Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Sri Lanka Test, China's Crap-in-a-Box and Other Gentle Tearings Apart

This article appeared in The Guardian today:

China threatens to 'take off the gloves' if Trump rips up the status quo on Taiwan

It's not awful. Seriously, it's okay. But I want to make a point about the form pro-China (or anti-Taiwan) bias takes in the media, so I'm going to tear it apart for you. That, and it is purely entertaining for me.

Let's start with the title.

Forget that it's not made clear whether China is threatening the US or Taiwan; China itself hasn't made this clear. What bugs me is the implication that the status quo in Taiwan is entirely up to the US, that it is the US who decides whether Taiwan will adhere to it or not. Not a lick of agency afforded to Taiwan?

China has stepped up its rhetoric against Donald Trump, with a Communist party-controlled newspaper declaring Beijing will have no choice but to “take off the gloves” if the incoming president insists on tearing open a Pandora’s box over Taiwan

Isn't a Pandora's Box something that you open without thinking your action will cause far-reaching catastrophic consequences (because perhaps you do not know entirely what is inside), but does? Is it really a Pandora's Box if China shits in a box and then hands it to us? Like, we all know what's inside and who put it there. China shat in it; that's what's inside. Now China is threatening that we shouldn't open the box they shat in? That's just China being a jerk, it's not a Pandora's Box. In fact, I'd argue it's something like the opposite of a Pandora's Box because you know what's inside as the giver has taken great pains to tell you that it's full of their stinky turds. If you invent the consequences, that's not the same thing. Calling it anything else than China shitting in a box is removing the active agency of China in handing the US and Taiwan a box full of shit. Like, how about instead of "don't open this box, you have no idea what unnamed entity placed far-reaching consequences inside", let's be all "China, why the fuck did you shit in a box? Not cool."

Side note: "a Communist Party-controlled newspaper" makes it sound like there is a non-government-controlled media source in China. There isn't. Why make it sound as though this particular newspaper can be compared to a freer press that exists in China? As far as I am aware whatever freer press existed no longer does. Best to acknowledge that. 

An editorial said Trump’s repeated threats to abandon the “one China” policy could no longer be dismissed as “bluster or miscalculation” but instead appeared to be a deliberate and intolerable ploy designed to extract concessions from Beijing.

I am very curious what their definition of "One China" policy is or how they understand it vis-a-vis American policy on Taiwan. Because as far as I am aware the US at no point has said that they definitely think Taiwan is a part of China. Everything is very vaguely written (deliberately so), but the "One China" policy has allowed for stopovers before, there is nothing in it that specifically says the US President cannot talk to Taiwan's President, and not even anything in there that says Taiwan is definitely a part of China. US policy on Taiwan-China leaves room for an independent Taiwan. So what are we tearing up exactly? 

Under a nearly four-decade old policy, the United States has acknowledged Beijing’s position that there is only one China. The US has formal ties with China rather than the island of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day.

This is actually pretty good! Most media outlets get this wrong, writing that the US believes there is only on China, and that Taiwan is a part of it, when the truth is that they only go so far as to acknowledge that this is China's stance. So...good job, actually. 


"island of Taiwan": I know not every pro-Taiwan voice agrees with me on this, but I really would like to call for an end to consistently calling Taiwan an "island" rather than a "country" or "nation". It skirts the issue, and skirting the issue is a form of pro-China bias.

Brendan likes to talk about something he calls the "Sri Lanka test", and I tend to agree with him. If you replace "Taiwan" with "Sri Lanka" in any given sentence, and it still feels like you're not stretching yourself around the truth by calling it an "island" - if you'd refer to Sri Lanka the same way in the same context - you are okay. If it seems weird to constantly call Sri Lanka an island rather than a country, you've got a problem. 

"...which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day": 
This only eschews China bias if you put "breakaway province", "reunified" and "mainland" in scare quotes. 

First, I get that there is emphasis on what China says, as this is an article about something China said. Sure. Often there is a problem with writing lots about what China says on articles focused on Taiwan, and comparatively little on what Taiwan says. I can forgive it this time, but remember, my lovelies: be ever vigilant.

That said, this article would have been more accurate, more objective and stronger if they'd added two sentences about how the Taiwanese identify as Taiwanese, are generally against any sort of unification with China ever, and generally favor independence - in fact, most see themselves as independent already.

This is how insidious pro-China bias is in the media: the verb "reunify" (as opposed to "unify" or "be annexed by") is not called out for its obvious nonsense usage. You cannot reunify what was never unified to begin with, and the ROC and the PRC were never unified. (We can get into the details of the Qing Dynasty, or 1945-1949, what it means to control a country or territory or what all those crazy treaties meant, but I'm not sure any of it matters). Yet "reunify" is used without any sort of pretense or sarcasm. It's just taken as word. Does that not invite in the mind of the reader, who likely styles themselves something of an educated person, the idea that it would, in fact, be reunification if The Guardian called it that, and that reunification doesn't sound so bad?

And what is the "mainland" to an island nation that has no territory on the continent? To assume there even is a "mainland" is a form of bias. There is China, and there is Taiwan. Taiwan has no mainland, unless you mean how, say, the Orchid Islanders see Taiwan proper.

However, I do want to say one good thing here. No "split in 1949" nonsense. Yay! We are working tirelessly to get that nonsense phrase banished - not censored, more seen as embarrassingly incorrect - from media around the world. So I'm happy to see it didn't make it in here. 

On Sunday, Tsai was making no apologies as she returned to Taiwan from her trip to the Americas, which included US meetings with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and state governor Greg Abbott, as well as a visit to the headquarters of Twitter in San Francisco.
Why should Tsai apologize for doing what the leaders of sovereign states do all the time with their allies, and for doing what previous presidents of Taiwan have done (if I am correct - correct me if I'm not - meeting with American government officials who are not the US president is not exactly a new thing for Taiwanese presidents even post-1979)? Why on earth would you even imply she needed to do such a thing? Would you write "Chancellor Merkel was making no apologies as she met with British members of Parliament?" No? So why the fuck are you writing this?

Tsai said the trip, which took her on to Central America, elevated the island’s international profile.

Does this pass the Sri Lanka test?

