Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Great news. My dream of winning medals in cycling events is finally looking possible. Even at the age of 59, with a dodgy knee and a bad back, that goal is in sight. Plus, and this is the super part, I won’t need to train much harder. The medals are within my grasp. All I need to do is declare I’m a woman.
Don’t laugh. Last week at the 2018 Track Cycling World Championship Rachel McKinnon won a gold medal in the women’s 35-to-39 year group. As Rachel stepped up to receive the medal a few in the audience questioned the win. Why? Well, the thing about cycling gear is it’s revealing, and our Rachel appears to be a bloke. Check out the pictures.
Rachel affirms as a woman, although the evidence points in an opposite direction. Humour aside, this raises serious questions about the integrity of sporting competitions. Let’s be honest here, men have physical advantages of strength and stamina over female athletes. It’s a fact. Evolutions at fault and all the labelling the SJWs care to use won’t change millions of years of Darwinism at work. You can’t pin this one on the male patriarchy, although I’m sure they'll have a good go.
McKinnon’s win is causing a fierce debate about fair play and ethics. For example, was McKinnon’s participation fair to the other women in the race? Does McKinnon’s birth gender give an unfair advantage? It’s essential that we have a conversation about these issues if sport is to remain credible. Yet, this is a complicated and emotionally charged topic. Even talking about it brings accusations.
There are no agreed universal rules on transgender participation is sport. Each governing body formulates policies best suited to their competition. Fair enough. Measuring testosterone levels is the current approach.
The International Olympic Committee has the following rules:
There’s also the history of skeletal development to consider, the circulatory system and the distribution of fat around the body. In cycling men benefit from a different pelvis structure. This allows them to generate much more force on the pedals.
Thus, Rachel laid the foundations of the win as a man, then declares as a woman to win. Is that fair? Meanwhile, the IOC rules tacitly acknowledge that men are stronger than women. Note there are no restrictions on female athletes transitioning to male.
Track racer Sarah Fader believes the IOC rules create an unfair situation for cis women. Cisgender refers to individuals whose gender identity matches their birth gender. Learn the language folks. In Canada you go to court for getting this wrong.
Fader pulled out of the race against McKinnon asserting it’s not fair. By the way, McKinnon stands six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds. Fader, by contrast, is 5-foot-5 and weighs 135 pounds. Track cycling is all about power output and momentum. It favours a 200-pound person with loads of lean muscle.
“This is my own form of protest,” Fader said. “I knew that I personally did not agree with the situation. I don’t want to compete in a sport where the rules are unfair.”
Other riders shared the same opinion in private. They felt unable to comment in a public manner fearful of attacks from the trans community. Fader said “There’s a lot of sensitivity here. I’ve spoken with women who are afraid to give their opinion because they think they will be deemed to be discriminating.”
McKinnon has responded to past criticism that he is a man robbing women by cheating as akin to the actions of those who were excluding black folks from sport in the past. You see if you object to McKinnon riding against female athletes you are not only transphobic but also racist. That's how the debate goes.
What is the end point of this debacle? Fairly ordinary male athletes identifying as women could sweep up the medals at the Olympics. How is that right?
Anyway, Wilma De Havilland is about to emerge on the cycling scene. Oh, the glory!!
This weekend an estimated 700,000 people marched through London demanding a second referendum on Brexit. This massive demonstration is the likes of which not seen since the anti-war protests in 2003. Tony Blair ignored that protest leading to the Iraq debacle. We’re still dealing with the fall-out.
Let me say from the outset, I never favoured Brexit. Had I voted, which I didn’t, it would be to remain in the European Union. Yet, that comes with a substantial caveat. That the UK needs to reassert control over its borders and grapple back the power of legal issues.
As a nation we never signed up for the levels of control of the EU is now exercising over the United Kingdom. The initial deal was about trade. What's evolved since is much broader, leading to the de-facto erosion of British sovereignty.
Having said that, I do not agree that the country should have another referendum. We have a democratic process in the UK that elects members of parliament to represent us. That process gives them the legitimacy to govern and negotiate on our behalf. Every four or five years we vote to affirm the legitimacy to rule. That the politicians are paralysed doesn’t mean they should throw the decision back to the people. The politicians need to deliver or step aside.
A vote took place in 2016. That referendum had the majority, albeit by a small margin, opting to exit the EU. That Theresa May and the conservative party are unable to negotiate a deal does not mean another referendum. Instead, it is clear that because of these failures there is a need for a general election.
Why do I say this? For the reason that the impasse is primarily down to ideological disputes within the Tory party. Besides, the likes of Boris Johnson have acted with pure self-interest to forestall a deal. Plus, it was not a good idea to have a prime minister negotiating on our behalf who herself wished to remain in the EU. She’s hardly an honest broker.
Further, Mrs May no longer has a mandate. The reality is her party is against her, while she only remains in power because of fear. The fear that Corbyn could win a general election. Although, I’m not so sure about that.
Corbyn’s position on Brexit is a mystery. A general election would flush out the inconsistencies within Labour’s agenda. In any general election, the first item up for debate would be how to proceed with Brexit. Both Labour and Tories would need to enunciate a clear agenda. Then the public can decide.
The current position is that Mrs May is seeking to extend the transition for the EU exit. This is nothing more than kicking the can down the road. Let's face some hard truths. Despite claims to the contrary, the EU is holding most of the cards in this game.
Moreover, they're united. Mrs May cannot even unite the Conservative Party never mind the country. In fairness, she has shown great tenacity to hang on this long. The lady has given her best. But the game is up, and she needs to go.
Something is bubbling below the surface in England. It may yet break through with terrible consequences. A faltering Brexit could be the trigger for events that spin out of control. Meanwhile, the mainstream media ignores or vilifies the man who is emblematic of the unfolding crisis. Love him, hate him or be indifferent … you ignore Tommy Robinson at your peril. (Yes, I know his real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon)
In some quarters the very mention of Tommy Robinson’s name evokes an adverse reaction. He's hated by the left. Yet the lefts traditional supporters, the white working-class, embrace him. Robinson is symbolic, he’s a reaction from a community that’s abandoned. Dismissed as racist, far-right and a criminal, Robinson is overturning traditional politics.
He's running a grassroots campaign of epic proportions without a support organisation. To be clear, yes, he has convictions and is currently on bail. That’s another story I’ll address here. But his label as far-right is more about the linguistics of the left, than anything he represents.
Robinson rose to attention as the leader of the English Defense League. That group formed in response to Muslims spitting on and haranguing British soldiers. In 2013 he abandoned this group citing its infiltration by far-right elements. Since then he’s consolidated his position in a campaign against the Muslim rape gangs. These gangs operate under the noses of UK authorities. In some instances, social services facilitated the crimes, while the police did nothing. Robinson has harnessed that issue to a broader anti-Islam/ freedom of speech agenda. Although the mainstream media won’t acknowledge it, he’s an influential figure.
As it is, one need not agree with Robinson to find a reason to study his rise. In fact, anybody concerned about the cohesion of society should consider his impact. After all, he took one small demonstration in Luton then morphed it into an international anti-Islam movement. This is the most surprising development. He’s gone from a local activist to a transatlantic anti-Islam ideologue.
Robinson now garners attention across the globe. He’s adopted by conservative groups in the USA and Europe. His rise is more surprising when you consider his background. A genuine working-class lad from Luton, he’s not the most educated of men but eloquent and forceful. Watch his address to the Oxford Students Union. I suspect he’s on a trajectory that will take him into mainstream politics. Although he’d deny that.
Economic vulnerability, social-breakdown and political neglect are themes that allowed Robinson to emerge. His recent peremptory imprisonment conferred upon him martyr status with his followers. It feeds into their dispossessed narrative. Robinson's action was stupid. He filmed outside the court hearing a case against alleged rapists, then challenged the accused as they entered. An injunction banned such activity. He's arrested, then immediately sent to prison. That was a tactical blunder by the authorities. With that move, they affirmed his totemic status.
The appellate court later released Robinson noting “a fundamentally flawed process.” That flawed process was evident to everyone. Had it involved a person from the left no doubt Amnesty International would be marching. They, of course, remained silent. Their justice doesn’t extend to white lads from Luton. He remains on bail pending a retrial.
The rise of Robinson is the fault of all the political parties. Each, in turn, decried the white working-class. Seen as oafs and racists whenever they voiced views on multiculturalism, their despised. Remember Gordon Brown’s gaffe.
It's clear that Labour abandoned the working class under Blair. This opened a fertile ground for Robinson to grow. Then the authorities handed Robinson the ideal cutlass with which to cut them. That the police and others ignored, and even facilitated the mass rape of white girls, gave Robinson his calling.
This transformed him into a genuinely global figure. He now enjoys support from leading anti-Muslim politicians in Europe. The US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, expressed support for Robinson. Likewise, former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and Republican Congressman.
Also, more than 630,000 people signed an online petition to free Robinson. His reach is now acknowledged in France, Spain, Holland, Italy, Poland, and Russian.
While asserting he is not seeking political office, that may change. Currently, he is an apolitical figure insofar as he focuses on social and cultural issues. His main themes are the Islamization of Britain, child sex grooming gangs and the dangers of political correctness.
He does not concern himself with elections or the need to cultivate any kind of party discipline. His supporters operate on the streets. A recent demonstration for the 'FreeTommy campaign' had thousands on the streets on London. The mainstream media ignored the event, although YouTube clips give an insight. This sort of street activism is a dangerous development. It’s a sign that people have given up on the democratic political process. This will lead to public disorder and even acts of terrorism. That’s the most dangerous development.
As a side issue watch this clip. The police misjudge the mood of the protesters and stage an intervention. They then retreat. This sort of thing could escalate into serious rioting. I must say the police appear ill-prepared.
To my mind, working-class Britons lost their influence as the Cold-war era ended. Before that, the establishment needed to keep the working class sweet to avoid them drifting to communism. That need died as the Berlin Wall came down. The Tony Blair years accelerated the shift in power. He abandoned Labour’s homeland to govern through a London-based elite. Working class voices were no longer heard.
A recent incident in a motorway service station confirmed Robinsons’ status as a working-class icon. It also shone a light on how the establishment fears him. Robinson bumped into a group of young soldiers, who mobbed him and took selfies. These selfies went out over social media. That's what young people do. Then the Muslim Council of Britain got involved. It expressed outrage. The British Army immediately capitulated to their demands for an investigation. It’s reported one soldier's career is over, while the others face reprimands.
Many feel the British Army’s reaction is disproportionate. Let's not forget that members of the Muslim Council of Britain called for the death of British soldiers. Thus to me, the treatment of these young soldiers confirms the establishment is running scared of Robinson.
This may seem an arbitrary point to make, but those soldiers come from white working-class backgrounds. But there is more to the story if you have eyes to see it. A quick scan of their cap badges will tell you these young men are in northern infantry regiments. In most cases, the infantry are the most impoverished boys. These kids get recruited in a targeted way from communities battered by decades of unemployment.
They're in the army because few other opportunities come their way. To them, Robinson is the authentic voice of their community. All this bolsters the oft-repeated claim by Robinson “we are not being listened to." It affirms that governing politics is a small clique of distant elites out of touch with the masses.
Robinson has a massive social media following. One video on his YouTube channel has 2.4 million views. 'Tommy Robinson confronts another accused Muslim grooming gang,' reached an audience of 1.9 million. His transatlantic social media following has been influential. This has translated into funding.
