Flat Earth

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A peasant parable

Will China make a mess of Hong Kong after it takes over next year? It was not reassuring to watch the "consultation" exercise it has been conducting behind closed doors with carefully-filtered "representatives" of the colony. Nor have the ham-fisted efforts of Chinese officials to boost local confidence achieved the desired effect.

During the Legislative Council elections last September, a local businessman brought out a telling analogy to explain why he was not optimistic. "When it comes to Hong Kong," he told me, "China is like a peasant in a big city for the first time, standing on a corner while people push past him. Everybody is impatient with him, always in a hurry. He keeps counting his money, convinced everyone is trying to cheat him. In the end he loses his temper.

"Peking does not understand this place, but it will try to bring it under control anyway, and that will be fatal."

Those who argue - to use a more commonly-heard analogy - that the Chinese will not kill the golden goose are missing the point. If they do not let the bird breathe and swim freely, or give it the wrong food, it will cease laying eggs of its own accord.

Cash on delivery

Sweden's sex equality ombudswoman has failed to persuade a court that a midwife should be paid the same as a male hospital technician, saying you cannot compare delivering babies with fixing machines. Quite right, too: the latter is clearly a much more responsible job, meriting nearly pounds 4,800-a-year above what you get for bringing humans into the world.

These priorities were certainly reflected during the last birth I attended, at which there was so much concern about a malfunctioning monitor that the mother was temporarily forgotten.

Liquid assets

You read here last week about some of the tribulations of meteorologists around the world, but at least they don't have people stealing their instruments, as happens to their colleagues in Ghana. It's all to do with the country's extensive gold deposits, apparently.

Why? Well, Ghana's illegal gold miners, who sneak on to the workings at night to dig up ore, need mercury to process it. So they steal thermometers from unstaffed weather stations. The meteorological service has had to close two stations in mining areas until they can take delivery of new instruments that operate without mercury.

In the 1980s barometers were pinched all over Ghana until the weather service changed to other forms of pressure measurement. Rainfall meters containing copper also keep disappearing.