2016-01-31

Another birthday?

Yow. Quickcue music.


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2016-01-16

#Taiwan2016

Tonight I’m remembering a moment from my first year in Taiwan. It’s winter 2005. I am riding in a bus with colleagues from my university. The news program on TV shows a press conference with Condaleeza Rice.

The professor in the next seat turns to face me. ‘Men in your country don’t really listen to her, do they?’

‘Pardon?’

‘Men in your country don’t listen to that woman on TV, do they?’

‘She’s Secretary of State. Why wouldn’t they?’

‘I know, but she’s a woman. Men in your government... they don’t really take a woman seriously as their boss?’

I’m startled, but the answer is immediate. ‘They do if they don’t want to get fired.’

My colleague’s expression turns grim. He sits back. The rest of the ride is quiet.


Tonight I am thinking of that conversation. I wonder where that man is now, what he makes of today’s events in his own country. The times are a-changing . . . ah, but aren’t they always.

Congratulations to my Taiwanese neighbours of all political loyalties. You’ve again achieved the kind of peaceful transfer of power that for many people in the world remains a distant dream.

Congratulations, Dr Tsai Ing-Wen, president-elect of Taiwan. You won the confidence of millions and, in the process, realized a dream of your own.

And to all the young women I’ve seen brandishing banners in recent weeks for your Mingkuotang and your New Power and your People First and your Democratic Progressives and your Nationalists and your Taiwan Solidarity . . . congratulations to you, too.

Jaiyo.
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Sandy’s Dream

A Short Story about a Speech


Today is the day of the Freshman English Speech Contest. I’m on a college campus in Hualien, Taiwan.

I enter a classroom with a window at the back and a cleared area at the front. Students have wedged themselves into every available space, talking in Mandarin and in Taiwanese, jostling and laughing. Calligraphy on a red banner draped at the front of the room proclaims the occasion.

One student prepares to manage the stopwatch, another to send signals, another to announce, another to calculate scores. I am guided to the adjudicators’ section, to the middle seat of three. I recognise the judges on either side, both Taiwanese, as colleagues. A student gives each of us a cup of tea, pens and a sheaf of blank score sheets.

The club’s president, a compact young woman wearing glasses, steps to the front with a no-nonsense air. The room grows quiet. She explains, in Mandarin, the purposes of the club. She introduces the judges and explains the rules.

Speakers have a time limit. They get one signal when a minute remains and another when time is up. All contest material comes from a source chosen by the club. Today’s source is a book: Selected Works in English for Oral Presentation.

The president steps away. The announcer calls out a name. The judge to my right leans toward me. ‘This is our first contestant,’ he says. ‘Her English name is Sandy.’


A young woman steps to the front. She is tall, broad-shouldered and long-limbed. She turns to face us and waits, her posture straight but relaxed. Her mouth turns up at the corners in a suggestion of mischief.

She wears a plain shirt and black slacks with Nike Air Force shoes and a phone clipped at her hip. One wrist is adorned with a jade bracelet. A small pendant at her neck bears the figure of Guanyin. A medallion made of multi-coloured construction paper, draped around her neck, displays the numeral 1.

I recognise her from conversation practice sessions. Sandy is captain of an intramural basketball team. She has three younger brothers who play basketball. They have a beagle puppy named Obama.


The timekeeper gives the signal. Sandy leans toward us slightly.

‘I say to you today, my friends...’

The voice is intimate, engaging, almost conspiratorial.

‘...even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.’

Her eyes search ours.

‘It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

The island of Taiwan is a mountain range thrust up from the ocean by the collision of two huge crustal plates. Its peaks are the highest in Asia east of the Himalayas and some of the fastest rising mountains in the world. The loftiest peak is Yu Shan, Jade Mountain—a wedge of metamorphic rock that cuts into the sky nearly 4,000 metres above sea level. Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples have regarded Yu Shan as sacred ever since their ancestors first sighted it over 6,000 years ago.

Yu Shan can’t be seen from our campus, but Sandy can see, framed in the window behind us, the peaks of Taiwan’s Coastal Mountain Range with a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean beyond. Today the water shines under drifting puffs of white cloud. Palm trees and stony ridges alternately gleam and gloom on the mountainsides.

‘I have a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.’

She takes care in pronouncing the words. Slaves. Slave owners.

Sandy’s mother tongue is Taiwanese. It’s the common language in her home. She began speaking Mandarin in pre-school and English at age six. In high school she began studying Japanese. She first grew curious about the language as a child when she heard her grandparents speak it. Japan had ruled the island when they were children.

When her family watches television, Sandy sits in the center. She translates Japanese dialogue in samurai movies for her parents, Mandarin phrases in talk shows for her grandparents, and English slang in Hollywood movies for everybody. Sandy hopes one day to work as a translator in an international organisation like the WHO or the UN.

