Sunday, May 30, 2010

Swallow your poison now and you'll get ice cream later

The Hong Kong government's publicity walkabout yesterday and "Act now" promotional campaign for its constitutional reform package cannot disguise the essential hollowness of what the package contains.

The Functio0nal Constituencies lie at the heart of the lack of democracy in the present political system, unfairly giving certain selected groups a greater say in the makeup of the Legislative Council than ordinary voters, contrary to the democratic principle that everyone should have a free and equal say. Any proposal which seeks to increase the number of FCs is therefore poisoned from the start. However, the government's position asks the democratic parties to swallow this poison now in exchange for a vague promise of some more democratic system later.

The questions Audrey Eu should be asking Donald Tsang when they have their debate are:
  • Why should democrats accept a change which runs contrary to basic democratic principles?
  • Why is the government presenting this undemocratic move as a step - the only possible one, they claim - towards greater democracy?
  • Why is the government unable to come up with any reform proposal that reduces, rather than enlarges, the role of the FCs, and would therefore be acceptable to democrats as a transitional measure?
  • Given that it has twice presented poisoned proposals to LegCo, and on both occasions insisted that there is no alternative, is it really committed to democracy?
  • If not, why can't it just say so honestly, then we will all know where we stand?

Behind all this, of course, is the bigger question of Beijing's role in what's going on - but I don't think we're going to get open answers on that one.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Two Steps Up and One Step Down


After many years of public education, most Hong Kong people have by now grasped the basic rule of escalator etiquette: stand on the right and overtake on the left. Obviously, therefore, this is the perfect time for the Hong Kong government to launch its new TV advertising campaign, advising parents to stand next to their child on the escalator, holding hands, with both parent and child holding the handrail - thereby ensuring that no one can get past them.

Coming next in the government's diseducation series: "how to push your way onto trains and buses instead of joining the queue". That will be followed by "how to spit on the street".


Friday, May 28, 2010

Suicide by Statistics

The media have made much in recent weeks of the apparent spate of suicides at the Shenzhen factory owned by Foxconn, the world's largest maker of computer parts for such leading brands as Apple and Dell. 13 of its employees have attempted suicide this year, 10 of them successfully.

Now if Foxconn were a typical Pearl River Delta factory with a few thousand workers, this would indeed be an alarming figure. But it is in fact a massive enterprise, with the Shenzhen plant employing 300,000 people according to Wikipedia. Today's South China Morning Post puts the figure even higher at 420,000. Either way, this makes it the size of a small city - larger than Taipo, for example.

Now let's look at the figures again. According to World Health Organisation statistics, China's suicide rate in 1999 [the last year listed) was 13.9 per 100,000 per year. Now extrapolate the 10 successful suicides at Foxconn this year (2 per month) to an annual figure of 24. Taking 300,000 as the number of employees, Foxconn's rate is therefore 8 per 1000,000 per annum. Far from being unusually high, this is little more than half the national average.

A more detailed statistical analysis would look at these figures in greater depth to compare them by age group - most Foxconn employees are in their twenties or thirties - and gender - China is unique in being the only country where more women than men kill themselves. And I do not intend to suggest that the 10 suicides are not tragic for those involved. But just the basic analysis I have given here suggests that, not unusually, the statistically illiterate media have blown up a problem out of all proportion.

An honourable exzception here is The Times. After I worked this out, I found their article drawing the same conclusion.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Words of Wisdom for Hong Kong People

Never trust a man who wears a bow tie

--fictional FBI agent Jack Malone in the final episode of the TV series Without a Trace, shoiwn recently on TVB

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Something strange is going on here

Last night I wrote and posted a long critical piece on Sunday's Hong Kong by-elections, entitled "Giving Democracy a Bad Name". This morning it showed up in my Bloglines. Noticing a typo, I opened up Blogger to correct it, only to find that the post in question had disappeared from my blog. I didn't delete it, so what is going on here? I don't want to start succumbing to conspiracy theories - it could be a software bug in Bloglines - but it does seem odd. Unfortunately I didn't keep a copy. Does anyone have any idea how I can retrieve it?

(Ten minutes later)
Curiouser and curiouser - a Google search shows up the missing post: http://ourprivatebeach.blogspot.com/2010/04/giving-democracy-bad-name.html - but when I go to the blog's home page, it doesn't appear, although this later post does. I suspect a bug in Blogger. I'll come back later and see if it's sorted out.

(Several hours later)
OK, sorted - I found the missing post lurking under the date 10 April instead of 17 May. Since I never even open the options window to set the date of posts, I still suspect a Blogger bug, but at least I can rule out more sinister explanations. I've amended the date of the post and deleted my repost of earlier today.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Giving Democracy a Bad Name

Yesterday's Legislative Council by-elections in Hong Kong have - like the recent British general election - given no one what they wanted. With voter turnout around 17%, the pan-democrats did not get the overwhelming public show of demand for a faster pace to democracy that they hoped for. However the government, despite a bizarre campaign of dissuasion surely unprecedented in any territory that allows free voting - and which Martin Lee rightly said would make them look stupid in the eyes of the world - still saw more than half a million voters turn out to re-elect the five resigned legislators by massive margins. This is in spite of obstacles deliberately placed in the way of many voters, including forcing some to travel long distances to remote polling stations.

