Kathleen Jamie (2019) Surfacing.

‘Please, are you worker, or student?’ the girl asked in polite English with Chinese accent.

Kathleen Jamie, in an earlier incarnation, was asked that question. She was in eastern Amdo province, designated by China, ‘Autonomous Region of Tibet’, which means it was regarded as China. I’d heard of Amdo because of Peter Matthiessen’s classic, The Snow Leopard. I guess that makes me a student of literature. In the 1980s, when Tibetan villagers came shopping on yaks, or horseback, played Space Invaders, and perhaps visited the ancient Buddhist Labrang Monastery, Jamie was excavating herself. She knew she wanted to be a writer, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.

The work of a writer is to write. Jamie has managed to do that and make a living from writing, which is not the same thing. She begins her journey, outward and inward, in ‘The Rainbow Cave’ in the West Highlands, a bone cave where hundreds of reindeer antlers were excavated in the 1920s. No one is really sure how they got there.

Archaeology is about sifting mud and sifting theories. Jamie joins a number of digs. Dig is perhaps misleading. In the Alaskan village of Quinhagak, for example, the land thaws and freezes and thaws and freezes and everything much stays the same. Until the thaw comes earlier and the freezing later and with less snow and ice. And the past where the villagers’ ancestors lived and died, creeps up to the surface.

‘In Links of Noltland’ archaeological dig—which means sandy dunes of the land of the cattle—Jamie rents a room and joins the other fieldworkers in Orkney. The wind has obliterated much of an ancient dune system and the vegetation vanished. Another aspect of global warming, which has uncovered an extensive Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement (without much evidence of bronze). Historic Scotland provided funding for further excavation, but Historic Scotland was made history—defunct. The Phd educated students hear the clock ticking. The wind will bury their finds. The funding formula has been exposed.  

‘It appears that the first farmers had built a hefty enclosing wall and, within it, several discrete houses with various yards and passageways and “activity areas”. Or maybe not.’

It’s the maybe not, that gets you. I guess when we’re young and excavating a piece of ground, as I did, behind the huts, with Jim Henry helping me, it wouldn’t have surprised us had we found King Arthur’s crown. Well, it might have surprised us a bit, but then we’d probably have fought over who found it first and who owned it. Instead we found bits of molten glass from an ancient volcano. ‘Or maybe not’.

 Digging up fragments of bones and pottery is no fun. It’s work. Boring, back-breaking work and hard on the knees. If our ancestors weren’t dead by their early twenties, then they were ancient crones with arthritis and sore teeth. Or as a disillusioned George Orwell put it, after fighting in the Spanish Civil War, if they hadn’t died in battle, they’d have died of ‘some smelly disease’.

‘Or maybe not.’

Student or workers? Phd fieldworkers on digs being paid, indirectly, by the state?

They need to have some understanding what they’re looking for. And although it can seem like assembly-line work, it is and isn’t.

What were they like, these peoples being uncovered? They didn’t know they were living in Neolithic times. Just the same as we don’t really appreciate we’re living at a time of global warming and mass-species extinction. The Anthropocene Age.  They just got on with it, was a common refrain. We just got on with it too.

I’d have liked to know more about Jamie’s granny, the wife of a miner, who lost her way with depression and was taken away with a blanket over her head. Given shock therapy, which helped. ‘Or maybe not.’

Good writers create connections, resonance between past and present. Jamie does that. We might just get on with it, like our ancestors. But knowing their story helps us to know our story better. Worker or student?  Surfacing brings much of what it is to be human—to the surface.

The Australian Dream, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, writer Stan Grant, director Daniel Gordon.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000lpv7/the-australian-dream

I’d never heard of Adam Goodes. Let me put this into context he plays Australian Football League. A sport I don’t know the rules, or follow the game. The easy part is telling who Adam Goodes was, by making a comparison with David Beckham. He was the David Beckham of Aussie Rules Football. He almost single-handedly won his Sydney Swans club grand final after grand final and was voted the best of the batch of first picks divvied up between teams in 2003,  the most valuable player twice in 2005 and 2006. He was also voted Australian of the Year 2014. The documentary follows him from 2013 to 2015, when Goode declared, ‘I was done’ and retired from the sport – he once loved.  

He was also ‘a black bastard,’ ‘a nigger,’ ‘a coon’ and ‘an ape’. The latter remark came from a thirteen-year-old girl during an Aussie Rules match. Goode went back to where she was sitting, pointed her out and had her thrown out of the stadium by stewards.  Afterwards every touch he took of the ball was booed by opposition fans. He was told to toughen up, called a bully.

