Friday, 30 March 2007

Bed's too big without you

Well, we knew it had to go away to clear up some space, and today away it went indeed: Our spare bed, the one Jo bought when she was still living in Sydney, is no longer ours. And so, from now and until we kick Indy out, visitors who would like to stay with us will have to settle for either the sofa or a blowup mattress in the living room.
It's funny, though, because I am definitely mourning the departure of the bed. One part of me (as Jo's sister will tell you, the part of the tight ass) is mourning the departure of what was effectively a brand new, hardly used, bed. But there is more to it than that: I am mourning the fact that we will probably never have guests. Sure, family will come for visits, and they will probably stay with us, but it will not be a "hey, let's have a tour of Australia" type thing; it would be a pure family thing, which - with all due respect to the family (we'll badly need them soon enough) - is not as much fun.
In the three years plus we have been living at our current place, the only ones to come and visit us and actually stay with us were family on family visits. And even that is limited to Jo's family on three occasions only, as my side of the family immediately announced our house as way too small and as way too far from the action (and I won't even attempt addressing their weird logic here). But never throughout our five years in Australia did we have any visit that was a pure fun visit, and never during our years in Australia did we have friends come and stay with us.

Once upon a time Emile Zola wrote a famous article entitled J'Accuse. Well, allow me to quote him: I accuse, too! I accuse all of my friends for negligence, for not coming to visit us.
I just don't get it: how can they all pass over a golden opportunity not only to come and visit us, which is a relatively minor affair, but to come and visit Australia? Having someone you can stay with and who can help you out and who is more than willing to do so would be a nice bonus anywhere you go, but when it comes to Australia - exotically far Australia - it's practically a god given gift.
Needless to say, I'm more than a bit two faced with my accusations. For a start, my brother was living here for almost 15 years before I came over for a visit; and then there's the fact most of my friends have way too many commitments (namely, children) to go around the world. But still - the main reason I waited before coming to visit Australia was not the will to come but rather the inability to do so: army, studies, and mostly - lack of funds. But now most of my friends are in a position where such a trip is affordable, and even those with commitments still travel around. It basically boils down to priorities.
Two things annoy me the most, though. First is all the talk along the lines of "sure, we know we just have to visit Australia" accompanied with zero intention to actually do so; indeed, talk is cheap. Second, there the fact that in my brother's first years here he was swamped with visiting friends to the point he couldn't take it anymore, while our visiting friends' count is still very very round.
I will add a disclaimer: in actual fact we had a couple, Jo's friends from Germany, visit us; I don't count them, really, because they only paid us a short visit and didn't stay.

Anyway, those were my two cents. Looks like I didn't offend enough people lately, so I had to make amends.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Hear this Robert Zimmerman

It looks like we might even have ourselves a name we're both happy with. And it's all thanks to Children of Men, the film we watched a couple of nights ago - and may I say what a great film it is; probably the best new release I've seen during the last year or so.
Anyway, PR for my reviews' blog that no one ever bothers to read aside: the film talks about Clive Owen's child, called Dylan. And while they were talking about it in the film both Jo and I turned to one another and said how nice the name Dylan is. So there you have it.
A look up the internet reveals the name Dylan is of Welsh origins (continuing our rather Gaelic tendencies) and stands for "son of the sea". Which is perfectly fine with me, given that all of us land creatures are descendants of sea based creatures that decided they're tired of swimming and went out for a bit of a walk a few hundred million years ago.
The baby name websites will also tell you that many people name their child Dylan as a tribute to the poet Dylan Thomas. Being an ignorant idiot I have no idea who this Dylan Thomas guy was (no disrespect intended, though); poetry was never my kind of thing. I do know, however, of a certain Bob Dylan guy who also happens to write songs, songs I'm much more familiar with. And although I wouldn't name Bob Dylan as anything close to being one of my favorite performers, I do like his stuff; and most of all, I like his stand and I like the things he stands for. This is one person I wouldn't mind being compared to.
It's still obvious that Dylan is severely inferior a name to Indy, though. I have already warned Jo of the possibility that whatever name we end up registering the baby by, there is still the danger I will call him Indy - if only because my mind is so set on the name by now.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Office Extras

Jo & I don't watch much TV. When we do watch it it's mainly news and current affairs on the non commercial channels (ABC, which stand for Australian Broadcasting Service, and SBS, which stands for Special Broadcasting Service and specializes in programs for bloody immigrants). We hardly delve into the realm of the commercial channels, which Simpsons aside hardly ever have anything worthwhile. While this does make me feel a bit out of the loop as far as being familiar with the latest TV ads is concerned, I think the extra IQ points earnt in the process are well worth it.
Anyway, one of the programs on TV that really managed to get me hooked lately was Extras - yet another English comedy on ABC, created by the same guys that were there behind The Office.
The first season of Extras focused on the hero character (Rick Gervais) as he plays an extra in all sorts of weird movies. Each episode featured one famous actor (say, Ben Stiller or Patrick Stewart) playing himself/herself as the main role in the film that "our character" was acting as an extra in, and in each episode that main character made a total fool of themselves - which was the main laughing point and the main attraction of the series.
The second season is where the series really took off. It still featured famous actors making fools of themselves, but now the main characters are much better developed, with the main attraction being the character of the agent played by Stephen Merchant (who, together with Gervais, directed both Extras and The Office). This time around the main cause of laughs was to do with the hero characters being put in very delicate situations, testing the borders of fine behavior and making us ask questions about the normal "codes" of handling delicate situation. The most classic example I can think of is when Gervais complains about someone being noisy at a restaurant, causing that someone - as it turned out, a Down Syndrome kid - to be thrown out, and then having having to explain to the press why he hates Down Syndrome kids so much. Anyway, with my descriptions I'm probably doing the series some great misjustice; let's just say it's the type of humor that can make you cringe but will also make you crack up with laughter.
The results of The Extras success is that, now that season two is over, I have gone back to revisiting another great series I skipped over when it was originally aired - The Office. It's not as good as Extras - Gervais & Merchant definitely have improved with time - but it's certainly as insightful.
And just to make one last point about commercial TV vs. good TV: The original British version of The Office was aired here on ABC; the American version was aired on commercial TV, which as far as I'm concerned says it all. The pity is that the British have this habit of shooting only six episode per season, which means you can only get short doses of brilliance at a time.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

The Australian R

Back in the early nineties, when the Honda CBR900RR bike was first released, it was the stuff of my dreams. I mean, just count the number of R's there - the bike just had to be good; it even had holes drilled next to the main headlight to make the bike lighter, and that's bound to make a whole lot of a difference.
And so you can see how, in the years since, I have become a cynic that mocks stupid holes dictated by some marketing genius and the inflation in the use of the letter R dictated by yet another, far less original, marketing genius.

