Xander and Nico's 2005 Christmas Letter

23 December 2005

Cat Lying on Windowsill, 21 December 2005.

(No, that photo isn't upside down. Xander likes to lie on the window ledge with his head hanging like that. He takes after his Mum. He's strange.)

Well dear readers, 2005 has been another year of highs and lows for both Xander and myself. As hard as it is to believe, Xander is now two-and-two-thirds years old! He shows hardly any kittenish behaviour - and that's just fine with me. I don't think I could handle a little bouncing ball of fur constantly getting under my feet and chewing on things. No, Xander is more partial to naps together, a comfy lap to sit on, and "helping" me when I'm cooking (helping consists of sitting next to the kitchen bench, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings, and waiting hopefully for samples to taste!). But he's gorgeous, and now he's fully grown, it's apparent
that he doesn't actually have a weight problem - he's just a very, very big cat (He weighs a bit over 7 kilos - that's 16 pounds).

As for me, 2005 went by in a blur. They say that the older you get, the faster time goes; I didn't used to believe this, but now I can attest that it's true!
I'm not as interesting as Xander, nor as attractive (I tell a lie; I'm not attractive at all), so I'll keep this to a few points:

  • It was the year of working dangerously. Five years after leaving university, I finally got my first permanent job. It's not exactly the life I pictured for myself when I was younger, but who the hell wants to live that life anyway? If we all lived the lives we imagined for ourselves when we were 14, I'd be married to some, or all, of the members of Take That now (hang on, apparently Katie Holmes is living the life she pictured for herself as a child...) Anyway, I've attended my first conference, seen the truth in a cartoon, and realised certain facts of life.
  • I kept not one, but two, of my New Years resolutions. To cut down on my drinking, and gain weight. I'm quite proud of myself for the first; the second followed automatically. Now I need Regurgitator to record a new song - "Blubber Girl".
  • My age has finally caught up with me this. I no longer look nineteen; all of a sudden, I actually look like I'm nearing thirty. Which I am. I've accepted this, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
  • I've lost none of my propensity to illness and injury. Apart from several bad bouts of flu, I didn't get terribly sick this year, but I did manage to slip in my bathroom, cut my head on the rim of the bathtub, and need five stitches. Oh yeah, and there was that little stomach problem that - trust me on this - you don't want to know about.
  • Sadly, I didn't get to travel this year, at least not as much as I would have liked. I got up to to Port Macquarie in August, but apart from that, a few trips to Sydney was as far as I wne. But I'm a real homebody, so it was probably for the best.

    Well, that about it. If you're really keen to know how the year unfolded, knock yourself out going through our archives. Thank you to each and every one of you who takes the time to read this, and if you find what I've just written nauseatingly sappy, don't worry; I'm usually very cynical and bitter, and this is an uncharacteristic change of pace.

    All the best for the festive season, and we'll see you in 2006.

    Love, Xander and Nico.
  • The Miracle Fat Cure That Business Big Wigs Don't Want You To Know About*

    21 December 2005
    Recently, I've been compiling a list of web search referrals to the Pod. I'll be publishing a list of all the interesting ones soon, but I have to say, by far the most common referral is a search for "Alexander Downer Fishnets". I mentioned this 1996 episode, where the Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister of Australia, posed in fishnet stockings for a magazine shoot, in a post several months ago. Obviously, I wanted to include a photo of this, but despite an extensive web search of my own at the time, I couldn't find one.

    But Now, I Have.

    Continuing our tradition of bringing you cutting edge news and opinion (okay, okay, just blathering on week after week), Xander and Nico present... Downer in fishnets!

    Where did I track it down? Actually, it really wasn't hard...it just required a little "creative" searching. I leave it to you to take up the challenge, if you so wish.

    I'm reminded of the old cliche, "A week is a long time in politics..." It's almost 10 years since that photo was taken. It's hard to believe that that could be the same man as the grizzled old warhorse we see today.

    As for politics, regular readers may be wondering why I haven't been writing about political issues lately. There's two main reasons: firstly, because it's good at this time of year to take a break, and in any case parliament is on summer recess at the moment. Secondly, it's because having been writing and thinking about these things all year, I've become exhausted and disillusioned about what's happening to the country. But, after the break, I'll be back to my pontificating self in the New Year - in fact, I'm looking at setting up a media watch blog (and will be looking for bloggers to help out - watch this space!)


    I finished my Xmas shopping yesterday, thank Cow! I waited until late evening, when the shops would be less crowded, then took a deep breath and went for it in one long, get-it-over-with session. It's not that I resent buying things for people, or spending money (Lord, no); just that I can't stand to be in crowded noisy retail spaces at this time of year.

    Anyway, all I have to do now is wrap the things. I'm going to approach this the way I did the shopping - one marathon effort (likely on Friday night, when I can at least drink whilst I'm wrapping). Wrapping gifts is not my forte. To the extent that it's a running joke amongst my friends, none of whom are any better at it than I am. It's just that whenever I try to wrap presents, my hands behave as if they have no fingers and ten thumbs, the sticky tape acts in ways which it's manufacturers never intended, and even those little pre-formed bows come undone. The results look like what a five year old who insists on wrapping up the macaroni necklace he made for Mum in kindy would come up with. On top of this, if you've ever attempted to wrap presents in front of a curious cat who likes to be near you at all times and loves playing with paper, you'll understand that Xander puts rather a handicap on the matter.

    Check back here tomorrow, for Xander and Nico's year in review/Xmas letter...I was going to put it in today, but I know that people tend not to read everything if you put more than one topic into a post (and how do I know this? Because that's what I do!)

    *You've by now realised, of course, that this title has nothing to do with the post content. But I've always wanted use a title like this, and if you're still reading I'm impressed.

    Loving Bill Bryson

    15 December 2005
    I've been reading Bill Bryson'sA Short History Of Nearly Everything this week, it would have to be one of the most amazing documents I've ever read in my life. Exactly as has been said, it will change the way you look at the universe forever (sounds like a cult or self-help book doesn't it?) It's taken me nearly all week to read, because I have to keep stopping to think about what I've read (just imagine me with eyes trained over a thick paperback, looking up, staring glassy-eyes into middle distance for some seconds, then saying softly "...wow". I'm normally a speed reader - I once memorably read IT in six hours on New Years Day a few years ago - but this, I need to take my time over. I feel like I've learned more in a few days of reading this book than I did in seven years of high school science classes (which wasn't a great deal, though admittedly I did biology rather than physics or chemistry for HSC. In any case, I can't remember much of high school at this late stage).

    There's only one criticism I can make of the book, and it relates to the language, not the science - I'm in no position to criticise the science! Anyway, I'm referring to Bryson's excessive use of the phrase "not incidentally". It crops up so often that if you read more than about a chapter of the book at a time - sometimes not even that - you become painfully aware of it, and everytime you come across it, those words jolt you out of the text, disctracting you from what you are reading. There is only one occasion in the book where Bryson uses a substitute for "not incidentally": in one case he says "it happens that..." - but even that is in a footnote. I wonder that no copy editor ever picked up on this.

    Okay, that's me sniping when I have no business to (having never written a book myself; at least not yet) done with for today! Seriously, I highly recommend you read A Short History. It's scary, funny, fascinating and enlightening - everything a book should be, especially if you are, like me, not a great reader of fiction, but would rather learn something whilst you read. If you do, drop back here, and leave a comment telling us what you thought...

    Christmas Sneer Cheer

    13 December 2005

  • For the last few days, I always seem to have the same Xmas carol running through my head, even though the only ones I've heard have been in shopping centres. This seems to be a Hooked On Xmas hangover from my childhood. (Incidentally, the other day I saw a CD advertised as "The only Xmas album you'll ever need". I was unaware that I even needed one).

  • According to some trashy current affairs show or other (I wasn't paying attention to which one), Australian Xmas retail spending is $20 Billion each year. That's $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. I'd like to know where my share of the money is going. I've never had $1000 worth of Xmas presants, and I don't know anyone else who does either. Admittedly, our family has never been big on gift-giving, but still. I'd like some expensive presents some time!

  • Apparently the local pet shop is looking for people to foster their kittens (and puppies) over Xmas. I love this idea, but I fear Xander will not be so keen...in the manner of any settled young adult male who sees that a baby has arrived in the house, I imagine him peering disdainfully at the new kitten, then looking at me as if to say, "It's my Xmas too, and you brought me this?"
    EDIT: I went into the pet shop yesterday (Tues) afternoon to inquire about this. I was informed the pet shop provides everything, all you needed was to pay a security deposit, the sale price of the kitten. I said, "That's okay, I have everything to look after a cat except the kitten food, and I can buy that." It turns out, the only thing they don't want you to have, is other pets. Surely an existing cat owner would be better to look after a kitten than someone who doesn't own a pet? Seems like they don't care how well their kitties are looked after, as long as they don't lose money. Poor kitties. Yet another reason why, I'm glad we got Xander from the RSPCA and not a pet shop.

  • I'm still pretty sick. I've got a horrific cold and feel as though my head is going to explode. Everyone in the office has a summer cold; you ought to hear the place. Last night I kept waking up in a panic, unable to breathe. I don't like taking psuedoephedrine - the way it makes your heart race - but I think I will anyway, just so I don't feel like this anymore. Luckily it's pretty quiet at work. Just 10 days till the holidays...

