Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
To be sure, much has been written about the MacLennan case. The colonial police inspector's death in 1980 has always drawn considerable attention from the chattering classes. Much of this crass idle speculation or outright distortion. Amateur sleuths, plus armchair detectives allied to conspiracy theories, held forth for decades. I cannot recall the number of times people have told me ‘it is not possible to shoot yourself five times with a gun’. What then follows is a futile attempt to assert the facts of MacLennan's suicide.
This book, ‘A Death in Hong Kong’ is probably the last word on the issue, unless new evidence comes to light. Nigel Collett, the author, has conducted painstaking research. He has coupled this detail with a clear explanation of the timeline. The examination is forensic, balanced for the most part, as he seeks to give an honest account of events. He portrays the key players, sets the scene and speaks to their motivations. Also, he adds details that are significant and new to me.
Having read the TK Yang’s 1981 Inquiry report, one came away with a sense of sadness. Collett’s book reinforces that sentiment.
Collett lays bare the machinations of a colonial government, concerned with appearances over the truth. Nobody comes out of this story smelling of roses. Even ardent campaigner Elsie Elliott (later Tu), who did so much to seek the truth, was not above using misleading statements. Having said that, she is the least guilty in this sorry saga. The same cannot be said of the government officials, including Sir Murray MacLehose.
As said at the time, the story reached ‘from the gutter to Government House’. Gradually the Inquiry got closer to the Governor, having ‘mis-fired’ and run out of official control. Governor MacLehose fought to reign in TL Yang and the forthright counsel John Beveridge. The Governor's alleged interference in an inquiry lays bare the falsehood of ‘British’ justice. If the current post-1997 administration attempted a similar move, London would be screaming about the ‘rule of law’. The irony is splendid.
This book serves to remind us that colonial governments exercised power with a ruthless leaning. MacLennan was easy fodder, while allegations against others, more senior, went un-investigated. The evidence points to colonial officials, including legal officers engaged in paedophile activities. These people retired without the veracity of the claims tested. What we’ve since learnt from such cases in the UK, is that you can’t take official denials at face value.
During my service, I witnessed the infractions of senior folks ignored or explained away 'for the greater good'. The same violation by junior officers resulted in their careers ruined, as the full weight of the discipline system fell on them. The response to indebtedness illustrates the point.
I’ve spent many an evening debating the MacLennan case, including with people mentioned in the book. Yet, I never knew that he had a rich lady-friend, who furnished him with a car. It's now clear he was bi-sexual. This fact changes the trajectory of the story.
The narrative given the public was of a rogue police unit pursuing MacLennan of its own volition. That action, it's asserted, drove him to his death. Collett shows that throughout the SIU remained under the tight control of senior legal officials. This fact destroys the myth that MacLennan faced pursuit in a vendetta by a cowboy police outfit. Granted, while a couple of the investigators had anti-gay sentiments, this alone is circumstantial to what evolved.
We know that briefings went up the chain of command, and the instructions came down. MacLennan was a target, not of the police but the colonial administration. In simple terms, the police served as a willing tool. Meanwhile, MacLehose sought to exculpate his Attorney General, the Commissioner of Police and those suspected of paedophilia. This shameless exercise of power erodes his achievements.
If I have any quibbles with the book, these are minor and don’t detract from the thrust of events portrayed. For example, I don’t buy the suggestion that officers adopted corruption because funding was inadequate. The instance of buying typewriters gets cited. The scale and the organisation of the corruption that existed suggest greed was a motive. Besides, the syndicates drew everyone into their realm with payments. This action was a form of protection against the ICAC.
There is some conjecture about the Yuen Long incident being a set-up of MacLennan. I agree with the assertion that Bob Wilkinson wouldn’t be a party to such an action. I met him on my third day in Hong Kong, and he always impressed me as the most upstanding of individuals. Moreover, there is no tangible evidence to suggest Rab Nawaz was culpable. I’d question whether any set-up existed.
A couple of details surprised me. That MacLennan didn’t tell Elsie Elliot of his reinstatement when they met on 28th November 1978, is perplexing. Was he confused or seeking to apply more pressure on senior police managers? Also, Fulton, the informant, giving gifts to his handler, CIP Quinn, after a trip overseas. That’s an odd detail. I’d infer from that a close relationship, which sits uncomfortably with the allegation that Fulton was under pressure.
The book mentions reporter Ian Whitely seeking to prove it’s possible to gain access to MacLennan’s flat through a bathroom window. I recall watching that attempt, which failed. Whitely almost fell down the building light-well. He had a history of such stunts, including once testing security at Government House. He climbed the perimeter wall, only to injure himself.
The story of the handling of MacLennan’s remains is deplorable. An incorrect name and a drop-off at Aberdeen instead of the family home shows crass insensitivity. The Police Force should be ashamed of that process.
The book is a must read for anyone seeking to understand a sad episode in Hong Kong’s history. It affirms that the simple assumption of murder as a cover-up is palpable nonsense. Although, you will still hear that scenario uttered today. The truth is more complicated and intriguing, but as disheartening.
Facebook was born of male juvenile frustration. If you believe that story, Zuckerberg couldn’t attract the ladies because he wasn’t part of the in-crowd. He fought back by creating an early form of social media for rating the girls and guys. The rest is history.
The 33-year-old has an estimated wealth of US$72 billion. He's gathered that vast sum in under 14 years. By any measure a remarkable achievement.
