Saturday 5 February 2011


“Children find everything in nothing; men find nothing in everything.” - Giacomo Leopardi

What a night we had last night and what a morning… Even here in Melbourne we got the tail end of cyclone Yasi and we had heavy rains all night and all morning! The skies were leaden gray, the rain fell in heavy sheets and the roads flooded. A respite of showers and then more rain… It was definitely a day for staying inside and enjoying the pleasures of home.

For Song Saturday, remembering the past and the quality children’s songs of the now legendary radio program, Lilipoupoli (Lilliput City) curated by the great Manos Hadjidakis, which ran from 1976 to 1980. The lyrics were by Marianina Kriezi, while the young and fresh composer team of Dimitris Maragopoulos, Lena Platonos, Nikos Kypourgos and Nikos Christodoulou wrote the high quality music. Great singers like Spyros Sakkas, Savina Yannatou, Antonis Kondogeorgiou and Nena Venetsanou were the interpreters.

The program was much loved not only by children but also by intelligent adults, as it was fun, imaginative, wonderfully punning and with a great sense of wordplay, gently satirical, ecologically sensitive, with a social conscience and in the end it became quite political. The government of the day found it offensive, wishing to ban it!

Here is the Chrysalifoúrfouro song:

The Chrysalifourfoúro Flower

In the dales of Lilipoúpoli
Blooms a little flower
Called Chrysalifourfoúro
And looks like a little golden rose.

Blow the petals of the Chrysalifourfoúro
Blow them and Spring will arrive.
And they blow away like a feather,
Someone loves you and you don’t know it.

Golden coins hang below its petals
And in the zephyr’s toying breath
They tinkle like a golden bell,
Every now and then.

Blow the petals of the Chrysalifourfoúro
Which you hold in Spring in your hand,
And if it becomes dust, golden dust,
You love someone and he doesn’t know it.


Here is a catchy little green song about the Ball of the Peas where artichokes dance with zucchinis while spinach, okra and beans have great fun on the green swards of lawn.

Or how about the little yellow song of the Chinese swimmer wearing a yellow bikini who dives into a sea of mayonnaise, only to encounter a yellow ship that fires melon balls from golden cannons?

And the bossa nova of the pastry shop, where sweet fights with donuts, honey, marmalade, Turkish delight and showers of sugar drench all children…

The pink song of Rosa-Rosalie with her pink pet pig, under flamingo skies walking along a shell-pink beach. Rosa-Rosalie whom when kissed, will make a cherry tree bloom.

Friday 4 February 2011


“Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices.” - Thomas Fuller

Lentils are a wonderful food – packed with nutrients, easy to cook in a variety of ways, easily complemented by many different flavours, they are a staple food in many cultures and available year-round. Lentils, like beans and peas, are legumes and are full of protein, fibre and micronutrients like molybdenum, manganese, iron, magnesium and copper. Their high content of fibre lowers cholesterol actively, and they aid in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fibre content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. Lentils also provide good amounts of two B-vitamins with virtually no fat.

Lentils originated in central Asia, having been consumed there since prehistoric times, and are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated. Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found at archaeological sites in the Middle East. Lentils were mentioned in the Bible both as the item that Jacob traded to Esau for his birthright and as a part of a bread that was made during the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people. Before the 1st century AD, they were introduced into India, a country whose traditional cuisine still treasures a spiced lentil dish known as “dal”. In many Catholic countries, lentils have long been used as a staple food during Lent. Currently, the leading commercial producers of lentils include India, Turkey, Canada, China and Syria.

Lentils came to mind today as there is a restaurant chain in Melbourne known as “Lentil as Anything”. The good thing about these eateries is that not only do they provide good and nutritious food that is vegetarian and organic, but that what you pay depends solely on you, the customer! You pay what you think the food is worth and what you can afford. It is a fantastic idea and this non-profit food chain provides training and educational opportunities for marginalised people, as well as tasty vegetarian food for its customers. All funds collected by the operations goes to a range of services that help new migrants, refugees, people with disabilities and the long-term unemployed. Most people do not abuse the privilege of being allowed to donate what they can afford into the collection box and you pay what you can in a collection box, anonymously. Most people who eat there are generous and honest, but unfortunately there are some rat bags too…

