Tuesday, 31 December 2019

what’s next?

 I’m very well acquainted too with matters mathematical,
 I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical.
W.S. Gilbert, The major general’s song, The Pirates of Penzance.
Instead of my usual cryptic poser, I’ve decided to set a more overtly mathematical problem for this year’s new year puzzle:

3, 5, 13, 19, 31, 43, 61, 73, 103, ??

What is the next number in the sequence, which continues to infinity?

If you found this easy, then try this one from two years ago:

Chainwords #2

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

desert island discs

I haven’t been able to confirm this, but Desert Island Discs may be the longest-running radio program in the history of broadcasting. It started during the Second World War, and it has been broadcast continuously by the BBC since 1951, initially on the Home Service and since 1967 on Radio 4, the corporation’s talk-radio station. The concept is simple: a celebrity guest is asked to imagine themselves a castaway on a desert island. Originally, the idea was that they would somehow have a wind-up gramophone and eight records, and while being interviewed about their lives, they would introduce the records they had chosen, and brief extracts would be played.

The longevity of the program can probably be attributed to the notion that one obtains a more nuanced insight into someone’s personality by discovering what turns them on musically than by anything they might say. With that in mind—and I’m never going to appear on the program, obviously—I thought that I might list the eight pieces of music that I would choose to be marooned with. I’ve listed them in approximately chronological order, and where possible I’ve linked each one to YouTube so that you can listen to the track if you’re unfamiliar with it.

Eddie Cochran: Summertime Blues
I started listening to music in the late 1950s, and for me this is the record of the decade. I didn’t become a teenager myself until 1959, the year after this record was released. It articulates perfectly what we had to put up with from grown-ups—and politicians.

Solomon Burke: Everybody Needs Somebody to Love
I was a huge fan of what I later characterized as real soul music in the 1960s. My favourite singer in this genre was Otis Redding, but this is the stand-out individual performance. This is what I wrote about it in my essay Black Music of the 1960s:
This record, more than any other, betrays the gospel origins of what was beginning to be called ‘soul music’, because it is impossible to listen to this pulsating up-tempo song without gaining the impression that one is listening to an old-style revivalist preacher whipping up the emotions of his congregation.
The Beatles: I Am the Walrus
I was 16 years old when the Beatles burst onto the music scene in 1963, and I was so impressed by Love Me Do that I placed an advance order for Please Please Me. However, if I’m going to pick a Beatles song for this list, then it has to be from their later work, because they continued to improve throughout the decade. Despite this caveat, you may be surprised to learn that it is the surreal lyric rather than any musical qualities that makes it one of my favourites. Shakespeare buffs may spot some quotations from King Lear during the fade-out groove.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: All Along the Watchtower
Although I included Hey Joe in Sixties Music: The Top Ten, my assessment of the most significant records of the decade, this is a much more accomplished work. In fact, it is an extreme rarity: a cover version that improves on the original. I’d begun to lose interest in Dylan by the time he released his version, but Hendrix really brings this song to life—so much so that whenever Dylan performs the song in concert, he uses the Hendrix arrangement nowadays. And the guitar solo on this record takes my vote as the best guitar solo in the history of rock music!

The Grateful Dead: Uncle John’s Band
Although I was aware of the Grateful Dead, I didn’t hear anything by the band until I came back to Penrith after working in Australia in 1970 and became a friend of someone who was an avid Dead fan. Although my favourite Grateful Dead album is Aoxomoxoa, this song, from Workingman’s Dead, is the one I will always choose if I’m restricted to one track. Even though I detest country and western music, and the Dead have been labelled ‘the world’s loudest country band’, this will remain my choice.

