Friday, August 31, 2007

I have never lived in a house with a television. I do not read newspapers. At most, I glance at the headlines on Yahoo or the International Herald Tribune.

People say, You are out of touch. Then they bury their heads in the newspapers as they ride the subway to read all about overgrown, overpaid, undereducated athletes far, far away, too busy to notice the people around them. People say, You are out of touch, as they put on their headphones to drown out the sounds of the world around them.

Hikers revel in paying top dollar for the most expensive (read: prestigious) hiking boots they can find. I still wear the footwear my parents gave me at birth. Any moment in the mountains, I can shut my eyes and describe in detail the texture, temperature, and feel of the ground I stand on.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

It’s a miracle I ever get any work done. Here’s a photo Sabiy took of me a couple weeks ago when I was cleaning up after a typhoon. A large limb had crashed down on the path out back, so I was trying to chop it up to drag away. My dogs showed their solidarity with me by milling around me while I was trying to swing my headhunting knife. As if that wasn’t enough, the neighbor’s Andy came over and promptly sat on my feet.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007




Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The moon wiggled, not me.

we had an eclipse tonight, and this is the photo that came out of my rock-steady camera brace.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Recently I read a series of articles about achieving inner peace. The methods included having a massage, going jogging, listening to soft music, eating pizza with strawberry ice cream. You have to make allowances, because this was an article in the New York Times, and dog knows there is precious little inner peace to be found in New York, but it struck me that all the ideas in the article involved putting your mind at rest or taking a break, but I’m not sure if those are really inner peace.

Inner peace means that your mind is free of contradictions, conflicts, and disharmony. Inner peace is not something you achieve in five minutes by eating some special food or hearing some musical notes. You have to untie the knots and straighten out the kinks. It’s a monumental task with pain, struggle, and industry, real blood, sweat, and tears. Approaching inner peace requires you be brutally honest with yourself, something humanity in general, Americans in particular, and New Yorkers in extremity, are loath to do.

But you won’t sell many magazines by saying so.

Sunday, August 26, 2007






聽到這番事,筆者眼淚雙行,感動的不得了,眼界這麼廣、思緒這麼睿智的人負責臺灣教育大事…… 臺灣完蛋了。

Friday, August 24, 2007

East and West, I

A generalization: the West analyzes, breaking things up into specialties. China looks for common ground, 找關係.

Westerners eat with knife and fork; a knife cannot perform the duty of a fork, and vice versa. Chinese eat with chopsticks, which are interchangeable.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

East and West, II

Now Taiwan is paved, so people convey heavy loads on pushcarts. Using a pushcart assumes flat, even surfaces. Thirty years ago, the 扁擔 / shoulder pole was still ubiquitous in Taiwan, because you can carry one anywhere your feet will carry you.

Way back then, an American friend in Taipei watched a man carrying two heavy bags of rice on his bamboo shoulder pole, and turned to me with a sigh. He said, “I’ll never figure the Chinese out. They carry one hundred pounds of rice with one piece of bamboo, and a mouthful of rice with two pieces of bamboo.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On the escalators at Taipei’s subway stops, stand right walk left; if you don’t walk up or down the escalator, stand to the right and leave the left side open for those walking.

As I walked up the escalators in Taipei Main Station, pair by pair of high tech sports shoes hove into view on the right. I was struck by the way people nowadays spend handfuls of money to buy elaborately designed sports shoes, for the purpose of standing on an escalator as it carries you along.

People of our day are certainly the least active in the history of humanity. For thousands of generations, our ancestors walked everywhere they went; eventually some could afford the luxury of riding horseback, but even that is hard exercise. Our ancestors achieved everything through bodily might; now we rely exclusively on machines. We are too quiescent to even walk down an escalator. But never before in the history of humanity has so much attention, research, or energy been devoted to the making of shoes for athletic pursuits.

So you can stand there motionless.

But hey! it looks athletic! Like the four wheel drives people drive around the city.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007








Monday, August 20, 2007

The latest spam scam is a pitiful call for money. It says

I have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It has defiled all forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts.

Yes, I believe all forms of medical treatment have been defiled.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

We spent our Saturday getting clobbered by Typhoon Sepat/聖帕. Trees broke and bamboo snapped. Four sheets of metal came flying in from some unknown location uphill to enliven our day. I really wish The Authorities would give typhoons soft, gentle names, like Lamb or Bambi. Last time they named one 象神 Elephant King, and it trampled us.

Photos by Sabiy/超.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Behu sent a postcard from Vancouver. Somewhere in British Columbia he encountered a Taiwanese man running a teashop, and reports he seemed “alone.”

What a torment for a delicate tea soul! I can imagine the poor wretch suffering day by day until finally he descends into a perpetual dusk shrieking, gibbering, and muttering the same mortal formula over and over again: “No sugar! No milk! No lemon in tea! No! No! No sugar in tea, No sugar in tea, no no no sugar in tea tea teaeeeeeeeeeeewoooooo no milk in teahehehehehehe!”

What demon planted in his ill-fated brain the suicidal wish to open a teashop in a land with close ties to England and the US? Poor man.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Did you see the headline?

Rove to leave White House Aug. 31

I think that proves the old saying that rats desert a sinking ship.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I wrote this in 2001.

It could be worse

Some baby-boomers are mortified by memories (or even worse, photos) of their behavior in the 70s: platform shoes and disco. But it could be worse. What if you were Chinese? If you have memories of the People’s Republic in the 70s, you were not one of the millions wiped out during the Cultural Revolution. So you did the right things: you waved the Sayings of Chairman Mao ¾ the Little Red Book ¾ with inane enthusiasm as you competed in singing the Great Helmsman’s praises. When you were not taking potshots at other Red Guard factions, you would prove your utter devotion by reciting from memory Mao’s quotes backwards, lickety-split. After you had denounced your elders for some trifling misstep, you would ecstatically swoon at the sight of an Old Peasant ¾ Mao’s repository of all wisdom (never mind that the Old Peasant pined for the KMT, and the days before the Saving Star of Humanity starved 30 million peasants to death out of spite). Every time you blew your week’s pay on a Big Mac for your son, you would be haunted by recollections of screaming in unison, WE WILL GIVE THE RUNNING DOGS OF AMERICAN IMPERIALISM A RESOUNDING SLAP IN THE FACE!! You would cringe at the memories of moldy oldies, like “Daddy’s Affection, Mommy’s Affection, are nothing compared to Chairman Mao’s Affection.” My dog! What would you do if your kids found out about that one!? Crawl into a hole, I imagine, and hope for merciful asphyxiation before their laughter had subsided.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I wrote this in April 2002.

Science marches forward. I have made a startling discovery:

dogs eat mulberries.

The mulberry trees I planted are bearing fruit, lots of it, which I eat straight off the tree. Some invariably falls to the ground, where my two four-legged vacuum cleaners, Tlahuy and Bengax, immediately started snarfing them down. Intrigued, I plucked some to feed them, and they eagerly eat all I am willing to feed them.

Did you know before that dogs eat mulberries? I thought their diets were confined to meat, shoes, dogfood, rodents, shoes, leaves, birds, sticks, shoes, marmalade, grasshoppers, bread, frogs, shoes, noodles, ferns, grass, shoes, and whatever items of clothing unwary neighbors did not hang up high enough (although I deny ever seeing Tlahuy and Bengax bringing home that nice brown sweater that is now shredded all over the yard).

If anyone can recommend an appropriate scientific journal in which to publish my findings, I will share with you a part of my Nobel Prize.

Thursday, August 09, 2007




Wednesday, August 08, 2007

在南門市場附近看到一個男生,大概國三高一年齡,身穿一件California Fitness Center汗衫,我感覺很怪。十四五歲的男生活動量應該很大,打球、騎車、滑板、跑、跳、滾、爬,應該可以想出各種消耗體力的途徑,怎到健身房那麼型式化的地方?一則健身房應屬年紀較大、體力、想像力較弱的人去的地方;二則健身房純屬商業化的處所,teenager怎會想去?或許健身房推出全家運動的企劃案。運動總勝不運動,沒話講,可是為甚麼我們必須依照商業策略生活?



小朋友暑假恐怕被送去補習生財之道。從前看過美國一個dude ranch(觀光牧場)的廣告(承認:是廣告),照片是幾個牛仔裝的人在西部曠野騎馬,標題是:Nobody wants to grow up to be an investment banker。諦。那個小男生自己有多少興趣暑假學習經濟學、理財、計帳、股市?長輩可以美其名說,為你著想,將來錢多多可以買很多名牌、瞧不起沒錢的人,可是我懷疑,送孩子參加發財暑假營的父母,只是想早點從孩子身上撈錢。從小喝的奶水,都是銅臭。


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Here’s an oxymoron for you:

Raúl Castro gave his first traditional revolutionary speech.

In case you have forgotten, allow me to remind you that a revolution is supposed to break tradition to turn things topsy-turvy. In Cuba, as in many places, “revolution” has become so entrenched in the Establishment that it has become a convention.

Of course politics is the art of double-think, which is why people swallow such patently incompatible terms as compassionate conservatism.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Glottochronology is the study of the ages of languages, by comparing phonetic changes in a list of basic words, such as dog, foot, mountain, and green. From the difference in pronunciation between two languages, you can supposedly figure out when they diverged from a common stock. This theory was put forth by two American linguists, Swadesh and Lees.

Their premise is ridiculous, because it assumes that languages evolve at a constant rate. Lithuanian retains ancient Indo-European cases; students in Iceland can read thousand year old sagas with little difficulty. I have difficulty reading Shakespeare, who lived only four hundred years ago.

Languages change at different rates. In school (
師大, National Taiwan Normal U) I was taught that, concerning Chinese dialects at least, location and geography are important factors in deciding how quickly dialects change. Change is much swifter in open plains with good transportation, much slower in mountains. Northern Chinese dialects, on the great plains of the Yellow River long ago lost many features preserved in southern dialects from the mountains and valleys of Canton, Fujien, and Taiwan; Cantonese dialects are even more conservative than Fujien/Hokien dialects.

For example, Cantonese and Hakka keep complete 入聲/entering tones, words ending in glottal ~k, ~p, ~t, but Fujien dialects have only a few, and northern dialects have lost them entirely.

aside: In college, we had to write poems with Tang dynasty rhymes. This was very challenging, because what rhymed in the eighth century does not necessarily rhyme anymore. The Cantonese speakers (mostly from Hong Kong) in class had no problem. They simply composed in Cantonese and the rhymes all fit. We often asked them to recite poems, to get a better idea of how they sounded in the Tang.

another aside: in a phonology class I analyzed the phonemes of Chinese words in Viet Namese and concluded that they retained the sounds of 盛唐初the early part of the prime of the Tang. In other words, Viet Namese pronunciation of words imported from Chinese has remained stable for well over a thousand years.

Some words have stayed the same for centuries across Chinese dialects: the great hero Lord Kuan/關公 is pretty much the same in any dialect, and he probably pronounced it like that when he lived, in the 3rd century. But his given name, 雲長, differs greatly in time and place. The reasons for this are complex and boring, so you’ll have to take my word for it; if you had any interest, you would know anyway.

Sometime just before Lord Kuan’s time, there was a great change in Chinese pronunciation. 陰陽對轉不轉了. Final ~g, ~b, ~d, the endings corresponding to ~k, ~p, ~t, disappeared completely and forever across the board, as did consonant clusters. For example, /ke was probably pronounced /klok/: compare 各洛. Such features are totally absent in any Chinese dialect, and have been since about the 3rd century.

These massive changes probably occurred within a century or two, and then the language congealed. In other words, the pronunciation of the Tang dynasty (say in the seventh or eight century) is much closer to modern Cantonese than the Tang was to the Eastern Han, only five hundred years earlier.

The evolution of Chinese phonology resembles closely models of punctuated evolution: stability for a long time, then willy-nilly higgledy-piggledy changes chasing across the language, followed by lasting stability.

aside, concerning punctuated evolution: Scientific American reports, Since IBM introduced the hard disk 50 years ago, the density of data storage has increased by 65 million times – with much of that rise coming in the past decade. This is a good example of punctuated evolution.

In addition, I would like to point out some problems with the basic word list for computing language change, which includes a hundred words. At random, in the first paragraph I listed dog, foot, mountain, and green. Tayal in Wulai pronounce hozin/dog, two different ways: same tribe, same village; people in the same tribe two counties over have another pronunciation again; but everybody pronounces kakay/foot the same: put that in your pipes and smoke it, Swadesh and Lees! Mountain is an English word, but I am not sure if there is an inclusive equivalent in Tayal. A mountain with jungle that people hunt on is hlahuy (thus my faithful dog Tlahuy, a form of the same word), but a sharp mountain farther away is rqyax. My Tayal is not very good, but I do not think there is one word for the English mountain. Green in Tayal sometimes includes what English speakers would call blue. In Mandarin for green we now usually say , but there’s also and other words. And so forth.

So all in all, I do not think glottochronology is either convincing or trustworthy.

As if anybody cares.

Friday, August 03, 2007







Thursday, August 02, 2007

臺灣藍鵲 Taiwan blue magpie Urocissa caerulea




Two lovebirds sitting in a tree

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Japan has instituted trial by jury; I simply cannot imagine why. Over two hundred years of experience in the US prove that trial by jury is inefficient, unreliable, and rarely serves justice but always benefits the wealthy. To update Robert Frost, a jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who can afford the more expensive lawyer.

The jury trial is so untrustworthy and cumbersome that in the US, only about 7% of civil suits, even fewer criminal cases. Backlog has reduced ‘justice’ to plea bargaining. We need more judges, more fair laws, and fewer juries

This is not to say that jury trials are all bad. They provide lawyers with thousands of billable hours and provide rich living for consulting experts and jury consultants. You know something’s wrong when there’s a whole career available to people who help lawyers pick jurors for rich defendants. And you’ll never, ever heard of a public defense jury consultant!

Twelve unwilling, bored people who have only vague ideas about legal process and know less about the fine points of law are expected to deal with complex issues to reach a decision. The only way a jury trial would be viable would be if law were taught in school along with civics, and a basic understanding of law requisite for applying for a driver’s license. Ha ha, pure fantasy. But if the jury were so holy, why would Americans dodge jury duty more vigorously than grizzly bears or black death?

It’s important to remember that when the jury trial was valid, people were used to listening to long, finely argued debates. The Lincoln Douglas debates went on for five and six hours a day. Today television has degraded the typical attention span to about 15 seconds, and even then only when there are flash and sparkle to hypnotize and numb the viewer.

The jury trial is an outdated anachronism that the US would be well rid of; it works to the benefit of the rich and the detriment of the poor; it is impervious to rhyme or reason. It sounds like just the thing for the DPP regime in Taiwan. Expect any day to hear that Taiwan is taking up the jury trial too. It would certainly be to President Bean’s advantage to start jury trails as soon as possible, because otherwise he will be facing tough questions about his corruption when his term is over and presidential immunity terminated. Down in southern Taiwan, President Bean could beat an old lady with a tennis racquet in front of a thousand witnesses, and they would blame it on the KMT.