Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
On occasions I’m guilty of spreading a message that everything is a mess - the human race is heading to hell in a handcart. It’s a position that's fed by myopic observation of all that’s going wrong. Heaping weight is a 24-hour news feed, with its looping coverage of death, disaster, war and mayhem.
Digesting all that suffering can overwhelm even the most robust individual. Thus, it’s refreshing to hear the words of Steven Pinker, the Harvard scientist. Pinker is one of the public intellectuals helping us to think about the future.
In his new book, Enlightenment Now, Pinker asserts that despite what the news tells us, by every measure humans are better off than ever. Our well-being and safety are higher than at any previous point in history. And he has plenty of data to support this argument.
Sifting through it all, certain facts jump out at you. Life expectancy is increasing across all countries and cultures. Even in Africa, which lags the developed regions, average life-expectancy has risen from 40 in 1960 to 70 years. Research indicates that by 2045, the world average life-expectancy will be around 75 years. In 1960, it was 45 years. That’s a stunning improvement.
Better medical care, plus the sharing of facts on hygiene pushed up childbirth survival rates. Add to that the decline in extreme poverty, while undernourishment is also dropping. All of which creates a healthier population, with less premature death.
Never underestimate the impact of global programmes to prevent common infectious diseases. With illnesses contained or eradicated, societies free-up human capital for development. This is a self-perpetuating process. One consequence is that literacy rates have exploded; 36% could read and write in 1950. Today that figure is climbing towards 90%. With that progress comes a multitude of benefits as knowledge spreads.
One comfort is the education of women, who can then take control of their reproductive cycle. Removed from being broodmares, girls stabilise societies by bringing population growth under control. Look at Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Birth rates continue to fall despite incentives and initiatives from well-meaning governments.
Today, we are about 7 billion people. The experts reckon the human population will peak at about 9 to 10 billion in 2050. Then it will likely go into decline. Statistician Jorgen Randers argues it may happen sooner. His projections take into account the downward impact of urbanisation on fertility. Randers predicts a peak in the population in the early 2040s at about 8.1 billion people. Then a rapid decline, as ladies stop having children. It's happening already in many modern countries.
It's probable that we can feed 9 billion people with our modern system of agriculture. Then, as the population levels out, the pressure to produce food and use resources reduce. In turn, this provides relief for the environment. We know that as people prosper, they place more emphasis on ‘quality of life’ issues. That has a notable impact on policy.
Scientists identified this phenomenon some time ago in the 1950s. The Kuznets Curve, named after Simon Kuznets, addresses the idea. It indicates that market forces first increase and then decrease economic inequality. In environmental terms, Kuznets’s ideas point towards deterioration in pollution. Then we reach a tipping point. After that as per capita income increases, the pollution gets less.
China displays this effect. As the country modernised, the people accepted smog as a consequence of industrialisation. Now they clamour for the clean-up, with the government responding to these demands. Polluting industries are closed, with new technology deployed to mitigate any environmental impact. In short, a middle-class is emerging, that wants clean air and water.
The world is also a much less violent place. In broad-terms crime is down. Murder rates have fallen for decades and continue on a downward trend. Domestic violence and child abuse are declining in the West. At the same time, since the 1960s, deaths in war have plunged by a factor of 20. Further, the conflicts that do take place are less deadly.
In the 1950s, the average number of war deaths was around 86,000 annually. Today that figure is about 5,000. Better trauma care is a factor, but also the lack of prolonged ‘slog it out’ engagements.
The big question, though, is what does science have to say about how we structure our societies. What is the optimal model, if any? Is there a system that provides a significant opportunity for humans to flourish? Pinker has something to say on this, although his assertions come with some caveats. There are many studies of these issues. The control groups are well-known; East and West Germany, North and South Korea, and Chile and Venezuela.
The evidence points towards market economies giving opportunities for the majority to prosper. But, regulation of these markets is crucial, to create a level playing field. Then you add a social safety net. This will catch those that fall by the wayside, care for them and then - hopefully- return them to a productive life.
As societies become affluent, it’s the norm that more money gets diverted to social spending. This includes caring for the young and old folks. Likewise, the people expand their thoughts in time and space, to contemplate long-term issues. Hence, the drive to tackle pollution.
