Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Classic Rock

Probably due to the desperation that comes with eternally low ratings, Melbourne radio station Classic Rock (91.5 FM, formerly known as Vega) has started this new habit of playing classic albums in their entirety. Last Sunday they played Reggatta de Blanc by The Police, this Sunday they played The Wall by Pink Floyd: both albums that are much more than favorites of mine; I would describe them as more embedded to who I am than my own DNA.
In these days where albums hardly matter anymore and the single is the way of life, much praise is to be thrown at Classic Rock. I certainly know that my music appreciation would have greatly suffered if I was not to listen to complete albums for most of my music listening career, back in those days when I actually had time to listen to music and when my music listening was not dictated by the three year old dictator running the house.

While all this is happening, Apple is working hard to achieve the exact opposite. Last week accusations came out concerning Apple blocking radio station apps that allow iPhone users to listen to a single radio station (the story is still ongoing; read about it here). As is usual for Apple they come up with all sorts of stupidly sounding reasons to justify their application banning policies; to me, however, the story seems very clear.
If you look back at Apple’s ongoing war on Flash, one of the main probable reasons behind Apple’s vigorous campaign is the need to prevent people from accessing music in any way other than its own iTunes shop. One only needs to look at the YouTube app for the iPhone and its lack of support for playlists (forcing you to choose your songs one by one) to admire Apple’s efforts on this front. Then there is Apple banning apps such as Grooveshark’s, currently my favorite live streaming music website.
It really is simple: while most people view the iPhone and its compatriots as god’s (i.e., Apple’s) given gifts to us all, Apple views them as products whose purpose is to make us consume contents. Consume contents that we pay for. Consume contents that we pay Apple for. It is as simple as that; Apple do not want iPhone users with ever growing data allowances to listen to radio stations for free, they want you to buy stuff from them.

As I am writing the above I am also celebrating a year with my iPhone. The device has had significant impact on my way of life, the way that having the Internet on you all the time and using the Internet all the time can impact a person. By now the thought of not having Internet access, even momentarily, sends shivers down my spine. Before I’m accused of addiction I will add that yes, I am addicted; but I will also add that I view the ability to access the Internet whenever I feel like to be more important than the ability to make phone calls whenever I want to (pointing a finger at the way the majority of us are glued to their mobile phones without being labeled for addiction). If only because the Internet allows making phone calls and then some.
You can say I have a love/hate relationship with Apple.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Great Debate

don't hate :: debateIf you thought the biggest revolution coming out of Victoria this week is the very likely election of a new Liberal government, I have news for you. Liberals, Labor - we've replaced one group of corrupt morons with another. No, the most revolutionary event I have experienced last week was a political debate held in no other place than our office kitchen during lunch!
For the first time in my living memory a true political debate took place at an office environment, in Australia, while I was there. The debate was polite, respectful, and featured creative ideas thrown in from all sides - the way debates should be. Unlike TV debates, no one avoided any questions or answered a question by asking another.
In a country where it's virtually impolite to discuss politics and where office codes of conduct try to restrict you from coming too close to topics that might "offend" the bleeding hearts, the fact such a debate took place is of major historical consequence. There are still many grounds for worrying about the future of political debating in Australia, though: the primary stakeholders of this historical debate were all bloody immigrants. Where does that leave pure blood Australians?

Picture by hive

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Meaning of Christmas

Probably the result of having a name like mine at a country claiming to be multicultural, I was recently asked to provide a paragraph on how I celebrate Christmas for an internal office publication at work. I delivered, recounting our yearly Christmas adventures while also implying there’s life beyond religion and while also taking a jibe at the mindless consumerism that relegated the whole Jesus thing to a faraway second place as far as holiday priorities are concerned.
Where my paragraph was short is on account of what Chrismass means to me. Growing up in Israel I spent the majority of my life with knowledge of Christmas limited to what American cinema provided me with, and there wasn’t much Christmas in personal favorites like Terminator 2. Obviously, it’s not like Christmas suddenly became the most important thing in my life once I moved to Australia (the way you would think given the behavior of many if not most of the people I have encountered since moving to Australia); given my very negative views on religion and on following tradition for tradition’s sake without paying it much thought, I am no fan of the Christian take on Christmas. I will admit, though, that some of the holiday’s pagan motifs (which were borrowed by Christianity) are nice.
With that said, it is important for me to add that I like Christmas. I like it a lot. But I don’t like it because of some elusive promise made by an imaginary zombie who rose from the dead; I like it for very earthly reasons. I will let the following song from Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun, explain what I consider the ideal Christmas experience to be like:



The above song has proving controversial lately: it was included in a charity CD for The Salvation Army, yet some of its lines upset some Christians who brought it into public attention. Attention the song deserves by virtue of it being a beautiful song by an incredibly talented artist rather than by upsetting the type of people that claim “Homosexual practice however, is, in the light of Scripture, clearly unacceptable” (as per The Salvation Army’s own publication here). In light of the feedback, Minchin (whom you can follow on Twitter here) has diverted proceeds from the song towards secular charities.
Regardless of the controversy, the more analytical and less poetic thing the song is trying to say is that Christmas is a time for people who love one another to be together, if not physically then at least in the mind. Christmas is unique in offering us the ability to achieve this closeness by virtue of the fact the majority of us are free from work/school or any other sort of external obligations that time of the year, free enough to be able to turn our attentions to the people we love more than we’re capable of doing the rest of the year. That is Christmas’ main value and that is the meaning is holds for me. It is also important to note that this meaning is entirely man made – the freedom to indulge ourselves during Christmas' obligation free time is the result of civil legislation allowing us to be free for a few days.
That last point concerning Christmas’ man made nature is important to stress about because so many people forget it. Too many people forget the true value of Christmas and instead focus on its religious rites or the shopping bonanza that comes with it. That, in my opinion, is the greatest tragedy that is Christmas.
I need not look far for evidence of this tragedy. I grew up not celebrating Christmas, but the Jewish calendar supplies several major holidays of its own, most notably the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year) bunch of holidays around September and the Pesach (Passover) holiday taking place roughly together with Easter. As a little child these holidays used to be the times when we met with the greater family, cousins and all, but as I grew older family disputes moved us apart and holiday celebrations became less of an event due to the smaller number of people involved. Despite the reduced number of participants my family still insists on doing the prayers and the religious ceremonies, regardless of not one of them actually believing or adhering to them in the first place. Given the rather tedious and repetitive nature of Jewish religious celebrations the end result is a rather boring affair; no wonder family members are not trying hard to take part.
Holidays are not the only time when my family seems to cling to rituals because they seem afraid of other, more involving options. Yearly memorial services for dead relatives are usually nothing more than a collection of people showing up, reading from a prayer book that no one understands for half an hour to an hour, eating something and then going their separate ways. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone, dead or alive, to sit together and browse family photos, or – for that matter – do some joint activity that is linked to the dead person? When questioned about their preferences the reaction is almost unanimous: unexplained anger (I was close to being punched over this) coupled with statements along the lines of “this is what people do”. How incredibly constructive of them.
Sadly, most people seem to lack the imagination required for making the most out of a holiday; I cannot claim self immunity there either. Yet as it is, I have grown fond of the Christmas holiday and I am definitely looking forward to my upcoming break. Whether it’s merry Christmas or merry kiss-my-ass, I hope you’ll have a good time, too!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Career opportunities are the ones that never knock

CAREER OPPORTUNITIESLately I find myself daydreaming quite often about a career change. As usual, I'm too much of a chicken to actually act on this whim; things will most likely start and end with this post. Yet it is interesting to analyse the situation at hand.
The reasons for wanting a change seem fairly obvious:
  1. I'm getting too bored with what I'm doing at the office. I was hardly ever put to the test with assignments that truly challenge my capabilities, perhaps because I never offered myself up but also because most employers do not really want breakthroughs. As it is, I am going to work in the mornings not for self-fulfillment but rather so I can pay the mortgage.
  2. Since becoming a parent, the ongoing battle for work/life balance is taking its toll. It is best felt when our child is sick: not only do I have to make the extra effort running after him, I also have to make the extra effort to cover up for work. Yet even under normal circumstances times are hard: between childcare open and closing times, my workday does not leave me much leeway for luxuries and I'm always short on time.
  3. Like everyone I would like to be doing at work what I like to be doing off work. As it is, the stuff I'm doing at the office is stuff that I'm probably good at, but it is also stuff I got to do through circumstances (mostly the need to get a proper job after migrating to Australia) rather than my own career choice.
Obviously, if a career change is what I want, then the question is what career options I have that would satisfy my three main demands: income, work/life balance and interest?
In an ideal world the answer would have been making money out of blogging/writing, but we are not living in an ideal world. There are very few people that really earn money this way, and probably only a handful that make a proper living out of such activities alone. Looking at people that do make money writing, like Cory Doctorow or John Scalzi (to name two personal favorites), it becomes obvious that in order to them to maintain viable income they have to comb the world over all the time. I'm pretty sure they can't be there every evening at five to pick their child up from childcare.
There are, however, other things I like doing. In particular I noticed how I am acting as many of my friends' consultant for all things PC: I advise them on software, I fix minor issues on their computers, and I even install stuff. My specific niche is in the free software: I advise people on acquiring free anti virus software, free firewall software, free anti malware software, and even free operating systems altogether (Linux). I also advise on free tools that deal with specific needs: I tell people about free movie editing software and photo editing software that can give Adobe and its products a good run for their money, especially for with people of more amateur demands.
I believe that when looked upon this way, I do have a market I can get some money from. The market is simple PC users who want to get more out of their computer but do not want to or do not have the means to pay much for it. I encounter people like this all the time, starting from each time I look myself in the mirror. My business rivals are also plainly obvious: there are companies out there making billions out of telling people they need to spend money on software that I consider unnecessary. Take the anti virus arena: people are actually paying for inferior security products from the likes of Norton when they can get much better alternatives from the likes of Avira for free. The best example is Windows: Microsoft is very good at pushing Windows down our throats, yet I am convinced the vast majority of users would be better off with Linux. Take my parents, for example: In half an hour I can install Ubuntu on a PC for them and set it up so that they never need to do a thing to keep their PC up to date and secure while, at the same time, they can get all the functionality they would ever want to get out of their PC. Half an hour, and it's verified, because I have done it before.
If you want my business model then there it is: advertise myself to people like my parents (e.g., old) that want basic computing/Internet abilities but cannot deal with the implications of keeping a PC running reliably, and charge them an affordable one off sum (say, $50-$100) to sort things out for them. I would enjoy doing it, I would feel like I am spreading the good word while doing it, and I truly believe I would make a difference to people's lives. Having an Internet connection you can adequately use is not a thing to be trifled with!
Obviously, there are problems with my vision, and quite a lot of them, so I'd better keep my day job for now (or forever). I am unable to tell how much demand there will be for my services - again, I am fighting billions of marketing dollars here. Then there are the people I will be helping, who will stop being my friends once I go commercial: they will have their own weird demands, they will have PCs that have been so totally ruined under the Windows regime I won't be able to do anything before reinstalling the entire operating system, and there will be lots of people with hardware problems whereas I do not pretend to be able to have the tools required to deal with that.
The temptation is there, though. I'm pretty sure that if I was to lose my day job I might even give it a go!

