Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
I hadn’t intended to spend a fair part of my day watching proceedings in the Kavanaugh Senate hearings. With a few household chores and errands to run, I couldn’t afford the time. Then, by slipping in a quick look here and there, I’m hooked. With a session exercising on the cross trainer, I managed some three hours viewing.
The whole process was a revelation. It gave a deep insight into US politics, their branch of democracy, and its checks and balances. A couple of things jumped out at me.
First, Kavanaugh, the nominee for the US supreme court, has undergone six background investigations. He’s answered some 2000 written and verbal questions in over 36 hours of testimony before the Senate. Thus it's surprising that these allegations have come to light at the last minute.
Second, the handling of the allegations by the Democrats is suspicious. One's drawn to the conclusion that they used Doctor Ford to ambush the nominee. In the process, they have destroyed Kavanaugh’s reputation. Yet, at the same time, without a hint of regret, they’ve exposed Doctor Ford to the most awful scrutiny.
Doctor Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, appeared credible. Her testimony was not shaken by the questioning she faced. This terrified lady seemed shaken by events. Let us not forget she never made the allegations public. A role was thrust up on she never sought. As a result, she’s under guard 24 hours, has moved her home and is at times separated from her family. I’m sure the experience is shattering for her.
I’m baffled by the conduct of the questioning. The Democrats focused on fart jokes made by teenage boys plus boasting about girls. These calculated questions appeared designed to discredit Kavanaugh. Yet everyone is asking themselves “did I do dumb shit when I was that age?” If you’re honest, the answer is a resounding “Yes”. Perhaps the intent was to extrapolate the fart jokes to rape. It didn’t work. All it did was provide the other side with an easy put-down, which they seized upon.
The Republicans proved no better. They hired Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, a sexual offence expert, to question Ford. This is designed to avoid echoes of the Anita Hill case. It also didn’t work. The questioner didn’t cast any new light on the allegations.
The most striking thing about the whole session was Kavanaugh’s demeanour. He alternated between calm, reasoned deportment to an angry man lashing out. He lashed out in several directions. His composure repeatedly slipped as his face contorted in indignation. He reprimanded senators, firing questions back at them in response to their probing.
His vitriol could be a response to his innocence. Put through this process, it's natural that any person would harbour deep resentment. Yet, here’s the rub. If he is to serve on the supreme court, you’d expect greater control and more rational responses. The role requires a unique clarity of thought. Then the ability to set aside emotion even in the most distressing of circumstances.
I’m sure I’d become bitter and frustrated if so accused of a crime. Then again, I’m not seeking a position on the supreme court where I’d wield exceptional power and influence.
If you are seeking to get to the truth of what took place between Kavanaugh and Ford in 1982, this hearing didn’t help. Despite the veneer of dignity, this was a nasty spite filled political show. It underlined the polarisation of the USA under Trump. Neither side can claim a victory. Neither side can assert they held the moral high-ground.
Having watched the proceedings, I'm none the wiser. In the end, it was a political show with "he said, she said" and no closure. All I'd say is I wouldn't want Kavanaugh in the job, and not because of the allegations. The man may be innocent; however, he lacks the gravitas and composure for the role.
Kavanaugh, even if he makes the supreme court, is forever damaged. Henceforth his every word and judgment will be seen through the prism of these events. Doctor Ford is equally traumatised. I suspect she will suffer the consequences of this testimony for the remainder of her life. As regards the politicians, they’ve affirmed the low status the public accord them.
A curse on both your houses
The UK is in a pickle. Six months to go. 759 treaties need resolving, with no closure in sight. The EU is playing hardball, and who can blame them. After all, the Brits initiated the whole thing. Moreover, the UK can’t agree on how it wants to exit the EU. Theresa May’s Chequers’s proposal is toast, whereas her cabinet is fighting themselves.
Outside the cabinet, in the broader conservative party, it's open warfare. The only thing stopping a leadership challenge to Prime Minister May is the possibility of triggering a general election. Fear that the conservatives may lose to Labour is putting the brakes on her opponents.
Meanwhile, Labour is holding their annual conference. Calls are coming in thick and fast for a referendum on the final EU deal. In the past, Corbyn has ruled such a vote out but is now leaning that way. At the same time, Labour is also beset by internal strife. It's far from a cohesive body, with fault lines developing in various directions.
I agree that you can't go back to the public to ratify the deal. I suspect any such vote may amount to another de-facto rerun referendum on membership. Such a move would be divisive. Anyway, what if the public rejects the deal. Then what?
Unfortunately, this week we saw the stark reality of Britains position in the world. In Salzburg, at a gathering of EU leaders, May’s humiliation could not be more public. She’s given 10 minutes to present her Chequers’s plan before being shown the door. She’s had to beg for respect, which is never a dignified look for a prime minister. I’m surprised she’s still there. I’d predicted her departure some time ago.
