Saturday, 30 January 2010

Problem Solved

Seriously now: What is Australia’s biggest problem?
I can hear the arguments such a question raises. Some would say global warming, over population and drinking water; others would point towards economics with issues like housing affordability; others will talk about asylum seekers, whether it’s to do with them being bigots or them being appalled at the inhumane way asylum seekers are treated; and others more will raise issues along the lines of health, education, public transport and all the rest of the areas where big money is currently doing the talking. And what about aboriginal rights?
None of the above answers my question, though, because I wasn’t interested in bullshit; I was looking for a serious reply. Us Aussies don’t care much about things like global warming, we care only for our own back pockets and we vote accordingly. So I’ll give you the answer myself, the one that comes out of my own back pocket: Australia’s biggest problem has been the lack of quality humus. Or, in other words, how can an entire continent pretend to live a normal life when one cannot acquire decent humus to eat?

Well, today I am here to tell you that Australia’s biggest problem has been solved.
A company called Yumi’s has finally picked the glove up to distribute what they refer to as “Middle Eastern Hommus” and what I can report to be the first mass produced Aussie made humus to comply with the toughest international standard around, commonly referred to as ISO Moshe.
The only problem is price: Yumi’s humus is generally sold for $3 for a 200 grams box. You can get a kilo for some $10 at Costco, but then you’ll have to drive all the way to Costco and pay their $60 yearly membership. Still, paying $15 a kilo is not that bad a sacrifice for finally tackling Australia’s biggest problem.

Friday, 29 January 2010

One Word about the iPad

Disappointed.

And in more detail: There’s nothing the iPad can do which both my Asus Eee PC netbooks can’t do, but there is a lot the Eees can do that the iPad can’t (there is, of course, the question of "how"). I can go into further details and talk about the iPad's closed architecture but someone else has done a good job of discussing the differences already (here).
Personally, I was looking forward to the iPad as a promising e-book reader. Yet it seems we have ourselves a device that is technically inferior to the Kindle when it comes to reading (the iPad sports a conventional screen while the Kindle uses a completely different technology that refreshes much slower but offers a reading experience much superior to conventional books). The iPad also maintains the Kindle’s main drawback, which is that the e-books you buy can only be viewed on the Kindle and transferring them from one platform to another is either a major pain or completely impossible. In other words, the e-books you buy are actually on a short term loan because once your iPad dies so will they. Unless the publisher decides to take the books away from you earlier using some DRM (although I have to add Apple has abandoned DRM on its music).
In summary: I was hoping for a cheap Mac tablet; instead we got a big iPhone. On the positive side, less than two years ago most people considered the iPhone to be just another phone; today I own one and the phone part is one of its least used elements – the iPhone’s magic comes from successfully integrating the internet to a super mobile platform. I suspect the same would apply with the iPad: the Apple glamor would get it off the door, and somewhere along the line a killer app would be found to make it the next next best thing.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Desperado

I was walking by this Catholic book shop the other day when I noticed a rather strange book staring back at me through their window: The book was called My First Bible Stories, and its cover featured a picture of a Noah's Ark with a couple of fun loving koalas smiling back. That, to me, smells like desperation.
The problem is obvious: For a start, koalas aren't mentioned in the bible; not even once. Neither do any of their other native Australian animals. Second, how does one explain koalas migrating all the way from Turkey (the ark's resting place) to Australia together with its Aussie relatives, without leaving a shroud of evidence for them passing through along the way?
The solution is easy: put a koala on the cover of kids' first bibles and shut their mouths for good by letting them take koalas on board the ark for granted before they can think up the question themselves.
Me? I consider books such as this to be the best way to destroy kids' abilities to critically think for themselves. I'm of the opinion that anyone buying these books to a child should be convicted of child molestation. As in, messing up with young brains.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