The point I am actually trying to get to with this story of this nice bike has nothing to do with the bike itself but rather with the letter R.
You see, as an Israeli living in Australia, I will always be carrying with me the stigmata that is the Israeli accent. Sure, most Australians think (for reasons way beyond me) that my accent is actually French, but I will always have the aggressive pronunciation that comes from the Middle East (and is common to both Arabic and Hebrew native tongue speakers); and sounds like the "th" sound, that don't exist in Hebrew, will always be a problem for me, ending up being pronounced more like a "z" or a "d".
But that said, the biggest problem I have as far as being intelligible in Australia is concerned with the letter R. As an Israeli, my R is very throaty, coming up from way down below and gathering momentum as it builds up in strength down the throat. It's not an R, it's RRR, just like the Honda marketing people were trying to make their bike feel like. However, the Australian R is significantly different; an Australian does not pronounce an R like an R at all, it's more like a faint W.
I can give you examples aplenty. An Australian asked to name his country will actually say something like "stwalia", and a Melbournian asked to name his city will utter something like "melben". An R at the end of the word suffers an even worse fate; it will usually be left unpronounced altogether, with words like "decipher" being actually pronounced as "decipha" and "blogger" being turned into "blogga".
Jo sort of had doubts in believing me when I was telling her of my R related woes, simply because people don't really think that an R can be such a big source of problems when it comes to people understanding one another. But it is, and I can safely say that 90% or more of the times I say something and people fail to understand me it is because an R is involved. Jo's doubts faded away when she witnessed the way I have to spell my name over the phone; by now I have this regular prepared in advance speech that goes "R like Romeo, E like Echo, U like Umbrella...". And usually I have to repeat the Romeo part again and again.

Where am I heading for with this discussion? Naturally, to the issue of naming our potential upcoming son, code named Indy.
As you should know by now, Jo is not in love with the name Indy. Her preference is for something short and simple, while (as you should also know) my preference is to make an unmistakable statement about what Indy's father was thinking of at the time he named him.
And thus we have, so far, ended up with the following names shortlisted by Jo (initials next to the name signify who's in favor of the name):
  • Connor MJ
  • Indy M
  • Corwin (apparently, this is actually a French name meaning "heart's friend") M
  • Elliot (that's a dragon's name) J
  • Eric
  • Andy
  • Tom J
  • Mario
  • Jake J
  • Scott MJ
  • Alex
As you can see, the current leading contenders are Scottish names. Do note, however, that the list is not that conclusive; I am still putting forward additional material, names like Darwin (they say it's a really nice place, but obviously that's not really the thing that's on my mind). By all means, feel free to make any constructive suggestions you might have.
Back to the point, what I am trying to say with all of this is that Connor, currently the leading contender by points - as in the name we will both be happiest to compromise with in order to achieve a consensus - would be a difficult name for me to live with.
To me it would not be Connor; it would be ConnoRRR. To the average Australian it would not be Connor, it would be Conna. So where does that leave me? Thinking of the CBR900RR, of course.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Brain wave

Call me a weirdo, but I'm the type of guy who tends to have a song playing in his head most of the time. Certain events in my life are even remembered best by the song I had playing at the time. For example, I remember the Hebrew finals test at the end of 10th grade for constantly featuring Dire Straits' Once Upon a Time in the West (the live Alchemy version). At the time I found it annoying, but I got to appreciate the song better once I got the scores back (to quote the teacher, who wasn't in my fan club: "you would never believe who got the highest grade").
But anyway, I'm not here to boast (not that a stupid score in a stupid subject I never cared for matters in the first place). I'm here to complain, of course.
And my complaint is this: Why is it that when I'm sick, I keep having the worst songs ever playing in my head? Throughout this week, I couldn't get the stupid "Lady Marmalade" out of my head (and I don't even know what the French lyrics in the middle mean!). And it's not just that; while before my sickness I was going through a Cream period, with "Sleepy Time Time" featuring high in the charts, now I got all sorts of songs I've heard for the last time when I was 4 replacing Clapton. I'm talking about such Hebrew classics as "Born for Peace (to just arrive)" and Garry Ekshtein songs. Where did the Beatles go? What happened to Led Zep?
While having a shower I managed to run through the entire Stairway to Heaven, but it took a conscious effort. Five minutes afterwards and it's back to "voole kukushe avec mua". I'm sure there are people who like this song, and I have the deepest sympathies for them, but why does it have to play so exclusively in the only station in town?
Dreams are also similarly affected. When I'm sick I have the weirdest, most boring, most annoyingly disturbing dreams; which is a shame, because usually for me dreams are quite nice. But once again something kicks in and it seems like my long term memory gets to have its say as I keep thinking up stuff I thought I forgot by the end of primary school.
To be honest, I'm actually trying to take some advantage of the phenomenon now: a friend told me that another common friend of ours has married someone called Hila, which reminded me that I have a cousin called Hila I haven't been in touch with for 9 years now (since we were both stranded at JFK - don't ask, a long story). However, using my super human long term memory, I was able to dig up memories of us playing together as kids at her parents' place (which I remember mainly for the knight in plate armor suit they had on their balcony - terribly exciting for a kid, you know).
Anyway, there is no point to this story other than express my general bewilderment to the way my brain is behaving when I'm sick. I wonder, though, what incentive the viruses have in this messing around with my head? Don't tell me Lady Marmalade increases their chances of producing healthy offspring!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Weak as water

In a show of support to the two loyal readers of this blog who might have wondered how come there have been no posts for almost a week, I am breaking radio silence to say that I was (and very much still am) sick. Yes, less than a week after boasting that I haven't been sick with a cold for more than a year I am now fully horizontal and feeling pretty bad (can I hear someone in the background going "there is a god"?).
I've been at home doing nothing for three days now, and there doesn't seem to be any respite.
But a year has past now and I all of a sudden I'm clearly reminded how much I hate being sick. I can't really look at a monitor (either a computer one or a TV one); even the PC's fan noise drives me crazy. I can't read. Sickness is the only time in which I'm truly bored, and as a bonus I also get to feel like shit (the way I'm feeling now, typing these words).
As far as causes are concerned, oddly enough I think I can track the beginning of the sickness to last Wednesday, when I ate some leftover pies at work. I'm talking about the English pie type thing, not what normal people would call a pie (i.e., a cake), so let this be another warning to you to avoid English food at all costs.
To be on the more serious side of things, though, I think the real reason is an unsustainable lifestyle. Lately I've been going to work, coming back to labor at home, then blog late into the night, and then get hardly any sleep. Probably not the most wisest way of going about.
Obviously, the most worrying thing now is to prevent Jo from catching my goodness. So far she avoided it, but give me enough time and I'll manage to break her down, too. It is funny, though, to now be in a reverse role situation where she has to take care of me. Jo calls us "the house of the slow motions".

