Spending six or 12 months in China seems to be popular these days and it’s always interesting to hear about people’s adventures abroad. I thought this latest e-mail from Kev was highly entertaining:
I went to Pingyao last weekend, which required a 13 hour overnight train from Beijing. Pingyao is a small city with a population of only 50,000 and is the only city in China with a fully intact Ming dynasty wall.
The train trip was pretty memorable. Last week in Chinese class, I quizzed the teacher on Chinese swear words. He was actually quite willing, even when I asked him to grade different words in terms of severity. If you haven’t heard before, “Dongxi” means “things” in Chinese. You can refer to just about anything as “Dongxi”, except people. If you say to someone “Ni bu shi dongxi” or “Ni meiyou shenme dongxi” this means something to the tune of “You’re worth nothing” or “You’re a piece of shit”. My teacher told me it was a cultured’ way of swearing, if there is such a thing. The only more lihai’ or stronger way of swearing is “Cao ni”, which is literally “F–k you”.
Chinese trains have 3 or 4 different classes “Hard seat”, where the peasants congregate. If you land a hard seat and it’s an overnight train there is no way you will get to sleep because the peasants will be drooling, spitting and smoking all over you. “Hard sleeper” (what we usually get) and “Soft sleeper” luxury class. In hard sleeper you usually have middle class Chinese. Train trips are good for learning Chinese because most Chinese talk with anybody while on the train, better still if it’s a novel foreigner. In Hard sleeper each section has six beds 3 beds on opposite sides: 2 on the top, 2 on the middle and 2 on the bottom. The middle-aged guy below me in the middle bunk was dressed quite smartly in a relatively modern suit. Unfortunately this belied his real self.
The bastard started smoking just after the lights were turned off you’re not allowed to smoke in hard sleeper. Passive smoking is accentuated because of the poor ventilation in the trains. C told him off and he was actually quite apologetic and he put out his cigarette. However later on he lit up again, by then I was in a semi-sleep state and in no mood to do anything about his selfish behaviour you can’t teach a dumb dog new tricks. In the morning while he was preparing to get off the train (his stop was before ours), the peasant had the brilliant idea of burning his plastic drink bottle and then he started smoking again. This time C again politely asked him to stop smoking. He defended himself, saying he was getting off the train and basically told her to piss off. I chipped in and in my sternest voice said “Ni mei you wenhua. Ni bu shi dongxi.” “You’re uncultured. You’re worth nothing.” He fixed his eyes on me, they looked like they were about to pop out and the veins on his bald head suddenly bulged. For clarity, I repeated what I said: “Ni mei you shenme dongxi.” The inevitable tirade exploded out of his mouth: “Cao ni ma! Tamade! Cao ni ma! Cao ni ma!” Translation: “Fuck your mother! Fuck! Fuck your mother! Fuck your mother!” By this time a small crowd had gathered in our part of the train, bemused by the slanging match, and providing their own commentary on the situation. If he had continued he probably would have started frothing at the mouth, but his wife quickly bundled him out of the train. It was satisfying to get him so angry and worked up.
Our 2 other friends were in the compartment next door and thought I was just practising and learning swear words with locals and didn’t realise that it was serious. In any case, it was good practice.
This incident is not too dissimilar to when we were in Kathmandu and trying to buy stamps. The store clerk (the store was basically a closet-sized booth), a mangy, dodgy Nepalese man, told us there was a commission being charged on stamps and demanded a price about 25% above the face value of them. We were incredulous. When our tour guide, Dorgi, caught up with us, he said he had never heard of commissions being charged on stamps before. The clerk refused to budge, and then Kev, finally letting his annoyance loose, dispensed with the broken English you use when you’re trying to speak with someone who isn’t very fluent in English, and dressed him down with a rapid torrent of insults: “Mate, you know what you are? You’re nothing. You’re nothing, mate. You’re bullshit.” While the clerk was still trying to translate what he had said, we promptly stormed out. We found the stamps elsewhere, no commission.
