Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Shooting themselves in the foot

The stupidity of the pro-gun lobby in America is clearly shown by their call for British journalist Piers Morgan to be deported because he attacked the appropriately named Larry Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America, on CNN.  Their petition calls for Morgan to be kicked out of the country on the grounds that by calling for gun control, he is attacking the US Constitution, the Second Amendment of which guarantees the right to bear arms (though contrary to a recent wrong-headed decision by the Supreme Court, explicitly in the context of a "well-regulated militia").

If these people are so keen on protecting the Constitution, perhaps they should read the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech.  They might also note that these are Amendments, not part of the original Constitution - the Constitution provides for its own amendment.  In other words, it implicitly allows people to attack it so they can call for it to be changed.  Furthermore, Morgan is saying little more than what most sensible Americans, from President Obama downwards, are saying, albeit in less temperate language.   I suppose if you're going to shoot the messenger, a foreign messenger makes an easier target.

Christmas Carnage

I've noticed over the years that Boxing Day usually brings a rash of headlines reporting disasters, natural or man-made.  This year the disaster season seems to have started a day early - the South China Morning Post leads today with a bus crash that killed 11 children in China, while the BBC features yet another senseless shooting in another small town in America.  This time the shooter, who subsequently killed himself, had already served a 17-year jail term for killing his grandmother.  No doubt the NRA would argue that he nevertheless had a legal right to own a gun for self-defence.  They appear to be blind to the irony that so did Nancy Lanza, and it killed her.  They also want every American school, at a time when many are already reducing teaching staff because of budget cuts, to have the extra expense of hiring armed guards - a strategy that obviously worked so well at Columbine.  The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, argues the NRA, is a good guy with a gun.  Personally I agree with the late Isaac Asimov that "violence is usually the least intelligent solution to any problem".

Back here at home, anyone who drives in Hong Kong knows that the roads are full of pedestrians seemingly hell-bent on suicide, because they wander all over the street totally oblivious to traffic.  (If they can do it wearing black clothes at night, so much the better.)  For some reason, the number of these lemmings seems to multiply around Christmas time - any idea why?

Oh well, Merry Christmas to all my readers!  And hey, hey, hey, be careful out there!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

So Far So Good

I saw a furniture shop in Hong Kong called Sofa So Good.  Quite witty, but puns are not my subject today.

English is a wonderfully ambiguous language.  This notice appears beside the lifts in the Taipo Public Library.  That's on the fifth of eight floors, so if I followed its advice, I would end up in the basement car park - that being the farthest possible destination accessible by the stairs from the fifth floor.  But I only wanted to go to the ground floor!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Alternative History

As Mo Yan accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature this week - the first Chinese author to receive it -  while carefully attempting to stay out of political controversy, it may be appropriate to post this, which I wrote a couple of years ago but never got round to completing at the time:

Beijing, 8 October 2010 - Foreign Office spokeswoman Jiang Yu, her characteristic beaming smile even broader than usual, today expressed the Chinese government's pleasure at the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. "The entire nation shares in congratulations on the award of this great honour to Liu, whose tireless work for human rights and democracy in China has endeared him to so many of our people" Jiang said. "A prestigious international honour given to any Chinese citizen is a matter of national pride for China."

Sadly the above is of course not the way it went - instead the stern-faced Jiang delivered her usual predictable  lecture about not interfering in China's international affairs, and how it was shameful that such an honour should be given to someone China regards as a criminal. (Curious how many Nobel Peace Prize winners have been regarded as criminals by their own country's governments in their time - Nelson Mandela, for example - not that I agree with all the Prize Committee's dubious decisions.)  Incidentally, if China considers Tibet part of China, then wouldn't that make Liu not the first, but the second Chinese national to receive the Nobel Peace Prize - the first being another notorious "criminal", the Dalai Lama?

Dam Nonsense

The Civil Servants General Union issued a statement a few weeks ago supporting the government's plan to build an artificial beach at Lung Mei in Taipo - a plan opposed by a broad coalition of green groups in Hong Kong because of its damaging impact on an area rich in marine life, including the increasingly rare seahorse.  Explaining the union's stance, Chairman Chung Kwok-sing said on TVB news that his members "just want the public to respect mechanisms that are put in place", saying that "the District Council is elected by residents, so if the Taipo Council approves the plan, that should represent the views of people living in Taipo".

