Saturday 10 December 2011


“That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful.” - Edgar Allan

A time to sit and contemplate today: Sickness, health, life, death, the universe and everything. What better to do it with than the sublime sounds of Beethoven’s music? Here is the Symphony 9, third movement, Adagio molto e cantabile, played by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Leonard Bernstein said of this piece that it is the most perfect slow movement in any symphony… Listen, enjoy and contemplate!

Friday 9 December 2011


“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.” - Audre Lorde

After an extremely busy week and a day full of meetings today, which went until 5:45 p.m. we had our Christmas Party at work. It was held rather early this year, no doubt because the closer one gets to Christmas, the busier the venues become and the more expensive it is to book into them. As it is Summer, this year it was decided to have it at a Lawn Bowls Club in the City. This venue is situated in the Flagstaff Gardens, which is about two block away from our Campus. For a little while in the afternoon we though the event would be completely washed out as a cool change moved in from the West and clouds rolled in to cover the sky. Nevertheless the rain held off and the event proceeded as planned.

There were quite a few of us there and the atmosphere was festive as the clubhouse was decorated for the holidays. An open bar, an invitation to try out barefoot bowls and a barbeque all contributed to a good event. We drank and joked, tried out the bowling, laughed about our collective ineptitude at rolling balls on the lawn and finally sat down to a barbeque dinner.

This was catered for by the club and there were two chefs in charge. The typical “Aussie Barbie” fare consists of a selection of barbequed meats, salads and finally a cool dessert of some sort. This is often the scenario for Christmas lunch that one may have on a beach, at a picnic ground in a park or in the back yard if one stays at home. Christmas in Australia is in Summer of course, so relatively few people have the traditional Northern Hemisphere roast dinners with turkeys and hams and pork and puddings and so on.

This evening, we had a selection of dips, sun-dried tomatoes, cheeses and pita bread for starters, followed by the barbeque: Hamburgers, sausages, satays of chicken and grilled onions. A selection of freshly cut salads complemented the meats: Green garden salad, coleslaw and potato salad. The food was plentiful and quite tasty. The best barbeque of course is one where one does not have to cook personally, and having the club chefs take care of everything was excellent. Trifle for dessert provided a nice cool and light touch to finish off the dinner.

As a rule, most people don’t particularly like work Christmas functions, however, as far as our organisation is concerned, they tend to be low key affairs and people enjoy them, especially as everyone is fairly well-behaved. I have read that this year there is great reduction in the number of organisations that have Christmas functions for their employees. Many have blamed the GFC (especially in the USA), others have justified it by indicating that Christmas celebrations are culturally insensitive in a multicultural society and the more honest have said that it is because of cost-cutting measures in the company.

In any case, our College continues to organise these functions and the staff expect them and appreciate them. As they are low-key and relaxed most people enjoy them and they are a way of thanking staff members’ contributions to the activities of the College throughout the year.

Wednesday 7 December 2011


“My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released’: I discerned that Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.” – Gautama Buddha

Today is Rohatsu, celebrated widely in Buddhist countries, or countries where Buddhism has many adherents: For example, Japan, China, Korea, India and Thailand. The day commemorates when the historical Buddha, the Prince Siddhartha Gautauma experienced enlightenment in 596 BC. The day is also known as Bodhi in Sanskrit, or as Pali. According to tradition, Siddhartha had recently forsaken years of extreme ascetic practices and resolved to sit under a Pipul tree and simply meditate until he found the root of suffering, and how to liberate oneself from it.

While meditating, some accounts relate, he was harassed and tempted by the god Mara (literally, “Destroyer” in Sanskrit), a demon of illusion. Other traditions simply state that he entered deeper and deeper states of meditation, confronting the nature of the self. In the Pali Canon, there are several discourses said to be by Buddha himself, relating to this story. In The Longer Discourse to Saccaka the Buddha describes his Enlightenment in three stages: 

  1. During the first watch of the night, the Buddha discovered all of his past lives in the cycle of rebirth, realising that he had been born and reborn countless times before. 
  2. During the second watch, the Buddha discovered the Law of Karma, and the importance of living by the Eightfold Path.
  3. During the third watch, the Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths, finally reaching Nirvana.

