Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Joy to the world (all the boys and girls)

It's quite funny to see the way people react to Jo's immobility. With most of them, the reaction is first to express sympathy and worry for Jo, but then to say something like "but look at all the joy you will have as a result".
And that's the funny part really, because when I look at it I don't see much in the way of joy. Don't get me wrong, we are going through this pregnancy thing completely voluntarily, it's just that I don't see the raising of a child as a necessarily joyous thing. Sure, there will be moments of joy; but these will be nothing compared to the effort invested in it. There will be moments of joy, but in 15 years time or so we will be told to fuck off, too.
What I'm trying to say is that people seem to have this need to think in unrealistic terms in order to get themselves motivated when there is nothing wrong with staring truth in the face. There are plenty of viable reasons to bring a child to this world to negate the need to invent false ones.

Anyway, the above was supposed to be just an introduction to yet another discussion on the name selection issue.
By now I'm finding it quite amazing to see how many thoughts I can spend on this issue, which - let's face it - is not as important as it may seem to be.
I also find it interesting to see the different approaches to process of selecting a name; you can learn a lot about people this way. I started with having highly defined convictions on what the name should be like, but because I have to reach a consensus with Jo I'm in the process of learning to compromise. Others seem to use name books to browse and select a name, a method that at first glance I find stupid - I mean, can't you just switch your brain on and think up a name? Jo, however, pointed out that by browsing you get some inspiration and think in directions you wouldn't have thought before. As usual, she is right (and as usual, I prefer to stick to my way without resorting to "names for dummies" books).
Anyway, lately I've been having second thoughts about the names that so far I held in high regard. I mean, I still like Indy best, but Jo still hates it; however, the name Connor has lost lots of ground: It's a nice name and all, but it's also a name that doesn't have much in the way of special meaning to me. Sure, I liked Highlander, but I also liked Zoolander, and I don't see anyone proposing Magnum as a name. Or even Blue Steel.
When I think about it I reach the conclusion that my preferred name would be the name of something or someone I really like (in my own personal way of liking). The name shouldn't be too old fashioned (say, "Richard" doesn't qualify even if I do like Richard Dawkins a lot) or too fantasy like (goodbye Corwin).
I also noticed that I have a tendency to prefer names that are usually used more as last names. I wonder if my preference to be called Reuveni as opposed to Moshe has something to do with it... And I also noticed that names with an S sound in them tend to sound better. They're more dominant: try, for example, to eavesdrop on a group of people chatting far away from you, and you will notice that the first sounds you lock on are the S sounds.
As a result of all of the above, I've been thinking of names like Sky and Forest lately. Forest is a bit of a problem, given Forrest Gump, but then again I doubt the kids that will eventually taunt Indy at school will be that familiar with Mr Gump.
Most of all, I've been falling deeper and deeper in love with the name Sagan. Jo is yet to express her opinion on it; somehow I think her opinion will not be too dissimilar to her opinion on Indy.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Battle of the Codes

This post is about football codes.
Now I am not about to compare real football to NFL, AFL or even rugby. There is room for all of these different codes, and as far as I'm concerned to each his/her own way. My preference is well known to the readers of this blog, but what should also be known is my overall disappointment with how sports are becoming too much win oriented, too violent (just witness last night's Arsenal - Chelsea cup final), and way too money oriented. In short, there's not much in the way of sports in it - it's all about money and power. And as Billy Joel said, well, if that's what it's all about, I'm moving out. I will still enjoy watching a good game of football, but I will not understand those that make it their religion and those that find comfort in the tribalism that comes under the guise of being a football supporter. [Are you happy now, Uri?]
Anyway, as I was trying to say, this post is not about real football. It's about computerized versions, mainly football for the Nintendo DS. The competitors here are what you can refer to as the usual suspects of the console world: On one side you have FIFA, the old king; on the other side you have Pro Evolution Soccer, which despite using the S word has knocked FIFA out of the throne and rules on high as the provider of the football supreme experience, at least as far as conventional consoles are concerned.
But how do these two compare on the Nintendo DS? Thanks for asking. Here is my answer.
As far as gameplay is concerned, my vote will go once again to Pro Evolution. FIFA feels like an arcade game; Pro Evolution feels like a game of football. The demonstration of what I mean is best provided through goals: while on FIFA Henry scores 9 out of 10 Arsenal goals, on Pro Evolution it's more like 40%; mid-fielders and even defensive players will score quite often, too - just like they do in real life. FIFA did close the gap a bit since the huge chasm that was between the two back in 2004, but it's still not enough.
But is Pro Evolution the preferred one of the two, then? Surprisingly, the answer is no. The reason is the collection of nice touches that FIFA has over Pro Evolution. For a start, since FIFA is licensed by FIFA, you get all the real teams and all the real leagues - including even the first and second divisions in England, which allows you to watch Arsenal play around the likes of Lincoln or Darlington. Pro Evolution does have some famous teams - Arsenal included - but their range is rather limited, and worse - you cannot play the career mode with Arsenal, you can only do it with a made up team. What's the point in that?
That's not all. FIFA features a talking commentator, while Pro Evolution only has mild sound effects. It sounds stupid, but the commentator really helps feeding the excitement.
But if you're after the true magic touch, FIFA has it, too: through a simple interface, you can record your own chant, mix it with the sounds of trumpets and drums, and have it played during the match. Given that you can play against other DS owners or through DS rivals over the internet, that's a major source of fun; I set mine to the tune of "HaShofet Ben Zona" (contact Haim for a free translation; I'll just say this chant is not overly complimentary towards the referee's ancestors).
Anyway, both games are nice, both games are a far cry from their console counterparts, but both games are fun and FIFA is more fun.

Different codes do not apply only to football games on the DS. My favorite DS game is Brain Training (also known as Brain Age in different countries), which is supposed to be this collection of mini games supposedly designed to reactivate your brain and make it "younger". Marketing bullshit aside, it's a fun game that fully utilizes the DS' touch pad and microphone, even if it has a problem understanding you when you say "blue" (unless you force a made up American accent and speak softly, which annoys the hell out of Jo), and even if it welcomes you with a "Brr... it's so cold" comment on a 40 degree day (yet another case of northern hemisphere chauvinism).
Another game that follows the same lines is called Brain Academy. This one is more kids oriented, and instead of relying mostly on math oriented challenges Brain Academy is more shape oriented with a collection of cute mini games.
Both games are fun, but it's interesting to note that I prefer Brain Training while Jo prefers Brain Academy. I happen to like the math challenges, Jo prefers the shape challenges. I'm better in the math stuff than I am in the shape stuff, Jo is better in the shape stuff.
Luckily, the Nintendo DS caters for both orientations. And with her reduced mobility rate, Jo is quickly becoming the master of the DS (aside of gobbling books at a rate that would even make Uri jealous).

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Great minds think alike

Last night, in an attempt to help expose Jo to the world that is outside of our house, we went to have dinner at the Brighton Savoy Hotel (located, surprisingly enough, in Brighton). It seems like it's a nice hotel - that's where we'll probably recommend you stay if you come and visit us, although it is relatively expensive by Australian standards. We happened to have a nice fat discount voucher for their restaurant, and their restaurant does steaks, and Jo really likes steaks lately having turned into a carnivore through her pregnancy.
We planned our excursion so that Jo hardly needed to walk. The restaurant turned out to provide for some really nice views - basically, Brighton Beach at sunset, with all the colors over the Bay and even the lights on top of the West Gate Bridge. It was quite a nice setting.
The food, however, wasn't much to talk about. It was, however, interesting to note how the two of us thought exactly the same thing about it: we both concluded that if Jo's parents were to come and visit us we should take them to this restaurant. The funny things was the lines of thinking that got us to this mutual conclusion:
Jo thought about it because the food was served with mashed potatoes and her family are big mashed fans; and "even the desserts have custard in them", and her father is a big fan of custard. Therefore, her parents are bound to like this restaurant's food.
I have arrived at the same conclusion because I thought the food was rather boring and tasteless, therefore her parents are bound to like this restaurant's food.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Data security

