Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Hello there

It's been forever since I've posted here. My fellow Ranksters haven't been setting any posting records either. I strongly suspect that no one is reading this blog any longer -- let's face it, there's been little to read -- though I can't bring myself to look at the site traffic.

One reason that I've written nothing here for a while, as I was telling some of my close associates the other day, is that I've gotten bored with Taiwanese politics. I've been here long enough to see how most of the sound and the fury signifies nothing. So I've mostly tuned out.

But to hell with all that -- I do, despite everything, have something to blog today. It's not a new insight, but it needs to be put in print somewhere -- who told all these Taiwanese people that as soon as the temperature falls below 18C they need to equip their doggies with sweaters? Isn't it clear to all that dogs come equipped with fabulous coats of their own? Why must man's best friend be humiliated in this manner?

That's it for now.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Worst Nightmare

The New Journalist has pulished its "10 nightmare ministers" edition.

Government Information Office Chief Pasuya Yao has topped the list. They arrived at the list of the 10 most unsuitable Cabinet ministers through interviews with 166 legislators.

According to the United Evening News last night, lawmakers cited Yao as being "unprofessional, careless, lazy, rude, and ill-tempered."

No argument here. I was telling this to a GIO employee last night and he said, "They missed arrogant."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Apt comparison

PFP legislator Sun Daqian compared his party today to "a piece of toilet paper with a historical mission."

I'll go along with that.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Michael Turton has posted about Why the DPP Lost the Election. I agree with much of his analysis, but I also think that the DPP's attempts to capture the middle have also contributed to their problems.

Taiwan and the US are similar politically in that the vote is pretty much split down the middle. The DPP has been following an outdated strategy used by Clinton and Blair in the 1990s to reposition leftist parties back in the mainstream. But what Karl Rove has realized is that without a true left and with parties split down the middle, the key is to energize your base.

The blues, who have lost two straight presidential elections, are energized with the emergence of a viable candidate. Ma energized them even further by threatening to resign as KMT Chairman if the KMT did poorly in Saturday's 3-in-1 elections.

The greens, however, are alienating, rather than mobilizing their base by their attempts to move to the center. Taiwanese nationalists feel let down by a party that fired them up with calls for a new constitution and a new name for the country and then turned around and told them to forget about it.
There's also a lively discussion of Michael's post over on Forumosa.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Dog Day Night

Every dog has his day … and DogOfTheSouth had his Friday night. I have to say it was some of the best Chinese wedding banquet food I have had. And I was introduced to the magnificence of Maker’s Mark. I learned that Jack Daniel’s is not bourbon. All in all, a very productive evening.

I think we can excuse Dog for reduced posting frequency in consideration of nuptial-related activity … and Congratulations!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Watching America


This article came with my Google news search email (keywords: Taiwan and Media).

It turns out the the editor William Kern used to work as an editor at the Taiwan News.

The idea is interesting - to provide articles in translation from around the world to show Americans an unvarnished view of how America is portrayed abroad. According to the article linked above, they only provide articles in translation and not English-language editions of foreign publications. However, I believe the articles from People's Daily are just the English-language versions. I'll keep my eye out for interesting Chinese-language articles they might be interested in publishing ...

Friday, November 25, 2005

Paraphrase of the Day

From the Taipei Times: [Premier Frank Hsieh] added that since people abroad generally pay no attention to local newspaper coverage or TV talk shows, they have a better perspective on what's really happening in the country.

What a startling statement by the premier. I can't decide if he's thoroughly correct or thoroughly incorrect.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ugh

At this website, which is supposed to be "The E-Government Entry Point of Taiwan," there's a link up to an article called "Chinese Taipei (sic) committed to striving for a brighter future for Asia-Pacific." The article comes from the Taiwan Journal; I guess the phrasing has something to do with APEC. But I don't much care about the whys and wherefores. No website of the Taiwanese government should ever be caught participating in this "Chinese Taipei" nonsense.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mahjong Defamation?

I’ve been asking colleagues about this Lee Teng-hui defamation verdict. Lee was ordered by the court of first instance to pay NT$10m to James Soong for saying he went to play mahjong during a post-election rally last year. The verdict apparently hinged on whether or not Lee made it clear he was referring to Soong. Two pan-green lawmakers got off the hook because they didn’t make it clear. Am I the only person who doesn’t understand how Lee’s comment can be construed as anything other than satirical?

My colleague just explained to me that Soong left an April 10, 2004 rally for 30 minutes and so there was no way he could have played a round of mahjong, which would take at least 90 minutes? So Lee exaggerated. The remark he made – “one went home to sleep [presumably Lien Chan] and one went to play mahjong [presumably Soong]” – seems to me quite offhand and not intended to be taken seriously. I asked if the “playing mahjong” is code for something else. Apparently not. But the fact that one gambles while playing mahjong puts a negative cast on it. Would this count as defamation in the West? I’d appreciate any explanations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

GIO Position

The GIO has posted its position paper on the TVBS case onlne. One has the immediate impulse to stop reading at the first paragraph.

In an interpellation on October 7, 2005, Legislator Tseng Tsahn-deng raised evidence of forgery and withholding information on foreign shareholdings by Liann Yee Production Co., Ltd. (widely known as TVBS) when obtaining its business license, and demanded that the Government Information Office (GIO), the authority in charge of radio and television affairs, investigate whether any unlawful practice was involved.

The pan blues are also asking the GIO to act on FTV's shareholding structure, but will the GIO act in this case? Why not? The only answer seems to be that the GIO is not acting to preserve the rule of law, but in order to punish its enemies. See Michael Turton's post from yesterday. The View from Taiwan: GIO Budget Slashed

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Quote of the Day

"We will make sure that incidents like some Central Election Commission members succumbing to political pressure will not happen again."

KMT Legislator Hung Hsiu-chu, making it clear what sort of people her party will nominate for the National Communications Commission

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Yeaooooow!

This dialectic between the Taipei Times and Su Chi is shaping up to be a real cat fight.

It's not hard to believe that Su Chi actually peruses the English-language newspapers daily. There are enough small errors in his letter yesterday to believe it was written by a non-native speaker (and not edited by a native speaker), but it's quite readable. Too bad he can't seem to get his facts straight.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

News you can use!

I've just realized something about The China Post. And that's a big deal -- so ossified is this paper that the last time I realized anything about it was 15 years ago.

Looking at today's front page, seeing that the number-three headline is, if you can fathom this, "Democrats win in New Jersey, Virginia, California," it's dawned on me that The Post not only wants to live in a one-party KMT state -- that much is obvious -- but it actually thinks it still lives in a one-party state. Don't follow my reasoning?

Well, what I mean is that The Post's news judgement, if you dare to call it that, is that minor US elections constitute the third-most important thing they could possibly inform their readers of today. And this might have been true back when US soldiers made up a big fraction of The Post's readers. But today? Perhaps you could run the French riots number three, instead of the voting in New Jersey and Virginia and California? Just maybe?

No, that's not how The Post looks at the world. As far as those guys are concerned, the US soldiers have never left, no transition to democracy has ever taken place, and James Soong was never photographed rooting around on his belly like a pig in order to kiss the Taiwanese dirt. May the good old days never end!

I know, there's no honor in whipping a dead dog. But sometimes even a dead dog can affront your sensibilities.
Quote of the Day

"You cannot just accuse any man with a penis of having the intention to rape a woman."

DPP Legislator Hsu Kuo-yung, commenting in some incomprehensible way on whether or not voters' identification cards should be stamped at polling places.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I can't wait!

In the wake of a just-completed trip to Taiwan by a Chinese tourism official (who was, officially at least, visiting in his private capacity), it now seems increasingly likely that Taiwan will be hosting increased numbers of Chinese visitors in coming years. And if this comes to pass -- doesn't your heart thrill with anticipation when you contemplate the myriad ways in which pro-independence forces will deliver messages of defiance and, it may be hoped, raw obscenity, to their, ahem, mainland compatriots?

  • The graffiti on the road to Sun Moon Lake!
  • The inflammatory leaflets slipped under hotel-room doors!
  • The provocative tai du t-shirts!
  • Mass, coordinated moonings!
  • Whatever else issues forth from the fevered brains of the greenest greens!