The EU signalled for weeks that Chequers was unacceptable. Nonetheless, May pressed on regardless. She’s like a driver stuck up a dead end, who can’t turn or reverse. Now she’s stuck.
The options for resolving this mess are all looking risky. A no deal exit from the EU is possible. How that plays out depends on who you speak with. To understand the scale of the issue, visit the Brexit treaty renegotiation checklist on the FT website. What happens when all those treaties suddenly stop?
On immigration, the UK would immediately have control over its borders. It sets its own migration policy. At the same time, UK nationals would lose their right to live and work in the EU. Depending on how the EU wishes that to evolve it's going to cause upheaval on a personal level for many.
The UK would exit the Common Agricultural Policy, which gives farmers £3-billion in subsidies. This would stop. Likewise, the UK will leave the single market immediately. This may result in chaotic customs checks on cross-Channel freight and at airports. Some suggest food and other supplies could face disruption although, again, it depends on how the EU responds.
The EU has the option to charge import tariffs averaging 2-3 per cent on goods. Yet up to 60 per cent for some agricultural produce. This would damage UK exporters. In turn, these tariffs would lead to price inflation on goods, hitting citizens the most.
In some sense, there is no crashing out because the UK could go to WTO trading terms. That may prove workable, although it will take a period to settle down. In the meantime, the trade will likely be disrupted.
The optimists see all the current noise as the final huffing and puffing before a deal emerges. That deal could take the form of the Norwegian or Canadian approach.
Norway almost joined the EU in the 1970s, but at the last minute opted against membership. Since then they’ve developed a close relationship with the EU through Sweden. That’s not without its downsides. They have full access to the single market, yet must follow specific EU laws but have no say in how those laws are made.
Importantly, they must allow free movement of people. Also, Norway pays money to various EU budgets. Thus, Norway gets some of the benefits of the EU on trade while relinquishing a degree of border control. I don’t suppose that will please the ardent leavers.
Canada’s deal with the EU is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). In effect, this has eliminated 98% of trade tariffs. Parts of CETA remain in dispute as the EU has yet to endorse it wholeheartedly. The appeal of a CETA type deals is that it maintains much of the current trade without having the UK too engaged with others aspects of the EU.
Again, the devil is in the detail, and it's not clear that a Canada style deal would be accepted by all EU nations. Plus, it took Canada eight years to negotiate its deal. The UK doesn’t have that time.
A last minute deal may yet pull the UK back from the brink. Although trust in politicians, which was never high, will dive to a new low if that deal is an unwelcome compromise. The merits of democracy itself will be on trial in that scenario.
The leavers are pinning their hopes on trade with the broader world. They cite the fact that about 95% of the world is outside the EU. Here are some other facts - there are over 195 countries in the UN. Of those countries, 35 are seen as 'advanced economies' by the IMF - 20 are 'emerging', and the rest are ‘developing’ (Zimbabwe, Nigeria etc.).
The reality is of those 35 advanced countries 27 are within the EU. Thus the “world is your oyster narrative” is untrue when the world is not as rich as you would like it to be. The bottom line is Britain needs a deal with the EU, either through WTO rules or some other arrangement.
Unless someone compromises, I foresee the UK crashing out. Besides trade and immigration, that may have significant political consequences as regards Scotland. The Scots voted to remain in the EU. Their independence voices will grow louder if the economic implications of Brexit are severe.
When and if that scenario arises, all bets are off as regards the outcome. The very existence of the British nation state will be at risk. Anyone seen David Cameron?
I have a love-hate relationship with the Guardian newspaper. Some of their investigative journalism is outstanding. Then they get bogged down in the daftest aspects of identity politics to spout puerile nonsense. Case in point, Jordan Peterson
The Guardian can’t make up its mind about the Canadian psychologist. Except they don’t like him, thus he’s in their sights. At the same time, he's generated a lot of copy for them. It's clear that Peterson has rattled the cage of the Marxist left, and the spin is on to discredit him. It's laughable to watch.
I did a search on the Guardian website of articles related to Peterson and his ideas. Believe me, there are plenty. Guardian writers cannot leave the man alone. They also appear to be somewhat confused about what or who he is and represents. Of course, the left loves its identity politics so Peterson must have a label. Then once he has a category, he's placed in the merit-hierarchy as either an oppressor or the oppressed.
Below is a slice of this year's articles the Guardian has run on Peterson. These show the confusion and attempts to label him.
On March 9 he’s ‘controversial’ and by March 16 ‘the self-help guru we love to hate'. On March 23 he's ‘full of rage'. To finish the month, Arwa Mahdawi on March 24 crowbars criticism of Peterson into a story on the New York City elections. It's a tight fit, but she's a game lady and gives it a go.
