Saturday 21 November 2009


“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” - Langston Hughes

After a spell of hot weather we have had some welcome coolness and rain today. As I write this I can hear the blessed rain falling outside and I can almost hear the garden breathing a sigh of relief. Today was a nice quiet day with some shopping, a trip to the library and then a quiet afternoon before going out to dinner.

We went to the Dalmatino Restaurant in Port Melbourne (, which is a Croatian eatery on Bay St, right in the centre of the prime retail strip. The food was fine and the service good, although the range of tastes on offer not particularly “chic” or “sophisticated” as is claimed on the website. Nevertheless the company is what makes a good dinner for me and the food is of secondary importance.

Seeing the rain is falling, how about some rainy Chopin for Song Saturday? Here is the “Raindrop” Prélude in D Flat.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday 20 November 2009


“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” - Rabindranath Tagore

Today is Universal Children’s Day, as deemed by UNICEF and the General Assembly of the UN. By resolution 836(IX) of the 14th of December 1954, the General Assembly recommended that all countries institute a Universal Children’s Day, to be observed as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children. It recommended that the Day was to be observed also as a day of various activities devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the Charter and to promote the welfare of children of the world. The Assembly suggested to governments that the Day be observed on the date and in the way which each considers appropriate. The date of 20th November, marks the day on which the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, in 1989.

While it may seem impossible to us nowadays not to recognise those years of youth when one was free to play with friends, be mischievous without any real adult culpability, and eat sweets and drink soft drinks until we became sick, the concept of childhood is relatively new. Before the 17th century, there was no real concept of childhood as such. Children were regarded as “little versions of adults” and were at the very bottom of the social pecking order (and therefore were unworthy of consideration). As the concept of childhood emerged, children developed distinctive dress, music, games and entertainment, slang, and behaviours. Today some believe that the boundaries of childhood culture have once again become blurred. Neil Postman, for example, argues in “The Disappearance of Childhood” that the media has broken down most of the distinctions between children and adults. This may to a certain extent be true, but we have not regressed to the point of sending children back down mine shafts because they are small and nimble, nor do we consider children as the lowest of the low in the social scale.

Seeing that it is Universal Children’s Day today but also Food Friday, what better choice of topic than confectionery? Confectionery is a processed food based on a sweetener (typically sugar or honey), to which are added other ingredients such as flavourings and spices, nuts, fruits, fats and oils, gelatine, emulsifiers, colourings, eggs, milk products, and chocolate or cocoa. Confectionery, usually called candy in the U.S., or sweets in Great Britain, can be divided into two kinds according to their preparation and based on the fact that sugar, when boiled, goes through different stages from soft to hard in the crystallisation process. Typical of soft (that is, crystalline candy) is a smooth, creamy, and easily chewed texture, examples of which are fondants (the basis of chocolate creams) and fudge. Typical of the hard, non-crystalline candies are toffees and caramels. Other favourite confections include nougats, marshmallows, the various forms of chocolate (bars or moulded pieces, sometimes filled), pastes and marzipan, fairy floss (spun sugar, cotton candy), sugar-coated popcorn, liquorice, and chewing gum.

Sugar cane and sugar probably originated in India and the first sugar-based sweets developed in that country. Sugar as a sweetener spread to the West via the Middle East and Arabia. The Arabic word for confectionery was qandi, from qand, a lump of cane sugar. It came down to us, virtually intact, through successive European languages: Old Italian (zucchero candi), Old French (sucre candi), Middle English (sugre candi). In the 1800s, Americans called it “sugar candy”. Now, it’s just candy, completing the journey back to its linguistic origins…

History tells us that confectionery was always considered a delectable food item, worthy enough to be used as an offering to the gods of ancient Egypt. Ancient Greeks had a sweet tooth and good honey being readily available, was widely used in making all sorts of confections. Honey remained as the only readily available sweetener in Europe until the introduction of sugar in medieval times. Among the oldest types of candies are liquorice and ginger from the Far East and marzipan from Europe. Candy-making did not begin on a large scale until the early 19th century, when with the development of special confectionery machinery it became a British specialty. In the U.S. the candy industry began to grow rapidly during the mid-19th century with the invention of improved machinery and a cheaper process for powdering sugar. In 1911 the first candy bars were sold in baseball parks; by 1960 candy bars made up almost half of U.S. confectionery production. By the 1980s annual world production of confectionery totalled many millions of kilograms.

