Generation 40s – 四十世代

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用檸檬來造汽水

Hong Kong Economic Journal
P34 | 城市智庫 | 回眸英倫 | By 毛羨寧
2011-01-15

母親的朋友蘇姍姨下星期舉行婚禮,忙於準備儀式和宴會細節、安排賓客坐席、替婚紗的尺寸作最後更改。母親說,蘇姍帶着衷心的笑容將完成的工作從清單中一一劃去,沒有手忙腳亂的場面,還花時間感謝幫她打理大小事情的姊妹們。這是蘇姍第二次做新娘,對籌備的程序並不陌生,但心情一定跟許多再婚的人不一樣,畢竟,她是要嫁給一位活不了多久的人。

沒有絲毫傷感

蘇姍的未婚夫患上了末期胰臟癌,醫生去年年底告訴他,癌細胞已經隨血液擴散至全身,及至腦部,勸他放棄治療。他們倆已經六十多歲,曾經結過婚和有各自的成年子女,五年前走在一起,已說好不會結婚。蘇姍上一任丈夫也是因癌症去世,遺留下郊區房子和附近鄉村的小郵局。她變賣了這些資產,在牛津開了兩家高級時裝和晚禮服店,進口意大利及法國名牌子、搜購英國獨一無二的服飾,名人和貴族學生參加宴會前,總會來請教她的意見,花幾百至幾千鎊置裝。她選擇嫁給身無分文的未婚夫,可見不是為圖名利,只想向他許下承諾,證明她的愛不會因疾病和死亡而動搖。蘇姍說,未婚夫的癌病嚴重,經歷長期化療和藥物的副作用,體形已經完全改變,身體機能每況愈下,要坐輪椅出席婚禮— 「既然看不見他禮服的長短,連修改費都省下來!

他的雙腳腫得連鞋子也穿不下,索性不穿鞋子罷。哈!又少了一件任務。」母親忍着淚說:「她說這番話的時候十分剛強,絲毫沒有傷感,好像在說別人的故事似的,不讓我們替她難過。」我還記得從前下課後經過蘇姍的兩家店舖,總會向她和店員們打招呼,每次換季時新貨剛到,她會預留起Matthew Williamson 所設計的晚裝裙子給我試穿,並拿出各種項鏈首飾和皮包來配襯。即使我只買一對手鐲,她也笑得開懷,還堅持要給我打個折扣。原本替客人打扮為樂,結婚時怎會苟且未婚夫的衣帽鞋襪?英國人擅長掩飾喜怒哀樂,但面具總會在朋友面前脫下。我所見的大多數英國人確實會平靜面對生命裏突如其來的悲劇和災難;這是一種最難以理解、最令人佩服的民族特徵。

這就是人生

好像1998 年復活節,連續六天的滂沱大雨造成了水災,淹蓋過英國中部由烏斯特郡至劍橋郡一帶,殃及地區是中產人士的聚居地和熱門旅遊點,包括莎士比亞故鄉雅芳河畔斯特拉福、利明頓溫泉、牛津郡北部、東英吉利亞,有超過一千五百人撤離了家園。我從新聞報道中看暴雨過後仍然水漲的情景—有一家人的三層高房子被水蓋至屋頂,只好在房子前等待救援。小妹妹坐在橡皮膠桶上面,父母一手抓着她,一手抓着屋頂邊的水渠,姊姊在後面游。當他們看見電視新聞隊在直升機上拍攝,竟向鏡頭笑着揮手!房子、車子和家裏的財物盡失,浮沉在泥濘般的雨水中不知多少個小時,怎麽還能笑?

