Wednesday, September 29, 2010

That's, like, a smart career move, Emma

Amid the predictable furore over actress Emma Thompson's attack on sloppy language (good for her, I say), there seems to have been little comment on her statement in the same interview that she would not consider having cosmetic surrgery, something she described as "psychologically dysfunctional".

This may be a good career move on her part. With the passing of Gloria Stuart at age 100, there is hardly an older actress left in Hollywood who isn't trapped in some weird unnatural timewarp of facelifts and Botox. Therefore when a producer needs an actress to play an old woman convincingly, he picks up the phone and makes a Transatlantic casting call to Judi Dench or Maggie Smith. When they retire or pass away, Emma will be the natural choice for such roles in future.

Incidentally, she is not the only entertainer to object to the current misuse of the word "like" - Loudon Wainwright III cleverly wrote a song attacking the practice without ever once mentioning the actual word in the song. Unfortunately I can't remember its name right now.

PS - it's called Cobwebs and you can find it on Loudon's Grown Man CD.
Disclaimer - I get a small commission from Amazon UK if you buy the CD through the picture link here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Like "Mother" Like Daughter?

The BBC reports today that Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are to become judges on American Idol. No big surprise, but the picture they used on their front page amused me - it looks like one of those "mother and daughter" shots - add 30 years to Lopez's age and see what she could look like. Yuck!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

No Car No Go

Yesterday was supposedly No Car Day (not a smart time to choose, on a Chinese festival evening when everyone in Hong Kong leaves work early and rushes home to celebrate with their family). So of course senior members of the government were all seen making their token once-a-year trip on public transport. But you just know that they'll be back in their chauffeur-driven Beemers and Benzes today. In three decades in Hong Kong I have only once seen a LegCo or ExCo member on public transport - Szeto Wah, when he was still in LegCo, sat across from me on the MTR one evening. So next time you wonder why public transport fares are allowed to go up by more than the rate of inflation, or why there are so few cycle paths in urban Hong Kong, ask yourself how these decisions look through the eyes of decision makers who have no idea how the ordinary person gets around.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If you can't see it and can't touch it, it may not be there

Ulaca has already commented on the speech by 1967-rioter-turned-Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak Sing announcing Hong Kong's exciting plans to bid for the 2023 Asian Games. However, it simply cries out for another of our Orwellian deconstructions of politicians' utterances. Let us quote it first:
"It will put Hong Kong on the map and reinforce Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s World City, which will bring in long-term, though perhaps intangible, benefits."

What does this mean in plain English?

It will remind people [unnecessarily] that Hong Kong exists and has pretensions to being a world city. We can't think of any other real benefits at the moment, but we want to go ahead anyway.

Whenever a politician talks about intangible benefits, you can be sure that the tangible benefits are rather thin on the ground.

This case raises a number of interesting points about Hong Kong's peculiar system of governance. For a start, it will no doubt give the government an excuse to construct another quasi-national stadium, when we already have a very good one which is criminally underused. This is largely because the government caved in to pressure from a handful of nearby residents and refuses to allow it to be used for concerts, thereby both wasting a valuable community resource and denying Hong Kong people the opportunity to enjoy performances by major stars for whom no other venue in the city is capacious enough. The fact that there was already a stadium on the site long before most of the residences around it were built, and that the inhabitants should therefore have expected occasional noise when they moved in, seems to carry no weight.

This plan also illustrates the tendency for such schemes in Hong Kong to be cooked up behind closed doors. Witness the presence of Timothy Fok, the man the media like to describe as Hong Kong's Olympic supremo, at the announcement. Despite having the worst attendance record of any Legislative Council member, Fok seems to be able to persuade the government to go along with anything he wants to do.

Fok also exemplifies one of the failings of the Functional Constituency system - despite supposedly representing the Sport, the Arts and Culture constituency Fok, ubiquitous at any major sporting event, doesn't seem to know his arts from his elbow. When was the last time he was seen at a Hong Kong Philharmonic concert or a performance by the Hong Kong Ballet? Effectively, this means the Arts are unrepresented in LegCo, with no one to fight for funding for them

Another point illustrated by this case is Hong Kong's warped financial priorities. The government is happy to spend money it admits will be unrecoverable on a sporting event, while insisting there is no cash in the kitty to invest in the city's future by taking advantage of falling birth rates to reduce class sizes in secondary schools. The schools already exist, the teachers are already trained - at public expense, and it is almost universally agreed by educationists that smaller classes obtain better results, but the government claims that using these already existing resources would be too costly. What can you do with people who think like this?

