Tuesday, 30 June 2020

'The controversy paradox'

Interesting reflections from James Bartholomew

It might seem puzzling that we have seen such a furore about racism and racial discrimination at this particular time in our history when all possible measures of racism indicate that there is less of it in Britain than at any time in the past 70 years.
A decade ago, 41 per cent of us ‘-strongly agreed’ that we would be content for our children to marry someone of a different race. That has now risen to 70 per cent. In 2006, 55 per cent ‘strongly disagreed’ that you had to be white to be ‘truly British’. That has risen to 84 per cent.

‘Cop out'

Some sobering views below from an ex-Cop. 
I was a borough commander in west London and come from a long line of officers — and I can tell you that it’s fast becoming impossible to police the streets. The police are attacked on all sides. They’re told both that they’re too aggressive and too politically correct; too understanding and too intolerant. They’re required to reduce the level of violent crime on the street and yet told they’re racist if they stop and search young black men and ‘put hands in pockets’ to check for knives.As a society we can shout and scream at the police, regulate them, scrutinise them, sack a few, bring in external bosses from industry. We can try to ‘re-educate’ them and have an independent complaints system. But unless we look clearly at the real problems street constables and junior detectives face every day, our cities will soon be lawless.

Glimpses of the obvious: disinfecting and face masks block coronavirus

Explains the excellence of results here in Hong Kong. Because of our 2002 experience with SARS, when we heard about the Novel Coronavirus, Hongkongers immediately masked and disinfected, without having to be told.  In fact, we'd never really got over the habit of mask wearing, which has been common since 2002. /Snip:
"Instant hand hygiene and mask-wearing might be particularly effective in blocking the transmission chain," they [scientists]  said.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Why mobs are tearing down the statues

In answer to the question: Is he right? It’s a battle against civilisation? A response: 

Is he right? It is a big question and let me try to break down my thoughts:

I think several things are converging at the moment. An increasing wealth and privilege gap (perceived or real)  between rich and poor including  between black and white, associated with a very liberal interpretation of the term  'wokeness'. The wokeness as a catch all term, has of course been incubated in universities for a long time, including the promotion of 'white privilege' in general and black victimhood in particular. (I remember the prevalent discussion in Denmark when I grew up, that if something bad happened to you, it was society's fault, not your own).

These developments coincide with the increasing tense political situation which is being totally driven by the November election. What was perhaps hyperbole a couple of years ago is now 'life and death' to win in November. On top of all this, the Covid 'lock up' and the  resulting economic collapse has further inflamed an already tense underlying situation. The murder of Mr. Floyd was the spark.

The eruption seems to be mostly about what 'we are against'. Statues bad, police bad, white bad, Trump bad, capitalism bad and indeed Western civilization bad. And what exacerbates the situation is the wealthy and not so wealthy, mostly liberal white folks, and increasingly corporate America having bought into the story that black folks are victims.  Facts such as you present in your blog cut no ice and if you point any of this out, you are immediately labeled a racist. As an aside, my personal experience is that the US is one of the most racially harmonious countries I have experienced. 

Is there a way back from the brink? Is this movement large enough and does it have enough momentum to create serious harm to society? I frankly doubt it. There may be some small, yet visible changes such as the removal of statues and reform around the edges of the police. Defunding may happen to an extent and we will likely see crime rates increase. This will over time be explained away and certainly not relevant for the November election.

The real issue is what Sam Harris said in his famous pod cast you pointed out to me. We need a discussion. We don't have a discussion and there is in my view little prospect of having one in the short term. The 'news media' en bloc is being decidedly unhelpful in seeking clicks and eyeballs by sensationalizing and polarizing. The free wheeling social media with invective and extreme commentary only, without checks or balances, further inflames the situation. 

Can we get back to a discussion? I doubt it, regardless of the outcome in November. What I do think is that the 'silent majority' will increasingly ignore what is happening and get on with it. 

Mitch McConnell recently said, and I paraphrase; 'during my political life, this is the first time we are discussing the essence of America'. If the US steps away from this 'essence', we are opening the door wide for Mr. Xi.

Scary. 

RELATED:

As national security law looms, here’s what is really ailing Hong Kong politics | SCMP

I knew Mike Rowse when we were in government service, he for Hong Kong and me for Australia. He's sound on the analysis. There's not much in the way of solutions here, because solutions seem out reach with a government locked in inaction. Alice Wu points out that our government can’t even pass simple laws like the waste charging fee (this has been talked about for years and is really needed), the property vacancy tax, and extension of maternity leave.
So things limp along as we live on a wing and a prayer. 
Meantime, for all you'd know, wandering around the city, everything is normal. People are back at work, pubs, clubs and restaurants are open, Central is busy, just that all are masked. And disinfecting is ubiquitous. 
Heeeeere's Mike:
/Snip
The Hong Kong body politic has a serious underlying health condition that makes our city particularly vulnerable to political viruses. Assuming we survive the national securityflu outbreak, we will still need to go back and address the underlying problem.
The simple truth is that our administration knows how to administer but not to govern. The opposition knows how to obstruct but not how to work the system to get things done. In short, we have a bad case of chronic immaturity syndrome. Read on…

“So what you’re saying is..."

