Aug 20

Typhoon Morakot – A More Objective Report

Written by Allen on Thursday, August 20th, 2009 at 6:43 pm
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I have been critical of a previous post by Steve, which (from my perspective) seemed sympathetic to those who may be jockeying for political gain on the back of people’s misery in the wake of the recent Morakot tragedy in Taiwan. I don’t have time to translate all the reports I read or see on T.V., but here is an article by Cindy Cui that offers a more balanced perspective regarding both situation on the ground and current political fallout (Cindy has written many DPP leaning articles in the past, by the way).  I am quoting her article published today in Asia Times in full:

Typhoon turns into a political storm
By Cindy Sui

TAIPEI – It was just a routine viewers’ survey, but a CNN online “poll” on whether Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou should step down over his administration’s response to Typhoon Morakot made headlines in newspapers and top-of-the-hour TV news in Taiwan, with traditionally anti-ruling party outlets running wild with it.

“CNN poll shows 80% people want Ma to step down,” shouted a front-page headline on Liberty Times. Even television stations typically partial towards Ma played up the story.

The killer typhoon that caught everyone by surprise with its extraordinarily destructive power, pounding Taiwan with record rainfall from August 6 to 10 and causing massive mudslides which killed an estimated 500 people, is turning out to be Ma’s biggest challenge yet as president.

Since taking office in May 2008 after winning 58% of the votes in the presidential election, his approval ratings have slid due to the economic downturn and concerns about his China policy, but now they are at a near record low of 29%.

The hardest-hit areas – Kaohsiung, Pingtung and Tainan counties, are all headed by officials from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Little focus, however, has been placed on mistakes made by local officials, despite the argument that they should have been the most aware of the local rainfalls, flooding and the potential risk of landslides affecting villages in their areas.

That’s not surprising, said Andrew Yang, secretary general of the Taipei-based Council of Advanced Policy Studies and a former government advisor under ex-president Lee Teng-hui.

“People had already experienced inefficiency and incompetence at the lower levels, so they were looking to Ma Ying-jeou for leadership,” said Yang. “One way or another, the system should’ve worked to reduce damages and loss of lives, but it didn’t. That’s why people are targeting Ma Ying-jeou. They want to get the problem solved. People want results.”

It’s still unclear what went wrong. Ma and the Executive Yuan, his cabinet, have only been in office a little over a year and they did not create the disaster response system – it was already there.

Information revealed since the typhoon hit indicates that the Central Weather Bureau initially predicted low rainfalls for the south and had no idea the typhoon would bring about 2,800 mm of rainfall in just four days – half or two-thirds of the total amount of annual rainfall in the areas. Only when rains started falling hard did the bureau steadily upgrade its rainfall forecast.

But it is unclear whether officials at the National Fire Agency’s disaster relief center were informed and if they had been informed, why they had not reacted promptly to alert local officials to evacuate residents.

With so many agencies that could’ve and should’ve done something, it was unclear why everyone dropped the ball.

Ma himself gave the impression in a recent news conference that he himself is not clear about the chain of command that should have been followed in these situations. He repeatedly pointed out that in the seven hardest-hit areas, thousands of lives were saved in three or four of these areas because the village or township chiefs there had had the smarts to evacuate their residents, some of them having undergone training in this.

But this raises the question – why was it left to local officials, some of whom might not be fully aware or informed, to decide whether or not to evacuate people?

The Ministry of National Defense has been roundly blamed for not sending out troops until the third day of the typhoon, and then for not sending enough.

In the worst-hit village of Siaolin, where nearly 400 people are believed to have been buried by a mudslide, it would not have made much difference. Sides of mountains near the remote village located in a narrow valley at the foothills of Alishan came crashing down on the village shortly after dawn on Sunday, August 9. Residents said that due to damaged telecommunications lines, no one outside knew, and help did not come until the next day.

Despite repeated questions from the media about what Ma was doing during the days of the typhoon disaster, he has not answered them or revealed how much information he was given.

“He didn’t receive abundant information,” said Yang.

But that remains unclear.

“Did they [the government] have sufficient information? Or did they have the necessary information but made wrong judgments?” asked Ethan Tseng Yi-ren, a political scientist from the National Sun Yat-sen University in southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung City, traditionally a DPP stronghold. “If we have such types of civil servants who have the necessary information but still failed to act accordingly, then that’s bad.”

