Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Watering Down Wharf's Holdings

On the day after Zhao Lianhai went on trial in China charged with "provoking quarrels and making trouble" for drawing attention to the shameful business (and it was very good business while it lasted) of the melamine-tainted milk powder scandal, a mere bankroll scam in the PRC's satellite on the South China Coast might seem trivial. But, as Confucius so wisely put it, every long journey starts with a single step – although he also said a lot of stuff about kowtowing to big wigs, so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on our northern neighbours. For, to paraphrase the Good Lord, "When a Chinaman talks of his legal system, it is like a woman's talking of her virtue".

No sooner has Wharf (Holdings) Ltd. recovered from having its former executive director John Hung sent down for graft than an underling at the local hong is set to join his former boss in jail. While Hung had his hand very much on the tiller while head honcho, being responsible for worldwide institutional banking, capital market fundraising and investor relations, his former colleague, Lau Yuen How, went the extra mile, using his position as Assistant Payroll Manager to siphon off more than HK$12 million (a million pounds) over a period of seven years before being found out. Which makes you wonder what kind of boss the Payroll Manager, who Lau "assisted", must have been.

Being a past President of the Hong Kong Cricket Association, Eurasian Hung named two of his racehorses after cricket grounds: Headingley, after the Test match venue in Leeds, and Sabina, after Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica. Since Hung's fall from grace, Sabina has changed ownership – naturally, Hung having been stripped of his Jockey Club membership.

Try telling that to the South China Morning Post, though. The new owner, Yu Kwok Leung, himself rather a colourful character, might be a bit miffed to know that the last time the horse raced, on 28 February, it was listed in the Racing Post as belonging to "John Terence Hung".

Let's hope that after reading this the chaps at Quarry Bay (or are the racing hacks put out to pasture in Tai Po?) get it right the next time Sabina appears at the race course, which, as it happens, is this Sunday at Sha Tin. And let's hope the boys in yellow and blue at the Jockey Club sent the winner's cheque to the right person after Sabina's maiden victory last month.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Systems and Women's Virtue

Byron may have lived most of his life with serious depression – and with a mother like his who can blame him? – but despite this affliction, or more likely because of it, he was capable of punching through pretension. Not only was he capable of it, one suspects that he couldn't turn the ability off. And of course it got him into a lot of trouble. Toby Young's "loser lit" classic, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, could have been dedicated to George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale, who once memorably referred to one of the symptoms of his depression as "boiling brains".

Wordsworth, Coleridge and their set he referred to dismissively as "Lakers", while Leigh Hunt and other poets he considered inverted snobs he dubbed "Cockneys". He got particularly riled with the latter group because they had the temerity to attack Alexander Pope, his literary hero. The strength of Byron's feeling can be seen in the fact that he resorts to two of his bête noirs, cant and cunt, to excoriate Hunt:

"When he was writing his Rimini, I was not the last to discover its beauties, long before it was published. Even then I remonstrated against its vulgarisms; which are the more extraordinary, because the author is anything but a vulgar man. Mr. Hunt's answer was that he wrote them upon principle; they made part of his 'system'!! I then said no more. When a man talks of his system, it is like a woman's talking of her virtue. I let them talk on."

One classic put-down out of so many from a man who described writing as torture ...

Monday, 29 March 2010

Long Valley

We spent a lazy – and, it being Hong Kong, hazy – Sunday afternoon up at Long Valley, snapping anything that moved, as well as the odd indigenous villager waiting for a handout. Here are some of the fruits of our labours, with no guarantee whatsoever that the birds have been named correctly, and not even an attempt at the butterfly and flower.
Black-winged stilts Black-winged stilts in flight Barn swallow Study by Natalie Hong Kong's last farmer
"You are cleared for landing"
Man doing the hokey cokey in Beas River

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Tiger Tops Charts with "Take Your Name Off Your Phone"

A guilty pleasure for the weekend:

But the real question goes unanswered, indeed unasked. We have Jaimee Grubbs, Joslyn James and Jamie Jungers. Why is that out of all the cocktail waitresses and nightclub hostesses in America Tiger Woods only dates women of a Jacobean persuasion? I sense a conspiracy.

And one more thing. Did that woman change her name to Grubbs after she started messing with Woods or was she born that way?

I'm expecting answers when Tiger stage-manages the world's media again on 5 April.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Mutant in Tuen Mun

I'd heard of Sleepless in Seattle and Bored Watching Shutter Island, but never until yesterday of Mutant in Tuen Mun – although now I come to think about it, I can see that Mutant is pretty damn close to being an anagram of Tuen Mun, and probably is in one of those gloriously eccentric transliteration systems like Wade-Giles ... or pinyin.

I owe the revelation to a set of good burghers who style themselves the Friends of KMB, which I must say is terrifically public spirited, given how many Friends the bus company must need. For some reason that will perhaps remain as much a mystery to me as why Martin Scorsese continues to direct films, I received a press release from said Friends on the topic of an Occupational Safety and Health Carnival at which they are manning the games stands.

As is common practice in Hong Kong, the press release feeds words into the mouth of one of the participants to give it a little more pizzazz. The effect on this reader was anything but common, however, as a scenario unfolded that could been taken straight out of a 50s B horror movie – or Shutter Island:

"One of the Friends who participated in the event said, 'Today we transformed into occupational safety ambassadors to remind the public of the importance of ...

At this point the press release broke off as a strident Mainland tour-guide arrived from Tin Shui Wai with a megaphone to usher the Friends onto a pre-Euro coach for a Seafood Lunch in Lau Fau Shan Cum Visit to The Preaching Benevolence Pavilion Soon to Be Transformed into The Hall for Worshipping the Daoist Guardians.

Just another day in the New Territories, really.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

A Mia Interlude

Returning to Mei Foo's plaza best-kept secret for lunch today, I tried the pizza with scallops and salami, which comes with a potato and Romaine lettuce salad. Best pizza I've had in Hong Kong, which isn't saying much, but is still an accolade of sorts. They've also taken on board a previous comment about the temperature of the coffee, as it was hot this time. 58 dollars for main and drink.

Anyone else get pissed off when you say, correctly, "skollops" and they repeat it back as "skallops"?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

His Master's Voice?

Yesterday, through the wonders of Google, I got back in touch with a fellow I was at university with. I'd met up with him a couple of times over the years and I was pleased, if unsurprised, to see that he was still living and working in Shrewsbury. Unsurprised, because Martin is one of the most constant sort of people you could imagine.

He became involved with a church in his native town soon after it started up in 1983 and he's been head elder of the church for 15 years. Although its description as "an independent, evangelical, charismatic church" might put the frighteners on many, I would imagine that this assembly is quite different from the kind of place satirised by Sacha Baron Cohen in his excellent and thought-provoking Borat.

Getting back in touch with Martin reminded me of a story that used to be told by independent, i.e. non-ordained, church leaders who recognised the phoniness of some of what went on in the Lord's name.

A church committee in the States had been locked in endless discussions about whether to buy a new building as their congregation expanded. As was their custom, the umpteenth meeting to deal with this thorny issue opened with a time of prayer. After the usual bland requests for guidance had been issued by a couple of the committee, one man who was becoming increasingly frustrated with proceedings decided it was time to accelerate the process by invoking God directly:

"Thus saith the Lord," he cried, "buy the damn building!"

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Dao As You Would Be Done By

... and I can see the pollution getting worse ...

The latest edition of Jimmy Lai's Next Magazine has a feature that is very Hong Kong. Two organisations that preach harmony and cooperation, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and the Sik Sik Yuen, self-appointed guardians of Daoism, have been going at it hammer and tongs over a donation box.

The trouble has been brewing for more than half a century, since entrance fees for admission to Wong Tai Sin temple were introduced, with Tung Wah the lucky recipients. Matters came to a head last year when the hospital group was told by the Daoists (guiding principle wu wei, or action through inaction), who've run the show at the lucrative Wong Tai Sin site for some years, to get rid of its donation boxes.

After years of negotiations in smoke-filled rooms (or even outdoors at Wong Tai Sin – you get the same effect), involving various government departments, the heavyweight harmony-mongers have decided not only to remove the begging bowls from the "Preaching Benevolence Pavilion", but to go the extra mile and rename the "Preaching Benevolence Pavilion" the "Hall for Worshipping the Daoist Guardians".

And there's more. In true Cultural Revolution style, a plaque will be put up to provide for posterity at excruciating length the official, mandated version of these sordid events.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Give Us A Clue

For those unlucky enough to have ever watched the 80s' ITV show that took charades from the living room and beamed it back whence it had come via a show called Give Us A Clue hosted by Michael Aspel, the name of Lionel Blair will be well known. A dancer of little note, Blair passed into immortality when his name was chosen as a Cockney rhyming slang term for flairs, as in "I've still got a pair of Lionels in the cupboard for fancy dress parties".

So, I was pretty upset the other day when the Times crossword employed a slang term for flairs starting with an "l", but it wasn't "lionels", it was "loons", which I'd never even heard of. Below the belt – if you'll pardon the pun.

Those who like a bit of cryptic with their coffee and prefer to tackle the Thunderer's puzzle the day it's published rather than two months later, when the SCMP finally prints it, can get the daily cryptic, the concise, the jumbo – and all manner of other goodies – online, and still get a penny's change from a pony.

If you're a serious solver, then you will also enjoy the community of clever clogs that assemble each day to comment on the daily crossword and publish their times for solving it – some of them seriously scary.

Talking of Michael Aspel, see how many newsreaders, weathermen, sportscasters and Barry Normans you can recognise from this Christmas special edition of Morecambe and Wise. It may be absolutely nothin' like the original, but for those of us of a certain vintage, it's still dame good.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Woods Demanded Silence Says Alleged Mistress

Tiger hated me to make any noise when he was swinging his club

Friday, 19 March 2010

Bollywood Goes Ballistic

I may not be able to act like her, but at least I can look like Gwyneth Paltrow

While erstwhile Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, now Chancellor of Oxford University, demands that universities be able to set tuition fees that reflect what a university education actually costs, his daughter Alice is cavorting in Bollywood, or as racist fruitcake Raj Thackeray would have us say, "Mumbywood".

While racism in India, in the spotlight since Andrew Symonds, an Australian cricketer of West Indian descent, was the target of monkey gestures from large sections of the crowd on a tour that took in Bombay a couple of years ago, shows no signs of going away, at least some people are willing to take a stand against loony vigilantes.

Commenting on the violent attempts by Thackeray and his votaries to prevent production teams from employing who they want on their film sets, director Jag Mundra had a stinging riposte to the thugs.

"The reason producers pick white girls is because a lot of them have better figures and are willing to expose them." Ouch!

But the big question remains. Why is this fruitcake prancing around with a name like "Thackeray" in the first place? Surely, Raj Rohintonmisteray would give him more cred on the streets where his hooligan supporters roam?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

What an Effing Shum!

One of the great mysteries of our time was resolved this morning thanks to the number 43 bus that cut in on me on the approach to Banyan Bridge. For there, in all its glory, was the advert for the King's Glory crammer's F.S. English Team.

Now, as some of you may have recalled, I was looking for answers to the following riddle. What is the missing word in the following catchy tagline for Dr. F. Shum's (I think we know what the "F" stands for) allegedly English- related enterprise?

Grasp the last chance

Catch up what [*] been left out

Well, the solution fell into that out-of-the-box category so beloved of Hong Kong's leaders:

Catch up what you've been left out

which is so bad that it's pretty obvious when you think about it.

Just the type of sentence you would expect F. Shum's assistants – faces beaming down from the bus and boasting English names like Enfany Chan and Ravi Wong – to be teaching in cramming centres up and down the territory this evening.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The World's Unluckiest Irishman?

Irishmen love a punt. They'll bet on two drops of condensation running down a window pane. They'll bet on when Hillary Clinton will go back to being Hillary Rodham – again. But what they most love to bet on is the horses.

Visit any of the big meetings held in England (Cheltenham this week, Aintree, Newmarket, Epsom, Goodwood) and you'll find them overrun with Irishmen. But to find the world's unluckiest Irishman I must take you back to the car park of Papplewick Prep School in 1972.

Every year, founding headmaster of Papplewick, Peter Knatchbull-Hugessen (known to generations of schoolboys as "Snatchballs"), used to earn a bit of extra cash by converting the sports fields into a giant car park for all the Irishmen who flooded in from Kilburn and Haringey for Royal Ascot. The highlight of the meeting was the Gold Cup, held, if I recall correctly, on a Thursday.

In those days, when the nanny state was still merely a twinkle in the eye of some unelected member of the European Court of Human Rights (curses everlasting be upon their name), Snatchballs used to get the senior boys to work in shifts from 11 in the morning to 6 in the evening as car park marshals. Naturally, we loved it, especially when we got given tips by drunk Irishmen who'd won big. But the strangest tip I ever got was from one Irishman who had lost big.

In response to my cheery enquiry about how the day had gone, one particular paddy told me that his horse had won the race but had been disqualified. On receiving my commiserations, he added that he had backed the same horse the previous year and it had been disqualified then too.

I never forgot the name of that horse and today for the first time in 38 years I decided to check to see if the fellah had been telling the truth. And he had. The horse was called Rock Roi, although for nearly four decades I had remembered it as "Rob Roy".

Which is all by way of saying "Happy St Patrick's Day" to all Irishmen everywhere. Even the few who are left in the Emerald Isle.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Fumier Resurrectus?

I knew that Confucianism was held in high regard by people who believe that too much thinking can be injurious to your health, but what I didn't know until reading about it in the Sunday Morning Post was that the old fellow's analects were a source of useful material for those who have trouble holding it together.

I'm therefore indebted to Li On-ki, from Lam Tin, who, in one of those letters familiar to Post readers down the years that starts by appearing to argue for one side of an issue and moves on to appearing to argue for the other side before ending with a exhortation to take immediate (unspecified) actions to slove (sic) the problems of society, pays Confucianism a glowing, if somewhat scatological, tribute:

"Confucianism can tell you how to become a better person by learning more about righteousness and integrity, as well as loyalty, filial piety and continence."

Call me cynical, but when I read this letter and saw the juxtaposition of filial piety and continence, I had to ask myself if Li On-ki wasn't shorthand for Lying Hongkie and whether Fumier hadn't found a new medium in which to talk about two of his favourite subjects, poo and the Chinese family.

Watch out for the next letter comparing Alphard drivers with ATV newsreaders.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is a pretty average film, one which in 20 years time will be the subject of quiz questions about obscure Best Picture Oscar winners.

The fact it won Oscar for Best Film and Best Director is testimony more to the twin facts that the director – one Kathryn Bigelow (no relation to Deuce) – is a woman and that the hero of the film is a journalist "embedded" with the troops in Iraq. Such a hero, in fact, that the fellow, name of Mark Boal, also picked up a gong for Best Original Screenplay.

To start with the screenplay, it's nothing much to write home about. First off, there's not that much of it (a blessing in itself, I suppose, but no reason for giving it an award), since most of the film is taken up with American soldiers' unsuccessful attempts to communicate with Iraqis (always likely to be unsuccessful when you don't speak their language), on the one hand, and lengthy solo attempts to defuse "IEDs" (improvised explosive devices), on the other.

There's also a bit of comic relief in the shape of a robot that graduates from bomb disposal school only to be saddled with a trailer put together from an Airfix kit with a wonky wheel supplied by Toyota.

The Hurt Locker a buddy-buddy movie with a difference. The difference is not that one dude is black and the other is white (they are), or that the black dude and the white dude can't stand each other at first but then grow to lurve each other (they do); it's that there are three buddies. So its really a buddy-buddy-buddy movie.

The most cloying scene comes near the end, when in one of a series of clichéd moments, the black one ("Sanborn" – I can't help calling him "Sambo") is given his soliloquy in the Humvee. I won't be giving much away if I say Hamlet it ain't.

The film is at its best when it alludes to the real question, which is why American people are in Iraq in the first place. Thus, you see Iraqis milling around when yet another bomb's about to be dealt with – it's clearly become an everyday event for these people, something quite unremarkable compared to the fact that the Americans are in their country at all.

The recognition this mediocre film has been given is enough to make even a conservative - a thinking and self-reflecting conservative - long for a Hanoi Jane or a Vanessa Redgrave and reminds you how deeply the self-deception is penetrating.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Friday, 12 March 2010

Stephen Chan Latest!

