Saturday 14 March 2009


“Where we love is home. Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

What kind of music would you write, if you were able to, to express the pain of a great loss? A loss of a loved one, a loss of a home, of a country? A loss of an ideal, of a dream, of an idea? For me, it is the following piece: Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, and in particular the second movement…

Dvořák composed the Quartet in 1893 during a summer retreat from his teaching post in New York. He spent his holiday in the village of Spillville, Iowa, which was home to a Czech immigrant community. The quartet was written around the same time as the New World Symphony, the masterpiece of Dvořák's years in the United States. Of his time in Spillville, Dvořák said "As for my new Symphony, the F major String Quartet and the Quintet (composed here in Spillville) - I should never have written these works 'just so' if I hadn't seen America." In the second movement, a listener may detect the melancholic longing of an African American spiritual, a sentiment with which the homesick Dvořák sympathised.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday 13 March 2009


“Drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness.” – Seneca

Remember once upon a time when cigarette smoking used to be widespread and nobody would even think of not smoking in public places (well, if not, maybe I am showing my age…)? Before my time, smoking was even recommended as healthful for some disorders! Some definitive epidemiological studies in the 1960s started to link smoking with some deadly diseases including emphysema, cancers of the mouth, throat, lungs, pancreas, cervix, bladder, it increases the risk of dying from a heart attack or from a stroke and increases the risk of getting gangrene. It interferes with normal functioning of almost every organ of the body, decreases libido and increases the ageing processes and wrinkling of the skin.

We are now aware of all of these adverse and often fatal effects and we have legislated to protect as many people as possible. Cigarette smoking in public places is now strictly regulated, tobacco advertising is banned in most countries, warning signs are printed on cigarette packets and smoking is on the point of becoming socially unacceptable.

Alcohol is responsible for almost as many adverse effects and yet it has been resistant to becoming quite so unacceptable as smoking is. “Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent.” This quote from Genesis 9:20-21, describes graphically alcohol production, its consumption and after-effects! Records of wine and beer making go back 5,000-6,000 years with the Mesopotamians and Egyptians both being well versed in the art of making alcohol in the form of beer and wine. Alcohol or ethanol is produced by the fermentation of carbohydrates by yeasts. It is one of most widely used of recreational drugs and is taken in alcoholic drinks to relax, reduce inhibitions and increase sociability. Taken just before food alcohol will increase gastric secretion and hence enhance the gastric phase of digestion. Alcohol in moderate doses is believed to be safe, and recent research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption will reduce high blood pressure and protect against atheroma.

However, the problem with alcohol is described by the maxim: “Too much of a good thing becomes a very bad thing”. In Australia currently, over 80% of the population report that they consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months, with 11% of males and 6% of females drinking daily. In terms of risk of harm in the long term, 10% of males and 9% of females drank alcohol in a pattern that was risky or high risk. In terms of short-term risk, 24% of males and 17% of females drank at least once a month in a manner that was risky or high risk for short-term harm. Around one-quarter of teenagers put themselves at risk of short-term alcohol-related harm at least once a month. The proportion was higher among females (28.3%) than males (24.5%).

Alcohol is the second largest cause of drug-related deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, after tobacco. Alcohol is the main cause of deaths on Australian roads. In 1998, over 2,000 deaths of the total 7,000 deaths of persons under 65 years, were related to alcohol. In 2004, the age standardised rate for male deaths due to alcoholic liver disease as the underlying cause was 5.5 per 100,000, compared with 1.5 per 100,000 for females. In 2004, the age standardised rate for male deaths with mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol as the underlying cause was 1.9 per 100,000, compared with 0.4 per 100,000 for females.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and disturbs both mental and physical functioning. Alcohol intoxication causes muddled thinking, slurred speech, drowsiness, poor co-ordination, dulled reactions, erectile dysfunction and amnesia. Disinhibition will lead to feelings of euphoria or misery, irritability and aggression, moodiness or extreme loquacity and sociability, depending on the underlying mood at the start of drinking. Severe intoxication may lead to coma and respiratory failure. Driving under the influence of alcohol or operating machinery is outlawed in most countries because of the extreme dangers associated.