Pinker also concludes that top-down authoritarian regimes produce poor long-term outcomes. I guess most of us recognize that. The lack of checks and balances, with power focused in a small clique, produces disparity. This can take the form of economic and social injustice. Such regimes collapse, although when and how remains hard to predict. For example, no one saw the collapse of the Soviet Union coming nor its rapidity. Making such predictions is fraught with uncertainty.
The thinkers amongst us (no, I’m not claiming that title) appear optimistic. If we can survive the next few decades, the long-term prospects look good.
And so, while all our data indicates improved human well-being, we can’t be complacent. We still keep the ability to wipe ourselves out. Nuclear weapons present the most significant controllable threat. Climate change will also have an impact, yet we can likely ride that out. A pandemic could wipe out a good number of us. Despite that, it's unlikely to bring about the extinction of the species.
Nuclear weapons wouldn’t kill us all in the first blinding blast. No, the demise would creep-in as a nuclear winter blocked the sun, cutting off our food supplies. Depending on how long the dust lingered in the atmosphere, we’d struggle to cling on.
Having said that, it’s encouraging that we have some control. Get the nukes out the equation, and our chances as a species look about even.
Depending on who is speaking, there are polar opposite views on Brexit, and not much between. On one side are the ardent Brexiteers. For them, this is the last chance for Great Britain to save itself from cultural suicide. Take back control of the borders and the legal system, to be free of silly EU rules. Reassert national sovereignty is the mantra.
In their realm, the people have spoken in a wave a popularism against the European project. Rejecting a narrative that peace will only come with a trans-national agenda, a blow lands on the complacent political elites.
It’s worth remembering that the European project was, in part, fueled by a repudiation of the nation-state concept. After two world wars kicked off in Europe, an idea germinated. Remove state control, then operate across trans-national borders to avoid future conflicts.
The Brexiteers see a bright future, in the sunlit uplands - Churchillian voice please - with free trade to the world. They see a Great Britain find a role it lost with the demise of Empire, at the centre of innovation and commerce. Banished is the old agenda of managing decline, which permeated policy since 1946.
Some people go so far to suggest a new Anglo-sphere of countries upholding Western values. They cite the election of Trump; another one in the eye for the established order. The rise of nationalism in Europe supports their view. Even the once mighty Angela Merkel looks compromised. She’s paid for opening Germanys borders to a million refugees with mayhem and unrest to the streets. German womenfolk suffered as gangs of young male asylum seekers behaved appallingly.
Under Teresa May’s lacklustre leadership, the ruling Conservatives stumble through the negotiations. The EU is at times petulant, at times pleading and then stern. Like a scorned ex-wife, they want revenge for daring to walk away
On the other side, the Remainers hold that Brexit is an apocalyptic event. They feed economic scare stories as their standard rant. Everyone will be worse off after Brexit - it is, and can only be a disaster. For them, Britain cannot exist outside the EU.
Those opposing Brexit seek to demonise the other side. Here’s Labour stalwart Owen Jones in full flow.
“It is a rallying cry for a noxious alliance of anti-immigrant demagogues and regulation-stripping free marketeers. The bigotry, xenophobia and racism stirred up by the official leave campaigns injected an ugliness into British politics which never dissipated, and left hate crimes surging."
Of course, Jones is part of the metropolitan elite that despises the Anglo-Saxon working class. He hates the lifeblood of the old Labour Party. Jones and his mates exist in the London bubble, and he dare not venture north to face the former Labour heartland. For that reason, he fails to understand why folks 'up north' voted out. Playing the ‘racism card’ with ease, he ignores his inherent prejudices. The disconnect new Labour has with its roots is stark.
Meanwhile, the Labour position on Brexit is far from clear. Party leader Corbyn is playing a game of deliberate befuddlement. If Labour committed to overturning Brexit, they’d haemorrhage as many as three million voters who backed leave. That would lose them seats.
Corbyn, it appears, prefers the posturing of permanent opposition, rather than the messy business of government. Then he can remain ideological, uncompromised, pure, disdainful and sit above the fray. H knows that being in government means having to make tough choices and real decisions.
At the same time, voices exist for a second referendum. That’s illogical because you could go on infinitum until you it got the right result - whatever that might be? It’s true that some who voted out didn’t grasp all the consequences. Then, you’ve got to consider the fact that the young proposed to remain, while the older folks wanted out. That has opened up another schism. That’s democracy at work; messy and imprecise.
Let's consider some stuff we do know. Great Britain hasn't always been in the EU, and others exist well enough outside its remit. It occurs to me that the only reason the UK will be economically worse off is that the EU is protectionist.