Photo by mike fischer

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Supply and Demand


Nintendo DS Lite
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
I just sold my four year old Nintendo DS Lite on eBay for more than it cost me new. Something like that doesn't happen too often but it does happen quite often with the DS Lite, to the point of raising the question: Why is there such demand for a game console that has been surpassed by the likes of the DSi and other consoles, not to mention the ubiquitous iPhone/iPod Touch platform that offers superior gaming experience?
The reason is very simple. It is incredibly easy to acquire pirated games for the DS Lite, whereas the newer models do not have this "capability". In fact, blocking the piracy option was the main reason behind Nintendo releasing the DSi in the first place.
I would like to look at this phenomenon from a different perspective. Instead of fighting piracy with a model that is obviously not as welcomed by the market, why doesn't Nintendo capitalize on the fact its console is so sought after because of the virtually endless supply of cheap games (cheap, and not free, because piracy still has its costs)?
While I let Nintendo ponder this question I will ponder the way piracy is so openly obvious in Australia.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

God Shuffled His Feet

One morning god woke up and decided to have a change of heart. Yes, god the perfect woke up this morning through his earthly incarnation, Mr Pope, and decided that under certain circumstances condoms are alright (here).
Don't get me wrong, it's about time the Vatican joined the rest of humanity and realized condoms are a lifesaver. Yet what does it say about our belief in an omnipotent god if that god can suddenly change his mind? Why didn't he do it earlier, being that he's perfect and all? And what's next - will we be told tomorrow that the earth might not be as flat as we know it is, or that - god forbid - we are not at the center of the universe?
Oy Gevalt!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Extreme weight reduction program

Lose weight nowAs odd as it may sound, there are benefits to having the severe tooth pain that goes with a tooth infection. It is obvious, actually: when one is under severe tooth pain one does not eat much; and when one does not eat much one loses weight.
Thus I found myself two kilos down within the manner of a week. And I like what I have found! I like the feeling of my clothes not holding me with as tight a grip, and I like that light feeling that goes when every move you make goes that extra millimeter more than expected.
Not that weight loss is news to me. I have been losing weight slowly for a few months now by managing my calories' intake, to one extent or another. The difference is the suddenness of the weight loss: one minute I'm weighing X, the next I'm weighing X-2; it is this suddenness that allows me to feel the difference.
I am not naive enough to think that weight lost so quickly will not be regained as quickly. However, that good feeling I'm feeling now gives me further motivation to cut the bullshit and try and lose weight in the manner that lasts. The hard way.
The war on weight rages on, and I am armed and ready for it!

Photo by alancleaver_2000

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Knowing

mowersI had the pleasure of mowing the lawn again this afternoon (what a lovely way to spend precious glorious weather weekend time). Usually, my three year old is afraid of the mower's mighty noise. Today was different, though: having watched plenty of YouTube videos on how mowers and in particular mower engines work, he said he is not afraid of the mower anymore now that he knows how it works.
There goes a lesson much more important than how a mower works: When we know how things work, we are much comfortable with the way things are. Even when those things are not particularly pleasant.
I'll go even further and state my opinion on the matter: The ongoing and eternal quest to make sense of this world we live in is one of those things that makes life worth living.

Photo by Ben McLeod

Friday, 19 November 2010

We call it Riding the Gravy Train

Some times you need the point of view of the unattached observer in order to realize what the problems you’ve been facing for years are. The recent AussieCon 4 science fiction conference provided such an opportunity by it having people of like mindedness enter Melbourne and provide me with their input.
John Scalzi, current SFWA president (Science Fiction Writers of America, I believe), put it bluntly in his blog here:
If I had to mark down Australia for anything, I suppose it would be that day-to-day incidentals there are markedly more expensive; for example, the 20-ounce bottle of Coke Zero I would pay $1.20 for here is $3.50 there, even when factoring in the exchange rate for the Australian dollar, and a candy bar that’s eighty five cents here is at least twice that there. I think if I were living in that country, I would do a lot of buying in bulk.
Then there’s the Israeli friend who visited me during the convention. In similar fashion, he observed the local inventory of Levis jeans being significantly dearer to American prices. The models were different too: for example, the classic Levis 501 model does not exist as far as Australia is concerned; it is as if Levis chose to divide and conquer Australia from the rest of the world. Also noted was the rarity of finding t-shirts selling for a single digit dollar figures at Melbourne's shops.
What do I make of these aliens’ views on Australian consumerism?

The funny thing is that I think they’re right and wrong. You can buy things for cheap in Australia, the problem is you need to buy them at specific places and at specific times. Perhaps the example most familiar to Aussies is the Myer sale, Myer being probably the most famous department store chain in Australia: many people wait things out for the six monthly sale to start before daring to buy at Myer, but when the sale is on they rush for it.
Yet Myer is an extreme example because I am of the opinion Myer is too expensive even during sales season. Let’s look at food shopping instead: Go to your average supermarket and from time to time the prices will bite you, but that is exactly why we have been doing the bulk of our grocery shopping at Aldi for a few years now. It may lack some of the convenience and variety offered by mainstream supermarkets but some of its products are of very high quality and most of them are very reasonably priced.
Over the years we have developed a list of places we go to if we want to buy particular items. There’s Aldi for groceries and a market for fresh food items, there’s MSY or CPL or CentreCom for computers and there’s Best & Less for cheap baby clothing. More and more, though, I am finding myself annoyed at the severe mark-ups Aussie shops take, especially given the current strength of the Aussie Dollar; the result is that more and more of my shopping is now online, including shopping that is less web traditional (if traditional web shopping can be said to exist in the first place; how many of us bought stuff over the Internet ten years ago?):
  • Books: Most of my book purchases are now direct Kindle digital downloads, but when I want to buy a hard copy that would usually come from either The Book Depository, Borders online, Fishpond or Amazon as opposed to a brick and mortar shop. The price difference between Borders’ shops and their own website is reason enough to stop buying at a shop, especially when they hardly ever have the book I’m looking for.
  • Video games: One can find the occasional bargain on eBay, but for consistently good prices I buy my games at ozgameshop. The odd thing is that this is a British website (with free shipping to Australia) that still manages to be much cheaper than anything in Australia.
  • T-shirts: I can find the exact designs I like over the web, and I’m very picky about my t-shirts. Why on earth would I want to spend the same or more at a normal department store in order to have what everyone else is wearing?
  • Clothes: Aside from purchases such of cheap covers for my iPhone or my Kindle, I have started using eBay to buy the exact clothes I want. The Levis 505 jeans I thought of buying for a while? Got them for $42, new and delivered from the USA; in Australia the equivalent model (504) sells for $75 during the Myer sale. Or the GAP cargo pants I’ve been looking for way too long? Got them new and delivered from the USA for $40; the equivalent cargo pants I used to buy in Australia from Industrie sell for $100. By the way, a note to GAP: you are only shooting yourself in the leg by limiting your website to American users.
I can continue with further examples but I will finish with the one I’m engaged with currently. A few months ago I’ve mistakenly placed my [empty] camera bag in a water fountain, causing it to smell of mold. Mold, in case you didn’t know, is one of your camera lenses’ biggest enemies, sending me looking for new camera bags.
After thinking a lot about it, I decided my preferred camera bag is the Fastpack 250 from Lowepro, a backpack designed to carry an SLR, a laptop and their auxiliary equipment. I can get it new on eBay from various international shops for as little as $98, yet I feel bad about it.
I feel bad about it because when I went to check the bag out for fit at Michael’s, a big Melbourne photography shop stocking quite a lot of stuff, I wasn’t only able to touch the Fastpack 250 and verify it suits my needs (to a level much higher than photos on the Internet ever could), I was also easily able to try it out against other models and check that it fits in the airport hand luggage "template" station they had there so I could tell whether I can use this bag as hand luggage on both domestic and international flights.
Michael’s offered me great service from start to finish, yet does that service earn them the right to charge me more than $60 extra over their web competition? I’m happy to pay reasonably more for better service, yet I am not sure that in this case $60 can be deemed reasonable. Instead it seems to me as if the bigger Australian shops, as they keep growing bigger and driving the smaller players out of business, are running a seemingly cooperative campaign to skim the milk off the ignorant Aussie consumer to the point where finding a bargain is a phenomenon relegated to the realm of the exotic. Shopping in Australia is getting more expensive by the day during times it should be getting cheaper.
I refuse to take part in this game; I’m getting my stuff over the web.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Character References

