Tuesday, July 29, 2008

And About Time, Too

One of the less pride inducing things done in Australia is going to be wound down. The mandatory detention of asylum seekers is going to be stopped1,2,3. And not a moment too soon, I might add.

I was surprised to see that the original implementer of this policy was not Howard, but in fact Keating. However, in my particular case I really don't recall much politics pre-Howard, and in general the idea has been associated with Howard more so than Keating for the inflexible way Howard stuck to the idea in the face of popular disapproval, human rights concerns from the United Nations, cock-ups like the Cornelia Rau incident.

The changes include no longer detaining children at detention centers and in general asylum seekers will be allowed to live in the community while their applications are processed. Some detention will still be allowed, but each case will be examined at least every three months and the onus will be on proving a need to keep the person detained.

Hopefully this will see a lot less people detained for a much shorter time.

The detention centers were a stain on Australia's national conscience, and it is good that finally something is being done to reform them. It really was an appalling way to treat people, and the extremes it drove some of the refugees to to get their voices heard were horrible. It is shaming to think that my government did that to people.

There are some people who would argue that such strict measures are necessary to protect our country from the refugees, as if the illegal immigrants would soon outnumber us if we didn't. The fact that the total capacity of the facilities built to house such immigrants is around a few thousand shows the problem with that argument4.

A number of years ago (around 2001) I generally took the position that since there was a legitimate method for acquiring a visa to Australia that these people didn't take, then yes they were here illegally, but the way they were dealt with was somewhat harsh. I don't think the idea that like any other lawbreaker they still deserved a trial with proper representation occurred to me at the time.

That changed a few years later. The thing that crystallized the change was talking to someone who had moved to Australia from another country. Hearing about all the things he had to do to get a visa was daunting. And he was a well educated person with a job lined up from England, and he still had a lot of hassles. Imagining how a poor, persecuted person living in a country where they were liable to be arrested for thinking of leaving would go about getting a visa made the idea farcical. So instead they'd pay all that they had and risk their lives to travel here illegally, since for them that was a much easier and safer option. Then when they got here, we stuck them in a prison that was much more like their home country than the country they were dreaming of.

This is another move the Rudd government has made to distance itself from the Howard years, and I think all of Australia will again benefit from this. It doesn't erase what went before, but we're now moving in the right direction.

1) Australia abandons asylum policy
2) Mandatory detention (sort of) scrapped
3) Tough asylum laws scrapped with comments
4) List of Australian immigration detention facilities, Wikipedia

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Writing time: 48 minutes
Time since last post: a day or two
Current media: iTunes shuffle

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Before and After


As I have mentioned before, I recently acquired new glasses. This was a significant change for me because the last time I got new glasses was before I finished undergrad way back in 2001. At that point in time my motivation for getting new glasses was that I was no longer able to read the blackboard in lectures which is a pretty good reason to get new glasses. This time my vision had no declined quite so bad, although it had declined more than I thought it had.

This time the motivation for replacing my glasses was their near self destruction. The nose rest bits were slowly wearing away, the hook at the end of the left leg was coming apart and if I took the glasses off quickly would slide off and stay behind my ear, and the screw holding the rim around the right lens would come loose every now and then. They were dieing, but after 7 years of faithful service I couldn't really fault them for not doing enough. Especially when I'd had that pair for half of the total time I'd been wearing glasses and a quarter of my life.

Of course, getting new glasses was not without difficulty. When the right rim first came apart, I had a look in the glasses shop below where I work but couldn't find anything I liked. In Asia, narrow rectangular glasses are common, and while they look good on some people, I don't like them on me. So that narrowed down the selection.

There's also the fact that my glasses are now somewhat a part of the way I think I look. If I don't have my glasses on the only way I can see my face is if I'm a few inches away from the mirror. And after seven years, my old glasses had become one of the few permanent features of my life. In the time I've had them I've lived in five houses in three countries, graduated university, done honours, started and quit a PhD, five different jobs, and other stuff I can't quite recall but I'm sure has happened. There is definitely a reasonable number of people who have never seen me with a different pair of glasses (everyone who knew me in Japan is the easiest such group to define).

