Saturday, 28 August 2010


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

According to some sources, today is World Internet Day. We depend on the web for communication, entertainment, ease and efficiency of data transfer, for research, recreation and task convenience. Our daily speech has been peppered with numerous neologisms that relate to web-based activities and services it offers. Nowadays, doing business without the internet is inconceivable. Like any other good invention, the net can be used for criminal activities and there are numerous cases relating to internet crime, stealing of personal data and identity, phishing, scamming, illegal activities of all kinds, racism, exploitation, pornography, etc. Use of the internet has made life easier and more pleasant, but also it has created many monsters that threaten us.

As today is also Art Sunday, I shall introduce to those of my readers who do not know of his work, George Grie (1962- ), an internet artist extraordinaire whose digital, neo-surrealist images can be widely accessed on the net. Grie is a Russian-Canadian artist whose classical art training stood him in good stead when he started his career as a professional fine art painter and graphic artist. His work is influenced by the well-known surrealists Dali, Magritte and neosurrealists Zdzisław Beksiński and Wojciech Siudmak.

Has art has strong visual impact and uses confronting images that engage the viewers, making them try to rationalise and question what they see. There is an underlying unstated philosophisation, inner reflection and sense of wonder in the oxymoronic images he produces. Some of his works are a social commentary on contemporary mores, others are playful imaginings, or even clever illustrations based on word play or extension of symbolic meanings into territory not explored. His palette is limited and the images are often rendered in grisaille with only occasional touches of colour. This suits the fantastical and dream-like visions he produces and contributes to the graphical quality of his work.

The image above is Grie's “The Langoliers or Inevitable Entropy”.  The Artist states the following about this work of his:
“ ‘The ultimate purpose of life is to facilitate entropy. We are the langoliers of the present reality.’ - Kurt Vonnegut

Stephen King's “The Langoliers” Book summary:
When a plane passes through a mysterious time warp, several people find themselves utterly alone when the rest of the passengers and all of the crew vanish. The survivors manage to land, where as they discover that time seems to stand still and that they seem to be the only people left on the planet. To complicate matters, mysterious creatures called Langoliers are chasing them. The Langoliers’ work is to erase moments in time that have already passed into history.

The concept of entropy has entered the domain of sociology, generally as a metaphor for chaos, disorder or dissipation of energy, rather than as a direct measure of thermodynamic or information entropy. In the nineteenth century, a well-liked scientific notion suggested that entropy was gradually increasing, and therefore the universe was running down and eventually all motion would cease. When people realized that this would not happen for billions of years, if it happened at all, concern about this notion generally disappeared.

Entropy, historically, has often been associated with the amount of order, disorder, and or chaos in a thermodynamic system. The traditional definition of entropy is that it refers to changes in the status quo of the system and is a measure of "molecular disorder" and the amount of wasted energy in a dynamical energy transformation from one state or form to another.”
George Grie, August 2007


“One's suffering disappears when one lets oneself go, when one yields - even to sadness.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I am feeling rather flat tonight and so very tired. All I need is a soothing piece of music to drink in and be refreshed by.
One cannot go past Dvorak’s “American” String Quartet No 12 in F Major, the second movement of which is a gorgeously plaintive and evocative piece of music. Sad but not depressing; melancholy but not maudlin; poignant but not sentimental…

Friday, 27 August 2010


“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.” - George Bernard Shaw

It was the last day of my conference today and this evening we had the closing ceremony and the conference dinner. The conference and the dinner were held at the Crown Promenade Hotel at its Conference Centre in Southbank, very close to the City centre. It has been a relatively good conference with plenty of opportunity to network, some good speakers and workshops and a very good conference dinner!

This evening we were greeted in the foyer of the venue with drinks, both soft and alcoholic, and allowed plenty of time for opportunities to network. We then entered the main conference venue that had been set up for the dinner. Round tables of about a dozen people were set out within the main hall and a jazz band provided live music. The lighting was low but adequate and once again as we moved to our tables there was more opportunity to get to know other attendees and renew acquaintances.

The food was very good to excellent and the menu had as follows:

Seafood tower with quick seared tuna, crab salad, prawns, tomato salsa and avocado with smoked salmon and saffron dressing.
Bread rolls with butter.

Main Course
Herb baked lamb and red wine braised lamb shoulder on coriander risotto with red wine jus. Seasonal vegetables including baby carrots, broccolini, beans and mangetout peas.

Warm apple tarte Tatin with cinnamon ice cream and calvados crème anglaise.

There was a selection of alcoholic drinks including Crown Reserve Sparkling, Reserve Chardonnay and Reserve Shiraz. Heineken, Hahn Premium light and a selection of soft drinks completed the offerings.

I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and barring the relatively slow service, we were looked after very well by the service staff. It was a very good evening and a fitting ending to a very good conference.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


“Death never takes the wise man by surprise; He is always ready to go.” - Jean de La Fontaine

A friend has been admitted to hospital with severe back-pain and suspected secondary cancer. This has caused a great deal of distress not only for his family, but also for his friends and acquaintances as he is a wonderful person, loyal, kind and considerate. Seeing him lying in the hospital bed, helpless, rather distressed and anxious instead of being his normal cheerful and happy self was very upsetting. In such situations, one always tries to put on an optimistic look on one’s face, say hope-filled things, tries to put a positive spin on everything, however, while one may evince a smile in the face of the sufferers, the dark look stays deep in their eyes.

Once we face the prospect of death as something that will happen to us – not to the person next door; once we are confronted with the concept of our own mortality in the immediate future – not next year, not next decade; once we think of the short time we have left; the world changes dramatically. We change drastically. Think about it: What would you do if you were certain that Monday fortnight you would be dead? Certain, mind you! Different people will react differently, surely, but one thing is for sure, the majority of people would react and would change the way they deal with situations, interact with people, carry out the routine tasks associated with their every day existence. The importance of what one does would be questioned, values would be reprioritised.

When we are young we think we are immortal, as we grow older we start to think of death as a possibility, however remote it may be. One is encouraged in Western societies to push the thought of death as far as possible from one’s mind. The consumer society of the forever young and beautiful with lots of disposable income has no room for death. One cannot sell many consumer goods to the moribund or to people who contemplate death as the inevitable end. We have sanitised death and have made it secret to the point of it being considered obscene. We no longer go to “funerals” we got to a “celebration of the dear departed’s life”. We do not speak of people “dying” we speak of them “passing over”. We do not view the dead body, do not have wakes any more, but rather ring for the ambulance and relinquish the earthly remains to the care of the undertaker who will make the dead body magically vanish into a shiny casket, carefully and safely sealed away.

In many cases, the job of the mortician has also expanded to incorporate the role normally played by the clergy. As more and more people lean towards agnosticism or atheism, the last rites, the requiem mass or burial service are replaced by social gatherings where the life of the person is remembered or celebrated. It is as though even in the face of death, we are even then refusing to acknowledge it and look backward to life.

Death is the ultimate adventure, the inevitable ending, that which gives meaning to life. Acknowledgement of death is an integral part of being human. Abolishing the fear of death liberates us to live life fully and more meaningfully. Seeing death as part of life makes us value life more and have more respect for it. Grieving openly, mourning, wailing, crying, beating one’s chest when a loved has died is part of the natural process of coping with death as a concept and makes us ready for our own death. Death in our life has to be an accessible, visceral and immediate process that we must immerse ourselves in. Coping with death around us in an emotional and direct way robs it of its terror. And for goodness’ sake, call a spade a spade. When I surrender to death I die, I do not pass away or over or cross the great divide, or slip away, I die!

moribund |ˈmôrəˌbənd; ˈmär-| adjective
• (Of a person): At the point of death.
• (Of a thing): In terminal decline; lacking vitality or vigour: The moribund commercial property market.
moribundity |ˌmôrəˈbəndətē; ˌmär-| noun
ORIGIN early 18th century: From Latin moribundus, from mori ‘to die.’

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


“There is no substitute for the comfort supplied by the utterly taken-for granted relationship.” - Iris Murdoch

I am attending a national conference here in Melbourne for three days and so far, it’s been very good. Today’s session has been a workshop on effective leadership through changes in organisational culture. “Culture” is an interesting term especially when it applies to an organisation, however, more and more people are realising that this intangible concept is colouring people’s perception of the business and may influence positively or negatively the whole way in which the organisation operates. It was good to validate many of the things that I am doing as a leader in our organisation and mainly through a common sense approach, it turns out that I am trying to influence our culture in a positive way.

I had some bad news from an old colleague of mine today. He and his wife are breaking up, agreed to a mutual separation, then a quick divorce. “Irreconcilable differences” was the reason he gave, but there were deeper and perennial issues… Odd, as to me they always seemed the perfect couple, ostensibly in love, well-suited to each other, he handsome, she beautiful. But I was only a casual observer, an outsider.


Once the decision’s made,
You should leave.
No dilly-dallying,
No second chances,
No qualms,
No discussions.

It’s hard, I know, to pack;
A suitcase full of loneliness
Is a heavy burden to lift.
A note of goodbye,
Best left unwritten
Bitter words best left unspoken.

The memories, both good and bad,
Will hound you anyway;
So don’t bother to burn letters,
Tear up photographs,
Erase phone numbers,
Or give up on common friends.

When you leave,
The air will still bear traces
Of your perfume long after your departure.
On the mattress an indelible trace
Of your body shape will remain;
The dog will keep on expecting you home from work.

Once you’re gone,
The space you leave behind
Suddenly more substantial
Than your physical presence of years,
Your absence, suddenly, a stronger reminder
Of your existence.

And in the empty house,
I’ll mourn your leave-taking,
Inviting to the wake, your lack.

Monday, 23 August 2010


“Noble souls, through dust and heat, rise from disaster and defeat the stronger.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

On this day in 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted and buried the twin towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii, near the Bay of Naples. The luxury-loving Romans of these two towns were accustomed to the periodic earthquakes, rumblings and plumes of smoke from the top of the great Vesuvius volcano. There are records before 79 AD that describe minor eruptions and earthquake damage. Unlike past occasions, on August 24th 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted with dramatic intensity and amazing ferocity, belching forth smoke, lava and ash. The ash storm destroyed the two cities completely, killing thousands who failed to escape in time, killing thousands and burying the two cities beneath mounds of ash and pumice. This colossal volcanic explosion was 100,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The Roman writer, Pliny the Younger, was in the region when Vesuvius erupted and fortunately he survived, leaving a full account of that terrible day. Pliny recorded that the ash storm lasted some 18 hours. He writes that Mount Vesuvius shook with a huge earthquake, the mountain’s top split open and a monstrous cloud raced upward, looking like an immense pine tree. The inhabitants of Pompeii were showered with ash, stones, and pumice. A river of hot mud would bury the city of Herculaneum. Reading the letter where Pliny describes the eruption of the volcano, the destruction of the cities and the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, makes fascinating but also very poignant reading. It can be accessed here.

Pompeii was buried 3 metres deep, while Herculaneum was buried under 23 metres of ash and mud. The ash preserved and protected these vibrant cities against the elements and plunder, until future archaeologists unearthed this snapshot in time. Only small fractions of the two cities have been excavated, Herculaneum especially being almost all still underground, this being because of the modern city that has been built on top of it. One of the highlights of a trip to Italy is a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum and the museum of Naples. Until one sees the sites with one’s own eyes and looks at the artifacts recovered is not aware of the amazing finds and the extremely good state of preservation of the buildings and objects of everyday life.

One of the most chilling exhibits is the plaster casts of the bodies of the people that died in the eruption. As the ash covered them and it hardened over the centuries, a cast of their body was left behind. When wet plaster was introduced into the cavity, the shape of the body was captured, revealing its death throes. The outer casing was subsequently removed and one can look at the grim shapes of death centuries old. Both humans and animals have been preserved in this way in various attitudes that suggest an unpleasant death.

Intermittent eruptions since 79 AD were followed by a period of frequent long-term explosive and effusive eruptions beginning in 1631 and lasting until 1944. The 1631 eruption was the largest since 79 AD and produced devastating pyroclastic flows that reached as far as the coast and caused great destruction. Many towns are located on the volcano’s flanks, and today two million people live in the immediate vicinity of Mount Vesuvius, in an area all potentially affected by any future eruption of Vesuvius.

Two excellent novels that are set at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD are the classic “The Last Days of Pompeii” by Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1834. This was a very popular novel in its time and once very widely read. It is now neglected, probably because of its “old-fashioned” flavour. I read it first when quite young and then re-read it with pleasure a few years ago, after I had visited Pompeii. The second is the more recent (2003) “Pompeii”, by Robert Harris, which is a retelling of the fateful Mt. Vesuvius eruption from the perspective of an ancient aqueduct engineer. It is a well-researched modern thriller set in August A.D. 79 in Campania, where Pompeii is located. Robert Harris tells the story of corruption, politics, love, Roman superstition, slavery, and engineering, all set against the power of Mt. Vesuvius, mixing fictional with historical characters.

The painting above is "The Last Day of Pompeii" (1833) by Russian Karl Bryullov (1799-1852).


“God never made his work for man to mend.” - John Dryden

Sometimes you start watching a movie and believe it will be exactly like what the sleeve notes make it out to be, but once you keep on watching you can be surprised - pleasantly or unpleasantly. We watched a film at the weekend and it was a pleasant surprise we had, as we expected it to be a typical action thriller, but this one had a little bit of a twist to it and it tackled some interesting ethical issues also. The film was the 2005 Michael Bay dystopian fantasy “The Island”.

Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansseon) are residents of a dystopian, contained and carefully controlled facility (the “dome”) in the year 2019. They are imprisoned in a sterile and crowded, totalitarian society, protected from a massive contamination that has rendered the rest of the planet uninhabitable. All but a paradisiacal island where some lucky chosen few dome residents are drawn by lot to be relocated to. Like all his peers, Lincoln hopes to win the lottery and go to the “The Island”. Lincoln begins to investigate his environment and through his friendship with one of the technical support people of the “dome” he discovers that all is not as it seems. Jordan wins the lottery but Lincoln convinces her that the island is a hell not a paradise and together Lincoln and Jordan make a daring escape. They are relentlessly pursued by the security forces of the “dome” that once housed them and the two escapees take part in a race for their lives to literally meet their makers.

Although the film is a an action thriller and a science fiction fantasy, its basic theme is familiar enough and disturbingly realistic in the present time where advances in biotechnology underline the possibility of the chilling plot of the film. The film raises enough issues to be a good choice for much discussion in a bioethics class. What makes us human? How much do we value life? What does it mean to be an individual? How far can we go with biotechnology? Is human embryo research justified? To what length are we prepared to go to save the life of a loved one? To save our own life? What is the ‘God Complex’?

There are multiple underlying philosophical, moral and ethical questions posed by the film, but it still can be enjoyed as a mindless action thrills-and-spills dick-flick. Let me rephrase that: The film can be enjoyed at various levels and different viewers will relate to the film at different depths. We started watching it and believed it would be a fantasy/science fiction action movie, but after we finished watching it we launched into a heated debate about the ethical questions I mentioned above. Others may not.

The two leads are likeable enough and do a good job with their characters and the way that these develop through the film. The sets and special effects are well done and the action sequences well orchestrated. Sure enough there some little holes in the script and there is an element of the “unexplained” in some parts of the film, however, overall it was an enjoyable film and one which could make one think and question and debate. I’ve tried to not give away much of the plot just in case you wish to view it yourself.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


“It is because Humanity has never known where it was going that it has been able to find its way.” – Oscar Wilde

Mythological painting re-entered Western art with the revival of ancient Greek and Roman myths that took place in the Renaissance. Artists suddenly found themselves amongst a treasure trove of new subjects, which kept them busy from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The illustrations of these mythological subjects provided an opportunity for depicting archetypes and situations that could be adapted to particular requirements and satisfy art patrons in a variety of ways. At the same time, the themes demanded a certain adventurous style and an experimentation that led to the great revolutions of artistic expression seen through art history.

The intellectual and social conditions that enabled classical mythology to become such a vital force in European art for about 300 years drastically changed in the early 19th century with widespread industrialism and urbanisation and the rise of the middle classes. Today, the world of classical Greek and Roman deities, heroes and historical personages is one which the person in the street has only a vague familiarity with. The illustration of allegories and complex symbolic principles, imaginative personifications of forces of nature and forgotten myths seems to be even more alien to modern sensibilities than it was in the 19th century. I can hardly imagine Paris Hilton contemplating Boticelli’s “Calumny of Apelles” and immediately being aware of the allegoric significance of the figures illustrated. Most people would view Rubens’ “Judgment of Paris” and all they would register would be three corpulent women baring all in front of a young man.

Western painting developed under the sponsorship of the Church, its purpose to illustrate the stories of the New Testament. But by the midpoint of the Italian Renaissance (about 1482) artists began to turn to painting the things which Christianity had kept secret, above all the legends and stories of the pagan world. Botticelli’s “Primavera” was the first great anti-Christian painting in Western art.

The stories of the Olympian gods, their loves and adventures were invented by the ancient Greeks. The Greeks also invented philosophy and science, so why did such a logical and sensible people cling to their improbable myths? Maybe it was because the myths explained better than science what it meant to be a human being… Homer, Hesiod, and later the Romans Virgil and Ovid (who appropriated the Greek gods), told the mythical stories in marvellous poems which still move readers. A myth is a story that serves a purpose: To explain the origins of something, to justify something, or to serve as a warning or an example or a symbol. Such a story is usually easy to understand, involving strong and simple emotions and clear and basic relationships. But myths illustrate special stories, not just any story. The great myths illustrate and explain to each generation something about the order of the world and the relationships between gods and humans. They also serve as the examples of human excellence.

As Christianity established itself as the state religion of Rome (both in West and East) in the 4th century AD, belief in the existence of the Greek gods was lost. Christian and Barbarian forces destroyed most of the visible great art depicting these gods. For almost a thousand years the stories of the pagan gods were banished from the public mind. It was during the Renaissance that patrons like the Medici and their circle of humanist scholars began to rediscover the legacy of Greece and Rome.

Many ancient writings about the gods survived, especially the books of Homer, Hesiod, Virgil and Ovid, almost no original Greek sculpture or any Greek painting (with the exception of vase painting) was there to be seen, hence no readily available visual evidence of these gods. Venus’s portrait waited for a thousand years for Botticelli to paint again.  The “Birth of Venus” shows Venus’s nude body in all its tantalizing innocence. Nevertheless forbidden territory for a painter at the time. Venus was reborn in Italy and sent shockwaves throughout aristocratic Europe.

Mythology thus became a justification for Renaissance and Post-Renaissance artists to paint with a new freedom and boldness denied them by Christianity. The explicit moral commandments of Christianity, above all, humility meant that important human emotions and attitudes could hardly be glorified in properly Christian terms. Since Europe had by no means renounced the values of pagan nobility - honour, pride, vengeance, self-assertion, magnanimity - these values found a haven in the representation of classical antiquity. Humanism celebrated human values and concerns. The ancient gods with all of their human attributes and failings stressed the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasising common human needs, and allowed humans to seek solely rational ways of solving human problems. This revival of Greek and Roman learning was seen as complementing rather than conflicting with religion and it was allowed to flourish by the Roman popes, as they themselves were products of the aristocracy and nobility that engendered the humanist Renaissance.

The painting above is Titian’s “Danaë” hanging in Museo di Capodimonte of Naples. This work, was begun in Venice in 1544 and completed in Rome in 1545-46 for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. It enjoyed great success, even if Michelangelo lamented the fact that the composition was based on color rather than line (disegno) when he saw it; he admired the manner and color and acknowledged Titian's skill for copying life (controffare il vivo). The legend illustrates one of Zeus’s illicit love affairs with Danaë. She was the daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos. An oracle foretold that she would bear a son who would kill her father. Attempting to evade this, Acrisius imprisoned her, but Zeus visited her in the form of a shower of gold and she conceived Perseus, who killed Acrisius by accident.

Titian provided his patron, Cardinal Farnese with a legitimate excuse for contemplating a female nude form. It was an illustration of the inevitability of fate and the submission to divine will, while at the same time allowing the exposure of the beauties of a nubile young woman for the enjoyment of the Cardinal…