“Your abhorrent actions in China are a disgrace. I simply don’t understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.” Tom Lantos of the US House International Relations subcommittee was pulling no punches when upbraiding representatives of Yahoo, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Google for their supine acquiescence to the Chinese government’s insistence on strict censorship in their search engines. He further told them that they had accumulated great wealth and power, “but apparently very little social responsibility” (BBC Online, Feb 15). Google recently agreed to block politically ‘sensitive’ sites and even words, including the word ‘democracy’, while Yahoo has recently been accused by the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders of handing over information to the Chinese authorities that resulted in an 8 year prison sentence for the writer Li Zhi in 2003 and a 10 year stretch for another writer, Shi Tao, in April 2005.
But with an internet population of 111 million, the largest outside the US, China is hard to resist, and service providers who resist its charismatic charms, or who debate political ethics, are likely to end up in history as footnotes. This is globalisation, after all, and arguably it’s not all as bad as it sounds. Accusations that these companies are assisting China to suppress rebellion in return for market share is not entirely fair, since the world saw graphically how well China was able to suppress open rebellion entirely by its own efforts. Chinese capitalism is moving towards liberalisation because liberal capitalism is cheaper and easier to run than state repressive capitalism, and the entry of western IT into China is the thin end of the liberal wedge, bound even though it presently is by guards and restrictions. And unlike Yahoo, Google shows on its search results page which sites have been blocked, so that users in China do at least know that they are being censored. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we knew what information was being denied to us in the West?
Hold the front page! Sex is good for you, says study! Acute stress is relieved by sex, according to new research from the University of Paisley, UK (New Scientist, Jan 28). If this sounds like one of those studies scientists frequently conduct simply to prove the galloping obvious, here’s the twist – it has to be penetrative vaginal sex, because other forms including masturbation don’t work as well, and abstinence doesn’t work at all. Of those studied when put in a high stress situation, those who had had exclusively penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) recovered fastest, followed by those who had had non-coital sex or simply masturbated. Abstainers had the highest blood pressure and took longest to recover. The researcher, Stuart Brody, speculated that the result might be caused by a ‘pair-bonding’ hormone called oxytocin, released during penetrative sex.
What the study doesn’t show, of course, is the states of mind of those involved. It seems logical to Pathfinders at least that those having PVI are also most likely to be those enjoying another, more unquantifiable, phenomenon: love. So could it be love that takes the stress away, rather than the sex?
At any event, capitalism has done the same antisocial thing to sex that it has done to food, clothes, shelter, and all those other little needs of ours – it has commodified it, which means in practice that a very large proportion of the population have no access to it. It will be very interesting, once the brutal and human-hating engine of capitalist market culture has been switched off, to rerun these studies. Pathfinders suspects that there will be a lot more sex, and a lot less stress, all round.
Further to our enquiry (Socialist Standard, Feb 2006) concerning the dubious benefit of living longer in capitalism, apparently we can already look forward to the even more dubious appeal of 75 year mortgages and a retirement age of 85 (BBC Online, Feb 17).
Shripad Tuljapurkar, a biologist from Stanford University, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in St Louis that anti-ageing advances could raise life expectancy by a year each year over the next two decades. This was, he thought, going to put a strain on social security and medical care, unless the retirement age was raised. Translated, what this means is that the capitalist class is damned if it’s going to pay for workers to have a long holiday from hard labour when they could be nose to the grindstone for another twenty years, or until they drop dead.
The biologist did add that the trend towards longevity would create a “permanent underclass” in poor countries that didn’t have the same resources. Sadly, this underclass already exists, and living to the age of 45 would be an achievement for many members of it.
‘Fiasco’ in Chad.
Imagine giving a mugger your wallet on condition that he only used the money to look after homeless kittens. This is pretty much what the World Bank did when, in collaboration with Exxon Mobil, it invested $4.2 bn to develop oilfields in southern Chad and then build a pipeline to pump all this lovely oil through neighbouring Cameroon to the coast.
Now as everyone knows, Chad is a corrupt dictatorship with no record of respecting human rights or giving two hoots about
its own poverty-stricken population, but the government was surprisingly keen to agree to use the profits from all this oil development to invest in social healthcare programmes, a condition the pious World Bank insisted on. Now that the work has been done and the pipeline in place, the Chad government has – shock, horror! – reneged on the deal and used the first profits for what it euphemistically calls ‘internal security’, ie. suppress poverty-inspired revolts and also, probably, start another war with Sudan (New Scientist, Feb 11).
Pathfinders would like to offer its services to the World Bank as consultant (at appropriate fees) the next time it plans to make a deal with a despotic bunch of crooks. Predicting this cock-up would have been easy money. But the suspicion is that the World Bank is not really as naïve as it looks, and that in among the hand-wringing a satisfactory deal has been done. Exxon Mobil, for one, must be crying all the way to the bank.