Monday, December 31, 2007

Fundamentalists Making the World a Better Place

Here are two recent examples of fundamentalists making the world a little less good for the rest of us.

First are the Christians. A Texan higher education panel has recommended the Institute for Creation Research be allowed to offer masters degrees in science education. While it's not yet final, this is not Texas' first dalliance with creationist leanings in recent times. This is troubling, but unfortunately not surprising. I should not have to explain to readers why this is a bad thing.

Next up are the Muslims. Al-Azhar, one of Islam's highest seats of learning located in Cairo, has come out and said that any woman who becomes pregnant due to rape must have an abortion. While it's nice to see someone religious supporting abortion, my quarrel is with the must part. This is taking freedom away from the woman to make the decision. Most may want to do so, but such a decision should never be forced. I also don't like the reason why raped women must have an abortion: to maintain social stability. Social stability is not a participant in deciding to have an abortion. It is a matter for the mother, usually the father (but not in this case), possibly a doctor in the case of medical issues, and anyone else they want involved. The state should not require or prevent an abortion in any situation as it is a matter for the individuals concerned.

Writing time: 1 hour 13 minutes (this does include time for other non-computer activities)
Time since last post: 1 week
Current media: The soundtrack to Grosse Point Blank

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Today, for the first time I went skiing. Before going into much detail, let me just say, I sucked. And now, onto the narrative.

The story really starts last night when, knowing I had to wake at 5am, I attempted to get an early night. I don't think I could have failed at this more if I had tried. I lay in bed for about an hour trying to go to sleep before I came to the conclusion that I was getting to sleep anytime soon. So I went back to the computer and did some writing and played some Starcraft (when in Rome). At any rate I was still going strong when my alarm clock went off at 5am.

I got prepared (and opened one of my Christmas presents early, since I thought a beanie would be useful today. My family need to be less descriptive on the customs declaration forms.) and met up with the other teachers who were going. For the first time in Korea I got to say "Good Morning" to someone. We caught a taxi to where the bus to the ski resort was picking us up.

The bus trip was about two hours, and I did manage to get a little bit of sleep on the bus up there. Once we arrived, the tour organisers distributed ski clothes and boots. This mostly went without a hitch, although my boots were a little too small, but they quickly found a pair that did fit. The ski clothes fit and were pretty warm. I wouldn't have minded keeping the jacket actually.

So after getting kitted up and putting on my skis, I started trying to move. Good arm exercise to say the least. A little bit of time at this, and I thought I might try the slope that was front and center. There was a small travelator that would take you up a little way, so up I went. I fell over getting off the travelator. Then after the guy manning the top of the travelator helped me up, I went about a meter and fell again. After I got up I tried going down the hill sideways, but almost ran into a little girl being taught by her father. He pushed me out of the way and a little bit away. I slowly slid down the hill sideways, but would sometimes get some forward momentum and would then end up falling over. After one fall where my ski came off, I was unable to get the ski back on properly and decided to walk down the hill. An inauspicious start.

After that I took a break for a while with a fellow Australian teacher who was doing about as badly as I was. After this, some of the other teachers who were more familiar with skiing (a Canadian and an American) who took us all the way up the same slope and taught us a little. I got a little control. But not enough to turn or slow my descent if I went more then a little more than moving perpendicular to the slope.After a number of falls, including one where I was stuck bent over with my legs spread and my hands on the ground in such a position such that if I moved a hand or foot I would start sliding down the hill and I couldn't just fall over because the boots were attached to the skis and I couldn't bend my ankles enough to put my body on the ground. After some more sideways sliding and falling over, I took a longer walk down the hill. On the way down I noticed a large very flat area behind one of the buildings that turned out to be the very beginners area.

After another break we went over there and were much more able to control ourselves than on an actual slope. After some practise stopping we tried the small slope from the beginner lift. I managed to get all the way to the bottom and only fell down once, and managed to repeat the feat a second time. After this the day was getting on and those of us who were newer to skiing called it a day, while those from the American continent kept skiing a bit longer.

That was not the last piece of excitement for the day. On the bus trip back our bus driver caused a three car accident. He rear-ended a car into the back of another car and destroyed the rear window of the car it hit. Apparently his driving had been reckless for most of the trip, but I hadn't noticed as I was half asleep and listening to my iPod. Anyway, no one on the bus was hurt, although several were really pissed off at the driver.

And that is my skiing trip

End Post
Writing time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Deep Space Nine 1x01 The Emissary

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Another good move

Following up on my previous post, I'd like to present another example of political foolishness. The Lakota people, one of the tribes of native Americans, has decided it is withdrawing from their treaties with the United States of America, and wishes to be independent and reclaim its territories that cover 5 states.

Let me make a prediction here. It's not going to happen. There will be no Independent Nation of the Lakota (I don't know what sort of formal name for the country they would choose, but United States of Lakota just sounds silly and copycatish, and the Commonwealth of Lakota is a bit to British, and God forbid they go with the People's Republic of Lakota.). America will not give up the territory. Sure it's the middle of nowhere, but still, it's not going to happen.

Even if they did, they will allow people living there to become citizens if they renounce there US citizenship. Brilliant. So the Lakota, who a minority, give a bunch of United Statesian citizenship in their new country, are thus outnumbered and lose any sensible democratic election, and the new government rejoins the United States in a much less revocable way.

Now, I'm not denying that Native Americans, like most natives outside of Europe, have been treated pretty shit. Australia has its own appalling history with that. But, this action at best will garner publicity, but there will be no independent government, there will be no Independent Nation of the Lakota.

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Writing time: 18 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: None

Shooting Themselves in the Foot

Among the many news stories that turn up on everyday was a little gem the other day about how a Nationals Queensland MP suggested that the possible merger of the conservative parties in Queensland should include those some might consider a little extreme, namely Family First and One Nation. The rational seems to be that those parties draw voters away from the Nationals and Liberals, so to avoid splitting the vote they should be included.

This seems stupid because the fringe parties get only a small share of the votes (although this is Queensland where One Nation actually did pretty well for itself), and preferences would then flow to the larger conservative party. Also, including these parties into a large combined conservative party would possibly scare away those close to the middle who while preferring the coalition to Labor, don't want to support those on the far right.

I can only hope that they do do this, and suffer as a consequence (I'm not exactly a fan of the conservative parties).

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Writing time: 49 minutes (I got distracted)
Time since last post: two days
Current media: The Office (US version) season 3

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Brief Trip to Thailand

Before making my permanent departure from Japan (not that the Japanese government has been informed. I figure they'll work it out when they never get any response to the letters about city tax. At any rate, I wasn't about to surrender my Gaijin card, so we'll see what happens when I return to Japan to get my money) I made a short trip to Thailand. Very brief. I left Japan at 1:30am on Monday and returned at 7pm the following Friday.

The purpose of this trip was to visit my sister. I had originally planned to go to Thailand earlier and for longer. I had organised four shift swaps and my sole paid vacation to get nine consecutive days off in October, and was all set to buy my tickets after payday in September. However, this was not to be. That was the payday when we were paid late. So on my day off instead of going forth and buying tickets, I went forth and checked my bank balance. The money was there, but I didn't want to spend the money on tickets until I was sure about next months pay.

Being sure about the next months pay never happened. Well, we bacame sure we weren't going to get it. So I never made the trip. My nine days off become eight as a coworker left before our swap happened. I spent most of the time playing online poker.

As the situation in Japan got worse, going to Thailand became more likely. Not as a destination, but as a stop on the way somewhere else (originally Australia, but it turned out to be Korea), but planning obviously rested on deciding what I was going to do.

Once I got my second (and lasting) job offer in Korea, and the visa was sorted out and all that, I got my tickets to Thailand. My plan was to leave Japan, spend a week or so in Thailand and then fly from Thailand to Korea. This seemed to be the ideal travel plan with a minimum of hassle. I'd checked out the website of the travel agent I planned to go to and they had advertised flights to Bangkok for 20,000 yen and flights to Korea for 15,000 to Seoul, so I was expecting a cheap set of tickets.

I was to be disappointed. The advertised prices werefor one leg of a return ticket, and did not include taxes, etc. More frustrating was the fact that the travel agent would only book flights with one end of the flight in Japan, so Osaka to Bangkok to Seoul was not something they would organise. In fact, they refused to do so. I got their quotes for flights to Bangkok and Korea, and then went hunting for a better deal.

By looking at the Thai Airways website I was able to get flights on my ideal days, but the cost was about $3000, which is significantly more than my credit card could handle (when it looked like NOVA was about to hit the wall, I should have asked my bank for a limit increase to give myself more room to breathe (or get into bigger trouble)). AFter examining my options, the travel agent I started with was still the best deal, but the schedule was not exactly what I wanted.

The final travel plan was to leave Japan stupidly early on Monday, arrive in Bangkok at a merely early hour on Monday, spend a few days in Thailand, have a return flight that left Bangkok Friday morning, went via Manila, and arrived back in Japan at 7pm Friday night. My flight to Korea left at 3pm Saturday afternoon, which gave me just enough time to get through customs to get to the B-Trip for a sayonara party at 9pm on Friday night adn afterwards get some sleep.

So now to the important part, the actual trip to Thailand. After a few hassles with immigration, I got into the country. I met my sister at the airport, and then we caught the bus to her place. I spent some time recuperating after the flight and then headed to her office to meet up for lunch. Then I wandered back to her apartment. I was going to do some sightseeing, but by the time I got to the train station I was so exhausted I just went back to the apartment.

On Tuesday we caught the bus up to Mae Sot, which is up near the border with Burma. The trip took most of the day, and I spent most of the trip reading and watching Family Guy on my iPod. We stayed with a friend and coworker of my sisters who has what is probably one of the nicest places in all of Mae Sot, but it still didn't have hot water.

Wednesday was spent sight seeing. My sister and I rented a motorbike, then went to a a temple or two, and then down to the river which is the border. Then we wandered through a market next to the river. After lunch she had to work, so I had a look at one of the other markets in town. It's the first time I've seen live toads for sale.

Dinner was a party at my sister's office as it was both hers and a coworker's birthday. The pary consisted of cake, prawns, fruit and beer. A good time was had by all.

On Thursday I went exploring by myself, and got to ride the motorbike by myself. My main problem was that all my imagining from watching TV and such was that you rolled the handle forwards to go faster, which is in actual fact the opposite of the way it works. This is a problem when it means that your instictive reaction to slow down makes the bike go faster. Once I felt like I had some control over the bike, I headed back to the border. I parked the bike and then went to the bridge across the river which is the border crossing.

There was a small queue at the crossing, but after I joined the line, they waved me over to what turned out to be a foreigners (non-Thai or Burmese) line. I then walked across the bridge and entered Burma. It was much like Thailand but dirtier and even more run down. I wandered around for an hour or two before heading back to reclaim my passport (the Burmese immigration office kept it. Foreigners aren't allowed to stay overnight in Burma when they enter via Mae Sot.) and returning to Thailand. I had dinner and then caught an overnight bus back to Bangkok.

The bus trip was back was quicker than the bus trip up (they speed more at night or something). I got in at around 4am, and then got a taxi to the airport. It is just as well my sister had told me how much such a taxi ride should cost, cause the guy wanted to charge me more than it should have cost, so I knew enough to haggle with him over it. The taxi driver than drove somewhat like a maniac (I think he got up to at least 140 km/h). Once at the airport, the waiting began, and then after a long time I finally returned to Japan, where I was fingerprinted as part of a new paranoid security scheme.

Anyway, you can check out the photos here.

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Writing time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Season two of My Name is Earl

Monday, December 17, 2007

Would a student by any other name learn as well?

One of the notable differences between teaching in Japan and Korea has to do with names. In Japan, students used their own names. This was not surprising, and indeed I had never considered the possibility of doing otherwise. This caused some problems at first, because I was unfamiliar with Japanese name, and mangled more than a few pronunciations, but I learnt at least the more frequent students names, and learnt to dread a few.

