Thursday, December 30, 2004

Manufacturing consent? What about manufacturing total bullshit?

Several bloggers in the US have addressed this, but I had saved some webpages with the intention of writing on it anyhow. After the Christmas tsunami that caused the earth to wobble on its axis, the Bush administration came up with an aid package of US$15 million.

Later, a UN official quipped that wealthy nations were stingy as most rarely give more than 1 percent of their GDP for foreign relief or any kind of aid that could directly improve the lives of those suffering hunger, disease or natural disasters.

By one news cycle in the US, that statement had morphed into a direct criticism of the US, and every right winger in America was going bat-shit crazy over the UN's unmitigated gall to criticize the homeland. The theme was, as Colin Powell put it, "The US is not stingy." (dammit)

Here is one such example in a column by Jeff Crouere for Bayou Buzz, a web site dedicated to Louisiana politics:

Yesterday, a UN official claimed the US has been "stingy" in responding to the tsunami disaster in Asia. UN Humanitarian Aid Chief Jan Egeland made this appalling comment, which incredibly comes from a representative of an organization replete with mismanagement and fraud. The same organization that has mismanaged aid to countries in need all over the globe.
The US is the most generous nation on earth. After every international crisis, our country responds with government aid and our citizens respond with personal philanthropic donations. No matter whether the country is free or not, an ally or not, we respond because we care about humanity. The same cannot be said for many other countries.

In responding to this horrific disaster, our government initially pledged $15 billion. Now, Secretary of State Colin Powell is pledging even more aid. According to Powell, "The United States has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." Powell is correct. In this case, we are contributing humanitarian supplies and the military aircraft to send those supplies to the areas devastated. In addition, our disaster relief specialists have already been dispatched to several of the countries impacted.

The UN official's comments are not only wrong, they are spiteful and disgusting. If he wants to criticize, he should look in the mirror at his own pitiful organization.

The point of all this is that these guys are wrong on several counts. First off the UN official never said that the US was stingy. Secondly, on a list of thirty wealthy nations, the US comes in last as giving a smaller part of its GDP than most European countries. In terms of pure cash, yes the US gives a lot, in terms of measured commitment, it's a poor showing indeed.

Don't take my word for it. Here's part of a piece that ran in yesterday's Washington Post, which has information Mr. Crouere could have easily accessed through Google, thus saving him the time of writing such rubbish:

Still, the UN's Egeland complained on Monday that each of the richest nations gives less than 1 percent of its gross national product for foreign assistance, and many give 0.1 percent. "It is beyond me why we are so stingy, really," he told reporters.

Among the world's two dozen wealthiest countries, the US often is among the lowest in donors per capita for official development assistance worldwide, even though the totals are larger. According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of 30 wealthy nations, the US gives the least -- at 0.14 percent of its gross national product, compared with Norway, which gives the most at 0.92 percent.

Note the word "we." Oh yeah, the Bush administration upped its commitment for tsunami victims to US$35 million. His upcoming inauguration will total around US$40 million, not including security costs.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Susan Sontag dies of cancer at 71.

More from the San Franciso Chronicle.

Several days ago I wanted to write about the rice bomber, and while it's a subject that deserves attention, it pales in comparison to the tsunami that broke across south-east Asia during the Christmas season. Such a disaster is difficult to comprehend, the pain, the wreckage, the loss of life, with little in the way of an explanation except the movement of the earth's crust.

The numbers are staggering and will continue to grow as the week nears an end. For information on where you could contribute, go here or here. (This second one you will have to scroll down. It's the same list but some people are not registered with the New York Times.) I'm sure CNN has a site with listings as well. Or you can donate here.

Also for Taiwan, some of the charities listed here would gladly accept your help. And yes, I'm sending money as well.

Forumosa has more information on its open forum thread.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Happy Holidays Everybody!

Here in the depths of a brown-brick building with horrible cell-phone reception, I am enjoying Christmas Eve. There is no snow or oyster stew(a family favorite), but I have found a wonderful Christmas Carol quiz for you to entertain yourself with. What Christmas Carol are you? Find out here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

What to make of it?

Roughly a week after Taiwan had wrapped up its legislative elections, Beijing let the world know that it was pushing the anti-secession bill, which, if it becomes law, would stipulate that Taiwan must unify with China by a certain date or be subject to attack. As of now, we don't know what date they have in mind.

I'm going to go off track for a second, but bear with me. Taiwan has, as of this year, been told that the US is considering removing it from the special 301 list, a list put together by the US State Department of countries that are known to be the worst abusers of intellectual property rights. If in 2005, Taiwan does come off the list, it will be the second time in over eight years that Taiwan has managed to make it over this hurdle.

Why has it taken this flourishing democracy so long to address this problem? Well, Taiwan has implemented laws, but may such laws are often symbolic, in the sense that little thought or money goes into enforcing the law. While this has changed for the better in Taiwan, it is something that has plagued Taiwan's efforts to improve its record in a number of areas.

So, back to China, which probably has Taiwan's enforcement-resource problem in spades. I don't know what to make of it, but one can be sure that Beijing held off on this announcement until after Taiwan's legislative elections were over. And however the wording comes out in the final bill, we already know that for the most part, this has been Beijing's policy all along. Is this a symbolic gesture to give weight to policy? And are they aware that such a move will further distance the Taiwan they dearly hope will move closer?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

On Eco and sin.

Going from Tuesday to Thursday sans posts is vexing. Blogger sin #1, posting rarely.

I like reading Umberto Eco's books, both fiction and essays. He's got a new one out. Here is a review from the WSJ. While the piece did make me want to find out more, the prose is much too cluttered for me.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

I'm back ...

I know this blog has been left to founder under the crushing weight of neglect. I've been working on a big project, of which the first stage is complete, so now I can start posting normally again for awhile. The last post, the stream of consciousness thing, was a sign of duress and rather than subject you to more such malarkey, I just decided to take a week off.

As far as the elections go, I don't feel so bad for calling it wrong. Even the Asian Wall Street Journal missed it, and I covered my bases by warning you how off I usually am. So what's the final analysis? Humdrum stuff. The electorate goes for the status quo. President Chen Shui-bian will have more difficulty pushing his reforms. Chen steps down as party leader, so the only question left is what will happen to KMT party chairman Lien Chan in March, when his tenure expires and the party has to decide whether to keep him?

The past several days I've paid less attention to what I am reading and where I am reading it, but I know I saw an article, presumably in the Taipei Times, that suggested that the moderates in the party want Lien out now, and if that happens, they anticipate cooperating with Chen's government more thus breaking the gridlock that has plagued the legislature for the past four years.