Last night Jo has received an SMS from Connex saying "Allahu Akbr". Now it doesn't really matter whether the SMS was pro Muslim or anti Muslim (given the spelling I would say it's just an ignorant SMS): what has happened here was that someone hacked into the train company's database, normally used to alert passengers of unscheduled cancellations, and used it for his/her own private affairs. This private data - our phone numbers - which was supposedly protected turned out to be as protected as American airliners were on the morning of 11/9/2001.
While this particular incident makes me laugh more than it annoys me, what really annoys me is the federal government's new plan to spend billions of dollars
on issuing people smart-cards containing lots and lots of sensitive data about its owner. They say that those cards will not be ID cards and that people will not have to wield them, but they also say you won't be able to access government services without them; and since we all tend to visit a doctor during our lifetimes, and we won't be able to do so without this magic card, it is effectively a mandatory ID card regardless of how the very well paid government spin doctors put it.
Coming from a country where I had to carry an ID card saying I'm Jewish, I don't particularly want to have such a card again. Especially when I think about what those that happened to have "Arab" on their ID card went through. Yet in this day and age everything can be justified in the name of security. This justification, however, only applies when it's convenient for the government to apply it, because the issue of protecting the incredible database behind the smartcards is something the government keeps away from more religiously than a vampire avoids garlic.
Given the Connex incident mentioned above, and given my familiarity and everyone else's familiarity with issues of data protection over the internet, I see every reason to fear this new smartcard. It is yet another bright idea from the John Howard household of bright ideas aimed at making more of his already overly rich friends richer. What's next, Johnny? When are we invading Iran?

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Body Heat

One thing every good Australian should have is a will. It's a pretty popular thing to do, regardless of the fact it's quite beneficial to your family members when you die.
As you might expect, Jo and I don't have one. We wrote it down in our to do list after we got married, but since I never put a date next to the task in my PDA we never got to it. In short, we're not good Australians. We're lazy Australians.
Not that you should expect great surprises there. At least not in my will.
However, from time to time I do think about the things that would go in the will, especially since the idea of having a will is rather foreign, perhaps even exotic, to me (it's not something most of the people I knew in Israel were bothered about). Aside of what you see in the movies - i.e., who is to get the money - the will is supposed to say things like how you want to get rid of your body etc.
I already know, for example, that if there is to be some ceremony commemorating my death, my instructions will be to have nothing that is in any way religious in there (and that should be strictly enforced, or the violator is to join me quicker than anticipated). I would also like a certain clip from the second episode of Cosmos to be projected: a clip showing in quick animation how humans have evolved from what Carl Sagan refers to as "stardust", with the hope that it would put my death in context of what this world is about.
One thing I'm not sure about is what I want done with my body after I die. Generally speaking, I couldn't care less about it; I mean, the atoms that make up my body are entirely replaced every couple of months or so and I don't really care about the old ones, why should I care about those that just happen to be there at the right time to witness my brain die? Giving my dead parts away to some useful cause, say - organ donation - would be one useful way to do something good in this world. There are some limits to my patience, though: I don't know, for example, if I would like future doctors to practice on my dead body; it's not like I'm bothered about the sanctity of my body or bullshit like that, it's more to do with being ashamed when someone messes about with my private parts. The small dick syndrome, to be specific (according to George Costanza there's a lot of shrinkage when you die).
Anyway, we recently discovered that if you want to become an organ donor in Australia you have to register through Medicare - that's the only database that counts. And so I did, just this week.
But let's face it, the chances of anyone wanting to use my crap body parts are rather slim. By now I don't know if there is one part of me that is actually working according to specifications. Therefore, some other, more conventional way for getting rid of my body should be specified in my will.
As far as I can tell, there are two options: cremation or burial. Given that Jews always bury their dead, I always regarded cremation as something weird people do in films, but since coming to Australia I've learnt it's the most popular way of handling the dead here (and in Jo's family, too). There are benefits to it: it's cheap, and you don't occupy much space. My trouble with it is that cremation is a waste: What's wrong with feeding some soil bacteria? What's wrong with doing the world some good through proper manuring? Besides, there's a lot of wrong - greenhouse gases wise - with burning a body (especially if it includes burning a coffin, too; what did the tree do to deserve that?).
Therefore I would tend to prefer burial. However, burial is expensive, and in Australia you're not guaranteed free burial space the way you do in nutty Israel where the dead are more important than the living. So I guess I don't really have an answer to this question yet; it would probably come down to whatever is more convenient for Jo when I die.
Anyway, in the mean time - register yourselves as organ donors.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Church of the poison mind

Somehow, somewhere, I managed to stumble upon a guy whose chief interest, according to his own description, is god. He also has a Masters degree in Divinity, and I don't think this title is to do with his D&D role playing achievements.
I can go on with further such descriptions about this guy, or express my opinion that such phenomena can only take place in the USA which - in the Bush era - seems to breed lunacy, but the overall picture is pretty evident: the above guy is probably a very nice guy, obviously intelligent, but alas an evangelist.
Now I am not about to say what I think about people who believe in god and base their entire life around delusional faith; this blog is full of such analysis already. The reason why I'm mentioning this is the automatic antagonism I have towards religious evangelists. The fact this antagonism is there and the fact it's automatic is something I find quite disturbing, but ignoring it would mean living a lie.
A couple of months ago, someone whose name I forgot by now asked me whether I dislike people who disagree with me. I thought of this question quite a lot, because I won't deny the world would be a much more pleasant place if everybody happened to agree with me. It would also be significantly boring, but that's beside the point. My conclusion, or rather the conclusion I liked to conclude, was that differences of opinion don't really matter that much when it comes to my general opinion on people (not that I would marry everyone, though); the criterion that seemed to be the ultimate criterion was whether person is a decent person, not what his opinions are. Allow me to avoid defining the concept of decency at this stage, because my point is that this conclusion of mine is obviously wrong given the way I react in the face of an evangelist. A decent evangelist.
So what is this reason for the way my fuses light up? I'm raising this as an issue for discussion and I would welcome feedback, but so far I have managed to come up with two theories:
  1. The cause of the antagonism is the fact that evangelism would be regarded as a sign of lunacy by every person I ever physically met. Christian, Jew or atheist / agnostic, I don't know anyone who wouldn't mock and/or dismiss a Jehovah's witness knocking on their door. The only exception are a few orthodox Jews I met while in the army, and indeed I felt the same towards them as I feel towards the above mentioned evangelist.
  2. The cause of the antagonism is the fear of the strange and the foreign. A couple of days ago the papers published the results of this survey showing that a huge percentage of people in the West regard Muslims as a threat and see a violent confrontation with them as an inevitability. I, however, regard Muslims as people not unlike me - delusional, like everyone that bases their values on unfounded faith, but still people. You wouldn't expect that of me, a person from Israel, to think this way but I really don't have much against Muslims as a collective group (I do have a lot against certain individuals who declare themselves Muslims). Anyway, my point is that just as a lot of Westerners are afraid of the unknown - i.e., Muslims - I am also afraid of the unknown. Just as they are afraid of someone who seems to have a different set of values, a contradicting set of values, so am I.
Is there any hope for me to get rid of this antagonism? I severely doubt it, if only because I am unable to fathom the line of thinking of the evangelist. I don't have this problem with the majority of religious people because most of them have never thought of their beliefs, never truly questioned them. They're just on auto pilot, doing what their parents told them to do, and they don't do much to influence others. The evangelist, however, is the opposite: they actively spread a certain message around, a message that totally contradicts all my senses of logic.
The Terminator was scary because it could not be reasoned with. So is the evangelist.

Pigs on the Train

The morning train. I sit with my bag on my lap, trying to get a few more minutes of extra sleep.
Opposite me sits a young guy wearing a suit and a tie, looking smug. Obviously, the guy think he's pretty impressive - you know, "I'm wearing a suit, my dick is already a meter longer" type.
He takes a can of V (an energy drink) out of his bag and gets the morning paper out to read.
I wake up again and the guy is just finishing his morning wakeup call drink. With the last sip, he crashes the can singlehandedly and lays it down on the seat next to him. The last few drops slowly pop up through the can's still gaping hole. I close my eyes.
A young woman tries to sit opposite me. I notice that she's partially sitting over the can, obviously oblivious to its existence. Still a few stops to go; my eyelids shut again.
The mayhem wakes me up. We're close to Flinders Street Station! Time to disembark. The distinguished, suited guy wraps up his paper, gets up off his seat, and lays the paper back on the seat as he leaves the train.
The can is still dripping, bit by bit. The paper, needless to say, is the Herald Sun.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The Transformers

It is not something that we're consciously going through - we're sort of going with the flow. It is something we had expected to go through, but not as quickly. We are going through a transformation.
A week or so ago we were a family of two adults, twin incomes (not bad ones, compared to most people), and zero commitments other than a mortgage; now it is obvious we will be moving into a single income regime earlier than anticipated, although Jo will probably still get to do work from home.
A friend of mine used to say that life really starts when you have a mortgage and when you have kids you need to take care of. We've had the mortgage for a while now and we're surviving, but even though we don't have kids [yet] the burden is starting to show up. For a start, I'm now doing all of the housework and all of the shopping (and you can easily guess how the house looks like). Obviously it's nothing like the way things are going to be once [and if] we have a kid, but it sure feels strange compare to the status quo of the last few years. The Nintendo DS will probably be the last extravagance for a while, yet we know we need to spend some money on getting our rear speakers off the ground (probably in the shape of buying new ones) and we know we'll need a new PC eventually; but we'll need to learn to do those the tighter way.
It's funny how the more you become independent and the more you expand your ventures, the less you are "yourself". I remember noticing how I could feel time slip off my fingers upon moving to Australia and having to do things I've never done before, such as looking after the place I live in or doing the laundry. Well, now the ante is being raised even higher.
I feel we're prepared. I know it would be rough, but I also know billions of others have gone through it, and I wouldn't say we're the worst ever. We'll manage.
What I do find amazing, though, is the subtle way in which the transformation takes place. It's not like you sit and have yourself a nice little countdown before pressing a button; it just happens without asking you many questions and without even consulting you for the preferred appointment time.
Again I learn that while we seem to live with this illusion that we're in control of our lives, and while I think we should do our best to maximize our control over our lives, we are still mostly controlled by things that are out of our control.

Self centered

With all the things that took place for us during the last year - and let's face it, we have had quite a lot of things of the sort one doesn't really expect to encounter, let alone condensed into just one year - I keep on noticing again and again that I'm becoming more and more enclosed and self centered.
A part of it is to do with physical segregation from friends and family. It applies to people we know in Australia, too, especially now that mobility is not a word you'd use to describe us. But most of all I'm worried because of the way I seem to have stopped noticing what takes place with the people that I know.
Just in the last couple of days I've had three examples. First, my sister called me to ask how things are going, and in the rush of talking I only noticed she told me she's about to receive an injection directly to her spine after we already hung up. A friend had told me she's had a crazy day yesterday and it took me ages to ask about it (and by then it sort of lost the momentum and looked out of context). And yet another friend from work has moved over the weekend and I forgot to ask her how she fared; given that it was stupidly hot during the weekend, before the weekend and even after the weekend, it must have been somewhat less than trivial to carry all your furniture up some stairs.
So I think I should draw my own conclusions. I have had numerous attempts during the last few months in which I tried to revive old connection with old friends (it's amazing how easily you can track down people using the internet and simple Google searches). However, generally speaking, once you do it you sort of realize that in most of these cases there were fairly good reasons for losing touch, and you can't just barge in and expect to claim a friend back.
Still, I can use this blog to make further progress. You are all welcomed to contact me in whatever way you see fit and let me know how you're going.

Monday, 19 February 2007

A Day at the Races

Well, we just came back from our highly anticipated visit to the obstetrician after fighting the Monday morning rush hour traffic to the city in our car (which turned out to be surprisingly timid, although it still took us an hour and a quarter).
If one needs proof for the fact we humans have evolved from apes one could have easily found it at the obstetrician. First they had the newspaper proclaiming Melbourne Victory football team winning the Australian league, with the photo attached to the left. Don't tell me you can't see evolution at work there!
Then they had Jo as well as other would be mothers processed like cattle in order to maximize the utilization of the mighty obstetrician resource. There was even a cow nurse (yes, a cow) that rushed Jo around even though it was her obstetrician boss that told Jo to avoid rushing at all cost, yet it gave us further evidence that there's not much of a difference between the way we treat other animals and the way we treat ourselves.
As expected, there wasn't much to expect out of the visit itself (tell that to my family, though: they were looking forward to the visit as if it would proclaim the arrival of the messiah). Basically, the doctor told us to continue taking it easy, and advised Jo to seriously think whether she should quit work altogether for now. He also confirmed the conclusions we have sort of concluded based on our own private research: that the torment Jo is going through is probably the result of the IVF treatment which means that things are not as well settled as they usually are with a natural conception. Anyway, he gave us a more detailed account of what's going on and what the potential outcomes are (which I don't intend to specify here as this is not a medical forum), and overall it seems like the risk of an abortion is low as long as Jo doesn't do much.
It looks like the options now are either for Jo to quit work or to try and get to do some work from home. The other extreme, going back to work as normal using the trains is totally out of the question; the Connex service is way too bad, even if used only part time (it's a good example for our narrowly minded state government on how failing to invest in infrastructure pays you back with some interest, but I sort of doubt this example would get the idiots in power to do anything about it). There is the possibility of taking the car to work but that is not that convenient either, and besides - the toll today's trip took on Jo is indication enough that it is not an option we should be settling for.
On the way back home we stopped at a coffee place opposite the Melbourne Botanical Gardens and had ourselves a second breakfast (yes, I'm getting fatter and fatter between second breakfasts, doing nothing because it's way too hot, and doing nothing because Jo can't move). Given that it's an expensive area and that we were there in the middle of a business day we were surrounded by way too many rather idle people. Needless to say you could feel we were circled by Liberal party voters, but there were the odd decent people around, too - like a couple of old men taking their very old father around in a sight that gives a certain feeling of hope to the future of humanity. That, and the planes rehearsing in formation for the upcoming Formula 1 race, left us pretty entertained (the food was good, too).
And now I'm back home, about to commence the second half of the day - an exciting working from home afternoon. No wonder I don't want to finish this post.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Under the Milky Way tonight

I got out to check just how hot things are tonight (very hot, in case you're curious; the day was even hotter).
First I noticed this huge possum running across the fence; it's the first time I've seen one of them for a while. They disappear and make a grand comeback (as in shitting all over the driveway) during fall.
Then I noticed that the sky is very clear tonight and that there does not seem to be a moon in sight, which meant that you could actually trace the Milky Way up in the sky. The view is not that clear that you can see the "milk", but you can definitely see this band of stars running across the sky with a multitude of smaller stars in the background.
I grabbed Jo out with me to marvel at the sight. Quite an inspiring sight!

For the record, the only time I really saw the Milky Way live at what could be said to be its full splendor was in one of the nights I stayed on Fraser Island off the Queensland coast (January 2001). Given that I was far from any man made lights, I was truly able to appreciate the sight that most of our ancestors had for free every night. The word to describe it best is probably wow!

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Ignorance is bliss?

A few weeks ago there was this major problem that caused international communication lines between the Far East and the rest of the world to crash. Amongst others, the result was that people like my parents who tried to call us on that day got a permanent engaged tone even though we were far from abusing our phone line.
It seems like that incident had a particular effect on our phones. Ever since that day, people calling us internationally using a landline phones can't really seem to be able to hear us. Oddly enough, when we're the ones to initiate the calls there are no such problems, simply because we're using VOIP: either Skype of Jajah. Thing is, despite all the campaigning I'm doing in favor of VOIP and its merits (mainly its low or even non existing cost, but also its ability to provide a live video feed), the family still insists on calling us mainly via landlines. To me, the concept of landline based international calls seems almost as archaic as believing that a fictitious man made character is in charge of running this world.
Anyway, yesterday my aunt called us - or rather landlined us - to ask how Jo is doing. Maybe it was the heat (it's currently searing here) or perhaps it was the now usual bad lines problem, but proper communication seems to have eluded us.
At first my aunt told me not to worry, because god will make everything alright. I answered that god has nothing to do with this business of ours but I was ignored. My aunt continued by saying that we don't need to consult or anything, things will work out fine for us. Again, I answered that I disagree, and that if things are going to be alright it would only be because we will make them alright and not because they just happen to miraculously turn out fine. I don't think she understood what it was that I was saying, though. Lastly, my aunt said that we will all be enjoying a Brit (i.e., circumcision) soon, and I quickly answered with "what Brit" (it works better in Hebrew), but again I was ignored.
Now, my point in giving you this account of my conversation with my aunt was not to tell you what I think of this common belief in an omnipotent entity, nor was it to say what I think of fatalism, nor was it to discuss the potential upcoming War of the Circumcision. I didn't even intend to show you the way in which the elder members of my family - even those that were married to the uncle that gave me Broca's Brain as a gift (albeit at my request) - treat my opinions and the things I tell them.
What I really wanted to discuss here is to do with the repeated finding that says that one of the key reasons why people that live for an exceptional number of years manage to live for so long is their religious fate and their trust in god. It seems to make sense, when you think about it: If you believe that there is a god looking after you, for better or worse, and that this god is in charge of making all the key calls in your life, you are immediately relived of a lot of worrying. After all, why worry about something that is totally beyond your control? You can just stick with the things you consider essential in making your particular god happy - which usually tends to be pretty simple stuff, such as praying on a regular basis - and live your life according to that all Australian of mottos: "no worries". Basically, this is the proof that ignorance is bliss.
This sort of raises a problem for me. I'm an advocate of scientific reasoning and that eternal quest to find out more and more about this world of ours, mainly in order to understand why things take place. Yet, it is clear, according to the above mentioned research, that by putting myself on the side of this quest I am also cutting a few years of my life expectancy with the added worrying that comes once you know why things happen and once you have to keep them in mind in some mental to do list.
So am I wrong? Or rather, is it worthwhile giving up one's brain and one's ability to think and understand the world in return for a few more years upon this planet? Is it better to die ignorant at the age of 120 or is it better to be smart and get yourself a heart attack at the age of 40?
I will not deny that with all the problems of this world I wouldn't mind living longer at all. But would I trade my understandings for those extra years? The short answer would be a no. Needless to say, I will take the longer answer.
For a start, even if I wanted to, there is no way in which I'd be able to say something like "you know what, forget all of this, I am now a believer, god is the light in my life". I mean, I could easily say it, but it would take something big - like being hit with a 747 on my head - to really make me mean it. Once you think things up, going back to becoming ignorant is virtually impossible.
Second, those that live for long with their ignorant ways only manage it because they are also very lucky to get away with not having anything take them down while they are busy being blissfully ignorant. If they really had things to worry about and they just didn't pay them attention they would have been bound to be taken down before they make it into the triple digits area. Mind you, the people that do happen to live long do other things that negate some of those sources of worries, such as have a healthy diet that prevent your average cancer or heart attack from taking place in the first place.
But the third reason is the most obvious one. We, as in people, don't live longer than what we commonly do because our bodies were not designed to live much longer than the time it would take us to generate a few offsprings and make sure they can do on their own. Anything more than that, as desireable as it may be, is also unnatural. Soon enough humanity will probably find a way to counter this limit and people would live longer and we'll have a whole new set of problems to deal with, but I'll leave that to the science fiction writers amongst us for now; my only point is that there is a good reason why most of us don't live for too long which has nothing to do with faith.

Anyway, it looks like I'm stuck with the short lived, less ignorant, pessimistic approach.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

The Big Sleep

I think it would be safe for me to say that Jo is not going to go back to her normal routine of work for a while now.
Maybe she will manage to work from home a lot, or maybe she'll just have to start her maternity leave on the earlier side of things, but high mobility and tolerance are not exactly her biggest attributes at the moment. Especially not in yet another series of days where the weather stays in the high thirties for most of the week (makes the news stories about the frozen east coast in the USA look like some weird comedy).
For now Jo entertains herself with books (currently Narnia), the Nintendo DS (mainly Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2, which is a Lemmings lookalike), and the DVD's I don't really want to watch (so far she's had Ice Age, The Fifth Element, and Rain Man). I don't know how long she'll manage to keep sane in the confines of the house without being able to go out much, though. Today I've worked from home to keep her company, but given that I was mostly working I doubt she found me that entertaining.
One thing I do find curious is the status of our credit card accounts. Simply put, since Jo has been caged at home there is zero activity on the cards, which reminded me of some old truth I have learnt during my career in unemployment: staying at home and doing nothing is really cheap. The funny thing is that it's not just the staying at home part; it's mainly the not going to work part. It's just incredible how much work, the activity we mainly do in order to secure ourselves an income, costs us! It's transport, it's clothing, it's shaving cream (I'm talking about myself here, not Jo), it's lunches, and it's passing by shops that sell stuff that tempts you too much.
Not that staying at home is going to pay our mortgage, but at least the finances get some help from an unexpected source. Finance aside - after all, we didn't go into this adventure because
of its NPV (my boss claims that by getting pregnant I gave up on the Lamborghini I could have had) - I hope Jo would be able to have some more variety in her life during the upcoming future. I'm talking about variety beyond Pro Evolution Soccer 07 for the Nintendo DS I just gave her.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Connect the dots

Some times people don't really get what it is that you're trying to tell them.
Now I know I'm probably making too much of a fuss of it at this stage, but when I tell, say, people at work about the potential upcoming conflict with my family regarding circumcision and how we have no intention of doing it, they all seem to understood where we're coming from and identify with us.
However, you sort of feel like some of them may have failed to get the point when, at the end of the story, they ask you something like "So do you intend to christen the child?"
I think my point here is that we're all too used to seeing things the way we're used to seeing them. Anyway, I just find it funny.

The third Connex letter to The Age

Now that the good ol' new trains are back in service, it's lovely to see how Connex moves away from its innovative program of declared cancellations and back into its normal routine of mere random cancellations. A good dose of uncertainty is what all of us need to give meaning to the day!
Nothing beats the feeling of standing there on the platform for more than half an hour on a thirty degree day without knowing what is going to happen next, followed (eventually) by stuffing yourself into a train so full it provides inspiration to our cattle exports industry. What a privilege it must be for our elders and for our pregnant women to travel with Connex!

Monday, 12 February 2007

The Eve of War

It looks like in certain respects we are on the eve of war.
Last week I emailed my Chicago cousin the news that Jo is pregnant. He, in turn, told his mother (also from Chicago), who called my parents over the weekend to congratulate them for becoming grandparents once again and for the upcoming Brit (i.e., circumcision).
Needless to say, since my mother told me of that call my temper is coming close to a boil.
I was thinking of sending another email to my cousin, with something along the following lines:

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but we will not be having a circumcision. There are three reasons for that:
1. Due to unexpected complications, at this stage we don't know whether we're going to have a baby in the first place.
2. At this stage we have no idea what the baby's gender is going to be; it is 50% likely to be a baby daughter.
3. Regardless of the above two reasons, and regardless of what other parents may do to their children, there is no way in which I am going to allow my son to be circumcised without his own consent.