Wrong, wrong, wrong, on several levels.  First of all,  it is naive to assume that because the District Council wants something, this necessarily reflects the views of local residents.  District Councillors often have their own agenda to pursue which may not represent the wishes of their constituents.  I have lived just a couple of miles along the road from the proposed beach site for the last ten years, and they certainly don't represent my views.  In fact, I never even heard of the proposal until it hit the news a couple of months ago, and although the beach site is in my constituency, I don't remember it being mentioned in either of our local candidates' manifestos in the last District Council election in 2011.  I suspect that many other Taipo residents were similarly unaware of the plan before and do not support it now that they know about it.

Secondly, the civil service should not be making political statements - it is not their job to decide whether something should or should not go ahead, only to implement it once it is decided to proceed.  Civil service neutrality is a key element of our political system, and needs to be understood and respected.  One who does not seem to understand it is former civil servant and now New People's Party leader in LegCo, Regina Ip, who commented on the case, saying that "in a democracy political neutrality means not favouring one party or politician over another".  Ip says this doesn't mean civil servants are not allowed to express opinions.  True, as individual members of society speaking in their private capacity; but collectively, they should stay out of arguments about whether or not a particular policy is correct.

Thirdly, it is clear that governmental consultation mechanisms in place are totally inadequate - but I will keep that for another post.

I wouldn't mind having a swimming beach close to my home, but the environmental price is too high to pay.  Why doesn't the government look into the possibility of constructing an artificial beach at the base of the Plover Cove dam, just round the corner from Lung Mei?  I have no idea whether it's possible, but if so, the damage would probably be much less since that's already an artificial environment.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Genghis Khan, Grandfather of Kublai Khan

"Renowned Beatles Influencer Dead at 92" says the Huffington Post's daily email of links to its headline stories.  The story itself is headed "Ravi Shankar Dead: Indian Sitar Virtuoso Dies at 92".  MTV's website has another version: "Ravi Shankar, Beatles Influence, Dead at 92".

Then there are numerous variations on another theme: "Sitar superstar Ravi Shankar, Father of Norah Jones, dies". "Norah Jones' Father Ravi Shankar Dies at 92 After heart Surgery".  Some headlines even manage to combine the two: "Beatles Muse Ravi Shankar, Father of Norah Jones, Dies".

Somehow I find all this offensive.  I love Norah Jones' music, but to write of her father's death as if his most noteworthy achievement was to sire her - or to teach George Harrison how to play the sitar - is insulting to a man generally recognised as the leading Indian musician of his era, so renowned that the Indian Prime Minister was among the first to pay tribute to him on his death.  It's particularly ironic when you consider that Shankar had little contact with Jones during her childhood, unlike his other daughter - also a respected musician in her own right, and the bearer of her father's musical heritage - Anoushka.

Furthermore it's insulting to the readers of these various publications to imply that they are so ignorant that they will not have heard of Shankar, or that they will not be interested in him unless there is a connection to someone they have heard of.  CNN gets it right: "Sitar legend Ravi Shankar dies at 92".  If you're a legend, you don't need any introduction.  Nor do you need to be defined by your relationship to others - Woody Guthrie's legacy stands secure with no help from Bob Dylan, for example.

There are many famous fathers of famous children.  I suspect Loudon Wainwright III is resigned to being labelled "Father of Rufus", but when Paul McCartney eventually passes on (at well past 64) will we see "Oasis Influence Paul McCartney, Father of Stella, Dies" headlines?  I hope not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Never and Future King

It seems to be taken for granted in the UK that the popular Prince William will one day become King, and that his expected child will follow him to the throne in due course.  But curiously, there seems to be almost no speculation on a possibility that could upset this scenario.

Queen Elizabeth, unlike her younger sister Margaret who drank and smoked her way into a relatively early grave, appears to take good care of herself and to be in excellent health for a woman in her late 80s, and given that she presumably gets the very best medical care available, could go on to match her mother by living to 100 or beyond.