Monday, September 20, 2010

That'll Learn 'em!

In the latest spat over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Chinese demonstrators have been calling for a boycott of Japanese goods. This is an excellent way to punish Japan - if no one buys their products, it will force Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sanyo, Canon, Konica Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, NEC, Toyota, etc., etc. to shut down their factories in China, throwing millions of Chinese employees out of work. That'll certainly learn ' on a minute...

Well thought out, indeed. Equally thoughtless are China's calls for the immediate release of the fishing boat captain at the heart of the row. This seems to be a case of double standards - if a Japanese boat ran into a Chinese coastguard vessel in disputed waters, does anyone seriously think China would just give him a token slap on the wrist and put him on the next plane home? So why should they expect Japan to do so?

Note: I take no position on the rightful ownership of the disputed islands - frankly I have no idea which nation has the better claim to them. I comment only on how the dispute is handled.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More money than sense

So George Michael has (again) joined the long list of celebrities found driving under the influence of various substances, legal or otherwise - a list that in the last few years has included Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and Mel Gibson.

What puzzles me is why? These people have truckloads of money - Michael's estimated fortune is US$90 million; Hilton inherited less of her father's fortune than she expected, but makes millions herself each year; Lohan reportedly makes US$7.5 million per film, though relatively poor Richie has to make do with a net worth of a mere US$5 million (still more than many people earn in several lifetimes), far less than Gibson's estimated US%850 million pile (about to be severely depleted by his impending divorce, but still leaving him enormously wealthy). Any of them could easily afford to hire a chauffeur. So why is it that someone who thinks nothing of ordering a thousand dollar bottle of champagne is seemingly too mean to fork out a hundred bucks for a taxi ride home after a night on the town?

Is it simple stupidity? Or could it be that their egos are so swollen they truly believe their desire to drive themselves is more important than the safety of everyone else on the road? Or both?

Incidentally, the word stupid is etymologically related to "stupour" (stupor for Anericans), which is what George Michael seems determined to spend the rest of his life in. A great pity for someone so talented.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Doctor of what, Father of where?

For some reason, the Hong Kong media have recently started to refer to Ocean Park CEO Allen Zeman as "Dr Zeman". However, I have been unable to discover what he is supposedly a doctor of.

The other nystery about Zeman is why the media constantly refer to him to as "the Father of Lan Kwai Fong". Those old enough to remember how the area got started on its development into an entertainment district know that this title should rightfully belong to the late, and now almost forgotten, Gordon Huthart. The South China Morning Post (surprisingly) tells his story sympathetically. [You may have to Google it, as somehow Google gets round the Post's subscription-on;y front door.]

RSS Feeds - any recommendations?

Bloglines, the RSS aggregator I've been using for the past couple of years, is closing down. Any recommendations on what to use instead? It must be a) free and b) simple.

All suggestions gratefully received.

Friday, September 10, 2010

You know you're getting old when...

... you walk along Lockhart Road in Wanchai and the bargirls hanging around in front of the nightclubs, who used to be half your age, are now one third of it.

But I had another reminder the other day that I'm not getting any younger. Receiving HK Magazine's latest email, I saw that they were offering valuable prizes for those completing their annual "Readers' Choice Awards" survey. OK, I thought, the prizes seem quite attractive - let's have a go.
  • Best brunch - Cafe Deco on Sundays. Easy so far.
  • Best dim sum - hmmm, I don't often go for dim sum, and then only where the wife's family decides to go.
I would have thought of somewhere, I suppose, but then it got harder:
  • Best new restaurant; Best new coffee shop - I can't think of the last time I went to a new eating place (as opposed to visiting an old one for the first time). Anyway, restaurants, like jeans, are more comfortable when they've been worn for a while.
  • Best new dining trend - I have absolutely no idea.
  • Best place to take a date - nowhere if I don't want my wife to kill me.
  • Best restaurant to blow your expense account on - since I don't have one, I can't afford to eat at that kind of restaurant anyway, so how would I know?
  • Best new club - I think it's about 20 years since I last went clubbing.
  • Bets new bar - does the King's Belly in Taipo count? Actually it's not new, just a new name for After 5 when it changed ownership. My favourite bars/pubs in Hong Kong don't even exist any more - the original Mad Dogs in Wyndham Street, and the Frog & Toad out on Lantau. These days if I do go out for a drink, it's usually to Delaney's.
  • Best local DJ -I don't think I can even name a local DJ except Ray Cordeiro, and somehow I don't think he's the type they have in mind.
  • Best clothing store - does the Ten Dollar T-Shirt outlet in Causeway Bay count? Being tall, I tend to stock up on clothes when I visit Europe or Canada - most of the stuff here doesn't fit me (shoes too).
  • Favorite fashion brand (note the American spelling) - whatever fits me and doesn't cost too much.
  • Best gym - haven't been to one for years - or to a yoga studio ever.
  • Best spa - the one my wife takes me to, I guess -I can't remember the name.
  • Best new mobile phone - if it existed, would be one with a large enough screen to actually let me read it; failing that, anything that makes and receives calls.
And so on - you get the picture. They do eventually get to some questions I could answer:
  • Best beach - I'm not telling you because I like the fact that it's usually deserted. Ditto for Best Hong Kong hideaway, but by now I'd given up.
So, I conclude that I am either:
  • An out-of-touch old fogey who's totally clueless about all the important trends around town; or
  • A mature individual who's grown out of his juvenile fascination with trendiness and the pursuit of novelty for its own sake.
And you?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Stamp Vultures

I;m sure I'm not the only shopper who's irritated by the stamp vultures - those people who hang around the exits from Wellcome supermarkets - particularly the one in Great George Street in Causeway Bay - pestering departing shoppers for their gift stamps.

What's with these people? When the giveaways were something with some intrinsic value, like cooking pots or luggage, I could understand it. But the current offerings are just unremarkable stuffed toys. How many Shreks can one person need?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Reach out and touch...

A fundamentalist Christian church in the US is planning to mark the anniversary of the September 11 World Trade Centre attacks by burning copies of the Koran - thereby ensuring that more Muslim fundamentalists will be enraged into carrying out further acts of terrorism.

This is pretty much the kind of intolerance and mutual lack of understanding one expects from religious fundamentalists on both sides of the Muslim/Christian divide. What makes it noteworthy is the name of the church concerned - the Dove World Outreach Centre. They certainly know how to reach out to the Muslim world, don't they? Perhaps some Muslims should reach out to them by burning copies of the Bible outside their church. All in the spirit of peace symbolised by the dove, of course.

Fact: Islam also recognises the Bible as a holy book - though fundamentalists on both sides seem unaware of this. Or indeed of anything much except their own bigotry.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Invasion of the Great White Dolphins

ATV News a minute ago brought the welcome news that a large pod of the rare Chinese White Dolphin has been spotted off Shantou - the largest group of the endangered creatures seen for some years. However, according to ATV, the dolphins can grow up to 350 metres in length - more than a third of a kilometre.

memo to ATV - try moving the decimal point two places to the left. Otherwise I shall start to wonder what the Daya Bay nuclear poweer station is pouring into the South China Sea.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Catherine's Cancer Karma

Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones has recently declared in interviews that she is furious with her husband Michael Douglas's doctors for not detecting his throat cancer earlier. And well she may be, but perhaps she should be turning her fury in a different direction. Zeta-Jones has often been quoted as a vocal advocate of the so-called right to smoke - and has even been reported to travel by private plane so that she and her husband can smoke during their journeys.

It is well known that smoking is the most common cause of throat cancer. If you spend your time defending and indulging in dangerous behaviour, perhaps you should look in the mirror when it comes back to bite you - or your loved ones - in the throat.

P.S To be fair to the Douglases, after posting this I read that they have been trying to quit smoking in recent years - with what degree of success, I have no idea. Anyway, this is not meant to be a personal attack - I have enjoyed both their movies over the years, and wish Michael a speedy recovery.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Blair in the Brown Stuff

It's been a while since we had one of our stories where, in the tradition of George Orwell, we translate the language of politics into straightforward English. Appropriately, today's example comes from the just-published memoirs of Tony Blair, never a man to say what he means straight out if he can make it sound better with a little obfuscation. To quote the BBC, speaking of his successor:

Blair argued that, had he sacked or demoted the Chancellor, "the party and the government would have been severely and immediately destabilised and his [Gordon Brown's] ascent to the office of Prime Minister would probably have been even faster".

In plain English, what this means is: If I'd sacked Brown, he would have stirred up the party against me and grabbed my job earlier. So what sounds on first reading like a principled decision in the interests of the party and the country turns out to be a self-serving calculation on how best Blair could hang on to his job at the top.

In tennis, six means something

Is there anyone at ATV News who understands tennis? After telling us in tonight's broadcast how Rafael Nadal had an "easy" first round victory at the US Open, they then gave us the score: 7-6, 7-6, 6-3. Need I say more?

P.S. TVB's late news talked about Nadal's "smooth path" to the second round, but did at least mention that he was on court for 3 hours - not usually a sign of an easy victory.