Friday, December 30, 2005

Most looked-up words of 2005

1. integrity
2. refugee
3. contempt
4. filibuster
5. insipid
6. tsunami
7. pandemic
8. conclave
9. levee
10. inept
According to online US dictionary: Merriam-Webster

Pick the Top 10 (Hong Kong) Government Events of the Year 2005

If it wasn't irksome enough already with its full-page expensively produced adverts for exorbitantly priced luggage, handbags, scarves and diamond-encrusted watches, today's print edition of the South China Morning Post (no link, paid) also carries a full-page, colour advert that looks like it was designed by a committee composed of bureaucrats. The 20 events to chose from, the list of sponsors and, more tellingly, the organisers (no Apple Daily) as well as the co-organisers, give the game away: one big patriotic poll: Wen Wei Po

How to make an impression

Typographica's favourite fonts of 2005 (part 1): Typographica

Reading matters

At its halfway mark, Simon Sharma delivers an interim report on the first decade of the millenium. The story so far: Guardian

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Reading matters

The little town of Bethlehem isn't just still, it's dying: zmag

Webcams of 2005 (the other list)

Earthcam's webcams, what d'ya think? Most interesting? Me? I say: it pays to remember that while it's daylight here, it is darkness somewhere else. Oh, and that one person's poison is another person's poisson. Besides, Earthcam missed Mister Bijou's three favourites.
Item One: the webcam that watches the most famous zebra crossing in the world, and the people who wait for a break in the traffic to make that walk: Abbey Road webcam.
Item Two: the webcam that surveys a certain little island in the South China Sea: a little island's webcam
Item Three: White Island Crater, New Zealand. In May 2004, someone placed Fred and Wilma Flintstone's pet dinosaur, Dino, in front of the webcam. That screen-grab is from August 2004, but I knew it would be useful one day. Anyway, it was expected that the plastic toy would not survive long in the corrosive environment but... Dino lives!

Webcams of 2005

The 25 most interesting webcams of 2005, according to: Earthcam
Thanks, Gavin!
Please check it out.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Due to snow, England has been cancelled

One of the (several) reasons that keep Mister Bijou on a little island in the South China Sea. This post's title is, by the way, the headline to an article by Anna Karpf: Guardian

Reading matters

The Coming Meltdown, by Bill McKibben: New York Review of Books

Kill a watt

Is this cool? Way cool... Drool.
Plugs into a wall outlet and measures the electricity usage of any appliance. Made for the US market: 115 volts.
Now, I wonder if there is a 220 volts version? Methinks a root around in the several electrical stores on a little island in the South China Sea is the order of the day.
More info about the Kill-a-Watt: Kevin Kelly

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Reading matters

What I heard about Iraq in 2005, by Eliot Weinberger: London Review of Books

Lincoln Potter

This year's batch of Season of Good Will emails includes a delightful end-of-the year newsletter from M. Among other things, the newsletter has two links to some photos of her own. When I get around to it, I'll drop M a line or three -- and also ask her permission to put those links in the public domain.
Anyway, M also notes that Lincoln's website has a new look. It does. Wah! As they say, hereabouts. Brothers and sisters, Lincoln's re-designed website is well worth a look, well worth exploring: Lincoln Potter
Thanks, M!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Eye | Land | View

Late afternoon, on the waterfront

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Late message

(to enlarge: click on image)

Somewhat late in the day, but better late than never, eh? For those who make celebration, in one way or another, on 25 December, may I extend to you my good wishes. That also applies to those who don't celebrate.
The world is generally in such a sorry state. Notwithstanding, I hope you, whoever you all are, have been blessed today, as every day, with some comfort, justice and peace. That there be laughter as well as sorrow, pleasure as well as pain. Anyway, let me say thanks to everyone.
Salutations, Mister Bijou.

New Year? Second time around

(Harold Lloyd, Safety Last)

There may be disagreement among the world's newsdesks about whether this is an "extra second'" or a "second delayed" (Google News), but there's no quarrel over the fact the times they are a-changing. No doubt about it. When? Depends where you are. According to the press release at Hong Kong Observatory:
New Year's Day, at 7:59:59am on 1 January 2006 Hong Kong time, a leap second will be added to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The Hong Kong standard time, which is exactly eight hours ahead of UTC, will be delayed by one second accordingly. The whole process will be completed in 2 seconds, i.e., at 8:00:00 A.M. Hong Kong Time on that day.
Keep the computer spic-and-span? For local computer time synchronicity of UTC + 8, time synchronize thanks to the Hong Kong Observatory Time Server (XP users: HKO XP synch).
Meantime, some points to ponder: What is time? Does time exist when nothing is changing? Is the future real? Further pondered at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Time

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Seasonal blasphemy

If you are a muscular 'Christian' of the End Times variety, you might just want to skip past and ignore this short, seasonal blasphemy of a Quicktime movie
To everyone else, have a happy Christmas/Holiday/Whatever. Thank you.

The year in pix

Hong Kong & Kowloon's Incredible but Shrinking Harbour (you can, however, enlarge the image).
Photos of the year, according to:
Breaking News Photography: Pulitzer Prize 2005
Award Winners Gallery: Reuters
Pictures of the Year: Reuters
The Best Photos of the Year: Time
Thanks, Gavin!
Mister Bijou's holiday bonus: Nikon Small World 2005

Friday, December 23, 2005

Meme of four: postscript

Mister Bijou is pleased -- nay, thrilled -- to see the 'meme of four' challenge has been taken up by Roland Soong. Like I said, his EastSouthWestNorth is a daily port of call. Go there and you'll see why.
If anyone else takes on the challenge, you are more than welcome to leave the list, or the link to your website or blog, in the Comments Box. Thanks!

Miscellany of synonyms

Kevin Kelly compares different synonym finders:
Cool Tools

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cadmium for Christmas! Both are nearly here.

Further to my cadmium post of Wednesday, the BBC Worldservice now reports on Thursday evening that authorities in Guangzhou and nearby Foshan are taking 'precautionary measures'. Elsewhere, Xinhua:
The southern Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Foshan were ordered Wednesday by local provincial government to soon start emergency plans to ensure safe drinking water supplies to their residents as a toxic slick approaches.
The river pollution was caused by an excessive discharge of cadmium from a state-owned smeltery in the Beijiang River, a major source of drinking water for cities in the northern part of south China's Guangdong Province.
Southern China cities to deal with possible water crisis: Xinhua

All your **** are belong to us

Oh, for anyone who may be worrying about the syntax of the previous post's header... the glorious and rich history of the phrase 'All your **** are belong to us': Wiki

All your Christmas are belong to us

Pallavi Ayar, Beijing correspondent for the Indian Express:
Some 70% of the world's Christmas ornaments and other paraphernalia now originate in officially atheist mainland China. Tinsel, Santas, mistletoe and artificial trees of every shape and hue are churned out at a relentless pace by thousands of factory workers in Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces.
And while exports may be slowing down, domestic demand is picking up. Two percent of Decoart's Christmas decorations are now sold domestically, according to Yan. China's Communist Party banned public Christmas celebrations at one point in 1993. But today, rather than being judged as a vehicle for insidious ideological pollution, Christmas is seen by Beijing as an opportunity for encouraging consumer spending.
Continue: Asia Times

Ambulance report

This is further to an earlier post (scroll down). The ambulance that serves a little island in the South China Sea has now been shorn of its recently acquired anti-riot (?) protective metal grills.
Having given it due consideration, consensus among frequenters of the dumbbell-shaped island's watering holes is that the timing of the divestment of the ambulance's metallic accoutrements and events that recently happened over the water in Hong Kong is merely coincidental. Thank you.

Winter solstice

Much burning of paper offerings last night, more again tonight. Why? To celebrate the winter solstice (冬至 literally, winter extreme). The Hong Kong Observatory is forecasting a very cold night -- below 10C.
Hereabouts, on a little island in the South China Sea, it is currently (2:30pm) a glorious sunshine, blue-sky day. Moreover, it is the warmest (17.7C) spot in the region. By way of comparison: Hong Kong Observatory weatherstation is 14C and at Ngong Ping it is 8C. For more about the commercialisation and 'moneytization' of the latter: Ngong Ping 360.
Anyway, granted that we all stay around long enough, those of us who live on a little island in the South China Sea, ce soir we can look forward to a cloudless, starry night. Air pollution, or lack thereof, permitting. And for anyone elsewhere? Wherever you are, night and day, have a great winter solstice.

WTO Hong Kong: conclusion

Hong Kong WTO? This is it. After this, no more. Promise.
So what was achieved at the 6th Ministerial Conference of the WTO held in Hong Kong? Inside the conference? Well, not a lot. As far as I can gather, based on an NYT summary:
(a) All agricultural export subsidies must end by 2013. A "substantial" part of the subsidy cut should come much sooner, but the details of this were not defined;
(b) Rich countries, notably the United States, must eliminate cotton export quotas next year and provide technical assistance to cotton-growing nations in West and Central Africa;
(c) Fishing industry subsidies must be halted if they contribute to overfishing, although rules for identifying such subsidies still need to be drafted.
Notice the 'not defined' and 'need to be drafted'? Also left for further negotiation:
(a) Reductions in domestic farm subsidies
(b) Reductions in tariffs and quotas for trade in goods
(c) Lowering of barriers to international competition in services like education, insurance, telecommunications and banking
That last topic is what diplomats call 'contentious'. Why so? Basically, the rich are saying: we will stop beating you up (US and EU agricultural subsidies to their own farmers, thereby crippling farmers in the 'developing' world), if... you let us come in your living room and acquire your crown jewels (water, education, hospital management, power generation and distribution, mineral resources).
The poor in the developing world have already seen what happens when critical areas of the public sector are sold on the cheap to private interests who, furthermore, promise 'efficiencies'. Efficiencies for who (and whom)? And not just in the developing world.
What else? Outside the conference centre, the Korean farmers won a lot of local sympathy. The general carnival atmosphere was an eye-opener and inspiration. One tidbit gleaned from local media was how many mainland Chinese visitors took a break from shopping to see what was going on...
Sure, there was some argy-bargy on Saturday night. But, hey! Not much damage was done: no banks, embassies, globally-known fast-food sites got trashed or fire-bombed. Hong Kong got off lightly. It is sobering to note that institutional violence has driven 25,000 farmers in India to commit suicide since 1997.
So, fourteen arrested for Unlawful Assembly: all foreigners. Koreans, a Taiwanese, a Japanese, a mainland Chinese. The latter says he was just shopping with his friend, got caught up in the crowd. Yeah, well...
Locals? Unknown number arrested on different charges, all bailed.
As it is, the unfortunate 14 appear in court again, today Friday. Although the South Koreans promptly sent a penitent vice minister to express regret and ask for their release... the matter is now in the hands of the Hong Kong judiciary, which is independent of the government.
The cases may well be held over until January, with the defendants refused bail. Could this be: congee for Christmas?
Heaven, forfend! Perhaps someone should have a quiet word in the magistrate's ear?
Mister Bijou's suggestion: offer the defendants' lawyers a deal... the kind of legal wheeler-dealing that happens all the time, believe me. You get your clients to plead guilty, we'll sentence them to serve XX days in detention. Since this will be the time they already spent in detention, they'll be free to go. Only in this case, we''ll have to serve them with a deportation order. No worries. Wave, goodbye! That's it. No more. Promise.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cadmium for Christmas!

Hey, ho... a new toxic spill. This one is closer to home: in southern Guangdong province, China. One more toxic brew that is, yet again, threatening water supplies to millions of people:
BBC News + map
Cadmium? Goes in batteries, most especially re-chargeable ones. Think mobile phones. Yes, brothers and sisters, mobile phones. Why Guangdong province? Hong Kong and international manufacturers find it to be an 'investor friendly' environment. Ask the workers in Huizhou, Guangdong who were poisoned by cadmium while working at Gold Peak Batteries International Ltd.

Watching the River Flow

Frontcover of London-published Oz magazine, circa 1967. (enlarge: click on image)
Bob Dylan and philosophy, circa before and after: Open Court

PARK(ing): A temporary urban park

Providing temporary public open space in a privatized part of town. Check out and scroll through the photos: rebar

'Tis the Season of the Lists

Mentioned in an earlier post, the 'list of lists' has grown considerably in the interim. Worth checking out: feeding on itself

Meme of four

This one is doing the rounds.
Taken up from The Rest Is Noise
Four jobs you've had in your life: furniture porter, lorry driver, sales & marketing (pharmaceuticals), editor
Four movies you could watch over and over: Performance; Sauve qui Peut (la Vie); any film by Buster Keaton; Casablanca
Four places you've lived: Birmingham; London; Paris; Chungking Mansion, Kowloon
Four TV shows you love to watch: The Simpsons, The Simpsons, The Simpsons, The Simpsons
Four places you've been on vacation: Croyde Bay, Devon; Lake George, NY; Chefchaouen, Morocco; Zhaoqing, Guangdong province
Four websites you visit daily: EastSouthWestNorth, Weather HK, boingboing, Fat Buddha
Favourite foods: smoked salmon, mango, cheese, Marmite
Four places you'd rather be: a health spa in Bali; snorkeling around a coral reef; summer of '73; with a certain cellist.
What's your meme of four? Comments box?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Post-WTO: Legal Theatre

Bill the Bard reckoned:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
As You Like it, Act II Scene VII, William Shakespeare
Stagecraft and performance art? Read on:
The proceedings were permeated by rowdiness, and tensions already began to run high when local protesters objected to the use of two metal detectors outside the courtroom.
Many in the gallery - which included local legislator and activist "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, and district councillor Andrew To - were also asked to remove their socks for inspection before entering the courtroom.
Critic's report: Hong Kong's The Standard

