The rise of global political parties?

I see that Brazil’s President Bolsonoro has been having a go at what Joe Biden said in the US Presidential debate, about Brazil and its rain forests and what he, Joe Biden, was going to do about them.

I am antique enough to remember when only Bolsheviks would plunge into what were then called “the internal affairs” of foreign countries. I suppose the EU was a big old exception to that rule, but that was only in a rather abstract and windy sort of way. Trouble is, modern communications, and I don’t just mean the internet although that is certainly part of this story, make such self-control ever more impossible. Thanks to the electric telegraph, and now its big bully of an offspring, the internet, it is the work of a moment to become acquainted with an argument in a far away country, and now, no matter who you are, you can join in. So, the idea that nobody should is doomed. Gonna happen. Just pick up a phone and start mouthing off to some foreign journo, and if you’re anyone at all big in the cheese department, they print it, or something related to it. Or, just say something about a foreign country shindig in one of your public performances, and those foreigners will maybe pick up on it anyway. Now, just sit down at your keyboard and bang away.

Communists, as I say, have been doing this ever since they got started in the middle of the century before last, during the first few years after the electric telegraph got started (Samuel Morse – 1844). Said the communists, contemplating this latest technological wonder: Workers (which was almost everyone in those days) of the World Unite! And from them on, whether in office or merely trying to be powerful, in public, in private and in the strictest secrecy, they interfered as much as they could in the internal affairs of other countries and they gloried in it. I mean, that was the whole idea.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, however, the world did not abandon nationalism. Quite the reverse. As it turned out, the most important customers of those international electric telegraphs were newspapers, who were printing strictly national versions of world events to suit their strictly national readerships, and businessmen, who didn’t much care and who just want to get rich.

So, towards the end of the twentieth century, most politicians were still going through the motions of not being too public in their disagreements or (perhaps more interestingly) their agreements with politicians in faraway countries. Who the people of The Republic of Elsewhere choose as their leaders is a matter for them, and we will work amicably with whoever they choose, for the greater good of mankind. Blah blah. In private it got more heated, but in public that was the etiquette to be followed, and it mostly was.

Maybe it’s only my personal proximity speaking now, but I’d say that the Reagan Thatcher moment was when this hands-off-the-foreigners rule started being seriously put to one side. Those two made no secret of the fact that the warmth of their connection was not just based on him being President of the USA and her being PM of the UK, special relationship, blah blah. No, they downright agreed with each other, and by clear implication, wanted each other to win all their various elections, against other locals, with whom they clearly disagreed. It helped that all this happened within the Anglosphere.

More recently, I recall President Obama making it very clear who and what he wanted to win the British EU referendum. He was told my many of those who did not share his opinion not to interfere in our internal affairs, but given that he wanted to interfere, there was nothing and nobody to stop him.

Now even the Nationalists are at it, forming what is quite clearly a sort of global National International. Trump and Trumpists everywhere (think Nigel Farage) are starting to show up on the same platforms and to be more than usually friendly towards each other. Trump fights for his corner, which is the USA. And he expects other political leaders to do the same for their countries and to be equally upfront about that. And he wishes them well in their elections, against other politicians who have different tastes in such matters.

Trump has also been sceptical about climate change, as has Bolsonaro, which is all part of why, thanks to all those electric telegraphs, the American Left now hates Bolsonaro with a passion and can spend its entire day hating him, should it be inclined. So, Biden having a go at Brazil is popular with a lot of the people whom he wants to be voting for him. And Bolsonaro makes a similar calculation and hits back at Biden.

There’s lots more I could say about all this, as I often like to say when I am about to stop, but one thing worth emphasising is that the old arrangement – keeping one’s hands off of the other fellow’s back yard and him doing the same – was an unstable equilibrium. It worked if everyone did that, near enough. But once any big time politician breaks from this cosy arrangement, the pressure on the others to follow suit is irresistible.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about the Falklands War

As earlier noted, Patrick Crozier and I recently recorded a conversation about the Falklands War, involving both what we each remembered about it from when we lived through it (early in 1982), and what we have learned about it since, which was not a lot in my case but a bit.