How Music Changes Through the Years

Triple R, probably the most interesting radio station in Melbourne, had a bit of a chat about the way most radio stations work when it comes to choosing the music they play. Turns out they follow this model that was developed by an American station many years ago: they choose between 300 to 400 songs, and for a while they'll only play those selected songs until some songs refresh process takes place (probably gradually). The logic is simple: allow the listeners who hear some song they like but don't listen to too often to come back to the station in order to hear that nice song again a couple of days later.
I'm not here to question the commercial logic; I'm only mentioning it because it came as a surprise to me. I never really paid the concept much attention but rather chose to assume that given the millions of tracks out there, radio stations just select one out of a million in their library to play each time around. Guess I should have known better, given the way the radio does tend to keep on playing the same sh*t again and again.
The way I see it, the real problem with this model is that you never get any exposure to the B sides; you only hear the hits. But it's those B sides that form the majority of tracks, and on many occasions they're more than just a filler. Sometimes, especially when played in the context of the full album with their neighboring tracks, they're even better than the hits. And what chance does the public have of exposure to songs like Pink Floyd's terrific yet 22 minutes long Meddle?
I can see why today's world of music has got me so uninterested I'm severely disconnected. If this can happen to me, an audiophile, then it probably does say something about the current state of the music industry.

Australia Day in Pictures

The first time the F-18 flew over Melbourne my camera, pre-fitted with a zoom lens and a battery, was tucked at the bottom of Dylan's pram.
The second time the F-18 flew right over us I had the camera out and ready but for some reason it wouldn't focus. It was well after the fighter jet was long gone that I noticed this elusive switch on the lens was on "manual focus" instead of "auto focus"; must have switched itself when I last pushed the camera in the camera bag.
The third and final time the F-18 turned right over our heads I wasn't expecting it at all. The camera was nearby at the top of Dylan's pram but the plane was all gone by the time I took the lid off the lens.
Australia Day is not as it was before I was a parent.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Rules Are Meant to be Broken

Dylan’s grandparents came and went already, but it is clear Dylan has had a great time with them around. Not only was he getting double the attention, he probably never experienced getting so many new toys during such a short period of time as that week (minus) our guests were around. As for us, the undeniable law of nature has been reconfirmed: when Dylan is happy, we are happy. The opposite applies just the same if not more.
One of the new games Dylan learned from his grandmother is to do with traffic lights. He learned that green means go (I keep on adding that it means go carefully) and that red means stop. I keep on adding that orange means try to sneak in carefully if you can.
Interestingly, Dylan has taken the game to heart. We now have ourselves a traffic law enforcement unit inside the car that alerts us when lights change. Additional alerts are provided when I start driving while someone is unbuckled (I only allow that practice in a driveway or when reversing) and even when I start the car and someone is unbuckled. It actually brings back memories: I used to be like that, albeit at a much later age than Dylan’s two and a half years (I don’t have significant memories prior to being three years old).
I can see why Dylan would like this traffic enforcement game. As the book The Philosophical Baby explains much better than I can, children at Dylan’s age like to have a set of rules to follow because it makes the world easier for them to comprehend. And indeed, at Dylan’s age, his main occupation in life is learning how to make sense of the world so that later, as an adult, he can go forth and do whatever it takes without being helped along the way he is now.
As cute as they may be, there are potential problems with kids’ affection to rules and their blind unquestionable/dogmatic following. What if, say, Dylan was to learn a rule saying that certain fast food chains are good for him? Or that this product is better than the other? Or that certain problems are best solved using violence? Or even that we all owe our existence to some fictitious all powerful being (what most people refer to as “god”)?
The lessons are simple. One has to be very careful with what they teach their kids even at a very young age when teaching them simple rules can make parents’ life that much more tolerable. One also needs to make sure that unwanted external interferences, like TV ads, don't get in the way. And, more importantly, one has to provide their kids with the tools to make up their own minds as soon as possible to avoid their minds being contaminated by unfounded rules.
The trick is in the implementation: parenting is quite hard so cutting corners through such rules is quite tempting. On the other hand, I’m not sure my two and a half year old is ready for lessons in critical thinking; I’m actually pretty sure he isn’t. Guess I’ll just need to keep on trying from time to time, but I wouldn’t complain if I was to receive suggestions as to how to go about teaching a young child to think for himself.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Tyrell's Two Cents

