Saturday 22 October 2011


“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul” – Plato

It is the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt’s birthday today. This Hungarian virtuoso pianist and composer was born on the 22nd of October 1811, at Raiding, in Hungary, and he died at Bayreuth, Germany, 31st July, 1886. His appeal to musicians is threefold: There was Liszt the unrivalled pianoforte virtuoso (1830-48); Liszt the conductor of the “music of the future” at Weimar, the teacher of Tausig, Bülow and a host of lesser pianists, the eloquent writer on music and musicians, the champion of Berlioz and Wagner (1848-61); and Liszt the prolific composer, who for some 35 years continued to put forth pianoforte pieces, songs, symphonic orchestral pieces, cantatas, masses, psalms and oratorios (1847-82).

Liszt’s musical precocity was recognized early by his parents, and his first teacher was his father, Adam Liszt, a musical amateur of rare culture. His son’s first public appearance at Oedenburg at the age of nine was so startling, that several Hungarian magnates who were present assumed the financial responsibilities of Liszt’s further musical education. Taken to Vienna by his father, who devoted himself exclusively to the development of his talented child, he studied the piano for six years with Czerny, and theory and composition with Salieri and Randhartinger.

His first public appearance in Vienna (1st January, 1823) proved a noteworthy event in the annals of music. From Beethoven, who was present, down to the merest dilettante, everyone immediately acknowledged his great genius. His entry to the Paris Conservatory, where his father wished him to continue his studies, and which at the time was under Cherubini, proved unsuccessful on account of his not being a native of France. His studies, however, under Reicha and Paer, made the youthful prodigy one of the most conspicuous figures of the French capital. His one act opera, “Don Sanche”, as well as his piano compositions, achieved a flattering success. His brilliant concert tours in Switzerland and England enhanced an already established reputation.

His father’s death (1827) made Liszt the main supporter of his mother, but the temporary hardship disappeared when he began his literary and teaching career. His charming personality, conversational brilliancy, and transcendent musical ability opened the world of fashion, wealth and intellect to him. His intimacy with Meyerbeer and his friendship with Chopin, whose biographer he subsequently became, kept alive and fostered his interest in his art.

An alliance (1834-44) with the Countess d’Agoult resulted in three children. A son who died early, Blandina, who became the wife of Emile Ollivier, Minister of Justice to Napoleon III, and Cosima, first the wife of Hans von Bülow, then of Richard Wagner, owner of Villa Wahnfried, Bayreuth. The rupture of this liaison signalled the beginning of his dazzling career as a virtuoso pianist without peer or rival. His concert tours throughout Europe evoked an unparalleled enthusiasm and the doors of the nobility opened wide for him.

His twelve years at Weimar (1849-61), where he assumed the proffered position of court conductor, were years of intensive activity. He supervised the court concerts and operatic performances, bringing them to a perfection that made the small provincial town of Weimar synonymous with the highest achievements in music. During this period he also gave the world a series of notable piano compositions, and even more notable choral and orchestral works, that have been very influential musically.

His support of Wagner and some of his composition pupils that were not publicly popular caused him to resign his position as court conductor in 1861. After his resignation he lived in turn at Rome, Budapest, and Weimar. Religion which was only temporarily overshadowed began playing an active part in his life again. As early as 1856 or 1858 he became a Franciscan tertiary. He received minor orders from Cardinal Hohenlohe in his private chapel at the Vatican on 25th April, 1865. His career of twenty-one years as an abbé was most exemplary and punctilious as he was in the performance of his ecclesiastical duties, his interest in his art continued unabated. He succumbed to an acute attack of pneumonia at the home of a friend, near Wagner’s Villa Wahnfried and was buried, without pomp or display, in the Bayreuth cemetery.

Here is a beautiful contemplative piece for piano, Liszt’s “Consolation No. 3”, S. 172, played by the great Vladimir Horowitz.

Thursday 20 October 2011


“Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food.” - Hippocrates

The chickpea (Cicer arietinum), also known as the ceci bean, garbanzo bean, chana (north India), Indian pea, and Bengal gram, is an edible legume of the family Fabaceae. Chickpeas are high in protein and one of the earliest cultivated foods. 7,500-year-old remains have been found in the Middle East. In classical Greece, they were called “erébinthos” and were eaten as a staple, a dessert, or consumed raw when young. The Romans knew several varieties such as venus, ram, and punic chickpeas. They were cooked down into a broth and roasted as a snack. The Roman gourmet Apicius gives several recipes for chickpeas.

Chickpeas, like most other legumes, are a bountiful source of zinc, folate and protein. They are also very high in dietary fibre and hence a healthy source of carbohydrates for persons with insulin sensitivity or diabetes. Chickpeas are low in fat and most of this is polyunsaturated. One hundred grams of mature boiled chickpeas contains 164 calories, 2.6 grams of fat (of which only 0.27 grams is saturated), 7.6 grams of dietary fibre and 8.9 grams of protein. Chickpeas also provide dietary phosphorus (49–53 mg/100 g), with some sources citing the chickpea content as about the same as yogurt and close to milk.

Around the Mediterranean, in the Middle East and right through all of the countries to India, chickpeas are a staple in the diet and in some parts of the world (for example, parts of India), chickpeas are eaten daily in large amounts and on a year-round basis. A recent study has shown that one can obtain health benefits from chickpeas even when they are eaten in much smaller quantities over a much shorter period of time.

Consumption of chickpeas regularly helps blood fat regulation, including lower levels of LDL-cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. They also improve control of blood sugar and insulin secretion. Colonic health is improved by consuming chickpeas regularly and this is because up to 75% of the fibre found in chickpeas is insoluble fibre, and this type of fibre remains undigested all the way down to the final segment of the large intestine. Recent studies have shown that chickpea fibre can be metabolised by bacteria in the colon to produce relatively large amounts of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), including acetic, propionic, and butyric acid. These SCFAs provide nutrition for the cells that line the intestinal wall and have an anti-cancer effect.

Here is a traditional Greek vegetarian recipe for Chickpea Soup.

Greek Chick Pea Soup

500 grams chickpeas
1 level tbsp cooking soda
2 onions, finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
500-600 mL of vegetable broth
1-2 lemons, juiced
Salt, pepper to taste
1/2 tsp of nutmeg
1 tbsp plain flour
Fresh parsley, chopped – if desired


Put the cleaned and washed chickpeas in a large bowl and cover them with an excess of water.
Add some salt (about one tbsp.) and soak overnight.
The next morning, rinse the chickpeas, drain them and soak again, this time adding the cooking soda to the water. Leave them to soak for about an hour.
Drain, rinse and put in a saucepan, covering them with water and bring them to rollicking boil for about 15-20 minutes.
Remove and discard any foam and scum that rises to the top during this process.
Remove from the heat and leave aside.
In a frying pan, put about two-three tbsps olive oil and when it heats up, add the chopped onions, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Fry until the onions are golden and tender, and then put the onions and oil into the chickpeas.
Return the saucepan with the chickpeas to the heat and cook until they are tender (can be up to an hour).
Keep adding warm vegetable broth to the chickpeas so that a thick soup-like consistency is maintained.
Juice the lemon(s) so that about 4 tbsp of juice is obtained and put in a cup, adding an equal amount of broth from the cooking chickpeas. Add the flour and stir well.
Put the lemon-flour mixture into the chickpeas and simmer until the soup thickens.
Serve hot with chopped parsley as a garnish, if desired.

Wednesday 19 October 2011


“The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.” - Jawaharlal Nehru

For the past six weeks protesters have camped in Zuccotti Park and surrounds, in the Wall Street financial district of New York and have identified themselves as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. The long-running protest was initiated by “Adbusters” a Canadian activist group, which drew its inspiration from the Arab Spring movement, especially Cairo’s Tahrir Square protests. The slogan of the protest is: “We are the 99%” and refers to the difference in wealth between the top 1% and the rest of the citizens of the United States.

In these dire times for the economy which once led the world, in the country that was the world’s richest and with the highest quality of life, “Occupy Wall Street” draws attention to the rapidly declining living standards of the great majority of USA citizens. While the USA led the world and life was good for the “average” American citizen, Wall Street represented opportunity, sharp business acumen, free enterprise and all the benefits of capitalism that everyone could be part of. At this time of financial crisis where the “average” American is suffering, Wall Street has become the symbolic centre of an economy based on limitless greed and speculation, where the select few are exploiting the system in order to grow their wealth at the expense of almost everyone else.

The protesters are objecting to social and economic inequality in present-day USA, they wish to draw attention to corporate greed, and the power and influence of corporations, particularly from the financial service sector, and of lobbyists, over government. By October 9th, similar demonstrations were either ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the USA including the estimated 100,000 people who demonstrated on October 15. Internationally, other “Occupy” protests have modelled themselves after “Occupy Wall Street”, in over 900 cities worldwide.

The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters include persons of a variety of political orientations, including liberals, political independents, anarchists, socialists, libertarians, and environmentalists. When the protest started the majority of the demonstrators were young. As the protest gathered momentum, however, the age of the protesters became more diverse, mostly related to the use of social networks. Religious beliefs are diverse as well. Some news organisations have compared the protest to a left-leaning version of the Tea Party protests. Some leftist academics and activists expressed concern that it may become co-opted by the Democratic Party. An October 12–16 poll found that 67% of New York City voters agreed with the protesters and 87% agreed with their right to protest.

The indignation of the American in the street has at last found an outlet. The situation in the USA was a boil that has been growing and becoming more and more inflamed as it collected pus. At some stage the boil had to point and discharge the pus. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is protesting against the obscene criminal scandals that virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street was embroiled in, and which impoverished millions and collectively destroyed trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth. And nobody went to gaol…

Nobody went to gaol, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people. Not a single executive who ran the companies that were responsible for, and cashed in on, the phony financial boom was punished. This was an industry-wide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities. Companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. Furthermore, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions and not one of them has faced time behind bars…

The economic situation in the USA has been festering for decades. It has now reached a crisis point. Increasing joblessness, declining living standards, escalating numbers of foreclosures, mounting student loan debts, huge income inequality, exploitation, fraud, theft, increased incidence of flagrant white-collar crime, scams, have all contributed to the ordinary people of the USA deciding to do something to actively reclaim their lives and dignity. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has gathered immense support worldwide. Many world leaders have openly voiced their support and have sent a strong message to the USA to “get its own house in order” before it interferes in the internal politics and economies of other countries. Numerous protests in major cities around the world have been organised as a show of solidarity with the 99% of the American populace that is protesting.

The quote with which I started this blog post is significant as it states that the source of woes is “capitalism left unchecked”. This is very much the case in the USA where in the name of democracy, liberty and free enterprise, capitalism was left unchecked. Bertrand Russell says: “Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.” The rich justify their greed and riches by saying that everyone else in the population has the same opportunities as they have in order to become wealthy. That is the system for which the USA has been seen as the land of golden opportunity. Yet, is this strictly true? The present situation and the financial crisis seem to suggest otherwise.

Capitalists are guilty of unequal sharing of riches and opportunity. Socialists wish to equally apportion misfortunes to everyone. That is the other extreme, of course, as Churchill pointed out. Hard work requires good reward. Some people should earn more than others because they work harder or they have invested in education and/or training for many years that makes them experts in carrying out their work. Excessive rewards for minimal work or no work is objectionable. Economic fraud, theft and scams are criminal. Criminals, even white-collar ones, deserve to be punished with the full force of the law and deserve the public’s scorn and derision for their contemptible acts. The protesters of “Occupy Wall Street” are after justice and the return of true democracy to the USA.

Tuesday 18 October 2011


“My alma mater was books, a good library - I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity” - Malcolm X

I was at a meeting at my Alma Mater today. I am an alumnus of the University of Melbourne and I have maintained links with my University over the 25 years since I graduated. Today was rather special as I attended in a special capacity, as a member of a Course Advisory Committee for a new postgraduate degree that that the University will be introducing next year. This is a return to the University where I once was a student, as a professional and as a peer of the academics there. Time has moved on and I have grown, have progressed, have used my knowledge and have built on it with experience (and I hope wisdom!). It was good to be invited to be a member of this Committee and contribute to the scholarly activities of the academics in this preeminent Australian university.

As it was a very pleasant day today I meandered through the University grounds and memories came rushing back to me of my student days there. I had some very good years as a student at the University in both my undergraduate and postgraduate student career. Although there are many changes to the grounds, new buildings erected, some landscaping work and renovations, the core of the university is still the same. Its heart and soul is unchanged and a wave of nostalgia overcame me. This was the place of my awakening mind, where I was guided through my learning journey by talented teachers, inspired educators, world-renowned scientists. This was where I pored over books, journals, reams of notes, explored the libraries and wrote, wrote, wrote…

I saw the place where I felt the first stirrings of passion and the sweet pangs of love, forged the bonds of friendship and made connections with people that influenced my life choices. Even some favourite trees were still there and passing through the old quadrangle, I could swear that if turned around I would see familiar faces of fellow students – young, carefree, smiling. Turn a corner and I would glimpse the stern face of a lecturer well-known for his dry humour, acerbic wit and machine gun delivery of complex material that we could hardly write notes on, much less try and understand while spoke! Open a door and see a favourite lecturer smiling at me and joking with me as was her good-natured habit.

