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It is difficult to generate much optimism for the up-coming “dialogue” between government and people, because so many outcomes have been ruled out from the start.

The Executive Council convenor, Bernard Chan, has said that the government has agreed that there will be no “further concessions” on the five points for which protesters have been asking.

Nothing at all. So the dialogue, supposing that anyone on the protest side bothers to participate at all, will consist of one side explaining what it wants and the other side telling them they are not going to get it.

This is not a dialogue. It’s a meaningless monologue disguised as a dialogue.

The dialogue will be the political equivalent of a baby’s dummy: they put it in your mouth, you suck it, nothing comes out of it but they hope it will put you to sleep.

Of course it is not for old fogeys like me to speak for the “water people”, but the expectation that protesters will accept the government’s latest step as justifying a reciprocal offering from them seems far too hopeful.

Machiavelli wrote that a prince can choose to be beloved, or choose to be feared, but he needs in any case to be respected. Our government has managed a tragic trifecta: it is neither loved, feared nor respected. It is time to recognise that some of the positions taken in the past few years are no longer tenable.

As Sun Tsu put it, “the general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace … is the jewel of the kingdom.” It is time for some tactful retreating.

Some of the things in the five points are, alas, not in the government’s gift. Full democracy, to start with, will have to wait for a change of weather in Beijing or an implausible change of mind from Pooh.

Some of them, on the other hand, look quite painless. What is the problem with a Commission of Inquiry? Those who have done nothing wrong, as we always told when some expansion of police powers is in the offing, have nothing to fear.

There have been such inquiries in Hong Kong before. The sky did not fall. It is true that, as Mr Henry Litton put it, it would take two years and the outcome would not satisfy everybody. So, he thought, it would be a waste of time. But this is a bizarre objection coming from a former judge of the Court of Final Appeal.

Has there ever been a case before the CFA, one wonders, which took less than two years to fight its way up the legal ladder, and left all the parties involved satisfied? This does not make the CFA a waste of time.

Ms Regina Ip thinks an inquiry unnecessary because the government’s preferred inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Committee has been reinforced by some outside figures and now has the necessary credibility. This is, alas, not true.

The IPCC has been with us for a long time. It is the place where police complaints go to die: where they are painlessly euthanised and respectfully buried. The idea that it can be transformed into a fearless investigator of police transgressions by the addition of a few fresh members of the establishment is fanciful.

A proper inquiry needs to be able to compel witnesses to attend and to offer them, in appropriate cases, immunity from prosecution as a result of anything they may admit in evidence. It needs its own research team to identify issues and relevant sources of information.

It does not matter too much if the final report does not command universal approval. The process is important. It allows people to say what they want to say in a public forum, and the media to report it. The evidence given can be tested by cross-examination and people who have something at risk in the proceedings can be legally represented.

The fact that this may result in a slow-moving legal drama running on for two years or more is not necessarily a disadvantage. Over time passions cool, monstrous slights diminish in perspective, obsessive personalities find other things to obsess about and people who have not distinguished themselves can be quietly promoted to somewhere harmless.

The case for a proper inquiry seems to be almost universally accepted outside government circles, though no doubt for different reasons. Some people would like it called something else. “Truth Commission” may be a bit ambitious for something so infested with lawyers.

Then there is the matter of definition. Are the protests, or some of them, “riots”? This ought to be a non-issue. We do not have the mainland system, where the Party identifies you as a spy, a traitor, a troublemaker or an evil cult, and the role of the court is simply to translate the identification into the language of execution or imprisonment.

In our system it does not matter whether the Commissioner of Police or the Chief Executive says that an event is a riot, because this is the matter for the courts to determine as individual cases come before them.

So it would not change anything that matters if the Commissioner, and the CE, were to “clarify” that they were using “riot” as a lay term meaning a disorderly event and were not seeking in any way to influence the judgement of prosecutors or courts.

Then there is the matter of the amnesty. Contrary to an often-repeated untruth, there is no problem with the rule of law here. Countries with civil law systems (a category in which some optimists place China) do sometimes have partial amnesties.

The usual excuse is some national celebration – the King’s birthday, or a new government, say – and the usual offering is a reduction either in percentage or length of time terms, often confined to non-violent offenders, which lets some people out and gives others an earlier release date to look forward to.

This performs a useful role in conservative societies where the judges are rather free with long sentences.

So there should be no objection to some form of amnesty in Hong Kong, though the exact terms will have to be framed carefully to avoid the appearance of unfairness.

The most tempting arrangement would be an amnesty for public order offences before a certain date. The advantage of this is that the inevitable objections from the police unions could be met with the reply that it was exactly like the amnesty which they extorted for corrupt cops in 1978.

As for democracy, a dramatic change is not on offer, but the government could withdraw some of the innovations made at its own initiative which took us further from a democratic system than we need to be to meet mainland requirements.

The government could, for example, drop the legally dubious practice of asking Returning Officers to vet candidates for elected office. This may be lawful but it is not compulsory. If a candidate meets the formal requirements laid down in the law then the sincerity with which she or he has supplied oaths, signatures or declarations should be a matter for the electorate, not a civil servant.

