28 December 2008

Exit Pinter, Enter Cretins

Two "liberal" journalists, who both seem to be, implicitly and explicitly (not to mention lazily), very angry at the late Harold Pinter because he didn't support the wars they like.

07 December 2008


Interesting and dispassionate article on the history of the Mugabe regime.

I've always maintained the fuss over the guy wouldn't have been nearly so big if white people hadn't lost their property.

06 December 2008

Question for Astrophysicists

I have no formal qualifications in physics past Double Science GCSE. I also have a copy of wikipedia and a theory to explain the weakness of gravity. If this should ever be found by a bored, good-natured scientist, or someone who knows one, could you explain to me why it’s probably wrong?

Basically, I’m not convinced that gravity is weak. I think that the matter we can see and are made of is actually just really light. Some bloke called Frank Wilczek seems to have had a similar idea, but while actually having done some science at big school:
the question is not, "Why is gravity so feeble?" but rather, "Why is the proton's mass so small?"[...]It is true that the electrostatic repulsive force between two protons (alone in free space) greatly exceeds the gravitational attractive force between the same two protons, and that is because the charge on the protons are approximately a natural unit of charge but the mass of the protons are far, far less than the natural unit of mass.

I think there is a fairly simple reason why this might be true. I reckon the matter we know about is at the low end of the mass scale, the rest is made up of other particles that we’ve never seen. If we divide all the matter in the universe into (say) very heavy, quite heavy, medium, quite light and very light. Being less attracted to each other, the lighter particles would have been scattered further by the big bang, and would have found their way back together more slowly. The very heavy, heavy, medium and light particles could be clumped together out of sight, leaving us with the very light. Maybe that’s what the dark flow thing I read about in xkcd is.

Maybe the heavier (than very light) particles are not all together. Maybe some of them are still floating around the visible universe and making up a lot of the dark matter. This would fit the description of dark matter, because they would have a strong gravitational effect but could be undetectable due to size, emitting less electromagnetic radiation and so on. Unless it doesn’t work like that and I’m just being stupid.

Then there’s anti-matter asymmetry. In the big mass annihilation at the start of the universe, the heavier matter and anti-matter would have been disproportionately drawn together and therefore disproportionately annihilated. If the ratio was a billion to a billion-and-one, we are probably getting the lighter one two-billion-and-oneth, if it is less, we would still be getting the lighter bits. Indeed, if one were a proper physicist with an AS-level and everything, one might even be able to work backwards from the relative lightness of existing matter to guess at the original ratio. If there was a continuous process of annihilation and creation going on, which apparently there was, then lighter matter would have escaped more and heavier matter would have been sucked back in more, and a process of evolution would have given us disproportionately light matter

Anyway, as I mentioned, I don’t know anything about this, and would be most grateful if someone would come and point out the flaws or provide a list of proper physicists who had a better version of the same idea fifteen years ago and have since been discredited many times over.

11 November 2008

Condoning Savagery - "Cultural Imperialism" Part 1

I know I should leave the poor boy alone, but I read another fatuous and idiotic claim in a Johann Hari article I would otherwise have agreed with. Listing various ways in which Muslim women are subjugated by Muslim men (acid attacks, genital cutting, denial of education, purdah and so on), he claims:
We ask nervously: isn’t it just their culture that women are treated differently? Isn’t it a form of cultural imperialism to condemn these practices?
Who asks nervously? Or rather, after nervously asking said questions, who actually answers “yes” and goes round shaking a tin for Battery Acid to Bangladesh and Scissors to Somalia? As far as I know, pretty much nobody. It’s a ridiculous point of view. So ridiculous in fact that I’d never come across anyone who held it. And I actively seek out ridiculous points of view as a hobby.

Anyway, taking FGC as an example I went through ten pages of google results, searching for "cultural imperialism" ("female circumcision" OR "genital mutilation" OR "genital cutting"). I did manage to find Hari’s question, a conference by the American Anthropological Association, but I had a lot of trouble finding the answer he was clearly expecting. For example, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 results were strongly opposed to FGC, usually campaigning against it, but cautious as to how their campaigns would be perceived by locals and how this would affect their success rate. And this is an entirely legitimate concern. Expressing one of our cultural values – female circumcision is bad – purely in terms of other cultural values – sexual equality, human rights, sexual liberation, children’s rights and so on – is basically a circular argument. This is further undermined by our prior history of forcing Africans to give up what we considered savage and uncivilised, such as their religion and language, and the use of racist, imperialist language such as “barbaric” and “uncivilised”. Taking "cultural imperialism" into account is just a sensible PR strategy.

There were also a few articles/discussions on problematic Western cultural perspectives in theory and in Norway, but again, no real liberal hand-wringing. A couple made interesting comparisons between FGC and cultural practices in the West. While this one claimed that the large moral distinction between male and female genital cutting was a Western construct, and this one compared FGC to Western aesthetic practices, neither endorsed FGC or condemned efforts to eradicate it, and the second quite openly opposed it.

In the same category, doing both, comes Germaine Greer’s controversial assertion that:
“Looked at in its full context the criminalization of FGM can be seen to be what African nationalists since Jomo Kenyatta have been calling it, an attack on cultural identity[...]
“One man's beautification is another man's mutilation[...]
“If an Ohio punk has the right to have her genitalia operated on, why has not the Somali woman the same right?”
Naturally, this received an angry, idiotic and downright dishonest reception. Firstly the important caveats – “what nationalists have been calling”, “can be seen to be” – were removed. Secondly, her assertions themselves were clearly not read in much detail – the discussion of an adult (“woman”) voluntarily (“right”, “have her genitalia operated on”) undergoing a procedure becomes transformed to coercion of infants (“forcible clitoridectomy of an eight-year-old girl”) . And particularly tellingly, the statement was pretty much universally read as condoning mutilation rather than criticising beautification. I don't know if these people have heard of Dr. Greer, but this is exactly the opposite of what I'd expect from her.

I did find three genuine accusations of “cultural imperialism” being levelled at the anti-FGC campaign by fellow Westerners. The first one comes from a Confucian obsessed with traditions, and who I’m not sure actually knows what female circumcision is. However the other two deal with the subject quite interestingly. Neither, however, give “cultural imperialism” as a reason to oppose eradicating FGC. “Cultural imperialism” merely describes our skewed perspective, while challenging the various Western myths surrounding the practice. Worth a read, if you have time.

This gives us one. One person, and not your typical woolly liberal, who believes we should avoid imperialistically forcing our culture on Africans by stopping them mutilating their little girls. Something’s obviously wrong here. Lots of people, and semi-intelligent ones at that, wailing about how nobody’s willing to stop savages from chopping up their womenfolk because it would be “cultural imperialism”, yet hardly anybody actually expressing that viewpoint. By the same token, I doubt we’ll find many Guardianistas woollily condoning acid attacks or shootings at girls’ schools in the same way. What we clearly have here is a straw man, and apparently a fairly convincing one.

