Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
There is a wearying inevitability to the Pan-Dems blocking actions in LegCo. Delaying tactics, citing obscure rules of procedure. Then filibustering. All harnessed to obstruct debates. The ultimate aim is to defeat bills by burning up time, so a vote can’t go forward. The latest episode relates to arrangements for the new high-speed rail link. In particular, the deployment of Mainland officials to Hong Kong.
Based in Kowloon, Mainland immigration officers will conduct clearance of passengers heading north. Thereby allowing the train an uninterrupted journey across the boundary. Without such a mechanism, the whole purpose of a high-speed rail link is somewhat defeated.
Such a proposal is an anathema to the fiercely autonomous Pan-Dems. They view any such deployment as an encroachment on Hong Kong’s limited autonomy. In their world, this is the thin end of the wedge. The issue gets conflated. The missing bookseller's saga, and other incidents foster a mistrust of Mainland agencies.
The government stoked suspicions with some quick rejigging of the LegCo agenda. They brought forward the debate of the immigration arrangements. Thus, with the Pan-Dems veto under threat, they are fighting a rear-guard action.
And what do the Hong Kong people think of all this? Indifferent or annoyance would be a good summation. Viewed with increasing destain, LegCo is in disrepute. The childish antics, the shouting, posturing and outright thuggish behaviour are despairing.
Having said that, the majority of the public support the immigration arrangements. They see that US officials operate at Canadian airports and border crossing points. Likewise, all nations exercise quasi-judicial powers across boundaries and borders. For example, Australian security agents can act to deny boarding in Hong Kong.
So, the issue is not the function or role. Rather, it is the Pan-Dems deep-seated misgivings linked to a trust deficit. Everyone knows that Pan-Dems view the Mainland through a prism of distrust. That distorts everything to nefarious ends, with each action seen to have a political motive.
This latest episode of nonsense raises questions of whether LegCo is fit for purpose. Yet, it’s unquestionable that governance must continue, moreover a few can’t hold us hostage.
If you need proof that the Pan-Dems are irrational, look no further than educating the public on the Basic Law. Plans to conduct a seminar on the Basic Law caused an uproar. Keynote speaker Li Fei, is the Basic Law Committee Chairman. The seminar is to be broadcast to secondary schools. First, the Pan Dems say its wrong in principle for Li Fei to address students. Next, that the students will be incapable of understanding the material presented.
This is an ideal opportunity to hear what Chinese officials are thinking. Whilst our students appear well capable of making up their own minds. Disparaging students by suggesting they are incapable of understanding the issues is reprehensible.
Also, let's not forget, that teachers will play a role. After the broadcast, they will harness and direct the discussion as students debate the issues. Once again, the Pan-Dems are inferring teachers are incapable of that role.
Their position is untenable. After all, it's the Pan-Dems who sought to mobilize thousands of kids during Occupy. They organized seminars, debates and many talks from radicals. On those occasions, no one raised concerns over the ability of students. To now argue that the same students cannot listen to Mainland officials is palpable nonsense. It's also downright distasteful.
One can only surmise the Pan-Dems are afraid of open debate. A frank analysis of positions may further undermine their standing. We are all familiar with their tactics, including shouting down anyone who opposes their dogma. Witness the intimidation on university campuses.
Getting back to LegCo. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has played a savvy game to date. She called the Pan-Dems out over the high-speed rail issue, forcing them to use stalling tactics. Next, she hints at bypassing them entirely. Further escalation by the Pan-Dems will invite a tough response that negates LegCo. Thus, the Pan-Dems are between a rock and hard place. They can skirmish all they like. Yet, they can’t overwhelm the government. They can delay, they can’t stop.
In all this, there is a calculation to be made. Public sentiment is swinging against the nonsense in LegCo especially the insulting conduct. Eventually, the Pan-Dems will exhaust goodwill, with a price paid at the ballot box.
There was panic this week. The Pan-Dems realised that Beijing is unlikely to come back with electoral reforms in the next 20 years. Statements by LAU Siu-kai, the vice-chair of Beijing’s top political think tank hinted at this. One can only speculate that the hard-line taken by the Pan-Dems, means Beijing sees no merit in talking to them.
Pan-Dems had their chance in 2014. They threw out Beijing’s proposals for changes without thinking through the consequences. When the other side holds most of the cards, its best to compromise on occasions. I suppose the issue is the Pan-Dems remain trapped in their dogma. Compounding this is their uncoordinated and dysfunctional approach. Complicating matters is that they hate each other as much as they detest Beijing.
In the meantime, an emboldened China asserts itself. It sees Western democracy failing, citing the Brexit mess and the rise of Trump as evidence. This drives the narrative that China’s system is working well, whilst the other models falter. Reliance on China trade and largess supports these assertions. It remains to be seen if that assessment is valid. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say China is on a roll.
The clock is ticking ... tick, tock, tick, tock, in 2047 all bets are off. Hong Kong’s current systems are allowed up to that point, then who knows what awaits. So the belligerence of the Pan-Dems has a shelf life. Never forget, China takes the long-term view. Waiting 30 years is no issue for them.
Trump is a Black Hole. He sits at the centre of the American political universe exerting an awful gravity on anything that comes near. And like a bona-fide Black Hole, he has an all engulfing event horizon. You can’t see what’s happening beyond that boundary nor can you comprehend how it operates. The normal rules, the accepted norms, the cardinal principles, all collapse.
If you circle too close, one of two things happens … neither is good. You may get sucked in. You then emerge in a bizarre world - at the risk of mixing my metaphors here - you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Captured by Trumponian gravity, then disassembled, spat out … who knows where?
The other option is you bounce off. Damaged, spinning through the political universe, stripped of cover, dignity and adjudged irrational. You’re finished.
Sean Spicer, the former press secretary, suffered that fate. He was an early victim. Trump sent him to lie on Day One about the size of the inauguration crowd. From that point on, Spicer was dead man walking. He was either going to fall through the event horizon or bounce off, as a relentless media pursued him. When you become a feature of ‘Saturday Night Live’ it’s only a matter of time before ‘game over’. At least Spicer avoided the central vortex. He now wanders around, looking for less punishing outlets of his torn talents.
The former four-star general, John F. Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, suffered a worse fate. He’s now disappeared below the event horizon of moral ambiguity, his reputation in tatters. By all accounts, Kelly is a decent chap.
