Saturday 27 November 2010


“The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.” - Oscar Wilde

A very busy day today, even with the weather being cool, gray and wet… Lots of Spring showers and cool to warm temperatures are ensuring that our gardens are remaining lush, green and fresh. Our dams are continuing to fill and we may have a very cool summer ahead, or so the meteorologists have said.

We started the day by going to vote as it was our State Election today. It looks as though we may have another hung parliament on our hands if the coalition does not manage to oust the incumbent Labour Government. Fun and games ahead similar to what happened with our Federal Election a few months ago.

We then did our shopping, went to the library, did some chores and I did some work that I had to get ready for a Monday morning meeting. Then this evening we went out to a favourite  Chinese Restaurant where we enjoyed an excellent meal of endless course upon course.

The conversation turned to an acquaintance in her early 60s who has recently separated from her husband of more than thirty years… She has become depressed, melancholy, has started to drink. She spends the day alone in their house and leafs through photo albums. He has gone and looks ahead to however few years he still may have, while she looks back, reminiscing, reliving their shared lives,  all because she still loves him.

The music tonight is for her. For reflection and for reopening old wounds, as well as for healing them. Here is the now classic and beautiful Jacques Brel ballad “La Chanson des Vieux Amants” (The Song of the Old Lovers) sung by another French great, Yves Duteil.

“…But, I my love,
My sweet, my tender, marvellous love,
From the clear dawn to the end of the day,
I still love you, you know that I still love you…”

Thursday 25 November 2010


“Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.” - Henry L. Doherty

For the last two days I have been attending the very interesting conVerge e-Learning conference. The added bonus was that the venue was about two kilometres from where I live and getting there was very easy. Some conferences can be very boring, but in this one there was plenty of choice in terms of workshops and hands-on activities, as well as some very engaging plenary sessions. It was well-attended with about 400 delegates from all over Victoria and unlike many similar such events, the registration fees were extremely reasonable. Last week I was investigating the registration and attendance fees for a conference and I was horrified to see that the cost was close to $3,000. The conVerge conference was very modest at under $300!

The venue of the conference was an old hospital, which has been converted, refurbirshed, renovated and renewed into a hotel, Rydges Bell City at Preston. The organisers are worthy of congratulations as the choice of venue, the housekeeping, the running, the coordination, planning and general organisation of the conference were all excellent. I plan to attend again next year and look forward to a similar positive experience.

Now, as it is Food Friday, I shall write a little about conference food… I have been to many conferences and the food provided can often be a great disappointment. I was pleasantly surprised with this conference. Even though we were not fed with gourmet food, the comestibles were plentiful, fresh, appropriate and served well by experienced and pleasant staff. Even more surprising given the modest cost of registration and attendance!

On both days we had tea, coffee, cold water, juice on arrival with some biscuits and pastry for those who had missed breakfast. Then on both days there was morning tea or coffee with pastries, biscuits, fruits, and a similar spread for afternoon tea. The lunches were generous and served exceedingly efficiently as buffets. On both days there was plenty of choice, catering for both the carnivores and the vegetarians, with both healthy and not-so-healthy choices (as it was a buffet, the sin was on our head!). Yesterday afternoon we had a cocktail networking function with once again plenty of food and drink (in this one case, including alcoholic drinks).

The menu of the lunches was as follows:
•    Vegetarian wraps in Lebanese Khobz flatbread
•    A variety of salads, including beetroot and cottage cheese; rocket, bacon, tomato and lettuce; Greek salad; bean salad; chicken salad
•    A variety of samosas
•    Chinese spring rolls
•    Roast chicken pieces
•    Baked and fried potatoes
•    Variety of satays
•    Variety of sandwiches including vegetarian options
•    A variety of dim sums
•    Fresh fruit pieces, including pineapple, watermelon, melon, Kiwifruit, strawberries
•    Fresh fruit – bananas, apples, pears, mandarins
•    Selection of desserts – caramel slices, chocolate hedgehogs, cakes, cheesecake, banana cake, etc
•    Cheeses

For the evening cocktail function, there were platters of mini hamburgers (tiny, bite-size ones!), rice paper vegetarian rolls, dim sums, Thai beef salad spoons, meatballs, crudités.