The actual shopping for the new pair was made easier by the assistance of my Mum and my sister. They provided an external viewpoint that could tell me how the glasses looked from a distance of more than 4 inches from the mirror. They also prompted and prodded me into making a decision. Even with that, it did take visiting about four glasses shops before I found a pair that I was happy with.

It has now been about three and a half weeks since I got the new glasses, and I'm still in the process of getting used to them. My nose has indentations where the nose rests of the old pair would lie on my nose, and the new pair rest differently on my nose. They sit more forward, and not exactly evenly. I also did not get this set tinted, mainly because I didn't want to bother getting the salesman to understand what I wanted, although his English was reasonably good. A consequence of this though is that the world is now awfully bright during the day, and I'm considering getting a set of sunglasses to make up for this. I think next week when I go on vacation I'll use my old set as sunglasses.

One surprising thing about the new glasses was the lack of notice they got at work. A few weeks before getting the new glasses I got a new haircut, which got a lot of comments, but it was a few days before anyone noticed, and only one or two comments. I guess this means that I succeeded in getting a pair that were similar to my old pair in appearance. I had at one point in the shopping process considered the idea of getting a new pair custom made based on the old pair, although that would have been ridiculously expensive, and I doubt if it could be done on my sort of financial status.

Well, I've run out of things to say about my new glasses, and have been quite distracted for the last ten or so minutes, so I'll post this and be done.

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Writing time: 86 minutes (this includes a phone call from Mum as well as other distractions)
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: iTunes shuffle

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seeing Red

The last time I saw my grandfather was in 1994, the first year I was in high school. My family had been doing something in the area where my father's side of my family lived, and the idea popped into someone's head to drop in and say high. It was a bit before milking time so we pulled the car up near the dairy. When I got out of the car he didn't immediately recognize me because that was the year I started wearing glasses, and he had never seen me with them. But the lack of recognition didn't last long, nor did the conversation. I think it was just mostly Hi, how are you, what are you up to and other things along those lines. It was a brief conversation, and then we got back into the car and continued driving home.

This is perhaps slightly better than the last time I saw my father, which was when I was working on the ticket gates at the Cairns show in 1998. A man walked past me and it took me a few seconds for the mental gears to click over and realize it was my dad. I don't know if he even noticed me.

There's a chance the story of the last time I saw my father might change in time. It's a slight chance, but it's there. However, the story of the last time I saw my grandfather is now set in stone. Last Friday he died. Apparently he'd been having blackouts for a while, and when he felt one coming on he'd lie down and let it happen. On Friday though, he blacked out and didn't wake up.

I've thought about calling my grandmother or my father to express my condolences, but that would be awkward enough without the added difficulty of explaining who the hell it is calling them from Korea. I'm not going to fly back for the funeral (odd thought that followed on from that one. There are probably only five people whose funeral I would fly back for.). If I was in Australia, I probably would have gone, but I'd have lurked at the back and not made myself known unless someone recognized me.

I generally treat my father's side of my family on an "Out of sight, out of mind" basis. It's been so long since I've had anything to do with them that most of the time they're off my radar. It's only times like these that they register on my consciousness.

At this point though, I don't really have much more to say so I'll finish with this:

Rest in Peace Granddad Red.

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Writing time: 47 minutes
Time since last post: an hour or so
Current media: The Middleman

A Christian Monopoly is Broken

I thought that the Christians had the monopoly on seeing religious icons in their food. It seems however that the Muslims are joining in on this bandwagon. In Nigeria people are swarming a restaurant where several pieces of meat have been found with the word "Allah" written in gristle. I can't really judge how good a depiction this is since I can't read Arabic.

It turns out the Muslims have been doing this for a while now, so it wasn't just the Christians who are crazy. It is interesting to note that while the Christians tend to find pictures of holy people, Muslims find holy words such as "Allah" or "Muhammad". I wonder what would happen if a Muslim found an object with a picture of Muhammad on it? Would it be considered a miracle or a blasphemy?