A Marine, he served with distinction. In 2003, he led the charge on Baghdad. He soon overwhelmed the Iraqi forces in typical gung-ho Marine style. Unlike the draft dodger Trump, Kelly saw action. Plus, he gave an exceptional account of himself. Also, unlike many politicians, Kelly has sons who serve and one died in action. First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, whilst in Afghanistan in 2010, stepped on a landmine. That’s why the incident that tripped up Kelly is so gut-wrenching.
It’s clear that Kelly brought a degree of order to the chaotic White House. He’s enforced discipline in a shambolic mess of policies and prima donnas jockeying for fame. He is one of the few competent people in an otherwise lacklustre team of ideology-driven mavericks. Greater cohesion resulted from his command. Ultimately Trump benefitted from this.
Hence, it is disheartening to see a man of Kelly’s standing and ability compromised. Trump's alleged insensitive remarks to a soldier’s widow soon spiralled into a media storm. In a significant damage control effort, Kelly stood up to give an impassioned speech. He detailed how dead soldiers get conveyed back to the United States. He led us through the processes with forensic detail. He spoke with compassion, then empathy about what the family goes through. Along the way he revealed he’d counselled Trump on what to say.
But, then Kelly went on the attack. And it was a lengthy attack of some force. That’s when it went wrong. He elected to make allegations against the congresswomen who’d initiated the story. It was a classic Trump response. Go for the opponent’s jugular. Take them down by questioning their motives and actions. Unfortunately for Kelly, his allegations against the congresswomen spoon fell apart. Video evidence refuted each one of his claims. Assertions that she’d acted in brazen self-promoting manner are untrue.
Had Kelly cut his speech off before maligning the congresswoman, he’d be standing tall today. Now he’s in Trump domain with his esteem gone. Reputations are brittle things especially when you associate with a habitual liar. A lesson Kelly is now learning. He’s gone from an untainted, accomplished, figure to another deceitful Washington insider. Yet, that's what happens when you make a judgement to serve a President who is immoral.
As a military man, Kelly will have studied leadership. He know the moral calculations that leaders make. He is well schooled in this area, having attained a Masters degree in Strategic Studies. Hence, he’s no innocent. As a political operator he made a decision to stand with Trump by adopting attack-dog tactics. Now the blowback has started with Kelly silent. He’s inside the event horizon, beyond sight and beyond help.
This is grist for the mill. The media are lapping it up with relish. It supports the narrative the Trump presidency continues a relentless descent into farce. Republicans made a Faustian pact with Trump. This diminishes them, while the office of the president is soiled and the USA is a laughing stock.
Meanwhile, both China and Russia are benefiting. A rebalancing of the world order is unfolding. A few brave Republicans have stepped forward to denounce the lies, distortions and twisted conduct of Trump. Unfortunately, none of this is enough to damage a man who operates in a parallel universe.
A Black Hole is a powerful entity that will require powerful forces to overwhelm it.
Benedict Rogers is co-founder of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. The name is something of an oxymoron. The Conservative Party is not renowned for it's interest in ‘human rights’. Except, if an issue provides leverage for other agendas. Probably that’s why he was recently denied entry to Hong Kong.
This episode sparked a spat between Beijing and London. Then, to spice things up, it was revealed Beijing took the decision to bar Rogers. Such a matter falls within their jurisdiction, although many expressed surprise at this. The lack of knowledge on the Basic Law is both surprising and troubling. Many of the loud voices raised demonstrated that opinions count for more than legal provisions.
Rogers has a track record of anti-China rhetoric, plus support for fringe groups. An avowed supporter of convicted criminals, he speaks nothing of their victims. We all saw the events of late September 2014, and recognise the truth. The assaults and damage to property cannot be denied. Yet, Rogers and his cohort seek to portray those convicted as political prisoners. In the process, they denigrate our legal system, the police, judges and due process. It escapes Rogers that the convictions arose under a common law system that mirrors English law.
The noise that Rogers makes at his barring lays bear his claims of coming here on a personal visit. There is ample sign that he intended to ferment trouble, whilst scoring cheap points. What is risible is that Rogers is a member of the party that did Hong Kong people the greatest disservice. It was the Conservatives who stripped Hong Kong people of their right of abode in the UK. This tacky act had heavy undertones of racism. But I suppose that's the point. Rogers and his kind cite human rights when it serves their agenda. It’s a useful tool with which to reproach and denigrate.
Moreover, it’s disingenuous of Rogers to get upset at his barring, when the UK does the same. So-called ‘hate-speech’ will earn you a ban. On that basis, Rogers could be excluded from coming here. His utterances and tactics are detestable to many in Hong Kong. Anyway, entering Hong Kong is not a right. It’s a privilege.
An interesting twist is that former governor Chris Patten got drawn into the matter. Patten frequently turns up in Hong Kong. These appearances are mostly tied to selling his books, although when here he can’t resist attacking our judges. The question of banning Patten generated some discussion and hilarity. After all, how’s an aging politician, of diminished status, to make a living. Unless he can peddle his self-serving books in Hong Kong, an income stream dries up.
If nothing else, Patten is a survivor. The man defies the laws of political gravity. He walked away from messing up the poll-tax blaming Thatcher. Next, he overplayed his hand in Hong Kong and sailed away leaving the Hong Kong people to face the music. Later, his chairmanship of the BBC marked a lack of grip and then the cover-up of a sex scandal. To get out of this mess he opted for the old ‘ill-health’ exit strategy.
Hong Kong is about the only place he is welcome these days. A good section of the population here still hold him in high regard. I wonder if these folks know the truth? Are they aware that Patten was shameful in mishandling of the Jimmy Savile case. Then you have his close association with Cardinal George Pell. He's facing multiple sexual abuse charges in Australia.
Patten has written to our Chief Executive demanding answers over the Rogers episode. Bare-faced cheek comes to mind in assessing this move. Anyway, it will amount to nothing. As the weakened United Kingdom struggles to deal with Brexit, it cannot afford to annoy Beijing too much. Crucial trade needs maintaining.