Pink Floyd: Atom Heart Mother
Pink Floyd are one of my all-time favourite bands, and if restricted to just one track, then the choice is extremely difficult. However, there is an intensely personal reason for choosing this one:
In 1971, I joined the staff of Eskdale Outward Bound School. The mainstay of Outward Bound in those days was the 26-day ‘standard’ course. The daily routine on such courses included an assembly at 9 o’clock each morning. The format of the assembly was simple: the warden made any announcements that were required, then an instructor gave an ‘inspirational’ reading and led a short prayer.
On my second course, I was asked to perform the second and third parts of this ceremony. I decided to interpret ‘reading’ in the widest possible sense. I rigged up my two large speakers to a recently acquired stereo cassette deck containing a tape that had already been cued to the start of the final movement beforehand. Before pressing the ‘start’ button, I explained to the audience that the music symbolized the symbiosis between different levels of consciousness (I’d recently been reading Timothy Leary’s The Politics of Ecstasy—and consuming LSD for the first time). I sat down and started the music. The warden didn’t look too impressed, but he said nothing.
After what seemed like a lot more than the six minutes that the final movement actually takes to play, the music stopped and I stopped the tape. The reaction was so far beyond my expectations as to be halfway to the outer reaches of the solar system. All 108 students (all male, all between the ages of 16 and 20) stood up, and I received a standing ovation. Even the warden admitted that he’d ‘appreciated’ it, and he appeared not to notice that I skipped the prayer. Several students sought me out during the day to tell me that I’d made them think. 
This may have been the single most personally uplifting experience of my entire life.
This extract is from Atom Heart Mother, my attempt to analyse what is a hugely complex piece of music that features a brass ensemble and a choir to augment the band.

Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody
In 1975, I was working at the Hong Kong Outward Bound School, and we used to take groups of students on two-day rock-climbing expeditions to the sea cliffs at Fat Tong Point, in the extreme southeast of the New Territories. On one occasion, at the end of the first day, I was listening to one of those tiny pocket radios that were popular at the time when Killer Queen began.

“Wow!” I thought. “What is this?”

Shortly thereafter, I was wandering around a branch of ParknShop, a local supermarket chain, when I came across a rack in the middle of an aisle with vinyl records for HK$20, which was a third of the price I would have expected to pay at the time in the UK. I didn’t look too closely, but I spotted a copy of Sheer Heart Attack. At that price, I was bound to want to buy it, which I did. I became an instant Queen fan and bought their next album, A Night at the Opera, on which this is the obvious stand-out track, as soon as it was released.

This is the only track in this selection that I’ve actually seen performed live. I was living in London in 1979 while working for the BBC. One evening, I was watching an arts program on BBC2, from which I learned that Queen were doing ‘a crazy little tour of London’, playing in small venues. When the program finished, it was time to take my dog for a walk, and I bumped into the  guy who lived in the ground-floor flat. I already knew that he was a sales rep for EMI, so I had an obvious question:

“Hey Nigel,” I said. “Is there any chance you can get me tickets for Queen at the Rainbow tomorrow night?”

The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park is just down the road from where I was living in Highbury.

When I saw Nigel the following evening, he handed me two tickets, not for the Rainbow but for the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand two days later! I could not have been more grateful.

One of these days, I plan to post a copy of an essay that I wrote about the band that was published by TV & Entertainment Times—for which I’d been the resident TV critic—in 1978.

Dire Straits: Sultans of Swing
By the 1980s, for someone who had begun the process of growing up accompanied by the music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino, there was almost nothing to spark my interest, but this ‘song’ was something that immediately caught my attention. It wasn’t the almost spoken delivery of the words—a feat that is technically far harder than most people realize—but the sparkling guitar embellishments that originally caught my attention.

The irony is that it’s about a jazz band, and jazz is the other musical genre that I’ve always found abhorrent. While I associate country and western music with right-wing rednecks, I consider jazz to be the music of left-wing ‘intellectuals’, and I like to think that I don’t fit into either category.

*  *  *

I will resist the temptation to include any ‘honourable mentions’, which seems to be the de facto way to present this kind of list, except for my reason for not including classical music, which I do listen to—and enjoy—from time to time. My introduction to this type of music will probably surprise you. When I worked on oil rigs in the Sahara Desert in 1968, there was always a recreation cabin, which invariably included a pool table and a ‘library’ of paperback novels that workers had purchased at airports before flying out to Libya, read and discarded. I can’t tell you how many Agatha Christie novels I read during this period.