Monday, December 19, 2005

WTO Hong Kong: 14 charged with Unlawful Assembly

No Africans, Americans, Australians, Europeans or Hong Kong Chinese. Nor Asians -- other than Taiwan and mainland Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. Kwung Tong Magistrates' Court at eight at night! Oh, well:
Police today (December 19) charged 14 males with taking part in unlawful assembly and all will appear at Kwun Tong Magistrates' Courts at 8 pm this evening.
The 14 defendants included 11 Koreans, aged between 31 and 46, and a 29-year-old Japanese, a 22-year-old Taiwanese and a 41-year-old Chinese.
They were among the group of more than 1000 persons arrested in connection with the disturbance in Wan Chai on Saturday (December 17) night.
Apart from the 188 persons who had been released yesterday, Police released another batch of 944 protestors this afternoon.
The Consulate General of Korea and other Consulates were informed of the release, who had arranged to receive their nationals. A total of 839 Korean males and 105 persons of other nationalities were released.
Police Report No. 5
Ends/Monday, December 19, 2005
Issued at HKT 18:57
Who says? Hong Kong Government Press Release

Is it rolling, Bob?

Post-WTO, Hong Kong traffic webcams back online: traffic
(enable cookies)

WTO Hong Kong: (some of) the aftermath

(photo, Samson So)
Prior to the march [on Sunday], several locals tried to make conversation with a group of Korean protesters, but grew incensed when police officers intervened and ordered the locals to step away. The officers were forced to quietly retreat when the locals put up a fight, attracting a large crowd with their loud protests.
"The police tried to stop me from talking to the Koreans, telling me that it was unsafe for me and my little girl to be in this area,'' Lee Kum-tat said after the confrontation. "This is public space, and I have a right to be here."
A 60-year-old man surnamed Yu agreed, adding that he sympathized with the protesters and had even given one Korean HK$100 and milk. "All of our ancestors were also farmers," Yu said, gesturing at the circle of locals around him. "The farmers have no weapons. The violence is from the police."
@ Curbside

WTO Hong Kong: Billy C report

Billy C writes:
Me and another mate were trapped on Gloucester Road and -- surrounded by at least 500 policemen -- got bungled into a cordoned off area in the middle of Gloucester Road with the friendly Koreans and more sorry press until 5am on Saturday morning. We played football, cooked noodles in the middle of the road, built make-shift toilets for the females, mocked the happy-childhood deprived police, and even joined in with a huge spontaneous carnival-like rave/parade at 1 in the morning to warm everyone up.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of police surrounding us wearily looked on as others slept or ate, like soldiers in a trench. Then -- loaded up on Maxims-delivered lunchboxes -- at 4am the police started closing in and rounding protesters up which caused a lot of havoc as people screamed and struggled. However by 6am all 900 were arrested and me and my friend were finally let free with a check of our id's. Hong Kong is often surreal but this was beyond anything dreamlike.
No snaps of the rave/parade party, but here are Billy's photos.
Thanks, Billy!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

WTO Hong Kong: Seoul Trying to Bring 600 Detainees Home

The vice foreign minister might want to pick up a couple of bottles at the duty-free shop at Seoul Incheon International Airport. Amiability? Conviviality? Soju, he should bring some soju (see earlier post):
South Korea will dispatch Vice Foreign Minister Lee Kyu-hyung to Hong Kong today in an attempt to amiably settle the issue of freeing some 600 hundred of its citizens arrested in anti-globalization protests there, government officials in Seoul said on Sunday.
"We are working for a smooth settlement of the case," an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a press briefing. "We expect close cooperation with the authorities of Hong Kong for an early release of the arrested demonstrators and their return."
Korea Times

WTO Hong Kong: traffic webcams down

For the last day or so the Hong Kong Government's multitude of traffic webcams have become unavailable. Why could that be? Don't believe me? Hong Kong Traffic

WTO Hong Kong: chemical weapons

For report on Saturday night, Sunday morning's disturbances in Wanchai: Sam Grantham @ Curbside
Chemical weapons used on the streets of Hong Kong? Yes, indeed. In this instance: tear gas and so-called 'pepper' spray.
Mister Bijou can attest to the debilitating effect of tear gas. (In a previous life, he lived in Paris.) Regrettably, Mister Bijou's days on manifs are no more, mere remembrances of things past. Still, curiousity still burns, as does pepper spray.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Friday, December 16, 2005

Hong Kong WTO: the kimchi & soju factor

Mister Bijou can confirm that Korean soju is mighty powerful. Try mixing vodka, gin and tequila together and then drinking a few generous glasses of the stuff. Life enters an alternate reality, warm, glowing, hallucinatory, trancelike. Everything is fine, until you stand up. Or, rather, try to stand up. Yes, Mister Bijou had a love affair with soju, twenty-odd years ago in Seoul, South Korea. Even bought a t-shirt in Itaewon with that cartoon character Garfield demonstrating the 'four stages of soju': (1) you are handsome; (2) you are rich; (3) you are powerful; (4) you are invisible!
Oh, well... I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. Still, it's good to see kimchi and soju remain mainstays of the powerhouse that is South Korea. Justin Mitchell writes:
Ever wondered what keeps them fueled for those long marches and gives them the spirit and stamina to hurl themselves into the harbour or throw themselves repeatedly against police shields?
It's soju, a distilled clear rice-based liquor, usually about 30 to 40 percent alcohol. "Rocket fuel" might be the western translation. The KPL members were knocking it back from jars Friday prior to forays to the US consulate and other targets and offering hefty samples to the crowd.
Strictly for professional reasons, I accepted three large shots and found myself shouting mansei! ("victory") and "down down WTO" before orbiting back to the newsroom.
Thirsty for more? Curbside

Hong Kong WTO: Doug Crets at Curbside

Doug Crets writes:

What is it about massive public events that cause people to open up just a little bit?
Walking backwards in front of the Korean Peasant Women Association, I turned around to come face to face with a stunning traffic cop in her rakishly tilted beret. I smiled. She smiled. And then looked down. Then she looked back at me and smiled again. I turned to see an elderly local couple. He had his hand on her arm. He gave me the ''thumbs up'' sign.
After this is all over, the World Trade Organization protests in Hong Kong will be about how Hong Kong people were exposed to the art of protest. Every day, protesters have talked to me about the new wave of protesting and how everyone is coming to Hong Kong to spread the message on how to perform a democracy. And it is a performance.
Now, I'm not saying that Hong Kong people lack confidence. It takes guts to survive in a city with no real safety net but family. And, as some of you may know, family is not always family, if you know what I mean.
Before I get too abstract, let me just take you back to this morning.
To continue: Curbside

Crisis? What crisis?

