Sunday, 29 December 2013

Of Adam and Eve

The other week us parents were having a chat with our son. Don't ask me how we got to discuss it, but through this and that we ended up telling him of the biblical story on Adam, Eve, the talking snake, and that apple of theirs. We also told him of the story's implications: that through the woman eating the forbidden fruit came pain and suffering to the whole of humanity. That through the sin being committed by a woman came millennia of mistreatment to women with discrimination that still continues in force.
His reaction was to laugh and mock the story. As in, "what, all the bad things in the world happen because a woman ate a fruit?"
Clearly, that should be the reaction of any rational person hearing of Adam and Eve's story. Alas, our society is not made of rational people; the vast majority of us have received religious indoctrination during their childhood, indoctrination that prevents them from assessing matters of religion the way they would, say, their finances.

The problem is that religion does not stand on its own. If one accepts religion then one accepts the whole system of morality it brings along. And that is where the catch lies.
Because of religious indoctrination, people think it is a good idea to mutilate the genitals of their daughters or just to mess with those of their sons. Other people think their religion stands before all the evidence in the world, therefore refusing to accept phenomena such as global warming; they insist on "fighting" a losing war on drugs, on making the lives of tenth of our population miserable through their refusal to recognise gay right, and on prolonging the lives of the elderly who just want to finish their lives off. Some times these people can even become their country's Prime Minister and ruin it for their entire country.
It all starts with the little things. It starts with parents insisting to lie to their kids about the whole Santa bringing their presents, often the first step in "teaching" their kids to accept falsehoods and thus a fine preparation for the bigger falsehood of religion and god/s. It continues with state schools running events such as Christmas Carols nights ahead of the holiday, or worse - state schools running religious education classes that are nothing more than organised Christian evangelism propaganda.
All of these and more can take place because the prevailing state of mind with the average Australian is that "a little bit of religion doesn't hurt anyone", or its cousin "it doesn't matter". Bullshit; it matters and it matters a lot, otherwise we would not have a Prime Minister in Tony Abbott that can openly speak in contempt of global warming.
We would not have a country filled with people who think the story of Adam and Eve makes sense.

Merry [belated] Christmas to you, too.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Settle this and that

You know you're an Ocher Israel when one of the main reasons you return a Christmas gift back to the shop is it being manufactured in an Israeli settlement.

Image by Ken Worker, Creative Commons license

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Advantage: Streaming

When one has Led Zeppelin’s music on CDs, one is not expected to think much of the appearance of said band’s entire catalog on Spotify, does one?
Turns out one is wrong. Spotify has the advantage of being able to offer the most up-to-date versions of everything, including music from a band that has ceased to exist 30 years ago. And it uses this advantage: it offers remastered versions of the band’s music, which make everything sound so much better. Listening through good headphones, this “new” version is a guaranteed deliverer of musical orgasms.

Not that I had to wait for Led Zeppelin to show up on Spotify to learn that lesson. I learned it already when Pink Floyd’s catalog made its Spotify appearance.
Regardless, the point is the same: as long as the price is right and the end user is not abused, the future of music reproduction lies with streaming.

Led Zeppelin album cover: Spotify

Saturday, 21 December 2013

An Army with a Country

Earlier this week, I was informed, a group of soldiers visited the old people’s place my father is staying at, back in Israel, and did its best to cheer people up. Everyone seemed happier as a result of this activity. I, being the Ocher Israel that I am, was left wondering: why did the soldiers visit the old people’s place?
The immediate answer, already given, is to cheer the old people up. Which, given that it seems to have worked, is great. But still, why soldiers? Aren’t they supposed to be doing military stuff instead? I’m pretty sure none of them were conscripted to the cause of cheering old people up.

The discussion can move on into the direction of the old people place’s visit doing good to the soldiers, too. It can help their morale as well as act as some sort of a group cohesion activity. But still I will ask, what do these have to do with a visit to an old people’s place? Wouldn’t the army be able to come up with better ways to achieve the same military goals?
The discussion can continue for a long time with some valid reasons for a group of soldiers visiting an old people’s place raised in the process. Yet, I will argue, there will always be a certain shadow over this discussion, because we should all know the reason why a group of soldiers visits an old people’s place. And this underlaying reason is all to do with the militarisation of society.
In other words, the army needs to be seen out there in places deemed unnatural for soldiers to be at in order to be perceived as the people’s republic army. If the army’s goal is to achieve such a level of popularity and acceptance (as opposed to, say, merely defending the country), then sending soldiers to visit old people’s places is probably one of the most effective ways for it to achieve its goals. Eclipsed probably only by visiting schools (oh, but they do that already, too).

Israel is not alone with this exercise. As part of his election campaign, now PM Tony Abbott promised to let the Australian military deal with “stopping the [asylum seekers’] boats”. Clearly, there are lots of politicians across both countries who consider the militarisation of their society a positive thing.
I don’t. I’m with Herzl, the first Zionist ever, on this one:
We shall restrict our professional soldiers to their barracks.

Image by Yossi Gurvitz, Creative Commons licence 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Carpet Crawlers


The other day I visited a private school for the first time. To say it was interesting would be an understatement.
The first peculiar thing about this school that I visited was it being a girls only school. What twisted mind came up with that idea? It goes further, though. Oil paintings along the school hall portray the images of past and present principles. All of them, surprise surprise, women. I understand the need for corrective discrimination, but somehow I suspect this is not such a case; I suspect it is rather the very discrimination women constantly “enjoy” that got this particular private school to be the way it is.
Let me get back to those oil paintings. Yes, specially commissioned oil paintings line up the hall. Couple that with the squeaky clean carpet on the floor, and you could be mistaken into thinking you are actually visiting some sort of a museum. Those carpets, by the way, range across the school buildings and classes.
It made me wonder. Given all the grandeur and the elaborate settings, and given the contrast between those and the equivalent settings at my son’s state school (which, as state schools go, is a well off one), please regale me with the following: why does even 1c of public funding go towards the financing of this private school?

The point is worth considering given Australia’s current setting. All we hear about in the financial news are budget deficits and the various austerity measures planned in response (coming from a Liberal government elected primarily for its self-alleged financial prowess). One of the more clever ways this government of ours is seeking to cover up the deficit is by hitting the weaker ones with a mallet: while everyone was focused on Holden closing down, our beloved government snuck the news it is going to cancel the pay rises it promised aged care and childcare employees. Because, of course, these people are already earning too much money.
Have no fear, the well off are not to be harmed. They will be able to continue sending their children to carpet laden private schools where can admire their self commissioned oil paintings at the tax payers' expense.

The above photo is not an image of a private school, though it is not far from it

Monday, 16 December 2013

Smoke on the Waters

Roger Waters

There is a phrase in Hebrew, "Ocher Israel" (עוכר ישראל), that occasionally gets used to label those going against mainstream Israeli culture or Judaism. Particularly people of left wing leanings, and particularly Israelis/Jews of left wing leanings.
I was trying to find a good English translation to the term. Google translates it to "hater of Israel", which is not that accurate; DuckDuckGo suggested a more accurate "disturber of Israel", but it also fails to hold on to the original term's charm. I asked my friends to come up with a worthy translation; one suggestion was "Moshe Reuveni", which is probably very accurate, but misses the point somewhat. It was also pointed out to me the original Hebrew Biblical phrase was translated to English as "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?", but again - it doesn't sound as good.
So I'll stick with Ocher Israel.

All of the above was in order to inform you there is a new Ocher Israel in town, Roger Waters. Waters, in case you are unfamiliar, is one of the key people behind Pink Floyd (the main composer, nonetheless), which thus makes him one of the most influential people upon yours truly. It seems as if Waters' latest crime is comparing Israelis with Nazis, which earned him the wrath of Israelis and Jews alike. In other words, he's a Moshe Reuveni (or rather, an Ocher Israel).
This post is not about whether Waters' comparison is right or wrong, but rather about the act of comparing itself. This is because Waters does not seem to have received responses telling him he's wrong, but rather received tons of responses telling him that comparing Jews/Israelis to Nazis is sacrilege, an act filled with antisemitism which puts the heritage of six million Jewish victims in shame.
I wish to question that.
The way I see it, there are some comparisons between Israel and the Nazis that are obviously and undoubtedly correct. For example, both were/are land occupiers: the Nazis occupied many parts of Europe while Israel is occupying the West Bank and is still controlling Gaza. So there you go: a valid comparison.
By the same token, it is also clear there are things where Israel cannot be compared to the Nazis. As much as one can dislike Israel, one can still not blame Israel for creating mass production death camps.
Now, I don't know where on the continuum between the two comparisons Waters' is. My point, however, is that comparisons can be drawn.
I would also argue that comparisons should be drawn. After all, the Nazis have taken the part of the universally accepted manifestation of ultimate evil upon themselves; while it is all too easy to always draw comparisons with them, a good comparison can be educational. That is, after all, the whole point of learning from historical mistakes so as to prevent them from happening again.
That is why I think this particular example, one that compares Australia's treatment of asylum seekers with the Nazis, is quite valid. It was made in response to this Amnesty report, telling us asylum seekers are held in extreme heat conditions yet receive less than adequate amounts of water. The report on ABC spoke of half a litre per person, with said persons held in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius. To me, this sounds very much like concentration camp conditions.
Regardless, the comparison was made yet no one bothered to raise the claim held up against Roger Waters. No one went on record saying that Pirate Party Australia, who made the comparison I linked to, puts the heritage of six million Jewish victims in shame.

I can thus conclude that the only Nazi comparisons one is disallowed to make are those comparing between Nazis and Israelis/Jews. The rest are fair game.
In other words, it is clear that the bulk of criticism against Roger Waters is nothing but ad hominem.

Image by Guillermo Cadiz, Creative Commons licence

Saturday, 14 December 2013

It's a Miracle!


I thought I'd add fuel to the Hanukah fire from the previous post. Because you know me, I always respect other people's silly beliefs no matter how silly they are.
The particular aspect of Hanukah I would like to point your attention to is the famous miracle of Hanukah. You see, it's not the historical victory over the Greeks that is actually celebrated with Hanukah, but rather the alleged "fact" that the oil that was found at the temple after it was relieved of the Greeks - the only bit of oil they could find - actually managed to last them whole eight days. No, they did not use the oil for deep frying donuts or anything as remotely constructive; they lit their Menorah instead.
Can you think of a miracle mightier than that?

Completely unrelated to Hanukah, I would like to remind you that you are reading this very post through a contraption containing billions of transistors utilising the principles of quantum physics. My message is delivered to your particular contraption through a chain of somewhat similar contraptions spanning the entire globe and its surroundings (think satellites) that form a big network. This network allows you to do all sorts of things, such as providing you with access to the bulk of human knowledge, facilitating the waste of time known as Facebook, or allowing you to take part in a video conference with partners across the globe.
Put things into this perspective and you can see where I'm coming from when I mock Hanukah and its miracles. Or, in other words: the religions we are holding on to are clearly way past their expiration dates. We need and we should move on with our lives.
There are much better things to celebrate than f-ing Hanukah.

Image by Jen T, Creative Commons license

Thursday, 12 December 2013


7th Night of Chanukah

Not to be outdone by the side of the family claiming I'm robbing my son out of his childhood through my anti Santa stance, a member of the other side of the family has recently accused me of losing touch with their side. Why? Because of not celebrating Hanukah with my son. To be precise, I was told I should be displaying more "Zika".
Zika is an archaic Hebrew word, now reserved purely for religious connotations. It stands for "link", in the context of maintaining a link to Judaism.
With Zika in mind, let us have a look at the story of Hanukah. Let us check this missing link.

I will start with the elephant in the room. The only reason non-Jews are aware of Hanukah's very existence is to do with this holiday supplying Christians the fig leaf required for them to be able to force Christmas into our generally secular world. The way it works is simple: by pointing a finger at the Jews celebrating their holiday around the same time of the year, Christians think they can shake away any claim blaming them for forcing their holiday on people who do not share their faith.
As the Jewish ranking of holidays goes, Hanukah is a low order holiday. The reason is simple: unlike holidays such as Rosh Hashana, Pesach (Passover) or Shavuot, Hanukah is not a holiday ordered by God; it is a holiday created later in order to celebrate a historical victory, the victory of the Hasmoneans over the big empire of the time, the Greeks, in what is known as the Maccabean Revolt.
In Israel, probably the only country where Judaism does not suffer a confidence problem, Hanukah is a holiday celebrated almost exclusively by kids. There is a very good reason for that: the kids get a whole week off school while the adults don't get any days off work. Plus, the holiday does come with some nice traditions: you get to light candles every night (read: you get to play with fire), you get to eat jam filled donuts, and - a personal favourite - you get to eat potato cakes.
As you should be able to tell by now, Hanukah is a children's holiday. Personally, I recall celebrating it (mostly in the form of playing with fire) up to my early teens. Never did I celebrate it as an adult, which is pretty much why I do not celebrate it now, which is pretty much why my Aussie son has no clue about what Hanukah is, which is why I'm accused of losing my Zika.

I will go further and argue there are better reasons for not celebrating Hanukah, though. And the best reason is to do with the answer to the question of what the victory celebrated by Hanukah is all about?
Back when I was a child taught at Israel's religion infested schools, I was told the reason for the Maccabean Revolt was to do with the Jews' anger towards the Greeks. Anger caused by the Greeks defiling the Jewish God by placing their idols all over the place. The Jews revolted, and through the power of their God they kicked Greek ass - hence the holiday.
Nowadays I know better. I'm an atheist, and therefore I do not accept this whole "my god is bigger than yours" excuse; in my opinion they are all man made crap. So if we were to take away the godly excuses for this revolt, what one is left with is a successful rebellion by a tribe of barbarians against what was then the most advanced civilisation on earth. Greek philosophy, anyone? Or science? Or the first glimpse at democracy?
So no, historically speaking I do not think the Jews successful revolt was such great victory. Sure, it meant the Jews survived as a religious group, but it was not a great day for humanity. At least nothing I should be concerned with or celebrating today.

Now, I fully acknowledge there is nothing wrong with celebrating Hanukah through the holiday's little traditions. Why shouldn't I let my son play with fire, the way I used to? Or eat donuts? After all, he does have his Christmas tree and he does enjoy receiving Christmas gifts.
The answer there is to do with the culture we are living in. I couldn't care less about both Hanukah and Christmas, but everyone around us seems to think Christmas is the answer to global warming and then some. In this atmosphere, it takes a mighty effort to disconnect oneself from Christmas. Hanukah, however, is on the other side of that scale: without consistent, active effort on my behalf, my son will not even hear of that word. And let me be frank, I am not going to make an effort for the sake of a stupid holiday; I have enough challenges in my life.
My son and I will probably get to play with fire sooner or later. I suspect the context will not be Hanukah; I have the distinct suspicion it will happen when I teach him the virtues of barbecue cooking, Aussie style.

And now I will return to my family. Specifically, the accusation of me/us losing touch with them through not celebrating a Jewish holiday.
Seriously? Is that the reason we are losing touch? A F-ing holiday? If all that is connecting me to the family is our common religion then, boy, are we disconnected!
Allow me to suggest, instead, that there is a much bigger gulf between me and the Jewish side of my family. A gulf for which the Hanukah celebration or lack of act only as a minor symptom.

Image by slgckgc, Creative Commons license

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Person of the Year

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”
H.G. Wells

No one would have believed in the first years of this century’s second decade that our online world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligence services endowed with superior resources and the legal privileges to do as they will; that as we busied ourselves about our various concerns we were scrutinised as studied by the billion, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
But then came a person, one person, and opened our eyes to this grim reality. Speaking for myself, my view of the world has changed drastically since this person’s revelations came to light. Hard to imagine those revelations only a few months ago. Regardless, I will probably never see the world in the same way again. It was as if someone opened my eyes and showed me I was living in The Matrix. Reports in the media clearly indicate I am not the only one to feel this way.
Thus this man proved that a single person can still change the world, and change it for the better. I doubt there would come a year when the choice for “person of the year” could be as easy as this year’s.
That person is, of course, one Edward Snowden. Now, I don’t have much of an idea about him as a person. All I know is that a few years ago he made some remarks in favour of intelligence services. And, of course, that more recently he changed his mind as far as any change of mind can take place and made the bravest move to sacrifice the rest of his life for the benefit of society as a whole.
Regardless of my lack of familiarity with the person that is this hero, I would like to pay him back through an offer of asylum. Edward Snowden, you’re more than welcome to seek asylum at my house. Sadly, I suspect the government of Australia, a government that already labelled you (very inaccurately) to be “an American traitor”, would object to that.
Please, continue to prove them wrong.

Image: Screenshot of the film Prism by Praxis Films, believed to be OK to use under fair use

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Humans on Trains

Crowded train

The other week I gave my train seat away to a pregnant woman. I’m not here to boast about it; yours truly is a certified selfish bastard. It’s just that the occasion made me take note of things that are, perhaps, worth noting.

First, let’s clear the elephant out of the room. Reporting on Melbourne’s poor public transport facilities and f*cked up train services should surprise this blog’s readers as much as the news the sun rose in the east this morning. Still, that particular night was one of those extra worse service events where a couple of mishaps joined to hold train services by more than half an hour. In turn, this resulted in fewer trains available later, and those fewer trains resembling General Zod’s Superman 2 prison even more than usual.
Waiting on the platform, I took note of a pregnant woman looking like she was about to faint amongst the crowds. I took note and forgot about it; she was too far away for me to do anything about.
Several trains came and went. So crowded were they I did not even bother for a personal sardine experience. Then, finally, a train with a hint of room arrived; Israeli skills kicked in and I found myself not only on the train, but also on a seat. Surrounded by standing sardines.
I looked around and there she was, two meters away, that near fainting pregnant woman. I offered her my seat and joined the ranks of the sardines; she moved to a seated near fainting position.

The question I would like to ask is, why me? As in, how come did no one else offer this obviously pregnant, obviously ill feeling woman a seat? Neither did the seated nor the standing move a finger to help this visibly distressed woman.
It is not as if random acts of kindness are absent from Melbourne territories. They are frequent and they are common and they are all over the place. Melbourne is a place where random people you pass on the street may some times greet you with a "hello" or a "good morning". So why not here, at this specific crowded train?
My hypothesis is that when certain thresholds of menace are crossed, people forget they are human and basic survival instincts kick in. We forget who we are and focus entirely on Number One, as evident by a carriage full of sardines doing their best to not only avoid eye contact; if looks could pierce the floor they're aimed at, they would have that night.
The sad thing is that Melbourne’s ailing public transport systems seems to create this menacing effect on its users, turning them from people into a herd driven by survival instincts.

Commendation is to be offered to all the state governments that looked after our public transport system so well it can now turn us into animals.

Image by Daniel Bowen, Creative Commons license