He has his purposes. Remember these imaginary ivory-tower liberals are the same ones that believe in planning permission for megamosques, allowing the veil and not liberating Iraq to smithereens. Vague and racially-charged associations weight debate towards imposing our culture in other ways. Opposition to real imperialist attitudes is then easier to sidestep and the racist myths that often drive and justify Western colonialism are easier to disseminate. The perception that a group of people are brutal savages towards their women makes it far easier to believe that they are inept savages towards their economies, and it is therefore easier to justify exploitative economic policies, not to mention military interventions. And, of course, as Germaine Greer points out,
Silence about male mutilation in our own countries combines nicely with noisiness on female mutilation in other countries to reinforce our notions of cultural superiority.

So we get to feel smug to boot.

This idea of not forcing our beliefs on other cultures is also less a quality of the hesitant, overeducated left than it is of the aggresively ignorant right, especially when it in any way suits their financial interest. Have a look at this BBC Have Your Say thread on child labour in India if you don’t belive me:
“once again the loony left try to take over a thread!...its a very different culture but you INSIST that YOU impose your values on them!!.”
“Here's an idea: let's stop imposing *our* idea of 'ethics' on other countries for a while.”
“Typical of the BBC and the Islington liberal elite to be outraged by this. Why should you force your standards on other cultures.”
“Ethics mean different things to different people. As previously mentioned, children were once in full time employment in the UK and nobody batted an eyelid. While we may think it is wrong, who are we to impose our beliefs on another culture?”

What I find particularly fascinating, however, is the reluctance of us Western liberals to examine our own perspectives when a particularly emotive issue comes up, and the venom we reserve for anyone who says something that sounds a bit like agreeing with whatever it is we object to. The more important the issue, the less inclined we are to try and understand criticism, and the more we stereotype the opposition. Some people, of course (provided I get enough readers to make plurals), are going to be very upset by this article and assume I wholeheartedly approve of female genital mutilation and see anyone who doesn’t as a modern-day Rudyard Kipling. They’re idiots. Nobody thinks that.

Part 2

12 October 2008

Bloody Hell

So it turns out a lot of the "paedophiles" everyone was panicking/laughing at a few years back are completely innocent and that the police are a shower of idiots and liars. The police were handed a list of credit cards which had been used by a portal to, among others, child porn sites. They then arrested over seven thousand people and leaked a few high profile names to the press. For some reason an organisation whose only job is dealing with crime didn't think of the possibility of credit card fraud. Of course, 39 of the "paedophiles" are innocent and dead.

Tell everyone.

PS: Here's a nice story to go with it.

05 October 2008

Say What You Want About Palin, She's Not Stupid

Some fantastic unspeaking from Sarah Palin in a speech to supporters in Colorado and Los Angeles (incidentally, Biased-BBC fans may notice the heavy incidence of the “t-word” in the story). Now bear in mind I’m not accusing her of lying, what Palin is up to is much, much cleverer.
“Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?”
Of course, “palling around” simply involves going to the same meetings a few times, and the “terrorist” involved stopped bombing before her opponent even had hair on his balls. But nevertheless, palling around is a tough activity to define, and could quite easily include a brief chat by the coffee machine, and if you have ever committed an act of terror, “terrorist” is an appropriate description. Only the plural may be spurious, though he may well have mumbled something friendly to Mrs. Ayers as well, you never know.

However, what Sarah Palin is really good at is the pronoun game:
“Turns out one of Barack’s earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and US Capitol. Wow.”

Here’s the first clever bit – switching subject and object: We are not talking about who Obama supports. We are talking about who supports Obama. This blatant reversal of causality is buried under the shock value of her statement. Although she in no way says that Obama has ever supported terrorism, she manages to get “Barack” “supporter” “terrorist”, “bombings”, “Pentagon and US Capitol” all squashed neatly into one fully referenced sentence. Wow. Shout those at your reflection a few times, and see how much you fancy voting for the Muslim candidate.
These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes. Remember that’s what Joe Biden said.”

Now here’s a funny one. Who are the same guys? Obama/Biden, I’m assuming, however the ambiguity of the phrase makes it seem as if there is some kind of direct ideological link between Ayers ideas about patriotism and taxes and those Obama shares with Biden. The inclusion of “these are the same guys” cements the imaginary links without actually saying anything other than “now, let’s change the subject back to my opponent and his running mate”.
“Now this is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as a force for good in this world.

By this point, I am completely stumped as to who she means. And note the non-sequitur – at no point does she say that Obama, Biden or even Ayers sees America as anything but a force for good. She simply claims that one of the three men she has previously mentioned does not see America in the same light as her, and then mentions one aspect of her vision. Of course it is implied that this supposed “man” does not see America as a force for good. Even assuming this is what she means, she at no point claims it is Obama who holds this view – the mystery man is far more likely to be Ayers. But it really does sound like Obama thinks America is evil.

Basically, what Palin is doing is creating a network of associations in the mind of the audience, or rather adding to an existing one, without actually making any real recourse to logic or causality. Her facts are solid, and the actual nature of these associations is left up to the listener to imagine, so one rhetorical plural aside, nothing could possibly be construed as a falsehood. Yet an unwary floating voter will come away with the impression that Obama is far more anti-American and pro-terrorist (aged 8) than Palin ever claimed. And this tactic can work. American media is particularly prone to these Pavlovian reactions – note the lipstick incident – Obama’s “lipstick on a pig” remark was pounced on as an attack on Palin based on the fact that she had already compared herself to an animal in lipstick. In this case, when dealing with a man whose name sounds like not one but two of America’s great Arab bogeymen, who, even after scandals about his Church, 13% of Americans still think is a Muslim, hammering “support” and “terrorism” into voters’ heads is a particularly dirty, and particularly clever tactic.

15 September 2008

Putting The Dr. Rath Health Foundation's Worries to Rest

Profit Over Life makes some rather speculative claims about the I.G. Farben trial, which, if true, would be truly alarming. The website is basically an archive of the trial documents and an arm of the The Dr Rath Health Foundation, which Violetta Crisis has already blogged a little about. As alternative health practitioners, they naturally have a strong interest in highlighting unethical behaviour on the part of pharmaceutical companies, which would of course point them squarely at a company with I.G. Farben's record. They stress the importance of the trial and draw attention to the fact that the many Holocaust memorial organisations
chose neither to publish the important proceedings of the decisive Nuremberg trial against IG Farben nor the tens of thousands of pages of trial evidence connecting this chemical/pharmaceutical cartel to these crimes against humanity.

Profit Over Life is keen to stress the key involvement of the pharmaceutical industry in every aspect of Nazi Germany:
The US prosecution during the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals made clear that neither the rise of the Nazis, nor WWII nor the holocaust would have been possible without the financial and logistical support of IG Farben.
Note the source however: the case for the prosecution and not the verdict. Profit Over Life's assertion that I.G. Farben was the driving force behind the entire Third Reich did not stick in court, only an active planning role in Auschwitz.

The website also makes a strong implication that this is not accidental, and that the absence favours certain interest groups.
Today, in October 2007, the world may only be weeks away from another World War deliberately launched by the very same interest groups that brought the Nazis to power and sought to control the world then – the chemical/petrochemical/pharmaceutical investment business. 70 years after the political puppets of the chemical investment business launched World War II, their stakeholders today – namely George Bush (USA) and Nicholas Sarkozy (France) – are openly preparing a nuclear attack against Iran with the deliberate risk of throwing the world into a nuclear abyss.
Note the term "investment business". The crimes of one conglomerate are extrapolated to the entire industry. While the power wielded by Big Oil and Pharma is well-known, there is no causal relationship to I.G. Farben, who went bust in the 1990s.

Certain organisations are singled out for their failure (or success) in documenting what Profit Over Life considers to be the most important trial: The US Federal Archive, for example, where
inexplicably, the documents about the ultimate responsibility for World War II – the deadliest tragedy in recent history that cost the lives of more than 60 million people – are not published online.
'Inexplicably' is perhaps not the word, considering that:
"Laid side to side, pages in our holdings would circle the Earth over 57 times! Because of the cost to digitize such a volume of materials, only a small percentage is available for research online. Our web site offers tools and guides to help you locate these documents. To complete your research and use the records, you may need to visit us."
The possibility of a conspiracy is further ruled out by a roughly equal amount of documentation existing for all thirteen trials.

Yad Vashem also
does not document the trial of the economic forces that helped to finance the holocaust and that drew the largest economic benefit from it – BAYER, BASF, HOECHST and other corporations of the IG Farben cartel.
However I searched the site fairly hard and found no official transcripts of any other Nuremberg trials. This implies that Yad Vashem may be deliberately diverting its time and resources towards memorial and education than to online archiving of massive and rather tedious documents. Their accusation against the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is particularly telling:
None of the tens of thousands of pages of this important memorial site documents the decisive Nuremberg War Crimes Trial against IG Farben Industries. Remarkably, some of the other 12 trials of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal are documented on this website, e.g. the so called “doctor’s trial,” but not the trial that provides the answer of ultimate responsibility for World War II.
The word 'some' may be erroneous, as I was only able to find one, the Doctors' Trial. Bearing in mind that this was the first trial, it seems that the Museum may be consciously working on the trials in chronological order, placing yet another four trials between it and the I.G. Farben trial, sixth of thirteen.

However, it is Harvard University which receives the most direct accusation:
In 2003 – six decades after the end of WWII – the governors of Harvard University decided to turn Harvard into an institution pioneering the way to finally reveal the historic facts and publish the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals – including the trial against IG Farben Industries – on the Website of the Harvard Law School for a world audience...the entire project was stopped – without any credible reason being given.
The word 'credible' is a particularly subjective one, but its presence implies that Harvard did give a clear reason (not specified by the site), which Profit Over Life did not consider credible. Their definition of credible seems to exclude such lame excuses as:
The Nuremberg Trials collection fills some 690 boxes, with an average box containing approximately 1500 pages of text (for a total estimated at 1,035,000 pages)...Continuing funding to complete the scanning of documents and digitizing of the transcript from the Medical Case is now being sought.
However, Profit Over Life's explanation is far less innocent:
“Who interfered with the publication of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal against IG Farben that you had already publicly announced? Was it the Rockefeller Trust, one of “heirs” of the IG Farben Empire after WWII – which also is one of the principle benefactors of Harvard University today?”
Note that, again, this refers to all the trials and not just the one they are interested in. Also note the bunny ears around "heirs", implying that the trust is a metaphorical, rather than direct material heir of the company.

Profit Over Life certainly deserve credit for posting the documents, though it is a pity they have so far only been able to put up scans. Full documentation of any of the trials is a useful resource that is hard to find over the internet. But essentially, what the site finds suspicious is that the entire proceedings of the Nuremberg Trials, thirteen long and complicated trials, are not posted online. The fact that they single out certain institutions is strange, but not as strange as their overlooking Mazal's documentation, here and here. But what is particularly interesting is the way one webpage, without uttering a single falsehood, manages to create several false impressions, firstly that the Nazis were a puppet government, secondly that they were puppets of an entire industry and not one conglomerate, thirdly that documentation on the subject is unavailable and finally that this has been a conscious cover-up. The fact that painstaking research was needed to confirm the contrary is a credit to the skill both of the site's author and the company's legal department.

I doubt that Profit Over Life are being deliberately deceitful. They seem quite sincere in their beliefs about I.G. Farben, and the unreliability of the evidence they present probably means little more than a tendency to believe unreliable evidence, except perhaps an increased credulity when it comes to large companies and medicine made of proper science. This is normal for alternative medicine, but it's interesting to see just how persuasive bad arguments can be made.

13 September 2008

Choice Is Relative

If I wanted to choose a word that would sum up modern right-wing discourse, I would probably go with ‘choice’. Choice pervades right-wing ideologies, both as the holy grail-cum-magic bullet of British Conservative policy and as the chief Republican method of shouting down difficult questions. The word is firmly tied to both the mechanics and the morality of the free market, and, being derived from free will, essentially has Judeo-Christian theology rather than science and secular philosophy (which are at best split on free will) as its base. If we want to slay the dragon of illogical Tory drivel, the weak spot on its left breast seems to me to be choice. As the existence of free will is still under heavy investigation (though one experiment supposedly managed to disprove it), I will concentrate on the mechanics and morality of this so-called ‘choice’.

To disprove the function of choice in free-market capitalism is easy. I am using OpenOffice Writer to write this. My girlfriend uses the Tesco Office Suite. My parents use Microsoft Office. The Tesco product, £4.99, works abysmally. OpenOffice and MS Office are pretty much as good as each other, except Word has handy keyboard shortcuts for all the ä, è and ß characters and OpenOffice is, I’m told, more efficient and less prone to bugs. However there are two principle differences: firstly and most obviously, OpenOffice was free and MS Office costs £299.48 from Amazon. Secondly, OpenOffice can save documents in a variety of formats, as OpenOffice documents, as .pdf’s, as Word documents, as StarWriter documents and as various others. With Microsoft you are limited solely to Microsoft’s own format, both writing and reading. Therefore, as Microsoft leads the market and comes ready-installed on most PCs, most people cannot read .odt, .vor or anything other than .doc documents. This is just one example, but generally Microsoft’s dominant position and wilful ignorance of other products has allowed it to sell its product for three hundred quid when a competitor offers a slightly better one for free. How this can lead to the Adam Smith utopia where the best deals flourish and poor-quality or overpriced goods die out is beyond me. To further compound my point, the free-market dream does not take into account the enormous advertising budgets of large companies, the fact that people might just not know about the better product, or the social status attached to buying more expensive things. The fact that one of the most referred-to phenomena of modern sales, brand awareness, is not compatible with the free market dream casts doubt on its fundamentalists. Yes, a wider choice does filter out poor products, but it is neither the sole factor nor a complete solution.

