Life Imitates Monty Python – Again

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Three recent news items had me shaking my head, unsure whether to laugh or cry. You have almost certainly heard or read them already, but I’ll share them anyway…

No.1: President Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court. A woman comes forward saying that he attempted to rape her at a teenage party 35 years before. BK denies it. The FBI is asked to investigate the allegation – with a whole week to complete the task. Not surprisingly, they could find no evidence one way or the other. If everything I did when I was 17 were made public, incompetent fumbling included… well, I just hope it never is. How about you?

No.2: The promoters of a new horse race (The Everest) want to project advertising material on the ‘sails’ of the Sydney Opera House. The CEO is interviewed by notorious radio shock jock Alan Jones, explains that the Opera House’s charter forbids commercial advertising, and is vilified, shouted over and threatened on air.

The Premier of New South Wales immediately orders the advertising to go ahead and the Prime Minister backs her, describing the Opera House sails as ‘the biggest billboard in Sydney’. 300,000+ people sign an online petition against the decision and a crown gathers to shine torch-beams on the sails to disrupt the display.

At one stroke the Liberal Party, already in bad odour because of the ongoing civil war that toppled Malcolm Turnbull, has alienated lovers of culture, opponents of gambling and anyone who was appalled by a) the on-air bullying of a conscientious public servant and b) the State Premier’s kowtowing to a shock jock. It is not known whether the scandal has also jeopardised the Opera House’s World Heritage status.

No.3: There is to be an APEC meeting in Port Morseby. To ensure that the participants can travel between their hotels and meeting places, a fleet of 40 Maserati Quattroportes is being airfreighted into PNG. Reportedly, they are to be distributed to Provincial Governors when their very brief service to world leaders is over. I cannot think of any words that would usefully embellish the raw facts of this act of lunacy.

The New Opium War

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There are episodes in British history that we’d all rather forget. The two great nineteenth century assaults on Chinese sovereignty are on that list. Dubbed the Opium Wars, their purpose was to open China up to foreign trade – especially with the British and especially for opium imports from British India.

The First Opium War (1839-42) went well for the British – they got Hong Kong for example – so, flushed with the success of the Crimean War, they went back for seconds in 1856.

Nowadays we are appalled at the idea of a powerful state forcing a weaker one to allow it free rein to lure people into lives of wretched addiction, but at that time it was just a matter of free trade. And foreigners didn’t count for much anyway.

I’m struck by (and stroppy about) a modern parallel. An Australian casino company called Crown has built big glittery casinos in Macau and Australia, and at the centre of its business model is the luring of rich Chinese to its tables. They are variously called ‘whales’ and ‘VIPs’. Gambling in mainland China is illegal, as is soliciting custom on behalf of gambling enterprises. So Crown operates behind a façade:

“Selling gambling?! Perish the thought! We’re just selling nice holidays at luxurious resorts whose many attractions happen to include a little casino or two.”

The leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are neither stupid nor infinitely patient. They know exactly what’s going on, including the use of offshore casinos by corrupt officials and businesspeople to launder dirty money. They fired warning shots which included the rounding up of some smaller fry from South Korea – a device known in China as ‘killing the chicken in front of the monkey’ – and then decided they’d had enough. A bunch of Crown employees, Chinese and Australian, were arrested.

Good on you, Xi Jinping, I say. I still disapprove of your lawless actions in the South China Sea and your suppression of freedom of expression in Hong Kong and on the mainland, but you can hammer Crown all you like.