This is the case in an incident that happened to Ousman Ngom, the manager of the Footscray branch of “Lentil as Anything” on Wednesday evening. While he was out shopping for the restaurant, two men set upon him with a knife and left a 10 cm gash from his ear to his mouth. He had to have plastic surgery. The attack is thought to have had a “revenge” motive as the two attackers were told the previous night to leave the restaurant as they were using foul language and being disruptive. It is sad that the attackers, who were arrested by police, are teenagers 18 and 19 years old.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in the Footscray branch of the chain, which has had many incidents of violence and disruptive behaviour. The general manager even toyed witht eh idea of getting a security guard! As this was one of the most violent and cowardly of attacks, the future of the restaurant in Footscray is now uncertain. It may well close. It goes to show that even when some people go out of their way to help their fellow human beings, they spend their lives doing good, being what each one of us should be, they may find themselves reaping violence and ingratitude as a reward for their good deeds. Some humans are inhuman, regrettably…

Here is a web page that has a wealth of different lentil recipes.

Thursday 3 February 2011


“The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men's apples and head their cabbages.” - Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac

Another natural disaster has wrought havoc in Queensland. This time the might of a tropical cyclone has all but destroyed one town (Tully) as its fury was unleashed on the coast and havoc was wrought once again on a state that was already suffering the effects of the deadly floods a couple of weeks ago. The fortunate thing about this disaster (if fortunate can be used in this context…) was that at least the cities of Townsville and Cairns were spared and to date there have been no reports of deaths, although a man is missing.

On the news this morning, there was a flash flooding warning as the forecast was for thunderstorms and possible heavy rains in localised areas. News from the USA tell of massive storms that have covered half the country in record snow fall. Reports from other parts of the world also have news of extreme conditions and unruly weather phenomena that have not been experienced within living memory.

These extreme weather disruptions seem to be occurring with alarming frequency these past few years, fuelling the climate change debate. The firm believers of the theory that the earth has started to undergo changes consistent with the greenhouse effect due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produced by human activity, point to the changing weather as evidence. Skeptics of the theory point to statistics that go back (in some cases) for many decades or centuries, and the climatological evidence locked in sedimentary rocks, thousand-year-old ice deposits in the polar regions and to the fossil record going back for millennia that all demonstrate extreme weather conditions are a cyclical occurrence and we humans have to accept that we live on a friendly, yet whimsical planet!

I mentioned above the phrase “living memory”. This is such an anthropocentric and flippant yardstick when one looks at conditions that affect our planet and have cycles that recur every 10,000 or every 100,000 years – both of these time periods a mere fractions of a second (relatively speaking) on a cosmic scale. In earth’s 4.5 billion year history there have been so many extreme upheavals – in weather, geology, biology – that we puny humans, a late arrival in earth’s history, talk about events in “living memory” and ignore the evidence of billions of years and think in terms of the human lifespan. How insignificant we are, in cosmic terms!

When looking at the weather conditions in the last 10,000 years we are really blessed. Before that, our distant ancestors had to cope with an ice age that lasted for centuries. The big thaw was followed by weather that has been remarkably temperate. It is no surprise that now we are seeing some extremes. Perhaps over the next 500 or 1000 years our planet will experience yet another cyclic ice age (long overdue according to some scientists) –whatever we may choose to do or not do.

It is true that as species we are biologically successful. Within a remarkably small time period (three million years is a mere wink on a cosmic scale, remember) we have become the dominant species on earth. We have altered our environment on a massive scale and have forced thousands upon thousands of other species into extinction. We have selectively created conditions that favoured other species, while using up natural resources on an unprecedented scale – especially so in the last 100 years or so. As a species, we are resourceful and inventive, adaptable and intelligent, but unfortunately not wise (at least collectively speaking).

