Monday, April 27, 2020

A break from COVID and CANVAS

I was going to post a thoughtful note on George H. Kerr's perspective on the April 24, 1970 assassination attempt on Chiang Ching-kuo, but I'm burned out on COVID-19 news and transferring my Blackboard materials to Canvas for my first summer class that begins May 4. So I'm going to relax with this video, which I just encountered. Apologies if you've seen it before:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


This is the term I came up with this morning to describe how I lurch from one anger-inducing news story to another about the intersection of politics and COVID-19 (and, sometimes, bad reporting).* I imagine I'm not the only person who does this. I've seen the term "doomsurfing," but that describes something a bit different--as Kevin Roose defines it, doomsurfing consists of "falling into deep, morbid rabbit holes filled with coronavirus content, agitating [one]self to the point of physical discomfort, erasing any hope of a good night’s sleep." Ragesurfing, perhaps a subspecies of doomsurfing, is characterized by the active pursuit of news articles that you know will make you angry and a descent into the rabbit hole of reading the comments on stories or social media posts with an emphasis on the ones that you strongly disagree with or that are dismissive or insulting to your perspective. "I knew there would be some idiots who would agree (or disagree, as the case may be) with this posting!" you say, vindicated in your belief that not everyone on the internet is as enlightened as you (OK, this is about me), at the same time growing more and more angry and despairing at how stupid and/or evil "they" are.

I'm not sure what motivates ragesurfing; Roose, in another article, argues that what he calls "machine drift" happens when our thoughts and emotions are influenced by our online experiences through "a combination of humans and sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence." He quotes the adage that "We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us." His objective is to explore how our tools shape us, which, if you believe that ragesurfing is a result of being manipulated by our tools, seems an important consideration. Maybe his podcasts will shed some light on this phenomenon (though he'll probably end up giving it another name that will stick better than "ragesurfing," which will probably make me even madder).

Note that ragesurfing doesn't imply engaging those other points of view, though I guess it doesn't preclude engagement. Personally, I don't have a Twitter or Facebook account, so my consumption of social media is strictly from the sidelines. This might enhance the feelings of impotent rage--Roose suggests that "using social media actively makes us feel better than consuming it passively," but I have no intention of diving into the volcano just because I'm burning my feet by dancing around the edge.

I suppose that ragesurfing, unlike doomsurfing as it's currently being used, does not have to be concerned only with coronavirus-related content. However, it makes sense that it would surface now, when I'm stuck at home, sitting in front of the computer or staring at my phone way too much.

I need to get back to grading right now, so I'm just going to post this as a "half-formed thought." I'll try to stay away from my usual grazing locations. Like a cow that eats too much lush green grass in the spring, I'm liable to start staggering around and fall over. (That simile probably proves I'm a suburbanite.)

*Update: I found the hashtag "#RageSurfing used once in a late 2018 tweet:

Doesn't seem to be exactly what I mean by the term, though... "Ragesurf" also comes up, as in this tweet:

Still doesn't seem to mean the same thing.

I'm supposed to be grading...

Saturday, April 18, 2020

My son's first book

My son has gotten into writing books now. His writing looks like a flock of birds, and he glues the pages together so they form sort of a long wallpaper-like thing. Maybe a scroll, except that he doesn’t roll it up.

It’s all about Thomas and Friends, of course. The trains look like alien heads with big eyes on top of long footless legs (which are actually wheels). Then he draws the tracks and writes the text (see the left-hand side.) He could write some real letters if he wanted to, but I’m not going to rush him. He finished one book last night and got to work on another one today. I wish I had his energy. He calls them “Awdry books,” so I guess they’re based on the books the Rev. W. Awdry wrote back in the day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Clearing out yesterday's fallen branches

Yesterday a big storm came through, with heavy rain and strong winds that tossed branches around the yard and even cut out our power for about 45 minutes.  (We were lucky on both counts--other people in the state had trees fall on their houses or lost power for much longer times.) Today was a reasonably nice day, so this afternoon my five-year-old and I went out to clean up the fallen branches that were scattered all over the yard.

My son alternated between picking up branches to put in my wheelbarrow and playing with his wooden Thomas trains; sometimes his trains helped carry the branches over. Henry, the big green tender engine, was especially helpful. While we worked on collecting the branches, we discussed Henry--his helpful but sometimes "arrogant and vain" personality (as my son described it), his fear of rain, of wind, and of heights. Every once in a while it amazes me not just that he's talking so much, but that we have things to talk about (though our most content-rich conversations seem to circulate around Thomas and his friends, which I know more about now than I ever wanted to).

Of course, now that we have all of these branches, I have to figure out how to get them to the dump on Saturday...

Monday, April 13, 2020

Light at the end of the tunnel...

... for this semester, anyway. This week is the last week of classes, and I'm finishing up reading drafts of Travel Writing portfolios right now. I've made everything due at the end of the week so I can get caught up on grading the "little" things and attending to last-minute student questions.

