dal niente

Month: November, 2011

Civil Reform

Xanga

So, I’ve finally completed my first semester of Law School. To be honest, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Compared to being in the ‘real world’ and working, there’s a lot of structure involved in school. Not only that, but compared to coworkers, students are more hungry, more desperate (especially near the end of semester) and more easily goaded into helping you out if you word things properly.

I wouldn’t say that law school is easy, but I will say that the strategies for success are a lot more clear compared to the real world market. There’s a lot of structure to things, and the rules of the game are set out quite clearly– it’s really just a question of whether or not you want to play.

I’ve been working since the last day of exams on a number of things. There’s my part time job at Fairfax media, which is apparently one of the media giants in the country. I’m now a cubicle person. If I thought offices were one thing because of working in healthcare, it’s entirely different when you work in private. Yes, there are perks– such as the private parking (for my bicycle!) and the super cheap gym membership (2$ per week??). But, I work in a cubicle. I am occupy one cube out of 30 odd columns, and probably a hundred rows. Sometimes I stand up and see a forest of ponytails and toupees around me, with the smell of warm printer toner and the ambient sounds of phones ringing in an unidentifyable distance.

It is a very different working culture from what I’m used to. I used to think that office politics as far as I knew them were ememplary of Dilbert– but you never really understand Dilbert until you work in a cubicle. The culture is totally different from anything I’ve ever experienced, and that’s no small thing for me to say, considering I’ve got quite the odd work history. I’m a bit fearful of watching The Office because maybe it’d be like staring into the empty void of my own soul.

We don’t seem to do anything sketchy. My work is in database management and collection, in a mostly non-IT capacity. Mostly it means liasing with realestate companies and hunting errors in the database due to typos and such.

It kind of upsets me at times that this is, really, meaningless work. It requires about a tenth of the brain power that my previous administrative jobs took. There’s no challenge here. But, as a starving student, I can’t ignore that this job pays really well (at least 30% more than my previous government job) and that the schedule is really flexible.

-=-=-=-

A few weeks ago, as I was writing my final paper for a legal ethics class, I coincidentally happened upon the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on television. It’s this big conference that was going on at the Sydney Opera house where they got guest speakers from all over the world to just talk about whatever they wanted– revolutionary ideas, basically.

One of the speakers was talking about being in bed with corporations, and I think I ought to address my stance on this because it’s an important contemporary topic.

The thing that the speaker was saying is basically that people need to “wake the fuck up” and “take down the corporations.” He further went on to say that if you have any friends who are lawyers, you need to shun them. He then went on for about ten more minutes about how certain professions are the evil of the world and that how lawyers and bankers produce stunted, evil children.

Now, obviously, everyone is a product of their own environment, so they speak from perspectives that are formed through their experiences. And I don’t rile up easily– but this guy kinda pissed me off. Oh, that’s right: the speaker’s name was Mike Daisey.

I think what mostly pisses me off is that he’s got no solutions. He’s content to feel that he’s on a moral high horse because he’s living a life of no-impact– he doesn’t help the corporations. Or, as he puts it, he makes sure to suck only a little bit of corporate cock at a time– just enough to survive.

Anyways, my big problem is with who takes this big masculine approach to solving problems– it’s an adversarial model of dealing with conflicts, with winner takes all. The problem with a winner takes all model is that it’s just replacing a current system with another– and in the process of the struggle, there’s a lot of casualties.

While there are a lot of situations where you really need to take a problem on head first, I don’t think globalisation or corporatism is something you can take on with that approach. We’re talking semantic differences here of course, so you could argue it either way– but my point is that in most cases, this isn’t David and Golliath– you and a sling aren’t going to cut it, because Golliath in this story is commanding his army from a nuclear bunker with reactive armor and anti ICBM countermeasures.

The overal change that we seek cannot be done quick and now; it needs to be done gradually through generations.

