Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bad Hair Day for Carson Yeung



But I must be innocent – I was never one of Hong Kong’s Ten Outstanding Young Persons

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Shakespeare's Top Ten Plays: Part I

I've finally finished (re-)reading the plays of "William Shakespeare" (most of them, at any rate – I wasn't going to torture myself by reading three sophomoric accounts of England's most lacklustre king, Henry VI, or the early comedies - these are challenging enough at the best of times when most of the jokes need explaining - or plays named after little known ancient figures like Titus Andronicus or Cymbeline).

Never a man to break my word, I now present you with the definitive list of Shakespeare’s Top Ten Plays – in reverse order to ensure maximum suspense:

[Tabor roll]

10. Richard III – without a shadow of a doubt, Shakespeare's best early stab at rewriting history. So good that Laurence Olivier remade the rewrite, casting himself as a mad king with a hunchback, an enormous proboscis and the most famous opening line of them all.

[Tutti with hammy nasal accents] "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of Yooorkk."

9. Much Ado about Nothing – King Charles I may have been wrong about his divine right to rule, but he was right about this one, writing "Benedick and Beatrice" next to the title of his copy. Their badinage (so much better than Petruchio and Katherina's exchanges in The Taming of the Shrew or anything in Love’s Labour’s Lost) was so good that Kenneth Branagh made Shakespeare sexy for a new generation with his 1993 film version.

8. The Winter’s Tale – deservedly famous for the stage direction "Exit, pursued by a bear" (which kills him. by the way), the play's correct title is The Winter's Tale rather than A Winter's Tale, vital knowledge for anyone who wants to bluff their way through Shakespeare. The convoluted plot, premised on insane jealousy and nicked by Shakespeare from someone or other, as most of his plots were, could have seen this descend to the level of "Othello Lite", but the lightness of touch and the fact that everything ends happily makes this one of his best, if weirdest, comedies.

7. Macbeth – I get so irritated by people who call this The Scottish Play that, like Blackadder, I am going to take every opportunity to say, "Macbeth". Arguably Macbeth's greatest plus point is its length – it's Shakespeare's second shortest play. Macbeth also contains lots of good quotes ("Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" is particularly easy to remember) as well as one of the most misquoted lines in the canon, "Lead on Macduff" – that's the misquotation, by the way. Tolkien, who claimed to dislike Shakespeare – but then he disliked a lot of things – wasn't too proud to borrow plot material from Macbeth. In Macbeth, some witch prophesies that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth" and he gets done in by Macduff, who was delivered by caesarean section – geddit?; in Lord of the Rings, some elf prophesies that a witch-king would not die "by the hand of man" and one of Tolkien's chaste warrior-maidens does him in.

6. Midsummer-Night’s Dream – I hope you appreciate the way I've used the olde worlde title for this. Probably not worth bothering with if you're in bluff mode, as some pedant is bound to find you out. One of the great things about this play is that you don't need to be forever referring to the list of characters at the front of your copy, as most of the roles are distinctive and easily remembered (if you can tell your Puck from your Bottom). Okay, apart from Lysander, Helena, Demetrius and Hermia, who are all in love with each other at various times. Well, they are if you are to believe some twat called Green, who made sure he got his contract renewed at Sussex University by droning on about the "sodomitical elements", "homoeroticism", "lesbianism" and "compulsory heterosexuality" in the play. A terrfic romp best viewed on the lawn of a country house in England in July. Take windcheaters and umbrellas.

[Nos. 1-5 to follow]

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Honorary Gongs

By a strange quirk of fate, last week I received invitations to two events at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. The second, to attend a recital given by an Italian tenor of some renown whose name I have forgotten, I was unable to take up, but the first, to the conferment ceremony for recipients of honorary gongs, I was pleased to accept as a friend of one of those being rewarded for services rendered.

The last time I went along to one of these things, one of those on the receiving end of the gown and cap was a certain Sophia Kao. Now I have to own up to never having heard of Ms Kao before, but, after listening to her citation being read out, two things stuck with me: first, she had worked for the Human Resources department of Hong Kong Telecom – now relocated to Mumbai, no doubt – and, second, she was a member of the businesswomen's club Zonta. I had long been familiar with this strangely named body, as it was the favoured haunt of the Commercial Director of the company I worked for at the time, who I shall call Mandy Lok. More of Mandy later.

