Sunday, November 30, 2008

Executed for talking to Taiwan

Whilst different courts and different judges in one country can hand down sentences for crimes that seem to lack consistency (see last blog post), that's nothing compared to the inconsistencies between countries.

I was horrified to read in today's papers that China had executed one of its citizens for “talking about the health of senior leaders” - according to one AFP report, that's a crime in China that is punishable by death.

Wo Wiehan, a 59 year old medical scientist, was put to death on Friday morning for “leaking state secrets” to Taiwan.

His trial was held in secret and the evidence against him never made public.

The US and EU have rightly condemned the execution.

China's abuse of human rights has attracted so much international criticism in recent years that last year the Chinese government announced that in the future the death penalty would be confined to cases where the crime was “extremely serious” or “a heinous crime that leads to grave social consequences”.

It appears that China was only paying lip service to improving its human rights record.

Friday, November 28, 2008

18 years for bashing, 3 years for killing

A couple of other stories that caught my eye in the local papers were about sentences handed down by local courts – one on a woman who had bashed her maid and one on a man who had caused the death of a teenager whilst trying to snatch her bag.

The woman who bashed her maid (who had recovered) received a sentence of 18 years in jail, whilst the man who had killed the teenager got off with three years.

I thought for a moment that the court had got the sentences mixed up, but that was not the case – different courts and different judges.

Whilst both crimes were serious, there doesn't seem to be much consistency between different courts when it comes down to handing out sentences.

Driving instructors fail their own test

Browsing the local paper this morning I spotted a story about 396 driving instructors attending a seminar in Ipoh who had been given a written test on the Malaysian road rules – 65 per cent failed!

And the 35 per cent who did pass only had to get 42 out of 50 multiple choice questions to pass, so even those may not have got all the answers right.

No wonder there are so many Malaysian drivers who don't have a clue what the rules of the road are.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bali’s chocolate currency

I went into a supermarket this evening and noticed this sign near the checkout till:

The grammar is not so good, but I think most people understood what it meant.

(For those not familiar with Balinese culture, the items in the small palm leaf tray in the bottom left are offerings to the spirits – I guess some of the spirits in Bali still enjoy a smoke! I suppose if you’re already dead, a cigarette is not going to do you much harm.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Traffic jams in the Strait

I flew down the Strait of Malacca – one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world – en route to Bali this afternoon. As we approached Singapore I could see hundred of tankers and container ships lined up waiting to enter the port. From 27,000 ft they looked like goldfish waiting to be fed.

Over 50,000 ships a year pass through the Strait carrying about a quarter of the entire world’s traded goods. The Strait has become so busy in recent years that the maritime authorities are placing limits on the number of ships that can use it because it is getting so jammed – and that gives rise to risks of collisions.

It is interesting to see from this picture how Singapore is still pushing its land area out to the west with massive reclamation projects. That’s Malaysia in the top left, and the channel disappearing towards the top centre is the channel that separates Singapore from Malaysia.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Using Barack's name in vain

The US election is barely over, and already computer criminals are using Barack Obama's name to target suckers who might be persuaded to download malicious software in exchange for the promise of a few dollars.

I just received the following email, purportedly from AOL:

Dear AOL user,

After the elections, the new president asked us to rise the level of protection of AOL accounts.

All accounts will be secure and users will receive the bonus amount of 25 dollars from AOL Custumer Service.

This bonus will be allocated directly into your account after you do what you ask for the page below.

We remind you that Barack Obama is the new president. All this for a better protection and for a new America.

To upgrade your account please click the link below:

Yeah sure. Bad grammar, spelling mistakes and Barack is not even President yet, but I wonder how many AOL subscribers will still fall for this. I read on a bank security website about phishing attacks that despite people being warned time and time again never to click on links in an email that they are not 100 percent sure about, between one and five percent of people still do.

So I suppose that as AOL has about eight million subscribers, if this email reached all of them, between 80,000 and 400,000 people in the US will today be clicking on that link in the hope of getting $25 credited to their account – but will in fact only be getting a download of malware (viruses, worms, trojan horses, key loggers, etc.)

I can't understand how many people still fall for these thinly disguised scams. I suppose I should though, because even in my office there is a very senior person, intelligent and well traveled, who said to me earlier this year: “I got this email with a link to a nude video of Paris Hilton, but when I clicked on the link there was nothing there.”