Choice is also fundamental to right-wing morality as it explains, in simplistic terms, how the have-nots came to and therefore deserve to be so. The “choice to be rational” is at the centre of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, on which some of the most cracked and twisted of right-wing doctrines are based. This is however a Catch-22 situation – without already being rational, this decision cannot be made rationally. Those who are irrational quite obviously did not make a rational decision to be so. Even those who decide to be what they consider rational will not necessarily be doing so entirely rationally, and will in all likelihood have an irrational concept of what rationality entails. However the assumption that all choices are made rationally is a common false assumption among the right.

Let us start with the most ludicrous. America’s easily-mobilised ‘Christian Right’ justify their fierce heterosexism by saying that the ghastly homosexualists engage in their sickening and deviant behaviour by choice. This is hard to dispute without implying that gays are mindless automatons driven solely by their perverse urges. People do ‘choose’ their actions and lifestyle on some level, or at least choose to follow the inclinations they have. For whatever reason, people must have the desire before acting on it and therefore their ‘choice’ of homosexual behaviour is in fact between fulfilled and unfulfilled urges. It is not a choice between sordid, disgusting, disease-ridden gayness and wholesome all-American marital bliss but a three-way decision between total celibacy, a long, frustrating and unsatisfying sham-marriage and a life of hot man-to-man/girl-on-girl action. Put this way it seems less of a choice that the theocrats suggest.

Crime and education are also heavily prone to these unequal choices. The simple ‘choice’ to work hard in school is not the same for all people from all social backgrounds. Graduates who profited from hard work at school naturally place more importance on it than those who dropped out at fourteen, fifteen or sixteen, yet eventually accepted their lot and built a reasonably happy life.

As you progress up the social scale, the weight is pushed more and more towards the “study hard and become a lawyer” side of the choice, as you progress down the “drop out now and have some fun” side looks more and more attractive. For the child of non-graduate parents, the improved quality of life that comes with a University degree is all an added bonus to the lifestyle they are used to. But the more privileged the pupil’s background, the more they have to study to maintain their standard of living. To see the choice as “live on the dole or become something worthwhile” is naïve. It is: “Live as my parents, live better than my parents or live worse than my parents”. Put this way, we see that the working-class self-made man chooses the better lifestyle, the upper- or middle-class drop-out chooses the worse, but most people are content to live as well as or slightly better their parents, whatever background they come from and whatever life choices this might entail.

Juvenile delinquency is all too often seen as a typically plebeian affliction, and we in the chattering classes are quick to wonder what makes the criminal classes so prone to it. This is a mistake. Rather than ask why the proles are so prone to crime, ask where the bourgeoisie get their tendency to stick to the rules. The choice as presented by the crackdown-addicted Right, i.e. “Obey the law or risk prison for cheap thrills” only applies to those who already have absolutely nothing to lose. For anyone above the very bottom of the pile, they are risking however much opportunity and social status they inherited through accident of birth. The more privileges there are at stake – A-Levels, Oxbridge application, modern apprenticeship, the respect of parents and society in general etc. – the more the choice is weighted away from the graffiti-and-shoplifting spree. And the less social status someone has in wider society, the more value the respect of their peers has.

If the teen tearaway finds the chance to move into more professional crime, the choice is again differently weighted to how the typical Tory sees it. The simple fact is, crime does often pay, and so the more you could expect to earn, both in cash and social status, as a law-abiding citizen, the less attractive the money and respect crime can offer will seem. Those with fewer career opportunities have far more to gain and far less to lose from crime. The decision “doctor versus drug lord” is an easy one, “dole versus drug lord” less so.

The typical right-wing solution is to tip the balance by toughening sentences and removing prisoners’ rights. But what crime statistics usually show is that this approach has little to no effect at best, and that it is improved quality of life that leads to decreased crime. That is, if you give people more to lose, they are less inclined to lose it. And other ridiculous right-wing ideas and justifications can equally be analysed: “Most homeless people are homeless by choice” for example, what was the other option that made sleeping rough the best plan of action?

One of the things that I admire about right-wing discourse is the willingness to see things in clear, rational terms of individual choices. However we must be wary of over-simplification, and understand that a different set of circumstances means a different set of options, and with a different set of options will come a different final decision. The Left often suffers from an inability to put flighty academic doctrines into easily understandable terms, wide ideas that seem irrelevant to people’s experiences and abstract arts-graduate thinking that can seem illogical to those outside the system, and often with reason. The language of ‘choice’ is reasoned, linear and easy to understand, and so is used heavily by the Right to give a sheen of economic rationalism to prejudices and heavy over-simplifications. I believe not only that the Left can gain from adopting this language, but that if we drop the attitude that one choice fits all and use it to express the wide and nuanced variety of peoples’ decisions and situations, we can use it far more potently than our opponents.

04 August 2008

Biased BBC Bollocks

Biased BBC have published a letter to the editor. Although this is a rant by a friend of the blog rather than the blog itself, and got a rather frosty reception, it does bear most of the hallmarks of B-BBC coverage. ANDREW MCCANN complains that BBC journalists behave like journalists (losing interest in the US presidential race after the primaries), he castigates the BBC for events beyond their control (Republicans “shuffling off stage left” by finishing their primaries), he makes wild and prejudiced associations (Obama’s “paternal ancestry” – which to their credit most readers considered beyond the pale) and is upset that the BBC does not kow-tow to his “preferences”, he is either clueless or openly lies about the BBC’s coverage (exclusive preoccupation with race and gender, which just, isn’t, true), he misinterprets coverage (reading “beauty contest” as praise) and, constantly, he imagines what the BBC editors in his head would think and presents this as fact. This letter is an extreme and hilarious example, but is by no means atypical.

Sometimes Right

Obligatory concession: It’s not bias, but the BBC can be really crap. Their regular accusation of “bias by omission” is a difficult one to refute, and one that might well hold some water. However, the only way this could be proven is with an extensive comparison of BBC reporting with other sources, both left-wing and right-wing, and excluding foreign or special-interest media (American issues will be more covered by American media, Eastern Eye will run more India stories, and paranoid, Islam-obsessed right-wing bloggers might have more on Preachers of Hate). To my knowledge, B-BBC hasn’t got round to this any more than I have.

One area where the BBC does, in my opinion, go wrong, is in its coverage of “MMGW/AGW”. There is very little mention of the arguments against it, if any, and sceptics’ positions are largely unrepresented. Biased-BBC’s demand that the BBC ignore environment stories or actively create doubt by mentioning the sceptics’ view in every article on anything to do with carbon dioxide is ridiculous, and indeed they are always rather vague as to whether global warming is not happening or just not man-made. But essentially, they are right – however strong the scientific consensus and however unscientific the opposition, the BBC should make an effort to present both arguments.

Another problem with BBC “impartiality” is the embarrassing clumsiness. This article includes religious arguments for ‘Hudood’ rape laws and secular arguments against them. Two sides are reported, one for and one against, so there is a form of “balance”. But not only does the BBC (understandably) omit this kind of demented minority opinion from the West, it omits any debate within Islam. This gives the impression of an argument between rapist-coddling Islam and civilised secularism. There are far more than two sides to this story, and in omitting them, the BBC misrepresents the nature of the dispute while seeming not to take sides. This is of course, more right-wing bias than left, as it perpetuates the idea of a “clash of civilisations”.

Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a similarly ham-fisted approach – for many issues, the BBC adds one vaguely contextualising sentence right at the very end. When Palestinians kill Israelis, the last time Israelis killed Palestinians is mentioned and visa versa. That way, everyone knows that Palestinians and Israelis both kill each other. This is a rather fatuous over-simplification, but B-BBC, of course, are only upset when Palestinian crimes are given any kind of “justification”. However, with retaliations for retaliations for retaliations, the BBC can only do so much. If it goes one event back, two back, or three back, there will always be a cut-off point where one side’s actions are put into context and another’s not, and the pro-Israelis and anti-Palestinians in the right-wing “blogosphere” will continue to complain until the BBC wholeheartedly endorses their position.

Sometimes Only Half Right

After I started at big school, I was expected to write essays that answered the question at the top of the page. In B-BBC’s case, this is particularly easy, as they only have “BBC” and “Biased” to include. They still fail, regularly, to do so. Many posts are about the BBC, but fail to show any kind of political bias, others are about a political issue with a rather tenuous or even imaginary link to the BBC. These tend to say less about the blog’s mindset and more about the mindset of blogs – we are angry, space must be filled. In their case, this tendency falls into three categories, Imaginary Bias, The Truth Is Biased and I Hate Them So Much.

The Truth Is Biased

Self-explanatory. A story irritates the bloggers, is covered on the BBC, and they scramble to find an something that might look like bias in the coverage. For example, somehow the BBC is responsible for a far-left Israeli group giving cameras to Palestinians to film attacks on them by settlers. Such is its rage at the BBC for receiving this film, that the blog doesn’t even get round to condemning the attack. It does manage to slip in two racial slurs against the victims in the final sentence though. This is one of many occasions where it is the story that upsets them rather than anything vaguely to do with the BBC. Unless you consider the BBC responsible for what post it gets from B’Tselem.

Imaginary Bias

Biased BBC seem to have a firm idea in their head of exactly what “Beeboids” look like – a bizarre hybrid of the liberal lawyer in ‘King of the Hill’ and a six-foot black drag queen in a blonde wig, naturally with a degree in Media Studies and a lifetime subscription to either the Guardian or the Socialist Worker. They proceed from this assumption by imagining what the BBC’s opinion will be for the various events that have incurred their wrath. Once, they interpreted the presence of two entirely unrelated stories as a conspiracy to get cannabis legalised. Beeboids love drugs, you see. In an extreme example of this, they see a neutrally-worded, even slightly sympathetic analysis of Israel’s difficult situation. This naturally clashes with their expectations of anti-Israel bias at every turn, so, rather than assume it is a neutral, maybe even sympathetic article, or even just a token gesture to impartiality, they decide the BBC must be gloating.

I Hate Them So Much

A lot of posts centre around BBC waste, drug convictions, or audacity in asking for money. Whatever your views on the tellytax, it doesn’t really show a bias towards anything except having money. Similarly, a bias towards the odd spliff or two is not a political one. However these posts do perpetuate the weird idea of a BBC employee that the bloggers have in their head, and raise the general level of anger. It also provides ammunition for their weird conspiracy theories. Possibly the weirdest side of this is the idea that anyone who posts any kind of disagreement is themself a “Beeboid”.

What Journalists Do

Of course, much of the simplification and sensationalism boil down to one simple explanation, that BBC journalists are, like all other journalists, journalists. They act like journalists, they write clumsy, melodramatic headlines , they simplify stories, they speculate prematurely and they occasionally fuck up completely in the hope of a scoop. But this is not bias. This is not even shoddy journalism. This is pretty much standard for the profession. Occasionally, as with this story on the murder of two Israeli security guards, the BBC is attacked for not reporting a story even if it was not reported by any other mainstream British media – except, in this case the hard-right, pro-Israel Independent.

Insufficient Right-Wing Activism: This also contains three sub-categories: Giving Credence, Insufficient Mudslinging and ‘Terrorist’.

Giving Credence:

Every now and again, a report surfaces by some loony-left organisation who believes that MMGW is happening or that asylum seekers might be valid human beings, or some nutcase claims that Gollywogs are racist. The BBC, being a news outlet, reports this report as having been reported. This is not known as “printing”, “broadcasting” or “publishing” but as “giving credence”, because naturally the BBC agrees 100% with everything anyone in its reports says. One such gripe is that the BBC reports the same story as the Independent. The story explicitly mentions that a large amount of food is thrown away before its sell-by date, and could be better managed (implying sell-by dates) or stored. Yet the report’s authors apparently didn’t take into account the sell-by dates. The BBC is biased for not reporting this largely irrelevant point.

Insufficient Mudslinging:

Very often B-BBC’s claims are that the BBC fails to dig up enough dirt on the authors of the report or that it fails to report their loony-left bias. By contrast Migrationwatch, an independent organisation with no agenda, is regularly slurred as “right-wing”. However a search on google of the terms: "left (wing OR leaning OR of centre)" (think-tank OR commission OR committee) site:news.bbc.co.uk uncovers 229 results, whereas "right (wing OR leaning OR of centre)" (think-tank OR commission OR committee) site:news.bbc.co.uk uncovers 129. It seems that the BBC is almost twice as eager to denounce lefty think-tanks than right-wing ones.

The BBC is sometimes castigated for not speculating along the right lines. For example, following a hammer attack by Asian youths on a white schoolboy, the BBC is accused of “downplaying” and “suppressing” the racially motivated nature of the attack. Read the report, however, and the boy was specifically targeted, making a personal motive more likely. For Biased-BBC, however, any crime by an Asian on a White person is automatically racially motivated, and the BBC is somehow obliged to report it as such. With a so-called “faith hate” crime, B-BBC expect the Beeb to announce the religion of the perpetrators before a list of suspects has even been drawn up. Quite simply, the BBC is left-wing for not speculating prematurely in line with their prejudices.

This gets particularly nasty when Palestine is involved. The BBC reports on an illicit border crossing, everyday life in Ramallah or some children linking hands, and is castigated for not mentioning terrorism. It seems the BBC should mention terrorism every time it mentions Palestine, so even if the story is nothing to do with terrorism, about a peaceful protest, or largely unrelated to the conflict with Israel, we must be reminded that Palestinians are Hamas-electing anti-Semitic terrorists. Straight out racism is rare on this blog, but this is a clear example.


Biased BBC is regularly up in arms over the use, or rather non-use, of the word ‘terrorist’. Absurdly enough, they usually claim that these people are not “militants”, “gunmen” or “bombers”. While I understand their objections, the idea that the BBC is biased for failing to use a pejorative, vaguely-defined, highly emotive term in favour of coldly descriptive terminology is laughable, as is the idea that not calling it ‘terrorism’ makes deliberate attacks on civilians sound any better. The standard counter-claim is that there are two possible interpretations: “terrorist” or “not a terrorist and therefore a freedom fighter”, and that by avoiding the word, the BBC sides with the latter. Essentially this is a fallacious claim that, by not actively endorsing one side, the BBC is actively endorsing the other. The BBC is in fact choosing to tacitly (very tacitly, considering the equal absence of the term “freedom fighter”) endorse one side rather than explicitly endorse another, which is exactly the right decision. Furthermore, the BBC regularly repeats the word in the form of direct quotes, and makes no effort to dispute its usage. Such is B-BBC’s rage on this issue that they even apply it to attacks on military targets that, by most definitions, clearly do not constitute terrorism.

There are two more interesting arguments however: that the BBC uses ‘terrorist’ for the London Bombings and 9/11, and that the BBC regularly changes the words of (usually Israeli) sources to remove the word. The first definitely displays a double standard, however double standards are not proof of political bias. The aims of the terrorists behind them are not up for discussion. There is no debate that could possibly be slanted by such a powerful word, and no debate as to whether the attacks were terrorism (even if you believe they were organised by MI5/CIA/Mossad/Lizardmen). There is no side to take one way or the other. Of course, it could be argued that in doing so, the BBC values British lives more than Israeli ones, but even in that case, valuing your own people’s lives over foreigners is, again, typical journalistic practice.

This article was offered as evidence for the second. Except for a quote from a politician and an eyewitness statement, the Israeli sources had been put mostly into indirect speech, the Palestinians mostly quoted directly. In doing so, the BBC changed ‘terrorist’ into ‘militant’. Biased BBC argued that the BBC was attempting to whitewash the attacks (incidentally aimed at soldiers rather than civilians). However a closer look at the article in fact shows a leaning towards Israel. In direct quotes are Matan Vilnai’s opinions on the attack and a possible fuel blockade and half a threat, a vivid Israeli eye-witness account and Islamic Jihad’s explanation. In indirect quotes are Hamas’ denial, Islamic Jihad’s admittance, and most of the facts of the attack, put into indirect quotes to avoid excessive inverted commas and any implication of distrust. These facts come from exclusively Israeli sources. Whether you think the BBC is right to trust Israel to this extent or not, doing so is hardly anti-Israel bias.

How Dare They Have Guests!

On hearing an interview with Billy Bragg, B-BBC were enraged that someone with Billy Bragg’s disgusting beliefs should be allowed to speak on a programme. They neglected to mention, let alone disagree with, anything he said on air. Similarly, they were upset about an interview with Chuck D. I am genuinely confused as to what the BBC should have done: cut Chuck’s mic the moment he said anything controversial, transformed an interview on music into a section of Newsnight or refused to have left-wing guests for fear they might bad-mouth her Majesty. I am not aware of Chuck’s exact words, as typically for B-BBC, the report contains no quotes or links. This report is particularly sloppy however, as it obviously involved no research whatsoever – Chuck D is described as a “gangster”, and despite pouncing on his vague associations to an occasional anti-Semite, Professor Griff is conspicuous in his absence. In fact, they mostly seemed upset that a rapper was on the clever-people’s radio and that he was given a chance to praise Barack Obama.

Holocaust Denial on the License Fee! Now that really does sound terrible. The BBC not only gave someone who has openly challenged the validity of the Holocaust a platform but paid his expenses to use it. Read the post in question though, and it turns out he wasn’t even talking about the Holocaust, but about 7/7, and in the context of a programme on conspiracy theories. Again, the BBC is held responsible for opinions which were not even expressed on its programme, castigated for not smearing its guests, and most worryingly, criticised for allowing opinions to be expressed. In short, the blog objects to undesirable guests being “given a platform”, even one that will naturally provoke scepticism, and without even disputing their opinions. I stopped seeing this as a joke when I read the phrase “allegedly innocent”.

Worthless Ingrates

Possibly the most worrying articles are the ones where the BBC runs a slightly right-of-centre story, and Biased BBC complain that it didn’t go far enough. For example this article mentions polar bears, and is therefore deranged environmentalism. No matter that the report described by the article actually plays down the threat to polar bears, B-BBC read “polar bear” and decide it’s Marxism. Sometimes, of course, it’s just quite funny, like when the BBC praises Conservative policy and receives a swift rebuke for being too left-wing.

But sometimes the blog is downright dishonest. They attack the BBC’s article on the Jewish mass exodus from Iraq shortly after the creation of Israel. The chief grounds for this are laughable – refugees pining for the old country is hardly unusual, nor is old men pining for the days of their youth. Indeed, an old man missing home is rather a strong indictment of those who forced him to leave, and the sane parts of the Israel lobby would surely appreciate some attention for the “Jewish Nakba”. But B-BBC spin this, not just as a whitewash but as a hoax. Israelis not wanting to go back to modern, war-torn Iraq hardly rules out missing the Iraq of their youth, yet exactly this claim is used to accuse the BBC of all but fabricating the article. When the BBC romanticises Israel in classical Zionist terms, this is one of many fiendish euphemisms like “mass migration” and “political realities”. The blog claims: “Any news on what form expression of that [anti-Semitic] sentiment took? Any news on the riots and pogroms?...Not from the BBC.” Yet the article specifically mentions the “Farhoud massacre.” A sympathetic piece raising awareness of a modern Jewish tragedy fails to come down hard enough on the blog’s perceived enemies, and is branded anti-Semitic propaganda. Biased-BBC even lies, quite openly, about its content.

The preconception that the BBC is too liberal is behind most of Biased-BBC’s complaints. Starting from the assumption that the BBC is run entirely by gay anti-Semitic cultural Marxists makes it very, very easy to read left-wing bias into largely neutral and even slightly right-wing articles, to interpret normal journalistic behaviour as convoluted conspiracy, or failing those, simply imagine what the BBC is thinking and accept that as bias. Reasonable rules of thumb such as the presumption of innocence are considered pro-terrorist. But with a few of their claims, there is something insidious and nasty. The key to this is the regular accusation of “moral equivalence” and “moral relativism” – i.e. that the BBC impartially treats all political standpoints as equally valid and impartially reserves its own moral judgement. The BBC fails to use nasty enough language, it fails to censor and slander its guests and sources, and it fails to label entire peoples as anti-Semitic terrorists. If the BBC chooses not to express one opinion in strong enough terms, this is bizarrely seen as wholeheartedly embracing the opposite. This is not a case of B-BBC’s contributors being so right-wing that the centre looks like Communism. This is an outright demand that the BBC actively endorse their shrill, prejudiced and dogmatic views.

07 June 2008

Anti-Americanism. Why America?

"George Bush wants to invade us. He wants to fill our country with homosexuals and make our women into lesbians. And we say, NO George Bush! We do not want your homosexuals! We do not want our women to be made into lesbians!"

For almost anyone in the Western world, these words are somewhat ludicrous. Yes, George Bush did want to invade Afghanistan and many would doubt his motives. But he is not renowned in Europe or America as a pro-gay politician. For the Afghan militant who spoke these words to a BBC 2 reporter, it makes perfect sense. America is bent on dominating the Middle East. America is full of queers. America is run by George Bush. Naturally the three go hand in hand. It is tempting to dismiss these comments as simply hilarious, but it is also fascinating to think how the Jihadist lunatic community could make a howler of this nature. So it is interesting to look at exactly what America projects to the world, and why this can cause so much antipathy.

America has three faces which it shows to the world, and which you see depends mostly on the side you were on during the Cold War. The first face is the one I, as a citizen of a NATO country, see – America the leader of the Free World, the America of republicanism and the all-powerful US Constitution. America that can't pronounce its vegetables. America the friendly rival, America the annoying purveyor of irritating, fatty, shallow but nonetheless irresistible pop-culture. The America we like enough to borrow almost everything from but not quite enough not to be annoyed by. America to Britons and Europeans is the annoying friend who sometimes gets on your tits, who you occasionally fight with, who maybe saved your life once and who, despite your rocky relationship, you get on pretty well with. This is probably the closest face to the one America shows to its own citizens.

The second face is by far the most beautiful, and, surprisingly, is reserved for the former Eastern Bloc. This is the face that the American idealists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century aspired to project – America the beacon of democracy and freedom. America who, admittedly, can be annoying, might have its clear faults, but is a damn sight better than your previous best friend. Those who see this face aspire to and mimic it. They do not worry about American culture swamping their own, because they like it, and because, in the ideological non-war of the last century, America spent years wooing them.

The last face is for those who had the misfortune not to be aligned during the Cold War. Those who were not America's friends, but also who were not its enemies and so under the dubious protection of the terrifying Soviet Union. The Islamic World, Latin America and much of Africa all fell victim to both American and Soviet attempts to expand their spheres of influence. To these countries, American values, however admirable in theory, are mired in American actions. American backing of dictators in Cuba, Chile, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt, American bombings, CIA torture manuals, the US-backed militias and death squads, Allende and Mossadegh, all stick in the national memory when people think of the US. The US being a self-styled beacon for these things, when freedom, liberty, democracy and human rights are mentioned, unfortunately people think of America and all the atrocities associated with it. Easy then, for those willing to do so to spin anything empowering their people and threatening their hold on power as 'American imperialism'. It is no coincidence that the most virulent anti-Americanism stems mostly from these assorted non-committed countries.

The US and much of Europe all have their crimes to atone for. Where people have been touched by imperialism, neocolonialism and any bad relations with foreign lands, unfair resentment will always linger. Much of Latin America resents the USA's actions during the Cold War and rightly so. However this is not exclusive to America. Palestinians are somewhat uncharitable towards Israel. In Iran, the memory of 1953 is strong, and Britain is even less popular than America. In Algeria, France is hated, many Columbians distrust the Irish, everyone else in Britain hates the English and almost nobody in Europe likes the Germans. But anti-Americanism has a universal quality which needs examination. Something about anti-Americanism goes deeper than America's actions.

I count three basic functions of anti-Americanism: the first is a demonised 'Great Satan', common among anti-capitalist movements, used to unite many foes in one convenient and simplistic figurehead, easily understood and easily made into a banner, but ultimately damaging. The second is a deliberate shield for nationalistic authoritarian governments which often themselves benefit from American power – rather than openly opposing a civil society, personal liberty and democratic process, these can be dismissed as "too American" or "Western interference", and nuanced arguments about dictators as instruments and beneficiaries of neocolonial power can be sidestepped. The third form, a rational conclusion departing from irrational grounds, is rare, but the chief form present in Nazi Germany – an essential belief in racial segregation and a hatred of other races, particularly Jews, would naturally culminate in a hatred of the most multicultural and Jew-friendly of nations.

Though the myths and loose associations that fuel anti-Americanism vary wildly from case to case, the reason why it is America, and not another of the countless liberal free-market democracies with a tendency towards militarism, seems to be universal. Unlike other gay-friendly countries like the Czech Republic, economic superpowers such as China, gun-crazy federal republics like Switzerland, multicultural countries like Malaysia, free-market tax havens such as Monaco, or rampant militarists such as France and Britain, America has become the figurehead for all of these things rolled into one. Why? Quite simply because, since its inception, America has made being a figurehead its business. There are older democracies (Iceland), larger democracies (India), more secular democracies (Estonia), freer democracies (The Netherlands), more democratic democracies (Germany), richer democracies (Japan), but we all know who is The World's Greatest Democracy. And unfortunately, when people oppose democracy, capitalism or the non-stoning of sodomites, it is America that, quite deliberately, shines.

23 March 2008

Where do you draw the line between race and class?

In the first episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Will and Carlton are dressing up for a social function. Their clothes are very similar, leading Carlton to remark "We could be mistaken for brothers". Will’s reply is interesting, and says a lot about how class and ethnicity interact. "As if anyone’s going to mistake you for a brother". Privileged judge's son Carlton is less "black" than Will from the poor parts of Philly. The class culture clash is one of the main jokes of the show, and central to this is its interaction with ethnic identity. Though this is the best example in popular culture, there are plenty of others in both fiction and real life.