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Writing time: 19 minutes
Time since last post: I don't want to check
Current media: iTunes shuffle

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Adventures around Daegu, or the time in which I was not the only member of my family in Korea

So recently my Mum and my sister came over to Korea for a bit over a week. I managed to get a little time off work (two days) and we did some stuff in and around Daegu.

I met them in Seoul at the airport on a Sunday. My sister flew in early in the morning, so after storing her bags at the airport, we went into downtown Seoul and looked at one of the castles. We got there at a pretty good time, for just after we bought our tickets, a changing of the guard ceremony took place.

After a bit of wandering around, we had lunch at a food court and had one of the more Korean meals I've had for a long time. We then went back to the airport to pick up Mum. Then we caught the KTX back to Daegu and checked Mum and my sister into their hotel. The KTX was as always a smooth ride, and we got back to Daegu about 7ish. After checking into the hotel we got room service for dinner, which was quite pricey. About 80 bucks for two pizzas, a bottle of wine and a coke. I'm glad I wasn't pay.

I had to work the next day, so they did some exploring around Daegu on their own. The next day I spent the morning with them and we walked around the park near the hotel which has a few memorials, temples and a museum about a Japanese invasion from the late 1500s. Interesting, but not a lot of English.

Wednesday, like Monday, I didn't see them, but then on Thursday we went downtown and along with some sight seeing we went looking for new glasses for me. I'd needed to get new glasses for a while since on of the rims would occasionally have the screw holding it together come loose and the plastic bit that makes the shape of the legs (arms?) behind the ear was coming apart and if I took them off quickly would come off and stay behind my ear. I'd put it off because I really need a second opinion for these sorts of things as well as some prodding because otherwise there's a chance I'd have ended up commissioning some to make a replica of the old ones. I did however look through about three or four stores before finding a new pair that I liked. I'll tell more of that story and it's follow up in another post. After that, we walked around downtown for a bit until it was time for me to head back to work.

Friday I didn't see them in the morning, but they came over to Chilgok (the part of Daegu I live and work in) and we went to a galbi restaurant for dinner. We went to a place near my house where the staff know a few of us from work since we go there a bit, so we got pretty good service, as well as some service (in Korea, service means free stuff shops, bars and restaurants give to good customers, in this case we got three free bottles of coke). Everyone enjoyed the food, which is probably my favorite Korean dish.

Saturday we went to Palgong mountain, where I learnt that Koreans are part mountain goat. After the bus ride there we caught a cable car about halfway up the mountain. Mum decided she'd wait around the cable car where there was a restaurant, and my sister and I tried to climb the mountain. Let's just say we both failed. On our way back to the restaurant where Mum was waiting we passed an old man who had been sitting next to Mum on the bus. He'd climbed up from the bottom instead of taking the cable car and was keen to go the rest of the way. After getting some lunch we took the cable car down and walked around a temple which included a giant Buddha we could see from the restaurant.

Sunday was an easy day. We went downtown and walked around a bit. We had a look at what the tourist map called culture street, and were disappointed by the lack of culture there. Towel street had a ton of towels, and hardware street also had plenty of hardware. So culture street not having much culture was a surprise.

Monday we went to a village about an hour and a half away called Andong. This town has a lot of historical sites, a folk village museum where one of the guides followed us around for most of the museum adding extra bits of trivia along the way. The old folk village was interesting to look at but a bit samey after a while. And when most of the traditional houses had the traditional satellite dishes, it lost a little. Some nice sights though. The final stop was the Andong paper thingy which was a little too proud of the time the Queen visited. After getting back to Daegu we went for dinner at the Outback Steakhouse.

On Tuesday we were going to go to Hiansa temple, a world heritage listed temple that is the location of the Tripitaka Koreana, a famous Buddhist text. Indeed, we even went to the bus terminal and bought tickets there. While we were waiting for the bus though, we were reading the lonely planet and noticed that the whole place was closed on Tuesdays. So we spent a kind of easy day walking around not quite downtown Daegu. This included a hike up to Wubang tower, the highest building in Daegu, which is pretty easy when it's built on what seems like the highest hill in Daegu to start with, and the elevator reads 1 2 3 4 5 74 75 76 83, which makes me doubt if it's exactly that many stories high. From this vantage point I did notice the curious fact that all of the built up areas of Daegu are pretty much flat, and every hill of even modest height is not built upon, but has been left as a park.

