Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

A Terrible Year for Weather

2023 a Wonderful Year for China?

Shame in the USA

Oscar Wilde and the Dalai Lama


A Rocket That Went Nowhere?

Was Your Empire Really Necessary?

Artificial Intelligence – Pathological Liars

Healthy Drinking?

A Terrible Year for Weather

We’re not heading for Human Extinction.

We are heading for hundreds of millions of extra migrants.  Refugees from drought or flood, or from lethal switches between the two.  And soon likely to be fleeing lands where the worst heatwaves can no longer be survived.  We’d either let them in or watch them die.

2022 was the worst for weather since records began.  But 2023 may be worse again.  

The planet just had its second-warmest March on record.[1]  Now India, China, Thailand, and Laos see temperature records broken.[2]  And the world’s ocean surface temperature hit a record high, meaning worse storms to come.[3]  

Probably the warmest year since we invented agriculture.  

Our past included many human disasters.  A book called Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century argues that a third of the global population died during many years of cold and crop failure.  That this was a wobble in climate before Global Warning really got a grip.  And also suggests that governments got stronger, because traditional methods had not coped.

Comparable deaths in the two World Wars needed rival imperial powers whose leaders would sacrifice millions to their plans.  Not just Hitler: Churchill allowed three million to die in the Bengal Famine of 1943.[4]  Both he and Roosevelt ignored the sensible notion of saving some Jewish lives by bombing the railway lines leading to Auschwitz.  Most Jews in Auschwitz were not really wanted anywhere else, shut out when they had earlier sought safe refuge.  

For both the USA and the British Empire, the first priority was emerging strong after the war.

In our own era, power-political rivalries get in the way of slowing the already-dangerous trend to wild weather and greenhouse gases.  China makes the best solar panels and wind power units: but China is disobedient.  Shut them out.

Or rather, do this except where influential business people find China useful.  Tesla just made a huge investment in a Shanghai battery factory.[5]  Not an isolated case.

Nor are the idealists much better.  The Green Movement keeps a belief in Structurelessness.  An hysteric fear of government, rather than a wish to have governments do the right things.[6]  

German Greens have also been shamefully enthusiastic about seeking to humiliate Russia in the Ukraine War. Indifferent to the likely fate of pro-Russian or pro-Soviet people who were put under Kiev’s rule when Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev invented a Soviet Ukraine from a mixed population.

Ending German nuclear power is their big success.  Not rethinking when it turned out that greenhouse gases were a much worse risk.  

Everything has risks, including bicycles.  Or people falling off roofs when fixing solar panels.

Meantime China is far ahead of the rest of the world in the development of batteries using sodium.  These now compete with lithium power cells.[7]

2023 a Wonderful Year for China?

China brokered a peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  This surprised most people.

I had not expected that specific event.  But it fitted the way I see the world as moving.  And I’d noticed that the combined wealth of China and the rest of BRICS had overtaken the G7.[8]  Both Iran and Saudi Arabia might eventually join it.

The USA wasted the gigantic power it had when the Soviet Union collapsed.  I’d commented that Bush Senior was handed the world on a plate, and he knocked the plate over.  But later Presidents were even less wise.  He did at least avoid smashing the existing state in Iraq.

Most Westerners missed a basic truth about Iraq – if you wanted that society to develop in line with Western values, Saddam Hussein was much the best person to oversee this.  He was seen as useful in 1987, when the Soviets were strong, and Iran the worst Islamist menace.  They saved him from his aggressive war against Iran.[9]  But when the Soviet Union crippled itself by abandoning Eastern Europe for a few false promises, America’s elite decided to destroy its more awkward allies.

The USA helped topple Ceausescu in Romania.  Mobutu in Zaire / Congo.  Nudged out Suharto in Indonesia.  Probably enabled the wave of scandals that destroyed Italy’s Christian Democrats.  But neglected the simple truth that authoritarian or corrupt governments exist where the society hasn’t the proper ingrained culture to allow something better.

Meantime Climate Change was neglected in three decades of unusual US power.  Their citizens produce far more greenhouse gases per head than India or China.  So do Europeans, though not as much.  But India and China have also taken on a lot of the polluting industries, and have fast-growing economies.  They do have the largest increases.  So the USA wants to dump much of the cost onto them.

The USA and its European fans don’t say that these countries should remain inferior to the USA.  But if you see this as their real belief, then many things make sense.

Including the Global South working more closely with China.  They too feel that they were treated as inferiors when the USA had no strong rival.

The Ukraine War has united the European Union with the USA, with Japan and Israel tagging along.  But it has also united the Global South against them.  They are happy to see China overtake the USA.   And do not feel threatened: China is a huge country with an ancient civilisation that confuses most outsiders.  Its citizens are still only middling in income per head.  64th out of 192, and just ahead of the global average.[10]

They will not prevent Russia from securing Democratic Secession for Russian-orientated parts of Ukraine.  They follow the United Nations norm of treating Democratic Secession as always illegal and wicked, rather than virtuous for Kosovo and wicked for Crimea.  But mostly accepting it when it happens.

They prefer to see the close partnership of China and Russia undermine the US hegemony.  India and Saudi Arabia are among many who should worry that in time, the USA may try to end their own cultural distinctiveness.

China would be foolish to try to be a new hegemony, and unlikely to seek it.  Their culture is unfamiliar: their script baffling for most of the rest of the world.  If Mao’s ideas are making a limited come-back, one of his principles was that China should never seek hegemony.  This at a time when few outsiders would have thought it would ever be an option: but Mao understood the broad sweep of history.  He expected China to return to something like its normal role.  A power with no wish to go beyond what it sees as its proper borders.

Mao did try to continue Lenin’s notion of World Revolution, replacing Moscow.  The last serious new offshoots of Leninism were Maoist.  But they mostly failed, and are just one leading party in Nepal.  Mao postponed the idea in his last years, and Deng quietly dropped it.

But for China gaining equality with the USA, so far 2023 has been a wonderful year.

In our British tradition, the ‘Wonderful Year’ was 1759.   Not wonderful for the French, obviously.  Maybe worse for the populations they were rivals over.  But the Seven Years War ended with the British Empire holding the best bits of North America, and dominating foreign trade for the Indian Subcontinent.  

It was an irregular Empire: a mix of hegemony, indirect rule, and direct rule.  But it was seen as essential by the ruling class, and by many ordinary people.  An outlet for racist settlement, with small regard for the original populations.

Empires and hegemonies don’t rise or fall in a single year.  But Britain’s discarding of its global Empire was speeded by the loss of Singapore in 1942 to a much smaller Japanese army.  An Empire that many Britons no longer valued.

Had Britain given up its Imperial dreams much earlier, as Sweden did,[11] ordinary Britons would probably have done better.  North America would speak a mix of Spanish and French.  French would be the chosen global language for India, and many other places.  Mais serait-ce mauvais?[12]

Shame in the USA

Most US citizens have been sold a vision of themselves as Heroic Individualists.  People not needing a big state machine to have a free and decent life.

So we have poverty as their 4th leading cause of death.[13]

More spent per head on health than in most rich countries, but much worse average health.[14]

US citizens shooting people who harmlessly intrude on their Sacred Personal Space.[15]  Who react because they are terrified of intruders with guns.  But will not limit gun ownership.

In Europe, politicians say that everything that went wrong during a period of exceptional US power needs even more US power to set it right:

“Democracy and liberty and the things that we believe are in retreat in large parts of the world, and if it wasn’t for American leadership and if it wasn’t for America and Europe working together, I don’t know what kind of world we would live in,” [Irish Prime Minister] Leo Varadkar told Biden.”[16]

Just now, their pompous courts dither over an obviously dishonest attempt to ban a long-approved abortion-causing pill even where abortion is legal.

As absurd as the notorious Dred Scott ruling, which sparked their Civil War.  Which said blacks were not US citizens, and US law did not protect them.  And threatened to spread slavery into new western lands, if blacks were legally property rather than people.