Prince Charles has those same genes for longevity plus more on his father's side - Prince Philip is now in his 90s and still in good shape for his age.  Charles is already older than any previous heir in waiting, but there is no guarantee that he will outlive his mother.  Men tend to have shorter life expectancies than women, and there is always the possibility of accidental death - say a fall from a horse, or a plane crash.

So what if Charles were to die first?  Then by tradition the crown passes to the eldest surviving son of a deceased monarch, followed by the eldest daughter if there is no surviving son.  So instead of succession passing to William, the Queen's second son, the not enormously popular Prince Andrew, would be next in line to the throne, followed by his two daughters.  With Prince Edward and Princess Anne and their children also in the line of succession, William would move a dozen places down the list.

What would the British people make of that, I wonder?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Headline Blues

All I usually see of the South China Morning Post website is its headlines, because you need to subscribe to read the full stories on its website, and I don't.  But those are a most peculiar mix.  On the one hand, there are some - usually one or two a day - that would be more at home in Fashion Week than a serious newspaper.  Today's example, Louis Vuitton holds reopening party at Pacific Place, may be of interest to some, but it's hardly headline news.  Do the companies they promote so blatantly pay them for this publicity?

Others could come straight our of the People's Daily: Xi Jinping wins support with his forceful yet peace-driven persona sounds like a puff piece for the next Chinese President.  Or is there an implied hint of criticism here?  After all persona, the dictionary tells us, means "a person's perceived or evident personality, as that of well-known official, actor or celebrity; personal image; public role".  But more deeply, in Jungian psychology, it means "the mask or fa├žade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or the environment and not representing the inner personality of the individual".  In other words, Xi is putting on a face which is winning him public popularity, but one one knows his real thoughts.  Sounds like another leader closer to home (though he can hardly be said to be winning support!)

Coming back to the SCMP, then we have its readers' polls which invariably ask the wrong question.  Today's, for example, asks "Do you support legalising euthanasia in Hong Kong?"  I would want to see the word voluntary or involuntary in front of "euthanasia" before I could answer that question, and my answer would be different depending on which of the two words appeared.  Such polls tend to over-simplify complex issues, so that I often want to respond with an essay or a supplementary question rather than simply a "Yes or No".  Older British readers may remember Professor Joad on Brains Trust, who invariably opened his answer to any question with "it depends what you mean by..."

Thursday, December 06, 2012

There's a chance peace may come

I was struck by the juxtaposition of two headlines on the South China Morning Post website this morning.  One says

The new Communist Party general secretary, Xi Jinping, assured foreign experts in Beijing yesterday that China was not seeking hegemony and would continue to open up to the world.
Immediately below it, the next story is:

Xi calls on P.L.A. to get combat ready

The People's Liberation Army Air Force finished a large-scale, 12-day military drill in the Gobi Desert on Friday that chimed with new Central Military Commission (CMC) chief Xi Jinping's emphasis...

Ready for what?  An alarming outbreak of peace?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Talking to the oppressor

The UN General Assembly's recognition of Palestine as a "non-member observer state" is long overdue.  Every sensible person recognises that the so-called two-state solution is the only realistic way out of the Middle East impasse.  Everyone, it seems, except the US government, which continues to insist that Palestinian statehood can only come through negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

There are times in human history when an oppressed people obtains its freedom through negotiations with its oppressor - South Africa comes to mind.  But that moment usually comes only when the oppressor is under such intense pressure that the status quo is clearly no longer supportable. That generally comes as a result of years of resistance and building up strong international support.  To tell the Palestinians they cannot do everything in their power to put pressure on Israel is merely to side with the unjust Israeli occupation under which the Palestinians have suffered for more than half a century.  President Obama should know better.

Eats Stabs and Leaves

An "Eats Shoots and Leaves" moment on last night's TVB news, reporting on the arrest of a woman suspected of stabbing her husband to death:
"Police said the woman had a history of mental illness and took away the knife for further investigation."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

In Place of Knowledge

I was somewhat amused to see that one member of the new Chinese leadership line-up, Zhang Dejiang, studied Economics at Kim Il-Sung University in North Korea.  Given that communist North Korea has possibly the world's worst-run economy, unable to even keep its own people fed, this would probably be about as useful as studying Evolution at Bob Jones University in the USA.  The country is also classified by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the second most censored country in the world,

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Your Generosity Astounds Me!

Now here's an irresistible discount from a restaurant in Knutsford Terrace:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Small World

Seeing the manager of the San Francisco Giants bragging of his team being "world champions" on TV after winning the World Series, I couldn't help but want to ask him: Which countries did you beat to achieve that?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Money for Nothing

My sympathies on most issues are usually with the pan-democrats in LegCo rather than with the Hong Kong government, but their call to scrap the means test on the government's proposed Old Age Living Allowance raises a simple question that none of them has yet answered to my satisfaction.  As a taxpayer, I am happy to contribute to the support of those elderly people in real need.  But what the hell gives anyone the right to take my hard-earned money and give it to people who don't need it?

Filibuster or not, the government should stand firm on this one.

Monday, October 29, 2012

And there it is!

I've just been playing around with Blogger's template options, so this post brings a new look to the blog.  In the conversion process, Blogger somehow lost my list of blogs and quote at the right side, but they were overdue for an update anyway, so I'll work out how to restore them later.

Apart from the colour scheme, the biggest change you'll see is the picture above, which is of the beach I think of as my private beach.  Of course I don't actually own it, but it's far enough off the beaten track in Hong Kong that relatively few people know of it.  And no I'm not going to tell you where it is - if I did, it wouldn't be private, would it?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Diseased Minds

The more I think about Richard Mourdock's views, the more bizarre they seem (though he now claims they've been misinterpreted).  If he believes that the biological consequences of rape are God's will, then wouldn't it also be God's will if the rape victim contracted HIV as a result?  His God maybe; but not any god I would choose to worship.

The eminently sensible Robert Reich says that "A democracy needs at least two sane political parties".  With members like this, it's looking increasingly as if America is one sane party short of a democracy..

What's wrong with these people?

Following Todd Akin's support for punishing rape victims by making them carry the rapist's child to term in case of pregnancy, another Republican candidate has gone even further, with Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock declaring that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

What next: if pregnancy from rape is something God intended, then how about death from murder?  What's wrong with these people?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Rime of the Missing Mariner

The Hong Kong government has acted quickly to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into the Lamma ferry disaster which killed 39 people.  Its mandate is to look into the causes of the accident, review maritime safety conditions, and recommend measures to be taken to avoid similar tragedies in future.  The Commission has been given six months to complete its work.

With all due respect to the two-man panel appointed - a respected senior judge and a former Director of Audit, who will certainly perform their duties conscientiously - there seems to be a glaring omission here.  In view of the fact that much of the evidence examined will inevitably be technical in nature, wouldn't it be desirable for the panel to include at least one member with expertise in maritime affairs?  Or is this just another of the many occasions on which something that seems obvious to me does not to anyone else?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Without Exception - Except...

US Republican Representative Joe Walsh (not the rock star of the same name) is, he says, "pro-life without exception".  And in his view that means not only the widely accepted exceptions for rape and incest, but even cases where the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.  Like his party colleague Todd Akin, who famously and wrongly argued that women's bodies are able to prevent pregnancy in cases of rape, Walsh shows an alarming ignorance of female physiology.  Apparently he believes that medicine has advanced to the point where no woman's life is endangered by pregnancy.

If Walsh had been able to impose his ignorance on my sister-in-law, who suffered an ectopic pregnancy a few years ago, she would be dead now instead of the healthy mother of two young children born subsequent to the operation that saved her.  I can't help wondering why any woman would support the Republican Party when such ignorant prejudice is becoming increasingly characteristic of its leading figures.

In fact I have difficulty understanding the entire mentality of the so-called pro-life movement.  The same people who are most fiercely opposed to abortion in any circumstances are often also opposed to sex education and even to convenient access to contraception, making it likely that more women will experience unwanted pregnancies which they will seek to terminate.

But the contradictions don't end there.  If Walsh is really "pro-life without exception", why does he belong to the party that plans a massive increase in America's military budget (contrary to its claims to want to reduce the country's budget deficit).  And why is it also the party more supportive of capital punishment?  It seems that "without exception" really means "without exception unless the child is already born, in which case it's OK to put them into uniform and send them off to be cannon fodder somewhere; or OK to strap them to a gurney and inject them with lethal drugs".  And this in the name of a god who said "blessed are the peacemakers" and commanded his followers to love their enemies.

Whether all this is hypocrisy or just stupidity, I will leave you to decide.  But I hope American electors will think about it when they choose who to vote for this year.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fame At Last!

Thanks to Ulaca for naming this "Most Sensible Blog" - though I'm not sure everyone I know would agree!  Now I am going to be flooded with new readers (possibly), I may even get around to the long overdue task of updating my blogroll.  Half of those listed are probably defunct by now.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Which Side Are You On?

If you or I, as ordinary citizens, are asked whether we belong to a political party, we are perfectly entitled to answer "None of your business".  But if we put ourselves up for public office, this entitlement vanishes.  Anyone who seeks the public's trust should be required to disclose their true allegiances.

Tsang Yok-shing's refusal yesterday, during questioning by his fellow legislators, to disclose whether or not he is a member of the Chinese Communist Party makes him unfit to hold the Legislative Council Chairmanship.  Unlike the banana-throwing wing of the pan-democratic camp, whose "all or nothing" stance will leave us with nothing, I believe Hong Kong needs to cooperate and compromise with Beijing to achieve progress.  But in the nature of "One Country, Two Systems", there will be times when Hong Kong's interests and Beijing's do not coincide.  At such times we need to be confident that our public officials are standing up for our interests, not serving those of another power.  Tsang's refusal (unlike Leung Chun-ying's) to give that assurance makes him unworthy of public trust.

Monday, October 08, 2012

That Sinking Feeling

The day after the Lamma IV sinking last week, which has now claimed 39 lives, I was walking through Causeway Bay MTR station and found long swathes of one tunnel wall taken up by advertising for the Venetian Macau, which is holding a Titanic package promotion.  This features a Titanic Exhibition and a Human Bodies Exhibition.  Of course they couldn't have foreseen last week's events, but could there possibly be more insensitive timing?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Public Relations - Contrast and Compare

It will probably be many months before the public inquiry into Monday's tragic ferry disaster officially assigns blame for the fatal collision, but one thing that's already clear is that it has been a Public Relations disaster for Hongkong and Kowloon Ferry.  While Hongkong Electric was quick off the mark in bringing out senior figures - including the company's ultimate owner Li-Ka-shing - to answer questions, show concern, express sympathy for the dead and injured and their families, and promise practical assistance, it took HKF around 24 hours to put out a statement and another half a day before they held a press conference.

By this time, quotes from various sources had managed to plant an impression in the public mind - and some sections of the media - that the HKF ferry - the Sea Smooth - rammed into the Lamma IV, then sped away from the sinking vessel without trying to assist the passengers.  I suspect this is a distorted and simplistic account of the evening's events.   As Ulaca points out, we don't yet know which vessel was in the wrong place - perhaps both.  But beyond this, the captain of the Sea Smooth - which was also damaged in the collision and had injured passengers on board - may well have feared that his own vessel would sink as well.  In that case, his decision to head on to port and disembark his passengers as quickly as possible would make more sense than taking people off one sinking ship onto another.

This is of course speculation - but so is the other version of events.   Anyway, what should HKF have done that they didn't do, and which the mighty Hutchison empire's PR machine did so effectively?
  • In the event of a major incident, make senior executives available to the media as soon as possible.
  • Don't wait until all the facts are known - admit frankly that the incident is still being investigated, and express willingness to cooperate fully with any inquiry.
  • Express sympathy for the victims.
  • Offer them practical help (financial or otherwise) "without prejudice" (i.e. without acknowledging any responsibility for their plight until the facts become clearer).
  • If an unfavourable version of events is circulating, characterise this as speculation and suggest an alternative possible scenario which casts your staff in a more favourable light, while repeating that the facts are not yet known.
Pretty basic crisis management, really.

See also Joyce's post:

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Drop of the English Stuff

Methinks the Sun's reporter on the celebration of "Arthur's Day" in Ireland has had a drop too much of what she writes about.  She reports that Arthur Guinness's "ancestor Desmond Guinness and wife Penny unveiled a new Arthur Guinness Square in Leixlip".  Unless Desmond and his wife are about 300 years old, I think that should be "descendant"!

The irony in all this celebration of Ireland's most famous export is that Guinness is no longer Irish.  For some years now it's been owned by London-based multinational conglomerate Diageo, which also owns many other famous drink brands.  From the Wikipedia description, it sounds as predatory and unlovable as any other giant conglomerate.  Here in Hong Kong, it quietly reduced the strength of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout - the version of the drink long established in the territory - from 7.5% to 5% some years back without cutting the price to match.  Not very extra, is it?  Meanies!  Incidentally most of the Guinness sold here comes from the company's brewery in Malaysia - only 6,700 odd miles from Ireland.

However, with Ireland's other two big breweries - Beamish and Murphy's - also in the hands of a foreign multinational, Heineken, the small Porterhouse chain is now free to advertise itself as "Ireland's largest Irish-owned brewery".  And good luck to them - their beers are better.  The picture above was taken in their London pub in Covent Garden last month.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Big fleas have little fleas...

I'm no royalist - far from it - but it's hard not to sympathise with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge  over a French magazine's publication of topless photos of Kate.  If the Royal Family are parasites, as many would consider them, what does that make the paparazzi who prey on them?

Irish newspaper editor Michael O'Kane, who reprinted the pictures in his organ, commented that he treated them no differently than photos of other celebrities like Rihanna and Lady Gaga.  The difference is that Rihanna and Gaga's bodily exposure is a calculated move to attract more publicity in order to advance their careers.  Kate, by contrast, was sunbathing with her husband in a remote private garden, unaware that a peeping tom was lurking in the bushes a mile away with a super-telephoto lens.  If O'Kane can't understand the difference, then he's too stupid to be a journalist, let alone an editor.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

it goes without saying

Just a reminder, if you're a Hong Kong resident and care about the territory's future, get out there today and vote!

Saturday, September 08, 2012


Several decades ago I made the memorable journey across what was then the Soviet Union by the Trans-Siberian Express.  At breakfast time the Brits and Australians aboard would bring out their little pots of Marmite and Vegemite and argue the respective merits of these two concoctions.

Then I just heard a couple of days ago that some people in Singapore eat Marmite congee.  How the British Empire lingers...

Friday, September 07, 2012

Skewered by his own petard

Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention urged voters to give President Barack Obama another 4 years in office.  Clinton compared Obama's position with his own presidential term, arguing that Obama inherited a worse mess than he did and therefore needed more time to correct it.

According to last night's TVB News, the Republican response was to claim that Clinton owed his successful management of the economy to his ability to cooperate with the Republicans.  Since the current Republican leadership has largely refused to cooperate meaningfully with Obama on anything at all, this is tantamount to admitting their own responsibility for Obama's economic failures.  But I suspect they are too stupid to realise the irony of their own argument.

Of course, stupidity is not a one-sided prerogative.  The Democratic leadership, ignoring vocal opposition from the floor of the Convention, forced through an addition to the party platform declaring both that "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel" and that "Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations" - otherwise known as wanting to have your cake and eat it, and definitely unhelpful to Middle East peace efforts, not to mention contrary to international law which recognises the pre-1967 borders under which East Jerusalem is not part of Israel.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Awe-ful error

How could I have published yesterday's post and not seized the opportunity to make fun of the other indispensable word in the teenage vocabulary (not just by Americans, though they tend to be the worst offenders)?  I, like, totally apologise for this awesome omission.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

How to speak American

Overheard in Delft, the Netherlands, recently - an American visitor looking at an old church tower with a pronounced tilt to one side: "It's, like, totally leaning!".

Apparently "totally" is American for about 2 metres from the vertical.  Or like it, anyway.

Incidentally the artist Vermeer is buried in the church, which is totally still standing.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Unhygienic Europe

Commonly observed in Europe: woman (or sometimes man) sits down at a restaurant table and casually deposits bag on the ground beside seat, down among the doggie doo and discarded chewing gun. Later picks up bag and places it on lap to get something out. Subsequently rests hands on lap before eating with same hands.

