Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Pride and Sensibility

All around the world there are people walking around in shame. Lately, I have been carrying a burden of shame of my own, walking around with my head down. The main reason for my share of shame is my HTC Touch Windows Mobile based smartphone, which - excuse the poetic language - is just a piece of shit. I can't believe I paid out of my own pocket to buy this incredibly compromised mobile phone; and what's worse, and the main reason for my shame, is that this is actually my second Windows Mobile based phone. That is, I had every reason to suspect my current smartphone would be a piece of shit, yet I still went ahead and bought it.
Why did I buy it? Because it was relatively cheap, and because it was supposed to do all the things I want out of my mobile phone: provide me with a platform to maintain my calendar, contacts, tasks and notes; and run GPS software. Indeed, the Tomtom GPS software I run on my PDA is mighty good, by far the best GPS software I have encountered.
The problem, however, is that this PDA of mine is simply unreliable and unusable. It's all the fault of its operating system (Windows Mobile 6.1, the latest version currently available from Microsoft). I can go on and write a book about all that is wrong with Windows Mobile but I'll settle with the subtle; things I didn't really pay much attention to until my partner bought an iPod Touch and showed me how things should really be done.
Take, for example, web browsing: both the iPod Touch and my Windows Mobile PDA sport a small touch sensitive screen, but while the Touch offers an incredibly effective web surfing platform, my Windows Mobile device is best reserved for emergencies (and then only if you really have plenty of time on your hands with which to mess about). Take, as another example, listening to music: the iPod is incredibly effective at allowing you to choose your listening program and then playing it, while my Windows Mobile PDA locks itself up after 15 minutes of playback and refuses to play until a password is entered. Not only are its security mechanisms taking control over its sanity, it is also a lousy video player: YouTube downloads are, effectively, unwatchable as it struggles with their playback.

It is obvious that Windows Mobile and me are a case of "never again". The question is, which smartphone should it be, then?
The obvious contender for the crown is the iPhone, but the iPhone is far from perfect. While it is the king of usability, I really despise Apple for its policies. Be it the secrecy contracts it forces people whose iPhones exploded to sign, or be it its policy of artificial restrictions, Apple is just as bad as Microsoft in the way it behaves and exploits the market. Example? You have to use iTunes (which is unavailable for Linux) and nothing else, and iTunes is heavy and sports tendencies to take over your computer and deal with it as if it and not you are its master; iPhone applications are artificially limited, as in the case of Skype only allowing its usage in a wi-fi network but not over your mobile carrier's data account; or the artificial exclusion of memory cards while charging an arm and a leg so you can have 32gb on your iPhone instead of 16gb.
The iPhone is not alone and there are more promising contenders out there, though. The Palm Pre looked good until Apple released its latest version of iTunes and excluded it from accessing its facilities; now the Pre is a small time player with not much of a future, especially outside the USA.
Nokia always has the potential to deliver, and indeed its upcoming N900 looks like a smashing hit: it runs proper Linux, which should allow it to do things I do on my Linux desktop and netbooks. Problem is, as far as I know Linux does not have the applications I would want to use on a mobile phone: I am not aware of a Linux version of Tomtom, for example. What good is a sophisticated phone if you can't do much with it?
Android based phones are also promising. This Google operating system is open sourced, which is always a good start (the only way to go, if you ask me). But as with the Nokia, things come down to the lack of good applications to run on your phone. Sure, it would provide good web surfing facilities and good contact management facilities (I assume synchronizing with Google Calendar and Contacts would be dead easy, unlike the case with my Windows Mobile device). But what about going that extra mile, with nice entertainment and GPS solutions?