What needs to be done is to redefine the intfrastructure. If that means that I’m going to be a lawyer, Mike Davies, you can go fuck yourself– because I’ll be making a hell of a lot more sustainable difference to peoples lives in the right ways by working the way I know makes differences. If you want to stand on your soapbox and call people evil, you’re not leading a revolution: you’re leading a cult. You’re leading a bunch of people with a bait of truth, but without informing them of a reason to fight for it except to be partisan. In that way, the revolution is no better than the corporatism it seeks to fight– because then, both are just self-perpetuating blindly without a sense of purpose.

I’m a strong proponent of fixing systems from within. If you want to change the country, become a politician. Become a president. Or try to influence the people who have the authority and the ability to make changes.

The fact is, people who speak the most loudly often have no authority– they’re often overcompensating for a lack of power to get done what they want to do. Those that have the power are too busy using it.

This guy goes on to say that children of certain parents are evil– Children are evil.

Oooookay there, buddy.

-=-=-=-=-=-

I don’t offend easily but people do make me angry.

While it is true that there are lawyers out there who do their work with little or no consideration of the public good, I think that it is wrong to dismiss the legal profession as simply evil. That requires some clarification.

A legal system can go either way really– but the only way of it producing good results is with work from within it to reform it. For people to throw stones at it completely misses the point.

What we need isn’t civil disobedience, nor civil obedience– but civil reform. The laws that lawyers work on come from legislation, and legislation is made by governments elected by the people. The whole setup of the system is one in which the most powerful tool for change is the individual’s relationship with their political representative.

In that sense, I suppose that stirring up a huge shit and suggesting civil disobedience is one way of getting politicians’ attention. But it coercion and stone throwing is such a lame, masculine approach to fixing problems.

Maybe you could come up with a solution? Maybe you could provide the politicians with viable options?

Politicians don’t make technologies, they don’t do the research. They just make the choices regarding the easiest and most viable choices among that which is presented to them.

So maybe, maybe, if anarchists and hippies would get off their fat asses and make positive changes on the planet, rather than making neutral (zero sum) ‘contributions’ like soapboax roaring, maybe then something would change.

I am studying law. Today, the solicitor in charge of my work at the National Youth and Children’s Legal Centre gave me a 60 page stack of government documents from the attorney general, discussing the implications of a proposal to consolidate all the state anti-discrimination laws at the federal level. The project I’m working on will be to evaluate the implications of such a consolidation on the rights of children, who for the most part, are absent from the legislation. Our findings will be reported back to the Commonwealth government.

So, far from being on a high horse– I’m simply asking, which approach do you suppose confers the most benefit on the public good, overal?

… although, I suppose there’s an argument to be made for soapboax shouting as a means of raising awareness…

So I suppose the question what do you suppose works better. In the current situation of reforming children’s rights protection in Australia, I’m working with one other volunteer law student and a solicitor overseeing the project. What do you suppose works better: working within the law, using the tools of law, to find viable solutions that will actually be considered by the government; or an angry man with an angry mob, with pitchforks and torches marching up to the castle?

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I guess what I’m getting at is that I don’t like people who try to ‘raise awareness’ by being vulgar and offensive. I don’t like people who make generalizations. I don’t like people who take stabs, and then when you challenge them on it, they say that they were just saying that to open up the issue but they were exaggerating.

No. That’s not the right way to do things. You might raise some awareness of the issues, but you’ll also give people just enough knowledge about an issue to be dangerous and irresponsible about it.

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“I did it… do you think I went to far?”

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Okay, well, I was going to write a post, but then I realized one of my keys was stuck so spent about 20 minutes repairing it instead.

In with the New Heroes

I went to the Glebe Public Library a couple of days ago. I’ve had a membership since I arrived in Australia almost, but ever since the last semester started, I haven’t had the chance to really borrow, much less read very much. Now that I’m on vacation though and have no homework to speak of, I’ve got a lot more idle time to myself.

The whole experience was nostalgic of when I was a kid. The GPL reminds me a lot of the LaSalle Public Library (Octagone) that I grew up with, and eventually worked at. It’s got that small time feel to it. Not as many kids in this one, but the bathroom acoustics to the main reception area, contrasting with the dull shuffle sound of my shoes on carpets amid the rows… everything about it, even the smell of sundried paper near the window rows is nostalgic.

