Saturday 28 March 2009


“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” - Ovid

Saturday night and the end of a long and tiring week. This will definitely be a microblog, with a wonderful song by Clannad, “Theme from Harry's Game”, covered by Órla Fallon. Need it to relax by…

Friday 27 March 2009


“One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” – English Proverb's+meat+is+another+man's+poison

I was in Brisbane all day today for work, flying in early morning and coming back late at night. It makes for a very long day, but I prefer to come back to my own bed and if everything turns out well, like today, it makes it worthwhile.

The results of a USA study that was progressing for more than ten years were released last Monday. Apparently, people who eat more red or processed meat have a higher risk of death from all causes including cancer, while a higher consumption of white meat reduces these risks. The joint study was begun in 1995 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and seniors group AARP and it followed more than half a million men and women between age 50 and 71, who filled out a food frequency questionnaire estimating their intake of red and processed meats as well as white meats such as pork, chicken and turkey.

It was observed that 47,976 men and 23,276 women died during the period of time the study lasted. Those men and women who ate the most red meat (a median of 62.5 grams per 1,000 calories per day) had a higher mortality rate than those who consumed the least (9.8 grams per 1000 calories). Similar rates held true for consumers of processed meat.

In comparison to this, the people who ate the most white meat had a slightly lower risk for death than those who ate the least white meat. It was found that as far as the overall mortality was concerned, 11% of deaths in men and 16% of deaths in women could be prevented if people decreased their red meat consumption to the level of intake indicated by the lower consumption group (ie: 9.8 grams per 1000 calories). Similar benefits would result in cardiovascular disease mortality if the red meat consumption was decreased to the same degree.

Carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds) are known to form during high-temperature cooking of meat (eg, barbequeing, frying, grilling), the report stated, and meat is a major source of saturated fat, which has been linked to certain cancers. Lower meat consumption has been linked to reductions in risk factors for heart disease, including lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

These results have confirmed what has been known empirically for a very long time and also what the results of smaller studies previously showed. It still makes sense to reduce overall meat intake, preferring white over red meat and to also increase fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetable consumption.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday 26 March 2009


“No man ever wetted clay and then left it, as if there would be bricks by chance and fortune.” - Plutarch

A full day today with a whole day offsite workshop. Only managed to get home now. Getting up early tomorrow for a trip to Brisbane.
Micro-blogging (noun)
A form of multimedia blogging that allows users to send brief text updates or micromedia such as photos or audio clips and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group, which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, digital audio or the web.

ORIGIN 2006-7: From Greek mikros ‘small’ and web in the sense [World Wide Web] and log in the sense [regular record of incidents.]

Wednesday 25 March 2009


“Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.” - Hypatia of Alexandria

The 25th of March in Greece is a double holiday. It is firstly the Feast Day when the church commemorates the holy day of the Annunciation. It was on this day that the archangel Gabriel proclaimed to the Virgin that she would conceive and bear a son nine months later. Secondly, it is the National Day of Greece, the anniversary of the commencement of the Greek Revolution, which on this day in 1821 AD broke out. Through a concerted effort, the Greeks enslaved fro over 400 years managed to overthrow the yoke of the Ottoman Empire. This day marked the beginning of modern Greek history.

Greece is a Southern European country, a peninsula surrounded by seas, the Aegean to the East, the Ionian to the West and the Cretan to the South. It is a country of islands and mountains, hot dry summers and cool to mild winters. The fertile plains are few, most of the land being poorly watered and drained, and too rocky or mountainous for farming. Greece, nevertheless is one of the world’s largest producers of olives and olive oil with other agricultural produce also being exported to the rest of Europe.

It has an area of about 132,000 square km and a population of about 11 million. Athens is the capital city with other major centres being Thessaloniki, Patras, Volos, Larissa, Iraklion and Kavalla. Tourism is a major economic boost but the clothing and footwear industries also contribute. Since it gained its independence from Turkey in 1821 it has had a history of political upheavals. In the last few years, after it joined the European Union, the country has had to cope with a variety of issues including a massive influx of illegal immigrants, worsening economy, increasing national debt, terrorism, increasing crime and great political tensions.

The poem this Poetry Wednesday was written firstly in Greek and then translated into English. It tells the plight of the millions of Greeks of the Diaspora across the world who have two countries to call their own, or who maybe have none…


Κάθε βραδάκι που το λυκόφως
-το μενεξελί-
ουρλιάζει στο παράπονό μου,
πηγαίνει η καρδιά μου
στην Ελλάδα να πεθάνει.