Confectionery in general is deemed children’s food par excellence, just as toys in general are labelled for child’s play. However, adults lead the way in candy consumption, according to the National Confectioners Association, adults over age 18 consume 65 percent of all candy produced and marketed (it should be noted that considerable proportion of adults play children’s games too!). Candy, nevertheless, spans a wide variety of sugary, gooey, fruity, chewy, crystalline, and chocolaty confections, and different categories and types of candy are more suited for, and prone to either adult or childhood consumption. Obviously, there is common ground also and some confections are equally enjoyed by children and adults.

I am reading an excellent book by Tim Richardson called “Sweets – A History of Temptation”, which is great reading if you are interested in confectionery and how it developed from a ancient times to the present day. And to round the blog off, here is a recipe for some candy:


1/2 cup of unsalted butter
8 cups of pure icing sugar
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
A few drops of different flavourings (e.g. cherry, orange, apricot, coconut, etc)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Various nuts, coconut, glacé cherries, candied peel, dried apricots, etc
Food colouring
Enough dark cooking chocolate to cover the fondants (about 800 g)

Line a couple of baking trays with waxed paper.
Combine the butter with 4 cups of sugar and the milk in a large bowl. Mix well, adding the vanilla extract and the salt.
Add the remaining sugar gradually, mixing with a wooden spoon and eventually kneading until the mixture is well blended.
Divide the mixture into as many parts as flavour you wish to have and mix into each batch a little of the appropriate colour, flavour and additive (e.g. red food colouring, cherry flavour and glacé cherries in the cherry fondants).
With clean, buttered hands form the mixture into small balls and place on the prepared baking tray. Allow to set for several hours (you may place in the refrigerator to hasten the process).
Melt the chocolate in a bain Marie. Using a dipping spoon, dip the prepared balls in the chocolate and allow to set at room temperature on the baking trays.

Wednesday 18 November 2009


“A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm. [The Zeroth Law of Robotics]”
“A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. [The First Law of Robotics]”
“A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. [The Second Law of Robotics]”
“A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. [The Third Law of Robotics]” – Isaac Asimov

The pace at which technology is advancing is phenomenal. If I think of the latest developments in the last thirty years, it is quite mind-boggling when  consider what has been developed. Think about it: CDs, DVDs, LCD TVs, mobile phones, smart phones, portable computers, biotechnology, molecular biology, the human genome project, advances in cancer therapy, leaps forward in immunology, optical fibre technology, nanotechnology, robotics, advances in solar energy, the emergence of the internet, virtual reality, telemedicine, digital cameras, laser eye surgery, GPS, digital media, cloning of mammals, IVF, WiFi, iPods, the large hadron collider, commercial space flights, etc, etc, etc…

It appears that the pace of technological and scientific development is ever-increasing. In ten years time the number of new developments will have greatly surpassed all that was developed in the past 50 years. New technology gives us the technology to advance even further into the realms of what we now consider science fiction.

The subject of robots has fascinated humans from ancient times. The ancient Greeks had many myths and legends about robots, one of the most famous being that of the guardian robot of Crete, Talos. Talos was a giant, bronze automaton made by the divine smith Hephaistos. Zeus the king of the gods, presented Talos to his lover Europa, as her personal protector, after delivering her to the island of Crete. Talos was given the task of patrolling the island, circling it three times in a day, and driving pirates from the shore with volleys of rocks or a fiery death-embrace. He was eventually destroyed by the Dioskouroi with the aid of the magic of the witch Medea, when he tried to prevent the Argonauts from the landing on the island. Indian mythology also refers to robots, as do other cultures around the world.

