Friday 9 October 2009


“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The award of the Nobel Prize for Peace to US president Barack Obama has given rise to controversy throughout the world. The Nobel Committee as a justification for its choices, cited “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. However, even his staunchest supporters know that none of these dreams have yet come true. A prize for a dream and for a politician’s visionary and nebulous promises may be seen by many as hasty and ill-advised.

On the one hand it is reassuring to see the Nobel Committee choosing to reward an idea, an intention, a pipe dream, if you like. On the other one wonders if this is a much more canny decision. Is this award a means of keeping a politician honest and a good way to ensure that he delivers on his promises? There has been an enormous responsibility placed on the US president now to make his dreams a reality. If he does not deliver, then the outcry will be worldwide and the clamour much louder than that of the controversy surrounding his award.

Many opponents of the Nobel Committee’s choice are the usual war-mongering, pro-war fraternity who wish to see a US president reign by inciting fear and waging war as a means of preserving peace. They wish their president to be powerful and feared, rather than be seen as weak and pro-peace. They see the award of the prize to Obama as an affirmation of his socialist leanings and weakness in matters of international policy.

This view is diametrically opposed by another group of dissenters, who agree only on one point with the former group, and that is they concur with the error of the prize award to Obama. These latter objectors remark that “actions speak louder than words”. The prize should be better given to a peacemaker of action, someone who has worked actively and with the proven results of making the world a better place to live in. Who, for example, would object to the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize winners, the group Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders)? Was a Nobel Peace Prize better awarded than to this group of doctors who travel the world in order to help bring medical care to sick people irrespective of race, creed or political convictions?

I have mixed feelings about this year’s choice for the Nobel Peace Prize. I would rather have had a similar group like the Doctors without Borders be awarded. On the other hand, I sincerely hope that the US president will now feel the weight of responsibility heavy on his shoulders and realise his grandiloquent promises. I can only hope that the number the Nobel Committee has put its chips on to win, will do so – much is riding on it…

For Music Saturday, an apt choice perhaps, Gustav Holst’s “Venus – The Bringer of Peace” from his “Planets” suite, played by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Sir Colin Davis.


“Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites.” - William Ruckelshaus

A new national standard was introduced in Australia today assuring consumers that food labelled “organic” really is such. The standard that was adopted outlines the minimum requirements that are needed to be met in order get the “organic or biodynamic tick of approval”. It also simplifies the criteria and lessens the categories of certification from eight to three. The standard makes provision for production, preparation, transport, marketing and labelling practices and also requires the maintenance of strict records by producers and marketers.

The voluntary standard requires the organic label to be held off for at least three years after the required farming practices are adopted. Similarly the same period must be allowed for the use of organic or biodynamic livestock feed. This of course ensures that any traces of “non-organic” contamination are dissipated before the truly organic product reaches our table. Once these procedures have been carried out and once the certification is attained, the product can be certified organic.

It is hoped that this new standard will help the consumer answer this question: “How can I trust organic?” The new standard suggests that this will be easy as the consumer can look for a “certified organic” logo on the product to be absolutely certain a product is truly organic. Unlike claims such as “green”, “sustainable” and “natural”, which are often misused and falsely applied, the certified organic industry relies on recognised standards and most importantly independent auditing and certification to back those claims.

More information is available from the Australian Food News (AFN) site.

Thursday 8 October 2009


“Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.” - Jonathan Swift

The newspapers today are full of the public reaction to a TV show last night. The show was a blast from the past, the highly popular “Hey Hey It’s Saturday”, which has its second reunion special. The show was a fixture on Saturday nights in the 70s and 80s and its evergreen host Daryl Somers was a popular TV personality for decades. The show, which went off air in 1999, was resurrected for these comeback performances and this latest instalment attracted an average national audience of 2.3 million viewers (100,000 more than watched the first reunion special last week). The show obviously has nostalgia value for many, although personally, I was never a fan of this inane frivolity…

However, it appears that times have definitely changed and the show really overstepped the boundaries of good taste. In a segment of the show called “Red Faces” there is a talent quest-like competition and contestants front up to showcase their special gifts. The show was accused of being racist after a skit featured a group done up in black face paint (à la black and white minstrel show) re-enacting a Jackson Five song. The same group performed the same act on the show 20 years ago. Harry Connick Jr, was one of the segment judges, and he took offence at the act and gave it a zero. He said if the skit had appeared on television in the US, the show would have been terminated.