I could not resist going into the library. How that has changed too! The technology has invaded its spaces in a multitude of ways and the space devoted to books has shrunken. However, one place is still sacrosanct and unchanged, bringing back more memories for me: The rare book room where I spent many an hour poring over old editions with hands swathed in white cotton gloves. I remember the delight of being able to leaf through a rare 18th century edition of Matthew Baillie’s classic atlas of pathology (The Morbid Anatomy of the Human Body).

One of my professors of pathology (who had an interest in Medical History and curated the Museum of Medical History at the University) had long discussions with me about Baillie’s description of what is believed to be the famous lexicographer’s Dr. Samuel Johnson’s lung that is in his atlas. There was no illustration of this specimen in the atlas and I was encouraged by the good professor to produce an illustration based on Baillie’s description. I did so to the delight of my professor, paying particular attention to the text and using my own knowledge of the pathology (I was completing my PhD at that time in the Faculty of Medicine).

Ah, memories! Reluctantly I left the grounds of the University and walked back to my office briskly, the campus of the College that I work in now being about a kilometer to the south, in the City. I sat at my desk and meditated for a little. I smiled, pleased with my morning’s activities and excursion back into the past, determined to go walking around the University again, soon, when I had some more free time!

Monday 17 October 2011


“Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.” - Samuel Butler

Immediately I took a look at this week’s photo challenge by Magpie Tales, my mind turned to the hunting season. Autumn generally heralds the cooler weather, harvest, rain, mud and the ringing out of shotguns in the forests and lakes as hunters go out and bag their catches. Although I am not a vegetarian, I consume meat sparingly and tend to be squeamish about game. That hunting is made out to be a sport I find rather objectionable and the fact that many animals and birds that are killed by hunters may go to waste is something that further distresses me.

Old cultures that have a long culinary tradition, such as China and the Mediterranean lands, often have a great respect for food animals and treat them with kindness. Each part of the animal is used and nothing goes to waste. A famous Chinese proverb says that that the only part of the pig that is not eaten is its grunt! Similarly in Spain, Italy and Greece every part of the animal is used and numerous dishes that utilise offal are not only regularly made, but considered as delicacies. To waste food in these cultures is seen as sacrilegious and offensive to bountiful nature.

The older I get, the more environmentally aware I seem to become and the less meat I seem to eat. Hunting is not for me, and I deplore the “sport” of hunting where animals are killed and abandoned or otherwise brought back home to languish in some freezer for months and then get thrown out in the “clean-up” that inevitably follows.

The photo this week generated these Haiku that use the word duck in as many of its meanings as I could think of.


“Duck!” He cried, as birds
Rushed up from the lake, to soar
In lead-cloudy skies.

A shot rang out, loud,
A duck fell dead from the sky –
Hunting season starts.

Cotton duck apron
Cook’s busy dressing the bird;
Game suits cool weather.

“Out for a duck!” It’s
Just not cricket for the bird;
Better turn vegan…


“Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime” - Herbert Ward

Yesterday we watched quite a confronting and emotionally draining film, which nevertheless was very good and definitely worth seeing. It was Lee Daniels 2009 film “Precious”, starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique and Paula Patton, with supporting roles provided by Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz. It is based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, from which Geoffrey Fletcher has produced a very good screenplay that makes for a powerful, hard-hitting film.

The plot centres on Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gubarey Sidibe) is an illiterate, obese 16-year-old black girl that lives in Harlem with her mother (Mo'Nique), who is abusive and depends on welfare to survive. Precious has one young daughter with Down’s Syndrome, who lives with her grandmother and is pregnant with another child, both fathered by her mother’s boyfriend, who is also Precious’s father. Her mother loses no opportunity to tell her how stupid and worthless she is and constantly hits her and throws things at her. Other children taunt her because she is fat and “stupid”. Precious has become hardened lacks social skills and although she has an active mind she is uneducated. Her mother compels her to cook for her she often fantasises about having a boyfriend, being a glamorous and well-known star.

Precious manages to find an alternative school that her teacher recommends and despite opposition by her mother she begins to attend it. Miss Rains (Paula Patton) is an attractive, intelligent and sensitive teacher who cares for her class takes a special interest in Precious and manages to stir within her a yearning to learn. Her classmates who all have problems of their own become supportive friends for Precious. Lenny Kravitz plays a male nurse and Mariah Carey plays a welfare worker, both minor roles, but provide good support. The acting by both Gubarey Sidibe and Mo’Nique is exceptional and they give performances that make the film believable and almost documentary-like in its stark bleakness. Mo’Nique especially as Precious’s mother delivers an acting punch that hits the viewer right in the stomach. Her fnal monologue is quite amazing.