A friend from law school recently was one of the judges for UNSW’s Beginners’ Mooting semi-finals. He was quite stunned by the controversy that moot generated. One side comprised two grad law students who were described as “more cocky than they should have been” (and one who kept mentioning that he worked at Waverley District Court). The case was a Torts one. Among some of the stunts they pulled, was leading off their case on the topic of causation. Which, “with the greatest respect”, is just ridiculous for a moot. Anyway, they ended up losing (by a massive points margin, which wasn’t disclosed to the mooters).
The losing team followed up their defeat with an indignant 4 page letter of complaint, which I found “leaked” here by next year’s Co-President of Lawsoc. It was a fairly impressive, albeit highly dubious and ultimately fruitless, attempt at disputing the validity of the judges’ conduct. (Despite the consistent misspelling of “Waverley” as “Waverly”… I thought they guy worked at that court and he can’t even spell its name?) The response which put a close to the matter was written by Ramona, but not before the mooters had the last word.
I occasionally come across blogs with disclaimers. More often than not, they amuse me. Such as the one in this blog I just came across that I felt the need to comment on (I just finished proofing someone’s 15000 word article, so I’m in a critiquing mood). Hey, if it’s on the net, it’s fair game, right?
The disclaimer starts off with “Don’t Judge Me! I am not asking for your opinion. Just because this website is online doesn’t automatically give you the right to judge a person.” I think you can judge a person by anything a person does – on or offline. An impression gained solely from online manifestations of personality is often not completely accurate, but is nonetheless a valid one to gain. She then goes on to say, “I know it’s contradictory to put it online, but then again that’s my right,” before revoking the right of people to comment on it. This has angst written all over it.
Of course, the second paragraph is the gem. “And if you’re someone I know, then you shouldn’t really be here. Don’t get pissed if I bitch about you then. … please don’t pass around the URL, it’s a private page. I won’t take any responsibility for any hurt feelings.” This more or less violates the cardinal rule of blogging — remembering that anything you write is on display to the world, for both friends and strangers. It shows great disrespect to those who know you to restrict your audience to strangers, while reserving the right to bitch about your friends, acquaintances and enemies. And you can’t expect people to respect your privacy (even though passing around a URL of your public blog doesn’t violate your privacy) if you don’t respect theirs. Everything online is fair game. If you must have it online, either password it or make it completely anonymous.
I wonder if I’m soon going to get an irate blogger who’s come here after looking at her referrer logs and telling me to get off my soapbox and stfu.
On 2 November, in one week’s time, over 100 million Americans will go to the polls and elect their a new President. While the majority of the world has no say in who should hold the position of “Most Powerful Person in the World”, most are gravely interested in the outcome of this election because it has international consequences. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to know about how the American electoral system works, because it is a lot different from Australia’s, and of course, I might as well share it here. Americans are welcome to correct my mistakes.
Americans directly elect their President and Vice-President, who head up the Executive branch of the Government. Unlike Australia, the President must not be a member of Congress (the Legislative branch). Therefore, if Senator Kerry is elected, he must resign from the Senate in order to become President.
The Americans use an “Electoral College” voting system. Each State is allocated a number of votes in the Electoral College. Each State has at least three votes, all the way up to the largest State, California, which has 55. The number of votes a State has roughly correlates with its population, but as a result of a three vote minimum, it can be said that individuals in smaller States have a vote that’s “worth more” in per capita terms. The 50 States and District of Columbia combine to produce a total pool of 538 electoral votes. A Presidential candidate must therefore win a majority of electoral votes (270) to become elected. (In the event that no single candidate wins 270 votes, because of third party candidates winning some, the election is decided by the House of Representatives as per the US Constitution’s 12th Amendement.)
So, how do candidates win electoral votes? In Australia we have electorates – areas of Australia which contain a roughly similar number of people. Candidates run for single electorates, and the candidate who wins the most votes via the preferential voting system wins the electorate. The party with the majority of electorates won will govern. In America, their States are very roughly the equivalent of our electorates. Candidates who get the majority of votes in a State win all the electoral votes that the State has – a “winner takes all” rule that is subject to much criticism. Therefore, if a candidate won California (55 votes), they would still be doing better than another candidate that had won several States which only offered, say, 5 votes.
In Australia we have “swing electorates” – those electorates which are closely fought. The US has “battleground States” and it’s these States that really determine the outcome of the election. (If you’re voting in a Democratic or Republican stronghold State, you won’t be making any practical difference to the election outcome, at least not as much as a battleground State voter.) These States are crucial.
