Thursday, 28 February 2008

Who do you think you are?

Just a day after accounting my ongoing love affair with childcare, a new bomb was dropped: we have learnt that one of Dylan’s childcare colleagues (whom he never meets due to their parallel rotations) has now been infected with scabies. Her mother was infected, too.
Luckily for Dylan (and for us) the victim is not the baby with whom Dylan shares a bed and even gets to share the bedding from time to time. However, as a scabies infection takes 4-6 weeks before becoming noticeable and visible we have no idea whether Dylan has been infected (which would, by the way, mean that we are very likely to be infected, too).
An infection of one member of the household is enough for the entire household to require going through this killer ordeal of disinfecting everything, clothes shoes and all. All because of these nice mite creatures god has created in his infinite wisdom (let's face it, god has to be a "he" to be such a pain as to come up with mites).

Thoughts about tiny invaders have reminded me of an article in Scientific American talking about research finding most of us harbor human cells of a different DNA code to ours. These invaders are spread all over our bodies: hearts, bones, the lot. They are talking about cells we have left over from our mothers, and in the case of the mothers themselves they also carry leftover cells from their babies: apparently, these can stick around for 40 years and more, probably the result of some stem cells that crossed the lines.
It sorts of makes me think – when we talk about ourselves, who are we talking about? Who are “we”?
I recall reading, I think it was in Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, that we all host many more complete aliens in our bodies – germs and such – than the number of cells we are made of. I don’t know whether my memory is playing tricks on me and I don’t know how correct that claim is, but one thing is undeniably true: all of us contain incredible amounts of alien stuff within ourselves, germs by the billion. Regardless of whether they outnumber our own cells or not, can we consider ourselves to be one unit of a living thing, or should we apply democracy and consider ourselves a sophisticated container of many other living beings? Who is the master and who is the servant here, exactly?
The more advanced version then becomes – who are we? Who am I?

Although thoughts of this nature were common throughout civilised history, only recently have we begun to understand what it is that we are made of. Some of us, however, have been left behind: I recall an argument I've had with my mother when I was 14 while making our way to a bus station. She was saying we're made of flesh and blood, I was saying we're carbon based.
My mother is not alone. Take Buddhists, for example: their religion tells them they shouldn’t kill any living being, and some of them take great measures to avoid doing so. However, each second they are alive their bodies’ immune systems are out there butchering living things. Even if you limit yourself to not killing living things that can feel pain (thus allowing yourself to eat by becoming a vegetarian), you’re still killing all sorts of mites and such whenever you soap your hands. These mites are not that different to flies and other insects; it’s just that they are mostly invisible to us.
Then there’s the question of what takes place after you’re dead. I recall a friend saying she wants to be cremated and not buried because she doesn’t want warms to feed on their body. However, does she realize where the manure that was used to feed the grass that fed the cow that gave the steak she ate the other day come from? I find it funny to observe that most of the people talking at length about the sanctity of a dead body tend to be on the religious side of things, because someone well versed in science would know that we are all made of recycled stuff; the quarks which make us probably spent most of their post big bang lives as hydrogen atoms inside stars or just generally floating out there in space, and even after the earth first appeared they went through quite a lot of adventures before they became a part of a living organism which we ended up eating, very eventually.
Although relatively harmless, the restrictions we impose on ourselves by adopting wishful thinking agendas where we are the crown jewels of creation (read: religious dogmas) become demonstrably silly when looked upon through science tinted glasses.
The reality is that a person can happily exist without killing what most of us would refer to as sentient beings if they really wanted to; no need to be a Buddhist for that. The reality is also that we are all killers to one extent or another by virtue of the fact we are all contenders in a world of limited resources. Even my cremated friend is a killer: by preventing its carbon from being as efficiently recycled as potentially possible she is preventing more life from being able to sustain itself, potentially even feeding and becoming one of her own descendants.
I often find myself scratching my head thinking why it is that so many people prefer to live in their delusional world rather than marvel at the real world we are living in. Hopefully, I won't be finding myself scratching my head too much.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

I can feel the outside world

Readers of this blog must have noticed that while I’m living in Australia, my English is very much American English oriented as opposed to the British English used in Australia.
Sure, I do say “crap” often, and that’s an English English thing I’ve adopted from Jo (I consider it a tamer and less of an antisocial version of “shit”). I also say “lift” instead of “elevator” and I use some English English baby terms such as “nappy” instead of “diaper” and “dummy” instead of “pacifier”. The baby terms can be explained by the fact these are words I hardly used before so I just used what people around me use, but generally speaking examples for me sticking to grass roots American English are much more plentiful: I say “TV” instead of “tele”, for “schedule” I say “skedule” and not “shedual”, and for “assume” I say “assume” as opposed to “ashume”. In writing I’m even more American: I write “center” and not “centre”, I write “color” and not “colour”, I have my internet favorites and I don’t have any internet favourites, and I apologize as opposed to apologise.
The difference between an oral expression and a written one is not some trivial affair; it is well established that different parts of the brain handle those tasks, so the way you talk can be significantly different to the way you write. I think that is definitely the case in my case.
Whichever way you look at it, my English is a mixed bag with an overall American dominance. The story of this world.
One thing I don’t ever do is use authentic Australian phrases in speech. I never say “no worries”, for example, because (a) it sounds really bad with my accent and (b) I’m against the no worries philosophy in principle; if someone tells me “no worries”, I’m worried. I don’t say “mate”, although I have been known to use the word in writing while joking about people that dare call one another mate even if they don't know one another. And I never speak the word “bloke”; I can't even pronounce it properly. Maybe I have used it in writing once or twice for mocking an Australian, but that would be it.

Why is it, then, that my new big boss – that is, my manager’s manager – has been expressing his unhappiness to various people (some of whom have discussed the matter with my manager), claiming that I have introduced myself to him with “oh, so you’re that new bloke?”
I really don’t know. My direct manager told me I’ve made a big mistake and I immediately pointed out that it was impossible for me to do so (and he immediately acknowledged). However, given that this is all rumor (and not rumour) based, I’m in no real position to defend myself. That is, how can I walk to the guy and ask him "say, aren't you the bloke that's been spreading false rumors about me, mate?"
First impressions do count, and whatever happens - even if he realizes/realises I wasn't who I was supposed to be - I will always raise certain doubts in said manager’s head.
The thing that troubles me is the realization (and not the realisation) that my working environment, although technically quite comfortable, is also a pretty sick one. An organization or an organisation that starts with blocking its employees access to the internet and continues by spreading unsubstantiated rumors; both are symptoms of the same problem.
I wonder if I should start thinking my way out.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Out of Control

