2019 02 – Blog on Politics

 

Climate Change – Justified Fear

Tragically but predictably, 2019 began with another case of record-breaking bad weather.  Abnormal amounts of snow in Continental Europe, going as far south as Italy and Greece.[1]  Unusual heat in Australia, where of course it is summer.[2]  And another major storm, this time hitting Thailand:

“Tropical Storm Pabuk … a once in three-decades weather system, packed winds of up to 75km (45 miles) an hour and brought heavy rains and storm surges as it lashed the entire south of the kingdom on Friday, downing power cables and causing widespread flooding.”[3]

Such a storm would have happened once every 30 years, if the climate was stable.  But 2018 had a run of separate terrible weather events that each should only happen every few decades.  For me, the chances of 2019 being any better are no greater than the chance of Prime Minister Theresa May eloping with Labour Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.

The prospects are appalling:

“More Floods and More Droughts: Climate Change Delivers Both…

“More records for both wet and dry weather are being set around the globe, often with disastrous consequences for the people facing such extremes, according to a study published Wednesday that offered new evidence of climate change’s impacts in the here and now.

“Extreme rainfall, and the extreme lack of it, affects untold numbers of people, taxing economies, disrupting food production, creating unrest and prompting migrations. So, factors that push regions of the world to exceptional levels of flooding and drought can shape the fate of nations.”[4]

But why did the US Republicans become foes of the facts?  There is no law of nature that says that the Centre-Right has to be irresponsible about the future.  It is a feature of the rise of the New Right, which has driven out authentic conservatives in both the USA and Britain:

“It is hard to remember but once, not so long ago, the Republican Party in the US was a pathfinder for good science and progressive environmental legislation. President Richard Nixon may have sprayed South-East Asia with herbicides in a failed attempt to root out Vietcong freedom fighters, but back home he created the Environmental Protection Agency, which became a model for similar agencies round the world, and pushed through pioneering legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act

“Their Republican green sensibility was retreating by the 1980s, under Ronald Reagan and the first Bush presidency. But even so, George H. Bush spoke out eloquently in 1989 in favour of protecting the remaining marshlands spared by previous generations bent on draining them…

“Times change. Now Donald Trump is a fully paid up climate change denier…

“What happened? It seems, as Turner and Isenberg chronicle, that an alliance of libertarians, pro-business free marketeers and anti-federalists triumphed over any other version of conservatism…

“But there is surely something more. The Republican Party – the majority of whose legislators in the Senate and House are declared climate sceptics and deniers – has been engulfed by a cult of anti-science.”[5]

I suppose this is an unwanted backwash from Nixon’s Southern Strategy.  The ignorant Religious Right used to be split between parties, but is now overwhelmingly Republican.  And those people are strongly motivated to vote in the Primary Elections that select most US candidates for important offices.

And incidentally, the Soviet reference is based on Lysenko’s largely mistaken ideas being made the official standard which loyal Soviet citizens were required to accept.  But that was an isolated error by a pro-science regime.  Identifying genetics with racism was a major factor.  Many geneticists used to do so, viewing both genes and unalterable race differences as equally valid and scientific.  A dwindling handful still do, despite DNA studies showing that the human race is a broad unity with supposed race differences not appearing in the data.  Humans vary, but cannot be split into four or five distinct groups in the way racists favour.

Up till the 1960s, racism was firmly entrenched in Western genetic science.  We were often told that science had proved that the supposed racial groups had evolved separately from pre-humans: that lasted until DNA evidence showed that the main heritage of everyone outside of Africa comes from a single migration about 70,000 years ago.  And more recently, that these migrants also bred with some pre-humans, most notably Neanderthals.

Lysenko’s notions of infinitely changeable humans seemed to fit socially progressive ideas.  We now know it is not so simple.  But also that the conventional Darwinism that Lysenko opposed had a lot of racism and errors mixed with the correct basic ideas.

It is however true that pseudo-science and nonsense are popular, and flourish especially in the USA.

Primary votes are indeed more democratic than selection by a party.  Sad to say, democracy can empower ignorance and hate just as easily as it empowers finer feelings.

Well before Trump, there was a determination to suppress bad news:

“Between 1972 and 1995, a US agency named the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) existed to provide the practical means to help overcome such politicisation. During its 23-year existence, the OTA was in a unique position to assist members of Congress in understanding complex issues in science and technology.

