Notes on the News

Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

The Covid Olympics

Brexit – English Self-Harm

Cotton Wars

Abnormal is the New Normal

The West Buggers Up The ‘Third World’

Snippets

‘Wide Boys’ of the Suez Canal

Good Trends

Unwelcoming Anglos

Czechs Imperfect

Greed Good for Medicine?

Mending Rather Than Ending

The Covid Olympics

I was hoping that the whole Olympic cycle would be shifted by two years.  Tokyo 2022, by which time Europe and the USA might have finally cleaned up their act.  Then Paris 2026 rather than 2024, and so on.

That’s not happening.  And rather than slip another year, Japan will go ahead without the vast human crowds that mostly come:

“IOC reduces accreditations for Tokyo Games

“The International Olympic Committee Executive Board has decided that only people who have essential and operational roles will be granted accreditation for the Tokyo Olympics.

“The IOC announced on Friday that the Japanese government said it needs a significant reduction in the number of accredited participants who do not have operational roles.

“Top officials responsible for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics decided this month that overseas spectators will not be allowed to attend the Games due to the coronavirus pandemic.”[1]

Most of the world has a lot more infections than Japan.  Western governments felt it better to let its citizens die or suffer debilitating ‘Long Covid’, rather than be seen as authoritarian.  This has allowed a mass of fast-breeding viruses to produce varieties that are even more infectious.  And while we’ve not yet seen a strain immune to current vaccines, experts fear it will come. 

Japanese governments are traditional conservatives.  They support inequality, a lower status for women and bad treatment of immigrants.  But they also accept responsibility for the lives of all their citizens.  So even the normal internal celebrations are being toned down:

“The start of the torch relay usually marks the beginning of Olympic fanfare. This time, though, the mood is subdued because of the pandemic. For organizing committee officials, the priority is to avoid infection clusters related to the event. They are urging fans to watch a livestream of the relay from the safety of their homes.”[2]

I’ve long wondered why people were so keen to go to sporting stadia, when you see a lot more on television.  And this Olympics will be almost wholly a television event.

The Covid crisis was dealt with sensibly in East Asia.  Japan has had 71 deaths per million, whereas the UK has had 1,856 and Brazil 1,438.[3]  But in the UK, deaths are trending down.  Brazil with a Denialist President is now first in daily deaths.  And if you adjust for population size, 4th behind Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.[4]  

Japan remains cautious.  They need the USA to make them feel secure without gigantic military spending.  But they also need trade with China.  And hope for a good Olympics to remind everyone that they are still 3rd or 4th in the world.[5]   4th behind India if you allow for the relative cost of local goods.[6]  Regardless, Japanese have comfortable lives, and do not share the USA’s obsession with making the wider world a shallow copy of themselves.

Brexit – English Self-Harm

I’d expected Brexit to be bad for Britain and good for Continental Europe.  Now it is happening even faster than I’d expected:

“Europe’s trust in Britain has gone. We’re now a problem, not a partner…

“UK politicians overestimate how much time is spent in Brussels thinking about Brexit. The peak of trauma and caring came immediately after the referendum. There was a phase of anxiety that the separatist impulse might be contagious. That passed when Westminster curled itself into a writhing ball, unable to digest the reality of what the electorate had ordered. No one who saw that from inside the EU fancied a portion of what Britain was having.”[7]

All of the drawn-out negotiations have not produced a system useful for those who need it:

“Exports to EU plunge by 40% in first month since Brexit..

“In a reflection of the Brexit impact, UK goods exports to Ireland fell 47% in January, the sharpest fall among main trading partners.

“While the government has admitted to “teething problems” at the start of the new relationship, business leaders have warned that lengthier delivery times and higher costs are likely to remain as an endemic feature of Brexit.”[8]

Trade between Britain and Continental Europe is a huge proportion of Britain’s trade, but it turns out that we need them a lot more than they need us.  Continental Europe can easily turn elsewhere.  And the Chinese have certainly noticed:

“Global Britain’s post-Brexit gamble backfiring as China, EU leave the UK behind…

“When former British Prime Minister David Cameron went ahead with the Brexit referendum, he was far from alone in figuring that, even if his gamble went awry, whatever Britain’s problems were then would pale into insignificance with those of the EU. Pessimistic tea-leaf reading of the EU had flooded the British media after the 2008 global financial crisis.”[9]

This has come on top of a pandemic that speeds up the general decline of small independent businesses:

“British high street lost 11,000 shops in 2020, study shows

“A further 18,000 may close in 2021 as researchers fears full impact of Covid crisis has yet to come.”[10]

The Tory Party needs the votes of such people, but its top leaders have mostly been happy to see them go extinct.