I felt like tearing my hair out. No wonder his computer crashed not long after that.

And no wonder Internet security is in such a mess these days.

Here's a link to an interesting story on an IT security professional's blog (a guy by the name of Didier Stevens) who ran an experiment to see if people would click on a Google ad that said: "Is your PC virus-free? Get it infected here!"

And yes, over a six month period, 409 people did just that.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A lesson in how to eat passionfruit

The strangest things sometimes happen when you are traveling. This morning I found myself giving lessons to a Norwegian man on how to eat passionfruit!

I had ducked into one of the lounges at Jakarta airport for a quick coffee and to download my emails before my flight, when I spotted some very large passionfruit near the coffee machine. They were almost as large as oranges and more of an orange colour than the usual yellow passionfruit that you find in the tropics (the purple variety is usually grown in sub-tropical climates).

I was eating one whilst I was downloading my mails, when a Norwegian man sitting nearby asked me what I was eating. It turned out that he had never seen or eaten a passionfruit. Of course they won't grow in cool climates like Norway, so I guess he hadn't traveled in the tropics or sub-tropics very much.

I showed him how to cut the fruit open (just slice it in half) and then scoop out the pulp with a teaspoon.

He asked how to take out the seeds, but I explained you just swallow them (not crunch them because they are quite hard) with the pulp – which he didn't seem very comfortable doing. I had to assure him that they would just “slide through the system” with no after effects at all.

Unfortunately the passionfruit he sampled turned out to be a little sour and rather bland in flavour. I tried to assure him that there were many varieties of passionfruit available, and some of them had a very tasty and fruity flavour with a nice tang that was both sweet and slightly tart at the same time. But he didn't seem impressed, so I don't think I converted him to being a passionfruit eater.

The new US President: Barry the Menteng Kid

The headlines on this morning's Jakarta Post said it all: Barry's done it!

They were of course referring to the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the U.S, who is affectionately known in Indonesia as Barry.

You often seen references to him in the Indonesian press as the 'Anak Menteng' (the 'Menteng Kid') because Obama lived in Jakarta as a child from 1967 to 1971, and for some of that time went to a school in the suburb of Menteng.

My taxi driver to Jakarta airport seemed ecstatic about the news.

“Who would think son of Muslim man could be elected President of United States,” he said. “I so happy.”

In somewhat broken English, he went on to explain that he believed that because Barack Obama had a Muslim father who was black, and a Christian mother who was white, he would be able to transcend racial and religious boundaries and bring more understanding to the world.

“Barry is best man to bring peace to the world,” he said.

“That George Bush – he no good – he always want war. That McCain man – he worse than Bush. And that Salem woman – she worst of all!” he exclaimed. (I assume he was referring to Sarah Palin).

In a way, that Jakarta taxi driver reflects the aspirations of people all around the world. Whilst in the U.S. about 48% of the population still voted for McCain (final results not tallied yet of course) in other parts of the world Obama was the clear favourite – and in some countries would have polled up to 90% of the vote.

I read a story in a paper on the plane back to Kuala Lumpur that said that surveys taken around the world showed that if Obama had been standing for President of the World, he would have won in every country except Israel, Georgia and the Philippines.

The rest of the world – as well as the majority of Americans – have high expectations for Obama.

In my lifetime there has only been one other U.S. president that I can recall as having attracted so much adulation at the time he was elected – and that was John F. Kennedy who was elected in 1961 at the age of 43. Some have likened Obama to JFK because of their oratory skills and their ability to inspire the electorate with their visions.

I was only a kid when JFK was assassinated two years later – but I remember how the news stunned me at the time, and the outpouring of grief around the world.

Many people have already expressed the fear that the same might happen to Obama. That would be a tragedy for the world. However, we should take comfort in the fact the the U.S. Secret Service is no doubt a hundred times better equipped than it was in 1963 – and they must all have in the back of their minds what happened in Dallas, Texas, on that fateful day nearly 45 years ago. Let's hope they live up to the reputation they have earned over the past four decades.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Conference in the clouds

I’m attending a conference at Two ifc in Hong Kong today. At 88 stories high, Two ifc is the city’s tallest building, but if it is raining (or drizzling as it was in Hong Kong this morning) you don’t get to see very much. In fact, even on the 56th floor where our conference is being held, this is all you could see out of the window at 10.00 am:

But after the cloud had lifted after lunch, this was the view:

What a difference!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A quiet afternoon at KLIA

I checked in at KLIA for a flight to Hong Kong this afternoon. I have not seen the airport look so quiet for a long time. The Cathay Pacific check-in area was deserted:

When I got to the check-in desk I said to the clerk: “Am I late?”

“No,” she replied.

“Am I early,” I asked.

“No,” she replied again.

“So why are there no passengers around,” I asked

“It’s a light flight,” she explained

“Does that mean we get there quicker?” I quipped.

She glanced up at me, but didn’t reply. She was probably thinking: “Stupid man."

Sarah Palin takes the bait

Yesterday, US Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was well and truly fooled by a prank call made by two comedians known as the Master Avengers from a radio station in Canada.

The call was purportedly from the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.

A friend sent me the transcript (below) but the recording is even funnier:

I would have thought that one of the first things Sarah Palin’s advisors would tell her not to ever do was to take calls purportedly from world leaders, without checking out their bona fides first, because these sorts of prank calls are often staged by radio station DJs and comedians during election periods.

But even if she wasn’t given such advice, you would think she would have figured something was not quite right when the fake Nicolas Sarkozy (who had a really 'over the top' fake French accent) started telling her how good Carla Bruni was in bed. Does she really think that the President of another country on his very first call to her is going to start telling her that his wife is good in bed!

But no, Joe Six-Pack’s pin-up girl fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Here is the transcript because if you don’t speak French you need to understand some of the translations to appreciate the full humour of this (thanks Fernand for sending this to me):

Ring ring . . .

Sarah Palin’s Assistant (SP Assist): This is Betsy.

Master Avengers (MA): Hello, Betsy. This is Frank l'ouvrier [Frank the worker], I'm with President Sarkozy, on the line for Governor Palin.

SP Assist: One second please, can you hold on one second please?

MA: No problem.

SP Assist: Hi, I'm going to hand the phone over to her.

MA: Okay thank you very much I'm going to put the president on the line.

SP Assist: Okay he's coming to the line.

Sarah Palin (SP): This is Sarah.

MA: Yeah, Governor Palin?

SP: Hellloooo . . .

MA: Just hold on for President Sarkozy, one moment.

SP [To someone in the room]: Oh, it's not him yet, I always do that. I'll just have people hand it to me right when it's them.

Fake Nicolas Sarkozy (FNS): Yes, hello, Governor Palin? Yes, hello, Mrs Governor?

SP: Hello this is Sarah, how are you?

FNS: Fine, and you, this is Nicolas Sarkozy speaking, how are you?

SP: Oh . . so good, it's so good to hear you. Thank you for calling us.

FNS: Oh, it's a pleasure.

SP: Thank you sir, we have such great respect for you, John McCain and I, we love you and thank you for spending a few minutes to talk to me.

FNS: I follow your campaigns closely with my special American Advisor Johnny Hallyday, you know?

SP: Yes! Good!

FNS: Excellent! Are you confident?

SP: Very confident and we're thankful that the polls are showing that the race is tightening and . . .

FNS: Well I know very well that the campaign can be exhausting. How do you feel right now my dear?

SP: Ah, I feel so good. I feel like we're in a marathon and at the very end of the marathon, you get your second wind and you plow to the finish . . .

FNS: You see, I got elected in France because I'm real and you seem to be someone who's real as well.

SP: Yes, yeah, Nicholas, we so appreciate this opportunity.

FNS: You know, I see you as a president, one day, you too.

SP: [Muahaaa...weird laugh], maybe in 8 years. Ha ha

FNS: Well, ah, I hope for you. You know we have a lot in common because personally one of my favorite activities is to hunt too.

SP: [Giggle] Oh very good, we should go hunting together.

FNS: Exactly! We could go try hunting by helicopter, like you did, I never did that.

SP: [Giggle]

FNS: Like we say in France, "on pourrait tuer des bébés phoques aussi" [Translation: “We could also kill some baby seals”]

SP: [Giggle] Well I think we could have a lot of fun together as we're getting work done, we can kill two birds with one stone that way.

