Saturday 12 March 2011


“Noble souls, through dust and heat, rise from disaster and defeat the stronger.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Japan continues to dominate newscasts and increasingly horrific news stories surface as the full extent of the disaster becomes known. The world watches anxiously as nuclear calamities now threaten the already devastated country and its people. Donations are already being collected here in Australia, and the world over, and most countries are helping Japan in a very palpable way through the sending of supplies or personnel. Please help if you can!

“The Great Wave off Kanagawa” is a very famous image by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) from his series of woodblock prints “36 Views of Mt Fujiyama”. Hokusai’s most famous picture and probably the most famous image of Japanese art is a seascape with Mt. Fuji in the distance. Hokusai loved to depict water in motion and this is an amazing image where fishermen do battle with the giant wave. The impending crash of the wave brings tension into the composition. In the foreground, a small peaked wave beneath the towering one above it, forms a miniature Mt. Fuji, which is repeated hundreds of miles away in the enormous Mt. Fuji in the background which shrinks through perspective; the wavelet is larger than the mountain.

Although this print is often used in tsunami literature, there is no reason to suspect that Hokusai intended it to be interpreted in that way. The waves in this work are sometimes mistakenly referred to as tsunami (津波), but they are more accurately called okinami (沖波), great off-shore waves.

This is an uncharacteristic Japanese image, as instead of shoguns and nobility, we see tiny fishermen huddled into their boats as they try to negotiate the stormy sea. The yin-violence of the sea is counterbalanced by the yang-relaxed confidence of expert fishermen. Although it’s a stormy sea, the sun is shining. Traditional Japanese artists would have never depicted lower-class fishermen (at the time, fishermen were one of the lowest and most despised of Japanese social classes); they would not have used perspective; they wouldn’t have paid much attention to the subtle shading of the sky. We, as westerners liked this type of woodblock print because it uses conventions that are familiar to us.

The elements of this Japanese scene originated in Western art. It includes landscape, long-distance perspective, nature, and ordinary humans, all of which were foreign to Japanese art at the time. The Giant Wave is actually a Western painting, seen through Japanese eyes. By the late 1700s, Dutch paintings had become very popular and common so that their etchings were used as cheap illustrations. Dutch merchants smuggled their goods into Japan. These wares were often wrapped in paper that had been illustrated with these etchings. For Hokusai and other artists, the thrown-away wrappers were more interesting than the imports.

Hokusai found Western art fascinating and was greatly stimulated by it. He transformed Dutch pastoral paintings by adding the Japanese style of flattening and the use of color surfaces as a element. His masterpieces were in fact a reinterpretation of Western art in Japanese style. By the 1880s, Japanese prints were all the rage in Western culture and Hokusai’s prints were studied by young European artists, such as Van Gogh and Whistler, in a style called Japonaiserie. Thus Western painting went to Japan, was transformed after it inspired Japanese artists, then returned to the West and inspired westerners again!

This image is an icon of Japanese art and a glorious testimony of Japanese culture and spirit. Japan will survive this disaster and rise again to take its place amongst other great nations of the world.


“I beg you take courage; the brave soul can mend even disaster.” – Catherine II

More distressing news keeps filtering in from Japan. More than 1,000 people have been confirmed dead and tens of thousands are missing. The explosion in one of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima has generated speculation that a meltdown will occur in the reactor and there may be radiation leaks and contamination, or even worse. The rescue efforts are well underway, but aftershocks continue to rock the battered regions. Many countries have begun to send aid to Japan, including Australia, which sent tens of rescue workers specially trained for precisely such missions.

The thoughts of most people around the world are with Japan at this stage, with much sympathy and support going to the afflicted populace.

Thursday 10 March 2011


“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” - Kenji Miyazawa

News of the massive earthquake and tsunamis in Japan awaited me as soon as I got home this evening. The pictures on television are frightening and awesome. One cannot comprehend the scale of destruction simply by looking at the aerial shots where the crest of the tidal wave carries every bit of imaginable flotsam as it covers fields, roads, houses, factories and woods. We thought that the Christchurch earthquake was bad enough, but this is just horrific. Even a country like Japan, used to earthquakes as it is, is now reeling after this latest quake, which neared the magnitude of 9 Richter units.