“The OTA was a non-partisan agency governed by a technology assessment board which consisted of equal numbers of senators and representatives and equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. Its assessments strove for objectivity and comprehensiveness, and were considered state-of-the-art documents by many…

“In 1993 my agency warned of climate change. In 1995 it was abolished…

“Imagine where we would be now if Congress had begun to address climate change at the time of these reports (and the early reports of other organisations, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

“Instead, the OTA was abolished in 1995, shortly after Republicans retook control of Congress and Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House of Representatives. At the time, the OTA was one of the most respected agencies in Washington.”[6]

Libertarians mostly think that they should be free from being harassed by off-message facts, along with other freedoms that they cherish.  That Reality is just something we make up and can redefine any which way if we try hard enough.

Of course it is not just the USA that has Climate Denialism:

“Scientists and many delegates in Poland were shocked as the US, Saudi  Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objected to this meeting “welcoming” the  report.”[7]

Three of those countries are run by greedy fools, concerned only with immediate profit.  But Russian agriculture may very well gain from global warming.

Putin need not fear a future in which Russia might set its own terms for selling its vast grain surplus to a hungry USA.  It’s not impossible.  It is also possible that the wild shifts in climate could bring more rain to the Arabian Peninsula, giving an enormous boost to Saudi Arabia.  Being religious fanatics, they might think that this is God’s Plan, which they should be helping.

Trump and Brazil’s Bolsonaro are just being foolish and unrealistic.  Their reputations will stink worse than they do now, as the outcome of their foolishness becomes clearer.

 

Child of Krakatoa

The Krakatoa volcano’s spectacular explosion was vividly dramatised in a 1969 Hollywood film called Krakatoa, East of Java.

The original Krakatoa was actually west of Java.  It exploded in 1883, and killed maybe 36,000 people.  It sat in the gap between Java and Sumatra: a gap suspected of having been made by a still vaster explosion in prehistoric times.

Visible volcanoes are often just the ‘tip of the iceberg’; the surface expression of something deep down below.  The Hawaiian islands were made that way, sitting over a local hot-spot.  And the whole of Indonesia sits over the slow-moving boundary between two continental plates.

1927 saw the emergence of Anak Krakatoa, Child of Krakatoa.  Also appearing in English-language reports as  ‘Anak Krakatau’: this is more accurate, but confuses the link to the vastly more famous event.

Anak Krakatoa did not seem unusually dangerous.  Nothing bad if it erupted.  But instead, it suffered a vast collapse, and this generated a tsunami.  And unlike the much worse 2004 event, it struck in darkness.

It also struck without warning.  It was so close that a warning would have done little good, but every little helps.  And plenty of lives would have been saved back in September, when an earthquake caused a tsunami that hit the Indonesian city of Palu.

“If a buoy network had been in place around Anak Krakatau, a one-to-two minute warning of a pending wave was the most anyone could expect.”[8]

“Indonesia’s tsunami buoy network had not been operational since 2012.  ‘Vandalism, a limited budget, and technical damage mean there were no tsunami buoys at this time. They need to be rebuilt to strengthen the Indonesian tsunami early warning system.’”[9]

That’s from The Guardian, so they do not ask whether the neglect was helped by replacing a single authoritarian regime by competitive political parties.  Parties that commonly play up to whatever catches the attention of the voters, and neglect the rest.  I’ve no idea if it applies in this case, but it definitely is found elsewhere.

 

Korean Protests

“South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan to compensate South Koreans forced to work in its factories during World War II, the second such ruling in a month that has bedeviled relations between the two key American allies in Asia.

“The top court upheld a lower-court ruling that ordered Mitsubishi to pay five women 100 million won to 150 million won, or about $89,000 to $133,000, each. In a separate ruling on Thursday, the court also ordered Mitsubishi to pay 80 million won to each of six men who said they were subject to forced labor at a Mitsubishi shipyard and machine tool factory in 1944.

“Japan insists that all matters concerning allegations of forced labor were settled under agreements that established bilateral diplomatic ties in 1965. In its October verdict, however, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled for the first time that those deals should not impede individual victims’ rights to seek redress. It reaffirmed its opinion through its decisions on Thursday.”[10]

The decision-makers are long dead.  They were mostly protected from punishment by the USA, which concentrated on mistreatment of Western prisoners of war.  Scandalously in the case of the human experiments in Germ Warfare at ‘Unit 731’,[11] but Japanese industrialists were more deserving cases.

