Friday, June 30, 2006

A poem, if that's what you want to call it--or just insomnia

First there was a knock at the door and in I walked. The threshold was before my feet. Frightened steps. Beating heart. Roundabout, and lo, there was an echoing sound. A corridor. Light shining at the end, in one of those resurrection-type scenes. The blazing light at the end of the tunnel. Racing visions. Feverish pace. It is an archetype, a whispering in the frozen memory of the awakened.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Shilin Night Market

I pass by Shilin every night on my way home from work, so I stop at the night market there about once a week.

I don't always get the same thing there--recently I have branched out somewhat--but generally after a week, I am ready to eat it again.

What is it? Well, oddly enough, the first thing I get is the first thing that caught my eye, right near the entrance, when I started to go to the Shilin Night Market on my way home from work.

Spicy Cold Noodles (Mala Liangmian麻辣涼麵). It's just some spaghetti-like noodles with a few pieces of cucumber and carrot in a spicy, delicious sauce, but once I start eating it I lose control. Within moments I start slurping it down, and its so spicy that I can't stop. I can bear the spice, but it propells me along. It's intense, man! Wow!

And as I'm sitting there scooping it into my mouth, my eyes glance over at the fruit juice dealer a few paces away. She can read my innermost thoughts and second-guesses my need for the relief that only a cup of juice can provide.

She sends over a friendly smile. My mind is already made up.

After forking over my 35 NT dollars I rise like an automaton and march in step over to the juice stand. As I look over the menu, before an idea can even form in my mind, she asks: "Mango juice?"

I say, ", dui, dui, yeah!"

Before long, the juicemaker hands me the freshly-blended mango madness, bows, and I walk on content.

Next, the question, "Was that enough to eat or do I need a little protein?" Of course, I choose the latter. I skip the many oyster omlette stands and teppenyaki (which I get on occasion) and the Stinky Tofu and everything else until I come to the lady with the Peking Duck--well, sort of. You order by the pancake and she wraps it for you.

There is a couple in front of me, who are chatting with her as she prepares three Duck rolls for them. I hear one of them ask her: "How long have you lived in Taiwan?"

This surprises me because I always thought she was Taiwanese; I thought everyone with stands there was Taiwanese.

Then it is my turn. I walk up, smile, and order one roll. I am thinking about whether or not to ask her if they just asked her how long she has been in Taiwan. We don't usually talk much--the roll is wrapped before much of a conversation can come to fruition. But this time she asks me: "Do you work near here? I see you here a lot."

"Yeah, I work near the Grand Hotel and live in Beitou, so I pass by here on the Metro." Then I ask: "Did I just hear them ask you how long you've been in Taiwan?"

She laughs: "Yes."

"Where are you from?"

"The Mainland. You can hear it in my pronunciation. I'm from Fujian."

That's from where the majority of Taiwan's pre-1949 Chinese inhabitants came, so I ask if she came from Quanzhou or Zhengzhou in Fujian.

"Closer to Xiamen," which is only a few miles from Taiwan's outlying islands, Kinmen and Matsu.

"How do you like Taiwan?" I ask.

"Horse horse tiger tiger," which is like saying, "It's alright."

I think to ask her what brought her to Taiwan, but before I know it, she is handing me my treat, and I am walking away with duck roll in one hand and mango juice in the other. I walk out into the neon night. Myriad flavors mingle in my mouth. I wipe my face and return home.

On your marks...get set...go

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One of China's early sages--Shennong神農

(From Baoan Temple保安宮 near the Yuanshan Metro Station)

Beneath the surface of the current political battles

Interesting quote from Leo T.S. Ching's, Becoming "Japanese":
The abrupt dissolution of the Japanese Empire by an external mandate instead of through prolonged struggle and negotiation with its colonies has enable Japan to circumvent and disavow its colonial question and, in turn, quickened its economic recovery. In Taiwan the sudden void left by the Japanese colonizer after "liberation" was filled not by the Taiwanese but by the takover army from mainland China. The graft and corruption of the mainlanders fostered in the Taiwanese a deep resentment against the Chinese, and they consequently reconstituted and reimagined their colonial relationship with Japan.

International media notices Taiwan (Update)

Jane Rickards, writing for the Washington Post, weighs in on the Chen saga:
China has refused to deal with Chen, an ardent champion of formal independence for Taiwan, and Chen did not say what he would do to change that. As for healing the political rifts within Taiwan, opposition leaders appeared intent instead on making Chen pay the full price for the alleged irregularities by his family and aides, particularly with presidential elections on the horizon in 2008.

Ma, the likely Nationalist Party candidate in 2008, acknowledged that the recall had failed but claimed a small victory, saying no one cast a vote against the motion. The 88 legislators from Chen's Democratic Progressive Party boycotted the proceedings, which were held as 5,000 police officers and hundreds of soldiers manned barricades outside the legislature to prevent violence among opposing camps of demonstrators.
UPDATE: Michael has some comments on whether the recall really was a "small success" for Ma or his party (I shouldn't have to write this, but everything after the colon is quoted material):
Speaking from the perspective of foreigners who know a little about Taiwan, Ma has certainly looked awful, allowing events to dictate to him rather than dictating to them, and flip-flopping on many important issues. Ma has also suffered a major blow as James Soong, Chairman of the rival PFP party and personal rival of Ma, has revived his career and his party, and positioned himself once again as a major player.

The big knock on Ma is all the waffling and weakness. But that was always the knock on Ma. Nobody held it against him when one day he stridently called for no negotiations with China until the Chinese removed the missiles pointed at Taiwan, and the next, this had to be "clarified" by a sudden reversal of his position. Then there was the time that Ma inserted a toe into the Centrist depths by saying that the KMT could support independence if that's what the people wanted. Oops! That too had to be corrected the following day.

The point is that Ma has been doing the Ma Shuffle (one step forward, one step back, 180 degree turn left, 180 degree turn right. Repeat) over and over again throughout his tenure as leader and nobody really seems to mind. I have not heard any negative remarks about him among the public. So at the moment I can't join the consensus and say that Ma has taken a hit here. Relative to Soong, sure, Ma has suffered. But he hasn't lost position in any absolute sense. The public does not appear to be less confident in him than before and his Presidential hopes remain intact. The way things are at the moment, Ma could rape a sheep at rush hour on the steps of the Presidential Palace, and emerge unscathed: the largely pro-Blue media would blame the sheep for walking around without any clothes on, and Chiu Yi would accuse it of being involved in an illegal deal for shares of Taiwan Semiconductor Corporation.

Soong meanwhile has certainly done a nice imitation of It Has Risen From The Grave, and more power to him, since he splits the Blues, benefiting the Greens. If Ma's goal really was to align himself with the PFP to blur the differences between it and the KMT, so he can bring them back to the fold, the opposite effect has been achieved -- the PFP is back in the limelight and Soong is positioning himself to bargain for a spot on the 2008 ticket, if he can keep his party alive long enough.

Many people have noted that Soong just keeps helping the Greens by splitting the Blues, and here is yet another example. Because the recall motion failed, the President cannot now be recalled for the reminder of his term. If Chen really does do something requiring recall, they can't get to him. Another example of Soong helping the Greens? Only time will tell.

More on NYT Wifly article

UPDATE: Richi at IT Blogwatch has fixed the problem.

Computer World's IT Blogwatch has cobbled together some of the blogger reactions to the Ken Belson article on Taipei's Wifly service, which I discussed below. Although it doesn't cite yours truly, it does cite Michael Turton, who quoted me in his excellent post on the subject. Funny enough, IT Blogwatch included my quote but cited Michael. I would have prefered "via Michael Turton, Wulingren (both live in Taiwan) says," but I don't have any sour grapes, even if some rotten ones are on the floor of my apartment (joke). Michael's site ranks as one of the best--if not the best--blogs in Taiwan, written by a foreigner, so I am happy to be associated with it. He has also plugged this blog, so be sure to check out Michael's, The View from Taiwan.

I found some of the comments concerning Wifly to be a little negative and too quick to pan a system that is still in its infancy. As I said in the comments, there is a sense of gloating about some of them.

Glenn Fleishman, however hits the nail on the head:
Perhaps the biggest difference between Taipei and comparable U.S. metropolises, only mentioned in passing in this article, is that cell data services are substantially better and cheaper than in the U.S. Where the majority of Philadelphia residents have dial-up service and almost certainly little or no cell data access, Taipei residents might have wired Internet service and advanced cell phones.

Recall vote fails

Many of you already know that the recall vote failed yesterday. I was watching one of the Chinese-language news channels when the vote took place, and as Kathrin Hille of the Financial Times explains:
As expected, the opposition failed to get the required two-thirds majority that would have led to a referendum on the recall of Mr Chen from office. Of the 221 legislators, 119 supported the motion, well short of the 148 votes needed.
Soon after the vote took place, the channel switched over to CNN, which was reporting on the recall. It sure was strange, and refreshing, to see CNN discussing the situation in Taiwan. They mentioned a poll that had Chen down to 30%, which if funny because all of the polls I have seen here make a big deal when Chen goes up to 20%. I'm not sure where CNN got this number from. Actually, I would also like to know more about the methodologies of the different Taiwan-based polling outfits. Not that I'm an expert, but it would at least be nice to know how many people polled are blue and how many are green. That is information American progressives have been demanding of pollsters, and I feel Taiwanese deserve the same.

Anyway, Hille goes on to discuss the possible next moves of the opposition:
After yesterday's vote, Mr Chen apologised for creating trouble, but appealed to the opposition to "close this chapter" and focus again on economic policy.

Analysts said the key question would be whether the opposition backed the cabinet's efforts to push through economic reforms. Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the Kuomintang, the largest opposition party, and a favourite in the next presidential election scheduled for 2008, said the KMT would not block economic policy.

However, the opposition is determined to keep criticism of Mr Chen's alleged misconduct at the top of the political agenda. Mr Ma said the party would continue to collect signatures for a petition to recall the president, which 1.7m people had signed by yesterday. During parliament's summer recess, KMT legislators are to hold more than 1,000 events highlighting the president's supposed shortcomings.

How fast this could lead to further political upheaval remains to be seen. The People First party, the KMT's smaller ally, said after the recall vote that it would demand a vote of no-confidence against Su Tseng-chang, Taiwan's premier.

A no-confidence motion must be proposed by one third of members of parliament, and can be passed with an absolute majority. The PFP hopes Mr Chen would react by dissolving parliament, and that in the ensuing elections the opposition would win a majority large enough to succeed with another recall motion.
However, the opposition is merely making an assumption that they would win a majority if such a hypothetical were to manifest itself.

Gore gets 5 stars--and a smily face

From Seth Borenstein of the AP:
WASHINGTON - The nation's top climate scientists are giving "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy.

The former vice president's movie — replete with the prospect of a flooded New York City, an inundated Florida, more and nastier hurricanes, worsening droughts, retreating glaciers and disappearing ice sheets — mostly got the science right, said all 19 climate scientists who had seen the movie or read the book and answered questions from The Associated Press.

The AP contacted more than 100 top climate researchers by e-mail and phone for their opinion. Among those contacted were vocal skeptics of climate change theory. Most scientists had not seen the movie, which is in limited release, or read the book.

But those who have seen it had the same general impression: Gore conveyed the science correctly; the world is getting hotter and it is a manmade catastrophe-in-the-making caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"Excellent," said William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University. "He got all the important material and got it right."

Robert Corell, chairman of the worldwide Arctic Climate Impact Assessment group of scientists, read the book and saw Gore give the slideshow presentation that is woven throughout the documentary.

"I sat there and I'm amazed at how thorough and accurate," Corell said. "After the presentation I said, `Al, I'm absolutely blown away. There's a lot of details you could get wrong.' ... I could find no error (Read on)."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why does China care so much about Taiwan?

I hope this post will not offend any of my readers; I simply want to ask some questions--well, the main question: Why does China care so much about Taiwan? I hope that by asking this question, we can at least have a dialogue concerning this issue. I don't claim to have all of the answers on this, but I have thought about it for some time now.

Taiwan could declare independence tomorrow and be admitted into the UN, and besides the Chinese government's reaction, it would have absolutely no effect on the majority of China's citizens.

I have heard on countless occasions that it is a question of face, something very important in Chinese society.

One friend in Sichuan told me all the Chinese government cares about is that Taiwan's leaders accept that Taiwan is a Chinese province, and than Beijing will let Taiwan go on functioning exactly as it has been, just as Hong Kong hasn't changed. This is the traditional image of the various peripheral states paying tribute to the Chinese emperor: Just kowtow and then do what you want.

But, I think there is more to this issue than that. Taiwan as an issue grew out of a civil war, one in which the people who inhabited Taiwan were uninvolved. If anything, the issue stems from agreements and disagreements between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party (KMT). The Taiwanese people were unwaringly pulled into this dispute, as were most people in China, who just wanted to live their lives in peace.

Some things have happened in the past 50 years that some political leaders haven't realized. One is that the civil war ended a long time ago, and yet it continues as a figment in the minds of some. Both sides continue to build up their cross-straits militaries, one side to defend itself and the other to point missiles at the other to instill fear. Does anyone in Taiwan really still dream of retaking the mainland through military means?

To me, the other important event is the Taiwan miracle, and I don't mean the economic one; I mean the political one: Taiwan became a democracy almost overnight, without any unilateral U.S. maneuvers to force democracy militarily. Taiwan's democracy is not perfect, and it is potentially endangered by partisan warfare, but it exists and it is vibrant. I will come back to this.

So, if the civil war has ended and Taiwan has functioned as a de facto independent country for more than 50 years, why does China care so much about Taiwan? Why does it still insist that Taiwan is a Chinese province? Why does it care what people in Taiwan call the island where they live?

Beyond the question of face, I think another factor is nationalism. Some have criticized Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in general for using the independence card to win votes. Well, isn't the KMT within Taiwan and the CCP without using the reunification card and the One China framework in the same way? In China, Taiwan has become a way for the CCP to rally the people, to generate nationalism, and to consolidate power.

It goes further than this. Taiwan is an issue to the Chinese leadership because of the democracy question. For Beijing to recognize Taiwan's DPP and to agree to meet with its leaders would be to legitimate not only the pro-independence camp, but also the democracy that has bubbled up from beneath the surface in Taiwan, and the society that Taiwan has become, good and bad.

Let's penetrate even deeper: China's leader fear an independent Taiwan (and yes, I am speculating) because an independent Taiwan, one recognized by the world community, would give impetus to every other indedendence and democracy movement in China. Think Tibet, Xinjiang, etc. There has always been a fear of China--all-under-Heaven--devolving into the "warring states." Long before there was a Communist Party, there were periods of division, which in traditional Chinese historiography, is the natural state of things during the waning years of a dynasty's influence, and the aftermath of a dynasty's decay.

It's a complicated situation.

Monday, June 26, 2006

the internet: a home for the homeless

via Mydd, this Wired article:
Many of those now living without a permanent roof over their heads have cell phones in their pockets or laptop computers at their hips. While people living in shelters and alleys have found it difficult to cross social divides, the digital divide seems to disappear on the streets. Nearly all homeless people have e-mail addresses, according to Michael Stoops, director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "More have e-mail than have post office boxes," Stoops said. "The internet has been a big boon to the homeless." Helping the homeless get e-mail addresses has been a priority for years at shelters across the country. And in an age when most every public library in the nation offers internet access, the net has proven a perfect communication tool for those without a firm real-world address. "Because of technology, people are able to keep in contact with their families," Stoops said. And perhaps most importantly, they are able to get some footing in society regardless of how removed from it they may feel. Terri Hellerich's connection to the information superhighway is all that made life livable on the streets. "It kept me sane and provided my income," she said. Hellerich found herself homeless after a landlord in West Sacramento kicked her out and kept her belongings to make up for a debt. She didn't have a change of clothes, but she did have an old cell phone that she could use to stay online and check her inbox. Hellerich slept on benches but she frequented a women's shelter with a cluster of internet-connected computers used mostly by the children who arrived at the safe house with their mothers. She started blogging and conducting a business. As an independent internet marketer, she was able to maintain bank accounts, nurse existing client connections and forge new business relationships. The business brought in only about $100 a month, but that was enough to help get her life back on track.

On Wifly

My father sent me the link to this NY Times story on Taipei's wireless network, which its city officials refer to proudly as Wifly. The lead is right there in the title: What if They Built an Urban Wireless Network and Hardly Anyone Used It?, by Ken Belson:
Despite WiFly's ubiquity — with 4,100 hot spot access points reaching 90 percent of the population — just 40,000 of Taipei's 2.6 million residents have agreed to pay for the service since January. Q-Ware, the local Internet provider that built and runs the network, once expected to have 250,000 subscribers by the end of the year, but it has lowered that target to 200,000.

