The Afghan Tragedy

Education, Social Restrictions, and Justice in Taliban-Held Afghanistan |  HRW

When working with refugees in the UK a decade ago,  I was at the time fascinated by how the Hazaras and the Pashtuns would never share space together.  One would wait in the corridor while the other chatted to the staff. Even though there was plenty of volunteer staff,  in the end,  you had to go out into the corridor to discuss whatever they needed.  All they really needed what’s the basics but human survival. but tenacity, determination and humility was built into them, yet suspicion of each other prevailed.  

Afghanistan is commonly called the graveyard of empires but in fact, it has never rarely been one country, and never a nation.  The Taliban, a product of Saudi-funded Pakistani religious schools, are not just the Mujahideen who battled the Soviets. They are actually mostly Pashtun, and despised the multi-ethnic nature of the Mujahideen. It is these religious students cum-warriors who are now in sole charge of a multi-ethnic state. 

Yet what seems like a collapse is in reality a slow-moving tragedy.   The true crumbling began 3-4 years ago when the US and its allies in NATO started to draw down their presence, opening up space for the Taliban to fill. It was estimated that by 2018 the Taliban was openly-active in 70% of Afghanistan,  so they simply waited their time, salami slicing the country. Amongst foriegn military commanders, the collapse was no surprise. For, the Afghan army is ⅛ the size of the US, yet has far more Generals; a sign of the competing ethnic groups, who have all sought recognition and their slice of the pie.    

Biden will receive a lot of criticism for its sudden withdrawal a few weeks ago, and rightly so. But the truth is this interventionist error has been commonplace for the great powers for a long, long time from the Persians, Mongols to the Soviets.  For the US, even going back to the Korean War, it took another 30 years before Korea became a democracy, and in that time the US was happy to support an autocrat.  Vietnam of course is commonly known. In short, its values rarely cross the seas 

The Iraq War in 1991 was ironically probably the smartest so far avoiding carving up a divided Iraq and merely bringing an  autocratic Kuwaiti Royal Family back to power. It is the second Iraq war, the Invasion in 2003 which was not only a societal disaster, but also set the template for Afghanistan. You might remember the original invasion of Afghanistan was about capturing Osama bin Laden. After 9 years of searching, Osama was then not surprisingly finally found where?… in Pakistan. In the meantime the US attempted to reshape Afghanistan, pouring money into institutions and ineffective systems in  a country that has never been systematic, had always had its warlords,  and yet ironically, only now Afghanistan will become united and systematic under one central power: the Taliban. 

In the end, the US wanted out of its war, depressingly called The War of Afghanistan rather than for it. While this defeat for the US and the liberal values is painful, I don’t expect them to learn much from it.  It’s really a defeat for the hopes and future of the ordinary people in the towns and villages of Afghanistan.

Messi leaves: (aka Barcelona without Puyol)

Lionel Messi FURIOUS at Barcelona chiefs with Xavi, Puyol and Cruyff set to  take over and end Nou Camp civil war

(Remember when Barcelona put UNICEF on their shirts for free?)

So Messi has left Barcelona to take a 1 million euro deal at Paris Saint-Germain. Barcelona were unable to afford his fee within the budget, which has been greatly limited by their atrocious spending over the past 5/6 years: Coutinho for 142m, Griezmann and Demeble for 120 million each. That is 400+ million without return. On top of that, Messi’s previous salary was an incredible 555 euros over 4 years. While Messi is not in charge of offering the contracts, he must have surely known at the time that this was an eye-watering amount for any club to offer. Of course, Messi is arguably the greatest player in history; yet this is a club that gave him his debut and career, and the opportunity to play with some of the best players of their generation. However, he still needed more money in his mind.

And when I talk about some of the best players of the generation, this is where Barcelona have really fallen down. They fell into the trap that their success was inevitable as part of some ingenuity or training methods, rather than a coincidence of history. Their Academy, La Masia, had produced a golden generation, much like Ajax or Manchester United in the 90s. Yet as we can see from both those clubs, that was the only generation, and rarely have they produced players of that quality and certainly not in that volume again.