‘I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi’—she dances crisply across the syllables—‘a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.’

Taiwan is not a member of the UN. China does not allow it because it claims the island as its own territory. The claim, though spurious under international law, keeps many doors of official recognition closed. China’s government passed a new law several years ago authorising ‘non-peaceful actions’ should Taiwan ever move to make its self-governing status official. Over 2,000 Chinese missiles, packing nuclear warheads, are aimed at this island as Sandy speaks.

‘I have a dream,’ she says, ‘that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.’

Sandy learned a few years ago of an uncle she had not known she had. He disappeared during the White Terror when Taiwan was under one-party Kuomintang rule. Her parents never conducted a search, never called the police, never held a funeral or openly grieved. They never dared. The family simply stopped talking about him. Pictures of her uncle were put away with all of his belongings. Sandy and her brothers, born later, were never told he had existed.

When Taiwan became a democracy, events like this in the island’s history began to be openly discussed. Sandy knows now about her uncle. She and her brothers light incense for him every Ancestors Day. She knows now that he was a literature major at a university, that he won trophies in public speaking and athletics.

‘I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.’

Sandy’s class includes a few international students, including a student from China. She doesn’t know the Chinese student well. She has noticed, though, that he seems to watch a lot of television. Every time she sees him he is asking classmates about Taiwan’s television shows.

‘I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.’

Sandy recently got her driver’s license. She plans to buy a scooter. Soon she will also register to vote.

She can remember Taiwan’s first elections. She was a small child. The buses were filled with people who had returned to Taiwan from overseas. China launched missiles overhead. America sent an aircraft carrier. Taiwan voted. Since then she has seen three presidents elected. She has seen many women elected to national and local office. A woman is running for president now.

‘With this faith,’ she says, ‘we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.’

Sandy plays Mah Jongg, Uno and Super Mario. She likes night markets better than shopping malls. She says she spends too much time on Facebook. Her favourite food for a typhoon holiday is instant noodles. Her favourite beverage is green tea with kumquats.

‘This will be the day when all of God’s children will sing with new meaning: My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’

Sandy recently started a blog. She discusses athletic events and hiking trails, and shares photos of friends, family members, and a beagle puppy.

‘If America is to be a great nation this must become true.’

She sees the signal. She draws a deep breath.

‘So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

‘But not only that.’

Her eyes go to the window, then, sparkling, sweep the room.

‘Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.’

She makes no grand flourish. She confides, in words now hers.

‘When we allow freedom to ring,’ Sandy says, ‘when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will speed that day when all of God’s children will be able to join hands, and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’

Cheers erupt. Sandy bows and comes up beaming.


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2016-01-02

Thanks, Natalie

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2015-10-23

NASA's New Old Rocket

NASA press officials announced this week that the new heavy lifter for crewed missions will sport an unpainted main stage, giving the rocket a rust-orange look we've seen before in shuttle launches. From Space.com (emphases mine):

NASA's next-generation rocket has a new look.
The space agency has revealed a reworked color scheme for the Space Launch System heavy-lift booster, removing the paint from one major component . . .

Later the article states: 


Billed as the most powerful launch vehicle ever built, the SLS is NASA's first rocket to be specifically designed to support astronaut-crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit since the Saturn V that launched astronauts to the moon 45 years ago.
And it was with that iconic booster in mind that NASA first represented the SLS with a similar black-and-white motif when it announced the rocket in 2011. Now, the design is exposing its more colorful core.

An image published by NASA this week shows the 'new look'.



But how new is it? The image below, released by NASA in 2005, shows the Ares V, the heavy lifter planned for the deep-space missions of Project Constellation.



















Look familiar? The SLS is the Ares V. The Ares V is the SLS.

We heard much from Washington DC in 2009 about Project Constellation being 'cancelled'. The reality turned out to be otherwise. What really happened was that the pace of the project was slowed while its main components continued with development. These components included the heavy lifter (Ares V/SLS), the crewed spacecraft (Orion). The goal, an international mission to Mars, likewise remained the same.

Project Constellation components were simply assigned new names and logos. Amnesiac press releases then pretended no important innovations for the future of human space flight got started between 2001 and 2009.

Press patter and politics aside, the heavy lifter now said to have been 'first announced in 2011' was first announced in 2005. As the artist's renderings above illustrate, the original concept endures and has been carried forward.

The Ares V/SLS concept is a heavy lifter for deep-space missions that that re-uses familiar technology from the shuttle launch system while configuring the stack so that payloads are mounted on the top rather than the side. The liquid-fuel main stage incorporates the same type of engines used on the shuttle orbiters. This is augmented by strapped-on solid-fuel rockets that are also familiar from the shuttle launch system. This main stage supports, as needed, a second liquid-fuel stage. Depending on the configuration, a crew-rated second stage can assist in lofting an Orion spacecraft with astronauts and support systems on a direct ascent mission into deep space (shown in the 2015 image), or loft a heavy payload without astronauts into earth orbit (as shown in the 2005 image) as part of a flight plan involving earth-orbit rendezvous. The vehicle is adaptable to a variety of other missions as well. Designs for the second stage would vary as needed.