Realpolitik means the Brits will make a few noises, send a few letters, huff and puff … then shut up. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Teresa May is struggling to hold her job; the pound is weakening, business orders are slowing. Thus, other priorities must take precedence. Access to Chinese markets trumps everything. The days when Britain could dispatch a gunboat to force submission are over. Mr Rogers would do well to remember that.
Further, if Mr Rogers has a genuine interest in ‘human rights’ I have a few suggestions that may interest him. And these are nearer to home. For example, he may wish to consider how Conservative Party policies are damaging the basic right to be free of crime or have access to medical care. Then, he could look at how the disabled are being denied access to services. Over to you Mr Rogers.
We all tell lies. Most are little white lies that smooth the course of our existence. When the wife asks the husband “Do I look fat in this?” an honest answer will no doubt bring grief. A man can avoid answering this loaded question by feigning deafness or throwing himself out of the nearest window. Or he can give the obligatory “No Darling, you look fine” whilst avoiding eye contact.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was having none of that. He demanded that you always give an honest answer. That’s may be one reason he never had a wife. Kant held that any decision must be weighed against the question “What if everyone did that?”. Thus, if everyone lied, he surmised, that society would collapse. The weight of distrust and lies eroding values.
He founded his ideas on the concept of human dignity and respecting others. His achievement was to develop a philosophical system that separated morality from religion. For that, he deserves our praise.
In many ways, he was the father of the modern human rights movement. He also sought to remove emotion from the equation of what is right and what is wrong. In his view, we have a universal set of duties, including telling the truth. Yet, never lying is hardly practical or compassionate. Telling a dying traumatised child there is hope is the right thing to do.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) thought so. In his mind the outcome was important. Applying his ‘Greatest Happiness Principle’, the right thing produces the most happiness. If a lie can calm and content a dying child, then he’d allow it.
Bentham viewed humans as simple beings, who exist on a bipolar spectrum of pain and pleasure. He postulated that right or wrongness came down to the result. If a decision resulted in pleasure, then it's a good decision. His ideas fall apart when exposed to the wayward traits of human nature. Its argued that a series of endless blissful episodes undermines our very humanity.
For example, taking drugs because these bring you pleasure negates the long-term impact. The impact is on you and others. If we all act on our impulses for pleasure, the very fabric of civilisation gets weakened. Anyway, lets remember that humans can achieve growth through unpleasant painful experiences.
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) sought to address the issue of consequences. According to him, adults may live as they wish, unless they cause no harm. The decisions they make are theirs alone. If there are no negative consequences for others, then in Mill’s world that’s fine. He made the distinction between offence and harm. A lifestyle can offend us without it causing harm. He asserted that offence alone does not justify us intervening. If the drug taker mentioned above can prove the habit has no adverse impact, then its held to be acceptable. If it does cause harm, it’s wrong.
Unfortunately, the power of religion over thinkers echoes through the centuries. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the Danish philosopher, took the view that God can superseded human decency. This adherence to a God coloured all his work. Hence, he believed it was right and proper for Abraham to sacrifice his son. After all, God ordered it. Whether Kierkegaard was making a serious point is debatable. He often wrote under a pseudonym arguing against himself. Thus, he may have used the Abraham example to reveal the conflict at the heart of a decision.
Kierkegaard was a prolific writer on the human condition. He deserves mention for telling us that decisions are not easy. (We knew that). He stated "Decide to marry and you’ll regret it; decide not to marry and you’ll regret that too."
He had a dark sense of humour. His only advice … laugh at it all. Kierkegaard also gave us "life can only be understood backwards, but can only be lived forwards." In the end, he saw the only solution as blind faith to Jesus Christ. I’m not comfortable surrendering to a sky fairy or made up deity. Whilst Kierkegaard understood the dark places of human existence, his answers or solutions are trite.
These so-called thinkers cannot agree that one system of ethics is right. So unless you know something the rest of us don’t, your system must be wrong somewhere.
I’ve tried to keep religion out of this discussion. Religion, in various forms, confuses the issue. Especially when it ties integrity or goodness to a dogmatic belief. Be honest, belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as you believe a doctrine of any sort, then you stop thinking about that aspect of existence. You miss the gorilla in the room.
Its appears to me that we all have within us an innate sense of what is right and what is wrong. Yet, that sense needs calibrating against new ideas as humankind evolves. Be prepared to challenge yourself and don’t sit on a dogma.
Lastly, don’t trust the Internet to help with your decisions. Remember thousands of engineers have worked to give you a thrilling Internet experience. The purpose of their efforts is to make you want to keep coming back. Recognize that the Internet reinforces your confirmation bias by giving what you want. That does not include new information you may need to make a decision. Be ready, embrace uncertainty.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivered her first policy address on Wednesday. Stepping into the adulterated air of the Legislative Council chamber, she's greeted by the antics of the Pan-Dems. Meanwhile, our old friend Long Hair was yelling his usual slogans from the public gallery. I must say the bloke deserves a medal for futile persistence. He gets evicted. Job done.
Carrie's policies are a mixed bag. Not much is new or innovative, whilst overall the package is visionless. No bad thing. In recent years we’ve had too much of the vision thing, with sweeping initiatives, grand projects and bright ideas. Most of this involved pouring vast amounts of concrete. In any case, I wasn’t expecting much. Carrie is afflicted by her upbringing as a career civil servant. Big moves and rapid change are not her forte.
She has one distinct advantage over her predecessor. The mechanics of governing are familiar to her. The hapless CY blundered around, alienating all sectors. He didn’t know how to get the job done. His only notable achievement was seeing off the ill-fated Occupy movement.
So, with the bar set low, Carrie only had to turn up to score points. Much of the initial press coverage she received was positive. Yet, as details emerged and the analysis started, the tone switched. The devil was always in the detail.
Besides, she is struggling to re-brand herself as something new. Fresh, a game changer. This is a challenge when you are the ultimate insider. The public doesn't forget that she was an integral part of the system for nearly four decades. Issues we face today grew and evolved on her watch. Even so, it appears she has some goodwill in the bank.
On the big issue of political development, she is wise enough to steer clear. There is nothing to be gained by engaging with the opposition. Given their current belligerent nature, you’d open yourself to unproductive vitriol. Anyway, the Pan-Dems continue to fragment. Thus, there is no coherent opposition to negotiate with. As the tide ebbs for the Pan-Dems, time is on Carrie's side. Standing off on political reform is an astute move.