In the end, Robinson is not to blame for the rising xenophobia in England. He’s a reaction to an establishment that dismissed a group of people as irrelevant. Those people are now reasserting themselves. The more politicians and the media seek to demonise Robinson, the more likely his ideas will stick. The disgruntled white working-class need a voice and Robinson is providing it. The legitimate concerns he raises need addressing, or the outcome is mayhem. No longer can you dismiss him as the ‘enemy within.’ That won't pass muster.
Finally, listen to this young lady. A former radical feminist who suffered a sexual assault from a gang of Asian men and the police did nothing. Appears the cops are still willing to allow abuse of women by Asian men. That’s more material for Tommy.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
This week a UK court convicted Karen White to life in prison for raping two women and sexual assaults. These crimes took place inside a women’s prison, and the victims were other inmates. Further, White has previous convictions for rape and sexual assaults on children. Hang on, can you spot the problem with this?
A clue perhaps from the prosecutors in court “The defendant would stand very close to [the victim], touch her arm and wink at her. Her penis was erect and sticking out of the top of her trousers.” Note, the words used ..."Her penis".
Here’s the thing, White claimed to be transgender, thus under the Home Office rules entered a female prison. Prosecutors said there was evidence to suggest White’s “approach to transitioning has been less than committed”. Really! What a surprise.
Of course, White is a man, who gamed the system to access vulnerable victims. The UK authorities facilitated these attacks as it kowtowed to an activist agenda. This insists that if someone declares themselves a female, then treat them as a female. It follows on from the whole pronoun shenanigans. Moreover, if you dare to speak against this nonsense, you are immediately transphobic.
Moreover, the radicals have harnessed the muscle of the British police to shut down and prosecute dissenters. The cops appear happy to comply because it’s easier than chasing real crime. But that’s another story.
Karen White claimed to be undergoing gender reassignment. But had not had sex reassignment surgery, meaning Karen White had all the gear of a male. By the way, studies suggest 72% of folks claiming to be transgender don’t undergo surgery to change their birth sex organs. That’s their choice. But don’t expect to be treated as a woman in such circumstances.
This is not a bizarre nor isolated incident. Instead, its part of a trend in the UK. It's brought about by blind adherence to dogma rather than applying common sense. In another case, a 12-year-old girl reported a fellow pupil in the girls changing room “played with a penis.” Confused parents then approached the school to find the pupil mentioned had declared as a girl.
As per policy, this person had access to the female changing rooms. When the parents raised objections, they're admonished. The school felt the parents lacked an understanding of a child's transgender status.
The fact that girls had to witness this person playing with themselves appeared irrelevant to the school. That’s the extent of the unfolding madness. Meanwhile, other parents discovered their teenage daughters accommodated with boys on school trips. These girls asserted themselves as male. The parents were kept in the dark about their daughter's choices.
Should we express surprise? After all the authorities ignored for decades the rape and exploitation of thousands of girls. All to avoid upsetting the Muslim community.
Meanwhile, kids are diagnosing themselves with “gender dysphoria”. They read articles online and watch videos on YouTube to guide themselves. Then well-meaning teachers acting under misguided policies, are going along with this. Parents are not included because the child's privacy takes precedence. Some kids outgrow these beliefs before it goes too far with surgery and such. Others jump in and then regret the whole thing.
We know that transgenders have a terrible time. The suicide rate is high. Society needs to treat genuine cases with compassion. Yet, are the interests of transgenders served by policies that cause the broader public to despair? It’s clear that the authorities in the UK don’t have a balanced approach. We know that intelligent, educated people can make costly and sustained mistakes when driven by dogma. Is that what is happening?
I suppose it does no harm to introduce these issues to teenagers. With the caveat of a balanced and rational approach. Yet, the evidence suggests the whole process is indoctrination. You either accept the dogma or face exclusion as a hater. There is no middle ground.
The path through this morass is unclear. Life can be confusing for kids at the best of times. The teenage years are fraught with challenges, ambiguous emotions and attempts to assert an identity. Thus making life-defining decisions at that time is problematic at best. Yet the current thinking is to allow these kids to seek gender reassignment surgery. I’d be in favour of holding off until they are at least 18 years old before going down that road.
There is compelling evidence to suggest that most of these kids, after puberty, come to feel secure and happy in the bodies they were born with. This eradicates the need for acute medical intervention.
Unfortunately, a self-serving clique of unyielding groups drive the agenda. Some of this is extreme tribalism supported by surgical procedures and hormone medication. Currently, transgender groups are vigorously resisting any attempts to study these issues.
Their position is that research is by its nature discrimination. We must resist this lunacy. After all, these are the same people who reject science. If biology conflicts with their distorted views, its the work of the patriarchal. I'm asking a simple question. If we don't investigate are we are in danger of failing children?
At the moment, we are only hearing one side of a nuanced and complex debate. At the same time, the number of children identifying as transgender is increasing year on year. The politicians have abandoned this debate as too hot. Who can blame them? With rabid attack dogs waiting in the wings, its best to keep your mouth shut. Likewise, the gay and feminist community face infighting.
Even Jo Brand, a confident and outspoken lady, is afraid to comment for fear of vilification. Something is seriously wrong. Also, the zealots have sought to shut down Germaine Greer and others. They face ‘no-platforming’ at universities and elsewhere. That a noted feminist is verboten tells how far the loonies will go to control the debate and policy.
Professionals including GPs, educational psychiatrists and social workers won't speak out. Once they express a professional opinion, they're accused of bigotry and damaging the fight for trans rights. This has to stop.
Many of us raised concerns about the gender pronoun issue. We heard that our stance was an over-reaction. Surely, it’s argued, we shouldn’t hurt feelings and accept an individual's choices. Except we now see linguistics having direct consequences on practices and procedures. Those consequences saw the English legal authorities put Karen White, a multiple rapist and paedophile, in a sealed building full of vulnerable women. That can’t be right.
Once again nonsensical ideology runs smack-bang into objective reality.
Let me say it, loud and clear: well done Carrie! I find myself in a strange place of complimenting our Chief Executive. In her second policy address, she signalled a willingness to tackle long-term issues. In this town that’s progress. Moreover, the policy address contained a few gems.
Let us start with the gems first. The health of the wider community must be a government priority. No self-respecting person can argue that providing free cancer vaccines is a bad idea. We’ve had great success with such public health initiatives in the past. Setting aside the personal cost of cancer, it makes pure economic sense to do this.
Providing vaccines is cheaper in the long-run than hospital care. Especially when you weigh up the loss of earnings and the myriad of related palliative costs. The targeted HPV virus causes 70% of cervical cancers. It’s reckoned that this initiative will save 100 life’s a year. By eliminating this risk, the community realises countless benefits.
Staying with public health, banning e-cigarettes is a welcome respite for non-smokers. I’m sick and tired of dodging clouds of so-called vapour. Vaping produces much more smoke than traditional cigarettes. This crud hangs around in the air at office block entrances and on public walkways. Further, I don’t buy the argument “It’s safer than cigarettes.” People who utter such nonsense have no long-term studies to support their assertions. Moreover, you know what's safe - stop smoking.
Yes, I know, we will now see some revert to the traditional cancer-causing cigarettes. Meanwhile, vaping may get driven underground. As with other such laws, the challenge will be enforcement. On that score the Tobacco Control Office is ineffective. It’s staff need to be pro-active instead of responding to complaints weeks after a report. Smoking remains a blight on large parts of the city, plus I don’t see the police stepping up to the plate on this one. Nonetheless, Carrie dares to do the right thing.
The proposal to harmonise the cross-harbour road tunnel tolls is long overdue. Everybody understands the logic of the argument. Keeping one tunnel cheaper than the rest encourages drivers to go there. This approach creates congestion, air-pollution and underuse of expensive infrastructure. The Western Tunnel, in particular, is well below capacity even at rush hour. Continuing with this situation is illogical.
On the big issue of land supply, the government is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s beholden to vested interests which prevent movement without significant costs. No matter whatever you do, someone gets upset or displeased. At best building on the brownfield sites is a piecemeal option. It goes some way to helping relieve the housing shortage. While touching the Country Parks is out of the question. If this place is to keep any semblance of ‘quality of life’ the parks are inviolate. Never forget, Country Parks is our small contribution to combatting global warming.
Also, it's not surprising that many are calling the ‘Land Supply Task Force’ consultation a sham. The result was pre-determined. Having said that, I don’t see that any long-term alternatives. At least Carrie has a bold vision, although rising sea levels may yet swamp it.
On that environmental note, I must applaud the move to ban single-use plastics. We are having a terrible impact on our oceans with discarded plastics. Curtailing this must be a priority. Only legislation can change habits. We’ve had a success story with the plastic bag saga. Let's follow up.
A couple of other matters deserve including MPF offsetting and maternity leave. Both fall into the arena of employers, who will no doubt yell 'no concessions.' The MPF offsetting mechanism is a rip-off of workers - it’s as simple as that. It’s wrong on many levels and pure greed by employers. Neither should public money flow into the pocket of bosses to gain their support for changes. As a conciliatory gesture, our taxes will compensate them for up to 25 years.
None of this changes the fact the MPF scheme is a flawed policy, which needs wholesale reform. Its only beneficiaries are the finance houses, who charge high fees to hold our money. The MPF is a system you work for; it doesn’t work for you. Which is a pretty dreadful way to secure pensions for retirement.
Hong Kong ladies are not having babies. There are myriad reasons for this trend that's repeated across most developed societies. Japan and Singapore are amongst the places seeing the same decline in birth rates. I'd welcome anything reasonable that eases the difficulties of raising kids. Thus, more maternity leave is a start.
Unfortunately, the attitudes of employers remain Victorian. They will need dragging kicking and screaming into the modern world. Their many arguments against maternity leave are facile. I only wish they'd look around the world to see how Hong Kong is lagging. We need to catch up.
Of course, many issues remain unresolved. We still lack a coherent population policy. That appears some way off. Likewise, the government must take a stand against private cars. Our city can’t keep putting vehicles on the road without at least ensuring each has a parking space. Owners must provide proof of a car space before registering. That’s for another day.
The day wouldn’t be complete without the usual tiresome performance from certain legislators, who made a spectacle of themselves. These pathetic antics garnered them a few seconds of media coverage, and contributed nothing of importance.
So, well done Carrie. A pass mark for you. Yet, a word of caution. Given what she’s promised, keep a keen eye to see that she doesn’t break her vows.
Some people create their own storms, then get upset when it rains. The whole of idea of Hong Kong independence is a non-starter and a dead-end game. If you think that Beijing will entertain any discussion of the issue, you are either blind or provocative. That the Hong Kong Independence Party and the Foreign Correspondents Club now face a deluge is no surprise.
You can’t argue that they didn’t see this coming. One issue is bound to raise hackles in China, that is any mention of losing territory. This is understandable in the historical context of China’s treatment at the hands of the imperialists. Never forget that the bedrock of the Communists Party’s legitimacy rests on putting right the suffered humiliations. I’d venture that any political entity running the country would hold the same position. Hence the return of Hong Kong, and the higher goal of reunification with Taiwan.
The inevitable banning of the Hong Kong Independence Party came as no surprise. The party sealed its fate with calls for ‘armed revolution'. Even voices in the pro-democratic camp remained muted in response to the banning. Besides a few token utterances, common sense prevailed. The 'why-and-how' of the prohibition is irrelevant because the concept of independence is a delusion.
