Notes on the News
Diplomacy – a Polite Name for Intimidation
Tolkien, Race, and an Amazon Blessing
Monbiot – Terrified of Hopes of Rescue
Warmer Seas Mean Worse Weather
Diplomacy – a Polite Name for Intimidation
Diplomacy is all about intimidation.
People forget that, when they talk about a diplomatic solution in Ukraine.
Diplomacy can also involve bribery and flattery. But the power to intimidate defines Great Powers and Superpowers.
If NATO ever were to include Ukraine, the USA would be much better placed to intimidate Russia. The Baltic Republics would not want a war against Russia. Ukrainians might be crazy enough.
Most ethnic-Ukrainians want to purge the entire territory of the former Ukrainian Soviet Republic of everything Russian. Places only included to strengthen the link with Russia. Which stayed with an independent Ukraine when it was friendly to Russia.
Russia saw legality ignored in Ukraine’s second Orange Revolution.  Intimidation protects ethnic Russians, and keeps out NATO.
Western leaders don’t believe their own talk of democracy or minority rights. All these supposed ideals get shoved aside, when it suits their power-politics.
The former Soviet Union offended often. Russia is imperfect. But just now, the Anglosphere is the main offender.
The United Nations promised a different world after the horrors of World War Two. But the USA helped subvert its first big test: a crisis manufactured in the former Belgian Congo after it dared elect a mildly leftist Prime Minister. Lumumba was a decent man. He invited in the United Nations, in the belief that it was like a restaurant owner calling the police to handle some violent customers.
Had the sanctity of Parliamentary Democracy been upheld in the Congo in 1961, a very different world might have emerged. But US influence made sure that the United Nations undermined the man who had invited them in. Did nothing to stop him being murdered.
The Congo as Zaire became a long-running dictatorship under Mobutu, the man who betrayed Congolese democracy. He let the West feast off of its mineral wealth.
Mobutu was one of many men that the USA ratted on, when the Soviet Union ceased to be a global alternative. And created chaos, just in case poorer countries still thought they could elect disobedient governments.
No attempt was made to realise the original UN dream during the 1990s US hegemony. Why bother with all the difficulties and limits that come from being honest? Surely cheating is much easier?
But this turned out to be a fool’s cunning.
When I was young, before credit became the norm, people would say Penny-wise, Pound-foolish:
“Concentrating so hard on economizing in small matters that one misses the opportunity to save or gain a large amount of money in larger matters.”
In politics, I rate the New Right as month-smart, decade-foolish. All sorts of cunning little schemes. All sorts of clever ways to get the public to vote against their own best interests. But the long result has not been at all what they want.
Extreme Islam spreads in the Muslim world.
Extreme Hinduism in once-secular India.
Much of Middle-Europe now prefers its own version of Christian Democracy. Right-wing socially, but also committed to human welfare.
Both Russia and China have rejected their values. Russia tried being subservient in the 1990s, but was scorned and swindled. China wobbled in 1989, but did not fall.
Genuine Western conservatives have been manipulated for decades. Squeezed financially, and their social and cultural values were not in fact respected. With Trump and with Brexit, they are now out of control.
The ‘geniuses’ of the New Right are a global failure. Future historians may count this Ukraine Crisis as a key moment.
For China’s rise, see People’s China: a New Civilisation. A pamphlet explaining the hope for European Socialism in the Chinese Alternative, even if it’s much more authoritarian than most of us would want.
The Bane of Ukraine
Europe is lukewarm about the Biden wish for an anti-Russian Crusade.
Ready only to fight to the last Ukrainia
Some of the Western mainstream worried even about that. The pro-British Irish Times was one. On the 19th they said:
“Two big truths must be acknowledged. Russia is paranoid about being invaded from the west. And this fear has rational roots in horrific experience.
“Russia’s modern sense of nationality was shaped by Napoleon’s cataclysmic invasion in 1812. It is not accidental that its great national epic, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, is set during that conflagration.
