Monday, December 31, 2007

Hong Kong - Ignoring the Sky

Looking at a list of the world's tallest skyscrapers, I find that Hong Kong has several entries in the top 100, including a couple I've never even heard of! My lack of awareness could either indicate how much we now take skyscrapers for granted here, or reflect the fact that we don't often notice how tall our buildings are because Hong Kong's appalling pall of smog hides the upper half of them from our sight.

Another reason may be that, unlike those almost everywhere else in the world, Hong Kong's skyscrapers do not incorporate public observation platforms. In a city that seeks to attract tourists, this seems daft to me, but I suspect the reasons are driven by financial considerations like most things here. Perhaps revenue from tourist admissions can't outweigh the exorbitant rents that high floors can command.

For the record, Hong Kong's entries are:
7. IFC Two
11. Central Plaza
12. Bank of China Tower
17. The Center
27. Nina Tower I
55. Cheung Kong Centre
68. The Cullinan I
69. The Cullinan II
90. Hotel Panorama

Hong Kong therefore accounts for 9% of the world's 100 tallest buildings, with another 7 entries in the next 100. Note that the list counts twin towers as two separate entries; if you prefer to count Petronas Towers (ranked 3 and 4) as a single building, then Hong Kong has two in the top ten.

China is well represented overall, with Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanning and Guangzhou all in the top 100, as well as our neighbour Shenzhen at number 9. Taipei 101 heads the list, with Shanghai's new World Financial Centre just behind. Remarkably New York's majestic Empire State Building - the first of the world's great skyscrapers, dating back to 1931 - remains in the top ten today, thanks to al-Qaeda. Not for much longer, however - Dubai is now constructing a new building expected to top the list when completed.

Height rankings vary between lists depending on how they define a building - most lists exclude communications towers such as Toronto's CN Tower, the world's tallest free-standing man-made structure (North Dakota's even taller KVLY-TV Mast is supported by cables); how they measure masts, antennae and other twiddly bits on top of the buildings - see here; and when they regard a building as completed. You can find other lists here, here and here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Most Dangerous Country in the World

Whatever your view of Benazir Bhutto, her murder yesterday can only further destabilize the already chaotic situation in Pakistan. Forget George Bush's obsessions, potential nuclear powers North Korea and Iran; one misstep in Pakistan now could deliver existing nuclear weapons into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. And if that doesn't scare you, nothing will.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Even if you regularly use to buy books and CDs, you may not be aware that you can also order a diverse array of such exotic items as an internally fully carpeted armoured vehicle with built-in stereo system (a snip at only US$20,000), a UFO detector, a can of uranium ore, a fresh whole rabbit (dead) or a vaginal speculum.

If some of these sound like self-parodies (as do other Amazon items like the book "What Would Jesus Eat?"), what makes them even more enjoyable is that many people are now posting spoof reviews of them (as I learned from BoingBoing via I'm Learning to Share!) Take for example the reader who offers the helpful hint that using uranium ore as a facial scrub will give your skin a beautiful glow...

Read these reviews and enjoy before Amazon tracks them down (possibly with the aid of the UFO detector?) and exterminates them.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Private Beach's "People of the Year" Award

Time Magazine has named Russia's president, the "steely and determined" ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin, as its Person of the Year for "imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it" (didn't some guy named Adolf get praised for doing the same thing in Germany back in the 1930s?)

Time is at pains to point out that its designation is a reflection of Putin's historical significance, not an endorsement of his placing "stability before freedom". Here at Private Beach we have a different approach - it is not enough to change the world, our person of the year must reflect this blog's values as well.

Private Beach's first annual "People of the Year" award this year therefore goes to the courageous monks of Burma for doing the exact opposite of Putin: putting freedom before stability, even at the cost of their own lives. Their brave nonviolent stand against one of the world's ugliest regimes - a military dictatorship that has maintained "stability" for decades through repression, murder, torture, forced labour, rape and genocide - is in the finest traditions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and though unsuccessful in the short term, has reawakened world awareness of their country's woes and placed Burma's rulers on the defensive. One day the country's people will be free.

[Picture by "Forest of Orchids", found on Flickr; I hope he/she doesn't mind me using it in a good cause.]

Delusion of the Week

"I go around spreading good will and talking about the importance of spreading freedom and peace".
--President George W. Bush

Reality and George have never been close friends, but now they seem to be drifting even further apart. Unless, that is, you think that illegal wars, torture, kidnapping, secret prisons and spying on your own people are conducive to good will, freedom and peace.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Author, Heal Thyself

The publication of a book on parenting by Lynne Spears, mother of role model Britney Spears, has been postponed indefinitely after it was announced that Britney's younger sister, 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, is pregnant.

However, other new books expected soon will appear as planned, including:
- Staying Sober by Amy Winehouse
- Monogamy by Elizabeth Taylor
- Peacemaking by George W. Bush
- How to Be Nice to Everyone by Simon Cowell
- The Fast Road to Democracy by Donald Tsang

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Poor, Poor Pitiful Me

Great birthday yesterday - spent most of the day at home with a throat infection, feeling crappy. Not the best birthday I've ever had.

Some changes coming in my life. Not sure I want to blog about them. (Damn, I'm starting to sound like another local blogger...)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Some good news for a change

Amid all the news of war and torture and bombings around the world, every so often civilisation takes a small step forward for a change. In July 2007 Rwanda became the 14th African country to abolish the death penalty, while in Europe only Belarus now retains it. Now New Jersey is becoming the first US state to abolish the death penalty since the Supreme Court reinstated its use in 1976. Good for them!

The number of executions in other US states is also decreasing, as is the number worldwide, although the USA still ranks sixth behind those other great champions of human rights, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan, in the use of capital punishment. Between them, these six countries accounted for 91% of all known executions in 2006.

Incidentally, there is something I never understand: why is it that many of those who define themselves as "pro-life" are often strongly in favour of capital punishment? It seems they value unborn lives more highly than born ones. There is an interesting debate on the religious ethics of this here.

Making It Better:
Amnesty International

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sinister Dexterity

On further thought about my post of yesterday, a better analogy to Giulani's deliberately ambiguous statement would be, "It's OK to be left-handed so long as you only use your right hand". Being gay, like being left-handed or having ginger hair or blue eyes, is part of the hand dealt to some people in life - an innate characteristic, not a choice. For many years, left-handed people were forced to use their right hand; today we know better.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Giulani wants it both ways

In his latest convoluted attempt to gain votes from both sides of the fence, US presidential hopeful and serial publicity-seeker Rudolph Giulani is quoted as saying that homosexuality is not aberrant. "The way somebody leads their life isn't sinful. It's the various acts that people perform that are sinful, not the orientation that they have."

If this makes any sense at all, I think it's saying that it's OK to be gay so long as you don't act on it. Which is a bit like saying that it's OK to be a carnivore so long as you don't eat meat. Or maybe that it's OK to be black so long as you don't have dark skin. But I guess what he's really saying is, "I want both gays and the religious right to vote for me, so I'll try to please both sides by talking nonsense and hope each side interprets it as agreeing with them".

A Tale of Two Cities - and Two Hygiene Standards

Hong Kong, December 2007
In McDonald's at City One Shatin, the manager is walking around overseeing the staff and helping out during a busy lunchtime session, when he covers his mouth with his hand to cough. Knowing the poor general level of food hygiene in Hong Kong, I was pleasantly surprised to see him immediately walk over to the antiseptic handwipe dispenser and disinfect his hands.

Quite a contrast to another scene I was reminded of:

Shanghai, December 2001
A girl in a glass-fronted kitchen in the old town area near the Yuyuan Garden is energetically picking her nose, in between assembling hand-made Shanghai dumplings with the same unwashed finger. Needless to say, we chose to eat elsewhere.

Hmmm - I never thought I'd be comparing McDonald's favourably with anywhere else!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Rude and Ignorant

The verbal personal attack on newly-elected Anson Chan by Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing in yesterday's Legislative Council meeting was not only gratuitously ill-mannered, but also revealing of Tsang's political ignorance.

