PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 November, 2008, 12:00am

How can children be protected from obscene material online?

I adopt a two-fold approach to protecting my children from obscene matter on the internet.

First, the computer is in the lounge, discouraging deliberate attempts to access such material; second, I have filtering software installed, preventing accidental access.

Time and willingness to discuss what they have seen or read is also vital. One child-friendly website encouraged children to report 'bad language'; I had to explain this did not include mis-spellings.

However, we cannot blindly delegate our responsibilities to commercial companies, whether they be the developers of filtering software or ISPs. The software might be developed in, and therefore reflect the views of, a country that considers violence less damaging then sex, that has no gun control, and that fears other religious views.

Hong Kong ISPs are already attempting to censor their customers: one ISP, PacNet, in its terms and conditions prohibits content that 'denounce religious or political beliefs'.

In a democratic society we have another phrase for that, 'free speech, debate and discussion'. We need the technical expertise of software developers and ISPs to help us control harmful material, but the decisions about what is harmful is a matter for society to decide.

Therefore, the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance should establish a mechanism whereby the blocking lists used by ISPs and filtering software can be reviewed, challenged and modified in accordance with our standards of public decency.

Allan Dyer, Wong Chuk Hang

Should eggs be tested for melamine at the border?

I don't think it is necessary to test eggs for melamine at the border.

Although melamine may cause kidney stones, children under the age of three have to eat more than 20 tainted eggs a day, while adults have to eat more than 200 eggs a day, to risk developing kidney stones. Is it possible we can eat that many in a day? I don't think so. Unlike milk, which is the major food for babies.

Our bodies have an inherent ability to defend against such contamination, as long as we have a balanced diet and take in an appropriate amount of water every day.

Also, food cannot be flawless. To allow production to meet demand, many manufacturers may have added chemicals without our knowledge. Melamine has been found in different foods, but there may still be other harmful substances. What can we do about that? Making sure that every kind of food is safe and natural is out of the question.

For these reasons, testing eggs at the border would just be a waste of time and manpower.

Janice Fong, Tsuen Wan

Yes, eggs should be checked at the border before they go on sale. This can prevent many people eating food polluted by toxic substances. Not only eggs should be checked but also meat, vegetables and any food in the market.

Nowadays, the contamination problem is seriously damaging human health. If we eat contaminated food and drink every day, we may end up with an illness of unknown cause. To secure our health, we should frequently check the food and drinks on the market.

Ng Man-chiu, Fanling

What can be done to improve English standards?

I totally agree with Charles Loy Yue-man's view (Talkback, November 3) on the English standards of students today, which have a lot to do with the design of the curriculum.

The whole objective of studying in Hong Kong is to pass exams, and therefore English teachers' prime mission is to help students master the tips and shortcuts to 'complete the task' of passing the public exam.

All others are bonuses. So if students are not involved in any other extra-curricular activities that demand the use of English (for example, debates and speech festivals), what they are really learning is 'English for public exams', not for real day-to-day use.

It's no surprise traditional elite schools are so sought after by parents; they have a strong tradition and an environment that pushes students to speak and write better English. Other schools have a lot of catching up to do.

Virginia Yue, Tsuen Wan

On other matters ...

I refer to the article 'School cuts Halloween party over tots' terror' published on Halloween. I read with interest that some 200 Christians would hold an anti-Halloween march - apparently the religious aren't satisfied with not celebrating; they want to stop us ordinary folks from having fun, too.

They can celebrate Easter without our protests, but we cannot celebrate Halloween without theirs; what kind of logic is that?

The story of Easter isn't that different from the sort of cheap zombie fiction found in teen magazines, either - here you've got a crucified man with blood oozing out of his pierced wrists. Three days later he rises from the dead. If you do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, this would sound revolting. Yet we haven't witnessed an anti-Easter march, at least in Hong Kong. So I would like to say to those anti-Halloween Christians: just let the children have fun.

Some Christians justify their protest on the even more pathetic grounds that Halloween scares children. I doubt parties organised by kindergartens would be scary at all.

What is so frightening about dressing up as fairies, Snow White or Superman? All it takes to avoid scaring children is some common sense: no mother in her right mind would take her five-year-old to the haunted houses at Ocean Park or let him watch Stephen King movies, unless she wants to have to change the bed sheets four times a night. If you do it right, there won't be any screams or tears.

Halloween means much more than just dressing up and partying. It symbolises the human triumph over the primitive fear of ghosts and the unknown. Man has come such a long way from offering candy to please the ghouls to today's celebrations - we have liberated ourselves. This remarkable progress alone is sufficient cause for celebration.

There is nothing sinister about Halloween unless you perceive it to be. All I ask of those Halloween-loathing Christians is that they do not spoil a special day with their venom.

Christy Chiang Ka-yan, Sha Tin