I hope I'm not being racist here, just making a cultural observation, but the Hong Kong way of finding a spare chair, window ledge or other relatively clean surface on which to deposit one's bag does seem considerably more hygienic. Yet if you accused the European woman of being dirty she'd probably be shocked and deny it vigorously. Every culture has its blind spots.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Money for nothing and waste for the landfill

Many years ago in 1986 I bought one board lot of shares in the Cafe de Coral fast food restaurant chain when the company had its IPO.  A few years later I sold the shares, but the company still  kept sending me dividend cheques and reports.  I wrote to the share registrar telling them I'd sold the shares, but they replied that the new owner had not registered them and therefore so far as they were concerned I was still the registered owner.  I have no idea why someone would buy shares and not bother to register them or collect the dividends, but the result is that for 20-odd years I have been receiving dividends on shares I no longer own.

Over those years, the company has done well (unlike other shares I have owned - one company went bust; another's shares are so worthless they would cost me more in broker's fees to sell than the amount I could sell them for) - well enough that I wish I'd bought more shares in the first place - 25 years of increased turnover, and continuous profit growth until Hong Kong's minimum wage law finally dented this record.

However, the downside of still receiving the dividends is that I still receive the company's reports.  These have grown with the business - having once been magazine-sized, the latest is 320 pages long and the thickness of a telephone directory, half in English and half in Chinese.  How many of these pages do I read?  Just one - the highlights, to see how the company is doing and what dividend it will pay.

I strongly suspect that many small shareholders only glance at the highlights, which means that most of these pages are totally wasted.  Ironically, the cover of Cafe de Coral's latest annual report depicts a grove of fruit trees - ironic because at least that many trees were probably cut down to print it.  And while my copy goes straight to the recuycle bin, not all shareholders are so environmentally consciopus and a fair percentage of copies probably end up in landfills.

What can be done about this enormous waste of resources, with its negative impact on the environment?  Hong Kong Stock Exchange rules permit a company to print its report in English only, with a separate Chinese translation available to shareholders on request, but so far as I know, few companies take advantage of this.  But even that is not enough - why can't companies do as the London Exchange allows its listed companies to do: send out a brief highlights document only and send the full report only to shareholders who specifically request it?  After all, every company's full report is posted on its website anyway.

If we truly want to be "Asia's World City", shouldn't we be taking better care of the world?.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bad Dreams

The official video celebrating the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong's reunion with China - "Memorable Moments" - perfectly illustrates the widening gap between government rhetoric and on-the-street reality in the SAR.  Almost the first shot depicts three goose-stepping PLA soldiers.  Whatever else Hong Kong people may dream about, it's certainly not the PLA, except perhaps in their nightmares on June 4th.

Far more in tune with the city's current mood is the parody version, "Who's Killing Our Dreams?"  It was perhaps with this kind of production in mind that the government recently tried - fortunately without success in the face of fierce public opposition - to introduce an amendment to the copyright ordinance that would have outlawed parodies.  They will probably try again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Plodding towards Democracy

Isn't it a depressing commentary on Hong Kong's progress towards the democracy supposedly promised to us by the Basic Law that the annual July 1st democracy march has, after ten years, become a local institution?  Far from moving towards democracy, we seem to be going backwards, with the forcing through LegCo of the government's iniquitous by-elections bill.

One new (to me, anyway) feature of this year's march was the number of people carrying the old colonial flag of Hong Kong - an extremely blunt critique of 15 years of Chinese rule.  I wonder what Queen Victoria was thinking about it, up there on her throne above the masses?

And how on earth do the police come up with their figures for the number of participants on this thing?  Their estimate of 62,000 is roughly 1,5 times the capacity of the Hong Kong Stadium.  Now, visualise everyone in the stadium, plus half as many again, and compare that with the turnout for the march.  A friend of mine was one of the first people to reach the government offices around 5:30 pm.  I didn't get there until 8pm, with at least a third of the procession still behind me.  The organisers' estimate of 400,000 may be overstated, but it's certainly closer to reality than the "official" figure.  Maybe the Hong Kong government wants to avoid frightening the Beijing government by letting them know just how pissed off local people really are with their rulers.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The more things change, the more they remain the same

  • Women in Hong Kong's population: 51%.
  • Women in incoming Chief Executive CY Leung's cabinet: 5.56%.
  • One of CY Leung's election promises: to create a more inclusive society.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set

While Europe's economy continues to self-destruct, the continent seems to be ever-expanding geographically.  Consider the evidence:
  • Turkey, only a small part of which is in Europe, is applying for membership of the European Union.  While it has no current intention of doing so, it is possible that the Russian Federation, the majority of which is in Asia, could do the same.
  • Israel has long competed as a European country in international sports (mainly because most of its Middle Eastern neighbours don't want to welcome it to regional contests so long as it continues to oppress the Palestinians).
  • The BBC News website a couple of days ago listed the Qatar shopping mall fire under "Europe" rather than "The Middle East".
  • The recent Eurovision Song Contest was hosted by Azerbaijan, which last time I looked was closer to Central Asia, being east of Turkey and just north of Iran..
So where does Europe end?  And where will it end if this process continues?

At least we don't need to worry about what will happen to Hong Kong in 2047 when the "One Country, Two Systems" agreement ends.  At Europe's current rate of expansion, by then we will probably be part of the EU already!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Is insulting Hong Kong people good for business?

Following the recent Dolce & Gabbana case, where the Italian fashion chain kicked up a storm by telling local people that only mainland visitors were allowed to photograph its flagship store in Canton Road, another international fashion chain appears to share the view that insulting Hong Kong people is a smart business move.  French chain Agnes b opened a new cafe in Tseung Kwan O with menus in English and simplified Chinese (as used on the mainland) only, triggering another wave of outrage on the local blogscape.  This kind of decision can only exacerbate the growing feeling among Hongkongers that mainland money is making them second class citizens in their own home.

Dolce & Gabbana took weeks to eventually apologise.  Agnes b has been quicker off the mark and already promised to change its menus to include traditional Chinese.

What I find ironic is that these luxury chains spend millions of dollars each year to build and promote their brand names around the world, only to discredit them through such thoughtless and discriminatory actions.  Are they totally brainless, or are these decisions taken thousands of miles away by executives with no sensitivity to the local cultures of the places where they operate?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Houston, we have a problem

Memo to Hong Kong's TV stations: Yes, I know you will want to pay tribute to the late Whitney Houston, and that's fine, but could you please not do so by subjecting us to the 4,378th rerun of The Bodyguard?  She did make other movies, you know - why not give Hong Kong people a chance to see them?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In sickness or in health

Sitting waiting to be served in the bank a couple of days ago, I was idling through Fortune Magazine's Special Issue Investment Guide 2012 when I came across this choice quote from Rajiv Jain:
High quality equities are the place to be - the Coca-Colas, the McDonald's, the BATs of the world.

(For those who don't know, BAT is British-American Tobacco.)

It's a sad commentary on the world that the companies making healthy profits in a sick economy are those dedicated to filling their customers with unhealthy crap.

Monday, January 23, 2012


No matter how many pictures of trees Chinachem may erect on their construction sites, the reality is they are covering another bit of Hong Kong with concrete. I know we need more housing, but let's not pretend that Hong Kong's future will be green unless we make some big changes.

Underwater meditation

First of all "Kung Hei Fat Choi" and a happy year of the dragon to all my readers. Or perhaps I should say "Kung Si Fat Choi" in case a disgruntled mainland professor scolds me for not using Mandarin.

A heading on the South China Morning Post website today says "Old habits threaten giant mantra ray". Presumably the creature swims along the seabed chanting "Om mani padme hum" to itself.

But it's not only in Hong Kong that one finds such errors. The once-impeccable BBC News website has the heading "Murray though as opponent retires" today. I guess they are though with sub-editing.

Finally someone has reviewed this blog and "damned me with faint praise". While calling it "a very stereotypical HK blog by a male expat from the British Isle" (there's only one?), he does at least concede that my writing "is at least borderline literary". For these small mercies, thanks. Happy new year!