Next to extreme physical pain, my experience shows the worst ever feeling is the feeling of not being in control. I felt it for a few months when I was new in Australia, unemployed, and desperately trying to find a job when no one would even talk to me let alone ask me to come for an interview.
A similar feeling is now creeping up, but this time around it's not job related but rather childcare related. Simply put, the service that Dylan seems to be getting at childcare seems anything but professional, yet barring one of us staying at home I don't see how it's going to get any better.
While his current childcare place is way better than the first one that tried to poison him, it is still a pretty lackluster affair. Want some examples? Here we go-
1. Twice he came back home from childcare with a major scratch / black sign of a bump. And I do mean major.
2. He came back home once wearing a nappy so small I'm worried about his ability to be a father.
3. He came back home once wearing a nappy that hasn't been changed for more than 8 active hours. It was soaking wet, and so was he.
4. Dylan shares his cot with another baby, given that he only goes to childcare twice a week. Despite repetitive promises and the carers looking to me in the eye while saying they have done so, it was pretty clear that on at least two occasions Dylan was put on a bed featuring dirty sheets (shits?) from the other baby.
5. 80% of the times I come to visit Dylan at childcare, be it in the middle of the day or at its end when I come to pick him up, I find him on this vibrating rocker. They only have one of them, and it has Dylan's name written all over it. Thing is, Dylan is past the rocker age (by now he is north of 10 kilos; we're talking a very big baby here, even disregarding his prematureness). It is not the right environment for a baby that is supposed to be learning to crawl and who likes being on the floor. It's really obvious the carers have identified the rocker as an easy solution to handling him, and they're pretty consistent about it. The most annoying thing is them telling me they do it because he doesn't like being on the floor, when at home Dylan is perfectly happy to spend most of his wakeful time on the floor. Lazy bastards.
6. There are signs very little efforts are made towards making Dylan do the right thing. He has 15 minute naps, hardly a third of a sleeping cycle; they don't bother trying to resettle him, and we get to pick up a zombie when we pick him up in the evening. He drinks 20cc out of a bottle of 200cc and they tell us he wouldn't have any more when at home the worst he will ever do is 60cc. When we get him home he is starving. Obviously, the real danger here is that he is developing bad habits; there are already signs of these having an effect at home.

There are additional examples, but the concept is simple: Childcare does the minimum it can get away with, and childcare does not hesitate to blazingly lie in order to satisfy us. Period.
Perhaps the mother of all lies is the routine childcare promise to follow the home routine while the child is under their supervision. Pure bullshit! Even if they wanted to, they don't stand a chance, simply because the environment is significantly different to the home environment. There are just way too many stimulants in the childcare environment, mainly in the shape of many screaming babies, and there are way too few carers around to provide the same level of attention the baby gets at home. The reason I'm complaining is not because the environments are different; there is nothing that can be done about that without a major league budget. My problem is that the childcare places know that but still promise you heaven. In my book this is called telling a lie.
Our particular childcare place takes matters a bit further: They use trickery in order to comply with regulations. You see, they supposed to have a ratio of one carer per five children or more, and one qualified carer for each non-qualified carer. However, in order to reduce manpower requirements, our place puts all the children (ages 0 to 5) in one room up until 9:30, a time in which most of the carers arrive to work, and does the same thing again at 16:30 - a good enough reason for me to pick Dylan up before 16:30 to avoid him being trumped over by the bigger kids on the block. Worse, they get over the qualified / non-qualified regulations by having more qualified staff working with the older children while having zero qualified stuff with Dylan's group of 0 to 1 year olds. And the effect shows.

Now I can complain as much as I want to but it won't do me any good. The only thing that could potentially improve matters is if we move Dylan yet again, but the problem is - move him where?
We're already on the local council's waiting list for both childcare places and home nanny services (or whatever these are called), but it was made clear to us we don't stand much of a chance there (the reason being the severely reduced costs over private establishments). Then there are other private childcare facilities, but the question will remain - how can we tell if these are any good? Well, we won't be able to tell, and that's the problem. If anything, the advantage of the current place we go to is that it's right under my office's nose and I can go and visit any time; a place next to where we live would be a place that is anything but under our noses, and with all our good intentions they would be able to sell us anything.
Of course, I am assuming the childcare places would have a spot for us. If there is one clear observation to make is that the places that are deemed good based on rumors (unestablished rumors at that, but they're still all we have) are fully booked from here to eternity.
What can we do against all that? Feel frustrated, as far as I can tell. Or wonder whether the grandparents might decide to relocate down under any time soon.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Today we were on the sociable side of things for a change. We met friends at the NGV (National Gallery Victoria) and had ourselves a peaceful and tranquil time walking about in between pieces of European art (14th century onwards, read: lots of pictures of Jesus and his mother) and vases from the Far East. Even Dylan's occasional squeal didn't dent the atmosphere; it's definitely something we should do more often.
I did make one tragic mistake, though: In the chaos that reigns before taking Dylan out of the house while trying to be on time, I forgot to take my camera with me. Walking around each corner of the museum I could see virtually hundreds of missed out photo opportunities: shadow games behind a statue here, an interesting reflection there... All will be lost in time like puke that just misses Dylan's bib.

Museums are nice and all, but if there is anything this weekend is going to be remembered by it is going to be something completely different.
This weekend I took the plunge, finally. My desktop finally runs the Ubuntu distribution of the Linux operation system, installed in dual boot mode with the previously installed Windows XP. I am typing this text in the Ubuntu environment, as the attached shot of my new desktop environment shows, and I love it.
As far as operating system installations go, the version of Ubuntu I have installed - 7.04, tagged Feisty Fawn (if you think that's a weird name, what do you make of Vista?) - is as easy to install as an operating system can get. Especially when bearing in mind it installed itself in addition to an existing operating system and not on top of it.
The Ubuntu installation CD also serves as a live CD. This means that you stick in to your PC, reboot it from the CD instead of your hard drive, and you will get a working version of Ubuntu up and running - no installation required. This allows you to check that your hardware likes Ubuntu to begin with, and it also allows you to save precious files when Windows suddenly decides it doesn't want to start (just stick the Ubuntu CD in, wait for it to come up, and do whatever you want with the contents of your hard drive).
If you want to actually install Ubuntu on your hard drive all you have to do is click the Install application. It asks you a few questions about locality and language preferences, and then it gets you to the main event - partitioning your hard disk. If you want to have Ubuntu and nothing else it's a cinch, but if you're after dual boot things get a bit trickier, especially if you don't want to tread on your existing stuff. Ubuntu has a wizard that's supposed to be able to guide you through dual boot partitioning but that didn't work in my particular case due to my rather esoteric setup; I had to enter partitioning specifications manually, but it wasn't as hard as it may seem (good instructions on how to do that can be found here). After that, things were quickly resolved: I did some reading in front of my PC while Ubuntu was installing, but that's it.
Needless to say, there was a lot of preparation before I got to the installation itself: I backed up all my stuff and I defragged the existing partitions to make life easier for Ubuntu. Obviously, it was worth the effort given the smoothness of the installation.
Now that I'm using Linux I can see there is a long way ahead of me until I can truly say I can get rid of Windows. While Linux comes with many applications already installed - Firefox, Open Office - it lacks many others I regularly use (Skype, Picasa), so I need to install them. The basic setup is lacking, too: In order to adjust the screen resolution to match my screen and graphics card's capabilities I need to go through a special setup thing that's rather a pain (I guess that's the price you pay for not having tailor made drivers for the Linux environment).
I'm sure I'll get there, eventually. It all looks very promising: things are smooth, stable, quick, and safe. It's really funny to work without having a firewall, anti virus, and a multitude of anti spamware applications by my side. But then again, you don't need them in Linux! Yes, things are getting better all the time.
Time to call it quits for the night and hit the bed.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Swimmer

