Friday, April 29, 2005

Tiger Leaping Gorge

"Originally I had planned to trek in Tiger Leaping Gorge, a spectacular two-mile-deep canyon with an old miners' trail clinging to one of its nearly vertical slopes. The trail was temporarily closed last August when a trekker was swept away in a landslide. So I drove to a different entrance and walked to the rapids on a paved road that the government had recently built. I was far from alone. Crowds of urban Chinese, many dressed in business suits, walked alongside me. They were among the tens of thousands of visitors, mainly Chinese, coming to see the gorge. Like me, they were keenly aware that the view may disappear in the relatively near future."

A N.Y. Times piece on Tiger Leaping Gorge (or "Tiger Teaping Gorger", as I remember the entrance sign announcing) today. I spent three incredible days hiking through the gorge, with a guy from Utah and an intrepid Finnish girl. The article mentions that the "high" trail was closed, due to fatalities in landslides. Actually, when I did the hike, the talk was of a pair of Israeli hikers who had fallen not long before. This is not a story about my bravery, however - I managed to be simultaneously exhilarated and terrified for most of three days. Mostly, it was a head game: the trail at most points was perfectly adequate for safe hiking, but to to lift your eyes and take in the scale of the place, and realize how tiny this wrinkle in the wall of rock was in the midst of it all, was to induce vertigo. Worse, there were three or four spots along the way when the trail did, in fact, get seriously narrow, and a trip on some shoelaces would have been very bad. We all agreed that we wouldn't trade the experience for anything, and we all agreed that we wouldn't be rushing back to do the hike again any time soon. Oh, the view may be disappearing soon on account of a dam being built.

Taiwan Players in MLB

"Speaking in Mandarin through a translator, Wang still appeared to be excited about replacing injured right-hander Jaret Wright in the Yankees' rotation. The 25-year-old right-hander from Taiwan, the top pitching prospect in New York's thin minor league system, had only been to Yankee Stadium twice before, visits while playing for the Yankees' Staten Island farm team."

Taiwan's Wang Chien Ming has been called up by the New York Yankees, and is expected to start later this week. Talk about pressure: the Yanks are reeling, and Wright is hurt, so Wang gets the call in a crisis situation. Scouting reports don't rave about him, calling him the best pitcher in a weak Yankees farm system.

Hualien's Tsao Chin Hui is generally considered to have more upside potential, with a blazing fastball. The knock on him is that he's easily injured. This year represents a crucial opportunity for him, with the Colorado Rockies giving him a chance at the closer role. So far, he hasn't blown any saves, but hasn't looked especially impressive, either. But it's early!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Taiwan Rep Denied Access

"A Taipei representative in Hong Kong was barred from meeting Lien Chan, chairman of the Kuomintang, at the former British crown colony yesterday, a Mainland Affairs Council spokesman said.
Yu Ying-lung told the press the MAC regretted that Pao Cheng-kang, manager of the China Travel Agency in Hong Kong, was prevented from meeting Lien during a brief stopover on his way to Nanjing. Chinese officials, including the head of the Taiwan office in Hong Kong, were on hand to welcome Lien at the airport when he arrived from Taipei at 1200 p.m.
'We regret that Pao has been barred and cannot understand why,' Yu said."

This brief article in The China Post (I didn't see it in the other two papers, although it seems pretty important) sums up everything that is wrong with Lien Chan's trip. The Taiwan representative in Hong Kong is not permitted to meet Lien at the airport because China does not recognize or validate the democratic process that he has participated in. This dovetails with Lien's own denial of the validity of the same democratic election and the subsequent judicial confirmation of the validity of the election. Denying his own government is a condition of this trip, which is why it should never have happened.

VP Lu Xiu Lian made essentially the same point the other day: "I saw an extremely suspect phenomenon (at the airport). The pan-Green (pro-independence) camp, who do not like waving the national flag are waving it and the KMT chairman and vice chairman say they are not allowed to bring their own flag back to their home towns." The flag, of course, is suspect in the eyes of Greens because it symbolizes the fusion of party and state in the martial law era. The flag is an anachronism in the multi-state democracy Taiwan has become, but the issue is too loaded to take on the project of changing it. The KMT, which has made a cult of the flag, Sun Yat-Sen and the similarly outdated constitution, now acquiesces in being told that they can't carry the flag? It calls into question if there's anything left that the KMT believes in at all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


The sixty year old man I referred to being shown on the news being beaten was this man, who turns out to have been a TSU supporter. I feel a lot less conflicted now. The Taiwan News' top article states that the pan-Greens did initiate things by throwing eggs, but the Blues appeared to have an organized phalanx of gangsters who marauded at will, while the police watched: "At around 10:42 a.m., a few hooligans attacked an old pan-Green supporter in his sixties with a Nunchaku, the martial arts weapon.....others were also attacked by the group of thugs, and in all, nine people were hospitalized after the demonstration ended." Much less conflicted.

Wu Bai Married!

Unless I'm translating this all wrong, it looks like rocker Wu Bai got married secretly at the end of last year. I've always liked Wu Bai. I also respect the fact that he doesn't feed the Taiwan media monster with tidbits about his personal life. The article says he and his manager/girlfriend of ten years did the paperwork secretly in Hong Kong, and even his friends and family didn't know. Good for him!

Lien In China

"For Beijing, Lien's visit was an opportunity to show a friendly face and perhaps soften the anger created by its passage last month of an anti-secession bill that codified into law a longstanding threat to use force if necessary to prevent Taiwan from gaining formal independence. In that light, China's controlled media treated the visit as a major event, broadcasting the arrival live and splashing news of his plans on the front pages of the government-controlled press."

I just got done watching the TV reports of the riots (no other word) at the airport on Lien Chan's departure. The footage evoked a rather confused cocktail of emotions. I have a visceral dislike of mobs, and the sight of a middle aged (KMT) man prone on the ground being being kicked senseless by feral TSU demonstrators was repellent. The rest of what I just saw on TV was hardly more edifying. Then came the sight of Lien getting the red carpet treatment in Nanjing, worthy of a head of state, and I sure wanted to kick something.