The 8.9 Richter earthquake hit on Friday, March 11, 2011 at 05:46:23 UTC (4:46:23 pm, Melbourne time) at 38.322°N, 142.369°E, which off the east coast of Honshu, 130 km E of Sendai (population ≈1 million), 178 km E of Yamagata (population ≈300,000), 178 km ENE of Fukushima (population ≈310,000), and 373 km of Tokyo (population ≈30 million). Today’s earthquake was preceded by a series of large foreshocks over the previous two days, beginning on March 9th with a 7.2 R event approximately 40 km from today’s earthquake, and continuing with a further 3 earthquakes greater than 6 R on the same day.

Although the structural damage in the affected parts of Japan may not be as extreme as in other places due the fact that the Japanese have long built anti-seismic constructions, the post-quake effects are many and extreme, largely due to the destructive force of the tsunamis that followed the quake. At least two people are reported dead at this stage (four hours after the quake), one hit by a collapsing wall at a Honda factory. Several people are reported buried in a landslide.

The tsunami generated was up to 10 metres high, with waves sweeping across farmland, carrying away homes, crops, vehicles, triggering fires. A tsunami of 7 metres later hit northern Japan. An inn collapsed in Sendai city and many are feared buried in its rubble. Strong aftershocks hit northern Japan, each the magnitude of a major quake. Tsunami warnings issued for eastern Indonesia, Taiwan’s north and east coasts.

Power has been cut to four million homes in and around Tokyo, while fourteen fires blaze in Tokyo. A major fire and explosions at Chiba refinery near Tokyo is causing much damage. Many sections of Tohoku expressway serving northern Japan are damaged. Bullet trains to the north of the country stopped.

Narita airport closed, flights halted, passengers evacuated. Tokyo underground, suburban trains halted. Sendai airport in the north has been flooded. Several nuclear power plants in Japan have shut down automatically. Tepco’s Fukushimi No. 1 plant had an equipment problem after the quake, but safety is ensured, officials say. At least one nuclear power station is still operating normally. Oil refineries have shut down and a major steel plant was ablaze.

More quakes have been predicted in the north of Honshu, while more tsunamis in Japan and in Pacific nations have been predicted…
Really terrible news…


“O! Beware, my lord, of jealousy;
 It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
 the meat it feeds on.” - William Shakespeare

Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium, is the birthday plant for today. Its generic name is derived from the Greek word for mint. The specific name is derived from the Latin pulex = flea, in reference to the supposed flea-killing properties of the herb.

The Greek myth to explain the origin of mint concerns a nymph, Minthe who lived in Elis in Southern Greece. Minthe was the lover of Hades, the god of the underworld. She was in love with him but he was fickle. When Hades saw the lovely Persephone on Mount Etna in Sicily, he fell in love with her and abandoned Minthe. Hades took Persephone to the underworld and made her his queen. The discarded Minthe complained bitterly, and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter (Persephone’s mother and goddess of crops, fertility and vegetation) in anger trampled upon her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Hades would return to her and banish Persephone from his halls. From poor Minthe’s corpse, the earth sprouted forth the fragrant herb that bears her name.

In the neighbourhood of Pylos, to the north of Olympia, there was a hill called after Minthe, and at its foot there was a temple of Pluto, and a grove of Demeter. Around the temple grew mint abundantly, so even after her death, Minthe embraced the object of her affection.

In Scotland, the herb is also known as “pudding grass” as it was used to flavour haggis pudding.  Pennyroyal growing in the garden protects against the evil eye but at the same time, it was worn by witches.  Medicinally the herb was used to expel the afterbirth, and presently pennyroyal tisane is thought to relieve colic and to aid in digestion.  Pennyroyal in the language of flowers conveys the sentiment: “Go away, flee!”  It is under the dominion of Venus, astrologically.

jealous |ˈjeləs| adjective
• Feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages: He grew jealous of her success.
• Feeling or showing suspicion of someone's unfaithfulness in a relationship : a jealous boyfriend.
• Fiercely protective or vigilant of one's rights or possessions : Howard is still a little jealous of his authority | they kept a jealous eye over their interests.
• (of God) Demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.
jealously adverb
jealousy noun
ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French gelos, from medieval Latin zelosus from Greek zēlos, zeal.

I remember at school I learnt that jealousy was not the same as envy. Jealousy had a specifically romantic or sexual connotation, whereas envy had a broader meaning. It is possible to be envious of another’s success, but one is jealous of a successful rival for the affections of one’s girlfriend. Othello was jealous, but not envious. The meanings are now being conflated and blurred, and one routinely hears that someone is jealous of someone else’s fame (as is apparent from the first definition above). This is regrettable as the two emotions (material envy and romantic jealousy) are not at all the same, and a clear linguistic distinction between them should be maintained.

