Saturday 4 December 2010


“It is said that the present is pregnant with the future.” - Voltaire

We had a very hot day all of the sudden, with temperature rising to the thirties. Nobody quite expected it and it was all too sudden after the unseasonably cool and wet we had been having. Drivers got testy on the road, people were rude, the cerebrospinal fluid must have overheated…

For Song Saturday, a beautiful but very sad song full of emotion from Maria Nazionale, the famous Neapolitan songstress singing “C' Aggia Fa?”. A poignant song about a single pregnant woman struggling with the most difficult decision she has to make: To keep her baby or not…

Thursday 2 December 2010


“Culture is roughly anything we do and the monkeys don't.” - Lord Raglan

We had our third and final day of our academic conference today and it was fantastic to see all of our staff fill in very complimentary response forms that gave some very good feedback about the content, delivery, choice of topics, social activities and catering. This was the fourth staff conference I have been involved in, in this job and it was clearly the best I have experienced. Obviously, the attendees also thought so. I had another session to present today at the closing of the conference, which was on two themes, one on the review and reorganisation of the academic division, which was quite interesting for the people directly involved, the academics, that is. However, I enjoyed more the final presentation when I talked about our organisational culture.

Culture is a difficult thing to define, especially within an organisational setting, but I thought that in our case it meant an active, self-motivating and organising processing of shared personal values and beliefs that delivers a performance. It is about meaning-making, that is transmitted from one successional group to another, through learning in everyday formal and informal interaction.

A group’s culture depends on its values, its beliefs, its language and the priorities it sets for itself. It is something that cannot be controlled by a leader although one may influence it positively or negatively through one’s actions and behaviour. As leader I try to lead by example, by respecting people and their differences, encouraging trustful relationship and using subtle means of bringing about the changes that need to occur.

We had a great dinner last night, where everyone was quite relaxed and there was much mirth and merriment. We went to Max’s Restaurant in Hardware Lane, where we had a very nice dinner. The menu was:

    Triplet of dips (capsicum; eggplant; and yoghurt with garlic) with Turkish bread

Main Course
    A choice of any of the following:
        Cajun-seasoned swordfish fillet with salad
        Scotch fillet grilled to one’s taste with roast vegetables
        Chicken à la Parmigiana with pommes frites
        Vegetarian pumpkin and asparagus risotto

    Trio of desserts (Passionfruit cheesecake; Lemon tart; Tiramisu)

Coffee and Tea

Between now and Christmas there are many work-related functions that I shall have to attend, so I am looking forward to sampling some more of Melbourne’s fine fare. It is very good to live in Melbourne, which is Australia’s Foodie Capital and some of its restaurants are amongst the best in the world…


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

What a long day today! I started out at 6:30 am and only got home at 10:30 pm. We are in the midst of an academic retreat in our Melbourne Campus and we have about 70 of our staff from all over the nation visiting and taking part in the activities. I was in charge of two sessions and had one presentation as well as the team-building activity to take care of. Everything went extremely well and all attendees are engaged and doing well in terms of networking, getting to know one another, expanding their knowledge base and generally participating. We have one more day tomorrow and then thankfully they all go home and I have the weekend to recover.

Part of the trouble has been that as well as having to participate in the retreat, my ordinary day to day activities have to be taken care of and some urgent matters require me to literally drop everything and deal with them. Still, it all went well and I was able to juggle with it all without dropping any balls.

For this evening’s activities, we went to dinner at Max’s Restaurant in Hardware Lane. There were forty of us attending and we all had a good time with some good food and wine and lots of animated conversation. We were the only patrons in the smaller of the two dining rooms and this was good in terms of being able to laugh and speak without worrying too much about upsetting other diners.

One of the good things about organising a successful event like this is that one’s efforts do not got o waste and that the money and resources one has expended in bringing it all together are justified and people feel as though they have spent valuable time wisely. This was certainly the case with this conference and I have had numerous attendees come to me to say ho much they are enjoying the conference.

conference |ˈkänf(ə)rəns| noun
1 A formal meeting for discussion: He gathered all the men around the table for a conference.
• A formal meeting that typically takes place over a number of days and involves people with a shared interest, esp. one held regularly by an association or organization: An international conference on the environment | The third annual National Wilderness Conference.
• [usu. as adj. ] A linking of several telephones or computers, so that each user may communicate with the others simultaneously : a conference call.
2 An association of sports teams that play each other.
3 The governing body of some Christian churches, esp. the Methodist Church.
verb [ intrans. ] [usu. as n. ] ( conferencing)
take part in a conference or conference call : video conferencing.
in conference in a meeting; engaged in discussions.
ORIGIN early 16th cent. (in the general sense [conversation, talk] ): from French conférence or medieval Latin conferentia, from Latin conferre ‘bring together’.

