Newsnotes 2007 05

Notes On The News

By Gwydion M Williams

Turks Repelled By Europe

Yeltsin – mourned everywhere except Russia.

China’s Splendid ‘Crony Capitalism’

Democracy: the Sinatra Principle [USA and Serbia]

British Foreigners [Alleged Muslim Bombers]

Watch this space [Exoplanets]

Less evolved than chimps [DNA studies]

 

Turks Repelled By Europe

Bush’s biggest legacy may be to help trash Ataturk’s legacy. This magazine said before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam was doing the same job for his country that Ataturk had done in his day. It hadn’t then seemed likely that Turkish secularism would also get rolled back.

It still may not happen. But it’s no longer unthinkable. People are asking:

“whether, Turkey can reconcile its avowedly secular founding principles – the “Kemalist” ideology set forth by Ataturk – with its democratic practices and the increased visibility of its Muslim identity.

“Democracy and secularism, two concepts that seem perfectly complementary in the west, are increasingly at odds in Turkey and the current crisis is the most serious manifestation so far of this clash…

“Many of Turkey’s 72m people are rural and pious. As the country becomes more democratic in response to internal social developments and external pressure from the European Union, it is very likely that its Muslim identity will become more pronounced.” [B]

It’s also a fact that Secularism is a derivative of Latin-Christian culture. The USA in the 1940s and 1950s was able to export a version of its culture to a lot of places. The USA’s model was economically efficient and also tolerant for its era, despite being racially segregated till the 1960.

What has been on offer for the past quarter-century has been rather different. The USA removed open segregation but has let it continue unofficially, in the name of ‘individual liberty’. US economic policies from the 1980s have sucked wealth out of every country that gives them free access. The big successes have been Peoples China and the Republic of India, which trade globally, but on their own terms.

Culturally, the USA’s own secularism has crumbled, with vulgarity dominant and religious ignorance pushing out more normal versions of Christianity.

The rise of Islamism in Turkey has also coincided with the decline of socialism, as has happened elsewhere in the Muslim world. It seems a good rule that a modern society will have one or the other: either militant anti-modern religion or socialism. In a real sense the Islamists are following the modern US global model, but for Jihad rather than Jesus.

The Keynesian era offered a much more serious model for Globalisation, with an least nominal respect for everyone’s culture. Also an economic system that grew much faster than unplanned capitalism had ever managed, while also transferring a lot of wealth from the rich to the poor. It was an attractive model, but the West has repudiated it. Now they serve up globalised rubbish and poverty, which the non-Western world is supposed to praise and enjoy.

Secular Turkey could have fitted with a ‘super-Keynesianism’ of the sort that could easily have emerged in the 1970s. This failed, in part due to opposition from the Hard Left, which supposed that the Keynesian system would collapse if prevented from reforming in a socialist direction with things like Workers Control. They got Thatcherism instead, at which point a lot of them ‘flipped’ and became converts to New Right doctrine. History was suppose to end in the 1990s, but no sensible measures were taken to make this ‘New World Order’ agreeable to the wider world. Turkey in particular was left in limbo, denied membership of the European Union while various ex-Leninist nations got in without trouble. Turkey cannot be expected to love Western values, if Western Europe shows that it still finds the Turks too alien.

All of this would have applied even if Bush had not invaded Iraq. But breaking secular Iraq was the final insult.

 

Yeltsin – mourned everywhere except Russia.

“History will forever remember him as the man who helped bring Russia from one form of extreme corruption to another.”

“Yeltsin will be fondly recalled as a man who was alive when some historically significant things happened.”

These are two of the shrewdest comments I have heard in the Western media. It is sad but unsurprising it comes from a non-serious source, the satirical magazine Onion. [C]

China had a few nice articles about him in their English-language media. Thanks to Yeltsin, China no longer has to fear Russia. A weakened Russia must now lean on China for its future. But whatever they did at Yeltsin’s funeral must have been very low-key. None of the news reports I’ve seen bother to say who they sent.

