2002 News archive

Nestle – do they know its Christmas?

24 December 2002

In 1984, appalled by film of the famine in Ethiopia, Sir Bob Geldorf wrote Do they Know its Christmas; he cajoled, encouraged and persuaded the hit list of British 1980s pop to perform the song; and all proceeds went to acquire and ship food and medical supplies to Ethiopia.

The song was released in November of 1984, and immediately debuted at Number One in Great Britain, and was Number One on the American charts two weeks later. The song sold fifty million copies worldwide. Midge Ure was the co-producer, and he personally accompanied the first relief shipment of over $70,000 worth of food and medical supplies to Ethiopia, in March 11, 1985.

Now 18 years on the lessons have not been learned.

The multinational coffee, cereal and confectionery company, Nestle, is demanding US$ 6 million from the Ethiopian government.

Ethiopia is fighting its worst famine for 20 years. It is the poorest country in the world. The average annual income is US$ 100. One in every ten new born children will not see their first birthday. The government has acknowledged its legal liability but argues that it simply cannot afford the repayment but has offered US$ 1.5 million to settle the claim.

The background is slightly complicated. In 1975 the then military government in Ethiopia nationalised the Ethiopian Livestock Development Company, which at that time was owned in part by a German company, the Schweisfurth Group. Schwiesfurth was acquired by Nestle in 1986. It is a fair bet that the recoverability of an 11 year old debt was a discount to the purchase price. If it was not then the due diligence was negligent.

Oxfam state that US$ 6 million would feed over one million people for a month. The Ethiopian prime minister believes that 6 million of his people already need emergency food aid. That number increase daily.

There has been a three year drought. Crops have failed. And ironically, the price of coffee has collapsed. Coffee production supports one quater of Ethiopia’s population. Nestle is the worlds largest coffee producer.

Oh yes, Nestle’s 2001 profits were US$ 5.5 billion.

Under intense public pressure Nestle is now talking about investing the repayment back into Ethiopia. But it is not yet talking about waiving the debt.

The assets in Ethiopia were nationalised 25 years ago. Nestle did not even own the company at the time. The company is trying to make cash out of a debt that it surely wrote of many years ago.

Nestle’s employees and shareholders must be hugely embarrassed. A quick climb down, an apology and a contribution of US$ 6 million to famine relief in Ethiopia would win Nestle many friends. Until then I strongly suggest that you boycott their products.

You can also write to the company using the following link.


The lyrics to Do They Know Its Christmas:

1: It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

2: But say a prayer
Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it’s hard
But when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring
There are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time
Feed the world
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

3: And there won’t be snow in Africa
This Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time again

(Here’s to you) raise a glass for everyone
(Here’s to them) underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

END: Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmas time
Useful Links for this story:

A list of Nestle Products: http://www.nestle.co.uk/about/brands/

Oxfam: http://www.oxfam.org/eng/

Right sizing Christmas

Sadly this is not an rascott.com original – it is far too funny to be from me !

Twelve Days of Christmas Memo


To: All Staff
Date: December 1
Subject: New “Twelve Days of Christmas” Policy

The recent announcement that Donner and Blitzen have elected to take the early reindeer retirement package has triggered a good deal of concern about whether they will be replaced, and about other restructuring decisions at the North Pole.

Streamlining is due to the North Pole’s loss of dominance in the season’s gift distribution business. Home Shopping TV channels and mail order catalogues have diminished Santa’s market share. He and the Board could not sit idly by and permit further erosion of the profit picture.

The reindeer downsizing was made possible through purchase of a late model Japanese sled for the CEO’s annual trip. Improved productivity from Dasher and Dancer, who summered at the Harvard Business School, is anticipated. Reduction in the reindeer will also lessen airborne environmental emissions for which the North Pole has received unfavorable press (gas and solid waste).

We’re pleased to inform you that Rudolph’s role will not be disturbed. Tradition still counts for something at the North Pole!

Management denies, in the strongest possible language, the earlier leak that Rudolph’s nose gets red, not from the cold, but from substance abuse. Calling Rudolph “a lush who was into the sauce and never did pull his share of the load” was an unfortunate comment, made by one of Santa’s helpers and taken out of context at a time of the year when they are known to be under ‘executive stress’.

As for further restructuring, today’s global challenges require the North Pole to continue to look for better, more competitive steps. Effective immediately, the following economy measures are to take place in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” music subsidiary:

1) The partridge will be retained, but the pear tree, which never produced the cash crop forecasted, will be replaced by a plastic hanging plant, providing considerable savings in maintenance;

2) Two turtle doves represent a redundancy that is simply not cost effective. In addition, their romance during working hours could not be condoned. The positions are, therefore, eliminated;

3) The three French hens will remain intact. After all, everyone loves the French;

4) The four calling birds will be replaced by an automated voice mail system, with a call waiting option. An analysis is underway to determine who the birds have been calling, how often and how long they talked;

5) The five golden rings have been put on hold by the Board of Directors. Maintaining a portfolio based on one commodity could have negative implications for institutional investors. Diversification into other precious metals, as well as a mix of T-Bills and high technology stocks, appear to be in order;

6) The six geese-a-laying constitutes a luxury which can no longer be afforded. It has long been felt that the production rate of one egg per goose per day was an example of the general decline in productivity. Three geese will be let go, and an upgrading in the selection procedure by personnel will assure management that, from now on, every goose it gets will be a good one;

7) The seven swans-a-swimming is obviously a number chosen in better times. The function is primarily decorative. Mechanical swans are on order. The current swans will be retrained to learn some new strokes, thereby enhancing their outplacement;

8) As you know, the eight maids-a-milking concept has been under heavy scrutiny by the EEOC. A male/female balance in the workforce is being sought. The more militant maids consider this a dead-end job with no upward mobility. Automation of the process may permit the maids to try a-mending, a-mentoring or a-mulching;

9) Nine ladies dancing has always been an odd number. This function will be phased out as these individuals grow older and can no longer do the steps;

10) Ten Lords-a-leaping is overkill. The high cost of Lords, plus the expense of international air travel, prompted the Compensation Committee to suggest replacing this group with ten out-of-work congressmen. While leaping ability may be somewhat sacrificed, the savings are significant as we expect an oversupply of unemployed congressmen this year;

11) Eleven pipers piping and twelve drummers drumming is a simple case of the band getting too big. A substitution with a string quartet, a cutback on new music, and no uniforms, will produce savings which will drop right to the bottom line;

Overall we can expect a substantial reduction in assorted people, fowl, animals and related expenses. Though incomplete, studies indicate that stretching deliveries over twelve days is inefficient. If we can drop ship in one day, service levels will be improved.

Regarding the lawsuit filed by the attorney’s association seeking expansion to include the legal profession (“thirteen lawyers-a-suing”), a decision is pending.

Deeper cuts may be necessary in the future to remain competitive. Should that happen, the Board will request management to scrutinize the Snow White Division to see if seven dwarfs is the right number.

Happy Holidays !

Cheriegate – never lie to the media !

14 December 2002

How Cherie Blair must regret being introduced to Peter Foster, the convicted fraudster who helped her purchase two apartments in Bristol, in the South West of England.

While no one has suggested that anything illegal took place it is the judgment of Ms Blair, and by association the Prime Minister, that has come under focus.

The underlying concern, and expect this to figure prominently in Mr. Foster’s revelations, is that in return for his help, Ms Blair interceded on Foster’s behalf in his extradition hearings from the UK, possibly using the influence of No 10 Downing Street,

When the government’s press office initially denied Foster’s involvement they lied. And there is nothing more damaging than lying to the very resourceful British media. They are like sharks; they smell a weakness and attack. Leaked e-mails confirmed Foster’s involvement and the saga has continued from there.

He has now sold his story to a frenzied media and new revelations are inevitable.

Downing street has come to a halt for two weeks. Iraq, Firemen strikes and other events of import, have been relegated to also-rans while Tony Blair and his advisors go full tilt into damage limitation mode ! Ms Blair’s tearful and rather theatrical apologies were hopefully genuine rather than misleading the British public further.

Many of us continue to wish Blair’s government well. The alternatives are too frightening to consider. There are elements of the British Press that abhor the very idea of Labour rule – even of new Labour rule. The Mail on Sunday and The Scotsman have both been at the forefront of the mud-slinging.

The trouble is that Downing Street, the Prime Minister and his wife failed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from the outset. The public are still not convinced that the truth his now being told. The government’s credibility has been weakened.

The Guardian, a newspaper that harbours much goodwill for the government wrote yesterday that,

“Cheriegate is not just about Mrs Blair, her role and judgment. It is also, in a resonant way, about New Labour as a whole. The affair is a catalyst for a wider reflection on the tone and dignity of the government, its leaders, its methods and perhaps even its moral compass.”

What the Blairs need to do now is avoid a siege mentality; they need to be public and accountable. They are not being hounded by politicians in the way Bill Clinton was. They are being hounded by parts of the media. The best that they can do is use that media to win back public confidence and support.

The short lived return of Henry Kissinger

14 December 2002

Daniel Patrick Moynihan in A Dangerous Place, his book about the United Nations, said of Henry Kissinger: ”Henry does not lie because it is in his interest to lie. He lies because it is in his nature to lie.”

Kissinger’ track record includes the Vietnam war, the secret bombing of Cambodia and the overthrow of the Chilean president Salvador Allende and his replacement with General Agusto Pinochet.

So why on earth did George Bush appoint a man with a legendary reputation for deception to head the so-called independent commission to study the World Trade Center disaster? Did he expect that Kissinger will add credibility to the report? Or rather, did he hope that Kissinger will cover up what needs to be covered up?

These questions may be less relevant given that Kissinger has resigned as head of the commission citing conflicts of interest with his consulting business. That in itself is worrying since it is widely believed that his consulting clients include Saudi rulers; and the Saudi links to the September 11th attack on the US have never been fully investigated.

One guarantee; the findings of the commission can now be delayed until after the 2004 elections.

Kissinger remains dogged by allegations of war crimes. These are documented at this site. He is also (remarkably) a winner of the Nobel peace prize, as documented here.

Iraq’s weapons report rejected by the USA

14 December 2002

Hijacked by the US government on its arrival at the United Nations this 12,000 page document could have been 12,000 blank pages given the predictability of the US reaction.

The Bush administration has already dismissed Iraq’s weapons declaration as woefully short of facts. “We know that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and has programs to create more,” the State Department said.

There is an inevitability about war with Iraq. It is not will there be a war as when will there be a war. Saddam’s 12,000 page report has been described as the longest suicide note in history. US intelligence says Saddam is lying. The UN inspectors will be allowed to run around for a while. Eventually the UN inspectors will be given access to US intelligence. And they will find something that is sufficient for the UN to acquiesce while the US and Britain attack.

The only way to disarm Saddam is to depose him and by extension to kill (or capture) him.

The US government clearly links the war on Iraq (WI) to the war on terrorism (WT). In Washington they consider it is just a matter of time before the next terrorist attack takes place in their country. The connections between al-Qaida and Saddam are clearly tenuous, but to the US they are very real. The US is the world’s only superpower. It is a role that frankly the country is too immature and too self centered for them to carry such a burden of responsibility.

Helping the W***** in the Black.

14 December 2002

It is widely known that football referees enjoy low digit IQs. Why else would they do a job that pays so badly and where they endure endless abuse.

And in many cases that abuse is deserved. The favourite chants from the terrace of “who is the w***** in the black” are testament to the affection we all have for football referees.

Now if the referees are bad; the linesmen are disgraceful. This evening Manchester United were leading beleaguered West Ham United 2-0 just before half time. West Ham look to have scored; a goal that might change their fortune and the direction of the game. The linesman flags for offside; he is looking at the middle of the pitch where the action is; he is not looking five yards in front of him where O’Shea, the United defender, is playing Defoe onside by about three yards. It was a shocking decision. But it is also a decision that could have been over ruled by video evidence within seconds. The goal should have been allowed.

The technology is there; use it. At the highest level, the players and their fans deserve the best decision making. A fourth official looking at television monitors is a must for premier, european and international football. It is a travesty that it is not already in use.

Thoughts on the Hong Kong Open Golf Championship

29 November 2002

Sport or pastime?

I spent yesterday at the first round of the Omega sponsored Hong Kong Open golf tournament.

The big question is can golf be called a sport?

I used to think of a sport as being defined by whether someone could go further, faster, higher than their opponent; or score more than their opponent. It is that element of competition that defines a sport.

But can a sport be something that you can do when smoking? And so many golfers puff their way around a golf course! I wonder whether a pro golfer can elect to play in a smoking or non smoking group.

Hong Kong’s event woes

The open golf is being held at the Hong Kong Golf Club (no longer royal!) in Fanling. It is an old parkland course. And it is not in the best of condition. The course had to be radically changed this year after some of the greens became diseased. So we are left with a short par 69 course that has far too many short par 4s which the pros play as a fairway wood and a short iron. It is a test of target golf not suited to the big hitters.

And the remaining greens are still poor. They are not championship standard. Hong Kong can clearly host an event. The trouble is it does not have world class, or even top class, facilities.

Why golf is so dull to watch

Watching golf is like walking around a library; you are surrounded by people going “shush” at you all the time. I swear the caddies would stop the birds from singing if they could. And the marshals can hear a whisper at 100 yards.

Why not change the game completely. Encourage shouting and chanting. Make it like a football match and there may be a few people turning up. I must have been almost the only paying visitor yesterday. The other five people and a dog who were there (the weather was not good) all had guest passes, players guest passes, press passes or members passes.

Can you imagine the referee trying to silence a 60,000 crowd at Old Trafford as a penalty is taken. It requires the same concentration as a three foot putt. So lets have some noise and some fun on the golf course…choruses of “there is only one Jose-Maria….”

Good value from the big names

The one piece of good news was seeing Messrs Faldo and Olazabal running a golf clinic for local kids some 5 hours after they had both finished their morning rounds. The kids loved it and the players looked relaxed. Now I assume they are both on appearance money from the sponsors and the clinic was part of the package; but it was good to see.

Its a cool yule in the land of political correctness

26 November 2002

My regular reader will know that I am fond of most things Canadian. Toronto is a wonderfully multicultural city; its residents come form all over the world and they speak over 100 different languages.

But there are times when the politically correct, and emotionally naive, make the city of Toronto and the country look very sad and dull indeed.

Toronto city officials last week decided to call the 50-foot tree set up outside City Hall a “holiday tree.” The mayor was forced to intervene amidst the general scorn.

“Our special events staff went too far with their political correctness when they called it a holiday tree,” said Mayor Mel Lastman. “They were trying to be inclusive and their hearts were in the right place, but you can’t be politically correct all the time.”

The name change led to complaints from Christians and left many non-Christians wondering what all the fuss was about. The most sensible words came from Anita Bromberg of the Jewish group B’nai Brith Canada who said “to take a generic term, slap it on a symbol that really only has significance to one religion…and then say we’re being multicultural does not really fit…whatever you call it, it’s still a Christmas tree.”

And its not just the city of Toronto; The Royal Canadian Mint has a commercial in which it changes the old holiday standard “Twelve Days of Christmas” to “Twelve Days of Giving.”

This sense of righteousness is so unnecessary. Accepting people for what they are and where they are from and then enjoying their holidays and festivities is what makes for a vibrant society. The politically correct have no joy, no sense of fun, and will bring us all down to the lowest common denominator.

The sad reality of Saudi Arabia

25 November 2002

The US have allowed the Saudi government to play for both sides for far too long. The US have sought Saudi assistance in a future war with Iraq. Yet at the same time the US has tolerated the Saudi’s complicity with anti-Western fundamentalists.

Simply to hold onto their authority the Saudi ruling party have provided shelter for terrorist activity. Now, and this is no great surprise, there is increasing evidence that the Saudis have been funding terrorism. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers of 11 September were from Saudi Arabia; 125 inmates at Camp X-ray, which holds the al-Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay, are from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi leaders “have to decide which side they’re on,” Senator Joe Leiberman said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “For too many generations they have pacified and accommodated themselves to the most extreme, fanatical, violent elements of Islam, and those elements have now turned on us and the rest of the world.”

Leiberman is a sensible and moderate democrat. He has been leading an independent commission investigating the attack on the US.

Why has the US tolerated the Saudi regime. Saudi sits on 3/4 of the world’s oil reserves. There is no better reason.

Cultural Naivety

25 November 2002

We are all too naive. It is time to listen to the wake up call. The gulf between cultures is, post September 11, 2001, wider than it has ever been. And we move further away from understanding and tolerance to distrust and enmity. On both sides the call is now a call to arms, it is not a call to peaceful exchange and goodwill.

Two simple examples. A culture where a woman can be stoned to death for adultery clearly contains elements that will not be enthused by a parade of female flesh or the “modernity” it promises. To hold the Miss World Contest during Ramadan compounded the insult.

This is the same cultural naivety exposed by the bombing of the Sari club in Bali. One clubber mourned the passing of the club on a website, saying “it was the United Nations of decadence” without any sense that this is what made it a target.

It is not acceptable for the west to assume that its values are paramount and that its values can be exported anywhere in the world. The usual western apology is is that because no harm is meant, no offence should be taken.

We may well be in a new era of Muslim fundamentalism. Bin Laden is alive and well. His call to arms to British Muslims in a letter published over the weekend in Britain has put that country on its highest level of alert. Suspicion and mistrust and commonplace. In the face of such threats freedom and the truth are the first casualties.

There has been a western arrogance that assumes that western interests and values are self evidently desirable. It is time for greater sensitivity. Tolerance, equality and democracy are true values. Western pop culture, beauty pageants, corporate big business, are best left at home.


The Miss World fiasco – time to end this anachronism

24 November 2002

It never made any sense for the Miss World contest to be held in Nigeria. What has happened is that the Miss World pageant has fanned the flames of communal hatred and left more than 200 people dead. The organisers can deny it all they like; but their event was the catalyst.

It was of course that country’s right to be the host as it is the home of the reigning Miss World. But it made no sense to hold a beauty contest in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan in a country that is tearing itself apart between the Sharia law of the Muslims and the nation’s other faiths and its constitution. What were the organisers thinking ?

The Sharia law has been established in 12 of Nigeria’s 31 states, all in the impoverished north of the country.

The government insists that the Sharia law is illegal; the government is ignored and the Sharia law is extended not just to the Muslim populations in these states but to Nigeria’s christians and other indigenous faiths.

The death penalty is meant to be confirmed throughout the country by the Federal Court. But the Sharia courts regularly impose the ultimate penalty and death sentences have been carried out without recourse to the federal court and without federal government intervention.

Meanwhile a woman, Amina Lawal has been sentenced to death by stoning for having had a baby outside marriage; the sentence to be carried out when she has weaned her daughter. Her appeal to a higher Sharia court has been dismissed.

The Sharia courts routinely sentence prisoners to amputation of limbs and flogging. Yet such punishments are in direct defiance of the Nigerian constitution, which forbids ‘cruel and inhuman punishment’.

And then the Miss World contestants arrive. Some refused to go to Nigeria because of the Lawal case. This in itself brought about an increase in (adverse) publicity to the event in the north.

On 17th November the ThisDay newspaper ran an article in support of the pageant and pouring scorn on Muslim criticism of the event.

Despite three front page apologies the Muslim population of Kaduna rioted; ThisDay’s offices were torched; the newspaper editor has been arrested and the spreading riots have taken some 200 lives and displaced thousands from their homes.

The beauty queens have now left for London; the event has no UK sponsor and no television support. Lets hope it now goes away for ever.

Meanwhile back in Nigeria just maybe the events of the last week will focus the country’s 120 million people on a more peaceful future.

The US calls for a white paper for article 23 in Hong Kong – how ironic !

23 November 2002

The US state department issued a statement yesterday calling for the SAR government in Hong Kong to issue a white paper for public consultation with the exact wording of the proposed Article 23 legislation.

The fact that the US government has made this statement indicates just how serious the issue of Article 23 is.

It also indicates that the SAR government has to date done a poor job of “selling” the proposed legislation and answering the genuine questions and concerns of interested parties.

The USA certainly has a right to be an interested party. Many US citizens are resident in Hong Kong. The article 23 proposals may impact on their personal freedoms.

The trouble is that this is simply not the right time for the USA to be preaching to the rest of the world on the subject of individual freedoms ! This is the country that assassinated alleged terrorists in Yemen without trial. A country deeply fearful of attacks on their homeland, deeply suspicious of foreigners (except Tony Blair, Mr. Bush’s favourite poodle), A country that in its fear is embracing the harsh policies of the ultra right wing and a country where Donald Rumsfeld can command a near bottomless budget.

Domestic criticism of the US government is almost non existent. If you are not with us you are against us is the message.

The US State Department may just need to check what is happening in their own country before they start to tell the SAR government what to do !

Webstats for rascott.com

23 November 2002

I am occasionally asked if anyone actually looks at this website.

Well, someone must do; and more would always be welcome. On 13th November there were 684 hits on the site; not all me, I promise. The highest number of unique visits was 41 on November 11th. For November there are on average 20 visits a day and 216 hits.

These may not be huge numbers but out of small acorns grow great oak trees…..

Thank you to all of you who do log onto this site and check out my latest ranting ! Do come back soon – and tell your friends !

Continuing Thai scandals will wear down investors

22 November 2002

Thailand is a wonderful country. Its people are talented and resilient. It deserves a government that can live up to its pre-election promises and deal head on with the rising tide of corruption.

Today’s Bangkok Post is very revealing. The three leading stories on the front page stories include:

B27 million (say US$650,000) a year creamed from highway toll revenues, the latest on the lamyai (a fruit) mortgage scandals, collusion in a state firm to inflate a property’s purchase price.

Another recent scam include flood victims being given fake compost for use on their farms.

The trouble with each of these conspiracies is that they appear to involve politicians, civil servants and business people acting in unison. And the credibility of the government for its citizens and for foreign investors starts to look very shakey.

There is a National Counter Corruption Commission (not unlike the ICAC in Hong Kong). This Commission needs the support of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. It needs to be visibly seen to be working and to be working quickly and effectively.

“Chungking Express” – a timeless tale of surviving life in the big city !

17 November 2002

Sight & Sound Magazine (the monthly magazine of the British Film Institute) asked fifty leading UK film critics for their best films from the past 25 years. In this survey published last week, Chungking Express directed by Wong Kar-Wai came in at number eight, the highest placing of any Asian film.