That such a vast and reasonably priced wireless network has attracted so few users in an otherwise tech-hungry metropolis should give pause to civic leaders in Chicago, Philadelphia and dozens of other American cities that are building wireless networks of their own.

Like Taipei, these cities hope to use their new networks to help less affluent people get online and to make their cities more business-friendly. Yet as Taipei has found out, just building a citywide network does not guarantee that people will use it. Most people already have plenty of access to the Internet in their offices and at home, while wireless data services let them get online anywhere using phones, laptops and P.D.A.'s.
I have noticed this since my initial amazement at the rhetoric of this first wireless city in the world. While I go on-line quite often in the Metro station and in cafes that use Wifly, for the most part I have been the only person using my computer in and around the stations. The one exception was another foreigner I saw on the next car crouched down with his computer balanced on his arm.

One issue, as the author points out, is that people can access the internet at home, in cafes, and at their places of work and study. However, besides one's work-space, the opportunities for free internet are few and far between, and my experience of internet in American cities is that they are even rarer.

Yes, wireless is free at Doutor, Mr. Brown, New York Coffee, and some others, but many of the cafes and fastfood joints like Starbucks are signed up with Wifly. This means you can use the same 30-day wireless card in Starbucks and other cafes, as well as in and around the Metro stations.

One factor contradicting the city's plan for ubiquitous access is that this card doesn't work in all cafes and fastfood joints. The places where you can't use it include: MacDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, several cafe chains whose names I can't remember now, 101 (the tallest building in the world), etc.

These places all use Hinet, which is the service provided by Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's largest Telecom company. That means you have to buy a separate card at these places.

Moreover, the majority of people who have laptops are already paying for broadband in their homes at much cheaper prices than most deals in the States. So, the city is basically asking people to pay again for wireless service. The two together is still probably cheaper than what I was paying in Philadelphia.

With all this said, I still love Wifly, and the internet mobility it makes possible. In some ways the phenomenon is still emerging; it is still too early to jump to conclusions about its success or failure. Give it time to blossom or decay.

Finally, the article mentions Taipei mayor, Ma Ying-jeou, and until someone shows me otherwise, for this I will give him credit:
The brainchild of Taipei's mayor, Ma Ying-jeou, the CyberCity project was first conceived in 1998 as a way to catapult past Seoul, Hong Kong and other Asian capitals that were recasting themselves as cities of the future. Many government agencies now communicate almost exclusively online, saving millions of dollars, and citizens have been given hundreds of thousands of free e-mail accounts and computer lessons.
I still believe the recall is a bad political move, but that doesn't change my view of Wifly.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Iran's political chessboard

Asia Times Online has a fascinating article by Michael T. Klare, author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum, which looks at the Iran issue through the lens of the tripolar chessboard--whose players include the United States, Russia, and China. Klare writes:

It is certainly true that US President George W Bush and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad are the leading protagonists in this drama, with each making inflammatory statements about the other to whip up public support at home.

But an informed reading of recent international diplomacy surrounding the Iranian crisis suggests that another equally fierce - and undoubtedly more important - struggle is also taking place: a tripolar contest among the United States, Russia and China for domination of the greater Persian Gulf/Caspian Sea region and its mammoth energy reserves.

When it comes to grand strategy, top Bush administration officials have long attempted to maintain US dominance over the "global chessboard" (as they see it) by diminishing the influence of the only other significant players, Russia and China.

...As the crisis over Iran unfolds, most of the news commentary will continue to focus on the war of words between Washington and Tehran. Political insiders understand, however, that the most significant struggle is the one that remains just out of sight, pitting Washington against Moscow and Beijing in the battle for global influence and energy domination. From this perspective, Iran is just one battlefield - however significant - in a far larger, more long-lasting, and momentous contest. (Read whole article...)

Green editorial on Ma Ying-jeou

Taipei Times:
What Taiwan needs now is a stronger, unbiased, independent watchdog mechanism to monitor all politicians, especially those who might take power in 2008.

Among them, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) flip flops on whether or not to support a recall campaign or a no confidence vote against the premier displays a lack of integrity and decisiveness.

Also, when former Taitung County commissioner Wu Chun-li (吳俊立) was charged with bribery and his wife represented him in the election, Ma emphasized that Wu's wife "should not suffer for the crimes of her husband." But when first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) was accused of receiving vouchers from the SOGO Department Store and her son-in-law was charged with insider trading, Ma insisted Chen take the blame.

When Chen's recall was first suggested by hawkish pan-blue figures, Ma remained cautious about such a move. As People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) -- the likely PFP candidate for Taipei mayor -- regained the spotlight by attacking Chen and his family, Ma decided to side with him largely out of political concerns.

However, amid criticism that Ma has been controlled by Soong and the anti-Chen movement, he decided not to dance to Soong's tune and initiate a vote of no-confidence in the Cabinet right after Tuesday's recall vote.

Ma's political fence-sitting reminds us that he tried to manipulate the unification-independence issue earlier this year. After Chen announced he would consider abolishing the National Unification Council and guidelines in January, Ma adjusted his political stance by switching from unification as the eventual goal for Taiwan to embracing the idea of independence as an option.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Recall a bad political move, says China Post

via Michael at The View from Taiwan, I see the China Post, not exactly a pro-Chen newspaper, has an editorial stating pretty much what I said in my hypothesis below:
The recall campaign is a bad play from the very beginning. Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the Kuomintang who demanded President Chen to resign but didn't want to recall him, was forced by the hawks within the opposition party to join in the campaign James Soong had launched. All Soong, the PFP chairman, wants of the campaign is to stay in political center stage long enough to boost his chance to run successfully for mayor of Taipei at the end of this year.

Then, Ma the perfectionist has meticulously rewritten the bad scenario and insists it be followed act by act. The Kuomintang started to collect the signatures of at least eight million eligible voters who want the president to step down. The party chairman led supporters to take to the streets to call for the recall. That triggered the counter rallies of the DPP and the TSU. The opposition alliance held a series of public hearings on corruption implicating the first family and President Chen's top aides but not himself. All this isn't going to Ma's advantage, however. Although he claims seven out of every ten voters wish the president would quit, the public has responded very coolly to the collection of signatures -- less than one million signatures collected so far. The tide seems turning in President Chen's favor since Ma decided to join in the fray.
Be sure to read Michael's whole post about Chiu Yi, the man has has raised most of the corruption charges against Chen's family members and aides. Interesting how he perceives his behavior and what the facts bear out on the ground.

More on Chen's similarity/difference to Bush

From the LA Times

Chen was born in late 1950 to impoverished tenant farmers in southern Taiwan. But his parents delayed recording his birth, so his official birthday is Feb. 18, 1951.

Poverty was a fact of life. In one story, Chen recalls his mother putting him in a hole for the day as she worked in the fields to ensure that he didn't get into trouble.

Chen was driven and persistent, graduating first in his class in elementary school and in junior and senior high. Former classmate Hsu Tain-tsair, now mayor of Tainan, recalls getting a higher mark than Chen on a test when they were 16. Chen refused to speak to Shu for weeks until he'd outscored him in the next test.

Chen took the national bar exam as a junior in college, passing with the highest score to become Taiwan's then-youngest attorney. He specialized in maritime law and helped defend pro-democracy dissidents who were challenging the ruling Nationalists.

He hit a personal low in 1985 when his wife was hit by a tractor before his eyes and paralyzed, said Chen Shio-shu, 43, his niece. Many suspected it was a plot to kill him. Colleagues say this experience strengthened his belief that he could only trust himself and his inner circle.

President Chen and Bush

Via Battlepanda, I see Dymaxion World believes there are similarities between Chen and Bush. I have heard this before. Based on what? Yes, they both have low poll numbers, but is every unpopular world leader one and the same? Some have made the case that Chen doesn't know how to compromise and acts impulsively, and this is like Bush. I don't know; someone else with more experience of Chen's behavior over the last several years can comment on this.

Where I believe their surface-level similarities end is this:
A secret CIA-Treasury program to track financial records of millions of Americans is the latest installment in an expansion of executive authority in the name of fighting terrorism. The administration doesn't apologize for President Bush's aggressive take on presidential powers. Vice President Dick Cheney even boasts about it.

Bush has made broad use of his powers, authorizing warrantless wiretaps, possibly collecting telephone records on millions of Americans, holding suspected terrorists overseas without legal protections and using up to 6,000 National Guard members to help patrol the border with Mexico.

