Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Insider testimony: Asian Boss frustrated they couldn't find Taiwanese with their desired viewpoints, causing local video producer to "nope out"

Since my last post regarding the Asian Boss video "What do Taiwanese think of China?", I've been able to speak to someone who almost got involved in the project, only to pull out because he didn't want to be a "propaganda shill" and felt the work was "journalistically unethical". 

Here's a summary: Asian Boss didn't just decide to seek out a pro-KMT viewpoint and present that as a street interview. They did all of the filming but felt that the video had too many "green" (pro-Taiwan, wary of China) viewpoints, so they wanted another blue viewpoint "to give a balanced view". They didn't want just any deep blue perspective: they wanted it to be filmed in an area where young people hang out, and implied he wanted a younger-looking person to deliver this opinion. They did not want to spend any more time filming people that didn't have the opinion they were looking for, but rather to "pre-screen" interviewees and reject anyone who didn't have the desired political views.

In the end, it was too hard to find someone like that, so they went with 柴Sean你說, the Youtuber mentioned in the last post. 

How do I know all of this? I spoke with Christopher K. Young, the independent video producer they originally spoke to about obtaining such footage. He agreed to let me publish his story, with his name, to clarify exactly what happened with that video. 

Christopher is the admin of the Filmmaking: Taiwan Facebook group where one of the founders of Asian Boss first posted the request to film "an interview" on December 2nd. As he films with the requested equipment and can outsource projects to his own people, he also messaged the poster to discuss the project -- a field camera and reporter to "hit the streets for 5-6 hours" to get the desired interview.

Talent was suggested and a rate agreed upon, but there were caveats. Much of the rest of the conversation took place on a call. 

"I wasn’t just to hit the streets and take interviews. I was to only accept interviews with pro blue opinions. I told him I felt that was journalistically unethical and was going to put my reporter in the position of having to engage people in needless confrontation," Christopher told me. 

The person from Asian Boss said they already had "a bevy of green interviews and desired some blue interviews to give a balanced viewpoint," in Christopher's words.

Specifically, Christopher -- or the reporter he was going to send -- was being asked to pre-screen interviewees because they didn't want to pay for field time recording interviews they felt they couldn't use.

Christopher then suggested pre-arranged interviews, as asking a reporter to stand on the street asking passerby for interviews but saying they're no longer interested upon hearing the interviewees are green is "asking for a fight". 

Which is indeed true. Could you imagine standing on a street in any Taiwanese city (even Miaoli!) asking for vox pops on Taiwanese views of China but turning away anyone who offered up a viewpoint that wasn't pro-KMT or pro-China enough? 

They were asking for even more trouble given their other desired parameters for this interview. "I told him I could see if I could find such an interview in an oldies park or something," Christopher said, "but he’d heard of 西門 [Ximen, a popular LGBT-friendly area where Taiwanese youth might hang out] and wanted us to go there."

Again, can you imagine going to Young Gay Bar Central and saying 'hey I'd like some street interviews but only if you support the KMT'? Beyond the confrontations that would certainly ensue, could you imagine how bad that would look for you, and how unlikely success would be?

Asian Boss insisted, again in Christopher's words, that it "had to look like a street interview", at which point he turned down the project. 

"I noped out," he said.

"I told him I could tag the videos that have the opinions he was looking for, I can understand that, but that if no blue opinions could be found, that such would be representative of what Taiwan looked like from a political standpoint, especially considering the demographic he wanted me to mine," Christopher continued. 

That said, the decision not to work together was not entirely one-sided. " If I’m being completely fair, the decision to not work with one another was mutual," Christopher said.

"Ahead of the last call that we had, he claimed he was giving thought to his methodology and I therefore was on standby to see if how they were going to approach the video was going to align with my views on a journalistically ethical, or at least conversationally unconfrontational, interview process."

In my opinion, Christopher is exactly correct: if you go out and interview younger people, and what you get are mostly green-leaning opinions, then that's simply what people think. It would still be anecdotal, but without doing methodologically sound research with a sufficient sample size, it would be as close as a street reporter could possibly get to the truth. The consensus. The balance. 

Injecting something different into those results -- something you have to search for, even post on Dcard to beg for -- is manipulative. It's not balance: it's a false narrative positing that these views are more common among younger people than they actually are. 

"He and I were both clear that he was going to have to dig deep to find a young blue opinion and I was to make it look like a street interview, which I wasn’t okay with, so I passed," Christopher added. 

At that point, Asian Boss told him they were going to with the Youtuber they'd found, but would still like to hire his reporter to do the filming. He connected them and then removed himself from the situation.

When discussing this arrangement, Christopher added: "I even expressed to [my reporter] my doubts that things...were going to work out, and wanted to confirm whether or not she wanted to work with them on their own....I didn’t want it to cost her a paycheck based on adherence to my personal principles."

Presumably, that interview took place as 柴Sean你說 was indeed interviewed and the video came out as planned.

It was indeed shot outdoors and perhaps could have passed for an interview of a random pedestrian in a park, but it seems the reporter did their job too well, offering a higher-quality visual product than the other street interviews. 

That said, if something about the Youtuber stood out, it wasn't just that it was a better video, shot in good light at a flattering angle. His views truly are outside the mainstream, and he seemed all too ready to discuss them in eloquent detail. Frankly, I'm surprised he didn't come prepared with a PowerPoint.

Now, you know how it happened. There's even some inkling as to why. What people actually think -- the general consensus among Taiwanese, especially the youth -- isn't "balanced" enough for Asian Boss. Instead, they feel the need to project a false narrative of what views are common or mainstream among this demographic and the populace in general. 

You can tell they were constructing that story themselves by some of their translations. For example,  Daniel Ku notes in his reaction video, they translate "unification" (統一) as "reunification", when that's not actually what the term means. 

In short, they didn't like that the spectrum of views they found in Taiwan leaned greener than they'd like, so they 'added' blueness to create the story they wanted to tell.

The story they wanted to tell. The viewpoint they wanted to disseminate. The spectrum, the range, the balance of views of average Taiwanese? That was all right there on the street for them to find. They rejected it in favor of their preferred narrative.

Asian Boss had two ethical choices here: go for a 'spectrum' regardless of how popular each view is and do clips from pre-arranged interviews, or do a true vox pop, where what you get is what you get. Doing the former would have required finding someone as fringe green as the Youtuber they found was blue. (Notably, they never tried to find such a person.)

Recruiting a dude because a vox pop didn't return your preferred story and presenting him as something he's not? Not cool. It stood out so much that I wonder if the people who ultimately approved the final product were even aware of how outside the mainstream their plant was.

Perhaps when you're getting high on your own supply of feel-good "balance", you don't recognize when you've gone so far off course that you've actually portrayed something inaccurate?