From the West, Dead Yeltsin got Bush Senior and Bill Clinton, along with Britain’s Prince Andrew. Just the people with nothing better to do, apart from Putin who had to show minimal politeness to the man who put him in power. There was also former Polish President Lech Walesa, whose reputation vanished in his 1990-95 Presidency and who has long been insignificant. Plus the interim Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has never been anything but insignificant.

Like Walesa, Yeltsin failed to quit while he was ahead. Both were great oppositionists, neither was a competent leader.

Yeltsin is credited with democratising Russia. In fact Gorbachev began the process and Yeltsin helped maim it with his shelling of Russia’s parliament. Things got so bitter because Yeltsin was a believer in ‘big bang’ reforms, a process that enriched crooks and left most Russians poorer.

Up to the 1980s, I’d not believed that people would vote themselves into poverty, crime and malignant nationalism. But in the 1980s and onwards, a lot of countries did exactly that, and failed to draw the correct lessons. The worse the results, the more they repeated their mistakes.

When the facts don’t match, change your beliefs. Better, look at the history of the thing you believed in.

‘British Democracy’ is actually English democracy, with some input from minorities like the Scots. English democracy dates back to 1884 at the earliest: you could sensibly say it was not established till the 1940s, when Britain gave up the idea of ruling vast numbers of non-white people in its Empire. But even within Britain, it was parliamentary long before it was democratic.

The Westminster system was the end product of half a century of intermittent civil war between the English Parliament, English Puritans of various factions, numerous Scottish and Irish factions and the Stewart kings, rulers of the Three Kingdoms. A process extending from the First Bishops War in 1639 to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Ireland was crushed in the process of establishing a moderate and stable government for England and Scotland. And it was no democracy that was established by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. It ushered in seven generations of rule by an oligarchy, with the King as the strongest member but never fully in control. Most seats in the House of Commons were controlled by the oligarchy up until the reforms of 1832. From 1832 to 1884 there was a half-century expansion of democracy. Only from 1884 did a majority of men living in Britain have the vote, maybe 60% of the total.

That’s not quite how it gets sold to the rest of the world. So no wonder it hasn’t worked very well in Russia, nor in Africa either.

 

China’s Splendid ‘Crony Capitalism’

China nearly Yeltsinized itself in 1989. Deng killed a few hundred well-intentioned protestors to stop this happening, and history suggests he was completely right to do so.

Yeltsin crapped up Russia’s economy by believing the wrong people, and I’d believe that both he and his Western advisors were more stupid than wicked. It was strategically insane not to look after the Russian people when they were ripe to be re-moulded. But it seems that that the New Right really do believe in their own bullshit about the infallibility of market forces. They are not allowed to get their hands on the West’s central economic mechanisms, in the West they are there to be praise-singers, not policy makers. In Russia they were taken seriously. They also messed up the ‘Asian Tiger’ economies by persuading them to dismantle necessary economic protections and let in a flood of speculative money. When this caused a disaster, they blamed it on the Asian Tigers, suddenly found guilty of Crony Capitalism.

China today is the quintessence of Crony Capitalism, combined with exchange controls, vagueness about property rights and a growing state sector. That’s not how the New Right describe it, of course. Rather than admit their formulas are wrong, they leave out those aspects of mundane reality not in line with Transcendental Economics. In the case of non-Communist East Asia, ‘Crony Capitalism’ was not the complaint until those economies ran into trouble. The talk before the crisis was how they were doing great unburdened by state spending.

That’s the ideology. The reality is that China can ignore the ideologues, the praise-singers of Capitalism. Actual working capitalists look to immediate profit, which comes from working closely with China as it is:

“Retailers and consumer goods companies in the developed world are increasingly shifting logistics operations from their home countries to China. Goods are sorted, labelled and even placed in displays for direct shipment to individual stores before leaving Chinese ports.” [D]

“Companies from countries as far apart as Japan, Chile, Spain and the US now have goods sorted before they leave China into the right mixes for individual stores or distribution centres and labelled with the correct price. Many will even be ready-packed into a cardboard display stand.” [E]

It’s also getting more sophisticated. If there was ever a danger of China becoming a global sweat-shop, that is long past:

“Although China’s productivity statistics are notoriously unreliable, independent estimates put the annual gains in manufacturing as high as 15-20 per cent annually – putting the US productivity “miracle” to shame… Now China’s manufacturing miracle is entering a second phase, as producers start to drive aggressively up-market. Exports of aircraft parts, ships, microchips and cars all grew by about 70 per cent last year, more than four times faster than traditional exports such as shoes and clothing. At the same time, it is set on becoming more than a processing economy that just screws together components made elsewhere. With official backing, industries such as steel, vehicles and electronics are steadily raising the value added locally by performing more advanced processes and making more parts in China.” [F]

There is also a determination to ignore Western ‘good advice’ of the sort that impoverished Russia under Yeltsin:

“In the 19th century, western military might forced China to partake in free trade. At the time the tariff was 5 percent, almost the same as the WTO standard for developed countries today. So we could say China began engaging in free trade 150 years ago, and that it was precisely such free trade that led to its decline. Conversely, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the US were able to use their state power to protect their national industries at an early stage of development. Britain relied heavily on its superior navy to facilitate its rise as a world power, and restricted silk imports to protect its domestic textile sector. German historians vehemently opposed free trade and advocated state protection. Japan established its banking system on war compensation, while the US levied a tariff of over 40 percent for a long time. Only after 1946, when 40 percent of global industrial production and 70 percent of gold reserves were in the US, did Washington turn to free trade, which was in the US’ national interest. Even so, it never prevented the state from wielding the stick of protectionism whenever necessary…

” China blazed its own trail and realized primitive accumulation through a socialist planned economy. This is anti-West, but not anti-modernization. Westernization is not the same as modernization.

“In terms of carrying out the common historic task of primitive accumulation for industrialization, China raised the industry/agricultural ratio from 1:9 to 5:5 in three decades, maintained an accumulation rate of over 30 percent, total production increased 20 fold and the average life expectancy has risen from 36 to 70. We can say proudly that China has developed the fastest and most efficiently. China relied on internal accumulation rather than outward expansion; it did not slaughter hundreds of millions of Indians, traffic tens of millions of Africans across the oceans or wage wars that carved up world markets. This leaves us superior to the West both historically and morally.”

“China’s traditional culture is a culture of peace, and our primary task is the subsistence and development of one fourth of the world’s population and the environment. As soon as it completed industrial primitive accumulation, China opened to the outside world. China, in terms of the extent to which it is open to the world, is on par with some countries that joined the world trade system much earlier.” [G]

While Russians agonise about what they did wrong, the Chinese are confident they did the right things in their own history:

“Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, the late top Chinese leaders with an impact on generations of the Chinese youth are still the fine examples in the eyes of the contemporary colleges and college students. Their average of wins is 40.39 percent and 21.61 percent respectively. Moreover, the models in their eyes also have strong era hallmarks, such as Bill Gates’s rate ranking the third with 16.7 percent.” [H]. (It’s not mentioned how Deng Xiaoping was rated; presumably much lower.)

There is some unfairness in distribution of wealth. Comparing China to Brazil or the Republic of India, it seems very doubtful that a western-style democracy would make things better: it might well make things worse.[L] The current leadership are trying to reduce inequalities, but face obstacles:

“Last week the United Steelworkers, one of the biggest industrial unions, came out in favour of the law and accused US business groups of trying to block reforms. Leo Gerard, the USW president, criticised what he called the American Chamber of Commerce’s ‘immoral campaign to undermine Chinese workers rights’…

“When the first draft was released last year it prompted opposition from foreign business groups, who argued it was a return to the communist “iron rice bowl” of guaranteed jobs and benefits and could discourage foreign investment.

“Since then western business groups have moderated their public criticism and a second draft released in December watered down some provisions. ‘Along with lots of other businesses, we put forward our position and the government listened,’ says the head of a western business group.” [J]

If the US could fund propaganda outfits and right-wing populist parties, the way they did in Middle-Europe and Former Yugoslavia, they might cripple China’s ability to defend its own people. As things are, a competent leadership is in solid control and has got a firm grip on the Internet, which was supposed to be an unstoppable Trojan Horse.[K] As I’ve mentioned before, the USA has made it clear that they still own the Internet. The US will not allow an ‘xxx’ domain that would clearly separate commercial pornography from other contents: mixing sex, gambling and consumerism is the real ideology of globalisation. China has successfully censored the Internet without US permission, and in spite of protests Western liberals. Who generally don’t mention that commercial pornography is one of the things you can’t get easily on the Internet in China, because they know a lot of their audience might approve and wonder why the West can’t do the same.

