Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Open Letter to a Hollywood Heartthrob

"I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?"

--Sharon Stone

Dear Ms Stone,

I am sure you mean well, and I'm not happy about China's treatment of Tibet either, but are you aware of the following facts:

  • > The mountainous western part of Sichuan, where the earthquake struck, was historically part of Tibet before China annexed it.
  • > Many, perhaps the majority, of the people in this region are ethnic Tibetans.
  • > China is not a democracy.

So are you saying that Tibetans are being karmically punished for the way a government they did not choose and have no control over treats their ountry? And is it "kind" to tell five million people who have lost their homes, their possessions, their jobs and in many cases their children that it's their own fault for having the misfortune to live in a dictatorship?

How do you apply your theory to the events in Burma? Already suffering the karmic burden of having to live in a country controlled by a corrupt clique of crooks, many of them are now suffering a double dose of bad karma from the recent destructive cyclone.

Furthermore, if people's misfortune can be seen as a karmic payback for the evil done by their government, how do you view 9/11? After all, a succesion of elected American governments has done a lot of questionable things in various countries around the world.

In fact, do you even know what you are saying? Or should you do a little more research and analysis and thinking things through before making political statements in future?

Private Beach

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Getting a bit above ourselves, aren't we?

ATV's English news on Thursday night seemed to have scored an exclusive scoop, with its bold statements that "Premier Wen tells ATV ..." this and "Premier Wen told us..." that. That is, until you saw the accompanying visuals: yes, dear, you and the fifty reporters from other media outlets who were also present. Don't get over-excited, OK?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Leeches and Vampires

I received my first fake Burma cyclone relief email yesterday, headed RECOVERY FUND NOTIFICATION, and purporting to be an appeal for the Burma cyclone victims - it doesn't take these leeches and vampires long before they scent blood to suck.

The usual email scams are bad enough, but taking advantage of disasters to divert well-intentioned help away from people who have lost everything already is unspeakably sick. I hope these scammers rot in hell where they belong.

If you want to help in Burma (or China), make sure the help really gets to those who need it. World Vision, for example, has aid workers on the ground in both countries getting help to the needy.

Making It Better:
World Vision Hong Kong

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

...but would Beijing like it, Donald?

"Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

--attributed to Saint Francis Xavier, founder of the Jesuits

Did you notice that Donald Tsang couldn't resist crossing himself during the three-minute silence for China's earthquake victims yesterday? Once a good Catholic boy, always a good Catholic boy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hong Kong's Multifarious Musea

How many museums do you reckon Hong Kong has? Ten? Twenty?

Try closer to fifty, many of them little known even to locals. The best known are probably those managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, but others are run by other government departments, public bodies, educational institutions and private organisations.

Here is a list:

1. Aberdeen Country Park Visitor Centre
2. Airport Core Programme Exhibition Centre
3. Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
4. Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum
5. Fanling Environmental Resource Centre
6. Fireboat Alexander Grantham Exhibition Gallery
7. Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware
8. Health Education Exhibition and Resources Centre
9. HKMA (Hong Kong Monetary Authority) Information Centre
10. Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum
11. Hong Kong Film Archive
12. Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre
13. Hong Kong Heritage Museum
14. Hong Kong Housing Authority Exhibition Centre
15. Hong Kong Immigration Museum
16. Hong Kong Maritime Museum
17. Hong Kong Museum of Art
18. Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence
19. Hong Kong Museum of History
20. Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences
21. Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery
22. Hong Kong Police Museum
23. Hong Kong Public Records Building
24. Hong Kong Racing Museum
25. Hong Kong Railway Museum
26. Hong Kong Science Museum
27. Hong Kong Space Museum
28. Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre
29. Hong Kong Wetland Park
30. Lantau Link Visitors Centre
31. Law Uk Folk Museum
32. Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum
33. Lions Nature Education Center
34. Madame Tussaud’s
35. Museum of Ethnology
36. Ping Shan Tang Clan Gallery
37. Plover Cove Country Park Visitor Centre
38. Po Leung Kuk Museum
39. Sai Kung Country Park Visitor Centre
40. Sam Tung Uk Museum
41. Sheung Yiu Folk Museum
42. Shing Mun Country Park Visitor Centre
43. Tai Mo Shan Country Park Visitor Centre
44. Tao Heung Foods of Mankind Museum
45. Tsuen Wan Environmental Resource Centre
46. Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Museum
47. University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong
48. Urban Renewal Authority's Information Centre
49. Wan Chai Environmental Resource Centre

There may be more, depending on how you define "museum". For example, many of the buildings declared as ancient monumnets by the government are open to the public, though not formally classified as museums. And many other places have museum-like collections of memorabilia, such as the Hard Rock Cafe's display of rock artefacts.