I’m in discussion with an occasional reader, more like receiving a tirade. This person thinks the west is bad (and getting worse) and China is good (and getting better). All the problems we have in Hong Kong, all the international tensions, are due to the machinations of the west, mainly the US. Trump and Pompeo.
I’m basically silent in the face of this. But presently I feel something is required of me, so I ask: “Do you think China has any responsibility for the fact that pretty much the rest of the world is pissed off with it? Not just America?”
Occasional Reader: So what you’re saying is China is responsible for all the problems?
Me: No, don’t Cathy Newman me. I’m just asking the question, can these international tensions be all the fault of the US and the west?
[Reminding me of the infamous Cathy Newman interview with Jordan Peterson where she kept putting words into his mouth — “so what you’re saying is…” — which he promptly refuted].*
O.R.: Of course China has some responsibility. They have been too successful. That’s why people hate them.
[Reminding me of the non-answer answer to the job interview question “what are your weaknesses?” where you offer something like “well, I work too hard” or “I expect too much of others” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist”…]
Me: Well, I’m thinking more of things like IP theft, or forced technology transfer, or protectionism…
O.R.: (interrupting) That’s just more of that right wing stuff…
Me: (looses it)…
So you see what’s happened here. Putting words into my mouth. Straw-manning (“so what you’re saying is China is 100% responsible”), and finally, inevitably, ad hominem (“that right wing stuff“).
Oh dear …
********
*”So what you’re saying is…” is now the title of well-known video interview program hosted by Peter Whittle.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

The virus that won’t go away

When this virus first hit us here in Hong Kong, back in late January, we thought it’d be something like SARS, back in 2002. How wrong we were! Six months later and it’s stubbornly still around.
And we’ve reached two grim milestones at once: over 10 million cases and over half a million deaths.
In America worrying new records are being made. From California to Florida, record numbers of new cases. Democrat and Republican states, both being hit. And signs of resurgence in Europe. In Australia.
Even in China there have been new outbreaks.
Still, overall the average number of new deaths globally per day has remained steady in the last few months.
I’ve kept a daily spreadsheet since the beginning. It’s here.
Monthly average daily deaths for the world are:
  • February: 95
  • March: 1,124
  • April: 6,347
  • May: 4,604
  • June: 4,553
If there’s a glimmer of hope it’s that the high point was April and for the last few months daily new deaths are flat.
REMINDER: About Hong Kong’s success fighting the virus.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

The prophesies of QAnon: ‘Nothing can stop what is coming’

“QAnon is a conspiracy theory with messianic overtones…. It’s
legions of followers are growing. It’s a harbinger of a world
where facts and reality don’t matter.”
I’ve heard of QAnon, of course. First, I think, when that guy, Edgar Welsh, tried to shoot up a Comet Pizza parlour which someone called “Q” claimed was the base of a worldwide pedophile ring run by Hillary Clinton! That was “Pizzagate” and it did it for me. How could anyone possibly believe such arrant nonsense? But it turns out millions do. 
The latest print version of The Atlantic dropped on my doorstep with The Prophesies of QAnon on the cover. I believe you can access it by registering email (ie, no need to pay).
It makes fascinating and sometimes unbelievable reading. Eg: Michelle Obama is a man. Bet you didn’t know that! Or that JFK Jr faked his death in a plane crash, is actually alive, a secret Trump supporter and will return as Trump’s running mate! Nothing at all crazy there.
Compared with QAnon conspiracy theories, believing the Moon Landing didn’t happen seems pretty mainstream…. (I have an acquaintance doesn’t believe the moon landing happened. No amount of logic will shift her belief. It’s immune to logic).
We seem to be in a golden age of conspiracy theories. For which we can largely thank social media.
Thanks, Zuck. Thanks @Jack. Not…
ADDED: /Snip:
VI. REASON VERSUS FAITHin a miami coffee shop last year, I met with a man who has gotten a flurry of attention in recent years for his research on conspiracy theories—a political-science professor at the University of Miami named Joseph Uscinski. I have known Uscinski for years, and his views are nuanced, deeply informed, and far from anything you would consider knee-jerk partisanship. Many people assume, he told me, that a propensity for conspiracy thinking is predictable along ideological lines. That’s wrong, he explained. It’s better to think of conspiracy thinking as independent of party politics. It’s a particular form of mind-wiring. And it’s generally characterized by acceptance of the following propositions: Our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret places. Although we ostensibly live in a democracy, a small group of people run everything, but we don’t know who they are. When big events occur—pandemics, recessions, wars, terrorist attacks—it is because that secretive group is working against the rest of us.QAnon isn’t a far-right conspiracy, the way it’s often described, Uscinski went on, despite its obviously pro-Trump narrative. And that’s because Trump isn’t a typical far-right politician. Q appeals to people with the greatest attraction to conspiracy thinking of any kind, and that appeal crosses ideological lines.

Friday, 26 June 2020

It was a dark and stormy night ...(kind of)

Last night looking to Central from Discovery Bay

Chris Rock - How not to get your ass kicked by the police!

Isn’t that a wonderful vid! I first saw it years ago. I really wonder why it’s not more referred to. Saying “we don’t know what to tell our children” as the Reverend Warnock said the other day, is both wrong and dangerous. Almost criminal. Why this?
After all, the vid has been around since 2007!
I suspect the BLM movement doesn’t want to promote this simple advice, because they need to police to remain nasty, racist, murderous monsters. A clear and present enemy. Not trying to read their minds, or anything, but still...

Zuby: the problems with Black Lives Matter

Zuby makes some of the very same points I made in the post below. Worth a watch of someone who knows the issues, knows whereof he speaks.
You have to identify the problem before you can find solutions. And simply saying the police are out to get all young black males doesn’t do it.
And also differentiates between the concept that Black lives matter (of course!), and the organisation Black Lives Matter, which has some pretty dubious aims. See its website. Amongst other aims, they want to (1) destroy capitalism (2) destroy the nuclear family and (3) abolish the police. As Zuby notes: these are “bad policies” that will most affect minority communities. 

