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Cutting the Gordian Knot.
Not long ago I was invited to speak at the Dublin Anarchist Bookfair on the topic of sex work as work. The announcement on Facebook provoked violent ranting: to have me was anti-feminist, against socialism and a betrayal of anarchism. I wrote Talking about sex work without isms to explain why I would not discuss feminist arguments in the short Dublin talk. I’m not personally interested in utopias and after twenty years in the field really only want to discuss how to improve things practically in the here and now. No prostitution law can comprehend the proliferation of businesses in today’s sex industry or account for the many degrees of volition and satisfaction among workers. Sexual relations cannot be “fixed” through Gender-Equality policy. If I were Alexander standing over the knot I would slice it thus: All conversations from this moment will begin from the premise that we will not all agree. We will look for a variety of solutions to suit the variety of beliefs, and we will not compete over which ideological position is best. Most important, we will assume that what all women say is what they mean.
The Last Governor: Chris Patten and the Handover of Hong Kong by Jonathan Dimbleby , Little, Brown, 461 pp, ?22.50, July 1997, ISBN 0 316 64018 2 In Pursuit of British Interests: Reflections on Foreign Policy under Margaret Thatcher and John Major by Percy Cradock , Murray, 228 pp, ?18.99, September 1997, ISBN 0 7195 5464 0 Hong Kong Under Chinese Rule: The Economic and Political Implications of Reversion edited by Warren Cohen and Li Zhao , Cambridge, 255 pp, ?45.00, August 1997, ISBN 0 521 62158 5 The Hong Kong Advantage by Michael Enright, Edith Scott and David Dodwell , Oxford, 369 pp, ?20.00, July 1997, ISBN 0 19 590322 6.
Sovereignty: supremacy in respect of power, domination or rank; supreme dominion, authority, or rule.
Without conflicting mental reservations, international agreements would be impossible.
French diplomatic maxim.
Christopher Francis Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor, famously wept just before he left aboard the royal yacht Britannia at midnight on 30 June, while sirens whooped and rockets soared over Asia’s most stunning harbour. Tears of joy? Relief? Despair? The book he is reportedly writing in his French retreat may tell us; meanwhile we can only guess. The peaceful transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Britain to China – all things considered, the unlikeliest end any empire ever had – went off without a visible hitch. Almost every day of his five-year term, Patten did battle, as he saw it, on Hong Kong’s behalf. Towards the end he was all but alone, shunned by those he had, as he saw it, tried to protect, on the issue he thought most important: democracy. When he arrived, Hong Kong had a partly elected legislature; after he left, it had to start all over again. Under Chinese sovereignty (see above) there may not be a Patten Square or statue any time soon; but the one quasi-democratic election he did manage to hold, in 1995, could conceivably figure in Chinese history as a harbinger of things to come. And, while he was away, the Conservative Party, whose Pyrrhic victory he stage-managed five years earlier, had suffered its worst defeat this century. A swirl of emotions, complex enough to make even a hardened politician cry, may best explain the last governor’s dampened cheeks.
For the beaming new rulers of Hong Kong, China’s President Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng, 1 July 1997 was set beside the sacred dates of 10 October 1911, when the first Chinese Republic was proclaimed, and 1 October 1949, when China’s new five-starred red flag was hoisted on Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing, and Chairman Mao exulted: ‘China has stood up!’ Now, for the first time in 156 years, no alien flag, no foreign soldier, no uninvited official defiles any part of the Chinese motherland, with the exception of nearby Macao, but that tiny Portuguese enclave is due to follow Hong Kong before the century’s end. The last of the ‘unequal treaties’ forced on China in its years of sorrow has been torn up, the last patch of stolen Chinese earth reclaimed. In Britain, the few who knew much about Hong Kong were glad to be honourably shot of an accidental, unrewarding and possibly dangerous responsibility. For China, the reversion continued a change of fortune without precedent in its history. Since Mao, the worst ruler China ever had, died in 1976, China has indeed stood up, reversed the decline of centuries, more than doubled its income and opened up to the world, relatively speaking. Even a guess at Hong Kong’s future involves gauging the political and psychological capital China’s rulers have invested in the success of the ‘one country, two systems’ on which it is premised – all the more since the appeal of Communism is fast withering away, leaving patriotism and prosperity as China’s only unifying principles.
The way the famous Hong Kong lease was ended supports this view. It must be one of the flimsiest deeds ever to have been honoured exactly on its due date. In 1898, when the alien Qing (or Manchu) dynasty was at its last gasp, a British army captain decided that Hong Kong needed strategic depth for defence against local trouble makers. By the Second Convention of Peking, the disintegrating dynasty agreed to lease what Hong Kong still calls its New Territories to the British for 99 years. Why a lease? Because no one dreamed that the territories would one day make up more than nine-tenths of a city of more than six million people, and the British feared that outright annexation would provoke rival empires to counter-annexations, touching off World War One in Kow-loon instead of Sarajevo. Why 99 years? Because a lease needs a date. Why did the Qing dynasty sign? Because its last hope lay in getting foreign help against its own people, and it was ready to sign anything. The lease was never ratified, no rent was ever paid, and China gained nothing tangible from it – except that, by expiring, it has brought the rest of Hong Kong, ‘ceded in perpetuity’, back to mother China.
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