Lee Teng Hui yesterday attacked not only the pan-Blues, but the DPP, calling them "liars" for their cautious stance on the Lien trip. Lee's criticisms of Chen often ring hollow, given that Lee himself held the position of President and tacked a far more moderate course than he has in retirement. Fact is, Taiwan is a small country, and for the forseeable future there is going to be a gap between what a Taiwanese President desires in his heart and what is doable on the ground. I don't believe the disagreement between the two is choreographed, but I think between Chen's statesmanlike caution and Lee's fury they just about get it right.

To understand why Lien's trip is so devious, it's important to keep in mind that he has never recognized the legitimacy of the 2004 election that he lost to Chen. Even in their eleven minute phone conversation between the men prior to the trip, Lien was careful not to refer to Chen by the title "President." This has continued even after the court system has delivered a verdict that Lien's claim that the pre-election assasination attempt was staged was without merit. Democracy is not just about holding elections. It is about respecting the results of the elections, respecting rule of law, and respecting the adjudication of the courts on disputes. The High Holy Day of democracies isn't necessarily when the people go to vote, but when the loser in the election validates the process by conceding. Lien's trip takes place in the context of his rejection of this basic democratic requirement. He is being treated as the leader of a local territory paying tribute to the central government; he is acknowledging Hu Jintao's legitimacy as President of China, even while he has withheld that acknowledgement from the elected President of Taiwan. It is perfectly insidious.

One thing that came across clearly in the TV reports was just how much "face" Lien is being given by the Chinese. It seems to me that this is not only about Lien's vanity, but an essential career move for him to stave off irrelevance. The time has clearly come for him to step aside and make way for the new generation in his party - Ma Ying Jeou and Wang Jin Ping. He's had two opportunities and lost twice. This is his last chance at making history, of moving on the big stage that he sees as his entitlement. This photo particularly struck me. If history teaches us anything, it is that the very worst possible way to try to bring about peace is to enter into negotiations with an adversary that is threatening you carrying a large sign reading "PEACE." Chen is correct to wait until Lien does the deed. But Lee's people are right, as well.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Ghost Story

I have to admit, in all fragrant honesty, that there are times around here when I have a strong suspicion that I'm living in a foreign culture. The superstition of Taiwanese is not something that recent arrivals here are very much privy to. Taiwanese are perfectly aware that such things are considered strange by Westerners, and so they are disinclined to share that part of their lives with foreigners until they've known them for years. But many people here have beliefs that are quite alien to our own. I thought of this today when I bumped into a Chinese teacher from the school I worked at for years until recently. Her story is eye-opening:

This woman told me her husband had been acting strangely lately, being hyper-critical of her and short - tempered around the house. He's been marginally employed for some time, and some business deals he's had haven't worked out well. She suspected she knew why, because she had been experiencing some strange things herself and she suspected they were being haunted. Before her husband had married her, as it turns out, her husband had been engaged to a woman who had gotten cancer during the engagement and died. When my friend had gotten married, it was with a stipulation from the groom: on the day that they got married, there would be two wedding ceremonies, the first to the deceased woman, making her the "first wife" (大太太)and only after that could the man marry his living fiancee, who would be considered the "second wife" (小太太). Moreover, the couple was told by a priest in a temple that they could not sleep with each other for three days after the wedding, because for those three days the man should be "sleeping" with the first wife, which was her prerogative.

Recently, with things not going smoothly in their household, they went to the priest for a consultation. They were told they were being haunted by the first wife. The (living) woman had faithfully, on a daily basis over the years, prayed to and worshipped the ancestral tablet of the "first wife", but in fact, they had not really observed the three day no sex rule. This, they were told, was the source of their problems. But that's not the full extent of their difficulties. The first wife, when she had been dating the husband, had gotten pregnant and had an abortion. The priest also said that my friend's youngest son (they have three children), two years old, has a ghost who is following him around everywhere he goes - apparently the aborted child. They have not yet been told how they can resolve these difficulties.

I do find stories like this fascinating. We Americans definitely are entirely too dismissive of the idea that luck, or fortune, plays a huge role in who lives a good, full, prosperous life and who doesn't. The old puritan idea that material success confirms one as a good person, and among the "elect" to go to heaven always struck me as ridiculous on the face of it. "We make our own luck" is pretty much the American credo, and mostly I think it makes people feel good because it makes them feel in control. But Taiwanese seem to go to the other extreme. Many people here believe in a world of spirits that simply control their lives and make the efforts of mortals all but irrelevant. Anyway, I hope my friend can resolve her problems.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

World's Funniest Joke

A study group calling itself Laugh Lab tested over 40,000 jokes, and about 2 million people participated in the voting, and the results of the poll were that the following is the funniest joke in the world:

"A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: "Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: "OK, now what?'"

Tough to follow an introduction like that, but it is pretty funny.

The Church and the Radicals II

The Catholic Church seems in danger of falling into the same trap the radical Left has been in for more than a generation now. There's no sense in talking about how to make things better with an incremental, policy by policy ameliorative agenda. Those things only make "The System" work better, and it is "The System" that is the problem. "Abbie Hoffman contemptuously dismissed 'political revolution' on the grounds that politics merely 'breeds organizers.'" So working for a more equitable health care system, progressive taxation, an excellent public education sector, or social and economic justice were all dismissed as mere band-aids on a corrupt system not worth saving.

Substitute "The Modern World" for "The System" and you see a very similar way of thinking among Vatican elites. They become less and less capable of participating in any kind of rational discussion about how to deal with problems like the population explosion, AIDS, or the dilemmas posed by advances in medical technology. Their contempt for the entire post-Enlightenment world is such that one suspects they don't mind it a bit if these problems continue to rage -"Burn, Baby Burn!"- because it only hastens the day when the world sees the error of its ways and comes back to them. The same applies to geopolitics. Why would the difficult, grueling project of transforming an Iraqi society that had suffered under fascism into a democratic state be worth it if Liberal democratic states and fascist states were not fundamentally different in kind? If the two were essentially morally equivalent, the war would, indeed, be indefensible, wouldn't it?