Currently it is Jo that's holding me back from sending this email. Me, I'm am sick and tired of the way my family tends to ignore me when I express my distaste for religion (for the record, I am also sick with the demonstrated glee at cutting someone's bits and pieces).
If I do send this email I know what the result will be: an all out war. The Chicago branch would immediately call the Israeli branch for explanations, and my parents - afraid of losing face - will either do their best to come up with something like "he doesn't really mean it", or, and much more likely, they will turn the heat on me. But let me tell you this: by now, and with Haim's help, I can't wait. Bring them on, I say. Let them do their worst!
What is their worst, anyway? Living in Australia we're totally disconnected from all family other than my brother; there are no financial pressures they can apply or anything. The worst would be the severing of diplomatic relationships. If that's what they want then that's what will happen; it will be one sided, though, as I don't intend to comply. Who is going to be the loser? As with every war, everyone will be on the losing side.
In conclusion: A part of me wants to avoid a conflict and continue living peacefully; having a daughter would comfortably solve the issue. However, a bigger part of me wants to make a stand; a gesture on behalf of those of us still able to use our capacity to think for ourselves.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Two Weeks

With Jo now out of action for two weeks, which - at least according to what we read on the internet could last until the end of the pregnancy - I can't help thinking rather weird thoughts.
With regards to the "why", there are no clear cut answers. According to the obstetrician no one can explain why and no one can do much about it. That said, I can't help thinking that it's the appearance of rather suspicious looking genes of Middle Easters appearance inside Jo's body that's causing her body to retaliate. I'm sure those genes didn't even bother shaving for a while, making them look even more similar to your friendly neighborhood suicide bomber.
If up until now I've been rather indifferent to Indy's gender issue, the latest events seem to make me think that maybe it's better if Indy turns out to be a male. At least he will never have to go through pregnancy in the flesh. And I won't even mention menstruation. I know this is a rather selfish way to think about things, but I will repeat what I've been saying for a long while before we got to where we are: If I were a woman, I would never willingly get pregnant or give birth. I'm way too much of a chicken for that.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Yellow Card

Yesterday we have received a yellow card.
For the second time now since becoming pregnant, Jo has been bleeding. It started as nothing much to talk about (even if it's not exactly what you want during pregnancy), but then it moved to something that would make you very worried.
It would have actually been funny if it wasn't worrisome: As we got off the train near home the obstetrician called to see what's going on; not that much was going on till then, but as he talked to Jo things begun to go on and we immediately drove back to the city, from which we just came back with the train, in order to see him.
During the drive we were already talking about a future without Indy: a future in which we keep the spare bed, become good uncles and aunts to our nephews, travel around the world (I already suggested Paris), and generally forget the idea of having a child.
The obstetrician was waiting for us (it was late Friday afternoon and he was probably anxious to go home after a long day at the office delivering babies; he asked us not to stop in a McDonald along the way). He had a quick look and told us that bleeding aside, things look alright and the chances of a miscarriage are still low. However, in order to prevent things from deteriorating even further he ordered Jo to stay home and do absolutely nothing for two weeks.
Anyway, the point is that even though we're far enough in the pregnancy that even the Pregnancy Etiquette Society allows us to talk about it with the rest of the world, Indy's future is still far from certain (and Jo has not been feeling well since yesterday). It sort of provides further evidence to me regarding the lack of foundations behind the Pregnancy Etiquette Society's rules of behavior: There's nothing behind them other than a collection of grandma stories and superstitions. I can already picture relatives of mine telling me that these troubles happen because of some evil eye related issue (luckily they don't know about this blog).
We actually just finished watching this DVD I got from the local library called "Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy". It a documentary on what takes place during pregnancy, but being that it is an American video it's very heavy on the sugar content to the point I wasn't able to listen to it somewhere along the middle. The video's obstetrician talks to the women in the program as if they are five year olds, and the entire attitude makes it feel more like a pro pregnancy propaganda film directed by Leni Riefenstahl. It's just the way it talks about "life coming out of nowhere", the "miracle of life", and the body's "perfect" mechanism for nourishing life.
Perfect my ass.

P.S. The referee in the photo is Graham Poll, famous for being the only referee in history to issue three yellow cards to one player in a single match (Australia - Croatia).

Friday, 9 February 2007

Behind the scenes at Hell

I was sent to hell today.
I'm not exactly unfamiliar with this: when discussing issues of faith, I am often told that I will go to hell; alternatively, I'm asked whether I'm not afraid of the consequences of going to hell.
Needless to say, I welcome such discussions and such jokes. The stupidity of this concept called hell never fails to raise a smile on my face.
It's also needless to say that today's one way ticket to hell was a joke; the sender was as likely to truly wish me to go to hell as George Bush is likely to order troops out of Iraq. Still, I would like to use the opportunity to have a bit of a look at this wonderful man made work of fiction commonly referred to as "hell", a place absolutely no one ever came back from yet some of us seem to be able to come up with detailed sketches as to its operational design.

First let's have a look at the entry conditions. According to common perceptions, what does it take to get yourself a ticket to ride?
If I look at my own case, the one and only reason why people send me to hell has nothing to do with what I actually do on this earth but rather everything to do with my lack of faith. Allow me to elaborate.
I admit: I am not the most honest or just person upon this earth. I do lots of things wrong, I do lots of wrongs to others, and I do those all the time - both consciously and unconsciously. I will not deny that. However, if I was to compare myself to the rest of the members of society, including people who actually believe there's this accountant in the sky monitoring everything they do, it is also obvious that I am nothing special in the sin department. There are lots of believers who do much worse than I do, and there are lots of non believers who are much purer than I. I think I can safely say that as far as morales go, I fit nicely somewhere in the middle. Note that I am not even trying to invoke special grounds for defending myself such as "we're all sinners because of the way we in the West exploit the third world"; I'm just looking at day to day stuff.
So - if I'm not that bad after all, why am I sent to hell? Simply because I lack faith.
Now, to demonstrate how silly this can be, imagine this: think of a person who really takes care of others, volunteers to help the poor, hosts homeless people in his house - the works; surely a heavenly candidate. Alas, this would all be for nothing if the guy/chick is an atheist, in which case he/she is off to hell - no questions asked. Compare this guy to yet another fellow: a true believer who prays five times a day and doesn't miss a service; yet the guy lives to kill others. Impossible, you might say, but I'm sure you've heard of a guy called Bin Laden. Now let me ask you this - does it make sense that Bin Laden the believer would go to heaven because of his belief and the just person would go to hell?
Even I will admit that there is an ever so slightest possibility hell does exist and that upon my death I will face court for all the wrongs I did. If that would be the case I suspect my reaction to the lack of belief accusation will be along the lines of "mate, there was just not enough evidence for me to believe". If the lack of unfounded faith is the ultimate sin, call me the ultimate sinner.
I hope I managed to demonstrate some of the problematic logic with being sent to hell. Hell is supposed to be this payback place for all your sins, yet in actual fact it's just a sword hanging over the neck of the non-believer: the ultimate terror weapon of the believer.
Yet hell is not that ultimate a weapon as the believers would like us to believe. It is a double edged sword. Think about it this way: there are many faiths upon this planet; there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Pagans. There are even those that stick with Zeus or Thor. Now, for argument's sake, let's say you're a Christian; you're part of a group accounting for a third of the planet's current population, which can be easily interpreted as you having a 2:3 odds of being wrong. Yes - you're very likely to end up in hell, too! You'd be much better off spending the rest of your life trying to find the right faith. Mind you, most of the planet should cross their fingers that it's not the Jews who got it right; that would mean that only 20 million of the planet's six plus billion would be spared from an eternity in hell.
With that in mind, let us examine what happens once you step inside the gates of hell.

Let me start with a generic statement: I find the entire concept of payback through physical pain to stink with the smell of the shortage of creative imagination.
The thing us hell people are expected to do for eternity and beyond is simple - burn in pain. Let me start by asking you this: does it really matter if you burn for several years or for thousands of years? Surely, by human standards, you tend to lose track of time quickly enough. It's not like you have something else to look up to; it's not like at 17:00 sharp you can catch the train home so you can play a bit over the internet. Some of us even enjoy the pleasure of spending years of their life on earth in agonizing pain; does this time count as leave eligibility down in hell?
By the way, if hell is "down", this means that there's limited space in hell, simply because there's a finite amount of space in earth's core. But let's stay focused.
Having looked at the time element of the stay in hell let's look at the pain element. Let us assume that our visitor to hell was a major sinner who was also someone who could not feel physical pain - at least not to the degree that most people can. Such people exist, from time to time, due to genetic disorders of sorts; evolution doesn't favor them, for obvious reasons, but they do come up from time to time. This sinful person has never experienced much pain on earth; will god turn on his/her nervous system on just as he/she goes into hell? And if the nervous system is turned on, can we truly say that the person is the same sinning person from earth? Maybe with the active nerves the person would have been more sensitive, thus not as sinful to merit a stay in hell? No, you say, I got it all wrong; the nervous system doesn't get to hell at all, it's only the "soul" that does. Well, does a soul have a nervous system? According to my understanding of the "soul" concept it cannot have one by definition; well, if that's the case, then how can it feel pain?
If you were to ask me to design hell, it wouldn't have any inferno whatsoever. My custom designed hell would probably be a place where I am forced to catch flying cockroaches for a living. Or worse, a place where my happiness depends on the honesty of a politician.

Ok, by now I've strayed way too much, so I'll conclude with a simple statement: Anyone who does accept hell as a potential venue for spending the afterlife is a person who simply fails to think, period.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

The Good Nazi

Disclaimer: Often enough in my posts I don't hesitate to say things many would find offensive; this post is not such a case.

Often enough when I think of the way I think and act, the way I do things, and the way I react to what others do, I tend to judge those according to the scale I refer to as the "Good Nazi" scale.
What is a "Good Nazi"? As usual, I will travel the long path in order to explain.

We all know who the Nazis were. In many respects, though, I think we misjudge them: we tend to think of the Nazis as the manifestation of pure evil, yet we fail to see that they did not come straight out of hell; they were the products of their environment. There was nothing particularly evil in the German genes after the first World War; it was the environment that made them this way.
Take racism, for example. We all know it was abundant during the 19th century, but we tend to forget it was very much there during the early 20th century, as every black in the USA will tell you.
Take England, if you will, our savior from Nazi domination. Only recently I have mentioned how the British blocked Jews from entering Israel up until the end of their rule over Palestine at the end of the forties purely on a racial basis. But have a look at the following words: "Those swarms of blacks, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people … will have to go". Who said these words? Hitler? No, these were rather the words of someone many of us today look up to, a certain H. G. Wells.
Now I'm not saying Wells is the manifestation of pure evil; I'm just trying to say that the Nazis didn't show up all of a sudden from the middle of nowhere, they just took things that were there, in the open, and drove them to the very extreme. Ignoring this simple truth does severe injustice to their victims, as it helps us ignore the relative ease with which such evil as the Nazis' evil can materialize.

So what do I refer to when I say "Good Nazi"? A good Nazi is someone who takes up what is common a common notion in his or her society and adopts it without thinking much about it, without much of a resistance to it, and without wondering if this thing that he or she is adopting is good, bad or evil. A good Nazi goes with the flow.
Often this can materialize in the form of believing in something. Most of the people in this world believe in some form of omnipotent entities that are responsible for everything upon this world, yet none of them has ever come up with proper evidence for these entities' existence; it is all a pure matter of faith. Most of them never really think about why they believe in the things they believe in; they just accept what they were told as the truth. It's a matter of faith. Which is why I wonder: were these people to live in Germany during the last century's thirties, would they be good Nazis? Would they accept the Nazi doctrine with the same ease they accept their faith?
Again I will add a disclaimer: I am not accusing people of faith of being Nazis; far from it. Just as with all the rest of the people, some of them are good, some are bad, and only a small fraction of them is really evil.
I am just saying that the things that influence us to accept religious doctrine are similar in nature to those that could have made us good Nazis: mainly, certain ideas floating around us in society and a lot of peer pressure. Taken to the extreme, you can see imagine how faith can end up with the Bin Ladens or the Hitlers.
In faith's defense I have to add that most people don't really follow it all the way. Take death, for example: Most religions promise us a world of pure good after we die, yet most of us don't want to die, most of us do our best to prolong life, and most of us mourn when somebody we care for dies. Why? I suspect it's because deep inside we have our doubts about the validity of this baloney story.

Religion is not the only thing I tend to judge according to the Good Nazi scale.
The main reason I'm thinking about it now is my behavior at work. Lately I have been called to do lots of things I totally disagree with at the professional level. I won't go on describing what, but I will say that I have been told to do things that I consider to be unprofessional; or rather, I'm supposed to do the professional stuff I'm doing at work in a way that is far from what I would call proper. I am doing things not in the way they are supposed to be done because I am told to do them in a certain way that contradicts every instinct in me.
And let me put it this way: I put up a fight and I complain. When I'm doing those things I'm not doing them well; by definition I cannot do them well. I know of others that don't and won't do these things, yet at the end I still do them, because I have surrendered and become what I call a good Nazi: I've joined the wave that swept me and I cooperate. And it annoys me.

I have to finish by stating another thing. A question that often bothers me is this: Was I to live in Germany as a pure blooded German (whatever that may be) during the Hitler years - would I become a good Nazi? Or would I be a passive Nazi? Or would I fight them in some sort of a resistance?
Obviously, there are no definitive answers there. But a significant portion of me is always worried of the obvious signs and indicators that point at a significant likelihood I could have turned out to be a good Nazi.

A quote from your favorite Minister for The Environment

Yet another quote from The Age:
Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday's ABC AM said: "We cannot by our own mitigating actions stop climate change, because we are too small. But what we must do, and this is really what we should be focused on, is adapt to it."

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Aspirations

I have been known to mock that all Australian concept of "investment properties", which seems to be the driving force behind the local economy. Owning one is the single most highest aspiration an Australian can have.
However, last night's Seven Thirty Report on ABC had this investigative item on how housing affordability in Australia has never been so problematic as it is now, and how Australian cities are topping the worldwide list of places lacking in residential affordability.
They interviewed this couple from Sydney in their early thirties. Currently renting, they were said to be constantly on the lookout to buy themselves a place to live in, yet they can't afford anything close to Sydney's center where their work is (they work in IT). The wife was shown saying that there is no way they'd be able to afford their dream two story house with a swimming pool if things go on the way they are.
Now, call me naive, but was a two story house with a swimming pool ever within the reach of the common people? And within a major city's central area, of all places? Was it always something that people could have taken for granted, or at least as granted as owning a car? That nice lady from ABC is either delusional or she was heavily pumped up with expectations after reading glossy magazines.
Towards the end of the ABC item, which happened to focus on the reasons for this crisis (which, by the way, is a very real one) they returned to this couple again only to hear the wife complaining once again: "We have no hope of fulfilling our dream of a two story house to live in, an investment property, and a summer house". What the **** is she talking about? Where did the ABC dig up this couple from - DreamWorld?
I have said it here before: lowering your expectations for what life should be giving you has the potential of making you incredibly happier. This couple obviously needs to have a crash course in expectations lowering or else they'll live miserably ever after (barring a surprise lottery win, which - to be honest - I doubt is going to have a long term effect). Yet again the thing that amazes me the most is the easiness with which that couple has been programmed by society to accept certain conventions; the fact the ABC puts this on prime time TV shows how common this phenomenon is (and, as a side effect, it helps nurture that very phenomenon in people's heads, under the "keeping up with the Joneses" phenomenon). Scary.

Another unrelated thing that I found amazing about that ABC investigation is that they did this entire research on why housing affordability is so bad, but they never even mentioned the tax breaks people get out investment properties (and only investment properties) as a factor. Everybody just seems to be ignoring the elephant that's in the room. It's seems like the ABC is acting under the notion of "let's not say what people won't like to hear".
And if the ABC behaves this way, who can complain against the commercial channels?