Please add a comment if you know of any I've missed.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bluntly Awful Songs

I think I may be going mad. This morning I heard a song on the radio, thought, "that sounds nice,", then found it was by James Blunt. Only I don't like James Blunt - I thought his massive hit "You're byoo-dee-farl" was horrible, at least in part because someone smart enough to graduate from my old university should at least have learned how to pronounce "beautiful" properly.

I am not alone in this dislike: readers of The Sun in Britain voted the song the most irritating of all time. I am happy to say I have not heard most of the others in their Top 10 (an unintended benefit of living well out of the western cultural mainstream in Hong Kong), though The Macarena certainly deserves its place on the list (and Shout doesn't).

Several of the same songs turn up on Rolling Stone's Top 20 list, while another poll provides a few more to avoid, as does this one, while a BBC viewer suggests that football songs are the most annoying. Another BBC respondent there suggests that the whole Cantopop genre should be condemned, which seems a bit harsh even to those who have had the misfortune to hear Twins attempting to sing....

My own list probably betrays my age: I would certainly include the following:
> Copacabana by Barry Manilow
> Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road
> Mickey by Toni Basil
and of course anything by Michael Bolton, whose voice I find intolerable.

Ultimately what such lists prove is that there's no accounting for taste: I actually enjoy a few of the songs listed - Tub Thumper, for example - while even the worst of them (My Humps, anyone?) sold millions, so someone somewhere must like them. Which doesn't make them bearable - after all, millions of people voted for George W. Bush.

IQ Test for Americans

Email received this morning:

United States Department of the Treasury
Over 130 million Americans will receive refunds as part of The White House program to jumpstart the economy. Our records indicate that you are qualified to receive the 2008 Economic Stimulus Refund.
The fastest and easiest way to receive your refund is by direct deposit to your checking/savings account. Please follow the link and fill out the form and submit before May 17th, 2008 to ensure that your refund will be processed as soon as possible.
etc., etc. Since I'm neither an American citizen nor a US taxpayer (who would want to be, considering the USA is one of only two countries in the world to tax its citizens on their worldwde income, even if they're non-resident?), it was easy for me to recognise this as an obvious phishing scam. But I wonder how many US taxpayers, eager to get their refund quickly, will fall for it and hand over their bank account details to a complete stranger?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Race for the White House (geddit?)

Quote of the Day:
"Hillary Clinton ended Tuesday night with a big victory in West Virginia, showing once again that old, white, poor, uneducated people really don't like young, witty, urbane, well-educated black men. Quelle surprise."
--Chip Collis, How Obama WON Tuesday, in The Huffington Post (also known as Huffpost), the essential blog for anyone interested in American politics.

Another Huffpost quote today:
"7% of the voters in West Virginia voted for John Edwards. Faced with a black man and a white woman, these voters chose a white man who isn't running. And these are Democrats."

--RJ Eskow, Even The Racists Are Deserting Hillary. Eskow goes on to say, "The 'black candidate is unelectable' discussion is one Democrats usually hold in private. In public they're supposed to say :'If you won't vote for my opponent because of his race, I don't want your vote.' (Wink, wink.) Hillary broke that rule..." "To succeed in politics, you have to deal with ugly facts sometimes. Here's one ugly fact: Some voters won't vote for a black man. Here's another: Some of the same voters won't vote for a woman. It's foolish to think you can advance the rights of one group by inflaming prejudices against another. The best way to fight racism or sexism is to fight all prejudice."

The irony here is that Edwards, the "white man who isn't running", endorsed Obama, the black man who is, after the primary. Bye bye, Hillary.

Meanwhile, following up yesterday's post, two news snippets from the BBC:
"Nearly 15,000 people died and 25,000 are still trapped in the earthquake that hit China, official media say."
"The UN sharply increases to 2.5m its estimate of those severely affected by Cyclone Nargis in Burma."