While Ma has vowed to launch a thorough investigation and punish those found guilty of dereliction of duty, the media have also questioned whether he will punish himself, with some people calling for his resignation.

People, perhaps long frustrated by a government system notorious for being bureaucratic and unresponsive, are venting their frustration. Perhaps because Ma tends to apologize easily and appears to be caring, he is getting an earful.

“What’s interesting is that people who are traditionally critical of the [ruling] Kuomintang (KMT) and don’t watch TVBS, which traditionally supports Ma Ying-jeou, are now watching TVBS instead of the TV channels that tend to criticize Ma. They are interested in seeing how TVBS is scolding Ma Ying-jeou,” said Tseng.

The fallout from the typhoon would have an impact on elections in December for county and city leaders, Tseng said. “It will definitely have a negative impact on the KMT,” said Tseng. “But it’s unclear how great the impact will be because people are also upset at local officials in the south.”

At play in the unfettered criticism of Ma’s government are lingering suspicions about his intentions in building closer economic and trade ties with China, Tseng said. Since taking over as president, Ma and the KMT have adopted unprecedented measures to improve cross-strait ties, including launching direct flights, shipping and postal links, allowing thousands of Chinese tourists to visit each day, and opening the door to Chinese investment in about 100 sectors, including public infrastructure.

What he plans to do next is actually what most worries Taiwanese suspicious of China – negotiations on an “economic cooperation framework agreement” (ECFA). Similar to a free-trade agreement, talks will begin with China in October over the ECFA and Ma hopes to reach agreement by next year.

Ma believes this is important so that Taiwan does not lose out as China signs free-trade agreements with other countries, giving them a competitive edge in lower tariffs or tariff-free trade with Beijing. But critics worry it will not only hurt Taiwanese local industry but also harm the island’s sovereignty.

“Politics is involved in some of the criticism against Ma Ying-jeou. Taiwanese people won’t say ‘It’s because I’m unhappy with your China policy’, but of course in the back of their mind, they think this,” Tseng said. “Come October, when ECFA negotiations begin, the opposition party will use this opportunity to say this government is not worthy of trust.”

The DPP and its chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen have been conspicuously absent in the typhoon debates. That’s intentional, said Tseng, as they do not want the public to view the criticisms against Ma as the two parties going at each other’s throat again.

What’s missing in the debate, analysts said, is an honest, objective look at what is wrong with a system that allowed hundreds of villagers to be buried in a mudslide during a major typhoon. Even China, which Taiwan often looks down on in terms of its standards of governance, routinely evacuates as many as a million people when typhoons approach.

To be fair, this typhoon was extraordinary. It was slow-moving, staying three to four days, unlike most typhoons which leave within a day or two. And while it was not considered a powerful typhoon, it brought much more rain than most typhoons.

Still, unless the public and the government look at the root of the problem, instead of just calling for resignations of this or that official, the problem could reoccur, analysts said.

Tough questions will also have to be answered – including whether Taiwan will suffer more such extreme weather conditions due to climate change and whether it should allow people to live in dangerously located mountain villages.

“Everyone is criticizing Ma’s ability, but by not analyzing why this typhoon caused so much damage, the people at the grassroots will suffer again,” said Tseng.

The media focus of late is allegations that Premier Liu Chao-shiuan had the nerve to get a hair cut or have his hair dyed on August 11, at the height of the rescue effort, and that the Executive Yuan’s secretary general Hsueh Hsiang-chuan, who is responsible for coordination between ministries, had a Taiwanese Father’s Day dinner with his father-in-law on August 8 when the typhoon brought flooding to the south. Hsueh’s initial defensive remarks were, “It was Father’s Day! And we only ate yam porridge.”

Defense Minister Chen Chao-min was criticized for not dispatching soldiers in time and dispatching too few troops to rescue typhoon victims, while Vice Foreign Minister Andrew Hsia was slammed for initially rejecting international aid.

Hsueh, Chen and Hsia have all tendered their resignations, but the premier has not accepted them yet.

President Ma said he will not resign, insisting his duties were needed at this time. He has promised the results of an investigation into wrongdoings in the disaster-relief fiasco will be revealed next month, and that for now, the focus should be on resettlement and reconstruction.

Analysts said it’s unlikely that Ma will step down. According to Taiwan’s constitution, he must serve his full term. And if the opposition party were to try to recall him, it would need a majority in the Legislative Yuan, which it does not have as Ma’s KMT party controls more than two-thirds of the seats.