Christmas is in the air, which means shopping is everywhere. From time to time one bumps into some sort of a sale, and Book Depository - a very attractive UK website selling books at often surprisingly low prices and freely shipping them to Australia - has an original one: Give Book Depository the email addresses of ten of your friends and you will immediately receive a 10% discount voucher. For every one of those friends that actually makes a purchase you will receive an additional 10% voucher.
I took their offer, gave them a list of ten friends, and used up my 10% discount. You can review the screenshot of my friends' email addresses on the left.
To which I will say: serves them right from trying to elicit people to betray their friends' privacy.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Toy Camera

Fisher-Price toy cameraWe have a new camera added to our collection: This weekend, at Harvey Norman, we got our three year old a digital camera for $27. It is a genuine camera that unlike purpose made kids' toy cameras even features a preview screen. It is most obviously also one of the crappiest cameras I have ever seen; it sort of reminds me of the way digital cameras were just a bit less than ten years ago, lag and distortion wise.
When one buys such cheap crap one does not expect much in the way of longevity, and indeed our jewel had dropped the camera less than 24 hours after he got it. It stopped working and we had it replaced, but I don't see it lasting long. That said, the boy is obviously happy imitating his father: he even puts the camera up to his eye the way one does with an SLR.
Say what you say about a three year old having his own digital camera, I cannot avoid pointing out this three year old has one while my own technophobic parents don't.

Photo by John Kratz

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Root Canal

My agony seems to have been put to an end by the talented hands of my dentist today as she mercilessly killed the root of all my painful and swollen face. It sounds funny but it's true: there are very few people I was looking forward to seeing more than I was looking forward to seeing my dentist today. A root canal, something I would have wanted to get away from as far as I could under normal circumstances, became the thing I was yearning for the most.
The operation itself is quite vicious if you compare it to your average filling. The concept of a root canal is that the tooth's root is redundant: once the tooth grows to its full size, as in once you stop growing, the root doesn't do much and you could well live without it. Thus in cases where the root becomes troublesome it is simply sucked off and killed. What usually takes place is that the top of the tooth is removed, drilling is done through its center, the root is cleaned off the drilled hole (using tiny bottle brushes like tools), poison and antibiotics are poured into where the root once was, and then the root's previous home is filled with rubber. Yes, I was expecting some titanium alloy to go in there but instead you get a byproduct of oil. When all is done and dusted, a crown is placed over the tooth to make it look like a tooth. And there you go: you get to save the tooth but you're rid of the pain the tooth brought you.
You might think I've provided the above description to shock and awe you, as if to either scare you away from ever seeing a dentist or to show you how brave I am for going through this motion. That is not the case; my intention was to show root canal for the marvel it is. Think of the alternative: I certainly did while suffering a painful weekend on heavy pain killers while still going through unprecedented pain. Less than a hundred years ago, people had to compensate for the fact our teeth were never meant to last more than a few decades - why would they when, in evolutionary terms, most people died before they were 35 - by pulling their tooth out with a string? When looked upon this way, the fact we can go through a relatively painless operation called a root canal and get to keep our mouth looking nice and cool is a wonder of human ingenuity.
Still, I would rather wait a while before my next root canal.

Note the above photo was taken during the operation by my dentist. At first I took photos of my myself just so I could see what's taking place; then the dentist cooperated and took a couple of shots for me. She also arranged for me to hold a mirror instead...
You can see the bottle brush used to remove the root popping out of my tooth there. The full set of photos is on my Flickr page. As per my current policy, the photos are accessible to friends only.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Grinding to a Halt

My tooth, the one currently ongoing all sorts of money excavating operations at the dentist, is putting on its last stand. As of Wednesday it's continuously hurting, and by now things are so bad the entire right side of my face, ear and eye included, feels like it's seriously considering emancipation. I can't concentrate on anything.
Hello, root canal!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Finkler Question

A recent email exchange I had with a couple of my Israeli friends ended up evolving into a minor discussion on the matter of Zionism. Given that I recently finished reading the recent Man Booker award winner, The Finkler Question by Harold Jacobson, and given that this is a book dealing with matters of Jewish identity, I thought the timing is right for me to sit down and articulate my views on Zionism. Here goes nothing.

For background on my starting position, here are the emails that instigated the discussion. Please bear in mind this was an email exchange between friends, never intended to go on record, and probably not written under the most serious of attitudes:
Friend #1:
Here are photos of our childhood’s cinemas from an era when… Moshe was still a Zionist…
Yours truly:
I have to protest: By your definition, I was never a Zionist; by my reckoning, and I am of the opinion Hertzel would have agreed with me, I am more of a Zionist than most of the idiots pretending to be Zionists.
Friend #2:
As per Babylon:

Zionist['Zi·on·ist 'zaɪənɪst]
n. one who practices Zionism, one supporting the movement that promotes Jews returning to and rebuilding Israel

For sure now you are not promoting Jews return to Israel, so I don’t think that you can be counted as one.
I think that is the past, you didn’t agree with the views of the Israeli government, but you were part of the people of Israel, hence Zionist.
Basically most of the people live here and are Jews (NETURI KARTA excluded) are Zionists in practice.
A lot of the people that left Israel, but still see it as a future option, can be counted as such.
As for you, even if Yossi Sarid will be PM & Shulamit Aloni will be the minster of defense, I think you will not return, so [Friend #1] is about right with his definitions as I see them.
With the context set, let's have a discussion.