Today, his baby hosts 2.2 billion users. In the process its transformed human communication bringing untold benefits. For many, Facebook is the only way to run their business, organise protests and training events, or keep in touch with far-flung friends and family. Online activists leveraged the power of Facebook to reach the world, expose corruption and dictators.
Most of us use it for more mundane purposes. For me, it provided great reassurance that I could reach my daughter while at university overseas. She may not have always welcomed the ‘stalking’ as I followed her from party to party. But I must thank the Zuck for that opportunity. Yes, we had to have some rules to respect her privacy. As I reminded her, we only get to see the stuff she posts. If you don’t want your parents to see it, then its probably not something you should post. That’s a pretty good rule for social media.
Remember, social media has a clue in its name. It’s social. This word indicates that you are broadcasting to the world. Even with all the filters operating, restricted access and other provisions, always assume everyone sees everything.
Facebook is free to the user. So what is the product? Well, another thing to remember is that if something is free, then the product is you. The Facebook business model is simple and astute. You give as much personal data as you are prepared to offer. Zuck then sells that to advertisers to help them decide what to sell you. In turn, you get free access to some pretty cool technology.
That’s the deal you sign up for with Facebook. And we’ve all gone along with it for several years. The latest imbroglio arises because some bright spark harnessed Facebook to politics. It was only a matter of time before this happened. The data we provide will give an insight into political views, then help steer how politicians address us.
Let's be clear; this is not a breach of Facebook. You volunteered the information that was harvested and deployed. No one forced you to do that, although ignorance of the consequences was present. The technology worked fine, as usual, human vulnerability is as present as ever. Further, and this is significant, the underlying issues are not unique to Facebook. Other platforms do the same.
The Zuck has proved slow to respond. He’s taken a fair kicking in the press. If he’s to claw back from this, he will need to do some quick work, including giving greater control to the users. These adjustments may involve a change in his business model. That's the price he needs to pay to survive.
A movement is building to exit Facebook. I’m not sure it will have much momentum, given the reliance that many have on the platform. Plus, what’s the alternative?
Where do you go to escape the clutches of Facebook? You’ve spent years creating communities, worked to maintained them. At this point, there is no real alternative to Facebook. It’s breadth of services, its penetration and volume of content make it challenging to drop.
Be honest; it’s a lifeline for many. Community organisers, minority groups and isolated individuals use it as a window to the world. Facebook provides a reach that is not possible elsewhere, and its free at the point of delivery.
No doubt governments are going to get tough on Zuck and others. That’s already in the pipeline. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes live on 25th May. The harmonised regulations bring tighter controls on data sharing as the conditions for consent get strengthened. Companies must use simple, intelligible language and easily accessible content forms. It must be as easy to withdraw approval as it is to give it.
Some of the issues that allowed Cambridge Analytica to exploit Facebook are already contained by changes made. No doubt, in the future, new challenges will arise because the data that Facebook and others hold is gold. We may have to live with that.
I recognise that deleting Facebook will have repercussions for my online and offline life. For the time being, I’m sticking with it. Yet, I’m not using any of the site-based apps and maximising my protection in the privacy settings. I don't play any of those silly games nor attempt the personality tests. Also, I’ll be watching to see steady improvements in controls. In many ways, we're privileged to live at a time when such things as Facebook open our eyes to the world. But don’t be blinded, there is a price to pay.
Our government is back-flipping, spinning and U-turning over this year’s budget. Financial Secretary, the hapless Paul Chan Mo-po, spent weeks steadfast refuting calls for cash handouts. Stridently, he claimed this was against fiscal policy. Then today the direction changed - a complete 180. He is giving gifts of HK$4000- through the Community Care Scheme. Although to achieve that, he needs to spend over HK$10 million on staff and systems. The question is why did he bother collecting the money in the first place?
Unlike other jurisdictions, Hong Kong as an embarrassment of riches. For the last 14 years revenue has exceeded expenditure by a significant margin. This year's budget brought a surplus of HK$138 billion. That's US$17.7 billion or in laymen’s terms ‘a load of money’. Meaning that we have over one trillion Hong Kong dollars in our fiscal reserves. By some estimates, the government has enough cash to operate for five years. That’s an enviable position.
And all this despite the fact that public money gets wasted on infrastructure projects of doubtful value. Things that come to mind are the West Kowloon Arts Hub, a cruise terminal that rarely has cruise ships and a Science Park that has little science. Of course, one should not forget the new government headquarters on the waterfront. A vanity project that commands the Hong Kong shoreline.
Citizens must be dancing in the streets that Hong Kong is doing so well. Not so. The simple fact is only a few are benefiting from these massive surpluses. A fair part of our society continues to struggle without help. Old folks forced to collect rubbish to make a few bucks are a common sight. Families are living in shoe-box sized apartments or sub-divided flats that Dickens would recognise. Some of which may or may not have belonged to our Financial Secretary. He’s given contradictory answers to questions on the matter.
Besides, our public hospitals are struggling with the demands of the flu season. Chronic under-investment, coupled with a lack of strategic planning, means an eight-hour wait to see a doctor. You shouldn’t be surprised. Our government’s attitude is callous. It's exemplified by provisions to have old folks decamped to cheaper cities on the Mainland. The people who worked hard to build Hong Kong are now expendable and encouraged to move on. How ethical is that?