By April 2 Peterson is a ‘minor academic.' Moving into the early summer on May 14, he's ‘right-wing’. On May 23 he's ‘not very clever'. By June things get more interesting. He’s described on June 5 as the ‘academic-cum-pop-philosopher'. By August 5, he’s the ‘evangelist of the new right'. Then again on August 15, he's ‘far-right'.
This week on August 20, we're treated to criticism of Peterson’s diet. This comes from a professor of Irish performance studies. Yep, I had to read that twice before I fell off my chair laughing. What motivates a professor of Irish performance studies to lash out at Peterson? I’ve no idea. What's assured is that the Guardian is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Besides these articles, I've overlooked the many that came out in support of Cathy Newman. Following her car crash interview with Peterson, media friends rallied in support. The main thrust of these pieces is that Peterson was at fault. How he was at fault is never expressed, except for being a white man. Although, any common-sense reviewer saw Newman's world-view challenged. Unfortunately, that level of honesty escaped Newman’s defenders.
By the way, how is the police investigation into the trolls who allegedly attacked Newman? Silence…
So why is the Guardian so inflamed about Peterson? It spends much time and energy seeking to discredit him. Even getting a ‘River Dance’ expert to slag off his dietary choices. Well, in my view, it's simple. Peterson contests the narrative that underpins the Guardian’s worldview. That's his first offence.
Further, he deploys science and rationality to support the propositions he makes. He's clear that someone's feelings cannot take precedence over science and proven facts. That's his second offence. Facts are difficult to dismiss. Hence the cognitive dissonance of Cathy Newman when confronted with Peterson’s assertions. She's intelligent enough to acknowledge the evidence, but can't reconcile it with her opinions. Gotcha! (Sorry, couldn't resist that.)
Much of the anger that leaps from the Guardian in Peterson’s direction is borne of frustration. They don’t have compelling responses; thus personal attacks are the easier option.
Also, I see another process of play. It sticks in the claw (a lobster claw at that) of the Guardian writers the Petersons ideas appeal to men. Especially a cohort of white men. Some in this group are struggling in the modern world. Peterson causes offence by seeking to help them. After all, in the world of the SJW, men, especially white men, are repressors. Peterson's self-help guide offends their sentiments. White men cannot be victims; otherwise, the whole simplistic postmodern victimhood hierarchy collapses.
I agree some of his advice is banal. But that doesn't detract from its value. The simple call to tidy up your room has profound significance. If it teaches folks to organise themselves better, then surely that's a positive thing. These small steps help on the road to being a better person. Thus, the sneering put-downs in many of the articles say more about the writer than Peterson.
In fairness, a few of the Guardian articles sought to present a balanced assessment. Yet, by my rough estimate, 80% are attack pieces. Plus much of the criticism is bereft of supporting evidence beyond opinions. That's the new norm in the postmodern world.
The Guardian's most significant mistake is to describe Peterson as right-wing. He's far from it. Calling anyone with whom you disagree ‘right-wing' is sloppy and contributes nothing to the debate. Any rational analysis suggests he's middle of the road.
But does dismantling and embarrassing some witless feminist makes you right-wing? It appears so in Guardianland. His assignment of right-wing status is more to do with the far left than anything he has to say. I suppose when you're sitting at the south pole all directions are to the north.
What's distasteful in the coverage of Peterson is the failure to engage with his ideas. Many of the Guardian writers instead take the easy option. Throw verbal bricks and ignore any merit in his views. This lousy approach defines them.
Moreover, while asserting its inclusiveness, the Guardian is demonstrating the opposite. Its relentless pursuit of Peterson reminds me 'the lady doth protest too much'.
Peterson has valuable things to say. He's also wrong about other things. But to level these falsified hit-pieces shows how far this once decent paper has fallen.
On the reverse side, Peterson does not instruct his audience to dismiss his opponents out of hand. He says talk to them at the level of detail because that's where they are weak. That’s his strength and the Guardian’s weakness.
Free-trade is good, right? You wouldn’t think so listening to Donald Trump. Depending on your viewpoint he’s affirmed himself as the anti-trade president. In a bizarre twist, China is now seeking to defend ‘free-trade’. If that assessment is true, it’s a remarkable reversal of roles.
The free-traders claim long-term positives outcomes across a whole host of social metrics. Less war, better life expectancy, greater wealth and even fairness. These are all cited as outcomes of free-trade. While we debate the merits of international trade deals, these folks see the benefits.
To them down the sweep of history, free-trade helped drive the great escape from poverty. This phenomenon defines the modern era. Along with the industrial revolution, trade drove that process. Granted, along the way there was a lot of nastiness, with disastrous outcomes for some.