There's a lot of traffic lately about the new Google Android based phone, the Nexus One. I see it on news websites, technology website, and even within the small community of friends I have on Facebook. So, for what it's worth, I thought I'd drop my two cents into the discussion's hat.
The Nexus One is made by HTC, the company that made my two previous mobile phones. How shall I best put it? I would think more than twice before buying an HTC made phone again.
The first one I've had lasted me exactly three years before it started misfiring so much it was rendered completely useless. Thing is, up to that point it wasn't exactly the most trustworthy gadget ever: It would freeze very frequently while working on something (e.g., running GPS software), it would require a soft reset at least once a week otherwise it would stop taking calls without the slightest of warnings, and in general when you asked it to do things it would misbehave.
My second HTC phone didn't even make its first birthday. Less than six months after I bought it the phone started demanding a battery charge more than once a day. When things got too ridiculous I gave it away for warranty repairs, yet the problem was never 100% solved while new problems were introduced as a result of the repairs. A year after I bought it new I just couldn't take it anymore and bought myself a new mobile phone.
My experience with HTCs seems to therefore indicate their phones are not really built to last. Sure, a lot of my problems were the result of my phones' operating system - the notorious Windows Mobile, an operating system I would never touch again. Yet even if the problem is mostly Windows related, surely HTC should have been aware of that before it went selling their phones.
Like Blade Runner's Nexus 6 androids, it seems like HTC made phones have limited longevity. Unlike Blade Runner's Nexus 6 androids, they don't burn too bright when they do work. I would advise caution before jumping on the Nexus One bandwagon; perhaps it would be wise to wait till the sixth generation?

Disclaimer: The author currently owns an iPhone which seems to be working quite well thus far. However, unlike many other owners of the iPhone, the author does not consider his mobile phone to be god's gift to humanity.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Self Destruct


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Originally uploaded by reuvenim
The news reported today of an outraged Devonport that's protesting against Lonely Planet describing it as "a mildly menacing place where speeding rednecks yell abuse at pedestrians" and as a place where "McDonald's drive-thru is the place to be on a Saturday night". Having never been to Devonport I am in no position to confirm or deny the above statements. However, having been to the Tasmania's Launceston area less than a month ago I do have a thing or two to say about Tasmania. Mostly about the contrasts involving this piece of land.
Let's start by stating that Tasmania is quite a beautiful place. It's a sort of a beginners' New Zealand, not as beautiful as the real thing but also much more accessible (at least to me, given my locality). What follows next is the tricky bit: it seems as if this natural beauty of Tasmania is tearing it apart.
On one hand, you have the people busy ripping everything they can off the land. You see it everywhere you go, the amount of effort spent on chopping down trees and on digging stuff out of the ground. On the other hand, you see people enjoying the natural beauty and making their living out of it, mostly through cultivating the tourism industry. You can see both sides as you drive along the Tamar river that flows through Launceston: the picturesque drive right along the river with wineries along the way, the coal mines around Beaconsfield, the huge piles of woodchips waiting to be exported at Bell Bay Port, and of course the proposed pulp mill at Beauty Point.
Another sad observation is to do with the locals' prospects. Most of the towns we've driven through, while set at some beautiful areas, seem to have their numerous bottle shops as their core of activity. Add to that the fact that my Optus mobile phone (Australia's second biggest cellular phone provider) never managed to acquire a 3G signal throughout our Tasmanian travels, even while at the center of Launceston (Tasmania's second biggest city), and you can see why I'm wondering whether Tasmania is stuck somewhere in the past with not much of a recovery chance.
Given that I am obviously on the green side of Tasmania's conflict, I tend to view its backwardness as a direct result of the local economy's reliance of pillaging natural treasures rather than investing in a future. And that's the trick: While I still reserve judgment, I am inclined to think that if Tasmania wants a future it should stop its suicidal self destruction.
The worst thought about it all is the lingering notion that Tasmania is just a mirror to Australia entire.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Hey, Metro!

