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spikegifted.net - Archive Q1 2005

March 2005:
- Despite being a fairly dedicated PC gamer
for a long time, the following story still shock me: A man in China was stabbed to death in a row over a sword, a certain 'dragon saber', that he had been loan. The sword in question exists only in virtual form in the MMORPG, Legends of Mir 3 - ie. it is not real! I've heard game developers trying hard to make their games 'immersive', but this has taken 'realism' to a totally different level...
- This is something that is very close to my professional life - creditworthiness of financial institutions. As a counterparty risk analyst, I've certain opinion about the qualities of the financial institutions that our organization deal with. Why does creditworthiness matter? In itself, creditworthiness of your counterparties only mean something when you need to deal with them. So if you don't need to deal with them and if they work by and large in a market that is remote from the one that you operate in, you can claim that probability of loss is relatively slim. However, when you consider the creditworthiness of a banking or financial system where a number of institutions operate in, you get a sense of where the economy and the general health of the country's finance are heading. It is a well-known secret that China's state owned banks are in bad shapes. These are due to years of making poor decisions owing poor control, corruption and just plain bad credit decision making. With an expanding economy, it is vital for the country's banks to be able to finance the growth internally, instead of solely rely on foreign cash - one day, that cash will dry up. While the state has been bailing out and recapitalizing the banks to make them stronger, the culture of poor control and corruption appears to continue. Greed is a human nature, but it has to be controlled. If the state-owned banks are too large to be controlled effectively, they should be broken up to allow more efficient management. If the managements are failing, fire the existing and hire real banking managers instead of installing high-ranking party officials with some limited understanding of the business. If politicians, local or national, continue to interfere with credit decisions, fire the politicians and jail them. Something has to be done to stop this robbery.
- The Ruler_of_spike and I took advantage of the long Easter weekend to spend some time over in France. Owing to various reasons, we haven't been back to France since September last year. To be completely honest, I really miss being there. It has been over two years since I went there for a vacation - I mean excluding the wedding preparations in July and September last year. I thought I would never say this, but tranquil village life is the perfect counter-balance to the hectic city life we face everyday. The more I go there, the more I appreciate the superior quality of life in comparison to daily grind of London.
- Yet another piece of news coming from the BBC News site: When the present leaders of China came to power, they urged officials to put people's interests first and help build a 'better' China. However, officials instead have been going after those who are considered 'threats' to the regime. Well of course you'd achieve a 'harmonious' society if you you keep persecuting those who dare to think and act different from the 'official line', or even those are relatives of who those have done so in the past. We have seen examples of this kind of 'unity' and how it was achieved, the most infamous of all was Nazi Germany. Should there be a study to compare Communist China in its current shape and form and Nazi Germany, I am curious as to which regime is considered more repressive.
- So Hong Kong will have a chance to elect its own chief executive after all. (Chinese) Unfortunately, it is difficult to get excited about this because will be via the 'selection committee' which is dominated by pro-Communist elements. The question is should the democrats forward their own candidate(s) for the election. The positive side is with more than one candidate, the challengers will raise the profile of the 'selection' and promote further democratic reforms down the line. The negative side to be labeled as 'disruptive' as the most likely successor is seen as a competent operator. (Chinese)...
- Congratulations to the Welsh Rugby Team for winning the Grand Slam for the first time in 27 years!! It has been the most exhilarating weeks of rugby for a long long time. First they stopped the so-called World Champions dead on their tracks in a tightly contested match with a narrow victory. Then the team consolidated the campaign with an efficient game over the Italians in Rome. These combined to give the team the confidence to overwhelm the French in Paris when they trailed by nine points at half-time. The match against the Scots in Murrayfield was always going to be tricky but the Welsh practically sealed the game by the end of the first quarter. Finally, a commanding performance over one of the pre-tournament favorites Ireland. The team won by playing an expansive game and it is just plain exciting to watch. In recent years, being a fan of Welsh rugby has not been easy - years of being ridiculed as the weakest team in the Five Nations and the nation has collected an alarming number of 'wooden spoons' during the 1990s. Eventually, there was a glimmer of hope during World Cup 2003 when the team put up very convincing performances against the All Blacks and the eventual champions, but the Welsh team was still not converting tight games into victories. Now, I can wear my Three Feathers with pride!
