Friday, June 29, 2007

My Enemy's Enemy Is Not Always My Friend

I can rarely see George W Bush spouting his latest poisonous nonsense without feeling angry - do you feel that, too? Not long ago the idiot was on TV telling the long-suffering American people that defeating Al-Qaeda in Iraq is vital to America's security. In that case, why the hell didn't he just leave Saddam Hussein in power?

Under Saddam, Al-Qaeda had no presence in Iraq; for all his faults, he at least kept religious fanaticism firmly suppressed. It was the American invasion that gave Al-Qaeda the chance to enter the country, presenting themselves as heroic allies of the Iraqi resistance to the invasion, and giving them the biggest recruitment opportunity they had ever enjoyed.

The USA (and its lapdog Britain) are very good at creating their own enemies. Support the courageous Mujahideen fighting Russian communist control in Afghanistan, and watch them mutate into the dreaded Taliban. Build up the military might of the secular Saddam Hussein against the mad mullahs of Iran, and watch him turn it against Kuwait.

Most of the time, America and Britain would be better off if they kept out of physical intervention in other countries' affairs. At the least, they should learn that believing the old saying, "My enemy's enemy is my friend" is often foolish and dangerous.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bring Out Your Dead

I wrote back in April about the reduced frequency of household waste collection in Britain. Now Private Eye has a nice cartoon on the subject:

This reminds me of the old Monty Python sketch:

Bring out your dead!

A family dump a struggling old man on the cart. He vociferously complains, "But I'm not dead yet!"

"Shut up, you soon will be."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Expensive Ferry to Inconvenience

It comes as no surprise that the Star Ferry is applying for a price rise on its Hung Hom routes, probably to be followed by its Tsimshatsui route soon. As everyone with a brain predicted, passenger numbers have slumped since the government moved the Central terminus from its former convenient location to an inaccessible new home in the middle of nowhere.

Apparently the next stage in the government's master plan to ruin Hong Kong's waterfront is to relocate the Central bus terminus to a less convenient location as well. They are already planning to relocate the Tsimshatsui bus terminus away from the Star Ferry Pier.

Have Hong Kong's planners never heard of integrated transport? Sometimes they get it right, as in extending the KCR back to Tsimshatsui to connect with the MTR there, but all too often they seem to look at one transport mode in total isolation from others, destroying connections instead of creating convenient interchanges between them.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Rip-off Files 1: What you see is not what you get

How's this for deceptive and wasteful packaging? I know it says 28 pieces on the wrapper, but I don't think any purchaser would expect 40% of the space inside to be taken up by cardboard and air. Less for the consumer and more for the landfill.

Purchased from PARKnSHOP, as they now write their name. (Thank you, Mr Li).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Unintended Consequences for America

Several American senators are planning to introduce a bill in the Senate to push China to accelerate the rise in its currency, in order to ease its gigantic trade surplus with the United States. This only proves that politicians don't understand economics very well.

The intended consequence of this bill is to sell more American goods to China and slow the flow of Chinese goods into the USA. However, a sharp rise in the RMB may well have other effects:

  1. American firms with factories in China will receive smaller profits from them in US$ terms, losing money they might have otherwise have invested back into the US.
  2. American households will find themselves paying more for just about everything, as almost every manufactured product in WalMart is now made in China and will cost more.
  3. This will not bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, as hoped; it is far more likely that they will move to other countries with low labour costs and relatively undervalued currencies.
  4. China will be less able to afford to purchase American products such as Boeing aircraft, Microsoft and Oracle software, other high technology items, and grain.
  5. China will produce even more pirate DVDs, as genuine Hollywood movies become more expensive in RMB terms.
  6. Perhaps most surprising of all, this move could help to end America's illegal invasion of Iraq. Bush's ruinously expensive war (see latest cost in the right side column here) has run up a massive budget deficit, which has been largely financed by borrowing through issuing US Treasury bonds. The largest purchaser of these is China, which holds a large part of its enormous foreign exchange reserves, accumulated because of the trade surplus, in this form. Without this to fall back on, America will have problems coming up with the funding to maintain its occupation - certainly the American people will be in no mood for a tax rise (see 2 above).

