Saturday, March 30, 2013

Poll Dancing

Another unanswerable poll question from the South China Morning Post: Do you believe some Hongkongers might resort to violence to fight for universal suffrage?
Do I believe a few hotheaded demonstrators might scuffle with police at a protest march?  Almost certainly - which is probably what the 72& who answered "Yes" have in mind.  Do I believe  we're going to see pitched mass battles in the street and suicide bombings?  No way.  If you're going to ask a question like that, define what you mean by "violence" first.
The previous day's question was equally hard to answer: Do you support the 'Occupy Central' movement?
Morally, absolutely.  Strategically - it depends.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Let one flower bloom, let one school of thought contend

Headline story in toda's South China Morning Post:

Consultation on electoral reform should not begin until most Hongkongers agree that those who confront the central government should not rule the city, a top Beijing official has said.



Which essentially means "We're not going to ask you what you want until you agree with our view of what you should have"

But if they don't ask, how will they know whether Hong Kong people have fallen for their bullshit or not? Not that they care what we think anyway.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Racing to come second

To normal people, the fuss over Sebastian Vettel's win in the Malaysian Grand Prix will seem bizarre.  Vettel apologised to team-mate Mark Webber for overtaking him to win the race, contrary to their team's instructions.

I always thought the idea of a race was that the fastest competitor comes in first.  Apparently in the weird world of Formula 1, that's not the case.  Then what is the point of racing?  In any other sport, fixing the result would get you disqualified.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Upper Hand

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during US President Obama's visit "We extend our hands in peace and in friendship to the Palestinian people", surely he meant "hand" in the singular?  The other one is still busy grabbing Palestinian land.

OK, my comment is a little facetious, and this map is dramatic, but as a pro-Israeli website points out, an over-simplification.  Then in debunking it as a supposed lie, it introduces new inaccuracies into the picture.
  • The first map, it says, is incorrect because much of the land shown in green was not privately owned, but held by the government, and therefore "when the state of Israel was established, it became legally Israel's".  This assumes of course that the population of the new state recognised its legitimacy, and glosses over the fact that the Arab (then) majority of its residents did not, and that many of them were forcibly dispossessed of land they may not have technically owned but had lived on and farmed for generations.
  • Map 2, it says, is incorrect because the Arabs never accepted the proposed partition plan.  Fair enough - though why should they, in the circumstances of the time?
  • Map 3, it argues, is incorrect because the "Palestinian" areas were not part of a Palestinian territory but held and administered by neighbouring countries, Egypt and Jordan.  What is omitted here is that those countries never accepted the Palestinians as part of their own nations, but continued to regard them as a separate people - just as the many Palestinians in Lebanon today are still treated as refugees.
The site then goes on to praise Israel for "giving up" large areas of land in exchange for peace.  Apart from the fact that it did not "give up" the largest area of land, the Sinai Peninsula, but lost it in war to Egypt, from which it had earlier seized it, it would be more correct to talk of "giving back" than "giving up",  The reality remains, however, that the Palestinian Authority has limited control over the areas nominally ceded to it, and that Israel continues to establish settlements in many of the occupied territories.  Draw your own conclusions about Israel's sincerity in making peace.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Surplus

More than a month after Chinese New Year, the Park N Shop (or whichever combination of upper and lower case they use these days) Superstore in Taipo is still piled high with overstocked gift packs of cookies and overpriced candy being sold off at a discount.  Am I the only one in Hong Kong who feels a warm twinge of delight that the Li family got somnething wrong?

Happy Spring Equinox to all except tycoons!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Polls Apart

I sometimes respond to the South China Morning Post's opinion polls on its website, but I just as often find them irritatingly meaningless.  Take today's, for example: the question asked is: "Is India still a safe destination for foreign tourists?"  Pertinent, after recent widely-reported rape cases there, certainly, but totally unscientific.

First of all, note the implied assumption that India was previously safe.  Then consider the impossibility of summing up the safety level of a large and enormously diverse country of more than a billion people in one snap judgement.  Are you safe at the Taj Mahal?  Probably.  In Indian-occupied Kashmir, or the poorest slums of Kolkata - probably less so.

And what do you mean by "safe" anyway?  Likely to get raped or murdered - even with the occasional case that hits the headlines, not very.  Likely to have your pocket picked?  Much more probable - but not only in India.  Safe from your own stupidity?  Thousands of tourists die in foreign countries every year because people tend to take foolhardy risks on holiday that they would not take at home, from overdosing on drugs to riding motorcycles without a helmet to swimming in dangerous waters to eating in places with dubious hygiene standards - or even over-exerting themselves sexually!  Most Hong Kong people consider Thailand a safe destination for tourism, but apart from the country's appalling level of road safety, five foreign tourists and a Thai guide died in 2011 because of over-exposure to a pesticide used to kill bed bugs!  Who would have seen that coming?

Then there is the question of what one means by a foreign tourist.  In a tour group or travelling independently?  Male or female?  Travelling alone or with a companion?  Able to speak the local language or not?  Staying in luxury resorts or local flophouses?  All of these factors - not to mention one's visible "ethnicity", as officials like to call race these days - could affect how safe one is.  But a white female friend of mine lived for two years in India, travelling alone on a limited budget, with no problems, and loves the country.

My advice: don't let this kind of question put you off travelling except for avoiding obvious trouble spots (two other friends enjoyed a wonderful trip to Syria some years ago, but I wouldn't advise it at the moment)..  Just take sensible precautions, remember shit happens everywhere, and as they used o say in Hill Street Blues: "Be careful out there!"