We already have robots that we use in our factories and the toy stores offer our children very sophisticated little machines that seem almost sentient. In the next ten years robotic technology will become so advanced and humanoid that we shall soon have them walking amongst us, looking so very life-life that we may have difficulty in distinguishing them from biological organisms. Cyborgs or electronically and mechanically enhanced humans may also be within the realm of the rapidly achievable.

While we may think that this technology will liberate humans and make our lives easier, it may also create a host of other issues. We may be grateful for an uncomplaining robot at our beck and call doing those all those tiresome, boring chores and coping with the endless drudgery without complaint. We may become dependent on the robot who looks after an elderly or sick relative with the knowledge and care of an accomplished doctor. We may even see robots that are manufactured to specification so that we find in them the ideal sexual partner who will satisfy our every desire and whim. An army of robots slaves to serve humanity…

However, as robots become more sophisticated and the circuitry that controls their actions and behaviour becomes increasingly complex through the use of neural networks and “learning” self-correcting circuits, we may see the development of robots that can “think” and “feel”. The concept of a robot that is indistinguishable from humans, then begs the question, does this robot have human rights? Especially so if the robot has developed consciousness and may be in a position to demand human rights!

Anna Russel at the University of San Diego has considered this topic and writes in an article titled “Blurring the love lines”: “While this humanoid is a giant leap forward technologically, if a self-aware, super-intelligent, thinking, feeling humanoid is developed, the legal system will be hard-pressed to distinguish this creature legally from human actors on grounds not stemming from a religious or moral prejudice.”

Once again, in the very near future we shall be faced with huge moral and ethical dilemma. We are still struggling to come to terms with unresolved issues surrounding IVF technology, the fate of human fertilised ova and embryos, human cloning, and we are still ambivalent over issues such as abortion, many human rights questions and unresolved issues over race, religion and sexuality. We are now poised to add to this burden another potential mine-field, about to open another ethical, moral and legal can of worms…

You’d better watch out, your sex robot could sue you for rape, represent themselves faultlessly in court and win the case, throwing you in gaol and taking all your property in damages!

robot |ˈrōˌbät; ˈrōbət| noun
A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.
• (Especially in science fiction) a machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions automatically.
• Used to refer to a person who behaves in a mechanical or unemotional manner: Terminally bored tour guides chattering like robots.
ORIGIN from Czech, from robota ‘forced labor.’ The term was coined in K. Čapek's play R.U.R. ‘Rossum's Universal Robots’ (1920).


“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” – Plato

For Poetry Wednesday I continue Sunday’s theme of Eros, the ancient Greek god of love (the Cupid of the Romans) and his misadventures. Theocritus (born ca 300, Syracuse, Sicily - died 260 BC) the Greek poet supplies us today’s poem, it being his 19th Idyll. Little is known of his life and his surviving poems consist of bucolics and mimes, set in the country, and epics, lyrics, and epigrams, set in towns. The bucolics, his most characteristic and influential works, introduced the pastoral convention into poetry and were the sources of Virgil’s Eclogues and much Renaissance poetry and drama. Theocritus’s best-known idylls include “Thyrsis”, a lament for Daphnis, the shepherd poet of mythology, and “Thalysia” (Harvest Festival), which presents the poet's friends and rivals in the guise of rustics.

The 19th Idyll below is a charming vignette that looks at love and the pain it causes, but introduces the contrasting theme of the sweetness of honey. Love as both the sweetness of honey and the sting of the bee is an image well-beloved of the poets.

The Honey Thief

(Theocritus - 19th Idyll)

A wicked bee once filching Eros stung,
As from hive unto hive the sly god flew.
Looting the flower-sweet honeycombs among;
With finger-tips all pierced he cried and blew

His hand, and stamped upon the ground with pain,
And vaulted in the air; to Aphrodite
Sadly he came commencing to complain,
“Although the bee is small his wound is mighty.”

