Friday, August 30, 2013

Who Are the Brain Police?

A new entrant to the toadstooling crop (mushrooming is too complimentary a word for these poisonous growths) of clumsily-named and aggressive organisations claiming to love Hong Kong so much they need to tell us all how to think, "Caring Hong Kong Power", wants local teachers to be forced to declare their political affiliations.  If this latest attempt at CCPisation succeeds, one can only hope that someone will found a Mind Your Own Damn Business Party which all teachers will join, then they can all write Mind Your Own Damn Business on the declaration form.

On the other hand, it may be possible to turn this against its instigators.  Since it is well known that certain schools in Hong Kong are sponsored by pro-Beijing organisations (founding DAB member and current LegCo president Tsang-Yok-sing was principal of one of these before entering full-time politics), could we not argue that by the same token, these schools are subjecting children to undue political brainwashing and should be closed down?

In a SCMP profile, the group's loudmouthed leader,  Chan Ching-sum, reveals her ignorance - or true intentions - by saying: "We in Hong Kong abide by the Chinese constitution".  Well, no, we don't.  The whole point of the Basic Law is that Hong Kong, while part of China, is exempt from much of the constitution which governs the rest of the country (except for the other SAR, Macau), and has its own system.

Chan also says of the pan-democrats: "When there was no universal suffrage, people asked for it; when there is [sic], they ask for it to be real".  Presumably she thinks fake democracy is all the Hong Kong people deserve.  Whatever she "Cares" about, it sure isn't Hong Kong.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Mrs Rochester in Bob Dylan's Attic

In days gone by, it was common for the mad or retarded (a non-PC word these days) to be hidden away in shame, out of sight of the world.  In the recent BBC series Upstairs Downstairs, the main protagonist Sir Hallam Holland discovers that his Down's Syndrome sister Pamela is not dead, as he's been led to believe, but has been secretly shut away in an asylum.  And of course there is the famous case in Jane Eyre of the mad Mrs Rochester, detested by her husband and locked up under guard in his attic.

The Dylan album from 1973 (called A Fool Such As I in some releases) has always seemed like the Mrs Rochester in Bob Dylan's attic.  Compiled without input from Bob after he left Columbia for Asylum (!) Records (only to return later with full artistic control), it is the only one of his studio albums not currently available on CD, though it was briefly released in that format in Holland many years ago.  Nor is it available on iTunes, I believe, though it made a brief appearance there as part of a larger Dylan collection.  In fact it was until recently only available on cassette (probably clearing old stocks), though Amazon UK now sells a nicely packaged but overpriced CD version of dubious legality [click on the picture for details] which also includes bonus tracks from the Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash sessions (surely a candidate for a future Bootleg Series release).  Indeed, so neglected is the album that Columbia even reused its title for a later hits collection in 2007.

Yet just as Hallam Holland brings his sister back into the family circle, and Jean Rhys gives Bertha Mason (Mrs Rochester) a voice of her own in her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, perhaps now is the perfect time to bring this abandoned child out of the attic and take another look at it.  After all, we are currently in the middle of a media blitz for the forthcoming Bootleg Series number 10, Another Self Portrait.  This consists largely of out-takes from the Self Portrait and New Morning sessions - the exact same sources as Dylan.  The simple fact is, while it is far from Dylan at his best, it has (like Self Portrait, which is now undergoing critical reappraisal) never been as bad as its reputation.  Take it for what it is - Dylan running casually through some old folk songs and a few contemporary songs he likes by other writers - and it becomes a pleasant if unremarkable footnote to his more celebrated albums.

Now there are rumours - via an apparently premature story later withdrawn - of a career-spanning box set of all Dylan's albums (some newly remastered) plus a double CD of other previously released material, much of it currently unavailable.  Details are sketchy at this stage - it is not even certain it will appear at all - but if so, it will be interesting to see whether Dylan gets included as part of the official canon, and if so, whether it will finally get a standalone CD reissue as well.  I hope the rarities set comes out separately, because I have all Bob's albums already - some in multiple editions including the Original Mono Recordings box set - so it would take a lot to make me fork out US$300, the rumoured price, to get them all again.  As with many things Dylan, however, everything at the moment is mixed-up confusion, all tangled up in blue.