I'd say no.

US officials had said Tsai’s transit stops were based on longstanding US practice and Tsai’s office had characterised her meetings there as private and unofficial.

Again this is pretty good. True, accurate as far as I'm aware. Why, however, is it at the very end after a very lengthy explanation of China's side of things (and quite little in the way of Taiwan's other than a few remarks by Tsai?). Why is it saved for the very end when plenty of readers have stopped reading, and given so little space?

* * *

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little practice exercise, my expression of a part-time hobby. I deliberately chose this article as it's not that bad, and on the surface even seems pretty good. It's easy to tear apart a mishmash of half-baked piss-and-corn-nugget chowder written by a sadfaced hack who just looked up Taiwan and now knows it's not Thailand yet somehow managed to get his sticky inappropriately-used sweatsock of an article published, somehow, by an editor stupid enough to buy it, slap "CHINA!" on it and then write something about 1949 in there.

It's harder to pinpoint pro-China bias in an otherwise okay article, at least one that kinda-sorta stands up to some scrutiny and at least gets a few key facts right (and thankfully leaves the fictitious "facts" out), but we need to keep doing this if we don't want to let merely okay be good enough when it comes to reporting on Taiwan. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

KMT "luminaries" sing PPAP and the results are glorious

So, another quickie.


You have not lived until you've watched KMT Chairperson Hypnotoad Hung Hsiu-chu, along with two vaguely-familiar-looking old whoevers and some young women in hot pants (and some other hangers-on in I Love KMT t-shirts) in ATT4Fun (a crowded, annoying department store) singing that Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen "song". Go ahead, watch it. 

KMT Chair Hung Hsiu-Chu

I think this is fine - it's a bunch of awkward, stiff, geriatric and out-of-date losers whose political rhetoric makes no sense awkwardly and stiffly dancing to some nonsensesong made famous once - and already past its expiry date - by a guy dressed like Blanche Devereaux after a stroke so it's fitting, really. I mean talking about how Taiwan and China should enter unification talks immediately - and thinking this is the right way for your party to go to crawl its way back to power, this is the message that's going to win you all the votes - makes about as much sense as "UGH! Pineapple Pen!"

I'm just curious how they managed to put this up in October and still only get 251 views. This is the greatest thing I've seen all month, so great that I'm writing a blog post with no clear purpose other than to let you all know about it.

It reminds me of those old DPP protest rap "songs". You know the ones, unless you've blocked them out of your memory. The ones from back when the DPP was an opposition party and they'd stage protests that never had any impact where, like, Annette Lu and maybe some guy would get on stage and sing groundbreaking lyrics like "一,二,三!我們都愛台灣!" except maybe not even that good, and you wanted to pretend it was just a silly protest chant but the Casio demo song "backbeat" made it painfully, embarrassingly clear that no, this was a "rap" song composed by the older generation of Taiwanese politicians? You remember that, right?

Well, this is better.

This made my day.

Carry on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

It's not always bad to do something for the media attention

Hoping to keep this short and sweet.

The Hong Kong activist/New Power Party forum held in Taiwan over the weekend is starting to make the international news. Not because of the forum itself - nobody really writes about that stuff for an international audience - but because two of the attendees from Hong Kong, legislator Nathan Law and Demosisto chair and activist (and person who is way more together than most 20-year-olds) Joshua Wong were heckled, threatened and even attacked both at Taoyuan airport in Taipei, and in Hong Kong.

Why? Because certain groups would rather that activists and other voices in society - any voice that doesn't tow the Beijing / KMT / gangster / possibly rich business asshole (in Taiwan these are all somewhat related) line - to shut up. They want to make it seem as though there is more division than there is in both Hong Kong and Taiwanese society, potentially find excuses to call activists "violent" (when they are the ones inciting the violence) and help limit contact between the two sides.

I've heard a few "criticisms" that the forum was more about meeting up, showing solidarity, and perhaps the media and PR attention that comes from pro-self-determination groups in Taiwan and Hong Kong meeting (and what it says that they can't do so in Hong Kong). More so than it was about actually getting important work done. Or as New Bloom called it, "skill sharing".

It certainly made for some good photo ops - though I have to note that with so many men and so few women the photos do make the various movements seem like boys' clubs, something I doubt the leaders in them want - and did show that while there may not be quite as many street protests these days, the movement is still there and the people involved in it are not going away. 

So, sure. There's a lot of truth to the idea that this was more about media attention and basically just getting together to talk rather than actually getting hands proverbially dirty in the field.

I would defend it, however, saying that sort of PR is necessary - it's a public show of solidarity and sends an important message even if it had no broader effect beyond that. So, I think it was worthwhile.

Or as a friend put it, "'They're just doing it for the media attention' is conservative speak for 'STFU'." And he's right - media attention has a purpose, and in fact getting coverage or just showing there is still a force behind a movement is essential in a democracy. 

Beyond airport harassment that did leave bruises, in Taipei, pro-unificationists who are almost certainly gangsters or paid thugs also protested outside of the forum, and there was a police presence - the threat was real enough to warrant it.

This isn't the first time activists or their supporters have been physically threatened: it happened during Occupy Central in Hong Kong and I personally witnessed an attempted 'false flag' eruption of fake 'violence' incited by gangsters outside of the Legislative Yuan during the Sunflower Movement (I didn't see much as I was trying more than anything to get out of the way - as a foreigner one really doesn't want to get caught up in that). Again, because whoever has money and is paying them wants to silence voices and cut communications because what they are saying make the rich and powerful uncomfortable.

Honestly, I think it is quite unlikely that there was no communication between the thugs in Hong Kong and the thugs in Taiwan. This is a calculated and long-term strategy in both places, bigger than some one-off angry protesters who don't represent the will of the Taiwanese or Hong Kong residents.

Their methods are too similar, they show up a little too much on cue and their messages echo each other a little too much for their actions to be entirely unrelated. I also think it is quite unlikely that the Chinese government isn't lurking at the back somewhere like a twisted wizard or marionette master, basically taking their online troll offensive to the streets with real-life trolls.

Or at least, that's my crazy opinion.