As this first video shows, Dylan has the potential to become a great swimmer:



So we thought we should take him to the beach:



Excuse the cinematography: it was so sunny Jo had no clue where the camera was aimed at. Here's part two of Dylan's beach adventure:



I have to say that I had a problem with putting Dylan in the water. Even on a hot sunny day, and this was a hot day, the Melbourne's sea water is freezing cold by my Israeli shaped standards. It could be stinking hot but you still won't catch me more than knee deep in the water (and those knees are likely to turn blue). If that is the case, why should I put Dylan in the water? Well, simply because the cold doesn't seem to bother most people.
Then there's the question of what the best way to put him in the water is. Should I just dip him? Should I quickly put him in all the way? Well, I don't know.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Children of the Universe

I had a chat the other day with my sister in which I have expressed my continuing dissatisfaction with the service Dylan is getting at childcare (probably the subject of a near future post).
She said that in Israel there was this exposure of a multitude of childcare carers that systematically abused the children they were supposed to take care of. It wasn't sexual abuse (which is all people seem to be thinking about when it comes to children), but rather plain physical abuse: the children were beaten up. My sister concluded by saying that she finds it unimaginable that people would do such things to kids.
My answer was that history is full of cases where children were abused. To be honest, I don't understand the morals that allow grown ups to be abused while considering children as something more elaborate; aren't grown ups just children who lived longer? Anyway, my sister repeated that children are a special, unfathomable, case.
So I pointed her towards the story of the Israelites' exodus, in particular the bit of the story where god comes down in person to kill all the Egyptian firstborns. I reminded her that every Pessach (that's Passover for you), she, as a Jew, has this ritual where she reads the story of god killing all the Egyptian firstborns, babies included, and then goes off to say how great god is.
Children have been abused throughout history. If we stick our head in the sand and celebrate abuse, we're doomed. If we let ourselves become aware of that and use our minds to learn from history, we might prevent cases of future abuse.

Top Spin

Once upon a time a few years ago there used to be an informative program on TV discussing cars and bikes. It was called Top Gear; it was British which made it relevant (as opposed to American car reviews which are totally irrelevant outside of North America), and it was made of car and motorcycle reviews by professional drivers and racers who had an eye for practicality. I liked the program enough to even subscribe to its affiliated magazine at one stage (2001). Overall, the program has had a profound effect on the way I estimate cars.
You see, before Top Gear I would mostly follow the hype of the car magazines and assume that a good car is a car that behaves really well on the road and is a pleasure to drive. This criterion worked fine when I was a teenager dreaming about cars, but once I got my own car I realized there are far more important factors: most of all, I wanted the car to start when I switched the key, and I wanted the car to get me to where I wanted to go and get me there as planned; with my first two cars the number of times that simple request was not fulfilled was way too high. Then I realized that I wanted the car not to cost me that much; I mean, aside of the initial cost of buying the car (which in Israel is surmounted by a tax of about 100%) the running costs of car ownership are just stupidly high, and yet they’re the type of thing no one ever talks about (probably so they wouldn’t appear stupid when a colleague says he/she pays much less).
Top Gear has sorted me out in this regard by introducing me to the JD Power car surveys. These are quite unique, as far as I know, in that they measure the satisfaction of people that own a specific car model for a while, they do this in great numbers, and they measure real life issues such as satisfaction with dealership service as well as practicality and good old fashioned performance. Note what these surveys don’t do: they don’t go to organizations interested in selling you stuff to ask them what they think you should be buying; instead, the survey goes to hundreds of thousands of people like you and me that happen to own cars.
The most interesting thing about the survey’s results is that it shows exactly what I was already feeling: aside from expensive cars such as BMW’s, the cars most people are very consistently happiest with are Toyotas and Hondas. These tend not to be the flashiest cars around but the chances of them troubling you are low. Generally speaking, the placement of most manufacturers is pretty steady over the years, with Italian and French cars traditionally being at the lower end while the Japanese at the higher end. You could even notice a dip in Mazda’s results when they were purchased by Ford and a subsequent rise (albeit not enough to compensate) following their stylish recent releases. Because the JD Power results seem to make sense to the analyst in me, and because they’re helped by an excellent correlation with my own experience and with experience of virtually everyone I am familiar with, I regard the results of the JD Power surveys as the best reference for car buyers. They are an authority worth consulting with.

A few years have past and Top Gear has completely changed its shape and format. No longer informative, it is now some sort of a reality program where three guys who obviously didn’t get enough attention from their parents go about thrashing cars, usually expensive cars, around. Lately they’ve been focusing on weird projects to do with cars, such as (to quote last night’s show while bearing in mind Australia is a season behind the UK) building ridiculously exaggerated stretch limos out of small cars: one of them built a limo longer than two buses out of a Fiat Panda, while another built a limo by combining the front of an Alpha on one side to the front of a Saab on the other. You get the picture.
From a program that used to be informative, a program you could take something out of, Top Gear has become a pure entertainment program. Cheap entertainment at that.
Not that there’s anything wrong with it; even cheaper entertainment is abundant on TV, and while I’m not religious about following the program I do enjoy it as dinner background. That said, I think it’s a pity the old Top Gear is gone; I think there is room for both the informative and the silly.

What motivated me to write this post had to do with a particular item reported in last night’s episode of Top Gear. Apparently, back in 2006 our good friend Tony Blair was reported to host one of the program’s presenters at his office on Dawning Street in order to discuss ways of reducing traffic congestion. Needless to say, that discussion was highly publicized with press presence and such.
Now, what is wrong with this picture? Plenty.
One of the problems I have with religious people attempting to use their religious doctrines in order to pretend to be able to consult people is that there is absolutely no substance and no basis behind them doing so other than a long chain of wishful thinking assumptions. To use an often quoted analogy, my gardener is just as qualified to address existential questions as any rabbi or priest.
What Tony Blair was doing was committing the exact same sin. What is it that gives a Top Gear presenter, Richard Hammond in this particular case, any authority over any other member of the public when it comes to addressing traffic congestion? Nothing other than him being paid to take part in a show where he can play around with cars so expensive most of us will never even touch. Does that make him a congestion expert? Not more than you and I, in the sense that we’re all stuck in traffic from time to time. Is this anything that Tony Blair is unaware of? No, but Blaire wouldn’t mind getting some extra publicity through the limelight set on a Top Gear presenter; he wants to appear to the public as if he is doing something, and having some photographers around is one good way of achieving that. The problem is that it’s all to do with appearance and nothing to do with the actual easing of traffic congestion.

As Robin Williams said in a film we’ve watched over the weekend, TV is a dangerous tool: It can put a holocaust denier next to a historian who knows all about the holocaust and make them appear as equals. In the above case, Tony Blair was trying to gain political advantage by doing exactly that, but the main point is that we as a society allow these things to happen in the first place. Most of us actually do consider the likes of Richard Hammond to be worthy authorities for the sole reason they are TV celebrities.
Society’s inability to distinguish between a proper authority and a fake one irritates me.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Particle Man

Some things just fascinate me for no particular reason that I can point it other than them being there. Given that tonight's warm and that tomorrow we need to get up early in the morning, I thought the time has come for a short post on how fascinating this world of ours is.
I've first heard of quarks while at uni. I remember walking through the math/physics building and seeing a sign saying something about quarks in the context of a lecture and how they're basic particles, and I was curious: till then I was taught that protons, neutrons and electrons are the basic particles; where did these quarks come from?
Years passed by and I realized through hearsay that quarks are the building blocks of protons and such, but what I never figured out is exactly how. To be honest, I'm sort of annoyed with myself at never really bothering to find this one out; I mean, there are many interesting questions to be asked of a fairly critical nature, such as why does time progress the way it does, and "what makes atoms behave like atoms" is one of them. Questions that any person worthy of a brain should ask themselves.
Well, today I got myself an answer through an article in Scientific American. It's not really an explanation on quarks, it's more to do with the new particle accelerator built by CERN, but it features an explanation. More importantly, it features a nice diagram that summarizes it all.
Read it and weep. It's wonderful.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Brazil

The government of Brazil has started investing billions of dollars in order to establish top quality scientific institutions across Brazil (Scientific American, February 2008, here and here). The Brazilian government is considering this the best way to finally improve the quality of life for millions of Brazilians who, until very recently, would have had no hope of sharing in the country’s enormous wealth. With scientific education, Brazil is hoping to empower them with the ability to use the creativity in them.
We don’t live in Brazil; we live in Australia. Our Australia has finally recognized the less than fair go aboriginals have had. The prevailing attitude with the majority of Australians is that now is the time to make amends and help the aboriginals share the same prospects the majority of Australians take for granted. More than that, we also have a government that has promised us to put education at the top of its agenda, and we have a State of Victoria where teaching is a profession in crisis and the state government does not seem to want to do anything about it.
We live in a time of hope. I, for one, would very much like to see a plan similar to Brazil’s implemented in Australia at the federal level. Science education is the best investment we can make in our future, and the opportunity current circumstances presents is just too good to be missed.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Puttin' on the Ritz

Early this morning I’ve been to a breakfast business presentation. It’s one of those events where you sell your soul to a company for an hour or so in order for them to be able to comfortably pour you over with their marketing pitch, and in return you get breakfast and a token gift of the like you’ve never had before (it’s almost always a cheap pen, although once – in Sweden – I got this excellent Ballograf that I’m still using today).
These meetings are essentially a congregation of people who don’t know one another, don’t have much of a relationship with one another, and generally speaking don’t have that much in common with one another other than the will to have someone else pay for their breakfast (and, to one extent or another, a shared interest in the product being sold). It is therefore very interesting to observe some of the social elements on display at the meeting.
First for the dress code. Today’s a Friday, and almost every company has a “casual Friday” policy. However, I was the only casual person in the room (denim shirt, cargo pants) whereas all the rest wore their usual uniform – suit and tie. I’m not talking about the presenters who try to sell you their stuff, I’m talking about the guests that are there only to have breakfast and to have someone else try and impress them. My theory, therefore, is that people are essentially so insecure that they need the defence of their suit and tie even for the least demanding social interactions. This theory of mine certainly explains other phenomena recently explored on this blog, such as misleading baby handling guidebooks and the way people dress for weddings; if people are so insecure at breakfast, no wonder they’d be insecure when they get married or raise a child.
Second on my list of observations is the food. No one has asked us anything about our preferences, but shortly after we were sat we had attendants from this very prestigious Melbourne hotel we were at serve us breakfast. The breakfast included bacon, scrambled eggs, toasted white bread, fried mushrooms, a fried tomato, and a hush brown. It’s your typical "continental" breakfast, but by giving it away no questions asked you can see what the hotel thinks of the average Australian’s preferences: the average Australian is not a practicing Muslim, Jew or Hindu, so it’s fine to serve them with bacon; and the average Australian is not too fussy about the healthiness of the food they eat, hence the fried ingredients and the white bread (which, personally, I find as boring as heaven is often described by the religious (that is, a pretty pointless and meaningless affair); I prefer wholemeal bread not only because it’s healthier, but also because it actually tastes of something; it has character). The point I’m trying to make here is that by ignoring people whose requirements might be different to the “norm”, the hotel is telling us that by failing to comply with the norm we will remain hungry; you’re expected to go with the flow.
The beverage department wasn’t that great, but that was more to do with health. I was offered coffee four times, and the tables had jars of a sugary liquidy substance that was obviously colored to look like orange juice. Everyone around me galloped the coffee while I was left wondering where the water was.
The third and last item on my list is to do with climate control. One of the presenters, who wore the obligatory suit and tie, was obviously very uncomfortable and kept complaining about how warm the room was. Thing is, it wasn’t warm at all; he was warming himself up through his anxiety as a presenter, but he was also keeping this self generated heat inside himself by wearing a suit and a tie. The simple act of removing his suit’s top would have addressed his anguish, but never did he think of this simple maneuver for even a second. It says something about the vanity we humans have accumulated over the last hundred years or so, the way we think of ourselves as the masters of the natural world. The guy had no issues pursuing hotel staff to ask them to beef up their air conditioning even though no one was forcing him to dress up and even though a business shirt and a tie alone would have been perfectly acceptable by all involved. Some chance we have for fighting global warming…
In conclusion I have to say I find it rather sad that the observations I take out of this encounter are mainly negative. Us people have a lot of work ahead of us if we want to live in a nice world where every person can enjoy their fair share of the niceties.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Wedding Crasher

Earlier this week I had lunch with work friends, one of whom was complaining about the costs of being invited to two consecutive weddings: having to buy different dresses and shoes which now just end up taking space in the closet.
Makes you feel lucky to be a guy, where Australian regulations mean that while you need to wear a suit for weddings you can wear the same suit to all weddings (and to job interviews and such). Still, I despise suits, and I look back at the Israeli habit of settling with wearing a decent shirt and some decent pants for weddings of a lesser formality level than what I’m wearing for work nowadays. The wonders of culture: here people are still stuck with English traditions way too much, not recognizing that the weather is significantly different to England’s; Israel may be backwards in many aspects, but at least it is hot enough there to remove any notions of formal dressing from common folk’s brains.

