27 June 2007

Lazy Boy

While the modern search engine is an amazing and dynamic tool (no pun intended) for navigating the enormous content (no pun intended) of the ever expanding (no pun intended) internet, clever website designers inevitably find a way to penetrate (no pun intended) popular search terms and surprise unsuspecting furniture resellers, like myself.

Honest, Mr IT Director, I was just looking for a picture of my sofa...I promise I will never use Yahoo! Search again.

16 June 2007

World Peace Through Inner Peace

The Dalai Lama Australia Tour 2007 stopped in Sydney today. Despite the piss-pour weather, a sizable crowd turned out to The Domain to hear His Holiness. I doubt as many stayed for the free One World concert that followed. I know that an hour and a half standing in the pouring rain was just about at the limit of my tolerance.

He began, as all trained public speakers should, with a few jokes about the weather and about the quality of Australian dental work before revealing the secret to world peace – inner peace. While religious faith is a time tested path to achieving inner peace, it is not necessary for its realization. It is not enough to be pleasant, kind, polite, and cheerful on the outside when your heart harbors fear and hatred. He used the Cold War as an example. Yes, on the surface there was peace and civility, but in reality, no one was at peace because they were afraid of what could happen at any moment.

He claimed that the concepts of “me” and “them” are outmoded. In today’s world of globalization with our lives so intricately interwoven across the globe through commerce, communication, and environment, a wound suffered by one is a wound suffered by all. To damage another is to damage oneself. This is The New Reality.

He applauded Costa Rica for dismantling their army, citing the increase in economic prosperity and happiness that inevitably results from not spending the GDP on weapons. He said that because they rely on their neighbors for protection, they actually feel more secure than if they had to be on alert themselves. He proposed a unified armed force, where every nation of the world, regardless of their size, contributed an equal number of soldiers who would serve under a rotation of generals from each country who could be called upon to act in the best interests of the world when terrorism strikes. Because we would all protect each other, there could be no wars between nations.

He also applauded South Africa for employing open dialogue to solve confrontation and advocated fostering this method of conflict resolution in children from the earliest age. So that discussion, understanding, and compromise become ingrained as the default way of thinking, children must be trained in such techniques in the family, in the school, and in the community. Then, aggression and violence will not be an automatic response to discord.

The he made some jokes about quantum physics, which somehow segued into a story of how quickly the world changes. Within a single generation, enemies often become allies. France and Germany used to hate each other, now they are best friends. So fostering hatred and racism is usually a waste of time and energy that generally leaves you looking foolish after the treaty has been signed.

He then advocated cultivating compassion for animals. By understanding the fear and pain of the smallest creatures, one can more easily appreciate the suffering of one’s fellow humans. I am skeptical that western civilization will ever be able to sympathize with the tribulations of a mosquito, but there is certainly nothing wrong with the concept.

He won my heart with the proclamation that the surest way to end suffering on earth would be to remove human beings from its surface, a notion I have often advocated. However, he countered that humans should remain on earth because they have the capacity of altruism. Since altruism is unique to humans among all other species that is reason alone to justify our existence, but only if we live to fulfill its realization.

15 June 2007

A Dead Rubber

The State of Origin is a 3-game rugby tournament between New South Wales and Queensland where the players, regardless of their current team affiliations, return to their home state to form a sort of all-star crew for the express purpose of fostering interstate rivalry and increasing the sale of alcohol. The teams are identified by color, The Blues (New South Wales) and The Maroons (Queensland), but are affectionately known as The Cockroaches and The Cane Toads respectively. For some inexplicable reason, this tournament takes place in the middle of the regular season, thereby stripping each team of their best players for several weeks.

The competition is taken far more seriously by Queenslanders. Last year, while we were touring the continent, Kevin tried to purchase tickets in Brisbane a mere week prior to the event. The ticket agent actually laughed out loud. Not wanting to suffer such humiliation a second year, Kevin bought four tickets to the game shortly after they went on sale. We rounded up a couple of Aussie rugby fans to accompany us to the match and to serve as guides, commentators, and designated drivers. Many thanks to my colleague Annie and her hubby Scotty for their enthusiastic patience with our many questions.

Following a prerequisite stop at a pub for grub and grog, we hopped a train to Telstra Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park. Tickets to all major events almost always include privileges on public transport, yet another example of Australian progressivism. Since there is NO parking at the stadium itself, tailgating is out of the question. However, there was a considerable party on the promenade with food stalls, live bands (cuz dead bands are painfully dull), and booze stands sponsored by Toohey’s, Fourex, and Bundaberg Rum (the consumption of which produces a uniquely foul odor that oozes from every orifice and gland – it is one of my favorites). Needless to say, the crowd was spirited.

After a full circumnavigation of the modern 100,000+ seat arena, we located our entry gate, our seats, and scouted the nearest beer stand and bathroom. We arrived just in time for the Australian National Anthem, which is NOT Waltzing Matilda, but DOES sound suspiciously like America the Beautiful. The teams took to the field and the competition was on.

The New South fans began with a few half hearted attempts at a wave around the stadium, which inevitably died out around the corners. Queensland fans answered back with a few well flung fingers at the crowd. The Blues reclaimed to offensive with a rousing chant of “Queensland is a wanker.” The Maroons sulked in their seats. And on the field, things were heating up too.

Queensland scored the first “try” halfway through the first half. Although good at explaining the general flow of the game, Scotty could not give me a satisfactory reason why it is called a “try” when it was quite clearly a “success”. New South Wales answered back with another successful try, and everyone left their seat at half time to get more beer.
Normally, I get quite annoyed when liquor sales are cut off following the half, but I quickly appreciated the wisdom of the practice as the young sports fans completely lost control of their senses. The Cane Toads scored another try, which completely tried the patience of the drunken Cockroach fans. They retaliated by throwing food and bottles at the nearest person wearing maroon, or, when their aim failed them, the nearest person within chucking distance – which on more than one occasion turned out to be us. Kevin took a coke bottle to the head, and I benefited from the subsequent spray. Several fights broke out, and soon the stands were swarming with police and security, firmly, yet politely evicting anyone at whom someone else merely pointed a finger.

Alas, The Blues could not recover from their display of remarkably bad manners and lost the game 10-6. This was the second game in the series, and since Queensland also won the first, the third game is of no real consequence – or as I heard a sports caster say – I just love this – “The series is a dead rubber.”

I’ll have to ask Scotty about that one…

Tossed and Found

When I was about 6 years old, in a grassy field behind our apartment in San Francisco, I found a yellow Formica table top. The tubular chrome legs which had once held it aloft were missing, but it was otherwise in excellent condition. I was very excited and ran home to tell my parents. Dad constructed some short but sturdy legs (unfortunately from some rather splintery redwood boards), and we had a new expansive coffee table. Over the years, I ate a great many meals in front of the television at that table, and though I spent a good deal of time plucking splinters from my knees, I always beamed with pride over the utility and economy of that very functional piece of furniture.

Ever since then, I have taken immense satisfaction from rescuing objects from abandon and giving them new life and purpose. I take more pleasure from salvage operations than from the most considered and extravagant purchases. Nowhere has my penchant for dumpster diving been more fulfilled as in the Northern suburbs of Sydney. I know I have already written on this subject, but my passionate feelings warrant further discourse. Perhaps it is a false pride to have so much regard for other people’s garbage, but I can no longer contain my happiness when I survey the reassigned contents of our apartment.

Among our reclaimed treasures:

Large frying pan
Ornate serving platter
Salad bowl set
Set of four stem glasses
Blender (and a good one, too)
Trash can
Mixing bowls
Serving tray
Glass top kitchen table
3 matching kitchen chairs
Patio rocking chair
Patio table
Bowie knife with built in compass and water tight match case, also a fishing line and hook)
Coffee table
Side table
Floor lamp
Table lamp
Computer desk
File cabinet
Bed side tables
Elegant glass vase (now a bathroom garbage can)
DVD of episodes 6-10, Season 2 of M*A*S*H
Weber BBQ grill (came with a bag of charcoal, too)
U.S. Mail Box Push broom
Fishing rod and reel
Vacuum cleaner
Stereo radio (with cassette)
Power cord for our computer
Laundry drying rack
Laundry Basket
Ironing board
Silver Tennis bracelet
Silver necklace with green gem stone pendant
Several pieces of original framed art work
A boat hook (I’m not sure why we needed this, but we did)

Every one of these items has been given a new lease on life and are utilized almost daily with affection and bewilderment, usually in the form of “I can’t believe someone just threw away this perfectly good vacuum cleaner!!” or “Wow. This boathook is just the thing for beating on the ceiling.”

Although there is no shortage of roadside furniture and appliances, I felt justified in buying these items second hand. Thus, we purchased a couch and matching chair, a refrigerator, and a washing machine for a fraction of their cost new, and while there is something decidedly weird about Australian appliances, I nonetheless derive the same thrifty pleasure from their used condition. The money saved on the above items easily justified the purchase of a high quality bed and a beautiful flat screen TV.

Back home, we have a wonderful house, filled with excellent furniture and top grade appliances and electronics, yet here we sit on rusty patio chairs, listening to Triple J on tinny speakers, drinking wine from inappropriately shaped glasses and we absolutely ooze satisfaction. Less and less do we find ourselves pining away for our neglected possessions. We ponder the reasons frequently and have determined that (as with all matters of happiness) it results from the disparity between expectations and reality. One expects a lot from a $5000 couch or a $400 vacuum cleaner and any deficiency is magnified by its comparison to the ideal, whereas a $400 couch or a free vacuum cleaner is praised effusively for simply fulfilling its intended station.

Modern society, and especially the corporate world, speaks frequently of high expectations and demanding excellence, but it seems to me that these notions inevitably foster dissatisfaction and anxiety. But is it possible to purposely lower or even eliminate one’s expectations? Can we intentionally disregard our notion of ideal outcomes in favor of accepting the simple pleasure of what is in front of us? Is it too early in the morning for me to be waxing so philosophical? Would Paris Hilton understand a word of this essay?

10 June 2007

The Long wee-KEND

I just wanted to put out a shout to Her Majesty. Happy Birthday, Lizzy - even though it was actually sometime back in April, and I have no idea why we are celebrating now. Nonetheless, I am grateful that you made it another year, because I really needed a day off, and because I am not looking forward to having your son's horse face all over the money. Maybe that will be just the incentive the Australian people need to push the Republican agenda.

Anyway, in honor of the anniversary of your birth, Kevin and I are going to go out for lunch - Next time you are in town, you should really stop by Ya-Habibi in Newtown. They make a nice felafel.



05 June 2007

Hypocrisy, Humility, and Humanity

Over the last few days, I have found myself wrapped up in another blog (blogs are hideous time sinks) which has caused me considerable consternation and self-reflection. With out going into extensive detail regarding the particulars of the entries or subsequent comments and rebuttals, I shall suffice to say that I felt obliged to point out the author's deficiency of tolerance and compassion with regard to people who have recently caused him annoyance, citing the decline to name calling in an effort to assuage his own irritations and thereby only fostering ill will through out the world, thus generating bad cosmic mojo for the universe.

And behold, when I turned once again to my own blog, I was confronted with such an impeccable example of my own hypocrisy, that I was immediately plunged into a fit of introspection that could only be reconciled with my own public admission of humiliation. Which immediately led me to ponder, as I often do, the unfortunate pervasiveness of hypocrisy in the human condition and the purpose it serves.

Why is it so much easier to point out faults in others that we oursleves embody, yet our ego remains blind to their existence? If, as Freud would have us believe, it is a form of psychological self-projection, why do we so readily turn our scorn upon the reflection and ignoring the self that created the reflection? Why do we feel it is necessary to address the shortcomings of others? Is it possible or even necessary to atone for hypocrisy?

I found some comfort in the pages of Wikipedia (as I often do) whose discourse on hypocrisy said that pointing out behaviour that one engages in oneself is not necessarily hypocrisy - only if one condemns the other person for doing it. (For example, a smoker telling someone they should not smoke is not hypocrisy, because there is a valid arguement for it. However, saying you are evil if you smoke, but it's ok for me, is hypocrisy.) I'm pretty sure my language did not involve such condemnation, only illustration.

However, as I have now come to the open admission of my own fault in stooping to name calling and harboring ill will towards the neighbors who annoy me, I am thus somewhat liberated from the guilt of hypocrisy. And now, having conscious verbal awareness of my own shortcomings, I can better protect myself against future occurences.

So, to the monsters upstairs - I extend understanding for the energetic joys of childhood (not to mention respect the particularly long and strident urine stream with which the man of the house awakes each morning); to the cunt downstairs, I extend compassion for the circumstances of you life that have lead you to bitterness and petty uncivility.

Ah, I feel much refreshed.