It’s Severe Without Remdesivir

Earlier this week, Donald Trump committed a heinous act and bought 90% of the world’s supply of Remdesivir from the US pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences. Whilst the US hoards it for their own use, it deprives the rest of the world of this potentially life-saving drug. Apart from a handful of countries who hold some stock of this drug such as South Korea and Australia, there is nothing for the others for at least the next three months. This is what America does, to both friend and foe. Since it is under patent to Gilead, no other rich country can produce it, despite their capability to make it or the potential to save lives. Lower-income countries however can access the generic version of the drug, made under licence with India, Pakistan and Egypt. We can understand America’s immoral behaviour though – their daily infection rate has hit a new record, now over 50,000 cases. On July 1, Europe started opening their borders to many countries but the list excludes their old ally, America. The most powerful and wealthiest country in the world is ranked very lowly in terms of managing the spread of the virus. That the world’s most advanced economy is greatly out-performed by minnows such as Montenegro, Morocco, Tunisia and Rwanda is an indictment on the Trump administration. Citizens of these countries are welcomed to visit Europe but not Americans. Prior to the pandemic, the US was ranked No. 1 and the UK No. 2 in a Global Health Security Index. We now know the US ranks last in the world and the UK last in Europe, for the number of COVID-19 deaths they have reported.

Remdesivir is an anti-viral drug that has been re-positioned as a fore-runner in the treatment of COVID-19. In late April, The Lancet reported that early trials in China did not show any significant benefit on patient recovery time or on mortality rates. The trials were abruptly terminated in China due to their low cases in May but preliminary results in the US showed patients recovered some four days faster after Remdesivir treatment, although there was no significant difference in the death rate with those given a placebo. That Trump can leave all other nations without any supply of a life-saving drug by hoarding it wholly for themselves shows how evil the empire has become. It begs the question what they will do with the vaccine, should that become available to them first. It does not stretch my imagination that Trump is capable of using it to extort the world for his own personal gain.

There is much evil and treachery in the world. I was therefore pleased when a friend baked a pie and our conversation turned to nursery rhymes instead. We began with the one about a pie, of course.

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.

But, we came to the part about the maid who was hanging out the clothes in the garden. Along came a blackbird and snipped off her nose! So graphic, so violent. Was this a children’s nursery rhyme? How awful. What did the adults do to us when we were young? Soon after, I was telling my friends I was somewhat traumatised by other rhymes too, such as Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. As for Jack and Jill, they did not tell me Jack was King Louis XVI who lost his crown (he was beheaded) when he fell down, and Jill (his Queen, Marie Antoinette) came tumbling after. Another gruesome tale for a young boy.

Ring around the Rosie has a lot of relevance today. The rosie is a red rash, a symptom of the Bubonic plague. The children sneezed and soon died whilst on their feet.

Ring around the rosie
A pocketful of posies
“A-tishoo, A-tishoo”
We all fall down!

Goosey, Goosey Gander was equally ferocious to an elderly man. They simply caught his left leg and threw him down the stairs! I wondered if any kid ever did do that to their grand-father after learning these harmless rhymes.

Goosey, goosey, gander,
Where shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber.

There I met an old man
Who wouldn’t say his prayers;
I took him by the left leg,
And threw him down the stairs

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring was also about a head injury. He was careless going to bed, hit his head and died. I do not understand the preoccupation with head injuries.


It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man is snoring
He went to bed and he bumped his head
And couldn’t get up in the morning
.

London Bridge Is Falling Down. London Bridge Is Falling Down. I did not understand why there was a fair lady when the famous bridge by the Thames fell down. This nursery rhyme was actually about Anne Boleyn, the beautiful second wife of King Henry VIII. She was accused of adultery and had her head chopped off for treason. I may be mistaken for believing that Anne Boleyn is beautiful, as I often confuse her with Lady Jane Grey whose execution was also held in The Tower of London. I was captivated by Paul Delaroche’s superb “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey”.

London Bridge is falling down
Falling down, falling down
London Bridge is falling down
M-y f-a-i-r l-a-d-y

1833, oil on canvas, 246 × 297 cm (96.9 × 116.9 in), National Gallery, London, England. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Nursery rhymes are meant to encourage young children to sing and recite poetry – lyrics that rhyme with nice melodies helped us while our holidays away. But, why the horrible tales? Three bind mice with their tails cut off with a carving knife was gruesome, and in Ladybug, Ladybug Fly Away Home children burned in a house fire!

Ladybug, ladybug fly away home,
Your house is on fire,
Your children will burn.
Except for the little one whose name is Anne,
Who hid away in a frying pan

In Mother Goose, why would the adults even think it’s wise to put a baby to sleep high up on the tree top? Rock-a-bye baby on the tree top, When the wind blowsthe cradle will rock, When the bough breaks,the cradle will fall, And down will come Baby, Cradle and all.

Luckily, we Chinese kids had some reprieve from these horrible nursery rhymes from the West. One of my favourites was a Shanghainese nursery rhyme about some mice that came out to play when the cat was away. It returned and sprung a surprise at them.

Didi Lolo
Loh Tze kui koh
Huo meh leh thou
Cheche tha Cheshe tha!

Blind To Pick On A Peaky Blinder

A good friend asked me yesterday, “Hey, bro. Why do they like to pick on you in the chats? Easy target?” “All my life, I am used to it” was all I could muster, without answering the question. It’s mostly harmless, I justify to myself. They just like to drag me into any topic that’s worth a laugh. It could have been anyone’s name but it’s usually mine they choose – as if I’m their resident jester. A weak-minded person would readily cite these episodes as cyber-bullying, and spiral into another abyss of self-doubt and self-pity. Weekly visits to their favourite psychiatrist perhaps also the end result, with mind-numbing dosages of Kalma or Xanax for life a near certainty. Just as well then that my father named me “Forever Strong”. My name gives me the inner confidence and superior resoluteness to deflect these “harmless jibes and gibberish nonsense”. Repeating to myself that that is all they are keeps me sane. No. 1 Son introduced me to Peaky Blinders in Netflix. We watch one episode after dinner every time he comes home bar the odd exception – that is no more than three episodes a week. We have just finished Season 5, each season has six episodes. Let me work it out. It has taken us almost three months to follow the Birmingham gangsters transform themselves from the gloomy and dark side streets smashing skulls and slicing faces with razor-embedded caps to the rank of English aristocracy with budding political powers. Whilst waiting for No. 1 Son to start the latest episode, last night I began to watch the series again – from the beginning – but this time with the intention to figure out why their story captivates my imagination. They are gypsies. They possess a strong sense of freedom in the way they live (and die). There is no need for a spoiler alert here, I shan’t divulge who dies and who lives. Suffice to say those who pick on the Peaky Blinders were blind or blinded. As I ravenously consumed three episodes of Season 1 last night, it dawned on me that I should become a Peaky Blinder too. No one picks on a Peaky Blinder and gets to walk away, that is how I should remind myself during my interactions with people in the virtual world. The good friend who asked me why I’m often picked on suggested that maybe it is because I think too much too often and too loudly. He is telling me thinking aloud isn’t allowed. People get annoyed! Maybe I disturb their peace with my rhetorical questions and flawed philosophies about life. “You make yourself a big target. An easy target.” he told me. That is a recognition that I am a target of cyber bullying. Well, from now on I shall wear a new woollen cap, and on its edges will be stitched a few sharp Gillette razor blades. I will adopt a new gait too, that which is instantly recognisable as only the two Shelby brothers have. Thank you, Arthur Shelby and Tommy Shelby. You guys have shown me a new way to present myself. Elbows apart, arms stiff, back straight, and walk menacingly. I shan’t be picked on again. No, they aren’t to think I’m their nose anymore, just there for their picking.