The Chuch and the Radicals I

Andrew Sullivan cites this quotation of Cardinal Ratzinger's:

In this regard, the consumerism and relativism of the West can be just as dangerous as the totalitarianism of the East: It's just as easy to forget about God while dancing to an iPod as while marching in a Hitler Youth rally. There's a difference, to be sure, but hardly anyone would contest the observation that in elite Western society, as in totalitarian Germany, the moral vocabulary has been purged of the idea of sin. And if there's no sense of sin, then there's no need for a Redeemer, or for the Church.

Andrew responds, "A free society where people can listen to iPods and freely debate their own ideas of truth and the good life is all but indistinguishable from a Nuremberg rally?"

Defenders of Benedict maintain that the experience of living under the Nazis was of relatively less consequence for the development of his ideas than his negative reaction to the 1968 Paris student uprising, which led to his turn to theological conservatism. In fact, among the countercultural Left, one of the most commonly repeated ideas was the conflation of Western, Liberal consumer society with Nazi Germany. In "Nation of Rebels" Heath and Potter document the frequency of the idea in the writings of Marcuse and Reich, among others. Theodore Roszak is quoted as criticizing Playboy magazine because it promoted conspicuous consumption - it had become "an indispensible form of social control under the technocracy. Under the Nazis, however, youth camps and party courtesans were used for the same integrative purpose- as were the concentration camps, where the kinkier members of the elite were rewarded by being allowed free exercise of their tastes." The authors point out: "Note the extraordinary equivalency here: in Roszak's view, a pool party at Hugh Hefner's mansion and the "joy division" at Ravensbruck are just variations on the same system of repressive control."

Lee Teng Hui I

Yesterday's paper witnessed an entirely predictable eruption of Mount Lee Tung Hui over the issue of the pending mainland trips of Lien Chan and James Soong Chyu Yu.

What to make of Lee Tung Hui, eighty two years old,Taiwan's first democratically elected President, redoubtable Old Lion of the Taiwanese Identity Movement, with the constitution (and sense of mission) of an Old Testament Prophet. It's questionable that there is anybody who could claim to have done as much to establish democracy on the island as Lee; yet,there is also no one as hated, as vilified, on the mainland and among pan-Blues, as Lee. One can only sigh on seeing yet another Chiang Kai-Shek biography hit the stores when there is such a crying need for a full-length treatment of the man who,if Taiwan does indeed pull off independence, will go down as the Taiwanese (國父) Father of the Country (not Sun Yat-Sen).

This excellent profile gets to the nub of the accusation against Lee:“Traitor!” The thread of betrayal runs right through the decades. Lee was a member of the Taiwan Communist Party at the time of the (1947) 2-28 massacre by the KMT of a good part of the Taiwanese intelligentsia. As a Party member, Lee would have been right at ground zero for elimination. He was at an age when he would have still been figuring out who he was and what he believed and which organization represented what he believed. There is nothing in his subsequent biography that suggests that the Communist Party was anything but a youthful aborted beginning. Still, the question lingers: did he survive, and make his bones with the KMT, by selling out his comrades? There's a story to be told here, but there's no telling when, or if, it will ever come out.

Lee Teng Hui II

The central“betrayal, of course, was of the KMT itself. To have witnessed the ferocity of the anti-Lee demonstrations after the 2000 election was to get a sense of just how deep the anger and sense of betrayal was among the Old Guard mainlander faction in the party. What we have subsequently discovered –what Lee has let us see–is that he was precisely what the protesters maintained he was: a pro- independence mole in the very heart of the party, believing in goals that were anathema to the majority of party members. In yet another betrayal, their candidate, Soong, who stood up for Lee in the succession crisis following the death of Chiang Ching-Guo, appears to have had his presidential ambitions foiled forever by the machinations of Lee.

Lee maintained authoritarian rule within the party. He allowed Black Money corruption to flourish in order to ensure the party's success at the polls. And, along the way, he ushered in the first ever genuine democracy with a Han Chinese cultural base. With the patience (and simmering fury) of the Count of Monte Cristo, he concealed his true beliefs and agenda for three decades, as he was advanced as an ineffectual and safe, token native Taiwanese. The mainland Old Guard never knew what hit them.

Lee Teng Hui III

“Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal, rather than the victim.”
Bertrand Russell

Not long ago, on the very euphoric day when a million Taiwanese took to the streets to march against the Anti – Secession Law, retired Chi Mei Electronics CEO Hsu Wen Long came out publicly in favor of the CCP's one China policy. Hsu had previously been a supporter of the DPP, but he found that his company drew the exceptionally assiduous attention of a medley of tax auditors and regulators in the mainland. At the prescribed moment for maximal public relations impact, came his auto-da-fe.

The earnest Westerner in me wants to see a statement of principles made, and suffered for, if necessary. Everybody likes a good gallows speech. It's notable, however, that neither Lee Teng Hui nor VP Lu Xiu Lian held Hsu to blame for his statement (Lu, I believe, owes singer A-Mei an apology for criticizing her for making exactly the same choice as Hsu). Taiwanese memory of 2-28, (and to a large extent, Taiwanese language) existed “underground”, as it were, for forty years before re-emerging in the 1990's. But it's not only Asians who can be patient. Conor Cruise O'Brien's masterful treatment of the life of Edmund Burke,“The Great Melody” convincingly makes the case that Burke's father (and likely Burke) were Irish Catholics who were essentially forced to convert to Anglicanism by the stringency of laws against Catholics. They lived double lives, adhering to the Anglican faith in public, while remaining Catholics in their hearts. In the meantime, they got an awful lot done. Burke endured the withering criticism of skeptics who all along suspected his family's conversion. They were correct, in precisely the way that the 1990 protesters were correct about Lee. Straightforwardness is a luxury of the empowered; remembering, and waiting, is what the disenfranchised do.

