Roundup for Week 8

Sunday 27 February 2011, 4.22am HKT

Roundup for the week of 21-27 February 2011.

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Markets in an ugly mess

Watch or listen to the news long enough, and you’ll notice a pattern: we’re going down the tubes.

The markets around the world went bonkers mainly because of the violence and tension going on in the Mideast. All indexes down. Ibex in Madrid went up a bit. Italian bonds were blowing out. Shanghai Index fell nearly 3% in one night. Euro slightly off but not too bad. Japanese yen strengthen and Japanese stocks weakened (but that’s normal since they trade in opposite directions anyway). Gold, silver and petroleum go up. To cut a long story short, the Yanks are getting nervous and sweaty; they’re more scared of losing their shirts than they are of any possible Islamic violence on American soil.

Didn’t they say the Year of the Rabbit was going to be a more peaceful and peaceable year?

George Soros said on TV that the Iranian regime will “fall in a year.” I don’t think so, Mr Soros.

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A refreshing change from the usual

Libyan jets bombed its own civilians, so it’s now refreshing to hear of a Muslim cleric putting out a fatwah (death warrant) on Ghadhafi rather than on some sodding Judeo-Christian-imperialist-commie-pinko-fascist-colonial-goyim-pagan infidel. Migraha, Tuareg and Warfela tribes, once allies of Ghadhafi’s, are abandoning him. When will his own Gaddafda tribe go the same way?

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Ignorance on both sides of the Budget

Pay attention! Class is in session! This is important for you and me, anywhere in the world.

Last week, Hong Kong presented the Budget for 2011-2012. If you have a long memory (as The Naked Listener has), you will have noticed that the Budget is getting weirder and weirder, more and more detached from real life, more and more unpopular, year after year. This is a sign that the economy is in serious trouble. But everybody is keeping mum because they can’t see it (or won’t).

One of the declared goals of the new Budget is to fight inflation. The first trouble with it has been the humongous rise in the price of cigarettes (41%). Leaving aside the fact that smoking is a filthy habit and socially unacceptable, at least don’t bloody use price to discourage smoking. It just leads to price hikes for all other goods. That’s called creating more inflation. It’s Economics 101, Business Calculations 101 and Accounting 101. (The Naked Listener has a Distinction in Business Calculations, so don’t argue.)

It’s the same kind of monetarist insanity that Milton Friedman was fond of dishing out: use unemployment to fight inflation. What the heck are these people smoking?

Nobody in our abortion of a city apparently appreciates this, so Hongkongers stand idly by and let prices run loose — solely because of the ‘feel-good factor’ of targetting a socially unacceptable habit first. All they seem to think about is getting smokers to quit.

Factor in the global rise in food prices, factor in the global shortage of food commodities, factor in the fact that places like Singapore and Hong Kong has to import over 90% of its food and consumables, factor in the global trend to realign to a ‘knowledge-based’ economy from an industrial or manufacturing economy — you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise we’re driving ourselves into the ground.

Don’t worry, pal, smokers eventually will have to quit — and they can quit. But bet you won’t be able to quit paying higher prices for everything else. Start worrying about the galloping prices for other non-smokable things brought on by higher price of ciggies. They don’t call them ‘death sticks’ for nothing. Derp.

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Pay and performance

“You should do your best regardless of your actual pay.”
— Business maxim

Part of our Budget for this fiscal year includes a pay raise for our governor (officially Chief Executive) Sir Donald Tsang.

As a legally trained person, I’m rather fond of headcounting. It’s quick, it’s empirical, it’s objective, and it’s pissoffable for everybody. Let’s do that now.

All things being equal, our overlord Chinese President Hu Jintao actually does a fairly good job, considering he officially makes US$10,600 p.a., which is bloody peanuts in the extreme. He has my sympathy — his salary is abusive, demeaning and a laughing stock of our moral and financial values.

Here’s the top 10 salary muscle ranking (2009) of political leaders in the world:

1. Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore) — salary S$3.76 million p.a. (US$2.47 million)

2. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen (Hong Kong) — salary HK$4 million p.a. (US$516,000)

3. Barack Obama (USA) — salary US$400,000 p.a.

4. Brian Cowen (Ireland) — salary €257,000 p.a. (US$341,000)

5. Nicolas Sarkozy (France) — salary €240,000 p.a. (US$318,000)

6. Angela Merkel (Germany) — salary €228,000 p.a. (US$303,000)

7. Gordon Brown (UK) — salary £194,250 p.a. (US$279,000)

8. Stephen Harper (Canada) — salary C$311,000 p.a. (US$246,000)

9. Taro Aso (Japan) — salary ¥24 million p.a. (US$243,000)

10. Kevin Rudd (Australia) — salary A$330,000 p.a. (US$229,000)

These are official figures from their respective governments.

It’s sheer madness. A guy like Sir Donald (#2) makes nearly HK$11,000 (US$1,410) every 24 hours! (Probably more now in 2011.) Not to put too fine a point on things, 1 in 5 Hongkongers don’t even make that much a month. Sir Donald has tons of highly trained people around him to help. Yet the mistakes, missteps and other flubs under his tutelage are just too long to recount. Year after year, Sir Donald’s government comes out with increasingly psychedelic budgets that confuses anyone with even half a brain.

For that kind of price, I guarantee I could do one helluva brilliant job. That kind of salary is no joke. I’m goddamn serious about money: I’ve never been able to take a joke about money, you better believe it. (Even Dad found my seriousness a bit unbearable when it comes to money matters.)

A highflying friend of mine who asked for anonymity remarked pointedly:

“Our Chief Executives, past and present, have no connection with money. You could pay more money and it wouldn’t make any difference to performance. And unrealistic to expect so.”

* * *

Europe scrambling to rescue citizens

Malta has accidentally become the staging post for various EU states to rescue their citizens in Libya. That small island nation, one of two countries in the world with no divorce law, might now consider legislating one to divorce itself from the EU because of the troubles in North Africa. We can only speculate why a country like Italy with better logistics than Malta didn’t become the staging post instead.

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More money-grubbing tricks

Shanghai has started scaling back its suburban bus routes, forcing commuters to ride the metro rail and paying as much as 100% more in fares. Authorities say changing 283 bus routes out of 1,165 will help lessen congestion in the city. All it does it transfer the congestion (and cost) to the metro. [via Shanghaiist]

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‘Pinky’ for choggies

Jacqueline Nielsen (right) posing with her "A HK Girl" doll and Jessica Yeung, the muse for it. (Photo: Jonathan Wong, SCMP, 15 Feb 2011)

As if we don’t have already enough thirtysomethings with their dangling Hello Kitty dolls, Hong Kong now has Pinky. It’s a doll created by artist Jacqueline Nielsen and pitched as a mascot for the quintessential Hong Kong chick. [via HKSAR Blog]

Pinky (a name that’s probably PC enough for our mainland overlords) is described as a piano instructor, loves photography and travel, wears pink dresses and a fluffy scarf, has wavy hair, does her makeup to perfection, and wears a shoulder bag. Woot?

(No, that’s an American scene chick you’re describing (minus the piano bit), not a Hong Kong choggy-bird.)

The muse for the doll is a complete unknown named Jessica Yeung, according to the local newspapers.

Nielsen goes on to say, “Hong Kong girls are misunderstood. [Many people] see them as noisy, picky and materialistic girls.”

But they ARE noisy, picky and materialistic. And aggressive.

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Somewhere, an idiot father names his daughter ‘Facebook.’ [via LA Times]

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Dead baby dolphins are washing up along the U.S. Gulf coast at 10 times the normal rate. [via AlterNet]

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Thoughts and recollections from the past and present, sometimes even the future

Well, wha’d’ya know!

Libyan strongman Ghadhafi (a.k.a. Gaddafi, Qaddafi) spent nearly two hours in a rambling speech gesticulating like a spastic and prattling on about how he’s willing to be martyred and stuff after he’s wet-jobbed masses of his people in heavy weapons fire and airstrikes. He fumbles here and there with his Libyan vernacular accent (he might as well just spoke in Standard Arabic).

What struck me wasn’t his speech. It was his all-brown garb. It brought back something told to me from my way-back-when days that it’s a sign that he’s got Jewish blood. Of course he has: his grandmother or great-grandsomething was Jewish who converted to Islam before his father or mother was born. It is this that’s fuelling speculation that Ghadhafi might just ask for refuge in Israel (of all places!) under the Law of Return. Well, what d’ya know!

Trivia: Brown (hooded) robes have also been linked to the 14th Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. (The degree is sometimes called “Perfect Elu” in the Southern Jurisdiction of U.S. freemasonry). This I can’t vouch for because I’m recalling from rapidly fading distant memory.

Another trivia: If you’re into the meanings of colours, brown says stability, reliability, wholesomeness, approachability and orderliness. Brown is the colour of earth and is associated with all things natural or organic.

Actually, come to think of it, Ghadhafi’s choice of brown for wear wasn’t that bad. Imagine him wearing blue (conservative), green (playing up the religion card), red (no way), orange (means “death’s coming” for older Mideasterners), yellow (gotta be joking), black (submission to him) or white (ain’t young anymore). All the others are just, well, ghey.

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One and the same, please

Some people have trouble with those who aren’t the same as they are. One person puts it best:

“Your car is German. Your vodka is Russian. Your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish. Your democracy is Greek. Your coffee is Brazilian. Your movies are American. Your tea is Sri Lankan. Your shirt is Indian. Your oil is Saudi Arabian. Your electronics are Chinese, your numbers Arabic, and your letters Latin. So if your neighbor is an immigrant, why complain?” (via Linda, 23/2)

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How creative could one person be?

Creativity is about seeing, listening, living and talking about stuff around you. That means looking for differences while keeping in mind the similarities. It calls for interaction — the nature and strength of a reciprocal effect. Creativity is a multi-person sport. (23/2)

* * *

Greenpeace volunteers are generally very well trained in the branded messaging of the organisation. The vest, the clipboard, the smile as they approach you on the street, somewhere between college student, lumberjack, explorer and plain decent human being. And they have short fuses. (23/2)

* * *

Some folks say I’m a contrarian, but I disagree. I’m just a guy with opinions drawn from experience of different places and an inclination to express myself. (23/2)

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The Chinese as a whole are an industrious people, and Chinese students (both the local variety as well as overseas) have a reputation of being highfliers. Ultimately, it still comes to naught because, frankly speaking, the whole Chinese civilisation ultimately fails to understand what education is all about.

A day in the life of a mainland Chinese secondary school is hell by any standards, and it’s nothing unusual. Indeed, it’s the same by degrees and turns in any Chinese-style school in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

* * *

‘What if we could trade our politicians like sports players?’

Nice question from CBS Denver that got me thinking back about a news item many, many years ago about East Timor. Shortly after independence, East Timor nearly went real with the idea of just hiring someone from outside to run the country. Then I got thinking about our own house: at half a million U.S. dollars in salary, maybe we could do the same and replace Sir Donald.

* * *

Funny names in Hong Kong

Salad Sin, ex-classmate at uni. (Sorry, no offence meant, really.) (24/2)

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Heaven and Hell: happenings in and around my life, even away from it

Three weeks without any response from W. to my 4th February email. And W. has learnt the art of going invisible on the online world, certainly since 16th February.

* * *

Attended Writing and Jacky’s church wedding yesterday afternoon (26/2). Turnout was decently sizeable and fun was had by all. I kinda sensed that many people were a wee bit surprised that W and J are getting hitched in their young age (twenties), but I reckon they’re doing at the perfect time, as I’ve said before.

* * *

Whilst drafting this roundup last night, I spent the entire length of “Das Leben der Anderen” (“The Lives of Others,” 2006, 2 hours 17 mins) listening to the German dialogue than watching it (which was what I wanted to do originally). And in my listening, I felt completely like the movie’s Stasi officer eavesdropping on his suspects.

* * *

I might have to relent and change my old-fashioned spelling of Ghadhafi to the more-modern Gaddafi.


Images (pilfered and used without permission):

Church wedding image © The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011. All Rights reserved worldwide.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

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