Christopher ended with this: "He sounded a lot like the speaker in the beginning of the video each time. Big platitudes about how balanced they want to be, that they hope their truth-seeking can in some way help avert war between the two each instance he was, in my opinion, telegraphing how unacceptable he knew their approach was going to sound."

That video was not an "accurate pulse" of what "ordinary people" think. It was not a neutral report of what they found when they "hit the streets of Taipei". 

And it was not the story Taiwanese actually want to tell -- at least not the ones they found by canvassing the streets. It was Asian Boss's sandcastle. 

Their story. Not Taiwan's.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Yes, Asian Boss planted a deep blue Youtuber and pretended he was a 'man on the street' -- and I want to know why.

Indeed they are.

Update 1/12/22: I talked to the person they were going to hire to do this interview, except he "noped out" when it became clear he was being asked to do something journalistically unethical.

Asian Boss, a YouTube channel that mostly does “vox pop” street interviews of people they say they’ve approached in public, recently came to Taiwan to ask what Taiwanese think of China.

Leaving aside the fact that not even Asian Boss seems to care what Taiwanese think outside of their opinions on China, at least this marks their first serious foray into Taiwan. Or rather, Taipei. They apparently don't have the resources to cover multiple cities.

They film across Asia, sometimes tackling difficult subjects such as the Myanmar coup or the Hong Kong protests, and sometimes doing softball man-on-the-street interviews along the lines of what does the ideal Chinese man look like or what’s fashionable in Taiwan right now. They also do occasional sit-down interviews of specific people of interest to viewers: a model from Myanmar, an American porn star in Japan, the inventor of bubble tea in Taiwan, a defected North Korean spy and more.

Other than the Hong Kong interview, their videos in China come across as far 'softer' than their work anywhere else -- it's all very surface-level, and can kind of feel like folksy Propaganda Lite.
If you want to know what's happening in Uyghur detention camps, Asian Boss is not the place to look. 

It's important, I suppose, to humanize people who have to live under a dehumanizing regime, but it sure does make the CCP look better than it is, especially when it comes to mass surveillance. Chances are that if they really went for meaty stories, they wouldn't be allowed to film there at all.

This was the third time they've come to Taiwan that I could find: the other two were the bubble tea and fashion videos -- nothing hard-hitting.

I’m not here to body-slam Asian Boss or chase them out of the country. I don't know what their intentions were. However, a few things seemed off to me as I watched. Then, something I consider a bombshell — a huge problem that undermines the credibility of this particular video and Asian Boss’s reporting model in general. 

The short of it? They planted an interview with a fairly well-known deep blue Youtuber and presented it as a “vox pop” interview, just someone they approached on the street. 

For those who don't know, "deep blue" means very pro-KMT, generally favoring Chinese identity, closer ties with China and eventual unification with China. Some say that should be China as the ROC, but red/blues exist too -- people who would accept unification with the PRC. They are quite rare, however. 

"Deep green" means very pro-DPP, though there are a constellation of small parties and independent legislators that formed independently of the DPP who hold similar views. This side generally favors Taiwanese identity, sovereignty and (eventually) independence. They don't hate China, they're just not interested in being part of it. Most want to hold off on declaring formal independence, though some want it immediately and believe the existence of the ROC on Taiwan is a form of colonization. 

I'm far more sympathetic to the greens -- as I see it Taiwan is already independent, so any formal declarations, if they are needed, can wait until peace is assured -- but my personal views don't matter much. 

The video starts out saying that this video takes “the accurate pulse of the public” with the voices of "ordinary people". This can't possibly be true, as they're gathering anecdotes -- fluffy human interest stuff. It's not data. It's not bad in and of itself,  but it's not an accurate pulse of anything. We have actual research for that.

They then stress that they have no political affiliation, and get started. 

I wasn't the only one who noticed that one interviewee stood out. Something was just off about him -- he had extreme views but that wasn't it. His interview seemed...different. Guess which one?

The other interviewees seem to have truly been filmed under ‘street’ conditions, with noise, bad lighting, masks and foggy glasses, passers-by and the occasional sub-optimal angles. 

The Youtuber in question, on the other hand, was interviewed in a tree-lined park, with excellent lighting, at a 'good' angle with no mask. Nobody walked by. It was as though a space had been cleared for him. He sported a tan or light brown jacket and spoke without hesitation.

This man had views that are far outside the mainstream in Taiwan. Of course, there are people who agree with him, but might be quiet about their views because they know they’re not popular. However, his comments about Taiwan being a “province under the Republic of China”, Xi Jinping being a “calm man” can only be described as deep blue, if not fringe. He's also wrong about a lot of things, but that could be a post in itself.

I originally assumed the best. I figured that this is someone they happened to approach in that time and place, he happened to be well-spoken and ready to expound on his views, and he happened to be the living embodiment of a deep-blue eyeroll. Okay. Some people do feel that way. It’s possible. I think he's ridiculous but he has the right to his opinion. 

Then, someone I know did a simple thing: he typed “Asian Boss Taiwan” into Facebook search, and guess what came up?

The guy in the tan jacket, posting on Facebook about his interview. He’s a modestly successful YouTuber named Sean (柴Sean你說) with over 110,000 subscribers, with lovely content like “if Taiwanese want independence, why don’t they join the military?”, “Taiwanese now identify differently because of the way they are educated under the DPP” and “let’s not trash on Yen Ching-piao’s son, the bad stuff is all his father’s doing”. From the comments, he appears to have a lot of viewers in China. Someone on the side is commenting in Simplified Chinese that Mainland viewers don't care about the abuse of DPP legislator Kao Chia-yu:

His Facebook page is also straight cringe, no chaser -- taking swipes at the residents of Wanhua for no good reason, and calling COVID the "Wanhua Virus":

Update: soon after I initially published this, I was sent this link to a post on Dcard, where someone was asking how to find people with "deep blue views" for a "foreign Youtube channel". They'd done the interviews and felt it was pretty balanced -- they were explicitly asked to provide a "balance" of views -- but they asked him to find someone who represented that deep blue cohort. 

There's a link to a Google form from Asian Boss, and some replies saying he should go talk to old people.

That's more than a little suspicious.

It's also very strange because they asked this person to go find someone with deep blue views, but not deep green ones. There's nothing in the entire video that I'd call fringe or far out of the mainstream. Why just one side? Isn't that unbalanced?

There is a deep green fringe: the "declare independence now" types, the ones who wave "End ROC Colonization of Taiwan" flags. Yes, I happen to sympathize with them far more than the deep blue fringe, but I recognize they're not mainstream. If you want a "balanced" video, why would you include only the deep blue fringe, but not the deep green?

They weren't represented anywhere in this video, so in addition to not being a "vox pop" video, it's not actually "balanced", either -- if that's what you're going for.

I had thought he seemed a little suspiciously well-prepared and ready to present, though I wonder if someone as well-spoken and well-presented  -- good lighting, great angles, pleasant backdrop --  on the other end of the spectrum, closer to my own views, would have stood out as much to me. We all have our biases, so perhaps not. But I like to think the differences in how he was taped alone tingled a lot of people's spidey senses.

On his Facebook post, Sean said he thought it was going to be in English but they ended up doing it in Chinese — that’s interesting, as it implies they think using Asian languages makes the interviews more authentic. (It can, if interviewees are more comfortable in those languages, but it’s not a stand-in for authenticity). Then he himself asked if it was truly okay to interview him and pretend he was just someone off the street — no links to his YouTube channel, no introduction of who he was. 

Can they really do that? He mused. 

To be honest, from an ethical perspective, they can’t — or at least, they shouldn’t. If you say you are doing "man on the street" interviews, the only proper way forward is to stick to that -- you can't plant people and pretend you found them randomly.

It's amusing, though, that Sean, a comparatively small-time Youtuber, was handed a platform that reaches millions, including lots of Westerners. He had a golden opportunity to construct a narrative where his voice is closer to the center, represents the views of many Taiwanese, or is otherwise not a fringe perspective. All he had to do was not post about the fact that this interview was obviously set up, and I doubt we ever would have found him. Either he didn't think about that, or he did but figured he'd never be caught by anyone who mattered.

Perhaps that's still true. How many people are going to watch that video compared to those who will read this post?

It's also interesting that he agreed to talk to Asian Boss, allowing them to set up this lie that he represents a common set of viewpoints, and when doing so discussed how the media twists narratives to suit their own goals -- all while helping the media twist a narrative! 

That said, I might disagree with every opinion he has, but at least he pointed out that it's not great to seek out a Youtuber and then pass him off as some random pedestrian. Sean seems to have more of a moral code regarding this than Asian Boss! 

It seemed like he got more airtime than the others, too, but I'd have to go back and count the seconds -- perhaps it just seemed that way because this is so painful to watch.

What Asian Boss did here was wrong. It is a lie to say you approached people on the street to see what ordinary folks think regardless of knowledge level, but then plant someone you sought out in your video, to make it seem like extreme views such as his are more popular than they actually are.

That’s a propaganda tactic. A lie. It’s what you do when you want to push a certain narrative, but want it to seem grassroots. It’s unacceptable. 

If you can't find someone with these views in the wild, by approaching people on the street, then that's a sign they aren't particularly common views.

The world isn't a both-sides deal. In Taiwan there is a general consensus, a mainstream. The 'real' videos depict that, the plant distorts it. People want to think Taiwan conforms to their idea that there are a wide range of equally popular and valid views and perspectives, but that's just not the case: the consensus in Taiwan is that, well, Taiwan is Taiwan.

If you do street interviews, you'll get people who lean a but bluer than that, but ultimately it'll snap back to that consensus. Being honest about that is good reporting. 

Wedging such out-of-the-mainstream beliefs in anyway by seeking someone out and then presenting that person as just some guy you found is not. It's manipulation, bordering on misinformation. At the very least, it misleads the viewers.

I reached out to Asian Boss on Twitter and via their website to see if they’d answer a few questions about this, but received no response. 

As I see it, if you want to interview someone like this, you can, but there’s only one appropriate path: move away from the “ordinary people on the street” interview setup and state plainly that you’ve gathered representatives from all segments of the Taiwanese political spectrum. You have to actually do that, though: in addition to moderate voices, you have to find someone as far-out deep green as Sean is deep blue. The closest person in this video was the young man in glasses, and frankly, his views aren't fringe. They're pretty normal.

Then you show that video without subterfuge: we gathered these people because they represent specific things. We did not find them randomly. 

Doing it as they did not only sells a lie to the audience about how they find these views, but how common each view is in the wild. The fact is, you won’t find many people like Sean on the street, because his views are fairly rare. Presenting him as someone you ran into at the park makes it seem like there are a lot more Seans out there than there really are. Filming him mask less, in fantastic light with great angles and backdrops furthers the lie that he is an authoritative voice for what many Taiwanese think. 

Wrong. Everyone knows that. The thing is, they don't care, and you can't force them to.

It moves away from “we looked around and this is what we found” and turns into a constructed narrative. You cannot ethically create the latter and sell it as the former. 

It also skews where the “center” of Taiwanese views on China truly is. If you interview a deep blue YouTuber but have no deep green balance, the “middle” seems more blue than it really is. The actual center is closer to “we don’t want to be part of the PRC and don’t want a war" -- it's not "in fact Taiwanese are Chinese". However, that’s not what comes across in this video. 

Even his own YouTube subscribers commented on his appearance in Asian Boss: 

It does appear that Sean was the only plant, however. Everyone else truly comes across as a ‘vox pop’, and one of the founders of Asian Boss posted recently in the Working in Taiwan Facebook group, asking for students to help them approach people in the street. That video is supposed to have been filmed today, so I'm curious what they'll come out with.

The post implies that they aren’t a “team” of reporters but instead find local helpers for one-off videos. However, it also means they probably do usually approach people on the street. Sean might have been a one-off. A single plant. 

But if they do, in fact, approach people on the street, why plant Sean in there? Why present him as someone you just 'found' when that's not true? Why try to construct a narrative that his views are part of a spectrum of beliefs in Taiwan that you might find in the wild?

Wrong according to you, buddy. But if the people do choose that one day, it will probably be because they can do so without the threat of war from "calm" Xi Jinping!

I have other questions, too. Why do two videos on anti-feminism in South Korea, but no videos (that I can find) talking to Korean feminists? Why present yourself as a “startup” when you’ve been around for almost a decade? Why delete many of your older videos? (Some of the older ones are pretty bad, such as this drawn-out, unfunny prank asking white people their opinions about untrue facts about Asia. Maybe that’s why they deleted others -- dump the low-quality stuff as you grow your brand.) 

They do try to do good as well, however, and seem to get involved in local or personal causes beyond just reporting on them. 

It would be great if Asian Boss could take a look at how they’re producing content now, with an eye toward any ethical issues that could cause them to lose credibility. Be clear about what you’re doing and what it can accomplish. That you are offering anecdotes, not data. If you are interviewing personalities, you need to say so. You can’t present them as people you found on the street. 

At that point, I would welcome more videos from them about Taiwan. Right now, though, I have a lot of questions and very few answers. What's the deal, Asian Boss? Are you ever going to offer an explanation?

