Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sunflower Seeds

Whilst my peer cast of observers continue to walk in single-file behind the "sunflower" student leaders, I stepped out of line more or less at the beginning. I already see both the conclusions toward which they are marching, and at least some of the implications.

The precipitating events were the injustices dealt some of the poorest people in Taiwan by the government; robbing them of their land and property through a law which deflects a proper grasp of the thefts for which it was intended by covering them with the cloth-word "expropriation"; elsewhere committing similar acts of legally dressed depredation upon people living in naked poverty, lacking even the fig-leaf formality of a property title to prevent their total exposure to political power.

It was entirely proper that such violence should have called forth a defiant response.

What ought to have occurred was a popular demand for property rights as the flag under which a strategy of rational depoliticization was pursued. The poor victims of government transgression in Taipei, Miaoli and Tainan were left exposed because the political culture - not just the government per se - is not bound by any principle of private property rights. In this political culture, which is not by any means specific to Taiwan for the same thing occurs in the US, Britain and elsewhere, a property "right" appears to be indistinguishable from a politically contingent permission which may be revoked upon circumstance.

The protesters notably - and even if I were the only one who noted it, it was still noted - did not demand private property rights. They did not demand that viscerally understood limit to political power, and basic requirement of common decency as famously expressed by Pitt the elder...
"The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold..."
Instead of that, there were calls for "social justice" and for "amendments" to the Land Expropriation Act. The contrast may escape some people. The term "social justice", aside from being tautological as all cases of justice are necessarily "social", is a deception. On the one hand, its' two words consume the distinction between ordinary cases of justice as dealt with by the court system and those cases in which a branch of the government itself is charged with some illegality. For that reason it is easily grasped by anyone outraged at cases of government transgression. On the other hand it is a straight and direct reference to collectivism: the mob doctrine that the many have authority over the few. For that reason it is a dangerous repudiation of the protections that the private property rights principle extends to those who find themselves in the minority, or otherwise relatively powerless.

Against an unrestricted, arrogant government the poor people of Taiwan needed the defence of private property rights. Instead they were offered social justice, and the promise of saintly victimhood status in the struggle of the poor against the rich "1%" capitalists. The dangers of this kind of rhetoric should be obvious to any literate person with even a smattering of 20th century history.

There was, and continues to be, much clamouring for democracy, "thick" democracy, and further democratization. That is always now the battle-standard of the collectivists: democracy, because it to them it represents a way to take control of the coercive apparatus in order to pursue their "many vs the few" urges and purges. Restraining the government is a good thing, but when it is aimed at establishing "social justice" then it is only a matter of time before one set of tyrants is replaced with another. This is why I do not trust the student leaders of the sunflower movement.

I have indicated this before, but I believe the best way to effectively resist eventual Chinese annexation is through a strategy of rational depoliticization - of removing the powers of the central and local governments such that the available apparatus of coercion is drastically reduced and replaced with a set of healthy, fully-functioning institutions produced through civil means and operating through market mechanisms.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Yoichi Hatta's Diversion Tunnel At "Little Switzerland": 八田的隧道 在 西口小瑞士

Yesterday I cleaned up my little black Taiwanese motorbike that had been lying dormant in the basement of my old apartment building for the past three years. It needed a new battery, spark-plug, air-filter, an oil change, a new choke cable and a new headlamp bulb (somebody had nicked the original), but that was it. Just minor bits and pieces - nothing expensive, and otherwise everything still worked perfectly. In sum, it cost me NT$2,400 to get it tidied up. Here it is at about 9.45am this morning...


The plan is to have it transported up north and leave it parked there permanently to help me with my reservoir trips. Naturally, it'll have to be shifted about from one county to another as needed, but it should work out cheaper than constantly renting scooters for NT$700 per day. Obviously, it'll be a lot faster and more convenient than riding the bicycle too, meaning I can accomplish much more for an equal outlay of time.

At just after 6am this morning, I took it out on a little test-drive up to the 174 snaking around the back of Wushantou reservoir and up to "Little Switzerland" so as I could borrow a raft. I got there and straight onto the water at just after 7.30am...


This is one of Wushantou's two small hydroelectric power stations, the other one being located on the forward premises of the reservoir to the west of the dam.


Of the two rafts that were tied up at the little harbour, there was a large one and a small one. The large one had a stack of gear left on it, so I took the small one - only five pipes across and so very narrow and unstable, but nonetheless easy to manage once I had loaded all my gear on and sat down on the bucket-seat. I remembered that the local chap I spoke to last Sunday had described the distance as "very far" with the specifier of "30 mins", which is not far at all to me given that I am used to spending hours upon hours on these rafts.

However, I quickly ran into a problem: after I rounded the first two corners of the river I discovered that  the river bed was extremely shallow, so much so that I decided to try getting out and walking - which was a mistake...


As soon as I committed both feet to the river bed, I sank almost up to my waste in perhaps as much as eighty four years of loosely accumulated sediment. That plan scrapped, I soon realized that what I had to do was try to keep to the edges of the river where the depth was about six inches or so. In the middle of the river, where there was barely an inch of water there were several fishermen's nets stretched out between bamboo poles. By passing along the edge of the river I was able to circumnavigate this area and pass out around another bend into a deeper stretch of the river further upstream.


As I moved further upstream, the mountain ridge came into view that separates Nanxi district in the east of Tainan county from Lioujia and Danei districts in the centre of Tainan county. On the other side of those mountains lies the valley through which the Tseng-wen river flows. The chief engineer of Wushantou reservoir, Yoichi Hatta, had constructed an underground tunnel beneath those mountains through which water could be diverted from the Tseng-wen river into this, the Guantian river and thence feed into Wushantou reservoir. I had already seen and photographed the weir, where the diversion begins on the other side of those mountains and now I was intent on finding the tunnel itself...


On seeing the electricity poles peering out from the foliage alongside the ridge-road, I had little wonder why I had lost track of the river when I went looking for the tunnel by bike last time: there are just too many trees to see down.


Looking back downstream the way I had came...


The thirty minutes estimate I had been given was turning out to be badly wrong, as it was already five past eight in the morning and the mountains still seemed some way distant as I approached yet another bend...


... and then there it was: this was my first glimpse of the tunnel taken at some distance using the 250mm...


In appearance the tunnel mouth structure almost resembles masonry rather than concrete...


It was abutted by large spurs on either side...


If I recall correctly from my earlier research, the length of the tunnel itself is just over a full kilometer with the trans-basin diversion channel, of which it forms one part, approximately three kilometers in length. However, I need to fact check this when I get a moment...


A two-character inscription heads the tunnel mouth; the first character may, I believe, be "kou" meaning "mouth" but I'm unsure about the second character as it appears to be somewhat weather worn. I'll have to ask...


Looking into the tunnel itself, the light penetrated only thirty yards or so and the rim lines appear to reveal that the tunnel was constructed in modular pieces. I would think that these lines would have been visible upon the tunnel's completion in 1930 and have only been accentuated by weathering since then. The other noteworthy thing about the tunnel mouth was the terrible sounds it emitted. The first one actually shocked me, it was so violent and unexpected. However, when I peered into the tunnel I saw no sign of movement whatsoever.


As I pulled the raft up to the northern spur to tie it up against a dead tree, I concluded that the (by now several times repeated) sound was the massively amplified echo of leaping fish within the tunnel.


On the northern spur there was a little staircase leading up over the tunnel's mantle...


Since the overgrowth was significant, I doubted that it would lead anywhere other than the crest of the mantle itself. Perhaps the intention was to allow local fishermen to sit on the edge and dangle their lines into the water near the tunnel's mouth to catch fish...


Looking across from the northern spur toward the southern spur; whilst the southern spur was covered in overgrowth, the northern spur had been largely cleared of all that and was employed by the locals for purposes related to waiting around; there were ashes and other small signs of cooking, so presumably one person would be waiting on the northern spur whilst another went out on a raft to check the fishing nets.


At 8.30am the eagles finally started turning up to keep an eye on me...


On the way back up the river, I made much swifter progress than I had on the way down. Partly this is because I was making fewer camera stops, partly because I was able to negotiate my way through the shallows better this time and partly because, with the early morning period fast disappearing, I had a growing sense of urgency to get back. I had a full work schedule for the afternoon through until the late evening. I did stop to take a few pictures on the way back however, birds first and foremost. This was one of the first shots of what I am convinced is a falcon of some sort, but it is far too distant to permit identification...


Whilst fiddling about with the camera, an Osprey took off about fifty, sixty yards behind me and I missed it. By the time I saw her again she was already up in the air too far away to get a half-decent shot of her...


After I made my way back through the shallows and around the last bends back to "Little Switzerland", I took a few shots looking downstream in the direction of the dam, intake tower and sinkhole...


I also determined to check out the baffling block structure I had noticed last time...


It was surprisingly surmounted by a little home-made brick wall, though the slope itself, buttressing and  concrete baffling blocks must have been built by the Water Bureau...


It protected not another stream per se, but a vegetable patch among a reed-strewn stream bed...


Standing on the baffling block-slope looking back toward the dam and the intake tower...


On my final route back to the little harbour I briefly stopped to get some close-up shots of the sinkhole and the intake tower...


Of course, I didn't want to get too close to the sinkhole though I think the raft would merely have bumped up against its' edge. The water intake tower must be a few years old itself now, perhaps in the '70s contemporaneously with the construction of Tseng-wen reservoir...


On the way here, I had made a brief detour into Lioujia village itself to buy some dog food for the dog I remembered from last Sunday and from two years previously. However, though he was pleased to see me he only wanted to give me his paw and have me talk to him and pick ticks out of his fur; in the can of Pedigree Chum I set down for him, he had no interest whatsoever!


I left "Little Switzerland" pleased with what I had found, job well done, and eager to get back home to take my dogs out to the park and get something to eat. On the winding 174 around the back of Wushantou however, and just before the Chunghua outpost, I witnessed a little scrap of sorts between an eagle and a falcon - perhaps the same falcon I had seen earlier over the Guantian river in Little Switzerland. I slid the bike down into neutral and glided to a halt, but by the time I had the camera trained on them, they were both already well out of clarity-range and I had to make do with this (which is a magnified version of the original shot I took)...


It's not quite good enough to confirm an ID, but I suspect this is some species of Kestrel just because of the apparently light-brownish plumage. But who knows - I need a better telephoto lens.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

When Our Nine Lives Run Out...

I ought to have posted this last week, but a combination of events and me not feeling like it resulted in me putting it off.

I had taken the cat to the vet on, I think the Monday (March 31st), and the vet called me on the Friday to say she was doing much better - indeed her eyes had all cleared up and she was making noise. However, he advised me to keep her on the IV drip for another few days as she was still too weak.

On the following Tuesday (the 8th) I got another call from the vet to tell me she had died of lung failure. When I asked how old he thought she had been, the vet replied: about seven years old. For how much of that time she had survived by herself on the streets we will never know. I paid off the vet bill for the cat, including the cremation costs, which was at a discounted rate due to the cat being an unfortunate stray.


These were among my last looks at her, already lifted out of the recovery cage and into the little cardboard box for her final journey, eyes cast down with the soul already departed...


I did what I could for her. I just wish other people had done what they could have done for her whilst she was still alive.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

In Precisely What Does The CSSTA's Clear And Demonstrable National Security Threat Consist?

The more complaints I read about the CSSTA, the more I find myself concerned (a) not that it should be defeated, but that its' opponents should be defeated, but also (b) that there may be something within the CSSTA that I am missing.

On the opposition to the CSSTA, I have noticed a tendency to conflate fears of Chinese competition and losses for smaller Taiwanese businesses with threats to Taiwan's national security, rather than to discuss these two issues separately. Consider this report in the Taipei Times last year for instance (misleadingly headlined "Pact is a national security threat..." it is actually all about fears of business and job losses). Of the two issues, it is the fears of market competition that seem to have garnered more attention in the press. This makes me suspect either that there is little in the CSSTA in the way of a direct national security threat, or that if there is, it is highly uncertain and difficult to clearly demonstrate. Certainly, I have not yet come across such a clearly demonstrated threat.

The importance of distinguishing national security issues from fears of market competition is that they would have different kinds of consequences. The obvious national security threat would be to online freedom of speech either through ISPs or through self-censorship in media companies with substantial Chinese investment. Freedom of speech is a basic right requisite to any free society, and its infringement must not be tolerated.

However, fears of market competition and possible business and job losses arise not from any threat against basic rights, but from fear of other people's choices. Where Taiwanese suppliers must compete with Chinese counterparts offering the same (or even lower quality) services at a 10% or 20% discount in price, the fear is that other Taiwanese people will choose the Chinese supplier. Nobody can have a right to have their services purchased or a right to a job, because that implies that other people have an obligation to pay that person irrespective of whether they want to or not.

Thus the insistence that the CSSTA be revoked on these grounds is nothing less than a claim to reverse the logic of market capitalism: rather than serving consumers, certain Taiwanese business owners would rather the consumers serve them by having the government restrictions on their market choices continue.

As I said, I could be wrong: it may be that there is some genuine and clear threat to "national security" buried in the details of the CSSTA (or what I really mean: people's basic rights viz freedom of speech, freedom of association and other anti-coercion rights). Readers may feel free to inform me otherwise in the comments...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Sunday Afternoon Trip To Baihe Reservoir (白河水庫), The Dongshan Coffee Road (東山咖啡公路 - 175) & The Tseng-Wen River To Guantian River Sinkhole For Wushantou Reservoir (西口小瑞士)

I got up late yesterday (Sunday) morning again - about 9am. Spent the morning pottering about and taking the dogs to the park, before heading out just before noon. This time I thought I might try to take a raft through Baihe reservoir's northern channel connecting the eastern and western ends. This channel is the only area of the reservoir I haven't yet seen.

However, when I arrived at the southern harbour I found that all of the rafts were chained up and the fishermen who were sat there fishing had no interest in helping me find one of the owners to ask to borrow one. So I thought sod it. In any case, the water level was the lowest I've ever seen it - so much so that if I wanted to I could just walk north-eastwards across the reservoir bed...


One thing I immediately noticed was that the eastern bank, which precedes the "gate" guarding the eastern half of the reservoir, was now totally covered in lush green reeds that were taller than me, which meant that there would be no way through and I would have to go around. When I had previously walked across it with Niki in November 2012 it had been completely bald - so that growth has all occurred in the past eighteen months.


The mud-flats were still squishy in some places, but were mostly solid enough. My initial guess was that those without plant cover and thus greater exposure to the sun would be the driest, which turned out to be wrong - it was those with plant cover that were driest (possibly because the plants consumed the moisture).


Above: I recall these same marker posts and laid-down bamboo slide last time I had moored the raft with Niki in November 2012. At that time the water level on this side of the escarpment was similar with the posts partially rather than fully exposed. However, the water level on the other side of the escarpment, in the pool preceding the gate, must have been substantially higher because Niki had to wait behind on the escarpment whilst I swam through the gate.


Above: looking back the way I had came toward the southern harbour with the landmark mountain and its communications towers in the background. The northern edge right at the top of that mountain is where I have previously taken shots overlooking Baihe reservoir. Below: the little stream running west-to-east to feed the eastern half of the reservoir...


Both of Baihe reservoir's main feeder rivers enter the southern half of the reservoir's western end. The eastern end of the reservoir, hidden from the western end has no major sources of its own. Below: the narrow annexing stream was in places only a foot or two across...


Notice what looks like a purposely located bit of bamboo dug into either side of the annexing stream's muddy borders; it has held back an accumulation of foam (maybe a concoction of pesticides and various salts, possibly including the one that killed Shao Bai - phosphorous).


Below: looking eastward as the annexing stream winds its' way toward the pool that prefaces the "gate"...


Below: looking back toward the mountain across the now empty pool. The height of that escarpment shoreline is about four to six meters (not including the height of the green reeds that surmount it). That shore was where I previously swam across the pool and through the gate into the eastern end which I then glimpsed for the first time about eighteen months ago. I have since explored the eastern end thoroughly.


One of several large white wading birds (not egrets) nesting in a tree overlooking the southern end of the pool...


Looking across the empty pool from north to south with the "gate" entry to the reservoir's eastern end in the centre of the image...


And here is the "gate" itself, this time in close-up and seen from the bottom of the reservoir looking up. When I swam through this gate in November 2012 I recall pausing by the dead tree as I had been slightly concerned about submerged bamboo struts. Yet judging by what I saw this afternoon there must have been eight to nine feet of clear water beneath me...


One of the numerous small inconveniences of getting the pictures you want...


Seen through the gate on the other side: a leaping fish, snapped at a shutter speed of 1/1000. I'm no expert, as I have revealed myself in previous comments, but from the shape of the tail, and the general size of this fish I would guess it must have been a snakehead...


After I scrambled out of the mud back onto the dry left shoulder of the gate, I took a few snaps looking through to the reservoir's eastern end...


The central peninsula dead ahead, which splits the eastern end into a "fractal fork" with both sides of the fork themselves further split up into little corridors and cul-de-sacs. I should have used a filter for this shot to better accentuate the clouds...


A telephoto shot looking down the southern fork with the distant mountains introduced by hanging electricity cables...


Making my way back the way I had came I plodged my way across the annexing stream to inspect the two rafts I had spied earlier. They were tied up to a mooring post but there were no paddles present...


By the time I had followed the annexing stream back out around the reeds to face the southern harbour, there were now more clouds than when I had first arrived. I took a few shots with one of the filters attached. Some people don't use filters, but I love them for shots like these...




When I left Baihe reservoir behind, I decided to take the 175 coffee road up through the mountains, rather than the 165 which runs through the plains and which I had taken to get to Baihe reservoir earlier in the afternoon. Before heading off to the 175, I stopped briefly at the top of the mountain pictured above at one of the many tourist traps to buy a bottle of my favourite outdoor drink... (favourite partly because ordering it always gets you baffled / disapproving looks from the local women)... Paolyta. It's a slightly adventurous concoction, as it contains more taurine than Red Bull, more caffeine than coffee and more alcohol than some wines, as well as a bunch of other "poisons" and even B vitamins. It is generally drank by construction workers in dilution with either a soft drink such as Sasparilla or Coke, but I just swig it straight...


Some scenic shots of the mountains to be seen along the 175 Dongshan Coffee Road. Again, these were taken using one of the filters to substantial effect in accentuating the cloud formations without darkening the topographic skin of the land below...



Looking out westward just before sunset. Over in the bright distance, visible to the camera only under a high F-stop or shutter speed, lies Taiwan's west coast and the Taiwan Strait - on the other side of which is Hong Kong. In the foreground, there is a little round hill with what looks like a small retirement village or holiday resort nestled among the trees at the hill's summit. It has some kind of round pavillion sticking out at the top, which I had initially mistaken for a water tower...



Looking back the way I had came... a solitary dead tree illuminated by the soon-to-be-setting sun. No eagles, however...


Another peek outward from the roadside foliage over the valleys toward the west-coast...


After leaving the 175 for the 174 which heads toward the back end of Wushantou reservoir, I stopped off at the sink hole connecting the Tseng-wen river diversion to the Guantian river that feeds Wushantou reservoir. The locals confusingly refer to this sink hole as "Little Swiss" (西口小瑞士), or literally "West Mouth Little Swiss". I still don't really know why they call it this. I once asked my ex-girlfriend about it a couple of years ago and I recall she said something about there being a similar such sinkhole in Switzerland. Yet this kind of structure is not so rare as for there to be only one other in the world - there are one or two in Britain and quite a few elsewhere in Europe and the United States (and possibly in other territories in other parts of the world too). So why it should be named after Switzerland is a minor mystery to me...


Some kind of dam structure off in a corner of the river...


As I stopped off to look around, one of the locals hopped onto a pipe-raft and paddled off to... (as I later discovered) ... check something involving a diesel generator; presumably a water pump somewhere...



On the other side of the river looking across toward the sinkhole from the little harbour where the chap above had set off. The large structure in the background is the intake tower for the hydro-electric power plant on the other side of the dam (off to the left of this image below)...


I remember this friendly black Formosan dog last time I had been here, again I think two years ago. I don't know whether he remembered me or his friendliness was just a dispositional trait. When the local chap returned with the engine, I spoke to him about locating the point at which the river exits the three kilometer mountain tunnel. I had searched for this previously without finding anything. He informed me that it could only be reached by boat which is what I had supposed last time, so I asked whether I could come early one morning and borrow his - he agreed. When I do go, I'll have to remember to take some treats for the dog...


On my way out I stopped for a swig of Paolyta and decided to snap myself in one of those twisty, switchback mirrors found on mountain roads. It's not easy to photograph yourself by holding the camera up to one side and aiming the lens unsighted - it's easy to end up with off-centre angles.


I had a "better" shot of myself than this one, but this is the one I prefer because despite me blowing my nose like a savage, I've caught the setting sun off to the left which I think makes it a good choice with which to end this post. On the way back through Xinshih district I did spot a falcon of some sort hovering by the highway, but though I whipped the camera back out again with the 250mm I had the settings too dark to really identify it. It may have been either a Kestrel or a Merlin.