Sunday, January 23, 2011

Freepost - Bugs can "bee" useful

Hong Kong readers of the South China Morning Post online will be aware that unless they have a paid subscription to its website, clicking on a link on its main page will only bring up the first couple of sentences of a story, with the rest supposedly available to subscribers only. But try this:
  • Copy the headline of a story (I did it with "China's mappers take on world and get lost today.) and paste it into Google.
  • Do a Google search for the story.
  • Click on the resulting link back to the Post.
In all 3 main Windows browsers (IE, Firefox and Chrome) this gives you the entire story without payment, not just the limited version.

Making It Better
And here is another story showing that bugs can "bee" useful. Please sign the petition to save these undervalued creatures who are vital to our food supply.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Misunderstanding China and Economics

The South China Morning Post reports that "newly elected Republican lawmakers are itching to act against what they see as an undervalued yuan that is costing American jobs".

They are unlikely to have any more success in changing China's course on this matter than the previous Democratic majority did. All they are doing is displaying both their lack of understanding of China and their simplistic ignorance of basic economics. There is no mystery over China's policy - Chinese leaders have made it clear for years now that they are willing to let the yuan rise gradually and to move step by step towards making it freely convertible - both of which they have been doing. But anyone who knows China is aware that what its leaders fear most is any sudden disruption that could lead to mass social disorder - and an abrupt jump in the value of China's currency could trigger exactly this by throwing millions out of work.

But if by some unlikely chance the Republicans did achieve their objective, what then? In the short term, there would be a sharp rise in inflation in the US (and Hong Kong, incidentally) as all the China-made goods on supermarket shelves (which these days means most manufactured products) jumped in price. And in the longer term, would all those jobs in China come back to the US? Not likely, with so many other cheap labour countries lining up with open arms - far more probable that they would move to Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Bangladesh, South Africa, wherever ...Meanwhile, those products that America does still produce would become more expensive in China, throwing even more Americans out of work.

Hong Kong, with its currency peg to the US dollar, would suffer collateral damage from all this. I have always maintained that, while the institution of the peg was a necessary - indeed, vital - move at the time, it should have been to a basket of currencies and not to one alone. America was at the time our main trading partner, but changing times have seen the Mainland fill that role. The reality is, no matter how much our leaders may deny any plans for a change (as they have to do, or the currency speculators would be circling overhead like vultures), sooner or later we will probably have to realign our currency to the renminbi rather than the US dollar. The only question is when.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass

The Hong Kong government's decision to implement a pilot project for glass recycling in East Kowloon is a waste of time. The fact is there is absolutely no need for a pilot scheme when glass recycling has already been proven to work well in countries such as Britain and Canada for more than two decades. What we need is not a timid pilot project but a full-scale recycling scheme for the entire SAR immediately, before the government tries to steal any more of our irreplaceable country parks as landfills.

If we're truly "Asia's World City", why aren't we leading the world instead of always lagging lamely behind?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Going Chrome

I use Firefox as my default browser, but I also use Chrome quite a lot (and IE only for those few sites that insist on it). This morning my PC crashed. When it recovered, all my Chrome bookmarks had vanished - many of them marking sites from which I planned to download files. The backup bookmarks file (.bak) was also empty and therefore useless.

When I went to the Chrome help page for a clue on how to recover the bookmarks, I found that this problem has been repeatedly reported by users for more than a year, but Google appears to have done nothing about it. Their corporate motto may be "Don't do evil", but it seems there is a coda to that: "... or much good either." Maybe I should stick to Firefox in future.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

A Public Life

First of all, let me wish all my readers (who seem to have increased dramatically in number recently for some reason) a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

The start of 2011 was saddened here in Hong Kong by the news that Szeto Wah died today. Szeto was a leader of the movement for democracy in both Hong Kong and the mainland who earned respect on both sides of the political divide for his steadfast dedication to his principles.

For myself, I shall remember the time he sat across from me on the MTR late one night. While other Legislative Council members (as he was then) generally ride around in fancy cars, Szeto, an unassuming man, was happy to use public transport. He will be missed.

Rule of Flaw

Further to my post about the absentees from the recent Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, it later emerged that the Philippines was also among those countries refusing their invitations to attend - one of only three democracies to do so (the others being Colombia and Ukraine).

It is hardly necessary to comment on the irony of this decision coming from the son of a father who was murdered for opposing the Marcos dictatorship and a mother who led the successful People Power revolt to overthrow it and restore democracy - for which she herself was nominated for the Peace Prize. But why was this decision made?

Reports suggest several reasons: close trading ties with China; a desire to buy Chinese weaponry; a desire not to be sen as caving in to American pressure (always a sensitive issue in this former US colony); and a wish not to further offend China when the Manila bus siege has already left scars on the relationship. After the Philippines government initially suggested that its Ambassador in Oslo had a "scheduling conflict" (as if they couldn't send a substitute), Philippine President Benigno Aquino Jr. did eventually come up with a more noble reason (though qqually implausible, suggests one commentator) - the decision was, he explained, intended not to prejudice the fate of five Filipino citizens on death row in China by angering the Beijing government.

It is not yet clear whether this will lead to any leniency deal for the five, but neither Aquino nor the Beijing authorities, who publicly welcomed the decision, appear to have noticed the deeper irony at work here. The Philippines' decision makes it clear that they believe political relationships, rather than judicial decisions, will determine the fate of the convicted Filipinos. In other words, they are agreeing with Liu Xiaobo's argument that China lacks judicial independence and the rule of law. So by supporting the Chinese government in its objections to Liu receiving the Prize, they have unwittingly reinforced Liu's case against that same government.