Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
George Orwell’s seminal work ‘1984’ was half right. The all-seeing system is here. It’s functional, monitoring our every move, detailing likes and dislikes, noting opinions. But Orwell got one thing wrong. Government’s didn't foster it. It wasn’t imposed on us, rather we’ve embraced and welcomed it to pry into all aspects of our life. The impact it's had is profound, evolving and somewhat disturbing. Facebook is watching you.
Interesting fact. Each year Facebook spends US$10 million lobbying to quash biometric privacy legislation. That’s serious money that is buying a lot of clout. Why would it be doing this? Simple. It wants to gather more data on each of us because that helps Facebook sell targeted advertising. It’s all about profit.
You may think Facebook is a social network tool. Wrong, it’s a huge data mining operation. And the real clever thing is that we are helping to populate the database. Further, every day we are teaching it to get smarter. Each time you tag someone in a photograph that feeds a massive facial recognition dataset. What's more, it's learning to recognise us from different angles and ages. Currently, about two billion of us are working as unpaid drones feeding the machine. That includes me.
‘People You May Know’ or PYMY is a subsystem within Facebook. That’s the bit that generates those friend suggestions. Algorithms do the data crunching using 100 plus parameters to make the links. Location, workplace, interests, group membership are but a few. Facebook is reluctant to talk details. What is certain, these algorithms are somewhat scary in the links they make. In several instances, unknown brothers and sisters have been brought together. That’s nice. Infidelity in marriages exposed; perhaps not so good. In one instance, the system started linking the patients of a psychiatrist. This inadvertently revealed people seeking mental health support. Not good.
In the wrong hands, these systems has the potential for great harm. In Australia evidence emerged in 2011 of outlaw motorcycle gangs building up a database of police officers. They attended passing out parades to take photographs of new recruits. These then matched in Facebook or elsewhere gave gangs a tool against infiltration. The gangs could screen their inductees, associates or contacts. Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty stated: “Face-recognition technology and the near-universal adoption of social networking tools by teenagers could have already made future covert police and intelligence operations difficult, if not impossible”. Witness protection programmes are also vulnerable.
But it cuts both ways. The same systems provide a gold mine of data to the authorities. People matching, movement monitoring, hangouts and habits are all treasure to investigators. The Yorkshire Ripper case exposed the weakness of paper based systems. The culprit, Peter Sutcliffe, interviewed nine times escaped undetected for years. He went unlinked in the mountain of paper the police investigators gathered. Facebook could do the job, with obliging criminals providing the source data.
Today, it’s terrorism that is driving the adoption of facial recognition. As a tool to track and interdict attackers its unparalleled. Again, such systems have a downside. They could pick up undercover cops and others who need to remain covert. Firewalls and tight protocols on usage are needed to protect those people. Moreover, the whole matter of data privacy when mass scanning a population needs addressing. It wouldn't take much for a rogue operator to deploy the system to check if his wife is having an affair. Or who is his daughter meeting? That’s at the less sinister end of the scale. Higher up the scale would be tracking by paedophiles of their victims.
And yes, the use of such systems for mass surveillance would herald ‘Big Brother’. In fact, the horse has already bolted and there is no point closing the stable door. Facebook and other systems are out there with our tacit blessing. On the other hand, some are beginning to seek a way out. Getting off the system might be an option except your pictures are already up there with a match made.
In response to these concerns, the right to disconnect and disappear is gaining momentum. Currently, there are no international standards. Meanwhile, the European Union has moved to a position that data privacy is a fundamental human right. This asserts that the individual must have control on how data is used. This has brought the EU into conflict with the Big Four - Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook. EU regulations in this regard enjoy application even if the server is outside Europe. Moreover, the burden of proof has shifted. It is the company - not the individual - who must prove that the data cannot be deleted. They must show it's still needed and relevant.
Yet real concerns remain if regulations lag. Michal Kosinski- an Assistant Professor at Stanford - discussed these issues in a recent lecture. He believes that within 10 years privacy will be gone. “For a motivated individual, for a motivated government, or an institution, there is very little to stop them from learning about you". Kosinski’s experiments have had astonishing results. He has shown that existing systems can predict a person’s sex, colour, and gender. Straightforward with a photograph. The worrying findings include determinations on people's politics, self-beliefs and attitudes on discrimination. Our inner-most thoughts are being caught by these systems. That's an ominous tool in the wrong hands.
It’s only a matter of time before, for example, people get refused insurance because of their online stuff. Facebook activity could reveal an unhealthy lifestyle with heavy alcohol consumption. Next data from your fitness tracker shows you are ‘sedentary’. Bingo, the insurance company has you as a high risk.
We need to sit back to reflect on these issues, although it's likely too late. Posting all those racy party photos may not have been so wise.
For a fleeting moment in 1989, I was caught in the whirlwind of nonsense that sweeps around Diana, the Patron Saint of Harrods and Sloan Square. Her visit to Hong Kong accompanying Prince Charles was a major security undertaking. Except that I spent a lot of time on standby, awaiting a role that never materialised. Then she was gone, whilst he loitered on HYS Britannia doing what Princes do when the wife's away. At that time the cracks in the relationship were already evident. The body language told you everything you needed to know.