The only way to counteract this is to refuse to give in. Maybe this forum did just exist for the media attention, but the fact that a bunch of gangsters and thugs showed up to cause trouble in both Taipei and Hong Kong shows that that attention is more important than ever, and as such, is not necessarily a mark against the event. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Of Funhouse Mirrors and Falling Scales


"I wonder how many other international issues the media does this with, but we're only noticing this time because it's Taiwan and we know enough about it that we know they're wrong," Brendan quipped back when the Tsai-Trump phone call was actually news.

At that time, I wrote a lot about liberal hypocrisy (claiming to be on the side of human rights, freedom and democracy abroad and yet leaving liberal, democratic Taiwan out in the cold in favor of totalitarian, human-rights-abusing China), the "this is so dangerous China's gonna flip oh no oh no you can't do that!" narrative that the media had decided to run with - or as Michael Turton summarizes it when it pops up on all things Taiwan, "ZOMG TENSIONS!" - and that same media pruning the voices of Taiwanese who were not quite so afraid of said phone call to fit their narrative that it was a dangerous and unacceptable move. I know the overwhelming media narrative was wrong, because I live here and follow these things closely, and yet I watched quite a few people I trust, or at least other liberals like me, fall for it because they aren't as well-acquainted.

Even now I come across comments and tweets about how talking to Taiwan was one of Trump's "dangerous" moves that makes him unfit for the presidency. Or more veiled comments about how he's using Twitter to destabilize international diplomacy (hint: yes they are talking about Taiwan). He is unfit, but not for those reasons, yet it still keeps popping up.

I remember distinctly thinking that I finally understood what conservative voices were talking about when they called liberals elitist know-it-alls, accusing them of being snotty and condescending. As a liberal myself I had not experienced that, generally agreeing with other liberal voices. When I disagreed on this issue based on, well, my knowledge of it - which may be imperfect but certainly runs deeper than most journalists and so-called 'experts' not actually based in Taiwan or who are in fact more oriented towards China - I saw the sharp end of that condescension and snottiness in various discussions I engaged in on the issue. "Well, what you have to understand is..." has got to be my most hated phrase of 2016, but not as used by conservatives (I always hated that) but rather by those with whom I ordinarily would agree.

All that arrogance, all that "we are the experts" condescension on an issue they don't understand. Not one iota of owning up to the hypocrisy of the whole thing.

It is also fairly well understood among circles of people who know Taiwan (as opposed not only to those who don't, but also those who only think they do) that the liberal narrative on Taiwan is straight-up wrong. The assumption that closer ties with China are generally a good thing for everyone, including Taiwan, and talk of independence is therefore bad? Wrong. The refusal to re-examine beliefs formed years ago about how the Taiwanese identify? Wrong. The assumption that whatever is in the Republic of China constitution accurately represents the will of the Taiwanese people? Conflating the will of the Taiwanese people with whatever KMT or CCP talking points the media digs up? The historical untruth, widely reported in even "reliable" media outlets that "China and Taiwan "split in 1949" - thereby erasing a good half-century of Taiwanese history - with some clause as to what China believes without any note as to what Taiwan believes? The assumption that if we don't placate China it could mean war, but if we push Taiwan into China's arms that that won't mean war (oh, but it will)? Aggressively ignoring Taiwan's economic and geopolitical importance - a vibrant democracy with a population rivaling that of Australia which is one of the US's top trading partners in favor of a narrative that casts Taiwan as a small, worthless rock? Filing reports on Taiwan from Beijing and calling them accurate? Wrong, wrong, wrong, fuck you, wrong.

But that one comment has stuck with me. Through it all, I have still generally trusted the established media. Yes, I am a liberal and they often lean liberal, and yes, I have stopped to ponder whether the fact that I tend to agree with them is what causes me to trust them (to some extent, this is probably the case). However, I also do truly believe that in most cases liberalism simply reflects reality: the facts have a liberal bias.

Even in this case, liberalism reflects reality: supporting Taiwan is a true liberal ideal. Something is not liberal or illiberal because of who believes it, it's that way because of its fundamental makeup. Supporting Taiwan means supporting self-determination, nation-building based on common ideals rather than ethnic makeup, supporting freedom, democracy and human rights. Taiwan is also a nation of strong (perhaps too strong in some cases thanks to the construction-industrial state) public infrastructure such as telecom, national healthcare and affordable public education. Their social activists are unapologetic liberals in a truly modern sense. These are liberal ideals.

It's like a world of funhouse mirrors where conservatives support the liberal thing as liberals eschew it. The facts here do have a liberal bias, but the liberal mainstream happens to be illiberal in this case.

So what is sticking with me is this question: how many other cases are there that I am simply not aware of because I don't know as much about the issue?

Just before all of this happened I was openly pondering which newspaper or media source to subscribe to, thereby supporting them through troubled times ahead when we would need reliable media to separate the wheat from the fluffy, combed-over chaff and report accurately in a time of post-truth "news" (or "newsiness").

My candidates included the New York Times, The Guardian and the Washington Post.

So far, I have contributed to none.

After the tragedy they called "reporting" on the phone call, and their continued insistence on being completely wrong on Taiwan - including the headline hullabaloo in WaPo recently, and the fact that to be heard at all, important voices in Taiwan have to reach out because, unlike with so-called "experts" from China, nobody is calling them - I can't find one that I trust enough to give them my money.

Because really. How many other issues are there? If I can so readily side with conservatives on the one international issue I can be said to know quite a bit about, what other turds might I be swallowing without even knowing it? Are there other issues that, like my liberal friends who do not know Taiwan, I come off sounding like a mindless parrot because I was so silly as to trust the narrative sold to me by the New York Times?

It's funny, too, that of all issues that might inflame an American - as much as I can be said to be one anymore in anything but name - Taiwan is the one that caused the scales to drop from my eyes.

IMG_6760Don't worry, I won't be embracing conservative news anytime soon. Just on a grand fact-checking scale, I trust them even less despite their getting one issue right. I am no less liberal than I was, I'm just following my liberal beliefs to their logical conclusion by supporting Taiwan, rather than entering the wonky-mirrored funhouse.