It could also put a rocket under the Electoral Affairs Commission, whose increasingly dilatory performance in filling vacant seats (the time taken for this process has ballooned from three months to more than a year) is an alarming problem in these days when councillors are unseated in such large quantities.

These are ways in which we can make progress not towards a democratic government, but at least towards a government which looks as if it aspires to democracy and is not devoted to frustrating every possible manifestation of it.

The question, of course, is whether we have such a government, or merely a government which is desperate for a bit of peace and quiet in the run-up to October’s national festivities. This will no doubt become clear in the next couple of weeks.

How not to do this is indicated by the progress on the first point: the withdrawal of the extradition bill. It is, we are now told, to be fully and formally withdrawn. If this had been offered in the first week, or even perhaps in the second week, of June it would have ended our summer of discontent before it started.

Instead we were told that the bill was dead. This led to an endless argument. On one side were those who thought that though described as “dead” it might rise like Tim Finnegan (relevant song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6QTwZDzak4 ) if splashed with a bit of whisky. Others thought that dead was dead and there was no need to inflict the additional indignity of burying the bill at a crossroads with a stake through its heart.

Finally the government conceded the crossroads and the stake, only to discover that formal withdrawal of the bill requires the presence of the Legislative Council, which will not meet until October.

This is a textbook example of how not to offer an olive branch. Concessions which are made slowly, reluctantly and late do not count. What is needed is some sign of a sincere and genuine change of heart. Dialogues and focus groups are not it.

 

 

 

 

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A small gap in Hong Kong’s revolutionary repertoire was filled last week: sex stories.

This is a universal feature of respectable revolutions, let alone disreputable ones: conservative observers are convinced that the revolutionaries are at it all the time, breaking the rules of sexual behaviour just as they break those of politics and law.

This casts a slightly disreputable air over what might otherwise seem an idealistic enterprise, and also appeals to a fundamental curiosity which humans share with monkeys, apes and other group-dwelling animals: who is doing it with who?

I do not doubt that such stories were told of the “sans culottes” in the 1790s. Certainly it was a recurring theme in reports of 20th century student protests, although in my years as a student protester I never saw any sign of politically sanctioned intercourse.

Of course some people did have extra-marital sex – this was the 60s – but nobody connected this with politics. In fact the more political people were, generally speaking, the more puritanical they were about sex, drugs and booze.

The rumours had a certain utility. When I was studying in Lancaster the wildest rumours had circulated about student social life and it was easy to hitch lifts, usually from men who were alone in the car and thought you might be able to wangle them an invitation to “one of them orgies”.

Hong Kong critics of the revolution have been surprisingly slow to get round to this traditional trope, but it arrived on Monday from the lips of Ms Fanny (no giggling please) Law Fan Chiu-fun, a member of the Executive Council.

Those of you who have been holding your breath waiting for this to come up can now relax and breathe more easily – or more heavily if you prefer; whatever floats your boat.

Ms Law was on a radio phone-in programme. Somebody sent in an email saying that he or she had heard a video recording posted on the internet, saying that many girls aged 13 or 14 had been told they were “angels of the revolution” and should offer free sex to comfort “the warriors”.

“You may not believe a 14-year-old girl shared her story on social media; schoolgirls like her were labelled as angels tasked to provide comfort services to frontline protesters,” the email read.

“It was the girl’s first time. The schoolgirl said she then offered services to other protesters, every time a different man. She recently found herself pregnant.”

This particular case was apparently a reference to a “letter of confession from a 14-year-old girl”, tracked down by the Standard’s intrepid reporter (thank you Cindy Wan, good work), in which the author claimed she had had sex with seven protesters, who did not use condoms, “under the influence of alcohol and marijuana”. She then became pregnant and had an abortion.

Exciting stuff, but you might think a bit sketchy. It seems that the writer of the email had read the “confession”, so this internet gem was the only evidence for the whole story. The Standard’s indefatigable Miss Wan also found a picture of a set of willing and eager “angels” in facemasks, but reported that this had already been diagnosed as a screen grab from a Vietnamese porn movie.

So the only thing this story has going for it is the “confession”. There are two problems with this. One is that, as they say, on the internet nobody knows if you’re a dog. So the author could be a remorseful 14-year-old girl, or it could be a dog, or a 40-year-old truck driver with a lurid taste in erotic fantasy, or a political mudslinger, or a Macedonian teenager who has discovered the pay-per-click racket. We don’t know.

And the timing is a bit suspicious. Street fighting didn’t really get going until the second half of June. That leaves our “angel” with a mere ten weeks or so for grooming, multiple indiscretions, discovery of pregnancy, abortion, and penning of confession.

Ms Law might in the light of this have legitimately questioned whether there was anything in the story. She might, being a well-intentioned mature lady with maternal instincts, have got away with a few warning words to youngsters about ensuring that post-riotal euphoria is not followed by post-coital regret. But she went further than that.

“We have confirmed that this is a true case,” she said. “I am so sad for these young girls who have been misled into offering free sex.”

