Notes On The News
By Gwydion M Williams
After World War Two, there was a ‘baby boom’ and also a society that invested in its children. There were too many restrictions, but the bottom line was a lot of care and protection. Protection that Thatcher condemned as ‘Nanny State’ and set about demolishing.
We now see the result of life without it.
If you were quick, you might have spotted a report at BBC Online on the 14th: UK is accused of failing children [A] A detailed study from Unicef, the United Nations children’s organisation, showing that “despite being a rich country, the UK is failing children and young people in a number of crucial ways”. An apt comment was made, that ” We are turning out a generation of young people who are unhappy, unhealthy, engaging in risky behaviour, who have poor relationships with their family and their peers, who have low expectations and don’t feel safe.”
The future’s awful, the New Right solution has achieved nothing economically and been appalling socially, but who wants to hear news like that? The story dropped off the headlines with remarkable speed, replaced by another entitled Why are Dutch children so happy? [B] The Guardian have had some sensible comments on it, including some that drew attention to the UK and USA being the two worst and ‘social market’ countries being among the best. But they did not push it as front-page news.
The full 52-page report is available on-line.[M] I’m not the person to do a detailed analysis. But I was struck by a chart on page 29, which showed that ‘children’s health behaviour’ is vastly worse in the USA than any other country surveyed. It’s the atomised society: to be a ‘winner’ is everything and ‘good behaviour’ is for wimps.
This from the nation that spectacularly ran away from South Vietnam in 1975 and will probably end doing the same to its Afghan and Iraqi ‘friends’. But the USA has also lost the plot, lost the difference between fantasy and reality. And the UK has gone a long way in the same bad direction.
‘Old Europe’ is being pushed into anti-social ‘reforms’ by a rich stratum that might gain a lot from it. But there is also still a lot of opposition
“Two years have passed since Franz Müntefering, then chairman of Germany’s Social Democratic party, compared Anglo-Saxon investors to “locusts”. Asked how he feels about the metaphor, the man who is now his country’s vice-chancellor grabs a metal grasshopper from a shelf and borrows from singer Edith Piaf.
“‘I have no regret whatsoever,’ he says, speaking from his office in the labour ministry. ‘It is a nice image, locusts that move into a field, eat it to the ground, and move on to the next without looking back. I think it was quite apt.’
“‘The question is whether governments can still shape the laws that rule this world and shape them in a way that ensures that the social dimension is not destroyed. It isn’t something international organisations can do. And right now money has an advantage because it is a lot more flexible and it is much easier for it to cross borders than it is for politicians to agree. But we shouldn’t give up. The economy is here for the people and not the other way round.'” [G]
Locusts also lay eggs and then move on, with the young emerging just as good as their parents. But anything more complex than a turtle needs parental care: the more complex, the more care. Humans are the prime care-givers of the mammalian world, itself matched only by birds in the resources devoted to raising young. Human societies neglect this at their peril
The BBC and most other media let the mid-February news be dominated by shootings among South London teenagers, a blip in the general decline in gun crime. Most of the killing has always been black-on-black, of course. Maybe someone’s applying the principle mentioned in the crime-film Layer Cake: ‘If one spade kills another, who cares?’ The gun trade is mostly run by whites, so maybe someone was looking for a quick profit in a vanishing market.
“Lee Jasper, director of policing for the mayor of London and an activist in south London, said there was fear, anger, confusion and, in the absence of clarity, speculation. ‘ have heard one story locally which says that 600 weapons were sold off by a group of white guys in south London recently and that’s why there are so many weapons about. I don’t know if that is true but it seems that an awful lot of young people are getting their hands on firearms. The fear and bewilderment is palpable.’ (Guardian, [C].)
But the UK is mostly not segregated in the way the USA is – it may no longer be legal, but it is actual over there in a way that’s mostly not been allowed over here. The USA is dedicated to freedom of ‘The Individual’, and if a fair number of specimens of ‘The Individual’ are violent racists, segregation will remain a fact of life. Here, we still value normal people above specimens of ‘The Individual’, we have always treated guns as criminal outside of the army, and some sort of peace is maintained.
Not that some people will stop trying to ‘SubAmericanise’, repeat every damn-fool thing the USA has done. Manchester is delighted to have been given the planned ‘Super-casino’, a suitable postscript for Manchester Liberalism. The name remains to be decided, but they might call it the Manchester Shit Canal, suitable for spreading a dangerous addiction. Or perhaps Manufacturing Nothing, which is pretty much the way we are heading.
In the heat of battle, shooting first is the best way to stay alive, which means you do sometimes shoot your own people. Famously, the Confederates shot their own general at the Battle of Chancellorsville. The death of “Stonewall” Jackson may have cost the Confederates a decisive victory that would have won the war.
