Saturday, 30 July 2011


“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.” - Charles R. Swindol

The Concierto de Aranjuez is a composition for classical guitar and orchestra by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999). The piece was written in 1939, and it is probably Rodrigo’s best-known work. Its success established the composer’s reputation as one of the most significant Spanish composers of the twentieth century.

The concerto is in three movements, fast, quick, slow, with the guitar taking pride of place and never having to counter the full orchestral forces. The second movement is a sublime recollection of melancholy and supreme heartbreak. Rodrigo and his wife Victoria stayed silent for many years about the inspiration for the second movement. In her autobiography, however, Victoria eventually declared that it was both an evocation of the happy days of their honeymoon and a response to Rodrigo’s devastation at the miscarriage of their first pregnancy. It was composed in 1939 in Paris.

Whenever I hear this piece of music I cannot get out of my mind that Rodrigo its composer was blind since the age of three. For me there is a palpable sense of loss in the music. Loss of the sense of sight is one interpretation. Loss of a child is another. Loss of a lover, yet another. Whatever the inspiration for its composer, the listener will interpret it in their own way biased by their own life experiences.

There have been many arrangements of this second movement, many of them vocal. Here is one sung by the countertenor Fernando Lima.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


“Each murder is one too many.” - Jürgen Habermas

I’ve blogged before about the importance of breakfast as a meal in terms of good metabolism and maintenance of health. We all know this and there are numerous options for healthy breakfasts around. One would think that this message is now well-entrenched in the community, but then again perhaps not. Survey results that were recently published about the dietary habits of Australians proved the latter point.

Apparently one third of Australians skip breakfast altogether, and more than half eat their breakfast on the go. Retail workers and students were the worst offenders for missing the most important meal of the day. On the other hand, bankers, lawyers, financiers, accountants and media workers were more likely to say that they couldn’t last the day without a good breakfast. Women were more likely to skip breakfast, often substituting a healthy breakfast for just a cup of coffee. Also, it appears that the younger survey responders were more likely to miss breakfast, with less than half of those aged 18-24 regularly eating a good breakfast. On the other hand, 60% of those between 25-44 years ate breakfast.

Something that I can certainly attest to, is the huge number of people that have breakfast on the go. About 60% of Australians eat breakfast on the train, in the car, while getting ready for work or at their desks at work. The number of people eating breakfast on the train each morning is increasing, I think. This is not bad, at least it is not as bad as skipping breakfast. Having something substantial first thing in the day kick-starts the metabolism and provides a source of energy preventing us from getting very hungry later in the day. This way, people that eat good breakfasts are less likely to become overweight as the appetite is controlled through the day.

It is disappointing that younger people do not eat good breakfasts, especially these days when we are seeing an epidemic of childhood obesity. Younger people often stay up late, sleep in the next morning and consequently end up being in a rush, sacrificing breakfast. It is also unlikely that these same young people will pack a good, healthful and nutritious lunch from home, opting for take away food, fat-rich snacks throughout the day and junk food.


On the subject of breakfast, a youth in England went to extremes in order to have a good breakfast. Apparently, after a bet with his friends, 16-year-old Joshua Davies was promised a full cooked breakfast if he carried out his threat to murder 15-year-old Rebecca Aylward. Unfortunately, this is an abominable story and Davies has already been found guilty and is facing a life sentence for murdering the girl.

The two adolescents had been seeing one another but then broke up. Davies bet his friends that he would kill Aylward for a cooked breakfast. He planned the murder, considering deadly foxgloves to poison her, drowning her in a river and throwing her off a cliff. What actually happened was even more brutal. He lured Aylward to a rendezvous in the woods. She accepted, believing he was trying to re-establish their relationship. Tragically, the girl was killed by Davies, her head battered with a rock until she was dead…

This is a deplorable murder and hair-raising considering its context. The reason for it being largely a dare, a bet. The girl’s life was wasted in a brutal and coldly premeditated manner. The breakfast issue is proof of the trivialisation of the murderous act and the callous way in which the young murderer carried out the killing in order to “win the bet” and prove himself… The image of the young girl’s body found in the woods, face down in the rain, after the day of the murder is a horrific one. I cannot place myself in the shoes of the family who have to cope with this terrible end of their young daughter and who can only imagine the terror of her last moments, as she received blow after blow, six all together, from the young murderer’s hands. What is the world coming to?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


“Is life worth living? It all depends on the liver.” - William James

Today is World Hepatitis Day, which is an annual event providing an international focus for patient groups and people living with hepatitis B and C. On this day especially, interested groups can raise awareness and influence real change in disease prevention and access to testing and treatment for these killer diseases. The World Hepatitis Alliance first launched World Hepatitis Day in 2008. From that time, many events have taken place around the world, raising public awareness and media coverage.