This sparked off a furious controversy here in Australia (and abroad, especially the USA!). Australia has been accused of being racist, backward and redneck, while Australia has said the people offended have no sense of humour, are over-reacting and are representing political correctness gone crazy. Anand Deva is the frontman of the skit, and he is a prominent Sydney-based plastic surgeon. He together with the host Daryl Somers apologised on Thursday morning, but said it was ironic that he’d been called racist, given his Indian background.

I seem to recall a 2004 movie called “White Chicks” in which two black men were made up to look like white, blonde women. This did not raise any ruckus and while the film was quite bad, nobody screamed racist or sexist or blondist. I found it an inane and unwatchable movie, just as the concept of the black skit on the TV show leaves me quite cold. However, the Harry Connick Jr over-reaction is also offensive and way over the top. I would agree that political correctness nowadays has gone over the top.

Some of the best Irish jokes are told by Irish people (who are successful, smart and resourceful), blondes tend to laugh most at blonde jokes (while themselves being very clever and astute), Jewish jokes are made up by witty, successful and entertaining Jews, Greeks take the mickey out of themselves because they have a sense of humour… All of course being done in good taste. There are crass and offensive jokes, and there are clever, witty, satirical ones. Harry Connick Jr has to protect himself from the backlash when he goes back home and his reaction is a protective mechanism. Had he reacted in any other way, he would have been in very hot water when he returned home.

I am a tolerant, non-racist person who comes from a minority myself. At school I was taunted and was the butt of racist remarks, so I know what it feels like. However, nowadays I think nothing of it and even if I come across a racist I quickly make it clear to them that they have the problem not me. However, I have heard some excellent jokes about Greeks and will often tell them myself while laughing at the exaggerated quirks of my ethnic group. Satire is a wonderful thing. Let’s not lose it in the name of political correctness.

I personally did not see the skit, but from the descriptions of it and knowing the type of show “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” was, I would say that the skit was not in good taste and would be closer to unacceptable than humorous. However, banning it or pronouncing it as a cause of axing the show to me is an over-reaction.

satire |ˈsaˌtīr| noun
The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
• A play, novel, film, or other work that uses satire: A stinging satire on American politics.
• A genre of literature characterised by the use of satire.
• (in Latin literature) a literary miscellany, esp. a poem ridiculing prevalent vices or follies.
satirist |ˈsatərist| noun
ORIGIN early 16th century: from French, or from Latin satira, later form of satura ‘poetic medley’ from Greek saturos, a follower of Dionysos, Greek god of wine and drama.

Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday

Tuesday 6 October 2009


“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

Finally got home at 1:30 am this morning after delays with connecting flights and delayed baggage deliveries. The time difference (Melbourne is three hours ahead of Singapore) helped with the late night, but it was harder to wake in the morning. Consequently, I was late into work, getting in there at about 9:00 am, instead of my usual 7:15 am. The weather here was cold and wet and the crispness in the air was a welcome relief from the tropical sogginess of Singapore…

The garden has started to bloom in earnest now and the irises, primulas, roses and jasmine are beginning to look glorious. Our native frangipani, Hymenosporum flavum in the front yard is in full bloom and the delicious fragrance of the blooms was a welcome in the darkness of the night as I turned the key in the front door. The grey skies this morning, the wet streets and the cold, crisp air triggered in my mind some memories. Passing by the Melbourne cemetery in the morning also may have helped in inspiring this poem that was jotted down on a paper bag, to be transferred here tonight.

Spring Funeral

Spring wakes deep in earth the sodden seeds
Making more acute my pressing needs;
The rain that gently falls will wash me clean
No more my painful memories will I glean.

I loved you such a long time ago
And yet I chose dreams to forego.

