Monday, 8 February 2016

Comment At "Thinking Taiwan" Article On The UK Petition To Recognize Taiwan

Here. I suppose it won't be long now before I am banned and accused of being a "troll", as is the standard practice among Leftists when dealing with someone who disagrees with them. Maybe I should take a break for a while and stop commenting, for the sake of my own sanity.

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The petition is little more than virtue signalling.

To take it at face value is ridiculous; it is in effect asking a government (Britain) whose own constitution is said to be "unwritten" though it is arguably laid out across several different historical documents, whose Parliamentary sovereignty and national independence is compromised by membership of the European Union, and whose constitutional safeguards (due process in the courts, trial by jury, the political independence of the Crown Prosecution Service etc) have been poisoned by legislation of successive governments (particularly Blair's)... to actually help another country whose diplomatic status is a mess, whose written constitution cannot be properly reformed for fear of Chinese aggression, and whose constitutional safeguards are little more than a questionable commitment to the absurd UN convention on human rights.

But it's a good idea because "democracy" or something.

This shallow, sanctimonious mythologizing of "democracy" is a serious problem which is not being taken seriously. There are at least two aspects to this "sacred democracy" problem. First, it clouds the issue which concerns the proper function of government; is it to safeguard the individual rights of the population and maintain some semblance of freedom, justice and order, or is it merely to pump out good numbers for GDP, CO2 etc and provide rule consistent with "the desires of the public" (i.e. instant mob-rule)? That clouding of the issue will serve as propaganda to protect the new government elect from criticism, in ways which the previous government could only have dreamed of. Second, it diverts attention away from the importance of constitutional forms and the limitations they set on the scope and exercise of political power.

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Sunday, 7 February 2016

The February 2016 Earthquake in Tainan: The Collapsed Weiguan Jinlong Building in Yongkang District (永康).

I post this the day after what is without doubt the worst earthquake during my time in Taiwan. It turns out the magnitude of the initial quake at 3.57 a.m. was actually 6.4 with a series of 4-5 magnitude earthquakes following as aftershocks. I remember it as occurring at four in the morning, and it was frightening because unlike previous years when I lived in high rise apartments, I now live in a little two-story house which shook violently from side to side. It felt the same as smaller, 4-5 magnitude earthquakes had whilst in my old ninth floor apartment. The dogs were terrified, but following the aftershocks we all went back to sleep.

I had already planned another field trip to Nantou and had tickets booked early because yesterday was the start of Chinese New Year and I had expected the trains to be full. When I woke up it was slightly later than I had planned and I was still very tired, not having slept well (partly due to the earthquake and partly due to other things I had had on my mind). I rushed myself through the usual coffee-shower-dress-kit routine and pushed the scooter out of the garage at about 7 a.m. with the train due to leave at 7.11 a.m. I drove fast as the roads were still empty and managed to get there on time only to find out that all trains had been delayed by 30 to 45 minutes.

The weather forecast for Changhua and Nantou counties had been sunshine with some cloud cover and relatively warm temperatures. However, as the train finally approached Ershui I noticed that it was all overcast and grey with not a ray of sunshine anywhere. The drive out of Ershui to Shuili was quick, interrupted only by a quick stop at a McDonald's to scoff a couple of egg-burgers, and it was not particularly cold (though I was in full-kit just in case). After Shuili though, the drive along the winding and dangerous 131 up into the hills lead me further and further into an especially dense blanket of fog. I had to keep wiping the condensation from my visor every two minutes. Eventually, and still at some considerable distance from Wuchieh, I reluctantly conceded defeat: even if I had continued on most of the photographs I had planned would almost certainly be ruined by the fog. I would only be able to take a few close-ups, but not the perspective shots of the tunnel infrastructure I had really wanted. So I turned around and headed back to Ershui. I stopped briefly only to change the engine oil; the bloke said he had felt the earthquake all the way up here in Nantou.

There was a bit of a nuisance with the trains, as I was given a ticket without any notice that I had to change trains at Chiayi. In the absence of a conductor or other train staff, I guessed my way onto one and then another south-bound train, which turned out to be the wrong one, getting me back to Tainan at 4 p.m. rather than the 3.12 p.m. time my ticket had originally stated. Once I had the dogs out and had had something to eat, I decided to go down to Yongkang with Karen; we wanted to see the building that news reports were saying had collapsed, and as I knew the road on which it had collapsed well, I was curious as to which building it was. I was also beginning to feel guilty about (a) going back to sleep after the earthquake, and (b) continuing with my trip to Nantou even though I had heard about buildings collapsing. I should have cancelled my trip and tried to do whatever possible to help, but I didn't. 

We drove down on my scooter to find the road cordoned off by police, so we parked at the 7-11 and walked down the road. Karen was nervous and concerned that the cops would bark orders at us to go away, but they didn't and I just walked on in any case with my camera bag and tripod. It was now well after 6 p.m. and dark. As we approached the scene of the collapsed building it suddenly dawned on me that it was a building I had known for several years, as I used to look out on it from the windows of a building I used to work in. It had always been a source of mild curiosity to me because of its' design; it had those tiles on the outside so typical of Taiwanese residential buildings, but instead of the usual white, as with the houses, these were a dirty, blue-grey colour. Of course it also had the typical rainwater stains down one side, and the water-tanks on the roof of the building had been housed in some kind of sculpture. The overall impression was of a building that was trying to look good on a very limited budget, which generates mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is something distrustful and creepy about it - the dark choice of colour, the attempt to look good with sculptures at the top but not bothering to prevent the rainwater stains with ledges. On the other hand, there is a sense of admiration at the builders trying to do their best and make something look mildly different and interesting within a limited budget. This is the kind of mixed feeling I get when I look at many Taiwanese apartment buildings of a certain age (i.e. built twenty to thirty years ago). They almost look good, but not quite - they mean well, though there is something wrong with them.

Here's the pictures I took last night...

In this shot you can see where the building snapped - the exposed white surfaces are the ceilings of what, just Friday gone, was somebody's apartment.
Even at this late hour, there were still clouds of dust blowing off the collapsed building.
This tea-shop at the back had been commandeered as a first aid center for the survivors; note all the boxes of bottled water.
From the north side of Yongda road looking south: the building just literally snapped and fell across the road. 
The army had cordoned off the road to allow only rescue workers and emergency services personnel through.
There were reporters and TV crews everywhere, outnumbered only by the emergency workers and the Buddhist charities. I chatted to some of them for a while, and one of them nodded at my suggestion that the building had had structural defects.
Excavators and cranes were used to prop up the north side of the building to prevent it from rolling over on one side.
The rubble between the excavators is from the sculptures that had adorned the building's rooftop.
A refrigerator tossed out of the building by emergency workers trying to work their way through the debris to find possible survivors. News reports last night were that over a hundred people were still missing, and twelve had been confirmed dead.
Emergency services personnel confer with one another beneath the brilliant light of an illumination tower they had set up earlier.
Entering the building via an upside down balcony door or window.
Another chap at an exit point signalling for something to be moved. Periodically, we would see them throwing debris out of the exits so that they could move around inside.
A crane was employed on the west side to lift various bits of rubble and concrete out of the way.
It's not just the collapsed building and the people trapped inside and underneath. The building also destroyed several businesses on the opposite side of the street. Once the remaining survivors are pulled out and the dead all accounted for, it is going to take months to restore this area to working order.
The emergency services people - the fire brigade men in particular, deserve all the praise they can get for their efforts. The building is still probably very dangerous and they could be killed whilst inside looking for survivors. It is remarkable that only this building, and one or two others elsewhere, collapsed and that many more buildings didn't. Perhaps the building contained structural defects in the design of the steel rods or the quality of the concrete used. If it did, I would be surprised if this was an exception and there must be many people throughout Taiwan now (certainly in Tainan) who live in similar high-rise apartments who are asking for information on their design and construction, and probably quite a few who slept nervously last night. I am certainly glad I no longer live in a high-rise apartment.

For now, those survivors who haven't been hospitalized yet are being housed in a junior high school behind the building to the west. I used to drive past this school several times a week on my way to work. For a lot of these people, this has been a colossal personal disaster and the worst possible start to Chinese New Year. I probably can't house any survivors myself but I can probably find some other way to help. I have an acquaintance in a former DPP legislator for Tainan who lives in this area. I can probably help him with whatever he is doing to help the survivors.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Earthquake!

I was rudely awakened at about 4 a.m. earlier this morning by a series of earthquakes. A 4.9, a 4.3, and a 4.5, with a series of smaller aftershocks to follow a few minutes later. The dogs were terrified as my little house swayed and the earth made it's noises. It was quickly over and everything was OK this time. However, I have just heard that several buildings have collapsed elsewhere.

I am getting ready to leave for another reservoir trip, so I will write more later. I just hope the bloody train station and railway lines haven't been damaged...

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Saint-Nazaire Raid, March 1942



An incredible story, and Clarkson tells it very well with the aid of interviews with some of the then surviving principal soldiers. I like the way Bill Watson says this, with an intake of breath:
"It made you feel that you could stand up to the test. I think that it was a relief to know that one didn't fall apart."

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Who Is Ted Cruz?

