Sunday, 15 July 2018

Why China Will Never Rule The World

For a different take on China it is worth reading Troy Parfitt’s book - Why China Will Never Rule The World: Travels in the Two Chinas . This is not a book about facts and figures and neither is it a hymn to Chinese economic success. As the blurb tells us, the book is mostly travelogue told from an outsider's perspective, albeit an outsider who lived in Taiwan for ten years and who speaks Mandarin.

Three quotes may give a flavour of the writer’s standpoint. 

China is a nation of much fakery; there’s fake sushi, fake steak, fake gravy, fake music, fake goods, fake pharmaceuticals, fake news, fake weather reports, fake education, fake rights, fake laws, fake courts, fake judges, a fake congress, a fake constitution….

Unambiguous but not unconsidered. Parfitt thinks there are profound influences behind the fakery – a deep-rooted preference for appearances over reality. The second quote concerns a China Central Television (CCTV) show the writer watched from one of his hotel rooms.

That night on CCTV, a panel of Chinese scientists was explaining how the Americans had never landed on the moon. Not only were the lunar missions faked, they said, but the Apollo program itself was largely a matter of science fiction. The shadows were all wrong. Where were the craters? And just look at that ridiculous flag – not moving even with solar winds. Their tone was both mocking and disdainful, as if even having to explain why this was the biggest fraud of all time insulted their very intelligence.

CCTV is the main state broadcaster in China. The third quote is taken from a conversation with a taxi driver.

“Food in China is packed with shit – shit that will make you sick and kill you. I have a daughter, you know. I’m worried about what she eats. But what am I supposed to do? Complain? Yeah, right. The government would say, ‘Well, that’s very interesting, sir. Why don’t we take a walk and talk about it? Please, tell us whatever it is that’s on your mind.’ And then they’d shoot me in the back of the neck. Bang! And that would be the end of that.”

Obviously an entire country cannot be dismissed on the basis of a single taxi driver's complaints, however chilling they are. However there are many more examples highlighting what Parfitt sees as endemic weaknesses in Chinese culture. For example he sees Confucianism as a significant cultural problem with its emphasis on obedience and harmony.

The book is easy to read and although Parfitt can come across as someone who simply does not like China and the Chinese, he tells us quite clearly why that is. In so doing he provides an interesting and accessible cultural alternative to the usual facts, figures and technology.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Wheelchair tennis

I stumbled across a Wimbledon wheelchair tennis match on TV today. Although I played tennis in my younger days I am not interested in watching the dull routines and middle class ghastliness of Wimbledon fortnight. However this wheelchair doubles match was surprisingly watchable.

What impressed me was how good the players are. I was never more than a lowly club player and wouldn’t have stood a chance against any of those guys. Their court craft alone would have run me ragged.

To my mind it is a reminder that tennis is just like many other sports, a game to be played rather than watched. Why watch the dull mechanical grind of uninteresting tennis professionals? Why not dig out the rackets, hire a court and just play the game? It’s fun.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Five bananas and two eggs

From The Economic Times we have a story about haircuts in Venezuela.

In broke Venezuela, a haircut costs 5 bananas and 2 eggs

Imagine living in an economy where barter is the currency and where you have to pay food items such bananas or eggs for something as small as a haircut. That's exactly what is happening in Venezuela.

In the hyperinflationary South American country, where bank notes are as difficult to find as chronically scarce food and medicine, Venezuelans are increasingly relying on to barter for basic transactions.

Once the richest country of Latin America, Venezuela - a country that sits on world's largest oil reserves - today stares at a bleak future. People in this oil-rich country are scrambling for money, food and basic necessities, swapping different items and even doing chores for packages of flour, rice and cooking oil.

"There is no cash here, only barter," said Mileidy Lovera, 30, while hoping to trade a cooler of fish that her husband had caught for food to feed her four children, or medicine to treat her son's epilepsy.

Appalling of course but what did one of our most prominent political experts say about the cause of this disaster? Do we have any beguiling insights or pointers to a less disastrous future for those struggling Venezuelans such as Mrs Lovera?

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The austerities of his boyhood

A passage from Arnold Bennett’s Clayhanger Family series illustrates how radically domestic comfort changed during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.

In the middle of the night Edwin kept watch over Auntie Hamps, who was asleep. He sat in a rocking-chair, with his back to the window and the right side of his face to the glow of the fire. The fire was as effective as the size and form of the grate would allow; it burnt richly red; but its influence did not seem to extend beyond a radius of four feet outwards from its centre.

The terrible damp chill of the Five Towns winter hung in the bedroom like an invisible miasma. He could feel the cold from the window, which was nevertheless shut, through the shawl with which he had closed the interstices of the back of the chair, and, though he had another thick shawl over his knees, the whole of his left side felt the creeping attack of the insidious miasma.

A thermometer which he had found and which lay on the night-table five yards from the fire registered only fifty-two degrees. His expelled breath showed in the air. It was as if he were fighting with all resources against frigidity, and barely holding his own.

Half a century earlier such a room had represented comfort; in some details, as for instance in its bed, it represented luxury; and in half a century Auntie Hamps had learnt nothing from the material progress of civilisation but the use of the hot-water bag; her vanished and forgotten parents would have looked askance at the enervating luxuriousness of her hot-water bag — unknown even to the crude wistful boy Edwin on the mantelpiece. And Auntie Hamps herself was wont as it were to atone for it by using the still tepid water therefrom for her morning toilet instead of having truly hot water brought up from the kitchen.

Edwin thought: “Are we happier for these changes brought about by the mysterious force of evolution?” And answered very emphatically: “Yes, we are.” He would not for anything have gone back to the austerities of his boyhood.

Arnold Bennett – These Twain (1916)

Would I go back to the austerities of my own boyhood in the fifties? No central heating and ice on the inside of the bedroom windows every winter? No but as a youngster I was used to it and knew nothing else. Strange thought, but I must have been considerably more hardy than I am now. Drawing on the windows by scratching the ice off was fun.

Monday, 9 July 2018

The booze

Mrs H and I have been social drinkers since the beginning of time. Okay perhaps not quite that long but for all of our adult lives. We don’t drink alcohol excessively and never every day so we might be classed as moderate drinkers. In winter it is port or wine in front of the log burner while in summer it is a glass of wine or beer outside while the sun goes down.

However, over the past year or so we have been drinking less and less alcohol. Sometimes we don’t drink any at all for a week or two - often longer. Hardly makes us teetotal but for some reason we are losing the taste for a tipple. We don’t enjoy it as we used to and we don’t miss it.

We don’t know why either, but in part it probably has something to do with the effects of alcohol on ageing brains. Something within us is telling us that alcohol is not as harmless as drinkers tend to think. It is not worth delving into the fiendish complexities of alcohol consumption, I merely offer this as a personal experience.

We still drink alcohol every now and then but sooner or later I suspect we’ll give it up and I also suspect we’ll feel better health wise. That’s the issue but it isn’t easy to explain. It could be an illusion, a result of all that anti-alcohol propaganda which is impossible to ignore completely.

At the moment not drinking feels like a slightly enhanced but indistinct sense of mild well-being where nothing specific has happened yet some change has occurred which more regular drinking would reverse. What could it be? Here’s one idea.

We no longer watch television and television is mildly depressing. Not only is it depressing but it is also has a definite association with alcohol. Alcohol is part of life and part of numerous lives we see on television. Always has been. In which case the effect could be psychological after all. 

Sunday, 8 July 2018


Yesterday evening I sat outside reading while the sun gradually set behind the trees. As we all know, after a hot day a welcome sunset usually settles a delightful veil of peace on the world. Night comes, the air cools and the sweaty clamour of a long day is gradually forgotten.

However the England v Sweden World Cup football match seemed to add something else to the late evening atmosphere. The sound of barking dogs in the twilight, faint strains of pop music drifting across from somewhere, the shouts of a drunken lout in the next street, an occasional shriek of raucous laughter.

It added a slightly oafish tinge to a waning day, unwelcome ripples and echoes from the shallows of human life. No matter - we get used to it and maybe it has always been necessary. 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Trumpery tactic

From the Independent we have an interesting story

A gigantic balloon, branded “Trump baby”, which depicts Donald Trump as an angry Tango-coloured baby has been given the green light to fly near parliament during the US president’s controversial visit to the UK next week.

Permission has been granted for the 20ft (6m) high inflatable to rise above Parliament Square Gardens for two hours on the morning of Friday 13 July to protesters by the Greater London Authority...

London mayor Sadiq Khan and the American leader have engaged in a long-running war of words over issues like crime and terrorism...

Mr Khan has described the balloon as a symbol of “peaceful protest”.

As an anti-Trump tactic this one is so infantile that one wonders who is really behind it. If the idea goes ahead then any other anti-trump protest could be overshadowed by this single stunt. All other protests and all other protesters may be seen as infantile by association. 

As a tactic the idea is so dire that maybe we should ask if Trump supporters are really behind it – at least that would make tactical sense. If so then it certainly fooled Sadiq Khan.

On the other hand, infantile stupidity is the simpler explanation, but Khan doesn’t look good either way.