In 2000’s Bush vs Gore election, with all but one State decided, Bush had 246 votes versus Gore’s 266. It all came down to who could win Florida. Bush won the State by about 500 votes (out of the nearly 6 million cast), and therefore took Florida’s 25 votes and went on to win the election. The side effect of this is that candidates spend their campaign time pretty much exclusively in battleground States. Bush doesn’t have to worry about campaigning in New York because that’s pretty much Kerry’s. Likewise, Kerry wouldn’t really bother campaigning in Bush’s home State of Texas.
Most polls see Bush in front of Kerry by about 6%, with Bush getting in the high 40s, and Kerry in the low 40s (the rest of people polled are undecided, with a couple per cent going to Ralph Nader). Interestingly, some pundits, despite the 6% margin, are calling the election a close one – or even one that the Democrats will take out easily unless Bush captures Osama or something like that. This is due to what’s known as the “50% rule”, described nicely here. In a nutshell, it says that if an incumbent President does not poll at least 50% of votes in a State, they are in danger of losing that State. This is because the percentage of people polled who are undecided, tend to vote against the incumbent when it comes to polling day (the explanation is that their vote evaluates the performance of the President, rather than the challenging candidate, and more often than not they are dissatisfied with the President).
Voting in America is voluntary. It may be instrumental to this election that if enough people who didn’t vote in 2000 are worried about the direction Bush has taken the country over the last four years, they may turn up to vote this year (the converse is also true, but probably to a lesser extent). Incidentally, I had an animated, lengthy discussion with a friend over whether compulsory or voluntary voting was the better system. I came to the conclusion that compulsory voting was more democratic, and he was of the opposite opinion (especially when you have debacles like this). But this is a debate for another time.
In other news, The New Yorker magazine has endorsed John Kerry in a 5 page editorial. It is their first political endorsement in 80 years. Contrast this with the SMH recently deciding to stop endorsing political parties for reasons of journalistic integrity.
Also, a Republican placed an ad in the Washington Post that cost US$100,000+ of his own money.
Well today’s been a pretty tough day. I literally spent 5 hours today sitting in my room, talking to people, thinking, reading stuff on the web, all trying to make up my mind about who to work for. In the end, I had to tell three really fantastic firms I wasn’t going to be clerking with them over summer, and the disappointment on both ends of the line was genuine. Making that call to my contact Partner at Blakes was the toughest. If only NSW was like the rest of Australia, and ran multiple month-long clerkships. Then at least I could try out more than one firm.
I’ve decided to go with Malleys, where I’ll be in the Intellectual Property and Technology practice group. Initially I was also going to be doing some work for the M&A group, but they were flexible enough to let me work 3 days a week due to space moot preparation commitments, and so, effectively being a part time clerk, it would be difficult to be involved with the two groups. Should be a terrific experience nonetheless.
I’ll also be in Beijing for two weeks in January doing a law course for uni on the Chinese Legal System. Interestingly, all firms were happy and flexible enough to give time off for this.
When I was going through the whole application process, I found scant “ground zero” information from what is normally the wellspring of info – the web. Apart from the usual corporate spiels on company websites, the only mention I found of the clerkship process from the perspective of a student were from two blogs. One in Melbourne, and the other being an ex-Perth clerk. And they were sparse on details. They didn’t even mention any firm names. Incidentally, by total coincidence I met the owner of the Perth blog at a pre-interview cocktail function of one of the firms (she moved to Sydney), and it was interesting to match up what she said there with the “anonymous” firms she mentioned on her blog.
In contrast, America has a lot of information on law firm recruitment (including the questions everyone are curious about but are otherwise unaskable – salary comparisons and so on). See, for example, the well known Greedy Associates message boards, and law.com. Even Singapore and Hong Kong have law firm goss at Icered. Australia has nothing, as far as I know.
I may write something substantial up about the clerkship application process, but in the meantime if someone stumbles across this post in the future and wants some info on the whole process, feel free to email me.
