Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Reaction To The Oroville Spillway Damage In California

Three immediate thoughts on the Oroville spillway damage:

1) The main spillway is too narrow with insufficient discharge capacity. That would explain the damage to the concrete channel halfway down - the force of the discharge was too great to be supported by the channel walls.

2) The emergency spillway does not appear to have any channeling structure whatsoever to lead discharged water back to the river. So aside from the erosion of the concrete overflow lip itself, that would seem to be a cardinal design error.

3) If, as reported, there is a risk of flooding to the urban areas downstream, then the river leaving the reservoir has insufficient carrying capacity and should have been widened or supplemented with diversion channels.

(Further thoughts added later)...

4) Where is the stilling basin at the end of the main spillway channel?

5) Did the engineers err in calculating the maximum possible inflow of water into the reservoir from its' feeder river? If so, that is a catastrophic error that would not only have meant an inadequately sized main spillway, but may also mean that the dam itself will eventually prove inadequate to the sheer stresses it is currently being put under.

6) The apparent lack of any sort of channel for the emergency open overflow spillway really is astonishing, and this is made more so by the fact that the mountainside below it actually supports a number of pylons to carry power lines. Erosion of the mountainside from that emergency spillway will almost certainly mean that the pylons will fall and the power lines collapse. More importantly, if that emergency spillway collapses, along with the mountainside beneath it, then there is going to be catastrophic flooding downstream.

The design flaws here are of the order of criminal negligence, and it is astonishing that remedial measures were not taken a long, long time ago. But I suppose that's probably down to the stupid public spending priorities of successive Californian State governments and the people who elected them and failed to hold them accountable.

This guy has aerial footage from his own private plane, which is superb, but his nonchalant manner is simply astounding. This is a fairly major disaster already, and could become much worse...

More aerial video available here, start from 2.29...

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Miscellaneous Photos

This is just a disorganized collection of pictures from various trips over the past three weekends. I've not really had the time or inclination to write up about any of them due to being preoccupied with other things. During all three weekends the weather has been overcast and dull, so for some of these pictures I messed about with filters to brighten them up a bit.

I made a couple of trips out to Yenshuipi, which is a small local reservoir here in Tainan that I hadn't previously visited. There is an interesting history to it as although it was built during the 1950s, it stands on the site of previous work of some kind both by the Chinese and, prior to that, the Dutch although I have struggled to find more information about this...

A transformer station in Shanshang district just up from the gas-fired power plant...

I also took a brief trip to observe the state of affairs at Baihe reservoir where the construction of the new sluiceway is ongoing. The downstream mouth has now been opened up and the sluiceway walls downstream from that opening have now reached all the way down to the discharge stream west of the spillway itself. In addition, a bridge has been constructed across the sluiceway walls to support the irrigation channel taking water out of the reservoir...

At the back of Baihe reservoir, there is still sufficient water to go boating despite the ongoing draw-down at the front...

There are, I suspect, no more eagles living at Baihe reservoir. There are however a pair of Ospreys...

We also made a trip out onto the water at Houtopi, where a section of the dam has recently been repaired, and though we were once again frustrated by the dull weather, I did manage to get some decent pictures of what I believe is a Crested Goshawk...

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Defending Taiwan's Democracy: The necessity of answering criticisms, rather than dismissing them and of defending the unadulterated right to freedom of expression. Or alternatively: why "social justice" is pernicious bullshit that Taiwan's democratic order simply cannot afford to indulge.

This will be a difficult post for me to write, and I am reminded of a recent post by a British engineer who previously worked in Russia for some years, in which he defended Vladimir Putin against the erroneous charge of being a "dictator" despite his own strong dislike of the Russian president. I am going to attempt something similarly awkward here, only in this case it is critics of democracy in China and elsewhere that I am going to appear to defend rather than Vladimir Putin, but it is only an appearance. My purpose is to point out that criticism of democracy is necessary in order that it may be answered, and that there is ample reason to think this is more necessary now, in the wake of recent events, than at any time in the past few years.