However, on one rig there was also a gramophone, and among the small collection of records was a recording of Beethoven’s sixth symphony. You can imagine how boring it must have been in the middle of nowhere that I decided to give it a listen. To say that I was impressed would be a massive understatement. Although I’m now familiar with all Beethoven’s symphonies—and his sixth is not his best by a long way (that would be his seventh)—I’m still a rock ’n’ roller at heart, and if condemned to listen to just eight tracks, possibly for eternity, I’m always going to go with that.

I was tempted to include a rendition of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General, from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Pirates of Penzance, which is the ultimate rap song, but I know all the words, and if alone on a desert island, I can sing it myself!

*  *  *

Desert Island Discs always concludes with the presenter asking their guest that if their collection of records is threatened by the breaking waves and they can rescue just one, which one would they choose. I think that my choice is too obvious for me to identify specifically here.

The presenter then informs their guest that despite being granted the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible (the Authorized Version, I would hope), they can also have one other book on their desert island. As someone who spent almost 20 years editing other people’s books, I think that I would forgo that concession. However, if forced to choose, I might go with Epistemology: A Modern Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge by Robert Audi. This was the most challenging assignment of my editing career, and the author was so impressed by my work that he asked that my name be added to the acknowledgements at the front of the book. I haven’t read it since, even though there is a copy on my bookshelves in Penrith.

The guest is also allowed one ‘luxury’, and that is an easy choice for me: a pack of playing cards. I know more than 20 types of patience (US: solitaire), and a pack of cards is the ultimate time waster, or time passer if marooned on a desert island.

Friday, 20 December 2019

boardom

Paula and I don’t often cycle to Plover Cove Reservoir—a colonial-era attempt to solve Hong Kong’s then chronic water shortages—mainly because it involves having to cycle through Taipo, and even with dedicated cycle tracks, we prefer to avoid urban areas wherever possible. In fact, there is a cycle track running alongside Ting Kok Road, a major highway to the east that leads to Plover Cove. This may be convenient, but it’s popular with cyclists who have hired their bikes just for the day, are technically of limited competence and who have almost no awareness of other cyclists.

When we do come this way, we’ve started to detour away from the main road at the point where the cycle track crosses from the south side of the road to the north via an underpass. I discovered this detour a couple of years ago while exploring the area. It follows a series of tricky narrow paths that lead to Shuen Wan Temple, which I featured in More Door Gods #3.

To reach the start of the first path, it’s necessary to follow a quiet road for 300–400 metres, and it was along this road earlier this year that I had an encounter with wild pigs. A few weeks ago, we were cycling along this road when I spotted four pigs crossing the road some distance ahead. I stopped to take a photograph (the other three pigs had disappeared into the undergrowth):


I had earmarked this photo for inclusion in my next photographic highlights collection, but if you read on, you will understand why I will not now be doing so, although I still like the image.

On Tuesday this week, Paula and I were cycling along this road en route to the start of the narrow paths, and I advised her: “look out for wild pigs!”

And she was the first to spot one, behind an area of weeds and long grass. I stopped immediately and was just able to make out the beast’s back. I took out my camera and circled around to see whether I could get a picture. Almost immediately, I was aware that there was also a youngster, a piglet, something I’d never seen before. I started to take a photograph when suddenly the small clearing was full of pigs. Someone—presumably a nearby resident—had left two large plastic bags containing sliced bread, and the pigs were tucking in. In the first two photos, one of the bags had yet to be examined by the pigs:



…although that state of affairs didn’t last long:


For the next 10–15 minutes, we simply stood there transfixed by the scene but taking photographs every few seconds. These are the best:







The piglets had clearly been weaned, because they were just as keen to tuck in as the adults. There were five adults, as you can see from the next two photos:



I assume that the large animal in the centre is a boar, and the other four are sows.

On a couple of occasions, one of the piglets decided to come closer to investigate the strange two-legged creatures that were watching them:




The next photo shows just how much larger the boar is compared with the sows:




The boar was now beginning to wonder who we were:


Notice that his coat is much darker than those of the females, although whether that is always the case I’m unable to say.

