Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Boooyah.  USC just passed UCLA in the US News and World report rankings.

Last meals

Since there are three, yes, three typhoons converging on Taiwan, I thought I would take the opportunity to recount my interesting last meals before the perfect storms descends on ihla Formosa. On Sunday night, I went out with my friend Arthur and his two kids for lamb hotpot. It was delicious. We had a slew of sidedishes, ranging from some kind of sautéed shanghai cabbage, to hollow-heart with lamb, to cold sesame tripe with red onions. All delicious.  The shanghai cabbage had offered a tangy base to cut the rich lamb and hollowheart, while the chewy cold sesame tripe cleared the palate.  The main dish was a hot pot of lamb shanks, cabbage and enoki mushrooms bubbling away in broth.  Thin slivers of lamb came on the side to cook in the boiling broth and dip in a green curryish sauce.  The lamb shanks came with plastic straws to suck the marrow out, my imperial grandmother would have had cognitive dissonance over the prospect of sucking marrow out with a dixie straw. It was all delicious and possibly one of the best meals I have had in Taiwan. Definitely one of the most Taiwanese.

Today in my Chinese class, we snacked on a fruit called "Buddha's Head fruit," which looked kinda like an artichoke.  It tasted like a custardy cantaloupe with large, smooth seeds in its mushy interior.  It was really very good.

Finally, following my grandparents' maxim of "you don't have to like it, you just have to try it," I forced my roomies to try asparagus juice.  They actually liked it, and we thought of how to turn it in to cocktails.  We drank asparagus juice with malibu rum, but it was a little too sweet.  Vodka would make a better mixer, which I have named "The Damselfly".

Monday, August 30, 2010

Going to Shul in Beirut

My friend John Nahas has an article about the restoration of the Beirut Synagogue.

Restoring Honor?

More like Restoring White, Christian America. You can't restore America's honor by peddling lies and attacking the weakest members of society. Speaking of, now border sweeps are being done on the northern border.

PS: Glen Beck's faux tears

On Anti-Semitism, Corruption in Afghanistan and Republicans

From a pretty good piece on how the ADL lost its way:
President Shimon Peres has a standard answer whenever Jewish leaders from around the world tell him of anti-Semitism in their countries: "It's not your problem," he says. "Anti-Semitism is a sign of backward underdeveloped societies, that's the Goyim's problem. Jews have more important things to be worried about."

From a pretty good piece on why corruption isn't the big issue in Afghanistan:
But if corruption can facilitate our efforts in Afghanistan, why did Richard Holbrooke recently go before Congress to announce that “rampant corruption” is the Taliban’s “No. 1 recruiting tool,” and why is Washington now forcing a confrontation with Karzai to get him to clean house? One possibility is that the Obama administration really is under the Mugwumpish illusion that we can end corruption in Afghanistan. If so, that should concern us all.

But there is a likelier explanation. Holbrooke has been in the game for a long time; he is used to dealing with bad guys. That means he knows there is corruption that works for you and corruption that works against you. (In the nineteenth century, the Tammany bosses made a distinction between “honest graft” and “dishonest graft.”) The corruption that works for you consists of payoffs we make to win allies and buy loyalty. (In some situations, it’s called foreign aid.) The kind that works against you are the bribes we pay without getting anything in return—money that just goes down a rathole.

Under some circumstances, ratholes can be considered a cost of doing business, but in Afghanistan, where blood is being shed, the American people are paying attention, and like anyone else, they don’t enjoy being played for suckers. So the wrong kind of corruption can damage the war effort. Insofar as the Afghan government refuses to deliver on the promises our money has purchased, it has to be challenged. It has to be made to understand that a failure to take at least some steps toward reform will eventually produce unpleasant consequences, as American support, already wavering, dwindles down to a few hardcore neocons gathered together in a single room. All of which is to say, Washington’s current fight against corruption is mainly about American, not Afghan, hearts and minds.

There’s nothing elevating, or even especially satisfying, about any of this. You can, if you want, call it the ethics of Tony Soprano. But so what? New Jersey probably has a lot to teach us about how Afghanistan really works.
The author has a point. I'm not one who believes the surge so much righted the ship in Iraq as it was paying off Iraqis in the "Iraq Awakening" councils. Maybe the problem is that we just haven't found the right people to bribe offer foreign aid.

Finally, a great piece by Paul Krugman on the radical right and what happens if they get back in power:

So what will happen if, as expected, Republicans win control of the House? We already know part of the answer: Politico reports that they’re gearing up for a repeat performance of the 1990s, with a “wave of committee investigations” — several of them over supposed scandals that we already know are completely phony. We can expect the G.O.P. to play chicken over the federal budget, too; I’d put even odds on a 1995-type government shutdown sometime over the next couple of years.

It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too. The 1990s were a time of peace and prosperity; this is a time of neither. In particular, we’re still suffering the after-effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and we can’t afford to have a federal government paralyzed by an opposition with no interest in helping the president govern. But that’s what we’re likely to get.

Typhoon season

Typhoon season has hit Taiwan, and the rains are pouring down.

And apparently, I just felt a little earthquake.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On the day and evening

The day passed with my friend Amy the intern of the office in an East Coast fashion with bagels and lox for brunch, and afternoon filled with Manet to Picasso from the Philadelphia Museum of Arts all the way to Taipei. Color affects emotion. The exhibit made me miss my own exhibition, and miss my grandmother- who always loved the impressionists at the museum just across her street.

Into the sultry evening I escaped to pass some time over The Razor's Edge. Taipei 101 winked out with purple eye shadow ringing its mawkishness. And I sat pouring over Maugham's prose, as I sipped cold jasmine tea out of a weak paper cup- its floral charm to simply refresh. The sweet, iced dragonfruit soup with its tadpole-like seeds provided a cool dessert for a placid evening.

Holy Sh-t

I had wanted to blog about how much better squat toilets are, and how everything just seems to come out better but had refrained cause it seemed like strange thing to blog about. Well, thanks to Slate, I am afforded the opportunity to address the subject. Read about how squat toilets are actually better. Still, my favorite bathroom experience was in Japan, which featured stalls of their futuristic, automated toilets, next to holes in the ground. Such is Japan and its contradictory nature.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Expo Diplomacy in the Taiwan News

My piece on the Taiwan and Taipei Pavilions was republished in the Taiwan News. I'm turning into a Taiwanese Tom Friedman, hehe.

Dia de los Muertos

On tuesday, it was a big celebration for ghost day, and the streets of Taipei were on fire. The air was thick with smoke and incense; ash mixed with myrrh and hung on the smoky, perfumed wind. It was the 15th day of the lunar calendar, when the moon is full and fecund, and the deceased are believed to walk the earth to visit with their families. To honor the departed, people burned paper money and blessings in small, round stoves or large metal wire containers. Meanwhile, feasts were placed outside, consisting of colorful fruits, whole roast chickens, fish, roasted pork, and plates of candies, cigarettes and betel nuts. People took turns waving wands of incense above their head like scimitars.

I was reminded of my trip to Patzcuaro, in Michoacan, Mexico for Dia de los Muertos. My friend Anne and I went to the isle of Patzcauro, sailing past the butterfly fishermen, to see the ancient rite. Indigenous women sat at the tombs of their relatives and brought them fruits and flowers, as they recited incantations in forgotten tongues.

Not knowing that it was a holiday, I made the mistake of scheduling an interview with the Council of Cultural Affairs precisely when my office was celebrating, and I missed the office festivities. However, Taru and I ducked out early and headed over to the immense Baoan temple. There were endless tables of canned goods and goodies outside the temple. Some politician was busy declaring his love for the people and ghosts of Taipei, and was out courting the ghost vote on this auspicious campaign day.

We ducked into the elaborate temple with beautiful murals and gilded scenes of Taoist history. We watch a Buddhist monk procession (because there are no qualms with being ecumenical round these parts) take place, that was simply stunning. A train of saffron monks and black-clad priestesses walked slowly with the ringing of a timble bell, and they took their places to kneel and chant. The voices of the monks echoed with the timble bell and wafted to the heavens like the burnt offerings.

In the words of the great sufi mystic Ernie Banks, "Let's play two," and we headed across town to the other major shrine of the city, Longshan. Longshan was packed with worshipers, busy prostrating and tossing oracle blocks. The air was thick with incense and prayer, and as the worshipers thumbed their prayer thin, long prayer beads, I thumbed my own round, fat rosary from Jerusalem.

Over the Tao of Mossu, Taru and I discussed fulfillment. We discussed Romero and my pilgrimage to his home. She asked what I had learned and gained from that trip. Il responsa de Don Pablo was that I set off to examine global public health, and found a world sick with poverty, injustice and inequality. I also found a world alive with compassion, mercy and hope. The truth of my voyage was found in my attempts to give voice to maladies, and give a face to those forgotten through my photos and exhibitions. The fire that we carry, which I tried to display.

On an end note, one thing I have found is that Taiwan doesn't make me miss America so much as it makes me miss Latin America. I miss the ability to interact with the exotic because I know the tongue and with it the ability to dig a little deeper, to grok into the foreign because I can comprehend.

What it costs to run Somalia

As anyone who has been reading this blog knows, I like keeping a tally on What the World Costs. This article in FP on what it costs to run Somalia is incredible. All the more reason that the Republic of Somaliland is an incredible story.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

They're just not that into us

Larry Derfner writes a good column about Israeli hysteria of Iran:
When Israelis say Iran is eager to destroy Israel even at the cost of its own destruction, I think that says more about Israelis than it does about Iranians. Civilizations don’t resolve to commit suicide. It goes against the laws of nature, against evolution.

There have been crazy civilizations, crazy religions, crazy leaders, but to decide on a move that guarantees the annihilation of your country, your people – nobody’s ever done that. I can’t imagine anybody would, certainly not the leaders of a country of 75 million people, of one of the oldest, proudest civilizations on earth.

I agree – Ahmadinejad, the mullahs and many millions of Iranians hate Israel, they’d love to see it disappear, and they are fanatic ideologues. But so fanatic that they will cause Iran and its 5,000-year-old culture to be wiped out in return for the privilege of wiping Israel out? This is the goal they’re working towards, this is what’s in the front of their minds as they go through the day, this is what looms ahead of all their little plans for tomorrow, for the weekend, for the holidays – auto-genocide?

Uh-uh. It’s an irrational understanding of the Iranians, of any nation. But this is the understanding that’s shared probably by most Israelis, and it seems to be the view that’s driving our reaction to Iran’s nuclear program. It’s crazy. And this craziness, if it leads us to start a war with Iran, will have devastating consequences.

The other reason I don't worry so much about an Iranian bomb: the neighborhood. The Middle East is so freaking small that any attack on Israel would also wipe out the Palestinians, and probably the Shi'ites in southern Lebanon. Thank the Palestinians for the human shield deterrence factor. Sorry, but I am not that worried. I can remember AIPAC worries about Iran when I was in Young Judaea, and that was many moons ago. I admit this is easy to say from Taiwan, but it is hype and hyper fear.

Speaking of hyper fear, a good piece about the new Know-Nothings by Timothy Egan in the NYTimes.

Moms know best

My mom's response to my Taroko blog post:

I know this is probably something that is I should not actually say, but having just read your blog and seen the reference to one question I posed, I am going to say a bit more...

I was struck by your statement: "I just ended the most fulfilling period of my life and I am still trying to figure out how to handle what comes next. Knowing that period is over, I dare not chase ghosts and memories." I am not surprised by that statement as you have said as much to me. But what keeps running thru my mind is the following---

So what about creating the elements that made that period so successful - work that satisfies and sustains; a community to nurture and that nurtures you; and a partner to share it all with.

Now I have said it and I will bow out as gracefully as I can!

Motherly wisdom, indeed.

Discomfort food

After a frustrating morning that saw my external hard drive get reformated against my will, and all on it erased, I decided to opt for some good ol' American comfort food, and headed to Burger King to have it my way.  BK has some strange adds on the metro here, and I wish I could understand them.  It appears that they have 2 gay dudes holding a whopper, followed by a somewhat disheveled girl holding a ketchup-tipped french fries like a cigarette, and finally a guy holding with a burger in one hand and the contents of his office in his arms, along with a bandaid on his nose and a sign that reads in English "You're Fired."  I think it is somewhat akin to their hysterical campaign in the Middle East.  The other strange thing about BK is that all their identity-based adverts on the wall of their restaurants (if you can call them such) proclaim ideas about your identity because you went for bacon or triple cheese was all in English. Not a bit of Chinese for decoration. Strange. Anywho, I can't say that the whopper was much comfort food, as I am now feeling gross and lethargic.  I can't imagine how people eat that stuff every day, or how much I loved it as a teenager.  Once every few months is more than enough for me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tarokoko; Comin' round the mountain; Tramping

I am finding that the road to fulfillment is perhaps the path to enlightenment, and it leads through marble gorges. Tracing back a bit, as I have been a lil busy. I woke up early and caught the morning free shuttle to the Taroko National Park.  The park itself has a fascinating history.  After the retreat of the KMT to Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek found himself with a standing army with nothing to do.  In order to keep the soldiers busy, he had them pick through the marble and build a road through the Taroko gorge. Nearly 200 were killed in the work, and another 700 were badly injured in the laborious process.  What had been only a minor trail became the basis of the trans-island highway.  From 1956-1960, the KMT soldiers carved out a road through the center of the gorge and country.

I had made a reservation to stay at a Catholic hostel in Tianxiang, in the middle of the park. I was having rost in translation difficulties securing a reservation until I said my name was BaoLoa (Paul) and then they seemed more inclined thinking I was a Catholic. I had been told it was possible to hike the whole thing back from Tiansiang to the entrance to the park, some 20km, but I wasn't sure if I would do it all so I opted to get a bed and leave my backpack for the return.

It was a typical Taiwanese hike. There was very little in the way of actual trail, and more just paved paths. The Taiwanese don't really hike per se as much as they drive to a spot, walk around a bit on paved paths and then get back in their cars and drive to the next spot. But it was good. I set off down the aforementioned number 8 highway, which bisects Taiwan through its mountainous middle.  I did manage to find a nice earthen trail through a camphor forest, and also some fun romps over India Jones rope bridges.  There were some enormous spiders bigger than my fist, as well as crazed giant butterflies that were the size of mothra.  No joke, killer butterflies the size of my hand, attacking me like they had mariposa rabies.  There were also some rather ominous signs warning of poisonous snakes and killer bees.

I continued my path down the mountain, and through auto tunnels through the mountains.  I snuck into a semi-closed trail, hiking through a tunnel of marble and enjoying the solitude of my own path.  For someone who loves to talk, I also love the silence when I am traveling on my own.  I get to listen to the silence, sounds and echoes of my own thoughts.  The whole hike was a wonderful opportunity to think and reflect on some questions that had recently been posed to me.

 A girl who (understandably) at present is not talking to me asked when it is that I am going to realize what it is I'm looking for doesn't exist. My mother asked a similar question to when it is that my "self-exploration" ends.  Traveling alone and spending so much of my days gives me ample and almost unenviable amounts of time to think and reflect on such questions.  I was swimming, perhaps drowning, in such questions when I fished a few partial answers out from the murky depths.

I just ended the most fulfilling period of my life and I am still trying to figure out how to handle what comes next.  Knowing that period is over, I dare not chase ghosts and memories.  I am off to pick up and move again because it offers more than a temporary fix for my questions of fulfillment.   For me, it is often through my travels that I find my faith and my fulfillment.  It supplies me with new questions and new ideas about the fire we carry.  I know it isn't a long term answer, but these adventures give me a sense of fulfillment at present.  As the brilliant book The Razor's Edge essentially postulates, the search for fulfillment is the search for God. 

'No I'm not. What I'm trying to tell you is that there are men who are possessed by an urge so strong to do some particular thing that they can't help themselves, they've got to do it.  They're prepared to sacrifice everything to satisfy their yearning.'
  'Even the people who love them?'
 'Oh, yes.'
 'Is that anything more than plain selfishness?'
 'I wouldn't know,' I smiled.

The poem I had bouncing through my head during the hike was something my brother related to me from In Cold Blood:

"Theres a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that cant stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of gypsy blood, and they don't know how to rest.
If they just went straight home they might go far;
They are the strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new."

Some people find fulfillment in simple family life.  One of my oldest, best friends Brian just had his second child, a beautiful daughter named Cammie, and he remarked to me he is fulfilled.  Others find fulfillment having more and more material possessions.  As my rabbi once remarked to me, materialism is a form of idolatry. I agree and would rather take my cues from Siddhartha, and continue on this path I have started.  This isn't a new age search for answers, but rather a search for questions (on that note, I really love my friend Taru's quote that Marx asked a lot of the right questions, he just didn't have the right answers).  

But I digress.  This is what happens when I have 20 km to hike around in my own thoughts through pristine marble gorges.  I continued on down the side of the ride, dodging cars and motorcycles as I watch swallows fly over head and in and out of the caves.  I walked and I walked and I walked through the marble tunnels and past the marble canyons with greenish turbid rivers flowing below.  I hiked the entirety of the trail, the full 20 km, and caught the shuttle bus back to the top.  

The night was spectacular.  I sat at the hostel, reading Maugham and listening to the river flow in the canyon below.  A light rain came down and echoed through the canyon, as the voices of Mandarin echoed off the metal table.  I sat listening to the banter of unknown words bounce, as a black cat sat purring in my lap and I read and was at peace.  A gift of some sweet red beans explained all of what we live by, as I treasured a gift of a night.

The following morning, I went off in typical Pablo fashion.  While I could have taken the free shuttle back to Hualien and then the train from there, the prospect of going back the way I came seemed boring.  The other option was to take a minibus some 3 hours to Lishan, which i had heard was beautiful.  I was told I could catch a bus to Taitchung, where I could make a pilgrimage to the home of bubble tea.  So I opted to pay 300 kwai so I could take a different path through the unknown rather than the free path through the known.  I chose correctly.  The mini bus hurtled off, flying around tight mountain corners at breakneck speed, throwing me from one space to another.  The driver, the only Asian I have ever seen with mutton chops and aviators, furiously smoked Texas cigarettes as he flew around hairpin turns, blaring his horn and hurling invectives at those who didn't get out of his way fast enough.  I loved it.  It was a 3 hour rollercoaster in and out of rock arch tunnels with someone at the wheel who knew each curve like the body of a feisty lover.  It was exhilarating. A real live 3 hour roller coaster through gorges and cumulonimbus mountaintops.

However, filed under the best laid plans gone awry, I arrived to Lishan and unknowingly watched the last bus of the day leaving Lishan for Yilan.  It was 1:30pm.  I was stuck.  I grabbed an apple and plum, both of which Lishan is famous for and I set up to hitch my way out.  It started out poorly.  I put my thumb up to the first driver, and he cracked a big grin and gave me a thumbs-up right back.  I guess that is not how you tramp in Taiwan.  I did the palm down wave and hit the jackpot.  I found a lovely family who let me in and gave me flaky cookies as they drove me from central Taiwan some three hours back to the east coast and to Yilan, where I could catch the train.  They were absolutely lovely, we chatted about life in Taiwan and family, etc.  The eldest son, Larry, spoke a good deal of English and translated.  The family was kind enough to even invite me out to dinner and offered to drive me back to Taipei, but I declined and needed to get back.  They dropped me off at the train, and I was on the same track I had tried to avoid. I went 6 hours out of my way to end up back on the same train, and yet I loved it.

The Onion on Immigration

The Onion's hysterical take on immigration, "Stop Making Delicious Food I Can't Stop Eating and go Back to Mexico!":
Besides the sizzling fajitas and the crispy buñelos fried to melt-in-your mouth perfection, these international trespassers add nothing to society. It's time for them to go! Of course, we Americans would have to learn how to whip lard to the right consistency before adding it to the tamale batter and slow-roast chiles to deepen their flavor. For the first few years, the food will be merely passable, but that's a small price to be rid of these immigrants who work in the fields and orchards for less than minimum wage, thereby allowing me to purchase cheap fruits and vegetables any time of year.
As always, the nation's finest news source.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Utter Eloquence

One of the best speeches I have read in a while: Jimmy Reid, a UK trade unionist who just passed away(TY Deaglan):
Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It's the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

Many may not have rationalised it. May not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it. It therefore conditions and colours their social attitudes. Alienation expresses itself in different ways in different people. It is to be found in what our courts often describe as the criminal antisocial behaviour of a section of the community. It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by drop-outs, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics. Of course, it would be wrong to say it was the sole reason for these things. But it is a much greater factor in all of them than is generally recognised.

Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping. The irony is, they are often considered normal and well-adjusted. It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else. They remind me of the character in the novel, Catch 22, the father of Major Major. He was a farmer in the American Mid-West. He hated suggestions for things like medi-care, social services, unemployment benefits or civil rights. He was, however, an enthusiast for the agricultural policies that paid farmers for not bringing their fields under cultivation. From the money he got for not growing alfalfa he bought more land in order not to grow alfalfa. He became rich. Pilgrims came from all over the state to sit at his feet and learn how to be a successful non-grower of alfalfa. His philosophy was simple. The poor didn't work hard enough and so they were poor. He believed that the good Lord gave him two strong hands to grab as much as he could for himself. He is a comic figure. But think – have you not met his like here in Britain? Here in Scotland? I have.

It is easy and tempting to hate such people. However, it is wrong. They are as much products of society, and of a consequence of that society, human alienation, as the poor drop-out. They are losers. They have lost the essential elements of our common humanity. Man is a social being. Real fulfilment for any person lies in service to his fellow men and women. The big challenge to our civilisation is not Oz, a magazine I haven't seen, let alone read. Nor is it permissiveness, although I agree our society is too permissive. Any society which, for example, permits over one million people to be unemployed is far too permissive for my liking. Nor is it moral laxity in the narrow sense that this word is generally employed – although in a sense here we come nearer to the problem. It does involve morality, ethics, and our concept of human values. The challenge we face is that of rooting out anything and everything that distorts and devalues human relations.

Let me give two examples from contemporary experience to illustrate the point.

Recently on television I saw an advert. The scene is a banquet. A gentleman is on his feet proposing a toast. His speech is full of phrases like "this full-bodied specimen". Sitting beside him is a young, buxom woman. The image she projects is not pompous but foolish. She is visibly preening herself, believing that she is the object of the bloke's eulogy. Then he concludes – "and now I give...", then a brand name of what used to be described as Empire sherry. Then the laughter. Derisive and cruel laughter. The real point, of course, is this. In this charade, the viewers were obviously expected to identify not with the victim but with her tormentors.

The other illustration is the widespread, implicit acceptance of the concept and term "the rat race". The picture it conjures up is one where we are scurrying around scrambling for position, trampling on others, back-stabbing, all in pursuit of personal success. Even genuinely intended, friendly advice can sometimes take the form of someone saying to you, "Listen, you look after number one." Or as they say in London, "Bang the bell, Jack, I'm on the bus."

To the students [of Glasgow University] I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts, and before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?"

Profit is the sole criterion used by the establishment to evaluate economic activity. From the rat race to lame ducks. The vocabulary in vogue is a give-away. It's more reminiscent of a human menagerie than human society. The power structures that have inevitably emerged from this approach threaten and undermine our hard-won democratic rights. The whole process is towards the centralisation and concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. The facts are there for all who want to see. Giant monopoly companies and consortia dominate almost every branch of our economy. The men who wield effective control within these giants exercise a power over their fellow men which is frightening and is a negation of democracy.

Government by the people for the people becomes meaningless unless it includes major economic decision-making by the people for the people. This is not simply an economic matter. In essence it is an ethical and moral question, for whoever takes the important economic decisions in society ipso facto determines the social priorities of that society.

From the Olympian heights of an executive suite, in an atmosphere where your success is judged by the extent to which you can maximise profits, the overwhelming tendency must be to see people as units of production, as indices in your accountants' books. To appreciate fully the inhumanity of this situation, you have to see the hurt and despair in the eyes of a man suddenly told he is redundant, without provision made for suitable alternative employment, with the prospect in the West of Scotland, if he is in his late forties or fifties, of spending the rest of his life in the Labour Exchange. Someone, somewhere has decided he is unwanted, unneeded, and is to be thrown on the industrial scrap heap. From the very depth of my being, I challenge the right of any man or any group of men, in business or in government, to tell a fellow human being that he or she is expendable.

The concentration of power in the economic field is matched by the centralisation of decision-making in the political institutions of society. The power of Parliament has undoubtedly been eroded over past decades, with more and more authority being invested in the Executive. The power of local authorities has been and is being systematically undermined. The only justification I can see for local government is as a counter- balance to the centralised character of national government.

Local government is to be restructured. What an opportunity, one would think, for de-centralising as much power as possible back to the local communities. Instead, the proposals are for centralising local government. It's once again a blue-print for bureaucracy, not democracy. If these proposals are implemented, in a few years when asked "Where do you come from?" I can reply: "The Western Region." It even sounds like a hospital board.

It stretches from Oban to Girvan and eastwards to include most of the Glasgow conurbation. As in other matters, I must ask the politicians who favour these proposals – where and how in your calculations did you quantify the value of a community? Of community life? Of a sense of belonging? Of the feeling of identification? These are rhetorical questions. I know the answer. Such human considerations do not feature in their thought processes.

Everything that is proposed from the establishment seems almost calculated to minimise the role of the people, to miniaturise man. I can understand how attractive this prospect must be to those at the top. Those of us who refuse to be pawns in their power game can be picked up by their bureaucratic tweezers and dropped in a filing cabinet under "M" for malcontent or maladjusted. When you think of some of the high flats around us, it can hardly be an accident that they are as near as one could get to an architectural representation of a filing cabinet.

If modern technology requires greater and larger productive units, let's make our wealth-producing resources and potential subject to public control and to social accountability. Let's gear our society to social need, not personal greed. Given such creative re-orientation of society, there is no doubt in my mind that in a few years we could eradicate in our country the scourge of poverty, the underprivileged, slums, and insecurity.

Even this is not enough. To measure social progress purely by material advance is not enough. Our aim must be the enrichment of the whole quality of life. It requires a social and cultural, or if you wish, a spiritual transformation of our country. A necessary part of this must be the restructuring of the institutions of government and, where necessary, the evolution of additional structures so as to involve the people in the decision-making processes of our society. The so-called experts will tell you that this would be cumbersome or marginally inefficient. I am prepared to sacrifice a margin of efficiency for the value of the people's participation. Anyway, in the longer term, I reject this argument.

To unleash the latent potential of our people requires that we give them responsibility. The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people. I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings. This is a personal tragedy. It's a social crime. The flowering of each individual's personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone's development.

In this context education has a vital role to play. If automation and technology is accompanied as it must be with a full employment, then the leisure time available to man will be enormously increased. If that is so, then our whole concept of education must change. The whole object must be to equip and educate people for life, not solely for work or a profession. The creative use of leisure, in communion with and in service to our fellow human beings, can and must become an important element in self-fulfilment.

Universities must be in the forefront of development, must meet social needs and not lag behind them. It is my earnest desire that this great University of Glasgow should be in the vanguard, initiating changes and setting the example for others to follow. Part of our educational process must be the involvement of all sections of the university on the governing bodies. The case for student representation is unanswerable. It is inevitable.

My conclusion is to re-affirm what I hope and certainly intend to be the spirit permeating this address. It's an affirmation of faith in humanity. All that is good in man's heritage involves recognition of our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that man is good by nature. Burns expressed it in a poem that technically was not his best, yet captured the spirit. In "Why should we idly waste our prime...":

"The golden age, we'll then revive, each man shall be a brother,

In harmony we all shall live and till the earth together,

In virtue trained, enlightened youth shall move each fellow creature,

And time shall surely prove the truth that man is good by nature."

It's my belief that all the factors to make a practical reality of such a world are maturing now. I would like to think that our generation took mankind some way along the road towards this goal. It's a goal worth fighting for.

Play a song for me

"Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow."
-Bob Dylan, "Mr. Tambourine Man"

On Weimer and Turning a phrase

Stephen Walt has a very good piece on Foreign Policy about today's Weimer.

Meanwhile, when I was a kid, my parents always said I was good at turning a phrase. Apparently I have helped turn one with gastrodiplomacy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On Voltaire and Spam

"Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers."

Or spam. Sorry if you are on my email list and got spammed by Needish. It is a garbage site that hacked my email list and sent out spam. F'them. Don't click yes, or your email list will be bombarded. On the flipside, I am getting tons of emails from old friends and acquiescences asking WTF.

PS: No, it wasn't NK on twitter.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I woke up early for the first time in a while and caught the morning train to Hualien on the Pacific east coast of Ihla Formosa.  I was getting annoyed at the sound of Chinese, but a nap put me straight.  The train hugged the azure pacific coast, with royal blue serenity on one side and verdant cloud-covered mountains on the other.  Clouds clung to mountains without strings, as said Josh Ritter.

I was wrestling heavily with questions, a bit weighed down with the existential heaviness of it.  When I was about to give up on my present path and head back to the hostel in melancholy defeat, when I looked back to find the most mindblowing view of mountains ringing around the city.  On these majestic mountains was a bonnet of cotton clouds.  The only words to escape my mouth were "oh my."  I turned back around towards the path to the sea that had been thus hidden, but spied the path I was after and perched myself above on the concrete sandbar overlooking the placid, murmuring sea.  The sea winds swirled around me with a hint of salt on the breeze.  In between the royal pacific and majestic mountains, and out of the scorching summer sun, I sat under the gentle shade and found a bit of peace.

One in Five

Some other things related to one in five. Also a great post by Achenblog.

Pakistan after the flood

A great piece in Foreign Policy on why the world hasn't stepped in to help submerged Pakistan:

Why has the most devastating natural disaster in recent memory generated such a tepid response from the international community? Something of a cottage industry is emerging to try to answer this latest and most sober of international mysteries.

There is no shortage of theories. It's donor fatigue. It's Pakistan fatigue. It's because the Pakistani government is corrupt and can't be trusted. It's because the victims are Muslim. It's because people think a nuclear power should be able to fend for itself. It's because floods -- particularly these floods -- spread their destruction slowly, over a period of time, rather than instantaneously. It's because of the tighter budgets of Western governments. It's because of the lingering effects of the financial crisis.

There's a degree of truth to all these explanations. But the main reason that Pakistan isn't receiving attention or aid proportionate to the devastation caused by these floods is because, well, it's Pakistan. Given a catastrophe of such epic proportions in any normal country, the world would look first through a humanitarian lens. But Pakistan, of course, is not a normal country. When the victims are Haitian or Sri Lankan -- hardly citizens of stable, well-government countries, themselves -- Americans and Europeans are quick to open their hearts and wallets. But in this case, the humanity of Pakistan's victims takes a backseat to the preconceived image that Westerners have of Pakistan as a country.

The Razor's Edge

"It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water."
-W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Last words

This is hopefully the last thing I will say on the Mosque-rade as John Stewart called it. From Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic:

The right-wing campaign against the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" includes vicious personal attacks on the Muslim cleric who leads the Cordoba Initiative, the organization behind the plan. I know Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and I know him to be a moderate, forward-leaning Muslim -- yes, it is true he has said things with which I disagree, but I have never expected him to function as a member of the Zionist Organization of America.

In 2003, Imam Rauf was invited to speak at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan. The service was held at B'nai Jeshurun, a prominent synagogue in Manhattan, and in the audience was Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father. In his remarks, Rauf identified absolutely with Pearl, and identified himself absolutely with the ethical tradition of Judaism. "I am a Jew," he said.

There are those who would argue that these represent mere words, chosen carefully to appease a postentially suspicious audience. I would argue something different: That any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says, "I am a Jew," is placing his life in danger. Remember, Islamists hate the people they consider apostates even more than they hate Christians and Jews. In other words, the man many commentators on the right assert is a terrorist-sympathizer placed himself in mortal peril in order to identify himself with Christians and Jews, and specifically with the most famous Jewish victim of Islamism. You can read the full text of his remarks on the B'nai Jeshurun website, but here is an especially relevant portion:

"We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic
faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind and soul Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.

If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to
love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I
have always been one Mr. Pearl.

And I am here to inform you, with the full authority of the Quranic texts and the practice of
the Prophet Muhammad, that to say La ilaha illallah Muhammadun rasulullah is no different.

It expresses the same theological and ethical principles and values"

I'm off to go climb in a marble gorge.

The Tiziano Project

Have a look at the phenomenal Tiziano Project, an effort to teach and engage multimedia skills to areas of underrepresented media coverage. This project focuses on Kurdistan. It is brilliant, and allows different voices and stories to be heard.

America Has Disgraced Itself

Thank you Peter Beinart for eloquently pointing out: America Has Disgraced Itself and also that the Dems have disgraced themselves too.

All of this reminds me of WB Yeats and the opening to the Second Coming:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

On Turks and adolescents

Two interesting articles about emerging adults and nations. Both kinda act in the same petulant, disconnected fashion.

-Smile and Smile: Turkey's Feel-Good Foreign Policy (Teshekur, ElMuch)

As the First General Law of Travel tells us, every nation is its stereotype. Americans are indeed fat and overbearing, Mexicans lazy and pilfering, Germans disciplined and perverted. The Turks, as everyone knows, are insane and deceitful. I say this affectionately. I live in Turkey. On good days, I love Turkey. But I have long since learned that its people are apt to go berserk on you for no reason whatsoever, and you just can’t trust a word they say. As one Turkish friend put it (a man who has spent many years in America, and thus grasps the depth of the cultural chasm), “It’s not that they’re bad. They don’t even know they’re lying.”

My friend is right, and his comment suggests a point about Turkish culture that I doubt many Westerners grasp. People here—and, I would guess, throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean, though Turkey is the only country I know well—see “truth” as something plastic, connected more to emotions than to facts or logic. If it feels true, it is true. What’s more, feelings here tend to change very quickly—and with them, the truth.

-On "emerging adults," ie those of us who used to be considered adults, says the thirty year-old boy. (TY Taleen for buzzing it to my attention)

It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Formosa Betrayed

I have gone underground this week to work on my paper for the TFD. I am working from home, where there are fewer distractions. My only issue of working from home is I have nowhere to escape to when the day is done.

On monday, I went to see the movie Formosa Betrayed with Taru. The movie is inspired by real events, which means its plot linkage to the actuality of the events is a little circumspect. With that said, the movie did a decent job of telling the story for the fight for democracy in Taiwan. It melded a few incidents in the road to end martial law on Ihla Formosa. The main incident told centers around the real life assassination of Prof. Henry Liu, an American citizen who was killed in Daly City, California after publishing a book critical of President Chiang Ching-kuo (Chiang Kai-shek's son). The murder was carried out by Taiwanese gangsters, who were working in conjunction with the Military Intel Bureau. The movie incorporated aspects of the Kaohsiung Incident into the plot as well.

The movie was a decent recreation of the gist of events, albeit told through a very American lens of fidelity to the US Constitution and the search for justice, American and Hollywood style. It was an entertaining movie, although a bit overly hokey in trying to be A Few Good Men go to Taiwan. I give it credit as a means of public diplomacy in relating the Taiwanese struggle for democracy and independence to a non-Taiwanese audience. It informs non-Taiwanese audiences about the 2-28 Incident and the period of White Terror, who I imagine are not exactly aware of what transpired in the Republic of China. It also makes non-Taiwanese audiences much more aware of why Taiwan would desire its independence and not be seen as a "renegade province of China".

Finally, it speaks well of Taiwanese progress that I could watch a movie so critical of the period of martial law here in Taipei.  It takes a bit of maturity to handle such self-criticism, although this does come after an 8-year rule by the DPP and the movie was also made by an American not Taiwanese studio.

This film critic give the movie a solid "B".  It won't win any awards, but it is entertaining and moderately riveting, plus I respect its PD value and how it conveys the history of the Taiwanese democracy movement and its quest for independence through a Hollywood medium.

PS: Perhaps more interesting was a bit of domestic Taiwanese PD that came with the previews before the movie.  When I was interviewing Prof. Chyungly Lee on Taiwanese Soft Power, she asked if I was focusing on domestic public diplomacy or external public diplomacy.  Confused, I said that we in the PD field usually just consider PD to be external.  She replied that she considered domestic public diplomacy to be how a government gains support for its foreign policies domestically.  Well, I saw this first hand with preview before the movie of a puppet animation commercial put on by the Mainland Affairs Council in support of ECFA.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

PD Mag Tackles Human Rights

Our PD Mag Editor-In-Chief (ret.) Tala Mohebi has a great piece for CPD on the focus of the new Public Diplomacy Magazine:
As the field of public diplomacy expands, there is a great need to engage with the diverse actors who shape the discipline in theory as well as practice. Like any emerging discipline, public diplomacy can be referenced in a number of different publications, but having a forum entirely dedicated to this one subject is immensely beneficial. From its first issue in January 2009, PD Magazine has created such a setting, where a dynamic and innovative discussion of public diplomacy can take place. The magazine’s audience is as diverse as the topics covered, allowing intellectual exchanges that extend beyond state, political and socio-economic boundaries.

How I spent my summer vacation

Have a fascinating read of this FP interview with Prof. Patrick Chovanec, who was recently in ol' Paradise for Workers NK for a lil vacation:

One big difference is that now North Korea is a real place to me. For most of us, I think, North Korea occupies the same imaginary plane of existence as Mordor. But it is real, and one thing I came to appreciate is that most North Koreans are normal people living in abnormal conditions. It's the only world they know, and they try to make sense of it, and cope with it, as best they can. I don't know how things will play out, but one can only hope they find their way to join the rest of us intact.

The second important thing I learned is gratitude. It sounds corny, but it's not. It really wasn't all that long ago that a big chunk of mankind lived under systems like this. We look back now and it seems inevitable -- the fall of the Berlin Wall, China opening up -- but it wasn't inevitable. I'm grateful to be able to go home at the end of my trip, and I'm grateful for the people whose convictions and sacrifices made it so this kind of place is an anomaly in today's world, and not the rule.

On Churchill

A fascinating review of the new book on the British Bulldog on the duality of Churchill- both as the protector of the fire of liberty which the Nazis sought to extinguish and chauvinistic imperialist who caused the world to bleed in the name of his myopia:

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn’t everybody in Britain think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye’s research is that they really didn’t: even at the time, Churchill was seen as standing at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

This hatred killed. In 1943, to give just one example, a famine broke out in Bengal, caused, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proven, by British mismanagement. To the horror of many of his colleagues, Churchill raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits” and refused to offer any aid for months while hundreds of thousands died.


First they came for the building permits

An absolutely brilliant riff by Keith Olbermann on the speciousness of the anti "Ground Zero" mosque protesters.  First they came for the building permits:

PS: Gingrich said Obama is pandering to radical Islam, perhaps you should look in the mirror and see which radicals to whom you are pandering.

PPS: A good piece by WaPo's Howard Kurtz on why this mosque mess began.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Of interest

A few articles of interest:
- On dynastic rule in the subcontinent, a good article in the Guardian called Cursed by the Bhuttos .
- On Time, War  and America.  A reminder of the Afghan saying that while the Americans have the watches, they have the time.
- On Georgia Syndrome and the romantic side of beleaguered democratic states.
- On walls coming down.

The Chinese Marshall Plan

An interesting title indeed for China's aid to Africa: "The Chinese Marshall Plan"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Soft Power

I was a repeat guest on Radio Taiwan International, this time for Jonathan Seidman's Soft Power program.  You can have a listen here.

On words

My Chinese vocab is getting a bit better, and I think I may have passed from 2 year old status to that of a 3 year old.  My beginner class is done, it was rather excellent.  Of all the languages I have dabbled in (Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Czech, Chinese), my teacher Cindy was one of the best language teachers have ever had.  A few language anecdotes to pass the time until the next class begins:

-Xian (咸): I was tired of noodles last week, so for lunch I went to Subway.  I got a tuna sandwich, and was having the fixings put on.  I wanted to ask for a little salt and pepper on the sandwich, but alas I said "xian," which means "salty" not salt and the fellow doused my poor 6 inch in NaCL.

-Mohe (磨合): a term related to couples and relationships, likening them to rocks.  At first, they are jagged and ill-fitting but over the years, time refines and polishes them over until they are smoothed over and fit together.

Keelung Pie

Actually it is pronounced "Jilong".  I took a day trip away from Taipei, which is always necessary.  Keelung is about an hour north of Taipei on the northern coast.  I hopped the morning local train out of town, failing miserably in my attempts to use the automated machines and opting for the human cashier.  Keelung has a rather interesting history.  It was first occupied by the Spanish in 1626, who were booted out by the Dutch in 1642, who were booted by the Ming in 1668.  The port city, today Taiwan's second largest, played a major role in the 1841 British Opium war, as her majesty's navy bombarded the harbor.  The city was later occupied by the French in the 1884-5 French-Sino War,  and their is still a French graveyard that is visited by the French representative.  However, most of the soldiers buried there died from malaria, cholera and dysentery rather than combat.  I can't think of a worse way to go than the bloody flux, literally sh-tting yourself to death.

I arrived to Keelung, starving in the midday swelter.  I made my way over to a market near the center of town for a little lunch.I had a Taiwanese unfried spring rolls, which was more like a Taiwanese wrap, some deep-fried sweet potatoes fries covered with a little chili and a delicious ball of goodness that I can only describe as a fried ball of cottoncandy, rolled in shaved peanuts.
From Keelung
 I also passed through the intricate temple in the area, although if you have seen one cathedral...

After lunch, I headed up to Jhongjheng park for the scenic view of the city.  I climbed up to the top of the park and checked out the slightly interesting Ghost Month Festival museum and checkout the Hollywood-esque "Keelung" sign.

 I then headed over to the Buddhist Corcovado on the hill top.  I climbed up it but was disappointed that my ascent only led to a small statue and no way to get pics from above.

I left the unremarkable Buddha complex and headed back down, stopping to snap a pic of Chiang Kai-Shek, whose statue kinda resembled Dean Wilson.

I came back down and wandered through town, stopping to watch the Ghost Month festivities.  I watched a monk parade around, tossing handfuls of coins amid rice while people scrambled to pick up the lucky tokens. I stopped to chat about Ghost Month with a few people ready to burn paper in large metal wire cans in honor of their departed relatives.

From Keelung

After, I caught the bus over to Heping (Peace) Island and wandered around the otherworldly mushroom rocks . The wen ren tou (thousand people heads) reminded me of Cappadocia, Turkey.

From Heping Island (Keelung)

While I was wandering around, I was stopped by a nice family who wanted to chat with a laowei (foreigner). The family took their pictures with me and chatted amiably.  The father asked if I prayed, and I replied I was yitouren (Jewish), to which he smiled and said "We pray for Israel".  I replied that I prayed for Taiwan, and the whole family smiled wide.  As I left the island, I had a great idea.  Israel should promote holy land tourism in Taiwan.  There are a ton of churches here, and it is a pretty affluent society that could probably afford the trip.  Taiwan is three times the size of Israel, has a larger economy and see a lot of affinity to the diplomatically-beleaguered Jewish state.  It is an untapped tourist market that has real potential.  I argued the same thing a few years back about Israel tourism potential for Jamaica, which had tons of churches named "Zion" and "Israel".  Israel doesn't think outside the PD box in that regard to aim for support from religious, developing (Jamaica) and non-Western countries with large Christian minorities (Taiwan, Korea).  Moreover, it doesn't take nearly enough advantage of its holyland status to promote Christian-centered tourism from non-Western places.

Ah, but I digress.  I headed back to Taipei, albeit probably wishing I had stayed longer because I now realize that Keelung is a major center for Ghost Month Festival and I was there on the biggest day but left before the evening festivities.

Today, I had brunch at New York Bagels.  The mystery of why I could find better bagels in Taipei than LA was solved: they import them from NYC.  Yep, H&H bagels.  Although leave it to the Taiwanese goyim to offer such flavors as bacon cream cheese.  I puttered about this afternoon, slipping into boredom as the day went on.  It was getting bad, so I vacated and headed down to Longshan to check out the Guanghzou Night Market and connecting Huuaxi Night Market.  I wandered down the Huaxi Market, also known as snake alley, where they snakes are on display, and on the dinner plate.  As I was walking through the night market, with flashing blue lights above, it dawned on me that I could be a kwai brazilianaire if I marketed and sold two things here: a) Rogaine, b) chewing tobacco.  There are an extremely large number of balding men here, and in China as well.  If I were a business man, I could sell Taiwan and China on the hair-growth product and make a bloody fortune marketing it as something to boost "machismo".  The second, chewing tobacco, comes from the preponderance of betel nut chewers.  The carcinogenic nut is wrapped in areca leaf and lime paste and chewed for its kick to the tune of $NT100billion annual.  That plus the shear number of smokers and smoking culture means you could easily sell it as a combo product.  People are already chewing, and are into the nicotine buzz.  Easy sale, using cowboy marketers and also a lil added machismo.  

Anyway, I wandered through the openair Chinatown, past the various street stalls and junk wares for sale.  I wandered through Taipei slumdog millionaire, through a park of derelicts and kidney failures.  I saw a man playing the blues on his harmonica and gave him a dollar.  He smiled a huge toothy grin and proudly displayed it below his change pile, while his blues shifted more lively.  I wandered in and out of the drunks and mahjongers, as the betel nut chewers smiled their red-stained teeth at me as I passed a friendly glance.  As always, I simply need external stimulation to stave off internal crises and remind me how lucky and blessed I am.

PS: An interesting article on the fading community of Anglo-Indians.

PPS: Hal, I need to take a leak.  A hysterical book review about the lighter side of space travel.  Those for whom delivery is failing permanently, do take a read. 

New photos from Tainan, Keelung

From Tainan

From Anping & Alien Tree House

From Tainan II

From Return to Taipei

From Keelung

From Heping Island (Keelung)

The Insurgency

Let's be honest about what this tea-party revolt really is. It is a backlash at the changes taking place in America. Hence the fury at gays (destroying marriage!), browns (them illegals, stealin' jobs!) and Muslims (terrorists, all of 'em!). Their furor starts at the top and works its way down to the weakest in society. I got a chain email recently whose furor is that Mistah Obama got uppity and put his feet up in the White House.

The nerve of that man.  Funny how those who are so angry didn't seem to care when it was a different occupant in the Oval Office.

Hard to find a better definition of hypocrisy.  I am pretty disgusted and disheartened by this current toxic brew bubbling up from the dregs of society.  Why is it when things get tough, we look to blame the usual suspects in these kulturkampfs?  Because the feckless leaders of the mob whip up the passions of those agitated and excitable sections of society.  Changing the Constitution to deny citizenship for people born in America is shameful.  Intolerantly denying access for those to worship freely is contemptible.  We are literally fighting over the nature of American values, and whether it will be a tolerant, diverse society that welcomes all who seek her shelter, or if we will turn our back on all that America really stands for.  Nice to see Obama finally stand up, but that is only just a start.

Friday, August 13, 2010

ECFA Revisited

One of the more interesting developments to come out of the ECFA deal signed between Taiwan and China is Taiwan's added ability to sign free trade deals with regional players without China pitching a fit. Singapore and Taiwan are moving forward with a trade deal, and that is a good thing for all parties concerned.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Paul Rockower Invented the Internet

When I was in kindergarten, each week we would be visited by the "letter people." We would be introduced to a letter person, hear their respective song (Mr. H had horrible hair) and the kid in the class who had that letter in their first name would get to take it take home the letter person poster for the weekend. If no one had it in their first name, we moved on to last name, and so on.

When we got the letter "G", the class drew a blank. So into the void I stepped, offering my middle name. "Sablosgy" I said, maybe it has a "g" in it. The teacher's aide shot a disaproving look and said she didn't think so. I retorted that if I was learning to spell, then I couldn't be sure my middle name didn't have a "g" in it. I got to take Mr. G home for the weekend. Sablosky, for the record- I am sorry Mr. G for having abducted you.

Fast forward some two-and-a-half decades and nothing has changed. I was interviewed today on the program Soft Power on Radio Taiwan International about Taiwanese Gastrodiplomacy. The host, Jonathan Seidman, asked who coined the term "gastrodiplomacy". I thought about it for a second, drew a blank and said I wasn't sure, but perhaps I had. I remembered that the Economist had written about Thailand's culinary diplomacy outreach, but couldn't remember if they specifically termed it "gastrodiplomacy". I said it was possible that I had, but I equivocated and said I wasn't going to stand firm on that claim by any measure.

I checked, so here is my written statement: I did not invent the term, I credit the Economist as the first I know of.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Of Interest

-The NY Times has an interesting article on Muslim PR Branding:
"For the last few years, it’s been China and India,” said Paul Temporal, an associate fellow at the Said Business School at the University of Oxford. “The next big market is the Muslim market. There’s this huge group of people who have been relatively untapped in terms of what they want and need, and they represent a tremendous opportunity.”

John Goodman, Ogilvy & Mather’s regional director for South and Southeast Asia, is more blunt: “It’s like being in 1990 and telling people that China doesn’t matter. Twenty years ago you might have said that, but now you’re being foolish.”
While I think it is always a good idea to know your audience/client/customer, it seems like such a catch-all to do Muslim PR branding.  Do you market to Sunnis and Shi'ites differently?  How about Malaysians Muslims vs. Moroccan Muslims, who are entirely different in style and custom?  I like the idea of better tailoring to your audience and recognizing the outreach to different sometimes underrepresented customers, but I'm not sure this is anything more revolutionary than doing your homework in the first place.

-Superclogger: Puppet Theater on the clogged LA freeways.  Brilliant, I luv it.  Especially as it is practically as captive audience given the awful LA traffic. Thanks Abba.

Wo Ai Asparagus Juice!!!

That means "I love...". OMG it's amazing.  It is sweet and light and delicious.  It doesn't have a flavor like anything else I have tried.  Kind of a vanilla-ish, melony taste with hints of pear and grape, but that doesn't come close.  It isn't as sweet as apple juice, isn't the slightest bit tart or acidic, but very smooth and subtle.  And the best part, supposedly it is great for hangovers.  Moral of the story goes back to the lesson my grandparents enstilled: "you don't have to like it, you just have to try it."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rising like Yeast

Gastrodiplomacy is garnering a bit more attention. Radio Taiwan International has it as frontpage headline news, and this consumate consumo has been invited to come back for a second interview on the Soft Power program. Others have also noticed Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy like The Diplomat and CNN's Eatocracy.  Meanwhile Amb. Cynthia Schneider featured my article on her Daily Cultural Diplomacy News update. Be on the lookout for my Gastrodiplomacy Cookbook.  As James Beard so eloquently stated, "Food is our common ground, a universal experience."

PS: An interesting article on the spread of sushi around the globe.

Gonzo Diplomacy

In light of my last post on beating swords into straws, I am hereby working on a whole new field of Public Diplomacy: Gonzo Diplomacy.  Gonzo Diplomacy is strand of pd drawn from the teaching of the late, great Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson ("When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."), predicated on the notion that the best public diplomacy comes from eccentricity.  Call it "Fear and Loathing in Turtle Bay".  Such fathers of this new school also include such luminaries as George Bernard Shaw ("If you are going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you."), P.T. Barnum ("“Without promotion something terrible happens... Nothing!”), Abbie Hoffman ("Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburgers."), and the Joker ("Why so serious?"). 

Gonzo Diplomacy involves puting the irreverence in IR.  It is a school that postulates that if IR theorists are correct in believing that the international system is based on anarchy, and if media is the right arm of anarchy (CF Angels and Demons-Dan Brown), then the best way to carry out public diplomacy is to draw both the fourth estate and the global public's attention through witty and possibly wacky acts of public diplomacy that highlight the lighter side of national ideosyncracies and character. It is an attempt to launch the Yippies into the international sphere. Be on the lookout for immaturation of Gonzo Diplomacy in this fair soap box.

Beating Swords into Straws

In light of the recent battle on the Israeli-Lebanese border over a tree, and given that rocks, hills and caves have previously contributed to wars, violence and bloodshed, the Gastronomist-in-Chief has consulted with the famous military tactician Seuss von Clausewitz and his legendary treatise on war, The Butter Battle Book to come up with the newest strategy for armaments.

Given that China's maintains nearly 2,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan's shores, after Taiwan removed its own targeting mainland, I have crafted a gastrodiplomacy responsa to the Dr. Strangelove threat.  I am hereby advocating that Taiwan arm its coastline with plastic straw cannons of bubble tea, as well as Howitzers of stinky tofu.  Before you laugh too hard at my suggestion, consider the guerrilla diplomacy smart power value of such an endeavor.

There is no better way to exhibit Taiwanese culinary soft power in light of Chinese hard power threats.  It would irreverently draw global attention to Chinese bellicosity in the face of Taiwan's gastronomically-armed coast.  Irreverence and a bit of guerrilla diplomacy to give this lilliputian endeavor a pd boost. The PD value of highlighting the Chinese threat as well as the Taiwanese soft power and culinary diplomatic side could be worth its weight in tapioca pearls.

Children of Darkness, Children of Light

Unlike the satiric tweet feed #IblameObama, there is one thing I blame Obama for: his silence. We elected him based on his oratory gifts to be the general to lead us, yet it seems unwilling to really engage his voice in this ongoing fight against forces of madness. Amid the screaming voices of intolerance and paranoia, President Obama has seemed reticent to lead us in the push back. 

We, the people who see tolerance as being America's greatest virtue not its downfall, need him to lend his voice to help check the delusional hordes that are infecting the American body politic with a cancerous hatred against government, gays, browns and Muslims. We, Blue States who fund the Red States busy crying about how high their taxes are, when in reality they are the ones getting the wealth redistributed. We need his forceful rhetoric to help silence the craven voices of  madness.  And yet that has been what is so frustrating.  During these summers of fear, Obama has been woefully feckless in pushing back.  As Rich points out, focusing on Bush will not put out this fire. If the Dems don't rise up and push back then this vitriol, then fear and loathing will be seen as good electioneering and it will all go dark.  We haven't lost this yet and despite their bravado, many conservatives know this.  Obama, find your voice.