Why do people pick on people? Why do friends pick on me? They have, ever since primary school days. Once, I was tripped whilst playing “chasey” or “archi-loke”. I was the chaser. The chaser has to hop one-legged to chase the target in a square no bigger than 25 foot x 25 foot. The target leaves the game if he is tapped by the chaser. Someone put his leg out and I fell heavily on the rough bitumen square. I had to leave the game – went to the w.c. alone to clean my wounds and nurse my bruised pride. None of my friends asked how I was or whether the bleeding had stopped. Maybe that was the making of a Peaky Blinder right there. A tough, solitary world with friends as well as adults too preoccupied with their own distractions or daily struggles to notice your scars, both psychological and physical ones. Growing up in a large family makes you realise that one is not special when there are many others not unlike you. Being left to fend for oneself often enough provides a magnifying glass to one’s mediocrity and offers an early lesson that life will be a teacher of hard knocks. I was no different from the other boys in school. It was the nerds that got picked on, too smart, too outstanding, too different. I was not an extrovert and did not shine let alone outshine the other boys. Form 5 was considered the final year of secondary school as only a fraction of the students progressed to Form 6 (Year 12). Yet, in Lower 6, I was still picked on, even by my closest of friends. I was the company secretary of our school Boy Scouts troop, the second-in-charge in a strictly hierarchical organisation. Ours was a boys’ school from Year 1 but for some unfathomable reason, it became a co-ed school just as our gonads turned hyper-active. The pituitary gland in the brain goes crazy and produces hormones that stimulates sperm production. How do boys behave with so much testosterone in their body? They go crazy about girls, right? What do the teachers do to us boys who were segregated from girls all though our school life? They throw pubescent girls at us just when we have a rich flow of testosterone in our bodies and our balls are getting filled with an unlimited supply of freshly produced sperm. In Lower 6, the school’s Boy Scouts organised a jamboree and invited a few contingents to participate – some came from inter-state too, it got a lot of publicity. On reflection, it was a major event that ran successfully. No hiccups, until the final night. A girl guide fell ill (I think she had her “monthly”) and was inconvenienced by a severe headache and “lower body” cramp. Growing up with a few sisters taught me that she was likely feeling the painful effects of her period. Somehow, she asked me to stay with her in the First-aid room – she did not want to be alone, I suppose. She asked to have the florescent light turned off as it was adding to her irritation. I was alert to realise that if I remained in the room, it could jeopardise the high standards of Victorian morality espoused in our school education. An attitude learned that regarded the pious and chaste behaviour as paramount in our interactions with the opposite sex. She said she was sick and needed my company. We were in the First-aid room. She was lying on the bed, wrapped in a blanket, inexplicably feeling the chills on a hot tropical night. I made sure I sat away from her so that there could be no accusations of any “hanky-panky” going on. I made sure the door of the room was fully ajar. There was some faint light that filtered in from the corridor. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t do anything. Just the occasional exchange of words. Someone walked into the room and noticed there was a boy and a girl inside the dark room. That someone was sent to look for me because I had forgotten to attend a Leaders’ meeting. Within minutes of being discovered in the room, I was summonsed to a hurriedly-arranged Pow Wow. Wow. Kapow. There, I felt I was publicly lynched by my closest friends, some of whom were fellow committee members. No one held back at admonishing me. No one came to my defence. No one. None of them saw that the act of looking after the sick was not the same as an act to get physically close to someone of the opposite sex. They trusted their raging testosterones would cause them to misbehave. They deemed mine would have done the same to me. They dismissed my protestations that a scout’s motto is Be Prepared, to be useful and to help others. She was a damsel in distress, and she asked me to help her, and keep her company. My friends disagreed. They said I disappointed them. They said I lacked self control. They accused me of bringing the national event into disrepute. They censured me for causing a national embarrassment to our school. They denigrated my character. They claimed I showed poor judgement and failed to set a good example for the younger attendees. But, I remembered the name my Pa gave me. Forever Strong. They can all pick on me, but they will not make me feel like a pariah. I did nothing wrong.

So, why do people pick on their friends? What is in it for them to want to make someone miserable? Do they derive any pleasure from wanting to hurt another person? Tarnish their reputation to serve what purpose? These questions are for them to answer. I can only answer for myself. Why am I a frequent target? Maybe it is my preparedness to admit that I am anointed the annoying one. Is it my searing honesty that they dislike? Or the photos of my garden and koi that irritate them? Or the way I vocalise my thoughts? Could it be they dislike the self-deprecating remarks I willingly throw at their direction as I search for ways to placate their antagonism towards me? Is it the pack mentality that a peer group possesses? The need to belong, so as one person says something negative about me, the others have that inclination to join in? Or is it simply me – that part of my personality they detest? I was never the teacher’s pet – there wasn’t a reason to pick on me. But, maybe they see I am different from them. And they don’t like it. Admittedly, too many of my friends say I “over-think”. Although I personally hold the view I am good at simplifying problems, they think my deliberations are unnecessary and are plain “noisy”. Maybe they enjoy the “reactions” they get from me. It is similar to the chap who likes to stir the hornets’ nest – they derive pleasure from the buzz they create. I can be quiet all day and suddenly someone will initiate a controversy that requires my response. They won’t allow me to hibernate in my corner, it seems. Just yesterday, I was in the front yard looking at the improvements The Mrs has made as she creates a cottage garden to replace the patch of lawn that simply will not thrive in any of the four seasons. Suddenly, she was startled by my presence even though I had been praising her work as I stood behind her. She turned to me and said I looked eerie in my black thick sports jacket. Eerie? Scary? Isn’t that another attempt to pick on me when all I did was stand on my front yard studying the garden’s new shape and design? Where is that Peaky Blinders cap of mine?

She Is A Xu

Xu is pronounced as she. Although my Ma’s anglicised surname is Chee, she’s actually a Xu. Xu means slowly and gently, like the flow of a stream. Last Sunday, my Ma gave me two old paintings she bought in the early 80’s. I love them! They are works that exude a strong sense of distinguished provenance. Unforgivably, I asked myself if they were replicas, so fine these paintings are. Big Sis suggested they may be – after all, aren’t all our parents’ collections replicas? It would not surprise us if they were copied by wannabe artists. That’s not fair – I should not call them wannabes. Many of them are fantastic artists in their own right. They just did not or have not found fame. Being an illiterate in the Chinese language, I asked Big Sis to google the names of the two artists in Chinese characters. She came up with nothing on both of them. Yes, I quickly concluded that if Google cannot find them, then they must be unknown. Days later, I would correct myself to conclude that if Google cannot find them, then they must be unknown to Google. When I got home, I excitedly told The Mrs about the two paintings that have now come into my possession. Strangely, though a lover of art herself, and an aspiring professional artist for her next life, she casually dismissed them as replicas or at best, genuine uninteresting paintings by distant relatives in China. The walls of our house are occupied mostly by my parents’ proud collections of such artefacts – replicas and “good” creations by unknown artists. The Mrs, after decades as a joint custodian of these items, has begun to feel disdain for them. To pacify her, earlier this year I removed three pieces of paintings that Ma loves, from their prime location in the family room. That expanse of wall space is entirely for The Mrs to display her own creative works. It is still a bare wall – I guess she cannot decide which paintings of hers to hang up. Being fully aware that as collectors of antiquities and art, we are merely expected to act as temporary keepers of such items and will never really own them; yet there is the side of me that wishes my parents’ collections hopefully will pass down the generations for posterity. It isn’t about how much or how little they are worth, but it’s the evidence of their support for culture despite the lack of opportunities during their childhood. That is the greatness about music and art. They give a sense of history and reveal a journey through time and space. Those really great ones will outlast all of us – we would be mere specks of dust if placed next to them in the next millennium. And how do we treat dust? With scorn! It is my usual weekend task to wipe them off my dust collectors aka collectibles or fake antiques. Whilst in the history of art many paintings have been prized as great works, there will be a great many more that will be consigned to junk status suitable for garage sales or curious items in flea markets. There will be no story like that of a Faberge egg in my garage sale. In my life-time, I have a personal collection of eight artworks – the most recent one is by the renowned South Australian painter, John McCartin, whose depiction of gum trees and the Aussie outback is a fine example of what realism or naturalism is in the art world. Prior to that, I acquired one piece by an unknown Chinese painter whose work I simply voted with my wallet and brought it home from a Ningbo gallery. It is mostly dabs of black paint depicting humble cottages with some tiny splashes of colour. It is the two distant small fishing boats that tell me their story. Prior to that, during my first visit to China to find my roots after Pa passed away in 2007, I collected a four-piece work depicting the four seasons in Pa’s hometown, Shaoxing. Aside from their emotional value to me, they would be worthwhile items of curiosity in any garage sale but with little intrinsic value. My first two acquisitions are items of controversy. I channeled some money from my self-managed superannuation fund to invest in Aboriginal paintings. My tax accountant advised me to reverse the transactions citing Tax Office rulings about the fiscal irresponsibility of investments in the controversy-riddled Aboriginal art world. In other words, the Tax Office would frown on a novice’s foolishness to invest in the serious business of art. The other more pressing controversy at the time was the doubt about their authenticity. I filed the certificates of authenticity so carefully that I can no longer find them today. The painting of a Barramundi bone still attracts me – a fine work by Margaret Chatfield Henry. I hope she is a real Aboriginal artist and not a made up name given by the gallery in Cairns. The most prized piece I acquired is the one attributed to Michael Nelson Jagamara . It is now in No. 2 Son’s home in London. I hope it was not mistakenly or negligently attributed to the late Mr MN Jagamara. His famous mosaic of an ancient Western Desert Dreaming is the first artwork you will encounter on your visit to Australia’s Parliament.

