State visit to Taiwan in progress…

…for the next few days. Might Twitter something (see ‘Twitter’ thing on right), subject to availability of wifi and Tweet-worthy occurrences.

Meanwhile, saw the April 9, 2015 edition of Rolling Stone. Last time I saw this magazine was several decades ago, back when it was full of stuff about acts like, er, Ringo, Van Morrison, James Taylor and (for the younger readers) the Beastie Boys…

Rollingstone

 

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What is a ‘Jetso’ anyway?

Stan-DealsBarrage

To most Hong Kong residents, less tourism means relief from crowds and retail market distortions. But to the government and its friends, the recent pattern of declining tourist numbers is a cause for alarm.

SCMP-PromotionalThe response: a hyped-up exciting promotion! Commerce Secretary Greg So does his hunky sex-symbol act and unveils the ‘HAPPY@Hongkong Super JETSO’ campaign. According to the official blurb, 10,000 merchants will be offering special deals in order to encourage locals and tourists to Spend Spend Spend.

As you might suspect from the campaign’s ‘HAPPY@Hongkong Super JETSO’ name, this is desperate and tawdry. Cosmetics chain Sa Sa will give out HK$30 coupons to customers spending over HK$100. Some restaurants are offering ‘buy two, get one’ deals on buffets.

No wonder Greg looks uneasy. This is downright tacky. The very phrase ‘coupons’ brings to mind visions of welfare mothers cutting little squares out of newspapers. Who – in a developed, high-tech, First World, services-based economy – will buy some everyday and unremarkable item because it’s 15% off? Fifteen percent? It’s an insult. Do we really look that impoverished? As the moderate voice of reason tells the Standard, an ice cream in exchange for going to (indeed, spending money in) Times Square is ‘not really attractive’…

Stan-TimesSqIceCream

…as in ‘that is as enticing as a pile of dog droppings’.

To put this in context, chains of watch shops with several branches on the same street are trimming back operations. I would love to believe the anti-smuggling protests are responsible, but bigger forces are at play. Exchange-rate changes and China’s anti-corruption clampdown for a start. Possibly a gradual change in tastes, as Mainlanders start to graduate from the ‘rich-peasant’ phase of high-profile garish consumerism and move onto something more refined. And also, not least, over-expansion by the luxury-goods industry, mesmerized by the promise of a billion Chinese all eager to buy putrid-looking Stan-CityChainoverpriced rubbish with stupid European names. There has to be a limit. How many Jaegar-LeCoultre, Longchamp Louboutins does an idiot from Shanghai really need?

Finally, the laws of supply and demand really start to bite when greasy-haired Mr Hong Kong Landlord, drunk on the flood of fast easy quick money money money, slaps one zero too many on the latest rent-hike. The guy suddenly faces the unthinkable inhumanity of empty premises for which no-one will offer HK$300,000 a month, for some inexplicable reason.

Ultimately, this is what Hong Kong’s ‘tourism’ industry – also sometimes known as the ‘retail’ industry – is about: rents. It’s actually the landlord industry. This is the ‘HAPPY@Hongkong Super WHACK RENTS UP’ campaign.

But… Even by the standards of HK Tourism Board activities, this promotion has an exceptional lameness about it. My hunch is that someone, somewhere is growing weary of the ‘tourism’ cult. (Maybe Beijing’s local Liaison Office? They see public resentment of Mainland shoppers as a threat to the motherland. And they know the Central Government is serious about corruption and money laundering, and happy to see Macau casinos’ revenues plummet.)

The hapless look on Greg So’s face. The unfathomably, gut-wrenchingly atrocious ‘HAPPY@Hongkong Super JETSO’ theme concept title and branding. The officials seem to be going through the motions of ‘boosting tourism’ here, with little enthusiasm save for the chance to have another dig at the horrific damage done by pro-dem and anti-locust protests. The retailers themselves show every sign of having been roped into this by bossy bureaucrats. When you’re paying the likes of Jimmy Tang HK$300,000 a month for 300 square feet, offering meaningful discounts is a non-starter. The whole thing looks like a way to shut the landlords up, and pretend you’re trying to keep rent-rises going for all eternity, as we enter the inevitable post-Mainlander Luxury Crap Mega-Boom era and go back to the days of 2011 or so when you have only one branch of Sa Sa every 100 yards.

I declare the weekend open with some advice: if you must go out and spend money, I can recommend this stuff…

DragonsBack

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The decline of CY’s little alternative establishment

Stan-CheungBankThe Standard puts the bankruptcy of Barry Cheung on the front page. Most other papers do not, because – well, it’s a slightly gloomy human-interest story and little else.

As well as occupying various public-service positions like Chairman of the Urban Renewal Authority, Cheung set up the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange in 2008. The idea was that Hong Kong would become a mega whizz-bang hub-zone epicenter for commodities futures trading. The sort of people who raved about the city being a mega whizz-bang hub for bonds, Islamic banking and other desperate-sounding concepts jumped up and down in excitement. Maybe they overestimated demand for such a platform. Maybe they were counting on Beijing to support the project and send business its way. Maybe it was hubris. Anyway, after failing to attract serious trading and hosting some sort of alleged financial irregularities hoo-hah, it failed.

Barry Cheung was also a key backer of CY Leung. It is worth remembering that back in 2011, when it was obvious that Beijing would be making rich-kid politician Henry Tang Chief Executive, openly backing CY was a daring and risky thing to do. To Hong Kong’s establishment, CY was a mystery. About the only thing anyone knew about him was that he didn’t have any friends.

Another early supporter of CY was National People’s Congress Deputy and former top FannyFranklinLewbureaucrat Fanny Law. Like Barry, she was subsequently appointed to CY’s Executive Council – and there she remains, focused on saying all the right anti-dem things and keeping out of trouble. Other members of CY’s little ‘alternative establishment’ were not so fortunate. Former financial analyst and land/population policy freak Franklin Lam joined and later left the Executive Council after a conflict-of-interest thing that was basically trivial but embarrassing to the administration at a time of incessant mini-scandals among government officials. More humiliating was pro-Beijing businessman Lew Mon-hong, who attended an early CY campaign function with an alleged triad member; he was later arrested by anti-graft cops and is now an angry critic of CY (and currently on trial).

These were CY’s main ‘friends’. A handful of other people had endorsed him, but with restraint. When Beijing abandoned Henry Tang at the last minute in 2012 and ordered its inbuilt majority on the Election Committee to ‘elect’ CY, most traditional pro-establishment tycoon-types were too numb with shock to say anything. Only a few had the wits to indulge in quick, shameless, pre-emptive shoe-shining in an attempt to grovel their way into the outsider-administration’s good books – the best example being property tycoon Henry Cheng. But these were Johnny-come-latelys.

Now mostly fallen by the wayside, CY’s original support group was small and patchy from the start. Barry Cheung and Franklin Lam probably saw the outsider-underdog as a breath of fresh air or even a sign of hope that Hong Kong could move beyond semi-feudal dominance by landed interests. For Fanny Law, it may have been more opportunistic – a nothing-to-lose roll of the dice on the off-chance it could lead to a (the?) top job in time. For ‘Dream Bear’ Lew, it seems the attraction was a bauble in the form of an Executive Council seat that he never got, and maybe some behind-the-scenes string-pulling capacity, which hasn’t worked out either.

CY Leung has no further need of a local power base. His authority comes from the top down, from the Liaison Office and the Xi Jinping regime. From the barrel of a gun. The traditional bureaucrat-tycoon establishment that flourished under Chief Executive Donald Tsang ‘supports’ CY only under orders from Beijing. To the Standard‘s tycoon owner, highlighting Barry Cheung’s bankruptcy is an irresistible and vengeful swipe.

