"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
" Bastardis mendacem"
“I can’t remember”
“I can’t recall”
“That’s not my recollection of events”
“I’ve no idea how 5,000 WhatsApp disappeared from my phone …Factory reset quod agis?
“The problem is, actually, err, I found it hard to conceptualise …Ego eruditionis habes.”
“The scientists knew Covid was coming, the media knew Covid was coming, the public knew Covid was coming, and Socks, the Downing Street cat, knew Covid was coming. But no one told me.”
Best comment of the day “Boris Johnson is to politics what Basil Fawlty is to the hospitality industry.”
"A spectacle is worthy of being seen; "I'm a Celebrity" is a gimmick of a spectacle, generated to titillate and shock simultaneously."
Nigel Farage's bottom appeared on TV with some fanfare thanks to "I'm a Celebrity - Get me out of here". I now predict he will take over the Conservative Party or run for PM with the Reform Party. Either way, he's engaged in a rebranding exercise akin to the ancient walk of penance.
Jane Shore, a mistress of King Edward IV, did her penance in 1483. A bit of a slut by several accounts, she'd also conspired against Richard III, and he wanted her shamed. Hence, wearing only her undergarments and barefoot, she walked through the streets of London.
The laws of 14th-century France mandated public shaming for adultery - although the punishment was often for the woman alone. Of course, the most notable fictional portrayal is Cersei Lannister's naked walk in Games of Thrones.
How times have changed. These days, exposing oneself to ridicule is more redemptive entertainment than punishment. Thus, celebrities and politicians with a black mark against them or seeking to shape a more favourable image head to the 'faux jungle'. Once there, humiliation awaits by dining on animal penises and insects.
I say 'faux jungle' because if the cameras panned around, they'd soon pick up the high-rise buildings of Australia's Gold Coast. Civilisation isn't too far away as the public gets served a Disneyfication of the jungle. There is no real risk or threat.
A spectacle is worthy of being seen; "I'm a Celebrity" is a gimmick of a spectacle, generated to titillate and shock simultaneously. Of course, the whole scripted exercise comes filtered, edited and swerved up with the immediacy of a hyperreal confection.
It's no coincidence that Farage is out there with a Brexit-hating French bloke. To add further spice, he's paired up with a young black female social media influencer, Nella Rose. Surely, this diversity hire isn't there to trigger a race row with Farage. It's all so obvious.
Still, many have gone through the soul cleansing of "I'm a Celebrity". But it doesn't always work. Last year, the lamentable Matt Hancock, a politician of no fixed ability, was desperate seeking a rebrand. As if killing thousands with his Covid policies wasn't enough, he got caught groping his assistant in the office.
Forgotten now are the spurious claims that the Chinese were to blame for Hancock's demise because the CCTV that filmed him came from there. Did Beijing also coax married man Hancock into snogging and fondling his lover's buttocks? Those crafty Chinese!
The public labelled Hancock a twat before he went into the jungle and they then kept him there for the duration as punishment — the public can vote contestants out. Alas, in the end, poor Hancock emerged as a prize twat.
I'm disappointed that Farage has lowered himself to this puerile level. Whether you agree with him or not, we must recognise that he is influential. I had measured him as serious-minded individual because without being an MP, almost single-handed, he's managed to keep the Conservative Party on the defensive.
Opting to enter the jungle has destroyed any sense that Farage has a dignified standing, affirming he's another shameless publicity seeker. But with a reported £1.5 million ($15M-HK) on the table, who can blame him for accepting? That's a load of cash for showing a wrinkled bottom.
Am I getting this all wrong? Perhaps Farage recognises that what some call ‘politainment' - the merging of entertainment and politics - will give the keys to Nos 10. After all, the antics of Boris Johnson led the way. And as we know, that turned out well. Anyway, the relentless slippage of Britain into full-blown silly-country status continues as politicians now cross-dress as celebrities.
Excited speculation is that Putin may join next year's "I'm a Celebrity" with accused sex pest Russel Brand to chow down on Kangaroo penis. For Brand, this is an odd reversal of role - he usually forces others to nibble on his knob (allegedly).
"Hong Kong always had an improbable feel that defied expectations"
It happened again this week. An encounter with a Hong Kong visitor elicited the usual, "You must have seen some changes post-1997?" — in this loaded question is the implication is that things were better in the colonial era. To this frequent inquiry, I now have a weary retort: "It's been constant flux since I arrived in 1980."
If the questioner wants to listen and learn — a few are willing — I'll give them my potted recent history of this place. This short explanation involves the decline of manufacturing, an emerging China, and the transformation to a banking and finance centre. Then come the 1997 machinations, the appearance of a middle class, the Vietnamese migrant crisis, and many other issues.
If the listener looks keen — or haven’t made their excuses to escape my monologue — we can wander into robbery gangs shooting up Nathan Road, patrolling the Kowloon Walled City and the riots. They all enjoy that.