Persistent alcohol abuse leads to physical, mental, social and occupational problems. Misuse of alcohol may take several guises: Regular but controlled heavy intake, binge drinking and dependence (alcoholism). The first pattern is the one that most often leads to severe physical diseases such as cancers of the oesophagus and throat, peptic ulcers, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, cancer of the pancreas, nervous system degenerations, heart and muscle damage and harmful effects on the unborn baby in pregnant women who drink. The second pattern is most common amongst young people, especially men, and leads mostly to social and occupational problems. The third problem of addiction is the most serious and leads to the most pronounced effects, physical and social. There has been some evidence to suggest that alcohol dependence has a genetic component, however, it is very difficult to disentangle genetic, environmental, psychological and social factors in the families where this propensity is apparent. Prolonged alcohol abuse often will lead to dementia.

In Australia, we may soon have health warning labels on alcoholic drinks, similar to what we see on tobacco products. Our Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has proposed this means of trying to curb the diseases and deaths due to alcohol abuse. However, the experience with cigarette smoking has shown that although a deterrent, legislation hardly curbs widespread use of these recreational drugs. The problem with young people abusing alcohol is extremely widespread and perhaps a more effective way of dealing with it would be with education programs and responsible drinking under supervision in the family. I was allowed to drink a little watered down wine with meals ever since I was about 10 years old. Subsequently, I have remained a moderate drinker, do not consume alcohol daily and when I drink I usually do it with my meal. I can only recall being drunk only once in my life (when I was in my early twenties) after which I resolved that I would never allow myself to ever again descend into that state, and it was a promise that I have kept. As Shakespeare says: “O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!”

Thursday 12 March 2009


“Murder itself is past all expiation, the greatest crime that nature doth abhor.” – William Goffe

The Alabama tragedy last Tuesday where Michael McLendon killed 10 people and then shot himself still has the small towns of Geneva and Samson reeling in the shocking aftermath of his crime. Some details are beginning to emerge about this “polite and ordinary” man’s life but the people who knew him are still trying to understand what drove him over the edge. The victims were identified as McLendon’s mother, Lisa McLendon, 52; his uncle, James Alford White, 55; his cousin, Tracy Michelle Wise, 34; a second cousin, Dean James Wise, 15; and his grandmother, Virginia E. White, 74. Also killed were James Irvin Starling, 24; Sonja Smith, 43; and Bruce Wilson Malloy, 51.

McLendon was briefly employed by the police department in Samson in 2003 and spent about a week and a half at the police academy, dropping out before he received firearms training. He then worked in various places including a metal factory, the place where he took his own life in the end. The people who may have helped us to understand the actions of the murderer are all dead. His family were all but destroyed, but also some strangers paid the price of being at the wrong place at the time and suffered the fatal outcomes of McLendon’s random shootings. The members of the terrified community are still considering the fact that any of one of them may have been victims seeing he shot more than two hundred rounds as he was driving through the town.

In the wake of this rampage, another meek killer, a 17-year-old boy dressed in black opened fire inside his former high school in southwestern Germany yesterday killing 15 people before he turned the gun on himself. His name was Tim Kretschmer and authorities have no idea why he did it. Some students died with pens still in their hands. Most were shot in the head. Most of the victims were women and girls. The father of the murderer was a member of a gun club and had numerous weapons at home, not all of them securely locked away.

It is suspected that perhaps, that the boy was influenced by the 2002 German shooting, when 19-year-old Robert Steinhaeuser shot and killed 12 teachers, a secretary, two students and a police officer before turning his gun on himself in the Gutenberg high school in Erfurt, in eastern Germany. Or maybe he was even influenced by the McLendon murders. In all cases some secret grudges worked over unbalanced minds may have been enough to make these people totter over the edge of reason and commit these heinous crimes.

Is it our society that is to blame for these random acts of extreme violence where people seem to lose control of their reason, their faculties, their normal patterns of behaviour? What is it in our society that cause these people to crack under the strain and become executioners of some crazed plan of punishment and retribution for perceived wrongs that have been done them? What can cloud someone’s mind so completely and utterly, what can make someone go berserk and open fire on people that until then he loved, or knew, or interacted with daily? In the case of the random killings, what madness possesses someone to kill utter and complete strangers, against whom he cannot have a grudge?