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SCMP’s excellent ‘Mainland city survey’ spoof

SCMP-auctionsThe South China Morning Post reports that Hong Kong’s latest whisky auction attracted eager collectors willing to pay over HK$90,000 for a bottle of Japanese (no less) Scotch. And so up-market liquor joins wine, vineyards, racehorses and incarceration of offspring in British boarding schools as symbols of success for China’s new wealthy elite. And let’s not forget art: a vast landscape by painter Cui Ruzhou fetched HK$236 million on Monday, which must have made him feel better after that time cleaners at the Grand Hyatt chucked a HK$28 million scrawl of his out with the trash.

(That article notes that Cui is little-known outside China, where works in ink are ‘popular gifts to … government officials’. What happens, reportedly and allegedly, is that someone gives a painting to their friendly neighbourhood government official, who later sells it to another ‘someone’ for the millions it is probably not remotely worth. That way, as we will all readily appreciate, it’s not a bribe. Not sure if it works with fine Japanese whisky.)

I am reliably informed that the SCMP’s (non-Business) China Desk is made up of three teams: one covering policy, one for technology, and the third – with over half a dozen reporters – devoted to ‘the rich’. I’m not sure whether this reflects the paper’s owners’ establishment shoe-shining priorities, or in some way supports advertising revenues, or is driven by readers’ fervent interest in Mainland celebrity/nouveau riche affairs.

Anyway, let it never be said that the paper lacks a sense of humour – as we see from today’s hilarious if belated April Fool’s joke.

It is clearly inspired by the most famous newspaper spoof of all time: the UK Guardian’s travel supplement about the fictitious ‘semi-colonial’ land of San Serriffe. The SCMP has done much the same thing today, and published a special report on a made-up Mainland city called ‘Zhengzhou’, situated neatly right in the middle of the country’s panda-earthquake ‘flyover’ wastes.

The 16-page supplement is a brilliant parody of a tatty and soulless, hastily developed, third-tier backwater’s desperate and vain self-promotion as a dynamic and modern Chinese metropolis. It’s got the tacky skyscrapers, the nasty bulbous gold arts centre, and of course the inevitable economic logistics zone-hub…

ZZ1

It’s got the laughably awful tourist attractions, ranging from a spookily Auschwitzean museum building to the pseudo-historical heritage theme concept complex…

ZZ2

It’s got the grand, not to say insane, vision thing, thanks to plans for a city built around an airport, with two runways embraced by a ring road and a sprawl of ‘green’ eco-concrete, industry and villas – a JG Ballard-Alphaville-Eraserhead nightmare and air-disaster-in-waiting that even Hong Kong’s psychopath Development Bureau could never conceive…

ZZ3

…and we’re so important and modern, we’ve got blond big-nosed foreign gwailo green-eyed-devil barbarians hanging out and taking us really seriously.

Not least, as the birthplace of Confucius, Mao, Buddha, Genghis Khan and Jack Ma, you can bet we’re the original, authentic, accept-no-substitutes focal point of ‘One Belt One Road’…

ZZ4

…and you can see it from space. Funniest thing I’ve seen for ages.

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More totalitarian concessions

Young protestors in Hong Kong get a bit wild and drop the dreaded word ‘independence’ into their slogans. Result: the Chinese government takes action within weeks – curbing unlimited cross-border trips by Mainlanders despite infuriating Shenzhen authorities and public opinion.

(Chief Executive CY Leung claims that the decision was a year in the works and was delayed by the anti-smuggler protests. This is a perfect example of the difference between the Goebbels-style ‘Big Lie’ – an untruth so blatant and huge it might actually be believed Stan-CYvow– and the children’s desperate last-resort ‘Vast Fib’, which is so ridiculous that it is sad and invokes pity.)

