Saturday 11 April 2009


“The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” - Seneca

For Song Saturday today, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750). It is from his Cantata for the First Day of Easter: “Christ lag in Todes Banden” (BWV 4; Christ Lay in Death’s Bonds).
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra - Ton Koopman, Director

4. Versus 3: Choral Tenor
Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn,
An unser Statt ist kommen
Und hat die Sünde weggetan,
Damit dem Tod genommen
All sein Recht und sein Gewalt,
Da bleibet nichts denn Tods Gestalt,
Den Stach'l hat er verloren.

4. Verse 3: Chorale Tenor
Jesus Christ, God's son,
Has come to our abode,
And has done away with all sin,
Thereby taking from death
All his rights and power,
Nothing remains but death's form;
Death has lost his sting.

If you can, listen to the whole of this cantata, it is truly marvellous!

The image above is Bernaert van Orley’s centre panel of Christ’s entombment from the Haneton Triptych (Oil on oak, 87 x 108,5 cm; Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels).

Friday 10 April 2009


“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.” - Martin Luther

It is Good Friday today for the Western Churches and Easter Weekend tomorrow. Greek Easter is one week later this year, creating once again quite a disruption. It is a pity that the Eastern and Western churches still disagree on this after so many centuries since the schism. As if the world didn’t have greater problems to resolve, but rather watch the bickering of the clergy over vernal equinoxes, Julian and Gregorian calendars and what full moon to accept as the one that is the Paschal one. Oh for good sense to prevail! And even better sense would dictate that Easter be celebrated as a fixed feast, on the third Sunday of April every year!

Still, I suppose one may celebrate twice and partake of the traditions of both churches. It may be a small revenge, this tactic. I spent the whole day at home today working away on my book. I managed to get a lot done, but there is more to do, yet. Tradition in the West says today that we consume hot cross buns. Hot Cross Buns are baked on this day in memory of the kindly woman who gave Christ a loaf of bread on His way to Calvary. It is said that no bread or buns baked on this day will grow mouldy.

Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs
With one-a-penny, two-a-penny, Hot Cross Buns
Whose virtue if you’ll believe what’s said
They’ll not grow mouldy like ordinary bread.

Hot Cross Buns protect sailors from shipwreck and houses from fire. Good Friday bread should be dried and kept for if is soaked in milk and consumed will cure all sorts of stomach ailments. Russian tradition and religious observance forbid baking on Good Friday.

Traditionally, fish is consumed on this day and this is even something that here in Australia many people still maintain as a tradition, even though they may not be religious. In fact, very often on many another Friday, the fish eating tradition remains and quite a few people will go and buy fish and chips routinely on Friday nights.

I hope you had a peaceful and relaxing day today and if you are celebrating Easter over this weekend, have a Happy Easter!

Thursday 9 April 2009


“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” - André Gide

Almost everyone in the world has a fear or two of one kind or another. However, it is relatively few that suffer from a true phobia, which is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. Some people really dread something so much that their whole life becomes a nightmare as they try to avoid confronting this phobia of theirs. Less common is the condition of polyphobia, which means to have more than one irrational fear. Extremely rare, but quite bizarre is the person who suffers from an antinomial phobia. For example, vestiophobia (fear of clothes) and gymnophobia (fear of nudity), or another example, scotophobia (fear of darkness) and photophobia (fear of light).

Some phobias have been with mankind ever since it evolved with a mind to become irrational. For example, brontophobia (fear of thunder), acrophobia (fear of heights), and ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), ailurophobia (fear of cats), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), which must have haunted some people since the beginning of humankind’s history. On the other hand, new discoveries and technology bring about new phobias: Electrophobia (fear of electricity), motorphobia (fear of automobiles), and aviophobia (fear of flying). Nucleomituphobia (fear or nuclear weapons) developed quickly after the fateful detonations of the atomic bomb in Japan at the end of WWII, and proliferated during the cold war years. Cyberphobia (fear of computers) and technophobia (fear of technology) developed rapidly with the introduction of the personal computer and the plethora of devices that the new technology developed quickly afterward.

People have suffered through history from pathophobia (fear of disease), monophobia (fear of being alone), agoraphobia (fear of being in a crowd), and haemophobia (fear of blood). Some have been plagued through the ages by omiliophobia (fear of public speaking), algophobia (fear of pain), taphephobia (fear of being buried alive), or nebulophobia (fear of fog). Scholiophobia (fear of school), thalassophobia (fear of the sea) and triskaidekatophobia (fear of the number 13) have also been around for some time.

Pentherophobia (fear one’s mother-in-law), lachanophobia (fear of vegetables), arachidobutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter) and helminthophobia (fear of being infested with worms) are probably more of a worry than hippopotamonstrosesquipedaliophobia (fear of long words). Ichthyophobia (fear of fish) is probably more common than emmetrophobia (fear of poetry) and arithmophobia (fear of numbers) more of a problem than octophobia (fear of the number eight).

Phobias can seriously impact on a person’s life and cause great distress. Someone with chronophobia (fear of time) probably won’t be very punctual! A person with chaetophobia (fear of hair) is most likely bald, has no eyelashes, no eyebrows, and a well-shaved smooth body as well! Cibophobia (fear of food) could easily lead to anorexia. Clinophobia (fear of going to bed), scotophobia (fear of the dark) and oneirophobia (fear of dreams) may lead to problems with sleep, insomnia and psychological disturbances.

Psychological help is available to help people with all sorts of different phobias and psychiatric treatments may be needed, unless of course the person has iatrophobia (fear of doctors)…

Wednesday 8 April 2009


“If I know what love is, it is because of you.” - Hermann Hesse

I was up in Brisbane for the day today and it was quite a day! Worked non-stop for the duration of the trip and even more. There were a couple of important meetings to attend and some people at the ministry to see. All went well, so quite a successful trip.

This poem was written several years ago and was first written in Greek. Here is the English version.

My Gifts

Look at my outstretched open hand,
There is a red, red rose in it;
It is my heart, take it.

Look inside my clenched fist, hiding
Two diamonds, precious sparkling;
They are my glance, take it.

Look at your feet, what I lay down,
A green bough, fresh fragrant;
It is my body, take it.

Look once more in your deserted cage,
There is a white dove imprisoned there now;
It is my soul, take it.

And just when you thought I had nothing more to give,
My tears, yield like a salt water fount, love.
It’s love, take it.

Tuesday 7 April 2009


“Sickness is the vengeance of nature for the violation of her laws.” - Charles Simmons

April 7th is the day declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “World Health Day”. The celebration of World Health Day creates an international opportunity to raise awareness of important health-related issues, and each year a special theme highlights a current and topical problem worldwide. This year, World Health Day is dedicated to the safety of health facilities and the readiness of health workers who treat those affected by emergencies. Health centres and staff are critical lifelines for vulnerable people in disasters - treating injuries, preventing illnesses and caring for people’s health needs.

Health facilities for primary health care in communities meet everyday needs, such as safe childbirth services, immunisations and chronic disease care that must continue in emergencies. In a disaster or an emergency, the already fragile health systems are unable to keep functioning with immediate and future public health consequences. The WHO and its international partners are highlighting this year on World Health Day the importance of investing in health infrastructure. Forward planning and resource allocation can withstand hazards and serve people in immediate need. Health facilities are being urged to implement systems to respond to internal emergencies, such as fires, and ensure the continuity of care.

Wars, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, disease outbreaks, famine, floods, fires, radiological incidents and chemical spills all are emergencies that impact heavily on public health. Internal emergencies in health facilities, such as fires and loss of power or water, can damage buildings and equipment and affect staff and patients. In conflicts, reasons for hospital breakdowns include staff being forced to leave due to insecurity and the looting of equipment and drugs.

In 2008, a total of 321 natural disasters killed 235,816 people (a death toll that was almost four times higher than the average annual total for the seven previous years). This increase was due to just two events. Cyclone Nargis left 138,366 people dead or missing in Myanmar, and a major earthquake in south-western China's Sichuan province killed 87,476 people, according to the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). Asia, the worst-affected continent, was home to nine of the world’s top 10 countries for disaster-related deaths. Along with other weather-related events, floods remained one of the most frequent disasters last year, according to UNISDR. Conflicts around the globe have also led to great human suffering and have stretched health care services to the extreme.

Although only 11% of the people exposed to natural hazards live in developing countries, they account for more than 53% of global deaths due to natural disasters. The difference in impact suggests there is great potential to reduce the human death toll caused by natural disasters in developing countries. The key ingredient in these tragedies is human inaction and poor support of essential services and health facilities by governments.

We can all help to support better health care in emergencies. Wide support for safer hospitals is needed from all within the community. Partnerships between different sectors (including emergency services) are vital to ensure that health facilities receive priority attention when an emergency occurs; for instance, by safeguarding the water supply or securing access to hospitals and other health centres. Many people are involved in this already. Some individuals volunteer in health facilities, professional bodies encourage innovations and designs that make health facilities safer and more functional in emergencies. However, urgent action need be taken if unnecessary death and suffering are to be prevented when our hospitals fail in emergencies.