Supposedly by Michael Nelson Jagamara
John McCartin’s Gumtree

Once upon a time, I collected three pieces of paintings by a Malaysian artist. She’s a sister of The Mrs’, and so I wrongly assumed I could purchase them on a trial basis for a period of maybe a few months without actually parting with my money. The few months became a few years, that is so typical of how events happen in our busy lives! One day I returned home to a bare wall. She had retrieved her paintings without my permission. Those paintings had names given by me. I wonder if they have assumed different names today. I can understand why she “confiscated” them. The artist would also “feel” the painting is forever hers. Her creations, after all. When a painting is sold, undoubtedly the artist will feel a strong sense of satisfaction. When one’s work is endorsed by a substantial payment, especially. But, it is equally true that the artist need not have another person’s nod to feel a sense of accomplishment. I wonder if an artist feels any trepidation that their crowning achievement will not pass the test of time. Will the painting, although sold to one collector, be resold or gifted to the next collector? Will the chain of collectors be broken, and if so, how soon? Would they wonder about the ultimate fate of their work? The Mrs also paints, albeit without the harsh discipline of daily toil. The Mrs likes to paint every single detail of the subject matter whereas her sister’s style dwells in Impressionism.

Madam Xu with a painting of her and her husband by The Mrs. Below is a painting that used to belong to me, titled Michael Perry Reserve In Autumn

My parents amaze me. They had very limited school education due to abject childhood poverty yet from those humble and deprived beginnings, they developed into two people with an appreciation for the arts. It is one thing to appreciate art but to take the next step and part with one’s hard earned money to collect them? Why? How did they embark on such a wonderful journey? Very very few of their peers collected art, especially in Malaysia. They had a big collection, mostly stored in a big luggage bag. I grew up admiring one particular painting of a group of children pushing a monk in a cloth bag that looked like a cloud. In my mind, it depicted a laughing buddha with whom the children had a close affinity. The monk sits on a cloth bag, happy and contented. He’s able to deflect criticism and doesn’t need to even forgive since he is not injured in the first place. It taught me about contentment and peace as the way to happiness. Pa received the “Budai Monk” (budai or cloth bag) painting as a gift following a donation to the school building fund after my brother graduated from Phor Tay Primary School as one of the top students. I suppose that is what art does. It communicates with us. It tells us a story and it does not matter if the story is totally off tangent from the artist’s intentions. I think good art reaches our soul. The act of buying a piece of art perhaps is the act of supporting and encouraging the artist to continue his journey of story-telling. For sure, the idea that it may be a worthwhile investment may have also featured in my parents’ minds. Who would not scream if they had collected Edvard Munch’s The Scream? It must be valued at over $120 million today? Feel like owning da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi? You’d need a spare $500 million. And then there are those that are priceless, such as Mona Lisa by the same artist. I was surprised to see how small the painting was, hanging in the Louvre. I stood there for what felt like an eternity, luxuriating in her smile. Imagine that, Mona Lisa smiling at me. The usual throng of people was not there that morning – they allowed me the privilege of admiring the lady at close proximity for a good ten minutes. I was sure I left the building with that same smile of hers. I remember leaving the Metropolitan Art Museum on my second visit there wondering when Chinese paintings will reach such dizzying heights in auction prices. Even now the most expensive Chinese painting is a fraction of the value of western art. Perhaps it will take the next wave of Chinese billionaires to restore Chinese art to its zenith. But I digress. Art should be appreciated more for the story telling than for the story about art being a store of value. My walls are covered with paintings and why not? Although it is not wise to expose them to UV light, that is the price we pay to enjoy them in full view. The two paintings my Ma gave me last Sunday never saw the light of day, secretly locked away in a luggage bag, never appreciated by any of us until now. Undoubtedly they were appreciated by her in her heart. Fair enough. A personal collection means precisely that, I suppose.

Xu Beihong 徐悲鴻, a revered artist of the early 20th century whose Chinese ink paintings or shui mu hua of horses made him famous. Bei means sad, and Hong is a species of wild swan. A sad wild swan, an unusual name but a remarkable talent. When I was a child, I followed Pa to his twice weekly mahjong sessions with his mates in San Kiang Association on McAlister Lane in Penang. So, I grew up with Xu Beihong’s horse paintings. There were at least two. One was a massive painting of a most majestic horse and the other was an even bigger painting of a group of four or five horses. I did not exaggerate if I told anyone I could hear those horses galloped and snorted. They were proud and strong horses. “He created his horses mainly during the War of Resistance against Japan and put all of his emotions into his paintings,” his son Xu Qingping said. Xu Beihong held solo exhibitions in Singapore and Penang to raise funds for the war effort. He stayed in one of the rooms in the San Kiang building during his time in Penang. San Kiang is a club formed in 1897 for the expatriates from the three provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Jiangxi. Pa was their secretary for a number of years in the 60’s and 70’s. Decades later, I was traumatised to learn that the paintings of the horses were water damaged and destroyed, sold for pittance to one very astute buyer.

Xu Feng 徐风 (1900-1988) was a favourite student of Xu Beihong. The Wuxi Museum is currently celebrating the 120th anniversary of their hometown celebrity. 徐风 means a gentle breeze. http://www.wxmuseum.com/Exhibition/BasicDetails/84296c93-9e87-4b9c-9ec6-f347efd02bf2 One of the two paintings gifted from my Ma is by Xu Feng. It is an incredibly fine piece of artwork about the story Hongloumeng or Dream of the Red Chamber. The novel is long considered one of China’s four great literary works – it is no wonder my Ma has a strong affinity to this painting. “This painting is about Hongloumeng!” was how she introduced me to her collection.

Xu Feng’s Hongluomeng, a gift from Ma.
A 1985 Thankyou letter to Pa from Ren YuNong, a recognised calligrapher

Men And Their Cyclamen

A sister-in-law posted a self-portrait yesterday. I have not seen her since last Christmas. The watercolour version of her is undoubtedly her, yet I was taken aback at how quickly she has aged. No. 2 Son correctly reminded me it is really about how an artist sees themselves and how they interpret what they see in themselves. Did she exaggerate all the features she did not like about her face? Did she try and please herself by painting a wishful version of herself? Or was she severe on her own truth and the end result a much haggard depiction of a sophisticated and elegant woman in the mirror? In any case, whether unknowingly or not, she managed to capture the integrity of her inner self, that which is kind and caring. Her empathy and positivity a beacon for all of us. I confessed to No. 2 Son that if I were to paint a self-portrait – not that I can – my painting would reflect an image of a rugged steely-eyed swordsman with Ming dynasty hair-do and a sculpted physique not unlike Clint Eastwood’s. When I was a teenager, I transgressed from the socially accepted norm and painted my hair long with a black texta on my class photo. I never had long hair and I wanted to see myself differently. I knew then that I would be one whose unrealistic impression of himself would be his downfall one day. The inclination to see a version of oneself that is far from the truth could be the reason for the frequent run-ins with The Mrs. It suddenly dawned on me that perhaps she is the best person to know the true me. I have for the past 39 years argued that she does not know me at all and cannot appreciate the goodness that envelopes my heart. But, have I actually betrayed myself? Has the self-portrait that I portray myself been a fraud that The Mrs has seen through all those years ago? After all, for someone who could lengthen his hair with texta in his own photo, how unlikely is it that such a person would project a false image to himself and everyone else? It is no wonder that for decades, I seldom looked at my own reflection in the mirror. Maybe I never liked what I saw. Maybe I did not trust my own eyes. The perception of myself in my own mind was a better reality. There was no need to look at the mirror. Why tarnish the image we already have in our mind?