It would seem that Ms Kao is something of a serial collector of fellowships from minor tertiary institutions, as sandwiched between the awards she has received from Lingnan University and the APA is one she got from the Open University of Hong Kong as recently as October 2010 for "building social capital in Hong Kong".

The APA is rather unusual for a Hong Kong institution in that it kills two birds with one stone by dishing out its honorary doctorates and honorary fellowships on the same day. I suppose its thinking is that any feeling of being fobbed off with second-class status is fully assuaged by being able to meet and shake hands with the great and the good in the shape of Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying Yen.

Tang himself looked pleased to be far away from the office and all those questions about whether he had used public money in the shape of his Press Secretary and other Government staff to help launch his 2012 Chief Executive campaign on a special election website administered by iProA, a company with close links to the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Among those receiving doctorates was fellow blogger David Eldon, former Chairman of both HSBC and the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, who looked resplendent in full regalia. Sadly, though, the finery faces a bleak future mothballed in a wardrobe in the spare bedroom, as the egalitarian Eldon has a distinct preference for wearing suits when officiating at graduation ceremonies.

Seeing Eldon there brought back rather emotional memories of Mandy Lok. Months of speculation about Mandy's future came to an abrupt end when a memo was sent to staff from the Managing Director with the news that she was "relinquishing" her position as Commercial Director.

My mole in the Chamber of Commerce tells me that a similar face-saving formula was promoted by Eldon in the face of a desire for a rather more proactive approach from more hawkish elements within the Chamber. He seems to allude to this in his blog entry for 8 January 2008, which he frames as a kind of open letter to Chiang, urging her to "seriously consider stepping-down (sic) from her Chamber position on a 'leave of absence' basis until the matter has been concluded".

Perhaps with one eye on those hawks, Eldon steps it up a gear, noting with masterly understatement that Chiang "was not universally popular" before adding that "unseen hands" were committed to ensuring that "Lily was never given the ultimate office she sought".

To be fair, getting caught with her hand in the till probably didn't help much either.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Coalplay



Now, we just need to find a partner to produce pit props that don't collapse

Friday, 24 June 2011

Well That Was Dvorak but I’m not Sure Who it Was by

These are the apocryphal words ascribed to Henry Kelly, who vied with namesake Matthew for the title of most annoying man on British television in the 1980s. Kelly was one of the original DJs charged with making Classic FM a more accessible alternative to BBC Radio 3 (which still likes to think of itself as The Third Programme) when it was launched nearly 20 years ago.

One of Classic FM's staples is the famous duet from Georeges Bizet's opera The Pearl Fishers. Such is the popularity of this tune that it is a virtual shoo-in for the BBC’s annual "Hundred Best Tunes" poll, ahead of such stalwarts as Elgar's Nimrod, Pachelbel's Canon and Mascagni's Intermezzo Cavalleria Rusticana.

In the duet, "Au fond du temple saint"” ("In the depths of the temple"), two men fondly recall the time they were both in love with the same girl, but swore to renounce her and remain friends for ever. Unsuprisingly, given their ambiguous proclivities, the protagonists were not given French identities by the composer, who called them Zurga and Nadir to prevent a riot by red-blooded compatriots at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris.

Like most of Bizet's works, including Carmen, The Pearl Fishers was a flop when first performed, and he died of a broken heart aged just 36. To get an idea of the Frenchman's prodigious talents, check out his Symphony in C, written when he was just seventeen.

Back to the duet, here's arguably the definitive recording, made in 1951 by the magnificent Swedish tenor Jussi Björling and the American baritone Robert Merrill (most famous in the USA for his renditions of "The Stars and Stripes" at baseball games). Apparently, it has not been out of print on RCA since its release.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Ai Weiwei Cagey with Press on Release



I'm sorry but my bail conditions specifically prevent me making any mention of the totalitarian state that incarcerated me

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Girl who Played with Fire

A few months ago, I caught the original Swedish-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at a local cinema. Apart from the dumb ending (not the denouement, but the actual ending where they had the sort of plug for the next film in the "Millennium" series that you used to get on Batman – and that show was deliberately camp), I thought it was a good film, worth at least 3 out of 4 on the Ebert Scale.

Dragon is no production for the Swedish tourist board. The entire film is bleak, including the locations. It certainly doesn't make you want to call your travel agent and pay top krona for the privilege of mixing with lugubrious types with a predilection for serial killing, anti-Semitism, incest and IKEA furniture.

Since my wife had recently bought all three books in the trilogy, I thought I'd put aside my Hakluyt and Shakespeare for a day or two and see if twenty-first century pulp fiction could equal sixteenth century tales of cross-dressing and derring-do. I decided to pick up where the first film had left off with the second in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire ("Fire"). (The author, Stieg Larsson, planned ten of the things, by the way. It's just as well he didn''t fulfil his ambitions – premature death saw to that – as at the rate his books were expanding by the time he got to number ten he was likely to have wiped out most of Sweden's remaining forests.)

Stop reading here is you don't want to know details of the stories.

Fire is built around the two main characters, both of whom are introduced in Dragon: Mikail Blomqvist, a brilliant, sexy and principled journalist with no sense of humour (did I mention that author Larsson was a journalist?) and Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant, sexy in a kick-you-in-the-balls-as-soon-as-look-at-you way and principled IT genius with no sense of humour, who is possessed of that invaluable gift for a character in a novel, a photographic memory. (This gift comes in very convenient when the reader, even one who claims no genius for himself, stops and wonders how on earth she's able to do this and why on earth she wants to remember that.)

If the heroes lack depth, spare a thought for the villains, who barely reach unidimensionality. In this first story, we have not just a father who has regular sex with his daughter, we also have a brother who has regular sex with his sister, having been schooled in the art from a young age by Pop, who also teaches him Nazism and serial killing. (And there was I thinking that the taboo against incest – natural father/natural daughter and natural brother/natural sister intercourse – was so strong as to be considered universal by many anthropologists. Which is not to say that it doesn't happen, but that it is considered to be rare.)

In the second, we have a troubled Russian ex GRU agent (think KGB with a bigger budget), who defects to Sweden – not a smart move if you want to be a non-defective defector – and starts up a business importing young women from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to "start a new life" in sunny Sweden. Unfortunately, however, all these 15-20 year-olds somehow missed out on those genes which make Lisbeth such a genius, so they actually thought that when the Russian crook met up with the Swedish sleazebag and offered them the chance to make it big in the West, that meant something other than that they would be forced into prostitution.

Meanwhile ... the Russian makes the fatal mistake of impregnating a lonely Swede who is the carrier of a gene more virulent than HIV, called Little Lisbeth. For, yes, indeed, the fruit of Zalachenko's tryst is none other than our heroine, who turns out to be more trouble than any one-night stand can be worth when she douses him with petrol and sets him on fire after she returns from a rare day at school to find that he's been working her mother over again.

I ought to mention that this is a truly dysfunctional family, as Lisbeth has a half-brother who bears a startling resemblance to the Robert Shaw character in From Russia with Love - SMERSH's chief executioner - who is charged by his Pop with killing little sis.

Oh what a tangled web we weave! Having got through one effort by Sweden's answer to Michael Crichton (it's difficult to say just how badly written it is when you read it in translation), at least I have discovered the reason that Larsson makes his Sweden so grey. It is because all his characters are so black and white.

And why? Well, apparently Larsson witnessed a gang rape when he was a teenager and chose not to intervene. Instead, he set out to write a decalogy in an attempt to work off his guilt and prove he was a woman's man.

In Fire, he writes, "Salander was the woman who hated men who hated women".

Does that make me the man who hates men who "love" women?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Shakespeare without Tears

I've recently been re-reading, or in some cases reading for the first time, Shakespeare's major plays.

I will be doing a Top Ten a bit later, but for the moment I thought I'd do a best-by-category list for those of you who are thinking of tackling the bard.