That's in addition to the vast anti-terrorism powers Congress granted him in the recently extended Patriot Act (AP).
Chen doesn't have those powers. I would argue that some of his opponents, the very ones that are thrusting the recall on Taiwan's public, have more of a history of wielding the kind of powers that Bush and Cheney are securing for the White House.

Another difference is that the media--and of course there are exceptions, such as this AP article--are generally supportive of Bush, even as he and his policies sink into the mire of unpopularity. His myriad scandals are flashes of lightning followed by little thunder. That is because the establishment, the big donors, the powerful, are behind him.

In Taiwan, the establishment is against Chen. He is guilty because one or more of his relatives might be guilty, and many of the charges come from a single KMT lawmaker. It is hard to turn on the television in Taiwan without plunging directly into the non-stop babble of pundits--so similar to their American brethren--screaming Chen's son-in-law, Chen's wife, Chen's doctor.

I think a more apt comparison would be with Bill Clinton.

Friday, June 23, 2006

My neighborhood

Hypothesis--feel free to knock it down or to build on it

James Soong is using the recall frame not only to attack President Chen (and maybe bring him down), but also to muddy Ma Ying-jeou's image.

This idea came to me the other day while listening to James Soong talking on the TV about fighting corruption. Remember, Soong, who is the founder of the KMT splinter People First Party, iniated the recall a few weeks ago. At the time, Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the KMT, and Taipei city mayor, seemed to be against the move. He kept saying the time was not yet ripe to attempt a recall, which showed that he was either staying above the fray or playing it safe or both. However, very quickly he began to bolster his rhetoric with more barbed attacks against the president. He still said he was opposed to the recall, but he would say: "The scandal involving the president's son-in-law was only the tip of the iceberg."

Then, Soong staged the first protest. It was the weekend, I believe one week after Soong's first statement. Supporters of the recall flooded the area in front of the Presidential Residence, demanding that Chen step down. I remember angry statements against Ma, as well.

By Monday, Ma had already changed his position; he was supporting the recall. One of my colleagues--a Canadian--immediately yelled out: "He keeps changing his position!" Suddenly, Ma was a flip-flopper.

My thought was that he was caught off guard by the protest and was pressured into accepting the recall.

Before this, I had heard many times that Ma would likely be the next president. He seemed to have a generally good image, and had recently traveled to the States to meet with high-ranking U.S. officials, while Chen, the democratically-elected president was prevented from even landing in Alaska.

Ma often appeared on television and on billboards, smiling.

Something happened after that Monday when he accepted the recall. Either he realized, or his advisor warned him, that he was being out-flanked by Soong. Where before he was smiling, suddenly he was snarling. He was determined to appear meaner and more determined than Soong. I think this might have been a fatal decision, but who knows.

Anyway, he appears like a flip-flopper or even downright mean, while Soong comes across as the determined leader of a movement of people trying to rid Taiwan of corrupt politicians. I am not saying that he will succeed and that Ma will fail. It is too early to say who will come out ahead in all of this, or if a DPP candidate will emerge victorious in the end. For all we know, Chen will step down and Annette Lu will become president.

I am simply trying to sink my teeth into Soong's motives, and everyone knows he desires to become president. Could a man like Soong be satisfied with Ma's ascendency?

For more on Soong, see his Wikipedia page.

The image I get of him is a man with roots in the KMT hierarchy (his father was a Chiang Kai-shek loyalist general from Hunan), highly educated both in Taiwan and the States, undemocratic (at least in his past), covetous of the highest office in Taiwan. He is also a bit of a paradox, in the sense that he has been the politician most closely-aligned with Beijing, and yet: "Despite his Mainlander background, Soong proved to be a popular politician among all ethnic groups on Taiwan, in part because he was one of the first KMT politicians to attempt to use the Taiwanese language in political and formal occasions, despite speaking it rather poorly."

Check out the email I got from John Edwards today

No, I mean really check it out. IT'S COOL, and is the kind of vision that politicians should be presenting the public. He has also learned how to affectively use the new media at his disposal, and as Zack Exley says:
30 YEARS! And I just posted something over on Huffington a few hours ago that said no Dems had long-term vision. Shame on me!

I click on "Listen Now." It takes me to this awesome graphic of an old TV set. I think it is the exact model I grew up with -- so maybe that means Edwards is alienating the youth constituency.

Anyways, the whole thing is perfect: Edwards is a little off center, the video is a little too crisp, he's in front of a cheesy flag that's obviously been chosen to be the exactly right amount cheesy -- just perfect.

And he's actually talking like a human being! Thank God almighty, a Democratic politician has figured out how to talk like a real, regular human being.

Not once -- not even once! -- does he raise his hand and do the Bill Clinton / Politician gesture. (Bill was its only legitimate user, because he invented it. But now whoever uses it: they're just screaming "kick me I'm a politician!").

It's just as though, in the middle of his busy day, he stopped to tape this little podcast, and did it in one, casual take. Nothing to vet by the comms director here, this is coming from the man himself.

Better still, he speaks explicitly to the members of his "online community" as though he knows them -- as though he genuinely appreciates them.

I could be cynical and wonder how hard Edwards, the most talented politician in America, has to try not to sound like a politician. But I know from the Kerry campaign that both he and Elizabeth Edwards take this online stuff seriously. I'm convinced that this is a simple case of John Edwards understanding that there is an enthusiastic base out there who supports him and his anti-poverty fight. He seems to genuinely want to reach out, thank them, and let them in on what he's up to. Read on...

The inside story behind Colbert's White House Correspondent's Dinner performance

via Dailykos diarist NYCO, an important nugget from a Salon interview with Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello:
Salon: It was probably the bravest thing I've seen anybody ever do, ever ever ever.

Sedaris: Paul helped write it, actually.

Salon: Did you?

Paul Dinello: Yeah.

Salon: How did you feel about the response to it?

Dinello: Well, initially he and I were shocked that... the intention was, being comedians, to get laughs. So when no one was laughing, you know, I was surprised, because we'd read over the script the night before. We had worked on it - he had worked on it for weeks. And we said "This is gonna kill 'em." And then when it didn't... I think that context gave it more weight than was intended. Because the President wasn't... I mean, had the President went "Ha ha ha," and slapped his knee, and everyone laughed, I don't think there'd be a lot of discussion about it. Because it wasn't out of character for what he does on his show, was in tone, you know, he didn't pull any surprises - it wasn't a surprise attack. It was consistent. I mean, some of the stuff was actually taken right from his show.

But he was brave to soldier on when he knew it was failing. You know, he could have made a decision to try to soften - like, this might be too harsh for the room and soften it, but he didn't - he made a conscious choice, "This is the material I prepared, well, I'll deliver it."

He's happy how it turned out. I don't think he likes to be thrust as the leader of the liberal movement... You know, I don't think that's a role that he has time or desire... but he feels grateful. There's a website called thankyoustephencolbert where there was like 100,000 letters. He feels really grateful that people were moved by it.
Actually, there are 61162 thank yous. You can still add one!

Quick! June 23, 2006

Go listen to the RTI news. No, I didn't read it today, but despite a couple of terribly-read actualities, I was a star in Paula's Ilha Formosa.

The letter I just sent to The New Republic

I don't understand why TNR is going after and other progressive bloggers, and to be clear, it was The New Republic that slandered bloggers and not the other way around. I say this as a free agent. Markos didn't put me up to this. I am educated, have a career, and can think for myself. Like many others, I first got involved in politics, and started reading progressive blogs in 2003, when it hit me that there was virtually no effective opposition in America. I saw Democrats being pulled along on a leash on too many Bush misadventures. Print and electronic media didn't seem to be providing any alternative visions for America either. Then, I discovered the blogs, and the myriad voices that comprise the netroots. I found people with passion, who yearned for a better world. I engaged in the movement of people joining together and self-organizing. And throughout this period, I have also witnessed establishment politicians and media cringing at the thought of such democratic action taking place on the ground. God forbid, a democratic movement forming in America of all places. The question is: does TNR wish to be a reactionary voice in the world, one that says: "Let the people eat cake." Or does it want to be a progressive voice of betterment, one that speaks truth to power, one that offers its readers an innovative vision(s). Is TNR willing to change with the times or is it merely protecting its interests, ready to libel others in the process. Just remember: you risk alienating your potential readers.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Enlightening comments on the Taiwan situation

Commenter Charlie has an excellent response to my last post on why Chen Shui-bian gave his speech in Taiwanese:

Why president Chen spoke in Taiwanese (Minnan)? As you mention: "to consolidate his base and to win back supporters who have been led to doubt him because of the recent scandal accusations against his son-and-law and his wife"

But actually there is a problem with this affirmation: "By speaking in Taiwanese, he was in effect saying: "I am one of you." At the same time, it was intended to exclude everyone else in Taiwan, including the majority of the opposition, as well as to confound the media.".

Actually there is a confusion on National Identity on the Taiwanese population, many fluent taiwanese speakers are not Taiwanese people, and many Taiwanese people cannot speak taiwanese, specially young people. Even many politicians who arrived from mainland in 1949 are fluent taiwanese speakers.

Former president Lee Teng-hui pointed this problem (2005/09/04), the lack of a national identity, and the mislead by politicians using their Taiwanese "roots" and using taiwanese in public speeches.

I think president Chen Shui-bian is a great politician, and he is trying his best to make Taiwan a democratic country, but I think his use of taiwanese (Minnan, Hoklo) doesn't benefits in anything to build a national identity, instead it only worsens the existing ethnical divisions.

Hakka people and "Yuanzhu Min" (aborigines) are also Taiwanese people as the ones who were born in Taiwan after 1949 and only speak Mandarin.

Some reflections on the use of dialects in Taiwanese politics

So, Tuesday night President Chen gave his response to the opposition's attempt to recall him. The opposition was demanding that he appear in the legislature to answer directly to their charges against him, but instead, he gave a two-hour, televised speech almost entirely in Taiwanese (Southern Fujianese), and didn't take any questions.

The following day I noticed a mixture of anger ("Why did he use Taiwanese and not Mandarin? That's lame!) and giddiness about what the Chen might have achieved through his speech.

Why did he use Taiwanese? This is a great question and I invite your comments. My obvious answer is that he was speaking over the opposition and the media who support them directly to his base--the Taiwanese people who can understand the Southern Min dialect.

This could be likened to Bush switching into his Texas drawl act, though with Chen I don't think it is an act. He really did come from South Taiwan; he didn't move down there from Tianmu, as far as I can tell.

What he did might be closer to a Latino politician in Los Angeles giving a televised speech covered by CNN all in Spanish.

The following day the AP dutifully reported that his speech failed to stop the recall from moving forward. It wasn't intended to stop the recall. Chen and his supporters knew all along that nothing he did would stop the opposition. They have been determined to oust him since he came into office.

Chen also knew that an appearance by him in the legislature would only legitimate their political game (of course that is a Green interpretation). Finally, he knew that the media were ready to pounce right after the speech.

So, why did he give it on national TV almost exclusively in Taiwanese? I'll repeat: to consolidate his base and to win back supporters who have been led to doubt him because of the recent scandal accusations against his son-and-law and his wife (two separate scandals).

By speaking in Taiwanese, he was in effect saying: "I am one of you." At the same time, it was intended to exclude everyone else in Taiwan, including the majority of the opposition, as well as to confound the media.

What Chen did was not really too far out of the mold in light of how Taiwanese is used in Taiwanese politics. Since my first exposure to Taiwanese society, I have been fascinated by how Taiwanese politicians switch back and forth between Taiwanese and Mandarin. Obviously, depending on the group, they will use more of one then the other. They use Taiwanese to speech directly to their constituents, and at the same time indicate that those politicians who address them in Mandarin are outsiders/mainlanders who don't have any place as leaders in Taiwanese society.

This doesn't just apply to politics. I don't know how many times I have seen someone on television telling a story in Mandarin, switch into Taiwanese just in time for the punch line. Aw shucks...confounded again.

My friend explained to me the other day. He was driving along, and I was sitting in the passenger seat. Pulling over to ask for directions, he called out to a construction worker walking on the sidewalk. After greeting each other in Taiwanese, the man gave us directions in Mandarin. I wonder if this is similar to Chen's use of Mandarin only when naming policies.

My friend explained that strangers will often greet each other in Taiwanese. It helps to set up a feeling of trust, at least among those who speak Taiwanese. Interestingly, my friend's wife is a Mainlander; her family came to Taiwan from Shandong via Brazil.

This all points to a basic dischotomy I have noticed in Chinese societies, though similar phenomena can certainly be found in other societies; it is the split between locals and outsiders (don't even get me started on: laowai). It is the basic division between people from a locality and those from another locality, sometimes a faraway one. A series of occupations by outsiders (the most notorious being the most recent one led by the KMT) accentuate this dichotomy in Taiwanese society and politics. Other dichotomies also play a role here, such as Northerner/Southerner and Aristocrat/Commoner, those with representation and those without, etc., but I will leave that for another day.

The key here is that the use of Taiwanese works to create a sense of connectedness between people, the feeling of being part of the same tribe. This is at least my take on why Chen used Taiwanese to address the nation.

Obviously, Ma Ying-jeou's televised response the next day was designed to counter the effect of what Chen did. Ma opened with introductory words in Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Hakka, apparently to demonstrate that he has a broader view of Taiwan than does Chen. His speaking in Taiwanese and Hakka can be likened to American politicians saying a few words in Spanish to try to win over a Latino audience.

Ma was born in Hong Kong to Hunanese parents, though his family came to Taiwan when he was only an infant.

My favorite line from Ma's speech was when criticized Chen for speaking in Taiwanese: "Several Hakka and Aboriginal friends have come to me and said they didn't understand what the president said." I'll leave it at that.

Check out my new tatami house sandals

I bought these in a little open-front shop in Shilin that specializes in tatamis. The sandals are factory-made, but they were making the tatami mats by hand right there in the shop. I asked the shop-keeper if they are comfortable to sleep on; he said: "Very!"

It was right there in the store, as I was buying these sandals, that the idea for my first radio program came to mind: "Taiwan Livelihoods--Old and New."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

One thing you should know about James Soong

Soong is the central figure pushing forward the presidential recall in Taiwan. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about an important event in Taiwan's recent history: the Kaohsiung (Gaoxiong) Incident:
The Kaohsiung Incident (Chinese: 高雄事件), also known as the Formosa Incident (Chinese: 美麗島事件), was the result of pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Republic of China to commemorate Human Rights Day on December 10, 1979.

It erupted following the police raid of Formosa Magazine, an illegal publication designed to support the end of Kuomintang monopolization of power in Taiwan. The ROC Government Information Office under the leadership of James Soong hoped to chill opposition voices through heavyhanded methods. The protest disintegrated into a brawl as protesters, police and undercover agents collided. Soong addressed the public in a speech condemning the protesters, labelling one of the leaders, Shih Ming-teh(施明德), "King of Bandits."

The incident publicized the oppressive tactics of the government in ruling Taiwan and the trial of eight leaders of the protest allowed a team of lawyers to publicly question the practices of torture used by the KMT to extract confessions. Most defense attorneys and defendants were members of the Chinese Comparative Law Society (中國比較法學會), which is now the Taiwan Law Society (台灣法學會).

One of the accused, Lin Yi-hsiung(林義雄), was routinely tortured by police interrogators. Then, on February 28, 1980, while Lin's wife was discussing his case, Lin's mother and twin 7 year old girls were murdered in his home. The event, known as the "Lin Family Murders," remains unsolved.

Several of the accused later became politicians after completion of their prison terms, while members of the defense team became leaders of the Tangwai (Outside Party) movement and later the Democratic Progressive Party. Members of the defense team included Chen Shui-bian(陳水扁)(President of the ROC), Su Tseng-chang(蘇貞昌) ([Premier of the Republic of China]]) and Frank Hsieh(謝長廷) (Former Premier of the Republic of China). Those amongst the accused were Annette Lu(呂秀蓮)(Vice President of the ROC), Shi Ming-teh(施明德) (Political Leader), and Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄)(environmental activist and former DPP chairman).

Ironically and as a sign of how much politics in Taiwan has changed, Shi Ming-teh was seriously considered to be the KMT nominee for mayor of Kaohsiung in 2002. Another important leader during the incident, Hsu Hsin-liang(許信良), left the DPP in 2000 and ran for presidential election as an independent candidate. Both of them have been very critical of Chen Shui-bian's government. In a sign of how things have not changed, James Soong, who split with the KMT to form the similarly aligned PFP party, was a presidential candidate in 2000 and a vice-presidential candidate in 2004, in both cases on the losing side by only a small margin.
He also just compared himself to Barry Goldwater.

Kristof on the Chinese blogosphere

A frequent commenter here, Rob, also known as the Intrepid Liberal, points us to this NYTimes Op-Ed by Nicholas Kristof, which is unfortunately blocked to non-subscribers by a firewall. Kristof describes a recent experiment in Beijing, in which he set up two blogs under his Chinese name: Ji Sidao. In the blogs, he was as politically incorrect (from a CCP point of view) as possible. He wanted to see how the internet censors would react, so:
Writing in Chinese, I began by denouncing the imprisonment of my Times colleague, Zhao Yan, by the Chinese authorities. I waited for it to be censored. Instead, it promptly appeared on my blog.
He then criticizes China's leader, Hu Jintao, mentions Falun Gong, "the Chinese government's greatest enemy," says there is religious freedom in Taiwan, and boldy comments on Tiananmen:
Finally, I wrote the most inflammatory comment I could think of, describing how on June 4, 1989, I saw the Chinese Army fire on Tiananmen Square protesters. The two characters for June 4 were replaced by asterisks, but the description of the massacre remained intact.

These various counterrevolutionary comments, all in Chinese, are still sitting there in Chinese cyberspace at and (When State Security reads this, it may finally order my blogs closed.)

All this underscores, I think, that China is not the police state that its leaders sometimes would like it to be; the Communist Party's monopoly on information is crumbling, and its monopoly on power will follow. The Internet is chipping away relentlessly at the Party, for even 30,000 censors can't keep up with 120 million Chinese Netizens. With the Internet, China is developing for the first time in 4,000 years of history a powerful independent institution that offers checks and balances on the emperors.

It's not that President Hu Jintao grants these freedoms, for he has arrested dozens of cyberdissidents as well as journalists. But the Internet is just too big and complex for State Security to control, and so the Web is beginning to assume the watchdog role filled by the news media in freer countries.

A year ago, I wrote about a blogger named Li Xinde who travels around China with his laptop, reporting on corruption and human-rights abuses. I hailed Mr. Li as an example of the emerging civil society in China — and the government promptly closed down his Web site. I wondered if I had overstated the challenge.

But today Mr. Li is as active as ever. His Web sites are constantly closed down, but the moment a site is censored he replaces it with a new one. An overseas master site,, tells people the best current address.

"They can keep closing sites, but they never catch up," Mr. Li told me. "You can't stop the Yellow River from flowing, and you can't block the bloggers."

In today's China, young people use proxy software to reach forbidden sites and Skype to make phone calls without being tapped — and the local Web pornography is relentless and explicit, ranging from sex videos to nude online chats.

"We're very relaxed now on pornography, but on politics it's very tight," said Yao Bo, a censor at a major chat-room site in China. He explained how the censorship works for a chat room:

Filtering software automatically screens the several hundred thousand comments typically posted on his Web site every day. Comments with a banned word go into a special queue, but Mr. Yao says he ends up posting all but the most subversive of these — his Web site, after all, wants to be provocative to attract visitors. State Security periodically scolds him for his laxity, but he seems unconcerned: "I just tell them I'm dumb about politics."

China's leaders decided years ago to accept technologies even if they are capable of subversive uses: photocopiers and fax machines at first, and now laptops and text messaging. The upshot is that China is much freer than its rulers would like.

To me, this trend looks unstoppable. I don't see how the Communist Party dictatorship can long survive the Internet, at a time when a single blog can start a prairie fire.
For those interested in this issue, Forbes Asia had a fascinating article on how groups inside and outside China are making a coordinated attack at China's firewall:

By Richard C. Morais | Feb 27 '06

With engineering help from half a dozen Western firms, the Chinese Communist Party has erected a huge apparatus to censor free speech. A ragtag crew of hacker dissidents may succeed in tearing it down.

What fascinates me about Kristof is how much potential he sees in the internet (and the bloggers who inhabit it) in places like China and Iran, and yet the blogosphere in America is non-existent to him, at least in his writing. He certainly hasn't embraced it like some of his colleagues, such as Paul Krugman and Frank Rich, have. Instead, he makes comments like:
...the Web is beginning to assume the watchdog role filled by the news media in freer countries.
I am glad that Kristof sees the great potential of the web in China, and the need for watchdogs even in democratic societies, but has the U.S. media fulfilled this watchdog role? Is that its only function? I would like to know what Kristof thinks about political bloggers in America, particularly those who are critical of the traditional media when it avoids its watchdog responsibility, or when it simply parrots talking points and mistruths fed to it by political operatives.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A new friend--and a warning

Yesterday as I walked up to the traffic light from the free Xinbeitou bus (the Xinbeitou metro stops running at 9), a little boy waiting next to me at the light said:
I responded the same and we continued to wait for the light to change.

Just to put that story on hold for a second, I want to point something out, a warning of sort, something I've been wanting to say for awhile now: When you come to the traffic light near the Xinbeitou metro, don't think for a moment that the light changing from red to green means you are safe to walk. What it means is that the cars coming from one direction will stop and the cars coming from another direction will start. I'll have to take a picture to explain what I mean.

So, the light changed from red to green, and for a moment the path seemed to open up. Then, just as we were about to start walking, a flood of cars from Quanyuan Rd. (my road) began to filter through the space before our feet; it was a raging mass of cars and motorcycles. I said to the boy:
很危險!It's dangerous!
A few times I tried to dip my feet into the road, but I dared not proceed. The boy seemed to be waiting for me to go.

Finally the cars parted in a scene more miraculous than what Moses did after he said: "Let my people go!"

I walked across the street and the boy followed. After reaching the other side, we began our descent towards the source of the spring (lit. translation of the street name). The boy asked:
Where you going?
I'm going home. I live on this street.
Me too.
How long have you studied English?
Four years; that's because I'm in fourth grade.
So, you started studying English in 1st grade?
He didn't understand the question, so I asked the question again in Chinese. He nodded and said:
Your Chinese is great!
I said:
Thanks. It's okay. Do you go to that school?
The one on our street, that I pass everyday--the one that I just discovered used to be a Japanese hospital.
No, that one's normal (putong). I go to Beitou Elementary school,
he said with a proud voice. Then, he pointed across the street and said that is where he lived. He crossed and disappeared behind a fence.

I continued my ascent. When I reached the 7 Eleven near my apartment, I entered and purchased a Taiwan Dragon Well beer. Like clockwork the guy at the counter said:
You're earlier than usual today.
I looked at my watch, which read--9:17.
Not really, the same as usual.
He smiled and said cheerfully:
Good night!
Good night!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Same poll: divergent interpretations

Poll: Most Taiwanese say leader unfit to be president

Taiwan Chen's popularity improves slightly: poll

Missed anniversary

How could it have happened? How did I miss the 1st birthday of this site; it is exactly a year old. Well, it was a year old on June 1st. To celebrate, I am inviting you to go relive the memories, reminisce, and explore the archives on the bottom left-hand side of the screen. Just think, all those wondrous months of blogging, and the day I finally took the step from anonymous commenter on other peoples' sites to semi-anonymous, totally autonomous blogger on my own site. What a long strange trip it's been, eh?

That was my advice too!

The Asia Times Online has a very good recap of the fascinating, volatile (though not, I think, in a dangerous way), sometimes crazy political climate in Taiwan. It also echoes what I said about Annette Lu a couple of weeks ago:
Analysts are certain that Chen, who has lost much public support after the exposure of corruption scandals involving his son-in-law and close aides, can no longer play his old trick of diverting public attention by provoking China with pro-independence moves, such as drafting a "new constitution" for the island. Thus, during the remaining two years of his office, the situation in the Taiwan Strait will likely remain stable.

"If Chen yields to the opposition parties' pressure and steps down, it would be very dramatic," said Emile Sheng, a political scientist at Taiwan's Soochow University. "If Vice President Annette Lu takes the office, she would clean up all of the politician-related scandals, which would regain some political ground for DPP."
Of course, Lu is viewed as even more of a pro-independence advocate than Chen.

Why the Connecticut senate primary race is important

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post on Lieberman's neo-conservative views on regime change in Iran. Greenwald argues that while Lieberman's supporters would rather squelch the democratic process to preserve the incumbent principal, an actual primary will provide Americans with a debate that was never had in public in the lead up to the Iraq War:
It would be incredibly irresponsible for the Democrats not to have an all-out debate about whether they want to be represented in the Senate by someone whose foreign policy views are more or less identical to the most militaristic ideologues in the administration. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the primary challenge against Lieberman is motivated almost exclusively by his support for the Iraq war (an obviously false claim given that numerous Democrats who supported the war are still supported by most Democrats), Lieberman's neoconservative world-view is squarely at odds with the views of most Democrats (and most Americans), and that, among other things, is what is at issue in his primary challenge.

It is highly revealing that those who view the Connecticut primary challenge as being some sort of anti-democratic affront -- such as those geniuses at The New Republic for whom the only more important goal than Middle Eastern wars is Lieberman's re-election -- do not attack the specific views of Ned Lamont, but instead attack the existence of the democratic contest itself. As was true with their advocacy of the invasion of Iraq, neoconservatives don't want to win a debate over whether further war-mongering, this time in Iran, makes sense. They once again want to squelch meaningful debate entirely, even if it means advancing that blatantly inane claim that a primary challenge to a highly controversial Senator with extremist foreign policy views is inappropriate and even anti-democratic.

The one lesson which I believe Americans (if not the national media) have learned from the Iraq debacle is that we cannot engage in a military action again of that significance without having a real debate and without engaging in intense skepticism over claims made by the government. Joe Lieberman is clearly going to advocate the hardest line possible against Iran. Few things are more constructive than a democratic election where that view gets openly debated and then resolved by voters. That is how our country is supposed to work.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

emerging into the light

Giant football/soccer match

DISCLAIMER, and some thoughts about Taiwan

In the post below, I quoted someone who had very specific views about the cross-straits issue. Those are not my views. I mean, by quoting them here, I was not in anyway endorsing them. My opinion on this issue is not all that important. I'm not a politician on either side--green or blue, Taiwanese or Chinese--nor can I vote here. Instead, what I find interesting for me, as well as for my potential and actual readers, is to allow people here to speak. No, I don't mean guest posters (though that is a possibility), but direct quotes, sort of like actualities but without the voice.

My goal here--or at least one of them--is to put my finger on the pulse of this society. What are people here thinking and doing and liking and hating and wanting, etc...? What are the trends? What is the historical picture? What is the political struggle? What did someone say to me in the cafe or while cutting my hair or at the hotsprings? I'll tell you.

That's not to say that this site is not also about me (or my view, my realizations, my perspective,etc.); just that when I quote someone, it is not by necessity my view, unless, of course, I say: "Totally far out man! That was a wicked cool idea!" Yes, that probably means I endorse the idea.

To be frank, more often than not, I hear people express the desire for Taiwan to be admitted into the U.N. Being human and somewhat easily influenced by my surroundings, I am swayed by this view--partly because I hear the desire expressed so often, but also because I have a developing awareness of Taiwan's history, and know that Taiwan wasn't in the orbit of the Chinese state until sometime in the 17th century. Okay, you got me, yes, geographically speaking, it was in the orbit.

Over the next few centuries, the island gradually became culturally Chinese, if not always politically Chinese, but Austronesian cultures are still visible on the island, particularly outside Taipei.

But it is not just about the past, but the present as well, and how the past and present infuse each other. How are people thinking now, and how is their present thinking informed by the past? My speculation is that Taiwanese would now have a much different impression of their relation to China if they had fared better under KMT rule. Many people--as far as I can tell--welcomed Chinese rule, and hoped for a better life than they had under the Japanese. Instead, they soon discovered they were treated as second-class citizens. There are reasons why people are skeptical about Beijing's willingness to liberate them.

Well, I initially meant this to be a short post, so I'll stop hear. Stay tuned for more on the developing saga, as the picture continues to emerge.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

It's all about this hat!

Anyone who has read my post on the tea connoisseur linked below knows that encounters with interesting people, places, and events are important to me; it is these encounters that have set my life on a specific course (dare I say destiny?). I can't help it--that is the way I see things. You might see things differently. I am ok with that. We all have our own perspectives and my guess is that some early events in my life sparked this enchantment in my imagination. The gazillion fantasy books I read as a child (and don't forget the bibilical kind) likely also contributed to this wanting to see magic in the world, this desire to catch a glimpse of a heavenly being miraculously descending from the clouds in a flash of multi-colored light. It also directed some of my research interests (Think: Daoism). I would not think for a moment, either, to deny the stamp of my ancestors on the genetic roadmap of my existence.

Well, now that I have had my fun, and written that first paragraph, I will begin the true task of this post: to describe the events of last Friday. First of all, I must explain my misunderstanding. I thought I was supposed to work last Saturday, which would have meant I didn't have to come into work on Friday (I later discovered that it is this Saturday that I am substituting for one of my colleagues).

So, I thought I would do something special for my day off; I would get off the metro at a different stop--Minquan Xilu. Yes, I'll have to expand my notion of "doing something special," but right now I am fascinated by the metro scene (actually I always like train stations and the like).

Anyway, as we were approaching the MQXL stop, an elderly man with white hair walked towards the door. I noticed his Australian-style cowboy hat fell to the floor and so, quickly reached to pick it up. I blurted out: "Xiansheng...(Mr.)!" And handed it to him as the door glided open.

He was grateful and thanked me with a big grin on his face.

Then, I walked off the train; life seemed to move forward; I floated up the escalator and emerged from the station out onto the street.

"Oh!" I said to myself. "I have been here before."

The old chap, Mr. Su, walking about ten feet in front of me, slowly turned around, and as he noticed me, expressed a big smile. He thanked me again and we began talking.

I asked him if he was from Taipei. He said he was but also was a citizen of Australia, where he had moved some 30 years earlier (though he and his wife preferred life in Taiwan).

He then made a fascinating comment: "I was born Japanese and then became Chinese...I'm Taiwanese." When he was born, Taiwan was a Japanese colony. The educational system was Japanese. Authors wrote in Japanese. The official language was Japanese. When he was only 3 years old, his family moved to Shanghai, where they lived until he was 10. They were Japanese citizens living in China. It must have been an interesting time to live in Shanghai. Seven years later he was back in Taiwan. Following the war, when the KMT inherited the island, he became a citizen of the Republic of China.

He then invited me for a cup of coffee at Starbucks since his friend had just called from Keelung saying he would be late for their appointment. Mr. Su had some time to kill so we might as well talk for awhile.

Sitting in Starbucks, looking out of the large windows towards Zhongshan road, one of the major roads in Taipei, at the rage of the racing motorized vehicles and the modern buildings, I asked the obvious question: "How has Taipei changed? What was it like back then?"

"Oh, it was very different. I remember riding my bike in the middle of the road. There were no cars." Of course, much of the city back then was not city; it was farmland.

Then I asked him the next obvious questions, the ones about politics, about President Chen and Chairman Ma (Ma Ying-jeou), about Chiang Kai-shek, and about Taiwan independence.

President Chen is unfortunate. He was a popular mayor and many people, including Mr. Su, felt he did a lot for Taipei, more than Chairman Ma, also Mayor Ma, has done. "But now he has disgraced himself." Of course, Chen hasn't been charged with anything--only his family members. "Taiwan is pitiable!" I told him America has its problems too.

He also said this is a typical problem with DPP and other green politicians: "They do very well on the local level, but they haven't done well as the ruling party.

"Do you think Annette Lu would be better?"

"She is pro-independence." This surprised me because many Taiwanese (those whose families came to Taiwan 100-300 years ago) with whom I talk lean in this direction. "It is too narrow. My family came from there too. It's a bigger picture--the Thousand li Great Wall. That's mine too. I'm greedy. Ha ha ha."

"Do you like Chairman Ma?" "Maybe he's not that bad, but I can't get out of my head the fact that he is KMT. They took advantage of us (qifu women) for 30 years."

"So, he is like Chiang Kai-shek?" "No, definitely not. I hate Chiang Kai-shek!"

"How has Ma been as Taipei mayor?" "He hasn't done too much and isn't as good as Chen Shui-bian was. He's too soft."

"What if Ma became leader of China." I asked this because a few months ago, a friend whose family came to Taiwan from Shandong in the forties ("Mainlanders") asked me what I thought about this possibility. Mr. Su's answer: "I could live with that."

What if Hu Jintao (China's leader) took over Taiwan. "That would be bad."

"Do you remember Shanghai when you were little?" "No, I was too young, but I went back there in the eighties. That is why I moved to Australia; I wanted to go to China and we weren't allowed to go. Things were just starting to open up. People were very simple; they were all wearing those blue outfits." He also said Zhou Enlai was a great man.

"Have you been to Quanzhou?" Quanzhou and Zhengzhou are the two areas in Fujian from where most of the pre-1949 Chinese who came to Taiwan (those who call themselves Taiwanese), other than Hakka, came. "I haven't been there. I should go."

There was much more to our conversation. Afterwards he treated me to lunch.

One thing Mr. Su said over and over again: "Our meeting today is jiyun機運. Do you know jiyun? Ji(會) is opportunity. (命)Yun is fate/destiny." My translation: chance encounter. "My friend just called to say he would be late for our appointment. You said you were originally going somewhere else and at the last minute decided to get off at Minquan Xilu." Then he held his hat up and stated the obvious: "It's all about this hat!"

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Danshui performers

A significant event that shaped my destiny

There I was, sitting in the sand, with my little shovel in hand. I must have been digging for days and months, or maybe it was just moments. Time alludes itself after so much of it has past. It appears blurry through the current lens. But what is clear as day, as if it occurred only seconds ago, is the discovery that I made.

As I lifted the shovel from the sand, and pouring it, inspected what was in my hand. In the midst of all the tiny speckles, what emerged was a sheckel, an ancient Hebrew coin, or that is what they said*********************************************************

****************************(the camera zooms out, farther and farther away. A little boy sits in a sandbox with other children, all with shovels in their hands. A few older figures stand by, each remarking at what the boy had discovered).

That is the way it was, that day I sat in a sandbox at a temple in St. Louis, or was it New Jersey. Hard to say.

One of the true pleasures in life

Sipping a can of Mr. Brown's Blue Mountain coffee first thing in the morning on a blazing hot day after its been raining almost non-stop for a week straight.

Monday, June 12, 2006

They're not all about coffee

More Smoke-like pictures

All about encounters

I am linking to a post I wrote back in April--the Tea Connoisseur--not necessarily because I feel it is a great piece of writing, but because it is an important piece for me, in terms of connecting certain experiences in my life that together have helped to form my current worldview. It was also the first time I have attempted to write about these experiences (beyond a composition I wrote in Chinese class about my trip to Taiwan's east coast and perhap a spattering of emails I wrote the same year). The idea to write this piece started percolating in my head while still in Taipei two months ago (I was walking near the Taipei Train Station looking for a specific Japanese album that I heard on MTV the night before), but didn't form into words in this blog until after a long flight back to NJ. Here it is:

The Tea Connoisseur
Click on the highlighted link

One thing I have learned

台北捷運關心你。That is: the Taipei Metro cares for you (I assume me too). They tell us metro travelers that everyday, every which way. I believe them.

Making sense

I have been reading some books on Taiwan's history; I do this one, to keep up some of my academic interests and more importantly, to make sense of this complex island where I have lived before and now find myself living again. Right now I am reading:

Becoming "Japanese": Colonial Taiwan and the Politics of Identity Formation by Leo T.S. Ching

Just to give you a taste of what the book is about and of how complicated peoples' experiences are, here is the first paragraph of the preface:
This book, in retrospect, is founded on fragments and traces of personal memory, despite its attempt at intellectual understanding and theoretical rigor. They are recollections and images that traverse three places from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. In Taiwan, there was my maternal grandmother's fondness for things Japanese; my not being allowed to play with the "Taiwanese" kids in the neighborhood; one of my uncle's (a "mainlander") constant references to the Japanese as "little devils"; the aboriginal dance I saw as a little kid; the siren and drills at school for the impending "Chinese invasion." In Japan: the indescribable fear I had at the age of ten when I first saw a group of mainland Chinese in Mao suits; the Japanese men, with their golf bags and expectant grins, waiting for the next flight to Taipei to see their "girlfriends"; a sixty-something Taiwanese obasan who continues to extend her tourist visa every six months to stay in Japan; the small kuan-ti (one of the Chinese deities popular in Taiwan) temple in Kobe. In China: the anxiety of meeting my paternal relatives for the first time to inform them of my father's passing away, after their forty-year separation; an old Japanese coal factory in Shenyang; the "soft seat" train cars for the "foreign" visitors and the "hard seat" cars for the Chinese; my grandfather, upon seeing me for the first time, his voice choked in tears, saying to me, "Good, good, you have come home."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Rites of Passage

Today was a big day for me on air. First I did the interview with Shirlie and Natalie for their show--We've Got Mail (See the schedule). You can find it under This Week's Programs for Tuesday, starting at 20 minutes past the hour. Then I did three actualities for Stephen's Strait Talk, which is part of the news segment on Tuesday, and one actuality for Shirlie's Made in Taiwan, part of the news segment on Monday.

Then, what followed, was the real deal. Paula told me I will participate in reading the news everyday this week. Today was the first day--Natalie and I. You can hear it in the news headlines. Well, I certainly have room for improvement, but it was a lot of fun, and believe you me, saying the word philatelic is real hard.

A great line from Americablog

John says:
We have no government. We have a tax-cutting war machine run by an incompetent moron.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Chen Shui-bian and Annette Lu

Here is Battle Panda's insightful take on Annette Lu and what President Chen will do (from the comments):
Annette Lu used to be tremendously disliked in Taiwan -- she's abrasive, opinionated and comically gaffe-prone (though in Taiwan you gotta wonder how much the media has to do with that). However, in the wake of the first family's penchant for diamond encrusted watches and insider trading, Lu looks attractive because her integrity is generally considered to be beyond doubt. It's probably the best case scenario for the DPP if president Chen falls on his sword now and let Lu take over -- she'll have the best part of a term to prove herself, or not. However, I don't think Chen is ready. He's hoping to placate the populace by throwing his closest advisors overboard (exactly what they had to do with his thieving son-in-law is unclear) and "delegating power". It looks more to me like he's looking for any way he can to cling on to his presidency.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Documenting a day's journey

I took the pictures in the posts below while walking from the Yuanshan Metro station to RTI on June 1st, 2006. I leave them in this mountain grotto to be discovered by my posterity one thousand years from today. Well, in lieu of that, I leave them on this site for the enjoyment of my family and friends and any other passersby who might take notice. And of course, for the unfortunate soul working for the NSA who has to go through all the mounds of data collected by that agency and others. May these pictures lighten your load a bit.

The Yuanshan Metro

Failed attempts at capturing the 4-leafed clover of shots of planes flying overhead at the Yuanshan Metro station

The Yuanshan Metro station, near where I work, is also close to the Sungshan Airport, so a plane flies overhead about every 20 minutes. I have been caught off guard countless times. Now that I carry my camera with me at all times, how many times have a scrambled to slide it from its holster before the plane was gone? More than I can count on my fingers and toes and on those of all the people getting on and off the metro everyday for a year. Well...he...he...he. I have sat outside the station and in the park across the street waiting for the next plane to fly overhead, but I am always too late to snap the shot while it is still overhead. You can imagine what the people walking by are saying about this strange old outsider swinging his sword at windmills. I am like the coyote chasing the roadrunner, conjuring one plan after another, only to see the dynamite blow up in my face. That is how I would represent all of my failed attempts to capture the 4-leafed clover of plane shots over the Yuanshan Metro station.

I also like taking pictures of traffic

RTI and the Palace Hotel from Pei-An road

A relic of the past

The view walking into work

The approach to my workplace

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The President Chen saga continues

I wrote the two RTI English pieces today on Chen Shui-bian's apparent relinquishing of power. When I first came into work today and checked the foreign wires, this is the AP headline I saw: Taiwan premier takes control of government. It seemed like the president was handing his power over to the premier, and the possible scenario I described two days ago was playing out in predictible fashion. Would the next step be Chen's resignation and Annette Lu's inauguration? We all know the AP isn't always so reliable these days. Well, here are my two stories, first from the Green perspective and then from the blue. The important point is that he said he would give up some of his powers.

Here is the whole list of Google News stories on the subject for anyone wishing to do more research. As you might notice, there isn't a whole lot of variation between headlines.

Well, today we really came down to the wire; I had four actualities to record and Paula had one (male and female voices) with only 20 minutes. Usually, I mess up several times as I'm reading before I get it right. Today, there was just no time.

I have some pictures to post here, but I'm getting tired. So, please wait until tomorrow.

For those of you in NJ

Menendez is kicking off his Senate campaign.

For those of you in CA-36 with roots in Connecticut

Howie Klein writes a good piece over at Firedoglake about the insurgent challenge to Jane Harman, whom I used to like. In general, FDL has had great coverage of the Lamont/Leiberman race in Connecticut as well; for instance, see here.