Friday 16 May 2008


“For after all the best thing one can do when it is raining, is to let it rain.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The first winter’s day in Melbourne today with a gray leaden sky and low temperatures punctuated by showers of icy rain. Looking out of the window and seeing the puddles of water mirroring the silvery light, the images are broken by the falling drops of rain as they form ever expanding and melding rings. The cars on the road few and far between, most people are inside by the heater.

Perfect day for listening to some Bach… Here is Mischa Maisky playing the Prelude from the Cello Suite Number 1, BWV 1007:

Perfect music for a rainy day…


"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight."
- M. F. K. Fisher

A busy day at work today, which started at 7:00 am and did not finish until late. After several meetings and many consultations with staff, we had a delegation from a Chinese University come and visit our campus. They are our guests for the next five days and we have to have many discussions regarding cooperation and exchange programs. The day culminated with dinner, which I hosted at one of the Italian restaurants close to our campus in the centre of the City.

The restaurant is called Spiga and it’s a handy one to have just across the road from where one works. It has a good service and the food is very nice, with a warm ambience and good location. Our Chinese guests very much enjoyed the food with most of us having fish. Baked fillets of ocean trout, or tuna steaks or deep fried Barramundi. The bread served was rather nice and although typical yeast bread, it reminded me a little of some beer bread I had had some time back in another restaurant.

Beer bread is an interesting beast. It belongs to a class of foods that I call the “faker bakers”. These are foods that you concoct fast and without much preparation, but they resemble very much something that takes a lot longer to make the usual way. Here is a recipe for the faker’s bread, which is much easier than the yeast/knead/rise/knead/bake variety.

2.5 cups of sifted plain flour
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 can (350 mL ) of beer
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon dried, ground mixed herbs
1 teaspoon turmeric
Sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 190˚C.
Sift flour (very important!) and mix in other dry ingredients.
Mix in the beer (at room temperature) quickly
Pour into a greased loaf pan.
Pour melted butter over mixture.
Sprinkle sesame over top.
Bake 1 hour, remove from pan and cool for at least 15 minutes.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 15 May 2008


"The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." - Theodore M. Hesburgh

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that the 15th of May of every year shall be observed as the International Day of Families. This Day highlights many of the family values that form a part of social moral values. The observance recognises the importance of the family as the basic unit of society. The International Day of Families provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and can become a powerful mobilising factor on behalf of families in all countries, allowing them to lobby for the protection and support of family issues appropriate to each society.

Families nowadays are finding greater challenges and more obstacles to raising children to be healthy, responsible, productive adults. Economic hardship, increasingly hectic activity, tight schedules, domestic discord, divorce, absentee fathers, changing attitudes about what is right and wrong, some popular music and entertainment, influences of street life – all these and other stressors do little to promote healthy families. Children that are growing up in modern urban societies have more needs for a stable family in order to grow up healthy and happy.

The Families Day theme for 2008 focusses on “Fathers and Families: Responsibilities and Challenges.” Family structure in our society is in a process of change and this is evidenced by the increasing numbers of “non-traditional” families – single-parent families, same-sex couple families, families where both partners have been previously married and each may bring into the family children from previous relationships, families that rely heavily on the input from all sorts of external support structures. The role of fathers is changing, especially now when IVF has made the biological role of the father almost redundant - the patriarchal role of the father as catalyst for the creation of a family has been eclipsed by technology. The social role of the father, however, has become an increasingly important one.

Research has shown that children with fathers who are actively involved in their lives are more likely to stay out of trouble and become successful adults than those with absent or uninvolved fathers. Responsible fathers make a big difference. The timely 2008 Families Day theme invites individuals, families, communities and governmental policy makers to reflect, pray and act to facilitate healthy families and responsible fatherhood.

The focus on responsibility is a timely one and it is important for us to redefine it. Traditionally, the father has been considered to be the one who is the “provider”, the one who spends most time away from the home, the one who is perhaps the most uninvolved in the upbringing of the children. We still speak of “mother’s love”, “mother tongue”, “mother’s milk”, “mother hen”, etc all denoting a very close and special nurturing relationship. As society is changing, so are the family relationships and increasingly, more fathers are spending more time with their children and are more actively involved with their upbringing – some to the extent of being “house-husbands” while the wife is the “provider”.

In other cases, we find that increasingly permissive social mores, greater emphasis on individual liberties, greater sexual openness and increasing acceptance of personal interests being more important than the interests of the group (family or larger social group), are causing a greater likelihood of fathers to abandon families and pursue their own personal goals: A younger woman, another man, another career in a distant place away from the family, etc.

