Saturday 8 November 2008


“I am,
a king,
because I know how
to rule myself.” - Pietro Aretino

It is timely perhaps to post this song up for Song Saturday, today. It is by the Russian/Georgian singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava (1924-1997). It is based on a poem by the French poet François Villon (born ca 1431). It is generally known as François Villon’s prayer and a translation runs thus:

François Villon’s Prayer

Before the earth stops turning
Before all lights grow dim,
To each one Lord, I pray Thee
Grant what is needful to him:

To the wise one a ready wit,
To the coward a horse, pray do
To the fortunate some money
But remember, I’m here too…

Before the earth stops turning
Of thy power without end;
To the one in want of power
Thy appointed portion of land.

To the one whose hand is open
Grant rest form charity,
A gift of remorse to Cain,
But also remember me…

O, Lord, Thou art all-knowing,
I believe in thy wisdom then,
As the fallen soldier believes
In Heaven he’s alive again.

As every man believes
Thy great word as true,
As all men must believe…
They know not what they do!

Before the earth stops turning
Before all lights grow dim,
And the fires are still burning
Grant each what is meet to him:

Grant to each some little thing
And remember I’m here too…

Friday 7 November 2008


“I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I must say that for the person who needs to travel often, airline frequent flyer lounges are a great boon. One does have to pay an annual membership fee, but it is well worth it even if one uses the lounge on 5 or 6 occasions in the year. I am a member of the Qantas Club and get to frequently use the club lounge wherever I travel as there are lounges at all Australian airports. Some international airports are also part of the Qantas Club and when one travels a lot it is gratifying to have a place where one find refuge in away from the usual mad rush of an air terminal.

I am in Sydney today for work and it has been a day of meetings, which overall went very well. However, there was not time for lunch and one can only have so many coffees during the course of a day full of discussions. The lounge at the airport at the end of the day has been quite a blessing. There different areas and one may choose a lounge where one can relax on easy chairs sipping a cool drink or coffee from the café and read a paper or a magazine; a couple of bars where complimentary alcoholic drinks are served; some snack and food counters where one may help oneself to food appropriate for the time of day; as well as airline service counters where one may get one’s boarding pass or book another flight. Needless to say that a business centre is always available with computers, printers, faxes, meeting rooms, free wireless internet and of course toilet, shower facilities where one can freshen up.

The food in these lounges is not a true, substantial meal, but one may eat very well and enjoy some delicacies that are representative of the better side of airline food. Most of the day there is soup available that one may help oneself to, with croutons or fresh rolls to accompany it. Creamy roast pumpkin soup is a favourite of mine, although as the year progresses towards summer one may enjoy spring vegetable, cream of asparagus or tomato soup. The cheeses on offer are usually very good, with tasty cheddar alternating with brie or camembert, or an excellent Australian blue. At lunchtime or evening there are various hot tidbits including mini quiches, sausage rolls, fried morsels of fish, chicken nuggets, bacon and tomato tartlets, sandwiches, a range of sliced meats, ham, smoked salmon, some vegetarian tidbits. There are always a couple of salad selections and various bits and pieces like nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, water crackers, rice crackers, etc, etc.

Once again it’s a case of being able to eat all sorts of things, without eating a plate full of a “proper meal” and in fact reach a level of satiety very quickly. I would much rather have this smorgasbord to choose from rather than a tray of rather uninspiring airline food on the plane. In fact when I on the plane, I decline the offer of food on board, having eaten to satiety in the lounge.

Watching the people in the lounge is a very interesting occupation. Mostly it is business travellers, but what a variety of them. The sleek well dressed executives with not a hair out of place, the middle management types, rather more casually dressed, the progressive creative types with that daggy, careless look that has cost a fortune, and occasionally the tradesmen with shorts and T-shirts, who nevertheless probably earn more than all the previous types mentioned. There occasional exceptions: The young families, the elderly couples, the solo young travellers, the “hangers-on” (one may bring one guest along with one’s membership).

The range of activity and inactivity is also quite vast. From the exhausted sleeping toddler in his mother’s arms, to the very relaxed businesswoman reading a magazine while sipping a glass of champagne in an armchair, to the group of executives watching the giant screen TV over a beer in a good mood because of a business deal success, to the young couple sipping coffee while gazing at each other’s eyes, to the frantic manager trying to get his computer to print a vital report, to the blasé creative department type chatting idly on her i-phone, to the rather overwhelmed elderly man who is obviously a hanger on, watching with incredulity at the busy goings on…

And the best thing of course knowing that it’s Friday afternoon and very soon there will be a call over the PA system informing you that your flight is boarding at Gate 23 and that in 70 minutes you will be home…

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday 6 November 2008


“Lovers of air travel find it exhilarating to hang poised between the illusion of immortality and the fact of death.” - Alexander Chase

Another trip to Sydney looms ahead tomorrow. I have an early flight to catch just after 6:30 am and then after a day of meetings, back to Melbourne at 6:00 pm. Commuting with an airplane rather than a train can be rather tiresome, but yesterday it took me 90 minutes to get home rather than the usual 15-minute train journey. The inconvenience and delay in getting home would have greatly irritated me and my fellow travelers, but once I learned the reason, I was very grateful that I was experiencing the delay and that I did get home at all.

As soon as I went down to the underground train station yesterday evening, where I usually catch my train home, I saw big signs advising passengers that the normal train schedules were disrupted and my line was closed until further notice. The attendants were not very helpful and only said that if I went down to the Flinders Street station I could get a bus that was replacing my train service. As this station is several blocks down, I decided to take the tram instead, a decision that seemed to be shared by many others, as the trams were packed like sardine cans. Add to that congested peak hour city traffic and a couple of delayed trams ahead of us.

I got off at Blyth St and caught the (also crowded) bus home. At home the explanation was awaiting for me on the TV news. Here is the gist of the story from the Herald Sun:

Aaron Langmaid
November 06, 2008 12:00am POLICE believe a man who died yesterday afternoon when he was hit by a train had stolen items from a car only minutes earlier. The 51-year-old Reservoir man was struck by the train at North Richmond station about 4.45pm. Police investigating the circumstances of the incident later revealed the man had broken into a car on Regent St before climbing an embankment close to the train lines. "Items stolen from the car were found with the man at the scene," police spokeswoman Julie-Ann Newman said. The man was taken to the Alfred hospital but died two hours later.

I was grateful to be home, grateful to not have to steal, grateful to be alive. Some may say “karma”. But is not death too severe a penalty for such a petty crime as stealing from a car? Who knows what drove this man to steal, what need, what despair or what compulsion? He may have been a hardened criminal, he may have not been. It may have been his 100th car break-in, it may have been his first. He may have been a loner, he may have had a family. What I know is he did not go home last night. Someone must have missed him. I was 90 minutes late home and someone was worrying over me, was relieved to see me home. What of his home? Who waited and waited and waited only to be called by the police later that night…

My mind now turns to the Bali bombers awaiting execution for their crimes. Rather than trivial, their crimes are gross and heinous and made even more ghastly and detestable by the rabid hatred that inspired them under the guise of religious zeal. Amrozi, Mukhlas and Iman Samudr were recently sentenced to death by firing squad for their role in the Bali bomb attacks in October 2002, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. As the Bali bombers approach the end of their lives their angry rhetoric has increased with a letter from all three urging their Muslim brotherhood to “claim war and kill” everyone involved in their executions, including the Indonesian President. They say they welcome their death as this will ensure their entry into paradise. As they wait to face the firing squad they are happy because they will die martyrs for their faith…

What does a civilised society do in cases like this? In most Western countries the death penalty and corporal punishment have been abolished. I am a believer in this. Conviction of criminals should be followed by incarceration and rehabilitation. Correction rather than punishment. Education and awakening of feelings of social awareness, guilt and remorse. Yet in such cases as these of the Bali bombers I am at a loss. How does one rehabilitate such monsters? Is a change of heart possible in this instance? At what point does one give up on rehabilitation and opt for punishment? What punishment is meet for such crimes?

If karma is indeed at play here, one would argue that these criminals have had it coming. But our civilisation recoils at the thought of the primitive sentiments of “an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth”. After all, the testament of old has been superseded by a newer one. Our society argues that a civilised person cannot stoop to the level of the murderer and commit murder itself as punishment for such a crime. It’s a vexed issue.

karma |ˈkärmə| noun
(in Hinduism and Buddhism) the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.
• informal destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.
karmic |-mik| |ˈkɑrmɪk| adjective
karmically |-mik(ə)lē| adverb
ORIGIN from Sanskrit karman ‘action, effect, fate.’