One of the books I happened to pick up was “Wild Thing,” which is a comic book character that I’d never heard of until recently. It’s an older comic– it’s got a distinct 80s – 90s feel to it, which is a feel that many comics nowadays are lacking. It was a short run series, so I guess a large part of that feel is that the series ended before it really got too established.

I guess what is lacking nowadays in comics is the whole bildungsroman feel to it. That is to say… a coming of age, or some sort of character development and catharsis. The problem with most of the modern comics that I pick up is that all the character development is already done– that leaves people way past the honeymoon stage of heroism. I mean, what was the whole great thing about Peter Parker (Spider-Man) when he was new? It was that he was a total loser before he got his powers. He used to get bullied, he was nearsighted, wasn’t all that popular with the girls, and he had a shit job working for a nazi boss. These were all real problems that a reader could relate to. The hero-to-be (Peter Parker) was thus important because his transformation represented something that the reader waneted– a world where he/she could be the hero.

To be fair, I’m a little out of the loop with comics that have come out post 2010. I’ve read maybe a couple of dozen issues since 2010, but I think this is generally a problem that nowadays, comic book heroes have been around too long– their stories have been told. Characters like Superman especially (can you smell Smallville?) just need to take a vacation, because there is nothing left to these kinds of characters. Justice Leage of America comics are even worse– as one dimensional as characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have become in their individual serieses, their characters are even further flattened so that they simply come to represent some archetype of the Boy Scout, the troubled Dark Knight, and the Femminist Bitch. Spider-Man? Well, now that Aunt May is dead (probably his only grounding ‘weakness’), he’s got a university teaching job that he loves (science is cool nowadays compared to when Pete was a kid), and he’s married (no worries about getting the girl now!) what’s left to do? Oh, and pretty much the whole world knows his secret identity after Civil War, depending on which stream you’re into. I’m sure he’s still got a life to live, but really– is it good drama? Arguably, that’s why any of the comics movies that did well are doing well– because from start to finish, the characters’ grow.

Marvel has done the whole Ultimate series thing, which in the case of Spider-Man and Ironman was pretty interesting, but less successful in other serieses, like Avengers and such. I heard that DC had a “universal reboot” of their world planned as well. These reboots are in a sense the publishers’ recognition of what I’m talking about– that the drama lies in the toils of characters growing up. Nobody cares once they’re all middle-aged, masters of 100 different types of kung fu, and have saved the world already 1billion times. If they’re so good at their jobs, there’s no danger of ever losing anything– and if there’s no danger, no matter how far fetched, why are we even picking up comics?

The same problem plagues anime/manga as well. Usually, the first season or two is amazing because we’re building characters up. Usually by the time of season 3, things start taking the route of JLA– that is to say, there are a hundred characters who start becoming cardboard cutouts of their former selves, trying to just be demonstrative of one or two main personality traits, and there is some huge intercontinental/interworld/intergalactic war that needs to be fought by combining all of those individuals to make a team. Yawn.

A good idea is partly a good idea because you have to tell us what it is– but once it’s been told, it becomes part of us. A good storyteller needs to find the next thing to talk about– Arabian Nights style. If you don’t keep us interested… well…

Tell your story– and once you’re done, stop. Tell us another story after that. For example, here is a series that had a strong start to finish: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puella_Magi_Madoka_Magica).

Otherwise, it reminds me a bit though of the old literature maxim, that every story to be told has already been told…

“Vacation”

So, it’s finally summer break in Australia. Been working and volunteering. Not too much interesting.

I think of those sorta ‘life simulation’ or ‘dating sim games’ where you’re trying to maximize your stats by doing the most efficient activities in the time you have per day. That’s pretty much me right now– I’m trying to basically level up in a bunch of areas, with a sideline of making money to buy gifts. Kinda like what you do in the Persona games.

Thing is, in a game, you hit a button to “work at the theatre” or “spend time studying” and that’s it– it’s done. But in real life? You don’t get to just lapse the 6 hours you spend doing the actual deed. Makes you kinda wish sometimes that I had a remote control like in Click (The Adam Sandler movie) where I could fast-forward the boring parts and skip to all the interesting stuff!