What Ma will have to do in the coming days is take a hard look at his cabinet, including the premier, and see if changes need to be made, analysts said. From the beginning, his team has been criticized as being inexperienced. Liu, while reputed as a clean official, has only served a short stint as transportation minister in the 1990s. Coming from a chemistry background, almost all his experience is in academia, where he headed two universities.

According to the constitution, the president is in charge of defense and foreign affairs, while the day-to-day running of the government is left to the premier. Ma, a trained lawyer, has been strict about following this formula, but time and again he has shot himself in the foot for doing so, taking criticism afterwards for not being on hand and involved at a time when the highest-ranking leader was needed.

What Ma has done the most since the typhoon disaster struck is to apologize. He has also met with many bereaved family members, not shying from their cries of anger and complaints, and is promising a variety of assistance, including living stipends, temporary housing, rental subsidies and school meals. It seems to be making a difference, at least to some people, even though the media continue to be tough on him.

The host and guests speakers of a local TV station’s on-air panel discussion on Wednesday to criticize Ma were surprised when the first of several incoming calls from the audience criticized the media, not the president. “All you do is spend all day scolding Ma Ying-jeou. Let’s unite and not differentiate between blue [KMT] or green [DPP],” said one woman on the phone.

Ultimately, Ma’s survival will depend on whether he can meet people’s demands and fix the problems in Taiwan’s disaster response system, said analysts. “I think he is capable of doing this,” Yang said. “He’s putting his ears to the ground.”

[Note: My opinionated introduction was slightly revised in light of Steve and my discussion in comments #1-#6. Specifically, in the first version, I may have implied that Steve took pleasure out of political jockeying off of the misfortunes of others – which was incorrect, and which wasn’t my intent.]

There are currently 2 comments highlighted: 60245, 60274.

26 Responses to “Typhoon Morakot – A More Objective Report”

  1. Steve Says:

    Look Allen, I have no problem with this article or the views expressed within. But I do have a big problem with the words you used to assess my attitude in writing my article. Exactly how did I “seems to join those gleefully jockeying for political gain on the back of people’s misery in the wake of the recent Morakot tragedy in Taiwan”? By writing about what was being said by individuals who had supported Ma in the last election? By referencing people and media within his own party?

    What I wrote about is exactly what Cindy Cui discusses in her article, that Ma is being blamed by people in Taiwan; individuals, media and member of his own political party, for the government response to the tragedy. Why would KMT media and party members “gleefully jockey for political gain” against not only their president but also their party chairman? Shouldn’t that be addressed?

    Saying Ma shouldn’t be blamed for what happened so let’s not talk about the consequences that are occurring and have occurred seems to me like burying your head in the sand. I never called for Ma’s head and I resent your implication that I did. Don’t assume implications that never existed.

    Can you tell me exactly where my report lacked objectivity?

  2. Allen Says:

    @Steve #1,

    Not all criticisms are the same. There are calls for government to do more. There are calls for Ma to personally to intervene. There are calls for Ma to step down.

    Not all attacks are toward Ma – most calls are for more effectiveness – more help – more support. Many were against local officials (mostly DPP) also.

    Your focus was on Ma – and on 2012. Not these other subtleties – not the political context of Taiwan’s coming negotiations with Mainland about a free trade zone and how this could provide an essential political context for understanding the motive for the attacks on Ma now.

    There are many other things Steve, such as Ma’s legalistic style at running the country (which Cui also discussed). Ma really was not constitutionally responsible for running domestic disaster relief … but that legalistic leaning seems to have gotten in trouble here (this is the PR I was talking about in my comments in your previous thread).

    As I’ve mentioned many times in our discussions here, it’s rarely about “facts” and “facts” (as you sometimes seem to stress) – it’s about what facts to focus on, what facts to ignore (or suppress). It’s about telling a story. Re-read what you wrote and what Cui wrote – I think there is a huge difference about what is communicated, and what is not – what may be one-sided, what may be more inclusive.

  3. Steve Says:

    @ Allen #2: All articles focus on different aspects of any controversy, including yours. You are no more objective about Taiwan than I am and with your self-admitted emotionalism, maybe less so. To give your viewpoint is fine but to say it is more objective than mine or some of our commentators who actual LIVE in Taiwan has, in fact, no basis.

    I did not focus on 2012. I focused on Ma’s political capital and his ability to accomplish his objectives, which would include the pending free trade agreement with China.

