Monday, 28 November 2016

bamboo garden

When I posted South Side Story last year, I included the photograph on the right as a typical example of a traditional Chinese house, accompanied by the following text:
The house in the following photo appears to be abandoned, but there is a secure fence around its grounds, so closer inspection is not possible. Like many similar houses, it has painted friezes underneath the eaves and plaster mouldings on the gable end under the roof, but also like many other such houses, these have not been maintained and have faded badly.
However, having been thoroughly drenched while out cycling on Saturday, I decided that a quiet walk would be a better bet yesterday. And because Paula wasn’t familiar with all the narrow paths and alleyways on the south side of Sha Tau Kok Road, this would be a good opportunity to enlighten her.

As part of our itinerary, there was one particular path that I wanted to check out. It had been blocked, illegally, last year, as shown in the following photo:


The streetlight indicates that this is a public right of way, but the concrete wall (seen in profile) has been moved to the left. While I was explaining to Paula that I’d lodged a complaint with the Lands Department, a man with a barrow came along and overheard what I was saying. He was extremely aggrieved, because the rudimentary path that has been created to get around the obstruction cannot be negotiated with a barrow, even if the barrow is empty. He had to carry his!

Anyway, this path also leads past the house pictured above, and when we reached the entrance gate, there did not appear to be any impediment to gaining access, apart, that is, from a considerable amount of undergrowth. And that was never going to stop me. I hadn’t noticed it previously, but the characters over the entrance proclaimed the name of the place:

Bamboo Garden

My first aim was to get a closer look at the friezes under the eaves on the front elevation of the house. There are three doors on this frontage, and the next photo was taken from in front of the middle door:


The doorposts and lintel are of an igneous rock that is commonly used in the prestigious buildings around here. Without chipping a piece off, I can’t say definitively what type it is, but judging by the colour it is probably diorite (even though it is described as ‘granite’ where its use is noted in the gatehouse of Kun Lung Wai).

The next photo is of part of the painted frieze above the left-hand door and gives some idea of how elaborately decorated this house must have been in its heyday:


I might have been happy with the last two photographs, but to our surprise the middle door was bolted from the outside but not locked. Naturally, we wanted to see what was inside:


The previous photo is of the room behind the right-hand door. What you see here is just a thin wooden partition. I went through the right-hand opening and found another door leading to the outside. I found myself in a narrow passage between the main house and some kind of annex (shown in the next photo), and it was only after we’d returned home and I’d looked at the photos I’d taken that I realized that we hadn’t taken a look upstairs in the main house.


At the end of the passage and around the corner, there was a stone staircase leading to a balcony that ran the full length of the first floor of the annex. And at the far end of the balcony, there was another staircase leading to the flat roof of the annex:


…from where I was able to take this picture of the roof of the main house, an excellent example of traditional Chinese roofing:


Having seen all there was to see here, we then descended to the open area next to the gable end of the main house so that I could take a look at the plaster mouldings. The first photo is a general view of that gable end, while the second is a closer view of the mouldings at the apex. I’ve no idea what kind of creatures are flanking the central plaque, but I’ve seen them before on other buildings. They look like weasels to me, but the tails are reptilian.



The next photo shows how the main house and the annex are connected, although I would not have included it if it weren’t for the curious rooftop connection to another building:


That building is relatively modern—from the style, I would estimate that it was built in the 1960s—and it too was not locked. Of all the things that you do not expect to find in an abandoned building, I would imagine that a harmonium would come very close to the top of the list:


The two framed scrolls on the wall opposite the harmonium might reasonably have been expected. There is a reference to the Buddha, and a date of 1st September, although the year has been recorded in the arcane system that links them to the reigns of particular Chinese emperors, so I can’t provide the Gregorian equivalent.


The harmonium and the scrolls should probably have given us a clue, not to mention the octagonal window on the first floor—eight is the lucky number in Chinese culture—but I reckon that nothing could have prepared us for what we found upstairs:



There was only one more thing to check out: the other gable end of the main house. Because of the trees and other vegetation, it wasn’t possible to stand back to get a better view of the mouldings, so the final photo was the best I could do. It appears to be a torch or similar symbol:


Despite the length of time I’ve spent in Hong Kong, the territory still has the capacity to surprise–and delight—me. And it’s just done it again.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

the long way home

Although I could catch a minibus from Fanling station to my home—and as the holder of a senior Octopus card it would cost me only HK$2 (20p; ¢26)—I’m more likely to walk. After all, it’s only 3km. And, in any case, there is just one minibus every 30 minutes during off-peak times, so if I have to wait more than 15 minutes for the next one, I will beat it home.