At its fundamental, economic activity is a mutually beneficial process. It’s a positive sum game. I exchange my talents for money that allows me to buy food, a home and medical care. Someone provides those services to me, for which I pay. This allows specialisation and expertise to develop across human societies and borders. I don’t need to know how to grow rice because someone else does that. Likewise, the rice grower doesn’t need to know my job. He earns his money from providing to me.
At a local level, informal rules may be enough to guide this process. When you go international, it gets complex. That doesn’t distract from the fact that free-trade has the potential to make all humans richer in the end. Plus, and this is the crux, its claimed it makes us nicer people.
As economist Ludwig von Mises put it, “If the tailor goes to war against the baker, he must henceforth bake his own bread.”
Academic research is pointing to free-trade reducing the prospect of war between nations. The last 50 years has been a remarkable period of calm. At the same time trade has expanded exponentially. The cause and effect are disputed by some. Others feel that business is a significant factor in promoting world peace.
The great escape from poverty started in the 1800s with Britain's industrial revolution. Trade then gave the process a kick up the behind to spread out across the world.
In 1976 as one wag put it “Mao single-handedly and dramatically changed the direction of global poverty with one simple act: he died.” At that moment China shook off its inward-looking policies, opened up and started to trade. In the process, and in no time, it lifted hundreds of millions from poverty. Its a lesson in the power of market economics to generate wealth, food and a middle class. China in 2008, after 20 years of the open door policy, attained the same per capita income of Sweden in the 1960s. Breathtaking.
Planned economies without exposure to competition bring stagnation. Then in turn, if unchecked, famine. That’s the lesson from history.
Even so, free trade is not without a downside. Some workers toil in harsh conditions, while the environmental impact can be terrible. The anti-free trade lobby cites these adverse effects. In particular job loss, the economic impairment to countries, and the ecological damage. As underdeveloped countries cut costs to gain a price advantage, workers in these countries face low pay.
Unions have criticised free-trade agreements as harmful to workers. They also see such contracts as contributing to a loss of jobs. To them while workers suffer, the clout of multinational corporations increases.
Putting all these factors together, these critics of free trade fall on the negative side of the equation. To them, free-trade has terrible outcomes. That helps explain much of the resistance to free-trade. No doubt there is some truth in this negative view. But nobody can ignore the positives.
It seems clear that free-trade improves efficiency and innovation. Over time, free-trade works with market forces to shift workers and resources to more productive uses. This allows efficient industries to thrive. The results are higher wages and a dynamic economy that continues to create new jobs and opportunities. In the short term, some workers suffer, and industries disappear. That’s the painful part.
Most of all free trade drives competitiveness. It requires businesses and workers to adapt to the shifting demands of the broader marketplace. These adjustments are critical to remaining competitive. Hiding behind a protectionist barrier produces more expensive goods and services.
This brings us back to Trump and his spat with China and others. Some of what is vexing Trump is the perceived lack of fairness in the trading systems. As regards China, getting market access remains a challenge. Thus China’s proclamations on free-trade are disingenuous when protection of massive state-owned enterprises persists. These protected industries, cannot sustain themselves without reforms. Inefficiencies remain unchallenged when protected from competition.
On the flip side, what is the human cost of dismantling these entities by exposing them to market forces? These could be terrible, with the potential for social disorder. You can, thus, understand China’s concerns and its incremental approach.
I’m no trade expert, far from it. My knowledge of the intricacies of its mechanisms is sketchy at best. Yet, I know this much. I’d rather have the baker making bread to sell to his neighbour than bullets with which to kill. A simplistic view I know, but it covers a pivotal point. The record is clear. In the long-term, free-trade on a level playing field is mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, as always, the devil is in the detail, and much of the current shenanigans is all detail.
I'm sure we will come through to break bread together.
Hong Kong has suffered its worst typhoon on record. With sustained winds of 250 km/h, Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit this weekend. The damage is extensive and going to take some time to repair. People had windows blown in and the contents of their homes trashed. The only saving grace is few injuries and no deaths.
But, you wouldn't think we'd suffered much listening to our Chief Executive. In her statement today she asserted that Hong Kong is “largely unscathed”. Secretary for Security, John Lee Ka-chiu, proved forthright in his assessment that the damage is “serious and extensive”.
I’ve attached a few images and videos below - would you assess this as “unscathed”?
I must state my gratitude for the tremendous effort by the first responders. Police, fireman and staff from the Civil Aid Services worked under demanding conditions to ensure public safety. The police received 20,000 calls for help, compared to about 6,000 they receive on a typical weekend. The fact that no one died or sustained serious injuries is a testament to their work. Police officers were injured during the rescue work. I wish them a fast recovery.
Also, the public utilities continued throughout what was a frightening day. Telephones, internet, gas and electricity all uninterrupted except for a few specific locations. This allowed us to keep in touch with family to reassure them and to coordinate help for each other. The utility companies get a pat on the back for keeping the systems up. Especially electricity because without that everything else halts.
