Saturday, 30 June 2007

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Little Boy or Fat Man?

After a wait that seemed to last forever, we had our greatly anticipated ultrasound today.
The result was good: contrary to everything we've been told to be scared of so far, it seems as if Jo will have herself the pleasure of going through natural birth. A cesarean is no longer the order of the day, although (obviously) it could still be the way in which the day would end.
So that's the main news.
Other than that, the ultrasound showed us a baby that's on the larger side of things - check the head measurement photo on the left. Despite being big, the head is full of liquid (which shows in black on the ultrasound) - sound evidence that the baby takes after his father.
Talking about taking after the father, one of the family discussion points lately was to do with whether the baby will take after me or after Jo. Personally, I hope that for the baby's sake he will take after me in height but after Jo in everything else.
The question does, however, raise some interesting points about evolution and the way people tend to regard their children: evolution wise, there is an obvious advantage for a baby that looks after his father. While the mother knows for certain that a child is hers, having labored on it to death, a father does not have the privilege of being that sure. The result is that we have institutions sanctifying virginity for no particular reason other than to enable would be fathers to feel more secure about themselves. The result is also that men prefer blonds because the blond gene is not a dominating gene, so the descendant of a blond mother and a brown eyed father is more likely to wield brown eyes - hence the father can rest assured the child is his, and therefore he will spend more resources on the child to ensure its survival. Darwinian evolution, in two words.
Anyway, as interesting as this insight may be, it also does not have much of a relevance in our case. I hope I'm beyond those things. What is fairly certain, though, is that given Jo's fair complexion and my darker one, the baby is likely to look more like me, to one extent or another. Well, no one's perfect.
Anyway: The obstetrician said he expects the baby to be born at 3.8 kilos; I put my money on more. As for us, we're still under the shock of having to set our minds to a natural birth after months of setting it on cesarean mode.

Smaller and smaller and smaller

I'm currently reading yet another Richard Dawkins book, The Ancestor's Tale. A detailed account of evolution's history, this is one thick book that will probably keep me occupied well until the last Harry Potter comes out.
One of the things mentioned in the book while discussing human gene variations and their distribution is the fairly isolated group of Tasmanian aboriginals that numbered about 12,000 people. The book then goes to mention the massacre of these very people by white settlers during the 19th century.
The thing that surprised me the most about this tale was that I was totally unaware of this massacre. I mean, I knew (and it is very obvious) that the encounter with Westerners didn't really do well to aboriginal culture, but I didn't know they were exterminated the way one would get rid of vermin. Which is exactly what I find sad about this story:
When you walk about in Germany, for example, there are very obvious remnants to the crimes that took place there in the past; they are very open and very available, and they serve as a constant reminder to the people of what can happen. The result is that the modern German is, on average, one of the more pacifist of people in the world. However, in Australia things are different. Here it's all under the carpet, very well hidden. You hardly hear or even see aboriginal people; there is no integration to talk about, and there is no mentioning of the crimes that were done to them. When John Howard talks about teaching history in schools, he always emphasizes the technological and seemingly advanced nature of the Western culture, but he never mentions proper aboriginal history. Not even once. Not even a hint.
And that is very sad, and that is why I also think his latest attempt to create an initiative to support aboriginal health is nothing but an election trick. A potentially beneficial one, but a trick none the less.

At least I can derive some comfort from the results of the recent Australian census, conducted just a few months ago. These show that 20% of Australians consider themselves as people who do not belong to any religion.
I am proud to be one of those one of five.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

High Noon at the Melbourne Corral

A bit more than a week ago Melbourne felt for a moment like Israel when a security public announcement at work suddenly told us that there was a shooting outside and several people got hurt. It felt the way it had felt before, when you were told on the radio that a bus not unlike the one you used to take on a route not that different the the route you used to travel on has exploded through a suicide bomber.
I was "well equipped" for the occasion, making my usual sarcastic jokes while everyone else was too busy learning how to digest the latest scary turn of events. After all, the shooting was not that far from where we were, and right opposite the building Jo used to work in before pregnancy took the better of her.
A couple of days later we actually learnt what happened. This Hell's Angels biker that got out of a club in the early morning (at a time in which people were already on their way to work) was dragging a woman out of a taxi by her hair. Two men jumped to help: a solicitor, who was shot dead, and a Dutch backpacker who was critically wounded. The woman got shot, too, all by that darling angel.
For a week and more, all you could hear on the news was how these innocent people on their way to work or on vacation suddenly, out of the blue, find themselves dead or critically wounded. I found this to be quite annoying: every year hundreds of people in Victoria alone die in road accidents, thousands get themselves injured, and we're all quite indifferent about it; what is the difference between them and those that got shot helping that woman?
There is, of course, a difference (albeit not one that justifies us politely ignoring those that get hurt in traffic accidents): The shooting victims were trying to do a genuinely good thing while they got shot. The concerns were immediately thrown into the air: would the people of Melbourne help the next time they see a person in distress, or would they prefer to hang on to their lives and let the sufferer suffer?
In turn, this begs the question, what is the source of our morality? What is it that makes us be good or bad? Well, if we look at the Melbourne shooting incident, I think we can say one thing is pretty clear: the source of this morality has nothing to do with nationality. After all, of the people that got to help the woman, 50% were not Australian.
Going back to what I learnt from The Selfish Gene, I think we all have a built in mechanism inside us that is caring for others in distress. It goes back to the Tit for Tat hard wiring I was recently discussing in a post: When we see trouble, we are hard wired to help. Obviously, there is a lot of variety there, because the shooter himself wasn't particularly affected by this wiring mechanism. But still, there are mechanisms at work; but how do they work?
An example used most often in these Tit for Tat discussions is of birds that require mites to be picked from their necks or they get nasty diseases. They need other birds to do it for them, but those other birds can either be selfish and have a bird get their mites but fail to return a favor, or they can play along and return the favor. What will the birds do? If none cooperate with one another, they will die; if all cooperate but one, that particular one will be the king of all birds. So where will a particular bird be? Logic, evolution (and real life samples) would put things in some sort of an equilibrium: most birds are nice to one another, but out and about there are those pain in the ass birds that don't bother to return a favor. A perfect world in which everyone is nice can exist, but it only takes one nasty bird to set things in motion and establish a nasty fraction. Now, in order for a particularly nice bird to know which one is the asshole bird so that it wouldn't bother de-miting it the next time around, that nice bird needs to be able to see and personally identify the nasty bird. Which, experiments show, they do.
Which brings me back to us humans. We are not that different to the birds; we're also working according to the same principles, with some people being nasty and others being nice, and to be frank I don't think there is much we can do about the equilibrium between the two groups (and it is also obvious any trends along that equilibrium would take generations to have an effect anyway).
Just like the birds, we also rely on being able to identify one another in order to be able to adjust our approach to someone. Think about this: when you drive your car and the person ahead of you doesn't go in a green light, they're automatically a mother-fucking-piece-of-shit; however, you would never label them that way if you were to actually see them. People don't just walk around telling others that they're a piece of shit, yet when we're inside our cars and we can't see the other drivers they're automatically relegated to the level of objects.
I guess what I'm trying to say in here is this: there are lots of people who claim that we derive our morals from certain scriptures. I, on the other hand, think this notion is quite laughable; and I think that the example of the Melbourne shooting provides evidential support for the natural causes that brought us to our current state of morality.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Battleship

A couple of days ago we were told that John Howard was very happy to let the nation know that the Defense Department has chosen to have two battleships built for the Australian Navy, in Australia, at a cost of 11 billion dollars. A day later the newspapers gave us a more detailed account on these ships: they are not actually your classic dreadnaught, but rather a landing ship.
Now, why would Australia need such ships in the first place? Australia does not have any imperialistic aspirations, so attacking agendas are not on the agenda. As far as potential enemies or invaders are concerned, if China wants to invade Australia it would take much more than two ships to stop them; the only thing that could stop a Chinese invasion is the American navy. In the more realistic option, an Indonesian invasion, the question then becomes how two landing boats are going to help Australia defend its shores; or rather, are we going to land in Indonesia with a counter invasion the moment they decide to invade us? Would that be enough to stop a country with a population of more than 100 million? Just as it is obvious that Australia will not be invading other countries of its own whim, it is also obvious that defense against an invasion is not the purpose of these new ships.
I think it is fairly safe to conclude that the true purpose of these new ships is to enable Australia to join hands with the Americans the next time the USA decides to invade another country, Afghanistan or Iraq style. And the reason for that is not for the love of stupid wars, but rather to guarantee that in the remote chance that China or Indonesia do decide to give Australia a go, the Americans would be there to return a favor. Which, if you were to ask me, is a fairly sensible logic.
I do, however, see three problems with this logic. First, there is the problem of perception. The Australian public is not being presented with the ships acquisition issue the way I have presented it here; not at all. No one is told to regard the ships as a political leverage mechanism. Instead, the ships are presented as a dick enlargement accessory: "Look at us, we're Australians, and our dicks are so big; here's proof: our navy." It's all just a game of spin, and the Australian public is the loser.
The second one is, can we really rely on the Americans to defend us in the first place? As in, this 11 billion dollar American insurance policy that we're buying - is it worth the money? I tend to think it doesn't, and not because I think there is something wrong with Americans; I will categorically deny such accusations. In fact, I think the logic is a bad one because I think Americans are not unlike us, and because if I was an American and I was to be asked to risk life and limb in favor of a country on the other side of the globe I would think thrice before jumping to the rescue. I'd probably finish eating my burger first, and then politely rush home before anyone notices. The lingering memories of Iraq will ensure that.
The third issue I have with the ships' acquisition logic is that of alternatives. Given that there is not much of an argument about the threat level facing Australia (pretty close to zero), wouldn't it be better to spend the money on things that would actually make this country better? Eleven billion dollars is a lot of money and a lot of good can be made with such resources: think of the schools one can build to improve the education; think of the hospitals one can build to improve health services; think of the improvements to public transport that can be made to help people, the economy and the environment; think of the alternative energy solutions that can be implemented using this money. The purchase of the new ships is being defended on the premise that it would create thousands of jobs in Australia, but allow me to argue that the employment situation would be the same position if not better if schools were the investment's benefiter.
There is so much that we can do, and we simply don't; we're blinded by the promise for a larger dick.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

T-Rex burger?

According to Scientific American, scientists were able to rescue some soft tissues from the skeleton of a deceased T-Rex (which probably died some 5000 years ago during Noah's flood, according to the latest American museum).
Anyway, while DNA molecules are long gone (no eighth Jurassic Park sequel here), they were able to find some protein molecules. They looked for matches in other animals, and indeed found matches in several iguanas and birds, most notably the chicken.
It's hard to imagine, really, that what they deep fry at KFC (after a short life full of growth hormones and antibiotics) is the descendant of one of the mightiest animals to walk the planet.
Next time someone calls you a chicken, ask for clarifications on whether it's an insult or a compliment.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

We can work it out?

Yet another letter sent to The Age regarding Melbourne's pride of the 19th century train services (not that the rest of its public transport is in anyway something you would want to use):
With the business as usual of ongoing and repetitive train service cancellations, I have a question for Connex and for our State Government:
What is the point of adding 10 new train services if you can't properly run the existing ones in the first place?

