Newsnotes 2006 11

Notes On The News

By Gwydion M Williams

Borat – The East & West Minstrel Show

The place horses come from [Kazakhstan]

They shoot journalists, don’t they? [Anna Politkovskaya and Chechnya]

Torturing Truth [US Torturers]

Gambling prohibition [US Internet Rules]

The Immaculate Pigs [Speed Cameras and Steel]

Hungarian memories

Iraq: the anguish of the enforcers

Quiet Americans, Quieter Vietnamese [Undetected South Vietnamese Spy]

Wasps, WASPS and honey-bees [Evolution of Bees]


Borat – The East & West Minstrel Show

“The Black and White Minstrel Show was a British television series that ran from 1958 until 1978. It was a weekly light entertainment and variety show presenting traditional American ‘Deep South’ and Country songs, as well as show and music hall numbers, usually performed in blackface, and with lavish costumes.” (Wikipedia)

There were jokes at the time that it was going to be one of the first BBC shows to be televised in colour. I remember watching and enjoying it, but also the debates about whether it was quite right. ‘Blackface’ was hardly a neutral cultural form, it was part and parcel of a system of US racism that was only then being openly challenged.

Times have changed. When a re-showing of the Black and White Minstrel Show was suggested a few years back, the idea was quickly squashed. It seems never to have been put onto tape or DVD, unlike other popular shows of the period.

Times change. It was only in 1960 that Frank Worrell “became the first black cricketer to captain the West Indies cricket team for an entire series, thus breaking the colour barriers then found in West Indian cricket” (Ibid.). Prejudices die hard.

Borat’s rather feeble humour taps into Britain’s traditional anti-Arab or anti-Turk prejudice. His trick was to move it eastward to somewhere unknown to Westerners. It seems that no insult is classified as racist unless the victim group makes up a large slice of the electorate.

It’s also not unusual for a Jew to tap into the mainstream population’s prejudices about everyone other than Jews. That was the trademark of Lithuanian-born Asa Yoelson, Al Jolson, noted for his ‘blackface’ performances. In those days and into the 1960s you also had large numbers of US Jews taking an heroic stand against racism. In the Spanish Civil War, lots of them joined the ‘Abraham Lincoln Brigade’, where African-American communist Oliver Law was the first black man to command white troops who were US citizens. The regular military only desegregated much later and under Cold War pressures. But nowadays Jews are mostly ‘insiders’ and a diminishing number show any interest in social justice for other groups.

If Sacha Baron Cohen had just wanted to crack jokes, he could have made them about some fictitious place. Maybe Bulbulstan, after Abdulla Bulbul Ameer, comic-song foe of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar. That shouldn’t cause offence, thought it seems that there is a real place called Bulbulistan Street, in the west end of Sarajevo.

Since I’d anyway decided that Western advice was a menace to non-Europeans, I’m rather pleased that the British media have rallied behind Borat. Insulting Kazakhs is ‘free speech’, which is assuredly not what they’d say if Jews or Blacks were the target. It’s great that they advertise how ignorant and arrogant the West really is.

If the Kazakhs want to retaliate, they could always try putting on blackface and singing some of the old racist songs that the West now likes to pretend were never part of the culture. But not Sonny Boy, Jolson’s biggest hit, but unlikely now to be viewed as nice and innocent in the way most people saw it at the time.


The place horses come from [Kazakhstan]

Some 5600 years ago, the Botai culture of the Eurasian Steppe were keeping horses in what is now Kazakhstan [A]. They were probably the first people to do this. Kazakh culture began much later, a mix of Mongol and Turkish elements that cohered as a Khanate in the 15th century, but very likely to have included the descendants of the original horse-tamers. The name Kazakh may be related to Cossack, horse-rider or free man, though the two peoples are quite distinct.

In the 19th century the Tsarist Empire conquered the Kazakhs, along with other Turkish states in Central Asia. When Tsarism fell, there was a local secular nationalism that was successfully incorporated into the Soviet Union. It later became a dumping-ground for suspect nationalities during the Second World War—not a matter of concern to the West for as long as the West needed the Soviets to do the bulk of the fighting against Nazi Germany. Under Khrushchev, Kazakhstan got a large influx of ethnic Russians for Khrushchev’s ‘virgin soil’ project.

When the Soviet Union broke up, Kazakhstan could easily have tipped into chaos. It had “a population that includes nearly as many Russians as Kazakhs; the presence of a dominating class of Russian technocrats, who are necessary to economic progress but ethnically unassimilated; and a well-developed energy industry, based mainly on coal and oil, whose efficiency is inhibited by major infrastructural deficiencies” [B]. It was saved from chaos because it ignored Western advice about setting up a two-party system, something that emerged from a 17th century Civil War in Britain and caused a Civil War in the 1860s in the USA. Instead politics was stabilised around the popular authoritarianism of Nursultan Nazarbayev. He has been in power since late-Soviet times, having been Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Kazakh SSR from 1984 to 1989 and the first secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party from 1989 to 1991.

Western journalists who bother to look at Kazakhstan mostly hate Nazarbayev – he has ignored Western advice and looked after his own people. Any successful resistance to SubAmericanisation is hated. Various pretexts are then found to criticise the resister. None of these are applied to similar or worse regimes that are useful to SubAmericanisation. Militant Islam has been kept down in Kazakhstan and most of its neighbours, but the Western media condemn such successes and are utterly baffled by their own dismal failure in Iraq.

Having avoided Western ‘help’. Kazakhstan is doing quite nicely, dealing as an equal with Russia and developing ties with its other neighbours, especially China.


They shoot journalists, don’t they? [Anna Politkovskaya and Chechnya]

“I reached Chechnya at exactly the same time as the issue of the newspaper with the article. The women in the crowd tried to conceal me because they were sure the Kadyrov people would shoot me on the spot if they knew I was there. They reminded me that Kadyrov has publicly vowed to murder me. He actually said during a meeting of his government that he had had enough, and that Politkovskaya was a condemned woman. I was told about it by members of the government.” [C]

This was the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya said in one of her last articles. It would logically point the finger of blame at Ramzan Kadyrov, Prime Minister of Chechnya since March 2006 and political heir of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated May 2004.

That’s the logical deduction, but not what the Western media wanted to hear and not what they insinuated to the public. Chechnya made a total hash of its brief period of quasi-independence, becoming a centre of crime and so incoherent that foreign workers brought to Chechnya to build up its infrastructure were still kidnapped and in some cases murdered. The Kadyrov dynasty look like the only real way forward. One can not arouse much public interest about plausible but unproven allegations that Ramzan Kadyrov arranged for the death of a woman who had taken up the cause of the people who murdered his father. And since most Chechen militants are also Islamists, the Western public would care very little.

Instead the Western media pointed the finger at President Putin. Now why on earth should Putin care what Anna Politkovskaya was saying? The Economist recently reported that “president’s approval rating hovers just below 80%” [D] (which doesn’t stop them calling him ‘undemocratic’). Politkovskaya had no real influence, just a minor niche badmouthing her own people to a Western audience. Unlike most such characters, she clearly retained a sincere belief in the Libertarian nonsense that had done so much to make Russia weaker, sicker, poorer and overrun with criminal violence. Putin had no reason to care, but she targeted other people whose position was not so secure and who were very likely to react. “In 2001, she fled to Vienna, Austria, for several months after receiving e-mail threats alleging that a Russian police officer she had accused of committing atrocities against civilians was intent on revenge.” [E]

Politkovskaya murder was part of a recent wave of killing. Other cases include Andrei Kozlov, first deputy chair of the central bank, Enver Ziganshin, an engineer with the TNK-BP oil company… and Alexander Plokhin, a Moscow bank manager.” [F] Also Dmitry Fotyanov, a mayoral candidate in the Far East. No real link, except that accepting Western values has included a lot of criminality. Missed out on the successful ‘mesocapitalist’ values that brought prosperity to Western Europe and non-Communist East Asia after World War Two.

The failure to SubAmericanise Russia was not correctly understood by the New Right. They had been stingy when Russia was open to remoulding, and were then baffled when they lost control. Their conclusion was that their own part in the matter had been absolutely perfect, but the Russians who’d tried to follow their advice had messed up. In Iraq, they’ d run it all and show the world how brilliant they really were.