In describing Mrs Chan as a "sudden supporter for livelihood" who had not displayed such concern during her past service as Chief Secretary under British rule, Tsang appeared not to understand the difference between Chan's past and present roles. As a legislator, she now has a responsibility to speak out on policy matters; as a senior civil servant before, she was expected to implement whatever policy the government decided, not to express her own views on it. Neither we nor Tsang have the right to assume that Chan did not care about these matters before, but it would have been unprofessional of her then to say what she thought personally - and Mrs Chan has never been less than professional in her work.

If Tsang, once praised for his "profound and sensitive grasp of Hong Kong and mainland affairs", does not understand such simple distinctions, is he really qualified to hold a top government post?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sitting on a barbed wire fence

It is apparent to anyone with half a brain that the Bush regime in the USA generally wants to have everything both ways. They control more weapons of mass destruction than any other power on earth, but insist that other countries should not be allowed to acquire or hold such weapons.

They insist that they are fighting a "War on Terror", but refuse to give their captured enemies in that war (many of them kidnapped from third countries in defiance of international law) the internationally recognised status of prisoners of war. Now, facing yet another attempt to gain some legal rights for these unfortunates, the government once again undermines its own case by self-contradiction.

The US Supreme Court will today hear appeals from two detainees in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp arguing that the 2006 US law removing their habeas corpus rights (following an earlier Supreme Court judgement upholding them) is unconstitutional. To quote the BBC report, the prisoners "say that habeas corpus does extend to Guantanamo Bay because, even though the territory is not under formal US sovereignty, it is under US control", to which "US government lawyers have responded by saying in their brief that the US does not own Guantanamo Bay and therefore the writ of habeas corpus does not run there".

Now pardon me if I'm too dense to understand the subtleties of the argument here, but if the US doesn't own Guantanamo Bay, which is a corner of Cuba that the US clung on to after Castro's Cuban revolution, then it must be either international territory, in which case international law should apply (as it does, for example, to ships outside territorial waters), or it must be Cuban territory held illegally by the USA (since the Cubans certainly didn't lease it to them, unlike say Diego Garcia which the US leased from Britain). There are other types of territory - for example, territories under a UN mandate pending resolution of their status - but Guantanamo Bay is not in any of these categories.

What this means is that the US is effectively arguing that it has no right to Guantanamo Bay, in which case the US prison there cannot be a legal establishment. So what they are saying is that the Guantanamo prisoners have no legal rights because they are being held in an illegal prison in the first place. Or am I missing something?

P.S. In case we forget we are dealing with human beings here, not just legal principles, here are the stories of the two men concerned.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Defeating the machine

Anson Chan's decisive victory in yesterday's LegCo by-election is the more creditable because her main opponent, Regina Ip, enjoyed the benefit of the pro-Beijing camp's powerful electoral machine. This works in three ways:

  1. the DAB uses its strong grassroots organisation at local level to get its supporters out to the polls;
  2. China-owned businesses in Hong Kong instruct all their employees to vote for Beijing's favoured candidate; and
  3. Hong Kong owners of businesses in China come under varying degrees of pressure to vote Beijing's way, with hints that failure to comply will be found out and may impede their future operations in the mainland.

Chan's victory indicates that the majority of Hong Kong people still want early democracy, but ironically it may have the opposite effect. I suspect that Beijing would feel more comfortable with letting Hong Kong people choose their own administration if they could be confident that a pro-Beijing result on the scale of that in the recent District Council elections was a near certainty.

Chan and Ip were both strong candidates: intelligent and articulate women with a long record of public service in Hong Kong and a deep inside knowledge of how the local political system works. The other six candidates were a very mixed bunch indeed: several seemed to represent the "Give Me My 15 Minutes of Fame Party", while one stood for the "Shouting Loudly in Putonghua Party", and another for the "Look at My Nice Black Silk Robe Party". The "Special Favours for the Transport Sector and Waving Big Yellow Hands Party" candidate did best, coming third.

Fourth placed Ho Loy, another intelligent and articulate female candidate, was the only minor candidate who could really be taken seriously. Standing on a single issue, heritage preservation, she never had a hope of winning, but her issue is an important one to which she succeeded in drawing more attention. The remaining female candidate, Cecilia Ling, proposed improving welfare provision for the elderly poor; however, she also opposed the introduction of a minimum wage, thereby helping to ensure that another generation would be unable to earn enough during their working lives to provide for their retirement.

I saw Anson Chan out campaigning in Causeway Bay a few weeks ago - in person, the woman is tiny! Why do public figures (Yao Ming excepted, of course) so often look much taller on television than in real life?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Raising the Vote

Apparently some candidates in Thailand's forthcoming parliamentary election are handing out Viagra in exchange for votes (a tactic also reported from Brazil).

People's Power Party campaigner and local government official Sayan Nopchain is quoted as saying that a politician "is giving out Viagra to gain popularity and votes. I think this is a very bad way of vote-buying."

What would be a good way, I wonder?

Mo worse blues

The English teacher convicted in Sudan of "inciting hatred and insulting religion" was, from published accounts, clearly doing nothing of the sort, at least not intentionally. At worst, she is guilty of naivety and ignorance, as many moderate Muslims have recognised.

If Muslim fundamentalists can get so worked up over a teacher innocently letting her class name a teddy bear Muhammad, it would clearly be dangerous to attempt to initiate a rational debate with them on far more questionable aspects of their faith, like the facts that the Prophet owned slaves and married a nine-year-old girl. These are issues that many distinguished Muslim scholars have wrestled with.

Not that irrationality is exclusive to Muslims; there are many Christians who are also incapable of handling any idea that questions their beliefs (dare I mention evolution?)

Personally, I believe if there is a God, He gave us brains for a reason. Any god who demands that we abdicate our intelligence in favour of blind submission is not a god I would care to worship.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wellcome to your first (and last) assignment

When I discussed my previous post with a friend, he told me another story about ParknFlop. A former senior manager with the company told him that they once hired a new advertising agency. At the first meeting to plan their new advertising campaign, the advertising executive turned up casually carrying a shopping bag prominently labelled with the logo of their rival Wellcome. The agency was fired before they'd even placed a single ad.


In possibly the most humiliating commercial climbdown since the New Coke fiasco, Hong Kong's PARKnSHOP supermarket chain announced amid great fanfare that they would cease to give out free plastic bags from Wednesday 21st November, only to announce on Monday 26th (with less fanfare) that they were abandoning the scheme.

The move was widely welcomed as a significant contribution to reducing the 8.4 billion plastic bags clogging Hong Kong's landfills each year, but some legislators criticised it for its lack of transparency on how the voluntary 20 cent plastic bag fee for charity would be used.

Perhaps the idea of letting a little light into a corner of the Li empire was too much for the supermarket chain's management? At any rate, instead of fine-tuning the scheme in response to feedback, they chose to make themselves look like a bunch of idiots by reversing the policy after only a few days - and compounded stupidity with hypocrisy by saying the company was "still supportive of environmental protection on principle". This is about as meaningful as a carnivore saying that he supports vegetarianism on principle, or George W. Bush posing as a peacemaker.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It all depends on your point of view

We are all aware (or should be) that the words we use can be slanted to reflect a particular point of view. Sometimes this is obvious and deliberate, but even where one expects more neutrality, bias - possibly unconscious - can appear. Today's BBC report on Jacob Zuma's lead over President Thabo Mbeki in the race to lead South Africa's ANC describes him twice as "less business friendly than Mr Mbeki". This he may be, but why make it sound so negative - why not describe him as "more labour friendly" instead?

What goes around comes around

In his new book Day of Reckoning, right-wing nutcase and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan declares that "The greatest invasion in history, from the Third World, is swamping the ethno-cultural core of the [USA], leading to Balkanization and the loss of the Southwest to Mexico".

Not entirely inappropriate, considering that the young country effectively stole the Southwest from Mexico in the first place in 1848, following what later US President Ulysses S. Grant described as "one of the most unjust [wars] ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation". Looking at Iraq today, it seems America's treatment of weaker nations hasn't changed much in 159 years.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bombs in the Bakery

The so-called "War on Terror" has created such a level of paranoia that just about any action now can be seen as a terrorist plot by the suspicious-minded.

A news report from The Philippines headed "Sacks of explosive chemicals seized at Manila port" announces that Philippine authorities have seized 120 sacks of sodium bicarbonate. This chemical, says the report, "is used in the manufacture of pyrotechnics and explosives".

