Thursday, 31 December 2009
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Friday, 25 December 2009
“... you have to think first of modern literature as a sort of grand council considering what mankind should do next, how we should fill our mortal time, what we should feel, what we should see, where we should get our courage, how we should love or hate, how we should be pure or great or terrible, evil (you know!), and all the rest. This advice of literature has never done much good. But you see God doesn’t rule over men as he used to, and for a long time people haven’t been able to feel that life was firmly attached at both ends so that they could stand confidently in the middle. That kind of faith is missing, and for many years poets have tried to supply a substitute. Like ‘the unacknowledged legislators’ or ‘the best is yet to be,’ or Walt Whitman saying that whoever touched him could be sure he was touching a man. Some have stood up for beauty, and some have stood up for perfect proportion, and the very best have soon gotten tired of art for its own sake. Some took it as their duty to behave like brave performers who try to hold down panic during a theater fire. Very great ones have quit, like Tolstoy, who became a reformer, or like Rimbaud, who went to Abyssinia, and at the end of his life was begging of a priest, ‘Montrez-moi. Montrez … Show me something.’ Frightening, the lives some of these geniuses led. Maybe they assumed too much responsibility. They knew that if by their poems and novels they were fixing values, there must be something wrong with the values. No one man can furnish them. Oh, he may try, if his inspiration is for values, but not if his inspiration is for words. If you throw the full responsibility for meaning and for the establishing of good and evil on poets, they are bound to go down. However, the poets reflected what was happening to everyone. There are people who feel that there are responsible for everything. Gonzaga is free from this, and that’s why I love him.”
And since Manuel Gonaza did not exist (and should not be confused [presumably, though maybe Bellow is a fan] with the 18th-century Brazilian/Portuguese poet Tomás Antônio Gonzaga) but is Bellow’s invention, perhaps we can assume that these are Bellow’s opinions.
“Here, See what he says in some of these letters… ‘Many feel they must say it all, whereas all has been said, unsaid, resaid so many times that we are bound to feel a little futile unless we understand that we are merely adding our voices. Adding them when moved by the spirit. Then and then only.’ Or this: ‘A poem may outlive its subject—say, my poem about the girl who sang songs on the train—but the poet has no right to expect this. The poem has no greater privilege than the girl.’ You see what kind of man he really was?”
… “ ‘Lots of people call themselves leaders, healers, priests, and spokesmen for God, prophets or witnesses, but Gonzaga was a human being who spoke only as a human being; there was nothing spurious about him. He tried never to misrepresent; he wanted to see. To move you he didn’t have to do anything, he merely had to be. We’ve made the most natural things the hardest of all.’”
Clarence's color grew very high and he looked dazed. He paid no attention to his broiled meat and French fried potatoes. "I don't keep up much with science," he said. "I remember I did read somewhere that industry gives off six billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and so the earth is growing warmer because the carbon dioxide in the air is opaque to heat radiation. All that means that the glaciers won't be coming back."
from Saul Bellow's "The Gonzaga Manuscripts"
PUBLISHED IN 1954
Friday, 18 December 2009
but clearly some people think it is, and think that pandering to the prejudices of some sections of the population will give them an electoral advantage
shame the DPP is not immune from this:
Yahoo news reports:
[which roughly translated means]
DPP legislator Li Jun-yi: "In the legislative by-elections and five special-municipality mayoral elections, even if [the KMT] loses all of them, it won't be King Pu-tsung's fault, because the kind of relationship that King Pu-tsung has with Ma Ying-jeou, is one that has transcended friendship, a relationship that has transcended friendship."
and that, everyone knows, is a just-inside-the-boundary-of-getting-your-ass-sued insinuation of homosexuality, something that Li seems to think is shameful, despite being a member of a so-called liberal party
come on, DPP, there is no need for this
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Why Aborigines support KMTMany outsiders coming to Taiwan find Aboriginal support for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) hard to understand. Given the suppression of their cultures, languages and even their names during the five decades of one-party rule, one might imagine their disenchantment with the organ of that rule would be as great or greater than that of the Hoklo Taiwanese, and that Aborigines would be staunch supporters, and even leaders, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Reading the smug post-election “victory” analysis by Liang Wen-chieh (梁文傑) of the DPP-allied New Society for Taiwan (“Has Ma done anything right yet?,” Dec.13, page 8), helps to explain why Aborigines do not trust the opposition:
“In Taitung County, the DPP closed the gap from 20,000 votes in 2005 to around 5,000 this time. If we subtract the votes of the county’s Aborigines, who are mostly loyal Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) voters, the DPP would have won in Taitung. This result shows how angry people in Taitung are about the performance of outgoing county commissioner Kuang Li-chen (鄺麗貞), who used to enjoy Ma’s strong support.”
Why not go the whole hog and argue that Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) election as president should not stand because of all the women who voted for his “good looks”? But no; thanks to the influence of former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and others, sexism is taboo in the party, at least in explicit terms. Clearly not racism, however.
Ridding itself of such attitudes would help transform the DPP into a truly liberal party and, as a pleasant side effect, increase its chances of electoral success.
Monday, 14 December 2009
One planet for us all to inhabit
Two items of news covered the whole of last Wednesday's front page; one was extremely worrying, while the other was exciting and perhaps offers a silver lining to the gloom hanging over Homo Sapiens' future.
On the eve of the climate summit in Copenhagen, the first piece asked whether humankind collectively has the ability, the will, and even sufficient time to reverse the tide of global warming. The upbeat sidebar on opportunities offered to Taiwanese firms in the multi-billion-dollar-funded search for emission-curbing technologies notwithstanding, the article focused mostly on the challenges ahead and made for pretty depressing reading.
The second piece applauded the unveiling of what is planned as the world's first commercial spacecraft by multi-billionaire entrepreneur-turned-adventurer Richard Branson. If the predictions by the Virgin conglomerate's boss of US$200,000-per-person suborbital space flights offering views back at the entire Earth and experiences of weightlessness within 18 months are realized, this will represent the most important advance in manned space exploration since American Neil Armstrong took his “one giant leap” in 1969 and the Russians launched Space Station Mir in 1986.
Of course such a realization is far from certain. Branson and chief designer Burt Rutan's budget has already risen signifaica ntly and their deadlines have already been postponed from 2008 to 2011. And this in just the space of five years since Rutan won the Ansari X Prize and Collier Trophy for designing and launching the first privately funded and flown craft to reach space in 2004, the same year in which Branson launched his wholly— owned Virgin Galactic subsidiary promising to cater for space tourists at a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars per person charged by the Russian space agency.
Last week's unveiling is still a significant step forward and worthy of the intense media coverage it received. Nevertheless, it is a relatively small step compared with the hyperbolic leaps of imagination that some journalists and legions of bloggers succumbed to in its wake. This, they predicted, would just be a first step towards launch of a permanently inhabited space station, colonization of other planets, and so forth.
While this kind of dream has long held a fascination for the human race—perhaps ever since it came to realize that there were other planets and solar systems and not just spots of light in the heavens—and may indeed one day be realized, we would be better rewarded spending our time, money and efforts ensuring the future of the only inhabitable planet known to date. We should also work to make it a better place for all its inhabitants to live.
Which brings us back to climate change. Branson and Rutan, whose political ideologies are often well to the right of center, were for a long time outspoken skeptics on the issue. While Rutan still is—he explains it as part of his “fear of governmental expansion”— Branson has changed sides and for some time has been throwing his considerable financial resources behind environmental causes in general and that of tackling climate change in particular.
In 2006 he pledged to invest profits from Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains in research for environmentally friendly fuels. In 2007, he announced the Virgin Earth Challenge, offering a reward of US$25 million for anyone coming up with a commercially viable design that results in the net removal of manmade global-warming gases annually for at least a decade and which does not have harmful side effects. The next year he promised to open a chain of healthcare centers offering homeopathic therapies alongside conventional medical treatments, and this year he has shown interest in helping rescue the deeply troubled Formula One motor-racing sport by investing in or taking over one of the teams, but only on the condition that the whole operation develop a more environmentally responsible image and adopt a cleaner fuel.
Perhaps most significantly in the long term will turn out to be his contribution as one of The Founders in helping underwrite the establishment and organization of The Elders, a group of world figures led by Desmond Tutu and including people like Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing and Mary Robinson. While The Elders have a wide agenda ranging from settlement of conflicts such as that in the Middle East to defeating poverty and starvation, one of its recurrent and most pressing issues is tackling climate change.
Thus, while Branson shares every child's dream of exploring outer space — and has the immense wealth needed to indulge his fantasy—he is clearly sensible enough to know that for the time being, not to mention the foreseeable future, Homo sapiens will only have one planet to inhabit, and that we must do everything we can to protect it.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
Here is something I don't remember seeing before, at least not by a supposedly democratic political party.
In an opinion piece in today's Taipei Times (Has Ma done anything right yet?), Liang Wen-chieh (梁文傑), deputy director of the DPP-allied think tank New Society for Taiwan (台灣新社會智庫), brags about the party's so-called victory in last week's city and county elections. He then discusses Taitung, where the DPP lost narrowly:
"... In Taitung County, the DPP closed the gap from 20,000 votes in 2005 to around 5,000 this time. If we subtract the votes of the county’s Aborigines, who are mostly loyal Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) voters, the DPP would have won in Taitung. This result shows how angry people in Taitung are about the performance of outgoing county commissioner Kuang Li-chen (鄺麗貞), who used to enjoy Ma’s strong support."
Not try to garner Aboriginal votes by drawing up policies they might agree with (which can be a cynical practice itself sometimes), but SUBTRACT THE VOTES. Presumably his "people of Taitung" does not include them either.
Saturday, 12 December 2009
Taipei Times article:
COA to work on labor rights for PRC fishermen
The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday said it hoped the upcoming cross-strait talks could resolve the long-neglected issue of labor rights for Chinese fishermen working on Taiwanese vessels.
“By formulating a policy on [Chinese] fishermen, we can create a more humanitarian working environment as well as ensure the safety of our fishing vessels,” Council Deputy Minister Hu Sing-hwa (胡興華) told a media briefing.
... Policies including labor rights for Chinese fishermen and standardizing import procedures for agricultural goods will be among the four main items on the agenda.
Hu said he did not foresee any major changes in the number of Chinese fishermen working on Taiwanese boats after the signing of the agreement.
The government first allowed local fishing vessels to hire Chinese workers 15 years ago amid a shortage of domestic workers, which officials attributed to the low pay and hard working conditions. It lifted a ban on Chinese workers entering domestic ports in 2003 following protests by human rights organizations over their poor treatment.Council figures show that the average monthly pay for Chinese workers was just under NT$15,000 last year. Although this was higher compared with the pay for other foreign workers, many operators prefer hiring Chinese workers because they speak the same language. While Taiwanese workers on fishing vessels are covered by labor laws, workers from China are not.
... Council statistics shows 25 cases of hijackings by Chinese crewmembers and 11 cases of murder. Since the government allowed Chinese workers to enter local ports, there have also been 402 cases of Chinese absconding, with 149 still at large. ...
Friday, 4 December 2009
WEDNESDAY, 02 DECEMBER 2009
China Post editorial: Taiwan should at least pay attention to Greenpeace
Pacific marine resources are over-exploited, and if current practices are continued, the commercial fish harvest of not just the region, but the entire planet may be wiped out by as early as the middle of this century. Naturally, this presents a grave threat to humankind. Or so claimed Greenpeace at a press conference held last week in Taiwan.
The environmental NGO called on individual people to exercise selectivity when purchasing seafood — tuna in particular — so as to ensure it came from sustainable supplies; called on Taiwan's fishing fleet to abandon indiscriminate fishing techniques, such as longliners and fishing aggregation devices; and called on the ROC government to push for closure of four high seas pockets as marine reserves at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) when it convenes in Tahiti in early December.
Director-General of the ROC's Fisheries Agency (FA), James Sha, responded that Taiwan's fishing fleet, like all ships sailing in international waters, remained under the jurisdiction of their flag of state, and that Greenpeace, as an NGO, had no such jurisdiction.
The global fish market is currently 2.5 times a level that would be sustainable, Greenpeace maintains. In particular, the world's appetite for tuna and the advancements in technology used to catch it have grown to such an extent that three of the five commercial species are listed as endangered, and two — bigeye and yellowfin tuna — are expected to be critically over-fished within three years. Moreover, illegal shipping accounts for as much as 35 percent of the Pacific fish catch.
Taiwan's fleet plays a significant role in this industry and makes a significant contribution to the nation's economy. Employing around 350,000 workers and catching some 1.3 million tons of seafood, the industry garners around NT$90 billion, of which NT$40 billion comes from exports, almost half from tuna. It supports another 20,000 in auxiliary industries such as boat-building and marine supply. If fish stocks are on the verge of collapse, then this source of revenues and employment is under threat, and measures must be pursued to protect it.
Yet it is the industry's practices which provide the greatest threat, and ultimately it is the number, size and technology of the vessels that requires governance. With around 2,200 distant water fishing vessels flying the ROC flag, and around 500 more Taiwanese boats flying flags of convenience (FOC), Taiwan has the largest tuna-fishing fleet in the world.
Greenpeace claims to have presented evidence of Taiwanese-flagged vessels engaged in illegal fishing or illegal transshipments to the FA. But even if the government is willing and able to police this insatiable armada, the growing number of FOC vessels undermines these efforts.
Greenpeace's solution is the creation of marine reserves, the high seas pockets which would be closed to absolutely all forms of fishing.
Greenpeace grew out of the antinuclear movements of the 1950s and 1960s, and first came to prominence taking direct action against nuclear bomb testing, particularly by the United States beneath the Alaskan Aleutian Island and by France at Moruroa in French Polynesia. It then expended its activities to environmental concerns such as campaigning against whaling and the slaughter of baby seals for the fur trade.
Greenpeace's current priorities include tackling climate change, preserving the world's oceans and forests, eliminating toxic chemicals from waste, as well as an ongoing commitment to nuclear disarmament.
However, its immense size — an annual income of around US$200 million and 3 million supporters — confrontational direct action, orchestration of publicity-seeking events, economic naivety, and alarmist radical stance have moved it outside the mainstream, with some of its original founders defecting to more mainstream organizations. It has been accused of valuing non-human causes over human ones, and most notably, the Japanese government has described its so-called eco-warrior position as more akin to eco-terrorism or piracy.
Yet on many issues Greenpeace has been proven correct. Most major states have now signed and ratified the U.N.-backed Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and only a tiny minority of states engage in whaling.
So while FA Director-General Sha is right about Greenpeace, as an NGO, not having jurisdiction over Taiwan's fishing fleet, his agency should at the very least examine the evidence the organization has presented to it, since it is very much the role of NGOs to provide information governments may have overlooked and assist them in the service of their citizens.
If Greenpeace's reports of illegal activities turn out to be true, the FA should revoke the licenses of the vessels involved. If its reports of widespread overfishing by Taiwanese vessels are substantiated, the ROC government should devise and implement an appropriate strategy. If its prediction of imminent demise of the world's commercial fish stocks are even halfway accurate, the government should use its influence to promote no-fishing marine reserves at next month's WCPFC. And all of us should make sure the tuna we eat is from sustainably-caught skipjack and albacore species, and not the higher value, but far more endangered bigeye, yellowfin and bluefin varieties.