Saturday, 5 April 2008


“The sole art that suits me is that which, rising from unrest, tends toward serenity.” – André Gide

Another very busy day when many, many things had to be done and not enough hours in the day to do them in. I must learn to say no, more often, I think. Having good intentions and not wanting to disappoint people may all be very well, but it may end up being a tad too much for ourselves. That’s what burn-outs are made of, I guess. However, there is always some time, a little time that we can use to recharge our batteries, stop and smell the roses, meditate a little, smile a little, listen to some music that rests our soul…

Here is what I listened to today to do precisely that:

Pierre Bensusan (born October 30th 1957) is a French/Algerian guitarist who was only 17 when he released his debut album, Près de Paris, in 1975. The record showcased an impressively developed sensitive melodic style coupled with an equally evolved rhythmic underpinning. His subsequent nine albums, including his recent release, Altiplanos (2005), find Bensusan extending the possibilities of steel-string acoustic guitar in a variety of solo and group contexts, as well as through the exploration of electronic looping. His warm, deep voice melds beautifully with the sonority of the guitar and his songs interspersed amongst his instrumental pieces are a pleasure to listen to.

Bensusan’s approach is steeped in influences that span the globe, including Celtic, folk, jazz, Latin, and Middle Eastern music. He is a master storyteller, using his pieces to convey unique points of view, narrative development, dialogue, and movement. To that end, he infuses his tunes with distinctive voicings, counterpoint melodies, and pulsing bass rhythms. Another Bensusan hallmark is his exclusive use of DADGAD tuning. In fact, he’s one of the world’s leading DADGAD exponents, having spent his entire career exploring the breadth and depth of the tonalities the tuning has to offer.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, 4 April 2008


“Aging is not 'lost youth' but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” – Betty Friedan

If you have been reading this blog, you’ll know I recently attended an international conference on research in Complementary Medicine. This was very interesting and numerous delegates from many well-known universities worldwide were there, presenting papers of great interest. Several presentations focussed on nutrition and especially nutrition and old age. The research is showing that if we take care of our diet, not only do we live longer, but we age in better health. But firstly, what is ageing?

The ageing process is the progressive deterioration of bodily functions over the lifespan. In Australia, life expectancy currently averages 78.5 years for males and 83.3 years for females. From 1901 to 2000, life expectancy at birth increased by 21.4 years for males and 23.3 years for females. The ageing process is destructive, progressive and intrinsically determined, universal amongst all complex living organisms. Is it a disease to be cured or a natural process that can be better managed? These two concepts are united by “anti-ageing strategies” in humans which involve life extension to the maximal limits, currently thought to be about 120 years, but also health extension, staying well until a short decline and death.

Most researchers seem to think that ageing is a multi-factorial process and relies on genetic factors, cumulative damage of body structures by many interactions with environmental stressors, oxidative stress, non-renewal of permanent cells, etc. Although there is no general consensus on the cause of ageing, most researchers would regard cellular damage as a key component. Many anti-ageing approaches involve boosting antioxidant defences against free radical damage and attempting to minimise protein glycation. Other approaches are focussed on gene therapy techniques to restore cell and organ function.

Recent studies in American populations showed that five factors seemed to be associated with a reduced lifespan:
1) Cigarette smoking 2) Diabetes mellitus 3) Obesity 4) Hypertension 5) Sedentary lifestyle.

The obvious thing to do then to extend lifespan, would be to eliminate these five factors from our life. The study referred to above showed that when these factors were eliminated, lifespan easily reached 90 years, other things being equal.

Many other studies around the world show that a low calorie diet is compatible with a longer lifespan. A famous study was set in Japan. Okinawa is a group of islands in southern Japan. Okinawans have up to 4-5 times the number of centenarians as the rest of Japan. Low calorie intake is common at younger ages and body mass index remains low throughout life. Adult energy intake is 20% less than the Japanese national average. Death rates from heart disease, cancer and cerebral vascular disease are 60 to 70% of the rest of Japan and they have half the number of deaths in the 60-64 year age range. Their diet is based around the Satsamu sweet potato, seaweed, leafy vegetables, fish, pork, tofu, green tea and kohencha tea. Mixed food broths are commonly eaten. Food is viewed as medicine and a common practice is to only eat 80% of the amount of food required to fill the stomach.