In late October, I posted something about the English word 'crisis' and the English rendering of the Chinese equivalent. If you want to see, it's here.
It now looks like I -- and millions of other people who are similarly seriously deficient in the ability to read, write, speak or understand Chinese -- yes, it looks like we are gravely in error. Apparently, a more accurate rendering of the Chinese 危機 is this: crisis = danger + incipient moment/crucial point.
Who says? Victor H Mair, that's who:
A wēijī in Chinese is every bit as fearsome as a crisis in English. A jīhuì in Chinese is just as welcome as an opportunity to most folks in America. To confuse a wēijī with a jīhuì is as foolish as to insist that a crisis is the best time to go looking for benefits.
If one wishes to wax philosophical about the of wēijī, one might elaborate upon it as the dynamic of a situation's unfolding, when many elements are at play. In this sense, is neutral. This can either turn out for better or for worse, but -- when coupled with wēi -- the possibility of a highly undesirable outcome (whether in life, disease, finance, or war) is uppermost in the mind of the person who invokes this potent term.
I'll take Mair's word for it, for he knows of what he is talking about: Plus, I can vouch that Mair's translation of Chuang Zhu makes for a wonderful read. Chuang Zhu. Or, if you prefer, Zhuangzi.
However you spell it in English, the ancient sage is the one who related how one night he dreamed he was a carefree butterfly, flying happily. After he woke up, he wondered how he could determine whether he was Zhuangzi who had just finished dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who had just started dreaming he was Zhuangzi. An incipient moment, a crucial point...

WTO in Hong Kong = ambulance makeover?

Several days before the opening of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, a remarkable change took place on a little island in the South China Sea.
The windscreen, side panels and rear windows of the dinky-sized, LPG-powered ambulance that serves the island were outfitted with anti-riot (?) protective metal grills.
Having given it due consideration, consensus among frequenters of the dumbbell-shaped island's watering holes is that the timing of the ambulance makeover and any other events happening elsewhere in the region is merely coincidental. Or, not.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas vegetarian recipes

The (microwave) oven in this household performs many wondrous works, with one exception: anything which requires roasting. Which is a pity; especially having perused these Christmas vegetarian recipes including Marmite roast potatoes.
For all of Viva!'s Christmas vegetarian starters, main courses, side dishes, desserts: Viva!
Thanks, Fat Buddha!

Hong Kong WTO: the television reporter's helmet

Hong Kong TVB's 6:30pm Cantonese-language news on Tuesday carried a live report from outside the Convention Centre. The TVB reporter was wearing a helmet. Why? Nevermind the fashion faux pas (that coat, that headgear), this was an egregious and flagrant example of media hype: Curbside

Hong Kong: what's at play at the WTO

Since the opening of the WTO 6th Ministerial Conference much of the local media focus has been on the Korean farmers. No surprise there: Hong Kong TV and newspapers in the months prior to the conference opening had already spent a good amount of time and space demonizing the farmers.
As it turns out, these toilers of the land have been street theatre par excellence: always highly disciplined, beautifully choreographed and splendidly photogenic. In short, a media editor's wet dream.
But what's been going on inside the conference? Not much in the way of progress, it seems. Still, in hunting around for something, I found this by Laura Carlsen:
For those who have observed the WTO's negotiation process at the ministerials in Seattle, Doha, or Cancun, it looks like an enormous and complicated game of cards. From one minute to the next, strategies change, bets are placed, teams formed and reformed, and the rules of the game shift according to the interests of the major players. While some players with weak hands bluff, other players underestimate the strength of their hands. But in the end the power and negotiating dynamics become clear.
Continue? It's not long: Counterpunch

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hong Kong shipping forecast

Waglan Island? Off the southeast coast of Hong Kong Island. But Shanwei? Shantou? Dongsha? And what about Shangchuan Dao? Areas all mentioned in those Hong Kong weather reports for shipping carried on RTHK, the local radio public service broadcaster. But where are they: Hong Kong Observatory map
Echoes from distant shores; the UK shipping forecast area: Met Office map

WTO Hong Kong: photos at Flickr

Preparation for the WTO 6th Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong included bolting down the covers of street drains. This photo is from sgram, who has a good set of photos at Flickr

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hong Kong media's finest hour?

Chinese-language dailies Oriental Daily News and The Sun "embedded" staff with Korean farmer-protesters staying at the Wu Kwai Sha Youth Village at Ma On Shan in Sha Tin Monday.
The local media have also, apparently, been issued with helmets, gas masks, goggles, respirators and insurance policies: Hong Kong's The Standard.
What! No copy of Scoop by Evelyn Waugh?

Mac attack

Last week, a trio of 'anti-globalization' Filipino women were detained for questioning at Hong Kong immigration before being allowed into the Hong Kong SAR. Which begs the question: why is it that arch-looters and crooks such as Imelda (the wit and wisdom of) Marcos and Joseph Estrada sail in and get the VIP treatment?
Anyway, likewise detained at Hong Kong International Airport, French farmer José Bové. Farmer Jo (who once took a bulldozer to a McDo), is an invited and accredited attendee at the WTO meeting. What to do? Monsieur Bové, sans bulldozer, gets on the phone, gets on the radio:
From detention, Mr. Bové phoned a national radio call-in show in France on which Pascal Lamy, the W.T.O.'s director general and a fellow Frenchman, was being interviewed. Mr. Bové was connected with Mr. Lamy, who is also in Hong Kong, and complained about the openness of the W.T.O. process when he could not get past the airport.
More? IHT

No Direction Home

Ron Jacobs reviews the Mike Marqusee book Wicked Messenger:
Perhaps the only certainty that Dylan has kept is revealed in the fact that he continues to perform two or three songs at almost every concert he gives. One of those songs is “Masters of War” - a song that makes no bones about who makes wars and why they do. Another is “All Along the Watchtower” - where the forces of evil and good are about to clash and there is no scorecard to tell us who is on what side. The third is his song about freedom in a world where few know the meaning of the word and those who do claim to know it are merely trying to sell us another product - “Like a Rolling Stone.”
More? State of Nature

Tinsel and barbed wire: Hong Kong and the WTO

Doug Crets writes:
The taxi driver taking me to the King's Hotel, just outside the security zone on Jaffe Road, says that the city is seeing strange times.
The traffic is slower these days. Not many people out.
He offers me an orange slice, praising it's delivery from California, and in a notoriously Hong Kong way tells me that the $8 oranges are ``very dear, very dear,'' and that the $4, $5 oranges are not worth the price.
Things look normal. Until you look again.
More? Curbside

Curbside at the WTO

Curbside combines blogs and feature stories contributed by journalism students from the University of Hong Kong, journalists from (Hong Kong's) The Standard newspaper and ESWN's blogger, Roland Soong. Curbside's goal is not only to inform and entertain readers on the events surrounding the WTO, but also to explore the potential of online journalism: Curbside