We may even touch on how the pan-democrats made the wrong decision at every turn, derailing the progress to a more representative government; with their monochromatic view, the Western media fail to grasp that point.
Of course, in any discussion on colonial Hong Kong, the lament is that the economy was then the most accessible in the world. At a casual glance, it looks accurate, yet it's worth remembering that these claims are half-truths at best. After all, a bit of honesty about that era is helpful to get a balanced perspective.
Throughout British rule, professions and businesses without British or Commonwealth roots faced exclusion or roadblocks. All our buses and MTR trains came from the UK, while the local airlines only used Rolls-Royce engines on their planes. For decades, British airlines monopolised flights for civil servants, excluding competitors.
In policy and procedures, the government favoured British interests. Thus, American-trained doctors and engineers from elsewhere struggled for recognition.
On the highest government body, the Executive Council sat six 'unofficial members': the chairman of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, the Tai-Pan of Jardine's, a solicitor, two barristers, and a physician—all Brits.
Only in 1926 was a Chinese allowed to join, and only in 1992 did they become the majority.
Members of the Executive Council had firsthand access to coming changes in policy. No doubt, this head start and their interventions could shape policy to their advantage. For most of the colonial period no such 'favours' fell to local captains of industry — hardly a fair and accessible economy.
As always, Hong Kong rises and falls with China. But that was always the case because the very existence of Hong Kong depended on China. To pretend otherwise is to fudge reality. Still, it is crucial to acknowledge the colonial era shaped latter-day Hong Kong, giving it many of the attractions it enjoys.
These days, the sense of a boundary between Hong Kong and the Mainland has shifted with greater economic, social and cultural integration. Indeed, while the fence remains in place, it is no longer called a 'border'. Furthermore, with Covid out the way, the droves who cross back and forth over the boundary have returned. In effect, we've merged with the Greater Bay conurbation, whisked to lunch in Guangzhou by High-Speed Rail, and then back to Hong Kong for cocktails.
Before 1997, Hong Kong had a 'Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time' mentality captured so eloquently in Richard Hughes's book of the colonial days published in 1968. With astute clarity, he observed this place "was founded on contraband and conquest."
Of course, the Western media coverage leading up to 1997 sought to prime a crisis. They couldn't help themselves as each commentary came infused with the 'clock running until midnight, and what lay beyond was unknown'. They portrayed us as unsettled and energised as we drove forward before the chimes struck midnight.
Supplementing the febrile atmosphere came countless books predicting the fall of Hong Kong. This genre was a lucrative trade for pundits, and yet fundamentally flawed. That most of the authors of this tosh didn't live here told you enough to ignore their analysis. Their curated version of events was a gross exaggeration because the handover ran smoothly.
Before proceeding further, it is worth reflecting on the key events that led to that date. Most of the land mass of Hong Kong was on a 99-year lease, with Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsular ceded in perpetuity to the British. One problem: Beijing didn't recognise the 'unequal treaties' imposed on China at gunpoint so that Britain could sell opium.
Further, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon wouldn't last long without the loaned area in the New Territories or, indeed, the support of our de facto hinterland in southern China.
In 1982, the Iron Lady went to Beijing, still basking in the glory of the successful Falklands campaign. Yet, Thatcher’s attempts to get Deng Xiaoping to accept continued British rule fell flat. On leaving the Great Hall of the People, she slipped and fell on the steps — she's literally 'PKed' — a Cantonese colloquial term for tripping and falling.
But Thatcher had already given away the Hong Kong people with the 1981 Immigration Act removing their UK right of abode. That timing is deeply suspicious.
Thatcher's failure was no surprise — hubris clouded her judgment. After all, on any given day, Beijing could cut off Hong Kong's water, food and a fair part of the electric supply. They held all the cards.
Hence, negotiations led to the Joint Declaration in 1984 — agreed principles for the UK's departure and the reunification with China.
For some reason, the prevailing impression of Westerners is that Hong Kong had democracy under British rule. It didn't. Richard Hughes again, "It's said that power in Hong Kong resides in the Jockey Club, Jardines and Matheson, the Hong and Shanghai Bank and the Governor — in that order."
Therefore, it's understandable that Beijing was wary of Chris Patten's late-in-the-day efforts to change the fundamentals. The first politician in the role, he got the job because the people of Bath rejected him, with Hong Kong as a consolation prize by his mate Prime Minister John Major. The people of Hong Kong had no say in the matter.
Yet regardless of whether well-meaning or not, Patten arrived late on the scene after most of the handover details were sealed. All Beijing needed to do was wait until 1997. Perhaps a wiser, less self-aggrandising politician than Patten would have played the game better.
Also, in the back of many minds was the history of British decolonisation, which often left places in turmoil. Indeed, Mr Lee Kwan Yew, of Singapore fame, cautioned the incoming Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa of traps left behind by the British.
