Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Classy Town

I always knew Mt Isa was a classy town. This quote from the mayor just confirms it.
May I suggest if there are five blokes to every girl, we should find out where there are beauty-disadvantaged women and ask them to proceed to Mount Isa.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Last Friday I didn't have to work so I decided to do something that I messed up on the first attempt, and visited Haeinsa temple. Haeinsa is about a 90 minute bus ride from Daegu, for most of which due to crowding I had the small seat right at the front of the bus where the steps to get on are. Hence I managed to take a few photos of the landscape on the way that look similar to this one.
After arriving it was a slight walk to the temple (about 1.2km, so I'm not complaining. It was nothing compared to that damned mountain on Jeju) which is a reasonably large complex. There is at least a dozen buildings and two courtyards. In the first courtyard there was a sort of labyrinth, although I guess it was really more of a path to walk while meditating than an actual maze. Also in the main courtyard they had a big fire going. It looked like they were just burning paper, but at times ash would fall from the fire throughout the temple.

The highlight of Haeinsa temple though is the Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of over 80,000 hand carved wooden blocks containing the oldest and most comprehensive collection of Buddhist writing in Chinese characters. There are four buildings containing the wood blocks that were specially built centuries ago to house the blocks.When you look at it the sheer density of writing is amazing. It is like looking at a huge and ancient library. Well, it's not like looking at a huge and ancient library. It is looking at a huge and ancient library. I think if the Library of Alexandria were still around visiting that would be a similar experience. The Library of Congress might get there if it's still around in a few hundred years.

One curiosity I did notice was the special fire extinguishers they have. Obviously for something as precious as the wooden blocks your ordinary put out the flame and damn the consequences to the burning stuff type extinguisher won't quite make the grade with the guys looking after these. It was the first time I've seen a silver fire extinguisher. I've seen red and yellow before, but never silver.

After wandering around the temple for a while and taking pictures until the battery on my camera ran out (I hadn't charged it since before going to Jeju, and that was only the second time I'd charged it so it does all right, but I should have thought of it before) after which I took pictures with my phone instead. I had a look through the accompanying museum, but there wasn't much to read about the items on display. It was however while I was in the museum that the rain started, and didn't stop until almost an hour later. At one point while the rain was light I made a move for the bus stop, but it started getting heavy and ducked under the umbrella of an old lady selling fruit. I braved the heavy rain when the lady told me my bus had just turned up, but it was full to the brim so I spent another 20 odd minutes standing in the slight shelter the ticket booth provided until the rain stopped. Then it was another twenty minutes until the next bus arrived, and 90 minutes back to Daegu. All in all, a good trip.

I'll put a few more pictures up here, and there are more on my flickr page.The largest building in the temple
The wood blocks on their shelves
A stone thingy

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Friday, August 15, 2008


This is why I'm not a foreign affairs correspondent in a war zone.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Adventures on Jejudo, or Why on Earth did I think climbing a mountain was a good idea?

A week and a bit ago I got four days off work and in celebration of this fact took a trip to Jeju Island, the closest thing Korea has to a tropical paradise. I spent four days on Jeju and enjoyed myself quite a bit. I went with a friend from work.
The first day I got up at the ridiculously early time of seven am in order to catch a 10:30 plane. After the flight we caught a bus to Seogwipo on the south side of the island where one of our hotels was. After checking in we went walking around town to see the local waterfalls. These were pretty good.

Next to one of the waterfalls was a huge rock with some writing on it, which according to local legend was written by an ancient Chinese general.

Day two we went on a submarine ride, for which I inconveniently forgot my camera and then proceeded to get seasick. Not enough to actually be sick, just enough to make the experience unpleasant enough for me to want to get off the sub as quick as I could. In the afternoon we went to a nearby beach, where I sat on a rented plastic chair under a rented umbrella and read some of Purgatory, while my friend went swimming but was yelled at by the lifeguard if he went out further than knee deep, as did anyone else who tried to actually swim instead of just getting their feet wet.

Day three we changed hotel and went from Seogwipo to Jeju-Shi via the Manjanggul lava tubes, one of the largest lava tube systems in the world. The total length is about 7 and a bit kilometers, but tourists can only walk through about two to three kilometers worth. This was pretty impressive, although I think it would have been better if there was a section of pitch black. One of the coolest things about the other caves I've been to is when they turn all the lights out and you get to see what pitch black really is. But to do that you really need a guide, which this place didn't have, just some guys at a ticket booth near the entrance. (Actually, nearly all natural landmarks on Jeju have a ticket booth.) After the lava tubes we continued onto Jeju-Shi where we checked in with a slight hick up that was quickly resolved.