And who, one wonders, is the “we” who have confirmed this is a true case? Is the Executive Council now investigating? Ms Law wears so many hats. Other possibilities include the National People’s Congress of the PRC, the China-US Exchange Foundation, the China Development Bank, and the Hong Kong X-Tech Startup Platform. Or could it be one of the companies of which she is a director: China Resources (Holdings) Co. Ltd. CLP Holdings Limited, China Unicom (Hong Kong) Limited, DTXS Silk Road Investment Holdings Company Limited or Nameson Holdings Limited?

No such luck. The “we” was royal. Law said the girl in question was the daughter of a friend’s friend, although she admitted that was “second-hand knowledge”.

“But it’s direct. It’s real,” she said. No it isn’t. Second-hand knowledge is not direct and real. Connoisseurs of urban myths (for whom this website is indispensable) will know that there is nothing too outlandish or ostentatiously fictitious to be passed around on the basis that “I know it’s true because my friend heard it from her friend who knows the victim.

Actually it seems the situation is a bit worse than that. Explaining herself to Avery Ng, the League of Social Democrats chairman, Ms Law said that the confirmation came from a “cruise buddy” who said that the girl in question was the daughter of a friend’s friend.

It is difficult to know what to make of Ms Law’s conduct in this matter. Clearly “we have confirmed” was misleading. “I have heard a similar rumour” might have been acceptable. She then told radio listeners that she would not receive any interviews from the press.

But later she turned up in a newspaper (not the Standard, which is often discriminated against in this manner, the other one) which reported her as saying that “people are free to decide whether or not to believe it. Of course, I can trace the origin of the information through a trusted friend’s friend who knows the girl, but to reveal more details would be traumatic.”

She also said that “Preventive advice cannot be wrong. Girls have to be alert and stay away from alcohol and marijuana in gatherings with ‘new’ friends whom they only met in various protest activities. They have to protect themselves and avoid being abused.”

With which no sensible person would disagree. But preventive advice should come in the form of advice, not lurid scare stories which stink of fiction. Notice the smooth elision from “this case” to “these young girls” in the plural.

I do not doubt that romance sometimes blossoms on the barricades. A certain number of Hong Kong girls get pregnant unintentionally all the time and with so many youngsters engaging in protests of one kind or another there will no doubt emerge individual cases in which protest and pregnancy overlap.

It is I suppose quite possible that there is one case out there in which the unfortunate victim is aged 14. But that does not justify Ms Law’s attempts to thrill the world with a pandemic of dope-fuelled statutory rape. She clearly succumbed to the temptation to descend into dogwhistle politics and discredit all the protesters by casting aspersions on their morality.

On the surface, maternal concern for young things at risk. In the understanding of many listeners the subliminal message that protesters are not only vandalising tube stations and throwing things at policemen – they may be younger and prettier than you but the men are rapists and the girls are slags.

Would she have been so eager to pass on a rumour that JPC police groupies were offering freebies to heroic constables?

It is unfair to generalise about a group from one example. I do not, for example, wish to suggest that all the members of Exco are gullible hypocrites, tempting though that theory may be. Just one of them.

In 19th century revolutions the usual procedure was for the insurgents to build barricades in working class districts and fight pitched battles with the forces of order, a process idealised in paintings (see below) and poetry. If the forces of order were defeated you then went on to storm the Bastille, Palace or whatever.

In the 21st century this is no longer a realistic ambition. Advanced societies cannot be physically brought to their knees by anything that happens on the streets. The people are outgunned. On the other hand governments depend on the consent of the governed in a way that traditional autocracies did not.

This leads to the paradoxical result that the aim of protests, however exuberant or destructive of property, is not to inflict violence, but to provoke it. The merits of the protesters’ cause are reinforced by the impression that state power is being abused to suppress it.

Unfortunately our police force, though wonderful in many ways, is disastrously easy to provoke. When it was decided that CS gas, which is banned for military use, could be issued to police forces the justification was that this would give them a weapon they could use when they would otherwise have to open fire with real guns.

So the fact that it was fairly poisonous is acceptable in other countries because the alternative would be more dangerous. In Hong Kong, though, tear gas is not an alternative to deadly force. It is an alternative to thought. After a gathering of 100,000 or more people, whether for a rally, a race meeting or a football match, there are bound to be crowds milling about in the streets, especially if the bus and MTR stations are closed. Treating this as an unlawful assembly stirs up unnecessary trouble.

However lessons are being learned. Protesters and police alike were making notable efforts last weekend to appear the least violent parties to the conflict, a nice change.

This left the current propaganda campaign from our imperial masters looking a bit phony. We were invited to believe that high levels of violence were being deployed, and indeed that the situation verged on “terrorism”.

This was never very convincing. “Violence” covers a continuum with an over-enthusiastic slap on the back at one end and a thermonuclear weapon on the other. Trashing a council chamber is vandalism, not violence. Same for throwing eggs at buildings.

Both sides have no doubt exaggerated in their descriptions of the violence inflicted by the other. Which of course is where we came in. The object of subversive protests is now to be not the victor, but the victim.