The issue of homes for Hong Kong people continues to vex. Cooling measures have failed to check property prices, and yet these can’t be abandoned. Removal would spur another surge in the over-heated prices. Thus, Carrie at best must scramble for a few short-term fixes. The government can assuage its guilt by moving on coffin homes. These are so appalling, the movie ‘Blade Runner 2049’ used them as the design for homes in a dystopian future after an ecological collapse. When you society is held up as an example of humanities failure, something needs to change.
One initiative to help first-time buyers is already drawing bile. The proposed program means the property cartel stands to make another killing. Having banked sites for years, new projects will see them realise a hearty return on their investment. Carrie stands accused of collusion by pandering to these guys. Such criticism is not fair when weighed against the limited availability of land. Nonetheless, the label will stick.
I don't see any real movement on the issues until Hong Kong formulates a realistic population policy. The influx of mainlanders with hot money will continue to distort the market.
Her concession on profits tax opens another channel of criticism. Portrayed as a means to aid start-ups and SME's, it’s open to abuse. Further, there is no empirical evidence it will help. With government coffers overflowing, a general income tax reduction would have earned more praise.
On education, she missed an opportunity. Hong Kong’s mainstream education system is not fit for purpose. Future workers need to be creative and original, not mindless exam passers. Keeping kids on a strict diet of rote learning then exams is already having an adverse impact. Ask any employer. Of course, we got the obligatory discourse about technology and smart city! This is mandatory in any CE speech, although froth. As the West Kowloon Cultural Project and the Food Trucks have shown, the government can best help by keeping out the way.
Young people (whoever they are?) have rattled the government. In an obvious response to Occupy and the independence nonsense, Carrie is throwing money at them. On the down-side, it fosters a dependency culture. Signs already exist that Hong Kong youth lack self-reliance. Pandering to them further may make matters worst. Plus, these initiatives are an over-reaction. Occupy is long gone, whilst the independence lot are a marginal group of misfits. The majority of our youth are more focused on their iPhone games than politics.
There is talk of increasing the civil service establishment. This does not sit well with what the public. The lazy habits in certain departments are on open display. The fact that FEHD deploys eight officers to arrest an 82-year old female hawker proves the point. Shoddy service compounds the unfavourable impression. A recent one-hour wait in the Transport Department suggests improvements are needed. In many ways, the entrenched inefficiencies of the civil service need breaking down. Before expanding the headcount, the taxpayer deserves to see improvements.
Like many others, I welcomed the proposal to keep the Wanchai Sports Ground. Unfortunately, Carrie has already back-flipped on that one. The reprieve is temporary, she announced on the radio. As a result, she negated a popular decision. A small slip-up that gives an insight into her lack of PR savvy.
The Belt and Road initiative received loads of coverage. It's unclear how this will manifest itself with tangible benefits. Some resistance has developed to the concept, given it evident political dimension. Having said that, Hong Kong would be wise to get involved.
In conclusion, Carrie's style earned her some credit. Beyond that, any detailed analysis reveals a paucity of novelty or new ideas. Finally, Carrie gave mixed messages on whether she will serve a second term. This uncertainty may come back to haunt her. By this, she is signaling a lack of ambition or clear vision for the future. This provides ammunition for her critics, who will seize upon this as a weakness to label her as a ‘seat filler’.
In the current climate, leading Hong Kong is a thankless task. I wish her well. After all, Hong Kong needs to move forward to tackle so many issues. If Carrie can deliver even 20% of her proposals, that would represent progress. Mediocre progress, but nonetheless progress.
Warning: Spoiler Alert. (WTF - why haven’t you seen it yet?)
Ok, let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of the original. Sorry, that’s a slight understatement. I’ve seen the movie at least once or twice a year since its release in 1982. I own the Director’s Cut and the Final Cut. So it's been a long wait for this sequel. Plus, I approached it with trepidation. Sequels are a risky option, it could all go wrong. Especially when you are dealing with a movie of such standing. The god-awful Star Wars prequels are the best example of a franchise going off track.
Thus, I went into the cinema expecting disappointment. I expected a cheap cash-in, modernised and sanitised; dumbed down for the masses. No clue about what the original was trying to say. This was everything I didn't expect it to be. I couldn't believe how good it was. It is with some relief, I can attest that Blade Runner 2049 is faithful to the original.
Yes, it’s a homage, but without being sentimental. Then, it pays respect by expanding on the themes. The tone, design and characterisations are spot on. Granted it’s long, plus the pace slows at times. Yet, for me, it worked.
It's 2049, with the planet in ecological collapse. The massive conurbation of San Angeles spreads across California. It's protected from the encroaching sea by a massive wall. Having said that, the cityscape is Hong Kong. Vistas, sights, the manufactured mayhem, are all recognisable to the Hong Kong audience. As I stepped out of the cinema last night, I was back on the set. K’s small cabin-like apartment, with its tiny kitchen, is my home. A resonance of a wet day in Hong Kong vibrates through the city scenes. Even the last tree has a doppelgänger in Wong Chuk Hang. It's a dismal, acrid, brutal world that serves as a warning. We are messing up the planet.
There is some backstory. Seeing the original movie helps. Besides, you need to know two replicant exploded an EMP bomb in 2022 to wipe out digital records. This allowed them to go undetected. A backlash against replicants resulted. Meanwhile, humans and skin-jobs live in an uneasy peace. The Tyrell Corporation is no more, replaced by the Wallace Corp. At its head is the messianic Niander Wallace, who appears to be a human hybrid of sorts.
Newer replicants get tolerated, whilst the older models are 'retired'. Wallace has built his empire on acclaimed compliant models. These creations even commit suicide on request. All replicant models after Nexus 6 have a full history of implanted memories. This gives them human features, whilst helping with their stability. Well, that’s the idea.
Nexus 6 and earlier models only have four years worth of implanted memories. This exposed them to detection because they have no distant memories to fall back on.
K our main protagonist is a blade runner and a replicant. He is good at his job. We first meet him as he retires a replicant hiding as a farmer. That job leads to the discovery of bones that suggest a female replicant has given birth. That’s not supposed to happen. This sparks a hunt for the child. In a twist, the bones get identified as those of Rachel (remember her?) with the suggestion two children came forth. And guess who is the daddy?
