Thursday, 21 May 2015

"Rain Check"

Slept like a baby last night in which I dreamed, among other ponderous things, that Sunderland once again won the FA Cup. Awoke in too dozy a state this morning to do much else but chores, light reading and the walking of the six intelligent beasts. Coco loves the rain and splashing around in the standing water between the trees in the park. As does our new addition, Erjhen.

It began raining here in Tainan city early yesterday evening (sometime before 6pm) and that rain has thankfully continued, albeit in fits and starts and periods of light drizzle, through last night and into today. Sustained rainfall from now and over the next week or two would be most welcome, despite the more difficult driving conditions this would bring. However, I don't expect the rain to last more than a few days.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

On ECFA

I write this in lieu of the post I would like to write on the same question, simply because I am time constrained and have other priorities. But it is an important question and to my knowledge nobody is asking it, at least not in English. The question is what have been the consequences so far of the ECFA agreement, which came into effect nearly five years ago? A related question is what consequences may unfold in the next five years due to that agreement?

I simply cannot afford to do the research in a short span of time, but I would like to know the answers because I am quite sure nobody who comments on this kind of subject can be trusted to even attempt to find the truth, let alone tell it. There are too many political axes to grind on either side of the pro-ECFA and anti-ECFA divide.

The ECFA agreement straddles the central faultline of politics in Taiwan - the issue of Taiwan's political status vis-a-vis China, with the anti-ECFA people claiming that it was a precursor agreement to the eventual annexation of Taiwan by China. The reasoning for that claim was that China would benefit from the acquisition of Taiwanese technology and then use that technology to compete against the original Taiwanese producers, driving them out of the market. Let's ignore the question of whether that reasoning is valid (there are reasons to think it is not valid). There is something else. The anti-ECFA people were mostly all leftists and thus prone to the same protectionist sentiments as anywhere else in the world. There is thus an overlap; it is difficult to tell how much of the opposition to ECFA was and is generated by genuine concerns over the Chinese government's political motives and how much was and is generated by the usual economic protectionism. However that overlap may be formed, it's existence should be sufficient reason to treat the supposed factual statements of anti-ECFA commenters with deep suspicion, particularly when they are obvious hyperbole.

A recent example of this was given a few days ago by Chris Wang at "Thinking Taiwan" on an opinion piece about some pro-KMT "Taishang" (Taiwanese investors in China), in which he said this about the ruling KMT government:

"...after its China policy has proven to only benefit politicians and business tycoons rather than the ordinary people..."

That statement strikes me as obviously and demonstrably false. Even if we assume he is correct in his basic point, nevertheless that point could have been made with greater strength if he had merely said that the Ma administration's policies have benefited politicians and tycoons more, or even much more, than ordinary people. But he didn't say that. He used the words "proven" and "only" which more likely reflect his desire to express the point with great strength of feeling, than any commitment to accurate and honest evaluation. It is as if he believes that tycoons live in a separate economy from the rest of us and do not need to employ anyone or buy goods or services from anyone else, but simply collect mountains of cash from which they can sit and look down on the rest of us.

Aside from the obvious fact that tycoons, just like the rest of us, are embedded in multiple networks of exchange we call "an economy" there are also reasons (e.g. the law of comparative advantage) to think that the benefits of increased trade to ordinary people will tend to take time to accumulate. I have not the time to elaborate further on that here.

But I also want to mention a very specific refutation of Wang's claim which occurred to me, which is my purchase, through last year and this year, of a number of goods manufactured in China. On finding and buying these goods instead of the Taiwanese or other foreign country alternatives, I was able to save a small but significant chunk of cash. The goods in question were all apparel - sweaters, shirts, shorts, jackets, electrical pumps and various other bits and bobs all of which were manufactured in China and several of which I believe were included on the ECFA "early harvest list" of Chinese imports into Taiwan. As and when I get time and opportunity, I will do some digging on this and see if in fact this particular case of mine does indeed count as a true refutation.

I hope to write more on this subject and the question of ECFA's consequences as and when I get more time and opportunity for the necessary research.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

State Your Premises Explicitly

I just now commented on another article at "Thinking Taiwan" by Jenny Peng. Rather than reproduce my comment here, as I usually do, I will elaborate a little as to the intended import of my comment.

She wrote an entire article based on a moral premise that simply wasn't there. In writing about "gender inequality", she was simply lamenting the disparities in the aggregate numbers of men and women in film and media without giving any reason for this. Her article was apparently written in the expectation of unquestioned agreement. As if the righteousness of her complaint was obvious, which it is not.

So what was her premise? We have to infer, because she didn't explain.

And I would rather not infer. I would much prefer writers to say exactly what they mean, to state their premises explicitly and boldly so all readers can know exactly what they are talking about and thus know how to better consider the content of what they are saying and to target our criticisms accurately when we have them.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Comment At "Thinking Taiwan" Article On Death Penalty

Here...

***

"Killing someone is irreversible; putting them in jail is not."

Excuse me, but that is simply not true. Once you have put somebody in jail for a year, there is no way they can ever get that year back again. Jail time is also irreversible. What I believe you mean to say is that jail time can be in some way compensated for in cases of wrongful or unsound conviction, e.g. by providing large cash sums. The adequacy of such compensation is another question altogether. And jail time really is irreversibly expensive to taxpayers, society at large, and not least the accused him or herself whose life may very likely be completely ruined by it.

On the main subject:

My own opposition to the death penalty is on two grounds. First, there is the practical problem that political systems cannot be trusted to sufficiently minimize the errors they inevitably make in the process of conviction. And then there is the moral point that crimes inflicted upon other people involve the destruction of other people's values - not mine.

Whilst I can see that there must be a duty on third parties of establishing due process in determining a verdict of either guilty or not guilty, it is not clear what duty falls upon me or any other third party to determine what the sentence should be. I have no problem with the death penalty being available for the very worst crimes, but equally, I have no problem with victims (or their families) choosing to forgo the death penalty if they wish - so long as other people have the legal right of self-defence and the defence of others (including the right to kill) if or when the accused party attempts similar crimes in the future.

***

Friday, 1 May 2015

Once More On Deterrence: Railgun Developments & Depoliticization

An interesting little snippet of news I picked up from a William Lowther article in the Taipei Times a week or two ago was that the U.S. Navy plans to test fire a railgun off the coast of Florida over a distance of about 80km - using projectiles fitted with GPS electronics. If those tests are successful, then that is a major step forward.

When I first thought about the idea of Taiwan developing railguns back in 2011, it was as short-range defense weapons that would be virtually impossible to counteract due to their sheer speed. There are several very difficult engineering problems with railguns, the most difficult of which is the task of kitting the projectiles out with terminal guidance electronics that won't be fried by the extreme forces they will be subject to. Apparently, the U.S. Navy already has work underway to begin to solve that problem.

The prospect of railguns using terminal guidance systems is fascinating. It could in principle mean that they could be used as long-range weapons to strike targets hundreds of kilometers away. That in turn would open up the possibility of railguns replacing nukes as deterrence weapons. And mechanisms of deterrence are exactly what the people in Taiwan need if they are to continue to resist Chinese political control.

Beyond this or that weapon system however, I think we in Taiwan need layers of deterrence. Having a capable military, adequately staffed and funded and with a choice of several excellent weapon systems that could inflict serious damage on the PRC is one such layer of deterrence, and a most necessary one. Yet as I have argued previously, Taiwan would do well to adopt a complementary strategy of domestic depoliticization, in which centralized functions and powers of the State strictly unnecessary to the task of collective military defense are either abolished altogether (e.g. land expropriation laws) or given up to the free market and private innovation (e.g. the education system). This might provide several additional layers of deterrence to the extent that it would make the task of governing Taiwan effectively that much harder for the Chinese to accomplish.

In that respect, the sooner the government in Taiwan softens its' stance on homeschooling the better. The sooner they begin to cut the education budget and instead spend the money on developing serious military kit (like AIP submarines), the better. The sooner Taiwan's government starts the process of encouraging the institutions of higher education to rely on private funding entirely, the better. It seems to me that Taiwan's people can have fewer more effective ways of defending their freedom than ensuring the younger generation are no longer ensconced from reality in four-year cocoons of nonsense, and are instead given every possible incentive to think and produce for themselves using only voluntary means of cooperation.

To control people, you have to tell them lies of one sort or another. The only thing that can make the selling of lies more difficult is the common practice of questioning authority - and questioning obedience.

Two Distinct Concepts: "Persistent" vs "Recurrent"

As usual I've been too busy to write the posts I wanted to over the past month. One of those was a fisking of an article published in Commonwealth magazine at the end of March. It was an article on the current drought in Taiwan and it was riddled with errors, some serious and some simply ridiculous (e.g. describing the Kaoping river as "south of Hsinchu"). Needless to say, I read these things with an eye to how they may function as political propaganda rather than informative journalism.

One of the more interesting errors that article contained was in the title wherein the current drought was described as "persistent". The more accurate term is "recurrent", since droughts in Taiwan are typically relieved by summer rainfall brought by typhoons. Describing Taiwan's droughts as "persistent" emphasizes the length of time over which they occur and omits the fact that they are always temporary. In this skewed sense you could just as well talk about Taiwan's "persistent" rainfall or "persistent" flooding, which are also recurrent phenomena. It is by way of little details like this that editorial writers and others try to politicize the subject of water; the author, one Rebecca Lin, goes on in her article to attribute the current drought to climate change and cites an academic as stating that droughts in Taiwan are more frequent - although without linking to any data whereby readers could check for themselves to see if this is true (we are expected to blindly accept the academic she has chosen as an authority)*.

I didn't finish writing my fisking of this article (as I said it was riddled with errors and I am busy), but funnily enough I came across that same error the other day at Michael Turton's blog. In a caption to a photograph heading a post on tourism, he described a river in Miaoli as "bone dry after three years of drought". When I pointed out to him in the comments that we have not in fact had "three years" of drought, he reverted to teenage sarcasm trying to paint my comment as unnecessarily pedantic. But I know very well what he was up to - it is what he is always up to - trying to portray any and every bit of environmental bad news as worse than it really is.

My further replies and comments on the remainder of his post about tourism were censored.

I remember a post of his written back in 2009 shortly after the typhoon Morakot disaster (though I read it a year or two later) when he republished slides from an environmental activist claiming that a planned three meter rise in the capacity of Tseng-wen reservoir would lead to the complete submerging of Dapu village (see slide #23). Having visited the area for myself numerous times I could immediately see that this was absurd and obviously false. I left a comment to say so. It didn't get through.

*I looked up the data for rainfall in Taiwan on the Central Weather Bureau website intending to plot the data myself, but they only go back to 2006 which is insufficient to look for long-term changes. If they would publish historical data on their website, then members of the public could check for themselves various claims as to long-term changes in rainfall patterns.