So I detected a certain lack of objectivity in the Hong Kong Standard the other day, in the production of the magical headline “RAW VIOLENCE STUNS WORLD”. Wow! Here? Indeed yes. This was the Standard’s way of introducing the story about two people being detained and roughed up during the airport protest.

Let me make it clear that this was certainly a very unpleasant experience for the two gentlemen concerned. It was politically erroneous and ethically indefensible. But raw violence? Actually the proceedings seem to have been extensively interrupted by protesters — not to mention the odd reporter — who objected to them.

The two victims, though doubtless candidates for future Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, escaped serious injury. Well ”raw violence” is a flexible phrase. But was the world stunned?

At about the same time there were two mass shootings in the United States. Canadian police were hunting two teenagers who had killed three people and went on to kill themselves. A mentally ill person went on a knife-wielding rampage in Australia. Civil wars continued in Yemen, Syria, Congo and Libya. Islamist gangs kidnapped and murdered in North Nigeria. Protests in Moscow were violently repressed. The usual despots continued to jail or kill their opponents.

It would be nice to think that the world leads such a sheltered existence that the spectacle of two people being roughed up in our airport would have triggered shock and horror. Nice but difficult.

Did a spot of aggro at the Hong Kong Airport really register on the stun meter? Actually I used to see rather similar scenes most weekends when I was covering English football, and that was in the Second Division (now renamed the Championship). Such scenes were too common to be worth reporting.

However the Airport Authority Chief Executive Fred Lam Tin-fuk was clearly with the official programme, expressing his sympathy for the two “mainland visitors”. Hang on a minute! These were not two innocent individuals randomly plucked from the passing stream of tourists. One of them was a secret policeman. This is a hazardous profession. No doubt the protesters thought he was up to no good and so do I.

The other one was a reporter for the Global Times. The Global Times masquerades as a tabloid newspaper but is in practice an organ of state propaganda. It is the sort of “newspaper” in which no self-respecting dead fish would wish to be wrapped.

I do not approve at all of people attacking journalists, but I am not sure that someone who writes for the Global Times is in any real sense a journalist.

Let us, though, salute the Liaison Office spokesman who complained that the attack on this reporter was “trampling on press freedom”. This was a daring contribution to the local debate. China under the flawless rule of the Communist Party does not enjoy press freedom, so it is surprising, and perhaps even a little dangerous, for its local representative to imply that press freedom is a desirable thing on which we should not trample.

A similarly novel note was struck by the police spokesman at the ensuing press conference. The protesters, he said, were “putting other people’s safety at risk during their pursuit of human rights”. What, no black hands, no foreign puppet masters?

Unfortunately the voice of the Force went on to an egregious error, with the accusation that radical protesters had “lynched innocent tourists”.

Well innocent is perhaps not quite the right word, but “lynched” is clearly a grotesque mistake.

The meaning of “lynched” is well established. It means a mob hangs someone (see pic). Usually it is reserved for occasions when the mob is white and the victim is black. It is a universal characteristic of lynchings that at the end of them the victim is dead.

 

 

 

Looking at our executive-led administration I am reminded of a remark by Jack Welch, once the CEO of General Electric, on one of the business theories which stressed the role of the business leader.

This, he said, would produce an organisation with “its face towards the CEO and its ass towards the customer”.

Something along these lines would explain not only why our government is impervious to public opinion but also why we are regularly treated to bursts of bullshit.

For a prime specimen, consider the police press conference this week aimed at providing a retrospective justification for the arrest of a student whose “crime” was possession of a bag of laser pointers.

A laser pointer, said Senior Superintendent Li Kwai-wah, of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, should really be called a laser gun. Quite how a senior member of the bureau targetting triads could spare the time for tests of toy safety when triads are running amok in the streets, we were not told.

The assembled media people were then treated to a demonstration of the lethal propensities of the laser pointer. Pointing one of the offending items at a sheet of newspaper, at a range of two or three feet, for ten seconds produced a whiff of steam, or white smoke, or possibly even white tear gas.

This has some claim to be the most dishonest weapons demonstration since Billy Mitchell used a fleet of bombers to sink a stationary, undefended and obsolete battleship in 1921, in a desperate attempt to show that the US Navy was obsolete.

One of the local newspapers reported an attempt to replicate Supt Li’s experiment, which failed. Even if it had succeeded there are major problems with the laser as weapon concept.

Clearly at this range of lot of things could do quite a lot of damage, including many of the supposedly non-lethal implements currently deployed by our beloved constabulary. A rubber bullet fired at this range at the head of a protester, as many seem to be these days, might well do serious damage.

A laser pointer is not really in this class because it is, after all, just a light. This has not, of course, prevented extended attempts to explore the potential of bigger lasers as weapons. Current prototypes are mostly mounted on ships, where there is already a plentiful source of power and weight is not an issue.

According to unreliable sources – newspapers – the PLA has developed a laser gun called the ZKZM-500 which weighs about the same as an AK47, and has a range of about 1,000 yards. Reports of its effectiveness vary considerably.