The friend then went on to say that one wedding cost $10,000 while the other cost $25,000 and that you can easily tell the difference. Thing is, she also made it very clear that she thought it was worth the difference, which is where we’re in more than a bit of a disagreement. The shakiness of her views was revealed when the next topic of conversation was to do with how obscene people spend obscene amounts of $50,000 or more – even $100,000 – on extravagant weddings with hundreds of guests, and how this is way too much to spend on one day, and how much good they can do if they give away half the amount to charity or just have themselves a hell of a holiday.
In my opinion, it’s a case of “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Who are we to determine how much money people should spend on their weddings?
I find it amazing how familiarity with different cultures can open your eyes. Again, let’s have a look at Israel: There, weddings with many hundreds of guests are common if not the norm. While these weddings cost a bundle and usually lose large amounts of money, the overall amount that is lost is somewhat offset by the fact that guests traditionally give cash presents to the newly weds, whereas in Australia cash is regarded as an inferior and unworthy gift (even if behind the scenes most couples would tell you they would prefer it). Instead, most Australians go for registry lists that mean the newly weds can become fully equipped and furnished following the wedding but they will still need to pay the wedding’s full cost.
Another undeniable observation is that Israeli wedding gifts, or rather the cash given to the couple, tends to be much higher than what the common Australian gives away. I’m not saying that Australians are cheap or anything, I’m just pointing at cultural differences here: the reality of my own wedding was that it was a very profitable affair because of all the cash given to us by my Israeli friends, none of whom were present at the wedding.

I hope that by pointing at a few of the differences between the Australian and the Israeli wedding I managed to enlighten you to one extent or another. Other than the budget issues, secular weddings in both countries tend to be similar (come to think of it, religious weddings are even more similar albeit with slightly different rituals): the Israeli wedding will put much more emphasis on the dancing while alcohol will serve an important part in the Australian one, but no Australian will mistake an Israeli wedding for anything other than a wedding an vice versa.

Now the time has come for me to say what I think of wedding days. I’ll try to be concise because I’ve said it all before, but you know how excited a good keyboard can make me…
Essentially, in my opinion spending money on your wedding day, as in more money than you would normally spend on a family/friends gathering, is rather pointless. What are your objectives with this money spending anyway?
Well, I can think of two: the first is to have a great day which you will remember forever and ever, and the second is to make an impression on your guests so that they will remember the day forever and ever. Now, is that so important that it’s worth spending the income it takes you a year to earn? Is one day’s supposed happiness worth a year of potential dreariness? Not in my book.
To me, my wedding day was nothing special other than the gathering of friends and family. It was just another day, and the particular date was selected because of the venue’s availability rather than some important factor. I can name ten days that were much more critical to my relationship with Jo than my wedding day while changing Dylan’s nappy; there is no escaping the fact that the wedding day is just artificial, yet another manmade artifact. Why, then, should we celebrate that day and not another day? Why shouldn’t we celebrate every day?
I do admit that my views are greatly affected by my general lack of respect towards the institution of marriage, but think of it this way: even if you respect it all and really look forward to it all, on your wedding day you’re much more a slave to the ritual than a couple in a position to truly enjoy themselves.
Next, to the part of making a lasting impression over your guests: as in the case of the friend saying that the 25k wedding was much better than the 10k one, where exactly is the light at the end of the tunnel? One can easily see how this deteriorates into a form of a cold war, where weapons deployed by one couple have to be immediately replicated and superseded by all other couples that do not want their wedding to be remembered as an inferior one. Thing is, who are you trying to impress? It’s your friends and relatives we’re talking about, and if anyone should be fine with settling for seeing you happy that would be them.
Let’s say your family’s a tough crowd and you haven’t managed to impress them. Think of this: what is it that you are achieving by impressing them? All will be forgotten pretty quickly anyway. No one would be interested in your wedding photos or wedding video, believe me; just check the number of hits ours get on my Flickr website, the way our parents lost “touch” the wedding video, and the way no one else was interested in the video in the first place.
I’ll conclude by saying this: because of circumstances that meant we hardly knew anyone in Australia and because Australia is too far for our friends and relatives to bother, my own wedding was the best I’ve ever been to: it was short, concise, and just as effective if not more because of that. And because we only had few guests we were able to afford a good restaurant afterwards, causing the food to be the best wedding food I ever had by a long parsec. And oh yeah, how could I forget: the fact I was mostly my very own wedding photographer meant that I got to have some fun with the camera, too.
I consider myself very lucky to have had a wedding devoid of any arms race elements and any attempts to make a statement. However, I do consider this luck to be the direct result of my choice of a wife; no wedding day extravagance could have competed with her.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Why Darwin matters

One of the more popular baby handling technique books around is called The Contented Baby and it seems to have quite a circulation. We have been given with a copy on loan from friends, and most other new parents I know have bumped into it one way or another. However, I am aware of a nurse who claims that whenever she visits a bookstore she makes sure that all the book’s copies are well hidden to prevent potential victims from accidentally buying the book.
The reason is simple and very obvious to readers of the book: it specifies a very disciplined and tough agenda for handling babies and kids, with things like very strict feeding times and even stricter sleeping times for both parent and child. To me this agenda seems so unrealistic and far fetched I never even bothered browsing through the book. Today, however, the book managed to infuriate me.
I had a chat with a friend and a soon to be mother that got the book on loan from a friend. She was telling me about relatives of hers who go by the book, implementing amongst others policies such as putting their four year old alone in his room during the afternoons, on a daily basis, for what the book refers to as “reflective times”.
Now, on the face of it, if someone comes up to you and tells you about this little idea of theirs, that little children should have regular time in solitude, you are very likely to say something like “mmm… now here’s something to think about”. And if you were also to be told that this idea came from Gina Ford, a world authority on raising children, you cannot be blamed for saying something like “oh, if such and such authority says to do this, then it must be true”.
That is, you cannot be blamed until you would meet me. Rest assured, I will blame you.
Gina Ford might be someone who makes tons of money out of selling books, but let me add this tiny bit of an argument and let us see what you think of her advice afterwards:
For millions of years we primates grew up without any child intentionally having regular reflective times on their own. For tens of thousands of years, the same has applied to us of the homo sapiens species. The invention of “reflective times” as a policy is so recent that it only applied to a tiny fractions of human history, a fractions so small we would all disregard it as irrelevant.
With that simple argument in mind, the question then becomes – based on what authority did Gina Ford give us her superior advice? Well, allow me to answer for her. It’s based on her authority and her authority alone, and there’s no scientific evidence to support her claims at all. She came to us from the exact same place out of which came the people telling our forefathers the earth was flat; it worked for them for quite a while, and it certainly works for Ford’s bank account.