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Boy, you gonna carry that weight a long time

As we're recovering from the stream of phone calls etc that came along with the news from our latest ultrasound, I have to be my usual negative self and say that I found some of the reactions rather annoying.
For a change, I will exclude my parents from this whinging session: they seem fine with us not doing a circumcision. I know that when friends and family will talk to them they will lie and say we had one done, but to be honest I couldn't care less if they prefer to live a lie.
What I will complain about are comments relating to our future baby boy being able to carry the family name. I have already mentioned my views about this concept of carrying the family name; what I would like to say is that I find comments such as those made to us annoying.
The reason is pretty simple: As well meaning as the people making the comments are (and let's face it, we're talking here about first degree family members and best friends - there are no better meaning people out there), they do imply towards a hidden assumption. An assumption that says that if our future baby turned out to be a female rather than a male she would have been inferior - if only because of her perceived "inability" to carry a certain family name with her. The baby wasn't even born yet, but already certain people have sentenced it, to one degree or another, based upon an attribute that is totally beyond the baby's own control.
Allow me to make life harder for all those assuming that the baby boy is going to carry on a certain family name with him: What if that baby is going to grow up and become gay?
I know what the reaction would be if I was to pose such a question to most of my family members; it would be something like "oh no, how can you say such a thing". And once again we have ourselves a hidden assumption here: this time the assumption is that gay people are inferior to "us normal people".
Still, I have no problem with saying the baby might turn out gay. The few gay people I do know seem to me to be quite decent - definitely more decent than some supposedly "normal" people that I know, and between you and me I really don't care what they do in their bedroom (but I hope, for their sake, they're having a good time there); I am not gay myself and to be frank I find male gay practices rather disgusting (like all guys I will tell you the picture is different when discussing gay female action), but as long as they don't do it in my bedroom they can do whatever they like.
Now I don't know whether being gay is a genetic thing or not (if that is the case then the ruling on our future boy would have been handed already), but regardless of that, statistics show that the chances of our child being gay are in the area of 10%. Would the world fall apart if the sacred name would not be carried down the generations because of that?
For now, I just hope no redundant burdens will be put on our future boy.

Week of the Book

The Week of the Book is celebrated early this year, with Borders offering a 40% voucher for a full priced book purchased this week. Get your voucher here and go a-shopping, because discounts don't come any better than this!
I'm using the opportunity to replenish my stocks of Richard Dawkins book, but it seems that at least the Chadstone shop doesn't stock anything that is not The God Delusion.
Note the voucher says it only applies for one book per per customer per day, but I don't see a reason why you can't print several copies of the voucher and bring your twin brothers/sisters with you to the shop.

Friday, 16 March 2007

All My Sons

Clarification: This post has nothing to do with the ongoing pregnancy affair.

Back in high school, while studying that foreign language called English, one of the more interesting things we had to do was study Arthur Miller's play, All My Sons.
Obviously, everything that we just "have" to study becomes an annoying chore, but as annoying chores go All My Sons wasn't too bad: the story was fairly interesting; being that it was set after World War 2 it offered something I can actually relate to; and the language was straight forward (I pity those that have to study Shakespeare; he may be original and good, but even when watching his stuff on DVD with the subtitles on I can't understand a thing). I think I can safely say that as far as school literacy studies are concerned, All My Sons was somewhere near the top of the list, interest wise, along with Lord of the Flies (which we studied in Hebrew).
Roll the tape back to modern times, and a couple of weeks ago I have learnt that All My Sons is now playing at the Melbourne Theatre Company (physically, we're talking about the Arts Centre). We had a buy one get one free voucher for the theater, so we decided to have a go: and thus with military precision I dropped Jo next to the Arts Centre and looked for parking down on St Kilda Road. I think it was worth it: All My Sons probably qualifies as the best play I've ever seen. The funny thing about it all is that the reason I like it is probably to do with it not feeling like a play but more like my favorite form of entertainment, film [Director's comment: for the purpose of this discussion, I do not regard reading as entertainment; reading works at a much higher level].
The story is about an American family that made its fortune during World War 2 from selling the airforce engine parts. Some of these engine parts were defective, and as a results plenty of pilots died in plane crashes; the play follows the family as they come into grips with their past and as the past is dramatically exposed for the benefit of family members who lived in denial. At its core, the play is about the conflict between taking care of your own - making money for your own family when you can, in this particular case - and the ideals we would like to think we stand for - in this case, not selling defective parts which we know could end up costing lives or framing others for the crime.
Needless to say, this play may be set immediately after World War 2, but it is as relevant as ever. Anyone who still thinks Iraq was invaded because of some innocent idealism is free to raise their hands; call me a cynic, but I would say it was more to do with money and power. I don't need to even look as far as the Bush administration: Australia was bribing the Saddam Hussein regime in order to make money out of selling Australian wheat to Iraq while simultaneously waging war on the country. Iraq is not the only example: we are all burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow, but who are the first to pay the price? Not us; it's those living in places like Bangladesh that bear most of the grunt. Are we, then, in any way better than the guy in the play that sold defective parts knowing fully well that people - people not from his family - will pay the price? I don't think so.
As far as technical play stuff is concerned, there was no overacting, which is what I hate the most about the theater: Because its a limited media, actors often resort to making a big fuss out of the mundane in a way that would never pass for authentic in real life. In All My Sons, though, this only happens with the mother character and not that often (but often enough to create a distraction). Additional distractions are caused when the Australian cast slips with their American accents from time to time, but you can argue that this is a bit of an unintentional comic relief.
Overall, I would say the hero of the day is Arthur Miller himself, who wrote a play that is still alive and kicking. And the English is even simple enough for me to understand and enjoy it.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

About a boy

The evil looking alien from the picture on the left is our future baby boy as he was during today's ultrasound (yes, it has been confirmed - there can be no mistaking the gender).
Once again we got ourselves a collector's item DVD with my rather gay sounding voice on it (not that there's anything wrong with it), but the more important thing about it all is that it seems everything's fine with the baby. We did, however, receive confirmation as to why Jo has been having problems that force her to be as mobile as that helicopter purchased by the Australian navy which, as it turns out, is not allowed to fly over water.
Today's ultrasound was quite exhaustive. The attached photo was not meant to scare us; it was rather taken in order to establish that both eye sockets are there. They also checked the brain, which looks alarmingly empty on the ultrasound, but you can clearly see its left and right halves and the bit connecting the two. They checked that all the fingers and toes are there, that key internal bits are alive and kicking (heart, kidneys, bladder, stomach and more), as well as - of course - the gender.
Mostly, the impression we got is of a kid that is rather a lot like me. During the ultrasound it was performing drinking motions quite often, it emptied its bladder, and it yawned several times in what could only be the famous Moshe Reuveni Chewbacca the Wookie style yawn. The baby moved a lot, too, and the doctor warned us not to expect a placid child (mind you, given all the poking that takes place with the ultrasound, I wouldn't blame him). As per usual we were told it's a bit bigger than average, but we knew that already.
All we need to do now is choose a name. We pretty much achieved consensus on girls names, but with boys it's still game on.

Incompetents of the world - rejoice!

People who know me know I shouldn't be allowed with tools. I shouldn't be allowed to do anything with my hands other than typing, for that matter. Hardly a day goes by when I don't hit Jo through some form of an accident by virtue of my incompetency.
Still, from time to time I have delusions of grandeur. Once upon a time, and way too recently after I've had my operation, I told you of my attempt to put on some shelves on the wall where we could store all of our CD's. You can read about it all again (and view a fascinating photo) here.
Pretty quickly after posting that post most of the shelves got decommissioned: they just weren't stable enough to put heavy CD's on, with some of them becoming frighteningly loose.
In our despair we looked for solutions. We went to Bunnings, Australia's biggest chain of DIY shops (where each shop is aircraft hanger size; I'm sure many people get lost in there, never to be heard of again). We told our story to many an attendant there, but the problem is that you just cannot tell an Australian that you were incompetent in drilling holes in the wall; under Australian law, admitting to be bad at DIY is a punishable offense, worse even than sending your child to a public school. I had to be careful about it, because one false step and I might have found myself locked at a detention center for some indefinite period (with subsequent discussion in parliament on "how we let such imcompetent fools into the motherland").
Anyway, to the point, Bunnings didn't have anything with which you can fix drilled holes that went a bit bigger than planned. Sure, they had hole fillers, but nothing that's designed to actually make the hole reusable afterwards.
In our despair we turned to our regular source of salvation nowadays: the internet. After much a-googling I found this blog that talked about the exact same problem I've had: an incompetent guy drilled holes that were way too big for the purpose. This incompetent guy, however, found a solution called Wet N Fix that solved all of his problems upon this earth. We had a look at the website and we were impressed, so I decided to order this English product.
Alas, the website allowed me to make an order, but for some reason it quoted me the same postage figures it quotes to UK residents. I realized this means trouble, so I emailed them and asked for help: I needed the product badly, they obviously want to sell it, but I couldn't make a purchase.
The response was extremely positive: I got emails back from several people with advice; they thanked me for finding a bug in their website; and as a reward, they posted me several packs free of charge! I was so happy that I've neglected fixing the shelves up until this week.
Last weekend I figured enough was enough, so I went about wet and fixing the holes. The concept of this product is pretty simple: as the picture shows, Wet N Fix is a thin, flat and round piece of cement held by some form of a flexible mesh (I don't know whether it's a plastic or a metallic mesh). You wet it and it becomes floppy, then you wrap it around the wall plugs (what we Israelites refer to as a dibbel), and then you stick it in the hole; as it dries it fills up the hole.
I guess this product is not truly aimed at helping an incompetent's hole carry the grant of heavy CD's - it's basically just cement, which is not that different to the hole fillers I could have got at Bunnings - but this mesh it has helps it become more rigid. Regardless of that, it's quite an ingenious solution.
For now all I can say is that I've applied the Wet N Fix on our shelves this weekend, put the CD's back on, and so far so good. Which obviously doesn't mean much yet: like everything that evolves, you need to give it some time to evolve. However, I still think Wet N Fix deserves acknowledgment as a good product that can save the day, and the Wet N Fix people deserve credit for their excellent service.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Glass of water for Mr Granger

I have been to an external meeting today at work. On paper this should be nice: a chance to get out of the ordinary routine and explore new grounds. When we got there we were asked what type of coffee we would like to have. Given that I'm not a coffee drinker I declined, at the risk of appearing a bit of an eccentric.
The meeting begun and everyone had their coffee. The problem was that was it; no other drinks were offered. No other drinks were expected, it seems. After more than two hours I had to stop and ask for some water.
The meeting continued for five hours, and eventually they brought a jug of water, but while I drank a good few cups everyone else had just a few sips. I was the only one (as far as I can tell) who actually went to the toilets during the meeting. By its end I had a huge headache: I know, by now, that if I don't drink on time and if I don't have my lunch on time (12:00-12:30), a headache is guaranteed. As of the end of that meeting (and up until now, for that matter) my head has been aching.

Now this is what I have to say about it. I simply don't understand how these people can go on without water! Sure, the last years has taught me I'm not exactly a role model of constitution, but don't others feel the need to have a drink? And when they do have a drink, why is it that they go for drugs - which they probably take to compensate for not drinking water and not treating their body properly - instead of going with what's good for them?
I just find it amazing that many workplaces I've been to in Australia have nice coffee facilities, but when you ask for a drink of water they look at you as if you've landed from Mars and point you towards some filthy broken sink at the end of the world. People seem to live on drinking coffee and tea (and Coke and other soft drinks) alone; water is something they use to flush the toilet.
I just don't get it. Am I the only one that has figured out good drinking habits make me feel good? Am I the only one dependent on good drinking habits?

This reminds me of an advertisement from an old Israeli radio station called The Voice of Peace. They used to have a contract with Coke for ads, and at one point Coke broke up with them. In retaliation they came up with an ad they produced on their own which was just as musical as the Coke ads, and it went like this:
Drink cool refreshing water
There's nothing better for you we say
Drink water today!