Another BBC report on the dire conditions in Burma here. And a quote from another BBC report yesterday:
"In the former capital Rangoon, itself badly damaged by the cyclone, one man summed up the frustrations of a nation. 'When we had demonstrations last year the soldiers were everywhere,' he said. 'Where are they now?'"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Disasters: Compare and Contrast

I've been critical of China often enough in this blog - most recently only yesterday - so it's only fair that I should give the Chinese government credit when they get something right. There could hardly be a greater contrast than that between the handling of two natural disasters: the Sichuan earthquake and the Burmese cyclone.

Within hours of Monday's deadly earthquake in Sichuan Province, which has killed at least 12,000 people so far and left possibly hundreds of thousands homeless, the Chinese government had rushed rescue teams into the area, and 50,000 troops are hard at work locating survivors and clearing blocked roads to enable supplies to reach the area. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was quickly on the scene to demonstrate the central government's concern and assess the situation for himself. China has also welcomed offers of assistance from overseas, and journalists are apparently free to visit and report on the earthquake zone.

"We must treasure every second and do our utmost to save survivors," Wen is quoted as saying - not a message that appears to have reached Burma, where the callous clique of bandits in uniform that runs the country is still hindering relief efforts, almost two weeks after Cyclone Nargis swept over coastal communities, killing more than 34,000 people according to the latest official figures (probably grossly understated).

Although as many as 1.5 million people now face homelessmess and the threat of disease and starvation, the Burmese regime continues to deny visas to international aid experts and to confiscate relief supplies arriving in the former capital Rangoon (Yangon) - reportedly either diverting them or relabelling them to appear to be from the Burmese military. The long standing ban on foreign reporters (who might tell the truth about conditions in the country) is also still firmly in place, with the government seemingly committing more resources to enforcing it than to solving the problems reported on.

Some aid is trickling through, but so inadequate and tardy has been the official response to the disaster that even the mormally impeccably doiplomatic United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, rarely directly critical of UN member governments, has described it as "unacceptably slow".

Meanwhile Burma's military rulers, whose greed, corruption and mismanagement have achieved the rare feat - rivalled by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe - of transforming a country rich in natural resources from one of the wealthiest in its continent to among the world's poorest, remain holed up in paranoid seclusion in their isolated slave-labour-built new capital Naypyidaw, at the opposite end of the country from the storm-struck Irrawaddy Delta, showing no signs of any genuine concern for the plight of their people.

So, is this a case of "China good, Burma bad"? Well, not quite - real life is seldom that black and white. The murderous Burmese junta's main trading partner, and strongest overseas backer, is China...

P.S. Immediately after posting this, I turned to Spike's blog to find him saying something very similar, with the added thought that the US Government's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 more closely resembled Burma's than China's - lest we forget.

Making It Better:
China donations - Oxfam Hong Kong
Burma donations - Hong Kong Red Cross

Interesting Reading

"If file sharing is destroying the music industry, then how did Warner Music Group increase its sales in the first quarter 7 per cent to $989 million?"
From the latest issue of (Bruce Springsteen biographer) Dave Marsh's periodic email newsletter Rock & Rap Confidential (just linking those two genres is already an unorthodox move). Sign up for it here.

"The severity of Chinese repression in Tibet since [1959] is well-documented. There is severe repression of Tibetan Buddhism, which in 1997 was labeled as a “foreign culture” Virtually all classes in secondary and higher education in Tibet are taught in Chinese not Tibetan, resulting in a high drop-out rate among Tibetans. Urban development has generally benefited Chinese immigrants, large numbers of whom have moved to Tibet and who are now about 12% of the population in the Tibet Administrative Region. Tibetans are routinely detained for long periods without charge or sentenced to long prison sentences for peacefully advocating independence or maintaining links with the Dalai Lama. Torture and ill-treatment in detention is widespread. Freedom of expression is severely restricted. Peaceful political demonstrations are invariably broken up and their participants arrested. Tibetan culture is treated as inferior to Chinese culture, and most key posts in the government and the economy are held by Chinese. Those few Tibetans who are able to enter Chinese government service do so at the cost of alienation from their own people and culture. Tibet’s environment and natural resources are ruthlessly exploited in the interests of China."
Hong Kong's Law Society commissioned Senior Counsel Paul Harris, an expert in constitutional law, to write an article examining the legal basis of the case for Tibetan independence, then chickened out of publishing it. Fortunately maverick publisher (and well known campaigner for the rights of minority shareholders) David Webb displayed more testicular fortitude - you can read the whole article on his site.