I am trying to rationalise the irrational. Surely these must be the works of madmen, it cannot be otherwise. What is it in our society that is driving these young men to murder and kill themselves in these copy-cat crimes? We are surrounded by violence and murder daily, but most of us are not as affected by it as these three examples of mass murderers were. We see violence and murder in our films, in our documentaries in our news reports. We read of it in our novels, our newspapers. Our children see it on TV, we are confronted by violence every day. Some people snap. How do we prevent it?

berserk |bərˈzərk; -ˈsərk| adjective
• (Of a person or animal) out of control with anger or excitement; wild or frenzied: After she left him, he went berserk, throwing things about the apartment.
• (Of a mechanical device or system) operating in a wild or erratic way; out of control: The climate control went berserk and either roasted or froze us.
• (Of a procedure, program, or activity) fluctuating wildly: The stock market's gone berserk, with sugar at 15.27 cents a pound.
ORIGIN early 19th century (originally as a noun denoting a wild Norse warrior who fought with frenzy): From Old Norse berserkr (noun), probably from birn-, bjҩrn (bear) + serkr ‘coat,’ but also possibly from berr ‘bare’ (i.e., without armor).

Wednesday 11 March 2009


“Night is the blotting paper for many sorrows.”

I am in Adelaide for a couple of days for work and it has been a very hectic day with rather a lot going on and also a function on this evening which went on until late. Coming back to the Hotel, the moon was up in the sky and the city was rather quiet and seemed quite forlorn – it is a midweek night after all. While walking back, my mind worked over some words: Woolen shrouds, liquid graves, scrawny branches and the passage of time as the moon described its endless circles across the skies…

So for this poem blame the moon and my late night walk…

The Moon

The moon with face of bronze and full
Ascends so slow from the horizon low;
Peeks through the wispy clouds of greyish wool
It climbs, it rises and assumes a silver glow.

The trees attempt to grasp the satellite
They stretch bare branches to the sky.
The wind that blows will usher in the night
While boughs turn into claws up high.

The moon impassive in the heavens reigns
And looks upon the city’s ghastly sprawl.
It reaches zenith and then beams it rains
To drown in river, wrapped in liquid pall.

Silver is now the swarthy face of clouds
The sparkling stars shine coldly down.
Streets empty, houses are enclosed in shrouds;
Cold earth, dead trees, a silent, ghostly town.

The hours flee, the minutes quickly fly
Bodies and loves, all passions will wear thin.
Only the moon forever turns her eye
As people die and lives anew begin.

Tuesday 10 March 2009


“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” - Mark Twain

In the aeroplane back on my way home from Brisbane I saw a young man engrossed in a copy of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. His face was quite a picture of concentration and engagement and it brought to mind the first time I had read that classic. I could easily imagine myself in his place, devouring the book, absorbing each word of the cautionary fable and being quite removed from the world surrounding me. Even the picture on cover of his book was the same as the cover on my copy.

It took me back, made me feel old but at the same time was also quite an uplifting experience. It made feel part of the human river’s flow, part of the ever-turning wheel, a small grain in the sands of time. Like me, the young man would age, would move on, lay aside his copy of “Animal Farm”, overcome his rightful indignation and slowly lose his youthful enthusiasm to change the world, settle down into a job, a career, a routine, and like me would some time in the future see another young man reading the same book, quite possibly with the same cover picture…

Time sometimes flows like a rapid mountain stream, bounding and leaping over rocks, sometimes slowly like a river nearing the sea amidst its broad banks. Time may rush torrentially and fall over precipices in a maddening powerful cataract or it may languish in some backwater, hardly moving in the cul-de-sac, but passing by nevertheless in all cases. We may behave as if we are immortal, but look at the hourglass and watch the sand grains falling down inexorably and we our end approaching.

We look in the mirror each day and we are oblivious to the marks of time on our face. Line by line on our face, white hair by white hair we become older and we accommodate ourselves to the ravages of time on our reflection. It only takes an old photograph to fall not our hands and as we look at ourselves as we were in the past, the realisation hits home that we have changed. And then we think back of how we were, how we thought, how we loved, how we believed and we realise that the change goes beyond our grey hairs and deeper than the lines on our face. We have changed inside as well…

Monday 9 March 2009


“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half 
shut afterwards.” - Benjamin Franklin

I have been travelling for work today and Brisbane was the destination. The day there was rainy and warm, with the muggy weather being a good enough reason for staying inside, as if the meetings scheduled weren’t reason enough. We have been trying to limit travel as much as possible at work, to economise on our expenses. The financial crisis is an ever-present concern at the moment everywhere. However, sometimes travelling is unavoidable and today was one of these occasions. Fortunately, the trip went well and there were some favourable outcomes from the travel, justifying the expense.