Released in 1994 this was one of the first Hong Kong films that I saw after coming here and it was the start of my very one sided love affair with Faye Wong.

The simple summary of the film is that there are two stories, two lovelorn cops, two objects of desire: one a big-time heroin dealer in deep trouble with her bosses after the cargo disappears (Brigette Lin), the other a seriously flaky bartender (Faye Wong) who inadvertently gets hold of the keys to Officer 663’s (Tony Leung) apartment. The movie is shot in a breathless kaleidoscope of colour and hand-held camerawork to create a mesmerising portrait of Hong Kong in the 1990s.

The following review is from the Los Angeles Times (8 March 1996). If you have not seen this film, and you have any interest in Hong Kong, then read this review and rush out to find a copy of the movie.

‘Express’ Takes Stylish Look at Love


Wong Kar-Wai’s “Chungking Express” is as fresh as falling rain, a pair of love stories full of pain and humor. Shot fast and sometimes furiously on crowded Hong Kong streets, it speaks in its own highly personal shorthand, expressed through the most fluid of cameras and punctuated with bold whooshes of color and potent bursts of American pop music.
While so much of the Hong Kong cinema we get to see is either period fantasy or modern action-thriller in the martial arts genre, “Chungking Express” ravishingly, seductively exudes the immediacy of everyday life as its spins its classically timeless tales of love lost and almost regained. Wong has the kind of utterly unpredictable style that brings to mind two other distinctive filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino (who is presenting this film) and Jim Jarmusch.
A handsome, sweet-natured young policeman (Takeshi Kaneshiro), known only as Badge No. 223, tells us that he has come within “0.01 meter” of a mysterious woman (Brigitte Lin) wearing sunglasses, trench coat and a blond wig and will fall in love with her 57 hours later. While he is nursing his pain at the loss of his lover, who left him exactly one month before, the blond is rushing around Chungking Mansions, a huge maze-like tenement/bazaar in the claustrophobic tourist heart of Hong Kong. She’s setting up a drug-smuggling deal with some Indian merchants only to have them double-cross her with the bravura of a magician’s vanishing act, endangering her life. By the time she and No. 223 cross paths at a bar, she’s prepared only to drink herself into oblivion.
As “Chungking House,” as Part I is called, comes to its deft conclusion, No. 223 introduces us to another woman, Faye (Faye Wang), with whom he also comes within “0.01 meter.” Faye has just taken a job at the Midnight Express–that’s also the title of Part II–a snack bar in the trendy Lan Kwei Fong district frequented not only by No. 223 but another cop, No. 633 (Tony Leung), who has just received a Dear John from his beloved. (This is the boyish Tony Leung, not to be confused with the taller, sleeker actor of the same name best known for “The Lover.”)
Gawky, very young, uncertain of what to do with her life but determined to find out, Faye, who has a Jean Seberg “Breathless”-style haircut, grows concerned about the despondent police officer. She has started falling in love with him but is too unsure of herself to say so. Instead, she sneaks into his apartment, subtly rearranging it in an attempt to cheer him up (but which makes him think he must be losing his mind for sure).
You strongly suspect that Wong must have suffered his own romantic loss to feel the need to express it through not only one but two men, whom he gives funny quirks. No. 223 has a thing for canned pineapple, discovering he wants to buy only cans with a May 1 expiration date, which is also his 25th birthday, the age when people start becoming aware of their mortality. Beyond May 1 is too painful to contemplate for No. 223, too indicative that his lover has definitively left him, too suggestive that everything in life may have an expiration date. Similarly, No. 663 finds himself pouring his heart out to inanimate objects in his tiny apartment.
Wong has as wonderful a way with actors as he has with a camera–certainly, his virtuoso cinematographer Christopher Doyle deserves a deep bow here, as does his clutch of mood-establishing composers.
Faye Wang is an especially quirky delight, possessed of as strong and original a personality as that of Canadian Chinese actress Sandra Oh. Kaneshiro and Leung play such likable, attractive men we’re left just as perplexed as they are as to why their lovers would ditch them. But Wong takes the larger view, musing on the capricious of fate and emotions–of connections more missed than made.

One country, two systems – holding back Hong Kong

16 November 2002

“One country, two systems” remains a phrase created by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping largely to appease the British and to calm the people of Hong Kong. In 1997 the term seemed appropriate as Hong Kong set out upon one of the great experiments of the 21st century – capitalism under the world’s biggest communist regime.

Five years on; this same concept holds back Hong Kong. The world’s biggest communist regime is the world’s biggest one party ruled capitalist regime. Even the Communist party is now embracing capitalists and entrepreneurs into its ranks.

Under the two systems concept Hong Kong was to enjoy the capitalist system and its way of life. Mainland China would stick to its socialist system. But Hong Kong has no democracy. No elected representation of the people. Worse still we are basically governed by big business taking care themselves; not by career politicians looking for the wealth and stability of the nation.

Economically, socially, culturally and politically Hong Kong is becoming more and more tightly bound by the grip of its new master. Economically its dependence upon China grows daily; socially, there are large-scale influxes of mainland immigrants and visitors. Culturally, its unique East-West character is steadily waning, becoming more like another Chinese city, just take a trip to Shatin town center if you doubt this. Politically, Hong Kong has moved further away from any semblance of a democratic society. Despite polls showing public support for Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa at only 30 percent he was still re-elected unopposed to a second five-year term as the chief executive although not directly elected by the people but by a special electoral committee managed by China.

There is also the clear increase is self censorship by Hong Kong’s previously unrestrained press as the consequence of infusions of Chinese capital into their operations.

At the time of its takeover, China promised that Hong Kong would be ruled by its own people and that its economic system would remain unchanged for a 50-year period. Five years on we are ruled from Beijing and substantially dependent on the mainland economy.

Cross border interaction dominates daily lives. Hong Kong’s brightest and best look to China for work as the Hong Kong economy struggles. In 2001 Hong Kong’s almost 7million residents made 117 million cross-border trips. Why do they go – for many it is simply that the cost of living across the border is so much lower. Simply put, Hong Kong’s cost structure is too high relative to its productivity and its competition.

This week the government interfered, sorry passed legislation, to prop up property prices. This is not what Hong Kong needs. Lower property prices might upset home owners and the property developers but they also reduce costs encouraging investment and new business start ups.

Hong Kong’s guaranteed 50 years of autonomy and self governance may be its very downfall. Hong Kong needs to be a part of a region attracting investment and tourism, a region managing the environment and a region that welcomes and nurtures talent.

Name one major world event that now take place in Hong Kong. The investment and leisure dollars are starting to bypass Hong Kong and move directly to China. Mission Hills announced last week that by 2004 their facility will have ten eighteen hole golf courses making it the largest golf facility in the world. Hong Kong cannot compete with investments of this scale; therefore we have to share in the prosperity that this can bring to the region.

We need more rapid integration that that proposed under one country two systems. It seems a nonsense that the existing border is the difference between an average annual salary of US$20,000 and an average annual salary of US$5,000. The two have to come together at a rate set by the market, not by the border.

There are great advantages in Hong Kong’s lifestyle and its autonomy. Hong Kong residents pay no taxes to China. The civil service remains effective and clean. The ICAC goes after wrongdoing wherever it is found, in Hong Kong and mainland companies alike. The Falun Gong, banned on the mainland, remains legal here, albeit marginal. Organizations like the Center for Human Rights in China continue to operate here.

And above all a stable and transparent legal system with an independent judiciary perceived to be meting out justice fairly is the underlying guarantee of everything else. It is also a decisive competitive advantage for Hong Kong’s economy. But ask any educated person across the bored and they would welcome an active anti corruption authority and a transparent legal system.

Over the last five years developments in China and the region have made clear the need for significant adaptation in the operation of the “one country, two systems” arrangement.

Improving cross border traffic flows, better co-ordinating infrastructure developments and tourism initiatives, is all a step in the right direction. Hong Kong people already look more positively towards China.

It is time to go further. One country, two systems says we are different and have different goals. Actually those goals are coming together very quickly. In should not take us two generations to reach full unification. This concept needs to be re-thought and new targets set. One example might come from the USA. The states still have significant authority over issues such as taxes and the judiciary; but their are no barriers to the movement of cash and human capital.

Can low cost airlines fly in Asia?

14 November 2002

The no-frills (or low cost) airlines are now well established in Europe and North America. Not just taking passengers away from the major airlines these new carriers have created new demand for air travel.

On a more limited scale the low cost model has come to Asia in the form of Air Asia, in Malaysia, and Virgin Blue, in Australia.

The big question is can this model operate on a wider scale in Asia.

The big answer is yes, but in time, and only with significant market liberalisation. The demand is certainly there. Air travel volume in Asia Pacific is forecast to triple by the year 2020.

To succeed low cost carriers need the following:

Airline requirements

Current status in Asia

Market liberalisation – open skies.

Asia remains heavily regulated, protecting “national” carriers. The flag carrier model is still strong and airlines such as Cathay, Singapore and Thai are profitable.

Domestic demand for point to point travel

Air Asia has shown that new markets for domestic travel can be found. In the USA Southwest’s competition was less the airlines but more the bus and rail networks. Asia does not have the road or ferry or rail infrastructure. Affordable flying is the most efficient option.

The best low cost option in Asia is to build up a brand in a sizeable domestic market and then to opportunistically look at international routes as regulations allow.

International Demand for point to point travel

Held back by established bi-lateral agreements; the lack of affordable secondary airports, and the focus of the new airports on their role as international gateways. The demand is there. You would not want to drive from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok or Hong Kong to Shanghai.

Flight lengths will be longer than those of US/European low costs carriers. International low cost carriers in Asia will not be able to offer the same frequency of scheduling as in Europe; overnight stopovers will be necessary; fuel costs are higher and low cost airlines can make no savings in this area. Airplane utilisation may be lower.

Low operating costs

Cathay Pacific will argue that they are waging a constant war on costs. The major Asian airlines are in a better position to adapt to new low cost entrants than the US and European airlines which continue to battle with entrenched unions and outdated work practices in every part of their companies.

Access to airport slots

Airport landing fees at major centers remain very high. There are few secondary airports in major centers.

Selling tickets online to customers

Air Asia sells 25% of its tickets online. That number will need to increase to eliminate call centre costs.

Access to planes

A buyers market for both new and second hand equipment.

Access to qualified pilots and technical support. Supportive unions.

Competition from the continued growth of the national carriers. Unions have a very limited role in most Asian economies.

China : The Aviation Market for the next 25 years

14 November 2002

The rate of growth of the aviation industry in China should not be underestimated. Distances are huge; road and rail infrastructure is limited. It is reasonable to assume that domestic air travel in China will resemble the US market within the next 25 years but on an even greater scale given the larger population base.

At the same time the aviation industry will support a rapid growth in both outbound and inbound business and leisure travel.

Consider some statistics:

In 2002 12 million mainland Chinese traveled overseas to “approved destinations”. The big markets are to Hong Kong and Macau; over 0.5 million tourists each year travel to Thailand and to Vietnam. Travel to Australia and New Zealand is expected to grow by 20% per annum. A young, educated population with money to spend is now ready to explore the world beyond China.

By 2020 China will receive 130 million tourists a year making it the world’s leading tourist destination.

Airbus and Boeing expect to sell 1,800 commercial airliners to China over he next 20 years.

From Hong Kong you can fly to at least 40 cities in China.

57 airlines from 47 countries (outside China and Hong Kong) fly to 20 destinations in China.

Hong Kong’s population is 7 million

In the Pearl River Delta there are 300 million people.

In China there are about 100 airports supporting 1.3 billion people; compare this to 429 commercial airports supporting 280 million people in the USA and Canada.

In the US over 11 million jobs are related to the civil aviation industry. Imagine what this figure might be in China in 20 years time.

The dot-com bubble

13 November 2002

In a moment of nostalgia I was looking through a fairly recent collection of business cards: remember some of these great names:

asiacontent.com; bigonthenet.com; chinaweb.com; chinanet.com; chinaenternet.com; chinarem.com; enjoy100.com; ethnicearth.com; gorillasia.com; go2020.com; hunhun.com; icare.com; igolfallday.com; isteelasia.com; iamasia.com; myrice.com; nuuwz.com; ebusinessisbusiness.com; renren.com; sinobit.com; totalsportsasia.com; 2bsure.com

Some of these businesses may still exist; some will be extinct. But all were a tribute to entrepreneurism, hard work, greed, ambition, and simple market forces.

The internet boom and bust lasted just five or six years, arguably from 1996 to 2001; it might have been the most important business phenomenon of the last fifty years.

Asia perhaps arrived a little late into the boom period. Many of Asia’s start ups were thin copies of US and European businesses. But it is also fair to say that some companies were responsible for true technological innovation and for very real changes in accepted business models. They also challenged established businesses to innovate and to embrace the internet more quickly than they otherwise might have done.

Three things Asia is not short of are cash, risk-takers and smart people. The dot-com companies were perfect for Asia. There was a creative and talented labour force, willing touts (sorry, investment bankers) to talk up the values, and willing investors looking for a winner; just like a day at the races !

Too many dot coms unfortunately did not have real products aimed at real customers. Established businesses had a customer base and in most cases knew how to look after them. They have outlived the dot coms.

The trouble is there were simply not enough good companies to go around.

But they were great days. People worked incredibly hard. People partied, talked and played. Perhaps sanity has prevailed. But it is far less fun.

Leading in turbulent times

13 November 2002

When the dot com bubble burst thousands of companies were panicking. Staff were fired; perks were cut; travel budgets slashed; new products canceled.

What many companies ignored was the need to grow their revenue line while managing their costs. The best way to keep a company in good health is to get people to buy your products. You have to grow revenue to build value. Continually eroding costs simply removes value from an organisation.

How and where you cut costs is just as important as whether you cut costs. Poorly designed and executed cost reductions will cut value from a company; they reduce your long term competitiveness for short term cost savings.

In the cost cutting environment fear rules. Managers worry that they have or will fail and will lose their job. Employees worry that the cost cutter will get them next. These are emotional issues that many companies stop to address as they head into irrational panic.

What sort of leadership will succeed in these turbulent times? Some leaders see revenues slowing; they panic and start to slash and burn their costs. Some leader take no action at all, they are either paralyzed or clueless; they willfully ignore the data. Others accept the reality and evaluate their costs carefully seeking expenses that are not critical to the mission of the business and then start cutting. This is the group most likely to succeed. Their approach is thoughtful but decisive. Their focus is to ensure that their business can still compete. They will communicate what they have to do and why; and for the most part, they will get the support of all of the company’s stakeholders.

The evil weed

12 November 2002

I am never sure how anyone can justify managing or investing in the tobacco industry. Smoking kills. Smoking related disease costs global health services millions or billions each year.

The trouble is governments have neither the courage or the incentive to simply ban smoking. For a democracy such a decision would immediately alienate a large part of the electorate. It is hard to imagine how another party could capitalise on such a decision and still claim they were morally right; but capitalise on it they would, probably justified by some specious freedom of choice argument.

And then there is the tax revenue and duties. Without tobacco these tax revenues would have to be recovered elsewhere.

Around the world we have dubious alliances between western companies and military and unelected regimes. British American Tobacco owns the brands Dunhill, Rothmans and Lucky Strike. They have a factory in Myanmar which is a 60/40 joint venture with a company owned by that country’s military government.

Myanmar is the name given to the country by the soldiers who have run it for four decades and which refused to allow the National League for Democracy to take its rightful place in government despite it winning 82% of the seats in free elections in 1990.

Kenneth Clarke, former Chancellor in Britain, wrote in a letter to his constituents that “The problem with Burma arises when companies start collaborating with an extremely unpleasant regime which is totally contrary to our notions of civil liberties and democracy.”

Oops, Kenneth Clarke is a Director of BAT.

BAT’s Company Chairman has stated that “Our goals are to continue creating long-term sustainable shareholder value, and to lead the tobacco industry in demonstrating corporate social responsibility and wider accountability.”

BAT pays workers 23p a day at the Myanmar factory. The business is profitable for both its shareholders.

BAT’s defence of its position in Myanmar is that the company employs 400 people. And that the best way forward is to continue to provide employment.

I could not be a BAT shareholder.

The royal victims of a circulation war

11 November 2002

Spare a thought for the two sons of the ill-fated marriage between Charles and Diana. Every morning they wake up to new and lurid revelations about the family that they have been born into. There must be times when they would happily swap privilege for a role amongst us commoners.

Talking of commoners the gutter press is now in full flow. Mr. Burrell took the Mirror’s money. Mirror circulation is up some 300,000 a day so they will milk their prize for all it is worth. Meanwhile the Sun and its stable mate the News of the World, having had their higher offer turned down by Mr. Burrell, are showing the vengeance of a newspaper spurned.

Even the Herald Tribune is now reporting on three of the more damaging stories to emerge over the weekend – the “claims that the Prince of Wales hushed up the rape of a manservant (one George Smith) by one of his closest aides, that courtiers regularly brought male prostitutes into royal palaces, and that Paul Burrell … had once taken a male lover of his own on a tour of the Queen’s private apartment”.

The Sun, that bastion of objectivity, went further. Mr Smith also claims to have witnessed “an incident between a member of the [Royal] Family and a servant”. He recorded the details on a videotape made by Princess Diana in 1996 and kept in the now famous locked wooden box which appears to be somewhere in the care of Mr. Burrell. Now that should make for an interesting discussion over the Cornflakes in Buck House – who was it and what happened?

The Queen may be muttering about another annus horribilis – but in the circumstances that is probably not an appropriate expression !

A better question will soon be – should we care? The answer is an emphatic no. The monarchy’s history is littered with scandals and sexual intrigue. The very stuff that sells newspapers. Just maybe the press and the royal family deserve each other. Abolish the family and the press has to find another victim.

(I hereby promise not to write another word about Mr. Burrell)

Week of 4 November 2002

Settling down

10 September 2002

I grew up (more than a few years ago) in what most people would regard as a very traditional British home. My parents had three children in rapid succession before either of them turned 30 years old. My mother ceased to work so that she could look after the children. I went to a good primary school. We had holidays in Wales (one in a caravan on the Gower Peninsular will never be forgotten !) and I learned to play the piano.

It must have been phenomenally hard work to bring up three kids that are so close in age as we all clammered for attention. It must have been hard financially. We rented out a room on the top floor of our house to help the costs. And we ate a lot of baked beans !

But my parents did well. They prospered and on the whole their children have done so as well.

But the values, way of life and experiences of their generation are already so out of date. In the course of one generation all of our thoughts on family life and responsibility have changed. It may be that the structure of family life has changed more in this generation than ever before in history.

I always thought of my father as an adult. But when I was born he was barely out of University. He went straight from being a teenager to being an adult. He took on adult responsibilities. Now we postpone these; now even the adult in us would rather be associated with youth. As our generation ages we aspire to all the things that we associate with young people. We want to be more multicultural, we want to embrace technology, we want to take risks, try new things, we want a younger looking body and will spend money to get it. We mature later, if ever.

The very notion of settling down is changing. How can we be settled? We cannot maintain relationships. The average length of a British marriage is nine years; in the USA this is as little as seven. China is now seeing a rapidly increasing divorce rate. People marry later and they live longer.

Financial security is less certain. Many full time jobs have left the economy to be replaced by short term contracts and job insecurity.

We can form relationships later in life and children can be postponed until we are in our 30s and 40s.

Maybe a long term relationship or marriage has been regarded too much like a job. Something that is meant to be for a lifetime. What we might not all have seen is how quickly that job for life has become much more insecure.

As in the workplace, the relationships that people have are subject to huge stresses, new demands and regular change. In the workplace people increasingly expect to have a number of different careers.

Maybe the new family structure is heading down that same path. And with so much uncertainty what can the next generation expect. Maybe the traditional family structure is not the answer for the future. Maybe we will evolve, and return, to more of a communal or tribal structure where the next generation grows up in a community of people who support each other and form more free flowing relationships among themselves.

It would be a very different world.

The Long March to Capitalism

9 November 2002

In his long address to the 16th Party Congress of the Communist Party in Beijing President Jiang Zemin opened wide the party’s doors to accept the monied and the elite as party members and leaders.

The party needs the support of private enterprise to retain its iron hand over the country. At the same time private enterprise needs a stable government that will drive growth from within a stable environment. The two sides need eachother. Protection of income and protection of private property are watchwords for the new China. A far cry from the cultural revolution of less than forty years ago.

Conspicuous consumption is everywhere in the modern Chinese cities of the East Coast. People have money and have no qualms flaunting it.

But since unprecedented economic growth and improvements in living standards will fortify the position of the communist party in China no-one should expect any change in the political landscape. One party rule is here in China for a long time.

Some statistics from the Guardian newspaper are symptomatic of the new China:


China will account for more than a quarter of world’s steel consumption in 2003


About one-third of the world’s smokers are Chinese, consuming 1,700 billion cigarettes a year


Sales of cars built in China increased 50% in the last nine months of 2002 to 843,853

Fast food

The largest McDonald’s in the world opened in Bejing in 1992. There are more than 400 McDonald’s in China


More than 10 million Chinese go on holiday overseas each year according to the World Tourism Organisation, which expects the number to rise to 100 million by 2020

The other side

Almost 1.5m people in Shanghai are without running water and the World Bank estimates that 18.5% of the Chinese population live on less than $1 a day

Republican win opens the way for Bush’s right wing agenda.

7 November 2002

With the results of the mid-term polls now collated President George W Bush now controls the US White House. the Senate and the House of Representatives. He can of course now also control the judiciary.

Make no mistake, the US swung well to the right this week and there are no checks and balances to hold back a right wing agenda and a war against Iraq. George W Bush sees this weeks results as a referendum on his leadership. Forget compassionate conservatism. There will be little that is compassionate in this rejuvenated administration.

The only checks are not domestic. They are the US’ European allies and the United Nations. The US/Europe relationship will be particularly interesting. Europe is predominantly more socialist in its leanings, less materialistic and less likely to accept government by the corporate enterprises that now dominate US politics.

Big business will be protected. The environment will not. And tax cuts will be legislated in time for the 2004 Presidential election much to the favour of the Republicans.

Expect the US political agenda to be dominated by gun lobbyists, military hawks, pre-emption apologists, anti-abortionists, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporates and hanging judges.

The Democratic opposition looks leaderless and agenda-less. President Bush could not be better placed for a second term. Six more years. Frightening.