Question #1: What is Zionism?
As noted above by Friend #2, the current definition of the term Zionist that most people would concur with is a person supporting the notion of a Jewish state in Israel. However, I beg to differ with the dictionary here. Dictionaries tend to fail in the slight nuances that matter the most; look up dictionary.com here for the Random House definition of the term Atheism and it would tell you it’s “the doctrine or belief that there is no god”. Ask Richard Dawkins what his opinion on the matter is and he would tell you that there probably is no god but that we will probably never be able to verify that, therefore atheism is a philosophy that states the probability for god’s existence is so low one can live a much better life if one lives it like there is no god. Can we honestly say that Dawkins is no atheist just because he differs with the dictionary? No; I say that I prefer to think for myself, thank you very much, rather than take the dictionary's word for it.
When I think for myself about the meaning of Zionism I go back to the vision of those who came up with the idea in the first place. Most famous amongst these is Herzl, widely considered the father of Zionism. Herzl clearly prescribed a vision for a Jewish state where, amongst others:
  1. The Jews of the world can find a home.
  2. All people are welcome and equal, not just Jews.
  3. Religion is confined to the insides of temples.
When we look at modern day Israel it is clearly obvious the last two of Herzl’s visions are far from materializing. Israel is not a country where non Jews are equal; ignoring the slight matters of the ongoing discrimination against Israeli Arabs or the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories, let us look at my own family. If we were to live in Israel as we are we would be heavily discriminated against: my son qualifies as Jewish by Israeli law but not by religious Jewish laws, which would make it a big problem for him to marry in Israel given only religious marriages are allowed. Things would be worse for my wife: her not being a Jew would mean the need for special licenses to stay in the country and work for a living.
Next we have the way religion dominates the living instead of being confined to the insides of shrines. As mentioned, religion governs marriages and other matters in Israel. Religion is taught in state schools while things of minor importance such as the Theory of Evolution are not. I can go on and on, but let’s look at the bottom line, the way the people of Israel actually conduct themselves: the vast majority of Israelis do not question religious indoctrination for a second and have their sons circumcised. In my book, circumcision - or any other act of involuntary mutilation - is a barbaric act. And all for what? Because a bronze age book says so? Where is the supposed Jewish brain to tell them they are doing their children wrong?
My point is this. Israel is the current manifestation of Zionism, yes. However, Zionism has strayed a lot since its inception, to the point it is but a pale shadow of what it was originally meant to be. I have plenty of issues with the modern day manifestation of Zionism, enough to have left Israel for good; I do not think I would have left Israel if the country was loyal to Zionism’s original vision.

Question #2: Who is a Zionist?
Friend #2 claimed that there was a time in which I was a Zionist by virtue of me being a part of the people of Israel. I disagree.
I disagree because of several reasons:
  1. I was not a part of the people of Israel by choice; luck of the draw had me born in Israel.
  2. While as a child I had my moment of identifying with Israel and its doings, these were childish moments, moments where my opinions were dictated by what others told me to think. As an adult with a mind of his own I was never a big fan. A good example is the way Israel's military victory in the 1967 war was celebrated at school as a great military triumph; today I see that victory and everything that came with it (e.g., occupation of the West Bank) as a tragedy.
  3. True, I served in the Israeli army and did more for the state then many if not most Israelis. I did not do so willingly; I did so because the alternative was prison and because I am a chicken.
  4. Being a part of the people of Israel does not automatically make one a Zionist even if the above three issues did not exist. What if I was a spy or a terrorist or even a simple criminal? Does that still count as a Zionist? Can one be a Zionist drug trafficker just because one claims to be Jewish?
I am of the opinion that in order to be a Zionist, one has to identify with the Zionist cause. There are plenty of Israelis who do; I don’t and I didn’t.

Question #3: Would I ever return to Israel?
No I won’t, not even if left wingers like Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni were in the country's helm. The first reason is that they will never be at the helm. The second is that even if they or their peers are, Israeli culture is so well entrenched they will never be able to turn Israel into the state I would have liked it to be.
The third reason is much more practical. It is damn hard to migrate! I did it once already when I moved to Australia, and I can tell you that things were pretty close to catastrophic. I was unemployed for six months, saved only by the partner who migrated with me and my brother’s connections within the Jewish community. Yes, I got my first proper job in Australia because of my ethnic background.
As I have only one heart with no spare parts, and as I am not a particularly fit person, I would prefer to leave my career as an international migrant behind. As it is, I even dread moving houses.

Question #4: Is there a need for a Zionist state?
That’s the most important question, isn’t it? Does the world need a Jewish state in the first place, and is Israel what it needs if it does?
I am going to surprise a lot of my friends by answering both questions with a definitive yes. Yes, the world needs a Jewish state. And yes, the world needs Israel despite all the wrongs it has done and the wrongs it is doing. The reasons I think so are not the reasons usually invoked when justifying a Jewish state: I think we need an Israel because I think the world is fucked. The world is fucked because there is no country in the world where a Jewish person, or for that matter any person not of the country's dominant ethnicity, is truly an equal.
Look at the USA, for example: Look at the fuss the mother of all democracies went through when a Catholic was elected president. Look at the fuss they went through when a black was elected president. And look at how millions of Americans believe this black person is a Muslim and therefore unsuitable for presidency!
Look at my own experience in Australia: Am I truly an equal among equals here? I argue that I am clearly not. Any non Anglo Saxon would tell you how hard it is to find a job in comparison to an Anglo; research confirms the phenomenon (check here). I live in a country where children are either forced to endure Christian religious “education” in public schools, usually organized by evangelical Christian organizations, and where kids whose parents demand them being excused from such ordeals are being punished. I live in a country where parliament gatherings and many other official gatherings start with The Lords’ Prayer, a Christian prayer, even though I am anything but a Christian.
We live in a sad world where ethnic groups can only find peace if they have a country of their own that they can screw. Jews need their Israel, Palestinians need their Palestine. Hardly any country came to be without great injustice to the natives, including the USA, Australia and Israel; hopefully we can be mature enough to acknowledge that and try to make amends. As the world currently is, the world needs an Israel so that Jews can have a place where they are equals. What they do with this place is their problem, as long as they treat minorities fairly (which is where Israel is in the wrong).

Question #5: I have problems with both Israel and Australia. What is it, then, that I am looking for?
I said I don’t like Israel and I mentioned problems I have with Australia. I admit to living in Australia because it’s a country where living is generally much easier than in other countries and where, despite many forms of discriminations, I am still able to live a life of my own: I was able to marry the way I wanted to instead of through a religious ceremony, to give but one example. Yet it is obvious I am not content with Australia either. What is it, then, that I am looking for?
As I have mentioned, I like the original idea of a Zionist state, as per Herzl’s prophecy. However, I also detest religion, and therefore see no reason to wish for a state defined by either religion or race. What I am looking for is a state where humanism is the guiding light. Such a state would be a secular state where everyone is truly an equal regardless of the majority’s race or ethnicity. A state where anyone can become a Prime Minister without anyone else eyebrows’ raised.
As far as I know there is no country like that on our world yet. It is because we do not have such countries and because most people do not realize that countries such as this would serve them best, instead of countries formed around a common religion, that we have so much strife in our world. It is because our world is lacking understanding of the need for such states that we still need Zionism and Israel.
I, however, am no Zionist. Nor was I ever one; I am a humanist.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Price of Ignorance


Dollar Heart
Originally uploaded by cmpalmer

Usually it’s hard to quantify ignorance, but some times opportunities present themselves to allow you to put an exact price tag. Opportunities such as my web-phobic family looking for a special dental flossing contraption they were unable to put their hands on at Israel.

  • Given the short notice given to us, we had to get the gizmo from a shop for $180.
  • Amazon sells the same device for $52. Although they won’t ship it out of the USA, there are plenty of easy and legitimate ways to get it done at a cost of about $30.
  • On eBay one can find multiple incarnations of USA shops selling the device for $50 to $55 and shipping it overseas for $15.

As you can see, the price of ignorance in this case is around $120. It sounds even better in percentages: ignorance costs you more than 250%.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Olive Oil

Öl 2One of my ongoing issues with Australian society has been the lack of debate. Everyone seems just so content with the way things are they can’t be asked to think of how things can be done better. Questioning is passé.
I was thinking about our cultural issues while contemplating events taking place yesterday, as we visited a friend’s place. As it happened, that friend happened to have another guest; one thing led to another and while rubbing on some humus we got to discuss the virtues of the olive oil decorating it. The conversations went along the following lines:
Guest: “I have heard that we should buy only Australian olive oil. Imported olive oils are no good because they lose everything that’s good in the oil.”
Yours truly, retaliating very quickly: “I disagree. There isn’t much that can go wrong with olive oil.”
Host friend quickly assuming control over the conversation: “Just yesterday I was talking to a friend who makes this olive oil [pointing at the bottle of Australian olive oil on the table]. He said that extra virgin olive oil can last up to two years without losing their goodness, but in Europe they reuse olives to get more oil by reheating them and then selling that oil as extra virgin. The reheating does take away the goodness from the oil. He also said that Australian olive trees tend to be young, which gives them a taste of their own. He said that the oil in the bottle costs him $1, but due to expensive Australian labour the bottling and the graphic design cost him much more.”
First I would like to point at the differences in the way arguments were raised by me and the host friend. While I quoted a verifiable fact, the friend was quoting what they heard from a third party. That third party quote was given an aura of authority by stating the source is involved in the manufacturing of olive oils. Effectively, my friend was raising an argument from authority; even though we were both saying the same thing and even though my argument was based on reading material supplied by third parties (I haven’t had the pleasure of dealing with oil chemistry), there was significant difference in the way the arguments were raised.
I abhor arguments from authority; I much prefer sticking to observable facts, and if someone has a question about the observations then by all means let’s look them up. Do not, however, add perceived glamor to your observable fact by relating them to an authority, because that adds nothing to the fact. Taking one’s word, no matter how sophisticatedly positioned that word is, is a dangerous act of corner cutting when the objective truth is held as the ultimate goal.