Many US states had regional laws saying just that.  Many rejected slavery, but wished to be All White.[17]  African Americans were not even allowed to fight for the North, until the supply of white males ran out.  But the US Constitution never mentioned race, though it did repeatedly define politics as an all-male business.

A Constitutional Amendment enshrining racism and segregation would not have been difficult in the USA of the 1850s.  Voters were overwhelmingly white.  It happened easily enough with a series of Apartheid laws in South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s.  In the USA, amendments banning overt racism only happened in the 1860s, when pro-capitalist radicals briefly dominated Congress.  

In the 1850s, a racist amendment would have reassured ordinary white Southerners, more concerned with their status than the ownership of slaves.  And perhaps made it easier to stop slavery spreading westward into new lands: undermining the value of existing slaves by reducing the overall demand.

Racist constitutional amendments also might have happened when the US South recovered its influence.  But it must always have seemed easier to cheat when you control the judges.  The law-obsessed USA mostly goes for bad short-term fixes.  Liberals are surprised when those fail.

They chose to legalise abortion by dubious arguments from the constitution.  Elsewhere it was the elected representatives, and sometimes a referendum.

It took a century and more to sort the race issue, in as far as it has been sorted.  The Soviets were officially and loudly anti-racist, even if practice was sometimes imperfect.  The USA co-opted ambitious African-Americans, increasingly vital for the military and police.  And some in the judiciary.

One such is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.[18]  It may well be true that no specific ruling was ever changed because of all the free gifts he got.  But more broadly, he looked after the interests of the rich, and the rich looked after him.  That’s how a mature ruling class operates.

Oscar Wilde and the Dalai Lama

Two oddities: 

  1. The ‘saintly’ Dalai Lama suggests tongue-intimacy with a small child.  
  2. He does it in public.

Or maybe just one oddity – a man of 87 forgot where he was.

I thought of the fall of Oscar Wilde.  Asked if he had ever kissed a certain servant boy, Wilde responded, “Oh, dear no. He was a particularly plain boy.[19]  And when this was pounced on, he somehow could not tell a direct lie and deny he would kiss a handsome boy.  But for the original error, he forgot where he was.

A big difference is that we now accept adult homosexual unions.

But Wilde was a fool to go to law.  Accused of being a ‘posing sodomite’, he might have said:

“Dear Lord Q, you accuse me of some sin that the dictionary has no knowledge of.  But if the letter ‘d’ is an unnatural intrusion, I must reply that I prefer Gomorrah.”

Sodom and Gomorrah were biblical cities supposedly destroyed for wickedness, but actually by the bizarre chemistry of the Dead Sea.  The Bible mentions trickery and violence, but Christian tradition had identified Sodom with any sort of homosexual union.

The British public had found Wilde amusing.  There was no law against posing as if he might do forbidden acts.  But he should have avoided the courts, unless he planned to be a bare-faced liar.

As for Tibet, monks are supposed to be celibate.  They do eat meat, forbidden for most other Buddhist monks.  

Traditional Tibetan attitudes on sex were certainly lax.  Ordinary believers saw nothing wrong in polyandry; one woman with two or more husbands.  Unions not recognised in the West even where same-sex marriages are OK, oddly enough.

We get more from Heinrich Harrer, Hollywood’s favourite SS man.[20]  In Seven Years in Tibet, he mentions that monks having contact with women was viewed as more serious than them having sex with each other.  And mentions Khampas as gun-toting bandits – something he tried to explain away when they were later presented as heroic liberation fighters. 

He never mentioned anything under-age.  But elsewhere, I learned of a regular pattern of Dancing Boys, sexually exploited while under-age.[21]


A Rocket That Went Nowhere?

Had the world’s first SpaceX Starship reached orbit from its second launch bid, it would have been a staggering success.  Most radically new rockets have a run of failures and delays.

Embarrassing delays led to the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.  The solid-rocket boosters were not designed to take off when very cold.  But the pressure was to ‘get on with it’, rather than to put safety first.

