Thursday, 31 December 2009

Imagine

It occurred to me while I was complaining against yet another relative telling me I should thank god for Dylan’s recovery from an incident of croup that sent us on an ambulance ride to the emergency room. I said what my thoughts of a god that sends two year olds to the hospital are and that my conclusion is that god is either evil or nonexistent, and in return I was told that “god is something that might exist [and therefore we should thank it]”.
It occurred to me the problem my relative was suffering from is a lack of imagination. Sure, I agree: god might exist. My chances of winning the lottery are incredibly higher than the chances of god existing (and I don’t take part in lotteries), but yes, god might exist. However, if that is your approach – that god might exist, then we should therefore worship it – you should stop and think a bit, because my imagination tells me there are an infinite number of things that may exist which I don’t worship. These include ghosts, fairies, Irish sounding gnomes and lots more. Which gods, then, should I be worshiping based on the premises that they might exist? If pushed on having to choose between all possible gods to worship I would go for the Spaghetti Monster. At least it’s tasty.

Of course, religious people have been guilty of subduing their imagination for thousands of years. A fine example is the way many of them think their morality comes from their faith, despite evidence clearly indicating that even faithless dogs and monkeys have a sense of morality and despite many people without faith being nice and decent overall (and many of the faithful being nasty criminals).
Looking at things through the prism of history provides further evidence: what passed for moral at the time the bible was written would be considered criminal today (slavery, anyone?), whereas a lot of the things done today in the name of religion would acquire the wrath of people like the new testament’s Jesus. Say, evangelists begging for money on TV.

Limited imagination is not limited to religion. You can see it in action with people wherever you look. To point at the last example on my mind, I have bumped into a friend describing himself as “fiscally conservative” yesterday. I translate his description to “I’m happy with the piles of money I have gathered thus far, don’t you dare try and take it away from me”. Perfectly understandable, but then again where would fiscal conservatism take us if we were to allow it to prevail?
My answer would be nowhere fast. We live on a planet that is suffering the wrath of an overpopulated species whose members seem to care about nothing but their individual selfish good, a cause for which it is worth releasing billions of tons of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere. Such amounts are bound to make a difference, and the difference is that unless we’re going to do something about it then our greatest achievement - civilization - would be in danger. Most fiscal conservatives with a head on their shoulder would acknowledge that.
Yet fiscal conservatism won’t get us out of this danger; fiscal conservatism is actually working to ensure we’d be stuck in the mire for longer and suffer worse consequences. Fiscal conservatism is the option for those who cannot imagine a better way out.
Needless to say, I am just to blame for lacking imagination as anyone. The gift of hindsight makes me realize the problem way too often. A fine example is the rather mundane operation of looking for a house to buy: It was often pointed to me, and quite correctly, that I am unable to imagine a house we’ve inspected in a different form to the way it was presented. Couple this lack of imagination with the will to impose my own way on houses we inspect and you can quickly see why it is so hard for me to identify houses I would like to move to even though it is quite clear decent living can be made in the majority if not all of the houses we’ve visited. The real question is the comparison between our current house and the house being inspected, and conducting such a comparison in a worthwhile way is hard because it requires a stretch of the imagination. But it’s worth it, because at the end of the exercise you might find the house of your dreams or just save yourself hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So my tip for the start of a new decade? Do as John Lennon recommends. Go forth and imagine.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Facing It

It seems like I'm the last person on the planet to join the party: I'm finally using Facebook. Sure, I've had an account for a few years now, but I hardly used it till now.
So why the change of heart? Two reasons. The first is an invitation from a good Israeli friend I haven't met in years made me log into Facebook and realize a large number of my friends and relatives use it quite extensively. By checking on Facebook I'd be able to know more about what goes on in their lives than I ever could otherwise.
The second reason is the iPhone: The Facebook application for the iPhone makes checking it up as easy and quick as a button click. It's incredibly accessible and it doesn't require much effort. And, unlike using a Windows based computer, you're quite safe from the collection of personal information seeking applications that friends keep on sending me for no particular reason I can see.
There, however, lies the rub: It is its ease of use that makes Facebook a rather shallow affair. Checking out on my friends' updates shows a collection of good news and cheerful photos. It's only the good stuff. It's as if they're afraid of looking bad before the very friends who are meant to be there for them anyway. Reading the friends' comments on entries is even worse: The most sophisticated feedback you'd find there is "wow, cool". Debating is prohibited.
Indeed, there is something awfully wrong with the Facebook etiquette. You're not meant to use it for anything but basic cutey cutey comments, otherwise you're treading the danger zone. And I speak from experience: in my short Facebook career I've already alienated a cousin I've never met into not speaking with me again; another friend thinks I'm a total ass (mind you, that's probably true).
At the rate I'm going, my Facebook career would be rather short. Probably too short to really notice just how nasty Facebook, the company, is.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Cover to Cover

Upon buying my new iPhone I went looking for some sort of a protective cover to protect it when the inevitable happens and I drop it. I know the iPhone is only designed to last two years (that is, if its battery makes it; currently, I have to charge it every second day), but I would hate to have this expensive toy break before my two year mobile plan runs out.
I went looking for covers in the cheap shops of Melbourne’s Chinese Quarter, but the cheapest they had was $20 and the one I was thinking of getting – the one in the Dutch football team colors - was selling for $30. I went looking at the more conventional shops like JB Hi Fi, but there the prices were even more expensive: covers looking like the one I wanted were selling for $75 and even more.
So I went to eBay, found the exact same cover I wanted (pictured), and bought it for less than $5 (postage included). Two weeks later it arrived by mail from China.
Someone is making a hell of a profit selling those same covers in Australia at such hellish margins!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Same Old Scene


grommets
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
Our special Dylan week started last Monday when we took our favorite two year old to the ear specialist in order to determine his fate over the upcoming holiday season.
It seemed like Dylan's previous set of grommets, installed just a few months ago, have fallen off a while ago. The result was that over the last two months Dylan has had three ear infections and has consumed lots of antibiotics. During his inspection, the specialist identified water Dylan's ear drums, so the sentence was made: Dylan would have his fourth grommet operation on Friday.
The operation went along smoothly, as smooth as an operation on a two year old can go given that you can't really reason with him or have him expect what's coming. So far so good...

Trouble started late that evening after we put Dylan to his night time sleep. He kept on coughing more and more, until - at about midnight - it seemed like the only way to get him to sleep would be to have him in our bed with us after a couple of rounds of Ventolin.
At about 4AM Dylan woke up startled. He was trying to breathe but was obviously unable to take in as much air as he wanted, which caused him to panic, which caused him to try and breathe even more rapidly, which escalated the panic in a positive feedback kind of a way. We tried Ventolin again but it didn't help and Dylan was in too much of a panic to really gain much of it, so after a few minutes we called 000 (the Aussie equivalent of 911) and within minutes the ambulance was at our door.

croup
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
Dylan was still at a panic but was obviously not passing out. The ambulance people decided there's no need to take any chances, especially given Dylan's frenzy prevented them from being able to do a proper exam, so they took him in to the emergency room escorted by Jo. Apparently, Dylan had enjoyed the ambulance ride and had got better during it, so the relaxed crew was telling Jo that it was nice for them to treat a normal family for a change. It seems as if weekend nights, especially this close to Christmas, are commonly reserved for treating violent alcohol related emergencies. Our crew has had itself a rough night before we got along.
The hospital identified Dylan with croup, which is a virus infection affecting the voice box' area. The inflammation causes breathing problems not unlike asthma, hence the similar symptoms, but the regular asthma treatment of Ventolin won't help it. We were discharged within a few hours. Overall, a positive hospital experience, but why do hospitals have to be so depressing, especially the public ones? We all need their services at the most crucial of times, and some further investment to improve their general atmosphere would go a long way in helping rehabilitation. Or are the powers that be afraid that people would like them too much?
There was one funny scene at the hospital. The doctor was trying to stir Dylan into a conversation in order to assess him by asking him about the nationality of his mother, but that didn't get him too far conversation wise. Me, I was very proud to father a two year old that knows the planets of our solar system but doesn't have the faintest idea about the concept of nationality. Our Dylan is truly a child of the world!
Coming home, all of us were tired and Dylan was obviously still very much sick, but it was all manageable. The main thing that annoyed me was the collection of relatives saying "oh, thank god". Thank god for what? For giving an innocent baby the privilege of badly designed ear canals that make him miserable, force him to take operations under full anesthetic twice a year, and then weaken him enough to catch every wandering virus? What a fucked up god this must be.

