Saturday 2 June 2012


“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” - Henry Ward Beecher

Another Saturday that was filled with the usual routines, chores and a wonderful evening that was quite special. And now as night darkens more and more, it appropriate to be grateful. Here is Johannes Ockeghem’s “Deo Gratias”, expressing these feelings of gratitude in quite a joyous and majestic way.

Johannes Ockeghem (also Jean de, Jan; surname Okeghem, Ogkegum, Okchem, Hocquegam, Ockegham) (1410/1425 – February 6, 1497) was the most famous composer of the Franco-Flemish School in the last half of the 15th century, and is often considered the most influential composer between Dufay and Josquin des Prez. In addition to being a renowned composer, he was also an honored singer, choirmaster, and teacher.

Ockeghem enjoyed a stellar reputation among contemporary musicians as well as his employers. He apparently knew Gilles Binchois, composer to the Burgundian Court, for whom he composed the lament Mort, tu as navré in 1460. In turn, Antoine Busnois, singer of the count of Charolais (soon to be Duke of Burgundy) honoured Ockeghem with the motet In hydraulis in 1465-1467. Johannes Tinctoris, theorist and composer, called Ockeghem the first among all the most excellent composers of his time, and even Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of far-off Milan sought his assistance in the recruitment of singers. Upon Ockeghem’s death, laments were composed by some of the greatest figures of his age, including poets (Guillaume Crétin and Jean Molinet), composer (Josquin Desprez), and thinker (Erasmus of Rotterdam).

Friday 1 June 2012


“Tart words make no friends; a spoonful or honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar” - Benjamin Franklin

For Food Friday, some more comfort food for a winter’s breakfast today. Loukoumadhes, a deep fried pastry, is the Greek version of a doughnut. This sweetmeat is also prepared in Turkey and is known as lokma tatlısı or simply lokma; In Cyprus, it is called lokmades and in Middle Eastern Countries known as: luqmat al-qadi (Arabic: لقمة القاضي; Persian: بامیه bamiyeh). In Greece there are shops that specialise in this sweetmeat and in Athens one may find shops that sell nothing else except this delicacy, so popular is it. It is quite easy to prepare at home.

Loukoumadhes (Greek Doughnuts)
  • 1 (7 g) packet dry yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • honey
  • ground cinnamon
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • Dissolve yeast in the water and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Sift flour and salt together.
  • Make a hole in flour and pour in yeast mixture gradually, mixing gently all the while.
  • A soft, sticky dough should be formed.
  • Cover dough with clean, damp dishtowel and let dough double in size.
  • Heat oil in deep fryer. Use a tablespoon to drop batter into hot oil.
  • When batter floats and is golden and puffy, remove to drain on paper towel.
  • Pour warmed honey over hot doughnuts and sprinkle with cinnamon.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also of the  Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 31 May 2012


“It’s easy to quit smoking. I've done it hundreds of times.”  -  Mark Twain

May 31st is designated as World No Tobacco Day in an effort to alert people to the dangers of tobacco use and induce as many smokers as possible to quit smoking. Tobacco industry interference is the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day, and the campaign focusses on the need to expose and counter the tobacco industry’s brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine global tobacco control efforts. Developing countries are especially vulnerable and strategies need be worked out to provide their citizens and organisations wit the means of effective resistance to the pro-tobacco lobbies and industries. Nearly 80% of the world’s one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. In some countries, children from poor households are frequently employed in tobacco farming to provide family income. These children are especially vulnerable to “green tobacco sickness”, which is caused by the nicotine that is absorbed through the skin from the handling of wet tobacco leaves.

Tobacco kills up to half of its users, which adds up to nearly six million people each year, of whom more than 5 million are users and ex-users and more than 600,000 are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030. Consumption of tobacco products is increasing globally, though it is decreasing in some high-income and upper middle-income countries. Tobacco control refers to a range of comprehensive measures to protect people from the effects of tobacco consumption and second-hand tobacco smoke.

Tobacco is made from the dried leaves of the tobacco plant. The majority of tobacco consumed in Australia is in the form of cigarettes. After the leaves are dried they are treated with around 4000 different chemicals before being made into cigarettes. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens (cancer causing), and tobacco smoke itself is carcinogenic. Tar is the name given to the yellow-brown substance that stains smokers’ teeth, fingers and lungs. It is made up of many different chemical particles and is the main cause of throat and lung cancer in smokers. All cigarettes contain tar.

