Five mysteries

Today’s trivia question: in the first semi-semi-trillionth of a second of the universe’s existence, a sub-atomic point of energy exploded in magnitude 100 trillion trillion trillion times to the size of what? Answer: a basketball. Other conclusions from scientists investigating cosmic microwave background radiation are stunning, including the possibility that what we think of as the entire observable universe, within light-range of us, is just a tiny bit of a far more extensive cosmos. As for what caused the Big Bang – that remains one of those great mysteries that may never be solved.

Which brings us to Malaysian Airlines flight 370. Assuming the Boeing 777 is at the bottom of the sea, and the exact causes of its diversion and loss are never discovered, we can be sure that this will join the Kennedy assassination and 9-11 as prime conspiracy-theorist material. In years to come, youngish, lonely, spotty, mildly autistic males across the globe will peddle reports of a pristine hull secreted in a jungle lair, or sightings of survivors held captive after a controlled crash-landing in Afghanistan.

Another puzzle is the Malaysian government’s embarrassing and confused responses to the emergency, leading to what will be a case-book study of crisis-management failure. In fairness to them, the officials and agencies concerned are facing huge pressure to explain an event that is not only probably unprecedented in some crucial respect, but has no explanation because the necessary facts cannot be found. On top of that are complications, like an unwillingness of regional militaries to reveal how well or badly their aerial surveillance systems work.

But it is hard to imagine many other countries coming across as this incompetent before the world’s press. As mentioned here, the Philippine authorities did a far better job with the international media when Typhoon Haiyan struck last year. The mystery here is how Malaysia, a reasonably open and relaxed nation of above-average wealth and development and with no serious enemies, ends up relating to the outside world as untrustworthy and apparently suffering some form of crippling inferiority complex.

Could it be that the relationship between Malaysia and the world is a parallel of the relationship between the mollycoddled and unchallenged (and corrupt) Malay ruling elite and the country’s institutionally suppressed but despite it all more-successful Chinese and Indian communities?

Another mystery presents itself in front of Mr Bing in Central: a Bitcoin ATM. God knows how it works. There’s a slot into which you presumably insert a card, and a screen giving the exchange rate. And there’s a niche with a tube coming down from the top – as if to dispense coffee into a cup, though possibly something to do with barcode-scanning on iPhones or some similar space-age tediousness. But the real question is: why would anyone want to convert real cash into this virtual sort?

The un-backed Bitcoin quasi-currency has already shown itself subject to greater speculative volatility, scams and rip-offs than at least some alternative stores of wealth or mediums of exchange, so no prudent person would risk holding a serious amount of it. If you are willing to run such a risk to avoid having your transactions traced, you are probably paranoid or have something criminal to hide (and are ignorant of other ways of covering your financial tracks). In a city where most people will accept Hong Kong, US or Chinese money, the esoteric Bitcoin hardly offers convenience.

Did I say esoteric? Maybe that is the attraction. It is a fashion item – a self-identity thing. The groovy and trendy hipsters paying for their Mr Bing with Bitcoin get a kick out of being so cool, moving money around with no government ever finding out, sort of like Edward Snowden, except with Beijing crepes instead of state secrets. The commission-making entrepreneurs behind the local Bitcoin-exchange operation (the savvy guys behind Mr Bing, perhaps?) will be laughing all the way to the real-world bank.

The South China Morning Post solves another mystery: why does Hello Kitty have no mouth? The answer, the cartoon cat’s management reveals to celebrate the icon’s 40th anniversary, is to ensure (in effect) that it has no character. Or perhaps I should say, to enhance its enigma. The solution to the mystery is… mystery.

On the subject of people with varying degrees of personality being unable to talk, we come to the final mystery: the non-functioning of the ‘comments’ system below. Attempts to send a comment apparently produce a strange message, or the comment disappears into the unknown, a la MH370. Maybe I will at some stage suddenly be gifted with the right sort of patience to fix things that don’t work – but meanwhile it’ll just be switched off.

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