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]

Turton on Arms Package

Michael Turton over at The View from Taichung has a very useful and detailed discussion of the arms package the US wants Taiwan to buy so badly. I'm beginning to feel that some critics of the arms package have legitimate issues with its content. But that does not change the fact that the KMT and the PFP oppose the purchase because they want Taiwan to remain militarily weak so that they can bring it more effectively into China's orbit.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Misrepresenting Taiwan

The New York Times ran a story about China's military buildup that had this misleading paragraph:

Administration officials said parts of the report were intended as a subtle reminder to Taiwan. Many administration officials are concerned that the Taiwanese are increasingly using their relationship with Washington as a shield against the Chinese military buildup. New weapons programs - many using technology sold by American firms - have been languishing in Taiwan's parliament. The report strongly suggests that Taiwan must take a greater role in building up its own defenses, an argument that the Taiwanese often say is a cover for American efforts to increase military sales.

The problem is the verbal slide with 'the Taiwanese' as if Taiwan, a nation divided, is speaking with one voice. Washington has protected Taiwan from China since Truman decided to save Taiwan from China at the beginning of the Korean war. The real issue is reforming Taiwan's military so that it can defend Taiwan until the US can come to Taiwan's aid. Unfortunately, the Chen administration simply does not have enough political capital to make kinds of qualitative reforms--like abolishing the draft--that Taiwan needs to make.

Washington cannot be held responsible for that lack of political capital, although the Washington establishment's unrelenting hostility to the Chen administration certainly hasn't helped.

The reality is that the 'Taiwanese' who are adamantly against building up Taiwan's defenses are the quislings in the blue camp who welcome China's rise and hope that the US will leave East Asia immediately.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Annette Lu has a great idea

Taiwan's vice president is known for her wild and wacky ideas, as when she suggested that Aboriginals who live in the mountains would do well to move to -- Central America!

But this time she's onto something. She thinks that Taiwan could cut down on air conditioning if men stopped wearing business suits in the office. I'm for that. But I get a little uncomfortable when she suggests that we should all wear a national shirt.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Not so tough after all

Haitang turned out to be much less fierce than advertised. The wind was only properly howling for a few hours and only a few limbs came down. Next thing I knew, there was sunlight breaking through the clouds.

But everyone got to stay home on Monday, which is the important thing.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Thar she blows

Typhoon Haitang is here. At this point the rain is come-and-go, and the wind doesn't amount to much yet, but this looks like a real doozy of a low-pressure system, so we're probably in for a real good soak over the next couple of days.

Typhoons differ from hurricanes in that hurricanes make you fear for your life, and typhoons really don't -- unless you live at the base of a steep hillside, or you're the sort of person who wants to drive his car through water that's two meters high, or you can't resist going outside for long walks while strong gusts of wind are releaving trees of their limbs.

The key in a typhoon is to stock up on food and reading matter then stay in your house till the thing blows over. And of course to enjoy the reduced temperatures.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


When I wrote about foot problems recently, I mentioned that women aren't as afflicted as men with the various bacterias and mildews that afflict the lower human extremities. But I'm realizing now that women enjoy lots of advantages over men when it comes to surviving the subtropical summer comfortably.

Wardrobe. Men, at least the ones who work in offices, are obligated to walk through the Taipei steam bath in collared shirts and long trousers, whereas women are free to flounce about in their pretty little skirts, some of them so short as to be blush-inducing. The skirts, I mean.

Umbrellas. Probably twenty percent of Taipei's adult female population walks around all summer equipped with parasols -- plain umbrellas, really, but it amounts to the same thing -- which they unfurl every time they have to walk through a sunny patch. They do it to keep their skin as light as possible, not to avoid the heat per se, but I imagine it has the same effect.

Tolerance. Women never seem to mind the heat as much as men do to begin with, probably because they've got less weight to drag around.

In winter, on the other hand, women start to shiver and chatter at the first sign of a cool breeze. But that's a problem for another season, and I don't feel much sympathy about it. The problem right now is the heat. (Here, typhoon! Here, little typhoon! Grow and be strong!)

On another note, Rank's efforts to draft additional bloggers seems to be an abject failure.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The feet

For a while, as a blogger, I was trying to write little essay jewels. I'm not sure that's compatible with the spirit of blogging, or its demands -- a blog that rarely gets updated is a blog that rarely gets read. So I'm going to start trying to dash things off. Here's a start.

Feet are a big problem here in the subtropics, especially for men -- women aren't so bad off because they can wear open-toed shoes. Plus their physiology might make them less susceptible to bacteria; I'm not sure on that count. But I'll tell you what. At times I've had three seperate outbreaks of foot-fungus appearing at the same time on just one foot.

The standard stuff between the toes. A weird blister phenomenon on the arch, which eventually leads to peeled skin. And red itchy dots on the tops of my feet. My folk remedy, handed down through generations of DogsOfTheSouth, is to soak the feet in bleach solution then attack the bad spots with baking soda. Unfortunately, it's hard to find baking soda in Taiwan. Bleach has helped, but it hasn't solved the problem.

I know lots of people can understand what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The heat

Last summer, the hot weather began to get on my nerves at about the beginning of August. This year it's only taken till the beginning of July. But heck, there's not much summer left -- just July, August, September and part of October. After that it's clear sailing. For a brief time. Till the cold clammy winter sets in. Taiwan's weather goes from crap to crap.