Melbourne’s improved weather seems to be affecting its trains: For three days in a row, the same train service we use to get to work after putting Dylan at childcare has been canceled. Starting the morning in a panic to catch the earlier train or in the depression that comes from knowing we'd be late for work after a trip in a packed up train with a population that should have fit two plus trains is far from ideal.
Hey, Metro! If you can’t run a train service then you should take it out of your timetable. Don’t build our hopes up high only to repeatedly shatter our morning plans with an SMS just as we’re about to leave home.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The World in My Back Pocket

I’m not the type of person to say wow to every little thing I stumble upon, but when I do say wow I mean it. It comes out like a WOW.
Last week I’ve stumbled upon one of this WOW cases so I thought I’d share it with you. It’s a software application for the iPhone called Pocket Universe that shows you a map of the sky, plots the stars up there and connects them with lines in case they form some constellations, and generally tells you where to find a particular heavenly object you might be looking for. As in, where can I find Jupiter this arvo?
The trick is that the software really uses everything in the iPhone’s arsenal. Using the iPhone’s built in GPS as well as its ability to tell where you are based on the cellular antennas it’s in touch with, the software is able to not only show you how the sky would look like at a particular given time but also how the sky would look like from your exact location. Wait, it gets even better: Using the iPhone 3GS’ compass, it can show you how the bit of sky you’re currently looking it should look like.
Remember the search for Jupiter? If you ask the software to find it for you, it provides you with directional arrows that tell you which way to turn to in order to find your favorite planet. And when you’re at the right heading it shows you exactly where to find Jupiter in the sky. In my book, that’s a big WOW.
I’m not the type of person that goes about saying how good my iPhone is; I think it has many deficiencies. I also think this particular application, Pocket Universe, should run on many other bits of hardware just as well. But the reality is that my old Windows Mobile phones have had some very similar hardware yet no one bothered to use it the way Pocket Universe has. The reality is that the iPhone was the first platform where all of the above mentioned abilities were combined together to create a first rate educational tool.
Downsides? Well, there are downsides to having this tool. Like, the first night I went out to find me some stars I got bitten all over by nasty mosquitos. I therefore suggest being careful when using Pocket Universe.
Pocket Universe sells for $4 at the iTunes shop. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Brave Faces

A recent survey from the USA concerning interracial relationships has some interesting results: On one hand, bigotry is on the decline, while on the other it seems that it's whites that are still the most bigoted against everyone else. However, guess who everyone hates the most regardless of race?
If you said "gays" then you're wrong; the number one type Americans wouldn't like to have in their family is the type that does not believe in god. That is, the atheist, or the severely agnostic.
Not that Australia seems different. I clearly remember a woman from a neighboring office cubicle making some comments on how stupid atheists are (I also remember her expression when I told her I'm one), and I remember how a new work team member said some pretty nasty things about the USA while attributing them all to be due to them being "godless heathens", of all things (and no, he wasn't joking; his following words made that very clear).
It is this generic antagonism towards atheism that caused me great surprise when I saw big signs at a Readings book shop saying that Readings is sponsoring Melbourne's upcoming atheists' convention. They sure are brave!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Should We Talk About the Weather?

Now that the cool change is finally here and Melbournians can switch their air-cons off and take a breath of fresh air, the time is right to talk about the weather. As in the weather forecasts: Isn't it amazing just how accurate they are?
We take them for granted, but if you think about it they're absolutely not. If we were living with the technology of just a few decades ago there is no way that three days ago we would have been able to tell that one of Melbourne's hottest days and hottest nights ever is coming. But now we can.
Who's to credit? We can credit lots of data gathering, lots of sophisticated models using sophisticated statistics, lots of high capacity computers, and lots of people working hard.
We can thank the science that brought all of these together. Today we don't need to pray or do a dance to know what's ahead of us; we can simply look at a website. Amazing.
It seems to me as if science's biggest public relations problem is that it's so useful we all take it for granted without really appreciating it.