Incidentally, I recommend the New Clarendon Shakespeare editions: just the right amount of notes, and very readable and concise introductions by guys who are so steeped in Shakespeare you can imagine them cycling around Oxford in doublet and hose with matching codpiece.

Comedy: a competitive category, but Midsummer-Night's Dream wins (anything with a character called Bottom has got to be worth a read; plus, there's no irritating gender rehearsal stuff)

History: the early Richard III is fun, but Henry IV, Part I wins for its magnificent portrayal of Sir John Falstaff

Sandals and swords: Julius Caesar (a shoo-in, as Antony and Cleopatra is long and tedious, and no one ever reads Pericles, Timon of Athens, Coriolanus or Titus Andronicus)

Problem plays: the name says it all – if Shakespeare couldn't make up his mind whether it was a comedy or a tragedy, then he cannot expect any gongs in this category

Tragedies: Hamlet by a country mile ('though Lear, as theatrical folk, call it – never King Lear, darling – is rather good too) – the various filmed versions are also worth a look

Monday, 20 June 2011

McIlroy on Fast Track to Sporting Immortality



Last November, I followed Rory McIlroy at the Hong Kong Open golf tournament. At least, I tried to, as he plays the game so quickly that I'd often still be manoeuvring to get a sight of him when a crisp thwack signalled that he'd launched another Titleist on its way to the green.

In an age when most professionals take an age to play 18 holes – five hours is not uncommon for a threeball – you get the feeling that Rory would be round in half that time if he had his way. Contrast his pre-shot routine on tee or fairway of a couple of swishes with the endless faffing about of a Harrington – and indeed many other pros.

Up at the business end of the hole, the contrast is even more noticeable. While others walk back and forth across the green, consult their caddies, line up putts from improbable angles, perform calisthenics with their stick, consult their caddies again, take half a dozen practice putts and generally turn the simple act of holing out into a Japanese morality play, the young man from Northern Ireland with the Dennis the Menace haircut simply decides which line he needs to take and then caresses the ball up to, or, as has been the case over the last four days, into the tin cup.

If there is one thing you hope Asia's golfing multitudes will pick up from McIlroy's success at the US Open, it is that holding everyone up for five minutes before you hit a four-foot putt is not only anti-social, it is also counter-productive. But, then, in Asia, regrettably, golf is not a game. They really should give a different name to the activity which rich businessmen spend the whole day over in Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo, on the one hand, and the recreation that a couple of friends partake in on a weekday after work in Lancashire or Ayrshire.

Next month, I'll be heading over with family to watch the Open Championship at Royal St George’s in Kent. While there's no chance that we'll join the scrums following McIlroy, there's every chance we'll be part of the gallery watching Jason Day, the 23-year-old Aussie with a Filipino mother, who was runner-up to our Rory at Congressional. With three top ten finishes from just four Major appearances, this fellow is well worth putting a tenner on, even if he is desperately slow. Must be the Asian in him …

That's if my daughter lets us go around with anyone apart from her golfing hero, the uber-chavvish Ian Poulter, who entered a select pantheon occupied by the likes of Novak Djokovic, Joe Hart, James McAvoy and the lead singer from Maroon 5 when he signed her Arsenal shirt last November on his way to winning at Fanling.

Friday, 17 June 2011

And They Made Him a Knight of the Realm ...

... Over-rated

Classic David Brent

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Al-Qaeda Targets Eton



No one's heard of Harrow

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lily Chiang Receives Three and a Half Year Jail Term

By a quirk of fate, that’s the same amount of time as the interval that elapsed between Lily Chiang's being charged and convicted. Not as long as she may have feared, given that the China Daily was talking about seven years, but time enough to do a Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare and write a book about her adventures.

Intriguingly, last week the local paparazzi got a picture of cigarettes being taken to her in jail, raising the question of whether she's planning on taking up the habit or just stocking up on the local currency.

Still, every cloud has a Silver Bauhinia Star lining and there will be celebrations among at least some Chamber members as Lily settles down to life behind bars, appeals notwithstanding.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

All-new SCMP Offers Glass Tasting

The reader as adept at smelling rats as that hotel inspector in Fawlty Towers, when confronted with an email shot from the South China Morning Post that gushes "Grab the all-new SCMP and win prizes worth up to HK$1,000,000!‏", will subconsciously go into suspension of disbelief mode.