If the replicants can reproduce, what's the purpose of humans? The child or children must be eliminated to avoid the collapse of human society. K is assigned that task.
We are introduced to K’s domestic arrangements. He has an artificial intelligence hologram girlfriend called Joi. She’s a product of the Wallace Corp. She even christens K giving him the name Joe. Something is going on with Joi that I can’t put my finger on. She is guiding K with subtle hints. That much is plain. Later, K comes to suspect that his infatuation with Joi is bogus, questioning his emotions.
Wallace gets involved by sending Luv to gather the bones. He’s intent on creating a new order of replicants. Luv is an advanced replicant who does the bidding of Wallace. She is one mixed up cookie. Struggling to control her emotions as she kills without question. There are deep conflicts within her. She is beautiful, controlled, tearful and outright ruthless. This is no Rachel.
Cut to the chase … K sets off on his quest to find the child or children. This takes him to Dr Ana Stelline. She provides memories for the Wallace Corp to implant in replicants. In the process, K is trying to establish his identity believing he may be one of the children born of Rachel. A wooden horse with the date 6.10.21 plays a role. Stelline indicates the memory is hers. Nonetheless, K has hope clinging to a belief he is a chosen one.
K finds Deckard holed up in the remains of Las Vegas. A dirty bomb has depopulated the place. Deckard is then seized by Luv. Wallace then tempts him with a copy of Rachel. He hints that Deckard's feelings could be implants. This prompts… ‘I know what’s real.’ The ploy fails when Deckard points out that the eyes are wrong. Rachel had green eyes.
To clarify, the question of Deckard’s nature goes unanswered. By the end of the movie we still don't know. And I kinda like it that way. Ambiguity works well. Harrison Ford insists Deckard is not a replicant. Ridley Scott affirms he is. Take your pick, then let's argue the point.
K should kill Deckard. In the end, he rescues him after joining a replicant rebel movement. K takes Deckard to Stelline, who is revealed as the child. An injured K then lies down. Whether he dies or not is debatable. The scene has hints of Roy Batty’s final moments, without that wonderful lament. There is definitely a sequel there.
For me a couple of the characters are redundant. Lt. Joshi, K’s boss, played by Robin Wright doesn't spark. She sets the scene by filling in some narrative detail, but other than that is excess baggage. Except for hints she wants to bed K, she's a two-dimensional figure.
Gaff makes a brief appearance in a retirement home. He's still making origami animals. I'm not convinced he contributed much to the trajectory of the story. He produces a paper sheep for K, the significance of which is debatable. I guess it could be a reference to the source story ‘Do Androids dream of electric sheep’.
There are many overlapping, weaving themes throughout the movie. Let’s see if I can summarize them. It's certain the replicants are heavy with tragedy and pathos. We’ve given them life … a short life. They’re sentient beings, who have an upwelling anger at humans. They know they have limited time, whilst conditioning restrains their actions. At the same time, some transition to lying and killing, those most human of traits. The replicants become more than molecules in motion.
An existential unease permeates the whole movie. Our protagonist K becomes convinced that inanimate objects encroach on his ability to define himself. What is central is the way a slow sense of uneasiness consumes K. Not so much 'Am I a robot or not?' as 'Do I exist at all?’.
Biblical themes intertwine with issues of identity. What is a human? What defines us? Wallace is seeking to upgrade humanity by taking it to the next evolution. The human race has messed up, whilst a new hybrid is emerging to take over. At the same time, old replicants struggle for their place at the table. Wallace seeks to manufacture the perfect specimen. Of course, under his control.
To him, the early replicants are fallen angels, who cannot enter heaven. The sweet Rachel is the new Eve given of a miracle birth. Wallace perceives this vanguard of trans-humans will take mankind to the stars. He needs the child to further his aims.
Yet, someone is pulling the strings from the shadows. K is not the other child, more likely a decoy. He is used. The hologram Joi prompts his actions at times. She awakened him to his quest in the manner that Roy Batty awoke Deckard. K achieves a realisation by making a moral judgment to save Deckard. He has earned his wings with redemption through an act of humanity. Furthermore, this is the second time Deckard gets rescued by a replicant.
To sum up, a battle is coming. The sentient replicants, humans and Wallace’s angels will face off. There is Blade Runner 3.
On the late morning of 13th June 1917, German Gotha bombers set out from occupied France for London, England. By lunchtime, they were over the East End. Their deadly cargo cascaded down on the crowded streets, setting off panic. One bomb smashed into Upper North Street School killing 18 children. The raid claimed a total of 162 dead and some 432 injured. The news was greeted with great acclaim in Germany as a new epoch in warfare.
King George V was less happy. The raid reminded the British people of his German roots. As a member of the German ducal House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the public soon made the connection. With royal families in retreat across Europe, it didn’t help that the King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India had a German name.
The anti-german sentiment was one thing. Throwing anti-royal opinions into the mix made the King fear for his dynasty. Revolution in Russia with rising republicanism at home compounded those fears.
The name needed to change and quick. The task was assigned to Lord Stamfordham, a devote servant of the King and by all accounts an intelligent man. It is worth pointing out that the King was a rather dull figure. He had little imagination, no evident leadership skills. Beyond the survival of his line of accession, he appeared unfocused. Having said that, George V was astute enough not to allow his cousin the Tsar of Russia to seek refuge in England. As such he, in effect, condemned his cousin and family to death. With no escape for them, the Bolsheviks executed the whole family. This distasteful episode stains his reputation.
Until recently, it was generally held that Prime Minister, Lloyd George, objected to the Tsar coming to England. New evidence points to the King intervening. With republican sentiment on the rise, this unsettled him. He recognized that having the Tsar in England threatened his own throne. He moved to oppose the offer of refuge.
Anyway, Stamfordham set about a rebranding with a new name as the foundation. In an inspired choice, he opted for the ‘House of Windsor.’ The King agreed. Yet, Stamfordham went further. He understood that the Royals could no longer survive on the support of the upper classes and the gentry. With increased democracy vocal working-class voices emerged. The Royals needed to position themselves as appealing to all classes. Stamfordham then laid the template for a public relations strategy that continues today.