In a recent post at "Taiwan Sentinel", J.M. Cole remarks on an advertisement for a talk given at the City University of Hong Kong by professor Jiang Yi-Huah, who readers will recall was the Taiwanese premier during the 2014 Sunflower protests. Briefly, Cole puts the case that Jiang's talk on the failings of Taiwanese democracy plays into the Chinese Communist Party's attempt to discredit democracy, and while there may be something to this claim, I also think that Cole puts the case badly, and is in any case one of the least qualified people to do it. Here is the quotation from the ad to Jiang's talk...
"Taiwan is the only democracy in the Chinese world. In the process of democratization, Taiwan successfully realizes [sic] the democratic transition of [sic] an authoritarian regime, fair elections and peaceful change of powers, and the formation of a viable civil society, for which it is highly accredited [sic] by the international community. Nevertheless, Taiwanese democracy is also tainted by a serious divide of national identity, relentless partisan politics, disfunction [sic] of government, disrespect of the law, and notorious manipulation of mass media. The shortcomings of Taiwanese democracy is so appalling that more and more people become suspicious of the desirability of democracy in general, and the feasibility of democracy for the Chinese people in particular."
Irrespective of whether such a talk fits "hand in glove" with Beijing's anti-democratic propaganda, the charges brought by Jiang are to some degree valid and need to be answered, not dismissed. This must begin with reasons as to why the "flaws" Jiang points out are poor grounds for preferring non-democratic alternatives. Arguments can and should also be made as to how these problems might be ameliorated, if not solved. My own view is that these problems are consequences, to one degree or another, of excessively concentrated and centralized political power, from which it follows that they might be tackled through a process of depoliticization and decentralization.

But Cole does not attempt to make this or any other arguments and instead simply dismisses Jiang's criticisms of Taiwanese democracy as a case of a former premier talking out of turn. However, I am now of the view that Cole's position as a Canadian journalist and defender of Taiwan's democracy is somewhat undermined by his publicly stated views on a related matter. First however, here is what Cole says about the blurb for Jiang's talk...
"By agreeing to have his name associated with such language (assuming he has seen it), the former premier not only casts aspersions on the democratic accomplishments of the Taiwanese — who remain overwhelmingly committed to their political system, flaws notwithstanding — he furthermore risks becoming a pawn in Chinese propaganda, a voice arguing against a form of governance that is anathema to the CCP and that should remain an option for the people of Hong Kong and China."
Chinese propaganda is going to continue regardless of what Jiang or anyone else does or does not say, but that being said Cole is somewhat unfair here as Jiang's blurb contained both praise and criticism for Taiwan's democracy, not criticisms only. The talk would only have been propaganda if there was no possibility of answering Jiang's charges. Were answers to Jiang's criticisms permitted and tolerated in a Q & A session after the talk? Perhaps not, but we are not told, possibly because nobody knows. In any case, we are free to answer Jiang here in Taiwan and elsewhere where we are not yet censored. It would be an ironic sign of weakness if criticisms of Taiwan's democracy were discussed openly in the cryptocracy that is the People's Republic of China, whilst dismissed or otherwise shouted down by the supposedly "open" and "tolerant" supporters of democracy in Taiwan itself.

And this is where I part company with Cole. He is an ardent "social justice editor" who has in the past censored criticism of his writers whilst allowing them free reign to slander and denigrate political opponents. I also part company with him in his support for that identity-cluster at the apex of the victimhood hierarchy of political "virtue": the LGBTTQIAXYZ alphabet soup people. In particular, Cole is presumably an advocate of introducing "hate speech" legislation to Taiwan, which is a recent political weapon by which any criticism of anyone or anything related to the Left's victimhood hierarchy can be silenced by calling it "hate speech". Such legislation is a dangerous political weapon because there can be no clear, objective definition of "hate speech" (thus rendering the criterion subjective) and also because the people wielding it too often use hate speech allegations either indiscriminately, or with a selective application which reeks of hypocrisy. A white Christian who questions whether the State should be involved in certifying gay marriages may be charged with hate speech, yet a brown-skinned Muslim who advocates murdering practicing homosexuals may never be charged with hate speech. Hate speech legislation is a violation of the right to free expression, and it is this right - more than any other - which is part of the necessary consensus underpinning a democratic political order.

Democracy is not just about tolerating differences of opinion, but doing so within an underpinning framework of precepts and principles on which there is a consensus, such as those pertaining to the rights of the individual listed in the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Of standout importance here is the right to freedom of expression. A defense of democracy not rooted in such a consensus, and not rooted in free speech in particular is so flawed as to be no defense at all. Where there is no right to free speech, he who would articulate a set of ideas to which a "social justice warrior" may object can perhaps be cowed into silenced by the mere threat of being dragged through the courts. If that is considered unlikely to work, he can instead be marginalized by various online filtering mechansims, such as the deletion of his blog comments, the removal of his Facebook posts, the suspension of his Twitter account, the removal of his blue "check" on Instagram and the demonetization of his Youtube uploads. For people who are supposedly democrats to engage in such lower level suppression of alternative views and, on top of that, to advocate legislation introducing actual legal prior restrictions on freedom of expression is a confluence of two mistakes which together are of singular magnitude in the omnilateral nature of their political implications. I'll say it again: unadulterated freedom of expression is an essential prerequisite for a democratic order. Cole's misguided support for restrictions on freedom of expression places him outside of that basic consensus upon which Taiwanese democracy, and all other democracies, depend.

The U.S. relationship with Taiwan is often said to be based on "shared values", which is a commonly understood reference to democracy and freedom of expression. Yet perhaps these shared values are now on shaky ground. The problem will arise for Taiwan's social justice warriors (and unfortunately, for the rest of us who live here too) when, after having supported restrictions on freedom of speech and after having punished and marginalized the most prominent alleged purveyors of their various "-isms" and "-obias", they then find themselves the victims of ever more aggressive demonstrations of Chinese nationalist ambition. Will they then turn to the U.S. to ask for help and plead the case of "shared values" of democracy and freedom of speech? If things do eventually turn out that way, an impartial observer could be forgiven for seeing why a U.S. President and a U.S. Congress might think twice about what exactly those "shared values" are.

Friday, 3 February 2017

UC Berkeley Riots & Media Silence

I still have my doubts about Milo Yiannopoulos, but the cancellation of his talk at UC Berkeley last night due to rioting by students is yet another instance of the Left losing their collective hive mind. The moment when a woman is pepper sprayed in the face by some anonymous coward hiding behind a black balaclava is unbelievable. I checked the front page websites of the Taipei Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian and there seems to be no mention of the UC Berkeley riots at all, which is not surprising given that these places are all stuffed with "social justice" type people.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Morning In Chiayi: Sunrise Over Renyitan Reservoir (仁義潭水庫) & Lantan Reservoir (蘭潭水庫)

Last Sunday morning I got up at 4am to get ready for the drive up to Chiayi city and to a particular rooftop with a view overlooking Renyitan reservoir from the east. I had taken pictures from this vantage point once before, but during the late afternoon rather than the early morning. The drive up to Chiayi on the motorbike was cold (about 7 ℃) and the first red rays of sun appeared over the mountains to my right as I was passing through Tainan's Liouying district at about 6.30am with the sun rising properly just before 7am. After a brief stop in my preferred 7-11 in Chiayi city, I got to my perch at some time between 7.30am and 8am and by now the sun was well up over my shoulder...

Sunrise looking westward over Renyitan reservoir; the striking dark brown-grey haze on the horizon is stagnant air containing pollutants that, for the time being, cannot be dispersed. There are at least three possible causes; one is a temperature inversion whereby a layer of warm air moves over the cooler surface air and inhibits the cooler air from rising thereby preventing normal air convection; the second is the absence of strong and sustained winds to mix the air and disperse the pollutants; and the third is a prolonged lack of precipitation. I would need to check the weather records, but I don't think there has been not much wind and no rain at all in the Tainan-Chiayi area for a couple of weeks I think. 
The mountains out east behind me framed by two lamp-posts.
A broader view east of the rising sun from the rooftop.
Focus on the span of the main dam section at the south end of the reservoir. This is still the second longest dam in Taiwan.
A nearby condominium in which the south-facing apartments will have superb views over the reservoir.
Close up on the dam with the morning sun lighting up the fencing into a golden brown shade. Even at this early hour there are already people walking along the dam and two teenagers standing next to the water's edge.
In the distance opposite the dam you can see the angle of the access road to the outlet pipe valve which feeds neighbouring Lantan reservoir further west.
A condensed panorama shot overlooking Renyitan a little while later after the sun had risen higher.
I left my perch in the east and drove west to the other side of the dam where I could look back eastward to catch the effect of the sunlight from the south-west corner.
Another condensed panorama shot over Renyitan, but this time from the south-west corner looking eastwards across the downstream face of the dam.
Looking westward to the bridged spillway for Lantan reservoir.
A panorama shot from Lantan's south-east corner looking westward with the dam on the left side of the image.
Panorama from the dam crest at the far western end of Lantan reservoir looking back east toward the risen sun. This is probably my favourite shot of the day, with my only concern being that, because the shot was taken using the 10-24mm lens, the mountains are too far away in the background to make a strong impression, though this is compensated for by the greater lateral and vertical range and the central position of the sun.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Friday Visit To Manzihmanpei Reservoir (芒子芒埤水庫)

Last Friday, the first day of the Chinese New Year holiday period, I took a brief afternoon drive out to Tainan's Yujing district to photograph a small reservoir that I had previously visited just once (I didn't get around to writing about it). It's listed on google maps as "Manzihmanpei" (芒子芒埤) which is an unusual name. Apparently, the name is at once a homophone with the Taiwanese word for "grave" (which sounds like "mango" - "mon-a-bo") and the first Chinese character for "mango" (芒), but there is also a claim that the name may derive from earlier place names used during the Dutch period (1624-1661). The similarity to the Taiwanese word for grave is understandable on account of there being a number of graves in the hills surrounding the lake, and the similarity to "mango" is obviously because Yujing district is one of the most significant mango growing areas in Taiwan.

The online information about this reservoir is sparse, but the top five articles on a google search all claim that it was built during the Japanese colonial period without specifying exactly when. The small size of the reservoir and the relative simplicity of the dam and irrigation outlets are consistent with other small Japanese reservoirs built in Taiwan such as Neipuzih reservoir in Chiayi county and Xishi reservoir in Keelung. Moreover, there is a small shrine located on the eastern shoulder of the reservoir to commemorate the site of a battlefield between the Japanese police and a local "anti-Japanese army" in August 1915. So if the battlefield encompassed part or all of what is now Manzihmanpei (approximately thirteen hectares), then construction of the dam and reservoir must have taken place some time afterwards - so that's anytime between the winter of 1915 and the early 1940s before Japan's surrender in 1945. The question of when exactly Manzihmanpei was built is of interest to me in establishing an historical timeline for the construction of Taiwan's reservoirs.

As the reservoir is very small (about half a million cubic meters in capacity, which is about half the size of nearby Jingmian reservoir [鏡面水庫]), it is not surprising to find that this is a rain-filled reservoir with no feeder stream at the back.

A view northwestward toward the upstream face of the dam from a small hill to the east.
A public information panel up on the small road along the lake's eastern shoulder put in place to introduce a martyr's shrine; the panel describes the historical significance of the place as a former battlefield between the Japanese police and an "anti-Japanese army", which may have been local Taiwanese including Aboriginal tribes, but there is no further information about their identity, which is a shame. This is typical of a lot of information panels - they provide just enough information to elicit curiosity, but not enough information to satisfy. 
The martyr's shrine on the eastern shoulder of Manzihmanpei; it is a short pagoda with three stories. The history of architectural styles is not my forte, but the use of only two colours and the truncated skirting frills between each story make me think this shrine was intentionally built in a recognizably Japanese style. Chinese pagodas (usually Taoist) tend to use a lot of colours and have more elaborate skirting frills as well as statuettes of dragons, birds and gargoyles. I could be wrong though, as some Buddhist temples also tend to be more minimalist in design.
Another view toward the upstream face of the earth dam, with typical Yujing hills in the background.
A 300mm shot of the pier below which is a water gate (below the waterline) to allow water out into irrigation canals.
A small hut on the western shoreline.
A view of the martyr's shrine from the south.
Another view toward the shrine from the hills on the western side of the lake.
A 300mm shot of the shrine from the west with the Juniper tree just behind it and a number of graves partially visible on either side.
Looking northeastward over the lake from the western hills.
There are only five herons (?) in this image, but there actually a few more out of shot to either side of the lens. They were, I suspect, sleeping.
Looking southeastwards over the fruit farm (these are mostly mango trees, unsurprisingly).
A lone eagle, presumably looking for lizards, snakes and fish.
Another view southeastwards. The floating object is a bit of hollow pipe, possibly used to hang fishing nets from.
A broader view from the west taken with the 10mm lens. The mountains of Nanhua district are in the background and there are electrical cables crossing over the lake.
The two pylons standing astride on the hilltops on either side of Manzihmanpei.