Yes, arguably, the EU has protected people from illiberal governments in the past. But why should we look to the EU for this? It’s hardly a great argument that you need protection from our government. If that’s a concern, sort out the national government.
I’d also ask who gains from the status quo. Certain institutions benefit and the types who populate them. Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson and others have made significant sums from the European project. Tony Blair is another one who wanted to get in on the game, although thwarted. These people have been able to mobilise others to argue for the status quo. Which, of course, first benefits them.
The vote to leave can’t be wished away as if it never happened. Brexit needs to occur so that the British public experience the consequences of their decision. Otherwise, this debate will go on and on. Fear of change is inherent, especially when no one, least of all Teresa May, has a clear vision for the future.
It’s probably too late, but worth re-stating. The great error of the EU was to bypass the wishes of the population. It structured itself around politicians-cum-bureaucrats, rather than rooting itself in democratic institutions and making sure that it had consent.
Our Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, is looking wounded. She’s inflicted a self-injury. It may yet derail her. Having made a fair start last year, winning the pundit's acclaim for her openness, she’s now faltering. In the beginning, she made the right noises, appeared more open than her predecessor. This suggested a more settled political environment was coming. Then reality hit home.
She made a decision - a fatal decision - that now leaves her open to relentless attack. Further, her defence is at best weak, at worst deceitful and condescending. She appointed Teresa Cheng as our Secretary for Justice.
Then it's discovered that Cheng had ten illegal extensions to her property in Tuen Mun. Authorities later identified ten more illicit structures on other properties in Repulse Bay and Sha Tin. Further, these alterations suggest that Cheng has avoided paying large sums in rates. Thus, the allegation could be made she has taken from the public coffers.
The vetting that accompanies such an appointment was lacking or missing. No matter, the damage is done.
Part of the anger that arose centered on Hong Kong’s inflated property market. People here struggle to own even a tiny flat, with families living in cramped conditions. Even so, a powerful aspiration to own a concrete box in the sky exists. Having an apartment is a mark of success in this money-obsessed society. Against this background, cheating the system is reprehensible, especially for senior officials. For that official to be the SOJ, just rubs salt in the wound.
Any rational person would question the suitability of Cheng to continue in office. It’s evident her illegal structures existed for at least a decade, yet she claims to have been too busy to notice. Then, to add to the intrigue, it’s revealed that Cheng’s ‘unknown’ husband lived next door. He’s an architect, who also has illegal structures. The plot thickens when its revealed that Carrie Lam, Poon and Cheng are close friends. How close? Some reports suggest that Lam acted as a witness at their wedding.
Are you getting the picture?
Since the illegal structures came to light, Lam’s support of her friend is relentless; if weak on reasons and rationale. Lam argued Cheng was open enough to admit the offences. Given the evidence, she could hardly do otherwise. Then, it’s asserted high-fliers from the professions would think twice about joining the government, for fear of media scrutiny. To which, I’d reply; if they can’t withstand scrutiny, they are unfit for the position.
In the process, Lam damaged her standing by providing the opposition with a secure, comprehensible, means of attack. To them, Lam is protecting a mate. And, in short, Lam created a rod for her own back.
In fairness, illegal structures are a standard feature of properties here. Decades of failure by the government have allowed the situation to escalate. Meanwhile, powerful political interests ensure enforcement action is lackadaisical at best. Even the attack gets blunted by the fact that opposition figures have illegal structures.
None of this distracts from the main issue; the SOJ should be like Caesar’s wife. To execute the ‘rule of law,’ the SOJ must be above suspicion. In this instance, the evidence is tangible including by Cheng’s tacit admissions. Lam must understand the negative impact that this imbroglio is having on public sentiment. It’s easy for critics to assert, with evidence, that the Hong Kong Government is morally astray.
Why does Carrie Lam find herself in this position? Considering her background is helpful. Schooled in the art of administration by the British, Carrie is part of the elite 'administration officer' cadre. The system that taught her, then nurtured and shaped her talents, arose to perpetuate the Empire. It’s not a system best suited to managing a modern, plural city of diverse interests.
I’m familiar with the AOs. With a robust group identity, they’ve adopted the manners and mores of their former British bosses. Under it all is a thinly disguised disdain for the ‘lower orders’. On occasions, the camouflage slips with their arrogant ways exposed. Appointed as the guardians of Hong Kong, the AO cadre is a peculiar mix of superiority and civility.
