Sunday, December 29, 2013

Future news

Hong Kong, 1 January 2015: the Hong Kong Beggars' Union today announced the signing of an agreement to equip its members with Octopus smart card terminals.  Commenting on the deal, the Union's Chairman said "Since the launch of the Octopus card, local people are no longer carrying much small change around in their pockets.  This has hurt our members' income, as they generally rely on the odd coin being dropped into their begging bowls.  This agreement will bring them into the hi-tech era and make it easy for donors to give with a simple wave of their card."

It is believed that the new terminals will also benefit Hong Kong's buskers.  However, it is feared that it will do little to improve their woeful lack of musical ability.

A belated Merry Christmas to my readers!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Zero Sum

According to TVB news a few days ago, a new 180 km pipeline being built across Israel and the Palestinian territory to Jordan will carry "some 200 cubic metres of water per year".  The pipeline will cost US$400 million, which seems a little expensive to transport one eighth of an Olympic swimming pool's worth of water annually - until you check the story elsewhere and realise that TVB left six zeroes off the annual volume to be carried.  What a mistake-a to make-a!

Desperate Times Call for Mediocre Men

In what is clearly an orchestrated campaign, a former government minister and a failed CE candidate have both suggested in the past few days that former Financial Secretary Antony Leung - who has suddenly re-emerged in public after a period of keeping a low profile - would make a good Chief Executive of Hong Kong.  Apparently the tycoon sector want to put someone of their own forward as an alternative to the presumed democratic candidate (if we're lucky) plus whoever gets the Beijing bootlicker nomination to replace the doesn't-have-a-hope-in-hell-of-re-election CY Leung - but they must be pretty desperate if they select someone who's already left the government in disgrace once.  Perhaps they think the Hong Kong public suffers from the same kind of memory loss that afflicted Leung when he raised vehicle taxes shortly after acquiring and apparently forgetting an expensive new motor, or perhaps they think Leung's fragrant wife compensates for his own shortcomings as a candidate.  Or - worst case scenario - they already know Beijing will put a block on any truly democratic candidate, and figure the Hong Kong public will respond by voting for anyone who isn't too visibly far up Beijing's backside, rather than the Party's anointed one.  Scary thought...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Don't Bank on Timeliness

This morning I received two emails from Standard Chartered Bank informing me that two payment transactions I set up online had failed (because I accidentally set the wrong "pay from" account) - on 25 November!  Did it really take them 3 weeks to notice?  The email might have been helpful on the day, but by this stage I had long ago noticed it on my last statement and rectified the matter already.  Is this their idea of real-time banking?!

The Spoiled Brat of the South China Sea

In Britain, we liken this sort of behaviour to the spoiled kid who picks up the soccer ball and runs away with it because he doesn't like the way the game is going.  There is a well-established mechanism under international law for adjudicating on competing territorial claims.  If China is so confident of the validity of its claims to enormous chunks of the South China Sea, it should not be afraid to follow the rules, as the Philippines is doing in this case.  Otherwise we can draw our own conclusions.

[Story from South China Morning Post]

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Contradiction at the Heart of the Government's Case

As Carrie Lam, Elsie Leung and other cheerleaders continue to argue for the government's stance on electoral reform, they also continue to gloss over the serious contradiction at the heart of it.  On the one hand they insist that any reform must comply with the Basic Law, which requires that a "broadly representative" nominating committee should nominate candidates for election by universal suffrage as Chief Executive of Hong Kong.  Most of us could live with that; the problem arises when they insist that the formation of the committee must also comply with the ruling by the NPC Standing Committee in 2007 that it be formed "with reference to the existing election committee" that selected CE candidates for the last "election".

According to those who are supposed to know, this means in Chinese legal parlance that the nominating committee, while it may be larger, should be of similar composition to the "four sectors" making up the election committee.  The difficulty here is that, other than those with a vested interest in the old system, no one in Hong Kong recognises the election committee as coming anywhere close to being "broadly representative"; in fact, the very opposite.  So if we have a nominating committee that follows the NPC ruling, we will not have one that is in any genuine sense "broadly representative" , and therefore it cannot be compliant with the Basic Law.

Apart from providing ample fodder for a judicial review, failure by the government to address this contradiction seems almost guaranteed to bring on Occupy Central.  Is that what they want?

Pie Eyed

Memo to the person who hit Financial Secr5etary John Tsang with an egg at a recent public forum: don't waste good food on bad politicians.