Maybe so; but sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is a common household chemical available from any supermarket or pharmacy. It is used as a raising agent in baking, for other culinary applications, in medicine (to treat acid indigestion, for example), in toothpaste, as a deodoriser, and as a cleansing agent.

If every common substance is going to be treated as a danger, why not stop people refuelling their cars in case they use the petrol to make Molotov cocktails?

Failing to keep abreast of the times

A TV news report a couple of days ago on Hong Kong's unusually high birth rate this year showed film of the maternity unit at Baptist Hospital, with a room full of babies' cribs lined up in neat rows, nurses walking around, and not a mother in sight.

This is a sign of how far behind the times "Asia's World City" still is in some areas. Just about every more enlightened country has abandoned this practice in favour of keeping the newborn baby beside the mother - this is recognised to enhance bonding between mother and infant and to facilitate breastfeeding on demand (best for baby, say experts).

Keeping all the babies in a separate ward is done for the convenience of the hospital staff, not for the benefit of the mother and child. Wake up Hong Kong!

Fat Chance

The world's second richest man, Warren Buffett, said the other day that the super-rich like himself should pay more tax and ordinary people should pay less. Other super-rich Americans are saying the same thing. If anyone reading this happens to know Li Ka-Shing, can they please pass on the message?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Town Planning Declared Illegal

Yesterday's court decision giving Swire Properties the go-ahead for a massively inappropriate high-rise development in the overcrowded Mid-Levels is totally absurd. According to the court, the Town Planning Board's decision barring the development was unlawful, because the Board cannot legally take factors such as traffic congestion and visual considerations into account.

Unless the government appeals successfully, if this is the law, then it needs to be changed immediately. Considering the impact of factors such as traffic density and visual considerations in making planning decisions is an essential element of what town planning is all about. What the court is effectively saying is that the Town Planning Board is not allowed to perform town planning. Is that really the intent of the relevant legislation?

Spike has more on the subject.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chill out on a hot day - or vice versa

Today is a glorious autumn day in Hong Kong: bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and the distant hills actually visible for a change, indicating that the level of air pollution is unusually low. The temperature is in the mid-20s (C), with a gentle breeze; if this was England, people would be heading for the beach.

So I come in to the office this morning, wearing light trousers and a long sleeved shirt. I get into the lift, and notice that half the people in there are all bundled up in coats and sweaters, even scarves, as if it was the middle of winter.

What is this thing with Hong Kong people about dressing by the calendar instead of the thermometer? The territory's nicest weather is often around this time of year, when the stifling summer humidity has gone but there is still a pleasant warmth in the air; yet somehow as soon as it hits September each year, half the folks here seem to think it's officially winter and start to dress for the Arctic. Is this a fashion thing, or what? I would really like to know.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Read Carefully

"Change in Moon Orbit"
read the headline in the South China Morning Post. I had immediate visions of science fiction style movie scenes of the moon looming menacingly larger and larger in the sky, while masses of people flee screaming from giant tidal waves and toppling buildings.

Then just before succumbing to total panic, I read it again more carefully, and saw that it actually said "Chang'e in moon orbit triumph", referring to China's success in placing its Chang'e spacecraft in orbit around the moon.

What a difference an apostrophe makes!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Skimping on the Puns

Both the Daily Mail newspaper and Sky News carry stories about the showing of a recently rediscovered portrait of a young Sean Connery, before his role as James Bond made him famous. Both refer to him as wearing "skimpy trunks" in the picture.
Given Connery's renowned Scottish nationalism, I'm surprised that both organs resisted the temptation to joke about him wearing a jockstrap. Whatever happened to the famous British sense of humour?

What's Up with New World Mobility?

My wife and I have been using New World Mobility's mobile phone services for several years. In the past couple of months, we have noticed an apparent deterioration of their signal quality. Increasingly often, a call will come through sounding badly distorted and faint, as though the speaker is talking under water. Has anyone else in Hong Kong noticed this, or is it just us?

According to Wikipedia, NWM is now 3/4 owned by CSL, itself owned by Telstra of Australia. New World Group retains a 1/4 shareholding.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mind Your Language

Predictably, "radio personality" (an odd phrase when you think about it) Don Imus is returning to radio eight months after losing his job for describing a black women's university basketball team as "nappy-headed hos". Now I have no idea what is an appropriate punishment for this sort of offensive remark, nor whether Imus's reported repentance is genuine, but I do have one question: if a well known black radio presenter had called a white team a bunch of "straight-haired hookers", how long would it take him to get back on the air?

P.S. Within an hour or so of posting the above, I received a comment which is clearly blatant advertising for pro-Imus propaganda, but I've allowed it (with some hesitation), because I think a few quotes from it will illustrate some of the absurdities and nastiness surrounding this case. For example:
  • "Screw Al Sharpton" - this is ironic, because Sharpton, though initially critical of Imus, is one of the few black leaders who has said that Imus should be free to return to radio.
  • "Save Free Speech" - I don't think America's Founding Fathers had gratuitous sexist and racist insults in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. If I called your mother a dirty nigger whore, for example, could I really claim that I was just exercising my right to free speech? And would that make it less offensive? Come off it.
  • "I Love Flied Lice" - so not content with approving Imus's blatant insult to blacks, the owner of this site has to needlessly insult Asians, too? Yuk.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

D'ye Ken Kermit's Cousin?

If I'd thought of it earlier, I would have saved my recent vampire post for Halloween today. Oh well, Happy Halloween to my readers, and let's take a look at some other creatures of interest instead.

Being lucky enough to have a garden, I get quite a range of visitors, from the welcome - birds and butterflies; the odd gecko - to the decidedly uninvited - various slugs and snails, including the horrendous giant African snail, which some deluded nutcases apparently keep as pets. Austin Coates included an entertaining anecdote about these monsters in "Myself A Mandarin", one of the essential Hong Kong books, which sadly seems to be out of print at present.

One occasional welcome visitor is the little brown tree frog, quite common in Hong Kong and easily identifiable.

One time last year a different, and larger, frog came visiting. Now, I have most of the excellent series of books published by the late lamented Urban Council in the 1980s on the natural history of Hong Kong - different volumes cover trees, fish, flowers, fungi, minerals, etc. With luck, you may still be able to find a few copies at the government bookshop; although they may not be very up-to-date, to the best of my knowledge there is no more recent convenient source for much of the information they contain.

Anyway, I dug out the Amphibians and Reptiles volume to try to identify my little friend. Among the 19 species of frog in Hong Kong, based on appearance and size, the closest I could find was the dark-spotted pond frog, also known as the three-striped pond frog, but according to the book, this species is quite rare in Hong Kong, being known from only two specimens here. However, both of these were found in the Taipo area where I live, so it can't be ruled out.

There are a couple of other frogs and toads in the book that appear to be possible candidates, but either their size or their preferred habitat or some distinguishing feature doesn't seem quite right. So, do we have any wildlife experts here who can help me identify Kermit's cousin?

It's good to see that frogs still appear to be thriving in Hong Kong, because in many parts of the world their numbers are being massively reduced by a fungus infection. Now comes a report that New Zealand scientists have taken a major step towards finding a cure which could help to preserve them. Given that many frogs eat mosquitoes and other insect pests, that's good news for humans as well as amphibians.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Here I stand; I can do no other

Martin Luther's famous words seem to make an apt heading for today's piece. Crossing the harbour by tunnel bus on Saturday, I was wedged in, unable to move, against the notice of licensed (and routinely exceeded) capacity which appears on every public bus in Hong Kong. I don't remember the actual numbers, but it was something like this:

Upper deck: 72
Lower deck: 48
Standees: 28

Being a compulsive proofreader and amateur etymologist, I fell to wondering if "standees" was the right word. If we rely on the analogy with other words such as employee (one who is employed), trainee (one who undergoes training) and payee (one who is paid), then "standee" should surely mean, not one who stands, but one who is stood upon. The correct form should perhaps be "standers", or more readably, "standing passengers".

On the other hand, considering the experience of trying to board an overcrowded bus at peak hours in Hong Kong, with other passengers stomping wildly on one's toes from every direction, perhaps "standees" is correct after all!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Watch the news, but be careful out there

Though I occasionally enjoy the unusual sensation while on holiday of not bothering to keep up with what's going on in the world, for the most part I'm a news junkie. In my university days, a few friends and I would go to the TV room in the Students' Union to watch the early evening news before hitting the bar. There we would upset more serious folks with our cynical laughter and sarcastic comments deriding the pompous political nonsense of the day.

Much has changed since then, though politicians' propensity for dishonesty, greed and hypocrisy has continued unabated, indeed intensified dramatically. But though much of today's news induces sickening feelings of disgust and despair (Iraq, Darfur, Burma, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine), there are still more rewarding feelings to be gained by newswatching. A look at a few recent stories indicates some of the varied responses that the news can evoke.

On the "disgusting" side is war criminal Dick Cheney's pronouncement that Iran can never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. What hypocritical arrogance! I don't want to see any country owning nukes (and I applaud the four that have given them up), but who gave the country with more weapons of mass destruction than any other the right to decide who else can have them? Iran is a sovereign state, not a US colony.

Some news stories merely appear to state the obvious, so one wonders what's the point of printing them: "China rulers 'silencing dissent'" (surprise, surprise); or The Standard's report that former psychiatric patients in Hong Kong do better with outreach support after being discharged, a message tragically reinforced by the murder/suicide in Tin Shui Wai a few days after the publication of that entirely predictable research finding.

Some stories make you think: while ATV News was saying something like "these are the nine men who will steer China's course for the next five years" when the new Politburo Standing Committee was wheeled out a few days ago, I was thinking not of the balance between various factions of the party, but how come with half a billion to choose from, they can't find a single representative of China's women to include?

Other stories are questionable or even deliberately misleading. The Morning Post's front page story last Sunday that Burmese monks were trained in nonviolent protest techniques by the American-backed National Endowment for Democracy could be taken as suggesting that the US government was behind the recent wave of protests in Burma - certainly the military regime will seize on the opportunity to claim this. In fact Burmese sources make it clear that, while a few monks may have attended these courses, the uprising against the vicious and corrupt dictatorship was essentially spontaneous and (sadly) uncoordinated.

Incidentally, it's interesting to observe that some news media (BBC, ATV) still use the name Burma, while others (TVB, Morning Post) have switched to Myanmar. Personally I continue to refer to the country as Burma (and its former capital as Rangoon, not Yangon), because its people were never given any choice in the change of name, any more than they were in the change of capital.

Sometimes poor choices of words can be amusing, as when ATV declared on 12 September that, following an injury to one of its players, the US team in the Women's World Cup was a man down for ten minutes. Er... there is a difference, you know.

Other mistakes are just careless: the Sloppy Morning Post on Sunday captioned a photo of a light plane crash as being in Montreal when it was actually in Richmond, BC - only 4,800 km away by road. At least they got the country right, but Canada is an awfully big country! By a happy coincidence, the same issue placed a picture of the odious Australian PM John Howard next to the caption "Teacher denies molesting boys". I had to look more closely to see that the two were unrelated!

Perhaps my favourite part of the news is the quirky little "what the..." stories that are often used as filler in the papers or closing items for the TV news. Several recent headlines on the BBC website are good examples: "J K Rowling outs Dumbledore as gay"; "Man, 24, loses 82-year-old wife", and "Monkeys kill Delhi deputy mayor". The last story itself is rather tragic, but for Hong Kongers there is something else noteworthy about it: the aggressive monkeys responsible, rhesus macaques, are the same species as those that live around Kowloon Reservoir in Hong Kong's Kam Shan Country Park. As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, "Be careful out there".

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Finally, some bloody good news!

Only this morning, I was complaining about all the bad news we've been getting recently. Finally, there is some effing good news: according to a recent study, swearing at work can help reduce stress. Remind me to try it.

Death in the Deep

I'd really like to blog about more nice happy things, but just about everything I read these days is full of more depressing news. Like this story: not content with murdering over a million Iraqis (so far), the US military (with some civilian help) are also killing off the largest creatures we share our tiny planet with.

How much longer will we tolerate having the world run by the idiots who do this sort of thing?

Making It Better:
Save the Whales Again: Stop Deadly Underwater Sounds!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Oops! There goes another 747!

If China Airlines' appalling safety record wasn't reason enough already to avoid them, this picture (taken from a spam email I received advertising their cargo services) won't do much to increase your confidence in their navigational abilities. By my reckoning, if the plane is really at the location shown here, it's about to slam into The Peak!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How to start a riot

"You Must be From Away" has an entertaining account of the policing of the Republican Party convention in Mainz (that's Germany's far right nutters, not the far right nutters in the American White House).

No fireworks there, but where riots do occur at such events, my view is that the authorities often create problems for themselves by over-zealous security measures. Protesters want to be seen and heard by those they are protesting against, to make their anger felt. So long as they can achieve this, most of them will be content to shout their slogans and wave their banners peacefully.

However, politicians are so paranoid today (not surprisingly when you consider how heavily their guilty consciences must weigh on them) that they invariably seek - as at most recent WTO conferences, for example - to have protests swept away out of sight and hearing (if not banned altogether, as in London this past Monday) to a remote "designated protest zone" miles away from the action, so they will not have to be reminded of their own culpability. Deprived of the opportunity to get their message across to the delegates and/or the public, some of the protesters will inevitably try to break through police cordons to get closer to the meeting, leading to clashes and sometimes full scale rioting. So whose fault is that?

Shame, Shame, Shame

Shame on the CIA, which seized German citizen Khaled el-Masri in Madedonia in 2004, suspecting him of al-Qaeda membership, and flew him to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was tortured for four months, before realising they'd got the wrong man and dumping him in Albania.

Shame on the US Supreme Court for refusing to hear el-Masri's case against the CIA, after the US government intervened to claim that the case should not proceed because state secrets might be revealed. As el-Masri's brief to the court says, this means that, "The privilege as asserted by the government and as construed by the court of appeals ... has permitted dismissal of these suits on the basis of a government affidavit alone—without any judicial examination of the purportedly privileged evidence. Accordingly, a broad range of executive misconduct has been shielded from judicial review after the perpetrators themselves have invoked the privilege to avoid adjudication." Or in non-legal language, the government is entitled to treat its own wrongdoing as a state secret and is therefore immune from accountability for it before the courts.

And shame on the German government for failing to protect its own citizen's rights by dropping its arrest warrants for the CIA operatives involved, after the US government indicated that it would block any extradition request.

Dirty deeds done in the dark, by countries that claim to be civilised - and then they wonder why so much of the Islamic world regards the west as morally bankrupt.

Serious Stuff

Headline of the week: "Lindsay Lohan Says Rehab Was 'Sobering'".

Er - isn't that supposed to be the point?

Former teen star Lindsay Lohan is best known for periodically declaring that she wants to be taken seriously as an actress - in between episodes of being photographed by the paparazzi without her knickers on after nights out getting drunk with Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and other equally serious(ly knickerless) celebrities.

Still, given that most popular newspapers have largely given up any pretence of covering real news, I suppose it gives the press something to fill their pages with.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

SCMP: Supine Cowardly Morning Post

Text of an email I just received from, organisers of the petition on Burma which has now reached 600,000 signatures:

"Dear friends,

Today, our petition to China and the UN Security Council to stop the brutal crackdown on peaceful Burmese protesters is being delivered to the world in a full page ad in the Financial Times worldwide -- but the ad was rejected by other newspapers like the South China Morning Post and the Singapore Straits Times. Our message is an invitation to China to do the right thing in Burma, not an attack -- yet even that seemed too much for media that fear Chinese reprisals."

Sadly, this will not surprise anyone in Hong Kong, where the SCMP is well known for its craven subservience to China. Nor will it be much of a surprise to Singaporeans, whose country, which has a far from free press, just happens to be one of the biggest foreign investors in Burma. Obviously money talks far louder than human decency in both places.

Friday, October 05, 2007

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch - but breakfast...

It is an economic truism that "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch". Breakfast, however, may be a different matter...

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine stopped off at a small local restaurant in Mongkok for breakfast on his way to work. After he ordered, four mainland men sat down at the next table and immediately lit up cigarettes, in contravention of Hong Kong's 2005 law banning smoking in restaurants. Not wishing to have his enjoyment of his meal spoiled by their illegal action, my friend asked the waitress to tell them to stop smoking. Perhaps fearing a confrontation, she ignored his request and did nothing.

A little while later, he asked another waitress to tell the men to stop. She also did nothing. My friend hastily finished his food, then walked over to the cash desk (it was one of those little cafes where you pay on the way out), tore up the bill in front of the cashier, informed her he was refusing to pay, and asked her to call the police.

The cashier called the manager over. After an exchange of words in which my friend continued to press his point, the manager got fed up with the whole situation and told my friend to get lost, or words to that effect - which he did.

Obviously he won't be welcome in that restaurant again, which doesn't bother him in the least. He does have one regret, however; in his words:
"If I'd known I was going to get a free meal, I would have ordered something more expensive!"

Making It Better:
Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Burma - You Can Help

The continuing tragedy in Burma has been much on my mind for the past week or two. I don't have time now to write all I want to say about the depressing situation there, but I do just want to get the word out to as many people as possible about the global petition to China (Burma's main trading partner and ally) and the United Nations, urging them to put more pressure on Burma's brutal military dictatorship, which is now arresting thousands of peaceful protesters and, according to reliable sources, massacring many of them, particularly monks. Half a million signatures have already been gathered - please add yours now (link below), and tell others.

Making it Better: Stand with the Burmese protesters

Cuba Libre; America Unfree

It's very rare indeed for me to agree with anything George W. Bush says, but his recent comments at the UN General Assembly concerning the lack of human rights in Cuba deserve attention. It is well documented that there is a concentration camp on the island where hundreds of prisoners, many of them kidnapped from other countries, have been kept under armed guard in appalling conditions, often including long periods of solitary confinement, for years. They are denied internationally recognised human rights, interrogated under torture, refused legal representation, and not allowed visits from their families or friends. Some have even been driven to suicide.

All this, of course is in the US-controlled corner of the island, at Guantanamo Bay. I am sure the rest of the Cuban population are yearning to experience such "freedom" for themselves.

Meanwhile, while Bush calls for democracy around the world at the UN, he says nothing when his own military chief bluntly declares in his presence that the American people cannot vote to end the war in Iraq. Nor does he correct General Pace's blatant lie that Iraq declared war on the USA. With a democracy like this, who needs dictatorship?

I often wonder if Bush actually believes his own bullshit, or if he is conscious of his hypocrisy. At the least, he must be experiencing some degree of cognitive dissonance, which could explain the perpetual slightly puzzled look on his face, as if he can't quite understand why reality won't conform to his own perceptions of the world.

Those perceptions, of course, like those of General Pace and most of the rest of the subhuman crew in Washington, are shaped by their oft-proclaimed religious principles. Perhaps they should actually read the book they claim to live by; for Bush, I recommend Matthew 7:5 as a good starting point.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

One Article, Two Stupid Quotes

Not one, but two quotes of the week this week, from the same article in The Standard - and both supreme examples of stupidity:
1. "I agree those who handled it [a letter from the then owner of King Yin Lei Mansion requesting talks with the government on its future] were not sensitive enough to realize that the public cares about these old buildings."

--Development Bureau chief Carrie Lam explaining why the government's Antiquities and Monuments Office missed an opportunity five months ago to preserve this magnificent building. This is simply not good enough - if officials whose job it is to be responsible for preserving "these old buildings" that make up our heritage don't even realise what everyone else knows from reading the newpaper, then why haven't they been fired?

The second one is presumably from a Standard journalist:
2. "The mansion was being renovated when the order to stop work was given last weekend."

In other news:
- Al-Qaeda renovates World Trade Centre
- The Taliban renovates Bamiyan Buddha statues

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!" ---William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hurry Up Slowly

There's a subset of Murphy's Law that says if you join the shortest queue, it will always take longest to reach whatever you're queuing for.

Last night I bought 2 items in the Park'n'Shop in City One Plaza, Shatin, and joined the express checkout queue. With my wife waiting outside in the car, I was in a rush. The woman in front of me only had 4 items, so I wasn't expecting to have to wait long - until she decided she needed to separate her purchases into two separate bills and pay for them with different cards.

Listen, idiot, the express checkout is for people in a hurry. That's why it's called express. If you want to do something complicated, join one of the other lines next time - especially if I'm behind you.

Jewish is the New Black

Talented but troubled British singer Amy Winehouse was named female artist of the year at the Mobo (Music of Black Origin) awards in London last night. It's no surprise that Amy's winning so many awards this year, because she's clearly one of the best British singers to emerge in recent years, but why the Mobo? Winehouse is Jewish, not black, so this appears a little odd to me.

If it's only the music that has to be black, not the artist, then just about any performer in rock, jazz or blues would be eligible, because all these musical forms and their modern offshoots can trace their roots back to Africa. In which case, there seems little reason for these awards to exist, because there are plenty of other popular music awards covering the same ground.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mouse or Mammoth

Looking at my own blog, the topics I cover seem to vary pretty dramatically in significance, from consumer rip-offs to George Bush's murder of a million people (with the odd joke thrown in for good measure). Is there a common denominator? I think there is one between many of my posts - it's the rich, arrogant and powerful screwing the rest of us that angers me, on whatever scale.

But it may all be academic in a few years, because it appears that mammoth poo is going to kill us all anyway.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Rip-off Files 2: Park'N'Pay at Hong Lok Yuen

Living in Taipo, I sometimes drive over to Hong Lok Yuen to shop at the Park'n'Shop International (its new label) supermarket there, the best in town for non-Chinese food items. There is a free short-term parking area in front of the supermarket for use by shoppers. If (as often happens) this is full, you have the option to park in the nearby covered carpark free of charge, so long as you spend a designated amount at Park'n'Shop.

Until recently, this amount was HK$150. A couple of weeks ago I presented my parking ticket at the checkout, only to be told that it had been raised to - get this - $300, a mere 100% jump! Given that the carpark was rarely more than half full at the previous level, it is difficult to see any justification for this outrageous increase.

I don't know who expects to profit from this, the supermarket or the Hong Lok Yuen management, but I have no hesitation in declaring it a rip-off. It is hard to see how this stupid move will benefit anyone, either: shoppers are being inconvenienced; residents will face greater air pollution, as drivers wait for a free space with their engines idling rather than use the covered car park; car park revenue will not increase; and driving away customers can only reduce the rent that the estate is able to charge the shops there; some may even close down altogether, to the detriment of the residents.

No Park and not much Science

Another one of those "huh?" headlines from today's South China Morning Post website:
"Sino, Nan Fung buy third Tai Po site for HK$4.55b
Plans for a luxury residential enclave in Tai Po Science Park took a further step yesterday after a consortium led by Sino Land and Nan Fung Development acquired a third site in the area for HK$4.55 billion"

The Science Park is supposed to be a special industrial estate for high-tech businesses. What the hell's a luxury residential area doing there? As I've already pointed out, it's not a park; now it seems the other half of its name is misleading as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

One million now - how many more need to die?

Sometimes it's hard to figure out why anyone still takes the American mass media seriously. Even though everyone knows the Iraq War was started on the basis of lies, they all eagerly built up the testimony of General Petraeus (the general in charge of US troops there) on the progress of the war as if it meant something. Given that Bush and Co. have never told the truth about the war, why would anyone with half a brain believe any "facts" about it from any official US source? So Petraeus gets up and says exactly what he's expected to say - light at the end of the tunnel and all that crap. Big surprise - I could have written his speech for him.

Meanwhile, there has been only minimal coverage of a new survey by the respected (and far-from-leftie) British polling organisation ORB that shows the death toll in Iraq has now climbed above one million. This validates the previous scientific study in October 2006, stridently rubbished by supporters of the war, which estimated the death toll as of early last year at over 650,000. In Baghdad, the most violent area polled, almost half the households questioned had lost a member to violence since the start of the war.

Then there is the often overlooked issue of refugees, with estimated numbers displaced by the war running between 3 and 5 million, half of them fleeing abroad.

"The ORB study was made public on the same day that President Bush went on national television to deliver a report on conditions in Iraq that was nothing short of delusional. With a million Iraqis dead, a million wounded, and four to five million displaced, Bush hailed the return of 'normal life' to the devastated country."

Meanwhile, as the article from which the above quote is taken points out, the Democrats, elected last year on their promises to end the war, continue to twiddle their thumbs in Congress, making them complicit in the carnage. There is a popular quotation by Claire Wolfe going the rounds that says, "America is at that awkward stage; it's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards". I'm not so sure it's too early any more.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Averages can be misleading

According to a BBC News story, a researcher in Britain claims that having an older sibling, particularly a brother, can stunt your growth, and that children from larger families (4 or more children) tend to be shorter than average. From my own experience, I beg leave to doubt this. I am the oldest of five, and 6ft 3in. My next two brothers are also over 6 feet tall, while my youngest brother is 6ft 7in. My sister, the youngest of us, is 5ft 10in. Obviously we are all far above average!

Hacking Away at Hong Kong's Heritage

When will we have a government that isn't afraid to say "boo" to a property developer?

I first arrived in Hong Kong just days after the old Tsimshatsui railway station closed. Despite widespread calls for its preservation, all that was retained was the clock tower in situ, and a few meaningless bits of its colonnade relocated to a new site in Tsimshatsui East. Three decades later, at a cost of billions of dollars, the KCR was extended back to Tsimshatsui from its new terminus at Hung Hom. Great forward planning, huh?

Soon after that came further heritage battles: the stately old GPO (where Worldwide Plaza now stands); the old Hong Kong Club, a marvellous wedding cake of a building; and over the years since then a whole succession of attractive and/or interesting buildings has vanished, sometimes with a total lack of logic - why, for example, is the Tsimshatsui wet market still in its "temporary" location, twenty years after it was moved out of its perfectly sound building in Peking Road (subsequently demolished after serving other uses for some years)?

Despite occasional victories for preservation (the relocated Murray Building; the Sun Yatsen Museum in the old Kom Tong Hall), in general, the government has almost always put development interests ahead of conservation interests. So whereas other Asian cities have large areas of old buildings tastefully restored (Macau and Singapore are good examples), relics of the past in Hong Kong have become increasingly scarce. Of those which remain, one of the finest is the magnificent King Yin Lei Mansion on Stubbs Road, designed in Chinese style 70 years ago by a Yorkshire architect (no kidding).

The government has known for several years that this lovely building was under threat; the Antiquities Advisory Board proposed that it be declared a monument in 2004. So why is it only when the wreckers moved in to vandalise it, possibly already causing irreversible damage, that they have now listed it as a proposed monument, preventing further alteration or demolition while its case is considered?

The only positive aspect of this case is that the speed with which the listing was done suggests a new-found awareness on the government's part that the community is fed up with the loss of everything that gives Hong Kong its unique character. If this is a sign that they are finally beginning to take conservation seriously, we may yet become a civilised society. I hope.

Making It Better:
The Conservancy Association (I borrowed the picture from their website; I'm sure they won't mind.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another irresistible offer from Nigeria - and a Mother's Day special

From the country that gave you the 419 scam comes an irresistible offer: according to an email I received a couple of days ago, the First Bank of Nigeria PLC has been authorised by the Nigerian government to compensate foreigners who have been cheated by so many of its countrymen. Of course, to give me my share, they will just need a few of my personal and banking details first...

However annoying these spam scams, it is fascinating to observe the number of changes the scammers can ring on the same basic idea. One can't help feeling that if the same amount of effort and ingenuity went into legitimate business, Nigeria would be far and away the most prosperous country in Africa.

Also in the "nice try" category is the spammer a few months ago who suggested that ink and toner would make the ideal Mother's Day gift. Yeah, sure. YMMV (Your Mother May Vary), but I think mine would still prefer a bottle of sherry and a nice bunch of flowers!

Then in the "totally unconvincing spam" category, we have the computer training school in Hong Kong that can't even get the html in its email messages correct. I don't think they'll be seeing me as a customer any time soon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I think I need another pint of Guinness...

Did you hear the one about the Irish magazine editor who had to quit his job because he told Irish jokes? No, alas, it's not an Irish joke but a true story. The mind boggles.

Presumably the humourless lady who found these jokes offensive would like all jokes to be like the one I read recently:
"An Englishman, an Irishman and a Pakistani walked into a pub. What a perfect example of racial integration."

[Notice: no Irishmen were harmed in the writing of this column]

Where the man with his hand on the tiller has his other hand in the till

Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada's conviction and sentencing on corruption charges comes as no surprise. There is little doubt of Estrada's guilt; nevertheless, one can have some sympathy with his claim that the verdict was a political decision. After all, he was only doing on a bigger scale what most politicians do. If every corrupt office-holder in the Philippines was imprisoned, there would be barely a dozen public offices in the country left occupied. This is, after all, the only nation to have two former leaders in Transparency International's all-time World's Ten Most Corrupt Leaders list: Estrada himself at 10 and Ferdinand Marcos at 2 - and we should remember that Imelda Marcos has never surrendered the latter's ill-gotten gains.

Where have all the bloggers gone?

What's happening to all the Hong Kong bloggers lately? Fumier has shut up shop, and now, as I learn from Spike (who's still writing), 962 has done the same (both their sites being immediately grabbed by usurpers, though the new 962 seems to have disappeared as well). Sash surprised herself by falling in love, and no longer tells us all the fascinating details of her sex life (though anyone who appreciates high quality erotica can still enjoy her old posts). And another blog that shall be nameless seems to have disappeared as well.

I hesitate to shout "I'm still here!" in case I also get afflicted by the Curse of the Vanishing Local Blogger, but...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Iraq: a voice from the trenches

“Everywhere Bush travels he has to erect a fortress to protect himself. What the hell is this man so afraid of? I’ll tell you what he’s afraid of—he’s afraid of the people."

"We were never there to help those people. I was ordered to bury the humanitarian food I was given because we were told, ‘We’re the United States Marine Corps we are not the United States Peace Corps."

"There was a complete disregard for human life that I witnessed, almost a bloodlust."

"Morale has never been so low in the military, and this is even coming from the top echelons of the military leadership."

"The Democrats have absolutely betrayed us. We voted them into power on an antiwar mandate and they have refused to confront Bush and to listen to the constituency that put them into power."

We hear a lot about the Iraq war from a political standpoint, but the voices of the ordinary American soldiers used as cannon fodder for Bush's illegal war get much less coverage. Here is one intelligent and articulate ex-Marine's take on the situation - well worth reading.

Children: Guide Your Parents

I came across mention of Mingle2 in another blog - it's mainly a dating site (no use to me), but they will rate your blog as if it was a movie. Private Beach comes out as PG (Parental Guidance). They say:

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
sex (4x) dangerous (2x) gun (1x)

Since "dangerous" sets off alarms here, if I write about safe sex, will the two words cancel each other out, I wonder?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Protection Racket

Spot the similarity between these two current news stories:

China's Hu warns of 'dangerous' time for Taiwan
Taiwan's complex diplomatic situation is entering a 'possibly dangerous period,' Chinese President Hu Jintao told US President George Bush on Thursday.

And from the front page of today's South China Morning Post online edition:

Mainlander made up plot against tycoon
A mainlander demanded HK$1.02 million to protect the family of a local entrepreneur from gangsters he said had been paid to attack his children, a court heard yesterday.

Get it? In each case, the only "danger" comes from the mainlander supposedly warning against it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Standard Identity Crisis

Long time English-speaking residents of Hong Kong will know that The Standard newspaper has been through quite a few makeovers in recent years. Originally the Tiger Standard, and once a long-established South China Morning Post lookalike, it found (as did the short-lived Eastern Express, another left-of-SCMP clone) that there was only room for one SCMP in the local market. It then went tabloid with a new trendy name, HongKong iMail, for a while, before again reinventing itself as "China's Business Newspaper" under its old Standard name.

Now in yet another attempt to find a unique market niche, it has announced that it will relaunch from next week as Hong Kong's first English-language free (i.e. advertising-supported) giveaway daily (there are already several such Chinese papers, mostly handed out in MTR and KCR stations).

It remains to be seen how this latest incarnation will work out; though the Post's market leadership has never been seriously threatened over the years, the Stock Exchange's decision that listed companies need no longer print announcements in the newspapers (pointless now they all have websites) must be worrying it a bit. And the Standard can take advantage of parent Sing Tao Group's already established free paper distribution set-up.

What surprises me is that no one (since the long-ago demise of The Star) has yet tried to fill the most obvious gap in the English media market: an English language equivalent of the Apple Daily. In other words a resolutely lowbrow paper combining a strong populist pro-democracy political stance with plenty of gore and gossip, celebrity, sex and scandal, sport and showbiz . Apart from the democracy part, this is pretty much the same recipe that has made Rupert Murdoch's The Sun Britain's best-selling daily. Any investors out there reading this?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Make Up Your Mind, Senator!