Like proconsuls, they enjoy autonomy. Operating with a light touch, slow to act and ultra cautious. They don’t respond kindly to consultation or too much local input. They cling to tried and tested ways. The Imperial institutions and emblems are gone, yet the attitudes linger.
You get a sense from Lam’s statements that she views criticism as an impertinence. She’s also fallen back on her religious credentials to bolster attempts to portray honesty. It suggests desperation because the criticisms are sticking.
None of this is doing anything to endear Lam to the young generation. They have an ardent sense of justice and view Lam’s actions as blatant cronyism. More ammunition with which to assail the government.
My intuition tells me that Carrie Lam is at heart a decent sort. Her current dilemma results from a rush to appoint Cheng. A fumbled vetting exercise compounded the situation. She's now conflicted by sentiments of friendship versus political factors. Her background, mindset and a sense of purpose, clouded a straightforward matter.
Whichever way you view it, Lam faltered in a basic leadership test. She has a subordinate who brings discredit to her team. The only option is a quick exit, some damage control and then move on. Instead, Lam has a festering sore that will continue to weep without healing. Each time Cheng makes a decision - as the SOJ these are always contentious - someone will pick the scab to expose the raw flesh. Lam will feel the pain.
I leave the last word to my old friend Sun Tzu (孫子) - “When a general is over-solicitous of his men, it is easy to harass him”.
The media is in an uproar. Oxfam, the leading charity, has covered up sexual exploitation by its aid workers. The allegations include refugees employed for sex, with donations allegedly funding the fun. The story broke around incidents in Haiti. Since then its moved on to cover claims of abuse of young girls working in UK charity shops. In a matter of days, the Oxfam brand has suffered irreparable damage. Executives are resigning, government funding threatened as donations fade.
Hollywood types, who virtue signal as charity ambassadors, have run for the hills. They’ve done the calculation. It does not sit well with their ‘brand’ having an association with sex parties. What did they think was happening in Hollywood? Millie Diver, having basked in the limelight of Oxfam’s work, took three days to decide she was gone. A tacit admission she was only using Oxfam for publicity. Some friend in need.
Is anyone surprised by these allegations? None of this came as a shock, given the things I saw dealing with international charities and refugee agencies. They operated as any corporation. Each had a culture that placed their clients, the refugees, well down the pecking order. They were inflexible, partisan organisations.
My first exposure was in the early 1980s, to the work of United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Later, came ‘Doctors without Borders’ and others, including Oxfam. All fronted up in Hong Kong, apparently to help us deal with our burgeoning Vietnamese refugee crisis. With hundreds of desperate refugees arriving each week, we had a mess on our hands. Diverted from my regular duties, I found myself in unknown territory. I was to receive, feed, house and secure the refugees.
The first Vietnamese arrived in 1975, after the fall of South Vietnam. By the 1980s, about 100,000 were in camps pending screening and resettlement overseas. Tiny Hong Kong accommodated over a quarter of a million Vietnamese refugees between 1975 and 2000. That’s a staggering achievement when the local population was only five million.
Former government official Clinton Leeks, was in charge of policy for much of that period.
"We always knew in reputational terms we had little choice but to try to treat the people coming humanely and try to find a solution for them," he recalled.
Thus, the government didn’t turn them back to sea. Instead, it mobilised all its available resources to help. Then, it appealed for international assistance. That was to prove a double-edged sword. Many charities came with strings attached.
My own experience involved a little known Vietnamese Refugee camp called Erskine. Located in rural Sai Kung, this former military barracks is now the site of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
It’s 1990, with Vietnamese shuffled around camps to defuse trouble. I'm assigned to take over the site, prepare it to receive the refugees and act as liaison with staff from the UNHCR. The run-down camp has filth everywhere and no proper perimeter fence. A sloping site didn’t help, with trees and dense vegetation encroaching on all sides.
My staff set about cleaning things up, working with casual labour hired for the job. We identified a command post and office space in the few serviceable huts. Then the UNHCR staff arrived. They would not move-in until the offices were ready, with air-conditioning. They declined to share an office with the police. For impartiality, they’d need separate secure accommodation. At that stage, my officers had no changing facilities nor canteen. We’re eating rice boxes in the open.
‘Doctors without Borders' were next up. Appointed to look after the medical needs of the refugees, they demanded another separate building. Moreover, police officers must stand guard while they treat patients. They declined an opportunity to enter the camp to inspect the bathrooms and washing facilities. I was beginning to get a sense these people were not the help we needed. Their comfort was more important than getting the job done.