Monday, 11 January 2010

43 Degrees of Separation

My decision to put my trust in my car today turned out to be a wise one: Metro Trains' website was in the red this afternoon and according to The Age more than a hundred train services were canceled. And what a nice day it is to find yourself stuck on a platform next to hundreds of others.
Of course, the government agrees with me: It is an awfully splendid experience, which is exactly why they chose to spend their billion and a half on a new ticketing system as opposed to spending the money on better infrastructure that can actually deal with Melbourne's weather.

The next thought goes to the causes of these extreme weather conditions that seem to become more and more frequent. As in, on a day like this when water demand peaks (mainly due to the wide use of evaporative cooling), isn't it obvious that Melbourne and the world at large truly need the desalination plant our government has recently contracted?
I mean, if we don't add this mega appliance that consumes more dirty coal energy than several tens of thousands of cars, how will we make sure global warming doesn't stop getting worse?
There is more to the desalination plant than its energy consumption, though. On pure financial terms, a desalination plant is the worst way to get your water simply because it is vastly dearer than any other alternative (recycling, water tanks, improved efficiency, reduced consumption...).
Building a desalination plant at Melbourne is similar to solving the issues of the Middle East by nuking the entire area. Sure, the problem would be solved, but at what a price? Not to mention a bunch of new problems that would pop up, like radioactivity.

I blame the government on both issues: they go out of their way to kiss big business ass. But more than the government, much more, I blame the intolerable and effectively immoral indifference of the average Aussie. Their wake-up cry will arrive the day they realize they're being billed $2000 a year instead of $400 for their water consumption.
And then they'll go and vote for the Liberals, the party that didn't even pip about the desal plant.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Feeling Blu

A look at CPL's price list has revealed one can now put their hands on an LG Blu-ray drive for their PC at a cost of $170 while 25gb Blu-ray blanks now cost $6 a pop. While still significantly more expensive than DVD-Rs, the implication is simple: Blu-ray is now affordable, more or less.
The question is, is Blu-ray worth getting into on your PC? My answer is "not really", for the following reasons:
1. If you want to watch a Blu-ray film, watch it on your proper TV where the size justifies the effort. Better yet, watch it on your home theater, where justice can be done to Blu-ray's superior sound.
2. Currently, one cannot rip Blu-rays (while one can easily do so with DVDs). Ignoring the copyright issues which I generally don't think too highly of, it is nice to be able to rip just for being able to do so in the first place. On the other hand, with Blu-ray films available for rental at $2, there is little justification for ripping.
3. As far as home movies are concerned, DVD blanks tend to be sufficient in size for storing the AVIs of even your high definition home videos. Unless, that is, you tend to take really long home videos, in which case you're either Spielberg by name or have a fetish with boring your friends to death.
4. One can buy a terabyte of hard drive storage for about $120 and a 16gb USB stick of incredible practicality for $30. Why bother with a format that's bound to be eclipsed in a few years and blanks that will probably not last more than a few years before they go unreadable?

That said, I'm more than open to suggestions as for why I should put my hands on a Blu-ray drive. Indulge me.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Boat People Got No Reason to Live

An American friend of mine has recently provided me with her feedback after watching Australia: “You [Australian] people need to work on your problem of racism”. The problem is she’s absolutely right.
Check out what the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, a guy representing roughly half of Australians, has to say about asylum seeker boats if/when he is in charge. Allow me to quote from The Age: “Asylum seekers travelling on boats to Australia could be turned around at sea by the navy or coastguard in the future, federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says.” And if that’s not racism I don’t know what is, because otherwise I’m unable to explain what the agitation about those few thousands of boat people per year is all about.
And the scary thing? The scary thing is that Abbott is proud of what he’s saying and he’s saying it out loud, because he knows that this hidden (or not so hidden) ticket of racism can win him the elections. To him, these asylum seekers are a ticket with which he can draw more voted. He knows fully well that most Australians do not want these bloody foreign darkish people around.
The sad thing is that Australians fail to learn from their own recent history.

