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.