Liberalism lies about its own past, even more than the Libertarians do. Success in the Far East was build mostly on the foundations of Japan’s short-lived brutal but highly efficient empire. Western Europe got its act together after some centuries of rather arbitrary government. Britain was not a democracy before 1884, while the USA survived by four-fifths of the state battering the remaining fifth into submission in a Civil War of more than four years. Now Western opinion expects other counties to become Western by methods the West itself never used.


Torturing Truth [US Torturers]

You probably heard the news stories that apparently showed widespread support for torture, especially in the USA. But the reports were a little misleading. The actual question was as follows:

“Most countries have agreed to rules prohibiting torturing prisoners. Which position is closer to yours?

“Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives

“Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights”

I’d like to try a different sort of question. “Imagine you have been drafted into some sort of Citizens Oversight Committee. You are to decide the fate of three prisoners, labelled A, B and C. A has expressed support for suicide bombers, but is not known to have trained or plotted anything. B fought for the Taliban, but argues he was fighting for a legitimate government and he wasn’t involved in anything else. C has been identified by a foreign government as a dangerous Islamist, but he says it is a mix-up and he is a non-political migrant worker. Any or all of them could be delivered to foreign custody, where they would undoubtedly be tortured and might yield useful information. They might also have nothing new to tell us, even if they were guilty. Which if any should we hand over for torture?”

Somehow I think that such a survey would produce a very different result. A realistic picture of the problem makes it seem a much worse idea.

There’s also serious doubt that torture does achieve very much. Regimes that use torture don’t do notably better than those that do not: you could argue that in the long term they do worse. Paid informers are mostly a much better source of information than torture. They have the advantage of not making your own cause look odious to your own side and infamous to those who might sympathise with the enemy.


Gambling prohibition [US Internet Rules]

‘Globalisation’ needs to be called SubAmericanisation, because the nominal rules of ‘globalisation’ are followed only when it suits the USA. Only foreigners are supposed to take an ‘open legs’ approach. It’s good for foreign countries / but not for the USA. That has very much been the case with Online Gambling.

In the USA, gambling is only legal in some places, and there it makes a lot of money. There is also an element of social control—you have to decide first to go to some gambling den. Online Gambling would give you the chance to be hooked in the privacy of your own home. It would make it much harder to avoid a relapse if you’re trying to get over a gambling addiction. And prohibition does work, it limits gambling even if it doesn’t eliminate it completely. Laws against rape, burglary and murder do not prevent those crimes occurring, but that doesn’t mean they should be decriminalised.

The problem with gambling is not just that it destroys some participants, but that everyone involved is made worse by it. It is exciting, certainly, but the same feelings can be tapped in all sorts of sports and games without money being involved. Money and gambling corrupt the sporting spirit and ruin lives. It is a complete Illth Industry

It also seems to be a case of ‘New Labour / No Morals’. The UK is officially sponsoring legal Online Gambling. Applying the sort of regulations that never actually keep out crooks, though it does create profitable employment for ‘front men’. Gambling: send us your dopy punters – that would make a good slogan.

[Another article gives more details of US control, and the general insecurity of the Internet.]


The Immaculate Pigs [Speed Cameras and Steel]

Speed cameras inhibit speeding, they reduce road accidents, the biggest cause of sudden death among peaceful law-abiding people. But some people use the road to express aggressive feelings. Motorists object to the law applying to them, and pretend it is about revenue. If the rule is valid, what is wrong with enforcing it?

Meantime we should be singing ‘Britannia can’t make steel’. The Sun should have a headline saying Corus, what a scorcher. The Anglo-Dutch steel firm Corus is being swallowed up by its Indian rival Tata Steel. That’s the last of British Steel in terms of ownership, and the work is likely to follow, because Indians could do the same work for less money. And no one seems to mind. Current British culture prepare everyone to be rich celebrities, failing which they can be junkies and petty criminals. Ordinary industrial work is ‘so yesterday’, no one wants to do it.


Hungarian memories

Hungry in World War Two was an entirely willing ally of Nazi Germany. Understandably so: peace was made in 1918 on the understanding that the borders would be redrawn on the basis of President Wilson’s Fourteen Points. In fact Austria, Germany and Hungary got stripped of territories where they were the largest ethnic minority, or even an ethnic majority.

Hungary also had the Arrow Cross Party, which got 25% of the vote in the May 1939 elections. For a time it was banned by the pro-German government, but early in 1944 it became the government. This greatly worsened the position of Hungary’s Jews – Hungary in the early 1920s had been a pioneer in anti-Jewish laws, but there was some resistance to actually deporting Hungary’s Jewish population. Mass deportations only happened when the Arrow Cross took over.

The various pro-Nazi governments did have some choice. In neighbouring Bulgaria, very few Bulgaria Jews were handed over, though it was a right-wing government that was happy to hand over the Jews of territories it had acquired in Northern Greece and Macedonia.

Absolutely none of this gets remembered during talk about the 1956 revolt. The invasion was a massive blunder by Khrushchev and the beginning of the end for the Soviet system. But it was made easier by Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt at the same time to resolve the ‘Suez Crisis’. And it mattered that Hungary had been on the enemy side the last time it was free to choose.


Iraq: the anguish of the enforcers

When the invasion of Iraq was being discussed, I knew for certain that it would end badly for the Iraqis. But there was a real danger that the West count it a success, as they did after trashing Yugoslavia. There, the West could have saved a lot of misery and bloodshed by either supporting the Federation or imposing some agreed carve-up. But the instinct was to cheat and save immediate costs. Even many critics of the Iraq war regarded it as a ‘good war’, in which the entire blame was laid on the Serbs.

Had London elected David Irving as its mayor and had he then flown the flag of the British Union of Fascists from County Hall, I imagine there would have been quite a strong reaction. Tudjman in Croatia had been named as a ‘denialist’ along with Irving. Croatia adopted the flag of the pro-Nazi Croat Republic, a state that murdered large numbers of Serbs in death-camps that also slaughtered a fair number of gypsies and Jews. Serbia was expected to cut links with territories within Croatia where Serbs had a clear majority, because of legality. They were also pressurised to give up Kosovo, legally Serbian but with an ethnic Albanian majority. Even partitioning Kosovo any taking the majority-Serb areas was not allowed. The Serbs played their hand rather badly, but they had a reasonably case.

The British Army were happy to be global ‘enforcers’ for as long as it was mostly foreigners dying. Trashing Serbia had to be done carefully, because these were a white Christian population. There was still something of the attitude that made it impossible for Britain to cope with the secession of the all-white government of Rhodesia back in the 1960s:

“After failed negotiations with the UK government, on 11 November 1965, Smith’s government declared the country independent from British government rule in what became known as UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence). The timing of Smith’s telegram announcing UDI to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson is significant. It was sent precisely at 1 p.m. local time (11 a.m. in London) on November 11, 1965, at the precise moment that the UK started its traditional one minute of silence to mark the end of World War I and honour its war dead. The not-so-hidden message to “kith and kin”, as Smith put it, was to recall the fact that Southern Rhodesia had helped the UK in its time of need in World War I and World War II and that the British should not forget that.” (Wikipedia: Rhodesia)

Had Britain tried to conquer Rhodesia, there were some doubts that the army would have obeyed. Former Home Secretary Douglas Hurd made this the theme of a thriller called Send Him Victorious that he wrote in 1967. Hurd wasn’t much of a visionary, but I’m sure he was right about the army’s attitude at the time. British power was ineffective, it was left to ZANU and Robert Mugabe to break white power in Rhodesia and establish Zimbabwe. Without that victory, it is doubtful that white South African would have given up without a major war.

The British Army was happy to help trash Saddam’s Iraq. Their own inclinations were also to establish a puppet administration and get out again quickly. As it happened, the NeoCons were keen to demonstrate their brilliance by establishing a fully Western system in Iraq. They allowed loose talk of multi-party elections, intending to keep it under control but in fact failing. Naturally multi-party elections encouraged ethnic splits and the current chaos developed. The army now complains and it is good that they complain. But be clear about what the issue is.

Lessons are maybe now being learned. A recent article on Iraq said “To exchange tyranny for anarchy is merely to move from one circle of hell to another. As one Iraqi recently commented: under Saddam we had a state, a bad state, but to have no state is even worse.”[H]


Quiet Americans, Quieter Vietnamese [Undetected South Vietnamese Spy]

“The secret double life of Pham Xuan An, a renowned Time magazine journalist and valued wartime spy for Hanoi, could have come from Graham Greene’s book about the Vietnam conflict, The Quiet American. But when An, who has died aged 79, reviewed the 1958 film of the novel, he declared that it should not be shown in his country.

“Perhaps even then, as an apprentice reporter in California, An was disturbed by the ambiguities and ironies the story raised. Certainly he was always torn between his affection for the US and love of his native land. When, after decades, his secret finally emerged, even the Americans called him in a New Yorker profile, The spy who loved us

“But at the war’s end An’s friendliness towards the Americans caused his communist masters to enforce his ‘re-education’, although they eventually promoted him to army general. However, he was not permitted to visit America after his secret came out in the late 80s. His final verdict on the US was prophetic. ‘They were so confident that military might would win the war,’ he said, ‘they never bothered to learn whom they were fighting.'”[J]

That’s from an obituary in The Guardian: the rest of the British press seems to have ignored the matter, though the New York Times also had a nice obituary. You might have thought it had some lessons for Iraq: how many apparently pro-Western Iraqis were actually agents of some sort? But no such lesson has been drawn that I’ve seen.

The Guardian obituary also misses the point about the 1958 film. The novel shows a sharp insight into what was wrong with the USA’s policy, as does the 2002 version of the film. In the 1950s, they preferred a complete re-write that turned their own foolishness into wisdom. “A final scene was added in which we learn that Fowler has been hoodwinked by the Communists into destroying Pyle, who is, in reality, a noble man trying to bring hope and freedom to Indochina. Graham Greene was incensed by this change and denounced the film.” [K] That was before the main fighting started, in a day when the world was much less connected and Vietnam was identified in a US travel magazine as an exotic place that the more adventurous sort of tourist might find it enjoyable to visit. They could talk rubbish about Vietnam and be believed at the time, even make policies on the basis of such lies.

You can call your cat a duck, but it still won’t take to water. The USA seems very slow to learn that lying hurts the liar as much as it hurts anyone else.


Wasps, WASPS and honey-bees [Evolution of Bees]

“Scientists have unravelled the genetic code of the honey bee, uncovering clues about its complex social behavior, heightened sense of smell and African origins.

“It is the third insect to have its genome mapped and joins the fruit fly and mosquito in the exclusive club.

“The honey bee, or Apis mellifera, evolved more slowly than the other insects but has more genes related to smell.” [M]

“Scientists have identified the oldest known bee, a 100 million-year-old specimen preserved in amber.

“The discovery coincides with the publication of the genetic blueprint of the honeybee, which reveals surprising links with mammals and humans…

“Experts believe pollen-dependent bees arose from carnivorous wasp ancestors. With the arrival of pollinating bees, flowering plants blossomed on Earth. Prior to 100 million years ago, the plant world was dominated by conifers which spread their seeds on the wind.

“George Poinar, professor of zoology at Oregon State University, US, whose team reported their discovery in the journal Science, said: ‘This is the oldest known bee we’ve ever been able to identify, and it shares some of the features of wasps’.” [N]

The ‘similarity to humans’ that they noted seemed rather minor, “Honey bees have an internal ‘biological clock’ which is more like those of mammals than of flies”, which would make them as close to mice as to humans. I noticed a few others.

In a previous Newsnotes, I mentioned that mice seem to have had more natural selection than humans, while retaining much the same basic form as an ancestral mammal. Now something similar seems to be true of the bees, with their complex social existence. Probably it will also be true of ants, believed to be heavily-modified offshoots from the basic carnivorous wasps. Interesting evolutionary advances seem to happen on the peripheries of life, where natural-selection pressures are relatively low.

Bees, it seems, also came ‘Out of Africa’ in at least two waves of migration, just as humans did. Life is a remarkable process, and so-called ‘selfish genes’ are not what it’s about. Too much competition seems to be as stifling as too little. Life gets interesting only when order and chaos are finely balanced.



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