With the decision by the DAB and Liberal Party ("under orders" according to Allen Lee - he didn't need to say from whom) not to contest the elections misguidedly engineered by some pan-democrats as a supposed "referendum on democracy", the exercise began to look distinctly futile early on. Once nominations closed, a look at the list of declared candidates made the elections appear even more farcical. With the major parties stepping aside, the field was wide open for an array of attention grabbers, self-publicists and total nutters (one wanted to abolish the ICAC to save public money), and that is exactly what we got. For once the South China Morning Post was right about something in calling them "fringe candidates" (8 April).

A look at their declared occupations is interesting - though two of them don't appear to be occupied with anything, suggesting they may have joined the election simply for lack of anything better to do with their time. The five pan-democrats standing for re-election variously described themselves as Barrister, Resigned Legislative Council Member, Senior Counsel, District Councillor, and Advocate for De facto referendum. That last one is Leung Kwok-Hung, who also gives Long Hair as his alias. Another familiar alias is Bus Uncle, standing in Hong Kong Island. When not starring on YouTube, it appears that he is a Merchant.

Then we have a few students, including the ubiquitous Crystal Chow, without whom no student protest would be complete; an Engineer II (doesn't it seem rather odd to give his grading?); a Government Pensioner (presumably this means a retired civil servant); and a Web Commentator - is this an up-market term for blogger?

Then there is serial attention-seeker Pamela Pak, or as it turns out her name is officially spelled, Peck, who describes herself as a Media Personality. "I didn't know Personality was a job," said my wife, who is clearly not au fait with the Age of Celebrity. When I was young, "famous for being famous" was a derisive description, but these days it seems to be everyone's ambition. Peck's main election platform appeared to be a deep personal dislike of the abrasive Raymond "Mad Dog" Wong. Perhaps she also fancied spending more time with her equally attention-hungry partner Paul "Superman" Tse, who curiously represents the Tourism Constituency in LegCo despite being a lawyer by profession.

Apart from being uncertain how to spell her surname, Pak or Peck has a past criminal conviction for tax evasion, which would have put her in good company alongside LegCo member Chim Pui Chung, convicted of conspiracy to forge documents - apparently a minor peccadillo in the eyes of his Financial Services constituents. Could there be a better argument against Functional Constituencies than Chim's presence in LegCo? Remember these people oversee the spending of our money.

Fortunately foghorn-voiced singer and TV chef Maria Cordeiro did not make good on her threat to stand in NT East, but among the candidates there clamouring for my support were one who describes himself as an Idea Marketing Director (who buys ideas, I wonder?) He was running on behalf of something called the Non Violence Social Movement, which sounds promising until you find out that his idea of violence is the recent goings on in LegCo, so a more apt name would be the Politer Politics Party. If he really thinks that the odd bout of verbal rudeness and an occasional irritating outbreak of banana throwing amount to violence, I will be happy to educate him on what political violence really is by dressing him in my Aung San Suu Kyi T-shirt from Amnesty International and buying him a one-way ticket to Burma (I doubt he'll be coming back soon). Alternatively he could just try roaming the streets of Bangkok tomorrow in a red shirt. The occasional rude remark in LegCo doesn't even compare to the more rambunctious Australian Parliament, where verbal abuse is elevated to an art form, or the frequent fisticuffs in Taiwan's legislature.

Anyway, my problem was - I didn't want to vote for Long Hair, whom I feel has not done a good job as a legislator - indeed I suspect his party's antics only reinforce China's fear of giving full democracy to Hong Kong. So how could I send a message to the Government that I want a faster path to full democracy without voting for any of these clowns? Isn't it time that all ballot papers carried an additional option: "None of the Above"?

According to ATV News, there were about 19,000 spoiled ballot papers in this election, a remarkably high figure if correct, though I can't find confirmation of this figure on the government's websites, which have played down the election to the extent that it doesn't even rate a headline on the main government site despite being clearly the most significant political event of the moment. This suggests that many others found the same solution that I did.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Driving out of his mind

Last night's news reported that a taxi driver sent to prison after crashing his vehicle while driving under the influence of ketamine had 40 previous convictions for traffic offences - which makes me wonder just how bad a driver you have to be before you lose your licence to drive a taxi in Hong Kong. Feel safe now?

This reminds me of the first time my wife and I visited Taipei. Drivers there seem calmer now - or maybe the traffic is now so congested they have no opportunity for speeding - but in those days driving standards there were totally crazy. After a terrifying ride with a young taxi driver clearly intent on qualifying for Formula 1, my wife refused to take any taxi with a driver below the age of 40. She figured if they'd survived that long, they must be reasonably safe behind the wheel.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Groundless Regret

Is there anyone left in the Hong Kong Government who is fluent in English? The Chief Executive's statement denying that he approached Legislative Council Chairman Tsang Yok-Sing asking him to vote for the government's half-arsed electoral reform package ends with the sentence: "The hearsay is groundless, which we deeply regret." Surely he regrets the hearsay, not the fact that it is groundless? The correct grammar should therefore be: "The hearsay, which we deeply regret, is groundless."

Tsang, asked whether he'd been approached, responded that no senior executive of the government had put pressure on him to vote - which doesn't exactly answer the question.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010