It’s 21 years since the divorce. It’s 20 years since she died. On 31st August 1997, pursued through Paris by paparazzi, her driver managed to wrap the Mercedes-Benz S280 around a tunnel pillar. She, Dodi Fayed and the driver Henri Paul all died. Trevor Rees-Jones, a bodyguard survived. The paps took the initial blame. Their wanton chasing of the couple ascribed as the cause of the crash. The very media that deployed the paps judged them ... then convicted them, before extracting vengeance through vilification. Hypocrisy hung in the air.
A later more sober investigation revealed a different story. Henri Paul was drunk, on anti-depressants and other drugs. He’d earlier taunted the paps. This was a man intent on showing them he could escape their prying eyes. He’d driven at high speed through the tunnel before clipping another car, spinning and smashing into Pillar Nos 13. No one in the car wore a seat-belt. Never a sensible idea.
Despite the wild claims, including from Fayed senior, all the evidence points to a banal traffic accident. She died at the hands of a drunk driver. Nothing more, nothing less. Facts, though, are irrelevant when you are wrapped in vapid effusions.
Her death produced an outpouring of emotion that was un-British in its magnitude. Lamentation became a compulsory state. In the process, for many, it cemented her position as Saint Diana. Wronged by the scheming House of Windsor, she’d been cut loose and allowed to flounder. Yet, this is a multi-dimensional story. By that stage, Diana had morphed from a naive Sloan Ranger into a cunning manipulator of public opinion. She played her hand with finesse. Her target the ‘Windsors’ are still feeling the impact.
From the grave, Saint Diana is working her enchanting spells. Hilary Mantel touches on this in her recent Guardian article. She explores the phenomena that created Princess Diana - a person somewhat different from Diana Spencer. Whether Saint Diana existed is now irrelevant, because, like that other false mensch, Mother Teresa, she is deified by the public.
Let’s be honest, Diana was chosen as a virgin brood-mare for Charles Windsor. His true love had married. The feckless Charles was lost. Diana ticked the correct boxes. No history, no attachments, not too clever - she never passed a public exam - polite and available. Except, perhaps, the ‘not too clever’ assessment was hasty. She was a quick learner, who soon understood the power in her hands. This was a young woman smart enough to recognise how to carry public sentiment with her. She deployed this understanding to devastating effect when she went rogue. Her actions threatened the very foundation of the British monarchy; the line of accession was under attack.
By 1986 the marriage was in trouble. They’d soon separate in private, although keeping up a pretense for public occasions. This unrivalled as information leaked out about their 'Ugandan' activities. The media was loving it. From the avalanche of leaks, it's impossible to assign fault to one side or the other. Unfortunately for Charles, his ‘spurned woman’ proved more adept at making her case.
A cold war rumbled through the tabloids as each sought to portray the other in a bad light. Then Diana pressed the nuclear button. Her November 1995 TV interview with the BBC’s Martin Bashir put the knife firmly into Charles. It was a finely staged performance, with a few gems that twisted the knife … "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” and "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts.” Utter slush. But, yet, brilliant. She understood the modern need for an emotional connection. Charles was on the ropes getting pummeled. Taking the phlegmatic Windsor clan with him
The House of Windsor acted swiftly to cut her off. A divorce was ordered. Charles was probably relieved. His 1981 remark “whatever that means” when asked about love gave us a telling insight. His commitment to the marriage was always tenuous. The fact that he’d resumed his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles in 1986, is all that needs to be said.
The Queen has rarely put a foot wrong. Her reading of the public mood during the Diana saga proved less than astute. Having removed the tumour from the body Windsor, it then spontaneously reignited outside and continued to grow. Diana carried on with her charity work, using her star status in support of matters close to her heart. It’s now known she was still scheming by seeking the confidence of Tony Blair. The up and coming Labour politician was acting as her secret advisor. The full story of that is yet to be exposed.
Her death provoked such a reaction, that it caught the Royal Family off guard. Portrayed as stern and unfeeling, the Queen felt the wrath of public opinion. This was an odd place for her. Having said that, the focus of the bile was on Charles. Such was the resonance of Diana’s campaign, the public had decided on guilt.
Even today Diana is a shadow loitering over Charles Windsor’s ascendancy to the throne. A recent survey suggests that only 14% of the UK population wish Camille Parker Bowles, his second wife, to be Queen. A few more are prepared to accept her as Princess Consort. Despite the efforts of the Windsor PR machine to polish their image, it lags. Even in the once faithful colonies, Charles is under siege. Only 46% of Canadians want him as King, and the Australians are less enamoured.
It’s no surprise the Queen is hanging in there. The British monarchy reigns, but does not rule. Reigning is about carrying the people with you. Charles Windsor appears to be failing that test even before he gets the top job. His poor taste in consorts and daft ideas suggest a man somewhat out of his depth. His embrace of Islamic fundamentalists is disturbing. In the past, he supported elements later linked to Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid and Abu Hamza al-Mari. Further, he has on occasions rejected science for nonsensical babble. It's not encouraging.
I’d like to see the monarchy survive given the role it can play to anchor the country in times of crisis. However, in accord with the tenets of the British constitution, Charles Windsor will succeed his mother. Many feel it’s a blessing her stout heart has held out so long. That means we get less of Charles. At the age of 68, Charles will be the oldest person to be crowned the monarch. Whether Camilla can become Queen is debatable. In view of the tenuous hold that Charles has on public opinion, he’d be wise to tread carefully.
It’s also wise to have a spare waiting in the wings ... just in case. In my view, Princess Anne would be ideal. Regrettably, circumstances are such that she’s out of the running. Meanwhile, Prince William is showing all the right signs. Skipping a generation may not be such a bad thing to save the institution. Perchance, Charles Windsor could finally make the right decision and step aside. That way he could truly serve his people.
The last word must go to Frankie Boyle.
Every visit I take to the UK raises serious questions - who the hell is running this place? A cartel of petty-minded bureaucrats and jobsworths by my estimation. The two nuttiest subgroups in this milieu are the health and safety lot, followed by the crown prosecution service. Let's deal with health and safety first.
The official fervour for safety knows no bounds. The Royal British Legion no longer supplies pins with your poppy, because you may prick yourself and then sue them. Some bars are refusing to let customers carry trays of drinks. You need to be ‘professionally trained’ for that role. Business opportunity there. The rules covering schools are legion. No football - unless a sponge ball is provided. No conkers, no snowballs, no games of tag … no wonder the little ones are obese.
Even the well meaning get caught in the web of health and safety. Mrs Beryl Smith, a retired lady, tended the local communal flower bed. She spent her own money on tools and plants. The local council then intervened. Her efforts breached safety rules. The adjacent road was assessed as a risk. Thus she must wear a hi-vis jacket, deploy signs and appoint a lookout. The cretins from the local Health and Safety Executive must be so proud of their work.
My favourite from this litany of stupidity is the postman from a Berkshire village. He has refused to deliver mail to a single cottage located on the opposite side of a village street. He asserted its dangerous to cross the road. Moreover, the Post Office supported his judgement. Thus, he delivers mail on one side of the street. Then he moves to the next village, turns around to drive back on the opposite side. He can then complete his fraught mission. I wonder how this poor man survives day-to-day when he encounters a road to cross. One assumed that the ability to cross a road was in the postman test. It appears not.
If health and safety is perplexing, then don’t get me started on the whole ‘right to not be offended’ nonsense. Here we go. A Shropshire hospital refused funds from a charity because men dressed as nurses to raise money. A bunch of blokes pushing a bed raised £2500 for an electrocardiograph. But, to the guardians of our morals this ‘sexualized’ the image of nurses. This in turn makes life harder for them in the workplace. How guys in drag contribute to the inappropriate treatment of nurses escapes me. Jan Ditheridge, Chief Executive of the Shropshire Hospital Trust, managed to join the dots to make that mental leap. She refused the donation. At least some nurses saw sense. Posting comments on Facebook, they asserted their support for the ‘hairy legs in nurses uniforms’.
Next up we enter ‘Alice in Wonderland’ territory. We’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Wolf whistling is now classified as a ‘hate crime’. But it goes further. The Crown Prosecution Service has taken upon itself to priorities 'hate crime' to include hostility. This covers 'resentment and dislike'. Thus police officers and courts will spend time addressing a perceived dislike of a victim. The stupidity of this is evident. With knife crime rampant, frightful acid attacks by gangs on the rise, the police are busy investigating our thoughts.
And yet of more concern, and chilling, is the impact on debate and free speech. More on that later. Much of the momentum for these changes arise from stuff on the Internet. Someone once said ‘The best thing about the Internet is anyone can write anything. The worst thing about the Internet is anyone can write anything’. In reality, most comments are tiny, inconsequential bubbles of spite. Spitting forth in the ill-tempered Internet swamp. Most are written by people who are inadequate or just odd. It's also true that people say stuff on the Internet to others that would never be said face-to-face. Social norms evaporate, customs are dropped whilst simple civility vanishes. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast.
Granted steps are needed to protect the vulnerable; children are an obvious example. The question is where do you draw the line and who gets to decide what's offensive?
In answer to that question, on university campuses, it appears that agenda-driven student bodies are calling the shots. Safe spaces abound. Speakers with opinions that differ from arbitrary agreed group-think get banned. This is so as not to offend delicate student sentiments. After all, these aspiring leaders can’t be bruised by having their world-view challenged. University deans and academics have capitulated to this absurd conduct.