However, if I’m not subject to any time constraints, which is most of the time, I usually take a longer route, because there are a lot of points of interest along the way. I start by following the road north, parallel to the railway and alongside a dedicated cycle track. There are such cycle tracks leading from the station to both north and south, but this one comes to an abrupt end, meaning that cyclists are forced to ride on the sidewalk or the wrong way on a dual carriageway if they wish to continue:


Fortunately, it is possible within a very short distance to turn into a side road, which leads past the Tsz Tak Study Hall:


This hall was built in 1846, and it functioned for many years as a school for local village children. It is also reputed to double as an ancestral hall for the Pang clan, although I’ve never seen it open and therefore cannot confirm this statement.

A short distance further on, I come to the rear entrance of Fanling Wai. Two women can be seen approaching this entrance in the following photograph.


Wai is the Cantonese word for ‘enclosure’, which generally implies a walled village. In this case, however, almost nothing of the original walls survives. The following photo shows the main ‘street’ of the wai, which is narrow, dark and gloomy:


But if you thought the main through route was dark and narrow, then check out the side alleys. So little light reaches the ground level here that when I tried to take a photo, the flash on my camera kicked in automatically:


The following photo shows the ‘front’ of the wai, with one of the original corner guard towers on the left and the main entrance to the right.


The three white circles are said to enhance the fung shui of the wai, but regular readers will know that I regard fung shui as a system for parting the gullible from their money. However, if there is anything in the idea, then the fung shui of the houses in Fanling Wai must be absolutely abysmal. Incidentally, village houses are restricted by law to three storeys, but as these photos show, the law is widely ignored.

A little further on, my route home passes the Pang Ancestral Hall, which was moved to its present location in 1846 to improve its fung shui and rebuilt in 1884. I’ve never seen this building open either, and it is almost impossible to get a good photo, because of the cars parked in front:


The next landmark, on the far side of the only main road I need to cross on the level, is Sam Sheung Temple. I have no information on when this temple was built, but despite being cut off by a main road, it is clearly associated with the Pang clan and Fanling Wai.


Note the dragons on the roof tree, and towards the gable ends, two fish. The significance of fish in Chinese culture stems from the fact that the Chinese words for ‘longevity’ and for ‘fish’ sound the same.

The temple is at the top of a slope down towards a typical pedestrian/cyclist underpass. I’ve included the following photo as a kind of salutary warning against being impulsive, which is possibly my biggest fault:


I only rarely come this way on a bike, but last winter, because of unusual circumstances, it was necessary for me to ride through the subway and turn left. Knowing that once I’d turned the corner I would have a slope to contend with, I didn’t slow down for the bend. Unfortunately, I took too tight a line around the bend, and my handlebar smacked into the metal railing, throwing me across the track. The really silly thing is that I could have managed this slope in top gear from a standing start, but I was trying to be too clever.

Anyway, once I’ve used the subway to cross to the other side of a busy road, it isn’t long before I can turn off through a squatter area:


There are several different paths that I could take through this section, but if I turn left at this junction, I will soon reach the local river:


The previous photo was taken from a footbridge across the river, from where my goal is a road bridge in the distance. I get there by following the Drainage Services access road in the final photograph:


And that leads me home.

Friday, 18 November 2016

get lost

Yesterday, the BBC News website carried a story under the following headline:
Dementia game ‘shows lifelong navigational decline’
As someone who is 70 years old, and who prides himself on his navigational prowess, I was naturally intrigued. However, my reaction after reading the story can be summed up in one word. Bollocks! Of course, there were statements in the article with which I could not disagree, such as ‘Getting lost is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease’. But then, as someone who has tried to teach the elements of map-reading to hundreds of people, I know that most are hopeless at navigation to begin with. When I lived in London between 1978 and 1981, I was constantly amazed by the number of visitors who couldn’t find their way around the Tube network, despite the clear signposting.

Apparently, the research described in the BBC report involved using a smartphone to play a video game that involved ‘sail[ing] a boat around desert islands and icy oceans’. According to the report, 2.4 million people had downloaded the game, and the research team, from University College London (UCL), had analysed the results to conclude that people’s navigational skills began to decline from their teenage years onwards.