It was a strange conversation, because we basically talked only about what happened and what we remembered, and almost nothing about what the war “proved” or “demonstrated”, about life generally or about the libertarianism that we are both supporters of in other contexts. The questions we began with were: What was it? What happened? How did events unfold? And that’s what we talked about. There were a few ruminations about the difference between a country which had fought several recent wars and another country which had not, and what that meant in terms of the differences between the people fighting each other. That difference being a major reason why Britain won. But even that was strictly to try to explain events, rather than to get all grand and philosophical and what it all meant.

What Patrick felt and what I felt at the time, about the rights and wrongs of it, were rather different. He was gung-ho and very clear. The Argies stole the islands and we should get them back, and do whatever that took. I was rather baffled and wanted Britain to win more because losing would be so terrible. Not least politically. Because, as we speculated, it would have been hard for Thatcher to have survived as PM if there had been a British military and naval catastrophe down there in the South Atlantic. (The South Atlantic being where, as so many Brits of my sort were rather unsure about at the time, the Falkland Islands are to be found.) There nearly was a catastrophe. Luck played a scarily big part, far bigger than we were told at the time.

Well, if you want to hear what we said about this strange war, and are not expecting any bigger lessons beyond a small and rather meandering history lesson, here is where to go.

The voice of the Falklands War

This afternoon, Patrick Crozier and I recorded another of our podcasts. In due course, assuming the machine recording us didn’t misbehave, it should be showing up here. (LATER: here.)

Towards the end, during the “anything else we want to say” bit, we reminded ourselves of this amazing character:

For many Brits, Ian McDonald is the sight and the sound which will most vividly take us back to that bizarre time. Would the internet have anything to say about this unique bit-part player in recent British military history? Somewhat sadly, yes it did, in the form of obituaries. Ian McDonald died, in March 2019, one day before what would have been his 83rd birthday.

In the above video, which I found here, the news of the sinking of HMS Sheffield was imparted to Britain’s television viewers in the ponderous and funereal style that McDonald adopted no matter what news he was conveying.

As McDonald said later, this eccentric manner of speaking was deliberate:

“I knew right from the start there would be bad news as well as good news, which is why the delivery I chose was drained of all emotion with no adjectives, short and truthful. …”

Maybe short on paper, but it took an age for him to read it out. Nevertheless, it made a refreshing change from the bombastic and excitable style often adopted by other official spokesmen doing this sort of job, eager to talk up triumphs, but either saying nothing or telling lies about the inevitable setbacks. At the time, most of us trusted that McDonald was, as he said, telling the truth, even if not the whole truth.

Mother Nature’s a bitch

Here is one of the Highly Commended (Plants and Fungi) photos in this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, photoed by Real Photographer Frank Deschandol:

On a night-time fieldtrip in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, Frank spotted this bizarre-looking weevil clinging to a fern stem. Its glazed eyes showed it was dead, and the three antennae-like projections growing out of its thorax were the ripe fruiting bodies of a ‘zombie’ fungus.

Spreading inside the weevil while it was alive, the parasitic fungus had taken control of its muscles and compelled it to climb. Fuelled by the weevil’s insides, the fungus then started to grow fruiting bodies topped by capsules that would release a multitude of tiny spores to infect new prey. Similar fungi are known to parasitize other insects.

Gruesome.

I made this photo 1000 pixels across, as is my wont. This made the up-and-down pixel count … 666. Very appropriate.

Droneverts

Incoming from Michael Jennings: One for you.

It certainly is. Apparently, in Mexico, Uber is using drones to advertise itself, by having them hover, with signs, over traffic jams:

Drones to carry adverts, or signs. But of course. The possibilities are endless, and the probability is: lots of complaining, drone destruction, car crashes blamed on drones carrying adverts or signs, etc.

Imagine it. You are going at a speed considered too fast by the Big Computer in the Sky, so it sends a drone out to fly out in front of you, telling you to slow down or be fined. Or more probably, just telling you that you have already have been fined. Ah, modern life. Science fiction just never sees it coming.

By the way, what is that sign saying?

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog