Saturday 20 August 2011


“Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire.” – Virgil

It was a beautiful Spring day today after a foggy morning. We made the most of it by doing our chores and then spending some time in the garden and then a nice walk to the shops. It seemed that everyone had the same idea and the cafés were full, while layers of winter clothing had been taken off. It was nice to feel the sun warming our back and hear the laughter and chatter around us. We had some lunch in one of the shops we like in the neighbourhood and then walked back home. Having had our fill of sun and stimulated some Vitamin D production, we went back home and watched a movie. Then out to dinner tonight. Quite a busy day Saturday, but busy-good!

Here is something spring-like and gorgeously melodic from the pen of the master of melody, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). It is the waltz from his opera Eugene Onegin. This is a well-known example of lyric opera; the libretto very closely follows Alexander Pushkin’s original poem, retaining much of his poetry, to which Tchaikovsky adds music of a dramatic nature. The story concerns a selfish hero (after whom the opera is named) who lives to regret his blasé rejection of Tatiana, a young woman who loves him and his careless incitement of a fatal duel with his best friend.  The opera was first performed in Moscow in 1879.

To open Act II, whose setting is a gala birthday party for the young Tatiana, Tchaikovsky created one of his most splendid waltzes full of melody and his usual wonderful orchestration. It is a wonderful evocation of youthful optimism and the springtime of emotions.

Thursday 18 August 2011


“Life is like eating artichokes, you have got to go through so much to get so little.” - Thomas Aloysius Dorgan

Another busy day at work today with a couple of meetings, some staff interviews, lots of paperwork and of course the usual emails, telephone calls and I even popped out at lunchtime to pay some bills. Before I knew it, it was time to go home. Although the weather started out wet and cool in the morning, it fined up by lunchtime so it was quite good to walk out into the sunshine for a little while. A good weekend is predicted with temperatures climbing to the high teens and some welcome spring sunshine.

Artichokes have started to appear in the greengrocers and despite the fuss needed to prepare them they are a wonderful vegetable, whether eaten raw in salads or cooked in a variety of ways. A native of the Mediterranean, the artichoke can be grown as a perennial or annual crop. It is a member of the thistle tribe of the daisy family (Compositae). In full growth, the plant spreads to cover an area about 1.5 metres in diameter and reaches a height of 1.5 metres. It has long, arching, deeply serrated leaves that give the plant a highly decorative appearance. The wild artichoke can be very spiny, with thorny leaves and buds. It produces artichokes that are smaller, but tastier than the cultivated variety.

The 'vegetable' that we eat is the plant’s flower bud. If these buds are allowed to open, the blossoms can measure up to 15 centimetres in diameter and are a beautiful violet-blue color. The size of the bud depends upon where it is located on the plant. The largest are the terminal buds produced at the end of the long central stems. These are the ones you are most likely to see if you go past an artichoke field. The lateral buds are smaller and lower on the stem.

The artichoke is not suited to people wanting fast food or a quick meal! Some preparation is required, but it is well worth it. Artichokes have a unique, nutty flavour as well as having great health benefits. One medium-sized artichoke is a good source of vitamin C, folate, dietary fibre, magnesium and potassium. It’s low in sodium, fat-free and a dieter’s delight at only 25 calories each. New studies have shown that artichokes contain an unusual amount of antioxidants and in a study done by the United States Department of Agriculture, artichokes rank as the number one vegetable in antioxidant count. Among the most powerful phytonutrients in artichokes are cynarin and silymarin, which have strong protective effects on the liver.

Most people cook the whole artichoke, then serve it in a dish with some dressing on the side. The artichoke is grasped with the fingers, each petal is stripped off, dipped in dressing and then its bottom fleshy part is bitten and the petal drawn through the teeth, trapping the flesh in the mouth. Eventually one reaches the more substantial and delectable heart, which is also eaten with the dressing. Lightly cooked and dressed artichokes also make excellent additions to stir-fries, pizzas, antipasto and pasta dishes.