Paula kept trying to count the piglets, which wouldn’t keep still, and she reckoned that there were at least eleven. There are ten in the next photo:



We could have stayed there taking photos for much longer, but I reckoned that we had taken enough, and we needed to press on. This is the last photo I took:


footnote
I’ve included some of the photos taken by Paula in this collection. I’ve marked her contributions with a small red dot in the top left-hand corner of each one, although the increased colour saturation in her photos should make identification obvious.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

journey to the west: the outer limits

I couldn’t do journey to the west last winter because of a succession of health problems, but Paula and I have already done this challenging ride together four times this winter. On the first occasion, we found that at one point the usual route was blocked. A new road had been under construction two years ago—a road to nowhere, it seemed to me—but it has now been completed:


The route we used to follow came down this road from a point just around the corner in the distance and then crossed the bridge over the storm drain on the right of this photo:


The road just left of the parked car was the continuation of the route.

We could have lifted our bikes over the crash barrier, but I thought: let’s see where this road leads to. I was right! It did lead nowhere, but just before it came to an end, there was a rough dirt road leading off to the right. It did seem to be merely providing access to a number of quasi-industrial sites, but you will never know for sure unless you check it out.

However, it wasn’t long before it too came to an end:


“Oh! look,” I said. “There’s a path”:


You don’t just assume that there are no forward options merely because motor vehicles can go no further (the path is directly in front of me in this image).

Because I’m left-handed, unless there’s a compelling reason to choose otherwise, I will always turn left when faced with a choice. However, the left-hand option merely leads to someone’s house; but the tricky right turn does provide an exit:


This is a strange path, with abrupt changes of direction that don’t appear to make any sense, although I’m sure there is a reason. At one point, there is a junction at which the obvious choice is ‘left’, simply because a right turn here points back towards the road, which suggests that it’s probably a dead end, because I’ve not seen any paths emerging onto ‘the road to nowhere’:


Soon after this junction, I recognized that we were approaching the narrow path that we recorded in YouTube video ‘journey to the west: narrow path #2’. The first two times we came this way, we turned right to follow that path, but then I thought that it would make a better ride if we turned left here instead and followed the original route backwards:


Unfortunately, the turn here is quite tricky, and when we tried to shoot a video, the first time we tried this option, Paula toppled over into the bushes on the left. She wasn’t hurt, fortunately, but the video of the incident will not be published!

However, we did manage to shoot a video last weekend:


It leads eventually to another cluster of quasi-industrial units, and there is a turn to a small village around 4:50 on the video, but it doesn’t lead anywhere else.

Close to where this video ends, I knew from earlier explorations in the area that there was a short Drainage Services access path running alongside a large storm drain, and further exploration seemed like a good idea. When this path came to an end, there was a rather broken path running across at right angles:


I opted to turn left here partly because turning right looked difficult because of the tight turn onto a steep ramp, even though it was probably heading in a more useful direction, and partly because I’d spotted what looked like a promising path on the other side of the storm drain. That path can be seen leading straight on in the following image, which is a still from the second video that we shot last weekend:


We usually shoot videos only of already established segments, but this path looked so good that I thought we might be able to record a first exploration of a new path. It didn’t work out that way. The path is indeed well made, unlike the broken paths that we more frequently encounter, and it goes a long way before reaching a fork:


The right-hand option is the one I chose on this occasion, but it eventually came to an end. A foray down the left-hand option had the same result. In both cases, an ‘organic’ farm was in the process of being established (I placed ‘organic’ in quote marks because I’m skeptical that any official accreditation will have been sought).