Attack of the drones

7 November 2002

Not everyone will have picked up the significance of what happened in the Yemeni desert this week. An unmanned CIA drone fired a Hellfire missile into a car to execute six alleged terrorists.

I must have missed something: this is insane.

Executing six people in a foreign land is an act of war. No war has been declared. There are certain basic rules of sovereignty. These have been conveniently ignored.

No trial was held for the victims. There is no way to determine their guilt or innocence.

If the same six men had been in a car in Central in Hong Kong or Pall Mall in London would the CIA have carried out the same action?

Why is there no uproar at this action; why is there silence in the United Nations?

What we have here is pre-meditated murder carried out by a faceless executor. If you can get a drone close enough to fire a missile you can get a military team close enough to make an arrest.

We will never know whether these men were terrorists or otherwise. There are a lot of questions that should be asked, answers that should be demanded.

Misguided prejudice

5 November 2002

I am glad I am not James Tien, the chairman of Hong Kong’s Liberal Party. I would not be able to sleep for embarrassment.

Yesterday he proposed that foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong should be taxed HK$500 per month to help with the budget deficit.

The minimum wage in Hong Kong is HK$3,670. Many maids only make this amount despite six day weeks, responsibility for children and long hours.

Under the tax system in Hong Kong no tax is payable on earnings less than HK$9,000 a month. The Liberal parties proposal is rank prejudice.

Why the Hong Kong cricket sixes portend more bloodshed to come

5 November 2002

Living in Hong Kong are active, significant and vocal minorities from across Asia. There are lively Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan communities. Most of the European and North American nations are well represented as of course are the nations of East Asia.

The annual cricket 6s are an event where many of these nations come together for a celebration of fast food cricket. There is enough money and professional pride at stake to make it competitive. But for too many of the supporters it is a chance for flag waving and inane jingo-ism.

Last year the event was held less than two months after the 11 September attack. There were Pakistan supporters in the crowd calling for a holy war – a Jihad. It was not in fun. It was a hostile crowd. Now it may not have been no more than 50 people but it was enough to be intimidating. At that point I decided I would not attend this year.

The SCMP on its front page and on the letters page reports today that one idiot (and that is a polite term) wore an Osama bin Laden mask to the 6s on Sunday, and carried the Pakistan flag. He was allowed to walk to the west stand and to make obscene gestures in front of English and Australian supporters. Not surprisingly he was pelted with beer cans which then led to a group of Pakistanis charging the stand. Women and children were caught up in this. Officials and stewards stood and watched.

A number of Hong Kong residents lost family and friends in the recent Bali bombings. New York is still a painful memory for many. Stewards and security staff should have been sensitive to potential provocation and taken action. Bags were searched as people entered the ground. Food and drink were removed so that the in ground caterers could make their sales. By the time he was taunting the west stand it was too late to act.

What does it all mean? Feelings run high. Osama bin Laden’s supporters are spread globally. And it really is a simple question of what happens next and where. And it also means that the 6s will have even fewer westerners attending next year.

What did the butler see?

4 November 2002

What did Paul Burrell know? We will now have to wait for his carefully sanitised memoirs. Had he given evidence in court under oath we may have learned much more about her family’s secrets.

And that is at the heart of the Queen’s calculated actions last week. She was not saving the loyal servant. After all she had been happy to let him stew for almost two years. She was protecting the family. Motivated self interest.

The only way to be sure to silence Mr. Burrell was to release details of their confidential conversation. A conversation which lasted three hours. Prince Charles apparently is lucky to get a few minutes. Tony Blair maybe an hour at best. And it took her 22 months to recall the conversation with Mr. Burrell.

The loyal servant had said nothing. He was protecting the families secrets and the contents of wooden box kept by the late Princess of Wales that contained letters and other items that could severely embarrass the royal family likely including further revelations about the future King and his unusual looking girlfriend.

She stopped the trial because she knew there were revelations to come. The Windsors have known all along that Mr. Burrell was trying to keep their tawdry secrets. And they were not planning to do a thing about it. Only when it looked as though he might be forced to give evidence under oath did they act.

A frank and full statement from Buckingham Palace would be as appropriate as it is unlikely. Paying Mr. Burrell’s legal costs would also be appropriate.

Upstairs Downstairs – a very British fetish

3 November 2002

It was on 18 January 2001 when the police searched the Cheshire home of Paul Burrell, butler to the late Princess of Wales and arrested him on suspicion of theft.

The police leaked (how convenient) details of what they found including personal letters and photographs; the clear implication was that Burrell had removed items that he could subsequently sell at considerable value.

On 3 August 2001 the police visited Prince Charles and his son Prince William to explain the details of their charges. Their vivid imaginations painted a horrifying picture of the once trusted butler.

In January 2002 the Crown Prosecution Service sought to take the case to trial. But an Old Bailey judge agreed that the trial would be a distraction from the events of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations; so the trial of an innocent man was delayed until the autumn.

As the trial started the Queen was in Canada (where they clearly do not have newspapers or regular contact with events back in the UK.) On returning to England she had to attend a memorial service for the Bali bomb victims in St Pauls.

We are led to believe that as she and Charles sat in the car they discussed the Burrell case and the Queen suddenly recovered from her amnesia and remembered a 1997 meeting with Burrell where he had told the Queen that he was holding some of the late Princess’ belongings for safe keeping.

The Queen is reported to be an intelligent woman; she apparently reads newspapers and watches the news. How could she have been unaware of the importance of the information that she had. How could she, her advisors and courtiers have so willingly allowed Paul Burrell and his family to endure 22 months of great distress. Maybe she should be charged with obstructing justice?

Charles advised his staff to notify the police and the prosecution case was blown open; albeit by hearsay evidence without a witness statement.

What is the result of this farce: serious embarrassment to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the royal family and the judicial system. Incidentally the trial cost about gbp 1.5 million.

Let us hope Mr. Burrell gets the apology from all parties that is due to him; let us hope the police take appropriate action to reprimand the social climbers, and fantasists in their number.

For the Queen this will be the crowning memory of her Golden Jubilee year; overshadowed by a Princess who has been dead for 5 years. She and her family look callous, out of touch, and frankly, redundant.

The Observer newspaper took a serious look at the legal aspects of this case; and asked the following rather relevant questions:

Sunday November 3, 2002
The Observer

A leading judge suggests ten questions that Parliament should ask the Attorney General:

1 Why did a simple case of theft occupy the most important court at the Old Bailey when much more important cases, such as David Shayler’s, went to other courts?

2 Why was reliance placed on inadmissible hearsay evidence (what the Queen told Charles and he then told the police) when the police should have obtained a witness statement from the Queen?

3 When potentially important evidence emerges before or during a criminal trial, the proper practice is for the prosecution to take a normal witness statement under a procedure which threatens the witness with two years’ imprisonment for any falsehood. Why was this not followed in the case of the potential witness, Elizabeth Windsor?

4 Invariably, a witness statement is served on the defence and the witness is brought to court to testify if the defence wishes to challenge the evidence. Why was this not done?

5 Why is the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office pretending that it’s the law that the Queen cannot be compelled to testify? The European Convention of Human rights gives every defendant the right to call and cross-examine all relevant witnesses. The DPP suggestion that the monarch is above the law went out with the prosecution of Charles I.

6 Was a Public Interest Immunity certificate issued, or threatened? If so, which Minister signed or was prepared to sign it? Any such action would amount to a serious abuse of power. PII certificates should only be issued to protect government documents, the revelation of which would imperil national security. This is probably the most serious question of all.

7 There were secret meetings last week between the judge and prosecutors with the defence excluded. This is a breach of two fundamental principles: open justice, and ‘equality of arms’. Why did they take place? How can the judiciary claim to be independent and impartial when they show favouritism to the Crown?

8 If, as the prosecution alleges, the defence was at fault by not revealing (or not obtaining from Burrell the revelation) that he had spoken to the Queen about retaining Diana’s papers, why didn’t the judge hold a hearing to decide whether, as ‘the author of his own misfortune’, Burrell should contribute to the costs of a trial?

9 If, on the other hand, and as the defence alleges, the prosecution was at fault in not taking a statement from the Queen, why did the judge not at least consider reducing the waste of public money by making a ‘wasted costs order’ against the prosecution?

10 According to the prosecution, Burrell told the Queen he had taken ‘some papers’ and she made no comment. She did not, for example, say, ‘Of course, feel free to take anything of Diana’s property you fancy’ – which might have provided him ‘claim of right’ defence to the theft charges. So the emergence of her evidence was not of great importance and cannot justify the abandonment of the theft charges covering other items. So, Mr Attorney, what was the real reason that the case was dropped?

Asia’s sleaze city

3 November 2002

Hong Kong has again revealed its astonishing insensitivity with the publication of a front page picture of a well known Hong Kong actress distraught and topless in Eastweek magazine last Wednesday.

The picture was apparently taken twelve years ago when the actress was allegedly kidnapped and assaulted. No charges were filed at the time. The magazine argued that the picture was published to show that the entertainment industry is not all glamour and the good life. It is a reasonable guess that the magazine consulted with its lawyers before publishing the picture. Which makes the lawyers and anyone else privy to the decision to publish, equally contemptible.

The magazine has been widely criticised for its outrageous invasion of the woman’s privacy. The trouble is that the magazine without disclosing the actress’ name made it all to clear who she was. The picture failed to protect her identity. The magazine described her and her friends and so we all were sure included a separate article on the actress and her boyfriend.

On Friday the magazine apologized for the story saying: “we did not mean to insult or hurt the victim”. However, East Week defended its actions through the following statement: “When we received the photo, we engaged in vigorous debate about whether or not to cover up the truth. The decision to run the photo is based on the journalistic duties of revealing truth and observing society.”

This is of course complete nonsense. The magazine used the photograph to boost circulation and create publicity. What they probably did not expect was the backlash they have received.

The magazine is owned by the Emperor group. Publication has been suspended by its owner, Emperor Group chairman, Albert Yeung Sau-shing. The government is investigating whether there was any criminal act in publishing the picture.

You can write and protest to the Emperor Group at this email:


The immediate resignation of the magazine’s editor would be a good start. But it really does not deal with the true cause; this city is a place that increasingly lacks a conscience

Comprendez-vous les French?

1 November 2002

It is quite hard to work out why it is the French voice at he UN Security Council that is the most vocal in restraining the US from unilateral action against Iraq.

For the last two weeks the French and the US have been negotiating acceptable words to the latest resolution to be put to the security council.

Why are the French standing their ground. I do not believe that President Chirac has any great affection for either Iraq or its leader. I think he wants to defend the role of the UN security council and to wage a campaign against the US policy of pre-emptive and unilateral action.

In an early October meeting in Beirut, Chirac stated that “the crux of the matter is that the international community must not provide cover for any ‘automaticity’ of intervention against Iraq before we know the extent to which the Iraqi authorities are actually going to cooperate with the weapons inspections.”

For this the French should be applauded.

I suspect the French are also fully aware that Iraq will never comply fully with the very strict obligations likely to be imposed on it next week by the security council.

Then it will be time to move on to phase two of the Chirac scenario. This is the adoption of a second resolution authorising the use of force.

There is of course more to it than Chirac making a stand against US unilateralism. This also has more than a little to do with the French role on the world stage.

The French lost ground when Tony Blair became cosy with George Bush post 11 Sept. This has nothing to do with Europe or a European consensus. The EU is a club for career bureaucrats. Real power lies with the nation states.

Chirac knows that he cannot lead a European consensus to balance the US position as he has already lost the UK to the other side of the Atlantic. So it suits his position and that of the French nation to be perceived to be the conscience of Europe and a counterweight to the US in the Security Council.

The following guide from the Guardian newspaper in England may help explain le histoire of Anglo/French rivalry:

La rivalité: a short history

Jeevan Vasagar
Wednesday October 30, 2002
The Guardian

Thanks in part to Shakespeare, Henry V’s decisive victory over the French in 1415 still resonates in English folk memory. An outnumbered army triumphed over French knights by skilful use of the longbow. The V-sign supposedly originates in a taunt made by Agincourt bowmen after the French threatened to chop off their bowstring-pulling fingers.


Europe lifted its ban in 1999, but the French refused to believe that les rosbifs’ meat was as safe as their own. They only changed their minds last month. Beef is not the first foodstuff we have quarrelled over; a decade ago, French farmers burned sheep exported from Britain.


Despite our fondness for words such as aperitif and encore, the Academie Française has battled like King Canute to keep our language off their beaches. They have not enjoyed much success getting the French to say “fin de semaine” rather than “le weekend”. Globally, the language of Proust continues to decline in the face of the language of Shakespeare – or perhaps that should be Disney.


France may think of itself as the nation of culture, but where we gave the world the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Clash, their best contribution to pop was Johnny Hallyday. Its government had to resort to a quota of no more than 50% English-language music on the radio to give homegrown music a fighting chance.


The French believe they are better at sex than we are – and we think they’re better at it too. Dictionaries show how entrenched the rivalry is; we have French kissing, French knickers and French letters. The French slang for this last item is “capotes anglaises” – English overcoats – perhaps because they take all the fun out of it.


Sporting contacts across the Channel have a chequered history. In 1789, an MCC touring match in France was called off because of the Revolution. In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the dauphin gives the English king a gift of tennis balls as a way of mocking his youth. And although the Premiership is teeming with French footballers, we have yet to master boules.


There was a time when anyone with intellectual pretensions had to be au fait with French philosophers. More recently, French intellectuals such as Jean Baudrillard – who proposed that the Gulf war did not take place – have been rubbished as meaningless poseurs.


The French do not traditionally have a high opinion of our cooking – the adjective “anglaise” on a menu often describes the plainest items. But trendy chefs such as Gary Rhodes have made British food fashionable again.


The scene of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon in 1815. Much to French chagrin, it is also the name which greets Eurostar travellers newly arrived from France.

Issue a white bill for article 23

31 October 2002

The motives of Hong Kong’s government are becoming ever more obvious. They want to manage the interests of Beijing; not the interests of the people of Hong Kong.

There is a widespread belief that the government should produce a white bill for the article 23 legislation. This would be an actual draft of the bill giving precise details of the proposed laws; white bills are issued for public consultation.

But the government wants to move directly form its discussion document to a blue bill which would be presented to the “yes men and women” in the Legislative Council.

The government appears to believe that the issues are too complex for serious public debate. But that severely underestimates the intelligence of Hong Kong people and the extent to which they are interested in this subject. It is a serious issue; the people take it seriously and they deserve a leadership that takes them seriously as well.

Create demand; cost cutting is not enough

29 October 2002

In the middle of the month share prices in my old employer fell to levels not seen since 1991. Announcing the third quarter results the CEO said “looking ahead, we see market conditions worsening as financial services firms retrench still further…In this environment, we will continue our strong focus on managing down our cost base.”

But as shareholders and employees of any company surely we should expect more than this.

In the recent earnings period in the USA many of the positive results came as a result of cost cutting rather than actual growth in the company’s core market.

In the short term shareholders may accept earnings however they are arrive. But sustained profitability cannot come without external growth. Penny pinching is not enough to build a business.

My old company along with others continues to mislead the markets by excluding onetime restructuring charges, stock options expenses and other things from their earnings and from their forecasts in order to make them more impressive.

As an example office equipment company Xerox reported on October 23 that its net income jumped to $105-million or 5 cents a share, more than double what analysts were expecting and up from a loss of 5 cents or $32-million last year. However, its revenue was down by more than 6 per cent over 2001, and was well below estimates. Xerox said the boost in profits were the result of “operational improvements.” Does this sound familiar?

There is no question that many companies needed significant cost cutting after some of the excesses of the 1990s. Cost cutting may position some companies for higher growth if and when business begins to recover. But the truth, surely, is that you cannot make wave after wave of cost cutting without at some point finding that you cannot go anywhere. All of the energy, initiative and creativity that drives a company may have been squeezed out of it. And your customers, starved of any new product, will all be ready to jump to something newer and better.

Cost-cutting is valuable, and worthwhile — but it’s no substitute for finding out what both your existing and new customers need and continuing to give it to them. Sustained growth is driven by real external growth in demand.

What is the right response to terrorism?

26 October 2002

Imagine the scene was a packed Broadway theatre and not a Moscow theatre. Imagine some 800 hostages, the theatre doors mined, their captors wearing bombs and a huge bomb in the middle of the room.

The captors demands will never be met by the government and the captors start to shoot hostages.

This was the nightmare situation faced by the Russian authorities.

But how is a successful operation defined. At what time do you stop negotiating and use force. My guess is that US negotiators would have waited longer. Loss of innocent lives is not so readily tolerated; not on this scale.

The death toll is close to 150; it may rise further. The authorities refuse to describe the incapacitating gas that was used. But they have to. It appears that most of the hostages died as a result of inhaling this gas – not as a result of gunfire.

In Moscow state television is seeking to show President Putin as a decisive leader in the war on terrorism, and as a humanitarian showing his sympathy for the bereaved and touring hospitals.

The war in Chechnya has been fought since 1994. There are atrocities on both sides. There is little respect for life and rape and torture have been documented by Human Rights Watch as one way that the Russians inflict their control.

Putin will want to take a hard line and extend the Russian campaign into Chechnya. While he is unlikely to get US support he will get their complicity. The US needs Russian support against Iraq. And Russia will use the too common modern argument that it has to deal with a terrorist threat. In the meantime the world will continue to ignore Chechnya in the same way that it ignored Afghanistan and perhaps with the same frightening long term consequences.

Hong Kong’s new air routes

26 October 2002

New passenger air routes following completion of the HKG/USA air services agreement are now expected to include the following flights per week:

7x HKG-NRT-HKG (operated by United Airlines – this flight is would now be twice daily)
4x HKG-KIX(Osaka)-HKG (most likely be operated by United)
14x HKG-SIN-HKG (It is possible that NW & CO will share 7 weekly each and that NW is an additional flight from the USA. The CO flight would be an extension of its Newark-HKG flight and with the overnight staying at SIN instead of HKG.

The SIN route is already competitive. In addition to CX and SQ – you can fly non stop on daliy flights from Qantas, China Airlines, Garuda and United.

President Jiang’s Texas BBQ

24 October 2002

On Friday 25 October President Jiang Zemin will crown his political career with a BBQ.

Do not doubt the importance of the symbolism. Jiang is being taken into the family home of the President of the United States of America. President Putin and Prime Minister Blair have signed the Crawford Ranch guest book. Now it is the turn of the Chinese President. For the President and for China this may be the country’s coming of age as a world power.

Certainly links between China and the USA are strong now. Even the rhetoric over issues such as Taiwan, Falun Gong and Human Rights has been toned down dramatically.

It is likely that China will acquiesce and accept the latest US proposal to the UN security council. China takes its new and elevated status on the world stage seriously. China wants to work within the UN to deal with the Iraq issue but also recognises that Iraq’s continued flouting of UN resolutions weakens the position of the UN and has to be dealt with.

China will likely push for a similar UN led approach to North Korea.

The two leaders have a one hour meeting, a lunch and a tour of the ranch in Mr. Bush’s pick up truck. Their meeting will have largely already been scripted behind the scenes as will any joint communique.

Strong US/China relations will be a force for stability for this and future generations. Jiang will take, and probably deserves, much of the credit for the current goodwill. I hope they enjoy their lunch.

The nobel peace prize – a legacy unfulfilled

22 October 2002

There really should be some way of recalling the Nobel peace prize if the award becomes invalidated by subsequent actions. This is not to cast any doubt on the well meaning intentions of the award’s winners; however, where their efforts have not led to sustained change then really why should the award be given or retained.

I would argue that a number of the winners of the prize are representatives of governments or bodies that are empowered and required to deliver peace on our planet. The prize would better serve those who make a difference to the world from positions and places where we would least expect them to.

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish scientist and industrialist intended the the peace prize to go to the person “who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

Let’s have a look at the winners of the Nobel peace prize over the last 15 years:

Year: Awarded to: Comments


Jimmy Carter Jnr for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development

Brokered the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt. Some may argue that as President of the US that was part of his role. Will be embarrassed at recent North Korean confession to breaking the 1994 agreement. But a worthy winner. And in a year when George Bush (bizarrely) was one of 156 nominations a small dig at the US Republicans was welcome.

The only US president since 1945 who has never sent a soldier into combat.


The United Nations in New York and Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the UN

The committee selected the 2001 winner on September 28, just over two weeks after the attacks on New York and Washington. Mr Annan was praised for bringing new life to the organisation. Sorry – this is a toothless and extravagant body of debaters that appears to lack any form of decisive leadership. As head of the United Nations peacekeeping department, Kofi Annan failed to prevent the genocide in Rwanda or the massacre in Srebrenica. More recently, as secretary general, he interpreted the UN charter as generously as possible to allow the attack on Afghanistan to go ahead.


Kim Dae Jung for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.

A brave man with a dream. But he has been misled by North Korea and his legacy may need to be to take a harder line with his neighbour.


Doctors without Borders

A worthy winner for their pioneering work in disaster relief. Medicine without borders and without political affiliation.


David Trimble and John Hume for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland

Ten out of ten for intentions but where are they now? Hume quit as leader of the SDLP in 2001.


International Campaign to ban Land Mines and Jody Williams for their work on the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines

The USA never bought into the campaign to band land mines. Without US support this campaign, however worthy, would fail. And nothing is heard now. Meanwhile landmines continue to maim in Afghanistan.


Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta for their work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor.

Bishop Belo is a leader of East Timor’s Roman Catholics. Ramos-Horta was exiled for 24 years. This nation is now the newest member of the international community, and the 191st member of the UN.


Joseph Rotblat and to the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and in the longer run to eliminate such arms

And a measure of their success is the axis of evil. The likely war on Iraq; the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan and nuclear weapons in North Korea. They should return the award.


Yasser Arafat Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO, President of the Palestinian National Authority. Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister of Israel and Yitzhak Rabin Prime Minister of Israel

You have to be joking !


Nelson Mandela Leader of the ANC and Fredrik de Klerk President of the Republic of South Africa

Mandela had given up his liberty but kept his dignity and his dream; he is a worthy winner. De Klerk was bowing to the inevitable. De Klerk’s award was inappropriate after decades of government led racism and the oppression of the black majority in South Africa.


Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Guatemala. Campaigner for human rights, especially for indigenous peoples

One of the very few female winners of this award. She spoke out against repression in Gautemala in the 1980s and moved to exile in Mexico. Is her award in line with Nobel’s stated goal for this award?


Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma. Oppositional leader, human rights advocate.

Eleven years later and she still battles away with a grace and purpose that will hopefully see a return to democracy in Myanmar.


Mikhail Gorbachev President of the USSR, helped to bring the Cold War to an end

Did he lead or was he pushed? Maybe it was an award for the people. He is a engaging character and in many ways Russia’s first modern media savvy leader.


The 14th Dalai Lama Tibet. Religious and political leader of the Tibetan people

Fled to India after Chinese suppression of Tibetan national uprising in 1959; supreme head of all Buddhist sects in Tibet. As the west continues to engage China and to reap the trading and financial benefits Tibet will increasingly be seen as a domestic Chinese issue.

This award was given the same year as the Tianenmen Square massacre. Without a clear leader of the students and demonstrators this may have sent a message to China that brutal oppression could not be tolerated. How time changes everything.


The UN Peace Keeping Forces

Another dubious award for the UN.

Pyongyang’s nuclear threat

21 October 2002

It should not come as any surprise that North Korea flagrantly ignored the 1994 agreement that was supposed to halt their development of nuclear weapons. Should we be concerned? Absolutely. North Korea has weapons of mass destruction. Iraq meanwhile appears to be still developing them. And it was not a cowering confession from North Korea. It was a statement of proud defiance.

Under this 1994 deal (which Jimmy Carter was in part responsible for and which contributed to his 2002 Nobel Peace prize) the USA, Japan, South Korea and others would provide North Korea with fuel oil and build nuclear reactors to provide electricity.

What is surprising is that Pyongyang has confessed its continuing development. In doing so North Korea effectively raised two fingers (or the local equivalent) to South Korea’s sunshine policy of reconciliation and to the Japanese Prime Minister’s recent visit and commitments of aid.

Just to add a little more confusion to the mix Pakistan is alleged to have provided assistance to North Korea’s nuclear program.

So just so that we are all clear:

One member of the USA labeled axis of evil has nuclear weapons. The US will continue its dialogue. One member of the axis of evil is alleged to be developing weapons of mass destruction and the US and certain allies are threatening imminent attack and calling for the overthrow of the regime. And an critical ally in the US led war on terror has been supplying nuclear know how to one of the terror states. It certainly pays to know who your friends are.

The USA certainly does not want another Korean War. And the proximity of North Korea to the US allies of South Korea and Japan will mean that the USA lets its allies take a lead role in setting strategy.

The North Koreans are using nuclear blackmail; if they are seen to succeed and are granted greater aid, support and welfare then there will be plenty of encouragement for other states to follow. And it will make the US hardline on Iraq look very isolated.

A message does need to get through to Pyongyang. Subsidies can no longer be given form Japan; US$10 billion had been proposed after the Prime Minister’s visit. Development of the nuclear reactors should cease. Building rail and road links from South Korea should cease. The UN needs to insist that North Korea has to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. Weapons inspectors from the UN should oversee this dismantling. It will be a game of brinkmanship with North Korea. The stakes have risen dramatically in the last week.

Air services pact is good for Hong Kong

21 October 2002

The concluded USA/Hong Kong air services pact appears so simple you have to wonder why it took three years. In the end Hong Kong’s airlines appear to have gained less than their US counterparts. Hong Kong, however, should see an overall benefit. New freight and passenger routes have a knock on effect to the local economy needing additional hotels, catering, logistics and trade support.

The deal is as follows:

US carriers will be given fifth freedom rights from Hong Kong for 64 weekly cargo flights – up from the present 8. The big winners here must be UPS and Fedex. The losers must be Air HongKong/Cathay Cargo and DragonAir cargo.

The Hong Kong carriers have equivalent fifth freedom rights from the USA but are unlikely to be able to benefit given the sheer scale of existing cargo operators in the USA.

US carriers will also be given fifth freedom rights from Hong Kong for 56 passenger flights, double the current 28 per week. The big winner here is United who already ae well established in Hong Kong. But it is unlikely that we will see any new passenger routes immediately. The US carriers are struggling. Maybe an second daily Hong Kong to Tokyo flight from United and in time a daily American flight are the most likely. United might also consider returning to Delhi. Continental could extend their New York flight.

The fifth freedom rights exposes Cathay to more competition form US carriers on its money spinning routes in Asia. Cathay ‘s fear is that the US carriers will sell heavily discounted seats in Asia in order to get connecting traffic onto their trans Pacific routes. The deal may also jeopardise Dragonair’s regional expansion plans.

Hong Kong’s status as a regional cargo and passenger hub is also buttressed. This is important as airports in the region become more competitive and new airports come on stream such as Guangzhou.

Cathay gets permission to code share with American on flights to 20 U.S. cities. This allows Cathay and American Airlines to effectively boost their reach and connections by selling seats on each others’ airline. This is probably more limited access than Cathay were hoping for.

On the whole the deal should be a welcome boost for Hong Kong. It is good to see that the government negotiator’s recognised the need to put Hong Kong’s best interests first. It is a repetitive arrogance of Cathay Pacific that they confuse their best interests with those of the city and its people.

Hong Kong and US close in on new air services deal

19 October 2002

Hong Kong and the USA look set (at last) to sign a new air services agreement after almost three years of often painful negotiation.

Cathay Pacific and American Airlines look set to be the big winners here with each allowed to codeshare on eachothers’ USA and Asian flights respectively.

The codesharing arrangement will give CX customers access to most major cities in the USA through onward connections from CX international flights onto domestic AA flights which will carry a CX flight number.

The same arrangement will work in reverse with AA flight numbers assigned to CX flights in Asia.

In terms of new traffic into HKG the following are likely:

AA will start flying from the USA to HKG in 2003. This flight might originate from Dallas.

US Cargo carriers will be granted an increase from 8 to 58 fifth freedom flights allowing onward connections from HKG into Asia. US passenger carriers will be allowed to increase from 29 to 58 their onward flights from HKG to a wider range of Asian destinations.

With CX getting such an important boost it is likely that the authorities will grant Dragonair’s request to compete with CX on certain regional routes.

This Seaman may not be so able but where are the cadets?

18 October 2002

The vitriol displayed by the English press against England’s experienced and slightly aging goalkeeper is astonishing. It is offensive. And it must cause great hurt to David Seaman and his family and friends.

And what was his crime? He let in a goal direct from a corner. The ball was hit fast, with a huge amount of spin and dip. Ask the striker to do it again – and maybe one time in one hundred he can. Should Seaman have dealt with it? Yes he should and he will be first to admit it. Was it an easy save? Not at all.

There is no escape as a goalkeeper; he is the last line of defence. And with modern tv every mistake is seen and repeated from every angle.

This was the offering from the Sun newspaper in England.

So when everyone has finished having fun with David Seaman let us think about the alternatives; Calamity James could have been one of the greats. But his temperament is suspect and he is very error prone. Paul Robinson has only had some 25 first team games for Leeds. He started the season brightly but looks less certain already. And Chris Kirkland languishes in the Liverpool reserve team.

My guess. Seaman does not need this abuse. He will retire from international football. He will go on to have a stellar season with Arsenal who will win the Premiership and maybe even the European Cup.

And when England play their next international in February England may find that they want the old boy back again !

While I am venting on this subject let us consider the rest of the England team. Worldwide television makes many England players world famous. But worldwide television is no guaranty that the same players are world class. Two of three are; but the rest are simply not up to standard.

The forgotten casualties of Bali

16 October 2002

I will keep this note short and forgive me if anyone is offended by it.

But as I watch the injured being taken from Bali to Australia and Singapore for medical treatment I do wonder how many injured and burnt Balinese are left behind with their pain being tended to in local and ill equipped Balinese hospitals.

Although medical supplies have been sent from Australia it would surely have served the western countries well and been a remarkable symbol of unity in the face of terror if there had been more of an effort to take all the severely injured irrespective of home and nationality to hospitals with the best available medical care.

No scad in this election (or was it “scud”?)

16 October 2002

The Associated Press reports that :

Saddam Hussein won another seven-year term as Iraq’s president in a referendum in which he was the sole candidate, taking 100 per cent of the vote, the Iraqi leader’s right-hand man announced today.

All 11,445,638 of the eligible voters cast ballots, Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council that is Iraq’s key decision-making body.

“This is a unique manifestation of democracy which is superior to all other forms of democracies even in these countries which are besieging Iraq and trying to suffocate it,” Ibrahim said at a news conference in Baghdad, apparently referring to the United States

The White House had dismissed the one-man race in advance, and the results seemed to bear out the criticism. To get a vote total at all — let alone a 100 per cent “yes” vote — Iraqi officials would have had to gather and count millions of paper ballots, some from remote areas far from Baghdad.

It may not be democracy as we know it but I am sure George W Bush would prefer the Iraqi way to sweating over the scad that was piling up in the Florida counts last year !

European Championships bring back the hooligans

16 October 2002

It was sad to see the opening games of the Euro 2004 football championship spoiled by holligans and racists.

Just for a while, back in the summer, the Korea/Japan world cup made soccer look like a game that unites and excites people. In the end Japan was just too far to get too and too expensive and perhaps just too foreign for your average mentally deficient hooligan.

The violence of the 1980s has never really gone away. It lay dormant for a while but appears to be back with a vengeance. Society has not solved the problem over the last twenty years. And the “English disease” is increasingly a Euro disease.

A friend has been visiting the UK for the last week. He is liberal and open minded. Yet he reported on the “depressingly “in your face” yobbish uk culture. The country”, he wrote, “is in moral decay. It is now systemic and in an unstoppable downward spiral”.

The FA will as ever do sweet FA. They will say with some justification that it is for society to deal with and not soccer. But someone has to take a stand.

Conveniently the FA is hiding behind the racist chants that were directed at coloured English players by the Slovakian crowd. That this provoked the “sensitive” English fans is nonsense. The English football hooligan is not a fan of soccer. He is a frightening menace whose brutish and menacing behaviour is designed to stir up the local authorities and push them to the edge of their tolerance.

It is time to stop English supporters from traveling to games in Europe at a club or national level. Stop this all too regular embarrassment.

The Bali Bomb Blast

13 October 2002

With at least 180 people killed and over 270 injured the holiday paradise of Bali has overnight turned into a living hell for visitors and residents.

Bali, where the population is primarily Hindu, has long been considered the safest and most peaceful island in Indonesia. While trouble has flared in Jakarta and other provinces tourism has continued to be at the core of the Bali economy.

A packed Saturday night discothèque in the bar and beach town of Kuta is almost too easy a target. The buildings are wooden and stone and highly flammable. Fire exits will be as rare as fire regulations. This was a very large bomb. It was very deliberately placed and timed to inflict the greatest amount of casualties possible.

For people still there the airlines are working with the local authorities to bring people home quickly if they want to leave.

Travel agencies will have to be supportive of people who need to make last minute cancellations of planned vacations.

South East Asia has long been considered a safe haven for terror groups; in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The war on terror just took a very alarming new direction last night and must now be recognised as a global fight against an unseen and organised terror network.

Inconsistency in Hong Kong

13 October 2002

Spot the differences in the following:

1. Ten workers use a two truck, three cars and road cones to stage an illegal and potentially dangerous blockade shutting the Cheung Tsing tunnel and closing the highway to the airport for 18 minutes.

Police take no action.

2. Having been granted a permit for 500 demonstrators, 4,500 villagers from the new territories march to the Central Government Offices; traffic was blocked and additional police needed to manage the crowds.

No action is taken other than a letter asking the organisers in future to stick to the agreed conditions for the march.

3. A group of 30 pro-democracy demonstrators are refused a permit to march on the Central Government Office to protest.

4. 16 Falun Gong protestors are arrested and prosecuted after a demonstration outside the Beijing Liaison Office mainly for allegedly causing an obstruction.

Enforcement of Hong Kong’s laws appears increasingly haphazard as authorities seek to avoid political demonstrations and scenes that might embarrass Beijing. While Hong Kong considers the additional powers the police will have when Article 23 legislation is enacted this would be a good time for wiser heads to ensure that existing rules are transparently applied.

Calling Time on the Monarchy in Canada

11 October 2002

With the Queen and Prince Philip on a ten day tour of Canada to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of her reign the Canadians have rightly been assessing her role in their nation.

Inevitably there are many people who do not have strong views either way. But those that do are quite polarised between retaining a constitutional monarchy and establishing a republic.

On balance I am with the republicans. I think the monarchy has its place in Canadian history but not in the future of a vibrant multicultural nation.

When I became a Canadian citizen in 1994 I almost choked on the citizenship oath where to take up citizenship, I had to make a solemn statement of allegiance, not to Canada, but to a foreign person and dynasty: “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

This is too feudal – the queen and her subjects. Canada needs to declare itself as a truly independent country. Subservience to some other country’s monarch, even if it is only ceremonial, continues to make us appear colonial.

Shortly before the Queen arrived in Canada the deputy Prime Minister, John Manley suggested that the Governor General become Canada’s head of state after the Queen’s reign ends. The suggestion has its merits and the debate is necessary. When the Queen dies she will be replaced by Prince Charles, the next King of Canada. It is time for Canadians to seriously consider how we feel about a foreigner as our head of state.

One hundred years ago most immigrants to Canada were form Britain. Now they are mostly from other nations and they must be bemused at the allegiance to Britain and to historical traditions. At my swearing in ceremony my neighbour was a refugee form Afghanistan, He and his family had been given the chance of a new life in Canada. He was deeply moved – but his feelings were for Canada not for a foreign monarch.

Yes, Canada needs a head of state. And the head of state needs to be apolitical. But the head of state should be a Canadian institution not a foreign one based on hereditary privilege.

It is a critical role. We need institutions that separate Canadians from Americans. Culture, language, economies… they all are becoming a homogenized blur with the massive influence of the southern neighbour. Canadians do not want to be a 51st state . The head of state must unify the Canadian people irrespective colour, religion or social strata and offer an opportunity for Canadians to unite under one common allegiance.

It is time to sever ties with the British monarchy. It is time to stand on our own feet as a country with our own proud institutions. The British and their monarchy have their rightful place in Canadian history. But it is time to move on. Queen Elizabeth should be the last King or Queen of Canada.

Singapore’s self controlled media

1 October 2002

A friend recently asked me about the English press in Singapore; I was asked what was the difference between The Guardian or The Bangkok Post and The Straits Times. It is my friend’s view that The Straits Times is quite good in terms of organisation, fonts and spaces and that compared to USA Today, it is better and easier to understand. I was asked what it lacks to become a better paper and about journalistic standards in Singapore.

I replied as follows:

At first site – Singapore’s press looks modern and democratic. Appearances are deceptive. The press and media in Singapore are strictly controlled and licensed:

Local press news coverage can appear excellent (both of local and international issues). You are often not aware of the restrictions on the media and press in Singapore by looking at newspapers or watching TV. But the censorship is there. On closer examination, it’s clear that few stories exist about the local government and the political system (and no stories which directly criticise government). Controversial or “hot” political topics in the news are minimal.
Local journalists are good at basic news reporting; they generally avoid analysis. They report facts, they avoid commentary. They practice self censorship. They are good at lifestyle – arts – technology
But that is not news – that is magazine reporting!

In 2000 the World Press Freedom Committee cited Singapore as follows:

NEW YORK (AP) – The World Press Freedom Committee on Sunday urged governments that attempt to limit the spread of information and opinion to change their policies regarding freedom of speech and the press.

The WPFC also issued a warning against governments that attempt to control Internet content. The committee specifically cited China, Russia, Singapore and Turkey, accusing them of seeking “to enforce political censorship and/or surveillance.”

At its biennial meeting, the WPFC said governments seeking to limit the spread of information are not sound democracies and have a tendency toward authoritarianism.

The committee reaffirmed its conviction that “insult laws” – which provide special protection to government authorities and official institutions – are inappropriate in countries that call themselves democracies, and urged such countries to repeal them.

The WPFC also issued a resolution, urging governments and international organizations to honor “the public right to know information held by official bodies.”

I bet this was not reported in Singapore. Censorship is as much about what is left out as it is about what is included !

It is worth also quoting the 2002 Report on Singapore by the Committee to Protect Journalists

In the run-up to November’s general elections, entrenched government control of the media and regulations governing the Internet and the foreign press virtually silenced public dissent. The ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) overwhelming dominance in the media sector helped guarantee the party’s supremacy: It won more than 75 percent of the vote, its biggest victory since 1980.
Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), a company closely linked to the PAP, owns all but one of the country’s papers. In 2000, SPH secured licenses to operate television and radio stations, which were launched in May 2001. The only alternative to SPH is the government-owned Media Corp, which publishes a free daily newspaper, runs several television channels, and operates 12 of the country’s 18 FM radio stations.

The government also tightened control over the foreign media, one of the country’s only sources of independent coverage. In April, Parliament passed a bill granting the government broad power to prevent foreign broadcasters from “engaging in domestic politics.”

Kevin Liew, youth leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, told the International Herald Tribune that, “With the local media in the hands of the ruling party and the continued restrictions on the foreign media, the Internet is the only other avenue for the opposition to conduct its campaign activities.”

But authorities promulgated regulations in 2001 limiting online speech as well. In April, the government ordered nonprofit organizations that promote press freedom and other political reforms to register as political organizations, thus prohibiting them from receiving foreign funding. These regulations affected free expression advocacy groups, such as Think Centre, Open Singapore Center, and Sintercom.

Additional rules banned non-party-affiliated political Web sites from publishing campaign materials or running election advertisements. In effect, only PAP or PAP-affiliated content was officially allowed online during the campaign. Soon after the regulations were announced, Sintercom closed, and Think Centre shut its online Speakers Corner forum in protest.

Free-lancer Robert Ho was the first person charged for violating the regulations. On November 16, Ho was arrested after posting an article on the Singaporeans for Democracy Web site that criticized four PAP leaders for violating election laws in 1997. Ho was forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. If convicted, he faces three years in jail.

In 2000, the government opened Speakers Corner, a Hyde Park Corner-style experiment in free expression. But by 2001, the experiment had clearly failed. Participants are required to register before speaking, the government has banned certain topics, and security officials monitor what is said. In September, local civil society activists commemorated Speakers Corner’s first year in a ceremony designed to highlight the initiative’s failings. At the ceremony, activist James Gomez said, “The only thing which has grown at Speaker’s Corner is the grass.”

The issue is that MediaCorp and Singapore Press Holdings are government owned and controlled. It really is as simple as that.

In the UK the government does not own media. Politicians declare their shareholdings to avoid conflicts of interests. Now that does not mean that the media lacks bias. The bias tends to reflect the politics of the owners/proprietors. Rupert Murdoch, through News Corporation owns The Sun and the Times and also Sky Television. Through these media he has significant scope to influence public opinion.

But the newspapers are free to write whatever they like – subject to normal libel laws managed through the judiciary.

In Singapore the government’s press control is taken as a given. The Washington-based Freedom House’s 2001 measure of press freedom – a survey that wasn’t reported in The Straits Times – says Singapore has one of the most restricted presses in the world, ranking alongside Zimbabwe, Liberia and Iran.

Even in appearance the ST is horrible, mixed up fonts – vast amounts of advertising – the paper is hugely profitable – and will remain so because it has no competition. USA today is not a good comparison – the quality US papers are the Washington Post and the New York Times. In some ways they are also a better comparisons. They are city newspapers. They have to report international, national and local news. Just like the Straits Times. Whey they carry is opinion and criticism…positive and otherwise. They provoke, inform, challenge and entertain.

The paper is a symbol of Singapore; the newspaper and Singapore Press Holdings have like its people embraced wealth creation. This takes priority over true democracy and over true freedom of expression. And while the government looks after its people it is an acceptable trade off to most citizens.

It is a wealthy safe and comfortable city. Its a wonderful city to visit. And for many people it is a wonderful city to call home. It is liberalising. There is more freedom of expression now. But even the rate of change appears government managed.

I do think people are entitled to more credit. The best censor is ourself. We know what we want and do not want to read. We know what we want to see and listen to. We are educated enough to be firstly given a choice and then to make our own decisions.

Hong Kong launches anti-mosquito drive to halt dengue fever
(Headline from AFP/Yahoo news)

6 October 2002

Rumour has it that Tung Chee-Hwa has branded mosquitoes as an evil cult and a threat to national security ! They will be banned under Article 23 !

Yes, dengue fever is a serious problem. But this is not the time to panic. This is a major health threat in over 100 countries. There have been recent outbreaks in Macau and Taiwan and it is a major issue in SE Asia.

Fumigation will help. Greater public awareness will help. The end of the rainy season will help.

Fetish Fashion gives government another beating

5 October 2002

My dear reader will remember the outcome of the foolish Fetish Fashion prosecution. (See this link)

You will be delighted to know that yesterday the court awarded HK$3.0 million in costs to the defendants.

All told the Hong Kong taxpayers have paid some US$500,000 for this time wasting titillation that served no purpose other than to temporarily boost the sales of some of the local newspapers and magazines.

False Miracles

5 October 2002

There can be no doubt that Mother Teresa was a remarkable woman. So given all that she did for the poor and destitute in Calcutta she is worthy of sainthood.

So why does the Catholic church have to create a miracle; and why, in doing so, do they have to poor scorn on India’s talented and burdened medical profession.

The alleged miracle was the disappearance of a abdominal tumour after an Indian tribal woman prayed to Mother Teresa in Calcutta’s Mother House in 1998. Doctors meanwhile were treating her for one year and argue that she was diagnosed, treated and cured by medical science.

I know which I believe. So why not canonize her for what we know she did rather than for something that sounds more like a witch doctor than a saint. It does a disservice to her memory and to the Catholic Church.

So nearly great

3 October 2002

I am a Clinton fan. It is one of the modern day tragedies that he will be better remembered for the Lewinsky scandal than for his compassion and leadership.

He has never put a foot wrong in Britain. In 1998 he brokered a peace treaty in Northern Ireland. His last speech in Europe as President was at Warwick University. Unlike so many American leaders he is an internationalist – he is at home in Bangladesh, Beijing and Blackpool.

Find me another President who would walk into the Blackpool Beach MacDonalds for a late night dinner. As someone cleverer than me said, by Blackpool standards that qualifies as gourmet food! However, I do hope he found more entertaining nightlife.

