Saturday 13 December 2008


“Mine is the night, with all her stars.” - Edward Young

For Song Saturday, a song by Italian Singer/Songwriter Franco Battiato. A little reminiscent of a space opera, the lyrics suggest a science fiction scenario where interstellar travel has just become possible and humanity is beginning to colonise deep space. Although upbeat and hopeful, this song has a mixture of curious unease and a little melancholy as well. One is also intrigued with the poor captain of the third verse who will be exiled for unknown reasons…

Milky Way

We awoke even before dawn broke,
Ready to board an artificial satellite,
That would take us quickly
To the gates of Sirius
Where an experimental group
Was preparing itself for a long voyage.

We, from the neighbourhood of the Little Bear,
Are preparing to conquer interstellar space;
And we dress in light grey,
So as not to get lost.
We follow certain diagonal routes
In the Milky Way…

A captain of the central agency
Educated to exhaustion
Will quickly come to be exiled…
I prepared myself for the long voyage.
In which one may lose oneself.
We follow certain diagonal routes
In the Milky Way…

Friday 12 December 2008


“To change one's life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.” - William James

One of the duties that I have to attend to as the Festive Season draws closer is to host various Christmas parties and formal dinners that we organise in order to thank our staff for their contributions to our organisation during the past year. Today I have been in Brisbane, mainly in meetings all day and then this afternoon the final College Council meeting for the year. This was quite a large meeting with much business and it went on for over two hours. At the end of it I was quite out of breath and sounding a little hoarse as I had done much talking. This meeting was followed by a dinner in one of Brisbane’s fine restaurants at the Emporium Centre close to the City, adjacent to the new Emporium Hotel in Fortitude Valley.

The restaurant we went to was “Buzz” which is a comfortable, unpretentious, almost café-style restaurant. It nevertheless has class and a quiet appeal. The restaurant serves contemporary Australian food where the multicultural influences that have shaped Australia mix with modern touches and classic dishes from various parts of the world presented in a fresh way.

There were about a dozen of us and the service was rapid, with good attention to detail and staffed by experienced and discreet waiters. The décor and ambience were relaxed and sophisticated, with no pretentious overtones. The restaurant was busy enough but not overcrowded or noisy and we sat outside in the gloriously balmy evening under the almost full moon.

We sampled all three courses on offer and everyone was very pleased with the quality of the food. I was particularly pleased with my choices: For entrée I chose the porcini mushroom arancini, accompanied by exotic mushrooms and watercress velouté. The arancini were slightly overcooked, but they tasted delicious. The wild mushrooms, especially, were very good. For my main course I had the eye fillet steak, truffled mash, asparagus, semi-dried tomatoes with raisin and onion jam. I always have my meat well done and this can often result in a slightly dry portion. However, this was the best well-done eye fillet that I have had for a long time. The mashed potatoes were delicious and the asparagus were cooked to perfection. I wasn’t too impressed with the raisin and onion jam, but it was mainly because I like my sweets served separately to my main courses. The dessert was baba au rhum with poached pear and citrus cream and fresh strawberries, a little dry, but otherwise very tasty. The strawberries were ripe and sweet, a perfect counterfoil to the rich dough of the baba.

We had the Toolangi Reserve Chardonnay for the Yarra Valley in Victoria with our entrées and the Firegully Cabernet Merlot from Margaret River in Western Australia with our main course, both wines being excellent. At $90 per person, we found the meal and service quite good to excellent.

The highlight of the meal was the conversation with cultured, educated people where the topics varied from current affairs, politics and educational matters to travel, family, art, music, theatre and topics pertaining to our work (of course!). The convivial atmosphere of the end of year celebration was tinged with a little sadness for me. This always seems to temper my sentiments on such occasions and no matter how a good time I have there is always a sweet melancholy in the background that helps to make the happy occasion even more vivid, just as in the brightest most sunlit days of summer, the shadows seem to lend a special brilliance to the highlights. I can’t exactly explain it, or maybe I could but don’t want to talk about it.

In any case the evening was most enjoyable and was a happy and successful conclusion to a year’s of hard work. A small price to pay in order to express our gratitude to these people in the community and sister tertiary institutions that give up their time in order to sit in our Council meetings and contribute to the good governance of our College.

Enjoy the weekend! Do it now, utilise fully the essence of the good inherent in your life; the future is promised to none.