Today we woke up to thousands of trees blocking roads. Public transport struggled to get going, as sections of the rail system proved unusable. Bus couldn't access their routes. Huge crowds built at transport interchanges as folks struggled into work. Walking the streets broken glass crunches under their feet.
It is remarkable how localised the damage is. Central looks untouched, while a few kilometres away it’s a war zone. Thus in fairness to Carrie Lam perhaps that why she formed an erroneous impression. Yet, you’d think she’d be better informed or is she playing down matters? As per her usual approach.
In public statements, she made mention that overseas visitors are here for conferences. That millions of ordinary people struggled to get to work appears to be of little concern to her. When asked about a day-off to aid the recovery, she passed the buck. Staff and employers need to come to an arrangement is her lame response. How is that supposed to happen when the power balance rests in favour of the employers? Once again, Carrie displays her indifference.
Carrie Lam’s statements have a profound impact locally and overseas. Her priority today should be the people of Hong Kong. Instead, she is signalling the world we are open for business. Never-mind that we have destroyed homes and a faltering transport system.
Today was a moment to display leadership. Macau granted a day off to civil servants to ease the load on struggling transport systems. This simple act sets an example for the private sector that would contribute to Hong Kong’s recovery. Instead, Carrie Lam made excuses, wobbled and then passed the buck. She fumbled the leadership test.
Scathed or Unscathed - You decide?
Video of days events
The craziness that infects British institutions goes on unabated and is accelerating. Exhibit 1: the South Yorkshire Police. During the week they made this announcement:
“In addition to reporting hate crime, please report non-crime hate incidents, which can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing. Hate will not be tolerated in South Yorkshire. Report it and put a stop to it.”
Twitter and social media lit up to mock this piece of nonsense. To confirm their distorted thinking, South Yorkshire Police responded with:
“Incidents may not be criminal offences but can feel like a crime to those affected, and can sometimes escalate to crimes.”
I've been puzzling over this. This latter statement is revealing. Am I right to believe the police are stepping outside the fighting crime remit? They now want to get into 'thought policing’? I’d long suspected that ‘Big Brother’ had arrived in the UK. Is this the proof?
In effect, SYP wishes to know if your feelings get hurt by someone's words. They'll then be happy to investigate this. This is both laughable and chilling. Every self-appointed victim, who takes offence, is welcome to get the police involved in their charade.
There is a context to this situation. Let's not forget that SYP took part in the cover-up of Britain's most significant child sex scandal. Despite overwhelming evidence and repeated complaints, they failed to help over 1,200 abused children. Most of them white girls.
These children faced systematic abuse by gangs of predominantly Pakistani men. This occurred in and around Rotherham. The scale and methods of the violence are difficult reading. Gang rapes, girls doused in petrol and trafficking between towns.
All this went unchallenged by the SYP fearful of the racist label. To add to the victim's torment, the police cover-up blamed the girls. Both the local Labour council and the police had more interest in protecting their relationship with an ethnic community. The safeguarding of girls from rape was not a priority.
Further, indications are that the local social services were complicit. Citing ethnic sensitivities, they didn't act. In other words, they’re prepared to allow the rape of young girls because that’s part of the culture. That's the twisted outcome of a PC approach that shuts down free speech.
In a scramble to recover an 'in the toilet' reputation, the SYP flipped to virtue signalling. One can’t be anything but cynical about this.
Why? Well, for a host of reasons. First, and foremost, inviting the public to report hurt feelings is absurd. Further, it’s an assault on freedom of speech. How can we debate anything or discuss if one party or another can call in the police?
Second, how can South Yorkshire justify the manpower to deal with this? Crime is on the rise in their area, while the manpower is slashed. Since 2010 South Yorkshire Police lost 16% of their workforce. Meanwhile, in May this year, five people were murdered within 13 days in South Yorkshire. Again, the evidence suggests ethnic gangs are responsible for some of these deaths. See any pattern here?
SYP has a history of malpractice in its short existence. Formed in 1974 it came into being with the amalgamation of city forces. The miner strike of 1984 proved a testing time as the force faced an unprecedented challenge. Then SYP stood accused of the wholesale fabrication of evidence. Having arrested 95 miners for public order offences the case collapsed in court. When the court rejected all the police statements, officers admitted producing dictated evidence.
In 1989, the Hillsborough disaster exposed SYP to a raft of allegations. These remain before the courts. In short, the force bungled a crowd situation at an FA Cup semi-final. In a crowd surge, 96 people died, and 766 sustained injuries. Senior officers from SYP then fed outright lies to politicians and the media. They sought to divert blame for the poor handling of the crowds by blaming the victims.