He proposed that the King and his German wife conduct tours to greet ordinary folks. This was an anathema to many in the royal household. They held that Kings and Queens should be distant figures. Moving amongst the common citizenry would degrade the monarchy. Some felt it could reduce it to an undignified spectacle. But the King remained concerned about the rise of socialism. He associated this with republicanism, although that assessment was mistaken. A test Royal visit went ahead.
The public response was instant and favourable. George then harnessed his two sons to the process. In the process, he unwittingly created a rock star prince. His eldest son, Edward, a dashing prince, caused a sensation across the world stage.
By 1935, his silver jubilee, George V has secured the place of the House of Windsor. He'd proved steadfast during the Great War. True is, he'd had a good war. His reputation was intact. Cheered with adulation whenever in public. He remarked ‘I can’t understand it, I’m an ordinary chap.’
He could thank Lord Stamfordham. The Royal brand sold stability as the locus of the nation. To this day the Windsors adopt the same strategy, with various modern refinements.
These days the Windsor PR machine controls and contorts every image we see of the Royals. With the annual address, seated with a Christmas tree behind her, two photographs were in the shot. For a brief moment, we glimpse of Charles and Camilla, before the camera zoomed in. It perfectly frames the Queen with William, Kate and kids. No picture of the old cantankerous comedy act Prince Phillip or of randy Andy, the once favourite son. No Anne or Edward. Instead, the PR machine decided to pander to public opinion. The most popular young Royals are playing a support role to the Queen.
The Queen apparently calls the Royal Family ‘The Firm’. The product sold these days is a kitschy view of British society and traditions. The Royals sit at the focal point. They are the nexus that connects the threads. Fridge magnets, tea-towels plus assorted brick-a-brac are the tangible manifestations and money makers.
You’d think that someone who got her job because her family were pan-European powerhouses might recognise the benefits of Europe. Thus, media reports that the ‘Queen Backs Brexit’ are surprising. The story is based on comments she is supposed to have made during a 2011 meeting with Nick Clegg (remember him?) or members of her Privy Council. Clegg asserts he remembers no such remarks. The Palace issued a denial.
Taking a position on such a divisive issue brings risks to the Windsors. It exposes them, plus the reporting of the Queen’s views, wither accurate or not, takes away control. That’s the main issue here. The Windsors need to control the narrative to maintain their legitimacy. Idle repeated comments take that away. And god forbid Princess Diana comes along to hijack the narrative in a different direction.
Like all brands, the Queen jealousy guards the integrity of the product. The House of Windsor is not a tin of beans, yet it needs selling in the modern world. Thus it goes on. Harry has the Invictus Games, with William focused on conservation. Both talk about mental health. It’s all very appealing, trendy, with heavy spin.
The subject fascinates me. Given the evident uncertainties that face the House of Windsor, they need to evolve. In the past, they've shown a callous ruthlessness and robustness that defies the odds. In recent years William, Kate and Harry invigorated the brand. Yet, one of the rules of branding is ‘the less you offer, the more you’re remembered’. That proved true of the Queen. The new blood may need to back off a bit to not overexpose. It's a delicate line to walk.
Propelled by a failed democracy, each round of 5.56 ammunition slammed into human flesh and bone. Kids scrambled for cover, boyfriends shielded their girl, whilst husbands dropped before their spouse. Huddled beside whatever shelter they could find—under vehicles and against fences, behind beer stands— shielding loved ones with their own bodies.
Stephen Paddock was not the first, he won’t be the last. Perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, with military grade weapons, he let rip. In the process, he perpetrated (for the time being) the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. It’s likely his record won't stand for long. After all, there exists no appetite for control or any regime that gets the guns out of the hands of nutters.
It would be convenient if Paddock was a terrorist of sorts. Had he been a Muslim that would be even better for those seeking to explain motive. and divert attention. Instead, he’s a middle-aged white man with a girlfriend. No criminal record, no history. Plus, he was rich. Very rich. Las Vegas Police continue to pontificate on motive. That’s no longer important to me. His motive was to kill. The issue is how the gun lobby facilitated his actions.
Did you know there are more venues in the U.S. selling guns than all the Starbucks in the world? And that doesn’t include the weapons sold at gun shows or over the Internet. What the U.S. has is a massive industry that fuels demand for its products by relentless lobbying. The main arm of that exercise is the National Rifle Association.
Any U.S. politician who dares to cross the NRA can expect it to release the attack dogs. Their methods are ruthless, brutal and unforgiving. They will trawl through your history, digging for any dirt. Family members, relatives and even your teenage kids are fair game. Attack adverts on TV, press conferences and background briefings all feed the narrative against you.
At a more subtle level, lobbying in Washington seeks to keep the message on track. Immediately after Las Vegas, the paid senators of the NRA were busy. ‘It’s too early to talk about gun control, we need to unify, we need to grieve.’
Trump avoided mentioning guns at all. He played his role to shut down the debate. He praised the cops, the first responders, stood with trauma doctors looking solemn.
In the past, the NRA used the argument ‘more good guys with guns’ is the answer. Teachers need to carry guns in classrooms went one perverse suggestion. That all fell apart in Las Vegas. On the scene were loads of good guys with guns. It still took them 70-plus minutes to get to the bad guy. In the meantime, he killed.
As a distraction, the NRA’s proxies started talking about the need for better hotel security. They questioned how he’d gotten guns up to the room. Fox News, that bastion of righteous outrage, picked up on this. Commentator after commentator did verbal gymnastics to attribute blame to everything but guns. The bump-stock that Paddock used to upgrade to full automatic then came under scrutiny. In a reversal for the NRA, it agreed these ‘perhaps’ could be banned. And we're supposed to see that as progress? Real change is an anathema to the NRA and its supporters.
Of course, had Paddock been a Muslim, with overseas connections, the outcome may be different. Trump, seated in the White House, looking presidential, would be talking to the nation. Meanwhile, the cruise missiles demolish some spurious target. Dispatched Special Forces turn the world upside down pursuing tentative support networks. Those options are not in the playbook when you have a white chap with no clear political affiliations nor resentment. Unless Trump is prepared to take out the sponsors of this terror … the NRA.
Of course, the U.S. is not listening when people talk of Australia’s success in getting the guns off the streets. In Hong Kong, the Police are ruthless in chasing down gun cases with relentless energy. The Courts then give culprits heavy sentences. As a result, our streets are safe.
