Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The fine print

I’ve been reading a bit of fine print lately out of curiosity and because I’m sick of being burned after the fact by clauses I knew nothing about. Some of the clauses are so ‘out there’ you’d swear they’ve been added just to see if you’re paying attention. The fearless enthusiasm we show when waiving our rights shows how inured we have become to the power of those words.

The practise of actually reading fine print documentation has been actively discouraged over the years by the bulk and complexity of the language used. Plain speech is avoided specifically to frustrate the understanding and attention span of the average reader. Their acceptance of the stated terms will usually be made by default rather than informed consent for the sake of expediency.

The clever legalese ensures binding terms cover a corporation in as many ways as possible with the offender’s full consent. They know we will tick the box even if we don’t understand or agree with the terms to get the objects we desire. We seem content to be told how many of our rights we have signed away after the dreaded situation arises.

How we can defend ourselves though, when faced with such disclaimers as:

“Clauses 3, 4, 10, 11,” (etc), “survive cancellation or suspension of this Agreement (regardless of any other clauses that may survive cancellation or suspension).”

You can’t even cancel your agreement without this clause holding some power over you. Scary stuff.

Trouble is, if you read the fine print of everything you sign these days, you’d spend hours arguing the interpretation of the syntax or you’d refuse to sign. So what do we do? We blindly sign, putting our heads in the noose each time by admitting our understanding of a document professionally designed not to be understood.

What’s my point? Be wary, but don’t try to be too clever. Living in this world is already a tricky balancing act of faith and luck. So have a bit of faith in your good luck and keep your eye on that fine print.

(Like it? See - Secrets)

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Buying a new car

There's nothing like owning a high-end brand new car that hasn't been subjected to someone else’s smoking, eating, farting or other disgusting habits. Sure you're going to lose a shit load on resale. Who cares? You just bought a new car. Just smell that carcinogenic new car smell.

But that's jumping ahead. Buying a new car should be fun. Here's how to make the most of it.

As a mine worker I made good money in my 20’s and 30’s and I have bought a few cars over the years. The new car purchase is the most satisfying. Having gone through the difficult process of actually earning that money generally makes you want to get more bang for your buck when you spend it. Throwing a wad of cash at a dealer and driving away isn’t going to cut it. I like to make them work for the sale.

Pulling the casual dress and thongs approach is quite interesting. Walking in like a white-trash wanna-be is guaranteed to make the salesman nervous especially when you start handling the merchandise. In places like Kalgoorlie I couldn’t get away with this as they expect cashed up miners to look like a hobo and they’d still bow and scrape to you. It’s the arrogant big cities dealerships that can’t help looking down their nose at you.

When you rock up to one of these up-themselves dealerships looking a bit rough and jump into the most expensive car on the lot, you’re going to get some attention real quick. The salesmen will hang around wringing their hands if you say you’re just looking. Let them do that for a while if you want.

After a suitable amount of time you can put them out of their misery and let them know you’re interested in talking money. The fun really starts now. I’ve had dealers try to tell me what I can afford purely by the state of my clothing. Here I am ready to spend $50 - $70 thousand dollars and they’ll be pushing me towards the base models and giving me estimates on the minimum trade they’ll give me for my bomb which they haven’t even seen yet.

Depending on how much they piss you off there are a few approaches you might consider. Show them a cash deposit of $5000. Whip it out then leave in disgust. Come back later and buy from another salesman. That’s bound to cause a bit off intra-office angst when they argue who should get the commission. If they really get up your nose, buy elsewhere and come back driving the new car and casually mention to the manager why his dealership didn’t get the sale. Very satisfying if you feel particularly put out by their attitudes.

Despite how this sounds, I don’t go out of my way to antagonise the salesman. If they’re willing to treat me fairly and don’t bullshit me or run me down too much we’ll get somewhere mutually beneficial. But a lot of these clowns are natural arseholes and bring it on themselves.