Folks, this is going to be the most fantastic thing ever! Please, oh, please let it happen!
Becoming governor of Taiwan Province...

isn't the limit of Lien Chan and James Soong's ambition for themselves in the pan-China that will exist after they've signed away Taiwan. These guys want to be movers and shakers in China itself. Or so this Christian Science Monitor piece indicates:

"[pan-blue politicians'] Chinese interlocutors hinted that Taiwan could one day play an important role in myriad areas, including the future democratization of China, and its modernization. Many KMT officials seem to agree..."

If the Liens and Soongs of the world really did enjoy the idea of participating in China's eventual democratization, then I'd have to give them some credit for that. But in fact, neither man enjoys democracy in any form. What I think these guys really imagine for themselves in the post-handover world is to live amid the adulation that's due a despot's chief bootlickers. Oh, the heroes they'd be in the mother country.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Media BS

My colleagues tell me that the reason the GIO didn’t renew the ETTV News S license back on Aug. 2 was to send a message to all news channels that they had better slant their bias in favor of the DPP in upcoming city and county elections here in Taiwan. I had thought the non-renewal was an honest and ill-conceptualized attempt to force news channels to adopt higher standards. I am starting to think my colleagues are right.

For the GIO to say, “we’re simply doing our job” is predictable and an understandable rationalization for considering the revocation of TVBS’s license on the grounds that it is foreign-owned (by Hong Kong interests). A DPP lawmaker was quoted in the Taipei Times today as saying “We refuse to tolerate any intimidation exerted by a media outlet that is entirely controlled and financed by Chinese investors” (article here). The way I read this, he is saying that the GIO is being asked to put pressure on TVBS because it dares to criticize the government (and by extension, the DPP). To all who share this view, I say: Grow some more layers of skin and learn to truly respect the freedom of the press. Taiwan simply won’t be taken seriously internationally if it fails to exhibit sincerity when it claims to embrace press freedom.

I’m not taking a stand on whether or not TVBS should be licensed in Taiwan, but the way this issue was raised is all wrong.

Update (a few minutes later): I just finished posting this and immediately came across this article in Chinese. It says that President Chen said today that no media outlets were going to be pulled on his watch – as an expression of his commitment to press freedom. That’s more like it. I hope DPP rank and file politicians take note.

Update (11/8): This is a bit dated, but it’s the first I’ve noticed of an international press freedom organization mentioning the TVBS situation. In this case the International Federation of Journalists. I have to say I’m not that impressed with the accuracy of IFJ and RSF (Reporters without Borders) commentaries.
     

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Double Take

Go read this headline and see if you get it straight the first time.

Myself, I expected the article to involve recurring patterns of anger...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

NCC - Built for Deadlock


The Pan Blues have done it again. They’ve passed an incoherent bill that will create more problems that it solves. This China Post article seems itself to be a paradigm of incoherence, but the process it describes matches the descriptions in Chinese media. Parties will nominate a total of 15 people to the National Communications Commission. The Cabinet will nominate an additional three for a total of 18 nominees. An 11-member legislative panel will confirm 13 nominees through a vote. The interesting wrinkle is that a nominee needs at least 60 percent of panel votes to be appointed. Given the current legislature’s record on cross-party cooperation, this virtually guarantees the NCC legislative panel will be deadlocked: based on the current legislature, five members would be pan green and six would be pan blue. Do the math. The pan blues won’t be able to push through nominees unless at least one pan green panel member is absent during a vote. How likely is that?

There are all kinds of “what if” scenarios right now. For example, what if the panel actually decided to confirm all the nominees by the same vote count (say 11-0)? What would happen to the five excess appointees? However, the biggest question is what kinds of obstacles the administration and pan greens will put up. There are several options, beginning with recalling the bill and asking for a constitutional interpretation (with a strong argument that the bill that has been passed goes against the principle of the NCC being an independent commission). The only good thing about yesterday’s legislative antics is there was no blood on the floor.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lee Speech
Lee Teng-hui gave a hell of a speech in LA Friday evening. Here's the full text in English. Lee gave the speech in Taiwanese.

Usually when Taiwanese politicians give speeches, they try to say as little as possible while pushing the correct buttons. This speech worked in reverse: Lee said a lot, but his rhetoric was pitched in a cold war register that will make tough for US Democrats and other people on the left to hear what he is actually saying. That's unfortunate because Taiwan would attract more sympathy and support from a wider slice of the American political spectrum if would stop pandering to its supposed friends in the Neocon movement.

I also wish he would stop calling the Chinese government 'communist' when they have obviously abandoned Marxism and replaced it with a form of nationalist authoritarianism. Despite its extensive labor camps, China is also not a 'slave state', as Lee claims, any more than Taiwan was in the 1960s and 1970s when Taiwan developed without paying much attention to labor conditions. Lee is trying to say that China is a new Soviet Union just as baby boomers in the US keep insisting that Iraq is another Vietnam.

While his comparison to the Soviet Union is misguided, Lee is absolutely correct in his central theme which he states forcefully: China is a major threat to freedom. He also makes some excellent points about why people don't see this. Lee argues that the West applies a double standard to China when it is assumed that China is not 'ready' for democracy or human rights. He also right about the way China presents two faces to the world rather than the simple face of intimidation that the Soviet Union showed.

I think perhaps he might have also added the war against terrorism to this list. People in the US don't see China as a problem because they are so worried about terrorism. It's hard to worry about two problems at once, but because China is a state commited to modernity (unlike the Islamic mullahs who are resisting modernity), we tend to overlook its threat to freedom.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Price to Pay for Rice Bombing

Chaos at the Taipei District Court today after Taiwan’s rice bomber was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison after planting several “rice bombs” to warn Taiwanese away from imported rice. Friends and relatives of Yang Ru-men gathered for a noisy protest, saying the sentence was too harsh. Yang’s lawyer said the convict was expecting five years and that he’ll appeal the sentence. I wonder whether there’s broad public sentiment here that a self-confessed bomber should get off relatively lightly. The bombs were not powerful – and most of them were found intact – but my sense is the person who planned and executed these acts should expect to be punished. Maybe I’m just getting intolerant in my middle age.

UPDATE (10/20): Here’s an article on the sentencing from the Taiwan News to augment the scant details I provided on the rice bomber.


UPDATE (10/26): Here's an opinion piece from the Taipei Times that discusses some of the issues surrounding popular support for the rice bomber.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Lily Livered KMT Chairman

One has to wonder about Ma Ying-jeou’s willingness to push the envelope to any extent at all. Today, he criticized the Presidential Office for selecting LY President Wang Jin-ping to represent Chen Shui-bian at an APEC summit. In this Chinese-language article, Ma is quoted as saying that you need to do a backroom deal first; then you make the announcement. This comes just a day after Ma and the KMT gave their blessing to Wang’s trip (Shortly afterward, Beijing said they opposed Wang's appearance at the APEC summit; Ma found out through KMT-CPC channels that the PO knew Beijing's position before announcing Wang would go to Busan).

Lee Teng-hui and then Chen Shui-bian have been strategically pushing the envelope in various kinds of announcements. The result has been that Beijing no longer reacts strongly to certain kinds of statements and Taiwan has more international leeway. Sure, Wang may never have had a chance to represent Chen, but if you don’t try to advance your position, you certainly won’t get anywhere. I hope that when Ma is elected president, he won’t take such a spineless approach as he seems to be advocating now.

Panda diplomacy

A gesture of goodwill indeed. Panda spies, I say! According to this article, a nine-person team has whittled down the field of eligible pandas to 11. They plan to match the pandas to their destination based on “physiology, psychology, behavior, appearance, genetics and age.” Right. It’s clear to me they’re choosing pandas that are likely to make good operatives. Note that a couple of the males are described as having big mouths. Fat chance they’ll be finalists. They’d spill the bamboo shoots before Taiwanese interrogators even pulled out their instruments of panda torture.

According to the Chinese source, 70 percent of Taiwanese are in favor of accepting the pandas. I’m not saying I’m against it, but let’s remain vigilant and not give away any state secrets while within earshot of these enemies at the gates (of their enclosures)!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A historic American visit

Nat Bellochi’s reminiscence of Lee Teng-hui’s famous 1995 visit to Cornell in the Taipei Times today takes me back. At that time, I was living in Kunming and immersing myself in socialism with Chinese characteristics. Every once in a while, I would pick up a copy of the International Herald Tribune that some running dog left behind at the Journey to the East coffee shop. But for the most part, my news of the world came from the cankao xiaoxi, a Chinese-language compendium of wire stories that the CPC felt told the truth about the world. Mostly, the stories were critical of Western governments at the time - as one could imagine. There wasn’t really a whole lot about Lee Teng-hui’s visit to Cornell that I recall, but all of us in China were regaled with glorious footage of the military exercises that are now known as the Taiwan Missile Crisis.

Bellochi says he was the one who suggested the “elongated transit” for Lee that still serves as a model for unofficial visits in the United States by Taiwanese leaders. IMHO, in his honor we should start calling them Bellochi transits. In any case, it’s notable that these transits are no longer a big deal. In fact, President Chen placed so much importance in his last scheduled San Francisco transit stop that he went to the United Arab Emirates instead. As Bellochi notes, it will be interesting to hear what Lee has to say this time around on his visit. It will be even more interesting to see whether Taiwanese leaders will be officially welcomed in Washington a decade hence.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I hereby retire

from blogging about the weapons purchase, except to offer occasional political snark. The comments to my posts below have confirmed that other bloggers know more about the subject than I do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

History 101

Sigh!

Keith Bradsher from the New York Times writes:

The history of tea itself reaches back to ancient times in China. The earliest known literary references date back nearly 5,000 years, when Emperor Shen Nung is said to have discovered the infusion when leaves dropped into his hot water by chance.

Nonsense. China's oldest book, the Book of Songs (Shijing), may have sections that are 3,000 years old. And Shen Nung doesn't appear in Chinese literature until the late Warring States period (c. 475 BCE to 221 BCE). There's just no way that "[t]he earliest known literary references date back nearly 5,000 years."
Civics 101

This comment to the Asia Times by Chin-Hao Huang contains the following glaring error.

Chen has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ability to dissolve the diet and in turn win a snap election. Chen appears tempted to make a similar call as a way out of the current political deadlock in Taiwan's legislative yuan. However, doing so would further polarize domestic politics and cause more unrest in Taiwan's unconsolidated democracy. Chen ought to be mindful not to sacrifice the long-term goal of political stability for short-term political gain.

Chen can't make a similar call. The Constitution doesn't allow it. For this to happen, the legislature would have to pass a motion of no confidence against the cabinet. Only then could Chen dissolve the legislature. In effect, this means that the legislature would have to dissolve itself and risk new elections, something the pan-blue coalition would never dare do given their behavior over the past year.
Here's a weapons-purchase article

that seems to undermine the thesis of my post immediately below. It reports that senior US military officials are encouraging Taiwan to forgo purchases of all "offensive" weapons and concentrate instead on strengthening the country's defenses. I'm not sure how any weapon in Taiwan's arsenal can really be considered offensive, but whatever.

In any case, the article linked above is organized purely around blind quotes, and it's from the Washington Times, so goodness knows what it actually means. I stand by my uninformed opinion!
Arms purchase insight? You tell me.

There are bloggers out there who understand the arms-purchase controversy far better than I do, but I just came to a bit of an insight that I'd like to test out; comments are welcome.

What has belatedly caught my attention is that, when the Executive Yuan decided to remove some of the proposed purchases from the special appropriations budget and, at least in theory, finance those purchases at some later date from the regular defense budget, it was the Patriot anti-missile batteries that the EY decided to offload -- leaving in place the appropriation request for diesel-electric submarines and anti-sub aircraft.

This tells me -- or at least I think it tells me -- that military planners (both Taiwanese and US) are far more concerned about a Chinese naval blockade than the PRC's "700 missiles aimed at Taiwan." And if this is true, I wonder why it's so. Speaking for myself, I'd rather read about Kaohsiung Harbor being sealed off than look out my window and see a missile hurtling toward me.

My guess is that Taiwanese and US military planners would truly hate to deal with a naval blockade because, though a blockade is an act of war, it doesn't quite seem like an act of war in the way that a missile attack does. In the event of a blockade, then, it would be harder to rally international opinion in support of military action against China than would be the case in the event of a missile attack. So all concerned would much prefer that China not be tempted to try a blockade. What's left of the arms appropriation is designed to make a blockade so difficult to establish and maintain that the PRC would never dare try it. And whether the anti-missile batteries are ever purchased, or whether they're just quietly forgotten, well... China will probably never launch missiles anyway, because that would make US involvement inevitable.

As I say, comments are welcome.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Bonus Quote of the Day -- Unintentional Irony Category

"When you go to Taichung, you don't want to go to the biggest karaoke parlor. You want to go to the museum and see the cultural side of the city."

Ho Chuan-kun, director of the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung, who's trying to get the government to fund an archeological dig in the city.
Quote of the Day

"She will be punished if she is inseminated with Sun's sperm in another country."

Department of Health official Hou Mou-sheng, discussing attempts by Li Hsin-yu to become impregnated with the sperm of Sun Chi-hsiang, her deceased fiance.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

As they say, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good

Wang went 6 2/3 innings, giving up only one earned run on six hits and zero walks. That's a line in the box score that any pitcher would be pleased with. His strikes-to-balls ratio was excellent and he got lots of ground balls. But multiple errors led to four runs scoring on Wang's watch. Angels 5, Yankees 3. Tough luck.
In continuance of

my lonely obsession with baseball, I'll just note that Tainan's own Wang Chien-ming is, as I write, pitching for the New York Yankees in their playoff game against the Los Angeles Angels. Through four innings, he's allowed no runs on two hits. Good show so far, Mr. Wang. He's also hit Vladimir Guerrero with a pitch, not necessarily a bad strategy.

I'm a Yankee-hater through and through, but today I must put aside my disgust with all things pinstriped and pull for the Taiwanese kid to do good.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Baseball player found dead

"Taiwan's pro baseball league suffered a tragic loss yesterday when the popular Mario Encarnacion of the Macoto Cobras was found dead yesterday morning in his room at the team's housing unit in Danshuei," the Taiwan News tells us.

Encarnacion is said to have suffered badly from gastroenteritis. He'd also tested positive for a banned substance this year, though he'd claimed the positive result was due to his use of cold medicine. A league official asked the press not to speculate about whether his death was caused by steroid use. But a more disturbing possibility is that Encarnacion had gotten in trouble with gangsters.

So far there's no indication that he had. But given the way that news stories in this country flip and flop from one day to the next, with first-day stories often being entirely contradicted by second-day stories, I'm afraid I can't help speculating that tomorrow's news, or the next day's, might be unwelcome.

Blogging Taiwanese baseball in English: now there's a real niche.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Et tu, Google?

The China Times is reporting that Google Maps calls Taiwan "Taiwan, Province of China." You can see for yourself by typing 'Taiwan' in the search field at http://maps.google.com/. Seems that Google's "Don't be evil" code of conduct excludes the aspirations of the Taiwanese people to remain free.
Thinking ahead

"The 908 Taiwan Nation Movement, a local pro-independence group, announced yesterday that it will mobilize 3 million people to form a human chain around Taiwan on Feb. 28, 2008 to push for passage of a new "Taiwan Nation Constitution."

Wow. This is the first demonstration I've ever heard of that was planned two and a half years in advance.

What will you be doing on Feb. 28, 2008? You'd better figure it out fast, because time's a-wastin'.
Look, Ma! I got my picture taken with that hot-headed trouble-making splittist!

"Chen also found time to stroll on the beach and in a Bali park, where he ran into a group of mainland (sic) Chinese tourists. He posed to have his picture taken with one of them."

Has anyone seen a photo of this photo-taking incident? Rank would dearly love to see it.

Friday, September 30, 2005

News roundup

Rank doesn't do this daily by any means, and thank God, but it's fun every once in a while to get into the nitty-gritty of the news and see what's noteworthy for ridiculousness...

Today we hear that, in order to lower the price of the diesel submarines that the Executive Yuan wants to buy from the US, Spain may be called on to manufacture the subs. This change comes after the price of the deal has already been slashed twice, and with some of the arms having been pushed out of the speial appropriations bill and into the regular military budget. Before all this is over, the US is going to sell Taiwan a pair of pop guns manufactured on an OEM basis in Lesotho. Tremble, ye Chinese invaders!

Spending 26 hours in a collapsed well is no fun: "...doctors said that he had inhaled a lot of dirt and was suffering from dehydration. As of press time, Liu was undergoing checkups for internal bleeding..."

Pan-blues think it's nice that the RMB and the NT will now be convertible in Kinmen and Matsu. But they'd like to go further. For example, we could all just exchange our NT for commie cash and call it a damn day!

Here's some sound advice from the weather bureau, considering that another typhoon is approaching: "The Central Weather Bureau (CWB) suggested yesterday that people in Taiwan come up with alternative recreational programs if they had mapped out outdoor plans for the weekend." Okay -- I just wish they'd provide a list of alternative recreational programs, because I'm not used to thinking of my weekends in quite that way. Suggestions, anyone?

I don't want to sound like a government-hating conservative, but this scares me: "The Executive Yuan is providing NTD 20 billion in subsidies from the Executive Yuan Development Fund over the next five years for the promotion of Taiwan's digital content, software and cultural/creative industries. In addition to these subsidies, the Industrial Development Bureau is also preparing to provide special financing for enterprises involved in the production of movies, television and digital content." It's not so much the money that frightens me -- it's more the idea of sitting through movies and TV shows that owe their existence to the braintrust of the Executive Yuan.

China's pronouncements on Uighurs in Xinjiang have a certain familiar tone, one that we in Taiwan have come to know and loathe. Same for Tibet, of course, and all the other places where the great glory of the Han is not automatically recognized as the world's civilizing light. I... oh, forget it.

Read it and weep: "A software company in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, has developed 'Anti-Japan War Online'... 'We aim to nurture a national spirit in young people,' said Hao Xianghong, 36, the union's Network Film and Television Center's vice minister." In the pipeline: Taiwan Nuked!

Where have you heard something like this before? " Shanghai's plan has been to turn itself from an industrial city into a services, finance and transport hub." I feel an attack of indigestion coming on.

Dioxin duck eggs, an ancient Taiwanese specialty, are delicious.

When I learned that Chen Shui-bian would be visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I had only one thing in mind: fabulous photos along the lines of those recently taken of him in Alaska. Alas, I've been disappointed so far. St. Kitts and Nevis was also a downer in the photo departmnt. I want A-bian looking at ice worms through a magnifying glass! I want him hugging a bear that's wearing pants! Those were the days!
Now we've gone to word-verification for comments...

in a further attempt to frustrate the big-penis crowd. This means that the roughly half a dozen people known to have ever commented on this blog, should they choose to comment again, will have to read and type a word that appears on the screen. Miniscus, say, or triturate. Perhaps bilious or gibbous. Concupiscence or dilatory.

Okay, I admit it, I'm an English major showing off.

Update: Horror! It's meniscus! What a fool am I!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

You MUST visit...

this site, which is evidently designed to encourage backpacking in Taiwan. I regret to report that it doesn't encourage me very much. Which is to say that the stamp of the Taiwanese government is all over it.

First, the site is called "Taiwan Trekking for Young Travellers," which at first leaves me unsure if it's aimed at college-age backpackers or at worried parents who want to make sure that Taiwan is a kid-friendly destination.

Next, the text for a section called "Transport - Choice, Convenience and Comfort," reads, in full, as follows: "On any world map Taiwan looks deceptively small, as it is dwarfed by mainland China. Most of the island is mountainous that travel times are not so short. From end to tip it may take up to eight hours, however most destinations are a short trip and there are numerous options for traveling to suit any budget."

Thanks, folks, for all that useful information on the convenient and comfortable transportation choices available to me.

Similarly, a section called "Survival Guide" addresses your worries about communicating by explaining that you might, under certain circumstances, be able to find someone in Taiwan who speaks English. But in any case, though hitchiking isn't recommended, you can always hitchike. Meaning that, even if you can't figure out how to buy a train ticket because you can't find an English-speaker, you can always get from point A to point B by sticking out your thumb. Even though it isn't recommended.

I could go on. But all you really need to do is go to the link and look at the PHOTO. I wish I could post the photo itself. It's too good to be true.

I can't wait to travel in Taiwan!
Women in the men's room

Here's a typical Taiwan experience that I never get over -- ambling into a public bathroom and discovering that a cleaning lady is mopping the floor while a long line of men does what must be done at the urinals. It's just... odd. It invariably surprises and puzzles me.

The cleaning ladies certainly exhibit no obscene interest in the men, so maybe I'm just prudish for feeling that a cleaning man would be more appropriate, or even that the bathroom could be briefly cordoned off while the cleaning lady works.

By way of comparison, I recall trying to use a restaurant men's room in Mexico and being turned away by a cleaning lady. I innocently asked her if it would be okay for me to use the women's room -- a single-person unit, then unoccupied -- and she looked at me as if I'd grown a second head, with a third one sprouting out of it. Now there's prudish for you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Turton on weapons purchase

Rank does not have time to join the fray today, but hats off to Michael Turton over at The View from Taiwan where he destroys a recent commentary in the Washington Times by one Jeff Logan about Taiwan's supposed unwilligness to buy weapons from the US. As Michael pithily explains:

The Pan-Blues oppose the weapons purchase not because they have faith in the US to defend Taiwan, but because they support Beijing and not Taiwan -- they oppose it because because it helps Taiwan defend itself.

People in Washington seem to be incapable of understanding that the KMT-PFP alliance represents a serious threat to US interests in the region. If the US is not careful and Ma Ying-jeou becomes president, Taiwan may go the way of South Korea--a supposed ally that in reality is doing everything it can to realize its nationalist goals at the expense of US interests.

One disturbing note that Logan also hits is criticism of Taiwan for 'excessive' social spending. While Taiwan probably should spend more on defense, there are still significant segments of Taiwan's population that need help and don't get it. Just because Taiwan's government doesn't want to reduce have-nots in Taiwan to the kind of desperate poverty we saw in New Orleans doesn't mean that Taiwan isn't serious about its defense.

So Mr. Logan, in between those sips of wine that is older than you are, have a heart and think for a minute about the old people who would go hungry or the aboriginal kids who couldn't go to school if you got your way and Taiwan scaled back on social spending.

Monday, September 26, 2005

We've gone to registration-only comments...

....because the site has been getting hammered by the day-trade and big-penis people, with their blogspam.

Now watch how many hits we get from people who type "big penis" into google.
Trial by Taiwanese Media

See Taiwanese entertainer Peng Qiaqia taking a popular brand of stomach medicine at a tearful press conference where he revealed that a much-rumored sex CD was actually just Peng masturbating. Peng has been in big trouble with the mob for a year or so since he allegedly made a pass at a gangster's girlfriend. Peng's problems have apparently gotten worse in the last few weeks and he had been in communicado for the last week until yesterday's press conference. Peng claims the VCD was secretly taken while he was high on a quarter tab of FM2 and he doesn't remember what happened. With his weeping wife by his side, Peng described the video as " a 48-year old man with a big belly naked just like a white pig jacking off on his bed."

I can't upload the picture (of the press conference of course. What is the matter with you people!) for some reason, but check out the shirt the guy on Peng's right is wearing. If you still not sure what taike means, this guy has got it down.
Bold Predictions

I loved the headline in today's China Times. Roughly translated it read:

Global Experts Make Bold Prediction: Huge Changes in the Next 35 Years

No, really? I thought everything was going to stay the same. Where can Rank get one of them thar global expert jobs.

I'm about 99 percent sure that the editors at the China Times were forced to run that story by management who is undoubtedly trying to burnish the paper's credentials as a serious newspaper. The story is an obvious plant--it refers to some kind of feature in Foreign Affairs that I can't find on the their site. The fairly new editorial blogs at the China Times are a much better indication of the intelligence of the people over at Rank's favorite Chinese-language paper.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Don't play dead!
If you go to Yushan National Park, you may see stickers like this posted by Park Headquarters. The rangers want to warn you not to play dead if you run into a Formosan Black Bear. The white words under the drawing say "Playing Dead is Prohibited." The smaller lettering says "Playing dead is wrong . Don't do it for the sake of your personal safety." So don't say Rank didn't warn you...

Another great A-bian photo from Alaska!

Also, don't fail to go here to see a photo whose caption begins "While attempting to throw an apple at the Bureau of Civil Affairs' Ho Hung-jung, DPP Taipei City Councilor Lo Tsung-sheng..."

And if you haven't already heard about it, you can go here to read about Taiwan's last production line for notebook computers shutting down and getting shipped across the Strait. It's the end of an era, as the cliche goes, even if the era was actually rather brief. As to whether Taiwan's economy can continue to prosper despite the "hollowing out," I can't decide anymore. Lots of smart people make convincing cases for both "yes" and "no." In any case, bye-bye laptops, it was nice to know you.
Wait -- who's running this show anyway?

After two US defense officials in two days warned Taiwan that it must stand up for its own defense if it wants US assistance with its defense [translation: Taiwan must buy expensive weaponry from US companies], a Taiwanese general has claimed that Taiwan has always planned to fight on its own, and has never included in its combat plans the idea of US military assistance.

General Hu Chen-pu is obviously lying -- and he'd damn well better be. Imagine if US forces arrived in Taiwan to help fend off a Chinese attack only to discover that the Taiwanese had never given a thought to the logistics of such an operation.

Why am I even taking pot shots at such an idiotic statement?

The point is, I thought that the Ministry of National Defense was supposed to be advocating for the arms purchase from the US, not undermining the purchase by suggesting that Taiwan could be capable of defeating China on its own. In fact, I was under the impression that, according to MND computer simulations, Taiwan is only capable of holding off a Chinese attack for three and a half seconds. I thought that, according to the MND, the Legislative Yuan must approve the purchase quickly, before Taiwan's goose is cooked entirely. But now I hear a high-ranking general telling us that Taiwan doesn't need the US anyway. Or its weapons, for that matter?

Either I'm confused about something, or President Chen is having the usual hard time keeping his generals in line. If I were commander-in-chief, I might get a bit upset if my top soldiers were pursuing their own political agendas... especially if their agendas appeared to be deep blue and pro-China...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Better than fiction

Update: the photo has unfortunately disappeared... It was great while it lasted.

"After the luncheon, Chen and his entourage toured a glacier area in Portage and visited a local tourist center, where the president viewed with fascination live ice worms on display."

Read about it here.

Update: It occurs to me now that A-bian was probably trying to comprehend the heart of Hu Jintao.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The nickel drops

This may be news to no one but me, but I've just realized, while standing on a 15th-floor balcony on a hillside over Xindian, that the Taipei metropolitan area is spread out primarily on an east-west axis, rather than the north-south axis that I'd always, intuitively and incorrectly, believed was more important.

It's easy to see why I went wrong -- points of foreigner interest from Gongguan to Taipei Main Station to Tianmu to Yangmingshan to Danshui are laid out north-south (or south-north, if you want to nitpick). But the bulk of the settlement, starting from Neihu/Nankang and running to Banquiao and points beyond, goes east-west.

This is the sort of post that will not get linked by high-profile blogs from abroad, which was the honor bestowed on Feiren when he brought to our attention the majesty of Ma Ying-jeou's naked ass.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Get your cut-rate pomelos here!

If you asked me to write a schoolboy essay on the theme "What Moon Festival Means to Me," I'd write something lovely and lyrical about the annual pomelo sale that takes place on Xiamen Jie in early fall.

You can set your calendar by it -- just after the last moon cake has been eaten, and right when the average person's annual pomelo quota has been exceeded, such that no one wishes to see more of that inferior grapefruit till the following year -- that is the precise moment when a great tub of half-dessicated pomelos is rolled out for display on the sidewalk near my apartment building. The tub comes to a stop next to a formica table where a crew of alcoholic furniture-movers encamp themselves nightly for binlang spitting and rude talk, and there it remains, untouched, for weeks.

Last year I caught the fruit-sellers removing pomelos from gift boxes and tossing them into the bin -- repackaging these gifts that nobody wanted as goodness fresh from the tree. But is anybody fooled? Once I saw a woman buy a pomelo from the bin, but this was a major aberration.

One day in October the pomelos mysteriously disappear, and my block is ridded of stale-dated fruit until the next Moon Festival has come and gone.

I'd like to know what the pomelo people's angle is, who's their connection, who gets what kind of cut. Any scam as hare-brained as this one must have a wonderful story behind it.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Koizumi: You can't touch this!

A painting of KMT Chaiman and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou now hanging in an art gallery on the fifth floor of KMT headquarters in Taipei. The caption in the China Times explains that this photo has been popular with female visitors (I guess only straight people go to KMT headquarters?).

The portrait actually evokes a campaign ad from the KMT chairman election in July showed a brooding, windswept Ma staring into the pounding surf on Taiwan's coast. Maybe he's thinking of getting direct links with China going by swimming across the Taiwan Strait in the buff?

Rank will be visiting KMT headquarters on Wednesday. Fear not art lovers and faithful readers--Rank will not miss this golden opportunity to find out what other treasures lurk in the KMT art gallery.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Hong Kong Model

Whenever the subject of One Country, Two Systems comes up, I sometimes hear the argument that since China has not substantively diluted Hong Kong's freedoms, Taiwan should accept the same deal from China. Now this is simply wrong because completely different sets of historial circumstances govern Hong Kong and Taiwan's contemporary political realities. Under the British, the people of Hong Kong did not have basic political rights. So Chinese rule has not diminished political freedoms in Hong Kong because there weren't any in the first place. But China has not kept its promises either. Hong Kong was promised an independent legal system, and that promise has been abrogated. And in the Basic Law, China committed itself to future political freedoms such as free elections. Those commitments have been deferred indefintely.

But Taiwan has a full set of political freedoms in place on the ground right now. China would have to be trusted to respect those freedoms, which given China's track record in Hong Kong vis a vis the Hong Kong legal system there is little reason to believe that it would.

Still, it's nice to have a concrete example on hand of what kind of place Hong Kong is turning into. Here's a great Traveller's Tale from FEER about how Yahoo! Hong Kong ratted out a Chinese journalist and got him sent to jail for ten years. The bigger issue in the case is of course how major multinational high tech companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Google, and now Yahoo! are cravenly cooperating with China's police state to enforce its reign of terror, but the Yahoo! Hong Kong case is notable because it shows how what you say in Hong Kong privately can be held against you in China.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Honored Guests

The China Times reports that Four Seas gang leader Chen Yong-he celebrated his 26 year old son's marriage at the AsiaWorld Hotel Tuesday evening. Guests at the 83 table reception included legislators Zhong Rong-ji (PFP, Legislator at large and Vice Speaker), Cai Hao (independent, Pingtung), and Luo Ming-cai (KMT, Taipei County. Son of notorious but now retired gangster-legislator Luo Fu-zhu.) Variety show host Jackie Wu also graced the event.

The groom, whose Chinese means 'the likeness of goodness', has recently completed his studies in the US and will work in the high tech industry. The bride is a saleswoman at a department store boutique. Her name was left unmentioned in the article.

And all this just a week after what has to be one of the great quotes of the year. Ke Jun-xiong (KMT, Hsinchu) and TSU caucus leader He Min-hao took advantage of their taxpayer-funded junket to Japan to visit a notorious Yakuza leader there. Ke defended the visit by telling reporters that "I'm sure that most of the men sitting in this room have friends in the mob." Ke and He are both members of the legislature's defense committee.
Score one for the good guys

It's rare that Taiwan wins a diplomatic or even a quasi-diplomatic battle with China, but it happens now and then.

The short version of the story is that Beijing, hoping to scuttle Taipei's bid to host this year's meeting of the Asian Network of Major Cities, decided to bid for hosting privileges itself. Beijing won, but only at the price of helping Taipei secure hosting rights for next year. This caused China to throw one of its patented hissy fits and drop out of the group entirely -- meaning that Taipei might end up hosting the event this year after all.

Way to shoot yourselves in the foot, you miserable lizard-hearted infant-brained communists.

China makes me mad sometimes.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Needed: the right kind of pork

Taiwan's government, on both the legislative side and the executive side, loves to deal out the bacon. Who cares if the tax structure is leaky and the national debt is approaching legal limits -- roads to nowhere must be built! Artificial lakes must be constructed! Cable cars must run to the tops of the highest mountains!

You'll note that useless roads, destructive lakes, and moronic cable cars are all projects that create adverse environmental consequences. Now, I don't suspect the government of fouling the environment just for the fun of it, but they sure don't let nature stand in their way as they rush to spend public money on construction projects that make their cronies fat and happy.

Well, I've got an idea. Why doesn't the government, since it's so eager to divert taxpayers' money to contractors, finally invest in sewage treatment for every household, every place of business, every public facility on the entire island?

I don't have the figures in front of me, but Taiwan's sewage connection rate comes in at something like 30%. Surely, surely, correcting that national disgrace would cost just as much money as do these idiotic roads that create landslides, artificial lakes that only destroy habitat, and cable cars that would allow ramshackle Disneylands to be built on top of Yushan.

Fixing the sewage problem once and for all seems like a win-win situation. It would produce great public benefit while running through enough money to satisfy even the most corrupt member of the Legislative Yuan. The opportunity for kickbacks would be vast. The rivers would be so much cleaner.

Can anyone explain how I'm looking at this wrong?
Infant mortality

Nicholas Kristof writes:

If it's shameful that we have bloated corpses on New Orleans streets, it's even more disgraceful that the infant mortality rate in America's capital is twice as high as in China's capital. That's right - the number of babies who died before their first birthdays amounted to 11.5 per thousand live births in 2002 in Washington, compared with 4.6 in Beijing.

While I share Kristof's outrage at the Bush Administration's disgraceful response to the disaster in New Orleans and his concern about the poor in America, I wonder about this figure. I suspect that when health authorities in Beijing calculate infant mortality rates, they are looking at infants born to registered residents of Beijing. I believe there are something like 3 million migrant workers in Beijing whose childern are not counted. Since these workers basically have no access to health care, the real infant mortality rate is likely to be much higher.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Rice King 2005

Li Xian-long, an Amis from Chihshang, was named Taiwan's rice king last week for his Hegeng No. 2 organic rice. Chihshang is in the Eastern Rift Valley, and has won the competition three years in a row.

When Li was named the winner, he strode to the stage with both arms raised in the air shouting 'I'm an Amis! I am an Amis!' The Amis are the largest of Taiwan's officially recognized indigenous peoples and live primarily on the eastern coast. 100 kilos of Li's rice was auctioned off for 1.1 million NT$ although the China Times reports that Li will only receive about 30 percent of that. The rest goes to the local Farmer's Association.

A picture in the print version of the ChinaTimes showed Premier Frank Hsieh scarfing down a bowl of Li's rice. If my memory serves me correctly, the paper says that works out to be about NT$800 for one bowl of rice.

Chihshang itself is a kind of humdrum market town, but the surrounding countryside is beautiful. If you find yourself there you might want to visit the Chihshang Lunch Box Museum. This is in fact a moderately interesting musuem devoted to the history of Chihshang. There are some nice photographs of what Chihshang looked like 60 years ago--tree-lined streets with hundreds of people out shopping. A far cry from the barren, hot main street that runs through the town now. All the trees were cut down long ago, and the streets are empty.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Here's a strange one that didn't make the English papers

Ms. Wang, a 38 year old woman who says she is a virgin, goes to Cathay General Hospital with her mother, where Dr. Lin Hui-lin, a minor celebrity herself, gives Ms. Wang a pelvic exam without getting Ms. Wang's permission first.

During the examination Ms. Wang's hymen was ruptured. Ms. Wang then filed a complaint with the Consumer Foundation. After mediation by the Consumer Foundattion, Cathay General Hospital said that it would repair Ms. Wang's hymen free of charge or give her NT$100,000.

The Wangs, however, were not satisfied. Ms. Wang's father, one Wang Xian-ji, held a news conference where, brandishing his daughter's bloody panties (the print version of the Apple Daily story actually had a picture of this), he demanded NT$5 million in compensation and an apology from Dr. Lin or he would take her to court for medical malpractice. In the China Times verion of the story Mr. Wang said that although his daughter had had boyfriends, she had protected her virginity like a treasure. Now her ill-fated doctor's visit had destroyed a woman's most valuable possession-her hymen.

Mr. Wang, it turns out, is a Taiwanese independence activist who started something called the 8 Sept. Taiwan National Day Movement. The Movement wants to establish Sept. 8 as Taiwan's national day to commemorate the date in 1951 on which Japan relinquished sovereignty over Taiwan in the Treaty of San Francisco.

Dr. Lin has appeared in shampoo commercials and Mandopop music videos. Apparently this is not the first time this issue has come up. A Taipei prosecutor asked a judge to sentence a Dr. Huang to six months in prison for the same crime in late 2004.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Good job

It's rare that I say something nice about the Taipei Times -- actually, it's rare that anyone says something nice about the Taipei Times -- but I have to admit that they've been all over the Thai worker story in Kaohsiung. Especially yesterday. I wish I'd brought it up then.

I'm not sure that every article they've produced on the subject has been stellar journalism. But if English-language journalism can make a meaningful contribution in Taiwan, it's on stories like this.

While I'm on the subject, I've never seen a Taipei Times article as critical of the DPP as this one.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Tough times in Qingquan

This weekend, a few friends and I made an overnight trip to the mountains of Hsinchu. We all had a fine time up at altitude -- barbecuing under an overhang in the rain, walking the riverside paths at night. But not all of it was fun and games, because we couldn't help observing that the people of Qingquan and vicinity are suffering from some very serious social problems.

It's not news to anyone that Aboriginal communities often have big trouble adapting to their changed worlds. But for me... well, certain truths don't become real in my mind until confirmed by detail. In this case, pathetic detail.

On Sunday morning, my friend and I walked to the store to buy some instant noodles, which are about the only thing you can find to eat in Qingquan. On the way we passed a row of houses -- attached concrete huts, really -- where a bunch of shirtless men asked us if we'd like to share some Taiwan Beer with them. It was 10 AM. They looked as if they'd just rolled out of bed after a long, hard night, and were set for another long, hard day. Just down the pavement, ignored and isolated, was a gentleman whose head had gotten smashed pretty badly in some kind of chaos. He was dripping lots of blood and it was piling up in a puddle at his feet. Perhaps the men at the other end of the pavement had had enough of his wisecracks. They certainly weren't rushing to help him.

Later, somewhere up a mountain road from Qingquan, we parked the car to take a look at the view. A scooter zoomed past us, upward bound, and we noticed that the driver was a boy of roughly eight. His passenger, and presumably his brother, looked more in the range of four. Big brother rode pretty competently, taking turns with a deep professional tilt. Perhaps no one in the brothers' house was awake at that late hour of the morning, and the boys had taken matters into their own hands and driven off to the store for some instant noodles. For a long time after the scooter had gone past us, the little brother stared back in our direction. To this four-year-old, his morning scooter ride was normal as could be. The real freaks were the foreigners staring at mountains.

Later yet, we stopped at a roadside stand and bought a couple of sausages. Then we ambled a small distance away to a sort of platform and ate our snacks off sticks. One of my friends, female as it happens, sat down on the edge of the platform, facing back toward the sausage stand. This provided an opportunity to a little boy -- seven, maybe? -- to pipe up with loud obscene talk. He wanted to know if my female friend had a lot of pubic hair, for instance, or whether instead she shaved it. The boy was surrounded by adults but no one made a move to shush him or at least slap him across the mouth.

Our boy motorcyclists and our foul-mouthed sausage-stand lad -- they seem doomed to become the next generation of men with smashed faces on hungover Sunday mornings.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Volunteer environmental sleuths

Here's a worthwhile article from the Christian Science Monitor about the government's use of volunteers to snoop around looking for violations of environmental laws. It paints a grim and well-deserved picture of Taiwan's environmental mess, and it's a good idea for a story -- one I'm surprised could have been sold to an international publication.

Picky note: the editor in me couldn't help noticing the spot where the word "exasperated" was used when "exacerbated" was clearly intended. That's a pretty rotten mistake for a writer to make, and a worse mistake for an editor not to catch.

Perhaps I should start posting on Testy Copy Editors.

Great picture from today's China Times. Talk show host Little S puts the moves on an embarrassed Mayor Ma Ying-jeou. Shameless blue hussy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


This has nothing to do with Taiwan. It's a picture of the California coast near Santa Cruz.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

This story has it all

Blackmail. A jealous husband. Webcam masturbation. Osteogenesis imperfecta. Read it for yourself.

What's shocking about Taiwan is that nearly every day there's a story roughly as strange as this one.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Maybe it sounds more convincing in Mandarin

Opponents of the KMT often characterize the party as "alien" to Taiwan. A vile slander, of course -- and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou is sick and tired of it. To show just how unfair the stereotype is, Ma told a story the other day about Sun Yat-sen passing through Taipei in 1913 on his way to exile in Japan. Apparently a Taiwanese painter named Liao Chin-ping donated some money to Sun, and Sun reciprocated the gift with a bottle of whiskey. The whiskey was so meaningful to Liao, and indeed the entire Liao family, that Liao's son treasured and safeguarded it even after his father...

...was put to death by the KMT!

"Those who claimed that Kuomintang is an alien regime are just ignorant of the history," Ma said.

That's the kind of logic you can't argue with.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Fantastic innovation!

The rules for riding the MRT's escalators are simple: those who want to stand must stay to the right, enabling those who want to climb to move freely on the left. Signs explaining this policy are posted everywhere. Still, there's no shortage of oblivious knuckleheads who stand on the left and hold everyone up.

Well, I notice that at the main station they've come up with a new idea to reinforce the point -- they're painting bright yellow feet on the right side of the escalators! Two bright yellow feet -- clearly in a standing position -- on every other step!

Anyone who doesn't get the point now should have his yo-yo card revoked.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Today's prize for journalistic incoherence goes to...

... this Taipei Times article, which has something to do with infectious diseases from China. The reporter and the copy editor seem to have conspired to make sure that no reader, no matter how curious and diligent, could have any hope of figuring out what the article actually means. And the headline is the biggest problem of all -- downright deceptive.

I scanned the article once, which should have been sufficient for me to understand it, but wasn't; then I scanned it again, which didn't increase my understanding at all; then I actually read the goddamned thing, which made me curse my first-grade teacher. If Mrs. Wheelis hadn't taught me to read, I wouldn't be wasting my time on this kind of drivel.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Orange juice adventures

In the alley behind my office building, there's a small storefront selling fresh-squeezed orange juice. Actually, "storefront" is too grand a term -- it's just a home that happens to have street frontage, so they sell a little juice on the side.

The first time I bought juice there, the woman serving me was about a hundred and ten, and she didn't have change for my NT$100 -- which forced her to scoot down the alley at a very low velocity to get change from elsewhere. Today I risked going there again, only to be served by a man with a leg so bum that he had to bend down and support the knee with his hand as he tried to move around the "kitchen." He wasn't any faster than the old lady, though fortunately he didn't have to jog down the alley.

That's Taiwanese small enterprise in action. You never know what you're going to get, but finding out is half the fun.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Cloud Gate Dance Theater

Last night Cloud Gate Dance Theater gave a free outdoors performance of Dream of the Red Chamber. It was the sort of self-consciously beautiful balletic material that in all its manifestations puts me to sleep. Vast scale, sky-high production values, stunning costumes, rampant virtuosity but... ho hum. I've seen it before.

I'd have loved to love Cloud Gate. I gather that not all of their work is so staid, and I was hoping for something more daring.

The most remarkable thing was the size of the crowd -- thousands upon thousands of people, all assembled on a warm summer night to take in a bit of modern dance. Most people (me included) had to sit so far from the front that they were forced to watch the Jumbotrons instead of the stage. It was like going to a Rolling Stones concert, except the audience was sober and not so old.

I was shocked to learn today that Lin Hwai-min, Cloud Gate's founder, is not only an internationally acclaimed figure in dance but also a graduate of the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, with several published novels to his credit. Who ever heard of such a thing? I didn't like Dream of the Red Chamber very much but I have to say I'm impressed with Mr. Lin's achievements.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Getting it wrong. Again.

It's never a huge surprise when a reporter mischaracterizes the United States' policy on Taiwan. But this particular factual disaster, from a Reuters story on virtual war games in Taiwan, really distinguishes itself as idiotic:

"The United States recognizes the mainland as China's sole legitimate government -- the 'one-China' policy -- but in a deliberately ambiguous piece of foreign policy it is also obliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself."

No. the "one China" policy, as professed to by the U.S., says that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of it. The ambiguity has to do with which government is the legitimate representative of that one China. The ambiguity has grown into an anachronism over the years, because Taiwan no longer claims (except in the R.O.C. Constitution) to be the rightful government of the land across the Strait. But still, ambiguity is the very essence of the United States' "one China" position. The fact that the U.S. is obligated under the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan provide for its defense doesn't particularly contribute to the ambiguity. The ambiguity is the policy itself.

Now, to hammer on a different section of the Reuters quote -- "The United States recognizes the mainland as China's sole legitimate government" -- what in the world is that even supposed to mean? Read naively, by a moron, it would seem to indicate that Taiwan just is a part of China, and that the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty isn't even in question. At least not by anyone in Washington.

Of course, Reuters has developed a real reputation over the years for generating this sort of pro-China claptrap. So the mistakes in this article probably represent more than just lazy journalism -- instead, they amount to deliberate and ideologically-driven misinformation.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chen hangs Hsieh out to dry

Recently my Rank colleague Feiren wrote about Premier Frank Hsieh's occasional silliness. The premier managed to survive that mighty blow from Feiren's pen, but now he's receiving public criticism from a more worrisome source -- President Chen Shui-bian.

Chen, casting blame for the water-supply problems that Taoyuan has experienced in the aftermath of two recent typhoons, said yesterday that if a premier "cannot thoroughly resolve the water supply issue, people naturally will wonder what has he been doing," and that after the emergency is resolved "we'll see who should be responsible for this fiasco."

I'm not sure how Frank Hsieh is supposed to prevent typhoons from making reservoirs muddy, but apparently his failure to do so could result in his loss of the premiership. That's how it goes in Taiwanese politics -- if tomorrow a solar eclipse frightened small children and interrupted the growth cycle of mangoes, some politician would have to admit responsibility for it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Note to media: we already got the word on the Barbie museum

I see that there's a Reuters story on the wires today about the town of Taishan, its vanished Barbie industry, and its Barbie museum. I just knew I'd seem a similar story in the Taipei Times a long while back. And an AP story from a long time ago too.

While we're at it, here's another Taiwan Barbie piece that I think is from the Taiwan Journal. On this site, there's a link to a Taiwan Barbie article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph (though I can't be sure if it's a story from yet another wire, or what). For good measure, here's something in Spanish from the GIO website, and here are two essays singing the praises of globalization vis-a-vis Taiwan Barbie. Maybe if I had Lexis/Nexis, I could find even more Taiwan Barbie stories.

I understand how hard it can be to generate story ideas. Still, any reporter now contemplating a Taiwan Barbie story should write instead about a wad of gum stuck to the sole of somebody's shoe.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Things are tough in the civil service

Through e-mail I've received from a Taiwanese acquaintance who is employed by the government, I've learned that "age old and senior in seniority is a sin now. We, these senior ones, should work more and more no matter the load is over and unreasonable."

That sounds like a bad situation. But even worse, "Every month there are three colleagues vaporized."

My heart goes out to this very nice woman and her unjustly vaporized colleagues.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Bad, bad music

Last night I found myself in a Ximending pool hall that's popular with teenagers. It was a great place to play pool, with level tables and plenty of room to move around in and not too much smoke. The only problem is that they were playing Taiwanese pop music way too loud. And so I was forced to pay closer attention to this style of music than I've ever been forced to before.

The songs fell into two categories -- overproduced love songs full of over-protesting vocal mechanics, and teenybopper rap songs with herky-jerky beats that were supposed to be funky but weren't. I couldn't understand a word that was sung, of course, but I'll wager that all the song titles could be roughly translated as "I'll Love You till the End of Time, Longer if I Retain Consciousness after Death" and "Ooh, Girl, You So Fine, I Can't Wait to Get wit' You, Baby."

Two modalities. Two possible nodes of human emotion. Life's great banquet reduced to a greasy cheeseburger and a butterscotch ice cream sundae.

The Taiwanese pop music industry is just mimicking the state of affairs in the States, of course. The only thing you can blame the Taiwanese industry for is recruiting no one to sing on record who doesn't sound exactly like the Backstreet Boys or some female equivalent. Here, even the rappers sound like the Backstreet Boys. At least in the States you hire a thug to do a thug's job.

Given a choice, I'll listen to Taiwanese taxi music, that cheesetastic Casio-generated genre of yesteryear. Taiwanese taxi music occasionally provides you a melody worth listening to, and it makes no pretense of rhythm, which is better than promising rhythm but not providing it. Broken promises of rhythm are all you get from current Taiwanese pop and, for that matter, most American hip-hop and R&B.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Read the whole thing

It turns out that the article I referred to in the post below showed up in yesterday's Taipei Times.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Well stated

This bit of very effective rhetoric came my way today:

"They say you can judge people by the company they keep. The same can be said about countries. So what does it say about China when its foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, skips the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meeting to go visit Myanmar (Burma), at the same time that Chinese President Hu Jintao is welcoming Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe to Beijing with full honors – the same Hu who responded to the carnage in Uzbekistan by inviting its president, Islam Karimov, to Beijing for a 21-gun salute in May, within two weeks of the Andijan massacre. The same China, one might add, that has systematically blocked stronger United Nations Security Council (UNSC) action against the genocidal government in Sudan and prevented the UNSC from discussing North Korea’s flagrant violation of international nuclear and human rights norms. As one surveys the globe’s pariah regimes, it seems the one thing they all have in common is the same best friend: China!"

This is the first paragraph of an essay by Ralph Costa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Hawaii outfit that does foreign policy research. There's not much to add to what Costa says, because he says it so well. But this is the sort of article I'd like to show to certain Westerners who take a naive, rosy-colored view of China -- the ones who take it as an article of faith that the future runs through the PRC, and that this is probably as it should be, because the Chinese are such peacable, spiritual people who have 5,000 years of wisdom acquisition on their side.

The article came to me via an e-mailed newsletter, and it isn't up on the web yet, but I believe you'll be able to read the whole thing on the group's website eventually.
Bits and pieces

Today's post calls your attention to various odd details buried deep in the Taiwanese news.

This article about a new free-trade agreement between Taiwan and Guatemala is dull as dust. But it's worth slogging through just to learn that the pact allows Taiwanese and Guatemalan airlines to fly on to third countries from one another's airports. All I can say is, the first time you see a Guatemalan airplane in Taiwanese airspace, please e-mail me. Can you picture the trade representatives from the two governments wasting their time hammering this out?

Here is an article about a lotto winner who gave NT$20 million to a charity that cares for "comatose people from low-income families." I just didn't know such a charity existed. [This story is actually from a few weeks ago. Today we learn that another lotto winner has given NT$50 million to charity, but I'm not linking to that story because the guy picked dull charities.]

And from this story we learn that "a leading plastic surgeon and his colleagues in the southern port city of Kaohsiung will offer their services to 100 fathers who wish to have wrinkles and age marks removed to give them a 'new' face." Hey, surgeons -- try offering your services to 100 burn victims. The average dad has the face he deserves.

Finally, this article tells us that "Many readers have often shied away from government publications because of their stilted language and policy propaganda." Well, "shied away" doesn't quite describe the panic in which readers flee these publications. But oh the money they've paid me.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Take me out to the really weird ball game

Taiwan's got another game-fixing scandal going on in its professional baseball league -- a league that hasn't even finished recovering from its scandals of 1998. Now, I could write about how odd it is that the league has singled out foreign players as problematic when most of the names involved seem to be Taiwanese ones, but that speaks for itself. What I'm going to write about instead is the series of very unusual things I saw happen at a game I attended tonight. None of these unusual things, by the way, had anything to do with game-fixing.

The game in fact was very crisply played, and ended with a 2-1 score. The pitchers were doing their level best, and they're the only ones in position to reliably throw a game. The umpiring also appeared top-notch.

That said, I saw some things that were just jawdroppingly strange.

I saw a center fielder, during a conference on the mound, lie down on the field of play. He remained there for two to three minutes. He spent some of that time stretching, but the fact remains that he was lying down on the field of play. In the spirit of understatement, I'll simply note that I've never seen that in Major League Baseball.

I saw a groundskeeper abandon his rake during mid-game field maintenance. That's right, he just plain left his rake on the field. It was eventually picked up by the man operating the little buggy that smooths out the infield. But only after the rake had gotten run over.

I saw a pitching coach standing on the mound, watching critically, while a relief pitcher was going through his warm-up tosses. A pitching coach doing that in the States would probably find himself subject to vicious retribution of some kind.

Finally, on what was a difficult but probably makable play for a third baseman fielding a grounder, I saw a pitcher fail to get out of the line of the third baseman's throw to first. The third baseman was forced to throw high, and the ball sailed over the first baseman's head, and this "error" led to the winning run. A play like this isn't unheard-of -- anyone can make a mental mistake -- but the pitcher didn't even seem to be aware that he'd blundered.

Looking at the play cynically, of course, I could argue that it was on that very play that the pitcher threw the game -- that in the current environment of suspicion, he couldn't risk tossing gopher balls all game long, so he had to look for a chance to botch things in the field.

But I don't think I'll make that argument. A man doing something as mercenary as throwing a baseball game probably doesn't have the, what shall we call it -- the strength of character necessary to stand around nonchalantly with his back to a play and depend on a teammate not to throw a 70mph strike into his ear -- which is what the third baseman would have done if he'd innocently depended on the pitcher to do what he should have done.

Of course, this is the whole problem with game-fixing scandals -- there's no way of knowing for sure what's real and what isn't.

Friday, July 29, 2005

International recognition from a surprising source

Taiwan does everything it can to win little scraps of political recognition from abroad -- fighting for diplomatic ties with Tuvalu, say, or hosting big computer conferences, or carrying out a quixotic (and mind-numblingly dull) quest for inclusion in the World Health Organization. Most of these efforts come to nothing, and members of Taiwan's diplomatic corps must be among the most rejected people on the planet.

That's why this press release from the website of the Communications Workers of America caught my eye. The background is that Chunghwa Telecom, the primarily state-owned telephone company, is on the way to being privatized, but there's great resistance to privatization among the company's employees and among many politicians too. Well, now it turns out that the anti-privatizers have an ally in the AFL-CIO, the U.S. umbrella labor organization, which is calling on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to block any sale of Chunghwa shares because the privatization may be unconstitutional in Taiwan. "The SEC should not be deciding questions that are the jurisdiction of Taiwan," says a high-ranking U.S. union official. "The United States must respect democracy in Taiwan."

Hey, it ain't exactly a seat in the United Nations, but this bit of support for Taiwanese sovereignty from the U.S. labor movement, even though that movement is much diminished these days, is a relatively big piece of support by Taiwanese standards. Obviously the AFL-CIO's action is only motivated by a marriage of interests between unions in the States and here, but it's not often that you'll hear any kind of serious player in the States speak out on behalf of Taiwan (or even its public-sector workers).

I somehow doubt that this coup is the result of strategizing by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At this very moment, MOFA is probably trying to win inclusion under the name "Taiwan, ROC" in the International Association of Guava-Producing Nations.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Silly Frank (And a Rant about Dao)

Yesterday's China Times Evening Express ran a very silly picture of Frank Hsieh admiring a toy sword he was given at a press conference to announce that August 1 will be now be (get this) "Indigenous People's Re-designation Day" [sic] . Hsieh revealed that his great-grandmother was an aboriginal Taiwanese. Update: It gets better yet. In today's Taipei Times, Hsieh says that he is probably a Bunun because

...whenever I hear Bunun music I become excited and emotional.

Hsieh is truly the master of the silly sound bite. You still hear him talking about 'mutual symbiosis' as the ideal relationship between the DPP and the KMT. And since the essence of Taiwanese politics seems to be a race to see who can be the silliest, one can conclude that Hsieh must have an inside track on the presidency.

[begin rant]
Dictionary translations really bug me. The Taipei Times article I just quoted also has a picture of Frank holding what can only be described in English as a sword. But since the Chinese said 'dao', and the dictionary translation of 'dao' is knife, the translator dutifully entered knife into the copy cheerfully ignoring the visual evidence to his right. 'Dao' in the sense of sword has probably crept into Chinese from Taiwanese, but this usage is very firmly established now.
[end rant]