With the accommodation only partially ready, we started receiving Vietnamese families. No single men, but a few young unaccompanied females. This arrangement made management of the facility relatively easy. Without the young men, the potential for trouble lessened. We soon had a kitchen up and running, with volunteers and Vietnamese working together. It was far from ideal, but they had roofs over their heads, bunk-beds and three meals a day.
The aid agencies had opted not to move in citing the fact the offices were unacceptable. Meanwhile, their publicity machine was in overdrive telling the world what a marvelous job the UNHCR was doing in Hong Kong. After a month, I relinquished command of the camp to proceed on leave. By then ‘Doctors without Borders’ were making weekday visits. For the weekend, we conveyed sick refugees to the hospital because the noble charity workers didn’t cover us.
Some months later, a disturbance at Erskine had police using batons to break up a fight. UNHRC staff made public statements critical of the police action. Then, without a sense of irony, demanded a report to assess if the camp was safe for them to operate.
Meanwhile, senior UNHRC officials flew business class to Hong Kong to berate us on the conditions in the camps. The British government, then responsible for Hong Kong, took a hands-off attitude. For example, the British Forces did little to help deal with the Vietnamese Refugees.
Relations were never cordial between the refugee charities and us. Conflicting priorities and different agendas drove a wedge between us. The police felt they couldn’t trust the charity groups to be fair when violence arose. They didn’t understand our swift response to signs of potential trouble.
The UNHRC promised the Hong Kong Government that it would cover the bill for housing the Vietnamese. To this day the UN owes Hong Kong HKD 1.61 billion. Payment is now unlikely.
The charities I dealt with had highly-paid bosses, fancy offices, large staffs and dominant media teams. They had no qualms about attacking us, while operating under our protection. Thus, it's no surprise that the recent revelations have come to light. Charities are businesses, which if left unchecked will exploit people; both the donors and those they're supposed to help. Consider that the first world has sent more than US$1 trillion to Africa over the past 50 years. Extreme poverty still blights the continent, but the charity business is doing well.
That tells you everything.
Once a delightful stream, it carried the run-off from Happy Valley down to the harbour. Banyan trees lined the banks, providing welcome shade with a spot to fish or contemplate life. That idyllic setting is long gone.
Canal Road is transformed. These days it’s the centre of a transport interchange. The flyover above, colloquially known as Goose Neck Bridge, links the Cross Harbour and Aberdeen tunnels. While branch roads feed traffic into Wanchai, Happy Valley and the bustling Causeway Bay. Buses belching diesel fumes discharge passengers, as private cars struggle to find parking. On one side are rough tenements, and a street market, on the other Times Square.
Meanwhile, in one corner, hemmed in by the passing crowds, you can dispel evil. Plus, for a few dollars press a curse on your enemies. Madam Yung beckoned me over “Leng Jai, come here”.
Before I knew it, seated on a stool, burning paper is circling my head as the passing local's smirk at a silly Gwailo. Between Madam’s Yung’s broken English, and my clumsy Cantonese, communication takes place.
The devil beaters (打小人) are elderly and middle-aged ladies, who recite incantations as they pound at a paper effigy of a white tiger. A shoe “beats away the devil”. The white tiger represents your enemies. This Taoist ceremony dispels bad luck; it's linked to the lunar calendar.
The ladies are present all year round, with four on duty today. In early March, the “Feast of Excited Insects” marks the end of winter and heralds the spring. A new beginning, a new hope. Tradition dictates this is the best time to dispel evil. It’s the main beating season.
Madam Yung took my date and time of birth. “No way, you look so young!” ... she’s got the patter perfect.
I write my name on prayer papers and offer incense to the Kwan Dai, Kwan Ying and the Monkey King. Three deities; Madam Yung is taking no chances with me. Again, flaming paper circles my head, a bell is rung, and rice is cast about with abandon.
Business is busy today. At nearby booths a couple of grannies are hard at work, wreaking vengeance on evildoers. The thud-thud reverberates under the bridge, despite the traffic noise. Meanwhile, meters away, a group of muslim ladies are conducting an Islamic chant. Neither side bothered by the other.
Madam Yung is now asking who I want cursing. I’m reluctant to offer a specific name or individual. She’s got customers waiting, so it's all my enemies, unnamed, now getting blasted. She explains it's usually ex-lovers, former or current bosses and mother-in-laws.