E-mail’s a generally reliable communication media. So much so these days, that it’s almost unthinkable that e-mail just “goes missing”. My e-mail has been playing up over the last day or two. I noticed it when there was a blackspot of about 12 hours where I wasn’t receiving anything. At first I thought it was just one of those quiet periods (even though that’s unusual on a weekday), but then I realised that I wasn’t even getting any spam. Then one or two pieces of mail came through. Then nothing. Turns out that something has been delaying some inbound mail for a few hours, and randomly making the rest of it “disappear” into the ether. Senders haven’t been receiving bounce messages, either. It’s very, very disconcerting. My server provider hasn’t been too illuminating on pinpointing the problem, either…
Well, to my immense relief, joy and excitement, I went through the whole summer clerkship process and came out with four offers: MSJ, BDW, Freehills and AAR. I have had a really tough time deciding who to sign up with, and over the last week I’ve managed to narrow the list down to two firms. I really wish I could work with both, but of course can’t, so I will keep tossing and turning over the two choices until I’m forced to notify them of my final decision on Friday. It sort of comes down to a decision between people/culture and reputation. It’s not that any of the firms have a “bad” culture, but one firm particularly stood out for me in terms of its people. The other firm has good people, and also a reputation that particularly stands out. This doesn’t make matters easy. I don’t suppose anyone would have any suggestions?
Stallman gave a two hour talk entitled, “The Dangers on Software Patents”. A more appropriate title would be “Software Patents are Evil and should be Eradicated”. Stallman’s a good speaker, and he makes an argument that most would agree with. Patenting of software ideas is not a good thing in general in terms of innovation, small businesses and so on. And it gets pretty ridiculous when something like Amazon’s “1-click” ordering can be patented. Of course, the illogic of the patenting system is the easy thing to point out. The far harder task is trying to phase out the system, and that’s a political process.
While the message was compelling, the messenger was, well, quite grating. During the Q&A session, Stallman would cut people off mid-question, yell out “No! No! No!” and do everything but give people a chance to have their say, no matter how wrong it may be. Also, branding patent lawyers as “parasites” is okay if you’re addressing a room full of computing science people, but not when half the audience are from the big law firms around. But hey, I know enough computing people to know that some of them can have quite quirky personalities. It’s just a pity that a lot of people were put off by Stallman’s “abrupt” personality.
Finally got around to seeing Before Sunset, the sequel to Before Sunrise. The basic premise is that in Before Sunrise, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets with a Parisienne girl, Celine (Julie Delpy) on a transcontinental European train and, on a whim, spend a day together in Vienna. Without swapping any contact details at all, they both agree to meet back at a train station in six months, and then the film ends. Before Sunset is set nine years afterwards (it was also filmed nine years afterwards), and Jesse is in Paris promoting a fiction book based on his tryst nine years ago, no less when he meets up with Celine. This time, instead of 24 hours, they have about eighty minutes before Jesse has to be at the airport to catch his plane flight back to America.
At heart it’s a romance movie, but it’s one that perhaps needs an acquired taste. Essentially, the movie is 80 minutes of pure dialogue as Jesse and Celine take a stroll and a chat through Paris. The dialogue is a joy to listen to. Essentially it’s nothing special – it’s the sort of conversation that any two reasonably privileged westerners who are close friends would have. But Hawke and Delpy have an onscreen chemistry. Their conversation (Which they had a hand in scripting) flows, complete with umms and ahhs, pauses and silences. The topics covered are varied. Sometimes the transition between topics is smooth, sometimes abrupt. While sometimes the dialog feels a little too eloquent to be off-the-cuff, for the most part, it simply feels like a real conversation and not a movie conversation. Near the start of the movie, Jesse asks an everyday question along the lines of, “So what have you done in the past few years? What do you do now?” The reply is a genuine response – she gives a mundane description of her job, her studies and so on. Not every exchange is “magical” which I found appealingly realistic.
Also intriguing is observing how the characters have changed in the past nine years; just the little things. They both now smoke, Celine has changed her opinion on reincarnation, we learn about their different worldviews and so on. Of course, it’s the romance part of them that’s the most interesting. About halfway into the movie, we hear what we’ve been curious about all along: are they still single? No. Jesse is married and Celine has a boyfriend, and we suddenly find ourselves in a very Lost In Translation-type scenario.
The movie has an even more ambiguous ending than its prequel, but I did not find this lack of resolution a problem. For those that need closure, like my flatmate, who felt the lack of an ending was “stupid”, the film will no doubt make you feel dissatisfied. For me, I loved this movie. Watching it feels like catching up with a couple friends you haven’t seen for years, over coffee, except you don’t get to talk (and in this aspect, you’re basically an eavesdropper). If you think about it, listening in to strangers’ private conversations for long periods is something you just don’t do in everyday life. It’d get boring, not to mention a little perverse, after a while, but Hawke and Delpy aren’t really strangers to the audience, and they work so well together that the conversation is really entertaining to listen to. Highly recommended.
Temperature’s finally broken past the 30˚C mark and is currently hovering around 35˚C! Finally, back to t-shirt and shorts weather.
There are a great number of people suffering from post-election depression. I must say I was quite taken aback when, about 90 minutes into the tallying, it became clear not only that Labor had lost, but had lost in a landslide. Or, at only 38.2% of the primary vote, you could call it an avalanche. However, most troubling is the Coalition’s control of the Senate means that bills can now move through the legislative process pretty much unimpeded. So much for the advantages of a bicameral legislature. (Think: deregulation of cross-media ownership laws and what that will do to the independence of media. Scary.) The general disappointment was put very well by a friend: “Australians are selfish, concerned with their own lifestyles, their bloody mortgages and generally nothing else. It’s pathetic and I hope they get what’s coming to them… It’s small mindedness at its worst and it’s exactly what Howard has cultivated.” And another, who wrote:
It is sad that it appears that the electorate has only cared about economics and nothing else. It doesn’t matter that we invaded a country based on a lie, it doesn’t matter that our PM lies, it doesn’t matter how our international reputation has been eroded. What only matters is the short term economic welfare of the populace. The result suggests to me that Australians are becoming increasingly complacent, big headed about their standing in the world and more selfish.
It also didn’t help that everyone appears to have been successfully spooked (and misled) about interest rates. Of course, when they rise in the next few months, it will be of little significance. Australians are setting themselves up for a crash landing. People have forgotten what a recession is like, and there could be one just around the corner.
Nonetheless, the people have spoken. At least, if the economy crashes for some reason in the next few years (and hopefully it doesn’t), the Libs won’t be able to pin the blame on anyone else.
As for the other parties, about the only eventuation that was predictable was the utter destruction of the Democrats. It’s a good thing for them that only half the Senate went to re-election. Greens and Family First preferences also had a large impact.
Labor’s in trouble…
There is no Australian Labour Party. It’s the Australian Labor Party. The American form of spelling the word was adopted in 1912 due to the influence of the American labor movement and it was never changed.
Today was thankfully the last day of summer clerkship interviews for all those commercial law firms. It’s such a long and tiring process. Now begins the one week of waiting and nailbiting to see if anyone wants to employ me during the holidays.
Was told an entertaining story by a Partner I spoke to today. Some firms hold a cocktail party after the second round of interviews and before the offers are extended. Apparently, back in the day when he was applying for a clerkship, this girl, another prospective clerk, got absolutely shattered at the cocktail evening of one esteemed Sydney firm (the waiters kept topping up her wine and she just kept drinking). Eventually, she passed out on the couch in the reception area, and was so paralytic that she had to be carried downstairs into a taxi by a lady from the HR department. Of course, someone that drunk shouldn’t be left to the tender mercies of a cabbie, so the HR lady hopped in the cab and followed her home. Half-way there, the girl vomitted all over the HR lady.
The amazing thing is, the girl still got a job offer with the firm understanding that “these things happen”. Unfortunately, the story got leaked and her colleagues weren’t so nice, and every time she walked into a room, someone would make retching noises. She resigned six months later.
I met Ian Oi today, one of the lawyers leading the team drafting the Australian version of the Creative Commons licence. Really affable guy. That was a pretty cool experience!