The lack of a genuinely good all around smartphone is annoying me. For now, I will continue to live in shame and stick to my Windows Mobile device, probably until it dies (given the way it has been going I won't have to wait long).
What's to come later? Sadly, with the way things are, I have to say the iPhone is the best contender for a private user such as myself. The best, but a very compromised winner indeed.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

We Was Robbed

Today was AFL grand final day, a game after which Geelong was declared the Australian Rules champion for the year. And I am here to declare the losers, St Kilda, were robbed.
I'm not just saying it because I wanted St Kilda to win. I'm pretty indifferent to the Aussie Rules sport in general; I find it too violent and rather unimaginative. With the absence of anything like an offside rule or a three seconds rule, the game can quickly deteriorate into each team putting a few bullies near their opponents' goals with the rest of the team just kicking the ball upfield in the hope their bullies are bullies enough to catch it.
My problem, however, is with the way the champion is decided in a single game. That is simply unfair!
Compare the AFL state of affairs with, say, the English Premier League. On the English side you have 20 teams fighting it out over a gruelling season of 38 games; in order to be the champion there you have to be consistent enough over an extended period of time. The AFL's grand final way, however, means you can have a relatively lousy season in general followed by a lucky break in the finals and then a good day at the grand final to win the title. Worse, your team could be the best all season long, but then suffer a single game's slight and kiss what should have been your title away. Something like those two scenarios, to one extent or another, happened last year when Hawthorn beat Geelong to the title. Something like that, but to a much lesser degree, happened today when the best team to play this year, St Kilda, lost to Geelong. And that's a shame, because the pages of history will tend to remember the grand final's winner rather than the season's best team.
I admit there is a lot of fun to be had in sorting things through a single match. TV Ratings wise, this is the best event of the year. That, however, does not mean this is in the best interest for the sport, and better alternatives can easily be found. Looking over to England again, they have their FA Cup competition in addition to the Premiership; it's no big wonder which of the competitions is considered the more worthy one, but at least they have the cup final with its high ratings and the chance for a Cinderella to make her appearance. And there are ways to even make more of your grand final: why not copy the NBA way and have a best of seven grand final series instead of having all your eggs in one basket?
Whichever way you look at it, the correlation between a grand final and the identification of the best team out there is significantly lower than in the other options. St Kilda was, indeed, robbed.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The Name of the Game

Sharp eyed readers of this blog might have noticed it has recently changed its name. It is no longer Going Down; now it's The Descent of A Man. Why the change?
Well, Going Down was never a name on which I spent much thought. It was a quick replacement to the rather crude "Reuvenim, Australia" that started this blog off, and meant to convey the double meaning of deterioration (in the sense Bruce Springsteen talks about in his song I'm Going Down) as well as describe me and my migration Down Under. But is that the best way to describe what this blog is about?
I didn't feel so: I'm no longer a newcomer to Australia. I'm more at home in Australia than anywhere else in the world, and by a very wide margin. Sure, in many respects I will always be the foreigner here; my indifference to tomorrow's AFL Grand Final demonstrates that better than anything else. Yet on the other hand I also know some aspects of Australia better than most natives.
What I did notice was an ongoing trend with my blog: the repeated emphasis on science and the scientific method. Not just in discussions about science itself, but more so in the application of critical thinking and in discussing cases where such thinking was obviously absent. I therefore wanted a name for my blog that had scientific connotations; and the more it could convey some of the second law of thermodynamics's sense of ongoing deterioration the better.
The Descent of A Man does it all, from Darwin to Down Under. Finally, my blog has a worthy title.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Like a Virgin

Why did ex-president Clinton have sex with Monica? Why would the most powerful person in the world risk his position for such short term gratification?
In my opinion, most of us are looking at this question the wrong way. I argue Clinton went on to become president in order to acquire the status that would allow him to have sex with whoever and whenever he felt like. Monica was the endeavor's purpose rather than a sidestep.
A similar affair is going on with our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. In Australia, the guy is talking the talk about the environment but not walking the walk. He signed Kyoto, but his proposed emissions trading scheme is a joke that will allow polluters to continue their way till our grandchildren die; if they were even to know such a scheme is on in the first place given its low emission reduction targets. Yet when Rudd roams around in his frequent flyer affairs he goes back to talking mode and tells the whole world we need to do something. So much so that ex-president Clinton went on to praise Rudd’s intellect.
My argument is simple: The main reason for Kevin Rudd being the way he is his obsession with receiving such compliments from such people. They are the driver for Rudd becoming a Prime Minister.
To our Kevin Rudd, Clinton’s kissing up was the equivalent of Monica’s blowjob.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Sports View

One of the greatest things about the internet is that it puts an incredible amount of multimedia content within our reach. At the obvious level there are the huge amounts of photos on Flickr and the clips on YouTube, but there is more to it. Most people know the internet can be used to acquire TV programs and even movies, but that’s where most people’s reach ends.
What people do not realize is that sporting events are also within easy reach for everyone using the internet. It’s just that the acquisition method is different: you need to watch them live, as only a rare few sporting events are available for non live internet access. If you are prepared to satisfy your sporting curiosity with live viewing using the internet, you will find there are hardly any sporting events worth watching that are not accessible via the internet; that is to say, you will be able to access more than any off air or cable service will provide you with. And like the best things in life, it’s all available for free.