Tsang's boss, Chief Executive CY Leung, for whom the missile was probably intended, subsequently said that "such incidents won't happen in mature democracies".  This is yet another factual inexactitude from a government that produces rather a lot of them - in fact throwing eggs, pies, paint, and more recently glitter, at public figures is a time-honoured tradition in many mature democracies, including the UK, France, Belgium, Canada, and of course the USANotable victims have included Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates and even the King of Sweden.

Despite claims that such incidents are immoral, violent, and even constitute terrorism, their intent is clearly symbolic rather than to cause physical harm (though in a few tragic cases, they may do so); the aim is to leave those who are perceived by the thrower as dishonest, immoral or self-important looking ridiculous, deflated and humiliated.  As such, most Hong Kong government ministers are clearly prime targets for such treatment.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Nothing Specific

Yet another reason why the governance of Hong Kong is so bad: according to TVB news a couple of days back, while defending the government against a court case brought by a social welfare recipient, the government's lawyer said the government had "no specific policy objectives" for its private rental housing subsidy scheme.  So in other words, they are handing out our money with no particular purpose in mind...

I guess it's close enough to Christmas now to say "Bah! Humbug!"

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hoist on their own petard - or are we?

The recent visit to Hong Kong by Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee (BLC) of the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), appears to have been primarily intended to let the Hong Kong public know the permitted limits of our long-promised democracy.  As a China Daily article by devoted Beijing acolyte Lau Nai-keung makes clear, what this means in practice is that Beijing will tell us in advance who we're allowed to vote for to save it the necessity of telling us after the election that we voted for the wrong person - a precaution Lau considers necessary because of Hong Kong's "disrespect towards Beijing's goodwill".

Unusually for anyone on the establishment side, Lau does acknowledge that the interests of Hong Kong and Beijing may not always coincide, a fact he describes as "embarrassing", though the only solution he offers is "a capable CE to keep both sides happy".  But how is this fantasy figure to be chosen?  While there has been talk of it being a legal requirement that any candidate "love China and love Hong Kong" in order to be qualified for election, no law has yet been devised anywhere that can mandate or verify love.

It appears from comments by another Chinese official,  Hao Tiechuen, that the required "love of China" may be ensured through loyalty to the country's constitution, presumably by requiring candidates to swear some sort of oath of loyalty - something he describes as an internationally accepted convention.   Hao is of course wrong in saying that loyalty to a country's constitution is generally a requirement for election in other countries - take a look at the Scottish Parliament, for example - only that changes to that constitution should be achieved through constitutional means.

The fundamental problem here is that the Chinese leadership itself does not live by what it proposes.  The Chinese constitution guarantees - in theory - human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of demonstration, and property rights; all values dear to us in Hong Kong.  But not only do the authorities regularly ride roughshod over all of these rights in practice; and not only do the courts lack the power to overthrow a law as unconstitutional; but a substantial faction within the leadership regards the very concept of what it calls "constitutionalism" as a Western-imposed affront to "socialist" values [with Chinese characteristics, of course.]

So where does that leave Hong Kong?  In the contradictory position of requiring a potential leader to demonstrate loyalty to China's constitution in order to assure the Chinese leadership of his or her deference to them, while they themselves ignore the very same constitution with impunity.  You couldn't make this stuff up.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Chronic Blogger

In his Not the South China Morning Post blog today, George Adams takes the opportunity to promote one of his books: Le Retour de Suzie Wong (The Return of Suzie Wong) in French.  My schoolboy French being pretty rusty, I put the linked review through Google Translate.  The sentence " Il tient aussi un blog satirique, The Not South China Morning Post, où il chronique l’actualité locale." is saying, I believe, that his blog chronicles local news (when not busy sniping at other local bloggers) - according to Google, however, "It also takes a satirical blog, The Not South China Morning Post, where chronic local news."

Many would agree that the local news is indeed chronic these days, but I think if I'd turned in that translation, my old French teacher, the diminutive but formidable (say that word the French way) Miss Adams, would have marked it "must try harder". 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

These are not the droids you're looking for

It appears that Chief Executive CY Leung has a new tactic for dealing with differing views.  Following his recent speech suggesting that the government had already explained the HKTV issue and we were just too dumb to understand it, last night's TVB news reported that "The CE also said thee were no more concerns about the plans for developing the Northeast New Territories".