    Services to commemorate the day and traditions vary amongst Buddhist sects, but all services commemorate the Buddha’s achievement of Nirvana, and what this means for Buddhism today. Traditionally, Bodhi Day is celebrated on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month in East Asian countries that still observe this calendar. However in Japan, the day is observed on the Gregorian date of December 8th, a result of Westernisation during the Meiji Restoration (1862–1869).

    Individuals may choose to simply commemorate the event through additional meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting of Buddhist texts (sutras), or performing kind acts towards other beings. Some Buddhists celebrate with a traditional meal of tea, cake, and readings. A meal of rice and milk is also significant on this holiday.  According to Buddhist legend, Sujata offered this to the Buddha upon his awakening to help him regain strength.

    Often, coloured lights are strung about the home to recognise the day of enlightenment.  They are multi-coloured to symbolise the many pathways to enlightenment.  The lights are turned on each evening beginning on December 8th and for 30 days thereafter.  A candle is also lit for these thirty days to symbolise enlightenment. In Buddhist homes, you may sometimes see a ficus tree (Ficus religiosa). Beginning on Bodhi Day, these trees are decorated with multi-coloured lights, strung with beads to symbolise the way all things are united, and hung with three shiny ornaments to represent the Three Jewels - The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

    May peace be with you on this day and may it last the whole year long!

    Tuesday 6 December 2011


    “Aviation is proof that given, the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.” - Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

    It’s International Civil Aviation Day today and it is a day set aside to underline the importance of civil aviation in modern-day society. It also highlights the role that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) plays in international air transport. This organisation is a United Nations (UN) body responsible for developing international standards for aviation safety. ICAO was established on December 7th, 1944, to secure international cooperation and uniformity in civil aviation matters. The International Services Transit Agreement and the International Air Transport Agreement were also signed at that time.

    In 1996 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that 7th December was to be the International Civil Aviation Day.  The day had been celebrated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation since 7th December 1994, the 50th anniversary of the signing the Convention on International Civil Aviation Following the adoption of the UN resolution, the delegate from the United Kingdom stated the view that the decision for holding of an International Civil Aviation Day did not fall within these guidelines, and that the scarce resources of the United Nations should not be used to support interpretation, printing and other associated costs that will be incurred as a result.

    Nevertheless, ICAO with support from governments, organisations, businesses and individuals, actively promotes International Civil Aviation Day through various activities and events. This day is celebrated globally, especially in countries such as South Africa, through various activities such as seminars, published material, educational lectures, classroom activities, and news announcements on international civil aviation topics related to the day.

    As a person who does a lot of flying for work, I can appreciate the need for a safe, reliable, efficient and affordable civil aviation system. Civil aviation is exceedingly important for the social and economic development of countries around the world, especially these days of globalisation, international business opportunities and a highly mobile population both nationally and internationally. Civil air transportation is an important part of a country’s infrastructure and transportation system. The day is also intended to promote the safety of air transportation and in Australia, civil aviation is the most regulated industry (tertiary education is the second-most regulated, but that’s another story!)

    Take today to appreciate the civil air system in your country and think of how important air travel is to you and your lifestyle. Even if you have never got on a plane yourself there is much around you that depends on civil aviation.

    Monday 5 December 2011


    “One cannot walk through an assembly factory and not feel that one is in Hell.” - W. H. Auden

    The image today that Magpie Tales has selected is Lunch”, by George Tooker, painted in 1964, and exhibited in the Columbus Museum of Art. I was not aware of the work of this artist, so I googled…

    George Clair Tooker, Jr. (August 5, 1920  – March 27, 2011) was a figurative painter whose works are associated with the Magic realism and Social Realism movements. Tooker was raised by his Anglo/French-American father George Clair Tooker and English/Spanish-Cuban mother Angela Montejo Roura in Brooklyn Heights and Bellport, New York, along with his sister, Mary Fancher Tooker. Tooker wanted to attend art school rather than college, but ultimately abided by his parents’ wishes and majored in English literature at Harvard University, while still devoting much of his time to painting. During 1942, he graduated from college and then entered the Marine Corps but was discharged due to ill-health.