倫敦受到恐怖分子襲擊、非典型肺炎爆發期間……我從未看見有人仰天哀號、破口大罵政府辦事不力、沒天理之類的話。他們的心態是:這就是人生。

我們雖然知道人生不如意事十常八九,但每當遇到意外和控制不到的困局時,免不了覺得自己很不幸、真不公平。美國著名女作家Joan Didion 在A Yearof Mag ical Thinking 上寫過: 「我曾不斷跟自己說,我一生都很幸運」。自從五十年代柏克萊大學畢業後在時裝雜誌Vogue 當編輯,出版的小說叫好又叫座,嫁給在文壇同樣德高望重的作家John Gregory Dunne 超過四十年,曾拍檔編寫羅拔烈福和米雪菲花主演的Up Close andPersonal 電影劇本。當她剛出嫁的女兒突然肺炎入院、陷入昏迷,六個月後丈夫在她面前心臟病發猝死,她自問: 「幸運跟人生有什麽關係呢?」每個人必然會遇到壞消息,每個人總會失去一些。

我們最怕失去什麼?化療時掉下來的頭髮?

記憶?親人離去?金錢名利?這些不由得我們來選擇,惟有西方一句話: 「當生命給你檸檬,便用來弄檸檬汽水。」與其害怕失去,不如利用逆境轉化為造福別人的機會。蘇姍的婚禮本是接受別人的祝福,我卻反過來因她勇敢的表現得到振作。她的人生也許不夠幸運,但以婚禮歡送最愛的人,一定是最幸福、最圓滿。

作者為牛津大學博士,曾於劍橋擔任管理顧問毛羨寧

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Unwelcome state hand on prices

South China Morning Post
EDT11 | EDT | By Edited by Hu Shuli
2011-01-13

Three years after the passage of China’s anti-monopoly law, once mocked as a toothless tiger, the country’s so-called economic constitution will finally have some bite.

The National Development and Reform Commission recently announced two sets of regulations to tackle price-fixing by monopolies, which take effect from February 1. The rules unambiguously empower authorities to investigate and penalise price-fixing, underscoring the government’s determination to improve the existing law. In particular, the regulations’ clear definition of market dominance will make it much easier for the authorities to act on monopolistic behaviour.

But while the new rules are on the whole commendable, they remain silent on the problem that raises the most concern: administrative monopolies, referring to central or local governments abusing their power to interfere in the market.

Of the 29 articles in one set of regulations, only one deals with such abuse. Article 24 of the Anti Price-Fixing Regulations says that any state office or government body found to have flouted the rules should be dealt with in accordance with Article 51 of the anti-monopoly law, which happens to be the most controversial and flawed item in the law. Under this provision, the agency guilty of monopolistic behaviour is held to account only at the discretion of higher authorities, while the agency itself may suggest appropriate resolutions in accordance with the law.

Of course, no one believes that such a vague law for action by higher authorities can be effective. Hence, the problems caused by government interference are likely to continue. In fact, since the anti-monopoly law was implemented on August 1, 2008, many consumers have complained to legal authorities about the price-fixing practices of oil, electricity and other companies. But their efforts have so far been fruitless due to the vagueness of the law on administrative monopolies.

Hope was high that the government would refine the law and plug these loopholes through operational guidelines, to bring such abuse under the purview of enforcement authorities. That the new regulations have failed to address this problem is disappointing. The omission reflects our decision-makers’ inadequate understanding of the issue.

Defenders of administrative monopolies often argue that some trades and industries, particularly in energy and public utilities, are exceptional because monopolies in these industries are natural. When the new regulations were being introduced, officials said they mainly target market prices and some government-controlled prices, while the prices of daily necessities such as water, electricity, gas and petrol are outside the scope of supervision. They said this is because the government is law-bound to set prices in the important sectors of public services and utilities, and in industries that favour natural monopolies.

In a competitive market, a natural monopoly is the result of complex interactions in resource allocation. But in mainland China, there is little that is natural about a natural monopoly, which is largely the result of central planning. Even in some industries that are truly conducive to the formation of a natural monopoly, companies can take on the characteristics of a state monopoly. In other words, even when dealing with a true natural monopoly, we have to determine which of its practices are the result of market conditions, and which are driven by government interference.