Following the World Health Assembly in May 2010, it was agreed that World Hepatitis Day would be recognised annually on the 28th of July, honouring Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch Blumberg, discoverer of the hepatitis B virus, who celebrates his birthday on that date. This year marks the first official world-wide commemoration of this important day, and is supported by the WHO.

There are about 500 million people worldwide that have either hepatitis B or hepatitis C. This represents 1 in 12 people, and was the basis for the 2008 World Hepatitis Day “Am I Number 12?” campaign. The diseases are caused by two different types of viruses, which however, target the liver in a similar way and can cause extensive liver damage. If left untreated and unmanaged, hepatitis B or C can lead to liver cirrhosis (extensive scarring) and other complications, including liver failure or even liver cancer. Every year 1.5 million people die from either hepatitis B or C.

Hepatitis B and C are spread by virus-contaminated blood and body fluids of a sufferer, which are introduced into the body of another person. This can happen when unscreened blood is transfused, during unhygienic tattooing and body piercing, intravenous drug use, unprotected intercourse, during childbirth (from infected mother to baby) and other procedures involving exchange of body fluids. Effective vaccines are available for Hepatitis B, but not for Hepatitis C. In all cases prevention of the infection by diminishing risk of contracting the virus is advisable.

People with Hepatitis B and C can develop lifelong infections and become carriers of the disease. This is quite dangerous, not only because their livers may become very damaged over time, but because the infected carriers can spread the virus to other people. It is generally these people with long-term infections and liver damage that require extensive treatment, good management and support.

Several treatments are available for people infected with Hepatitis virus B and they include drugs such as lamivudine, adefovir, tenofovir, telbivudine, entecavir and interferon. For Hepatitis C infection, treatments include various standard drugs (interferon and ribavirin) and newly approved drugs (boceprevir and telaprevir). In both cases, patients benefit from good diets, no alcohol intake and also avoidance of drugs that are broken down by the liver.

Complementary therapies are used by some people with hepatitis, in conjunction with their conventional medical treatments. Complementary therapists can provide useful advice regarding diet and lifestyle, relaxation and meditation techniques. Some herbal treatments are also given, such as milk thistle (containing silymarin, a liver protective substance). Laboratory studies suggest that silymarin may benefit the liver by protecting and promoting the growth of liver cells, fighting oxidation (a chemical process that can damage cells), and inhibiting inflammation. Ginseng is also said to beneficial, as are liquorice extract, schizandra and sophora root extract. TJ-108, a mixture of herbs used in Japanese traditional medicine is also being used with anecdotal success. However, No complementary treatment has been scientifically proven yet to successfully treat hepatitis C. A panel of medical and scientific experts concluded from evidence gathered, however, that “alternative and nontraditional medicines” should be researched more rigorously.

If you have Hepatitis B or C, follow the directions of your doctors and discuss with them openly any other treatments you are considering in conjunction with the conventional ones. This is especially important with some herbal remedies as it is well-known that some herbs can actually considerably damage an already compromised liver (e.g. kava and comfrey).


“A couch of thorns, or an embroidered bed, are matters of indifference to the dead.” - Theognis of Megara

Another busy day today. The frosty morning gave way to a beautiful sunny day. Promises of Spring everywhere as buds swell and bare branches start to show hints of green. Spring bulbs are blooming and the days are noticeably longer. Still a strange melancholy seems to be hanging in the air, justifying perhaps the ancient Roman belief that Spring was a gloomy season…

The Grave

Spring starts to stir around me once again,
And tendril tentacles of green extend,
In tentative efforts to ensnare me.
Oblivious to the awakening, I, in my dark hole,
Dig my grave below, ever-deeper.

Faint sounds of laughter, cries of joy
The noise of running steps, of dancing
Of maying games and contagious play resound.
Alone I dig, in my subterranean vault,
Wishing to reach the depths of Tartarus.

Youth dressed in purple garb leads the revelry,
All-powerful queen she orders, commands,
And all bow deeply in obeisance.
I know not of her rule, not ever being young;
So in ignorance I close myself up in my sepulchre.

My heart is pressed hard by the clammy clay,
Cold, heavy earth falls covering me
And marble slab with finality seals the tomb shut.
All I can see around me is blackest darkness
And in Erebus I am doomed to roam, one of the living dead.

Time passes, years merging with centuries,
As round the grave crops of poppies bloom and rebloom.
The marble slab of the tomb still sparkles
And invites two young lovers to sit and rest.
The text eroded on the marble,
Resembles ancient patterns graved,
And unknowing of the hidden catacomb,
The two lovers, laugh and kiss, mindless
Of the restless sleep and shifting sighs of the undead below.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


“When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.” - Betty Bender

I have been attending Career Adviser Seminars for the better part of today and will do so for most of tomorrow. It’s been quite an interesting experience talking directly to career advisers from high schools and giving them a good background in what courses are available for students at our College. There are career advisers from a very broad range of secondary school represented and there are also a very large number of exhibitors from various colleges, government organisations and universities. The main purpose of events such as these is to inform and update the counsellors in secondary schools who must have a good broad knowledge of the careers available to students and the courses that exist and are able to get the students into jobs that interest them and inspire them.

It is extremely important for everyone to choose a job that interests them. We spend so much of our life working that unless we work at something that is interesting, fulfilling, engaging and satisfying, we can quickly become miserable. It is usually the people who hate their job that produce the worst quality work and have the highest rates of absenteeism and sick leave. It is also these people that will tend to move around from job to job with great frequency, or even end up as chronically unemployed and unemployable.

I have always enjoyed my work and I believe someone gives their best performance at work if they are genuinely interested in what they are doing. This leads to engagement and a natural tendency for one to strive and excel in what they do day after day. I have certainly looked forward to getting to work every morning and no matter how full or how busy my workday is, at its end I can honestly say that I have enjoyed it, even though I may be tired. Sure enough there may be one or two unpleasant instances and incidents here and there, every now and then, but that is part and parcel of life, not just work.

Students that are beginning their studies at tertiary level nowadays are widely different to students when I was at University. We are finding more and more that we need to educate in a way that we produce graduates who are flexible, adaptable and able to keep up with the changing times. Graduates need to respond to the evolving demands of the workplace; people who can respond in the changing world quickly. Special, specialised and flexible workers who can bring a sense of curiosity, understanding, knowledge, experience, compassion and joyfulness to the work that they do. This is only possible when someone does what they love and they love what they do.

This is extremely important in a world which is becoming smaller and where globalisation is breaking down barriers, allowing people to not only move around and work on one continent today, another continent tomorrow; but also allows people to work remotely. Outsourcing and employing people that work on the other side of the world is something that is commonplace now and it appears that no industry is immune from this. We are able to automate more work with computers and software and to transmit that work anywhere in the world so that it can be done more efficiently or cheaply thanks to the technology. The smaller the world gets, the more essential it is for people to do what they love, because more and more jobs are going to be automated or outsourced in this brave new world.

One of the skills that I want our graduating students to have mastered is having learned how to learn. That will be really important if they want to be effective in the workplace as jobs will change faster and faster in the globalised world. The best way to learn how to learn is to love learning. Students remember their favourite teachers at University although they may not remember much anymore of what they taught. They remember the teachers because they certainly remember enjoying learning from them. Students appreciate how these special teachers taught, because what they did was to equip students with the ability to be a life-long learner who are enabled to adapt and stay special or specialised in a changing world.

There is great responsibility in being an educator. Teachers have the ability to reshape, influence, impact and control their students. They can guide, inspire, transform and shape the lives of their charges. On the negative side, educators can also brainwash, intimidate, prejudice and pressure students. As a teacher, one must remain objective, fair, transparent and helpful, while allowing the student to grow and explore and learn under their own personal conditions and desiderata. Learning to learn and loving what they learn is the best way to achieve a good education, and consequently, a satisfying career.

Monday, 25 July 2011


“If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character...Would you slow down? Or speed up?” - Chuck Palahniuk

Monday was just a complete write-off with so many things happening at work but also after work at home with a meeting I had organised, phone calls from overseas as well as a drop-in visitor. It seemed that we had two days packed into one, and Tuesday looks as though it will be the same also! I’d like to do a commemorative post for Movie Monday as one of the legendary Greek Directors has died very recently.

Michael Cacoyannis the Greek-Cypriot filmmaker whose art-house films and adaptations of Euripides for stage and screen were critically acclaimed, died at the age of 89 years early today in Athens. He was perhaps best known as the director of the 1964 Hollywood hit “Zorba the Greek”. His death was announced by the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation, an institution for the performing arts he founded in 2003. Cacoyannis was the first Greek film-maker to achieve international renown, then diversifying and becoming a respected theatrical and operatic producer in Paris, Frankfurt, Athens and New York.

His most popular film “Zorba the Greek” (1964), was based on the novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. This film, nominated for seven Oscars won two. Its cast of box-office stars such as Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates may have helped to sky-rocket it to international renown and success at the Academy Awards. However, the film does have a good plot, captures the essence of the modern Greek psyche and delivers quite a magnificent punch. That it is packaged attractively helps tremendously also!

I have great respect for Cacoyannis’ earier films, such as “Stella” (1955) and “The Girl in Black” (1956). As his style matured he produced excellent cinematic adaptations of a Euripidean trilogy of ancient drama: “Electra” (1961), “Trojan Women” (1971) and “Iphigenia” (1977). All of these films drew fine performances from his lead actresses, with world-class performers being involved: Melina Mercouri, Irene Pappas, Katharine Hepburn, Geneviève Bujold and Vanessa Redgrave.

Cacoyannis, the director, was elegant with a strong pictorial sense and a good eye for striking images. He edited his own films and he used a dynamic, well-punctuated style similar perhaps to some early Russian silent cinema. In his early films he depicted Greek life and customs, but in a fresh and lively manner, which may explain their appeal. As he matured, he became more conventional and concerned excessively with impact and presentation rather than content. The Euripidean films were stunning visually with ancient Greek tragedy turned into effective modern drama. However, Cacoyannis perhaps lacked a signature style that characterises films of say, Ingmar Bergman or Luis Buñuel.

“Electra” (1962) is a striking filmic version of the Euripides tragedy that has been made accessible for modern audiences. It is a film in which the young Irene Papas (unknown outside Greece at that time, but at the height of her acting career and beauty) gives a fantastic performance in the title role. When Electra and her brother Orestes meet and recognise one another, are a magic movie moment, whose emotional power and poignancy is underpinned by Mikis Theodorakis’s emotional score.

“Zorba the Greek” (1964) was the most commercially successful film of Cacoyannis. The most memorable scene is that in which Anthony Quinn, as Zorba, the larger-than-life “eternal peasant”, dances on the beach. Mikis Theodorakis, the composer of the famous “Zorba’s Dance” music later admitted that the music was a bagatelle concocted to pass among the non-cognoscenti as typically Greek. It is often the case, what a composer considers his best works are not widely successful, but a “bagatelle” like Zorba’s Dance achieves wide popularity and acclaim.

Cacoyannis later in his career moved out of cinema and into theatrical and operatic directing, with a considerable amount of translation work of Greek drama into English, and Shakespeare plays into Greek. This is understandable given that he was well-educated (having left his native Cyprus, he was educated as a lawyer in England) and from his youth interested in the arts and literature of both countries.

His last film was the 1999 “The Cherry Orchard”, which starred Charlotte Rampling as an aristocrat who struggles to comes to grips with her family’s financial collapse.

Vale, Michael! – Καλό ταξίδι, Μιχάλη...

Sunday, 24 July 2011


“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” - Albert Einstein

We may bemoan the horrors of life in this present day and age, but anyone well-read in history will be quick to observe that we humans are not a particularly attractive species. Every age seems to have had its fair share of wars and battles, great social upheavals, public disturbances, an excess of dictators and madmen. History is replete with crimes against humanity, crazed murderers and enormous calamities where humans shed the blood of other humans in abandon. Art comments on this aspect of human nature with perhaps more graphic immediacy than the pen of the historian. For Art Sunday today, a painter that was obsessed with this propensity of the human to succumb to temptation and engage in behaviour that highlights the dark side of the human soul.

Hiëronymus Bosch, (pseudonym of Jeroen Anthoniszoon Van Aeken, born c. 1450, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Brabant [now in The Netherlands] died Aug. 9, 1516, s Hertogenbosch) is a brilliant and original northern European painter of the late Middle Ages whose work reveals an unusual, complex and individual style. Although firstly recognised as a highly imaginative “creator of devils” and a powerful inventor of seeming nonsense full of satirical meaning, Bosch demonstrated insight into the depths of the mind and an ability to depict symbols of life and creation.

Bosch was a pessimistic and stern moralist who had no illusions about the rationality of human nature or confidence in the kindness of a world that had been corrupted by man’s presence in it. His paintings are sermons, addressed often to initiates and consequently difficult to translate. Unable to unlock the mystery of the artist’s works, critics at first believed that he must have been affiliated with secret sects. Although the themes of his work were religious, his choice of symbols to represent the temptation and eventual ensnarement of man in earthly evils caused many critics to view Bosch as an occultist. It is now conceded that Bosch was a talented artist who possessed deep insight into human character and as one of the first artists to represent abstract concepts in his work.

Approximately 35 to 40 paintings are attributed to him, but only 7 are signed and none are dated. There exists little information on the early life of the artist, other than the fact that he was the son and grandson of accomplished painters. His name does appear on the register of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, located in the city of his birth, and there is mention of him in official records from 1486 until the year of his death, when he was acclaimed an Insignis pictor (“distinguished painter”). In addition to painting he undertook decorative works and altarpieces and executed designs for stained glass.

Works attributed to his youthful period show an awkwardness in drawing and composition and brushwork somewhat limited in its scope. In the early paintings Bosch had begun to depict humanity’s vulnerability to the temptation of evil, the deceptive allure of sin, and the obsessive attraction of lust, heresy, and obscenity. The presence of certain motifs, expanded in the more sophisticated works of the artist’s middle period, and a limited technique, unsure yet bold, provide a beginning from which to view Bosch’s artistic origins.

To Bosch’s fruitful middle period belong the great panoramic triptychs, often constructed to be used as altarpieces in church. His figures are graceful and his colours subtle and sure, and all is in motion in these ambitious and extremely complex works. These paintings are marked by an eruption of fantasy, expressed in monstrous, apocalyptic scenes of chaos and nightmare that are contrasted and juxtaposed with idyllic portrayals of mankind in the age of innocence. During this period Bosch elaborated on his early ideas, and the few paintings that survive establish the evolution of his thought. Bosch’s disconcerting mixture of fantasy and reality is further developed in this period and the artist takes every opportunity to highlight the consequences of sin and immorality.

Bosch’s maturity illustrates the peak of his iconographic style and the artist’s powers are used to great effect to produce masterworks. The “Garden of Earthly Delights,” is representative of Bosch at his mature best, showing the earthly paradise with the creation of woman, the first temptation, and the fall. The painting's beautiful and unsettling images of sensuality and of the dreams that afflict the people who live in a pleasure-seeking world express Bosch’s iconographic originality with tremendous force. The chief characteristic of this work is perhaps its dreamlike quality; multitudes of nude human figures, giant birds, and horses cavort and frolic in a delightfully implausible, otherworldly landscape, and all the elements come together to produce a perfect, harmonious whole.

The artist’s late works are fundamentally different. Instead of meadows or hellish landscapes inhabited by hundreds of tiny beings, he painted densely compacted groups of half-length figures pressed tight against the picture plane. In these dramatic close-ups, of which “The Crowning with Thorns” and the “Carrying of the Cross” are representative, the spectator is so near the event portrayed that he seems to participate in it physically as well as psychologically. The most peaceful and untroubled of Bosch’s mature works depict various saints in contemplation or repose. Among these works are “St. John the Evangelist in Patmos” and “St. Jerome in Prayer.”

The painting above, “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1505-06 Oil on panel, 131.5 x 119 cm -central, 131,5 x 53 cm - each wing. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon) displays his ascent to stylistic maturity. The brushstrokes are sharper and terser, with much more command than before. The composition is more fluid, and space is regulated by the incidents and creatures that the viewer’s attention is focused on. His mastery of fine brush-point calligraphy, permitting subtle nuances of contour and movement, is fully evident. Bosch portrays man’s struggle against temptation, as well as the omnipresence of the Devil. This painting is one of the best keys to the artist’s personal iconography. The hermit saint in this work is cast as the heroic symbol of man. In the central panel St. Anthony is beset by an array of grotesque demons, their horrible bodies being brilliantly visualised amalgamations of human, animal, vegetable, and inanimate parts. In the background is a hellish, fantastically bizarre landscape painted with the most exquisite detail. Bosch's development of the theme of the charlatan deceiving man and taking away his salvation receives its fullest exposition in the “St. Anthony,” with its condemnation of heresy and the seductions of false doctrines.

Bosch’s preoccupation in much of his work with the evils of the world did not preclude his vision of a world full of beauty. His adeptness at handling colour harmonies and at creating deeply felt works of the imagination is readily apparent. Though a spate of imitators tried to appropriate his visual style, its uniqueness prevented his having any real followers.

Bosch depicts the duality of human nature. His illustrations of man the angel, and man the devil, underscore the frailty of humanity, ever ready to lapse into beastliness and succumb to temptation. However, at the same time Bosch allows humans to be redeemed by beauty, altruism, bravery, honour and goodness. Each of us battles constantly internally on a daily basis to subdue our dark side and allow our inner light to shine through. It is unfortunate that so many of us do little to suppress the evil and commit acts little or great that exemplify our vice and malevolence.