Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 01 September 2009
Wednesday, 02 September 2009 02:48

危機年代裡的文化力量

文化的柔性力量,也許可以為諸多全球性問題提供解決之道。

附加的多媒體:
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Wednesday, 02 September 2009 01:50

The Aftermath of Typhoon Morakot

On August 7-10, Typhoon Morakot’s torrential rains devastated southern Taiwan. At least 600 people died under the giant mudslides triggered by the typhoon. More than three weeks after the disaster, the psychological and political aftershocks are still felt throughout the island. The raging debate has become increasingly multilayered:

- The first debate has been about the dismal performance of the forecasting system, unable to predict the deluge that has engulfed the southern part of the island.

- The second one, and the most damaging politically, has focused on the slow response of the central government. President Ma Ying-jeou, it has been argued, has shown that he was not a strong and capable leader. From the start, he had appointed a cabinet of technocrats insensitive to real life issues and popular feelings. And he has focused so much on bettering relationships with China that he has forgotten to tackle Taiwan’s everyday concerns. Whatever the fairness of these allegations, they have suddenly altered drastically his public image, with consequences so far-reaching that they are still difficult to predict.

- Though they have not taken the brunt of political criticisms, local governments have not fared much better than the Center. They sometimes have been slow to request external help. Roads and other public facilities might have been so inadequate because public works contracts are given out by local powers in dubious fashion; however, the “Green” counties of the South have been keen to shift the blame towards the central government.

- Quite logically, the attention now focuses on the poor quality of public works, deforestation and general neglect of environmental imperatives, which might explain the amplitude of the mudslides. Political leaders are not the only ones to blame. The strife towards rapid profit and Taiwan society’s indifference to long-term issues account for the rapid ecological deterioration, especially in mountain areas, which might trigger similar disasters in the future.

- The prayer tour conducted by the Dalai Lama has opened up a new front: political motivations have been invoked, as the invitation made by Green local leaders is deeply embarrassing for Ma Ying-jeou, who could not reject the Dalai Lama’s application without further political consequences but has now to deal with China’s anger. Meanwhile, not all Taiwanese religious leaders have reacted enthusiastically to the coming of the Dalai Lama: many victims from the mountainous area were aborigine, thus probably Christians. Taiwanese Buddhist leaders fear the growing influence of Tibetan Buddhism on their own flock; and Chinese religion associations have pointedly underlined the “efficacy” of traditional memorial services and rituals…

- Once avidly watched, medias have also suffered from a backlash: their unbridled sensationalism, the relentless flow of often meaningless reports and interviews and the competition among TV channels have illustrated once again the very poor quality of information service in Taiwan. Medias now appear as the main profiteers of a national disaster.

- One positive effect of the disaster has rarely been noticed: Civil society has very quickly taken up relief work (from the outset of the disaster in fact), without public support, and newly relying on Internet Social Networks, especially through Plurk, preferred by many young Taiwanese activists to Twitter. Once again, Taiwan has shown that its main strength lies in its robust civil society that works independently from the public and media apparatus. A positive inheritance from the way Taiwan’s democratization came about.

The typhoon has thus proven to be a social and cultural revelation. Taiwanese have experienced once again the ills that come with short-term vision and concerns, and have strongly expressed their political disillusions. At the same time, their natural gift for self-introspection and for self-organization has been as remarkable as has been the case in previous circumstances, such as after the massive earthquake that happened ten years ago. The problem is now to draw the right lessons from the disaster, and to resolutely orient Taiwan towards sustainability and proper use of land resources. A global challenge that new social networks might help to spell out for the greater good of a traumatized society looking for meaning, purpose and unity…

Wednesday, 02 September 2009 01:47

Gleaning in Taipei

For eRenlai’s September Focus, Benoit Vermander uses the story of Hercules and the Hydra with Seven Heads as a metaphor for the global crises. In a personal reflection, one concept which I thought attacked several of the hydra’s heads at the same time was that of ’gleaning’.

I was inspired after watching French director Agnes Varda’s film "Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse." This touching documentary which reflects on a legendary old Jean Francois Miller painting ‘Les Glaneurs’ takes us on a trip across France to follow different modes of gleaning - from traditional gleaning at the end of the harvest, to urban gleaning which recycles garbage and waste, the victims of consumption. Thus, in the film, Agnes interviews people of alternative lifestyles (whether out of necessity or choice) where she incorporates concepts of non-waste, austerity, recycling and new age living and looks into French laws in a time of impending environmental crises.