The way that we have always prepared artichokes at home is to buy many of them when in season, usually in large cartons of 30-40 pieces. They are cheaper that way and one can then prepare them to keep for several months. This way, one has to clean them raw. It is great fun getting a few people together and having an artichoke cleaning lunch! First one needs a large bowl of ice-cold water in which several lemons have been juiced. Then the fun starts. The outer petals are discarded and then one peels off a petal and nibbles on the fleshy bottom, discarding the rest. This continues until one gets to the young and tender petals at the heart, The stem is peeled and trimmed to about two centimetres and the artichoke heart is quartered lengthwise parallel to the stem. The central ‘choke’ part is scraped out and discarded. One then has neat, clean quarters of artichoke heart with attached small piece of stem that must be placed in the water quickly to prevent them going black. This is continued until all the artichokes have been prepared. One feels rather full after this, as nibbling on the flesh on each petal adds up quite considerably!

The artichoke quarters can be eaten raw in salads, after chopping them up. A good combination is chopped lettuce hearts, artichokes, spring onions, chopped dill and chopped hard-boiled eggs. A simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper completes the dish. If the artichokes are not to be consumed raw, they must be blanched. Not cooked thoroughly, just parboiled. They are then drained thoroughly and can be frozen laid flat in plastic bags in convenient meal-size portions. They last for several months in the freezer. Another way of preserving them is to drain them well after parboiling, place them in sterilised glass jars and cover them with olive oil.

If one wishes to use the parboiled artichoke hearts one can add them to all sorts of recipes. For example, one may chop them up, sauté them in butter and make a delicious omelette with them. They can be used in quiches, pizzas and pasta (especially with creamy sauces). A traditional Greek dish is a spicy stewed lamb ragout to which artichokes are added in the final stages of cooking. Another dish is roast chicken stuffed with a mixture of sautéed artichoke heart pieces, chopped sweet yellow capsicums and field mushroom pieces.


“Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals love them. But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.” - Edwin Way Teale

We heard a rather distressing news item this morning on the news. A four-year-old girl was fatally mauled by a pit bull terrier, which rushed into her house and killed her while she was clinging to her mother’s leg. This happened on St Albans, one of Melbourne’s Western Suburbs, which are traditionally denoted as “working class” and “disadvantaged”. This may seem to be beside the point, but these suburbs often are bad-mouthed (and sometimes even by people who should know better, like politicians!) and all sorts of social ills are supposedly incubating in these locales.

In any eventuality, the sad case of Ayen Chol in one that is independent of location and class. A small child had her life cut tragically short and her death was horrible, with her last minutes in agony as the dog lunged at her. The animal, which belonged to a neighbour, wandered into the Chols’ house at about 8 o’clock yesterday evening, attacking the child and her cousin aged 5 years. The mother of the girl and Daniel Atem, a cousin aged 30 years, tried to get the dog away from the 5-year-old child, which was attacked first. They managed to save this older child, but the dog then lunged at Ayen who clung to her mother’s leg.

The dog tore the girl away from the mother, mauled her and caused her to die. The dog then slunk away and its owner came and took it away. The child’s father was overseas, working in the Sudan. The scene discovered by the police must have been horrific. The mother of the girl would have been inconsolable as she looked at her dead girl’s mutilated and bloody body and knowing that she had been there and unable to save her daughter’s life.

The State Government was motivated by this latest attack to announce that it would end an amnesty on dangerous dog owners and would allow Council staff to enter properties and destroy the animals. State government records of attacks show that between January and March a total of 721 people were attacked - meaning bitten, chased or harassed. Debate in parliament is expected to centre on whether the Crimes Act should be amended so that owners of killer dogs should face consequences similar to culpable drivers who can be put in gaol of up to 20 years.

The name “pit bull” for these dogs comes from fighting in pits. They are thrown in a pit with another dog and the two of them fight to the death. They are bred for fighting and their killer instincts tend to be preserved, even if cross-bred. If these killer dogs see something like another dog or a cat or a small child, move quickly they attack it with an instinct to kill. That some people choose to not only keep these dogs but also encourage these killer instincts in them is a sad fact of the human psyche. Animals are animals and they rely on instinct to motivate their actions. Humans have a brain and can think, they know right form wrong, they have intellect, emotions, a moral sense. That they can counter all of these and function in an inhuman way is perverse, criminal and amoral.