Goodes called out the inherent racism in Australian society. He called into question a society that celebrated Captain Cook’s arrival at Botany Bay over 300 years ago, to claim a county for Britain, with the semi-legal term, Terra Nullius, Latin for ‘empty land’. Aboriginal natives who had lived there for over 60 000 years and whose majesty was in their claim that they didn’t own the land, but the land owned them, were classified as part of the indigenous flora and fauna. Genocide took place as it did in the Americas.

Aboriginal people weren’t real people, because they weren’t white people. Fill in all the usual tropes about them not being able to take care of themselves. The white man’s burden to discipline and re-educate, then after genocide you have the eugenics programme which is still running. Adam Goodes father was a white man from Scotland, but his mother was aboriginal and taken away from her own mother and locked up to learn how to become assimilated as a proper Australian by living in a dormitory, re-educated, and trained to work as a domestic for white women. China is now doing something similar with around three million Uighurs in XianJiang re-education camps. But this is Australia land of the free and easy. Dream on.

Storyville: One Child Nation, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang.


https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000bh0j/storyville-one-child-nation

I’ve been pondering the difference between affect and effect. The former is a verb. The latter is a noun and verb. The etymology of affect suggests it has its roots in ‘a little like love’.

The effect of China’s implementation of a one-child policy for couples, men and women, in the early 1980s was nothing like love. It was a top-down, Communist Party, misogynistic policy, based on pseudo-economics, demographics and projections of population growth. This was best summed up by a midwife who conducted tens of thousands of abortions and admitted drowning babies in buckets because she had no other choice. We’d starve and resort to cannibalism, she argued. The Great Famine of 1959-1961 instigated by Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward was in living memory so this propaganda drive was an idea that gained consensus.

The reversal of a one-child policy, around six years ago, was also an economic decision. China’s one child policy had the desired effect. It was no longer the most populous nation on earth. Under President Xi Jinping the Great Leap Forward has reached its conclusion. China is where America was before the first world war, a rival power trying to establish hegemonic influence.

But a simple rule of thumb and way to boost a countries GDP is to have more children. The more children the greater GDP. India is an example of this effect. Children also offset another ratio, the proportion of working population measured against the non-working population. In leaping forward, China has come to mirror the West in that it has a growing aging population and less workers to pay for their retirement. China also faces an additional demographic burden in that there are many more men than women. In our country, as I imagine in China, around sixty percent of the lowest paid jobs are done by women. Women’s work is not well-paid. But the misogynistic assumption that we need more women to care for our elderly holds a universal appeal. China’s implementation of a two-child policy is based on simple economics, or so they’d have us believe. The propaganda machine that churned out memes about the virtues of having one child has volte-faced and advocates two or more children as the perfect number. We live in an Orwellian world in more ways than one.

Nanfu Wang, a Chinese American, with her chid in tow, goes back to her homeland to document the one-child policy. She notes the irony that in China and America (Christian fundamentalist rights challenge of Roe v Wade) neither nation allows women to control their own bodies.

Wang returns to the rural village where she was born during China’s one-child policy. Her name tells you something about the villager’s aspirations. It’s a boy’s name. The one-child policy was modified to allow for two children to be born in some rural areas, but only if a five year gap appeared between births. Village elders had some discretionary power.  For those that failed to follow this policy, village elders were instructed to knock the down the house of the pregnant woman and fine them. Here Wang interviews the village elder who was responsible for these actions at that time. Like many in the village, a repeating motif, was that he was doing what he was told. He was powerless. The village elder’s equally elderly wife was however not affected by the same inertia and fatalism. She warned Wang that her mother, who still lived in their village, would pay, if her husband experiences any difficulties.

Pregnant women who nevertheless continued with their pregnancy, one woman, for example, hid in the pigsty, were hunted down and strapped to a stretcher and taken to the midwife.

The midwife Wang interviewed told her she would perform an abortion every ten minutes. And she’d performed thousands of such procedures. Foetuses at eight and nine months were left to die. Those born and breathing, drowned in a bucket. Mothers routinely sterilised.  

A Chinese photographer showed Wang his study of the corpses of aborted foetuses and other neonates lying in the trash.

One consequence of the one-child policy, especially in rural villages was the abandonment of female babies after they’d been born. Wang interviewed her Auntie and Uncle who’d left their daughter in the marketplace hoping someone else would take her and bring her up. They admitted their daughter had been ate by mosquitoes and died. Nobody wanted a female child. The marketplace was a graveyard for other female babies left by their parents.