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Microcosmos

During the weekend I managed to talk Jo into playing an Xbox game with me after a very long period where the Xbox was mainly busy gathering dust. We plugged it in, switched it on, placed our butts over the sofa... and discovered that one of the joysticks no longer works.
So I went on looking for a new joystick over the internet, and surprise surprise, the best bargain was found on eBay. Of all places! It was a wireless joystick, for a start, and only $15 (plus $13 for shipping from the USA) - less than what most wired joysticks are sold for. Availability didn't seem like an issue: the seller was offering two of them per day on auctions and only half of them sold, so it looked like all it would take is to put a bid on the next auction with no competing bids on it and wait for the email from eBay telling me that I won the auction. Or so I thought.
I put a bid on an auction finishing in the middle of the night. Next morning, when I checked my emails, I found that somebody put a bid on top of mine; I laughed at the idiocy and the lack of patience - the guy could have just waited a few hours for the next auction and got himself a cheaper joystick. I also suspected whether it was the seller putting in a false bid in order to try and get me into a bidding frenzy; I've seen it done before. Still, what, me worry? I put on a bid on the next joystick, coming up just hours later, and went my own way.
Surprise surprise: After a couple of hours I got a new email telling me that yet another idiot has outbid me. What, me worry? I put on a bid for the next one and went to do something better with my time (probably blog, in my case).
Guess what? I've been outbid again. This time around the thought that I've been outbid by the dealer was proven wrong as the guy who knocked me out had lots of bids on his/her side. Then again, what, me worry? I put in another bid.
You must have read this post before: I've been outbid again. This time it was a real work of intellect: the guy who outbid me also bid on the next joystick, ending up winning two joysticks in two separate auctions. The bright part of the story is that the same seller offered two joysticks package deals as a single item at quite a reduced price; you had to be a total moron to buy two joysticks separately. Yet, as eBay had proved, morons are quite common out there.
The weekend was over by then, people went back to work, I put the minimum bid on the next vacant joystick and won it. End of story?
Well, it's the end of the story if you don't wish to draw conclusion on the nature of human beings based on this experiment. The conclusions are not particularly flattering for us humans; we mock monkeys and we think ourselves superior to other species, but we are truly dumb. Just look at what we had here: 5 people wanting to get 6 joysticks in a world of unlimited joystick supply at a given price. Yet, instead of the 5 different people lining up to buy the joystick at the minimum price one by one, those 5 people ended up battling with one another for no particular reason other than get the joystick half a day early (as if that would matter after the international shipping and all - all the bidders were Australian) and for the right to make the seller a bit richer.
I'll put it this way: you wouldn't want to be stuck in the desert with this lot and find you only have one bottle of water to share between you. But matter of fact you are: we're all stuck on the same planet. And to think these people vote!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Dress rehearsal

Friends of ours gave birth to a healthy baby boy back on Thursday, and yesterday we went to visit them at the hospital.
It was a nice relief to see that the baby and the mother are doing very well. Up until not that long ago I didn't really realize how many things can go wrong with this birth thing; I knew that up until some 150 years ago about a third of the births didn't end up well, but I thought that was that and from now on it's smooth sailing. I even remember the first time someone close to me had a child, when my best friend Uri had his first child. I remember how nervous he was at the time, and I compare my current anxieties to the coolness out of ignorance I had upon me at the time (some big supportive friend I was).
But yes, it was quite nice to see that the mother seemed to be quite fine given the experience. The boy was quite cute: the foolish parents even let me hold him. It was funny - bear in mind I'm not that experienced with holding babies: at less than 3kg, the baby was very light; but after less than 10 minutes he became quite an exercise to hold. It was also funny to feel him moving about: the baby was tightly wrapped with a cloth, so I could feel him moving about from time to time; thing is, his moving about through the cloth felt a lot like the way I feel when Indy kicks Jo and I have my hand on her stomach (must be really weird to be a pregnant woman; I might do a film about the experience and call it "Alien" if I get the chance).
Obviously, for us this entire hospital visit thing felt like a rehearsal. It's funny how you gauge things at very precisely when you know your turn is coming up soon. You look at everything without missing a beat, from what's on the TV in the room through what's on that pile at the corner of the room and what the baby has on and whether we have it all and whether we're prepared for this (and you know we will never be fully prepared).
The stories of the birth itself, while told in a relaxed manner, did make me angry (again). This was another birth where all sorts of drugs and gas and such were used; as I said before, everybody is now taking those for granted in birth procedures. Yet in the prenatal classes we've been going to they showed us two videos, both of which mention only fully natural births. Why do they do that, when the reality is that hardly anyone goes through a natural birth anyway? Is it that it is too "confronting"? There seems to be this ongoing conspiracy to hold the truth about pregnancy back from the people because it's too harsh, which leads in turn to people like me being totally unaware of what really goes on in there until I actually go through one myself. I find it really sad that somebody up there has decided to withhold me from being exposed to reality; it's like the realities of birth are Top Secret. What will they do next? Withhold the truth about death from us? Invent this myth that sort of tries to tell us we're going to live after we die? Well, to borrow Richard Dawkins' phrase, I'm really pissed with the Birth Delusion.
Well, at least for one couple this doesn't really matter anymore.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Adaptation

A few months ago, our federal minister for the environment told us that we cannot mitigate the effects of global warming, and that therefore we need to adapt ourselves to it. Well, judging by recent events, we are not doing that well on the adaptation front.
Problems usually start at home, and that was the case here as well. They stated a couple of weeks ago on a really windy Melbourne day, windy even by Melbourne standards. The antenna up our roof didn't really survive it, and although we still had usable reception we had to get ourselves a new antenna (or risk bits of it flying into someone's eye). At least we got ourselves a better antenna now, so while we would have preferred a cheaper adaptation we got ourselves a better picture.
Adaptation wasn't that easy for others, though. Last week it seemed as though the praying for rain to come that our beloved prime minister has asked us to do has payed off: the Hunter Valley, a few hundreds of kilometers north of Sydney, was flooded and immensely damaged by a cyclone like storm. And this week we have record rains in Sydney causing immense damages and flooding, with 90 millimeters falling there yesterday alone.
I therefore sarcastically accuse our government of not preparing us as well as it should have for the task of adapting to global warming. Maybe, just maybe, we should actually do something constructive about it, rather than pretend the problem is not there?