It is well to keep in mind when observing the pan-Blues go for their meetings with the CCP that an entire generation of Taiwanese grew up under a KMT martial law regime whose justification was that it was necessary to defend the ROC from the communists. People came to the notice of authorities for advocating Taiwanese identity or democracy, but when the knock came at the door at three in the morning, they were taken off to jail for the crime of supporting the communists. This lie defined the lives of Lee Teng Hui's generation. Lien Chan is coming clean on that now, just as clearly as Lee came clean on who he was after the 2000 election. It's something to keep in mind the next time you hear Lee called a liar. Maybe. But for those of us who care about a democratic future for Asia, we're glad he's on our side.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Chen Personal Safety

"The Legislature's defense committee expressed outraged over a high-ranking military officer who failed to report to his new post at the Hualien Defense Command more than four months after he received his assignment.
Local media reported in early February that Major General Tung Lung-chuen, the Hualien Defense Command's Chief of Staff, was supposed to report to his new job on December 1 of last year, but has yet to show up at his post. By the end of March, the issue was once again brought up by the local press, this time with even harsher criticisms.
Tung finally followed the rules, belatedly, taking a flight from Taipei to Hualien last Friday to his new post. According to regulations, if an officer is assigned to a new position, he must report to his new duty in five days. Otherwise, said officer will be banned from the posting."

I have actually heard about this case for some time from a Taiwanese friend, who told me it has been rather prominent in the Chinese language press. I asked him to give me a heads up if he saw an article, but now that this article has appeared I feel I can at least blog it. From what my friend says, the real back story on this is that the military officer is ultimately in charge of the personal safety of Chen, and the president has absolute trust in him. The problem with the rotation is that a (外省人) mainlander would be scheduled to take his place, and Chen is not comfortable with that. According to my friend, Chen has been insisting that the man's replacement be, not only a native Taiwanese, but from Chen's hometown of Tainan as well. None of this appears in the Taiwan News story, although it apparently has been covered in the Chinese language press.

This is where blogs get a bad name, and I have to include the caveat that this is a friend telling me what he's read - not something I have read myself. But the story makes sense. The most likely scenario for a Chinese attack on the island involves a "decapitation" strategy, whereby the head of state and other top members of government would be eliminated, and a leaderless Taiwan would fall into the laps of the Chinese. Given how likely such a strategy is, and the attempt on his life just before the presidential election, it would be unusual if Chen didn't feel it necessary to take extraordinary precautions regarding his own safety.

Apologies for Blogging Gap

My effusive apologies for these last four postless days. Excuses are useless at a time like this, but I must explain that there were two glorious days in Kenting involved in this incident, followed by a Monday that is the busiest day of my week. Heroically, on arriving home at 4 a.m. on Monday morning, I did spend forty minutes on a post that got mysteriously erased on account of my pushing some wrong key somewhere. I have been cursing profusely, sulking (and, yes, teaching) in roughly chronological order since then. Be assured - as terrible as it's been for you (it has, right?), it's been worse for me!

Counterculture, What is it Good For?

"Unfortunately, the idea of counterculture has become so deeply embedded in our understanding of society that it influences every aspect of social and political life. Most importantly, it has become the conceptual template for all contemporary leftist politics. Counterculture has almost completely replaced socialism as the basis of radical political thought. So if counterculture is a myth, then it is one that has misled an enormous number of people, with untold political consequences."

There may be no better feeling than, having had an initial positive impression in the bookstore, discovering in the first ten or twenty pages of a book that you have indeed made an inspired choice and have several hundred pages of great reading ahead of you. But I'm aging myself by conceding that.

I am speaking, of course, of Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's book "Nation of Rebels". I actually have a good deal of residual affection for socialism, especially in areas like education and health care, where I think a firm safety net serves to knit society together in ways I don't think the free market can imitate. It is the counterculture I have no use for at all. What ever happened to the days when the left was about improving the lot of working people? A lot has been made of the "What's the Matter With Kansas?" phenomenon, whereby working people in middle America vote against their own economics interests, and prefer to vote Republican on social issues. Less has been said about the fact that the Democratic Party and the Left have turned their backs on these people and effectively left them with nowhere to go. The counterculture is more concerned with taking an aesthetic stance that's pleasing to the poseur than in affecting real change. It is the difference between the American and French revolutions: the entire rotten edifice must be indiscriminately destroyed, or the enterprise is not worth the doing. And since the edifice has proven quite resilient in the years since the sixties, all that is left is an ineffectual, dramatic pose:

"It is important to see what a profound reorientation of radical politics this critique presents. Traditional leftist concerns, such as poverty, living standards and access to medical care, come to be seen as "superficial," in that they aim only at institutional reform. The counterculture, by contrast, is interested in what Roszak calls "the psychic liberation of the oppressed." Thus, the hipster, cooling his heels in a jazz club, comes to be seen as a more profound critic of modern society than the civil rights activist working to enlist voters or the feminist politician campaigning for a constitutional amendment."

People forget that Martin Luther King, after the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, sought to refashion the movement as a movement for economic justice. When he was killed, characteristically for that time in his career, he was marching on behalf of the garbage collectors of Memphis, Tennessee. What a quaint idea. Can you imagine any national leader of any kind of stature spending time on a project like that today?

Quoteblogging: Zhou Enlai on Taiwan

"We should sympathize with independence-liberation movements (獨立解放運動) of other nation-states (民族國家) We will assist the anti-Japanese movements of Korea or Taiwan, or anti-German, anti-Italian movements."
Zhou Enlai, 1941

In fact, from the founding of the Communist Party until the Cairo Convention in 1943, the position of the Communist Party of China was that Taiwan was (or should be, pending liberation from Japan) an independent state. Only after the war did the CCP claim Taiwan as its own, and only in the decades after Mao's death has it become an obssession.

Car Wreck Voice Mail

Check out this audio of a guy calling in to Jack in the Box, who calls play-by-play on an accident he witnesses. Priceless.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Apple Daily - Top Stories

My blogging topics have been a bit heavy lately, it seems to me. Must be the Communist Party of China that brings out that side of me. There's no better antidote for that than a perusal of the Apple Daily, Taiwan's tabloid (and most widely read) newspaper. Our top story informs us that "experts" (hailing from Switzerland, no less) say that regularly receiving a spanking is good for your body and your mind. Some aborigines are shown doing their special spanking dance, and we are informed that the experts say that people who receive a regular spanking have a memory improvement of 30%. It's good for your love life, as well, apparently. Swiss experts. Must be true.

