Did anyone think this through?

The Cable TV news service on KCR MTR trains is all about the earthquake in Sichuan.  Would it therefore not be possible (just for a day or two) to drop the idiotic advertising that takes up about 50% of the screen whilst the news is being broadcast? 

Distressing pictures of earthquake victims do not sit well with advertising for products we really don't need. 

Then, of course, in the "breaks", they show one of the lavish ads for The Palazzo...   

Surely SIM mistake

When I read that an Indian-born doctor living in Australia had been charged with giving "reckless support" to terrorism for giving someone a SM card, it looked rather odd but I supposed they must have had some more compelling evidence. Er, no.

At first the British police claimed that this SIM card had been found in the burning jeep that was crashed into the doors of Glasgow Airport last month.  Then they admitted that it had actually been found in a house in Liverpool where two of the suspects Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed had been living.  Mohammed Haneef is their second cousin and had stayed with them when he was in the UK.  He had given them his SIM card when he left the country (as it would be no use to him). 

This is part of a piece from last Wednesday's Guardian (The Australia connection) which alerted me to the fact that he was still in custody:

Haneef was put under surveillance by the Australian authorities, and then arrested 47 hours after the Glasgow incident in the departure lounge at Brisbane International Airport. He was about to board Singapore Airlines flight 246 on a one-way ticket back to India. He claimed he was on his way home to see his wife, Firdous Arshiya, who had just given birth to their daughter there.

The police suspected that his hasty departure was down to him having had some involvement, or knowledge of, the British terror plot, and 12 days later he was charged. At a magistrate's hearing to determine whether he should be allowed bail, the police revealed their case against him. A mobile phone Sim card that Haneef had left behind in the UK had been found in the burnt-out Jeep at Glasgow; he had admitted sharing a house in Liverpool with the two Ahmeds; and he had not given a satisfactory explanation of why he had suddenly decided to leave Australia.

The bail application was expected to fail, but the magistrate, Jacqui Payne, was underwhelmed by the facts set out by police. Noting that there was no direct evidence linking the 27-year-old to the British attacks, she ordered that he be freed, but that his passport be confiscated and that he report regularly to police.

The move took the government and the police, who had been expecting Haneef to stay in custody, by surprise. Later that day came the reaction: immigration minister Kevin Andrews said he was revoking Haneef's work visa on the grounds that he "reasonably suspected" that Haneef had been associating with persons involved in criminal conduct, namely terrorism, and that Haneef would remain in detention. Andrews also implied that there was a secret dossier of evidence against Haneef that was still being assessed and had not been made public for fear of compromising further investigations.

It is now clear that there was no "secret dossier" and he really was on his way to see his wife in India.  So he was freed, as the BBC reported on Friday:

An Indian doctor has been freed from custody in Australia after charges linked to the failed bomb attacks in the UK were droppedDr Mohamed Haneef was released into home detention while he awaits a decision on his immigration status.

The 27-year-old had his visa revoked after he was charged with giving "reckless support" to terrorism.  The charge was withdrawn on Friday after Australia's chief prosecutor admitted "a mistake has been made".

The case - which also threw new anti-terror laws under the spotlight - triggered concern from both legal and civil rights groups.

It seems that there is still some doubt about whether he will be able to stay in Australia, and the government don't seem to regret what happened (PM won't apologise to Dr Haneef )

Mr Howard said mistakes happened from time to time and when dealing with terrorism, it was better to be safe than sorry.

"Australia will not be apologising to Dr Haneef," Mr Howard told reporters in Sydney.

"Dr Haneef was not victimised and Australia's international reputation has not been harmed by this 'mis-start' to its new anti-terrorism laws."

Mr Howard said he supported the AFP and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who revoked Dr Haneef's visa earlier this month, just hours after a Brisbane court had granted him bail.

Despite the collapse of the case, Mr Andrews has refused to reinstate the visa unless the Indian national's lawyers successfully appeal against the decision in the Federal Court.

It's understandable that governments take a cautious line when it comes to anything related to terrorism, but if mistakes are made then what harm does it do to admit that you were wrong?  Especially as the error seems to have been made by the British police. 

38 honeymoons?

I felt a strange sense of deja vu when I finally got round to reading an article about the Maldives in the Christmas & New Year edition of The Economist:

IN THE Seagull Café a young man is talking quietly to two others who are taking notes. He is describing how he was tortured in prison and by whom. Sipping his espresso at the next table, Ahmed Abbas, a leading opposition figure and cartoonist, is eavesdropping. He is puzzled: not by the torture victim's routine tale, but by the identities of the three men. How can it be he does not know them?

This is a vignette not from the dying days of some despotic East European country, but from a day this September in Male, capital of the Maldives, a tropical paradise. The country is a clutch of atolls, with some 1,200 coral islands, about 200 of which are inhabited, strung like so many pearls in a necklace across hundreds of miles of the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives is best known as an upmarket tourist destination, with miraculous marine life and luxurious beachside bungalows offering the ultimate in romantic holiday hideaways. It is also known as the country likely to be the first to drown when global warming raises sea levels. The devastating tsunami of December 2004 seemed in the Maldives, more than anywhere else, a herald of the apocalypse. But the country is also gaining attention for a third reason: political and social ferment among its 300,000 people.

Why?  Because a few days earlier, The Guardian had a similar article:

There's a cafe just outside arrivals at Hulhulé airport. Sit at one of the little aluminium tables, under the sign reminding passengers of the harsh penalties for drug traffickers, and you'll see the holiday-makers arrive.

The ones on the cheaper packages - families and budget divers - wait for their holiday reps. The richer types, perma-tanned middle-aged couples and upscale honeymooners, are greeted by neatly-uniformed men who whisk them off in speedboats to islands with $3,000-a-night water villas, personal butlers, infinity pools and brochure copy peppered with phrases such as "redefining luxury".

These are the places you read about in travel pages, usually under headlines containing the word "paradise". You may have noticed that you read about paradise rather a lot. There always seems to be a free trip for a writer to suffer a week of pampering in return for a few bland paragraphs. You may have also noticed what's missing from all those articles: people.

Ah, yes, The Economist did indeed call it a "tourist paradise" but they also cover most of the issues highlighted by The Guardian, whilst noting that most visitors to the Madives are not interested in the country they are visiting:

But, as Mr Shougee points out, many of the Maldives' visitors are less interested in experiencing a new country than in exploring each other. Many are on honeymoon. Mohamed Ibrahim Didi, of the Full Moon resort, near Male, says that 12% of its customers are newly-weds and a further 38% are “repeaters”. (One man has come back 38 times. It is not clear how many weddings that involved.)

Both also mention the role of a British PR firm in promoting the Maldives:

In 2004 [..] The Economist received an e-mail from Hill & Knowlton, a British public-relations firm, which announced, in effect, that on June 9th the Maldives was to become a democracy. Mr Gayoom's supporters had always portrayed him as a revered, popular leader, endorsed six times by a huge popular mandate. But even he seemed to have accepted that not all was well, and promised a raft of radical-looking democratic reforms. The process is supposed to culminate in a new constitution and competitive multi-party elections in 2008. Some reformist members of his government—the “new Maldives caucus”—take advice on policy and its presentation from Hill & Knowlton. The government has even held talks with the opposition.

Both newspapers (yes, The Economist likes to think of itself as a newspaper rather than a magazine), are unsure whether the government has any real intention of introducing democracy, though (unsurprisingly) The Guardian seems more cynical.  However, tourism will continue regardless, and is so important to the Maldives that even those who are pushing for changes don't want to stop visitors from coming and spending money.

Finally, The Guardian reports that there is a contingency plan for global warming:

The government is building a 2m-high artificial island next to Malé, the national equivalent of standing on stilts.

It's worth a try, I suppose.

Diego Garcia

I know that John Pilger is a bleeding heart liberal, but if even half of this is true then the British Government has behaved in a totally outrageous way:

During the 1960s and 1970s, British governments, both Labour and Tory, tricked and expelled the entire population of the Chagos, a British colonial dependency, so that their homeland could be given to a foreign power, the United States, as the site for a military base. This "act of mass kidnapping", as one observer describes it, was carried out in high secrecy, along with the conspiracy that preceded it.

For almost a decade, neither parliament nor the US Congress knew anything about it, and no journalist revealed it. BBC newsreaders still refer to US aircraft flying out to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq from the "uninhabited" island of Diego Garcia. Not only was the Chagossians' homeland stolen from them, but they were taken out of history. This scandal is unresolved today - even though the high court in London has twice ruled that the islanders' "wholesale removal" was an "abject legal failure".

Worth reading, I think.

All just a big misunderstanding

Mark Thatcher was once described as "a sort of Harrovian Arthur Daley with a famous mum", and until recently he was famous mainly for getting lost for six days in in the Sahara desert.  He is one of those mysterious people who appears not to be very bright, and has many failed business ventures to demonstrate this (he is supposed to have dabbled in the Hong Kong business world many years ago), but in spite of this he has managed to become very rich (I suppose that marrying a Texan heiress helped).

He was recently given a four-year suspended sentence for his part in helping to bankroll an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. He pleaded guilty to the charges, paid a large fine and was allowed to leave South Africa. He is now living with his Mum in the UK, but had hoped to join his wife and family in the US.

