Monday, June 09, 2014

 

How not to do something; or education should not involve misleading students

This image has been a prominent post on several Chinese social media sites for the last several days. I don't actually know if this really happened or not. What is disconcerting is that the education establishment in Hong Kong is screwy enough that something like this is believable.

Without looking at the corrected, second  image below can you answer this question in 20 seconds or less?




I understand the need for standards in education. I understand the desire of parents and schools for their children to receive a quality education. I also have, evidently unlike a lot of the principals or troglocrats in the EMB some training in pedagogy. The problem is that this is a logical reasoning and spacial location question where the picture is upside down. It isn't a counting problem but one which requires thinking skills beyond the level of most 5 year-olds.

When you turn the question over it makes sense as a question about counting


If you want to see if a 5 year-old child can count to 100 you don't ask question with the data upside down and backwards. It doesn't matter how much time they have to answer the question unless you are teaching children to read numbers that are backwards and upside down. This question was inappropriate because if you look at the research on brain development you'd know that children do not develop the ability to think abstractly until about age 11 - 13 so this question would be almost impossible for a 5 year-old to answer.  The area of the brain that thinks abstractly is not functioning yet in a child that young.  

I worked in Hong Kong schools for many years and was constantly frustrated with people setting test questions that looked like this.  They want to make sure that they get children that are intellectually gifted, or they think this sort of stuff shows how academically rigorous the curriculum is in that school. What it really shows is that they don't know what they are doing. The issue should be does the child have the basic skills needed for the grade level not can the test setter trick the children with with tricky questions beyond the child's' ability to comprehend.
 
Worse the question itself is dishonest.  To simply ask "What parking spot # is the car parked in?" implies that the information viewed is essentially correct and misleads students into not looking for problems in the presentation.  If this had appeared as a logical reasoning question in a test for an older child it might serve some value, assuming the question was rephrased to something like;  "There is a problem with the picture below. In order to identify the space the automobile is parked in you must first identify that problem. What is the problem and what is the number of the space the car is parked in?" For questions like this to have any meaning the person setting the test needs to inform the test taker that there is a problem with the question and that figuring out that problem is part of the answer.


Notice, I haven't even complained about the poor grammar in the question. It should have the word "number" spelled out and not use the "#" symbol. But that is a minor issue compared to the other things wrong with this question.

If this was really a question  on an entrance exam for a 1st grade place in a HK school then the person who set that test is little better than a pedophile because they are not testing the ability to count but simply torturing little kids for the fun of it. 

I hope that this is actually some sort of joke that didn't really happen.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger with some training in pedagogy  



Monday, June 02, 2014

 

Leaving Hong Kong

It is funny how things work out sometimes. 

In January of 2012 I took what I thought would be a single contract with the University of Guam. I had been in Hong Kong since 1997 and it was home and I planned to return there. The contract with the UOG was an opportunity for me to more from secondary to tertiary education and I had hoped to be able to return to Hong Kong in three years with a job in one of the universities located in the Pearl of the Orient. I have lived in Hong Kong for almost 1/3 of my life, and it is and probably always will be my home town.

When I left for Guam I sort of put this blog on hold as I viewed my time here as a temporary interlude, a three year working vacation. I was also somewhat tired of the blog. It seemed that despite my best efforts most of the post had been revolving around local Hong Kong politics and I didn't like that. Politics tends to make me angry and I don't really like myself when I am angry. So I needed a break


But things change. The US changed its tax laws so that it is more difficult for US citizens to live over seas. I did well in the job here. I also realized I am old enough to slow down. So here I am three years later about to sign a second contract.  The really pretty-looks 35 years younger than she is-super intelligent- funny- caring-Chinese wife and I just purchased a nearly 1600 square foot house near the UOG. It needs renovation and like most of the typhoon & Earthquake resistant architecture here looks like a machine-gun bunker on the outside with the concrete walls and flat concrete roof. I don't know that we will be here 20 years but I think we will be here a while


Guam is an interesting place. It is sort of like the US 40 years ago only poorer and more Catholic. Sort of like South Texas or Southern California but with less crime. The tourist side of the island pretty and green but the area around the university is rather run-down and dilapidated. Guam is small, about the size of Hong Kong Island but far flatter so lots more useable land and with only 140,000 or so people far less crowed. With only the crudest mass transit you have to have an automobile here. Guam is, compared to many places in the US rather expensive. For instance, we could have gotten a similar house to the one we bought here in Houston for maybe 1/3 as much. Alternately this house would have several orders of magnitude more in Hong Kong

Guam is not a place we probably would have chosen to live for a variety of reasons but here we are.  It is too far away from both my family in West Texas and our daughters' family in the UK. Most things are expensive here. Hong Kong has a much greater variety of foods at far lower prices, especially fruits and vegetables available than Guam every could.

