Monday, April 30, 2007

This may be a bit obscure, but I saw an amusing typo:

Buddha became enlightened sitting under a papal tree.

Buddha was meditating under a bo tree菩提樹, also known as a pipal tree, when he achieved enlightenment.

Stray comment: Westerners have been so misled by Suzuki (鈴木大拙) that many think enlightenment/ means 成佛/becoming a buddha. Enlightenment means seeing the way to becoming a buddha, but a lot of work remains to be done.

Be that as it may, I am still amused by the image of Sakyamuni sitting there in the shade with the pope. I wonder if Sakyamuni got one of those spiffy hats like the pope’s.

A papal hat is not a papal hat, that is called a papal hat. Amitabha.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Army’s new Chief of Staff, General George Casey, wants to accelerate by two years a plan to increase the nation's active duty soldiers by 65,000. I suspect Casey is saying words he wants the boss, Dubya, to hear: more soldiers! more soldiers! He would serve the country better by considering the actual requirements of the circumstances.

"We live in a difficult period for the Army because the demand for our forces exceeds the supply," he said.

That is scary. Think for a moment the implications for US foreign policy, economy, and overall well-being.

Actually, it isn’t hard at all to increase US troop strength. Just stop killing them in Iraq.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I have been reading a terrifying book, The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man, by David Strahan (John Murray, London, 2007). In short, his point is that oil supplies are finite, and within a decade or two, supply will be unable to meet demand, at which point, to use the technical terminology, the shin will hit the fat.

I strongly recommend everyone read the book. Even if his predictions are overly pessimistic, preparing for the worst would seem a wise course. Here I wish to quote a short section.

After the first oil shock in 1973, the price of oil soared, and “Congress introduced a law the ordered US carmakers to double the average mileage achieved by its vehicles…. Light trucks were excluded… which made some limited sense for pickup trucks and other work vehicles designed for hauling heavy loads. But incredibly the industry was also able to persuade Congress to classify some of the biggest and heaviest passenger vehicles, such as the Ford Bronco and Chevrolet Blazer, as light trucks, despite the fact they were designed to haul only people….

“Over the decades US carmakers have spent billions of dollars – $9 billion in the 1990s alone –advertising SUVs as symbols of power, status, and freedom, so that by 2004 they accounted for around a quarter of all American ‘light’ vehicles. As a result, the US passenger fleet as a whole consumed far more fuel than it otherwise would have, and emitted far more carbon dioxide. None of this troubled the US car industry, because for a time at least the SUV was their one reliable source of profit.

“’Profit’ may not be exactly the right word, however, since it was effectively the result of massive state subsidies. SUV sales would never have exploded as they have without a lengthening list of absurd tax and regulatory distortions…. The SUV is also sustained by the negligible duty levied on US petrol, exemption from a 10% tax on luxury cars, and a provision introduced by the Bush administration in 2003 which allows self-employed Americans to write off $100,000 spent on an SUV against income tax – provided that the beast weighs more than 6,000 pounds (almost 3 tons). In the supposed home of free enterprise, this market is utterly rigged by the state to encourage the use of the heaviest and most destructive vehicles. It may just be coincidence, but during the 2004 election cycle the industry gave the Republicans almost $16 million dollars.”

Friday, April 27, 2007

Ed Gogek of Prescott, Arizona, points to an interesting explanation of the behavior of Our Beloved Leader, George Bush, using a quote from the President’s brother, Jeb Bush, who said that “his brother George seems genuinely to enjoy forcing other people to knuckle under. In other words, he’s a bully. He doesn’t really care whether he’s right or wrong; in fact, he might find it more fun to be wrong and still force everyone to kowtow.

“This theory would explain such strange presidential behavior as resubmitting court nominations that he knows the Democrats won’t support; breaking the law on domestic surveillance when he could have easily gotten approval from the FISA Court; and insisting on a troop escalation right after the American voters, his generals, and many Republicans told him that the war had become unwinnable. This theory also explains the president’s refusal to read opinion columns and editorials because that would mean letting someone else tell him how to think.”