The dog in this case is acting as animal acts, and should not be blamed. It is an animal that acts out its animal instincts on which its survival hinges. The owner of the dog is the one to blame and if the lawmakers do the right thing, he should be the one to pay the price that justice should exact for the death of a little angel.

maul |môl| verb [ with obj. ]
(Of an animal) Wound (a person or animal) by scratching and tearing: The herdsmen were mauled by lions.
• Treat (someone or something) roughly.
A tool with a heavy head and a handle, used for tasks such as ramming, crushing, and driving wedges; a beetle.
mauler noun
ORIGIN: Middle English (in the sense ‘hammer or wooden club,’ also ‘strike with a heavy weapon’): From Old French mail, from Latin malleus ‘hammer.’

Tuesday 16 August 2011


“The heart is the only broken instrument that works.” - T.E. Kalem

The creative writing group hosted by Magpie Tales has set a challenge based on the image above, which is very home improvement-like today: Paint, brushes, rollers, paint trays… One can almost smell the distinctive odour of fresh paint and one can see the swatches of colour and the tentative areas of newly-applied patches of paint to see how it really looks in situ. It’s a great opportunity for renewal and re-invention and a new paint job will refresh walls, hide stubborn marks and dispose of cracks, holes and other defects. The new colour schemes will give us opportunity to start afresh and our environment will be revived – hopefully so will our disposition!

I am not a handyman (and I would rather apply paint to canvas than to walls), however, I have renovated and painted and renewed, and have done it often, both literally and figuratively, as the poem illustrates for the latter case…

Closed for Renovations

My heart is closed for renovations:
Your residence therein
Was somewhat indelicate,
And much needed be done
To make it habitable once again.

I’ve left my heart vacant, for now:
Following your eviction,
The cracks in its walls will be repaired,
Fresh coats of paint applied
And a new colour scheme chosen.

It is a barren place, my heart:
Since you left, you left it empty –
Save for your rubbish, cast-offs,
And your unwanted lumbering baggage
That none would want, not even me, now.

It’s worse for wear and tear, my heart:
But I’ll mend it and renew it,
Recondition and repair it.
And this time around, I’ll be more careful,
I won’t give it away for free…

My freshly painted, remodelled heart,
Is now for sale; not for rent, nor to be given away –
Sold, as paint jobs are expensive and renovations costly.
My heart is more precious now,
An old thing broken and repaired
Is more beautiful than a thing brand new.


“The things which the child loves remain in the domain of the heart until old age. The most beautiful thing in life is that our souls remaining over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves” - Kahlil Gibran

At the weekend we saw Richard Donner’s 1998 film “The Goonies” based on a story by Steven Spielberg. This is a classic children’s movie, which although dated and looks very 80s, is a fun adventure. There are bad guys, pirate treasure, underground tunnels, booby traps, boys vs girls, some adolescent romance (very jejune!) and of course the triumph of good over evil. There are some funny scenes, but don’t expect depth and polish. It’s all good fun, perfect for kids that love to go on treasure hunts and imagine themselves starring in swashbuckling adventures.

The film revolves around a group of children and adolescents who live in the poorer, less trendy part of Astoria, Oregon. Every member of this band of “Goonies” as they call themselves, is given a strong characterisation, which helps to move the story along. Teenage Brand is obsessed with his body image and wants to build up his muscles, while his younger brother Mikey is asthmatic and bookish, but is the more imaginative of the two. The chubby little Jewish boy, Chunk, is quite disarming with his weaknesses and manages to deliver quite few good one liners, as well as perform the “Truffle Shuffle”. ‘Data’, the bright Chinese kid with the gadgets, as well as ‘Mouth’ with his hilarious translation of the house-cleaning instructions are all characters that are simple and stock comedic ones, perhaps, but quite appealing for the children who watch the movie and for some adults who remember nostalgically their own childhood.

The two teenage girls who join the boys a little late on in the film are weak, but they are there to add teenage appeal and provide the romantic interest for Brand (played by the way by Josh Brolin, James Brolin’s son). Mikey is played by Sean Astin who played Sam Gamgee in ‘Lord of the Rings’. Both of these child actors did quite well in Hollywood later in their life, compared to other child actors (and Shirley Temple does spring to mind, rather unconnectedly!).