We could. We don’t, because the dominant ‘overclass’ would rather people were consuming than thinking. That’s the current world balance, but China’s rise is one of many factors that are undermining it.

 

Democracy: the Sinatra Principle [USA and Serbia]

Frank Sinatra is famous for singing “I did it my way“, but might have added “you’ll do it my way“. The man was a classic US bully, though a little cruder than most people famous at his level. He sucked up to the powerful, could get very nasty with anyone he felt safe to push around.

Serbia was punished in the 1990s for persistently violating the Sinatra Principle, electing moderate socialists and trying to keep Tito’s principles alive. Eventually they gave up. People were surprised when Serbia was acquitted of guilt for Bosnian genocide back in February. [A] I wasn’t surprised at all. Serbia was no longer a hold-out, and anyway the USA now has much bigger concerns. The way they broke Serbia helped lose them Russia: any sensible Russian could see they might be next on the list, so they stabilised their politics around Putin.

Regarding Serbia’s guilt, I’d say that two bad reasons added up to a passable decision. There was no more need to punish Serbia, so they would have been let off anyway, because who could say which country might be next on the list if the principle were established. But the original charges and all comment on the acquittal ignores that all communities were behaving badly.

What also gets ignored are the war-time massacres of Serbs by Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Some of the guilty must still be alive, but nothing can be done because there is not suitable tribunal. There is no suitable tribunal, for reasons too mysterious to explain, assuming you see those people as honestly upholding abstract principals of law.

Which they aren’t, obviously. ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall – but not in my back yard’.

 

British Foreigners [Alleged Muslim Bombers]

Five Muslim men have been sentenced to life imprisonment for just thinking about a bombing campaign. They may have met the 7/7 bombers, but it’s not clear there was an influence. The evidence was not legally admissible and was leaked only after the sentences were announced. Two more men went free and must count themselves very lucky.

“The judge told them: ‘You have betrayed this country that has given you every opportunity.’ He also warned them: ‘All of you may never be released. It’s not a foregone conclusion.'” [M]

He’s talking about 35 years or even more for men in their 20s and 30s. In line with Brighton bomber Patrick Magee, who got a ‘tariff’ of 35 years from the judge for a bomb that killed 5 people and very nearly killed the British Prime Minister. This was later raised to ‘his entire life’, but of course he’s out now under the Good Friday Agreement. Admitting he did it, but claiming that a fingerprint used in evidence mysteriously appeared where his finger had never been

Given that the latest batch of Muslim plotters never got as far as building a bomb, never mind detonating it, the punishment seems out of line. 5 years might have been justified, even 10. The actual sentences reflect the un-admitted but very real racial hierarchy that still operates. The perception of Muslims as an unreasonable hold-out against global Anglo benevolence.

It is a matter of both culture and race. Black Britons have been mostly absorbed, some as skilled workers, some as working poor, quite a lot as louts, some as criminals. From the viewpoint of the authorities, Black British crime thing has been more a nuisance than a threat. They have killed a few innocents, but mostly other black youths in their own communities. Someone should do a spoof rap song about them: menace to my neighbours / nuisance to society.

There was a time when it was different, a brief growth serious revolutionary ideas. The Black Panthers seemed significant but unfortunately came to nothing. According to the Wikipedia, their militant rhetoric was carried over into the ‘Crips’ of Los Angeles, who however soon became just another drugs gang. Tough enough to irritate their unprivileged white neighbours into voting Republican, not a threat to anyone strong.