Nicotine is a drug that is found naturally in tobacco and it makes cigarettes and other tobacco products addictive. When nicotine is absorbed in the body it can cause a number of effects, including stimulating the nervous system, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and constricting small blood vessels. It is also highly toxic and was once used in pesticides.

Some of the other chemicals that are common in cigarettes are carbon monoxide (a deadly poison), toluene (an industrial toxic solvent), ammonia (a poisonous gas), acetone (paint stripper), arsenic and cadmium (poisonous metals) and many other poisons, irritants and allergens.

Tobacco smoking is the largest cause of preventable death and disease in Australia, contributing to the death of around 15,000 people each year. More people die from smoking-related diseases than from illicit drugs, alcohol and road accidents combined. Smoking affects both the interior and exterior of the body; some of these effects are immediate and others can occur later in a smoker’s life. Some of the consequences of smoking are: Blindness, infertility and impotence, stroke, cardiovascular disease and other diseases of the arteries, gangrene, often resulting in the loss of limbs, various cancers, especially lung cancer, less oxygen to the brain and heart (leading to degenerative changes), shortness of breath, increased blood pressure, gum disease, bad breath and stained teeth, increased wrinkling of skin and premature ageing.

Wednesday 30 May 2012


“I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet.” - Denis Waitley

I came home rather late this evening and as I start very early in the morning it made for a very long workday. As we progress into Winter, with the days shortening, it is very much a case of leaving home in the dark and returning home in the dark. Unless I pop out at lunchtime, all the daylight I see is through my office windows, but I guess I am lucky in that respect as I realise that many workers work in buildings or offices that don’t have access to external views or natural light. Fortunately I’m not prone to SAD…

SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is now a well-described psycho-medical entity, although it first appeared in the literature only in 1985. SAD is a depressive illness that has a seasonal pattern. It’s characterised by mood disturbances that begin in winter and usually subside when the season ends. It’s typically diagnosed after the person has had the same symptoms during Winter for a couple of years. SAD is about four times more common in women than men, and the average age of people when they first develop this illness is 23 years of age, however, people of all ages can develop seasonal affective disorder.

While most people experience mood swings and some disturbance to their normal daily and life patterns with the onset of Winter, SAD is a great deal more serious and can involve the following symptoms: Craving a lot more sleep than usual; overeating, especially carbohydrates, which leads to weight gain; having less energy; and, becoming more solitary, not wishing to spend time with others. The SAD symptoms make the sufferer look like they are going into “hibernation”. The disorder is now recognised as a form of depressive illness.

It is believed by researchers that the cause of the disorder is a lack of exposure to light. There is a much higher prevalence of SAD in countries with shorter days and longer periods of darkness such as Finland, Alaska and northern parts of Russia (although interestingly, SAD is less prevalent where there is a great deal of snow cover). The pineal gland, located in the depths of the brain responds to darkness stimuli picked up by the eyes, by secreting melatonin, a hormone that regulates daily biorhythms including the sleep/wake cycle. It’s believed that when melatonin secretion is out of balance, SAD can occur. Some people are more prone to melatonin imbalance than others and these persons would be the worse affected.

One the best ways to regulate your normal biorhythm is to expose yourself to morning sunlight and have a good daily exercise plan. An early morning sunrise walk or aerobics session would be ideal! Phototherapy (treatment by exposure to light) is commercially available in the form of light boxes, which are used for approximately 30 minutes daily. The light required (fluorescent tube light is fine) must be of sufficient brightness, approximately 25 times as bright as a normal living room light. Contrary to prior theories, the light does not need to be actual daylight from the sun. It seems that it is quantity, not necessarily quality of light that matters in the light therapy of SAD.

Drug therapy may be required in some severe cases of SAD, which extend beyond Winter and in patients who may be prone to suicidal behaviour. Antidepressant medications, particularly those from the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor family (SSRI) family, have been found effective treatment for SAD. Examples of SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), and citalopram (Celexa). Acupuncture may be an alternative treatment to antidepressant medications, particularly in pregnant women, for whom medications may be contraindicated.

Active changes to behaviour can also help people deal with the “Winter Blues” as SAD is sometimes called. Taking up a new hobby, meeting new people, joining special interest groups engaged in activities one is interested may help. Regular exercise, especially so in a well-lit room in the morning or evening is also beneficial.

Tuesday 29 May 2012


“Each one sees what he carries in his heart” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It was with horror that I read in one of our papers a report regarding organ trafficking, which apparently is rife in developing countries. The illegal trade in kidneys has risen to such a level that an estimated 10,000 black market operations involving purchased human organs now take place annually, or more than one an hour, World Health Organisation experts have disclosed.