    In 1943 Tooker began attending at the Art Students League of New York, where he studied with Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller. Early in his career Tooker’s work was often compared with other painters such as Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and his close friends Jared French and Paul Cadmus. Working with the then-revitalised tradition of egg tempera, Tooker addressed issues of modern-day alienation with subtly eerie and often visually literal depictions of social withdrawal and isolation.

    He had a long-time partner, William Christopher, who died in 1973. He was one of nine recipients of the National Medal of Arts in 2007. Tooker died on March 27, 2011, due to kidney failure.

    The painting is gloomy and captures the urban reality of so many of the denizens of the industrial megalopoleis. The poem below was written quickly and spontaneously immediately I looked at the painting. the result is literal and (hopefully) magically realistic as is the painting.

    Lunch Break

    Some days I feel like that:
    Work, eat, sleep,
    Work, eat, sleep.
    My mind grows numb
    As those around me
    Look right through me
    As though I were a ghost.

    Some days the gray skies
    Permeate my soul
    Deadening it imperceptibly.
    And the rain seeps into
    Every interstitial space
    Of my cellular matrix,
    Diluting my spirit.

    Some days the gnawing
    Of teeth on identical feed,
    Reminds me of rats
    With black beady eyes,
    Deriving nourishment from
    The suspicious overcrowding
    Of the rat-race.

    Some days in this dog-eat-dog world,
    I close my eyes as I chomp
    (Making papier maché
    Out of my cardboard lunch)
    And I think of green pastures,
    Sunshine, fresh herbs
    Fruits of the earth, just picked…

    Sunday 4 December 2011


    “Comedy just pokes at problems, rarely confronts them squarely. Drama is like a plate of meat and potatoes, comedy is rather the dessert, a bit like meringue.” - Woody Allen

    We watched a very lightweight romantic comedy at the weekend – not exceedingly objectionable, but at the same time not particularly memorable. It was the 2009 Jonas Elmer film “New in Town” starring Renée Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr. and Siobhan Fallon Hogan. The plot is predictable and lightweight, the humour mildly amusing and the viewpoint fairly innocent, although there is a plot concession to the economic downturn and acknowledgement that all is not right in the world. It is once again a typical “chick flick”, hardly original but nevertheless competently done.

    Zellweger plays Lucy Hill, a high-profile businesswoman of a Miami-based conglomerate, who volunteers to head north to Minnesota to “clean-up” a tiny food plant, cut its workforce by half and retool for an automated new product launch. She’s the typical career woman dreaming this assignment will land her a vice-presidency. She is lacking in people-to-people skills and her empathy with those in adverse situations is about –10. She comes to freezing Minnesota, dressed inappropriately (high heels, mini skirt and thin coat) and manages to alienate every local in sight with her insensitivity. Siobhan Fallon Hogan plays Blanche, her local personal assistant, who is much better at making tapioca puddings or scrapbooking than being a high-powered secretary. The film gets lots of comedic mileage out of the clash of city smarts versus folksy wisdom. Harry Connick Jr. plays Ted, the area union chief, who is Lucy’s romantic interest, and there is also a strong supporting performance by J.K. Simmons as the plant foreman who runs afoul of Lucy’s plans.

    “New in Town” is not like the similar old movies of Capra, for example, but is quite amusing and gives Zellweger to show off her comedic skills. Harry Connick Jr is adequate and his role is fairly traightforward, but the film belongs to the girls with the interactions between Lucy and Blanche providing the most amusement. Although the jokes are mild and some are old, they are delivered well and one can spend a fairly pleasant 97 minutes watching this film. Danish director Jonas Enders making his Hollywood debut plays it very safe and hence he comes up with a fairly “safe” pedestrian product and he struggles to make any scene memorable.