The myths of "Uncle Tom" and the "house nigger" – the black man who speaks for the white man and the slave who is less rebellious because of his privileged position – are the most pervasive collisions of race and class identity. What these basically show is people's interests and identity as a social class invariably trump their interests and identity as a race. Another notable example, also unfortunately from sitcom-land, is Bill Cosby's advice to Black America a few years ago. His comments, basically that poor blacks should be responsible for their own advancement, received a frosty reception. Poor people, for some reason resented being lectured by rich ones. Was it, perhaps, that they were so obtuse that they refused to listen to good advice, even from one of their own? Or was it that Cosby was so unbelievably arrogant to assume that a successful millionaire can speak for the no-prospects poor, simply because he shares their skin colour?

And what of racism? How many of our various prejudices can be traced back to simple economics. The "Jewish question" to start with, revolved heavily around Jews' perceived economic activities. Even recently, Ilan Halimi, a French Jew, was abducted, tortured and killed not because his attackers hated Jews, but because, Jews all being minted, he was a more profitable venture. The triangular trade gave itself legitimacy by arguing that their chattel had no soul, later, the racist myths of the 'noble savage' and the 'White Man’s Burden' justified Europe's rape of its assorted colonies. Today America's Middle-Eastern adventures and Israel's cynical land-grabs are more widely accepted because of our deep-seated and centuries-old distrust of the wily Arab.

However slavery, imperialism and Marx's suggestion of a tool to divide the workers do not explain the economic roots of racial prejudice, but simply point to its handy economic uses. It tells you why the ideas are disseminated, but not why they stick. However, many cases of racism, particularly in the immigrant-baiting West, are mirror images of class-prejudice. The flat cap has become the turban, the overall the sari. We associate immigrants with crime in the same way Victorian industrialists looked down on the "criminal classes", and why not? If, as consistently shown, poverty is directly linked to crime, it is not surprising that as immigrants are pushed further and further to the bottom of the pile, the "criminal classes" of our perceptions become darker and darker. The same can be said for the various ethnic groups in America – CVs bearing black-sounding names are left to one side, not necessarily because of open racism and belief in genetic racial characteristics, but because to be black is assumed to mean to have grown up in typically black poverty and in the culture of poverty associated with it. Having the wrong skin colour can often be as effective as tattooing 'inner city state school' on your forehead.

And even images of wealth can provoke this ethno-snobbery, the Negro as the nouveau riche. Compare these three images and the immediate associations: young black man in a smart suit and tie, young black man in tracksuit, hoodie, trainers and baseball cap, young black man blinged to the eyeballs. The first, an exception, we instinctively think – unfortunate black doctor or entrepreneur who probably can't even drive his hard-earned BMW without getting pulled over, but wholly respectable, and probably sensible enough to listen to Bill Cosby's advice. The other two begin to stimulate our nastier prejudices. The second is a petty criminal, either a victim of or a cancer on society, depending on one's viewpoint. The third is a serious criminal of some sort or another made good. Rich, like us, if not richer, but immoral and, worse still, with deplorable plebeian tastes. Hyacinth Bucket, made dark flesh and dropped a couple of rungs socially and many, many more morally. Of course, whiten the skin of all of them and the judgements do not change, we now simply have a white kid emulating blacks. Skin colour simply intensifies our prejudices.

This charges the immigration debate in Britain. Worries on immigration are understandable, and are by and large non-racial – overpopulation, strain on public services, and the very real problem of a large part of the population who exist outside of the system. The racism that does noticeably permeate the immigration debate, for example when British citizens born and bred are considered immigrants by skin colour, functions as a catalyst and not a cause. People are generally far more worried about the socio-economic effects of immigration that its racial aspect, but that does not mean that racism does not push these worries to the surface. Examine the rhetoric and its overtones, if not always its primary motives, are racial – we are becoming a "third world country", all immigrants are assumed to be Muslim and all but the most fanatical of anti-immigrant ranters admit that the white-skinned Poles are alright and "good workers". Even though Poles fit the basic political and material criteria of economic migrants – speaking a different language, having different customs and, most glaringly obvious of all, coming from a poorer country to a richer one to work – they don't quite look the part enough to get their full share of venom.

Not only do we direct our racism down the social scale, we also blame it on those below us. Partly thanks to the overt 'white trash' identity of skinhead movements and the KKK, racism is still seen as a proletarian quality. The white working class's defenders are quick to point out that their rates of interracial marriage are much higher than their rainbow bourgeois superiors. But this should not be surprising, the middle classes have always gone to great lengths to assert their moral superiority over both the working and upper classes. What is surprising is that both prejudices also mate and have children. We are often, strangely, quicker to believe and be outraged at stories of anti-white racism than anti-black. The myths of British Asian and especially Black American racism are incredibly prevalent, despite those interracial spouses the white working classes are so prone to having to come from somewhere.

On a global scale, the West kicked up far less of a fuss over the long-term, abject poverty of Venezuela's non-white population than it did over Mugabe's disappropriation of White farmers. Ahmadinejad's rhetoric on Israel (now, unlike before World War Two, Jews are generally considered white) is generally considered more dangerous than George Bush's rhetoric on Iran, despite the latter's habit of invading and carpet-bombing the olive-skinned. To claim George Bush's motives are even a little bit racist is, even for many hard-line left-wingers, unthinkable and counter-productive. Even to accuse the BNP of racism can be controversial. Yet the accusations of anti-White and anti-Jewish prejudice can be thrown at Zimbabwe, Iran and "certain communities" in Britain without hesitation. This white persecution complex partly stems from the simplistic logic that the plebs are generally racist, the "ethnics" are generally plebs and therefore the ethnics are all much more racist than we are. Bloody ethnics. But it also has a more direct, material cause: few would disagree that there is far more global power concentrated in white hands than in non-white hands. The powerful, having access to more and better means of broadcasting and publication, can shout much louder when they feel hard done by. Therefore we get a disproportionately large picture of anti-White racism than we do of pro-White racism, which further perpetuates the idea of it being more prevalent, which makes it all the easier to believe next time round.

And of course other forms of identity mix in too. In 'One Is Not Born a Woman', Monique Wittig defined gender and sexuality in clear economic term: reproduction is labour, therefore sex and gender are in fact extensions of social class. Sex and sexuality then intermingle with race. From Britain to the Shah's Iran, the upper classes are stereotyped as disproportionately homosexual, and the concept of 'a bit of rough' ascribes hyper-masculinity to working class men. In Iran this perceived gayness mixed with links to the sexually deviant West, in the West, the hyper-masculinity ascribed to the working classes mixes freely with that always ascribed to the phenomenally well-hung, violent, womanising Negro, especially whenever there is a hip-hop record to be sold. With race, how often is skin colour, either in fear and hatred, in solidarity or in prejudiced admiration, simply another way of perceiving social status?