The distorted judgment of officers in South Yorkshire was further on display in 2014. A raid on the home of singer Sir Cliff Richard played out live on the news, with the media brought along by the police. The whole show had undertones of turning an investigation into entertainment. It’s evident the force wanted to signal that it is taking the allegations against Sir Cliff as serious. So it puts on a show. Then the hubris backfires when the investigation turned up no evidence. Sir Cliff sued and won massive compensation.
Only now, decades later, are the terrible crimes committed by grooming gangs going through the courts.
Yet, the criminal justice system can act with swiftness when motivated to do so. The prompt action against Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) proves the point. When arrested for contempt of court, he's sent to trial that day and convicted to prison. Meanwhile, the men who raped young girls are still awaiting justice 20 years later. People are asking how come?
Whether you agree with Yaxley-Lennon’s agenda is irrelevant. The question remains why he's processed so fast? Could it be that Yaxley-Lennon is on the right? Identity politics, as it creeps into all aspects of life, classifies him as a white oppressor. In this new progressive orthodoxy is he's not afforded the same protection offered others? The appellate court agreed Yaxley-Lennon's treatment was unfair. He awaits a retrial.
With crime up and police numbers falling, I can only conclude that SYP has its priorities askew. No wonder the force is reportedly demoralised. Front-line cops are dealing with hurt feelings, while real crime goes unchallenged.
In July it emerged that SYP's management team will face an investigation. The inquiry wants to know why SYP failed to act on reports of rife child exploitation. I think we know the answer.
As one whistleblower revealed a senior officer at the time indicated to her that they prioritised car crime over child abuse.
The public knows the truth. One commentator notes:
“Thousands of young girls and children sacrificed on the altar of political correctness, they should be thoroughly ashamed.”
Yes, but we’re also missing a crucial point. Senior police officers must signal their liberal credentials by pandering to the new order. Then the gatekeepers will allow them to advance their careers. Real victims, lower down the postmodern victimhood hierarchy, face apathy. This weeks message from SYP accords that with virtue signalling agenda. Plus, SYP is over-compensating for past failings. Never-mind that the good people of South Yorkshire suffer.
That hurts my feelings.
I heard the word 'gweilo' within an hour of landing in Hong Kong. By the end of that first week, it had entered my vocabulary as a generic term for the expatriate. The full import of its possible meanings only come later. I’ve used the term to describe myself in front of locals because of its disarming impact. On occasions, in feedback, I’ve seen a few grimaces in discomfort, while others sniggered.
Thus it’s with some interest today that I read of Mr Francis Haden. He's claiming racial discrimination, in part, because folks at work called him ‘gweilo’. Haden is suing his employer, seeking HK$200,000 for hurt feelings.
There is a back story of course, although the details are sketchy. Haden works as a blasting engineer on construction sites. He’s alleging an underlying hostility towards non-Chinese with the use of ‘gweilo’ in a derogatory manner.
Lets back up a bit to consider the history. ‘Gweilo’ is the epithet used in Hong Kong for white people. The literal Chinese translation is 'foreign devil’. In Cantonese, the characters are Gwái ( 鬼) meaning "ghost", and lóu ( 佬) meaning "man". There are records of the term emerging in the 1800s during early encounters between local Chinese and European traders.
These days the word has morphed into general usage. It’s entered the Hong Kong lexicon as the common group name for white expatriates. It's a problematic term because of its origins. But many expatriates embrace it. The Galloping Gwais, an expatriate football team, enjoyed some success in the 1980's. As far back as 1958, the Hong Kong Police Dragon Boat team adopted the name ‘The Fan Gwais’ - the troublesome expats. Even the spelling of the word is contested. Take your pick - Gwailo or Gweilo?
In a sense, the white expatriates hijacked the term, flipped it in a lighthearted manner and de-weaponised it in the process. That’s kinda cool. So is the fact you can buy ‘Gweilo Beer’- it's an excellent brew.
But is the word racist or derogatory? That depends on how you understand the term, its usage and context. I’m leaning towards the view that context is critical here. How the word gets deployed makes a difference in deciding if it's racist or hurtful. In the interest of balance, I consulted an SJW acquittance, who came back with this response.
“Gweilo was never used to oppress a marginalised group. White expatriates are colonisers, and the word was used by colonised people to describe their colonisers.”
OK, that’s interesting. The reply infers that for the rich and privileged, labelling with racist language is fine and dandy. That response fits with the postmodern agenda of seeing all white people as oppressors. We are no further forward.
I can recall the term used to insult me. In a meeting, a local police officer took umbrage at my negative feedback for an idea he championed. He was fuming.
"You Gwailo's don’t understand.”
The room went silent. An unwritten rule was broken and a line crossed. He’d deployed the word to offend. I recognised that.
"I beg your pardon, Sir?"
He realised the offence caused, retreated and then apologised. That’s the distinction of context. Using Gweilo as a pejorative term has a sting.