The next day, today, was much better, although one can never tell what's coming up next and when the next emergency call would be. At the supermarket we got Dylan a toy croquet set with which he had a bit of fun:



Don't be fooled by the easy going appearance. We are living on the edge: seconds after I stopped shooting the video Dylan fell down and bruised his leg, aided by his overall weakness. And tonight already looks like it's party time.

Putting Things in the Right Proportion

In less than a week we're going to hit a holiday where many people (me included) are about to have some great fun. It's also a holiday when many other people think they're celebrating the birth of their god or some other weird story that no sane person can pretend to understand. These people, along with many others who believe myths of similar nature, truly believe that we humans are at the center of this universe's attention.
So, in order to put things into proportion and demonstrate our true place in this world of ours, here is a six minute video demonstrating the extent of the known universe.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Lost

Several things got lost today as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced he and his government (our government) are going to introduce legislation to censor the internet (you can read the news coverage here).
First to get lost is Australia's status as an open minded country. We are now in the same club as China and Iran as far as internet surfing is concerned. And what a proud club this is!
Second to get lost is our ability to surf the internet. Sure, it will still be there, but we'll never know what we're missing as the blacklist of banned sites is banned from public access by Big Brother Conroy.
Conroy started by saying he's going to ban paedophilia, but later on it was leaked euthanasia was banned just the same as well as some pretty ordinary porn sites. And even the website of an innocent dentistry was banned by accident and no one knew about it, not even the dodgy dentists. Sure, Conroy's defensive blockage can be easily circumvented (which pretty much indicates how useless this entire censorship affair is - that is, unless greater things are to follow); what we will definitely lose for good is some significant portions of our time on this earth as web surfing performance suffers.
The third thing that got lost is my vote. Conroy's Labor party can kiss my vote goodbye. Today's move means that I'm more likely to prefer the Liberals I despise so much over Labor, simply because you know what you get when you vote Liberal but you don't with Labor. Labor promised action on global warming but is now pushing its "let's keep things the way they are but call it a nice name" emissions trading scheme; and Labor never said anything about censoring the internet before the elections.
By directly attacking the very foundations of democracy, Labor has relegated itself to the very bottom of my voting preferences. I just hope more voters open their eyes to do the same, and preferably go Greens instead - the only party that condemned Conroy's legislation outright.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Heritage

A couple of weeks ago I was posting on how I don't think I should pass as a Jew by anyone's account. In response to the post I got an email from the same guy who made me write that post in the first place, an email that contains two core arguments against my position. I would therefore like to use the opportunity to cite these two arguments and use them to further point out why you won't see me referring to myself as a Jew and why I have a lot against religion in the first place. Here goes.

Argument #1: "It is better to honour one's heritage than not"
Let me see, what does my Jewish heritage honor, amongst others?
Well, it honors the female sex as an inferior one. Don't tell me that bullshit about Judaism saying that women are special; if women weren't considered inferior then men wouldn't go about praying "thank god for not creating me a woman" several times a week in their regular prayer routine.
What else does Judaism honor? Well, it honors slavery. Granted, for its time Judaism was a step ahead of the pack in its relaxation of slavery's terms and conditions, but it's still an arguer in favor of slavery.
Judaism is also an arguer for racism at a scale that wouldn't shame Hitler. Remember the stories about Joshua, the hero that killed all the non Jews when the Israelites invaded the land of Israel so as to avoid interracial influences? Remember that most important of Jewish holidays, Passover, in which Jews celebrate god committing mass murder and killing all the Egyptian firstborns, including babies? Not that Christians are better; they admit they worship the exact same god. And no, I don't argue that all Jews and Christians are walking Hitlers; I argue that most Jews and Christians blindly follow their heritage without thinking about what it is that they follow. No one sane would celebrate the mass murder of babies; religion is obviously capable of twisting people's sanity enough that they do.
One last argument against blindly following one's heritage: What should the decent sons and daughters of Nazi officers do? Are they doomed even before they're born?
So what should I do? I don't blindly honor my heritage. I appreciate Judaism, but I appreciate it the same way I appreciate all the rest of humanity's Bronze Age heritage. What I really honor is my ability to pick and choose the good values from the bad ones; blindly honoring a tradition comes in the way of me being able to think for myself.

Argument #2: "But atheism is not all it is cracked up to be, because it too is an ideology and has its own internal contradictions and rigidities. People are not rational beings, so it is unrealistic and sometimes dangerous to pretend we are. Inner daftness, perversity and a need to believe in things that could not possibly be true is an unavoidable part of our make up."
I find this argument so flawed it's hard for me to determine where to start attacking it from. I'll start with the definition of atheism, as taken from the Atheist Foundation of Australia's website: "Atheism is the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural."
The reason why I quoted this definition is its reference to science. It's one thing to say "I don't believe in X" and it's another to say "I don't believe in Y because it has no credible evidence on its behalf". Take, for example, global warming skeptics: they have all the evidence in the world but they still won't believe. Or those who damn evolution in favor of creationism: they're not atheists, they're just lunatics or ignorants. Proper atheism is not a dogma; it's simply about accepting science, because science is the best and only tool we humans have devised so far in order to assess this world that we're living in. And science is reliable, it works, you make accurate predictions using it, and it delivers (e.g., cell phones or jet planes).

_DSC8770
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
I agree: people are not rational beings, definitely not to the fullest degree. But it's exactly because of that trait of ours that we need science to help us find the objective truth. None of us would want to live in a world where a doctor's verdict depends on a throw of the dice or where a court's decision is based on how good a night the judge had before the trial; we value truth and we need to know the truth.
Religion is a hurdle on the way to truth; I keep my distance from it. Science is a tool with which to know the truth; I honor it and I embrace its heritage. I honor the heritage of Newton and Darwin.

Friday, 11 December 2009

I Predict A Riot

As most Melbournians know, our esteemed State Government is about to impose the new Myki ticketing system on us for use in public transport in order to replace the perfectly functional Metcard train tickets. As in, I can think of a million things that need improvement with Melbourne’s public transport system; the ticketing system would probably fall somewhere toward the very end of the list. I guess the government feels the need to justify it spending more than a billion dollars (yes, you read that right) on something completely redundant when they could have spent the money on, say, more trains and more tracks.
Personally, I choose to ignore the Myki up until I cannot ignore it anymore and it is forced down my throat French geese style. As for what I foresee for the Myki’s future, consider the following events taking place a fortnight ago:
Arriving at my home station back from another exciting day at work, I disembarked the train together with plenty of other fellow commuters (whose number I estimate at between twenty to thirty). We all made our way briskly to the station’s exit with our homes in our minds, but then we suddenly all had to suddenly stop. So sudden and unexpected was the stop that a few of us bumped into the backs of the people ahead.
What had happened? I looked to the side to see what’s going on. And there I saw it: The person at the head of the line was a Myki user and had to stop next to the Myki machine at the station’s exit in order to verify his Myki card.
No doubt about it, Myki has a very promising future ahead.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Terrible Twos

I know this blog has already dedicated considerable space to the topic of The Terrible Twos, the considerably terrible than anything before behavior that two (to three?) year olds tend to exhibit. But I will still dedicate a bit more space to the phenomenon, simply because a couple of days ago we’ve encountered what has been by far the worst exhibition of the Terrible Twos syndrome thus far.
It wasn’t just a short term tantrum. For more than fifteen minutes, our two and a half year old Dylan threw himself in a fit involving him applying all the strength he could muster against us while being totally ignorant of the damages that he could be inflicting upon himself. In the bath, for example, he was doing his best to lie down – with his head under the water and his nose up – as I was struggling to hold him back while, at the same time, doing my best to avoid hurting him.
I know that this is all to do with the developing brain, some areas of which are not as up to date as others and neurons firing blanks and all that. But it still doesn’t change the obvious fact that no matter how good your intentions are and no matter how carefully and deductively you approach parenthood, you are still going to get a slap in your face when your kid reaches the Terrible Twos. Again I can only observe that no matter what others say about it, parenthood is far from being rewarding. It’s probably the reason why so many people say it is: they need to convince themselves this is the case even if it isn’t in order to be able to tolerate the punishment.
The question is how to deal with the problem while still keeping the main targets in sight: providing our child with an overall happy childhood and helping him grow to become a decent person. Personally, I don’t know the answer; what I can say is that I am not at all convinced that applying physical force or keeping your child on a tight leash are the best ways to go.
What I will do, for now, is avoid judging other parents when I see their child going through the motions of a tantrum. Those of us that are not parents (including me up until not that long ago) who are exposed to children's tantrums tend to think along the lines of “what can you expect from such idiots [parents]”, but the reality is these things will happen regardless of how good the parents are.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Good Riddance

The Decent of A Man would like to warn its readers the following post is rated R as it contains language that may offend users of certain operating systems.

It feels like I just got discharged from the army. After more than four grueling and often testing years, I finally got rid of that burden that is called Windows Mobile operating system (from the house of Microsoft, naturally). As I have said here before, I cannot believe I actually bought two Windows Mobile based mobile phones / PDAs, as in I was dumb enough to buy myself a second one despite my experience with all the shortcomings of the first.
Well, the third one will not happen in this life. I bought myself an iPhone instead; I'm not proud of it, but at least it works. As in, you can set it to play music, and it won't lock itself after a couple of minutes, pause the music and ask me to type a password (to name just one frustration).
To Windows Mobile I will say this: Fuck you, and thanks a lot for causing me such agony and for wasting so much of my time and money.
Finally being free is such an unimaginable relief.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat


IMGP1554
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
You have to excuse me for my reduced blogging throughput of late: Someone (let's not name names, but it's the two year old living in our premises) has been waking us up quite at around five thirty (AM!) every morning now. I guess that's the price you have to pay for long summery days, but the result is that although these days are way better than winter they do become hard and tiresome.
Not only that, but our unnamed nemesis has a new trick up his sleeve: when we take him out somewhere on a weekend morning he sleeps for, say, ten minutes in the car while on the way back. Then when we get home he decides that he doesn't want to have his afternoon sleep because he already "had a nice sleep", so none of us gets any rest and we all have to contend with one overtired baby in our midst for the remainder of the [now much longer] day.
Today we took our Dylan to Melbourne Zoo, where he had much fun and exercised himself quite severely. Knowing what we're up against we made some special effort to prevent him from falling asleep on the way back for as long as we could. And we managed it: we all had some nice afternoon sleep today! Hooray!
I foresee many more zoo expeditions in our future.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Real Estate Agent Experience, Part 1

Too many real estate agents remind me of Rudolf Höss. Höss was a person of contrasts: during the day he would manage Auschwitz while off hours he was a family man. People don’t come in more flawed a form than this one, so it’s good to try and learn from the phenomenon.
We all have a sense of morality ingrained in us: we have a sense of what is right and what is wrong; we can instinctively tell when someone is being wronged. Research clearly indicates at the universality of this sense we’re all equipped with through examples with kids that are yet to be exposed to much teaching (in the process proving that morality does not come from religious indoctrination). The puzzle around people like Höss has to do with their ability to suspend this ethical sense in a very selective way; my observations clearly indicate that many real estate agents perform the same suspension of ethics in their course of work. It appears as if in their case it is the lure of cash – plenty of it in one big transaction – that drives this suspension.
We’re all guilty of suspending our ethics from time to time. For example, most of us eat meat, a process that requires us to turn a blind eye to the horror that befell the animals we consume, the vast amounts of water and fossil fuels that were consumed in its raising, the damage to the environment the poor animals have made through their various forms of feces, and the forests that often had to be cleared in order to make space for them (to name but a few issues). The element that allows us to get away from these ethical issues the most is the passive nature with which we consume the meat, yet for the real estate agents the experience is not passive at all. Indeed, they are very active in their application of psychological tricks on both buyer and seller, the people they are meant to serve, their paying customers.
Just like with Höss before them, I don’t understand how these people are able to sleep at night. How can they live with themselves when they so openly and so frequently break the law, toy with people’s emotions, and blatantly cheat and mistreat them in order to make a buck?
In my opinion, one cannot be an ethical person half the time; Höss’ case proves the point quite well. But like it or not, Höss also proves that humans are capable of willingly suspending their sense of ethics. Which is why I was thinking of him – again – as I was telling yet another real estate agent to cut the bullshit yesterday.

The above is obviously a generalization that may apply to some real estate agents but definitely not all of them. There have to be some that still have an operable sense of good and bad about them.
In the next post I’ll take you for a look at the real estate agents our home buying adventures have bumped us into thus far as we further explore that unique real estate agent experience.