished ones. How many people will not have a safe place to sleep in tonight? An estimated 100 million people worldwide are homeless. As for the chronically sick, dying and people with inadequate or no medical care, their numbers run in the many billions worldwide.

Loving and being loved, having family and friends around us that we can turn to for support, for appreciation, for company, for sharing of good and bad times? How many people around the world live alone, loveless, friendless, without a person next to them that they can turn to? Alarming numbers of men (as many as 20% between the ages of 20-65), especially, in Western countries are now finding that they are living alone and hating it.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that wealth and its attendant popularity will bring you lasting happiness. Their effect is most likely small and fleeting. It is important to have a reasonable standard of living, but in my travels I have seen some genuinely happy people who possess next to nothing and who live a deeply fulfilling and contented life. The secret is to be happy with what you have.

It is important to develop good relationships with a circle of friends. To invest in and maintain a loving marriage or equivalent long-term relationship. To have work, yes, enjoy your paid employment, but keep in mind also that people who have some voluntary work have been shown to be more happy. Break away from the monster of selfishness. If you look outside yourself you’ll see that there are wonderful people to share your life with as friends, acquaintances and neighbours.

Contemplate the world around you and think deeply about what you believe. Spiritual beliefs and ethical values, hope and purpose are very important for well-being. To live our life in a broader framework than the “me and now”, to extend our activities beyond a cause greater than ourselves is one of the biggest keys to satisfaction in life. To be happy is to be able to go easy on others, to forgive, to offer support, to show gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are, be thankful for what you have and celebrate the contribution others make to your well-being!


“It is every man's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” Albert Einstein

I am in a very strange mood today – to say that I feel flat is an understatement. My indecision is prolonged and my choices are hanging in abeyance – there is still time. I do not wish to hurry and yet I must decide soon. In the meantime, I turn towards people that I believed to be close to me and they listen silently and fail to give me even the slightest of what I ask, which is a trifle. If one gives all the time, people who take from one find it odd that sometimes you ask for something in return too.


My heart last night was bled
The drops of blood, gout by gout extracted,
Falling like pomegranate grains
On barren soil.

Seeds of precious ruby
On rocky, drought-stricken land were thrown –
Pearls cast before the swine,
Such wasted toil.

My curious exsanguination
Casually observed by silent spectators,
Puzzled by my libations, mindless of the labours of
My midnight oil.

And yet the heart will fill again,
The pallid body will with rose blooms be coloured,
Ready for yet another sacrifice –
Again and yet again,
Until my final breath expires,
Until I shuffle off
This mortal coil

Sans Souci hosts Poetry Wednesday.

Tuesday 20 November 2007


I am in quite a quandary. The road ahead of me has split in two and I must choose one or the other way. The path I have travelled until now has been well-defined, though rocky in parts, sometimes precipitous, often winding – however, it follows a well defined course and the goal is somewhere up ahead, discernible and eventually attainable. The new path that has presented itself looks well paved, and straight, but mist hides its end. What lies at the end of this new path is anyone’s guess. It could be a paradise or a precipice.

One road is known, safe, albeit arduous but promising a goal that is adequate and well-thought of. The other, newer road mystifying, new, uncertain, fascinating…

Being on the horns of a dilemma is not a comfortable position to be on, and either choice at this stage looks equally attractive and unattractive. The new path has the mystique of novelty and the mystery of an obscured goal that could well be the best thing that could eventuate. The old path is dependable, maybe boring, often difficult, but with the end clearly in sight. Either choice may make the one not taken infinitely more attractive. Have you ever been in this situation?

Sleep brings good counsel, they say, and I don’t have to decide until next week. I shall have to ruminate upon the matter and analyse it all fully. Then the best decision will be made according to the facts that I have at hand. Being no gambler, methinks I can see where my choice lies…

Monday 19 November 2007


When Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” was first published it created an enormous controversy. Personally, I could not understand why, as the book is a novel, a fictional work. The author may have presented his characters so, and used factual references in such a convincing way to highlight the intricacies of his plot, such that many people viewed the novel as the gospel truth. When I read the book, I enjoyed it and then after a discussion with family and friends, I put it away. While he is no Tolstoy or Mann, Dan Brown is a consummate storyteller and he can weave a plot as the best of them.