Κάθε που η μοναξιά μου
-η γκριζωπή-
χώνει βαθιά τα νύχια της στα στήθεια μου,
πετάει η καρδιά μου
στην Ελλάδα να πεθάνει.

Όταν τά αλλόφωνα τραγούδια
-τ’ άχρωμα-
μες στην ψυχή μου δεν μπορούν να μπουν,
τότε που η καρδιά μου τη γλώσσα τους δεν την καταλαβαίνει,
πηγαίνει στην Ελλάδα να πεθάνει.

Κάθε που ο ήλιος
-ο κατάμαυρος-
βγαίνει το πρωί και μου παγώνει την ανάσα
πως να μπορέσει η καρδιά μου να τ’ αντέξει; Πετά μακριά
και στην Ελλάδα πάντα πάει για να πεθάνει.

Όταν τα φθονερά τα μάτια
με μοχθηρία με κοιτάνε, και τα στενόχωρα μυαλά
αδυνατούν να μ’ αγκαλιάσουν, τότε έρχεται η καρδιά μου
στην Ελλάδα να πεθάνει.

Και κάθε φορά που σπαρταράει η καρδιά μου
-στο γαλανό τον ουρανό-
νεκρανασταίνεται μες στο γαλάζιο…
Μα πάλι τη διώχνουνε κι επαναξενιτεύεται
για να την ξανασκοτώσουν τα ξένα δειλινά.

In Foreign Lands

When faint twilight of late evening
Cries out my plangent woe,
My heart will each time go back
To Greece to die.

Each dusk when my emptiness awakes
And sinks its sharpened claws deep into my breast,
My heart flies out
To Greece to die.

When foreign-speaking songs
Fail my soul to reach, and whose alien language
Cannot communicate with my heart, it goes
To Greece to die

Each day when the morning sun rises
-Jet black-
It chills my shortening, failing breath,
And my heart can’t stand it, it escapes always
To Greece to die.

When envious eyes
Look at me with hidden malice,
And closed minds can’t embrace me, my heart comes
To Greece to die.

And each time my heart trembles and dies
-In blue caerulean-
Attic sky, from death it’s roused, revived,
Only to be forced to leave its country yet again
And in a foreign land be killed each lilac-tinted evening.

Tuesday 24 March 2009


“The greatest wealth is health.” - Virgil

March 24th is World Tuberculosis Day and it is observed each year so as to continue spurring on the global fight against tuberculosis (TB). TB is a “forgotten” disease by many people living in Western countries as it has a relatively low incidence there and most people with it are treated early and effectively. However, in developing countries, TB is getting deadlier by the day due to its growing drug resistance and the fatal connection between TB and AIDS.

In many third world countries TB is a common and dangerous infectious disease and is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Although TB affects the lungs in most of the cases, the disease can also affect almost any other body system. Symptoms of TB include a chronic cough productive of sputum and blood, weakness, fever, night sweats and weight loss. Two hundred years ago, tuberculosis was one of the most feared killer diseases. One hundred years ago, people with tuberculosis were placed in sanatoria in order to prevent TB from spreading from one person to another and to help cure the sufferers through good diet, and rest.

A vaccine against tuberculosis, the BCG vaccine, which was developed in the early decades of the twentieth century was widely used for several decades in many countries around the world. This was never a very effective vaccine and provided limited protection to the infection. However, the vaccine together with improved public health measures, better diet and antibiotic treatment the disease was controlled in Western countries.

With the discovery of better, specific antibiotics, TB was controlled and for a time was all but eliminated. But with the emergence of HIV over the last 25 years, TB has returned and must be dealt with. In some parts of the world, HIV and tuberculosis are at epidemic proportions. The most current tuberculosis statistics are quite frightening:

• Over 400,000 cases of Multi Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB) are reported across the world every year with more than 100,000 estimated deaths
• 80,000 MDR-TB cases from India each year
• 64% of the TB patients are women
• Up to 80% of TB patients test positive for HIV/AIDS in countries with high AIDS incidence

MDR-TB is posing a challenge to modern medicine because of its resistance to two of the first line drugs which in the past were used effectively to cure TB (rifampicin and isoniazid). This drug0resistant form of the disease is caused by the spontaneous mutation of the bacteria on treatment. More serious is the XDR-TB (eXtensively Drug Resistant TB that is also resistant to fluoroquinolones and to the injectibles, Kanamycin, Capreomycin and Amikacin).

MDR-TB and XDR-TB are the biggest health hazards for people living with HIV/AIDS. With the social stigma attached to AIDS, detecting TB becomes doubly difficult. In developing countries like India patients stop medication for the following reasons: migration, alcohol, drug addiction, and sometimes due to violent side effects like vomiting that discourage the patient from further medication. Sometimes treatment is stopped after a couple of months, when the symptoms subside. Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course (DOTS) providers regularly track TB patients and encourage them to continue with the treatment till they are completely cured.

The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages governments and health departments to develop programs where the coordinated efforts by Health Care Providers, families and patients can help to completely eradicate TB. Health departments can organise effective campaigns to inform people about TB control and DOTS with a view to increase self-referral and facilitate detection of TB cases. They can enable patients (more so the vulnerable and marginalized ones such as women and transgender people) to access DOTS and other TB services. Also, it is vital to assure the quality of TB services provided in public or private enterprises.

There is crying need to stop the spread of TB and cure existing cases. The spread of drug resistant strains must be checked and a it is vital that a worldwide effort is renewed to seek new approaches, strategies and tools such as new TB vaccines for people of all ages, to protect against all forms of TB. With a number of global initiatives for new drugs and diagnostic tools along with broad community participation to eradicate TB, a world free of TB is a dream that can be realised.

Monday 23 March 2009


“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” - Eric Fromm

It was a little bit like a French film festival this weekend, as we managed to see three French films that a friend had loaned me. The offer was quite welcome as there was nothing decent on television (unfortunately this is now the rule, rather than the exception so we rarely watch TV). The three films were quite refreshing and very enjoyable.

The first is Claude Berri’s 2002 film “Un Femme de Ménage” (The Housekeeper), a romantic bittersweet comedy. It is about the messes we get ourselves with and without love, literally and figuratively. Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) has been left by his wife of fifteen years for another man. He lets his apartment fall into a state of utter disorderliness and it becomes dirty and messy. He hires a young housekeeper, Laura (Émilie Dequenne), with two-toned hair, rather banal tastes and housing problems of her own. Jacques reluctantly allows his housekeeper to share his bed, a victim of his loneliness and hurt pride.

Such an improbable relationship between the older, sophisticated Jacques and the young, banal Laura cannot work, but we hope that it does in any case. The film is simple and direct, no one is right, no one is wrong with both Jacques and Laura being perfectly honest with each other. In an attempt to test their love, they take a trip, Laura gets a haircut, and they spend their days at the beach. The ending of the film is not surprising, but it is rather gratifying. Jacques, who was cajoled into love by the young Laura finds her choice understandable but is grateful that his heart has been opened. This is a chic flick in a way, but also satisfying for men to watch, as many of us will be able to identify with poor Jacques on many levels. Also, it is not saccharine sweet, nor cloyingly romantic. We gave this a 6.5/10.

Incidentally, the director of this movie, Claude Berri, directed the very famous and excellent duet: “Jean de Florette” in 1986 and the 1986 “Manon des Sources”.

The second film we saw was the 2006 “La Tourneuse de Pages” (the Page Turner) by Denis Dercourt. This is a wonderfully dark and understated thriller about revenge. Mélanie Prouvost is a young and musically gifted butcher's daughter who has serious musical ambitions. She fails an audition for entry into a conservatory because of the behaviour of one of the judges, an egocentric pianist, Ariane (Catherine Frot). This causes her to give up her piano playing and grows up to become a clerk. Years later Mélanie (Déborah François) temps for a wealthy lawyer, Monsieur Fouchecourt (Pascal Greggory), and also volunteers to care for his son Tristan (Antoine Martynchiow) during her holidays.

When she goes to the château where Fouchecourt lives, she finds that her boss’s wife is none other than Ariane. She immediately sets out to gain the unsuspecting Ariane's confidence – easy, since Ariane has recently lost all her confidence due to a serious car accident and needs all the extra support she can get. Mélanie manages to become indispensable as Ariane's page turner for important concerts (not only in her métier, but also as a psychological prop. Mélanie also wins Tristan's affection and becomes important to Ariane in more subtle ways. The only person she doesn't seduce is the cool, aloof Monsieur Fouchecourt. Adriane and Mélanie develop a complex relationship, while the true nature of the seemingly sweet Meelanie is revealed slowly in all of its dark and malevolent colours.