Thursday 11 December 2008


“The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.” - William Shakespeare

For Word Thursday today:

lunatic |ˈloōnəˌtik| noun
A mentally ill person (not in technical use).
• An extremely foolish or eccentric person: This lunatic just accelerated out of the side of the road.
mentally ill (not in technical use).
• Extremely foolish, eccentric, or absurd: He would be asked to acquiesce in some lunatic scheme.
ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French lunatique, from late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna ‘moon’ (from the belief that changes of the moon caused intermittent insanity).

The full moon shines outside the window tonight and its silvery sharp arrows penetrate through layers of curtain to impale themselves on flooring, bedding, hapless limbs that are in the way. Luna, the moon goddess, a manifestation of Diana the virgin huntress. Luna lent her name to the ancient belief in the power of the Moon to make us mad. Modern studies have associated full Moons with everything from extra insanity to traffic accidents. But the connections have been thin. Perhaps the most well-founded human relationship to the lunar cycle is the menstrual cycle of many women. Some studies have found weak associations to increased aggression, unintentional poisonings and absenteeism. But other studies have contradicted these findings.

In recent investigations looking at animal aggressiveness, one study showed that animal bites were found to have sent twice as many British people to the emergency room during full Moons compared with other days. But the other study, in Australia, found that dogs can be pretty nasty on any given day irrespective of the phase of the moon. Both studies were published in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal. So whom do we believe?

The answer may have something to do with climate, weather and human activity as a result of the influence of the full moon on people’s mind. In Britain the weather is less clement than in Australia, and people are confined at home more (and hence safe from dog bites). In Australia, the weather is kinder and people tend to lead more outdoor lives, full moon or not (and hence more exposed to dog bites). As the full moon tends to attract more people outside, and in Britain they tend to go out more during the full moon nights compared to the rest of the time, and hence they run a greater risk to be bitten around the full moon night. In Australia people go out more, interact with dogs more on any night and hence get bitten on any night, whether the moon is full or not.

I think that there may be an element of truth in the moon-lunacy connection. If the moon is powerful enough an influence to cause tides of the earth’s oceans, surely it must have some influence on the watery substance of our own bodies. There are many things that happen around us and in our own bodies that we still have no explanation for and the influence of the moon on our bodies and minds is one of these. Until we know, here are some known facts about the moon:

  • The moon is the only natural satellite of the Earth.
  • It revolves around our planet from West to East at a mean distance of about 384,400 kilometres (239,900 miles).
  • The Moon is less than one third the size of the Earth.
  • It has a diameter of only about 3,476 km (2,160 mi) at its equator.
  • It is only 1/81 as massive as the Earth and has a density of roughly 3.34 grams per cubic centimetre as opposed to 5.52 for the Earth.
  • The moon shines by reflected sunlight, but its albedo (the fraction of light received that is reflected) is only 0.073.
  • Its brightness varies through its cycle of phases primarily because of the roughness of its surface and the resultant variable amount of shadow.
  • The Moon rotates about its own axis in 29.5 days, which is identical to the time it takes to complete its orbit around the earth. As a result the moon always presents nearly the same face to the Earth.
  • On July 20th, 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon with Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin on the desolate lunar plain known as the Sea of Tranquillity.
  • The last U.S. mission was in December 1972.

Wednesday 10 December 2008


“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

The events in Athens still prey on my mind and they join other similar acts of violence and desperation around the globe that float in my brain like vultures. Humanity is becoming inhuman and we rush to our own destruction, like moths around a flame. My poem today was inspired by these fiery visions and is not a happy one…

And then the beast awakens, stirs,
It shakes and bellows loud,
Yelps, cries, like a hundred curs;
And even if shielded by a shroud,
Its eyes still burn with fury bright.

The beast awakens and it crushes
All resistance; logic is slain.
Death in its wake; blood gushes,
Plague, famine, panic, bane
Will cause the loss of light.

Black scrawny birds of sorrow fly,
And shrieks of misery resound;
The beast is quick, draws nigh
With claws clutched all around
A bloody sword that’s black as night.

Its footsteps leave a wake of fire,
Pain, fear, agony, tears, doom.
Repentance too late, the hour dire,
The sun has died, all is a-gloom;
The earth has sickened in its plight.