Let’s not forget that Hong Kong relies on the Mainland for water, electricity and food. Andy Chan Ho-tin, the leader of the defunct HKIP, appears blissfully unaware of these issues. It is almost impossible to overestimate the nihilistic nature of this young man. He's abandoned reason, facts and the overwhelming weight of history. His ill-conceived action is baffling. One can only assume he’s motivated by deluded self-interest, as he gains his 15-minutes of fame.
Did he seriously expect China to do anything but oppose the idea with all its might? I’ll give Mr Chan his due; he risks the loss of his liberty in a curious combination of reckless, naïve and foolish conduct.
Steve Vines, a Hong Kong-based journalist and past FCC president, is renowned for his anti-China stance. Even he expressed irritation and impatience with Chan for leaving too many questions unanswered.
Moreover, it's all a distraction. Independence is a no go, yet it sucks political oxygen from the broader debate. As an unwelcome hindrance, it snags the discourse on Hong Kong's development. In the process stirring up sentiment.
To those who assert the banning damages ‘one country, two systems’ don’t talk such arrant drivel. Seeking to take away territory from China is unequivocally a ‘one country’ issue. It’s important to reiterate the independence by its very nature seeks to split the country. Anyone who can’t see that should study what’s evolved in Spain in response to the Catalan independence movement.
Please don’t bring up Scotland. The name the United Kingdom tells you that several nations forged an alliance. The union of 1603 may yet be undone, as the nation of Scotland once again stands alone.
The FCC is also in the firing line. They gave the HKIP a platform to speak to the world. In the process, the FCC put up two-fingers to Beijing. Before Alan Chan’s speech on August 14, Beijing made representations to the FCC. They asked that Chan not be given the opportunity to spread his message of independence. Likewise, senior Hong Kong government officials spoke with the FCC.
Citing freedom of speech, the FCC proceeded with the event. Journalist Victor Mallet chaired the controversial talk. He made great play in his opening address about the opposing voices the FCC welcomed to speak at its events. Through this speech, he made his and the FCCs position clear. Beijing has now asserted its position. Mr Mallet's work visa is not to be renewed.
Beijing is clear “Any words and deeds attempting to separate Hong Kong from the rest of China will be punished by law. Any individual or organisation’s move to embolden Hong Kong separatists will meet the firm opposition of the Chinese people.”
While the Hong Kong government hides behind the usual excuse “we don’t comment on individual cases” everyone recognises this is payback. In turn, this move provoked a wave of indignation from journalists and others. The British government is audacious enough to demand that Hong Kong explain the reasons for non-renewal of Mallet’s visa.
Britain forfeited its moral authority on Hong Kong affairs when it removed the right of abode from millions of folks. In any case, does the UK explain its actions? Why the 2013 arbitrary detention of journalist David Miranda? He's held at Heathrow for nine hours, under the fig leaf of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
This year the Brits arrested journalist-activist Tommy Robinson. His crime was reporting on the trial of rape gangs in the north of England. The courts had suppressed reporting. He’s then held in solitary confinement for months until a judge orders his release. One feels pierced by this stark hypocrisy from the British government.
Perhaps Hong Kong should make demands. How about an explanation for the terrible treatment of the Windrush generation? Likewise, the nightmare that is Heathrow arrivals for Hong Kong folks travelling on a BNO. It works both ways.
I digress. No one who follows the statements of Beijing can express any surprise at these events. The consequences that have befallen the HKIP and the FCC are to be expected. As a matter of principle, I object to no platforming, but even this has limits. Calling for ‘armed revolution’ is one of those limits.
Anyway, unlike other jurisdictions, Hong Kong acted to nip this nonsense in the bud. No doubt we will hear the usual noises in the weeks ahead. Long Hair will march, the US and Britain will express ‘deep concerns’.
Meanwhile, Britain is busy tearing itself apart over Brexit, while the rest of the world is more focused on the Trump show. In a curious and unintended way, this whole episode will hasten the introduction of Article 23. I’ll watch that with interest.
For Christ's sake Prince Andrew, give it a rest, will you? It’s 2018, we've had enough of you flaunting the House of York as a rival to the Windsors - formerly Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
According to media reports, the Duke of York is upset with the BBC. Well, aren’t we all. He’s attacking the Beeb for not interrupting normal viewing to give us Princess Eugenie’s wedding to an alcohol salesman. It’s laughable. Of course, Andrew doesn’t come out to say this himself. As in all things Royal, messages emerge from the orifice of some supine flunky.
The wedding will take place at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 12 October 2018. Princess Eugenie as ninth in line to the throne is on a long list of spares. A line headed by Uncle Charlie, a man on history's most extended apprenticeship.
Let’s be honest here. The House of Windsor is on shaky ground, especially when Charles takes the tiller in the years ahead. The unshakable hand of the Queen has steered a steady course. I have my doubts about Charlie at the helm. Thus, these thinly disguised attempts to burnish another power centre don’t help.
Has Andrew no self-respect or sense of reality? Neither of his absurd hat-wearing daughters is worthy of anything other than ridicule. Neither has done anything of note. Sorry, not true. They provide excellent material for satire and comedy. No doubt supporters will trot out the usual tripe about charity work and ‘role-models’.
I’m told that Princess Beatrice wrote a book about bullying. Fair enough. She shared her terrible abuse experiences. I’m sure that resonated with the kids. You know those kids who've had their head shoved down toilets or taken a beating at the school gates. Trudging home in the rain, these damaged souls no doubt took solace in Beatrice’s hat pain.
At least, this self-flagellation that his ducal house does not enjoy support, demonstrates self-awareness.
For me, edited highlights of the wedding on YouTube, lasting about 20 seconds, would be too much. Except of course if Eugenie’s mother turns-up pissed, engages in a bit of toe sucking and then collapses in a heap. I’d watch that.
Also, there are questions of qualification here. In the modern world, we've moved beyond default genuflecting to royals. These days claiming privilege at least needs a token effort. Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry do their thing. Harry plays the mental health card. That's a solid winner for him. There is a solid seam of material to mine in his dysfunctional family. Granddad taking the child shooting on the day Mummy died. Then getting the traumatised boy to follow his mother's coffin through London wasn't such a great idea, was it?
Can I ask what Eugenie has done? Oh yes, paraded around like a twat in a hat that didn’t so much fit as arrive with a splat! (Sorry Doctor Seuss). I may give these kids some discount for circumstances beyond there control. Mummy was hardly the role model of decorum, while Daddy’s friends are an interesting bunch; a convicted paedophile, a gun-runner and a money-launderer. That covers most of the bases.
You can see that the empty sails of the Duke of York get fluffed by a passing breeze of resentment. None of this matters very much until you notice it's part of a relentless exercise to garner attention. He’d do well to remember the words of Shakespeare in Henry 8 Part 3 ... "For goodness sake, consider what you do, How you may hurt yourself—ay, utterly."
I hadn’t intended to spend a fair part of my day watching proceedings in the Kavanaugh Senate hearings. With a few household chores and errands to run, I couldn’t afford the time. Then, by slipping in a quick look here and there, I’m hooked. With a session exercising on the cross trainer, I managed some three hours viewing.
The whole process was a revelation. It gave a deep insight into US politics, their branch of democracy, and its checks and balances. A couple of things jumped out at me.
First, Kavanaugh, the nominee for the US supreme court, has undergone six background investigations. He’s answered some 2000 written and verbal questions in over 36 hours of testimony before the Senate. Thus it's surprising that these allegations have come to light at the last minute.
Second, the handling of the allegations by the Democrats is suspicious. One's drawn to the conclusion that they used Doctor Ford to ambush the nominee. In the process, they have destroyed Kavanaugh’s reputation. Yet, at the same time, without a hint of regret, they’ve exposed Doctor Ford to the most awful scrutiny.
Doctor Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, appeared credible. Her testimony was not shaken by the questioning she faced. This terrified lady seemed shaken by events. Let us not forget she never made the allegations public. A role was thrust up on she never sought. As a result, she’s under guard 24 hours, has moved her home and is at times separated from her family. I’m sure the experience is shattering for her.
I’m baffled by the conduct of the questioning. The Democrats focused on fart jokes made by teenage boys plus boasting about girls. These calculated questions appeared designed to discredit Kavanaugh. Yet everyone is asking themselves “did I do dumb shit when I was that age?” If you’re honest, the answer is a resounding “Yes”. Perhaps the intent was to extrapolate the fart jokes to rape. It didn’t work. All it did was provide the other side with an easy put-down, which they seized upon.
The Republicans proved no better. They hired Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, a sexual offence expert, to question Ford. This is designed to avoid echoes of the Anita Hill case. It also didn’t work. The questioner didn’t cast any new light on the allegations.
The most striking thing about the whole session was Kavanaugh’s demeanour. He alternated between calm, reasoned deportment to an angry man lashing out. He lashed out in several directions. His composure repeatedly slipped as his face contorted in indignation. He reprimanded senators, firing questions back at them in response to their probing.
His vitriol could be a response to his innocence. Put through this process, it's natural that any person would harbour deep resentment. Yet, here’s the rub. If he is to serve on the supreme court, you’d expect greater control and more rational responses. The role requires a unique clarity of thought. Then the ability to set aside emotion even in the most distressing of circumstances.
I’m sure I’d become bitter and frustrated if so accused of a crime. Then again, I’m not seeking a position on the supreme court where I’d wield exceptional power and influence.
If you are seeking to get to the truth of what took place between Kavanaugh and Ford in 1982, this hearing didn’t help. Despite the veneer of dignity, this was a nasty spite filled political show. It underlined the polarisation of the USA under Trump. Neither side can claim a victory. Neither side can assert they held the moral high-ground.
Having watched the proceedings, I'm none the wiser. In the end, it was a political show with "he said, she said" and no closure. All I'd say is I wouldn't want Kavanaugh in the job, and not because of the allegations. The man may be innocent; however, he lacks the gravitas and composure for the role.
Kavanaugh, even if he makes the supreme court, is forever damaged. Henceforth his every word and judgment will be seen through the prism of these events. Doctor Ford is equally traumatised. I suspect she will suffer the consequences of this testimony for the remainder of her life. As regards the politicians, they’ve affirmed the low status the public accord them.
A curse on both your houses
The UK is in a pickle. Six months to go. 759 treaties need resolving, with no closure in sight. The EU is playing hardball, and who can blame them. After all, the Brits initiated the whole thing. Moreover, the UK can’t agree on how it wants to exit the EU. Theresa May’s Chequers’s proposal is toast, whereas her cabinet is fighting themselves.
Outside the cabinet, in the broader conservative party, it's open warfare. The only thing stopping a leadership challenge to Prime Minister May is the possibility of triggering a general election. Fear that the conservatives may lose to Labour is putting the brakes on her opponents.
Meanwhile, Labour is holding their annual conference. Calls are coming in thick and fast for a referendum on the final EU deal. In the past, Corbyn has ruled such a vote out but is now leaning that way. At the same time, Labour is also beset by internal strife. It's far from a cohesive body, with fault lines developing in various directions.
I agree that you can't go back to the public to ratify the deal. I suspect any such vote may amount to another de-facto rerun referendum on membership. Such a move would be divisive. Anyway, what if the public rejects the deal. Then what?
Unfortunately, this week we saw the stark reality of Britains position in the world. In Salzburg, at a gathering of EU leaders, May’s humiliation could not be more public. She’s given 10 minutes to present her Chequers’s plan before being shown the door. She’s had to beg for respect, which is never a dignified look for a prime minister. I’m surprised she’s still there. I’d predicted her departure some time ago.
The EU signalled for weeks that Chequers was unacceptable. Nonetheless, May pressed on regardless. She’s like a driver stuck up a dead end, who can’t turn or reverse. Now she’s stuck.
The options for resolving this mess are all looking risky. A no deal exit from the EU is possible. How that plays out depends on who you speak with. To understand the scale of the issue, visit the Brexit treaty renegotiation checklist on the FT website. What happens when all those treaties suddenly stop?
On immigration, the UK would immediately have control over its borders. It sets its own migration policy. At the same time, UK nationals would lose their right to live and work in the EU. Depending on how the EU wishes that to evolve it's going to cause upheaval on a personal level for many.
The UK would exit the Common Agricultural Policy, which gives farmers £3-billion in subsidies. This would stop. Likewise, the UK will leave the single market immediately. This may result in chaotic customs checks on cross-Channel freight and at airports. Some suggest food and other supplies could face disruption although, again, it depends on how the EU responds.
The EU has the option to charge import tariffs averaging 2-3 per cent on goods. Yet up to 60 per cent for some agricultural produce. This would damage UK exporters. In turn, these tariffs would lead to price inflation on goods, hitting citizens the most.
In some sense, there is no crashing out because the UK could go to WTO trading terms. That may prove workable, although it will take a period to settle down. In the meantime, the trade will likely be disrupted.
The optimists see all the current noise as the final huffing and puffing before a deal emerges. That deal could take the form of the Norwegian or Canadian approach.
Norway almost joined the EU in the 1970s, but at the last minute opted against membership. Since then they’ve developed a close relationship with the EU through Sweden. That’s not without its downsides. They have full access to the single market, yet must follow specific EU laws but have no say in how those laws are made.
Importantly, they must allow free movement of people. Also, Norway pays money to various EU budgets. Thus, Norway gets some of the benefits of the EU on trade while relinquishing a degree of border control. I don’t suppose that will please the ardent leavers.
Canada’s deal with the EU is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). In effect, this has eliminated 98% of trade tariffs. Parts of CETA remain in dispute as the EU has yet to endorse it wholeheartedly. The appeal of a CETA type deals is that it maintains much of the current trade without having the UK too engaged with others aspects of the EU.
Again, the devil is in the detail, and it's not clear that a Canada style deal would be accepted by all EU nations. Plus, it took Canada eight years to negotiate its deal. The UK doesn’t have that time.
A last minute deal may yet pull the UK back from the brink. Although trust in politicians, which was never high, will dive to a new low if that deal is an unwelcome compromise. The merits of democracy itself will be on trial in that scenario.
The leavers are pinning their hopes on trade with the broader world. They cite the fact that about 95% of the world is outside the EU. Here are some other facts - there are over 195 countries in the UN. Of those countries, 35 are seen as 'advanced economies' by the IMF - 20 are 'emerging', and the rest are ‘developing’ (Zimbabwe, Nigeria etc.).
The reality is of those 35 advanced countries 27 are within the EU. Thus the “world is your oyster narrative” is untrue when the world is not as rich as you would like it to be. The bottom line is Britain needs a deal with the EU, either through WTO rules or some other arrangement.
Unless someone compromises, I foresee the UK crashing out. Besides trade and immigration, that may have significant political consequences as regards Scotland. The Scots voted to remain in the EU. Their independence voices will grow louder if the economic implications of Brexit are severe.
When and if that scenario arises, all bets are off as regards the outcome. The very existence of the British nation state will be at risk. Anyone seen David Cameron?
I have a love-hate relationship with the Guardian newspaper. Some of their investigative journalism is outstanding. Then they get bogged down in the daftest aspects of identity politics to spout puerile nonsense. Case in point, Jordan Peterson
The Guardian can’t make up its mind about the Canadian psychologist. Except they don’t like him, thus he’s in their sights. At the same time, he's generated a lot of copy for them. It's clear that Peterson has rattled the cage of the Marxist left, and the spin is on to discredit him. It's laughable to watch.
I did a search on the Guardian website of articles related to Peterson and his ideas. Believe me, there are plenty. Guardian writers cannot leave the man alone. They also appear to be somewhat confused about what or who he is and represents. Of course, the left loves its identity politics so Peterson must have a label. Then once he has a category, he's placed in the merit-hierarchy as either an oppressor or the oppressed.
Below is a slice of this year's articles the Guardian has run on Peterson. These show the confusion and attempts to label him.
On March 9 he’s ‘controversial’ and by March 16 ‘the self-help guru we love to hate'. On March 23 he's ‘full of rage'. To finish the month, Arwa Mahdawi on March 24 crowbars criticism of Peterson into a story on the New York City elections. It's a tight fit, but she's a game lady and gives it a go.
By April 2 Peterson is a ‘minor academic.' Moving into the early summer on May 14, he's ‘right-wing’. On May 23 he's ‘not very clever'. By June things get more interesting. He’s described on June 5 as the ‘academic-cum-pop-philosopher'. By August 5, he’s the ‘evangelist of the new right'. Then again on August 15, he's ‘far-right'.
This week on August 20, we're treated to criticism of Peterson’s diet. This comes from a professor of Irish performance studies. Yep, I had to read that twice before I fell off my chair laughing. What motivates a professor of Irish performance studies to lash out at Peterson? I’ve no idea. What's assured is that the Guardian is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Besides these articles, I've overlooked the many that came out in support of Cathy Newman. Following her car crash interview with Peterson, media friends rallied in support. The main thrust of these pieces is that Peterson was at fault. How he was at fault is never expressed, except for being a white man. Although, any common-sense reviewer saw Newman's world-view challenged. Unfortunately, that level of honesty escaped Newman’s defenders.
By the way, how is the police investigation into the trolls who allegedly attacked Newman? Silence…
So why is the Guardian so inflamed about Peterson? It spends much time and energy seeking to discredit him. Even getting a ‘River Dance’ expert to slag off his dietary choices. Well, in my view, it's simple. Peterson contests the narrative that underpins the Guardian’s worldview. That's his first offence.
Further, he deploys science and rationality to support the propositions he makes. He's clear that someone's feelings cannot take precedence over science and proven facts. That's his second offence. Facts are difficult to dismiss. Hence the cognitive dissonance of Cathy Newman when confronted with Peterson’s assertions. She's intelligent enough to acknowledge the evidence, but can't reconcile it with her opinions. Gotcha! (Sorry, couldn't resist that.)
Much of the anger that leaps from the Guardian in Peterson’s direction is borne of frustration. They don’t have compelling responses; thus personal attacks are the easier option.
Also, I see another process of play. It sticks in the claw (a lobster claw at that) of the Guardian writers the Petersons ideas appeal to men. Especially a cohort of white men. Some in this group are struggling in the modern world. Peterson causes offence by seeking to help them. After all, in the world of the SJW, men, especially white men, are repressors. Peterson's self-help guide offends their sentiments. White men cannot be victims; otherwise, the whole simplistic postmodern victimhood hierarchy collapses.
I agree some of his advice is banal. But that doesn't detract from its value. The simple call to tidy up your room has profound significance. If it teaches folks to organise themselves better, then surely that's a positive thing. These small steps help on the road to being a better person. Thus, the sneering put-downs in many of the articles say more about the writer than Peterson.
In fairness, a few of the Guardian articles sought to present a balanced assessment. Yet, by my rough estimate, 80% are attack pieces. Plus much of the criticism is bereft of supporting evidence beyond opinions. That's the new norm in the postmodern world.
The Guardian's most significant mistake is to describe Peterson as right-wing. He's far from it. Calling anyone with whom you disagree ‘right-wing' is sloppy and contributes nothing to the debate. Any rational analysis suggests he's middle of the road.
But does dismantling and embarrassing some witless feminist makes you right-wing? It appears so in Guardianland. His assignment of right-wing status is more to do with the far left than anything he has to say. I suppose when you're sitting at the south pole all directions are to the north.
What's distasteful in the coverage of Peterson is the failure to engage with his ideas. Many of the Guardian writers instead take the easy option. Throw verbal bricks and ignore any merit in his views. This lousy approach defines them.
Moreover, while asserting its inclusiveness, the Guardian is demonstrating the opposite. Its relentless pursuit of Peterson reminds me 'the lady doth protest too much'.
Peterson has valuable things to say. He's also wrong about other things. But to level these falsified hit-pieces shows how far this once decent paper has fallen.
On the reverse side, Peterson does not instruct his audience to dismiss his opponents out of hand. He says talk to them at the level of detail because that's where they are weak. That’s his strength and the Guardian’s weakness.
Free-trade is good, right? You wouldn’t think so listening to Donald Trump. Depending on your viewpoint he’s affirmed himself as the anti-trade president. In a bizarre twist, China is now seeking to defend ‘free-trade’. If that assessment is true, it’s a remarkable reversal of roles.
The free-traders claim long-term positives outcomes across a whole host of social metrics. Less war, better life expectancy, greater wealth and even fairness. These are all cited as outcomes of free-trade. While we debate the merits of international trade deals, these folks see the benefits.
To them down the sweep of history, free-trade helped drive the great escape from poverty. This phenomenon defines the modern era. Along with the industrial revolution, trade drove that process. Granted, along the way there was a lot of nastiness, with disastrous outcomes for some.
At its fundamental, economic activity is a mutually beneficial process. It’s a positive sum game. I exchange my talents for money that allows me to buy food, a home and medical care. Someone provides those services to me, for which I pay. This allows specialisation and expertise to develop across human societies and borders. I don’t need to know how to grow rice because someone else does that. Likewise, the rice grower doesn’t need to know my job. He earns his money from providing to me.
At a local level, informal rules may be enough to guide this process. When you go international, it gets complex. That doesn’t distract from the fact that free-trade has the potential to make all humans richer in the end. Plus, and this is the crux, its claimed it makes us nicer people.
As economist Ludwig von Mises put it, “If the tailor goes to war against the baker, he must henceforth bake his own bread.”
Academic research is pointing to free-trade reducing the prospect of war between nations. The last 50 years has been a remarkable period of calm. At the same time trade has expanded exponentially. The cause and effect are disputed by some. Others feel that business is a significant factor in promoting world peace.
The great escape from poverty started in the 1800s with Britain's industrial revolution. Trade then gave the process a kick up the behind to spread out across the world.
In 1976 as one wag put it “Mao single-handedly and dramatically changed the direction of global poverty with one simple act: he died.” At that moment China shook off its inward-looking policies, opened up and started to trade. In the process, and in no time, it lifted hundreds of millions from poverty. Its a lesson in the power of market economics to generate wealth, food and a middle class. China in 2008, after 20 years of the open door policy, attained the same per capita income of Sweden in the 1960s. Breathtaking.
Planned economies without exposure to competition bring stagnation. Then in turn, if unchecked, famine. That’s the lesson from history.
Even so, free trade is not without a downside. Some workers toil in harsh conditions, while the environmental impact can be terrible. The anti-free trade lobby cites these adverse effects. In particular job loss, the economic impairment to countries, and the ecological damage. As underdeveloped countries cut costs to gain a price advantage, workers in these countries face low pay.
Unions have criticised free-trade agreements as harmful to workers. They also see such contracts as contributing to a loss of jobs. To them while workers suffer, the clout of multinational corporations increases.