Tuesday 30 November 2010


“I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample underfoot.” - Horace Greeley

It is World AIDS Day today so I hope you all wore your red ribbon on your lapel! The red ribbon is an international symbol of AIDS awareness that is worn by people all year round but especially so around World AIDS Day to demonstrate care and concern about HIV and AIDS, and to remind others of the need for their support and commitment.

The AIDS commemorative Day was started on 1st December 1988 and is about raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education. This year the World AIDS Day theme is “Universal Access and Human Rights”. It is important to remember on this day that HIV has not disappeared, and that there are many things still to be done around the world, but more so in developing countries.

UNAIDS estimates that there are now 33.3 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. During 2009 some 2.6 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 1.8 million people died from AIDS. Most of people with HIV and AIDS live in lower and middle-income countries.

The struggle for human rights is fundamental to combatting the global HIV and AIDS epidemic. Violations against human rights help the spread of HIV by putting marginalised groups (e.g. injecting drug users and sex workers), at a higher risk of HIV infection. By promoting individual human rights, new infections can be prevented and people who have HIV can live free from discrimination. World AIDS Day gives all of us (individuals, communities and political leaders) to take action and ensure that human rights are protected and global targets for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care are met.

As it is also Poetry Wednesday today, here is a poem about AIDS:

I Still
By Gene Valentine
July 2004

I still ...
miss you even if you don't miss me.
think of you even if you don't think of me.
wonder whether you were really my special friend or just
another man playing pretend?

I won't believe that it was a lie, that all the love,
passion, lust, tears,
laughter, & joy you gave me were untrue but where are you
now? I'm still here
waiting, wondering where you've been & do you still call
yourself my friend?

I still ...
question if you really cared when I became sick & if so,
why were we over so quick?
need you to hold me & tell me how you'll be there 'til
the end.
long to hear your voice again.

It's been 333 days & 999 pills. The virus is at bay now,
but like all enemies
I know that it's lurking in the shadows of my t-cells.
I wonder did this virus touch you too? & if so what will
you do?

Did the meds make you sick? Did you take as many pills as
I or was it 999x3?
I wonder did you sleep well or were you in my same hell?

I still ...
miss you even if you don't miss me.
think of you even if you don't think of me.
want you to be my friend even if you can't make love to me again.
I still... I still... I still...


“I'm William Wallace, and the rest of you will be spared. Go back to England and tell them... Scotland is free!” - William Wallace

The birthday flower for today is the golden rod, Solidago virgaurea.  It symbolises encouragement and precaution.  The astrologers believe the plant to be under Saturn’s dominion and in the zodiacal house of Virgo.  It was believed that a rod of the plant would divine the places where hidden treasures lay.

Today is St Andrew’s Day:
    St Andrew the King
    Three weeks and three days
    Before Christmas comes in...

The first-called of the Apostles, St Andrew was a Galilean fisherman, St Peter’s brother.  According to legend he was martyred by being crucified in Greece on an X-shaped (St Andrew’s) cross.  His relics are said to have been transported to St Andrews in Fife in the 4th century AD.  St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Cyprus, Russia, Scotland and of the Greek City of Patras in the Peloponnese.  Fishermen and fishmongers also claim affinity with this saint.  In Scotland, the traditional fare for this day is boiled or roast lamb’s head, haggis and whisky.

Haggis was known in ancient Greece with Aristophanes describing around 400 BC the explosion of a “stuffed sheep’s paunch” at table when it was incautiously attacked by the diners.  A roman recipe for it is given by Apicius. English recipes survive from the 15th century and it was a popular dish in England well into the 18th century.  Nowadays, it only survives in Scotland.  The Scottish dish consists of a mixture of the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the cleaned stomach of the slaughtered animal.

Sunday 28 November 2010


“It was very superficial, my dear Watson, I assure you…” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

We watched the 2009 Guy Ritchie $90-million-movie “Sherlock Holmes” yesterday. It was a cold, wet, and gray Sunday, so in the middle of the day, after we had done some chores around the house we settled down with a large bowl of popcorn and vegged out in front of the TV. This movie was a re-engineering of the famous Conan Doyle hero and a more modern take on the storyline, which had little to do with the original stories. Holmes and Watson were there of course, as well as the bumptious and rather slow-witted head of the Scotland Yard, but there were some interesting additions, not the least of which were the romantic interests of the two detectives (just to dispel the suspicion that Holmes and Watson had a “thing” going on between them, I guess…).

