The Preoccupation with Hong Kong

The best history is one which unfolds in front of you.

The last 5 years have been filled with incidents of civil unrest, mass protests and the use of means of discontent expression which have not been so actively used perhaps since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Never before in the last 20-25 years people come together to clean up their respective countries and governments whether it be in Tunisia, Yemen,Egypt, Ukraine or now Hong Kong. The internationalization of domestic troubles by the foot soldiers of  democracy, the common people on social media, that is what some believe to be the drivers of this. While others propose that Social Media is agog with these civil and not so civil disruptions because of a tendency of such content to be viral rather than the medium it self being a channel for spreading the discontent. That is to say there is little influence but great homophilly in the #OccupyCentral.

Whether or not that is true, Hong Kong joined the ranks of democracy seekers this monsoon. China’s window into capitalism, Hong Kong has always been a weird animal, torn between two ideologies. The inhabitants are more modern (arguably) and thus by any philosopher’s definition, ripe for choosing their own direction than agreeing to be compliant. When the re election of the area’s Chief Executive came into spotlight, the people led by a few academics demanded the candidates from which they were to choose be selected not by China but by the people. To any dweller in a democracy, the demand seems rational enough. If any elections are meant to be truly representative, the candidates can’t be pre-selected. The displeasure of the mainland being apparent at this the professors took to the streets. Joining them were the slightly more radical Hong Kong Federation of Students & Scholarism. Waves of discontent worldwide in recent times have been led by students and youngsters possibly because of their refusal to accept a system which hasn’t worked for their parents, increased awareness of world politics or a natural immunization to indoctrination via what is inevitably a western influenced education.

An anti-protester (L) shouts at pro-democracy demonstrators in an occupied area of Hong Kong on October 3, 2014. Source : Time.
An anti-protester (L) shouts at pro-democracy demonstrators in an occupied area of Hong Kong. Source : TIme

While we in our democracies were embroiled in the tough task of career selection at the age of 17-18, here the boys and girls have gone a step further into future determination of their nation. The courage is undeniable but everything else is under a shadow. If there be a purely representative head of  governance, how effectively would he be allowed to govern? Given the expressed discontent of commerce groups at the people’s attempt to peacefully determine their future, how likely is Hong Kong to succeed commercially given a shift in political systems? While a complete disassociation from China seems out of the question, the presence of these two such opposing schools of thought in one nation, is it even possible? These questions don’t seem to be raised often enough. With the passing of October, the leading lights of the protest movement have returned to their teaching roles. While the expression of communal discontent generated a lot of media vibe, never has a mass protest been so riddled with camera flashes, what did it achieve? The organized referendums to gauge public sentiment were definitely eye opening as to the people’s efficiency in organizing themselves and mining public opinion.

To someone who has lived life long in a democratic government there is little possibility of not having a skewed view of the situation. After all our elected representatives have failed us more often than not. While on the other hand there is freedom of expression. If you randomly select 4 people from a crowd they are equally likely to be as good or bad at governance as those which were to be elected by that crowd. This is probably not true for small homogeneous numbers. But it seems more plausible for large masses with varied cultural, financial and educational backgrounds. In democracies, the leaders are not the brightest, not the strongest and not the best for the job but their popularity eclipses their shortcomings, making their failures the fault of their electors as much as their own.

So perhaps what the people of Hong Kong and of other government disillusioned parts of the world want is a chance to make their own mistakes.

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BBC : Why is Hong Kong protesting?

Wikipedia : Occupy Central with Love and Peace

Twitter : #OccupyCentral

Wikipedia : The Umbrella Movement

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The Plague in Madagascar

The Black Death, probably one of the most well known catastrophes, human civilization has suffered is not as much a thing of the past as one would imagine. Those gory medieval paintings and tapestries which portrayed the era of “Bring out your Dead”, show a disease which is still not entirely done with humanity. December last year saw a bout of fresh cases of the buobonic plague in the island nation of Madagascar. With a count of 60 cases in the last year one might think that the problem is in no way comparable in scale and proportion to what it was centuries ago. But the problem in Madagascar till now has been concentrated in remote isolated areas. What would happen in a crowded, over populated unsanitary city is anyone’s nightmare.