Finally on Wednesday Mum and my sister caught the KTX back to Seoul, where they were going to stay until their flights on Friday. Thus ended their trip for me. More photos can be found here.

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Writing time: 59 minutes
Time since last post: a while
Current media: The Hollowmen

Monday, July 14, 2008

There's Potential There

A number of creative types I enjoy the work of are behind this experiment. It looks like it'll be worth checking out.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: half a day or so
Current media: None

Just How Useless is the Security Council?

A few days ago the UN Security Council considered a resolution applying sanctions to Zimbabwe including an arms embargo and personal restrictions on Mugabe and a number of his cronies. This sounds like a very sensible thing considering the shit that went down during the last election. Indeed the resolution got nine votes for compared to four against with one country, Indonesia, abstaining.

Notice I didn't say the resolution passed nine votes to four. That's because it didn't pass. Two of the four countries that voted against the idea were Russia and China, both of which are permanent members of the security council with the power of veto. And because of them, international pressure on Mugabe to actually stop being a dickwad has been greatly reduced.

The justification the Chinese and Russians gave for the decision not to support sanctions against Zimbabwe in the wake of their so-called elections is that so far it has been a domestic issue, and so a Security Council resolution, which is meant to deal with international issues, is inappropriate.

While the matter is certainly so far a purely domestic issue, I still think the Security Council is within it's jurisdiction to apply pressure in this situation. Firstly, it is one of the few international organizations with some teeth that is able to do so. This is not a particularly great reason, but it does place some responsibility on the council, and particularly the permanent members to be responsible members of the community of nations.

Secondly, action needs to be taken against Mugabe to prevent the precedent he appears to be setting. If other tin-pot dictators see that they can use such tactics to ensure that they retain power with little or no real consequence, they will be much more willing to do so. And then when we have a bunch of countries run by power mad crazies with little or no concern for anything or anyone but themselves, I can almost guarantee there will be international problems. Action needs to be taken against Mugabe to show that his antics are not acceptable in the modern world.

China's track record on such matters is particularly poor. Their position of non-interference in internal affairs means that a number of less than savory administrations have gotten a lot of necessary support when it would have been better for everyone concerned if they were under pressure to change their ways.

Combine this with the Security Council's somewhat outdated voting system and China is causing a lot of hassles for those of us who want to encourage unpleasant governments to change their ways. If someone is giving away carrots for free and stopping others from using the stick, it's a lot harder to have a positive effect.

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Writing time: 45 minutes
Time since last post: a while
Current media: Arrested Development

Friday, July 11, 2008

You've just got to feel sorry for them.

The latest group to be suffering due to the declining US dollar has just been revealed: the Catholic Church. Apparently, of all the countries in the world, America is the largest overall donor to the Catholic Church, and due to the fall in the value of the US dollar against the Euro, these donations aren't quite what they used to be (although America still donated almost ten times as much as number 2 Italy. Interestingly, South Korea is number 8). In fact, the church actually made a loss of about 9 million euros in 2007.

Now, I don't think the Catholic church is really going to suffer from this. They are indeed the masters of playing the long game (how many other organizations except for the Illuminati have such a long track record?), and I'm pretty sure they've got enough saved up to last them through this dip in income. They won't exactly be mortgaging the Sistine Chapel or anything to make ends meet.

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Writing time: 8 minutes
Time since last post: I can't be bothered working it out
Current media: None

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cracking Up

Will someone please think of the crackers.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: x, where x is the amount of time since my last post
Current media: iTunes shuffle

Monday, July 07, 2008

I mean, really?

A rather depressing case from England. Some guy called up the emergency number to report a strange bright object in the sky slowly rising. Someone was sent out to investigate what it was this gentleman had seen.

What was this mysterious object in the sky.

The Moon.

I have no further comment.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: some arbitrary amount of time, and isn't it all relative anyway.
Current media: None, although I did just finish watching the Doctor Who finale.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

One Step Too Far

A rather worrying report from England today about a religious education class where the teacher pushed things a little too far.