The greenwood leaves unfurl and open fresh
The breeze still cool, tempers my burning flesh;
Desires, passions, loves I bury deep in earth
Path chosen, heart dies, mind more is worth.

I loved you such a long time ago
But now allegro turns to largo.

As flowers fresh are laid by a new dug grave
All your thinly disguised betrayals I forgave;
The falling night will usher in the stars
Silence – except for mournful cries of nightjars.

I loved you such a long time ago
Now where to turn? To whom to go?

Jacqui BB is hosting Poetry Wednesday


“To get away from one's working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one's self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change.” - Charles Horton Cooley

Travelling back home today, but it will be a long haul, seeing how it is Singapore to Melbourne via Sydney. The trouble with Sydney airport is that:
(a) it is not a 24-hour airport and the last flight out is at about 10:30 pm, and,
(b) the international terminal is quite a distance from the domestic terminal, necessitating a bus trip.

Nevertheless, it will be good going back home, this trip was rather long and arduous…

Sunday 4 October 2009


“Our hearts where they rocked our cradle,
Our love where we spent our toil,
And our faith, and our hope, and our honour,
We pledge to our native soil.
God gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Beloved over all.” - Rudyard Kipling

I watched a movie at the hotel last night, which was pleasant enough although not great film-making nor was it an outstanding script. Nevertheless, it kept up interest and the lead was beautiful to look at. It was Paul Mayeda Berges’s 2005 film “Mistress of Spices”. It starred the famous Bollywood beauty, Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott as the romantic leads, although the chemistry between them was not all that great. Nitin Ganatra, Anupam Kher, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Zohra Seghal gave good supporting perfomances.

The film is based on the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and is a mystical, magical romantic story that plays like a modern fairy tale. We are first taken to India where a baby girl is born to a poor family, who only regard her birth as a future dowry-debt. However, as the child grows up, her parents realize that she has special powers that enable her to find lost things as well as foretell the future. Bandits learn of her existence, and in their quest for wealth, abduct her, but she manages to escape and lands on a shoreline where a woman is teaching young girls how to be “Mistresses of Spices”. She is taken into this group, and named Tilo (Sesame). She becomes a Mistress of Spices, and like all others must follow three rules for all her life: Look after desires of others; never leave the spice store; and never touch anyone else's skin. When she grows up, she is put in charge of a store, the “Spice Bazaar” in San Francisco. There she begins to dispense her spices helping people’s lives. We are immersed in her interactions with older Indian man called Dada, a man named Kwesi, a woman called Myisha, a taxi-driver named Haroun, the teenager Jagjit and his mother, as well as a man named Doug and later his girlfriend. She prepares special spice mixtures for them to improve their lives. Tilo soon begins to be attracted to Doug, breaking the first rule; she also leaves the store to visit Haroun, and she starts to feel - thus breaking all the sacred rules.

I was reminded a little of the film “Chocolat” with Juliette Binoche by this film. However, this film deals with the problems of cultural clashes and the spices are metaphor for the culture of the “old country” which one must compromise in order to live fully a fulfilling life in the “new country”. The conflict between duty and filial love, with the more egotistical desires of self-fulfilment and romantic love are contrasted. As Tilo begins to break the rules the vindictiveness of the spices is shown with not only Tilo suffering, but also her formerly happy customers paying the price of her non-compliance.

McDermott looks uncomfortable right throughout the movie and it is really Aishwarya Rai who carries the film, looking very luscious and doing much acting with her eyes and face. Those who are not fans of voice-overs may find the extensive use of this device a trifle tiresome, but I did not mind it too much. As most of the film takes place inside the spice shop (remember Tilo is forbidden to come out of it), the director makes the most of the rich colours and interesting shapes and textures of the spices. However, the close-ups of the chilli peppers were a bit hackneyed and overused after about three times…

The concept of spices being used medicinally and for mental problems is not too far fetched with traditional Indian Ayurvedic and Islamic Unani medicine using all of these spices therapeutically. Overall I found the movie a little too simple, its character development almost non-existent, the plot too thin, and the chemistry between the leads weak. However, it was pleasant enough to watch and if the book falls into my hands I think I would rather like to read it and see whether it is in fact better.