As my wife said "Not for him maybe, only for everyone else in Hong Kong."  Still, if you can't solve the problems, pretending they no longer exist is an interesting alternative.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Natural Ignorance

Just a few days before Hong Kong's annual Gay Pride March attracted a crowd twice the size of last year's, it was reported that "the Liberal Party conducted a survey in which they found over 60% of the 1,200 respondents [as always with such figures, I wonder how this sample was selected?] objected to homosexuality and transgenderism".  Well, tough!  I object to typhoons, but that doesn't mean they don't happen.

In a city which is well behind the times in terms of waking up to equal rights, the result is hardly surprising.  What is sad is that instead of taking a lead in trying to enlighten the public, Liberal Party legislator Felix Chung endorsed the findings, describing these conditions as "anti-natural".  The reality, however, is that homosexual behaviour is observed in nature across a wide array of animal species.  Put simply, scientific observation tells us that like it or not, it is natural for gay people to be gay.  I am naturally attracted to women; Elton John is naturally attracted to men - that doesn't make either of us unnatural.

As for transgenderism, I suspect some of the prejudice here comes from simple-mindedness - many people want to slot everyone into two neat categories because it's easier to think that way.  But nature is not so precise - many babies are born with varying degrees of gender ambiguity, often "tidied up" surgically in infancy, though this policy is increasingly being questioned.  There is nothing new about this - one of our words for intersex individuals dates back to ancient Greece.  There have been notable transsexuals throughout history, including possibly a Roman Emperor and allegedly a Pope.  Some people may not even be aware of their true gender, as in a recent Hong Kong case.

So while some countries are amending their laws to recognise these realities, some Hong Kong politicians are still attacking natural phenomena as "unnatural".  This only demonstrates that the natural state of Liberal Party politicians is ignorance. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The East is Multicoloured

Modern China - Part 2 of an occasional series
I took this picture of a group of Chinese children on a school trip to the Three Kingdoms City theme park in Wuxi a few days ago.  Looking at it this morning, I was reminded that not too long ago, every China tour involved two invariable stops: one at a Friendship Store (remember them?), and the other at a school where a bunch of kids dressed like this
would sing songs such as "The East Is Red" glorifying the Communist Party and the "Great Helmsman" Chairman Mao.  [Pic borrowed from]

One or two generations later, ignore the facial features and the kids in my pic could be anywhere from Sapporo to Sacramento.  While China today has many problems - massive pollution, widescale corruption and gross abuses of human rights - for the average Chinese person who does not challenge the (still nominally Communist) system, life has probably never been more colourful nor offered so many choices.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Cry "havoc!" and let slip the dogs of competition

The government continues to talk obvious nonsense about its decision to deny a TV licence to HKTV.  According to TVB news a few days ago, Exco Convenor Lam Woon-kwong "said a consultant's report showed that approving all three applications could have forced other stations to shut down, resulting in havoc in the television market".

Deconstructed into plain English, what this means is that if we allow a potentially more popular TV station to open up, it may attract so much advertising that it drives a less popular station out of business.  Imagine this absurd logic applied to, say, restaurants: "if we allow a new restaurant to open up and serve better food, people may stop eating at an existing restaurant which serves less tasty food".  That's not havoc; it's how markets are supposed to work.

Then there's Chief Executive CY Leung's convoluted statement yesterday, which I won't try to deconstruct because it makes no sense at all.  What he seems to be trying to say is "We've already told you the answer, so I'm surprised you don't get it.  Now stop asking the question"  This could represent a whole new tactic in keeping the public uninformed.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

History Repeats Itself

Modern China - Part 1 of an occasional series.
Shanghai: The American Concession

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Another great Hong Kong achievement

Interesting to see that Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars rates number 2 in CNN Travel's list of The World's Twelve Worst Tourist Traps.  Can someone please publish a Chinese translation where it will be seen by prospective visitors from you-know-where?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

There is Not Here or Is It?

Since leaders of Hong Kong's Occupy Central movement met with a former President of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party recently, they have been subjected to a flood of vilification by the usual pro-establishment suspects here -- despite the fact that another former DPP President held talks with Chinese officials in Hong Kong not long ago.

Beijing has always insisted that Taiwan, despite its de facto independence since 1949 and half a century of Japanese occupation earlier in the 20th century, remains an integral and inseparable part of China.  But yesterday Charles Yeung, Chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, was quoted by TVB news as saying that he is worried about Occupy Central organisers working with "foreign political forces".