Those who will themselves to recover from that state will do so, first of all, to find that the SCMP is only "all-new" if by "all-new" you mean that most of the format and content is exactly the same as before, but now appears in a new font. Second, they will be alarmed to find that one of the ten main prizes is "glass tasting" for 12 at the Marriott Hotel. I should add that you get food thrown in, but I'm not sure what appetite I'd have after I'd chomped my way through all that crystal.

As it happens, it's not as bad as it sounds. Or, not quite. Apparently an Australian outfit called Riedel has "discovered" that "every glass highlights different characteristics for different wines". So, next time you pick up a dodgy Shiraz from PARKnSHOP and want to return it because it's "corked" but can't because it came with a screw top, then why not blame it on the size and shape of your vessel and invest in a whole array of Varietal-Specific glasses. (Capitals in the original – it's amazing how often they crop up in texts when people are winging it.)

Besides promoting ill-disguised schemes for selling gullible people – doubtless, pretentious French restaurants too – lots of different wine glasses, the SCMP also has a tie-in with Dymocks, which it calls "a bookstore chain found in Australia", as if they're surprised you should find books being sold down there in the first place.

For a mere 50 cents (the cost of an SMS – the telecom companies are going to be happy), people who shell out HK$7 on the print version of the Post have the chance to win a Dymocks Gold Booklover set. Now, this offer is most definitely aimed at Australians, I have to say, as the set consists of an autographed copy of something called Only Time Will Tell, which turns out to be the latest from that well-known literary colossus, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare, together with a $100 book voucher – so you can get something to read, I dare say.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Orwell on Intellectuals

Sometimes I like to consider myself a bit of an intellectual. Not, though, after dipping into George Orwell.

If his well known aphorism, "You have to be an intellectual to believe such nonsense. No ordinary man could be such a fool" isn't enough to unnerve you, then these words from his essay "The Prevention of Literature" should give you pause:

"To exercise your right of free speech you have to fight against economic pressure and against strong sections of public opinion ... The direct, conscious attack on intellectual decency comes from the intellectuals themselves."

Meanwhile, the following reminder from Australian critic and write Clive James should be etched below the crest of universities the world over: "Those of us who live by our brains should remember … that intellect confers no automatic moral superiority".

Friday, 10 June 2011

Tiger Mothers Make Womb for Dvorak and Bartok

The uplifting story of Lily Chiang's niece being guided by her mother's use of neo-Socratic dialectics to an apparent understanding of the true nature of things reminded me of an old joke I heard at a psycholinguistics conference some years ago.

In case you are wondering, this discipline is concerned not with the speech habits of Sarah Palin, Basil Fawlty, Henry Tang Ying Yen and others of that ilk, but with the acquisition of a first language (or languages) by a child.

"The problem with most parents," said the speaker, "is that they spend all their time correcting their young one's grammar, and pay no heed to the truth-conditional content of the utterance.

Thus, when their little one says, 'Mummy, I seed a dragon with auntie', they will insist on the child emending this to 'I saw a dragon with auntie'. They would of course be doing a lot more good for the child if they said, 'Nonsense - you seed no such thing!'"

His point was that while the grammar will come out alright in the wash for most children, their tendency to be economical with the truth will develop apace if unchecked.

Seen in this light, one may argue that it is the unbridled child within the 50-year-old with a PhD which, having spent three and a half years using every delaying tactic in the book to try and ensure she obtained a mistrial or a retrial – or failing that, at least a jury trial – now says that she will not seek bail for an appeal because she doesn't want the case to drag on any longer.

But I digress. The very favourite of my linguistics stories comes from the King of Functional Grammar himself, Michael Halliday. Before Halliday started to write stuff that no one really understood – and which thus made ideal material for full-unit university courses – he wrote a charming little book about the language acquisition of his son, Nigel, called Learning How to Mean.