That leaves me with a big fat problem though: in a world of "fake news" (I still hate that term but again, it'll have to do), "post-truth" beliefs, bad reporting, and massive inaccuracy resulting from half-baked stories designed to get readers agreeing - or just clicking - if I can't trust the media bastions otherwise best-known for the closest thing to accuracy there is, who the hell can I trust?

What is left, if I can no longer be sure I am getting accuracy and good reporting on international issues from the only media outlets that have any right to claim accuracy and good reporting on those issues? What is even news? What is even truth? What is even accuracy? Nobody has the time to delve more deeply into every issue, to live in every country, to study every region.

Other than a basic ability to think critically about what I read, when every single source, even the seemingly trustworthy ones, come up short, what is left when my faith in even the "good" media is dead

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ideological Bedfellows (Part 2): And all this time...

Reader, I googled myself.

from here

No, not like that.

Sometimes you just gotta make sure there's no random person who hates you so much they've dedicated a website to it or something. You never know. Turns out there is a guy, but it's not a whole website. That's not nearly dedicated enough and I am disappointed. Come on Internet, you can do better. 

Anyway, another thing I learned from this (oh yeah, besides the fact that I was totally in the Liberty Times in 2014 for my ancillary participation in the Sunflower Movement next to my friend holding a sign that says "CIVIL REVOLT" in Chinese and "FORCED TO REBEL" in English, which I also didn't know until very recently, so there's that) is that this editorial I wrote back in October actually got published in the Taipei Times, and I'd had no idea.

So please, enjoy. The gist of it is that the no-dual-citizenship rule for foreigners only (not Taiwanese) is an unfair double standard, if I can't naturalize and maintain my American citizenship due to family obligations I'll leave - though we won't go back to the US if we can at all avoid it - and all this talk about "attracting foreign talent" means nothing if this doesn't change, because the foreign talent doesn't really feel welcome or like they can put down roots here if they can't naturalize:

I would like to stay in Taiwan, likely forever. However, unless I can reasonably obtain citizenship it is not a viable option.
Under current laws, in order to become a citizen I must give up my original citizenship. This is unacceptable: I have aging family members in my country of origin whom I might have to return to care for indefinitely before eventually returning to Taiwan. The few months I would be able to stay as a Republic of China passport holder might not be enough. I would need work rights in my country of origin in order to support myself. In short, I must retain my citizenship.
Furthermore, it is not a restriction Taiwanese face when applying for dual nationality. They might have another passport, but under the law we may not. This is an unfair and frankly an unacceptable double standard.
Without citizenship, I cannot stay permanently, even as a “permanent resident.” We have the legal right to buy property, but would be hard-pressed to find a bank that would give us a mortgage (I am married, but not to a Taiwanese) and yet landlords balk at renting to the elderly. It is difficult to even obtain a credit card. As we age, social services available to citizens will not be available to us. Finally, I have no political representation: no right to vote, no right to organize a protest.
I work, I pay taxes and I contribute positively to a society that says it wants my contribution. What happens here affects me. This is my home, too.
I am not even a second-class citizen in the nation I call home — I am not a citizen at all, welcome to stay, but never fully allowed to participate.

It has been accepted as true - and there is truth to this - that positions on these sorts of issues are not demarcated by party lines. You would expect the DPP to be more pro-foreigner as they're the ones clamoring about the need to look away from China, but in fact it was the KMT who was set to relax regulations on foreign workers coming to Taiwan. You would think the more progressive New Power Party would be all about this, but they weren't: they actually resisted it. Many people report that it's people generally aligned with the pan-blue side who tend to be more welcoming to foreigners, whereas a lot of DPP types have a nationalistic streak in them. The same can also be said of Western-style liberal-conservative politics.

I'd like to posit, however, that this view is not entirely true, at least not anymore, and it is related to my last post on ideology in Taiwan today, which was more of a personal story.

Both sides have their xenophobic streak. For sure, there are plenty of independence supporters and deep green voters who still, after all these years and so much progress, hold on to some form of Hoklo nationalism (and there are still voters who are not green who accuse the whole party of being that way, which is unfair). On the other side, although this is not as remarked upon quite as much, there is a streak of Chinese chauvinism, of the "5000 years, since antiquity!" variety.

As far as I can tell, unless pertinent changes were made that I am unaware of when the DPP was in power (so, basically, the Chen years), the particular law affecting my ability to naturalize was created not by the Hoklo nationalists but way, way before that, by the Chinese chauvinists. All that time in power, and they have not sought to change it. The first I've heard of anyone seeking to change it has been this bill introduced by prominent figures in the NPP and DPP: the DPP, at least, being exactly the folks accused of 'Hoklo nationalism' and 'xenophobia', and the NPP being the ones against relaxing regulations allowing foreigners to work in Taiwan. They're the ones who basically made the nationality law one based on blood - on race, really - rather than on birth, length of abode or cultural assimilation and participation. They're the ones who seem to have more of an interest in keeping Taiwan ethnically pure, as per their definition (as silly as it is given the ethnic mix in this country to begin with, but that's their "We Are All Chinese but some of us are more Chinese than others" mindset - and with that mindset, if you are not Chinese, you can't be Taiwanese, as Taiwanese, to them, is a subset of Chinese).

Of course, I'd like to stress that these are political issues and general trends and not meant to smear an entire population. There are decent people on both sides, and jerks on both sides. Dehumanizing anyone by taking away their individuality or judging them based on the group they belong to is never okay. 

This also reflects my personal experience: it may not be politically correct to say this, but the honest truth is that I have felt more welcomed in Taiwan by people I could reasonably assume identified as pan-green, as a general trend. It's not that those more likely, in my estimation, to identify as pan-blue aren't also hospitable, it's that the welcome from them is more of host to guest rather than person who lives here to another person who lives here. As I've written before, in Tainan I was ushered into a taxi by a guy who ticked off every Hoklo stereotype - betel nut, spoke Taiwanese, blue plastic sandals - with "you're the next generation of Taiwanese" (妳是台灣的第二代!), whereas everyone and their Mandarin-speaking grandmother in Taipei seems to love asking me when I'm "moving home", as though home could not possibly be Taiwan. They don't mean to be insulting, but their base assumptions become clear, with that one question.

This kind of makes sense: the Third Force (student activists and other 'colorless' progressives) tends to be very open to foreigners in Taiwan as they're more international in their outlook, but there's a streak of Bernie Sanders-style labor protectionism that is baffling at best (Bernie was wrong about immigration too), and somewhat hypocritical at worst. However, they've moved beyond identifying Taiwaneseness as something ethnic or racial - which again makes sense because all attempts at arguing this are so ridden with flaws, and scream of an ethnocentrism that is discomfiting in the 21st century - and most of the DPP seems to be getting on board. 

A friend noted that the difference seems to be that, while both sides have their ethnic nationalist streaks, one (the pan-greens) seem to be more open to progress and more willing to change, whereas the other seem, well, not to.

I tend to agree, at least broadly - I am sure I could come up with some contradictory examples - and would say this is why the ideological split seems to be shifting as it is.

The same thing seems to be true of marriage equality. The two issues - Taiwanese identity and marriage equality - seem to be unrelated. There are plenty in the DPP who support one but not the other, and a precious few in the KMT who are aligned in the opposite direction. But when one side has been turning more and more liberal, while the other clings to the past, it makes sense that this divide too would be shifting. I hesitated at first to post this video, and it may well be creatively edited, but I do think it makes a point. Supporters of Taiwanese independence are slowly but surely moving towards supporting a country based on common values - and those values include freedom, democracy and acceptance. Who better to slowly turn towards support of marriage equality? Considering their support of the 'colorless' social activists, who are almost universally pro-equality, it also makes sense that this ideal would bleed from one to the other.

From this, it also bleeds into tactics. Yes, the anti-equality protesters tried to use Sunflower tactics to climb the walls surrounding the Legislative Yuan (ha ha), but by and large, in fact the strategies they employ are similar more to the pro-unification gangsters: starting fights, threatening journalists, smoke bombs, aggressiveness bordering on, and sometimes turning into, violence.

I can't be, for example, the only person who noticed similarities between the aggressiveness of anti-equality demonstrators at recent rallies and the aggressiveness of anti-independence/pro-unification gangs at today's self-determination forum, as well as in the past. I would not be at all surprised to learn there was crossover between the two.

I'd like to end with this: all of this points to a shift in Taiwan where the old truism that liberal and conservative social ideals do not necessarily fall along party lines may no longer be true, and we may well be left with a two-party system, one which is socially conservative (or at least more so), and one which is more traditionally socially liberal (again, at least more so). That means bills addressing social issues may no longer have much of a shot at bipartisan support, and that - oh heavens I hope not - campaigns will start hammering social issues and 'values' as they do in the US.

Considering what that's done to the US, if I am correct, I cannot say that it is a good thing. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Welcome To The Machine: Teaching Business English When You're Not A Fan Of Business

A few weeks ago, a friend came over. I was helping him out with something, we had a few beers, and at some point I offhandedly mentioned that the reason I never sat for the foreign service exam was because, over the course of my senior year, I came to realize that I didn't want to work for the State Department (perhaps my crippling fear of failure at the time also had something to do with it; fortunately, I handle that better now. In any case I did not include that part).

"US foreign policy - it's awful," I said. "It was awful then and it's awful now. I don't respect many of the foreign policy decisions America has made, and, y'know, I can't work for someone I don't respect."

I like to think that particular ideal has carried over into the later trajectory of my career. Not that I have never worked for anyone I didn't respect - we all have - but once I no longer needed to do so out of economic necessity, I moved on.

Eventually I ended up teaching Business English as one of my many various jobs, gigs and projects. For a time it was my full-time job. For awhile I worked for someone I not only did not respect, but actively disliked (that has changed). Yes, I considered the usual questions of a possibly overly moralistic English teacher: most notably, as someone who has grown progressively more socialist and anti-establishment was it not a bit hypocritical to be teaching, well, Business English? To be taking money from companies whose practices I did not always (or even usually) support, many of whom I had straight-up ethical concerns about - think oil companies, Big Pharma, some banks and finance companies - ostensibly to help them, but also to make money myself?

These questions had crossed my mind before, but I had never lingered on them that long before: I squared my job with my beliefs by repeating what another friend had said once: nobody can be perfectly morally consistent. It's impossible. In any case, as much as I might not want to be, I'm a part of the system and adult enough to own that. There is value in this: if you reject the system, you also give up your voice within it. For a time I didn’t think much about it, especially after I moved toward freelance work and took classes with a far better employer.

The post itself is not particularly well-written, and I feel it delves too much into the academic end of the issue without much real-world meat. Yet, it resurrected some important questions for me, as someone who makes money providing services to companies whose practices I do not always support, who are the main beneficiaries and perpetrators of a system I find deeply troubling and am more likely to want to smash than buy into (but not like "watch the world burn" smash, more like "this is crap, let's fix it at a deep structural level even if it means smacking the rich and powerful until they are less of both, and even if it means fighting and conflict" smash).

Had I, without thinking, dug myself into a field where I'm doing work for companies I don't necessarily respect?

But, having that topic run again through my insomniac brain that will not shut up, I do have some thoughts on the matter.

You may hate an economic system, or be cynical of an industry, but you are in that system – own it

Seriously, it’s important to have a clear idea of yourself and where you fit in to the system. Nobody – no student, no trainee, no normal person – wants to talk about issues of any complexity with the living embodiment of “I Threw It On The Ground”. You are a part of the system. You’ll remain that way as long as you need to make money, and if you already have money, you got that money because either you or someone close to you is or was a part of the system. You might be able to distance yourself from it to some extent – for example, not having a real boss or a single employer frees me from a lot of the less savory parts of being someone’s employee – but it’s always there, and you are not a paragon of ethical purity. Neither am I, I mean, I’m typing this on a Macbook wearing a t-shirt I bought at Target.

Pop that ego balloon – you have to make money somehow, because you live in a society where it is exchanged for goods and services. I too would like to seize the means of production, Comrade, but in the meantime I need Internet and whiskey and things like that (actually, I want to keep those things and am not as interested in a Marxist commune as I may appear to be. I want to keep my Macbook but change the unethical ways in which it is produced and sold.)

So, if you make money by providing a useful service to a company, well, you’d be making that money some other way anyhow, and there aren’t many pure-of-soul ways to make money – and insisting on finding one is another expression of privilege. I don’t know about you but I like food, shelter and security, so...

Your work in corporate offices around the world is, weirdly enough, actually helping to right some wrongs

No, really! Half the damn problem is that the proverbial 1% is screwing it up for the rest of us, and that is not only on a personal or corporate level, but also on a national level. As long as wealthy countries care more about increasing their own wealth than increasing global wealth, anything you do to help citizens of a less wealthy or non-Western country do better is going to help fix the imbalance to some tiny degree.

Every non-native English speaking manager whose English gets better, netting them a promotion that might have otherwise gone to a Western expat, every academic or industry expert whose work you help polish who then goes to international conferences and addresses important issues, every doctor whose presentation and writing skills you help improve who then goes on to publish important research and be a voice in their field, every student you help to better understand IELTS and therefore – hopefully – get a better score who then goes on to get a good education, international experience and perhaps someday become a thought leader, every office worker who does a bit better and brings a bit more of that We Are All In The System money home to her family and country is a grain of sand on the scale, tipping it a little bit more towards a more global idea of fairness.

Every last one of them likely comes from a country less wealthy than a Western native English speaker does, and was born without the systematic advantage of being a native speaker. By living abroad and helping them with that, as much as they may seem like rich folks who don’t need your help, you are doing a net good on a global scale.

And yes, I want to seize the means of production and create a lovely Marxist utopia too, but for right now this is what we have, and it’s unfair to a lot of people. The best thing you can be doing, rather than ragging on about burning down the whole system (not gonna happen, and even if it did would hurt a lot more vulnerable people than privileged ones) is to help those that do not have a privileged place in the system do better.

This is especially important in a Taiwanese context. Taiwan is a developed country, but it is not a particularly well-known one. Even Taiwanese often fall into the trap of thinking Taiwan is insignificant and small (one of the US’s top trading partners with a population similar to that of Australia and people think they are tiny? Come on). It is easy to lump it in with China, if one even remembers it exists at all. Every little thing you do – even if you are teaching the upper class of society – to help raise Taiwan’s image by helping Taiwanese communicate better in English on an international level is a good thing.

You may not be a fan of corporatism, but you can always find something to be interested in regarding your trainees’ specific jobs

I had mentioned to that same friend referenced in the beginning of this article, in a different conversation, that in fact I did not always care very much about, say, some company’s sales increasing or business presentations on increased efficiency, productivity or profit. “Sales went up!” – okay, so what? I’m not a fan of capitalism so I’m not always sure that’s a good thing.

It’s not that I think these things are worthless – clearly, they aren’t – but that I just don’t personally care about them very much. Nobody has time to care about every worthwhile thing, and I choose to expend my energy on social and political issues, trusting that businesses can take care of themselves. I am deeply turned off by Business Speak, care little for team building, and am not that interested in ‘corporate culture’, ‘culture shifts’ or whatever hot new business theory is being circulated.

But, honestly, it is rare that I meet a trainee whose particular job I am not interested in. Even when it comes to “Sales went up!”, often the reason for that rise is worth knowing.  For example, knowing that whiskey sales are stable in Taiwan is not earth-shattering information, but knowing that the reason for that is that the Taiwanese are the second-largest whiskey market in the world – and it’s true, Taiwan loves whiskey and you can always get good stuff here – that interests me.

If you listen, you can learn all sorts of fascinating things about how the world works, including in industry (and if you hate that industry, well, to beat your enemy you must know them). I’m not a fan of Big Pharma, but clinical research is actually quite interesting to me. My issue is not the new drugs – in fact I’m a big fan of drugs and not a homoeopath or hippie type of person at all, if I’m in pain please give me lots of drugs – but price-jacking, papering over side effects, making certain drugs unavailable in different parts of the world, letting people die because they can’t afford the price you decided would make you the most money, that sort of thing. I am not into finance or investment, but I actually am quite interested in learning what goes into someone’s proposals for what funds to invest in and how global economics and international organizations play into that. I’ve learned why it matters that MSCI won’t  - and hasn’t as far as I know, unless my knowledge is out of date – change Taiwan’s classification from an emerging to a developed market. I don’t care much about technical specs, but I do care how they will affect technology in the months and years to come.

So perhaps I can hate the system, but be interested in the minutiae of my trainees’ jobs. It matters to them, it can be quite interesting, and it is important when helping them improve their skills. So, it matters to me. 

Most people are decent, no matter their industry

This has probably been my top life-saver when I start to feel icky about the whole Welcome To The Machine thing. The actual people you are teaching, however unsavory the system you are teaching them in may be, are almost certainly good people. They have families, they have jobs that they need because they too like whiskey and Internet and clothes and food and shelter. They are likely aware of the issues in their industry, but like you and everyone else, are aware it is not possible to be perfectly ethically consistent.

They likely just want a better life for themselves and their families, want to do well in their career and have all the things most of us want. As problematic as the industry and whole system may be, they are not the cause of it. They just want better English so they can do better in life. Perhaps they work for an international bank that's just made the news (and they are probably cringing about it, too, but just not while you're around), an oil company, a pharmaceutical company currently getting bad press, a major manufacturer known for polluting or worker exploitation. Okay - but your actual trainees are not the problem. They're not the reason why these things are happening, and to whatever extent they are aware of these issues (and they probably are), they are likely also aghast.

If you boil it down to working with people, and helping those people do better in life, rather than working for an industry you don’t care for in a system you relentlessly criticize, it’s really not so bad.

It is okay, at times, to talk about these issues

It may not always be appropriate but it may happen that industry issues that cast the sector in a light that may not be perfectly flattering come up in conversation. This is not always a bad thing, though I find it best to not allow the chance for it until you know your class well and they know and trust you. It gives everyone a chance to discuss these issues which is a form of business-related English training, perhaps gives you a chance to learn something from your class, and gives the trainees the chance to, if they are up to it, engage with problems facing their field that they may not have confronted in any language. If it happens, it can be a powerful tool to be something of an activist in class – without being an opinionated know-it-all, of course – by fostering conversations that can have real, if tiny, impact. That might be quite important to someone who wonders about the ethics of their place in the system – to be a small force for change within it.

And, honestly, a strong, open dialogue can beget real change, even if it is at a person-to-person level. If such a discussion does happen, and it’s important to be open to perspectives you don’t agree with (or at least to accept rather than attack them), never make it personal to a trainee or a company, take a nuanced view and not beat people over the head with your opinion – all very obvious things, but all worth saying.

In fact, I think I’ll devote an entire post to that some time in the future...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Two articles at rather distinct odds came out over the past day or so. One is very much worth reading. Let's start with that one, from the Washington Post, written by several young Taiwanese including my friend Brian Hioe.

I have complained before that the Western media ignores Taiwanese voices and, when they do seek them out, they use them to suit the message they've already decided they want to convey. As a result, public opinion in Taiwan, if it is considered at all, is made out to be more divided, muddled or discordant than it really is - or that it agrees with Western or Chinese narratives more than it actually does.

I stand by that, and am so thrilled to see strong Taiwanese voices taking the initiative and getting their own work published in major Western media outlets. They were never going to come to Taiwan, so it is good that many Taiwanese have gone to them.

Of course, this is also the nature of privilege. If you are Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert on China, you don't have to seek out media and try to get work published: they seek you out. You don't have to push, or take the initiative - they contact you. If you are a qualified Taiwanese voice, however, chances are you are going to have to make the extra effort.

Generally, I love this article. There was a kerfuffle over the title (when I first read it, it was entitled "Taiwan wants One China: but which one does it want?" or something like that, which made no sense and was at odds with what was actually in the piece. In fact, if Taiwanese wanted One China that would imply they either wanted:

a.) One China (the PRC) and One Taiwan (which happens to be my position)
b.) One China, the ROC (okaaaaaay, but not gonna happen, dreamface)
c.) One China, the PRC, with Taiwan as a part of it (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA)

Nowhere in that title is there room for "we'll take an independent Taiwan as the ROC separate from the PRC" (that is, two Chinas), which, although it is not my position, is the most popular one at the moment. I do think this will change in a generation or so, however.

But good on the writers, who asked the Washington Post to change the title. The paper obliged, and now it reads "Taiwanese see themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese". Good. Nice.

One small quibble:

In the U.S.-China Normalization Communiqué of 1978, the backbone of the policy, the United States “acknowledges” that there is one China and that Taiwan is part of China.

As far as I am aware this is not the case - the United States acknowledges that China's position is that Taiwan is a part of China, not that Taiwan is a part of China necessarily. If I am wrong, please correct me, but that is my understanding. I also appreciate that it mentions 1992 but not the fictitious 1992 consensus. It's good not to bring up things that don't exist in one's newspaper article.

Anyway, those are small things.

I don't have much else to say beyond what the excellent article already says, so enjoy some quotes. They are like a cold, refreshing mint lemonade on a warm day.

1. Taiwan is de facto independent. The Taiwanese see themselves as Taiwanese, not as Chinese.
The official stance of Taiwan was that Taiwan is part of China. Butthe China that this stance refers to is the Republic of China (based in Taipei) instead of the communist People’s Republic of China (based in Beijing). (One interesting fact is that the special institution National Unification Council, which defined the official stance in 1992, was “ceased” in 2006 along with the Guidelines for National Unification.)
Since the 1970s, PRC became diplomatically acknowledged as China by most nation-states, including the United States. That is, ROC no longer asks to be seen as representing all of mainland China. Its constitution, which claims sovereignty over the whole mainland, does differentiate between the “free area,” or the island of Taiwan, and the “mainland area,” after a series of amendmentsthat have been added since the 1990s.
But the ROC has never been part of the PRC in its history.
Good, nice, very good.

What’s more, ROC residents increasingly identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese. That identity has changed significantly since the island became a democracy in the 1990s. In 1991, ROC and PRCrepresentatives met with one another for the first time since the 1949 civil war. At that point, about one-fourth of Taiwan’s residents identified themselves exclusively as “Chinese”; 17.6 percent as exclusively “Taiwanese”; and nearly half said both Chinese and Taiwanese.
But by 2014, only 3 percent still identified exclusively as Chinese — and more than 60 percent Taiwanese, hovering around there ever since. Today, only one-third of Taiwan’s residents think of themselves as both Chinese and Taiwanese. Among those who are 29 or younger, born after martial law ended in 1987, 78 percent hold an exclusively Taiwanese identity — as do nearly 70 percent ofpeople younger than 40. If this trend continues, a solely Taiwanese identity will prevail as residents’ consensus.

Yes, yes, yes. Clap clap clap. I like this very much. American friends - this is all true and really something you ought to know.

For Taiwanese younger than 40, pro-independence support reaches 84 percent. Perhaps most startling, 43 percent of the under-40 generation would support independence even if it meant China would attack Taiwan under the risk of war.
On the flip side, unification with China has become unpopular. Even under the most favorable scenario — in which there would be little political, economic or social disparities between mainland China and Taiwan — only one-third of Taiwanese citizens say they support unification. That’s a significant drop from the 60 percent who supported unification in 2003.
Yes - and this is something many Americans are unaware of - and many leaders as well. There seems, outside of Taiwan, to be this assumption that peaceful unification is possible and best for all involved.  It is not possible, and not best for Taiwan, however.

Threats from China that Taiwanese independence will result in war are taken seriously. Taiwanese admonishments that attempts at unification will result in conflict are ignored. It's as though the world still believes that the Taiwanese buy the ROC myth and that they fully believe their constitution's claim to China - that the ROC and PRC are rivals for China because a government they never elected, which in fact invaded from China, said they were, and now the government in China threatens them with violence if they even think about changing it to reflect the public will.

It is time that the West realizes that the historical claims of the ROC are not an accurate representation of what the Taiwanese actually want.

Unification is not possible. It will never be possible. Many "experts", even some who work for reputable outfits, make the current status quo sound as though it exists because China has simply not put forward a suitable proposal for unification.

This is false. Bush is wrong here. There will never be a suitable proposal for unification. Not because China won't try, but because there is no possible proposal that China could put forward that would tempt the Taiwanese, because they are not Chinese and do not see themselves as Chinese, and that is not going to change, nor can a change be forced. The only possible peaceful path is one of an independent Taiwan.

So, anyway, that's the good article. Really, it's excellent. Go read it.

After that cool drink of mint lemonade, you can read this one (or rather, in fact, don't, just don't unless you like hate reading) which is like squatting in the dirt gnawing on roots and twigs.

This? This is a steaming bowl of stanky used douche - I mean not only like it was used so now it's kinda gross, but like some of it also ran up your buttcrack like it was a Roman aqueduct and so now it's kind of butt-stanky too with maybe some poo or hair in it, and also you were on the rag so it's...


Also there is a pube floating in it.

Aherrm. Sorry. Anyway.

This fuckstick slammed his fists on an unfortunate keyboard like an angry macaque and a few words inexplicably came out, and what we got was this.

My eyes want to file assault charges after this thing accosted them in an alley. The only good thing I can say is that I had actually never heard of this bum-bungler nor the "Neo-Whatever Eastern Whatever" or what the fuck ever this site is, because I read real news by real journalists and experts and hang around smart people pretending I am smart as well. What bothers me is that somehow he has a name for himself and even a Wikipedia page? Like, really?

Why? Off the tip of my dick I can think of like twenty writers who deserve Wikipedia pages before this ball-dangler does.

I won't bother to take down the article's central points. They sort of speak for themselves. The only thing I'll mention is that that stupid survey that pegged Taiwan as the "third most ignorant country" was also a steaming turd-pile, not to be taken seriously. I won't go into the questions asked and sample sizes - but the samples were too small and the questions stupid and pointless - suffice it to say that it is not an accurate reflection of Taiwan.

Instead, I will provide you with a running translation of some of this douchecracker's major "points", such as they are.

Shockingly, almost all the people I approached in December 2016 in Taipei either refused to discuss the topic, or appeared thoroughly ignorant about it. Some did not seem to even understand the concept of the ‘West provoking China’.

Translation: "Shockingly, when I approached random strangers in December 2016 and was a total asshole, shouting at them if they gave me answers I didn't like, I was surprised to find nobody wanted to talk to me!"

“Our enemies?” Did the Defense Minister say “our enemies”? Taiwan is a renegade province of China, whose ‘independence’ is recognized by only 21 countries (down from 30, two decades ago).


Translation: "I am a blithering idiot who not only has no knowledge whatsoever of the current state of Taiwan-China ties, but also struggles with basic life skills like forming words into sentences that make sense and reflect the true state of the world. Also, with this attitude I am quite surprised that nobody in Taipei was interested in telling me how they felt."

I will give him credit here: he's right about checkbook diplomacy. I'm not a fan of it either.

I asked him about the present tensions between Taiwan and Mainland China, about the West playing an increasingly aggressive role in the region.

He had no opinion.

I asked about the fascist anti-Communist and pro-Western legacy of Chiang-Kai-shek. He began to look nervous:

“I just work here for 8 hours a day. I don’t know anything about this place, really…”
“But you work here, in the middle of this enormous propaganda center!” I insisted. “Haven’t you heard about the millions massacred on Mainland China by his troops? Haven’t you heard about the tens of thousands killed here, in Taiwan?”

“No. I know nothing,” he laughed. “At school we learned nothing about this… I’m just a volunteer…”

In one of the halls, high-school students were taking selfies. “Do you like Chiang?” I shout at them. They all laughed, happily, showing me “V” sign with two fingers.

Translation: I do not understand the simple idea that when I approach people and ask them rapid-fire questions using high-level vocabulary in English*, which involve sharing the pain and struggle of their nation's history, they don't want to answer me because, again, I come off like a total fucking asshole and who would want to talk to someone like that? Furthermore I am incapable of parsing the non-answer, appeal to ignorance or half-baked reply as a common way in Asia of saying "I don't want to share my thoughts with you because you seem like a big fucking jerk". Instead I just dismiss them as stupid.

*I do not for one second believe that this twatmangler speaks fluent Mandarin or Taiwanese. 

At the “228 Memorial Museum” dedicated to the government-orchestrated massacre of Taiwanese civilians, I spoke to an 86-year old Mr. Chang, a survivor of the atrocities.
On the official museum site it reads:
“It commemorates the victims of the 228 Massacre which took place on 28 February 1947. The 228 Massacre was a rebellion by the Taiwanese people against the recently arrived Republic of China (ROC) troops. The ROC government responded with a brutal crackdown that ended with tens of thousands of Taiwanese people killed.” 
“Was Chiang Kai-shek really ‘democratic’?” I asked sarcastically.


Bizarre Chiang’s cult, Nazi high school parades and thorough political and historical ignorance! Continuous efforts to corrupt tiny poor countries in all corners of the world… Playing into the hands of the West, provoking China. What a place Taiwan has become!

I give him credit for being right about Chiang - but not  his inability to see that most Taiwanese also understand this but just don't want to share that with a total fucking asshole. Nor the contradiction inherent in rightly slamming Chiang but slavishly insisting that Taiwan is, in fact, a part of China, which in Taiwan is something only Chiang's party believes. What does he expect Taiwanese to do, hate Chiang (which they do, mostly) but still vote for the KMT? Understand the atrocities of the invading ROC, and yet agree with their party line? This isn't just him being Craptasticus McCunterson (though he is), it's plain stupid. Pretty much everyone who agrees with him about Chiang - which is most people - are pro-independence. The two are irreconcilable.

Nevertheless, here is my translation: 

bhjirwhpu9afos'c890[aerw klmXZGIUOXGEGRGRGogjgjlhgrj;eainphgopuy80748

No but seriously, "Nobody wants to talk to someone who comes off like a massive douchesmuggler" shouldn't be, like, a hard fucking concept. It's not even unique to Taiwan, or Asia. In the West perhaps we'd say outright "you seem like an asshole and I don't want to talk to you", or just "hey buddy get outta my face" (my preferred New York reply), but the non-answer or fake ignorance is Taiwan's (and Asia's) way of expressing the same.

Get a clue, or get the fuck out of Taiwan.

That said, apparently this "philosopher" has worked on "every continent". That's good news! I look forward to his working from Antarctica!