Saturday 16 January 2010


“The keenest sorrow is to recognise ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities.” – Sophocles

The devastation left behind the earthquake in Haiti is something that is tragic and extremely upsetting. The horror of the situation there is unimaginable and I feel quite powerless to help. I wish there were something more substantial I could do than handing over my donation.

"We have already collected around 50,000 dead bodies. We anticipate there will be between 100,000 and 200,000 dead in total, although we will never know the exact number," Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime told Reuters.

Some 40,000 bodies had been buried in mass graves, Secretary of State for Public Safety Aramick Louis said. If the casualty figures turn out to be accurate, the 7.0 magnitude quake that hit impoverished Haiti on Tuesday would be one of the 10 deadliest earthquakes ever recorded.

Three days after it struck, gangs of robbers had begun preying on survivors living in makeshift camps on sidewalks and streets strewn with rubble and decomposing bodies, as quake aftershocks rippled through the hilly neighbourhoods.

These three extracts from the news point out the enormity of the disaster and the vile side of human nature that inevitably shows up following any such disaster. Not only do survivors have to cope with the shocking desolation, but they also have to fend themselves against the monsters intent on looting, robbery and murder. As if the ruination wrought by nature were not enough, some devils under the guise of human beings complete the destruction…

I can only turn to Bach for comment on this tragedy.

Andor Foldes plays Bach's Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue in D minor.

Thursday 14 January 2010


“This is every cook's opinion -
no savoury dish without an onion, but lest your kissing should be spoiled, your onions must be fully boiled.” - Jonathan Swift

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the kitchen all alone and got the urge to cook. We had a tea-towel hanging up to dry and on it was a recipe which I had always noted but we had never ever tried. On impulse, after reading through the ingredient list, I decided there and then to try it as we had all the requisites:

Apple & Pear Chutney

    • 1.5 kg chopped cooking apples
    • 1.5 kg chopped firm pears
    • 500 g chopped onions
    • 600 g brown sugar
    • 1.5 litres vinegar
    • 2 tbsp chopped mint
    • 5 tsp salt
    • 2 tsp ground allspice
    • 1 tsp mixed spice
    • 1 tsp curry powder
    • 1 tsp turmeric powder
    • 1 tsp mustard powder
    • 15 g coriander seeds ground
    • 20 g grated fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients and simmer until thick. Put in sterilised glass jars and seal.

The result was quite delicious and was easy enough to make. Although chutney is considered as typically Indian (its name from the Hindustani chatni) is in fact a British specialty dating from the colonial era, just like pickles. Chutneys are put in glass jars and kept in the pantry like jams. They enliven slightly insipid dishes, mainly cold ones (chicken, fish, ham, leftovers). The sweet/sour/spicy/fruity taste may not be suitable for everyone’s palate and be warned if you’ve never tasted it before, this dish may be an acquired taste.

Wednesday 13 January 2010


“Whatever you condemn, you have done yourself.” - Georg Groddeck

The catastrophic earthquake in Haiti is dominating our news bulletins and once again the world watches in horror as the death toll climbs. At present it is feared that up to 100,000 people may have lost their lives when the magnitude 7.0 Richter earthquake flattened massive areas of the capital Port-au-Prince yesterday. The city is plagued by poverty and has many rickety buildings built to deficient standards, while in the slums, the jerry-built hovels adhere to no regulation and are not part of the city planning process. Add to that the proximity to the city of the major tectonic plate rift (the closest being about 15 km) and the superficial nature of the quake, and one understands the magnitude of the damage and the destruction caused.

The world has responded swiftly to provide aid and immediate help in order to save as many of the lives of the people trapped in debris and dilapidated buildings. The threat of aftershocks, some of which may happen at any time now and which may be as high as 6.5 Richter is another factor to consider. Time is of essence and real help is needed urgently to help the devastated nation.

In comments that add gross insult to the immense injury and loss that the Haitian people are struggling to come to terms with, American televangelist Pat Robertson has blamed the devastating earthquake in Haiti on a pact between the impoverished nation’s founders and the devil. Speaking on his television program The 700 Club, Mr Robertson said the pact happened “a long time ago in Haiti. They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon III [sic] and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. 
And so the devil said, 'OK it's a deal'. And they kicked the French out.”

Mr Robertson said after the pact, the Haitians “revolted and got something - themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.”
 Mr Robertson said the curse was evident when Haiti was contrasted with its neighbour, the Dominican Republic. “That island of Hispaniola is one island. It is cut down the middle - on the one side is Haiti, on the other is the Dominican Republic. 

Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. 

They need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God and out of this tragedy I’m optimistic something good may come.” Said Mr Robertson.

Mr Robertson’s outspoken comments have caused much controversy in the past. 

He was widely criticised for his 2005 call for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s assassination. He also said the 2006 stroke suffered by then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was punishment from God. He blamed the September 11 terrorist attacks on civil liberties, promised a disastrous tsunami in America in 2006 and a terrorist attack on United States soil in 2007. When both predictions failed to happen, Mr Robertson said people must have prayed to God, and “God in his mercy spared us.”

At this time of great national tragedy, in Haiti, where immense human suffering is evident in all of its awesome extent, comments of the type made by Mr Robertson are neither Christian nor helpful, in my opinion. Adding to the country’s woes, which include years of social unrest, crime, political tumult and natural disaster, this latest earthquake has made the Haitian people regard it as an especially cruel and incomprehensible event. It is fortunate that people who do advertise themselves as “Christians” as Mr Robertson does, have been propelled into action and are providing real Christian charity, rapid and decisive action and not hurtful and insulting words; help, not blame; comfort and not threats of divine wrath…

Tuesday 12 January 2010


“If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don't embrace trouble; that's as bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say meet it as a friend, for you'll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Our lives are a curious mixture of the external and internal, the things that we experience from without, and what we are within. We process and we balance, we mix and try to make of the mixture happiness, even in adversity. The measurements need be accurate for one drop too much or too little will make the mixture spoil and our world collapses around us. This is a poem I wrote as I recovered from my black mood of late…

My Bitter Blood

My blood is bitter, and it percolates though my flesh,
Making me twisted, rancorous, acrid;
My words astringent spilling from my dry mouth
Like falling, wilted autumn leaves.

My blood is acid, burning and eating my tissues,
Making of me an empty, burnt out husk;
My feelings ashes, my emotions charcoal
Like the forest devastated by a wild fire.

My blood is salty, and it hardens my body,
Drying me out, parching me, desiccating me;
My eyes unseeing, blinded, destroyed,
Like a withered mummy in a sarcophagus.

My blood is sour, and it makes my bones brittle,
Crushing, making them acerbic, dissolving them;
My resolve exhausted, my fortitude weakened,
Like a pearl melting in vinegar.

My heart only stays sweet,
Its dulcet beating unaffected
By bitter, acid, salty, sour blood.
Love still nourishes it, saves it from adversity,
And makes me live, still;
Even if my blood is poisoned from without…

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday

Monday 11 January 2010


“There is no such cosy combination as man and wife.” – Menander

You know about the musical, “My Fair Lady”, don’t you? It was even made into a film with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. You know, the one about “the rain in Spain falling mainly in the plain…” It is based on the George Bernard Shaw play “Pygmalion”. It is about the guttersnipe flower seller of Cockney London who is transformed into a society lady by a phonetics professor. There is a relationship with the Pygmalion of Greek mythology, hence the title. As you may not know the Greek myth of Pygmalion, here it is:

Pygmalion had some bad experiences with women and he came at last to abhor the whole sex, resolving to live his life as an unmarried misogynist. He was a sculptor, and had made a statue of a woman out of ivory, so beautiful that it resembled no living woman, so perfect was it. Pygmalion admired his own handiwork, and at last managed to fall in love with the statue. He would often lay his hand on it as if to assure himself if it were living or not, and could not even then believe that it was only ivory. He caressed it, and gave it presents such as young girls love, - bright shells, little birds, flowers, beads and trinkets. He put a coloured dress on its limbs, and jewels on its fingers, neck and ears. He laid it on a couch spread with expensive cloth, and called it his wife. He named it Galatea, meaning “milky white” on account of her lily-white ivory limbs.

The festival of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, came and when Pygmalion had performed his part in the solemnities, he stood before the altar and timidly said: “Ye gods, who can do all things, give me, I pray you, for my wife” - he dared not say “my ivory virgin,” but said instead – “one like my ivory virgin.”  Aphrodite who heard him knew the thought he would have uttered; and as an omen of her favour, caused the flame on the altar to shoot up three times into the air. When he returned home, he went to see his statue, and leaning over the couch, gave a kiss to the mouth. It seemed to be warm. He pressed its lips again, he laid his hand upon the limbs; the ivory felt soft to his hands. The statue was indeed alive! Pygmalion thanked the goddess and kissed his perfect woman. Galatea felt the kisses and blushed, and opening her eyes to the light, fixed them at the same moment on her lover. Aphrodite blessed the nuptials she had formed, and from this union Paphos was born, from whom the city, sacred to Aphrodite, received its name.