There's a good reaction video, too. Useful for the extra context, as well as a way to see the original if Asian Boss realizes their mistake and deletes the original:


Well NCCU's Election Study Center says about 70% of them do, and you don't get to be the dictator who tells them they can't.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Assorted thoughts and musings on yesterday's votes

A screenshot from the moment I realized it was all over and I could relax

Coming in late with the lukewarm takes on yesterday's recall vote against Freddy Lim and by-election in Taichung, but that's probably going to be how things are around here given my work schedule.  But there's great news: the KMT's revenge recall efforts are over (for now), and last night they lost. In fact, they've mostly lost in general.

For a solid, smart-person view of what happened, I suggest reading Frozen Garlic first.   

It strikes me that all those referendums and recalls, the only person they were able to unseat and replace with their own was Taoyuan city councilor Wang Hau-yu, and to be frank the guy had a history of picking fights and making insensitive comments, both in the Green Party and the DPP. 

Imagine all that time and effort over the past few years, and all you got was one ousted city councilor whom few liked anyway. Then you think you've scored big by mobilizing money-driven factional networks to take out a national legislator, only to have that seat taken by the DPP rather than a small pan-green party. 

It's hilarious, really. 

Here are a few things I noticed as all this went down: 

First, a lot of people seemed to think Freddy was safe right up until those vote margins got a little too close to actually taking him out. Closer than it should have been is the refrain I've heard. Too close for comfort. Especially, as Frozen Garlic notes, in a district where the people who elected him didn't seem to have changed their mind that much. 

I suspect, however, that strategists closer to this vote -- both from Freddy's team and the DPP -- had figured out what I (and others) hadn't: that he was in some danger of losing his seat, that it could be that close. The DPP pulled out a lot of stops for a legislator that isn't theirs -- why do that if you think his seat is safe? Maybe I'm wrong and it's just a good idea for President Tsai to show up at both rallies, even if the number-crunchers think one of them will survive comfortably, but it's worth pondering.

That said, the danger never really came from Freddy's track record or popularity. He's a serious politician and hard worker who managed to get re-elected and hasn't done anything to lose a great deal of support. Criticisms against him have been fairly mild. The issue is that the new recall rules are completely preposterous, making it far too easy to oust someone when there's no reason to oust them beyond pure spite. 

The second thing I noticed was that in Taichung, the DPP made it explicitly about what was done to Chen Po-wei. He showed up on stage with Lin. They hugged. There wasn't even the pretense of "Chen was recalled, now the seat is open so of course we're going to run someone else who might be more popular" -- the DPP bet, correctly it seems, that the issue was never Chen's popularity. 

Frozen Garlic notes that they chose an unfamiliar face without much electoral experience to run in Taichung 2. It's true that she's not electorally experienced -- her 2016-2020 seat was party list -- but is she that unfamiliar? She was the spokeswoman for Tsai's re-election campaign, until she wasn't. I'd heard of her, but it's possible your average Taichung 2 person had not. 

Chen was well-known for advocating outright independence -- that is, going beyond the notion that Taiwan is already independent to push for a stronger pro-Taiwan line. If the DPP thought that such views were the problem, or were so fringe as to be offensive to many voters, they would have run a more centrist candidate in his place. They didn't. 

Instead, they ran a candidate in Taichung 2 who once had to quit her post for saying that advocating unification with China was treason (which it isn't, though I think advocating for invasion by China is or should be). She's not a well-known pro-independence face, but they certainly did not run a centrist on the China issue. On the same night, they supported Freddy Lim, who also has a very clear pro-independence stance. 

While people accuse the Tsai administration of being "vague" on Taiwanese independence or outright saying they don't support it, that same administration has been swaggering around doing what? Calling Taiwan "an independent country (with the name 'Republic of China')". Not referencing the ROC at all in Tsai's New Year's address, while specifically giving the New Year celebrations a theme of global recognition and engagement for Taiwan.

And now, running or supporting legislators whose views might have been out of the mainstream a few years ago, but are fairly normal now. They might be towards the edge of that mainstream but they don't elicit gasps. 

Thanks to the referendums and the votes yesterday, the DPP and pan-green legislators like Freddy now has the luxury of running on two platforms: first, they're pretty damn competent locally and are generally in line with public opinion on domestic issues. The KMT tried to take that from them and lost. They tried to make it sound like the DPP were dangerous ideologues on China and incompetent on domestic issues. That's obviously not true.

Secondly, that their position -- it's time to treat Taiwan as Taiwan, and no matter your view of the country's name or national symbols, we can all agree that Taiwan shouldn't be part of the PRC -- is the mainstream. That they're not "dangerous ideologues" on China, rather, they represent more or less the center and take their cues from public opinion. They'll stand with pro-independence legislators like Freddy, and embrace Chen Po-wei on stage. They'll run someone who has made her stance on China very clear, in a district rank with factional bullshit and money, and win. 

Most importantly, by doing this they've made it clear to the country that the KMT's framing of these revenge recalls is a lie. These weren't targeted recalls at independent legislators for incompetence or poor public service: they were proxy wars against the DPP, and everyone knew it. By showing up for Freddy, bringing Chen on stage and handing Yen Ching-piao's son his ass on a platter, they've shown that the voters see it too, and are sick of it.

There has been some discussion about whether Eric Chu would resign chairmanship of the KMT -- so soon after winning it! -- in the face of all these defeats. I doubt that. He inherited these fights and hasn't dug in on any of them, and isn't going to give up what he so recently secured. It's a string of defeats to be sure, but no single defeat was the sort of thing that would cause a chair to resign. I am mildly amused by the list of people that could have replaced him -- could you imagine Chu stepping down after the KMT gets its ass kicked for being so annoying, and Chang Ya-chung taking his place? That's the stuff of reality TV, but also a world we won't be seeing.

There's more to be said about factional and black gold politics, but instead of repeating Frozen Garlic I'll just quote him here: 

In 2020, Yen lost by a mere 2.3%. In this election, that margin doubled to 4.6%. That’s not a crushing victory for the DPP, but they were running an unfamiliar candidate with no previous electoral experience. (It seems she turned out to be pretty good at this game, though.) This wasn’t an indication of a KMT collapse, by any means. The KMT is still just about as strong as they were before. As with the recall vote a few months ago, it seems the electoral balance right now is just about the same as it was in January 2020. However, losing is more damaging to patronage-oriented politicians than to those who build their careers on ideas. The latter can shrug off losses and start preparing for the next fight. If you rely on money to motivate your machine, it helps to be in office to secure a steady source on income. Moreover, this campaign pointed out several places for the judicial system to attack the Yen family. The election is over, but the inquiries might continue. Now Yen will have to resist those inquiries as a private citizen, not as a national legislator. [Although Yen's sister still holds office.] Old-school factional politics have been on the decline for a couple decades, and the Yen family’s defeat is one more symbolic step in that process.

