Saturday, 8 May 2010

Election fun times!

After a surprisingly lucid day after a heavy night, minus the hangover (for now), I thought i should best update my blog.  This is the wiser option rather than "writing essays" on my Facebook, as one of my friends put it last night.
So with the results in on friday, we have a hung parliament.  Great! Or.... not so great. What we are seeing now is political parlour games between the three main parties.  Nick has stuck to his guns, surprising for a modern day politician I know, and negotiated with the Conservatives first.  This is undoubtedly the right thing to do.  Labour are in a complete state post elections, no effective leadership (calls for Gordy's resignation even), worst losses since the 1930s, about 50 less seats than the tories.  What is the response to this? Let them form government! Gordy came out on Friday afternoon claiming he is going to take his constitutional right to try and form a government with a majority as he is the incumbent. Yeah nice one Gordy, good look finding where that is written down.  This is a problem I have been highlighting all weekend, constitutional rights in the UK are a fry cry from being quotable and sound bites like in the US. You can't claim your "Second Ammendment Right", I realise that the second amendment may have been a bad choice, but you get the idea.  The British 'Constitution', quote-unquote, is actually a cobbled together notional thing made up of customs, traditions and statutes.  Yet, many people, some of my good friends included, believe that this should be enforced, because thats the way it always has been.
The foundation for a Lib/Lab coalition is electoral reform, to move towards a more representative system.  Great, I'm all for that, but we should iron out a few contradictions.  If the UK does move to PR in some form, coalition governments will be the future.  This is not a problem.  The thing about these coalition governments is that the Party with the largest proportion of the vote gets to try and form a coalition to get a majority.  If they can't, this is based on Germany, arguably the most successful use of PR, the two largest parties form a 'Grand Coalition'. Never in a PR system have the second and third placed parties formed a coalition.  More importantly even if there was a Lib/Lab coalition, they still wouldn't have a majority!
So what's more important folks, sticking to our democratic principles of the largest party being able to form government, or stopping those nasty Tories under Lady Thatcher, oh wait she left power 20 years ago, gaining power.
Its not too popular to be a Tory at university, although reading a degree in politics does allow for some constructive discussion on party politics.  However, the number one problem people seem to have with the Conservatives is the Iron Lady.  I was born just a year before she left office, so I don't pretend to know how bad or good times were.  Regardless, I cannot see the necessity in harping back to the days when the mines closed yada yada.  Grow a pair and move on.  Life isn't or wasn't that bad now, your father may have lost his job in the mine then, you are likely driving a Ford Mondeo and becoming part of that wonderful concept known as 'middle england'.  The days of Labour being for the working man and the Tories for the Toffs are done. Life moves on, parties move on, the realisation that they now have to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters, has led to more equitable policies by all parties.
Finally, to  come back to my original point, made somewhere in this messy article.  I appreciate politics is all about opinions, and that many people, especially in the north and at university, feel very strongly about the Tories.  However, it is important not to let these opinions cloud our judgement over what is the best solution. Democracy, comes above all these opinions and you cannot argue that purely in democratic terms, the tories should form government. They have the most seats, the most votes and consequently democracy says they should make government.  I saw a facebook group where the title was "Lets have a riot if the Tories get in", many people who joined this group, who I knew, were the ones advocating for electoral reform, wanting to make a better democracy.  Hold on guys, before we talk about increasing representation, lets get the basics of democracy right first! So maybe the group should be "Lets have a riot if the Tories don't get in" or "Lets have a riot if Clegg sells out 1) His integrity, and 2) The principle of democracy he holds so tight."