- The People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) have been standing off the Taiwan Strait for over 55 years. They have different leadership, political systems, education, economic models and social make ups - they're, for all intents and purposes, two different sovereign countries. So how do you make a future invasion 'legal'? Well, first you 'make' one a province of the other (the PRC sees Taiwan as a 'renegade' province); then you pass an anti-secession law making any claim of independence 'illegal' and finally, declares that failure to 're-unite' can be resolved by 'non-peaceful' means. Well, is there any surprise that the people of Taiwan fail to feel warm and fuzzy towards the mainland? (Chinese)
- What is the price of personal freedom and what is the price of national security? These are the questions that every freedom-loving person living in liberal democratic societies must find a balance in this post-September 11 world. The sticking point for many of UK's politicians (and I believe this is a reflection of our society as a whole) is question of who should have the decision-making power over someone's personal liberty and at the same time protect our society - the politicians or the judges. Some politicians (those in government anyway) believe that politicians are best place to make such decision and they highlight known terror suspects to back their case of denying the freedom. Well, they appear to be fairly compelling cases. However, those who think judges are better placed for such a role points out that judges are independent of political influence and serve to act as a check on the power of those in government, and at the same time protect our personal freedom, allowing politicians all their energy to draw up measures to protect our society. The government countered that politicians are better place as they've access to high level intelligence reports on the suspects. Well, what is so high level and so secret that a competent judge can't make up his/her mind about? If the evidence is so compelling that it warrants the removal of an individual's personal freedom in a free society, surely the decision can be made by a 10-year old child? No, my feeling is that national security has sadly become a political pawn in the upcoming election. It is now seen as a tool to grab headlines. If the power to make decision is given to judges rather than politicians, those in government has one less thing to trumpet as a success over the oppositions.
- Now things can get really messy! Tung Chee-hwa has finally tendered his resignation from the post of chief executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Hong Kong can finally look to life after him. However, questions linger: Was his pushed by the Communists in China? What are China's plans for Hong Kong? Who will be appointed as the next chief executive? By whom? For how long? The following are two quotes that sums up my edgy feelings of what's happened: "If they are prepared to dismiss the most senior official in Hong Kong without any consultation with Hong Kong people whatsoever, it tells you that promises made to Hong Kong by the former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping really don't mean a great deal" and "Whatever arrangements are to be followed, it is obvious that there is no room for Hong Kong people to play any part in deciding our future". I sincerely hope that the Communists can surprise us all by doing the right thing - let Hong Kong people decide what is and who is best for them.
- Something terrible has happened at work, but I can't say anything about it... It affects one of my colleagues in quite a significant way.
While it does not directly involve me, I feel that I'm under a lot of pressure. It is too early to say what's going to happen (I can't talk about it anyway) but it might mean some changes to how I work and what I do. We'll have wait and see how this pans out.
- Let's start the month with a bit of positive news! Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), the unpopular chief executive of Hong Kong has decided to (Chinese) / about to / would soon / has already resign[d] from his job. (What a mess!!) You can guess by my tone that I'm not sad to see him go. There is one concern remaining: What is going to happen now? As far as I know, there is no mechanism to handle the resignation of the chief executive. Would the Communists appoint another unpopular (and incompetent) leader? Would they use this as an excuse to delay possible full election even further? Only time will tell. 
February 2005:
- Here's another piece of news from the BBC Chinese website: A sailor from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, which is currently visiting Hong Kong, has been detained by the local police and appeared in court  being charged with causing grievous bodily harm on a taxi driver after a night out on shore. Kitty Hawk is on a 'good will' visit to HK and HK is not a war zone. So if you can behave like that to a local in 'friendly territory', what do you think he, or any other serviceman, is capable of when dealing with 'hostiles'?
- May be it is because I'm Asian or because I spent much of my childhood in warm climate, but I like snow. I think I've grown out of wanting to pack some snowballs and find moving targets to practice my throwing skillz, but I don't think I'd ever be tired of looking at it. For the past couple of weeks, the Southeast of England has been experiencing some really cold weather. For much of this week, even in the center of London, there has been snow. I love watching snow fall. Unlike rain and sleet, snow is so much lighter that it gets blown around so much more. I just can't resist the sight of looking at a streetlamp at night when it's snowing and watch how the wind plays with the falling snow and how the moving snow plays with the light from the streetlamp. I can watch it for hours, if only I had the time. It sure beats watching the abysmal 'entertainment' on British TV. There have been a few days when I woke up in the morning and felt disappointed when I saw the overnight has not settled. However, this morning, there was a blanket of snow outside. The scene of snow made me feel incredible peaceful and relaxed. I'm not a cold-climate person, but it makes me happy and feel a sense of calm seeing this blanket of snow. 
