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February 2008

January 2008

Chinese news in English

Tau Tiul Yat Bow has a very simple concept - take the top story from HK Headline News (a free Chinese language newspaper) and translate the headline into English.

"Staff have no right to ask for alcohol test"
職員 ( jig yuen ) = staff
無權 ( mo queng ) = no right
要求 ( yau qui ) = request
吹波波 ( chui ball ball ) = alcohol test
黃宏發 ( wong hong fat ) = 1997 legislative council member
( zui ) = drunk
( now ) = disturb
港鐵 ( kong tit ) = MTR
( zhang ) = station
http://www.hkheadline.com/news/html_wnn/html/2008/1/25/wnn43270.html?section_name=wnn

Apologies, but I've forgotten where I saw this mentioned.


Late delivery

The SCMP likes to think it is a serious important newspaper.  In truth it's a local newspaper that prints lots of agency stories.

Here's one of the letters published in today's 'Talkback' about a matter of great international concern (subscription required):

I would like to complain about the poor service of Plaza Hollywood ParknShop.

My wife bought a number of items on January 17 and asked that they be delivered to our home. However, the days passed and still there was no delivery.

On a number of occasions we called the store but nobody answered. On four occasions, we actually went to the store and were given different explanations each time we approached a member of staff.

We were told they had the wrong address, that nobody answered at the address and that the delivery vehicle had broken down.

Finally, on January 23 the goods arrived. I do not believe I should have had to wait for so long, six days, for the delivery of my shopping.

Joe Fung, Choi Hung


Down as well as Up

I have no idea what to make of the Hong Kong stock market.  In the last few weeks it seems to have become routine for the HSI to go up or down by hundreds of points for no reason at all, so in response to a general fall in stock markets all over the world, it wasn't all that surprising that it contrived to fall by 2,000 points (8%).

HSI chartThat means the index has fallen by 14% in two days.  Yes, the prospect of a recession in the US is a worry, but is the average Hong Kong company really worth 14% less tonight than it was on Sunday night?  Don't think so.  On the other hand, the earlier rise to nearly 32,000 was clearly absurd - and current levels do seem more reasonable.  But, hey, I know nothing, so I'm not going to risk a prediction. 

One thing I can confidently say is that lots of so-called experts will give us their predictions, and we will hear much about 200 day moving averages and key support levels and other variations on gibberish.  But the fact is that they don't know whether the market will fall another 1,000 points or rebound or just becoming boring again (though I have to admit that the latter seems the least likely of the three).


All made up

About a week ago, I came across a strange story about a pair of twins getting married.  I think it first surfaced on the BBC website (Parted-at-birth twins 'married') - where the use of inverted commas around the last word indicated that it was not a verified fact. 

This all seemed a bit too much like an urban myth, so I was rather surprised when it was then picked up by most British newspapers, who were only too happy to add some extra detail to help things along. 

When I say "add", of course I mean "make up".  Because it's all based upon nothing more than a rather vague statement made by a politician, who admitted that he had no first-hand knowledge of the case.  So no-one could verify exactly whether it was true or not - though a few simple enquiries might have helped to establish that it probably wasn't.

In spite of this, the story was spreading all round the world, even making it on to Reuter's "Oddly Enough" where at least it was reported without any embellishments, and with a worthwhile caveat:

Alton could not immediately be reached for comment and no further information was available about the twins or where they were from.

So hats off to Heresy Corner, a blog that wondered what exactly was going on here (Lord Alton's Tall Story): 

The story of the twins who allegedly got married, only to discover their relationship and seek a High Court annulment, continues to be reported uncritically by news organisations around the world. BBC News gave it prominent coverage on all its major bulletins last night, and the sensational tale has been reported as far afield as India and New Zealand.

So far, however, there remains only a single source for it: a speech by Lord Alton in the House of Lords. Since this story made international headlines yesterday, it's a little surprising to discover that he made the speech, in a debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, a whole month ago, on December 10th 2007. Anyway, this is what Lord Alton, a former Lib Dem MP who is now a cross-bencher, told the House:

I was recently in conversation with a High Court judge who was telling me of a case he had dealt with. This did not involve in vitro fertilisation; it involved the normal birth of twins who were separated at birth and adopted by separate parents. They were never told that they were twins. They met later in life and felt an inevitable attraction, and the judge had to deal with the consequences of the marriage that they entered into and all the issues of their separation. I suspect that it will be a matter of litigation in the future if we do not make information of this kind available to children who have been donor conceived.

That's it. No names, no dates, no context, no evidence. And that is where it might have remained, buried away in the pages of Hansard.

Except that some eagle-eyed journalist (come forward and take your bow) happened upon it. As it sped around the world, it became, as such stories tend to, steadily more specific in its details, until the News of the World, in its appeal for information, is able to claim,

Their marriage was annulled at the High Court at a special hearing held within the last 12 months.

What's their source for this assertion, I wonder?

A vivid imagination, I fear.

Continue reading "All made up" »


Apple TV

Some people get very excited about announcements from Apple.  I don't. 

The truth is that I am not going to rush out and buy any of these fine gadgets, and anyway Hong Kong doesn't appear to feature in Apple's plans (we still don't have the iTunes store or the iPhone) - so although the new version of Apple TV seems like a step in the right direction, it isn't all that much use in Hong Kong because we can't rent (or purchase) films though the device.

However, it may be quite a significant development.  It seems to me that rather than a battle between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, what we are really seeing is a 3-way battle - the different flavours of DVD vs. illegal downloads vs. legal downloads.  For the last of the three. the concept of Apple TV seems exactly right - thousands of movies and TV shows that can be downloaded to a small box to watch on TV, and no horrible computer.   

Meanwhile, there are plenty of bits of hardware coming along that make it very simple to play Divx videos on your TV.  The movie companies must surely realize that if they don't offer legal downloads in a convenient form (whether through Apple TV or something else) people will find alternatives.  Hence their decision to work with Apple, at least in the US.

Given that it'll be a long time before iTunes Store comes to Hong Kong, why don't PCCW do something similar using their Now TV service?  They have technology, but currently all they offer is a pathetically limited selection of "on-demand" movies from HBO, most of which are old or rubbish (or both).   


Mad

This really is the gift that keeps on giving...

I thought Newcastle's board were going to spoil the fun when they said that they would take their time finding a manager and might consider appointing a foreigner.  Gérard Houllier was mentioned, and then Didier Deschamps was suddenly installed as favourite.  They even turned down Alan Shearer's bid for the job.  So far, so good.

Then last night they announced (drum roll) that, er, Kevin Keegan is returning as manager.

That's more like it.  The best part is that in a few months Keegan will get upset about something and resign, and the whole circus can start up again.

scan0002  Incidentally, the SCMP continue to cover this story in their very own special way.  Today's paper has a tiny story announcing Keegan's appointment, but on Tuesday (I think it was) they managed to find a prominent position for the bizarre 'news' that "former Newcastle United manager Graeme Souness insists he would return to St James' Park "in a heartbeat"."

scan0001Well, yes, but only as a spectator, I think you'll find.  This is a very thin story from the Press Association (Souness keen on Newcastle return) that certainly didn't merit the prominence given to it by the SCMP.  It's just possible that Souness will find another job, but it ain't gonna be somewhere he failed in the past.

The Newcastle board may be crazy, but they're certainly not as crazy as that.


The dream team

I see that Harry Redknapp somehow managed to resist the temptation of a few months up on Tyneside followed by the inevitable departure "by mutual consent".  Makes you wonder why they were in such a hurry to sack Allardyce if they didn't have a replacement lined up.   

Mark Hughes now seems to be the firm favourite - which makes sense if they really are looking for a British manager working in the Premiership.  By my reckoning, the other options are Steve Coppell (who certainly doesn't want that kind of hassle), Alex Ferguson, and a bunch of managers who have been in their current jobs for only a few weeks. 

Although Alan Shearer doesn't want the job and is not likely to be offered it, newspapers are not giving up just yet.  Harry Redknapp says that he'd give Shearer the job ("I think he's perfect for it") though I don't think anyone's interested in his opinion.  Then there's the enticing possibility of a "dream team" with Kevin Keegan (who has also "refused to rule himself out").  Well, that would be fun.

Which reminds me that Everton were once so desperate that they considered appointing ex-player and TV presenter Andy Gray as their manager, though he was wise enough to turn it down.      

Martin Kelner had more on mutual consent in The Guardian:

It seems there is more mutual consent going round the world of football than at a meeting of the Barbra Streisand Appreciation Society in a Brighton nightclub. As always, for clarification in these matters, one turns to Sky Sports News, which became your 24-hour Big Sam station (slogan: All Sam, All Day, Don't Touch That Dial), as soon as the news broke. A clue that consent had not played a major part in the termination came from the fact that Big Sam did not realise he had given his consent until he was told he had by a Sky reporter.

The departing manager's first interview, through the window of his car as he drove away from Newcastle, in which he said "I'm shocked, I didn't expect it", was a further indication that Big Sam had not actually consented to anything, unless they are serving Rohypnol at board meetings up there these days.

[..]

The whole business is uncannily reminiscent of the story, possibly apocryphal, of Tommy Docherty's departure from Derby "by mutual consent". "Now then lad," one of the directors is supposed to have said, "we don't want any blabbing to the press. Let's keep it all amicable," handing Tommy a cheque. The Doc studied the figures on the cheque for a moment, shook his head and said: "You're going to have to be more amicable than that."

It is all about money, I suppose.


Fired by mutual consent

Yet another Premier League manager has been fired, and once again it is by 'mutual consent', as if that meant anything: 

"Sorry, Sam, you're fired."
"OK."

It was a shock, but not a surprise.  For several weeks Sam Allardyce has looked to be under a lot of pressure, but I think everyone assumed that he would be given a bit longer to prove himself. 

After all, he was given a 3 year contract at the start of the season, and Newcastle are in mid-table, so you'd hardly think that panic measures were indicated.

Yes, the fans didn't like the football Newcastle were playing, and some of Big Sam's signing haven't looked too clever, but was it really necessary to make a change right now?

Newcastle fans were apparently looking wistfully in the direction of Alan Shearer, but that always seemed like wishful thinking - things are considerably different to how they were when Kevin Keegan was drafted in.  Apart from anything else, Shearer doesn't have the coaching badges he would need, and having spent his time since retirement playing golf and being on the telly, he certainly doesn't have the excuses that Gareth Southgate was able to offer up. 

The speculation is that Harry Redknapp is the man that Newcastle want, but does he really want to work so far away from his family home in Dorset?  OK, it's a big challenge, and I'm sure they will pay him handsomely, but so many top managers (and Graeme Souness) have been sacked by Newcastle that Redknapp must know how it's likely to end.

Here's an idea.  Hire a good young manager and give him enough time to sort things out.  No, it won't happen.


Slow train to Hamburg

Most of the products that are exported from China to Europe go by boat.  Yes, some go by air, but that's an expensive option.

Yesterday an agreement was signed to set up a regular freight train service that will take 18 days to get from Beijing to Hamburg, less than half the time it takes by sea.

China Daily has the details:

Railway authorities from six countries Wednesday signed a memorandum on expanding cooperation on railway transport that is expected to boost trade and cargo flows between Asia and Europe.

The six countries - China, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany - agreed to create conditions that will pave the way for a regular container train service between Asia and Europe.

Makes sense, I suppose. 


Eat, drink and be merry

Two recent studies say that drinking moderately is good for you (and that exercise helps a lot).

The first survey also concludes that it's OK to be overweight as long as you eat your sprouts:

People who adopt four principles for a healthy lifestyle can add as much as 14 years to their lives, a study revealed today.

Researchers found that not smoking, taking exercise, drinking in moderation and eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day can have a huge impact on life expectancy.

Academics at Cambridge University monitored the health of 20,000 men and women aged between 45 and 79 from Norfolk between 1993 and 2006.

The study concluded: "The results strongly suggest that these four achievable lifestyle changes could have a marked improvement on the health of middle-aged and older people, which is particularly important given the ageing population in the UK and other European countries."

The research showed that a person's social class or body mass index (BMI) had no role to play in life expectancy.

Moderate drinkers are at 30% lower risk of heart disease than teetotallers, according to a study of nearly 12,000 people. And those who combine a mild tipple with regular exercise are even less likely to die of the disease. Their risk is between 44% and 50% lower than couch potatoes who abstain from alcohol.

The second survey is specifically about heart disease.

The team behind the 20-year study said that previous research has shown that moderate drinking and exercise both lower the risk of heart disease. But this is the first time scientists have quantified the benefits of both together.

"We've known for years that physical activity is good for you and it prevents heart disease. And the same for alcohol - a small amount of alcohol is good for the heart," said Morten Grønbæk, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Copenhagen.

"The new thing about our study is that we look at the combined effects of drinking alcohol and being physically active compared to, for instance, only being physically active and not drinking or drinking but not being physically active ... it's the only study on this issue," Grønbæk said.

His team used data from 11,914 people in Copenhagen. Participants were recruited between 1976 and 1978 and were asked questions about alcohol intake, physical activity and other factors that might influence the results, such as whether they smoked, their education and marital status. Over the next two decades 5,901 of the participants died of a variety of causes and 1,242 developed heart disease.