This is true also of Barcelona. While Pique is still there, he’s now in his mid 30s. But the key players like Xavi, Iniesta Messi and most importantly of all Puyol, are long gone. And you can mark your calendar to the year 2014, when Xavi and Puyol both left the club: one to take some fat wages in Qatar, the other, Puyol, the club captain, into retirement. For me, he is the key figure. His retirement really matters. They haven’t held the Champions League since, and their defensive collapses have been spectacular.

It’s a simple fact in football that you can’t keep out-scoring other teams. It’s exhausting, unbalanced and unreliable. There simply aren’t enough reliable strikers, and while Barcelona had the likes of Suarez on huge wages, in the end they were still greatly reliant on Messi. He continued to deliver even as the team fell away, but the real failure to address the defence is where the team has suffered. After all, as Italy showed us in the Euros and has shown over generations, if you have a great defence, you are in every game, and every game is there to be won. So while Messi is Messi, it’s important to salute Puyol, the master defence and team leader. Messi, the greatest player of his generation and the teams around him, would be much less without him.

England at the Euros

Progress? Yes we were better than 2018. We were average then at best. This time the results show improvement. The players are better, therefore the team is better. Are they as good as their parts? Nowhere near. That’s the obvious difference with the Italians.

Modern football is about using possession well. You need ball players. All players are athletes now and tackling is going out of the game which is a shame but also less needed. What you need are tactically smart players who know where to be for passes, and where to be to shut down passes before they happen. We have the latter only. So often in these England games, there was an empty hole in the middle of the space. We had no one there. That’s why if you notice, so many attacks from every team went straight through the middle until the final third. We went down the flanks and if you don’t do that with pace, you get boxed in. And as we had no middle, the only way to go was back. I’m sure Bonucci and Chellini were surprised how easy it was.

Tactically the Italians barely needed to adapt. Even before Immobile was removed, they were the better team. He frankly did nothing so they were the better team with 10 men. They pressed forward and we rolled back. Why? Well simple. We don’t have game managers in the middle. We have athletes and talent..Italy only had game managers. Veratti, Jorginho, Barella. We don’t have command of the game or tactics. We have energy, and talent and a kind of plan at the start of each half but mostly that plan is use your energy. So the momentum naturally dies away away the other teams, (most in this tournament come into the game).

Yes the subs were poor but the tactics were wrong. That was poor decision making. But the system was wrong. I don’t see it either so much as sitting back as not having a plan beyond ‘come on’ and no game managers in the middle or back. If we had one, he’d be captain cos Kane shouldn’t be captain. If Bellingham is as good as he looks, he could be England captain by his early 20s.

So onto Gareth, he’ll stay, and we won’t do as well in Qatar without a serious tactical shift to win games. It’s fundamentally about tactics but also players. We don’t have calm leaders. Italy and Croatia have them everywhere. In both these games, England were beaten rather then lost. But it was an easy tactical win.

Gareth would never have been my manager but he’s done OK-well. OK isn’t enough in reality when you have this raw talent. As I mentioned above, the next manager, if a good choice, will have an excellent squad, apart at 9. Kane will be 30 after 2022 and no clear replacement.

I don’t see great English candidates to replace him.

Essentially you need:

1. a manager with tactical balls and doesn’t start with a back 7.

2. a guy who knows why the watercarrier is important.

Maybe only Brendan Rogers as a kind of English manager could do the job from the EPL.

The Future of Hong Kong

Phones Light up in Hong Kong on Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary — Radio Free  Asia

Last week Hong Kongers were walking around with their phone torches on in lieu of candles. Candles can’t even be found on Wechat or QQ, China’s biggest messaging apps. They’ve been removed for the day (or maybe ever) and users couldn’t change their profile pictures to either the usual black or a commemorative candle. What is it about? Well it is the anniversary of Tiananmen when 1000s died among many protests around the country. It has been scrubbed from mainland history. Hong Kongers know. Actions like blocking commemoration are stage 2. It won’t get prettier.