One of the set ‘tasks’ in the game was to fire a flare in a particular direction, and it would seem that average accuracy fell from 74 percent for teenagers playing the game to 46 percent for players aged 75. The UCL researchers claim that this ‘suggests the sense of direction declines consistently after the teenage years’, but I would suggest that all it shows is that teenagers are better at playing video games than older people.

There were other findings, including that men scored better than women, although that too could be down to boys being more adept at video games than girls. Perhaps the most intriguing of the interim results reported was that people from Nordic countries scored consistently above the global average. There was reference to a ‘Viking spirit’, although no explanation of why this might be so was offered.

Of course, anecdotal evidence does not automatically invalidate rigorous scientific research, but I would have no hesitation, as someone who has navigated successfully across featureless deserts and routinely through miles of thick fog, in claiming that my sense of direction is better than that of the average teenager, although my ability to play a video game is probably crap.

A more accurate test of a person’s navigational skills would be to take them along one of my bike rides here in Hong Kong, then ask them to retrace their steps exactly. My prediction is that very few people would be able to do so. Although I do this all the time when traversing new paths for the first time, I don’t consider it easy given the dozens of places where it is possible to take a wrong turn.

So what do I think of the conclusions of this research? Will it eventually result in the development of a simple diagnostic test for dementia? You can probably guess:

Get lost!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

zoological garden

I’ve not been in the habit of doing any cycling on Sundays, mainly because there are too many people who hire bikes for the day but have woefully inadequate cycling skills, chief of which is a total lack of awareness of every other road user. However, since I started to explore the area northeast of Fanling earlier this year, I’ve found that not many cyclists come this way, so today I was out on the route I’ve already established (Nothing to See) to see whether I could improve it.

Regular readers will be aware that when I’m out in the Hong Kong countryside, and I pass the end of a road, track or path leading off the road I’m on, I want to know where it leads. In most cases, that road, track or path is a dead end, but sometimes even the dead ends reveal something that makes the detour worth while. I’d ridden past the road in the following photograph several times, but today I decided that it was time to check it out.


It was yet another dead end, but the wall on the right was quite a surprise. It looks as if the following images were painted quite some time ago, because they’ve faded, and the occasional streaks of blue and orange suggest that these were once elaborate paintings, but I thought that even in their present state they were worth recording.







There does seem to be something of a culture in the area of painting walls in this way, because Ghost Alley is no more than half a kilometre away, and I took the following photo between the two sites:


I have not yet checked out where this particular path leads, but it probably has a few secrets to reveal.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

american nightmare

So the American electorate has spoken, and to my mind it hasn’t just shot itself in the foot. To maintain the shooting analogy—and the president-elect is no supporter of gun control—that electorate has just performed a blowjob on a .44 Magnum, which, as ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan has pointed out, “is the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off”. Somebody wasn’t paying attention.

I am utterly incredulous that a self-declared sexual pervert, a blatant misogynist and an overt racist could take in so many people, but Donald Trump has clearly tapped into the rich lode of disillusion with the status quo that many Americans feel. I wonder whether he will remember Abraham Lincoln’s famous dictum:
If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
speech delivered in Clinton, Illinois, on 8th September 1854.
Trump made quite a few wild promises in the run-up to the election, and some of these will be next to impossible to fulfill. Take his promise to build a wall along the Mexican border and to make Mexico pay for it. I imagine that a lot of people will have taken him at his word, but I wonder how many of them are aware that America couldn’t afford to build it, and even if it could, when asked to stump up the cash Mexico would simply tell him to get stuffed.

And what about his promise to deport the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States? The US economy would collapse if he ever succeeded in that endeavour. There are millions of menial jobs in that economy that white Americans are simply not prepared to do, particularly in the agricultural sector. As for all the jobs that have been lost in the so-called ‘rust belt’, where Trump clearly had a huge amount of support, the unemployed blue-collar workers there will quickly become disgruntled when they see that they’ve been sold a pig in a poke. Manufacturers will always make their products where it is cheapest to do so, the upshot being that the jobs lost there are gone for ever.