Fact checking the fact checkers: racial murder rates in the US


Above chart sent in by a reader together with the comment that “Reuter’s says it’s not correct”.
I would say you should first-up read the FB post by Michael Jackson-Miller, (referenced by Reuter’s) who is himself a Black man, a relevance today when everything is about race, and cis white males like me are dismissed as part of the privileged White supremacist patriarchy.
Jackson- Miller points out that there are vastly more Blacks killed by Blacks than by police or Whites. He can say that (and it’s true). I can’t say that (though I do) on pain of being told I have “White Fragility”, if not worse.
Two points:
1. Reuter’s says that comparing per million is not valid. I don’t see why. Let’s say you have two groups of 100 people, GroupA and GroupB, each one hundred people. GroupA murders 10 people in B. GroupB murders one in A. And let’s say that pattern holds true over time. Surely it’s fair to say that GroupA are more murderous than B. And you can scale that up.
2. BLM are focussed more on police killings of Black men, rather than the overall population. As I showed here, there are somewhat more Whites killed by police, than Blacks, when corrected for the number of interactions with police. We have to correct for the number of interactions, just as we don’t assume the justice system is misandrist because 93% of the prison population are men, when men are only 50% of the population. We understand that men commit more crimes.
Yet in terms of police killings the critics point only to the number of Blacks killed by police, 25% of the total, when they are only 13% of the population — “racist discrimination!”  But it’s not if you look at the interactions with police. Which are more in the Black community. There are reasons for that and they need to be (and are being) analysed and addressed, but that’s a separate social issue, not one of policing.
The point is that claiming, as BLM do, that the police are irredeemably racist who are carrying out genocide against Black youths, that it’s not safe to walk the streets if you’re Black, all this simply adds to Anger without adding to Solution.
It’s my forlorn hope that Facts Matter. And ought be the basis for reform of the police*. Not abolition of the police, which will most harm Black and minority communities.
RELATED: Black academic on the facts of police killings.

*There are plenty of proposals to improve policing. One thing is, it seems US police forces are very poorly trained prior to being out on the streets, especially compared with the training of European police forces. Another thing to note: there is really no such thing as “a police force” in America. There are some 18,000 Police Departments around the country, and presumably very different levels of training and preparedness. 

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Mask wearing reduces Covid death rates: study

To mask or not to mask? In Hong Kong we’ve been used to mask-wearing ever since the 2002 SARS epidemic which mainly affected us here.  Since then mask-wearing has been common. And when we first heard of the “novel coronavirus” we started wearing them even more. Our results are six deaths — that’s singular digit six — in a city of seven million, the lowest per million of any place in the world, save Taiwan.
A recent Japanese study supports the mask-wearing-is-good theory. /Snip:
Wearing a face mask could reduce the risk of dying from
Covid-19, according to a study by researchers in Japan.
Using data collected by British market research company YouGov, the team from Miyazawa Clinic in Hyogo and the University of Houston-Victoria created a computer model to see how various factors affected death rates from the disease in different countries.
By far the most significant was mask wearing, which had a 70 per cent impact on death rates….
 Coronavirus: face masks save lives, Japanese study says

Oz and China: mutual perceptions plunge

Two surveys, conducted separately in Australia and China, show that deteriorating bilateral ties between Beijing and Canberra are negatively impacting public sentiment towards the other.
According to the annual poll conducted by the Lowy Institute in Sydney, 94 per cent of Australians want Canberra to look for other markets to reduce its economic dependence on China, while fewer than a quarter of respondents trusted China to act responsibly in the world – down from 52 per cent in 2018
And the top comment at the site:
It's not just in Australia. Just about every other country has the same issue with China - a lack of trust.It's a missed opportunity by the Chinese. They could've provided a more reasoned approach to counter the Trump bellicosity. But they matched and sometimes surpassed him.The diplomatic approach by China is an interesting one as recounted by former Australian PM, Malcolm Turnbull, after meeting with Premier Li Keqiang. Below is a quote from the PM's book where he compares the Chinese approach to that of Athens towards Melos:"Justice is only found between equals in power, as to the rest the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must."He maintains that this aggressive diplomatic approach has proven a failure globally and more so since the pandemic. The Soviet's had a similar but slightly more nuanced approach.
ADDED: An Aussie mate has lived in China for forty years, married to a Chinese, doing business there. Tells me he’s never felt so uncomfortable. Even feeling danger. There have been some innocents from Canada and Australia banged up in Chinese prisons in retaliation for measures taken against China. Hostages. He fears that. He’s not a paranoiac. Worrying times. I put a lot of it down to Xi Jinping. He has form.
RELATED: China and US headed for divorce. NYT, Thomas Friedman

David Sedaris : Santaland and Paris

With Emma Freud in BBC Radio 4 Plus

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Making Black Lives Matter (and better): of Victimhood or Agency

Ian Rowe
That’s Ian Rowe above the author of  ‘The power of personal agency’ the other day in the Wall Street Journal. Short form: even given existing racism, it’s better for young people of colour to be told they can make it in America — as indeed they can, because they have agency — than to be told that they are forever victims of racism and cannot succeed in its face.
In case you can’t access the WSJ, there’s an excerpt at ‘The cult of victimhood disempowers’ (With their highlights): 
Herein lies the great danger of this moment: The next generation of Americans — black and white — might grow up believing that the entire destiny of one race rests in the hands of another, which must first renounce its “privilege” before any progress can be made. The potential damage is that young people are robbed of their sense of personal agency — the belief and ability they can control their own destiny. — Ian Rowe, American Enterprise Institute.
Its easy to see how such a view can be trashed, by victimhood votaries, as being Whites washing their hands of racism. But Ian Rowe is a Black man! Well, he’s exhibiting “internalised whiteness” or some such smear; Uncle Tom, race traitor…
Meantime, we white folk can either accept our deep and abiding racism and seek to atone for it, or deny it, which just proves how racist we are, by exhibiting “White fragility”.
But Ian Rowe is not the only African-American urging his people to have their own agency. There are many others: John McWhorter, Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Carol Swain, Coleman Hughes…
Whereas the BLM movement focuses entirely on white privilege which is by its nature oppressing black people.
RELATED: I’ve just heard the pastor, Rev Raphael Warnock, giving eulogy for Rayshard Brooks, the most recent black man killed by police in Atlanta. He says “we don’t know what to tell our children, to avoid being killed”.
Well, here’s one thing you could tell them, and tell the millions watching: don’t resist arrest.
In 2019, according to statistics kept by the left-of-centre Washington Post, there were nine — that’s single-digit 9 — unarmed Black men killed by police in the United States. That’s nine too many, sure, though it’s also not genocide. My main point: in each and every case, including Rayshard Brooks, these men were resisting arrest.
I’m sure not the only one making this point. It was made powerfully by comedian Chris Rock in his “public service video”: ‘How not to get your ass kicked’. This is a funny black guy talking to his black brothers with a funny, but true vid. Why on earth isn’t it more widely played?  It is quite unforgivable that the Rev Warnock tells his flock, the mourners and the watching world that “we don’t know what to tell our children” when we do know the single best thing to do if confronted by police: don’t resist arrest.
Why isn’t that a BLM mantra? Perhaps because ongoing killings suits their agenda, which is radical left, including destruction of the police, an outcome that would be disastrous for the Black community. 