During the 2015 festival, a favourite target was Hong Kong’s then leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Madam Yung made a brisk trade in beating his effigy. It appears to have worked, as he’s no longer in office.
I asked Madam Yung how the ritual came about. She explained that in ancient times rural women worshipped the white tiger and carried an image to ward off rats and snakes. These days the paper image is transformed into someone who gets a curse placed on their head.
Madam Yung hands me her business card. She does house-calls, fung shui and several different spiritual services. When I ask her age “I was here before the British arrived”. She’s looking well. 1841 was some time ago.
Before leaving, a blessed parchment gets thrust into my hand. Stern instructions come forth that it must be carried in my wallet and not opened. I make my payment.
The next customer is taking his seat, as more enemies get beaten. I can see the merit in it. The shoe beating an image, as a weapon of choice, is far better than a knife or gun. The punter comes away feeling the balance of power has shifted a little. How many ill-favoured bosses or deceitful ex-lovers feel the phantasmal slap of a shoe? I wonder.
I throw this one out to you. Only one person can speak for us, and the aliens have arrived. It has to be a living person. But who? There is somebody out there, man or woman, wandering the high plains, who is eminently qualified. Somebody who can explain the human condition, and speak for us. Unfortunately, I’m stuck here in my frame of reference. That will shape my recommendations.
So let's start by breaking it down; politician, elder statesman, a military leader, celebrity, scientists, philosopher or an artist?
Let’s be clear, none of the current batch of politicians appeals. Trump is unqualified by lacking grace or a unifying view. He’d insult the aliens; claim he’s got a bigger spaceship or ask can they regrow his hair.
Likewise, Putin is a cold-war warrior, who still operates in that mindset and Xi is an unknown quantity. Angela Merkel is no better. Teresa May, the UK Prime Minister can’t even represent Britain. Anyway, I’d be uncomfortable having a politician. They'd bring all sorts of complications to the process. You don’t want them ranting about their policies. Thus, for me, all politicians are off the list. Let’s move on.
If we are going with a former leader, Jimmy Carter ticks a few boxes. He’s grown in stature since stepping down as president and has a broad worldview. I wouldn’t cross him off my list.
Next up we have a religious figure. Again which one? The Pope and the Dalai Lama would each raise objections from certain quarters. Many see the Pope complicit in the suppression of women, and other nastiness. Religion can be a divisive subject. I doubt we’d get any consensus.
A celebrity or figure of renown may be a more compelling ambassador. Malala has the gravitas. She is wise beyond her years and strikes me as someone who enunciates well on the human condition. Morgan Freeman is likewise an option. He’s balanced in his worldview and a thoughtful man. Don’t forget he’s already played, God.
Prof. Stephen Hawkins asserts that we should avoid contact with aliens. He cites the lessons from human history. When the Europeans ventured to South America, it didn’t work out good for the indigenous population. In no time, diseases and warfare destroyed their societies. History records many similar happenings. Hence, we may want to send a military man. He could lay out our concerns, then make the appropriate threats “Bugger off.”
Assuming the aliens have landed with peaceful intent and had their shots, we should proceed with a conversation. In that case, I'm leaning towards an educated person of standing. A couple of people come to mind. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist, is wise, scientifically-literate and has a grasp of the challenges at hand. Moreover, he’s an excellent communicator.
David Attenborough is in the same league. While Tyson excels in the stuff in space, Attenborough is more earth-centric. Either would be a compelling choice.
Prof Christine Korsgaard, the moral philosopher, would be ideal if we seek to educate the aliens about our metaphysical views. Amongst other things she has contributed much thought to the status of animals and how we treat them. I’m guessing that the aliens may want to understand our relationship with other organisms. Korsgaard is well placed to explain that aspect.
If we are looking for someone to tell the human condition in all its vagaries, complexities and nuances, then I offer Prof Jordan Peterson. The Canadian clinical psychologist has such a broad understanding of our woes, and strengths, he’d be perfect. For warts and all picture, Peterson is your man. Of course, the SJWs would object because they don’t see the world through a rational lens.
Finally, could I be pursuing the wrong choices? Would any ordinary person be adequate for the role? After all, that’s what could happen. With a remote area landing, that first contact could be with anybody, including a moody adolescent or the village idiot. Which circles back to Trump.
Any thoughts on who it should be?