So why stay here? Well, inertia is part of it. It is easier to stay than move and here we are. It is also a good place to transition back to a US that has changed beyond recognition since I left in the mid 1990's. I can't really go back to North Texas or Alabama. Those places have changed so much since I left that I would be an alien in the place I used to live. Better to be an alien in an unfamiliar place. Guam is also close enough to Hong Kong that friends and family there can visit without a huge expense in either money or time. It is only a 5 or 6 hour flight so week-end visits are easy enough. 

Despite all of the issues with Guam I am enjoying painting the spare bedrooms, mowing the yard and planning the renovations for the house. Having banana, mango and macadamia nut trees in the yard is nice. Being able to fish on the weekends is nice. Not having to deal with the Hong Kong air-pollution is really good.

When I was a child I once heard a man, I can't remember who, say; "Everyplace, if it is a free society  is a good place to live but maybe not good in the way you are used to." I think whoever that was that said that was probably a pretty wise person. There are lots of good things about Hong Kong. There are lots of good things about Guam too.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger who used to be from Hong KOng  


Sunday, September 08, 2013

 

The Three Stooges


The blogger Burt Prelutsky recently wrote “Every day in just about every way, the world keeps getting spookier. Not necessarily in a Stephen King/Dean Koontz kind of spooky way, but more in a Three Stooges nonsensical sort of way.[i]  Perhaps it is just that in modern places like Hong Kong we are increasingly reliant upon technology that we don’t really understand or perhaps it has always been that way and we were too young, unobservant or busy to notice. It might even be a combination of the two.

A last option, one less comfortable to think about is that it isn’t the world that is becoming nonsensical but us.

Upon reflection it seems that the world has always been pretty much what it is. Rocks and trees and birds and bees and the whole mélange[ii]  that comprise nature seem to be pretty much the same as they’ve always been, at least in the last million years or so. Maybe it is people that have changed since I was a child.  The nonsensical thing is we don’t look any different but we are different; though I am not sure we are better for the differences.

You do not have to be very old to remember people not needing to have security gates in front of their doors or alarms on their automobiles; many people can remember a time when manners were the normal mode of behavior. It wasn’t a simpler time, just less electronic. It wasn’t a more innocent time because we all, every one of us, were beset by the same temptations faced by people today. It was a time when the world made sense.  Some of this is just growing older because I think almost everyone looks back on their childhood or youth as a golden-age. But, there is more to it than that.  

Perhaps the world appears nonsensical to us because we engage in nonsense. The Three Stooges are funny precisely because they react to events in socially, psychologically and morally nonsensical ways. The eye-poke, the pie in the face the saw across the ears are only funny because as much as we might want to act at least occasionally by poking an eye or throwing a pie we don’t. Our laughter is a nervous, hand over the mouth laugh while looking to either side, hoping that nobody else knows what’s in our heart.

We have all felt the appeal of the criminal. We can all secretly agree with H.L Mencken who wrote that:"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats (iii)" 

The late Mark Heard put it less humorously  when he sang; 

"Now and then the criminal in my skin lets out a sigh
He'd like to think he's innocent
But he cannot tell a lie
Truth is like a knife
And I'm crying again (iv)"

We may not throw pies at people as retribution for insults real or imagined but we do, at least sometime really wish we could.  Worse we sometimes act on those dark thought if not completely. There is a pirate in everyman desperately looking for his pistol, cutlass and parrot.  Most of the time we seek to repress these alter-egos. We all, everyone of us want to believe we are good people but, our deeds and motives betray. Deep down we are all crying not again but continually.

This is, I believe the actual font of what we perceive as a nonsensical world. We see the good, we do not do it; sometimes even when we want to. We desperately want to be good people even if we don't believe in absolute good. What we are left with is not so much moral relativism as  moral comparisonism. We know our flaws but at least we we are better than "X" or don't do "Y" or we tell ourselves that our intentions are good and hope that is enough. At the minimum we can say "I followed the rules."

