While all the years spent in darkness may have left her hyper-sensitive to sunlight, the acuity of the rest of her senses has become exponentially magnified. No one suspects that in her alter-ego she battles supervillains by night, in a never-ending quest for truth, justice, and the Iranian Way.
(Unfortunately, in close combat, she's occasionally put at somewhat of a disadvantage by the fact that her crime-fighting costume lacks any openings for...well, her ARMS, for one thing.)
Maybe if I'm a good boy, Santa will deliver a sweet little miss in a big, red sack to my house, too, this Christmas.
UPDATE (Apr 25/07): The Iranian Dresstapo threatens to banish women from Tehran for 5 years for wearing "inappropriate" clothing. Fortunately, our lady in red has absolutely NOTHING to worry about.
UPDATE (Jul 6/09): Spanish scientists develop ways for people to use echolocation. The training only takes 2 hours a day for several weeks. (Although one firefighter, er, throws hot water over the idea of using the technique in fires, where the ambient sound can be 90 dB.)
<p>Spanish scientists develop echo-location in humans</p>
[Dr. Juan Antonio Martinez] recommends trying with the typical "sh" sound used to make
someone be quiet. Moving a pen in front of the mouth can be noticed
straightaway. This is a similar phenomenon to that when travelling in a car with
the windows down, which makes it possible to "hear" gaps in the verge of the
The next level is to learn how to master the "palate clicks". To make sure
echoes from the tongue clicks are properly interpreted, the researchers are
working with a laser pointer, which shows the part of an object at which the
sound should be aimed.
[The two posts that follow were initially part of a single reply I made to a reader who made this charge in response to one of last week's posts.]
A few times in my comments section I've seen the sentiment expressed that making money is America's sole motivation in selling weapons to Taiwan. It's kind of a Marxian argument, but never mind. For in this post, I'll attempt to disabuse the reader of the notion entirely.
Let me assure you, if America's sole interest was simply to make money, it wouldn't bother trying to sell Taiwan weapons at all. Better instead to sell an equivalent dollar value of products from some American sunset industry, like textiles or tobacco. That way, America would earn exactly the same thing, profit-wise, while the administration in charge would go on to reap a windfall of votes from older workers, grateful that their jobs had just been spared.*
The kicker to this is that an America that contented itself with only selling textiles or tobacco to Taiwan would need never fear economic retaliation from China. Because as far as profits from weapons sales go, what the Taiwanese hand giveth, the Chinese hand threatens to taketh away. Selling weapons to Taiwan is bad business.
Don't believe me? If an industry is profitable, what does elementary micro-economics predict? Market entry. At which point, I humbly point out that there aren't a lot of countries clamoring to get a piece of the "profitable" Taiwanese arms market. Quite the contrary, in fact. The number of countries willing to sell military equipment to Taiwan has dwindled to a grand total of one. Which is precisely the sort of response one would expect from suppliers involved in an unprofitable industry.
At some point in this argument, you might object that Taiwan is offered weapons because it just wouldn't be interested in buying American textiles or tobacco. Taiwan would find the COST of these things exceeded their VALUE (relative of course, to cheaper foreign alternatives), and would instantly reject them. But apply that argument to defensive arms, and we suddenly notice a curious thing.
What we notice is that the executive branch of Taiwan's government DOES believe the value of American arms outweighs its costs. It behooves us then, to explore the reasons why.
* This oversimplifies the situation somewhat, because it doesn't take into account the wrath of defense industry workers who've lost out by the policy. The key here is to remember that workers in sunset industries tend to be older (making them less easy to retrain) and more tied to their locale (owning homes in areas where it might be problematic to find a buyer). Comparatively speaking then, workers in sunset industries are likely to feel a greater sense of relief and gratitude when their jobs are saved than those working in defense industries.
In the previous post, I pointed out the folly of believing that America just wants to sell Taiwan weapons in order to make money. Believe it or not, there really ARE easier ways of making the stuff.
I generally take it as a given that sellers want to sell. But sales never proceed unless the buyer also wants to buy. Why then, did the KMT request the special arms package back in the late 90s? What value did the KMT see in it then? And more to the point, why does the executive branch of Taiwan's government want to buy it now?
First, let's state the blindingly obvious. Weapons packages are valuable to Taiwan... because they contains WEAPONS. Should war break out, having weapons on hand is usually considered a GOOD thing. Against a full assault, Taiwan needs enough weapons to hold Chinese invaders off for a few weeks until an American fleet can arrive. A Taiwan that's unwilling to make that investment is a Taiwan that America might not be able to help, even with its best effort.
Besides full assaults, Taiwan also needs to concern itself about possible Chinese "ankle-biter" tactics. Grant from the start that Patriot Missiles will never be able to protect Taiwan against a missile onslaught like that recently unleashed against Isreal by Hesb Allah. The cost of such defense would be prohibitive. But Patriots might come in VERY handy in defending against a one-a-day Hamas-style attack chiefly intended to demoralize Taiwan's civilian population into accepting "reunification" talks on Beijing's terms.
The second reason that weapons are valuable to Taiwan is that they provide military deterence. They do this by raising the price of war to a level that Beijing might not be willing to pay. For example, as things stand today, China might calculate that its fleet of submarines could cheaply and easily blockade Taiwan, bringing the island to its knees. With Taiwan in possession of modern anti-sub airplanes, however, the equation changes. That cheap and easy blockade suddenly isn't so cheap and easy anymore, now that Chinese subs can be blown out of the water. Sure, Taiwan's anti-sub airplanes are pretty slow and can be shot down, but that means China has to deploy fighters in order to fight a RATHER expensive air war with Taiwan. And so, it's time for China to fish or cut bait. China can either risk a whole lot more forces than it originally intended to...or it can end up leaving Taiwan alone.
The final reason that weapons have value for Taiwan is because they provide political deterence. What I'm trying to say here is that there is a deterent effect to be gained not merely by the possession of weapons, BUT BY THE POLITICAL ACT OF BUYING AND DEPLOYING THEM. Such an act in and of itself is a kind of signal which contains information about the level of determination a country or its leadership might have for resisting aggression. But the converse is equally as true. A country which DOESN'T attempt to defend itself in the face of aggression, and simultaneously expresses a willingness to barter away its sovereignty in exchange for a peace treaty, ALSO sends a message. A message of quite a different sort - to both its enemies AND its friends.
Postscript: Of the three weapons systems currently being considered, the only one I haven't mentioned are the 8 diesel submarines. Submarines are uniquely capable of surviving a Chinese first strike, and a few of these positioned near China's shipping lanes could have an enormous impact on the amount of oil reaching Taiwan's foe. Secondly, Taiwanese subs offer the subs of its allies something very desirable, namely, plausible deniability.
For this, let us consider two scenarios: Scenario One, in which a Taiwan san subs is attacked by China, and Scenario Two, in which a Taiwan that possesses subs is attacked.
In both scenarios, China threatens war with any country that attempts to aid Taiwan. What happens under each scenario when China finds its shipping under submarine attack?
Under Scenario One, China instantly knows that America or Japan is behind the sinkings, and it retaliates, possibly before the American or Japanese fleet is ready for it. But under Scenario Two, China can't be sure that anyone other than Taiwan was behind the sinkings. America and Japan can always deny their subs had anything to do it; they may even be telling the truth. If China attacks America or Japan at this stage, they hand them a casus belli on a platter.
Before I close, I should point out that I'm not wedded to any of the particular weapons systems I've mentioned here, but I do think it's worth trying to understand WHY Taiwan's military is interested in acquiring them. It's also worth trying to understand why the KMT party should ever wish to block these weapons from reaching Taiwan. But that's a question best reserved for another day.
In my last post, I admitted to initially wavering on the question of whether Taiwan's President Chen was innocent of corruption following the indictment of his wife on November 3rd. In this however, I was not alone. A timeline of the four most pivotal days of the latest presidential recall saga:
Friday, Nov 3/06: First Lady Wu Shu-jen is indicted on corruption charges. Chen Shui-bian is unindicted only due to presidential immunity, but the prospect is raised of his indictment once he leaves office.
The evidence of corruption consists of falsified receipts for the presidential State Affairs Fund. Some were submitted by an individual who was not in country at the time, and others were for personal jewelry purchased by Mrs. Wu.
Chen's party, the independence-minded DPP, tries to distance itself from him by beginning talk of referring the First Lady to their internal ethics committee. Meanwhile, the KMT and its pro-unification ally, the PFP, announce they will again attempt to have President Chen recalled. What separates this attempt from previous ones is that the TSU, a party allied with the DPP, has now announced it will support the recall. If a mere 12 DPP members defect and vote for recall, the measure will pass in the legislature and a public referendum will be called. A simple majority in this referendum will be enough to remove Chen from his post.
Also during the day, the prosecutor discusses some of the bogus receipts, while the president gives a speech in his own defense. The speech does not address the receipts specifically, but does raise the issue of motive. Chen claims that if he had wanted to swindle the government out of NT$14 million ($400,000), he wouldn't have abolished a secret NT$110 million ($3 million) account and reduced his salary by NT$3 million ($1 million) over six years. He insists he will only resign if his wife is found guilty in a court of law.
Since this is the third recall attempt, it's fair to wonder how many more times the KMT can try to get rid of him before they start to look ridiculous. But for a while there last weekend, with Chen's support crumbling, I could have sworn he was a goner.
UPDATE (Nov 14/06): Both the Taipei Times and the China Post are portraying a recent call by Dr. Lee Yuan-tseh for President Chen to step down as a major development. I'm aware that the Taiwanese Nobel Prize winner and former president of Taiwan's premier research academy has moral authority here, but I'm a bit sceptical that his withdrawal of support will mean all that much. Do people really look to experts on chemical kinetics for political advice? Taiwan's governed by democratic institutions, not the Science Council of Krypton.
The reactions to the announcement are interesting in themselves. The KMT now hails Lee as a statesman, a profile in courage, when it was only a few weeks ago that they lambasted him to his face in the legislature for his endorsement of Chen Shui-bian in the 2000 presidential race. The DPP on the other hand, now denounces him as being "biased and unfair", though that didn't stop them from taking his endorsement back in 2000.
For my own part, I think Dr. Lee is wrong. But I also think he has a right to be wrong.
I confess that within the last week I've done a lot of vacillating on the question of whether Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian is guilty of corruption. (My initial reaction can be found here.) From the start, I realized that the people trying to bring him down were pretty contemptible - nothing but communist sellouts who've been fishing for six years for a pretense to get rid of him.
But that doesn't mean he's innocent.
I understood that the money involved is far less than the pay cut he voluntarily imposed upon himself, and the slush fund he abolished.
Still doesn't mean he COULDN'T have taken the money.
I mean, his wife submitted personal JEWELRY receipts for reimbursement from the State Affairs Fund, for Pete's sake. The prosecutor knows her RING FINGER SIZE. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool Chen supporter had to admit it looked a little shady. Which is why I think Michael Turton's recent defense of President Chen is so important.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the situation, I should give a little background. Because the Republic of China (Taiwan) isn't regarded as a sovereign nation by many countries, it pays a premium to those who secretly lobby for its recognition. Because of the military threat from communist China, it hires spies within that country to keep abreast of the danger. And because the current Taiwanese government is democratic, it secretly funds certain pro-democracy activists who live across the strait.
For many years, part of the funding for all of these covert lobbyists, spies and democratic agitators came directly from Taiwan's presidential office. This arrangement is a bit unusual - most established democracies probably fund and manage these sorts of people through their spy agencies. But Taiwan was once a dictatorship, and its previous dictators sought unfiltered information and direct control. Though Taiwan has since democratized, this is one aspect of its former government which has not yet been fully reformed.
One reform which was implemented came soon after President Chen assumed office. For reasons of transparency, Chen abolished the secret fund that the presidency had at its disposal. In retrospect, this now appears like an unwise undertaking, because Taiwan's need for secrecy in its foreign policy remained as strong as ever. But what is inexplicable was Chen's failure at that time to hand over the responsibilities for covert missions to Taiwan's intelligence apparatus. Instead, Chen decided he would continue to pay for covert intelligence and diplomacy with the only means he had left at his disposal: public funds.
As Michael points out, this created an insoluble dilemma. Use of public funds need to be accounted for with receipts, but Chinese spies and democratic activists fear far too much for their lives to ever provide them. If such people are to be paid from the "State Affairs Fund", then bogus receipts will have to be submitted. Receipts such as the ones the prosecutor used in his indictments.
So, there it is. None of this precludes the possibility that the President and First Lady skimmed money from the government, but there now exists a perfectly plausible explanation for the existence of all those damning jewelry receipts. Thankfully, those who maintain the president's innocence need no longer feel foolish for doing so.
Maybe. I can tell you though, it's going to be pretty tough to rustle up support for a first lady who's been "indicted, not convicted." It's even worse if the public sees the prosecutor as a straight shooter who's already demonstrated his neutrality by exonerating the First Lady on a previous corruption charge.
(Yet one more bad sign is that the KMT has vowed to oust the president, legally. You know you're in bad shape when the KMT feels confident enough to bring you down using nothing but THE LAW, rather than with violent revolution or American intervention.)
Lots of commenters at the The View from Taiwan are saying they don't see how Chen can continue in office, and I'm inclined to agee. Therefore, it's probably time to start thinking about what an Annette Lu presidency would look like. Those who think that squeaky-clean Lu is somehow going to pass muster with the KMT and its allies had better think again:
[People First Party Chairman James] Soong said that it's also imperative for [President Chen's] ruling Democratic Progressive Party and opposition parties to hold a summit to discuss the rights and obligations an acting president should have. [Emphasis added]
In other words, the PFP and KMT won't see Annette Lu as being PRESIDENT - she'll instead be some kind of ACTING president. As such, they insist her "rights and obligations" won't be constitutionally-mandated like a REAL president's, but instead be open to inter-party negotiation and future interpretation. For the last six years of the Chen administration, the KMT and PFP have lambasted Chen for violating the "spirit" of the Republic of China constitution; at every turn, a Lu administration will be excoriated for violating an ad hoc "Agreement on the Powers of Acting Presidents".
Ms. Lu, of course, can avoid all that by knowing her place. A place which the KMT will be all-too happy to designate for her.
* Some of Chen's enemies see no downside, regarding this as an opportunity to boogie down. For Taiwan's China Post however, the worst aspect of the First Lady's indictment is that propriety demands they now shed crocodile tears rather than gloat:
With a very heavy heart, we now call upon President Chen to step down. We haven't done that before because he was allegedly involved in the misuse of the fund under his control for the conduct of "affairs of state."
Last things first. The China Post has on NUMEROUS occasions said that Chen should resign, so they have indeed "done that before". And their "very heavy heart"? Well, they spent a year-and-a-half alleging that President Chen assumed office by faking an assassination attempt on his own life in order to win sympathy votes, so I don't imagine they're really all THAT cracked-up about it.
For six years now, the KMT and the China Post have accused Chen of a lot of things, alternatively demanding his recall, his impeachment, or his resignation. Heavy hearts at this moment belong to those who voted for Chen or believed he was innocent, based upon the sheer number of times his critics cried wolf - with no wolf ever revealing its lupine face.
Among those who were apparently willing to stick up for the president was DPP Legislator Lin Kuo-ching who said that he still does not believe a president who was willing to slash his salary in half would become embroiled in corruption for the sum of NT$15 million [$450,000]. [Emphasis added]
I'd forgotten that. It's certainly inconsistent with the picture of a corrupt Chen that the KMT has painted.
American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young is believed to have avoided a meeting with [Annette Lu] during his round of visits with Taiwanese leaders after his recent briefing round in Washington.
I'm sure the American government disapproves of Ms. Lu's committment to Taiwanese independence, but if it's true that they've been snubbing her, then that ought to stop. It's quite possible that Lu may wind up being the next Taiwanese president, for Pete's sake.
UPDATE #3: The KMT plans another recall motion on Monday, only three days after the First Lady's indictment, and a single day after Chen was to give a speech in his defense. I think the president's party is still a bit dazed right now. They'll reflexively defend him, and he'll survive.
In a couple of weeks' time, reality will set in, polling numbers will be known, and some of them might very well be willing to vote the other way.
UPDATE #4: Did I say the PUBLIC regards the prosecutor as a straight-shooter? Heck, even the Taipei Times, one of President Chen's staunchest defenders, writes glowingly of him.