I used to be a greedy bastard

(Photo courtesy of Apple Daily)

ICAC Arrest TVB Four for Set-Builder Graft

They finally noticed all our sets look the same

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Blank Reply May Impair Your Fame

The local branch of eco-warriors Friends of the Earth doesn't confine its militancy to dolphin-eating Japs or fact-wielding eco-sceptics.

Last week, a friend of mine in the logistics line received a request (demand?) for information from the outfit that makes Norwegian whalers look like the Society of Friends. The missive ended as follows:

"Please reply this letter within a month. Your blank reply may impair your fame. I am looking forward to hearing from you soon."

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Shum Mishtake Shurely

The battle for supremacy among the establishments that exist to dissect past papers of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority - or to attract the attention of the ICAC by buying them and texting the answers to students - while cramming Hong Kong's dropouts with test-taking techniques has been stepped up by one of the leading tutorial colleges, King's Glory.

Dr. F. Shum, chief English consultant at King's Glory, who lends his name to the centre's F.S. English Team, has received the ultimate accolade the industry can offer, with his own personalised advertisement on a KMB bus body.

The ad, however, isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of Shum's English abilities, as it plugs the F.S. English Team's "intensive tutorial course" in the following words:

Grasp the last chance

Catch up what [*] been left out

Makes you wonder just what these guys teach on their non-intensive courses.

* Can't read my own writing – contributions welcome.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Writing as Torture

C.S. Lewis used to talk about being "pregnant with book", alluding as much to the difficulty of writing well as to the overwhelming need he often felt to put his thoughts on paper. Byron was another phenomenally successful writer, noted, as Lewis was, for the speed and apparent ease of his composition as well as for a prodigious output.

But appearances can be deceptive. Writing to fellow poet and friend Thomas Moore in 1821, Byron refers to the pain of putting pen to paper:

"As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing, which you describe in your friend, I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain."

Of course, those for whom writing is not a great pain are generally the ones who end up torturing their readers. Gore Vidal got it about right when he said "Write about what you know" is the advice we give to people who shouldn't be writing at all.

Monday, 8 March 2010

The Third Man

What makes a film overrated? Sometimes, the story of its making or release – Gone With the Wind and Brazil come to mind – deflect attention from the actual merits of the product itself. Sometimes, the directors and or producers are the darling of the small, but influential, critical community – most of the work of the Coen Brothers apart from their superb first film, Blood Simple, falls into this category, although Fargo was good and The Big Lebowski has its moments. Sometimes, as in the case of Bruce Lee or James Dean, the tragically young death of a counter-culture hero secures his films an immortality they scarcely deserve. Sometimes, as with Hitchcock's Rear Window, it's difficult to put one's finger on it – maybe it's that this picture is considered "deeper" and "more nuanced" than the director's other films. It just bores me to tears like the Coens' recent effort A Serious Man.

Carol Reed's The Third Man is a case in point. I've seen this 1949 British film a number of times over the years – most recently at the weekend in its Criterion Collection incarnation – and I've never warmed to it. Its star, Orson Welles, doesn't appear until 65 minutes into the movie – and even then his shadow is played by the assistant director wearing a coat hanger. (Just as well he didn't have to play Welles in the days he was reduced to doing sherry ads – he'd have had to have worn a wardrobe.) It's sometimes regarded as some kind of classic film noir, but it doesn't deserve to be talked about in the same breath as a film like Double Indemnity.

Basically, it's a story of unrequited love between an American in Vienna (Joseph Cotten) and an illegal immigrant from Czechoslovakia (Alida Valli). Trevor Howard plays the British intelligence officer in a duffel coat, while a pre-M Bernard Lee plays the part of the cheeky chappy non-com, charged with delivering lines like "Sounds anti-British, sir" with a straight face. (Lee's character was reincarnated 40 years later as the (firing) squaddies in Blackadder Goes Fourth – see below.)

Then, of course, there are the sewers, which aren't actually up to much, having been reconstructed on the back lot at Shepperton. The MacGuffin is vials of penicillin being flogged on the black market for 60 quid a throw, which, when watered down by the Welles character, have such a bad effect on kids that them's that dies are the lucky ones.

The best line in the film – and the best known – was written not by Graham Greene, who wrote the story and the screenplay, but by Welles himself, and is delivered in the scene shot at the film's other famous location, the ferris wheel.