Then said his mother smiling, “Are you not
A creature small just like the bee, I pray?
But ne'ertheless it must not be forgot—
The cruel wounds you deal—how great are they!”

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday

Tuesday 17 November 2009


“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” The Bible, Matthew, 19:13-15.

I am becoming increasingly appalled by the stories from all around the world that relate to little children being abused, mistreated, abducted, killed or otherwise going missing. What is happening to us as a society when we are allowing all of this to happen, where we read about such horrors with increasing complacency and inaction? Have we become so rotten to the core that we allow such things to occur? What we do is not enough, what laws we have in place are not deterring the offenders and the families into which these children are born are in many cases incapable of raising children, do not deserve to have children. We need a licence to own a dog, but any idiot can have a child…

The last outrageous incident that is currently in the media involves Shaniya, a 5-year-old girl in the USA who was sold by her 25-year-old mother for sex. The girl was found dead off a heavily wooded road in North Carolina by police, although it was not obvious how the girl had died. The horrors that the little girl endured in her last hours can only be conjectured and it makes me sick to even think about it. The police charged the girl’s mother with human trafficking and felony child abuse as it has become clear that little Shaniya was sold for prostitution.

The father of the little girl, who had raised her for several years, had decided to allow her to spend some time with her mother. This turn of events where the mother becomes worse than Medea, is shocking and horrifying. Medea killed her beloved children to exact her terrible revenge on the children’s father, the faithless Jason. This modern mother has committed a crime more terrible than killing her child. To sell her own child into prostitution is a crime more heinous than Medea’s.

We have become more tolerant of all manner of behaviour that in the past were considered crimes. Homosexuality is a case in point. Infidelity is another. Drug use is illicit but many a blind eye is turned on it, and how many countries around the world have discovered their police force or politicians trafficking drugs? White collar crime is more widespread and through special “deals” its perpetrators come off remarkably lightly. However, surely some things are non-negotiable! Cold-blooded extortion, blackmail, murder, slavery, child abuse, are things that every human being must naturally abhor, aren’t they? Is our society becoming remiss in its watchfulness over such crimes is our morality becoming more elastic? Are “human rights” being misinterpreted to such an extent that we are looking after the interests of the perpetrators of the crimes more so than those of the victims?

What can we do? What must we do? Harsher penalties have been suggested, and some people have even advocated that the death penalty be reintroduced. Evidence suggests that these more stringent measures are not effective deterrents. The change has to be more radical and involve society and the way that we live, the way that we are educated, the way that we are brought up. Values, morals and the ethic fabric of our society are said to have deteriorated to such an extent that the damage done to them is irreparable. A complete overhaul of the way that we live with each other, what are priorities are and what we believe in, seems to be in order.

The extreme fundamentalist religious groups, of course, will speak up and exclaim that this is what they have been clamouring about for decades now. Whether a Christian or a Moslem, a fundamentalist will find solutions to all problems in the Bible or in the Koran. God or Allah will solve all issues. However, it is often forgotten that many social problems stem from radical fundamentalism. Gross intolerance of other faiths, discrimination against other ways of life, persecution of the minorities, are all responsible for many social crimes. Needless to also remind people that in many cases, the criminal we wish to pursue, hides behind the mask of religiosity. How many born-again evangelists brimming with piety and goodwill have been revealed to be paedophiles and are thoroughly depraved? How many imams and proclaimers of Islam are guilty of crimes against women and children?

Most religions in their essence are similar in what they teach their adherents. Whether Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Hinduist, Zoroastrian or Baha’i, the basic message is the same: Respect other people; treat them the way you want them to treat you; make this world a better place not only for yourself, but for your fellow human beings; show compassion, mercy and charity. Surely, if we live according to what our religion recommends, then society would be a better place. But this is not the only answer. It is said that “God helps those who help themselves”. It is this maxim that we have to turn to in order to resolve our social problems.