Have they really thought this out, I wonder?

Help! Star Trek Universal Translator Needed Urgently

What's up with Blogger? For some reason, whenever I log in since yesterday it now shows everything on the screen in Chinese. There doesn't seem to be any button to click on to change language, and I can't use the Help function to sort it out because that's in Chinese too. Nor can I see any language indicator in the URLs it's using that I could try changing to "en".

Is it detecting a Hong Kong IP address and using Chinese because of that? If so, someone should tell the idiots at Google (Blogger's parent) that not everyone here is Chinese. Meanwhile, my annoyance level is rising....

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Drowning the Deaf

ATV's English news the other night reported that some parts of Lantau Island had received 100 millimetres of rainfall in 24 hours. Now that's quite a lot (about 4 inches for the metrically challenged), but the subtitles showed it as 100 metres! If true, that would pretty much have washed away every village on the island except Ngong Ping - not to mention the airport.

Another Lost Opportunity

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang is an efficient administrator, but as a former top civil servant he is, I fear, better at carrying out orders than at coming up with new ideas himself. I have long believed that the Hong Kong government's major weakness (apart from constantly attempting to second-guess Beijing's wishes, instead of deciding on the best policies for the SAR and then selling them to the central government) is lack of imagination.

Sadly this lack has been demonstrated yet again in the appointments to Tsang's revamped cabinet. There are no real surprises on the list, and several familiar faces playing musical chairs. One such move sees current Director of Information Services Edward Yau Tang-wah succeeding the largely ineffective Sarah Liao as Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works.

No doubt Yau is competent enough; but according to The Standard today, "despite Yau's lack of an environmental track record, he beat pan-democrat candidate, the Civic Exchange's executive director, Christine Loh Kung-wai, for the post". Now that really would have been an imaginative appointment (if she accepted it): Christine Loh's environmental credentials are impeccable, she is highly articulate (in English as well as Chinese), creative, and as a former legislator she knows well how LegCo works.

Not only that, Loh is 100% committed to democracy but, being more diplomatic and less abrasive than many in the democratic camp, manages to avoid making too many enemies on the pro-Beijing side; as such she could have helped to bridge some of the divisions between the two sides that make necessary compromises on many issues difficult to achieve.

And if all these qualities aren't enough, she is to my knowledge the only Legislative Councillor ever to have admitted (in an HK Magazine interview) to enjoying skinnydipping!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Start Your Day the Hong Kong Way

One of those mornings:

In a mean mood today, I was entering the lift at 1 minute to 9 with 4 or 5 other people when I spotted the building's shuttle bus arriving. Knowing this would mean a flood of people coming, I hastily pressed the Doors Close button to get us up, up and away before they reached the lift. Pressed several times, but nothing happened.

Then I observed that the jerk on the other side of the lift was frantically pressing the Doors Open button to keep us all waiting while his dear colleagues got off the bus and joined us. Very un-Hong Kong of him.

When I finally reached my office and checked my email, I found a junk mail beginning "Dear Sir/mad". How did they know?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Diddums and Death

Poor Paris Hilton! Sent back to prison where, according to one of her friends, "“It’s so cruel what has happened to her. She wasn’t allowed to wax or use a moisturiser. Her skin is so dry right now.”

Meanwhile I was talking to my mother last night when her doorbell rang. She called me back later to tell me it was her neighbour, informing her that the young man who cleans her windows had been knocked off his bike and killed by a drunk driver.

Well, Paris, some people get arrested for drunk driving and sent to prison where, no matter how rich they are, they have to suffer the indignity of dry skin. Others get killed by drunk drivers - how cruel is that? - which is why we send drunk drivers like you to prison. Get real, you spolied brat.