- The world of merchant banking changed forever ten years ago: Baring Brothers, the oldest merchant banking institution in the UK, went bankrupt on the back of massive losses in the futures market in Singapore. Nick Leeson, who headed the futures team in Singapore, was the person that 'brought down' Barings. However, you have to ask the question: Why was he allowed to do that? The simple answer was greed. The senior people sitting in London were all very happy with Leeson's results in the past and thought the man could do no wrong. When margin calls came, instead of questioning the trades that made the losses and bailing out of the trades, more money was given to Leeson. Eventually, the losses were just too large.  There was no risk management, but plenty of mismanagement. IMHO, Leeson was made a public scapegoat, but those in senior management should bear equal responsibility to the bank's failure.
- Here at spikegifted.net, you can read my thoughts and opinions on a range of topics - current affairs, my hobbies, my job, my life, my pet-hates, etc - basically, quite a lot about me. For those who're more 'connected' than I'm, this is a 'blog'. Over the past couple of years, there have been some very stupid things happening to 'bloggers', like getting fired for saying or alleging things about their employers or workplaces, but there have been some very worthy subjects also, like the Ivan Noble's Tumour Diary on the BBC News website. Now, bloggers are launching an 'action day', to lend support to a couple of imprisoned Iranian bloggers. For those of use who are lucky enough to live in societies that are based on democratic principals, the freedoms of speech and thoughts are nearly guaranteed rights (there are limits to what you can say, even in the most liberal of societies). However, in some more repressive regimes, even thinking the wrong kind of thoughts can be very dangerous. While I'm not saying that I sympathize with the two imprisoned bloggers, for I don't know what they've published on their sites, this is a reminder how precious 'liberty' really is. For it is not only in repressive regimes where the very basic freedoms and rights are not protected, but also in societies where there are a group of over-zealous 'protectors' who won't think twice before removing these very rights and freedoms from those they have been elected to protect.
- In case anyone hasn't noticed, politicians in democracies come to power through the popular vote. Now, President Bush has just won his second term and is now seeking to win back friends he and his administration lost over Iraq. By hooking up with European political leaders, the hope is that his more 'conciliatory' tone will be the beginning of improved trans-Atlantic relationships. Well, politicians are public employees and they need public support to remain in power and my guess is that the European public is still very much against anything Mr. Bush stands for. Ultimately, European politicians will listen to and give what their countrymen want and no amount of smoozing will change the average Europeans' perceptions of what Mr. Bush represents.
- Well, it is not yet time for that famous rubber to meet that famous road, but it's meeting the test track. This week, the IOC evaluation team comes to town to inspect London's bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The team will be carrying out site inspections; interviews with communities, businesses and politicians; and a whole bunch of other things - all in the space of a few days. During this time, we need to show that everybody - and I do mean every body - has to show that they're backing the bid. Let's at least put a good show on this little patch of the road.
- I don't generally like the idea of lifting images from other people's website, but these are just too good to miss!
"If this is broadband in Japan..." "...is this broadband in Britain?" Classic!!
(Images and captions taken from BBC News website)
- The Chinese culture is one of the most superstitious. Fortune telling and horoscopes of all sorts combine to make a very healthy industry. I don't know about you, but I certainly don't find any counter-revolutionary messages in my weekly horoscopes, yet the Communist authorities in China have imposed a ban on broadcast ads for horoscope messages. Ok, broadcast ads can be a nuisance to cell phone users; but, hey, banning those and other advertisements is just censorship, right? Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised...
- Happy Chinese New Year!!!
- Ellen MacArthur is an incredible woman! And, by the way, she is also an incredible sailor. She has just broken the single-handed round-the-world sailing record. I've been following her voyage right from the beginning, back in November last year, through the Team Ellen website and through the BBC Sports website. What an epic journey and what amazing courage, stamina, strength and sheer single-mindedness! Watching her progress and struggle against the elements in the past 71 days has been a privilege - I've been watching one of the greatest sailor doing what she does best! Well done, Ellen.
- Chinese New Year is fast approaching and the UK Prime Minister sent a message for this festive occasion. This is all very sweet. However, let's put this festive message into context here: Someone, somewhere in the UK would like to redevelop a part of London's Chinatown, which is located in the heart of London's West End, ie. prime real estate. This is going to be done despite the fact that the 'redevelopment plans' were announced without consulting the occupants of the addresses - Chinatown's businesses... London's Chinatown is a special place and has a special atmosphere. Redevelopment will probably mean exuberant rents afterwards, which will drive tenants out and destroy this special place.