When we cheat, just a little; when we get ahead by moral sleight of hand we have shown why we need the ethics and morality we were taught as a child. It is morality, ethics and culture that allow us to see that the world makes sense.  When we deny the evil before our face we make the world a nonsensical place. Maybe, we don’t need to simplify our lives as the psychologist are so found of telling us so much as to reform our lives. Maybe we should remember words like dignity, respect, courtesy and manners. Maybe we should make a better effort to live ethically. Maybe we should examine how we treat each other.  Maybe in doing so we’d be able to make sense of it all. I doubt it would make life easier.


Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger will try not to poke you in the eyes like Moe



[i] http://www.burtprelutsky.com/2013/09/at-sea-in-leaky-rowboat.html
[ii] a mixture often of incongruous elements
iii http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/hlmencke109903.html 
(iv) http://mhlp.rru.com/crying_again.html

Sunday, May 12, 2013

 

Losing Weight

For the past couple of weeks I have been following the 5/2 diet.

I've lost over 10 pounds and plan on losing a lot more with this system.

As I've gotten older it just seems that I've really had a hard time not gaining weight and that bothers me. I don't mind the balding, the wrinkles or the gray in my beard but I hate looking like a Santa in training.

It isn't like I don't exercise, I do since I don't drive I walk or ride a bicycle everywhere I go.

What I like about the 5/2 diet is that unlike other other diets I feel that I control the diet and not that it is controlling me.  I don't have to worry about counting calories, measuring or keeping track.

The diet works like this. I eat whatever I want for five days. I don't go all glutton or pig-out but just eat. Two, non-consecutive days a week I fast. Just water, tea maybe a diet soda. I start my fast after dinner of one day and go until dinner the next day without eating.  Technically the guy promoting this says eat only 600 calories on the fast day but I can't do that. If I eat I eat more than that. So I just fast for two non-consecutive 24 hour periods each week. Unlike what nutritionist at least use to say, I don't spend 1/2 the day at a buffet the next day.

The fast are short enough that i don't get lethargic at work. Because I start after dinner the first 8 or 10 hours I am either not hungry yet or asleep. The only meal that is difficult to skip is lunch the next day.

If I stop will I gain the weight back? Probably but once I get to the weight I want i can just keep it at that level with a fast every other week or so.

Anyway, it is workign for me

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who wants to lose 50 more pounds
 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

 

Why bicyclist despise motorcycle riders



Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger with Several bicycles

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

 

The Gifts of Odysseus


There are many different ways to think about ancient literature. It can be taken as a poetic form of history as Heinrich Schliemann[i] did when looking for the city of Troy. Especially if it is very old, and comes from before the invention of writing it can be seen as a form of mass entertainment that was recited in a theatre. Ancient text can also be examined linguistically[ii], anthropologically[iii], psychologically[iv], theologically[v] or from how the work is perceived historically[vi] and probably any number of other ways to help us later day readers understand how language developed and to provide clues to how ancient people lived and what their cultures were like or just simply in understanding the work involved.   Sometimes, or so it appears to me, all of these things are true. As could probably be expected one also finds proponents of less esoteric readings of ancient text. These would see The Odyssey as simply an adventure story that reflects the culture and mores of the society that produced it; what might be called the “Hollywood” version of ancient tales; just stories, just entertainment, nothing deep and nothing wrong with that. Lastly modern scholars sometimes attempt to re-write or rework classics to better fit modern sensibilities or themes whether that is Post Modernism[vii], feminism[viii], or whatever “ism” is the scholar’s preferred soap-box issue or to make the heroes of ancient literature progenitors of whatever political or philosophical persuasion they are advocating. It seems that sometimes lost in scholarly debate is the simply question; “What did the original hearers or readers take away from this work?”

Perhaps the most obvious example of way in which modern scholars can continually re-plow the fields of classic literature for new intellectual crops is The Odyssey. Even its name has become a euphemism for all sorts of things. Lost in the wealth of often very interesting research into this work is the observation that it was probably not simply a poem but a work of moral literature. It is not simply an adventure tale. The purpose was not just to entertain but help the ancient Greeks know what being “Greek” meant. But what are the moral lessons that Homer wants us to learn? To find the answer to that question it is necessary to understand that the poem is not merely account of the adventures and misfortune of Odysseus but what his son Telemachus can learn morally from the trials and triumphs of his father. Indeed, an argument can be made that main character of the Odyssey is not Odysseus but his son Telemachus and his growth towards manhood.[ix] This would explain the non-liner plot in the poem. We are given a clue to the meaning of this poem by looking at the names “Odysseus” and “Telemachus” which mean “Trouble” and “Fighting Man” respectively. Even a cursory reading of The Odyssey reveals that Odysseus is a very different man emotionally and intellectually when he returns to Ithaca than the man who left so many years before. The gifts of Odysseus to his son are the lessons learned by the father and passed along to the son with the mediation and help of Athena so that the son does not become the man named “Trouble” like his father. When this theme is understood the organization of the poem can be seen as intentional.