I have several work deadlines to meet so I'll end it here. My only final note is this: it's been fun watching the KMT get whooped so often. It was delightful to watch the results roll in on 民視, where they started playing dopey music as he gave his concession speech as a transition to a series of commercials about terrible game shows on their network, and then cut him off mid-sentence to air said commercials. I smiled.

But I'm sick of the endless banging about and resource waste. I suspect many Taiwanese voters are, as well. It's time to stop. I don't think they'll ever quit being irresponsible revenge-seeking jackholes, but they could maybe just stop for awhile, take the pulse of the nation, and try to become the sort of party people actually want to vote for in large numbers again. It's not like there are no blue voters left. 

But, lol, they won't do that.

Go home, KMT, you're drunk.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Three great pieces (and one important take) on today's votes

I've been busy. So busy that while I've had time to follow the Freddy Lim recall vote or the Taichung 2 vote, I haven't had time to write about it. There's no point now, when there are so many good takes to be had elsewhere. 

Pretty much all I can add is that I hope, as these two votes are going on, that the consistent refrain I hear from friends and acquaintances hold: since the Chen Po-wei recall and the failure of the four referendums, a lot of people I know are getting fed up with the KMT's waste of the government's time and resources in pushing boring, hypocritical issues and a series of revenge recalls. This is all anecdotal: I didn't do a formal poll or anything. But most locals I know seem sick of this massive, harrumphing frippery and want it to stop. 

I don't know how many people in the two districts voting today feel that way, but I can imagine some of them do. 

I'd also like to note that despite Chen and Lim both being non-DPP (Chen is from a newer, small party and Lim is currently independent) and not having access to DPP resources, the DPP seems to have pulled out every stop they could in supporting them. Lim especially has had DPP heavyweights fighting for him for some time. Whatever resources he's not getting from the DPP, he sure is getting their time and manpower. 

I did pop by Freddy's pre-vote rally last night, but sadly had to leave before it got started to attend a work event (I could have skipped the work event but honestly did not want to. They put on a good spread). A quick scan of his Facebook page shows that the DPP turned out in force for him, with President Tsai and DPP Deputy Secretary (and former Sunflower Movement leader) Lin Fei-fan both speaking for him. Huang Jie, also formerly of the NPP and councilor who survived her own recall in Kaohsiung, showed up, as did rapper Dwagie and more. And this isn't the first time some of them have appeared with him.

Beyond that, though, it's a better use of everyone's time to point out some of the other useful and intelligent discourse that's already popped up around these two elections rather than repeat the same takes I agree with. 

First up is a backgrounder on the two districts in question, from Frozen Garlic. 

He gives Taichung equal time to Taipei, which few others are doing. I appreciate that -- Freddy is very interesting, but so is watching the Yen clan get pummeled by the media. I tend to agree with FG that Lim will probably survive the recall, and I'd rather be Lin Ching-yi than Yen Kuan-heng...both in general (because Yen is gross) and in this election. 

You may remember Lin as the idealist who resigned as the Tsai campaign's spokesperson after she said advocating unification is tantamount to treason. It seems the DPP needed to politically exile her for awhile, but was never really all that mad about it. She also resigned from an appointment at the Executive Yuan because she couldn't stand seeing the aftermath of the Sunflowers who were beaten in the street after attempting to occupy the building. She was criticized over some moves during the labor reforms of the first Tsai administration, though I bet most people don't remember that about her.

Yen Kuan-heng, on the other hand, is the son of Yen Ching-piao and I will forget his name (again) as soon as I publish this.

Next, a good piece in VOA from Erin Hale. This one focuses on Freddy, but has a lot of great background on the revised recall procedures and the nature of the "revenge recalls", as well as pointing out what makes Freddy unique (and, I think, likely to survive this). Pay attention to the quote at the end from Wen-ti Sung, which I think captures the heart of the issue perfectly. It ends the piece on a bang, and is by far the most important takeaway.

It's worth pointing out that while it can be said Freddy is one of the few who advocates obliquely for Taiwanese independence, whether others do as well is based entirely on how you define "independence". If you define it as "only a formal declaration and change of name constitute independence", then yes, Freddy is a rare gem. If you define it as "any status in which Taiwan is not governed by the People's Republic of China and does not wish to be", then we already have independence, and Tsai herself has said so -- calling Taiwan "an independent country with the name 'Republic of China'". I happen to hew to the latter definition. I'd like to see a name change, but it's not urgent.

Even so, Freddy is still a rare gem. Just for other reasons!

Finally, Taiwan Report has done some fantastic podcasts on these campaigns. They point out the newly-invigorated reporting on the corruption of the Yen clan of Taichung, the fact that unlike the other legislators targeted for recall, Freddy has won re-election already and the scandals surrounding him are fairly minor, and otherwise predict at least one win for the DPP. I also appreciate that he spends as much time on Taichung as the Freddy Lim recall, choosing to do one podcast on each. Taiwan Report spends a lot of time on factional politics and the corruption of the Yens.

Here, all I have to say is that I agree: Freddy will probably survive. I personally think the DPP will win in Taichung but I am not quite as sure. 

To round this off, check out John Feng's tweet about how the outcome of these votes could affect the Foreign and National Defense committee. Click through to read the whole thread.

Alright, that's about it. I need to get out and do something productive. Sitting at home hearing about local COVID cases on the rise and waiting for votes to come in isn't fun.  

Thursday, January 6, 2022

How to get a booster shot in Taipei and across Taiwan (updated!)

If you get your booster at NTUH, this is the lovely building you get to see from the back as you exit

Update 1/7/2022: Boosters are now available for those who got their 2nd shot three months ago, down from five. Get your boosters!

Update #2: Here's where you can look for booster access anywhere in Taiwan (though the site seems somewhat overloaded at the moment)

Look, you guys. Omicron is coming.
We're seeing small but concerning clusters: daily domestic cases are not zero, some of which are Omicron. And with Omicron, "not zero" should be enough to concern everyone.

You don't need me to tell you this. You also don't need me to point out the statistics: while 80% of people in Taiwan have received a first dose vaccine, we're not quite at 70% for 2nd dose. Although booster shots are available if you got your second dose five months ago, actual recipients are extremely low (about half a percent). Numbers of elderly getting 1st or 2nd doses does seem to have ticked up since the last time I checked, but I'm not loving all those numbers that are below the national average, among elderly residents.

I'm not totally disheartened by these numbers, but I don't feel super confident either. Lower vaccination rates among the elderly is going to be a problem: even the CECC is saying so. To combat Omicron, more people need to get boosters, and they're not doing so. It's great that we've hit 80% for the first dose, but telling that this hasn't come with a corresponding relaxation of border controls. Remember when the government mulled relaxing border restrictions when full vaccination hit 60%? Well, it has. The border remains shut due to Omicron.

(Not that I'm screaming for relaxed border controls, I'm simply observing.) 

I could whine about this all day, but I hate feeling helpless, and whining does exactly that. 

When I learned one could get a booster after five (now three) months -- and then did the math and realized my five months had passed -- I had to turn to social media to figure out how to do so. I'm writing this now so that you don't have to ask around as I did.

Update: this CDC site will give you info for all of Taiwan, but it's somewhat slow at the moment. 

I used this site, sent by a friend -- it's a list of hospitals in Taipei offering booster shots. As I got my first two at National Taiwan University Hospital. You do have to choose a hospital, check "third dose" and see what appointments are available.

Now, the city government has a booking site, which you can access here. I haven't used it, but it appears you can check your status by entering your ID number. From there, I suppose it takes you where you need to go. 

Unfortunately, none of this is easy to do in English, but I checked and the automatic translations are, well, readable. I'm happy I don't need them, but you can figure out what you need with them.

If you were a self-payer like me, you're probably eligible for a booster now. If not, figure out when your three months are up now. If there are elderly people in your life who need help to get their dose, help them now. I've heard some are avoiding it because they're afraid their bodies can't "handle" the vaccine: let them know that in fact, older people seem to react less to the vaccine, but tend to have more complications from COVID. 

Then, go get your digital vaccine certificate, which can be done here. They seem to have worked out the formatting issues for foreigners.

I don't mean to sound alarmist but this is coming, and will probably hit Taiwan despite the country's overall stellar track record. Be ready for that, and get your booster if you can.

Friday, December 31, 2021

A Pomegranate for New Year's Eve

A Majolica tile from a long-gone Taiwanese farmhouse with pomegranate-themed jewelry and ornaments from Armenia (the beaded necklace is my own work, featuring an Armenian glass pomegranate)

Pomegranates are an unofficial but potent symbol of Armenian culture. As with Chinese culture, this has to do with fertility and abundance -- the fruit's pres
ence on everything from fine porcelain to the vintage Majolica tiles on Taiwanese farmhouses carry a similar meaning. Although it's easy enough to buy pomegranates in Taiwan each winter, they seem to carry less symbolic weight than kumquats, peaches, pineapples and oranges here. That said, if you're on the hunt for those aforementioned old tiles, you'll certainly come across the pomegranate, peach and citron pattern. It's one of the most common.

In Armenia, the pomegranate also symbolizes resurrection (many arils mean many lives) and the "unity of many under one authority". As an atheist and anti-authoritarian, I'm not particularly interested in the Christian flavor of all this, but as a country, Taiwan seems to have done well as a collective of many individuals working together to beat the pandemic, under the sound guidance of the CECC.

This was not an abundant year. It was not particularly prosperous or fertile. But it was a lot: in addition to all the pandemic-wrought difficulties, many small, tart arils did come together to form a semi-coherent whole.  In the bevy of little things from 2021, I managed to unearth ancestral connections I'd thought were lost forever and carve out some new understandings of my own heritage.

Metaphorically speaking, 2021 handed me pomegranates. That's far from the worst thing, though they take a lot of work. From that bevy of tart little arils, I made a pomegranate-themed meal.

First, the writing. Interested readers can find my piece on Bilingual by 2030 and the possible benefits of an Intercultural Communicative Competence model in Taiwan Insight, my piece on Taipei's Railway Department Park in the winter issue of Taipei Quarterly (as well as a piece on Japanese heritage sites in their autumn issue). I'm working on something for Ketagalan Media on the use of technology to bridge the urban-rural education divide, but it's not ready yet. 

I was happy to learn that, at least for British and Irish spouses of Taiwanese citizens, the bureaucratic snafu making it impossible for them to enter Taiwan on spouse visas has been resolved after I wrote about the issue (though I don't think there's a direct relationship between my article and the resolution of the problem). I finally tackled one of my long-time bugbears in Ketagalan Media as well, dispelling myths about the supposed "Confucian" nature of Taiwanese education.

Then, the photos. To say that a lot of my attention has been diverted from Lao Ren Cha over the past year would be an understatement. I spent most of the 'soft lockdown' during the Taiwan outbreak cataloguing and identifying a large cache of family photographs that fell into my hands after my mother passed away in 2014, which I've kept in a 'dry box' (a dehumidifying cabinet) to preserve them from the ravages of Taiwan's humidity. Most of these are from the 1920s and 30s, from the Armenian refugee settlement of Kokkinia in Athens, Greece. Kokkinia is now a typical urban neighborhood where some Armenian families still live, with both Armenian Apostolic and Protestant churches. Some, however, are far older. 

I realized as I did this work that the photographs themselves hold historical value: not many photographs from survivors of the Armenian Genocide made it across the Atlantic. So, I collaborated with a historical society to donate and preserve high-quality digital copies of these images. You can see the results here. 

Here are a few examples. I don't know who this couple is, but I suspect they're my great-great-grandmother's parents:

And this is my grandfather as a child in Athens:


In identifying these photos, I came across the work of Vahram Shemmassian, the only person who seems to have conducted serious academic research on the Armenians of Musa Dagh. Let me just say, it's a strange feeling to come across images of one's direct ancestors, as well as historical accounts that mention them directly, in academic work. This reading, in addition to other genealogical research, reminded me of something once said to a friend, when showing him a picture of my great grandfather in his fedayi (freedom fighter) outfit, during his time with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, or the Dashnaks if you're knowledgeable about this sort of thing). Other unexpected sources have surfaced as well. 

I told him that while certainly Taiwan's history is not my history -- my family isn't from here, I just happen to be here -- when I read and hear about the way the KMT treated Taiwan during 228 and the White Terror, and the rhetoric China uses to dehumanize Taiwan as it threatens subjugation and massacre, I do see parallels in what my own ancestors lived through. They're not the same thing -- nothing is ever exactly the same -- but the same dynamic of one group illegitimately claiming control of another group's heritage, culture, territory and yes, wealth while either threatening or conducting a massacre? Yes, I know that story. Watching the rest of the world dandy about "analyzing" these issues while debating "the Armenian Question" or the "Taiwan Question" as though these are abstract debates and not real people? I know that too.

Anyone with a shred of human empathy is able to understand this, of course, but knowing through my own history that the same playbook has been used before has had me thinking. Where that thinking will lead, I don't yet know. Writing on Lao Ren Cha increasingly feels like adding to a palimpsest: writing about Taiwan now, which evince the cultural memories of what came before. 

I made some decisions about education, too. In 2020, I realized my long-held dream of going to graduate school. In 2021, I decided I would most likely not pursue a PhD. I found academia supportive and welcoming, and I certainly did well. Issues of geography can be overcome. Funding is more difficult, but theoretically possible if I chase it. I certainly would not pay for a PhD program -- either it's fully funded or I don't go.

But the fact is, there's not much waiting for me on the other side of that gauntlet: I'm not willing to leave Taiwan, and there are essentially no good academic jobs in Taiwan for a language acquisition specialist -- the adjunct and annual contract work that does exist would entail a pay cut without putting me on the road to qualifying for dual nationality. That means I'd be doing a PhD quite literally for fun, because it wouldn't change my career trajectory. 

Besides, it looks like Brendan's likely to be starting his own Master's program soon. I needed his support to get through mine, keep a household running and work. He'll certainly need mine.

All that to say, 2021 wasn't a wash for us. The summer was hard, but we made it through, and having an "okay" year seems to be a win by global standards right now. And that's what it was -- okay. 

You can tell a pomegranate is ripe not by its smell at the base as with a pineapple or melon, nor by how hollow it sounds when you knock it, as with a pumpkin. Rather, look for firm, flat sides -- a rounded pomegranate isn't ready. The color doesn't matter much, but weight does; the heavier it is, the better. All that work into family history, decisions about higher education, writing, reading? I'm not sure it all adds up to anything -- a bunch of arils, or one ripe fruit? Who knows. But I do feel weightier, more angular, perhaps ready for new things.

What new things? I don't quite know. Perhaps not academia, but there are other options. 

How did we end 2021? With a feast that honored what defined my 2021: connections to a cultural heritage that I always knew about and even grew up within (well, the Americanized version of it). An Armenian Christmas dinner, created from scratch by the two of us working together. We fed fifteen people, old friends and some new; we filled up the maximum space available in our Taipei apartment for a true sit-down meal. 

Did everything include pomegranate? Of course not. But this is Armenian food -- it's safe to say most of it did.

We started out the meal with mezze. Hummus, beloved by Armenians. Babaghanoush and caçik, beloved by Turks and Armenians alike. Tabbouleh, more Syrian in origin but something my ancestors certainly ate. Muhammara, also Syrian, consisting of roasted red bell peppers flavored with Aleppo pepper (smoked paprika or cayenne will do) and pomegranate molasses, garnished with sumac, chopped walnuts and pomegranate arils Badrijani nigvziani, which is more of a Georgian thing but has a related flavor profile -- it's walnut paste with garlic and lemon rolled in roasted eggplant and topped with pomegranate arils. No Armenian mezze table would be complete without a big bowl of mixed olives. We served green (probably cerignola), kalamata and thasos. 

Then the main courses: lamb with plums and honey, a dish I ate at Kchuch, a restaurant hidden in a wooded grove in Dilijan, Armenia, washed down with pomegranate wine. Pomegranate molasses chicken garnished with slivered almonds. Dolma, which are vegetables stuffed with spiced and herbed bulgur and ground lamb (we call stuffed grape leaves sarma, not dolma). Rice pilaf, made just the way my grandmother used to, with a whole stick of butter. Ghapama, a pumpkin stuffed with rice, honey, butter, cinnamon, nuts and dried fruits and baked until tender. It's so good that there's a whole song, complete with trippy 1980s video, about how if you cook it everyone will come to your house.

And of course dessert: I went a little off-course here and made a British-style Christmas cake, but supplemented that with spiced walnut-stuffed cookies, made only by my Aunt Rose (Vartouhi). She would cut herringbone patterns in the top and call them "fish cookies" for the way they looked. Hers looked perfect, but they tended to be a little dry and hard. Mine looked like severed fingers but were tender and delicious. 

Instead of posting a string of photos, here's a collage I stole from my friend June. It doesn't have every dish (the pilaf, muhammara and lamb with plums and honey are missing), but it'll do:

I was unable to procure what I needed to make Armenian string cheese or the mahleb (the ground pit of the St. Lucia cherry) necessary to make cheoreg, but I did serve goat cheese garnished with nigella, parsley and pomegranate arils. Close enough. 

Everything you need to cook like this can be procured in Taiwan, by the way. Here's a quick key to some of the more difficult ingredients: I got the fine bulgur on Shopee. Parsley, fresh mint and dill can be found at Binjiang Market (though ultimately we went to City Super and certainly paid more as a result). Although my pomegranate molasses comes from the US, you can get it on Shopee, too. If it's unavailable, unsweetened pure pomegranate juice is an acceptable substitute in muhammara -- City Super at the Far Eastern Hotel sells small bottles of the juice. Chimeidiy (Chimei DIY) sells the correct tahini, though you can make it yourself with sesame seeds, and the local sesame paste is an acceptable substitute.  They also sell walnuts in bulk. Trinity Indian Market has any spices you can't procure at Jason's, the Eslite market or Carrefour. You'll need some hard-to-find ones like allspice, celery seed, nigella (kalonji), dill weed, dried mint, cumin, coriander seed and both hot and mild smoked paprika. Levant Taiwan Halal Meat has cubed lamb and can arrange ground lamb (the Braai Guy helped me out this time, but he doesn't usually carry it). 
Costco has Greek yoghurt, pita and goat cheese. 

The next morning, I noticed we still had half a pomegranate, its arils tucked neatly into a firm red shell. I cracked and peeled until the bounty fell out, and ate them straight from the bowl. 

Yesterday, I bought another particularly nice-looking pomegranate at the supermarket. Angular and heavy, it was ready to be cracked open. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Were the four referendum issues small, or just boring and rank with hypocrisy?

(Yes, I know I'm translating it oddly, that's the point)

I haven't said anything about the referendum vote yesterday because the straight-up fact is this: I just haven't cared enough.

Now that all four have gone down in flames -- neither reaching the vote threshold nor garnering more 'yes' votes than 'no' -- I figure maybe it's time to offer up an opinion, such as it is.

Frozen Garlic has pretty much said most of what's worth saying about why voters stayed home, and why those who came out voted as they did. Notably, the fact that the DPP made it easier to get referendums going, the KMT managed to use this against the DPP once already, and despite these issues not being linked to the KMT's unpopular stances vis-a-vis China and Taiwanese identity, they still couldn't eke out anything close to a win. As Frozen Garlic points out, they did this to themselves

I also agree that very little of the result had to do with detailed policy arguments, but quite possibly a lot to do with widespread distrust of the KMT. To wit:
One possibility is that when these issues became associated with the KMT, they became a lot less popular. That is, perhaps people were willing to support the LNG/reef policy, but they weren’t willing to support the KMT LNG/reef policy. The KMT was a dead weight that not even a popular issue could save.