Over here students all have English names. Sometimes the students already have previously acquired an English name, but sometimes new students to the school need a name, and their foreign teacher gets that privilege. They can and sometimes do change their English name at whim later on though. The Korean teachers and staff also have English names, although they have significantly more freedom to choose and change names.

To me it seems a bit weird and undignified doing this. I know I would be reluctant to give up my name if I moved to a different country (even most of the names I've gone by on the internet are somehow related to my real name, although in some cases the connection is quite convoluted).

There seem to be two main arguments for this. The first is to familiarize the students with English names, which while true, is probably just as effective as the kids watching American TV and calling foreign teachers by their real name.

The second is that Korean names are difficult for the foreign teachers to pronounce, which right now is true because 1) I don't know the language very much and aren't familiar with the sounds used, and 2) the only names I've seen have been written in Hangul, so I've had the extra burden of deciphering the alphabet as well as the pronunciation (try pronouncing and English word correctly while reading at a rate of one letter per second). I am sure that just as with Japanese names, in time any teacher would become competent with Korean names if given the opportunity.

Ultimately it is a matter of respect. I know how I'd feel if someone said to me "It's too hard to pronounce your name, so I'm going to call you Bob instead." Not impressed.

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Writing time: 13 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: iTunes shuffle, currently Miami International from the Casino Royale soundtrack

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Empty Room

In the course of my life I have moved a lot. My current abode is my 18th home, the fourth without family. Many of these moves have not really had much significance. A number occurred before I was old enough to really know what was going on. A few were just moving a short distance from one company house to a better company house. After that a few moves in and around the same city that had little effect on life. Then the move away from home for university, later moving out on my own, then to Japan and now to Korea.

The last two moves have been different to the rest, and have been the source of some sadness. The last two moves have involved saying a much more significant goodbye to people I have grown fond of. Moves before these last two have not entailed such major goodbyes.

A significant point in moving is the empty room. It has a finality to it that brings home that a part of your life is ending. That you really are leaving. A room with nothing in it any more is irrevocable. The move is definite, the end is nigh.

The significance of the empty room is almost entirely symbolic. The decision to move has long been made, the departure yet to come. But the empty room is a significant milestone. It means there is nothing material holding you back. No longer can you say "but all my stuff is here." Your stuff is gone. If anything, it is drawing you to your new destination.

The lack of material connection to a place also reinforces the immaterial connections. My apartment in Japan was just a place. I spent a lot of time there, but still it was just a place. What saddened me upon seeing the empty room was knowing that it will be a long time before I see anyone from Japan again, if ever.

That is the real sadness of the empty room.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Aqsa Parvez

I'm sure most people have heard of the unfortunate fate of Aqsa Parvez. Her claim to fame us quite unpleasant, and definitely somethings should did not want or expect.

Aqsa Parvez was killed a few days ago by her father. And what drove her father to such an act? She decided to stop wearing the hijab, to better fit in with her friends and society.

Many have commented on this incident. I have read many, and I agree with some and disagree with others.

What I don't get is just how someone can care so much about a scarf that they would be willing to kill their daughter over it. Is fashion that important? How can any symbol mean more than flesh and blood?

This is the problem with causes. They let people transform mere things into symbols, and then elevate those symbols into a matter of life and death. No piece of clothing is worth killing over.

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Writing time: 40 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: Reaper

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The enemy of my enemies

They say you can tell the quality of a man by the enemies he makes. If this is true, the Olsen twins have just stepped up a few rungs.

I mean seriously, how immature is this?

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: an hour
Current media: None

Back Online

After several bureaucratic hassles, I've finally got an internet connection at home. The guy came around at 9:15 this morning, and after about half an hour of fiddling around with the modem, phone line and other stuff, it was all set up. Since then I have managed to download around 4 gigabytes of stuff, and am not even half way through the queue.

At any rate, I now have internet, and plenty of free time, so expect plenty of blogging goodness to come.

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Writing time: 3 minutes
Time since last post: 13 days
Current media: None (in between)