I'd draw a comparison to the use of the n-word. This is fraught with danger as I’m stepping through a minefield of possible misinterpretation. Yet on a daily basis, black youth drop the n-word to each other in conversation, plus make liberal use of it in rap music.
But marvel at the reaction if a white person says the word. The consequences are serious; careers ruined, public and cyber attacks come piling in. Again context is the issue. Given black history white usage of the term is perceived as offensive and unacceptable. I get that.
Having said this, your average white expatriate in Hong Kong is not an under-dog nor repressed. Again, we circle back to context. How about 'Ah Cha' for the Indians and Pakistanis? This word is commonly used even today. I doubt this is helpful to community relations, said with or without malice.
Still, people in this town know the term 'gweilo' has an offensive use, and they sometimes deploy it as such. Likewise, it has applications that are more innocent.
Is another dynamic at play? These days for a subset of the population it's easy to see offence in any behaviour. Far too many people seek it in anything to garner victimhood. For example, the whole gender pronoun debacle is rooted in a victim culture. Yet, seeing the world through a lens of hyper-sensitivity makes us brittle. In turn, this gives us manufactured outrages with absurdity laid upon absurdity. Even the use of certain words can evoke claims of cultural appropriation.
While racism exists in Hong Kong, and that's not to be welcomed, the place is refreshing to be free of the postmodern nonsense that infects the West. The irrationality of identity politics, allied to deconstructionism, has left many intellectually bankrupt. For me, it is a dangerous slope to ban certain words or compel the use of others.
Anyway, we know that peer and social pressure is most effective in correcting behaviour to remove words or actions that society can no longer accept. After all, the law is a blunt tool that can produce undesirable outcomes. ‘Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names can never hurt you’ was the mantra when I was a kid.
Further, as that great philosopher, Mrs De Havilland points out.
“The English laugh at the Scots, the Germans and the French; in turn the Germans, the Scots and the French laugh at the English. Meanwhile, Hong Kong people look down on Mainlanders and vice-versa. It all goes around and comes around. Get over it.”
I don’t know the details of Mr Haden's case nor can I predict the outcome. But I’m watching with great interest to see how the court unties this knot.
As the British Caledonian Tristar swung into land at Kai Tak, I'm sensing something novel. Looking down on the crowded streets, the first hint of Hong Kong’s vitality transferring its energy to me.
Then later, moving through Kowloon, that energy wrapped itself around me, before permeating my body. The city gave off a vibration. Buoyancy hung in the air, with a zeal for getting things done. Get caught up in that can-do conviction - anything is possible.
It’s the early 1980s. Massive infrastructure projects are surging ahead. New towns grow out of the sea or cloven from the hillsides. The slope dwellers are switching precarious wooden structures for high-rise homes. Awaiting them are inside toilets and proper kitchens. Engineers are tunnelling, building to link remotes areas with the ambitious MTR project. Incised with tunnels the harbour is no longer a barrier. Kowloon and Hong Kong Island are one.
Meanwhile, former refugees are toiling away in factories, offices and on constructions sites. Anything is possible as 1997 is looming. People are tense, yet getting on with life as the politicians play their games. Some opt to move on, with Canada and the USA in their sights. The 1989 killings in Beijing drive that.
The government is efficient; it’s corruption-free by Asian standards. The streets are safe. Hong Kong has ridden through a few crises of confidence without a pause. As the negotiations for the handover drag on fortunes are made, others lose chances. The Vietnamese refugee influx stretched patience and resources but never overwhelmed. Hong Kong's glass is half-full.
Even as 1997 approaches, with 1989 shrugged off, a new airport emerges from the sea. Then Kai Tak dims its landing lights for the last time. All the while, the prospects of an emerging China enthrals many. Opportunities abound.
Then something happened. For reasons that remain elusive, Hong Kong’s confidence falters. I suppose no single cause can take the blame. The blows that had before bounced off the armour started to make dents. A few penetrated deep. The glass is looking half empty.
The existential Asian financial crisis of 1998 hit hard. The barometer of Hong Kong’s success is property prices. As these collapsed, it looked like game over. Chief Executive Tung was ill-equipped to deal with the situation. He faltered, rushing a housing initiative.
Then, as today, China stepped in to help shore up the economy. A sullen and ungrateful Hong Kong people did not display much gratitude. That China needed to act affirmed Hong Kong’s dependence on the Mainland. The vast majority of Hong Konger’s willful ignorance of this status runs deep.
The events of 2003 had an enormous impact on Hong Kong. Today the consequences continue to play out. SARS exposed the government to profound criticism. The initial lacklustre response suggested either a cover-up or sheer incompetence. In no time, Hong Kong people felt isolated and forsaken. Tourism collapsed. By April 2003, arrivals at the airport fell 68 per cent. At the same time, Hong Kong people found themselves unwelcome overseas. As an example, the Swiss barred a Hong Kong delegation from attending a Watch and Jewelry Fair in Zurich.