Everyone does it, but US military seem to do it more often than most, and with less excuse. The US Navy is famous for lethal accidents in peacetime manoeuvres, so much so that most of their allies refuse to do joint ‘exercises’. The case of the US planes bombing a British armoured convoy in the 2003 Gulf War was much worse. They saw mixed signals and decided to kill without being in any danger. Then sat on the cockpit video until forced to reveal it.
I’ve said before that there was no reason for Putin to care what poisoned spy Litvinenko might have been up to. The latest news is that British police suspect a man called Lugovoy, a ‘business associate’ and not remotely associated with Putin’s supporters. A Yeltsinite who left government service in the mid-1990s Another man who has been part of the problem, not part of the Putin solution.
(Word is also that Putin is intending to defence minister Sergei Ivanov his successor, confirming a generally hard-line stand. But more on that when it becomes more solid.)
Western media clamour cannot be totally ignored, of course. The Wikipedia entry for Litvinenko quotes Putin as saying that the man “did not have any secrets. Everything negative that he could say with respect to his service and his previous employment, he already said a long time ago, so there could be nothing new in what he did later. I repeat that only the investigation can tell us what happened. And with regards to the people who try to harm the Russian Federation, in general it is well-known who they are. They are people hiding from Russian justice for crimes they committed on the territory of the Russian Federation and, first and foremost, economic crimes. They are the so-called runaway oligarchs that are hiding in western Europe or in the Middle East. But I do not really believe in conspiracy theories and, quite frankly, I am not very worried about it. The stability of Russian statehood today allows us to look down at this from above.” [D]
The Kremlin must also be looking down at the British Bombast Corporation, which has entirely lost its once-splendid reputation for truth. Once, they might have apologised for being misleading. Now they see it as normal in a ‘Post-Truthful’ world.
Without nuclear weapons, a Third World War would probably have happened in the 1960s. Quite likely the USA would have lost it, they did badly enough when they had to fight Moscow’s allies in Korea and Vietnam. But the certainty of ruin meant that both sides kept the conflict to a ‘Cold War’.
Winning the Cold War was not enough for the USA: they want to be boss of the world, unrestrained by rules. Either Bush Senior or Clinton could have re-written the world’s rule-book in the 1990s, just as the US under Roosevelt re-wrote it in the 1940s. But the USA no longer understands that Roosevelt’s era was their finest hour. The dominant elements would prefer to pretend they were never so close to socialism. And so they fail.
The dominant idea among Republicans is to somehow develop defences against foreign nuclear weapons, so as to make a war survivable. It would certainly make them much more feared if it was known they could manage a ‘first strike’ without unacceptable damage. But other countries are reacting, of course, with Russia protesting at defences placed around them long after they ceased to be expansionist.
Meantime China has asserted itself with a rocket that destroyed one of its own satellites, an out-of-date weather satellite. A feat that shows some technical skills:
“The launch vehicle was probably just an ordinary medium-range ballistic missile, but the real challenge was to get the weapon to hit the 1.5-meter-wide target.
“Information about satellite positions from ground-based tracking alone is not precise enough to allow a missile to hit a satellite, so the missile would have needed a built-in homing device to zero in on the satellite… This could be done with a video camera that records the satellite’s position, while thrusters adjust the missile’s course to guide it into a collision.” [E]
It’s all legal, the USA has rejected ideas for a treaty that would ban weapons from Outer Space. Complaints have been made about space debris, 800 major pieces, not a big addition:
“The new debris joins thousands of pieces of junk orbiting the Earth. It includes 3,100 spacecraft, two-thirds of them inactive, spent rocket stages, even a camera. The US air force reportedly monitors 14,000 pieces of space junk.”[F]
In the USA’s best years, ‘Bell Labs’ was something to be proud of. It did the groundwork on which economic success could be built. But then the USA decided that low consumer prices were everything and undermined the basis on which Bell Labs had flourished.
“French company Alcatel subsumed Bell’s shrunken remains into the “Alcatel-Lucent research community”. The Bell Labs name remains, but it now employs just 1000, down from a peak of 25,000.
“In its heyday – which lasted decades – Bell Labs had a reputation as a bastion of scientific excellence. To understand how it achieved this, and to grasp just how big a hole its demise has left, it is important to go back to its birth in 1925, as the central research group for the American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, AT&T. Run as a private yet state-regulated monopoly, the company did everything from manufacturing telephone equipment to renting phones. Maintaining this service across a country the size of the US was a considerable challenge. At the same time it was pursuing new technologies, including the first system to synchronise sound with motion pictures, and early fax machines and televisions.