The bad guys in the movie are the Fratelli Brothers and their mother played in broad slapstick strokes by Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano and Anne Ramsay. They bumble along and create ludicrous tensions, only to have them resolved by their expected downfall and many gags. John Matuszak who plays the severely disfigured ‘Sloth’ Fratelli teaches an important lesson about beauty only being skin deep. The film works as a children’s film as it is ridiculous, unassuming, full of silly children’s gags and a simple rollicking adventure that all children have imagined themselves involved in. The characters are shallow but believable because of their simplicity and stock characterisation. The film was made to be a fun, feel-good movie, not one to win prizes at art-film festivals. To this end it is a successful one.

It is interesting watching films intended for children and compare them over a few decades. One can observe the increasing sophistication as one comes to the more recent ones and also how the children’s films have crossed over into the adult genres. Indeed many of the contemporary children’s films have a firm adult following with many of the die-hard fans being well advanced in years! One only needs to think about the Harry Potter series and the number of adults that became engrossed in all of these movies, and one can see that children are becoming more and more like miniature adults, and adults are regressing into a dark and complex children’s world, which they have helped to create.

‘The Goonies’ will please the young and the young at heart. It is the kind of movie that adults will find endearing because it has the power of nostalgia, while even children nowadays will watch with interest and amusement because it offers them childhood pure and simple, with no grown-up plots and evil nasties, or lots of psychological depths. Its premise is uncomplicated and the moral lessons it teaches are obvious and its significance glaring. Fluff, but amusing fluff, especially for the children of today who have been robbed somewhat of their childhood.

Monday 15 August 2011


“All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.” - Carl Sagan

I was in Sydney for work today and spent a very busy day on our new campus. We had a Higher Education Panel come in and interview us for all sorts of regulatory requirements, and fortunately it all went well and our campus and course delivery on this new campus were approved. The progress that has been made on the fit-out and equipping of the campus has been astounding and it was great to see students already in classrooms being instructed as part of our VET programs. The regulatory visit was in relation to our Higher Education degrees, and now that this has been successfully negotiated we can concentrate on the exciting prospect of all sorts of educational initiatives being started and further developed.

Another interesting thing that happened while in Sydney was that we had a presentation by one of the major bioscience publishers on a new platform for accessing e-texts and e-resources. It was quite amazing to see what is now being done in terms of making textbooks available on electronic platforms with some added, media-rich resources that bring the content to life. This of course will mean that in the near future the physical printed textbook will become redundant, as interactive and custom-designed learning resources are made available to students.

This is especially important in tertiary education where new research and developments make the physical printed textbook out of date almost as soon as it is published. An e-Book has the advantage of being easily updated and revised, with the latest material being immediately added to the electronic edition, which is in use. The other advantage is that the material can be brought to life with animations, sound files, videos, interactive formative assessments, access to hyperlinked material on the web, wikis, blogs, etc, etc.

Another bonus is that that these e-Books are not as “rigid” as a printed text. An instructor can be quite creative when putting together learning resources for use in class. For example if I as an instructor wish to use Chapters 1, 3, 5 and 6 from one textbook, Chapter 2 and 3 from another and Chapters 11, 13 and 14 from yet another, I can construct my own recommended reading text through this anthologising process, so that my students get the learning text resources that correspond best to the specific curricular needs of any given subject area.

As we move towards more flexible and more engaging educational resources, it is important to consider the collaborative learning opportunities that can be used effectively in a classroom and personal learning space environment. The instructor becomes a facilitator of learning and provides opportunities for the class and individual students so that they construct their own tailor-made environment in which learning can occur. The use of wikis is one such example of collaborative learning opportunities, but also self-selection of the learning resources that each student can personally make allows each learner to individualise their own personal library of resources that best help them as an individual to learn from.

The physical book of course will not disappear completely as there will always be bibliophiles amongst us that revel in the book and its physical presence in our hands. Whatever technology may come, there will always be books, less of them maybe, but one would hope that they will represent the best of what is available in terms of publishing and careful, beautiful and well-prepared editions.