It is a wrenching dilemma for an Op-Ed Page Editor. On the one hand, you need to make a bit of sense occasionally to preserve a modicum of sanity and integrity. On the other hand, you have to pander to tycoons and shoe-shine the government almost incessantly. How to strike a balance, straddle the divide, square the circle?
The answer is to carry an article that seems bold and profound on the surface, even though on a second read it says nothing at all. For a master class in how it’s done, we need look no further than today’s South China Morning Post, which features a piece on Hong Kong’s influx of Mainland visitors. This is a highly sensitive topic that manages to push every button: Mainlandization, inept government, uncaring officials and property hegemony. And there’s no airy-fairy win-win middle ground: it’s a small minority of people making millions selling tons of Ferrero Rocher to hordes of smugglers versus everyone else suffering the overcrowding, price hikes and inconvenience.
The article begins with a declaration that ‘Hong Kong must have the ability to identify and solve its practical problems’. Seven million people reel in shock and wonder why no-one had thought of this before. It then outlines various obvious truths about the inanity of sucking more tourists in and the stupidity of policymakers who focus only on big infrastructure projects to channel the tourists here (though he neglects to mention that the real aim is to channel taxpayers’ dollars into property/construction interests’ pockets). And the writer helpfully reminds us that crowding can make life stressful and, for good measure, spread infectious diseases.
The key point, however, is an astonishingly original and insightful revelation: the problem isn’t too many visitors – it’s insufficient space. (Specifically, not enough bus and train capacity, but by implication he surely means sidewalks and retail premises too.) Blaming the visitors, he says, is wrong; it’s the planning and policy that are at fault. (Anywhere else, and I’d assume this was a prematurely published April Fool’s joke, but in the SCMP in Hong Kong in 2015 it can only be true: the writer is an ‘accredited mediator’.)
So that’s the problem sorted out then! And there you all were – you silly people – imagining that there were too many Mainland shoppers, when all along it was not enough buses! What a relief.
Let’s test this idea in the comfort of our own office. Get an empty, standard-size mug and put it on your desk. Now get a big bottle of water. Start pouring the water into the mug. Don’t stop until all two litres of liquid have left the bottle. What do you notice? All your paperwork is sodden? Your lap is soaking wet? The computer is making funny sizzling sounds? No – rubbish. Relax. None of this is happening. The problem is not enough mug.
Off topic but Mr David Webb’s latest message includes a reproduction of the noble Mr Lee Kwan Yew’s passge to UK in 1946. He gives his addres as “middle temple” and travels first class. Perhaps an indication of his then (sense of self) importance.
As for the article on which Hemlock comments, his summary is seriously slanted. The “accredited mediator” is rather arguing that mainland numbers are needed to jsutify the huge infrastructure projects on which Bowtie was and 689 is fixated. Cheap shots, Hemlock. Reread the final sentence of the article.
As for the author his one claim to fame is apparently writing a book advocating extension of juries to District Court trials. Why not?
dimuendo, Hemlock doesn’t do “summaries”.
His aim is to make sense of the nonsensical, bring light where all was deliberate darkness, expose hypocrisy, venality and plain stupidity, in sum help his readers understand where HK has been and where it is going.
His methods are logic, intelligence, coherence, irony, humorous exaggeration that often turns out to be an understatement, bias towards the true, the fine and the good, and selective quotation as a means of fighting the morass of stultifying boredom engulfing some of us.
Thanks for your explanation. Given that, I have re-read the article (I do not have the erudition as to say what is worse than a life of “stultifying boredom” but I am in it). Hemlock chose to highlight this particualr article and whether it is a comment, summary, witticism, whatever, it is off and not to his usual standards. Even his analogy of the mug and water (which in the absence of having read the article is fair enough) is poor, given the cartoon above the article of the ovecrowded bus, which is rather more apt given the subject matter.
PS I no longer get into fights (in Wanchai) as too old and I normally lose.
OK, so that op-ed had one good point about how we’re stuck shipping in armies of visitors to justify the existence of our massive infrastructure spending (tail, wag dog), but that just makes it one valid point buried in a pile of filler. Perhaps the SCMP op-ed editor has a ration. “OK, we’ve already published three valid points this week and it’s only Tuesday. That’s it, quota filled, it’s all going to be pointless fluff, verbal diarrhoea and ‘waarrggaarbll’ noises from the two-headed Lo-Chugani Beast until Friday.”
I’ve been catching up on Suzanne Pepper’s depressing dissections of the Post-Occupy Democrat-Flogging Olympics, the Great Anti-climactic Foreign Forces Climbdown, and the growing Independence Is Starting To Sound Pretty Good If You’re Going To Keep Calling Me A Traitor Movement. http://chinaelectionsblog.net/hkfocus/?p=1235
The question she’s raised is whether Beijing is capable of learning the meaning of the word “backfire”. I wouldn’t put my money on it.
dimuendo, Certainly Hemlock has done better, and it may be true that he labours the point somewhat, but this should be compared with the “competition” and it would be unreasonable to expect fireworks every day of the week.
More generally, remember he’s combating people who don’t play fair, like Alex we-are-all-Chinese-even-if-some-of-us-are-North-American Lo and Michael why-bother-with-democracy Chugani. When dealing with wilful inanity and persistent vapidness, some methodological leeway should be granted.
Your second comment agreed. Some of the SCMP is shameful.