Men want to protect women. Especially the women that are important to them through kinship. Let me illustrate the point. As a father with two daughters, I have a simple yardstick, if you hurt my girls then I’ll hurt you. As my girls grew up and came of age, we’d on occasions drink together. By then they’d moved past that phase of ‘Oh god, its Dad!’ and were comfortable to be seen in public with me.
One evening we were having cocktails in a hotel bar when I wandered off to chat. On my return, a young man was ‘hitting’ on my eldest. She was 22 years old at the time. I was about to go into my angry “I’m a cop” mode when her sister pulled me aside.
‘It’s fine; she can handle it.’
I still prowled the perimeter, like a Lion looking for a kill. He knew I was there. He could feel my eyes drilling into the back of his head. On reflection, the bloke was flirting and didn’t warrant a baseball bat intervention. Which leads me to something Jordon Peterson talks about - and I paraphrase - it’s far better to make your kids competent, rather than protect them. I’d support that because I can’t always be there.
All this came back this week, as I watched the father of three abuse victims try to attack sex-offender Larry Nassar. As the father lunged across the courtroom, every dad was cheering him on. I wish the Deputies hadn’t been quick to respond. Nassar was bundled away in one piece. The judge was wise enough to release the father without charges, earning acclaim for her percipience.
So I want to ask what happened to the protectors around women during the Weinstein saga. Did the male co-stars know what was going on; did the fathers, the boyfriends and colleagues? What went on in Hollywood is hardly a secret - the casting couch existed since the industry started. Thus, I’m not buying all the virtue signalling by certain male actors.
George Clooney had an insight according to his reported comments. And Clooney’s Hollywood mate, Matt Damon admits he knew of Weinstein’s sexual harassment of Gwyneth Paltrow.
‘I knew that story,” he told ABC News. “I never talked to Gwyneth about it. Ben [Affleck] told me, but I knew that they had come to whatever, you know, agreement or understanding that they had come to, she had handled it.’
So, between them, Batman and Jason Bourne couldn’t summon up the courage to challenge Weinstein. Maybe they feared their precious careers would suffer. It’s worse, they conspired. There is a report that Damon sought to shut down a 2004 story of Weinstein’s abusing an actress. He allegedly called a New York Times reporter, as did Russel Crowe. Do you see a trend emerging here?
In recent years, Clooney has appointed himself as something of a moral crusader. He’s jumped on many causes. Thus the flak he’s getting over his association with Weinstein is not pleasant nor good for business. That explains his attempt to distract by summoning up faux outrage.
My reaction to the Weinstein business is further nuanced by the suggestion that some ladies sought him out, then accepted his advances to further their careers. As such, leading Hollywood men and women were complicit in Weinstein’s actions. As crudely put in an interview, ‘These ladies were happy to open their legs to get parts in movies, without any element of coercion.’
These people profited from Weinstein’s dealings, his Oscars and the careers he created for them. Now they are seeking to eviscerate that aspect of the process, by changing the narrative. They knew for decades, and are now running around trying to out-victim each other.
At award ceremonies, the guilt-ridden showed up on the red carpet with ordinary ladies in tow, in a supposed display of solidarity. Beyond that gesture, which could be interpreted as a smart deflection ploy, the regular ladies are back on their own. Meanwhile, the Hollywood set is parading around seizing every opportunity for publicity.
An intriguing development is 100 French women, including actresses, rejecting the #Metoo movement. In their view, the campaign has gone beyond exposing individual perpetrators to unleash a torrent of ‘hatred against men and sex’.
To further add to the confusion, even differentiating between the offences is proving difficult. When Matt Damon, already a tainted figure, sought to make a distinction between rape and grabbing a bum, an onslaught of bile fell on him.
‘He had to eat more shit than when stranded on Mars’ observed one commentator.
It’s evident that Damon is not the sharpest knife in the toolbox, yet he makes a fair point. Where do you draw the line between sexual flirtation and harassment? And who gets to decide? It’s not evident to me that anyone has got a handle on the rules.
Some of the noise is being generated by the radical postmodern left, who are seeking to erase categories of criminal behaviour. They assert that groups are part of a power structure. To them, leering at women is rape. That’s palpable nonsense. It doesn’t help matters as rational folks seek to understand the issues.
As relations between men and women are redefined, the rules are not there yet, and a great deal of confusion exists. Nonetheless, men need to step up and speak out when other men over-step the mark. How do you?