In the end, you have to recognise that politicians bought and owned by the NRA usurp public sentiment. Those who aren't bought, get cowed into submission. The NRA made Paddock possible, made Sandy Hook possible, made over 11,000 deaths in 2016 possible. I’d ask who is the terrorist?
We want an explanation. We want a motive. We need to understand why this happened. All that is irrelevant, when we have frail humans running around with weapons. Motive and reason are secondary. The point is that these tragedies are pointless, and that’s what makes them so hard to take. Yet, we don’t need to help them by making access to guns easy.
Finally, nothing is going to change. Stephen Paddock tops the league at the moment for futile mass shootings. I predict he’ll soon get demotion. With 300 million guns in circulation, it's only a matter of time before another crazy starts blasting away.
Year after year Commissioner’s of Police stand proud trumpeting the fall in the crime rate. This annual event is an opportunity to bask in the light of good publicity. And rightly so. Running a Police Force is no easy business. You need those few moments of acclaim to recognise the efforts of officers.
In 2011, Hong Kong recorded 75,936 crimes. In 2016 that had fallen to 60,646 crimes. Robbery saw a fall from 731 to 260, with only deception cases seeing a significant rise. These climbed from 6,134 to 7,260. More on that later.
I don’t want to rain on the Police’s parade. Yet, its true many factors beyond their remit are helping drive down crime. The commendable efforts of the police are only aspect. For a start, Hong Kong ladies are having fewer babies. Thus a whole cohort of potential criminals is not around. We all know that middle-class kids tend to be less likely to turn to crime.
But these days even lower class kids are getting more attention from parents. Which means they are less likely to stray. Social programmes, with better interventions by schools, are driving that result.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the old generation of heroin addicts is dying off. Some of these guys funded their habit with quick cash crimes. This generation is not consuming heroin, thus, the cohort of criminal addicts shrinks.
We should not ignore the impact of the Internet and online gaming. Whilst the Internet has been a crime innovator, its also removed kids from public spaces. Especially at night. The old breeding grounds of triads are no longer populated by teenagers. Meanwhile, games centres, always a potential crime spot, have reduced in number. The fun is now available on hand-held devices and home computers.
Involvement in street crime is improbable when people are indoors, harnessed to computers. Reduced chance encounters with gangs and yobs result. Nonetheless, its well recognised that the Internet has spawned a new tranche of crime. Deceptions, identity theft, sexual ambushes are all facilitated by the virtual world. It’s probable that this type of crime is under-reported. Also, the chances of catching the culprits are remote, whilst embarrassment deters victims. Young men are not keen to share the fact their wanking. The prospect of turning up at a police station to give a report of your wrist actions is not something to relish.
In action across borders, law enforcement has had success in disrupting this activity. Still, as soon as one group gets broken up, other springs into life. It’s lucrative, easy to organise. Large syndicates operating out of the Philippines and Indonesia are robust. It never ceases to amaze me that people still get caught out despite the public warnings. You can’t account for stupidity.
Hong Kong’s crime situation has always come under outside influence. Events in China is the usual driver. The gun crime of the 1980s and early 1990s arose from a downsizing of the PLA plus easy access to firearms. In recent times the opening up of Shenzhen has drawn criminals there. Lax law enforcement and ease of access to drugs attracted Hong Kongers over the boundary. On a recent flight to Canada, a young man seated next to me admitted he could access drugs with ease in Shenzhen. Although, he bemoaned it was harder in Hong Kong.
Macau with its rapid growth in casino gambling had a profound impact on Hong Kong crime. Most the smart triads headed over there to take rich pickings. They tended to operate lucrative private gaming junkets. Loan sharking, debt collection and acting as heavies brought a steady income. Having the smart guys leave town was not all good news. The lesser triads left behind tend to operate without a ‘Daai Lo’. This has adverse consequences. Petty disputes didn’t get settled as groups fragmented. In turn, this led to an escalation of violence.
Still, the boom in Macau and Shenzhen allowed most triads to wet their beaks. Which meant they weren’t causing trouble in Hong Kong.
The gentrification of old areas has created benefits. Space that was before ungoverned is now brought under control. Uniformed security patrols, CCTV, access controls all help. These days confined to remote villages and premises without security, burglaries are rare.
Social factors are also having a positive payoff. As a middle class emerges it brings with it values and behaviour that discourages crime. Children from such a background fear the censure of their school, family and cohort. Parents caution that education overseas depends on avoiding a criminal conviction. I arrested a 15-year-old for stealing. His mother's first question … “Will he still be able to study overseas?”. Such is the thinking.
This enforcement of norms of behaviour can be seen in people lining up to enter MTR trains. When I arrived in Hong Kong in the 1980s this didn’t happen. It was a scramble to get on and off. Society evolved. Over time people adopted behaviours that contrast with their rustic northern cousins. Involvement in dishonesty and crime is one aspect of this.
Finally, the police deserve credit for their actions and long-term approaches. Anti-youth crime initiatives, coupled with the Superintendents Discretion scheme, are a success. At the same time, school liaison teams have kept thousands of kids out of trouble. Volunteer schemes such as ‘Operation Breakthrough’ compliment these efforts.
The fact that the Hong Kong Police provide a rapid response to all crimes is a tremendous benefit. Culprits get apprehended, the evidence preserved whilst sustained public's of safety arise. Other than that, CCTV has proved a boon. Conflicting versions of events are now soon resolved. The evidence gathered from CCTV removes doubts about what happened. With blame assigned, convictions prove easy.
In the early days of CCTV, there were many instances of police officers getting caught out. In a memorable case, a Superintendent briefed the media on a robbery. He asserted that alert officers had followed armed robbers into a gambling den. When the robbers produced firearms, the officers responded. With two robbers shot its was tea and medals. The next day footage emerged. The officers where inside the gambling den playing when the robbers entered. O dear.
DNA and fingerprint evidence continue to bring many to justice. This is important because the Hong Kong Police is thorough in gathering such evidence. Even if the immediate case does not produce an arrest, the bad guys will get caught for something. Trawling through old cases and DNA evidence can clear up a load of crime. It’s an expensive, time-consuming process, that works.