Meanwhile, nearly the whole world – from activists in Causeway Bay to US leaders – calls for Chinese authorities to release five feminists who had the temerity to protest harassment. Result: released they are. There are probably several reasons for this climb-down, but the overseas reaction to this totalitarian ‘kill a chicken to scare the monkeys’ lameness clearly played a part.

So we come to Beijing’s latest concession: a sort-of less-restrictive-than-expected pre-nomination or ‘primary’ process for candidates hoping to run for Chief Executive in 2017, under the political reform proposals to be published next week. The idea is to add a bit of badly needed credibility to the nomination process.

Under the hardline framework announced by Beijing last August, the two or three candidates on the ballot must each be endorsed by over 50% of the 1,200-strong Nominating Committee. This is the same body with an inbuilt Beijing-controlled majority that ‘elects’ the Chief Executive under the current system. This blatant rigging of the choice of candidates goes beyond negative vetting that excludes specific undesirables into a positive clearance system that includes only specific acceptable individuals. So Beijing chooses (say) CY, Regina Ip and Antony Leung – then you pick one. If any one feature of the proposed package tipped the balance, spurred the Occupy protests and ensured pan-dem opposition, it was this.

It is hard to believe that Xi Jinping is all that fussed about whether or not Hong Kong gets this quasi-democratic system, a plan he inherited from his namby-pamby predecessors. Even a mock version of universal suffrage would raise questions in the Mainland about why Hong Kong gets special treatment. But someone has obviously decided to at least put on an appearance of effort in getting the package through (and continuing with the status quo is probably not that appealing either).

So the big deal is: anyone who gets 120 endorsements from the Nominating Committee will be shortlisted for the second round, in which the Communist Party picks its two or three ‘acceptables’ for the ballot. To discourage the inevitable herding instinct of patriotic shoe-shiners to anticipate and endorse Beijing’s ‘favourite’, there will be a cap of 240 endorsements per nominee. Bottom line: the numbers – 120 and 240 – are a bit lower than some expected (in case you’re wondering what the ‘big deal’ is).

Does this make a difference or not? It hasn’t impressed any pan-dem lawmakers, who seem as determined as before to veto the package. (A few renegades like the Civic Party’s Ronnie Tong and the Dems’ Nelson Wong seem to be doing a moderate-wavering-dissident-posturing thing, but presumably to no effect. Wake me when it’s over.)

From officials’ point of view, this sort-of concession should boost support for the package because, in theory, it could enhance the informal but really really real role of public opinion. The pro-dems, should they muster a modicum of unity, could easily wield 120 Nominating Committee votes in the primary stage and thus get a candidate onto the list from which the Beijing-controlled majority then selects the candidates for the ballot. If public opinion polls show massive popular support for one or two people on the primary list, Beijing would find it hard to reject them, as it would undermine the integrity of the subsequent candidates and general election.

That’s the theory: the Chinese Communist Party would find it hard to say ‘screw you’. It’s debatable. But it is undeniable that a publicly recognized, charismatic, capable, highly popular non-establishment candidate could get 150 endorsements and could complicate things (for example, force establishment rivals into embracing more populist policies). Beijing is to some degree gambling on the inability of the pan-dems to put forward a credible potential leader capable of outclassing Regina or Antony. And, sadly, we have to wonder just how much of a gamble that is.

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You ask, Beijing delivers: curbs on Mainland smugglers

Donguri1

SCMP-VisitorLimitThe tone of the South China Morning Post’s headline reflects the mood of Hong Kong’s bureaucrat/landlord establishment today: sour grapes, big huff, ‘visitor limit will not work’, sniff. For several years our leaders have been insisting that the city should and must welcome an unmanageable flood of Mainland shoppers, even as ordinary citizens protest at the overcrowding and rising costs. Cutting the numbers was not an option, they maintained. Now the Central People’s Government has essentially come down on the side of ordinary Hong Kong residents and agreed to curb the numbers.

