Does It Make a Sound?

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This is Hong Kong right now. The image is powerful. The audio is more powerful.

The people in this image and this video are singing “Do you hear the people sing,” from Les Mis. It is a common protest song, but not the kind of thing that is allowed in 2019 China. If you know the curtain-dropping line from the play, you’ll know why:

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again

– Les Miserables (1980)

Here is a video of police firing rubber bullets at well-prepared protesters.

Here is an article from the South China Morning Post discussing the aggressive use of tear gas to break up the protests.

Hong Kong protests: police under fire as viral video shows elderly residents of Yuen Long care home suffering from effects of tear gas [South China Morning Post]

The article is, of course, pure fiat news, an opinion piece that presents itself as a news update. The headline is selective and emotionally charged. The images are selected to evoke a particular response. Even when we agree with the narrative it is promoting – especially when we agree – fiat news should always give us pause.

But they aren’t the only ones creating narratives here. The protesters are, too. Singing “it is the music of a people who will not be slaves again” is beautiful narrative creation. Standing peacefully, armed against tear gas and bullets with spray guns, umbrellas and plywood shields? Brilliantly disarming tear gas canisters with cones and water guns? This is Holy, Rough and Immediate theater, all at once.

And it is amazing.

If you’re reading this, you probably know more about what’s going on in Hong Kong than just an airport shutdown. Like us, you’re probably Very Online, a ravenous consumer of global news. But for most of the country it is a different story.

Here, for example, is the front page of CNN.com as of 7:00 AM CT this morning. Dig a little bit and you’ll find something about the Hong Kong protests. Only don’t look for a story about self-determination, disenfranchisement or extradition. You’ve got to look for a story about how this might affect you, fellow American. Found it yet?

MSNBC’s front page has nothing. Zilch. Lots to say about Russia, though.

If you’re willing to scroll down past fiat news send-ups of Comey and Cuomo, Fox will give you a similar angle to CNN. At least they acknowledge the protests. Unfortunately, in doing so their headline writer unwittingly reveals a bit too much about US missionaries’ awareness of the protests: in short, they have not been paying attention to them for the months, not days, that they have been going on.

The Wall Street Journal puts it figuratively above-the-fold – they’ve got a good Hong Kong bureau – but again, the headliner news story is how this will affect your travel plans and the next two weeks of volatility in your portfolio. It IS a financial paper, so some grace is warranted here. Many of their reporters are doing good work. If you’re looking for someone to follow, @birdyword is a good choice.

The New York Times gives the “airport thing” top billing, too, but the nature of their coverage (presented cheerfully next to “What Would Sartre Think about Trump-Era Republicans”) would easily pass CCP censors. Every piece and every blurb being promoted is about the disruption being caused by the protests, and about the damage being done by them.

ET followers and subscribers – especially on social media – have been openly predicting over the last few days how quickly the Epstein case or the Hong Kong protest situation will fade from the zeitgeist, from the narratives about what’s going on in our world.

They won’t fade.

No, not because they’re powerful or timeless. They won’t fade because they don’t exist.

There is no narrative, no common knowledge in the US about these protests. American media have largely stopped covering them, and they aren’t written about as a “connected issue” for other topics. They have rarely, if ever, been connected to language used to discuss trade disputes with China. They aren’t related to the three or four articles grudgingly discussing the Uighur muslim reeducation villages they’ve set up (shh!). But this isn’t just US media. It’s politicians, too, who seem loath to tie anything of everyday significance to what’s happening over there.

The only reason at all the protests are getting coverage is in context of reports about Asian stocks and reports about flights in and out of Hong Kong. That’s it. From Quid, below we present a network graph of the last two days worth of all global news. In bold at the extremity of the northeast quadrant are the entirely peripheral, unconnected, paltry collection of articles about these protests.

Source: Quid, Epsilon Theory

I’m sure we will get a lot of “isn’t a clear-eyed view of the protests that they are unlikely to be successful” or “this will all be counterproductive” takes, which are very on-narrative responses. They also might not be wrong.

But wherever self-determination and resistance to the encroaching power of the state and oligarchical institutions find expression, there should our full hearts be also.

And our full voices.


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BobK71
Member
BobK71

I am absolutely a ‘do you hear the people sing?’ kind of guy. To me, there is no excuse to run a repressive regime and run all over human rights.

That said, objectively, this protest has all the signs of a CIA operation that just happens to coincide with a trade and currency war between the two countries. (A ‘subversion expert’ from the US Consulate, according to Chinese state media, has been caught on camera with protest leaders.)

As a detective, the first question to ask is ‘who benefits?’

This event showcases precisely how the modern empire works. By soft power. By alliance with different factions, especially including those who believe in Enlightenment ideals. Thereby, the empire is able to wield considerable power by not spending much at all, because it doesn’t have much, compared to the costs of running the world.

The salaries of a few State Department/CIA employees vs. trillions in trade and FX markets. Brilliant.

P.S. If you find the setting of Les Miserables in mid-19th century France eerily apropos to the current event, it’s because it is. It never ceases to amaze me how people of passion find their voice in the most ingenious way. (And don’t laugh if and when the choice turns out to have come from a cultural advisor from the CIA.)

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bmsobel
Member
bmsobel

I gave up on the fiat NYT – the WSJ is good – but the Financial Times is exceptional. If you’re in finance and don’t read the FT you are missing 90% of what’s going on in the world. ps -I avoid the editorial pages like the plague.
(This is not a paid endorsement).

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Mark Kahn
Member
Mark Kahn

Rusty, I’ve noticed the absence of narrative around this dramatic event. Is the media playing it down because it fears real “speaking truth to power” – and is that because the media is really on the side of the existing power / status quo geopolitical structure? If so, why? Why is it on the side of China?

Also, I’ve read, probably, every WSJ article on it and, while you are right about the headline you note or bent of this or that article, if you actually read all the articles, they’ve done a very good job of covering the event in-depth. As you note, for a financial paper at heart, I think they’ve done an outstanding job.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think China has too many cards to play and, in truth, while the 1997 handover agreement says some wonderful things – who’s going to enforce it, the UK?

The real China superpower moment / battle / generation defining event will be Taiwan. If I was Taiwan, I’d be in full-court-press mode buddying up to the US gov’t and marketing my story of a small democracy versus a Goliath dictatorship to the American public writ large. I don’t think Taiwan has any other strategy / hand to play that might save it from China.

Just my two cents.

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Ward Good
Member
Ward Good

Somewhere on Twitter I saw a brief video of student protesters waving American Flags and singing the national anthem. I was quite moved. I should’ve saved it but I assumed it would go viral since it is now not only kinda sorta news but also a way to poke Trump for inaction. The MSM is too incompetent to be corrupt.

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Mark Kahn
Member
Mark Kahn

It pokes Trump, yes, so the MSM should love it / but it’s also pro-America in a fundamental – dare I say America “exceptionalism -” way, which the MSM hates.

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John
Member
John

I’m no expert but the fact that the China has escalated its official rhetoric (e.g. calling the protesters ‘Terrorists”), tells me they’ve decided to foreclose their own options for a peaceful resolution. There’s no way a prideful State like the PRC will allow itself to be seen as negotiating with terrorists (i.e. losing a game of chicken), so now they’ve started actively undermining the “peaceful protesters” narrative, it seems to me inevitable we’ll see an overwhelming show of force. People will die.

The protesters know this, presumably, which only makes their actions more poignant.

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chudson
Member
chudson

Perhaps the lack of narrative is the key. It’s the dog that did not bark in the night.

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Kirk
Member
Kirk

I was curious about the coverage by Al Jazeera. Seemed to contain actual news. Facts, I’d say, though possibly “selected”. But, reporting on 10th week; increasingly violent clashes; origin of protest; growing demands; UN human rights; China mission view of “showing a tendency of resorting to terrorism; Beijing may be paving way to use anti-terrism law; etc. Al Jazeera becoming my go-to for news (other than middle east….)

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cartoox
Member
cartoox

I live in HK. I went for some of the protests, especially the early ones including when we had a 2 million turnout. HK now is a classic example of the nudging oligarchy [mostly property tycoons ] and the nudging state [or perhaps forceful state as its slowly morphing into ] colluding for today at the expense of tomorrow. What Ben recently called “the Long Now”. The nudging oligarchy – top local tycoons and legislators – were called to a meeting in Shenzhen – where they were pressed upon by the communist party to distance themselves from, and indeed condemn, the protests. This was on news sites…so they’re not even pretending there…… In truth, the extradition bill is just the last straw in a 20+ year of corrosion of the laws and autonomy that enabled Hong Kong to advance into a world class post-industrial connected economy. This was written by a local, a Tom Yam ( no connection to me ) “Many young people feel they have no future. They see the economy controlled by a cartel of tycoons in collusion with the government. They see the hypocrisy of the pro-Beijing establishment. Government officials urge them to go study and work on the mainland, while sending their own offspring to the West. Affluent owners of second passports and second homes in Western democracies tell them to be patriotic and accept creeping authoritarianism. Worse, they see no chance of change for the better. The chief executive is not accountable to the… Read more »

Jane VanFossen
Member
Jane VanFossen

Was unable to give you the “thumbs up”, so just want to say how much I appreciate your eye-witness perspective. Have enjoyed your vibrant, amazing home each time I’ve visited. Your courageous, liberty-loving people are being prayed for here on the other side of the world.

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