People in need of a kidney transplant are reported to have paid up to $200,000 in countries such as China, India and Pakistan, where organs are harvested from vulnerable people who may receive as little as $5,000. It is reported that an organ broker in China advertised his services using the slogan “Donate a kidney, buy an iPad”, saying that the operation could be performed within 10 days. Kidney transplants account for about of 75% of illegal organ transplantations.

There is an increased demand for organs, especially kidneys, in Western countries as people are living longer, and disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are causing kidney failure in larger numbers of people. At the same time, organ donation rates amongst the population are remaining steady or even falling, the local supply not being able to keep up with the demand. The result is that the illegal trade benefits the wealthy Western patients who can afford to pay for the organs, is a lucrative trade for the doctors and hospital administrators who perform the operation and of course the middlemen and the traffickers make a killing...

Selling kidneys and other organs is illegal in many countries, and comes with great risks. Performing even a legitimate transplant is an incredibly complex procedure involving scrupulous medical tests and a range of measures to prevent infection and organ rejection. Purchasing a kidney from the black market offers no guarantees about the quality of the organ supplied or patient safety. It is advised that illegally purchasing a kidney should not be considered by those in need of a transplant, as it places them at great risk, with possibly even a fatal outcome.

WHO officials say that there had been a decrease in “transplant tourism” back in 2006 and 2007, but it is now evident that “trade may well be increasing again” given the stakes are so high for potential recipients and the huge profits that such desperation can produce for criminal gangs. The reality of the situation is that donors are putting themselves at great risk for a small amount of money and/or goods, driven to this by economic hardship. It may even be simpler than that – a simple desire to attain some of the goods of Western technological development, such as a smartphone or a tablet computer. The pressures from the West on vulnerable developing country citizens is twofold: Huge advertising and marketing of commodities that are attainable to the great majority of Western citizens and out of reach for the great majority of Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Afghanis, etc; and then the great pressure to engage in illegal organ trafficking, seen as a means to attain these by the ordinary citizen of a developing country.

The ethics of this illegal organ trade is fraught with moral dilemmas. A parent seeing their child dying because of lack of a suitable donor kidney and being unable to donate one himself/herself may go to almost any length to procure a suitable organ. Someone who is wealthy and has the means to pay for an illegally obtained organ may have few qualms if their life is at risk. Being quite detached, geographically and socially from the plight of the poor citizens of developing countries is enough for many people to accept without too many questions an illegal organ. Other individuals who travel to a foreign country in order to avail themselves of an illegal organ transplant, the so-called “organ tourists”, may not have second thoughts about the morality of what they are doing. Some may even argue that they are doing “good” by injecting funds into the coffers of poorer people/countries.

As well as being illegal, for me, the ethics of this organ trade is deplorable. To place another human being at risk in order to save one’s own life or simply to make one’s life more comfortable is not a valid excuse. I have nominated myself as an organ donor after my death and I think that this is the answer for our woes – to convince more of our fellows to do this. If left unchecked, illegal organ trade will escalate to become a threat to basic human values and compromise our humanity. One even hears of extreme cases of children being abducted from developing countries in order to have their organs harvested for transplant. And in this case we are not talking of a single kidney, but rather the killing of a child to supply heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, eyes to a group of recipients…

Our consumer society is making everything a commodity to be sold and bought at a price. Today it is human organs, what will we see in the future? The return of slavery? Selling of people as “mat for consumption” to satisfy the appetites of deranged, rich cannibals? Some things are illegal because they threaten our social fabric and our basic human and moral values. Illegal organ transplant should be stamped out and instead we should be looking at increasing the level of organ donation. In Australia, we still have a small proportion of people donating their organs after their demise, especially when compared with similar statistics internationally (see: A number of ways of raising public awareness and having the drivers license system linked to the Australian Organ Donor Register (AODR) or sending out ADOR forms when a first-time driver obtains their license are just some strategies. We need to do more in this area…

Monday 28 May 2012


“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall” - William Shakespeare 

As the weather last Saturday was wintry and not conducive to much activity outside the house, we sat and watched an excellent BBC adaptation of one of the most famous of Dickens’ novels for TV. It was the Justin Chadwick and Susanna White mini series of 2005, “Bleak House” which was produced by a team that has quite a good track record for period dramas. This version did not disappoint, in fact it was engaging and true to the original with excellent screenplay and wonderful acting. It starred Anna Maxwell Martin, Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Denis Lawson and Carey Mulligan.

The plot centres on the never-ending courtroom litigation of Jarndyce versus Jarndyce, the dispute being over different versions of a will that will not allow claimants of the Jarndyce fortune to take possession of it. However, as well as the courtroom scenes (of which there are few, come to think of it – but enough to demonstrate the grossly inefficient, time wasting, costly and exasperating system of 19th century justice), there is plenty else to keep the viewer enthralled: Romance, murder mystery, human frailty, friendship, corruption, guilty secrets and greed. It is a rich tapestry of incident and characterisation, philosophy and social commentary, as well as being a biting satire of a corrupt and wasteful legal system.

The casting is ideal for this adaptation, with Charles Dance as the lawyer Tulkinghorn, being the personification of evil and corruption. Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, manages a coolly restrained but intense performance, doing justice to the fragile and enigmatic character she portrays. Anna Maxwell Martin, a fresh young face turns in one of the top central performances, while the beautiful and innocent Ada is portrayed to great effect by Carey Mulligan. As with any Dickens novel there are a host of richly characterised eccentrics with Pauline Collins as Miss Flite stealing a few scenes, Johnny Vegas excelling as the drunken Krook and Philip Davis as relishing the role of Smallweed and Burn Gorman being an effective Guppy. However, there was no trace of overacting, so easy a trap to fall into with Dickensan dramas.

The production values are very high and the period atmosphere has a rich ambience and visual authenticity. There is a sumptuousness running right through the series, with sets, costumes and hairdos looking like the real thing. I found fascinating the genuine look of grime on the hands of many of the characters (where it was called for) complete with ink stains, broken fingernails and callouses. The dark and dreary depiction of some of the poverty-stricken neighbourhoods that Dickens was deploring adds to the genuineness of the production, where one can see history books being brought to life with the rich veneer of the Victorian age being stripped to reveal the rotten core of the British Empire’s capital city.

One small irksome feature of the production was the gimmicky camera work and “whooshing” noises accompanying some scene changes. They weren’t features too distracting on first viewing, but I know if I watch this program again, they will prove to be quite annoying. Still, the pros are way too many and neutralise these few cons. We recommend this to anyone who enjoys intelligent, adult drama. It may be a “Victorian soap opera” (according to a few of its detractors, however, it is a “soap opera” of quality and in which art has been injected.

Sunday 27 May 2012


“What moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” - Eugène Delacroix
It is the anniversary of Georges Roualt’s birthday today, so Art Sunday is dedicated to this highly original and unconventional French artist. Georges Henri Rouault was born in Paris on May 27, 1871. His first introduction to art took place within his family, as his grandfather was an art collector and his father was an artisan. After an apprenticeship as a glass painter Georges Rouault studied under Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1891 - 1898.

At first Rouault studied under Elie Delauney until his early death and then under Gustave Moreau, with whom he had a close connection. After Moreau’s death in 1898 Rouault was appointed curator of the Musée Moreau in 1903, in which he maintained the memory of his teacher’s work. 
Rouault’s early work was influenced by his teacher as well as by the artist’s fascination for medieval art. Both never ceased to have a great influence on Roualt. From around 1902 the artist created watercolours and gouaches in expressive colours, which founded his reputation as a Fauvist painter.

Early subjects, such as workers and farmers reflect the artist’s philosophical leanings and his strong social engagement. Encouraged by his art dealer Ambroise Vollard, he concentrated on graphic art between 1917 and 1927. One of the most famous series of this period is the extensive cycle “Miserere” which was finished in 1927 and published in 1948. Towards the end of the 1920s Rouault discovered impasto painting, a technique in which paint is applied in thick textured layers, which is so typical of the painter.

He now concentrated nearly exclusively on religious subjects, which he interpreted in an icon-like austerity, with intensively brilliant colours reminiscent of medieval stained glass windows. Rouault’s artistic oeuvre was much acclaimed from an early date. In 1894, for example, he was awarded the first prize at the Concours Chenavard, but his work also often gave rise to controversy due to his unorthodox style. His first one-man exhibition took place at the Galerie Drouet in 1910. Large retrospective exhibitions followed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1945 and at the Kunsthaus Zurich in 1948. 
Georges Rouault died at the age of 87 in Paris on February 13, 1958.

The painting illustrated is his 1928 “Les Trois Clowns”, which exemplifies his style admirably. The resemblance to stained glass is evident, with the strong blocks of colour, the heavy black outlines suggestive of the leading and the highly figurative style typical of the great medieval cathedral windows. Even if the title suggests the circus, there is an almost religious tone int his work, which could well be used to illustrate a biblical passage.