I think it'll be a full on struggle. Lien simply strikes me as too vain to walk away with dignity. As deluded as it may seem, I wonder if he still has presidential ammbitions?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Busy, busy, busy.

I haven't had time to read the newspaper or surf. Things are crashing about my head. I sell yeast not bread. I agitate. I am a cereal. Killer, a relentless puff pastry, manna from heaven. Unleavened in the dessert, a crust of bread, praise Demeter. From grain to mill to bloated mass to oven to gullet and to seed again. I give fungi a home and home in on hunger. Had enough? Me too. Dough!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Nostalgia and the future.

I had heard reports of how the US press excoriated Howard Dean for what is now known as the "Dean Scream," but I had never actually heard it, nor did I know the context until now. Dean's people are mobilized to change the leadership of the Democratic National Committee hoping he will take the chair. So for those of you who missed out or just want to hear it again, in context with music, here it is, the "Dean Scream." What was first perceived as a swan song may end up being a battle cry afterall.

Here's more on Dean and the DNC.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Predictions for the legislative election.

As fair warning, I have a miserable record when it comes to predicting elections. This started in 1979, when I was being bussed across town to public school telling my mates that Jimmy Carter was going to win a second term. I lost two bets, one on the last US presidential election and one on the Taiwanese presidential election of 2004. Brian Kennedy, the man I lost these bets to, according to many who have been on the losing end of these wagers, has an uncanny ability to call it right. He said, "Hyatt, you bet with your heart, not with your head." That's true most of the time.

So now that you have been warned, it looks like the pan-greens, the TSU and the DPP, will pick up enough seats to have a majority. I'm not really walking out on a limb here. The pan-blues are crumbling apart. A colleague and friend, I'll just call him "Papa," went to a press conference last week that was held for the Foreign Correspondents Club. There, four representatives, one from each of the major four parties, spoke with reporters about their campaigns and the issues that were driving this election. Papa asked the KMT representative a straightforward question, one that any politician should be able to field with ease, and got a bumbling jeremiad as a response. The question: "Most people are aware of the issues that the DPP stands for, contitutional reform, media reform, referendums, etc. Can you tell us in a few short phrases what the KMT's platform is? The man couldn't answer. This is why the pan-blues are lost. They are only anti-Chen parties now.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Zhu Rongji scolds the Taiwanese electorate
on March 15, 2000.

They never learn, do they? (sigh)

In a Reuters article posted up on the ABC News site we learn this:
A Chinese major general-turned-vice minister, speaking days before Taiwan's parliamentary elections, warned the island against miscalculating Beijing's determination to crush its separatist dreams.

"There can be no peace (if) Taiwan (becomes) independent, there can be no stability (if) Taiwan splits," the official People's Daily on Thursday quoted Wang Zaixi, a vice minister of the policymaking Taiwan Affairs Office, as saying.

"It would be a serious, dangerous miscalculation if the Chen Shui-bian authorities…think the Chinese people will tolerate 'Taiwan independence' splittist activities for the sake of seeking a peaceful environment to develop," Wang told a seminar in Macau on Wednesday.

China has tried the admonishment strategy a number of times and each time it has failed miserably. In 1996, China fired missiles into the Strait to try and intimidate the Taiwanese electorate into voting for Ling Yang-kang of the New Party, rather than the KMT's Lee Teng-hui or the DPP's Peng Ming-min. To anyone in Taiwan this show of force hailed from the theater of the absurd. The New Party, which advocates unification with China, received 14.9 percent of the vote at the time.

Then in 2000, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji wagged his finger at the Taiwanese electorate, this time around implying that the KMT were to be voted in rather than the DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian. Again it didn't work.

One would have thought the suits in Beijing would have changed their tactics, and indeed in this year's presidential election, perhaps because the communists were convinced that the KMT would win, there were no public dressing down of the Taiwanese electorate. Here we are on the cusp of this year's legislative election (the Taiwanese go to the polls on Dec. 11) and its the same song and dance all over again. Considering their record, do they still think they can affect the outcome of an election in Taiwan?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

What are they thinking?

You may have noticed both on Google News yesterday, or on the front page of the Taipei Times today, that the US State Department has warned Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian that he must stick to the "Four Noes" platform that he laid out upon his first inauguration. That means Chen will not declare independence, not change the official name of Taiwan from the Republic of China, not add the state-to state model of cross-strait relations to the constitution, not hold a referendum on the status of independence or unification and not abolish the National Unification Guidelines.

Last week KMT Chairman Lien Chan dared Chen to hold a referendum, and Chen, while not stating that he would do so, bandied the idea about to call Lien's bluff and show the voting public what an asinine idea Lien had come up with in the first place. All politics as usual for the upcoming legislative elections.

But this idea that the US seems to have that Chen is going to pull a fast one and submit a constitution that has a gazillion amendments that scream "Taiwan is independent, yeaaaarrrrggghhh" is ludicrous. Chen has repeated ad nauseum that constitutional reform is needed so the constitution will reflect the realities on the ground rather than the fiction upheld in an anachronistic document that suggests the government of the ROC runs all of China and Mongolia as well.

What compels the US State Department to make such a public announcement? Are there not people in its ranks that have a background on Taiwan, and in particular, Chen's history as a politician? Perhaps they are buying China's alarmist rhetoric. Or maybe the announcement has less to do with Chen and more to do with throwing China a bone.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Lies are the mortar that bind the savage individual man into the social masonry. -H.G. Wells

The guys over at Something Awful have had this flash gem up for awhile. Don't watch this at work unless your colleagues already think you are a complete kook. (Oh yeah, click the poorly drawn arrow on the flash to get it moving.)
Working for the government ...

As many of you know, my full-time job is with the ROC government. The building I work in is very close to the Executive Yuan and the national police building. And it's only a few blocks away from the Legislative Yuan. This means that roughly once a month, some nutjob feels that the government needs to redress a grievance. This is frequently done either with a megaphone or a little bravado brought on by the bottle.

Taiwan is proud of its democratic traditions. The man hollering outside of my office, making it difficult for us to concentrate on our work, has been out there for nearly three quarters of an hour. No one has asked him to go away.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

I am a monster after ...

One blini disaster. (tip: do not kill the yeast!) And to top it off my cat peed on my curtains. I'm cranky and I'm gonna get a cup of coffee.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Franz Kafka (and his handsome dog).

Something on the man.
To the barricades.