The Odyssey while longer and written to a different audience bares some striking organizational similarities to the book of Job in the Bible. Both are about powerful men who are brought low by supernatural forces in order to teach them important lessons and who are then restored to their former prosperity once the lesson is learned; importantly both Odysseus and Job need to learn the same lesson that they should not trust solely in their own cunning, power or wealth but should be grateful to God or gods for their success. Where the works differ is in the use of time and secondary lessons. Job suffers a single trial for which he has no explanation and turns to his counselors for an explanation. Odysseus survives a series of calamitous adventures that each should teach his son something. Unlike Job there is seldom a counselor to explain it to Odysseus and he has to figure it out himself. Also unlike Job the lessons Odysseus learn have much more to do with how he should live than simply faith in the supernatural that while not as important in some respects are vital to helping Telemachus avoid the mistakes made by his father.
  
When we first meet Odysseus in the Odyssey he is on an island owned by the nymph Calypso where he has been for seven long years. He is there involuntarily because Calypso is keeping him as her love slave. While the terms and conditions of his incarceration may be snickered at (How many men, at first thought wouldn’t jump at the chance to be the lover of a beautiful nymph?) the predicament is more universal. Calypso didn’t really love Odysseus; she was merely using him to fulfill her own needs. I ask, how fulfilling would a sexual relationship be if it was forced or coerced? How much fear would be in such a relationship of retribution for not performing up to the desired standard? Indeed, reading the account we find that Odysseus has consistently refused the offers of a more than physical relationship with Calypso and provides her with just enough to remain in her favor. Suppose the genders were reversed in this situation, If Calypso was a male and Odysseus a female would this be a situation to be snickered at? How many women would snicker at being held captive for sexual favors for seven years

On a less erotic but applicable note, how many men become slaves to their job? How many men wake up one day and find that years have passed and that the people who are important to them that they really loved have been sacrificed upon the alter of occupation, trade or profession? How much worse is it if the man does not actually love the profession? Often men fall into this trap while trying to provide for their families as Odysseus was simply trying to return home to his wife. Once in this trap they have a difficult time extricating themselves. That this is the first place we meet Odysseus is instructive.

We do not learn more of the story until Odysseus has escaped, by the skin of teeth from Calypso and washed up on the shore where Phaeacians live which is actually closer to the end of the story than the beginning. It is here that we learn from Odysseus himself what had befallen him.

The story Odysseus tells the Phaeacians by now one of the most familiar ever told and ranks with David and Goliath and Noah’s flood in its universality and I will not deal with each episode in detail. But here are the lessons learned by Odysseus.
The trap of sloth and laziness; it would have been easy to simply stay on the Island of the Lotus Eaters.

The trap of imposing upon other is learned at the cave of the Cyclops. At that point in the story Odysseus was traveling in a 12 ship fleet so at least a couple of hundred men. When they find the Cyclops home open they simply help themselves to the sheep and cheese that are there. When the Cyclops returns he is, I think understandably, angry. Granted, he may have been a cannibal anyway but there is a certain justice in saying you ate my sheep now I will eat you. Would it have hurt Odysseus and his crew to ask before raiding the larder?  Humans unlike monsters can think about the needs of others

There is another lesson to be learned from the adventure with the Cyclops. The way you treat your enemies is as important as the way you treat your friends. Think about the story. In order escape Odysseus blinds the Cyclops and then he and his men run to their ship and sail away. The normal interpretation of this event is that Odysseus was cunning and smart. A better interpretation is that he was cruel and calloused. How can a shepherd keep track of his sheep if he cannot see them? By blinding the Cyclops rather than just escaping from him or even just killing him Odysseus doomed the one-eyed giant to a life of poverty. Humans, unlike Cyclops exhibit mercy and Odysseus lowered himself to something less heroic by the manner of his escape

I find the island of Circe to be perhaps the most interesting place in the epic. Circe was turning the crew into pigs. Think about that a minute. A pig is an unusual forest animal. They are smart. They travel in groups and are big enough and mean enough to fend off most predators. But they live by instinct. This is sort of the other side of the coin from the island of the Lotus Eaters rather than forgetting who they were because of the pleasant conditions the crew was in danger of becoming simply animals. When we as humans put our physical needs higher than our ethics or morality we are no better than pigs. Being a pig is OK for pigs humans were made for something better.