Monday, 12 March 2007

In sickness and in health

It's exactly a year since I've started working in my new job, which makes me laugh because even though a whole year has past I still regard the job as new. Maybe it's because the environment is rather complex, or maybe it's because most of the people there are older than I am which makes me feel like the new kid on the block. Or maybe it's both.
In the past I have used these pages to both complain at this new job and praise it. Complaints were mainly to do with the archaic work environment and the limitations put on us improving it on our own (although I can easily understand why these limitations are imposed), and praises were mainly to do with the good way they handle me there as a person. A very noticeable absentee in this summary is the work itself, and for a very good reason: this last year has been marked by total turmoil in my personal life, experiences of the type which make you realize that while it is nice to have a satisfying career, work should take second fiddle to actual life.
And actual life hasn't been too bad. I mean, I don't want to go through further operations and such, but given the problems that were totally beyond our control things went along well - and some of it is to do with the nice way in which I was able to integrate work into my life, as opposed to letting work take control over my life.
However, if there is one noticeable achievement that I would like to put on record for this past year it's the fact that I haven't been sick. On a regular year I am horizontal with colds of sorts about five times per year; this last year I had a couple of colds, but none has rendered me horizontal: throughout the year I was still computer ready and movie ready, while when I'm really sick just the sight of a monitor or a TV makes my head feel like it's about to explode.
I have theorized here in the past as to the reason for this healthy revolution. Could it be the walk in the fresh air that I go through twice a day now? Could it be the windows that expose me to direct sunlight at the office? Could it be the better ventilation at the new office compared to the really bad one at the older one? Or is it a totally irrelevant factor, such as an improved diet? Or maybe it's just pure luck, a statistical fluke?
All options are possible, and the reality is probably a certain mix of all of them. But still, since I suspect mental health has a lot to do with physical health and vice versa, I can only take this cold record of the last year as a sign that I have made the right move.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Hold the phone

I know I have discussed this in the past, but I'm going to repeat it because it continues annoying me: I just hate using mobile phones.
Don't get me wrong: they're useful and all, especially when coordination is required. Say, when you need to meet someone at a neutral site. But as far as being a tool for conducting a meaningful conversation is concerned, mobile phones is not the way to go.
Case in point #1:
Jo and I talk with Jo's family over the phone. My mother calls my mobile, telling me that my phone was busy.
Case in point #2:
We're at a restaurant. My sister calls my mobile telling me there was no answer at home.

My point is that when calling someone's mobile, especially when calling someone's mobile after you've established they are not where they usually are, there is a high probability that the person you're calling is busy doing something else or they just can't talk. It's only natural: most of the time when we're not being lazy bastards on the sofa numbing our brains with TV stuff, we're doing something.
So why do they still bother calling me then? I don't really know. I think it's a cultural thing talking here, and I think I'm behind the times. I'm the exception, because for most people it is perfectly acceptable to call someone's mobile in order to just see "how things are going" and have a bit of a chat. I also consider it rather fruitless to try and talk to someone when they are not really in a position to talk back to me; you can't expect much out of such a conversation.
And that's the trick, really: people are calling other people on their mobiles and chat with one another through their mobile simply because talking has now become so cheap and so easy that it doesn't really matter if you talk crap. Communicating is so trivial an affair that no one bothers trying to say anything meaningful anymore.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Who was broken by trained personnel

One of the things you get to experience when you're pregnant is the proliferation of various memes to do with how should one behave when expecting a baby and when raising a child.
The weird thing about those memes is that most of them are not based on anything that is even remotely true, while other ones are simply outright wrong. I'm talking about things such as what a pregnant woman is allowed to it, what she shouldn't eat, and what she is encouraged to eat: ask 10 people who were pregnant, and you will get 10 different answers. And since some of those answers will contradict the others, and since the obstetrician tends to have higher perceived stature as far as authority is concerned, you're left with concluding that people can be way too stupidly gullible for their own good. Or, as Dire Straits have said it in their song Industrial disease: "Two men say their Jesus; one of them must be wrong".

One of those memes that has been evolving highly successfully in Australia is the meme for private schooling. Basically, the meme says that if you like your son/daughter, you just have to send them to a private school; if you don't, they will be bullied, they will get improper and lackluster education, they will get nowhere in their studies, they won't be able to get a good place in a decent higher education institution, and eventually they will be up to no good - and all of that because you couldn't spare the $15,000 a year that it takes to provide your child with private schooling.
The scary thing about it all is that someone of our socio-economic background is virtually expected to send their children to private schools. It is not the exception, it is the rule.
Are there ways around it? I mean, $15,000 per year is quite a lot - multiply it by 12 years and you get a nice sum of $180,000 - that's like half of our house's worth, and we still have a huge mortgage on it.
Well, thanks for asking, because there are ways around it. Enter the Catholic private school, an institution that provides the high quality standards of the regular private school at a significantly lower cost.
There is a trick to it, though: if you want to secure a place for your child in any private school, you need to do it way in advance. There is a long waiting list. However, if you want to secure a place at a Catholic school - especially if you're no Catholic (they have a heathen intake ratio of 5 to 10 percent of their total student intake) - you really have to be in a hurry. It's better if you book your child to school pretty quickly after they are born, or even before they're born.

You can relax now. I am not going to enroll my child to a Catholic school. In fact, if you've been reading this blog regularly you would have guessed by now that I would rather cut off one of my balls before I force anything that is even remotely religious on one of my descendants.
Coming from a background where there is no such thing as private schooling and where everyone you know shares roughly the same level of schooling (a background called Israel), I find the concept of private schooling to offend my notions of equality and of giving everybody a fair go.
Private schooling, especially in Australia, is exactly the opposite of giving a fair go: the private schools are heavily funded by the government; in fact they are even better funded than state schools. The government has certain parameters for determining how much money schools get: things like the average income of the suburb the school is in. Since the private schools tend to be in the richer areas of town they get more money, so they can afford to build tennis courts and have their heated swimming pools while their state counterparts are falling apart.
If you were to ask me, private schools - being private - should get nothing, period. But in Australia there is this chicken and egg problem: because there wasn't enough funding for state schools the state schools couldn't afford getting all the kids, so some kids simply had to go private; because not enough people could afford private, the government had to fund private schools. And now it got into a situation where a government will not get itself elected if it was to say it would cut down on private school funding - something it should have never done in the first place because that money which went into private schooling should have been invested in state school infrastructure. Yet, since the government is made mostly of the richer echelons, they couldn't care less: they would rather spend their own money directly on their children's education than spend it indirectly on state schools and end up with a better overall education standard but a lower quality for themselves.