Hong Kong’s descent has been rapid. While it is part of China, the agreed one country-two systems has disappeared quickly just as Hong Kongers sought to maintain it. Instead it has received crackdowns, mass arrests, no more than 3 can gather together under the auspice or national security. The police, once a respected profession, lionised in movies, have been wholly discredited and are now bullies of the state. Though this of course could never be acknowledged as the National Security Law was extended to film censorship in June 2021 to remove ‘any content that is objectively and reasonably capable of being perceived as endorsing, supporting, promoting, glorifying, encouraging and inciting’ acts endangering national security. This follows similar moves within TV with videos from YouTube of political discussion having been removed. 

The legal system, previously a beacon of clarity and fairness, has been totally overthrown. Cases now resemble the mainland. Trial by your peers has gone. Challenging cases are now foregone conclusions.  Next they came for the education system. Teachers are cowed into promoting the mainland as a symbol of respect or risk losing their jobs. Children’s Day was a horrible indoctrination attempt, lying to the kids about the world and having the police goosestep by. As one journalist tweeted, a teacher told her she’d been tasked with taking photos of students staring at the flag. The Chinese flag. 

Next will be social media, be that forums, messenger apps or platforms like Facebook and Instagram. These spaces are of course unavailable within mainland China and and accordingly can never lasts within Hong Kong.  Any authoritarian dictatorship cannot possibly allow even a limited,  uncontrolled space for free and open discussion.  Therefore it is merely a matter of time and likely a short time before an excuse like external enemies are seeking to undermine national stability, probably hatched through an event, likely manufactured, before these apps are blocked.  Once the curtain falls, and we lose contact with our friends,  maybe then the reality will sink in. In the short term, get a VPN.

This is the inevitable path of all dictatorships. Reimagine the past, control the present, its conversation, streets, doors and manufacture the future. If this was a marriage, you’d call it a gaslighted past and abusive present, and dangerous future.  This is not to say that the mainland Chinese have not become richer and safer in general over the past 30 years. How couldn’t it be after 30 years of Mao. But with the debt burden, absurd concentrations of wealth, and the deepening of Xi authoritarianism starting from 2012, mirroring trends of historical dictatorship, the trajectory is inevitable. 

Sarajevo derby

I’m gonna put some posts up from football games I have attended around the world especially city derbies starting now with the Sarajevo derby.

How we got there was amazing. Jan, my Norwegian buddy and I were taken to a bar of supporters a few hours before the game who turned out to be ultras. After a few hours drinking with them asking us searching questions and not allowing any photos, they advised us not to take their route to the game as ‘there might be trouble this way’ but we did anyway, keeping our eyes peeled.

So what of this trouble that we were pre-warned of?  Well once me and Jan had split from my Argentinian friend who went in the normal seats, we  headed to the turnstiles for behind the goal, the home of the ultra fans.  While queuing to get in,  that nervous excitement you always get before a game abound, especially seen policemen prowling around. A mean, hot, and frustrated policeman walked by me and as he did, the guy next to me, a local,  muttered something.  The policeman turned and looked at me, said something accusatory through gritted teeth.  I said I don’t know,  I’m just a tourist. He huffed  in contempt, all the while the local still stood next to me smiling.  Thanks a lot you fucking asshole!  

A van then pulled up, a police van no less and they bundled 1 fan into the back.  This happened maybe 5 m away from me.  As they prepared to move off,   another fan approached and slapped the side shouting ultras ultras.  At that moment I knew shit the fan. Suddenly police were charging everywhere. Everyone scattered.  Seeing a policeman running towards us, we turned and ran, only to find another coming straight for us, waving his truncheon.  We came together,  I ducked and swerved,  but he’s swivelled, slashing his truncheon across my back.  I kept running and jumped down a ledge, turning in time to see the policeman standing above me, breathing heavily truncheon in hand, looking at me with in feverish anger as I pleaded ‘tourist, tourist.’  

It all calmed down.  The policeman backed off as the van drove away.  Jan and I found each other. I traced my flip-flops and  nervous smiles spilling out across our faces as we walked in.   Note to self:  don’t wear flip-flops when you’ve got to duck and weave!

We had the choice of the normal stand or the ultras end. It was no choice. Under the blazing hot sun, in we went, standing slightly off to the side but close enough for the smoke bombs to invade our eyes and throat. Like most derbies, the game is irrelevant apart from the final score, and even that I can’t remember.

Afterwards, that night, we found too many bars through Saturday night. My last big memory was Julio, our Mexican friend, being dragged on stage with the band to sing La Bamba and then Jan and I wake up on the sofa while guests checked in around us. #2012 #sarajevo

Howard the Duck

Howard the Duck': The Misunderstood Marvel Movie | Geeks

I can’t explain how I ended up watching this. Rather bizarre film. Despite having a duck as a main character sent to Earth through am unexplained wormhole, despite the duck looking fluffy and and cuddly with an apple face generic voice and cute mannerisms, the precise reasoning for the film is never clear. Is it a children’s film? Not likely with the the hideous, aggressive and threatening monsters made out of cheap 90s special effects.

Yet it barely has a story, isn’t funny and its conclusion is convoluted and still passes off in a minute. It seems at times it may delve into themes such as loneliness, alienation, and even racism , quite the topic of the moment, using a duck as a symbol of the other but mostly it’s all about cream pies to the face.

I can’t recommend it accept this background noise it’s not good for the kids it’s not good for the mind I can’t even recommend it as a waste of time. And even worse, if you were sat on a plane could I recommend it to you as a sedative? Alas no, because for some bizarre reason, it holds your attention. It’s not boring. It’s ludicrous and sloppy, but ultimately very very daffy.

Movies 2020

You probably won’t believe it from this list, but I’m not really into movies. But I don’t watch TV much yet I’m into stories. I’ve got a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of the history of cinema, mainly dating back to my childhood when I obsessed about facts. Ask me about the Guinness Book of Records, football, cricket or rugby stats, music, geography or history. I’m your pub quiz man. I should have used this trove of factual knowledge, possibly learnt in lieu of actual education! Perhaps this is reflected in documentaries being the largest category this year. 

Annnyyyyyway, below is the list from this year, categorized generally. Often new, some classics I haven’t seen. A few re-watches and some commentary on a few. Be amazed!  

Character narrative – 21

The Marriage Story – tears and tears. Not from me though. 

Tree of Life

The Irishman – really great character work. Watched in 2 sittings. 

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

The Twenieth Century

La la Land (r) –  cute 

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Birdman (r) – Well-wortha  rewatch. Modern classic of cleverness and acting chopping. 58. Rocketman – The story of Elton John. A rocking good ride.

After The Storm 

Mulholland Drive (r)

Inside Llewyn Davis – I was a bit bored by this strangely

Vice – Loved it. It’s not brilliant but gives some excellent historical and character work 

The Two Popes 


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Uncut Gems –  non-stop Adam Saddler character piece. It’s great.

Love and Mercy

The Elephant Man – I really liked this. Inaccessible man made accessible ironically by Lynch 

You Were Never Really Here

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Action – 13

Hatsukoi (First Love) – brutal Japanese action

The Wild Bunch 

A Fistful of Dollars 

Jason and the Argonauts 

Bacurau – Brazilian borderland action / drama with some social punch 

Wonderwoman 1984

Zodiac – period piece about the serial killer. My brother RDJ trying out some acting. 

