Sunday, January 30, 2005


Uh, needless to say, the four posts responding to Scott Sommers that appear below (at least I think they appear below, although I am not entirely certain) were posted in reverse order. Therefore, although it is not mandatory, it would probably be best to read them in reverse order, in the best interests of clarity. Heh heh. What Mark "best weatherman ever" Mathis would call "a small technical error."

Virginia DOT Study Shows Cams Increase Injury Accidents

"Despite a distinct sympathy in favor of camera enforcement, the researchers found a 'definite' increase in rear-end accidents and only a 'possible' decrease in angle accidents. Most importantly, the net effect was that more injuries happened after cameras are installed. Camera proponents explain this away by asserting angle accidents are more serious, but this claim has not been scientifically studied according to this report. The rear end collisions caused by the cameras still produce injuries -- the original promise of camera proponents was that they would reduce accidents and injuries, not rearrange them".

I wonder if anyone's done any kind of study of this: sort in Taiwan. I suppose, given the traffic density, and mixing of scooters and cars, there might be a special case to be made that hot pursuit is to be avoided here. At any rate, in eleven years, I can remember only one or two times seeing such a thing. Also, quality control seems to be an issue. People who frequent a given neighborhood not only get to know where the cameras are, but come to realize there are "lenient" cameras, as well as "hangin' judgemeras." I want to give the benefit of the doubt to the five-o authorities on this one, but, then, this is a place where the police leave their flashers on while patrolling so as to sneak up on perpetrators unawares.
Hat tip: instapundit

Thursday, January 27, 2005


When I cited the decline of liberal arts departments into p.c. silly-farms for the rich, and the teacher accreditation process as Venus fly-traps for under-achievers, I was making the point that, to the degree that these institutions lose credibility, one might feel relatively less indignation about unaccredited teachers. Agree with their platform or disagree, clearly the purpose of is to reform educational institutions and restore what they consider to be lost credibility. I did not (and do not) take the position that all standards should be dispensed with, only that I feel the stakes for society are less dire than Scott does.

There's always a balance to be found on the regulated/ unregulated spectrum. Moreover, the ideal balance will be different for every society. One thing that struck me after the 9/21 earthquake was that rescue workers who'd worked on disasters all over the world noted that Taiwan was singular in that, in the days following the quake, when police and other institutions were paralyzed, there was virtually no looting or rioting. Across the strait, the authoritarian government justifies a whole panoply of oppressive regulations by citing the specter of dissolution, disorder, a descent into Hobbesian chaos, if these measures were not taken. Whether that's justified or not in China, it's clear that Taiwan is a far more pliant society, with a bottom-up societal cohesion that's the envy of many other countries. A lot of times, in Taiwan, things get done precisely because the regulating institutions are a bit ramshackle, but the civil society is strong. That's Taiwan's strength, not weakness.

Regulated and Unregulated

Scott: "Highly regulated societies are more predictable, safer and ,most of all, more desirable places to live. While this description of highly regulated society is not without its detractors, judging from the movement of peoples throughout the world, opposition to this opinion is insignificant. Very few people appear at all interested in living permanently in the unregulated regions of the world."

The assertion that highly regulated societies are uniformly more desirable places to live seems rather sweeping to me. Scott does not seem to allow for the possibility of over-regulated societies, or societies in which regulations are used to the advantage of self-interested, self-perpetuating special interests. Scott emphasizes a spectrum spanning from unregulated to highly regulated; I would say the defining spectrum is along a line stretching from societies where institutions have credibility as serving the larger interests of society to those that have lost that credibility. Is Zimbabwe regulated or unregulated? For most of the people, it is highly regulated, indeed. Only for a small, connected elite is it an unregulated candy shop.
Perhaps the most conspicuous movement of people in the world today is the emigration of large numbers of Northern Africans into Europe. Is someone emigrating from post-Nasserist, sclerotic, bureaucratically clogged Egypt to , say, Holland, really seeking a more regulated society? Northern Africa includes super-regulated (and, on the surface, predictable and safe) Libya, as well as the unregulated failed state, Sudan. The boat people phenomenon is common to both over-regulated Cuba and entropic, unregulated Haiti. The common denominator between these emigrant states is not regulated/ unregulated, but that the institutions in these states have lost credibility as serving society in an equitable way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Education Major Scores

Scott: "The information that refers to addresses the ranking of students who major in education versus other majors. It tells us nothing about the ability of certified versus uncertified teachers... after all, it could be the worst students who end up in education, regardless of background."