Locomotion

In the last couple of hundred years, there’s been a huge shift in the law to account for industrialization, or, more accurately, consumerism. Industrialization just meant that the means of production got better– consumerism means that people are creating demand for it by buying things. I guess they’re sort of two sides of the same coin but it’s not the same thing. That’s another issue though.

Interestingly enough, one of the big reasons why the law has changed is because of cars. Of all things that person can own, a car is the single most common device of mass destruction. A car enables a normal person to smash another car, a piece of property, and/or to injure a person. Before the industrial revolution, the most dangerous thing we’d take in public was… what? I don’t even know– but to put that much potential energy in a person, that much power, without much of a sense of responsibility… it’s just incredible, isn’t it?

-=-=-=-

Some random things I should point out about cyclists. A lot of people like to say that they’re cyclists for whatever reasons. And for the most part, they probably are cyclists, in that they ride on two unmotorized wheels.

However, regulation regarding bicycles and their riders is almost nil in any country I’ve seen, and enforcement of regulations is even more absent.

Just some general points to those of you who do cycle:
Stay in your fucking lane. Just because you’re smaller doesn’t meant that any space between cars is for you to use. The fact that you’re smaller just means that you’re a squishier target (that has a lower chance of suing, because you’re more likely to be killed than someone in a car).

Show some etiquette to other cyclists. If you come to stop at a light, queue up behind the cyclists who got to the light first. Don’t go neck to neck with them waiting for the greenlight– and, above all, please don’t fucking park in front of the people who are queued. Who the hell do you think you are?

Helmets: Considering the way people use their helmets, it probably reflects either the fact that they have nothing to protect, or that they’re just ignorant. I see a lot of hipsters in Sydney who peel the plastic part off their helmets to expose the styrofoam part. Probably gives them a badass hippie look or something. That’s a bad idea. Aside from increasing visibility (assuming the plastic isn’t pitch black), the plastic is meant to be slippery– so when your head hits the pavement, your head will slide with the impact. Sliding is good, unless you want the styrofoam to mould to the shape of the asphalt, stick to it, and then snap your neck.

Your helmet has neck straps– you should probably use them. If it’s so loose that you can almost take your helmet off, chances are that when your helmet hits the ground, the helmet could slide off your head and choke you. Leaving about a finger or two of playroom (diameter) between your chin and the strap is a general guideline.

Your helmet should be covering your forehead. Same reason as above– if your chinstrap is adjusted to a high forehead position, it’ll choke you to death in an accident when the helmet winches itself backwards.

Your helmet should be on your stupid fucking head. How often do you see people, especially Asians, riding their bike with their helmet on the handlebars? I thought Asians were supposed to be smart, or something. God. Whenever I see one of these people pass by, I just want to clothesline them.

Check your blindspots before changing lands. Bonus points: use your hands to signal people.

During the exam period, I coordinated a fair amount of study group sessions. It’s kinda neat that at UNSW, the group study rooms have these giant 50 inch monitors on the wall, which you can hook up to your laptop. It has ports for HDMI and VGA cables, even RCA jacks (does anyone still use those…?)

Anyways, a classmate of mine, [Captain Diligent], was wondering how I did what I did. Which was basically just to plug my laptop into the mointor. Nothing fancy really… he also wondered what I was using as an operating system. The netbook I was using that day, my Samsung NC-210, runs Ubuntu (Linux). “Do people still use Linux nowadays?” he asked. Well, I do.

I’m not really a diehard advocate of it– as in, I’m not going to try and convert everyone to using it. It takes a bit of brains and time to get things running just the way you want it, so for most people, the cost of buying a system with MacOS on it is worth every penny. But I know that for me, it works great for my purposes, for a number of reasons. I don’t run Ubuntu on all my systems, I use some other distros on other machines I maintain for myself and my family, but across the board the advantages are similar.