Friday, 15 June 2007

Dr Environment and Mr Waste

To say the least, I have been known to be supportive of environmental causes in this blog. By the same token, I have also been known not to do much about it as well. I mean, I do try to recycle, I do try to consume less, but I'm not going out of my way to help the environment. Generally, my conscious is at peace because most of the things I need to be doing to make a difference would cause more damage to the environment than their slowly accumulative benefits would earn it (re replacing our house's lighting with more efficient light bulbs) and/or I am on hold due to the prohibitively high cost associated with an environmental adventure (re installing solar panels up our roof). However, the more I think about it, the more the inevitable stares back at me: I'm two faced.
And the reason why I think I'm two faced could be summed up with one word: Diapers (if you're into American English), or the way they are more commonly known in Australia - nappies.
As would be parents we are faced with the dilemma of which nappies we should be using on our future baby. To be honest, there is not much of a dilemma there, because you have to be insane to choose to slave yourself and use cloth nappies when the option of using disposable ones is so readily available. Sure, cloth nappies have certain advantages - babies don't like them, so they tend to become toilet trained significantly earlier - but then again, who gives a shit (pun intended).
One does give a shit, though, if one is concerned with the environment. There is still a certain debate on what causes more damage to the environment: the production of cotton for the cloth, combined with the nasty chemicals used to clean them up, or the huge landfill burden of burying some 5000 disposable nappies with a half life longer than Chernobyl in the ground. The debaters may debate, but my common sense tells me that over the course of 3 to 4 years the baby is going to be outputting his output into a nappy, the cloth option is the clear environmental winner.
But do I intend to use cloth nappies? I'll put it this way: The day I sell my car and start walking everywhere is the day I'm going to use cloth nappies. As I said, two faced.
Of course, we do try to find some better solutions. For example, we already bought some Bambo Nature nappies, a brand that is supposed to bio degrade so quickly adverts will tell you that you can watch them evaporate into thin air between blinks. Which is nice, but come on - being that they're made in Denmark, some whole lot of emissions are generated just in bringing them over here. And since all surveys (including the Choice one) show that Huggies are by far the best nappy out there as far as parent satisfaction is concerned, we also bought ourselves a nice supply of Huggies to take care of those early hectic days when we don't know left from right. Which is fine, but it's also two faced: Huggies are not exactly environmentally friendly.

Question is: What can we do to improve our environmental stance?
Seriously speaking, I don't think there is that much we can do. Sure, we can make a huge effort and become slaves, but will that do much good to the environment on the whole? Not on its own. What can make a difference is a joint effort that will push the companies making the nappies to make a difference: let's face it, if Huggies had a reason to do so, they would be able to come up with a diaper that turns into a watermelon when you take it off the baby's butt. But why should they make an effort when hardly anyone seems to be interested in such a product?
And why focus on nappies in the first place. Let's have a look around: Car manufacturers could give us cars that run on dog shit if they wanted to, but we just don't seem to want. We speak of the environment, yet we demand the airlines to provide us with $50 round the world tickets so we can have ourselves a long weekend in the Bahamas and return home in time to watch the latest soap on our huge plasma TV that consumes more electricity than an oven running on full blast.
We say that we care, we may even make an effort to recycle some of our exhaust fumes, but the bottom line is that everyone is still consuming like there's no tomorrow. The stupidest thing about it all is that there seems to be this conspiracy of silence about it all: we are not allowed to say much about this, because if we stop consuming our economy would slow down, and where would we be then? After all, for a while now the world's economy has been built around constant expansion being the driving force for increasing wealth; so what if this comes at the cost of killing our environment? So what if the cheap source of energy that has been driving this expansion is running out? Let's not make a fuss of it as long as the big boys continue to earn lots of money. Why prepare for the future when the strong can fill up their bulging coffers?

I have started with nappies and now I'm talking about the world's economy at large, and there is a good reason for that.
Oil is running out, and it does not look as if a good alternative source of energy that can provide our ever growing thirst for cheap energy will be available any time soon. Eventually, we will need to learn to live simpler lives. Which is fine with me, if you happen to ask; I can live with more public transport, for example. My main problem would be visiting my family abroad, but I suspect we'd be able to cope. And do we really need all the things we consume? There is so much unnecessary junk in our lives it's a joke; just yesterday we got a ear light (!) with our box of cereal, battery not replaceable of course. Who needs an ear light? And while at it, do we really need to live in houses as big as the houses we currently live in? Do we all need our own private patch of lawn to accompany that house?
The answer I'm aiming at is no. But the reality is that even if we cut down on our consumption, we will still be generating more and more shit by virtue of our growing numbers. Historically, famine, disease and war took care of overpopulation; but with the globalized world being the way it is now, I don't think we can afford to let nature take its course again. I think we should take proactive measures to control our numbers in humane ways instead. And before you start thinking I'm suggesting death camps, allow me to point at the tactics I would recommend: By helping the poor people of Africa to be able to have a proper life of their own, we will also ensure they will not have to have 10 kids they cannot support as their way of having a life insurance policy. By giving birth to our children at a later age, we ensure that the overall growth in our numbers takes place at a slower rate.
At the moment I truly believe this is the only way we can regain control of our situation. Obviously, there are no silver bullets here, but there can be no humane solution that will not address population numbers (which sort of brings into context the futility of claims made by anti abortionists and those of the anti condom camp - mainly the pope - but that's an issue for another post).
Still, while I'm saying all of this, I'm also having my contribution to increasing the world's population. As I said, two faced.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Shock of the Monkey

Last night we had ourselves our second of several prenatal classes, and unlike the previous session this one was more than a bit shocking.
I still maintain that the presentation suffers and that reading a book could have provided me with more information presented in a better, more informative way (rather than being heavily influenced by a presenter with whom I don't really share my attitudes). However, this time around the impact of what was said made the difference.
Basically, so far I have been reading stuff about what takes place during pregnancy, in order to understand what Jo is going through; I have also read stuff about parenthood, in order to have a bit of a clue on what might happen once we come home with a baby. However, what I didn't read much about is the birth itself, mainly because I knew we would be going to these prenatal classes. And so when I was actually confronted with the realities of the birth, those realities proved to be quite shocking - enough to really make me scared.
You watch your average Hollywoodian film and you see pregnant people go to a hospital, lie down in bed for a while with somebody urging them to push push, and then quickly enough they're smiling while holding their baby. Reality, however, is significantly different; I'm just amazed at how I was able to live for 36 years and not really realize how different reality might be. The reality is that your average natural birth takes place over 14 hours. The reality is that the woman doesn't sit, she's expected to move around, have a shower, and do lots of things while preparing for the main event (the last two hours). And the reality is that throughout this time the woman really suffers.
The highpoint of it all is that, according to what we were told and the statistics we were provided with, women simply do not have totally natural births anymore unless they're truly idealistic in their ways. No one expects that; the pain involved is considered much more than what your average person can and should take. Instead, your average birth includes electricity inducing devices to arouse the body's natural "feel good" chemicals into action, laughing gas, and a multitude of drugs that numb the woman (and the baby) to one extent or another. And then there are the auxiliary means of helping the baby come out: vicious looking metal tools to pull the baby's head, vacuums, and the greatest of all - cutting the exit area to allow the baby an easier way out. Makes my groin hurt just to think about it all.
So far, I was terrified of the idea that we are probably heading towards a cesarean. However, given what I have just seen and heard about natural birth, cesareans suddenly don't look so bad! I mean, having an operation is bad, and it also looks like babies are better off being born naturally, but pain wise and cut wise the differences are relatively negligible. And at least with a planned cesarean you don't have any uncertainties.
How can I put it? If I was a representative of the female sex, humanity would be wiped out within a single generation.