Timothy Garton Ash weighs in on the struggle in the Ukraine here.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

For the citizens of the Ukraine ...

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. --Vaclav Havel

Let's hope that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych accedes to the recount demands and that Vladimir Putin is able to rein in his anti-democratic longings. Above all, let this be settled peacefully. Lech Walesa is on the way to mediate. Canada, the EU, the US, Germany and NATO have all expressed reservations about the legitamacy of the elections.

Lien Chan makes me laugh ...

The party chairman of the KMT, a man who has led his party into three consecutive losses (and it looks like it may be four soon), including two presidential defeats and a loss of seats in the last legislative election, says he is willing to make peace with President Chen Shui-bian, if of course the president will compromise on a couple of issues.

Lien says the KMT will pass Chen's defense budget which Chen has been trying to push through for well over four years now if Chen will be a gentleman and cut it in half. As I pointed out in my very first post here, Taiwan, if the initial budget is passed, will still be paying only 2.8 of its annual GDP on defense, less than Singapore, less than South Korea, less than the US.

Here on the eve of the legislative elections, it looks like Chairman Lien is getting the heebie geebies. He has sniffed defeat one time too many and if he goes down this time, it's off to the abattoir.

His other offer? That if the Chen administration will not interfere with the 319 Special Truth Investigation committee, the KMT will accept its findings. My what a generous man you are Mr. Lien!

For those who have no idea what the hell I'm talking about, this committee was formed to investigate the shooting of the president on the eve of the presidential election. Formed under the auspices of a pan-blue vote (the opposition to the president, many of whom still believe that the president had someone shoot him in order to gain a sympathy vote to win the election), the committee is clearly unconstitutional and has extralegal powers, powers the judiciary and police might envy.

Lien, when he speaks of interference, is referring to the ruling party's legal challenges to the constitutionality of the committee. So if the ruling party will let this farce of a committee distort the constitution and the judicial process, he will accept the results.

This from a man who has already implied that any result that goes against his wishes (notice the sense of entitlement here) must be a result of illegal, political interference. Lien threw such a temper tantrum a couple of weeks ago when the court threw out his party's case to annul the election that, in a moment of calculation surprising for such a dullard, he used a classical Chinese idiom that could be interpreted as a call for violence in a speech he gave after the court's ruling. In everyday Chinese, what Lien said could be taken to mean that since the president had stacked the courts (a ridiculous allegation by the way) and had won his election through fraud, anyone was entitled to kill the president. Of course, the nuance, the spirit in which the idiom was intended in its original form meant that anyone could admonish or punish the president for such behavior.

Lien has not accepted a single result that has run counter to his belief that he and only he deserves to be in power since he lost the presidential election. Why on earth would he start now?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Well hell ...

A Hmong hunter went on a killing spree in Wisconsin. Some scientists say that chocolate may be good for a cough (That's good news!) And all I can think about right now is how to make Blini. Anyone have a good recipie?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Vaclav Havel is here ...

The former Czech president, political dissident and playwright is here in Taiwan. Yesterday, President Chen Shui-bian awarded him the Order of the Brilliant Star for his continuing support of Taiwan and Taiwan's democracy. Havel, when president of the Czech Republic, refused to make state visits to China and also barred dictators from Belarus and The Ukraine from entering his country on the grounds that they abused human rights and were therefore not welcome.

Of course, he is known as one of the key authors of the Velvet Revolution and his book Open Letters has one of his most powerful essays,"The Power of the Powerless." Here are some excerpts.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A mish-mash.

Taiwan's shares fell on weak tech stocks. President Chen Shui-bian, out campaigning for the legislative elections, is talking about a new constitution and perhaps a referendum "if China pushes too hard." One wonders if this has anything to do with the recent braggadocio summoned up by Chen's rival, the KMT's Lien Chan, who challenged the president to have a referendum on independence. Chen had already sworn to reform the constitution when he was running for his second term. This referendum talk, though, is nothing more than political posturing. Chen and the DPP know full well that China has explicitly said that it will not stand for a referendum on Taiwan's independence.

In other news? Timothy Garton Ash says the US and Europe need to get along. The story about the Chinese nuclear sub in Japanese waters is well over a week old now but making Japan nervous will play out in other ways, such as Japan seeking to solidify its relationship with Taiwan and possibly the US. More here.

And this is the banality of the day, perhaps a good study if you are a poor twenty something living in New York and wanting to throw parties.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Music as an education.

David Eggers has an amusing column up in The Guardian about how pompous references in pop songs get us to scramble to the library or dictionary. He claims the British drop literary references more often than American artists do, but I'm not sure that's the case. I just think overall the Americans are a bit subtler.

In Ballad of a Thin Man, Dylan sings :

With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You've been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
You're very well read
It's well known
Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

And anyone who has been following the surge of "research" into Dylan's lyrics should know by now that most of his songs are chock full of literary references, prompting one critic to call him a "magpie poet." Dylan's album Time Out of Mind has a great song called I'm Sick of Love. That title was taken straight from the Songs of Solomon in the Bible. And earlier this year there was a kerfuffle over Dylan's having snatched a few lines from an obscure Japanese writer Junichi Saga for the song Floater on his 2001 album Love and Theft.

And what about Lou Reed? I mean a song called The Sword of Damocles?

While Randy Newman may not drop names from the stacks, he has opened up listeners eyes to historic figures and events across the American landscape. There's an Austin, Texas band that named itself after a William Faulkner novel. There's more, but this is too long already.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The essay.

I've always been an avid reader of essays, and I think my fondness for them is what helped me make the leap from the lake of fiction to the sturdier realm of travelogues, reportage and history. Yet coming from fiction first has its advantages. One can spot the yarn buried within, the fable brandished as fact. Once fiction makes a cameo in an informative piece, it is up to us, the readers, to judge what master it serves.

Here's a good book review on a compliation of essays.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why don't we do it in the road?

Here's why. Because it's immoral, in fact simply alluding to it is clearly a bad idea. At least that's what the congressman from Indiana thinks. Don't laugh at this. Stop it. Am I going to have to make you go out and strip a limb off the Birch tree?

From Ohio, with love.

A friend who lives here in Taiwan sent me a picture of his absentee ballot, which he received today, some two weeks after the election. Click on the image to enlarge. There you can make out that the Ross County Board of Elections in Chillicothe, Ohio sent his ballot to sunny Jamaica instead of Taipei. Better luck next time, huh?

Monday, November 15, 2004

Who will rid me of this meddling priest?

President Chen accuses rivals Lien Chan and James Soong of attempting to overthrow the government. Read on.
Don Knotts as Dubya.