That's quite possible. I doubt that the students from top colleges who choose teaching are coming from the tops of their classes. But the bottom one-fifth of scores from top universities are still higher than the education major averages cited. Also, when schools require "accredited teachers", they are not merely saying "We are every bit as good as you elitist private school types"; they are, in fact, saying "We are better than you, and would exclude you on the grounds of teaching excellence." It is a paradoxical kind of elitist Culture of Mediocrity.

Scott on Accreditation

I have been in Hualien for five days, teaching a winter vacation English camp, and so have been on the far side of the moon as far as access to a computer. On returning home, I discovered this whopper of a post. Wow. Let's take Scott's essay point by point, because he covers a lot of ground.

Scott: "I'd like to once again state that I have never advocated accreditation or qualification as good methods to assure the quality preparation of professionals."

This opinion was never attributed to him by me. Looking over my post, I suspect the offending sentence is "There will always be gatekeeping standards for entrance into teaching, of course. I just seem to differ with Scott on the degree to which those credentials really correspond with excellence in teaching." Scott clearly assumes from the way in which the postings segue from a discussion on bogus degrees to liberal arts programs to accreditation that I was attributing to him a postion on accreditation. In fact, the second posting was an expansion on the above V.S. Naipal quote, not a counter-argument to something Scott said. Re-reading my post, using the term "gatekeeping standards" in the transition may have been sloppy. But if was counter-arguing, I would have, as is my habit, offered a direct quotation to argue against, and used the specific term "accreditation". It was also sloppy of Scott to, in my comments section, accuse me of "misquoting" him. Quote him is precisely what I would have done if I was attributing the position to him.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Summers Engulfed

"PINKER: Good grief, shouldn�t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That�s the difference between a university and a madrassa."

Stephen Pinker:, a personal hero of mine (see November archives), comments on the tsunami currently engulfing Larry Summers, President of Harvard, over the issue of gender inequalities in the maths and sciences. Jonah Goldberg also has a good essay. My own experience, teaching first and second graders for many years in Taiwan, is that gender differences are pretty stark. Boys act differently (to put it euphemistically) and in the area of language acquisition at this age, they are clearly less adept than the girls. Pinker makes a good case in his book, "The Blank Slate", that the differences between genders seem to be hardwired into our brains. Girls in the States are outperforming, and outgraduating, boys at the high school and college level. Given that the teaching profession is dominated by women, it could (and has) been suggested that boys are the victims of discrimination at schools. But as a male elementary school teacher, I can testify that if I am substituting and I walk into a class where ten of the twelve students are boys, there is sometimes that heart-sinking moment...
Speaking always with the caveat that we are talking about aggregations of people, not individuals, the fact is that genders have strengths and weaknesses, just as cultures do. I'm an exception myself, having been attracted like a moth to a flame to the liberal arts from a young age. If whites perform better than blacks on standardized tests, this is cited as de facto evidence that whites benefit from discrimination. So can the fact that Asians outperform whites be adduced to prove that Asians benefit from pro-Asian bias? How about the NBA, and the entertainment industry in general? Pro-black discrimination? I'm a white male doing this blogging thing. It doesn't cost a whole lot to buy the computer and get ADSL. Yet , I look around and a preponderance of other bloggers seem to be white and male. Is this evidence of a cultural pre-disposition, or is there a digital Bull Conners roaming about the cyber-world, with his cyber German Shepherds, making sure more minorities and women don't blog? We're not doing it for the money. The evidence seems to be that we like it, and perhaps even have an aptitude for it. But why couldn't the same be true of the higher levels of Math and Science? And what to make of anomalies like the fact that women do very well in Statistics, but poorly in Physics? Have high school Physics teachers been discriminating, while their colleagues in Statistics are imbued with the true spirit of human tolerance?

The Vice Tightens

"Every time Lee makes a trip overseas, Beijing lodges strong protests with the host country, but to no avail. But with the law, things would be different. Beijing could convene a special court to put Lee on trial by default for instigating Taiwan's independence and issue an international warrant for his arrest. And through the extradition law, if there is one, Beijing could demand the arrest and repatriation of the criminal. That would make it extremely difficult for Lee or other hardline independence activists to go anywhere."