The market place became just that when opportunities later came to sell children to wealthy foreigners in the United States, Europe and Canada. One American couple admitted adopting three Chinese babies. The prices they paid ranged from $10 000 to $25 000 or more. Female babies were no longer left to die in the market place, but swept up, with the finders paid a fee by State run orphanages from $50 to $200 per baby.

In a warped sense, this could be considered win-win, but with not enough babies and demand from abroad booming the next step was kidnapping infants. Village elders would, for example, visit the poorest members of their community, issue them with a fine and take a daughter for payment, until it was paid. The child would be classified as an orphan. Police officers would sign a form agreeing that the child had been found outside the orphanage, abandoned and the child would be sold to the highest bidder. In many ways it mirrors the scandal of Chinese prisons selling prisoner’s kidney, but is even sicker.

The effect of China’s one-child policy worked too well. The affect is devastation of lives and an increase in corruption from top down to bottom up. One Child Nation is the story of a holocaust.

John Pilger, The Coming War with China.

coming war with china.jpg

http://www.itv.com/hub/the-coming-war-on-china/2a4249a0001

The title is deliberately provocative. Does John Pilger mean trade war between the number one and two trading blocks in the world? Because we know that is already happening. President-elect Donald J Trump in his campaign –among other accusations – accused China of raping America and stealing job and the American economy was ‘hurt very badly by China with devaluation.’ The United States and Canada are vital to the Chinese economy. The former dependent on the cheap money China provides to service its debts. Equally, America and the rest of the world are depended on the cheap imports that Chinese labours provide. Think Apple here. Australia’s economy is premised on exporting the raw materials necessary to keep the Chinese economy growing. Britain and America’s  metaphoric economy report cards, for example, are marked as successful if GDP growth has been reaching one-percent, or if it hits the dizzy heights of two-percent GDP growth. China, in contrast, recently hit growth rates exceeding ten-percent of GDP, but this has slowed in recent years to around five-percent and falling to levels associated with more mature economies.

It’s worth quoting Lijia Zhang, a Beijing journalist. Her best-selling book (although obviously not in America) is called Socialism Is Great! She was a child of the Cultural Revolution, when millions of Chinese died of hunger and has lived in the US and Europe. ‘Many Americans imagine that Chinese people live a miserable, repressed life with no freedom whatsoever. The [idea of] the yellow peril has never left them… They have no idea there are some 500 million people being lifted out of poverty, and some would say it’s 600 million.’

China stands now where America stood before the start of the First World War. The world’s axis is shifting East, not only to China, but to countries like India, which between them account for over half the population of the planet. It’s the end of empire for America. And like the British before them if it comes to deploying gunboats as the British did during the opium wars and the Boxer Rebellion, then Pilger notes the American’s are doing the same with over 400 naval bases world-wide, including one a few miles from me in Faslane, but most of them pointing East and costing trillions of dollars. The irony here James Bradley notes:  ‘Warren Delano, the grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was the American opium king of China; he was the biggest American opium dealer, second only to the British. Much of the east coast [establishment] of the United States – Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton – was born of drug money.’

America wants to be allowed to be more protectionists that China and China to be more free market than America. The irony here is the Hurun Reports conclusions there are more dollar billionaires in China than anywhere else in the world, including America. But as Eric Li concludes you can be a billionaire in China, but still not be able to buy the Chinese politburo. Pilger’s programme was made before the election of billionaire president Donald J Trump and whose senior positions have been filled so far with a number of billionaires, three Goldman Sachs bankers, and the chief executive of the largest oil company in the world, who has close ties with Russia. It makes George W Bush’s first cabinet of millionaires pauperish.    ‘I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,’ said President Barack Obama.  President-elect Trump has already made that exceptionalism clear with his appointment of retired marine general James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as defense secretary. Accused China of interfering with a missing US drone and angering China’s leaders by taking a call from Taiwan’s president – an island that China regards as its sovereign territory.