There are several cautions in these stories and their morals I’m afraid, are slightly immoral. All these stories are about manipulation and changing someone so that they conform with what we want, what we imagine to be perfect, what we need to satisfy our own selfish desires. In how many modern relationships would we find our partner acquiescing to our wants in this manner, willing to change themselves completely so that we conform to his/her ideal? Would we want a partner who is so malleable who is so much under our control? Is it a relationship or is it an enslavement? In this way both the Pygmalion myth and the Pygmalion play have disturbed me somewhat.

I now have cause to be disturbed even more. We are about to experience the Pygmalion legend in reverse, in real life! The real woman is becoming a statue! How? Well hitting the news lately (and the marketplace also, very soon) is Roxxxy, “the world’s first sex robot”! This is a full size doll specifically designed to engage in the sex acts of your fantasy – but there is more! It is a talking robot with a personality who knows your likes and dislikes and will even sense when it is being moved (it cannot move itself) and will respond appropriately when sensors in different parts of its body detect movement or pressure.

The robot is customisable to the extent of not only the obvious external characteristics like hair colour, bra size, height, etc, but also one may specify traits of personality, from “Frigid Farrah” to “Wild Wendy”. The robot will then respond accordingly, depending on the sensory inputs it receives and processes, true to its personality. The creators of the robot say that this is an important characteristic of their machine, which distinguishes it from the sex dolls that are already in the market. Their robot provides interactive sex, but also “more”, in the form of a “conversation” (if you can call pre-recorded phrases repeated ad nauseam a conversation) or even a “relationship” (now this I really object to!). However, no doubt there will be many men queuing up to hand over their $9,000 in order to purchase their own version of Galatea.

Roxxxy is only the beginning, as in the near future male sex robots will become available. As the technology improves, the life-like characteristics will increase in sophistication and the interactivity will no doubt become even more humanoid. Motion and artificial intelligence will compound the illusion so that in the near future we may see “robot companions” or “robot partners” marketed and no doubt widely used. We may even see humans falling in love with a robot! I have blogged about the topic of humanoids in a previous blog and I wondered about the legality of some of the activities that one engages in with a complex humanoid robot.

Are we to be grateful to technology for providing us with what our wildest fantasies can barely visualise? Are we to be grateful for the robot that will make prostitution obolete? Will such a robot be made available to the rapist so that humans do not suffer his violent advances? Are we to sanction the creation of child sex robots for the use of paedophiles? “Killable” robots so that the paranoid sex murderer may indulge his sick pleasures with impunity? Are we protecting society by allowing this to happen or are we contributing to its complete and utter moral, ethical, social and biological downfall (I can’t imagine there will be a sex robot that can become pregnant after having sex with its owner!)? Should we monitor the sex acts that are performed with each robot (remember the sensors?) and persecute “perverts”?

The whole topic has perplexed me and made me question deeply where we are progressing as a society. When the robots can walk amongst us and masquerade as humans, would we all succumb to the temptation of choosing a partner who not only fulfils our every desire in term of body type, physical traits and characteristics, who acquiesces to our every desire and whim, and who is the perfect partner in terms of sex, personality, conversation and also admires and “loves” us no matter how rotten a scoundrel we really are? This idea repels me and causes me to have great doubts as to whether long-term of our civilisation is possible…
(Picture is Paul Delvaux’s “Pygmalion” of 1939)
What do you think?

Sunday 10 January 2010


“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” - Lesley P. Hartley

We watched a classic old movie yesterday, the 1957 Walter Lang film “Desk Set” with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. This dynamic duo and real life “illicit” couple made several films together and was able to bring the marvellous chemistry of their real life onto the screen. Something which is not always the case (compare for example the lack of chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in “Cleopatra”). The movie was lightweight, enjoyable, fun and an insight into other times and other places – interesting how time changes a place so that it becomes almost unrecognisable! The New York of 1957 is another place to the New York of 1987 or of 2007…

I am sure that in a few decades old films will be widely used in schools to teach history, sociology, economics, science. They are already historical documents in their own right, but a well-made film conserves a picture of society as it was, it shows how people interacted, what their environment was like, their mores, their habits, their relationships, their beliefs, their fears, their joys, their ethical values. It is interesting also to see what emphasis was placed on dialogue, rather than special effects or convolutions of the plot. It is rare to see a modern film where witty repartee plays a central role in the action of the film.