When a baby is born, we announce very quickly – “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” The child’s sex is determined by which visible sex organs we see. But today, a person’s gender confuses me. Transgenders say their sex are wrongly assigned – some feel they are the opposite sex of what they were at birth. Some feel they are both male and female. Still others feel they are neither. JK Rowling got into a huge controversy this week when she responded to a headline discussing “people who menstruate”. I cannot agree with her more. How is it we are to lose the word “woman” or its plural form? The trans world is so loud and severe that they will come down hard on anyone who they “think” is anti-trans. Asking why we cannot simply use the word “woman” instead of “people who menstruate” earned their wrath this week. They have labelled JK Rowling “transphobic”. I echo her question. Surely it cannot be hate to speak the truth? The trans world found her views “hurtful”. I can only surmise that people can be easily hurt when they are emotional about certain issues in their lives. It is clear that COVID-19 has not made us nicer to one another. We are still the urghhlings of old. The virus may have the power to cost the world $9 trillion in stimulus money to prop the global economy. It may have the power to send 41 million Americans to join the job queues or sink the UK’s economy by 21% or infect over 7.27 million and kill over 413,000 but it does not have the ability to make us nicer to one another. The fact that a woman can get into trouble for asking why we cannot use the word woman sends the shivers up my spine. What an ugly world we live in. What do trans really feel before they are sure about their gender? Do they need to feel “feminine” or “masculine” before they are happy to label themselves? What is a feminine feeling to them anyway? How do they know that is being feminine if they cannot acknowledge what a woman is? If their sex is not important, why do they even want to transition to the opposite gender through hormones and surgery? So, their sex must be important to them. They just want the right to assign it be transferred from the doctors to themselves. Who doesn’t want to be true to themselves, right? Black texta simply won’t do.

Ken who lives in Toronto posted a photo of his beautiful garden. “I love your Acer, Sir!” I exclaimed. I have always loved the acer palmatum aka Japanese maple. I had two beautiful ones , both over six-foot tall. The shoots in early Spring were a magical green and in late Autumn, they produced the most stunning reddish hues. I loved them but they died, about fourteen years apart. The first, in 2006, a casualty of the long drought in Adelaide and the second could not be saved last summer. I had the urge to share a photo of my garden which shows the dead acer. I have not been able to chop it down, even though it died six months ago. I had the urge to share a photo of my Cyclamen also. Yet, I refrained on both occasions. My finger was poised to press send but the thought that I could inadvertently trumpet my “femininity” to my friends made me recoil my finger from the phone. But, it is surely right not to be interpreted as being feminine when one appreciates flowers, trees and all of nature’s grandeur and beauty, right? When is it right that men are decried as feminine then? Decried, did I say? No, men should not be censured for admiring nature’s beauty. It is society’s prejudices that denounce certain acts as effeminacy. Approximately two in three Aussies will succumb to skin cancer before they turn 70. This can perhaps be attributable to society’s frowning on able-bodied bronzed men holding umbrellas under the scorching sun. It is a sight never seen in this vast continent where the elements are as challenging as that in Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming.

Cyclamen holds a focal point in my pond
Dead Japanese maple in the background

Black Lives Matter And Black Matters

In June last year, Nancy Pelosi exclaimed that “it is a beautiful sight to behold” commending on the courage of Hong Kong protesters to speak out against China when Hong Kong was buckling under months of street demonstrations that eventually turned into violent riots. She may say that she was only referring to the wave of candlelight during one night of protests but on the other hand, it can be argued that it was grossly insensitive and inappropriate for an influential politician to incite civil unrest in a country already in a quagmire. Those people who relished in seeing the civil unrest being played out in the streets of Hong Kong could even be said to be irresponsible and reckless – there was no attempt to disguise their uncivilised despise for China, the hope for the destruction of a successful economy and irreparable damage to its societal standards a spiteful goal to demonstrate the failure of the one country two systems arrangement that China had agreed to. It came as a surprise to me that America itself came under attack by its own citizens so soon after Hong Kong’s riots. But, it was no surprise to witness the hypocrisy of the political leadership in America. The rioters in Hong Kong were often described by the Americans as admirable protesters fighting for their freedom and democratic rights whereas the American citizens protesting against police brutality and demanding that “black lives matter” were “thugs” and opportunistic looters and rioters who should be shot. In America, the citizens are mostly known as Americans or Yanks but blacks are still commonly referred to as African-Americans. The colour of their skin is still an inescapable stain in their society. For me, the American DNA is a product of their history – the genocide of the natives, the right to bear arms and their nonchalance about slavery. For hundreds of years, to them, slaves were sub-human and it was alright to treat and trade them like animals, useful as beasts of burden or prey for hunting. There was no other ethnic group in America that was captured and used as slaves except for the black people. Slavery was abolished in 1863 but during that time, unlike European immigrants who arrived voluntarily and were given millions of acres of free land to start their lives in America, the freed slaves, whose African ancestors were hunted like animals and arrived in chains, were given only their freedom as an economic base after having worked as slaves for 244 years. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “emancipation for the negro was really only freedom to hunger. It was freedom without food to eat or land to cultivate and therefore it was freedom and famine at the same time.” The American society deliberately made their colour a stigma and something worthless and degrading. People of colour were subjected to forced segregation which kept them separate from white people in housing, education and public facilities including pubs, toilets and buses. It was not until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act finally outlawed discrimination. Desegregation has been a slow process, even today there are examples of “apartheid schools” in the US. This weekend we witnessed global solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement. Although it is illegal to discriminate in America, people of colour will tell you otherwise. The killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white cop who knelt on the victim’s neck for over eight minutes has reignited this movement. The world has emerged from a global lockdown to protest against a greater evil. The virus may have by now killed close to 400,000 people but it doesn’t discriminate against blacks. Sure, those in lower socioeconomic rungs of society have a higher fatality rate but that discrimination is man made, not the virus. 1% of Americans in the top echelon of the country apparently own 56% of the sharemarket. You won’t find many blacks amongst them, if any. This is why there is this great disconnect between Wall Street and side streets in America. Wall Street has recouped most of the losses since the March sharemarket crash even though COVID-19 has not been eradicated and no vaccine has been found and the jobless rate is over 16% if they include those employed but have no jobs to go back to yet. The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has magically grown from $4 trillion to over $7 trillion since mid March. The trillions of dollars of stimulus pumped into their economy were simply created by the Federal Reserve, without any sweat, production or plan to pay for it. It is that easy! There isn’t even the need to print money. So the Americans have gone very much more sophisticated in their slave trade. No need to hunt, chain and drag people from their countries to force them to work. Just add a few zeroes to their bank balance and expect the world to slave away and produce the goods and services for their American masters in exchange for the US dollar which is only backed by nuclear weapons and a highly lethal military.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Downunder, there is another black matter that needs our attention. Black lives matter. Black culture matters too. Can we be regarded as human without our culture? Aboriginal artefacts, sacred or otherwise, were looted from the natives when white people came and obliterated them from the land. Admittedly there has been some success in returning some artefacts to the rightful aboriginal owners and some more have been delayed due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Surely an encouraging sign that western societies have woken up to their crimes against humanity. Yet, there is the matter of a 46,000 year old archeological site of significant importance to the history of mankind that was recently demolished (detonated) by mining giants Rio Tinto. The Juukan Gorge cave in Western Australia’s Pilbara held sacred texts and significant cultural art which provided real evidence of the early history of mankind on earth. But it must be black cultural treasure that has no significance for these white people. Remember how western media recoiled with horror and disgust when the Bamiyan Buddhas were detonated by the Taliban? How barbaric? How uncivilised? How unforgivable?! Can we imagine the world’s horror if The Louvre were destroyed by a wealthy Parisian with no regard to the value of art and history? Well, a horde of state ministers, federal ministers and company directors of Rio Tinto should hang their heads in shame. Maybe they deserved to be hanged also, if capital punishment were still lawful in Australia. These nincompoops all feigned misunderstandings and ignorance – ignorance of traditional owners’ concerns, ignorance of the cultural significance of a 46,000 year old site, and ignorance of a meeting called before the cave was destroyed. Urghhlings, all of them. There are laws in Australia that protect aboriginal heritage, yet there is nothing the law can do to stop the madness of reducing mankind’s history into a pile of iron ore. Black matters don’t matter to them. Only money. They ought to learn it from the Americans, there is no need to build up a sweat, there’s no need to work or destroy major cultural sites. Just add a few zeroes to their bank account. As if that’s all that matters to them.