My point is simple.
We humans now have quite a lot of information out there that could help us figure out what makes us, babies, children and adults, tick. With this thing called the internet that information has never been as easy to access as it is now. Yet we seem to be tricked left and right; we’re like the Israelites of the old testament, told to worship the supposedly one true god but running away to worship idols with every opportunity we get, only that our idols are not physical idols but rather baseless ideas, or to use the more professional terms, baseless memes.
On one hand we are so advanced with our science, but on the other hand our science faces stiff competition from sources who want to maintain a hold of their power. True, we are all geared towards accepting authority’s word because for most of our days it was the most reliable way for getting information that would keep us alive, but I will also openly argue that books such as The Contended Baby can only get away with it in a culture where fictitious religion related brainwash is accepted as completely normal and regarded as something deserving our respect. Once numbed enough to accept that as the norm it is of no wonder scientific fact such as evolution is being driven to the margins, in the process rendering our ability to question charlatans of the Contended Baby likes greatly diminished.
We need to learn to look for the scientific proof behind the claims that are poured over us. We need to be skeptics: our children’s future depends on it.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Fever

Some times, even I can make big mistakes. Such was the time when I bought this Kylie album: I really liked the song Confide in Me, and I kept hearing my brother's words in my head - that I should practice listening to her before moving to Australia.
Confide in Me is indeed a nice song, but the rest of the album was pretty awful and its sound was pretty bad; I only listened to it twice. A total waste of money, but a worthwhile lesson: don't listen to hype.

Needless to say, this post is not about bad music. Minogue was just something I thought about when facing a Dylan with a fever of 39.5 degrees after coming back home from work on Friday evening.
He was feverish the night before but not as badly. We thought it's teething but Jo took him to the doctor earlier that day to find he has an ear infection. Thing is, with 39.5 degrees and with the knowledge that babies this age can just go off within a couple of hours, I was scared.
We went to the doctor again (lucky for us the clinic next to us is open late). My main question was when do we need to go and visit the emergency room, and in typical fashion we did not receive what I would consider a proper answer; the doctor told us that we need to go if Dylan is "listless", that is, if "the world's best comedian is performing next to him and he doesn't notice". I hate inconclusive answers like that; why can't they give us an answer that can be easily verified? If we were to measure Dylan's temperature and find that, for argument's sake, he has a fever of 57 degrees, should we act like comedians? Or, why do doctors need to behave like politicians, and why can't they say "there is no conclusive answer" when they do not have a conclusive answer?
Anyway, back on Friday night Dylan certainly had plenty of lists with him. We took him home, drugged him with Panadol, and took good care of him.
Over the rest of the weekend Dylan proved again to be my son by sleeping the disease off. In fact, between Saturday and Sunday he slept the full night for the first night in his life! Usually we wake him up at around 22:30-23:00 for a night feed, but because he's sick and therefore routine-less we thought we would just feed him when he wakes up; he didn't, not until the morning (when we woke him up). Overall, he was asleep for something like 20 hours a day with long sleep intervals, which meant that - roll the drums - for the first time since his arrival, I was able to sleep so much that I felt tired from oversleeping! Only a parent can truly appreciate how intoxicating sleep can be.
By now Dylan is much better. Still weak, but not sick.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Doing alright, little driving on a Saturday

Last Saturday I was driving down The Great Ocean Road last Saturday, a topic already covered in a post of its own. Roads do not come with more entertaining twists than The Great Ocean Road, and a driver’s skills in the art and science of handling a curve do become transparent as you drive through this lengthy road.
I was the way I’m used to drive nowadays and it just didn’t feel right: we were pretty slow, the car was unpredictable going in and out of turns, and the ride felt uncomfortable.

I think it would fair for me to say that my driving skills have significantly deteriorated since moving to Australia.
The reasons are mostly to do with driving cultures differences between Israel and Australia. I seem to have identified two key items: First, in Israel’s roads, a driver is always the hunter and the hunted, and on road survival demands special skills that the relatively courteous Australian environment does not require. Second, Melbourne is built in a very grid like manner, so while driving in the city (bearing in mind that Melbourne’s metropolitan area is like half the size of Israel entire) you always drive on a straight undemanding lines; when you do turn it’s almost always very slow turns into side streets that do not require much skill. In Israel, on the other hand, even minor residential streets twist and turn, so while you are rarely truly challenged as a driver you do consume curves left and right (pun intended).
Driving in Israel while always fantasizing about riding a bike, even if I hardly ever got to ride one, I developed a motorcycle oriented driving style: Aggressive, always striving to put a safe distance between me and other road users. The easiest way to achieve that is a driving/riding philosophy that is often recommended to bikers: ride at about 10km/h faster than the opposition, constantly leaving them behind. The implementation of this strategy was quite effective, even if I regularly found myself going way over the specified extra speed margin.
That tactic, however entertaining, does not fit Victorian roads where speed traps are set under every fresh tree and fines are issued for exceeding the speed limit by as much as 3km/h. Valuing my license and my savings account, Australia has quickly evolved me to become like the rest of the Melbournian herd, driving at just about the speed limit, no more and no less, and counting on the relative emptiness of Australian roads and the relatively good natured Australian driver to keep me from harm’s way.
It’s an annoyingly passive attitude and it does mean that I need to live with constant tailgating: The average Australian driver, constantly preached to about the dangers of speeding and alcohol, is totally unaware of the importance of keeping a safe distance between cars – a major contributor to the vast majority of car/car traffic accidents. Deploy this strategy almost exclusively for a period of about six years, and one can clearly understand why my driving skills have suffered.

Something happened somewhere in the middle of The Great Ocean Road. It happened to me before while driving this road and it happened to me while driving a rental car through the highlands of Scotland back in 2005. It was as if a switch was flicked on in my head. It was as if my brain bit in charge of the Israeli driving suddenly woke up and told the brain bit in charge of the inner me Australian driver in a very coarse accent, “listen, mate, you might be good at keeping Moshe’s drivers license in one piece, but this road ain’t big enough for the two of us; step aside, please”.
All of a sudden, and through no conscious effort, I was suddenly back to my old driver self. The car was slowing down just at the right pace to keep the ride comfortable and to enable precise steering; aggressive steering was deployed to handle our Honda CR-V’s severe understeering, typical of a relatively powerful and heavy front wheel drive car (don’t mistake the CR-V for a 4WD; it is hardly ever in 4WD mode); and gradual acceleration at just the right amount was effortlessly provided in order to smooth the car out of the curves. Cars in the rear view mirror seemed to just fade away. Never did I go over the speed limit; it was all just a case of straightening out the curves. Surely enough, there was also a smile on my face, just to make it all worthwhile.
Isn’t that tool we all have, the human brain, the most magnificent thing ever? Its ability to safely retain certain instructions in one of its corners and its ability to draw these instructions out at the right time is just one of those true marvels of life in this universe of ours. Thank you again, Great Ocean Road, for giving me this magnificent display of my mind at work.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Strange Days

Something very weird happened to me at the office today.
I came back to my desk after lunching at this sushi place (a farewell lunch to a developer I worked with) and started doing some testing on this new pilot system we're running at work.
Next thing I know I looked at the time at the bottom right of my monitor and it said 16:45, time to go home. I don't understand where all the slow hours of the boredom that is a typical afternoon at the office disappeared to; what will happen next, will I find myself actually enjoying work?

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Double vision

As I have mentioned not that long ago in this blog, during our Xmess holidays I purchased a cheap pair of Ray Ban Aviator lookalike sunglasses. At a cost of $20, it was a worthwhile purchase when I had a few days of driving ahead of me while my proper sunglasses were left behind at home. I knew that even the cheapest sunglasses are UV protected, so I took the plunge.
The thing about those cheap sunglasses I got was that I actually liked them. They look good, they're light, they're comfortable, and at their cost they make buying the real thing the ultimate act of stupidity. I felt like I managed to eat the cake and have it.
Then I noticed that I started getting headaches after wearing the cheap glasses. I noticed they made me feel as if I'm floating.
I started examining them the way I know to assess camera lenses, and indeed quickly enough I found that they offer a pretty distorted view of the world: the center bit is fine, but the closer you get to the edges the more you get the famous barrel effect that you get on the cheaper wide angle camera lenses (as per the attached diagram, courtesy of photozone.de, showing the distortion on the Nikon lens I used most frequently). The effect is worse when the sunglasses are moved disproportionately to your own movement, as might happen when walking briskly. Effectively, things that seem to be at your side are not really where you would expect them to be, while things directly at the front are; your eyes communicate this information to the brain, while your middle ears communicate slightly different info. Hence the floating feeling while walking, and hence the headaches.
I tried the same test on my Oakleys. They featured slight distortion, but nothing of the cheap sunglasses' magnitude. The pair of Persol glasses I have had a significant problem, reaffirming the uncomfortable feeling I get while wearing them.
Then I got to the most interesting test: I went to a shop and tried the real deal Ray Ban Aviators. To my surprise, they were the standout performers: solid picture all the way, hardly a shred of distortion; much better than the Oakleys, although with their flatter lenses they definitely have an easier task ahead of them.
The point of this story is that while some times you do get charged for the brand name and only for the brand name, as is often the case with clothes, with sunglasses this does not seem to be the case; your money does buy you quality, although the level of quality varies and the marginal benefit you gain with your extra money is definitely of the diminishing type. Still, between feeling good and having a headache, I'd go with opening my wallet wider.
Now, did I mention that you can get the Ray Bans for $130 at Amazon, and that the Australian dollar is currently very favorably exchanged against the green buck?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The Great Ocean Road

On Saturday we had ourselves a grand tour of the Great Ocean Road.
We left home close to noon time, and had our lunch break at Torquay (I tend to pronounce it Turkey). The location was great: a restaurant right next to the great beach where we could sit in the shade but enjoy the views. The food, however, turned out to be very ordinary yet extraordinarily expensive, too. Dylan, however, was quite happy with a short play on the beach side grass.
We then moved on to Lorne, passing through the great scenery that the Great Ocean Road offers. There is something that makes me sad about this road: the scenery is so majestic and so overwhelming, but I cannot find any way in which I can capture this magic on film. It's just so expansive no photo can do it justice, and it goes on and on for hundreds of kilometers!
At Lorne we had our desserts and coffee, and Dylan had another play on the grass side beach. Then we headed back, got home after 20:00 - way past Dylan's bed time - and had ourselves a real hard time getting Dylan to sleep. Part of it was to do with the corruption of his routine - the guy seems awfully sensitive there - but most of it was probably to do with him teething.

Now, the purpose of this post was not really to tell you about Saturday's Great Ocean Road adventure. There was nothing really unique there. The purpose was rather to discuss what that road means to me: The Great Ocean Road has a lot to do with me choosing to live in Australia. I was so impressed by it that coming here and driving down this road with my MX5 or riding it with my VFR became the number one targets of me moving to Australia. I distinctly remember emailing my friends this quest of mine, saying that I would drive my MX5 down this road while listening to this song that mocks the Israeli army. There are not that many places in the world other than Melbourne that have a road as magnificent and as long as The Great Ocean Road next to them!
I was supposed to be able to financially achieve this goal by finding a job suitable for a hotshot like me. After all, I was a hotshot in Israel, where the population is only six million; surely, there will be lots more opportunities for me to show my hotshot-ness in Australia, where the population is twenty million. Or so I thought at the time.
I was wrong, big time. Granted, Australia is bigger than Israel, but it also doesn't have anything that can be referred to as a high-tech industry. In Israel high-tech represents 20% of the national GDP, and Israel hosts giant high-tech companies of its own (Amdocs, Mercury, Comverse) and giant arms of gigantic international companies (say, Intel); in Australia nothing like that exists. All IT stuff is limited to servicing the IT facilities of big companies that use computers but only as simple users - things like financial institutions, insurance companies, and government; and that's it. There aren't any software or hardware companies that are worth mentioning, certainly nothing with thousands of employees.
This meant that after more than five months of unemployment, shortly after arriving to Australia, I would take any job that was offered to. Screw the hotshot in me, I needed the money and I needed to do something with myself.
Indeed, I ended up with a job in which I wasn't doing half as much as I used to, at least as far as challenges are concerned, and which payed about half of what I was used to. Progress seemed and still seems impossible: there's this xenophobic aura that says that if you moved to Australia you must have done it for the money and for your professional career, therefore anything you did before coming here has to be inferior; it seems inconceivable to people that coming over to Australia meant significant financial and career sacrifices both for Jo and for myself. With time, however, I learned how to enjoy this new vocational status of mine. Sure, I earn less, but I get to work less than eight hours a day and then I have my own life; I am no longer a slave to a company.
The dream further disintegrated when I went to a Mazda dealership to try the MX5. As much as I craved the car, I simply couldn't fit in. Some things were just not meant to be coupled together, and the MX5 and myself were amongst those things.
When I look at it now, this dream of riding a bike and driving a sports car looks like an idiot's dream. Are those the things that would have made me happy? I don't think so; they're like trying to cure depression with antidepressants instead of addressing the reasons that cause the depression in the first place. Today I think I can safely say I am now happier than I ever was, and I don't even want a bike or a sports car; if some were to fall down on me I would sell them to repay the mortgage without the slightest hesitation.
When I discussed this old dream of mine with Jo, she asked me if I'm not upset at her ruining my dream: after all, those were a single person's dreams. Thing is, she was the one that meant I didn't need to fulfill those dreams in the first place. After all, what are a single person's motives other than, excuse the typical bluntness, an attempt to make oneself more attractive to the opposite sex in order to increase the probability of reproduction? While exotic cars and bikes may be attractive to some, they're definitely not what I would consider valid pillars for substantial relationships; those impressed by such things belong far away from me.
The fact that us, Jo & I, going together on a Saturday, by the whim of the moment, and traveling our way down The Great Ocean Road, together, is all the dream fulfillment I require. Thank you very much.