The greatest and most despicable of irresponsibilities is the loss of respect for the normal restrictions that are placed within the family group: The father who commits violent or sexual crimes in the family. The recent events in Austria and the heinous Josef Fritzl are only the tip of the iceberg. How many more of these crimes are reported almost daily, and unfortunately how many more go unreported, undiscovered… It is fathers such as Josef Fritzl that often have been brought up in dysfunctional families and pass on that terrible legacy to their own family.

How to deal with it in this increasingly precarious urban society that seems to be a major stressor on wholesome family living? The qualities of love, laughter, listening and learning within a family are the key factors in its happiness and success. These four values are the foundation of any happy, healthy family and by extension society. The family is the most basic and important unit of any society or nation. Without healthy, functioning families, a culture cannot survive.
Have a good Family Day, whatever your family is.

family |ˈfam(ə)lē| noun ( pl. -lies)
1 [treated as sing. or pl. ] a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.
• a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage : friends and family can provide support.
• the children of a person or couple : she has the sole responsibility for a large family.
• a person or people related to one and so to be treated with a special loyalty or intimacy : I could not turn him away, for he was family.
• a group of people united in criminal activity.
Biology a principal taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below order, usually ending in -idae (in zoology) or -aceae (in botany).
• a group of objects united by a significant shared characteristic.
Mathematics a group of curves or surfaces obtained by varying the value of a constant in the equation generating them.
2 all the descendants of a common ancestor : the house has been owned by the same family for 300 years.
• a race or group of peoples from a common stock.
• all the languages ultimately derived from a particular early language, regarded as a group : the Austronesian language family.
adjective [ attrib. ]
designed to be suitable for children as well as adults : a family newspaper.
the (or one's) family jewels informal a man's genitals.
in the family way informal pregnant.
ORIGIN late Middle English (sense 2; also denoting the servants of a household or the retinue of a nobleman) : from Latin familia ‘household servants, household, family,’ from famulus ‘servant.’

Wednesday 14 May 2008


“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” - Albert Einstein

I was in Sydney for the day for work and it was very much a commuter’s trip. Getting up at 5:00 a.m. to catch the early flight, seeing the sun rise several kilometres above the earth, landing in the busy airport, finding myself surrounded by milling crowds, queueing for a taxi, doing battle with the early morning traffic and spending all of the day locked up in a sunless room, conferencing and meeting, assessing and moderating… A quick lunch in-house, more work afterwards, a brief recap and then another taxi to the airport for yet another flight back home. The business trip is not a pleasure trip when packed into a very busy day like this.

Flying above Sydney, seeing the bright lights, the endless ribbons of cars on streets, the grid of streetlights and the hum of the engines brings to mind our modern-day existence, technology and the loss of something precious…

The Sound of the City

The city lights cold and distant
Suspended above gloomy shadows
Hovering between the concrete and the ethereal.
Neon flashes mundanely its inanity
Its message thankfully illegible in the distance.
Revolving signs in multicoloured glare
Make known anonymous companies
And broadcast lurid messages of brands X, Y and Z.

The city streets lit brightly in sickly yellow,
By rows upon rows of sodium lamps
And by the blue-white cold and hurtful glare
Of sentinel streetlights.
Spires, domes and towers in full spotlit splendour
Advertise the venues of the rich.
Regular, square, cell-like, impersonal
Windows of the tall office blocks
Enclose faceless cut-outs of carbon-copy people.

City, all brightly lit and brilliant
You are peopled by the men of shadows,
A corpse-like populace.
Ugly, unhappy ghosts transparent
Who lost in the dreary shadowy depths
Revere your garish, gaudy, neon illuminations.

The hum of traffic, erratic red of tail lights
The stinging, ever-moving discs of head lights
All echo your bright lights in unnatural imitation.
City, you callous, cruel, empty-hearted harridan
Your dazzling flashes, your hurtful luminous din
Obliterate the silver symphony of moonlight
And the wispy, hopeful streak of argent falling star.
Your empty humdrum and incessant noise mechanical
Drown the voice of humankind
And the song of rustling leaf and nightingale.

Lucky are those of you that live away from this maelstrom of pullulating humanity, in the countryside, breathing fresh air, enjoying the quietude and the empty spaces on your doorstep.

Tuesday 13 May 2008


“Perhaps catastrophe is the natural human environment, and even though we spend a good deal of energy trying to get away from it, we are programmed for survival amid catastrophe.” - Germaine Greer

The earthquake in China is the latest news of a disaster to hit our newspapers and TV screens. More human lives lost, more pictures of destruction and devastation, faces paralysed by grief and fear. The death toll stands at over 12,000 and there are thousands more reported missing. No doubt, the death toll will rise over the next few days.

The images of bodies covered with sheets lining streets as rescue workers dig through schools and homes turned into rubble by China's worst earthquake in three decades makes for a terrible scene. The survivors dig in the ruins in a desperate attempt to rescue victims trapped under concrete slabs. There are varying reports of the magnitude of the quake, some as high as 7.9 on the Richter scale. The earthquake struck Monday afternoon and the epicenter was in Wenchuan county. Tuesday has seen a massive rescue and relief operation begun. The number of casualties is still unknown as the quake tore into urban areas and mountain villages. The quake was China's deadliest since 1976, when 240,000 people were killed in the city of Tangshan, near Beijing in 1976.

All this in the wake of the Burma cyclone that has claimed thousands upon thousands of lives, while in USA tornadoes and hurricanes cause damage and claim lives as well. The earth is sick and we humans continue heedless of its cries of pain and the shudders of its disease-ridden frame. We have become immune to these news items and we plod on with our lives steeped in routine and mindless concerns over non-issues. What will it take to galvanise people into action?

Monday 12 May 2008


“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!” – Sir Walter Scott

OK, I must admit it, when I was young I used to love reading comic books too. I mean I couldn’t always read Proust and Shakespeare and Marx and Stevenson, could I? In any case, I enjoyed reading all sorts of things and comic books full of super heroes are the modern-day mythologies. Superman and Batman, Spider-Man and Aquaman, the Fantastic Four and Captain America. I had a friend who had an attic full of comic books so I used to borrow them all and read them at the weekends.

When the comic book heroes were transferred to the big screen, I watched with amusement, sometimes with wonder sometimes with bemused surprise at the more or less successful adaptation of comic book into comic movie… Superman (1978) was a big hit and rightly so as the casting was excellent, with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder a well-matched pair, transferring well to the screen. Batman (1989) interesting, not the least because of the surprising choice for the lead, Michael Keaton, who until then was definitely not super hero material. The rather prosaic Fantastic Four (2005) and the abominable Captain America (1990).

Spider-Man came into the scene in 2002 with a satisfying transference of comic book to celluloid. Tobey Maguire was young and fresh, playing the superhero role with sufficient wide-eyed wonder to allow all young fans to identify with him. The story was good, the special effects excellent and the movie a success. Spider-Man 2 (2004) a good sequel, with a continuation of the shenanigans and high spirits, more web-spinning adventures and poignant soul-searching for our hero.

Last weekend we saw Spider-Man 3 (2007) and wished we hadn’t. It was too long, too full of special effects, too many villains, too much of a dog’s breakfast. There were some funny scenes (unintentional, but just ridiculous), the attempts at poignancy heavy-handed and false and the action way too violent and gratuitous. The plot is disjointed and episodic, the villains like a sampler at an ID parade in the police station and the romantic interludes wishy-washy. The “dark side” of Peter Parker with the emo side of his self plain ludicrous. The black glop that makes it all happen is just stupid.

OK I said I liked comic books and super heroes but obviously not enough to forgive whatever glop is dished out. If they dare to make a Spider-Man 4, I am calling the pest exterminators...

Sunday 11 May 2008


“God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.” - Rudyard Kipling

Berthe Morisot (born Jan. 14, 1841, Bourges, France - died March 2, 1895, Paris) was a French painter and printmaker. She was the first woman to join the circle of the French impressionist painters and she exhibited in all but one of their shows. Despite the protests of friends and family she continued to participate in their struggle for recognition. Born into a family of wealth and culture, Morisot received the conventional lessons in drawing and painting. She went firmly against convention, however, in choosing to take these pursuits seriously and make them her life's work.

Having studied for a time under Camille Corot, she later began her long friendship with Edouard Manet, who became her brother-in-law in 1874 and was the most important single influence on the development of her style. Unlike most of the other impressionists, who were then intensely engaged in optical experiments with color, Morisot and Manet agreed on a more conservative approach, confining their use of color to a naturalistic framework. Morisot, however, did encourage Manet to adopt the impressionists' high-keyed palette and to abandon the use of black. Her own carefully composed, brightly hued canvases are often studies of women, either out-of-doors or in domestic settings. Morisot and American artist Mary Cassatt are generally considered the most important women painters of the later 19th century.

Here is one of Morisot’s canvases, entitled “The Cradle” (1872), very apt for Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mums!