Monday, May 12, 2008

How Global Is That?

You may not have noticed that yesterday was the Global Day of Prayer, with prayer gatherings in many countries, including one at the Hong Kong Stadium.

Strangely, for an event that claims to be global, only the world's 2.1 billion Christians appear to have been invited to the party. Missing from the invitation list were 1.5 billion Muslims, 900 million Hindus, 376 million Buddhists, 23 million Sikhs, 14 million Jews, 7 million Baha'is, 4.2 million Jains, 4 million Shintoists, 2.6 million Parsees, 600 thousand Rastafarians, and hundreds of millions of other faiths (figures from this site). Now, if you could only get all that lot praying together, you might even get me to join in.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Just horsing about

Headline from today's South China Morning Post:
"The government said yesterday it would not welcome anyone who "seeks to damage the solemnity" of the Olympic Games in Hong Kong."
Solemnity? Excuse me? We're talking about a bunch of people riding horses around here, not a funeral ceremony.

Monday, May 05, 2008

If the epithet fits, wear it

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
--Dr Samuel Johnson

News reports of Friday's Olympic torch relay in Hong Kong stated that some peaceful protesters were physically threatened by elements of the pro-Beijing rentacrowd supporting the relay. "Goons and thugs", anyone?

In Macau's torch relay on Saturday, the ratio of athletes to Beijing toadies (19 out of 120) was even lower than in Hong Kong.

This site has some interesting points to make about the whole kerfuffle:

* The Olympic torch relay is not an ancient Greek tradition, but originated as a publicity stunt for Nazi Germany in 1936.

At that time, Germany's ally Japan was preparing for its bloody invasion of China, which resulted in millions of Chinese deaths. Today the 1936 Games are mainly remembered for two things: Leni Riefenstahl's magnificently crafted propaganda films, and black American sprinter Jesse Owens making a nonsense of Hitler's theories of white racial superiority.

* The Chinese translation of “Olympic flame” has misinterpreted it as “Olympic sacred flame”.

This is psychologically significant because it makes any protest against the torch relay not a political act, but an act of sacrilege. So an atheist regime has God on its side ...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Running Out of Ideas

It seems appropriate that it should be raining on the day of Hong Kong's Olympic torch relay, which is kicking off as I write. Leaving aside the issue of human rights in China, public interest in the event has already been severely dampened by the yawn-inspiring selection of 120 runners chosen to carry the torch.

While no one would dispute the right of first and last runners Lee Lai-Shan and Wong Kam-Po to participate, some of the others between them are odd choices indeed. Sports people get less than half the slots, with past medal winners for Hong Kong in the Asian Games and (before 1997) Commonwealth Games being left out in favour of an ill-assorted bunch of clapped-out pop singers (apparently representing "culture", the other half of HK Olympic boss Timothy Fok's LegCo constituency), big company bosses and never-clapped-in politicians. It's rumoured that even the Donald wanted to take part, but his advisers warned him (correctly) that this would be seen as one ego-trip too far.

Imagine you have trained your butt off to do your best for Hong Kong in your chosen sport, then find the Olympic torch being carried instead by the likes of grumpy old man Tsang Hin-Chi, whose only known exercise routine is to open his mouth to say "Yes" to Beijing and chide as unpatriotic those who disagree with him.

The reason given for selecting all these non-sporting figures is apparently to "represent the various sectors of the community". Apart from the glaring omission of major sections of the public (any trade union leaders? any democrats?), if the government really wanted to involve the community, they would have staged the relay yesterday when the community was on holiday and people could come out to show their support, not today when they're all back at work.

"Bah, humbug!" is the only appropriate response to this whole mismanaged event.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Way You Do the Things You Do

Immediately following the horrific train accident in China a couple of days ago, Chinese authorities immediately dismissed two senior officials of the railway, then announced that an inquiry would be held to determine the cause of the crash.

Wouldn't it make more sense to hold the inquiry first to determine who was at fault before taking action against anyone? And if they already have a scapegoat to carry the can, why do they need an inquiry?

Meanwhile, following today's disastrous bus crash which saw (at last count) 18 people on their way to church here in Hong Kong come face to face with God sooner than they expected, transport officials insisted the road is safe because they've put up plenty of warning signs telling motorists not to exceed the speed limit. Yeah, knowing Hong Kong drivers, that would really stop them speeding ...