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The Storytelling of Science

More than 60-70 % of the people I know on this planet(I know people only on this planet) and who know me by name or face, are men and women of science. They are so by their chosen professions and their much applauded and recognized education. I myself am an engineer, a member of that exalted body of the worshipers of reason and technology which celebrated only recently its annual day of social recognition. A day when all of us stamped with the initials B.E or B.Tech proclaim their pride in being something which we spend rest of the year mocking or cursing.

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A Crash Course to CrashCourse

In an effort to leave this Earth with more perceived understanding of your universe than the average person around you, you might find yourself wandering the internet for short capsules of knowledge. While reading about stuff has been the way to self educate, nothing hits home like a good audio visual experience. You end up retaining more, its interesting and if you talk about it to your fellow beings the chances of you appearing nerd-like, slightly diminish.

YouTube is teeming with the possible avenues of gaining that dose of visual wisdom but visual quality and content quality are two commodities which seem to be in constant trade-off. The popularity of things on the video streaming site is governed by videos that are fresh and entertaining so you’d find longer, more detailed content sidelined unless it caters to topics which YouTubers could rant on (which is now becoming, everything). CrashCourse is a YouTube channel which has been around since 2006. It offers you short videos on the most basic topics of documented human knowledge. While the fields are broad, the content is definitely worth a look even if you think you know all there is to know about it. Great animation and excellent quality clips/images make for a great retentive experience. While not exactly suitable for very young viewers, this could be a great starting point for teens to look at various topics and find out what captivates their interest.

The channel is a creation of Hank Green a musician, tech entrepreneur, developer of Subbable and cocreator of VidCon. He also manages various other YouTube Channels. The videos are funny and informative and really rapid with your brain being fed more information than it is likely to be on a normal non-video watching day. Yes it doesn’t compare to video lectures and there is a lot to learn about each of the areas covered, but for someone who is just looking for that small fraction of their day to be entertaining while reducing the guilt of not watching something worthwhile, this is a good option. Like everything on the internet take what you learn here with a pinch of salt.

I’d recommend starting here, in the playlists section. You get the videos more organized this way. But first check out this latest video by the channel and see if you get hooked. Its about A History of Everything so you can’t pretend to be not interested.

How to tell you are an Atheist : Daniel Dennett

While Christopher Hitchens was and Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss are part of the syllabus of any self educating secularist or non believer there is another name which makes nice contributions to the field. A professor from the Tufts University Daniel Dennett is a rather pleasing jovial man with the personality of Santa Claus and a comedic timing much better than most standup comedians.  While I confess having never read any of his books, this talk which I stumbled upon in my YouTube feed, makes me believe that they shall make for great reading.

The idea of the pursuit of intentional non belief and through it discrediting the beliefs of others seems pointless at times. The entire point of non belief and deviation from mainstream spirituality should perhaps be that we make God such a non issue that any discussion around him/her never comes up. In this talk this researcher on Consciousness and Philosophy talks about the denial of most people of their lack of faith. The Clergy project, an interesting exercise to find and support an anonymous group of clergymen who doubt the basic principle of their vocation is introduced and discussed. This video with its focus on the acceptance of severely modified and rationalized world views as basically atheistic, is interesting and the speaker’s delivery makes it a fun hour. The stiff upper lip of Hitchens, the continued indignation of Dawkins and the scientific crusading of Krauss is not missed at all as this eloquent and soft spoken man speaks.

I – Squared

The benefits of a lecture and instructional video are immense, short, portable and audio visual pieces of information from some of the greatest minds on the planet, yep lectures can do wonders. But the problem with lectures as with having a single flavor of ice cream is, boredom. Thus as an alternative to a single person churning out knowledge, the competitive atmosphere of verbal sparring in a debate is not a bad way to learn a few things and explore new ideas via the pieces of some famous individuals.