There is an important rather obvious lesson that has already been alluded to. While never so clearly stated in the poem the 1997 made for TV version of the Odyssey did an excellent job making this lesson clear. In that version as Odysseus’ raft is sinking in a storm sent by Poseidon Odysseus calls out “Poseidon! What do you want from me?” and receives the answer “To know that without gods man is nothing.” Notice how throughout the poem the Greeks make obligatory offerings to the gods, the occasional prayer and then go about their business as if it made no difference. Odysseus is apparently almost oblivious to the help he receives from Hermes and Athena.  As a Christian I can identify with the gist of that in the normal way but the inverse is true. We may be nothing without divine help but we are also not gods. There is a place for gratitude and humility even in our success. Odysseus by his pride, lack of humility and failure to acknowledge the help he’d received or to show remorse was ungrateful. Humility, gratitude and thankfulness are appropriate responses that should be exhibited in our lives. To give thanks for blessings from above or from our friends and family is a uniquely human virtue as far as we know. The inverse is also true. We may be nothing without God but neither are we gods. When we act as though we are divine, the final arbiter of morality and ethics we become not good and benevolent deities but petty, self-centered tyrants. When Odysseus stood upon the prow of ship and shouted his name to the blinded, rock-throwing Cyclops he was essentially saying “I am god, you can’t hurt me”

Even remembering our place in the universe is not the greatest lesson Odysseus gave his son. Bigger still was the knowledge that greatness is measured more by our response to failure than to success. We remember Odysseus as much for his trials and mistakes on the journey home as we do the Trojan War. The way we deal with adversity not victory defines us.

It is these lessons that allowed Odysseus to tell his son “Know when to be angry” Notice at the end of the poem he allows Athena to disguise him. He receives and is grateful for divine aide. He keeps his eyes on the goal and is not distracted by the pleasantness of his home and doesn’t revert to instinct and simply rush forward to attack like a wild-boar. Once he traps the suitors he does not merely blind them so that they may exact revenge but kills them which was justice in that day and time. These are the gifts of Odysseus to his son.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who still reads literature 



[i] "Schliemann's search for Troy." Calliope 9, no. 3 (November 1998): 32. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 22, 2013).
[ii] Floyd, Edwin D. "Linguistic, Mycenaean, and Iliadic Traditions Behind Penelope's Recognition of Odysseus." College Literature 38, no. 2 (Spring2011 2011): 131. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 22, 2013).
[iii] Barbara, Carey. "Notes for daily living." Toronto Star (Canada), n.d., Newspaper Source, EBSCOhost (accessed April 22, 2013).
[iv] Nwakanma, Obi. "O, Polyphemus: On Poetry and Alienation." Ariel 39, no. 4 (October 2008): 139-146. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 22, 2013).
[v] Halkin, Hillel. "Sailing to Ithaca." Commentary 120, no. 4 (November 2005): 69. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 22, 2013).
[vi] Fleming, Katie. "Odysseus and Enlightenment: Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialektik der Aufklärung." International Journal Of The Classical Tradition 19, no. 2 (June 2012): 107-128. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 22, 2013).
[vii] Shankar, Avi, and Maurice Patterson. "Interpreting the Past, Writing the Future." Journal Of Marketing Management 17, no. 5/6 (July 2001): 481-501. Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 22, 2013).
[viii] Suzuki, Mihoko. "Rewriting the "Odyssey" in the Twenty-First Century: Mary Zimmerman's "Odyssey" and Margaret Atwood's "Penelopiad.." College Literature 34, no. 2 (Spring2007 2007): 263-278. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 21, 2013).
[ix] Murrin, Michael. "Athena and Telemachus." International Journal Of The Classical Tradition 13, no. 4 (Spring2007 2007): 499-515. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 22, 2013).


Friday, April 19, 2013

 

Loneliness

About 18 months ago with the approval of my beautiful, really smart, looks 25 years younger than she is, hard working and wise Chinese wife I took a job at the University of Guam. I'd been at the International school for 12 years and it was time to move on. My last year in Hong Kong had been rather hard health wise. I caught an antibiotic resistant bronchitis and missed weeks of work; I suspect that the air pollution in Hong Kong had something to do with that. Since my wife's job in Hong Kong pays very well and we have no children at home it was decided that I would take the job and move to Guam by myself. The idea was that it might be a good time to start transitioning away from Hong Kong and we thought that Guam might fit the bill as a relaxed place to retire.