Cultural Revolution photographer Li Zhensheng, 1940-2020

By Chinese photojournalist Li Zhensheng who died yesterday. More of his photos here.
People are saying things in the US are getting so out of hand they look like the Chinese Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Not quite, but trending that way…. Witness CHAZ.
And a Chinese father thinks it’s just like Mao’s China.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Still-life Sourdough with lemons

What an ear! = good oven spring
This morning’s bake from last night’s fridge proofing (= retarding the proof, for flavour and spring)

“One divides into two”. Of people, policies and ideologies

It was one of the first phrases I learnt in China, when I first went there to study, in 1976. “One divides into two”. In Chinese Yi Fen Wei Er, (一分为二).
Why that? I hear you ask. Good question. I was being shown around the Peking Languages Institute on the outskirts of Beijing, by a Ms Li, a sweet and keen young thing, whose job it was to introduce me to the campus. It was the fall of ’76. Just getting chilly.
The campus was, then, way outside the heart of the city. About an hour’s drive. I asked Ms Li: “why is the Institute so far out?”. And she said: “Because, as our dear leader, Chairman Mao said, ‘one divides into two’, and so we are here”.
None the wiser, I shrugged and moved on with Ms Li to other parts of the campus.
Later, I learned the the PLI used to be an Oil Industry Institute, but following another of Mao’s profundities, to “dig caves deep, store grain everywhere and combat hegemony”, it had moved out west, freeing up the facilities for a rather less strategic Languages Institute.
I still don’t see the connection with Yi Fen Wei Er, and don’t to this day. Mao fancied himself a bit of a philosopher and we know he studied Hegel, who was the first to light on this truth. And so he said it. And so his acolytes recited it. The point of obedience being precisely that, to mirror whatever the emperor says.
Anyway, it stuck in my mind over the decades since. It’s everywhere you look, from sexual dimorphism to the two-party system.
It even affected the way we face the coronavirus. At the beginning I naively thought that it would be something we faced as humans. But remarkably quickly Yi Fen Wei Er kicked in. People lined up into camps of Lockdown Zealots vs Lockdown Sceptics, predictably enough (mostly) along party lines.
But what I wanted to touch in was a broader case of Yi Fen Wei Er. Or perhaps it’s the opposite: a case of where something is conflated which ought be Yi Fen Wei Er.
I’m talking about the conflation of people with ideologies. Or people with policies.
Four examples:
1.  China and (Maoist) communism
2.  Russians and (Stalinist) communism
3.  Muslims and Islam
4.  Black Lives and the BLM Movement

1.  When I first arrived in China in 1976 I was a bit of a squishy leftie, like most of my cohort. We’d been anti the Vietnam war. We’d celebrated Gough Whitlam's Labour Parry triumphs in Australia. We were soft core lefties. What NSW Premier came to call “Chardonnay socialists”. Then I went to China and lived in a bona fide socialist economy.  And I saw how it worked. Or rather how it didn’t work. After thirty years of socialism, countless mass movements and a still ongoing Cultural Revolution there was little to eat and little to clothe. We had ration coupons for our rice, our cotton, our meat, our lodging, our very thoughts. The fact that this was due to socialism and not some exogenous factor is made clear in the forty years to now, after Deng Xiaoping changed things, said that “to get rich is glorious” and “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”. This unleashed capitalism (aka “socialism with Chinese characteristics”) and the great Chinese entrepreneurial spirit. The rest is history. A panoply of plenty.
And or struck me at the time, or if not forcefully at the time at least since then, that it was the Chinese people who suffered most under the yolk of socialism.
So it was easy for me to make the distinction between the Chinese as people and China as a communist system, as a Leninist dictatorship. In short:
Chinese people = fine, good. Chinese socialism = bad.
2. The same for Soviet Russia. I went there in 1989 when it was still the Soviet Union. I found the Russians warm, friendly and fun. Pretty much like people everywhere. They lived then at the fag end of Stalinist sovietism. The now famous Gum Department store in Moscow, today a Harrods of Russia, was then bare. The window displays were cans of beets. Inside, rubber plimsolls, in odd sizes. And vodka, plenty of vodka in coke sized bottles.
So, again:
Russians = fine, good. Soviet socialism = bad
3. Muslims and Islam seems to cause the most difficulty. It’s pretty much a given that any criticism of Islam will be labelled “Islamophobic”, where a it ought to be clear that Muslims are people and Islam is an ideology. And no ideology ought to be immune from criticism. Indeed just as Maoism/Leninism/Marxism most oppressed the Chinese people and Stalinism most oppressed the Russians, Islam most oppresses Muslims, and especially moderate Muslims. I’m going to take the risk here and say:
Muslims = fine, good. Islam = bad. (I feel pretty much the same about all other religions so I’m an equal opportunity hater of faiths).
Which brings me to our latest example:
4.  Black Lives and BLM: No one denies the statement: “Black Lives Matter”. Of course they do. And I’ve seen no one saying the opposite. But there’s a movement called Black Lives Matter, with a website and a platform. The main one is to “Defund the police”. They have other views, some of them outright anti-Semitic or racist. It ought to be fine to believe both that Black lives matter and that the movement “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) has some policies that are “problematic”. But they’ve done such a good job of branding that if one does challenge the policies, one is accused of not believing that Black lives matter.
So this is another case of where it outbreak to be Yi Fen Wei Er, but where People and policies and ideologies are conflated. I guess it’s a kind of cognitive dissonance.
I don’t know what we do about that. Something needs doing for the sanity of our world. But what?
The Weinstein brothers -- a couple of super brainiacs -- don’t know either:

Monday, 22 June 2020

‘Walking together’

Princes Building, Hong Kong, 1958
Photo: Chung Man-lurk
At that same time, 1958, I was in Rome. My mother would have been that lady’s age, and me the age of her young son, in a scene under the porticos that echoes Rome’s.
More black and white photos of old Hong Kong by Chung Man-lurk here.

‘Hong Kong’s success’

Finally! Someone notices what I’ve been saying for ages. That Hong Kong has handled the Covid-19 crisis the best in the world. I’ve supposed that it’s been ignored because we are China-adjacent and these days China = bad. 
Ergo: ignore Hong Kong.
Here are a couple of UK-trained emergency physicians who point out just how well Hong Kong has done. And how the rest of the world, especially the UK, should have learned from our handling of the pandemic.
Sir: Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson are right to compare the UK’s Covid-19 response with Hong Kong’s (‘Who cared?’, 6 June). We write as UK-trained emergency physicians, who have worked as specialists in both the UK and Hong Kong. In many ways, the economic and healthcare contexts are similar. The majority of care is delivered at minimal cost to the patient at the point of care; we share similar per capita GDP and human development indices. But we responded very differently to Covid.
In Hong Kong, initially all patients with possible Covid were admitted to hospital until they tested negative. No one with suspected Covid was transferred to care homes. Healthcare staff, patients and the public routinely wear surgical masks.
In the UK, suspected Covid patients were routinely discharged straight back into the community without testing. Intensive care support was only requested for those requiring high-flow oxygen, which in itself can cause Covid transmission. Provision of PPE has been patchy, even in hospitals.
These are of course not the only factors involved. But the truth is that Hong Kong faced Covid several weeks before the UK. Despite having various opportunities to apply similar measures, the UK did not.
The UK (population 68 million) has had over 40,000 deaths. Hong Kong (population 7.5 million) has had four. When the next wave comes, lessons must be learned from those who have had better outcomes.
Dr Giles N. Cattermole King’s College Hospital NHS TrustProfessor Colin A. Graham Chinese University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s success

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Watching the eclipse. Repeat

Yours truly, eclipse-kitted. Discovery Bay Plaza
21 July, 2009.
There’s going to be an annular eclipse this afternoon staring 2:37 HKT. I think I’ll go to the pool to watch. Note to self: buy some eclipse glasses.
Reminded me of the very first post in this blog, 23 July, 2009, which was me watching an annular eclipse the day before from our Plaza. Was pretty good, as I recall. Today should be ditto, as weather is fine. Hot and fine.
What I said then in ‘Watching the eclipse’ was:
Down to the Plaza yesterday to catch the eclipse over HK -- just 75% occluded, but I thought should be good, and was right -- perfect clear day and so relaxing down by Pacific Coffee, watching the moon, crisp and black, slide over the dark yellow sun.  Much longer than I thought, overall lasted from 08:15 to 10:32 (or thereabouts....)
Today’s eclipse will last from 2:37pm to 5:24pm. I nearly said “should last”,  but realised there’s no doubt it will last that exact length, because, clever clogs that we homo sapiens are, we know exactly how long it will last from the wonders of science, as shown here.
UPDATE: We went to the pool and got a good look at the eclipse. Not quite as good as last time because we didn’t have the eclipse glasses, but still saw it, amongst the crowd at the pool which is back to normal numbers, kids and mums and dads and beers and flopping and chatting in the warm water. (Too warm right now, TBF).
SCMP: Today’s front page. 22 June

Saturday, 20 June 2020

At the pool just now....

Clear skies in June.... The pool is sublime right now. And pretty much
back to normal.  Click to enlarge

Welcome the world’s 9th largest economy — the GBA

The Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau expressway, from Shenzhen.
We’ve been on the Hong Kong to Macau bit.
We sit here in Hong Kong at the heart of the Greater Bay Area (GBA), a region Beijing has designated as a high-tech and financial development area.
Over my decades in China if I’ve learned one thing it’s this: when China says it’ll do something, it usually does. I remember passing by Shenzhen in 1976, by train from Hong Kong to what was then Canton. It was quite literally paddy fields. Peasants in conical hats mud-wading behind water buffalo.
I remember being taken back there in 1983 by local officials trying to sell my clients and me on an investment. “And here”, said one, expansively waving his arms over what were still paddy fields and mud, “we are going to build a highway and a major city.”  Sure, we thought, and walked on. 
The photo above is today. The skyline looks like Hong Kong. It’s Shenzhen, city of thirty million.
This is the optimistic side of the Hong Kong story, the flip side of the scary security Law debacle and greater Beijing interventions. This is the one where Beijing wants us to be the linchpin of the GBA.
With a total population of 70 million people across 11 cities and a projected economy estimated at US$1.5 trillion, the GBA is a natural region to be targeted for economic growth.
If it were a country, the GBA would be the ninth largest in the world, larger than both Canada and my native Australia. 
This is serious business. And if I had to bet, it’d be that it will happen. Indeed it’s happening before our eyes. My suggestion to young Hongkongers today, struggling  to find work locally, is: cast your eyes north and west. Learn Mandarin and cast your eyes on the GBA.
A bit more from ‘Greater Bay Area guarantees city will continue to play key financial role’:

Friday, 19 June 2020

Xi Jinping has screwed things up


I’m the official Xi Jinping-hater in this household. Others have a rather more sanguine view of the man. There are credible scholars who say Xi is “competent” and “effective”, to which I’d say, sure — competent and effective at being a dictator and tyrant.
When one surveys the world since Xi took power in 2012, one sees a vast swathe of international meddling. From Taiwan to Africa, from America, Australia to Europe, from India to Antarctica, China’s relations are bad and getting worse. Not all is down to Winnie the Pooh. But a lot is.
Chi Wang shares my scepticism about Xi. Which I’d better set down before the proposed new Security Law for Hong Kong comes into force, as then who knows what crime I might be guilty of.
China’s failing foreign policy’, by Chi Wang.
ADDED: Meanwhile domestically they go down a dead end street. Mind, street food is fun… From Shirley Ze Yu

Listen to School's out: the true cost of classroom closures

Lucy Kelloway was a columnist for the Financial Times (left of centre) before ditching it for a new mid-life career in teaching.
Here she talks about the dire effects of the lockdown on Britain's students. Sadly, perhaps predictably, the most affected are the least advantaged. And the effects could be for decades, even for life. 
Schools here in Hong Kong are already back. The UK not being back is down to the government having scared people witless. It's down to Boris. And it's about time school was back in.
School’s out: the true cost of classroom closures
ADDED (23 June): ‘Failure of the virtual classroomWSJ
Lucy: ‘A class apart
My comment: it seems wherever you look the education lockdown has been disastrous. Only a fifth of students, whether in the US or the UK, are paying attention and doing any online work. The rest are just skiving off.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Being David Sedaris and picking up rubbish

Emma Freud and David Sedaris in her kitchen
Long time fan of David Sedaris. If I could write just one sentence like one of his….
I knew he had a thing for walking along the verges near his country cottage in England and spearing up roadside rubbish. I think he’s even won an award for his work. He says he does it both because rubbish (“trash” to David) offends him and also it’s an exercise and meditation. In this BBC Radio 4 program presented by Emma Freud, he walks along a country road with Claire Balding, in 2013.
I wondered about doing the same here in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong. Good for the body and soul, what? So I’ve just ridden around with my eye to the ground. There’s nothing to pick up here. No rubbish at all, not a spec. Sad for the Sedaris solution, but surely saying something decent about our little community.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

The Data Are In: It’s Time for Major Reopening

Four studies on the effects of Lockdowns, both in saving lives and in economic terms, suggest that the current stringent Lockdowns that many countries continue to pursue, are not effective.
The studies are by:
  • University of Chicago; 
  • University of California, Berkley; 
  • Institute of Labour Economics, Germany
  • MIT
A pretty respectable bunch, then.
In sum:
Rather than validating draconian lockdown orders, the latest economic research on Covid-19 suggests that social-distancing efforts in general, and shelter-in-place measures in particular, have done more harm than good. [Full story here]
I did my own little study a while back, concluding the same
We here in Hong Kong only ever had a “lockdown lite” as I call it. No major closures, no mandated distancing or masking: these were encouraged, but left to individual judgment. Obsessive testing and tracing. And disinfecting everywhere. And now we’re pretty much back to normal.
And how have we done? We’re the gold standard. Just 1,113 infections and a total of four deaths. Way better in deaths per million than anywhere and now we’re pretty much back to normal. Other countries ought be studying how we’ve done. But they don’t. We’re routinely ignored. I guess because we’re China adjacent, and these days China = bad. Ergo, nothing to learn here.... Pity...
Meantime, I hear to my amazement that Australia is maintaining quarantine on outside arrivals and strict lockdowns all the way to September. That's a bit crazy. 

Selective Social-Distancing Rules Are Hypocritical

I pretty much agree with all of this assessment, at the link below. In short: that (1) demanding maintenance of the coronavirus lockdown is imperative, on pain of jail, on the one hand, while... (2) encouraging mass gatherings of anti-police protesters is... (3) hypocritical at best. And likely deadly dangerous, at worst.
The likes of [many folks] have justified the different standards by arguing that fighting racism is important. Well, so is mourning your dead, keeping your business from being ground to dust, and worshiping your God. It’s a sign of a ludicrously blinkered worldview to believe that a protest march deserves more consideration than these other elemental human needs. 
I guess that makes me a troglodyte who doesn’t care about social justice.... Just as being a Lockdown Sceptic makes me one who “wants to kill grandma”.... Oh, well.

From here

Protesters at IFC Mall, Central


This is a photo taken by us yesterday at the IFC Mall in Central Hong Kong. They were there marking the first anniversary of last year’s start of our ‘Troubles’.
The circled are protesters. On the left are the media.
On cable TV it was reported as “protesters in Central”, no reference to the number….  And the newspaper notes simply that they held up their hands to signal “5.1” meaning “Five Demands, not one less”.
Note: the guy is waving a colonial-era UK flag. Great.
Related: my note on the “Five Demands

BREAKING: number of earth-like civilisations = 36

"Basically, we made the assumption that intelligent life would form on other [Earth-like] planets like it has on Earth, so within a few billion years life would automatically form as a natural part of evolution," said Conselice. 
The assumption, known as the Astrobiological Copernican Principle, is fair as everything from chemical reactions to star formation is known to occur if the conditions are right, he said. "[If intelligent life forms] in a scientific way, not just a random way or just a very unique way, then you would expect at least this many civilisations within our galaxy," he said.
He added that, while it is a speculative theory, he believes alien life would have similarities in appearance to life on Earth. "We wouldn't be super shocked by seeing them," he said.
Under the strictest set of assumptions – where, as on Earth, life forms between 4.5bn and 5.5bn years after star formation – there are likely between four and 211 civilisations in the Milky Way today capable of communicating with others, with 36 the most likely figure. But Conselice noted that this figure is conservative, not least as it is based on how long our own civilisation has been sending out signals into space – a period of just 100 years so far.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Speak up for J.K. Rowling