For an example of a typical arsehole listen to this. My wife has bought several new cars over the years and on each occasion I have been very clear to the salesman that the car is for her. She is buying it, talk to her. Most of them still insist on talking to me or treat her like a retard. My wife distinctly hates being treated like a moron for some reason and the salesman constantly asking ‘What colour would you like, dear’ and ‘its got a lovely air conditioner and CD player,’ is a sure fired way of getting her offside. Even when she is more knowledgeable about the cars features than they are they’re still making stupid condescending remarks. That will lose them a sale every time.

(Like it? See - Succeed as a contract labourer).

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Death

Deaths' powerful intrusion into our existence shapes our acts, thoughts and words. We, tempt, ignore, are fascinated by it and sometimes welcome it when life becomes intolerable. We use our fear of death to better ourselves and in some cases fly in the face of death for sheer recreation. It will come for all of us at some time and that inevitability can be frustrating when you are being buffeted by the winds of time.

Death’s ability to affect our lives will forever drive the more ambitious amongst us onwards. The choices made in the wake of death’s influence depends on an individual’s acceptance or otherwise of their mortality. The death of a family member or friend can be the kick start we needed to actually live our lives a little better or more fully.

F1 drivers are said to have an unusually low fear of death, allowing them to throw those finely tuned missiles around a racetrack without contemplating the result of the briefest lapse in concentration. They must push their bodies to extreme lengths to be able to feel alive at all.

I enjoy tempting death in my own reserved way. Driving fast in high powered vehicles at times and places of my choosing is an exhilarating test of man and machine. Each time I survive the stresses and strains this type of activity puts on my body what have I achieved? An adrenaline rush? A personal achievement? Or is it the satisfaction of cheating death? At any time a bearing could fail, I could suffer a medical condition or an unexpected hazard may veer into my path.

But have I actually cheated death? Is it an entity that cares whether or not it gets to gather us up? Billions of people before me have argued this question. Some minds have even formulated religious based on their own answers and attracted followers who aren’t able to think about the subject too deeply themselves.

At this point in my life I prefer to adhere to the scientific pronouncement that death is ‘an ending of all vital functions or processes in an organism or cell’. I reserve my right to change my mind at any time as evidence to the contrary comes to light.

(Like it? See - The fine print)

Religion

Tackling this complicated emotive, personal and private subject may cause a few divisions in my relationships with friends, family and subscribers. I hope not but we are a diverse culture with many valid opinions. I do not intend to cause deliberate rifts with my particular opinions but I intend having my say anyway. If you tend to get very excited about your beliefs and generally want everyone to be excited with you, please be aware I’m not inclined to be overwhelmed by your enthusiasm myself.

So why can’t some people go about their business and keep their spiritual ideas to themselves? Why do they feel the need to push their chosen way of life onto others? Why do otherwise reasonable people spend so much effort enforcing the propagation of one religion over another?

As an agnostic I have analysed the prevailing religious systems currently popular in today’s society, confirming to myself several interesting facts that aren’t under any doubt. Religions rely on positive and negative reinforcement and, for some, a balanced combination to maintain their congregations. Essentially this reinforcement is applied to retain a member’s continuance in their beliefs. A religions’ longevity relies on a member’s natural desire for acceptance and belonging. They must utterly reject all others religions as false even if that rejection contradicts some of their beliefs. There are several religions that are less rigidly structured but I haven’t had any firsthand experience with them so I’ll stick to what I know.

Christians commonly subject their members to periodic communal meetings to ensure group connections are maintained. Beliefs are enforced at these times and individuals in danger of diverging from the proclaimed viewpoints can be monitored and reassured. A boot camp for God worshippers if you like. If members aren’t given the correct attention to prevent their disillusionment and resignation the group will weaken and disintegrate.

Without followers a religion will die so, by necessity, each group’s leaders must vigorously defend their beliefs and convince their congregations to remain in thrall by any means available. Fear is the weapon most often employed to prevent recidivism. The use of fear as a requirement to cement a members belief is a concept I have the most difficulty with. In particular fear-induced religious mania forced on children from a very young age is a poor substitute for allowing free thought and open discussion.

At least the repercussions for doubting or speaking out against the church at the Christian School I went to only resulted in minor physical punishments. I should count myself lucky I wasn’t born into a culture where the church is deeply rooted in the everyday life of the parents and are far more heavy-handed to the blasphemer. I had the bible thrown at me in class for talking on one occasion but preferred punishments usually focused on mental manipulation and brainwashing. These tools are deemed acceptable in our progressive society. Frowning on physical violence then utilising guilt, fear and shame to keep children in line should not allow a sect to consider themselves enlightened in my opinion. For years I endured the soft approach, incorporating a belief system that taught extreme punishment or rapturous splendour awaited us depending on our actions on earth. This confusing dichotomy was instilled into us daily.

Being taught by rather rabid Christians in an environment insulated from conflicting viewpoints I grew up confused and afraid of this God that watched me at all times. We were not allowed the blasphemy to explore any other religion even if their viewpoint might be more reasonable than the one we were being taught. Preventing us from asking destabilising questions seemed to be a big part of our religious instruction classes. The danger of schools like mine was their ability to shape a child from Transition to Year 12 with their brand of faith. I remember their keenness to infuse us with a sense of superiority simply because we were Christians. I see this is a method commonly used by the military to empower their soldiers.

Objectivity tends to be the first casualty after religious indoctrination. My teachers were mentally unable to consider any other religion’s merits. Possibly fearing the result of such contemplation might lead to undesirable, distracting and confusing thoughts arising. And why wouldn’t it? There are hundreds of sects to choose from, with multiple breakaway groups of varying intensities to suit their leaders’ whims. How can they explain their own faith’s superiority when in reality we’re all just victims of chance, geographical location, and upbringing?

Our science teachers did a convincing if somewhat painful job of showing how their indomitable faith could overcome all adversaries. They were required to teach us the governmental approved Charles Darwin theory that we were descended from apes then had to immediately insist that God really made everything to comply with the schools beliefs. No wonder I was confused from 12 years old to about 16. After that age I could no longer maintain the fa├žade of belief merely to fit within expectations anymore.

I’d would like to put forward the logical supposition that if each known religion were the One True Religion, wouldn’t they cancel each other out, leaving nothing? We don’t live in a logical world though, and perhaps that is for the best. I’d hate for everyone to think like me. There’d be no one to make fun of.

Removing religion from my life in my middle teens solved many problems and alleviated a huge sense of fear and guilt. It didn’t leave the gaping hole as predicted. People in similar circumstance have felt a sense of great loss and have attempted to fill the void with even more extreme beliefs. I think I was able to free myself by trusting in my convictions and a belief in myself. It’s important to acknowledge that the removal of a crutch is only beneficial after the object that is being supported has healed. I felt I no longer needed that crutch. For some reason certain people are susceptible to faith based beliefs that cause more heartache and problems than they need to when merely looking after their friends and families and living an honest life would suffice.

Personally I would prefer to be known for my strength of mind and an undertaking to be responsible for my actions. My mind is as open as my personal circumstances allow and I strive to limit the judgements I make on others. I am tolerant to others’ viewpoints so long as they do not adversely affect me. I care about myself and the people around me. I believe I am a good person.

If my tolerance allows me to believe a practicing Satanist can be a productive member of society, should I be condemned for it? The Satanist tenets, although heavily biased towards hedonism, and strength of will and body, won’t necessarily be harmful to others.

I might agree with Buddhism’s acceptance of man’s failings and its non-confrontational posture. Delving into the mystical, and a belief in reincarnation, while not universally accepted, serves to enrich the lives of many.

With the correct argument, the Catholic Church, that multi-billion dollar enterprise, may actually be shown to need all those trappings of wealth to support their infrastructure.

Religion adds another facet to our already messy, complicated lives. Open your minds and make an informed choice if possible. Give your children that same choice. The more people who are willing to reconcile religion with intelligence, the better this world can be.

(Like it? See - Telemarketers)

Politics

Fairly boring subject for a fair percentage judging by the people I know. It was for me long before I reached voting age. Little has changed over the years other than moving from dispassionate observer to totally disillusioned conscientious objector.

When I hit 18 I was most irate to learn that voting is compulsory. I knew nothing about politics or its effects on my life despite working for the Federal Government at the time. My parents had never been very political. We didn’t discuss the state of the counrty over dinner but if they did raise the subject it was usually in disgust at the Government's actions. (These were the days of 20+ per cent home loan interest rates so that may have had an impact on their opinions.) At 18 I’d just started to enjoy myself spending money I had earned and had no wish to sink myself into the mire of political intrigue.

I went to the polling station purely to avoid the fine that first time. I remember going to the booth with my handfuls of paper wondering what the hell to do with them. I think I managed to use all the boxes to write something witty then stuffed them into their boxes under the watchful eye of an ASIO man with reflective glasses. I remember him sneering at me. Wanker.

I moved around a fair bit after that and never got around to letting the electoral office know where I was. The next time they caught up with me was around 10 years later when a jolly fat bloke came to the door and told me they didn’t have anyone registered as living here. He insisted on making me fill in my details under threat of the bailiff doing something to me. It’s a long time ago now so I don’t recall what exactly. I moved a few months later so it didn’t concern me too much. They seek him here, they seek him there.

Right now there are a few of you saying “how irresponsible” and the like. Maybe at first I just acted like a teenager and didnt care. As the years progressed though, I did take more interest in what my government was doing to me and found myself still unable to vote.

“If you don’t vote, don’t complain about the way the country is run.” Screw that. I like whinging and it’s not as simple as that anyway. If you don’t respect and trust any of the candidates what option do you have? Vote for the next best thing? You do? And you’re still able to do that even when the next best candidate disgusts you? If that’s how the parliament is elected, is it any wonder that we have these clowns currently running our lives.

I only have to turn on ABC to watch a few minutes of Parliament Time to remind myself what a waste of tax dollars the whole process is. These overgrown children jeering and shouting at each other over the stupidest things instead of dealing with the issues our country faces. They vote themselves pay rises while the little man gets a tax hike.

I will continue to conscientiously object until I find someone to believe in. I’m not holding my breath.

(Like it? See - Religion)

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Samael

I first heard of the Swedish Heavy Metal band, Samael, on Pandora’s* Music Genome Experiment site. Samael’s Symphonic/Industrial Metal sound and Vorph’s harsh Death Metal vocals instantly fascinated me. As I am genetically hardwired to enjoy only a specific sub genre of Metal, my galvanic skin reaction, which I have learned to trust implicitly, quickly reinforced its worth.

I searched my locale for any of Samael’s albums with predictable negative results. Since buying CD’s without seeing and touching them first is a peculiarity of mine, I had to wait until we visited Brisbane before I found a store, JB HiFi, with enough good taste to actually stock it. I grabbed the only album they had, cackling like a madman once it was in my possession.

Listening to the album, Reign of Light, for the first time would rank in my life’s top ten moments of pure pleasure. I enjoyed every song. None of them appeared to be half arsed filler material. I only hope the wife forgives my inability to wait for a private moment. Its inaugural performance was blasted over the car stereo on the way to visit her parents. (She’s an ABBA lover. Say no more.)

At first I just enjoyed the music, couldn’t get enough. Then came the only hiccup in the experience. A few listens later I began to discern some of the lyrics and a certain feeling of disquiet came over me. I then read the lyrics in the cover booklet and got very worried. There is no swearing, reference to Satan, or the killing and eating of children. Had I inadvertently purchased a Christian Metal band by mistake? The thought froze me to my heavy metal core. Already panicking, and ready to be desperately embarrassed, I clawed at my memory recalling how many people I told I loved this album.

Frantically trawling the Internet yielded reassuring information and I slowly convinced myself that I had been mistaken. They were in fact a satanically influenced band in the past. The reasoning behind my original panic is the incomprehensible inoffensiveness of the lyrics despite the energy of the music and murderous tone of voice.

For an example, here are the chorus lyrics from the track Reign of Light:

Shout it loud and proud

I’m the hyper star

Shining on your life

Keeping you from falling

Back to your own start

World is at your door

Yesterday at your back

Now take a step forward

You’re on your way

Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t say it made a lot of sense. Their combination of astronomical imagery, transcendental desires and a search for understanding could be readily misunderstood to be quasi-religious. You may sympathize with my initial concern. I think they pull it off though; it’s not at all girly. I still love it. It actually energizes and calms me at the same time.

Be warned though, playing this album at the local Four Square Church may still get you beaten to death with their largest bibles. But just think how embarrassed they would be later when faced with a transcript of Samael’s innocuous intentions.

*I, and every other non-US resident, was banned from using Pandora’s excellent music search engine by the RIAA when the copyright wars were at their height. I now use Last.FM. It isn’t as easy to navigate as Pandora but at least I have constant heavy metal at my fingertips.

(Like it? See - Telemarketers)

Friday, 7 March 2008

Money

Money. The root of all evil. Lovely stuff when you can get it though. All my life I've worked reasonably hard for it. At times I’ve been paid more than I’m worth. Not many people can, or would, admit to that. There have been times when I had none too. I had to claim my super under their financial hardship rules when I wanted to do the engine up on my car and go on holidays. At times my mates and I were so poor we had to choose between food and beer. Couldn’t afford both. That’s right, we were that broke. We bought beer.

The power of the mighty dollar has brought me joy on enough occasions to finally disregard the saying "Money can't buy happiness" as a poor man's self-commiseration for not having any. Try living on love. Fucking hungry aren’t you?

The satisfaction level of your life need not revolve around the accumulation of wealth. But, knowing the funds are there to accomplish your goals makes for a sounder sleep at night, in my humble opinion.

(Like it? See – Manual labourer enters virtual world)

Sex sells

This needn't be a sordid subject but that really will depend on how puritanical your state of mind is. If you have managed to get passed the title you'll be either relieved or disappointed that there aren't full frontal pictures plastered up here.

'Sex sells'. Yes it does. Most of us have a passing interest in it. Even if you are steadfastly against sex, the subject can still incite a marketable opinion, judging from the plethora of literature that’s available both for and against it.

Pornographic magazines. I have always loved that over-popularised reaction to the discovery of a person's adult magazine collection. “What have you got these for?” the accusation might start. Now, even taking into account the inflection of the voice, raised eyebrows and smirks, one reason might appear to be pretty obvious. The classic answer to this question, forever constrained to be a blatant lie is: “Umm, I just get it for the articles.”

Keep in mind the fact that those who are loudest in apportioning negative values to this media are usually forced to throw rugs over the muddy tracks of their own morality first. Hypocrites will embarrass themselves sooner or later. If you do in fact have the right to throw stones due to your purity I hazard a guess that you are also very boring. Accept it.

During my search of magazines who publish higher than G rated drivel, I came across several publishers who appeal as a thinking man's pornography. They pay for quality articles and stories to fill the pages between the naked models and rightly so. After all, sex can only consume a reasonably small percentage of your day before becoming a neurosis. The rest of the time we want to be entertained and educated. I think there’s no reason a writer shouldn’t profit from supplying filler material no matter what the publication is selling.

Ignoring such a rich and diverse part of the publishing market by overvaluing small-minded opinions in my life would be a mistake. A writer is whoring him or herself out whenever they accept money for their thoughts and opinions anyway.

However the history you are constructing must also be carefully considered. Your relationships with friends and family can suffer if you reach a level of selfishness where you can't appreciate how your actions are adversely affecting others.

So, what to do? Self-censorship, brutal honesty or obscurification? The latter seems the best course of action. A pseudonym's purpose can reveal, rather that hide, a man's diversities, freeing him to appeal to a wider audience without disillusioning the one he already had.

I can live with that.

(Like it? See – Money)