President Chen Shui Bian's son is getting engaged - and to quite a hotty, from the looks of things. The first son is matriculating in a master's program at Berkeley, laboring in the long shadow cast by his more illustrious Bay area compatriot, Bruce, of Naruwan Formosa. The fiancee is apparently a quite talented musician, and teaches piano in Taipei.

Okay, enough of the high road. Let's get down to the stuff that really brings in the readers. This article deals with a man in Kaohsiung who raped his sister, and then, when the sister fled the house, proceeded to rape his mother. There is no photo, but there is a drawing accompanying the article, demonstrating what a rape is, for those who are unclear.

(Warning: very graphic photo. This is the immediate aftermath of a man's fatal encounter with a gravel truck in Taipei County. The Apple Daily motto is: "Leave nothing to the imagination." Gravel trucks are a plague and a menace in Taiwan. The danger that they pose simply cannot be exaggerated. Some municipalities (like Taichung, where I live) have strict rules limiting the roads the trucks can travel, but a place like Hualien is an absolute free-fire zone. My friend Rob Johanson (東華之光 - "the glory of Dong Hua") recently had an accident with a truck in which his windshield was smashed and he was wedged into his seat for thirty minutes. The truck was entirely unlicensed and illegal. When he got out, the truck driver excused himself on a lame pretext, then failed to appear at the police station as scheduled. As it happens, Rob is a member of the Hualien Rotary. In addition, the professor with an office two doors down from his moonlights as the Assistant County Magistrate of Hualien. After a few phone calls, the gravel company owner materialized with amazing alacrity. Rob got an eighty thousand dollar payment for a car that was worth about fifty. Lesson: DON'T MESS WITH THE ROTARY!

Our last item brings us up to date on the latest developments of that story about the frog that turned up in a can of Pringles potato chips. Tragically, the online version of the story does not include the picture of the frog and can that appeared in the print version. The Pringles Company has responded by pointing out that the can was manufactured in America in January, when frogs would be in hibernation. Moreover, the frog in question (a protected species in Taiwan) does not occur in America. But they would say that, wouldn't they?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Me, Bonehead

Well, I've done it again, folks. The three posts below are supposed to be one big essay, and they should be read in reverse order, from the bottom, I II III. I will get this thing down some day.

The CCP and History III

It is estimated that 20 million people died in the famine that accompanied the Great Leap Forward. China's population was about 500 million at the time. Mao Zi Dong, Chairman of the CCP, had become enamored of the agricultural theories of one Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet quack scientist. Peasants were soon forced to adopt "close-planting" methods, and were told to dig huge trenches in the ground instead of conventional plowing of the top crust of the earth. Meanwhile, peasants were forced to donate their agricultural tools to "back-yard steel furnaces". The result was, quite likely, the greatest famine in history. Most of the facts about the famine were unknown to the outside world at the time, and the truth about what had happened only started to come together in the early eighties. (Jasper Becker's book "Hungry Ghosts" is the authoritative book on the famine). How does the Communist Party deal with all this in their textbooks? Ross Terrill writes: "The main text for middle school history in China... 中國歷史 ("Chinese History"), which like all textbooks in China is a party-state book...does not mention the Great Leap Forward famine."

Peng De Huai was a top military leader and a hero of the Revolution, but he was also from peasant stock and he knew what was going on in the countryside. He implored Mao to change his policies and for his trouble he was purged, imprisoned and ritually humiliated in the Cultural Revolution until his death.

This is the Chinese state's approach to history. Today, Mao Zi Dong and Peng De Huai are comrades again on China's Renminbi. It is as if Nazi Germany had refashioned itself as a modern authoritarian state, and placed Hitler and Oskar Schindler on their money, beaming and looking bravely into the future. This is the regime that lectures Japan about not learning from history.

The truth is the Communist Party of China cannot come clean about its past. The underpinning of the doctrine of single party rule is that the ruling party has a right to a monopoly on power solely by virtue of having a monopoly on the truth. When the KMT began too concede that it had committed grave errors and injustices, it did not necessarily mean that it had to disband, but it did mean that it would have to take its place as merely one flawed, fallible party among several. If the Communist Party has any ideology that it really believes in anymore, it is simply to see that that day never comes in China.

Facing Up to History II

The problem of textbooks, and of nations facing up to their histories, is hardly exclusively a Japanese problem. I'm pretty certain the U.S. occupation of the Phillipines, or the Vietnam War are not given unvarnished treatment in our textbooks. (But then, any smart teenager knows where to look for the rest of the story. Who is the Chinese Howard Zinn, and where are his books sold?) There's also the problem with textbooks that highly motivated single - issue groups can often have their way at the expense of the many who know better - that's how creationism comes to have equal treatment with Darwinism in some textbooks.

Armenians are still acutely aware of Turkey's disinclination to face up to the Armenian genocide - yet, when Turkey seeks to join the EU, I don't see young Armenians in the streets burning Turkish flags. It was said of Wilt Chamberlain's one hundred point game that one hundred thousand people would tell you that they saw the game in person, even though only a few thousand actually were at the game. French resistance fighters are like that. The French have never really faced the reality of how many of them collaborated - inside and out of Vichy - and how few resisted. Austria was labelled a conquered ally nation, rather than an enthusiastic ally of Nazi Germany, so they were exempted from post-war de-nazification programs. That might account for the persistence of far-right racism in their country. Poland's status as a victim of Germany has allowed the mass of people to avoid the degree of anti-semitism and cooperation with the Holocaust that existed in their country during the occupation.

And China? Frank Ching has managed to write an entire column about China, Japan and textbooks without once mentioning Chinese history, or its treatment in Chinese textbooks. He does, rather piously, offer this: "To the Chinese it often appears that the Japanese side has not learned lessons from history. The fact that Japanese schoolbooks that whitewash the country's wartime behavior appear regularly suggests that there is little acceptance of the reality of history." But to take this sentiment seriously, one would have to believe that there is a sincere approach to facing, and learning from, the lessons of history in China itself. Otherwise the raw, fresh anger of many Chinese over events that occured sixty or seventy years ago might be dismissed as cynical and manipulative nationalistic behavior.

On the Uses of History I

When I was about seventeen, I read the novel "Trinity", by Leon Uris, and for a period that must have lasted about two months, I decided that people I knew with English - sounding surnames were my enemies. (My grandparents had come over from Ireland around the time of the Easter Rising). Now, when my Geometry teacher, Jonathan Butler, scolded me for not studying, I saw it clearly as yet another in a string of humiliations suffered by my people, going back all the way to wicked Elizabeth herself. I never did share my heightened historical consciousness with my grandmother. Even at seventeen, I would have flushed deep crimson had she known, like getting caught masturbating. Come to think of it, that's exactly what it was. It felt good. Then I got over it.

Frank Ching has a column in Wednesday's China Post in which he articulates the Chinese position that the Japanese have not apologized for World War II atrocities often enough, or sincerely enough:
In 1972, when Japan and China normalized relations, the communique they issued said: 'The Japanese side is keenly conscious of the responsibility for the serious damage that Japan caused in the past to the Chinese people through war, and deeply reproaches itself.' There is no word of apology. And the death and destruction wrought upon millions of people in China is described as simply 'serious damage.'"

What Ching doesn't include is that when Prime Minister Tanaka tried to apologize personally to Mao on behalf of Japan, Mao resisted. He said the Japanese invasion had actually been helpful, because it had enabled him to win his civil war with the KMT. But what did Mao, who'd actually fought the Japanese, know about it, compared to the twenty-somethings marching in the streets today, their faces contorted in rage?

They may have later turned into monsters who made war on Chinese culture, but Mao's generation of Communist leaders had actually fought and suffered with the peasants during the period of Japanese occupation. The 1972 meeting was characterized by differences over wording - the Japanese said the war had caused "trouble", the Chinese insisted on "disaster - but there is no indication that the Chinese veterans of the Chinese-Japanese War felt that these wounds would not heal over time. "The communique they issued" presumably was a compromise signed by both parties. Now, a new generation comes along and, after thirty years of positive relations based on that communique, suggests that their moral indignation over the historical events is so much greater than that of Mao's generation that they are willing to endanger the entire relationship. One wonders if it occurs to them that they might not have the moral standing to do so.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

New Template!

As you can see, the blog has a new look. Hope you like it! My hope is that it's a bit easier on the eyes, and I also liked the fact that this template came with a blogroll on the side. I'm as classic slow-adapter on the technical stuff, but somehow I managed this without losing the entire blog.

China Builds Smaller, More Effective, Military

"Against this background, unifying Taiwan with the mainland has become more than just a nationalist goal. The 13,500-square-mile territory has also become a platform that China needs to protect southern sea lanes, through which pass 80 percent of its imported oil and tons of other imported raw materials. It could serve as a base for Chinese submarines to have unfettered access to the deep Pacific, according to Tsai, Taiwan's deputy defense minister. 'Taiwan for them now is a strategic must and no longer just a sacred mission,' Lin said. "

A detailed and well-researched article in the Washington Post. And Europe is planning to sell arms to China in this context? What are they thinking?

Michael Tsai Again

"Lee Deng-ker, Dean of the College of International Affairs at National Chengchi University, said that according to a publication Balance of Power, published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London in 2003, Taiwan's per capita defense spending was lower even than Europe's neutral states.
According to that publication, he said, Switzerland spent US$480 per capita in 2003, and Austria spent US$308.
Although Taiwan faces one of the most serious military threats in the world, the country spent only US$200 per capita on defense in the same year, he said."

Let more casual observers admire the big fish - after more than a decade here, I'm entitled to more esoteric heroes. Michael Tsai Ming Xian (see post below - "Taichung's Favorite Son") fills the bill for me. Michael is prominently featured in this article on the ambivalent Taiwanese attitude toward defending the island militarily. He is deeply committed to making it less ambivalent, and he has his work cut out. Israelis the Taiwanese are not.

This begs the perfectly legitimate question: What business does a foreigner living in Taiwan have suggesting to people here that they should spend more on defense, or strap on helmets and put their lives on the line, if they clearly show a disinclination to do so? One clue is found in the way many of us had our thinking changed by the 9/11 attack. Prior to 9/11, the predominant attitude toward rotting Middle Eastern authoritarian states was that these governments could do what they liked to their people, as long as they kept the oil spigots open. What we found in a place like Saudi Arabia was that intense anger at a corrupt government could be pretty easily deflected toward external targets, and that made their corruption our business. The Asian equivalent of this pre-9/11 attitude is what we see from the EU: as long as their products are being made available to this enormous market, what the Chinese do internally is not to be examined too critically, and that includes Taiwan. American neocons have been demonized around the globe, but, essentially what they are saying is: "This way leads trouble."

I have no interest at all in whether the people of this island ultimately define themselves as "Taiwanese" or "Chinese". We can see that in the optimistic years of the Camp David process, Israeli historians like Benny Morris began to concede that not all Palestinian refugees left voluntarily. If China backed off on its pressure on Taiwan, I believe you would see a flowering of awareness and pride in the very real and deep connections that exist between China and Taiwan. Identity issues like that are for the people of this island to decide.

Where I do have an interest is that I believe that if the goal of social organization is to provide the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people, then liberal democracy is clearly superior to the alternatives. Democracies are also less prone to the crises of legitimacy that lead to cycles of nationalism and militarism. If the people of Taiwan decided that they wanted to join China , we would have to let them go. Japan's oil lifeline would be endangered, and they would rearm and this would destabilize Asia, but we would have to deal with that. I agree with the Chinese Communist Party that the existence of a democracy on Taiwan presents the likelihood of the virus spreading to the mainland. We just disagree on whether this would be a good thing or not. I can't think of anything that would be better for China, the region, or the world. That's why Michael Tsai's consciousness - raising is so important.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Differing Views

"It is genteel treason: of the kind that comes with democratic politics, in which the party of opposition sells out vital national interests in order to improve its electoral position at home -- by promising anxious voters a 'peace in our time' that simply is not available. Chamberlains are, alas, a more natural by-product of electoral politics than Churchills. The latter tend to be selected only once the cliff-edge is crossed. "

I will be in Hualien for three days, so blogging will be light to non-existent. This article by David Warren, on the KMT's backdoor deal with the CCP, seems to me an accurate characterization of that deal.

