Saturday 17 April 2010


“No man should escape our universities without knowing how little he knows.” - J. Robert Oppenheimer

I was in Brisbane for the day today as the graduation ceremony for our Queensland students was scheduled. I always enjoy traveling to our different campuses at graduation time as it is a pleasure to see our students’ hard work acknowledged and rewarded. The ceremony is always well-attended and is a happy occasion for both staff and students, who see it as a highlight of the academic year. The families of the graduating students are also there in full force and the happiness and pride in their faces as they see their students finally reaching their goal, is a delight to see.

The ceremony was at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane’s Southbank, which is a magnificent venue. It always tends to be a long ceremony, over two hours long as there are processions, speeches, presentation of certificates and testamurs, student and staff awards and responses. My speech is at the beginning of the ceremony and I always try to make it as uplifting and inspiring as I can. This year, my speech ended thus, befitting graduates who will go out there in the community to work in health care:

“…Always try to be good and do what is right, rather than what happens to be pleasant or convenient at the time. What is good and what is happy are the same. Be unselfish and help others because the world is full of suffering and to alleviate the suffering is the noblest thing that a human being can do. Should we be fortunate enough to be able to live our lives by these simple precepts we may confidently say that we have not lived our lives in vain.

Graduands, you have succeeded. I am sure my colleagues, your fellow students, you families and friends join me in congratulating you most sincerely.
It is now time for you to go out and be inspired to do great things…”

The ceremony finishes with the academic procession exiting to the strains of the organ playing the old 13th century student song: “Gaudeamus Igitur”. Quite fitting therefore to have this as the offering for Song Saturday!

Gaudeamus igitur
Juvenes dum sumus.
Post jucundam juventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
Ubi sunt qui ante nos
In mundo fuere?
Vadite ad superos
Transite in inferos
Hos si vis videre.
Vita nostra brevis est
Brevi finietur.
Venit mors velociter
Rapit nos atrociter
Nemini parcetur.
Vivat academia!
Vivant professores!
Vivat membrum quodlibet
Vivant membra quaelibet
Semper sint in flore.
Vivant omnes virgines
Faciles, formosae.
Vivant et mulieres
Tenerae amabiles
Bonae laboriosae.
Vivat et respublica
et qui illam regit.
Vivat nostra civitas,
Maecenatum caritas
Quae nos hic protegit.
Pereat tristitia,
Pereant osores.
Pereat diabolus,
Quivis antiburschius
Atque irrisores.

Let us rejoice therefore
While we are young.
After a pleasant youth
After a troubling old age
The earth will have us.
Where are [they] who before us
Were in the world?
Go to the heavens
Cross over into hell
If you wish to see them.Our life is brief
Soon it will end.
Death comes too quickly
Snatches us too cruelly
It spares no one.
Long live academe!
Long live the professors!
Long live each student!
Long live all students!
May they always be in their prime!Long live all girls
Easy and beautiful!
Long live mature women also,
Tender and lovable
Good [and] productive.
Long live the state as well
And he who rules it!
Long live our city
[And] the charity of benefactors
Which protects us here!
Let sadness perish!
Let haters perish!
Let the devil perish!
Let whoever is anti-student
As well as the mockers [perish]!

Friday 16 April 2010


“Youth is like spring, an over-praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.” - Samuel Butler

Autumn has come bringing with it delectable fruits and vegetables. The new season apples are delicious at the moment as are juicy blackberries, bright pumpkins and persimmons, sweet plums and pears. I had an apple for lunch today and it was juicy, crisp and rich with a fruity aromatic smell. The inclination then came to me to have home made Tarte Tatin at the weekend. We have a good recipe and it will be just the thing for weekend breakfast!

Tarte Tatin
Ingredients – for the filling
    10 crisp eating apples
    Juice of 1 lemon
    150 g vanilla sugar
    1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/8 tsp ground cloves
    80g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
For the short-crust pastry
    180 g plain flour flour
    a pinch of salt
    90g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    2 and 1/2 tbsp ice-cold water
Fresh cream to serve with

1. First make the pastry: Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add pieces of the butter over the flour. Rub the butter in, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the water, a little at a time, mixing thoroughly. If the dough is still crumbly after adding all the water, add a little more water. The moment the dough coheres into a single ball, stop the mixing. Wrap in cling film and put in the refrigerator while you prepare the apples.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C

3. Peel the apples. Cut one in half, then cut one of the halves into two. Cut the other apples into quarters and remove all the cores. Put in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice to prevent browning.

4. Sprinkle the sugar into a large oven-proof round pan in a thin layer. Heat gently over low heat, watching it all the time, as some of it will brown before others. The sugar should melt to a dark brown liquid all over without burning. Remove from the heat and immediately scatter about one-third of the butter over the sugar. It will bubble instantly.

5. Place the half apple, cut side up, in the middle of the pan. Arrange a tightly packed wheel of quarters around it. Dot with the remaining butter. Sprinkle with the spices. Place over a gentle heat to start it cooking. Remove from the heat.

6. Roll out the pastry to a circle just bigger than the pan. Drape it loosely over a rolling pin and then place over the apples. Tuck the pastry down the sides of the pan to seal in the apples (take care you don’t touch the hot pan!).

7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is cooked. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

8. Cover the pan with a serving plate and flip the tart over onto it. Rearrange any stray fruit. The fruit should look glossy and caramel brown. Serve with fresh cream on the side.

I am going to Brisbane for the day tomorrow as we have our graduation ceremony there. It will only be a day trip, but I am still a little put out by it.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 15 April 2010


“I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” - Agatha Christie

Another shudder of the earth has caused another tragedy, this time in a remote part of China. This latest fatal earthquake with over 600 people dead and close to 10,000 injured has failed to attract the coverage of the Haiti or Chile earthquakes so far. I heard about it on the radio this morning and then searched the internet for news, but had difficulty in getting something concrete and accurate. Even the exact part of the quake defied my initial attempts to locate it with Google maps. The newspaper this afternoon relegated the news to page 10 with a couple of short paragraphs. More bodies are expected to be recovered with the poverty and remoteness of the region making it difficult for rescue efforts to be carried out.

This latest earthquake brings home what may be a truism: The West has selective awareness and filtered sensitivities to events around the globe. There are some events in some geographies and certain nations that will arouse immediate interest, sympathy and wide media coverage, while others will hardly register or will be given limited media coverage. Our prejudices follow us even in the expression of our altruistic tendencies and our help to fellow humans may be coloured by our carful filtering of the information that reaches our emotional response centres.

The remoteness and poverty of the Qinghai region, located on the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau, coupled with the poor weather conditions with biting cold, wind and sleet will make rescue efforts difficult. There is little hope for the people trapped in rubble, who are thought to number about 300-400. People are clawing through the rubble with their bare hands to try and save the trapped. Dozens of children were apparently amongst the dead. Later on tonight the news reports started to come in and supply the terrifying pictures to satisfy the ghouls amongst us. The same images that we saw not too long ago in Chile, in Haiti, in Indonesia…

The terrible part of all of this is that lives have once again been interrupted. Not only the ones prematurely ended, but even the lives of the survivors who have to cope with the terrible loss of loved ones, homes, memories, keepsakes. Imagine that happening to you! The accessibility and yet remoteness of all these terrible things happening around the world can make us immune and blasé about the gut wrenching tragedy that those who experience them first hand feel. Reading the newspapers, seeing the news on TV, accessing the internet provides us with an endless supply of terrible news from every corner of the earth. Overload…

The essence of the tragedy still remains. Some are dead, many are injured, some are trapped and dying. Survivors are going hungry and cold in some remote corner of the earth. We ignore them at our peril. Today it is they in this position, tomorrow our turn may come.

Tuesday 13 April 2010


“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night till it be morrow.” – William Shakespeare

One of the sorrows of love is parting. As Shakespeare has put it in his famous oxymoron, the “sweet sorrow” of parting is balanced by the future sweet joy of reunion. But time drags when one is separated from one’s beloved and there’s more sorrow than sweetness in the waiting. The keenness of the separation is whetted by the distance and time that prevents the lovers meeting and the longer the separation the keener the sweetness of the reunion.

Here is a poem dedicated to all those who are suffering this exquisite dulcet melancholy, but especially for T…

Parting’s Sweet Sorrow

The moon alarmed has hid behind a cloud,
The wind is whistling and the rain will fall.
And in my room my restless breath heard loud;
My solitude a gnawing pain, a soft grey pall,
A deadening fog, an empty echoing hall.

You write to me as you roam and sail the seas,
The words of love a hollow echo of your voice.
And in my empty room my heartbeats freeze
As your insistent absence will not let me rejoice;
I have to cope, there is no other choice.

The yellow autumn leaves swirl in the blowing wind
The rain now falls in sheets, the street deserted, void.
Sleep will not come to me, my mind to you is pinned,
Thoughts of your face, your touch, your voice I can’t avoid;
I wish that your departure I could rescind.

Time flows unctuously through the sleepless night
The curtain pulled back allows the street light entry.
The rain, the hidden moon, the sickly yellow light:
My only companions, my loneliness the faithful sentry.
When you are absent all my nights are white.

Jacqui BB is hosting Poetry Wednesday


“If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning.” - Aristotle Onassis

What are little girls made of, made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and everything nice,
That's what little girls are made of.

What are little boys made of, made of?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dog tails,
That's what little boys are made of.
                                       Nursery rhyme

I read once again with horror about the major problem of female infanticide and feticide (“gendercide”) that remains rampant in China and India. Female infanticide has been a feature in many cultures through the ages, and has probably been responsible for many millions of female fetus and infant deaths. The problem is most acute in China and India, the most populous countries in the world. These countries have a strict population control policy coupled with a strong culture of male supremacy, and gendercide is continuing to occur with alarming regularity there. In all cases, female infanticide is an indication of the low status accorded to women in many parts of the world.

In January 2010 the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences demonstrated what can happen to China if girl babies are killed. Within ten years, the Academy reported, 1 in 5 young men would be unable to find a bride because of the reduced numbers of young women (this is a figure unprecedented in a country at peace – compare the shortage of marriageable young men after the first world war in Europe!). In China, a specific word “guanggun” (meaning bare branches) describes this shortage of bachelors. The shortage of females seems to have become more acute between 1990 and 2005, amongst other factors, linked to the one-child policy, (introduced in 1979).

Unfortunately, China is not the only country affected by gendercide. Parts of India have sex ratios as skewed as anything in China. In other East Asian countries, like South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan there are also high numbers of male births compared to female. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, former communist countries in the Caucasus and the western Balkans show a strong preponderance of male births. The traditional patriarchal values of these societies seemingly have been revived as soon as the communist regime was overthrown.

Social scientists are predicting all sorts of consequences that will arise in these societies once the shortage of females becomes widespread. Women may become a commodity, especially in terms of their social and reproductive functions. Prostitution is likely to rise, warn the experts, as will rape and homosexuality amongst the males. A trade in stolen children and nubile women may also be an observed effect.

Once again, the inhumanity of humankind astounds me.

The Wagoner’s Lad

Oh hard is the fortune of all womankind
They’re always controlled, they're always confined
Confined by their parents until they are wives
Then slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives.

Oh I am a poor girl, my fortune is sad
I’ve always been courted by the Wagoner’s Lad
He’s courted me daily, by night and by day
And now he is loaded and going away.

"Your parents don’t like me because I am poor
They say I’m not worthy of entering your door
But I work for a living, my money's my own
And if they don’t like it, they can leave me alone"

"Your horses are hungry, go feed them some hay
Come sit down beside me as long as you stay"
"My horses ain’t hungry, they won’t eat your hay
So fare thee well darling I’ll be on my way".

Oh hard is the fortune of all womankind
They’re always controlled, they’re always confined
Confined by their parents until they are wives
Then slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives…
                                                                          British folksong

Monday 12 April 2010


“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” - Dorothy Parker

We watched Stephen Gaghan’s 2005 film “Syriana” at the weekend. The cast featured George Clooney, Matt Damon, William Hurt and Christopher Plummer. The idea was admirable and the plot ever topical and worthy of coverage. However, this was one of the most boring movies we have watched in the last few months. The writer/director is well out of his depth and the result is a film that we “all have to see because it concerns us” but which unfortunately causes great distress not because of the subject matter but because of the pedestrian way in which it has been made. Add to that a director who wants to gain “avant-garde brownie points” – hence perhaps the disjointed nature of the narrative.

I was completely interested in the subject matter, I am aware of the dirty games that are played with oil around the world, I have read about the corrupt politics and have seen documentaries that deal with the issues. I looked forward to the film, especially after having read some of the favourable reviews of the movie. Imagine my disappointment when I spent over two hours trying desperately to become involved in this convoluted and overly didactic film. I was repelled by all the characters and could not sympathise with anyone – not even the supposed good guys! That’s bad in a movie!

The film set out to be a whistle blower of CIA’s involvement in supporting America’s big business interests (surprise?) It was also to show that by meddling in the very complex politics of the region, the CIA continually creates the very problems it is trying to “resolve” and therefore contributes to the continuing lack of stability in the Middle East and which result in, for example, terrorism (oh, really?!). The battle to control the US (and therefore world) supply of oil is the main theme of the movie, but references are also made to the global arms and drug trades (hmmm, they’re related, are they?). There are token references to human relationships and some dialogue that attempts to join the disjointed mess of the plot together. The actors try very hard, but unfortunately end up being very trying.

I wanted this movie to be a hard-hitting, involving, clear and incisive exposé of an important cluster of interrelated international issues. However, all I got out of it was a muddled, very poorly written, rambling attempt to “disclose” something that we all knew and it did it in a patronising and boring manner. The acting was dull and I fail to see how George Clooney won a best supporting actor Oscar for it! The filmmaker failed in delivering an engaging and interesting movie. I was not involved, the film did not draw out an emotional response from me. I neither laughed nor cried, was not amused, was definitely not captivating.

I cannot recommend that you see this film. It is full of self-importance and pats itself on the back too hard and too loudly. Empty vessels make the loudest noises…

Sunday 11 April 2010


“The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

For Art Sunday today, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), who was born in Aschaffenburg in Germany. He studied architecture in the Technische Hochschule at Dresden, and painting in Munich. In 1905, he and his colleagues founded the Die Brücke group. He was the leader among the German Expressionists at the time. In 1911, Kirchner moved to Berlin and the complexity of Berlin’s urban cavalcade prompted him to capture it on canvas. Berlin’s social life, the women, the glamour and all of Berlin’s artificiality were captured by Kirchner’s “bold lines and clashing colors.” The First World War was soon to follow and it would deeply effect Kirchner’s concentration on his art.

Kirchner participated in the field artillery of the First World War. He served in the 75th Artillery Regiment. However, in October 1915, he was discharged because of lung disease and because of several nervous breakdowns. The artist, in fact, would never recover from the persecutions of the Nazis. Later in the Second World War, the Nazis condemned him as a degenerate artist and confiscated 600 of his works. Kirchner was unable to handle so much hatred and he committed suicide on June 15, 1938.

His painting from 1923 “Kaffeetisch”, Oil on canvas, 119 x 120 cm, Museum Folkwang Essen shows a lapse into cheerfulness as with bright colours and simple direct forms he depicts an intimate coffee party where a family are enjoying the simple pleasures of life. The intent gazes of the two women deep in conversation, the tender gesture of the little girl holding her mother’s hand and the rapt attention of the father as he looks across to his wife are a tender testament to the quiet domesticity that Kirchner had missed in the trenches of the first world war and which he could see threatened as the storm clouds presaging the second world war were gathering.