D?j? vu, again

Life is made up of never-ending lists that have you going round in circles.

particle accelerator 88 (photo credit: )
particle accelerator 88
(photo credit: )
Years ago I attended a time management course where the No. 1 tip was something I was already doing without expert advice: Draw up to-do lists. Tip No. 2 was more psychological than practical: Aim for excellence rather than perfection. Perfection is unachievable and you waste too much time and effort on trying to attain it, whereas excellence is something you can not only strive for but also succeed in. It was clear that I was not going to perfect the art of listmaking, but I have a decent chance at excelling at it. I have a to-do list divided into sections: a sub-list of things to fix, a list of e-mails to send and regular mail to post, a long list of phone calls I would make to friends if I got through my other lists fast enough to have spare time to chat at a socially acceptable hour. I have a list of things to buy and a list of things to get rid of. I'm considering making a list of my lists. I knew it was getting out of hand when I stopped using a piece of paper stuck to the fridge with a magnet and began instead to use a notebook. It's not that I don't cross items off the lists: But in that nature-abhors-a-vacuum way, every time I complete one task, along comes another one (or three) to take its place. Quite often, the new assignment is something that it feels I've only just completed. Apart from the list of down-to-earth tasks, I have a mental wish list of places I want to go, things I want to do, and people I want to see. I suppose I also have a list of fears but I try to ignore it. Perhaps deep down my greatest fear is that if I was to live in fear I'd never get anything done: You don't paint an apartment if you constantly worry about the imminence of earthquakes; you don't stay close to friends if you think they're about to be wiped out by war/disease/rising food prices - and all the other fears news headlines and talk shows feed on. If you acted on all the fears concerning children, you'd have to spend so much energy trying to protect them you wouldn't have time to raise them - or a hope in hell of bringing them up to be normal human beings. Worrying about the Iranian bomb I leave to the politicians and defense establishment - although I sometimes fear that the subject is not high up enough on the national to-do list. Knesset members are, it seems, constantly busy either settling into a new office or preparing, like now, for new elections. Their to-do lists are taking on a new urgency - note the sudden tax reforms announced last week by Finance Minister Ronni Bar-On. Just as you can tell when the country is at war by the fact the bus drivers become unusually pleasant, a tax reform is a sure precursor of political battle. The smell of elections is, again, in the air. The whiff reminds me that I need to throw out last week's flowers, which no longer emit a pleasant aroma but a slightly putrid smell from the bottom of the vase. I'll add it to my list. The politicians will have to work hard to improve their image. It will take more than easing payments for pensioners and spouting soothing words. The Israeli public's confidence in its politicians and democratic institutions is definitely waning, according to the Democracy Index for 2008 published on June 10. President Shimon Peres, receiving the report from the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute, true to form, refused to be pessimistic, stating: "Democracy in Israel is in fine shape." You can trust him. The country's longest-standing politician, who served in the Knesset from 1957 until (finally) being elected president last year, also said, without any apparent irony, politicians should quit their offices after four to eight years to make way for younger people. Well said for someone in his mid-80s who has fought for, and lost, post after post. LATELY, I have added another topic to my mental list of things that should be worried about if life weren't too short to waste on worrying. Over in peaceful Switzerland a huge scientific project is under way popularly - or populistically - known as the Big Bang experiment. The idea, close to fruition, is to reconstruct the creation of the universe using a giant particle accelerator known as the Large Hadron Collider so that the scientists can observe the black holes and other yet-to-be-seen phenomena following the first explosion the world ever knew. Scientists involved in the project promise the potential findings could be more significant than man landing on the moon. Who exactly will benefit has yet to be seen. Way up on my global to-do list would be, for example, fixing poverty and disease in Africa, which stares up at the same moon as you and I but might as well be in a different solar system. Those scientists involved belittle fears that they could be swallowed up by one of their own black holes should their calculations or assumptions be wrong. But I can't help thinking that the $10 billion invested in the project over the last 14 years might have been better invested elsewhere, and the project's 6,000 scientists could have put their undoubtedly considerable brain power to granting many a wish list. Tel Aviv University scientist Prof. Erez Etzion told the Post's Judy Siegel that it's hard to even conceive of the practical implications of the project today - you can say that again - but he is optimistic that they will include better understanding of magnetic forces and radiation which will eventually be put to use to improve technology that fights everything from disease to terrorism. The project is being described as groundbreaking. And while I doubt it will create any black holes, it wouldn't surprise me if such a subterranean collision didn't ultimately result in, for example, unexpected earthquakes in Europe. Of course, the Big Bang could end in a very embarrassing Big Fizzle, with no world-shattering discoveries despite the participation of scientists from more than 50 countries. Or something so sensational I'll be forced to admit my skepticism was misplaced and I'll have to add apologizing to one of my never-ending lists. Albert Einstein, some of whose theories will be tried out in the major international experiment, would probably have approved. Even I would congratulate the scientist who could explain where time goes and how to slow it down. A friend recently told me her theory that time doesn't only appear to go faster: it really is passing more quickly. The result, in her opinion, is that the world is turning faster and that is why we are seeing global warming and a generation that thrives on instant gratification, speed and the quick fix. It also explains why history not only keeps on repeating itself, but also repeats itself ever more frequently. No sooner have we elected a government than it proves to be the wrong one. We don't expect perfection, but even excellence seems to be as distant a memory as the Big Bang. Peres's perennial optimism notwithstanding, I doubt we'll be impressed by many of the names on the party lists. Unfortunately, Israeli politics is becoming a black hole when it comes to talent. But we do at least keep on trying, democratically ticking government after government off a long list.