Overall, an enjoyable two days where I learned much, met some interesting new people, renewed some old acquaintances, took part in engaging activities and workshops and had a pleasant experience in a very good venue!

Wednesday 24 November 2010


“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” - Epictetus

Happy Thanksgiving to American followers of this blog! 

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, which I think should be more widespread around the world. We do not take enough time to sit down and think of all the things we have to be thankful for in our lives. No matter how poor one is, or how unhappy, or how alone, or how ill, there are always things to look for, no matter how small, and give thanks for…

Researchers have now confirmed that people who stop and say thanks, who feel grateful and who acknowledge the good things in their life have more energy, are more optimistic, have more social connections and feel happier than those who do not feel grateful or who do not give thanks. Added bonuses are that grateful people are less likely to be depressed, to be alcoholics, to be envious or greedy. Furthermore, the researchers indicate that grateful adults earn more money, sleep better, exercise more and have greater resistance to viral infections!

Children who are grateful and give thanks, tend to be less materialistic, get better marks in school, set higher goals for themselves, get fewer stomach aches and headaches, and feel more satisfied with their lives, families and friends. Several psychologists acknowledge the importance of gratitude for a balanced life and indicate that thankfulness builds stronger, happier relationships.

Living our life and only finding things to complain about, rather than things to be grateful for, invests our existence with negativity and multiplies our dissatisfaction. If we realise that there are countless benefits in our everyday life that we should be grateful for and that we should take time to be thankful for, the positivity increases and cancels out the negativity. The recognition of the good things in our life increases our desire to reciprocate, do good deeds, and have the need to make others to also feel thankfulness.

gratitude |ˈgratəˌt(y)oōd| noun
The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness: She expressed her gratitude to the committee for their support.
ORIGIN late Middle English: From Old French, or from medieval Latin gratitudo, from Latin gratus ‘pleasing, thankful.’


“Like the measles, love is most dangerous when it comes late in life.” Lord Byron

A very busy day today, and what should have culminated as a joyous occasion at dinner tonight instead was marred by disappointment. A fitting poem by Byron…


by: George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788-1824)

So, we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have a rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

The weather all humid and cloying and the air in the house still and warm like rotting vegetation that has started to ferment under its own weight.

Monday 22 November 2010


“One part of knowledge consists in being ignorant of such things as are not worthy to be known.” Crates of Athens

Well, Melbourne has been recognised as the intellectual capital of Australia, but also a world centre of knowledge! On November 19th, Melbourne was announced as the winner of the Most Admired Knowledge City Awards, better known as MAKCi Awards (pronounced maxi). We defeated Singapore and last year’s winner Barcelona. Fittingly, the award was presented in Melbourne as part of the 2010 Knowledge Cities World Summit.

The submission-based award assessed 20 cities on their cultures, academic and medical research, liveability, economic strengths, diversity and sustainability. Melbourne has been a consistent favourite and it seems that part of the reason for our success is our “cappuccino culture”. The numerous suburban neighbourhoods with their bars, cafés, sidewalk restaurants and out-of-the-way laneways encourage people gathering, talking and interacting on an intellectual level. Conversations engender knowledge, which is created by people engaging with one another and sharing ideas.

The MAKCi awards are a World Capital Institute initiative that seeks to identify and recognise the progress achieved by urban communities around the world that are implementing knowledge-based development (KBD) strategies under the flag of Knowledge-Cities. Robert Doyle, Melbourne Lord Mayor, is the patron of the Knowledge Cities World Summit and as can be expected, he was delighted Melbourne had received this year’s award.

This year Melbourne celebrated its 175th anniversary. Although Melbourne was founded on primary industries, gold and manufacturing, today Melbourne’s economy is driven by knowledge-based industries in education, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and design. It is a city world-famous for its culture, arts, literature, fashion and the hosting of major events. It is no surprise that we are now recognised as a seat of intellectual power, which has been made possible by long-term investments in good people and good planning and collaborative efforts and commitment to achieving success.

Melbourne is the home of first class educational institutions (both secondary and tertiary), world-class researchers, good urban planning and creativity. A knowledge city is one where multiple factors work together to achieve a good quality of life for citizens. It is no surprise in view of this award that IBM had chosen Melbourne as the Southern Hemisphere base for its “collaboratory” with the University of Melbourne. Another important development (that I have been involved in) is the development of a major cancer uber-centre (treatment and research) that will have as collaborators several major hospitals, educational institutions, research laboratories and the University of Melbourne.