The beast moves fast, destroys,
Its purpose deadly as was prophesied;
Chasms gape open, an infernal noise,
As earth is gashed, as cities subside,
And terror reigns wedded with fright.

The beast within us stirs, it wakes,
And years of calmness, reason, die.
The demon that’s inside of us, shakes,
Our civilised existence to defy.

How easy in a moment’s fury to annihilate,
What took a century or two to build.
We kill the angels, holy things do desecrate
All that is innocent and pure, is killed.

Fire, sulphur, tar, mire, brimstone, blight,
We’re tortured by the demons that we liberate.
Wisdom wiped out, light gives way to night,
Apocalypse comes from within, such is our fate.

Tuesday 9 December 2008


“The keenest sorrow is to recognise ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities.” – Sophocles

It is with horror and disgust that I watch the news from Athens these past few days. During the previous couple of years, there has been an ever-increasing accumulation of explosives in the tinder box that is Greece: A volatile political situation, high unemployment, chronic disgruntlement with social and economic policies, inflation, high prices, low salaries, influx of illegal immigrants, unchecked crime, numerous scandals in government and church, the world economic crisis… The spark that set off the explosion of the recent riots was the killing of a 16-year-old boy by a policeman last Saturday in Athens. Alexandros Grigoropoulos was fatally shot by a police officer in Athens’ Exarchia district close to the Athens Polytechnic University after hurling stones at police at night. How the shooting occurred is unclear, but the two officers involved have been arrested; one has been charged with murder and the other as an accomplice. A coroner’s report shows that the boy was shot in the chest. The officers claim that the bullet ricocheted before hitting the boy.

The episode was the catalyst for widespread rioting, not only in Athens, but in most major cities around the country. Gangs of youths smashed their way through central Athens and Thessaloniki on Sunday and Monday. Shops, banks, apartment buildings and even luxury hotels had their windows smashed and burned in a night of anarchy and lawlessness as youths fought running battles with riot police. In Crete, Larissa, Chios, other towns, similar violent protests occurred. The increasingly unpopular Karamanlis government has been criticised as being a weak and powerless observer in these vicious demonstrations. Burning barricades, flames and clouds of smoke were mixing with tear gas used by police. Molotov cocktails joined flying stones and debris as they converted the centre of Athens into a battle zone.

The news relayed live and non-stop by the Greek satellite TV channel have created shock waves around the world amongst all ranks of the Greek diaspora. No doubt, this contributed to demonstrators entering and taking over the London and Berlin Greek embassies. They raised banners of support and the black-and-red anarchist flag. Most rational and civilised people whether Greeks or not abhor such acts of unrestrained fury and revolt. There is little public support for street violence or wanton destruction of property amongst Greeks, but within the Greek psyche there is a tolerance for demonstrations, and the right to protest is held in high esteem.

Anarchists are blamed for late-night fire-bombings of targets such as banks and diplomatic vehicles, which occur regularly in Athens, but these attacks rarely cause injuries. The anarchist movement traces its roots largely in the resistance to Greece’s 1967-74 military dictatorship and the small groups of “known-unknowns”, as they are called since they sport balaclavas, are behind most violent protests. The anarchists tend to support anti-capitalist and antiestablishment activities, and have long-running battles with police, which represents for them everything that they hate.

In the wake of the riots, over 30 police officers and riot police members have been injured. Millions of euros of damage has been done. Greece’s reputation as a stable democratic country has been further sullied. The message that is getting through to the international community is that it is a country of barbaric savages that respect no law, no common human decency, no code of civilised society. The images that have been transmitted to the word’s TV screens are full of savage, mindless acts of mass hysterics. These are no children of Socrates or Plato, but rather bands of animals that are bent on mindless destruction and brutishness. The episodes of genuine demonstrations over a heinous act have been overshadowed by acts even more vicious. Blatant disregard for law and order, wholesale destruction and damage to property, looting and violence for the sake of violence.

It is heart-breaking to see what was once a beautiful, peaceful city (and yes, maybe I am stretching it, as I refer to the Athens of my childhood of the early ‘60s) now becoming a shambles. A burnt out shell of a once great civilisation. A shadow of its former substance. What more can I say? Perhaps a song can sum up my feelings:

Αθήνα (1978)

(Χρήστου Γκάρτζου, Σώτιας Τσώτου)

Ξέρω μια πόλη που η άσφαλτος καίει
Και δέντρου σκιά δεν θα βρεις…
Μεγάλη ιστόρια, προγόνοι σπουδαίοι,
Λυχνάρι και τάφος της γης.