I digress. The taxpayer is being asked year after year to make contributions to government coffers. The money then sits idle in low yield investments. Some cash filters out to the private sector as our officials play at deal-maker. Having said that, the bureaucrats aren’t that smart. The Disney deal is the prime example. Despite vast amounts of public money, associated infrastructure funded by us and a steady flow of visitors, Disney is failing. It has lost over HK$900 million in the past eight years. Shamelessly, the Walt Disney Company is charging an annual franchise fee of HK$59 million. Reluctant to admit their error, officials want to throw more money down the rat hole.
This year the favoured project is the Science Park. HK$40 billion gets pushed that way. Having oversight of this treasure chest is Fanny Law, a former career civil servant. She resigned a previous post accused of interfering with academic freedom. Law is 65 years old and not known for her originality. A review of her career reveals a series of gaffes and blunders. Hardly the profile of a person you’d wish to see leading a massive IT initiative. Law has had a protected existence like her boss Chief Executive Carrie Lam. A lady who didn’t know how to use an Octopus Card or where to buy toilet paper.
Elsewhere in the world, leaders understand that IT projects need young risk-taking types. People who innovate with passion, attuned to the evolving world of IT. Not an old lady, entering her dotage. Thus, we can expect sub-optimal results. It’s likely the project will wallow in mediocrity as more tax money disappears.
Returning to the government's U-turn. To distribute the money, they've come up with a scheme that's going to take months to install. And at the end, the benefits are marginal at best. I must give the government credit for listening to public sentiment. Ironically, they then give up that credit for nonsensical proposals, allied to a convoluted process.
It’s difficult to take seriously a financial secretary who has more money than he knows what to do with and yet can’t get the simple stuff right. Universal pensions for the elderly are long overdue. Healthcare services for an ageing population and IT initiatives in the hands of the young. That’s whats needed. Not tickets for Ocean Park, cash for video gamers (HK$100 million for e-sports) or billions for a science park. My request is simple. Either spend my money on those who deserve it, like the old folks, or give me back my money.
Mongkok (旺角) - literally ‘busy corner’. A crowd puller, a ‘Blade Runner’ set, dystopian with a retro-fitted future, old tenements and neon. Foreboding, with a slight air of menace, as Triad-types hang about. It’s too early in the day for them to exert their influence. Darkness is their cover.
You half expect Deckard to sprint out of an alleyway, chasing down a replicant through the surging crowd. Standing on Sai Yeung Choi Street, the buildings press-in, forming a concrete canyon. In the distance is a faint twitter, bird-like. Heading south, the chirping intensifies as Mongkok Road approaches. Then all gets revealed. Thousands of ladies gathered on the Mongkok Road footbridge, engaged in acute relaxation. It’s Sunday, and the maids are at play.
Crammed into every corner, every stairwell and doorway, its a scene of joy, almost carnival. Defying the surly looks of passersby, these ladies are getting on with enjoying themselves. They chat, barter, sell and buy food. They impose self-regulated apartheid of sorts. This footbridge is for Indonesian ladies.
The Filipina ladies locate themselves elsewhere. On Hong Kong Island, the Indonesians claim Victoria Park on a Sunday; the Filipino ladies have Central, Tamar Park and space under the HSBC Tower.
The Indonesian ladies appear intent on escaping their cultural norms. While a good number are wearing the veil and headdress, others are smoking and drinking. What is striking, is no men.
Each group has its pitch. A plastic sheet marks the ground. Shoes lined up on the edge. Windbreaks are covering railings, while food is laid out in plastic containers. It's all neat and tidy. Litter gathered ready for disposal. And the authorities are nowhere. No cleaners, cops or hawker squad. For today its maid territory. Their little bit of Indonesia suspended above Mongkok Road on a footbridge.
It’s a sight to behold. A carefree day-off with friends, ignoring the passing scene with its encroaching urban environment.
Moving on, you enter a different vibe and realm. South of Mongkok Road, Sai Yeung Choi Street gets annexed by an eclectic mix. Wannabe musicians, old-rockers, street performers and the odd nutter. The God-botherers are here, plus a few kids are trying their luck as jugglers.
Drum kits, speakers and amplifiers. All powered by car batteries. Each group keeps a respectful distance from the next, as the passing punters go about their business. It’s all unselfconscious. The singing wouldn’t win any prizes, yet the setting adds to its attraction.
The faces of the singers tell a story. Many nights in the clubs, when they could afford it; a bit too much of the ‘white-powder’ or booze. A botched plastic nose-job, pinched-tight skin. Old ladies with taut figures that turn to reveal age-etched on their faces. A dapper chap in his sharp suit, all elegance.
Then as Dundas Street approaches, it's over as Sai Yeung Choi Street is no more. Ending the journey south. The traffic noise is back, as some half-drunk singer belts out another tune.
The harmful impact of an overzealous, out-of-control, ‘politically-correct' culture continues to emerge. As this spreads, it infiltrates all our institutions, organisations and the legal system. The PC roots dig deep into colleges as ‘no-platforming’ curtails free speech and academic study. These distortions of society, are manifesting themselves in terrible outcomes.
The awful saga of sexual abuse in Rotherham had its origins in foolish tolerance founded on a PC culture. That case, reported in 2014, gained grim headlines around the world. In the faded northern English town about 1,400 girls, white and working class, suffered rape and abuse.
The culprits, all Pakistani men, operated with impunity as the local authorities did nothing. One 14-year-old girl, desperate for help, brought her semen soiled clothes to the police. The police ignored her. The cops, fearful of the racist label, shunned the victims.
This week another similar case came to light. Telford is a significant new town to the west of Birmingham. Again, 1000s of young girls are reporting abuse and raped by grooming gangs. One such band, run by Mubarak Ali, trafficked girls as young as 14-years-old. The victims were, again, mainly white girls. A fact rarely reported in the British press.
What do Rotherham and Telford tell us? The police would prefer to overlook rape rather than jeopardise their relations with sectors of society. This shocking attitude arises on the back of a consistent campaign to demonise the police as ‘racist’.
I saw this attitude developing during training at the Scottish Police College. Attending a command course in 2002, I received two-days of lectures by ethnic minority groups. The idea is to influence senior police officers, making them sensitive to these communities. Of itself, a sensible approach.
Nonetheless, the message I heard was that all police officers are racist. This sentiment arose on the back of the 1993 Stephen Lawrence murder case. The London Police mishandled the investigation with racist attitudes deemed a factor. Speaker after speaker started from that premise. Then went on to say the values of their communities are unassailable. In other words, cops stay out of our business.
In fairness, my Scottish colleagues did fight back. In their dry, laconic style they deconstructed the more extreme arguments put forward. I asked if I was racist. I have a Chinese wife, mixed-race children and position as an ethnic minority in Hong Kong. This status confused the speakers. To them, as a white man, I’m by default racist. I never got a coherent answer because there isn’t one.
Last week, Mark Rowley retired as the head of counterterrorism in the UK. As part of his departure, he spoke at various forums on the threats posed by radical groups. Rowley identified many groups including militant Islam as a challenge. He cited the need for early intervention to forestall radicalisation. All good stuff from a professional officer.
Then he slipped up. He stated that right-wing terrorism is another significant threat. Now here it’s evident he is seeking balance, to avoid the accusation of bias. Why do I say that? Well, there is scant evidence of right-wing terrorism in the UK. Likewise, there is no example of left-wing terrorism. These radical groups, made up of illiterate nutters, are not fostering suicide bombers. They're not attacking young girls at pop concerts or receiving funding from overseas. There is nothing to suggest that these losers travelled abroad for terrorist training. Thus, it's a flawed comparison.
To suggest these people present the same threat as a well-funded terrorist group is hot air. I suspect Rowley doesn’t believe it. Duty bound by the PC world in which he operates to redress the balance, he overstates the case.
You could dismiss his assertions on those grounds, then move on. Except his attitude raises questions relevant to what happened in Rotherham and Telford. With resources stretched, you'd hope that counterterrorism focused on the most significant threat. If Rowley's attitude translates into policy, then no wonder Islamic terrorists are operating under the radar. Layered atop the avoidance of offending specific communities, pushing resources in the wrong direction compounds the failings.
On a side note. Three foster children were removed from a white couple in Rotherham because they had UKIP membership. The agency that did this meanwhile ignored the rape of young girls by Asian men in the town. That’s what an overzealous PC culture does.
One branch of the PC tree is the idea of white privilege. In Canada, this is now a topic for conferences. One professor involved in the debate explained how she ‘de-centers whiteness’ in her classes.
“I will always call on black women students first. The next tier is other people of colour, then white women. And, if I have to, white men.”
Imagine flipping those groupings around. You’d face a lawsuit, and rightly so. As a white kid growing up in Hull, living in a terraced house with an outside toilet, playing on bomb sites, I knew my privilege. Queue the Months Python sketch - ‘Four Yorkshireman.’ Sharing a bed with brothers in a single room without heating, I thrilled at my privilege.
And still, it gathers pace. King’s College London has shut down one of its lecturers. His topic “Free Speech”. Dr Adam Perkins specialises in the neurobiology of personality. His talk was to focus on the importance of free speech to science. Instead, he’s silent. The University panicked, fearing protests by radicals who objected to Dr Perkins work.
His study on the impact of welfare dependency on children offended the left. Thus, he's ‘no platformed’ because a few pinheads object to his legitimate research. Regrettably, this is not an isolated incident, as colleges across the UK are facilitating radical agendas. They dictate who can and cannot speak. Another win for PC culture.
PC served a purpose at one time. It helped foster an inclusive society by shutting down the egregious of behaviours. Thus, it helped the weak and disenfranchised. No sensible person can object to that. Unfortunately, it’s now gone too far.
Now it's deployed as a weapon. It purports to be one thing while being the opposite. It’s evolved into a tool for intolerant bigots; weaponised by radicals for their self-righteous use. It’s mixed with the post-truth world, where opinions trump facts, then rammed home by post-modernists clowns. The result is intimidated police allowing crime for the sake of their image. Meanwhile, I’d invite those ranting about white-privilege to visit the raped girls of Rotherham and Telford.
Let's assume somebody throws a rock through your window. You're annoyed. It's natural to find out who is the culprit. The geologists come along to examine the stone. They decide it's a Martian rock. Is it then safe to assume that the Martians threw the rock that broke your window? The answer is no. There are many plausible answers to who is the culprit.
It could be that someone human has stolen the rock to commit the act. Could the rock fall from space, then smashed through your window. I'm sure you could think of other possible causes.
And that’s the problem facing Theresa May. She’s accusing the Russian state of mounting a nerve gas attack in Salisbury. Now I agree, that the Russians have form and motive. We know they've committed similar offences in the past. But, this alone is not enough evidence to apportion blame. Unless, of course, there is material not shared with us.
