Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ma Ying-jeou the time traveler

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has more in common with characters in a science-fiction novel than you’d think. In fact, based on recent reports, he appears to have in his possession nothing less than a secret time machine. The revelation occurred on Saturday in his first weekly online video (Chinese only) targeting Taiwan’s large Internet population — a kind of tête-à-tête inspired, we are told, by former US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chats.”

In his premiere video, Ma told viewers that technology was very important to him and that in fact he had been using computers when he was a university student at National Taiwan University (NTU). Which is great, were it not for a little inconsistency: Ma graduated from NTU in 1972, a full year before the first personal computers were introduced. As Ma is, hum-hum, head of a “clean” government, surely he cannot be lying about this, so the only other explanation is that he somehow managed to travel into the future and bring back a PC for use on campus, hiding from view lest his time-defying little secret be exposed.

But I jest. To be fair, maybe some mad scientist at NTU, lurking in a dank basement, beat Bill Gates and friends in the computer race and created the world’s first clunking giant calculator, which for some reason he only allowed Ma to use, perhaps sensing the great future leader hiding under his scrawny façade. If that’s the case, the computer never surfaced. So back to wild theories: There’s more ammunition to support the time-travel theory, and it, too, comes from Ma’s weekly video. As the good old Franciscan friar William of Ockham (which Ma may have visited, who knows) once said, When competing hypotheses are equal in other respects …

Ma’s digital fireside chats, the Presidential Office tells us, are meant to address current affairs and provide updates on his activities — all exciting stuff, I’m sure, what with the daily jogging and verbal faux pas. The problem, however, is that savvy surfers discovered that if one changed the date on the Web site, future videos of Ma could be accessed — in other words, proof that Ma can travel to the future and record videos on current events then. For fear that his contraption would fall in the wrong hands — Americans, Japanese, or perhaps even Taiwanese — an army of programmers in the Ma camp managed to block access to Ma’s voice from the future, leaving surfers with little more than Ma in the present, or the receding past, as it were, given that time continues to speed ahead for the rest of us.

Some have accused Ma of “selling” out Taiwan to China, of mucking up the Neihu MRT Line or of becoming increasingly authoritarian as he grabs the various levers of power available to him. But his worst crime, it is now clear, was that Mr. Clean would lie to us, to Taiwanese, about his time machine. If we can’t trust him with such devices (and where else but in Taiwan would have it been manufactured?), how can we trust him on lesser things, such as national security and freedom of speech?

Maybe all this time travel has distorted his grip on reality, which would explain why, among other things, he was able to alchemically transform a Chinese boycott of the opening ceremony at the World Games in Kaohsiung into a sign of Chinese “goodwill.”


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike, was the 1972 discovery something you noticed yourself or did you see that elsewhere too? If it's original, it could be something good enough for a short news article actually! Just would have to go to Taida to interview some older EE or CS professors about what computers were like back then.

By the way, you should put your title in the title box for the post so that it shows up properly. Otherwise here in the comments it shows as untitled and in your archives, it shows up as just a piece of your post with trailing ellipsis. Keep up the interesting posts!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike. Great stuff. One thing less for me to blog about ;) Quite a few Taiwanese bloggers (such as Billy Pan and Yufu) and internet users had already posted their reactions to this as well. Yufu, 10 years junior of Ma, gave a particularly detailed account of the computer use of those days in Taiwan.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the comments. The 1972 discovery was actually a comment by a Plurker, which we quoted in a Taipei Times story today. It would indeed be interesting to see what kind of computer — if any — they had at Taida back then...

This is going to sound a bit odd, as I've been blogging for three years now ... but title box? (and here I am, laughing at Ma over his computer past!)

Claudia: Thanks. Yes, most news stories about this were the result of comments left by Plurkers — Billy Pan among the quoted ones — and other surfers.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, anon again. Appreciate that you went back to fix the titles. An added bonus is that it should make things easier for search engines to find your posts as well. A little bit of irony, but unlike Ma, you didn't lie about your computer experience for political gain, nor to my knowledge, do you have a history of telling lies like this. Plus, you write a real blog, not something prepared by your aids, three weeks at a time.