Aboriginal art at the Juukan Gorge cave since destroyed by Rio Tinto

The Hakka Woman and I

May 28 1900. Googling this date gives me the result of a total solar eclipse. It is safe for me to deduce that according to western perspectives, a solar eclipse would have been the biggest event or the most interesting event that happened on that day 120 years ago. But, a few of us will remember that this day was a day of shame for the Chinese. I only learned about this day on its anniversary this week. The day the foreigners in Beijing’s International Legation quarters, abhorred by the arrival of hungry and angry peasants who flooded the city, fleeing famine and drought in the rural areas, asked for support from the Allied forces comprising the might the world could muster from the British Empire, the United States of America, the French, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Italy and Japan. 400 troops arrived at the legations on the 31st to keep out the new arrivals. The Chinese were not welcomed in their own city. Their arrival signaled the disdain and displeasure of the foreigners. That raised the ire of the peasants, many of whom were boxers of the Boxer Rebellion. The conflict escalated into a siege of the legations which lasted 55 days. Spain, Holland and Belgium later joined in the pillage, looting and rape of the city of Beijing. 40 years earlier, during the 2nd Opium War, the British and French troops pillaged Beijing’s magnificent Old Summer Palace before burning it down. “We call ourselves civilised and them barbarians,” wrote the author, Victor Hugo. “Here is what Civilisation has done to Barbarity.” Over 1.5 million Chinese antique relics were stolen from the palace and hundreds of courtiers, eunuchs and maids were burned to death. During the period from 1854 to 1864, the Manchu government was not only preoccupied with attacks by Western forces, they were also fighting a rebellion led by Hong Xiuquan who believed he was the Chinese Son of God. When the Chinese lost the 1st Opium War (1839-1842) to British forces, they not only ceded Hong Kong to the British but they also allowed many liberties to be enjoyed by the westerners in China. The freedom to preach their religion saw the influx of Christian missionaries into the country – I do not know the reason why but many Hakka people converted to Christianity. The Hakka, also known as kejia were considered guests who fled from the North in early 4th century. Did they readily convert to Christianity to further differentiate themselves from the locals (bendi ren)? The Taiping Rebellion was led by the Chinese Son of God who believed Jesus had urged him to “fight for Heaven”. Taiping leadership was mainly of Hakka origin. The God Worshipping Society won key bloody battles against the Manchu imperial forces and held Nanjing for 11 years after much bloodshed. Ultimately, Hong was betrayed by the West, their common belief in the same God did not extend to the same political objectives. The rebellion ended after Hong’s death in 1864. It was estimated between 20 to 70 million lives were lost during this bloody civil war. It is no wonder modern-day China is still wary of religion and religious fanatics. From this backdrop of devastation, deaths and shame, China was to suffer even more humiliation when the Qing dynasty was forced to sign the Xinchou Treaty or the unequal and ugly Sino treaty to pay vast sums of “compensation” in silver and gold, and cede exclusive living quarters to the victorious Western forces which sent an army of over 20,000 soldiers to “save” China from the boxers and Imperial troops deployed by the Manchu government. The locals had a 20:1 advantage in numbers and a belief that bullets could not kill them. May this piece of history remind modern-day China that it is not the superior troop numbers that will determine the winner in a war but it is the use of superior lethal weapons and well planned military strategies that will point to the ultimate victor. Wikipedia will tell us the boxers rebelled because they were upset by the proselytising Christian missionaries who abused their “extraterritorial rights” and avoided paying local taxes. If only the facts were as mundane, there would have been no animosity, despise and eventual violence and uprising towards western occupation. It is no wonder that the Chinese today, having experienced the economic revival and technological progress in recent years, demonstrate a strong nationalistic pride. I am not a Chinese citizen and have never lived there like a local. Some will remind me I should not have any pro-Chinese sentiments.

“What has China ever done for you?”

“Did the Communists pay for your education? Why support them?”

“Do not forget the Cultural Revolution! They killed many innocent scholars and artists. They even killed their own parents.”

“What about the Uighur camps and the plight of the Muslims? They number well over a million, in concentration camps!”

“The Christians can’t even practise their religion. They have to pray underground!”

“Tibet! Free Tibet!”

They may say what they want, but history will show that in any revolution, many people will die and mistakes made. The cultural revolution was one major bloody blunder. The plunder of valuable artefacts and burning of art and books is unforgivable. Yet, to forgive we must, in order to go forward. We must look to the positives that China have achieved and there are so many to admire in the past 30 years. In that time, I have managed to carve out a simple livelihood from my small business whilst the communist brains in the politburo have helped over 800 million people out of poverty and deliver a space-age technology to their economy. I know the blood that flows in my body is 100% Chinese. My father hailed from Zhejiang and my mother’s roots are from Ningbo. Please do not blame me for being proud of my ancestry. It is not only now that I have a firm inclination to defend my race. I still go around by my Chinese name and I have never dyed my hair blond or brown! I have a strong affinity with Zhejiang. Pa was born in Shaoxing, a place made famous by its rice wine. Ma’s childhood was spent in Ningbo, where the game of Mahjong was invented. Fishermen decided the mahjong tiles would not get blown away on windy days. Smart people! Wu Changshuo, prominent calligrapher and artist, and Lu Xun, arguably the greatest Chinese writer of the 20th century were also born in Shaoxing. I wish I can pass this quote of his to the urghhling Trump. 墨写的谎说,绝掩不住血写的事实。“Lies written in ink cannot cover facts written in blood.” There is also the martyr Qiu Jin whose roots came from Shaoxing also. Her story is one I must one day delve deep into – a writer and a rebel leader against the Qing who was beheaded after a failed uprising against the Manchu government. In the interest of fairness to Ningbo, let me include Chiang Kai-Shek and Yoyo Ma whose roots are also from Ningbo. Other famous names from Zhejiang that I want to add are Su Dongpo, the scholar whose fatty pork has usurped his scholarly fame and Jack Ma of Alibaba fame, both from Hangzhou.

I have this inclination to use the megaphone to trumpet these famous and successful Zhejiang identities only because The Mrs frequently brags to me why she is a proud Hakka. “Do you know Deng Xiaoping was a Hakka?” Such luminaries as Lee Kuan Yew, Sun Yat Sen and Kuala Lumpur’s Yap Ah Loy were also Hakka. Maybe next time she broaches the subject, I will remind her of the Hakka involvement in the Taiping Rebellion. Maybe not. I was hoping the 6th century sage, Laozi, who was credited with writing the Tao Te Ching, also hailed from Zhejiang. But, no. He was from Henan. In the movie The Red Cliff, l learned a quote from Cao Cao but later discovered it was by Laozi. ‘Huo xi, Fu zhi suo Yi; Fu xi, Huo zhi suo Fu’ When we are miserable, know that happiness is to be found just around the corner. When we are happy, be aware that misery lurks nearby. The Mrs imparted this gem of a philosophy to me. In good times, know that the bad is not far away. In bad times, the good will surely come soon! On further reflection, it could be for this reason that we rarely celebrate with great enthusiasm whenever we experience great success! We know full well the tall poppy syndrome still thrives in Australia. When you stand too proud and tall, you’d be chopped down from under you soon enough. Like the beautiful green leaves and stunning lilac flowers of the Wisteria, they won’t last forever and must surely fall. But, for The Mrs and I, we still find great beauty in them, as they lay withered on the ground.

The Virus And Us IV

Just a few weeks ago, we were taking baby steps towards a new optimism despite the initial fear and despair from the coronavirus. I was hopeful the world would become a better place once we step out of the dark shadows of COVID-19. From many corners of the globe, people shared wonderful stories of a world re-setting itself. A new beginning back to the slower-paced innocence and we-were-more-caring past. A damaged environment finally with a chance to heal. Skies imbued with industrial pollutants that had covered once-sacred mountains in India for decades suddenly became blue again. The people on the streets rejoiced and some danced on their rooftops to celebrate the re-emergence of their holy mountain, the Nanda Devi, source of the Ganges River. Wild animals started to roam the city streets and the freeways became theirs to freely wander on. In Adelaide’s suburbia, we woke up to the sweet fragrance of gum leaves and fresh clean air, devoid of car fumes and noisy traffic. From Wuhan to Milan and Rome to Barcelona and Sydney, grateful people were singing the praises of their front line workers from their balconies. Suddenly, in a short few weeks, urghhlings were shedding their evil and ugly image, transforming into beautiful earthlings right in front of my eyes. “Are we spiritual beings having a human experience or humans having a spiritual experience?” I was almost tempted to consider that urghhlings all over the world have returned to their spirituality following the devastation from the coronavirus.