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Somebody sent me this photo from 1986, when the Taipei Zoo moved from its cramped old quarters near the Grand Hotel to the spacious new grounds in Mucha. They made a big event of moving the animals. They put them in trucks and slowly rode to their new home at dawn one Sunday morning, September 14. I was living on 杭州南路一段 at the time, near the parade route down 中山北路, so I woke up early and walked down 青島東路 to watch. The day was sunny and warm. Traffic was stopped, and the street was full of dragonflies flying around the trees by the Legislature. I got there just as the parade came off the old bridge that used to be there. The street was already lined with people. Some little kids dressed in animal costumes rode in the trucks waving to the spectators, but probably everybody’s favorite was the giraffes. As the procession crept forward, every time they encountered a power line, the trucks stopped, and the attendants said soothing words as they pulled gently on the girrafes’ leashes so they would lower their heads.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

words of wisdom

President Clinton, now there was a leader for you! But Little Bush? He won’t do. He looks like a monkey. Surely, there are people in every country who look like monkeys, and none of them are a benefit to society.”

In Da An Park, Taipei, April 21.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Centuries ago, when books such as Utopia were written, a regular feature of those ideal lands was ‘music in the air.’ Hundreds of years ago, thinkers apparently believed that being surrounded by music would be some sort of blessing. Little did they know how ‘music in the air’ would become torment for the quiet soul in a world of muzak, karaoke, and ubiquitous loudspeakers.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Once long ago I was wandering around the mountains near Trku/Taroko Gorge when I spotted a small path on the opposite slope. I found the trailhead and climbed the steep path. It was barely visible, so I climbed carefully to stay on the path, in both senses: if I had lost the path, nobody knew where I was, and one step off the path in the wrong direction would have taken me a hundred meters. Taiwan’s mountains are steep.

I forget how long I followed the path up, say an hour. The path went up close to a sheer drop through heavy jungle full of mosquitoes and bugs which expressed their welcome by plunging into my nose, ears, and eyes, and covering my skin. Feast!

Finally I came to a small tataq/Aborigines’ hunting shack, about 一坪 three tatamis. I was amazed by the concrete floor. Somebody lugged not only heavy bags of concrete but also water all the way up that slope. Impressive. The roof was corrugated plastic, and the walls came from the jungle. There was a doorway but no door. I called several times but only silence answered. I entered the tataq slowly. There was nobody in; I was the only person on the mountain that day. Traps and hunters’ equipment hung neatly on the walls. There were cold ashes in small hearth, and a very faint smell of dank smoke.

What made the visit noteworthy was, as soon as I stepped inside the shack, I was free of the insects. None of them followed me inside. I stepped inside and out several times to test. As soon as I stepped out the doorway, the feasting resumed, but none would follow me in through the open doorway. I have never been able to figure that out.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

It may be due to movies, which to many modern people are more realistic than real life. A real tough guy is supposed to be built like The Terminator. Have people forgotten the term muscle-bound? I have never met anybody all built-up like that who could fight well. Especially weightlifters: they are so preoccupied with making their bodies pretty for the other weightlifters that they end up with useless physiques.

During the Civil War, hard riding, hard fighting General Philip Sheridan remarked that the ideal cavalryman did not weigh more than 130 pounds. Others noted that the skinny little chaps from coal country usually outlasted the big brawny hunters and trappers.

One day Wumya, who comes up to about my shoulder, was lamenting that he is old and weak, because he can dash up a mountain path carrying only one 50kg bag of cement; when he was young and fettle he carried two. Let me point out the obvious, that’s a hundred kilos of cement. I have trouble carrying just one bag up muddy paths.

Years ago, a strapping American youth was hiking in Paiwan territory in southern Taiwan. He was six four and in good shape. He saw a scrawny old Paiwan lady resting in the shade by the path. Perhaps his Boy Scout days came to mind, he decided to do a good deed and carry her basket a ways up the path for her. He could not pick it up off the ground, it was so heavy. The old lady gleefully cackled, picked up her basket as if it were empty, and charged uphill at a pace he could not keep up with.

Think of marathon runners or mountain climbers. You don’t see big hulks weighed down by bulging muscle excelling in those sports. Big weightlifters lift the greatest weight measured in kilograms, but in proportion to body size, small men like Mongolians are far stronger. Even in football, the massive linebackers’ main duty is to get in the way; the real action is carried out by players such as the quarterback, who are generally lighter and smaller.

Given a choice between fighting a big, muscled Rambo type and a scrawny Aborigine, I would choose the Rambo as an easier opponent. You hit him, he falls, and he makes a nice satisfying crash when he bites the dust. Aborigine may not have enough space on their bodies for nerves, so they’re hard to take down. A wiry man is always harder to fight than a carcass covered with ornamental muscles.

And anyway, what matters is how big your heart is, not your body.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

When Tlahuy and Bengax came, my good friend Qalux liked them so much he asked for one. I couldn’t do that, so I asked Ping if there were any left in the litter. Twelve all told, after all, and sure enough, there was a little girl waiting to be claimed. Qalux named her Luqa:: his own name turned around.
She was a mischievous little puppy, even more so than Tlahuy and Bengax, which is saying something! She knew where we live, and from time to time she would show up to romp with her brother and sister. But she would always get home in time to greet Qalux when he got off work

Qalux doted on her, and always told me how Luqa would greet him when he came home: she wagged her tail so hard she could barely walk. He really loved that dog, even when he had to apologize to neighbors for her chewing up their shoes. That happened a lot.

When I walked by their house, Luqa would always come out and touch my hand with her nose (unless she was busy with her puppies), and give me her big, happy wag. She could tell I was coming long before I arrived.

Luqa had many, many litters of puppies! Qalux lost count long ago, but there are plenty of dogs around Wulai that remind me of Tlahuy and Bengax. Every time I see one with the resemblance, I think, oh, Luqa.

A year ago, Qalux had a new house built, up in the Tribe, away from the road, so I did not see Luqa for a long time. About two months ago, she came down to the road, wagging her tail so hard she could barely walk, like she always did. I was very happy to see her, because I hadn’t seen her for a long time.

Looking back on it, I think she came to say goodbye, because shortly after that, she disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to her. I think she was worn out by all those puppies, and she is the same age as Tlahuy, 7, which is old for a dog. Have you heard people say that a really loyal dog will not allow its person to see it die? Maybe her time had come and she went off into the mountains.

She was a wonderful dog (if you don’t count the six hundred pairs of shoes she destroyed). Qalux’s family and I will always miss her. His neighbors may not entirely share the sentiment.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hard and fast rule

If you trim a tree with a saw attached to a long bamboo pole, no matter where you stand, no matter how the wind blows, the sawdust invariably falls straight into your eyes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

But I'll get back up on my feet some day!

Monday, April 16, 2007





Sunday, April 15, 2007

I finished an e-letter to a relative with the sentence,

Please give your mother a big hog for me.

Amazing what a difference one letter can make, isn’t it? Hog, hug.

But it is the year of the pig, after all.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

畢竟我修淨土,自己都不留戀娑婆,還牽個無辜小生靈來面臨生態崩潰、社會髒亂,怎忍得? Never having entertained the least inclination to drag another wretch into this turgid world, I am perhaps not qualified to discuss parenthood.

Children start learning within 20 minutes of birth. First they recognize their mother (or the nearest female) and begin bonding with her. Now think about the average baby born into a typical modern hospital, removed from Mother as soon as possible, and plunked down into a viewing room, where the happy father stands outside the plate glass telling friends and family, The third one from the right in the fourth row is mine… I think.

In this day of mass production, I suppose we can’t have parents getting too close to their children.

Friday, April 13, 2007

This may seem like a stupid question, but it is Friday the 13th, after all.

Now. If ghosts can walk through walls, how come they can also walk up and down stairs? If they can walk through walls, shouldn’t they sink through stairs and floors?

Ok, that’s two questions, I admit. But don’t look behind you just now….

Ha ha, made you look. Boo!


Thursday, April 12, 2007




Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sometimes == often == I feel I don’t have any idea what’s going on. I read that last August, a dozen masked men lugged six 40-gallon trash bags full of sauce packets into a Taco Bell on South Western Avenue in Marion, IN. They left them there with a note explaining that they had been accumulating them for a while and decided to give them back. There were about 25,000 packets.

Explain that, please? Maybe somebody ate at Taco Bell a lot (a lot) and didn’t like the sauce. Finally when he couldn’t get into his house any more for all the sauce packets he decided to return them, rather than save them for keepsakes, or sell them on Ebay.

Maybe it was performance art or a fashion statement, but please observe that the obvious supposition is that males did this. Women have sense.

Or maybe some guy dug them all out of his wife’s purse?

Monday, April 09, 2007

To the tune of How Many Times: sing along with me:

How many times can you photograph your dogs?
Before you run out of film?
Oh, how many times can you photograph your dogs?
Before you run out of film?
The answer, my friend, is barking in the wind,
The answer is barking in the wind.

It’s a digital camera anyway.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Danger lurks everywhere on the Taipei MRT!

Loose clothing! It'll getcha every time!

the infamous carnivorous panel! It bites! BEWARE!!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

sophisticated humor

Another very good reason not to wear a tie:

Friday, April 06, 2007

Around 1980 I knew a rather unpleasant young man –no, no, allow me my honesty, he was a horridly despicable young man – who considered himself an authority on Viet Nam because he had spent a few days visiting his parents who both worked at the US Embassy in Saigon. I forget just what his father’s title was, his job had something to do with diddling cats, I think. His mother was convinced of her superiority to the rest of mankind because she made the coffee for His Majesty Ambassador Bunker.

One day in a rare fit of condescension, the young man took me by the hand and said, “Talovich, you and I know what really happened in Viet Nam because we saw it from the top.”

My only goal being putting as much space as possible between us, I diplomatically refrained from breaking his ribs for him and retreated, thinking, no we did not! You may be as thoroughly befuddled as the others who saw the war from the top, but my view was from the bottom.

What the fat cats and big wigs say holds very little appeal for me. Nixon’s hot air, Bunker’s bunk, Ho Chi Minh’s deceit, Chairman Mao’s trickery, McGovern’s pompous declarations, you can take them all and shove them up your nose. I have always been more interested in how life goes for the little guy. I was 17 turning 18, and acutely aware that my friends - Viet Namese boys my age were getting drafted and dying in battle, that girls my age were getting married and pregnant so their lovers would at least have a child to leave behind. I stayed away from the rich foreigners who picked their way along the poverty-stricken streets with such visible disdain. I wandered around slums alone and unarmed, ate in stands along streets considered too dangerous for foreigners to enter, and subjected those poor people to my rudimentary Viet Namese language skills, for which it is a wonder they did not shoot me right then and there.

That was a long time ago, but my hackles still rise when I see something like the exchange (Atlantic Monthly) between La Fallaci, a beautiful Italian reporter, and The Kiss, Henry Kissinger, during the war. La Fallaci asked, “Don’t you find that it’s been a useless war?” Kissinger said, “On this, I can agree.”

It’s enshrined in American righteousness that the Viet Nam war was a useless war, because after all, it was all about Me Me Me (or, if you will permit me a dreadful bilingual pun, My My My), and the communists proved to us that we were losing, even while our troops conquered them and stopped their invasion. America was too egotistical to consider Viet Namese (Chinese) strategic thinking, and too proud to consider the plight of the typical Viet Namese.

No doubt, the war was terrible. What war isn’t? But something escaped the notice of lofty reporters and politicians and moralists: the peasants stayed in South Viet Nam throughout the war. No matter how bad the fighting, the common Viet Namese stayed put, close to the tombs of their ancestors, at home in their own language and culture, despite the poverty and suffering.

As soon as Nixon and Kissinger turned over the Republic of Viet Nam to the communists, and the war stopped, floods of Viet Namese fled the country, something they had never done before. They could stand the war, but they could not bear the peace Ho Chi Minh’s government brought.

Americans, descendants of immigrants, in general are more rootless than people of older nations, so it is hard for us to understand the unwillingness of Viet Namese to leave home. Viet Namese are probably among the people in the world least willing to leave their homeland. But as soon as the war ended, they started running for their lives.

Haven’t you heard the expression, “voting with your feet”? That is what a million or more of these poor people did, and hundreds of thousands died trying to escape the peace American protestors brought them. Doesn’t that tell you something?

Thursday, April 05, 2007







Wednesday, April 04, 2007

It’s not entirely by chance that Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. Yesterday I wrote about Chinese characters for specific animals. Most of the words have not been in common usage for many dynasties, but I was surprised how many I could drag up from my computer’s fonts. To be sure, for , I had to settle for the 或體/alternative character rather than the original 象形兼指事 character listed in 說文, but let’s be practical, how often do you need the character for a horse with a white back left foot?

I got my first computer around 1988, long before the mouse was invented. In those days nobody used Apple, because Mac did not handle Chinese well. Okay, amend that statement: nobody in Taiwan used Apple for that reason. Very few people I knew had computers, I knew two people – both American – who had email, and there probably were a dozen computers in private hands in all of mainland China. Evidently the people at Apple did not feel the Chinese language market was worth bothering with, even through the 90s, when there were already several popular ways to write Chinese on Microsoft computers. By the time Apple woke up to the fact that hey, there might be a market for Chinese language computer software, Microsoft already had the market sewed up. I have heard the same situation held true for Japanese and Korean. So no wonder Microsoft is thoroughly entrenched, and Apple can never catch up.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

In When Languages Die, K David Harrison says, “As societies become larger and inhabit a greater range of environments, and as people become urbanized and detached from nature, languages and people shed specialized knowledge pertaining to the environment. English once made fine distinctions in animal names; a castrated goat or sheep was a ‘wether,’ young female sheep ‘theaves’ (of ‘chilvers’ or ‘tegs’), and young sheep that are older than lambs ‘hoggetts.’ As we have less to do with animals, naming systems fall into disuse – even new terms like ‘baby horse’ are making inroads to refer to a foal or colt.’

