Newsnotes 2005 05

Notes On The News

By Gwydion M Williams

Howard’s End [Michael Howard]

Dead Pope’s Day [Death of John-Paul 2nd]

One Funeral and One Remarriage [Prince Charles]

God Blesses Germany? [Pope Benedict]

Two quarters of the world [China and India]

The Other Asia [Japan]

Land Of Opportunity? [Social Mobility]

A Land Fit For Locusts? [German economy]

Howard’s End [Michael Howard]

When I saw how the Tories were gaining a little and also holding off the Liberal-Democrats, I figured “at least two more years of Blair, and four or more of ‘Creepy’”. Then, of all things, he says he’s stepping down!

Maybe he decided to quit while he’s ahead. In a small way he has reversed the Tory decline, which had begun in Thatcher’s later years. But he still has less than 200 MPs, and would need another 120 for any sort of secure majority. Tory voters are a dying breed, and so are Tory activists, both groups much older than the supporters of other parties..

Electoral maps can be misleading. A map with each constituency as a single dot shows most Tories in a kind of ‘blue doughnut’ around London. They have been driven from most of the big cities and rule the suburbs and the countryside, thanks to farmers and high-earning commuters.

That’s all I’ll say about the election. There is much else, especially the magnificent triumph for George Galloway. But let other say it.


Dead Pope’s Day [Death of John-Paul 2nd]

The funeral of Pope John-Paul was ‘doughnutted’ by media people, people who disliked what the late Pope stood for, but who were not going to miss the chance to be seen amidst a crowd of global celebrities. It would have been better left to the sincere mourners, but so it goes.

What’s the man’s legacy? Bitter opposition to condoms has led to a totally irresponsible approach to the AIDS crisis. They have not managed to impose sexual abstinence on their own officials, so to suggest it as a general solution is very foolish.

Anti-Communism was an issue. John-Paul’s elevation has an uncanny similarity to a work of fiction called The Shoes Of The Fisherman, also made into a film that was released in 1968 (and isn’t currently on DVD). He had a point up until 1991, but then failed to adapt. The Church has stuck to conventional pieties while market anarchy did damage.

On the other hand, the Church has stuck to the core Catholic view, life as a pointless and dirty duty. Something you endure with due obedience, before going on to your Heavenly Reward.

When all’s said and done, the Pope remained a Catholic. What else would you expect?


One Funeral and One Remarriage [Prince Charles]

Nasty rumours that the Pope died on April 1st are never likely to be proved or disproved. But the general timing was assuredly awkward for Prince Charles. (Almost as if someone up in heaven is pissed off with him.)

Having shifted the ‘happy event’ forward a day, the media made sure that we would get every opportunity to watch them showing the trivial details of an event of no real significance. Saturday afternoon on: BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV and Channel 4 offered you the interesting choice of the Royal Remarriage, horse racing, the Royal Remarriage, and horse racing. Those who have cable could try BBC 24, where you had the chance to watch the Royal Remarriage.

Most journalists no longer believe in what they are doing and have become compulsive ‘doughnutters’. Rather than toss a coin and let one channel offer complete coverage for enthusiasts, they all complete for exactly the same stuff. There would soon be a new Pope. Iraq is in crisis despite the new government. Independent British car-making is ending (after being bought by Germans, thrown back by Germans, offered to Chinese and rejected by Chinese who grew alarmed by the accounting ‘black holes’). Never mind, let’s all ‘doughnut’ the British royals!

The other drawback is that Charles and Camilla are dull, selfish people and everyone knows it now. They are still ‘celebs’, but the glamour has totally gone.

‘Royal Copulations Day’ was a bad joke. A long-standing royal concubine was elevated officially to wife/ Another ill-judged move in a long catalogue of disasters. Prince Charles has evidently inherited his father’s understanding of how you should present yourself to the public.

The marriage of the Duck and Duckess of Cornwall mostly illustrated the triumph of a once-radical 1960s idea – try living together before committing to a marriage. But that totally destroys the logic of making a big fuss of royalty.


God Blesses Germany? [Pope Benedict]

The Second World War was mostly caused by the British Foreign Office, always seeking to keep Europe unstable and unable to accept that the British Empire had had its day. World War One may have started by accident, but it was continued because the British ruling class saw Germany as a geopolitical rival.

Pope Benedict XV struggled to get a peace that would be fair to both sides. Germany was ready to restore the world as it was in 1914 – if they’d been planning world conquest, they’d not have missed the ‘window of opportunity’ when Russia lost a war and faced revolution in 1905-1906, a time when the British Empire saw Russia as the main foe. Germany did nothing new to cause ‘Jingoism’ to switch from Russia to Germany as the main foe.