I actually feel rather sorry for Nigel. There was dad dogging his every movement from the time he could crawl, humping about an enormous tape recorder and staring at him expectantly until he should open his mouth and produce a gem. Tiger Mothers had nothing on Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday!

Nigel was clearly up to the challenge, though, because one day, aged 22 months, he came out with the following:

"da …. da …. ba … ba … ba!"

which was immediately seized on by Proud Dad, who glossed it as "Put on the Dvorak and then the Bartok!"

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Oh Sisters Two, What May You Do?


It was very much a family outing to Wan Chai District Court yesterday, as two of Lily Chiang Lai Lei's five* sisters turned up to lend her their support. As for Lily herself, she appeared to have had another of those bouts of ill health to which she is prone every ten years, as she was sporting a face mask alongside her stylish new haircut.

What price, I wonder, that ultimate courtroom accessory, the wheelchair, next week, when, as the Hong Kong Standard reports ominously, Judge Albert Wong Sung Hau will "pass sentence" after her legal team has presented mitigation submissions today?

Of course, coming up with a decent "mitigation submission" is likely to test the mettle of even the most creative lawyer, when his client is alleged to have pocketed more than HK$3.7 million though the simple expedient of instructing ten members of staff to hold shares on her behalf, wait for them to turn a profit and then transfer the money into accounts held by her.

"M'lud, she was generous in her charity work beyond the call of duty, giving away more than five percent of the money she purloined"?

I'm not sure that would cut it.

Someone asked me why this sort of fraud isn't perpetrated more frequently if it's so easy to carry out. As so often, the answer is to be found in the question. The law of averages suggests that if you involve ten people in a scam then one of them is going to start singing like a canary unless you look after them all very well. After all, most people will want a large slice of the pie if they smell the apples, raisins and cinnamon and if on top of that they see the master chef going in and out of the kitchen with bucket loads of flour.

An all-expenses paid trip to look after "business" in Taiwan, with unlimited shopping on the side, such as the Chinese press report was offered to her secretary, is hardly going to cut it, especially when intimidating types from the ICAC come knocking with a tempting offer of immunity seasoned with what Judge Wong calls pressure to give evidence that is "difficult to resist".

Of course, the other problem with simple schemes is that they are correspondingly simple to detect and unmask. No dead-ends and no impenetrable paper trails mean no opportunity for the legal industry to generate labyrinthine legal arguments.

Little wonder, then, that one of Lily's sisters, Ann Chiang Lai Wan, vice-chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, told reporters that their father, millionaire industrialist Chiang Chen, was prepared for the worst in respect of the youngest** and "cleverest", as he used to be proud of calling her.

Meanwhile, in the parallel universe that is religious broadcasting, last night, as chance would have it, another sister, Agnes Chiang Lai Ping, a former singer/actress of no particular note, was appearing on Creation TV, Hong Kong’s answer to GOD TV. Agnes reminisced with her young daughter about a recent visit to the United States and in particular a mansion that had caught her daughter's imagination.

"Mummy, that house is soo big."

"Yes, darling, but wouldn't you prefer to have Jesus rather than that big house."

"I don’t know, mummy. I'd like both."

"But, if you could have only one, which would you choose?"

"Jesus, I think."

"Good, darling. Why?"

"Because he’d make me happy."

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings … I hope Auntie Lily was listening.

* Lily is one of seven sisters according to the SCMP of 10 June 2011

** Lily is the fourth child according to the same source

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Lily Chiang Set to Do a Runner?

Getting into the spirit of Hong Kong's longest running soap opera, Albert Wong Sung Hau, the judge in the Lily Chiang Lai Lei fraud trial, himself provided the cliffhanger to yesterday's show as he promised to reveal all in a further episode.

"For reasons I will give," he intoned tantalisingly, "I’ve decided it is appropriate to revoke bail," sending the rumour mill into overdrive with visions of Lily legging it off to the States, where she did her bachelor's degree.

Given that her bail was set at just HK$1 million (US$128,000) subsequent to her arrest in October 2007, this tidbit was certainly the high point of a day which saw Judge Wong begin the job of ploughing through his 100+ page verdict; a truly Herculean labour, which he says he may not finish until tomorrow, setting the scene for another possible cliffhanger this evening.