On a slightly different matter, I also suspected that Brexit would be covertly used as an excuse to dump Northern Ireland.  The top leaders with their global outlook may well see it as an unwanted burden.  As I read it, this is happening quite fast.

Stage magicians wave handkerchiefs to make the audience overlook what the other hand is doing.

This lot wave the Union Jack, and their targets fall for it.

Cotton Wars

China as a whole no longer cares what the West thinks about China.  Outside of Hong Kong, none of them see us as useful or helpful.

Inside of Hong Kong, protest has ceased to matter and they are now much more tightly controlled.  I described the protests as ‘Hong Kong Committing Suicide’ back in August 2019, and this has proved sadly accurate.[11]  

I drew attention to a stray mention that even anti-regime Chinese outside Hong Kong were offended.  The Wise Persons of the West’s China policy must have ignored this.  Decided that if China were kicked a few more times, a popular movement might start.

It has indeed started – but the exact opposite of what the West’s leaders were after.  As China’s Global News reports:

“On Wednesday night, sports brand Nike became a trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo. Netizens found the company’s statement from last July which said ‘Nike does not source products from the XUAR (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.’

“As the saying goes, you will always reap what you sow. After more than half a year, Nike has finally paid the piper. It is losing its reputation in the Chinese market.”[12]

Chinese journalists understand that the companies are reacting to all sorts of pressures:

“If the Western society finds it hard to understand Chinese people’s strong sentiments, then just imagine how the Western public would react if these companies make anti-Semitic remarks in the Western countries…

“H&M cannot really back off because Western public opinion has already regarded the company as a victim of China’s so-called suppression, and it is already entrapped in the Western political correctness. During the West’s demonization of Xinjiang, many unscrupulous scholars fabricated lies, and many politicians blindly opposed everything China did. And as a multinational company, H&M was under pressure to choose to offend the Chinese market.”[13]

And what about the BBC, once globally respected as an honest news source?

“While H&M’s physical stores in China remain, it is no longer possible to hail a taxi to the shops using an app and consumers can’t shop online. Instead China is championing local brands.

“China is accused of committing serious human rights violations against Uighurs in Xinjiang.”[14]

The article supposedly gives the background.  But never mentions that the protests come from people dedicated to making Xinjiang into an independent East Turkistan Republic.  Or that some of these separatists tried terrorism.  And that some of the exiles are part of global Islamic extremism.

At one time Uighur terrorism and extremism were freely reported in Western media.  Back in 2015, when the so-called Islamic State caused alarm, The Guardian had the following:

“Joining the fight against Isis would be a huge test for China…

“If only because of the involvement of its citizens – the execution of a Chinese traveller by Islamic State and the reported deaths of three of a group of Chinese tourists caught in the hotel siege in Bamako…

“But there is a strong reason why the People’s Republic will want to keep involved, in the form of its long-running struggle against Uighur Muslims in its huge western territory of Xinjiang. Beijing insists that the recurrent violence there is the work of fundamentalists and extremist agents crossing from the republics of central Asia.”[15]

But when Islamic extremists became less of a problem, ‘reality’ shifted.  It’s not like Orwell’s 1984, with Winston Smith rewriting older articles about facts that no longer please.  But with a vast mass of news that overwhelms most people, the effect is the same.

But who gets hurt?

Chinas’ leaders must be glad to see their citizens turning away from foreign brands, which maybe had more prestige than they merited.

Globally, most Muslim countries have backed China over Xinjiang.  They and most of the world outside Europe have trouble with separatist movements.  Also extremism among young Muslims, taught an extremist version of Islam by schools funded by Saudi Arabia, with Western approval.  The same culture that produced Bin Ladin and al-Qaeda, who stuck to the logic of what was taught when the actual rulers of Saudi Arabia showed that they were hypocrites.  And lots of young men with an uncertain future follow similar paths, including abducting schoolgirls in Nigeria.  

Most of the world wants such movements crushed, and loses little sleep about whether or not the methods have been harsh.

Abnormal is the New Normal

We’re in the early stages of a long climate deterioration.  I’m confident that human civilisation will survive.  But all civilisations will be changed, maybe for the worse.

Mass starvation and major wars are likely.  But the people in control of nuclear weapons are unlikely ever to see their use as sensible.

What could happen is neglect when things get worse.

“Australia’s Worst Floods in Decades Quicken Concerns About Climate Change

“In a country that suffered the harshest wildfires in its recorded history just a year ago, the deluge has become another awful milestone…

“The country is one of many seeing a pattern of intensification — more extreme hot days and heat waves, as well as more extreme rainfalls over short periods…

“Because global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius, or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, over preindustrial levels, landscapes dry out more quickly, producing severe droughts, even as more water vapor rises into the atmosphere, increasing the likelihood of extreme downpours.”[16]

But believers in New Right values get more extreme as the world turns against them:

“Canada’s main opposition Conservative party members have voted down a proposal to recognize the climate crisis as real, in a blow to their new leader’s efforts to embrace environmentally friendly policies before a likely federal election this year.

“The rejected motion included the willingness to act against climate risks and to make highly polluting businesses take more responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”[17]

Look after the money, and all will be well.  

There is a fault in reality.  Please do not adjust your mind.

The West Buggers Up The ‘Third World’

Western influence depends on life being decent for ordinary people.  This was widely accepted till the 1980s.  But then Thatcher and Reagan denied it was necessary.  Tony Blair and Bill Clinton swallowed this doctrine, and concentrated on social liberalism.  Including armed aggression against various successful authoritarian regimes that offended them.

It hasn’t worked.[18]  And there is increasing rejection of Western values:

“On gay rights, young Africans share the intolerance of their elders…

“In many parts of the world the young are far more tolerant than their elders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. But with a few exceptions, such as in Botswana, which decriminalised homosexuality in 2019, young Africans seem to be almost as homophobic as their grandparents…

“83% of young Africans said that more should be done to protect the rights of ethnic minorities, while 64% agreed that ‘sexual harassment is a problem in my country’. Yet 69% disagreed with the statement: ‘My country should do more to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.’ 

“This is not because robust protections for gay rights are already in place. On the contrary, at least 32 African countries still criminalise gay sex, and openly gay people are often abused, beaten up or worse. Only one country, South Africa, has genuinely gay-friendly laws (eg, it allows same-sex marriage). Even there, outside urban liberal enclaves gay people are at serious risk of being attacked or even murdered.”[19]

The West was mean and meddlesome from the 1990s.  Everyone is returning to their older values, which include various sorts of intolerance.

In the Republic of India, almost anything is OK that does not harm humans or cows.  But they will not remove a never-applied law against homosexuality inherited from British rule.  Refuse to accept the latest Western trends.

Even the hopeful African views about ethnic minorities may come largely from a knowledge that they would be on the harsh side of it in much of the world.  Mutual antagonism between various Black African peoples is all too common.

Snippets

‘Wide Boys’ of the Suez Canal

Britain used to have a fine and famous Merchant Navy.  But it was cheaper to switch to giant ships and cheap foreign labour.

Business became a matter of doubtful deals.  It was once confined to a fringe who were scorned as ‘Wide Boys’.  But now it is most of them.

The ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal was dangerously large, and probably had too few crew for safety.  But everything now is about gambling.

I’ve done a blog about it: you can find more details there.[20]

*

Good Trends

“China’s rural revolution: the architects rescuing its villages from oblivion…

“Caizhai has always been known as a centre of tofu. But, before this facility was built in 2018, families would produce small batches in their home workshops. They struggled to make ends meet, as the conditions didn’t meet the food safety standards for the tofu to be sold in supermarkets, while the younger generation saw little incentive to stick around in the countryside and join ailing family businesses.