It’s simple. Apply the ‘Dad Rule' - if that lady was my daughter would I be comfortable with this situation? If the answer is no, then it needs to stop.
Several intriguing strands of Hong Kong’s political scene have interwoven this week. Our young wannabe politicians continue to display immaturity and a naive worldview. While cynical political forces in the US, are harnessing them to an anti-China agenda. Meanwhile, lame-duck British Prime Minister, Teresa May, is on an official visit to Beijing. The tour was due in 2017, but May got unceremoniously pushed aside so that President Xi could host Trump. Realpolitik is a rough game of bruised egos and power plays.
As May genuflects to Beijing’s economic clout, she is facing a rebellion in her party. With the possible collapse of the British economy, as Brexit looms, she needs trade deals. Without deals, things look even bleaker for her.
Some in the British media are unkind enough to portray May’s visit as carrying a begging bowl. China is gracious not to rub her nose in it, with comparisons to previous British ventures in the Orient. The burning of the Summer Palace and the seizure of Hong Kong to traffic drugs remain touchy issues.
Local activist Joshua Wong, on bail pending jail time, took the opportunity in the Guardian to press May to raise Hong Kong issues with Beijing. Wong’s pleading indicates he has no understanding of the dynamics of the game he’s playing. It is unrealistic for May to venture to Beijing to rattle-on about so-called human rights. She has no leverage. Thus, it's pragmatic to avoid the issue, except for a few token words. Realpolitik.
Those calling for May to speak out are playing a political game they can’t win. Wong and his mates, the remnants of Occupy, are always seeking the endorsement of overseas groups. This process came into sharp focus this week, as anti-China forces in the US took the audacious move of nominating him for a Nobel Peace Prize.
This is a political gesture, aimed at embarrassing the Hong Kong Government and Beijing. A group of ardent anti-China Congressmen, including Mario Rubio, made the nomination. Setting aside the intentions of Wong’s group during Occupy, their actions were far from peaceful.
While the Western media has sought to portray the “umbrella movement” in a good light, those of us here in Hong Kong remember the violence. We also recall ambulances blocked, businesses disrupted, and the assaults on police. Yes, incidents of police violence occurred, but these paled compared with the mayhem Wong’s gang brought to the city.
This nomination has a context. It's part of the long-standing support that ultra-conservative groups in the US have provided Wong. It’s not that they hold him or his people in any particular regard. Yet, he is a useful tool with which to challenge China. Fearful of an assertive Beijing, with its economic clout, Republicans in the US are scared. The response is a containment strategy. In that sense, Wong and his group are valuable to them. Nobel Prize or not, they aim to generate media interest by portraying China in a negative light.
Of course, one shouldn't over-react. After all, in recent years the Nobel prize has evolved its brand. In many ways, it’s nothing more than globalist virtue signalling. When Aung San Suu Kyi won, the globalist establishment was pushing the "woman against all the odds" narrative. But what happened after? She oversaw an ethnic cleansing process that Hitler would be proud to endorse. Her supporters in the West turned on her too late to stop the killings and rapes. That Nobel Peace Prize now sits dented on the bones of dead Rohingya Muslims and refugees.
Who can forget that Obama took the prize for getting elected? He’d done nothing of note when the award was handed over. Then he went on to mount the most vicious drone strike programme in history. Conservative estimates are that he killed 3,797, of whom 324 were innocent civilians. As he reportedly told senior aides in 2011: “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.” I'm not sure how that helps peace.
All this devalues the Nobel Peace Prize. It became an instrument of political value and had little or anything to do with peace these days.
In the case Wong and Occupy, there is ample evidence of their violence. Although, that message didn't reach the West. The myth of the peaceful Occupy Central arose from the early reporting. Western agenda-driven journalists sought to create a straightforward narrative without distractions. Nuance and complexities are hard to digest. Once selling that story, you can elect to ignore the one-hundred and thirty injured police officers or the beaten security guards. Those facts didn’t sit well with the fake news carried abroad.
Then, most of the foreign journalist left the scene, as the protests dragged on. The following injuries to cops, security staff and protesters also got scant coverage. Plus, by then, the false narrative was established. Anyway, in the end, this nomination is a political gesture by right-wing US politicians seeking advantage. It’s nothing to do with peace.
If any group deserves a nomination for maintaining the peace during Occupy, it's the Hong Kong Police. But that wouldn’t fit well with the political agenda that now permeates the selection process.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.