Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Dieting Fat Controller still loves a pork pie

November 8, 2014

 

 


osborne 2014 vs 2013

 

 

Britain’s Chancellor George Osborne has lost an impressive amount of weight in the past year. So much so that I was thinking I might have to stop calling him The Fat Controller.

Fat Controller in front of trains

It turns out, however, that George still loves a pork pie.

Witness the recent furore over Britain’s increased European Commission bill to reflect an upward revision to the estimated size of the British economy. The bill is linked to the size of the economy, then Britain gets a rebate (negotiated back in the 1980s) to reflect Britain’s relatively lower receipts of EU agricultural subsidies.

Anyhow, first Brave Dave Cameroon said he wasn’t going to pay the £1.7 billion extra charge. Then people slightly less dim than Cameron realised that Britain has to pay the bill, because there is nothing unusual or exceptional about it. It is just the regular bill, amended on the basis of statistical revisions that occur periodically in all statistical systems.

So now the Fat Controller is claiming in the press to have ‘halved’ the £1.7 billion bill. What he means is that because there is an automatic rebate, the bill is really only about £850 million. But George wants to pretend this represents him having ‘negotiated a deal’ with the EU on a trip to Brussels this week.

He has done no such thing. George’s trip secured some very marginal fiddling around with payment due dates, doubtless because EU officials just wanted to get him out of the building as fast as possible. But he hasn’t ‘negotiated’ anything of any substance. Whatsoever.

Instead, George is just telling bare-faced Porky Pies. Like some fantasist kid in a school playground.

And that is why I am going to continue to call him the Fat Controller. No matter how much weight he loses.

 

More:

The Guardian explains pretty clearly.

Menaced in a Cambridge pub

November 7, 2014

They say there is no crime in this town, but there could be.

I return from a drink with a Japanologist, and decide that one for my road is in order at the pub at the end of our road, the Red Bull in Newnham, Cambridge.

Inside is frequent bar-propper Rory McGrath, of television fame. I don’t know him, but various people I do do. Since he does a comedy telly programme about Three Men on a Boat (I have watched perhaps 10 mins, have no view on it), puttering around the UK on narrow barges talking about who knows what, I show him a couple of pics that I took of a narrow barge that was granted permission to come up among the colleges recently. I blogged about it.

All good so far. Then, I say: ‘Listen, I don’t know you, but I was very surprised about the idea that Griff Rhys Jones might be a closet Nazi.’ This seems to me like standard pub banter. If you haven’t followed the story, RJ gave a long interview to the Telegraph in which he said that if the next government introduces a ‘mansion tax’ he might emigrate. The point is that RJ is quite funny, and yet, confronted in middle age with a modest tax on the huge capital gain he has made on London property, he suggests he might move to somewhere where I suspect he does not even speak the language.

Well, this set Mr McGrath off on the kind of frighteningly aggressive one-on-one verbal assault that I have not seen since I complained about being short-changed, as a student, on a marijuana purchase in Ladbroke Grove in circa 1985. That earlier incident did involve a knife, but the bile from McGrath was very much the same. It made me wonder if even comedians fall into the stylised description of John Carey’s classic work in which the British intelligentsia is shown to be drearily self-interested, drunk, and small C conservative.

I walked home thinking that McGrath must have some sort of point. But I can’t see it. Even if Rhys Jones spent 100% of purchase price fixing up his principal London home, he still made 4 million quid tax free. The mansion tax would be frivolous by comparison. Indeed it would be a much less rational tax, and a much lower tax, than one linked to capital appreciation. Andy Wightman sets out the numbers clearly on his blog.

These people — RJ — used to be our heroes. So what happened? I cannot even begin to imagine. To paraphrase, perhaps we are looking at: ‘All money corrupts, and lots of money corrupts a lot.’

Meanwhile Rory McGrath, was essentially trying to pick a physical fight with words of crushing violence. It appears he has form in this area. What do I say? I say: Fat. Drunk. And this evening ignorant. Sober up, my friend. I hope we will kiss and make up.

Singaporean takeaway

October 27, 2014

I failed to write anything the week ending 18 October despite an interesting trip to participate in the 10th anniversary of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. (They invited you, you’re thinking. Yes, they did. As Saul Bellow once wrote: ‘There is nothing too rum to be true.’)

I also had a wonderful side-visit that week across the causeway to Johor Bahru, about which I will say nothing more than that if you have never read Han Suyin’s classic novel And The Rain My Drink, you should get on and do so. The book is particularly recommended for Chinese, Indians, Malays, Japanese and assorted gweilos, all of whom feature amid the chaos of the Emergency in Malaya/Singapore. What is more, there is a new edition, published by Monsoon Books that contains two, new short forewords; one is by Han’s former ‘liberal’ Special Branch husband; and one is by a well-known Malaysian human rights lawyer. The forewords unlock a few secrets about the writing of and background to the book. The copy I picked up in Singapore has the cover contained in the previous link; the copy available on Amazon has a different cover but an online review indicates it has (at least) the additional foreword by Han Suyin’s second husband. The book is not a bad gift.

Aside from the trip to JB (the treatment of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who cross the border for work each day is pretty shocking on both sides; waiting time is frequently hours), the week in Singapore gave me a chance to speak with a bunch of policy people and a couple of ministers, and so here are a few thoughts about a place I don’t often talk about:

 

Singapore menu du jour:

1. The Great Unwashed are becoming the Great Ungrateful. In the 2011 election, Harry Lee’s People’s Action Party (PAP) got, by Singapore standards, a kicking, hit by a negative vote swing of almost 7 percentage points which took it down to 60 percent of votes cast. More and more people have had enough of the PAP’s arrogance, its brutal elitism and its lack of the common touch. On top of this there is Singapore’s hideous inequality (Gini of income inequality at a record 0.54), the out-of-control immigration (including horrific numbers of dumb, fat gweilos), and the apparently congenital inability of PAP politicians to think in terms of the population’s interests as a whole. Back in the UK, the PAP makes me think of David Cameron and George Osborne on a really bad day.

2. Never underestimate Harry, or indeed Little Harry. The PAP remains a formidable machine when it comes to co-opting Singapore’s best and brightest. A reasonable example is chipper Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong, whom I had the pleasure to chat to. He is a big supporter of new PAP measures to curb real estate speculation and increase welfare transfers to the poor. It is not fundamental change, however it is change at the margin. The PAP’s logo may have been inspired by that of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, but the PAP has enjoyed considerably more success and longevity.

Oswald

Oswald

 

 

 

Harry

Harry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. So the big PAP trope just now is that the party is becoming much more touchy-feely and getting down with the labouring masses. At a public forum, many-times minister — most recently Foreign Minister — George Yeo, who became the most senior PAP figure since the 1960s to lose his seat in 2011 (‘arrogance’, said one of my taxi drivers), summed up the required shift in elegant philosophical terms. He said that Singapore must move on from ‘utilitarianism’ and seek policies that work for as many people as possible. In other words, the crude majority (assuming there even is one in the next election, in 2015) should no longer ride rough shod over the interests of minority groups, be they the very poor, Malays, whomever. He didn’t use the second philosophical designation, but what he meant is that Singapore needs to shift from utilitarianism to something more Pareto efficient, where policy gains for the majority do not come at the expense of other people.

4. Unfortunately I am a sceptic and I don’t believe the PAP will change its stripes – at least not fast enough to prevent even more trouble at the next election. At the same forum I commended George Yeo for calling for a move to a more mature, thoughtful policy framework. Then I asked him when he thinks Singapore will stop hanging people. (Singapore releases poor and patchy data, but in some years has had the highest per capita state execution rate in the world.) The response was interesting: no more new George/new PAP. He simply said that killing people has a deterrent effect and that most Singaporeans are in favour of it. This is the old PAP we know and love: not letting facts or logic get in the way of what it wants to do. First, there is no statistically robust evidence – and there are many studies – that capital punishment has a deterrent effect, so the claim to the contrary is disingenuous. Second, the logical case against capital punishment doesn’t hinge on the debate about deterrence anyway. Instead — at least for me — the sledgehammer argument against capital punishment is that you cannot guarantee in any legal system not to make mistakes; and when you do make a mistake, you cannot bring wrongly-hanged people back from the dead. I have looked in detail at miscarriage of justice cases in both the UK and the US, each of which has a better, more transparent legal system than Singapore. So when George offered the sop that he is open to looking for better ways to kill people, I wasn’t overly impressed. In reality of course, the PAP is sufficiently embarrassed at some level about its barbarism that the number of killings has fallen sharply as its political support has waned in the 2000s and 2010s; in 2012, the number of convictions subject to mandatory capital punishment was reduced.

Actually Dave, you are still rubbish

October 1, 2014

This feels cruel. But I have read Cameron’s ‘greatest ever’ speech to today’s party conference, and it is not very good.

Here is a late-night attempt to parse it and to translate it into plain English (pace Boris, who I don’t much like either).

 

Cameron puffycameron on housing estatecameron hague osborne

 

 

The full text is here.

1. ‘William Hague…greatest living Yorkshireman.’ Obviously not true. I plump lazily for David Hockney. Does he vote Tory?

2. ‘I am not a complicated man.’ This is the problem, Dave.

3. ‘I believe in some simple things.’ You mean simplistic things. File under ‘Farage’.

4. ‘It’s pretty simple really.’ No it is not. See above.

5. ‘The highest employment rate of any major economy.’ Try: the lowest productivity gains of any major economy.

6. ‘£25 billion is actually just 3% of what government spends each year.’ He is talking about proposed new welfare savings. The truth: yes, but you have already backloaded the cuts you promised in this parliament into the next parliament so you would need cut at least double what you are saying. It is undoable short of civil war.

7. We have a new new policy called ‘Starter Homes’. Dave, you are already providing this subsidy. It is growth by asset inflation. It is not sustainable in the absence of productivity gains. Ask George, at least he took a 101 economics course.

8. Some stuff about ‘My 3 young kids go to prole school, we are all in it together.’ Yes, Dave, but not for long. You will move them out of the National Education System at 13 and do your bit in undermining the Big Society you claim to represent.

9. The £41,900 tax-free plus lower-rate threshold will rise to £50,000. Already dealt with in today’s earlier blog post. As I said in the update it is somewhat devious/sloppy accounting. But the main point is that it is undeliverable in combination with a rise in the tax-free rate to £12,500 and all the other stuff that you and George have promised/are promising. George has already reneged on his deficit cutting plan so many times I cannot count and is now running the original Alastair Darling plan. It begins to seem as if all you care about is power, Dave, not honesty.

10. Ed Balls is… ‘a mistake’. This is in fact true.

11. Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, went to a private school but does not agree with the existence of private schools in an optimal education system. That makes him — here is the key term — a ‘hypocrite’. No it doesn’t, Dave. It makes you either a retard or a liar. At least George has the dignity to send his kids to private school the whole way through and publicly not give a fuck.

12. ‘I’ll tell you who we represent.’ No, I will. The ignorant, the angry, the greedy, and people who are having a nice time and don’t notice the world around them.

13. ‘From the country that unravelled DNA…’ DNA was unravelled in Cambridge, not Oxford, Dave, and nobody here votes Tory.

14. ‘It’s about getting people fit to work.’ Exercise for poor, fat cleaners, Dave. Exercise for poor, fat cleaners.

15. ‘Our crime-busting Home Secretary, Theresa May.’ Imagine any Tory Home Secretary as your next-door neighbour. I fucking dare you.

16. ‘I know you want this sorted out so I will go to Brussels.’ Why not just say it: ‘I can’t speak a foreign language — bit like Farage — and I don’t understand history. Even if I like holidays in Italy, they are still wogs.’

17. ‘Our parliament… the British parliament.’ It was created to curtail the antics of inbreds like you. Best not mentioned.

18. ‘If you want those things, vote for me.’ You are going to lose, Dave. You will then spend the next 10 years wishing you had had bigger balls, and ideally a bigger brain too. George will visit you.

19. ‘Our exports to China are doubling.’ Dave, I am losing the will to live. Look at the baseline.

20. ‘I don’t claim to be a perfect leader.’ Ok, all is forgiven. Emigrate.

 

Amazing that it should be 20 things.

I am going to bed and not reading this through, so apologies for typos.

 

Later:

A pretty funny video of Brave Dave following his speech has been posted to Youtube. Here it is. 1.2 million hits already. It contains profanity.

Brave Dave gets his mojo back

October 1, 2014

Cameron 1014

 

Dave Cameroon just gave his Tory party speech. After his imperial weights moment, he is back on form. Cometh the hour, cometh the Etonian.

* £12,500 zero income tax threshold (up from £10,000 in fiscal year 2014-15).

* £50,000 40% income tax threshold (up from £31,866 plus £10,000 tax-free in fiscal year 2014-15). [See update on this.]

Both ‘in the next parliament’.

Just one problem.

It is totally and utterly unaffordable by any rational analysis of the numbers. If you are vaguely economically literate, work your way through these slides from the Office of Budgetary Responsibility. Note that this was a personal presentation by Chairman Chote, and does not reflect any OBR ‘line’. But the numbers and the trend lines are the hardest ones we have. I guess that Brave Dave hasn’t seen them.

Off the top of my head, Brave Dave’s election-pitch cocktail would require GDP growth over 4%, no increase in the cost of borrowing, and further massive cuts to welfare in order to meet the Fat Controller’s debt load targets.

Now breathe in and savour the moment.

Pure Tory Bullshit.

You have got to love it.

But will you vote for it?

 

CHOTE SLIDES1  (pdf. Should open up)

CHOTE SLIDES2  (powerpoint. Should come to you as a download)

 

Update:

I hadn’t read Cameron’s speech directly, relying on Guardian coverage. After a couple of emails I now realise that part of Cameron’s putative higher rate threshold increase is spin. Unlike HMRC, which states tax bands separately (for good reason because there is no single tax-free band at the bottom, it varies slightly for different groups) Cameron’s promise of a £50,000 threshold for the 40% rate is actually a two-band sandwich — the main tax-free band, plus the up-to-40% band. So it has to be compared with fiscal 2014-15’s £10,000 tax free (the standard exemption) plus the current £31,866 40% threshold.

Still, I am not changing the text above. The cuts are undeliverable without completely fanciful assumptions about growth, interest rates and how much more welfare can be cut without widespread civil unrest. And, yes, that is even if Cameron were to wait until the final year of the next parliament, 2020, to deliver the cuts.

What is truly revolting about the Tories is that you could, just about, begin to get towards reasonable assumptions for these cuts — which millions of people would welcome and benefit from — if you increased the two rates of capital gains tax (currently 18% and 28%), and introduced some level of capital gains tax on sales of first homes. But this government, just like the Blair one, is committed to taxing capital less heavily than work. What kind of message does that send to society?

More:

Well I wrote this on 1 October and on 9 October the FT runs a column saying exactly the same thing, also citing OBR numbers. Here it is, but you will need a sub. Of course, the FT is more polite than me, merely accusing Cameron of ‘arrogance’, ‘deceit’, and ‘cooking the books’.

More on 10 November 2014:

The FT has now run a deeper analysis of the OBR numbers, plus latest Treasury receipts, and concludes that to meet Osborne’s austerity targets welfare cuts will have to be massively increased from 2015. This contrasts with recent comments by Brave Dave Cameron — who is either very stupid or a brazen liar — that the worst of austerity is over. In reality, only half of the cuts promised by Osborne have been made. It is all here in the FT, but you will need a subscription. Cameron and the Fat Controller were also told in July by the International Monetary Fund that the UK has no apparent choice but to raise taxes from 2015. And Cameron and the Fat Controller have more recently been severely criticised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (FT sub needed) over their constant efforts to diddle the numbers.

Hong Kong and the Emperor… and Tohti

September 25, 2014

A pleasant, somewhat lazy, couple of weeks <working> in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Sitting on a surprisingly pleasant Shenzhen beach this week I watched the Hong Kong tycoon fraternity make its school trip to Beijing. Led by Head Boy Li Ka-shing, it was a full court press. Senior prefects Lee Shau-kee and Robert Kuok kept good order, while the dim but dependable Tung Chee-hwa explained his love of games and recited a short Ode to the Celestial Throne before the assembled Chinese leadership. A tremendous time was had by all, with the boys remarking that carpet and decor quality in the Great Hall is now almost as good as at home.

On the street of course, things are not quite so happy.

While the sixth form of St. Swag’s was up in Beijing learning how all is well in Hong Kong as is, school kids in the Special Administrative Region are boycotting classes this week to protest China’s gerrymandering of the 2017 election arrangements. If you haven’t followed it, the game is that everyone in Hong Kong will get a vote (as promised in the Basic Law), but Beijing will choose the candidates (<two or three>). It is actually a step back from the current arrangements which at least allowed the election of Henry Tang to Chief Executive to be blocked, replaced instead by the ineffectual but more brain-functional CY Leung.

Hong Kong, though it is rarely stated, is now just like Taiwan. The Taiwanese call it <Three Thirds>. In Taiwan, one third is Deep Blue (older, KMT, pro mainland integration). One third is Deep Green (younger, Democratic Progressive Party, pro independence). One third is in the middle.

So too, with only modest variation, in Hong Kong. There is no explicit pro independence camp but the generational gap is just the same. Hong Kong, like Taiwan, has entered its 1960s. And in the 1960s students on campus get beaten, and even shot if you remember, in their fight for what is right.

If you care at all, it is time to do whatever you can to prevent violence from arriving. You might write to the Chinese. But if you are a gweilo, that is likely counter-productive. Better to write to the American and British consuls in Hong Kong (emails below), and to the British and American governments, urging them to stand up for the spirit as well as the letter of the Basic Law, and to be ready to grant visas to Hong Kong students who will get arrest records, even criminal convictions, for peacefully protesting Beijing’s behaviour. It does make a difference if you have a moment.

Meanwhile, the Emperor. At the same time it is gently screwing Hong Kong, the Xi Jinping government’s decision to give a life sentence to, and seize all the assets of, the leading, non-separatist voice of Uighur nationalism, Ilham Tohti, is surely the most horrible, colonial, racist act we have seen from China for a very long time. Obama may have a lot on the Middle East, but he needs to draw some lines in the sand in East Asia. There are still plenty of rational voices in China, like there were in 1920s Japan. But the longer this stuff goes on, the harder, I think, the negotiating process becomes. I do not want to read this blog entry in 10 years time and find that some very unpleasant historical analogies going through my head were justified.

Well, enough of the misery. Tomorrow I return to Hong Kong for dinner with dear Hemlock. Back when CY Leung was elected, Hemlock had a hard-on for him, said he was going to change stuff. Not so much on the democratisation front, which would have to occur through a degree of managed confrontation, but in terms of the godfather economy and all those stitch-up oligopolies in real estate and retail and the securities markets. You gotta love Hemlock, even if he’s not as funny as he used to be. It is so heartening that after all these decades, the old boy could still be an ingenue (accent missing). It is so strange that it should turn out that I am the cynical one.

tycoons in beijing 0914

Above: Can’t get a bigger photo. Running anti-clockwise from Xi Jin-ping on the right, looks to me like Tung, K.S., Lee Shau-kee, Robert Kuok, Henry Cheng (son of Cheng Yu-tung, now decrepit), Lui, possibly Michael Kadoorie, and finally David Li of Bank of East Asia.

Saint Swag’s. September 2014 School trip to Beijing. 6th Form boys attending.

(Parents please note: the wearing of non-school uniform items such flat caps is strictly against school policy, including on school trips. Lui Senior (Cuthberts), who has already been in trouble this term for playing cards in dorm, has been fined a week’s tuck and given leaf sweeping for his transgression. This sort of thing will not be tolerated at St. Swag’s.)

Cheung Kong (Holdings) chairman Li Ka-shing

Chairman of Kerry Group, Robert Kuok

Chief executive officer of Shangri-La Asia, Kuok Khoon Chen

PCCW chairman and younger son of Li Ka-shing, Richard Li Tzar-kai

K Wah Group chairman and Galaxy Entertainment Group founder Lui Che-woo

Henderson Land Development chairman Lee Shau-kee and his elder son Peter Lee Ka-kit

Sun Hung Kai Properties Alternate Director Adam Kwok Kai-fai

Bank of East Asia chairman David Li Kwok-po

New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun

CLP Holdings chairman Michael Kadoorie

Sino Land chairman Robert Ng Chee Siong

Harilela Group vice-chairman Gary Harilela

Hang Lung Properties chairman Ronnie Chan Chichung

Shui On Land chairman Vincent Lo Hong-sui

MGM China’s co-chairman and daughter of casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, Pansy Ho Chiu-king

Ian Fok Chun-wan, son of the late Henry Fok Ying-tung

Wharf (Holdings) chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching

Asia Financial Holdings chairman Robin Chan Yau-hing

Li & Fung honorary chairman Victor Fung Kwok-king

Lai Sun Development chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok,

Oriental Press Group former chairman Ma Ching-kwan

Glorious Sun Enterprises chairman Yeung Chun-kam

Phoenix Satellite Television chairman Liu Changle

Swire Pacific director Ian Shiu Sai-cheung

Shimao Property Holdings founder and chairman Hui Wing-mau

China Grand Forestry Resources Group founder Ng Leung-ho

Goldlion Holdings deputy chairman Ricky Tsang Chi-ming

Novel Enterprises vice-chairman Ronald Chao Kee-young

HKR International managing director Victor Cha Mou-zing

Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation chief executive officer Peter Wong Tung-shun

Prof Anna Pao Sohmen, daughter of late tycoon Pao Yue-kong

Far East Consortium International chairman David Chiu Tat-cheong

Shun Hing Group vice-chairman David Mong Tak-yeung

Galaxy Entertainment Group deputy chairman Francis Lui Yiu-tung

Dah Sing Life Assurance Company chairman David Wong Shou-yeh

Far East Holdings International chairman Deacon Chiu’s son, Duncan Chiu

Bank of China International Holdings deputy chief executive officer Tse Yung-hoi

Sing Tao News Corporation chairman Charles Ho Tsu-kwok

More:

UK Consul General to write to about standing up for the Basic Law, granting visas, etc is Caroline Wilson. hongkong.consular@fco.gov.uk

US Consul General to write to about standing up for the Basic Law (an agreement lodged with the United Nations), granting visas, etc is Clifford Hart. hartca@state.gov

Why foreigners do have a dog in any Hong Kong fight. Re-posted NYT oped.

Op-ed about the Hong Kong situation by former Chinese political prisoners in the Wall Street Journal.

Video stream of Hong Kong student protests this week.

On why allowing everyone to vote but restricting the candidates isn’t democracy, Georgetown professor Don Clarke offers this nicely phrased US 3rd Circuit decision in a corporate voting case from 1985. Here’s the actual law library link (Durkin v National Bank of Olyphant). Of course what the Chinese are doing is just what British colonial governments did, but let’s not go there.

<We rest our holding as well on the common sense notion that the unadorned right to cast a ballot in a contest for office, a vehicle for participatory decisionmaking and the exercise of choice, is meaningless without the right to participate in selecting the contestants. As the nominating process circumscribes the range of the choice to be made, it is a fundamental and outcome-determinative step in the election of officeholders. To allow for voting while maintaining a closed candidate selection process thus renders the former an empty exercise. This is as true in the corporate suffrage contest as it is in civic elections, where federal law recognizes that access to the candidate selection process is a component of constitutionally-mandated voting rights.>

On Tohti:

Teng Biao writes in The Guardian that the guy sent down for life actually deserves the Nobel. Here is the background.

Nicholas Bequelin writes in the NYT that the treatment of Tohti will radicalise more Uighurs. This is your key piece of analysis.

English translation of Chang Ping article trying to find logic in the treatment of Ilham Tohti. See also the translated extracts from Tohti’s statement after sentencing, below.

Ilham Tohti’s statement after sentencing in Chinese. Here are some heart-rending extracts in English:

<My outcries are for our people and, even more, for the future of China.

Before entering prison, I kept worrying I wouldn’t be able to deal with the harshness inside. I worried I would betray my conscience, career, friends and family. I made it!

The upcoming life in prison is not something I’ve experienced, but it will nonetheless become our life and my experience. I don’t know how long my life can go on. I have courage; I will not be as fragile as that. If you hear news that I mutilated or killed myself, you can be certain it is made-up.

After seeing the judgment against me, contrary to what people may think, I now think I have a more important duty to bear.

Even though I have departed, I still live in anticipation of the sun and the future. I am convinced that China will become better, and that the constitutional rights of the Uighur people will, one day, be honored.

Peace is a heavenly gift to the Uighur and Han people. Only peace and good will can create a common interest.

I wear my shackles twenty-four hours a day, and was only allowed physical exercise for three hours out of eight months. My cell mates are eight sentenced Han prisoners. These are fairly harsh conditions. However, I count myself fortunate when I look at what has happened to my students and other Uighurs accused of separatist crimes. I had my own Han lawyer whom I appointed to defend me, and my family was allowed to attend my trial. I was able to say what I wanted to say. I hope that, through my case, rule of law in Xinjiang can improve, even if it is only a baby step.

After yesterday’s sentencing, I slept better than I ever did in the eight months (of my detention.) I never realized I had this in me. The only thing is don’t tell my old mother what happened. Tell my family to tell her that it’s only a five-year sentence. Last night, in the cell next door Parhat [student of Tohti’s] slammed himself against the door and cried out loud. I heard the sound of shackles, nonstop, as they were taken to interrogations. Maybe my students have been sentenced too.

(To his wife): My love, for the sake of our children, please be strong and don’t cry! In a future not too far away, we will be in each other’s arms once more. Take care of yourself! Love, Ilham.>

Only in Chinese on Hong Kong:

Wen Wei Po, Beijing mouthpiece in Hong Kong, says that Hong Kong student organiser Joshua Wong has received training from <black hands> in the US navy. I understand there is lots of this stuff doing the rounds in the official press.

Update, 29 September:

Well, it’s game on after a weekend of student-led confrontations with the police. Parts of HK island (Admiralty, Causeway Bay) are at a standstill, but Central still functioning. Speculation that Xi Jinping is going to can CY Leung, try to buy off the student leaders with small gestures. A talk-first strategy worked well with both Tiananmen in 1989 and more recently with the Falunggong protests in Beijing. But once you have lulled protesters into a false sense of security in HK, it is not so easy to send in secret police to round up the organisers, let alone send in troops. This is a whole new ball game for the CPC…

Here are the early instructions from the Propaganda Dept to mainland media outlets about handling information on the Hong Kong protests, courtesy of China Digital Times:

<All websites must immediately clear away information about Hong Kong students violently assaulting the government and about “Occupy Central”. Promptly report any issues. Strictly manage interactive channels, and resolutely delete harmful information. This [directive] must be followed precisely. (September 28, 2014)

各网站对香港学生暴力冲击政府和“占中”相关信息一定要立即清理,有问题及时报告。严格管好互动栏目,坚决删除有害信息。要严格执行。[Original text]>

At the end of this SCMP story on the protests is a 9-minute embedded video interview with student leader Joshua Wong (you will have to do some kind of registration to access this). It is well worth watching. Not only Beijing, but the HK tycoons, have a very serious young man on their hands.

28 September 2014

28 September 2014

HK 280914b

28 September 2014

28 September 2014

Cordon created by police around Tamar/Admiralty, keeping protests out of central for now. 28 September

Cordon created by police around Tamar/Admiralty, keeping protests out of central for now. 28 September

 

Parenting-mare

September 2, 2014

So here is the last blog post of the holiday season. Turn away now if you cannot cope with the f-word. 

What follows is a verbatim rendering of a conversation that took place last week in the car, driving down to the Isle of Wight. Me driving. Wife in the front. Three kids, 11, 9, 7, in the back.

9 year-old boy: ‘What does fuck mean?’

[pause]

Wife: ‘It’s very rude and you must never say it.’

9 year-old boy: ‘I know that. But what does it mean?’

[pause]

Me: ‘You’ll find out in Year 6 sex education.’

9 year-old boy: ‘But I don’t want to wait for Year 6. Tell me what it means now.’

Wife: ‘Look, I’ll talk to you about it later. We can’t do it now — daddy is driving and I have to do the directions.’

9 year-old boy: ‘Why can’t you just tell me what it means?’

[long pause] 

Worldly-wise 11 year-old sister, feeling very pleased with herself: ‘Look, It’s like a hug.’

[pause]

9 year-old boy, turning to 11 year-old sister: ‘Can I fuck you?’

7 year-old girl, turning to 11-year old sister: ‘I want to fuck you too.’

………………………………

More:

Here is a funny video I saw this summer, on how to assess the marriageability of women. It is funnier for me because my wife is called Tiffany. It is probably funnier for anyone when you have had a couple of drinks.

Here is a funny song about learning Chinese (in Chinese, so skip it if you don’t speak any). In case you are wondering, it was done in Taipei. Can’t imagine something like this being done on the mainland.

 

Addendum:

Just now in the car…

9 year-old boy: ‘I know what fuck means.’

Me: ‘Oh yes?’

9 year-old boy: ‘It means sex.’

Wife: ‘How do you know that?’

9 year-old boy: ‘X and Y [friends at school] told me.’

[pause]

9 year-old boy: ‘But why can’t you say: “What fuck are you?”.’

 

Socialist rule of law

August 18, 2014

At one level I feel sorry for the Chinese Communist Party when people complain about its horrific record on the rule of law. The CCP has never promised what we understand by rule of law. It is only committed to ‘socialist rule of law’, which is why the Party calls it that. Socialist rule of law means that the interests of the Party — or what it thinks are its interests from day to day — come before everything else, including stuff like evidence and what the written law says.

If you followed the recent trial and conviction of private investigator Peter Humphrey in Shanghai, then Georgetown University law professor Don Clarke’s analysis of the court transcripts is well worth a read. Humphrey’s case was high-profile but essentially low level. It gives a good idea of what to expect if you are a gweilo who gets ensnared in China’s ongoing campaign to give multi-national companies (and anyone connected with them like Humphrey) a periodic kicking.

The standard features exhibited by the court proceedings are:

1. Expend most court time ‘proving’ facts that are not in dispute by either side. This makes the proceeding look like a legal case. (Even then, the case only took one day.)

2. Bend the law under which the case is being prosecuted into whatever shape you fancy. Here, Humphrey was prosecuted under a law designed to punish government and public sector workers for selling private information to which they have access. Humphrey was the recipient of such information. He has been prosecuted. The providers have not.

3. When passing sentence, don’t worry about sentencing precedents if you have a point to prove. Humphrey got 2.5 years for a relatively small number of transactions. As Clarke shows, in other recent cases in Shanghai other defendants got only suspended prison terms for massively greater infringements.

As typically happens in these cases, Humphrey made a grovelling public admission of ‘general’ guilt before the trial, almost certainly on the advice of his lawyer. The idea is that you will get leniency. I am not sure about this argument. The maximum term prescribed by law is 3 years. I would have preferred not to do the ‘confession’, stand up in court and point out the hypocrisy of the proceedings (in the politest possible terms) and take the extra 6 months.

Meanwhile, lest you feel sorry for gweilos, spare a thought for recently released human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. According to his wife, after his 3 years inside, he can’t even speak intelligibly any longer. Now that is your old-school socialist rule of law…

 

Gao Zhisheng’s wife wants him to seek treatment in US after ‘horrific torture’ in Chinese jail

Wife pleads with China to let her ‘underfed and psychologically abused’ husband travel to America to seek medical help and be with his family

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 12:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 12:40pm
Agence France-Presse in Washington

Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng suffered malnutrition and psychological abuse in prison, his wife said as she called for Beijing to let him seek treatment in the United States.

Gao, who has defended some of China’s most vulnerable people such as underground Christians, aggrieved miners and members of the banned Falungong spiritual movement, was released last week after serving a three-year prison sentence.

His wife, who fled with their two children to the US in 2009, said on Wednesday that she learned Gao had lost 22.5kg in weight after being fed only a slice of bread and cabbage each day.

Gao can no longer speak intelligibly after being deprived of any interaction with people and kept in a small cell with little light and no reading material or television, she said.

“I am completely devastated by what the Chinese government has done to my husband. The only thing I feared more than him being killed was his suffering relentless and horrific torture and being kept alive,” the wife, Geng He, said in a statement.

Gao remains under round-the-clock surveillance of Chinese authorities at his sister-in-law’s home in the western Xinjiang region, where he was imprisoned, according to Freedom Now, a rights group that is offering him free legal representation.

Saying that Gao has been prevented from seeing a doctor since his release, Geng urged the United States to press China to allow him to come to travel.

“If President Xi Jinping has any sense of decency or humanity, after crushing my husband both physically and psychologically, the least he could do is allow me as a devoted wife to care for him,” Geng said.

Despite Gao’s release, China still imprisons a number of high-profile critics including Liu Xiaobo, the writer and democracy advocate who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Public-school boy rehouses Amazon tribe on half-term break, gets Oxbridge place

August 17, 2014

Will Hutton drones on a bit sometimes, but it is hard to disagree with this analysis of Britain’s education system, published in Sunday’s Observer. Hutton recommends action against those who buy themselves out of society through private education. It is necessary not just for moral, but for economic reasons. However I reckon it will take another 20 years — if we are lucky. 

 

Hutton:

Believe the hype and Britain is on the verge of a great levelling. Of course it is good news to learn that 1,400 more students from disadvantaged homes will be going to university this year than last. But it is hardly the end of the class divide, as some reports have claimed; 1,400 represents a drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of thousands from more advantaged homes. The gulf in expectation and life chances between rich and poor remains enormous.

In fact, given the expensive and comprehensive efforts that go into promoting access, anything less than that figure would have been disappointing, even disastrous. Any university that wants to charge more than the basic fee of £6,000 for full-time study or £4,500 for part-time study (which is every one of Britain’s universities) has to sign an access agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The university sets out as a quid pro quo detailed plans about the promotion of access. There has been an avalanche of initiatives.

It could be summer schools – the Sutton Trust alone offered summer schools for 1,900 disadvantaged students this summer, joining with 10 universities as part of their access agreements. Or it could be rebates from fees. Every part of the higher education system is keenly aware that it has to do more to attract students from disadvantaged homes (and I write as principal of Hertford College, Oxford). They are aware, too, that Offa is getting increasingly tough about its access agreements. Moreover, they desperately want more disadvantaged students as a matter of principle. An open-minded visitor from Mars might ask, given all this effort over so many years, why has the return been so paltry?

The Independent Commission on Fees (which I chair) closely analysed recent data in a report published last week. From 2010 to 2013, the numbers of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds attending the 13 most selective universities increased by 9%. For the 30 most selective universities, this figure was 12%. Good news. But the numbers entering from the most advantaged backgrounds also increased over the same period – up by 5% and 14% for the top 13 and 30 universities respectively. So there has been a slight narrowing of the entry gap at the most selective universities from 2010 to 2013, but it remains extremely large.

In raw numbers, in 2013, 11,695 students from the most advantaged backgrounds entered the top 13 universities, but only 1,232 from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, an almost tenfold difference. The ratio drops to just over seven times for the 30 most selective universities. For the entire university sector, the difference in 2013 stood at 2.8. You can bet that very few of the 1,400 more students going to university from disadvantaged homes will be going to the top 13 universities.

This matters. There is growing concern that too much of Britain’s elite sport is occupied by athletes educated at private schools: for example, 41 % of the medals won at the 2012 Olympics went to the privately educated. We know that sporting talent will be randomly distributed among the 700,000 babies born every year. Yet the British system ensures that it will be those lucky enough to be born into households rich enough to educate them privately that will have the best chance to lift their natural sporting ability to Olympic standards. By any moral code, this is not fair, but beyond morality this is a huge squandering of talent.

The same is true of intellectual and academic ability. The Sutton Trust reports that four private schools and one sixth form college in Cambridge send as many students to Oxbridge as nearly 2,000 state schools. Are we to believe that native academic ability is uniquely concentrated in the children of parents rich enough to afford to pay the fees (or live in the catchment area of Hills Road sixth form college, Cambridge)? The differences even come through in personal statements accompanying university applications: 70% of students from private schools with the same grades are generally admitted to top universities compared to 50% from state schools. The key difference is personal statements, testifying to vast differences in cultural capital and experience. Manchester University’s Steven Jones, for example, observes the different impression conveyed by accounts of work experience that involve a Saturday job or a school visit to a business, on the one hand, with a personal statement that cites work with a local radio station, with a City law firm or a designer, on the other.

What is to be done? One of the worries about the £9k fee regime was that it would deter applications overall, disproportionately affecting disadvantaged students. It has certainly devastated part-time higher education – there are now, incredibly, 100,000 fewer candidates studying this way, traditionally a popular choice for those from moderate- and low-income homes. Mature student numbers are also well down. But application rates from 18-year-olds for full-time education to English, Welsh and Northern Irish universities are all up on 2010.

Part of the reason is the recognition of the value of higher education, part is the state of the jobs market for 18-year-olds with wages falling. But also in play might be some reservation about taking on so much debt. For some 18-year-olds, repayment even of tens of thousands of pounds can seem very distant – in a far-off world of adulthood after university when, in any case, your earnings have to be above £21k to start paying. But, equally, for others, the prospect of a chunk of debt might be offputting. Distant prospect or not, less debt is plainly better than more.

One obvious way of persuading more kids from poorer homes to apply would be to universalise the patchwork quilt of access agreement rebates into a standard lower fee for disadvantaged applicants. .

So a skewed fee regime would help, but the reality is that differential university applications reflect the desperately unequal society Britain has become – and also reflect the ongoing offence to any system of morality presented by such widespread private education.

We should open up private schools, invest disproportionately in state schools in weaker neighbourhoods and pay teachers as proper professionals. But above all we should be mobilising against inequality in all its manifestations – in housing, jobs, wages, access to the internet, sport and culture. There is no future for Britain other than as a smart society, and the more our people are enfranchised, the smarter we will be. Universities can, and will, play their part, but they can’t solve society-wide failures by themselves.

5,000 years…

August 10, 2014

 

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After three weeks here, I stand by the assertion that Taipei is the world’s most interesting and liveable Chinese city. However it would be wrong to suggest that Taipei’s free society, strong sense of community, respect for other people, good manners and superb food are not undergirded by the fundamental and immutable laws of a deeper Chinese culture, the one with 5,000 years of continuous history.

The quotidian evidence of this is surely the piety shown for small dogs, as demanded by the Analects of Confucius  (‘Exemplary persons would feel shame if their small dogs were not well-dressed, or their perambulators not in working order.’) The mainland has begun to rediscover its ancient respect for small pooches in recent years, but Taipei reveals how far there is still to go. Here, pooches are properly dressed in dresses, vests and nappies, and wheeled around in high-end canine perambulators purchased from designer doggy shops that can be found on almost every street.

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I have been told that the real reason why the tomb of Qinshihuangdi at Xi’an — close by the terracotta warriors — has never been opened is that this would disturb the souls of 8888 Celestial Poodles who were buried with the first emperor. All the stuff about mercury poisoning is a red herring.

 

 

 


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