The final day we spent climbing Mt Halla. In a certain sense, the entire island of Jeju is Mt Halla, wiht Mt Halla being the volcano that spewed up all the rocks and stuff that make up the island. Mt Halla is 1950m tall, but the trail we took starts at around 800m up, so we had a bit of a start. The trail starts out not to bad, but the incline keeps getting tougher as you approach the top. The first 7.6km took about two hours, after which we stopped at the main rest stop for lunch. The final 2.5km however involved climbing about 450m. This was a lot tougher, and I think I took more breaks on this section than I did.

The final climb from about 1800m was a set of stairs and near the end I was climbing in a daze, just putting one foot in front of the other, until I was surprised that there weren't any more ahead of me. The top was cloudy nearly the whole time, so I was unable to see the lake that is inside the crater, and after sitting up there for about half an hour started getting rather cold.

The hike down was a lot easier than the hike up. I managed the first 2.5km down without a single break, and then only a few more the rest of the way. Once I got down to the bottom (well, end of the trail) I saw you could get a medal saying "I climbed Mt Halla" and I tried to buy one, but I then found out you actually needed to buy a certificate before you started and there's a guy at the top who would sign it, and then you could buy the medal. I wish I'd know that before I started climbing. After that, I was too exhausted to do anything else, so it was an early night and got up early the next morning for flight back to Daegu.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I don't know what to make of this

I just found something on Wikipedia that has left me puzzled. While I certainly fall on the side of inclusiveness on Wikipedia, I can not for the life of me believe anyone is ever going to look for or need this specific piece of information. More worrying is that there are 18 distinct contributors to this article.

So without any further delay I present to you the 1987-88 United States network television schedule (Saturday morning).

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing

In general I think the more of a good thing the better. I do however acknowledge that you do reach not just a point of diminishing returns (one pizza is good, two are better), but in some cases a negative impact from more of the good thing (21% oxygen in the air is pretty good, 100% is pretty deadly). This is the case for an unfortunate gentleman in Saudi Arabia lately.

So what was this chap overindulging in? Wives. He had not one, not two, not three, not the legally allowed maximum in Saudi Arabia of four, not five, but six wives. Apparently he was using a variant of an old trick to get away with this, since three of his wives live in Saudi Arabia and three live in nearby Yemen.

The particular bit which makes this go from just a bit odd to being a good dose of schadenfreude is the guys job. He was a member of the Saudi religious police, the bunch of wowsers who go around busting people for flirting. However, this is not an unprecedented act among those who police the sharia in Muslim countries.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

You see, it's not really that hard

A group of Islamic groups in the UK have just announced a new nikah, or marriage contract, for British Muslims. This new contract brings Islamic marriages in the UK more in line with a standard marriage in the UK in terms of rights of each partner, but does include features which a simple civil ceremony does not impose.

The new nikah can be found here, and is an interesting read. The first few pages are preamble and then some general instructions on how to fill out the form. The most important page is the last one, where the rights and responsibilities of each partner are outlined. The responsibilities of both partners include: to not abuse their partner or children, to not be away from home for more than 60 days without prior permission, to not transmit diseases, to not have an affair and to not interfere with their partners property. I don't really think any of those should be too hard, particularly for a couple who care for each other. There are a few extra responsibilities for the husband including not withholding financial support to the family, not entering into a nikah with another woman, and the one I found most interesting, to procure a home away from his family and parents (not far away, but a place of their own).

These however are minor points. Probably the biggest change is that the nikah ceremony must be held by a registered marriage celebrant, or the couple must have had a civil ceremony beforehand, which makes the marriage official in a legal sense, and so the partners have a recourse to the British courts if things go pair shaped. While reading about this I learned that traditionally Islamic marriage is essentially a civil contract, and in some cases even just a verbal contract, which can make solving disputes tricky when there's no evidence of a marriage (although I wonder if such a marriage would count as a de facto relationship, which I think has some legal standing). This is a big step.

Another big change is that talaq al-tafwid is a standard clause. In the old contract, the husband could initiate divorce pretty much without cause, but if the wife did, she was liable to forfeit some of her property. Talaq al-tafwid is where the husband grants the wife the same right to divorce at will without loss.

The last big change is not an addition but a subtraction. The wife to be no longer needs the approval of her nearest male relative, or Wali, to get married. I have to admit, I do like the way they explain this one. The word is polite but firm.

Parents are responsible for the upbringing of their children. Out of respect and courtesy it is important that young people involve their parents or guardians throughout the process of marriage. However, parental or guardian’s legal role finishes when children reach adulthood. Thereafter their role is optional and complementary. Hence the Muslim Marriage Certificate does not require the approval of the parents.

