Sunday, November 30, 2008

Market Rates

Reports by Hong Kong's Director of Audit usually offer an entertaining insight into governmental incompetence, and the latest is no exception. It appears that almost a quarter of stalls in public markets are unlet, and many markets are losing money. At the same time, many stall rents have not been raised for a number of years.

The report offers a number of accounts of mismanagement which clearly need to be rectified, but its two main conclusions appear to be rather contradictory: that more should be done to let vacant stalls, and that too many stalls are underpriced. Surely the fact that so many stalls are vacant suggests that the rental asked for them is too high? Basic economics tells us that lowering the rent will increase the take-up of stalls; raising it will drive away more business.

There is no doubt that shopping patterns are changing, with supermarkets taking away a big chunk of the fresh food business, but it would be a shame to see Hong Kong's wet markets disappear - they are part of the local culture, and generally offer a larger selection of fresh foods, particularly seafood, than the supermarkets. Perhaps the current recession will drive customers back to the markets, which are generally somewhat cheaper.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bringing it all back home

In considering big moral questions, it sometimes help to reduce them to small scale analogies that are closer to home.

Let's say that members of a gang invaded your home on 11 September and killed some of your family members, some of the gang members also dying in the process. Subsequently the gang threatens further violence against you.

Later you find that members of the gang, possibly including those who planned the first attack, are sheltering in another house up the street. The home owner does nothing to help bring the gang members to justice, and does not kick them out into the street where you might be able to do so yourself. So the question is, would you be justified in breaking into his home to get them yourself?

Maybe, you may say. But how about if you were likely to kill some of his children in the process?

Hmm, more difficult, huh? So the real question is, should the US attack al-Qaeda members in Pakistan against the wishes of the Pakistani government? And can they do this without "collateral damage", i.e. risking the killing of innocent Pakistanis in the process? Just one of the difficult questions President Obama will have to grapple with.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bankers with a W

Democrats in the US Congress - and responsible banks - are angry that the US700,000,000,000 they supposedly voted to rescue the economy is being diverted to help the offending banks rather than aid their victims. Why am I not surprised? At least when the British government rescued banks in trouble they changed their management; under the mendacious Bush regime it seems to be business (and bonuses) as usual for the greedy swindlers who created the mess that's now putting hundreds of thousands of hard working people around the world out of a job.

It's no surprise that "bankers" rhymes with another word that, like the financial crisis, begins with a "Dubya". And even as the world suffers the consequences of the mad Republican rush to deregulate everything, Bush is using his last days in office to strip away further regulations protecting workers and the environment - more destruction for the incoming Obama administration to undo. Obviously he is either incapable of learning or totally uncaring (probably both).

Headline on an advertising wraparound in the South China Morning Post: "W is coming to West Kowloon". Well, I suppose he has to go somewhere after leaving office, but why inflict him on us?

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Real McCain

It is ironic that John McCain's finest performance of the whole presidential campaign was his concession speech, which showed him at his best - it was calm, dignified, and generous towards President-elect Obama as well as thanking his own supporters. I wonder how far in advance it was written?

McCain didn't seem too unhappy. During the campaign, it was obvious that some of his more ignorant far right supporters had cast him as the great white defender of Christian civilisation and white privilege against the rampaging Muslim communist hordes of dark-skinned aliens with funny names storming the gate, a role McCain never appeared quite comfortable with, sometimes rebuking his supporters for their more extreme attacks on his opponent. Now he was free to be himself again - a man who may be a jerk at times, but who also has many friends on both sides of the political divide.

While McCain paid the obligatory tribute to Sarah Palin, he didn't invite his running mate to speak. Nevertheless, it appears she is already being cast in the role that never quite fitted McCain, but which she seems eager to embrace. No doubt we will hear more of her in four years' time - though if Obama runs the country as smartly as he ran his campaign, there should be little chance of him not getting a second term.

By the next election, many white Americans who still feel uncomfortable with seeing a black face in the White House will have become familiar with the idea and start to think more about his performance than his race. If he survives, that is - I hear that staff of one human rights organisation in Hong Kong are already placing bets on how long Obama will serve before someone assassinates him. Two men are already awaiting trial for planning to shoot him.

Back to Palin, one question going around is, does she really need to wear glasses? Or does she do it to make herself appear more intellectual? I wonder.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes! Yes!! YES!!!

No, not Meg Ryan faking an orgasm - just me celebrating America's return to sanity.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

America's Last Chance

As American voters go to the polls today, the rest of the world holds its breath. After 8 years of Bush (I was going to say "of lies, torture, illegal war, abuse of human rights, fat snouts in the trough" and a whole lot of other things, but you know all that already), this may be America's last chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the world.

When you get down to it, the real question is not policies and the economy and arguments about who will or will not raise taxes. It's very simple - with whose hand on the nuclear trigger will you feel most comfortable: Obama's calm reasonableness, or McCain's hot temper and willingness to compromise most of his principles to win election (not to mention the prospect of it passing into the hands of Sarah Parrot with her stupidity and unscientific beliefs, as well as her own "palling around with terrorists")?

The polls look good, as do the gambling odds and the first results, but I'll still be crossing my fingers until the result is sure.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Welcome to Taiwan - Now Go Home

Mainland Chinese diplomat Chen Yunlin can no doubt expect a heated response to his Taiwan visit, which starts today, from the island's independence advocates. Just a couple of weeks ago, pro-independence demonstrators pushed another Mainland representative to the ground, and later half a million marched through the streets of Taipei denouncing Chen's planned visit.

The problem with all this is that it lacks imagination, and further violence will only get them depicted as a bunch of hooligans. Instead, why don't they turn out half a million people to greet Chen warmly - with banners reading "Welcome to the free, independent and democratic nation of Taiwan"?

As for Taiwan's repeated attempts to secure United Nations representation, China is being a little hypocritical in blocking this on the grounds that China already represents the island and a separate seat would therefore be redundant. When Belarus and Ukraine held seats at the UN in addition to being represented as part of the Soviet Union, China never objected.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The lazy incompetent's guide to educational success

Looking for freelance writing opportunities today, I came across a couple of distinctly dodgy ads on Hong Kong Craigslist.

The first says:
"We are an educational company that specializes in university admissions services. We help students to apply and gain entry to their desired programs (College / MBA / Grad School).

Part of the application process involves the drafting of Admissions Essays, Letters of Recommendation etc. We are looking for talented writers who can produce interesting and effective work, in order to market our students in the best possible light.

Each project / university application comprises of the following:
- 4 to 7 essays (ranging from 100 to 600 words each) AND
- 2 to 3 recommendation letters (each addressing 5 to 8 questions)

We will provide the student's educational and academic profile (including CV and notes) and other related information.

We pay US$50-100 for the successful completion of each project. We have thousands of students each year so you can be guaranteed consistent work if you are good!"
Having worked my arse off to get my own MBA, it pisses me off to see this kind of scam. How does blatant plagiarism present a student "in the best possible light"? It shows them up for what they are - lazy incompetent frauds.

Should you wish to suggest to these conmen that their students might be better suited to working in McDonald's than the world of higher education if they are unable to write their own application essays, their email address is (the sg indicating Singapore, though they could be anywhere). I wonder if this kind of false application is a legal offence?

The second ad is headed Freelance Wtiring [sic] Talent Wanted (Global). It seeks candidates with good writing ability and research skills, and preferably academic writing experience - presumably competence in spelling is optional. They are looking for graduates in a range of subjects - for what they don't say, but academic plagiarism would probably be a good guess here as well. Far be it from me to suggest that their email address - - should be flooded with bogus responses. No indication of their whereabouts in the address, but they ask respondents to put "Thai-writer" in the subject line, which provides a clue.

The irony of all this is that I would probably be good at doing this stuff, but I want no part of it. It's unfair to those hard-working students who make the effort to do their own work, and it devalues everybody's qualifications.