Wednesday, October 31, 2012

逆光 Against the Light

Three former officers in the Taiwanese military were arrested today for acts of treason. (From the WSJ: "Taiwan Arrests 3 for Spying for China") I've jotted down my reaction to this enormous betrayal; for to betray Taiwan is no ordinary crime, but one that sentences a dream to die.

Against the Light

I cry because you are selling out a democratic island—a bastion of freedom and tolerance holding strong amidst the swelling waves. You seek to tear down this radiant lighthouse, a resolute beacon in a sea of oppression. You shatter the dream that might yet be; a world of liberty and love that shines so brightly it pierces then dispels the enveloping gray fog.

For the sake of greed and material gain, you have betrayed our fiercely beloved: the caring society that birthed and raised you, that touches you still. This green land, of diverse views, utter kindness and open hearts. It is the land of your children and of your children's children. How can their freedom mean nothing?

Intolerable treason! You say that nothing we hold dear should stand sacred; that the impulse of money and the lure of power overcome faith and comity and trust. We reject this. We pity you, and we disdain your twisted ways.

Where is it written that liberty must inevitably be slain by economics? That ideals must surrender to avarice? No, it is the daily killing—the subtle knife of complacency, of nonchalance, of corruption—that leads to its death, not some foregone historical pronouncement.

You have destroyed conscience for personal gain. How can you sacrifice so many? Your only mission in life is to fight tyranny in all its forms, and in so doing, express your love for country and for all humanity. This betrayal cuts to the core, for you would that people be deprived of their freedom—freedom to think, to speak to, to be. You sentence not only we who are of your homeland
, la patria, but the multitudes who yet live under the yoke, or may one day be born captive.

Can the hopes and aspirations of so many be worth so little? Be a thief, but do not murder the dream that is to be lived.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Up until now, I thought of "voter suppression" as a mildly annoying problem that had some faint potential to swing the election. An inconvenience really, but not a critical issue except in close races. But while reading today's profile of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted's serial attempts to cut early voting options and throw out certain types of ballots (props to Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic for his reporting), it suddenly dawned on me that voter suppression is much more pernicious than I'd once thought. It is indicative of graver issues, reflecting a dangerous undercurrent of intolerance in America.

The behavior of Republicans like Husted and many others like him, who attempt to restrict legitimate participation in the electoral process, makes me feel like these white voters just don't like the way minority voters cast their ballots and will do what they can to make sure our voices aren't heard.

I'm sorry, but I grew up thinking that the 1960s were over -- that we lived in a tolerant, pluralistic, democratic society. I was wrong. It's so scary and sad that the older you get, the more clearly you see that life isn't the storybook we call "history." Reality is far more sordid.

In suppressing the vote, the idea being communicated is: "Let’s keep those minorities from voting! They’ll vote for change, they’ll vote for things different than what we want!" (Which so often these days seems to be a white-washed version of America, or at least a white-dominated America with minorities kept in their place). "So we’ll just make sure their votes don’t count and their voices aren’t heard. We don’t want them as part of the political process."

You know what that implies? Those minorities aren’t people; they aren’t legitimate citizens; and therefore they shouldn’t be included as part of the political process. Maybe not even as part of America. It’s so dehumanizing, I feel sick to my stomach.

Racism is not gone. It doesn't matter that we are taught not to discriminate when we are young; people still do it. Proudly, it sometimes seems. Racism exists, whether it's draped in the justifications of partisan combat ("Hey, it's just politics, so all this behavior is perfectly legitimate when contesting an election.") or the supposed "defense" of the ballot box by the gathering hordes committing voter intimidation. Their campaigns are not the selfless act of citizenship they purport them to be, but in actuality, a movement motivated by partisan aspirations. Voting fraud is a bad act, but there isn't evidence of any widespread attempts to commit it; it is a rare crime indeed. In any case, this suspicion of minority participation in elections appears to be rooted in a deeper problem of race.

Growing up, I believed we lived in an enlightened society -- that America had learned the lessons from the horrific apartheid conditions enforced in the South by the power of the state and the virulence of the mob. But in some sense, we haven't really. How can I look my international friends in the eye and proclaim the beauty and inclusiveness of democracy when we haven't even achieved this at home?