His speech to the Labour Party Conference was a huge boost to Tony Blair’s stuttering leadership of the Labour Party. It also will have affirmed to many skeptics that action of some form is a necessity in Iraq. Clinton carries a gravitas that the current President simply cannot match!

Simon Hoggart wrote in the Guardian that:

Bill Clinton was brilliant, dazzling, charismatic, seductive and utterly shameless…

And that’s how it felt. He wooed them all the time. He didn’t stop. He cast his eyes down coyly. Then he raised his head, smiled, and scoped the audience, gazing deeply and fondly into their eyes. He is the Princess Di of world politics. It was thrilling.

They especially adored him when he warned about an unelected despot with access to weapons of mass destruction who had already dragged his own country to the brink of ruin and was now threatening the whole world.

He also had harsh words for Saddam Hussein. But there was no doubt that the real enemy, the man in the electronic cross-hairs yesterday, was George W Bush.

He really was that good and that engaging. He was supportive but he also issued his own warnings. He clearly supported the force of UN resolutions and US led action, rather than the path of unilateral military assault on Iraq. And he warned us all that the real enemy is not Iraq, not at this time, but is still al-Qaida; we should not forget that warning.

This is a man who needs a global role of importance. He can make things happen. He can engage people to do good for themselves and others. There are many more years of energy and drive. Someone (the UN?) should harness those talents and give us a world leader that we all want to listen to.

The full text of his speech can be found here.

Ministerial Accountability in Hong Kong

1 October 2002

Its National Day; the 53rd anniversary of the PRC. In Hong Kong we will celebrate this auspicious day and the public holiday as we know best – eating and shopping. We are five years on from the handover; one country, two systems appears largely forgotten. China prospers; its capacity to spend on infrastructure and development appears undiminished. Hong Kong’s well-being is increasingly tied by the government to the mainland not to its role as a regional base.

And under the government’s new accountability doctrine senior Government officials are accountable to Tung Chee-Hwa, who is accountable solely to Beijing. Just out of curiosity, who in the Hong Kong administration is accountable to the people?

We live in a great city and in changing times !

As the Salem Open leaves, Hong Kong looks even less like Asia’s World City

1 October 2002

The Salem Open was Hong Kong’s only ATP supported tennis event. For one week each autumn for the last thirteen years many of the world’s best male tennis players came to Hong Kong.

Next year the event will move to Beijing, with the promise of world class facilities being built for the 2008 Olympic Games and much greater sponsorship opportunities. The fact that the Hong Kong event continued to be sponsored by a tobacco company was itself worrying.

Hong Kong’s Victoria Park facilities are old, cramped and open to the weather which at this time of year is not always kind.

But the real issue is economics. More and more sponsors will welcome the opportunity to use major sporting events to sell their name to huge mainland audiences.

This one move of a sports event is a portent of the role that Hong Kong will play in China and Asia. Rapidly Hong Kong is becoming of secondary importance to Beijing and Shanghai. We lack the local audience, the appeal to sponsors or the facilities. It is sad but irreversible.

WOW!! John Major and “Eggwina”. Anyone for a late night Currie ?

30 September 2002

Gentle reader, I have no idea where to start with this story.

It is a revelation of sex, scandal and adultery that will shock many people. John Major was regarded as solid, colourless, unfashionable; a man of values and strong family beliefs.

Edwina Currie was a scheming, publicity seeking, aggressive junior minister.

And from 1984 to 1988 they had an affair. Both were married. In 1990 John Major became Prime Minister ousting Margaret Thatcher as Tory leader and then producing one of the great political upsets when he beat Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party in the 1992 General Election.

There are so many angles to this story:

1. Why is it that the British get so fascinated by the private lives of public people?

2. How is it that the British have the audacity to take the moral high ground on such issues? Especially the press.

3. It is so sad that these revelations are made basically to sell Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers and to promote the diaries of a faded political figure.

4.The trouble is very few of us, whether famous or not, are without sexual secrets. We are all fallibly human.

Therefore it always seems so inappropriate that anyone should try to dictate on issues of morality.

Fundamentally I believe we all try to live as good a life as we can.

5. There is no place for vindictiveness when it comes to broken relationships. Understanding is a start. Dignified silence avoids causing or re-opening wounds.

6. Edwina Currie stayed silent form 1988 to 2002. Why after 14 years is she telling all now? To sell her book and the serialisation rights. And it will sell her book. What if she had told her story back in 1990?

7. I must say that long term I hope this damages Ms Currie more than it does John Major. Indeed it may even let people see him in a new light.

8. Why is it that people keep diaries ? Is it some overblown paranoia that they may have something to contribute to posterity. Is it because they may someday have a weapon that they can wield for personal gain. What was Ms Currie thinking when after a steamy night with John Major (even that takes some imagination!) she would go and record all the details in her diary. Did she think she might have a record that she could use for future benefit?

9. Ms Currie must have been very miffed that their four year affair did not warrant a mention in John Major’s autobiography. Some things are best left private !

10. But – WOW – what a story. Now that it is told it raise all sorts of questions, it sheds new light on the character of a recent Prime Minister and really does have a strong element of public interest.

Would John Major have ever made Tory leader and Prime Minister if the affair had been public in 1990.

Given the threat of revealing all how was it that John Major could keep Ms Currie on the back benches and not admit her to a cabinet position.

Given her ambition why did she not place pressure on John Major for a cabinet role. For Major this was a clicking time bomb that must have always threatened his term as leader and Prime Minister.

Would Major have even stood against Heseltine and Hurd as Tory leader? Major would have probably ended his career as another junior minister who resigned over another sleaze scandal. Instead he led Britain into the gulf war !

And now John Major looks as though he has the libido of Bill Clinton !! And to his credit he has taken it on the chin; no denials and not so grey after all. Just human.


You can find Edwina Currie online at www.edwina.currie.co.uk

Why Ms. Currie told all: The Guardian


“I am a little surprised, not at Mrs Currie’s indiscretion but at a temporary lapse in John Major’s taste,”

Lady Archer

“It is not our purpose here to make moral judgments, still less to question Mr Major’s taste in women … but it is fair to say that Mr Major’s choice of Mrs Currie as a lover showed appalling political judgment.

“She was a woman who never made any secret of her ambition, her love of money or her lust for publicity. Five minutes in her company should have been enough to tell Mr Major that this woman spelt trouble.”


On the opening day of the 2003 Ryder Cup: A golf joke from our Bangalore correspondent

27 Sept 2002

Moses and Jesus were in a threesome playing golf one day. Moses pulled up
to the tee and drove a long one. The ball landed in the fairway, but rolled directly toward a water hazard. Quickly Moses raised his club, the water parted and it rolled to the other side, safe and sound.

Next, Jesus strolled up to the tee and hit a nice long one directly toward the same water hazard. It landed right in the centre of the pond and kind of hovered over the water. Jesus casually walked out on the pond and chipped the ball onto the green.

The third guy got up and randomly whacked the ball. It headed out over the fence and into oncoming traffic on a nearby street. It bounced off a truck and hit a nearby tree. From there, it bounced onto the roof of a shack close by and rolled down into the gutter, down the drain spout, out onto the fairway and straight toward the aforementioned pond. On the way to the pond, the ball hit a stone and bounced out over the water onto a lily pad, where it rested quietly. Suddenly a very large bullfrog jumped up on a lily pad and snatched the ball into his mouth. Just then, an eagle swooped down and grabbed the frog and flew away. As they passed over the green, the frog squealed with fright and dropped the ball, which bounced right into the cup for a hole in one.

Moses turned to Jesus and said, “I hate playing with your Dad.”

The German Election result – a welcome win for the peacemakers and environmentalists

24 Sept 2002

I must say that Gerard Schroeder’s retention of power in Germany under his Social Democratic Party with the support of the Green Party is a much needed boost for the centre left parties in Europe.

When the campaign started Shroeder’s right wing opponent, Edmund Stoiber, had an eight point lead in the polls. That was a little over four weeks ago. There has been a marked shift to the right in Europe over the last eighteen months; fuelled by terrorist threats, the weakening economies and playing on fears of immigration. Although the SDP/Green alliance has a reduced majority it is reasonable to argue that Germany has taken a solid stand against such bigotry.

So what took Herr Schroeder past the winning post. One , people like him; he has personality. Herr Stoiber is still looking for his. Two, his rapid pledge of support to cities ravaged by the summer floods; and three, the fact that he stood up to the USA. His party does not support a war against Iraq. From a country that was ravaged by two wars in the last century that makes a lot of sense to people.

His campaign was rather hampered by his justice minister’s unfortunate comparison of Hitler and Bush. But he reacted quickly to that and she has lost her place in the new cabinet. A sensible and very public rebuke.

The response from the US was predictable. Donald Rumsfield stating that “I have no comment on the German election’s outcome. But I would have to say that the way it was conducted was notably unhelpful and, as the White House indicated, has had the effect of poisoning the relationship [with the US].” This sounds like the classic Bush doctrine of if you are not with us you are against us. It is a timely reminder to the USA that its allies still believe that the UN should be taking a lead role over Iraq. Incidentally Germany takes a seat on the UN Security Council from 1 January 2003 and will serve as the Council’s president. A role that could be influential in determining the UN response to Iraq.

Herr Schroeder will not be too upset if he does not get an early invitation to the White House ! He has pressing economic issues at home, led by a 9% unemployment rate and a stagnating economy, the third largest economy in the world. And he has to agree an agenda that accommodate the support of the Green Party.

Peter Enckelman’s howler – it could happen to anyone

(I hope my old friends at University FC read this !!)

23 Sept 2002

I need to make a declaration of interest here – I am still keeping goal for a football team in Hong Kong. And I am sure I will have my share of disasters and my share of moments of near glory this year. But at least mine will not be in front of a global television audience or a bunch of Birmingham City thugs with IQs in single digits.

An outfield player takes his eye of the ball – and it slips under his foot – well its a mistake but there is always another defender or the goalkeeper.

If a goalkeeper makes a serious mistake – well more often than not its a goal.

And the goalkeepers lot is harder now. Most of us are goalkeepers because we handle the ball better than we kick it. In many cases we don’t want to kick it. But for the last 10 years it has been illegal to pick up a back-pass. And more recently it is illegal to pick up a throw.

Last Monday the Aston Villa goalkeeper allowed a throw-in from one of his defenders, Olof Mellberg, to slip under his foot into the net and give Birmingham City a 2-0 lead. At the stadium and on global television after people stopped laughing they sat amazed that such a thing can happen.

Well of course it can. The only amazement is that it does not happen more often. For what its worth I do not believe he touched the ball. TV replays are unclear. IF he did not touch the ball then it has gone directly into the goal form the throw-in and the referee should award a corner. It is a little known law. And I bet Mr. Elleray, the match referee did not know. Certainly the unfortunate Enckelman did not know and he stood dazed rather than chasing after the referee.

Dismayed at his own lapse of concentration the Villa goalkeeper showed remarkable self restraint in his refusal to react when a Birmingham pitch invader taunted him with obscene gestures and then slapped the goalkeeper on the cheek. How he was even allowed on the pitch should be the matter of a police enquiry.

Enckelman wont be allowed to forget his error. There will be jeers for every backpass that he fields this season. He was back in goal on Saturday and had an excellent match against Everton. True fans would cheer him for his character and strength.

The FA is turning a blind eye (pun intended) to the deliberate use of elbows by Beckham and Henri in the last two weeks. Young fans are influenced by and copy these players. The FA needs to take the strongest line. Failure to do so brings the game into disrepute. Fortunately, Enckelman and others save the game.


22 Sept 2002

Carl Tendler of New York visited our great city of Hong Kong and sure left his calling card. In the (infamous) Sunday letters page of the SCMP he writes:

“A someone who has visited Hong Kong several times, it is obvious to me and many others that Beijing wants you to vanish. Businesses are leaving because it is less expensive to operate on the mainland, intimidation is also a factor and Beijing has its future set for Shanghai. Hong Kong is doomed and if Beijing could move all of Hong Kong’s architecture and creativity to Shanghai it would.

It is a sad thing to see. Hong Kong was a truly great city created by both Chinese and Britons. My condolences.”

Carl Tendler.

I guess he wont be coming back in a hurry. I wonder if he has ever been to Shanghai. Still at least he is back in New York, which WAS also a truly great city created by Chinese, Britons and many many others…..

It really would be wonderful to see Hong Kong’s doubters proved wrong!

Thumbs up for School Daze

22 Sept 2002

Last week Mr. O’Riordan expressed in the SCMP his dismay at the school uniform party at a Central nightclub. I am pleased to report that Thomas and Mary Tadger have redressed the balance; they had “a great night” and they wrote that “we – and seemingly the majority of the attendees – didn’t see or feel any dark forces at work, but perhaps we were busy having too much fun to notice.”

Am I getting cynical or is this just two weeks of cheap publicity for their next party !

Vanessa Mae Unplugged

21 Sept 2002

In another fine example of Hong Kong’s status as a world class city Vanessa Mae’s concert on 19 September in the dreadful convention center was another aural nightmare.

The Pet Shop Boys were here the week of 29 July in a concert that was largely inaudible. Some 5,000 people paid between $295 and $1,080. I was not there. Those attending will not be given refunds. And a large part of Hong Kong’s music audience will join me in boycotting this awful venue.

During the first half of her concert her electric violin failed – and she had to continue with an acoustic violin. Even after an unusually long 45 minute break sound problems continued in the second half of the show.

Its not just a case of why would anyone want to shell out good (and large sums of ) money for a concert in Hong Kong. Why would any performer want to play here.

Spot the difference

20 Sept 2002

There are two countries that stand accused of developing chemical and biological weapons; that are accused of developing nuclear weapons; that are accused of knowingly starving their people; that are run by dictators; that are considered both a threat to their neighbours and to US interests in their respective regions; that support terrorist activities against the USA and the “west”; both countries are the subject of US led trade embargoes that further add to the hardship of their people.

One country is being targeted by the USA. The doctrine of pre-emption requires the US to strike Iraq and overthrow Saddam before he uses his weapons.

The other country had a visit last week from the Japanese Prime Minister. Koizumi came away with little; no apology for the kidnapping of Japanese citizens; merely an acknowledgement that it had happened and that a number of those taken were already dead.

In return Koizumi has pledged some US$10 billion in development aid. Monitoring how this money is used will be key. Sceptics already alledge that the money will be used to further North Korea’s weapons programs. But the Japanese are far cannier than that. Their money will be put to effective use or there will be no money.

I will take the Japanese policy of engagement any day. If Koizumi’s visit brings the two Korea’s closer. If it speeds the arrival of normal diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea. If it opens a window to the people of North Korea. Then it is worthwhile. And the differences with the the US approach to Iraq are startling!

The endlessly entertaining letters page in Sunday’s SCMP

15 Sept 2002

It constantly amazes me what some people write to the SCMP about. And the newspaper seems to save all of their most bizarre or whining letters for their Sunday edition.

Their was a classic today from Julian O’Riordan in Mid-Levels.

For your entertainment here is the letter in full:


Some friends and I recently attended an’80s night called “School Daze” at a nightclub in Central. Upon my arrival, I was shocked and horrified to find this was a party where adults were encouraged to dress in school uniform, and dress like young school children.

I find this concept wholly inappropriate and sickening. We already live in a society where child pornography is readily available on the internet, trade in underage prostitution is rife in Asia, and paedophiles lurk in online chat rooms waiting to prey on innocent minors.

Our children need to be protected from this sort of sordid practice. Do we need to further encourage this sick and perverse attitude in the nightlife of Hong Kong.

Julian O’Riordan”


What was Mr. O’Riordan expecting – a night out in a central club with his homework. And if he behaves he gets a gold sticker for his chart. Either he is sad and naive; or he is taking the mickey !

I think it may be the latter !

I wish I could still get into my school uniform.

Yes he is right – all the things he mentions are real problems in Asia. But adults dressing up to have a fun night out in a Hong Kong nightclub does not contribute to any of those issues.

Sadly it simply looks as though Mary Whitehouse has re-appeared in Hong Kong and that this city becomes less fun by the day – or by the letter !

I guess Mr. O’Riordan wont be attending the wet “t” shirt contest at Skitz Bar. Or maybe he will – so he can tell us all how outraged he was (afterwards !!!!).

New twists on Nigerian Fraud Scams

13 September 2002

I hope most people are aware of the dangers of the Nigerian Fraud Scams. Now I think you would have to be insane to ever reply to one of these letters, but people do; the RCMP reckons that in Canada alone some US$30 million has been lost to these fraud artists.

What does sadden me is that they are always associated with Nigeria. They give the country a bad name and they must do serious damage to any genuine business that is trying to raise funds or enter into any form of international trade.

Today I received an email from Zaire, formally the Belgian Congo. It opens as follows:

I am JASPER SESE SEIKO from Zaire, presently known as Democratic Republic of Congo.

I am the son of late president Mobutu Sese Seiko of Zaire, Republic of Congo. I got your contact from Chambers of Commerce and Industry here in UK. I now decided to write to you on a business which would be to our mutual benefit if you willing and can assure me of your trust and capability.
Upon the death of my father, I left the shores of my country due to pressure and insecurity directed at my family over the wealth of my late father. Due to the above circumstance, I was only able to leave my country with the sum of US $18,000,000.00 cash, which I have been able to transport with the use of a courier company to UK where I am presently based.(my family’s wealth antecedence is a well known fact the would over) Hoping that you will respond to my call to assist me in investing this money, because I am totally ignorant of investment and I was in school when the unrest in my country claimed the life of my father and changed my living conditions. For your assistance and co-operation, I have decided to bequeath to you, % of the total sum involved and 5% mapped out for any miscellaneous expenses that we may incur during the process of transferring this money to your country. Moreover, it is risk free in the sense that I have taken proper care of all
the formalities regarding to this transaction.

These scams are often known as 419 scams. The term 419 comes from the section of the Nigerian criminal code outlawing fraudulent activities. It has become a part of everyday Nigerian Language. As others might say that one has cheated, or stolen, or tricked, or misrepresented, or lied, or conned, etc., a Nigerian will often just use the term “419” to cover all or some of the above acts.

This link to the Freeman Institute’s warnings and catalogue of 419 scams is helpful and thorough. And if you ever get such an email or letter – read it, grin widely and bin it !

No respect at Watford; FA investigation commences.

11 September 2002

One minute’s silence in honour of those who perished a year ago was to be held before every soccer match played in England last night and tonight.

It is a simple and moving gesture.

And it happened everywhere, accept at Watford.

Now Watford FC is a club I grew up with. That I followed since first seeing them play at Vicarage Road in 1970. For years Elton John was the Chairman. His money brought Graham Taylor to the club as manager (twice) and they were a remarkably successful small club. The club pioneered the family enclosure for parents and kids. They made the club and the players a part of the town.

And last night; there was a riot on the pitch before the game against local rivals Luton Town. It was not just a riot on the pitch. There were arrests in the town as well despite a massive police presence.

There is a history to Watford v Luton matches and no love lost between the so called fans. The two teams have not met competitively for 4 years. But this is only the Worthington Cup. It is used by many teams as an opportunity to give promising players first team experience. No one really cares for the tournament.

The start of the game was delayed and to the shame of all involved no attempt was made to observe the minute of silence. The club’s official website fails to mention any of last night’s troubles. And there is no apology. So on behalf of those of us who love soccer and who have the happiest of memories from Watford, I apologise for the lack of respect shown to all those who were bereaved on 11 September.

This tribal yob culture is frightening. It has not gone away. It is the reason why no major soccer tournament should be played in England. Why should it take a vast police presence to control people who are meant to be watching a football match?

Sadly the FA will likely do FA, beyond maybe fining both clubs. They will assume they are only responsible for what happens inside the ground. And they will express concern for the lack of police in the ground. But the FA’s responsibility has to go further. The city was a fortress for this game. And people will have been scared. In 1970 when I first saw Watford I was hooked. I loved standing on the terraces. I loved the drama; the noise; the rivalry. Would I take a kid to watch a game now. Probably not. Sad.

The following is an extract from Ian Grant’s match report on a Watford fan club site –

“When a Worthington Cup First Round tie requires hundreds of police in riot gear; dogs, horses, helicopters, tanks (oh, I’m only joking about the tanks…but give it a couple of years, eh?); closures of parts of the town, complex evacuation procedures, a UN exclusion zone around the ground…when that happens, merely to prevent the whole thing disintegrating into violence and chaos, then we’ve gone far enough. Like I say, it could’ve been worse. For a while, you wondered if the game would even start, let alone finish.

Police vans are parked all along Vicarage Road, and the stadium is blocked off completely to contain trouble at the Red Lion corner. We retreat to avoid the rising tension among the gathering crowd behind the police line, taking a safer route around the allotments. We arrive, entering the Rookery to see a mob from the away end marauding in front of the lower Rous. The atmosphere is poisonous. The mob surges, recedes, surges again, bored by the lack of resistance. A lone lunatic attempts to jump into the Rous near the halfway line to fight, taking no notice of the children around his chosen target; the corner flag is used as a missile; someone takes a kicking; a group of self-appointed moral defenders charges up the touchline from the Rookery to take on the invaders. It’s madness. There are no police inside the ground.

Eventually, long overdue, the boys in luminous yellow arrive, and restore a very fragile order. Heaven only knows what bedlam they’ve been removed from attempting to control outside. Oh, don’t get me wrong…the lack of police on hand to deal with the trouble inside the stadium was ridiculous, inexcusable. It beggared belief, especially considering that the vast majority of visiting supporters had already passed through the turnstiles. But you cannot get away from the fact that they needed to be everywhere last night, that even a vast police presence was stretched and broken in attempting to deal with the significant minorities from both clubs that’d rather settle things without the assistance of the players.

It’s bollocks. It’s nothing to do with Watford, nothing to do with Luton, everything to do with posturing, bullying, knuckle-headed, ugly, puerile violence. Well, do it somewhere else. The police handled it extremely badly, but there’s responsibility all around. Enough.

Naturally, there was no attempt to observe the planned minute’s silence for today’s anniversary. It would’ve been completely futile. Somehow, that small, shameful detail seems to sum it all up…the complete self-obsession, the ignorance, the f***ing stupidity…. “

There are many times when I am glad to be in Hong Kong, even with the No 8 typhoon signal raised !

Spot the evil dictator

8 September 2002

Forgive my confusion but it is not entirely clear who the good guys and the bad guys are right now. Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf is a dictator; but he is a needed ally to the Americans. So his military coup and his removal of all democratic rights is acceptable. Strangely the Pakistan of the last fifty years has largely been a democracy friendly to the USA. I hear no outcry at the military’s role in Pakistan.

Then there is Colonel Gaddafi. Now almost in the role of senior statesman. He does not even make it into the Axis of Evil list espoused by George Bush; namely Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

So what is it about Saddam Hussein? Is it that over 10 years ago George’s Dad left the job unfinished? But his weapons were largely destroyed, his army left in ruins, and his country subject to continuing sanctions. There is no clear evidence to link Saddam to 11 September. Although in all likelihood the day gave him pleasure.

The danger here is that the argument that Iraq is building chemical, biological and nuclear weapons may simply be a foil to access Iraq’s oil and natural gas reserves and to “fuel” the USA.

If it had not been for 11 September then in all likelihood we would not be facing imminent war. Instead cooler heads would prevail and the UN (In time and after endless haggling) would do what it is supposed to do…including arms inspections in Iraq.

But the USA now has a doctrine of pre-emption. If the USA determines that a nation (or presumable an individual or belief) is a threat to US interests or those of its allies then it has the right to act first and if necessary to act unilaterally.

This is a very dangerous path. Already international rhetoric has used this argument to aggravate India/Pakistan relations. Israel uses the argument to attack Palestinian militia and inevitably civilians. Russia uses the argument to support its attacks on Chechnya. China can use the argument to deal with militants in Xinjiang province.

Who really has the right to determine what are and are not the potential threats around the world and how they should be dealt with. Isn’t that a function of the United Nations? Then lets see some real leadership from that verbose body.

Airlines – the fastest way to lose millions of dollars

5 September 2002

As a consumer the news that Dragonair and Cathay Pacific want to compete on certain routes should be very appealing. In the short term it would certainly mean lower fares. In the medium term , it would almost certainly be a disaster.

The regional aviation sector is changing. The government has opened the door by abandoning its ole old one route one airline policy. Dragonair now has rights to Taiwan in direct competition with Cathay. Cathay’s response has been to apply for a share of the lucrative China market, by applying to fly to Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen. Cathay has also indicated that they want rights to fly to Phnom Penh, Sendai, Phuket (all now flown by Dragonair) and Madras and Pusan ( to which Dragonair has rights but no flights).

While Cathay has no given right to be Hong Kong’s de facto flag carrier there is no evidence that a market the size of Hong Kong can support two international carriers. Dragonair has a wonderfully profitable niche market from Hong Kong to China. Sometimes the best strategy is to stick with what you are good at. The Beijing and Shanghai markets continue to grow. For many people Dragonair is the only airline that they will fly to into China.

Dragonair has now indicated that it wants to fly to Bangkok, Manila, Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney. Lets have a look. Bangkok and Manila are primarily low yield routes; heavy on Economy and discounted fares. Hong Kong to Bangkok is already operated by Cathay, Thai, Emirates, China Airlines, Ethiopian, Finnair, Gulfair, Orient Thai and SriLankan. I think that’s enough. Hong Kong to Manila is operated by Cathay, Philippine Airways and Cebu Pacific.

Tokyo and Seoul are good business and leisure routes. Landing slots at Narita and almost impossible to obtain. Tokyo is served from HKG by United, Northwest, Cathay, JAL, ANA, and JAS. You can also connect via China Airlines and fly into Haneda through Taipei. Seoul has flights by Cathay, Thai, Korean Air and Asiana. A new entrant into these markets will likely mean more discounting.

Sydney. The kangaroo route remains one of he most sort after routes in the world. ANZ are already talking about flying from Melbourne and Sydney to Hong Kong. Richard Branson is talking about extending Virgin Blue internationally, although probably under a different brand name. This would connect to Virgin Atlantic’s Hong Kong flights. And on a long haul, Dragonair does not have the product to compete with Virgin, Cathay or even Qantas.

A serious attempt by Dragonair to enter these markets will cost millions in capital and operating costs. They may, for some time, be able to subsidise these routes from their money-spinning China routes. But they may also seriously damage the airlines long term financial viability.

Lets not forget the mainland carriers as well. As part of opening up China routes for Cathay the expectation is that Beijing would require Hong Kong to permit mainland carriers to have fifth freedom rights from Hong Kong.

How many small nations/cities can support two international carriers. Canada has tried (Wardair, Canadian International, Canada 3000) ; only Air Canada survives. Ansett collapsed leaving Qantas as the dominant carrier domestically and internationally from Australia. And that has done no favours at all for the Australian consumer. Singapore splits its network between SQ and its subsidiary Silkair, which acts as the regional carrier.

So what does all this mean. For the consumer it should be good news at least for a while. More choice, more competition, lower fares. The airlines are saying that they would avoid destructive price wars. But in the end the likelihood is that one Hong Kong carrier will prevail. And then wait and see what happens to airfares !

For the moment we would all like to see Hong Kong established as the leading Asian aviation centre. That means opening up more markets, with more airlines and more flights. The challenge will be in avoiding destructive price wars.

Time out

4 September 2002

Enough is enough. I will not be renewing my Time magazine subscription which thankfully ends this month.

The “9/11 One Year Later” edition is depressingly myopic, one sided and trivial.

A balanced, global perspective would give some credibility. What should Time be concerned about?


The family survivors of over 5,000 civilians that have been bombed to death in Afghanistan.

The hundreds of prisoners that were shipped to an American concentration camp in Cuba. We are still waiting for evidence of their alleged crimes.

The more than 1,000 people of Muslim background who have ‘disappeared’ in America; they have not been named. No charges have been laid.

The fact that while the events of Sept 11 gave the US huge global sympathy and understanding that has been wiped away by a year of arrogant political bullying. Just when the USA needed to embrace its friends and allies it has alienated them one after another over issues such as the environment (Kyoto), the International Criminal Court, Steel tariffs.

That the next stage of the inappropriately named war on terror appears to be an attack on Iraq which no other country in the world appears to support at present and which may dramatically destabilise the middle east.

The fact that the US has been a home, a banker and a training ground for terrorism. Whether that was an active role in Nicaragua or funding the IRA. How many lives have been lost from US sponsored terrorism.

And where next for al-Qaeda? 11 September did not change the world. It was an extreme reminder of just how dangerous the world is and how little we understand it.

It may be unpatriotic to ask these questions and to do so at this time. But a true and strong democracy would be demanding answers.

The death penalty has no place in a civilized society

2 September 2002

Outlawing the death penalty is a requirement for membership of the 15-member European Union. It is only right then that the German authorities insists that they will only pass on evidence to the USA against Zacarias Moussaoui (the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker) if the US gives assurances that he will not face the death penalty.

It is very simple. No one has the right to take someone else’s life. Full- stop.

Capital punishment is a barbarian’s act. An eye for an eye is frontier justice. I hope we have evolved further than that. I hope we have a greater respect for life.

The European Communities are unanimous in this respect. Civilized nations would follow.

Hong Kong – where are we going now?

22 August 2002

Earlier this week we reached 7.8% official unemployment in Hong Kong. This is this official number. The real number is surely much higher. Home-makers, students, foreign workers, those who do not register. It would be hard to assess the official number.

For a city that has always so successfully re-invented itself there appears to be no agreement as to what need to be done, what adjustments should be made, what actions can be taken or what changes should be made.

In the 1960s Hong Kong was a manufacturing centre; in the 1980s as manufacturing moved to China, Hong Kong re-invented itself as a financial and services centre. It became the shipping and transportation link from the rest of the world into China.

But what now; the reaction to the current crisis is uncertain at best. There is a sense that we simply have to ride out the storm. Notwithstanding that this may be the perfect storm.

What was Hong Kong’s first response. Walt Disney in 2005 or 2006. Let’s have more Chinese tourists. Trouble is the negotiators forgot the China exclusivity clause…..and guess what Disney Shanghai is just around the corner !

The government says that Disney Hong Kong will create 34,000 jobs. Great. We all know that the management jobs will largely not go to Hong Kong’s citizens. But we can all dress up as the seven dwarfs and be paid for it. I would dress up as Snow White but I am not qualified.

And there will be competition. Shenzen is negotiating with Universal studios. Steve Wynn will bring Las Vegas style living to Macau.

This is not what makes Hong Kong a first class and world class city.

What would work? Expanding the freedoms that make Hong Kong different from other Chinese cities. An elected and accountable government. A sense that politics is important and a career choice of value and responsibility. And then build on the commercial, trading, infrastructure, transport and cultural links to China.

Whipped into shape

Fetish Fashion prosecutors handed a beating !

20 August 2002

Whipped into shape; that’s a pretty good message for many people in Hong Kong who still do not appreciate what it takes to make Hong Kong a world class city and who fail to understand which issues are and are not worth fighting for.

The three defendants in the Fetish Fashion trial were found not guilty. And let us all hope that the prosecution is made to pay all costs, serving as a lesson to the police force and the Hong Kong government.

Though why we poor taxpayers should have to stump up for such an ill-considered prosecution is a mystery.

The SCMP in its leader today said,

“It is not clear what prompted the government to prosecute this case. The normal criterion is public interest, but the only public interest that appears to have been served in this case is that of newspaper readers in the lurid details of the daily trial reports.

Despite the heroic attempts by police investigators to gather evidence by submitting themselves to the discipline of bondage and sadomasochism, the prosecution case was poor….”

The three defendants were prosecuted under legislation based upon 18th century British public morality legislation. As Asia’s world city it would be nice if we were a little more enlightened in our legislation, a little more tolerant in our attitudes, and a little wiser in our pursuit of justice.

This case has made people laugh at Hong Kong; it has titillated and amused. It has not served the public interest in any way. Sadly that’s what our government and its representatives are expected to do. They should be spanked!

As for the investigating officers; maybe they will be given tickets for a future party. Perhaps it can be called the Secret Policeman’s Ball !!

And here is a link to their business – because they deserve it !!

No fly frilly or not – that is the question ?

20 August 2002

In Europe the big boys are fighting back. BA and others have eliminated the old Saturday stay requirement for their new economy fares and no advanced purchase is necessary.

They are fast learning the magical art of yield management. If you are willing to fly at a specified time on a given date then you may well find that the major carriers have very competitive fares. You will always have to pay for flexibility and the right to change your schedule.

A couple of random comparisons between BA and Go/Easyjet/Ryanair found in some cases that the BA fare was very similar to the no frills carrier. With the bonus on BA of more flights per day from many destinations, using Heathrow or Gatwick (not Stansted) and flying into a city’s main airport. And you get frills.

Why then do the no frills carriers still fly with such terrific load factors? Why do they remain so popular?

I have three rather British answers.

The British love the under-dog. They see Ryanair and Easyjet as upstarts fighting big ugly government supported European majors.

The British love a bargain. If you can commit months in advance then the no frills carriers will offer bargain fares that BA can never match. It is usually only when you get closer to your preferred departure date that frilly and no frills fares become comparable.

Marketing. marketing, marketing. The no frills carriers never miss a trick to get their name up front on the news, on their planes, on posters, on television features. The majors just dont know how to handle this. Southwest pioneered no frills marketing. Easyjet and Ryanair milk it for all it is worth. They will never be accused of being subtle. Imagine a BA plane with a telephone booking number emblazoned on it – I cant !

How long can the no frills carriers sustain this advantage or do they just become part of the airline establishment. There are already signs of Easyjet looking like BA at its worst with some dreadful scheduling problems in the busiest summer months. And there are more signs of BA looking like Easyjet with fast and efficient internet booking and more aggressive fare structures.

Leadership under pressure.

17 August 2002

Once again Hong Kong’s leaders have let us down.

I have no objection to the police charging Falun Gong members for obstruction. There is little doubt that those arrested in March were trying to see just how much they could get away with; and then having got themselves arrested there is little doubt that they wanted political mileage from their trial.

For the record there were 16 accused, four Swiss, one New Zealander and 11 Hong Kong citizens.

And boy did they get their 15 minutes of fame – and a bit more besides. So determined were the Hong Kong authorities to be seen to have a watertight case that could be exempt form any suggestions of politics and interference from Beijing that the case lasted for 26 days. This was an obstruction charge. Not exactly a heinous crime. The government hired a top prosecutor, Kevin Zervos, and the court proceedings were translated into English, Chinese, German and two Chinese dialects.

Representatives of the Canadian, British and American governments were in court to hear the verdict.

The primary prosecution evidence was video tape; which is kind of hard to argue against.

Each of the 16 was fined HK$ 1,300. Other fines were given as follows:

9 fines of $500 for obstructing a police inspector in a police vehicle.

I fine of $2,000 for obstructing assaulting 2 police officers.

2 fines of $1,000 for assault on a police officer.

I make that a total of HKS 29,300, approx US$ 3,750. Maybe one day’s fees for a senior counsel.

Of course the well funded Falun Gong have already appealed the verdict; and there is a real likelihood of this case getting to the Court of Final Appeal.

Hong Kong’s residents have the right to assemble, to demonstrate and to express themselves freely. Where do those freedoms end and issues of public order take over. That is the issue being determined by this court. The trouble is the political issues dominate.

Who pays the government’s costs. We do – our taxes. Do I feel any new sympathy to Falun Gong after these hearings. Absolutely not. They were spoiling for a fight.

What really gets me upset though is when Hong Kong’s justice chief puts her foot in her mouth a day later and says all of this is OK because Falun Gong members have been similarly convicted in Singapore.

A good test of good and wise leadership is the ability to give well considered and thoughtful replies when under the pressure of media questioning. She failed miserably.

Singapore is not exactly the world centre of free expression and assembly.

What she should be saying is that the government is going beyond the call of duty to ensure that Falun Gong followers are not subject to any form of discrimination. That their members are treated in the same way as any other Hong Kong residents or visitors.

Singapore is irrelevant to this issue. It is a Hong Kong issue only. It is our laws being applied to our people. That is what matters and that is what she should be talking about.

It is probably true that the government is less tolerant of demonstrations and of criticism. Groups other than Falun Gong have seen their demonstrations disrupted by some heavy handed government supported police action; the most recent examples being the right of abode seekers.

The media has a major role in all of this. Although they are the last to admit it. Falun Gong had contacted all the local and international media organisations to advise them of their protest. There was a big media turn out. The media want action film and pictures. It is no surprise that the demonstrators were provocative. The right of abode seekers were similarly media savvy.

The biggest worry is that Hong Kong’s government sees Singapore as their role model. That was implied by the the Justice Secretary’s comments. It is a slippery and unwelcome path to tread.

John Barnes is coming to Hong Kong

15 August 2002

It was on 10 June 1984 that John Barnes scored perhaps the most Brazilian of goals on their home turf in the Maracana Stadium in Brazil.
It was a moment of footballing magic. And for many people John Barnes never lived up to the expectation generated by that one goal.

But tell that to the fans at Watford and Liverpool. He created more than another decade of great moments for both clubs. He left Liverpool on a free transfer in August 1997 for Newcastle and ended his playing career at Charlton.

And now he is on the celebrity chat circuit ! He will be at Delaney’s Wanchai on 9 Sept and Delaney’s TST on 11 September. He will answer questions and there will be an auction with proceeds to various charities. Tickets are HK$200.

And you really only want a picture of him at his best ! In Watford’s colours !

I’ll have to get the “Z Cars” theme ready for him !

The US aviation industry needs to be competitive

15 August 2002

In the US the losses being made by the major carriers are staggering. But they carry on flying. Protected by federal loan guarantees and Chapter11. Bankruptcy protection probably does more harm to the US airline industry than good. Chapter 11 allows failing airlines to continue to fly; and worse still to slash fares to win market share while operating under court protection from their creditors. So all the over capacity remains.

The US labour unions baulk at any serious attempt to reduce costs and capacity. The good of the many must mean the sacrifice of the fewer. There has to be pain. And there is no reason why the US airlines should be immune from that pain.

In the meantime European airlines have been allowed to fail (Sabena and Swissair being significant examples); European airlines have slashed away at staff and operating costs. BA, Lufthansa, KLM, SAS and Iberia are all profitable. They are prospering alongside the growth of the no frills carriers such as Go and Easyjet. And in many cases crew made redundant by the major carriers will often find employment with the new airlines. That may not have the same pay and benefits and frills; but if you will forgive the mixed metaphor, the gravy train does not run forever. It should be noted that the no frills carriers currently fly only about 10% of European air travelers. People are flying in Europe. More now than before 11 September 2001.

Americans are still not flying; at least not at early 2001 levels. So there is huge overcapacity and too few people flying. Why are they not flying – yes in part because of last year’s events. But also because flying in the US is a fairly miserable experience; grumpy crew, dilapidated airports (Denver is a shining exception), obnoxious, ignorant and intrusive security. And no exotic destinations to renew the spirit when you get there – while Europe offers you no frills flights from Torp to Carcassonne to Verona to Prague (pre floods !).

Let US Airways fail; it has been a sick patient for many years. Let United fail; they do not have a given right to federal guarantees. Why should they have? Would Microsoft get federal loan guarantees; I don’t think so. Let the US carriers merge and consolidate. And a stronger and more competitive industry will emerge.

Can no frills fly in Asia?
14 August 2002

For the longest time I have wondered whether a no frills airline could make it in Asia – the answer, at least today, has to be a qualified no ! On a country by country basis a small scale airline can make it. But across borders….I dont think so !

Why do Easyjet, Go, Ryanair and others succeed in Europe. Simple. All airlines from European Union member states have the fifth freedom rights within the EU. They can fly between any two points, neither of which need be in their home country. Ryanair is an Irish airline. Its main base of operation is Stansted, NE of London. In Europe the only real issue is finding an airport that you want to fly to that has landing slots available. Everything else is manageable.

Why do Southwest and JetBlue and arguably Airtran do well in the USA, and Westjet in Canada; they don’t fly internationally. If you want no frills from New York to Vancouver you need to fly from New York to Buffalo on Jetblue, drive across the border and then fly from Hamilton Ontario to Vancouver on Westjet !

Simon Calder in his excellent read “No Frills” identifies the five main cost elements of running an airline as the 5 Ps….people, planes, petrol (jet kerosene), places (airports) and promotion. In Asia there is a 6th P. Permission.

Once you leave Europe the airlines are a protected species. Every country needs two things – a national anthem and an airline…and the airlines are often allowed to lose money, at the tax payers expense for ever! Olympic in Greece, Qatar Airways, Gulf Air; even the American majors are relying on handouts and loan guarantees or Chapter 11 protection ! Try starting up a low frills carrier in Australia where Qantas have at least 80% of the domestic market. Virgin Blue have done well this far; the failure if Ansett gave Virgin Blue the opportunity to be the necessary second carrier. But in Australia as in Canada there is a long list of failed start up airlines.

A relevant example of the complexity of flying in Asia is Cathay Pacific’s application to start flying back into mainland China; Cathay gave up these routes to Dragonair in return for a major shareholding in the Hong Kong based carrier.

For Dragonair its routes into China, especially to Beijing and Shanghai are wonderfully profitable. Dragonair now has rights, and flights, to Taipei so can fly a same plane (change of flight number only) through service from Taipei to the two major mainland cities; this is a huge advantage over Cathay Pacific.

Now you could argue that if Cathay wants to fly there and has the crews and planes and can negotiate landing slots and fees in China then they should fly when they want ! If only it were that easy. In 2000 Hong Kong and Beijing signed an air services agreement designating Dragonair as the sole Hong Kong carrier to the mainland. The mainland carriers are likely to oppose Cathay’s entry to this market. But how many Chinese airlines serve Hong Kong; Air China has 5 flights a day to Beijing, China Southern one a day to Beijing, China Eastern, 10 flights a day to Shanghai; all these carriers have other destinations from HKG. And let’s not forget China Southwest, China Northwest, China Northern and Xiamen Airlines – all flying to and from Hong Kong.

It may be years before Cathay can fly to China. And if Cathay cant fly there then what chance a new start up !

So where could a no frill carrier succeed in Asia. More on that tomorrow.

Email from Havana
12 August 2002

In the modern days of email I guess “Letter from America” would have to be renamed! Anyway, yesterday I received my first ever email from Havana, Cuba.
For anyone thinking of going to Havana go now – go before it changes irrevocably as it must before too long. The dollar remains the currency of choice; but do not try and use your American Express card ! But you can get to the Internet !

A musical and welcoming city; full of life, energy, intelligence and colourful old American cars. Its a unique place to visit !

OK – a golf joke !
11 August 2002

Sorry the sun was shining – and I did not feel like taxing my brain !

A young man, who was an avid golfer, found himself with a few hours to spare one afternoon. He figured if he hurried and played very fast, he could get in 9 holes before he had to head home.

Just as he was about to tee off, an old gentleman shuffled onto the tee and asked if he could accompany the young man.

Not being able to say no, he allowed the old gent to join him. To his surprise, the old man played fairly quickly. He didn’t hit the ball far, but plodded along consistently and didn’t waste much time.

Finally, they reached the 9th fairway and the young man found himself with a tough shot. There was a large pine tree directly between his ball and the green.

After the young man spent several minutes debating how to hit the shot, the old man said, “You know, when I was your age I’d hit the ball right over that tree.”

With that challenge placed before him, the youngster swung hard and hit the ball, which smacked solidly into the tree and dropped to the ground about one foot from where it had originally lay.

The old man remarked, “Of course, when I was your age that pine tree was only 3 feet tall.”

August blues in Hong Kong
9 August 2002

There is no blue in the sky – and no blue in the forecast. This is the worst of times in Hong Kong. Gloomy weather to match the gloomy economy.

So gloomy that it is time to think about holidays: So lets start with Tibet !

Tibet features in Michelle Yeoh’s new film “The Touch”; lovingly photographed, the film is best watched with the sound off! The script is dire and the plot contrived. But it does make me want to head for Tibet.

Tibet has of course occupied by China since 1949. The Tibet autonomous region continues to be governed from Beijing. There has also been a policy of moving Chinese migrants into Tibet. The leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, has lived in exile since 1959.

One from of protest would be to ignore this vast land. But that is unlikely to foster any understanding of the issues or the well being of the Tibetan people.

Based in Hong Kong, Forceten Ltd run some of the best tours to Tibet (www.forceten.com.hk) and have an informative web site,

Simply out of touch

8 August 2002

It is so scary that people entrusted to fly 400 passengers in a 747 can be so out of touch with reality. Now we all know that there is a history of bad feeling between Cathay Pacific and its pilots but for the pilots’ union to be suggesting industrial action in the fall is just unreal.

