30 March 2011

Our honoured lawmakers, we don't need those fucking guidelines.

This week, the government published a set of guidelines for employers, educating them on how to follow the minimum wage law, which is to take effect on the coming Labour Day, 1 May 2011.

We all know the minimum hourly wage is going to be HK$28. Feeling satisfied with it is like feeling happy with a bank which claims to lend you money with zero interest rate. Something must be lurking behind the devil’s contract.

What we care about is whether our fellow workers’ monthly salary will increase to a humane level, or whether workers can work less for the same amount of salary so that they could enjoy life more. Two things come to our concern: meal breaks and rest days. Will they be counted as paid working hours?

So here comes the Holy Guideline. Read what it says about meal breaks.

“When an employee during his meal break also falls under the circumstances of hours worked as specified in the Minimum Wage Ordinance, such meal break is hours worked for computing minimum wage.”

Need help? Here’s an example to illustrate. “Example 10: An employee has his meal break from 1pm to 2pm. At the same time, he remains in attendance at his post for the purpose of doing working in accordance with the contract of employment or with the agreement or at the direction of the employer. Such meal break is hours worked for computing minimum wage.”

Excuse my poor English. What the heck is it talking about? Does it mean, in order to have your meal break paid, you must have lunch and do work at the same time? Or you need to order takeaway so that you “remain in attendance at your post”? Or you must eat with your boss in order to be “at the direction of the employer”? How can that be?

It’s like men saying “I’m not ready to be in a relationship yet”, just a lousy way to say NO. Why don’t they just fucking plainly say so?

The Commissioner for Labour said the law does not prescribe that meal breaks and rest days should be paid. Matters like these are to be agreed between employers and employees. (In SCMP, there’s even a typo “between employers and employers”. Freudian slip maybe?) Hell yes. I want to reach an agreement with my credit card company too.

According to the news report, legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said the guideline appeared to favour employers.

But wait a second. Weren’t you supposed to take care of the law in the first place, my honoured legislator? When you were wearing fancy T-shirts and making drama at Legco, as we’ve seen on YouTube, didn’t you also fight for us in every single detail of the piece of legislation?

Even the Minimum Wage Ordinance is a piece of subsidiary legislation, its Bill drafted first by the administration, it still needs to be read, amended and passed by legislators to become effective law. Why didn’t our lawmakers make it certain and clear in the first place? We don’t need a goddamn guideline to tell us so much later that the legislation can’t help us.

In the full text of the Minimum Wage Ordinance, nothing has been mentioned about meal breaks and rest days. Fantastic.

The only thing that is slightly clear can be found in the Guideline. It’s about rest days.

“Payment made to the employee for any time that is not hours worked (e.g. holiday pay, annual leave pay, sickness allowance, maternity leave pay, rest day pay, etc) must not be counted as part of the wages payable to the employee.” Sympathy allowance perhaps?

21 March 2011

Faith and the Future

The landfills are almost full, the Himalayan glaciers that supply water to the Pearl river (as well as all the major rivers of China and India) are disappearing, the planet is running out of oil...and all anyone in the Hi-tech Village cares about is their next LV bag, how they're going to get their hands on an iPad 2 and their next meal at a posh sushi restaurant. Part of the explanation for this is simple ignorance: many people literally don't know about these problems because governments and corporations don't want them to know about them. But there's more to it than just ignorance; religion also plays a part.

In the free-market economies like the US and HK, instilling the faith that technology will solve all our problems is crucial to the legitimacy of government and corporate elites. The key assumptions of free-market capitalism are that resource scarcity doesn't matter (because we can always invent our way out) and that the planet can handle an infinite amount of waste. This belief is not science, but faith; there is absolutely no evidence that resource scarcity isn't a problem and tons of evidence that it is.

Essentially what this boils down to is an unquestioned faith in economic growth. If growth is good, then consumption is good, because without increased consumption you can't have economic growth. Dictionary.com defines the verb to consume as: to destroy or expend by use, to eat up or drink up, devour, to spend wastefully. Sounds about right, so why is this seen as an unambiguous good? Because of the belief that we can't ever run out of resources.