It did not take long for the ugly reality to creep in. The warmth and glow from reading about the Chinese initiatives to help countries struggling to contain the virus soon dissipated. Some in The West were adamant to recast such kindness and compassion from the Chinese in an evil slant, frothing their Sinophobic chants to paint the CCP much like Spectre in the James Bond movie On the Majesty’s Secret Service. Ernst Blofeld, the evil master, embarked on germ warfare using beautiful women as the carriers, whereas China’s Xi sent medical workers to the West with sinister motives, so their story goes. Those medical experts experienced in the virus’s containment in Wuhan were sent to help in the frontlines of cities such as London and Madrid, and Xi flew truckloads of PPE and much sought-after medical equipment to various parts of the world. Perhaps from a sense of guilt that the virus spread from his country? Sadly, such kind gestures and goodwill were cynically questioned and when some of the PPE were found to be defective, some openly accuse China of wilful sabotage. When the US politicians found their America First policy failed to help themselves, they soon realised it was in fact an America Only policy that Trump had been perpetuating. PPE’s were reportedly hijacked by the Americans from traditional allies such as France and Canada, and an early hope for a German vaccine was unsuccessfully lassoed for the sole benefit of Americans. As the death toll mounted in America, the virus revealed a dark underbelly of discrimination against China. Last year’s Trade War has morphed into a Cold War. Winter has not set in yet in Australia but the chill is distinctly foreboding. Australia’s rushed and untimely call for an independent enquiry into the origins of the virus initially echoed much of Trump’s accusations that China let the virus out. I wonder how they will define “independence” when the WHO which represents 194 out of 204 countries in the world itself can be accused of being “China-centric” by America. I was fortunately not further embarrassed as an Aussie when PM Scomo brushed aside Pompeo’s ridiculous self-contradictory assertions that they have “significant evidence” of a China-made virus being deliberately released to the world. It is evident that the hateful lies are man-made, the virus most likely is not (according to medical experts). After banning Huawei’s 5G from Australia, and now this early call to “independently” investigate the origins of the virus in China, there is now growing Chinese hostility against America’s lap dog that Australia is. Earlier this week, Aussie barley and beef producers were served a small bitter dosage of punitive measures, and the week finished with unwelcome disruptions to the lucrative iron ore and coal business. America has woken up to China’s rapid rise in cutting-edge technology and economic power and now sees the CCP as an adversary that must be slowed if not stopped. Paul Kelly of The Australian wrote about the opinion of the veteran analyst for The Centre of Independent Studies, Alan Dupont. He said Dupont agrees with Trump’s decision to “push back on all fronts against China otherwise it would be relegated to the status of a second-order power.” As early as in October 2018, Mike Pence pledged that US would use all its power to combat China on a scale not seen since the first Cold War. Today, their anti-China rhetoric has gained a lot more intensity and volume. Trump had the ridiculous audacity to compare the COVID-19 pandemic as the “worst attack” ever on the US, accusing China as the attacker that unleashed more damage than Pearl Harbour or the 9/11 plane crashes. “Could’ve been stopped in China. It should’ve been stopped right at the source. And it wasn’t.”

Isn’t the world fed up with such war-like tendencies? As good as it has been for many of us, the world has never seen world peace. Is peace really beyond us? Why is violence the end result? Rather than the last resort, why not never resort to violence? There is so much violence in real life and in movies that it is numbing to see violence even though it is actually accompanied by intense pain and suffering. In the past week, I have been bingeing on Netflix and SBS On Demand. Is it indicative of me as someone who loves to watch violence or is it simply that movies reflect the real world and therefore cannot be without violence? I thought I would enjoy John Wick 3. The Mrs had read in some magazine that Keanu Reeves was amazing in it and contrary to her normal rejection for violent and violently loud movies, she asked me to take her to the cinemas. That was long before the virus struck. Somehow, we never went and her urge to watch her hero in action waned. Last week, I watched it on Netflix. I have to say, it was awful. Violence has become boring to me as I grow older. Season 8 of Homeland on the hand had me sitting on the edge of my sofa. I embarrassed myself and binged it from start to finish in three sittings. Suddenly, the Taliban leader became the good guy and although the Americans portrayed the Pakistanis to be the new baddies, in my heart, I knew all along the real enemy is the one that mouths lies and hides the truth. The Salvation was another movie that caught my attention, well, the title did. I thought it would be a movie that would cleanse my soul. But, no, it was the violent kind of salvation that the baddies must all die. I was mad about Mads Mikkelsen, what a rugged hero, and then I was madder about Eva Green – what a French beauty!! Her eyes, her eyes! I have been following the Peaky Blinders too. Those brothers in Birmingham have a propensity for violence too as they transform themselves from violent thugs to legitimate businesses. The last two nights, I watched Fauda, a series that The Son and I had followed until he went to Japan for his snow holiday, and then social distancing meant we could not watch it together anymore for months since. It is a series about the Israelis, Palestinians and Hamas. Yeah, a perfect recipe for violence. A lot of prayers, and soul cleansing moments but ultimately, they end in violence. That is as real as it gets. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Great anger and violence can never build a nation.” But, violence can surely destroy the world.

Eva Green, the next Bond girl?

Hocus-pocus POTUS

The empire of America is over a hundred years old if we considered their military hostilities in late 19th century against China and Spain were the birth of the empire. These victories gained them control over vast territories in China and countries such as Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The Boxer Rebellion was squashed within two years – fists of fury did not match guns and gunboats employed by the Westerners. The Boxer Protocol was signed by the Qing government on September 7, 1901 to allow foreign troops to remain in China. The Spanish-American War lasted a mere ten weeks, such was the might of the US Navy over the once mighty empire known in the 17th century as the “empire on which the sun never sets”. The US joined the Allies some three years after WW1 started. I suppose by then the warring nations were all sufficiently weakened for the Americans to make a significant contribution to end the war as a victor. The Spanish Flu in 1919-1920 killed over 675,000 Americans, many of whom were adult-age workers, and it hastened the severe downturn of the global economy. The Great Depression of 1920-1921 saw a massive crash in the economy due to deflationary pressures caused by the surge in millions of returnees of WW1 veterans flooding the job market. The more famous Great Depression of 1929 that started from the Wall Street stockmarket crash lasted till 1940, although some countries began their mini steps to recovery in 1933. Countries that did not devalue their currency and engaged in protectionist policies such as tariff wars and trade quotas fared worse than those that abandoned the gold standard early. The money supply growth in the US, the result of gold inflows which were partly due to the devaluation of the US dollar and partly due to deterioration of the political situation in Europe was the crucial reason for America’s eventual economic recovery. The US again did not involve themselves early in the next Great War. They did so only after the warring countries had fought one another for over two years. It was really after WW2 that America became the world’s super power, with the demonstration of their military power in the form of two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The deliberate massacre of over two hundred thousand civilians was brushed aside amidst the world’s gratitude and joyous celebrations that accompanied the end of the Great War. The victor’s glory was not tarnished by any accusations of state terrorism or human rights violations. Ethical justifications were offered by scholars that this was the lesser evil, saving many more lives in the end. America became leader of the free world and the president of the United States (POTUS) has wielded much power and commanded global respect ever since. Until now. The 45th POTUS has done much in his three years on the job to prove that he is not capable of doing his job. During the ascendency of his election campaign over his rivals in 2016, I found him to be entertaining. As entertaining as a clown. He lit up late night shows and sparked a revival of sorts for stand-up comedians. Admittedly, it was he who stoked my interest in US affairs. His immediate predecessor was reliable but boring – he did not achieve very much in his two terms. He could have curtailed the swine flu pandemic and he ought to have foreseen the destruction to investments and savings from the housing bubble that caused the 2008 Global financial Crisis. I was incensed to discover that we were all lied to when Saddam Hussein died without any WMDs in Iraq. The POTUS lied about the non-existent weapons of mass destruction so that they could invade Iraq and end the rule of an adversary thereby gaining control of their vast oil reserves. I still remember the vile man, Colin Powell, holding a vial pretending it to contain anthrax that Iraq was creating for their germ warfare. The real reason was to protect the US dollar as the “petro-dollar” and to end the threat to US economic hegemony from the euro which was being promoted as an alternative oil transaction currency. The petro-dollar is like a genie’s bottle. The world produces whatever goods and services the US wants and the US simply pays the world with money they create digitally. No sweat. No printing of paper money required anymore, just add a few zeroes to their balance sheet. It is therefore a bottomless pot of gold the Americans guard zealously. The US dollar is not backed by gold and with barrels of oil now trading at near or sub zero values, it means the USD is only backed by military force, implied or threatened. Libya, Iran and now Venezuela have found out this inconvenient truth. The POTUS in the White House lied about the Vietnam War too and sent a hundred thousand soldiers to fight a war “what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”, but he basically lied to his own people, so I did not care as much. The next incumbent lied about the same war and the Watergate burglary too, but at least the bungled burglary did not harm lives. The POTUS who lied about his sexual exploits with his intern made life interesting for us, especially with his cigar. He too was a bad liar, but apart from his wife and his mistress, he did not harm anyone else. Forgivable, since they forgave him. The POTUS who lied about his affair with Marilyn Monroe and the non-existence “missile gap”, well, he died a legend and may he rest in peace. The truth is the US never lagged behind the Soviets in ballistic missile technology. But, the POTUS who sent soldiers to die in Iraq lied to the world. That was a crime against humanity. Unforgivable, especially when the one I previously considered as the undisputed statesman of Australian politics, John Howard, has been irrevocably painted as a fool in my mind – ever since he showed his gullibility to act enthusiastically as the American lapdog down under. The US has a long history of lying, even “unwittingly” or under oath as did James Clapper, the former NSA director who called a lie an untruth. It needed Edward Snowden to sacrifice his American freedom, fleeing to Russia after his revelations of major crimes committed by the NSA such as spying on Americans’ phone calls as well as on foreign governments and leaders, and the existence of PRISM which compelled tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft to secretly provide private user data to the government. But the present POTUS has made lying an art-form – lying not unwittingly but habitually. The deception and trickery he burdens on the world, I initially thought, was a deliberate strategy to cause confusion and diversion in the media and in the United Nations. His adversaries would be handicapped by the mayhem he unleashes on the world, thus allowing him unfair leverage as he negotiates better trade deals to realise his MAGA dream. It is very possible that the seesawing sharemarket from his conflicting announcements about virtually anything would make it a fertile environment to deliver those in-the-know mega profits from share trades. The hocus-pocus mumbo jumbo trickery of a real estate salesman, I suspected. Why else would a person lie? To make money, right? To have the upper hand. To win, dishonestly. But, the coronavirus pandemic has started to make me ask myself this question. Maybe the POTUS is simply a stupid idiot? He lies simply because he doesn’t know better? Maybe he is, as James Clapper said in his perjury to Congress in 2013, simply lying unwittingly? I mean, this is the bloke who said windmills cause cancer. He is also the idiot who claimed recently that injecting bleach or shining light into a human body can kill a coronavirus. But, sadly, his lies are not of the harmless type – they have killed many thousands. He lied on February 26 that the virus would simply disappear one day when the weather warms up in April. It did not go down to zero as we all knew it wouldn’t but to over 1.3 million cases this week. Now, he is saying that it would disappear before the end of this year and next year will be a tremendous year for America. He suggested that we do not even need a vaccine for the virus to go away. This is as irresponsible as saying America has more cases than anybody because they do more testing. “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.” Wow. That’s mind-blowing stupidity from today’s POTUS. That is as accurate as saying the virus attacks only those who are tested. Sadly, many of his supporters believe every lie he makes. The death toll in America from COVID-19 is well over 85,000 and they have not seen the peak yet. Earlier this week, the POTUS stood in front of a big banner that read “America leads the world in testing”. Let me finish the sentence for him. America leads the world in testing our patience.