Mrs May has made great play of the fact that the nerve agent used came from a sophisticated lab. This fact, she claims, suggests the involvement of a state player. This statement is untrue. We know its possible to manufacture nerve agents in a lab with simple equipment. The chemistry is not beyond an Organic Chemistry graduate. And, moreover, the agent comes in precursors that are safe to move around. Only when combined do they create the nerve agent.
Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult, was able to produce nerve agents in the 1990s. They spent $30 million developing a facility to mass produce sarin gas. The scale of their operation went unnoticed.
At the same time, there is an ongoing debate amongst experts about whether Novichok even exists. This discussion is somewhat irrelevant because something nasty hit the streets of Salisbury. Except that, if Novichok is not the agent, then the links to Russia weaken.
So, what are all the other plausible versions of this incident? We know that when the Soviet Union collapsed, security for nerve agents also collapsed. It would prove easy for a rogue member of staff to remove a nerve agent. Getting a small sample out wouldn’t present too many difficulties. Only if everyone and their vehicles get searched could you prevent a theft. With social order weakened at that time, it's not sure that any security existed.
This then raises the possibility that the nerve agent fell into the wrong hands. Be that criminal gangs or terrorists. It's interesting that many nations while expressing support for the UK, have asked for tangible evidence. This has yet to surface.
There are some lines of inquiry that need pursuing. These include what was the victim, Mr Sergei Skripal doing in recent times? A detailed account of his activities may throw some light on the incident. Likewise, Yulia, his Russian-citizen daughter. We're told she worked in sales in Russia. Also, I’m intrigued to know why Skripal’s son went back to Russia in March 2017. He died under strange circumstances in St Petersburg. This aspect of the story is bizarre.
Other questions I have. Why won't the UK give the Russians a sample of the agent? To get to the bottom of the case, such a move would be beneficial. Working in cooperation with Russian scientists, the British could trace the agent. That must have merit.
In many ways, Mrs May is benefiting from this saga. It takes the focus off her endless Brexit woes. These get pushed aside as she stands statesmanlike. It's her 'Falklands' moment. One admirer said as much in Parliament, comparing her to the ‘Iron Lady.’ Meanwhile, the people of Salisbury get relegated to bit players in this saga.
The mainstream media and most politicians are all happy to tow the line. MPs were falling over themselves to apportion blame to the Russian government. In the parliamentary debate, some were breathless with rage seeking to outdo each other. Calls for a resolute response echoed around the chamber. Still, I heard no evidence to substantiate the involvement of the Russian state. Circumstantial evidence yes, but nothing tangible.
One voice advised caution. Jeremy Corbyn received a hail of abuse from all sides, including his backbenchers, for suggesting we tread with care. While I’m no fan of Corbyn, he has a point. We all remember the lies that the government and intelligence community spread to garner support for a war in Iraq. Dodgy dossiers and faked evidence spun on an unsuspecting public. And what was the result? Thousands of innocents killed, a country in ruins. That mess rumbles along.
My guts tell me the Russians did it. Nonetheless, the onus is on Mrs May to produce robust substantiation, because gut-reactions don't pass muster.
From one perspective there can be no better example of the impotence of Great Britain. A nerve agent released in a sedate cathedral town, with the clear intent of killing. This nerve agent has spread far and wide, although it took the authorities days to notice. A couple of people are fighting for their lives. Thousands are directed to take precautions. Meanwhile, the government looks lost and unsure.
Specialists military units are on the ground assisting police struggling to deal with the threat. The response appears slow, painfully slow. In the main, residents are stoic, although a few folks mumble about the cordons and late advice on precautions.
And yet, it’s in the realm of political response that something odd is happening. Either Prime Minister May is weak in the extreme or is holding back for a reason. Hiding behind the excuse of an ongoing investigation, she is silent. Her reluctance to state who is the suspected culprit defines her feebleness or is something else going on?
Let's assess what's known, and then draw some conclusions. The motive is always a vital component of any police investigation. In this instance, one of the supposed victims is a former Russian spy who worked for the British. He arrived in the UK after a swap of arrested agents. Assuming he has no other enemies, nor organised crime connections, then who is the likely perpetrator?
Further, the use of a nerve agent points toward a sophisticated plot that is well-funded. Production of nerve agents is not beyond non-government organisations. In 1995, five members of Aum Shinrikyo launched a chemical attack on the Tokyo subway using a nerve agent. That resulted in 12 dead and over 500 injuries. Thus, to suggest only a government could mount such an attack is erroneous.
Given the record of such incidents in Great Britain, suspicion points in a particular direction. Another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, was likely murdered by Russian agents in 2006. Other Russians residing in the UK have died under strange circumstances.
The natural conclusion to draw is that the Russians are up to their old tricks. The Cold War antics never went away. Why then the reluctance to lay blame? Why the hesitation, the softly-softly approach and delay? After all, someone has released a nerve agent in the town of Salisbury.
Less than two miles from Salisbury town centre is one of Britain's most sensitive military establishment. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Usually referred to as Porton Down. This place carries out work on chemical, radiological, biological and nuclear threats (CBRN). Also nearby is an RAF run-facility, the Defence CBRN Centre. This place provides all training related to CBRN threats.
Now call me a suspicious sort, but the proximity of these establishments to this incident raises questions. The spread of the nerve agent suggests someone carried it around. That was either by accident or an intentional act.