This new marriage contract is, as the British like to say, a good thing. It shows that the ideals of Islam and the ideals of the West. Except for resolving disputes through a Sharia organization, for which I'd substitute something like a marriage counselor, and having an Imam sign the it, what this document outlines is almost the way I see the marriage relationship being. If I were to change anything it would be to make it so that the rights and responsibilities of both partners are exactly the same since the wife does get out of a few responsibilities the husband has to follow, and the bit about marriage being only between a man and a woman, but that would be it.

I hope that this new nikah gets widespread adoption within the Islamic community, and that the Muslims in other countries develop similar nikahs that show that Islamic ideals and Western ideals are not irrevocably different.

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Those Wacky Italians

Italy has come up with a rather curious way of dealing with what it considers its crime problems. It has decided to deploy its army in various cities throughout the country to assist the regular police in protecting the people. Around 2000 soldiers will be deployed in Rome, Naples, Milan, Turin and other locations.

I just want to say that I consider this to be a bad decision. Using the military as a police force is a dangerous idea that has a number of drawbacks. The biggest of which is the vast difference in the culture and procedures of the two different organizations. The police are intended to protect the people while the military is intended to protect the state. This difference in focus causes a great number of differences in how the two groups act. A soldier is trained to use their weapon as a standard procedure, while for the policeman a weapon is a last resort. Policemen are trained to deal with witnesses, suspects, crime scenes and due process, soldiers are not.

This plan is really just an attempt at a quick fix to solve a bigger problem. The ideal solution would be to improve the police force so that the soldiers aren't considered necessary, but that would be more expensive and take longer than putting soldiers on the streets.

There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people. - Commander Adama

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Templar v Pope

The long line of ridiculous law suits just keeps growing. The fact that some of these drag on for years and years and years to the point where the idiots who started it go bankrupt and delay things even further doesn't help us get through these cases. But today I want to talk about a new law suit.

This one's in Spain, which is not quite as litigious as America (an honour it shares with every country except America). And perhaps will set new records for the oldest claim presented to a court. A group, claiming to be the successors to the Knights Templar, are suing the Vatican and the French Government for the defamation of the order and the treasures stolen during the early 1300s.

Quite frankly I can't really see it going anywhere. Any attempt to force a judgement on two sovereign nations is going nowhere fast. And any claim of being an actual successor of the Knights Templar is going to be a pretty hefty task. And since there have been a large number of changes in the governments of France since 1307 and now (at least three revolutions, two restorations, two empires) its hard to try and blame the current French government for the actions of Phillipe IV. The Vatican is the only party who has a reasonably solid trail down the ages but the idea of holding them responsible for something done 700 years ago.

I hope this gets thrown out quickly for many reasons and the claimants laughed on their way out.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

A gambit lost

It seems Starbucks have decided that their strategy of remorseless expansion into every nook and cranny where a coffee drinker might stick their head is not quite as good as they thought it was. Following announcements of closures of branches that rival NOVA in its death throes in America, Starbucks have announced that they are closing 61 out of the 84 Starbucks in Australia.

Apparently it's because Australians were already drinking decent coffee before Starbucks showed up and so their strategy of being everywhere with good coffee didn't work in a place where there was already good coffee everywhere. In America before Starbucks the pinacle of coffee in most places was filter coffee over a hot plate, so the idea of going somewhere for quality was sensible. But since the Italians brought their cafes and cappuccinos with them to Australia post WWII we were ahead of the curve. We were a crowded landscape where America was an open plain.

Now if only the Italians had brought good burgers with them as well, we might be able to get rid of MacDonalds.

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On The Wealth of Nations

I recently finished reading The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. A weighty tome that took about a month to get through (my reading rate has dropped since I don't have an almost hour long commute each way). I actually got it back in January, but my reading of it got preempted by some other books (some of which I'll write about later).

When thinking about The Wealth of Nations the best comparison I can think of is to Dracula. Both are great works which were groundbreaking when they came out, but nowadays lose a lot of their immediate impact simply because the ideas in them have become so much a part of the ingrained knowledge of society. Ideas such as the division of labour, free trade, supply and demand are part of the basis of modern society, but were significant topics in his day.

The first two parts are definitely the strongest, and the most timeless. This deals with the ideas of labour and stock. The latter parts are of more interest historically but don't apply quite so well to the modern day.

The last part is of the expenses and revenues of the sovereign (government) and in those days the government was a lot smaller and less sprawling than most governments today are and people expect a lot more from their government today than anyone would have dreamed of in the 1700s.

Also less relevant to today is the warnings on the pitfalls of foreign colonies and the diversions on the historical values of the price of corn over the centuries. These are interesting, but a modern writer would perhaps have put those at least as an appendix or a separate volume, not as a digression during the middle of the text.

Overall it's a solid text that is definitely worthy of its place in history, but a lot of its message has already reached the modern audience.

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