It has been interesting teaching all of my courses online this semester. The confused feeling that a lot of people have been having the past few weeks--not knowing when the work day begins or ends, not even knowing what day of the week it is--has been my experience since January, so I've more-or-less gotten used to it. While I have missed a lot of face-to-face interaction that happens when I'm in the office more frequently, the sense of FOMO has slowly faded. (Probably in part because the school has been closed for about a month.) I do still have the weird feeling that time has stretched out--the beginning of the semester, the impeachment of old what's-his-hair, and all the other pre-COVID-19 events of 2020 seem to have taken place years ago.

No recommendations for people working from home as a result of this--I'm not in the business of giving advice on this blog (at least not purposely). In this case, I'm probably not a good model of how to work from home, at least if you read the advice other people give. It's 3:30 in the afternoon right now, I'm sitting on the sofa with a blanket over me and I haven't showered yet today. The TV is on to Paw Patrol (not for me) and my son is still in his pajamas and getting muffin crumbs all over the sofa. No role model here...

Monday, April 06, 2020

How Tunghai University ended up in Taichung instead of Hsinchu

I'm supposed to be working on my never-ending (never-beginning?) Kerr paper right now, but I'm going to take a break to transcribe an April 29, 1954 letter to George H. Kerr concerning Tunghai University. The letter is from Re-lin Su (蘇瑞麟), a former student of Kerr's (a little about him here). According to an article in the Bradford County Telegraph, Su was the "principal of the Chu Tung County High School in Shin-chu, Formosa." He was in the US at the time of this letter, under the auspices of the Foreign Operations Administration of the US government.

Here's the letter:
April 29, 1954 
Dear Kerr Sensei: 
I'm glad to hear from you. This is my third week here, and I have a very light program. There is nothing to do except to attend conferences, all kinds, whether it concerns my program or not. I'm sure I can't learn much, but it is good for me to read some books and prepare my monthly, quarter, predeparture and final reports. 
I've not met Mr. Kabura yet. He is living at dormitory. It is my pleasure to hear he is here, I'm going to try to see him. 
Before I left Formosa I've heard about a new college. My hometown was one of the two prearranged campuses, but because of county governor of my county was not interested in it, so the new college was decided to be established at Taichu. And last January when I was in Berea College, Ky, I've heard something about it. I was told it was going to follow Berea College--labor system. But at that time it was not decided what and how many departments the new college should have. There is one agricultural college in Taichu already. As for social science, our government does not like it any more. I think you are still remember there was an evening college for social science in Taihoku before the February war. I'm sure you know why our government does not like to open social science college.  
This new college is a mission college. I think it will be good for Formosa. At least some more high school graduates can attend college and receive college level education. You might not be able to imagine how hard to attend college in Formosa, even secondary school.  
We've around three hundred secondary schools--senior high and junior high--and yet only about half of elementary graduates who want to attend junior high school can go to junior high school. The circumstance is not better at all since the Japanese control. 
Do you have any concern about the college? I've ever talk to one of professor in Berea College. I want to put up some relation between my high school and the college. Not only to send students to the college, but to get their help and cooperation to my school's extension service to the communities.  
I've written a few lines before, the county governor was not interested in a new college. In fact, he was not he was interested in it. There will be a election of county governor in May, he wanted to be as candidate again. When two years ago there was the first election for county governor in Formosa, I was the most hopeful one. He came to talk with me let him try, and this time--this May 2--he would help me. Because of I had not so much money to forward as candidate, and he is older than me, so I agreed to let him try.  
And last May before I came the States because he wished to forward as candidate again, so he was afraid of me very much. If the college was established at my home town if I would forward as candidate he was sure he would fail. So, so long as the college concerns he did not show any interest and guide those people who came to see the prearranged campus, he let one of supervisor of schools led to a place where there are two Buddist Temples.  
On the contrary Taichu offered a large land for campus, in fact Taichu is much better than the place where the county governor had shown in my county. 
And this time only one candidate for county governor. Of course I'm not interested in that job I am enjoying my present job more.  
But still is the strongest enemy for him, and many people wanted to put me as candidate this time while I am here and know nothing about their election. 
This democratic way does not profit our democracy at all so long as this election concerns. 
Sincerely yours, 
RL. Su
Su, Yao-tsung, ed. Correspondence by and about George H. Kerr (II), pp 593-596. (Errors in original.)

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Another new book in the former native speaker's library

I came across Michael Berry in his response to a position paper by Shu-mei Shih about "Linking Taiwan Studies with the World" (from my quick dip into the International Journal of Taiwan Studies). Given his invocation of China as "the elephant in the room" facing Taiwan studies, I was curious to see where he was coming from in terms of his research. Looking at his bio and research statement on the UCLA website, I found that he had translated Wu He's Remains of Life. So I decided to buy it.