Universities were once places that saw the young confront other worlds. By this they understood alternative insights, whilst in the process shaping their world view. Not anymore. Now I know I’m going to get into trouble, but it has to be said. The lefty-liberal types are driving this process. Why? Because I surmise they realise that only by shutting down debate, can they survive. Safe spaces gives them a fertile ground for fostering indoctrination of their agenda. The fascists did the same thing - so the old game plan is being applied.
Of course, it all rather falls apart when the 'strawberries' graduate to enter the real world of work. Unless they operate in a silo, their delicate skins will be battered by hostile opinions. Then, of course, they can play the ‘victim card’ by running to the Crown Prosecution Service. It's about to become a crime to cause offence. You think I’m jesting. Wait and see. Bonkers Britain just got more bonkers.
The 2014 Hong Kong Occupy movement continues to ripple through our political landscape. Hong Kong remains as polarised as ever following the fateful events of autumn 2014. Last week saw three men (not children as some would believe) sentenced to jail for their part in the violence. Let us be clear, despite the false narrative conveyed in some media, Occupy was a violent movement.
Some have sought to portray the 79-day occupation as a Boy Scout jamboree. The orderly tents, the litter collection plus the self-policing. These all existed for a brief period, but soon evaporated as the disparate groups argued amongst themselves. Then the violence started. For a full account read my earlier post.
The three convicted men led an attempt to storm government headquarters. What followed was assaults on security guards with property damaged in the process. A magistrate gave them community service orders for their actions. Next the Justice Department sought a review of sentencing with the Court of Appeal. This is both legitimate and warranted in view of the importance of the case. In all regards, due process was followed.
It is now bizarre to hear heckles raised by overseas politicians, human right groups and media outlets. These people frequently lecture us about judicial independence. The rule of law is paramount. And here with have them, without any shame, demanding the government overturn a court decision. Hypocrisy doesn’t begin to describe their stance.
Both the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society have felt it necessary to issue a statement. They assert the judgement was taken without interference. The Law Society president went so far to say “These allegations were obviously not supported by facts. Unfounded comments that judicial decisions we're made or influenced by political considerations are unjustified”.
It’s important to stress that Hong Kong Court’s operate a common law system that is independent of the state. Moreover, most of the magistrates and judges had their tutelage under the British system. Even today, twenty years after the handover, judges fiercely defend their position of independence. Courts have demonstrated this time and time again. Thus, it is unacceptable to hear voices of criticism from other jurisdictions. Such comments are an insult to the judges, plus a direct and unwarranted attack on our judicial system.
It has to be said that many of those making the accusations are either ignorant or driven by an agenda that ignores the facts. Either-way these idle comments do damage.
The case against Joshua WONG, Nathan LAW and Alex CHOW was clear cut. Between them they instigated an unlawful assembly. Next they encouraged others to engage in violent conduct that caused injuries to 10 security guards. These facts are not disputed.
Now, granted their motivation may be laudable. They sought a more democratic system. This is something we all aspire to achieve. Unfortunately there are no easy solutions to this issue. A long history dominates any discussions, whilst wider concerns of China’s stability impinge on the matter. It’s inescapable that the convicted men sought to use violence to further their aims. In this they are no different from terrorists.
Their motivation does not excuse their actions. The judgment stated … “There can be no excuse for those committing unlawful acts in the name of exercising those very freedoms they claim they are fighting for. Pursuing what activists think are noble ideals is not a free pass for undermining social order and public safety”. These are fine words that capture the sentiment of many in Hong Kong. Whilst there exists a degree of sympathy, the methods adopted must be rejected.
Some of the blame for this situation must rest with the elders of Hong Kong’s democratic movement. Happy to see these young people taking to the streets, they failed to provide wise counsel. In many ways they gave tacit encouragement for violent action as this brought pressure to the government. It’s certain they provided direct logistical support once Occupy started. Office space in the LegCo building turned into bunk rooms and feeding stations. Claudia MO, a legislator, is alleged to have used government funds to buy tents that were used by the occupiers. Meanwhile, funds from dubious sources got funneled to the students and others. Some came from overseas sources with an anti-China agenda. This made Occupy part of a greater game. More layers, more complications.
The reaction from overseas to the sentencing of the three men must be seen in that context. US politicians, in particular, seek to undermine China. This story provides them a simple message to sell. Mentioning the violence and a British based legal system is not something they are keen to include. Especially when most of their constituents couldn't find Hong Kong on a map. As we well understand, the US electorate are not comfortable with details or complexities.
By seeing matters through the prism of a clash between the West and China, these interlocutors do Hong Kong a profound disservice. Relying on imperfect sources of information obscures the truth of events. The US media is laughingly conflating the Howard LAM saga with this case. That LAM is under arrest for making a false report of abduction is left out of the media coverage. An inconvenient truth perhaps?
It’s an easy narrative to sell: Hong Kong under China’s thumb. Yet it's possible to argue that the biggest existential threat to Hong Kong comes from the West. Those who fail to understand the complexities of events are blind. The immediate effect of this current episode is to undermine our judicial system. Long-term, the false understanding leads to incorrect judgements that impact policy. Outsiders owe us the decency of understanding the full facts before making comments. I think that’s fair.