This explains something that had perplexed me. 說文解字, the Han dynasty etymology dictionary written about two thousand years ago, is full of specific vocabulary for animals that has long since fallen out of use.

犡,牛白脊也 a cow with a white spine
犉,黃牛黑唇也 a brown cow with black lips
犪,牛柔謹也 a cow that is gentle and cautious

There are specific words for two, three, and four year old cows, but they are not in the computer (wonder why). I am choosing from what I can type; there are many more words in 說文.

,馬二歲曰駒,三歲曰駣 a two year old horse is a ; a three year old horse is a ; there are also specific characters for a one year old and an eight year old horse.
駱,馬白色黑鬣尾也 a white horse with a black mane and tail
駹,馬面顙皆白也 a horse with a white face and forehead
馵,馬後左足白也 a horse with a white back left foot
驕,馬高六尺曰驕 a horse six feet tall
騋,馬七尺為騋,八尺為a horse seven feet tall is a , a horse eight feet tall is a .
羔,羊子也 a lamb
羜,五月生羔也 a five month old lamb; there is another specific word for a six month old lamb
羍,小羊也a hogget (Thank you for the word, Dr Harrison); there is another specific word for羊未卒歲也a hogget that is not yet a full year old
羭,夏羊牝曰羭 a female black sheep
羖,夏羊牡曰羖 a male black sheep
豰,小豚也 a piglet
豯,生三月豚 a three month old piglet
豵,生六月豚 a six month old piglet
豜,三歲豚a three year old piglet

I am constrained by what can is available on the computer; there are many other characters I cannot type. (I have to say, I am impressed by the characters I can find.) As I recall, the most specific vocabulary for animals is as I have listed above, cows, horses, sheep, and pigs. However, it all fell out of use thousands of years ago. It would be interesting to trace just when the words receded from common use, and why. Chinese raise plenty of pigs to this day.

post #1,000

Monday, April 02, 2007







Sunday, April 01, 2007

I was raised a Lutheran: Sunday school and church every Sunday, choir, acolyte, catechism classes, confirmation, I did it all. In my twenties I wrestled with Christ, and I won, even though he fought dirty. Several years later I wrestled with the buddha and found out there’s no winning or losing, but a couple years after that, when I became a buddhist, I shook my finger at the boss and said, Some day I am going to see through you and then I’m not going to be a buddhist any more. The buddha smiled and cheered: go to it! that’s the spirit!

One of the reasons I shook Christianity out of my life was the book of Revelations. Any religion that includes in its scripture such a rant written by a madman full of hate does not merit my attention. The world, and Western civilization in particular, would be much better off if the original draft of Revelations had been quietly burned as soon as it was written. Wow, did you hear that? That shriek you just heard was the Christians knocking their computer screens off their desks and laps.

End days? Please. Yes, according to careful reading of scripture, learned authorities came to the conclusion that the world was sure to end in the year 800. Oops, try again. 1000 AD? No less a biblical scholar than Martin Luther was sure that the end of the world was nigh; please tell me you have studied the bible more closely than Luther and you know better than he.

First, I don’t think Jehovah has the ability to end the world. He’s just a god, for crying out loud, what’s the big fuss about? And second, in the greater scheme of things, so what if the world did end? One tiny speck of dust in the universe. Sure, we are attached to this world, sort of; in spite of all our efforts to beat Jehovah to the punch and destroy the earth by pollution, we grew up here, so we do have a certain affection for the earth, and it would be sad to see it exterminated. What could be more beautiful than a tree? If trees don’t grow on other planets, that alone would be worth preserving this earth for. Certainly the earth is going to die someday, sooner than that if Bush has his way. But I’m not going to worry about end days or the Beast. Something that cracks me up is the people who get all worried about the number 666; sorry, that’s a misprint, the original numerology pointed to 634 or something, not 666. But if it makes you happy, please don’t let me stop you, do stay up all night worrying about the Mark of The Beast and 666. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help laughing out loud as I wrote that.


Concerning rigid orthodoxy, Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Any decent person ought to go mad, if he really holds such … opinions. It is very much to his discredit in every point of view if he does not.” (1857)