First of all, it doesn’t require as much hardware to do the same thing as a windows computer. Linux OS tends to take up space on your hard disk, uses less CPU power to run, and takes up less of your RAM. That means that you can run it on older machines that wouldn’t survive too well under Windows 7. Linux tends to enjoy a further bonus, because you don’t need to run craploads of antiviral software in memory. I don’t have to worry about installing security fixes on a weekly basis (althoug h every now and then doesn’t hurt), and when I click “shutdown,” my computer actually SHUTS DOWN and doesn’t tell me that it’s updating and don’t hit the power just yet. That’s a real pain in the ass when you’re leaving a class and have to get moving, and there you are with automatic updates on so you can shove your netbook in your bag. I’m sure there’s a setting for it somewhere, but really– would you use a windows machine without the latest security fixes?

In many ways, a Linux machine works with the advantages of a Mac system– Mac is based on Linux I believe. The main difference is that you don’t need to pay the Mac price.

There’s also a pretty large repository of official software out there. While you can go out on the web and download applications, for most intensive purposes, you can get a hella lot of software for free from centralized sources. Keeps things clean of adware and malware.

So sometimes, I just don’t get why, unless you were playing games (which is one area where Linux does suck), you would use Windows. It’s more taxing on the system, it’s less secure, and I would argue it’s more difficult to use in many ways.

I’ve been running my netbook on an out-of-the-box install of Ubuntu since I got it a few months ago– everything just worked, except for an issue with the microphone. I didn’t have time to fix it until this morning, but it turned out to be relatively easy– just needed to upgrade the ALSA drivers. Now my system works pretty much exactly how I want it to.

I should point out also that running Windows 7, the most i could get out of the battery was something like 8 hours. On linux, the battery lasts 10.5 hours.

But like I said– I don’t really preach Linux to people, because people will just do what they’re comfortable with. I just don’t see why people get on my case about using Linux as if it’s some sorta disease. That’s like making fun of people for maintaining their own car instead of taking it to the shop all the time.

Edit: [Zanshin] informs me that MacOs is actually based on BSD, not Linux.

Blood Sport

Time: 7:45AM Sydney Time
Location: University of New South Wales Post-Grad Computer Lab
Energy Levels: 60% (pretty sleepy on account of not so good sleep)
Morale: unknown (but locked in functional battle mode)
Coherence: probably pretty low

The truth is, going after what you want is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. I’d say it was like a game– it is, in a sense– but perhaps, more specifically, it’s like a sport. For the past few weeks I’ve done nothing but write papers and study for exams. I’ve seen casualties– some of my peers didn’t do so well. I’ve seen breakdowns even before the exams.

Even me, despite all that I’ve done throughout the year to prepare, I feel it’s effects: I’ve had stress induced headaches for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sleeping terribly, and I’ve been having food cravings at random intervals. It could be worse– and I really feel that if I wasn’t someone who took so many pains to put myself through all sorts of torture in other circumstances, I think I’d be one of those people who spends the 5 hours before the morning exam having a panick attack publicly on facebook about how they don’t know the answer to this or that problem question.

It really isn’t just about your book smarts. It’s about your organisational ability. It’s about your physical endurance. It’s about the support network. It’s about habit. It’s about discipline: and discipline is about having all the guns at all the right bastions and all your magazines in neat rows before the siege begins.

I think one of the hard parts is understanding that despite this, the nature of a challenge is that you never quite know the outcome– otherwise, it wouldn’t be challenging. That said, there’s a certain amount of inevitable fear and discomfort whenever faced with the unknown. It’s humbling– and the more humbling it is, the more one learns– but pride makes learning hard, doesn’t it? Half of the emotional assault is the result of insecurity that arises that one doesn’t feel as secure as one probably should.

Yet somehow, the emotional mess of these sorts of times is kinda… delicious. That probably makes me sound pretty sick. But you know, there are so many instances in life where people don’t really experience real emotions. Have you ever noticed that? People hang out, people laugh and play, they have fun– but that’s more just a general maintenance of a state of things. Sure, sometimes people genuinely really have fun– but how often is there real excitement, of the brand of rawness that comes before a challenge? I’m a real junkie for this shit. I like seeing the veils of confidence, the breakdowns, the desperation, the panic… all that enthropy adds so much authenticity to our lives.

