Saturday 2 October 2010


“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” - Albert Schweitzer

I had another very busy day today, which started with a presentation I had to give to the annual meeting of one of the societies of Medical Radiation professionals. It all went very well, everyone enjoyed it and I was invited back to present at next year’s meeting. Then back home where I had an appointment with a painter who gave us a quote for a painting and repair job to be done and then I went out and had a bit of a break. The evening was lovely and passed with some wonderful music, nice food and a cuddle.

We had the Australian Rules football final replay today, which Collingwood won easily, shaming the worse side St Kilda. I am not a football fan, however, I did watch some of the game, wincing all the while as St Kilda were so bad…

Today is World Farm Animals Day, so here is a sweet little video to celebrate the day:

Friday 1 October 2010


“It’s sad to grow old, but nice to ripen.” - Brigitte Bardot

October 1st is celebrated as the International Day for Older Persons. The General Assembly of the United Nations the designated this day as the International Day of Older Persons by resolution 45/106 of 14th December 1990, following up on initiatives such as the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, adopted by the 1982 World Assembly on Ageing and endorsed later that year by the General Assembly. In 1991, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons (resolution 46/91). In 2002, the second World Assembly on Ageing adopted the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing to respond to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing in the 21st century and to promote the development of a society for all ages. The theme for this year is “Older Persons and the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.”

The world’s population has continued on a dramatic transition path from a situation of high birth and death rates to one characterised by low birth and death rates. This has resulted in the growth in the number and proportion of older people. This is something we see for the first time in the history of civilisation. One out of every ten persons is now 60 years or above; by 2050, one out of five will be 60 years or older; and by 2150, one out of three persons will be 60 years or older. The majority of older persons (55%) are women. Among the oldest old, 64% are women.

Differences between developed and developing countries are marked: One out of five Europeans, but one out of twenty Africans, is 60 years or older. In some developed countries today, the proportion of older persons is already one in four. During the first half of the 21st century that proportion will be close to one in two in some countries! Based on the latest available information, approximately half of the world’s older population live in urban areas.

The UN Principles for older persons aim to ensure that priority attention will be given to the situation and status of older persons. The UN Principles address the independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity of older people. This is in appreciation of the contribution that older persons make to their societies and the faith in a society that will assure the older person of their share of fundamental human rights.

It is fitting today therefore for Food Friday to give a recipe that my grandmother used to make. This is a traditional Greek recipe that is also widespread in the Middle East. It uses semolina, butter, and almonds, all bound together with a syrup and spiced up with cinnamon and cloves.

Greek Pot Halva

1    cup butter
1/2    cup chopped blanched, toasted almonds
2    cups semolina
1    stick of cinnamon
3    cloves
For the syrup
3    cups sugar       
4    cups water


Prepare a syrup by boiling the cinnamon, cloves, sugar and water for 10 minutes. In a shallow pot place the butter until it melts and warms through. Add the semolina heating through until golden brown. Stir often and ensure the semolina is toasted well. Pour the prepared syrup into the semolina mixture and continue heating while stirring, until the syrup is well absorbed.
Remove the halva from the heat and cover the pan with a tea towel and the lid over that, until the mixture is barely warm. Mix in the toasted almonds and spoon into a mould packing in the mixture well. Unmould into a serving platter and dust with ground cinnamon.
You may also wish to add a handful of sultanas in this dish.

Wednesday 29 September 2010


“The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago... had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.” - Havelock Ellis

Imagine yourself and your family entering a huge interstellar spaceship. You are joining another few hundred families and a few hundred crew members that will start a journey across trillions of kilometers of space and which will last a few generations. Your spaceship is a self-contained small world that will sustain and nourish not only its original passengers, but their children and grandchildren, their grandchildren, and so on. If all goes well, this starship colony will have travelled for nearly 200 trillion kilometers in a journey that has lasted for hundreds of years into deep interstellar space, aiming for a distant small red sun the constellation of Libra…

Your descendants on the spaceship will finally be able to gaze out of their portholes and see the distant sun their ship was aimed at for so long… It is the sun Gliese 581, a red dwarf star, around which there are six planets orbiting. The destination of this interstellar expedition is Gliese 581g, an earth-like planet, orbiting in the habitable zone of this sun. On this world there is liquid water and there are habitable regions in which life may be possible. “May be possible” being the operative words.

The planet is “tidally locked” to Gliese 581, which means it does not rotate; the side facing the sun would be perpetually hot, and the side turned away, perpetually cold. However, the twilight zone between light and shadow would be fit for human life. This is the zone that our starship has been directed at, to begin a new colony of humanity. This is of course assuming that everything else on the planet is right, including the gravity, the atmosphere, lack of indigenous hostile life-forms, etc etc… All of this of course would have been checked before the starship began its journey. And even if everything was deemed to be OK before the trip started a “second option” planet in the neighbourhood would have been selected.

Does all of this sound a bit like a sci-fi fantasy story? Well, I agree maybe yes, but part of it is all true. The planet Gliese 581g does exist and has just been discovered. This planet is not alone in the astronomers’ list of possible planets that can or do harbour life. Various calculations based on data that has been collected over the years and complex formulas, have resulted in the assertion that as many as one in 5 stars in the universe is orbited by a planet that can sustain life. This means that of the 200 billion stars in the universe, maybe 40 billion planets have the potential for life.

If you go out and gaze into the sky right in the midst of the constellation of Libra, you will not be able to see Gliese 581 with the naked eye, you will need a telescope, as Gliese 581 is about one third as bright as our sun. However, the descendants of the starship passengers that establish a colony on Gliese 581g will be able to gaze into the sky and see with the naked eye a bright star in the firmament which they will know is the sun of the world on which their ancestors evolved!

All of this may be in the future, of course, but we are ruining our earth in such a precipitously rapid rate that we may need to go scrounging around the galactic neighbourhood in order to find other planets that we can colonise and start ruining afresh.


“We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.” - Madame de Stael

I was chatting with a friend today and the talk turned to the topic of death. We questioned whether we would prefer to die quietly and imperceptibly, as in one’s sleep for example, or whether it would be preferable to die in a way that one was aware of the moment of death. The former was his preference, the latter mine. I guess as far as I was concerned I would want to die and have that experience as the last experience of life.

I wonder if one is aware of one’s death as it approaches? Is it perhaps like that no-man’s-land between wakefulness and sleep or is it a case of an on-off switch – awareness to non-awareness? Surely it would depend on the cause of death and the circumstances of the death. One may die peacefully in one’s bed or die a violent and painful death. One may slip away or fight for each breath, trying to hang on to dear life. It is a fascinating topic and perhaps we cannot not answer that question of “how does it feel to die?” as we do not know what happens after death.

A poem by Christina Rossetti today that touches upon approaching Winter (and death), but also the promise of Spring and rebirth…


Fade tender lily,
Fade O crimson rose,
Fade every flower,
Sweetest flower that blows.

Go, chilly autumn,
Come, O winter cold;
Let the green stalks die away
Into common mould.

Birth follows hard on death,
Life on withering:
Hasten, we will come the sooner
Back to pleasant spring.
            Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)

Tuesday 28 September 2010


“Whenever monarchs err, the people are punished.” – Horace

Over the past few years there has been a great debate in Australia about whether we should become a republic or remain a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II officially the Queen of Australia (which is a title and role separate from her position as monarch of the other Commonwealth realms). Since Queen Elizabeth lives in the United Kingdom, in Australia the executive powers vested in her by the Constitution are normally exercised by her viceroys, who are the Governor-General at the federal level and by the Governors at the state level. These viceroys, by convention, act on the advice of her Ministers – that is, the elected Australian Government. However, this situation can also have dramatic and unforeseen consequences that demonstrate the power of the crown. The proof was the Governor-General’s reserve powers outside a Prime Minister’s request resulting in the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975…

So until we become a republic, our queen is Queen Elizabeth II. This is a state of affairs (pun intended!) that I find amazing in this day and age. Kings and queens are a relic of times past when monarchy was widespread throughout most of the civilised world and a hereditary royal office was de rigueur! That we still have these relics of the past amongst us, and more importantly, that there are still staunch royalists around underlines the fact that so many people still live in childhood dreams and pad out their humdrum lives with fairy tale fantasies of kings and queens, princes and princesses (as a peek in many a popular magazine will show).

Through information released under the Freedom of Information Act, it has recently become apparent that in 2004 “our” Queen through a Senior Aide applied for a “poverty heating grant” from the Government of the UK to cover the rising costs of heating her palaces!. The Aide sent the UK Government a written request to assess the Queen’s eligibility for assistance from a £60 million anti-poverty fund dedicated to saving energy and helping those in need cope with heating bills. The Aide justified the request by saying that the cost of Royal utilities, which doubled in 2004, stood at £1 million per year and had become “untenable”. This was further justified by pointing out that the £15 million government grant to maintain the Queen’s palaces was inadequate…

When I read about this in the newspaper I was stunned! The sheer monstrous audacity of the request was mind-blowing! The Queen of England is one of the richest people in the world with a personal fortune close to half a billion dollars, and this does not count the palaces, crown jewels, and other treasures she and her heirs enjoy, as technically they belong to the British state (unless of course, she says like Louis XIV: “Je suis l’ état. L’ état c’ est moi.”). The enormity of the transgression of asking for money that was put aside for the down-and-outers is incomprehensible!

At least, I am glad that the Government Department administering the poverty heating grant turned down the request in an apologetic email that explained the purpose of the grant: The handouts were to help low income families cope with no money at all for heating. There was also an expressed concern that if Buckingham Palace were to be given money from the fund it would lead to “probable adverse press coverage”. This latter part was probably what closed the matter for Buckingham Palace – there has been so much bad press these last few “anni horribiles”.

Queens and kings are a thing of the past. They have a place in history books and fairy tales, packs of cards and chess boards. Their currency is passé and their days are numbered, I should hope. Behaviour such as that outlined above is proof enough that we as a society should rid ourselves of this antique parasite. God knows we have enough modern parasites in the guise of politicians, pop singers, sports personalities and film stars to maintain in the style we have accustomed them to…

Sunday 26 September 2010


“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.” - Danny Kaye

We watched an interesting film at the weekend, one that has been around for quite a while but which we missed when it was first screened. It was the 1997 David Fincher film “The Game”. This is a psychological thriller of some punch (even if the plot is somewhat contrived and improbable), which is nevertheless quite subtle in the way that it projects its message and its moral. One may watch it, enjoy it and take it in superficially, but I believe it is on reflection that one can really assess it and process it in such a way so that it becomes personally relevant.

David Fincher is of course famous for “Fight Club” and “Se7en” but is also responsible for “Panic Room” and “Alien 3”. Therefore, he is well-seasoned in directing a satisfying thriller. He does very well with “The Game”, keeping the viewers on their toes and ensuring they experience one emotional roller coaster ride after the other. The plot’s twists and turns help of course, with scriptwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris having done a good job in providing some good material. Once one gets over the improbability of some of the scenes, one can concentrate on the essence and enjoy the movie.

Michael Douglas is not one of my favourite actors, although he has played in some excellent films and he generally does well with his roles. In this film he is excellent and gives an acting recital, especially as his role is very demanding and he is needed in almost every scene. Sean Penn does well in supporting Douglas, and Deborah Kara Unger is also very good. The rest of the cast is also very good and overall, production standards are very high. All of these features maintain viewer interest and engagement in what is arguably a long film (130 minutes or so).

Now for the plot: Douglas play Nicholas Van Orton, a billionaire financier, who has everything that money can buy. He is the typical tough, ruthless businessman who has sacrificed everything in order to be successful. He has a younger brother, Conrad (Penn), who is the opposite. Conrad is pleasure-seeking, wayward, free-spirited and “unsuccessful” by Nicholas’ standards. For Nicholas’ birthday Conrad gives him an unusual present (what else could you get someone who has everything?), a gift certificate from a company called the Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Nicholas is skeptical as Conrad is a problematic sibling that has had to cope with addictions, “interesting” life experiences and all sorts of scrapes. However, both Nicholas and Conrad love each other and have over the years supported each other in coping with their father’s suicide (he fell to his death from the roof of their mansion).

CRS is in the business of providing to clients a real life entertainment experience where a game is played within the participants’ lives and is tailored to their own individual needs, lifestyle, deficiencies and strengths. Nicholas takes up the challenge of participating in the game and after a series of physical and psychological tests, he becomes embroiled in a dangerous game that exposes his repressed emotions, his fears and anxieties, disrupts his life and forces him to re-examine it in order to find out what makes himself tick. As mentioned previously it is the constant twists in the plot that keep one guessing and even to the last scene, one is left wondering if it is true or not.

Overall, we enjoyed this film greatly and then got into an animated discussion about it, which was the best part about it. Discussing a film with someone you have seen it is great fun and analysing it, disassembling it, evaluating it, extracting the essence is a great way of prolonging its enjoyment – or in some cases value-adding on a mediocre film. I’d recommend this particular film highly if you haven’t seen it and you love psychological thrillers!


“An artist must possess Nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that will prepare the mastery which will later enable him to express himself in his own language.” - Henri Matisse

For Art Sunday today, Henri Matisse. He was born on December 31, 1869 in Le Cateau Cambresis, France. He first got a degree in law but then decided to become an artist. He studied for three years with Gustave Moreau. He learned a lot by copying paintings by other great artists, such as Raphael.

Matisse was one of the founders of a type of art called Fauvism, a style of painting with vivid expressionistic and non-naturalistic use of colour that flourished in Paris from 1905 and, although short-lived, had an important influence on subsequent artists, especially the German expressionists. The term Fauvism is from the French fauve ‘wild beast.’ The name originated from a remark of the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles at the Salon of 1905; coming across a quattrocento-style statue in the midst of works by Matisse and his associates, he is reputed to have said, “Donatello au milieu des fauves!” (‘Donatello among the wild beasts’).

Matisse liked to compose his paintings with people in them as it made it easy for him to express his feelings about life. He especially liked to paint women, because he said they held the answer to the mystery of life. Matisse also did many pieces of art using cut paper. He was also a sculptor and an etcher.

Towards the end of his life, Matisse developed cancer and he became confined to a wheelchair. From his wheelchair, he completed one of his most famous works, painting the inside of the Chapelle du Rosaire. Matisse died in 1954.

Illustrated here is his “Le bonheur de vivre” (The Joy of Life) 1905-1906; Oil on canvas (175 x 241 cm). The characteristic swathes of bright non-naturalistic colour evoke strong emotional responses in the viewer, while the subject matter makes it clear as to what the artist believes is essential in life for a joyful existence.