“All this meant learning more about the fundamentals of electronics, audio and communications, and it was here that Bell Labs excelled. Two years after it was founded, Bell Labs researcher Clinton Davisson observed electron diffraction, confirming that matter can behave like waves, for which he earned half of the 1937 Nobel prize in physics. Other early successes included Harry Nyquist’s explanation of thermal noise in electrical resistors, and Karl Jansky’s discovery of radio waves from the centre of the galaxy. In later years Bell Labs scientists made key contributions to solid-state physics, invented the transistor, developed information theory and discovered the cosmic microwave background…
“After years of litigation, AT&T spun off its regional telephone service as seven separate companies in 1984, ending the decades of cosy monopoly. A dozen years later, it spun off most of Bell Labs along with its equipment division as Lucent Technologies, which initially prospered but then stumbled badly…” [H]
Britain’s Muslims have failed to fit in. Britain’s Afro-Caribbeans have fitted in maybe too well, becoming part of a British lower class that lacks the pride and determination of the best of the old working class. Hindus, meantime, are asserting their place in the world.
I’ve dealt before with the swallowing of the remnants of British Steel by the Tata Group, a Hindu company who begun under British colonial rule. Such things tend to be slow and complex, and it seems the deal has only just been finalised. And got linked with the silly cultural chauvinism of Jade Goody directed at Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty:
“M.J. Akbar, an Indian newspaper editor, for example, noted acerbically that Ms Shetty comes from Bangalore, India’s IT capital: ‘Sorry Jade, but given the profits that software companies in her city such as Infosys and Wipro have just declared, Shetty is about to take a few thousand more jobs that the Goodys would have got if they hadn’t invested so much of their time into becoming yobs.’
“Such economic patriotism is in full spate in India. For several weeks, the Times of India, the best-selling English daily, has been inviting its readers to discuss the new ‘India poised for global supremacy’. The Tata deal, beyond the ubiquitous ’empire strikes back’ headlines, has fed an unmistakeable undertone of triumphalism over the country’s status as the world’s second fastest growing economy…
“‘Indians were ruled by foreigners for 500-600 years and there’s still a lack of self-confidence,” says Yogendra K. Modi, recently head of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. ‘That’s why if India wins a cricket match, it’s a national issue, and if the Tatas buy Corus, it’s more than just a business deal. Indian businessmen, too, had been so used to being looked down upon.’
“When India started opening its economy in 1991, many warned that the country’s protected business groups would be swallowed by multinationals or go bust. They were proved incorrect. The emergence of a world-class information technology industry in the run-up to 2000 boosted service sector growth and created a new image of India as the ‘world’s back office’.” [K]
“‘We no longer discuss the future of India. We say: The future is India,’ Kamal Nath, commerce minister, said in a recent speech.” [L]
Both People’s China and the Republic of India have ignored Globalist advice. Intentionally or not, they have followed the schema laid down by pre-Marxist economist Friedrich List. List looked at what Britain had done and what the USA was doing, recommended that a stage of intense protectionism was necessary for economic growth, followed by some sort of opening when the economy was strong enough. It is what Britain actually did in its Industrial Revolution, the era 1760 to 1830. The Victorians switched over to ‘Free Trade’, but though they peaked in the 1840s, they declined fast after that.
Germany, meantime, had also followed List’s advice and was rising fast. Which was the real reason why Britain joined the war in 1914, a war that might have been a brief salutary war of 1914-15 if Britain had not been determined to carry it on until the rising power of Germany was broken.
This time round, China is being sensibly cautious, and so is the Republic of India. If the USA had been able to reconstruct Iraq in the way the Neocons seemed to think they could, then it could have been the first step to permanent US hegemony. It still could be, or at least the first step, Britain was able to bounce back from initial disasters in the Boer War.
Britain by 1914 had former foes like Louis Botha and Jan Smuts signed up as valuable allies. It was in many ways a disastrous victory, it seemed to say Persist and you will get all you want. Which would explain why Britain rejected several German offers to consider the Great War a stalemate and return to the frontiers as they had been in 1914.
The USA was in a way lucky to lose decisively in Vietnam in 1975. It dented their pride enough to make them willing to change. Change in a rather bad direction to the current ‘Counter-Culture Capitalism’. But ideas that were way-out Hippy weardness in the 1960s are now so much normalised that younger people don’t realise how much the world has altered. (I’ve heard intelligent people in their 30s express astonishment that there was a time when people got married without having previously lived together for a few months or years.)
One defeat allowed the USA to change, while Soviet Russia hung on to an unchanging culture up until final collapse. Another defeat for the USA will re-shuffle the pack, it has already begun to happen.
What the US would be like if they actually won in Iraq does not bear thinking about. But I was expecting them to fail at ‘nation-building’ even before the war started. They have failed to restore Iraq even to the uncomfortable stability of Saddam’s last years, when Saddam’s welfare system was hurt by persistent sanctions based on lies about ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
Multi-party elections have neatly split Sunni from Shia. The place has no future, which is tragic for what was once a moderately hopeful secular state. But the world may be better because of the USA’s visible failure.
[D] Alexander Litvinenko at Wikipiedia, as at 16th February.
[H] From issue 2589 of New Scientist magazine, 03 February 2007, page 18