Wednesday 5 November 2008


“It is as hard and severe a thing to be a true politician as to be truly moral.” - Francis Bacon

The US rejoices as Barack Obama is elected its 44th President. A historic victory that carries with it the euphoria of success and the defeat of pessimism. Scenes reminiscent f the election of JFK all those decades ago. A nation’s hopes are renewed as what had seemed an impossibility becomes reality. Is this a new age dawning in the US? Can this really be the signal of a new maturity, a nation that has come to terms with its internal conflicts? A new-found tolerance and an end to centuries of prejudice?

My cynicism of yesterday is momentarily forgotten as I let my optimism take over in order to compose a villanelle honouring this historic win:

The Time of Change

The time of change is here
Awake, renew, revise,
I feel the freshness near.

There is no need to fear,
Look up with cloudless eyes
The time of change is here.

Smile brightly then, my dear,
Gone are the endless sighs
I feel the freshness near.

Sweet songs again you hear,
The truth defeats all lies –
The time of change is here,

Wipe clean the frown and tear.
As darkness ebbs and dies,
I feel the freshness near…

As we defeat night drear,
Our hope will climb and rise;
The time of change is here
I feel the freshness near.

I do not envy Barack Obama as he is inheriting not only a nation in disarray, but also a world that has been damaged to a point almost beyond repair. There is much work ahead of him and many obstacles in his way. He already has many enemies and his position is tenuous. He has promised much and in order to deliver his promises he has to do much in such a short time. He will have power within his reach, but will he be allowed to use it for the good of his country and the world?

Tuesday 4 November 2008


“What luck for leaders, that people do not think.” - Adolph Hitler

Today the nation stops for the horse race of the year: The Melbourne Cup. The first Tuesday in November marks this occasion, which has been celebrated since the nineteenth century all over Australia. Melbourne’s good fortunes built on the nearby goldfields ensured that the Melbourne Cup was a rich prize and soon its prestige and attraction went far beyond the shores of Australia. It is now well-known throughout the world and many a bet are made on the outcome of this race which is part of the Spring Racing Carnival here in Melbourne. I am not a betting man and even though most Australians “have a flutter” on the Cup, I rarely if ever do. Occasionally at work a sweep is organised, but I think everyone was too busy this year and I did not even enter into one of those today.

So now the Cup has been run and won and the Flemington Racecourse here in Melbourne must have been packed today as the weather was perfect: Warm, sunny with blue skies. I still have not checked to see which horse won or whether there were any “episodes” noted. I always feel rather sorry for the poor horses whenever I catch glimpse of a horse race. They are such magnificent looking animals that to get them to race and whip them into a galloping frenzy seems utterly uncivilised to me. But never mind, I am not a person to pontificate on such matters nor is my opinion worth much. The billions of dollars wagered today is proof enough of that.

Another race has been more on my mind than the Melbourne Cup. Two different kinds of candidates are in the race for the White House and the whole world is watching the neck to neck running of Obama and McCain. The prize is the presidential office and ostensibly the chair of the most powerful leader in the whole world. The President of the United States of America is truly the world leader par excellence as the decisions made in the oval office not only will determine the fate of the citizens of the USA, but through a web of intricate connections, the fate of every human being on the planet. Great power, even perhaps in this case, political omnipotence requires great responsibility. Government is a trust placed by the people on a few elected individuals and these individuals must be its trustees.

Is the President of the USA nowadays a person suited to this role of planet leader? The whole world has watched the last few presidents with disappointment as mistake upon mistake has been made by each of them and not only has their own country suffered as a consequence, but the whole world has felt the effects. Economic mismanagement, scandals, internal turmoil, social policy inequity, health system failure, foreign policy blunders, wars, trade bungles, industrial unrest, and now finally the economy meltdown. This is the time of decadence, when the whole world is crumbling and the people are worrying over the trifles they have been brought up to think as important. Is one man responsible for all of this?

I am personally rather indifferent to the outcome of the US presidential poll. It mirrors to a certain extent our recently run Melbourne Cup, except of course it’s a two-horse race. It hardly matters which horse wins, the gross majority of punters are big losers. The organisers of the race are the big winners. The horses will run as they are goaded by their jockeys. They have their blinkers on and the sweat runs off their sleek, beautifully trained, muscular bodies. The most they can hope for is for a good feed after the race, and perhaps a roll in the sand. The race organisers have the race planned and their bets are safe.