“This horror was renewed and redoubled by Hitler’s invasion in 1941. Its scale is scarcely comprehensible. The death toll remains literally incalculable – respectable estimates range between 20 and 30 million dead”
Mainstream media avoid the other big issue – attempts to purge Ukraine of all its ancient connections with Moscow-ruled Russia:
“The Minsk agreements between the Kiev government and the separatists of the two oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk are still not implemented because Kiev, which signed them, rejects them. In any case, Kiev does not want to enact a special status for its Russian-speaking population. In the meantime, the law goes so far as to prohibit teaching in Russian in a country that is half Russian-speaking.
“Any government anywhere in the world would have accepted this legitimate demand. Kiev explains its refusal by recalling that it signed its agreements under pressure, but never wanted them. The separatists, on the other hand, point out that the Ukrainian army deployed in front of them includes the Azov battalion, brandishing Nazi symbols and commanded by the self-proclaimed ‘White Führer,’ Colonel Andrey Biletsky. And these people, framed by the mercenaries of Erik Prince (the founder of Blackwater), are shouting that they will annihilate those Russkies they keep bombing. That’s why the separatists have declared their independence, which unfortunately nobody has recognized, not even the Russian Federation.”
A rich elite set ordinary people against each other:
“Four Uncomfortable Truths About Ukraine…
“1. Many of the new leaders helped shape policies that turned Ukraine into an economic basket case…
“Their post-Orange Revolution regime prolonged the country’s disastrous track record on economic management…
“Ukraine, a country of 45 million people with rich agricultural land and a large industrial base, is now Eastern Europe’s poorest country, apart from tiny Moldova…
““3. The new government is a fragile coalition that includes some pretty scary elements.
“When Vladimir Putin says there are far-right extremists running Ukraine, he isn’t completely wrong…
“4. Ukraine needs Russia.
“Even as it seeks closer ties with Europe, Ukraine can’t afford to turn its back on its huge eastern neighbor… the two countries have deep historical and cultural ties. Some 8.3 million Ukrainians, almost one-fifth of the population, described themselves in the country’s last census as ethnic Russians, while some 1.9 million of Russia’s citizens say they are ethnic Ukrainian.”
That was from when the crisis started, in 2014. The same dismal truths apply, but are kept away from the Western public. You have to look hard to find them mentioned:
“Ukraine has stagnated since the fall of the Soviet Union. By the World Bank’s reckoning, Ukraine is about 20% poorer now than it was in 1990!…
““Ukrainian policy tended to reserve manufacturing industries for domestic oligarchs — most of whom had gotten rich by owning Ukraine’s old inefficient Soviet-era manufacturing industries. It thus tried to discourage foreign investment in the manufacturing sector — a huge, tragic mistake. The oligarchs didn’t do much with Ukraine’s manufacturing sector; they just kept collecting their checks and allowed the sector to slowly decline. Meanwhile, the country’s leaders encouraged foreign investment in sectors like finance and real estate…
“It created a huge, bloated financial sector — a development no-no. And it also set Ukraine up for a huge disaster, because finance and real estate were the industries that got clobbered in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.”
But ordinary Ukrainians blame Russia for everything.
Ukraine’s current borders make no sense, if Ukraine is to be purged of Russian influence. A distinct Ukrainian identity within the Rus tradition existed within several rival empires. Had honest outsiders defined it as a new nation-state, it would not have included Crimea. Nor the regions of the east that seek secession. But Ukrainian nationalists choose to treat as sacred the Soviet borders defined by Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev.
Unrealistically. In World War Two, pro-Nazi Ukrainians were brave, but had run-of-the-mill combat skills. That’s not changed with the current generation, who do most of the fighting against the ethnic-Russian separatists.
China Still Rising
A very successful Olympics for China. Hosted smoothly, and they are increasingly strong in winter sports. Especially those based on snow rather than ice.
China got 15 medals, the best ever, and 11th among nations. Better still, nine were gold. 3rd by the conventional gold-biased rankings.