  • That's Why It's Called The Silly Season

    09 December 2005
    This time of year brings much misery to people like myself and my cat, who despite the weather like to get around wearing a gorgeous furry black coat. Because it's summer, which in Australia is accompanied by Xmas. My opinion of Xmas has never been high (though I get into the sarcastic spirit occasionally) and I'm not a keen fan of summer either. But we often overlook it's good points. Apart from the usual suspects (abundant summer fruits, the ocean), here are some of the less frequently acknowledged benefits of summer:

  • No need to hunt for the tea cosy as you stand bleary-eyed in your kitchen making a pot of tea in the morning.
  • It doesn't matter if you don't have time to blow-dry your hair before you leave for work; it will sure as heck be dry by the time you get there.
  • Friends may say, "Just take some paracetamol and you'll be fine!" if you try to use flu as an excuse for not going out, but no one argues with a bad sunburn.
  • You can sleep in, hang the washing out at 1pm, and it'll still be dry by dinner time.
  • Total fire bans are a great excuse to ditch that mosquito-riddled BBQ in favour of a nice restaurant.
  • No need to jump up and down trying to keep warm at the taxi rank or bus stop after a night out.
  • Should you get lucky on said night out, you won't be mortified at the clothes-removal stage, when your partner sees that you're wearing a thermal under your outfit.
  • Winter shoes need to be polished. Summer sandals do not.
  • Lastly...whilst you may find it hard to sleep at night if it's hot, if like me you have a cat who likes to sleep in your bed, you may find yourself having a better nights sleep when said cat decides it's too hot to sleep with you, and slumbers near the fridge!

  • And yet...winter is easier to deal with. You can simply put on more clothes to warm up. And heaters are cheaper than air-conditioners. I've never gotten cloud burn or cool rash. As the temperature goes up, IQs go down. There's a reason why few of the nation's noted thinkers hail from Darwin. Queensland has not acquired it's reputation as the state of the sublime and the ridiculous due to it's temperate climate. The things that matter in Australia get done in the south.

    Adults get too excited about summer. It's a sort of childhood-hangover from the days when summer meant two months to yourself. But Alice Cooper never recorded Office's Out For Summer. There comes no great day in mid-December when the last bell rings, and you run, whooping with glee, out the door, shredding your files and smashing your laptop (though that was possible in the late 1990s, if you worked a dotcom). And you don't return in February to find you've got a nice new supervisor (better than last year's supervisor, anyway) and you've lucked out with a cubicle that's near your friends.

    Nonetheless, I'm going to enjoy my summer holidays. I'd better, as thanks to the Government's IR reforms, it looks like my first proper paid summer holiday could be my last. There is one drawback though...whilst I'm off work I'll have little internet access, so I may have to put The Pod on a summer hiatus. But I don't like this idea. Hunting for a solution...

    On the death of Van Tuong Nguyen, and the Death Penalty

    01 December 2005
    More on the pending execution of Van Nguyen.
    Before I go on, I'll just say, in relation to an earlier discussion in the comments, I'm not seeking here to explore the international politics of the situation. This is my emotional response, not an analysis of international law. Anyway...

    This morning on the front page of The Newcastle Herald, there was an "Execution Timeline" outlining how Nguyen will spend his final hours, until 9am AEDT tomorrow (6am Singaporean time, 10pm Thursday GMT, 5pm Thurs EST in the U.S.) when the noose will be placed over his hooded head, and the trapdoor beneath will be released. 30 minutes later, a doctor will check for a pulse before declaring death.

    That's one of the things which has shocked me so much about this - how cold it all seems. When you hear a statement like "...and lawyers say it now looks all but certain that Van Nguyen will die tomorrow", well that seems utterly chilling. Yes murder is a terrible thing. But to have it out front like that - that a person will die, tomorrow, not because they're old and sick and doctors say that there's no more they can do, but a healthy, young man due to a deliberate, planned, methodical decision of the state - to me that is just the worst of humanity, far more barbarous than anything any individual could do.

    EDIT - And then that odious Piers Akerman writes bullshit like this (I will not excuse the language).

    In a sad coincidence, the US is now about to conduct it's 1000th execution since the death penalty was re-instated in 1976. What you may not be aware of are the circumstances which led to the US re-introducing capital punsishment. It was not due to any public out-cry for re-instatement, nor to the election promises of a politician on a law-and order platform; rather, it was the actions of one insignificant armed robber, Gary Gilmore, who would now be forgotten by all except the families of his victims, if not for one thing: Gilmore did not appeal his death sentence. The US Supreme Court had ruled in the 1960s that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment, so even though death sentences were still handed out in courts at the time, they were automatically commuted to life imprisonment on appeal. Gilmore chose not to appeal (his psychiatrists unsucessfully tried to use this as proof of suicidal behaviour) and thus faced a firing squad. And capital punishment was back in action in the US.

    Of course, what I've just written in a very simplified account of the circumstances behind Gilmore's case and the re-introduction of capital punishment; to read more, follow the links. But consider this: The US first abolished the death penalty during the same era as most other "first-world" countries, and today is the only "western" country that retains it. It was re-introduced, not because of a public call for it, but because of the possibly unbalanced actions of one petty thug. 998 others have been executed in the US since then, and has a single life been saved due to the death penalty acting as a deterrant? I won't go into that sociological debate now.

    I'll be honest. Until a few years ago I did support capital punishment for "worst-type" offenders. But then I read a magazine article, interviewing the families of Oklahoma City bombing victims ahead of the pending execution of Timothy McVeigh. Most, of course, wanted him to be executed. But I'll never forget a comment made by a father whose daughter was killed in the explosion. The father said of Mc Veigh:

    "If I am to go on with my life, I need to be able to forgive him. And to be able to forgive him, I need him to be alive."
    Would that all humanity could show such grace.

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