Even the old Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War proved a rational player. Ruthless and robust, but logical. This thought suggests opting to use a nerve agent in a busy urban area is not a sensible choice.
Three scenarios are getting attention. Attempted assassination by the Russians appears to be the favoured version. Next is the suggestion that someone is trying to make the Russians look bad. They’re plenty of folks, including wealthy exiled Russians who have an axe to grind.
Then taking account of the proximity of Porton Down, you have the third possibility. The alleged victim is not the retired spy portrayed.
Could he be working at the close-by secret facilities using his expertise? That would explain the reticence on Mrs May’s part. If that’s true, then a whole can of nasty worms bursts open. What is the source of the nerve agent, the role of various agencies and what exactly did the politicians know?
There is also the issue of money from Russian exiles sloshing around inside the Conservative Party. These substantial contributions buy influence, why else give the money. It’s legitimate to ask is there another dimension to this incident? Mrs May needs to do some explaining soon.
In the meantime, the public gets fed a line. We are distracted by a brave police officer, the incredible work of the responders. The truth lurks in the background.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman, this is Captain Atal speaking. We will shortly be commencing our descent into Hong Kong International Airport. And by the way, I'm not a human” If some folks get their way, you may hear Atal on all your flights. Atal can guide you through take-off, cruise at altitude and landing. Atal will ask you to put on the seat belt for turbulence, then remind the passenger in seat 25B to comply.
Atal is a system, a series of connected computers, a vast number of algorithms and programs. Bits are in the belly of your plane, also across a telemetry network and at a control centre. Atal could replace the pilot. This is not my imagination at work, Atal exists and may soon be looking after you. The name may change (automatic take-off and landing), yet the system is there.
The Taliban and other enemies of the US are familiar with the ability of Atal-like systems to deliver. Drones loiter for hours over hostile terrain; controlled thousands of miles away. Then they swoop down to bring death with pin-point accuracy. Of course, the targets are sometimes innocent wedding parties or sheepherders. But that’s not Atal’s fault. A human got that bit wrong, while Atal puts the bomb on the required spot.
If you’re uncomfortable without a human pilot, you’re not alone. The airlines and plane manufacturers recognise the fear the public will have. For the sake of assurance and emergencies, they propose one pilot to remain at the pointy end. Manual controls stay, with the option for the pilot to take-over if needs dictate.
None of this is revolutionary. Speak to a modern commercial pilot to ask how long he’s hands-on with the controls on a long-haul flight. I’m told on a trip from Hong Kong to London the pilots will fly the plane for about 10 minutes. The rest is the autopilot, with the flight crew monitoring systems and speaking to ATC.
The flight crew earn their pay when things get out of kilter. Lousy weather, systems failures, engines shutdowns or accidents are testing. Although, these day's improved safety makes unusual events less frequent.
In 2017, more people flew to more places than ever. Despite that, it's the safest year on record for airline passengers. No commercial jets crashed in passenger service anywhere in the world. The chance of a commercial plane crashing with fatalities is one in 16 million. You’ve more chance of winning the lottery than dying in a commercial airline crash.
That remarkable achievement is due to a multitude of reasons. Systems improvements, better engineering, robust security measures and pilot training all help. The next tranche of enhancements comes from integrating systems. The aim is a remotely controlled plane
These ideas have both safety and financial advantages. The airlines recognise the potential savings. With one pilot instead of two or three, you immediately reduce costs. Less recruitment, training and re-certification. The accountants are salivating. Some of that joy will need to be offset by funding control centres.
Plus, pilots are troublesome sorts. Prone to bellicose behaviour, this self-selecting group don’t take crap from management. Commercial aviation is littered with stories of pilots confronting their bosses. I'm thinking the head office would be happy to see the back of the ‘bus-drivers.’ Although the pilots won’t like this, they do make mistakes. It’s the nature of humans to get distracted, off-your-game or unwell.
With a predicted seven-fold increase in air traffic by 2050, we need new systems, or we won’t be able to cope. The design philosophy of some manufacturers is to keep the pilots out of the way of the automation. Although, they allowing pilots to track what's going on. When something out of the ordinary crops up, the systems design gives a simple interface. This should aid understanding of complex situations. Then the pilot can decide to intervene as needed.
And yet, the evidence suggests the technology is still inferior to the pilot. The 469 passengers and crew aboard Qantas A380 QF32 on 4th November 2010 will attest to that point. As the plane cruised over Indonesia, a failure of the #2 engine sent shrapnel at supersonic speed flying. This debris punctured the fuel tanks, fuselage, leading-edge devices, hydraulic lines and cables. 21 of the 22 redundant systems were either destroyed or damaged. The onboard computers designed to diagnose inflight faults couldn’t cope. These issued 58 error messages in a matter of seconds, as a cascade of failures overwhelmed the systems.
Of the remaining engines, two reduced to 35% power, and one wouldn't shut down. Meanwhile, the aircraft had limited roll capability, no slats, no reverse thrust, damaged brakes and no ability to dump fuel. Reduced communications with the ground added to the threats with the loss of radio systems. Unable to pump fuel around from tank to tank, the plane became unbalanced.
This incident should have been the world’s worst single-aircraft accident. And it would have been if the flight computers had sought to land this crippled super-jumbo. Instead a well-trained, experienced, rested crew worked the problem. They opted to enter a holding pattern near Singapore to carry out system and handling checks. Then did their approach. They only had a four-knot approach speed window between stalling and landing too fast to stop before the end of the runway. They pulled up with 100 metres to spare, and without a single injury to a passenger.