"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed - they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!"

And then there's that zither ...

Friday, 5 March 2010

Way of the Dragon

It's many years since I last saw Way of the Dragon, one of the films that catapulted Bruce Lee to stardom before his untimely and rather mysterious death. Unlike the other films he starred in, Lee both wrote and directed the Hong Kong-produced Way of the Dragon, and I can only say it shows.

This movie was staggeringly popular in Hong Kong – more so than Hollywood's take on the Bruce Lee phenomenon, Enter the Dragon, released a year later in 1973 – but not, alas, with my Cantonese-speaking daughter, who nodded off two thirds of the way through. We were watching the film as Hongkies would have seen it in the 70s, in Cantonese with English subtitles.

The start of the film is the weirdest scene I've watched in a long time. Lee is standing around for no apparent reason in a foreign airport (it turns out to be Rome, so he can break Chuck Norris's balls in the Coliseum). Next to him is a middle-aged Jewish looking woman, who appears to be one branch short of a Menorah. For no apparent reason, the woman tries to stare Lee out. Lee responds by playing the part of a man who is one noodle short of a chow mein.

We next see him unaccountably pinching an ice cream cone from a boy who's been left alone at the airport because of his appalling dress sense. Lee's homage to Chaplin is completed by perhaps the worst scene ever to be put on celluloid, in which our hero attempts to order some food at the airport café.

Now, by this time we've all cottoned on to the fact that Lee is an out-of-towner with non-existent foreign language skills, but even a country bumpkin from the New Territories (which is how he keeps identifying himself) would be able to point at something he likes if he couldn't read the menu. Instead, we are treated to an excruciating episode in which Lee keeps saying "Eggs!" in Cantonese and, when that doesn't work, points to half a dozen items on the same page of the menu. In this way, he ends up with five bowls of soup on one of those enormous trays prep school boys used to make in carpentry class, each of which he proceeds to slurp in turn for the audience's delectation.

It's all uphill from there, especially in the fight scenes, where Lee soon emerges as a new breed of superhero who can knock you down through the combined force of the air current generated by the passage of his fist six inches from your face and the noisiest sound effects man in the business strutting his stuff back at the Golden Harvest studios.

But what Lee really needs to do in order to prove to the world that he's more than just a Chinky sidekick to the Green Hornet is of course to take on Chuck Norris in hand-to-hand combat with only a little help from his cornerman at Golden Harvest. All's going well at the Coliseum until Chuck decides to take off his black belt and his jacket. For underneath is revealed his secret weapon, a weapon far more powerful than the two sticks joined with a chain that Lee uses when the sound effects man needs a break from making all his thwacking sounds. It's Chuck's Carpet.

Before Lee's eyes sprouts the shaggiest pile east of Axminster. No longer the guy at the airport who gets intimidated by Anne Bancroft lookalikes, Bruce merely flexes his muscles and cracks all the bones in his torso. (The sound effects man's on overtime for this scene.) Chuck has one more trick up his sleeve, though: he turns slowly around to reveal an upper back with more vegetation than the Amazon rainforest.

The end, though, is inevitable. Lee wastes Norris and sets off into the sunset leaving behind a broken-hearted Chinese babe and a Chinese waiter whose livelihood he's saved by killing or disabling the entire Roman Mafia. The waiter, it turns out, is quite the philosopher, and it is he who brings the curtain down – in fact, brings the house down – by uttering the film's last line, the only closing line in cinematic history to have been put together from fortune cookies.

"Wherever he goes in this dog-eat-dog world, he will be admired by all."

Bruce's Homage to Mr. Bean

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Rascals and "Morality"

Byron may have been a manic depressive and a hopeless husband, but he was a man of singular acuity. His verdict on the rascals who use morality "for a purpose" had me thinking about Hong Kong and its "Civic Education" and the People Republic of China and its putrid calls for "patriotism" - issued whenever they have been weighed in the scales and found wanting.

"If they had told me the poetry [in the first two cantos of Don Juan] was bad, I would have acquiesced; but they say the contrary, and then talk to me about morality – the first time I ever heard the word from any body who was not a rascal that used it for a purpose. I maintain that it is the most moral of poems; but if people won’t discover the moral, that is their fault, not mine."