Tuesday 8 March 2011


“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.” - Elizabeth Lawrence

A cool, grey, rainy day today. The weather bureau has reported that the La Niña pattern affecting Australia is the strongest since 1917. It started in the middle of last year and has contributed to the warmest oceans on record around Australia. Floods have drenched wide areas in recent months, wrecking properties, cutting off roads and filling rivers and dams. The current weather cycle is expected to end in the next two months and the forecast beyond is for a wetter-than-normal winter and a drier-than-normal spring.

When I came home from work today, I sat for a few minutes under the covered gazebo, looking at the garden. The rain was quietly falling and the picture was one of summer departing gently. A cool, wet summer that came in reluctantly and now is leaving us on tiptoe. As if we are sleeping and wishes to cede its reigning place to Autumn surreptitiously. I felt tired and old all of the sudden. The lingering cold that I have has not helped and sniffling, coughing and sputtering I hurried inside, mindful of my silliness and shaking off my chill.

I have a meeting later this week with the publishers that I work with to discuss a new edition of one of my books. It is going well and it is its time to be updated in a new edition. This signals another big project looming ahead. Summer’s end, autumn’s beginning. The season of fruitfulness an abundance, ushering in the desolate winter with its deathly chill…

The poem below written just now:

Summer’s End

Sun rises reluctantly each morning now,
And evening falls all of the sudden rapidly.
The leaves started to yellow on the bough,
And evening drags on, lengthening vapidly.

Rain falls, the garden yields a harvest rich;
Cool now at night, mist rises lazily at dawn.
Water collects in puddles, runs in dirty ditch;
And afternoons become greyer, long-drawn.

Flowers fade, rose hips start to redden
While fruits on branches ripen steadily.
Melancholy sets in, optimism starts to deaden
And thoughts turn to maturity readily.

My life’s work is reaching now its summer’s end
A bounteous autumn or a barren winter to attend.

Monday 7 March 2011


“Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.” - Faith Whittlesey

It is International Women’s Day today, an commemorative day that first began to be observed at the turn of the century, which in the industrialised world was a period of expansion and turbulence, booming population growth and radical ideologies. In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America in 1909, the first National Woman's Day was observed across the United States on 28th February that year. Women continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of that month through to 1913.

The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen in 1910, established an International Women’s Day, to honour the movement for women’s rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance. As a result of the decision taken at Copenhagen the previous year, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19th March 1911) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.

Less than a week later, on 25th March 1911, the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working girls, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This event had a significant impact on labour legislation in the United States, and the working conditions leading up to the disaster were invoked during subsequent observances of International Women’s Day.

As part of the peace movement that was active just before World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8th March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with their sisters. With 2 million Russian soldiers dead in the war, Russian women again chose the last Sunday in February 1917 to strike for “bread and peace”. Political leaders opposed the timing of the strike, but the women went on anyway. In the same week, the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. That historic Sunday fell on 23rd February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia, but on 8th March on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere.

International Women’s Day has developed into a truly international anniversary and commemorates the struggles women have had to deal with and are still dealing with in order to be treated as equals to men. The international women’s movement has been gaining strength over 100 years, and was supported by four global United Nations women’s conferences. The commemoration of International Women’s Day is a rallying point for coordinated efforts to demand women’s rights and participation in the political and economic process. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in history.

This is Australian singer Helen Reddy singing her great hit "I Am Woman"

I Am Woman

Artist: Helen Reddy from "Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits": EMI ST 11467
Peak Billboard position # 1 for 1 week in 1972
Words and Music by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
'cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul


I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin' arms across the land
But I'm still an embryo
With a long long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to I can face anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman
Oh, I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman


“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We watched Eric Leighton’s and Ralph Zondag’s 2000 movie “Dinosaur” at the weekend. We had bought the DVD on special a couple of years ago, but had never watched it as it sat forgotten on a lower shelf amongst already viewed DVDs. It pays to do some dusting and tidying up, rearranging of shelves and general sprucing up around the house. One tends to discover all sorts of interesting things! In any case, we were in the mood for something lightweight and a Disney film was deemed appropriate. I am great lover of children’s books and films and will often indulge myself as I believe that one must always feed the hungry little child within.

The film was very polished (almost too polished, as can be the case with computer-generated animation) with CGI taking over in a big way and generating effects and animation that are quite amazing. However, in some of the scenes the CGI creatures can look plastic and one can be distracted from the action. One is immediately tempted to compare the Disney “Dinosaur” with Steven Spielberg’s 1993 “Jurassic Park”, as computer graphics and special effects feature prominently in both of these dinosaur films. However, where “Jurassic Park” was exciting, adventurous, thrilling, scary, funny at times with a rollicking good story, “Dinosaur” tends towards saccharine sweetness and didactic moralising – besides which, the story is rather unoriginal and seems to have been compounded from a host of other films: A dash of “Bambi”, a peck or two of “The Land Before Time”, a sliver of “Ice Age”, a soupçon of “Ice Age 2”, a touch of “Mowgli” etc, etc.

The plot revolves around pack dinosaurs known as Iguanodon. During an attack on a pack of Iguanodon, an egg is saved although stolen by predators and ends up in the possession of a group of lemurs. The lemurs care for the young iguanodon hatched from it, which they call Aladar. Aladar becomes an “honorary lemur” as he grows up and spends his time peacefully on an island far away form other dinosaurs. When a meteor hits the earth, a huge tidal wave forces Aladar and his family to leave their homeland. They meet up with a huge group of dinosaurs, led by Kron and Bruton, fellow iguanodons, as well as other dinosaur species. In the wake of the meteor disaster, they try to reach their nesting grounds, but the way there is fraught with danger and great struggles.

The film is full of factual errors and anachronisms, but that is immaterial as it is not a documentary, it is a fantasy. If you can accept that dinosaurs can talk and exhibit anthropomorphic characteristics, it is not hard to accept that lemurs (which evolved 55 million years ago) and dinosaurs (which became extinct 65 million years ago) coexisted. What’s ten million years between friends? The size of the creatures is also misrepresented. The carnotaurs that hunt the iguanodon have been increased in size to make them look more terrifying and the triceratops and apatosaur are not to scale. The habitats of the animals depicted also do not coincide, with animals that lived on different continents being put side by side. But never mind!

If we overlook the deficiencies of the film, it is a good film to watch in one’s lighter moments and children will love the animals and the simple story. Although there are some violent scenes that could scare smaller children (or over-sensitive adults). The music by James Newton Howard is discreet and suits the action, while top marks go to the artists that conceived the background art, which in my opinion s quite ravishing, to the extent of being almost distracting. I found myself admiring the skies and seas, waterways and grasslands, forests and deserts rather than the animals, which were speaking trite homilies at times.

Well worth seeing this film if you find it, but once again if you like a juicier story and a more exciting film, go for “Jurassic Park”!

Sunday 6 March 2011


“Only in love are unity and duality not in conflict.” - Rabindranath Tagore

For Art Sunday today, a whimsical and talented artist from the USA, Jaeme Newton. She has a distinctly personal style and uses a variety of media to create striking drawings of fantastical creatures and mythical animals. The drawings are detailed and very fluid, showing evidence of a rich inner voice and an imagination that leaps and flies into wonderful new worlds.

Jaeme Newton was born the 19th of May, 1982 in Green Brae, California. She spent her childhood traveling to various places throughout the western United States with her father (a political satirist, poet and children's book author) and her younger brother. Shortly after turning fourteen, Jaeme and her brother moved to Huntsville, Alabama to live with their mother and other siblings.

From 1998 Jaeme moved again and furthered her study of art in school at Miami, Florida, and began to paint in her home on a daily basis. Six months later Jaeme’s family moved again, and Jaeme began attending school at Albertson College of Idaho shortly after graduation from Fruitland High School in May of 2000.

Jaeme moved to Somerset, Kentucky where a friend of hers was starting a band named "nemo" in which Jaeme took up the bassist position and toured with 2003. Jaeme took time out to really explore the musician in her. In the course of three years, Jaeme produced three LPs , and one full length CD named “Live from the Theatre of Memory”, which there are very few copies of today.

The drawing above is called “Bridge” and shows a rich tapestry of images, wonderfully vibrant colour and a vivid imagination. I can relate to this drawing personally as it resembles very much some of my own drawings and the composition is very reminiscent of a series of drawings I did several years ago in my “visual diary”. There is a strong rhythmic element to the drawing with the central bridge linking the two sides of the drawing, which surround the bridge and yet are separated by it. There are astronomical figures, rainbows, exuberant swirls of colour and plant elements, as well as the two faces in the lower left that interlock an seem to mirror the two sides of the bridge. The bridge separates the two sides, but also joins them. The faces are joined and yet are different. Yin and Yang, night and day, good and evil, all melding together in a complex and multifaceted drawing that is quite satisfying to explore and delve into.