As for his boast that he will best China in trade, I can only say that I’d like to see him try. He might make some headway if he were to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, but I would expect him to regard such a course of action with disdain. After all, he has claimed, in his book The Art of the Deal, that “I understand the Chinese mind”. It takes a peculiar species of arrogance to make such a claim, which I would never make, even though I’ve spent most of the last 43 years in Hong Kong. In fact, Trump is a geopolitical dunce who will be out-manoeuvred at every turn by the Chinese—and also by Vladimir Putin, about whom he has spoken so favourably. However, Putin is a shrewd political operator who will eat a President Trump for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Trump has also called for Muslims to be barred from the United States “until someone can figure out what the hell is going on”. I would have thought it obvious: what is going on is that a group with an extreme fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has set itself up in the vacuum created by his predecessor’s ill-advised invasion of Iraq 13 years ago and will do whatever it takes to spread their poisonous ideology throughout the world. And “bombing the hell out of IS” will not resolve the problem.

In fact, I would be surprised if Trump even understands the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam, even though that difference is crucial to what is going on in the Middle East. So the West, collectively, supports Saudi Arabia, one of the most reactionary and repressive regimes on the planet, while demonizing Iran, which has good reason to hate America and distrust its motives. From the Anglo-American coup d’état in 1953 that toppled Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, to George W. Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ speech in 2002, which cemented hardliners in power and marginalized moderates in the Iranian regime—even though Iranian moderates had facilitated American entry into Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks—America has got it wrong with respect to Iran. And Donald Trump has said that he will tear up the recently concluded agreement with Iran on nuclear development, presumably to appease Israel. That would be a huge error of judgement.

We have already heard what Trump thinks of Mexicans (“rapists”), but he also plans to row back on the progress made by President Obama in normalizing US/Cuba relations, although whether this is because he hates Obama or whether this is merely because he despises Latinos—or both—is a moot point.

Of course, many will see the story of Donald Trump as the embodiment of the American dream—a self-made billionaire who made it all the way to the White House—but beyond the glitz and glamour it’s worth taking a much closer look. As a businessman, he filed for bankruptcy no fewer than four times, although he claims that this kind of procedure is common in business, and he was smart to do so. In other words, having run up massive debts, he was able to hide behind the law to avoid repaying those debts, while those to whom he owed money, including employees and small subcontractors, lost out. That doesn’t make you smart Mr Trump; it makes you a crook and a swindler.

As for the so-called American dream: I’m reminded of an email that my cousin Dave sent me a few years ago:
I sometimes think that Americans are particularly prone to a belief in the good intentions of their leaders because of their particularly idiotic belief in the ‘American Dream’, which I believe is the greatest control device and negative feedback cycle any political system ever created. Basically, anyone can make it in America. If you don’t then for a variety of reasons it’s your fault, and to bitch about the failure and the system demonstrates your weakness. And worse, it’s un-American.
Anyway, I’m not American, so I can close this diatribe by reminding you of one of my favourite words: schadenfreude, a mischievous delight in the misfortune of others. There was only one thing that Mr Trump got right in his entire election campaign: America is no longer great. And how ever hard he tries, he will not make it great again. America is in terminal decline, and it has just elected a carnival barker as its next president.

Monday, 7 November 2016

the apple tree needs shaking

In August 1985, I wrote to the South China Morning Post to express my outrage at the attempts to suppress democracy that were taking place in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the signing of the Joint Declaration between China and Hong Kong. Following the pro-democracy protests in the territory in 2014, I tried to locate that letter the next time I was in the UK, without success. However, I did finally manage to find the letter this summer, and given the current crisis and the likely interference in Hong Kong’s affairs by the Chinese government, I reproduce it here.

*  *  *

If I say that Mr Chan Kou is an enemy of democracy, it is because he has chosen to write in such a vague, cloudy style that I could have mistaken his meaning. Indeed, were it not for the fact that somewhere in a mass of undigested verbiage he was probably trying to say something important, I would not have spent several hours trying to excavate a meaning. Out of the jumble of clichés, mixed metaphors, non sequiturs and general absurdity, I can select only a few remarks for comment, and if I have taken these out of context and thereby misapprehended his intentions, perhaps Mr Chuan will enlighten me in due course.

In the first place, ‘one country, two systems’ is not a political innovation. It is a catch-phrase. And like all catch-phrases it has a fine sound but means little—or, rather, what meaning it does contain is deeply buried. It is worth taking a closer look. What are the two systems? Most people will probably feel, instinctively, that they are democracy and totalitarianism.

Now that it is 1985, it may be considered passé to quote George Orwell, but nobody has pinpointed the essentially schizophrenic mentality of totalitarianism with greater clarity. In Inside the Whale, he wrote that an adherent may be required to alter his fundamental convictions at a moment’s notice, on pain of damnation. “The unquestionable dogma of Monday becomes the damnable heresy of Tuesday….” And so it does. It has happened several times in China since 1949, and just because China is passing through a relatively liberal phase at present is no guarantee that it will continue to do so. In fact, democracy and totalitarianism are fundamentally incompatible.

Is it not more likely that the two systems are socialism and capitalism? This presents far fewer problems, because capitalism can flourish as well under fascism as it can under a democratic government. It is not simply that Taiwan and South Korea enjoy American military protection that has allowed them to remain independent for more than 30 years. The communists can bide their time, safe in the knowledge that whatever ideological re-education is necessary when the time comes, the eradication of democratic habits of thought will not be a serious problem.

With his references to “budding politicians and public affairs activists…jumping on the bandwagon”, and sinister threats, as in “Hong Kong people…showing with facts that they know how to behave”, Mr Chuan seems to mistake the silence of the majority for approval, while those who speak out are saboteurs, wreckers or meddlesome fools.

Mr Hilton Cheong-Leen, in a recent report covering his candidacy for the forthcoming Legco elections, talked about “consensus…the Chinese way”, which is another way of saying the same thing, reinforced by an appeal to Chinese nationalist sentiments and an implicit put-down of the confrontational politics of the West.

However, there are at least four possible reasons for the deafening silence with which Hong Kong people greet almost every major issue: (1) they approve of whatever is happening and feel that no further comment is needed; (2) they do not approve but feel that protest is pointless; (3) they do not care; and (4) they do not understand the issues involved.

Anyone who believes the first reason is also capable of believing that the current Umelco [unofficial members of the Executive and Legislative Councils] represents the broad mass of the people. Of the other three, the fourth is a strong contender. Coming from a society in which political consciousness is part of one’s way of life, I’m bound to say that the lack of political awareness in Hong Kong is appalling. However, my inclination is to attribute the quietism of Hong Kong’s people to a mixture of hopelessness, apathy and ignorance, the proportions varying from person to person.

The problem is this: how can this situation be reconciled with the establishment of democracy? The short answer is that it cannot. A passive population is a godsend to both the dictator and the revolutionary (and, it might be added, to the bureaucrat). Far from telling people to shut up Mr Chuan, I suggest that you encourage them to ask questions. Why is this happening? What will be the result? Who will benefit? And, most important of all: what can I do?

This brings the argument full circle, because one thing the average citizen can do is to query the utterances of public figures. Referring back to the story on Mr Cheong-Leen, I quote: “But I know when to stand up and be counted.” This sentence is meaningless. It is also too much of a cliché to be counted a neat piece of rhetoric, but to the politically innocent it is a fine-sounding statement, which is why it was made in the first place.

My natural instinct is to ask: when? A politician must be judged on his or her record, not on a vague statement of intent, and it is a fact that compared with his challenger, Mrs Elsie Elliott, Mr Cheong-Leen is not in the same universe. If the test of an honourable politician is someone who is not afraid to make enemies, even of those who are in a position to retaliate with some savagery, then Mrs Elliott may qualify as the only honourable politician in the territory.

And this brings me to another statement from the same story, an unattributed quote that I thought was quite irresponsibly placed near the top of the story. It was suggested that Mrs Elliott was too old and too radical to be an effective legislative councillor. This comment turns on the word ‘radical’, which in Hong Kong appears to have the connotations of a swear word. I can only say that far from being to her detriment, this is Mrs Elliott’s strong point: she has never been afraid to speak out on anything that she considers an injustice.

Imagine this: we could be on the edge of a historic watershed, the appearance of a legislative assembly that actually holds debates! The important point is not whether she is right or wrong. The freedom to disagree is crucial to the spirit of democracy. The key is that issues are discussed, which brings me back to Mr Chuan Kou.

If he really does believe that “a vociferous minority has churned up lots of idealistic but unrealistic claptrap”, then he does not believe in debate, and his later reference to Mao’s ‘Hundred Flowers’ movement, apparently self-contradictory, is in reality something of a giveaway. After all, the original of that reference was no more than a clever little trap to smoke out ‘unreliable’ elements in the Chinese Communist Party.