He knows me - episode trinity

The story of Kaka and his shirt continues with the latest comment from EN and my quick answer to that. You can find them in the comments section here, and you can even use this link to trail back through the original dialog. Anyway, I thought I'd better continue the trend and repeat both comments through a dedicated post (this one) for two reasons:
1. It would only be fair if EN's reply enjoys the same stage as mine.
2. Given the length and the effort involved in the replies, they deserve a post.
So here we go again. Somehow I suspect it's a case of "to be continued", although by now we're both repeating ourselves and it already qualifies as a dialog of the deaf.

EN's comment:
I appreciate your honest thoughts and am not offended. So here are some of my honest ideas.
I suppose I should start with restating my so called theory on Kaka's shirt. I'm not so much guessing that he has a verse of the Bible as a motto for life. What I meant to say is that relying on God for strength is a common theme or philosophy throughout the Bible, it has a lot to do with what faith in God is all about. I do agree that some people take all kinds of verses and twist them to mean what they want them to mean. But I don't believe the bible is meant to be applied verse by verse but rather as a whole. It is somewhat like a textbook. There are lots of things in a textbook that are useful, but you shouldn't take one piece of it and think you have all the knowledge you need to work in that field. Like carpentry, if you read chapter one (or sections of chapter one), then go off to open your furniture store. You are most likely going to make a fool out of yourself, let alone increasing danger for yourself and those who will use your furniture. It is sad how many people do this with the Bible. But it is more of a life manual, meant to be read and read again and studied and pondered and talked about and lived out in what you do and say. Colossioans 3:17 sums it up well when it says, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." This is the Christianity I know and what I would hope (as I really have no idea of his true intentions)that Kaka is trying to emulate.
In regards to your second issue, I do believe that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. But the way I see it is that just because God is all-knowing would not necessarily have to make him all-controling. Take my son, he is curious beyond belief. When I say, "please don't touch that, I can know by the look in his eye that he will immediately put his finger out and touch the very thing I told him not to. Does that mean I had control over his choice? Sure I could have not said anything or not had the untouchable thing in his reach to begin with. But he is learning and I want him to trust me. If I say "don't touch" and he does and something bad happens, I want him to know that he should trust that what I ask him to do (or not do) is for his benifit. So many times I will give him instructions, knowing that he will not heed my advice and learn that I was telling the truth. Afterall, the choices he makes today at 3 years old are much smaller and of less consequence than the choices he will make when he is 16 and I am asking him not to do drugs or drive dangerously. So I would rather him learn it now.
I think God is like a parent to us in that way. I think He wants us to learn to trust Him. The Bible says that God wills that all people will believe in Him (John 6:40). And yet there are many that don't. If God is all powerful and all knowing in that He controls everything and everyone, wouldn't we all be little robots running around singing His praises?
Yes, my kids will grow up knowing life from a Christian viewpoint, but they aren't sliding into heaven on my angels. They too will have to make a choice to accept or reject not my religion, my God. I would hope that we can be open minded and encourage them to explore what other religions have to offer. But when it comes down to them making a decision, I would hope two things. 1) That it is truly their own decision, not what they think we want them to choose. and 2) That they do choose to know and love God. (Deuteronomy 7:9)
Feel free to let me know what you think.
~EN

Moshe's answer, part 1:
Thanks, again, for the comments. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t consider it proper to have an argument with a Creationist agenda, simply because it gives away the false notion that we are arguing on equal grounds whereas in fact we have an argument repeatable, measurable evidence and fables of the imagination (and often enough a rather sick one at that).
Still, why should I be so logical when I can have myself a good laugh instead?

Children’s faith:
Teaching a child to follow a religion and then expecting him/her to undo their teaching and select another [contradicting] agenda out of their own free will is next to impossible.
The reason is very physical: Children’s brains are designed to absorb anything thrown at them, and the result of this absorption physically shapes their brain.
Think about it this way: A child has a much easier time than an adult in learning languages. You can easily argue that a child is a language learning machine, so well adjusted it is for that task. Once learnt, a language occupies a specific part of the brain, as proven by numerous tests and as shown when people forget a language after a trauma to a specific part of their brain, thus proving that what you absorb also shapes who you are.
Thing is, children cannot distinguish between learning useful language and learning useless religion; they absorb it all.
I am therefore afraid for your children: Barring some momentous efforts, they have probably been lost. Judging by statistical history, their children would be lost, too.

Free willing automatons:
If god was all powerful, all knowing, as well as loving, then, by definition, we would all be little robots running around singing praises. No arguments there. Isn’t that the way heaven is commonly described, anyway? Must be the most boring place ever; everyone is probably fighting to go to hell and get a piece of action.
Anyway – my point here is to demonstrate the logical failure at the basis of religion.
Let’s see what assumptions we start with:
1. God is all powerful.
2. God is all knowing: that doesn’t really add anything on top of (1); if you can do everything then by definition you can do enough to enable you to know everything.
3. God is loving: Obviously, one wouldn’t want an asshole at the helm.
Now let’s continue. God, the all powerful, creates humans, supposedly with free will. But – being all powerful, can he really design humans to be of free will? It is not hard, it is not next to impossible, it is purely impossible for god to create free will when he is all powerful – all of this supposed free will is god’s will, exactly because he is all powerful. I cannot stress this point enough, because I suspect believers won’t accept this logic yet this logic is infallible (which is where the mind of the religious lets them down). The parent – son analogy in the above comment is simply wrong: a parent is not all powerful, not in a long way.
The only way in which god can let humans really have free will is if we dismiss assumption (3) and give up on insisting that god is loving. That will clearly explain why there is so much bad in this world, but again – it wouldn’t really fit nicely in a believer’s comfortable delusion of the world.
That is, either that or god is not that powerful; but then we’ll have to look for proper reasons for why the world goes about the way it does. God forbid, we’ll have to study science.

Textbook bible:
The point about the bible being a textbook for living never fails to make me laugh. Those that argue the point seem to conveniently forget all the nasty things spread all over the bible. Between killing all of Egypt’s firstborn and killing himself, god seems to be doing a whole lot of a killing, doesn’t he? Yet believers conveniently neglect that when they propose to use the bible as a textbook for life.
Not to mention the contradictions. Next time someone hits me, should I take an eye for an eye or should I turn the other chick?
Granted, the bible is an important text. Our current laws have used it as a reference, and there is no denying its historical importance. And often enough, between providing descriptions of a selfish and evil god and between being outright nasty, it is also a lovely work of fiction.
But base your life on it? Would you really want to do that? Do you really want slavery back, for example? Do you really want to live life by a book that is so obviously wrong by some 14 billion years?
If you really want to live by the bible I suggest you move to Afghanistan and join the Taliban; they’d be right up your street. [This should not be taken as an insult, but rather as a demonstration for what happens when the bible or its equivalents rule]
Almost naturally, the believers’ line of defence against such arguments is simple: the bible is not to be taken literally. You comfortably ignore the nasty stuff and pick and choose the nice ones. But let me ask you this: How do you choose which stuff to pick?
My answer is simple: You can choose those because nature has already supplied you with mechanisms to know good from bad. You don’t need a bible for that; you need common sense, which is in abundance in all of us.
To conclude (for now), back to the parent/child analogy: When your child disobeys you and touches the forbidden item, do you damn him for all eternity? You would if you were to follow your loving god’s example, but you know very well that this would be bad parenting. You know that the bible doesn’t apply here, the same as it doesn’t apply with most other things.


In conclusion (for now), I would like to apologize to Kaka. I made an example of him when he probably doesn’t deserve any unique attention. By all accounts, he is one of the world’s best footballers, and the only wrong thing he has done as far as I can tell is that he is not playing for my team.

Moshe's answer, part 2:
An important note I should have added before:
When I speak about lost children, I'm obviously being sarcastic. As in, I mimic the tone used by the religious when talking about "lost souls", whatever that may be.
Sure, I really think that children brought up on religion are at a loss (and the world suffers the consequence), but the tone I was using in my previous comment was not the most serious of intonations.
I'll put it another way this time: When the main parameter to determine a person's religion is the geographical location the person is coming from (and not much else), you know there is something wrong with the way we bring up our children.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

World Premier


This is actually take 3 (or was it take 4?). It's really hard to adjust the camera to where I think I will be sitting, and given that I didn't have a script or anything it felt like I was leaving myself a phone message. I hope my English is not always that bad...

Friday, 8 June 2007

He knows me - part 2

Having been bothered by what my second replay to EN's comments on my blog said, I’d like to go back on it and return to be my usual religion attacking person. If you want to continue reading this and actually understand what this is all about, you should read the original post and its comments first.
Two reasons why I feel like I have to revise my answer:
1. If it was, say, my best friend Uri that was to add such a comment like EN’s, I would have crucified him by now. Nothing personal; I suppose (or rather hope) that Uri knows I will go to great lengths on his behalf if so required. It’s just that because I’m confident Uri will not take my words as a personal attack that I allow myself to go all the way. Obviously, the logic behind this line of thinking is wrong, but since we’re only dealing with a blog here I suppose there’s no harm in fooling around.
2. While I stand behind “to each his/her own way”, the words I used on my previous comment, the reality is a bit different. Religion has always been trying to expand its influence, violating this principle left and right; it has to do it or it won’t survive. I would say that Kaka’s shirt is an attempt in that direction, and I would also bet on EN’s children being raised as Christians without them being given much of a choice on the matter. It’s not like Hinduism was introduced to them on a menu together with Islam and Christianity and they were allowed to choose their own way.

So without further ado and in no way trying to offend EN (whose comments I definitely appreciate and whose further comments I still look forward to receiving) I will state my opinion on EN’s theory as to why Kaka wore the shirt he wore. Not that what I’m about to say is deep or anything like that; it’s just the things that come to the top of my head having not dedicated much thought to the issue (the story of this blog, as some may say).
First, with regards to Kaka finding a specific verse to inspire him. How can we ensure that he doesn’t choose a nasty verse next time around and justify potential crimes using that verse? Not that the bible is in short supply of nasty verses. Should I use a verse from Joshua that says “kill them all” to justify a shooting rampage? Next time I stone people to death on a Sabbath, should I use god’s instructions on how to deal with Sabbath violators to justify my actions?
The second issue is much more fundamental to the logical basis of belief in general. I assume we all agree that god, being all powerful and all, doesn’t need publicity or anything; he can do well on his own, thank you very much. According to this logic, when Kaka wears a shirt glorifying god he’s not doing it for god, he’s doing it for himself and the rest of us. But then again, Kaka is also doing exactly the thing that god made him do – sure, on paper Kaka has the free choice to do whatever he wants to do, but he was created by an all powerful god that knew exactly what Kaka is about to do each and every nanosecond – that’s the nature of these all powerful entities, absolutely anything that transpires happens because they have designed it to happen in a certain way. So, if that is the case, god has programmed Kaka so that Kaka’s free will dictate that he is to wear a particular shirt glorifying god; but didn’t we just say that god doesn’t need PR work? So – what is this purpose of all this charade in the first place?
At this point the religious people usually answer with something like “this is all a part of god’s master plan and we humble humans can’t fathom it”. Which may be fine to some people, but personally – I don’t put my signature on a contract unless I understand it; if god wants me to act in a certain way, he may as well respect me enough to let me know why. For a guy like him it should be dead easy to program me with this understanding, yet he won’t do it. Can I therefore conclude that god is either evil or not as all powerful as some of us would like him to be?