 

Watch this space [Exoplanets]

In April, we learned about Gliese 581 c, a planet where life as we know it might just be possible. So far in May we have had two more new worlds, found by very different methods. Automated ground-based telescopes from the HATNet Project found ‘HAT-P-2b’, a bizarre world that is eight times more massive than Jupiter but much the same size, even stranger than earlier ‘Hot Jupiters’. Meantime the French-led COROT Mission found ‘Corot-exo-1b’, a rather routine ‘Hot Jupiter’, but significant because it looks like the space-based COROT system will work better than the official forecasts. COROT should find lots more new worlds round distant suns, even worlds as small as Earth. [N]

There is also a wonderful recent picture of a small Saturnian moon ‘shedding’ one of Saturn’s rings. This comes from NASA’s on-line calendar, the entry fro 27th March. [O] It’s a big interesting universe out there, lots of events but no signs of anything that wishes to interact with humans. Some say this proves there is nothing intelligent out there. My own suspicion is that they are waiting till we get to be a bit more mature.

 

Less evolved than chimps [DNA studies]

Nothing so far discovered in DNA sequencing has been hugely important to anyone who isn’t a biologist. Having done a degree in biology, I find it quite interesting that they’ve confirmed the old theory that the remote ancestor of fish and land animals was much like the common ancestor of insects and snails, except our ancestral worms ‘flipped’. You might care, you might not, but what does that matter to human life?

But now we learn that chimps are more evolved than we are.[P] That’s pretty unexpected, though I mentioned a year or two back that rats and mice seem more evolved than primates, in terms of changes to their DNA. I confidently expect that they will also find that the ancestral worm that ‘flipped’ or did not flip has also evolved further in becoming an insect or snail than in becoming a fish or one of us.

Life on Earth permitted us, it does not require us. We humans emerged in one of life’s backwaters: the pitiful remnant of ape-people are often best dated by the flourishing communities of pigs that lived nearby. Only when you get close to the human condition do you have an ape-person (almost certainly male) who figured out that the neighbouring pigs were a potential meal.

Neither pigs nor humans would have been possible without the accidental death of the dinosaurs in a meteor strike. Probably one specialised offshoot of the dinosaurs survived as the creatures we know as birds – much as if all of the mammals were lost apart from bats. But the widely-reported story about similarities between the DNA of a chicken and a fossilised Tyrannosaurus rex means very little. Everyone interested already agreed that dinosaurs were related to birds as part of the Archaeosaur lineage, which also includes crocodiles. The interesting questions is whether a dinosaurs is closer to a chicken than a crocodile. Probably it is, but that work has yet to be done. [R]

 

References

[A] [[http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2022004,00.html]

[B] [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/d11bc366-f8ef-11db-a940-000b5df10621.html]

[C] [http://www.theonion.com/content/amvo/boris_yeltsin_dead]

[D] Retailers shift supply chain tasks to China, [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/1fe4774a-dbd1-11db-9233-000b5df10621,dwp_uuid=9c33700c-4c86-11da-89df-0000779e2340.html]

[E] China leads way on cargo shipped overseas. (Financial Times, March 26 2007).

[F] [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/d4989926-cce2-11db-a938-000b5df10621,dwp_uuid=9c33700c-4c86-11da-89df-0000779e2340.html]

[G] Who is playing at economic nationalism? [http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200704/18/eng20070418_367648.html]

[H] [http://english.people.com.cn/200704/29/eng20070429_370795.html]

[J] China’s labour law raises US concerns [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/09d35e16-f8c4-11db-a940-000b5df10621,dwp_uuid=9c33700c-4c86-11da-89df-0000779e2340.html]

[K] China cracks down on online IDs [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2f9f7060-e6bf-11db-9034-000b5df10621,dwp_uuid=9c33700c-4c86-11da-89df-0000779e2340.html]

[L] The criminalisation of Indian democracy [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/21d0f5f8-f8c1-11db-a940-000b5df10621.html]

[M] Five get life over UK bomb plot [http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/6195914.stm]

[N] The Wikipedia has good articles on all of these things, if you want to know more.

[O] [http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap070327.html]

[P] Chimps are the most refined ape of all, issue 2600 of New Scientist magazine, 21 April 2007, page 17

[R] [http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,2056218,00.html]

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