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore

Firstly, apologies for it being so long since my last entry! Work, traveling etc. has all meant I have been mad busy.
But now, the wait is over!
Firstly I best talk about my travels.  After a rollercoaster of a weekend before I left, with Viva Macau going bust, and consequently my flights along with them, I finally made it to Vietnam! It cost a little more but was well worth it.  We spent our first day in Ha Noi - crossing the road was particularly interesting. Take a look at a video here,  We also took a look at John McCain's, (yes, the republican candidate for presidency in 2008) residence in Vietnam for some time while he was a PoW during the Vietnam/American war.  This place was a hell hole, no lights, no toilets, no space, shit treatment just generally horriffic.  Imagine Abu Ghraib but twice as bad!  However the information, monuments, and exhibitions were all related to the "glorious struggle of the Vietnamese against the repressive French", their words not mine, honest!  I would say I was surprised but I have already seen similar in China, surprising? Maybe not.
We then went up to Sa Pa in the north of Vietnam where we spent a couple of days, trekking through rice paddies and local tribal villages.  Vietnam is such a diverse country and it was amazing to see how these local people lived.  However, as is the case with most places that are exposed to tourism, the local people didn't just want to get to know you, the wanted you to buy from them. 
After Sa Pa we made the trip to the the coast to see the world renowned Ha Long Bay.  They claim it is one of the natural wonders of the world, I won't disagree.  It was spectacular.
We then made the long journey south west to Cambodia, after a flight and a 6 hour bus ride we arrived in Phnom Penh.  Cambodia is a beautiful country that after gets marginalised in favour of its bigger, more infamous neighbour, Vietnam. 
The royal palace was once again spectacular, and then we travelled to Choeung Ek, just outside the city.  This is where the site where the maniac Pol Pot and his cronies in the Khmer Rouge murdered hundreds of thousands of their compatriots.  This was just one site and in the total reign of the Khmer Rouge, all 5 years of it, they killed 3 million people! The most shocking thing for me, is that the barbaric nature of this goes somewhat untold in the west.  Maybe because our neighbours over the pond had a hand in the downfall of the Kingdom of Cambodia, or maybe because South East Asia is too far away to worry about.  Here is a picture of the Stupa at Cheong Ek which contains the remains of over 17,000 men women and children (the children, or babies, were often killed by swinging them into trees!) 

This barbaric treatment by the Khmer Rouge was even more astonishing to me as unlike the Nazis, they did not dehumanise the people the committed genocide, they were merely deemed," enemies", at one point a criteria for being an enemy was just the fact you wore glasses!  It was more upsetting for me, how little we in the west learn about things like this!
We then moved on from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, where we saw both a huge floating village and the impressive structure of the Angkor temples!

The flight home presented us with a stop in Singapore, I was expecting a city much similar to Hong Kong.  I was shocked to see that while it had all the similar elements to HK the city was far nicer.  In the city centre you were saved from the claustrophobic feeling you can get when visiting somewhere like Mong Kok. 
Singapore is a fascinating country, a country that operates a "democracy" in the absolute loosest terms.  In fact it would be fair to say Singapore is a one party state.  Yet everybody seems perfectly content with life.  This is perhaps because of the fact that the government delivers.  Housing provision, clean water, all the usual developed world amenities, like a good hospital system, cleanliness.  The undemocratic PAP regime gets it's legitimacy from delivering world class services. 
With new studies suggesting emperically that our vote doesn't really count in some constitutions, and the often failing provisions of some of our public services perhaps the best kind of reform would be to effectively remove democracy?......

On second thoughts, maybe not...

Monday, 1 March 2010

To Pay or Not to Pay, That is The Question, or the answer?

Just before I left for Hong Kong I wrote an article for the student newspaper regarding whether or not to pay the ransom for a British couple held by Somali Pirates in the Horn of Africa.  It seems that in East Asia this issue is once again cropping up.
I read an article in the South China Morning Post today about the fear of some shipping companies in East Asia that were worried about a US-led motion to encourage all parties not to pay the ransom of these Pirates.  While shippers acknowledge rising payments of multimillion-dollar ransoms are fuelling worsening attacks on key shipping lanes linking Asia to Europe, they insist there is no other way to safely rescue ships and crew in the absence of any clear solution to problems in the failed state of Somalia.They believe a ban could further complicate the fight against pirates, putting sailors' lives at greater risk and forcing ships to use expensive new routes around the Cape of Good Hope.  Shipping organisations maintain that paying the ransom, is the safest and most expedient way to deal with the pirates, citing that this is the only way to ensure safe passage of a ship's cargo and personnel. This may hold some weight in the short term, but in the long term there are far greater implications to consider.  
Roger Middleton, a scholar on piracy at the independent London-based think tank Chatham House, said any such move would be wildly unpopular with the shipping industry. "Ransoms may not help in the long-term, but the shipping industry has found them to be the quickest, safest and cheapest solution to the problem - that is the bottom line.
"Paying ransoms eases their humanitarian concerns and it's cheaper, too, than having a ship and crew detained indefinitely or taking alternative routes that avoid the Horn of Africa."
Middleton estimates that at least US$100 million has been paid to Somali pirates in the past 12 months alone. Ransoms appear to be rising, too, with the US$7 million paid to free a Greek oil tanker last month the highest yet. Yesterday, pirates released a Greek-owned freighter, Navios Apollon and its crew of 19, captured two months ago, after receiving an undisclosed ransom payment.  This is all well and good for the shipping companies concerned with profit margins and law suits if something was to happen to one of their crews but what about the bigger issue.  How to disincentivise Somalians from undertaking Piracy?
What is needed instead is to address the real problem in Somalia.  That is, that people are suffering in poverty due to a lack of state apparatus and infrastructure.  So a hard line stance needs to be taken on Somali piracy in order to be able to enforce other legitimate means of work.  As stated above many Somalis view piracy as the only effective way to get out of a bad situation, so the most effective solution is to keep saying ‘no’ to their ransom demands and try to encourage more legitimate means for them to acquire money.  The British government should be focused on helping stimulate the Somalian economy and providing more Foreign Direct Investment to really tackle the issue of piracy.  As without this, piracy will not just go away when they have got what they wanted, it will only serve as to encourage more piracy, thus adding even more problems to an already destitute system.  
So to pay or not to pay? I say not to pay, the tens of millions of US dollars could be better aimed at providing real foreign investment in Somalia and to create some sort of infrastructure, not just appease those that hold a gun to our heads.  However, until there is a firm global stance on not paying this will have little impact, and companies will continue to pay the fees for safe passage through the Horn of Africa.  Its not often I support a global policy initiative of the US, but on this occasion they may have a point! 