What's wrong with you, Senator Craig? First you consistently vote against gay rights in the Senate over many years. Then you get arrested for soliciting gay sex and plead guilty. Then you announce that you're not guilty after all, and not gay. You say you do not intend to resign your Senate seat, then you announce your intention to do so. Now you are apparently reconsidering that decision. Do you even know what you're doing? Gay or straight, stay or go, just make up your damn mind!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Who will watch the watchers?

Many years ago, long before the Tuen Mun Highway was constructed, we would sometimes take a bus via the scenic Castle Peak Road, which still winds its way along the shoreline, to the Ching Chung Koon Temple at Castle Peak for a vegetarian lunch and a wander around. Though the Temple and the nearby psychiatric hospital are still there, not much else from those days is now recognisable under the concrete sprawl of Tuen Mun new town. So as I drove around the area a few years ago, I was completely unfamiliar with the local roads, relying on a map to find my way around.

Anyway, I was tootling along merrily at 70 kph down a wide road with little traffic. As I recall, the road dipped under a bridge, and I emerged on the other side to find myself being waved down by a traffic cop. More officers stood around, stopping other unwary motorists and putting them through the same rigmarole: “Can I see your driving licence? Do you know you were breaking the speed limit? I will have to give you a ticket.”

Yeah, yeah. Useless to argue with these robots. Never mind that the road was nearly empty of traffic; that all the vehicles were doing the same speed; that there was no danger to anyone, and no pedestrian anywhere within sight. Just take the ticket, swallow your bitter medicine, and go on with your journey.

Most of the time, you can’t win when dealing with the traffic police, though I did once score a minor victory: parked in an unmarked space (the official spaces were all full) in the car park of the Lions Nature Education Centre in Sai Kung, I returned to find a ticket on my windscreen. Oops! The area is clearly marked as a private road, so I wrote in politely pointing out that the police have no authority to issue parking tickets there. Ticket cancelled!

But how many less attentive poor suckers just pay up without checking, so the cops can meet their monthly quota of victims? I wouldn’t be so aggrieved if they occasionally stopped some of the absolute maniacs I see every day driving dangerously on the Tolo Highway, zigzagging wildly across several lanes at once, instead of wasting time ticketing people who aren’t even causing an obstruction (Taipo Industrial Estate on a Sunday – come on…)

Anyway, back to Tuen Mun. As you can imagine, returning along the same road an hour later, I was carefully keeping my speed down to 50kph, not wanting to get another ticket, when a police motorcycle roared past me at over 80, way in excess of the limit. Gosh – what dire emergency could justify such reckless behaviour? What urgent mission of mercy could require such a rapid response?

A little further up the road, all was revealed. Our brave motorcycle warrior was indeed busily engaged in bringing relief to the afflicted … well, bringing lunch to his colleagues at the road block where I’d been stopped earlier, anyway. What could be more urgent than that?

As the ancient Roman poet Juvenal said, two millennia ago: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – who will watch the watchers (or guard the guardians)? Who indeed, I wonder.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Hard Beancurd

Couldn't resist this one, seen in a mall in Mongkok (thanks Dion for the photo). I will, however resist the obvious jokes about getting a rise out of it, having a hard time, etc.

And since I usually try to keep this blog suitable for parents: Mum, don't look at this entry!

Damned if you dude

The BBC reports that some Blogger blogs (not this one, fortunately) are being hijacked to propagate spam.

One basic rule that should be part of your anti-spam precautions: never click on anything which addresses you as "dude". Does anyone except spammers actually use this word?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance, says Wikipedia, is "a psychological term describing the uncomfortable tension that may result from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behaviour that conflicts with one's beliefs, or from experiencing apparently conflicting phenomena." In other words, pretty much what US Senator Larry Craig must be feeling these days.

One thing that puzzles me about the endless parade of American politicians and preachers caught with their pants down, is why their wives so often stand meekly by them on the platform when they make their public confessions. Once in a while, it would be rather entertaining to see the wronged wife trying to do a Lorena Bobbitt on the jerk, rather than being so patiently forgiving. Or maybe she's saving that for when he gets home...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Glad to be unhappy

The Standard reports that, according to a recent Citibank survey:
  • Hong Kong's middle class has little money to spare at the end of each month;
  • The majority of respondents have insufficient time to manage their financial affairs properly;
  • Most do not think their MPF returns, and their property investments for those who have them, will be adequate for their retirement;
  • Most expect little help from the government; and
  • More than half said they could not expect financial help from their children in their old age.
Despite all this, more than half the respondents expressed satisfaction with the economy, the economic situation and the business environment.

Er - why?

Happy Birthday Dear Blog

Today marks exactly a year since my first post. Since then I've subjected my ever-growing (but still tiny) band of loyal readers to over 100 posts, or about one of my ramblings every 3 days or so. Looking at the category listings, my favourite subjects have been Politics (44), Hong Kong (34), the Environment (13), and Stupidity (22). Looking at the way the world is going in the first 3 categories, I expect my rants on the last category to multiply enormously in future.

I can't say I've changed my opinions much on anything in the past year, except that I now detest most politicians even more than when I started this blog, particularly the gang of war criminals around George W. Bush - many of whom are now deserting the sinking ship of state as he continues to steer it resolutely onto the rocks.

If this blog stands for anything, I hope its guiding values would be compassion, common sense, and a sense of humour to cope with the absence of the first two qualities in much of what goes on around us. I hope you enjoy it, and welcome feedback through your Comments. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Disappearing Acts

The excellent music blog I Am Fuel, You Are Friends laments the disappearance of the Weekly World News. This is sad news indeed - where will I go now to find out which supermarket Elvis has been spotted in lately?

Meanwhile Spike fears that Hong Kong's Ritz-Carlton Hotel will follow the WWN, as well as the former Hilton and Furama Hotels nearby, into oblivion. It is clearly environmental insanity on a massive scale to demolish perfectly sound and serviceable buildings that have decades of usable life ahead of them just to squeeze a few more bucks out of the site, but this is Hong Kong.

Spike also takes a well-deserved swipe at "the soulless Cheung Kong Centre" (or Center, as they insist on spelling it). It says a lot about the architectural and environmental judgement of Cheung Kong boss Li Ka-Shing that his company's flagship building is a dull box totally devoid of character.

Another disappearing act is reported by the BBC: the once numerous house sparrow has been placed on a list of British birds that need greater protection. What the hell are we doing to our world, when even the most common creatures are being driven towards extinction by our arrogance and carelessness?

Making It Better:
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Honk if you're stupid

With the entertainingly irascible Fumier sadly retired from blogging (don't be fooled by the impostor who's usurped his blog name), someone has to keep up his valuable tradition of skewering Hong Kong's awful drivers, so let's get started. Last night our car broke down in Kowloon Tong, leaving me and my wife sitting just off Cornwall Street for half an hour awaiting the tow truck, with the emergency flashers on. During that time, I can't count the number of idiots who drove up to within a couple of feet behind us, then hooted irritably on finding we weren't moving, and they would have to reverse out in order to get past us.

See here dummies, it works like this: when a car is flashing its emergency lights, that's a sign that something's wrong. If you're smart, you don't wait until you're almost bumper-to-bumper with it to find out that it's blocking your way. You slow down, observe the situation, and change to another lane in plenty of time.

Oh, I forgot. You're not smart, are you? How the hell did you even pass a driving test in the first place?

Monday, August 27, 2007

One country, two (or three) UN seats

Next month Taiwan will again attempt to get accepted to UN membership, and once again China's overwhelming influence will no doubt defeat it. But China is not being consistent here: it argues that Taiwan, which it considers as part of China, is already represented through the PRC's membership. But back in the days of the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Belarus (then known in English as Byelorussia) had their own UN seats in addition to being represented as constituent republics of the Soviet Union. We didn't hear China complain about double representation back then, so why now?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wheeling in the beers

The World Socialist Web Site thinks I was too hard on Paris Hilton. What do you think?

There's one thing I don't understand about the infamous trio of Paris, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. Apart from being buddies, they all have two things in common:

  1. being arrested for drunk driving; and
  2. being filthy rich.