Putting all these factors together, these critics of free trade fall on the negative side of the equation. To them, free-trade has terrible outcomes. That helps explain much of the resistance to free-trade. No doubt there is some truth in this negative view. But nobody can ignore the positives.
It seems clear that free-trade improves efficiency and innovation. Over time, free-trade works with market forces to shift workers and resources to more productive uses. This allows efficient industries to thrive. The results are higher wages and a dynamic economy that continues to create new jobs and opportunities. In the short term, some workers suffer, and industries disappear. That’s the painful part.
Most of all free trade drives competitiveness. It requires businesses and workers to adapt to the shifting demands of the broader marketplace. These adjustments are critical to remaining competitive. Hiding behind a protectionist barrier produces more expensive goods and services.
This brings us back to Trump and his spat with China and others. Some of what is vexing Trump is the perceived lack of fairness in the trading systems. As regards China, getting market access remains a challenge. Thus China’s proclamations on free-trade are disingenuous when protection of massive state-owned enterprises persists. These protected industries, cannot sustain themselves without reforms. Inefficiencies remain unchallenged when protected from competition.
On the flip side, what is the human cost of dismantling these entities by exposing them to market forces? These could be terrible, with the potential for social disorder. You can, thus, understand China’s concerns and its incremental approach.
I’m no trade expert, far from it. My knowledge of the intricacies of its mechanisms is sketchy at best. Yet, I know this much. I’d rather have the baker making bread to sell to his neighbour than bullets with which to kill. A simplistic view I know, but it covers a pivotal point. The record is clear. In the long-term, free-trade on a level playing field is mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, as always, the devil is in the detail, and much of the current shenanigans is all detail.
I'm sure we will come through to break bread together.
Hong Kong has suffered its worst typhoon on record. With sustained winds of 250 km/h, Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit this weekend. The damage is extensive and going to take some time to repair. People had windows blown in and the contents of their homes trashed. The only saving grace is few injuries and no deaths.
But, you wouldn't think we'd suffered much listening to our Chief Executive. In her statement today she asserted that Hong Kong is “largely unscathed”. Secretary for Security, John Lee Ka-chiu, proved forthright in his assessment that the damage is “serious and extensive”.
I’ve attached a few images and videos below - would you assess this as “unscathed”?
I must state my gratitude for the tremendous effort by the first responders. Police, fireman and staff from the Civil Aid Services worked under demanding conditions to ensure public safety. The police received 20,000 calls for help, compared to about 6,000 they receive on a typical weekend. The fact that no one died or sustained serious injuries is a testament to their work. Police officers were injured during the rescue work. I wish them a fast recovery.
Also, the public utilities continued throughout what was a frightening day. Telephones, internet, gas and electricity all uninterrupted except for a few specific locations. This allowed us to keep in touch with family to reassure them and to coordinate help for each other. The utility companies get a pat on the back for keeping the systems up. Especially electricity because without that everything else halts.
Today we woke up to thousands of trees blocking roads. Public transport struggled to get going, as sections of the rail system proved unusable. Bus couldn't access their routes. Huge crowds built at transport interchanges as folks struggled into work. Walking the streets broken glass crunches under their feet.
It is remarkable how localised the damage is. Central looks untouched, while a few kilometres away it’s a war zone. Thus in fairness to Carrie Lam perhaps that why she formed an erroneous impression. Yet, you’d think she’d be better informed or is she playing down matters? As per her usual approach.
In public statements, she made mention that overseas visitors are here for conferences. That millions of ordinary people struggled to get to work appears to be of little concern to her. When asked about a day-off to aid the recovery, she passed the buck. Staff and employers need to come to an arrangement is her lame response. How is that supposed to happen when the power balance rests in favour of the employers? Once again, Carrie displays her indifference.
Carrie Lam’s statements have a profound impact locally and overseas. Her priority today should be the people of Hong Kong. Instead, she is signalling the world we are open for business. Never-mind that we have destroyed homes and a faltering transport system.
Today was a moment to display leadership. Macau granted a day off to civil servants to ease the load on struggling transport systems. This simple act sets an example for the private sector that would contribute to Hong Kong’s recovery. Instead, Carrie Lam made excuses, wobbled and then passed the buck. She fumbled the leadership test.
Scathed or Unscathed - You decide?
Video of days events
The craziness that infects British institutions goes on unabated and is accelerating. Exhibit 1: the South Yorkshire Police. During the week they made this announcement:
“In addition to reporting hate crime, please report non-crime hate incidents, which can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing. Hate will not be tolerated in South Yorkshire. Report it and put a stop to it.”
Twitter and social media lit up to mock this piece of nonsense. To confirm their distorted thinking, South Yorkshire Police responded with:
“Incidents may not be criminal offences but can feel like a crime to those affected, and can sometimes escalate to crimes.”
I've been puzzling over this. This latter statement is revealing. Am I right to believe the police are stepping outside the fighting crime remit? They now want to get into 'thought policing’? I’d long suspected that ‘Big Brother’ had arrived in the UK. Is this the proof?
In effect, SYP wishes to know if your feelings get hurt by someone's words. They'll then be happy to investigate this. This is both laughable and chilling. Every self-appointed victim, who takes offence, is welcome to get the police involved in their charade.
There is a context to this situation. Let's not forget that SYP took part in the cover-up of Britain's most significant child sex scandal. Despite overwhelming evidence and repeated complaints, they failed to help over 1,200 abused children. Most of them white girls.
These children faced systematic abuse by gangs of predominantly Pakistani men. This occurred in and around Rotherham. The scale and methods of the violence are difficult reading. Gang rapes, girls doused in petrol and trafficking between towns.
All this went unchallenged by the SYP fearful of the racist label. To add to the victim's torment, the police cover-up blamed the girls. Both the local Labour council and the police had more interest in protecting their relationship with an ethnic community. The safeguarding of girls from rape was not a priority.
Further, indications are that the local social services were complicit. Citing ethnic sensitivities, they didn't act. In other words, they’re prepared to allow the rape of young girls because that’s part of the culture. That's the twisted outcome of a PC approach that shuts down free speech.
In a scramble to recover an 'in the toilet' reputation, the SYP flipped to virtue signalling. One can’t be anything but cynical about this.
Why? Well, for a host of reasons. First, and foremost, inviting the public to report hurt feelings is absurd. Further, it’s an assault on freedom of speech. How can we debate anything or discuss if one party or another can call in the police?
Second, how can South Yorkshire justify the manpower to deal with this? Crime is on the rise in their area, while the manpower is slashed. Since 2010 South Yorkshire Police lost 16% of their workforce. Meanwhile, in May this year, five people were murdered within 13 days in South Yorkshire. Again, the evidence suggests ethnic gangs are responsible for some of these deaths. See any pattern here?
SYP has a history of malpractice in its short existence. Formed in 1974 it came into being with the amalgamation of city forces. The miner strike of 1984 proved a testing time as the force faced an unprecedented challenge. Then SYP stood accused of the wholesale fabrication of evidence. Having arrested 95 miners for public order offences the case collapsed in court. When the court rejected all the police statements, officers admitted producing dictated evidence.
In 1989, the Hillsborough disaster exposed SYP to a raft of allegations. These remain before the courts. In short, the force bungled a crowd situation at an FA Cup semi-final. In a crowd surge, 96 people died, and 766 sustained injuries. Senior officers from SYP then fed outright lies to politicians and the media. They sought to divert blame for the poor handling of the crowds by blaming the victims.
The distorted judgment of officers in South Yorkshire was further on display in 2014. A raid on the home of singer Sir Cliff Richard played out live on the news, with the media brought along by the police. The whole show had undertones of turning an investigation into entertainment. It’s evident the force wanted to signal that it is taking the allegations against Sir Cliff as serious. So it puts on a show. Then the hubris backfires when the investigation turned up no evidence. Sir Cliff sued and won massive compensation.
Only now, decades later, are the terrible crimes committed by grooming gangs going through the courts.
Yet, the criminal justice system can act with swiftness when motivated to do so. The prompt action against Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) proves the point. When arrested for contempt of court, he's sent to trial that day and convicted to prison. Meanwhile, the men who raped young girls are still awaiting justice 20 years later. People are asking how come?
Whether you agree with Yaxley-Lennon’s agenda is irrelevant. The question remains why he's processed so fast? Could it be that Yaxley-Lennon is on the right? Identity politics, as it creeps into all aspects of life, classifies him as a white oppressor. In this new progressive orthodoxy is he's not afforded the same protection offered others? The appellate court agreed Yaxley-Lennon's treatment was unfair. He awaits a retrial.
With crime up and police numbers falling, I can only conclude that SYP has its priorities askew. No wonder the force is reportedly demoralised. Front-line cops are dealing with hurt feelings, while real crime goes unchallenged.
In July it emerged that SYP's management team will face an investigation. The inquiry wants to know why SYP failed to act on reports of rife child exploitation. I think we know the answer.
As one whistleblower revealed a senior officer at the time indicated to her that they prioritised car crime over child abuse.
The public knows the truth. One commentator notes:
“Thousands of young girls and children sacrificed on the altar of political correctness, they should be thoroughly ashamed.”
Yes, but we’re also missing a crucial point. Senior police officers must signal their liberal credentials by pandering to the new order. Then the gatekeepers will allow them to advance their careers. Real victims, lower down the postmodern victimhood hierarchy, face apathy. This weeks message from SYP accords that with virtue signalling agenda. Plus, SYP is over-compensating for past failings. Never-mind that the good people of South Yorkshire suffer.
That hurts my feelings.
I heard the word 'gweilo' within an hour of landing in Hong Kong. By the end of that first week, it had entered my vocabulary as a generic term for the expatriate. The full import of its possible meanings only come later. I’ve used the term to describe myself in front of locals because of its disarming impact. On occasions, in feedback, I’ve seen a few grimaces in discomfort, while others sniggered.
Thus it’s with some interest today that I read of Mr Francis Haden. He's claiming racial discrimination, in part, because folks at work called him ‘gweilo’. Haden is suing his employer, seeking HK$200,000 for hurt feelings.
There is a back story of course, although the details are sketchy. Haden works as a blasting engineer on construction sites. He’s alleging an underlying hostility towards non-Chinese with the use of ‘gweilo’ in a derogatory manner.
Lets back up a bit to consider the history. ‘Gweilo’ is the epithet used in Hong Kong for white people. The literal Chinese translation is 'foreign devil’. In Cantonese, the characters are Gwái ( 鬼) meaning "ghost", and lóu ( 佬) meaning "man". There are records of the term emerging in the 1800s during early encounters between local Chinese and European traders.
These days the word has morphed into general usage. It’s entered the Hong Kong lexicon as the common group name for white expatriates. It's a problematic term because of its origins. But many expatriates embrace it. The Galloping Gwais, an expatriate football team, enjoyed some success in the 1980's. As far back as 1958, the Hong Kong Police Dragon Boat team adopted the name ‘The Fan Gwais’ - the troublesome expats. Even the spelling of the word is contested. Take your pick - Gwailo or Gweilo?
In a sense, the white expatriates hijacked the term, flipped it in a lighthearted manner and de-weaponised it in the process. That’s kinda cool. So is the fact you can buy ‘Gweilo Beer’- it's an excellent brew.
But is the word racist or derogatory? That depends on how you understand the term, its usage and context. I’m leaning towards the view that context is critical here. How the word gets deployed makes a difference in deciding if it's racist or hurtful. In the interest of balance, I consulted an SJW acquittance, who came back with this response.