Sunday, November 14, 2004

DPP supporter holds a rose.
Feeling glum or glib?

"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledee, "but it isn't so, nohow. " "Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic." -Lewis Carroll,Through the Looking Glass.
Tired of losing arguments with your mates and family? Maybe Stephen's Guide to the Logical Fallacies makes for good Sunday reading.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The illuminati ?

For all you conspiracy theorists out there. Whaddya think?
And if that isn't spooky, well, this is.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Iris Chang dead at 36. R.I.P.

Iris Chang, the young historian who chronicled Japanese war crimes in China during World War II in her book The Rape of Nanjing committed suicide. For years Chang was harassed and threatened by right-wing Japanese nationalists in an effort to intimidate Chang and prevent her from further research. More here.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Waste of time and money...

I just finished a novel called Overtaken by Alexei Sayle. And although the one Amazon reader who felt it worthy of a review raved about it, overall I thought it was crap. The guy's dark sparkling humor coarses through the book, but both the denouement and the surprise ending were overtly contrived and risible. I fear Mr. Sayle has been reading a surfeit of Martin Amis, as his cast of characters are all too uniquely despicable.
Again, again and again!

We had two more earthquakes over the past 24 hours, one last night a t 10:48 which weighed in at 5.5 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was in the Pacific ocean. And we had another one today that measured 6.0. Enough already!

On to other things. Sorry I haven't posted as much in the past week, the US election results knocked the wind out of me, but I'm recovering.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Reaching out ...

Uh, I know this could sound silly, but I think sometimes my limited Internet reading needs some expandin'. So what I would like if you have the time is to send me some esoteric links you've found. You can either lay a few on me in the comments section or, if you prefer, in me email box, which you can find at the bottom of the sidebar. Thanks!
Whole lotta shakin' going on ...

That one is too hard to resist! For those of you who either slept through it and never speak with your colleagues or don't live here, we had another decent earthquake last night. At first gently swaying from side to side, the tremor made the light fixtures dance around a bit. Last night on the news it was reported at 5.7 on the Richter scale, but the Taiwan seismology center has changed that figure to 6.7. Fortunately, no one was hurt. More here.
Hey there!

You could also check out my other blog here. Yet I have to warn you, nothing has been done over there. Just a concept at this point.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Angry and honest ...

One of the better rants I have seen since Kerry's loss.
Another food movie ...

I watched a fairly good food movie last night, not the best but decent. Mostly Martha is a German film about an incorrigible cook who lets her guard down for a niece and an Italian cook. It's too sentimental at times, but the scenes of Martha dealing with ignorant, finicky customers are priceless.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

In the lions' den ...

Taiwan madness hooks up with US political satire here. And yes, the man was actually trying to convert the lions.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Herbert Herbert

Most parents want their children to succeed beyond their expectations, but one wonders if Poppy was secretly hoping for Dubya's defeat. At the next big family holiday at Kennebunkport, will irascible George do the endzone dance in front of his Pa?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The 11 states.

I was having a conversation tonight with an Ohio voter living abroad. He claims that as soon as he saw the gay marriage amendment on the Ohio ballot, he thought the Bush people had pulled a brilliant move, and could very well go on to win the election. But he also said he thought the amendments were placed on the ballots in 11 key states, all states in which Bush would have to rally his base and get them to the polls.

I must admit I didn't pay much attention to which states had the amendment on the ballot. I knew about Arkansas because that's my home state, and somewhere I read about Oregon. But that's it. So the 11 states are: Mississippi, Arkansas, Oregon, Montana, Ohio, Utah, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Georgia and Oklahoma. And take note here, the amendment was not on the ballot in Florida or Pennsylvania.

It seems to me that Mississippi, Montana, Utah, Kentucky, North Dakota, Georgia and Oklahoma were never in play for Kerry anyhow. Of the four left Oregon and Michigan were leaning toward Kerry, but were still in play to some extent just as Arkansas leaned toward Bush with some hope that it might be the only southern state that could go blue. And then there's Ohio. I know that this is an issue that energized Bush's base, but I'm not sure I buy the argument that it was a concerted Republican Party effort to get gay marriage on the ballot in key states to help swing the election. Eight of the 11 states were already red.
Spoiling for a murder ...

Well, if you think politics in the US is ugly, take a gander over here. As KMT Chairman Lien Chan and his party wait for the ruling by the High Court this afternoon as to whether the March election will be annuled, they have little to hope for. But one of the lawyers representing both the KMT and the People First Party told the KMT Central Standing Committee that it doesn't matter what the judges say, the election was illegitimate. In response, Lien had this to say:
No one is so great that people cannot touch him. As long as we see anyone who makes frauds or unlawful actions, every one could put this guy to death.
Everyone in Taiwan, on both sides of the political fence, knows precisely what Lien is getting at here. He is advocating the murder of President Chen Shui-bian. Yet because Lien is one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Taiwan, he'll get away with this. He may take some flak or be forced into retracting the statement, but he'll continue to walk among us enjoying the liberties that, had he attempted this in most countries, would have evaporated in the confines of a prison cell.

The fall.

... from Morn to Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve. - John Milton, Paradise Lost.

This passage in the first book describes the descent of Hephaestus after Zeus has thrown him off Mount Olympus, whereupon Hephaestus falls for a full day.

That day came again on Nov. 2. Hephaestus went on to fight more battles. He was ugly, gimply and a cuckold, as Ares, the god of war, took his wife Aphrodite, but his hands crafted the gods' most treasured possessions and his anvil produced their armor.

Ares had two sons, Phobos and Deimos, terror and fear. George W. Bush goes into his second term on the shoulders of those two, and as many have noted, he is inheriting the pall of his first four years in office. His administration is already wracked by dissention and scandal. And though he may be able to stem the rancor in the White House with a number of Cabinet appointments, it's difficult to imagine that he'll be able to stanch the leaks and investigations already pouring forth.

"He who troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."-Proverbs 11:29. Inheritance has been Dubya's lifelong pursuit, so he may as well follow it to its bitter end.

Well, the Democrats in the US got clobbered. They lost in the marketplace of ideas. I haven't lived in the US for some time so I really don't have a feel for what goes on there now, but the windows into the Democrat community there suggested that the race would be tight, but John Kerry would prevail. It didn't happen. Yet now there are some powerful organizing tools in place and those leading the Democratic party are going to have to do some real soul searching after losing two elections in a row. I think it's time for new blood.

Here in Taiwan, as if US politics wasn't exasperating enough, there is a legislative election around the corner.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Twenty-four hours to go ...

