Sunday, December 19, 2010

Keeping up with the news

I usually pride myself on keeping up with what's going on in the world. Just a moment ago, for the first time ever, I scored a resounding zero out of seven in the BBC's weekly news quiz. Obviously I'm losing my touch. You try it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Come on, it's not the Spanish Inquisition

The Catholic dioxese in Hong Kong has won a legal battle which will enable it to challenge the constitutionality of the government's education reforms in court. The Chirch objects to a government policy requiring aided schools to set up management committees, 40% of whose members will be drawn from parents, alumni, teachers and government representatives. The Church argues that this contravenes its right under the Basic Law to control its own schools.

Fair enough, but the key word here is "aided" - meaning subsidised by the taxpayer. There is a very simple solution to this problem - if the Catholic Church wants 100% control, then it should also provide 100% of the schools' financing. If public money is involved, it is not unreasonable to require some degree of public accountability over its spending.
Otherwise the Church is trying to "render unto God that which belongs to Caesar", and should be firmly rebuffed.

City Limits

Memo to ATV News: if Luton is "on the outskirts of London", then Sheung Shui is "on the outskirts of Kowloon". No skirts are that far out.

And while you're paying attention, can you tell one of your reporters that Chan is not pronounced "Charn"? As the most common surname in Hong Kong, it shouldn't require a pronunciation guide.

Friday, December 10, 2010

IgNobel Support

With imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in enforced absentia today, China’s fearsome Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu has again been required to spout nonsense with a straight face, solemnly declaring that “most of the world” supports China’s opposition to the awarding of the Prize to Liu. “Most of the world” apparently means the 17 countries other than China which have declined to send an official representative to the award ceremony – out of 65 embassies invited, and representing less than ten percent of the world’s almost 200 nations. One country, Serbia, has reversed its earlier decision not to attend.

The BBC analyses the reasons behind these countries’ boycott of the event. Broadly they either object to a dissident receiving the prize for fear of encouraging their own internal opposition movements, or have close economic ties with China and fear reprisals from the PRC. But really, what a sad list of countries to parade in support!

Several of them (*) score highly on the Failed States Index: Three of them (plus China) are ruled by leaders who feature in the list of the World’s Ten Worst Dictators (#), which also includes several other close allies of China. Four of them are among the world’s heaviest users of the barbaric death penalty (&), a list again led by China (though the supposedly civilised United States also ranks highly, to its shame). And several of them appear on Transparency International’s list of the world's most corrupt countries (@), while several others (including Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Pakistan) are not far off inclusion in this category..

Almost all countries on the list are repressive and authoritarian dictatorships, and in most of them, a wealthy ruling elite enriches itself while the majority of the population lives in dire poverty. Afghanistan, for example, has the world’s second or third highest infant mortality rate, and an average life expectancy of 44 (Japanese live nearly twice as long, with Hong Kong a close second). Pakistan and Morocco have literacy rates barely above half the population. Saudi Arabia denies women the right to vote in local elections – and indeed most other rights; for example, they are not allowed to drive. In at least three countries on the list, it is doubtful whether the results of the most recent national election truly reflect the people’s will (%). Both Saudi Arabia and Iran strictly limit religious freedom, while Vietnam also does so to a lesser extent. And in Sudan, the government has done little or nothing to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

With friends like these, China does indeed enjoy impressive support – from a handful of the world’s most backward, repressive and corrupt countries. Here’s the list:

  • Russia – the only major nation on the list, an ostensibly democratic country where almost all media outlets are now controlled by the government, organised crime has tentacles everywhere, and local democracy has been replaced by central government appointment of provincial governors.
  • Saudi Arabia [# &] – an absolute monarchy where the royal family enforces strict Islam at home while many of its members make frequent overseas trips to enjoy the illicit pleasures they deny to their subjects.
  • Kazakhstan
  • Algeria
  • Tunisia
  • Pakistan [*]
  • Sri Lanka [%]
  • Iraq [* & @]
  • Iran [# & %]
  • Vietnam [&]
  • Afghanistan [* @ %]
  • Venezuela [@]
  • Egypt [&]
  • Sudan [* # & @]
  • Cuba
  • Morocco.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Three-Legged Tool

What is this obsession that Hong Kong shops have with giving you a free tripod every time you buy a camera? I just treated myself to a new Nikon D7000 (I still love film, but my all-time favourite film, Kodachrome 200, is no longer made, and my old film photographic gear is getting worn out), so Fortress threw in a tripod with it. When we bought a movie camera, free tripod. Compact digital camera, free tripod.

The problem is that cheap tripods are generally no use. To be effective, a tripod needs a certain degree of weight, rigidity and solidity - qualities I looked for when I bought a Cullman tripod, with the added advantage that its interchangeable shoe also fits my Cullman monopod and shoulder/table pod. Now I'm stuck with several unneeded giveaway tripods that are too flimsy and flexible for serious photography. Anyone want one?

With most things in life, it's worth searching for a bargain. But one thing I've learned in life is when it comes to tools (and a tripod is a photographic tool), always go for the best, not the cheapest.