In conclusion:
I don't know what to say to those currently fired up into a frothing rage over an adult woman daring to speak her truth — the truth. To share both her personal and political story. I don't know how to convince those who feel justified in treating another human being in this way, no matter who they are, but particularly a human being who has gone above and beyond to be unnecessarily kind and measured in this conversation. I don't know that I can reason with people who think the bad guy in all of this is the woman who just last week was their heroine; that she must be wrenched from her throne for standing up for free speech, the truth, and womankind. So I will appeal to those not currently whipped up into a violent frenzy on social media, sharing pornographic threats; those who are not full of hate, but stay silent in the middle of it; those who allow a few women to drown, so they can keep their hair dry. At what point will integrity and the truth matter more than the comfort of your friends, employers, or Twitter followers? Stop justifying what is unequivocally wrong and do something that is actually bold: tell the truth, and stand up for women.
By Meghan Murphy a writer in Vancouver. She is the host of The Same Drugs. Her website is Feminist Current.
ADDED: “How sharper is the serpent’s tooth” on Unherd.

Monday, 15 June 2020

McWhorter on police violence. Of empathisers and synthesisers

John McWhorter’s article In Quillette, prompts many comments at the blog of Jerry Coyne, professor of evolutionary biology at Chicago University. I met Jerry a few years back when he visited Hong Kong, and got his book signed: Faith v Fact.
I’m posting this because of the long commentary thread that is educated and mostly civil. There’s much to learn about the two main sides of the big issue of the moment: police brutality, racism, protests and riots, an issue that is fraught, to say the least. Whatever one’s view of it, it’s almost certain one doesn’t have the full picture. This article and its comments helps understand the complexities. 
I summarise them into two camps:

Western leaders have been quick to denounce Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong. Too quick, actually

Henry Litton I've quoted before [eg] He's an ex senior judge in Hong Kong.
This is in the optimistic side of the ledger. And for sure business welcomes the Security Law…

Sunday, 14 June 2020

We went to Macau…

… in early January, before the pandemic panic. Son J and wife J and I took the bus over the world’s longest bridge to Macau. First time to Macao in maybe twenty years.
Apart from a break away for all of us, we thought we might look at some property to buy.
Getting here is a cinch. From our place it’s a twenty minute cab ride to the huuuge bus station cum immigration area, which has exactly, like, two other people and a dog. No, not the dog. This is before any lockdowns and before anyone was thinking about the coronavirus so this was just your average day at the bus station. “Over designed” comes to mind.
On the bus. 40 minutes later and were at Macau. Cab ride to the Marriott.
Door to door, Hong Kong to Macau, a bit over an hour.
Next day the agent takes a us around to look at the best she has to offer. One side of the city to the other is 40 minutes. We see places, the best they have, that are pretty crappy compared with HK that get me grouchy and J has to apologise for my rudeness.
We agree there’s nothing property-wise for us in Macau.
And I’m reminded how small it is. And how much it relies on gamblers, as our hotel, its casino, and all around, are Chinese higher rollers.
The food is great. Our hotel has a “Beijing Kitchen“ that serves the best Peking Duck I’ve ever had. But all-up Macau is tiny and a bit meaningless.
I’m reminded of all this because David Dodwell has an article countering the “death of Hong Kong” memes. And if I’ve been a bit gloomy about Hong Kong myself, I’d rather try to look in the positive side. I believe it’s true that Beijing does not wish to deliberately harm Hong Kong’s prosperity. I’ve always thought that if they did harm it would be by incompetence than design. So the hope is they are not incompetent.
Here’s David on Macau:
The “Macau as a financial services hub” thesis barely deserves a serious response. Its tiny economy – about one-tenth of Hong Kong’s – has a population of just 650,000, and a total workforce of barely 400,000 with half of these employed in the gambling and related sectors.
By comparison, out of Hong Kong’s 3.9 million workforce, around 850,000 are employed in finance, insurance and professional services – yes, more than twice Macau’s total workforce.…
Even more fundamentally, proponents of the “Macau as a new financial hub” thesis ignore a critical question: if Hong Kong’s massive community of financial, legal and accounting professionals underpinning what is today the world’s fourth-largest financial centre are about to take flight because of the imminent introduction of a security law, why should they move 65km (40 miles) to a city that has had a Beijing-approved security law in place since 2009?

Saturday, 13 June 2020

What kind of city do I want to live in?

Here are the cities I’ve lived in over my 70 years, chronologically, without repeats:
Tokyo (birthplace), Canberra, Rome, New York, Bonn, Sydney, Pretoria, London, Turin, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong.
I loved all of these cities when I lived in them.
And now we live in Hong Kong. Where we find ourselves in dangerous straits, buffeted by rising winds. Two superpowers are whipping up a typhoon. Should we abandon ship?
Why are we still here, when we could be comfortable anywhere else?
Thinking about what I like about a city, I come up with the following non-exhaustive list:

Friday, 12 June 2020

A thought experiment: where would you rather live?