Eur in trouble

The Cyprus bank deposit grab has triggered the law of unintended consequences.  It does not seem to have occurred to the wise idiots at the European Central Bank who came up with the idea of a levy on bank deposits that, far from strengthening ailing banks, it would further weaken public confidence in banks generally, with depositors in other countries rushing to keep their money safe under the mattress at home rather than leaving it where the "banksters" (as a protest placard in Cyprus called them) can grab part of it.  And ordinary Cypriots may well conclude that if troubled banks can't keep their money safe for them, then those banks do not deserve to survive anyway.

The "tax" - now rightly rejected by the country's legislature, with not a single member voting for it - was supposed to compensate those affected with shares in the worthless banks - hardly an attractive prospect.  But it was blatantly unfair, hitting those who keep their wealth in cash in the bank while not touching those whose riches are in other forms - stocks, bonds, artworks.  Maybe they should open up every safe deposit box in the banks and seize 10% of any jewellery inside?  It also aroused fierce opposition among overseas depositors, many of them Russian (which doesn't say much for their confidence in their own country's banks), who are being forced to "share the burden" of a problem that is none of their business.

You really have to wonder sometimes how stupid politicians can be.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dumping the burden

The handling of the Euro crisis is becoming ever more ridiculous.  In the latest bailout, citizens of Cyprus will have 10% of their bank deposits stolen from them by their government as part of the deal with Europe's central bank.  This is described by authorities as "sharing the burden".  Why should Cypriots be asked to share the burden of a crisis triggered by a combination of global bank greed and the Greek government's overspending?  (Cyrpus's banks are mainly in trouble because of over-exposure to Greek debt.)

Two things have been consistent throughout this crisis: one is that the policies intended to cure it will instead worsen it by choking economic growth.  The other is that the burden falls on those least able to bear it, while the fatcats responsible for the trouble in the first place survive relatively unscathed.

Politicians and bankers - ain'tcha sick of 'em?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Luck of the Irish

Happy Saint Patrick's Day to my Irish reader(s)!

I'm Liberal but to a degree

Walking through Tai Po Plaza yesterday, I found that the Liberal Party's district office there had disappeared.  I assumed that, with no election coming up in the near future, they had decided to bugger off back to their luxurious homes on the Peak, but in fairness, I find from the party's website that they still have an office in Sheung Shui.

What is it about political parties' names?  The Liberal Party isn't; the DAB ("Democratic Action for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong", which should surely be in the Guinness Book of Records for the world's most unwieldy party name) does not support democracy and has never bettered Hong Kong; and the Chinese Communist Party long ago ceased to practise anything Karl Marx would recognise as communism.  Other countries are no better: Britain's Conservative Party has not conserved anything worthwhile for decades, though it has destroyed much of value; Japan's Liberal Democratic Party is neither liberal nor democratic; and so it goes.  In fact if a party named itself the "Bunch of Corrupt Self-Serving Shoe-Shiners" it would be so refreshingly honest people might even vote for them!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Pope for China

Since the Chinese don't like the Dalai Lama supposedly promoting Tibetan independence, they declared his recognition of the young Panchen Lama invalid and chose their own Panchen Lama.  Since they don't like the Vatican having diplomatic relations with Taiwan, how long will it be before they declare the conclave's selection invalid and appoint their own Pope?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

South China People's Daily

Catching up on Hemlock's blog from a few months back, my attention was caught by a quote from a South China People's Daily, sorry SCMP, opinion piece by one Lau Nai-Keung, who delivers this gem of either confused thinking or blatant hypocrisy, (depending on whether he is as stupid as he seems):

"The South China Sea will no longer be an issue, after China recovers the sovereignty of various rocks and islands one by one, either through peaceful means or by force. But with a tradition of a somewhat benign paternal attitude, China will refrain from bullying its neighbours despite the American absence. Instead, it will continue to push for peace and co-development in the region, if only to distinguish itself from Western hegemony."

So China will recover [sic] the chunks of rock it claims in its neighbours' backyard by force, but will "refrain from bullying and pursue peace and co-development".  Does the writer not recognise his own contradiction here?  And does no one in the CPP (to which he belongs) recognise that this sounds exactly like the kind of "peace and co-development" that Japan pursued at China's expense in the 1930s?

And I love that "if only..." clause - the implication being "we want to be violent, but we have to be peaceful to look different from the US"!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

So Near and Yet So Far Away

"Coming to a store near you soon" proclaims HMV UK's latest email list of new CD and DVD releases.  Rather a strange choice of phrase when you consider that increasingly there is no HMV store near you.  Even that last-minute impulse purchase of both series of Downton Abbey on DVD as you leave the UK will no longer be possible, since all 4 stores at Heathrow Airport are on the closure list.

So far, the Hong Kong stores remain open, but who knows what's going on behind the scenes?





A recently popular twist on the old (and untrue) "home taping is killing music" slogan.  Reality is less simple...

Friday, March 01, 2013

Bread and Circuses

Whether or not a country exercises the death penalty is usually a pretty good indicator of how civilised it is - or at least, aspires to be.  When a country shows executions live on TV, you know for sure it's barbaric.  Whether it also violates the country's own law which provides that executions shall not be held in public, is a legal question I am not qualified to judge.

Making It Better
Amnesty International

"Hot Chinese Women Are Waiting to Meet You Online"

Am I the only one to notice that Norton 360's email filtering seems to have become less aggressive lately?  Message headings like the one above used to be nearly all swept neatly into my junk mail folder.  Now quite a few of them are slipping through into my Inbox.  I've had a whole bunch lately trying to interest me in a Facebook Dating App, something I don't think my wife would approve of!  I keep flagging them as junk, but Norton doesn't seem to have got the message - are the folks at Symantec losing their grip?