Moreover, by claiming the role of price-setting, the government implies that it is acting to protect society and the market by preventing exorbitant prices. But, on the mainland, there is no clear separation between government and market. As owner and operator, the government directly or indirectly takes on all aspects of management and price-setting, and often ends up doing too much or too little, or is plain wrong.

And, for historical reasons, government departments and state monopolies have deep and complex ties. Therefore, the argument for making exceptions of natural monopolies on the mainland only ensures it is easy for administrative monopolies to escape the purview of the law.

Given the government’s strong hand, public hearings on price-setting become a formality. Since the statutory function of a price hearing is to prove the necessity and feasibility for the government to set prices, the outcome of the hearing is known even before it is held. Worse still, officers and citizens who attend the hearing are normally chosen by the relevant government departments, and the hearing is held behind closed doors. From start to end, the consumers are the weaker parties, with little voice of their own. It’s no surprise that, to mock the proceedings, some have popularised the expression where there’s a hearing, there’ll be a price rise.

With inflation getting worse, more people expect the government to rein in price-fixing and protect their consumer rights.

The latest regulations have failed to put administrative monopolies within reach of the law, and the government must make up for its omission.

In setting prices, the government must admit to the adverse consequences of the practice and take drastic measures to break up its monopoly in the long run. In the short run, the government should impose price ceilings in monopolistic industries, with reference to the experiences in developed countries such as the US and Britain, and get rid of the current practice of cost-plus pricing to contain the costs incurred.

Whether the problems of administrative monopolies can be resolved depends on decision-makers’ determination to carry out reform of the pricing systems for resources and public utilities. And the key is in reforming the law. It is difficult to get started, but it is something that must be done.

This article is provided by Caixin Media, and the Chinese version of it was first published in Century Weekly magazine. http://www.caing.com Copyright (c) 2011. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.


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風波愈揭愈大業主保障何在

Hong Kong Economic Journal
P02 | 要聞社評 | 社評
2011-01-22

西半山豪宅THE ICON 觸發的風波愈挖愈大,負責獨家代理該樓盤的中原集團董事施永青前天公開反駁小業主,指他們在簽署臨時買賣合約時,已知悉開放式廚房必須在交樓後才改裝,言下之意,是小業主投訴收樓後仍有工程進行是買賣雙方早就知悉的安排,小業主並非不知情;至於作為中介代理的中原又有何責任?據施永青表示,負責銷售的代理不知道改裝工程或會與法例有牴觸,言下之意,中原只是不熟悉有關法例,並沒有刻意隱瞞或誤導買家。

施永青的公開反駁,揭出了THE ICON 交易背後更多、更複雜的問題:第一,過去新樓出售時,是否都有發展商和物業代理聯手炮製」的一個合法」售樓圖則,然後向準買家游說,接受購入物業後再改裝的安排?此舉明顯是暗地裏違法,繞過政府的法例規定(不能擅自改裝單位建築)。第二,政府對這種聯手合作瞞天過海的售樓手法是否知情?如果這種做法是售樓慣技」,為何政府相關部門竟然長期袖手旁觀?第三,物業代理是否真的不知道這種先簽約、後改建的做法屬於違規?如果知道,為何明知故犯?專業操守何在?如果不知,那麼地產代理的專業水準實在太低,地產代理監管局是否有失責之嫌?

至於物業買家,是否也有責任?買家明知要在簽約後才改建開放式廚房,是明知而為,知法犯法,按理不值得同情。但是,正如雷曼迷債爆煲之後揭露出來的銀行銷售手法,從完成法律文件的手續來看,買家的確已經簽了名,表示確認接受迷債的銷售條款,但經深入調查之後,銀行的不良銷售手法原來層出不窮,說明了願意在文件上簽名,不等於買家完全知道自己的權利責任和相關風險,施永青以小業主簽署臨時買賣合約時已知悉交樓後才裝修,到底業主知悉」了多少個中利害?地產代理有沒有向買家清楚解釋接受這種安排會有什麼後果?答案顯而易見,物業代理並沒有履行職責,而發展商和物業代理都是大機構,小業主以一人之力,而香港的物業非常搶手,買家很難在得到充分意見之後才簽署買賣合約。