Now I'm thinking about whether I should rearrange my "order of reading" for the books I've received. I have to admit I haven't gotten very far into any of the books that I mentioned receiving last month. Too busy being enraged by current events. (I keep thinking I should start a Twitter account just to link to all the things that enrage me. Would that be therapeutic, do you think?) Maybe reading a novel would be a nice way to get away from current events. (Though reading about the Musha Incident isn't exactly pleasant...)

Here are some reviews of the book that I have found. Although they're all about the English version, they don't say much about Berry's translation.

Friday, April 03, 2020

"A Government of Merchants": GHK (indirectly) on the Trump administration's handling of COVID-19

[Update, 10:48 p.m. Well, this doesn't make any sense, probably  because I've been feeling tired and dizzy all day. The "parallels" are kind of loose. I guess the part I would emphasize here is that both regimes were/are corrupt and that both "leaders" didn't/don't take responsibility for their incompetence and corruption. I didn't go into Chen Yi's role in the cholera and bubonic plague outbreaks, but there's probably some parallel there, too. See this paragraph from Denny Roy's Taiwan: A Political History, where Chen's first director of public health declines to stop dumping sewage from cholera wards into ponds that were used for fishing by saying, "After all, only the poor people are contracting the disease." The only parallel is that reading about what's going on now gives me the same feeling of impotent rage that reading Formosa Betrayed gives me.]

Reading about some of what has been going on with the way the Trump administration is handling the coronavirus reminded me of chapter five of George H. Kerr's Formosa Betrayed. This chapter, entitled "A Government of Merchants," contains descriptions of the Chen Yi government in Taiwan that are sadly evocative of the Trump government's practices. To name a few:
  • Kerr: "Next the Governor's own men developed a firm control of all industrial raw materials, agricultural stockpiles and confiscated real properties turned over to them by the vanquished Japanese. By the end of 1946 these huge reserves were fairly well exhausted, and at last in early 1947 the Governor's Commissioners imposed a system of extreme monopolies affecting every phase of the island's economic life. This was Chen Yi's 'Necessary State Socialism' in its developed form and the ultimate cause of the 1947 rebellion." 
    • From Raw Story today (4/3/20), we get the news that after Jared Kushner claimed on Thursday that "The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use," the Strategic National Stockpile's website changed the Stockpile's mission statement to reflect Kushner's view. The original mission statement that called the Stockpile "the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out" and promised to get "the right medicines and supplies ... to those who need them most during an emergency." The new mission statement removes those assurances and calls the Stockpile "a short-term stopgap buffer" that can be used "to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies." The onus goes to the states to develop their own stockpiles, which is almost impossible to do since, as some governors have complained, the federal government keeps outbidding state and local governments on personal protective equipment (PPE). (It's admittedly not an exact parallel, but the similarity is that the federal government--through Kushner--is claiming "ownership" of the stockpile. Who is Kushner referring to when he says "it's supposed to be our stockpile" (emphasis added)?) Although Trump would never use the term "necessarily state socialism," it's the same kind of graft...
  • Kerr: "To loud demands for action [on rice shortages caused by government confiscation] the Government first replied with flowery talk of 'patriotism' and 'food for the Army, defending Formosa from Communism,' and then Chen lost patience with the critics. He sharply denied Government responsibility, countering with charges that the Formosans themselves were selfishly hoarding grain. Undoubtedly some Formosans were, but the quantities in private hands were insignificant."
    • While the Trump administration outbids state and local governments on PPE and denies its responsibility to supply them with needed supplies, Trump accuses hospital employees of stealing supplies. As Kerr says about the hoarding of grain, there might be some theft, but as the Vox article says, it's "hardly on the scale the president has suggested, and only what is needed to keep hospitals running given the federal government had not been able to provide them with badly needed supplies."
  • Kerr: "After the Transfer [of Taiwan from Japan to the KMT government] few of these stockpiled materials reached the open market through legal channels. In most instances we have records of quantities surrendered (records made by the Japanese), but only the vaguest indication of what became of them. Of 423,000 tons of camphor surrendered, for example, an official report shows that only 400 tons were actually refined in the first half-year of the Chinese occupation. We do know that very large shipments left the island, assigned to private warehouses in Hong Kong. Nearly 3,500,000 cases of matches were surrendered, but an acute shortage of matches developed in Formosa in early 1946. (At the first People's Political Council, in May, the Government spokesman explained this, saying that the Government had been able to distribute only 1473 cases in the first six months 'because of lack of adequate transport.') The match stockpiles, too, had gone to the mainland."
    • An April 2 question-and-answer between CBS' Weijia Jiang and Rear Adm. John Polowczyk of the Joint Chiefs of Staff confirms that the "airbridge" the US government has established to bring in supplies from abroad is mainly being used to supply private companies with those much-needed medical materials. In other words, the taxpayers are paying to provide shipping services to commercial companies that then sell those supplies to the highest bidder (among state and local governments)--which means that the taxpayers are paying (at least) twice for the supply of these PPE, ventilators, and other medical supplies. I don't know if this is illegal, though I know it should be...
I could go on, but I have to think about my blood pressure...