But what about anti-ageing nutrients? Nutrients impact on metabolism in a variety of ways and can function as gene regulators, free radical scavengers, cell membrane protectors, repair enhancers, anti-inflammatories, immune regulators and hormone modulators. Research has shown that there are many components in foods that can act as anti-ageing compounds and can promote health. Some of these are:

Resveratrol: This is an anti-fungal chemical naturally present in peanuts, mulberries, grapes (particularly those varieties more prone to fungal disease such as Pinot Noir), and in Giant Knotweed, a herb popular in Asian herbal medicine. It is believed to be responsible for the health-promoting effects of red wine.

Curcumin: This is the principal active ingredient in the spice turmeric, a member of the ginger family commonly used in curry powder. Turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory herb used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities.

Grape seed: This is a superior antioxidant, it maintains capillary integrity, is anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and neuroprotective. Grape seeds contain phenolic acids, polyphenols and flavonoids. About 60-70% of the polyphenols in grapes are found in the seed and these have powerful antioxidant activity, estimated to be twenty times more potent than vitamin C and 50 times more potent than vitamin E and superior to pine bark bioflavonoids. They can scavenge superoxide and hydroxyl radicals, inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol, protect against DNA damage in the brain and liver in mice and protect the skin from sun damage.

Mushrooms, especially polypore varieties such as reishi, shiitake and maitake, contain polysaccharides, particularly beta-glucans, that have anti-inflammatory and immuno-modulating properties, including activation of lymphocytes, macrophages, natural killer cells and production of cytokines, tumour necrosis factor alpha and interferon 46. Mushrooms may suppress autoimmune responses, modulate NF-kappa B activity and have anti-cancer effects.

Ginseng is a traditional Asian herb used as an adaptogen and tonic and to restore homeostasis. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic and immune-stimulatory activity and has been shown to be useful for CVD, cancer, immune deficiency and liver toxicity. Ginseng's active components have beneficial effects on ageing, CNS disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

Brahmi is a herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of cognitive deficits. It has antioxidant activity in the brain and is a potent adaptogen. Brahmi prevents depletion of acetylcholine in the hippocampus, increases glutathione peroxidase levels and boosts the synthesis of new protein in brain tissue.

The general consensus about food and healthy ageing is, that we should develop good dietary habits while still young. Have a low body mass index and eat less calories, with a low saturated fat diet. Complex carbohydrates supplemented by a variety of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, good calcium intake, moderate sun exposure, lots of grapes (eaten with seeds!), some red wine with meals, nuts, some herbs and spices. Certain Asian diets and many Mediterranean diets adhere to these guidelines.

Thursday, 3 April 2008


“I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.” - Emma Goldman

It is Autumn in Melbourne and we are experiencing some wild weather, alternating with calm mild, sunny days. Yesterday we had high winds, reaching speeds of 130 km/hr and in the evening welcome rain. However, there were three casualties yesterday that the wild weather claimed. Three people lost their lives. A woman buried under a collapsing wall in a laneway, a man killed in a building site, and tragically an electric company linesman who was electrocuted while trying to restore electricity by repairing damaged lines.

Today it was cool but sunny. The leaves have started to shed from the trees and the chrysanthemums have started to bloom. Autumn is a beautiful season although it is usually more agreeable and milder. Climate change is an indisputable reality and the unpredictable nature of the weather is something we are beginning to get used to. I dare say things will get worse as the years go by. At my new job we have a “Greening the Campus” committee and we are looking at more and more ways of becoming more energy efficient, promoting recycling, cutting down waste, using environmentally-friendly products and inculcating into the staff and students a green culture and modified behaviour that is environmentally aware. Many little things carried out by many individuals add up to a lot on a worldwide scale.

Autumn is also the time of the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. This is a world-renowned event that is held in one of our oldest and most beautiful parks in the middle of the city, the Carlton Gardens and the adjacent, elaborately ornate Victorian landmark, the Royal Exhibition Building. The Flower is show is rated to be amongst the 5 best such events in the world and runs between the 2nd and 6th of April.

The show features floral displays both native and exotic, cut flowers and potted specimens, garden ideas, new products, award-winning landscape design, water-saving ideas, and numerous exhibitors from the garden and floristry industries. This event is always popular, despite the progressively rising admission prices. I walked by there today on my way to an appointment at St Vincent’s Hospital and I overheard two pensioners talking to each other outside the show, complaining bitterly about the high price (even though they were paying a concessional rate).

Another show that I am even more keen about is the exhibition of illuminated manuscripts at our State Library. This is another very fine Victorian Building situated on one of the main thoroughfares of our city with a magnificent dome and impressive façade. It has recently been renovated and is simply stunning. Definitely a place to visit if you are planning to stop by Melbourne in your travels. The State Library houses a fine collection of books, but also has several exhibition areas in which are housed both permanent and temporary exhibitions.

The free exhibition is called “The Medieval Imagination” and features illuminated manuscripts from Cambridge (UK), Australia and New Zealand. It runs from the 28th of March until the 15th June 2008. If you are a Melbournite you have no excuse for not seeing this magnificent exhibition and if you are planning to visit our City soon, put it in your travel diary.

Which brings me to the word of the day:

manuscript |ˈmanyəˌskript| noun
A book, document, or piece of music written by hand rather than typed or printed: An illuminated manuscript.
• An author's text that has not yet been published: Preparing the final manuscript | Her autobiography remained in manuscript.
ORIGIN late 16th century: from medieval Latin manuscriptus, from manu ‘by hand’ + scriptus ‘written’ (past participle of scribere).

Incidentally, did you know that if you interest yourself actively in cultural activities, your immune response is raised significantly? Going to exhibitions and museums means you get sick less often, how’s that?

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


“When the heart grieves over what is has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left.” - Sufi Epigram

While travelling back home from Sydney yesterday, my plane was delayed somewhat and an early evening flight became a sunset flight and by the time I got home it was night, especially so after a further delay in getting the baggage unloaded from the plane and onto the conveyor belts. A one-hour flight became embellished with another couple of hours of delay time and then add to that further travel time on ground transport getting to and from the airport. What was it that someone has said about air travel? “If we were meant to travel by aeroplane it would have been easier to get to and from the airport.”

Nevertheless, on the plane, flying at 10 km above the surface of the earth, one has interesting thoughts as one observes the world in miniature, as one floats above the clouds and one catches a glimpse of the magnificence of a sun dipping down the Western horizon before it gradually slips out of sight, leaving behind it blazes of colour that tinge the clouds a fiery red that continue to glow ember-red long into twilight. Philosophising becomes inevitable, don’t you think?

Sitting next to me on the plan was a middle-aged woman immersed in her thoughts, hardly acknowledging my polite greeting of “good evening” as I settled in the seat next to her. Her face was lined with what could only have been unpleasant recollections, worrying ideas, concern, the weight of endless care. I respected her wish for privacy and began to read my book. She stared fascinated at the brilliant display of the setting sun and her face furrowed further more into a frown while her eyebrows creased into a visible display of inner torment. I observed as casually as I could, pretending to also look at the setting sun. As the sun disappeared below the horizon, its last rays illuminated her cheeks, tinging them a reddish orange and making obvious a lone tear trickling like a liquid diamond down her cheek.

What does one do in such a situation? Does one remain silent, actively ignoring another’s pain, pretending not to notice? Does one speak, searching desperately to say something caring, but not patronizing or too invasive of another’s privacy? Does one try to communicate sympathy without words, trying to send a positive signal through the air without touching, speaking or otherwise visibly acknowledging the other person’s pain? How does one relate to another in such an obviously private moment where personal feelings rule the day and the external world, when other people and words can become obtrusive and grating? Then again, it is surely in such situations that we appreciate a kind word, another human being’s frank concern about our state, a simple kindness made even more worthy because it comes from a stranger.

In my embarrassment the words in this poem fell into place and gelled in my mind allowing me to recall them while I was I was awaiting for my baggage to be unloaded later on, and they were hastily scribbled on a scrap of paper there and then in the noisy arrival hall:


While in the West the sun’s reduced to embers,
She sits, she watches and remembers:
A man, a love, a sacrifice, a cheap betrayal
As if on playhouse stage a poor portrayal.

The dusk descends, the night advances,
She counts her losses, and her fleeting chances;
Her life, where did it go, where youth, where hope?
In darkness lost, hanging on gallows’ rope.

Black clouds obscure the moon, no sign of star
Her future short, death watches – he’s not far…
And in the blackest hour sweet memories she clutches:
A kiss, some words of love, softest of touches.

Even in blackest night the thought of dawn alights,
In darkest hour, sweet hope holds a candle.
The soul revived will rise from depths to heights
And mind will cope, and heart the crisis handle.

Can you guess what course of action I followed on the plane as the woman beside me silently wept? What would you have done?


“It is much easier to become a father than to be one.” - Kent Nerburn

I watched a current affairs program on the Greek cable channel today, which featured an interview with a medical geneticist. The message was simple but poignant. More and more people are presently requesting DNA paternity testing. In a testing centre in Athens, a couple of years ago, the paternity test requests were one or two a month, nowadays the statistics are an alarming one or two a day…

The doctor was appalled by this increase in such testing and in many cases he was reporting, the children (many as old as 6-7 years old) seemed to be aware of what exactly was being done and why they were in the testing centre. He was not making a judgment on modern mores, nor commenting on today’s “open” relationships, he had no criticism of the parents of such children. All he was drawing attention to was the irreparable damage being done to these children, who seemed to be innocent pawns on a chessboard where strange games of power and money were being played.

Underlying many of these disputed paternity cases was a maintenance payment or a child support payment. In others, a claim on a part of a family fortune was claimed, or a demand for a share of some property. In other cases, children were caught in protracted legal battles, custody cases and government welfare agencies or social department disputes.

We are living in an increasingly liberated society, one becoming more tolerant of a broader definition of “family” and “relationship”. That can be a good thing, but also it may be something that is not so good. How many children nowadays come from a family where there are complex relationships because of siblings and half-siblings from previous relationships of their parents?

We are living in a society where the rights and liberties of the individual are upheld as a first priority, where selfishness often is a predominating force. Where the good of the family, of the community or of society, is often dismissed as an unimportant consideration. How many children are there who live in single parent households (mostly with their mothers) and how many of these children do not have a father figure to provide support and nurture and a role model? How many children are there who have no father because they are the product of an in-vitro fertilisation, or of an “affair” or of a short-term relationship?

How many “week-end” fathers are there, taking the children to the park or a football game or a restaurant, but playing no role in the day to day bringing up of their child (sometimes, through no fault of their own?)? How many stepfathers are there who abuse the children of their partner emotionally, mentally, physically, sexually? How many fathers are there who abandon their children once they find out through a paternity test that they are not the biological father of the children they thought were their own?

“Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
Father will come to thee soon;
Rest, rest, on mother's breast,
Father will come to thee soon;
Father will come to his babe in the best,
Silver sails all out of the west,
Under the silver moon:
Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep…”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

What do you think? Are fathers a threatened species?

Sunday, 30 March 2008


“I love humanity but I hate people.” – Edna St Vincent Millay

Thanks to all of you who have wished me well in my travels. It was another gorgeous day in Sydney, although I am not seeing much of it, spending most of the day in the dark in a conference hall staring a ta presentation screen. However, the up side is that the presentations and delegates are really top notch, with people from the Mayo Clinic, Harvard, Oxford, McMaster University, University of Sydney, etc. One of the most rewarding personal findings that I garnered from this conference is that there is tremendous energy and vision in the traditional complementary and alternative medicine (TCAM) areas and that research is happening at a fantastically frenetic rate in these arenas. The other reassuring finding is that Australia is a world leader in these TCAMs. More and more representatives from the western, orthodox medical system are taking heed of all the activity in the TCAM area and there many collaborative projects in integrative medicine. I hope to cover some of the interesting presented research in the diet and lifestyle area on my food blog on Friday – stay tuned!

Having decided to have a little break at afternoon tea time, I am posting my Movie Monday blog, which is a film I watched at the hotel on cable last night. It is Edward Zwick’s 2006 film “Blood Diamond”. I had heard good reviews about this film when it first came out, but had missed out seeing it at the time. Well, it was great to finally see it last night and I have only good things to report about it.

I must admit that I am not a Leonardo di Caprio fan, but in this role he shows that he has enough acting ability to mature into a fine actor indeed. In this film he plays Danny Archer, who is likeable rogue that weaves his way though Africa in the illegal diamond trade in 1999. The film is set in West Africa (Sierra Leone) and traces the vicissitudes of entire populations as civil war rages through their country and as rebels fight with government troops for supremacy. Financing this slave labour that looks for diamonds, which are then illegally traded across the border by “Soldiers of Fortune” like Danny Archer. Needless to say that such blood-stained diamonds grace the fingers of Western populations who don’t bother to know the history of woe that each sparkling jewel hides within its depths.

Djimon Hounsou plays Solomon Vandy, a native who only wants the best for his family. They are caught in the middle of the bloody civil war and as the family is split, Solomon is bound to discover that there are worse fates than death for his teenage son. Jennifer Connelly plays a US journalist trying to expose the illegal diamond trade and doing some serious soul-searching along the way also.

The movie is violent, gut-wrenching, realistic and confronting. Scenes in it hit the viewer with the power of a fist in the belly and what it makes so much worse is the knowledge that it is all based on the harsh reality that still is the status quo in many African nations. To a certain extent, this film reminded me of the 2005 film “Lord of War”, which I reviewed some months ago.

This film is bound to shock and distress many people, but it is a film that should be seen. We ignore Africa at our peril. We remain silent about third world country problems and these problems will knock on our door shortly. We fail to act on matters of grave humanitarian crisis and our own humanity is compromised.