“Gweilo was never used to oppress a marginalised group. White expatriates are colonisers, and the word was used by colonised people to describe their colonisers.”
OK, that’s interesting. The reply infers that for the rich and privileged, labelling with racist language is fine and dandy. That response fits with the postmodern agenda of seeing all white people as oppressors. We are no further forward.
I can recall the term used to insult me. In a meeting, a local police officer took umbrage at my negative feedback for an idea he championed. He was fuming.
"You Gwailo's don’t understand.”
The room went silent. An unwritten rule was broken and a line crossed. He’d deployed the word to offend. I recognised that.
"I beg your pardon, Sir?"
He realised the offence caused, retreated and then apologised. That’s the distinction of context. Using Gweilo as a pejorative term has a sting.
I'd draw a comparison to the use of the n-word. This is fraught with danger as I’m stepping through a minefield of possible misinterpretation. Yet on a daily basis, black youth drop the n-word to each other in conversation, plus make liberal use of it in rap music.
But marvel at the reaction if a white person says the word. The consequences are serious; careers ruined, public and cyber attacks come piling in. Again context is the issue. Given black history white usage of the term is perceived as offensive and unacceptable. I get that.
Having said this, your average white expatriate in Hong Kong is not an under-dog nor repressed. Again, we circle back to context. How about 'Ah Cha' for the Indians and Pakistanis? This word is commonly used even today. I doubt this is helpful to community relations, said with or without malice.
Still, people in this town know the term 'gweilo' has an offensive use, and they sometimes deploy it as such. Likewise, it has applications that are more innocent.
Is another dynamic at play? These days for a subset of the population it's easy to see offence in any behaviour. Far too many people seek it in anything to garner victimhood. For example, the whole gender pronoun debacle is rooted in a victim culture. Yet, seeing the world through a lens of hyper-sensitivity makes us brittle. In turn, this gives us manufactured outrages with absurdity laid upon absurdity. Even the use of certain words can evoke claims of cultural appropriation.
While racism exists in Hong Kong, and that's not to be welcomed, the place is refreshing to be free of the postmodern nonsense that infects the West. The irrationality of identity politics, allied to deconstructionism, has left many intellectually bankrupt. For me, it is a dangerous slope to ban certain words or compel the use of others.
Anyway, we know that peer and social pressure is most effective in correcting behaviour to remove words or actions that society can no longer accept. After all, the law is a blunt tool that can produce undesirable outcomes. ‘Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names can never hurt you’ was the mantra when I was a kid.
Further, as that great philosopher, Mrs De Havilland points out.
“The English laugh at the Scots, the Germans and the French; in turn the Germans, the Scots and the French laugh at the English. Meanwhile, Hong Kong people look down on Mainlanders and vice-versa. It all goes around and comes around. Get over it.”
I don’t know the details of Mr Haden's case nor can I predict the outcome. But I’m watching with great interest to see how the court unties this knot.
As the British Caledonian Tristar swung into land at Kai Tak, I'm sensing something novel. Looking down on the crowded streets, the first hint of Hong Kong’s vitality transferring its energy to me.
Then later, moving through Kowloon, that energy wrapped itself around me, before permeating my body. The city gave off a vibration. Buoyancy hung in the air, with a zeal for getting things done. Get caught up in that can-do conviction - anything is possible.
It’s the early 1980s. Massive infrastructure projects are surging ahead. New towns grow out of the sea or cloven from the hillsides. The slope dwellers are switching precarious wooden structures for high-rise homes. Awaiting them are inside toilets and proper kitchens. Engineers are tunnelling, building to link remotes areas with the ambitious MTR project. Incised with tunnels the harbour is no longer a barrier. Kowloon and Hong Kong Island are one.
Meanwhile, former refugees are toiling away in factories, offices and on constructions sites. Anything is possible as 1997 is looming. People are tense, yet getting on with life as the politicians play their games. Some opt to move on, with Canada and the USA in their sights. The 1989 killings in Beijing drive that.
The government is efficient; it’s corruption-free by Asian standards. The streets are safe. Hong Kong has ridden through a few crises of confidence without a pause. As the negotiations for the handover drag on fortunes are made, others lose chances. The Vietnamese refugee influx stretched patience and resources but never overwhelmed. Hong Kong's glass is half-full.
Even as 1997 approaches, with 1989 shrugged off, a new airport emerges from the sea. Then Kai Tak dims its landing lights for the last time. All the while, the prospects of an emerging China enthrals many. Opportunities abound.
Then something happened. For reasons that remain elusive, Hong Kong’s confidence falters. I suppose no single cause can take the blame. The blows that had before bounced off the armour started to make dents. A few penetrated deep. The glass is looking half empty.
The existential Asian financial crisis of 1998 hit hard. The barometer of Hong Kong’s success is property prices. As these collapsed, it looked like game over. Chief Executive Tung was ill-equipped to deal with the situation. He faltered, rushing a housing initiative.
Then, as today, China stepped in to help shore up the economy. A sullen and ungrateful Hong Kong people did not display much gratitude. That China needed to act affirmed Hong Kong’s dependence on the Mainland. The vast majority of Hong Konger’s willful ignorance of this status runs deep.
The events of 2003 had an enormous impact on Hong Kong. Today the consequences continue to play out. SARS exposed the government to profound criticism. The initial lacklustre response suggested either a cover-up or sheer incompetence. In no time, Hong Kong people felt isolated and forsaken. Tourism collapsed. By April 2003, arrivals at the airport fell 68 per cent. At the same time, Hong Kong people found themselves unwelcome overseas. As an example, the Swiss barred a Hong Kong delegation from attending a Watch and Jewelry Fair in Zurich.
The mood was bleak. Travelling by MTR on a Saturday evening, I’m stunned to find the carriages empty. About town, everyone is wearing masks. In the end, the outbreak killed 299 in Hong Kong. It left behind a deep feeling of sadness, loss and anger. Some of that anger spilt over into the Article 23 debate. 500,000 people took to the streets on 1st July 2003. Organised to protest the national security laws, many joined to vent frustration at the government. This protest ultimately led to the fall of Chief Executive Tung. He stepped aside in 2005 citing poor health.
In the final analysis, SARS also had positive outcomes. Public hygiene standards improved, although it’s a lesson that needs constant reinforcement. Hong Kong people discovered that there is more to life than making money. In search of healthy pursuits, they took to the country parks.
Yet none of that could erase the damaging sense that Hong Kong was not invulnerable. Once that realisation dawned, attitudes changed for the worst.
In the broad sweep of events, I suppose the Occupy movement of 2014 comes next. I’ve written much on Occupy that can be found in this blog. On its consequences in the broader community, these are profound. Also, these impacts resonate to this day.
Occupy exploded in a massive release of pent-up energy in the autumn of 2014. By early December, it was over. A spent force. It collapsed in rancour, with fragmented groups tussling for control. The youth at the centre of the movement came away demoralised.
Given the differing generational-zeitgeist, it’s inevitable that Occupy would split society. Yet, the depth of that split cut through all sectors. You either supported it, or you didn’t. It’s a civil war moment. Father against son, mother against daughter; few people sat on the fence. That polarisation played into politics, the workplace plus education. No sector remained unblemished. On social media, it played out in unfriending on Facebook. People who'd been pals since kindergarten broke off contact. Then everyone sat in their silos, ignoring each other.
Another CE fell victim. Leung Chun-ying didn’t seek re-election in the wake of Occupy. He’s replaced by a humdrum career civil servant, Carrie Lam. Since Occupy, a political stalemate hangs in the air. Most folks sought to put Occupy behind them to get on with life.
In recent years, images of former senior officials dragged into court added damage to public sentiment. That a former Chief Executive and his deputy exploited their positions for personal gain affirms a particular view ... that Hong Kong is on a downward spiral. Coupled with this is the never-ending revelations of shoddy construction on infrastructure projects. Job after job is late, then over-budget.
It’s only natural that the public is questioning the integrity of our institutions. At the same time the wealth gap, high property prices and unchecked pollution remain a blight.
To be sure things have gone astray, but is Hong Kong finished as ‘Asia’s world city’? A reality check is necessary. Cutting through the media hype, the tribalism of attitudes, to consider hard facts. The trajectory of continuous decline is an opinion that is worth challenging.
First, Hong Kong has sustained consistent growth for decades. It maintains a surplus that is the envy of other places. The city’s fiscal reserves exceeded HK$1.7 trillion by December last year. Official statistics show the average annual growth rate of revenue from 2009-10 to 2014-15 was 8.5 per cent. Expenditure rose 6.2 per cent. In short, Hong Kong has massive reserves.
Many are questioning why more of that money is not spent on social welfare and care for the elderly. It remains a disgrace that the poverty-stricken elderly, must scrape a living collecting cardboard. After all, they toiled to build Hong Kong.
No one can argue that Hong Kong lacks jobs. If you want to work the opportunity is there. Likewise, if you're going to set up a business, the government makes it easy. The procedure took me 45 minutes. I filled in one form, produced my documents, and that’s it. Could it be any simpler? Hong Kong positively invites you to be entrepreneurial.
Second, Hong Kong is safe. As a father with daughters, I’m relaxed to allow them to venture out even on busy Saturday nights. I’m confident I’d be less sanguine residing in London, New York or just about any other major metropolitan city (other than Singapore). Also, not a single kid has been shot at school in all my 30 plus years in Hong Kong.
Third, Hong Kong’s public transport system is superb. Despite its recent setbacks, the MTR remains the benchmark for other places. The buses are frequent and cheap. Although the taxi trade is a mixed bag, the fares are reasonable: the quality of the drivers ranges from outstanding to neanderthal. Unwelcome cartel practices are keeping Uber out. A bit of competition would force the taxi trade to up its game.
Ending my not exhaustive list is the ready access to our wonderful countryside. All Hong Kong is in easy reach of the country parks, with walking trails that are accessible and challenging. You don’t need to be a wealthy expat or rich local to enjoy this stunning public space.
There are many reasons to criticise Hong Kong. It has its challenges. All I’m saying is lets put away corrosive fatalism that Hong Kong is in the toilet. It’s not and far from it. Would it not be better to strike a more balanced assessment? Then recognising the challenges, let's address them In that case, we can reignite some of that Hong Kong mojo.
I was recently asked, “Who were the winners and losers in Occupy?” That question came from a young man in the UK, who takes his information from the Guardian website. Thus his limited-frame of information distorts his perceptions. That’s not a partisan statement or being pompous, but a mere fact. This blog is an attempt to respond to that valid question.
The causes and machinations of Occupy got scant regard in the overseas media. It's portrayed as a simple confrontation between freedom-loving types and China. In reality, most people are coming to the subject with a half understanding a best. Occupy was a complex beast and rendering all its dynamics takes time.
I had an encounter with a British reporter that summed up the attitude. "If you guys don't do something soon, I'm heading back to London." They wanted another Tian A Men. They wanted heavy-handed police action to fulfil their repression narrative. In his boredom, the Sky News's reporter ran around rehashing stories about the red light district. With no massacre to report on, then at least let's have faux disgust at hookers and their punters.
Getting back to the subject. At first, I was thinking “that’s a naive question.” To some extent, the ball is still in play with the full impact of Occupy impossible to discern. Court cases are ongoing, appeals underway and policy responses evolving. In that sense, any judgment is a snap-shot. Also, I’m tempted to assert nobody won, and most players lost (something). But again, it’s a position that doesn’t address the nuances of the fall-out, as the ripples spread forth. Anyway, let's give this a try because the question deserves an answer.