Disclaimer - I get a small commission from Amazon UK if you buy the CD through the picture link here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Apathy in the HK

A rather amusing Freudian slip from Robert Chow, a convenor of the so-called Silent Majority for Hong Kong, speaking on ATV's Newsline about the Occupy Central movement, opposition to which is his group's main objective:

"...and then it will come a time when police officers, and maybe government servants, maybe entire Hong Kong, will refuse to arrest any more people, and then they will refuse to follow the orders of the government, and that would be apathy in the streets."

I assume he meant to say "anarchy in the streets", but given that the supposed silent majority are by definition apathetic (that's why they're silent), perhaps his version is more appropriate.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Putting the boot in on Hong Kong's cultural heritage

From my earliest days in Hong Kong one TV advert kept popping up at odd times - the one for Curcyrin, a remedy for athlete's foot (also commonly called Hong Kong foot because of its local prevalence in our humid climate).  Remember the giant foot and the guy in the tacky checked suit?
It should probably be in the Guinness Book of records as the longest-running (and cheesiest) TV commercial of all time.  [Click the link to see it on Youtube.]

Sadly, this irreplaceable piece of Hong Kong's cultural heritage appears to have been retired after many decades, and a new series of (actually rather good) ads has replaced it.  I quite like the one with the colourful wellies:
Nevertheless I can't help feeling a little sad that another fragment of an earlier and less sophisticated Hong Kong has gone - like the fact that you never see people popping out for a late night bowl of noodles in their pyjamas any more.  This used to be common, but today no Hong Konger would dream of going out without dressing up in name brand clothing.  I miss those simpler times - I must be getting old.  Am I the only one who feels nostalgia for stuff like this?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

So shines a good deed in a naughty world

Yesterday my father-in-law took a taxi home.  The taxi driver subsequently picked up another passenger, who found a bunch of keys - one of them apparently a car key - on the back seat.  After dropping off that passenger, the driver took the trouble to go out of his way to drive back to our home to ask if the keys belonged to my father-in-law.  As it happens, they didn't - presumably having been dropped by an earlier passenger - but in a time when Hong Kong is increasingly fractious and divided, it's good to be reminded that simple human acts of kindness can still be found here.  And if you left your keys in a taxi yesterday, the driver will have handed them in to the police by now.

The heading, by the way, is from Shakespeare's A Merchant of Venice.  Looking it up to be sure of getting the wording right, I learned that in Shakespeare's time "naughty" meant "worthless" (i.e. "worth naught").  So I should also thank the taxi driver for furthering my etymological education.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Diffident Dissidents

Another of the Pro-China Morning Post's meaningless polls today.  "Do you agree with ex-minister Fred Ma that Hong Kong has been distracted by trivial issues?"  Yes, I think we can all (well, 89% of respondents, anyway) agree on that - but I very much doubt that we would all agree on what is trivial.  For example, I would consider one protester shouting abuse at the police in the heat of the moment a trivial incident - as would many others - but Chief Executive CY Leung apparently considers it significant enough for him to call for a report on the award-winning teacher responsible, and the China Daily predictably backs him in this witch-hunt.  There is no sign that this report will look into the far-from-trivial accusations of police bias that raised the protester's ire in the first place.

I'm not going to add more to the weight of verbiage on the demonisation of that unfortunate lady.  What interests me today is the Post's choice of words in its editorial - written by Lau Nai-keung, who can usually be relied on to channel the latest propaganda direct from the Central Government Liaison Office without any intervening thought process. The article, headed "Public opinion turns on anti-government protesters", begins: "The dissidents made a big mistake by staging a mass confrontation on August 4".

Now there are several points of interest here - for one thing, how big does a crowd have to be to make it a "mass"?  And which public is he talking about?  When you read the article, he appears to be talking mainly about the media and the new so-called Silent Majority organisation.