Heck, They Can Hack Us

By us, I do not mean our phones, tablets or laptops. I mean what’s in our head. They can hack into our brain. I suppose it is not so weird – we are after all, algorithms albeit biological ones. This morning, a friend shared a Wall Street Journal documentary about China’s 5G roll-out. Impressive, from a utopian viewpoint. In some schools in China, students are required to wear headbands that use EEG to track and record their brain wave patterns. Electroencephalography is a method used by medical experts to diagnose certain disorders such as epilepsy and brain-related illnesses. I was surprised it is being used to monitor kids in school. Their neural data collected from these headbands are reported in real-time to the teacher’s computer as a tool to improve their school results. Artificial Intelligence (AI) even graphs each student’s attention in class as well as the whole class’s. If there is a tapering off in their attentiveness, AI can be used to help analyse the teacher’s teaching skills or point to topics that the kids find boring. Robots scan them before they enter the school to check on their body temperatures for their health and facial recognition robots equipped with cameras are on the lookout to catch those whose attention spans are interrupted by their mobile phones or how frequently they yawn. Parents love it, as they can monitor their children’s progress remotely. Teachers love it, as the school results show a marked improvement. The kids, knowing they are being monitored and assessed real time, are more attentive. One boy did ask what would happen to him at home if his parents were to find out his score is “only” 85 and the others’ are 95. I am glad I am not growing up at a time when the world is poised to hack into us during our whole lifespan. All our thoughts whether made loudly or kept silently in our heads are monitored 24/7 and recorded in our personal data bank forever. Authorities in the future can have AI comb through our historical data and either promote or demote us based on something we said or wrote when we were growing up. As for me, I’m sure they won’t be interested in someone who cannot even decide if his ears hear Laurel or Yanni. I’m also that someone who sees a white and pink shoe as grey and teal blue. I think I am safe from the Stazi’s of tomorrow. They won’t even care about my existence, which is just as well. Talking about tomorrow, it is Mother’s Day and I have got just the right present from the neighbour’s garden for The Mrs and Ma. My neighbours are stuck overseas, so their garden is mine to enjoy in their absence.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the three books that I enjoyed – Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, in his podcast with Sam Harris suggested that we can be hacked by AI. “It will know us better than we know ourselves”, he said. AI will understand what we want better than us, and know what we want better than we care to admit. To hack a human being, we need biology – brain science, a lot of data and a lot of computer power. Now for the first time in human history, we have all that. Google knows everything about us – our taste of music, movies, fashion, even our sexual desires and fantasies (especially those who visit porn sites!). Youtube knows a lot about us too – whether we subscribe to conspiracy theories, Asian cooking, or have a passion for classical music. Ever since I watched the Chinese tv series White Deer Plain or Bai Lu Yuan with my mum, it keeps recommending other Chinese movies to us. Facebook knows all our friends and even those we have forgotten. It knows our friends much more intimately than we ever will. The wearable electronic gadget we attach to our bodies, such as a smartwatch even monitors our exercise habits and records our heart rate and other vital health data. It knows exactly how fit we are and whether we are candidates for statins, high blood pressure pills or diabetic drugs whereas we only know we are “fine” or “ok”. But history shows that anything with utopian value that is promoted by a leader and becomes universally accepted will also have its dystopian threats. Harari highlights the problems that may arise when AI is capable of knowing our deep desires. Self learning machines may use algorithms to manipulate the truth and provide us with “facts” that will lead us to make certain choices or decisions that “Big Brother” wants, e.g. vote for whoever is the highest bidder as President of that country. Fake information can be fed to us by AI through the channels that interest us to the extent that we no longer question their accuracy or check if they are true. Recently, people have died from drinking bleach just because the leader they believed in told them it would cure them from the coronavirus. When the pandemic spread fear and panic throughout the world, I was hoping the world would reset and we would come to our senses. Magically, we would all start to appreciate and value our scientists and medical experts more than our football gods and NBA personalities. We would recall our ancient respect for nature and admire the beauty and vital importance of a healthy environment for our survival. We would listen to the science rather than the politics. We would come together as one global family to fight the virus and not fight each other and play the blame game. But, the whole world has not followed the example the Italians set – singing to one another on their balconies, spreading love and appreciation for their neighbours and front line workers. The world lost its global leader once the inward-looking Americans voted for Trump to make America great again. The one flawed characteristic of humans is our reluctance to admit when we are wrong. America isn’t great again. America isn’t great anymore, actually. Yet, almost half of Americans still support Trump and will likely vote for him to remain in the White House for a second term. The pandemic has shattered the myth of American greatness and exposed the beginnings of the empire’s decline. A few weeks ago, they tried to hijack all the potential vaccine from a German pharmaceutical company by offering them to move their business to the US. Despite the German government and its main investor exposing Trump’s recklessness and selfishness, Curevac insists it did not receive any offer from Trump to secure exclusive rights to a potential coronavirus vaccine. They were also accused of hijacking shipments of masks bound for France, Germany and Canada. Trump would be more accurate to change his “America First” to “America Only”. The US froze their funding to the WHO at the most critical time when the world needs a coordinated approach to stop the coronavirus. The US was absent from last week’s global conference held to raise money for the development and “universal deployment” of a COVID-19 vaccine and other medical treatments. At a time when more than 4 million have been infected, any sensible observer would ask why a country that represents only 5% of the world’s population but accounts for almost a third of the infections and deaths would not be more proactive to contribute to such a cause? Harari went on to suggest the media should report less on the statistics of cases and deaths that the pandemic has caused. It felt like a transgression when I heard him say it. “We have the scientific knowledge to tackle the virus”, he said. People are overwhelmed by the negative impacts of the virus but very few are looking at the people who are focused solely on cementing or increasing their power and raking in the money from COVID-19. Trillions of dollars are being handed out – who are benefiting? Who are getting their hands on the money? Are they the ones the monies are meant for? Or are the financial incentives being diverted to big business and individual party donors instead? Are the checks and balances between the executive and the judicial being diminished? Trump signed the massive bill for the pandemic stimulus, with a caveat. He will not allow the Special Inspector General and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to provide primary oversight of the massive handouts. We are concerned about surveillance on the individuals – we discuss the pros and cons of “track and trace” methods of those infected but is anyone doing any surveillance on those who can and will abuse their power if left unchecked?