Now if they want to drink themselves into a stupor it's their business, but since they can all easily afford to employ an army of chauffeurs or grab a cab, why the hell do they insist on driving themselves after getting pissed?

In other law enforcement news, the BBC News website today has an arresting headline: How detective work uncovered a lost Constable. That's the trouble with the police today: you can never find a copper when you need one.

Favourite Colour: Anything but Green

From today's SCMP online edition front page:
Green pressure could harm city, says Li Ka-shing

"Li Ka-shing warned yesterday that conservation campaigns and calls for limits on high-rise buildings could damage the interests of everyone in Hong Kong."

Well, not quite everyone, Mr Li; only a handful of wealthy property developers and chain store owners. Mr Li is well qualified to speak for them, but has even less authority than our unelected leader Donald Tsang to speak for the rest of us.

Every cicilised society preserves the best of its history, and Hong Kong people increasingly want to see human values emphasised over purely economic ones. Far from being dismayed by Li's outburst, I think we should take heart from it. If the voice of the conservation movement has grown loud enough for Li to feel threatened by it, then green views are clearly moving from the fringes of society into the mainstream - which can only be good for most of us.

All in a good cause

I worry about these Christians. First we had the priest who killed his own son. Now we have US Arny Major John Cockerham, who has apparently acknowledged receiving US$1 million in bribes for giving out reconstruction contracts in Iraq (part of billions of dollars floating around in Iraq without proper accountability).

The money, says Cockerham's sister (also accused in the case), was to be used to set up a church. So, that's all right then...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Call Me Doctor Stupid

I am constantly amazed at how stupid spammers are - and even more amazed at how stupid some other Internet users must be to make their spamming worthwhile.

A Yahoo group I subscribe to has repeatedly received variations on the following message:

I am now to be referred to as Dr. Jenkins haha ;) Took me about a month to get fully accredited, but after ringing these ppl 1-801-xxx-xxxx they got me setup at an international uni and had me my BA in no time.

My first question: if your name is Dr Jenkins, why is the email coming from "muriel-berggren686", and later from "domenique-mcnally"? Don't you know your own name?

My second question: do you really think a BA entitles you to be addressed as "Doctor"? (You can only pull that trick if you have an MB,BS degree from Hong Kong U.)

Do people really fall for this crap?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Diaper Dilemma

Sorry, not a very good picture - I was in a hurry and didn't check it after taking, else I would have tried again with the flash turned off to avoid reflections from the metallic surface.

However, it should be clear enough to show the point: this is from the door of a male toilet on The Peak, indicating that there are baby changing facilities inside. That's fine - as I have written before, I believe Dads should share that part of childraising. However, whoever designed the sign appears to have been somewhat reluctant to accept this idea - although it's the men's room, the nappy-changing figure on the sign is clearly female!

Friday, August 17, 2007

One Restaurant, Two Menus

Spike's recent post on being taken to inferior Chinese restaurants in other countries when what you really want is to sample the local food reminds me of two amusing cross-cultural incidents in Birmingham some years ago (the original one in England, not the other Birminghams scattered around the world). Birmingham is well known for its many Indian restaurants, and has played its part in making chicken tikka masala "Britain's national dish", but it also has a sizeable Chinese community.

My brother (who's now travelling around the US with his wife) lived in the city then, and on a visit we wanted to take him and his then girlfriend out to taste some Chinese food. We found a reasonable-looking upstairs Chinese restaurant near the bus station, and settled into our seats to study the menu, which was in English. Then my wife asked for a Chinese menu, which was willingly supplied, only to find that the prices shown on it were about 10% lower than those on the English menu for the same dish!

Now two-tier pricing is not uncommon around the world - foreign tourists routinely pay double the local price at every tourist attraction in Thailand, for example - but it's not usually the natives who are being fleeced. When my wife asked the waiter which price we'd be charged, he squirmed with embarrassment, eyes downcast to the floor, but we ended up enjoying a decent meal and paying the lower price for it.

On a later visit we tried out a restaurant in south Birmingham somewhere (Moseley, perhaps?) Unlike most in England, it advertised itself outside as not just "Chinese" but "Cantonese", which looked promising. However, when my wife asked the waiter in Cantonese (which he spoke poorly - I suspect he was Vietnamese) for a popular Cantonese dish, they did not have it. Then another one - no. And another - still no. After several rounds of this fruitless exercise, frustration was setting in on both sides, when suddenly enlightenment dawned. "Ah," said the waiter, looking relieved, "You want real Chinese food. You'd better go to Chinatown." So we did.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Death merchants go phishing

Among my daily haul of spam today is one (obviously phishing) claiming that I have won US$5 million (why not sterling?) in the "British Tobacco Online Lottery". Wish it was true - the tobacco industry owes me at least that much for driving my father into an early grave with their poisonous products.

The Lesser of Two Evils?

A Catholic priest in Mexico killed his own son so the Church would not find out he had broken his vows of celibacy.

So to Catholics, sex is more sinful than murder?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

So. Farewell Then, Ma Lik.

At some stage in their careers, most politicians say something ill advised that haunts them afterwards: "The pound in your pocket will not be devalued" (Harold Wilson); "I am not a crook" (Richard Nixon); "I did not have sex with that woman" (Bill Clinton). The assertion by DAB Chairman Ma Lik, who died yesterday, that there was no massacre in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 will be remembered as the Hong Kong equivalent of those dubious claims, overshadowing a balanced assessment of his public career.

Part of Chief Executive Donald Tsang's tribute to Ma said that under Ma's leadership the DAB had become "a close partner of the government". Given the government's many failures - on the environment, on heritage protection, on the slow road to full democracy - this reminds me why I never vote for the DAB.

And Another Thing...

Another Alternative continued:

...AND I would make sure the cans get recycled afterwards.

A word of praise here for the bottlers of Lucozade, who have recently switched from glass bottles, which cannot be recycled in Hong Kong, to plastic ones, which can. But why doesn't Hong Kong have any glass recycling facilities? Huh?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Another Alternative

Another story from The Sun: Malaysian customs officials are planning to pour 200,000 cans of seized smuggled beer down the drain. They claim to have no alternative because to sell it would disrupt the domestic market.

Well, they could try shipping it to me instead. I promise not to resell it, but I might throw one hell of a party.

A Painful Story

Britain's Sun newspaper reports that police in Ontario, Canada, are seeking a man who has asked three women in the street to kick him in the groin. The paper reports Sgt Cate Welsh as saying, "That kind of behaviour tends to be a precursor to sexual assault".

I'm assuming that Sgt Welsh is female. Any man will tell you that if you've just received a forceful boot in the groin, the last thing on your mind is sexual activity, consensual or otherwise. You're more likely to be writhing in agony on the ground clutching your injured privates.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Return of the Living Dead

I thought Monty Python's "Bring out your dead" sketch was just a joke - until I read this story.


Quote of the week:
I am in no way a violent person.

--Amanda Monti, sentenced to prison for ripping off her ex-boyfriend's left testicle with her bare hands and trying to swallow it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fascinating Facts

Amazing what facts you come across accidentally online. Who knew that hair straightener (1909), the gas mask (1912) and traffic lights (1923) were all invented by a black American man? No, nor did I.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Silly Buggers

Today's Standard reports that Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal yesterday upheld a verdict dismissing a charge against two men for engaging in anal sex in a public place (a parked car, in fact), on the grounds that the relevant law was unconstitutional because it applied only to homosexuals, contrary to the Basic Law which guarantees that everyone shall be equal before the law.

As in any case involving sexual activity, up pop the usual suspects to moralise about it. Choi Chi-sum, general secretary of the Christian group the Society for Truth and Light, says the verdict is "regrettable" and "disappointing" and "sets a dangerous precedent", arguing that "using a technicality to strike down the appeal is worrisome". "What the people are worried about is that indecent acts in public places are inappropriate. It's not about whether hetero or homo sex is involved", he is reported as saying.

Choi seems to have grasped only half the point here. Certainly most people would prefer not to witness a mass outbreak of sodomy in the streets, whether homosexual or heterosexual. But applying the law against it to only one sector of the population is not a "technicality"; it is a clear violation of basic human rights. If the law banned public buggery between white people but allowed it between Chinese people, would Choi consider that sort of discrimination a mere technicality?