The film is well-paced, acted and directed extremely well and the story is satisfying and involving, although one cannot make up one’s mind about the psychologically scarred Mélanie or the vulnerable and dependent Ariane. The music is gorgeous and there is an insight into the world of the concert pianist, in all its complexity. We gave this film a 7.5/10.

The last one we watched was another Claude Berri film, the 2007 “Ensemble, C’ Est Tout” (Hunting and Gathering – what the English title has to do with the film, I’ll never know – the literal translation is “Together, That’s What’s Important” which is much more apt). The film is an adaptation of a best seller by Anna Gavalda and I am sure that it must have disappointed the bibliophiles, but I thought that as a film this was pleasant trifle, a wonderful French bon-bon, light and airy with lashings of whipped liqueur cream and wrapped in fine dark chocolate.

The film recounts the story of four people whose lives blend and clash in a Paris apartment. Audrey Tautou stars as Camille Fauque, a waif who works as a cleaner (“Surface Engineer”!) who smokes a lot, drinks, but eats little. She lives alone in a small attic of an apartment block and meets Philibert (Laurent Stocker), a neighbour who suffers from bouts of anxiety and stutters badly. He improbably wishes to leave his souvenir shop behind him and become a theatre actor. Philibert's housemate Franck (Guillaume Canet) is a chef who lives hard and fast, and whose only care is the welfare of his grandmother Paulette (Francoise Bertin), an old woman who fears old age and hates her dependency on others.

The film has hardly any surprises and is a modern-day fairy tale, a delicious romantic comedy that works because its heroes and heroines are ordinary people with quite ordinary problems, modest ambitions and the universal human need to love and be loved. The way in which each of these people overcomes their fears, their frustrations, the way that they dispense with their psychological baggage is what makes the film engaging and eminently watchable.

The acting is very good (Philibert is a joy to watch!), the direction light-handed and discreet, while the music and cinematography seamless and unnoticeable (in the best sense of the word)! The film rated a 7/10.

Sunday 22 March 2009


“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.” - Elizabeth Lawrence

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) was born into a lineage of gifted painters, potters, musicians and architects, to become the most celebrated member, in Australia’s cultural history, of that artistic family. After spending his youth painting idyllic impressionist landscapes and portraits of the places and people that surrounded him in the family haven at Murrumbeena in Victoria, the onset of WWII was the catalyst for the dramatic shift towards the highly expressive and personal style, which characterised his painting from during the 1940s onwards.

Influential in Boyd's development were artists associated with art patrons, John and Sunday Reed such as Nolan, Tucker, Perceval and Bergner. Boyd’s images of the deprivation of modern urban society in the war years, infused thematically with Old Testament narrative, was influenced by German Expressionism, Surrealism and the northern European painting tradition. His explorations as a painter-ceramicist yielded a series of monumentally conceived terracotta masterpieces.

In the 1950s his poetic depiction of the luminous Wimmera landscape transformed the surface of his paintings with the rich combination of oil, tempera and resin, reflecting his constant experimentation with differing materials and modes of expression. Following his move to England in 1959 where he achieved significant success, Boyd began to explore the medium of printmaking, producing etchings, lithographs and illustrated books. In 1979 the artist purchased a property on the Shoalhaven River where his depictions of the infinite variety of this magnificent landscape fuelled his artistic imagination until his death in 1999.

Here is “Wimmera Landscape” ca1975, which is an exceptional painting of one of Boyd’s most important landscape series: The Wimmera region of Western Victoria. 

The wind began to rock the grass
With threatening tunes and low,
He flung a menace at the earth,
A menace at the sky.

The leaves unhooked themselves from trees
And started all abroad;
The dust did scoop itself like hands
And threw away the road.

The wagons quickened on the streets,
The thunder hurried slow;
The lightning showed a yellow beak,
And then a livid claw.

The birds put up the bars to nests,
The cattle fled to barns;
There came one drop of giant rain,
And then, as if the hands

That held the dams had parted hold,
The waters wrecked the sky,
But overlooked my father’s house
Just quartering a tree.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)