Bringing this concept close to home, one year ago, Paris’ Musée d’Orsay lent the National Museum of History in Taiwan Jean-Francois Millet’s painting, Les Glaneurs (Gleaners). The image of gleaners collecting the leftovers of a harvest in times of austerity initially came across as boring and simple to my untrained eye. However, after watching a French film directed by Agnes Varda called ‘Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse’ (The Gleaners and I) I was inspired and began to understand the depth of meaning and present-day relevance of the painting in the age of waste and triumph of consumption. Suddenly, this was a work of art which captivated and re-instilled faith in our ancestors.

In the film, Agnes briefly focuses on Alain, an urban glaneur who feeds himself from vegetables and fruits left by grocers when markets end. Despite holding a Masters in Biology, he chose to live in a refuge, teaching French to immigrants living off the market’s leftovers.

Alain’s story inspired me in my research on gleaning in Taiwan, and in my personal lifestyle. I searched around my room, after almost a year of living here, and I noticed that it is rampant with gleanings. Though not all of the collections can be considered as ’gleaning for a better world,’ even in the more modern sense, they all fit into a rather waste-less and thrift lifestyle. Certainly, gleaning for reasons of short or long term poverty is as credible as gleaning out of principle. Furthermore I felt a revelation that it’s natural human and animal activity. We are the hunter-gatherers.

Thus from this point onwards, I’ll cover a series on different manifestations of a gleaning nature in Taiwan and Asia. From gleaning in its purest form - like a farm in Pingdong, Southern Taiwan which allowed neighbours and a neighbouring villages to glean from their own fields, due to the fall of beans prices, to more modern and urban manifestations of gleaning, where we see the ’shi huang’ people (拾荒者), the ’bottle collectors’ who pick empty bottles from the parks and the sidewalks often able to make a living. For example my spiritual home in Shida park, where under the watchful eye of the squirrel of hope who is leaping towards the sky, are various bottle collectors and recyclers of different forms who are the critical link in the journey of the Taiwan Beer bottles’ journey from the last remaining local newsagent in the Shida night market, to our mouths, through the recycling plant and all the way back such is their circle of life

Such examples remind us that alternative, environmentally sustainable lifestyles are available to us, and we will search out examples that could inspire reflection and action.

Wednesday, 02 September 2009 00:00

Culture in Times of Crisis

The Taiwanese author Ping Lu’s metaphors on cultural diversity.

 


 

Wednesday, 02 September 2009 00:00

Gleaning in Taipei

For eRenlai’s September Focus, Benoit Vermander uses the story of Hercules and the Hydra with Seven Heads as a metaphor for the global crises. In a personal reflection, one concept which I thought attacked several of the hydra’s heads at the same time was that of ’gleaning’.

I was inspired after watching French director Agnes Varda’s film "Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse." This touching documentary which reflects on a legendary old Jean Francois Miller painting ‘Les Glaneurs’ takes us on a trip across France to follow different modes of gleaning - from traditional gleaning at the end of the harvest, to urban gleaning which recycles garbage and waste, the victims of consumption. Thus, in the film, Agnes interviews people of alternative lifestyles (whether out of necessity or choice) where she incorporates concepts of non-waste, austerity, recycling and new age living and looks into French laws in a time of impending environmental crises.

Bringing this concept close to home, one year ago, Paris’ Musée d’Orsay lent the National Museum of History in Taiwan Jean-Francois Millet’s painting, Les Glaneurs (Gleaners). The image of gleaners collecting the leftovers of a harvest in times of austerity initially came across as boring and simple to my untrained eye. However, after watching a French film directed by Agnes Varda called ‘Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse’ (The Gleaners and I) I was inspired and began to understand the depth of meaning and present-day relevance of the painting in the age of waste and triumph of consumption. Suddenly, this was a work of art which captivated and re-instilled faith in our ancestors.

In the film, Agnes briefly focuses on Alain, an urban glaneur who feeds himself from vegetables and fruits left by grocers when markets end. Despite holding a Masters in Biology, he chose to live in a refuge, teaching French to immigrants living off the market’s leftovers.

Alain’s story inspired me in my research on gleaning in Taiwan, and in my personal lifestyle. I searched around my room, after almost a year of living here, and I noticed that it is rampant with gleanings. Though not all of the collections can be considered as ’gleaning for a better world,’ even in the more modern sense, they all fit into a rather waste-less and thrift lifestyle. Certainly, gleaning for reasons of short or long term poverty is as credible as gleaning out of principle. Furthermore I felt a revelation that it’s natural human and animal activity. We are the hunter-gatherers.

Thus from this point onwards, I’ll cover a series on different manifestations of a gleaning nature in Taiwan and Asia. From gleaning in its purest form - like a farm in Pingdong, Southern Taiwan which allowed neighbours and a neighbouring villages to glean from their own fields, due to the fall of beans prices, to more modern and urban manifestations of gleaning, where we see the ’shi huang’ people (拾荒者), the ’bottle collectors’ who pick empty bottles from the parks and the sidewalks often able to make a living. For example my spiritual home in Shida park, where under the watchful eye of the squirrel of hope who is leaping towards the sky, are various bottle collectors and recyclers of different forms who are the critical link in the journey of the Taiwan Beer bottles’ journey from the last remaining local newsagent in the Shida night market, to our mouths, through the recycling plant and all the way back such is their circle of life

Such examples remind us that alternative, environmentally sustainable lifestyles are available to us, and we will search out examples that could inspire reflection and action.

Tuesday, 01 September 2009 21:51

The Good and Bad of Securitization

 

The media is still debating over the consequences of the financial crisis that was triggered by financial instruments and lack of regulation. Some people point out to the underlying ethical issue. Given that human beings are prone to mainly pursue their own interests, there must be some regulatory institutions ensuring that self-interest is controlled and used for the effective creation of wealth.

It would be a mistake to consider that economic theory did not predict the 2008 crisis. There was a clear problem of asymmetry of information, described by the theory, as well as conflicting incentives for banks and for investors on securitized assets. Some banks were heavily exposed to the badly regulated, and very risky securitized assets. There were no clear rules governing these new markets.

The intertwined markets that together compose today’s economies are all subject to the trends governing globalized financial markets. When giant institutions began to fail, investors lost confidence and migrated to more liquid assets. Banks, afraid of runs on their deposits, which started to happen in several places, wanted to keep liquid assets, and did not want to take on more debt nor issue new credits. Finally, companies going to their banks for normal financial needs had their credit applications denied and often fell into deep troubles, with dire consequences on the job market.

As a consequence, many people might have already forgotten of the benefits of securitization and of the fact that access to housing has been greatly increased thanks to its use, which started 20 years ago. How do securitization benefits work? First, it comes from diversification: Financial theory argues that under normal conditions the probability to fail in one investment is higher than the chance of failing in two investments at the same time, given that both are not completely correlated. Popular knowledge has its own way of labeling this phenomenon: “Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket”. Moreover, risk is something that can be sold in the market and it also can be shared among a greater number of investors who will share the losses, thus diluting them.

If I have a mortgage transaction and I am the only possible investor, the risk of default is very high: if I lose my job; the whole security of my loan is in default. But if there are one thousand people in the same security then the chance of having all of them jobless is very small, even in today’s situation. Something similar happens with banks: if they can share the risk of issuing a loan among a greater number of investors through securitization and the sale of grouped mortgages, they will charge a lower interest rate, as the risk perceptions is lower. Everybody is a winner.

But responsibilities need to be clearly delimited, and penalties in case of misinformation should be specified as well as monitoring institutions. When banks started to lend money to very risky people, because they knew they could get rid of the loan selling it to an investor thousands of kilometers away, they were undermining the confidence in the system as a whole.

What was needed? An efficient and clear set of rules and a regulator capable of making the parties commit to their contracts. But the aforementioned does not mean heavy bureaucracies. The regulation has to be set by a group of specialists explaining to the parties the extent of their commitment and the implications for each of them.

Right now, I am involved in a research project for an institution called Lumni present in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and the US, which is helping people access to higher education and finance their studies by the means of grouping and hopefully in the future through securitization. Lumni, which has been chosen as one of the Top 25 Most Promising Social Initiatives, has already financed more than 200 students that probably, otherwise, would have abandoned their studies. It means that securitization can be a tool for promoting humane and equitable development, provided mechanisms and objectives are clearly defined. A new understanding of the limits and the social advantages of securitization might be a valuable lesson to be drawn from the crisis.

 

Photo by C. Phiv

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