Friday, February 29, 2008

Budget Blow-out

John Tsang's first budget as Hong Kong's new Financial Secretary appears to have something for everyone, though it does nothing to solve the longer term structural problem of financing pensions and health care for an aging population.

Many young people arrived from the Mainland in the 1950s and 60s and worked hard to lay the foundations of the prosperity Hong Kong enjoys today. Times were hard in those days, and many earned only enough to provide for their immediate needs, with no opportunity to lay something aside for the future.

As Hong Kong became a major economic force, most of its people were lifted out of poverty. But lower income earners were hard hit by the migration of Hong Kong manufacturing to the Mainland in the 1980s. Those with limited education and few skills were stuck in low paying jobs, if they could find work at all. As this age group becomes too old to work, those without supportive relatives face a precarious old age, and will inceasingly rely on government support to survive. What was once a youthful population has changed owing to low birth rates and the world's highest life expectancy.

Meanwhile, one feature of the budget that will benefit me personally is the removal of duty on beer and wine, both of which I enjoy. But in its eagerness to promote Hong Kong as a centre for wine trading in Asia, I wonder if the government has considered the possible consequences of making booze more affordable to young people? Anyone who has seen how some urban areas in Britain are taken over by packs of drunken yobboes at weekends, leaving a trail of vomit and broken glass, will not want to see the binge-drinking youth culture spread to Hong Kong (nor the obesity to which it contributes).

Memo to ATV News: the government does not "give away" money to taxpayers. The correct term is "give back" - it is our money in the first place.

English is a funny language

Just thinking:
  • If people from Burma are Burmese, why aren't people from Rome Romese? And people from India Indiese?
  • If Javanese come from Java, why don't Japanese come from Japa?
  • If Finns come from Finland, why don't Ires come from Ireland? And Ices from Iceland?
Crazy language, huh?

P.S. Does anyone know why bullet points appear correctly in a preview of Blogger posts, but not in the final post?

Save Water, Waste Paper

I received my water bill last night. And my water bill. Both the fresh water and flushing water bills, each mailed in a separate envelope, enclosed two A4 size circulars - one in Chinese (I don't know what it's about, but it didn't look important so I put it out for recycling) and one containing the Water Supplies Department's performance pledges for 2007/2008. On the front of the latter in large letters were the words:

"Save Water for the Future
Every Drop Counts"

I have a suggestion for the Water Supplies Department (a branch of the Hong Kong Government):

"Save Trees
Every Sheet of Paper Counts"

Not to mention:

"Save Taxpayers' Money
Every Cent Counts"

Even electricity company CLP, hardly a model of environmental rectitude (in fact one of Hong Kong's biggest polluters) offers electronic billing as an alternative to paper. The WSD plans to introduce this in stages, but only starting in 2009. Meanwhile it is sending out 7.2 million water bills a year on paper (complete with unwanted and unnecessarily duplicated enclosures).

So, here are some suggested performance pledges for 2008/2009 for the Water Department

  1. Send out each year's performance pledges to customers during that year, not almost a year later. In 2008 we should be reading about your 2007 achievements, not those of 2006.
  2. Combine fresh and flush water billing to save paper.
  3. If this is not possible, at least send the two bills out in the same envelope to save on paper and postage.
  4. Speed up the introduction of electronic billing as an alternative to paper billing.

Making It Better:

Water Aid

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Whose Heritage?

"Who funds the Heritage Foundation?" asks Fumier, in response to an earlier post here. A good question, so I set out to find out. Some of the answers are here and here.

According to Wikipedia, the influential Foundation was set up with funding from Joseph Coors of the Coors brewing family. Today it states that its funding comes from "the financial contributions of the gemeral public: individuals, foundations and corporations," and that it accepts no government funds. While corporations apparently account for less than 10% of its total funding of around US$30 million a year, they appear to have a strong influence on its pro-big business policies. Donors include many of the usual suspects: Chase Manhattan Bank, Dow Chemical Company, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, American International Group (AIG), Novartis, ChevronTexaco and Exxon Mobil. Some money comes from overseas, including Korean sources and the Margaret Thatcher Foundation in Britain.

Tobacco money is naturally represented among this crowd, with Altria Group among the donors (known as Philip Morris until their reputation for killing their customers forced them to change their name); in exchange for their support, they are rewarded with such egregious pieces of propaganda as this. Notice two ingenious arguments here: tobacco tax should not be increased because "with the number of smokers already declining, a tobacco tax would further reduce the number of smokers, thereby eroding the funding source" (isn't reducing the number of smokers a key objective of such increases?); and "young adults are ... disproportionately impacted by the tobacco tax"(doesn't the tobacco industry always say that it wishes to discourage young people from smoking?)

According to Wikipedia, the Heritage Foundation is associated with the Hong Kong consulting firm Belle Haven Consultants, which lobbies in Washington on behalf of Malaysian interests.

Would you buy a used policy from these guys?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Creedence Clearwater Retitle

According to a DJ on one of RTHK's Chinese radio channels, the song Proud Mary was written and performed by John Forgetty. Funny I don't remember that.

Then there was the ATV newsreader who announced recently that Herbie Hancock had won a Grammy for River: the Johnny Letters. Er - that would be Johnny Mitchell, the well known male singer?

Another classic from ATV news last night: "Lydia Shum was born in Shanghai in 1945 and got her first big break in 1960 at the tender age of 13". As our transatlantic cousins like to say, you do the math.

Do these presenters consider themselves professionals, I wonder?

I Can See Clearly Now

"I got new eyes
Everything looks far away"
--Bob Dylan, Highlands

Just in case anyone is wondering why I haven't posted here for weeks, I've been recovering from eye surgery. Thanks to Dr Cheung and the team at St Paul's Hospital Eye Centre, especially the nurse who asked me if I can speak Cantonese, then laughingly replied "siu siu" for me before I could say it myself.

I've posted occasional comments on other blogs, but nothing here as I was limiting my time online to avoid eyestrain. Meanwhile, lots of blogworthy things seem to have happened in the past few weeks, and I'll catch up with some of them soon. Keep watching!