    So I ask you again, why would KMT supporters, media and other politicians attack Ma if they also support the same goals as free trade with China? I keep asking about his own party and supporters while you keep trying to shift the blame to his political opponents, who currently have no power in the government except on a local basis. Since I haven’t mentioned that at all, why do you keep doing so? And by doing so, aren’t you making this discussion about politics rather than about competency?

  4. Allen Says:

    @Steve #3,

    Cindy’s report is to me much more objective, comprehensive, and insightful.

    As for why KMT would attack him – as I mentioned in #2, not all criticisms are the same. There are calls for government to do more. There are calls for Ma to personally to intervene (i.e. not be so legalistic, to do better PR). There are calls for Ma to step down.

    What did you write?

    “Criticism of Ma’s handling of the Morakot disaster is rising quickly — even within Ma’s own party and in media outlets normally friendly to the president. Much of the criticism focused on comments he made Thursday to Britain’s Independent Television News in which he appeared to blame Morakot victims for their own fate. “They were not fully prepared. If they were, they should have been evacuated much earlier,” Ma told an ITN reporter. “They didn’t realize how serious the disaster was.”

    Taiwan’s normally pro-Ma China Times newspaper lambasted the president for the remarks, saying they were badly out of place. “It is not presidential to tell international media that the blame falls on people who would not evacuate in order to safeguard their own homes,” the newspaper said.

    Ma also has come under fire for his handling of government efforts to save storm victims and help the island’s hard-hit south recover. “If we expect the people to do everything themselves, what do we need a government for?” chided lawmaker Lo Shu-lei of Ma’s ruling Nationalist Party. Ma “seems to be out of the loop and doesn’t understand the way the relief system works,” she said.

    The criticism of Ma is reminiscent of the hostile reaction to former President George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — criticism that played a major role in turning public opinion against the U.S. leader.”

    … … …

    My wife has talked to family members in Taiwan who were previous supporters of Ma during the election but are now furious over his handling of the disaster and remarks made to the public, and swear they will no longer support him. It’s common in Taiwan these days to refer to the storm as “Katrina” and not “Morakot”.

    Do you think Ma’s current unpopularity on the island will affect the reconciliation between the Chinese and Taiwan governments? Will he have enough time to repair the damage before the next election, or will this crisis affect his popularity the way Hurricane Katrina affected George Bush’s?

    Steve – my purpose is not to debate Taiwanese politics with you here, but I believe if people try to learn about Taiwanese politics based on what you wrote – they would be grossly mislead. I am providing something more comprehensive and objective. I trust you agree with me that Cindy’s article is fine (at least that’s what you wrote in your first comment) – and that our only disagreement is over whether your article was biased.

    With regard to that issue, let’s just agree to disagree. I feel it’s biased. You don’t.

    But at least both of us agree that Cindy’s article is ok – so let’s move on…

  5. Steve Says:

    @ Allen: Agree, but need to point out that I did not write that, it was from another news article. I quoted two different news articles based on what was written at the time. Your article was published today. If you want to critique what I wrote, fine but let’s confine it to what I did write.

    As time passes, new articles with more in depth analysis will add to this discussion that might make Cindy’s article moot. That’s the nature of ongoing news. But to say that one is more “objective’ than another is actually a subjective statement. What I wrote summarized the mood at the time it was written. Agreeing to disagree is fine, but you went beyond that with the title of your article and the first sentence you wrote. That’s what irked me, not your opinion which I very much respect. Personally, I have stated many times that I believe relations with China are much, much better under Ma’s administration than previously. I fully support the three links and closer economic integration between Taiwan and China. Are we really that far apart here?

  6. Allen Says:

    @Steve #5,

    I agree with you that I have the benefit of time (and your article) in posting Cui’s article. I also agree with you that every detail you posted was strictly correct.

    When I really can pinpoint the source of my allergic reaction to your post a couple of days ago, I will articulate and let you know. This is the best I can do now…

    As for how far apart we are: in truth, probably not much. And to be honest – my reaction to your piece is not based on what I think you believe, but what I think others may perceive you to have written. I don’t believe my assessment of that is that far off, but of course, I could be…

  7. EugeneZ Says:


    After a few clicks on the internet, I confirmed that the Cindy Sui you quoted here is the the Cindy I knew in early 1990 when she was in college. As a graduate student, I lived in this very interesting house in Berkeley with 7 housemates. Cindy was dating one of them back then, and I remember that she went to China as exchange student for one year. The guy she was dating was Ralph Jennings, now a reporter for Reuters, and her husband.

