The Earth Moves: But sometimes, not enough

Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau (CWB) is concerned with earthquakes – or rather, the lack of them in 2017.  (As if the lack of typhoons isn’t enough of a problem.  The people I hear complain the most about typhoons also complain the loudest about water restrictions.)

There have been very few 5.0 or 6.0 earthquakes this year.  Taiwan’s earthquakes are slip faults, two plates sliding past each other.  Quakes as high as 7.0 are rare because of the gradual release of energy, the lack of earthquakes could mean a buildup.  Building construction is designed for the expected earthquakes, but what about the unexpected?

Too few earthquakes in Taiwan so far to release energy: CWB

Taipei, Sept. 21 (CNA) Taiwan has seen fewer earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or higher on the Richter scale so far this year compared with previous years, which is not good for proper energy release, the Central Weather Bureau (CWB) said Thursday.

Taiwan usually experiences more than 100 temblors on that kind of scale each year, but as of Thursday, there had been only 42 episodes, said Kuo Kai-wen (郭鎧紋), director of the bureau’s Seismology Center.


Thursday was the 18th anniversary of the Jiji earthquake that hit central Taiwan [Sept. 21, 1999]. The tremor, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale, took 2,415 lives.

In other environmental news, please remember that climate change isn’t real.

Penghu records highest September temperature in 121 years

Taipei, Sept. 24 (CNA) A temperature of 35.1 degrees Celsius was recorded by a weather monitoring station in Magong City, Penghu on Sunday, the highest recorded in September since the station was established 121 years ago.

Taiwan’s air quality has also been poor recently, with warnings for the elderly, young children and those with respiratory problems.  In one township, the red warning applied to all people.

Air quality unhealthy in parts of western Taiwan

Taipei, Sept. 24 (CNA) The air quality dropped to levels deemed unhealthy in central and southern parts of western Taiwan on Sunday, according to the Environmental Protection Administration’s Taiwan Air Quality Monitoring Network.

As of 12:00 a.m., the air quality indicator flashed red at the monitoring station in Hsingang Township in Chiayi County in the south, according to the monitoring network at the Environmental Protection Administration.

A red alert indicates that air quality is unhealthy for the general public.

As I write, most areas have only a “moderate” warning, but that’s at the end of a weekend, two days of industrial inactivity in China.  It will likely worsen by late Monday.

Crime Waves: Slaves, knaves, graves and haze

That title wasn’t meant to be flippant. It’s been a busy week in crime news, especially during “ghost month” where many Taiwanese people are very superstitious.

In followup to the recent murder of a Vietnamese man by Taiwan police, combined with numerous news reports of slave labour by unscrupulous businesses, the National Immigration Agency (NIA) is taking a more humane (but long overdue) approach and treating people who run from jobs as possible victims, not criminals.

NIA re-designates runaway migrant workers as “unaccounted for”

National Immigration Agency (NIA) Director-General Jeff J. Yang (楊家駿) announced Tuesday that in future whenever foreign workers’ whereabouts are unknown after leaving their official place of employment, his agency will no longer refer to them as “illegal runaways” but rather classify them as “unaccounted for.”


Foreign workers often feel compelled to leave their jobs in Taiwan for reasons beyond their control, but despite that are often characterized as suspects or criminals, which Yang said was unhelpful and would henceforth be replaced by the designation “unaccounted for.”

One main reason for leaving is the mistreatment of workers, from abuse to extortion to slave labour. In the case from Kaohsiung, the government surprised me with their actions: confiscating money from the people’s captors and giving it to the victims as back wages.

Fishermen ‘kept like slaves’ in Taiwan

A group of foreign fishermen in Taiwan were locked in tiny windowless rooms around the clock to stop them escaping while not at sea, prosecutors said in the island’s latest abuse case involving migrant workers.

Fishing and boat company owners were among 19 people charged Monday in the southern city of Kaohsiung for illegally holding 81 foreign fishermen in buildings after they had berthed their boats.