Unfortunately he has been refused a visa for the United States, even though he promised them that he was only interested in overthrowing the governments of small African countries.  He seems to regard the criminal record as a mere technicality:

"It was always a calculated risk when I plea bargained in South Africa. As a result of this decision, I shall make the family home in Europe, not the UK, and my family will be joining me as soon as arrangements are made."

Right. He paid a £265,000 fine and was sentenced to four years in prison (albeit suspended), and the US government takes the view that he is a criminal. I wonder what ever gave them that idea?

275,000,000 miles

So what did I do with my useless Asia Miles (see below)?  Well, I gave them to charity - and I wasn’t the only one.  Amazingly, it seems that in the last couple of weeks Asia Miles customers have donated 137 million miles to the tsunami appeal.  Asia Miles offered to match those donations, so that means they have a total of 275 million miles for UNICEF, Oxfam and other charities.  Which is just about enough for an economy class flight to Colombo, by my reckoning. No, it isn’t - I think it’s actually about 10,000 return flights within Asia.  At a conservative value of US$500 per flight, that’s US$5m.  Not bad, especially considering that many of those miles would otherwise have been wasted.        

Assuming that they can actually use those miles (and trying to be a bit less cynical, I’m sure that Cathay Pacific and other airlines will do their best to let them travel when they need to do so) I’m sure that it will help. 

Less than the cost of dim sum

I didn't see yesterday's SCMP, but apparently it had a self-congratulatory story about the generosity of Hong Kong people under the headline:

HK leads the world in tsunami relief

The figures apparently show that whilst the Hong Kong government has not been very generous (giving less than US$4m), individuals have donated an average of US$7 each.  I have to say that my first reaction is that US$7 isn't all that much considering salary levels here, but I'm not sure what to compare it with.

It's also very hard to make sense of these numbers.  Do "private" donations include the money given by very rich businessmen?  Come to that, does anyone really know exactly how much money has been donated to the large number of charities?

I think it's fair enough to report on the amounts that have been donated, but making comparisons with other countries is not very helpful.  For one thing it's still early days and doubtless there will be more fund-raising in the coming weeks.  Also, I doubt that the figures are particularly accurate (for example, they say that private donations in the UK total US$140m, but today's Sun claims that the figure is close to US$200m).  Also, there's no figure for Singapore, a rich country that would have surely been even more affected by this tragedy than Hong Kong.

It all seems rather unedifying.  I feel a similar unease about the emphasis placed on the comparatively small number of Hong Kong residents missing or killed, and the headlines in the UK given to the latest estimate of around 200 Brits presumed dead. 

Boris Johnson, writing in today's Daily Telegraph (free registration required) has another suggestion for how to help the people of Sri Lanka - abolish tarrifs on bras. 

If you are an Englishwoman, the chances are that you wear a bra, and if you wear a bra, there is a very high probability that you bought that garment at Marks & Spencer, and if you bought your bra at M & S it is a racing certainty that your bra was made in Sri Lanka.

Actually, I doubt it.  It could well have come from China or Indonesia or any number of other countries around the world.  However, it is a very good point - if the rich world wanted to help poorer countries, one easy step would be to abolish quotas and tarrifs (and stop dumping surplus agricultural produce), so I'm certainly with Boris on that one, though I'm somewhat at a loss to understand what relevance it has to the tsunami. 


I haven't felt like posting anything for the last few days.  I don't have anything original or incisive to say about the earthquake and Tsunami, and the ever-rising death toll makes it seem inappropriate to write about anything else.

BWG posted a comment to my earlier post, mentioning a new collective effort by a group of bloggers about The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami and I'll highlight it here for anyone who is interested.

Happy New Year, and I hope that normal service will be resumed on Monday.

The news doesn't get any better

It's hard to escape from the aftermath of Sunday's earthquake.  Today's newspaper is full of grisly photographs of dead bodies, and for once it seems appropriate (though I am sure there will still be complaints). 

As feared, the death toll is still rising, though it's a sobering thought that (as Harry reminds us), it will still fall far short of the number who died in Tangshan, China in 1976.  The official estimate was around 250,000, but the figure may well have been substantially higher. 

I can't really add anything useful to what others have said.  Shaky has pointed out that there is already a comprehensive Wikipedia article on the subject:

Based on one seismic model, some of the smaller islands southwest of Sumatra have moved southwest up to 20 m (66 ft). The northern tip of Sumatra, which is on the Burma Plate as opposed to the southern regions on the Sunda Plate, may also have moved southwest up to 36 m (120 ft).

It's really hard to comprehend the enormity of it all.