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Stay on Target

With all the baby shopping we have been doing, I ended up doing some shopping for myself. Amongst the items were:
-Winter tracksuit pants for $12
-A scarf for $10
-Two business shirts at $4 each
-A zipped fleecy top for $15
-Another pair of winter tracksuit pants for $15

As you can easily detect from the above list, the common denominator of all of the above is their stupidly low cost. Not that it comes as a great surprise, given that all these purchases were made at Big W, Kmart and Target.
Thing is, up until now I used to regard the stuff you get from these shops as cheap crap. However, that latest crop of stuff was all pretty good; I mean, nothing overly stylish, but they will all do what it is they're designed to do pretty well, thank you very much. So what if they don't have a sexy brand name printed on the front? Does that make them any worse at doing what it is they are supposed to do?
I can see the people that already think I'm a tight ass jumping up and point at the ultimate proof I have just provided them for me being just what they always claimed to be. No doubt about it, by their definition of the term "tight ass" I definitely am tight. But if spending money without getting much in return for it is your goal, so be it; I think such a behavior degrades the meaning of the time I spent doing all sorts of shit (i.e., working) in order to get my money in the first place.
Not that I'm saying there's no room for more expensive stuff. Quality does matter: Four years ago I got a stupidly expensive coat, but it's so good I wear it all the time; dollar per wear, it's actually very cheap. All I'm trying to say here is that I'm not going to dismiss the cheap places anymore just because they happen to be cheap.

Happy birthday?

A recent post by a friend, the preparations for the arrival of a little Indy, and philosophical arguments with friends about gifts have all made me think about this most frequently celebrated personal holiday: the birthday. Just why is it that we are so fussy about this day?
Having thought about it, my conclusion is that as far as personal landmarks go, the day of the birth is probably only the third most important day of our lives; yet we never celebrate the two more important ones.
At number one there is, of course, the day of conception - that day when the sperm and the egg decide to have a go at one another. Up until that day we are pretty much out of touch with reality, with the chances of us ever existing much lower than the chances of the most evil of lotteries. But then conception comes and out of the blue we are created and all of a sudden the chances of us actually making it out into the real world become quite favorable; and despite the great miracle this represents, no one celebrates "conception day".
At number two is the date of our death. Understandably, it's not that celebrated unless your name is Hitler, but in certain cultures that is the day by which the deceased are remembered. Obviously, it is a day of great importance to the individual, as on that particular day his/her career is over for good; verdicts don't come in more conclusive a form.
So what do we choose to celebrate? The day in which the mother finally got us out of her stomach, that's what we're celebrating. We're celebrating the day in which others can see we're really there, not the day in which we really got to be there.
It seems pretty obvious for me to conclude that as joyous as a birthday is, the main reason we are celebrating that date in particular and not the date of conception is a relic of old times; we are celebrating on a certain date is just because we happen to know that date.
I can see how things may change in the future. In our prenatal class, the midwife was telling us how births have advanced during the years. How we can now look back to just 50 years ago and sort of laugh at the way people used to do it. Well, I can imagine how people would look at us 50 years from now and say something like, "look at them, they gave birth". Maybe then conception day will receive the honor it deserves.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Wired

Following on my previous post on our first pregnancy hospital adventure, I would just like to point out that wireless internet access is available at the hospital through Telstra.
The charge was something like $10 for 15 minutes or $30 for 90 minutes. Standard practice Telstra daylight robbery, in short.
Australia is light years behind the USA on this; while in the USA you get free wireless access in every toilet, here the word "free" has been taken out of the dictionary and the hot spots are as rare as sense is in parliament.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Birth school

After a long wait of more than 30 weeks, we finally got to have our first of several prenatal classes. I remember that back in Israel friends of mine have had something along these lines, but they were mostly to do with exercising and preparations for the struggle of the birth itself; ours are purely sit in the class and listen to the teacher sessions (and if you want the exercises, you need to pay someone and go for that privately).
Upon arriving at the hospital, where the lessons are being held, we were greeted by the midwife "teacher" - who seemed exactly the way you would imagine a midwife to be. An older, evil kind of a teacher. She immediately pointed us to the corner of the room where some sandwiches lay hidden, saying "this time we have sandwiches; they must be a leftover from some meeting". Given that pregnant women should avoid eating stuff that's potentially harmful, we immediately saw how far we would get with those classes.
Not that far, that is, at least not with the material that was conveyed. For about 2.5 hours we listened to this lecture about what takes place around birth time itself. The midwife was accompanied by state of the art accessories: Some old posters on a cardboard that she held, a slide projector (must have been taken out of the museum), and a video (yes, VHS) of an American film on giving birth. I'm emphasizing the American factor because the midwife apologized for settling on an American film, and we all know that in America women give birth the other way around! Actually, the video was not as bad as I was told it would be; it was actually quite funny: there's a part where they tell you that when pregnancy start you should go on as usual, so you see the woman in agony and the man sitting on the sofa and flicking the channels with the remote. Exemplary education; or rather, nothing that couldn't have been conveyed in half an hour or through the reading of a book.
Personally, I found it annoying that we were just showered with facts without really letting us know much about the "how" behind them. Sure, some of the stuff is unknown; we don't really know what triggers the birth and how some of the mechanics of it is run. But we still know something, and lecturing us the facts without the background that can lead to true understanding is not what I expected to find.
The midwife herself failed to impress me, to be polite: While talking about the membranes the baby is with in the womb, she said that some babies are born with the membranes still around them. And then she looked at every corner of the room separately, and repeated three times in a silent but stark voice: "And you know, they say that a baby that is born this way can never drown". She wasn't laughing; that was a clear demonstration on how a stupid meme can propagate through sheer authority. My answer, which only a few of the would be parents heard, was that this can be easily tested. Preferably with the midwife herself (in an experiment to check whether she was born this way). How can I put it? When a teacher utters such high caliber bullshit in such a manner, any shred of respect I might have had for them is gone with the wind at the speed it takes her voice to reach my ears.