And Mr Chuan is certainly in distinguished company. Miss Maria Tam, for example, must be one of the most powerful opponents of democracy in Hong Kong. It should not be forgotten that she opposed direct elections to Legco on the grounds that it could throw up ‘unsuitable’ candidates. (For those who missed the earlier lesson in doublespeak, ‘unsuitable’ in this context means politically ‘unreliable’, which is itself a euphemism for having genuine popular support). And it was Miss Tam who played a major role in steamrolling the Powers and Privileges Bill through Legco recently. Pious protestations to the contrary, this had nothing to do with democracy; it was a vital step in the creation of a self-perpetuating oligarchy. It is to be counted a huge stroke of luck that enough people saw through this particular scam for it not to work.

Unfortunately, Hong Kong is going to need much more than luck if anything that even remotely resembles democracy is to appear before 1997. (We can take it as read that if not before, there is no chance after.) I do not begin to claim that I have all the answers, or even some of them, but if this letter forces people to think, then it will have served its purpose.

In the meantime, we should see that a catch-phrase like ‘maintaining the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong’ is just that—a catch-phrase, a rallying cry for those who have a vested interest in retaining the present system of patronage and privilege, and a subtle admonition that to speak out could mean shaking the apple tree. Well, I say shake the damned tree! Although it could turn out to be quite a shock when we discover how much fruit is already rotten.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

breaking wind

I don’t know how many Americans know this, but ‘trump’ is a genteel British English term for ‘fart’. Sound appropriate? The Republican candidate for US president, Donald Trump, is probably, by a considerable distance, the worst nominee for US president by one of the country’s main political parties in my lifetime. Yet his chances of winning the election on 8th November are not negligible, because his opponent is probably the worst Democratic nominee for president since her husband 20 years ago.

However, it is on Mr Fart that I want to concentrate. His attitude to women (and young girls) may be thoroughly disgusting; his calling his opponent ‘crooked’ may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black; his economic illiteracy may be lamentable; and his lack of understanding of geopolitics may be deplorable; but it his scientific credentials, or lack of them, that is the biggest cause for concern. Take his attitude to global warming:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
Twitter, 6th November 2012.
This fatuous comment is on a par with his recent claim that Mexico has been ‘stealing American jobs’. No it hasn’t! Manufacturing in the USA is simply too expensive, and if he’d been in the business of making things instead of running hotels and casinos, he would probably have been the first to move his factories south of the border. However, the following tweets on climate mark him as a total ignoramus:
NBC News just called it the great freeze — coldest weather in years. Is our country still spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?
Twitter, 25th January 2014.
Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond. Global warming is an expensive hoax!
Twitter, 29th January 2014.
Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air — not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense.
Twitter, 29th January 2014.
I never had much time for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, but she did have a science degree (chemistry), and I feel sure that she would have called him out on this outrageous line in bullshit. She would certainly have pointed out that the science is incontrovertible Mr Fart, but as she is no longer with us, allow me to explain instead.

First, I should point out that to describe the effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a ‘greenhouse effect’ is misleading. It should instead be described as an enhanced greenhouse effect, because water vapour in the atmosphere also has a warming effect. In fact, were it not for the presence, throughout Earth’s history, of this water vapour in the atmosphere, the planet would be uninhabitable, because the global average temperature would be around –20 degrees Celsius.

The mechanism by which this warming effect is created is clearly understood. The shape of a molecule (of water, carbon dioxide, methane, etc.) means that it blocks radiation at most wavelengths, but it does allow radiation through in the near infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This radiation then heats up the various surfaces of the planet, to a point where no more radiation can be absorbed and the surplus is re-radiated. But, and this is the crucial point, this re-radiated energy is at a longer wavelength, one that is blocked by the very molecules that allowed in the original shorter-wavelength radiation. This means, obviously, that more energy is entering the system than is disappearing back out into space, a fact that is confirmed by NASA’s monitoring satellites.

Now we come to the part that Mr Fart clearly cannot understand. More energy in the system means more turbulence, which in turn means more extremes of temperature and more violence in the weather. If the average global temperature is rising—and it is—then in addition to the places that are experiencing higher than usual temperatures and lower than usual rainfall, there will be places where temperatures are lower than usual and rainfall is higher. And as the planet warms up, these fluctuations will become more and more extreme, so that tropical cyclones, and the winter storms of more temperate latitudes, will be more intense, more violent, and more disruptive.

I’m not religious, but in appealing to American voters to reject this vile mountebank, I can think of nothing better than to quote the Old Testament:
The Philistines be upon thee, Samson.
Judges 16:20 (Authorized Version).
By which time, of course, it was too late.