And we should know the results. I am hoping that John Kerry will become the 44th president of the United States, and the folk who make up the Bush administration, curs one and all, are thrown out on their ass.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Copper's case ...

The piece that I cited below should be taken with a grain of salt. Copper gives us very few sources to back up his claims. In the eighth paragraph, he says that some of Kerry's supporters even advocate ceding one of Taiwan's outlying islands to China as a warning against independence for Taiwan. This sounds like complete shiite to me. It's the Fox News technique of "well, some people say ..." Since Copper neglected to tell us who these supporters were, shall we guess? Maybe he went to find some mainland Chinese Kerry supporters in Flushing, Queens.

In the fifteenth paragraph, Copper tells us that it "has been reported" that Kerry received funds from China for his presidential campaign. Yet Copper refuses to tell us who reported this scandalous gem. Newsmax perhaps, Rush Limbaugh, or better yet the Drudge Report?

If within the next 36 to 48 hours, George W. Bush gets voted out of office, I will be ecstatic. I still think that a Bush presidency would be more beneficial to Taiwan, but not because of Copper's argument. It's a pity that a man whose career has been dedicated to chronicling Taiwan's journey, as well as many other works on China and Asia, marshaled his reputation for this piece of partisan hackery. Then again, my guess is he's done it before. John Copper's CV says it all.
Kerry bad for Taiwan?

The whole reason I brought up Powell to begin with was to further the argument that a Republican president will be better for Taiwan in the long run. A couple of things caught my eye today, one of which I think drives the point home.

First, on Yahoo news, we find that China would prefer a Kerry presidency because Beijing is opposed to the Bush doctrine. I wonder why?

Also, the Taipei Times has an opinion piece written by Rhodes College Professor John Copper on why a Kerry presidency may not bode well for Taiwan's future. The link. Take this one with a grain of salt. More later.
Oh hell, I'm nervous ...

Here in Taiwan, we should know the results of the US election Wednesday morning. According to a number of polls, Osama bin Laden's tape didn't seem to have much of an effect on voters over the weekend. Republicans have been push-polling minority voters in West Virginia to convince them that they are not registered to vote. Sounds like its crazy out there.

More coming on Kerry and Taiwan soon.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Another Halloween scare ...

This is what happens when Dick Cheney and Scarface become the same man. Steer clear if you're averse to trash talk. Dick Cheney at the Republican Convention.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Voter Intimidation ...

This flyer is being passed around black neighborhoods in Milwaukee. I guess some Republicans still yearn for Jim Crow laws. This is reprehensible.
On war ...

A second-hand account of a US soldier's experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. George W. Bush may have wanted to start a war in Cuba as well. Read on.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Communication breakdown ...

I goofed. My mistake was to see US Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement through the lens of long-held US foreign policy, not as it would be interpreted by those whose lives it would affect the most.

Cross Strait relations have been so taut for decades that every statement issued by Taiwan, China or the US is combed over for nuance, as officials search for that hidden departure buried in a morass of jargon. It is here that a slip of the tongue can have others wagging for months on end.

Powell said that Taiwan was not an independent state and did not enjoy sovereignty. This is not, as I pointed out earlier, at odds with previous US policy. It is, however, a precedent. For the past 25 years, the US has religiously followed its policy of "studied ambiguity," but Powell either forgot to hit the books or was dropping a hint. Powell's sin was not his interpretation of US policy, but how he articulated it. Up to this point, US officials have cautiously avoided saying whether Taiwan was sovereign or independent. In short, no nays or yeas, but this week's turn of events changed all that and rattled Taiwan's confidence in its relations with the US.

The US State Department is already backtracking here in Taipei. President Chen Shui-bian called upon the director of the American Institute, Douglas Paal, to clarify Powell's statements.
Paal said US policy hasn't changed. He also said Powell tripped up when he said, "We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking." The key solecism, according to Paal, was Powell's use of the word "reunification," when what Powell had intended to say was "resolution." From Taiwan's point of view, this is a nasty gaffe, as many Taiwanese are wary of any move on the part of the US to weaken its position vis-a-vis China.

Speculation is rife as to what Powell really meant. Many in Taiwan see Powell's statements as a thinly veiled warning to Taiwan to not go too far when pursuing independence. Others, such as myself, think that Powell mistakenly overstepped the bounds of diplomatic protocol. It's a hard call. I'd like to think it's much ado about nothing, but as I noted on my first blog entry, US-Taiwan relations are changing, and they may not be changing for the better.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

I spoke too soon?

Well, it looks like I jumped the gun in my reading of Colin Powell's visit to China. At the least, Taiwan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen thinks that Powell's statement on CNN breached the trust between Taiwan and the US. According to the Washington Times Powell said both:
We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would prejudice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking.

Taiwan ... does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation.

I'm not as prepared as the minister is to read anything into this. Powell's second statement doesn't strike me as anything new. If in fact Powell said that Taiwan does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, from the US point of view, this is entirely true. While Taiwan's electorate gets to choose its leaders and the country has a standing army, the US doesn't officially recognize Taiwan, in fact very few countries do. Taiwan's absence from the UN, and the number of de facto embassies in Taipei, which have to operate as cultural and trade offices instead of official diplomatic channels, are but two of a number of conditions that keep Taiwan isolated form the international community. I also can't help but notice that Powell used the word "enjoy." Clearly Taiwan doesn't enjoy sovereignty in the eyes of the world, and for this reason, it does not enjoy all the benefits of sovereignity at home. Perhaps someday it will.

The former statement, at first glance, looks more menacing. Again though, from a US perspective, I'm not so sure that's the case. One of the key points of the US policy regarding China-Taiwan relations is that of "studied ambiguity." Even now, the US holds onto the myth of "one China," but for years US policy has recognized a one China without explicitly stating what that one China consists of, or even who is its rightful heir.

Those of us in Taiwan know the reality on the ground, and its a harsh reality that even Beijing is coming to terms with. Taiwan is no longer seeking "reunification." The ROC as envisioned by Chiang Kai Shek and Chiang Ching-kuo is falling apart at the seams, and the DPP government has made official statements that Taiwan no longer has designs on China. US policies were put in place long before this happened, but for the US to acknowledge the changes taking place in Taiwan could anger Beijing unnecessarily. Powell's statement seems consistent with what the US has been doing for years with regards to Taiwan and China, ignoring the big white elephant in the room.

Then again, I may be out of my depth here. Please explain it to me if I have missed the critical nuance, the slow twist of the shiv.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

If Bush ran against Jesus ...

