Notes on the News
By Gwydion M Williams
At the time of writing, Yasser Arafat is not quite dead, but also not expected to survive. I take it that this ends any small remaining chance of a peace that would reconcile more than a billion Muslims to the existence of Israel. No other leader would dare concede as much as Arafat tried to give.
Tried much too late. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the USA might have been willing to pressurise Israel to give back the West Bank and Gaza, had Arafat been willing to limit himself to that. Nowadays, US governments aim to please US voters and barely cares about the rest of the world. Israel is ‘supported’ by people who consider that Jews are damned to hell unless they become Christians, but who also believe that limiting Israel’s territory to the 1967 borders would interfere with God’s Plan.
Arafat failed to get a compromise at the right time, and now he’s about to die, and he could have done that at home rather than dying in a foreign land. So make this his epitaph: “And he did nothing clever in his life; not even leaving it”.
Electoral maps of blue and red suggest a split in the USA, and encourage the hopeful notion of ‘two USAs’, one of them still Mid-Atlantic in spirit. I was planning to suggest it—a Yankee secession, the North-East setting itself up as another Canada and the West Coast becoming something that they’d surely invent a new name for. (Wash-and-Californicate?)
But the facts do not fit. Most states were split 50s to 40s. Bush was in the 60s in 11, including Texas and Alabama, and in the 70s in two. Kerry was in the 60s in Massachusetts and Vermont, and got 90% in Washington DC, which is mostly black. People getting $50,000 or more favoured Bush and those below favoured Kerry, but it was only 2 to 1 for Bush even among those with $200,000 or more. Protestants slightly favoured Bush and Catholics were marginally pro-Kerry. Evangelicals were 3 to 1 for Bush while Jews were nearly 4 to 1 for Kerry. Gays also were nearly 4 to 1 for Kerry, while it was less than 2 to 1 among trade unionists. Afro-Americans are overwhelmingly Democrat but Hispanics go both ways.
The USA is not split; it’s just that the US concept of ‘middle ground’ is moving off the scale in terms of European politics. What we actually had was two corporate bodies selling very similar products to the electorate. If a large numbers of them wanted something different, they could have it. I wish they did, but they don’t.
In 2000, Florida was stolen. This year they give themselves to Bush. Though there are many strands to US culture, most of them alien even when they are not positively obnoxious.
The row over Gay Marriage has distracted attention from stem cell research, which also offends the Christian Right but which somehow slipped through. Eleven states voted overwhelmingly against Gay Marriage and a Constitutional Amendment may well happen. But this tied up attention that might otherwise have made life might harder for stem cell research
“California voters’ approval of a $3 billion ballot measure this week to fund controversial stem-cell research gives new life to a similar effort in the U.S. Congress, moderate Republicans said on Thursday.” (Yahoo Online News, 4th November 2004)
Stem cells—especially those taken from aborted embryos—offer a vast medical potential. Your body is a vast collective of cells, specialised for different tasks. Repairs vary a lot – skin heals easily, bones much worse. Nerve cells mostly don’t heal and can’t be repaired, as was shown by the tragic paralysis of the late Christopher Reeve.
The problem lies with the human immune system, which serves as a kind of police at a cellular level, attacking dangerous invaders and also harmless or useful cells with the wrong ID. The over-suspicious immune system has limited the usefulness of organ transplants. But embryonic stem cells are ‘immigrants’ with no clear identity and a great ability to take on new roles, including nerve cells.
The idea offers great medical benefits, especially for the rich and those fond of dangerous sports. It will also be a market worth billions of dollars, especially if the USA is allowed to develop it within the private sector. Since the current Republican Party is a peculiar ‘United Front of Saints and Sinners’, it was a tricky matter for them.
The issue of Gay Marriage is, of course, of deep emotional importance to some gay people. But the actual strategy has left ‘marrying gays’ worse off, while helping to get Bush re-elected. A clear majority would see ‘marriage’ as a senseless label unless it attached to a ‘breeding pair’; I think this does come into some legal definitions of a valid marriage that confers citizenship. Most people don’t want to be mean-minded about other people’s private lives, not when it is private, but detaching marriage from children is not a private matter and would imply a much bigger shift in social norms than most people would accept.
The ‘no’ vote went well beyond Bush supporters, but also got the Christian Right mobilised and determined. Meantime stem-cell research has slipped through and can be expected to flourish. Interesting, isn’t it.
I’d written about Iraq and Blair before the recent killing of three soldiers in the Black Watch at their redeployed position at Camp Dogwood. I don’t feel the need to change a single word, but a few more words are worth adding. Not my words, but the views of people who sound like they’d normally be in the pro-war camp.
“This war is being fought by real men not the intellectual wimps and cowards who started it and are getting ready to profit from it. The Black Watch are being used by a liar for a coward, please take great care you Princes of Scotland and may you return safely to make your vote count at election time.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/talking_point/3957657.stm).
There’s a lot more like that, as well as some common concern and fear from those Britons with relatives in Iraq. And from the USA, someone posted a rather different sentiment:
“I do not understand the European positions on military forces. Of course having people die is horrible but it is a military unit doing the job. Militaries are actually for more than fancy parades and window dressing at formal functions. If you do not wish to use a military for its intended purpose, fighting, then you have no business having one in the first place.” (Ibid.)
Which tells you a lot about the status of the military in the two Anglo societies. If the war were going well, I’m sure a lot of Scots and English would be agreeing with the US election bumper slogan, ‘kick their ass and take their gas‘. I heard people arguing that the invasion would do Iraq no good but it would reduce the price of petrol. But Britain is not like the USA, where the military are increasingly seen as a convenient recycling-plant for the non-white and whites of low-status. A lot of Britons still feel that it is their army and feel its pain. And take note when the relatives of the dead speak out against the war, as has happened again with the latest deaths.