Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cheers! ... or maybe not

No sooner had Hong Kong's Consumer Council (bless them) reported that budget cuts in duty on beer had not been passed on to local drinkers, and Financial Secretary Henry Tang and LegCo members backed their complaints, than up pops a hitherto unknown trade association of seven major beer suppliers called the Hong Kong Beer Coalition (which according to Sunday's South China Morning Post accounts for about 80% of local suppliers) to announce that its members were "committed to passing duty savings to consumers," and would "issue new price lists to wholesalers and retailers on June 1, 2007, to fully reflect the direct transfer of all duty savings."

So, good news, right? Media pressure works. Cheers all round!! Except...

How come in "the world's freest economy", a self-confessed price-fixing cartel is unashamedly admitting to effectively manipulating the price of beer? This would land them in jail in many countries. Whatever happened to the virtues of competition?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Good News and Bad News in the Park

Good news in Hong Kong always seems to come with a sting in its tail.

It should have been good news for drinkers when the government cut duty on alcoholic drinks in the last budget. However, three months later the Consumer Council finds that prices have hardly fallen. Indeed the prices of two beers, Asahi and Heineken, have actually risen by 50% and 32% respectively. I suggest you boycott these brands.

In other apparently good news, a proposed golf course on Lantau Island will not go ahead because of environmental concerns. However, a far more destructive "logistics park" in the north of the island remains on the drawing board, together with various other questionable schemes. The government should not be allowed to build anything on Lantau until it first fulfils its long-delayed promise to extend the North Lantau Country Park; and any further development of the island should concentrate on conservation and recreation - we have lost too much of Hong Kong's green space already, with the western New Territories being blighted by a rash of container yards on land supposedly zoned as agricultural.

And why do planners think they can persuade the public to accept smothering the countryside with concrete by calling the result a "park"? Whether you call it a science park, logistics park, business park or industrial park, a collection of industrial buildings is not and can never be a park. This is just another example of Orwellian language at work.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Worst Taste Ad of the Year - already

Less than halfway through the year, it will be hard to beat this advertisement for bad taste. Whoever dreamed up this campaign has a sick mind. Someone should put the boot in on them.

Shoot the Piano Player

An Excite.com search for John Cage's music turns up the following entries:

42. File Name John Cage - 4'33'' for piano.mp3
Format mp3
Site URL oracolo.mine.nu/varie [Found on Yahoo! Search]
Size 1.0 MB
Playtime 04:27 sec

55. File Name John_Cage-433.mp3
Format mp3
Site URL en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cage [Found on Yahoo! Search]
Size 4.7 MB
Playtime 05:06 sec

I'll leave you to work out for yourself why this is amusing.
Disclaimer - I get a small commission from Amazon UK if you buy the MP3 download through the picture link here.  This version includes remixes!  (really.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Your friendly unwanted makeover specialists

An alarming headline on the South China Morning Post website today:
Mong Kok gets a makeover
The Planning Department will map out measures to reorganise the chaotic streetscape of Mong Kok in a bid to make the area more shopper-friendly, writes Anita Lam.

Not being willing to pay the Post's exorbitant subscription fees when I can read The Standard online for free, I haven't seen the rest of the article, but this is probably bad news for shoppers. It is exactly Mong Kok's "chaotic streetscape" that makes it so vibrant and interesting.

The government's idea of "shopper-friendly" is usually to smarten everything up and then double the rents. The result: bye-bye to all the cramped CD and DVD shops and tiny boutiques and labyrinthine computer malls and second hand bookshops and exotic petshops and untidy street markets and cosy little cafes that really attract shoppers, and hello to all the same big boring overpriced retail chains we can find everywhere else.

Already they have done away with all the colourful dai pai dongs that used to liven up Hong Kong's streets in favour of no doubt more hygienic but characterless cooked food stalls herded into concrete bunkers above markets. Then the markets in public housing estates were privatized in the face of fierce opposition. Stanley Market has been "tidied up", again drawing complaints. And in Kwun Tong, there is much discontent among the residents (most of them in the lower income group) over government plans to "improve" the area, which it is feared will drive out the cheap shops that residents depend on for their daily needs.

When will we have a government in Hong Kong that actually asks people what they want instead of deciding for them? (Yeah, I know, when we get democracy... I guess I'll just have to hold my breath a bit longer.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

One Law for the Rich and Another for the Poor

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who entered his post promising to clean up corruption (following his time as Assistant US Secretary of Defense, in which he was one of the chief creators of the murderous mess in Iraq), but was then caught breaking the rules to get his girlfriend a massive pay rise, is now reported to be "working on a resignation deal" that will allow him to leave on his own terms (no doubt with a handsome pay-off).

The rich and powerful really have no shame. If an ordinary person is caught with their hand in the till, they will get the boot immediately. But at this level of power, it seems you don't have to accept responsibility for your actions. And as the OJ trial showed, if you have enough money in America you can even literally get away with murder.

In this situation, it's refreshing that at least one of the super-rich may actually face the same justice as ordinary people for a change. The judge who sentenced silly heiress Paris Hilton to 45 days in prison, after she was twice caught at the wheel while her licence was suspended for driving under the influence of alcohol, deserves congratulations.

Britain's Sun newspaper reported that, "Her family had believed their money could buy her freedom. Her mum Kathy was heard ranting: '“And after all the money we spent!'" (though in true Sun style, the story concentrated on Paris's reported fear of lesbian assault in jail, and appeared under a shot of the wind blowing up her skirt to show her knickers).

Meanwhile, a questionable court case in the US has seen a vegan couple sentenced to life in prison for the death of their malnourished baby. It's hard to tell without seeing all the evidence, but it sounds to me from the report here that they were more probably foolish and ignorant (and rather eccentric) than deliberate killers. And like most poor people, they were probably forced to rely on overworked court-appointed defence counsel who may not have had the time or resources to mount an effective defence for them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ministry of Truth

This morning's South China Morning Post website says this:
"Fury at DAB chief's Tiananmen tirade
Hong Kong will not be ready for universal suffrage until around 2022 because the people lack national identity and many still believe there was a massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the leader of the main pro-Beijing party said yesterday."

The Standard reports Ma Lik's speech, but does not include any mention of his remarks on Tienanmen.

Let's get this straight: Ma is absolutely correct in saying, as Beijing's leaders always like to point out, that there was no massacre in Tienanmen Square in 1989. In fact the massacre took place in the nearby streets as the protestors were already leaving the Square - but they usually forget to mention that bit.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another Appropriate Analogy

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.
--Frank Zappa

Still thinking about the subject of my previous post. Suppose I tell you that if you go to Page One Books you can find a copy of Oliver Twist; does that make me the publisher of Oliver Twist? Of course not.

So if Woo Tai-wai posts a link that says "Go to xxx website and you can find porno pictures", does that make him the publisher of those pictures? Go figure, as the Americans say.

Real Life Crime Here on Your Screen!!

If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass, a idiot!
--Mr Bumble in Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist"

Watch this carefully: I am about to break the law in Hong Kong.
There are shops in Amsterdam where one can buy hard-core pornography.

There, I've done it! I've told you where to find obscene articles. That's what 48-year-old Woo Tai-wai did, and according to the Kwun Tong magistrate who fined him HK$5,000 last week, he acted illegally in doing so.

Except that Woo didn't write a sentence like the one above; he posted an Internet hyperlink in an online forum that led to a pornographic website. And the magistrate's decision proves that he understands neither the law nor the Internet, because what he convicted Woo of was "publishing an obscene article". But an Internet link is not and cannot constitute such an article in itself. Like my sentence above (which you could find in dozens of travel books about Holland), it is simply a signpost that tells you where to find something. It is not the thing itself. It neither compels you to follow the indicated direction, nor guarantees what you will find when you get there.

This site contains a good summary of the relevant law, the Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (Cap 390), according to which "it is an offence to publish an obscene article. Publication covers distribution, circulation, selling, hiring, giving, or lending the obscene article." The definition of article includes "anything consisting of or containing material to be read or looked at or both read and looked at, any sound recording, and any film, video-tape, disc or other record of a picture or pictures."

I don't see anything in there that would include an Internet link; and if this ridiculous verdict is upheld then everyone offering a search engine online is in big trouble, from Bill Gates downwards, because what search engines do is also just tell people where to find things. As one comment on Spike's excellent post on this says, "following the logic of this unfortunate precedent, if I tell someone where firecrackers can be bought, I am guilty of selling explosives."

Looking on the bright side, however, it would really be nice to see all the spammers who clutter my mailbox with unwanted porn links lined up to face justice in the Hong Kong courts!

Other Views:
EastSouthWestNorth - Hyperlinking in Hong Kong

Friday, May 11, 2007

What's in a Name?

Wikipedia's article on Hong Kong Island's Soho district says this:
'For several years the local district council has fought an ongoing battle against local businesses in the area against formal adoption of the name "Soho", preferring instead the descriptive "Hong Kong Theme Restaurant District". The apprehension is that use of the name "Soho" will cause association with the London area of the same name.'

"Hong Kong Theme Restaurant District" - well, there's a catchy name that slips easily off the tongue and is simple to remember. I can really see how that one would catch on.

This is exactly the sort of mindless stupidity that gives Hong Kong's mini-politicans a bad name. Take a district with an already familiar and popular informal name, used by both Chinese and expatriates, and try to lumber it with a long-winded and boring official alternative instead.

And what's wrong with associating it with London's Soho? The area has long lost most of its former sleazy red-light reputation and is today more familiar as a lively bar and restaurant area which also includes London's thriving Chinatown. Did anyone complain when the bar area on Macau's reclamation became known as "Macau's Lan Kwai Fong"? But then for all its faults, Macau has a much better grasp than Hong Kong on how to attract visitors.

Coming next: Lockhart Road in Wanchai to be renamed "Hong Kong Theme Girlie Bar District".

Meanwhile in Taipei, the DPP government is planning to rename the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall as part of its campaign to eradicate Taiwan's visible links with the mainland. Since the existing name is an exact description of the place, it's hard to see what they could come up with instead - "the building formerly known as the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall", a la Prince, perhaps? Like him or not, Chiang was one of the towering figures of modern history who shaped both China and Taiwan irrevocably. I won't bother to dig out the famous quote to the effect that those who try to eliminate history inevitably fail to learn its lessons.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Why Am I Not Surprised?

Indonesia's former military chief denies that there were gross human rights violations in East Timor ahead of its independence vote.

And Pakistan's nuclear authority denies there is any cause for concern after it publishes press advertisements urging members of the public to inform officials if they find any "lost or stolen" radioactive material.

It's amazing how often one can apply the famous words of Mandy Rice-Davies, isn't it?

Bankers with a "W"

I spent a frustrating 45 minutes in HSBC's head office this morning trying to get a credit card cash advance. The trouble was, I wanted to draw out the total credit limit on the card. First I was told there was a maximum daily withdrawal limit on my card, which it turned out there wasn't.

That was merely irritating. What was infuriating is that the outstanding balance on the card had already been paid off in cash earlier the same morning. So, you might think, the entire credit limit would now be available. Not so. It appears that even though you pay cash into HSBC, it doesn't get credited to the card account until 9am the following day. So I'm there with the card and the pay-in slip proving it's been paid off, but that makes no difference.

So, if the money is no longer with me and not yet in the card account, where is it? Acting as a nice interest-free loan to HSBC for a day while they presumably sock me for another day's interest on the credit card, I suppose. And they wonder why so many people spell "bankers" with a W.