For the local officials who see serving property interests as their primary duty, it is a loss of face. For the patriots who adore integration with the glorious motherland, it is a ‘contradiction’: a concession to evil Hong Kong separatists delivered by none other than almighty Beijing. For the landlords, it is a reduction in rental incomes bloated by policy-led market distortions – easy easy easy money suddenly vanishing – a blow to the spirit comparable in human terms perhaps to a death in the family times 10.

The limit of one trip a week for Shenzhen residents will apply to future annual permits, so the decline in numbers will be gradual. No-one knows what the impact will be. The SCMP quotes someone as saying that with profit margins of HK$200 a day, Hong Kong residents will fill the gap left by Mainland smugglers. Another report claims that higher fees for cross-border carriers of goods will make that HK$600. (A good look at the economics of this trade appears here.) Hopes that the parasitical tourism industry will shrivel up and die a horrible death may be premature, but at least the measure is upsetting all the right people.

The real story is not about suitcases on wheels crammed with Ferrero Rocher chocolates. It’s about Hong Kong people protesting and winning. The recent months’ anti-smuggler rallies in Sheung Shui, Shatin and elsewhere were messy and occasionally got a bit nasty, and some would argue they pandered to xenophobia and descended to bullying. But symbolically, the separatist/anti-Mainland action set huge alarm bells off up in Beijing. There is a lesson here about the Communist Party’s vulnerabilities. They won’t grant you full democracy. But pitch it right, push the right buttons, and you can conjure up their worst nightmares and fears in front of them, and they will scurry to attend to your smaller-scale wishes. Something like that. Our legions of trendy activists and revolutionary theorists can ponder how to apply this weapon to overcome other injustices against the people – the luxury goods stores that have wrecked Causeway Bay and Tsimshatsui, the tycoons’ duopolies and cartels, Chief Executive CY Leung’s holding of public office, or (on a personal note) the Korean office ladies infesting my neighbourhood for no apparent reason. China Daily meanwhile continues the anti-independence mouth-froth.

Speaking of Tsimshatsui, I passed through over the weekend and spotted a few glimmers of hope that a few square feet of rentable space are still dedicated to serving (mostly) local needs. In Ashley Road: Hong Kong’s first (I think) branch of Hotel Saravana Bhavan. Imagine if Maxims had cheerful (Indian and Filipino) staff, served up Indian (mostly southern) vegetarian fast-food and had been founded by a murderer, and you’ve pretty much got it. Dosas and chutneys, basically. If Woodlands in Mody Road seems too far to go, this is the place…

SaravanaB

And on the distant top floor of Ocean Terminal, a stone’s throw from all the pestilential watch and handbag places, a sprawl of outlets with an offbeat youthful/toy theme. Mostly for teens/kids, but hey – local ones. Includes a whole store dedicated to Studio Ghibli paraphernalia: the foreign splittist/subversive-sounding Hong Kong Donguri Republic

Donguri2

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Antony Leung in gratitous statement of obvious shock

The struggle to stay a) relevant, b) in the public eye and c) in Beijing’s good books never ends. Former Financial Secretary Antony Leung inserts himself into your face to remind Stan-BridgeThatGapyou that he still exists. RTHK3 this morning broadcast a clip of him reciting the most cringe-makingly laborious and redundant possible rejection of Hong Kong independence, in what sounded like a tone of ‘Do I really have to read this stuff out in English as well?’ after presumably doing it in Cantonese and (bearing target audience in mind) Mandarin.

Back in the late Qing Dynasty, imperial Chinese officials made it clear that Hong Kong would one day be returned to its rightful sovereign. The Kuomintang said the same at the end of World War II. Mao Zedong and comrades said it even as Communist troops refrained from crossing the border in the late 1940s; they repeated it through the 1970s and had the territory removed from the UN Committee on Decolonization’s list of places that should be free. And then in the early 80s the Sino-British joint declaration was welcomed and endorsed by the whole world. So to urgently and loudly insist that Hong Kong cannot and will not be independent is like banging the table with your fist on prime-time TV and angrily denouncing the ‘totally false proposition’ that the world is flat rather than round. It is ritual self-humiliation in order to prove loyalty – a public kowtow and backside-lick of the most nauseating type.