When “The Da Vinci Code” film first came out (2006) it created a fresh wave of controversy. People loved it, people hated it with a passion, fundamentalists condemned it and burned copies of the book anew, protesting it was blasphemous. Some people had not read the book and saw the movie, others read the book and would not see the movie. As for me, having read the book and being aware of all the heated debate and the hullabaloo I finally decided to watch it as my local video shop had the DVD on sale for a paltry sum!

I was disappointed. If you think that Ron Howard had at his disposal a fascinating story with some fantastic locations to take advantage of, and his pick of lead actors, the resulting film is pedestrian and tiresome. The first 65 minutes of the film is dismally dark and annoyingly brown and black. You’d think if you have had a murder in one of the world’s biggest museums, the first thing you’d do is turn the lights on. No, it’s all meant to be “atmospheric”. Fair enough, but what about even the rooms that are lit? No, they have to be lit with a 25 watt globe, it all contributes to the atmosphere. I kept catching myself saying, “When is the bloody sun going to rise?” As a result, some of the wonderful shots inside the Louvre were completely wasted. Yes, the sun does rise, eventually, but we are soon cast into the gloom once again – more atmosphere…

Tom Hanks cast as Dr. Robert Langdon and Audrey Tautou as French Agent Sophie Neveu display as much chemistry as does a celery stick and a bat would if locked together in a room. They are so serious it’s funny. In fact, the whole movie is remarkable for its sparse humour and it’s almost “religious” intensity. Ian McKellen, playing the role of Sir Leigh Teabing, is the only enjoyable bit of casting and he has some of the best lines, too. Paul Bettany cast as Silas is also rather good and plays the masochistic monk with much gusto. Which brings me to the rather bad screenplay. Hanks and Tatou have some really dull lines to deliver and they deliver them with as much enthusiasm as a thirsty drover in a pub with no beer.

Much of the finer historical points of the book are lost in the film, the vignettes of historical flashback inserted rather gratuitously here and there. Direction is rather lame and unexciting, with some aerial shots trying to capture an “epic” feel, but looking more like something one may have seen out of a traffic reporter’s helicopter. The film is long (and tedious) at 149 minutes (theatre) and 179 minutes (DVD version). It was endless and the climax was very underwhelming. Ron Howard may have been the wrong choice for director. I think Steven Spielberg may have made a better, more exciting, more involving and engaging film.

I think you get my drift - I did not particularly like this film. I would be very interested to hear what other people who have seen it, thought of it…

Sunday 18 November 2007


For Art Sunday today, Francisco Zurbarán, a Spanish artist. He was born in the suburb of Fuente de Cantos in Estramadura, on the boundaries of Andalusia, Nov., 1598; died probably at Madrid about 1662. From his early years he showed great aptitude for drawing. His parents, honest peasants, placed no obstacle to his artistic tastes. While a young boy he frequented the studio of Juan de las Roclas, of whom he became a favourite pupil. Zurbarán's apprenticeship was undertaken in Seville, where he met Velazquez and became one of the city's official painters. His commission to decorate the king's palace in Madrid was most probably the result of his continuing friendship with the older, and more successful, Spanish artist.

Zurbarán was chiefly a portrait painter and his religious subjects, depicting meditating saints, found favour with southern Spain's clergy. From 1628, he worked on a number of paintings to be sent to monasteries in the Spanish colony of Guadalupe. After 1640 his austere, harsh, hard-edged style was unfavourably compared to the sentimental religiosity of Murillo and Zurbarán's reputation declined. In 1658, he moved to Madrid in search of work and renewed his contact with Velazquez. Zurbarán died in poverty and obscurity.

Rather than look at his religious paintings and portraits, I’m showing a single painting of Zurbarán, a still life. This is formal treatment of citrus fruit and blossoms with a solitary cup and saucer on the right. There is a symmetry and harmony of colours in this still life, with a quiet introspective air, perhaps sobered by the very dark background. Nevertheless the citrus fruits shine forth in glorious yellows and oranges and the delicate blooms that crown the basket of fruit seem to be dancing a merry jig on top of them. The wistful little rose next to the cup has a story to tell and one can imagine a scene full of drama in the same room where this tableau was standing.

Basket of lemons
Smell of spring, summer blossom.
Bitter peel, sour flesh.


A news item about sky-rocketing desertions from the US army in Iraq caught my eye today. “According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared to nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.”

Is it any wonder? Think about it! Quite apt for Song Saturday is Suzanne Vega’s “The Queen and the Soldier”. This fantastic singer-songwriter from New York is making a comeback after quite a few years absence. I have always enjoyed her songs and this song is one of my favourites.