A few decades ago Australia was going through similar debates. That time it was to do with the influx of Vietnamese refugees knocking on Australia’s door following the end of that war.
The records show that public sentiments towards the Vietnamese were similar to what they currently are towards the boat people. Time went by, though, and Australia absorbed tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees. And did it make much of a difference to the fabric of society? As far as I can tell the only difference is that now we have a wider variety of good food to choose from.
So would taking in the boats of asylum seekers do much damage to the fabric of Australian society? I suspect the only damage their taking would do is save the Aussie tax payer the hundreds of millions of dollars currently spent each year to keep those boat people away and to keep them in detention (i.e., behind bars) when they do come close enough. That money could then be spent on better education and health. Say, building several new hospitals.
How horrible! We should definitely keep those boat people away!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Celebration Day

My previous post dealt with the importance I attribute to the day I first met my wife. I thought I’d add a bit more fuel to the fire by comparing that date to our marriage anniversary.
I consider celebrating our wedding anniversary to be a pretty meaningless celebration. The reason is simple: the date has absolutely no meaning or importance to it; it was just the date in which Melbourne’s civil marriages office was available. Why on earth should I make a holiday of the day in which a government office was available?
Then there is the fact that I don’t associate much importance to the act of marriage itself and to the institute of marriage. My relationship with my wife did not change on the day we got married; all that changed is our legal status. And with gay people not allowed to get married in the first place, and with tons of people getting married for all the wrong reasons, I see no reason to think highly of that institution.
Yet I do see much reason for me to celebrate the day in which I met my wife. Think about it: what was the likelihood of us meeting in the first place? Especially given our differing nationalities (at the time), that probability was extremely low. We're talking along the lines of one to hundreds of millions if not more (it depends on which factors you pay attention to). Yet we did meet; we did have ourselves an incredibly improbable event taking place.
And it is those good incredibly improbable events, like the birth of a child – or me meeting my would be wife for the first time – that are worth celebrating. For the very fact they are improbable.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Good

In the chaos of this world we live in we tend to forget that we're surrounded by goodness and that good things happen all the time. For me, personally, today is a good day to recall this fact.
Nine years ago to the day, I landed in Australia for the first time as a visiting tourist. I did lots of driving, saw many things, and after several weeks I came back home to Israel. But it didn't feel right; I came back to the wrong place. Two weeks later I was already working in earnest on my Australian visa application.
And eight years ago to the day I met the person who would be my wife while working at the office.

In general, I'm not the person to associate some mystic qualities to a calendar date. In this case, though, I like to use the date as a reminder for some of the better things that happened to me in my life. At my age, my memory is not as good as it used to be; I take every reminder I can get.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Switch

The Government of Victoria is now allowing people to register for a free Myki public transport card over the web and save themselves the cost of buying this smart-card for $10. Not a fan of the entire Myki concept, I still went ahead and registered myself simply for the fact they keep on saying that within six months there will be no other option.
At this point you'll have to excuse me for being so naive. Upon the conclusion of the web based registration, I received a confirmation email from Myki starting with "Thank you for making the switch to myki - Victoria's new public transport ticketing system." Excuse me? What switch are you talking about? All I did was register! I am still a proud owner of a yearly Metcard ticket which I intend to use until it expires (and then continue using as a bookmark).
I thought I wouldn't let those charlatans in government count me on their lists of Myki converted, so I went ahead and wrote them this nice letter:

Yesterday I registered over the web to get a free Myki. At the end of the registration I received an email thanking me for making the switch to Myki. I want to make it clear that I am not making a switch to Myki, nor do I want to make such a switch. I would use my Metcard for as long as I possibly can; I think the Myki concept is incredibly flawed and I would only consider using it as a last resort. I only registered for a Myki card in order to get one for free, not because I want to switch over to Myki in any way. I protest against you making the Myki switch assumption on my behalf. I think that taking the act of registration and inflating it to a switch is a gross exaggeration of the action I have performed on your website. I consider it is very pretentious of you and I see it as yet another symptom for how flawed Myki is and how desperate the Myki spin machine is.