So are the Taiwanese lost children of China who should be clasped to the forgiving bosom of the motherland, or subversive foreign troublemakers who need to be kept at a safe distance?  I think we should be told.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Odd One Out

So, goodbye Lou Reed.  According to Brian Eno, not many people bought the Velvet Underground & Nico album first time around, but everyone who did went out and started a band.  Sorry Brian, I guess I'm the exception that proves the rule.  But I've been a Lou fan ever since, and apart from seeing him live in the 1970s, I was lucky enough to catch the Velvets reunion tour in 1993.  Though my original copy of the first album is long gone, I also own more Velvets box sets (vinyl and CD) than I have space for.

Lou was notoriously tough on journalists, who commonly asked him stupid questions and got things wrong (not that he was above feeding them contradictory stories for the hell of it), so he would not have been too surprised to see the BBC report that he was survived by his second wife  - in fact Laurie Anderson was his third, not counting the mysterious Rachel.

There are millions of musicians, but only a handful change the direction of music: Lou was one.  And even Susan Boyle recorded one of his songs...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stop Wining

Isn't it time LegCo stopped bashing poor old Timothy Tong?  Far from spending public money unwisely, it is obvious that the former ICAC chief was merely trying to single-handedly rescue Hong Kong's wine trade in the face of slumping high-end sales in the mainland.  Hong Kong has, after all, been declared a wine hub, and as we all know, hub status is sacred in the eyes of the government.  Anything that threatens hubness must be defeated, so far from being reviled, surely Tong should be awarded the GBM (Great Boozer Medal) for his valiant efforts. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

A good talking to

If the story that some mainland students at City University signed up for a lecture advertised as being presented in Cantonese then insisted the lecturer speak Mandarin is true, it suggests there is something wrong with the university's admission criteria.  Clearly anyone too stupid to understand that "presented in Cantonese" means "presented in Cantonese" lacks the intelligence to benefit from a university education, and should never have been given a place.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Selective Infection, Casablanca Style

TVB news reported on a Consumer Council study of toilet paper which found that one brand, BBB, was contaminated with bacteria that could cause infection.  However, "the distributor insisted that only the tested batch had the bacteria".

Yeah, sure, whatever.  Of all the toilet rolls in all the bathrooms in all the world, those pesky little bacteria just had to walk into that one...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

TV Public and Private

Credit to the Hong Kong government where it's due: watching the Legislative Council TV feed this morning, I noticed that they now show a sign language interpreter in the corner of the screen.  My memory may be at fault, but I think this is new - long overdue, of course, but welcome all the same.

Unfortunately, the government's limitless capacity for ineptitude is on full display in another matter: the granting of TV broadcasting licenses to only two of the three applicants - and one of them the notoriously incompetent PCCW.  What makes this unacceptable is the government's refusal to let the public know the reason for the decision.  They have hinted that it's because they don't feel the failed applicant, HKTV, can succeed financially, but in a supposedly free market, why not let all three have a go and fight it out in the marketplace for viewers?  "Let the market decide" is supposed to be Hong Kong's credo, isn't it?  If one fails, it won't be the first time - remember CTV?  (And it won't necessarily be one of the three newcomers - though the mighty TVB is probably unruffled, ATV will certainly not welcome increased competition.)

At the same time, Commerce Secretary Greg So (who seems increasingly intent on competing with Paul Chan and Eddie Ng for the "minister least trusted by the public" title) argues that the government cannot release the reason because some of the information supplied by the three companies is confidential.  Why?  They are applying for a share of a public resource - the limited bandwidth available for broadcast television - so why doesn't the public have a right to know on what basis that resource is allocated?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let me see if I've got this straight...

So, after Hong Kong property prices rise into the stratosphere, making a home unaffordable for anyone who doesn't have one already, the government finally recognises that the market is "overheated".  To fix this, they introduce extra stamp duty on property, making it even more unaffordable.

With me so far?  Good.  Now after months of this, the market is almost dead.  No one can afford to buy, so no one can sell.  So some developers start making promotional offers, including stamp duty rebates, in an effort to get the market restarted.  This, our esteemed Chief Executive solemnly declares on last night's news, "could have a negative impact on the property market".