I’d rather live right here in Hong Kong. Despite all the ongoing drama. At least as long as we still have all our freedoms. Change that and maybe I’ll change.
So, given that we’ve brought on ourselves a Beijing-drafted Security Law and more Beijing interference because of the street fighting of “democracy activists” and their pan-Dem enablers, I ask myself: compared with other places, would I rather live in that place or in China?
I take an easy one:
Would I rather live in the world’s largest democracy, India, or the world’s largest marxist dictatorship, China?
Answer: China. And it’s not even close. I know both countries pretty well. I’ve lived and worked in China for 40+ years, and travelled and worked in India.  I’d way more rather live in the vibrant, lively, working society of China, than in the chaos of India, much as I love it when I visit. But live there? No thanks.
If it’s a choice of Japan and China, I’d pick China, 
but it’s more of a toss up. It’s the rigidity of the Japanese society that would swing it for me, against the much more flexible and lively society in China.
If it’s the US or China, I’d likely pick the US, 
but I’d have to have a choice within the US. I mean, South Chicago, West Baltimore, areas of LA and even Washington, are pretty horrid (I’ve seen them all)? Or a midwest town, with one street of strip malls -- Boise Idaho, say? Then I’d then pick China, in a heartbeat. New York v Shanghai? Well, believe it or not, it’s not a slam dunk. I had a wonderful, a golden year, in Shanghai, the like of which I could never have had in New York. I lived two years in NY, as a kid, but recently things are not trending so well, while the trend in Shanghai is lively and positive and active. So.... it’s a toss up. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, then I choose it, for sure, even I haven’t been there. Aspen? There’s another winner. So, sum: choice between China and America to live, very much depends on where in the US.
And if it’s Australia v China, of course it’s Australia, but again, 
has to be somewhere I’d chose, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, North Coast, Byron Bay, maybe.  But not the dusty outback, rather dreary, for then China’s going to win again....
If it’s Hong Kong or the mainland, then it’s Hong Kong.
And remains so, as long as the marxist apparatchiks don’t stuff it up.

Does choosing China over (some) democracies make me a Marxist-tyranny lover? A “Chinazi” sympathiser? A hard leftist? An alt-rightist? Not really. After all, I’m considering only daily life in each of these places. I’d have a more fulfilling life in downtown Shanghai than central Wupwup.
For me, China works as long as I can choose where to live: Shanghai, or Xiamen, Chengdu, Chongqing, or even Qingdao or Dalian in the north, or some places in Yunnan, in the south. Any of these would be preferable to me, than Madras, Mumbai, Chennai, Srinagar, Delhi, Mahablipuram, in India, much as I love to visit them. Or Boise, Baltimore (w), Chicago (s) in the US, or Nagoya, or Wagga.
When you visit or live in China, the fact that it’s a nasty dictatorship hated by the West impacts your daily life exactly zero. I’ve lived there and visited often. People are happy and open and optimistic. I know that goes against the image many in the West have of a “police state”, brutally oppressing a tyrannised (sometimes “enslaved”) people. But it’s nothing like that. People are quite willing to discuss and mock politicians. The only time Xi Jinping apparatchiks will crack down is if you get challenge him publicly. In reality, most people just get on with life, as in China. With plenty to get on with and plenty of things to do, with plenty of things working well, plenty of life to live, plenty of opportunity,... with no chaos.

Bulbul babies born this morning. Three of....

Taken just now, 1.05 pm. There’s one
tucked in underneath the two you can see
SAD UPDATE (14 June): after a touch of typhoon last night we find the nest empty again. Not the wind. But what??
See other photos and earlier dramatic history of “our” Bulbuls by clicking either ‘Birds’, or ‘Gardens and Flowers’.
So, that’s nine days from laying to hatching.
We have to keep an eagle eye out for predators....

Hong Kong’s future

Quite.
"The best we can do for the people of Hong Kong is to make sure they remain a key part of this.”  
Meaning keeping the capitalist system, and, I add, maintaining the freedoms we currently enjoy. The rest, Trump and Pompeo, is virtue-signalling their own base, to our detriment here in Hong Kong.
Over to Lord Howell…

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Cotton pickin’ fascists

If you haven’t read the New York Times Op-Ed piece by Tom Cotton, “Send in the Troops”, that caused such a ruckus last week, it’s here and if you don’t have a sub, it’s here in Word, with thanks to the Times.
See if you think that it’s a reasonable article, or at least one with reasoning. And then see if you are one of the 58% of Americans, or up to 77% of Americans who support sending federal troops to stop looting, rioting and vandalism, if the local police are unable to do so, and seek their support.
Or if you agree with the NYT columnist Michelle Goldberg, that the Op-Ed, by simply arguing for such action -- to prevent harm to civilians, mostly in minority communities, mind --  is fascist.
If anyone is out of step here, surely it’s Goldberg and the Times owners who caved to the woke mob.
Worth noting that the Times did fact check the piece -- they always do -- and found nothing wrong factually. It’s just the ideas they don’t like. That they call “fascist”. But which a substantial majority of Americans agree with.
ADDED: Important to emphasise that Cotton does not suggest sending in the troops unilaterally. He says, twice, that it ought be an option, in support of local police:
…but it’s past time to support local law enforcement with federal authority. [para 8]
And:
According to a recent poll, 58 percent of registered voters, including nearly half of Democrats and 37 percent of African-Americans, would support cities’ calling in the military to “address protests and demonstrations” that are in “response to the death of George Floyd.” [para 12]
That’s a majority of Americans, nearly half Democrats and a plurality of Black Americans. It really does seem to me the Times had a fit of the vapours. Michelle Goldberg, for example, finds the piece “sneering”. Where?
UPDATE (18 June): NYT podcast ‘Which opinions are out of bounds?’ Which I’m listening to now, and Goldberg is again building straw men — that Cotton is calling for “occupation” of American cities to “suppress demonstrations against racism”, whereas Cotton specifically said it would not be occupation and would be aimed at the rioters, looters and arsonists, not the peaceful demonstrators. It’s almost like she didn’t read the article. 

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Soul Music - The Lark Ascending - Radio 4

“…the skylark will go up and up and up until lost from
sight, but you can still hear its song…”
Some wonderful reflections, lunar astronomy, a violinist's last performance, a daughter's illness and the Lark Ascending…