SpaceX Starship was a different story.  The untested prototype lasted nearly three minutes.  It failed during the tricky separation of first and second stages – both stages intended to fly back and be used again. Making it virtually certain that the whole system will be safe enough for humans in a few years’ time.  

Good news, because without it there would be trouble returning to the moon.  

The grand scheme to include women and non-white US citizens depends on a lunar-orbital station that will be called Gateway.  It would be very hard to trim this grand schema, without risking the Chinese landing humans earlier with some less ambitious plan.

Many blame a liberal-dominated Congress for trimming pieces off designs for the Space Shuttle.  The poetic complaint ‘Whitey on the Moon’[22] had earlier made the dream seem shoddy.  But though the idea was to free money for the poor and needy, it actually went to the rich.  Incoherent complaints paved the way for the New Right argument that Tax-and-Spend was bad in itself.

Running down the moon program damaged the spirit of adventure that liberals and centrists almost always misunderstand.  Space was at worst a safe outlet.  Block that, and you get things you like much less.


Was Your Empire Really Necessary?

Europe’s elites gained enormous wealth and power by grabbing the New World, and then dominating the world’s oceans.  Eventually opening up Africa, and conquering most of the already-globalised states of Asia.

It made their lives worse, even where Europeans were just a ruling class and did not displace the bulk of the original population.  A scholarly paper called Capitalism and extreme poverty gives evidence:

“ This paper assesses claims that, prior to the 19th century, around 90% of the human population lived in extreme poverty… and that global human welfare only began to improve with the rise of capitalism…

“Significant improvements in human welfare began several centuries after the rise of capitalism. In the core regions of Northwest Europe, progress began in the 1880s, while in the periphery and semi-periphery it began in the mid-20th century, a period characterized by the rise of anti-colonial and socialist political movements that redistributed incomes and established public provisioning systems.[23]

Including China under Mao: something I already knew.[24][25]

Much will be disputed, of course.  But people who grow up badly fed will be below average height.  And actual declines in average height in the world beyond Europe are hard to explain away.

But did most Europeans gain?  Probably not.

Ireland lost at least half its population in the 1840s.  Its Catholic tenant farmers were not allowed to eat the wheat they’d grown for export.[26] [27] And Engels in the 1840s gave details of the downfallen state of British workers – something that never happened in Germany.


Artificial Intelligence – Pathological Liars

The question-and-answer site Quora now includes its own Chatbot.[28]  Some of its answers are excellent.  Others give away its lack of real understanding:

“Yes, the entire Star Wars series takes place in a single galaxy called the Star Wars galaxy. This galaxy is also known as the Galaxy Far, Far Away.”

The films always speak of a far-off galaxy, and long ago.

But you might well believe its answer on a famous Chinese short story:

“The story ends with Ah Q being beaten by a group of bullies for trying to steal a watermelon. The last line of the story states, ‘Ah Q, still on the ground, began to laugh.’”

None of which is true.

Asked about the relationship between Britain and Ireland, it ignored Northern Ireland.  Irish programmers?

To sound coherent and human, these novel systems seem to copy irresponsible humans who are pathological liars.  Not lying for a coherent end, but making up whatever sounds good.


Healthy Drinking?

“For decades, scientific studies suggested moderate drinking was better for most people’s health than not drinking at all, and could even help them live longer.

“Many of those studies were flawed … the opposite is true…

“People who abstain completely from alcohol are a minority, and those who aren’t teetotallers for religious reasons are more likely to have chronic health problems, to have a disability or to be from lower income backgrounds.”[29]

There are also big differences between cultures.  Many encourage moderate drinking and have few problems.  The USA has strong feelings, because many things drive people to extremes.


Old newsnotes at the magazine websites.  I also write regular blogs –





[5] – pay site.


[7] – pay site.





[12] “But would that be bad?”  Google translation.



[15] – pay site.

[16] – pay site.







[23] – downloadable PDFs.

[24] Ibid, pages 13 and 14.





[29] – pay site.

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