This from a China Post editorial. I've often seen references to the fact that Beijing's proposed "Anti-Sedition Law" would give legal cover to an invasion of the island. Prohibiting people who have expressed pro-indepence opinions from traveling abroad is something I hadn't thought about. The America/ Western Europe fissure is often framed in terms of a backward America clinging to an outdated mode of nationalistic thinking, resisting the trends toward international institutions. But until that internationalization is constructed as an explicitly pro-democracy movement, it will lack credibility with many of us. When a military dictatorship can use international law in this way against democratic Taiwan, something is wrong. I keep waiting for the Taipei Times, with its pro-independence stance and its infatuation with Guardian - style internationalism (and Ameriphobia), to address this apparent contradiction. Been waiting for a long time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Scott Sommers Replies

My first comments on this blog! A bit of a scrappy exchange with Scott Sommers, but that's okay. Hope we're all still friends. His response to my last last comment below (under "Bogus Degrees in Taiwan") was: "It's not a contest interpreting what I wrote. I highly recommend that you read some of the other posts and comments that most of my readers would be familiar with." My last counter-comment was not posted in his comments section, however, which is a bit disappointing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Zhao Zi Yang's Death

"He sacrificed his freedom for the reason that he decided to hold onto his ground, which is a moral ground... I think he died of regret. Many people question whether he had died of regret of supporting students. I think he died of regret of not supporting enough." - fellow Taichunger We'er Kaixi

Well, he was eighty - five years old...

More Notes on Credentials

There will always be gatekeeping standards for entrance into teaching, of course. I just seem to differ with Scott on the degree to which those credentials really correspond to excellence in teaching. Too often, when educational establishments want to "reform" or "make the field more professional" they simply add another layer of time consuming but low quality credentials. This often has the effect of actually lessening the quality of the talent pool available to principals when they hire (smart people don't want their time wasted). Currently, in Taiwan, cram schools of the finer sort are insisting that their staff be accredited to teach in their home countries. It is almost unheard of to hear challenged the assumption that these teachers would be better. Try explaining to them that at my high school the bright kids did not go to teacher's colleges. Try explaining that the accreditation process tends to actually attract a slower kind of high school graduate. My family paid tuition to go to Catholic schools (where many teachers only had a BA), because the education was better. Have credentials err on the lower side,I say; let the pool of candidates be larger, and allow principals to use their judgement in hiring and firing.

Bogus Degrees in Taiwan

"In fact, I doubt either Tim or Julie would disagree with me. Would they want themselves or their children seeing a doctor who had not graduated from an accredited medical school and licensing agency regardless of their record? I doubt they would want to drive on a bridge built by an engineer who was not educated at an accredited school or have their teeth checked by an unaccredited dentist. If Rochville were selling medical or engineering degrees would you trust that the recipient had been properly examined by Rochville for their experience? Really, would you want a Rochville-certified doctor performing surgery on your children? Or is it just OK for you to be using their diplomas?"

Scott Sommers: discusses the phenomenon of bogus degrees at his blog. I have to disagree with the analogy between a liberal arts degree and a degree in medicine or engineering. The dirty little secret about teaching (as with journalism) is that it is a craft more than a real profession. That is, one gets good at it by doing it, rather than learning it systematically in a school. There are always going to be "gatekeeper standards" determining who may teach and who may not, but they are not as sacrosanct as those for doctors or bridge builders. Evidence of this is that it is often so difficult to detect uncredentialed teachers in our midst. Even a well-educated autodidact would usually be sniffed out by his medical cohorts at a good hospital - not so for an elementary school teacher. If a nuetron bomb that only killed doctors was dropped on Taiwan, it would take decades for the health care system to even approximate what is presently in place. I have no experience as a journalist, but I could do a reasonably good job at it starting tomorrow, and after a few years of doing it, I'd put my work up against the pros. Not so with doing surgery. You have to go to med school to do that.

V.S. Naipal has some things to say about liberal arts degrees (as quoted by Paul Theroux in "Sir Vidia's Shadow"), and having spent a small fortune that I didn't have on an English degree from the University of Chicago, I mostly agree: "I think they're calamitous, these English courses. They're actively destructive of civilization and thought. When I was at Oxford in 1950, I think we all knew that English was not a serious subject for study, not worth a serious degree, not worth a physics degree. It was not worth a man doing medical research. We knew that this business of doing English was a very soft option, an extension of the divinity courses of the last century. But that was what people went to Oxford for, to learn how to hunt and to live this great social life, and later, endless divinity people were produced. Probably a hundred years ago or less, Professor Sweet - you know, who is the origin of Professor Higgins in the Shaw play (he meant Henry Sweet, 1845-1912, phonetician and philologist) - he and some other people established this English course, a form of idleness for simple people. So that now, what has happened is that this non-course, this non-subject, has been taken over by politically motivated people. Universities have become places where free thinking is not allowed, where your tutor does not ask for an original thought about a work. But it's a political line! We were told in Oxford in 1950 that the best thing that happened to you occured in the holidays. That's when you did a lot of reading.The point of this course was that it allowed you to do an infinite amount of reading. Nowadays people read very, very little, and they have elaborate theories. And there have emerged whole generations from the universities who can't think and just parrot the phrases."

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Excuse Me While I Adjust My Glasses

I've never been a big fan ofMa Ying Jeou, and I've long suspected that his administrative skills fell far short of his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian. But I think he's probably a decent man (in an unctuous, Confucian sort of way) and probably reasonably competent. As probably all of Taiwan knows by now, his career is presently in crisis due to a case in which a child who had been severely beaten by her drunk father had to come all the way to Taichung to have surgery after being denied a bed by hospitals in Taipei. That the facts of the case are outrageous doesn't need any amplifying here. Still, it's hard not to feel repelled by the blood-in-the-water feeding frenzy behavior of some legislators and the media. To see them banging the lectern and shouting Ma down as soon as he opens his mouth is to feel that some of them seem to be enjoying their indignation a bit too much.

In this picture, Ma is being dressed down by the members of the City Council, but what is striking to me is that he is being forced to stand at a lectern adorned with a poster lambasting him. Now, this seems like a fundamental dignity issue to me. Accountability and contrition are to be expected from the mayor in a situation like this, but it seems entirely reasonable for the elected official of the Executive branch, when he is called for interpellation in the Legislative branch, to stipulate that he should not have to answer uncivil questions while standing behind a poster attacking him. This is not the Cultural Revolution, of course, but it does seem to be an echo of this sort of behavior, with people being forced to wear their accusations while they are harangued. I have no idea whether this case is sympomatic of systemic problems in the health system or not. Single, anecdotal cases do not necessary condemn a whole system, and statistics notoriously can be manipulated. It seems reasonable to expect that an anecdotal case of this sort should prompt a thorough investigation of the system. But what's been going on with the treatment of Ma is something else. On the other hand, maybe public officials who are being given the Red Guards treatment have their own ways of responding. Is the Health Minister to Ma's left doing what an undergraduate slacker would say he is doing?

Taiwan News Online

"According to wire service reports, China's Communications Minister Zhang Chunxian said China would invest US$241.7 billion on building 34 highways over 20 to 30 years, with one linking the mainland to Taipei.
'Under the 85,000-kilometers highway plan, there would be a special corridor linking the mainland to Taipei,' he told a news conference yesterday.
Asked how this architectural feat could be accomplished, he said: 'Taipei could be linked by building a tunnel or something else.' "

Scalper comes up to me on the street today and tries to sell me a year pass for the China - Taiwan tunnel. Heh. Do I look like I just fell off the banana boat yesterday? Bought mine from a kiosk, and got fifty percent off.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I Swear This Link Has A Taiwan Angle

"Felipe Rose, the Indian dude from the singing group the Village People, presented the National Museum of the American Indian with a framed, gold 45-rpm single of the disco group's 1978 megahit 'Y.M.C.A.' on Wednesday afternoon. "

It's not easy to be genuinely funny within the conventions of a standard news article, but Hank Stuever pulls it off with this one in The Post. In my first months here, hanging out with my friend Jonathan, we were overjoyed to discover a teahouse improbably equipped with a real, old-stye juke box. Even stranger was to find that it played the "YMCA" song, which neither of us had heard in over a decade. YMCA is now firmly entrenched in the canon of "English Songs That Taiwanese Seem To Like A Lot I Don't Know Why". The Post article marks the retro resurrection of the song from about '92, just when I got here, but I swear I hadn't heard the thing before I got to Taiwan, and then - well, it's been pretty much unavoidable since. I can only surmise that it's like those Felix the Cat shirts you see around - by a kind of double-negative, some Taiwanese are so dorky they sometimes stumble blindly onto the cutting edge of campy retro trends.

Not Reassuring

"Less than a quarter of respondents said the U.S military should defend the island of Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province. "

Polls should always be viewed skeptically, but when the numbers are in the low twenties for defending Taiwan from attack it's no wonder the island isn't getting much support from the Bush administration.