    Sounds like she has also gone on and led a very interesting life since then.

    Last week I just met another housemate of that interesting house in Vancouver. This is a small world !

  8. Jerry Says:

    @Allen, @Steve

    Personally, Allen, I don’t like your insinuations about Steve in this OP. And the title of your OP is pretty hubristic. Ain’t free speech a great thing?

    Steve, you wrote in #3:

    @ Allen #2: All articles focus on different aspects of any controversy, including yours. You are no more objective about Taiwan than I am and with your self-admitted emotionalism, maybe less so. To give your viewpoint is fine but to say it is more objective than mine or some of our commentators who actual LIVE in Taiwan has, in fact, no basis.

    Steve, those are my sentiments exactly.

    As a disclaimer, I have very little use for Ma and his bungling of the Morakot disaster. I am disgusted by his seeming indifference to the suffering of the people here. Then he had the frigging nerve to blame the CWB here and the victims for their own deaths, suffering and misfortune. Ma and his underlings waved off American and Japanese offers of logistical and heavy equipment help. Furthermore, it is becoming apparent, to me, that he bungled the design, engineering and building of the Neihu MRT line and the Maokong Gondola, during his tenure as mayor here in Taipei.

    I go along with Harry Truman’s dictum, “The buck stops here!” He was the mayor or Taipei and he is the president of Taiwan. The buck stops at his desk. Tough luck if he is taking heat. Tough luck if his opponents will make political fodder out of his incompetency. That’s life. “A bi gezunt!” as my grandfather would tell my dad or me.

    Further disclaimer: I have little or no use for the CCP, Chinese provincial governments or the PRC government. I don’t trust them; not one inch. I have no use for their apologists, toadies, lackeys, or sycophants, no matter the obsequious, covert garb.

    I wrote this out Steve’s OP about cross-cultural dating,

    How has the weather been in HK? It is hotter here in Taipei this summer. A lot less rain (We are down 35% and 600 mm ytd) and only one typhoon this season, so far; Morakot did little damage up north, but devastated sections of southern/central Taiwan. 500+ people died in Taiwan. Horrible.

    What really came across as even more horrible was Ma Ying-Jeou’s cavalier non-response to Morakot and his blaming of the victims & Central Weather Bureau for the deaths. He also waved off American and Japanese offers of logistical and heavy equipment help which the country desperately needed. He has come out looking like a horse’s petoot. Pretty sad and disgusting. I think he has one-upped/trumped Shrub’s miserable handling of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I never thought that anybody could sink that low. It looks like Ma has proved me wrong.

    This country is currently in a funk, a malaise. It feels like the country is somewhat lost and confused. I would describe it as a wound to the soul of Taiwan. It makes me sad, because this is a wonderful country, with wonderful people and surely deserves better.

    Allen, if you are looking for “happy talk”, I am not your man.

    I would suggest Richard Feynman’s quote to you, “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    One last thing, I am glad to be back. Talk to you later, Allen.

  9. Allen Says:

    @Jerry #8,

    Man … getting spanked like that by an old friend so early in the morning! 😉

    But consider me stubborn: I still stand by the assertion that my article paints a much more objective and complete picture of what’s going on. Of course, nothing is complete, but something is more complete than others….

    As for science – you are not going to get any disagreement from me. But even science operates on paradigms … and successive theories. No scientist ever fathom having the truth – they dream only have journeying toward the truth – getting a more object and complete picture.

    Anyways – welcome back Jerry… What have you been up to?

  10. Wukailong Says:

    Actually, when looking at this affair (which is difficult for me to get a feel for since I’m not in Taiwan, or have any relatives there) I do see similarities to something that happened in Sweden in 2004, and think I understand Allen’s sentiments. You probably remember the tsunami in the Indian Ocean at the end of 2004 that killed so much people. 500 of these happened to be Swedish tourists, and there was also a large group of injured people.

    The government response at the time was slow and inadequate. The Swedish embassy in Thailand sent out a group of people but their resources were limited and there wasn’t much they could do. One of my friends happened to be an employee at the embassy during that very period, so he worked in the disaster area together with a couple of others.

    In Sweden, this quickly turned into a political fight where the opposition parties blamed the sitting government for the shoddy operation. Personally I thought of the matter as a lack of experience of disaster handling, and especially one where the involved citizens are at the other end of the world. Countries more used to national catastrophes like Italy had people more quickly in place. At the time, I found the political fight disgusting and I’m sure no government in the same situation would have done anything heroic.