[letter of 1 Feb 1819 to his publisher John Murray]

Here's hoping that the writing is on the wall for these corrupt old codgers and they get their come-uppance one day soon.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

China's Unnatural Disaster

A clip from the HBO documentary China's Unnatural Disaster, made in the days following the earthquake in Sichuan that killed 80,000 people, including 10,000 children, in May 2008.

"We're not asking for money, we want justice to prevent future tragedies. This is a lesson of blood ... Shoddy construction killed so many people."

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

When Hacks Attack!

"Recession? What recession?"

That's the message from the redoubtable Woodwards and Bernsteins at the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the folk who think that investigative journalism is to ask an interviewee their age and favourite colour and then go into print without getting both wrong.

A year on from their last bash, at the Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, the journos have really pushed the boat out, booking the Marriott on Hong Kong Island. Perhaps Mak Yin-ting, the Chairperson (sic) of the HKJA, is a superstitious type, as she has increased the table price by 16%, or the lucky "Double Eight" in Chinese culture – lucky if you're charging it, that is, rather than paying for it. That's 25 grand per table – or nearly HK$2,100 a head.

As usual the big players in the public service sector will be well represented, with CLP Power, Hongkong Electric, PCCW, the MTRC, KMB, Ocean Park and the Hospital Authority all likely to be bidding outrageous sums of money for a bottle of plonk in order to guarantee they stay off hacks' radars for the next 12 months

There's an expression for the process by which the guardians of the Fourth Estate become the instruments of the very people they ostensibly seek to protect their readers from, but you're unlikely to come across it in the newspapers. It's called "journalistic capture". Rather pithy, don't you think?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Putting a Spokesperson in the Wheel

Subscribing to Webbsite was the smartest investment decision I ever made

The Webbmeister was in playful mood over the weekend, producing a piece characterised by considerable more levity than his average exposé of Stock Exchange shenanigans.

His beef is with the government-wide practice of quoting non-existent anonymous sources. Now, what David M. (standing for Mensa?) Webb clearly doesn't mean is that no one works for the Hong Kong Government. (Whether anyone in the Hong Kong Government does any work is quite a different matter and one he doesn't address in his latest spiel.)

Webbie gets himself quite worked up about what he perceives as sexism in the corridors of power. For, you see, having invented these phantoms, the relevant Government department almost invariably styles them as "spokesmen" rather than spokespeople. (I'm just thankful they haven't morphed into "spokespersonages" yet.)

Having established by means of a Google search (naturally) that 97 percent of the phantoms are referred to as "spokesman", Hong Kong's number one shareholder activist is moved to thunder: "this indicates a clear bias in the minds of officialdom that to be authoritative, a fictitious spokesperson should be male, not genderless or female".

And yet … does it?

Not one to contradict a man (oops! ... person) with 18,000 readers, I immediately contacted my friends at the University of Hong Kong. You see, the Convocation (alumni organisation) there has had three consecutive Chairmen – and they've all been women. I was told that "the title 'Chairman' no longer suggests the sex of a person but [is] merely a title and does not indicate the oppression of women as was thought to be the case in the 1970s".

Even the Americans, who foisted this tokenist equality on us in the decade that gave us The Partridge Family and KC and the Sunshine Band, are less than unequivocal about the need to replace the despised "man" with the ugly "person", as "freshman" inexplicably esacped the cull and lives on like a tuatara, the creature which was affectionately known as the "living fossil of New Zealand" until Dame Kiri Te Kanawa took exception and threatened legal action. Or is the retention of "freshman" a tacit admission by the Yanks that most of their undergraduettes look, well, like "persons"?

Reading King David, I was transported back a dozen years or so when I was working for the director of a listed company here. The lady in question was contemplating taking a short residential course at Harvard Business School and needed to submit a paragraph or two on her strengths as a leader. When she phoned me and told me about this, I told her to send me some bullet points and I'd knock them into shape.

"No," she said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world – I should write the text from scratch.

"No clues?" I asked.

To this day I don't think she understood my puckish sense of humour, so common is this sort of practice, I subsequently discovered, among Hong Kong's hardworking movers and shakers. And in Hong Kong Government circles too, as the Mensaite has discovered on his journey through mountains of Lower Albert Road press releases with their invented quotes.