We pride ourselves on the technology that we have created and which allows us to have control over most of the processes and events around the planet, but compared to the might of Mother Nature, our power is risible. We may have sent man to the moon, yet we cannot control a category five tropical cyclone as it pummels into the shore. We may update our Facebook account and ring each other on iPhones, but we cannot control flood and drought. We may stage decadent, elaborate banquets or transmit the inanity of Master Chef programs on TV, yet millions of our own kind die of starvation annually…

My word for today is fittingly:

hubris |ˈ(h)yoōbris| noun
Excessive pride or self-confidence. Hubris often indicates being out of touch with reality and overestimating one’s own competence or capabilities, especially used in the context of people in positions of power.
• (In Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.
hubristic |(h)yoōˈbristik| adjective
ORIGIN Greek - ὕβρις

Tuesday 1 February 2011


“The soul’s impurity consists in bad judgments, and purification consists in producing in it right judgments, and the pure soul is one which has right judgments.” - Epictetus

Today is Candlemas (and/or Groundhog Day if you are in North America). Candlemas is officially known as the Feast of the Presentation, and commemorates the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the Temple, which took place 40 days after His birth as Jewish law required. According to Mosaic Law, a mother who had given birth to a boy was considered ‘unclean’ for seven days. Also, she was to remain 33 days ‘in the blood of her purification’.

In Luke there is a passage quoting Exodus 13:2,12, that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem because every firstborn child was to be dedicated to the Lord. They also went to sacrifice a pair of doves, showing that Mary and Joseph were poor. Once in the Temple, Jesus was purified by the prayer of Simeon, in the presence of Anna the prophetess. Simeon, upon seeing the Messiah, gave thanks to the Lord, singing a hymn now called the Nunc Dimittis:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace,
Your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation,
Which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
A light to reveal you to the nations
And the glory of your people Israel.

The common name for the feast, Candlemas, comes from the activities associated with the feast. It came to be known as the Candle Mass. In the Western Church, a procession with lighted candles is the distinctive rite. According to post Vatican-II discipline, (if possible) the beeswax candles are to be blessed somewhere other than where the Mass is held. During the procession to the church, the Nunc Dimittis is sung, with the antiphon ‘Lumen ad revelationem’ (Luke 2:32). This procession into the church for Mass commemorates Christ’s entrance into the temple. Since Vatican II, the feast is reckoned a feast of the Lord (as opposed to a feast of Mary), and officially designated “The presentation of the Lord”.

Groundhog Day is rather more prosaic and is definitely more profane than sacred! The legend of Groundhog Day is based on an old Scottish couplet:

“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
there’ll be two winters in the year.”

Every February 2nd, people gather at Gobbler’s Knob, a wooded knoll just outside of Punxsutawney, in Pennsylvania, USA. They observe a humble groundhog (dubbed ‘Phil’) as it comes out of its burrow, and observe it to see whether it casts a shadow or not. This event in Punxsutawney was held in secret from 1887 until 1966, and only Phil’s ‘prediction’ was revealed to the public. Since 1966, Phil’s forecast has been widely broadcast by the media.

The groundhog comes out of his electrically heated burrow, looks for his shadow and ‘utters’ his prediction to a Groundhog Club representative. The representative then ‘translates’ the prediction for the general public. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, it means spring is just around the corner. Approximately 90% of the time, Phil sees his shadow.


“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” - Abraham Lincoln

It is National Freedom Day in the USA today. It commemorates the signing of a resolution that proposed the 13th amendment of the nation’s constitution on February 1st, 1865. Abraham Lincoln, who was the president at the time, signed the resolution to outlaw slavery. This anniversary is annually observed on February 1st. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr, a former slave who founded the National Freedom Day Association, played a pivotal role in establishing the observance of this day. Major Wright was deemed as a community leader in Philadelphia and was active in education, the media, business and politics. He dearly wished to see a day dedicated to celebrating freedom for all Americans.

The first commemoration of such a day took place on February 1st, 1942, although it was not made into law yet. A tradition of laying a wreath at Liberty Bell also began. On June 30, 1948, President Harry Truman signed a bill to proclaim February 1st as the first official National Freedom Day in the United States. Wreath-laying at Liberty Bell, which symbolises freedom or liberty, has subsequently occurred on this day over the years.