Still, as with my exchange with Bingfeng Teahouse, the people I find especially interesting are intelligent and articulate people who have a completely different take on the issue. A good Taiwanese friend of mine of several years (strongly pro-KMT blue) told me yesterday he considered Lien Chan to be the only top politician in the country who talks straight and says what he means. "Other leaders of the KMT often used the side doors of the party headquarters, but Lien insists on using only the main door. It's powerful symbolism - he's a straightforward guy." My friend also was lukewarm about the skills of Ma Ying Jeou. Surprisingly, he said he preferred DPP Premier (Frank) Hsieh Chang Ting to Ma. "He's a moderate, he makes compromises happen, and the compromises really work on the ground."

It would take an awful lot to shake my opinion of Lien Chan as one of the truly catastrophic figures of the democratic era in Taiwan. Disingenuousness is sometimes a legitimate tool of the disenfranchised (native Taiwanese, in the domestic context; Taiwan in the international context). Lien's "straightforwardness", such as it is, strikes me as the trait of someone perhaps not very smart, who also has not known a day of his life when he was not one of the privileged few. I must admit, the comment about Hsieh did strike home, though. During the last year, Hsieh's stock has risen (both in my personal estimation and, I suspect, in the electorate),while there are real doubts developing about Ma.

Birth Pains

In "The Cousins' Wars", Kevin Phillips talks about how, over time, struggles like the English Civil War or the American War of Independence develop a simplified narrative - the Americans against the British, or the Puritans against the Anglicans - that doesn't really reflect the reality of what went on. In fact, in both conflicts, there were was a complex tapestry of loyalties, with cross-currents of religious belief, economic considerations and geography, all interacting.

Phillips says, "The disquieting truth is that if history books were to include detailed nationwide maps of internal sympathy or support for the major U.S. conflicts, the state-by-state portrait of which counties, towns, districts, or regions were loyal, disloyal, neutral, or unwilling to contribute or to draft troops would resemble ethnoreligious maps of the modern-day Balkans."

Taiwan's domestic politics, at this time when its identity is so plastic, is similarly complex. I haven't blogged the domestic Taiwanese political situation as much as I would have liked, but a brief run-down of events demonstrates just how complicated and protean things are: the KMT, which put countless people in jail on trumped up charges of pro-communism (including the Vice-President, Lu Xiu Lian, for seven years), is now attempting a rapprochement with the Communists; (James) Soong Chu-yu, who as KMT director of cultural affairs in the 1980's mounted a campaign against opposition media, has met with Chen Shui-bian and explored the possibility of an alliance (Soong finished a close second to Chen in the 2000 Presidential election); Ma Ying-Jeou and Wang Jin-Ping are openly contesting for the chairmanship of the KMT, the primary bone of contention being whether to permit those who haven't paid up their party dues to vote in the primary ,with Ma feeling that he would benefit if only those who had paid their dues were permitted to vote. (Wang, as a native-born Taiwanese from the southern Taiwanese heartland, presents an especially complex figure contending for chairmanship of the KMT); Lee Teng Hui's pro-Taiwanese Independence Taiwan Solidarity Union is visiting the tombs in Japan of Taiwanese soldiers who died fighting for the Japanese in the Second World War. Lee, whose (biological) father was a Japanese soldier, and who learned Japanese before he learned Mandarin, is sincere in his attachment to all things Japanese, but this gesture is also an effective way of expressing contempt for China at a time of rising anti-Japanese sentiment in the mainland.

In both Revolutionary America and present-day Taiwan, about half the people were apolitical, and (understandably) primarily interested in their own affairs and hoping the historical storm would blow over. In Revolutionary America, a slight majority of the remainder was for independence, with the trending over time favoring the pro-independence camp. Roughly the same could be said for Taiwan today. To see the opposition (KMT) party going to the mainland to cut a separate deal with the Communist Party a mere week after a million people marched against the Anti-Secession Law is astonishing - but it's not so unusual in the context of the birth struggles of other countries. Benedict Arnold was a real historical figure who placed a bet on what he considered to be the winning horse. Benjamin Franklin's own son was a Loyalist. It's not pretty- and the outcome is not certain- but this is how countries are born.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A Few Words About Comments

Let me remind readers that, while thoughtful and civil comments are welcomed, I do not intend for this space to be used for ranting and spewing personal invective. These days, it is quite easy to start up a blog of own's own, and my suggestion to people who want to verbally vandalize is that they do so on their own dime, in their own name. The issue of whether to enable comments at all is an open one for me. The Dignified Rant for instance, a site I admire, does not enable comments. I suppose, sadly, if it turns out my expectations for comments were too high, that could be the way to go.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Saul Bellow Dies

I can recall clearly that at about the time when the dog of my youth died, I had a series of vivid dreams about him, despite the fact that I didn't learn of his death until some time later. Well, last night I had an intense "Hyde Park" dream about the neighborhood where the University of Chicago is located, and where I spent seven years of my life. Upon waking, I learned that Saul Bellow had died.

My single encounter with Bellow came during my years as Assistant Bookstacks Manager at the Regenstein Library. I was wheeling a crate of books toward the elevator and saw the doors closing, and I yelled playfully "Don't you close that door!" The door was dutifully held for me, and upon entering I found myself sharing the room with The Man himself. I wish I could report that I followed up on this promising, irreverent beginning, but the truth is I went all stiff and respectful and his amused smile reverted to the particular expression of people watching the numbers in an elevator. Saul Bellow exemplified for a lot of us what it meant to be a thinking person. Many will bridle at the idea of pairing his passing with that of Susan Sontag, but it does seem that a certain type of intellectual, from a time when books mattered more than they do today, is going the way of the dodo.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Problems For Ma

"Then, in the second round of invitations Ma's campaign office sent out, the Chinese character for 'respect' (尊) was mis-typed as the word for 'obey' (遵)."