Whether Obama or McCain is in the White House next year, the USA will continue to be run by the organisers of the race. That is the nature of the capitalistic system. The people must have their race and their festival. They will shout themselves hoarse as they back their favourite. Most will lose, some will win but the race is rigged. The organisers can never lose, whichever horse wins.

The process of democracy will have been served. The President elect will be invested with the powers of his office and ostensibly he will be the most powerful person on the planet. Ostensibly. It’s funny how that word keeps coming up whenever I talk about politics. Ostensibly: “Apparently or purportedly, but perhaps not actually”… Who runs the USA? Who runs the world? Not the Democrats, not the Republicans (six of one, half a dozen of the other), not the congress, not the senate. It’s big business and the multinationals, it’s money. After all it is a capitalistic system. Ostensibly, there is democracy. But if you had to choose between the devil and deep blue sea, what would you choose?

Have you noticed that after the threat of communism blew over with the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the USSR, we have had to find a new threat to keep us living in fear? After the big Red Bogeyman died, we were kept ever on the alert by the big Muslim Terrorist Bogeyman. After the Cold War we had the War against Terror. We must always a have a Bogeyman, we must always have our champion to fight him and to preserve us from his clutches.

Watching the campaigning, I am amazed by the rhetoric of both sides. These people have been groomed, put through their paces, trained, just like the Melbourne Cup horses (but being humans they’ve been brain-washed also). They talk as if they really believe that they will save their country and the world from the current version of the Bogeyman. They have been given the chrism by their democratic process and their belief in their moral rectitude will install them as the world’s policemen. The US President, the world’s guardian will preserve us. And who will guard us from the guardian, that’s what I’d like to know…

“Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” -C.S. Lewis

Sunday 2 November 2008


“Faster, faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.” - Hunter S. Thompson

When I was young, I used to enjoy watching the 1960s TV series “Mission Impossible”. Just the sort of thing for a boy growing up in interesting times, where technology was beginning to impinge very seriously into our lives, where rockets were being fired into space, men walked on the moon, electronics was beginning to come into its own and where this particular TV series stimulated the imagination in a real hi-tech boys own adventure way. Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) as the head of a super-secret government agency (“Impossible Missions”) is given secret anonymous covert missions to complete. He and his team unmask criminals, rescue hostages and preserve the security of the nation. The vital ingredient on any Impossible Mission is that the mission must be carried out in top secrecy, often relying on high-tech equipment and elaborate deceptions…

Well, seeing how much I originally enjoyed the TV series I was more than a little suspicious when the Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” film came out in 1996 and did not want to see it in case it ruined my boyhood memories. However, the film must have been successful enough as it spawned a sequel “Mission: Impossible II” in 2000 and another one in 2006, “Mission: Impossible III”. However, this weekend just past was a “Mission: Impossible” Marathon as I bought the trilogy on Blu-ray disc, on special.

As far as the movies were concerned, they were typical action-packed thrillers with loads of special effects, blood and gore, chases, fisticuffs, stylized violence, and high tech stories. However, that special (almost cerebral) thrill which was in evidence in the original TV series was lacking from these movies. Tom Cruise gave his usual pedestrian performance complete with stock set of facial expressions and the supporting cast was up to the thrill-seeker audience standard. The second in the series was interesting as most of it was shot in Sydney.

Finally, about the technology: An LCD screen, some decent speakers, an HDMI lead and a Blu-ray player can give you a superior movie viewing experience at home. Both LCD screens and Blu-ray players have come down sufficiently in price to be affordable. When I first saw a Blu-ray disc playing on a high quality LCD screen I was blown away by the picture and audio quality! The sound quality and picture detail were superb and the motion was rendered without pixelisation and jerkiness. Definitely worth the investment if you do a lot of movie watching at home. The Blu-ray discs are still expensive compared to DVDs, but they will come down in price as more and more people demand them. However, I must warn you, once you have watched a Blu-ray disc, it’s hard to go back to the old DVDs…

OK, OK, I know, I’m a technology junkie!


“Why do you try to understand art? Do you try to understand the song of a bird?” – Pablo Picasso

A young painter whose canvases are full of brilliant bold colour, for Art Sunday this week. Her name is Eden Folwell. Although she paints portraits and nudes, her signature work is the expressionistic abstract, which is reminiscent of the fauves (e.g. Derain). The colours are jewel-like and intense and within the interlocking lines of geometrical shapes one may discern representational themes or maybe not.

This canvas is called “The Butterfly Effect”. More of Eden’s paintings may be found here.

Enjoy the week ahead!