Governments, financial institutions, private and corporate donors, universities and training organisations should all be collaborating in ensuring that resources are allocated wisely, infrastructure planning and implementation of strategies are occurring in a timely fashion. Health facilities and health workers should ensure that resources are being utilised at the maximum efficiency, good planning and budgeting are occurring so as to ensure good emergency responses. Plans for emergency responses should be familiar to everyone and staff should not only be familiar with this plan, but should be trained adequately in order to respond effectively.

The World Health Day 2009 is quite appropriate given the recent events in central Italy where a powerful earthquake that rocked the medieval town of L’ Aquila killed about 200 people and left tens of thousand homeless. More than 24 hours after the quake struck in the early hours of Monday morning tens of people were still reported missing. The quake of magnitude 6.2 Richter damaged some 10,000 buildings, many beyond repair, leaving up to 70,000 people homeless, according to a government estimate. Such numbers are optimistic and conservative estimates.

Of the dead, about 39 were in the small nearby town of Onna, which had a population of around 250. The nearby villages of Villa Sant’ Angelo and Borgo di Castelnuovo were practically wiped out. In the wake of the tragedy, emergency services and health facilities will be stretched to the limit as the infrastructure will struggle to cope with the dead, the injured, the infectious diseases that may break out. Doctors treated people in the open air outside L’ Aquila’s main hospital as only one operating room was functioning. This highlights the WHO’s sensitisation of the issue of emergency and disaster and how resilient health services and facilities are in the face of such disasters…

Monday 6 April 2009


“Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.” - Gandhi

We watched a very good Danish film at the weekend, a comedy as black as they get and quite confronting. It was the 2005 “Adam’s Apples” by director Anders Thomas Jensen who also wrote the script. The film manages to be amusing and engaging as a comedy, but at the same succeeds in communicating a meaningful message to the audience, while being quite complex in its depth and moral questions it raises. In fact, the film’s central theme is the concept of good and evil and the way that different people view this concept and how they live their lives in the shadow of the choices they make.

The film revolves around Ivan, a priest living in an isolated region of Denmark and having under his charge various prisoners who have been released in order to serve some of their sentence in community service. There is an ex-tennis player turned sex offender and now obese and kleptomaniac; there is the alcoholic woman who is pregnant and wonders whether her drinking during the pregnancy has caused her baby to be congenitally disabled; the Saudi-Arabian robber with a penchant for shooting; and finally Adam, the latest arrival, who is neo-Nazi skinhead with a mean streak of violence who admits to being evil.

Adam is in complete contrast with Ivan, the priest, who believes that all is a temptation, that the devil is lurking behind all adversity and that the only weapon against this is infinite forbearance, faith and the goodness of God. Ivan is portrayed in a rather negative way by Jensen. For a priest, there seems to be little of love for his neighbour but rather a business-like attitude of helping others because his faith demands it. Adam observes Ivan and discovers his Achilles heel an takes great pleasure in destroying Ivan. However, as the story unfolds, it is Adam who unwittingly starts to care about his fellow-inmates and it is the evil, cruel Adam who is moved to acts of brotherly love.

The film relies heavily on biblical allegories (the obvious one is the apples of the garden of Eden and the attempts by Adam to consume them). The other is the Book of Job and Christian patience and faith, belief in God even in the face of adversity. The film moves easily from almost farcical, high comedy to darkest philosophy and deals with issues such as disability, abortion, gangland violence, gun culture, selfishness and altruism, faith and atheism. It is movie that provokes and goads, massages and tickles, shocks and entertains.

The cast does a marvellous job with Ulrich Thomsen giving an excellent performance as Adam as does Mads Mikkelsen as Ivan. Nicolas Bro, Ali Kazim and Paprika Steen are also perfect for their roles. Ole Thestrup is the broadly comical Dr. Kolberg, who plays the caricature of the insensitive doctor, who lacks empathy or other proper human feelings. The music is somber and suits the dark mood well, but does not detract from the comedic elements of the story.

It is definitely worthwhile seeking this film out and seeing it. However, be warned, there are some very violent scenes in it, which nevertheless do not seem to be out of place. It is almost in the vein of comic book or animated film violence, although blood and gore are graphically portrayed. I gave the film an 8 out of 10.