Monday, September 29, 2008

Poor Guys in Space

China's latest space mission fulfilled all its objectives, but at a cost - the new Chinese-made space suit alone cost over US$4 million. Still, China is clearly up there with the big guys now, which is exactly what its leaders want.

Want to bet that next time it's engaged in world trade negotiations, China will still claim to be a poor backward Third World country in need of trade concessions to help it catch up? Hmmm.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Your Priorities in Proportion

  • Amount requested by President George W. Bush to bail out greedy Wall Street bankers: US$700 billion.
  • Amount pledged by world leaders and philanthropists to fight malaria (which kills more than a million people annually): US$3 billion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Distant Drums

It's been a bad year for great musicians - Temptations songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield passed away a few days ago. Now the latest entrant to rock'n'roll heaven is drummer Earl Palmer.

You may never have heard of Palmer, but you've certainly heard his work - a jazzman at heart, he played on an astonishing array of all-time great recordings, from Fats Domino and Little Richard's pioneering early rock'n'roll in Palmer's native New Orleans, to "River Deep Mountain High" and other Phil Spector classics in Los Angeles, finding time in between to drum on everything from TV theme tunes to movie soundtracks, and even record a piece or two under his own name (The A Side blog has one). He is also said to be the man who first applied the word "funky" to music.

Palmer's autobiography, Backbeat, is a great rock read, taking the reader through a colourful life that went from tap dancing in vaudeville as a child to accompanying Frank Sinatra at the White House.

"I invented this shit"
was Palmer's legendary response to a young rock band worried that he might not be able to play in their style. He sure did.

Disclaimer - I get a small commission from Amazon UK if you buy the book through the picture link here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Surely No Coincidence?

Average number of rolls of toilet paper used each day in The Pentagon: 666.

Blame It All on Mummy

As former Taiwan First Lady Wu Shu-chen again fails to attend court, claiming to be ill, it's interesting to observe the development of the corruption cases against her, former president Chen Shui-bian, and other family members. Chen claims his wife illegally transferred US$20 million of his campaign funds overseas without his knowledge. His son, accused of transferring US$31 million overseas, claims he merely signed documents prepared by his mother, without checking their contents.

The younger Chen's trust in his mother is touching indeed; I would trust my own mother with my life, but if she asked me to sign some bank forms, I think I would at least display a little curiosity as to what they were all about before sticking my name on the dotted line. Apparently the Chen family's strategy is to heap as much guilt on Wu as possible. As a wheelchair-bound invalid, she could presumably look forward to more lenient treatment than the able-bodied members of the family, if convicted.

Why does all this somehow remind me of the story of the girl who murdered her parents, then asked the court for clemency on the grounds that she was an orphan?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Untainted Humps

As the Chinese contaminated baby milk scandal continues to worsen - 69 brands from 22 manufacturers recalled; 3 babies dead; 6,200 seriously ill; several export markets also involved - one wonders if Chinese women realise what those two "lovely lady bumps" on their chest are for. And no. I'm not being facetious (sadly).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

(Not) Taking Care of Their Own

Mr President, the death toll in Iraq is approaching one million!

Who cares, they're all Muslims anyway. [Not true, by the way - the nearly 2000-year-old Christian community in Iraq has been almost entirely forced out of the country.]

Mr President, hundreds of thousands are still homeless in New Orleans!

Who cares, they're mostly black and poor anyway.

Mr President, hundreds of people have been tortured in Guantanamo Bay.

Who cares, they're all terrorists anyway. [Also not true.]

Mr President, thousands of middle class Americans are having their homes repossessed because they can't keep up with their mortgage payments.

Who cares, that's the system - when you invest, you take a risk. Sometimes it doesn't pay off.

Mr President, Wall Street is in trouble! The big investment banks are going bust!

Oh my God, this is terrible, these are our people! What can we do to help them?

Nothing, Mr President; we've spent all the money we had and more on your war in Iraq and handouts to the rich already.

So finally, the mountain of bad karma piled up by the Bush regime is beginning to topple down on its beneficiaries. And so incompetent is the government, it can't even bail out its own people, the heart of the Republican elite, the very ones whose interests this administration has been all about serving from the beginning, from the consequences of their own greed, folly and mendacity. Which would be enjoyable to watch, if it wasn't that many innocent victims are going to get hurt in the process as they see their hard-earned homes, insurance policies and pensions become worthless.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

7-9 and the Marginalised Elector

7-9 is English for what the Americans prefer to call 9-7, i.e. today. The Hong Kong government, uncomfortable with the fact that the territory was a British colony for a century and a half, prefers to use the American format in its promotional advertising for today's Legislative Council election. Since "9-11", the New York skyline is not the only thing reshaped by Osama bin Laden.

"Shape your future"
say the posters; and even though we know that our future will continue to be largely shaped for us by the usual unholy alliance of Beijing politicians and local business bigwigs, it is important to send Beijing a clear message that we want to have a bigger say in our own destiny. So, get out there before 10:30 pm and vote! (unless you're planning to cast your ballot for the DAB, in which case, why not stay at home and read a good book instead? I recommend George Orwell's essays, particularly "Politics and the English Language").

Which brings me to an interesting question: why do Hong Kong politicians pay so little attention to the English-speaking voter? We all know - particularly since Florida in 2000 - that elections can be won and lost by only a few votes, and this is even more so in Hong Kong's rotten boroughs - the Functional Constituencies. Given this, you would think that an astute politician would not overlook any possible group of potential supporters, yet there are still candidates whose election publicity is entirely in Chinese, without even a pointer to an English version on their website. I heard from a friend that one famously hirsute local LegCo member even refused to answer questions put to him in English during a previous election campaign, although he speaks the language.

This time around, more candidates seem to have picked up the nessage - even the DAB - but there are still exceptions. Yet I suspect this group of voters, far from being of marginal significance, may be larger than anyone suspects. In fact, it consists of three distinct subgroups: expatriates settled here such as myself; the long-established local South Asian community, many of whom speak Cantonese but do not read or write Chinese; and possibly the largest of all, those Chinese people born in Hong Kong who grew up overseas following the great wave of emigration in the 1980s and 90s, but have since returned to their birthplace. Many of these speak Cantonese but were educated in English, and may be more comfortable reading it than Chinese.

OK, lesson over, go and vote.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Signs of the Times

That's nice, but will the food taste better?

Beauty isn't what it used to be!. Thanks to DC for this one.

Make up your mind!

Yes, but where do the other 90% of kids get educated?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Pretentious? Moi?

Hong Kong property developers love to give their properties pretentious and silly names. Take Grand Central Plaza in Shatin, for instance - it's not Grand (unless Ikea has moved considerably upmarket in the few weeks since my last visit), and not Central. As for the Plaza part, the original Spanish word denotes a public open space like a town square, but in American (ab)usage, adopted in Hong Kong, has come to indicate a shopping mall. Oh well, a half out of three ain't bad.

Then there's Luard on the Park, a serviced apartment block in Wanchai. The "park" referred to is Southorn Playground, but I suppose Luard on the Patch of Scruffy Tarmac Surrounded by a Few Tatty Trees doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

However, for real pretentiousness, you only have to look to the world of showbiz - a headline on the BBC news website a couple of days ago reported Jude Law calls for world ceasefire. I don't want to disparage any attempts to advance the cause of world peace, but would that be Jude Law the respected international statesman? or Jude Law the Hollywood actor who hit the scandal pages for his affair with his children's nanny?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Do they even know it's wrong?

Many long term residents of Hong Kong have remarked on the deteriorating standard of English in the territory that likes to proclaim itself "Asia's world city". Wellcome supermarket continues to display posters in some of its branches exhorting customers to "Use less plastic bags". Good idea, but as someone pointed out several years ago, shouldn't there be a companion campaign educating the public to "Use fewer water"?

Then there is this sign:

Only one thing wrong with this: you don't prosecute a vehicle, you prosecute the driver. Do we have anyone left in the government who knows the difference?