Because this attempt to record a first exploration of a new path ended in failure, it didn’t occur to me to try again with a straight-on run at the steep ramp mentioned above:


…but despite many paths and alleyways turning off the path that I chose to follow, which I ignored, eventually it reached a road, and we had established a new addition to journey to the west. This is the subject of the second video:


This video was recorded on only the second time that we followed this path, and I wasn’t sure, because of all the possible options, that I could repeat the route exactly. At some stage, however, I’m going to have to check out whether any of the paths joining this one lead anywhere useful. The main problem is that I will already have 35km on the clock when I reach this location, with a further 45km to get back to Fanling—if I include fish pond alley and the Tam Mei loop, both of which I consider unmissable—so my enthusiasm for further exploration in this area is likely to be quite dim.

another recently uploaded journey to the west video
This video follows the outward section of the journey from the summit of Ki Lun Shan Au (Saddle Pass) to the point where we stop to remove our sunglasses before passing through the PLA’s San Tin Barracks, just in case we arouse suspicion by continuing to wear them. The sharp left turn at the bottom of the hill is the start of accidental tourists, so named because when we attempted to shoot a video of a link path in this area, Paula missed the turn left at 3:09 (a right turn when coming in the opposite direction):


This section is an example of a surprisingly common phenomenon: a segment that we now follow in the opposite direction to that followed at the time of its original discovery.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

hidden history

When I’m not with her, Paula frequently sends me copies of photographs that she has taken. This happened during the summer, when she sent me a couple of photos of a Hindu temple within walking distance of our house that she’d been shown by some of her cycling friends. I was incredulous. A Hindu temple in Hong Kong? Near our house?

Naturally, I was keen to see for myself, but Paula told me that because the access path was overgrown, there were a lot of mosquitoes, so it seemed sensible to wait until it was too cold for these annoying little pests before taking a look. Last Friday, it was too cold for both cycling and mosquitoes, so I asked Paula to show me the temple.

I frequently cycle along Po Kak Tsai Road, and as with everywhere else, I looked down side roads and paths to see whether they led anywhere. Sometimes I would have to go down the road or path, but in this case, there didn’t seem any point:


This photo was taken when I visited the site, but it was a much more obvious dead end when I first passed this way. The figure in the distance here is emerging from a colossal building site, where a large number of high-rise residential blocks are being built. From the architectural style, these blocks appear to be intended for public housing.

And there is a path at the end of the original road:


The next photo shows the continuation of the path to the right of the temporary construction barrier seen in the previous photo:


The way is straight ahead:


It follows the fence line enclosing the building site and is both steep and treacherous underfoot (loose grit):


I found it necessary to hold onto the fence most of the time!

…and it continues upwards for quite some distance:



This, finally, was my first view of the temple:


It may seem from this photo that it’s a simple rectangular structure with a steeply pitched roof, but the actual floor plan is hexagonal, with doors on five sides. There is also a narrow, pointed window above each doorway:


…and there is a six-pointed star inset into the floor of the temple:


The next photo shows a raised platform on the side of the hexagon without a door:


It once housed the temple’s altar (the red wall/ceiling on this side of the temple is immediately suggestive).

Any means of access to the temple when it was still in use has now been reclaimed by the jungle, so, having seen everything there is to see, we proceeded to descend the steep access path, hanging onto the fence at every step.

However, between the second and third photos above, a concrete ‘road’ leads off to the left:


We couldn’t head off home without seeing to where it might lead! The twisted barrier on the left implies that this might have once been an entrance to whatever lies within, and there is still a security fence out of sight to the left.

We eventually came across three odd buildings, the purpose of which we could only guess:


Our guess is that they were once used to house animals, but they seemed much too small for those animals to have been horses.

And, despite its bizarre appearance, there is absolutely nothing that you can see now that identifies the temple as a religious building. However, there is a plaque next to the first doorway that provides some useful history. It was built in the 1960s (in reinforced concrete) for the benefit of the Gurkha regiment that was stationed here, because what I’ve described here is all that remains of the British Army base known as Burma Lines (formerly Queen’s Hill Camp).

The temple’s shape is intended to mimic that of the lotus, which represents beauty and holiness in Hinduism. The temple was dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, which somehow seems appropriate, given the nature of its patrons. I have only one personal experience of these hard-as-nails warriors. In the early 1980s, I used to take part in orienteering competitions organized jointly by the police and army. I can still recall a complaint by the then commandant of the Police Cadet Training School:
The [expletive] Gurkhas are running in straight lines again [on a compass bearing]!
I’d learned years ago that however tempting an apparent shortcut, you should stick to the paths because you would be ripped to shreds by the undergrowth. The Gurkhas never did. And they won every competition!