Death of a Station

"Although radio insiders have discussed the likelihood of WHFS changing formats for many months, the switch came as a shock to former employees and fans who grew up listening to the radio station that, since the late 1960s, had gained a reputation as the place to go for new music. Radio stations often switch formats and often without promoting the change in advance. "

WHFS radio essentially taught me what good music is . I listened through the mid-seventies, and it remains for me the gold-standard defining the term "quality radio station.". The article mentions more mainstream groups like The Who, but that's not what I remember. WHFS introduced me to the likes of Ry Cooder, David Bromberg, Tom Waits,Randy Newman and John Prine, to mention just a few. Each DJ brought his own announcing style to the mike and, more important, his own musical tastes. Whether it was Jerry Garcia or Little Feat, musicians would drop by when they were in town, play a little, and rap with the jocks. It was a revelation to me. When the internet revolution came to Taichung, one of the first things I did was look up HFS. Needless to say, it was unrecognizable. Now it's changing to a Spanish format. Things change. I read a Post article not long ago that said one in seven people in the Washington,D.C. area were born abroad. Good. I'm not there, but it sounds like a lot of good energy coming in. And,honestly, that seems a lot less sad to me than their playing the stuff they've played the last decade.
For those interested, the closest thing I've found to the spirit of the old WHFS is Austin's KGSR.

We Can Change the World - By Whining

I forget who said it, but the quote is something along the lines of: women who feel entitled to all of the things men have should consider the male option of trying to be the strong, silent type.Not TheNewYorkTimes>Opinion> Maureen Dowd
My best friend in college was a hot, smart Korean-American classmate; same age, most of the same interests. The years went by - for me, dateless - for her a revolving door of older boyfriends who would come for a year and be dumped. We shared a peanut butter and jelly student's existence, romantically self-conscious about our poverty, but having a ball reading the same books and listening to the same music. She'd share her excitement with me on Thursdays, anticipating a three-day weekend at the boyfriend's vacation house, or at a five-star hotel in Chicago. The next Monday, she'd share her disappointment with me -"I really don't have anything in common with him. We get high and then watch cartoons and we have nothing to say to each other." You know the ending. After the last Price-Waterhouse boyfriend breakup, I asked and got my answer - "I couldn't. I know you too well." I know; Life's tough. Take it on the chin and move on.
Move on to thirteen years ago and,moving west on the way to Taiwan, I get a job shelving books at the University of Washington Law Library. Problem is, my eardrum is severely retracted and I'm suffering from dizziness and a constant, piercing headache. Full-time library workers are covered by health insurance, but the library Director, a feminist baby-boomer, is laying off full-time workers and replacing them with people like me who have two part-time jobs (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) and ,well, part-timers -heh heh- don't get health care. Eventually I got funding for the operation I needed, through the office of Rep. Jim McDermott (and when I get as rich as Michael Jackson, Congressman McDermott's staffers all get free rides for life on the twirlybird). When I wrote to the Director for assistance, however, what I got the next day in the hallway was an icy stare that would stop a clock. We got called in about this time for a consciousness raising session on sexual harassment; the minimum wage male staffers being warned in no uncertain terms by the female lawyers who ran the place not to even consider sexually harassing them. Popping another pill for the pain, I remember thinking, "this is why poor people vote for Ronald Reagan."
This is what power is. It is the right to say, and have broadcast:"I am a victim; you are not a victim. I may speak; you may not speak." Power means being able to define which issues are important and which are marginal. So Maureen Dowd went to a party and met some other rich, famous, middle-aged female friends, and they are having a hard time getting dates. It's not fair. Hmmm. Maybe. Who cares? Dare3 I suggest that the fact that the dating woes of this demographic merits a column in the New York Times is evidence of just how privileged these people are, not the opposite? I feel pretty certain that none of these women ever doubted for a second that the process by which they became rich was ever anything less than a perfect meritocracy.
So now I'm 45 and living in Taiwan. And I'm sure it's no secret that a reasonably well-preserved American man has his chances here. My girlfriend of the last two years is ten years younger than me, my previous two girlfriends were 26 and 28 respectively. All stunners, and smart, too! I make more than I made in America and I'm not complaining -though it's probably about one twentieth of what Maureen Dowd or Carrie Fisher makes. I'm covered under Taiwan's comprehensive health plan, but I still can't afford American health insurance. Hope I don't get cancer. But the sex is great, and the feeling that I'm attractive here - a bit of a catch, actually - is quite enjoyable. A little more enjoyable, actually, knowing that it's so deeply resented by people like Maureen Dowd.