I never thought I would have to fight these battles in my own country. Maybe I was lucky: I'm from California where race isn't as much of an issue. Perhaps that's because we are a diverse state, with enough immigrants from around the world to fill our classrooms, patronize our shops, share our supermarkets. Almost everybody is from elsewhere, but we all contribute to Silicon Valley, this place we call home. Yet there's so much of this country where that is absent. I have to remind myself from time to time that in most places in the United States, people of Asian descent are a minority. We often aren't seen as part of the social fabric because we simply don't exist! On the occasion that we make an appearance, we are exotic curiosities, "that Asian family" that just moved into town because the father got a job at the nearby state school doing bioengineering research. (And that poor little Asian girl -- she's going to grow up rejecting her culture and striving to be white. But that's another story.)

By enacting policies of voter suppression, elections become tools to control and to oppress, rather than expressions of a common belief in democracy. When the registrars organizing Election Day make voting about partisanship, rather than a celebration of our democratic ideals, they undermine the power of this rite to unite the nation, to bind us together as a polity. Elections are a contest, no question about it, but participation in the act of voting is supposed to be universal because at our core we share the belief in citizenship and the franchise.

If you don't believe in the idea of "one person, one vote" just say it. If you don't believe all of us should have a voice in the political process, just say it. Then we can have a fight about what democracy really is. It's a question of whether "democracy in America" should be inclusive or exclusive; if society should embrace our myriad families with all our distinct backgrounds, ideas and beliefs; if America should gather all her children together in her arms, or if certain elements should be locked out of the house because they are different -- and then chased across the street and eventually hounded out of town.

The issues here are intertwined and complicated, because it's not just about racism; it's about the franchise. I contend that there's a difference between voting based on ethnic/racial/class/community/cultural identity (a legitimate expression of politics), compared to voting for a partisan platform that aims to suppress other groups and validates government action to suppress other groups' participation in politics. Perhaps then, my problem with these government and citizen campaigns to intimidate and discount voters isn't just the racist aspect of it, which is problematic in its own right, and thoroughly undesirable, hearkening back to Jim Crow. It's that these voter suppression efforts are deeply undemocratic. In a mature and functioning democracy, you don't win elections by taking the right to vote away from other people; you contest ideas.

Partisan identification maps to culture, and I'm fine with that. I can decide not to vote for a party that has an exclusive, backward-looking vision of America that has no room for my siblings, my parents, my friends and colleagues, that has no room for me. However, it's not just the fact that these people dislike minorities -- that's their personal, possibly unenlightened, preference. It's that they are taking that dislike and proclaiming "those kinds of people don't get to vote." In a democracy, that's unforgivable. (But again, it hits especially hard when you realize people are eliminating your vote on the basis of race.)

In the battle for voting rights, we are not taking taking up the struggle against racism -- at least not head on. But we do have to fight for a voice, because we can't be a democratic society if we deny people the right to vote. I'm pretty confident [okay, I'm somewhat confident; but hey that's what we've got to work with here] that in a truly free, fair, liberal and open democratic system [UPDATE: buttressed by a civic culture and with broad opportunities for educational attainment], minorities won't be as easily intimidated or abused or cordoned off or deprived of rights; and over time, we can change how different groups in society perceive of each other. But if the participatory democratic machinery can't even function, we've got a real problem on our hands.

Racism is a fight for the long haul, and we won't be able to end it now, however nice that would be. But the fight for democracy is a fight for now, and we have to demand it and build it and protect it every single day.