The temple has been accorded Grade 3 preservation status. The entire base was abandoned by the British Army in 1996, which may explain why it was never occupied by the PLA following the 1997 handover.

Friday, 6 December 2019

banana republics

I imagine that most people will have some idea of what constitutes a banana republic. Countries such as Zimbabwe, which was ruled by a geriatric dictator for decades, or Venezuela, which despite huge oil reserves has seen a mass exodus of its population following the misrule of an incompetent demagogue backed by the country’s military, or Guatemala, where violent street gangs dominate the social landscape. There may not be a hard and fast definition, but an element of misrule would form part of that definition.

This leads me to what may, at first glance, seem like a mere trivia question: what is the world’s largest banana republic? I nominate the United States of America! This may appear to be an utterly outrageous assertion, but take a closer look. The following table presents a hypothetical situation, but it is an attempt to explain what is happening with increasing frequency in states where the Republican Party controls the legislature:
In this hypothetical ‘state’, which returns ten members to the House of Representatives, there are 1,000 eligible voters, 600 of whom habitually vote for the Democratic Party and 400 for the Republican Party (first row). However, the way district boundaries have been drawn—and redrawn—78 Democratic voters have been located in each of four districts (second row). This leaves just 288 voters to be divided between six districts (48 per district), while there are 312 voters, 52 in each of the six districts, who will vote Republican (fourth row). The result is that the Republican Party has six representatives in Congress, while the Democratic Party has just four. And a map of the congressional districts looks like a colony of sea urchins on steroids. There’s a word for this: it’s called gerrymandering.

If this sounds outrageous, it is. But there’s more. Poor people are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate, so polling stations are frequently located in places that are not easy to reach by people who don’t have a car. And what about ‘voter suppression’? In order to make it more difficult for poor people to vote, Republican-controlled states often require potential voters to produce ID such as a driving licence or passport, both of which poor people are disproportionately less likely to possess, before being allowed to cast their ballots.

Of course, it is perfectly reasonable to redraw district boundaries to reflect demographic changes, but to leave this task to politicians invites abuse. In the UK, such redrawing is the task of the Electoral Commission, a non-political body, although that doesn’t stop accusations of gerrymandering. However, such charges are without merit, because the changes involve moving constituency boundaries wholesale a few hundred metres in one direction or another, not being deliberately selective as is the case in the hypothetical scenario I’ve outlined above.

And I haven’t mentioned the most egregious aspect of American banana republicanism. Although it had never happened until 2016, the electoral college system was always an accident waiting to happen. Thanks to this system, a mountebank like Donald Trump becomes its president despite obtaining three million fewer votes nationwide than his opponent.

I have no hesitation in labelling Donald Trump the worst president to hold that office during my lifetime. But don’t just take my word for it. In February 2018, the New York Times commissioned a poll of 170 US constitutional historians in which they were asked to assign a mark from 0 (failure) through 50 (average) to 100 (great) for all 44 American presidents. The average mark for Abraham Lincoln was 95 and for George Washington 93, while Donald Trump scored just 12, which placed him bottom of the list. Even Republican scholars placed him in the bottom five.

It’s easy to see why. Instead of owning up when he makes a mistake, which he does with alarming frequency (cf. the Central Park Five, or his insistence that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States—a requirement for anyone who wants the job), he invariably blames an imaginary ‘deep state’ conspiracy to unseat him, or laughs it off as ‘fake news’. From loudly denigrating war heroes such as John McCain to pardoning war criminals, from appointing members of his family to important jobs in the White House, despite their lacking both experience and qualifications, to appointing campaign donors with no prior diplomatic experience as ambassadors around the world while criticizing foreign service professionals who actually know what they’re doing, his oft-stated mantra of ‘America first’ should be restated as ‘me first’.

