Sunday, 30 August 2015

Rain, rain go away...

It has rarely stopped raining all week, it has rained throughout this weekend and it looks likely to continue raining all through next week too. This is unfortunate. All of Taiwan's reservoirs (with one exception) are now full and will have to be partially emptied to protect the dams. That's an awful lot of water which cannot be conserved, which must instead be returned to nature and is as a result, wasted. The city parks here in Tainan once more contain large areas of standing water which cannot be drained because the soil is absolutely saturated; this is a health hazard as it affords a breeding ground to mosquitos and already there have been reports of more than two and a half thousand cases of dengue fever this year in Tainan alone.

And it also means that my planned reservoir trips have been spoiled once again. I have instead spent the weekend at home, doing nothing much but cleaning out the washing machine and various other chores. I do have a slight headache though, so if I develop any of the other symptoms in the next day or two I'll get myself checked out at the hospital for possible dengue fever (hopefully, it's just a headache and nothing more).

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Children should not be forced into cleaning their schools; response to another commenter on "Thinking Taiwan"

Here. I appreciate that calling the practice "break time slavery" sounds hyperbolic, but I do intend it to be taken seriously. It is what it is, even if diminished by degree.


No, I'm not having any of that.

A school has no authority over children except that which may be delegated by parents (and even that must necessarily be limited). Unless the parents have agreed to it, the school has no authority to force children to clean - and whether it be school corridors, classroom windows or the children's living quarters is immaterial. In addition to the lack of expressly delegated authority, there are two issues which further embolden my objection. The first is the question of what should a school be for, to which I submit the answer must be: preparation for life as an adult, the essence of which is becoming accustomed to the condition of freedom, making choices between different values* and accepting responsibility for the consequences of these selections. To that end, students must be left to decide for themselves whether, when and how to clean. The second issue is the ineffectiveness of forcing students to clean; I strongly suspect it has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the students' cleaning habits and preferences later in life. There will probably of course be sex differences with the girls eager to do cleaning to avoid punishment, and the boys generally not giving a rubber dub duck.

All you are accomplishing is instilling the habits and mentality of unquestioning obedience to non-consensual authorities. That sobering consideration alone should weigh far more in our minds than the frankly trivial benefits of getting the school cleaning done on the cheap.

"Finally, I’d like to point out that when you say “the standing custom within high schools”, you are being slightly misleading as the custom starts in primary school …"

OK then, in primary schools. Hire a few cleaning ladies and be done with it.

*Opportunity costs: a clean and presentable environment is one value. More time spent reading chemistry is another value (an additional half hour exercise or sleep are still other values). Time spent cleaning is less time spent reading chemistry and so on.


A further thought: you write....

"Calling it slavery is hyperbole not unlike the term “wage slave” because the school doesn’t own the students nor can it punish them with death or severe harm."

I disagree and I can answer this without resort to dictionary definitions.

You imply that ownership and disposal by killing or maiming are the defining elements of slavery, but that is the error of defining something by referring to a legal status. And the legal status of slavery was different in different times and places. In the second century AD, slaves in the Roman Empire for example could not be arbitrarily put to death by their masters but had to be put on trial to determine whether they had in fact committed a crime or not. Yet they were still considered slaves. I would suggest that is because the essence or defining feature of slavery is involuntary labour. It may exist in different degrees and in differing social contexts, but it is what it is.

So for you to say that forced break time chores are not a form of slavery just because this practice is legal and slavery is not, is a bit like saying when a man forces his wife to have sex (in somewhere like India), it is not rape because forced marital sex is legal and rape is not. It's an attempt to get around the problem by definition, or more specifically, of invoking narrow aspects of a legal status as a substitute for a definition.

"A Duty To Offend"

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Peter Enav Recommends Hillary Clinton...

My comment at "Thinking Taiwan" here. Contrary to the two other comments on Peter Enav's article, I thought it was very poor because there doesn't seem to be much to go on, other than a few scattered remarks from the various possible candidates, only some of which directly mention Taiwan. It was the journalistic equivalent of reading tea leaves. However, his recommendation of Hillary Clinton stands out. On the face of it, she is correct about the threat China poses to Taiwan. Mr Enav was also correct to point out that, among all the possible candidates, she alone has been the most outspoken on Taiwan. There can be no argument with that. However, what was missing was any acknowledgement of Clinton's disturbing history. It is a history which invites a very particular inference as to what kind of person she is, and the corollary implication that she is fundamentally unsound and cannot be trusted. That point simply must be made - even if it is a point that other people I disagree with also make.


"...Taiwan should probably not expect much of an American embrace, regardless of who becomes president..."

Then quite what the purpose of this article was is not clear.

Nonetheless an argument that Mr Enav has his recommendations the wrong way around can still be made.

To paraphrase a certain Mr Rumsfeld from ten years ago, Hillary Clinton is a known unknown. Perhaps Hillary Clinton's statements on Taiwan indicate potential support in the event of a diplomatic or military crisis, but one must also consider the possibility that she simply "misspoke" as she has done more than once in the past. There is also the possibility that her "support" for Taiwan might end up lost in emails recorded on a server stashed in some bloke's toilet cupboard. So rather than take Der Rodham's proclamations at face value, it would be wiser to assume that her apparent support for Taiwan depends not on anything like principle, but merely on whether Taiwan happens to be a useful tool for her or not at the time. The wonder is not that Trump is taken seriously - he isn't - but that Der Rodham still commands support in the media twenty two years on.

By all means let the next U.S. president be a woman, but let's have a person who actually tries to communicate by reference to the facts rather than one who slips away by trying to manipulate the non-facts.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

From this weekend: Taichung power plant, a praying mantis, an eagle and a full Baihe reservoir.

Last weekend, I had a bit of an accident - or more accurately, my phone did. Water was involved. It turned out that repair costs were so high I might as well buy a new phone, which is what I did. But a new phone (another HTC) comes with the inconveniences of losing some data which hadn't been backed up. Not to worry...

On Saturday, I finally got back up to Taichung. The black motorbike had been left there for the past two months and I'd been expecting the worst: fallen over, flat tyres, flat battery etc... but actually it was fine. Started first time and just needed some grease on the chain and an oil change. I had only intended to use the trip for repairs, but finding that none were needed, I drove around for an hour or so out to Longjing near Taichung port to have a quick look at the power plant, and then back to the HSR station for a quick train back to Tainan.

This morning, I took the two girls out to Baihe reservoir for their first time. The weather wasn't particularly good (overcast with occasional showers), though it was mercifully cool for most of the time. We walked down the central peninsula at the east end of the reservoir and took the boat through the central channel from east to west. Just as I was about to get everything ready, I found something amazing (for me at least)... a mantis had attached itself to my kit bag. In ten years of living in Taiwan with much of it spent out and about in the hills and mountains, this was nevertheless the first time in my life I had seen one of these things in the wild. I was absolutely transfixed...

You learn something new everyday: previously, and probably since childhood, I had always assumed that this was a "Preying Mantis" because it feeds on other insects and small reptiles or amphibians. I only just found out today, on checking the wikipedia page, that this is wrong and that it's actually a "Praying Mantis" because of the "praying" like posture of its "raptorial" front legs. I'd only ever read about these creatures as a child - I cannot even recall seeing them in a zoo.
These pictures were taken on my new phone, and in this one the creature's pseudopupil eyes and mandibles are very clear. 
I wonder if he would have bitten me if I'd put my finger close enough to his mandibles?
Later, once we'd waited out a quick shower, I paddled the boat through the enclosed central channel and spotted an eagle in the same corner I had found one last time I was here, though this was almost certainly a smaller bird (it's quite possible some of them died during typhoon Soudelor two weeks ago). I pointed the eagle out to Ruby and Niki and allowed the boat to drift closer and closer to the corner so I could take pictures through the 300mm lens...

Despite the weather, it was an enjoyable little trip and I gathered two bits of new data: first, this was the highest I'd seen the water level at Baihe reservoir, and this was made apparent by the less than two meter gap between the water surface and the old, rotten suspension bridge (which is usually a good four or five meters above the surface), and second, the reeds polluting the front end of the reservoir are now far more extensive than they were a couple of years ago such that it is no longer possible to navigate around the corner from north-west to south-east. It's just not possible. It was two or three years ago.

The rotten old suspension bridge with missing planks; the gap between it and the water surface was less than two meters; if I could walk on water, my head would probably touch the beams.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Old Chinese Superstitions

"There are a number of things that many people avoid doing during Ghost Month, including not whistling — especially after dark — as whistling is thought to attract evil spirits and once they have been lured, they could follow the person around for a long time, bringing ill fortune."
That puts me in a culturally awkward position as I have six dogs, all of whom need to be walked morning, afternoon and evening (it goes dark here after about 6.30pm in summer). Whistling is one of my most often used ways of signalling to my dogs and of exercising a psychological restraint over their behaviour.

My solution: ignore the taboo.

Traditional Chinese culture is all around me, and I put up with it, tolerate it and sometimes indulge it for the practical reason of not getting involved in unnecessary arguments. Much of it is, however, a pre-rational collection of superstitious nonsense that should not be taken seriously. What needs to be taken seriously are the threats to the health of my dogs - traffic, old people and bacteria in rotten food thrown away in the park - and these are the things I get my dogs to avoid, initially by whistling to get their attention.

It is often said that immigrants should not criticize their host culture; I think there is some practical sense to this in terms of avoiding unnecessary conflicts, but this rule should be circumscribed by reflection on a counterfactual question: where would the Taiwanese (and Chinese) people be today had they not had the benefits of contact and trade with the west?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Comment At "Thinking Taiwan": Curriculum Protests Article


This was a very good article.

"The trivia they’ve been memorizing year after year could just be Googled."

Precisely. In respect of education, the web changes everything.

The big picture is that, traditional confucian ideals of totalitarianism aside, there is no justifiable function that the State can perform in education whatsoever. Not in setting a curriculum of what is to be studied, not in setting out methods of how it is to be taught, not in regulating private schools or homeschooling parents, and not in providing funds and perhaps not even in funding University research (the history of modern science gives little indication that progress ever hinged upon State funding). This is as true in the western countries themselves as it is anywhere else.


On the matter of resolving the conflict between a confucian social order and western notions of individual dignity, the rub is surely that all transactional relationships be voluntary rather than subject to possible coercion based on presumptions of "authority" (whether democratic or confucian). In as much as the question of cultural superiority can be answered (given that there are intangible values at stake), we must look at material consequences. Whilst Chinese culture has contributed a handful of significant material inventions to the modern world (paper, alcohol, cast iron, gunpowder, fireworks, tea, silk, the compass and so on), the list of western contributions to the modern world is simply incalculable - ranging from the global benefits of electricity (Mr Tesla), to nearly all modern materials whether steel alloys, portland cement, modern concrete, thermoplastic polymers, synthetic or vulcanized rubbers, and man-made fibers like acrylic and nylon, to the basis of modern medicine (anti-biotics, vaccination, analgesics etc) and the eradication of disease, to modern industrial-scale agricultural methods and modern satellite communications, to all forms of modern mechanized transport and the corresponding infrastructure. Then there are also the contributions of the west to the modern world which are intellectual and institutional in nature, and which underpin the entire global economy without which Taiwan's economic development may not have been possible. Oh and then there is the world wide web. With all that (and more) in mind, it would seem that a person who can sincerely propose that traditional confucian culture is somehow "superior" to western culture has a lifetime of accounting to do.