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bachathon on the Beeb

Front page of today's Guardian carries news that BBC Radio 3 is going to broadcast all of J S Bach's music! Awesome, truly awesome.
A big thank you to the Beeb and to the British public that finances it.
Bach Special Report: Guardian
The universal musician: Guardian
Sir John's (Eliot Gardiner) passion: Guardian
A Bach Christmas; Every Note, Night and Day: BBC Radio 3
A Bach Blog: BBC Radio 3

Harold Pinter: Art, Truth and Politics

Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize in Literature 2005 acceptance speech: an ill man not far from death. English playwright and theatre director, Pinter speaks his mind. Or some of it. To watch video and/or read the text: Nobel
Some way into his speech, Pinter talks about torture. That same week, Condoleezza Rice was flying from one European capital to another, saying: "We don't do torture."
Uhhhm... School of the Americas? Fort Benning, Georgia? It's as American as apple pie. For a refresher course, Naomi Klein in the The Guardian

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hemel Hempstead fuel burn

Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal:
Map/Satellite photo

Hong Kong Peoples' Alliance on WTO

(to enlarge: click on image)
Hong Kong Peoples' Alliance on WTO has updated its website:
Peoples' Action Week:

Dongzhou, Shanwei

December 6 Incident at Dongzhou, Shanwei sub-prefecture, Guangdong province
Dongzhou is on the outskirts of the city of Shanwei. Like many cities in China, Shanwei has cleared suburban land once used for farming to build industrial zones. State media have said the Shanwei Red Bay industrial zone is slated to have three electricity-generating plants -- a coal-fired plant, a wave power plant and a wind farm.
More? New York Times (reg. required)
Killer cops in 24-hour watch at village: Hong Kong's The Standard
More Police Reach Grief-Stricken Chinese Township: Radio Free Asia
Incited villagers attack power plant in Guangdong: Xinhua
Chinese official who ordered security forces to fire on protesters arrested: AFP
Where is Dongzhou? Fifteen miles to the south of Shanwei City: map

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Junk WTO!

Peoples' movement against the WTO 6th Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong: HK Peoples' Alliance on WTO; International League of Peoples' Struggles -- Hong Kong; Asian Migrant Coordinating Body; United Filipinos in Hong Kong; Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants: Junk WTO!

Panic Signal Number 8

Nuts, people are going nuts. WTO Ministerial hysteria:
If you work at the Asian Wall Street Journal, are a Hysan tenant, have a child at the Island School, a sick pet at the SPCA's Wan Chai hospital, do your banking at the Bank of East Asia's Revenue Tower branch, were anticipating HSBC's mammoth Christmas tree or keep seeing some clown in a chicken suit some temporary readjustments are in order.
More? Hong Kong's The Standard

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dancing to the beat of a different drum

What with all the free mp3s trawled while floating around in the virtual world, I thought I hadn't bought any cds these past 12 months, until I realized I had. In no particular order:
The Complete 10-inch Series from Cold Blue: Cold Blue Music
The Hot Spot (John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Taj Mahal) Amazon
Piano music of John Adams and Terry Riley, Gloria Cheng-Cochran Amazon
The Only Daughter: Blemish Remixes, David Sylvian Amazon UK
Amassakoul, Tinariwen Amazon UK
Chroniques, Volume 1, Bob Dylan Amazon France
Another Day on Earth, Brian Eno Amazon
Showbiz Kids, Steely Dan Amazon
Schlingen-Blangen, Charlemagne Palestine Amazon
Au Palais des Sports, Veronique Sanson Amazon France
Ray Charles in Concert, Ray Charles Rhino Records
Getz/Gilberto, Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto Amazon
Monk's Dream, Thelonius Monk Quartet Amazon
Nothing Changes Under the Sun, Blue States Amazon UK
Astral Weeks, Van Morrison Amazon UK
Tourist, St Germain Amazon UK
In C (25th Anniversary Concert), Terry Riley Amazon
Studio One Dub (compilation) Soul Jazz Records
Studio One DJs (compilation) Soul Jazz Records
The World of Arthur Russell, Arthur Russell Soul Jazz Records
Other than that?
During the past ten years, this one has been played more than anything else: J S Bach: The Six Cello Suites, Maurice Gendron Amazon
So... what have you bought/listened to this year that you would like to recommend? Thanks!

How the West Was Won

Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot 2005: Google video

List of lists for 2005

Sex, books, films, music, dvds, online, science, visual arts, people, business, gadgets, health, photos, et cetera; a metalist for 2005: feeding on itself
Thanks, Gavin!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Hong Kong WTO Ministerial conference

Hong Kong government publicity pamphlet:
We expect some 11,000 participants to attend the Ministerial, including 6,000 delegates, 3,000 journalists and 2,000 representatives of nongovernmental organizations [NGOs]. The Ministerial will operate on a 24-hour basis. The Inaugural Session will be held around 3 pm on December 13.
(HKMC pdf file)

Hong Kong WTO meeting

(To enlarge: click image)

Yesterday, a police spokesperson was on the radio to assure all and sundry that (a) public order will be maintained; (b) water cannons will not be used, but the tear-gas canisters are primed; (c) there's room for 1,800 ne'er-do-wells and other riff-raff in lock-ups around the territory; (d) Hong Kong's 'finest' -- the best that money can b[u]y -- will have a third of the force on active duty in the district. Disappointingly, nobody on the radio had the imagination to ask the spokesperson if the boys in blue have any ground-to-air missiles...
Anyway, media scare stories to the contrary, the view from a little island in the South China Sea is as follows: there will be nothing resembling the Battle of Seattle, nor a police riot like they had in Genoa, Italy. Oh, but the latter was for a G8, or was it G7 meeting.
What can be confidently predicted for next week? Extended periods of traffic gridlock throughout Wanchai and Causeway Bay and Central caused by WTO Ministerial motorcades with all their attendant motorcycle outriders -- the job lot racing from one meeting to another. And the DIY shops in nearby Lockhart Road complaining they haven't seen any customers and been able to do any business because of the 'security blanket'. Likewise, the same road's girlie bars and pubs, phone-order business excepted, of course. Regular stressed-out Christmas shoppers? Excluding the hardiest, many others will forsake Hong Kong's numerous temples of conspicuous consumption (aka the shopping malls) to instead embrace on-line shopping.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Photos of 4 December democracy march

Photo by Paul++ (to enlarge: click on image)
More at flickr
Thanks, Paul++ !

John Lennon: the Wenner Tapes

A working class hero is something to be: awesome, candid and perceptive John Lennon talks about stuff in this 1970 interview with Jann Wenner (publisher of Rolling Stone magazine). BBC Radio 4 Archive Hour

Christmas -- Bah! Humbug!

