Thursday, September 30, 2010

Self-Pitying Wealthy Poor

A couple earning well over US$300,000 a year, who own a house with big lawn and two nice cars should feel contented. Not necessarily, at least not in the case of a law professor at the University of Chicago.

Following Obama's proposal to let Bush's tax cut expire only on incomes above $250K, the law professor wrote and published on the internet an article explaining why he should, after paying taxes, mortgage, contribution to 401K, his children's private school education, etc., feel strapped. His article drew hate-mails from across the States. And, finally, "after a big fight with his wife", the professor deleted the article from his website. (Google "whining of the rich" or "whiny law professor" if you are interested.)

I guess the professor is not very smart. What made he think he should tell the whole world how much he and his wife are earning, how much taxes they are paying and how much they need to pay for their children's education is beyond me.

The whole episode gets me thinking though. Are there any comfortable-but-non-big-bucks options for the upper middle-class?

A few months ago a friend lent (gave?) me a book called 窮得有品味, Chinese translation of Die Kunst des stilvollen Verarmens by Alexander, Count of Schönburg-Glauchau. From the author's name, you can probably tell that his ancestors were members of one of the noble families in Germany. Now a poor journalist though, the author, by reason of family heritage, can tell an authentic Chagall from a well executed fake, the best champaign from the second best and know the top painters and sculptors. His book is about means to live like a noble in the most inexpensive way. Extremely entertaining and most inspiring, I really love the book. Strange that there is no English translation of it (I did a quick Wikicat and GoogleBook search and it appears to be the case. If I am wrong, please correct me). If you can read either German or Chinese or Japanese (there appears to be a Japanese version), I sincerely recommend it. It's so true that we don't need to live in the biggest houses, fly first class, go to the fanciest restaurants and drink Romanee Conti to live a good life.

Yesterday, a very good friend invited us to go to dinner at one of the most expensive restaurants in town to celebrate her birthday. Not that I don't want to go out with some good friends, but, what the point of spending many thousands of dollars to risk bumping into some celebrities who will spoil my mood? I don't fancy fancy restaurants and derive no satisfaction from going to places like Amber. Call me a cheapo but I prefer small restaurants with less than 20 tables that are owned by the chefs. I'm not sure whether I'm getting old or what (maybe wiser?) but I'm really tired of the rat race. Two weeks ago we sold our apartment and made a tiny profit. We have decided to move into a cheaper place. Moving into a smaller and cheaper place has multiple benefits: First, there are more options to us - my wife can choose not to work if she wants to and spend more time with Ho-Sum; I can have more time for books and music and can refuse to work with people I don't like. Second and perhaps more importantly, we do believe that we are doing our daughter a disservice if she lives too comfortable a life. It's about time she goes to school on public transport and takes care of herself. Living too ISFish won't do her any good.

富得有品味 is nothing; I prefer 窮得有品味.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Little Prayer

Wondering what the 2nd encore Evelyn Glennie played in her concert was, I posted a question to a local music newsgroup that I randomly found on Google before I went to bed yesterday. Got answered by another percussionist from China this morning. It is A Little Prayer composed by Evelyn Glennie herself.

A short video that I found on Youtube

And, Evelyn Glennie in Sesame Street.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Evelyn Glennie and CIty Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong Again

Glad that we attended virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Clennie's concert on Sept 25. What an evening.

Seldom do I immediately fall in love with a modern piece but I love the Marimba Concerto by Alexis Alrich. A surprise to myself as I am neither a big fan of modern music, nor the marimba. The concerto does not try to impress by presenting a grand structure but is extremely picturesque. Listening to it I can actually see some ancient caravan merchants carrying loads of silk and china, spices and jewels, leaving Xian from the East and Byzantine from the West, entering the desert with dreams of wealth and glory. The composer, Alexis Alrich, was among the audience witnessing the premiere of her concerto. She must be proud of her work and glad that the concerto was so well received.

Evelyn Glennie is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in November to raise funds for AbleChildAfrica. You can make a donation through JustGiving.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Health Check

Can't remember when I had my last health check. "It's long overdue", my lovely wife has been constantly complaining.

I don't believe in health check.

Numerous researches have proved that "self-rated health" outperforms complicated procedures by medical doctors. In such researches, doctors typically go through the medical history, conduct tests, see the results of the tests, and carry out detailed examination for each persons concerned. Independently of the doctors' prediction, the persons are asked to answer a simple, multiple-choice question such as the following:
In general, how would you say your health is: (a) Excellent (b) Very good (c) Good (d) Fair (e) Poor?
It may sound a bit surprising but the results are always the same: self-rated health scores provide more accurate indications of how much longer people will live than the doctors' predictions.

There is nothing modern about modern medicine. In Dance with Chance, the authors gave a vivid description of the then most advanced treatment given to King Charles II by fourteen of the best doctors.
The King was bled... to the extent of a pint from his right arm. Next [the doctor] drew eight ounces of blood from his left shoulder ... gave an emetic to make the King vomit, to physics, and a enema containing antimony rock salt, marsh-mallow leaves, violets, beet roots, camomile flowers, fennel seed, linseed, cardamon seed, cinnamon, saffron cochineal, and aloes. The King's head was then shaved and a blister raised on his scalp. A sneezing powder of hellebore root was give to purge his brain, and a powder of cowslip administered to strengthen it... A plaster of pitch and pigeon dung was put on the King's feet. Next there was more bleeding followed by the administration of melon seeds, manna, slippery elm, black cheery water... To this mixture were added forty drops of the extract of human skull. Finally, in desperation a bezoar stone was tried. The King died.
I am not trying to belittle doctors and medical researchers. No, not at all. But, thank goodness, the study of medicine is evolving and will continue to evolve.  I am a hopelessly optimistic person. I am confident that two hundred years from now people will consider MRI, CT Scan, PSA test (prostate-specific antigen test) etc. the like of extract of human skull and pigeon dung. Why then should I be obsessed with the magical effect of MRI, CT Scan and PSA test?

There is an interesting study about prostate cancer and PSA tests. In his excellent book Calculated Risks: How to Know When the Numbers Deceive You, psychologist Gigerenzer said the following about PSA test:
People who take PSA tests die equally early and equally often from prostate cancer compared with those who do not. One cannot confuse early detection with mortality reduction. PSA tests can detect cancer, but because there is as yet no effective treatment, it is not proven that early detection increases life expectancy...The test produces a substantial number of false positives, and therefore, when there is a suspiciously high PSA level, in most of these cases there is no cancer. That means many men without prostate cancer may go through unnecessary anxieties and often painful follow-up exams. Men with prostate cancer are more likely to pay more substantial costs. Many of these men undergo surgery or radiation treatment that can result in serious, lifelong harm such as incontinence and impotence. Most prostate cancer are so slow growing that they might never have been noticed except for the screening (out of 154 people with prostate caner only twenty four die of the disease). Autopsies of men older than fifty who die of natural causes indicate that about one in three of them has some form of prostate cancer...
In other words, a lot of men die with prostate cancer than from prostate cancer.

Speaking of PSA test I have a personal encounter with the test. Not exactly mine but my father's. Devastated by the death of my mother, he looked like a dead man. We took him to a doctor and he was given some tests. One of them was the PSA test. The result was positive, so positive that the doctor, reading from the most authoritative texts, was almost certain my father had prostate cancer. It turned out to be a false positive. The exceptionally high PSA reading, as the doctor was trying to explain with hindsight, was due to emotional stress. Any lesson to learn? Well, there is much truth in conventional wisdom - if you want good health, try to be happy. If you doctor tells you there is a high cancer risk, take a vacation, relax and have a second opinion.

There is a downside to health check: it promotes an illusion of control. It makes people believe that if they follow certain guidelines and have early symptoms detected, they'll live a longer and healthier life.  I don't see any real difference between this health related illusion of control and the illusion shared by a great number of parents: the belief that if they can get their kids into the most famous schools and colleges, their kids will live a happy and successful life. Is there such certainly in life? Let's see what people will say about our medicine and schooling two hundred years from now.

P.S. I will make an appointment for a health check after posting this. You know, what I think doesn't matter; I have to obey the Almighty in our house.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fujifilm FinePix X100 Large-Sensor Compact & An Ugly Leica

As people are waiting for a digital rangefinder from Voigtländer, Fujifilm unveils a "Large-Compact" digital rangefinder.

Not that I am going to buy one but I am really impressed. It's proof that not all camera makers have gone insane. It also makes all those Nikon and Canon wonderbricks look like headless chickens with giant heads. Could be a Leica X1 killer too. Details here.

And, the Most-Ugly-Camera-in-Photokina Award goes to ... a limited edition Leica designed by Walter de'Silva priced at £19,800.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tribute to the Disturbed Expatriate Women’s Canine-Worship Cult and AFCD

A puppy called Garland, newly adopted from Hong Kong Dog Rescue (HKDR), was lost in April 2010. Its owner was devastated and felt guilty for its loss. The HKDR volunteers and members of DEWCWC (Disturbed Expatriate Women’s Canine-Worship Cult, as a popular gweilo blogger prefers to call them) had been searching for Garland in the Pokfulam area since April. Bad luck. No trace of Garland. Finally, members of DEWCWC had to give up. After all there did not seem to be any real chance for a puppy to survive on its own for so long.

Two days ago, Garland was sighted in the area off Victoria Road near West Island School. In very poor shape though, it was Garland. Its overbite (upper jaw much longer than lower) was unmistakable. It turned out that Garland had been visiting a construction site along Victoria Road, where it could find some construction workers who were kind enough to share their lunch with her. The HKDR volunteers rushed to the site to try to catch her. It wasn't an easy job as you can imagine. The poor dog was so scared that it escaped from its rescuers. In despair, they called the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which sent out a team as soon as they were called. They set up a trap and wait. Finally, they caught Garland. Hooray. My hat off to HKDR volunteers, members of DEWCWC, the construction workers and AFCD.

(Photo from HKDR's Facebook)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Right Results for the Right-minded

Not wanting to lag behind the Jews and the Muslims, who already have their own religiously correct search engines (Jewogle for Jews and I'mHalal for Muslims), a group of Christians in the States have created SeekFind, a search engine that only returns results from websites that are considered consistent with the Holy Bible. According to the people behind it, SeekFind is designed to promote biblical truth by excluding information that does't meet the Christian standard.

It looks interesting. Let's give it a try.

I type "Obama" in the search field and SeekFind produces 115 results. The top search result is, "Is Barack Obama the antichrist?"  I try "Terry Jones" and the search engine takes me to a review of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". I search "Democratic Party" and it shows me the nexus between the Democratic Party and Marxist politics. What about "sexuality"? I enter "sexuality" and am rewarded with a lecture on monergism and told why the Holy Spirit is the only agent which effects regeneration of Christians.

I am not sure whether these guys are doing a service or disservice to their beliefs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Insanity on a Global Scale

After a 10-year experiment in “pressure-free education”, Japan has determined to go "back to basics" and add some 1,200 pages to the standard textbooks for elementary school students and give them more homework. The move, according to the "experts", is necessary to ensure that the Japanese students can compete with students from other countries and places like S. Korea and Hong Kong. (

The world is becoming more and more uniform.  There is now a standardised test called PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) for students from all over the world.  And, students in the US, from Florida to Alaska, are expected to live up to the "Common Core State Standards", a set of standards devised by the folks at the Council of Chief State School Officers who, after drinking who knows what it is, believe that they are capable of devising a set of uniform standards.

Longer school hours, more homework, more assessment and yet more homework...

Great. It sounds really great. Things won't get better until they can't get worse. Let more people join the mass of hysterical sleep-deprived zombie-like parents marching in the hall singing, "Top Scores to Our Children!"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Angel Queen 千年女王

My sleeping habit is really bad. Very rarely do I sleep through the night. Even in a good day, I'll wake up two to three times. Sometimes, not wanting to go back to sleep immediately, I'll listen to the stereo or radio. This morning, waking at around 3, I turned on the radio, and I heard this:

I am sure a lot of people born in the 60's and 70's know this song.  It is the theme song of a Japanese animated cartoon called Angel Queen, a.k.a. 1000-Year-Queen, Millennium Queen or Galaxy Express. It is a very sad story about sacrifice and salvation based on the work of Leiji Matsumoto (松本零士). The main character, Angel Queen, was destined to engage in thousands of years of conflict with her twin sister. It was upon the final resolution of the conflicts that the twin sisters could work together to save the Earth, by having themselves killed. I am fairly certain that Leiji Matsumoto knew history well, in particular the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Why Leiji Matsumoto should write such a story for kids is beyond me. Maybe he did not have kids in mind.

What follows is another song from Angel Queen, which helps make it so memorable.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Evelyn Glennie and CIty Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong

I am sure some of my readers will love to attend this concert - Evelyn Glennie in Hong Kong. Details of the concert here.

Hearing impaired Evelyn Glennie is a renowned solo percussionist, an educationalist, a jewelry designer and a real life fighter. Given the number of fans she has, reserve your tickets now.

A TED video featuring Evelyn Glennie:

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Hawking: God Did Not Create Universe

Today's headline reminds me of Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question", one of the most inspiring short stories ever written. You can read it here.

And there was light ...

Friday, September 03, 2010

Hong Kong Eonomic Journal 信報

I have been reading HKEJ (Hong Kong Economic Journal, 信報) for over 20 years and been feeling proud of it. Not only is it the highest quality newspapers in Chinese language, it is in fact more readable than many big names worldwide. There has been some recent changes that leave a nasty taste in my mouth. First the inclusion of the so-called LifeStyle, which is nothing but a collection of boorish advertisements of luxury items, then the sudden suspension of Chen Yun's column (陳雲 - 我私故我在) following his criticisms of some of the local property developers, and the announcement today that there will be a new property page (probably sponsored by one or more of the property giants), which is going to replace the following columns of the more out-spoken writers: [商思話] 程逸; [繁星哲語] 梁巨鴻, 朱耀偉, 王建元, 梁燕城, 陳載禮, 郭少棠, 文潔華, 陶國璋; [文耕草莽] 文啟明; [上海通信] 柳葉, 毛尖, 張惠清, 愷蒂...

What the hell!? Not even a note of thanks to the out-going writers? People like 程逸 have been there since the day HKEJ was born! Don't tell me these are not murders en masse committed by the new owners of HKEJ and his friends in the Hong Kong Property Empire. I am not a three-year-old.
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