It is a good city to live in!

Sunday 21 November 2010


“Refugees have done more for my heart and my spirit than I can ever express in words.” - Angelina Jolie

We watched an Australian film at the weekend and it was one which caused us to stop think, debate about, share our views about it and then discuss some more. I guess that’s good! Films that make you think and that generate debate and controversy are doing what any good piece of art is meant to do. It left me with a rather mixed set of feelings and also made me wonder what the intentions of the film-makers were. There was some mixed messaging in the film and the story could have been tightened up, with the poignancy of the film considerably enhanced. However, even as it was it was a good film.

The film in question was Michael James Rowland’s 2007 “Lucky Miles”. It was like a documentary in parts, art film-like in others, conventional in other parts. The themes were topical and the issues the film broached were quite important not only for Australia and Australians, but for many other countries around the world dealing with the problem of illegal immigrants. The director co-wrote the script with Helen Barnes and it was obvious they were inspired by news items and the boat-people issues that Australia confronts on a regular basis. As the introductory blurb says in the film: “This story was inspired by true events…” or words to that effect.

The plot concerns an Indonesian fishing boat manned by people smugglers, who abandon a group of Iraqi and Cambodian men on a remote part of the North Western Australian coast. The immigrants are told there is a bus-stop on the other side of the dunes, and this represents to all of them the much-desired gold at the end of the rainbow. What the abandoned men quickly find out, however, is that they are in inhospitable, searing and dry desert about the same size as Germany! Most of the illegal immigrants are quickly caught, but two men, an Iraqi and a Cambodian, reluctantly join forces to do battle with the forces of nature. In the meantime, providence decrees that the Indonesian boat sink and the crew be washed up on the same shore that they dumped their human cargo. An Indonesian sailor joins the Iraqi and the Cambodian and all three of them begin a (dis)united! journey, each to find his goal. Their confusion, misinformation, their mistrust of one another, poor knowledge of the local terrain and conditions, as well as their misguided hopes and desires make their journey more torture-wracked than they could have imagined. To make things worse, they are pursued by a fairly incompetent army reservist unit, which more by luck than design threatens to capture them…

The actors are well-chosen and do an admirable job with the script, and the locations, the direction and the cinematography are very good. The film is a little ambiguous in its message. It challenges the viewer with its premise and confronts with the humanity of the protagonists. It is almost as if each viewer is equipped with a button strapped to the armchair. “Press it and you will destroy these illegal immigrants, do not touch it and these people may survive…” Who is the victim and who is the executioner? Who is innocent and who is guilty? Who is the one who decides whether they will stay or be made to leave? It seems that the point of the movie is to make each viewer ask these questions of himself and try and answer them in a way that will leave one’s conscience at peace.

The subplot concerns the Cambodian man who has come to Australia to search for his Australian father, living in Perth. While he was stationed in Cambodia, the Australian left a Cambodian woman pregnant there, to return to Australia and never contact her again. The pathos of the young Cambodian searching for his Australian father, whom he has never met and who lives in the Paradise called Perth, is what provides the film with much of its punch.

The film touches on an important matter for Australia. Dependence of immigration for its continued growth and prosperity and the problem of illegal immigrants, many of whom are victims of unscrupulous people smugglers. Due to a perception that Australian immigration laws are weak, large numbers of would-be immigrants have paid, and are now paying, substantial sums to intermediaries who organise illegal entry into Australia. Many of these boatpeople originate from China, Afghanistan and Iraq. When they arrive within the Australian jurisdiction they commonly claim rights of entry as refugees.

They are provided with financial resources by the Australian taxpayer to pay the legal costs of arguing their cases - one estimate is that the cost of removing an illegal immigrant is, on average, approximately $60,000. Because the relevant government regulations are loose, and because the Federal Court has proved itself to be less reliable than the State Supreme Courts, many illegal immigrants have proved to be undeservedly successful before the Federal Court.