Almost none of my initial coming to Australia plans were fulfilled, but that's fine with me because I am now a different person than I was before. Coming to Australia with Jo ended up also being my coming of age.
The Great Ocean Road is a glorious road, and Saturday has been a glorious day.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

JetPack

A very Patriot colleague has alerted me to the fact the NFL Super Bowl would be played over this weekend, so I thought it's a good opportunity to discuss some of my opinions on the NFL (and I will avoid my general distaste with having armies of fortune killing steroid induced players on all sides).

My first exposure to the NFL took place when I was around 10 years old and my father, who worked in New York at the time, gave me a New York Jets shirt. At the time I had no idea what this team was about, it was just nice to have a shirt with a jet on it. [By the way, that shirt played a big role in my life later, but that should be the subject of another post]
Next came high school, and there my friend Uri, always a big fan of anything American, has hyped the NFL quite a lot. For a change, we were actually able to watch the action on a Lebanese TV channel (albeit with some very poor reception), so we could live up to the hype. It was then that I first watched NFL and it was then that I noticed just how boring it is: interesting action takes place for a few seconds, and then you get minutes of waiting until the next action bit is on, and on top you need to add tons of commercial breaks.
Move ahead in time to 1999, the year in which Haim and Ossant got me my Sega Dreamcast (I'm still thankful). With the console I got the Sega NFL game, a game I still consider to be a standout. It was so well done! After a few lessons from Uri I actually managed to understand what was taking place on the field and really enjoy it. It got me so much into it that I even watched a few NFL games on Israeli cable and even admit to have enjoyed them, albeit not half as much as I've enjoyed football. However, with the waning of my enthusiasm with the Dreamcast came the waning of my enthusiasm towards the NFL. Still, I find it interesting to mention that I always played the Sega game with my team, the Jets.

Move ahead to the current day and time. My team, Arsenal, is doing very well this year. In fact, this weekend they recaptured the Premiership's top spot, although I still believe the title belongs to Manchester United.
As I have explained recently on this very blog, I have become very indifferent to my team's success. Sure, I enjoy watching them play (they're quite the performers) and I like it when they win, but I am also very much aware that their prime motivation is money making and that they are owned by private people, some of which are of a rather dubious nature.
Which brings me back to the NFL. A couple of weeks ago I have learnt through Dorfan's excellent sports blog (Hebrew warning!) that there is an NFL team which is not there to make money for its owners. At least not directly.
Apparently, the Green Bay Packers are a team that is owned by some hundred thousand share holders from the community of Green Bay (meaning, people like you and me). These people vote and choose the people that run the club for a given duration, the team invests its profits back in town, and thus you can say that the Packers are a genuine team of their people - in much the same way as football's Barcelona or Real Madrid are run (they're probably even better at minimizing political corruption).
I like the idea. For a while I have maintained that teams should belong to their supporters, without which they have no justification to exist. And therefore I shall declare the following declaration: From now on, my NFL team is the Green Bay Packers. Sure, I will still sympathize with the Jets, and I will probably visit New York several more times in my life but never ever come close to Green Bay, but the Packers are the ones I will identify with.

Obviously, no one cares which NFL team I support. I hardly even care myself. The real question is whether I will change my allegiance in football if some team other than Arsenal decides to use a similar ownership model.
So far, the answer would have been no. After all, Barcelona is a club I have always liked, and they have always been using the democratic model (or at least for as long as I can tell), but still - when Arsenal played Barcelona, I was always pro Arsenal.
Would I switch if another top English club made the grade, though? There are now rumors that Liverpool supporters are organizing to buy the club off its current American owners. I have to say that would be tempting, but I suspect I would still maintain my Arsenality.
An Alex Ferguson led Manchester United becoming a democracy? Now that would be tempting.

Monkey business

I think I can safely say that I am terribly unfamiliar and uninterested with cricket. That's something, coming out of the mouth of a person who considers himself an Australian and is an Australian, at least legally speaking. So despite my severe ignorance in the field of cricket I will dedicate a post to it, Australia's most popular sports (mainly because Australia is by far the best in it, but never mind Australia's affection with winning at all cost for now).
For a couple of months now, Australia has been campaigning in this cricket tournament against India. In one of the matches, an Indian player called an Australian player who happens to be of aboriginal ancestry a "monkey", and was therefore immediately accused of racial vilification, which in turn triggered such a fuss in the media that even I have heard about it enough times to have preferred being shot.
What I want to say about this incident is this. If someone was to call me a monkey, I couldn't care less about it; however, I would, if circumstances permit, correct the error and point out that I am not a monkey but rather an ape. You see, monkeys have tails, apes don't, and I definitely don't have a tail. Being called a monkey is to me a simple and forgettable error, as we're both primates, and that's it.
I know I'm the exception. Most people who were to be called a "monkey" would probably be insulted. However, I doubt most white Australians being called a "monkey" would promote the comment to anything higher than a simple insult; I suspect only a rare few would consider it to be racial vilification.
Why is it, then, that when an aboriginal, and only when an aboriginal, is being called a "monkey" the call is labeled racial vilification?
Allow me to propose an explanation. It is a rather uncomfortable one: The majority of "us", "white people", does consider itself superior to the aboriginals. One has to be their superior; after all, they are so primitive, aren't they? They look much closer related to apes than we do, don't they? Thus, along this twisted line of thought, when someone external uses our superior wisdom to promote their own nasty agendas, we immediately apply our logic and determine that a comment which under normal circumstances would have been considered a stupid insult and nothing more is actually a racial comment. But this classification can only be made when racist concepts are well integrated into our thoughts. Your brain has to have racist assumptions ingrained inside in order to consider the comment to be racist.
My point, therefore, is this. If most Australians consider the Indian's "monkey" call to be a racist comment, it is only because their brains are full of racist prejudice already.
The implications on Australian society as a whole are therefore pretty tragic.

Friday, 1 February 2008

The Conversation

Without further ado, I will let Dylan do the talking on this one.