- As we, as a population, generate more and more rubbish, the national and local governments are all trying to make us recycle more of our waste. And it must be working, as our local recycling site is very busy. The Ruler_of_spike and I recycle a good portion of our household waste - bottles, cans and paper waste. However, the authorities' urging and the citizens' good will will not get us anywhere if the recycling bins are not emptied or the waste not collected. In our recent trips to the recycling site, we found the recycling bins of every type full to the limit. There were bags of old newspaper, bottles and tin and drink cans left near the recycling bins and the place looked a mess. If the local and national governments want to make the country serious about recycling, they should be serious about collecting the recycled items. The good will of the citizens will not last forever and some will find it hard to motivate themselves if the authorities appear less than fully committed to their policies.
- Congratulations to the Welsh Rugby Team!! Despite torturing me for 80 minutes, it was a magnificent victory against England. Welsh rugby has waited over 10 years for this victory. After the very promising display in 2003's Rugby World Cup and last year's autumn test series, the team finally achieved the break through that they have shown signs that they were capable of. In the past ten to fifteen years, there has been so many Wales teams that have promised much but failed to deliver. Let's hope that this is the beginning of a real rugby revival of Welsh rugby.
- In my previous role in debt capital market origination, a big part of my job was to cover potential issuers from Russia and among these Russian oil producers. Although Yukos wasn’t high on the list of targeted clients, it was the largest oil company (before being forced to be broken up and auctioned by the Russian government) and hence acted as a benchmark to others. I’ve been following the running feud between the Russian government and the former Yukos boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the re-nationalization of the largest oil company with a great deal of interest. So I was surprised to see that the money put up by the state-owned Vnesheconombank to finance Rosneft’s acquisition of the largest Yukos production unit actually came from China’s China National Petroleum Corporation, CNPC, which in turn probably originated from Chinese state-owned banks. (English) China’s thirst for oil to fuel its growing economy is well known internationally, but I suspect this action by the CNPC amounts to collusion in a foreign country’s state affairs. The plot thickens...
- Is global warming a problem? If so, how should we address it? These are the questions for the 200 climate scientists from around the world gathered in a UK conference must address. I think it is safe to assume that most scientists agree that there is a phenomenal call ‘global warming’ taking place. (At least we are not disputing that...) The next issue is more difficult to assess: is current rate of global warming a problem for the planet? There are two parameters that people can disagree with here: what is the correct estimate of the current rate of global warming and at what rate should we be concerned? Then if we somehow manage to agree on a rate and agree that the rate is dangerous for the planet, then there’s the question what to do about it. The chances are that the scientist will disagree on the most fundamental of points and absolutely nothing will come out of this conference except ruffled feathers and ‘bad will’. I guess I better stick with climateprediction.net...
January 2005:
- Many congratulations to the Iraqi nation. After several decades of dictatorship and nearly two years of foreign occupation, the Iraqis went to the polls for the first time in half a century. I am encouraged by the turn out of the election and was pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of violence accompanying the polls. While I personally do not believe these elections will yield the result that the US and UK governments want, I am nevertheless pleased to see democratic rights being exercised, given the opportunity, only to prove to the two occupiers of the country that they may be wrong. Now, what happens if the Iraqis votes themselves some of form of Islamic fundamentalist government? Would the US and the UK declare a well-run election null and void?
- The UK has a drinking problem… and the government is going to make it worse by allowing 24-hour opening of alcohol drinking establishments. I can remember my university days (before I quit drinking), binge drinking was a phenomenal among many of my college friends. In the past few years, binge drinking has repeated hit the headlines. Considering that the UK has one of the highest alcohol consumption rate in the world and try to image the nation’s youth try to consume all that alcohol in the briefest possible time every time they go out. Now try to imagine you allow people to hang around drinking establishments over extended period of time. The government argues that longer opening hours will encourage people to have a more sensible drinking pattern (ie. not binge drinking) and drinkers will be under less pressure to consume all the alcohol before closing time. It is hope that binge drinking and all the accompanying anti-social problems caused by drinkers will go away. However, I’d argue that longer opening hours without first removing the culture of binge drinking will lead to more problems as people can binge drink whenever they want and all the anti-social problems you’d associate with closing hours will simply be spread to a broader range of time. The government argues that by providing police with additional power will help control the anti-social problems associated with binge drinking. However, the police is already stretched to the limit, they hardly have the time and other resources to police the misbehaving drunks. Binge drinking and longer opening hours is a lethal combination and it should be stopped.