Θυμίζεις Αθήνα γυναικα που κλαίει
Γιατί δεν την θέλει κανείς.
Αθήνα, Αθήνα, πεθαίνω μαζί σου,
Πεθαίνεις μαζί μου κι εσύ.

Ξέρω μια πόλη στη νεά Σαχάρα
Μια έρημο όλο μπετόν
Οι ξένοι στόλοι, λαθραία τσιγάρα,
Παιδιά που δεν ξέρουν κρυφτό.

Θυμίζεις Αθήνα γυναικα που κλαίει
Γιατί δεν την θέλει κανείς.
Αθήνα, Αθήνα, πεθαίνω μαζί σου,
Πεθαίνεις μαζί μου κι εσύ.

Ξέρω μια πόλη στη γη της αβύσσου,
Κουρσάρων κι ανέμων νησί.
Στης Πλάκας τους δρόμους
Πουλάς το κορμί σου για ένα ποτήρι κρασί.

Θυμίζεις Αθήνα γυναικα που κλαίει
Γιατί δεν την θέλει κανείς.
Αθήνα, Αθήνα, πεθαίνω μαζί σου,
Πεθαίνεις μαζί μου κι εσύ.

Athens (1978)
(Music: Christos Gartzos; Lyrics: Sotia Tsotou)

I know a city where the asphalt burns,
Where you won’t find a tree to shade you.
Great history, even greater ancestors,
Light of the world, grave of the world.

Athens, you remind me of a woman crying
Because nobody desires her;
Athens, oh Athens, I die with you,
You die with me too.

I know a city in the new Sahara,
A desert made of concrete.
Foreign fleets anchor there, contraband cigarettes,
Children who do not know how to play hide-and-seek.

Athens, you remind me of a woman crying
Because nobody desires her;
Athens, oh Athens, I die with you,
You die with me too.

I know a city in the country of the abyss,
An island home to pirates and wild winds.
In Plaka’s neighbourhoods
You sell your body for a glass full of wine…

Athens, you remind me of a woman crying
Because nobody desires her;
Athens, oh Athens, I die with you,
You die with me too.

Sunday 7 December 2008


“Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” - Jessamyn West

Well, my computer is fixed - it turns out that there was a problem with software conflict after I downloaded an update for one of the programs I usually run every now and then, but which was not suited to the latest version of the system. The good news is, I even didn’t have to pay a repair bill (how good is that this day and age), and I lost no data! Nevertheless, the little incident served to remind me: Backup, backup, backup…

For Movie Monday today a film we watched over the weekend, which not only was very funny but was also poignant and quite confronting in parts. It was Frank Oz’s 2007 film “Death at a Funeral”. This is a British film with elements of classic English comedy mixed with a fast-moving French farce. The film explores some taboo topics relating to sexuality, death, religion, drugs, family, but does so in quite a light-handed manner. The language is slightly blue (unnecessary “f…” this and “f…” that) but one can overlook this shortcoming and concentrate on the dark humour.

The plot centres on Daniel, a young man, married to Jane, who still lives in the rather aristocratic family home with his parents, in the English countryside somewhere. When Daniel’s father dies, Daniel has to organise the funeral. He tries to do everything with as much dignity and decorum as befits the occasion, but fate has other ideas. There is a funeral director who makes a terrible mistake, the arrival of Daniel’s famous but selfish brother from the USA, his cousin's fiancé who has been given some drugs accidentally, a moron who lusts after the cousin, a handicapped and crotchetty old uncle and a mysterious dwarf whom nobody knows. And all this only in the first twenty minutes!

Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes do a sterling job of playing Daniel and Jane, while the remaining actors are extremely well-cast also and support the action admirably. The film won the audience awards in two film festivals (Locarno International film Festival and US Comedy Arts Festival) and overall manages to push the right buttons at the right time. The trailer for the film is available on YouTube.

I would recommend the film for a good laugh, but also be aware that there some scenes that would shock some people and the “colourful” language, I have already mentioned. Adult themes are depicted, so be warned this is an adult film, but quite a lot of fun. The 90 minutes pass by very pleasantly indeed.

Have a good week!