Saturday 10 September 2011


“At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.” -  Plato

A quiet Saturday today with many chores done at home. The weather rainy and cool, not much to inspire a forage outside. A rather melancholy day…
A beautiful Greek song today, sung by George Dalaras, with lyrics by Michalis Bourboulis and music by Stamos Semsis.

Your Firework Eyes

I turned on all the lights and gave a performance:
Once a love is dead it cannot be resurrected.

Your firework eyes shine like phosphorus
Like ships at night passing through the Bosporus.

You turned off the light and went, you became invisible
A cloud taken by the wind in a city like an automaton.

Your firework eyes are a holocaust
And loneliness falls on the floor like rain.

I am trapped in your perfume, in your name
And in your eyes, yes your cold firework eyes.

Your firework eyes shine like phosphorus
Like ships at night passing through the Bosporus.

Τα βεγγαλικά σου μάτια

Άναψα όλα τα φώτα κι έδωσα παράσταση
σαν πεθάνει η αγάπη δε γνωρίζει ανάσταση

Τα βεγγαλικά σου μάτια φέγγουν σαν το φώσφορο
σαν νυχτερινά καράβια που περνούν το Βόσπορο

Έκλεισες το φως και πήγες έγινες αόρατη
νέφος που το πήρε ο αέρας σε μια πόλη αυτόματη

Τα βεγγαλικά σου μάτια ένα ολοκαύτωμα
και η μοναξιά να πέφτει σαν βροχή στο πάτωμα

Είμαι πια εγκλωβισμένος στ' άρωμά σου στ' όνομά σου
και στα μάτια ναι στα μάτια τα ψυχρά βεγγαλικά σου

Τα βεγγαλικά σου μάτια φέγγουν σαν το φώσφορο
σαν νυχτερινά καράβια που περνούν το Βόσπορο

Thursday 8 September 2011


“A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.” - Benjamin Franklin

Oh what a day in Melbourne today – Melburnians would probably say a typical Melbourne day! We really did get all four seasons into one, with rain, hail, sunshine, cold and then slightly warmer temperatures! Just as well I was busy at work and except for short foray to the bank across the road, I was quite sheltered from the changing and quite inclement weather with many meetings, and much desk work. However, Winter was certainly showing his teeth today just as he is departing…

When I came home this evening, I felt like a drink before dinner, which is something quite unusual for me these days. However, once every blue moon, a little apéritif is quite nice to enjoy prior to dining and especially so on a Friday. Here is what we enjoyed this evening:

    • 2 measures of gin
    • ½ measure of dry vermouth
    • A couple of drops of lemon juice
    • 1 drop of lemon essence (or a tiny piece of lemon peel)
    • 1 drop of Angostura bitters
    • Stuffed green olive.
    • Strip of lemon peel

Pour the spirits in a cocktail shaker, add several ice cubes and the drop of lemon juice, essence and bitters.  Shake until the martini is ice cold.  Drain into a chilled martini glass and keep this in the freezer until ready to drink.  Wrap the strip of lemon peel around the olive and secure with a toothpick.  Drop the olive in the martini and serve ice-cold.

This was very nice to sip while relaxing before dinner. For dinner tonight we had some steamed broccoli with a simple lemon and olive oil dressing, some cheese with crackers, and mushroom crêpes, washed down with some nice pinot gris. Fridays are very nice, especially in a warm house while it is wet and cold outside. After dinner, it’s time for curling up with a good book. Much better than being out and watching the football – grand final weekend or not!


“If you are planning for tomorrow, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” – Chinese Proverb

Today is International Literacy Day and it is of particular importance worldwide, as there are now close to 1.5 billion illiterate people in the world. A combination of ambitious goals, insufficient and parallel efforts, inadequate resources and strategies, and continued underestimation of the magnitude and complexity of the task accounts for the unaccomplished goal of literacy for all.

Literacy is a fundamental human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational and employment opportunities depend on literacy. Basic education for all implies that we make literacy possible, and this is essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy.

Basic education of good quality will allow students to develop literacy skills for life and further learning; literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing development needs. One in five adults is still not literate today and about two-thirds of them are women while 67.4 million children are out of school.

The General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution A/RES/56/116, proclaimed the ten-year period beginning 1 January 2003 as the United Nations Literacy Decade. Furthermore, in its “Education for All” resolution A/RES/57/166, the Assembly welcomed the International Plan of Action for the Decade and decided that UNESCO should take a co-ordinating role in activities undertaken at the international level within the framework of the Literacy Decade. The evidence collected is uncontested: Education has a direct impact on health, nutrition, employment, and citizenship. Education drives the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals for developing countries as it equips people with knowledge and skills to break the cycle of poverty and shape their future life chances.