Howard Lam until recently was a fringe figure in Hong Kong's Democratic Party. He’d been around the political scene for decades, although he didn’t have a high profile. Nor was he considered notable or exceptional in any aspect. That’s all changed. And, in the process, Mr. Lam has damaged the Democratic Party. That includes its leading member, Martin Lee SC.
Lam appeared at a press conference last week to assert he’d been kidnapped and tortured. He claimed Mainland security agents were responsible. His attempts to send messages to a Chinese dissident prompted their actions. Lam claimed he was seized off a busy street. He then had staples punched into his legs, before being abandoned on a remote beach.
So what did he do next? He went home, had a shower and only later reported the matter to party officials. Note - he didn't contact the police, seek medical attention nor tell anyone else.
The first the authorities knew was when Lam appeared at a press conference. The public was treated to Mr Lam’s more than adequate girth. He made great play of displaying the staples still in position on his upper thighs. In exactly the location you’d expect to find self-inflicted injuries. From the outset, his story didn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny. And yet, senior Democrats, including a barrister, a solicitor and a former ICAC investigator bought it without question.
Many of us recognised the injuries as self-harm. Lam’s actions led further weight to our suspicions. No immediate call to police, instead a grandstanding press conference. Plus, even before reporting the matter to the police he accused them of being ineffective. The Democratic heavyweights nodded in agreement, going along with this charade.
No one spoke about the compromised evidence. No mention of the fact that the later you make a report, the less likely that leads can be developed. From the outset, Lam and his supporters were more concerned with publicity.
Even a cursory examination of Lam's story revealed flaws. A daytime abduction on a busy street. The injuries. Lam's conduct. All these should have set off alarm bells. Yet, all this escaped senior Democrats, who rushed to embrace Lam's fantasy. To them, this was irrefutable proof that Mainland agents are operating in Hong Kong. Blinded by this false narrative and hubris, they went into overdrive. Press conferences, briefings and interviews all fed the media frenzy. Here was proof that China is interfering in Hong Kong by criminal means. You could sense the excitement of the Democrats - they salivated in rapture. They couldn't believe their luck.
Except, their case was about to collapse with a resounding thud. CCTV footage emerged that refuted Lam’s version of events. He can be seen strolling unaccompanied near the alleged kidnap location. He next catches a bus to a remote area. There is no gang grabbing him off the street, no kidnap. No Mainland agents.
Now, Lam is either a fantasist or suffering some kind of mental delusion. Either way, his story is now destroyed. He is under arrest for making a false report. The police he criticised have done a fine job to expose his deceit.
Moreover, the whole episode has uncovered a fundamental challenge facing the Pan Dems. Their distorted view of China, with its deep prejudices, means they misinterpret events. Coupled with a rush to judgment, theirs is a distorted view. For example, the proposal for the High-Speed Rail link, with one-stop clearance, is unacceptable to the poisoned mindset of the Pan Dems.
Even now, in the face of overwhelming evidence that Lam lied, senior Democrats are not accepting of the proof. This denial is revealing of their distorted silo thinking. It’s also something that raises profound public disquiet. Especially when you are dealing with individuals from a legal background. Both Martin Lee and Albert Ho's credibility is now compromised. Both rallied to support Lam despite the abundant gaps in his story. As senior legal figures, one can only conclude their judgement is severely lacking.
The Democrats rushed into believing Lam’s fantasy. Their collective false narrative regarding China twisted their judgement. With the co-location issue for the High-Speed Rail link at the fore of political discussions, Lam’s story was a godsend to them. Now, their amateur conduct has damaged their cause and standing. In addition, its exposed them as irresponsible fear mongers. They will struggle to explain themselves.
Imagine having less than 24 hours or less to move to a new country. A new country created by the redrawing of a border. Moreover, you must leave as soon as possible because if you remain your neighbours will kill you. To add to this trauma, you can expect attacks as you make your way. And finally, when you get to your new home don't expect a warm welcome. Nobody is ready to receive you, no NGO's or refugee agency is in situ awaiting an influx. You, your wife and kids are on their own.
That's what happened to 12 million people overnight on 14th to 15th August 1947. As British rule of India ended, the nations of Pakistan and India formed. A Muslim Pakistan, a Hindu and Sikh India. A new border announced by an indifferent British regime. This set off a human scramble of massive proportions with terrible consequences.
Madness erupted as sectarian violence exploded. By the time it was over an estimated 1.5 million men, women and children lay dying. Families who'd lived for centuries in peace with their neighbours faced untold horrors. Muslims attacked Hindus, - whilst gangs of Hindus did vice-versa. Trains transporting refugees attacked with wholesale slaughter. Mass suicides took place. Especially amongst women seeking to avoid rapes and forced conversions.
It remains a mystery that before partition people of all religions lived in peaceful coexistence. What also remains a mystery is how the British government could justify its actions. Partition came at short notice. There was no preparation, no contingency plans, no help available and no thought for the consequences.
Britain was a much-weakened nation at the close of World War II. Keen to divest itself of troublesome colonies, it looked for closure on its imperial commitments. Indian independence was a certainty, having been held in abeyance whilst the war was won. Thus the rush to get India off it hands was evident. Further, the new Labour government of Clement Attlee had no appetite for colonial endeavours. Attlee had supported Indian independence since the 1920s.
Yet the main player in this shocking episode was Lord Mountbatten. He announced his plan for partition in June 1947. A new border between India and Pakistan - as drawn up Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a London barrister - come into existence. These proposals meant millions of people were displaced at the sweep of a pen over a map.
Simmering tensions between the two new nascent countries rumbled on. Then ignited a wave of killing.
Louis Mountbatten allowed less than six months for an agreed plan on the partition. Then, he suddenly advanced everything. Next, he stepped back.
A study in 1951 suggested 2.23 million people went missing as a result of partition. Meanwhile, the movement of people continues to this day. Bouts of communal violence prompt a fresh wave of refugees.
Mountbatten must shoulder some blame for rushing the whole process. Independence was announced before actual partition. Thus, it was left to the new governments of Pakistan and India to deal with public order. Both had neither the resources nor the organisational ability to act. This ‘washing of hands' by the British meant a lack of any protection for communities under siege. Likewise, vulnerable refugees faced attack they fled. In effect, law and order broke down.
Mountbatten was stunningly complacent. He knew violence was certain. His response revealed a blatant disregard for the communities in his charge. “At least on this question I shall give you a complete assurance. I shall see to it that there is no bloodshed and riot. I am a soldier and not a civilian. Once partition is accepted in principle I shall issue orders to see that there is no communal disturbance anywhere in the country. If there should be the slightest agitation, I shall adopt the sternest measures to nip trouble in the bud.’ The man was incompetent, unfit for his role and a national disgrace. It remains baffling that he is held in any regard. That Prince Charles seeks to laud this man is revealing. That’s another subject altogether.
Fearful of a civil war, Mountbatten cut and ran. The reasons put forward for Mountbatten's actions are plausible, although hardly acceptable. It is evident his motivation was selfish British interests. Little thought or concern was given to the impact on the communities about to be uprooted. Even a cursory small risk assessment would have indicated terrible violence was coming. Yet, Mountbatten was either negligent or uncaring for the event he was about to start.
History will judge his actions. I doubt he will come through with flying colours.
We all need reinvention, re-branding or a change of mood. These changes can correct misconceptions, whilst opportunities for advancement are sought. If for no other reason Hull’s status as ‘City of Culture’ must be embraced. Yes, the concept is alien to some. Southern metropolitan types, who cannot see beyond their silo, expressed disdain at the proposal. Even the stoic people of Hull - if they’re honest - will admit to doubts and having a chuckle. Bloody daft idea!
Yet, if any place needed a rebranding it's Hull. Long suffering, it sits on the A-list for unwelcome socioeconomic factors. Teenage pregnancy, single-parent families and chlamydia a few of the highlights. These and others seized upon by the media to feed a narrative of a failing northern town.
No mention then of the city’s fine history. Its accomplished university, art galleries, museums nor the thriving theatre scene. Of course, none of these supports the negative agenda driven media version. Moreover, and after all, its far easier to denigrate then see a diverse city with much colour and many hues.
That’s not to deny that Hull has its challenges. These are manifest and many. Some are of its own making, others the consequences of recent history. The city suffered terribly during World War II. Estimates suggest 80% of the housing stock was either destroyed or damaged. The sympathy extended to London and Coventry, was not given to Hull. It struggled in silence as a press blackout kept the damage under wraps. 'A Northern City raided' ... a simple message that gave no hint of the damage done.
Victory didn't feel that way for 1946 Hull. In desperate need of regeneration, its heart trashed. When rebuilding came, it was piecemeal. The population decamped to satellite estates. Greatfield, Longhill, Orchard Park and Bransholme all provided homes for heroes. Or, rather, that's what the slogans proclaimed. And at first, it was pleasant enough.
The sixties saw plenty of work. Optimism abounded. Then the fishing industry collapsed. Next industrial strife brought forth strike and factory occupations. A winter of discontent. Power cuts, a four-day week. The 1970s and 1980's were not good to Hull. Whilst the UK economy rebounded in the 1980s, Hull remained in a rut. Even the mighty Humber Bridge only brought marginal benefits.
Once busy thoroughfares, with an abundance of businesses, gave way to charity shops. Always a sign a city is in decline. Then the pristine housing estates slipped into isolated islands of despondent souls. No work, no aspirations, no hope. The residents sat bereft, their confidence gone. Crime flourished.
Those that could, decamped. Hedon, Cottingham, Swanland and villages too many to name became refuge from the city. Successive Labour Councils lacked the vision or the determination to address the issues. Ardent political positions, instead of the practicalities of running a city, prevailed. No one was pushing for investment.
Then slow at first, change came. The Marina- a project laughable to some- is now full of luxury boats. New river front apartments, overlooking street cafes, soon brought an upbeat mood. The bleak abandoned warehouses transformed. The city then rediscovered its history. Confidence is all about attitude - a sense of purpose returned.
Arriving by train this week, I sat beside academics venturing to explore the city. Pouring over the details of Charles I's rejection at the city gates in 1642. In muttered voice they conclude Hull is the start of the English Civil War. Sir John Hotham did the deed. Later standing accused of double dealing, he paid with his life. He and his son executed in the Tower of London.
And on it goes, the history is rich. William Wilberforce, who brought a halt to the slave trade; Mick Ronson, collaborator of David Bowie and actor Tom Courtney. There is too many to relate here. But don't worry Hull's not gone all PC on us with its Freedom festival. The 'Old Black Boy’ Pub still has not bowed to modern conventions with its off-colour sign.
Strolling the streets today in bright sunshine, you'd believe yourself in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. A positivity is evident, streets alive with people enjoying the scene. Buskers songs echo. Kids romp through the Victoria Square fountain as she looks on unimpressed.
So without hubris or unjustified pride, Hull has put on an honest face. Come see what's on offer. But come with an open mind, leaving your prejudices at the door.
On 24th June 2016, Britain woke up with a terrible hangover. The pain lingers. It’s likely to linger for some time. The referendum on leaving the European Union attained 51.9% support. Hardly a ringing endorsement, yet enough. The reality of the situation is now beginning to bite. Enthusiasm appears to be waning, with an open discussion about whether Brexit will even take place.
There are dimensions to the whole issue that get little mention. As the British public become more aware of these, the appetite for leaving will dissipate. Simple issues such as movement in Europe. Those holidays in Spain without medical cover or privileges at border control. The prospect of long delays in passport lines, customs searches plus hefty fees for medical cover. All will prompt some reflection.
If you think Europe is going to make it easy, think again. Britain had membership for 44 years - it only took the EU four minutes to agree on guidelines for departure. What are we supposed to read into that?
In the short term, it's hard to see any good economic news. Brexit creates uncertainty and businesses don’t like uncertainty. Sterling is already down - great for me as my Hong Kong dollars now buy about 20% more in the UK. Brits travelling abroad will see increased costs as a result. The ‘money men’ are sitting it out, waiting to see how things develop. But don’t expect any major economic initiatives. The timing is all wrong, with so many unknowns.
Meanwhile, personal debt is surging. Consumption fueled by borrowing creates an illusion of economic vibrancy. This is not healthy. At some point, the debt needs to be paid. A time-bomb is ticking with subprime car loans and other fancy deals. Sound familiar? It should, the subprime mortgage shenanigans almost collapsed the whole economy in 2008/2009.
On the political front, many threats await. Hanging over matters, like the sword of Damocles, is the Scottish question. Independence for Scotland went taken off the agenda with the 2014 referendum. The Scots voted 55.3% to remain in the Union. Yet, Scotland also voted to stay in Europe. Meanwhile, the Scottish Nationalist Party remains the majority. It’s waiting its chance. A bad Brexit deal could push more Scots into the independence camp. An assertive Nichola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, would then seize the opportunity. The result, de-facto end of the United Kingdom. England is left sitting with two minor appendages in Northern Ireland and Wales.
Thus, Theresa May could go down in history as the Prime Minister who brought the curtain down on the Union. No Prime Minister wants that accolade in their bio. May is between a rock and a hard place. Her reputation for strong leadership is looking fragile. If anything, her disastrous performance in this year’s snap election, suggests a leader out of touch with public sentiment.
To date, May has failed to present a coherent strategy for Brexit. Meanwhile, Labour gives her an easy ride. Even an enthused Corbyn has failed to hold May to account because he's got no idea either. He’s content to deliver opportunist snipes from the side lines. Inflicting what damage he can on a floundering May. Beyond that, he’s in the dark.
Her own party are little better. May is damaged, limping. Only the fear of a resurgent Labour Party is keeping a leadership challenge at bay. Infamous for its brutal casting aside of leaders, the Tory Party is biding its time. To challenge Mrs May now opens the door to a general election. An election the Tories may lose. Make no mistake, when the moment arrives, the grey men will sweep aside Mrs May. No hesitation, no remorse.
It goes without saying, that time and energy are being expended on squabbling the details of Brexit. Ignored are other pressing issues. The economy is wobbly, terrorism is ever present; the NHS is in permanent crisis mode. This once proud institution is being allowed to lurch from crunch to calamity. with short-term sticking plaster solutions.
In 2019, some will profit with the political extinction of British Members of the European Parliament. One-term MEPs receive a payoff of £41,000-. Those with 20-year service can walk away with £164,000-. Then there is a pension on top of that. Here’s the rub. Nigel Farage, who led the campaign to leave, walks away with £750,000- in redundancy and pension. Could that explain his enthusiasm to leave? Democracy is a nice earner for some.