- Every once in a while, the Hubble Space Telescope, the most celebrated telescope in the world which has provided more deep space observation than any other piece of hardware to date, requires a servicing. This include replacement and/or upgrading of hardware and software. To do so requires a trip to space and such a trip costs money. The next servicing is scheduled for 2006, but thanks to US federal budget, this is been scraped. Well, considering the US military expenditures was US$370.7 billion (FY04 est., March 2003, source: CIA World Factbook), servicing Hubble would cost just over a quarter of a percentage of this budget. Keeping in mind that US military expenditure in the past couple of years hasn't exactly advanced the human race, I'd consider the money spent servicing Hubble money well spent.
- Did you know that 8 Chinese nationals have been kidnapped in Iraq? You probably don't. Why should you?
- In May 1989, among a growing, restless crowd of students gathered in Peking's Tiananmen Square, a lone senior member of the Chinese Communist Party appealed to the gather mass of China's youth to leave the square, for he feared the consequences of their prolonged occupation would be tragic (and probably bloody). That lone member of the CCP was Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽). Days after that appeal, and after a power struggle within the CCP, Zhao was deposed as secretary-general of the CCP and put on house arrest. He was not to be seen in public again. He was the leading reformer within the CCP - he was disgraced during the Great Destruction (what the CCP otherwise call the 'Cultural Revolution') for being a 'capitalist', but was later rehabilitated; he was the leading driver in introducing economic and political reforms to China during the early years of Deng Xiaoping's rule and was being groomed (and widely tipped) as Deng's successor. How cruel was
fate to this leading light of reform? How unjust is the authoritarian rule in the most populous country in the world? How short-sighted were/are the leaders of China? One day, I hope before too long, China will become the country that Zhao Ziyang had hoped to become. May you rest in peace, comrade.
- That's it! As if by magic, it is all gone... I'm talking about the Indian Ocean tsunami. After over two weeks of saturation reporting by just about every news channel in every news bulletin, this disaster, the worst in many generations, is no longer top of the news. As an indication of the kind of short-sightedness of this 'information age' that we are supposed to be living in, 'information' is only delivered to us if the 'information channels' deem the story worthy of their time and energy (read: money, costs, whatever). So, the 'information channels' now have 'worthier' news items to report, like the back-stabbing contest between the UK Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Don't they understand? Political squabbling last for days, weeks or, at most, months, but human suffering and economic impact on those people and countries affected by the tsunami do not just stop after two and half weeks - they go on for years.
- If your average daily commute is a 30-minute bus ride in each direction which only involves a single bus route, you'd be rather upset if same journey takes over two hours. That was what happened to the Ruler_of_spike this evening! The office of her new work place is near Sloane Square Underground station. To get there, she can take the Tube or she can hitch a ride on the bus. To be completely honest, the Tube is expensive, dirty, crowded, unpleasant and would have made the trip longer. So she commute by bus. This evening, she took the usual route back home after a long day at work. Usually, she can expect a slight delay when the soccer team Chelsea has a home game. However, this evening was the Carling Cup semi-final and Manchester United was visiting London. Owing to all the delays caused by the very large crowd attended to the match, all the buses that travel close to the stadium were severely delayed. Many of the buses were stopping short of their usual end stops and instead terminated earlier in their journeys to turn around. The Ruler_of_spike took five buses, three of them of one route and two of another, to come back and the whole trip took her over two hours. This was totally ridiculous. I don't care if this hole of a country is the birthplace of 'football', but it is a simple fact that nothing really works in this hell-hole. 'Football' may be every other person's passion in this country, but don't people recognize that in-town stadiums cause more problems and for longer than the 90-odd minutes of competitive sport?
- I don't want to sound like I don't care - I do! There are thousands of lives lost and millions of people being affected by the Asian tsunami disaster, but the amount of news coverage of this unfortunate event is reaching saturation. Yes, it is tragedy. Yes, these people need help... but non-stop news coverage is not going to make them feel better, or ease their suffering. Our sympathy and generosity towards these people do not need to be 'teased out' by saturation reporting. If we would only give generously because of saturation reporting, then we're living in a very sad world. Or is it because we live in such a sad world that we'd only 'oblige' to give when bombarded by non-stop reporting?
- I really don't want to complaining first thing in the new year, but I need to get this off my chest: people in this country has no manners. In general, they're rude, impolite and darn right in your face. Nothing like encountering a bunch of rude people to ruin the good will of Christmas and New Year.
- Happy New Year!!