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

The Root of All Evil

Yesterday I told you about our first visit to a kindergarten. Now let me tell you about the dark side of the kindergarten.
After we got a tour of the premises by one of the teachers, a person who was obviously very good and professional at being nice and obviously very good with children (unlike one person I know who is more at home in front of a keyboard than with fellow human beings), she introduced us to one of the kindergarten's "directors" to discuss the bureaucracy of things.
One of the first things the director asked us, after giving us a thorough head to toe examination with her eyes, was whether we're residents.
At this point of the story I have to say that whenever someone bothers mentioning issues of nationality before me my fuses tend to pop. I have said it before and I'll say it again, there is a lot of not so well hidden xenophobia in Australia. Granted, there are legitimate reasons for her to ask us if we're residents: residents get some money back from the government to cover their child care costs. That, however, was quite irrelevant to the discussion we've had. Besides, let me ask you this: Do you think she would have asked us this same question if I didn't have an accent and if I looked more like Jo, as in if I was an Anglo Saxon?
Anyway, when she asked that question Jo told her that we're citizens and that we've been here for four years already, to which the director's answer was "oh, congratulation".
If before my fuses were popping, now they got absolutely fried. True, Jo is a new citizen; but it's not like Herr Director knew that. Besides, I've been a citizen long enough not to merit a "congratulations" anymore. Who does she think she is, anyway?
Later, when we left, Jo commented on this incident and asked why we need to have a national holiday like Australia Day to celebrate our multiculturalism and our unity when it's all a sham and Australia is as xenophobic as it gets. My answer was simple: we need to have this day in order for all the xenophobes out there to be able to tap on their shoulders and tell themselves they're big time multiculturalists so that they can go on being their ordinary xenophobic self during the rest of the year.
One thing that incidents like this do leave me thinking about is how people who are on the worse side of xenophobia handle such stuff. What if you are, say, of Asian origins? Just imagine the amount of flak people would hit you with! You might be a true blue Australian, but the mere sight of your eyes would immediately induce the worst out of many of the people you encounter.
I don't even want to think of what goes over with you if you're a Muslim. And I really wish that director has nothing to do with children's education.

A quote from your favorite PM

Taken from today's The Age:
Mr Howard was asked last night on ABC TV what he thought life would be like in Australia if average temperatures around the world rose by between four and six degrees celsius, and possibly even more, by the end of the century.
"Well, it would be less comfortable for some than it is now," Mr Howard said.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Kindergarten

One of the things that annoy me about Australia is the way women are expected to stay home and look after the children. Some of them do this as a conscious choice, which is fine; but those that want to go back to work - whether because they like it or because they need the money - have themselves a hard time.
One of the manifestations of this hard time is the lack of child care places. Unlike Israel, where child care centers are available all over the place, here they are not so frequent; they're actually quite rare. As a result, if you want to enroll your child you have to put yourself in a waiting list, preferably at a few of them, and cross your fingers for the vacancy to finally come up. When it does come up you shouldn't expect much; usually it's most likely the child care center would notify you they have like two to three days in which they have a vacancy for your child (or even less), dictating the exact days of the week in which this privilege may be granted. Between that and the cost per day - $80 at the place we asked (compare that to the roughly $200 both Jo and I earn per day) - you can see why the option of staying at home becomes attractive. Kindergarten ends up the main thing dictating your career progress.
One thing Jo and I plan on doing is load sharing: both of us will cut down on work time to stay at home with the child we might end up having. The advantages are obvious: Jo earns significantly more than me, so if anyone should stay at home it should be me; I'm quite the lazy person who would cherish the option to stay at home and surf the internet, and being that I work for the government I have the option of working 4 days per week at a 20% salary cut (Mind you, the rumor is the big boss doesn't like it because it shows "lack of commitment"; that said, it is a government place, and if I really want it they can't stop me). And then there are the obvious advantages of spending more time with the child - we can watch Cosmos together and I can read him/her selected chapters from Broca's Brain.
Sharp looking readers might have read the hard truth between the lines: whatever option we choose, we are facing severely reduced incomes joined with severely increased expenses. I think it's fair to say that this is not going to be the thing that kills us, even if the mortgage is to suffer; but it is obvious that we will never be able to move to a bigger house unless we move to the middle of nowhere (not that we want to; we love our house, but my family keeps on nagging with their false expectations so often it makes me want to scream). More relevantly, it means that things such as "oops, I wouldn't mind buying myself a Nintendo DS" cannot happen anymore (not that I will have the time for that anyway).

Anyway, with all of this exposition setting the scene, on our way back from work today we stopped at this kindergarten place that's just a few blocks away from us (probably the closest to where we live) just to see how's it going and what the deal is. I think the last time I was in a kindergarten was 31 years ago and I was one of the kids being kindergartened.
We were welcomed by a couple of the "teachers" (is that what you call them?). You can immediately see that they were of the type that would get along well with children. They gave us the grand tour and I have to say it was pretty impressive (probably also because the place is brand new): they had this Astroturf like grass that really feels real (it uses some new innovations only recently reported in Scientific American; the teacher actually demoed these features to me), and the sand in the sandbox was brand shining new. If I can compare it to my old kindergarten I think I can safely say mine had a bigger yard but this one has much better facilities and a better ratio of teachers to kids (1:5).
Of special interest was the food menu. They have a cook doing all the food stuff, and their daily menu was varied and impressive enough to make me drool (I was, after all, after a long day at the office). They had spaghetti bolognese on one day followed by Chinese noodles on the other!
Eventually they put us on their waiting list. We had to fill this form saying "child name" and "date of birth"; Jo put a question mark and the expected launch date. If you think we're weirdos doing this at this stage, think again: more than one person has told us to do it now rather than finding ourselves stuck at home later.
I have much more to say about this lovely subject. Expect rather frequent posts on education related topics as I have a full stomach. What I will conclude with is to do with baby names: at the entrance to the kindergarten they had this mailbox for all the kids' parents with name tags on them. I'll put it this way: A kid called Indy would find himself as the one with the most conventional name in class. I don't think I was able to detect a name that I've ever heard of before!

Yet another Connex related letter to The Age

Is it just me or is the compensation Connex is offering its monthly and yearly ticket holders for all the trouble we had to go through during January a joke?
According to Connex' website, they will issue all such ticket holders with a free one day train ticket. If, like me, you are a zone 1 ticket holder, this compensation is worth less than $5; and I can't even use it until my yearly ticket runs out in November. Can that compare to the despair Connex caused me and plenty of others for over three weeks during January? Are all the hours I have spent on the platforms in uncertainty, clogged around plenty of other sweaty passengers, worth only $5?
Allow me to say I feel short-changed: directly through by Connex and indirectly through a state government that allows this to take place. That said, Connex enhances my appreciation the little things in life: for example, I am terribly happy to note that my employer values my time at a bit more than $5 per 10 to 20 hour block.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

I think I'm dumb

There is no way around it: I think I was dumb to expect much out of this world's system of formal education. I'm referring, of course, to my "ambition" to do a few courses in writing, just for fun, through the Swinburne's Open University courses.
I was actually seriously considering it when I called them to ask them a few questions. The first hurdle came up when I explained that my current B.Sc. degree is from overseas, and asked whether they would recognize it without me having to go through a Spanish Inquisition type thing. To that their answer was a stutter, followed by some vague explanation that basically told me to prepare for the unexpected (i.e., the Spanish Inquisition).
But it became worse with their next sentence. They only recognize previous studies that took place less than 10 years ago, and they do it at the course level. So while I finished my studies just a bit less than 10 years ago, most of it has expired by now.
Next I took a more inquisitive look at the curriculum. It turned out that the basic writing course one has to start with involves getting to know your sources - in their case, Aboriginals. Now I have nothing against the Aboriginals and I think they have been greatly wronged for the last 200 years, but my writing ambitions have nothing to do with them; why should I spend my time on that is beyond me.
So there you have it: this is how the formal education system, which - supposedly - is looking out for brains to nourish, is treating those that really want to learn something and are even willing to pay for it. Don't they realize that most adults looking to return for some studies have finished their previous degrees a while ago? Don't they have any problems with this door shutting? Is 10 years such a magical number after which you're guaranteed to become numb? We're not even talking about IT skills that become irrelevant with time, we're talking arts.
Anyway - I'm done with them. Their attitude was enough for me; they have had me for 16 years of my life and I was never happy with that. It's just that I should have known better.
I guess I'll be looking at the Melbourne Adult Education Center for something nice instead: it's not as deep, but it's entertaining, close to work, and even affordable. Jo and I already took a course there once and it was very interesting.
Till then I'll just have to settle with reading good books.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Name of the game

Just thought I'd do another roundup to summarize where we are at with the name dilemma.
Although by now we refer to "the entity in Jo's stomach" as Indy, it is obvious that Jo is not particularly fond of that name, so here is what I have offered so far. Note we still have no idea whether we're talking boy or girl.