按照目前的做法,發展商通常是在消防署、屋宇署驗樓、拿到入伙紙(Occupa tion Permit)之後,便拆掉原有廚房的牆,改裝成開放式廚房,如此安排,發展商便不用加強消防系統,而業主則可以使用明火廚具(政府規定開放式廚房只可用電熱板、電磁爐等沒有明火的廚具)。如果改裝後的開放式廚房是不合法的,有關法律責任須由小業主承擔,從現在THE ICON 風波的 表面證據」來看,小業主極可能已違法動工」,這也許是THE ICON 發展商看中業主可能擔心被追究而願付出溢價一成回購單位的原因。

政府在各類型投資產品領域都設立了監管機構,例如證監會、銀監(由金管局負責)、保(險業)監等,但涉及金額更大的物業買賣卻沒有一個直接相關的監管部門,確保買賣公平進行,以及保障準業主的權益;地產代理監管局負責監管地產代理,但從施永青的公開言論來看,地產代理似乎專注於為發展商促銷多於保障各方利益,令交易能在公平情況下進行,地監局對促進業界的水準並無明顯成績,更遑論保障物業買家的權益了!

物業發展涉及的法例和政府部門多如牛毛,要求物業買家自行研究」以保障自己的利益,肯定不切實際,但在法律上,物業成交之後,業主就要承擔所有的相關責任,如果一不留神或受物業代理游說,很容易就會中招」。經過近幾年多場物業風波,清楚顯示了物業買家缺乏保障及任由發展商及物業代理擺布」的現實,設立保障物業消費者權益的機構實在刻不容緩。


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中國為何特多政治隱喻的猜想?

Ming Pao Daily News
A32 | 觀點 | 政情觀察 | By 蔡子強
2011-01-14

我記得當年追看國內人氣電視劇《雍正王朝》,其中印象深刻的一幕,便是仍未獲康熙授予王位的雍正,為滿清國庫向一眾大臣、皇親、國戚追收欠款,因為過於雷厲風行,任誰都不賣帳,結果弄得自己四面樹敵,焦頭爛額。當時國內坊間都說,那是影射正為國家清算「三角債」,而弄得自己灰頭土臉的總理朱鎔基。

雍正vs.朱鎔基漢武帝vs.胡錦濤

不久之後,國內又有另一套人氣電視劇《漢武大帝》,描述仍未成年登基的漢武帝,如何在竇太后(武帝祖母)的陰影之下,忍氣吞聲,默默鞏固權力,結果磨劍十年,終於得以掌權。當時在國內又引發另一輪政治聯想,說這不是影射在江澤民的陰影之下,那個誠惶誠恐,生怕行差踏錯,結果兩屆黨代表大會(10 年)之後,才得掌權力的隔代承繼人胡錦濤嗎?劇中其中一個讓國內同胞議論紛紛的情節,就是竇太后交出虎符(兵符)給漢武帝的一那幕,那不是影射胡錦濤接掌總書記時,江澤民卻仍未交出兵權,未能一併順利接掌中央軍委主席一職,要直到2004 年,胡才正式接掌軍權嗎?劇情對照政治現實,不是絲絲入扣嗎?

劇中又描述漢武帝勵精圖治,為的是深信「漢、匈必有一戰」,所以必須秣馬厲兵,及早為國家儲備國力。有好事之徒,又嘗試對號入座,找出誰是現代匈奴?那是美國?日本?還是俄羅斯呢?而劇中的閩越國就必定是台灣,不是嗎?與匈奴決戰之前,必先平定閩越國。

《讓子彈飛》引發政治隱喻橫飛

近日,國內亦有一套電影,不單票房大收,還引發新一輪政治猜謎、解讀的熱潮,那就是姜文自導自演的《讓子彈飛》一片。

那是一套以民國初年為背景,由姜文飾演的土匪張麻子,冒充由葛優飾演的縣官馬邦德,往鵝城走馬上任,惹上由周潤發飾演的當地土豪惡霸黃四郎,結果惡鬥連場,上演了一幕又一幕鬥智鬥力的故事。

國內無論網絡以至坊間,都興致勃勃的討論,認為這是一套擁有大量政治隱喻的電影,諷刺國內現實上的貪污腐敗、人民的盲目/投機/民粹,以至政治禁忌如八九六四等。

這些討論指出,片中有着大量的政治符號,例如:片首的馬拉列車,那是指以馬列主義,帶領中國走向現代化,結果遭到伏擊,人仰馬翻;張麻子就是帶領群眾打倒地主、土豪,瓜分他們土地財產的共產黨; 「筒子」諧音就是「同志」;鵝城就是暗示版圖像一隻雞的中國,鵝就是隨波逐流的芸芸眾生;黃四朗就是既得利益集團/國民黨……

這還不止,有一些地方,解讀者簡直讓人覺得扯到天馬行空,例如說片中其實有着「六四密碼」,諸如民國8 年「九筒」(指張麻子作為大哥戴「九筒」的面具)帶領6 個弟兄幹掉了黃四郎云云。

中國就是一個如此沉溺於政治隱喻、政治猜謎的地方。

言論空間緊窄造就政治隱喻流行

當然,借古諷今,借故事針砭時政,舉世皆有,但為何中國卻特別多,而且對號入座的遊戲,更炒作至全城鼎沸的地步呢?

這當然與中國的政治環境和氣候大有關係。

官方加諸於媒體身上,恍如緊箍咒的言論自由尺度,窒礙了言論。如果可以好似民主社會一樣,每天各種觀點都能夠在媒體上暢所欲言,那麼那些有心人也不用如此挖空心思,來把政治觀點通過種種借屍還魂的方法道出;而讀者亦不用如此如飢似渴,也要在這些故事中進行解碼重組,以啜取出一絲半絲的政治養分。

在香港,哪怕是天皇老子,由曾蔭權到李嘉誠,哪個不能公開罵?六四更不會是顧忌,那用「民國8 年九筒帶領6 個弟兄幹掉黃四郎」,那樣的迂迴、轉折、挖空心思。所以,香港的政治,就是沒有那樣的想像力。一場政治隱喻盛宴的背後,其實正是高壓政治箝制言論空間下的蕭颯與蒼涼。

作者是中文大學政治與行政學系高級導師


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Cheats can never buy a real education

South China Morning Post
EDT10 | EDT | editorial
2011-01-13

Plagiarism plagues universities and academic journals all over the world – and Hong Kong is no exception. The South China Morning Post reported last week that there are now services here which offer to write undergraduate and even postgraduate essay papers for students. Advertisements for such services do not even attempt to disguise the nature of the service, making it clear that essay answers for various university levels will be written for a fee. Not only is there the obvious element of dishonesty, but this plagiarism industry reveals a cynical view of education as merely a means to an end, and that so long as the relevant degree or certificate can be obtained, it does not matter how it was obtained. It shows that the value of some initials along with one’s name on a business card referencing a particular university is more valuable than the learning experience itself.

Sadly, this view of education is widespread. To a certain extent, it has been encouraged by government language describing education as a pillar industry that can boost the local economy, as suggested by the administration following the financial downturn in 2009. The boosting of the economy by selling educational services is not education – it is a commercial activity. Education itself boosts the economy by teaching students to relish disciplined study and methodical research and to find creative solutions. Clearly, it is in the interest of universities to crack down on academic dishonesty, for the reputation of the university is tarnished when employers find their graduates do not have the discipline to work independently. But writing-for-hire services only supply a demand. To its credit, the government has implemented education reforms which will hopefully reinforce the value of learning instead of glorifying the value of some initials.

Meanwhile, those who think they have gained by using such services are wrong. There is no substitute for researching a topic, analysing the facts, and structuring your arguments in a presentable fashion in a properly referenced paper. Cheats may have bought a degree, but they will not have bought themselves a real education.