In the post-war twentieth century, the world was locked in a struggle between two utopian secular religions: Communism and Neo-liberalism. Communists believed that rational central planning could eventually do away with the problem of scarcity, Neo-liberals believed that the free-market would do the same thing. With the collapse of Communism in Europe, China's government switched to a pragmatic, non-ideological approach to economics, and with the abandonment of faith they have succeeded in doing what communism failed to do--bring millions of Chinese people out of poverty.

During the same time period, the US strengthened its faith in free-markets, deluded by what Neo-liberals saw as the vindication of free-markets by the failure of Communism. But while the US economy grew, real wages for most workers had stagnated. The average Chinese person got richer because of the abandonment of faith and the average American got poorer because their faith got stronger. In the US, the income generated by economic growth went almost exclusively to the people who needed it least. Elites continued to promise that the wealth would eventually "trickle down" and that income inequality was a necessary evil for promoting economic growth, which would benefit everyone in the long run.

What's ironic is that the Neo-liberal ideologues who have argued that resource scarcity doesn't matter are, in many cases, the same people who were the architects of the Iraq war--which was at least partially about securing access to oil reserves. This is similar to what's going on in the US's (and HK's) economic systems in general. Elites who claim that unregulated free-markets will eventually make us all rich, and make scarcity irrelevant are also hoarding resources at an unprecedented rate so that they'll be able to survive the eventual resource shortfalls.

The ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are as much about the threat from China as they are about any country in the Middle East. Occupying Afghanistan effectively cuts off China from the oil in Iran. If Iran wants to send oil to China, it has to go through areas the US controls (either Afghanistan, or by sea, where China's navy can't compete with the US's). China's response to this was predictable: they started hoarding oil, realizing that hoarding currency wasn't good enough since war between the two countries would make the US debt to China largely irrelevant, and they started massively upgrading their naval power. Currently, the US and China are engaged in a competition for access to oil reserves in Africa and all over the developing world. It certainly looks like the two countries are preparing for the possibility that their competition for resources could eventually lead to military conflict. And that is the worst possible thing that could happen for humans on this planet. But as long as Chinese people continue to aspire to the obscene level of consumption that exists in the US (and HK), and as long as Americans continue to believe that that obscene consumption is their birthright, the worst case scenerio looks increasingly likely.

It may be possible for humans to innovate our way out of these environmental problems, but it's far from a certainty. It certainly isn't possible with existing technology.  It will take planning for the future, and reduced consumption. Unfortunately, the current faith in free-markets precludes both solutions. It's much harder to avoid driving off a cliff when you can't see the cliff.

15 March 2011

[BREAKING NEWS!] Will the radioactive materials from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant reach Hong Kong? (14 March 2011 updated)

The following diagrams show the path of air mass reaching Hong Kong for the next three days (15 - 17 March 2011). The paths show that the air mass reaching Hong Kong mainly comes from the Luzon Strait on 15 March, and from mainland China as well as the vicinity of Hong Kong on 16 and 17 March.

Figure 1. Trajectory of air mass reaching Hong Kong at 8 a.m. 15 March 2011

Figure 2. Trajectory of air mass reaching Hong Kong at 8 a.m. 16 March 2011

Figure 3. Trajectory of air mass reaching Hong Kong at 8 a.m. 17 March 2011


The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

Good Job, HKO!

09 March 2011

International Financial Village at its best

Central, the CBD of Hong Kong, on a Sunday morning.

Well, this kind of trading looks like a solution to our erratic economy, seriously.

07 March 2011

What should I do with that $6000?

Do you remember not long ago, our Financial Secretary appeared on TV and called for ideas on how to prepare the Budget? Well, I never see Steve Jobs, aka the Holy God of Geeks, advertise himself on TV, asking us for ideas on how to prepare iPad 2. It’s not our job to know what we want (except in the bedroom department of course) because someone, like John Tsang, is supposed to be paid to do it.