The funny thing is: the more you do this sort of thing and convince Beijing of your suitability to be Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the more the people of the city will see you as slimy and unacceptable (yes, even if you are pretty odious to begin with).

Among his other blather: ‘gradual and orderly approach’ to political development (an outdated slogan – he’s a bit out of touch); ‘balanced participation’ (code for ‘functional constituencies’, thus rigged votes and favours for vested interests); and contribution to ‘one belt, one road’ in the form of ‘lawyers and accountants’ (excuse me while I slash my wrists). He also says Hong Kong students should be ‘more creative and adaptable’. I declare the weekend open with the hopeful and scintillating thought that, faced with Antony ‘Lexus’ Leung as a possible Chief Executive, they definitely will be.

Stan-Bridge2

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Anti-independence panic gives way to wall of money

Today’s Big Story was supposed to be the tragic and disastrous collapse in Mainland tourist arrivals into Hong Kong, which is all the fault of teenagers waving flags in Sheung Shui, which behaviour in turn highlights the necessity for anti-independence laws. Rapacious capitalist landlords, dictatorial Communist patriots and the decent, sensible, law-abiding 99% of the public would thus unite to denounce evil foreign-influenced uneducated dissident bad elements aiming to destroy our livelihoods and the nation. Awkwardly, Hong Kong experiences at this very moment a Mainland flood everyone can live with: southbound cash pouring into the local stock market. So the ‘pro-dem separatists ruin precious tourism industry’ frenzy fails to make it onto the front pages.

SingTao-HSI

It is a case of too many officials getting too desperate about too many things all at the same time.

SCMP-ComingIn Hong Kong, the administration is feeling the heat from Beijing’s representatives and sympathizers – and the accompanying shoe-shiners – about pro-independence forces. Although no such movement exists in any substantial form, they must be seen to take it seriously. The Justice Secretary issues a statement clarifying that independence is inconsistent with Hong Kong’s constitutional status, and (he feels a need to add) with its interests. At the same time, the luxury retail chains are feeling the pinch. The ‘alarming’ year-on-year fall in Mainland visitor numbers (479,000 to 447,000) seems pretty minor, so the up-market shops are clearly feeling the effects of a weak Euro and China’s anti-corruption campaign. (Easter is not a holiday in the Mainland, and Ching Ming last year was 10 days before Easter, so comparison between the two periods’ arrivals figures is probably meaningless. Sadly.)

Meanwhile, up in Beijing the Central People’s Government is desperate about a possible economic downturn. With startling originality, the country’s leaders are trying to ramp up asset prices. Retail investors are putting savings (and borrowed money) into the Shanghai and Shenzhen markets, pushing prices up (to seriously weird levels in the case of obscure tech companies). This makes Hong Kong-listed shares of Mainland companies look relatively cheap, so cash comes down the Stock Connect channel to buy them. Seeing what analysts politely call the ‘momentum’, local funds join in the fun. From my window, I can see pro-independence activists ditching their colonial flags and lining up outside a brokerage to open day-trading accounts.

As we all know and fully appreciate, under ‘one-country-two-systems’, Beijing’s wishes come first, Hong Kong’s second. So our local administration’s mass-bed-wetting freak-out about pro-independence forces will be suspended until further notice while the Wall of Mainland Money Through-Train Frenzy takes place.

Stan-Records

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Post-holiday recovery

That five-day break zipped past all too quickly. For some, however, it must have seemed like an eternity. I am thinking of the poor wretches who saw fit to visit Hong Kong’s outlying islands over the weekend. By all accounts, they stood in line for hours under the hot sun just to get on a ferry, and would have found the narrow streets of Lamma, Cheung Chau or Peng Chau horribly crowded once they arrived.

