Archive for June, 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Scientific History: The Invention of Gravity

(Draft for a children’s TV programme)

Hello ChildrenHello Children. This is Hermit, the Taoist Dragonfly, with your daily dose of scientific history. And our topic today is: GRAVITY. (Hermit clicks on a notebook, and a picture of planet earth appears on the tv screen.)

As you can see, the planet we live on is round. Now, dear children, how can this be? Haven’t we – no, you, hehe – all tried to stand on a soccerball some time, and found out that it is nearly impossible? Now, children, the answer is this: until eight thousand years ago (more or less), our ancestors were all staying on plants. These were buried deep into planet earth, as you can still see today, and our ancestors had to hold fast to them with at least one hand. With their other hand they could catch flies, bugs, and pick some leaves from their habitats.  Or, like me, they were sucking grass ‘n leaves when they didn’t fly. Of course, that wasn’t scientific. It was very inefficient and unhealthy, and most of our ancestors didn’t last for more than one summer. Besides, countless ancestors lost contact with their plants and accidentally went into outer space.

Fortunately, the Chinese invented science. Eight thousand years ago (more or less), Taoist monks invented gravity. They also invented some things before, like doing things – while holding on to trees with one hand – that could make babies like you (but also make a lot of fun while avoiding making babies), but we will come to that later. Much later. When it has become a suitable topic for little buggers like you. Anyway, Chinese Taoist monks invented gravity.

Now we can all choose if we want to cling to trees and flowers, or if we want to walk mother earth, thanks to the Chinese. From the kindness of their hearts, they have never switched gravity off – not even when some hooligans pissed on their sacred olympic flame. But make sure that you never overstep the unknown limit of their patience (or if you do, make sure that you have one of your hands firmly on a tree).

Planes are an example of how to switch gravity off locally. The Chinese also invented planes. They allow people like you to fly.

Unfortunately, any science can sometimes be abused by evil cults. Falun Gong Falun Gong Grannyis such an evil cult. It is OK for dragonflies to fly, but Falun Gong even makes old commie grandmothers fly! Sometimes, these grannies lose orientation and fly into tunnel supports. Thanks to Chinese science, they often survive this abuse. When they survive, they get hospitalised, old cadres come to pay a visit to their sickbeds, cry with them and make them repent. Be very careful when people who claim that they are “scientific” tell you to fly! Don’t fly unless you are a dragonfly! And don’t try to stand on a soccerball because a stranger tells you to! It could be a bad uncle from the evil cult! Only try to stand on a soccerball if you feel like it!

OK, dear children. That much for today. Got to fly now.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Price of Pork…

… is more important to the average consumer than the price of gasoline, writes an economist. An article on Taihai Net seemed to prepare its readers for the inevitable three months earlier already. Maybe car owners in China will be as happy to pay market prices (or something closer to market prices) as Singaporeans in Malaysia are – as long as they don’t have to stray around in search of subsidised fuel.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kudos, Mr Op Rana…

… @ China Daily, and thank YOU for your lesson for “Cola Boy” Xue Xiao and all of us! In the hours of danger and rescue, you still keep your priorities straight. Yes, earthquakes are bad, but there is another moral to this story, too. An entire GENERATION (including Xue Xiao himself) is threatened by Coca Cola and Hamburgers! And “his love for the fizzy drink has brought him more fame than his determination to live and the endurance with which he suffered the pain!”

Thanks for your fizzy analysis, Mr Op Rana. It’s an important lesson for all of us. Let’s hope that Xue Xiao learns it, too.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

In Short: How Chinese Nationalism is different


(A Scientific Quote
)

Korean War

“Seeking to impose nationalism on the Chinese people as the collective identity of the state, pragmatic leaders stressed the instrumental aspect more than the intrinsic value of nationalism. This confirms Lucian Pye’s famous observation that Chinese nationalism, reflecting the attributes and aspirations of a particular group of political leaders, lacks the collective cultural ideals and shared inspirations and myths that can both nourish a positive public conscience and place limits on the behavior of the leadership. In other words, this form of nationalism is equated with blind patriotism, not with more inspiring cultural ideals and beliefs that reflect China’s modern history and tradition.”

 

Suisheng Zhao, Chinese Nationalism and Its International Orientations, Political Science Quarterly, No. 1 2000

 

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hardtalk Interview in 2006

It was Hardtalk >> , a weekly BBC TV series, in February 2006, more than two years ago, and a controversial visit by KMT senior party leader Lien Chan to mainland China led to the following Q & A exchange between BBC’s Stephen Sackur and then KMT chairman and Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (who wasn’t the KMT’s presidential nominee and hadn’t declared his intention to run at the time). Were Ma and Lien going too far in accommodating China?

SACKUR: Let me put it this way: we know that China is suppressing freedom of speech

MA: Yes.

SACKUR: They are closing down newspapers, they don’t allow, for example, BBC Online to be seen inside China, we know that, according to Amnesty International, dozens of people are still in prison as a result of the events in Tian An Men Square, over fifteen, sixteen years ago. We know also that in August 2005, one journalist working in China was arrested, now faces charges of spying for — Taiwan! Amnesty International express deep concern about that. Are you telling me that China, and the Chinese authorities, are people that you can do business with?

MA: Well, I think Great Britain also do business with China. Could you do business with China when they do all these human rights violations?

SACKUR: But with due respect, we don’t have 780 missiles pointed at our island!

MA: No matter if they are hostile to you or not, they are having some human rights violations you disagree with. But Great Britain still trade with them, and recognise them. They don’t recognise Taiwan.

Not the BBC’s finest eight minutes…

Update (May 09): a video of the interview is here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Taiwan Was Temporarily Part of China, but That Was Long Ago

“After World War II, the Japanese empire was dismantled but Taiwan was never legally reincorporated as part of China. The 1951 San Francisco treaty, in which Japan relinquished its sovereignty over Taiwan, did not specify to whom title to the island would be transferred.”

This is from an International Herald Tribune article by Maysing Yang and Phyllis Hwang, in 1993. Hwang was a Human Rights Watch advocate for the international criminal court in 1998.

In 1995, her position on Taiwan was contested by Yun Feng-Pai, Information Division Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in New York, in a letter to the New York Times editor.

Was that in line with the concept of state to state relations with China? Lee Teng-hui stated it in 1996 1999, referring to it as part of constitutional reforms in 1991.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is the End nigh for Taiwan?

There is no need for Taiwan to declare independence, because Taiwan is already an independent sovereign country.

President Chen Shui-bian, BBC, October 16, 2007

 Somewhere on the attic, I have some German editions of the “Reader’s Digest” from the 1960s. I don’t know who bought them back then, and I haven’t looked at them for years after inheriting them, but I remember some beautiful pearls of Cold-War wisdom. Stuff like “Is it too late to overcome Communism?”, or “What is the War in Vietnam about?”. The latter contains a Domino theory, and it seems to me that it focused on China. If Vietnam fell to the Communists, all of South Asia would fall, the shippping lanes that connect the Pacific and the Indian Ocean… – and so on. You can imagine. When you are paranoid and your audience is paranoid, too, you can fill books with dirty fantasies.

And now, Taiwan is facing its final curtain.

If you believe some blogs and other media, anyway. It goes like “President Ma has relinquished all his cards in the negotiations with China already, and China hasn’t offered anything yet.” No direct traffic connections yet, and the Chinese missiles are still aiming at Taiwan.

The latter is true. But what has President Ma relinquished? It was clear from the start of his campaign that he wouldn’t continue president Chen’s quest for formal independence – which wasn’t much more than a political cybergame from day one. Chen may have his merits in increasing Taiwaners’ awareness of their own identity (and they may even shine brightly if you ignore Lee Teng-hui’s merits in that same field). But in terms of Taiwan’s international aspirations (WHO membership, bilateral diplomatic relations, let alone UN membership), Chen Shui-bian’s balance is negative. To claim that Taiwan’s new government is eroding Taiwan’s position seem to suggest that their predecessors had boosted it.

What has Taiwan “lost” since Ma Ying-jeou has taken office? “Diplomatic allies”? No. Membership in an international organisation? No. Backing from America, the main external factor in the maintenance of Taiwan’s de-facto independence? Not at all. Relations between the Bush administration and Taiwan’s government under Chen were much more tense than what they are now. Ma Ying-jeou’s and Wu Po-hsiung’s overtures to China may actually achieve positive results in economic cooperation between Taiwan and China – only time will show.

The end hasn’t drawn any nearer for Taiwan. What looks strange at times is that especially Westerners who demand respect for democracy show very little respect themselves. There has been criticism that Ma didn’t repeat his – legitimate – position that the Taiwanese must decide the island’s future during his inaugural speech. But where is the problem? He can come back to that – if Peking screws the opportunity to come to better terms with Taipei.

Let’s not go overboard when criticising Taiwan’s new government, unless we are Taiwanese ourselves. It is their task to choose who shall run their government. And as most governments worldwide have chosen a “pragmatic” approach – the “one-China” policy -, the Taiwanese naturally are compelled to make choices that are in line with those of the world.

There may be good reasons to feel uncomfortable with the new government’s approach. But if so, sitting on the fence and criticising it as foreigners is no great help. Working on our own governments to help widen Taiwan’s options in negotiations with China could be useful. Any Taiwanese government – Ma’s included – will most probably appreciate that. 

Sunday, June 8, 2008

June 4, and the “stupid” Students

When reading comments from Chinese readers on blogs that commemorate June 4 these days, it strikes me that many of them seem to state that they were participants in 1989, and that they are now glad that the Chinese government reacted the way it did. Personally, I think that people who talk this way were probably more intelligent 19 years ago, than what they are now. It should go without saying that the blocking of Tian An Men Square and other public places couldn’t go on forever. But in such cases, a government still has a wide range of options between laisser-faire on the one extreme and killing people on the other.

It is often said that one of the issues that started the demonstrations was corruption – if not THE issue. People who can access wordpress blogs are probably less affected by corruption than ordinary farmers in one of China’s poorer provinces. The farmers could use a lower level of corruption, and so could many migrant workers and other Chinese people of low incomes and powers. Corruption is stupid.

I’m not trying to figure out how far the ex-idealists’ self-criticisms represent the public mood in China, or among Overseas Chinese. Obviously, there is no comprehensive survey about June 4 and the Chinese people’s take on it in mainland China, and the comments on – often foreign – blogs may be reactions to the bloggers and their “hostile” or “clueless” attitude, rather than really about June 4 itself.

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