Monday, May 09, 2005

Riding the emotional roller coaster

Writing a PhD thesis is hard. It is also quite taxing on the old heart. I've been from supreme confidence of finishing, to thinking I don't have enough results, to having too many ideas to get down, to wanting to cut some stuff out, then contemplating a potential career as the bass player in a kick ass ska band. And that was all this morning!

Sometimes you just have to step back and look a the big picture, and stop a single big task from becoming all consuming. Easier said than done though...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope Ridiculously Conservative CCXXV

Just to jump on the media circus that is the roman catholic church - at least when a pope dies - it is nice to see the cardinals thinking about the future. Electing a hardline conservative (even for a catholic priest), no debate-follow the doctrine German bloke as the new pope really dies signal their willingness to return to the dark ages. Who knows, maybe soon will be able to buy indulgences again, ensuring we can all pay our way into heaven.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Someone to admire

On television recently, on a great ABC show called 'Foreign correspondent', I saw an excellent story on a man I had previously never heard of, Romeo Dallaire. To a Canadian, I think this is sacrilegious, as he is considered a national hero, and from what I've now heard and read about him, that title is rightly deserved.

His name has come to prominence recently with the release of the movie, 'Hotel Rwanda'. Dallaire, led an ill-fated peacekeeping mission for the United Nations during the Rwandan genocide in the 80's. The star of the movie is a hotel owner who helps save hundreds of Rwandans from needless slaughter, during a civil war between different tribal groups.

To say Dallaire led an ill-fated peacekeeping mission is a bit of an understatement - 800,000 people - men, women and children - were killed in only 100 days. In many cases, death was not swift either. To quote Dallaire "a machete doesn't kill from the first blow". Many innocent civilians were tortured. Dallaire was initially sent with a small force to observe and assist. When he pleaded with the UN that more help was needed, more troops to stem the flow of bloodshed, his cries fell on deaf ears. Both the US and France (agreeing in this case) deemed that it was not in their national interest to stop the mass genocide in Rwanda - that it was an internal matter. I wonder what a difference a few Rwandan oil fields may have made.

Despite having only around 500 troops to distribute aid and try and stop the killing, Dallaire never gave up, continually pleading with the UN to send help. They finally did, but it was much, much too late.

Despite giving his best efforts and the little help he received from the UN, Dallaire has never forgiven himself for all the lives lost in Rwanda. In the interview I saw, as footage showed him leaving Rwanda to cheers from onlookers, he said at the time he wished his car would run over a landmine, or something else would kill him. The guilt he felt about leaving after so many preventable deaths was overwhelming. Dallaire suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following his horrific experiences. He attempted suicide several times, he was so racked with guilt.

He has since somewhat recovered, returning his life, as he said, to some form of normality. He still cannot go to supermarkets, as the smell of fresh meat brings back many painful memories ( a scary thought). He has been given many awards and still works to this day to prevent other Rwandan-style crises and raise awareness of the genocide that did occur in Rwanda.

For me, hearing about Romeo Dallaire really made me think about how so often it is easy to blame anyone or thing else for anything that goes wrong, but seldom do we look at our own responsibilities. Maybe it can be a good thing to take more control and responsibility for life.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Fight me Jimmy!

It's St Paddy's day, I'm listening to the Dropkick Murphys, wearing my Irish rugby jersey, pining for a pint of Kilkenny and I'm damn angry! The last two afternoons I've witnessed the lowest of human behaviour while simply trying to get home, and it makes my blood boil! What heinous act of human degradation is this? Queue jumping, pushing in, cutting in front, that's what! The arrogant act of ignoring the common sense of others because obviously you're so much more important than they are! Now people obviously line up to keep some semblance of order and fairness and just plain common courtesy - 'you were here before me, so I'll let you get on the ferry home before me, no problem'. Now most people have this under control, and though you may have to wait a little, you still get home.

But of course there are always those who are just way too important for lines and queues. I wonder how these people - especially that women in the red top, I've seen you, that's 2 days in a row now!!!! - would feel if I decided I should be first on the ferry, and communicated this to others by kicking the absolute s##t through anyone in front of me? I don't think they'd be too happy now.

I see no difference between this violent approach and simply cutting in line - both show total disrespect for the people around you. Get over yourself, wait another 5 minutes and get the next one. Today, it may just save you!

Flame mode off.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Good clean fun, minus a G-string

Just this last Saturday, the newest member of the QiSci family, David Poulin and his wife Isabelle (recently arrived from Waterloo, Canada) held a housewarming party at their latest abode. Besides the possum with the bladder control problem, this was a great night with good food (including kangaroo, courtesy of me), good drink (i.e. bundy rum) and some good music, supplied by our host on guitar, accompanied by anyone who knew the majority of the words to the song! It's been awhile since I've sat around playing music with other people, and I really enjoyed it - inspite of Dave's broken G-string. That night has also motivated me to dust off the old bass guitar! With a few other musicians in the group, I'd keep an ear out for some hot new quantum tunes on the air waves. Besides, it worked for 'Six and out'!