There is a lot to like about Guam. The West side of the island, where all the tourist go is beautiful. The people are friendly, the pace of life is laid back and the lifestyle is far less stressful than Hong Kong. As with any place there are things we don't like. The government is not so much corrupt as it is incompetent, it is very remote, things like food are very expensive and there are limited options for things like doctors and health care. But the purpose of my first post in 18 months isn't to delineate the merits and flaws of Guam. I was here two weeks when we decided that this was not the place for us but that is neither here nor there.

So what is the purpose? There was an editorial about 2 years ago, I forget who wrote it, that was talking about autism and how despite what you often read there really isn't a burgeoning epidemic of autistic children but a only a change in the way symptoms are categorized. I have no idea if the author was right or wrong but he used an interesting example. The example was that by the expanded definition of autism used by many diagnosticians today most academics could be considered autistic. They prefer to work alone, are often socially awkward, and spend long hours engaged in the study of minutiae. I laughed at the example but it was a nervous laughter. Despite working in a K-12 setting I am trained as an academic and the personality type hit a little too close to the mark.

The move to Guam has showed me that the illustration was flawed. Yes, the secondary symptoms of autism may be shared with many academics but I think that one other symptom is missing, an important one. When I was an undergraduate I worked in a residential institution for adults with various mental disabilities. I refuse to use the politically correct term of “Specially Challenged” because I feel it demeans them by denying their condition but that is another post for another time. The symptom of autism, at least the severe cases I worked with in the residential setting was that they had no emotional attachment to anyone. One man spent all day staring at the corner of a door frame. He had to be forced to stop to eat or even to go to the toilet.

I am a loner, I am uncomfortable in many social settings, I read about the lives of Byzantine emperors for pleasure and collect antique bicycle parts. I don't have a lot of friends. But I miss my wife and the friends in Hong Kong. This has been the season of loneliness for me. I cannot wait for this contract to end.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Lonely Blogger

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Monday, May 30, 2011

 

Ark Royal to Casino Royal?

This is kind of a neat idea. I bet it would do really well especially if they could use the deck to land helicopter taxis for the show-offs

In my experience there are two kinds of Hong Kongers. Those who are British Running Dogs and those who think the British are dogs.

This has the rare potential to appeal to both of them

Until Next Time
Fai Moa
The Blogger who falls into the second type Hong Konger

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Friday, May 27, 2011

 

Harrowing indeed

I am sorry, the endless classism of parents in Honk Kong is simply disgusting.

This is a school for social parasites who try to make up for their lack of ability by throw ing money at it

Friday, April 29, 2011

 

Logic and Government

The minimum wage issue is an interesting one to me because it seems that none of the parties really have a clue about what it is, what it is supposed to do and how it will affect the average working person.


I guess that the Mandarins in Central are to busy contemplating their next self-congratulatory pay raise to research the effects of a minimum wage, or if they have they've not made any kind of cogent argument against it. The other far more insidious possibility is that they do know what they are doing.

First things first

1. The minimum wage is always ZERO. It cannot be raised above that level because if people are "paid" for not working it is not called a wage but a subsidy. While this is something of a theoretical statement it is true and it should be remembered because a minimum wage has a direct influence on the cost of other government social services.

2. The price of goods and services is set by supply and demand; any attempt to control this artificially always ends in disaster

3. A minimum wage is not the wage that can comfortably feed a family of four or five. It is the lowest legal level of compensation that an employer may offer to the least qualified employee. People expecting a minimum wage to help a family of 4 are simply deluded

4. If everyone has to pay a minimum wage then stores will not have to close because everyone's labor cost will go up by the same amount. Thus, unless the minimum wage is very high there will be very little direct immediate impact on jobs. So various groups that say "I'll have to lay off X-number of people to cover the additional labor cost" are not thinking clearly

What do these three things mean?

As wages rise the cost of goods and services will rise. In other words Hong Kong can expect some inflation as a result of this law. That is important to anyone who falls into the pool of people that do not or cannot, for whatever reason, work and are not independently wealthy. Those on fixed incomes or Comprehensive Social Security (Welfare) are going to see the value of their benefits decline and will be worse off as a result of the minimum wage law. If they are retired Civil Servants with their huge pensions and special health care then the effect will probably not be that big a deal.

For those not of Hong Kong’s faux-nobility the effect could be a generalized increase in hardship. The higher general cost of things will also mean that those working poor (to use a favorite term of the US Democratic Party) will see very little actual gain in income because they will make more but the money they make will buy less.