"Mainstream Hong Kong people", Lau argues, "badly want change, but not to the point of rocking the boat, never mind some kind of regime change as some dissidents would like. When our dissidents go too far, the silent majority will rise up and try to push them back, and this is what we are witnessing now".  He doesn't mention public concern that some of the "pushing back" at the recent Tin Shui Wai incident appears to have been done by known gangsters.  That's another issue the government apparently considers too trivial to pursue.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Lau's piece is his frequent use of the word "dissident".  The term is broadly defined, says Wikipedia, as one who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy or institution.  But in general usage, the term is almost exclusively applied to those who do so in response to a tyrannical dictatorship.  It seems that Lau's choice of the word is telling us more than he intends about the regime he so avidly supports.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The silence of the damned

The latest of the rash of anti-democracy groups springing up like poisonous toadstools in Hong Kong (no doubt with the Central Government Liaison Office's hand at work behind the scenes) calls itself The Silent Majority.  Come on!  That's one of the oldest and most clichéd political tricks in the book - when you don't have enough supporters, simply declare that everyone who doesn't express any other view openly must be on your side.  The fact that some of this group are academics doesn't say much for the quality of Hong Kong's teaching of logical thinking.

The reality is that in most political systems, the majority of people keep a low profile most of the time unless some major event (Article 23, National Education) stirs them to a level of dissatisfaction that brings them out on to the streets.  If this new group assume that this indicates satisfaction with the status quo, they are sadly out of touch with public feeling in Hong Kong today.  If they know they are talking nonsense, then this can be seen as yet another ploy to persuade the public to shut up and accept what they're given.

Meanwhile another of these shadowy groups, the so-called Hong Kong Youth Care Association, continues its obviously well-funded campaign of harassment and occasional violence against the Falun Gong, with the apparent connivance of the Hong Kong Police Force.  For those who haven't followed recent events, a group of HKYCA activists were (as usual) attacking Falun Gong members a couple of weeks ago.  The Police held back a counter-protest group while seemingly doing nothing to rein in the HKYCA.  This angered a local teacher, Alpais Lam, who asked in intemperate language WTF the police were doing.  This in turn triggered a pro-police protest and a pro-free-speech counter-protest in Mongkok, leading to clashes and more exchanges of colourful language.

Following a tsunami of personal criticism, with calls for her to be sacked from her job, and even funeral wreaths bearing her name being left outside her school, Ms Lam (no doubt under intense pressure) later apologised for her choice of words.  However, the case has stirred up a welter of argument in Hong Kong.  For details and video see here, here, here, and here.

The Falun Gong's beliefs may be nonsensical, but the fact is that if Chinese communist front groups are allowed to suppress anyone's beliefs in Hong Kong, then none of us is free to believe what we choose.  So what do we know about the HKYCA?  Well, several things (see some of the above links):
  • It is related to the China Anti-Cult Association, a supposed NGO in the mainland but in reality a government-supported organisation.
  • It receives financial support from Yanjing Brewery (Yanjing Beer being, probably less than coincidentally, the official State Beer of China).
And what can be done about it?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Whenever you see the HKYCA's illegally erected banners on the street, complain to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.  (And speaking of illegality, it's ironic that a CCP front organisation is in blatant violation of the Basic Law which pro-Beijing groups are usually so quick to defend - the HKYCA's attempts to suppress a religious organisation in Hong Kong clearly contradicts the Basic Law's guarantees of religious freedom.)
  • Complain to the Inland Revenue Department that the group should not enjoy its tax-exempt charitable status, because its principal activities bear no relation to its stated objectives and constitution and are clearly political in nature, making them ineligible for tax-exemption.  I plan to do this myself and will let you know the response.
  • Boycott Yanjing beer, and let others know why you are doing so.
Maybe none of these will be effective, but I see no reason why we should give this noxious group an easy ride.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The milk of human blindness

It's ironic that some of the very same mothers now scrambling to make sure the milk their little dears drink is free of toxins are probably heading off to the beauty parlour to be injected with the very same toxins.  Maybe the dairy firm at the centre of the problem can recoup some of its losses by manufacturing Botox from the recalled milk products.