At the weekend we watched a couple of films as there was nothing on TV and we really needed to relax and veg out for a while. Last week was certainly a packed week so watching a couple of films was a good way of trying to get our mind off things and rest the weary bones. That’s not to say we didn’t work in the garden for a while and get a few chores done out and about.

The film I’ll review for Movie Monday is an interesting little film, which was pleasant enough to watch, but not exceptional. I could see it working better as a novel, although it was OK to watch while relaxing and not wanting to tax the neurons too much. It was Robert Benton’s 2007 “Feast of Love”. Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Billy Burke, Selma Blair, Alexa Davalos, Toby Hemingway and Stana Katic were an able enough cast and could cope well with the predictable plot and rather stolid direction. As a B-grade movie it was well made and maintained interest. However, as a work of art or ground-breaking challenging cinema, it was not amongst my list of great films of all time. There was a genuine attempt by the film-maker to try to make it a little more than it was, but frankly, it felt short of being an emotionally involving experience or a memorable, “must-see” film.

The plot takes place over an 18-month period in Portland, Oregon, and looks at several couples during the course of coupling and uncoupling, recoupling and becoming otherwise intermeshed in all sorts of relationships. The eight couples involved explore modern relationships and deal with some unconventional ones, or portray some problems that may be all too common in our society. There are themes of infidelity, lesbianism, romanticism, true love, sex, death, drugs, grief, parenthood, marriage, companionship, and the conflicting views of the perception of love, as either a mystical experience full of emotional fulfilment and the sole redeeming force of our human existence, or alternatively, the concept of love as a genetically programmed incitement to sex and procreation, in order to perpetuate the species.

Morgan Freeman, a good actor, has some difficulty with his rag-bag role and some of his lines full of homespun wisdom, often sounded somewhat corny and trite. Depends on your mood at the time, I guess. Greg Kinnear is cast as a great romantic, one whose ideal woman shares his idealistic view of relationships, love and marriage, but one who unfortunately chooses the wrong woman again and again. The young couple played by Alexa Davalos and Toby Hemingway were my favourite characters, the ones who were the most believable in all their frailty, innocence and vulnerability. They managed to elicit the greatest feeling of sympathy and interest in me and they were pivotal in the film’s plot.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to search for and find this film to watch it, but if it chances to be on TV or on cable and you have a spare 97 minutes, then by all means settle down, relax and let it wash past you. There are some redeeming features and as a B-grade feature, it has a good enough mix of comedy, drama, romance and action to keep you interested, but don’t expect a life-changing experience or an emotional tour-de-force.

(Just in case you are wondering what the other film we watched was, it was the 2002 action thriller, “The Bourne Identity”. Great boys’ own adventure, cloak and dagger stuff with a whole lot of mindless action, great car chases and special effects. Nevertheless quite watchable and engaging escapist nonsense with some great locations to boot! Told you this weekend was one for unwinding and relaxation…)
Enjoy your week!

Sunday 8 March 2009


“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” - Charlotte Whitton

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD is a day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women all around the world. In some countries like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. The first IWD was in 1911. It followed unanimous agreement at an International Conference of Working Women the previous year. Clara Zetkin (leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) proposed that every year in every country there should be one day when around the globe women's solidarity presses for equality.

Since its birth in the socialist movement, International Women's Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For decades, IWD has grown from strength to strength annually. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women's rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 1975 was designated as 'International Women's Year' by the United Nations. Women's organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour women's advancement and while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women's equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.

For Art Sunday, some women artists:

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), one of the first women to achieve artistic recognition in the male-dominated renaissance world of Italian art.

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) a significant impressionist painter, undervalued for many years because of her sex.

Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670) a painter of exquisite still life paintings in Baroque Italy.

Frida Kahlo
(1907-1954) the Mexican painter who glorified in the bright colours an highly decorative effects of her native country and whose symbolic self portraits express her life of pain.

Georgia O’ Keeffe
(1887-1986) an American artist whose flower paintings verging on the abstract changed the face of American art in 1920s onwards.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), a German expressionist painter whose tortured drawings and etchings bring out the pain of poverty, war and destruction.

“Grandma Moses” (1860-1961) the American naïve artist whose canvases enchant with their simple depictions of everyday life.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803) a French painter of portraits and historical scenes.

Judith Leyster (1609-1660) a Dutch painter of portraits, genre scenes and still life.

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) an American photojournalist and documentary photographer. A famous photograph by Lange “Migrant Mother” illustrates today’s blog and pays tribute to women artists and women the world over on this, their special day.
Happy Women’s Day!