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.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Live chickens? Do not blow at their anuses.

Avian flu: how to avoid. For your consideration:
  • When buying or handling live chickens, try not to touch them or their droppings. Do not blow at their anuses.
  • Egg shells may have been contaminated with bird faeces. Wash the outside of eggs and wipe them dry before putting into the refrigerator for storage.
  • Observe food hygiene when cooking live chickens and eggs.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with liquid soap and water after handling live chickens and eggs.
Those bullet points are from one section of the very excellent Hong Kong Government Centre for Health Protection Avian Flu FAQ. But it is that first bullet point that has got me puzzled. Any chicken experts out there? I am sure there must be a good reason. Does it chill out an anxious chicken? Why would anyone want to 'blow at their anuses'? Please tell. Thank you.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Society for Truth and Light

Hong Kong's Society for Truth and Light made the local headlines, yet again, when it was announced this week that the Christian anti-gay group has won a Hong Kong government contract to advise teachers on how to teach 'human rights and anti-discrimination' in the classroom.
Yes, you read that right.
Amnesty International, Hong Kong branch, has now written to Hong Kong Government and asked for a detailed explanation: AI's letter.
This is not the first time the Christian lobby group has made the headlines.
Legalized prostitution? They're against it. (Much better to leave the business to the criminal element to run and profit from.)
Legalized betting on football matches? They're against it? (Much better to leave the business to the criminal element to run and profit from.)
Same-sex sex? What do you think? Yes, they're against it. (See Stephen Vines' opinion piece of 7 October 2005 in [Hong Kong] Standard).
Under the Brits, the Catholic church and a gaggle of Protestant churches ran and operated many of the primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong. (Hence the Victorian morals of many of the locals.)
The establishment about ten years ago of the Society of Truth and Light was a new development, however. And it looks like it has since adopted a strategy previously elaborated by the Christian Right in the freedom-lovin' USA: lobby; produce opinion polls; be media-friendly; and sit on Government committees. Like this one in 2002: Legislative Council Bills Committee on Prevention of Child Pornography Bill.
Like their American bretheren, this local Christian lobby is always ready with a dial-a-quote. That's not so surprising when you know this Christian lobby group is headed by Choi Chi-sum (蔡志森). Its general secretary, Mr Choi's previous work experience was in print and TV. Currently, Choi is also consultant of the Hong Kong Journalists' Christian Fellowship; Executive Committee Member of the Hong Kong Press Council; School Manager, China Holiness Church Living Spirit College. That's if the Hong Kong Baptist University-hosted website for the Hong Kong Association of Media Education (HKAME) is at all up-to-date.
Truth and Light has its own website. Sadly, it wouldn't let in Mister Bijou, and the Google cache was not forthcoming either. Go figure.
Mister Bijou is not surprised the Christian lobby group got the contract. It has friends in high places: Hong Kong's new Chief Executive, Donald Tsang Yam-yuen. A devout Catholic, Tsang, soon after taking office, expressed his displeaure that TV coverage of local horse racing was provided by the local government service, Radio Television Hong Kong. And soon after that, it was announced that RTHK would drop the horses.
Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

React, rebend, reshape

Postings have been thin these past few days.
Everything is going swimmingly, and then: WHAM!
Nothing Life Threatening.
Just a major upheaval in the offing.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hong Kong activists appropriate Li Ka-shing's airwaves

Hong Kong activists have defied the law by airing a pro-democracy unlicensed broadcast in a bid to counter what they see as the loss of media freedom in the Chinese territory.
Citizens' Radio, run by a group of 10 activists, broadcast a trial program on Monday evening on the same frequency as that used by a radio station owned by local tycoon Li Ka-shing (李嘉誠).
More? Taipei Times.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

His face now enters the pantheon of stars whose charisma transcends speech. Keaton, Chaplin, Garbo - let them now make room for Gromit.
Double thumbs-up review of the Wallace and Gromit (click image to enlarge), New York Times (reg. required).

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Magnum In Motion

From the people at Magnum: audio, text and, of course, photos.
Thanks, Gavin!

Allen Ginsberg's Howl

Brothers and sisters, coming up is the 50th anniversary of the first public performance by Allen Ginsberg of his loooong poem, Howl. That was 7 October, 1955 at the Six Gallery in San Francisco.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix

A poem that is probably more talked about than read, to my mind Howl is actually better said than read. Still, if you want to read the poem: Howl + Ginsberg's Footnote to Howl.
Better yet, listen to Ginsberg give a bravura performance: go here, then click to download. The mp3 features Chogyam Trungpa, rinpoche; Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg. Recording made, date disputed, at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado. The file is biggish (87.8M zip file), so it takes a bit of time to download. Ginsberg starts 40 mins into the recording...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

1966: Chairman Mao is the Red Sun of Our Hearts

This day, 1 October, mainland China celebrates the formal establishment, in 1949, of the People's Republic of China. No public holiday hereabouts -- remember: one country, two systems -- although [I sit corrected, it's National Day -- PRC flags] and red lanterns do bedeck a little island in the South China Sea's dai pai dongs, the civic waterfront and several squares.
The public square just away from the ferry terminal has almost everything in place for some sort of official flag-raising ceremony, including two flagpoles. Most likely, the PRC flag hauled up the taller one, Hong Kong's Bahunia flag fluttering from the short. No doubt new-found patriots of the motherland will be much in view.
Mister Bijou, who was once, briefly, a member of a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist London-based groupuscule, has fond memory of his invitation and visit in 1969 to the Chinese Embassy in London's Portland Place. As Comrade Mao said: "Imperialism and All Reactionaries are Paper Tigers". But that was so 20th century. In the freedom-lovin' 21st, Mister Bijou thinks it would be inelegant to brandish his Little Red Book during today's ceremony.