Even we were willing to pay John Tsang and the advertiser and sacrifice our ideas, our dear John was still able to come up with lousy proposals, which a sensible human is incapable of conceiving. Injecting $6000 into my MPF account to combat inflation? Even my high-school level of Economics can tell it’s rubbish. No need to bother the political scientists and financial analysts.

So after some outcry about John’s original masterpiece, he finally bowed to pressure from all sides of the city and decided to hand out $6000 cash instead. The second I heard about it I jumped from my seat in my tiny cubicle and cried, “hurray! At least I can go Yum Cha!!!”

What a cheap date I am. Soon I felt embarrassed by my humble idea of indulgence. I should think BIG!

I should treat Mom a dinner! But Mom gets that $6000 too plus she’s subsidised by Dad and doesn’t have recurrent wardrobe expenditure. Um…

I should go for a trip! But many Villagers here will think the same and Thailand, Korea and Japan will soon be flooded by my fellow tourists. So not refreshing!

I should enjoy fine-dining at some Michelin-star restaurant! But molecular gastronomy is so not my thing. I’ll be fine with just tomatoes and spaghetti.

iPad 2 is up and coming right? I must grab one. But its price has been doubled before it arrives in Hong Kong. I don’t want to spend more than my cash prize, or I may become bankrupt like most lottery winners.

What about a Prada bag? But you need to queue for hours with those mainlanders who are so ready to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the shop. Besides, whom do you expect to serve you? $6000 will only get you a key bag.

Well, I shouldn’t be such a consumerist. I should invest in my future right? Maybe I should buy shares from some China bank which I know nothing about. Ever learnt from our financial disaster three years ago? My forgetfulness is embarrassing me already.

In the end, I figured I don’t need that $6000 at all and decided to do nothing. John is simply unable to give me what I need, i.e. a decent living place to have decent amount of sex and stable price of tomatoes. Thanks for nothing, John.

02 March 2011

Ouch! There goes our Village Mayor

The TVB late news starting at 11pm every evening usually winds me down very well, or should I say, the TVB news is actually a powerful tranquilliser, as we know nothing really happens in this dull Village. But last night, when I sat on the sofa staring into the vacuum of the news programme, something somewhat interesting happened. And this morning it's all over the Village, and our beloved Apple Daily had it best; it reads:
Last night, a 66-year-old man reported a chest pain and was taken to the Queen Mary Hospital for medical examination. The injury was found to be superficial. The man named Tsang Yam-kuen and he is Chief Executive of Hong Kong...
This introductory passage of the news is one of the best lines written by Apple Daily and is certainly Pulitzer Prize stuff. Anyway, as our coppers already got their hands on the case, the Pub decided that we would withheld our judgement on the case. If you're really interested in a detailed analysis of what happened, read this tl;dr informative blogpost by our fellow basement dwelling LSD bandwagon investigative journalist-blogger.

However, I did have a question that puzzled me all night after watching the news last night. TVB reported that the 66-year-old man who visited the Accident & Emergency Department in Queen Mary had only stayed for 30 minutes. Now, I don't know if our readers have been to any A&E in this Village before; I had. Last time my friend hurt his lower back and was temporarily paralysed from the waist down. His girlfriend called an ambulance as there was simply no way for her to help this 6-foot, 170lbs+ man up. He was taken to the A&E at around 2pm. According to the triage system of our local hospital, his case was determined semi-urgent. Not until 6pm did he get his X-ray. And around 7pm he was sent to a ward. Mind you again, he was temporarily paralysed from the waist down.

Last night, however, that 66-year-old man who was mildly and superficially "injured" got his medical examination, X-ray, cardiogram, and prescription; also, instructions were given to the head of the Queen Mary A&E on what he should say to the media, all within 30 minutes.

The Libertines Pub sincerely wishes our Village Mayor well, my ass.