I do not expect a reply.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Time Tunnel

Given the recent magical transition of the decade digit on our calendar one tends to hear a lot of summaries for the past decades. At the personal level, the the summaries I have encountered thus far were all about work or children; as in, I used to be an astronaut and now I'm a mother of five and I run NASA during my lunch breaks. Alas, I think there's more to my life than fatherhood, and there's definitely more to my life than work, so I thought I'd mention a few things that happened to me during this decade. Things of the type most people won't share:
  • I started the decade single. Now I'm not.
  • I started the decade in the northern hemisphere and finished it in the southern hemisphere.
  • I finished the decade with almost twenty kilos more than I started with.
  • I finished the decade with a few less organs than I started with.
  • I started the decade watching laserdiscs in my own private collection. Now I have contents coming out my a$$ and the facilities to play uncompressed multichannel music and high definition videos.
  • I started the decade with a 20" TV and finished it with a 50" one.
  • I started the decade dreaming of my own motorcycle and I finished the decade visiting a close friend who's had a motorcycle accident at the hospital.
  • I started the decade as a subscriber to Scientific American. I've ended the decade a subscriber to Scientific American.
  • I started the decade as a jet-setter. I ended the decade locked in the house every evening.
  • I started the decade spending a lot of my free time sleeping. I end the decade dreaming of sleeping.
And what's to come in the next decade? Who knows; I'm not Hari Seldon.
What I do know is that despite the prevailing notion we're in control of our lives, circumstances tend to take the better of us and we are all the victims of a large array of seemingly small events. Some people call it luck; I just try to stay with my head as high above the water as I can. I hope this new decade will be a happy one for everyone, and I hope to make it to its end.

Friday, 1 January 2010

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

My own personal day of infamy: the day I joined the army, the Israeli one. What a way to celebrate the start of a decade!
There are several reasons why I carry tons of grudge towards my army service. For a start, at the personal level, it represented a complete waste of four years of my life. Very good years of my life were spent doing stuff I could have done without.
But it's not just me that could have done without my army service. The entire affair was pointless even before it started. For most of my army career I was stationed at the West Bank, where the first years of my service were dedicated to supporting army bases around Palestinian cities and where the last years of my army service, following the election of the Rabin led left wing government in late 1992, were dedicated to dismantling those bases (to one extent or another; the process took time). It's not just my own personal experience that indicated futility: During the first years of my army career Palestinians were woken up in the middle of the night by the army to "help" remove Palestinian flags that were hung here and there and everywhere; after Rabin, those flags became legal and suddenly they could just stay up.

The more interesting question is whether I would have joined the army given my current views, views that don't think too highly of Israel's policy of occupation (to say the least). I have to say I'm very glad this question is irrelevant, because the way I see it my current views would have either led me to jail for refusing to join the army or would have caused me to do something I really didn't want to do.
Thing is, my contemporary views are not that different to the views I've had when I did join the army. I really didn't want to join then, either. What is the difference between now and then? The difference is in the conviction and the lack of fuzziness. The difference is that I've had the maturity gained over twenty years of experience to have clearer views. The point is simple: There are some very good reasons why the army recruits people who are still in their teens; these are people who are highly impressionable and thus easier for it to shape into its preferred mold.
The bottom line is that as a soldier, I did what I did mostly in order to be a good team member with my fellow soldiers, knowing all too well that our actions did not have much of an effect on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet I would have been that much happier if I was able to dedicate my time to causes I actually support instead, even if these were selfish personal goals like studying, working or traveling. Things that normal teens do, as they should.