So, let me see if I've got this straight.  The government makes property more expensive in order to make it more affordable.  Then when this bizarre policy somehow actually starts working, with developers effectively lowering their prices, far from welcoming this, the government pronounces it to be unhelpful.
You couldn't make this stuff up, could you?  Does anyone understand what's happening?  I can see two possible explanations:
  1. The government doesn't know what the hell it's doing; or
  2. despite its proclaimed commitment to more affordable housing, the government is secretly conspiring to keep prices out of reach of aspiring homeowners.
Take your pick...  I plump for number 1, but this being Hong Kong, number 2 isn't totally unthinkable.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lies, Damned Lies, and People's Daily Statistics

I have studied statistics three times in my life: for my Economics A Level, my BSc and my MBA.  Each time, I have learned enough to pass the required exam, then promptly forgotten most of it.  What has stuck with me, however, is a profound awareness of how statistical evidence can be twisted to support a point of view, and consequently a deep scepticism about many of the statistics I read.  Whenever I see statistics being cited to support an argument, I instinctively start to ask questions.
On TVB news last night, Caroline Mak, Chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, was attempting to argue that the influx of mainland shoppers was beneficial to Hong Kong.  In ten years, she said, retail sales in Hong Kong have gone up by 158%.  However, she admitted that the number of retail sector staff has only risen by 22%, and the number of shops by 13.5%.  This undermines her own argument, since it reinforces the belief of most Hong Kong people that the influx of mainland shoppers has done little to spread prosperity in the SAR - creating only a small number of extra jobs at the grassroots level, while bringing massive profits to the luxury goods chains and a handful of big commercial landlords.

Mak also argued that "retail space is often overlooked in land planning".  Really?  How come every single government proposal for the Wanchai-Central Shopping Mall Bypass included retail facilities, even though the government insisted that it made only the minimum necessary encroachment on the harbour?  How come the airport acquired a second terminal which serves more shops than airlines?  Let's get real here.

Even more unreal is the People's Daily article arguing that Hong Kong needs more mainland immigrants for its economic development.  Setting aside the article's (deliberate?) misquoting of Professor Chow Po-chung of CUHK, its statistics are highly questionable.  The education level of new immigrants, it claims, is continuing to rise, with 17% now having received tertiary education against 28% of the existing Hong Kong population.  However, this is an inappropriate comparison.  The Hong Kong figure includes many old people now in their 70s. 80s and above who never had the opportunity for higher - or sometimes any - education.  Since most new arrivals are in younger age groups, the appropriate comparison would be against the corresponding age groups in Hong Kong, and would certainly be far less favourable to the immigrants.

Much is being made of the need for more workers to support Hong Kong's growing elderly population, and the People's Daily suggests that the influx of new arrivals can help alleviate this burden.  However, Hong Kong government figures show that the majority of these arrivals fall into low income groups, with over half seeking public housing, and a large percentage also seeking to receive social security.  In other words, far from helping relieve the pressure on Hong Kong's beleaguered middle class, they are in fact adding to its burden.  Furthermore, the percentage from provinces other than Guangdong is growing, meaning that their children need additional educational support to thrive in local schools.

Disclaimer: this article only presents statistical analysis for academic research purposes.  I cannot suggest that pouring large numbers of lowly-skilled people into what is already one of the world's most crowded places may be a bad idea, in case I am accused of prejudice against them.  (But it is.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Not very appealing

Is there anyone left at the Pro-China Morning Post who knows English?  This headline on their website suggests not.

Nancy Kissel can appeal all she likes against her husband's murder, but that won't bring him back from the dead.  What they presumably mean is appeal against her conviction for her husband's murder - a very different thing.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Hidden in plain sight

The recent article by British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire saying that Britain stands ready to help Hong Kong in its move towards full universal suffrage has brought the expected response from the pro-Beijing crowd, all indignant at the idea that China could possibly have anything to learn from foreigners (funny how many of them, including Chief Executive CY Leung, send their kids to British schools - not to mention that China officially proclaims its allegiance to a political creed originated by a German Jew).

NPC member Rita Fan, one of the many leading political figures in Hong Kong who loyally served the British for years before suddenly discovering their latent Chinese patriotism in 1997, warned people not to be naive about offers of help, saying her experience tells her that governments always have their own hidden agendas (TVB news, 5 October).  So Rita, what's the hidden agenda behind all these offers of "help" and "cooperation" that Hong Kong keeps receiving from your friends up North?

In reality, most "hidden" agendas are pretty transparent.  In this case, Britain has several interests: to ensure the continued successful implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the "one country, two systems" principle , lest it be accused of having sold out the people of Hong Kong; to be seen as a champion of democracy; and (most importantly) to maintain stability and the rule of law in Hong Kong in order to keep it safe for continued British trade and investment.

Meanwhile  China seeks to earn the love of Hong Kong people and give them a warm cuddly feeling towards the motherland, with a long-term aim of transitioning from "two systems" to "one country"  So far, many of its efforts in that direction seem to have backfired; flooding us with mainland tourists to help our economy has earned Beijing more enemies than friends here.  Nevertheless, they will keep trying to balance the stick of stern warnings to behave ourselves with the carrot of economic incentives.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

First Adventures in Photography

Scanning some very ancient black & white negatives recently (possibly 50 years old), I was reminded of the camera that produced them.  I have taken pictures with my Dad's Brownie 127 and my grandfather's old Brownie box camera, but the first camera I remember owning for myself in my teens was this little beauty:
The specification was somewhat sparse: fixed aperture, no focus control, no exposure control, certainly no autowind or zoom.  A viewfinder (of sorts) took the form of a foldout metal frame that offered all the accuracy of a Hong Kong government budget forecast.  The lens, though proudly proclaiming itself "bloomed" (apparently this means coated so as to increase its light transmitting power) gave all the fine resolution of a transparent shirt button.
However, this simple piece of equipment did have several advantages:
  • It was dirt cheap (from Woolworths, then still a mighty name in retailing).
  • It took 16 half-frame shots on 127 film, making it economical on film as well.
  • Very little could go wrong with it (though with advancing age mine began to leak light around the edges and needed to be sealed with black tape after changing each film).
Thinking about it for the first time in decades, I Googled "Woolworths camera" and with only a few minutes of research was amazed to find not only these images, but the original instruction sheets (which I don't remember ever possessing, not that they were really needed) and the history of the camera - apparently it dates back to the 1930s, though mine appear to have been the 1950s "updated" model.

And the results: about as good as you would expect, and sometimes better - this is one of the more acceptable examples (not too bad considering it's from a very old negative):
By the way, does anyone have any idea where this is?  I wasn't systematic about keeping photographic records back then, and many of my old shots are a total mystery now.  I only know it's in the UK somewhere.

Anyway, after a couple of years I graduated to a more modern Instamatic and started getting better pictures, though it was still a few more years before I got my first SLR (once I started working and could afford it).  Now we have cameras that do almost everything for you, but don't necessarily give better pictures - just more accurately exposed and sharper lousy ones!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Excuse me?

According to the BBC, "Reacting to the latest initiative to eradicate tobacco use [in Ireland], a spokesman for smokers' group Forest Éireann told Irish broadcaster RTÉ it was "morally wrong to de-normalise smoking".

Excuse me?  An addictive product kills a large percentage of its users, sickens many more, and is the single largest cause of avoidable premature death in most countries around the world, and these people believe we should consider this normal?  What planet do they live on?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

No Alternative?

Those with limited imaginations - a category which sadly includes most members of the Hong Kong government - invariably see only one solution to any problem and are blind to other ways of looking at the situation. Former Canadian Gregory So, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, speaking on TVB news a few days ago about the negative impact of mass tourism from the mainland, said: "The solution must [my emphasis] lie in the fact that we need to expand our capacity so that we can take in the visitors".

Why must it?  If a highly-regarded restaurant is so popular that one needs to book a table weeks in advance, the owner's first response is not usually to rush out and expand his capacity.  Given that mass tourism benefits only a few in Hong Kong and reduces the quality of life for everyone else through overcrowding, higher prices, and the disappearance of popular shops and restaurants in favour of more profitable luxury goods outlets targeted at tourists, why should we encourage more visitors to come?  Perhaps we should decide, as Bhutan for example has done, that the benefits of mass tourism are not worth the cost, and limit the numbers allowed in - possibly through a quota system or a tourist tax.  Furthermore, those who do arrive will have a more enjoyable experience.

Another group unable to see an obvious solution to a problem are those who demonstrated recently demanding that mainland mothers of Hong Kong-born children whose fathers have died or abandoned the family - they claim there are 7,000 of these - should be given accelerated entry to Hong Kong to care for their offspring.  Again, why?  The one-way permit system is supposedly intended mainly to allow mainland residents to be reunited with their Hong Kong spouses (which doesn't explain why a man already deported from Hong Kong after serving a sentence for homicide here was allowed back to settle in the territory, but that's another question that needs asking).  If there is no husband here for the wife to be reunited with, wouldn't it be more natural to send the child back to live with its mother?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Twitchers' Delight

While many local people were disappointed that the rapid - and less violent than predicted - passage of Super Typhoon Usagi did not give them a "typhoon holiday" today, Hong Kong's birdwatchers were delighted to have the rare opportunity to observe the yellow stormwatcher, one of the territory's most reclusive species.

