Friday, 29 April 2016

On The Closure Of "Thinking Taiwan" And The Censuring Of Chang Ching-sen (張景森): "You Know What Some Might Say"

It's Friday morning and I need to run a number of important errands today both before and after work, so there isn't much time. However, I want to comment on two things that have occurred in the news this week; though they may appear unrelated they are actually connected.

The first thing is the news, released via J.M. Cole's twitter feed that the English version of "Thinking Taiwan" is to close in a few weeks, and the second thing is the controversy surrounding Chang Ching-sen's (張景森) Facebook comments about urban renewal projects in Taipei city and the young people who protested against them four years ago.

Apparently, the decision to close "Thinking Taiwan" may have been made so as to avoid the embarrassment of Tsai Ing-wen's own foundation funding written articles that were critical of her new government, or from a concern as to the "skewed" nature of the comments appearing below the articles (obviously I wrote a fair number of those comments, and so it may be some of mine that they had in mind). Here is the relevant quote from the China Times...
"不過,據了解,關閉英文版是董事會共識,並經蔡英文點頭同意。據悉,英文版關閉原因,是因董事會重新思考520後論壇定位,董事們認為,論壇作為一評論平台,需要就時政作針貶;但未來小英上任後,論壇究竟「要批評還是不批評?兩種都不對啊」,因此董事會決定關掉英文版。"
If this is true, then it reflects the wariness of criticism that we associate with most people in positions of power, but especially political power. However, it may be that this was the "face-reason" given for the impending closure with the real reason being far more mundane - Tsai Ing-wen won the presidential election and the DPP won a majority in the legislative elections and so there is no more need for English language articles to win influence among western governments. Of course these two explanations for the closure of Thinking Taiwan are not mutually exclusive; "we don't need you anymore now that we've been elected, and you're probably going to prove a liability to us here on out anyway."

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post praising Tsai Ing-wen's remarks in Hualien concerning freedom of speech. I hope her support for free speech will continue and will in practice mean her opposition to any and all legislation intended to restrict freedom of speech, including so-called "hate speech" laws.

One of the functions of free speech is to allow political criticism, argument and the exchange of views. To remove one platform for this is not an infringement of freedom of speech, but it does betray a nervousness, an attitude of "we must have freedom of speech for reasons of principle and appearance, but in actual practice, we would much rather people just shut up and go away."

This is an attitude that can easily be expected from a new government, especially given the indirect forms of power that media can sometimes wield over government. Yet in my opinion, it was also an attitude that seemed to be prevalent among the writers at "Thinking Taiwan"; their failing was that they did not take the opportunity to respond to comments and to argue for their views. Perhaps they felt it would have been a waste of time - but that does not say much about their confidence in themselves as writers or "thinkers", and, more importantly, their confidence in the intelligence, reasoning and curiosity of their broader audience.

Onto the Chang Ching-sen (張景森) controversy...

Apparently he is a minister without portfolio in the new cabinet elect, and published comments to his Facebook page on Monday disparaging the protests against so-called "urban renewal" projects that involved the "expropriation" of the home of a family surnamed Wang. He is reported to have commented that...
"The Wang family that seemed to have been persecuted by the construction company and the government had a house that was 56.06 ping [185.2m2], but now has been distributed five apartments that total 175.02 ping with a value of more than NT$100 million [US$3.1 million]... Fuck! How pathetic... I meant those highbrow young people who howled for justice and staged candlelight vigils for the family."
I personally disagree with this assessment because, as I said in an unpublished letter to the Taipei Times back in 2012, I thought the real issue was the Wang's lack of consent to having their home demolished and the omnilateral implications for everybody else that follow from the disregard of private property rights. Nonetheless I don't think Chang's view is an uncommon one, nor is it entirely unreasonable if one accepts the (in my opinion, flawed*) premise of a "balance" that must be struck between private rights and public rights.

But it is not Chang's comments that are important as such, but rather the reaction to them in the media. Here is J.M. Cole remarking on Chang's comments at The New Lens...
"Deriding civil society is hardly the signal that anyone in the Tsai administration wants to broadcast at this point, especially as a sizable segment of that politically active population remains wary of the DPP."
The gist of his article is that the Tsai administration would do well to relieve Chang of his post before he even takes it up on account of the "broadcasting" of "signals". Whilst this is an attempt to exert influence over a newly elected government, it is also, sadly, an indulgence of the now widespread habit of offense-taking as a substitute for reasoning. Chang's remarks are "damaging" because they offended the students who took part in the protests in Taipei. Yet though they may be offended by Chang's remarks, that does not preclude them from considering the logic; that it does not follow from Chang's remarks that either Tsai or the new cabinet-elect agree with him, or that his functional powers as minister would allow such incidents of government sponsored theft to reoccur in the same way.

Yet the logic of the situation has been sublimated beneath the overriding waves of offense-taking.

By either firing or censuring Chang, the new Premier will be reinforcing an unhealthy reflex among the government - that ministers and other officials must avoid speaking their minds freely for fear of causing offense to what Cole and others are calling "civil society"**. Yet that is a reflex of cowardice, which indicates a return to secrecy and a dangerous incline toward what I call cryptocratic government. It is hardly the mark of a free society with confidence in the rationality of its' citizens to exchange views, engage in debate and the giving and taking of offense without resort to violence or coercion. What should happen instead is that ministers should be encouraged to air their views freely and that, when the likes of Lin Fei-fan object to something like Chang's remarks, there should be some forum designated for an exchange or debate to get everything out in the open. The automatic censuring or firing of a government minister for speaking his mind, even when - in fact, especially when - we disagree with his views does not inspire confidence that the new cabinet elect or the new president really understand why freedom of expression is so important in the first place, in spite of what they may say to the contrary.

And that is how the two stories tie together - the closure of "Thinking Taiwan" and the censuring of a minister in the new cabinet-elect can both be viewed as strong indications of the lack of belief and confidence in the functional importance of freedom of expression and political criticism.


*It is flawed because the distinction is untenable - private property rights are not something to be balanced against the "public interest", private property rights are the public interest because everybody needs them in order to secure their own individual and common interests.

**Alhough I largely agree with them about what happened to the Wang family, I don't think it is entirely accurate to characterize the protesters as "civil society" because though their view of the issue is a popular one, it is not the only popular view. Rather, they have become, in effect, a kind of unofficial lobbying group that must be appeased by the government.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

My Six Dogs As Of April 2016

Wan-wan, the surviving brother of Shao Bai, after his haircut last week. Wan-wan has survived one near fatal disease and two near fatal poisoning attempts. I am proud of him for not giving in, the little champion.
"Pups". Originally named "Gunny", she began as the runt of my pack when I adopted her, but is now big enough to look after herself. She even looks out for the other dogs and will defend Wanwan from other dogs who get too close to him.
Tinkerbell; my first dog in Taiwan who is now just over eight years old. She used to come with me everywhere when it was just the two of us. The shaved patch is because she just had remedial surgery last week to ease the arthritis caused by her hip dysplasia. When she was young she was just as fast and energetic as Pups and Erhjen, but age is catching up with her now and she just can't do that anymore. Yet in spite of her physical deterioration, she is still the same fearless attitude she did when she was young which leads her to confront other dogs and establish her dominance. Fortunately for her, I keep her on the lead most of the time now to prevent that and look after her. In her condition she wouldn't last two minutes in a fight with a younger dog.
Coco. Although he is the largest and strongest of the pack, he is psychologically the omega dog and follows the others unless I make my influence override theirs. He's probably also the least intelligent due to his poor anticipation of my movements (i.e. he's always getting under my feet and tripping me over around the house). After Wan-wan, it is now his turn to get a hair cut.
"Black & White", so named due to her colour. She was already mature when I adopted her and is now at least as old as Tinkerbell. However, she is still in good physical condition despite her age. She is slightly overweight, but can still run around at speed and whilst she cannot take the "alpha" position in the pack (because that's obviously me), she has the uncanny ability to intimidate other dogs. Even now she will simply walk into a circle with five or six other dogs equal to her in size and, not only will none of them dare to approach her, but they will more often than not retreat and surrender the territory to her. She also seems to have an odd mental condition because she occasionally barks at things that aren't there, which is somewhat embarrassing for me. 
Black & White and Erhjen playing in the field.
Erhjen enjoys playing with Black & White, but she still needs to learn when to leave her alone; being the youngest dog she wants to play all the time, but there are times in the house when Black & White demands her own space to sleep.
Erhjen, the youngest dog. I adopted her last year, almost one year after the death of Shao Bai. She is so named because I found her up in the hills overlooking Kaohsiung's Tianliao district and was thinking about what to call her as I carried her across the border of Kaohsiung and Tainan which is formed by the Erhjen river which was the subject of some of my reading for the reservoir project. She's now been with us for just over a year and is fully house trained and socialized. She is also the smallest dog physically and needs to be protected from the pack of large strays in the park; if they catch her on her own, they will attack her - but they won't give her a second look when she's with Black & White.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Comment At China Policy Institute Article By "Yu Keping".

Here. The comment is currently awaiting moderation, but not being a regular commenter at the China Policy Institute blog, I have no idea whether it will make it through or not.

***********************************************************************************

This article is essentially a statement of faith in a seemingly unexamined and unclear premise: that "democracy" is the "only" solution to achieving peaceful long term political organization.

As is so often the case, a rough proxy for the underlying assumption appears to be something like "If we could just change the political organization in China, then everything will be OK." The article is written as if forms of political organization do not themselves have antecedent causes in the culture and psychology of the population.

If there is a strength to democracy, it perhaps lies in the confrontational aspect of opposing views, disagreement, evidence, contrary evidence, examination, debate, the giving and taking of offence and the open dissemination of all of the above. That is not quite the same thing as earnest pronouncements of faith to a circle of PC followers.

With that said, two questions may be suggested...

1) Perhaps the Chinese would be better off simply with less governance rather than the sanctified western version of governance? It is often remarkable what people can achieve when left to their own devices, which is itself a strong indication of the limits of our knowledge.

2) Given the monstrous growth of sometimes arbitrary political power in the U.S., U.K. and other western countries under democratic conditions, how much more rapid and terrifying might the growth of such political power become in China under democratic conditions?

Perhaps the ostensible concern, "disorder", should be questioned more closely before it is dismissed as a nightmare. Perhaps "disorder" has positive aspects in addition to negative ones, and what a-priori reason is there to think the latter would necessarily outweigh the former?

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"Red Mist"

I have to prevent myself from reading the rest of this report lest I smash something in rage...
"Thirty-nine dogs have died in Chiayi County since Monday, allegedly due to heat exhaustion, after 70 dogs and a cat were loaded into a vehicle designed to carry just 20 animals, leading to the head of a local animal agency and other personnel being demoted."
Demoted? I'd have totally lost it and just beat them all over until the cops dragged me away.

But that aside, the broader fault for such instances of gross incompetence and negligence lies with the Taiwanese tendency to "outsource" the stray dog problem to government instead of taking personal responsibility for it. And part of that lies with the craven attitude of men in acquiescing to the overriding female preference for "cute" toy breeds that they can carry around in their handbags, and this helps make it harder for larger breed dogs to find a home.

I write this after having taken Tinkerbell to the vet's this morning to get her stitches replaced.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

All At Once

Today could have been better.

First, I have no idea how it happened but at some point between late morning and one in the afternoon I somehow managed to crack the screen on my smart phone and render it inoperable. The good news is it can be fixed for much less than the cost of a new phone and I should have it back next week. The bad news is I can't find the old phone to use as a substitute in the meantime.

Second, the pump on my new washing machine seems to have a blockage and it doesn't look like the pump assembly can be unscrewed without disassembling other parts first. Pain in the arse.

Third, after taking Tinkerbell for hip surgery last week her recovery was looking great and I was very pleased with her until earlier tonight; either she, or one of the other dogs, has somehow managed to tear her stictches open. And that means a trip back to the vet first thing in the morning and another wad of cash gone.

And on top of that, the factory in Yongkang emailed earlier today to give me several new editing jobs they want done as soon as possible.

Other than that, it's been a good day and I got a lot of work done.

Monday, 25 April 2016

"That's A White Thing, You Wouldn't Understand..."

A Few Limericks On The Merkel-Erdogan Disgrace...

I just knocked these up now while having lunch before I go back to work. Posted on Samizdata.

There once was a ruler of Turkey,
Who fucked goats like that Merkel of Germany.
But when a young man,
Comedian Jan,
Took note of this they took his liberty.

There once was a young poet in Germany,
Who mocked the goat fucking ruler of Turkey.
But despite what he thought,
He lacked the support,
Of the Chancellor who wrote off his liberty

There once was a comedian in Germany,
Who mocked Erdogan via the medium of poetry.
Yet the Turkish cunt called,
Frau Merkel who thought,
A prosecution would add to her legacy.

There once was a Chancellor of Germany,
With a taste for Middle Eastern dictatory.
She dragged out to the court,
A young man who thought,
That free speech was a democratic liberty.

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Some of the others are good like this one by "HaqJaqShellaq":

"I know laughing at Erdo appeals,
But please try to think how he feels.
He can’t help it if he
Would much rather be
A meth whore in fishnets and heels."

And this one by "Gordon":

"When young Jan called Erdo a goat fucker,
Merkel’s elite ass surely did pucker.
But maybe the bloke just might have misspoke
– what he meant was Erdo’s a goat sucker."