Second, I would like to point at my friend’s more subtle way of contradicting the guest. I have a problem I admit to with regards to the Australian olive industry: I am of the opinion they are trying to justify their higher sale prices, when compared to cheaper imports, by playing on nationalistic notions rather than objective product comparisons. I don’t mind paying more for quality, but I do mind when an Aussie claims to be better than a European just because they’re an Aussie.
When I have a problem with something I prefer not to fool around; I state it loud and clear, the way I did in this case: I started by saying I disagree. The host, on the other hand, expressed his disagreement in a much subtler way, never explicitly stating they disagree. I hit the case with a sledge hammer; the host was a diplomat.
This brings me back to the subject of Australia’s absence of debating culture. I am fully aware I am at the minority’s side of things: most people would consider it impolite to contradict someone else. They will do so still, but they will only do so in subtler ways, ways I tend to interpret as devious. However, I would like to ask why we need to go around the bush this way? Why the spin? Why can’t we tell one another exactly what we think without fear of consequence?
Many people I know would consider it unfriendly if I was to tell them bluntly that I disagree with them. They know fully well that we do not agree on everything; that’s a statistical certainty. How, then, do they solve the problem of remaining friends while still carrying conflicting opinions? They do it by avoiding certain discussion topics that are famous for combustion. That is one of the reasons why you hardly ever get to hear friendly debates on religion, for example.
I disagree with that attitude quite vehemently. In my opinion, true friends are friends by virtue of the fact they still like one another despite their differences of opinion. I don’t want to be in the company of yes men, not at work and definitely not in my social life. Yet preferring such company is exactly why Australia has deteriorated into this state of comfortable mind numbness where debating is considered politically incorrect.

Photo by 96dpi

Sunday, 7 November 2010

What do they stand for?

Victoria's elections are coming up in four weeks time, yet despite all my political awareness I have neglected to discuss them. Why? Because both major parties don't seem to stand for anything but power. The whole purpose of the elections therefore deteriorates into making sure the Greens acquire the balance of power so they could keep the bastards honest.

The best example I could give for the impotence of the big parties had to do with water policies. At the last elections, four years ago, the Liberals ran with a water desalination plant at the core of their agenda whereas Labor mocked them and said desalination will never happen. Then Labor got reelected, and guess what? Shortly afterwards we had ourselves the beginnings of what is going to be one of Victoria's worst environmental abuses, by far Victoria's most redundant private/public partnership (PPP) enterprise, and a tool for doubling or even quadrupling our water bills for no particular reason other than Labor's will to kiss business ass.
With their inability or lack of will to actively put the Labor government on the stand, the Liberals are now saying they are opposed to the desal plant but will still honor the Labor government's contract to build one (here). The citizens of Victoria could not have asked for a less capable opposition.

Today we have received two further examples regarding the incompetence of our politicians on both sides, this time to do with education.
It started off (here) with Labor's Education Minister Bronwyn Pike rejecting a proposal to allow humanism to be taught in primary schools during time allocated for religious education in order to secure votes from extreme Christians represented by the ACL (Australian Christian Lobby). Who cares what the majority think or that Australia is supposedly a secular country, Labor would still make sure our schools are used to indoctrinate kids with Christianity while also making sure the kids whose parents demand to be exempt from such abuse are punished.
Religious education is one thing. If you look at education as a whole, what it means to society and what society gets out of it, then our politicians fail on a much larger scale through their ongoing extensions of financial support to private schools at the neglect of the state school system (as pointed out through a superb article from Leslie Cannold here). If the education our children receive ends up being mirrored in society as a whole when they grow up, what can we expect when our children learn "survival of the fittest" values at school?

Times are tough for Victoria: it's hard to get excited over the upcoming elections when there is practically no one to choose from. Other than the Greens, that is; yet an elections with only one party running feels more suitable to third world dictatorships than to a modern day democracy such as Australia claims to be.
The time has come for the widely indifferent Australian public to start demanding more from the people claiming to represent them.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Favorite Quote

The Big Bang Theory, season 3, episode 22 (The Staircase Implementation):
Dr Sheldon Cooper: "Oh, Ubuntu! You're my favorite Linux based operating system."
Please add the above to my not so substantial list of favorite quotes.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sign of the Times

Withered FlowerI'm getting old. I know I'm getting old because a childhood friend of mine, a guy I used to play with during my pre teen years and early teen years but haven't seen since, has died. Cancer is at fault, but regardless: this is the first time someone I know and have been in close contact with as a peer dies.
One encounters multiple signs of growing old as one moves through life. There was the stage when all my friends got married. Then there was the stage when most of my friends had children. Then there was the stage when some of my friends got a divorce. Death, however, sets the ante up much higher.