With its distinctive plumage of bright yellow anorak and safety helmet, the yellow stormwatcher only emerges from its nest during typhoons.  Its natural habitat appears to be the Star Ferry concourse in Tsimshatsui, where it seems to be particularly intrigued by the sight of intrepid tourists foolish enough to venture out being buffeted by the wind.  However, little is known about the hiding place and habits of this species at non-typhoon times, and ornithologists agree that much more research is needed into this mysterious example of local wildlife.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Suppose they gave a demonstration and nobody came

A war of no words broke out today between two rival pro-Beijing groups after no one turned up to support their rival mass demonstrations.  Silent Majority for Hong Kong convenor Robert Chow expressed delight that the group's rallying cry of "Apathy in the Streets" had persuaded the entire population of Hong Kong to stay at home, showing, he said, that "all Hong Kong people are part of the Silent Majority and therefore are fully united behind us".

However a new group calling itself Sounds of Silence disputed Wong's claims, saying: "it is our strategy of silence which has de-energised Hong Kong people into failing to turn out in such record numbers.  We deserve a round of silent applause."

Despite the disagreement, both groups welcomed what they claimed was their success against the Occupy Central movement, saying : "No one occupied Central this weekend except thousands of Filipina domestic helpers, and of course they don't count".
"Speak no evil, except of the pan-democrats"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Intro and the Outro

Nothing wrong with the English here grammatically, but no one in common speech uses the words "ingress" and "egress" - why not just say entrance and exit?

Meanwhile what could sound more appetising than this?

Longer still and longer

I was out for about 4 or 5 hours this afternoon.  I returned to find no fewer than 34 email messages in my Junk Mail folder, every single one of them offering to enhance what the British tabloid press would refer to as my "manhood".  If I responded to all of them it would probably grow long enough to "put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes".


An alliance of Hong Kong's real estate agencies withheld advertising from the media yesterday in protest at the higher stamp duty imposed by the government to curb property speculation. Urging the government to scrap stamp duties on commercial properties, Pierre Wong, Managing Director of Midland Realty, said on TVB news last night: "We don't think the commercial market affects most Hong Kong people".

He has got to be joking (cue incredulous John McEnroe tones here), because this remark is utter nonsense.  Commercial property prices form a major component of the operating costs of every shop, restaurant, warehouse or other business in Hong Kong.  Consequently they affect the price of all the goods and services purchased in Hong Kong, giving them a direct and powerful impact on every Hong Kong person's cost of living.  Has Wong not seen all the media coverage of businesses catering to local people (including estate agents) being forced out of operation by rising rents and replaced by luxury goods shops catering to mainland visitors?

It doesn't say much for the professionalism of the real estate business here that the head of one of the largest agencies has such a simplistic and inaccurate (and, it should be said, self-serving) view of the local property market.  Consequently, while the industry is trying to arouse public sympathy for its job losses arising from the government's bizarre attempts to reduce property prices by making property more expensive to buy, most Hong Kong people are likely to show little concern if the entire parasitical real estate business goes down the drain.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Who Are the Brain Police?

A new entrant to the toadstooling crop (mushrooming is too complimentary a word for these poisonous growths) of clumsily-named and aggressive organisations claiming to love Hong Kong so much they need to tell us all how to think, "Caring Hong Kong Power", wants local teachers to be forced to declare their political affiliations.  If this latest attempt at CCPisation succeeds, one can only hope that someone will found a Mind Your Own Damn Business Party which all teachers will join, then they can all write Mind Your Own Damn Business on the declaration form.

On the other hand, it may be possible to turn this against its instigators.  Since it is well known that certain schools in Hong Kong are sponsored by pro-Beijing organisations (founding DAB member and current LegCo president Tsang-Yok-sing was principal of one of these before entering full-time politics), could we not argue that by the same token, these schools are subjecting children to undue political brainwashing and should be closed down?

In a SCMP profile, the group's loudmouthed leader,  Chan Ching-sum, reveals her ignorance - or true intentions - by saying: "We in Hong Kong abide by the Chinese constitution".  Well, no, we don't.  The whole point of the Basic Law is that Hong Kong, while part of China, is exempt from much of the constitution which governs the rest of the country (except for the other SAR, Macau), and has its own system.

Chan also says of the pan-democrats: "When there was no universal suffrage, people asked for it; when there is [sic], they ask for it to be real".  Presumably she thinks fake democracy is all the Hong Kong people deserve.  Whatever she "Cares" about, it sure isn't Hong Kong.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Mrs Rochester in Bob Dylan's Attic

In days gone by, it was common for the mad or retarded (a non-PC word these days) to be hidden away in shame, out of sight of the world.  In the recent BBC series Upstairs Downstairs, the main protagonist Sir Hallam Holland discovers that his Down's Syndrome sister Pamela is not dead, as he's been led to believe, but has been secretly shut away in an asylum.  And of course there is the famous case in Jane Eyre of the mad Mrs Rochester, detested by her husband and locked up under guard in his attic.

The Dylan album from 1973 (called A Fool Such As I in some releases) has always seemed like the Mrs Rochester in Bob Dylan's attic.  Compiled without input from Bob after he left Columbia for Asylum (!) Records (only to return later with full artistic control), it is the only one of his studio albums not currently available on CD, though it was briefly released in that format in Holland many years ago.  Nor is it available on iTunes, I believe, though it made a brief appearance there as part of a larger Dylan collection.  In fact it was until recently only available on cassette (probably clearing old stocks), though Amazon UK now sells a nicely packaged but overpriced CD version of dubious legality [click on the picture for details] which also includes bonus tracks from the Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash sessions (surely a candidate for a future Bootleg Series release).  Indeed, so neglected is the album that Columbia even reused its title for a later hits collection in 2007.

Yet just as Hallam Holland brings his sister back into the family circle, and Jean Rhys gives Bertha Mason (Mrs Rochester) a voice of her own in her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, perhaps now is the perfect time to bring this abandoned child out of the attic and take another look at it.  After all, we are currently in the middle of a media blitz for the forthcoming Bootleg Series number 10, Another Self Portrait.  This consists largely of out-takes from the Self Portrait and New Morning sessions - the exact same sources as Dylan.  The simple fact is, while it is far from Dylan at his best, it has (like Self Portrait, which is now undergoing critical reappraisal) never been as bad as its reputation.  Take it for what it is - Dylan running casually through some old folk songs and a few contemporary songs he likes by other writers - and it becomes a pleasant if unremarkable footnote to his more celebrated albums.

Now there are rumours - via an apparently premature story later withdrawn - of a career-spanning box set of all Dylan's albums (some newly remastered) plus a double CD of other previously released material, much of it currently unavailable.  Details are sketchy at this stage - it is not even certain it will appear at all - but if so, it will be interesting to see whether Dylan gets included as part of the official canon, and if so, whether it will finally get a standalone CD reissue as well.  I hope the rarities set comes out separately, because I have all Bob's albums already - some in multiple editions including the Original Mono Recordings box set - so it would take a lot to make me fork out US$300, the rumoured price, to get them all again.  As with many things Dylan, however, everything at the moment is mixed-up confusion, all tangled up in blue.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Apathy in the HK

A rather amusing Freudian slip from Robert Chow, a convenor of the so-called Silent Majority for Hong Kong, speaking on ATV's Newsline about the Occupy Central movement, opposition to which is his group's main objective:

"...and then it will come a time when police officers, and maybe government servants, maybe entire Hong Kong, will refuse to arrest any more people, and then they will refuse to follow the orders of the government, and that would be apathy in the streets."

I assume he meant to say "anarchy in the streets", but given that the supposed silent majority are by definition apathetic (that's why they're silent), perhaps his version is more appropriate.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Putting the boot in on Hong Kong's cultural heritage

From my earliest days in Hong Kong one TV advert kept popping up at odd times - the one for Curcyrin, a remedy for athlete's foot (also commonly called Hong Kong foot because of its local prevalence in our humid climate).  Remember the giant foot and the guy in the tacky checked suit?
It should probably be in the Guinness Book of records as the longest-running (and cheesiest) TV commercial of all time.  [Click the link to see it on Youtube.]

Sadly, this irreplaceable piece of Hong Kong's cultural heritage appears to have been retired after many decades, and a new series of (actually rather good) ads has replaced it.  I quite like the one with the colourful wellies:
Nevertheless I can't help feeling a little sad that another fragment of an earlier and less sophisticated Hong Kong has gone - like the fact that you never see people popping out for a late night bowl of noodles in their pyjamas any more.  This used to be common, but today no Hong Konger would dream of going out without dressing up in name brand clothing.  I miss those simpler times - I must be getting old.  Am I the only one who feels nostalgia for stuff like this?