With all the disappointment, it wasn't that bad. As Jo was quick to point out, the main attraction of the event was the interaction with similar people in a condition similar to ours. For two and a half hours, we were not on our own in the universe after all.
The people watching element was quite interesting. The first observation is that for a room full of would be first time parents, the age was on the higher side of things; there was no one there who seemed in their twenties, at least not the younger side of their twenties. It could say something about how modern day people handle parenthood, but it could also be because we were, after all, in a private hospital; younger people tend to skip on that and opt for the state health system.
It was also funny to see their serious attitudes. We had a brainstorming session in which we were asked all sorts of questions on the birth itself. When asked what your priorities are, my contribution was "free wireless internet access" (hey, it's me), which wasn't even listed down by the group's scribe (Jo). My contribution to the question "what is the partner's role" was "take charge of the music", which was written down but was not reported to the others when each group read their summary to everyone else; I added it out of queue, and surprisingly it received positive feedback from the midwife, who said this is the exact type of support the partner should be giving. I know I was half laughing, but I don't understand why people have to be so pompous and vain about it all; why were slogan like statements such as "the partner is there to support and coordinate" being said by pretty much everyone, with no one saying things along the lines of the actual actions the partner will be performing, as undistinguished as they may seem? People just like to cheat themselves.

Talking about self deception, the answer almost everyone gave to "what do you expect from the birth" was that it would be joyful. Yeah, right!
Sure - a successful birth should provide you with a sense of joy. At least until you realize you're now officially a slave, no longer the center of your own universe, and that the sentence is for life. Jokes aside, though, my problem is with the "ful" part of the "joyful". There's joy at the end, but up to that end there's not much joy at all! There's more agony than half of us (the male half) will ever feel, for a start.
Of course, this weird perception is not helped by the education we receive. That American video we watched, for example, kept on saying things like "for the next two hours, you will have repetitive mild contractions; enjoy them, as they mean you will be giving birth in a short while". Yeah, enjoy my ass.
I'll tell you what I am going to enjoy: The last few late weekend sleeps we're going to have. By now we can count them on our fingers; I shall savor them with much joy.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Friends of ours that we know through Jo's work visited us today together with their two daughters, a three year old and a one year old. As with the previous times we met the daughters, we were quite astonished at how well behaved they are - especially given what we see and hear with pretty much every other child we get to sample.
Before they left, the father said that the three year old has a question she wants to ask me. I doubt if she really wanted to ask me, of all people, that particular question, but after some slight persuasions she did ask it: "Do dolphins sleep?"
I think that type of a question demonstrates that I need to learn how to communicate with children. Basically, I am unable to go around the bush; when someone asks me something, I give him (or in this case, her) the best answer I can think of. I don't know whether it's good or bad, though: On one hand, the child may not understand what it is that I am saying and end up being frustrated; on the other hand, the child might appreciate candidacy and might appreciate me talking to her the way I would talk to anyone else. One thing there's no doubt about is that I should provide answers the child would be capable of handling, and at this point in time I don't think I can do this.
Anyway, my answer was that I suspect dolphins do sleep, because they are mammals and as far as I know all mammals - given their common hereditary background - sleep. She asked what a mammal is, and I explained that mammals are animals where the parents feed their babies with milk they produce inside their bodies - just like her mother did not that long ago, which is why we are a part of the mammal family of animals. To her further scrutiny I added that to the best of my memory mammals have evolved about 350 million years ago (don't take my word on the exact timing) from reptiles when certain species started using substances coming out of their bodies to feed their young. The child responded by saying she is not an animal, and I answered that I don't know about her but given all the things I do I definitely am.
Anyway, dolphins, mammals and animals aside, the point of this entire story is the question that triggered this discussion to begin with. I don't know whether the question really did originate with the daughter or not, but the curiosity that made this question arise could lead down to a long path of majestic answers involving such issues as evolution, genes, and the common hereditary line that all living beings on earth share. What started with a simple question from the brain of a curious child could easily lead to an answer as long as an encyclopedia (if not longer) and as loaded with meaning as anything can be.
You may now be saying to yourself, "oh, how much bullshit can we take in one post", but think of this: after checking it up I remembered what I read in a Carl Sagan book not that long ago. Dolphins do sleep, for a total of 8 hours a day on average. However, they sleep half a brain a time! Who would have ever guessed that one up if it wasn't for science providing telemetric equipment that allows the measurement of brain activity?
I'll put it this way: I would be mighty proud if my child was to ask a similar question.

Indy's headquarters

As I promised last week, here's a glimpse at the fruit of our recent labor: baby shopping.
The photo shows you the cot and the mattress we got; it doesn't show the piece of wood we had tailor made in order to put the baby monitor's sensors underneath the mattress (in order to check that the baby is breathing). Visible is also the state of the art mobile we got him, featuring fart like noises (albeit sophisticated fart like noises). On the left you can also see a cradle thing we got from my brother and on the cot are some clothes friends gave us.
You can find additional photos on Flickr, but generally speaking the only things left for us to get now (as in ahead of the birth) are some of the weird esoteric stuff the hospital wants us to bring along. On Monday we have our first maternity lesson at the hospital, and from what I've heard they basically try and shock you there (especially on the first appointment) as opposed to actually teaching you something; I just hope it won't be a waste of time, because at this stage I don't think I require additional shocking.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Psycho boss

An rather tabloid like article in yesterday's The Age was talking about the biggest enemy at work being the corporate psycho, especially when that psycho killer happens to be your boss. Basically, they're saying that characters like The Office's David Brent can, aside of being annoying, really kill you. The thing I find the most annoying is that the only protection strategy offered in the article is to basically collect a trail of evidence to cover your ass; preventing the problem from taking place in the first place is not on the agenda.

Not that I'm mentioning this in here because it has any relevancy to me and my current place of work. Never. Me? I would never do such a thing. I never say private things I should keep to myself in this blog, so why should I start now? The mere hint that there's more to this post than meets the eye is a joke.