Prosecutors also confiscated nearly Tw$3.69 million ($123,000) from the companies in back pay for the workers.

The case came to light last year after a fisherman tipped off prosecutors with the help of a social worker, the statement said.

In other recent news, a hazing incident involving sexual harassment at a Taiwan university is cause for corcern. There aren’t many stories about hazing that make the news here, but the ones I’ve heard involve christian schools. Is that selective reporting, or a sign of a specific problem?

Details of Freshmen Hazing Activities Posted Online

An instructor at Chung Yuan Christian University (中原大學) in Taoyuan is being criticized for his involvement in freshmen hazing activities, details of which were posted on Dcard.

The student who posted details of the hazing during the freshmen outing said he was embarrassed and didn’t want to participate in the games but was pressured to do so.


The instructor, who was not named in the UDN article or Dcard post, reportedly said that male students who were embarrassed or offended by the activities during the freshmen outing were “too conservative.”

Guns are illegal for anyone not the police or military, but that doesn’t stop criminals from getting them. On the other hand, there’s no “good guy with a gun” fiction, and the police can immediately tell who the criminals are.

Three Injured, 1 Dead in New Taipei City Gangland Shooting

Five people were shot during temple celebrations in New Taipei City’s Tucheng District today and at least one is dead.

One of the victims is a gang boss named Lin Li-chang (林立昌) who belongs to the Heavenly Way Alliance. At the time of writing Lin is in a critical condition after being shot 6 times. Lin was not breathing and had no heartbeat when brought to the hospital, but was revived and is currently undergoing emergency surgery.


Shortly before 1:30pm, Lin and temple volunteers were partaking in a ceremony where they distributed rice to the poor, when a gunman suddenly drew a pistol and began firing at Lin. The gunman shouted “Finally, I take revenge for the boss.”

Police suspect that the shooting is related to the assassination of gang boss Huang Yilun (黃義倫) who was murdered in Tucheng as he sat in his Porsche SUV in June this year.

They Didn’t Migrate: How do deal with an invasive species

The government of Chiayi county, Taiwan, is offering a (modest) reward for the capture of brown anoles, a species of lizard native to the Carribean.  The species is capable of destroying indigenous wildlife, and the snake population, while plentiful and dangerous, is not large enough to deal with the problem naturally. The anoles obviously got here because of human intervention (read: stupidity), but did they get here by plane or by cargo ship? I doubt they were smuggled in. [Read more…]

Music Rules: The pain came when Morphine was taken away

Mark Sandman was born September 24, 1952, and would have been 65 today. I say would have been because he died of a heart attack while performing on stage in Italy in July 1999, aged 46. He was the eldest of four children, three sons and one daughter. She is the only surviving sibling, three sons all dying due to illness.  Parents should never have to bury their children.

Mark Sandman was the singer, bassist and primary songwriter of the band Morphine which produced six incredible albums. Their “Low Rock” sound rode the wave of “alternative” music of the 1990s primarily due to their sound and unusual and minimalist instrumentation (two string slide bass, baritone sax, and six piece drum kit) though they have far more in common with jazz, beat poetry, groups of the 1970s and 1980s (e.g. Steely Dan, Two-Tone bands). The instrumentation sounds primitive, yet they produced a full sound. (Sandman would jokingly introduce Colley as the group’s “lead guitarist”.)  With incredibly strong songwriting, they performed live shows that sounded as good as their albums, and had a growing word-of-mouth fanbase. [Read more…]

Left To Die: Callous and cowardly cops are here too

In August, Taiwanese police were engaged in a roundup of foreigners working without legal visas (expired but did not leave, ran away from their jobs, etc.).  Slave labour has been a problem with arrests as recently as last spring.

During one of these raids,  Taiwanese police murdered Nguyen Quoc Phi, a 27 year old Vietnamese man who was being arrested. He tried to escape and was shot nine times. The police did nothing as he slowly and painfully bled to death. No first aid, no call for an ambulance, no attention at all as he lay on the ground suffering.

