kenny hodgart

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Her Majesty was probably just trying to be polite

This column can also be read at SCMP.COM

If you didn’t know better, you might have been excused last week for thinking The Global Times had suddenly unearthed a sense of humour.

In a piece only published in its Chinese-language edition, the sister paper of The People’s Daily lambasted the “barbarians” in the British media responsible for reporting on Queen Elizabeth being captured on video describing Chinese officials as “very rude”. “As they experience constant exposure to the 5,000 years of continuous Eastern civilisation, we believe they will make progress” when it comes to manners, the paper declared, adding a description of British journalists as “’gossip fiends’… who bare fangs, brandish claws and are very narcissistic.”

It is quite probable that some British journalists merit this characterisation. Some may even feel flattered by it. In their narcissism, moreover, they may not have considered how fortunate they are not to be bundled off at airports for crossing their political masters, as happens in China. Whatever their feelings, though, one must resist the urge to discern satire in the pages of a Communist Party mouthpiece. Indeed, the view expressed by The Global Times rather confirms something we all knew anyway and which the British monarch has exposed afresh: that the Chinese state takes itself rather more seriously than is good for it.

Let’s just recap how an off-the-cuff remark blew up into what the world’s news channels were on hand to label an “explosive” diplomatic wedge. At a garden party at Buckingham Palace last Tuesday, Her Majesty was introduced to the police commander who had been responsible for overseeing security arrangements ahead of Xi Jinping’s state visit to Britain last October. As this police commander related how a Chinese delegation had walked out of a meeting with the British ambassador to Beijing, Barbara Woodward, the Queen said: “They were very rude to the ambassador.”

Pressed into welcoming Xi with the full pomp and pageantry of the British state by a government desperate to grease up to the world’s rising superpower, the Queen would have been well aware that his emissaries had been, well, somewhat demanding. It has been reported that they wanted Chinese security officials to be allowed to carry guns and for anti-Chinese protests to be banned. Both requests were denied; however, during the visit a bodyguard tried to insert himself alongside Xi and the Queen in her royal carriage. Sources have revealed, too, that the Palace had to insist that none of the delegation use laptops or tablets during the state banquet in Xi’s honour. The President’s support staff had their own food flown over from Beijing. Moreover, on a previous visit to Britain, in 2014, premier Li Keqiang’s minders complained that the red carpet rolled out for him at Heathrow Airport was not long enough.

In short, if the Queen felt that Chinese officials had at various turns been “very rude”, she almost certainly had good reason for it. Unfortunately for her on this occasion, her own officials let her down by allowing a private conversation to be first filmed then released to media outlets. It has been suggested that she might have been more guarded, but for goodness’ sake, the woman is 90 years old and has spent her entire adult life being guarded. Not for nothing is she parodied for being anodyne in conversation.

One can only speculate as to what Xi Jinping might have had to say in private about his visit to Britain. Perhaps he thought the beer he shared with Prime Minister David Cameron revolting; perhaps he found it amusing that the English Football Association inducted a Chinese player, Sun Jihai, into its Hall of “Fame” when very few people in England know who he is; perhaps he misinterpreted protestors’ two-fingered salutes as gestures of friendship. In any event, some poor hack would be made to pay the price if it ever got out.

As for the Queen, in this day and age she has no choice but to tolerate members of her own fourth estate dragging up their country’s imperial past, and the opium wars, and calling her a hypocrite. In reality, when it comes down to it, she probably just thought it polite to agree with a policewoman.


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8 existential panics for our times

You can read this blog post at SCMP.COM –

There’s plenty of evidence out there, if you can be bothered to Google, say, “world becoming safer”, that – just so – the world is becoming safer. Lower chances of dying a violent death, better healthcare, fewer basket-case states, the list goes on. Time to stop worrying and learn – in a manner of speaking – to love the bomb, then, you might think. Well, not if you’re Bill Gates, it seems. The billionaire philanthropist last month warned of the need to be prepared for a “war” against any future Ebolas or Sarses, and endorsed the view that artificial intelligence poses a potentially demonic threat. In that spirit, I bring you a selection of my own favourite existential panics de nos jours – and in listicle form, too, for added relevance.

1. Nasty video games. To believe some people – including a certain kind of censorious, self-styled radical feminist – the fantasy realm of the video game nerd is not only a bit sexist but liable to breed dissolute, misogynistic sociopaths intent on robbing banks, killing cops and visiting sexual violence on real women. This rather ignores the fact that in the western societies whence these games originate, crime – including violent assaults on women – has been falling since the 1990s.

2. Evil Cults. According to the People’s Daily: “Underground churches and evil cults are spreading like mushrooms … The problem is very urgent.” And who, in all honesty, can gainsay the People’s Daily?

3. Morgellons disease. It may have vanished off the radar in the last year or two but, well, the medical establishment has been wrong about stuff before so one supposes it’s technically possible Morgellons isn’t simply a new manifestation of “delusional parasitosis” cooked up by attention-seeking American mentalists. In other words, either sinister government activities or extra-terrestrials really have unleashed a plague that causes people to feel things writhing beneath their skin.

4. Overpopulation. Currently fashionable cri de coeur of the eternally misanthropic. “The single biggest thing you can do for the planet is to stop re-producing” is how neo-Malthusians frame it, grimly hostile to the reality that we are living in a golden age of prosperity and poverty reduction and that such factors as trade and women’s liberation are destined to make the current boom in the world’s population temporary. Humans are the answer, not the problem. But don’t just take it from me – in their Foundation’s “annual letter”, the Gateses said all this last year.

5. The Internet. Just, you know, in general. Good for blaming stuff on. Not least: evil cults, misogynistic sociopaths, censorious feminists, whingeing Malthusians, the spread of people who think they have Morgellons disease, and global jihad.

6. Global jihad. Okay, there’ve been zettabytes of memory, jeroboams of ink and a fair amount of blood squandered on this one and I have nothing remotely new to add. But fear not, because the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, last week kinda did. Not only, he said, are jihadists badly adjusted types who feel the world is against them, but “if you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn. They are literally wankers. Severe onanists.” Any cartoonists care to… ah, let’s not go there.

7. Toxic food. If it’s not China with its gutter oil, its skagged-out fish, its pesticidal ravishment of Mother Earth and its soy sauce brewed from human hair and bits of old carpet, then it’s the fizzy pop and artery-clogging slime inflicting slow death on human porkers in decadent western nations. In reality, though, even the worst food scandals of recent years have taken vanishingly few lives compared to the devastation actual famine has wrought throughout history.

8. Revolution. No slop tofu or bovine plasma sandwiches for the wealthy – no, they have their expensive farm shops and their delectable independent grocers where everything is organic and hand-fed and bijou. That might not tip the scales, sure, but whatever – the whole class war thing is back on the agenda. Why, they were even talking about it at Davos – hedge fund managers are snapping up boltholes in New Zealand in case things blow up, apparently; and those guys know how to look out for themselves. Plus, the Guardian says that Greece electing a bunch of Trots has got everyone all fired up. Incidentally, most readings of Marx will tell you China wasn’t ready for the Revolutionary Liberation of Humanity in 1949. Ticks a few more of his boxes now, though.