This outstanding example of airmanship highlights the limitations of decision making machines. Moreover, it demonstrates the efficacy of humans. Until Atal is as smart as a human, I will instead prefer to put the safety of my loved ones in the hands of a human pilot. I want to hear those dulcet tones of a crusty pilot. Also, I want the pilot onboard, not in a command centre thousands of miles away.
That bloody bird is back. It’s getting earlier each year. Now, I like birdsong. It can be soothing, atmospheric and a pleasure. I have CDs of Australian birds that send me into slumber with ease.
Then you have the Asian Koel. A bird from which bursts forth the most piercing relentless torment. I wouldn’t mind except it's not even a big bird nor does it have stunning plumage. Simply put, it’s a mind-numbing nuisance, that goes on for hours and hours.
Moreover, it's heard above my rumbling air conditioner. It's heard inside the car with the windows closed, engine running. You’d think it was sitting outside the window belting out its call. But no, it’s some distance away hidden in a tree beyond catapult or rifle range. Should you think I’m overstating the case, please play the attached video on a loop. That should give you a flavour of my torment.
The Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus) earns a reputation as the most annoying creature on the planet. That call can go on for hours without a break. And why? He’s looking for a mate.
In the past, he started disrupting our sleep around April time. Perhaps global warming is prompting him to be earlier.
The Koel is a member of the Cuckoo family to be found across the Indian Subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia. These are robust birds that live for up to 14 years adapting well to urban environments. Yes, I know that - too well.
So, you can imagine it’s 4 am, and the world is at rest, you’re in quiet surroundings. Then a lovesick male Koel suddenly pipes up. He may be hundreds of meters away; it doesn’t matter you won’t be getting much sleep. From Singapore to Hong Kong, this bloody bird is attracting complaints. In the past I’ve taken ‘999’ calls from distraught citizens asking for something to be done. Fortunately, the mating season is only a couple of months long. By May he's usually quiet.
The Koel is not even endearing in its reproductive habits. Defined as a ‘brood parasite’ by the experts. This monster tricks other birds, usually crows, into looking after its offspring. Thus, the males create a racket, does the business with a female and then abandons the kids. What a bastard. Also, the Koel hosts some parasites, including malaria-like protozoa, lice and nematodes. Is there any reason not to shoot this bird?
It’s started up again. Bloody hell.
As details emerged of the Oxfam sex scandal, I decided to review my support of charities. I’d sponsored children through World Vision, believing that my money went to a designated child. Similarly, I’d sponsored Orbis; the flying eye hospital, because it does direct work.
Unfortunately, what emerged from my research of World Vision was unsettling. Perhaps I was naive, but I hadn’t realised they are an evangelical organisation. Formed in 1950 the charity operated as a missionary service to meet emergency needs in times of crisis. But, like many of the large international charities, it evolved to stray into grey areas.
While World Vision asserts it's not proselytising through charity, it remains committed to the religious cause. Staff take part in daily worship, although they state they are not seeking to recruit. That explanation does not sit well due to the power differential, as affluent aid workers lord it over the needy. In fairness, the World Vision webpage is clear that the charity has a religious agenda. Some donors are comfortable with that. I’m not.
I discovered that World Vision staff were allegedly involved in cases of sexual exploitation of children. World Vision denies these stories in a heavily nuanced reply. It also appears one senior official transferred money to a terrorist organisation. In my discussions with World Vision, this is not rejected. They responded that the matter is before the courts. Say no more.
Another official caught tweeting anti-Semitic messages, faced disciplinary action. My faith in World Vision was slipping.
What finally caused me to cut my links is the deceit of the Child Sponsorship Program. World Vision makes great play of this program in its publicity material. Donors receive a photograph of the sponsored child and a seasonal letter. My wife and I felt this scheme was worthy because we could make a difference for an individual child. Now it appears that the program is a misrepresentation. In 2008 an Australian documentary revealed that the children are not the direct beneficiaries.
Reporters found a sponsored child. She had no idea she was in the World Vision program and wasn’t receiving the schooling that the donor supported. In response, World Vision commented it adopts a community approach. This statement is a tacit admission that the photograph and letters are a marketing ploy. To me, that is disappointing as it misrepresents the situation.
I remain conflicted because my subjective belief is that charity can help. Standing against my view is a tremendous amount of evidence that charity misses the mark and can make things worse. The commitment of funds to some nations props up failing governments with destructive policies. In Tanzania, charity funding drove the collectivisation of farms. Done by seizing land and bringing once flourishing private farms under central control. As a result, output collapsed, with more charity funds needed to avoid starvation.
Next is the question why have these international charities moved away from their founding principles? They’ve become morally compromised organisations, operating with a corporate ruthlessness to exploits donors and taxpayers. Oxfam and others engage in political lobbying as they advocate for the Third World. This campaigning is a murky business. Pushing for debt relief, they seek to absolve failing nations of their responsibilities.
Simultaneously, the high-paid, self-entitled, charity officials lord it up at the top. Content to play the game of conferences, seminars and think-tanks, rather than get their hands dirty in the field. Beyond the compulsory photoshoot with some waif in a distant land, these officials don't venture far. Yet, they love to stoke the guilt of donors. At the same time, they are comfortable supporting governments that fail to provide their citizens with the most basic of services.