I have not been paying much attention to the U.S. voting circus, but even the little attention I have given it has simultaneously felt like far too much and far too little. Far too much in that mixing too many non-reality-realities gives me a headache. Far too little in that I have missed an interesting detail. Apparently senator Ted Cruz openly called for getting rid of the ethanol subsidies that many Iowan farmers depend - whilst campaigning in Iowa. And he won. Now if that's true, then that is a fact that demands explanation.

A somewhat interesting article on Texas senator Ted Cruz, here. His aim of impeding the growth of the Federal government is laudable, but the scale of the task is surely way beyond any one man even if he were to become president. Still, I would like to be able to visit the U.S. at some point in my life, and the further away from totalitarian despotism it is, the better.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Katrina Pierson On Media Dishonesty

I do enjoy seeing people in the media take well-deserved and well-delivered criticism; this woman is perfectly tempered in telling it like it is (she's beautiful too).

That enormous discrepancy between Trump possibly getting some crowd numbers wrong and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama actually lying about the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi is just beyond parody.
 

For the record, I think a Trump presidency - or any other presidency - won't be able to stop the fundamental rot in the U.S. The problem is as much psychological and cultural as it is political and at any rate is far too large in scale to be tackled by this or that politician or administration. That being said, the more Trump pisses on the establishment Republicans and the dishonest, PC-mad hacks in the media the more I like him.

Friday, 29 January 2016

My Comment On "How Taiwan Can Prepare For The Next Dengue Fever Crisis"

As below. The article is the new headline article at "Thinking Taiwan" and is written by one Jonathan Schwartz who is a professor of "political science" at New Paltz in New York. I didn't bother quoting the author this time, as there was no real need to.

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OK look: I actually live more or less in the epicenter of last year's outbreak, right here in Tainan city's north district. I was here the whole time, and I saw what was done and what wasn't done (and what still hasn't been done). So it's at least possible that I may know a thing or two that a "political scientist" half the world away in New Paltz hasn't got a scooby about.

First off the bat (and this should be obvious): it's not enough to point to global trends as an explanation for last year's outbreak. Those trends would explain a nationwide, or scattered rise in dengue, but they cannot be invoked to explain why the outbreak clustered so intensely in a single city (Tainan) and in several areas of the city in particular.

Second, the Li Chang system has its' limitations and should in many respects be regarded as a largely redundant cultural curiosity (e.g. if the city government website was half-decent, which it is not, why would we need to rely on our Li Chang for information from the city government?).

Third, some real-life observations...

(a) Last summer when the outbreak began, the park behind my house would fill up with rain. Probably because the soil is shallow, the park would accumulate large areas of standing water which should have been drained as soon as possible. In actual fact, it took the city government two or three weeks to send a couple of blokes out with a diesel generator and a hose pipe to get it done. That wasted time may have meant wasted lives.

(b) For years now there has been a persistent problem of fly-tipping in the local parks. I am not talking about mattresses and furniture and the like. I am talking about food and other household waste. What happens is a number of local people miss the garbage truck (perhaps because they don't work 9-5 hours), and instead of asking a friend, or neighbour, or a Lin Chang for help (or bagging the garbage and keeping it the garage until the next time the truck comes - like I do), they just dump it in the local park. Because the park is cleaned by a single warden with a few formal volunteers (and myself - out of necessity), this garbage is dumped at night and is not picked up and removed until late the next morning, often just before noon. "Wet" garbage like this is an obvious breeding ground for mosquitoes and also happens to attract rats and the possible diseases they bring with them. This is a persistent problem for years in both public parks I use here in North District and I have complained endlessly about it and nothing is ever done. And not for the want of suggestions, either. The mayor of Tainan is either unaware of the problem, doesn't regard it as important, finds it politically inconvenient to allocate proper funding to solve the problem, or is too busy acting the champagne socialist up in Taipei.

(c) Although a great effort was made to spray private homes with mild insecticide, this was a somewhat unpopular and often farcical policy that inconvenienced thousands of us, myself included (i.e. I had to take an afternoon off work to look after my dogs while the house was sprayed). From the beginning of the outbreak I began to spend a small fortune on insect repellents and a new washing machine and going through the house cleaning up to make sure it was as mosquito proof as could be. I still had my house sprayed, and lost half a day's worth of earnings which was of course not reimbursed. Other people were forced out of their homes, which they had carefully cleaned and proofed, only to be bitten by mosquitoes whilst waiting around on the streets outside while their homes were being sprayed.

To sum up, we need to find a convincing set of explanations as to why the outbreak clustered so intensely in Tainan city and if that requires taking a critical look at the policies of our celebrated mayor, then so be it. Waffling on about global warming and how the Li Chang "straddle the line between society and the state" is just the sort of thing one would expect from academics on the public purse.
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