Tuesday, May 31, 2005

From the Taipei Times.

"He became famous for his willingness to physically attack fellow lawmakers with his fists or other handy items." The article.

Fists are pretty darn handy, have to give 'em that.

Taiwan's DPP legislators tell the Yankees how to run the club. Funny.

The legislators encouraged Taiwan's baseball fans to write Yankee management to insist, after pitcher Wang Chien-ming's performance against the Detroit Tigers last week, that Wang be kept on the Yankee roster. The Yankees were not amused. The link.
It's not true.

Feiren points out that unlike Japan, South Korea and China, Taiwan's conviction rate sits at 85 percent instead of 99 in 2004. Here is the MOJ link.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Service in restaurants

In the States, we describe restaurant service as great or rotten, fantastic or miserable. Here in Taiwan, words like that don't work. Because service in Taiwanese establishments that offer Western food is... just weird.

You get embarrassed adolescents draping napkins over your lap. You get bread with no butter, or butter with no bread, or bread and butter with no knife. You get waitresses who feel obliged to talk to you -- and never let you eat in peace. Time and again, you get asked if you'd like your drink now or if you'd like it with your meal. You get coffee brought to you while you're still eating pasta. You get your salad twenty minutes after your entree.

I realize that these kids providing service don't have the cultural knowledge they need to do their jobs. I realize that their salaries are miserable, and no one tips them. But the next time someone tries to take my plate while I'm still eating, or leaves my plate on the table until the food has calcified, I'm going to... I'm going to... I'm going to smile and say thank you, I enjoyed my meal very much. There's nothing else you can do.
Taiwan's godfather "mosquito brother" laid to rest.

Over 10,000 people showed up to pay their respects to one of the most notorious organized crime figures in Taiwan's history. Gang members from Hong Kong and Japan came to pay their respects as well. More here.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

I wonder if this is true in Taiwan.

On the FEER blog, there is an entry about how if you get accused of a crime in Japan, South Korea or China, all three would probably convict you as they all have a 99 percent conviction rate because of the power of prosecutors. Check it out.
International waters ... pppphhhhttt!

Taiwan's Coast Guard forces Chinese research vessel out. This was the second time in seven days that the vessel had entered Taiwan's territory. More from the Taipei Times.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Joan Didion's piece in the New York Review Of Books on Terri Schiavo.

A long read, but worth it.

An uplifting find ...

What could buoy the heart more on a Saturday afternoon than the discovery of new fish off the coast of Taiwan? More here.

Friday, May 27, 2005

US Congressmen put pressure on KMT Chairman Lien Chan

Thirty-three congressmen signed a letter asking KMT Chairman Lien Chan to support the defense appropriations bill. Somehow, I don't think Lien will be moved. The KMT has invested what little political capital they have in opposing this bill. It probably wouldn't do them much good among their constituents to flip-flop after years of flogging the appropriations as an pricey US swindle. Here's the link.
Typhoons are good for shell games.

New York State's firebrand Attorney General Eliot Spitzer talks about the state's case against US insurance giant AIG. The company allegedly covered up losses by "linking" damages from a typhoon to its Taiwan-based subsidary to losses in a Brazilian-based subsidary.

These charges, however, are peripheral compared with the allegations that the company has been inflating its worth to ward off regulators and please investors. More here.

That's just silly ...

When was the last time you heard of a statesman giving out an award for an abstract moral achievement? The chastity medal, the order of noncovetousness, the five-point star for humility and rectitude? President Chen Shui-bian hands out awards for filial piety. More here.

(Editor's note: The picture above is the Order of the Chrysanthemum, a Japanese miltary medal, obviously not the awards that Chen handed out to school kids. Rank does not endorse or condone Japanese military expansionism during World War II. Picture is of historical interest only.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

China bans eating off of naked women.

I stole this from Peking Duck.
On Bird Flu ...

One of my early Rank entries points out how unequipped and underfunded developing nations are when it come to tackling the avian flu virus. What's more astounding is the cavalier attitude among wealthier nations when it comes to protecting their own populace from something that, were it to get out of control, would be far more problematic than any of the real or imagined threats we hear so much about. More in The Guardian.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Bahraini Bloggers in Hot Water

More from the Guardian.
More reasons for that defense budget ...

Wendell Minnick from Jane's Defense Weekly has a piece in today's Taipei Times. Most interesting is the comment from the US official.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Cockamamy Reasoning

One of the most bizarre political arguments I've seen in Taiwan since I've been here is the KMT's assertion that Taiwan doesn't need to increase its military spending because eventually, China will outspend Taiwan, so its futile to even consider raising the budget.

What gives? Here is something in the Taipei Times that puzzled me:
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ting Shou-chung said China's miltary spending accounts for 2.8 percent of GDP, and that its military budget has been growing at a double-digit rate for over a decade. Noting that China's military budget would be 20 timesTaiwan's within 15 to 20 years, Ting askedLee, "will the military be able to safeguard the country if the gap of military spending between Taiwan continues to grow?"
China's military budget will continue to grow, and will eventually exceed Taiwan's. Is Ting (whose father is aROC general) a maverick suggesting that the KMT should get the military budget passed, or is he part of the tiring chorus that says spending the money is silly because China will eventually be victorious.

That argument is akin to a homeowner saying that they won't make repairs to their home because the next door neighbor has so much money, he'll eventually buy the property off the homeowner, but we all know the real result of such behavior. A drop in property values.
Is that what Taiwan wants?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

James Soong is either out of his tree ...

... or mutiny is spreading within his party. On Monday the PFP said they would no longer cooperate with the DPP, effectively sinking the agreement made between James Soong and President Chen Shui-bian at their February meeting. And on Tuesday, the PFP vowed to stop any legislation proposed by the DPP as I noted yesterday.

Today we find out through the Taipei Times that PFP Legislator Lee Chin-hua (the brother of the PFP's infamous harridan Diane Lee) is leaving the party. Lee says he cannot see how the PFP can cooperate with both the ruling party and KMT. This doesn't come as a shock as Lee, Chou-yi and several other PFP legislators held a press conference on Monday criticizing Soong.

I didn't know anything about that press conference until this afternoon, so at first I thought that one of two things must be brewing. Either Soong had diabolically engineered this week's kerfuffle for political advantage, or he was losing control of the party. Soong must have put the kibosh on the uproar, thus leading to Lee's resignation.

In any case, Soong should get his house in order and consider merging with the KMT. Once the National Assembly ratifies the constitutional reforms, and the legislative elections are held, the PFP will wither and blow away as Taiwan moves toward a two-party system.
Another new link ...

Take a gander a Peking Duck. Again, look at the blogroll.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

They're at it again.

Earlier, I wrote up several paragraphs on the recent shenadigans of the PFP. They have broken their promise to President Chen Shui-bian and vowed to block any legislation until Chen gets down on his hands and knees and praises all the good work PFP leader James Soong has done by travelling to China.

Unfortunately, the original post fell into the blackhole of the Firefox browser, so I'm only going to point to this link, the first entry on Rank. While some of the invective is dated, much is still relevant as the KMT and the PFP once again seek to block the arms appropriations bill.

Monday, May 16, 2005

My colorful neighborhood

The color starts right at the sidewalk, with a crew of male layabouts who purport to be furniture-movers but who fritter away most afternoons at a formica table, drinking beer and chewing betel nuts and playing Chinese chess and making imperious demands of their womenfolk. The women are colorful in their own right -- and actually look capable of taking the men in a fair fight -- though they seem to believe that being hectored about is a natural state of affairs, as long as the hectoring results only in cooking and beer-fetching.

Then there's the dwarf who delivers canisters of gas. Gas canisters are big metal affairs, bulky and heavy, and to be frank I'm not sure that I would be capable of hauling one up five flights of stairs, though this dwarf does so uncomplainingly. You see this fellow throw a 16-kilo canister over his back and go marching upward, upward, his legs working like industrial machinery, and you find yourself bursting with admiration, thinking "Now there goes a man!"

If it's not the dwarf who brings your gas, it's likely to be the obese retarded man. He labors. He wheezes. He might drop dead in your kitchen and then you'll have a serious problem. When he's not delivering gas he's loitering at the magazine rack in the Seven-11, thumbing through mass-circulation publications as if they were the foulest pornography. He's the dwarf's brother, or so I'm told by a person in position to know. The obese man gives me a queasy feeling, like an indigestible chili dog. This reaction is not ennobling, but it is unavoidable.

Ah, my next-door neighbor. Another retarded person. She screams for her mother through the morning and screams out discontents in the middle of the night. Her trusty companion is a large, smelly dog with one tooth. When the woman leaves her door open, the dog's wet odor permeates the entire stairwell, forcing neighbors to leave incense burning in the hall. Believe me, the combined olfactory sensation is not something you'd like to experience. Worst, the woman is mean. She encourages the dog to bark. She destroys potted plants if they come within her reach. For the sensitive soul, she's a moral problem that knows no answer.

Her opposite number is a neighborhood lurker with bandy legs and bandages on his feet. This man is as sweet as can be. He can't speak intelligibly, he walks with great difficulty, but he populates the neighborhood like a friendly ghost, hanging about amiably at the edges of card games and smiling at passers-by. You'd trust him in an instant to hold your wallet, to keep an eye on your child. You'd trust his impulses, in any case. But he wouldn't be able to execute.

When I see this man and he hails me, I'm careful to extend him bounteous and conspicuous hellos -- this is a person I feel for. Not so much the dwarf, who clearly can take care of himself. Not so much my lady neighbor, who irks me on purpose. Nor the magazine-thumber, a disturbing individual. But the little man with the big smile and the bandy legs gets every last ounce of my good human feelings.
The PFP are a bunch of crybabies.

On the front page of the Taipei Times today we find out that the James Soong sycophant party is unhappy once again. They thought because Soong had a heart-to-heart talk with China's Hu Jintao, the people of Taiwan would wake up and see the nimbus floating around the demagogue's head. Well, it didn't happen as the weekend vote for the National Assembly proved. And to add insult to injury, Taiwan's own circus clown party, the TSU, ran over Soong and his minions like so many overstuffed Volkswagens.

Now Soong's stooges want a constitutional interpretation from the Council of Grand Justices on the legitimacy of the elections. Why is it exactly that these people can never be bothered to challenge the legitimacy of an election BEFORE they lose?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

After the rains.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Off the beaten path ...

I know that one of the weaknesses of this blog early on was my fanatical inability to focus on a single issue. Having logged entries on Caravaggio and Eminem videos, it would be a understatement to say that the content was "all over the place." So, with the help of DogOfTheSouth, Rank has for the most part focused its attention on Taiwan.

Yet occasionally there are things of such importance that they seem to transcend the need for focus, and this piece is one of them. An American journalist writes about how, by attempting to be more than a stenographer for the US military in Iraq, she can no longer rely on the support of her own government, and what's more she's viewed with suspicion by insurgents, ordinary Iraqis and US officials. It's a compelling piece.

I cadged the link off Eschaton, but thought for those of you who don't look at that site, this shouldn't be missed. If anything, it's refreshing to see that there are still journalists who understand the importance of telling both sides of the story, who strive for balance and who are willing to put themselves at risk in order to broaden our understanding of the serried conflicts of the world.
New Link ...

Feiren tipped me off about the Far Eastern Economic Review's blog. I gave it a cursory glance, and it looks like it's worth checking on the coffee break. Here's the link for the post. In the future you can find it on the blogroll.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Here we go ... (rubs hands)

DogOfTheSouth was laid up in bed sweatin, his bones was aching too. Something nasty has been running around. I just spent the last hour trying to get the damn battery cover off my camera with no success (which also means no light meter.) This is especially depressing because I figured this problem out on a photoshoot tonight.

Anybody out there got damn strong thumbs?

On other fronts, I saw Premier Frank Hsieh yesterday at a special press conference for the foreign press. On the whole it was, as most press conferences are, unenlightening. Yet when a French journalist asked him about whether Taiwan had a reciprocal gesture in mind for the incoming pandas, the premier inexplicably started talking about France's moves to lift the arms embargo. Granted, questions were asked in English, translated to Hsieh in Chinese, then he gave his answer in Chinese, which was translated back into English, so perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

For Great Britain on election day ...

Since the returns are coming in tomorrow morning, here are three faux commercials, which might have been run if the parties said what they really wanted to. (Be sure to use the arrows!)

A note on the Splittist Panda...

Hey there. First off, I have to give credit to William Meldrum for asking the question: what if the two pandas arrive in Taiwan and one of them thinks after awhile that it is Taiwanese and refuses to go back to China?

For those of you who are wondering what the hell I am talking about, China offered two pandas to its "Taiwanese compatriots" as a goodwill gesture during KMT Chairman Lien Chan's trip to China.

But the story doesn't stop there. Xinhua is claiming that the pandas are on their way to Taiwan despite the fact that the ruling DPP government has yet to make up its mind. For the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two are obviously Trojan pandas and the ministry wants nothing to do with them. KMT Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, would be more than happy to accept the pandas in his city zoo, and according to Xinhua has already started training zoo keepers how to keep and train the pandas.

And according to the Taiwan News: "Council of Agriculture Chairman Lee Ching-lung said Tuesday that his council will act according to the law and professionally assess, without regard for political considerations, whether Taiwan can adequately care for the pandas." even though the government has yet to decide whether it will take the pandas or not. Got it? Good!

Now, we can only hope that whatever the result of the panda issue, the Taiwanese don't give up their freedom and democracy for a pair of bamboo-eating bores.

Here are some panda facts if you need them. Pandas sing about biscuits here.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Huddling near the entrance

When tourists visit "nature" destinations, ninety percent of them walk a short distance down the path, stop for a rest, and head straight back toward their vehicles. Many is the roadside waterfall that, though it's second-best to another one just minutes up the trail, seems to satisfy all the nature urges of day-trippers and tour-bus travelers.

For this, I am unendingly grateful.

Taiwanese people have a worse-than-average case of huddling near the entrance. Often, when arriving at destinations I've taken considerable trouble to reach, I've encountered such crowds of jabbering gawkers and strollers that I've almost wished I hadn't left the city. But the disappointment is always unwarranted. After a short piece of vigorous walking, it's just me and my friends and the wide-open sky.

Why is Taiwan so huddle-happy? I can think of two reasons. First, Taiwanese people tend to highly value being around other people. They enjoy company and conversation, and lots of to-ing and fro-ing, plus loud music and firecrackers if possible. To a person like me, steeped in the Western tradition of intellectual alienation, this sort of behavior is unnatural, if moderately charming. I acknowledge that it's good social glue. But how are you to appreciate the extent of your earthly misery if you never go off alone to fully feel it?

Reason number two -- Taiwanese old folks like to get out and about. They're busy, these seniors, and good for them. But one can't expect them to go charging up mountain trails like rams. Well, some of them do go charging up mountain trails like rams. But they tend to charge up a few well-known trails, so they're huddlers in a sense after all.

Today, on as perfect a summer day as has ever existed, my girlfriend and I decided to go to a water park. It was an hour's drive or not much more; we'd gotten an early start; we were looking forward to a long afternoon of good clean fun. But it turned out that the park doesn't open till May 15, temperatures in excess of 33C (about 85F) being far too cold to justify jumping into water.

Eventually we formed a Plan B -- we'd get some charcoal and a few cold beers and have a cookout by a stream on Yangmingshan.

We arrived at the stream to find the huddle taking place in a spot so nasty that we wouldn't have wanted to be there even if we'd had it to ourselves. So we struck out through the streambed for a nicer stretch of water. I'll admit that the going wasn't easy -- at one point I slipped on an algae-covered slope and nearly tumbled into the water, food and charcoal and all. But when we got where we were going, it was a dandy pool with a tiny waterfall, and the slopes around us were steep and green and high, and there were butterflies and silvery fish and tiny crabs handling pebbles twice their size. It was all we'd wished, a lyrical afternoon, a moment that rewards you.

At sunset we picked our way back down the streambed. A hundred meters at most had separated us from the huddlers. They'd spent their afternoon alongside mud and stink, contending with shouting children and junk-food litterers, the many hazards of one another. I repeat that I'm unendingly grateful.