The number of unauthorised boat arrivals to Australia follows global trends. In 2001 and 2002, for example, Australia experienced a peak in the number of boat arrivals (more than 5,500 in 2001 and almost 3000 in 2002) as did most of the rest of the world. Then from 2003, global asylum numbers dropped as the level of global conflict dropped. However, over the last two years global asylum seeker numbers have increased again. When comparing 2008 figures with 2007, for example, asylum seeker numbers rose by 122% in Italy, 121% in Norway, 89% in the Netherlands, 70% in Turkey, 53% in Switzerland, 30% in Canada and 20% in France, according to a 2009 UNHCR report.

Yet in the same period, Australia saw only a 19% increase.
 Australia’s numbers are small in absolute terms as well. Australia may received around 1,800 asylum seekers by boat in 2009, but this is tiny compared to other countries. Italy alone received 36,000 boat arrivals in 2008. Most asylum seekers prefer to go to the United States (who received 49,000 asylum seekers in 2008), Canada (36,900), France (35,200), Italy (31,200) and the United Kingdom (30,500).
 The reason for large increases in the above-mentioned countries in 2008 is not because they have all “gone soft” on asylum seekers  It is largely because of the continuing or escalating violence in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Sri Lanka, to name but a few.

It is illogical and unfair to punish refugees and asylum seekers in the hope of deterring people smugglers. Numerous reports have shown that many asylum seekers are unaware of Australia’s domestic asylum policies, so the use of punitive policies has a negligible deterrent effect. 
A clear example of the failure of punitive policies to deter asylum seekers is the policy of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). The number of unauthorised boat arrivals to Australia continued to increase after the introduction of TPVs in 1999 (48% more asylum seekers arrived by boat in 2001 than in 1999). Boat arrivals only started decreasing in 2003 when global asylum numbers started dropping. The same rationale holds true for mandatory detention, introduced in 1992.

Refugees are often forced to flee tragic situations such as genocide or torture. Desperate people will continue to take desperate measures to seek safety. The only way to stop unauthorised boat arrivals into Australia is to cooperate regionally and internationally to resolve conflicts and to create durable solutions for refugees so that they do not have to undertake perilous journeys to find safety. Deterring and punishing people smugglers is also a better option than punishing the victims, who are the refugees…


“Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness.”- Allen Ginsberg

The full moon tonight is glorious and the clear sky is full of stars too. This has prompted me to present one of Claude-Joseph Vernet’s (born Avignon, 14 Aug 1714; died Paris, 4 Dec 1789) painting for Art Sunday. It is his 1771 painting “Seaport by Moonlight”. This is a very romantic work, with much contrast between great expanses of dark and the play of moonlight reflected by water and lighting up the cloudy sky, as well as the vignette of the fireside group in the right lower part of the painting. This provides two strong focal points in the painting, but they are pivoted by the ships, buildings and figures in the foreground. This is a very interesting painting and one full of mystery that fires up the imagination.

Vernet probably received his first lessons in painting from his father, Antoine, who then encouraged him to move to the studio of Philippe Sauvan (1697–1792), the leading master in Avignon. Sauvan supplied altarpieces to local churches and decorative works and mythologies for grand houses in the area. After this apprenticeship Vernet worked in Aix-en-Provence with the decorative painter Jacques Viali (flourished 1681– 1745), who also painted landscapes and marine pictures. In 1731 Vernet independently produced a suite of decorative overdoors for the hôtel of the Marquise de Simiane at Aix-en-Provence; at least two of these survive (in situ) and are Vernet’s earliest datable landscapes. These are early indications of his favoured type of subject, and Vernet would have studied works attributed to such 17th-century masters as Claude Lorrain, Gaspard Dughet and Salvator Rosa in private collections at Aix and Avignon. Three years later Joseph de Seytres, Marquis de Caumont, who had previously recommended Vernet to the Marquise de Simiane, offered to sponsor a trip to Italy. This was partly for Vernet to complete his artistic education but also to provide his sponsor with drawings of antiquities.

With Hubert Robert, he became a leading exponent of a type of idealised and somewhat sentimental landscape that had a great vogue at this time. Vernet was particularly celebrated for his paintings of the seashore and ports, and on returning to Paris in 1753 he was commissioned by Louis XV to paint a series of the seaports of France. He produced fifteen (more were planned but not executed), now divided between the Louvre and the Musée Maritime, Paris.