This post is here to give you an example of how the magic of watching a sporting event live using the internet can be achieved. But before the magical discussion it is important to remember the following:
1. Technically, a lot of the sporting events broadcasted over the internet are illegal. It’s interesting to note a recent case in Israeli courts where so called pirate broadcasting was deemed legal by the courts, but I suspect the battle is far from over. For now I will settle with stating this post is not about legal ramifications but rather about the technical ability to watch sports over the internet.
2. The quality of live sports over the internet is usually very poor compared with even standard definition transmissions. There are exceptions, though, and often you can even watch in high definition quality.
3. Most of the internet sports broadcasting originates in non English speaking languages. Be prepared to acquaint yourself with Chinese or Polish commentators.
4. Given the temporary nature of the links with which sports are being broadcast over the web, setting up your computer to record the transmission for you so you can watch it later is not trivial.

With the caveats in mind, let’s step into the simpler part of the how. Say you wanted to watch the US Open tennis semi-final match between Williams and Clijsters.
Go to the website, the best source of sporting web links I am aware of, and choose the “Live Sports” link (do browse around the other options while you’re there, you will find many interesting things as you do). Now choose your particular sports. In our case it’s tennis.
The site will provide you with a list of all tennis matches about to take place in the near future. Scroll down the list to find our match and click on the “live” link to its right.
You will now be provided with a list of web links where the match will be available to one extent or another. You see, some links provide highlights and not the game itself, etc. You can rely on the user reviews displayed next to each link to provide some sort of an indication, and you can also rely on the specified links’ bandwidth to determine quality. Note the list is sorted by source, which should help identify a transmission language of choice.
In order for the links to work there is usually a need for some additional software to be installed on your PC, although that is not always the case. Some of the link lead to web pages where the sporting event is broadcast using run of the mill media player technology that allow you to view the match directly from your internet browser; these, however, are the minority.
Of the other technologies available for sports broadcasting, by far the most popular is the peer to peer one called sopcast. in order to use a sopcast link, you will need to download sopcast software to your PC and install its sopcast client. Luckily, sopcast clients are easily available for free downloads both for Windows and Linux (just google it up). Essentially, sopcast is a peer to peer technology that works similarly to bit torrent downloading: you share whatever you’re viewing with others.

If you managed to stay with me so far you would have probably realized by now the world is your oyster, at least when it comes to the availability of sporting events.
With the amount and quality of contents over the internet, the question I often ask myself is why people bother with cable TV in the first place. I am yet to find a satisfying answer to that question.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Inteview

A blog can change the world. Sort of.
A post on this very blog back in April, discussing a visit to the Melbourne Museum and us becoming museum members, has resulted in me being contacted by the museum: As a part of the museum's regular six monthly publication for members they are doing interviews with new members, and my post made me a natural nominee.
They emailed me the questions, I emailed them my answers (it was a very online exchange: I even wrote my answers on Google Docs); then we kept on trying to coordinate a photo session for us all at the museum, which would allow me to take part on the photo as opposed to take the photo itself. Dylan had other plans, though: He kept being sick; we settled on a link to a photo of ours posted on Flickr.
This week I have received the museum's magazine in my postbox, and indeed an abbreviated version of my interview is at its centrefold. Two colleagues at the office have already stopped me to discuss it, having received the magazine as fellow museum members.
However, what I consider a much more interesting uncut full version, "director's cut" version of the interview, has been published on the Museum Victoria website with much prominence. To say I'm very proud is an understatement.

I urge you all to go and have a read of it here.