(For those of you unaware, 'Six and out' was a band made up of cricketers from the New South Wales state team, including Richard Chee Quee and Brett and Shane Lee. Their biggest hit was 'You can't throw and you can't bowl' in reference to a rather harsh comment made on field and picked up by a pitch microphone, by a mobile-phone wielding spinner about one of his Australian Test team-mates. That critiqued player was dropped not long after.)

Another note about the party - not a single person there was a smoker. Having numerous friend who are, it was nice to come home for once not smelling like an ashtray.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Really, who needs an education?

"Drop out and get a trade!" says the prime minister of Australia, one Mr John Howard. Our PM believes that more teenagers should be considering dropping out of school in year 10 to pursue a trade, rather than staying on another two years to complete their senior schooling. This comment was made in response to a recent report outlining the declining number of skilled tradespeople in the Australian workforce.

In coming to this just brilliant conclusion of trying to take even more education opportunities from the youth of Australia (Howard's views on the running of universities are for another time), there are some things little Johnny said that I do agree with:

[From the ABC news website,]

JH: "We went through a generation in this country where parents discouraged their children from going into trades. They said to them, 'the only way you will get ahead in life is to stay at school until year 12, go to university'. High year 12 retention rates became the goal, instead of us as a nation recognizing there are some people who shouldn't go to university and what they should do is at year 10, decide they are going to become a tradesman."

I must say I agree with most of this. Many parents probably believed (falsely) that going to uni was the only way to get ahead in life, and may have forced these beliefs onto their children. Also, there are people who shouldn't go to university. Actually, "shouldn't" is not the right word. It's not that such people don't deserve to go or are not the right people who should be there. Rather, university is just not their thing and they probably don't want to go anyway.

Now if someone recognizes when they are in year 10 that uni just isn't for them, and want to become a tradesman then that's great. (I wanted to be an accountant at the start of yr 10, but a subject on business principles helped me over that problem!)

But why do they have to leave school then and there to do it? Is it so wrong to want to complete your education, even if you're not going to go on and do some more at university? There are many reasons why I don't agree with leaving in yr 10 to go get a trade, and not all of them are based on pure academic pursuits.

Firstly, I can see no problems with any "tradies" who have a good education (in the traditional sense). Things we learn in school are not just facts and figures, but ways of thinking, problem solving and communicating with others. Skills that apply in all aspects of life.
Being someone who lives to learn, I think giving up on two years of education is such a waste, especially when making the decision at age 16 - no the most rational time of life for anyone!

As you may have noticed technology has advanced over the past decades. Do you think trades such as carpentry, roofing, plumbing etc have not? With such advancement you may think that doing a trade may require a better educational background than in the past?

Now it's time to reminisce. My senior year in high school was one of the best of my life. Full of hard work and stress, but lots of good mates and good times. Teachers treated you less like children and more like equals, adults and in some cases, friends. You were eased into responsibility, while still getting the chance to act young and make mistakes. Oh yeah, and party ridiculously hard, with a like-new liver, ready to take on all challengers!

The real-world outside of school can be rough and the support and help on offer in schools - from teachers and the like, but more importantly from your mates, who are there everyday - doesn't exist. In many cases, you're on your own.

There are many things you learn in the last two years of high school that are not taught in textbooks. After yr10, teachers start to give you a little respect, and the chance to earn more. You're eased into the responsibilities the freedom after school provides, rather than being thrown into the deep end. I have known friends who left school early because they couldn't handle the teachers "picking on them" or all the rules stifling them. Suddenly having all the responsibility for their lives upon themselves didn't work out real well them. Some are only now, much later getting their lives back on track. Others were not so lucky...
Getting a head start on a trade in the real world at only 16 may be the worst mistake you could make.

Again, the parties in my senior year were some of the best I've ever been too, and the people I met have stayed friends for the rest of my life. There's a lot you learn outside of school during those years as well. An education that can only leave you better equipped for life.

Having a girlfriend who is a high school teacher means I have an inside of schooling (and a lot of opinions on the topic). Many schools offer vocational training for students during their senior years, including practical components. Increasing vocational education opportunities at schools and beyond seems a much better solution than telling kids to quit school.

C'mon little John, you want to take away university education, at least let us finish high school!

Friday, March 04, 2005

three-thirteen is open for business

three-thirteen: h bar and coffee club is now online.

This is Hinesy's aka Aussie, physics PhD student and co-founder of three-thirteen - blog, covering the philosophical transactions of Rm 313 in the physics building of the University of Queensland.

Look forward to many rants and some interesting posts garnered from the discussions on everything from physics to rugby to rugby to cricket to politics back to rugby to what we're doing this Saturday night.

(This Saturday - engagement party)