Thanks to John Diedrichs for this link.
Lucien, he's getting there ...

Check out Eminem's new video. It's political, oh yeah! Nice touch. The Mosh.
On Bush and Taiwan ...

As much as I dislike the Bush administration, I think if I were a Taiwanese American, I would be voting for Dubya in the upcoming election.

Colin Powell's trip to China had few, if any surprises. Of course Powell sought to pressure China to take a more active role in bringing N. Korea to the table to revive the six-way talks. Powell said that China has considerable influence over Pyongyang. I wonder to what extent this is true. It's a belief that's had great currency over the past three years, but Hu Jintao or Jiang Zemin's assurances may be more bravado than substance.

Once Nixon and Kissinger had broken through to establish ties with Communist China, one of their primary goals was to try and get China to exert its influence on N. Vietnam, so the Americans would have a better opportunity to extract themselves from the quagmire of the war. Later it was revealed in James Mann's book About Face that the Chinese leadership had far less control over N. Vietnam than they let on.

Granted, China is a far more powerful country than it was in 1972, but the megalomaniac Kim Jong-il is also far less dependable overall than a popular leader of a people's independence movement like Ho Chi Minh. So are the Americans just doing some wishful thinking here?

Everything else about Powell's visit was the same song and dance with the exception that Powell prodded Hu to open up talks with Taiwan after Chen Shui-bian's "concilatory" speech on Taiwan's National Day, Double Ten. Predictably, Hu said he didn't trust Chen and China was not prepared to open talks with a man they consider to be at the forefront of a Taiwanese independence movement.

I checked out John Kerry's policy page to see what differences we would see vis-a-vis Taiwan if Kerry wins the presidency. Of course the Kerry campaign says it will support Taiwan's robust democracy and will continue to sell defensive weapons to Taipei. I don't trust the Democrats 100 percent on this issue. Bill Clinton talked a good game about not coddling dictators before he was elected but, by the time he was in office, his administration seemed beholden to the idea of engaging China, which included hammering away at human rights violations, in the hopes that China's emerging influence and free market would prompt reforms at the very highest levels. Remember when we were told about Zhu Rongji the great reformer?

Of course some would argue that in 1996, Clinton proved to be resolute when he sent the 7th fleet into the Taiwan Strait during Taiwan's presidential elections. Yet two years later he undermined Taiwan's ongoing efforts to be a part of the international community when he embraced the "three no's" policy, the last of which explicitly states that the US believes that Taiwan should not be a member of any international organization for which statehood is a requirement for membership.

Many of the Clinton administration's policies were necessary, but Republicans tend to make it very clear whether they are in the White House or the House of Representatives that Taiwan is not to be touched. Democrats simply aren't strident enough.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Google forgets nothing ...

The Guardian's Web page, which I referred to here, no longer has the original column up. Apparently calling for the assassination of a US president didn't go down well in some quarters, so now Charlie Brooker has posted an apology. But Google's cache has the original.
Rubbishy food ...

From St. Augustine's The Confessions:
I had come to understand that just as wholesome and rubbishy food may both be served equally well is sophisticated dishes or in others of rustic quality, so too can wisdom and foolishness be proffered in language elegant or plain.

Halloween is fast approaching ...

So don't miss this post below.

KMT supporter at protest after election. 

In addition to voting, I think I'll go to a temple or two just to try and whip up a karmic wind to flush George W. Bush out of office. But this column in The Guardian is beyond the pale, even for me, and I relish reading a well-hewn philippic. Don't miss out on the closing paragraph. Nasty.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Weekend malaise ...

It looks like Typhoon Nock-Ten is headed our way. Still no news on whether it's going to make it to Taipei. But if it does and we have to wait it out inside for a couple of days, there's only one, err, two things to do. Go to the grocery store to stock up and fly by the movie rental joint. Here's something that might help.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

On fortune cookies ...

This is for the people who wondered, when they arrived in Taiwan, why there wasn't a little bit of good luck waiting around after the meal. Read on.
Good thing the Cold War is over ...

Russian man found adrift close to Tamshui, says he'll visit Taiwan "by plane" next time around.

Bottle on the beach.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Not for the faint of heart ...

This just landed in my email. Take a look:

Weird Phenomenon
Watch this video. The first time I watched it I didn't notice it, but the second time I found it creepy to say the least. This is a car advert from somewhere in Europe. When they finished filming the ad, the people who made it noticed something moving along the side of the car, like a ghostly white mist. If you have speakers, you can lightly hear a strange whooshing sound as the mist goes by, but its faint so listen hard.

The ad was pulled off TV because the unexplained ghostly phenomenon frightened the production team out of their wits and figured it would do the same to anyone who noticed as well. Watch it, and about halfway look and you will see the white mist crossing in front of the car by following it along the road... this is very eerie.


When scientists look out for our best interests ...

Trevor and Daisy hang out in Manchester to debunk one of our most cherished myths. Quack!
Bittersweet ...

Gabriel Garcia Marquez publishes his first novel in 10 years. More at The Guardian.
Ah yes, scatological Fridays ...

Want to know how to ask "Where is the toilet?" in 70 different languages? Then this site is the place for you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

East Coast of Taiwan. 
Xinhua, always good for a laugh ...

Okay, so Tibet has been under the boot of Beijing's martinets for well over 50 years, yet Taiwan has never had to answer to China's communist tyrants. Yet this is what we hear today:
China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue says the Chinese government insists that the Dalai Lama ... should state that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, in the same way that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.
Go figure. Perhaps the Dalai Lama could get some milage out of this. He could make the statement and then draw attention to the fact that Taiwan has a democratically elected government, its own standing army, its own tax system and answers to no one except its electorate.

For more on Tibet.

The market speaks ...

It looks like Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which I mentioned in an earlier post, is pulling its anti-Kerry film. The group's stocks have tanked over the past week and up to 80 regular advertisers have pulled their ads. This does not mean that Sinclair will not try to repackage the information in some other way. Also Sinclair's own Washington bureau chief spoke out about this and promptly lost his job.

Again, I can't do this issue justice, so I'll just link to the guys who have been on top of this since it began, Atrios, Kos and Josh Marshall.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Harpoon in the Pacific. (Left click on pic for full scale)

On some days the sponge is dry ...

Here in Taiwan, a 7.0 earthquake in the Pacific last Friday jostled us all. In Taipei it was only a 4.0, but for those of us who were here during the 921 earthquake of 1999, it was an eerie reminder.

One typhoon just passed us by and decided to head toward Japan, which I'm sure is a relief to Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, since he seems to catch the blame everytime a typhoon makes landfall near Taipei. But the mayor cannot rest just yet, as another is still heading our way.
Paging Old Man Mendacity ...

Most of the time it's best to ignore the sclerotic rumblings of The New York Times' op-ed columnist William Safire, but today's jeremiad against the Kerry camp is nothing but disingenuous.

Safire spends some 700 words excoriating the Kerry campaign for drawing attention to Mary Cheney's sexual preference in the third and final presidential debate.

It's not my purpose to defend Kerry on this point. For Kerry to have brought up Mary Cheney again, after John Edwards had done it once in the vice presidential debates, was certainly a lapse of judgement, but what the Republican Party would have you believe, and this is the crux, is that by "outing" Mary Cheney, the Democrats were gunning for a cheap smear. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is this line of attack that lays open the heart of today's GOP.

Kerry's mistake was to further subject Mary Cheney to the same public scrutiny that has plagued the family members of presidents and presidential candidates alike.

Yet amid all the hubub, it might be easy to forget why this is an issue at all. President George W. Bush pledged his support to Colorado Representative Marilyn Musgrave for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage three months before he made his public announcement in February of this year. Bush and the GOP intended to make gay marriage a wedge issue in a sordid attempt to divide the American public by appealing to the basest of human emotions, the fear of difference and the fear of the unknown.

One would do well to remember that all this mock outrage comes from the very same party that under former president Ronald Reagan did everything it could to distance itself from the AIDS crisis, buoyed by the belief that AIDS was merely a "gay" disease. And from the bowels of the GOP's reactionary wing, the so-called moral majority, we were told that AIDS was God's scourge on homosexuals.

To his credit Safire came out against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but regrettably he is no stranger to the art of the slur. Safire's role in amplifying the outrageous accusations that Bill and Hillary Clinton may have had a hand in the death of Vince Foster is a rancor that should not be forgotten. Safire, a man who once accused a sitting president of murder, is now chastising Senator Kerry for telling the truth.

Safire ends his column by urging Republicans to quote the words of Senator Joseph Welch:
Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
Yet coy Bill neglects to give this famous piece of Americana its rightful context. These words were spoken to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Senate subcommittee on un-American activities hearings in 1954. It was a pivotal moment that both undermined McCarthy's communist witchhunt, and eventually destroyed his reputation.

William Safire has no moral integrity. Drawing a parallel between Kerry's poorly thought out gambit and the slanderous lies of the McCarthy era is scabrous, cheap and intellectually dishonest.

A love letter from the US to Great Britain ...

Appalling correspondence from The Guardian:
Have you not noticed that we Americans don't give two shits about what you Europeans think of us. Each email someone gets from an arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid yellow-toothed pansies ... I don't give a rat's ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don't. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should not try to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit. Oh yeah, and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals.

There are of course a few letters that are less strident. Here is the mailbag.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Telling it like it is ...

John Stewart rips Tucker Carlson a new one on Crossfire.
Where is God in the US Constitution?

Go here to brush up on your knowlege of the Bible and the separation of church and state.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Sunset in Tamshui.
October is not the cruelest month ...

Ever since my first year in Taipei, I have always relished the coming of October. The month's name is confusing and can be blamed in part on Roman vanity, specifically Augustus and Julius Caesar.

Taipei's climate is generally horrible. It's either sizzling hot or pissing down rain, or both. But October is always a welcome respite. It rarely rains, and the city cools down. Taipei's Octobers don't have the advantage of New England or Mississippi autumns, with the leaves changing colors and the sweet and sour smell of fermenting leaves, redolent of sex, along two-lane highways.

But Taipei has everything else plus some: the layers of clothes, angora sweaters, reddened cheeks and cashmere coats. Over this basin city, to the west, there now rises the tallest building in the world, where one can easily see Yangmingshan, the volcano to the north. It is there where many people go during chilly weather to languish in hot springs pools and stuff themselves afterwards with hot pot or steaming soups.

But enough about the weather. It's time to watch the last US predidential debate via streaming video, hooray!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Thoughts on a bodice ripper ...

Just kidding, but if I find one I'll let you know.

Both the upcoming legislative elections in Taiwan and presidential election in the US should provide entertainment and grief in spades over the next several weeks.

In the US, Sinclair Broadcasting Group is ordering its affiliate stations across the US to air a feature-length documentary on the treasonous actions of presidential candidate John Kerry. This piece of agitprop will run in the same slot that is usually reserved for evening news sans advertising, and Sinclair has already said that it has no intention of running a separate piece that would show Kerry in a more favorable light in the interest of balance. Already there is a full effort underway, through boycotts and stock divestiture, to try to get Sinclair to reconsider its decision. According to a number of sites I've looked at, Sinclair controls roughly one quarter of the affiliated broadcast TV market in the US. Of course, there are bloggers far more knowledgeable than I on this issue, so if you are interested, you can learn more here, here, here and here. Don't get lost!

Here in Taiwan it appears that the accusation of "flip-flopper" stings not with an equal drop of poison. A DPP legislator accused a PFP legislator of changing his mind on a substantive issue, and the PFP legislator, feeling the welt sufficient, assaulted his colleague on the floor of the Legislative Yuan.

From the Taipei Times:
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lee Wen-chung yesterday carried some posters to the Procedure Committee to highlight that the arms deal had been agreed to during the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) adminstration.

Lee also highlighted PFP Legislator Nelson Ku's conflicting roles as former chief of the navy -- when he supported the deal -- and incumbent opposition lawmaker -- who now opposes the deal.

Here's the article in full.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Thoughts on a page turner ...

I am almost finished with Graham Greene's novel The Comedians, and while not his best work, it bears up to scrutiny. Several years ago, I tried to read as many of his novels as I could, but given my habit of buying more books than I can read, I had a few of his works left unopened on my shelf.

What led me to the novel was this review of the last of a three-part biography of Greene.

Green's antipathy toward Americans was no secret. His American characters wander the world in a fog of blind idealism, wielding the shiv of naiveté. They support causes for their symbolism and impose sunny scenarios on a world far more complex and bleak than they are willing to acknowledge. Thus his American characters often careen through life oblivious to the death and destruction they leave in their wake.

No one would argue that Greene's depiction of Americans was fully fleshed out, but he did touch upon the dark side of the optimistic, can-do spirit that Americans so cherish about themselves.