So with everything to play for, Team UK's bruised leader takes her team onto an uneven field. On the other side is a team with the home ground advantage, a clear game plan and notable players. The prospects of a win look remote.
Trump loves to play the ‘fake news’ card. Anything that is derogatory or undermines his position is immediately portrayed as ‘fake’. It’s peddled by the ‘poisoned, agenda-driven media’ in Trump-world. Unfortunately, there is an element of truth in his assertions. The media are not above falling for distorted or fake news. And yet, this is nothing new. Since the first cave man claimed he’d fought off a huge Sabertooth Tiger, we’ve been embellishing stuff. These days it gets recorded, transcribed and repeated at infinitum.
History is full of examples of fake news, coupled with propaganda efforts. William Shakespeare was a willing agent of Tudor fake news. He helped propagate a distorted version of events to assert a claim to the English throne. Modern historians agree the War of Roses was a work of fiction. Shakespeare like a Magpie, cherry picked bits of fact, spun them and then rewrote events. Richard III is vilified. Cast as evil, deformed, a usurper to the throne; the Tudors sought to disparage him in every way. That process was so successful that even today Richard III is the very embodiment of evil. Dogs bark at the sight of him.
The achievements of his rule get scant recognition. Trial by jury, a ban on suppressing books and the translation of many works from French to English. He outlawed the deceit of selling land that had already transferred to another. These are amongst many innovations he brought about. Richard’s deformity fed the narrative of his evil nature. Given the common view that external features mirrored a villainous nature. Thus, fake news rattled down the centuries.
Nearer to home and in recent times, the Long March of the Chinese Communist Party got the fake news treatment. The battle of the Luding Bridge gets portrayed as an epic struggle. Outnumbered, exhausted, communist troops arrived at the bridge. They then scrambled across, under fire, to overwhelm a superior enemy force. News of this triumph spread to boost the communist cause. Yet, research has established that the bridge was defended by a small force. These troops fled as the communists approached. An unopposed crossing followed. Eye witnesses attest to this version of events.
It is arguable that the American involvement in Vietnam is because of fake news. An attack on two US navy vessels in August 1964, sparked outrage. Time, Life and Newsweek magazines ran stories of Vietnamese vessels attacking the US ships. These stories inflamed sentiment. An outraged public called for action. This all fed the drive for an intervention in Vietnam. A pretext for war. The consequences were terrible.
Over the years, a body of evidence has emerged that the attacks never took place. Miscommunication and faulty intelligence caused a distorted record of the encounter to emerge. A series of events, including a malfunctioning radar, fed a news story that was untrue. Once in the public domain. the story self-perpetuated. The media further embellished matters to create a sensational version of events. The outcome was momentum for war.
These days you’d imagine event-distortion is difficult. The ubiquitous mobile phone is filming everything. Think again. It’s still going on.
The 2014 Hong Kong Occupy Movement has a narrative that is at odds with my direct observations. In broad terms, the events are transcribed as a peaceful student-led movement. Well-organised, tidy, a carnival event. In this story, the Police are the instigators of any violence. They overreact, using excessive force.
This highly romantic narrative is worthy of fiction. The distortions have fed a hubris that ignores much of what actually happened. For example, the use of tear gas on 28th September 2014, was in direct response to a sustained attack on police lines. Rioters sought to storm Government HQ. Later students appeared armed with shields, batons and body armour. They formed premeditated assaults groups. Further, the triads were co-opted to challenge the police. Meanwhile, a campaign of intimidation was mounted against the families of police officers. This included teachers abusing the children of officers and doctors refusing medical treatment. None of this gets coverage or at best scant mention. Why? Because it contradicts a narrative the many in the media have bought into.
Politicians like Chris Patten fed this version of events. US Senators, who’ve never set foot in Hong Kong and couldn't find it on a map, doubled down on these pronouncements. This reinforces the false narrative. Historians assert that history is a patchwork of stories, news and facts. These are woven together to seek a coherent account of events. That account is sometimes far from accurate.
To be fair, some false news is the unwitting twisting of the truth to make events understandable. Whilst in other instances, the warping is intentional. The Tudors set out to destroy the reputation of Richard III. This fed public sentiment to affirm their legitimacy to the throne. Likewise, the Chinese Communist Party told exciting tales of daring.
In Hong Kong, agenda-driven journalists distorted Occupy in sympathy for the cause. With many factors at play, it is a challenge to convey events. With a full rendering difficult to digest, a simple tale will suffice. Plucky pro-democracy students facing off against a hard-faced regime is easy to comprehend. In the process, the detail gets submerged.
Even Trump is accomplishing more than it appears. Away from the noise of the infighting, his staff have moved forward on several of his agenda items. These include enhancements to border security and a drop off in illegal immigrants. Some of his policies are working.
All things considered, fake news and its partner propaganda, are all part of the rich tapestry of life. Treat everything you read, watch or hear with caution. Always ask, has someone got an agenda here? Of course, you can always use Snopes to check stuff.
Get the facts.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.