The mood was bleak. Travelling by MTR on a Saturday evening, I’m stunned to find the carriages empty. About town, everyone is wearing masks. In the end, the outbreak killed 299 in Hong Kong. It left behind a deep feeling of sadness, loss and anger. Some of that anger spilt over into the Article 23 debate. 500,000 people took to the streets on 1st July 2003. Organised to protest the national security laws, many joined to vent frustration at the government. This protest ultimately led to the fall of Chief Executive Tung. He stepped aside in 2005 citing poor health.
In the final analysis, SARS also had positive outcomes. Public hygiene standards improved, although it’s a lesson that needs constant reinforcement. Hong Kong people discovered that there is more to life than making money. In search of healthy pursuits, they took to the country parks.
Yet none of that could erase the damaging sense that Hong Kong was not invulnerable. Once that realisation dawned, attitudes changed for the worst.
In the broad sweep of events, I suppose the Occupy movement of 2014 comes next. I’ve written much on Occupy that can be found in this blog. On its consequences in the broader community, these are profound. Also, these impacts resonate to this day.
Occupy exploded in a massive release of pent-up energy in the autumn of 2014. By early December, it was over. A spent force. It collapsed in rancour, with fragmented groups tussling for control. The youth at the centre of the movement came away demoralised.
Given the differing generational-zeitgeist, it’s inevitable that Occupy would split society. Yet, the depth of that split cut through all sectors. You either supported it, or you didn’t. It’s a civil war moment. Father against son, mother against daughter; few people sat on the fence. That polarisation played into politics, the workplace plus education. No sector remained unblemished. On social media, it played out in unfriending on Facebook. People who'd been pals since kindergarten broke off contact. Then everyone sat in their silos, ignoring each other.
Another CE fell victim. Leung Chun-ying didn’t seek re-election in the wake of Occupy. He’s replaced by a humdrum career civil servant, Carrie Lam. Since Occupy, a political stalemate hangs in the air. Most folks sought to put Occupy behind them to get on with life.
In recent years, images of former senior officials dragged into court added damage to public sentiment. That a former Chief Executive and his deputy exploited their positions for personal gain affirms a particular view ... that Hong Kong is on a downward spiral. Coupled with this is the never-ending revelations of shoddy construction on infrastructure projects. Job after job is late, then over-budget.
It’s only natural that the public is questioning the integrity of our institutions. At the same time the wealth gap, high property prices and unchecked pollution remain a blight.
To be sure things have gone astray, but is Hong Kong finished as ‘Asia’s world city’? A reality check is necessary. Cutting through the media hype, the tribalism of attitudes, to consider hard facts. The trajectory of continuous decline is an opinion that is worth challenging.
First, Hong Kong has sustained consistent growth for decades. It maintains a surplus that is the envy of other places. The city’s fiscal reserves exceeded HK$1.7 trillion by December last year. Official statistics show the average annual growth rate of revenue from 2009-10 to 2014-15 was 8.5 per cent. Expenditure rose 6.2 per cent. In short, Hong Kong has massive reserves.
Many are questioning why more of that money is not spent on social welfare and care for the elderly. It remains a disgrace that the poverty-stricken elderly, must scrape a living collecting cardboard. After all, they toiled to build Hong Kong.
No one can argue that Hong Kong lacks jobs. If you want to work the opportunity is there. Likewise, if you're going to set up a business, the government makes it easy. The procedure took me 45 minutes. I filled in one form, produced my documents, and that’s it. Could it be any simpler? Hong Kong positively invites you to be entrepreneurial.
Second, Hong Kong is safe. As a father with daughters, I’m relaxed to allow them to venture out even on busy Saturday nights. I’m confident I’d be less sanguine residing in London, New York or just about any other major metropolitan city (other than Singapore). Also, not a single kid has been shot at school in all my 30 plus years in Hong Kong.
Third, Hong Kong’s public transport system is superb. Despite its recent setbacks, the MTR remains the benchmark for other places. The buses are frequent and cheap. Although the taxi trade is a mixed bag, the fares are reasonable: the quality of the drivers ranges from outstanding to neanderthal. Unwelcome cartel practices are keeping Uber out. A bit of competition would force the taxi trade to up its game.
Ending my not exhaustive list is the ready access to our wonderful countryside. All Hong Kong is in easy reach of the country parks, with walking trails that are accessible and challenging. You don’t need to be a wealthy expat or rich local to enjoy this stunning public space.
There are many reasons to criticise Hong Kong. It has its challenges. All I’m saying is lets put away corrosive fatalism that Hong Kong is in the toilet. It’s not and far from it. Would it not be better to strike a more balanced assessment? Then recognising the challenges, let's address them In that case, we can reignite some of that Hong Kong mojo.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.