  • I thought "voter suppression" just constituted a few marginal votes being cut out, which is somewhat annoying, but not terrible, except when it tilts a close election.
  • Then I realized this constitutes institutional suppression of the opposition. That is WRONG and a subversion of democracy. Regimes that subvert democracy include Mubarak's Egypt and Putin's Russia.
  • Even worse, that suppression is guided by racist hatred. Even today, in 2012. SCARY!
  • However, the way to address the problem isn't to end racism now. It's impossible to turn over culture so quickly.
  • Instead, we must defend the democratic process and fight for our right to vote, for our own voice, and the voices of everyone in our community, and in all communities.
  • Only by safeguarding civic rights as enshrined in the Constitution can we protect minorities from abuse by the majority and combat injustice, even as the larger campaign for a freer and fairer society takes place.
Relevant articles:
"The Ballot Cops" (The Atlantic)
"Voting Wrongs" (The New York Review of Books)
James Fallows' roundup of numerous articles

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Typing in Spanish with accents: accented vowels & other letters

Here are the ASCII codes for Spanish letters with accents. To type characters with accents, you can memorize these codes and then input them when typing, holding down ALT and entering the 3-digit code on the numpad. (Make sure numlock is on). Or you can install the Spanish keyboard in Microsoft Windows. I used "Spanish: Spain, International Sort" and under the ¨Keyboard¨options selected ¨Spanish¨. (Do not select "US" because it still doesn't let you type according to the keyboard layout pictured below!)

(en español)

Los códigos ASCII para letras con acento. Se los usa cuando escribe en español por computadora: 

á     160           Á     181
é     130           É     144
í      161           Í      214
ó     162           Ó     224
ú     163           Ú     233
ñ     164           Ñ     165
¿     168           ¡       173          

Memorízalos, e introduzca el código de tres dígitos mientras que pulse la tecla ALT para escribir letras con acento.

El alternativo es instalar el teclado español en Microsoft Windows. Bajo opciones de lenguaje, eliga "Spanish: Spain, International Sort". En la opción de teclado, eliga "Spanish". (No eliga "US" porque esa opción todavía no le permite escribir los acentos usando el formato en la ilustración.)

Por los sitios siguientes: (ilustración) (en inglés) (en español)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Poem, found

[from the Harvard Divinity Bulletin]

by Richie Hofmann

—from the leafy, walled-in courtyard beside the house,
where fountain-water trickled

from a river-god’s mouth
into the unseasonable heat of that afternoon, we watched

the heavy bees, clumsy in their flight, humming
against the bricks and orange tree blossoms.

Everywhere we walked, you would point out how the Japanese honeysuckle clings
to the walls and fences like mayflies.

Each star-shaped flower scattered its breath into fragrant burrs,
which the heavy, humid air held around us,

until, as if no longer able to hold,
a downpour,
all the aroma flushed away in the sky’s own sighing—


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Following the Prize

We’ll talk a little good talk, about space and freedom and acceptance of all views—even the ones that seem craven, or feckless, or intentionally blind, or just a bit too convenient.

Yes, no, sometimes, always. The artists and writers on both sides of the debate get skewered. But the real perpetrators, the thugs on the street and in the boardroom, the ones strolling the red carpeted hallways under vaulted ceilings and granite archways—they walk away untouched. They never pay a price, maybe never will; and the wheels keep churning on.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

十十 Double Ten Day, Taiwan’s National Day!

Long live the Republic! Today is Taiwan’s national day, October 10.

#democracy #Asia
Who knew these could coexist?

Plus these things: #eco #tech #culture #tradition #modernity #entrepreneurial #GoodEats #freedom #dissent #elections #vote #MandoPop #iPhone5 #bicycle #compassion #TzuChi

It’s a vibrant and free society with a lot to offer the world. Drop by some time for a visit!

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Dreaming Mind and the End of the Ming World

An event description I quite liked:

“The mid-sixteenth through the mid-seventeenth century saw a notable efflorescence in attention to dreams and dreaming among Chinese intellectuals and constituted a distinct phase in the long history of Chinese ‘dream culture.’ The reasons for this are intimately related to virtually every trend — in philosophy, religion, the literary arts, examination competition, politics, and the fate of the country — that affected the subjective consciousness of literati during the late Ming. This efflorescence was carried into the very early Qing period by survivors of the Ming collapse but petered out when the ‘conquest generation’ passed away. It lost salience with the decline of the cultural matrix that uniquely identifies the late Ming, but it sent certain significant influences onward into the middle Qing period.”