Thursday, August 12, 2021

Political Comedy & Satire: Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister

Thirty-five years ago on January 9th 1986 Michael Heseltine, British Defence Secretary, gathered his papers at a meeting of the Cabinet and stormed out of 10 Downing Street. He and Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister, had disagreed on the procurement of military helicopters.

The ministerial resignation dominated the BBC's Nine O'Clock News that evening while on BBC 2 at the same time the new fictional PM, Jim Hacker MP, was being briefed at the Ministry of  Defence on the nuclear deterrent and a possible response to a Russian attack. He is told he would only have 12 hours to decide whether or not to push the nuclear button. Back in Downing Street the Chief Scientific Adviser quizzes the befuddled Hacker on when he would launch nuclear missiles (see The Grand Design below).

There were also early echoes of Brexit, 30 years before the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union (EU). In 1983 Labour's election manifesto 'New Hope for Britain' had a commitment on leaving what was then known as the European Economic Community (EEC), 8 years after Britain's first ever national referendum, on membership ─ Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman (1930-2017) called the left-oriented manifesto "the longest suicide note in history."

Yes Minister was broadcast in 1980-1984 and a one hour Christmas special in December 1985 revealed the victory of the surprise compromise candidate as Prime Minister, following his campaign among party members to save the British sausage. "I believe in the European ideal... but this does not mean that we have to bow the knee to every directive from every little bureaucratic Bonaparte in Brussels... They've turned our pints into litres and our yards into metres; we gave up the tanner and the threepenny bit, the two bob piece and the half crown. But they cannot and will not destroy the British sausage." 

Saturday, August 07, 2021

8.4% of world population live in a full democracy including Ireland

Among the world's top 10 most populous countries India and the United States in the past stood out as free democracies. Neither is today. While both Narendra Modi and Donald Trump know that racism can be a potent tool, the process of moving to authoritarianism was in place before they won national power.

China (1) and India (2) account for 36% of the global population. They are followed by the US (3); Indonesia (4); Pakistan (5); Brazil (6); Nigeria (7); Bangladesh (8); Russia (9) and Mexico (10).

Accounting for 58% of the global population of 7.79bn in 2020, none of the countries is a full democracy.

Western Europe is the crucible of global democracy but the long peace between European powers since 1945 and the relative peace of the Pax Romana (Latin for Roman Peace) of 27 BCE-180 CE (common era) bookends a history of carnage (Caesar Augustus, also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor and he reigned from 27 BCE until his death in CE 14. He did engage in wars.)

War has been a hallmark of humanity in history compared with peace and for 157 years a set of statistics has grabbed the attention of military leaders, US politicians, and academics who do not check sources and many book authors: In 3,400 years only 268 have been peaceful.

The 1932 book 'Inevitable War' has 3,421 years during which about 8,000 peace treaties were concluded, and in which time there were only 268 years of peace or 8%. The historians, Will Durant and his partner Ariel, have a line in 'Living History'(1968) that “In the last 3,421 years of recorded history, only 268 have seen no war,” without attribution. Barry O’Neill of the University of California, Los Angeles, in a 2014 paper noted "In 1996 Donald Kagan, a classicist at Yale, testified before the House Committee on National Security. Those hoping for permanent peace have forgotten that war is ingrained in civilization," he argued. Kagan had given the 268-years -of-peace count in his 1995 book, "On the Origins of War," quoting Durant's 1968 book.

Chris Hedges in The New York Times in 2003 uses the more common 3,400 statistic.

A 1931 French essay cited the statistics adjusted to 1925 from original fraudulent data. The "magical figures" date to 1864 when an obscure French philosopher, Fran├žois Odysse Barot, set out the data for 1496 BCE to 1861 in "Lettres Sur la Philosophie de L Histoire" with 3,357 years of war and 227 years of peace. He claimed to have counted 8,397 peace treaties which were later expanded but Barot had engaged in a hoax.

Since 1945 Western Europeans have lived through the longest period of peace between major powers in 2,000 years of recorded history.

There are fears that rivalry between the United States and a rising China could lead to war.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

On the origin of humans and evolution

Humans, chimpanzees and bonobos were descended from a single ancestor species that lived 6 to 7m years ago. Humans and their closest cousins share 98.8% of their DNA, according to the American Museum of Natural History. The same DNA can behave differently — we share about 96% of our DNA with gorillas.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in his 1871 book 'The Descent of Man,' speculated that it was “probable” that humans originated in Africa because our two closest living relatives — chimpanzees and gorillas — live there. However, he also acknowledged that a large extinct ape once lived in Europe millions of years ago, leaving time for our earliest ancestors to move to Africa. Darwin concluded, “it’s useless to speculate on the subject.”

We now know the location of the cradle of humanity and at least 21 human groups can be identified from 6 to 7m years ago to modern humans that have developed from about 300,000 years ago.

What we also know is that Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man”) is the species to which all modern human beings belong and that is among the genus Homo (man or human).

Homo sapiens is the only group that is not extinct.