Philosophical thoughts Wednesday

It’s philosophical thoughts Wednesday.

Why do we persist in acting as if society, the economy and corporations are run by some super logical completely moral(or completely immoral) people, when the truth is they are run by people just like us?  Is it not a better idea to acknowledge that everyone is human, and that we are flawed and inconsistent?

Do you think that believing that the universe is benevolent brings about greater happiness than thinking that it is malevolent?

Why is tanning so popular?  Even now we know that it is bad for our skin, people still spend all day baking in the sun.

Why do governments (run by people) persist in the belief that more regulation and more legislation in ever more confusing terms is the solution to the problem?    Instead of “don’t steal”  there is “ an individual shall not deprive another individual of their legally acquired possessions (see glossary for definitions of individual, and possession)”.

What do I value more, a six month trip or owning a house?

Why do shops insist on bringing out the Easter crap in mid January?  I love Cadbury mini eggs, but really hot cross buns in January?

I blame the car

Well, I exercise less and read less than I used too.  I don’t have kids, so it must be the car.

Waaay back when I first moved to Brisbane and began working (1999) I didn’t have a car.  I barely had a drivers licence. (One freshly minted Massachusetts licence given to me on the basis of my expired New Mexico licence and a computer based written test that cut out once you reached 70 % and $70 “transfer fee”. Scary thought- I have not been required to sit behind the wheel of a car and demonstrate my capability to drive said vehicle since I was 15 in a fairly rural town.  Yep, I have been able to parlay that basic licence into a Massachusetts licence and now my current Queensland licence on written exams, but no driving test.  Fluky though, if I were applying now, I would have to drive.) So I walked and public transported myself around town.  Yes, both of my younger siblings and my mother nominally occupied the same house as me, so I could grab lifts.  But I didn’t drive.  There were two supermarkets about equidistant from my house- both required at least a 25 minute walk and hills in both directions.  SO ice cream was not on my shopping list.

Then I acquired a car- but I only drove it on the weekends and in the evening.  Yep, my fitness sank like a stone.  But luckily I moved to Japan, sold the car and  acquired a string of bicycles.  Strangely enough when your primary mode of transport is a bicycle, you do reach a certain level of fitness.

Once I moved back to Oz, I was stuck at my mothers in wellington point.  50 minute train ride to work- I read a lot of books, and plotted ways to cut that short and substitute the time with walking ( got off at other stations and walked the extra bit to work).  I moved to the Valley.  The bus service outside my apartment sucked (2 out 3 buses was too full to stop).  So I walked to work – faster and more convenient than taking the bus, because the bus stop was at least a 15 minute walk from work anyway.  I was really fit and never appreciated it.

Then I moved to Holland Park, where I had to bus it, and deal with the walk across the CBD.  Not great, but I did get a bit of reading time.

Sigh, then I managed to get my current job.  Which I like.  But it is not located in the public transport hub of the city (try a good 15 minute uphill walk  alongside nasty traffic) and I have a parking space!  so I drive.  And in doing so I lose a lot of incidental fitness, that I never appreciated, and I also lose my reading time.

Public transport allows one to have that time that can’t be used for much else, so I used to read a lot.

Now I read less, as I have to sacrifice my free time to the gym, because I don’t get any exercise otherwise.  So it is all the car’s fault.   I can’t even try to fit in a walk one way to or from work- because who would drive the car?  I suspect if I lied in a suburb closer to the city, I would try, but where I am is just that little bit too far to be comfortable.

I love my little Noddy car, but it is not having a beneficial effect on me.

The Book Journal

It turns out I read a little more over the break than I thought, but I hadn’t quite finished the books.  In celebration of the Bookfest today- my reading list for the last week or two.