    Perhaps the comparison is moot and Ma really is to blame here, but I’m not convinced.

  11. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Jerry:
    hey, nice post. Actually quite a measured response…I was expecting something considerably more pointed.

    As always, could not agree with you more on paragraph #5.

    Also very much agree with paragraph #3 and 4. Though admittedly different in terms of scale (but maybe not as disparate when looking at the damage/”suffering” relative to the size and population of the nation/”entity”), the response and vitriol directed towards Ma seems reminiscent of, and comparable to, that heaped upon a certain goofy president after a certain little hurricane not too long ago.

    If people complain that Ma is catching political flak in the aftermath of this natural disaster, then they may also have been sympathetic to the political beating GWB took after Katrina. Somehow, I thought people belonging to the latter category would have been very hard to find. The buck stops with the president, whether that guy wants to get cushy with Hu Jintao or not.

    As for this latest report, it is certainly “another” report; as for whether it is “more objective”, that’s certainly in the eye of the beholder. The irony is that claims of greater or lesser objectivity have a fairly subjective basis.

  12. Steve Says:

    @ Wukailong #10: I’m not sure if you can compare the Swedish tsunami response in Thailand with Taiwan’s response to Morakot for these reasons:

    1) Tsunamis don’t occur in Sweden, so the government isn’t knowledgeable in handling them on a national basis. Even in Thailand, they are a relatively rare occurrence. The political battle that resulted in Sweden seems purely politically driven.

    2) Typhoons (along with earthquakes) happen all the time in Taiwan. There are usually 2-3 big ones that hit the island every year. When I was there, we had one that flooded the basement of the Grand Hyatt in Taipei just before Semicon Taiwan was held there, knocking out power and water for a day. Mudslides are also common. This particular typhoon gave up more rain than any in 50 years, but the government knew something of this size would hit sooner or later.

    3) There was as much criticism of Ma from pro-KMT publications in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon as there was from the anti-KMT publications. There was heavy criticism from ordinary citizens who had supported Ma’s election and from actual typhoon victims in southern Taiwan. The condemnation was almost universal. It wasn’t until after the dust had settled when the criticism became more partisan.

    In Taiwan, typhoons and earthquakes are the two natural phenomena that you can count on experiencing on a regular basis while living there. I’ve lived in San Diego for almost 20 years and though California is known worldwide for its earthquakes, they are nowhere near the power of the ones in Taiwan. Tsunamis? I’ve lived in Houston and even there, the hurricanes were far less frequent than the ones in Taiwan. If the government is prepared for anything, it’d be prepared for these two types of natural disasters.

    Therefore, I’d put the blame on Ma as the head of the government. That’s where the buck is supposed to stop. Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, he was making political decisions when he should have been making humanitarian ones.

  13. Jerry Says:

    @Allen #9, @SK Cheung #11, @ Wukailong #10, @Steve #12

    Allen, I can imagine the comics character Snuffy Smith saying, in this situation, “I calls ’em as I sees ’em!” I know it is hillbillyish slang, but it works for me.

    Stubborn is ok. Displays of seeming arrogance and superiority are not ok in my book. I subscribe to SK’s thinking when he wrote, “As for this latest report, it is certainly “another” report; as for whether it is “more objective”, that’s certainly in the eye of the beholder. The irony is that claims of greater or lesser objectivity have a fairly subjective basis.” In other words, it takes a subjective judgment to make a claim of objectivity. I for one have my biases, prejudices, my own “eye of the beholder” and my own peculiar brand of subjectivity. I am not sure that I would ever want the mantle of omniscience. Nobody would believe it anyway! LMAO

    Regarding Feynman’s quote, I don’t think he was talking about science, per se. He, IMHO, was talking about the propensity of man to fool him or herself. Man has an uncanny ability to rationalize away anything remotely resembling reality and truth.

    @SKC, I have little sympathy for Ma or Shrub (GWB). “Somehow, I thought people belonging to the latter category would have been very hard to find.” God, I hope that is the case, and that goes for Ma, too. I just hope that Ma doesn’t screw up the handling of H1N1 flu virus if it becomes a serious problem. Even, his health minister was missing in action after Morakot struck. I have had enough of Ma’s indifference and incompetency.