The Western media, dominated by the millionaire elite, keep bad-mouthing China. They don’t want to admit that China flourishes while scorning New Right economic ‘wisdom’. But the part of the press that tells business people about the real world gives another picture:
“China is haunted by the spectre of the ‘middle-income trap’, the notion that emerging economies grow quickly out of poverty only to get stuck before they get rich…
“Despite its leaders’ fears, or perhaps because of them, China is now on the cusp of becoming a high-income country by this definition…
“China is still accumulating capital at a furious pace. It invested 43% of its GDP in the five years before the pandemic.. The high-income countries averaged only half that percentage. But China’s high investment rate is perhaps not as fruitless as is often assumed. Just as its investment remains high by the standards of rich countries, so does its GDP growth rate.”
Not fruitless at all, since it bears good fruit.
China after Mao allowed controlled capitalism. But has a much more authoritarian version of the Mixed Economy that won the Cold War for the West from 1945 to 1975.
In previous Newsnotes, I noted that the working capitalists would often ‘put their money where their mouth isn’t’. Including big corporate sponsors of the Olympic games. They’d not give a toss about Uighurs, even if the dishonest Western stories had been true.
The economic theology of the New Right says ‘public spending bad, private profit-seeking good’.
Under Tony Blair and the Clintons, the liberal-left learned to bleat the same message. Starmer is proud to have purged Labour of any other ideas.
But China is just one of many awkward realities that they keep bumping into.
Tolkien, Race, and an Amazon Blessing
The six extra films that expanded the original Star Wars saga are comfortably within lists of the 100 all-time most popular films. But got bitter hostility from a small number of dedicated fans.
Likewise Star Trek: Discovery, which revived the Star Trek franchise after the mismanaged and unpopular Star Trek: Enterprise.
Peter Jackson’s films of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are also in the 100-most-popular. A handful of fans protested. The vast majority were delighted, including me. I had criticisms, but was glad the work was done.
Now the Amazon media empire brings us Tolkien’s world as it might have been thousands of years earlier, when the Rings of Power were first made. Due in September, but with some striking images recently released.
As usual, there is a bitter protesting minority.
Some of this is typical fan protests from people fixed on one particular way to tell a story. ‘Unless it fits my dreams exactly, it is evil’.
But some is definitely racist.
Star Trek: Discovery got unusual hatred, and had two non-white women as the initial senior officers. Coincidence?
Both Star Trek and Star Wars once had racial and gender attitudes that you’d no longer find in the mainstream. But Uhuru as a black woman doing a serious job was pioneering in the early 1960s. And both have moved with the times. Star Wars also glamorises crime, but that’s standard everywhere.
Now the ‘Tolkien franchise’ is being brought into line. Standard for the US hegemony. It has to juggle anti-racists and racists, and media corporations value the racists far less. They have to sell globally, after all.
In Tolkien’s books and the Jackson films, every positive character belongs to what racists call the White Race. Or are a fantasy version of the same. The only visible non-white humans are enemies, though the film has them mostly dehumanised with masks or war-paint. But Jackson and his two female co-script-writers did expand female roles. Arwen rather than an elf-lord rescues Frodo. Tauriel the fighting ‘she-elf’ expands from a few mentions of a probably-male guard-captain in Tolkien’s book.
From his books and published letters, I’d rate Tolkien as a mild racist. Better than most in his generation.. He took a firm stand against anti-Semitism. He also sounded anti-imperialist at times: alien peoples were best left alone, not conquered with a wish to improve them. But his fantasy-world also had grades of inferior and superior among the visible humans, and among hobbits. Plus an acceptance that ‘race mixing’ happened and was often a good thing: but still out of line with modern views.
Amazon have invented a vast saga about the making of the One Ring destroyed by Frodo, and the fate of Aragorn’s racially-superior ancestors. Working from a few pages of appendices in Lord of the Rings. They’ve invented many new characters, and a few of these are black. Hence the racist outrage, which has been reported among fans and mostly condemned.
From a separate production company, we are promised high-quality animation: The War of the Rohirrim. It centres on Helm’s Deep, which has the big battle against Orcs in The Two Towers. Rohirrim are loosely based on Saxons and Goths. Their main enemy should be the vaguely-Celtic Dunlendings: anti-Celtic racism is almost extinct and not noticed by liberals. But I was surprised to see a photo-release suggesting they also fight the Haradrim, the elephant-riding black men of the south.