As they say: you can take the boy out of England, but you can't take England out of the boy. As well as Marmite and bangers & mash, I like mince pies and Christmas pudding as much as the next (English) person, but consider this:
The Puritans considered Christmas un-Christian, and hoped to keep it out of America. They could not find Dec. 25 in the Bible, their sole source of religious guidance, and insisted that the date derived from Saturnalia, the Roman heathens' wintertime celebration. On their first Dec. 25 in the New World, in 1620, the Puritans worked on building projects and ostentatiously ignored the holiday. From 1659 to 1681 Massachusetts went further, making celebrating Christmas "by forbearing of labor, feasting or in any other way" a crime.
Those Puritans, who were never hounded out of Britain but left because they thought the place was going to the dogs, were doubtless overjoyed to see Christmas -- Christ mass, a 'popish plot' -- banned back home under the Parliamentary Commonwealth and later by the Protectorate during Britain's republican era (1649-60). Human nature being what it is, however, the Saturnalian spirit ultimately triumphed... Anyway, pass me a mince pie, will you? Thanks! The War over Christmas: New York Times (reg. required).

Monday, December 05, 2005


K was in his mid-40s, didn't smoke, ran marathons. Until close to the end, he looked a fit kind of guy. That was before he turned a parched yellow colour. Thus he was until a week ago, which is when his kidneys and liver finally withered away and K died in Ward A2, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong.
I knew K for about ten years. Although we were never friends -- I have come to understand that people who drink alcohol like K drank are incapable of friendship -- that didn't stop me from becoming fond of him. And like the several women in his life, I, and numerous others, had tried over the years to help him get sober and stay sober. To no avail. A binge drinker who latterly became -- to avoid the shakes and hallucinations that followed a binge bender -- a maintenance drinker, K progressively and systematically drank himself to death. K, Rest In Peace.
Meanwhile, for those who would prefer to trudge the road of Happy Destiny: Alcoholics Anonymous, Hong Kong

Hong Kong march for democracy: 4 December 2005

Late last week, organizers believed 50,000 might turn out for Sunday's 'march for democracy' from Victoria Park to government headquarters in Lower Albert Road. Come the day, however, many more people turned out: 63,000 - 100,000 - 250,000, depending on whom you believe. As Wallace and Gromit would say: it was a grand day out.
South China Morning Post: paid subscription, no links.
Tsang gets the message: Hong Kong's The Standard
Unassuming retired civil servant (Anson Chan) was the most important protester: Hong Kong's The Standard
Politics on the streets: right-on editorial in, of all places, the UK's Financial Times
Hong Kong Civic Exchanges's indefatigable Christine Loh in her latest subscription newsletter, emailed out soon after the event, has a timeline of the past 20 years and the slow -- two steps forward, one step backward -- progress towards universal sufferage in Hong Kong:
The evening news reported 250,000+ people marched peacefully for democracy today ... again. Police figures are much smaller. Unlike previous marches, no one could say people came out because they were unhappy about the economy, suffered negative equity or didn't like former chief executive CH Tung. They clearly flooded out because they wanted to tell the authorities here and in Beijing they wanted universal suffrage soon.
The timeline itself is too long to re-publish here, and is not available on the Civic Exchange website. But the website is worth a look-see, and is where you can subscribe to the weekly newletter: Civic Exchange.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Model life

Judge orders inquest into death of decapitated model. This reverses a previous decision -- taken a couple of months ago -- to not hold an inquest:
Coroner Andrew Chan and the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau decided in September against opening an inquest. Chan cited the unnecessary exposure of "the deceased's private life such as her drug habit, gambling habit, medical conditions, financial background, suicide attempts, complicated love affairs and casual sex attitude."
Nothing out of the ordinary there: it's life, and life only. Still, details made public concerning the late Annie Pang's life would inevitably refer to others still living... Furthermore, why were the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau also involved in nixing a coroner's inquest? Report: Hong Kong Standard

A bit of background: Anson Chan (陳方安生), mentioned in the newpaper article, was the prominent and long-standing head of Hong Kong's civil service before and after the territory's handover on 1 July, 1997 to mainland China. The first woman and first ethnic Chinese person to hold the second-highest governmental position in Hong Kong, Chan retired in 2001.

Thought for the day

Fainting goats (video, embedded). Link.
Thanks, Gavin!

Death in Disneyland

Just before dawn this morning, young Australian Nguyen Tuong Van was taken to a place of execution in Changi prison and hanged: judicial murder in Singapore.
William Gibson -- who is credited with coining the term 'cyberspace' -- wrote a piece about Singapore for Wired magazine. Published in 1993, Death in Disneyland is still worth a read: Wired.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What time is it?

Cool way to find out what time it is in Auckland, Baghdad, Bangkok, Beijing, Birmingham, Cairns, Cape Town, Cardiff, Denver, Havana, Hong Kong, Kabul, Lisbon, Minneapolis, Moscow, New York, Paris, Santiago, Shanghai, Sydney, Tangiers, Tokyo, wherever... GChart

Only connect

They paved paradise and put up a parkin' lot. Sort of.
As a friend of mine remarked, the trouble is with renting a place: live there too long (eight and a half years) and it becomes 'home'.
End September, the landlord informed yours truly that the home and building in which he lived is to be converted into a 'boutique hotel'. Oh, and this would require to please vacate said premises by the end of the year. Oh, and some workmen would be doing some work starting mid-October. Some work? Pneumatic drills and sledgehammers turning concrete and brick walls to rubble. Six days a week, for two weeks. Around the outside, bamboo scaffolding went up which was then covered with blue and white sheeting. Sort of like Cristo wrapping a building.
When you gotta go, you gotta go...
Moving out of the old place went quickly, settling in has been less than seamless: three days before I could make a cup of tea; five days before I could go back online. Most all of my possessions are still in boxes in what passes for the living room.
Anyway: so far, so good.
So, this is from a new flat in an almost new building. So new the air-cons (three) are still under warrantee. The place is tiny, but happens to overlook one of the main squares of a little island in the South China Sea. Around midnight two nights ago, one of the middle-aged heroin addicts sitting in the square cranked up a ghetto blaster. Canto-pop? Cantonese opera? Hardly. It was Julie Andrews singing The Sound of Music: "the hills are alive..." I kid you not.
My world has been fair turned upside down these past six weeks. But I also know irrevocable change happens to countless others every second and minute of the day. Change that is far, far worse, even. I also know: any day above ground is a good day. Bob Dylan said that. Or, the best revenge is to outlive your enemies. Richard Nixon said that. Take your pick.
Thank you for your kind comments.
Service resumes.
Have a day.
Best wishes, from Mister Bijou

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Mister Bijou has somewhat lost his lustre.
Postings may/may not resume.
Have a good day.
Thank you.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Siu Kwai Wan serpent

Python taking an unauthorised evening shortcut across a local patio. Photo (enlarge: click on image) by, and courtesy of, Dr Martin Williams. Doc Martin has a couple of great websites: Dr Martin Williams and HK Outdoors. Highly recommended.