Some basics. Hong Kong has no air force; there were no Hong Kong citizens growing up as aviators. When Cathay grew in the 1980s and 1990s it had to hire most of its pilots from oversees. Although Cathay has a worthy cadet recruitment programme the most senior graduate is still only a senior first officer. Cathay’s expatriate pilots are among the best paid in the industry, flying well maintained and new planes to some of the world’s most exotic locations. For a flyer Cathay is one of the plum jobs.

But Hong Kong is suffering like never before and its people are concerned for their job security, their families and for the economy. With unemployment at record levels and many who are employed accepting salary cuts or salary freezes, then the people of Hong Kong will have little sympathy for a group of foreign pilots with a grievance against their management.

Any industrial action by Cathay’s pilots threatens the airline’s fragile recovery, threatens Hong Kong’s battling tourism sector, threatens all the ancillary and support services supporting the airline. And the pilots will find little if any sympathy from Hong Kong’s embattled residents !

The Taiwan debate – a view from Taipei and a lesson from Hong Kong.
(from the Taiwan Times – 5 August 2002)

Hong Kong’s fate a cautionary tale

By Lee Chang-kuei §õªø¶Q

In the five years following the implementation of the “one country, two systems” policy in Hong Kong, the world has witnessed the decline of democratic freedoms and economic competitiveness in the former British colony.

Beijing’s “colonization” of Hong Kong has resulted in a serious case of cultural lag on the part of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The government is in reality a colonial government serving an authoritarian central government. The Pearl of the Orient has fallen. The people of Hong Kong know that Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (¸³«ØµØ) is nothing more than a lap dog for the Chinese Communist Party. And for people of Taiwan, the fifth anniversary of the handover was a painful day.

`The closer the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are, the less secure is Taiwan. Direct links would only increase Taiwan’s economic slant toward China and would also further erode Taiwan’s political independence and autonomy.’

Before 1997, Hong Kong was considered the Pearl of the Orient, with prosperous and booming service, finance and tourism industries. After it was handed over to China in 1997, Hong Kong’s status began to disintegrate. In 1996, Hong Kong managed to attract as much as 13 million tourists. The number began to gradually decline thereafter. This has much to do with the fact that, beginning in 1997, the former colony started to lose its cultural allure, which featured a unique blend of British and Chinese cultural traits. Tourists now prefer to get a taste of Chinese culture in places such as Beijing and Shanghai.

To the people of Hong Kong, the city no longer holds any attractions either. Nowadays, they work five days a week, and then, rather than engage in leisure consumption in Hong Kong on weekends, they go on a mere one-hour-long commute to the Shenzhen and Zhujiang for traveling and leisure activities.

The number of Hong Kong travelers to China totaled about 3 million in 1997, while the number reached 5 million last year. The amount of money these visitors took with them to China last year was possibly as much as HK$500 billion. They have no money to spare on investing and developing the territory.

Consumption is the most fundamental basis of economic development. It is also the index of the prosperity of the domestic market. Since the handover, Hong Kong’s consumption market became bleak. Replacing it is the cheap consumption offered by newly rising Chinese cities nearby.

The truth of the matter is the business environment is making it difficult for manufacturers and the work force to remain in Hong Kong. Instead, they are forced to seek opportunities in the mainland. While workers are more inclined to move to Guangdong Province, the dimming of Hong Kong’s financial and business sectors has forced an exodus of business leaders to areas in and around Shanghai and Zhejiang.

Moreover, while Hong Kong citizens are spending their money in the mainland — or moving there altogether — the mainland Chinese who are emigrating to Hong Kong have very little money to spend. They bring neither consumption nor professional skills, yet compete with locals for jobs accepting lower wages, helping raise the unemployment rate to as high as 7.7 percent.

Social changes and the econo-mic dependency of Hong Kong have caused the investment environment of the city to deteriorate. The real estate market and the stock market have both declined on a large scale. The occupancy rate of the hotel industry is only 60 percent. Assets and capital have depreciated by half, the retail sector is barely hanging on and the debts of small and mid-size firms are rising sharply. This is all due to erroneous policies of the territory’s government.

The decline in the investment environment has caused the people of Hong Kong to lose faith in their administration. Nor do they identify with the chief executive appointed by Beijing, even though he is a native of Hong Kong. The change in market characteristics has made it im-possible for the investment mar-ket to regain vitality. Hong Kong has thus become a pool of stagnant water. The people of Hong Kong no longer put their hope in the territory.

Beijing is reportedly planning on developing Shenzhen into the pivot of the Hong Kong and Zhu-jiang service market. The hope is that, as result of Zhujiang’s proximity to Hong Kong, the large number of foreign firms with regional headquarters and offices in the territory can be tempted to relocate to Shenzhen. In other words, the plan is to have Shenzhen replace Hong Kong’s role. This is just one example of the way the territory is rapidly being replaced by newly rising Chinese coastal cities.

People of Hong Kong now believe that going to China is the only way out and their sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment has grown. Under British rule, the people of Hong Kong were proud of Hong Kong. But since the handover, they have been stripped of their dignity.

Hong Kong and Taiwan have the commonality of both being tied up with China politically and they both slant toward China economically. Together, they made possible the development of the Chinese coastal market.

Contributing to economic development in China has been Beijing’s success in dealing with inflation, which kept labor prices along the Chinese coast down. But Beijing then turned around and used all of that revenue on military expansion. At the same time, it continues to lure capital, technology and manpower from Taiwan and Hong Kong, indirectly weakening the investment and capital markets in the two areas. Hong Kong’s economic slant toward China, while its capital continues to pour into China, is creating a serious capital vacuum in the territory.

In the past five years, Hong Kong has poured US$150 billion into China, and Taiwan some US$120 billion. China has quickly become a rising world economic power. In contrast, Taiwan and Hong Kong have fallen into the quick sand of economic reces-sion. What have Hong Kong and Taiwan gotten out of their China investment? The people of Hong Kong don’t have any more chance to ponder that question. But, the people of Taiwan still have time.

The people of Taiwan can see for themselves how the “one country, two systems” policy has made Hong Kong nothing more than a Chinese colony that Beijing is sucking up to enrich China. It has made China the center of the world manufacturing industry. It has turned ancient Shanghai into the trade, financial and economic center of the world. The once- deserted Shenzhen also became a world-class industrial center. The People’s Liberation Army has also become the hub of the power of terror.

China promised the people of Hong Kong that there would be no change to their way of life for 50 years. How much longer can the territory hang on is something that that the US and Europe are closely watching. It is believed that the colonialization of Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” will prematurely end the way of life that the people of Hong Kong have always known. The decay and erosion have long begun.

Now that Tung has been re-elected as the chief executive, “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong will more than likely head for “one country, one system” at an increasingly rapid pace. What other result can one possibly expect when, in the past five years, Beijing has consistently dealt with Hong Kong’s economic and political problems based on the “one China” principle?

Under the circumstances and in view of Hong Kong’s experience, it is truly puzzling why the KMT and PFP continue to demand that President Chen Shui-bian (³¯¤ô«ó) accept the “one country, two systems” policy and open up direct links. Doing so would in essence be a total surrender to Beijing. Taiwan would ultimately become a mere special administrative region or a Chinese colony, just like Hong Kong.

Are these two parties bent on destroying Taiwan? THe KMT and PFP should be reminded of the Chinese proverb which cautions that “negotiating with the tiger for its hide” (»Pªê¿Ñ¥Ö) can only bring devastation. The same may be said about Taiwan’s economic slant toward China and its investment there.

I suggest that the PFP and the KMT each convene a national party congress to hold serious discussions concerning the “one China” principle and “one country, two systems.” These two parties should no longer lie to and deceive the people of Taiwan. They should re-draft their party policy guidelines.

Moreover, the Taiwan government should also scrap the bud-get allocated for the National Unification Council. The council is a body entirely outside the constitutionally prescribed form of government structure to begin with. This is not to mention the fact that the body is in no way constructive to the stability and development of Taiwan.

Western democracies have long held that helping China’s economic development would lead to its democratization, following the pattern of the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. But this dream will never be realized in China.

China will never change its political and social structure. This is because the Chinese military is not only extremely resistant to progressive change, but is also extremely powerful. Its power derives from the fact that it is needed to “maintain peace” in areas such as East Turkestan and Tibet, and whoever is the Chinese president must also rely on its support of it and the support of the Chinese Communist Party. No amount of democratic values and ideals on the part of individuals such as Vice Premier Qian Qichen (¿ú¨äµ`) could ever lead China onto a path of democratization.

On the surface, China may appear much more democratized than before, but its phony democracy is intended to lure capital and technologies. The ultimate goal of China is still regional domination, to say the least, and is really to defeat US hegemony. These ambitions can be glimpsed by looking at China’s military modernization and arms buildup.

As for direct links, their opening would just sink Taiwan to the bottom of the Taiwan Strait. Direct links would only further speed up the outpouring of Taiwan’s capital, technology and manpower to China, devastating Taiwan’s economic development in the process.

China has never considered Taiwan to be an independent sovereign country. Therefore, it continues to handle the issue of direct links from a “one country, two systems” standpoint. The closer the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are, the less secure Taiwan is. Direct links would only increase Taiwan’s economic slant toward China and would also further erode Taiwan’s political independence and autonomy.

Lee Chang-kuei is the president of the Taipei Times and a professor emeritus of National Taiwan University.

Holiday Hotspots from Hong Kong

6 August 2002

Priceline Hong Kong reported the top ten travel destinations from Hong Kong in June and July were as follows:

Bangkok, Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore, London, Seoul, Phuket, San Francisco, Paris, Toronto.

I am surprised that Bali, Beijing and Shanghai fail to make the top 10. Manila (Philipinnes) suffers form continuing concerns for personal safety. It is also surprising to see Toronto on the list and not Vancouver.

Bangkok and Phuket continue to thrive with the large number of flights and hotels to match every budget together with an attractive rate of exchange.

Taiwan – the China response

6 August 2002

My loyal reader(s) deserves to know what happened next. Well China’s official response was rather muted, if predictable…denouncing Chen Shui-bian’s remarks as having the potential to lead Taiwan to disaster. To reinforce the military point, a series of military exercises involving the Chinese air force, navy and army will start later this month along the coastline nearest to Taiwan.

Taiwan – a proud nation or a proud province?

5 August 2002

I have often thought that I should not give opinions on sensitive issues that I know too little about. I was upset by today’s very loyal (lets protect Hong Kong’s flagging business interests) SCMP editorial.

On Friday Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian called for legislation to be passed allowing a public referendum to determine Taiwan’s future. In a speech he said that “Taiwan cannot become a second Hong Kong or Macau…it is an independent sovereign state”.

China has claimed that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory since they split at the end of the civil war in 1949.

The SCMP declared the speech a serious error of judgment; stating his comments to be “reckless”. The editorial expresses concerns for regional stability and for the pressure hat will now be placed on Sino-American relations.

Surely the answer for the SCMP is that we have to live with this. The issue of Taiwan may come to the forefront soon for various reasons summarised below. And Taiwan is not Hong Kong or Macau. It is not borrowed; there is no return by date. The people believe they are proud residents of an independent nation. They are articulate, educated, free and participate actively and enthusiastically in the democratic process.

Why is this important now;

There is a succession power struggle in Beijing. The PLA (the arch conservatives, rooted in history, supported by Li Peng) are pushing for the Chinese leadership to take a firmer line on Taiwan. The army and navy continue to upgrade at a ferocious pace. New Russian built submarines have been ordered (and these are not K19!).

The Chinese authorities have regularly refused to meet Taiwanese requests for formal discussions.

Taiwan is losing out in the game of buying international support. Nauru severed relations with Taiwan in favour of the PRC. They were bought – as Taiwan has previously done for so many other nations. Taiwan now has diplomatic ties with only 27 countries, none to be honest of diplomatic significance !

The USA has a conservative republican as President. In the end I do not expect the USA would ever intervene with troops in the event of an assault by the PRC on Taiwan. The USA would like the status quo maintained. But to support the one China policy while at the same time calling Taiwan an ally of the USA is to be burning both ends of the candle.

But Taiwan is economically dependent upon the PRC. Taiwanese human and capital investment in the PRC is huge. Neither side would willingly countenance the economic loss that would come with a possible or real military conflict.

With President Jiang due to saddle up and meet President Bush at his Crawford, Texas ranch in October expect at least a greater escalation of words and vitriol !

Pet Shop Pensioners

2 August 2002

Hong Kong so badly needs a world class concert venue. Asia’s world class city indeed. You squeeze up four flights of escalators to the rooftop of the new convention centre. Navigating your way past grumpy security staff. Getting out is a crush.

You pay HK$680 for a seat 20 rows from the front. All the seats at the front of the hall are at the same level – the seats are temporary – they are not comfortable. The sound system is horrifyingly bad. Bass the rumbles from the floor.

The Pet Shop Boys came on 55 minutes late and played including an encore for 70 minutes. It’s a Sin was their final song. It sure was.

They used to be a show band – endless costume changes; they were entertainers. And they had to be because their music and Neil Tennant’s voice are simply not strong enough to carry a show based upon music alone.

When they did get the crowd up on their feet – and it was a crowd that desperately wanted to have fun !! – they immediately played an unknown and inaudible ballad.

For that price – you can buy al their CDs and still have change ! Do it!

I will not be returning for a concert at the convention centre. Not in a hurry.

A mainland view of Hong Kong

30 July 2002

The SCMP sent a Guangzhou based news assistant to Hong Kong to look at the city’s attractions and shops. His report was in the SCMP dated 29 July 2002. He concluded as follows:

“I have been to Hong Kong several times and I think it is losing its appeal. The Peak, Ocean Park, the convention centre and the shopping malls – that’s all it has to offer. Hong Kong has become a cliche. There’s nothing new and nothing really surprising for anyone who has been here before. My friend used to joke that Hong Kong is a great place if you only go there once. Small wonder that more and more people I know choose it just as the last stop of their tour to Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand. I think the city needs new attractions. It is too commercial for a relaxing holiday”.

The Hong Kong Tourism Authority (responsible for the Mega Sale which no one knows is happening !!) ignores warnings like this at its peril. Hong Kong is ceasing to be the destination of choice for increasingly sophisticated and demanding visitors from mainland China. Travellers from Chin represent the next boom in global tourism. Look at the Japanese tourism industry which is catered for globally. Now multiply that by hundreds to get the scale that might be represented by Chinese tourists. Hong Kong is not a cheap option and increasingly an unattractive option. Hong Kong needs some forward thinking and some wise planning and investment. And that does not mean simply Disney; that may help but is not the sole solution !

Whither England

29 July 2002

As my few readers may already know I am back from the UK. A few items from my visit are in the archive for 15/22 July. But some further thoughts on the state of the UK follow.

Well, the River Thames is a revelation – the redevelopment of the riverside from Docklands to Wapping and the City is nothing short of sensational. Great looking buildings, offices, commercial and residential. A complete renewal making the River again the focus of city life. Similar inner city regeneration continues in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Newcastle. The trouble with this regeneration is that it only focuses attention on how tatty so much of the suburban areas of the cities still look.

What puts me off England is attitude – maybe this is just London; my experiences outside London were happier. But in London there is a resentment of change, people are set in their ways; they accept incompetence and inadequacy with a sad resignation. While at the same time people make excuses for failing to do anything, for failing to take initiative; “its not my problem, mate !” London is over crowded, its infrastructure does not keep up with the growth of the city. And the self perception of England’s superiority is not borne out by reality. This is no longer a first class nation or city. The airport is third rate, the rail systems a disaster (in more ways than one); roads are repaired and not built leaving traffic a serious problem.

The city still has great theatre, wonderful parks, and a proud history. The city is a magnet for British and Europeans looking for work. But it is creaking at the seams.

Smokers’ Rights – they have none !

28 July 2002

They have none. A letter to the SCMP in early June argued the case for smokers’ rights. And how much they should be allowed to enjoy a drink and a cigarette in a restaurant.

Sorry; but smoking kills and damages. And so does second hand smoke. Cant people read the health warnings !

The only sensible answer is to ban smoking in restaurants – except in enclosed separately ventilated areas.

The end is nigh!

26 July 2002

The dangers and wonders of modern science

20 July 2002

England was abuzz with a parental nightmare – a miracle that became a nightmare. A fertility clinic; a slip up with the sperm; an accident with the eggs. A white woman gives birth to black twins. A black couple now want to claim the twins. The white woman who gave birth to them wants to keep them. The ethical and legal implications are intimidating. How does this get unentangled. And what is best for the long term development of the twins?

British Rail – no change here then !

16 July 2002

Unintelligible announcements; filthy trains; no initiative; no change. Terminal decline (no pun intended).

Its bottoms up for the Hong Kong police force

12 July 2002

Not content with a good spanking at Fetish Fashion two more of Hong Kong’s finest yesterday told Western Court that they paid HK$300 on five occasions for sexual services during an undercover investigation into a massage center. I guess they failed to get enough evidence on their first four visits.

And talking of Fetish Fashion my loyal reader(s) will be kept in suspenders (sorry, suspense) a little longer. Call it delayed adjudication !! Magistrate Allan Wyeth has adjourned the case until August 19th to accommodate summer holidays for lawyers and defendants.

A job where it helps to have a handicap !

12 July 2002

From the job market section of today’s Hong Kong Standard;

Personal Assistant to the CEO

University Degree holder with good computer knowledge

Hardwording (sic), attentive, loyal, trustworthy

Personable, sociable, sporty and must be a good golf player

Proficient in English, Cantonese and Putonghua (spoken and written)

Fluency in spoken Japanese preferable

No working experience required

HK$200,000 – HK$300,000 per annum plus bonuses

Send detailed resumes to Vice President, Human Resources, Unit 1703, 17/F Cheung Kong Center

Now – tell me that I am not the only one entertained by this. I guess the interview will take place on a golf course with a Japanese client ! For this the salary should be monthly not annual ! Is it legal to discriminate on the grounds of golfing ability !!?? The first office job I have seen where having a handicap is a requirement !

Saddle up and Ride your 747 !

11 July 2002

House OKs Bill to Arm Airline Pilots

This is madness – I want my pilot to concentrate on flying and landing the plane – not to be involved in a midair gunfight. Anyone want to guess how much damage a stray bullet can do at 35,000 feet.

Where does this go next?

Do we arm bus drivers, train attendants, taxi drivers? This is too reactive and sets dangerous precedent. At its simplest – aren’t there enough guns in the US already. Why add more?

And what about the pilots themselves; are they all stable enough to be given the right to carry a gun. In the last few years there are at least two fatal accidents that may well have arisen from pilot suicides; Silkair and EgyptAir. I don’t want it to be any easier for a pilot to be able to incapacitate his colleague or colleagues and waste lives.

The Senate (I pray) will have the good sense to stop this bill going any further.

It is legislation for a paranoid and scared nation. It is not the legislation of a strong and wise government.

Leadership – be a cheerleader first !

10 July 2002

What do successful companies, countries and city states have – good cheerleaders. What is Hong Kong missing – a cheerleader. Someone to inspire in tough times and to bask in collective glory in good times. Someone who inspires all his constituents, and who preferably knows who they are. A cheerleader for those that live here, for those that want to do business here and even for those who look at us on a map. We want HKG to be bigger and better than its little place on the global map.

A good leader has ideas, motivates, presses the flesh, talks to everyone, not just his fawning hangers-on. A good leader makes us all fell better in the tough times and helps us all take pleasure in the good times.

I do not care whether this is the leader of a nation, a city, a company or a family. Good leaders know what people expect from them and then most importantly they deliver it. This probably cannot be trained. It is intuitive. It is also a result of having the best possible advisers around him. People who call a spade a spade rather than asking him what they should call it.

Good leaders are elected by their constituents. In a company they are elected by the board and need the support of the shareholders. There are very few good leaders that are anointed.

Life imitating Art

9 July 2002

Tomorrow the district court will hear closing arguments in the Fetish Fashion trial in Hong Kong. This really should be TV drama. Court TV would love this. It would also make a great Ally McBeal episode. Only trouble is half the lawyers in the firm would have been at the parties….

As it appears were half of the lawyers in Hong Kong ! As were assorted other professionals.

And a policeman wearing a g string who was tied to a bench to be spanked !!! Really – if this is what they mean by undercover who would be a policeman ! More like no cover rather than undercover !

The background is simply as follows:

On August 11th 2001 a party at the Fetish Fashion shop in Central was raided by the Hong Kong police. Twenty six people were arrested and held for ten hours before being released on bail. After three months in November 2001 twenty three of those people were released without charge. A total of twenty four charges were laid against the owner, her husband and the store manager. The charges are:

Keeping a disorderly house ( 1 count each)
Managing an objectionable public performance (seven counts each)
Now I don’t know how the case ever even made it to court. The party appears to have been a private affair, with tickets purchased to attend. It was behind locked doors in private. Heaven only know what goes on in some Hong Kong homes – but it is surely worse than a group of people wanting to spank or be spanked with other consenting (they must haven been consenting – they bought tickets !) adults !

What a waste of time; what a waste of police resources. But at least it must be fun in the court room ! Bring us Court TV !! Live and let live !

World Cup reprise

6 July 2002

Death in the family (This is not my joke !!!)

This man had great tickets for the World Cup final. As he sits down, another man comes over and asks if anyone is using the empty seat next to him.

“No,” he says. “The seat is empty.”

“That’s incredible!” said the man. “Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the World Cup Final – the greatest sporting event in the world – and not use it?”

He says, “Well, actually, the seat belongs to me. My wife was supposed to come with me, but she died two days ago. This is the first Cup Final we haven’t been to together since we got married.”

“Oh . . . I’m sorry to hear that. That’s terrible. But couldn’t you find someone else – a friend or relative, or even a neighbour to take the seat?”

The man shakes his head. “No they’re all at the funeral.”

A plea for sanity on Independence Day

4 July 2002

The following article was the front page story on 4 July in the UK’s mass circulation Daily Mirror. You do not have to agree with all that John Pilger writes; but his views are unlikely to be widely heard or read in the USA; where a front page lead such as this would be tantamount to treason. This is bold, frightening and worthwhile writing and it deserves answers and actions from the British and US authorities.


Jul 4 2002

FOR 101 days, Royal Marines have been engaged in a farcical operation as mercenaries of the United States whose lawlessness now qualifies it as the world’s leading rogue state.