Policing in Hong Kong underwent an upgrade in professionalism from the 1980s onwards. This allowed produced good headway against crime. Alas, distractions did occur. The Vietnamese boat people influx stretched resources, drawing officers away. Likewise, protests and the Occupy movement had a similar impact. It remains remarkable that the Hong Kong Police was able to shake off these events. With the demise of Occupy in late 2014, officers are again focused on interdicting crime.
Yet, despite these successes, the picture remains fluid. The challenge of the future will be cybercrime. Today's police recruits will face a different world. In 10 years time they will be investigating crimes that don’t currently exist.
The accepted narrative is that China is an unstoppable juggernaut. It will continue to surge ahead … China's rise will change the world is the mantra. Yet there are underlying issues that China must overcome if it's to realise its potential. It is possible that China may stagnate with progress derailed. That would be a terrible outcome after the record-breaking progress of 68 years. One issue that needs addressing, and soon, is the plight of the rural poor.
The images of China display vast cities, linked by high-speed trains. Modern airports, infrastructure projects and advances abound. High-tech factories spew forth gadgets, whilst its military has advanced in leaps. Since 1949 China has made great strides. These accelerated in the 1980s as the economy opened up to investment. In the process, millions rose out of poverty in a stunning achievement.
None of this changes the fact that 75% of China’s population is rural. And the majority of that rural population remains in poverty.
Whilst the urban classes benefitted the most, the rural communities lagged behind. Many factors are at play. What is certain is that this disparity needs addressing. Otherwise, China faces untold challenges in advancing further.
Education and access to learning appear to be the crucial factor. Currently, only one-quarter of China's rural poor go to High School. This has a profound impact on the ability of China to advance its economy to the next level.
In the past, the uneducated rural communities could rely on mundane work. You don’t need a high IQ to follow a bull around a field or for grinding physical labour. Likewise, when the first wave of factories appeared skilled workers were not needed.
In fact, for repetitive work, many companies screened out people with higher IQs. They wanted worker drones to make those iPhones and all that other stuff. Workers with high IQs soon became bored, disruptive and unwelcome. That’s not conducive to keeping the production lines running.
Thus, your rural worker was well suited to the mass production tasks that fueled China’s growth. With minimal training, a rigid routine and dorm living these folks excelled. With this came the mass migration of young people from the countryside to industrial centres. This brought a degree of wealth that trickled back to the villages. Except, in the process, the workers did not upgrade their skill sets.
Trouble is, those jobs are drying up. Samsung has removed its entire production operation out of China. Apple is looking to do the same. As China advances it prices itself out of those rote low-paying jobs. Thus, those rural poor are no longer so employable. With no work, an uncertain future awaits.
Stanford University has intriguing findings around education and China's rural communities. These results are disturbing. Yet, within them rests the answer to avert a crisis.
First, things we need to understand. Some 90% of your IQ gets developed in the first 1000 days of life. Two factors are at play, nutrition and the level of stimulation a baby receives. Most brain development happens before the age of three. The experts assess this as the most crucial window of development. Studies have shown that poor nutrition and a lack of stimulus during this period predicts a low IQ.
Moreover, it's known that for every dollar spent on educating a three-year-old, society gets an $18 return. That’s a pretty good investment. For pre-school, the return is $8 and elementary school is $7. By the time a kid hits college the return is parity, and here’s the killer … adult education gives a negative return. Whilst adult education has other tangible benefits, in economic terms, it's a waste of time.
This is important when you consider what’s happening in China. Currently, the urban rich are spending vast amounts on taking care of their kids. Good nutrition, loads of activities and stimulation through playgroups and toys.
In the rural areas, that expenditure is not taking place. Moreover, in many instances, babies are not receiving any stimulation. Often brought up by grandma kept swaddled in dark rooms. Nobody is reading to them, playing games or music.
In a multi-region study, rural babies exhibited significant cognitive development delays. Whilst urban kids match world standards, 53% of the rural poor have developmental issues. The data is telling. In Yunnan Province, in the 6-18 months old group 73% suffered from anaemic conditions. Poor nutrition is the cause. These babies are unable to develop at the normal pace with their IQ held back at a very early age. The parents don’t know because there are no outward signs. Fat, yet lacking key nutrients, these kids are sick.
The other big factor is an absence of a stimulating environment. Researchers found only 10% talked to their child on a daily basis, whilst 3% read them a book. In rural areas, 70% of households have zero or one book. Plus, with half of rural babies raised by grandma, this has negative consequences. When grandma is the caregiver a child's IQ is a full 10% less than when raised by mum.
Moreover, training mums to talk to babies and play games creates stimulation. The result is the kids IQs jumping. When mom is the main caregiver IQs are in the normal range assuming nutrition is adequate. None of this implies parents don't love their kids. The opposite is true. Generational conditioning coupled with a fear of harm is holding parents back.
Across China, it’s estimated that between 400-500 million people suffer cognitive handicaps. The potential impact of this on social order, crime and stability are disturbing.
In recent years, structural changes have had unforeseen consequences. There is nine-years free education with good quality buildings in most rural areas. Yet, since the year 2000 over 100,000 rural secondary schools shut down to merge with facilities in town. This has resulted in kids as young as seven leaving home for boarding school.
Also, there are no high schools in rural areas. This ignores the fact that three-quarters of China’s kids are in rural communities. All this means educational outcomes have not been promising. This compounds the disadvantageous state of the rural poor in a vicious cycle.
The economists talk about improving ‘human capital’ if countries are to advance. In layman’s terms that means improving IQs, skills, creativity and those things that produce value. Education at an early age is a key driver. For that formal education to work the child must arrive at school fit and ready to learn. Unfortunately, that’s not happening in rural China.
Starting school having had little or no simulation as a baby, a poor diet and anaemia casts you to the back of the class. And there you remain. For all that, the picture is not bleak.
If any nation can address this, China can. It’s shown time and time again an ability to tackle the difficult protracted issues with resolve. As the message spreads, things are changing. Abandoned secondary schools get converted into days centres for coaching mothers. The results are almost immediate with measurable improvements in wellbeing and child IQs.
The economics of investing in the rural poor education makes sense. The returns are significant and better than interventions later. Simple things have the greatest impact. Talk to your baby, read and play. All have remarkable, positive outcomes. Even now, as China continues with white-hot growth, the countryside is the site of the next evolution. There resides the majority of its population and there resides the future.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.