Three major priorities that governments and international institutions must urgently act upon in order to achieve literacy are:
Firstly equality, with all children being able to enjoy their right to education. Girls in the poorest 20% of households are over three times more likely to be out of school than boys. Disability, gender, minority status, language, and emergency situations remain causes for exclusion from an education. Geographic factors and schools too distant to be practicable are also important factors contributing to illiteracy.

Secondly, quality is important. 

Far too many schools are under-resourced with even the basics missing: Desks, blackboards, pens, textbooks, electricity, sanitation, and running water are often inadequate or completely lacking. How many classes are held in the open air with lessons scratched on soil? Qualified teachers, by far the most important resource, are lacking. Thus, basic reading and numeracy skills after more than six years in school are still inadequate in many communities.

Thirdly, finances are a priority, and without funds specifically directed towards schooling, many children will not get an opportunity to an education and may even remain illiterate. 

The financial crisis has forced many countries to cut their spending on education and parents remove their children from school or simply do not send them at all. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) estimates the financing gap to reach Education for All in low-income countries at $16 billion annually.

Unfortunately, illiteracy is not only a problem in developing countries. In Australia approximately 200,000 people are estimated to be illiterate. In the USA, as many as 3 million people were reported to be illiterate in 2002, as published by the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. These are astounding statistics for two of the world’s richest and most well-developed countries. The issues are complex and many of the illiterate people in these populations belong to minority or disadvantaged groups. However, there are some mind-boggling stories where the most unlikely people are revealed to be unable to read. The National Adult Literacy Database of Canada has remarkable stories of people’s battle with illiteracy. Jamie Simon, a school dropout at 16 describes his life-changing experience when he resumed school as an adult. Danny Haines tells of how literacy saved his life.

Most of us in this community are fortunate and cannot even imagine what the life of an illiterate must be like. A glance at the script illustrated above shows you what an open book must look like to someone who is illiterate. If you are reading this blog, consider yourself very lucky…

literacy |ˈlitərəsē, ˈlitrə-| noun
The ability to read and write.
• competence or knowledge in a specified area: wine literacy can't be taught in three hours.
ORIGIN late 19th century: From literate, on the pattern of illiteracy [late Middle English: from Latin litteratus, from littera]

Tuesday 6 September 2011


“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made.” - Robert Browning

We have been replacing a shade tarpaulin in the garden every 8-10 months or so for the last three years. It’s become quite a problem as it fits over an oddly shaped frame and only its manufacturer can supply the custom-made weather-resistant cloth. Unfortunately, the material is poor quality and is designed to last for a blink of an eye. Buy, consume, throw away – such is our society, things are not made to last for a long time, nowadays. It explains the popularity of antiques. Old things were made to last for a lifetime – or several, in fact! Whether they are furniture, vintage cars, machinery, specialist equipment, hand crafted instruments, old things last and one can see in them the pride that went into their making. Old is beautiful, functional, classic, made to withstand the ravages of time – within reason…

Here is my latest contribution to the writing group hosted by Magpie Tales, which this week used the photograph above to stimulate the creative efforts of the talented people that regularly write in response to these visual stimuli.

The Fossils

A fossil in the making
Its paint flaking:
Half-buried truck in mud and landslide –
It’s seen better days.

The rain leaches it,
The sun bleaches it.
Each scratch a memory,
It’s been a long time since it was on the road.

The rust consumes it
And time subsumes it;
The years bite, each day its last –
For so many years, countless last days now…

And yet it stands
Embraced by sands,
Resistant, immune to changing fashion,
Defiant, indifferent to the passage of time.

As corrosion gnaws
With all-devouring jaws,
The old truck stands bravely, still
Weathering storms, droughts, floods, searing sun.

Just like the old van,
A strong old man,
My grandfather stands tall and proud.

His joints eroded
His bones corroded.
His skin peeling, rusty, wearing thin.

Each wrinkle a memory,
His touch rough emery,
Smooths the passage of time.

An old man, an old truck,
The images ’ve stuck,
They’ve seen better days.

Monday 5 September 2011


“I place a high moral value on the way people behave. I find it repellent to have a lot, and to behave with anything other than courtesy in the old sense of the word - politeness of the heart, a gentleness of the spirit.” - Fran Lebowitz

I was rather incensed at work today with one of the contract staff that occasionally comes in and teaches for us. She is very experienced, knowledgeable and a teacher that usually gets quite good feedback from her students. However, other staff members have sometimes raised concerns about her approach and manner. Apparently she can be opinionated and overbearing and is very forthright with her views. Today I had the opportunity to see her in action and I was able to find out for myself that her manner was quite abrupt and dismissive, and what really annoyed me were her constant interruptions and interjections to the discussion and the very impolite way in which she talked over other people who were speaking. In the end I was unable to control myself any further and laid down the law. I warned her that if she continued acting in this way she would be ejected from the meeting (to which she was only an invited guest) and if she wanted to contribute to the discussion she was welcome to, but would have to do so only via the chair’s permission (i.e. mine).

Her surprised reaction was amusing as it was quite physical. She started back and her chair dragged back on the floor, while her arms were thrown back momentarily. She went to say something, but her mouth gaped and finally closed without uttering a word. The looks of exasperation on everyone’s face were replaced with relief and a little smile here and there. The disruptive teacher shut up and from then on glared at everyone with an extremely sour look on her face, while occasionally I could feel the daggers emanating from her eyes and heading in my direction. Needless to say the meeting progressed without a hitch after that, however, I had another surprise up my sleeve. At one point in the discussion a matter came up which was squarely within her expertise. After I invited some general comments and everyone except her had their say (she was still sulking), I invited her specifically to comment by asking her a leading question in my sweetest voice and with my broadest smile, intimating she was the best qualified person to answer. Another shocked look at me was soon replaced by a smile and she started to talk passionately about the matter at hand, knowledgeably, with a well-considered argument and offering useful advice. Everyone around the meeting table was attentive and appreciative, listening quietly without interruptions. When I invited questions, a couple were asked, which she answered well. I thanked her for her input and proceeded with the next item on the agenda. As the matter was being discussed, she piped up and in her inimitable style proceeded to talk over someone else. I raised my hand and looked at her with a steely eye. She wilted back into her chair and I said “thank you”. The meeting progressed without incident after that.

The meetings that I attend, whether as an ordinary member or chair, have fellow members that are mostly reticent, thoughtful, polite and measured in their approaches. Very few are more vociferous, taking charge and moving things forward quickly and more energetically. These are all legitimate approaches to running a meeting, and any one of them can work well for the benefit of the whole. As my example indicates, however, when one committee member’s personality or approach to the job is such that can throw a wrench into the whole system, then trouble begins. These are the people who try to dominate a meeting, try to push their own agendas no matter what the cost, and try to bully the other meeting members into seeing things their way.

A lack of practical experience and knowledge can cause disruption on the committee as people lobby back and forth on different issues. One person might think they know better than another, but if there is no basis in fact for that belief, troubles can arise.  It’s equally disruptive when a member starts to focus on his or her personal agenda versus the committee’s official agenda. In this particular instance that I have related, I was told afterwards that this teacher’s secret agenda was to impress me so that I would consider her for a permanent appointment in the near future. I was not impressed and her outbursts had decidedly the opposite effect. I dislike rude people and go out of my way to stamp out aggressive and impolite behaviour in the workplace. A team helps each of its members and graciously accepts the help they offer when the need arises. We should be civilised in our interactions and politeness with consideration of others is a non-negotiable desideratum. The workplace is somewhere we spend an enormous proportion of our lives and things there should be as pleasant as possible for everyone.

Controlling disruptive members of committees can be done by an effective chair who needs to to regain and then ensure strict, by-the-book conduct of all meetings. Meetings should be run very precisely – if possible Robert’s Rules of Order should be followed, and the meeting should stay with the heart of compliance and procedure. It’s in the absence of structure that those exasperating and aggressive voices try to fill the vacuum. Robert’s Rules were created for a reason. They allow the weaker members of a group to have a voice along with every other member. And that’s important in an organisation that relies upon the intellectual contribution of each and every person on its committees.

Sunday 4 September 2011


“And, after all, what is a lie? ‘Tis but the truth in masquerade.” - Lord Byron

At the weekend we watched the Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson 2009 film “The Invention of Lying”. We had avoided seeing this film as we do not particularly like Ricky Gervais and seeing this film was co-written and co-directed by him and was one in which he had the leading role, did not seem like a particularly attractive prospect. However, at the video store I overheard a couple of strangers talking about films as they were browsing the shelves and they got into a discussion about this film. Both of them were most complimentary of it, so I had to turn around (to my shame!) to see what they looked like. Although they spoke well and seemed quite cultured, I still wanted to see what they looked like before I finally decided on whether or not to get this film to watch. They looked OK, non-descript, average, middle-aged men, quite ordinary really - just like me! So I decided to get the movie to watch it…

Well, we were glad that I had taken a punt and got the film, as we were pleasantly surprised by it. Ricky Gervais and his plucked, shaped eyebrows aside, the film was a thought-provoking comedy with more than a touch of satire thrown in. It explored the concept of truth versus lies, honesty and integrity, the “black lie” versus the “white lie”, the importance of being honest with one’s self and what ultimate truths finally matter in our lives in the long run. It explored the power of different kinds of love and to what lengths we go to in order to make the people we love happy.

The film has simple premise as its starting point: It is set in a fictitious parallel universe earth where everything is the same, with the exception of a small but significant difference. Lying and fiction do not exist. Everyone tells the truth including just about anything they are thinking. Nobody can even consider lying as a possibility as they are compelled by their nature and the wiring of their brain to tell the truth. Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is a bad screenwriter, about to be fired from his job at a film studio making documentaries (what else? There is no fiction). Mark is short, has a snub nose, is chunky and not handsome, but he loves Anna (Jennifer Garner) who is statuesque, attractive, successful and obviously out of his league (as she loses no time in telling him). When Mark loses his job he goes to the bank to withdraw his last $300, but on the spur of the moment and due to one misfiring neurone in his very special brain, he lies! As a result he withdraws $800 because the bank assumes their computers have made an error. As he sees the success his fib has given him, he begins his crusade of lying with amazing results that see him catapulted to success, fame and riches. However, it’s his “white lies” that have the most profound consequences that result in enormous social change. The questions remain, will Anna still reject him as an unsuitable match of poor genetic stock, will his lying get him in more hot water than he bargains for, and will the society that idolises him ultimately reject him?

Good supporting actor performances are given by Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan and Rob Lowe (the last-mentioned giving a good self-mocking performance as the “good genetic stock” choice of Anna). The film is well-shot, but wins no cinematography awards, its music is unobtrusive and the comedy is restrained and subtle, while there are some scenes in which pathos and poignancy predominate, with Gervais handling those scenes sincerely and with aplomb (I am being objective here!). The topic of religion as covered by the film may be offensive to some hard-liner fundamentalists, but sociologically and psychologically, the film’s premise dictates quite logically the way that this topic is covered.

I would recommend this film to most open-minded people who watch a comedy not to belly laugh at slapstick, but who rather want a little more depth to the gags, which will more often than not cause one to smile or gently chuckle. The film has much to make one think about, but it’s not ‘philosophy 101’ or ‘psychology 201’. It is a very good B-grade comedy that although of not broad appeal, ticks quite a few boxes and is enjoyable and entertaining. It could quite possibly be a good film to show in year 12 and get the class to discuss, the teens discussing the themes raised with much gusto, I should think.


“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” - Clarence Budington Kelland

It is Fathers’ Day here in Australia today and I am featuring a painting by Edward “Bear” Miller. Miller was born and raised in the District of Columbia, and started painting in oils in high school. After graduating from Reed College and teaching history for more than ten years on the West Coast and in South America, he has returned to his home in Washington, where the forms and tones of the East Coast have proved to be a source of fascination for him more than ever. Robert Henri, Lucian Freud, and the Bay Area figurative painters inform his work, but he is consumed by a 21st-century admiration for our devastated natural world. Bridges, ships, and human forms in nature serve as motifs for contemplating humanity’s notions of liberation and progress in light of the biosphere’s diminishing robustness. The tragic beauty of oilrigs, mining operations, and commercial fisheries are subjects the artist plans to explore in 2011.

The painting above is an intimate yet strong portrait of a man the artist knows well and loves. Maribel, the artist’s father, has a strong, lined face with limpid blue eyes that look at the viewer with intensity. As the artist notes he and his father resemble each other a lot and it’s interesting to see the artist projecting himself in this portrait, crystal gazing into the future and seeing himself as he will be in several years time. All of us, sons see our father as a role model, as a paradigm of existence, as an exemplary life, which we would wish to aspire to. The artist has communicated this admiration, affection, love and respect for his father in this candid portrait. It is best perhaps to use the artist’s own words to describe his feelings and thoughts about this portrait and about his father:

“A year ago, my father, Maribel, and I went to India. It was Maribel’s and my second time in India, but our first time in the north: Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Rajasthan, and Agra. My father is an avid adventurer, hiker, tennis player, liberal, lover of paintings and music... interests we have shared and developed together over my lifetime. It was an honor and joy when he chose to come with us to India, because Maribel and I generally travel in dirtbag style and Dad said he trusted our judgement on how to move and where to stay. Pretty cool coming from a federal judge. Dad and I made a side venture to Ranakpur (near Udaipur) to see an ancient Jain temple, and I snapped a photo of him at a moment when he was immersed in his thoughts and impressions and not conscious of being photographed. Here he is in the midst of communicating something to me, his son. It’s worth mentioning that we look a lot alike.

This painting is about mortal recognition of the larger and alternative circumstances of existence. My father serves as the subject, but it is in many regards a self-portrait. India is such an eye-opening place on so many levels. One’s consciousness of self, destitution, quiet bliss, religious pandemonium, the diversity of humanity, and our connection to the natural world is heightened and tested.”

Happy Fathers’ Day to all fathers!