The video below is interesting not because of the content, but its source: the Hsinchu County Fire Bureau, itself a government agency. It didn’t require private individuals who happened to be there. (Something tells me there will be consequences for the person who released the video.) [Read more…]

Box Office Recedes: Hollyweird blames everyone but itself

Live theatre never thought movies would surpass it.  Radio never thought TV would surpass it.  Drive-in theatres never thought they would die out when “car culture” hasn’t died.  Movie studios never thought home video (VHS and DVD) would surpass theatres.  TV and movie studios never thought video games would outearn them or give a more immersive experience.  Blockbuster never thought it would go bust.  Et cetera, ad nauseum.

Movie studios never thought viewers would get tired of their awful movies.  And after a summer of overpriced failure, they’re trying to blame Rotten Tomatoes and bad reviews instead of their own poor product. A researcher has shown that bad reviews have negligible effect on box office success, but good story telling does. (The evidence showing reviews don’t affect revenues is just as predicable as movie and music piracy having no effect on their sales either.)

Data Analysis Exonerates Rotten Tomatoes for Hollywood’s Failures

Last week, the New York Times published an article about Hollywood studio executives blaming the influence of Rotten Tomatoes for its failures at the box office. This seemed silly, and it was practically an admission that the movies these execs are making suck. Well, now we have data that shows the critical consensus on movies is not killing profits.

Yves Bergquist manages the Data & Analytics Project at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center….


Bergquist’s data showed that there was only a 12 percent PMCC correlation between good or bad ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and the amount of money Hollywood raked in. When he just looked at how a film performed on its ever-important opening weekend, that number dropped to 8 percent. Narrowing the field further to the summer season (May through Labor Day), the number fell to 7 percent.

[Read more…]

Football Analyst Resigns: A crisis of conscience

Other NFL fanboys and talking heads (e.g. Terry Bradshaw) have openly said they would never let their children play football, but Ed Cunningham is the first TV commentator to walk away from his job as purveyor and salesman of a death sport.

ESPN Football Analyst Walks Away, Disturbed by Brain Trauma on Field

LONG BEACH, Calif. — If Ed Cunningham had not already seen enough, he would be back in a broadcast booth on Saturday afternoon, serving as the color analyst for another top college football game televised on ABC or ESPN. It is the work he has done each fall for nearly 20 years.

But Cunningham, 48, resigned from one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus.

“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” he said. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”

Football has seen high-profile N.F.L. players retire early, even pre-emptively, out of concern about their long-term health, with particular worry for the brain. But Cunningham may be the first leading broadcaster to step away from football for a related reason — because it felt wrong to be such a close witness to the carnage, profiting from a sport that he knows is killing some of its participants.

“In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear,” Cunningham said.  “But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.”

This is good to see, but we need to see more.

If other good news, enrollment in Pop Warner and high school football is down as much as 11% by some estimates.  Football teams are shutting down in various places (e.g. Maryland, California), something unheard of outside of economic hardships (e.g. rustbelt town closures, 2008’s meltdown).  This is a positive trend and I hope it continues.

Youth football participation declines as worries mount about concussions, CTE

The artificial turf outside Addison Trail High School was alive with action as a practice session of the Addison Cowboys youth football club got underway. […] The Cowboys are now down to four teams, a decline that mirrors the uneasy state of youth football in the Chicago area and beyond. One program, run by the Park District of Highland Park, shut down last month after only 11 kids signed up, down from a peak of more than 150.

Coaches and youth league officials say several factors are responsible for the drop-off. Sports such as fall baseball are attracting kids who once would have played football. A fickle economy is forcing dads who used to volunteer to focus on their jobs. And video games and smartphones are proving more of an attraction than helmets and tackling dummies.

But the big reason behind the slide, they say, is growing concern about head injuries. News stories about former NFL players diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease better known as CTE, have parents rethinking their children’s participation.


Birth Pains: Another woman denied control of her own body

This time, it’s not a “christian country” that killed a woman.  But like those “christian countries”, the denial of women’s bodily autonomy caused her death.

Pregnant woman in China jumps to death after allegedly denied caesarean section

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – A pregnant woman’s relatives and a hospital in Yulin, Shaanxi province, are blaming each other for rejecting the woman’s request to have a caesarean section, which allegedly led to her jumping to her death from the fifth floor of the hospital.

The 26-year-old woman, Ms Ma Rongrong, who was a week away from delivery, was admitted to the First Hospital of Yulin to give birth on Aug 30, the hospital said in a statement on Sunday (Sept 3).

Medical checks showed that the baby’s head was bigger than normal, suggesting higher risks during natural birth, the statement said.

Ms Ma’s doctor advised her and her family to have a caesarean section, but her family refused and signed a document at the hospital confirming that Ms Ma would deliver naturally, the statement said.

There has been no public statement on why the family refused a caesarian section, whether due to cost or a demand “traditional birth”.  Ms. Ma wanted a caesarian, but her wishes were ignored.

After all, “it’s not her body”.

A Life Seized: Driving privileges are not rights

A 12 year old child was killed this week in Kaohshiung, Taiwan. He and his mother were on a scooter stopped at an intersection.  They, along with several other people, were run over by an SUV that did not stop at the light. The driver claims to have had an epileptic seizure, yet was still allowed to hold a license and drive.

12 year-old Dies of Injuries After Driver Plows through Scooters

September 6, 2017

A 12 year-old boy has died of injuries sustained last Friday when the driver of an SUV smashed into vehicles stopped at a level crossing in Kaohsiung. Thirteen people were reported injured in the accident, but the boy, named Yang, was the only one to sustain serious injuries.

At 7:26am Friday, September 1, a woman driving an SUV plowed through scooters stopped at a the level crossing, crashed through the crossing barriers, then continued for another 400 meters before crashing into two cars and finally stopping.

A total of 17 vehicles were damaged.

The 45 year-old driver named Zhan claimed that she suffered from epilepsy and must have had a seizure. Zhan said she had no recollection of the accident.

In many countries, drivers with epilepsy must prove that, with medication, they have not had a seizure within a certain amount of time (as little as 3 months in parts of the US, as long as 3 years in the UK, with one year the average).  In motorsports, having epilepsy is a ten year or lifetime ban.

(I’m posting under the assumption that the driver was telling the truth.  There are many incidents in Taiwan where drivers have ploughed right through pedestrians and scooters, committed or tried to commit hit and runs.  I’ve seen a few with my own eyes.)

Many people mistakenly believe that “driving is a right”.  It is not, it is a privilege that can be revoked, and it should be revoked more often.  Pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers have a right to be safe, and that right trumps the privilege of any and all drivers.

The most common response to this is “What about personal freedumb?” as if one person’s mobility were more important than the risk they pose to others.  “What about commuting to work?”  If the government is going to ban drivers, then it should accommodate them in some way – mass transit, help renters move, etc.  But the safety of others – the right to safety – has to come first.

Drivers should be retested annually.  Not relicensed (pay a fee without a test, get a new card), I mean retested, forced to prove they can drive safely, and if they can’t, they lose their license for a specific amount of time (3 months to a year).  Too expensive or onerous?  No more than insuring every car.  And if getting retested drops your insurance premiums by 10%, it pays for itself.

Drivers with road rage and arrogant attitudes (“I’m a great driver!” as they cut off other cars) are often more dangerous than drunk drivers because they are always that way.  They develop bad habits over years or decades because they are never retested, only relicensed.  Taking away their privilege is the only way they will learn.  Drivers should be removed from the road if they can’t drive safely, whether due to aggressive driving, poor eyesight, a loss of mental faculties (temporary or permanent) or any other reason.

Music Rules: Steely Dan, one against inevitability

Walter Becker died on Sunday, aged 67.  Life goes on, and life ends too.

I’ve stopped getting upset about musicians dying and bands calling it quits. The only thing that does upset me is the lack of any new groups to replace them. That’s not a “get off my lawn” rant, but I don’t have to like them because they’re popular.

If you can’t play live, I’m not interested. And wow, Steely Dan could play.

In memory of Walter Becker, three of my favourite Steely Dan tracks: “Aja”, “Bodhisattva, and “Gaucho”.

I (Can’t) See: How myopia becomes a pandemic

A recent item in the Taipei Times newspaper really stands out and scares you, if you stand close enough to read it.

Ninety percent of kids in major Taiwanese cities have myopia

Thu, Aug 31, 2017

Myopia is increasingly affecting young people in Taiwan, with close to 90 percent of children in Taiwan’s major cities suffering from nearsightedness. If myopia is not controlled and a child’s vision worsens, their eyesight could be damaged, even with treatment. In these cases, it could cause complications such as degeneration, detachment or tearing of the retina, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. In serious cases surgery may be required, and the complications could even lead to impaired vision.

I have jokingly told my students in the past, both in South Korea and Taiwan, “You should spend more time in the big blue room,” then had to explain what the euphemism mean. Maybe I should be and have been more serious about it.  Emphasis mine in the snippet below:

Myopia (Nearsightedness) from the American Optometric Association

Nearsightedness, or myopia, as it is medically termed, is a vision condition in which people can see close objects clearly, but objects farther away appear blurred. People with myopia can have difficulty clearly seeing a movie or TV screen or the whiteboard in school.

Myopia occurs if the eyeball is too long or the cornea (the clear front cover of the eye) is too curved. As a result, the light entering the eye isn’t focused correctly, and distant objects look blurred.

Myopia affects nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population. While the exact cause of myopia is unknown, there is significant evidence that many people inherit myopia, or at least the tendency to develop myopia. If one or both parents are nearsighted, there is an increased chance their children will be nearsighted.

Even though the tendency to develop myopia may be inherited, its actual development may be affected by how a person uses his or her eyes. Individuals who spend considerable time reading, working at a computer, or doing other intense close visual work may be more likely to develop myopia.

Generally, myopia first occurs in school-age children. Because the eye continues to grow during childhood, it typically progresses until about age 20. However, myopia may also develop in adults due to visual stress or health conditions such as diabetes.

Myopia may also occur due to environmental factors or other health problems:


People who do an excessive amount of near-vision work may experience a false or “pseudo” myopia. Their blurred distance vision is caused by overuse of the eyes’ focusing mechanism. After long periods of near work, their eyes are unable to refocus to see clearly in the distance. Clear distance vision usually returns after resting the eyes. However, constant visual stress may lead to a permanent reduction in distance vision over time.

Time also published an item in 2012 saying the same things:

Why Up to 90% of Asian Schoolchildren Are Nearsighted

May 07, 2012

Scientists say an epidemic of myopia, or nearsightedness, is sweeping through Asian children, and is likely due to students’ spending too much time indoors studying and not enough time outside in the sunlight.

It has long been thought that nearsightedness is mostly a hereditary problem, but researchers led by Ian Morgan of Australian National University say the data suggest that environment has a lot more to do with it.

Reporting in the journal Lancet, the authors note that up to 90% of young adults in major East Asian countries, including China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, are nearsighted. The overall rate of myopia in the U.K., by contrast, is about 20% to 30%.

Myself, my lousy parents never got me proper glasses until I was in my mid teens which meant I did a lot of squinting and sitting close to things.  It makes me wonder if it played a role in how my own vision changed.  My left was dominant as a child, then gradually equalized in my late teens.  Optometrists here haven’t told me to get bifocals, but I suspect those in Canada would.