Japanese success played a major role in winning the Cold War, as did the Economic Miracle in West Germany and considerable success in Italy and France.  Though it is never mentioned nowadays, even by the Left, until the 1970s the Soviet Union was growing faster than the USA.  In those days, Britain was already seen as in decline.[12]  It was said, Britain has lost an Empire and not yet found a role.

Under Thatcher and her heirs – and I include Tony Blair – Britain found a ‘Swiss Role’, as a haven for dirty money and a source of high-quality troops for foreign wars.  Very little was done to address the real cause of economic weakness.

The success of Japan was built on having created a prosperous and well-educated workforce in the era of Imperial Japan.  This depended in part on wealth taken from Korea when it was a Japanese colony.  Surviving victims should long ago have been compensated, and it would be good if they should now get something.

 

Xinjiang – Don’t Mention Islamic Terrorists!

Back in October 2018, the satirical magazine Private Eye was one of many joining an orchestrated moan about China taking effective measures to crush dissent in part of its territory.[13]

I sent them a letter, not expecting it to be published.  But there is always the hope that someone would read it and understand that in this case, they were talking nonsense.

“Your ‘Letter from Kashgar’ ignores the basics of Xinjiang.  Though I’d suppose the author knows plenty – they significantly avoid using the legal name of the province, speaking instead of ‘north-west China’.

“They follow most of the Western media in reporting repression without mentioning what it is repressing.  Long-running Uyghur terrorism, which included random attacks on Chinese citizens.  And which in recent years has increasingly linked to al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamic terrorism.  While some Uyghur exiles are secular, others have been involved in the oppression of non-Muslim minorities in Syria and Iraq.

“Also Uyghur is an invented identity for a mix of Turkish speaking people who had no other recognised identity beyond their own district.  It was chosen under Soviet influence, when they were trying to stir up various Central Asian peoples against Imperialism.  The region was under informal Soviet dominance for much of the 1930s, contended for by rival warlords.  Uyghurs played little direct role.  The main warlord was Han, his main rival a Hui, a different Muslim group similar to Han in general culture.

“The warlord of Xinjiang worked for a time with the Chinese Communists, but decided to switch to the Nazis during the invasion of the Soviet Union.  And killed Mao’s only surviving brother, who had been there as political contact.  After the war he was able to switch to the Kuomintang, and was among many exiles after the Communists won the Civil War.  The Kuomintang, incidentally, was full of admirers of Nazism and fascism and had taken back many who had worked with the Japanese in their war against China.

“There was also a short-lived pro-Soviet ‘East Turkistan Republic’, backed by a mix of Turkic peoples, mostly not Uyghur.  The Soviets ordered its members to obey Mao’s new People’s Republic, and also appear to have murdered much of its leadership, claiming they had died in a plane crash.

“There had been another earlier ‘East Turkistan Republic’, which was Islamic.  The two existed at different times in different places, and would probably  have fought each other had they ever overlapped.  Neither had much popular support – they flourished at a time when China was fragmented and almost any armed group could grab a territory.

“The region now known as Xinjiang has been intermittently attached to the Chinese Empire since the time of the Han Dynasty, who overlapped with the Roman Empire.  Its main importance has been as part of the ancient Silk Road, updated in modern times as road and rail links between China and Europe, with connections also to West Asia.

“Xinjiang separatism is one of many.  They are generally repressed – the Republic of India criminalises any calls for secession, even by peaceful and democratic means. And Spain recently repressed an attempt at democratic secession by Catalonia.  Britain, of course, had its long-running and unresolved problem with Ireland.  And perhaps the Tory government was so tolerant of ideas for Scottish secession, mostly because they knew Scotland would remove a vast mass of voters who have generally not voted Tory since Thatcher’s rise.

“If one imagines an independent Xinjiang, it could be expected to resemble its neighbours in Central Asia.  Harsh autocratic regimes, with extremist Muslims as the main opposition.  With much worse corruption than China, and much less efficient governments.  Governments that also seek close friendship with China, since the land connections from China to Europe are their main economic asset.

“Do please think about what is being repressed, before complaining about repression.  Consider the much worse chaos we have in Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Syria, after the West removed the existing autocratic governments.

“Also the blind eye that is turned to successful and pro-Western repression in Egypt.”

I later saw a similar protest in the New York Times, which also tried to generalise, saying “Mind Control in China Has a Very Long History”.

They didn’t say Bears Shit In The Wood In China, but that would have been equally true.  All successful societies manage a form of Mind Control.  It has a very long history in Britain, in the rest of Europe and in the USA.  But here, it is mostly successful enough to be viewed as ‘unchanging human nature’ by its victims.

The New York Times author also couldn’t be ignorant of Uighur terrorism.  Nor that some have joined the Islamic extremists repressing ordinary Muslims and attacking religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.  Presumably he thinks it good for his readers not to have their minds troubled by such off-message truths.

He probably manages the double-think needed to avoid the awkward fact that Western liberalism was established as a norm by authoritarian methods.

The two famous Cromwells, Thomas and Oliver, had an embarrassingly large role in making the broad culture in which Modern Liberalism could follow.  As did Henry the 8th.

If we stand on the shoulders of cannibal giants, it is an embarrassing truth, but one we need to face up to.

And what is the alternative?  Tribal societies don’t have a big nasty state sitting on top of them doing the mind control.  But each separate tribe has its own culture, which could equally be called mind control, and in practice a much more effective system of mind control.  Anyone born into it accepts the culture without question, unless exposed to outside influences.  Outsiders sometimes get assimilated into it – one interesting book called ‘Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes’ tells of a case.  And it is often an excellent culture: but to only say ‘mind control’ for people you see as rivals is unreasonable.

 

DVDs Doomed?

“The DVD’s days appear to be numbered after the John Lewis department store chain said it would stop selling the players once found under almost every television.

“The firm said it would not put more players on shelves when stocks run out.

“Sales are down 40% as more people watch movies and shows on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.

“However, John Lewis will continue to sell Blu-ray players, which can also be used for standard DVDs.”[14]

Video tapes are increasingly marginal, but DVDs are unlikely to follow.  John Lewis and other big stores still sells machines that play DVD disks.  The change is that nowadays all of them can also play the more advanced Blu-ray disks.

There has been a gradual shift.  UK sales for 2014 were 124.9 million DVDs and 17.3 million Blu-ray.[15]  Even today, many films are DVD only.  But the more important films offer both formats, with Blu-ray now dominant.

In the USA, in 2018 the hit film Black Panther sold 2,753,034 copies on Blu-ray and only 1,376,624 DVDs.  There was an even bigger gap for The Last Jedi: nearly three million as against 912,000.[16]

Blu-ray disks were intentionally made the same size as DVDs, so that a single machine could play both.  I’d expect that to last for a long time to come, despite the rise of Streaming as an alternative method.

 

Why I Write

For years, I have been doing regular monthly Newsnotes for the magazine Labour Affairs. But recently I find I have more to say than the magazine has room for. Hence this blog.

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Websites

Previous Newsnotes at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/.  Also https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/.  I blog every month or so at https://gwydionmw.quora.com/.  I tweet at @GwydionMW.

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[1] Greece’s sun-kissed beaches covered in foot of snow as FREAK WEATHER hits Europe, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/924276/greece-news-snow-greek-islands-snowfall-attica-beast-from-the-east-siberia-uk-snow

[2] Extreme heatwave: all-time temperature records fall across parts of Australia, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jan/17/extreme-heatwave-all-time-temperature-records-fall-across-parts-of-australia

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/05/tropical-storm-pabuk-batters-thailand-coast-but-tourists-are-spared-the-worst

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/12/climate/climate-change-floods-droughts.html

[5] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2188912-the-republican-reversal-shows-how-the-us-party-is-like-soviet-russia/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/27/1993-agency-climate-change-abolished-office-technology-assessment

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46496967

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/24/what-caused-the-tsunami-in-indonesia-and-why-was-there-no-warning

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/24/sunda-strait-tsunami-volcano-indonesia

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/world/asia/south-korea-wartime-compensation-japan.html

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731

[12] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/the-mixed-economy-won-the-cold-war/

[13] https://www.reddit.com/r/China/comments/9sk21d/letter_from_kashgar_as_seen_in_private_eye/

[14] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45950477

[15] https://www.avforums.com/threads/dvd-and-blu-ray-sales-statistics.2004986/

[16] https://www.the-numbers.com/home-market/dvd-sales/2018, https://www.the-numbers.com/home-market/bluray-sales/2018