What this means is that in two years or so the same groups clamoring for a minimum wage today will be protesting to raise that wage without seeing that they exacerbate the problem they are trying to solve.

Observe the UK. The minimum wage there is set at something like 10 pounds an hour. Do they have significantly less problems with unemployment than Hong Kong? No it is worse. Indeed they have a huge, permanent underclass who never works because as the minimum wage rose the benefits provided by the government doles rose as well. After two generations being unemployed they no longer even try to get off the dole. This group creates an enormous drain on the economy and contributes to rising crime rates. However, certain sectors of the government like this because the underclass becomes a very reliable voting block for parties that promise to give them more benefits. Before a minimum wage I'd have dealt with other labor problems. But if there is going to be one it should be set low to allow new workers to be able to enter the job market.

So what would I have done instead if I were Donald Tsang, THBT?

If I were, THBT I'd have addressed the problem of excessively long work hours. For example security guards in building typically work 12 hour shifts. They are not alone in this as many businesses in Hong Kong require very long working hours. The excuse often given by the management is "We work that long every day why shouldn't they?" does not hold water.

The owner of a business is typically as busy as they want to be where as workers are as busy as they have to be. If the business owner wants to die of a heart attack at 50 from working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week go right ahead; just don't drag your employees into the grave with you.

More than that, I've seen how the management “Works" with their 1.5 hour lunch and 40 minute coffee and tea breaks. They don't actually work that long if we remove the goofing off time they have in the day out; time which their employees do not have. If a workday was limited to 8 hours for a normal shift wages would be driven up because employers would either have to pay overtime or hire more people and there is not an endless supply of people. So in order to attract workers they'd either have to pay or offer more perks for their employees. In the case of the Security Guards it would mean an entire extra shift per day.

Before a minimum wage I address the need for anti-collusion laws. Park-n-Shop and Wellcome should actually have to compete with each other rather than engaging in price fixing. The companies that own those stores should also not be allowed to build the building and control the rents in the building which keep other chains like Carrefour, Tesco or Safeway out of Hong Kong. Monopolistic behavior insures that Hong Kong people get the lowest quality goods for the highest possible price.

The same is true of the property developers. This would lower the cost because in order to stay in business the various companies would have to shave own their margins and become more efficient. I read several years ago that a property developer in Hong Kong has something like 7 to 11 subcontractors for any job while the world average is three. Most of the subcontractors here do nothing except take a cut of the profit and hire another subcontractor. How much would property prices fall if Sun-Hung-Kai actually hired workers directly rather than hiring a subcontractor who hires his brother-in-law, who hires his cousin, who hires his uncle, who hires his friends father, who hires his stepson, who hires his school buddy, who hires his mother's sister’s husband, who hires a relative from the mainland, who hires the husband of his mistress who hires his cousin, who hires the triad enforcer he owes gambling debts to, who hires himself under another name, who hires the guys that pour concrete who then skips out to China after not paying the workers? This kind gross inefficiency can only occur because the companies collude with each other rather than compete with each other. What is sad is that if they were run more efficiently they'd still make as much profit but the customers would get a lower price. Because all many of the intermediate subcontractors do is hire another subcontractor there would be very few jobs lost.

Before a minimum wage law I would take over control of the utility companies including the MTR, Hong Kong Electric and the cross harbor tunnels. The electric companies here do a pretty good job except that they have coal powered plants with no pollution control. Simply freezing the stock of the companies and demanding that they bring their pollution control standards up to international standards with no rate increases would help to improve the air-quality in Hong Kong. They have had decades to do this and have chosen not to because the could get away with poisoning us because the government didn't care since the Mandarins all had stock in the companies and wanted their 30% annual returns to further pad their overly generous retirement packages. They've made huge profits at the cost asthma and watery eyes for most of the kids here.

The MTR is the only transportation to and from work for millions of people everyday. It should not be a for profit company. I am not normally a supporter of government ownership but roads and public services are an exception. The MTR is for all intents and purposes a road in Hong Kong and most of the population uses it at least twice a day. It should not pay dividends to share holders or sell stock publicly. Run the MTR at cost. Run the cross harbor tunnels at cost. The owners of the Eastern and Western Tunnel are particularly heinous and should simply have the tunnels confiscated. If they want to make 20% profits at the expense of the poor they should get a high level job with HSBC.