    @Steve, I agree, for the Swedes, that earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in the Indian Ocean were a rare phenomenon. WKL, it is virtually impossible for a nation, unaccustomed to tsunamis, to prepare “forecasting and logistical support” services for their own citizens 1,000s of miles away. And, following the tsunami, they didn’t have the equipment or experience to deal immediately with their own citizens’ crises, 1,000s of miles away. That was an unfair political attack. That is like asking the Thai government to protect their own citizens in Sweden when they have no personal knowledge as to from what they should be protecting them.

    BTW, if the beach developers in Indonesia and Thailand had left the mangrove barriers in place, much of the damage from the tsunamis would have been mitigated (and that also goes for protecting from storm surge during a typhoon). Instead, developers, smelling more profit, ripped out the mangroves, leaving beautiful, unhindered views of sandy beaches and the usually taciturn ocean waters. They also provide beautiful (or should I say, horrific), unhindered views of the tsunami as it wreaked death and devastation on the beachfront and inland. Good planning, developers. May you rot in hell.

    Typhoons, earthquakes, landslides, mudslides, rockslides and flooding are common here in Taiwan. While Morakot stalled and pumped in much more rain than expected, many people here know that typhoons have that capability. 11 years ago, Hurricane Mitch did much the same to Honduras, only even worse. Over 6,000 people were killed, 70% of agricultural crops were destroyed and the hurricane destroyed 70+% of the transportation infrastructure in the country. And the worst part is we know that it can and will happen; we just don’t know when and where in Taiwan. Preparedness is key. And fortunately, the Americans have experienced personnel and a lot of equipment we needed in that event, located relatively close in Okinawa and Guam; the Japanese have the same, also relatively close. It was a shame that Ma turned down the offers of help from the Japanese and Americans.

    In Taiwan, typhoons and earthquakes are the two natural phenomena that you can count on experiencing on a regular basis while living there. I’ve lived in San Diego for almost 20 years and though California is known worldwide for its earthquakes, they are nowhere near the power of the ones in Taiwan. Tsunamis? I’ve lived in Houston and even there, the hurricanes were far less frequent than the ones in Taiwan. If the government is prepared for anything, it’d be prepared for these two types of natural disasters.

    Therefore, I’d put the blame on Ma as the head of the government. That’s where the buck is supposed to stop. Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, he was making political decisions when he should have been making humanitarian ones.

    Very well said. I quite agree.

  14. Steve Says:

    @ Jerry:

    “There are three kinds of men: The ones who learn by reading and the few who learn by observation.
    The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.”

    —Will Rogers 😛

  15. Wukailong Says:

    @Jerry and Steve: I agree with you, I just brought up an observation from my background, though I should also add that the viewpoint that the government couldn’t have done that much would have me eaten alive at home. 😉 I guess people are so used to the welfare state that they think it should extend everywhere in the world.

    One good thing that came out of this, though, was that there was a restructuring of government bodies so that emergencies abroad can be handled better.

    Obviously Taiwan needs to do something about its relief system. What were the reasons that Ma turned down the offers from abroad, btw?

  16. Steve Says:

    I came across these powerful photos of the typhoon showing damage in the Philippines, Taiwan and China. They are really worth seeing!

    Wukailong, Ma initially dispatched only about 2,100 soldiers to assist with the relief, and after coming under intense criticism upped the numbers to 46,000 soldiers. The official story about turning down aid from both the USA and Japan was that Andrew Hsia, the Foreign Minister, made the decision without consulting higher authorities. He has since resigned. Ma also said immediately after the decision was made that Taiwan didn’t need the aid and had things under control. He later said that as President, those decisions weren’t his responsibility. Technically he was correct, but as the leader of not only the government but also the party, the Taiwanese themselves did not accept his excuse.

    The sad thing is that those American and Japanese helicopters would have made a big difference in the rescue attempts. Their equipment and training was much better for those kind of missions than what the Taiwan military currently has. But don’t worry, since then Ma has declared war on typhoons as they are the main enemy facing the country from now on, and wants to redefine the military’s role to concentrate on those above all other missions. I guess that means more helicopters and bulldozers rather than aircraft and anti-missile batteries.

  17. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Steve:
    sounds like no more Patriot missiles…that should make lots of folks around here and across the strait very happy.

  18. wuming Says:


    Thanks for the pictures. If I only look at these pictures, seems that Zhejiang Chinese are more self-reliant and resourceful than their compatriots across the Strait. They look like people who dealt with disasters often. Since my ancestral home was in Zhejiang, I feel a bit proud (down right tribalism, not even nationalism.)