The Limey – Cockney Terence Stamp going round LA just sorting people ouooouutttt 

A Simple Plan

Dragged Across Concrete

The Lost City of Z 

Amores Perros

Ford v Ferrari 

Sci-fi /  Prophetic – 7



Blade Runner (r)

Minority Report (r) – ohh how this is coming true with predictive policing 

Twelve Monkeys

Snowpiercer (r)

Comedy – 17

The Death of Stalin x2 – The Thick of It meets some real c’nts (r)

From Beijing with Love – Old James Bond-esque comedy about a mainland Chinese agent and 

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs –  usual Coen brother quirkness and production values

The Double – I liked this Jesse Eisenberg dark comedy

The Inbetweeners 2 (r) – classic

The Lavender Hill Mob (r)

Love and Monsters

Bill and Ted Face the Music 

Bill and Ted Excellent Adventure (r)

Enola Holmes 

Tucker and Dale vs Evil 

Tour de Pharmacy –  a short film but ridiculous in its way

Brother, Where Art Thou? (r)

Not Another Teenage Movie – fun stupidity

Wet Hot American Summer 


His Girl Friday

Dark/Horror – 10

Come To Daddy

The Art of Self-Defence –  dark Jesse Eisenberg vehicle about learning to stand up for yourself

Crimson Peak 

The Babadook 

Color Out of Space 

Extra Ordinary

An American Werewolf in London –  had never seen this and worth a watch

The Borderlands 

Vertigo (r)

Black Narcissus – original film from 1947. Still creepy

Documentary – 29

Mystify: Michael Hutchence

The Edge of Democracy

The Fear Of God – 25 years of the Exorcist – I really enjoyed seeing behind the scenes, mostly at the madness of William Friedkin. Seeing how it’s made really reminds me of the hilarious Japanese modern classic One Cut of the Dead

Sea of Shadows 

King of Kong – this is a must-watch

Free Solo –  




The Imposter – very dark

Facing Ali

Pervert’s Guide to Cinema

Grizzly Man –  compelling and kinda sad

Three Identical Strangers –  wow, just wow

Jesus Camp

The American Factory


I am Duran

Icarus –  No surprises except for the depth of nefariousness 

The Big Short (r) – worth every re-watch. It’s brilliant

Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks

Maradona –  what a life –  poverty, triumph, tragic

Operation Odessa 

One Child Nation

Into the Inferno –  all Werner Herzog documentaries are entrancing. This one is about volcanoes. 

The Mole – unbelievable documentary investigating North Korea


Being Canadian – meh

Night and Fog

Society – 6

Last Blackman in San Francisco

Ten Years – Futuristic drama of HK in 10 years. Made 5 years ago. Prophetic and scary. 

The Sweet Hereafter – Canadian syrup

If Beale Street Could Speak

It’s a Wonderful Life – First time for this heart-rendering fable with some pertinent points for me and the Instagram/15 minutes of fame generation

In the Heat of the Night – had never seen it and damn, it still hits hard.


The Books of 2020

I’ve always loved (and possibly required) inspiration to, well, inspire and push me onward. When Ian, my old Singapore housemate, hamster rustler and whiskey connoisseur, during a catch-up mentioned his intention to read 50 books in this year (meaning 2020), I thought yeah, that’s a good idea. Seeing the year to pan out, that goal became mine, to get back on the reading horse. Alongside a few other decisions, the reading year took on a life of its own.

Scrolling down the list that I’ve left with you below, you’ll see I’ve ranged around the literary world, jumping around like a polymathic Kevin Bacon while trying to avoid the rabbit holes. Your recommendations I am grateful for, coupled with the usual foci (history, culture, politics) have been complemented by newer, more detailed investigations like China, how censorship works, and the limits of international trade, occasional nostalgic returns to the tribes of Siberia, the novels of Camus and Kawabata, unread classics from McCullers and HG Wells, magic realistic treks to Mozambique (Mia Couto) and dark realism of the boxing literature (FX Toole).

For 2021, I’ve taken on the notion that one book, alongside countless academic articles, journals and podcasts, is nowhere near enough to truly know anything, to go deeper and find that evidence and predictions to connect the dots.

So without further ado, below is the list (categorised for you), and a lucky few get their own commentary. (r = reread) 

Novels — 16

Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers — a classic with chapters that leave you buzzing with energy as small-town life fizzles under the surface.

The Missing by Tim Gautreaux

The Time Traveller by HG Wells

The Invisible Man by HG Wells

Ghost Stories by MR James

The Honjin Murder by Seishi Yokomizo

Rope Burns: Tales from the Corner by FX Toole — Short stories from the writer of Million Dollar Baby. Phenomenally intimate stories of everymen in a tough world

The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells

Beauty and Sadness by Kawabata Yasunari (r)

The Sense of Ending by Julian Barnes

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

Japanese Short Stories

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

Footsteps by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Politics — 9

The Rhetoric of Reaction by Alfred O Hirschman

Xi Jinping: The Backlash by Richard McGregor

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Chinese Influence and America Interests — Larry Diamond

Prisoners of Geography — Tim Marshall

The Left Hemisphere

We Have All Been Harmonised by Kai Strittmaker

Indonesia: Exploring An Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani (r) Fantastic journey around the improbable and diverse Indonesia.

Censorship by Margaret E. Roberts

Economics — 3

Trade Wars Are Class Wars by Matthew Klein and Michael Pettis — I’ve read a lot of Pettis, a trader and economist, and his views have always proven lucid and correct. Trade doesn’t benefit equally. 

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Have Changed the World by Adam Tooze

The Great Rebalancing by Michael Pettis

History — 9

The History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook

Modern China by Rana Mitter

The Shaman’s Cloak: A Native History of Siberia by Anna Reid

Pandemic Century by Mark Honigsbaum

Black Wave by Kim Ghattas — the last 40 years of the Middle East explained from the inside. 

A History of Modern Indonesia by Adrian Vickers

Wealth and Power by John Delury and Orville Schell

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen

Society — 11

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible in Russia by Peter Pomerantsev

Zucked! By Roger McNamee

The Irrational Ape by David Robert Grimes

Making Sense of Japanese by Jay Rubin

The Culture Map by Erin Meyer

Mastery by George Leonard — a self-help book, never saying it’s easy or even necessary but a guide to understanding the benefits of slow growth. 

The Reality Test by Robert Rowland Smith

Infinitive in the Palm of Your Hand by Marcus Chown

Modern Effective Coaching by Myles Downey

China in 10 Words by Yu Hua

The Book of Humans by Adam Rutherford

Total: 48 (that’s right I didn’t make it!)

Repost – Island Thinking

Written 20th March 2020 so some of the stats are out of date. In fact, they are now worse!

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(photo taken by me – 8th March)

Having successfully locked down and killed off the initial virus, ironically China is now suffering from the return of Covid-19. Most of the new infections in China have come from the UK. Singapore has called our modelling irresponsible and also closed its border. Unlike most of Europe we have not locked down our country citing herd immunity. Not only was Boris’ initial language full of encouraging but hazy language, he then informed us he’d be closing the pubs and cafes down on a Saturday morning giving us a Friday night to spread it amongst ourselves. Who the fuck does this? And on 20th March, 12 days after the outbreak.

South Korea and Taiwan have successfully managed corona despite less warning and without a lockdown. How? By planning and implementing the plan. They relied on widespread testing and aggressively following up on the disease. We have done none of this despite the extra month to get the test from these countries, secure the ventilators or get enough protective garb for our medical personnel. We can’t even test them to see if they are infected or infecting. It’s incompetence on a criminal level. Now of course, some people would die but the government seemed content with that. A sacrifice worth paying like it is the Battle of the Somme or the Crimea War. Again, unthinkable you would have thought.

Due to the lack of testing, we essentially don’t know where the virus is which also explains our unprecedented 81% testing/death rate ratio. Korea has a ratio of around 2%. This sort of neglect would be unthinkable in any project. Our herd mentality idea is not only callous, but will have real long implications for the nation beyond Brexit. The idea seemed to be that we will be able to hang on until a vaccine arrives. The stupidity and short-sightedness of this policy should be clear. Firstly, we have no idea when a vaccine will arrive or what the country will look like then. We also don’t know right now whether after infection and recovery, we become immune. If we are not, then we’re just another time bomb and untouchable until vaccinated.