And if you think that he’s doing a great job, just ask him:
In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.
Speech to the 2018 United Nations General Assembly.
His administration has certainly succeeded in obliterating environmental and consumer protections, not to mention withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, but all these were driven by Trump’s deep hatred of his predecessor, who, incidentally, was placed eighth in the all-time list in the NYT survey I cited above with an average score of 71. And to describe any of these as accomplishments is downright laughable, which is the response he received from his audience at the UN when he made this ridiculous boast.

And I would also like to enquire: when is he actually doing his job? Sounding off incessantly on Twitter, where he plays the role of the classic playground bully, or watching Fox News for hours, or playing golf almost every weekend, doesn’t count. And neither does conducting campaign rallies for the 2020 election, which he has been doing since the early months of his presidency, something that no other president during my lifetime ever did. Some of these rallies have been truly disgusting. As an example, I would cite the time when he encouraged the crowd to chant ‘lock her up!’ about the poor woman who testified that Brett Kavanagh, Trump’s clearly unsuitable nominee for the Supreme Court, had sexually assaulted her when both were in high school.

Mention of the Supreme Court reminds me that the Republican Party refused to even consider Barack Obama’s nominee for the court, simply because it could. Now, in the current impeachment inquiry, Republicans are claiming that the president ‘did nothing wrong’, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Not only did he seek to gain a political advantage by pressuring Ukraine into investigating a political rival, he also compromised American security by withholding military aid, which would have been deployed against Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. Some Republican lawmakers have even complained that none of the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry are elected officials, as if this somehow invalidates their testimony.

Vladimir Putin clearly knew what he was doing when he authorized interference in the 2016 election, which Trump has persistently and without evidence blamed on Ukraine. However, I’ve written previously that Vlad the Bad is a shrewd political operator, which Trump is not. Far from ‘making America great again’, he has been gradually turning the United States into an international pariah, which, after all, is the ultimate definition of a banana republic.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

another bloody accident!

For the second time in a month, I’ve failed to identify a potential hazard while out riding my bike, this time with potentially catastrophic consequences. Fortunately, however, I sustained only minor injuries, and although it seemed prudent to abort the ride, I found no problems on my way home, a distance of 11–12km.

On Friday, I was out for a ride with Paula, and we’d already done the frontier road, with its added ‘attractions’, ‘way of the dragon’ and Liu Pok Hill. My accident in serendipity #4 at the end of October had resulted in that way being blocked, and I thought it likely that the blockage hadn’t been cleared yet, so I decided to try another way of navigating the maze of alleyways here.

These are two stills from the video that we produced in October:



The first image shows an early stage of the route that I originally worked out, in which I’m riding past a T-junction. The route involved looping back via #4, then turning right onto #5 at the junction (second image).

This is a closer look at the junction:


In order to avoid #4, I’d come back to the junction by traversing #5 backwards. The turn right did look quite tricky, with quite a drop off the path on both sides, so I was focusing intently on the path. So what was the potential hazard that I failed to take into account? Take a look at the following photograph, which I took once I’d got back on my feet:


Still not obvious? This is a close-up of part of the previous photo:


I’d assumed that the bougainvillea was just a mass of thin, drooping branches at head height, which I could happily brush through, but the way the plant had been pruned had left a solid stem 5–6cm in diameter. My head hit this lump of wood, and I was thrown violently into the drain below the mural. My shoulder slammed into the wall, and my forearm probably hit the edge of the path. I landed upside down, with my bike on top of me!

Paula has since told me that she was relieved when I shouted to her to “pull me up”. I’ve no idea how I might have managed to extricate myself without her help. At this point, I would like to record my heartfelt thanks to the lady who lives in the house behind the wall. Her dogs had kicked off on hearing the commotion outside the wall, and she had come out to see what was amiss. Once she had seen what had happened, she went back into her house and came back out with a selection of cold packs and dressings for my forearm, which had sustained a small but bloody gash. My only other injury was some minor abrasions to my shoulder.

My head was unharmed, because I was wearing a helmet. I never get on a bike nowadays without one, and I simply cannot understand the vehemence with which some cyclists protest that such an obvious safety precaution is unnecessary, usually on the grounds that it won’t help if hit by a fast-moving car. It does help though when hit by a stationary bougainvillea!