FNS: I just love killing those animals. Mm, mm. Take away a life, that is so fun!

SP: [Hahahaha]

FNS: I'd really love to go as long as we don't bring your Vice-President Cheney, ha ha ha.

SP: No, I'll be a careful shot, yes.

FNS: Yes, you know we have a lot in common also except that from my house I can see Belgium. That's kind of less interesting than you.

SP: Well, see, we're right next door to other countries that we all need to be working with, yes.

FNS: Some people said in the last days, and I thought that was mean, that you were not experienced enough in foreign relations, and you know, that's completely false, that's the thing I said to my great friend, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stef Carse [Stephen Harper is actually the PM].

SP: Well, he's doing fine, too, and yeah when you come into a position underestimated, it gives you an opportunity to prove the pundits and the critics wrong. You work that much harder.

FNS: I, I was wondering because you are also next to him, one of my good friends, also, the Prime Minister of Quebec, Mr Richard Z. Sirois [a famous Quebec radio host], have you met him recently? Did he come to one of your rallies?

SP: Uh, haven't seen him at one of the rallies, but it's been great working with the Canadian officials in my role as governor; we have a great cooperative effort there as we work on all of our resource development projects. You know I look forward to working with you and getting to meet you personally and your beautiful wife, oh my goodness, you've added a lot of energy to your country, even, with that beautiful family of yours.

FNS: Thank you very much. You know my wife, Carla, would love to meet you. You know even though she was a bit jealous that I was supposed to speak to you today. [Ha ha ha ha]

SP: [Ha ha ha ha] Well give her a big hug from me.

FNS: You know my wife is a popular singer and a former top model and she's so hot in bed. She even wrote a song for you.

SP: Oh my goodness! I didn't know that.

FNS: Yes, in French, it's called Du rouge à lèvres sur une cochonne [Translate: “Lipstick on a smutty girl” (some say this translates to “lipstick on a sow”)] or if you prefer in English, Joe the Plumber, [sings] It's his life, Joe the Plumber . . ."

SP: Maybe she understands some of the unfair criticism but I bet you she is such a hard worker, too, and she realizes you just plow through that criticism like . . .

FNS: I just want to be sure, I don't quite understand the phenomenon "Joe the Plumber," that's not your husband, right?

SP: That's not my husband but he's a normal American who just works hard and doesn't want government to take his money.

FNS: Yes, yes, I understand, we have the equivalent of Joe the Plumber in France, it's called, "Marcel, the guy with bread under his armpit, oui."

SP: Right. That's what it's all about, is the middle class, and government needing to work for them. You're a very good example for us here.

FNS: I seen a bit about NBC even Fox News wasn't an ally, an ally, sorry, about as much as usual.

SP: Yeah that's what we're up against.

FNS: I must say, Governor Palin, I love the documentary they made on your life, you know, Hustler's "Nailin Palin" [a porn film featuring a Sarah Palin lookalike]

SP: Oh, good, thank you. Yes.

FNS: That was really edgy.

SP: [Laughs] Well good.

FNS: I really love you. And I must say something, so, Governor, you've been pranked.
By the Master Avengers. We're two comedians from Montreal.

SP: Oohhh have we been pranked? And what radio station is this? [tries to force herself to sound nice but you can tell she's cranky]

FNS: This is for CKOI in Montreal.

SP: In Montreal? Tell me the radio station call letters

[SP leaves phone, continuous griping in background, sounds like, "For chrissakes . . . that was ??? Just a radio station prank . . . chrissakes . . . "]

MA: Hello? If one voice can change the world for Obama, one Viagra can change the world for McCain.

[Man's voice in background: “Hang up, hang up”]
SP Assist: Hi, I'm sorry, I have to let you go. Thank you.

Of course, since yesterday there have been thousands of comments posted on the Internet – most ridiculing Palin for how easily she was sucked in.

But one comment on a Huffington Post story about the prank struck a more serious note. It said:

“Do you really want a VP who gets pranked that easy? Come on, just imagine those guys were from an Israeli radio station telling her that Iran just bombed Tel Aviv. Sarah Palin would believe it and push the red button.”

Fair comment.