  19. Jerry Says:

    @Steve #14-16, @Wukailong #15, @S.K. Cheung #17

    Steve, I love Will Rogers. That was a great quote. For some reason, when I read “The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves”, I thought of the Austin Lounge Lizards’ “Shallow End of the Gene Pool”

    WKL, live and learn is good. Why did Ma turn down the offers? I can only conjecture and speculate. Several things come to mind: pride, stubbornness, fear of how China would react, and/or afraid of losing face. The usual suspects. Who knows for sure?

    It seems that they have been trying to dismantle the emergency system here much like the US did with FEMA.

    Steve, you are right. They needed heavy equipment and heavy-lift helicopters which could lift the equipment and supplies into place. They also needed to carry large groups of people. Heavy-lift choppers are very good for rescue work. I also believe that the Americans are better at setting up emergency hospital units in disaster and war areas.

    Regarding Ma’s “War on Typhoons”, he tried to change the current order for 60 Blackhawks to 45 Blackhawks and a number of heavy-lift helicopters like the CH-54 along with additional rescue equipment. Naturally, the Ministry of National Defense nixed the change. BTW, Blackhawks are medium-lift war machines. Not really designed for rescue work.

    SKC, I don’t see why we have to get rid of the Patriot missiles. If we can convert Blackhawks to rescue work, maybe we could convert the Patriot, too?? ROFL

  20. Jerry Says:

    @wuming #18

    “If I only look at these pictures, seems that Zhejiang Chinese are more self-reliant and resourceful than their compatriots across the Strait.” Perhaps? Perhaps not? The local dynamics of a typhoon can dictate different outcomes in different areas. Sometimes the outcomes can be overwhelming.

    That occurred during Hurricane Mitch. Honduras and its people were even worse hit than Nicaragua and Guatemala. That occurred in Hurricane Katrina. Citizens of Baton Rouge suffered much less than those in New Orleans. That occurred during Morakot. And I am not going to broach the subject of earthquakes and tsunamis. Nature can easily overwhelm us humans and our sense of “control over our own destinies”.

    I understand pride. I also understand gratitude at the good fortune of not being overwhelmed. And empathy for those who are overwhelmed. No matter where they live. It is possible for anyone of us, at some time, to find ourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  21. Allen Says:

    Man … with everyone ganging up on me, I must have made a mistake somewhere.

    Ok – I’ll grudgingly concede defeat here and take my fight to another thread at another time.

    WKL – thanks for the small token of understanding in #10.

  22. Steve Says:

    Hi wuming~

    Taiwan, Fujian and Zhejiang got clobbered by this typhoon, but Taiwan took the brunt of it by far. Having lived in Taiwan and also having spent a lot of time in Zhejiang province, I’d have to say that both are very resilient peoples. I also must admit that I had more friends whose families were originally from Zhejiang province than any other in China by a factor of at least 2:1, so I hear where you’re coming from.

    Once when five of us were headed to Ningbo for a sales presentation, I remember driving past Shaoxing and on the way, seeing houses with these very unusual and unique dome shaped roofs, almost like they were Russian. I asked our sales manager about it and she said that rather than bury their ancestral ashes, they are stored in this dome. I only saw it in a certain part of the province but I found it fascinating. Are you familiar with this custom?

  23. Michael Turton Says:


    Cindy Sui is from China and her writing can hardly be described as DPP-leaning — she wrote for the BBC, which is ardently pro-China, and also for Asia Times, whose editorial philosophy can best be described as cynical. I would love to see what you think of as a DPP leaning article from her, for I have never seen one; her reporting is usually quite balanced. I suspect that because the international media tends to adopt pro-Beijing positions on things, any balanced report might look pro-DPP to the uninitiated.

    Michael Turton

  24. Allen Says:

    @Michael Turton #23,

    The article cited here is objective not DPP leaning. However I have read years ago some of her writing that I thought was too sympathetic to the DPP. Given the bitter politics on Taiwan over the last decade or so, this statement should not come as a surprise. As we say in law school, there are some arguments where no one will come out looking clean. Writing about DPP politics may be such a topic.

    As for your statement that BBC is ardently pro-China – is that a joke for the uninformed???

  25. Raj Says:

    As for your statement that BBC is ardently pro-China – is that a joke for the uninformed???

    I think Michael is talking about the BBC in relation to the Taiwan matter. He isn’t interested in domestic Chinese matters.


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