Before a minimum wage Hong Kong needs to reform its Civil Service. The wages and benefits are simply unsustainable and the attitude of the workers that they are higher, mightier, and holier than the average peon is grating. The percentage of the GDP taken up by the HK government is huge. I'd hold out for mass executions of the government employees but that would be illegal. So simply fire their overpaid, underworked, arrogant arses and let them get honest jobs.

Hong Kong does not have an army, an Air Force or a Navy. Hong Kong has no diplomatic corps or consulates to support. There is no reason EXCEPT bad governance that the cost of government in Hong Kong should be at 25% of the GDP. That number needs to come down to less than 20%; 15% would be a good number.

Lastly, before a minimum wage I'd take 1/2 the currency reserves in Hong Kong and distribute them to the population I'd give a larger share to anyone who actually paid income tax but the amount would still give substantial immediate relieve to the poor here and make the rest of the population feel the government had actually heard them.

After these things Hong Kong might find out it doesn't need a minimum wage

Until Next Time
Fai Mao

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

 

Returning to the land of the living

This has been a hard year. I have been sick since Christmas. I’ve missed weeks of work and just generally spent far too much time in bed recuperating from a never ending flu that turned into an antibiotic resistant bronchitis. The wife and I had moved from Causeway Bay to Tai Po and there were larger adjustments involved with that than I anticipated. I also resigned my job in September over some issues in the school. It had become a difficult year before that I have been fulfilling my contract but will not return next year. Needless to say it was not only this blog that was neglected in that time.


There were lots of things I'd not have minded writing about but I was simply to sick, tired and preoccupied over the past several months. There were things like the Nancy Kissell retrial that I found interesting but couldn’t do it. At last I feel I am well enough and caught up enough with life’s other issues to begin writing again. It is good to have the desire to do so again.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Recuperating Blogger

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Monday, January 24, 2011

 
Twas the Night before Christmas (Postmodern Version)




Bryan Stone, Boston University School of Theology

12/10/2010



Twas a Postmodern Christmas, when all through the regime

Not a concept was stirring, not even a meme.

Essentialist dogmas were nurtured with care,

And imperialist ambitions still hung in the air



The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While grand narratives of progress danced in their heads.

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just performed gender before taking a nap.



When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew in a craze,

And incarnated an internalized masculine gaze.



The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Hegemonically othered the objects below.

When, what to my binaried eyes should appear,

But a sleigh simulacrum, and virtual reindeer.



With a little old driver who had friends in Havana,

I knew right away it was postmodern Santa.

More rapid than eagles discourses they came,

As he named and destabilized each language game!



"Now Heidegger, Nietzsche! Now, Levinas and Lyotard!

On Derrida, Foucault! On Butler and Baudrillard!

To each modern foundation, to each stucturalist wall!

Now deconstruct! Deconstruct! Deconstruct all!"



His aesthetic was queer, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes juxtaposed with ashes and soot.

A bundle of kitsch he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a pastiche of red, white, and black.



What some crassly call fat, he called “differently weighted,”

The politics of hate in one stroke out-narrated

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Intertextual clues I had nothing to dread.



He spoke less in words than ambiguous gestures,

And filled all the stockings with empty conjectures.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

with critical distance, up the chimney he rose!



He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew heterotopically spatial

But I heard him exclaim, as I stood there half-dreaming,

"Liberation to all, and an excess of meaning!"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

 

"Where the skies are blue"

Someone sent me the link above.

It induced one the rare bouts of homesickness I still get.

I am going to the UK to be with our daughter this Christmas. But my family is originally from the other Birmingham; the one in the US state of Alabama.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who won't be home for Christmas

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Monday, December 13, 2010

 

Civil servants fight for post-retirement rights

I guess if I were them I'd do this to. Well, no I wouldn't I'd be too ashamed of the amount of money I'd taken while orking for the government. These people are so over paid it isn't even funny. Why do they need a pension at all?

In related news there appears to be an epidemic of brain tumours in Hong Kong. I guess it would be too much to expect that they would all be found in (un)Civil-Servants?

Until Tomorrow
Fai Mao

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Monday, December 06, 2010

 

Told yah

If only the HK Government would read this

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The guy is a little strident for me but makes a good point

A lot of the "multiculturalism" preached today is based in nothing more than cowardice, envy and laziness. Notice, I said a lot, not all.

This is really true in Hong Kong where they don't even really understand the issue. As long as the primary driver of the government here is that Civil Servants are able to keep their jobs then there will never be good government in Hong Kong.

Until Tomorrow
Fai Mao

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