In the 1970s, a millionaire named Michael Oliver tried to build a new sovereign nation. Not a nation formed by a region declaring independence, but a completely new country. The location where the new country was to be built was in the Pacific Ocean, around the Minerva Reefs, hence the name of the nation being the Republic of Minerva. It was located near Tonga and Fiji. An island was constructed by shipping sand from Australia and dumping it on the reef, whereby a small island was slowly formed. The intention was to make an island which was a tourist destination, while also supporting some other light commercial activities. Minerva then created its own flag, currency and elected a President. It then attempted to declare independence, but as you might imagine, no one really took it seriously.
That is, no one except for Tonga, whose King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV was rather offended by whole incident. (The Prince of Tonga apparently said, “We can’t have people setting up empires on our doorstep”.) Although it seemed that legally no one actually owned the territory in which Minerva had sprang up in, Tonga took steps to extend its territorial sovereignty over Minerva.
In 1972, the King sailed to Minerva on his royal yacht, accompanied by some troops, a convict work detail, and a four-piece brass band, which played the Tongan national anthem as the convicts landed and tore down the Minervan flag. A little while later, the King built their own little islands nearby, named them, and then annexed those islands, and all territory within a 12 mile radius of them (including Minerva) as part of the Kingdom of Tonga.
About ten years later, a group of Americans tried to retake what used to be Minerva, but in came the Tongan troops, and three weeks later they were effectively ejected.
Last year, the Republic of Minerva has somehow been replaced by the Principality of Minerva, self-described as a “government-in-exile”. Minerva is relying on the legal concept of terra nullius (land owned by no one) to stake its territorial claim (this is the same concept used by the British when they claimed Australia, except that it is obvious today that Australia was not by any stretch of the imagination, terra nullius). Looks like Minerva wants to take its case to the ICJ. Pretty amusing, actually. As crackpot as the so-called Minervans may be, it does seem like Tonga did unfairly boot them off and conquer their island. But it’s so small no one really cares.
My guess on Saturday who’s going to win? The Coalition, but not by much.
The blogging crowd have always been, in my opinion, much too uptight when it comes to terminology and nomenclature. Example here (as much an infamous character Dave Winer is, and as much as I agree that his definition of “moblogging” is too narrow, the way Kottke described Adam Greenfield as rightly “ripping” Winer for it, and the tone of Greenfield’s response implies some degree of sensitivity and personal offence taken).
The latest instance of this I read on Plastic Bag’s October 4 supplementary links, where Coates writes, “Let me say this once and for all. Weblogs are not journals. Weblogs are not publishing.” I may be reading too much into this, but I don’t believe so. The tone is somewhat presumptuous and dismissive. All the more annoying because I would disagree with his statement and more so the motivations behind him “setting the record straight”.
The word “journal” is not a term of art (in that it doesn’t have a specific technical meaning). It’s a term that describes a “personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a regular basis”. Even when used as a term of art in the nautical profession, it’s still just a “ship’s log” (source). There’s a huge amount of writing over what the definition of a blog actually is. Enough to turn it into a term of art, which I don’t think is at all warranted. I know a blog when I see one, and I’d say the word journal accurately describes them.
Similarly, when using the term “publishing”, strictly speaking, all blogs are published. However, publishing might also be used as a term of art in the media industry (I’m guessing here), and in this particular non-layman context, perhaps publishing would not accurately describe the blogging process.
Anyway my point is, it seems that some people get so caught up in trying to define a term, to rarify it and turn it into a term of art, that they do become overly sensitive to perceived misusages of “their” words. People get annoyed at lawyers all the time for their legalese (where every second word holds a special meaning and is a “term of art”) and it is strange to see this happening to the normally straight-shooting so-called bloggerati.
After all, weblog is a compound word – a log on the web, literally, where log is obviously in the context of “a record … of an undertaking”. The meaning is fairly intuitive – all bloggers know a blog when they see one. There’s no need to give it a technical definition for an activity that is so commonplace nowadays. Why should this definition be obfuscated to the point where it may no longer be referred to by the synonym of a journal, or an online diary?
The Backbench’s 10th issue is now out. It’s naturally focused on the election this Saturday.
The Jaxter Awards are now in their third year of running and there’s more than $9000 worth of cash and prizes available. This year the competition has two sections: one for music composition and another for graphic design (of a CD cover). Know someone who’s handy with an instrument or Photoshop? Get them to enter.