Saturday 5 November 2011


“One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Plato

I’ve had an exhausting day today. Not only did I have to do the usual Saturday morning shopping, house and chores, but I had to work on an urgent submission that is due on Monday. I still haven’t finished it and will need to spend a couple more hours on it tomorrow. The change in weather did not help either. We’ve had temperatures in the low thirties today, which is certainly a change from the high teens and low twenties of last week and helped to make the day uncomfortable.

We have been following the financial woes of Greece closely on satellite Greek TV and it was a relief to see today that for the moment at least a modicum of stability has been achieved with PM Papandreou receiving the vote of confidence in Parliament and abandoning his idea of a referendum. We have high hopes of a cooperative multi-party government being formed where committed, conscientious politicians will form a united front and have a single item agenda – to save the country from utter ruin. Perhaps this is a high hope – are there still in our days “committed, conscientious politicians” with a genuine love for their country and no regard for personal gain from their office, like Kapodistrias, the first governor of modern Greece was?

For Song Saturday, a particularly apt (and perennially relevant, it seems) song. The lyrics are by Yannis Ritsos, one of the foremost modern Greek poets, music by Mikis Theodorakis, the Greek composer of the people par excellence, and sung by Yorgos Dalaras, a singer who so ably and obviously represents the Greek psyche in all of its guises.

Τη ρωμιοσύνη μην την κλαις

Τη ρωμιοσύνη μην την κλαις
εκεί που πάει να σκύψει,
με το σουγιά στο κόκκαλο
με το λουρί στο σβέρκο.

Νάτη πετιέται απο ξαρχής
κι αντριεύει και θεριεύει
και καμακώνει το θεριό
με το καμάκι του ήλιου.

Don’t mourn for Greece

Don’t mourn for Greece and Greeks,
Even if they are bowed down,
With the knife on the bone
And the leather thong on their neck.

They will rise up again,
They will become strong and brave,
And will impale the beast
With the sun’s harpoon!

Thursday 3 November 2011


“Debt is the fatal disease of republics, the first thing and the mightiest to undermine governments and corrupt the people” - Wendell Phillips

The political and financial situation in Greece has reached crisis point. While there is no doubt that the state of affairs in Greece is serious, this is unfortunately not new, nor is it directly correlated to the current worldwide financial crisis (although it has been made more acute by the state of the world economy). Greece’s woes are rather the culmination of the tension and additive effects of incompetent political and financial management that goes back through several cycles of changing past governments.

Over the last 30 years or so, the politics of Greece have been characterised by instability, scandals, poor leadership and a reliance on external “saviours” such as the EU. The “deus ex machina” (or to give the term in its original Greek rather than the Latin translation used in English: ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός) has failed. Greeks have forgotten the more reliable: “God helps those who help themselves” (and seeing it was said first in Greek, here it is: Σὺν Ἀθηνᾷ καὶ χεῖρα κίνει…) and hence their downfall. Now the Greek tragedy is turning into an Aristophanic farce as the political parties brawl, rushing to close the stable door after the horse has bolted…

The abominable handling of the nation’s finances, the mismanagement of funds, the gross scandals, the duplicity and dishonesty of the politicians (or even the inexperience of the well-meaning ones) are all factors that have contributed to the present situation. Add to that massive tax fraud and evasion, a para-economy that is diddling the nation of millions upon millions of what should rightfully be public money, as well as funds from the EU that are being mismanaged and frittered away on pet projects or given to nepotistic companies owned by beneficiaries of the political party in power.

As if that weren’t enough, Greeks have been living beyond their means for too long. When Greeks joined the EU in 1981, this was greeted with jubilation as it was thought to be the country’s salvation. It was a shock in May 1998 when Greece sought to join the single currency Eurozone when the first 11 members were chosen, but it was refused because it did not qualify. Greece joined the Eurozone on January 1st, 2001. This was universally accepted as a major “win” for the country as it signified the long-desired substantive union with Europe on financial, economic and political levels. Since then, Greeks went wild, spending money with the abandon of an irresponsible youth who has been given his first credit card.

I remember when I visited Greece in 2006 I was laughed at because I did not wear “big brand” clothes (I hate being a walking advertising billboard for companies and if I do buy big brand clothes that I like, I have been known to remove the labels and insignia from them before wearing). However, more often than not I opt for clothes that are comfortable, reasonably priced and of good quality. I was horrified to see people wearing casual outfits that added up to hundreds of dollars. Spending big on entertainment, travel, consumer goods of the “highest quality” as “this was what Europeans did” was the norm…

This was all paid for by Greece joining the Eurozone, that suddenly allowed it to enjoy substantially lower interest rates, because it was able to borrow in euros. Whereas during the 1990s, Greece had frequently had to pay out 10 per cent or more (18 per cent in 1994) to borrow money, its rate fell dramatically to 3 per cent or 2 per cent, post-2001. Greece went on a spending spree, allowing public sector workers’ wages to nearly double over the last decade, while it continued to fund one of the most generous pension systems in the world (workers when they come to retire usually receive a pension equating to 92 per cent of their pre-retirement salary!). Greece has one of the fastest ageing populations in Europe and the bill to fund these pensions kept on mounting.

Tax evasion, so “in” among Greece’s wealthy middle classes, meant that the Government’s tax revenues were not coming in fast enough to fund its outgoings. Add to that hosting the Olympics in 2004, which cost double the original estimate of €4.5 billion. This only made matters worse. Greece’s national debt has consequently grown at a prodigious rate (this web page is frightening), with each citizen owing about €30,000 – compare this to Australia, where national debt amounts to only $6,900 AUD per citizen (the USA’s national debt amounts to about $50,000 USD per citizen).

While all of this was happening, middle class Greeks were enjoying European holidays, shopping trips to Harrods, Parisian fashions, luxury goods, fast sports cars, big brand everything, a life rich in leisure and according to “European standards”. Greece was the child let loose in the European lolly-shop, on credit! As is the case in these situations, the result is that the child becomes quite ill and is sick. Oh, and did I mention someone has to pay the ferryman now? and yes, I know I am mixing my metaphors!


“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed” - Mahatma Gandhi

I was in Sydney for the day for work today, but spent the whole day indoors, and what’s more in a windowless lecture room. Perhaps it was just as well as it was raining cats and dogs when I got there in the morning. So much so in fact that I bought a rain poncho in order to walk from the train terminus to the University, which fortunately was not very far off. Nevertheless, the poncho kept me dry and I was still presentable when I got there. Using public transport is quite convenient, especially if it’s an airport train that is located when the airport terminal as this is the case in Sydney airport. Having to deal with rain is less annoying than having to deal with traffic at peak hour!

I was attending a special national Higher Education Governance workshop, which turned out to be mammoth meeting that went on for most of the day. It was extremely interesting and as it was the inaugural one, there was much discussion and teasing out of many topics, with a great deal of debate, which was done in the best collegiate style. Even though it was an arduous day, it was also interesting, engaging and challenging. I thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so in fact that I volunteered to be in the working group to organise the next such meeting in March next year (I’ll probably regret this later as I am too busy already, but never mind!).

It was fortunate that the Qantas Airlines brouhaha was well and truly over today and both of my flights ran on time without any disruptions. I was getting rather nervous at the weekend when the whole of the Qantas fleet was grounded. This was the culmination of a long running dispute over a series of points of contention between the employees of our national air carrier and the management of the company. Pilots, engineers and ground staff are fighting over pay, conditions, job security and outsourcing. Demands include that Jetstar pilots be paid the same as Qantas pilots and that hangars be built for planes not yet in service.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has stated that the unions are making “impossible demands” and that they are trying to dictate how management runs the business. The recent $2 million bonus that Qantas gave its CEO was heartily reviled nationally and the outcry was against Mr Joyce himself as he used his position of using his $10 million worth of shareholding to vote in favour of his own 71 per cent pay rise, while the unions continue to fight for better conditions for their workers. It is amazing to think that Mr Joyce, previously on a $3 million a year salary walked into the Qantas boardroom and said: My salary is not enough. I can’t live off $3 million, I need a $2 million pay rise, to take me to $5 million a year…” All of this in times of great global financial crisis and when jobs are being cut within Qantas.

The situation got very ugly and at last the Federal Government intervened ordering the stoppage to be stopped! Negotiations are still continuing and no doubt resolution is still not too close. Perhaps at the end of it a fairer deal will be worked out and Mr Joyce will get another $1 million raise for his troubles…

greed |grēd| noun
Intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.
ORIGIN late 16th century: Back-formation from greedy: Old English grǣdig, of Germanic origin.

Tuesday 1 November 2011


“Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” - Oscar Wilde

Halloween has been commercialised beyond recognition nowadays, far removed from its original religious significance. It was rather disconcerting in Melbourne this year to see the number of cheap Halloween merchandise on offer everywhere, and even many adults “dressing up” for Halloween. Our supermarket even had imported real pumpkins from the USA for pumpkin carving (remember pumpkins are autumnal vegetables, so not really compatible with our Spring Halloween). While I am not a complete wet blanket and I do enjoy the Halloween fun (within reason), the gross commercialisation (and secularisation) of this Feast Day (as is that of Christmas) is quite repugnant.

The Feast Day of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches commemorating all known and unknown Saints, is called All Saints' Day and is celebrated on November 1st.  All Catholics are obliged to attend mass on this day, it being one of the major feasts of the Roman Catholic faith. The Feast Day is principally to honour martyrs of the church who died in groups and whose names are not known. In 609, the Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome, as a church in the name of Our Lady and All Martyrs.  In England the festival was known as All Hallows, hence the name of the preceding day, Halloween.

The Christian feast has melded with the Celtic feast of Samhain, the pagan of New Year festival when crops were blessed, stored fruits and grains were hallowed and the dead were remembered. Samhain is considered by most Wiccans to be the most important of the four “greater Sabbats”. It is generally observed on October 31 in the Northern Hemisphere, starting at sundown. Samhain is considered by some as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the departed are invited to attend the festivities. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the spring festival of Beltane, which is celebrated as a festival of light and fertility.

As November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, “soul cakes” were made on the night of All Hallows for distribution to the poor.  The recipients of these cakes prayed for the souls of the departed, interceding on their behalf.  The returning, visiting souls of the dead on this day were thought to somehow be able to partake of these “soul cakes”.

All Souls’ Day (Soulmass) is a Feast Day of the Roman Catholic Church, which commemorates the souls of the departed that are still suffering in Purgatory.  The mass celebrated in church is a Requiem Mass and general intercessions for the dead are recited.  On All Souls’ Eve, relatives may visit cemeteries and light candles or burn incense at the graves of dead relatives.  On this day soul caking begun yesterday continues.  All visitors to the house should be offered a soul cake in order to pray for the rest of the dear departed’s souls.

The illustration is Giovanni Bellini’s (ca 1430 - 1516) “Allegory of Purgatory”. The picture is said to illustrate a fourteenth century French religious poem, in which the poet travels like Dante to Purgatory. Every figure is made to express a religious idea: The Madonna praying for the souls, who are shown as children playing; the tree of the Song of Songs, and the leafless Tree of Knowledge; a bunch of grapes, symbolic of Christ, over the Madonna’s head; two saints (Job and Sebastian) interceding on behalf of the souls; a Centaur in the distance, standing for man’s lower, animal-like nature; a man in oriental dress, signifying heathens; a hermit in a cave, showing the austere life which shortens one’s stay in Purgatory, and so on throughout the picture.


“Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need to know of hell.” - Emily Dickinson

A page of white writing paper is an invitation – or a threat – depending on one’s inclination, mental state, pressures acting on one at the time, and whether or not one suffers from the dreaded “writer’s block”. Staring at that blank page can chill one’s heart, especially if there is deadline to be met and words just simply fail to come out.

The image above is sourced from the “Three Hundred Pages” blog and this entry gives advice to writers suffering form “writer’s block”. It is an image that illustrates the topic well. Here is my take on the image, part of the Magpie Tales weekly writing community challenge.


Your goodbye typed –
A few sparse words
On white legal paper.
Crows on snowy landscape,
Mournful harbingers of winter.

The “e” is filled-in
And the “g” jams on that typewriter –
Easy to do forensics on this note.
So business-like, your memo, despite the faults of type,
Looks like an invoice for “services rendered”.

I follow the folds with my finger,
Caressing the valleys and the crests –
As my fingers chill and my heart freezes.
The paper cuts, the ink poisons:
This note adds injury to insult.

The typewriter, a running joke between us,
Sat on the guest room desk,
“A talisman,” you said, “against writer’s block…”
Our notes were all handwritten in the past,
Technology reserved only for work purposes.

I observe the ink stain on the wall
And look at the smashed ink-bottle on the floor;
I smooth out the crumpled page.
“My love…” I read the handwriting,
And see the nib stab marks on it and the ink spatters.

Our love, assassinated,
Killed with a pen –
It’s mightier than the sword, after all.
The crumpled page a pallid corpse;
“My love…” you wrote – and executed the words,
Finding it easier to type the living dead:
“Goodbye, don’t look for me. Ever!”

Monday 31 October 2011


“Being happy is better than being king” - African Proverb

We watched the excellent 2010 film by Tom Hooper “The King’s Speech” at the weekend. This is a critically acclaimed film, which also won several awards including four Oscars, one for best motion picture 2011, one for best direction, one for best male lead and one for best screenplay. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter star in the film but there are also excellent support performances by a slew of other actors and actresses. It is an excellent British production, rich in authentic detail and with a wealth of period touches that immerse the viewer into the time of pre-WWII London.

The award-winning scenario by David Seidler was obviously a labour of love and he was writing about something very close to his heart as he suffered from a stammer as a child. He had heard George VI’s wartime speech as a child, and later in his adult life had written to the Queen Mother asking for permission to use the King’s story to create a film. The Queen Mother asked him not to during her lifetime, citing that the memories were too painful. Seidler respected her request, but when she passed away, this film was the result.

The film is a biographical incident in the life of the royal House of Windsor. It follows the royals as King George V is about to die and the throne is assumed by his heir Edward VII. As the war with Germany looms ahead, King Edward VII, embroiled in his scandalous affair with Mrs Wallis Simpson chooses abdication so he can marry her. The crown comes to George VI (Firth), the father of Queen Elizabeth II. He is terrified of this turn of affairs as he has been battling with a speech impediment since his fifth year of age. Widely considered by all unfit to be king, George is reluctantly thrust into the spotlight to compete with powerful orators like Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The film follows the King as he is helped by a little-known Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Rush), whom his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Bonham-Carter) has found. The story revolves around the King’s attempt to find his voice and courageously lead his people into the worst war humanity has ever faced.

Although I am no royalist, the film transcends the monarchy and functions on a human level, and therein its success. This is widely different from the other “royal movie” released in the last few years, “The Queen” (see my review), which was thinly disguised propaganda for the House of Windsor and had no guts or glory associated with it as “The King’s Speech” does. Colin Firth does a sterling job of living the role of the reluctant, stuttering king and Geoffrey Rush shines as Logue, the speech therapist. Bonham-Carter is excellent as Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) and the supporting actors all play faultlessly.

The music is discreet and appropriate, the cinematography wonderful, costumes and settings impeccable and as I mentioned previously the script award-winning. This is a movie that must be watched and as we enjoyed it immensely we recommend it most highly.