This virulent strain of American idealism can now be found in the corridors of Washington D.C., specifically among the neocon cabal in the Bush administration that guides American foreign policy. The belief that American troops would be greeted as liberators and showered with a confetti of flowers upon their arrival in Iraq is so ludicrous it could have easily been a line from one of Greene's execrable, pioneering villans.
Something to keep your eye on ...

Almost everyone is familiar with the seasonal bug panic, be it West Nile virus in the US, or SARS, dengue hemmoragic fever, and hoof and mouth disease here in Asia. Yet the viral menace that most merits vigilance is avian flu, also known as H5N1.

The strain of avian flu that has officials at the UN World Health Organization so worried made its first appearance in Hong Kong in 1997. But at the time, the virus’ spread was, for the most part, confined to birds.

A spate of articles, most notably in The New York Times, have noted that the virus is clearly getting stronger, and health officials in Thailand are worried that they have seen the first human-to-human transmission. Of the 40 some odd people who have taken ill with the virus, 70-75 percent have died.

Whenever influenza becomes the topic of discussion, someone invariably mentions the Spanish Flu of 1918, which had a fatality rate of 2.5 percent, and culled more of the global population than World War I. Most virologists acknowledge that there is no way to predict what happens when such a virus makes the species jump complete. It is always in the realm of possibility, like what happened with SARS, that the virus could become less lethal as it travels from body to body, as immune systems come up with coping mechanisms. Then again, the reverse could be true as the virus combines with others, thereby constantly changing its genetic make up.

As of now, the most pressing concern is how unequipped and under-funded countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are to deal with the disease. When I was in Hanoi at the beginning of this year, the Vietnamese government was wrestling with another outbreak of the flu among chickens. At the time it was well known that the Vietnamese government was only offering one-third of the market price to poultry farmers who had been ordered to kill their stock. It is not surprising that many farmers opted to kill their chickens and try to sell them in the markets, rather than take the loss.

Many governments in South-East Asia cannot afford to take the kind of preventative measures that are needed to stem the virus’ mutations. With all the hand wringing over the terrorist threat during the past three years, one would think that governments of developed nations would be eager to fund a “preemptive” attack on a growing menace that could well wipe out more people than terrorists could.

The affairs of developing nations are often seen as none of our concern, but as the SARS scare proved, ignoring their failures can quickly become our own undoing.

It is like having a pipe burst in the closet, closing the closet door, and then acting gobsmacked at the fact that water is now all over your living room floor.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

First Try ...

I created this blog on May 5, 2002. At the time I made a single silly post, to see if the template worked and what it might look like. Then I promptly lost interest and forgot. I've since discovered that my blog embryo wasn't dead, merely suspended in a state of arrested development. I've been accused by some friends of having been lost in the blogosphere, and that is, to some extent, true. But the upshot of such ribbings is friendly encouragement to start a blog, so here goes. I wrote this piece a week ago, which I know will go unpublished, so I thought I would post it here:

The Scorpion and the Frog

On October 6, US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless sent ripples through Taiwan’s political community by warning that if Taiwan did not pass its NT$618.8 (US$18.2 billion) defense budget, which has been languishing in the Legislative Yuan for several years, "… it will have repercussions for the United States [and] will have repercussions for Taiwan’s friends."

While Lawless didn’t elaborate any further, he was sending a clear signal—not so much to President Chen Shui-bian, who has campaigned for passage of the budget for well over four years—to Taiwan’s dilatory legislature, which has stymied the legislation at every opportunity since Chen’s first inauguration.

The opposition KMT and PFP parties’ primary objection to the defense budget is that Taiwan simply cannot afford to buy the weapons. The pan-blue alliance maintains that the funds would be better put to use if they were reinvested in the economy or other domestic concerns. In a deft response, Chen pointed out that if the legislation passes, Taiwan will be paying only 2.8 percent of the nation’s GDP for defense expenditures, which is less than what Singapore, South Korea or the US spend annually, thereby implying that as a percentage of GDP, Taiwan would be investing more heavily in its domestic affairs than its neighbors and most-valued ally.

It is true that budget squabbles and party rivalry are an integral part of any functioning democracy, but the Legislative Yuan and its pan-blue majority have lost sight of the larger picture, a picture in which China refuses to renounce the use of force, continues to add to its stockpile of missiles aimed at Taiwan, and seeks to interfere at every turn when Taiwan attempts to become a member of the international community.

But the true oversight here—hence Lawless’ remark—is Taiwan’s long-held assumption that the US will come to its aid in the event of a conflict across the Strait. It is no secret that US troops, in light of the Iraq war and the war on terrorism, are stretched almost to the breaking point. In the US there are persistent rumors of an upcoming draft, and most of those who are now serving in Iraq have been there far longer than they had anticipated.

At this juncture, any administration in Washington D.C. might jib at the prospect of having to mobilize a large number of troops in the event of a war in the Pacific. This is not to say that the US would relinquish its commitment to Taiwan, rather Lawless is simply, and none too subtly, suggesting that perhaps Taiwan should show as great an interest in protecting itself as the US does.

Those, like some in the blue camp, who continue to look to China hoping that Beijing will soon temper its appetite for forced “reunification,” would do well to remember parable of the scorpion and the frog. The frog, after being stung by the scorpion despite assurances to the contrary, asks the scorpion why, when it knew that its action would mean the death of both animals, did it carry on. The scorpion replies that he is a scorpion and that is simply what scorpions do.

If it comes to a point where China clearly has the upper hand militarily, and Taiwan continues to be marginalized from the international community, Taiwan will have few bargaining chips with which to stem a “reunification” juggernaut. With this in mind, it is clear that Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan must approve the defense budget within the next year, for it is not merely the right of a sovereign nation to arm itself against an avowed aggressor, it is both a moral and fundamental responsibility of the government to protect its citizenry from a bellicose neighbor.

... I understand that there are nuances to this argument that have been left out, but one can only say so much when allotted 600 words. One thing I neglected to mention was that the KMT and PFP have also argued that it would simply be impossible for Taiwan to outlast or outspend China in an arms race. There are also legitimate criticisms that the US only allows Taiwan to buy what Washington wants it to buy, which is for the most part second rate equipment at department store prices. Yet there is something else that I have yet to see touched upon, and that is an unspoken belief, perhaps on the part of the Pentagon or the US State Department that the inflated prices are in fact a silent quid-pro-quo arrangement whereby the US deflects some of its costs for the 1996 7th Fleet interference run when China was testing missiles in the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan was holding a presidential election.

David Momphard of the Taipei Times had a nice overview of the US' changing relationship with Taiwan, which touched on some of these issues in Sunday's paper.