The film ran for nearly 130 minutes, so yes, it was long and sometimes a little repetitive (especially where the action sequences and the violence were concerned – and there was a lot of violence!). Robert Downey Jr played the super sleuth (and he did remind us of a young Dustin Hoffman!), while Jude Law made a fairly dashing and svelte Dr Watson. Rachel McAdams was the duplicitous Irene Adler, Holmes’ love interest, while Kelly Reilly was Mary Morstan, Dr Watson’s sweetheart. Top honours go to Mark Strong who played the villain, Lord Blackwood. This was a juicy suitably dark role and Strong played it with relish and a dash of pantomime tongue-in-cheekiness. Eddie Marsan played Inspector Lestrade well and in an admirable restrained manner.

The settings, costumes and computer-generated imagery were excellent and one got a feel of the 19th century London that was the setting of the Holmes stories. 221A Baker St was suitably Victorian and most outdoor shots give full view of the bleak, gray, foggy picture of London one has in one’s mind as “typical”. The music was well-suited to the atmosphere of the movie and in the able hands of Hans Zimmer, an experienced film composer. Even Holmes’ violin steals quite a few scenes, although it is more of a meditative device rather than a musical instrument in the hands of Holmes.

Now for the plot: Lord Blackwood is a Satanist who has killed 5 women and is about to dispose of another, but is caught in flagrante delicto by Holmes and Watson. He is sentenced to death and hanged, to be pronounced dead by Watson himself. When Blackwood returns from the dead, Holmes is puzzled and Watson offended and shamed. The grand plan of Blackwood is take over Britain, the Empire and the World, reigning supreme as the all-powerful despot. Add to that a subplot where Watson is attempting to leave Holmes in order to settle down with his chosen lady-love (and Holmes resisting mightily like a spurned lover), the return of Holmes’ own paramour but in a more dangerous guise than previously, as well as the veiled appearance of Professor Moriarty on a couple of occasions (no doubt paving the way for a future sequel…).

The film has much violence, much action, much tension and much too much mayhem that tends to get in the way of the (fairly good) story. There is a little bit of a disconnect between the mindless brawls and the more cerebral parts of the film where Holmes’ deductive powers are highlighted and his caustic humour showcased. Downey Jr does a good job of both the action parts, as well as the more ironic and intellectual components of the role. Jude Law is a good Watson, although much younger and slimmer and more active than the Watson originally appended to the super-sleuth by Conan Doyle.

It was an entertaining and amusing film, not intended for purists, but much in the mould of “inspired by” type of film that is quite common nowadays. Closer, however, to the Conan Doyle’s fiction than say the latest version of “Alice” is to Lewis Carroll’s immortal creation. Despite the violence (which one quickly tires of) and the action (which any film aiming for good box office takings must have nowadays), this is a fairly good thrilling film, so watch it for a bit of fun. Incidentally, all is well-explained in the end, and there is no need for a deus-ex-machina solution.


“Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian.” - Robert Orben

A cold, gray and wet day today conducive to staying inside and trying to finish some chores and tasks, but also taking some time to have a break and watch a movie. Whatever happened to our Spring this year? It’s like a northern hemisphere November…

Today for Art Sunday, a painting by an 19th century American artist, Alfred Jacob Miller. He was born in Baltimore on the 10th January 1810 and died there in 1874. He was encouraged to draw by his parents, and had local training in Baltimore and studied portraiture. Miller studied with the portrait painter Thomas Sully in Philadelphia, from 1831 to 1832 . In 1832 he went to France, where he studied in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts. He also visited Rome before returning to Baltimore, where he opened a portrait studio in 1834. Three years later Miller moved to New Orleans and was engaged by Captain William Drummond Stewart to accompany an expedition to the Rocky Mountains. The journey brought Miller into close contact with the American Indians, whose hunting and social customs he depicted in 200 watercolour sketches. Although he portrayed Indians, he was not especially realistic in his depictions but romanticised his subjects, comparing the Indians of the West to Greek sculptural figures.

He also experienced the Far West, where he met fur trappers at their annual trading gatherings. He was one of the first artists to leave a detailed visual account of the life of the American mountain men. Miller’s Rocky Mountain paintings are among the most romantic images of the American West created. His works are often dramatic and romantically panoramic in their scope, but he was equally skilled at painting charming and intimate scenes. He had a free painting style, with a vigour that suited both the American Indian and the rugged pioneer. Collectors nowadays appreciate his paintings as they convey the drama, danger and picturesque qualities of the American West of his day.

Here is a favourite painting of mine, the “Caravan Passing a Mountain Gorge in a Storm”. There is much drama in the setting, the composition and the colours of this work. The three groups of Indians watch patiently the approaching caravan as it negotiates the mountain pass and as the storm brews. We suspect that a confrontation will soon occur and the ominous colours and distant view shrouded in mist compounds the tension. In the sky, flashes of light that are mirrored by the bright capes of the Indians. This is a watercolour sketch executed rapidly, but with a mastery of stroke and a good eye for colour.