The root of the evil is deeper than we think. When one speaks of the mores of a society, then one needs to look at the whole way in which a society functions, the way it views justice, morality, what it values and what it proscribes. How a society deals with the law and the law-breakers. What and how it rewards what it regards as meritorious, what a society regards as worthy and unworthy. What can be bought for money and what is priceless. Who it elevates to positions of power and influence, who its role models are, who its children aspire to imitate. What it values as worth preserving for posterity, what it regards as emblems of civilisation. What it views as “good” and what as “bad”, what as “ethical” and what “unethical”, what as “legal” and what as “illegal”, what as “moral” and what as “immoral”. What is an individual’s right and what is his obligation. Where the limits of liberty are and where the good of the whole has to become more important than the good of any individual component of the whole.

We have lost track of what is “good” and what is “bad”. As a society we have degenerated and we have misplaced our values. Is it a wonder that we are observing an increase in crimes against children, the most vulnerable and the most innocent in our midst?

What do you think?

Sunday 15 November 2009


“He who doesn't fear death dies only once.” - Giovanni Falcone

When I was young I used to draw pictures of townscapes with skyscrapers, intricate buildings, freeways, cars, people everywhere. Then as I was drawing I would make a comet appear in the sky, or a bomb, or fiery rain and I would start destroying the city. I drew bright orange flames that licked the buildings, great billows of black smoke that went up to the sky and then ensured that everything on the page was quite obliterated. All of this was accompanied by the appropriate sound effects that only a five-year-old can produce. I grew out of that phase fairly quickly, but I still remember the fun I used to have wreaking havoc in my worlds that I drew and destroyed – creator and destroyer at the same time.

We humans are a strange sort of animal. We can make something out of nothing, build enduring works of architecture, create works of art, plant gardens in the deserts. In the twinkling of an eye we can destroy all of that by pushing a button that drops a bomb, slash and burn in an act of vindictive vandalism or annihilate all in a spiteful act of rage or envy. Our dual nature exalts our spirit to heaven or damns it to eternal hellfire. What has taken our fellow human beings hundreds of years to raise up, we can unflinchingly obliterate within the blinking of an eye…

Destruction fascinates us, demolition may send waves of pleasure down our spine, extirpation may scare us, annihilation awes us. It is no surprise then that Hollywood panders to this side of our nature and regularly produces disaster movies that have as their theme death and destruction, the more massive the scale, the better. And I start listing some of the more famous ones (in no particular order, I’m just remembering some):
“On the Beach” (1959)
“The Day the Earth Caught Fire” (1961)
“The Apocalypse” (2007)
“Tornado” (2004)
“Volcano” (1997)
“Earthquake” (1974)
“Magma: Volcanic Disaster” (2006)
“10.5 Apocalypse” (2006)
“10.5 Apocalypse” (2004)
“Supernova” (2005)
“When Worlds Collide” (1951)
“Supervolcano” (2005)
“Earthstorm” (2006)
“The Day the Sky Exploded’ (1958)
“The Towering Inferno” (1974)
“The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)
“Virus” (1980)
“Testament” (1983)
“Airport” (1970) and all its numerous sequels!
“The Day After” (1983)
“Avalanche” (2004)
“Aftershock: Earthquake in New York” (1999)
“Pandemic” (2007)
“The Quiet Earth” (1985)
“Night of the Comet” (1984)
“28 Days Later” (2002)
“28 Weeks Later” (2007)
“The Mist” (2007)
“Disaster Movie” (2008)
“Armageddon” (1998)
“Doomsday” (2008)… etc, etc, etc…

I think I have made my point. All I can say is that there must have been an awful lot of kids out there drawing cities and then blowing them up when they were five. What made me remember all of this is a film we saw at the weekend and one which was just released and which we haven’t seen yet.

We watched Alex Proyas’ 2009 “Knowing” yesterday and this is a death and destruction disaster movie where the earth ends. It stars Nicholas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, and Lara Robinson, who do a fairly good job in a film that has a better first half than second half (strange thing to happen in a disaster movie where all the fireworks happen in the end). In this respect one may say that “Knowing” is a little atypical as far as disaster movies go, with a great deal of time spent in setting the scene, exploring the characters and making a moral point. The weakness of the second part relates to the explanations of why the destruction is occurring and in the “deus-ex-machina” (literally) solution to the survival of the human race.

It was enjoyable in a Sunday matinee type of way and for all the moralistic and philosophical pretensions of the film, it is a disaster movie in the final reckoning and is rather deficient in its catastrophic sequences in the end. One somehow expects more fireworks in a disaster movie, but what fireworks there were, were good enough.

The other film of course that everyone is talking about now is the 2009 Roland Emmerich move, “2012”. This sounds like a turkey of immense proportions, but I admit that I haven’t even seen the trailer. A lot of people were curious enough o go and see it, with a $65 million box-office bang in the USA, as per estimates, beating projections and the weekend competition.

It all goes to prove that as humans we love death and destruction. We are overwhelmed and awed by it and from the horrific news stories of real-life disasters to unlikely scenarios made into ridiculous movies, we watch…

What’s your favourite disaster movie?


When Love beholds my beard that flows
White as the ocean's snowy spray,
He flies me swift as the eagle's flight
On rustling wings of golden light,
And seems to murmur as he goes,
" Old fellow, you have had your day."

For Art Sunday today, a painting by Frenchman Jean-Léon Gérôme (May 11, 1824 – January 10, 1904).  He painted and sculpted in the style now known as Academicism. The range of themes in his art included historical painting, Greek mythology, oriental subjects, portraits and various others. Gérôme was very influential in his heyday and brought Academicism to an artistic climax. Here is his painting Anacreon (one of three he painted of the famous ancient Greek poet). The theme here is “Eros takes flight”.

Anacreon lived in the sixth century B.C. His poems are about wine, love and getting old. They are easy to read thanks to his humour, vivid expressions and originality. For hundreds of years after the death of Anacreon there were many anonymous imitators who wrote poems called the “Anacreontea”. They also had a lot of success in their time, which was about 400 years after Anacreon lived.

One of the best poems from the Anacreontea tells how one night, when a storm raged outside, Eros knocks at the door of Anacreon, saying he's only a poor child lost in the tempest. Anacreon who feels pity for Eros, lets him in. They sit down at the fireplace. After a while Eros feels better again, takes his bow, saying he wants to check it, and shoots an arrow in the heart of Anacreon. Eros laughs and says: “Have courage! My bow is fine but I fear you will be in love again soon!”

Here is the poem in its entirety:

Eros Benighted

'Twas on the midnight dreary,
When north stars faintly peep,
And man with toil grown weary
Seeks the soft breast of sleep—
The god of love surprising
Me, knocked at my barred door.

" Who is it ?" said I, rising,
" That lets me dream no more ?"
But Eros says, "I only
Am a belated child,
I have wandered cold and lonely
In moonless night and wild."

Hearing these words, with pity
My heart beat for his woes;
I ope the door—a pretty
Winged boy my lamplight shows.
Cold shiver after shiver
Ran through his body fair;

A tiny bow and quiver
The little fellow bare.
I soothed him with caresses,
Him by the fire I placed;
The water from his tresses
I wrung; his hands embraced.

But when he had grown warm, he
Says, "I will try my bow;
I fear by weather stormy
The string is injured now."
He bends it then and through my
Liver a shaft he wings,
He little cares although my
Wound like a gadfly stings.

Up leaps he laughing loudly,
A mocking laugh laughs he,
And flushed with triumph proudly
Says, "Host, wish joy to me !
My bow indeed intact is:
Good-by, for we must part;
But as for you the fact is
You'll feel pain in your heart."