Powers of Detection by Dana Stabenow is a collection of mystery and fantasy stories, including ones by Charlaine Harris and Anne Perry. Entertaining, and no really awful stories in there.  Nothing that absolutely amazed me either though.  A lot of the stories seemed to be extensions of the authors’ other works, which can be good for fans, but less so for me.  Oh, and the editors name…

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris is the second in a new series by this author ( also the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels).  The series focuses on Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver.  As a side effect of being struck by lightning as a teenager, Harper can sense dead bodies.  She makes a living at this, traveling around assisting in searches for dead/missing people.  In this book she has been hired by a college class investigating the paranormal to do a graveyard read, identifying the causes of death for the people buried there.  Only there is a nasty surprise, a fresh body in one of the graves- one that she was hired to look for the previous year.  Basically a mystery with some paranormal bits added.  Entertaining, and definitely makes you want to continue with Harper’s story.  Some fairly typical Charlaine Harris bits (more later!) oh and my copy is autographed.

Earth to Hell by Kylie Chan (an autographed copy!) was one of my Christmas presents.  It is the fourth book in what promises to be a longish series, however it is set up as a series of trilogies.  The first 3, the Dark Heavens Trilogy were excellent, the story of an ordinary Australian, Emma, teaching English in Hong Kong  who becomes the nanny to a not so ordinary little girl.  Basically the girl’s father, John Chen, is the Chinese God of the Northern Heavens.  At the end of the Dark Heavens trilogy John Chen  goes into a kind of exile,he has used up too much of his energy and needs to recharge.  Emma, as his fiance, and the guardian of his daughter is left to protect the Northern Heavens and his martial arts academies in Hong Kong  from demons.  Hard to explain, but very good and the author is from Brisbane.  Yay Brisbane.    She had a signing in Brisbane the day before the official release of the book, and Greg went and got me a copy ( I was not allowed to go).  Now just waiting for the next one.

Alpha Beta by John Man is the story of the alphabet.  Now I have of these history of the alphabet books, and it is interesting to see how understanding changes over the years as we are able to find more artifacts or crack symbols.  It is a fairly good account of how the alphabet came to be, not the same as some of the books I own, everybody has a different spin and a different archaeological dig to talk to.  In this case it is the destruction and later discovery of a small city-kingdom somewhere in Syria that provided some of the “discovery materials for clues to the evolving alphabet.  Interesting, but if you are really interested in the subject there are probably better books, or at least other books to read alongside.

Trust Me by Jayne Ann Krentz – This is a contemporary romance- and a reasonably hefty one.  Shy caterer agrees to attend functions(in a business arrangement capacity) with wealthy IT CEO with no social skills.  They fall in love.  There are criminal doings afoot, and amusing dealings with her theatrical family.  Good amusement value and not as irritating as many.  My biggest gripe with this author is that she finds her metaphor for the book and sticks with it, which can be a little bit oppressive.  This time it is the idea of chaos.

Bind, Torture, Kill by Roy Wenzl, Tim Potter, L. Kelly, and Hurst Laviana – This is a true crime book on the BTK serial killer, and an account of his capture.  For hose who don’t the BTK guy operated around Wichita in the 70’s and 80’s and was finally caught in the mid 90’s after the investigation was reopened and a public campaign undertaken.  The book was written with some of the major reporters from the area’s newspaper, and does  a good job of capturing the time and he place and the dedication that went into getting the guy.  Not a comforting read though.

On to the PDA Books

The Aurora Teagarden mysteries by Charlaine Harris.  There are several books in the series: Real Murders; A Bone to Pick; Three Bedrooms, One Corpse; The Julius House; Dead over Heels; A Fool and his Honey; and Last Scene Alive.  I have polished off all except A Fool and his honey.  They are set in  a small southern town and star a part time librarian, Aurora Teagarden.  The premise is fairly simple, in the course of living her life Aurora becomes involved in murders and solves  them.  She has a love interest or two in most of the books, and gets married around book four, after meeting her husband in book three- I gather he dies in the one I have not finished.  They are light, entertaining books and do make you want to continue reading – I have just found that there is one more book to read in the series.

The Lily Bard “Shakespeare”series, by Chalaine Harris.  Five books in this series: Shakespeare’s Landlord ; Shakespeare’s Champion; Shakespeare’s Christmas; Shakespeare’s Trollop; and Shakespear’s Counselor. Once again a mystery series set in a small southern town (Shakespeare) starring a single young woman by the name of Lily Bard.  After her dramatic kidnapping, rape, and torture and the media circus that followed, Lily Bard has moved to a small town to escape her past.  She runs a small cleaning business and attends karate classes at the gym.  She too has the knack for running across dead bodies and tracking down their killers.  There are a few romances woven through the book, and she does get married in the last one to date, but it is a subtler part of the series.

Okay, the Charlaine Harris thing, I read the first few Sookie novels when they first came out, years ago.  They are light an fluffy and fun. But she does very similar things in all of her books.  There is always the careful description of what her character’s are wearing.  I don’t know why, but fashion choice is always very important.  It irks me.  I do appreciate the fact that her murderers are not always the usual suspects- there are some surprises and the bad type people aren’t as bad as it seems, and the upstanding citizens, well…. She also has an interesting and dark view on romantic relationships that spiral into murderous partnerships- 2 or 3 in the series above.

So that is me to his point.  And on my calculations, I have averaged better than a book a day so far this year- impressive (and unsustainable).

Weekend shenanagins

Hmm, this is turning into a once a week thing.  Going to have to improve on that.

This weekend was pretty busy.  My sister was in town, and so we arranged to go to Eumundi Markets.  I had been once before, many years ago at the end of the market day, and all I remembered was a pretty small collection of stalls selling the usual market stuff- handmade soap, random ceramics and a stall of stuff that probably is from China.  Oh and we got there after the pub stopped serving lunch. Thanks Dad

The whole arriving after a place stops serving is fairly typical of trips with my father in Australia.  For someone who grew up in the UK and has lived a large chunk of his life in Australia, my father still acts as though he lives in the service oriented land of the USA.  Seriously, almost wherever you go in the US there will be somewhere open that serves food- even small towns have a diner or two tucked away.  In Australia, meal times are practically set in stone- lunch between 12 & 2, dinner between 5:30 and 7:30 and woe betide the poor customer who tries to get a meal not at that time.  I exaggerate slightly, but seriously the concept of serving between the hours of 2 and 6 pm, or after 10 pm is left entirely to the fast food industry and, the casino, and in the afternoons the coffee shops.  In places like Melbourne and Sydney, where there has been a strong immigrant restaurant business, and so there are some fantastic restaurants who have grasped that people like to eat after 8, but sadly Queensland is struggling with the concept.  Anyway, I have adapted but my father has not, and regularly turns up at “great”cafes and restaurants to discover that they have shut the kitchen.  This was the case the last time I went to Eumundi- which was before I had learned to make my own food arrangements when traveling with Dad.

This time it was a very different story. After a lovely breakfast at a local deli, we headed north.  Once we arrived at Eumundi we were somewhat surprised to see fields of cars- the markets are quite popular and Eumundi has coped with the parking problem by designating parking fields and charging $4 to park.  The money is funneled to community organisations.  The markets were pretty impressive- several rows of stalls, a few buildings housing even more stalls, a park, a couple of areas for performances and paved paths.

It was also notable for some unique offerings- yes there were the usual soap stalls (which I do like, but we have a bucket of soap at the moment), the usual fairy dresses stall, and the usual cute crap that you will hate later (scented koalas for the car anyone?).  But there were also some art stalls selling interesting pieces – framed shells, some very nice metalwork and the like.  There was a place selling framed illustrations from 20th century children’s classics- Winnie the pooh, Noddy and Rupert the Bear, which were very appealing and not too expensive.  Sadly they came attached to an overly pushy saleswoman and none were bought.

I did succumb to the seller of lacquer plates, and the hand dyed embroidery threads were really nice.  On the whole though, not too bad.

On the way home we stopped in Maroochydore to visit San Churro, a chocolateria.  One word of caution- DO NOT order both a milkshake and food- you will be sick, or at least very sorry for the chocolate overdose.

It is kind of fun to be a tourist in my home area, and it was a nice day out.  We then headed to my Mum’s in Wellington Point, and hung out in the pool before a nice roast dinner.

Sunday was almost as busy, as I had indoor soccer in the morning, and was reminded how unfit I am.  There were no subs(despite promises from several people) and so we were all desperate to be goalkeeper for a while.  Afterwards, Greg napped and I tried to repot some plants.  I trekked out to Yoga, but the gym was closed for repainting.  meh

We went to my Dad’s for dinner,  nice barbeque with an ocean view and spent some time playing ball games with James, my younger brother (he’s 4).

Very family heavy, but the rest of the month will be as well.  Sometimes it is good to live far away…but I don’t anymore.

Tragic marketing

A Westpac ATM ate my card over the weekend, and told me that it was expired. Since I know it was due to expire in February 2011 I was not impressed.
Anyway I marched on down to the branch (luckily they are open until 12:30 on a Saturday to give them an earful. But no, they told me that as my card was  a handycard, and they had issued me with a whiz bang (but not wanted)debit card this was normal, and it was my fault for using it when it had expired.
One of them kindly explained that it would have expired about 10 days after the first issuing of debit card. NO, cause said debit card was received last Feb, about 2 weeks after the new handycard arrived. Oh, well 10 days after I used, also a negative as it was first used about 45 days ago in NZ.  Turns out that Westpac  had decided that 1 Jan was the end date of all handycards (i am not the only one!) and unilaterally expired them.  WITHOUT telling branch staff, or those pesky customers.  (insert naughty word of choice)

Now the thing is, the new cards are more secure, and with the recent card skimming issues,I should be happy.  But I am not, thanks to the incompetent people in Westpac marketing.

They sent the new debit card (which I can still use like a handycard + pretendy credit card) about 2 weeks after I had been issued with a new handycard. Unsolicited debit card.  My first reaction was that someone had tried to request it for me, so not a win on the security front.  Next thought, after a totally unreassuring call to the bank, was that it was illegal.  ASIC agrees with me, and stared prosecuting them, about a month ago, Westpac won.

Firstly, was it really that hard to go through the files of who was receiving a new card soon, and just issue the debit card as the replacement?  At least part of my problem was that it was issued two weeks after my other card. (which arrived with about a month to spare before my original card expired).  I have done that kind of mailout.  It isn’t hard to talk to IT and create the right reports, that identify the right situations.  So total failure of forethought.

Secondly, if the letter had given me a good reason to use the card, I may have more accepting.  As it was it told me how wonderful it was that I know have a debit Mastercard.  Hm, I already have a real mastercard, with Westpac.  And, since there is usually more money on that than in my account, I do appreciate its benefits.  Kind of pointless having two.

If they had told me upfront that this card is more secure- hey probably things would be fine.  but they didn’t.  The one real, positive element I would appreciate, they didn’t bother to tell me.  Sooo  don’t know if it is really.  Failure of actual marketing skills.

We won’t get into the bit where the PIN was different (so it isn’t *just* like my old card then), and the fact that I now need to hit cheque rather than savings when using an ATM or EFTPOS.  (that is actually really starting to annoy me too, as I keep forgetting).

Then we get to the point that the old cards were unilaterally cancelled on New Year.  SO, if I had gone out, and just taken my usual card and some id to go out (as I have done in the past) I would have been in a bit of a pickle at the end of the night.  How hard is it to send a letter, or an email to people.  It isn’t like they don’t have the information. But no, the ATM just ate my card. stupid

This isn’t the first time they have done the whole significant change with no warning thing to me.  but it is going to be the last.  Goodbye Westpac.

The reading list

I haven’t stopped reading, but I have slipped a little in the tracking of the books I read. This being a new year, its time for a new book diary. Generally, these are old desk calendar/diary types – usually for a previous year (they are cheap!) as I use the spaces to note books, but they don’t correlate with the date I finish the book. This year it is a Far side calendar from 2000. And I get to start it with some books I read over the holiday.
How to get things really flat by Andrew Martin.   This is a nonfiction book, about a man who does housework (sort of) and his arguments for why men should do more of the housework (to win points with their wives/girlfriends).  It was entertaining, not least because while he does housework, including  the ironing, some cleaning and the weekly shop, he isn’t exactly a perfectionist.  He has done his research, so I now know how to really iron a shirt(starch!), but on the whole advocates the reasonable approach to housework.  I like that approach much more than the pristine comepletely antiseptic approach.   He answers suc questions as Why wash up, and why vacuum along with much more esoteric queries on steam generator irons.  Very entertaining.

The Alaskan Royals series, by Mary Janice Davidson. The Royal Treatment, The Royal Pain, and The Royal Mess.    I read these electronically, on my whiz bang little PDA (no I don’t have a real ebook reader yet, because the makers of those haven’t yet really thought to extend their facilities to countries other than the US or UK. Yes I am bitter that I will pay more for the privilege of downloading books, because I have to go through Amazon’s preferred telecom provider and they charge international dialing rates. Sony has not yet deigned to extend their ebook to Australia and the less said about the Nook, the better.  I wish to point out to all of these entities that this type of stupidity and rigidity regarding geographical boundaries over electronic devices has given us the international piracy problem in music and movies and tv.  You would think that someone would have learned by now).

Anyway this series is fairly light and fluffy, but distracted me quite effectively for a few days.  I haven’t really been a devotee of her other books (Greg likes the vampire ones, hence the books presence in my PDA) .  These are essentially romance novels for the modern world- there is no garish pink cover or bodice ripper picture, but the story line is essentially girl meets boy, they have argumentative but chemistry laden interactions, they have energetic (and clandestine) sex, they get married.  The premise, that Alaska was not bought by the US in the 1860’s, but instead fought for its independence form the Russians, and has an eccentric and energetic royal family, is entertaining.  At least it means no Sarah Palin!

And that is all the books I finished over Christmas.  Pretty slim, but then I am still working through one of my books, and didn’t have much time for reading, despite the rain.

Happiness and thankfulness

According to new studies (and fairly self-evident) happiness is influenced by the people around you.  If you spend a lot of time with unhappy, complaining people, you too will become unhappy and complaining.  If you are surrounded by happy people, this too will leak in.  A positive attitude towards life can make a difference.  I do not believe that it is the ultimate cure all, but it can help.  SO in that vein of thought, I am trying to think of things that have made me happy/thankful this week.

Firstly, I am so happy that I live in the time and place I do.  I have freedom to follow my interests, to work in just about any career, and to choose my reproductive and sexual paths.  This is something that has not been available for everyone through history, and is still not available for many.  I don’t think we appreciate this freedom as much as we should.  We complain about the burdens it places, the endless choices and the cost of those freedoms, but at the end of the day, I would rather have those choices, even if they make me a little less happy and content with my life.

Yes, our society has problems, big and small.  We are not on an ecologically stable path, and not everyone receives the ame opportunities.  But compared with other civilisations and societies, we are still so lucky.    I may not pay attention to this freedom every day, I am too tired out by the work and the constant balancing of the schedule, but I do occasionally realise how much freedom I have compared to someone 100 years ago who did not have that choice, who could only stay home and be responsible for the cooking and the cleaning and the washing and who was not considered to be intelligent enough to vote, or own property in their own right or to open a bank account without help from a male relative.

So, thank you to all of those who fought and argued and worked to make this world a place where we do have those freedoms, and we do have those choices.