Perhaps I like this because it's a great analysis of why the liquefied natural gas/reef referendum failed. Perhaps it's because I too, regardless of policy, simply do not trust the KMT to run the country. I don't think the DPP is perfect by any means, but Tsai mostly seems to do a solid job. I trust her, and she's given me reasons to trust her. 

In other words: 

Maybe this referendum will be a message to the KMT that it can’t paper over its unpopular identity and China positions by distracting voters with shiny objects. Maybe they will be motivated to finally start thinking about altering those unpopular stances on the most critical issues.

Probably not though. Eric Chu has already signaled that he is more comfortable finding excuses than reflecting on the causes of defeats. I keep waiting for the KMT to reform itself, and it keeps disappointing me.

I get the feeling that Eric Chu spends a lot of time not realizing how disappointing he is, which is perhaps why he's a spot-on choice to chair the party that always disappoints and doesn't even seem to realize it.

But there's one area where I differ just a bit. Frozen Garlic says:

In their ungracious remarks tonight, Johnny Chiang and Eric Chu put the blame for the defeats on the DPP. Chiang said that the DPP had unfairly twisted these narrow issues by claiming they were about broader things, like international trade, relations with the United States, overall economic development, and what China wants. Apparently, when the KMT tries to deal the DPP government a serious policy setback, he doesn’t expect the DPP government to fight back to defend its agenda.

Yes, all correct. The thing is, I think the DPP is right about that. These referendums did tie in to broader, more important things like international trade, economic development and energy security. Does ractopork matter? No, not really.  But in terms of international trade and relations with the US, it does matter. 

Does the Gongliao nuclear power plant matter? Not really. Ma Ying-jeou himself mothballed it, and it's unlikely that it'd ever actually get restarted. But public sentiment on what role nuclear power should play in Taiwan's energy policy does matter.

Does the LNG plant matter? Now that there are revised plans to move it further out to sea, I don't think so. But the DPP asking the public to trust them that the LNG plans were both environmentally safe and necessary to Taiwan's energy policy and security? Yes, those things matter. Taiwan's energy security and ending dependence on coal? Yes, that matters very much indeed.

And the referendum timing? I'm honestly not sure it matters, though I think Donovan is right that the initial decoupling from elections was a blatant strategic move by the DPP, though I'm not sure about the weather angle. However, whether the public thinks the DPP can be trusted to make such decisions -- or whether they care at all -- does matter. 

The thing is, the very fact that each of these items ties into a broader discussion about Taiwan's present and future seemed to matter less than the fact that each individual issue was boring. I can't vote in Taiwan, but when I vote in the US I choose people to represent me whom I trust to deal with these fairly small things in a general direction I support -- the big things these issues all tie into -- even if I don't agree with every little thing. 

It's possible that many Taiwanese voters ultimately decided they felt the same way: we elect people to figure these things out. If we don't like the general direction, we vote for someone else. Please don't ask me to vote on everything from algal reefs to ractopamine, when I am an expert in none of it! 

What's interesting, though, is that the KMT couldn't seem to win whether we're talking big or small. Whether you think ractopork was just about ractopork or the grand theatre of international trade, either the KMT picks bad issues, or they have bad policies, or the public doesn't trust them regardless. 

Beyond that, it's amusing just how weirdly hypocritical the KMT is on just about every single issue.

On nuclear power, as noted above, the fourth plant was mothballed by President Ma. Now Ma seems to be the strongest voice in favor of restarting it, to the point that I think he's been giving both Johnny Chiang and Eric Chu his warm package for awhile now.

On the LNG terminal, this source states that it's been an active project since 2016, which means it must have been drafted and proposed before that. Who was in power before 2016? The KMT. Despite some media making the whole thing about the DPP's energy goals, this feels like yet another KMT turnaround.

On ractopork, remember that once again, the KMT allowed ractopamine beef imports and tried to allow in pork, but withdrew from that position amid public backlash. It's true that the DPP opposed it then, but the fact is that we now have some idea of what standards for ractopamine levels should be, which we didn't back then (interestingly, the safety data came out right around the time Taiwan was fighting about this in 2012, so it's not like the KMT doesn't know about it). So on that, too, the KMT come out looking like the bigger hypocrites. 

Ma Ying-jeou, Mr. Ractobeef and Wannabe Mr. Ractopork, out there fighting ractopork if the DPP is doing it? Come on. 

In fact, I suspect both parties know that these imports are important to US-Taiwan relations and are perfectly aware that if they're in power, pushing for their approval is a no-brainer, but they'll resolutely oppose the other party doing so. I'm curious to see whether 2026 will be the year of the DPP opposing KMT President Hou's approval of American racto-lamb. Will 2035 be the year of the KMT opposing DPP racto-venison? I hope we live through the climate wars to find out! 

On referendums, Donovan's already pointed out that the KMT has found itself in the very weird position of defending the DPP's old stance. Once again, I have to wonder what the KMT even stands for other than thinking Taiwan is Chinese and they Taiwan's superior Chinese leaders, and opposing the DPP. That's it, really. It's not like they can be trusted with the economy, or the environment, or China, or fighting corruption, or even defending Taiwan. Even on infrastructure, they seem to favor bloat over utility.

I'd love to see real opposition that one could reasonably vote for to keep the DPP accountable, but I fail to see the point of the KMT at all, except as opposition for the mere, shrieking, hypocritical sake of it. 

If you're wondering how I would have voted if I'd been able, I would have given the LNG/reef and election/referendum items serious consideration. The first for environmental reasons, and the second because holding elections and referendums at the same time doesn't seem like an obviously bad idea on its face (and was also how things worked in Taiwan until recently). But in the end, I probably would have gone no on both. 

The first because energy security matters a lot, and while I don't know who's right on the environmental angle, I certainly don't trust the KMT as stewards of Taiwan's fragile algal reefs. The second, because after the 2018 disaster I'm just not huge on referendums in general. They're an important democratic tool but I don't necessarily want every single issue to be up for a majoritarian vote. It may seem more democratic, but I'm not at all sure it actually is.

On the other two, I'd be a clear no: if both parties intend to allow ractomeat imports when they're in power, then I'm not voting for some ridiculous cudgel. On the nuclear plant, even if they've resolved the 'garbage in the cooling tanks' issue from a decade ago and had a safe way to store waste, I don't think Taiwan's plants could withstand a Fukushima-like event.

I'm not actually anti-nuclear per se, I just don't think it's right for Taiwan. And as long as there's still nuclear waste non-consensually present on Indigenous lands, there are ethical issues to consider as well.

Could Taiwan make nuclear safely and ethically? Certainly, if the government really wanted to. Would they? Doubt it. So that's a no.

In other words, the KMT picked four boring issues to be hypocritical about, all of which should be the purview of the leaders the people have elected to deal with rather than a big annoying resource suck. I'm not feelin' it.