So there you have it: Moshe Reuveni's take on the state of schooling in Australia, subtitled "yet another reason why I will never vote for John Howard".
The question now is, what are we going to do about it? Will we spend $15,000 a year?
To be honest, if it was up to me and if I was convinced that those $180,000 would be the difference between a life as a drive through attendant at a McDonald place or a successful career as an astrophysicist, I would say it's money well spent and I would be tempted to send my child to a private schools. There are, however, a few things that come in between.
First there is Jo. She seems to be even more idealistic than I am about this subject: the concept of the better go given to the one with the more money troubles her so much that she simply refuses to consider private schooling. Which is fine with me, because if anything it shows me that I'm sharing my life with the right person.
And then there's the slight issue of how correct this private schooling meme is in the first place. I mean, I've already explained earlier how most of the pregnancy memes are nothing but total bullshit; so why would this one be any different? You don't need to go too far with memes to see that society can do some truly stupid stuff to itself in the name of ridiculous memes - just check out religion.
Basically, when you send your child to a private school as opposed to a state school the child gets exposed to a similar quality of teachers. Teachers for private schools don't come off a different production line. The difference is in the other kids next to your child: when you go private, you attempt to reduce the chances of your child being next to drug dealers, your child being bullied, or your child being surrounded by morons.
The question to ask, then, is this: Do you really reduce the probability of your child being surrounded by moron violent drug dealers in private schools? The answer is probably "probably", but it is also probably "probably to a limited extent", because having lots of money does not prevent one from being a moron.
Having talked to several people who send their kids to private schools and several who do not, I think I can safely say I'm with Jo on this one. I would like my child to go to a state school for ideological reasons, but I would also not be too bothered about it because I suspect that at least in our area the state schools will not be too bad to begin with. Ultimately, the amount of attention that we, as the parents, will be able to give our child will be significantly more important in determining how our child is going to turn out than whether we can afford the status symbol that is called private schooling.
Call me a child abuser, but at least I am an idealistic one. Or, as Ben Gurion said, "meme - shmim".

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Real Thing

Someone has recently mentioned the Outback chain of so called Australian restaurants. Apparently, these caused that someone to think Australian thoughts.
I have to say that I ate at Outback several times myself, while working in the USA, long before the thoughts of moving to Australia or even visiting Australia crept up. At the time it was a relatively special affair: seemingly good steaks at a nice price. The fact the steaks were never really done the way I ordered them to be or that there was always something not that nice about the meat never really bothered me because of a very simple reason: the meat you get in Israel is shit.
There's a very simple reason for that, too: the whole Kosher affair. Meat sold in Israel has to be Kosher, in general (there are ways around it, but most of the time what you'll get is Kosher). People who don't know much about Judaism tend to think that Kosher meat is anything but pork, but this is anything but accurate. For example, one of the things that Kosher meat has to comply with is that blood shouldn't drip off it. So, in order to make the meat Kosher it is drained of most of its blood (read: drained of most of its taste). It's not only that: there are varying degrees of Kosherness, and those that are really harsh - say, the Jerusalem lot - will also salt the blood quite a lot, to capture that extra bit of blood that normal draining didn't.
What do you end up with? You end up with steaks that are as hard as the soles of your shoes and taste pretty much like salty shoe soles. They also cost a lot, because someone has to pay for all that work. What's the result? The result is that when you have the opportunity to have a steak at a not that great steak chain in the USA, you grab it with both hands (although using a knife and a fork is recommended for hygiene).
So, we've established that Israeli meat sucks, pun intended. But is Outback really Australian? Well, I can't really compare the meat they serve at Outback to the meat you get in Australia, but generally speaking I think I can safely say that there is nothing quintessentially Australian about the steaks served in Australia. Overall, I suspect the Australian cow gets better treatment than its American counterpart - it's probably better fed (there are no GM crops here) and there are no gigantic McDonald style beef farms where one cow stands over the other and they're both up to their horns in their own shit. But as steaks go, an Australian steak is pretty much the same as an American one. Aussies like to have beetroot in their burgers, and you can even get beetroot burgers at your local McDonald or Burger King, but the steaks are the same.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that "Outback" is as Australian as your average fork is. Sure, they use forks in Australia, but they're essentially the same forks all over the world. What Outback is trying to do, in that all American way, is to capture some of the exotic image Australians have and sell it to their American clients. I mean, everybody knows that all Australians are sexy and smart (even immigrants turn into ones the minute they step into the country); Outback tries to sell that image.
So, while we're talking about the acquisition of an image through food, I would like to mention two food chains that you often encounter in Australia.
The first is the ice cream chain, Norgen Vaaz: The first time we stumbled upon them we couldn't stop laughing. What really surprised us is that many Australians are not even aware that this is a fake brand, simply because Haagen Dazs is not sold in here. As with chocolate, where the main brands available are local made shit that is heavy on sugar and low on chocolate (just like American chocolate), people just don't know what they're missing. However, while with chocolate you can easily heal thy soul by getting some Swiss or Belgium stuff (available everywhere), with ice cream this simply isn't the case. Haagen Dazs was sold here, on a limited basis, in the past; but now Australia is really poor for ice cream. We addressed the issue by getting an ice cream machine and making ice cream at home, and if you use good raw materials (e.g., double cream) you get results that put Haagen Dazs in shame. But you can also see the fat accumulating in your body as you eat, though.
The second weird food chain that's all over the place here is Taco Bill, a chain of Mexican restaurants. Don't ask me why anyone would want to associate a restaurant with a fast food joint (which, by the way, doesn't exist in Australia), but the fact is that it's here.
Last Friday we ate there for the first time, and I have to say I wasn't impressed. Our favorite restaurant, by far, is a Mexican restaurant, so Taco Bill had a lot to live up to. I ordered my regular, a chicken burrito: what I got looked exactly the same as my favorite burrito, but... the baked cover looked like something you get from the supermarket; the sauce tasted like something from a jar you buy at a supermarket; and the meat was definitely not cooked for as long as it should. It felt cheap, but at $20 it wasn't that cheap; I would prefer to pay the $30 they charge at my place and get it right.
What am I trying to say? I'm trying to say that Taco Bill is to Mexican food what Outback is to a proper steak: a relatively cheaper production line like place where you can eat food, but it wouldn't really satisfy you. Nothing beats the real thing: fresh ingredients done right.

Monday, 5 March 2007

The Hills Are Alive

I couldn't bear the notion of losing my beloved sunglasses so easily. As I was working from home today, I jumped over to the cinema just to see if maybe something has happened and they found my glasses.
They did.
I came in, told them that I lost them, and specified when and where I lost them and what it was that I lost yet again. They went behind the scene, came back with my sunnies (the Australian way of saying sunglasses), and that was it. An open and shut case. I was happy for the rest of the day!
Now, there are several quick lessons to learn from this:
  • It's cheaper to have another go then to spend $250-$300 on new sunglasses.
  • They [in this case, the cinema personnel] might have wrote your number to call you back in case they find your stuff, and they might have told you they looked for them, and they might have told you that they looked for them but didn't find anything. Don't trust them - they have absolutely no reason to make an effort here.
  • Never take anything for granted.
  • If you're after some sunglasses, go to your nearest multiplex and say you lost yours - they have piles to choose from.
  • However, people are essentially good.

  • From the cinemas we drove to our fortnightly obstetrician appointment. Not that there was much in the way of news, but so far so good - there's a heartbeat in there, and as before we were told that Indy's bigger than his/her time would indicate.
    I guess it looks as if we won't be going to Paris any time soon.

    P.S. In case you're wondering about the sound of music I have been listening to lately, this has been dominated by Cream. They have a relatively new Live in Albert Hall reunion double CD, and it rocks! It also made me interested in the individual talents of Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker - there's a lot of good stuff between them all.

    Sunday, 4 March 2007

    Farewell to arms

    As if I needed another reason to justify not going to the cinemas and instead watch movies at home.
    Today we went to the cinemas for the first time in quite a while - a few months, actually. The film was good, but...
    People who know me know how attached I am to my sunglasses. Ever since I've had my laser eye surgery I've been attached to them; can't go anywhere without them. When we got in and sat down I put my sunglasses on my lap; big mistake. That's the last I've seen of them, because eventually, long after leaving the cinema, I noticed that I don't have them anymore.
    We went back to the cinemas and left them with a description and their exact supposed location. A few hours later I called them, they said they had a look, but nothing was found.
    And that's the end of the story of my red Oakley Straight Jackets, given to me by my sister during April 2001. My favorite sunglasses.

    Hello / Goodbye

    Last Friday was the last working day of a fellow business analyst on my project, which was fairly sad. Aside of being a nice person, a great person to work with, and a true patriot for the project (something that cannot be said about me), she really took care of me since I've joined the project in a manner not unlike the way, say, Uri helped me out in high-school or Yuval during university. Sure, unlike the uni case where I suspect I would have still been a student today if it wasn't for Yuval, I think I would have survived now; but still, it is that much nicer to be able to rely on someone else's help, too.
    Anyway, my point was not to discuss this departure, but rather to express how bad I am at saying goodbye. And I'm not talking about being crap at keeping in touch with family or friends, I'm talking about the technicalities of saying goodbye.
    Call me cold hearted if you will, but when I say goodbye to people I just settle with saying goodbye; if I'm especially close to them, I will even shake their hand. Which is why I have a problem when people all of a sudden try and sneak up on me and go for a hug or a kiss instead.
    It's not that I don't hug and kiss; it's just that I reserve hugging and kissing for something special. When I hug and kiss I want it to mean something, not to just do as a farewell act for someone I didn't even know existed five minutes ago but I just happen to know now through work.
    This problem of mine has proved to be a severe inconvenience on many an occasion. The first was while I was still in Israel and we had several Americans working with us. When they were about to fly back, one of them went for the kiss when I was totally unprepared, and so she was quite offended and I was very apologetic (interestingly enough, we became good friends later, a lot of it because of this incident and the sincere dialog it has created). The unique thing about that incident is that it took someone from outside the country to trigger this confusion, since no one I knew in Israel at the time used kisses for goodbyes.
    In Australia I have this problem again and again. Here there is no real standard: some shake hands, some kiss. And it's not just that: by now I'm semi prepared for the kiss, but some just kiss the air next to you while others actually kiss you; how the hell should I know what their true intention are? And if someone kisses the air around you and you end up kissing her, does that mean war?
    I don't know. This is all to confusing for me, and I'm not even mentioning things like virus conductivity. What I can say, though, is that on Friday the both of us didn't really know what to do - we just stood next to each other and waved at one another like idiots.

    Friday, 2 March 2007

    A Requiem for John Howard

    There is some fresh wind in the air lately. The ground that seemed so stable is suddenly starting to shake, and gaping holes are beginning to appear under our beloved Prime Minister, John Howard. All of a sudden, with the emergence of a good opposition leader, the ground beneath his feet doesn't seem as stable anymore.
    Add some additional ingredients to the mix - Howard's handling of the war in Iraq, global warming, David Hicks, his stubborness when it comes to nuclear power, and industrial relations - and all of a sudden one can forgive you if you were to think that maybe there's a hope he won't win the elections yet again at the end of the year.
    Don't get me wrong: the pessimist in me still thinks that Australia will vote through its selfish wallet and keep Howard in charge due to his so called "financial credentials" (even though, if you were to ask me, I would say that his credentials start and end with making his rich friends even richer). But maybe... who knows, maybe there's a hope at the end of the polls.

    Anyway, since my Pigs on the Train post - which featured a photo from Pink Floyd's Animals album - I couldn't stop listening to Animals. Animals was one of the first two albums I was playing on my own once I learned how to mess about with my brother's record player as a child (the other being Police's Reggatta de Blanc), and so I was listening to it again and again long before Dark Side of the Moon became the institution it has become inside my head and long before The Wall became every teenager rebellion's anthem. And as I started re-listening to it over the last couple of weeks, I couldn't help feeling how much the song Dogs is relevant to the person who is John Howard. You listen to the song and you think of the man; then you realize that perhaps it is his parents not hugging him as much as they should have which resulted in this person that is the showcase of the dog eat dog mentality.
    In order to show you what I mean, I've asked Messrs Waters and Gilmour for their permission to reproduce Dogs' lyrics here in my blog. So here goes some cutting and pasting; enjoy it, and do try to have a listen to the original, because at about 20 minutes long songs don't come any finer than this:

    You gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need.
    You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you're on the street,
    You gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed.
    And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight,
    You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.

    And after a while, you can work on points for style.
    Like the club tie, and the firm handshake,
    A certain look in the eye and an easy smile.
    You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
    So that when they turn their backs on you,
    You'll get the chance to put the knife in.

    You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
    You know it's going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older.
    And in the end you'll pack up and fly down south,
    Hide your head in the sand,
    Just another sad old man,
    All alone and dying of cancer.

    And when you lose control, you'll reap the harvest you have sown.
    And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone.
    And it's too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around.
    So have a good drown, as you go down, all alone,
    Dragged down by the stone.

    I gotta admit that I'm a little bit confused.
    Sometimes it seems to me as if I'm just being used.
    Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
    If I don't stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

    Deaf, dumb, and blind, you just keep on pretending
    That everyone's expendable and no-one has a real friend.
    And it seems to you the thing to do would be to isolate the winner
    And everything's done under the sun,
    And you believe at heart, everyone's a killer.

    Who was born in a house full of pain.
    Who was trained not to spit in the fan.
    Who was told what to do by the man.
    Who was broken by trained personnel.
    Who was fitted with collar and chain.
    Who was given a pat on the back.
    Who was breaking away from the pack.
    Who was only a stranger at home.
    Who was ground down in the end.
    Who was found dead on the phone.
    Who was dragged down by the stone.

    Thursday, 1 March 2007

    Stand in the place where you live

    One of the things I try to do is stand up to my principles. Obviously, as much as I would like to think that I stand up to my principles I'm quite the failure; just look at how much I give away to charity.
    However, what I consider to be the lowest of my lows as far as principles are concerned is my Bar Mitsva. I didn't want to have a Bar Mitsva, but my parents have convinced me to go ahead with it through the lure of gifts. And it's not like I just had a ceremony and got my gifts; I actually prepared for it: For a month or so before the ceremony I visited this old religious guy's home where he taught me how to read my bible passage "properly", and I also went together with my father to the synagogue several times "to get the feel for it". The main thing I remember from those synagogue excursions is mainly how boring the entire affair was; I mean, it must be boring for god, too, to hear how nice and how good and how fucking awesome he is time after time. What I also remember is being told not to sit with my legs crossed (my default sitting position), because when you sit this way your legs create a cross and you know whose symbol the cross is. No, this story is not a joke.
    Well, as I said, that's the lowest I can think myself plummeting. The reward, the gifts, were nothing to talk about; a couple were nice, the rest were things I didn't look at after the initial unwrapping. It was a classic lesson number one in how consumerism can't buy happiness.
    That was the bottom side of things. There are, however, a couple of similar incidents that represent the opposite. Incidents that I find to be a major source of pride. Incidents that helped shape me into the person I am today.

    The first took place during 5th grade (or was it 6th grade?). At the time we had music classes in school, which contrary to what one may expect were sessions in which we were taught the lyrics of some old fashioned Israeli folk song and then sang it together with the teacher, Yosef Hadar (pictured above), who would accompany us on guitar. It was called "music lessons but I would say that referring to it as "Zionism injections" would be more appropriate.
    Now you probably have no idea about who Yosef Hadar was. He "was" because he died a year ago, but he also "was" a relatively famous musician in the Israeli folk scene, writing tunes to many an old fashioned song about the spirit of Israelism and Zionism and such.
    On that particular day, while discussing the lyrics of a song he just taught us, he got to talk about the wonders of the universe. Eventually, he told us that the sun's light rays reach the earth millions of years after they leave the sun. Now, you and I probably know this is a bullshit statement, but when you're a 10 year old or so you don't really know that much about the wonders of the solar system and you definitely don't argue with your teacher when he says something with such utter confidence.
    However, I knew better; you see, just a couple of weeks before that music lesson I finished reading Isaac Asimov's Opus 200 book, and in there I remembered reading that on average the sun is 150 million kilometers away from the earth. I already knew at the time that the speed of light is 300,000km/sec, so I was able to calculate on my own that it would take the sun's light roughly 8 minutes to reach the earth - significantly shorter than Yosef Hadar's millions of years.
    I interrupted him and told him that, to the best of my knowledge, he was wrong. What followed was a burst of anger on his behalf, telling me in front of the rest of the class how foolish I was and that 8 minutes is just impossible because we would all burn. It was quite scary: he was yelling at me, and he had the rest of the class at his side - the mocking side.
    For the following fortnight until our next music lesson I had Opus 200 in my schoolbag every day. I didn't miss an opportunity to show the relevant paragraph to every kid in my class that was willing to spare me some attention. Eventually, we got to have our next session with Mr Hadar, and immediately as the lesson started I interrupted yet again to show him Asimov's quote. This time his reaction was different: he just denied what he said before, dismissing it as a misunderstanding on my behalf. Sure.
    Now I'm not bringing this story up to say how much I hated the guy or to say he was a bad man. It is a good example for the bad things that happen in schools and it is a good example for how not to treat gullible children, yet I don't think of Yosef Hadar as a bad person because of that incident; I openly admit that I have done much worse things myself.
    What I did want to express is the pride I have in standing up to myself and the things I knew to be true in the face of what seems to be an ultimate source of authority and despite the danger of losing face and appearing to be an idiot. I am not the person to walk around patting my own shoulder, but on that particular day I think I did well.

    The second incident I would like to talk about took place when I was 15. An uncle of mine had a good stroke of luck with his business, earning lots of money; as a token of his appreciation for the good luck that was bestowed on him he bought a brand new copy of the Torah for his local synagogue.
    Now I'm sure most of you will not be aware of it, but the bibles they use in synagogues are not printed ones. They're scrolls of skin (poor animals) on which the first five books of the bible (the Torah) are hand written by special scribes without any punctuation marks or anything and using quills alone. It's a really old fashioned thing, and to the best of my knowledge these things cost a fortune.
    Anyway, my uncle has invited my father to take part in "breaking in" the new Torah scroll. My father, on his turn, forced me to come along with him (and when I say "force" I mean it quite literally).
    The breaking in ceremony included a short ceremony at the very crowded synagogue, followed by a few circles around the neighborhood with the scroll being carried around, followed by a long ceremony back at the synagogue. The catch was there at the end with the long ceremony: the last ten letters of the Torah were left blank, so that the hero of the day could appoint friends or relatives to fill in those last letters, one character a time.
    And while I was sitting there trying hard to think why I can't be doing something useful with my time like reading a proper book, the MC suddenly called out my name: I was being honored, as the hero's nephew, with adding one of the missing 10 letters!
    But I refused.
    All around me people I never saw before (and have never seen since) were telling me how great an honor this was and that I should go ahead and do it, but I showed them that I have learnt at least one thing from the Bar Mitsva and stuck to my guns: I would not mess about with something that I don't only refuse to believe in but also quite utterly despise. The people that knew me, including my father, were trying to persuade me: they started with niceties but pretty quickly reverted to shouts and threats. But I stood my ground.
    Now you could say I'm an idiot and you could say I should have honored my uncle by writing down this stupid character. If you were to say so I would not have much to say against it; I was definitely stupidly stubborn. But as the years went by I became proud of that incident, proud of standing up to what I believe in - mainly that the Torah is not an inspiring book to live by but rather a book full of disgusting accounts that only mad people would follow in today's world.
    If you want to know how the story ended, I will tell you this: my uncle died a couple of years ago. At the time of his death he and his then-wife and kids were estranged, which may or may not indicate something about the qualities that buying a scroll of animal skin grant a person.
    I know that eventually I will be facing some similar incidents again. I already know what my intentions are as far as circumcision is concerned, but what should I do when, say, my parents die and they get buried according to Jewish traditions (the way they would like to be buried)? Would I read the stupid Jewish prayer that says "oh god you're so merciful"? They would like me to, but it would be against everything I believe in. I'll probably get away with it because it's the oldest son that reads this bullshit, but still I am sure I will be haunted by such experiences eventually.

    Nevertheless, I am still immensely proud with those two incidents. The fact I remember them after all these years says it all.