Sunday 30 October 2011


“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external manner and detail, is true reality.” – Aristotle

George Benjamin Luks (born August 13, 1867, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, U.S.—died October 29, 1933, New York, New York), one of a group of American painters popularly known as the Ashcan school because of their realistic treatment of urban scenes. The original Eight included Robert Henri, leader of the group, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, George Luks, and William J. Glackens. George Bellows later joined them. The group’s determination to bring art into closer touch with everyday life greatly influenced the course of American art.

Luks was born in a coal-mining region of north-central Pennsylvania, and he studied first at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and later in Germany, London, and Paris. Returning to the United States in 1894, he became an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press. During that period he met the painter and teacher Robert Henri and the newspaper illustrators John Sloan and William J. Glackens. Luks went to Cuba in 1895 as a correspondent artist for the Philadelphia Bulletin during the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain.

After returning to the United States, he worked as a cartoonist, drawing the popular Hogan’s Alley for the New York World. Between 1902 and 1903 Luks lived in Paris, where he not only continued his art studies but also became increasingly preoccupied with the depiction of modern city life. When he returned to New York City, he settled in the bohemian enclave of Greenwich Village and began to paint realistic pictures of New Yorkers; notable examples from this period are “The Spielers” (1905), possibly his best-known work, and “The Wrestlers” (1905).

In 1908, with Henri, Sloan, Glackens, and four other painters, Luks formed a group called The Eight, whose exhibition in New York that year marked a key event in the history of modern painting in the United States. After this event, Luks received the support of art dealers and patrons. He and the other members of The Eight were eventually absorbed into a larger group of artists known as the Ashcan school, which continued the exploration of modern, urban realities. Luks continued to pursue his realistic depictions of urban scenes even while new schools of abstraction began to dominate the New York art world. After teaching at the Art Students League from 1920 to 1924, Luks opened his own art school.

Luks contributed to The Eight exhibition in 1907 and the Armory Show in 1913. Like Robert Henri and John Sloan, Luks identified himself with the poorer classes and the subject matter of his paintings often reflected his attempts to reflect contemporary issues. The term “Ashcan School” that was given to the group Luks identified with was a derogatory one, but which suited the group admirably as it gave their paintings a political and social identifier. After teaching art for many years, Luks died in 1933.

Luks’s painting reflects very much the man: Lusty, tender, brawling, and dignified. An artist with wit, vitality, and talent. Duncan Phillips (art connoisseur and founder of the “The Phillips Collection”) described Luks as “an individualist with a buoyant belief in his own genius and gusto in his copious enjoyments of his chosen subjects...We are reminded of Hals, then of Goya and again of Courbet. But these painters of the past who also wielded their brushes with exhilarating ease and racy personal expression lacked the mischievous irony which is the very autograph of Luks...When in full swing he can paint as well as Courbet, surpassing him in space composition and his rival in rich impasto...”

Luks’s technique balances sharp observation against broad execution. Using sharp contrasts of light and dark that never degenerated into mere silhouettes, he caught the shape and weight of his subjects in a few thick strokes of paint. He made his work look easy, which it was not, and fun to do, which it apparently was. Though he vastly simplified what he saw, none of Luks’s pictures could be called art-for-art’s-sake; he was a reporter in oils with a dramatic flair like that of his contemporaries John Sloan and George Bellows, and like them he regularly suppressed irrelevant details for the sake of a few telling ones.

Illustrated above is “Hester St” from 1905, exemplifying the type of work that Luks was most comfortable with: Street scenes showing the lives and environs of the common people engaged in everyday activities. Hester Street, with its busy Jewish, open-air markets and bustling street life was prime ground for Luks. He painted several important oils here from numerous sketches. The work above demonstrates Luks’s ability to capture expressions, gestures and background details in a quick, coherent tableaux of everyday life; not a newsworthy scene, but certainly one illustrating Luks’s ability as a reporter and social commentator.