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.