    The rather sinister turn of the plot about lay-offs and disappearing companies that are becoming all too frequent in our daily life these days is not examined to any depth by the film. This could have been explored more and provided a greater opportunity for black humour. The “Deus ex machina” that will assure the film of a happy end is predictable, and unfortunately we have run out of both “dei” and “machinae” in real life. We would recommend this film as a lightweight romantic comedy that one can watch and smile or giggle at occasionally, an innocuous escapist soap bubble that will relieve some tension and stress of the viewers. An average, typical, Hollywood B-grade romantic comedy.

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    “Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for color, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.” - Vassily

    Russian artist Vassily Kandinsky, was born this day in 1866 in Moscow, so it is quite appropriate to devote Art Sunday to him today. Kandinsky was one of the first creators of pure abstraction in modern painting and co-founded the influential Munich group Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”; 1911–14). His name in full is Vasily Vasilyevich Kandinsky   and he was born December 4th in 1866, Moscow, Russia. He died Dec. 13, 1944, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

    Kandinsky spent his early childhood in Odessa. His parents played the piano and the zither and Kandinsky himself learned the piano and cello at an early age. The influence of music in his paintings cannot be overstated, down to the names of his paintings “Improvisations”, “Impressions”, and “Compositions”. In 1886, he enrolled at the University of Moscow, chose to study law and economics, and after passing his examinations, lectured at the Moscow Faculty of Law. He enjoyed success not only as a teacher but also wrote extensively on spirituality, a subject that remained of great interest and ultimately exerted substantial influence in his work.

    In 1895 Kandinsky attended a French Impressionist exhibition where he saw Monet’s “Haystacks at Giverny”. He stated, “ was from the catalogue that I learned this was a haystack. I was upset I had not recognised it. I also thought the painter had no right to paint in such an imprecise fashion. Dimly I was aware too that the object did not appear in the picture...”

    Soon thereafter, at the age of thirty, Kandinsky left Moscow and went to Munich to study life-drawing, sketching and anatomy, regarded then as basic for an artistic education. It was ironic that Kandinsky’s work moved in a direction that was of much greater abstraction than that which was pioneered by the Impressionists. It was not long before his talent surpassed the constraints of art school and he began exploring his own ideas of painting: “...I applied streaks and blobs of colours onto the canvas with a palette knife and I made them sing with all the intensity I could...” – he wrote. Now considered to be the founder of abstract art, his work was exhibited throughout Europe from 1903 onwards, and often caused controversy among the public, the art critics, and his contemporaries.

    An active participant in several of the most influential and controversial art movements of the 20th century, among them the Blue Rider which he founded along with Franz Marc and the Bauhaus which also attracted Klee, Geiniger, and Schonberg, Kandinsky continued to further express and define his form of art, both on canvas and in his theoretical writings. His reputation became firmly established in the United States through numerous exhibitions and his work was introduced to Solomon Guggenheim, who became one of his most enthusiastic supporters.

    In 1933, Kandinsky left Germany and settled near Paris, in Neuilly. The paintings from these later years were again the subject of controversy. Though out of favour with many of the patriarchs of Paris’s artistic community, younger artists admired Kandinsky. His studio was visited regularly by Miro, Arp, Magnelli and Sophie Tauber. Kandinsky continued painting almost until his death in June, 1944. His unrelenting quest for new forms which carried him to the very extremes of geometric abstraction have provided us with an unparalleled collection of abstract art.

    The painting above is Kandinsky’s “Composition X” of 1939. It is in the Geometric Abstraction style and is quite striking as the artist uses a dark background to highlight the carefully composed multicoloured geometric shapes, some containing intricately detailed subdivisions. One may observe some recognisable objects within the painting, for example open books, a merry-go-round, a building or even a fish on a plate (!), however, the artist’s intention in creating an abstract composition with no reference to the real world is indisputable. The painting relies on its division of the picture plane into areas of flat colour and the interrelationship of shapes on the background are of themselves of adequate aesthetic appeal. The painting would work as well hung upside down or on its side (nullifying the well-known joke about an abstract painting being hung “upside down” in a gallery and nobody noticing it…).