Saturday, January 31, 2009


Little people full-of-themselves really annoy me. Are there more of them all of a sudden or is it just that my amygdalae are hypersensitive these days? I'm becoming more misanthropic by the day and it's not a comfortable thing to be when you're raising kids. Is there a cure for misanthropy?

Did a quick search on the net and came up with this:

Cure for Misanthropy and Melancholy

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chapter 5 (Solitude):
Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object, even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still. There was never yet such a storm but it was Aeolian music to a healthy and innocent ear. Nothing can rightly compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness. While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.

Ah.....Nope. Doesn't do it for me: too impractical at this phase of the proceedings.

Also came up with this:

Cheer up, misanthrope, Smell the grass, eat a cookie, we humans aren't so bad. This helped and really amused me but then again I'm not allowed to eat cookies right now and the grass doesn't really smell that nice because it's frozen...

The Cure of Misanthropy: On Wall-E, Kubrick and Mike White's The Year of the Dog. This didn't help at all but was interesting reading.

I have to face it. I'm not going to find a cure for misanthropy just laying around. Maybe I don't even need a cure, true misanthropists don't feel that need.

So now what? Now nothing. I'll just have to keep on doing my bit to ensure that I'm not raising my kids to become like me. Tough job, I tell you.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Little random notes

Clara's enthusiasm for the piano is still going strong and she's also loving to learn to play the flute. Like Ana, she now has after school activities on every single school day. Must keep them busy, happy and thriving and I'll happily play the chauffeur, driving them around...

Ana is taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which is an excellent thing. She will also have major school exams on the week of her birthday, which is rotten...

Must read "Why we are, as we are" from a Darwinian point of view (2009 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species").

Can't wait to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button".

"I was born under unusual circumstances." And so begins 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards: a man, like any of us, who is unable to stop time. We follow his story, set in New Orleans from the end of World War I in 1918 to the 21st century, following his journey that is as unusual as any man's life can be. Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett with Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas and Julia Ormond, Benjamin Button is a grand tale of a not-so-ordinary man and the people and places he discovers along the way, the loves he finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time.

Good news!

Nia's home!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The teachers strike in Portugal

An Expat's point of view with which I tend to sympathize...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nothing Twice

Imagem 007, originally uploaded by joaop1960.

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you're the planet's biggest dunce,
you can't repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with exactly the same kisses.

One day, perhaps, some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.

The next day, though you're here with me,
I can't help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It's in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we're different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.

Wislawa Szymborska--

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We will all remember where we were today


It's worth saving this article by Polly Toynbee on this historical day:

"There has never been a day like it for Britain's postwar generations. As that inauguration speech echoes out, the globe itself seems to inhale a mighty, collective intake of breath, frighteningly audacious in its hope.

A BBC World Service poll shows a tidal wave of optimism about what Obama will do, spread out across a rainbow of nations. Here is the world's wish list: first save global finance from ruin; next get out of Iraq; then fix the climate and bring peace to the Middle East. Yes he can, is the world's expectation.

How does the man's arrival feel here? A day like no other, in a time of multiple crisis like none other. In the years of plenty, the British since the war have known little political excitement. Novelists and playwrights scrabble about for drama: the miners' strike, the three-day week, Aldermaston and Greenham vie with the IMF's humiliating bailout or Margaret Thatcher's greed-is-good big bang years, alongside the day we crashed out of the ERM, or Labour's glory night in May 1997. But these are meagre political offerings through the years of fluctuating affluence.

The IRA and now Islamist terror terrify - but they feel external, not integral to domestic politics, even if both are bloody paybacks from our past. The cold war came and went without the nuclear apocalypse we grew up expecting any day. When the Berlin wall came down, the great rejoicing was primarily a drama belonging to other people; it was not the end of history either. We fought a surprising number of small wars, hardly ruffling the phlegmatic British body politic: the Conservatives did not fall over the Suez debacle, and Blair was re-elected despite his Iraq disaster.

We have not lived in the interesting times of the Chinese curse - but in banal times where politicians needed to be no better than they were. No great crisis summoned a Winston Churchill or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That uneventfulness has blunted our politics: people barely vote or express a view, while blase cynicism substitutes for thought, passion or partisanship. Parties clustered in the dead centre are dead on their feet, and no one cares much, except to sneer at politicians' expenses. The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth. An American model of each individual citizen for himself, each individual citizen the architect of his own life's trajectory, has conquered old notions of solidarity, not needed in good times.

Look across Europe and little comfort can be drawn from any country's leadership, rendering its collective voice feebly uninspiring. In crisis, the EU risks pulling apart, not together, with rising nationalism and protectionism. Who do you call? The Czech Republic's current EU presidency? There has been little here to inspire political hope.

But now Obama comes out of nowhere just when good politics has never mattered more. A complete collapse of the global financial system is not unimaginable. In uncharted waters, billions and trillions gush from governments everywhere, frantically shoring up banks that squandered trust. One thing looks grimly certain, however we get out of this: future deep debts threaten public services, long-lasting unemployment, real pay cuts and changed prospects in need of a new politics.

The climate crisis is seen to be worsening with every new report, but worldwide action is still negligible and negligent: the Nasa scientist and leading climate expert Jim Hansen last week warned that only four years remain before an irreversible threshold is crossed, leading to raised sea levels that will drown many major cities.

In Gaza, the horror of so many dead Palestinian children is a monstrous challenge to greet Obama. If ever the world needed saving, it's now.

So here comes the man who says he can. It's an American mystery that this great pool of genius has usually thrown such minnows into the White House. But the monumental present danger has summoned forth a man who promises the intellect, character and power of persuasion to match the hour.

On this day all alive will remember where they were when they saw Obama sworn in, when they heard him speak. I shall be in a Commons meeting room - where Dawn Butler, the black MP for Brent, will be launching "Bernie's list" to promote black candidates - with crowds of mainly ethnic-minority young Brent people gathered to watch Obama's speech. Since the rise of Obama, the MP says, throngs have come forward to join her campaign.

I shall also see Chuka Umunna, the exceptional Labour candidate for Streatham, south London, address students in Brixton - students whom he finds are as eager as never before to think and do politics. "Obama has changed everything. You can't overestimate the effect," he says. After time on the Obama campaign, Umunna says that the man's blackness is only one wonder: "He has changed the possibilities of politics itself." Winning while promising to tax the rich, cut tax for the poor, tackle the climate and reverse Bush's foreign policy, he has made the impossible possible.

Let whoever will be cynical do so today: they will have their I-told-you-so moments. Political passion is unfashionable, risky, naive and destined for disappointment. Enthusiasm is rare in British politics, but today is a reminder that it is always worth celebrating the better over the worse. The hope is not just for what the man will do, but that his brand of politics rubs off on politicians everywhere. It wasn't until Obama was elected on a tax-the-rich ticket that Brown and Darling dared to follow suit, 11 years late. This is a day for politicians to take heart and dare to challenge recycled focus group prejudice. Copying Obama needs to become a global habit.

In a revealing unpublished interview with the Obamas more than a decade ago, Michelle feared that he was "too much the good guy for the kind of brutality and scepticism" of politics. Ruthless calculation is indeed a necessary part of the art, but he seems to have that steely determination too. There is a limit to how moral any effective politician can be: ask that nice Jimmy Carter. Yet this is the day to honour the practice of politics as a high calling, where the power to inspire can swell the hearts of the world. Here at home, a respite from Britain's lazy political cynicism is in order.

-- Polly Toynbee -- The Guardian




"Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours." -- Noam Chomsky

Virgin Atlantic's new ad

Great homage to that fantastic scene in "Catch me if you can", no doubt.

Don't worry, be happy

This article in the BBC site proclaims that staying calm prevents dementia:

"People who are more laid back are less likely to develop dementia in old age, a study has suggested.

Research published in the journal Neurology asked 500 healthy elderly people to fill out questionnaires about their personalities.

Those who were calm and relaxed had a 50% lower risk of developing dementia during the six years of the study.

UK experts said it offered "compelling evidence" of the need to be "socially active throughout life".

There are 700,000 people with dementia in the UK. That number is expected to rise to over one million by 2025 and 1.7 million by 2051.

The personality questionnaires measured neuroticism - a term meaning easily distressed, and extraversion - or openness to talking to people.

Those who were not easily distressed were calm and self-satisfied, whereas people who were easily distressed were emotionally unstable, negative and nervous.

The study of people aged 78 and over found that people who were socially inactive but calm and relaxed had a 50% lower risk of developing dementia compared with people who were socially isolated and prone to distress.

The dementia risk was also 50% lower for people who were outgoing and calm compared to those who were outgoing and prone to distress.

The lifestyle questionnaire determined how often each person regularly participated in leisure activities and the richness of their social network.

During that period they were studied, 144 people developed dementia.

Dr Hui-Xin Wang of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who led the research, said: "In the past, studies have shown that chronic distress can affect parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, possibly leading to dementia.

"But our findings suggest that having a calm and outgoing personality in combination with a socially active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further.

"The good news is, lifestyle factors can be modified as opposed to genetic factors which cannot be controlled.

"But these are early results, so how exactly mental attitude influences risk for dementia is not clear."

One theory is that stress and anxiety trigger the release of chemicals which can damage the tissues of the brain.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Doctors have always believed that personality traits are linked to risk of dementia.

"This compelling new evidence suggests people who are easily stressed or not very outgoing should make every effort to be socially active."

But she said: "It's a chicken and egg scenario - do these personality traits increase risk of dementia in older people or are they an early sign of the disease?

"One in three people over 65 will die with dementia. It is vital to keep mentally and physically active throughout your life to reduce risk of this devastating condition."

Story from BBC NEWS

Monday, January 19, 2009

This would be perfect for Mom



Big eye needle. Great invention.

Nothing is original


Margaret Drabble on Doris Lessing

Margaret Drabble on Doris Lessing

Lessing has never followed literary fashion. She has always been ahead of it, in theme and in content, and at times in narrative mode. Ideologies have caught up with her and tried to swallow her up and appropriate her, but she has always shaken herself free and moved on. Although she is most widely known (and particularly to those who have not read her) as a leading figure in the women's movement, her work encompasses much more than this label suggests. I am not suggesting that this was in itself a negligible achievement: it was through her writing about women's lives as wives and lovers and mothers that I first discovered her, and she spoke uniquely to my needs during the 1960s and 70s, as she did to those of many of us. But there is more to her work than this.

One of her best-known and most alarming stories, "To Room Nineteen", struck me when I first read it as an appallingly bleak feminist account of the utter worthlessness of a woman's life: playing the role of good wife and mother, even playing it well, landed you alone, in a chair, in a rented room in Paddington, turning on the gas. Lessing interprets this tale differently, not in terms of the doom of gender, but as an account of depression and the "descent into hell" (another of her titles).

"The last-ditch depressives," she writes, "suffer a vision of life so bleak, so ugly, so terrible, that no wonder they sometimes kill themselves." Men who returned from the trenches, she reminds us, suffered in this way, too. Of this story, she has also said that it is "a quite terrible story, not least because I don't understand it, or rather the region of myself it comes from". She has always been able to write herself out of these moods of disaster, and the honesty of her descriptions of them and encounters with them is salutary and fortifying. She has been the guide of a generation. She is (to quote yet another of her titles) a survivor, and she has documented an age.

The Guardian - Margaret Drabble on Doris Lessing

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Stranger than fiction

"Four teenagers who burgled a house later returned most of the items, along with £40 compensation and a signed card apologising for their actions". (BBC)

Now that's a piece of news that's even stranger than the Lidia Jorge's Snow White short story I read last week!

The Crystal Gazer


I shall gather myself into myself again,
. I shall take my scattered selves and make them one,
I shall fuse them into a polished crystal ball
. Where I can see the moon and the flashing sun.

I shall sit like a sibyl, hour after hour intent,
, Watching the future come and the present go--
And the little shifting pictures of people rushing
, In tiny self-importance to and fro.

Sara Teasdale --

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Best Society

Picture 075, originally uploaded by joaop1960.

When I was a child, I thought,
Casually, that solitude
Never needed to be sought.
Something everybody had,
Like nakedness, it lay at hand,
Not specially right or specially wrong,
A plentiful and obvious thing
Not at all hard to understand.

Then, after twenty, it became
At once more difficult to get
And more desired - though all the same
More undesirable; for what
You are alone has, to achieve
The rank of fact, to be expressed
In terms of others, or it's just
A compensating make-believe.

Much better stay in company!
To love you must have someone else,
Giving requires a legatee,
Good neighbours need whole parishfuls
Of folk to do it on - in short,
Our virtues are all social; if,
Deprived of solitude, you
It's clear you're not the virtuous sort.

Viciously, then, I lock my door.
The gas-fire breathes. The wind outside
Ushers in evening rain. Once more
Uncontradicting solitude
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.

-- Philip Larkin --

Global warming?

Global Warming

Monday, January 05, 2009

James Casebere

Casebere Pink Hallway 2000

James Casebere

Casebere Red Room 2008

Casebere Yellow Hallway 2001

Spanish Bath 2003


casebere3 Vaulted Corridor 2001

casebere2 abbey

James Casabere's art.

"Casebere's pioneering work has established him at the forefront of artists working with constructed photography. [...] For the last thirty years Casebere has consistently devised increasingly complex models and photographed them in his studio. Based solidly on an understanding of architecture as well as art historical and cinematic sources, Casebere's abandoned spaces are hauntingly evocative. His table-sized constructions are made of simple materials, pared down to essential forms."

A recent discovery through my mother, to whom I'm very grateful.