If I recall correctly, one of the fears during the Cold War was due to the possible interruption of rare earth supplies to the West should an ANC government take over South Africa. The ANC was on friendly terms with the Soviet Union, and both the Soviets and South Africa were the world's largest suppliers of these strategic elements.
The entire subject was dropped after the Soviet Union fell, and the subsequent ANC government was not as hostile towards the West as earlier feared.
It is therefore with some surprise that I read today that China now supplies 95% of the world's rare earths. Read the story here.
Winds of Change had a post about the US military granting money for the development of adaptive lenses that can flex by themselves, granting the wearer better than 20/20 vision at near, mid and long ranges. I'd heard of something like this for future camera cellphones, but not for glasses.
...to teach Mandarin to preschoolers in America. The BBC had this to say about the phenomenon:
'Parents always want to give their children a good head start in life to prepare them for the future.
It seems that families in the United States with a lot of disposable income believe that helping their children master the intricacies of Mandarin at an early age is one way to do that.
Companies who place nannies or au pairs with families in New York have experienced a rush of requests for native Chinese-speakers.
That is the trend right now, according to JaNiece Rush of Lifestyle Resources.
"Just in the last couple of years, we've received an influx of calls where families are hoping that we can find them Chinese-speaking - especially Mandarin-speaking - nannies and housekeepers, so that their children will pick up Chinese," she says....JaNiece Rush explains that they are in such high demand they can command a salary of around $20,000 more than the average nanny would earn.
One Chinese woman even managed to secure a salary of $70,000-a-year after two families tried to outbid each other to get her.'
Shanghaiist has a post featuring a picture of "Cha-Cha", China's latest effort to put a happy face on political repression.
(Y'know, give her a baton and a pair of handcuffs, and Cha-Cha'd kinda have a little S&M thing goin' on there. Just saying, is all.)
Shanghaiist doesn't show us Jing-Jing, Cha-Cha's male partner, but does manage to ask us:
"what'cha gonna do, what'cha gonna do when they come for you?"
Hat tip to AsiaPundit for pointing this one out. And in case you missed it, check out my post on China's Olympic Mascots. It's got links to a few pretty good satirical cartoons.
UPDATE (Feb 19/06):The Financial Times had a good piece on the topic. One of the veterans of the Chinese Cybercop Corps said that:
Only one in 50 internet users wants to break the law, and they are the only ones to complain about a lack of liberty...the [Chinese] web is “completely free” for those who stay within the “legal framework”.
That's absolutely true. The Chinese web is completely free - so long as you don't actually try to MENTION freedom.
Or liberty...or democracy...or...
One thing I didn't know, though. If you click on the Jing-Jing or Cha-Cha icons, your computer'll play the smash hit, "Song of the People's Police."
Oh, oh, I think I know that one! It sounds a little bit like that Horst Wessel tune, doesn't it?
How is the feud between Taiwan's pro-communist parties like the 7th century split between the Sunnis and Shiites? An interesting post by Michael Turton on the subject. The comparisons are maybe a little more than metaphorical, because let's face it: for some folks, politics IS a kind of religion.
Some time back, I did a double-take when I noticed something in a window display outside a fashionable shop in Taipei's Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Building, near the main train / subway station. Too bad I didn't have my camera.
Fortunately, I later saw it again in Taipei's Warner Village area, where this picture was taken. The right-hand side of the display couldn't fit into the shot because the lens wasn't wide enough, but you get the idea:
Notice anything unusual? Take a closer look at the newprint wallpaper in the background:
Man, nothing says contemporary fashion better than the IRA, right?
OK, I'm spotting a trend here. Take my word for it, there's IRA wallpaper for each day of the week, except Sunday. On the seventh day, the display designers opted for a local story about a typhoon, instead:
Now admittedly, VERY few Taiwanese window shoppers can actually read the English in the background. But these are sure strange choices, nonetheless.
Apparently, this has been done before by labs in other countries, but this is the first time that the fluorescence gene has expressed itself throughout the animals' body. It's not really mad scientist stuff, because for genetics studies it's very useful to have a fluorescence gene inserted into the organism. When subsequent genes are added, it becomes easy to tell if the insertion worked because the animals stop glowing. However, the two reports above state that the purpose is for stem cell and regenerative tissue studies.
They don't really explain how it's supposed to help in these studies, but here's how fluorescent mice are used for cancer studies:
A fluorescent mouse under normal light:
And under a black light:
Whoa, that reminds me of The Kryptonite Man! Anyone remember him?
Anyways, here's the same kind of mouse with cancerous cells containing a red fluorescence gene:
The real pay-off is when tissue samples are taken and viewed under fluorescent light. Healthy blood vessels glow green, and cancer cells glow red thanks to the added genes:
They can now have a clear view when studying cancerous tissues, and can better understand what's going on under different chemotherapy regimes.