This anniversary takes on an eerie significance with the situation that is evolving in Egypt and the way that it is threatening to involve the USA and the rest of the international community. The USA has traditionally been a strong ally of President Mubarak and now that the wrath of the people of Egypt has turned against their leader (whom they consider a dictator), America is finding itself in an embarrassing situation. It does not wish to alienate itself from a mighty nation that has risen up to fight for freedom, basic human rights and demand democratic elections (ostensibly all that the USA holds dear), but at the same time it does not wish to withdraw support from an ally and a leader it has openly supported for many years.

This embarrassment of the USA is manifest as President Obama’s silence and his unwillingness so far to urge Mr Mubarak to step down. It is a right royal bind! The USA has to reconcile its avowed support for countries that are struggling to put in place democratic reforms, with an actual legacy of supporting “friendly” authoritarian regimes (provided they are willing to serve US interests). President Obama has often spoken eloquently of America’s agenda to better relations with the Arab world and it is with interest that he is being watched in every nation to see whether he will stand up for the idealistic American values of Liberty, Equality, Democracy. The alternative is to remain silent and continue the legacy of secret agendas and realpolitik…

It is a fact that for many decades the USA spent billions of dollars a year in economic and military aid on Mr Mubarak’s corrupt, authoritarian regime. During this time, the USA turned a blind eye to the gross violations of human rights in Egypt, with the excuse that such policy “preserved stability in the region”. And so the boil continued to accumulate pus. All the while the pain of the average Egyptian increased as US funds disappeared to line private pockets of corrupt officials. Successive US governments and administrators knew of this situation but did not overtly criticise the Egyptian regime because of Egypt’s ally status to the USA and the delicate situation in what is a volatile region.

In 2005 Condoleezza Rice said in a speech in Cairo: “For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.” Quite a candid comment and an open admission of defeat of a policy that was obviously not working. US efforts to keep Mr. Mubarak and other US sympathisers in power in the Middle East may have avoided the return of war in the region (thus keeping the flow of oil free), they have certainly not brought stability and growth. As a result, these conditions have allowed extremism and terrorism to develop.

Happy Freedom Day, America!

Sunday 30 January 2011


“All evolution in thought and conduct must at first appear as heresy and misconduct.” – George Bernard Shaw

We watched a good film at the weekend. It was a historical/biographical drama co-produced by the BBC, which usually does an excellent job of such productions in terms of scenery, detail, atmosphere and settings. It was Jon Amiel’s 2009 film “Creation”, which dealt with the part of Charles Darwin’s life relating to the death of his daughter and his psychological struggles to come to terms with it. It is very much an interpolation so, often, historical fact has been sacrificed in the name of poetic licence. The resulting film should therefore not be taken as gospel truth and thus it is not suitable for high school educational purposes (especially in the sciences). However, I found it quite suitable as film to be shown in relation to teaching psychology and counselling as the plot primarily revolves around the loss of a child and a family’s trials in dealing with this.

Darwin’s theory of evolution and his book “The Origin of the Species” (a masterpiece of scientific enquiry) transformed ideas about the creation of the world and many hailed it as evidence against the existence of God. This was not Darwin’s intention and the ideas represented in this book are not contrary to the existence of God, but rather it is a warning against taking the Bible literally. The book of Genesis is a magnificent allegorical creation myth, akin to the creation myths of other religions. Accepting Genesis as a creation myth does not preclude faith in God nor does being a scientist mean that one cannot be a true believer. Much of what we have produced in our literature, in our art, in our most beautiful and inspired of activities has been for the glory of God.

The film, however, does have as one of its strong subplots, the debate between creationism and evolution (anachronistically and with poetic licence) placed within the context of Darwin’s struggle to complete his book “The Origin of the Species”, while coping with the loss of his daughter. It makes a good movie, but most of what is depicted is far from reality. As long as one is aware of this and makes allowance for the inaccuracy, one can enjoy the film for what it is: A man’s struggle with the death of his child, his faltering relationship with his wife and his estrangement from his other children. All this, while he is debating within himself the existence of what seems to be a cruel, vindictive God who takes innocent lives without any reason. Darwin may have become an atheist, but this is not the subject of the movie.