I know a few had grave-sweeping duties to perform, but most went voluntarily for supposed fun. They would have arrived at the Central ferry piers to see huge lines of other holidaymakers already there – and they queued up to go anyway. I don’t get this: everyone else is doing something, therefore we must do it too. Surely the rational and sane thing to do is to turn round and go somewhere, anywhere, else.

For example, they could have enjoyed the 1980s ambience (and air-conditioning) of the Wing On food hall and its unpredictable and unusual range of goods. At the moment, they have a Malaysian products promotion, including pandan salty peacake – a crumbly pastry you don’t see every day, at least in Central…

PandanPeacake

I also picked up a mystery brand of canned mutton curry. Not thrilling, but certainly much more fun than standing for hours with thousands of others to pack myself into Lamma. (Just visible top right: holiday industriousness in the form of new batches of sauerkraut and kimchee, which in this warm weather started fermenting in minutes.)

On the subject of Lamma, I wonder if the ‘tourists’ (mainly Hong Kong urbanites) who go there realize what a strange place it is. The report of a tragedy on Friday sounds almost like a short story with every Lamma cliché thrown in…

…Linda passed away in a fire at her home about 1:30am, Good Friday. No one is exactly sure what happened, but here are some details. Jill, her near neighbour reported an explosion and fireball at about 01:30 which set the trees in Linda’s garden on fire … She had been especially poorly since the Wednesday before the Rugby Sevens which was the last time I saw her and helped her get up the hill to her hovel-cum-home.

…Her three dogs, Puppy Duck, Chok and Paley were able to get out and are unharmed. Dr. John Wedderburn might be caring for them short term, but they’re going to need new owners quickly.

Linda had said she didn’t mind if they were split up if that made it easier to home them. Here’s hoping that will happen. I don’t like the thought of her mostly harmless dogs (Yeah, they had a few nip attacks on people and other dogs now and then, but that isn’t because they’re bad dogs. Just insufficient training which Linda was too weak to carry out) being put to death. Especially when such lowlife scum like Blair/Bush/Cameron/Cheney and their Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Labour fellow misfits from the shallow polluted end of the human gene pool are still flopping and wallowing about…

Anyway, the house is gutted. The plastic roof has melted along with the support beams and most of the furniture … It was a grim house in ways. Jez the magician choked to death on aspirated vomit up there one Xmas night at the turn of the Millennium. Alan died of a heart attack up there a few years ago. His body wasn’t found for about three days.

…Linda never really got over Alan’s death. Especially the realisation that she had been sleeping about five feet above his body before the police found him. … Our extended Lamma family is one link less now. The thought of that is hurtful. Seeing as today is Good Friday, I hope their reconciliation on the astral plane starts soon…

A lot to take in. A deadly explosion. Three dogs, each named, ‘mostly harmless’ (‘a few nip attacks’), and the importance of  re-housing them in order to avoid a fate more deserved by Dick Cheney. A melted plastic roof. And then we learn that two other deaths occurred in the same house: the partner Dave, who was there unnoticed for days, and (no fiction writer would dare go this far) ‘Jez the magician’. Who drowned in his own vomit. At Christmas. Reunions, hopefully, on astral plane. Only in Lamma.

Which brings us rather neatly to the issue of the naming of dogs. The Standard reports that to do so for four Labrador pups will be a ‘rare distinction’. The animals concerned were, the paper tells us, recently born ‘for the first time’ (as opposed to being reincarnated after previous lives, with intervals no doubt on the astral plane). (Or maybe it means it’s the first time Labradors have been born in Hong Kong – but that sounds unlikely or unknowable.) When it says ‘from Taiwan parents’, I immediately envision the canines springing from humans, but I guess dogs can be Taiwanese too. No word on whether the creatures are prone to ‘nip attacks’. Anyway, the future guide dogs must have names beginning with ‘H’. It’s as good a way as any to get back into the daily routine after a lengthy holiday…

DogNames

OK – I think I’ve got it: the dogs have been born before, but not in Hong Kong. That must be it.

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TV station no-one watches to close

The South China Morning Post reports a mysterious signature campaign purportedly aimed at cajoling at least some pro-democrat lawmakers into voting for the government’s proposed political reforms. Although the idea is attributed to moderate non-lawmaker democrats, no names are given.

The petition reportedly says that even a fake-democracy election in which all Hong Kong people can vote will offer the hope that greater public pressure will come to bear on the city’s leadership than under the current system. This is a reasonable argument. But so is the pro-veto one – that endorsing and embracing Beijing’s fake-democracy system will legitimize future Mainlandization and all the other ongoing crap. The fact is, both claims make some sense and both are imposSCMP-petitionsible to prove one way or the other.

Officials have been reluctant to employ the ‘greater public pressure’ argument. The whole issue of political influence and power is too sensitive to discuss out loud. The Communist Party has all ultimate power. It co-opts ‘various sectors’ like property tycoons with commercial benefits and a bit of influence. Influence/power is a zero-sum thing: give more to one person or group, and by definition you take it away from others. If the proposed ‘fake democracy’ system does increase the public’s influence over the Chief Executive (theoretically possible even in a pre-screened competitive race), who would lose it? It must come from somewhere.

To put it another way, if an official like Chief Secretary Carrie Lam or some Liaison Office ogre openly promised that the tycoons would have less clout if the package went through, the pro-dems would have no choice but to vote it in. Then again, Beijing could strip the tycoons of whatever influence they have at any time (leaving aside that it’s more illusion than substance) with no need for a political reform package. It all comes down to whether the Communist Party is constitutionally capable of relinquishing just a bit of control, even within a definite and managed framework. Whoever is behind the ‘petition’ is arguing that it can.

For a clue as to whether they are correct (or being honest), let’s move on to the big story today: the Hong Kong government will not renew ATV’s broadcasting licence. Since the SCMP-curtainsstation is unable to pay its staff, let alone produce worthwhile programming, this is hardly surprising. But the story offers a microcosm of the contradictions Hong Kong has to deal with as a free society and market under the sovereignty of a one-party state.

Not many people like to spell it out, but the basic rule is that no-one can operate a TV or radio station in Hong Kong unless the Chinese Communist Party is OK with them. The result is an industry that has increasingly been run by shoe-shiners and even buffoons. This secret, unwritten policy was pretty much on display when the government denied a licence to Ricky Wong’s HKTV in 2013 while giving the go-ahead to Beijing-loyalist tycoons’ rival services.

For reasons we can only wonder at, a self-consciously pro-Beijing corporate culture sadly tends to eat away at the creative vision and flair that make for great – or even average – media companies. As ATV became more ‘red’, its ratings predictably dwindled. Traditional print and broadcast models are having a tough enough time, without driving audiences away with pro-Communist propaganda. Little surprise that for much of the politically aware younger generation, the main or even sole source of news and comment (and entertainment) is on-line.

Leaving the public-service RTHK aside, the nearest to a bold and independent broadcast presence in Hong Kong will now be the newly licenced HKTVE run by Richard Li – number-two son of uber-tycoon Li Ka-shing. For possible reasons we will gloss over (of a sibling-rivalry/Oedipus nature), the boy Richard has a maverick streak that has led him to do wacky things like buy advertising in the pro-democracy Civic Party’s publication. But essentially, broadcasting in Hong Kong looks set to be ever-more ‘harmonized’, and less watched and less profitable with it. Crush the life out of something. This is success, Communist dictatorship-style.

I declare the five-day weekend open with a treat for heraldry (or just design) fans I just found tucked away in my photos folders…

AmadaTann

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