The Video above is an interesting depiction of the exchange between Stephen Fry  and Ann Widdecombe  from the Debate : “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world“.  

It was in this spirit that the last post explored a TV show. Today we move to another format, video recorded and webcast. The Intelligence Squared debates originated in the UK moving to various nations of the world. It was when they came across the Atlantic that America did what it does, with the concept and the phenomenon became global. The debates are based on the Oxford Style. That means that the result of the debate is decided by the percentage of the population that is swayed after the debate to the speaker’s cause. Two opinion polls of generally a 1000-2000 strong audience are taken, one before and the other after the debate. With the need to create a balanced atmosphere perhaps the selection of an equally biased audience might be done but still the experience is not an overly orchestrated one.  Each debate has generally 2 speakers for and 2 against the motion whose speeches are followed by audience question and answer rounds. The topics range from Foreign policy, history, science, social policy, art, culture and also the environment. The agency also operates in Israel, Greece, Hong Kong and a few other regions.

Although the outlook to many of the events is a commercial one for tickets are sold online there are a large number of videos of the debates available on the website of Intelligence Squared and also on its Youtube Channel. Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Fry, Tony Blair, Richard Dawkins are a few of the notables to have debated on this platform. The Versus Debates sprung from the partnership of this organization with Google making for even more interesting watching and brain fodder.

The Intelligence Squared Website
The Intelligence Squared Website

Q & A Australia

The act of broadening one’s horizons is not an easy one. You need to find content which you can consume and also a desire to do so. Often the barrier between learning about anything new, is a lack of interest. The world today offers so much information from across various realms and cultures in such appealing and different formats. No longer is the act of learning confined to having to read something for although as an activity enjoyable, it needs time and concentration most of us find difficult to part with. I have found that the instigating of interest in World Affairs, cultural problems and concerns of the populous of this Earth are often well covered and documented on the internet, That is where I found Question & Answer Australia. A panel show based on the concept of moderated televised debate but with the restriction of no allowances for free form speeches. Every word uttered must be a question ( by the audience) or an answer by the panelists.

Issues from religion, science, politics, race, immigration, faith, sexuality, violence find themselves being discussed and debated by some of Australia’s most and very rarely least, prominent thinkers. You shall find world renowned scientists, archbishops, actors, pop singers, environmentalists and politicians going head to head on the questions and comments of some very astute audience members. Participation through video questions online and through twitter is also encouraged. It is unlike any other TV program that I have ever seen where real life’s questions are discussed in a civilized manner. Many news channels have tried to recreate the model but none I have seen have been as successful. Not all the programs are excellent, there are periods of lull and some panelists do try your patience but still the show remains entertaining.  Its also fun to see grown people fight and defend their ideals. Perhaps the most decent thing is, that the show is available for streaming free on the ABC network website.

Q & A

If you are intrigued by the concept then here are a few programs you could start with. I found them to be the most interesting of the lot.

  1. Thursday, 1 October 2009God, Sodomy and the Lash
    Panellists: Christopher Hitchens, author and radical atheist; Father Frank Brennan, Jesuit intellectual and social activist; Waleed Aly, politics lecturer; Sally Warhaft, author and founding editor of The Monthly; and Anne Henderson, biographer and deputy director of The Sydney Institute.
  2. Monday, 27 May 2013Religion, Marriage & Euthanasia
    Panellists: Lawrence Krauss, Theoretical Physicist & Cosmologist; Gene Robinson, America’s First Openly Gay Bishop; Fred Nile, Conservative Morals Campaigner; Amanda Vanstone, Former Howard Government Minister; and Susan Ryan, Age Discrimination Commissioner.
  3. Monday, 1 April 2013Faith & Love
    Panellists: Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane; Dr Mohamad Abdalla, Imam; Venerable Robina Courtin, Buddhist Nun; Josh Thomas, Atheist, Comedian & Actor; and Deborah Conway, Jewish Atheist Singer-Songwriter.

While these are but a fraction of what the show has to offer, they stand up very well to the tag line :

” Adventures in Democracy”