This is no superficial film that is meant to inspire and uplift. It isn’t a rag to riches story nor is it emotionally manipulative or a guilt trip. However, it is a movie that is realistic, gritty and unfortunately so true in so many of the topics it touches. The abuse, rape and robbing of the childhood Precious is subjected to is too often reported in news stories and written about in the papers. This is grim reality that cuts and burns. Although the film ends in a higher note than it started, it is only so relatively speaking as Precious has a plethora of new problems to deal with. It is a film that exposes a multitude of social ills and highlights the plight of many marginalised teenagers who have to deal with incest, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, abuse and poor living conditions.

One of the main theme of the film is love and its lack on many levels and with different intents. The miseries that loveless individuals experience and the extreme behaviours they exhibit in order to bring love into their lives is a shocking revelation. Daniels sheds light into dark depths of the soul of his anti-heroes and manages to inject optimism into even the direst of circumstances. This is no ordinary “feel-good” movie and even if one expected the ending, it is no happy ending even though it is an optimistic one.

It’s gritty and tough, it’s real and raw, it’s a film that bites and burns. We watched it and we were depressed and uplifted, shocked and made angry. It is challenging and emotionally confronting. However, we do recommend it as a film to be watched…

Sunday 16 October 2011


“In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove; In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” - Lord Alfred Tennyson

It was a cool, rather windy and showery day today so we ended up staying in and enjoying our home. Time enough to relax, listen to music, watch a movie, but also do some chores around the house. When the sun did peep out now and then one could always stroll in the garden and enjoy the roses and irises that are now blooming. Spring is a changeable season and today certainly was proof enough. We have a good variety of irises in the garden: Yellow, blue, purple, maroon and white. The blue and purple ones are my favourite and seem to characterise the essence of this flower. They are a beautiful flower, although very delicate and extremely quick to bloom and then rest for the remainder of the year.

For Art Sunday today, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Irises”, painted in Saint-Rémy, France in 1889. It is an oil on canvas, 71 x 94 cm and is owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in USA, currently to be viewed at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Van Gogh is one of the greatest painters and even though success eluded him while he was alive, after his death his paintings became highly sought after and are now priceless. His distinctive style with its lively impasto and bright, almost pure pigment palette is immediately recognisable even by non-experts.

Unfortunately, this passionate and consummate artist became mentally unstable later in his life. In May 1889, after episodes of self-mutilation and hospitalisation, Vincent elected to enter a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. While an inmate there, in the last year before his death, he created about 130 paintings. Within the first week, he began to paint the “Irises” shown here, working from nature in the asylum’s garden. The composition is divided into broad areas of vivid color with the striking irises overflowing its borders, almost as though the painting was a larger canvas and was cropped. Vincent was influenced by the decorative patterns of Japanese woodblock prints and several of his canvases show this influence.

There are no known drawings for this painting, the artist considering it a study rather than a “finished” painting. His beloved brother Theo quickly recognised the painting’s masterly quality and submitted it to the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in September 1889, writing to Vincent details of the exhibition: “[Your painting] strikes the eye from afar. It is a beautiful study full of air and life.” Vincent himself called the painting “…the lightning conductor for my illness”, because he felt that he could keep himself from going insane by continuing to paint.

Each one of Van Gogh’s irises is unique and beautiful. He carefully studied the movements of the blooms and their baroque shapes to create a variety of curved silhouettes bounded by wavy, twisting, and curling lines. Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, show strong outlines, unusual angles, including close-up views and also flattish local colour (not modelled according to the fall of light). All of these features are found in this painting, which shows an exquisite blend of the oriental and occidental artistic traditions to create something vital, new and exciting to behold.

The painting’s first owner, French art critic (and anarchist!) Octave Mirbeau, and one of Van Gogh’s earliest supporters, wrote: “How well he has understood the exquisite nature of flowers!” Mirbeau paid 300 francs for the painting. In 1987, it became the most expensive painting ever sold, setting a record, which stood for two and a half years. Then it was sold for US$53.9 million to Australian businessman Alan Bond, but he did not have enough money to pay for it. “Irises” was later re-sold in 1990 to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Irises is currently (as of 2010) tenth on the inflation-adjusted list of most expensive paintings ever sold, and in 25th place if the effects of inflation are ignored.