If the Occupy leaders are honest, they'd admit gaining nothing beyond brief world-wide publicity. Their aim to force Beijing into granting concessions is further away. In that sense Occupy back-fired. Alas, Benny Tai and his cohort, appear incapable of stepping back to take a rational view. In any case, Tai abandoned the field of play in the first half to rush back to his office at Hong Kong University. Hardly the actions of a robust leader. A full timeline of events is here.
With brave Benny running away, a motley crew of students and activists stepped forward. Any cohesion in this cluster of groups soon fell apart. The usual group tensions surfaced, as each jockeyed for control.
For the occupiers, they had their moment. Then overstaying a welcome, public support drained away. As predicted, violence crept in, and the whole show collapsed as the momentum ran out after 75 days. By that time, only a few remained on the streets.
Several of the activists are now either in jail, facing a sentence or awaiting trials and appeals. Distracted by prolonged legal cases, some are running out of money. Others have surrendered to disengage from political activity. The reality of making a living is now the focus of their energies.
Campuses are much quieter these days. Student bodies are disentangling from politics as the tide of activities recedes. Student Unions have distanced themselves from the traditional protests groups. For example, they no longer support the June 4th movement. This change of focus is a complicated dynamic. At the core, the students have no affinity for the old guard, plus local identity politics is a factor. On that, the old guard and the new boys differ.
Thus, the base of support is weakening. Meanwhile, the government is stepping with care, so as not to inflame sentiments.
Times have also changed. Trump is transforming the landscape of international relations. It’s unlikely he will tackle China on Hong Kong issues unless it touches on trade. In the past, local pro-democrats relied on US support to get their message to the broader world. They held the USA up as a beacon of freedom. Surprisingly, that show has left town. With Trump busy rolling back on human rights, the US has forfeited the moral high-ground.
The police force came through Occupy institutionally bruised and role-confused. It pains me to this day to reflect on how events unfolded. Under common law, the police have a ‘duty’ to preserve the peace. It’s not an option or a choice that they may act on. It’s a duty. That’s something my tutors drilled into me. As a young inspector, I'm told to get control of a situation, restore order and then investigate. Many felt that ‘duty’ fell away.
To some extent, the police were prisoners of their own success. Their measured and proportionate public-order tactics evolved over the decades. These are well-taught and executed with restraint. In the context of disorder through the 1960s to 1990s, these tactics worked. Also, they enjoyed general public support. Plus, few objected when Vietnamese refugees or protesting Korean farmers were on the receiving end. That's another story.
There is no doubt the police could have cleared the occupiers. But that’s not the point. In 2014, the public wasn’t willing to see its police officers firing tear smoke on young protesters.
The evidence of the threat to public order was not in the public eye, and thereby many people perceived the police as over-reacting. Thus the firing of tear smoke in Central produced an immediate adverse reaction. The police action stopped. Rumours abound about who and why the police sweep halted. The truth remains elusive.
In the end, the Occupy movement drifted away. A series of civil legal-actions hastened its departure. It’s arguable that the outcome was satisfactory as the occupiers departed. A hard-core resisted, as a few staged stunts to gain the last sliver of publicity. Included in that where old-time pro-democrats. They'd stayed away for much of the time, but couldn't resist a bit of media coverage. In early December, the police were able to resume control by opening roads, with token resistance at most. By the 15th December, it was over.
CY Leung had a win of sorts. Occupy went away. No one died, plus the mayhem and violence were contained. Yet, it’s a pyrrhic victory. He’s now out of office. Besides, his family paid the price. The media spotlight fell on the antics of one daughter. Her clueless social media comments opened her to abuse. The pro-democracy media was willing to forego ethical standards to attack CY, including hounding his kids.
To many, the government looked weak. While front-line police officers bore the brunt of the protests, the rest of the administration sat back.
There is no purpose or merit in declaring a winner. Occupy remains part of an evolving situation. That includes Beijing's response. In that sense, Benny Tai misjudged the likely outcome. The rule of 'unintended consequences' is something Tai would do well to study.
Tai deserves the most significant criticism. His naive and child-like plan for the Occupation was destined to fail. As an academic, he'd failed to study similar protests, and he ignored the history. His fancy words and clever plots can't hide the fact the man is delusional. It's irresponsible that he led the students to the streets, then abandoned them to suffer the consequences. That he remains on the staff at Hong Kong University is a disgrace.
So, in the end, the disobliging result of Occupy is a divided society. It also birthed radical minority groups, such as the farcical independence movement.
Meanwhile, I reckon these days indifference hangs over a majority of the population. They’d rather forget Occupy. Who can blame them?
Sorry, no apology for preaching today as I get all eco-warrior. I’m afraid we can’t go on like this. Justin Hofman took the above picture. It went viral. As he stated, “a photo I wish didn’t exist.” But it does exist, as a graphic example of the terrible spread of human activity into the oceans. Shot in the once pristine waters off Sumbawa Island, Indonesia; those waters are now debris ladened.
How did we get here? Well, consider this; each year we dump nine million tons of plastic into the oceans. Drink bottles, food boxes, plastic toys and about everything else ends up in the sea. And 40% of it is single-use plastics. Of that single-use stuff, most have a 15-minute working life before its gone. It then hangs around for 100’s of years. More on that later.
Half of all the plastics we’ve made came about in the last 15 years. We first produced the stuff over a century and a half ago. It’s a brilliant material. Versatile, long-lasting, with near universal applications. Plastic has a role in every aspect of human existence from health-care to space flight. Without plastic, we'd compromise our very existence. So let us be clear; plastic is not the problem, it's human behaviour that’s the issue. It’s what we do with plastic once it's finished a useful role.
In 1950 we made 2.3 million tons of plastic. By 2015 that figure rose to 448 million tons. Over 161 million tons of that is packaging material for one-time use.
In 2016, 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold worldwide. That's 65 bottles per person. If placed end to end, this would reach halfway to the sun.
The success of plastic is also its downside. It’s resilient stuff. Some plastics never degrade. Instead, it breaks up into tiny particles that enter the ecosystem. A typical plastic water bottle will last 70 years. If you’ve bought a bottle this week, it will around in some form long after you’ve gone.
Most of the plastic reaches the sea on a journey from streams and rivers, then out through estuaries. The Pearl River estuary, next to Hong Kong, is one of the worst. Each year an estimated 30 thousand tons of plastic floats down from the hinterland. The direct impact is habitat disruption for many creatures. Then you have birds eating the plastic, which clogs their digestive systems. Likewise, fish suffer a similar fate.
It's seen that hermit crabs altered their behaviour to adopt discarded bottle tops as homes. You could argue its a recycling of sorts. Except seeing a crab carrying a ‘Coke’ top on its back is hardly the world we want to leave our kids.
Only a small proportion of the plastic is visible on the surface of the oceans. A fair amount gradually sinks, as the rest remains semi-submerged. The infamous garbage patch of the Pacific is a multilayered beast of churning debris. Less well-known are its Atlantic cousins.
As plastics break-up under the action of waves and sunlight, a new menace arises. Plankton consumes the fine particles. In turn, the plankton carries the plastic through the food chain to us. That plastic we dumped is coming back in our food. And here’s the thing, we don’t know how that impacts our health. Although, studies have shown liver and kidney damage in other animals. This suggests we may suffer the same.
So what’s the answer? What's needed is a broad approach to prevention, habit changes and stringent enforcement. Recycling is at best a partial solution. In the USA only 10% of plastics enter recycling. Globally the figure is 18%. Norway is showing the way with a 97% recycling rate on plastic bottles. That's achieved by incentives for the return of the plastic containers rather than disposal.
Some plastics are easier to recycle than others. PET (polyethylene terephthalate), used in drink bottles and toiletries, is simple to process. Likewise, heavy plastics that typically make garden furniture or crates. Polystyrene, used for coffee cups and lunch boxes, is problematic. It’s best that we reduce its use because recycling is not viable.
It’s possible for us all to make a contribution. First, stop putting stuff down your toilet that didn’t come out of your bum (other than toilet paper). Used cotton buds, makeup wipes and all that other paraphernalia of the bathroom need to go in a bin. That should stop it from reaching the sea.
Forgo soap in a bottle. After all, a bar of soap is just as good, while it produces less waste.
Give up on plastic bags. Hong Kong is making welcome progress in that area. Likewise, plastic straws and bottles. There is no need for plastic straws as paper is a reliable alternative. As regards plastic bottles, it is harder. On a hot day carrying a reusable water bottle is the answer. If you need to rehydrate with an isotonic, then buy the powder form.
Don’t litter. Put discarded material in bins. Anything dropped on the street gets carried by the rain into the sewers and then out to sea. It will then come back. Unbeknown to you it will reappear in your seafood meal. Is that what you want?
Governments have a leading role to play. We need legislation to encourage the use of biodegradable plastics. Let's not forget that poisonous lead got removed from the environment by changes to the law. We need the same for plastics.
As I pointed out in my last blog, we aren’t getting off this planet soon. Thus we need to tidy up our home to sustain the species and protect the broader biosphere. As the only intelligent life-form in the world, we have stewardship of the place.
Data suggests that half of this mismanaged plastic comes from our region. China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam top the list. Hong Kong is also at fault. One estimate has Hong Kong disposing of 5 million plastic bottles a day!
Remember; the problem is not the plastic, the problem is how we handle it. If you do nothing else always think where will this plastic end up as you throw it out.
Here’s the thing, we’re stuck on Planet Earth for the foreseeable future. We aren't going anywhere. Our technology is pretty smart and getting better. Yet it’s some way off granting us the ability to go outside our solar system. For example, the nearest habitable planet we believe is Proxima Centauri B. I say near, its four-light years away. With our current technology, it's going to take 6,300 years to get there. Then what happens when we arrive to find it's not inhabitable. Bugger.
Human recorded history is about 5000 years. That gives you an idea that 6,300 years is a long time when lots can happen. It won’t be easy to make such a trip. In fact, it’s going to be extremely tough.
Why the rush to leave? Well, biologist Erst Mayr's research indicates that most species last 100,000 years before disappearing. Modern humans have been around for between 100,000 to 200,000 years. If Mayr is right, we are overdue extinction. Environmental factors are the prime cause of a species disappearing. Habitat destruction, with food and water all gone or competition wipes you out.
Also, it's not clear that our intelligence will help us through this critical period. It may be that this very intelligence is the cause of our demise. Nuclear weapons, a product of our smart monkey brains, remains a significant threat. An atomic winter taking out the sunlight would push us to starvation. Some think climate change presents a similar risk.
Assuming we could construct a craft for a journey to another planet, other factors come into play. Scientists have calculated to sustain the human race you need as few as 98 people. Although to give a degree of resistance against disease, 500 is a safer number. We know that the human race has recovered from population sizes in the thousands. The genetic record pointed to this when our hold on survival proved tenuous at times of drought and famine. But we came through.
It's possible that most of the spacefarers would be women. To keep the species going a stock of sperm for artificial insemination will be needed. Plus, a few men to undertake specific roles such as getting spiders out the showers. What we don't know is how an imbalance in the sexes could impact the mission. How would the culture change, would this be beneficial or a disaster?
To travel vast distance in space, we’d need certain things. That includes shielding from radiation. Space is not empty. There is a lot of nasty stuff zipping around, radiation being amongst the worse. We evolved on a planet shielded by a magnetic field and an atmosphere to filter or deflect radiation. In space, we’d need similar protection, or the consequences are unthinkable.
The psychological aspects of deep space travel remain unknown. Although, the physical impacts are understood. Without artificial gravity, our bones and muscles weaken. Body fluids don’t move around as physical systems go out of kilter. To counter this at least two hours of intense exercise a day must be undertaken.
How the mind deals with deep-space is a different matter. We don’t know the likely impacts. Isolation for long periods cut-off from society produces depression and pushes up suicide rates. Thus, for success, deep-space travel will need to involve a community aspect with people working together to support each other. Other then that, we are in unchartered territory.
How about going into stasis to wake-up on a new planet? How about seeking to mimic the tardigrades? These creatures can survive in space and other harsh environments. They undergo a series of processes that includes removing all the water from their tiny bodies. Also, tardigrades change their chemical makeup and shape. This gives them protection from heat, cold, pressure and radiation. Then when conditions are right, they reanimate from their death-like sleep.
Tests have shown that tardigrades can survive radiation doses like those found in space. Although, extreme doses will kill them off. Suggesting some shielding will be necessary.
We are centuries away from having the technology to adapt the mechanisms of the tardigrade to humans. And, in any case, is it a desirable option? I’m not sure. The tardigrades are not handsome creature, as shown above.
Even if we went to space in the search for a new home, in the long-term, it's a time-limited option for the human race. Space is expanding. All the galaxies are rushing away from each other. Eventually, they are so far apart that travel between them is impossible. Even at 10% of lightspeed, it would take the entire period of civilisation to get to anywhere.
Our species die out unless we can harness knowledge to bend the rules of space/time. For all we know, we are the only shot the universe has at intelligent self-organisation. And thus protecting that demands our utmost attention.
On a positive note, human population numbers are levelling off. By 2100, the population should stabilise and then fall. That may ease the burden on the biosphere depending on our habits. Looking ahead energy is not an issue because the universe is full of it. It’s everywhere.
We have a massive fusion reactor sitting close at hand that can provide all our needs. It has 5 billion years of hydrogen to fuse into helium. That should keep us going. The challenge is harnessing the Sun in a useful and harmless way to our purposes.
Long-term, and I’m talking centuries, we may venture out there. In the meantime, we’d better look after this place.
Common sense in an uncommon degree, is what the world calls wisdom. - Coleridge
The Food Environmental Health Department (FEHD) took another kicking this week. In the face of mounting pressure, they waived a HK$1,500- fine against a 70-year-old. She worked collecting waste-paper. It's a terrible indictment of Hong Kong that the elderly need to do this to maintain a living.
The lady stood accused of placing waste paper on the pavement. This thereby created an obstruction. The case should never have been brought.
These old folks are independent types, who provide a valuable service by recycling stuff. It’s tough work that on average generates about HK$700- a month. This supplements their small pensions and any meagre government help.
Cardboard collectors are a manifestation of the ‘Lion Rock Spirit’ - tough, resolute people who make their own way in the world. The very backbone of Hong Kong. Most don’t want to rely on government handouts. Regrettably, they’re also an easy target for the FEHD.
Without political clout, little education nor understanding of the law, the elderly are a stress-free case for FEHD enforcers. Plus, operating in large squads, the FEHD intimidate by their numbers. They sweep in, seize the exhibits, then convey the victim to a police station for processing. It’s not unusual to see teams of eight picking up one elderly person.
I’ve seen it, time and time again. It’s a dispiriting saga, that's a blemish on Hong Kong.
And yet, the FEHD appears reluctant to tackle other types of obstruction. Garages, shops and parallel traders are also guilty of causing blockages. In the public mind, FEHD is lenient to these people. Is it because their pugnacious in their response, and less likely to cooperate? You guess. After all human nature, is too take the easy option. Moreover, there is another dynamic at work that doesn’t make the headlines. Processes and systems that drive FEHD to operate in this way.
As one commentator recently noted, FEHD can exercise discretion. They do this when dealing with large supermarket chains piling boxes on the pavement. Yet, the perception is the elderly have no such favour. Discretion itself is problematic. It's created as a consequence of the way offences are defined. This applies across the law.
What forms obstruction? It’s ill-defined and subjective. Does a tired lady shopper who rests her shopping bag on the ground qualify for prosecution. Clearly, not. No court would accept that.
How FEHD teaches or controls the exercise of discretion by its officers is unclear. Here is some insight. The stated policy is that officers exercise reasonableness and sensitivity. Also, the department makes it clear it does not use arrests as a performance measure. It asserts it's not chasing figures. That is arguable. It's figures and data which form the basis of its reporting to District Councils.
In fairness, the FEHD is between a rock and a hard place. Every interaction is fraught with emotion and claims of bias. At the same time, the public and District Councils demand action. The job is not popular because it brings direct conflict with the public.
Community consensus through consultation at District Councils is the norm sought before enforcement action starts. In Tsuen Wan, a year-long debate rumbled on over the shop-front occupation of pavements. Conflicting opinions held enforcement action in check until a sort of agreement emerged. Officials and Councillors settled on an approach. Then FEHD finally acted after many warnings and much cajoling of the shop-keepers.
In the process, I heard lame claims from FEHD bosses of triad involvement, with threats made to their officers. On investigation, this proved embellished. Nonetheless, Police officers hovered in the background during operations as tacit support.
Underlying the challenges of keeping our streets clear is culture and society's attitude. This is not unique to the work of the FEHD. Individual FEHD officers may feel constrained by procedures and a bureaucratic system. Layered atop that are anti-corruption strategies that shape their approach. Front-line staff, even when sympathetic and recognising the triviality of a case, feel compelled to act. And at the end of the day, the fairness of the action is subjective.
Moreover, such is the extent of obstruction of public space in Hong Kong, enforcement action won’t address the issue. The same applies to illegal parking.
Without public support, like all enforcement agencies, the FEHD loses its legitimacy. In turn, that brings them into greater contention with the society they serve. Reading the online reaction to the latest case, you can see the public has little sympathy for the FEHD. Yet, the same public demand unobstructed pavements.
Unfortunately, the FEHD creates the impression of going for the painless options. Elderly waste collectors; rather than stroppy garage owners occupying pavements to repair cars. This case suggests some form of justice is at play. The fine is dropped, and I believe everyone welcomes that. Nonetheless, it a shame that the lady had to suffer awaiting a decision.
In the end, the FEHD will continue to face a thankless task. Perhaps they could help themselves by less focus on the venerable. Take on the garages and shop-front occupation of pavements. We’d all welcome some action there. There’d be wisdom in that approach.
Britain’s moral authority to comment on Hong Kong affairs is wobbly at best. Recently evidence emerged that the UK pressured Portugal not to grant citizenship to Macau residents. The Brits feared it would create a similar demand in Hong Kong. Why is this significant?
Well, British politicians make much of standing by Hong Kong with their sweet words. Yet, when it comes to providing tangible actions, all that ‘hot air’ evaporates. Anyway, the time long passed when Britain was in a position to influence matters. In any case, with Brexit looming, Britain needs to keep China on-side. Otherwise, those lucrative trade deals may falter.
British stinginess over citizenship rights in the UK is well documented. In a series of law changes in the 1980s, the Brits laid the ground for denying Hong Kong folks access to the UK. The British National Overseas (BNO) passport is proof. Yet, the Macau episode reveals deep-seated deceit. The people of Macau played as silent pieces in a game that serves Britain’s self-interest. Undertones of racism run through this approach.
UK politicians asinine utterances against China and its rule over Hong Kong don't help matters. Grandees like Chris Patten venture here to make statements, usually when they've got some product to sell. But let's face it, Britain had its chance to do the right thing. Instead, it played a tricky game.
Let's not forget the history. In broad terms, European merchant warriors, aided by armies, forced their way into China’s functioning trading system. They demanded access to markets (sounds familiar) and when they didn’t get their way, in went the gunboats. Force was brought to bear. The British led the way to take Hong Kong, and then Kowloon. Some of that trade involved opium. Nice.
In its first form, the colony of Hong Kong was run with one purpose. It’s a port and base for the British to trade, with expanding influence throughout the region. The Chinese population is incidental to this process. They provide manpower and support services to the colonial regime. In the early days of the 1800s, the Chinese and Expat communities existed apart. Even the nascent police force didn’t cover the Chinese areas, focusing on Expat parts of the colony. In any case, a curfew was in place to keep the Chinese off the streets at night.
Such was the approach to running colonies. The British co-opt nationals from elsewhere to police the locals. Then it grants a few indigenous people roles as representatives. This template was applied across the colonial empire.
So why the rush of blood to the head in recent years? Why are so many British politicians expressing concerns about Hong Kong people? Britain ran a system of status quo in Hong Kong for the vast majority of the time. British politicians remained mute. None pushed hard for democracy, accepting that China wouldn't countenance such a move.
Only at the last minute did Chris Patten reverse that approach in a ham-fisted effort. He ended up doing more damage than good. It's hard to conclude that UK politicians making noises about Hong Kong are motivated by an interest in the well-being of the people here. There was no sign of that for decades.
It’s more likely the motivation comes from other factors. Maybe one is guilt. Indeed, Chris Patten has tacitly acknowledged Britain could have done more to secure Hong Kong people’s future. Lord Paddy Ashdown is in the same boat. He’s on record expressing embarrassment at Britain’s actions.
After guilt, comes China-bashing; using Hong Kong as an issue with which to berate China. It’s an easy one to adopt. Merely state that China is clamping down in Hong Kong, restricting freedoms. With your overseas audience ignorant of the facts, it’s lapped up. The truth, as usual, is more complicated and nuanced. You could argue the freedoms enjoyed by ordinary citizens have increased since the departure of the Brits. But, that doesn’t make headlines.
Anyway, neither guilt nor China-bashing is honourable in the context of the history. Hong Kong’s status was a hard-won compromise by sensible men on both sides. Hong Kong was always ‘Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time’ as eloquently put by journalist Richard Hughes. In effect, China consented to allow a British presence on a temporary basis. The stance was always ‘Hong Kong will be taken back when the time is right.’
China would have been within its rights to take back the place at any time. After all, Hong Kong is indefensible, as the Japanese proved. In any case, just cut off the water and sit back. Likewise, Hong Kong is dependent on the mainland for food and electricity.
That China allowed Hong Kong to keep its freedoms under the elegant ‘one country, two systems’ solution speaks of a pragmatic attitude. Meanwhile, a common law judicial system operates intact. Yes, there have been bumps along the road; yet, none of these has derailed the fundamentals.
British politicians need to reflect on history before wading into criticism of Hong Kong or indeed China. Britain’s own failures including to former colonial subjects is a national embarrassment. Although this is something unrecognised by the majority of Brits. After all, there is no affinity to Hong Kong people such as the Gurkhas or Falkland Islanders enjoy.
Any British moral authority has evaporated. The stoic Hong Kong people recognise the situation for what it is. 'Britain says no' is the Hong Kongers name for the BNO passport. Thus the majority seek to work within ‘one country, two systems.’
Granted 'freedom of speech' means British politicians may say whatever they like. Moreover, the existence of the Joint Declaration as a UN-registered legally binding treaty confers on the UK government a monitoring role. But, the reality is the UK has no power to intervene. That's a nuance lost of British politicians. Therefore they must exercise care with their words. Otherwise, their remarks echo the patronising sentiments of yesteryear with Hong Kong people played as pawns in a bigger game.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.