Darwin’s famous voyages are referred to in the film, and there are tantalising flashbacks to anecdotes that he relates to his children, but so much more could have been made of these –then again the film would have been a long mini-series, not a 108 minute movie. On the matter of flashbacks, oh boy! This movie has flashbacks, flashforwards, dream sequences, sequences of altered perception of reality, so many, that we the poor viewers have to wonder sometimes what is going on, is it past, present, future, or part of Darwin’s tortured view of reality where he sees his daughter’s ghost. This is the director’s fault as he co-wrote the movie with John Collee, based on the novel “Annie’s Box” by Randal Keynes. It is “arty” and meant to keep our interest up while “educating us” in terms of our artistic development as cultured cinephiles, but it got to be quite annoying really…

There is much in the movie and some scenes are very repetitive, especially so Darwin’s “loss of mind” and his extreme grief in reaction to his daughter’s death. There could be much removed from these scenes without impacting on the movie, and there is so much more that could have been added to clarify our perception of “Darwin the Scientist” as opposed to “Darwin the Man”. Paul Bettany does a great job acting the part of Darwin and relishes every second of his screen time. There is much praise to be given to his performance, although he very nearly overacts on occasion. Jennifer Connelly as Darwin’s wife also does an admirable job and looks quite stunning in many scenes, which she plays with more restraint. Top honours to Martha West who plays the ill-fated Annie Darwin, their young daughter. A winsome performance played with gusto and the right touch of poignancy.

The music by Christopher Young was saccharine for the most part and designed to twang the heart-strings, often verging on the maudlin. I enjoyed more the apt classical pieces that were used appropriately as Mrs Darwin was playing the piano and exteriorising her emotions. Overall, though, an enjoyable film which I recommend highly, provided one is aware of its shortcomings on the historical front and the business of flashing (forward and backward). The atmosphere is right and the film looks wonderfully authentic. It is touching and tender in parts, while at the same time psychologically tense and suspenseful in others.


“It's a sad and stupid thing to have to proclaim yourself a revolutionary just to be a decent man.” - David Harris

One of the most pernicious and destructive effects of revolution is the mindless assault on civilisation, art, culture, and the devastation of heritage that belongs to all humanity. While the Egyptian unrest and anarchy is going on, however justified the uprising may be to its supporters, the destruction of artefacts in the Egyptian Museum and the looting that began (and was thankfully checked in time) is enough reason for any civilised person to oppose this form of insurrection.

It seems that whatever noble sentiment may cause a populace to rise up against its leaders and strive for freedom, it will also have many ill effects on the fabric of society. Anarchy by its very nature is a state of disorder due to flaunting of authority. This manifests itself in acts of lawlessness and chaos. Unfortunately it is not only the idealists and the downtrodden who are mobilised in such rebellions. There are also the riff-raff, the opportunists, the looters, the dregs of society who in that state of anarchy and lawlessness take occasion to show whatever is worst in the human character.

I have visited Egypt twice and enjoyed both trips immensely. Not only taking in the thousands of years of history, visiting the historical sites, museums and famous landmarks, but also enjoying the interaction with the people, their culture and their everyday life. It is extremely sad to read of the worsening crisis in this ancient land and learn of the threat the political situation is putting on the legacy of the Land of the Pharaohs to not only modern-day Egyptians, but also to the rest of humanity. I sympathise with the Egyptian people, but I denounce the acts of barbarity that are the fall out of revolutionary acts.

History is full of similar situations – one only need think of the French Revolution, the Bolshevik uprising in Russia, the storming of Baghdad by the mob following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and many more such cases. In all instances the cultural losses have been immense, although some would argue that any such loss is preferable to having people living in fear, subjugation, oppression, hunger and destitution. It’s a debate that can keep the adherents of both camps occupied for many hours.

Freedom, personal liberty, assurance of a dignified existence, respect of human rights and the expectation of a safe living environment, adequate food, water and a place to live in are the birthright of all human beings. Can we not as civilised human beings claim those rights without destroying our common world heritage?

For Art Sunday, a sample of Egyptian Art from the Cairo Museum, one of the great museums of the world and a world heritage custodian. These graceful geese are from Dynasty 4, ca 1680-2500 B.C. It is a detail of a tomb painting from the mastaba tomb of Nefermaat at Medum. Height: 27cm (Egyptian Museum, Cairo).