The difference now is it’s nuclear. Pilger takes us through the stages of and testing of America’s nuclear capability. The Bikini Atoll was repeatedly blown up with the cost estimated in millions of dollars a day. But the real cost was to the islanders used as human guniea pigs in experiments into radioactivity that would have shamed Dr Mengele because the latter only tortured subjects in front of him and not the children’s children of their children as US scientists repeatedly did and continue to do. Poor nations dependence on the US dollar was highlighted by a tale of rich and poor. The Ronald Reagan Ballistic  Missle Defense Site (of course it’s defense) on the Marshall Islands spends billions of tax dollars and year, and millions of dollars a day. The island nearest this paradise ( a swimming pool away) cannot afford to fix the town’s only bus. But perhaps the most chilling moment in Pilger’s documentary was when a former soldier admitted that during the Cuban Missile Crisis a rogue officer ordered those under his command to fire the missiles, and opening the silo doors, which would have wiped out China and the world. For twenty seconds in 1961 the world stood on Armageddon, before the order to stand down was made and the officer quietly escorted away to La-La land.

Pilger does not touch on American’s forgotten war, the Korean war, when Chinese forces near Yalu in early 1950s caught General Douglas MacArthur and his soldiers by surprise (see David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter. America and the Korean War).  America was sick of war, as was the world. The answer was to go nuclear. But even then scientist recognised that would mean the end of the world. The Coldest Winter is, of course, nuclear winter.  Now with ‘smaller’ nuclear weapons and hawks in the cabinet, every war looks winnable, but only by striking first. We’ve given Dr Strangelove Trump the codes to our planet’s future.

Here it’s worth quoting an exchange with Pilger and Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of US naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons. Remember this is pre-Trump and pre the term ‘posttruth’ gaining entry to the Oxford English dictionary: “Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough… I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.”

 

I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous.”

 

“That is an understatement,” he replied.

Apple – the number 1 hit.

apple

Apple’s quarterly returns $18 billion (around £12 billion) in three months from October to December 2014, selling 34 000 iPhones an hour, is pretty impressive especially when factoring in I don’t even have one. Nor do I have an iPad, AppleMac or neither will I purchase the much hyped Apple watch. So what took Apple to the top of the tree without me?

Quite simply they make beautiful toys, but that is not enough. They market them as the must-have gadget. And they blur the distinction between work and leisure. iPhones are not phones they are sophisticated computers with a growing number of appliance all of which can be bought and sold via Apple stores online or in an increasing number of towns.

With almost half the world’s population having access to a mobile phone it makes sense to target the place with more than half of the world’s population. iPhone sales to China – up 70% on last year. Apple plan to double the number of stores.

China also makes Apple what it is. It manufactures these toys, puts them in containers and ships them around the world. The typical factory worker is male, aged 27, a migrant from the provinces. He makes around £180 a month and works around 56 to 61 hours a week, but perhaps longer, when required. I like that idea of when required. It always makes things so reasonable. When required means when we tell you. In the same way 15-minute breaks every two hours sounds good when factory inspectors visit, or the working week is fourteen days on and one day off. The worker can return to rest in the luxury of hostel accommodation – money automatically taken from his wages. The strain does drive some workers to suicide, but that does not appear in balance sheets.

Apple employs a massive 170 000 workers in these plants. These are the hands that assemble and test and polish and seal and send you your toys. The brains, of course, is a different matter. To sell the next generation watches Apple have recruited Angela Ahrendets from Burberry as head of retail on a $73 million pay package.  Let’s make some simplifying assumptions. Multiply $73 million by around 1.6 to convert dollars to sterling. Divide that sum by 365 to determine what she makes in one day. Divide that by the pay of the average migrant worker in a year (£130 x 52). This will give you some idea of the order of magnitude and difference between head and hands.

Apple also employ around 4000 people in the Republic of Ireland. Like Communist China the Irish government is quite happy to subsidise building costs in return for much needed jobs. Steve Jobs greatest innovation arguably might have been technological, but Apple’s continued success rests on the double Irish. Quite simply when other US companies were paying corporation tax of around 26%, Apple as a Cork registered company was paying less than 2%. The European commission found the tax deal that ran 1991 to 2007 to be (illegal) state aid. More recently Apple paid 3.7% in tax of non-US profits of $31 billion in 2013. Apple is a global player.

Apples 2014 revenues of $200 billion and a cash pile build-up of $178 billion ($23 billion in the last quarter) banked overseas gives it high liquidity and more money that it knows what to do with. A standard ploy is to buy back shares and increase the dividend to their shareholders. But they found it cheaper to borrow money to do that than dip into their surplus. Their main competitors Google, whose revenue derives from the most lucrative algorithm in history, use many of the same methods. Somehow I don’t feel any richer for knowing that.  The old certainties of what was good for corporate America was good for the world are unravelling. We’re all second-class citizens in the same world, but the many hands are increasing.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole