Friday, March 25, 2016

Passion and Easter

First posted March 10, 2008

Passiflora alata

In the early 1600s, a Jesuit priest came across a Passion flower in South America and was taken by its complexity and beauty. That night he had a vision, so the story went, that the flower's trio of stigma resembled the three nails used in the crucifixion; the stamens represented the wounds; the spiky purple crown above the petals, the crown of thorns; and the tendrils of the plant were the scourges. The name was a direct reference to the Passion of Christ. I find it peculiar that the plant has been found in the wild in every continent except Europe and Antarctica.

In England the Victorians loved it and then fell out of love with it. Now it is making a comeback possibly due to the fruits’ popularity in modern gourmet cooking. 

There are many varieties and some are edible. Of the edible kind there are two big groups, the one with the dark skin one and the one with the yellow skin.

The plant itself, from the stem to the leaves and the flowers, have been used by South American natives for various medicinal purposes, none currently approved by the F.D.A.




The fruit has some of the most concentrated fragrance of any fruit species. The charm is in its acidity which enhances the intense flavour and natural sweetness. With fine vanilla ice-cream it is a delight. It can be used as a topping for many desserts and famously for Pavlova. It is made into soft drinks and is often used in tropical cocktails. The golden variety is best eaten fresh and the dark skin ones can be left to mature as the flavour intensifies further.

With the golden to near blood red seeds, the fruit qualifies as a colourful non-green fruit, with all the necessary anti-oxidants. To me it is just flavoursome.


The other passion of course is Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, appropriate for this time of the year. The biologist Lewis Thomas when asked what message he would send to aliens famously said: “……Bach, all of Bach……”. Richard Dawkins picked it as one of his eight desert island discs. Now you know.

On the Easter music note, it is perhaps appropriate to mention Mahler’s Second Symphony: The Resurrection. The text of the music made no biblical reference and it was Mahler’s very personal view of life and his life was full of tragedies and suffering, with the premature deaths of his siblings and daughter, and his own heart disease. There has not been a greater composer to emerge since his death. 

Also:

The Guardian:
Why we are shutting children out of classical music.
April 2, 2009 Tom ServiceTom Service is a 33-year-old classical music critic. For 25 years of concert-going he found himself to be amongst the youngest in the audience.

But there is something else that is strange:
“I've noticed that bus and train stations now pipe canned classical music, day-in, day-out, through their speakers as a way of stopping young people hanging around. So toxic have the associations become, that this experiment actually works: there is evidence that playing Beethoven and Mahler has reduced antisocial behaviour on the transport network.”
He went on:

“An entire generation, aged between 10 and 30, seems radically disenfranchised from classical music. How, and when, did this happen?”
Then in Finland:

“A couple of years ago, I saw a class of seven-year-olds in Helsinki enthusiastically learning Finnish and maths by performing sophisticated little songs with astonishing tuning and rhythm. And this wasn't a music school - just a typical Finnish state primary. Finland only developed its curriculum in the postwar period, but it works: today, the Finns are classical music world-beaters, and their education system has produced more great instrumentalists, conductors and composers per capita than any other country on earth.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen is of course the Principal Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Finland’s most famous music export in recent times.
I was at a concert recently and a large numbers of players in the orchestra were Koreans. Well apart from steel and TV and cars, the Koreans are now into golf and music in a big way. The LPGA is certainly dominated by Koreans. Could it be that music gave them the edge in golf as well, not just the chopsticks?

Tom again:

“Here is a ready-made answer to the problems of renewing classical music's role in society. Make them statutory requirements for every local authority, and give them the responsibility for rebuilding the network of classical musical possibility that used to resound throughout the country.”

And perhaps throw in golf for good measure.

It was in 1990 that American troops played deafening pop and heavy metal music day and night outside the Vatican Mission to Panama City that Noriega surrendered.

In future, this strategy might have to be changed, Beethoven, Mahler and God forbid even Bach.

Tom Service’s last words:

“We've already lost one generation - we can't afford to lose another.”




Monday, March 21, 2016

Hello Spring 2016







All photos ©2016 Am Ang Zhang 

Book I am reading:
.... Kandel is not just one of the most important scientists of our time – he’s also an omnivorous public intellectual, deeply knowledgeable about everything from German art to the history of psychoanalysis. In his marvelous new book,The Age of Insight, Kandel puts this learning on display. He dives into the cultural ferment of 19th century Vienna, seeking to understand why the city was such a fount of new ideas, but he also explores the neuroscience of aesthetics, attempting to explain why some works of art, such as Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” continue to haunt us. In many respects, the book imitates those famous Viennese salons, in which artists, scientists and doctors exchanged ideas and gave birth to a new way of thinking about the mind. (The city was a case-study in consilience.) If you’re interested in the intersection of art and science, the book is a must-read.





Photography: Best lens for portrait & landscape!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Gustav Mahler: Atacama & Resurrection!


I was in Atacama just before Easter last year. 

 ©2015 Am Ang Zhang


"Rise again, yes, rise again thou wilt! Then the glory of God comes into sight. A wondrous light strikes us to the heart. All is quiet and blissful. Lo and behold: there is no judgment, no sinners, no just men, no great and no small; there is no punishment and no reward. A feeling of overwhelming love fills us with blissful knowledge and illuminates our existence.

From silence, the chorus enters, at first almost inaudibly, singing Klopstock’s resurrection poetry. The solo soprano detaches imperceptibly from the chorus and floats above it. Mahler used only two of Klopstock’s three stanzas, and omitted the concluding ‘Hallelujah!’ to each. The remainder of the Symphony’s text was Mahler’s own, started with ‘O glaube’ (‘Oh believe!’), introduced by the mezzo soloist. The end is a soaring E-flat major hymn, from which ‘an overwhelming love lightens our being. We know and we are.’

 


Musicologists explained the early rejection of the Second Symphony as a result of Mahler's new harmonies. Never before had these been found in music. He overstepped the boundaries of what was considered "beautiful." Music critics and concertgoers found his music too long, too complicated, too bombastic, too neurotic, overly melancholy, and so on. Leonard Bernstein, who led the Mahler revival of the 1960s, claimed that "There was something much deeper in the rejection of Mahler's music." He suggested that "Mahler's music simply hit too close to home, touched too deeply on people's concerns and their fears about life and death. It simply was too true--telling something too dreadful to hear."

Fortunately, the above elements, which were so strongly rejected by the musical establishment of Mahler's day, are now passionately embraced by new generations of listeners. His genius lies in his unique ability to draw together such wildly contrasting elements as intense post-Wagner/Strauss/Bruckner harmonies, Austrian peasant music, Jewish childhood motifs, children's innocence, and a distressing fascination with death. He moulds all of them into a convincing and compelling musical structure.


 ©2015 Am Ang Zhang


And behold, it is no judgment;
there are no sinners, no just….
There is no punishment and no reward.
An overwhelming love illuminates our being.
We know and we are.



Youtube: Simon Rattle
Related:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Singapore Health Care: Not Free!!!



Singapore ©2013 Am Ang Zhang



The Cockroach Catcher recently visited Singapore and is most impressed with how a city state emerged from British Colonial rule to become a shining example to the rest of the world both in terms of Employment, Education, Rule of Law and most importantly Health Care.

Until now, most health care in England has been “free” at the point of delivery. This indeed may be where the trouble really is.

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, education was not free nor was it compulsory. Yet most of us valued it. Every single bit of book, pencil and paper were paid for by hard working parents. There was no abuse of any of those items. Primary education became compulsory (and free) from 1979, yes, late.

Well, one thing I have to admit about British Colonialist is that they generally leave a good government behind. How that is achieved is a mystery to many but in general a stable government with a single policy for 150 years or so may well be one of them. In recent years, the Civil Service in Hong Kong and Singapore had been very efficient and whatever corruption there may have been had been contained or controlled.


Old Singapore Today©2013 Am Ang Zhang
Citizens of England might be surprised to hear that for most of us, health care is not free.

No, not for those of us who pay national insurance and taxes and if we include VAT, that is just about everybody.

Singapore: NO! NOT FREE!

Singapore’s health delivery is not free at any point. This has the singular advantage of preventing the over-utilisation of any of its healthcare services. As England struggled to stem the flow of new EU citizens from coming to use (or abuse) our NHS, Singapore’s system simply see to it that it would not happen. Yet there is a safeguard in public health for what is known as a catastrophic situation which happened during the SARS outbreak.

Singaporeans are considerably healthier than Americans, yet pay, per person, about one-fifth of what Americans pay for their healthcare.


So how does Singapore achieve such impressive results?
The key to Singapore’s efficient health care system is the emphasis on the individual to assume responsibility towards their own health and, importantly, their own health expenditure.

The state recovers 20-100 percent of its public healthcare outlay through user fees. A patient in a government hospital who chooses the open ward is subsidized by the government at 80 percent. Better-off patients choose more comfortable wards with lower or no government subsidy, in a self-administered means test.
I've heard a lot of smart people warn that co-payments are penny-wise but pound-foolish, because people cut back on high-benefit preventive care. Unless someone is willing to dispute Singapore's budgetary and health data, it looks like we've got strong counter-evidence to this view: Either Singaporeans don't skimp on preventive care when you raise the price, or preventive care isn't all it's cracked up to be.
More details on how Singapore's system works:
  • There are mandatory health savings accounts: "Individuals pre-save for medical expenses through mandatory deductions from their paychecks and employer contributions... Only approved categories of medical treatment can be paid for by deducting one's Medisave account, for oneself, grandparents, parents, spouse or children: consultations with private practitioners for minor ailments must be paid from out-of-pocket cash..."
  • "The private healthcare system competes with the public healthcare, which helps contain prices in both directions. Private medical insurance is also available."
  • Private healthcare providers are required to publish price lists to encourage comparison shopping.
  • The government pays for "basic healthcare services... subject to tight expenditure control." Bottom line: The government pays 80% of "basic public healthcare services."
  • Government plays a big role with contagious disease, and adds some paternalism on top: "Preventing diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tobacco-related illnesses by ensuring good health conditions takes a high priority."
  • The government provides optional low-cost catastrophic health insurance, plus a safety net "subject to stringent means-testing."
                                                             The Undercover Economist

So in Singapore private clinics are responsible for 80% of primary care but public hospitals cover 80% of hospital care!

 

Singapore has some of the best public hospitals in the Far East if not the world so much so that even those with private insurance often chose to have their operations in a public hospital but staying in a more private room if their insurance covers it. Public hospitals of this level of excellence become the natural competitor for the private market and helps to keep overall cost down without the need of draconian legislation. Such good public hospitals also provide some of the best training grounds for future generations of top class doctors.

 

Singapore together with Iceland has one of the lowest Infant Mortality rates in the world, a third the figure of the USA.

 Singapore: Now ©2013 Am Ang Zhang

 

Read also:

 

The Singapore health system – achieving positive health outcomes with low expenditure                                               by   John Tucci

 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

NYBG: Orchids




Junior Doctors: Beautiful People & Beautiful Places!

I was a Junior Doctor once!



Oct 1, 2015 ... If she returns will she be the last Junior Doctor? As the sun sets on our beloved NHS: 



Oct 18, 2015 ... The new junior doctor's car broke down so she was late in examining her. ... The paediatric junior arrived and took some history and did a quick ...

1 day ago ... Junior doctors in England have overwhelmingly voted in favour of going on strike in their dispute with ministers over a new contract. Some 98% ...

All photos ©2015 Am Ang Zhang



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