Sometimes perhaps, all that is so much that it’s what induces us not to seek out more, because of the burn of it.

I’m not certain where the idea of examinations comes from, but maybe if, someday, we all work out there in the real world in a profession related to what we study, this kind of duress might have taught us something about who we are.

During this time, I’ve been doing my best to maintain the other facets of my life. I have a loving girlfriend who supports me in many ways– but I try to not just switch off the rest of my life, so despite studies I try and find the time to watch a movie here and there, go out to dinner, etc. It’s a work life balance, really. The world doesn’t just stop because something big needs your attention– I’m not a reactionary individual. I am adaptive, but only I will dictate the strategy.

I’m sitting in a post-graduate computer lab about half an hour before my last exam for this semester. Why aren’t I cramming?

Because I don’t need to.

This is the moment before a confrontation where one realises that there’s nothing more to be done– at this point, all that’s left to do is the test itself.

And while I will celebrate after this is all over, I won’t celebrate too long– because there are other things that I want. A situation as this may be the end of the world, but only the end of the world for one day.

Cram Time

So,

the Public Law exam was friday, and I think I did a pretty good job on that. When I saw the questions, I was pleasantly surprised: I knew all the answers. The only question is how well I got down what I know on paper, since it was a really long set of problem questions, plus an essay, and it was all meant to fit into two hours. So, at the very least, if I do lose marks it’ll be because I left something out or whatever– but that’s not as bad as seeing the questions and being like “WTF I DON’T KNOW THIS ORZ”

I’m currently working on my studies for my last exam: Torts. That’ll be on tuesday. After that, I’ll be a free man! (At least until summer school starts)

Persistent Headache

I got an email back from the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre, which is part of the Redfern Legal Centre. Interview! It’s for a upaid work, and it doesn’t count as an internship. Nonetheless, these spots are usually reserved for final year law students, so its a lucky break on my part. They one out of three community legal centres that actually took the time to write me back anything substantial out of the twenty or so that I’ve applied to for summer volunteering. Needless to say, when they asked if I was free for an interview tomorrow, I agreed. The timing is pretty bad considering that this period time, especially today and tomorrow, are like the last days at the Alamo, but like I said– these sorts of invites are pretty damn rare. It’s kinda like running outside the walls to see if that parachute drop is full of bazookas. That might change everything. Not that getting a volunteer job makes my life any easier for exams– but it does make things easier in the long run.

I have this persistent headache going on. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s kind of been hanging around since after the Contracts exam. Unfortunately, there’s so much work to be done that I’m not certain how much rest time I can afford it.

I’m trying really hard not to burn out. I wouldn’t normally notice something like that in myself, I’d probably chalk it up to just being productive normally, but I remember [Zanshin] taking a look at me once and just making a sweeping comment about my life, which is that I have this bad habit of biting off more than I can chew. I don’t know if I’m choking yet, but I could certainly use some water.

Some random other news:
A pair of Audio Technica headphones that I bought in Korea broke down. That made me surprisingly sad. My dad bought a pair of JBLs for himself when he was in his 20s, and they lasted for over 20 years. Mine lasted about 3-4 years… so I guess they don’t build things the way they used to. But I always liked the idea of buying things that would really, really last for a long time, something that I would have a lot of history with. I’m not someone who is very sentimental about material posessions, but my ATs were part of my SK days. I used to wear them while walking the city streets, to the tune of James Brown or Led Zepplin. I am sad to throw them out, but if it makes it any easier, the fact that they don’t work well anymore makes me feel betrayed enough that I can throw them out, slightly pissed and disgusted. It’s always easier to gloss over emotional loss with rage.

I recently bought a violin. No, I don’t know how to play it. I bought it second hand off a classmate, who was getting rid of all his stuff. He had to leave the country on emergency family business just before this exam period started (so, he’s unable to finish the semester). I haven’t taken the time to make many friends in Australia, not close ones anyways. But in this case, I feel like I traded a violin for a friend somehow.

It might sound like I’m low on morale, but I’m actually feeling pretty neutral right now.