Hello! Anyone's cat missing? If so, it might have been grabbed and then eaten by one of the pythons that lives up the northern end of a little island in the South China Sea. Couple of evenings ago, one such python was sighted on a patio in leafy, upscale Sui Kwai Wan (Small Ghost Bay). Thanks, Martin!
Oh, the 'small', according to Nick G, refers to the bay not the ghost. Nick G also tells me the serpent was a Burmese python. Thanks, Nick!
They grow up to five or six metres in length. Dr Martin Williams estimated this one's length at between 1-1.5 metres so that means it was a young 'un. That being the case, perhaps grabbing and swallowing a cat might be a tad over-ambitious. So, maybe it would be better to ask: anyone missing a kitten?
A year or so ago, some of the old biddies in the nearby public housing estate raised the alarm when they said there was a '100-foot serpent' lurking in the thick foliage surrounding the estate.
No one believed them until someone spotted a 20-foot python resting in the branches of a tree overhanging the entrance to the estate. Since such serpents are protected species, it was captured, not killed, and removed to Kadoorie Farm in the wilds of the New Territories. Once more unflustered, the old biddies went back to their morning tai chi.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rest in Peace: Rosa Parks

How the world works:
In the last decade, Mrs. Parks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. But even as she remained an icon of textbooks, her final years were troubled. She was hospitalized after a 28-year-old man beat her in her home and stole $53. She had problems paying her rent, relying on a local church for support until last December, when her landlord stopped charging her rent.
New York Times obit (reg. required).

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Dead parrots, the global economy, and Monty Python

How the world works:
The birds, smuggled from the southeast Chinese city of Fuzhou, were found aboard a Panama-registered vessel in the island's central Taichung harbour Friday night, coastguard officials said Saturday.
A Chinese sailor surnamed Chen told coastguards that he had struck a deal with a local bird shop over the sale of the smuggled birds at around 500 Taiwan dollars (15.1 US) each, but police suspect some crew may have been involved in the illicit trade.
It was the second time Taiwan has seized birds smuggled from China since coastguards launched a dragnet in August to crack down on the illegal trade.
Also on Saturday, police raided an illegal chicken slaughter house in Taichung city.
Fuller story? Yahoo! News

Parrot in UK quarantine dies of avian flu: Guardian report.
The parrot, part of a consignment from Surinam in South America, was among birds sharing space in a biosecure unit with another consignment from Taiwan.
Taiwan, again. But in all likelihood the birds originated in China and were smuggled into Taiwan before being shipped to UK where they met the birds from Surinam. Taipei market in Taiwan deserted on fears of bird flu, Taiwan News:
Collecting birds is serious business in Taiwan, where thousands of enthusiasts regularly visit markets, and gamblers bet sizable sums on pigeon races at crowded locales.
If this plays out like the 2003 SARS epidemic did in Hong Kong, and it is a big 'if' because, as yet, there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission, if the fear starts to cascade, Taipei, Taiwan's capital, will witness people gradually desert schools, universities, shops, restaurants, cinemas, public transport, air travel, work.
In public, most everyone will go around wearing a face mask, and use their keys to punch the numbers on public ATM machines and lift buttons, and stop holding escalator handrails, so as not to touch anything potentially hazardous. On the upside, if you cough people give you a wide berth. That's what happened hereabouts during the SARS episode. Nevermind the morning the rumour swept Hong Kong that the border was going to be closed -- there was an immediate panic run on the supermarkets (very swiftly followed by the government text-messaging everyone to say the story wasn't true.)
May be it's time to re-read Albert Camus' The Plague? Better still, perhaps: Monty Python's Michael Palin and John Cleese Norwegian Blue:
'E's not pinin'! 'E's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker'.
'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies!
'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig!'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Crisis 危機

Crisis. In Chinese the equivalent is 危機. The first character translates as 'danger', the second as 'opportunity'. I don't know if one is yin and the other is yang. But that way of seeing is a helpful reminder that for problems, even insoluble ones, there are solutions.

Is China headed for a social 'red alert'?

Whither China? Longish two-part analysis by Francesco Sisci, Asia Editor for the daily La Stampa: Asia Times Online.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Google 2084

To enlarge: click image

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Jon Stewart's Daily Show on bird flu.

Jon Stewart's scathing and brilliant Daily Show on bird flu. Very funny. Quicktime link.

Rest In Peace: Ba Jin

Anarcho-socialist for most all of his life -- although, understandably, not always openly -- the Chinese writer Ba Jin (real name: Li Feigan) has died. Ba Jin had reached the ripe old age of 100, and had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for many years, unable to walk or speak.
His adopted name - chosen in 1929 - reflected his admiration for anarchism: Ba stood for the first syllable in the Chinese transliteration of Mikhail Bakunin, and Jin for the last syllable of prince Piotr Kropotkin.
Having tried to read, a long time ago, one of the books in his famous trilogy (Family?), I can only hope he is now better served by more modern English translations.
What I can recommend is the black and white movie made in Hong Kong in 1955, Cold Nights. Based on a short story by Ba Jin published in 1947, it tells the story of a penniless, depressed, idealistic and tubercular book editor and his much younger, much healthier, prettier, materialistic wife. Sounds grim? It is. But it is also a powerful tale beautifully told -- long remembered, while many other films have long been consigned to the forgotten.
Guardian: obituary
Xinhua: obituary
Wikipedia: entry
English translation of Ba Jin's dedication in a 1934 collection of his short stories to the extraordinary 'spring thunder' life of anarcho-communist and feminist Emma Goldman: UCLA Berkeley

Monday, October 17, 2005

Doctor Feelgood: the new science of positive psychology

Martin Seligman and others pioneers use hard science in a new field of experimental psychology.
Of the six universal emotions, four -- anger, fear, disgust and sadness -- are negative and only one, joy, is positive. (The sixth, surprise, is neutral.) According to the psychologist Daniel Nettle, author of Happiness, and one of the Royal Institution lecturers, the negative emotions each tell us "something bad has happened" and suggest a different course of action. Fear tells us danger is near, so run away. Anger prompts us to deter aggressors. Sadness warns us to be cautious and save energy, while disgust urges us to avoid contamination.
Joy, according to Nettle, simply tells us, "something good has happened, don't change anything". The evolutionary role of pleasure was to encourage activity that was good for survival, such as eating and having sex. But unlike negative emotions, which are often persistent, joy tends to be short-lived. We soon get sick of cream cakes or blasé about our pay rise.
Happiness? Times Online.

China's Shenzhou VI manned space mission

Well, the 'taikonauts' made it safely back to the motherland, and Mother Earth. So, that's all well and good. The BBC monitors much of the world's media. What did the Chinese have to say about their successful space mission? BBC Monitoring.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Partial eclipse of the Moon (17 October 2005)

For Hong Kong and a little island in the South China Sea

Time Date
Moonrise 17:47 October 17
Moon enters penumbra 17:51 October 17
Moon enters umbra 19:34 October 17
Middle of eclipse 20:03 October 17
Moon leaves umbra 20:32 October 17
Lunar terms and other stuff: Hong Kong Observatory.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Why is it that financial crises often happen in October?