As you can read for yourself, I used the opportunity given to me to say what I have to say without reservation. I have strong reasons to believe this interview is the best platform I ever had to express my opinions about one of the things I'm most passionate about - science, the scientific method and the way they apply to us mere mortals - and so I am very thankful for the opportunity. Special thanks go, therefore, to Museum Victoria's Cath Laird for making this all possible and for being patient with us while Dylan was sick.
Now stop reading this and go and read the interview!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Battle of the Sexes

For a species whose every member is the product of some form of sexual interaction, we sure seem to be developing some aversion to the concept of sex. Not abstinence, goodness forbid, but rather avoidance on all other occasions; pretending it doesn't exist.
A case in point is the way we tend to use the words “sex” and “gender”. I got to notice this phenomenon at work when dealing with clients insisting on “gender reports” rather than “sex reports”. Although there is not much use in correcting them only to be ignored I will state the differences here, as copied from the Oxford Dictionary (check it out for yourselves here):
“USAGE[:] The words gender and sex both have the sense ‘the state of being male or female’, but they are typically used in slightly different ways: sex tends to refer to biological differences, while gender tends to refer to cultural or social ones.”
Given the dictionary’s explanation and given that office related reporting is to do with the biological belonging of employees to either one of the sexes, it is clear what office staff worldwide are after is sex and not gender related. So why is it they prefer to use the term gender rather than sex? Is there really a beast inside us waiting to turn us into orgy hungry office beasts raping one another in broad business daylight by the mere mention of a word?
I don’t think so. I think what we’re seeing here is yet another ugly manifestation of the Politically Correct culture, aimed at appeasing some elusive population of people that doesn’t really exist by virtue of avoiding the use of cultural habits that can only be deemed dirty to those with twisted minds. Everyone amongst us office workers knows what sex is and has sex to one extent or another in one form or another, so what’s the big deal here?

If you wanted more evidence of society going crazy here, check out the way censorship works. Yes, we should call it censorship, and I’m referring to the way it’s applied to movies and TV shows.
This blog has already referred to the way video game Grand Theft Auto IV has been censored in Australia: Violence and executions are allowed, but sex is censored. The same applies to our TVs: Reporting on the recent US Open tennis semi final climax between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters had Williams’ extensive usage of the word “fuck” beeped out, but never saw a problem with her threats of violence. Now, which of the two is worse – the use of a not so nice a word, or the detailed description of how someone is going to perform some horrifically violent act on another?
The morals of TV stations have always been dubious; they are the result of commercial rather than rational arguments. That, however, does not mean we need to apply the same twisted reasoning in our offices.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Please read the following and venture your opinion on what is wrong with the following picture:
-A major record company is offering a large chunk of its music videos for streaming over web at a high quality (given the web format and its technical limitations).
-The service is can be accessed any time the user feels like.
-The service is absolutely free. There are, however, the occasional unobtrusive ads popping up at the bottom of the screen.

So, what is wrong with that picture? Nothing!
In a move that establishes the PlayStation 3 as more than just games console and rather a home entertainment hub, Sony has just started delivering such a service to all PS3 owners. The service, called VidZone, is obviously geared towards the younger amongst us with emphasis on the latest charts and artists with their pop trash (I can’t believe they actually refer to it as music). But, easily accessible beneath the pile of rubbish on top is a very large catalog of quality music videos: we spent last night browsing through some of the catalog’s surprise offerings from Fatboy Slim, The Police, The Clash, The Cardigans, U2, Michael Jackson, and a great numerous more. It is, effectively, an endless source of music entertainment, an MTV channel of your own that is limited only to the realm of the Sony label. There are even some high quality classical music performances available.
The operation of VidZone is slick, if a bit slow to start. You download the VidZone application for free from the PS3 shop. Once started, the application allows you to select videos from the charts or to browse by artist / genre. You go about adding songs to your play list, and there she goes – and endless supply of music videos at a high quality (way better than YouTube) is there for you to enjoy any time you feel like, for free.

I think special applause go to Sony for this move; I just hope they won’t change their minds and start asking for money. For now, VidZone proves where the music industry should be heading: with free and easy access, there is absolutely no need for me to make so called illegal copies of the material offered to me by Sony; whenever I want to watch the music video I just go ahead and do so. And I don't even need to struggle with silly DRM copy protection mechanisms. All the while, Sony is making money out of advertisements and the great marketing work its doing in favor of its old catalog: people watching the videos are bound to be enticed enough to put their hands on an album, much more than people with no access to the music at all.
This is the future of music, and bravo to Sony for ushering it in.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Born in a Land Without Borders

The Rolling Stones said "you can't always get what you want, but". That "but" is important.
As I have recently posted, I am now the proud owner of a Pentax SLR. Having had the pleasure of traveling with it internationally and also shooting with it locally, it has become obvious to me this new camera of mine is significantly better than my old Nikon: it can take photos in more extreme conditions and is more forgiving while doing so, while the results are significantly better in quality and can be tweaked much easier on the camera itself.
I moved from Nikon to Pentax because I thought Pentax gives me more bang for the buck while Nikon allows itself to be unnecessirily expensive due to its large repertoire of lenses. And now I'm getting hit the other way around as I find it hard to put my hands on a particular lens I am looking for. The cheaper shops simply don't stock lenses for Pentax mounts, and even at the more expensive shops you will find they don't have the lenses in stock and have to order them while you wait. Actually, that last scenario is tells exactly what happened to me as I put a deposit on a lens under the assumption of receiving it in two days, only to be told a week later the lens is so new it is yet to arrive in Australian shores and no one knows when it will. I went and got my deposit back.
There is, however, another option for the Australian consumer, which a colleague at work turned my attention to. Australian customs regulations say you need to pay customs fees on any imports costing more than $1000 (shipment costs are included in this figure). This meant that as long as my lens of choice is cheap enough, I can get it from overseas; or, as is most likely with photography equipment, I can get it from a shop in New York. Say, B&H Photo, the world's biggest photography shop (and an interesting tourist attraction while in Manhattan). It's not the cheapest shop around; B&H sells at RRP prices while many others will cut them significantly. It is, however, very reliable, and unlike the cheaper options it accepts overseas orders while inflicting lesser torture. Indeed, the Via de la Rosa the cheaper New York shops make you go through was definitely enough to stir me away.
Eventually, I ended up ordering my lens from a New York shop's eBay store. The price was the same as B&H when postage was added, but they promise bonuses such as filters and an international warranty. I've had enough love affairs on eBay to know that what's promised can be significantly different to what's delivered; the point of this post, though, is to alert the average Aussie of their ability to overtake local shops when those fail to deliver decent service.
Consider it a privilege: In Israel one needs to pay customs for importing anything over $50 (US Dollars), whereas in England my parents in law had to pay a fee when we sent them a home made calendar with our photos. Being an Aussie never felt better...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Your Time Is Gonna Come

You can trust the USA to make you laugh. No, I'm not talking about Hollywood and its output; this time around I'm referring to the debate they have over there concerning their health system. Sure, you can get the best health services the world can offer in the USA, but you can also find yourself dying because you can't pay for it. In the mean time, we have ourselves a continuing show on news TV, a show where we see Americans talking of health services models that are less privatized, the way the rest of the First World has, as if it is the devil itself.
I can laugh at them, and I sure do; but are we, Australians, any better?

Australia also suffers from the private health plague, which seems to grow worse with time. Most people join a private health program just because tax regulations make it cheaper to enroll than not to, but another prevailing reason for enrollment is the sense of security you get when you know your health is covered.
Let me, however, ask one simple question: What is it, exactly, that you're getting when you join a private health insurance program in Australia?
Let's start with the redundant part that's there as an afterthought: private health insurance usually gets you some subsidization on what is commonly referred to as "extra" health treatments, things like physiotherapy or acupuncture. Big fucking deal; they might as well subsidize movie tickets instead.
The real product you get out of private health insurance is hospital cover. But when you look at it thoroughly you see there is a twist: when dealing with emergencies, as in when you have a heart attack and your life is on the line, you will still go to a public hospital's emergency room. What private health really covers you for is elective surgery, that is: surgery that does not need to be done on an urgent basis, like - say - a hip replacement or the removal of a tumor.
The twist is that you can get both a hip replacement and a tumor removal at a public hospital, albeit under inferior conditions (you probably won't have a room recover in by yourself, for example). Yet no one wants to wait ages for a tumor to be removed; so what you do is join a private health fund and jump the public health system's queue.
And that's exactly what a private health insurance scheme in Australia delivers: a way to jump surgery queues. Needless to say, no health insurer would present their product to you this way; it won't sound nice and you would feel sleazy. They politely wrap their product up in fuzzy and cozy descriptions. Yet, underneath the packaging, looking us straight in the eye, is a mechanism for us to be able to screw our fellow Australians so we can get our bit first.

Earlier this week we had a presentation from a private health insurer at work. This insurer is now offering special rates for the employees of the organization I'm working for, so they came over to talk to us about their product. That is, to sell it to us.
A delegation of several suit uniforms wearing men and women led the discussion. Amongst them was an ex Aussie Olympian swimmer; he did most of the talking, telling us how important it is for us to look after our health. Correct; it's very important.
The problem is that he then went on to suggest that the company that now hires him to do its PR can deliver this health to us. I couldn't believe how annoyed this suggestion made me; it was a blatant lie, and he sure as hell should have known it. You don't buy health when you buy a private health insurance policy; a Nintendo Wii would give you more health. We've already established it: you buy the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will be at the top of the queue when your time comes to be cut and pasted.
The fact that health insurer had to bring a sweet talking celebrity swimmer to wrap their product up with says it all. It says that Australia cannot have a healthy society when the richer knowingly stab the poorer in the back.

Disclaimer: The author is and has been a queue jumper.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Caves of Steel

I greatly enjoyed our recent holiday in Singapore. It’s a great place to go to with a child, a place of certainty in a world full of a two year old’s randomly inserted uncertainties. It’s safe, it’s clean, the people are nice, it’s not too expensive and often quite cheap, and even if its not the world’s most spectacular tourist destination it does provide all the facilities we need for a family holiday.
In many ways, Singapore is a microcosm of our world. Although very small in size, its population comes from at least four core ethnic groups. You walk about between the locals and you feel like you’re in some international jet set society because everyone looks different. And being that Singapore is located at a pivotal geographical position, as evident by a port that’s got more ships in it and around it than people on Melbourne’s long stretches of beach, there are also many people that, like us, were in some sort of a transition through Singapore. The mix of the people, the accents, the style and the pollution made it clear: Singapore is the Blade Runner’s world.

It’s the peculiarities of the place I found the most interesting. Like, say, walking a very crowded street while noting that I can clearly see over everyone’s heads; despite all the mix of people there, Singapore’s population is still quite on the short side of things (as evident by locals frequently referring to our two year old Dylan as if he was much older). Then there's Singapore's obsession with the American through, say, their overpriced Ben & Jerry's ice cream while all the while their own ice cream is much better. And lest we forgot the affection the English Premier League earns: Surprisingly enough, it seemed as if Liverpool gains the upper hand over Manchester United in popularity, at least when counting replica shirts in the street; but why do they follow a sport taking place on the other side of the world so passionately in the first place?
And what about Singapore’s obsession with removing anything and everything green in replacing it with a huge concrete made monument? Indeed, Singapore’s construction sites make those of Australia look like child’s play. Singapore is the closest thing I have encountered to Asimov’s Caves of Steel, giant man made constructions aimed at removing man from nature. They’re impressive to look at and admire, but after a while you find yourself yearning for blue sky and some green.
Of Singapore’s peculiarities, the one that tops my list on the interest scale is the simple question of how does Singapore manage to create a single determined nation out of its small mix of many cultures. We got a bit of an answer to this question during our holiday as we were fortunate to arrive just in time for the Singapore National Day celebrations (and the accompanying shopping discounts) as well as, a week later, the Prime Minister’s special speech.

With National Day, we learned Singapore is a young nation that achieved its independence surprisingly lately. In typical Singapore manner the celebrations are everywhere but they're also very well organized and polite; nothing like the alcohol induced atmosphere that is at the center of all Aussie celebrations.
And then came the peak of the celebrations, a moment in which all Singaporeans took their national pledge “as one”. Now, I’m unable to quote the pledge’s text, but I can tell you that it was a fairly nice one: no “we’ll kick they're ass” or anything like that, but rather a promise to be a nice and good citizen. My problem, though, is with this repeated theme of doing the pledge “as one”; there is no room for individualism or doubt. In Singapore, like in George W Bush’s world, you’re either with us or against us. The distance between a nice pledge uttered this way and a similar pledge that has been uttered in Germany some seventy years ago is, by my reckoning, way too short for comfort.
I doubt such a trick could have been pulled in a democracy. On the other hand, the people of Singapore are obviously happy and well off; they don’t seem troubled by their inability to speak for themselves. To my eyes, they seemed fairly happy to trade certain freedoms of the society level in exchange for better living at the personal level. I can see where they come from and I agree that our democracy has its shortcomings. However, I also think that with all of its shortcomings, our democracy is the best way thus far to run a society; call me silly, but I like being able to say my Prime Minister is an idiot.

Next came the Prime Minister’s speech. The key idea there was his identification of religion as a potential trouble spot for Singapore. Religion, said the Prime Minister, has to give way to Singapore being able to run as a healthy society without people segregating themselves in their own communities.
The day after, the local newspaper we were receiving to our hotel room every morning repeated the chant and added plenty of analysis to the pile with items such as guidelines to living in harmony and putting your religion aside without offending it. Again, there was no word of criticism on the authorities, not even from religious leaders; if you were to believe it, they were the first to praise the Prime Minister for his speech. Yeah, right; show me a religion that would give it grip over the people away and I’ll show you a dead religion. Its power over the people it calls its own that is a religion’s only power.
Me, I would be curious to see a bald Singapore Prime Minister go a bit further and boycott religious education to children altogether. That, however, won’t happen; even the leader of an all out totalitarian country knows better. In order to keep building your caves of steel you need to keep your builders happily sedated.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Eye of the Needle

Vaccinations were on the air last night at the ABC’s 7.30 Report, and they weren’t talking about Swine Flu. Apparently, despite baby vaccinations being free and easily available in Australia, many parents choose not to vaccinate their kids. The program reported on an unimmunized baby who recently died from Whooping Cough while interviewing parents, scientists, and representatives from organizations that claim vaccinations are bad.
As expected, the scientists made references to peer reviewed papers and research; great. The "funny because it’s so sad" side of things was represented by anti vaccinations advocates, who brought up individual claims for damage caused by vaccinations and build up this anti-vaccinations case on them. These people obviously lack a good grasp on reality in the sense they are not aware that it’s all a matter of statistics: people in this world die of mundane things such as swallowing an aspirin pill, yet no one is calling on the ban of aspirin because everyone realizes the great overall benefit of aspirin. In the same sense, cars kill hundreds if not thousands of people each day yet no one is calling on the ban of the internal combustion engine. So, if a minority of people have ill effects due to vaccinations while millions of others stay alive because of them, we should not ban the vaccinations either. And if the vaccinations ended up doing more damage than good, go ahead and provide the evidence; yet these people settle with fear strategies that cost babies’ lives.
If the anti vaccinations people were bad, the worst people have to be the “agnostics”: those that can’t decide which camp to choose and end up doing nothing. These people were represented by a mother claiming it’s just too hard for parents to make the call between the vaccinate / not vaccinate camps, so she just ended up not doing anything.
Too hard? You have to be joking! One side has peer reviewed evidence on their side, the other has sporadic claims; if you can’t choose between the two then I’m sorry, but your brain is dysfunctional (and please give me a call the next time you’re after a used car, I’m sure I can sort you with the deal of a lifetime (for me)).
The fact people can go about proclaiming to TV they can’t make this choice is evidence for just how bad our education system is as well as evidence for the marginal state science has in our society. The 7.30 Report is probably entrenching ignorance, too, by being too politically correct and pitting science against myth in a manner that makes the ignorant majority out there perceive the two to have an equal claim on reality.

Slow Emotion Replay

We noticed that Dylan's ability to recall stuff he had previously experienced is growing stronger and stronger. Jo came up with the idea of printing him some photos he should like from our trip to Singapore so he could recall the memories, and indeed he did: His reaction to the photos was so strong I quickly took the camera and started shooting it.

For the record, shortly after getting into the bath (right after the video was taken), his favorite bit of the day, Dylan started crying because he wanted to come out and play with the photos.
A child is definitely a work in progress.