The Taipei Times couldn't resist pointing out that not only did Ma Ying Jeou have to cancel his kick-off rally for the KMT chairmanship, but they had a little character snafu when they resent the invitations, as well. "Watch those radicals!", as J. Edgar Hoover used to say.

Taichung Favorite Son

"'Every day 600 to 900 vessels pass through the Taiwan Strait,' Mr Tsai says. 'Most are Japanese and foreign ships, mostly carrying oil. There are also more than 1,000 commercial flights in the zone every day.'"

Michael Tsai Ming Xian ran for mayor of my hometown Taichung three or four years ago, narrowly losing to Jason Hu Zhi Qiang. It was a race between two talented, admirable candidates, and Tsai was undone by the fact that the miserable DPP incumbent, Zhang Wen Ying, having lost the DPP primary to Tsai, left the party and mounted a third party campaign, chipping away at his base. I actually worked with Tsai briefly. Eleven years ago, the YMCA started a school with curriculum all in Taiwanese, teaching Taiwan language and culture - Taiwan Cultural College (don't know if they're still around). Tsai was the law professor and I taught English - the only class not in Taiwanese. He the real deal - gives the lie to the usual lazy, cynical observation that all politicians are the same.

Friday, April 01, 2005

News Bites

Letter from ardent reader, Casey Maddren, of Los Angeles: "Sounds like things are heating up over there in Taiwan. The Chinese are rattling their sabers again. And Europe is lifting the embargo. Would they really try an invasion?"

You know, Casey, I wouldn't put anything past those Europeans these days. Especially that bastard Chirac. We just have to hope that the Poles and the Bulgarians provide enough of a counter-weight that they don't do anything stupid. J.D.

Headline (Taiwan News): "Local Scientists Make Powdered Water". It's concentrated, you see, you just add water... nah, I'm pulling yer ankle. The powdered water is real, though. Apparently it's activated by crushing and grinding, then - it just turns into water! "According to Li, the powdered water is produced by coating tiny particles of water in gelatin, which through the use of nanotechnology is condensed." This puts me in mind of the food processing jobs I had in Portland, Maine (this was after graduating from the University of Chicago, mind you) - popsicle maker, Chicken Kiev assembly line worker... This is what the new global economic order has in store for the next generation of recent graduates, stunned and uncomprehending, finding themselves in temp jobs applying the gelatin coating...

Headline (Taiwan News-sorry, only in print edition): "Graffiti Now Allowed in Five Taipei Parks." I mean, is Taiwan the anti-paradise or what? The Taiwan government, disappointed that there is not enough graffiti in our cities, is establishing a kind of "Graffiti in the Parks" program, in order to get kids hooked at a young age. Money quote: "Graffiti has become a recognized form of expression in Taiwan and now five Taipei parks are open to anyone wanting to do a piece, do a throwup or just tag. Chen Wei-jen, director of the Public Works Department under the Taipei City Government, presided over an event yesterday held at a news conference at Chungshan Fine Arts to announce the news, while children tried their hand at tagging." It'll never catch on. About the only graffiti in Taichung is done by a group of tiresome foreigners, who insist on putting stenciled faces of people like David Byrne all over everything. For wordies, there's this, though: a "portmanteau" is a word that has been composed of two previously existing words. "Brunch" and "fog" are among the words that get all the best tables at portmanteau restaurants. But my favorite portmanteau is "giraffiti", which refers to those tags you see in the most improbable, high altitude locations, and wonder, "How did they ever get up there?"

Three English language newspapers is probably a bit much for the rather small market that exists in Taiwan, but it does make for a kind of Blogger's Paradise. The English language skills of the writers are excellent, as well, for the most part. There are times, however, when the language is just a little bit off, in some way that you can't quite put your finger on. Take this,from the China Post, for example - "Lunatic Attacks Two Academica Sinica Officials." Hmmm. Not incorrect, exactly, but we don't usually use the word lunatic in quite that way any more. The people attacked were Ovid Tseng and Lao Sze-Kwang. Neither was seriously hurt in the attack by a mentally ill man. The article tells us, "Lao, a philosopher,was one of the eleven Academicians who opposed the $U.S. 18 billion arms purchase from the United States." The guy named Ovid was not the philosopher? Why does it not surprise me that someone whose full-time job description is "philosopher" was against the arms package? The article doesn't tell us what the position of the lunatic was on the arms package, but given the editorial position of the China Post, I can imagine.

Headline, Taiwan News, AFP Beijing Bureau (print only): "Most Chinese Favor Marrying a Foreigner, Survey Suggests." The article says that "nearly 63% of Chinese citizens would like to marry a foreigner." Great! Not that I'm getting married any time soon -I'm only forty-five - but it's good to know I have future prospects in the mainland. But, wait, there is a dark side: " Marrying a foreigner is no guarantee of long-lasting happiness, said the paper..." Nonsense. The swinging, foreigner lifestyle is, if anything, underestimated by the Chinese, "...citing a separate study showing that international marriages tend to have high divorce rates." Anybody I know? " The survey showed that 60% of marriages between Canadians and Chinese failed." Well, Canadians, yeah... They don't get along with anybody! "A whole nation of Associate Professors!" And let me tell you, the meltdown this past winter by the NHL has not done one thing for their collective disposition...

Cool Chinese Character Videos

Courtesy of the ineffable -no, no, scratch that -indispensible, inexhaustable, unescapable and undescribable Robert Johanson, comes this really cool video presentation on Chinese characters, and this one, too.

Western characters, it turns out, are read with the left side of the brain, and Chinese characters with the right side, so people who are dyslexic in English apparently are not necessarily so in Chinese. Particularly interesting is how nuerologically hard-wired into the brain these writing systems are, which would suggest that in order to be genuinely bi-lingual, starting to learn both writing systems at a relatively young age would be essential.