The plot of this film revolves around a mysterious man hanging about the research department of a big TV network. This in itself is an interesting proposition as most people nowadays find this a wonderfully quaint notion: To have a whole department with many staff doing what a simple search engine like Google will do in seconds today. The man proves to be engineer Richard Sumner (Tracy), who’s been ordered to keep his real purpose secret. His task is to computerise the office with a super-duper (ginormous) IBM computer (using punched cards, now that’s antique!). Department head Bunny Watson (Hepburn), who knows everything, needs no computer to get to know who Richard is and what his agenda really is. The resulting battle of wits and witty dialogue pits Bunny's fear of losing her job against her attraction to Richard.

The tale of man versus machine is well told by this film and it makes an overwhelmingly positive statement in terms of who the winner is (or does it? And of course reality and the future has something to say about this battle – remember what I said about Google?). The fear of machines replacing people in their workplace has been with us for hundreds of years. During the industrial revolution anti-machine sentiment was raised high and it culminated with the Luddite movement. The Luddites were organised groups of early 19th-century English craftsmen who surreptitiously destroyed the textile machinery that was replacing them. The movement began in Nottingham in 1811 and spread to other areas in 1812. The Luddites, or “Ludds”, were named after a probably mythical leader, Ned Ludd. They operated at night and often enjoyed local support. Harsh repressive measures by the government included a mass trial at York in 1813 that resulted in many hangings and banishments. The term Luddite was later used to describe anyone opposed to technological change.

Most people would find this Luddite concept quaint, and who would, nowadays, give up their computer either at work or at home? We may have lost our old jobs, but we have created new ones to replace them. No machine will run itself – it needs human input at several stages of its operation. What computer will program itself or repair itself or build a clone of itself? We may have machines, but machines and technology requires constant human support.

Now back to the film. Lightweight it may be but nevertheless enjoyable. The acting is old fashioned, the script simple, but the interaction between the leads fantastic and the supporting cast well chosen (Gig Young, Sue Randall, Joan Blondell and Dina Merrill). The treatment of Bunny by her long-term lover (Young) is a sub-plot and may have many people today cringing at the way he mistreats her (but I guess, it still happens now, although I should hope not as commonly as it used to).

Watch it and relax – it’s bubbly, but it’s also good history and sociology!


“Hope, deceitful as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route.” - François Duc de La Rochefoucauld

The black mood has left me and today I felt much better. Sadness, just like happiness is fleeting. It a wise person who does not dwell to much on either one of these emotions… According to the Greek historian, Herodotus, the King of Persia once called all of the wisest men of the kingdom together. When they were assembled the king said that he wanted them to discover one truth “a single truth that will be true for all men at all times.” The wise men retreated and disputed among themselves. And after much time they came back to the king and told him they had his answer. When the king asked for this absolute truth, the chief wise man answered...
“And this too shall pass away.”

For Art Sunday today, an Australian artist, Charles Conder (1868-1909). Charles Conder, or ‘K’ as he was known to his friends, was the third of five children and was born on 24 October 1868 at Tottenham, Middlesex, England. He arrived in Sydney on 13 June 1884 and met with another great Austraian artist, Tom Roberts, in Sydney in March 1888. Roberts encouraged Conder to visit Melbourne and in the Spring of 1888, Conder painted with Roberts at the Box Hill camp. From May 1889 to April 1890, Conder lived at Eaglemont and shared the old farmhouse on the Mount Eagle estate with Arthur Streeton. It was here that Conder and his fellow artists planned the 9 x 5 Impression Exhibition, at which Conder exhibited 46 works. He returned to Europe on 26 April 1890, and married Stella Maris Belford in Paris on 5 December 1901. Charles Conder died on 9 February 1909 at Virginia Water, Windsor, England.

This painting of his, “A Holiday At Mentone” is a favourite of mine. It was painted in Melbourne in 1888, at the then seaside resort town of Mentone to Melbourne’s South. Today Mentone is a seaside suburb, fairly close to the City. This painting is suffused by harsh, bright, Australian sunlight, just like we had today (tomorrow we are expecting a top of 41˚C). It is almost surrealistic in its effect, given the Victorian seaside holiday dress, which seems hardy different to what they would be wearing in town. The man lying on the sand right at the middle of the painting has struck me as particularly odd and quite funny. The hats worn by everyone are also amusing and hardly the sort of headgear that would provide sun protection. The promenade along the sea and also on the raised walkway is what the painting is all about. One went on holidays to be seen and to see, and also it may have provided one of the few opportunities for flirting…