Another reasoning given is to not tank the economy. A recession is coming to all nations this year so let’s not worry about that. But the economy will recover unlike the thousands of victims. Not only is this policy a danger to our own people but who is going to invite UK business into their country right now? We’ll be isolated from Europe and countries are looking at us in bewilderment. If you think the US is going to prioritise the UK over others, you clearly don’t understand Trump’s focus or frankly any recent US President. Do you not remember that Reagan refused our request for an aircraft carrier for the Falklands War citing their relationship with the Argentinian junta. Furthermore, any trade deal would naturally favour the US. We don’t have any bargaining chips except to give up.

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So recently, not only have we isolated ourselves from the EU, but any British company wishing to do projects abroad simply won’t let us in until this clears. The delay could be interminable. In other eyes, we’ve not played our part. Other European states have suffered more than the UK right now, but they’ve also taken comprehensive and unequivocal action to stem this which has shown results elsewhere and for the long-term health of the nation.

Why did we act this way? I’ve numerous theories from our recent political instability, to the bumbling nature of Boris, an ill-fated determination to save the economy, the British sense of exceptionalism and an ill-feeling with extreme government intervention. While it’s naturally a mix of all these, the first and last two factors stand out to me. The former prevented us from being united and prepared for catastrophe while the latters have impaired our true understanding of the virus and who we are. We aren’t exceptional. This crisis is showing that to us. When we get used to that idea and our politicians stop playing up to it for power, then we’ll find our strength again.

The Corona Blame Game

The blame game has restarted. US officials have referred to the virus as the Wuhan or Chinese virus. China retorts with claims of xenophobia and conspiracy. It is inevitable in an election year in the US and from such an administration. And when millions more around the world are blighted by it, attention would naturally return to China and the causes of this pandemic. At stake is the reputation as a global player, and China knows it.

The exact biological cause is in many ways unimportant to most. It rose in Wuhan, China, likely from animal to human contact within wet food markets. Despite Russia’s usual disinformation campaign and the attempts by China to mystify the origins by starting a counter-narrative suggesting it was planted in Wuhan by the US military, the basic and generally unarguable evidence points to a virus doing what it has often done: pathogens jumping to the wrong place.

What’s in a name?

President Trump has repeatedly referred to the virus as the Chinese virus and is being criticised by the Chinese government and a few agencies such as the WHO who point to the risk of stigmatising the Chinese. While banging a drum is not helpful, in an election year, when the global economy is likely to head into recession as a result of this pandemic, this drum is going to be banged louder and repeatedly. Add to that, as sport and general life is disrupted, eyes are going to turn east.

A question is is Trump wrong? He might often be so but if the reference here is to the evidence, evidence suggests Chinese food safety practices have led to this. Indeed, there was little counter-argument from the Chinese government until it spread to Europe and the US. If this does lead to a recession which becomes an issue within the US elections, you can guarantee the criticism of China will be magnified. Agencies like the WHO have done little to protect other nations, instead demurring to China and trade

Xi talked last week about being a world partner, sending help to Italy and Iran and a supporter of the world order. Gathering ‘friends’ has been an active part of Chinese foreign policy for the last decade and the direction of state responses to this outbreak was closely monitored and categorised. This won’t be forgotten. Chinese aid rarely comes without tight strings (see the Belt and Road initiative) and being a supporter of the world order essentially means the nation state, as a way to neutralise any criticism of what happens within its own borders. However, help is needed more than words and restorative actions will be remembered more than words.

Trump is no diplomat and isn’t striving to be one. He knows his market and plays to his consumers. Stigmatising the Chinese people is the wrong solution and won’t solve this present crisis. However, the pressure should be on the Chinese Government. The location and likely cause of the outbreak are known knowns. The hushed up reaction is known too costs us time and lives. The defensive pressure on small countries is also known. The belated, poor response of many governments is also known.

China defensively protecting its pride is an unsavoury and unsatisfactory route. Denying or ignoring the facts brings us back to one of the primary, starting points for the pandemic itself. Accepting the responsibility and learning from a fall can mature the right strains of nationalistic pride.