The class was about Islam, and started out telling the year seven class about the history of Islam and then about the way Muslims pray. This is all good and sensible and in no way problematic. Indeed, there should be more education about all the important faiths of the world and what they believe.

Then the teacher said that they would all have to pray to Allah as Muslims do. This did not go down so well. In fact two of the students refused and were given detention.

I'm completely with the students on this one. Being forced to pray to something you don't believe in is wrong. I too would refuse to do this, regardless of if I was being made to pray to Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Krishna, Shiva, Zeus, Odin (although you have to respect a god who hung himself to gain knowledge), Gaia, Xenu or anything else.

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Writing time: 22 minutes
Time since last post: 21 hours?
Current media: Stargate SG-1 1x02 The Enemy Within

Saturday, July 05, 2008

An Invitation for Trouble

In a case of correctness gone wrong in Sweden, an eight year old boy's birthday party is the latest battlefront in the fight against discrimination.

The boy handed out invitations to his birthday party in class. However, he did not invite two of his classmates to his party. When his teacher noticed this they confiscated all the invitations. Apparently, since they were handed out in class time the teacher had to ensure there was no discrimination.

This is quite ridiculous. It's an eight year old boys birthday party. Young children are notoriously undiscriminating in the usual sense. Indeed the reasons for the two students not getting an invitation is that one did not invite the boy to his party (presumably those invitations weren't distributed in class) and the other was fighting with the boy. Both of those seem entirely legitimate bases for not inviting someone, if a little petty in the first case.

The school says the boy violated the children's rights by not inviting them to his party. Quite frankly I think the school doesn't have a leg to stand on. They can't control the children's activities away from school and shouldn't try to pretend that they can. They also should not be trying to pretend that they're being noble and protecting the children's rights. There are a right to many things (free speech, liberty, protection from unwarranted government intrusion, privacy, etc), but nowhere among the rights of man is the right to be invited to a party held by someone who doesn't like you.

Legal proceedings have been initiated regarding the matter, and should be resolved by September. Unless the boy is very forward thinking, I presume this will be after the party in question is held.

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Writing time: 19 minutes
Time since last post: 1 dayish
Current media: None

Friday, July 04, 2008

Too Much Information

A while ago Viacom sued Google (well YouTube, which Google owns) over a bunch of clips that were posted which Viacom claims violated its copyrights1.

As part of the case they want to know how popular the clips of their material are compared to other non-infringing material. To do this they asked for, and the judge has ordered Google to provide them with a log of user IP addresses, login names and videos watched. These logs will include everyone who has ever watched a YouTube video2.

This is way too much information. And not just because it's about 12 terabytes worth of data. It's information that isn't needed by Viacom to prove it's claim. If they want to show that their content posted inappropriately is more popular than non-infringing content, they just need to compare the number of times each video was watched. They don't need to know who watched it. They don't need the IP address of who watched it. They just need the clip name and the number of times it was watched.

Another problem is that if Google hands over this information, they may violate privacy laws by giving people's personal information away.

The judge in this case should be doing a better job. He should realize that the information he ordered Google to provide is unnecessary for Viacom to make their claim, and should have given them only the information they need, not what they want. And he should know better to make an order that could require Google to break the law. This decision is bad and it sets a dangerous precedent for future cases.

Edit: Just after hitting post, the question came to me, why has YouTube been storing all this information? It would make life a lot easier for us if they could tell the judge "Well, we never really needed that detailed information so we never kept it. We might be able to get the last 24 hours worth for you if we try." The best way to keep information like this safe is to not store it.

1) I'm sure that there are many clips that violate Viacom (and others) copyrights on YouTube. However, under American law (the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA specifically) YouTube's liability is negligible if they rapidly respond to properly sent take down notices.

Also, I don't think companies should be getting upset by people liking their stuff so much that they want to share it with the world. Especially when said company isn't sharing it with the rest of the world.

2) I think that my definition of the civilized world could be those who have watched a YouTube video.

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Writing time: 21 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: None