https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/making-sense-with-sam-harris/id733163012?i=1000473306091

In Cygnus And In Health

I was a young bloke with raging testosterones when I married The Mrs. Signing the marriage certificate was easy, no vows were required. We just had to inform the marriage celebrant that we knew of no legal impediment which may have prevented us from marrying each other. It was not until I attended Violet’s wedding that the seriousness of marriage weighed on me like a tonne of bricks. My vivacious and elegant niece married in the posh 14 acre heritage-listed gardens of Melbourne’s Rippon Lea on Boxing Day of 2011. I was seated on the front row which commanded a central view of their beautiful ceremony, a privilege only a proud uncle could be accorded. The vows my niece exchanged with her husband under the floral arbour struck me like a thunderbolt. The touching moment made me cry from a realisation that I was unthinking and naive of the responsibilities once I got married. So irresponsible and reckless. My wedding was light-hearted, exciting and full of sunshine on that Saturday morning 39 years ago. I did not pause, not even for a second, to consider the many ramifications of marrying someone I love. When we were young, the idea that we could fall sick, very sick, never crossed my mind. So sick that we should contemplate death? “From this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” It did occur to me then that I should be responsible for her happiness and safety but her health? She was not a child and not stupid. She was and still is very capable of looking after herself. Her health or well-being was never something that I considered. In reality of course, when I looked after myself, I looked after her also. That is the basic ethos of a family unit. We look after each other – our loved ones are our responsibility, no marital vows are necessary to remind us of that.

In the workplace, OHS laws require employers to look after the safety and well-being of their workers and anyone who steps into the workplace. A duty of care is owed by the employer who may be held criminally liable and prosecuted in his personal capacity if found to be negligent in failing to provide a safe working environment for their people. Occupational health and safety standards are clearly expressed and adhered to in my business. Failure to do so could cripple our operations or worse, cripple us physically and financially. At work, we know to look after one another’s safety. We do not need the threat of hefty fines and heavy jail sentences to remind us our health and safety is paramount.

In Australia, animals are legally regarded as “sentient beings”, i.e. they have a consciousness that enables them to feel, sense and perceive the world around them and as such, deserve a quality of life that reflects their “intrinsic value”. Dogs cannot be confined for more than a day without being exercised. There are laws that protect them against animal cruelty – neglecting their basic needs will attract pecuniary fines, and injuring them deliberately and violently will land a person a few years’ prison sentence. In Queensland, the maximum fine is $266,900 or a 3-year imprisonment. Animals have rights and we know not to breach our duty of care for them, a duty which is based on the internationally recognised ‘5 freedoms’ of animal welfare.

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst.
  • Freedom from discomfort.
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease.
  • Freedom to express normal behaviours.
  • Freedom from fear and distress.

In affairs of the State, governments have a responsibility towards the welfare and health of their citizens. What can we conclude if a government were to deliberately ignore “terrifying” simulation results of a pandemic drill? Why would it even embark on a costly trial run if it were to simply bury the results and prevent the findings from being reported under the pretext of “national security concerns”? There was just such a drill that took place in the UK in October 2016, code-named Exercise Cygnus. The exercise showed that the hypothetical H2N2 influenza pandemic would cause the country’s health system to collapse from a lack of PPE’s, ICU beds and the inability to cope with the disposal of dead bodies. What do we say about a government that subsequently did the opposite to what was blatantly obvious from the exercise – cutting NHS bed numbers instead of adding more beds. There is a strong suggestion that with COVID-19 deaths still to peak in the UK, there will be a lot more blood on the government’s hands. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/28/exercise-cygnus-uncovered-pandemic-warnings-buried-government/

Across the Atlantic, there were even more warnings about an impending pandemic. What do we say about a government that repeatedly ignores the warnings and advice from their medical experts as well as their intelligence community? Trump said on March 19th. “Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.” No one saw it coming. Really? https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/03/pandemic-coronavirus-united-states-trump-cdc/608215/

  1. In 2012, the RAND Corporation concluded that only pandemics were “capable of destroying America’s way of life.”
  2. In 2015, Bill Gates warned in GatesNotes: “The world is simply not prepared to deal with a disease — an especially virulent flu, for example — that infects large numbers of people very quickly.”
  3. In 2017, the incoming Trump administration was provided with a simulation report that detailed how “the U.S. government should respond to a flu pandemic that halts international travel, upends global supply chains, tanks the stock market, and burdens health-care systems”.
  4. In a 2017 forum on pandemic preparedness, Dr Fauci said there is no question that “there will be a surprise disease outbreak.” (emphasis is mine)
  5. In 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the “Spanish Flu”, the National Security Council advised “the threat of pandemic flu is our number-one health security concern.” The very next day, National Security Adviser John Bolton terminated the NSC’s department for preparing and responding to pandemics.
  6. There were simulation exercises to assess the threats of a pandemic carried out by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in 2018 and 2019.
  7. The US intelligence heads have repeatedly warned since 2013 of the serious threat that a pandemic poses in their annual worldwide threat assessment. They reported in 2013: “This is not a hypothetical threat. History is replete with examples of pathogens sweeping populations that lack immunity, causing political and economic upheaval.” 

The Blame Game – The WHO lost their US funding after Trump accused them of being China-centric, delaying the pandemic response of countries, by being slow to declare it as a pandemic. Perfunctory observations support his accusation. In the case of COVID-19, the first cluster of 41 patients suffering an unknown pneumonia was reported to WHO on Dec 31 2019. The WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 71 days after the first report of a cluster, albeit of an unknown illness at the time. Compare the WHO’s response in 2009, when they took 54 days to declare a pandemic on 11 June from when the first novel 2009 H1N1 flu infections was reported to them (on April 18). In December that year, the WHO was essentially charged with fraud by 14 members of the Council of Europe. They said “pharmaceutical companies have influenced scientists and official agencies” in their haste to declare it as a pandemic. When a pandemic is declared, nations have to incur costly purchases of medical equipment and supplies. It is therefore not surprising to see a more cautious response from the WHO this time.

In Wuhan where the first outbreak was reported, there were over 64,000 people infected and 1,000 dead within the first 3 weeks. That should have served as ample warning for the rest of the world of how contagious SARS-COV-2 virus is. A good measure of how well prepared the authorities were at delaying or reducing the spread of COVID-19 or how serious they viewed its threat, in my opinion, is to look at the number of days they took to lockdown or adopt social-distancing measures from the first known case, given the warning they had from the horrifying reports out of Wuhan.

Wuhan: Dec 1 – Jan 23 = 56 days

Wuhan: Jan 8 – Jan 23 = 15 days (once ascertained it was a new coronavirus)

US: Jan 20 – Mar 17 (parts of California) = 65 days

UK: Jan 29 – Mar 20 = 52 days

Spain: Jan 31 – Mar 14 = 44 days

Italy: Jan 30 – Feb 21 = 23 days

New Zealand: Feb 28 – Mar 21 = 22 days

Taiwan: Jan 21 – Feb 2 (Return to schools deferred) = 13 days

Following Trump’s recent accusations that China did “terrible” things to the US despite praising China’s COVID-19 efforts on numerous occasions in January and February, Australia has called for an independent enquiry into the origins of COVID-19. Trump said there should be consequences if China is found to be “knowingly responsible”, for deliberately causing the outbreak that has killed over 63,000 Americans. Yesterday, he went further and said, without evidence, the virus originated in Wuhan’s virology lab – they were either too incompetent to stop it getting out or “they let it out”. No doubt, the world needs to know how the outbreak spread from Wuhan and became a pandemic, but equally important are the answers to why countries such as the US and the UK ignored horrifying warnings of a potential pandemic and instead of doing nothing which in itself would be gross criminal negligence, they knowingly imperilled their frontline capacity. The US dismantled their pandemic response unit and the UK reduced hospital bed numbers despite dire warnings from Exercise Cygnus. Is it not the most fundamental duty of a government to protect its citizens’ wellbeing and health? To protect them from harm, be it from external enemies, civil unrest or death from disease?