The Ares V was so named to invoke the goal of reaching Mars (the Roman name Mars corresponds to the Greek name Ares) while the V pays homage to the Saturn V moon rocket. As NASA engineers fully anticipated in 2005, the Ares V / SLS heavy lifter will sport an unpainted main stage displaying the orange colour of its insulation material.

SLS is Ares V. Project Constellation endures. Just don't call it that.

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2015-10-21

Welcome to the Future, Marty

Marty McFly and Dr Emmett Brown are due to arrive from 1985 today at 04:29 USA Pacific time.

Added by edit: Ah, they got here!
And both appear to be as baffled by 2015 as the rest of us . . .

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2015-08-01

Late Summer Song

Abschied vom Walde (Farewell to the Wood)
O Täler weit (O valleys wide)

poem by Joseph of Eichendorff
music by Felix Mendelssohn



1
O Täler weit, o Höhen, o schöner grüner Wald,
O valleys wide, O heights, O beautiful green forest,
du meiner Lust und Wehen andächtger Aufenthalt!
of my joys and sorrows the attentive keeper!
Da draussen, stets betrogen, saust die geschäftge Welt,
Outside, forever betrayed, rushes the busy world
schlag noch einmal die Bogen um mich, du grünes Zelt.
as again your boughs enfold me inside your green tent.

[ 2
Wenn es beginnt zu tagen, die Erde dampft und blinkt,
When dawn arrives, the earth erupts in soaring 
die Vögel lustig schlagen, dass dir dein Herz erklingt:
birds to sing the delights you hold in your heart:
da mag vorgehn, verwehen das trübe Erdenleid,
like them you drop the sad weight of earth
da sollst du auferstehen in junger Herrlichkeit!
and rise renewed in youthful glory! ]

3
Im Walde steht geschrieben ein stilles ernstes Wort
In the forest is forever inscribed a silent, solemn message
vom rechten Thun und Lieben und was des Menschen Hort.
about proper action, and love, and what is best for humanity.
Ich habe treu gelesen die Worte schlicht und Wahr,
I have read well this message so pure and true,
und durch mein ganzes Wesen ward’s unaussprechlich klar.
and now through my whole being it emerges unspeakably clear.

4
Bald werd’ich dich verlassen, fremd in die Fremde gehn,
Soon will I leave you, go as a stranger into a strange land,
auf bunt bewegten Gassen des Lebens Schauspiel stehn.
to stand in the alleyways of life’s strange stage play.
Und mitten in dem Leben wird deines Ernst’s Gewalt,
In the midst of that life will your solemn guidance
mich Einsamen erheben, so wird mein Herz nicht alt.
lift me from loneliness, so my heart will never grow old.

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2015-07-14

Liberté!

Bonjour mes amis. Bonne fête de la Bastille!


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New Horizons

2015-07-11 22:23:21 UTC
3.1M km
Enjoy images from Pluto and its moons as they arrive, courtesy of NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/soc/Pluto-Encounter/
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2015-07-04

July 4


Here are the Andrews Sisters singing Irving Berlin.

Happy birthday, America. Stay young, keep swinging.
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2015-06-26

Welcome to History

From this moment forward, same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States of America.
States where same-sex couples may now legally marry.
My home state, Florida, was ahead of the curve.

Congratulations to all, sea to shining sea.
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Map courtesy of H3D Wallpapers.
Idea poached from the Washington Post.

2015-05-18

Jiàn guài bù guài

The Taiwanese people have a proverb:

見怪不怪。Jiàn guài bù guài.

Where everything is strange,
nothing is strange.



I love this saying. So many applications! What a kick to to find a phenomenon you’ve observed all your life encapsulated in four neat syllables.

An overseas colleague of mine takes this proverb as the basis for advice to those who travel. Exercise caution and keep your eyes open, she says. Newcomers to any environment are in the worst position to assess what does or does not constitute the unusual.

This is superb advice, of course. But I confess that was not the way I first heard the saying.

For me, it catches the way things happen when you visit a place like Disney World. When you first arrive, you point at the castle and the costumed characters and make photos. By the end of the day, after you’ve flown to Mars and whirled in a teacup and dived to the ocean floor and witnessed a pirate invasion and cruised the Congo, all you want to do is get off of your feet and enjoy an ice cream sandwich. So you find a bench near a lawn, and you’re unwrapping your ice cream sandwich, and you don’t even turn to look when the mushrooms start singing Offenbach.

Jiànguài bù guài. After a while, abnormal becomes the new normal.

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