“Now, however, with a newly formed village co-operative running this purpose-built factory, they are processing 100kg of soybeans a day, supplying nearby schools and workers’ canteens, and selling the improved product – for almost double the previous price – to retailers in the cities. Around 30 younger villagers, who had been lured away by metropolitan life, have returned to Caizhai to join the production team, and visitors have increased 20-fold. They are drawn by an increasingly widespread nostalgia for the countryside, to see traditional tofu-making in action and get a taste of village life, creating demand for further cafes, guesthouses and related businesses nearby…

“‘In each case, we have tried to make something that restores the villagers’ pride in their local identity, as well as bringing in visitors and creating a local economic network.’”[21]

A lot of China’s supposed capitalism in the post-Mao era was cooperative, disguised under the bland brand-name ‘Township and Village Enterprises’.  And it continues to work.

*

Unwelcoming Anglos

“More than three-quarters of Chinese-Australians said the country is a good place to live, but just 36 per cent agree that ‘democracy is preferable to any other form of government’. 

“The Lowy Institute think-tank also found that almost a third of Chinese-Australians said they have been verbally abused and 18 per cent reported being physically attacked or threatened because of their ethnicity over the past 12 months.”[22]

The same survey found that 43% of them were more favourable to China’s system of government since the Covid-19 crisis.

The New Right has been expert at using democratic forms to prevent democratic outcomes.  But how long can they get away with it?

*

Czechs Imperfect

Something beautiful might have emerged in Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s, had Brezhnev not crushed serious reform.  Reforms with a likely outcome similar to post-Mao China. 

With Czechs and Slovaks now peacefully separated, the outcome is far from beautiful:

“Czech MPs to debate compensation bill for women as state refuses to acknowledge ‘attempted genocide’

“Until now, the Czech government has not officially acknowledged or compensated Roma women … for a government-led eugenics agenda from the early 1970s until it was officially abolished in 1993. No one knows how many women were affected. The European Roma Rights Centre says hundreds of women were systematically sterilised throughout the 1990s with the last-known case as recently as 2007.”[23]

*

Greed Good for Medicine?

Boris Johnson said so.  But the UK messed up everything before the vaccines.  And succeeded only by relying on the NHS.

This also applies in the wider world:

“European governments are often seen in the United States as free-spending, liberal bastions, but this time it was Washington that threw billions at drugmakers and cosseted their business.

“Brussels, by comparison, took a conservative, budget-conscious approach that left the open market largely untouched. And it has paid for it.”[24]

*

Mending Rather Than Ending

“Tough new rules aim to make electrical goods last longer…

“New legislation aims to tackle ‘premature obsolescence’ in electrical goods – short lifespans built into appliances by manufacturers so that customers have to buy new ones sooner – and make them more energy efficient.

“The rules include a legal requirement on manufacturers to make spare parts available to consumers, which aims to extend the lifespan of products by up to 10 years and cut carbon emissions from the manufacture of new goods.”[25]

*

Old newsnotes at the magazine website.  I also write regular blogs – https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams


[1] https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20210327_13/

[2] https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/1573/

[3] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

[4] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/24/trust-britain-covid-vaccine-compromise

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/mar/12/exports-to-eu-plunge-in-first-month-since-brexit-uk-economy

[9] https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3124659/global-britains-post-brexit-gamble-backfiring-china-eu-leave-uk

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/mar/24/british-high-street-lost-11000-shops-in-2020-study-shows

[11] https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Hong-Kong-Committing-Suicide

[12] https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202103/1219413.shtml

[13] https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202103/1219492.shtml

[14] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-56533560

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/24/china-isis-uighurs-xi-jinping-xinjiang, and more at my blog https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/It-s-Not-Free-Speech-If-I-Don-t-Like-It

[16] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/22/world/australia/australia-floods.html (pay site)

[17] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/20/canada-conservative-party-climate-change-real

[18] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/the-west-fails-in-five-civilisations/the-west-fails-in-five-civilisations-2/

[19] https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2021/03/04/on-gay-rights-young-africans-share-the-intolerance-of-their-elders  (pay site)

[20] https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams/Wide-Boys-of-the-Suez-Canal

[21] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/mar/24/chinas-rural-revolution-architects-rescuing-villages-oblivion-tofu-rice-wine-lotus-tea

[22] https://www.ft.com/content/0c7db822-bc05-4e82-910b-90c28907d716  (pay site)

[23] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/mar/08/czech-republic-roma-women-forcibly-sterilised-scandal

[24] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/20/world/europe/europe-vaccine-rollout-astrazeneca.html

[25] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/10/tough-new-rules-aim-to-make-electrical-goods-last-longer

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