As a politically neutral entity under the rule of law dedicated to trade, Hong Kong always had an improbable feel that defied expectations. Even so, it worked, living through crisis after crisis to flourish.
This unique place has a remarkable synergy of a common law jurisdiction allied to entrepreneurial Chinese; the hard truth is that full-blown Western-style democracy wasn't part of that successful equation. And with Western democracy in a state of permacrisis, it doesn't serve as an incentive to rush in that direction.
Anyway, Hughes, writing in 1968, was right, "There will be no ghost city of rusting skyscrapers."
"As Sun Tzu asserted centuries ago, "War is a game of deception".
The attack on Israel by the Hamas terrorists has inflamed internecine hatred worldwide. It may trigger a much broader and more disastrous conflict.
The focus now is on how Israel will respond immediately after the attacks. For sure, summoning up the ghost of Bomber Harris, Hamas will soon "reap the whirlwind".
Meanwhile, speculation about the failure of the Israelis and their U.S. patrons to see the attack coming continues; after all, the Gaza Strip is one of the most monitored areas on the planet. Doubtless, a thorough examination of this lapse will occur.
Is it possible that the Americans had taken their eye off the ball and were distracted by the war in Ukraine? Indeed, the week before the Hamas slaughter of innocents, U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan asserted, "The Middle East is the quietest today that it has been for two decades."
We've also heard that the Egyptians gave warnings. Although, as Sun Tzu asserted centuries ago, "War is a game of deception". And I take no pleasure in acknowledging that Hamas's strategy on where, when and how to attack was flawless.
So, why did the Israelis not spot the signs? Perhaps they did, only for other phenomena to compromise the intelligence process. History tells us it's happened before.
During Middle East tension between January and October 1973, the Egyptians mobilised their army 19 times without going to war. They built fortifications, then moved tank formations to the border while Israel watched. Meanwhile, informants fed Israel warnings of an impending attack.
The hard truth is that Israel couldn't afford to respond to every mobilisation of its enemy. Maintaining vast reserves of troops in the field is expensive, disruptive to the economy and alert fatigue creeps in.
Then, on 6 October 1973, the Egyptians and Syrians attacked, taking Israel by surprise and kicking off the Yom Kippur War. The assault made quick advances, threatening the very existence of Israel. Prime Minister Golda Meir feared the worst as she ordered the preparation of nuclear bombs to halt the advance of the Egyptians and Syrians.
These preparations proved unnecessary. By the end of October, the Israelis had rallied with a series of successful counterattacks that gave them a victory.
Another notable instance of intelligence failure is the 2001 9/11 attack on the U.S. Like the events in Israel two weeks ago, 9/11 cut deep into the national psyche. Later inquiries established that the FBI and CIA had identified activities and individuals preparing the attack. Yet, nobody cut through all the background noise to recognise the significance of these separate events.
One of the challenges faced by the FBI was that they had over 68,000 outstanding terrorist leads that needed investigating. Their analysis couldn't see through the clutter to discern the unfolding patterns.
Also, the fact that the FBI, CIA, and other agencies operated in silos, prevented cooperation.
For the recent atrocity, it appears Hamas understood the limitations of the Israeli intelligence system. They recognised the inability to process vast amounts of information to recognise patterns could be an advantage to them. Hence, they turned the very sophistication of the intelligence system against itself by conducting many small scale activities to distract the Israelis. It worked.
And false alarms can be as dangerous. In November 1983, the NATO Able Archer exercise almost led to a nuclear exchange between the Soviets and the NATO countries. The exercise, involving deployments on the ground and the activation of nuclear protocols, spooked the Soviets. They believed that the exercise was a cover for a pre-emptive strike. In response, they began preparations to hit NATO first.
NATO, seeing the Soviets mobilising, then worried an attack was coming. Fortunately, a decision to end the exercise de-escalated the situation. The whole story only emerged in 2021, when declassified Soviet documents appeared.
Many will be familiar with the "Did you spot the gorilla video?" This clip illustrates the difficulties of understanding events when focused on one activity in a dynamic situation. You may miss something obvious that is taking place.
Also, never underestimate the impact of political factors on intelligence assessment. The shenanigans around the 'weapons of mass destruction' and the 2003 Iraq invasion prove the point.
During the buildup, individuals within the Western intelligence community knew that the evidence for 'weapons of mass destruction' didn't exist. But the intelligence community fell in line as President Bush and PM Tony Blair pushed for an excuse to act. Then, an invasion with disastrous consequences played out.
When the history of this awful episode in Israel is written, I'm sure it will become clear that the Israelis logged some indicators an attack was coming. Unfortunately, hindsight isn't much help.
Lastly, things aren't getting any easier. Modern intelligence-gathering systems generate so much stuff that discerning the credible is getting harder and harder. Then layered atop the overload are organisational and cultural factors, and you can understand how things get missed.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.