I suppose that's why it's such a breakthrough that the gene is expressed in EVERY tissue of this new pig. Heart, lungs, intestines - they're all green under UV. It would be difficult to get a good picture of a brain tumor if only the snout glowed.
(Other uses for this technology can be found here.)
Taiwan's new transgenic pigs bring to mind the fluorescent fish that were first produced here for sale in pet stores in 2003. I've considered buying a few, along with the obligatory "black-lit tank, fluorescent plastic coral and 'fluorescent fish pellets' for food." But I don't like the idea of going on holidays and bothering other people to take care of them.
Back in 1990, the possibility of using genetic engineering for entertainment purposes was one of the big themes in Michael Crichton's novel, Jurassic Park. Obviously, the concept seems to work for fish, but there probably isn't a market for green-glowing pet pigs. These guys will be for medical and scientific use only.
UPDATE (Jan 14/06):Wandering to Tamsui has a great photo of the three little pigs exposed to UV light. With tongue planted in cheek, he points out the political significance of their green fluorescence. (For those not in the know, the party colors for Taiwan's independence camp and the coalition of its pro-communist rivals are green and blue, respectively.)
UPDATE (Feb 26/06): I think I have a clearer understanding of why the scientists would want to do this with pigs. Recall the example of the green fluorescent rat. Suppose then, that you had a fluorescent green pig instead of a rat, and you injected it with red fluorescent STEM CELLS rather than cancer cells. Now, you can easily monitor stem cell regeneration of damaged organs, merely by taking tissue samples and exposing them to UV light.
UPDATE (Apr 09/08): More cool pics on this from a Thai website.
Outsiders may view with incredulity the current controversy in Taiwan about whether to accept two panda bears from China. No missiles are being fired, no IEDs are exploding, and no suicide bombers are going kabloey. So what's the big deal?
Imagine if you will then, if Kim Jong-il of North Korea made an announcement. He's just met with Howard Dean, and the two of them have come to an agreement that a couple of extremely rare Korean snow wallabies* will be sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
American children are delighted. After all, what could be cuter than a Korean snow wallaby? National Zoo officials are ecstatic. What a coup! How many zoos in the world can boast of such an exotic animal?
There's a slight snag, though. The North Koreans correspond with the National Zoo, but refuse to submit any of the required paperwork to the American government (who they denounce as "brigandish imperialists"). Howard Dean and the Democratic Party** calls upon the administration to swallow their pride and break American law - let the snow wallabies in "for the sake of the children".
What would the Bush administration do?
And that in essence is the problem facing Taiwan today. Should Taiwan flirt with lawlessness for trivialities? For nothing more important than pandas?
But all of this should be obvious. Like Howard Dean in the snow wallaby fable, Ma Ying-jeou, head of Taiwan's pro-communist party, calls upon Taiwan's PRESIDENT to break Taiwanese law. Surely Ma, who studied law at Harvard, is cognizant of Louis D. Brandeis' admonition:
"If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."
Here then, is the big deal: while the issue of bringing pandas to Taiwan is trifling, the issue of whether Taiwan's government should break its own laws in order to get them is really much more serious.
Perhaps unaware of Brandeis' warning, one commenter writes:
"In the end, little children are going to cry because pandas are not coming to Taiwan because (insert explanation to your child)?"
My explanation would be that the pandas are not coming because the Chinese are too arrogant to think that the law applies to them. I would patiently explain that however much a child may desire candy in a store, he cannot steal it. Because merely wanting something, be it candy (or panda bears), is not a sufficient reason for breaking the law.
Of course, those that cavalierly run through red lights may have more difficulty in finding an explanation. And in Taiwan, that sadly constitutes a great many people.
Saturday's papers were abuzz with stories about how China had chosen two pandas for the Taipei Zoo. China demonstrated a nice, Orwellian touch when it claimed that the pandas were meant to be "goodwill presents to the people of Taiwan," but simultaneously had a communist spokesman warn that, "...risk is on the rise, as Beijing sees [Taiwan's constitutional reform efforts] as a provocative step towards formal independence."
There's a wrinkle amidst all this heartwarming goodwill, though: the government of Taiwan is not permitted to have any say into this generous offer whatsoever. After all, since there is no Taiwanese government (to China's thinking), why should any of the standard bureaucratic forms be submitted to a non-existent government? When Taiwan's government insisted upon asserting its authority, Lien Chan, former head of Taiwan's pro-communist party, objected that Taiwan's government was politicizing the issue and ruining peaceful cross-Strait exchanges.
Yes, shame on you, Taiwan. When Beijing tells you to jump, you'd better jump. So saith Lien Chan.
Lien's successor, Ma Ying-jeou agreed, saying, "It is important to make Taiwanese feel the friendship of China."
(Golly, I don't know about you, Mr. Ma, but those two pandas have made me forget ALL ABOUT China's 800 super-friendly missiles packed with high explosives pointed at Taiwanese homes and schools.)
Not surprisingly, The China Post was also on board. "Let's do it for the children," was their position:
"The authorities may cite many reasons why the giant pandas from China shouldn't be imported, but none of them can beat the one the children of Taiwan have for their presence in Taipei. The children love the giant pandas. They want the cuddly bears to live amongst them...Will the government forget about [exercising its authority] for just this once?"
But The China Post kinda gives away the whole game plan away with that last line. They want Taiwan's government to surrender its rights just this once. Just this once...until the next time comes.
(Tellingly, they don't call upon China to recognize the authority of Taiwan's government just this once.)
Perhaps though, I'm being churlish. Pandas are indeed cute, cuddly things. I'll bet the kids sure WOULD love them. What the Taiwanese government needs is a counter-offer, something generous that it's willing to freely give to the communist government. You know, reciprocity.
Taiwan'll agree to take YOUR pandas without any political interference, if YOU'LL do the same for OUR gift.
But what to give? A couple of Formosan pangolins just isn't going to cut it. How about art? Everybody loves art. Maybe a statue for dreary Tiananmen Square? I was thinking about something along these lines:
That'd sure look great in bronze. A little something for China's "tired, poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free."
Your move, China.
UPDATE (JAN 10/06): A letterwriter to the Mon 9th ed of the Taipei Times suggested keeping the pandas kind of like "human shields" near the presidential building to help deter a decapitation strike (sorry, no link to the letter to the editor is available). I half-seriously considered the same possibility yesterday, but didn't include it in the post. Few things would turn international opinion against Taiwan like caging a couple of panda bears near a military target. But the letterwriter also proposed renaming the pandas "Democracy" and "Freedom" once they arrive on Taiwan's shores. That, I like.
UPDATE (Mar 5/06): Rather than giving the Chinese a statue of the Goddess of Democracy, Taipei Times columnist Johnny Neihu had another tongue-in-cheek suggestion:
Why don't we send China a couple of Formosan black bears? They're "solitary animals" that will "usually not attack unless they are threatened," as the Government Information Office's Web site on Taiwan's fauna explains.
I think Beijing has a lesson or two to learn from Taiwan's bears. I say the only way we should let furry-faced Tuan Tuan(團團) and Yuan Yuan(圓圓) into Taiwan is by giving them political refugee status.
This, like reports of Zarqawi's demise, is something that I won't fully believe until somebody shows me the body. Nonetheless, the best cure for a bad case of China Fever is some sobering news about some of the problems facing the Central Kingdom.
However, in the absence of hostile action or a major crash, attitudes won't change here any time soon. Simple prudence should be enough to motivate Taiwan to diversify its foreign markets. But short-term profits, a Greater China ideology and the comparative ease of entry for Taiwanese into the China market are all luring too many Taiwanese into thinking that it's a terrific idea to put all of your eggs into a single basket.
UPDATE (JAN 16/05): The writer in the above link believes that 2007 is the most dangerous time for China's banks. An op-ed piece by William Pesek Jr. in today's Taiwan News thinks 2006 is the year to watch. Pesek says that China needs to maintain its current growth rate for the next 15 years in order to avoid a banking crisis, and he thinks that's unlikely.
At any rate, I'll keep what both of them say in mind, but I won't be holding my breath.
Saw King Kong at Warner Village Theaters in Taipei a few weeks ago. Took this picture of nearby Taipei 101, decorated with lights in a Christmas tree motif:
Would have liked a few more, but they turned most of the lights off at 10 pm. After seeing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a few days ago, the same building looked like this with New Years lights:
A couple of longer shots:
A close-up of the tower:
While taking these, an elderly Taiwanese gentleman asked me what "Bravia" meant. It looked a little like "bravo", so I said that maybe it was Italian and meant "to cheer". Later that evening I read in the Taipei Times that Bravia is simply a brand name for a new LCD TV by Sony.
Anyways, there's a couple more pictures of Taipei 101 here.
UPDATE (Jan 04/06): A famous Taiwanese songstress by the name of A-Mei was late for her appearance at Taipei 101, so she apparently took an ambulance 30 km to reach the New Year's Eve celebrations. Now I'm not arguing that it was right, but you do have to admit that it IS kinda punk rock. I mean, just picture it. It's New Year's Eve. There's 400,000 people outside in the cold waiting for the countdown. The streets are clogged with cars; there's no place to park. Up pulls an ambulance. Bystanders turn their heads. But instead of white-clad EMV workers emerging, they see a hot, pixie-sized Taiwanese super-star step out and race to the stage in her black mini-skirt and heels.
(The ambulance company was later fined about $6000 US, and A-Mei was given a warning.)
(Sorry, no link available to the story in The China Post.)
UPDATE (Jan 06/06): For the sake of completeness, here's the Taipei Times' treatment of the story.