Sunday, 26 April 2015

Credit Where It Is Due: Tsai Ing-wen On Free Speech

This is a quick post late on Sunday morning before I jump in the shower and head out of the front door (late in the morning because somebody woke me up at 1am last night on the phone asking to be picked up from the train station...)

Today's Taipei Times carries a front page article about something the DPP leader and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen has reportedly said. Here are the quotes...
“Malicious criticism, twisting facts and spreading rumors on the Internet are definitely very bad things, but if the problem was addressed by legislation, we worry what harm such legislation might do to freedom of speech,” Tsai said in response to media queries while on a visit to Hualien County. “In a democracy, people cherish freedom of speech, especially for a society like Taiwan, which has been through the Martial Law era, and we expect to have freedom of speech.”
I don't have time to dig into this right now, but I do wonder where she draws the line. Are her words here, assuming she has been quoted and translated accurately, intended as a warning that she will not support so-called "hate speech" laws? Or has she indicated otherwise elsewhere?

If Tsai Ing-wen were to oppose in action any and all legislation intended to restrict freedom of expression, then she would deserve no small amount of credit for this as in doing so, she is going against the control-freak instincts of the Leftist mob inside her own party, as well as the collectivist tendencies throughout Taiwanese society that exist outside of the DPP.

Note: I am speaking in the hypothetical. As far as I am concerned, it remains to be seen just how far Tsai would go in the defense of free expression. If she really means it, then all credit to her.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Second Comment On Drugs Policy Article At "Thinking Taiwan"

Since the comment I made the other night at "Thinking Taiwan" did not get past the filter, I thought I'd do a complete re-write and try again.

***

The author believes that cannabis should be legalized, rather than merely decriminalized. The author further believes that the necessary legislative and policy changes should be initiated on account of an argument about the consequences of recreational drug use illustrated through appeals to science.

He also laments the fact that nothing has changed since he wrote his last article a year ago.

Yet perhaps he is missing the point. The persistence of criminal statutes against the production, distribution and consumption of recreational drugs may have less to do with purported health concerns than with the usefulness of these statutes in maintaining and expanding certain political powers and furthering certain people's careers and financial interests. So even if the DPP win the next set of elections, and even if they agree with his views about the relative harmlessness of cannabis consumption, there is ample reason to believe that nothing will change.

The drugs themselves and the consequences of their consumption are less important than the political power and resultant benefits their criminalization affords those in (and around) public office.

Further to that point, I would argue that it makes more sense to argue for the decriminalization of cannabis and other recreational drugs rather than their legalization. Legalization would merely plant new seeds out of which political power can grow again through the taxation and probably ever more tangled regulation of the products, whereas decriminalization would not. Decriminalization of cannabis and other recreational drugs would help to weed out the growth of unnecessary political powers.

On the author's appeal to science, I think this is misplaced: as Hume taught nearly three hundred years ago, the "ought" does not follow from the "is". And true scientists are exclusively concerned with questions regarding what "is", and not - in their capacity as scientists - with what actions "ought" to be taken. Although a moral decision may be at least partially informed by factual evidence, factual evidence alone is insufficient since, as Hume pointed out, a moral decision must ultimately follow from distinctly moral premises.

The moral premise in this case is that adults are intelligent agents exclusively capable of acting in their own best interests, since those interests are theirs to judge in the first place. It follows from this that people must be held responsible for the consequences of their own decisions and not be treated like permanent children or the mentally deficient by political masters who care not for the need to limit political powers.

***

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Comment At "Thinking Taiwan" On Second Drugs Article By "A.R."

Link.

As Hume taught nearly three hundred years ago, the "ought" does not follow from the "is". A moral decision may of course be at least partially informed by factual evidence, but factual evidence alone is insufficient since the moral decision must ultimately follow from distinctly moral premises.

Your appeal to science as an authority is therefore misplaced. Moreover, such appeals typically have a dubious provenance (e.g. the conspiracy theorists who claim "science" in support of their contention that cannabis cures cancer - despite the obvious fact that cannabis didn't save Bob Marley from jammin his toe in death's door).