Between the wars, Weimar Germany was bullied and made to pay gigantic reparations. Hitler was treated with great tolerance when he tore up international treaties. Things were done which make no sense unless the intention was to use Nazi Germany against the left in general and against the Soviet Union in particular. It wasn’t much disputed at the time – only when the process massively backfired was history revised.

Cardinal Ratzinger has now become Pope Benedict XVI. I think it is significant.

As for ‘Modernisation’, the Papacy has no good reason for existing except tradition; a tradition that is mediaeval and older, theoretically going back to the early Roman-Imperial era. Why suddenly surrender to the tail-end of the Enlightenment tradition? Why come out of the comfortable darkness of the past, a world where at least some people could enjoy life without competition and ambition?

Sometime the light killeth. Sometimes the darkness giveth life.


Two quarters of the world [China and India]

Between them, China and the Republic of India constitute about half of humanity. Their present prosperity is credited to ‘The Market’, but in fact they have both held out against the ‘Open Legs’ policies that the West tries to impose on the rest of the world.

Peace between these two giants promises to stabilise the Himalayas. It may take time to settle the border dispute: the apparently simple idea of everyone keeping what they hold risks offending nationalists on both sides. But at least there is no danger of more conflict.

I’ve not seen anyone mention of Nepal in this context. But India has agreed that Tibet was never more than an autonomous region of China. China has accepted India’s take-over of once-sovereign Sikkim. Implicitly they will not be too bothered if India takes Nepal, which is the most likely end to the current crisis and Maoist insurgency.

Oddly enough, we are just now getting news of some sort of internal power-struggle among Nepal’s Maoists. The ways of the world are often twisty.


The Other Asia [Japan]

And what about Japan’s dynamic go-ahead capitalism? Stagnant ever since they dropped their own methods in favour of the West’s good advice. And there is lots they need to sort out.

“Japanese train drivers whose errors delay services for as little as a minute are subjected to humiliating punishments by their employers that put efficiency before safety, a union leader claimed yesterday, as the death toll from Monday’s derailment in Amagasaki rose to 106…

“Drivers for JR West were removed from their jobs to undergo days or even months of “education”, during which they were berated by their superiors and shamed into admitting their “incompetence”, he alleged. They were forced to perform mundane tasks such as writing endless reports…

“Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the crash, which also injured more than 450 people. But they believe the train was travelling at more than 100kph (62mph) as it rounded a bend – 30kph above the speed limit. The train flew off the rails and into a block of flats.” (Union chief blames ‘bullying’ rail firm for Japanese train crash , Friday April 29, Guardian)


Land Of Opportunity? [Social Mobility]

“Children born to poor families in Britain are less likely to fulfil their potential than in other developed countries, according to a report published today.

“Researchers at the London School of Economics found that Britain appeared to have one of the worst records for social mobility in the developed world.

“They also concluded that Britons were less likely to break free of their backgrounds than in the past…

“The report focused on how education affected the life chances of British children compared with those in other countries. It put the UK and the US at the bottom of a social mobility league table of eight European and North American countries, with Norway at the top followed by Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Canada.

“It concluded that wealth was more clearly linked to educational attainment in the UK than in the other countries, with children from poor backgrounds trapped in the worst schools and less likely to continue their studies.” (UK low in social mobility league, says charity, Monday April 25, Guardian)


A Land Fit For Locusts? [German economy]

“Franz Muntefering, chairman of Germany’s ruling Social Democrats, has good reason to be pleased with the results of his work over the last three weeks.

“Since his speech on April 13 to an SPD conference in Berlin, his criticism of companies that “maximise profits” at the expense of workers’ and broader social interests has barely been out of the headlines.

“Party colleagues, church leaders, business figures, intellectuals such as writer Günter Grass, and even senior conservative politicians have all backed Mr Muntefering, a somewhat dour 65-year-old former manager in an engineering company who over four decades has worked his way to the pinnacle of the SPD.

“Despite Germany’s economic problems, and charges that Mr Muntefering was being politically opportunistic, his basic thesis – that Germany needs a market economy that is socially oriented, rather than one run purely on capitalist lines – has struck a chord.” (Muntefering’s criticism of raw capitalism strikes a chord, May 6, Financial Times.)

Social concerns were allowed to dominate after 1945, mostly because the rich were terrified of Soviet Communism and also appalled at what Nazism had done. From the 1980s they began recovering their confidence and asserting the ‘Rights Of Money’.

But the more Germany listens, the worse they do. That was not how West Germany had its original ‘Economic Miracle’.


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