Shooting at shadows, and the occasional tribesman, blowing up mounds of dirt and displaying “captured” arms for the media, all have been part of the Marines’ humiliating role in Afghanistan – a role foisted upon them by the Blair government, whose deference to and collusion with the Bush gang has become a parody of the imperial courtier.

Gang is not an exaggeration. The word, in my dictionary, means “a group of people working together for criminal, disreputable ends”. That describes accurately George W Bush and those who write his speeches and make his decisions and who, since their rise to power, have undermined the very basis of international law.

In Afghanistan, their record is beyond question. The killing on Monday of some 40 guests at a wedding was not a “blunder” but the direct result of a policy of shoot and bomb first and find out later, as announced by George W Bush in the weeks following September 11.

The capacity of the American military machine to smash impoverished countries was never in dispute – conditional, that is, on the absence of American ground troops and their substitution by “allied” forces, like the Royal Marines. (During the heyday of the British Empire, Indian and other colonial troops were used in a similar role, although the British, unlike the Americans, were also prepared to sacrifice their own soldiers).

Since last October, Afghan leaders have reported American aircraft destroying villages “too small to be marked on any map” with “more than 300 people killed” in one night. In a family of 40, only a small boy and his grandmother survived, reported Richard Lloyd Parry of the Independent.

Out of sight of the television cameras “at least 3,767 civilians were killed by US bombs between October 7 and December 10…an average of 62 innocent deaths a day”, according to a study carried out at the University of New Hampshire in the US. This is now estimated to have passed 5,000 civilian deaths: almost double the number killed on September 11.

There is no evidence that a single leader of al-Qaeda has been captured or, to anyone’s knowledge, killed. Neither has the leader of the Taliban. The change in Afghanistan is minimal compared with the murderous feudalism that ruled during the 1990s, and before the Taliban came to power.

For all the cosmetic changes in Kabul, the capital, women still dare not go unveiled. “The Taliban used to hang the victim’s body in public for four days,” quipped the new American-installed regime’s Minister of Justice. “We will only hang the body for a short time, say fifteen minutes, after a public execution.”

Describing this as a “triumph of good over evil”, as Bush has said, with an echo from Blair, is like lauding the superiority of the German war machine in 1940 as a vindication of Nazism.

Not only the Marines but the British public ought to feel duped. Both Washington and Whitehall knew long ago al-Qaeda was finished in Afghanistan. Apart from the element of revenge, for home gratification, the Americans have set out to reassert the control of their favourite warlords: people responsible for thousands of deaths in their stricken country.

In October, the US planned to install a regime dominated by members of the Pashtun tribe, who, they predicted, would desert the Taliban. But the split in the Taliban never happened and the Americans have since changed tack and tried to put together a “coalition” of Tajik and Uzbek warlords. The current “interim president”, Hamid Karzai, although a Pashtun, has neither a tribal nor military powerbase. He is simply America’s man.

The presence of the Royal Marines, leading the so-called “International Security Assistance Force”, is for reasons straight out of the nineteenth century. At the Americans’ bidding, the Marines were meant to keep the favoured warlords from each other’s throats until the region could be “stabilised” for American oil and other strategic interests.

Potential vast energy sources in Central Asia have become critical for the deeply troubled US economy, and for the Bush administration, which is dominated by oil industry interests, notably the Bush family itself. An investigation by the Hong Kong-based Asia Times in January found that the US was frantically developing “a network of multiple Caspian pipelines”.

The disgraced Enron Corporation, one of Bush’s biggest campaign backers, conducted a feasibility study for a $2.5billion oil pipeline being built across the Caspian Sea. Top current and former American officials, including Vice President Cheney, “have all closed major deals directly and indirectly on behalf of the oil companies”, says the Asia Times.

If there was a map of American military bases established in the region to fight “the war on terrorism” what would be immediately striking is that it would follow almost exactly the route of the projected oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean.

Blair and the voluble Geoffrey Hoon have, of course, offered none of this vital information to the British people, let alone to the British soldiers sent to play America’s imperial game. Fortunately, the troops suffered only gastric flu. The Afghan people have not been as lucky.

Any doubt about the systematic murderous way the US military has operated in Afghanistan is dispelled by a report in the American press in May of children gunned down in wheat fields and as they slept. For four hours, American helicopter gunships saturated the fields and a village with bullets and rockets before landing to disgorge US troops who shot survivors and detained other “suspects”.

In fact, the area was renowned for its opposition to the Taliban and the governor of Oruzgan province confirmed that those murdered “were ordinary people. There were no al-Qaeda or Taliban here.”

In recent months, the American rogue state has torn up the Kyoto treaty, which would decrease global warming and the probability of environmental disaster. It has threatened to use nuclear weapons in “pre-emptive strikes” (a threat echoed by Hoon). It has tried to sabotage the setting up of an international criminal court, understandably, because its generals and leading politicians might be summoned as defendants.

It has further undermined the authority of the United Nations by allowing Israel to block a UN committee’s investigation of the Israeli assault on the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin; and it has ordered the Palestinians to get rid of their elected leader in favour of an American stooge.

It ignored the World Food Summit in Italy; and at summit conferences in Canada and Indonesia it has blocked genuine aid, such as clean water and electricity, to the most deprived people on earth. Proposals to increase American food subsidies by 80 per cent are designed to secure American domination of the world foodgrains market.

(“When we get up from the breakfast table every morning,” said the chief executive of the Cargill corporation, the world’s biggest food company, “much of what we have eaten – cereals, bread, coffee, sugar and so on – has passed through the lands of my company.” Cargill’s goal is to double in size every five to seven years).

There is a desperate edge to most of America’s rogue actions. The Christian “free market” fundamentalists running Washington are worried. The US current account deficit is running at a record $34billion. Foreign purchases of the huge US debt are falling rapidly. The US stockmarket is heavily over-valued, and the dollar is uncertain.

As one commentator has put it, the “Bush doctrine” looks like “one last attempt to order the world entirely around the requirements of US monopoly capital, before it can long hope to do so”.

In other words this may well be the last throw of the dice before the US economy goes into serious decline – as yesterday’s dramatic fall in the stock markets indicated.

This means controlling the oil and fossil fuel riches in Central Asia. It means attacking Iraq, installing a replacement Saddam Hussein and taking over the world’s second-largest source of oil. It means surrounding a new economic challenger, China, with bases, and intimidating the leaders of its principal economic rival, Europe, by undermining NATO, and setting off a trade war.

I have just visited the United States, and it is clear many people there are worried. And many dare not say so. Their views are seldom reported in the American mainstream media, which is self-censored and controlled, perhaps as never before.

Instead, the air is thick with the views of the likes of Charles Krauthammer, of the Washington Post. “Unilateralism is the key to our success,” he wrote, in describing the world of the next fifty years: a world without protection from nuclear attack or environmental damage for the citizens of any country except the United States; a world where “democracy” means nothing if its benefits are at odds with American “interests”; a world in which to express dissent against these “interests” brands one a terrorist and justifies surveillance and repression.

There is only one way such rogue power can be resisted. It is by speaking out and urgently. If our government won’t, we must.

Reality bites !

3 July 2002

Back to bills and job hunting ! My dear reader (there must be one !) must have wondered where I have been; two weeks away in the USA; and no opportunity to update this site. I have now entered some of my thoughts from my trip on this page and in the news archive.

Is it good to be back. Reality bites. There is a lot to do. And bills to pay ! And yet more good people looking for work.

Oh Canada

1 July 2002

It is an extraordinary country and 1 July marks its 135th birthday. And I turned to the Toronto Star for a timely reminder of why it is good to be Canadian !

On the 6th day God turned to the Archangel Gabriel and said “Today I am going to create a land called Canada; it will be a land of outstanding natural beauty. It shall have tall majestic mountains, beautiful sparkling lakes, high cliffs overlooking sandy beaches.

God continued, “I shall call the inhabitants of this land Canadians and they shall be known as the most friendly people on the Earth.

“But Lord”, asked Gabriel, “don’t you think you are being too generous to these Canadians?”

“Not really”, replied God. “just wait and see the neighbours I am going to give them.”

World Cup ends with a samba

1 July 2002

Most of the world sat back and smiled as Ronaldo showed the difference between god-given talent and coach-given effort.

It was not a great world cup. The first round was interesting – but the knock out matches were rather colourless with the happy exception of the two hosts, Brazil and maybe Turkey (if only they did not all want best actor awards !).

So what next. Well after the novelty, excitement and originality of Korea and Japan who wants to go to Germany ?

And why wait four years.

A few thoughts – Asian and African football will come on leaps and bounds if their players can compete more regularly in competition against the historically stronger Europeans and South Americans. This would be a good thing.

Who wants to watch another dull European Championship. Isn’t it more fun to watch Korea vs Germany or Senegal vs Spain that watching rather traditional and soul-less Euro-footy !

So why not hold the world cup every two years ! And host it again in Japan and Korea. They were great hosts and have great facilities. As it is it will be at best 16 years before the World Cup comes back to Asia – that is simply too long !

Air travel in the USA – just dreadful

30 June 2002

Travel within the USA is frightful. It was bad before 9-11, but that appears to be a corporate excuse for none existent service and pervasive rudeness.

It is so bad it is hard to tell where to start. One solution maybe to travel first class. At least that can eliminate the check in queues which appear to be at least one hour long at both SFO and La Guardia, New York.

Why not simply employ more staff to check people in quicker. Airline economics – employ less people; and blame delays on the new levels of security.

As for security. Where do they get these people from. They have way to much power for such miserable, poorly qualified and poorly trained people. And they are rude beyond belief.

Will the next terrorist have semtex stuck in his shoes. I doubt it. So why am I always having to take off my shoes so they can be examined and the soles of my feet scanned. The next terrorist will probably stuff semtex up his rectum…so what then – rectum inspections at the airport ! Ouch !

And the guy at La Guardia who examined my laptop ! He truly did not have a clue what he was looking for. I would not trust him to use a remote control for a TV let alone try and turn on my laptop !

The other problem is that we all take care when we pack. We know where everything is and we know how it all fits into our suitcase. The security staff probably do not even pack their groceries let alone a suitcase. So you must assume that when your bag is selected for a security search then you will be the person repacking your bag !

Southwest Airlines makes fat an issue

28 June 2002

Lets hear it for Southwest !

A big round of applause for Southwest airlines. Who are going to enforce a policy that says if a passenger is so big that they occupy two seats then the passenger pays for two seats.

Now the fat lobby is up in arms. But realistically maybe 2% of obese people are obese because of illness. The remainder are obese because of their diet and lack of exercise. The airlines cannot afford to widen their seats – well not at the fares that their passengers are willing to pay. People want lower fares. Southwest pioneered the low fare carriers in the USA. Their model has been successfully copied by new carriers in Europe. And that means 737s and A320s flying with 6 abreast seating and 30 inch legroom. And to be honest; no one wants to be sandwiched next to someone who is simply too bit for their seat.

Southwest has said it and should be applauded for being honest !

And the fat issue is very topical in the US right now. George W Bush wants everyone to do thirty minutes of exercise every day ! It’s a start but it is not the answer. Halving the portions on all meals served is the answer. Everyone wants value – in the fast food places they try to upsell all the time. For an extra 60 cents you can trade up from large everything to extra large everything ! It is scary !

Save Amtrak

24 June 2002

One answer to the problem of flying in the USA is to take the train. Washington to New York is 3 hours by fastest train; three and a half hours (for US$72) by the Acela regional train. Lots of legroom. City centre to city centre. And no security checks. Now that’s interesting. Why no security check? You can get on the train with anything that you like in your luggage.

USA – a quick state of the union !

26 June 2002

So a quick state of the union on the USA.

Well San Francisco is dead. There are more people living their lives on the streets than there is streetlife ! The city is dieing ! It may still be a great location. And a good base from which to explore California and travel to Napa. But its corporate life has died. And the energy levels are seriously low.

New York is fairing little better. And the city budget will be a mess later this year. Visitor numbers are down dramatically; at the end of June theatres are playing to half full houses. And the newspapers have given up reporting the latest redundancies. They are too commonplace now.

Times Square’s revival continues. But a few streets away and the city is still run down,. The new Toys R Us at 44th and Broadway is a destination in itself and deserves a visit for every child or child at heart !

Hong Kong – Asia’s world class garbage dump !

15 June 2002

Its Dragon Boat day today ! One of the happier days in Hong Kong – and a sport (and it is a sport) that Hong Kong excels in organising and participating.

Just don’t sink the boat and end up in the water – this was the waterfront at Stanley at 11.00am today.

Open Skies are good for the city and good for its people.

14 June 2002

Cathay Pacific, CNAC – the China National Aviation Group, which owns 43% of Dragonair, and Citic Pacific, which owns 28.5% of Dragonair continue to belch forth hot air on the subject of open skies.

CNAC argued in a letter to the Chied Executive that new fifth freedom rights should not be given to US carriers because it would be against the economic interests of Hong Kong. Citic Pacific went further; such a deal they argued would “destroy China’s national interests”. Err; it is no coincidence I guess that Dragonair is looking to expand its freighter network to the USA.

Lets see – open skies equals more flights to more destinations with more choice of carriers. And oh yes, it may mean more competition for CX and KA. So what?

The consumer gets more choice and maybe cheaper flights. Just compare the costs of flying on Dragonair into China to the low cost carriers that are shaking up the industry in the USA and in Europe.

More flights mean more ground services, more fees for the airport authority, more tourists, more planes to re-fuel, clean and maintain, more pax to feed, more duty free sales, more jobs. Open skies, yes please; throw the doors wide open.

Hong Kong – a fine city

12 June 2002

Hong Kong as the new Singapore – there are 10,000 vigilant litter spotters ready to pounce on every street as your litter hits the floor and not the bin, or as you expectorate in a public place (yuck !).

Of course, this is not a bad thing !

You only have to look at every beach, barbeque site or roadside to know just how bad Hong Kong’s litter problem has been.

The new laws came into being at the beginning of this month. It is a flat $600 fine; do not pay this on the spot. You have to see the officer’s identity; and accept a ticket; this has payment instructions on it !

But the system needs refinement – a graduated scale. And then why not extend the penalties to other miscreants as well.

Lets start with the sliding scale !

How about a minimum $500 for small litter items such as a sweet wrapper or tissue.

Then $600 for tin cans and bottles etc.

Then $750 for cigarette ends – that will teach you to smoke in the first place.

Up to $2,000 for not cleaning up after your dog has crapped on the streets.

This last one worries me – as it is normally the poor maid who ends up walking the dog. The fine must be the responsibility of the owner.

Now for other miscreants:

$500 for not letting people off the MTR before you try and shove your way on.

$1,000 for drilling before 10am and after 5pm or at any time on a weekend.

$5,000 for letting your telephone ring in any cinema or theatre.

Any other proposals welcomed – the more outrageous they are the more I will like them !!

Help desk woes

11 June 2002

I phoned the help desk of a major Japanese electronics manufacturer. A pre loaded software on my pc that should provide connectivity and editing functions to a digital video camera has not functioned since I bought the pc. I have de-installed and re-loaded the software and I have taken the camera and cable connection to the manufacturer’s shop where we plugged the camera into their demo pc and it worked fabulously.

So it really was time to encourage the manufacturer to send out a technician. It is their hardware and software; it is under warranty, it does not work.

The help desk wanted to know if I could establish the pc to camera link with another piece of software. I can. But this software has no editing functions and does not allow me to write the edited film back to digital video cassette.

The help desk’s solution – “cant you just use this other software?” The good news is that they do say that the phone calls may be recorded to maintain the good level of customer service. This call would make a good training tape !

The Hong Kong technology solution – if it is bust we cant be bothered to make it work properly – so lets use something else that does not meet your requirements….

Incidentally, as a friend of mine just reminded me, the public sector in Hong Kong continues to excel. Immigration, Inland revenue, Small Claims Tribunal, etc etc, are unfailingly helpful. The private sector could learn much from the HKSAR government !

And dont even get me started on i-cable….have you ever tried their customer support; frightening !

Hong Kong’s Museums as a barometer of its future

9 June 2002

I spent today in two Hong Kong museums. The excellent Hong Kong museum – “The Story of Hong Kong” and the rather tired Science Museum. I was left with the clear view that Hong Kong is far more comfortable with its past than with its future. The History Museum has been relocated from Kowloon Park; it is spacious and it feels like it was built with care and no small sum of money. It skirts quickly around sensitive issues like the Japanese occupation. And it might have said more about modern day Hong Kong. But Hong Kong has a story to tell and it is told well.

The Science Museum is a dud – it is also 150% more expensive that the History Museum at HK$ 25 per adult.

Many of the exhibits do not work. They are signposted as being out for maintenance – many may not have worked for some time. Many of the exhibits are form the early 90s. They are worn out – and after too much handling do not do what they are supposed to. The interactive nature of many of the exhibits means that they require more rather than less maintenance.


7 June 2002

It means so much more than just a game of football. I can hardly imagine what was on David Beckham’s mind as he took the penalty. That he did take it says wonders about his character.

Glorious entertainment. It may only be a game but it feels like so much more than that !

Beware of Nigeria – a team with only pride to play for might be very dangerous !

World Cup View

6 June 2002

Every team has now played at least once – and the tournament is well and truly wide open !

China were just as I predicted – poor and lacking ambition against Costa Rica. England will never match their country’s expectations – there is no depth in the squad and some of the players are simply not good enough on the world stage – they get found out at this level.

The USA and Senegal have already provided the shocks and exceeded their expectations. And Korea and Japan have been great hosts off the pitch and great entertainers on the pitch!

The Irish play as only the Irish can. Rivaldo was an embarrassment to himself, his country and to FIFA (man of the match indeed!!). Argentina look good – and Spain may be the best of the Europeans.

Nuclear war threatens – does anyone care ??

5 June 2002

The British and American authorities are both advising their citizens that they should leave India and Pakistan. Their intelligence networks (all of whom may be overly cautious since 11 Sept) are saying that there is a real possibility of nuclear war over the disputed lands in Kashmir.

US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, showing a remarkable ignorance of the likely slaughter of civilians in any such conflict, said yesterday in London, “These are not just larger weapons; they are distinctively different weapons, and war being what it can be, it can be unpredictable”.

What I do not see is any urgency to avert the use of nuclear weapons by India or Pakistan. Yes, reports have been produced showing a potential death toll of 12 million and of regional nuclear fallout. Yes the Russians, British and Americans are urging restraint. But none are putting themselves up as mediator. And the UN, that wonderfully conceived, but utterly toothless beast, is very quiet !

A letter to the Guardian newspaper in England said simply:

The west’s apathy over a possible nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India has two major causes. First, western economies can absorb any loss of trade such an exchange would create. Second, the sale of arms to both countries takes precedent over any other consideration, including the millions of lives currently at stake.

Worse still both the Americans and the British have been talking up the possible use of their own nuclear weapons for first strike use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Geoff Hoon, the British defence secretary in March said, in the context of Iraq: “I am absolutely confident, in the right conditions, we would be willing to use our nuclear weapons.” Britain has clearly claimed the right to start nuclear war before any attack is made; and to do so, for the first time, against a state that is neither nuclear itself nor allied with a nuclear power. The US has declared the same threat to the so called axis of evil listing Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, as well as any Chinese threat to Taiwan, as potentially necessary first-strike targets.

What does all this mean; well forget about nuclear non-proliferation treaties ! Everyone needs the bomb; and not just for defence.

Hugo Young writing in the Guardian says that

we are witnessing the banal-isation of nuclear weapons. Suddenly they seem to have lost their unique horror. Pakistan and India needed teaching about the truth, and may yet not have learned it even with a potential 12 million deaths held out for their inspection. The British case is much worse. The defence secretary’s strutting defiance makes the nuclear option sound like merely a stepped-up version of a regular battlefield weapon. Every time he flourishes it, his insouciance renders it more normal, instead of the most terrible calamity that could be visited on the earth. Any use of it, by any power, at any time, would fit such a description. What is it about our times that allows a Labour minister – a Labour minister – to forget that?

How to stop the Kashmir crisis form escalating into a nuclear conflict ? Sitting on our hands is not an option. Immediately relocate the United Nations Security Council and all its members to Islamabad. And simultaneously convene the leaders of the G8 in New Delhi. No one is allowed to leave until a workable peace agreement has been confirmed and until troops have been de-mobilised along the line of control.

Tiananmen – never forget

4 June 2002

Jan Wong worked for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. In her 1996 book Red China Blues she wrote of her harrowing night with other reporters in the Beijing Hotel on 4 June 1989. This was the scene the morning after troops and tanks had driven the students from the square:

Tens of thousands of enraged people were streaming towards Tiananmen Square and a huge crowd gathered at the intersection in front of the hotel. It was such an extraordinary moment, and yet they looked so ordinary. The men wore shorts and sandals. Some of the women carried purses. A few people even brought their children, because Chinese never use baby sitters. In the background city buses smoldered. Two blocks away, a double line of soldiers sat cross legged, facing them, along the north east edge of the square, backed by rows of tanks.

At 9.46am. the crowd suddenly stampeded away form the square. I could not figure out why. Then I saw that the soldiers had knelt into a firing position and were taking aim. As the people ran, the soldiers fired into their backs. More than a dozen bodies lay on the ground. When the shooting stopped there was absolute silence. Some of the wounded began to crawl to the edge of the road. To my amazement, the crowd began to creep back toward the square. At 10.09, another murderous barrage sent them racing down the street toward the hotel. They crept back toward the square again, At 10.22 there was another volley, lasting three minutes. I watched in horror as the soldiers advanced, shooting into the backs of fleeing civilians…

For the rest of the morning, and throughout the afternoon, this scene repeated itself again and again.

World Cup Rant

2 June 2002

The world cup is underway and it is already embarrassing. Who really wants to watch an 8-0 practice game?

The Asian football federation wants five places in the World Cup. Based on Saudi Arabia’s hapless performance they must be joking ! Where are the Dutch when you most want them?

But money talks in the global game; selling advertising and replica kits is more important to FIFA than the overall quality of the tournament.

But the tournament is devalued. Miroslav Klose is well on his way towards the golden boot; but really – each of his goals should count for one third when the final goal count is completed.

Ridiculous !

2 June 2002

The ever changing skyline of Hong Kong

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1 June 2002

Last night’s sunset in Hong Kong – evening of 31 May 2002