It is the moral premises that must be challenged. In a properly Liberal society, people have rights of free speech, free association and free trade and those things must be propagated with moral arguments standing on moral premises.

***

Update: the comment didn't get through the filters for some reason.

Return To Tseng-wen Reservoir To Observe The Construction Of Remedial Facilities


Last Sunday (19th April), I slept through my early alarm as I hadn't been able to get to sleep until sometime well after 3am. As it was, I had to decide whether to take the train up to Douliu in Yunlin County to take more pictures of the new Hushan reservoir or make a return trip to Tseng-wen reservoir to better observe the things I had noticed last time out. That's what I chose to do; the return trip to Yunlin County must wait until another time. I left Tainan city late - something like 12.45pm and made my usual stop at the general store in Yujing township before heading off through Nanxi district to the reservoir, only this time, rather than follow the main road up toward the south end of the reservoir and then along its' twists and turns to Dapu, I went straight to the forward tollbooth to approach the downstream face of the dam. What I wanted to do was to observe the current state of the re-engineering taking place. Since I was last here, two entirely new tunnel mouths have been bored into the side of the mountain for the new sluiceway...

Two new sluiceway tunnel mouths to the right, with one of the existing sluicway mouths to their immediate left.
Although there are two new exit mouths here, the tunnels behind them conjoin after a short distance to form a single shaft which penetrates through the mountainside at an angle for approximately one kilometer...

Public sign outlining the planned new sluiceway and its' location vis-a-vis the reservoir's existing sluiceway. 
A sidelong look at the new sluiceway under construction.
Overlooking the immense water chamber behind the spillway gates at the top of the dam; what little rain we've had recently has been nowhere near enough to alleviate the ongoing depletion of Taiwan's largest reservoir.
Construction of the new sluiceway tunnel on the upstream side.
Another view of the upstream side of the new sluiceway construction work.
Looking out across the south-west corner of the reservoir; this stretch of water is itself larger than most other reservoirs in Taiwan, but is only a fraction of Tseng-wen's total size, as it bends around that distant corner to the left.
Peering around that left corner: the reservoir extends northward by about twelve kilometers.
A view through the 300mm: the mudflats appeared to have reached further south since my last visit.
The wild boars are now gathered together on the south-facing shore of that spit of land in the reservoir's approximate centre. When full, all of that land is submerged under fifteen to twenty meters of water. Much of it was submerged as recently as a month ago.
I left the south end of the reservoir to get back onto the main road running around the eastern side; but before I left, I caught sight of a couple of crested serpent eagles, which are now a rarer sight than usual.
Overlooking the center of Tseng-wen reservoir and the little bay with which I have become so familiar over the last few months.
The western shoreline with the dotted black specks being the wild boars, and the white-roofed structure off to the left being the floating barge which is the furthest south I've ever seen it.
Fisherman's boats and pontoon rafts crowded round at the little bay.
The central ravine on the western shoreline with its' research station and associated vessels. I believe there are actually very few people staffing that place at any one time.
The other tributary mouth further to the north - I had approached this on the water just last weekend, but it is now almost entirely dried up.
After driving around the eastern side of the reservoir and taking pictures from the center-point, I knew that I had to go and investigate the crane I had seen last time and see what that was all about I remember a diagramI had seen sometime last year in which a snaking red line was drawn through the length of the reservoir toward the dam from a point just south of Dapu village at the reservoir's northern end. The crane is at exactly that sight just south of Dapu. My guess at the time, though I couldn't be sure, was that the red line represented a pipeline that would be used to flush sediments from the back of the reservoir toward the front.

The construction site just south of Dapu village; a slope is being carved out and a series of large canisters placed behind it and a hangar-like shed off to the right. It will be interesting to see how construction progresses here over the coming months.
The apex of the slope with the canisters behind it.
To take the pictures immediately above, I had wandered down onto a small farmer's road until I reached a barrier behind which were a series of long-since abandoned and now derelict houses. I followed the winding path between them on foot and was able to spy out the construction site from between the trees. After a short while the path twisted to the left along the edge of the eastern shoreline, bringing me face to face with the extent of the mudflats' progress since last weekend; where they had then still lain some way off in the distance, they were now encroaching right up to my previous observation point over on the western shoreline...


The now dried up tributary mouth is visible on the other side, surrounded by the encroaching mud as the water has vanished.
I followed the path further along, curious as to whether it would eventually lead me down to the water's edge and a new site from which to launch the boat. Along the way however, I got lucky when I ran into my old friend the Black Kite (along with several other Kites), who was fishing in this corner of the reservoir. Out came the 300mm and I started snapping away,,,











Below is the steep-sided bay into which the little path had brought me when I met up again with the Kites...

Looking southward from the steep-sided bay.
Once I'd spent my time hanging out with the birds, I left the little path and headed back up the farmer's road which eventually led me into the south end of Dapu village, from which I was able to follow another small road down to the construction site I had observed earlier...

The crane standing over the slope.
Looking down into the slope itself.
A set of pressurized gas bottles in the yard behind the slope.
One of the canisters was placed beneath the hangar; it has a lip on one side, which makes me wonder whether it is designed to be fitted to another one as in a section of pipeline. 
The public notice attached to the construction fence relates that this project is part of the ongoing construction of remedial facilities at Tseng-wen reservoir but is no more specific than that, and thus not very informative. Indeed the diagram on the right is of the new sluiceway tunnel at the front of the reservoir next to the dam which is about ten kilometers away to the south.
Further down from the construction site, the roughly paved road led down to a little harbour which would be an excellent alternative site from which to launch boats. 
I left the construction site behind and headed off to the Dapu 7-11 for something to eat and drink (note to self: by the late afternoon, all of the food is gone, leaving only packets of crisps behind so bring food along next time). Once I had refuelled, I drove out of Dapu to go and see the construction site for the new weir-like structure which seems to be intended to trap sediments. Though I was denied access to the site by the security guard, he did answer my questions (he used a new term in Mandarin I'd never heard before which I haven't yet had written down for me). What I had wanted to do was photograph the site from the south side of the river looking north toward the mountainside, but I wasn't going to be allowed to do that. Instead, I drove over the bridge across the river...

There was still water flowing through the river bed, even at this late stage during the drought.
... and managed to get a partial view of the north side of the river through the trees as the light was fading...

The second tower to the left and the new, north-side box to the right. The image is blurry because the light was fading and I had forgotten the camera-fastener for my tripod.
The two towers in the middle of the river, with the north-side box off to the right. This is where future sediments are going to be trapped, if the new structure works correctly.
I also drove upstream to take a look at the weir over which the Tseng-wen river falls on its way down from Chiayi County's Alishan district...

The weir upstream from the back end of Tseng-wen reservoir; there was still a fair amount of water flowing over it.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

"Hump Them & Dump Them" : An Optimal Strategy?

I recently had a somewhat depressing experience. A woman I know offered to help me with something, and then invited me to dinner with another woman whom she thought I might find attractive. Fine. What followed was a "clerical error" of misunderstanding regarding transport arrangements. I was not rude, nor did I raise my voice, and I remained calm throughout. Nonetheless, the woman I know seemed to regard my misunderstanding as an open invitation to launch into a ten minute rant on how I don't listen to her and other topics which had the distinct echo of the ultra-feminist snarl about them.

After not being able to get a word in edgeways for what seemed an eternity, I simply hung up the phone and sent the following message:

"Forget it. I'm not going."

And nor I did go. Nor did I reply to her subsequent pleas for me to reconsider and her other messages and stupid smiley faces. And I haven't even mentioned her insolence in an earlier episode in which she asked me a serious question, and then blatantly didn't listen to and take in the considered answer I gave her.

Look darling, it really is simple: if you don't care about what answer I might give, then save my time and don't ask me the bloody question in the first place.

I am sick and tired of having to deal with ... not women... but stupid feminist women. And they are legion because that ideology is so prevalent throughout the culture. In reference to which, I thought I'd post two videos I just stumbled across on youtube...

 

I found this after watching the following video on Emily Pankhurst and the Suffragettes "white feather" campaign during the First World War...

The "Objective" Eye Of The BBC

"Because of course the BBC can’t tell the difference between an outlandish, obviously fake social-justice obsessed parody account and a normal member of the public."
That's hilarious! For a long time I've been wanting to say that it's very rare I actually "laugh-out-loud", so to speak, when reading things on the internet, but this is one of those times. One of the things I encounter every now and again here in Taiwan is the Canadian or American who regards the BBC as "fairly objective" insofar as political bias is concerned. They fill the world with facepalm.

Via Perry de Havilland.

Friday, 17 April 2015

On The Defence Of Taiwan

Following a discussion elsewhere recently, I thought I'd set to rethinking the question of how to defend Taiwan from a potential Chinese attack. As I see it, various strategies fall into one of two types; delay and deterrence.

For the first type, the underpinning assumption is that Taiwan would eventually be rescued by U.S. and possibly Japanese intervention. This assumption may or may not be valid. Given that assumption, a delay strategy would necessitate the targeting and weakening of Chinese military assets, including missile bases, ships and fighter aircraft in order to buy time for U.S. forces to intervene.

The second type of strategy - deterrence - makes no assumptions about U.S. intervention. Indeed, if it is instead assumed that the U.S. would not intervene on Taiwan's behalf, then a strategy of deterrence seems to be the only one that makes any sense given that the Taiwanese military is unlikely to win a war of attrition with the Chinese military.

How should the Taiwan government spend its' limited resources? Since the probability of (successful) U.S. intervention on Taiwan's behalf is unknown, it makes sense to acquire capabilities that could be used for either of the two types of strategy. If the U.S. does attempt to intervene in the event of a Chinese attack, then Taiwan would be in a position to try to buy time for them - whether successful or not. If U.S. politicians decide to cut Taiwan loose, and communicate this to the Chinese then Taiwan would nevertheless still have some means of attempting to deter any Chinese attack. Of course, it is very likely that there will be some substantial difference between those military assets Taiwan would need for the delay strategy and the military assets Taiwan would need for the deterrence strategy.

Of particular interest are diesel electric submarines and cruise missiles.

The stealthy characteristics of such boats make them excellent platforms for surprise attacks, as even with relatively advanced detection systems, locating them is notoriously difficult. Armed with cruise missiles, these boats could be deployed against Chinese vessels in the Taiwan Strait as part of a delay strategy, or else they could potentially be deployed in the littoral waters off China's eastern coast in order to strike at civilian/political targets in China's cities.

Two questions to be considered are whether cruise missile strikes on Chinese cities could do sufficient (perceived) damage to work as a deterrent, and whether in fact this could realistically be achieved with submarines and cruise missiles.

On the first question, the obvious answer is nuclear warheads, though it is unlikely that Taiwan would restart any such program. Perhaps more realistic would be the targeting of high-salience civilian buildings with great symbolic value, such as skyscrapers and government buildings. Other warhead types are possible besides conventional explosives and nukes. Assuming Taiwanese submarines could actually launch cruise missile strikes against such targets in China, would this actually work as a deterrent? It is hard to know.

On the second question, of whether this could be realistically achieved with submarines and cruise missiles,three objections occur to me, the first two of which were raised by others at the earlier discussion. The first is quantity; that it is unlikely that Taiwan would be able to develop the boats and missiles in sufficient quantity to do any serious damage. The second is timing; that the Chinese military would wait until they had located all Taiwanese boats before launching an attack on Taiwan. The third is distance; Shanghai lies approximately 1,000 km away from the Zuoying port in southern Taiwan where Taiwan's current submarines are based. Beijing is nearly 2,000 km away. Modern diesel electric submarines have limited endurance, with a submerged range of maybe 400 km. Taiwan's current cruise missiles have a range of less than 200 km.

The first objection, on quantity, could perhaps be overcome by simply spending more money which would almost certainly necessitate serious budget cuts elsewhere in government spending. But it would be very expensive, as it requires not simply building a large number of boats but expanding existing ports and building new ones in which to base them. The second objection, on timing, is a murky one in the sense that current anti-submarine warfare in noisy littoral waters searching for small and very quiet boats is extremely difficult - even with the best equipment. The third objection seems to me to be more serious. Either the endurance and range of any future Taiwanese diesel-electric submarines must be vastly improved, or the range of the cruise missiles must be improved. However, the latter option would be unattractive if it resulted in a significant increase in circular error probable. On a somewhat optimistic note, the French shipbuilder DCNS has recently built an advanced diesel-electric submarine with a much larger displacement than typical and a range of more than 10,000 km. So a much improved diesel-electric submarine is at least technically possible.

***

Perhaps however, this discussion is dangerously short-sighted. The conflict between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan) is basically an ideological one centered on notions of collective identity. Let's say that China launched an invasion of Taiwan which was eventually repelled by U.S. intervention - would that be the end of it? Of course not. Barring an ideological change within China itself, they would doubtless repeat the attempt again sooner or later.

Let us then consider the central ideological aspect of the conflict, and two ways in which Taiwan might seek an "ideological defence" against Chinese irredentism. The first way is the development of a collective identity specific to Taiwan, and defined in contrast to Taiwan's largely Chinese-origin culture, Taiwanese nationalism. This already exists in Taiwan, perhaps in its' strongest form here in the south of Taiwan. So far as I can tell, the argument for this is that in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and a coup d'etat of the government in Taipei, the Taiwanese will attempt to resist Chinese rule by means of organized protest with the Taiwanese identity serving as the focal point for such rallies. This doesn't exactly fill me with confidence, especially when it is recalled how the Chinese leadership ordered the Tiananmen Square protests to be brutally suppressed by the military back in 1989. It may be admitted that the internet and the ubiquity of trivially cheap photography/video may mean that it will be even more difficult to hide any violent suppression than it already was for the Chinese in 1989, yet government monitoring and censorship of the world wide web is a growing concern - not just in China, but also in erstwhile "liberal" countries such as the U.S. and the U.K.

A second way in which Taiwanese people might seek an "ideological defence" against Chinese irredentism is to shift focus away from notions of collective identity altogether and to instead reshape the economy of political power. As I have argued previously, a strategy of depoliticization, in which vital functions currently under the centralized control of the State, are relinquished to the free market would fundamentally alter Taiwan's political situation vis-a-vis China in several ways. First, it would remove the incalculable advantages of existing centralized control structures that China currently stands to inherit upon a successful invasion of Taiwan. Second, with the dissolving of State imposed compulsory education, any collective identity to be exploited for political ends would be fatally undermined. Unless a new centralized education system was reimposed at immense cost and political difficulty, the central Chinese aim of promoting Chinese nationalist identity in Taiwan would become almost impossible. Moreover, the Taiwanese might still feel themselves to be, and identify as Taiwanese, but this would no longer be a political instrument. Third, even if the Chinese did invade and take over Taiwan's government, then so long as the costs of re-establishing the current form of massively centralized State power remained prohibitively high, then there would be little to fear from unification with China anyway, as they would not be in a position to change anything.

A depoliticized Taiwan is an interesting option because it could act either as a deterrent to an invasion (large costs of re-establishing centralized political control), or as an incentive to a peaceful take-over (the Chinese get to save face by having Taiwan accept itself as a "province" of China, but without actually changing anything). If a strategy of depoliticization could save Taiwan's people from the political depredations of the Chinese State, then why not also the people in the existing provinces of China - many of whom have undergone much worse treatment at the hands of State authorities there than have people in Taiwan.

I have written on this topic of depoliticization many times previously, and though it is obviously and drastically unrealistic, it may nonetheless be Taiwan's best hope. Or it may not be; as always I look forward to well-put criticism, even though I am usually disappointed by its' absence.