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Well here it is! The update this week after some time in Beijing - I would have liked to have done it sooner but the Chinese government have blocked blogging sites as well as facebook and twitter and a whole host of other sites.  I felt somewhat lost without checking my notifications and mails, but i struggled through and had an amazing trip!
Beijing is not a particularly pretty city but it is fascinating.  The sights were amazing - the Great Wall and the Forbidden City were personal favourites.  But the authoritarian run, communist regime still allows for copious amounts of touts offering me "Friend Price" and "Very Special Offer!" I'm glad I left when I did as had a been asked to take one more ride in a rickshaw I may have taken his rickshaw and moved it somewhere that would have been quite uncomfortable for him.
Paranoia also plays a massive role in Beijing, you have to be security checked on the metro system, when going into almost all public places - even Tiannamen Square! However, I reckon this is more to make sure you aren't carrying any placards that could be used to protest in anyway, most of us living outside of China, know what happened the last time someone protested!
The people in Beijing also seem very patriotic, highlighted by numerous people gathering to watch the ceremony of the national flag being taken down on the square.  Yet, they have no hesitation in defecating the ground with their saliva.  I have never been in a place where it is so natural for people to just spit everywhere - very unpleasant!
However, the trip was a fantastic one, and one I encourage everyone to make, just to get a taste of what it is like to be in the capital city of an authoritarian regime!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Thoughts to fill the page!

Well here is my first entry, the aim, as the title states is to get something on the page.  Throughout my blog, my intention is to offer my views on the world, factually and a little satirically also.
So I have just about finished my sixth week in Hong Kong and different doesn't quite explain how things are out here.
The people here have a very different attitude on life, it is very much do your own thing, leave everyone else to it.   In Britain when someone seems out of place, maybe slightly deranged, people take the time to stop, and look, some may giggle, some may be completely awestruck.  Here, people just don't seem to care, the crazy guy outside the MTR station is just crazy. People just walk by and leave him to it.  It may be that people are far too busy here or it may be that they realize that what anyone else does that isn't causing them problems is of no consequence.
Second, spatial awareness, Asian people need to find some.  Picture the scene, me, a rather average sized but quite broad caucasian man vs. the tiny east Asian lady carrying her shopping.  It is like a game of chicken, and yet the consequence of the lady coming off worse  don't factor into her rationale as she maintains her course.  Consequently through guilt of what might happen if we do collide and also the fear that she may have some unknown strength, I always end up moving!
Classes are also very different here, 3 hours of what is essentially a lecture with a few questions thrown in.  I often end up feeling like a know it all as my local classmates are reluctant, at best, to answer questions.  My lecturer that happens to originate from the UK summed it up best when he claimed "Hong Kong students keep their brains in their feet!" That is to say, whenever a question is asked most students look intensely at their shoes for the answer.
Overall, life out here seems a lot more relaxed, its strange to say seeing as I have come to the big city from a little town.  It may be that because I don't live here, I haven't experienced HK in full force or it may be that people aren't as tense.  Certainly when the biggest political protest in HK in recent months is regarding a high speed rail network, it seems to suggest people are more content here.
I hope you enjoyed reading these ramblings, I'm off to Beijing soon, so Happy Tiger New Year!