In the rest of the world the news that Hong Kong protesters have developed a laser gun will come as a surprise. The UK Military Gazette’s latest estimate was that laser weapons would “come into service in the mid-2020s.”

Another authority doubted there would ever be a hand-held version: “If you expect to see hand-held laser pistols, don’t hold your breath. The batteries needed to power such things would be so powerful and so dangerous that they’d be better used as hand grenades – preferably thrown by someone with a very strong arm.

“They’re also inefficient, with most of the energy used to power them wasted as heat, they can be blocked by dust, smoke, clouds, rain, fog, and turbulence, and some of the most powerful lasers require large quantities of dangerous toxic chemicals.”

Summary from Wikipedia: “If aimed at a person’s eyes, laser pointers can cause temporary disturbances to vision. There is some evidence of rare minor permanent harm, but low-powered laser pointers are not seriously hazardous to health.”

Actually the idea that small battery-powered lasers could be used to harm people’s eye-sight is discounted by some weapons scientists, because several seconds of continuous exposure is required, and the automatic response to having a light shone in your eyes is to blink. Anyway, can you imagine any situation, in an actual street, where you could keep a laser pointing at anything human continuously for ten seconds?

Supt Li said some officers had had their eyes injured and some police cameras had been damaged after being pointed at by a laser. Well these encounters between protesters and police are a confused scene with a lot of things flying about. Let us say that any eye injuries will in all likelihood turn out to be temporary.

Meanwhile the rest of us are left with the chilling thought that we may have been carrying an offensive weapon around for years without realising it.

I used to have a laser pointer, or gun as we must now call it, which was very useful in the classroom. It was a birthday present from the Chaplain’s Office at Hong Kong Baptist University. No doubt they were not aware of the combat possibilities when they chose this as the present for the year.

Actually you can, it turns out, do quite a lot of things with laser pointers. My local security guards use one to frighten monkeys off the clubhouse roof. You can use one to entertain your cat, or to clean your goldfish bowl. For a full list of interesting things you can do with a laser pointer go here: https://skytechlasers.com/16-cool-uses-for-laser-pointers/

Confusing policemen is not on the list. And indeed it seems rather surprising that a Force which is happy to bombard pedestrians and passers-by with a wide variety of projectiles and chemicals should be so sensitive about having lights waved at it.

I really do not think it is helpful to extend the range of “offensive weapons” until it includes the entire contents of most people’s kitchens and many people’s desks. It makes the boys and girls in blue look rather timid: Asia’s finest chickens…

 

 

 

Our police force is a prickly force. Officers, particularly junior officers, are quick to take offence at any perceived slight. The dignity of the force, at least for some of its members, requires that it should be beyond criticism.

When the Secretary for Security offered an apology for deficiencies in the response to the Yuen Long white shirt riot, some officers promptly took to social media to disown the apology.

Ours is also a paramilitary force, eager at parades to decorate itself with swords, bayonets and other accessories of no immediate relevance (we hope) to police activity.

This enthusiasm for matters military might, or might not, be accompanied by a willingness to recognise that, as Clausewitz put it, warfare is conducted in an environment of uncertainty, danger and exertion, and to endure these privations accordingly.

Well, in law-abiding places with functioning police forces people do not expect to find mobs of men storming tube trains and beating their occupants indiscriminately. So let us, without getting into the politics of the matter, look at the events of July 21 and ask ourselves whether the taxpayers have a right to be disappointed.

As it happens this particular happening has already given birth to a Wikipedia page, from which I have taken the following account:

“At around 10:30 pm, about a hundred white-shirted assailants appeared at Yuen Long railway station and attacked commuters in the concourse indiscriminately, on the platform and inside train compartments. Two police officers arrived at 10:52 pm. However, they left the station as they judged that they were outnumbered by the assailants and did not have sufficient gear, according to the police. Thirty police officers arrived at the station at 11:20 pm, but the assailants had left.”

I have removed from that account five footnotes indicating that it relies on media reports, citing items from the BBC, Economic Journal and SCMP. We shall also for the purposes of this exercise disregard the fact that the “white-shirted assailants” had been reported attacking people in the street at about 10.00, so the Yuen Long cops should have been aware by 10.30 that their services were likely to be required.

First of all we may be surprised by the timing. First attacks at “around 10.30”, two officers arrive at 10.52, reinforcements at 11.20.

This may be compared with the response time for 999 calls enunciated by the police force’s Operations Wing on the police website. The performance pledge is, in the urban area, that genuine 999 calls will produce a police person at the scene in nine minutes in Hong Kong and Kowloon, 15 minutes in the New Territories.

Yuen Long is in the New Territories, but there is no reason to concede the rural rate for things which happen in Yuen Long itself. It is a large town with its own police station. Clearly the relevant standard here is nine minutes so those victims of the assailants who thought they were ill-served by the arrival of two officers at 10.52 may have had a point.

In practice, however, few victims will have been aware of this distressing result because having come and seen the officers did not conquer. They retired to a safe distance, radioed for reinforcements, and waited in a safe place.

The arrival of said reinforcements took a further 28 minutes. And by the time they arrived the assailants, having had the run of the station for about 50 minutes, had left.

This is, I think an outcome which we are entitled to find disappointing. If you have a fire in a built-up area (which includes Yuen Long) the Fire Brigade aims to be with you in six minutes, and achieves this in more than 90 percent of cases, it says on its web page. The ambulance people aim for a slightly more modest 12 minutes, and have a similar success rate.

In the light of this it could be considered a bit shocking that if you are attacked by a mob of gangsters in a Hong Kong town centre you should apparently expect to be left to your own devices for nearly an hour.

This brings us to a question which I approach with some reluctance, which is whether it was really an adequate response to the situation for the first two officers who arrived to call for help and retire from the scene to await its arrival.

I do not share the suspicion that they were happy to leave their friends in the local underworld to get on with it. Clearly the situation was intimidating. One might, rationalising what might unkindly be characterised as flight, say that there was nothing two officers on their own could do against a crowd.

Our police do not, alas, enjoy the sort of relationship with the public which famously allowed one policeman on a white horse to clear thousands of people from the Wembley pitch before the 1923 FA Cup final.

If we were talking about a couple of lay people who walked into the station, saw what was happening and walked out again we would say that they used their heads and had no conflicting duty to help anyone.

On the other hand one might also say that the victims were in serious danger and needed help. Police people face situations of this kind with some advantages: they are fit young adults, trained in relevant martial arts and armed with guns.

Under the circumstances there was it seems to me clearly a duty to do something more constructive than mere self-preservation. An organisation which aspires to military airs and graces needs to aspire also to the military virtues, which include a willingness for self-sacrifice, to volunteer for danger and hardship in defence of the helpless and innocent.

Without this saving grace the soldier is difficult to distinguish from a bully.

I have never been a subscriber to the “Asia’s finest” notion, because this is a mislaid metaphor. The label of “New York’s finest” was short for “New York’s finest men”. The comparison was with civilians, not with other police forces. No doubt the “men” bit became an embarrassment when lady cops appeared.

I also feel a twitch of unease over the “finest” part because for people of my vintage it recalls the days long ago when the Hong Kong police were known as “the finest force that money can buy”.

The convenient thing about “Hong Kong’s finest” is that it leaves us room for another noun. Hong Kong’s finest gazelles?

Perhaps the most pathetic story of the year so far was the news, widely reported including here, that the Legislative Council is not going to meet again until October, in response to the damage to its usual chamber caused by protesters on July 1.

What a shower of wimps! I mean do they think that what they do is important or not?

Explaining the decision, legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said that the Legislative Council Commission, a committee which decides housekeeping matters, had unanimously agreed that the council would not meet again before October, when the next session is due to start.

Democrats, he said, were unable to agree that meetings could be held outside the building. This is an example of an elementary confusion which readers may already have encountered in “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”. The building in which a body meets is a convenience.

What counts is what happens there. In Persig’s book the building is a redundant church, whose new owner proposes to use it as a bar. Parishioners complain to the Bishop, who explains that what makes a building a church is what goes on inside it, not the pointy windows and bell tower.

Similarly there is no earthly reason why Legco should not meet in some other premises. I can understand, of course, that having been bullied mercilessly by the government poodles through most of the present session, the democrats would be quite happy to see Legco closed for as long as possible.

But in any case the democrats cannot be blamed for this problem. The pro-government group has a comfortable majority. If they were willing to push the extradition bill down democrats’ reluctant throats why be squeamish about a little procedural matter like a change of venue?

Mr Kwok went on to say that to hold a meeting, more than 1,000 staff were required for back-end support. That may be true. But they do not all have to attend the meeting in the chamber, and nor do they.

Actually when I was reporting Legco – admittedly in the days before interpretation was provided – the number of people in the room who were neither members nor the Governor did not reach double figures.

There has been a Parkinsonian increase in the number of bodies routinely required since then, but it is still nowhere near 1,000. Paring things down as much as possible the council could get by with a team of – say – five interpreters, a similar number of clerks to take care of the record-keeping, an altar boy to keep the chairman on script and hand him the communion wafers at appropriate intervals, maybe a couple of security “flowers” to add gravitas to the proceedings and one or two technicians to keep the gadgets working.

Of course a temporary meeting place is not going to offer some of the amenities to which members are accustomed. It may be difficult to provide the members’ lounge, free tea and coffee etc. Members will not be able to lurk in their offices until summoned by a bell to determine the result of a debate they have not listened to. People who wish to vote may have to raise their hands instead of pushing a button.

These differences are bearable, if members really want to meet.

Mr Kwok went on to ask rhetorically “Which building in Hong Kong can be completely rented out to us for meetings, and which can ensure meetings will not be disturbed?”

Just a cotton-picking moment. You don’t need a whole building. You need a big enough space to hold a meeting of 70 people, with the necessary flunkies. The other 900 or so people whose participation is essential can work elsewhere as they do now.

Let us start close to the existing council chamber. The PLA headquarters used to be the British forces headquarters and in those days I occasionally got inside it. There is a huge high-ceilinged room near the top of the high-rise building (great views of the harbour) which used to be used for Officers Mess events. There are also some very nice smaller meeting rooms nearby. I think we can assume that security will not be a problem.

Too militaristic for you? Then why not try another huge waste of space, the Jockey Club? Racing finished on July 1 and will not resume until late September. Some of the rooms used for this purpose are enormous. I remember visiting a “box” at the Shatin course which was the size of a restaurant. There is also an actual restaurant which is humungeous. Or if you really want a big space the pre-race parade ring is vast and has a retractable roof.

The horse casino architecture is quite security-conscious for obvious reasons. They want people to pay for admission. And in fact the Shatin course is quite difficult to reach at all on non-racedays when the bus services are not provided and the trains do not stop there.

Also taking the summer off are the local universities. I am sure most of them have rooms which would be suitable, and indeed may already be fitted out with a sound system, headphones for interpretation and other amenities. Alternatively you could borrow a really big space and build a temporary meeting structure inside it, rather along the lines of the Manchester Corn Exchange Theatre.awotu1et2nr

The rest of the education industry is also now taking a break for holidays – or research as we university people used to call it – and offers other possibilities. Many international schools have very nice meetings rooms and are in out-of-the-way spots which would be a difficult target for mass protests.

The walls which are intended to keep the inmates in will also keep intruders out. Talking of inmates brings us to another possibility which might be worth exploring: prisons. I am not sure what our correctional establishments offer in the way of meeting rooms but at least security would hardly be a problem.

It might be a useful educational experience if you had the prison food for lunch first.

Notice that we have not yet reached the relevant industry: hotels and convention centres offer as a matter of professional practice spaces for a variety of purposes, including much bigger meetings than our legislative council. Did anyone ask for a quote?

I do not doubt that some of these ideas would turn out to have problems, especially if problems were what you were looking for. But there are surely enough unexplored possibilities for us to conclude that the reason why Legco is not going to meet before October is that legislators – offered what they think is a cast-iron excuse for idleness – are happy to skive off and blame any resulting inconvenience on the people who trashed their chamber.

I think this is not good enough. Being a legislator is usually a rather easy job but the disproportionate respect and deference which it attracts ought to impose some obligation to try harder when difficulties arise.

There are matters which ought to be dealt with before October. Some members are understandably not keen to explore the possibility of approving things by email without a meeting. Never mind the blame game. Get on with it.

There is a distressing contrast here, between our protesters, willing to brave the weather, congestion and the police force’s bracing notions of crowd control, and our legislators, a bunch of idle bastards eagerly looking for the chance to make an early start on their summer holidays.

Shame on the lot of you.

They seek her here, they seek her there, they seek her everywhere, but where is the new-look, caring, sharing, new leaf turned over Carrie Lam?

The apology was nice. The promise to listen more was encouraging, and what have we seen since? Not much. The lady has disappeared into the Fuhrer bunker, meeting only groups of her presumably disgruntled supporters, police unions, and other implausible sources of information on what the people are singing.

I do not approve of people vandalising public buildings, but what was she expecting? Those who turn a deaf ear to polite requests should expect rude requests. Having made it impossible for young radicals to enter Legco as elected members the government should not be surprised that some of them are instead entering as burglars. This is what happens when you sabotage the electoral process.

I realise there is a matter of face involved here. The government does not wish to admit defeat. But we have to be realistic about these things. The extradition bill was a resounding mistake and resounding mistakes have consequences.

No doubt those concerned are now genuinely sorry, but sorrow, as Baloo points out in the Jungle Book, stays not punishment.

It is no good saying that you now want to put this divisive stuff behind us and get on with economic and livelihood issues. This put you in the position of the guest who kicks the dog, gropes your daughter, insults your wife and stubs a cigarette out on your sideboard, and then as you prepare to throw him out asks “what’s for dinner?”

In one respect the government has been lucky. Unlike the Umbrella movement, the protestors have generally only asked for things which are in the government’s gift. The problem with the CE election method was in Beijing. Current discontents concern matters which are clearly for our government to decide if it wishes to do so.

Under the circumstances it is a good idea, having identified a feasible concession, to make it in a generous way which allows everyone concerned to tick it off their lists. Instead we get grudging inch-by-inch concessions which annoy the government’s poodles without satisfying its critics.

Let us take the bill itself. The official line is now that this has been suspended. It will not be unsuspended and the government accepts that it will die when the Legco session ends next year.

Protestors, meanwhile, want the bill withdrawn. Unnecessary, say the officials. Well yes, but if the bill is unofficially dead why not have it officially dead rather than have the corpse lying around stinking the place up?

Then there is the matter of whether June 12 should be described as a riot. This is another issue where words are more of a problem than substance. Actually from a legal point of view it does not matter whether the Chief Executive or the Police Commissioner describe the event as a riot.

In the old days, back in the UK, this was different. When a public disorder took place a Justice of the Peace would turn up. In those days being a JP was a real – though part-time – job, not a cheap ornament bestowed on the government’s supporters.

The attending magistrate would then read out a picturesque paragraph specified in the Riot Act: “Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.”

After an hour had passed the disorder then legally became a riot, and anyone still present could be charged and convicted whatever he or she was actually doing. The maximum penalty was three years in jail, or two with hard labour.

But this was not the system in the colonies. Hong Kong’s law in the matter is much simpler. Any assembly without police approval is an unlawful assembly. If violence occurs it is a riot and all those present are rioters whether they are personally violent or not. And the maximum penalty is ten years.

This is a bad law and the general reluctance to use it over the years is quite understandable. The suggestion that only those who have been violent will be prosecuted for rioting suggests a way out of the impasse. This would be to say that nobody would be charged with rioting; those who have been violent will be charged with the appropriate variation on assault and those who have not been violent will not be charged at all.

At this point we come to an interesting obstacle in the shape of former prosecutor Grenville Cross, who has informed everyone who would listen that any concession along these lines would be a gross infringement of the rule of law, which requires that prosecutions should be decided purely on the basis of whether a crime has been committed and whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction.

But wait a minute! Is this not the Grenville Cross who explained at great length, many moons ago, why it was perfectly consistent with the rule of law for his boss the then Secretary for Justice to decide not to prosecute Sally Aw Sian, even though a crime had apparently been committed, and two of her underlings were eventually convicted of it?

Those of us who thought this was a little odd were told that we were being naïve and simplistic. Prosecutors had to consider not only whether a crime had been committed and a conviction was likely, but also whether a prosecution would be in the public interest.

It was perfectly proper, Mr Cross then thought, for a prosecutor to exercise his or her discretion on this point.

But according to Messrs Robertson and Nichols, whose book on media law has the useful quality of covering what you can do as well as what you can’t, when an official has a discretion whether to prosecute it is perfectly acceptable to express an opinion on how that discretion should be exercised.

So there would be no objection to some senior person expressing the view that it would not be in the public interest for the colonial antique to be used to prosecute protestors, and for the Secretary for Justice to agree. If that is what is wished for…

Then there is the matter of the inquiry into police conduct on June . First this elicited a flat no. Existing system perfectly satisfactory. Then the Independent Police Complaints people said they would set up a little task force to look at assaults and other misunderstandings involving the media.

Last week it emerged that the police complaints people were going to do a look at the whole thing. Carrie, while maintaining that this was entirely the complaints people’s idea, promptly endorsed it and set a deadline.

So we have another half-hearted concession which will satisfy nobody. The resulting inquiry will not have the powers of a proper commission, it will be undertaken by people who do not command instant trust, and it will be done in a tearing hurry.

This is an important omission because there is an important topic which calls for a proper inquiry.

During the protests in Hong Kong over the Tienanmen Massacre huge numbers of people turned out. If anyone carried an umbrella it was to keep the sun off. Protests against proposed national security legislation in 2003 were also huge and peaceful.

In 2005 the World Trade Organisation met in Hong Kong and a visiting group of Korean rice farmers introduced a rather different protest culture. Hong Kong people watched the ensuing tussles and admired the general restraint shown by the forces of order. Pepper spray in those days came in a little aerosol like the ones some ladies carry for self-defence.

There was some tear gas use on the last evening but it seemed that was more or less what the Korean farmers wanted.

After that things started to go downhill. Quite small protests attracted generous use of pepper spray. Protestors started taking an interest in goggles and face masks. On the first night of Occupy there was a barrage of tear gas. Umbrellas became a practical necessity because pepper now came in a sort of giant water pistol with which policemen could pick off people yards way.

The level of violence has steadily increased. It seems nowadays that two groups of young men turn up on these occasions, both dressed and equipped for their role in the proceedings, ready to rumble and united only in their contempt and indifference for the poor pacifists shuttling between the two sides trying to calm them down.

An ominous recent development is the appearance of chemical weapons on the protest side. This is worrying because the police chemical weapons have been tested and used elsewhere. They are known to be non-lethal, at least if the user follows the instructions on the can.

Something some oft-peppered protestor cooks up in his kitchen from household chemicals offers no such comfortable assurance, and may be much more dangerous.

It is, I fear, going to be very difficult to undo this long-term escalation in levels of violence. As Clausewitz put it, it is difficult to reinstate limits which depended largely on people not realising what was possible.

In the meantime our leaders could usefully try to be more soothing, instead of seeking every opportunity to make partisan points. It is, for example, manifest nonsense to say that Legco must now be paralysed because its spiffy new chamber is unusable.

When the British House of Commons was bombed during the Blitz, members simply moved to a nearby chapel. Our universities, now subsiding for the summer, all have nice big meeting rooms with microphones and translation booths. In the 80s Legco used to meet in a rather unimpressive and very low tech hall which looked rather like a small suburban cinema.

Those who wish to work can work. Those who wish to blame the government’s critics for unrepaired hospitals, unraised wages or unfinanced projects need to remember what we are supposed to be doing: heel rifts, resolve conflicts, all that stuff. Or has that line been abandoned already?