Newsnotes 2002 02

Notes On The News

By Gwydion M. Williams

Neophilliacs of the ICA

Anthrax: Born In The USA

Forgiven criminals [Unit 731]

Glad To Be Dull? [Japan]

As you sow, so shall you poison.

Neophilliacs of the ICA

Neophillia was briefly a fashionable word in the 1960s, and was then dropped.  Dropped because it didn’t seem to be describing anything in particular. Everyone took it for granted that any existing system deserved to be radically overhauled.

Past ways must of doing things must of necessity be bad.  A replacement system that works worse is still justified, it is at least not ‘living in the past’.  This is a “universal truth” which is also assumed not to apply to religion, ‘family values’ or the electoral system.

Regarding Modern Art at places like the ICA, my own suspicion is that the verdict of future generations on the official art-world of the late 20th century will be produced nothing of significance.  The 20th century stuff that’s grown in popularity and perceived significance has almost all been done well away from this worthless establishment.  The “come and see my retchings” school becomes very boring when you discover that shock is all they have to offer.

Former chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts Ivan Massow must have assumed there was something interesting that might happen, before resigning on the grounds that “’shock’ has become the “new establishment”, that the ICA has morphed into a pillar of the shock establishment – cultivated by the Brit pack. The protesters were there to complain that they’re no longer shocked – they’re bored.”  (Guardian, February 6th.)

But why did ‘shock’ ever have an innings?  Because long before, you had an establishment of ex-rebels whose existence was meaningless when there was nothing to rebel against.  Most of their work is not a work of skill, does not delight the eye and makes no intellectual point beyond an utterly routine cynicism.

Anthrax: Born In The USA

The other possible way forward for Modern Art would be to join forces with Bin Laden.  I have a hazy memory of someone commenting on the elegant imagery of the previously-dull Two Towers bursting into flame.  But I think the fellow also retracted pretty quickly, and I’d suppose that cultural differences would be just too great.

(Bolshevism did successfully gather a lot of the radical artists into its fold in the 1920s and 1930s.  But I’ve already noted that the Islamists are not the of same calibre.)

Meantime, the New Scientist has revealed the growing evidence that the anthrax letter-bombs came from the USA, and in fact someone in the USA’s own bio-weapons establishment.  This has been shown by detailed study of the anthrax organism’s DNA, it’s ‘genetic fingerprints’.  And this may not have been realised by the guilty party, because anthrax was reputedly almost impossible to identify in this way,

The attacker’s attempts to pass himself off as a Muslim was amateurish and easily spotted, which suggests a lone individual.  They were most likely looking for more government spending, which has worked wonderfully, given the enormous boost to ‘home defence.  (It’s also possible the  guilty party supplemented greed with idealism, supposing to themselves that a good scare with something non-contagious would mean precautions would be taken in future.

Forgiven criminals [Unit 731]

Stories about Nazi scientific experiments in the death camps are mostly just stories, the work was generally amateurish and trivial.  The well-known matter of using naked women to revive men who’d been dipped in freezing water showed that hot water bottles worked just as well.  That one, at least, could have been readily performed with informed and consenting volunteers: most of the rest was neither funny nor interesting but just tragic and contemptible.

It was a different matter with ‘Unit 731’, the Japanese project in Manchuria which was the subject of a recent BBC 2 program (3rd February).  It was a program of massive biological warfare research, in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese died.  And at the end of the war, they killed the remaining human victims and released the infected rats.

The results were interesting enough so that the guilty parties were able to make a deal with the Americans, trading the data for immunity.  Since most of the victims had been Asian, it was not treated on a level with the Nazi extermination camps, nor the maltreated Western prisoners of war.

It remains a live topic, because a group of Chinese related to the victims are proceeding with the help of sympathetic Japanese lawyers to sue the Japanese government and denounce the surviving members of Unit 731.

I found it notable that while the Japanese were at least ‘named and shamed’, a cloak of total anonymity seems to have been cast over the Americans who made the deal.

People have somehow forgotten the racial hierarchies that were taken for granted in the 1940s and 1950s.  What Asians had done to Europeans was unforgivable.  What Germans had done to Jews had been ignored for as long as Nazism was seen as a useful ally against World Communism.  After the war, denunciation of mass killings that had been mostly ignored during the war became official policy.  It  fitted the general anti-German policies of the immediate post-war period, and could not be reversed when the Germans were needed as allies.  But what Asians had done to other Asians was treated as unimportant.

Also regarded as unimportant was the mass slaughter of gypsies, as high a proportion of their population as the number of Jews, yet all along treated as a minor matter.  It was in some ways more shocking, most Jews were to some degree anti-Nazi, but gypsies were just living their own lives without concern for who ruled.

But in the 1940s and 1950s—and maybe still today—gypsies were seen as a nuisance, so the death of large numbers was not treated as any big matter

Glad To Be Dull? [Japan]

After the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, the apparent strength of Japan came to be seen as a threat by the West. Japan was no longer a vital ally in the global struggle,

It’s always struck me as remarkable that as the Cold War wound down and some in the USA were ready to cast them as the next enemy, Japan promptly went into a prolonged crisis.  A situation that worries foreign economists more than it disturbs the Japanese themselves.

“The turn in Japan’s fortunes began in 1990 with the crash in its stock and property markets, and then took firm hold in the mid-1990s when banks started to crumble and public borrowing lost its ability to keep the economy growing….

“The party dinosaurs are blocking.. policies—on privatisation, bank clean-ups, administrative reform and deregulation—because change threatens the interest groups that vote for them, or finance them, or both…

“Life during the decline is by no means terrible: public services and infrastructure are good, people are affluent, families are strong. And the alternative is far from easy. There is no single solution to Japan’s ills..  All measures will be painful, in their different ways. How much easier it is simply to muddle through, slipping downhill more or less gracefully”  (The Sadness Of Japan, Economist Magazine 14th February)

Reform of the sort advocated by Economist Magazine has been bad for most of those who’ve tried it, including the 90% of the US population that has seen its standard of living stagnate since they began believing in ‘Reaganomics’.  But Japan faced worse perils: being caught between a jealous USA and their old enemies in China and East Asia, with bitter memories of what Imperial Japan had done to them.

For now, Japan is rich and comfortable and in no particular danger from anyone.  Why not?

As you sow, so shall you poison.

“Farmers who plant genetically modified (GM) rapeseed may be creating new superweeds resistant to all but the toughest herbicides…

“’The plants themselves become weeds in the next crop — it’s very difficult to kill the oilseed rape plants when they come up the next year and of course they come up in another crop like corn,’ English Nature’s biotechnology advisor Brian Johnson told Reuters.

“’The last thing farmers want is oilseed rape plants in among the corn. It’s becoming an agricultural problem and farmers are having to use older herbicides to control them — those herbicides are less environmentally friendly and more toxic,’ he added.

Paul Rylott, a seed specialist with major biotechnology company Aventis CropScience UK, said that farmers would not need to resort to the older and more toxic herbicides to control such so-called volunteer crops.

“’Many of the new chemistries that are being developed at the moment, which go through rigorous safety procedures, will control these volunteers’” (Reuters, 5th February.)

A nice little treadmill.  Plants made tolerant to herbicides become weeds in other crops, besides spreading their genes to conventional weeds.  But biotechnology companies have an answer, new herbicides for which their might otherwise be no large market.  And then these in turn will need new GM crops resistant to the new herbicides, and so on and on.  The spread of herbicide resistance is good news for corporations with alternative products not currently in demand.  An enormous waste of the world’s wealth, but the interest of a sector is something else

Meantime in China, genetic engineering is being used for national welfare, not the interests of any one corporate concern

“China has released rice varieties resistant to three major pests and done field trials on GM wheat. Other GM crops on sale include pest and disease-resistant cotton, tomatoes and sweet peppers. In the pipeline are GM potatoes, rape, peanuts, cabbage, melons, maize, chillies, papaya and tobacco…

“Use of toxic pesticides such as organophosphates has plummeted by 80 per cent and pesticide poisonings have gone down… ‘There is a clear contrast with Western biotechnology,’ says Rozelle. In the West, ‘the system is run by officials who at least are partly concerned about food security’”  (New Scientist, 2nd February 2002).


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