War elephants can be wonderful cinema, as with the battle in Gondor in Jackson’s The Return of the King. But since implicit racism is increasingly being stamped flat, I suspect we will find rival Haradrim, some allies. There is even a hazy basis in Tolkien for that:
“’Tis said that there were dealings of old between Gondor and the kingdoms of the Harad in the Far South; though there was never friendship.”
Elephants fighting elephants happened historically in India, and would be a grand spectacle.
No one has a right to be a menace to their neighbours.
The truck protestors in Canada have been that, twice over.
First by being part of the dangerous ‘spike’ caused by the Omicron version of Covid-19. It kills fewer of those it infects, but infects more. Deaths are about the same as previous waves.
Then they tried to intimidate a Canadian majority that had dared make rules they disliked.
They talk as if God had granted them Inherent Freedoms, so it was tyranny for an elected government to limit these.
Some of them believe just that.
The New Right has flourished for four decades, by making use of weaknesses in 1960s-radicalism. The idea of Freedom as an absolute that exists without reference to the views of other humans. They actually wanted more freedom for sex and rock-and-roll, both easily conceded. And for drugs, probably an error.
It was definitely an error when Extinction Rebellion got disruptive. Bad causes have found it much too easy to copy.
Monbiot – Terrified of Hopes of Rescue
Last Newsnotes included a section called Disgusted With Capitalism, Terrified of Socialism. Aimed at Tony Blair.
I was disappointed but not surprised when radical commentator George Monbiot said something similar:
“But even during the ‘glory years’ (1945 to 1975) the universal triumph capitalism promised was an illusion. The general rise of prosperity in rich nations was financed, in part, by poor ones.”
The ‘glory years’ were an economic optimum. China should be praised for making a big success of their own version of them.
Monbiot’s vision is for everyone to spontaneously do things his way. But has no sensible ideas for how to get there.
Likewise Sapiens A Graphic History, Volume 2: The Pillars of Civilization. Volume 1 is about human origins, built on an excellent regular book called Sapiens. In both, he’s had some gifted graphic artists illustrate his points. Volume 2 says a lot about past injustice, but does not credit socialism with doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’ in ending them.
For the past century, liberals have mostly obstructed. But liberals will never admit this.
Such people are part of the problem. They protest, but are bitterly against any fix that might actually succeed.
This followed on from Hard Left failure in the 1970s and 1980s. Unexpected ways forward existed: Incomes Policy and Workers Control. But the majority attitude was Don’t Take Yes For An Answer. Unless it fits my dreams exactly, it is evil.
Warmer Seas Mean Worse Weather
As I write, Britain and Ireland are battered by a series of storms. Even if, like me, you’ve not yet been personally hurt, you will have seen details.
Much less in the British news are a run of unusual hurricanes (cyclones) in Southern Africa.
These follow an African drought from 2018–2021. Parts of the USA may be entering a long period of extreme drought. But the USA’s East Coast just got exceptional snow.
It is Climate Change. Climate Chaos. Unpredictable, and mostly bad.
And After Covid-19?
“Preventing future pandemics at source would cost a small fraction of the damage already caused by viruses that jump from wildlife to people, according to scientists.
“Each year on average more than 3 million people die from zoonotic diseases, those that spill over from wildlife into humans, new analysis has calculated. Stopping the destruction of nature, which brings humans and wildlife into greater contact and results in spillover, would cost about $20bn a year, just 10% of the annual economic damage caused by zoonoses and 5% of the value of the lives lost.”
Old newsnotes at the magazine websites. I also write regular blogs – https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams
 Available from Athol Books, https://www.atholbooks.org/.
 https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/fintan-o-toole-putin-bad-and-nato-expansion-good-is-not-a-binary-we-have-to-accept-1.4804229 (pay site)
 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-03-20/four-uncomfortable-truths-about-ukraine (pay site)
 https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2022/02/05/china-may-soon-become-a-high-income-country (pay site)
 https://www.ft.com/content/debaebfe-672d-4b49-a3fc-a0e85e9718f6 (pay site)
 The Two Towers: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit