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March 2011
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Pay more for less

Cory Doctorow in The Guardian (How do you persuade people to pay?) on the muddled strategies of the entertainment industry:

The seemingly straightforward act of purchasing a good or service is fraught with mystery […] and the complexity is multiplied by purchases in the digital world. In the physical realm, there's real danger in taking a good without paying for it (you might be arrested and sent to jail); in the digital realm, that danger is much lower. So much lower, in fact, that the majority of media that changes hands online does so for free and without authorisation.

This fact has occasioned much hand wringing, hair pulling, and legal manoeuvring, and a great deal of rhetoric about why the public "should" buy stuff they can readily get for free.

This rhetoric is often muddy and confused, and at odds with the strategies deployed by the companies and individuals who employ it. For example, the ads shown before film exhibitions and DVDs warn that pirate DVDs are of poor quality and may not play back reliably. At the same time, the manufacturers of DVDs have been going to ever-greater lengths to degrade the quality of legitimate video purchases – lengthy, unskippable adverts; arbitrary geographic playback limitations; even the mandatory installation of "anti-copying" software that hijacks your PC to stop you making an unrestricted copy of the movie.

[..]  I often hear from parents who download unauthorised cartoons for their kids because the DVDs come with long, unskippable (or difficult-to-skip) adverts, the worst of which deploy "pester power" tactics intended to get kids to nag their parents to buy something. As far as these parents are concerned, spending money gets them a product that much worse than the free version.

Well, indeed, and in Hong Kong we often get noisy and irritating propaganda messages that are supposed to persuade us to buy legitimate DVDs.  Whereas the illegal download cuts straight to the chase. 

I notice that Disney are now marketing something called “Easy DVD”.  Could this be a step in the right direction?  I don’t know, because it is only available in Chinese – and if I read the label correctly it is only in 4:3 format so it doesn’t look promising,

Pierce Lam again

Another piece of well-argued rhetoric from Pierce Lam in the SCMP.  Hemlock argues back here.

Official status of English in HK is ancillary

I refer to your one-sided editorial ("Worrying language trend in press release", March 28).

The use of English for official purposes is governed by the Basic Law (Article 9) which does not provide the English language a full official status, but only that it "may also be used" as an official language. The purposeful "may also be" stipulation is meant to limit the use of English to only where it is appropriate. The English language's official status is ancillary; it must not be misconstrued to rank pari passu with the Chinese language.

English stays as an ancillary official language for historical reasons that are fast becoming irrelevant, and not because it is essential for Hong Kong's development. The Chinese language is fully capable of sustainable development for effective use for all human endeavours. For example, anyone who has read mainland universities' Chinese translations of English legal textbooks will appreciate the versatility of the Chinese language.

Demographically, Hong Kong is predominately Chinese, comprising 95 per cent of Chinese, about four per cent of foreign domestic helpers and expatriates from non-English-speaking countries, and one per cent of native English speakers. It is ridiculous for any city with Hong Kong's high degree of homogeneity to embrace the mother tongue of its one per cent foreign minority as a development strategy.

Its foreign population is comprised of migrant workers who are here for economic reasons. They will depart if better economic opportunities can be found elsewhere.

Those who stay should adopt the language of the people who give them the best opportunities of their lives. Native English-speaking residents should be grateful for the special administrative region's bilingual policy which is much more generous than is needed for Hong Kong's developmental need.

A comparison of historical developments of foreign languages in homogenous Chinese communities shows that the English language has never attained in Hong Kong the kind of social acceptance as the Japanese language in pre-war Taiwan. Hong Kong people have resisted thorough immersion in the English-language milieu. No responsible government of a highly homogenous community would enforce the popularisation of a foreign language.

Hong Kong is ill-advised to pursue "international" goals through the use of the English language.

In the European Union, English is rightly recognised as a national language without any international pretension or advantage over other languages. In the Americas, where the use of English is confined to Canada and the US, English can't even claim to be a trans-continental language, let alone an international language.

Hong Kong people have no obligation to support the status quo where English unfairly dominates in all professional fields. They have every reason to develop and promote the use of their mother tongue both locally and internationally.

Pierce Lam, Central