Boy:
My pretty much only offer at this stage is Connor Sagan.
Connor is Uri's suggestion, so I'll give him the credit here. It means "hound lover" in Gaelic, but more importantly it brings back memories of one Connor McLeod.
Sagan means "wise" in Slavic, according to the net, but it's obviously a contender because of the man who used to bear the name and because of what he stands for. Generally speaking, you can see that I would like to use the opportunity to name the child in order to pay homage to childhood heroes.
As far as Jo is concerned, I know she likes Connor - generally speaking - but other than that there was not much of a feedback from her (nor any suggestions).

Girl:
Jo likes Emily but she has heard that lately Emily is as common as much with children's names; I like Emily too, but overall I would prefer the Lord of the Ring's Elanor (another suggestion from Uri), which in Lord of the Ringish means something like "Sun Star" and is also the name of of Middle Earth flower.
Overall, though, I would prefer Nova for the homage it offers science and for the contribution supernovas have had in us being able to exist today.
So my leading contender is Nova Emily, whereas Elanor Nova takes second place.

I would use this opportunity to express my surprise that someone like Haim is yet to tease me on when I'm going to turn back on my choice of using the Hopkins name as the last name. People at work were already astonished (if not offended) by the very idea that I'm perfectly fine with using my wife's name instead of mine.
I would therefore like to say that my last name, Reuveni, was not written in stone. When my father's USSR ancestors migrated to Israel their name was not Reuveni; they adopted the name Reuvenoff because the British, who at the time controlled Israel, wouldn't let Jews in unless it was for family reunion reasons (yes, racism was perfectly politically correct at the time - less than 100 years ago). So they found someone by the name of Reuvenoff who said they're his family members, changed their name, and in they went. Later the "off" was replaced with an "i" to make Reuveni, but the point is that they willingly changed their name in order to settle down in the country of their choice. Lots of people have done it in Australia for a more subtle reason: make the name pronounceable, which is exactly the problem I have with Reuveni.
Point is, it's not that big a deal when you think of it; all you need to do is think, really. And while at it, you can also think on why it is so acceptable for the woman to accept the name of the husband rather than the other way around in an age where women are equal to men (equal my ass - and I'm saying that because I truly think women deserve to be equal).

Friday, 2 February 2007

Left of center, wondering about

You probably noticed them already at one stage or another. At the top of this blog, as well as on the side of your Gmail display, as well as in most other websites, you get advertisements offered by Google which seem to have some connection or another with the contents of the web page you're looking at.
By now I've developed the habit of looking at the ads Google offers on my blog. For a start, each click generates me money (in case you're curious, in the year plus since I started the blog I've earnt about $15; Google only sends the check when you get to $100, so it's in less than 10 years I should be rich; by all means, click on them as often as you can to bring me the check sooner). But more seriously, I'm curious to see what Google associates with the stuff I blog about.
Most of the times it's "come and see how Jesus can change your life" or "come and see how our god has a bigger dick than their god". Other times it's suspicious dating services. But last week it was an ad for a magazine called New Internationalist.
I was curious, so I clicked; it turned out to be this leftist magazine that's against globalization, against racism, against nationalism, against big companies, and against the taking of advantages of the weaker people on this planet for dubious financial benefits. In short, it's right up my street. Think of it as an international Big Issue.
They also have lots of other interesting stuff in there, such as a shop specializing in sustainable stuff that is not made through the exploitation of some poor people. Check it out: They have solar and wind-up radio and flashlights, coffee and shoes produced by people who are actually well paid, and footballs that are not made through child labor (as well as maps and books and videos of all sorts of radicality). They also have the pictured shirt, model not included.
The New Internationalist turns out to be a cooperative (read: communist / anarchist) like entity from Oxford - a place that seem to be exporting a lot of wisdom, if you take into account the work of Richard Dawkins. For $7.40 I did a trial subscription: Four issues of the magazine as well as a world map.
Two days after registering my subscription over the web I already got the map and the first issue. The map is really good - probably better than the one I got when I subscribed to National Geographic. The magazine is interesting, too, but it has its deficiencies.
For a start, at 40 pages it's way too thin to justify a regular asking price of $7.50 per issue once the trial subscription expires. True, it doesn't have ads and crap of the sort you get in normal magazines, so this problem is probably a result of my conditioning rather than a result of the magazine being bad. However, my main problem is with the contents: yes, I fully support 95% if not more of what they stand for and what they fight for; but I think they suffer from that disease that tends to inflict the idealists on the left hand corner, some form of a delusion that prevents people from seeing the dirt in their own backyard.
I'll give you too examples from this first trial issue. The issue's main topic is corruption, and it lists the top 10 most corrupted world leaders and how much they stole from their own people. It's easy to see the usual imperialist suspects in there, but notable characters on "our" side - say, Yasser Arafat, who is known to have put hundreds of millions of dollars in his own private bank accounts - is defiantly missing.
I do appreciate that this particular example can easily be disputed, so I'll move on to another example: an article talking about nano technology and how it is already in use without us knowing, contaminating - for example - foods that we eat. The article concludes by calling us all to damn nano technology. Well... like all things, science gives us the tools and it's up to us to use them properly; a lot of good can come out of nano technology, as well as a lot of bad, but banning it entirely is akin to saying that a Ferrari is slow because you need to stop to fill it up with gas. It's a bit of a narrow vision to think this way, and it brings into my mind another example of rather not so well aimed campaigns held by people of similar opinions: the fight against genetically modified foods. Sure, companies are abusing GM crops in order to make a buck, but we cannot ignore the potential for a lot of good to come out of it, both in generating food as well as the health benefits for us. Instead of banning it, we should focus our attention on ensuring it is properly implemented. And besides, this supposed war to save our health causes attention to be taken away from bigger enemies to our health, such as the decreasing effect of antibiotics and the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria. Recently in Scientific American they published research results showing how strands of antibiotic immune bacteria fill up water reservoirs next to big cattle farms where antibiotics are the main course of the day; it's just a question of time till those move further down the chain and back to us.
To conclude, New Internationalist proved to be an interesting and controversial read; which is good, because it's good to open one's mind and learn of others' opinions. Expecting everyone to agree with me would be stupidity. I recommend you have a look, and for $7.40 it's worth doing a trial subscription if only for the very framable map. That said, I doubt I will extend my subscription beyond the trial period; I already have much less time than I should for reading books.

Foodcism

This month's Skeptic column in Scientific American quoted this interesting research. Now I don't know if its findings are viable or not, but it is interesting:
They took a group of Thai people and Swedish people and fed each of them traditional Thai food (i.e., tasty food) and traditional Swedish food (i.e., boring, tasteless food). It turned out that the Thai people's bodies absorbed more good stuff out of the Thai food but hardly anything out of the Swedish food - no big surprise - but it also turned out that the Swedish people's bodies absorbed more good stuff out of the Swedish food but hardly anything out of the Thai food. As a control measure, they fed both people with some tasteless powder stuff that contained lots of healthy stuff - and lo and behold, neither people's bodies absorbed much.
The conclusion is simple: what our bodies tell us they crave are the foods they can deal with and get good stuff of. If you feel like eating something but you know it's not that good for you by the book, don't hold yourself back - your body knows what it wants. Just think of the implications!
First of all, we now have ourselves an explanation as to why the English tend to fail in understanding why everyone else thinks their food is the most boring and tasteless in the galaxy; to them, it is actually tasty. And if that's not a form of racism, I don't know what is.
On a more serious note, though, and again - assuming this research is viable, which is more than a bit of a stretch - the implications on food eating habits are quite harsh. Basically, it says that we need to pay particular attention to what we feed our kids with: if we feed them with shit, they will grow used to it, and even if they can get some goodness out of it they will still pay the price for our lack of vision. However, given that food digestion preferences are not stored in our genes, the implication is also that if we accustom our kids to eat proper food - freshly cooked out of fresh ingredients, for example - they will have every motivation to stick to it. It's a lot like religion, if you think about it: if you pump kids up with religious bullshit, they will stick to it later; however, if you teach them to think for themselves, they will do that, too. If you think about it in evolutionary terms it makes perfect sense: our bodies, as well as our minds, are designed to learn to cope with what they have at their disposal.
But overall I think the biggest conclusion is that we should have a balanced diet, including the occasional chocolate and ice cream.