For pure theatre, all this teasing tops Who Shot JR? like little Deng Xiaoping being swallowed up by his ten-gallon hat.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Palin’s Gaffe Sends Americans into Nitpicking Heaven

Americans love a good nitpick. I once read that around ten percent of adult Americans get themselves a law degree, even if not quite all of them can go on to make a living from the national obsession with ensuring that the wood is never seen for the trees.

So, I was amused to read that Sarah Palin, arguably one of the most ignorant of the current crop of American political figures – she did, after all, take five years to complete a bachelor's degree in the softest of all subjects, "communications with an emphasis in journalism" – had put that ignorance on display again with a comment about one of the most revered figures in the United States' young history.

Or had she? No sooner had her revisionist remark about Paul Revere sent the latté liberals into a lather of mockery than bearded types who vote Libertarian joined forces with the legal legions to point out that Palin may have had a point.

You see, it all depends on how you define "British". If you want to be really pedantic – and which true American with access to Wikipedia doesn't? – then you can time-travel back to 1775 and claim that the colonists considered themselves British because they were British subjects.

This has provided Mrs. Palin with the sort of get-out clause beloved by her compatriots after she goofed by saying that Mr. Revere had "warned the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms", when in fact he was warning his fellow colonists that the British were coming.

And there's more. Naturally. Isn't there always when you start skinning your nit?

Our Paul did indeed warn the Redcoats about the presence of armed militiamen in the vicinity after they'd nabbed him, evincing a genuine concern for their safety and well-being. Which at least clears up another possible area for disputation. Our Paul evidently was not a lawyer.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Top Website for Booking Hotels

I'm actually amazed I haven't come across this site before, but on the off chance that some of you haven't too, I give you agoda.com. My wife's niece's friend, Wing Wing, swears by it and recently used it to book a holiday in Thailand, so it must be good.

I note that there are more than 2,000 comments for the Hotel Royal, Macau, which means either that YouTube commenters have migrated there en masse or that the people who stay at that particular establishment are bloggers manqués.

Alternatively, of course, agoda may be performing a similar trick to that beloved of many companies in Hong Kong, whereby they claim 12 million website hits a day for a site that only gets a thousand by giving each click on a photo or other image a score of 40,000.

As Churchill said, the only stats you can trust are those you make up yourself.

Last month I averaged 800 visitors a day. But, there again, it was a quiet month.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Foot in Mouth Disease

The other evening, after a concert at the City Hall, we bumped into my wife's first cousin once removed in the car park. I had been told – and had managed to remember – that this young lady's boyfriend played violin in the orchestra, but what I hadn't managed to remember was that she wasn't her mother.

In fact, I would still be blissful in my ignorance were it not for my wife commenting on how much weight her first cousin once removed had put on.

I was a bit stumped by this, the way you are when you're not on the same wavelength as your interlocutor, and, on reflection, I wish it had stayed that way.

Unfortunately, though, in an attempt to clarify the situation, I said,

"Really? I didn't realise she was there. I only saw her mother."

My wife thoroughly enjoyed herself at my expense, but no half so much as when my daughter decided that now was the most opportune time to enter the fray, having stored her nugget up like a squirrel hoarding acorns against winter.

"It was so embarrassing. He said 'Pass my congratulations on to the mother's daughter's boyfriend'. You should have seen her face."

My wife wasn't much of a comforter, it has to be said.

"Gee, Ullie, her mother is 61!"

This would count as a mere tremor on the Richter Scale of my most embarrassing moments, though. My own Japanese Tsunami occurred fully 25 years ago, when I was on a cricket tour of Swansea. We were discussing post-match entertainment and one of the lads mentioned there was a wet T-shirt evening at one of the seedier pubs in town.

"I'm afraid I didn't bring a T-shirt," I replied, obviously rather more loudly than I thought, as there was a brief silence before everyone dissolved in fits of laughter.

Sensing my mistake, I tried to pretend I was only joking, but, unlike the girls later that evening, I was left looking a tit with nothing to cover my embarrassment.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011