Trawling through the pages of the Guardian on Friday, a diligent reader might have come across a news item about a US hedge fund by the name of Refco: "World's hedge funds face crisis as Refco suspends trading". Refco? Why, it was only a couple of months ago that:
On August 16, Refco proudly announced the completion of its flotation in New York. At an issue price of $US22 a share (£12.50), the company was valued at $US3.4bn. The cream of Wall Street's investment banks - and the odd European wannabe - handled the share sale: names such as Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America and Credit Suisse First Boston. Refco says it is the world's largest futures broker with 450 traders in offices around the world. As evidence of its market power, the firm announced this year that in the three months to the end of February, Refco's volume in the foreign exchange market alone was $US111bn.
Turns out there was some jiggery-pokery going on to the tune of a 'loss' of at least US$430m (£250m). The investigators have piled in, computers seized, someone is now out on bail of US$50 million. Shares in the company dropped to US$7.90 before trading was halted. Because finance capital is highly leveraged, interconnected, interdependent, the major players are now in a major panic, fearing a knock-on effect.
Dealing in arcane financial 'instruments', fortunes can be won and lost in a jiffy in casino capitalism.
Not my money, who cares?
The problem is, it isn't only the beat of a butterfly's wings in the Amazon forest that can have repercussions on the other side of the world. This sort of financial collapse can, and may, cascade and ricochet through the world's financial systems leading to other companies collapsing, banks tightening up on their lending, interest rates rising. In short, we innocent bystanders, we lesser mortals, may suffer grievously, while the fat cats merely nurse their wounds. Well, they will do so as long as we let them do it. Until, that is, we see them off with pitchforks, scythes, and braziers.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Consumer affairs

How to make perfect toast soldiers.

Now you see Hu, now you don't

The 5th plenary session of the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party ended last Tuesday (11 October 2005). The following day, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert, the Chinese military launched Shenzhou VI and sent two Chinese "taikonauts" into a low earth orbit. Beijingologists duly noted the absence of President Hu Jintao at the space launch.
For what happened and didn't happen at the plenary as well as Hu's Shenzhou no-show, one special correspondent has come up with a host of reasons: Asia Times. Much of it is speculation while some is based on 'rumours circulating in the higher reaches of power in China', but a good read nevertheless.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

John Peel + Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Beatle Bones 'N Smokin' Stones
Yellow Brick Road
Abba Zabba
(and more)
All in glorious, muddy mono: Mp3s

Considering a career change?

Mister Bijou remembers when Greville Wynne and a minder came to talk. Wynne? He was a British 'businessman' arrested in 1963 by the Soviets for spying and released in 1966 in a spy swap that took place at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie: the Brits got back Wynne and handed over Soviet KGB spy Gordon Lonsdale, aka colonel Konon Trofimovich Molody. That photo? From here.
Anyway, some months after his release and return to the motherland, Wynne did a tour of universities and colleges to meet undergraduates studying politics. This would be late 1967 or early '68. Wynne was still claiming to be a businessman wrongly imprisoned by the Soviets, but he and the minder's visit was a fishing trip: identify the radicals (not hard) and suss out sympathisers to Queen and Country (far fewer). To know both is always useful. But changing times demand changing methods. UK nationals only, presumably:

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut

'I'd get up," mumbles Kurt Vonnegut with curmudgeonly cheer as he greets a lunch companion, "but I'm old."
Kurt Vonnegut at 82.

Chung Yeung Festival + Charlemagne Palestine

Ninth day of the ninth lunar month, today (11 October 2005) is Cheung Yeung Festival. A public holiday. Currently being somewhat all over the place, Mister Bijou finally centered himself by listening to Charlemagne Palestine playing a single chord for 71 minutes. On a church organ. With the volume WAY UP, it is a 'wonderful perambulation through the organ’s sonic landscape'. In short, transcendental. Whatever works. It takes what it takes. Et cetera...

Calvin and Hobbes

Tyrannosaurus rex, Calvin the Human Insect, Calvin the Bug, Captain Napalm, Stupendous Man, Spaceman Spiff, and Calvin (click image to enlarge). More?

Monday, October 10, 2005

What's going on with the planet?

As if there wasn't enough already, what with the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, 26 December 2004. That's the one that set off all those Indian Ocean tsunamis. The result? Massive destruction, death and long-term misery on an epic scale. End of August, Hurricane Katrina trashed Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. More destruction, death and long-term misery. Last week, Hurricane Stan devasted whole swaths of Central America. Destruction, death and long-term misery, much of it untold. Now, this: Kashmir earthquake, 8 October 2005. More havoc, massive destruction, death and long-term misery. Why?
Earthquakes and active faults in northern Pakistan and adjacent parts of India and Afghanistan are the direct result of the Indian subcontinent moving northward at a rate of about 40 mm/yr (1.6 inches/yr) and colliding with the Eurasian continent. This collision is causing uplift that produces the highest mountain peaks in the world including the Himalayan, the Karakoram, the Pamir and the Hindu Kush ranges. As the Indian plate moves northward, it is being subducted or pushed beneath the Eurasian plate.
More? Techies will find maps, diagrams and other stuff about the Kashmir earthquake at this US federal government agency: Earthquake Hazards Program.
Elsewhere, blogs Pakquake; South Asia Quake Help.
What's going on with the planet? Structural adjustments. A veritable tremblement de terre. In any language, its harsh... Donate? Google for local Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Taishi Village, Guangdong

Taishi Village, near Panyu, southern Guangdong province, makes the front page of today's Guardian. Why? One of its reporters, Benjamin Joffe-Walt, was so badly physically manhandled on the outskirts of Taishi on Saturday evening (8 October, 2005) he feared for his life. One of his companions, democracy activist Lu Banglie, was beaten so badly he is most likely dead.
Murdered. [Update: alive]
Guardian: Joffe-Walt
Guardian: Jonathan Wattis
SCMP edition (10 October 2005): SCMP reporter Leu Siew Ying recounts how she and Radio France International reporter Abel Segretin were physically attacked (7 October, 2005) by thugs when they tried to enter Taishi Village (paid; no link).
What's going on? Villagers believe the village chief and associated cronies have pocketed most of the money from the sale of what was previously communally-owned local land. We are not talking about a few bob here: this is US$12 million (HK$93,600,000).
The villagers have been protesting since July and want the village chief, Chen Jinsheng, removed, and a full and transparent accounting to take place. Chen and the local power structure are, however, having none of that. They are determined to make the villagers submit. During September, the authorities used water cannon on the protesting villagers and a China-wide online-forum frequented by locals, academics, journalists and rights activists was shut down. Bribes and threats continue. This weekend, the local fat-cats upped the ante. More? Here.