Without a doubt, there are many well-meaning and sincere folks working for these large charities. They must be feeling the sting of criticism, although it's not aimed at their earnest activities. The blame lies at the top.
Henceforth, I’ll pick my charities with greater care. I’m leaning towards those that seek to put people on the right road by direct, time-limited help. Micro-financing and initiatives like that aim to get people to stand-up for themselves. That gets my support. The objective should be creating a vibrant, self-sustaining economy.
It's hard not to conclude that Oxfam, World Vision and their kin thrive on poverty. And by open-ended aid, they trap whole populations in a property cycle. Charities headed by slick types, with six-figure salaries and massive PR budgets, trumpet our guilt for not helping the poor. They then feed on the proceeds. I’m no longer going to fund their hypocrisy.
How can Amnesty International argue with a straight face that the 2014 Occupy movement was peaceful? Mabel AU, their Hong Kong head, sought to do that on Radio 3’s Backchat this week. Like the fabled ‘frog in the well’, Amnesty adopts a narrow view that clouds its reputation.
Ms AU was speaking following the release of an Amnesty report critical of human rights in Hong Kong. Amnesty cites the arrest and prosecution of protesters in so-called ‘non-violent’ demonstrations. In trying to persuade us, she comes up against several immovable obstacles.
The most serious is the hundreds of injuries inflicted on security staff and police. Amnesty’s willful blindness forms part of a consistent effort by many groups to distort the truth. This propaganda work began at the genesis of Occupy. It continues today.
It's fortunate that we have plenty of video and photographs of the protesters mounting unprovoked attacks. Besides, I have the advantage of witnessing first-hand the violence of the Occupy mob. A rational person will recognise this proves the precise opposite of Amnesty’s stance.
In fairness, Amnesty is critical of the human rights in just about every country including the UK and USA. Even that hotbed of repression Denmark fails to meet Amnesty’s exacting standards. Am I missing something here, or can Amnesty enunciate their ideal state? Perhaps, it’s a fantasy.
Amnesty itself is not beyond criticism. It gets cited for bias, an ideological driven agenda and stating opinion as facts. The instances of Amnesty getting it wrong abound, and are too many to list here. While academic studies have thrown doubts on Amnesty’s methods, other faults get laid at Amnesty's door. Systematic flaws in reporting, plus a limited understanding of conflicts lead to erroneous claims.
The sharpest criticism is that Amnesty fails to treat threats to security as a mitigating factor in government actions. It’s almost as if Amnesty would rather see people die to protect the dubious rights of a few. Some suggest that Amnesty gives tacit support to terrorist groups. The critics believe that Amnesty undermines legitimate government efforts to protect innocent citizens.
Indeed, Israel feels that way. We do have evidence of an anti-semitic element operating within Amnesty. In 2012, Amnesty disciplined a senior staff member for his anti-semitic tweets.
When pushed to explain the alleged deterioration of human rights in Hong Kong, Ms AU's answer is revealing. She first cited the issue of insulting the national anthem. Hardly the most pressing of matters in the context of events going on elsewhere.
The prosecution of the Occupy student leaders also draws Amnesty's ire. They find fault that the government practice differs from that applied in the past. Are you surprised? Occupy was a unique event, that merits a different response. Further, due-process is underway with the Courts having the final say.
All the other cases in the Amnesty report involve matters that have or will go before the Courts. It's worth pointing out that Hong Kong’s judiciary is steadfast in retaining independence. They have ruled against the government and opposition forces in equal measure.
Ms AU asserts “The government is sending a clear message to the public that if they go out onto the streets, their behaviour could land them in jail. This might make them afraid to come out to express their ideas and opinions.” The number and scale of public protests contradict that statement.
She’s on stronger ground when discussing the instance of the disappearing booksellers. That case remains baffling and a cause for concern. And yet, beyond that, Hong Kong retains a vibrant press, as free speech flourishes. That Ms AU can appear on a government radio station to present Amnesty’s case suggests misplaced fears.
To me, Ms AU and others have adopted the tactic of embellishing threats, with emotive and extravagant language.
It also has to be said that these people are guilty of confusing opinions with facts. While Ms AU seeks to make serious allegations, she and Amnesty do not have full regard for the facts. Also, we need to remember that Amnesty is not in possession of any unique or independent source of knowledge. Accordingly, see their reports in that context.
I welcome the oversight of NGOs such as Amnesty. In a pluralistic society, such NGOs can bring balance by holding the authorities to account. Yet, they must get the facts right and not inflate situations without justification.
Article 28 of the "Universal Declaration on Human Rights" states that "We all have the right to live in a peaceful and orderly society”. Amnesty overlooks this provision when they are defending anarchists who attacked the police. The word ‘all’ is the pivotal point in that sentence; it covers the ordinary citizens and the police. No one has a monopoly on human rights.
For me, the Hong Kong government message is that peaceful protests get facilitated. But if you adopt violent tactics, then expect consequences. Moreover, there is no sign that people are afraid to speak out. Demonstrably, the opposite is true. Protests are weekly occurrences, with all sectors getting airtime in a lively debate.
Amnesty has a well-earned reputation for defending human rights. Aggrandisement or blatant misrepresentation of the facts do not serve these interests. Also, it needs to get out of its ideological well to start looking at the bigger picture. Then, it will retain a credibility that is currently slipping.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.