The Great Obama Gaffe

Obama spent a second day here in London yesterday; not that Londoners seemed to notice – our citizens are way too “cool” to acknowledge being interested in anything, even the US Prez. There was a police presence around the Regents Park mosque when I cycled past in the morning and again in the evening and I wondered if that was related; perhaps he planned to pray there? (Ha! Not really… Just tossing a morsel to the morons who still think Obama’s a Muslim).

I got home and watched the 7pm TV news on Channel 4. The 55-minute bulletin was dominated by coverage of Obama’s speech to both houses of parliament, and also covered the barbeque hosted by Obama and Camoron, along with several minutes devoted to Michelle Obama’s meeting with working class teenagers at Oxford University. The overall feeling: the UK is still in love with the Obamas.

Channel 4 had commissioned a poll via YouGov, comparing British public attitudes to Obama with a similar poll about Bush conducted in 2003. Some of the results:

  • Those who have confidence in the US President: Bush: 22%, Obama 72%
  • Is the President a danger to world peace? Bush: 60%, Obama 6%
  • Do you welcome the President? Bush 21%, Obama 60%
  • Do you think the President is highly intelligent? Bush 17%, Obama 81%
  • Is he a good advertisement for America? Bush 20%, Obama 78%

Pretty conclusive… full results here (PDF).

Then I checked Twitter, and found a tweet from serial-moron @mdino90: Obama once again embarrassed country in front of Queen – How did he do this I wondered? The answer, I was told, is that Obama continued a toast to the Queen during the national anthem. Apparently he also wrote the date as 2008 when he signed a guest book the previous day.

Let me explain something about the British: we’re not a patriotic country. We don’t fly flags from our houses (except perhaps on the important occasions, like the football World Cup). We rarely hear the national anthem, and most people don’t know the words. Although we tend to enjoy a bit of ceremony around state events, we don’t really worry too much about tradition. If Black Rod forgot to bring his stick to the opening of Parliament, few would either notice or care.

So even if the British people were aware of Obama’s “gaffe” yesterday (and as far as I can tell, the UK media barely noticed), nobody gave a damn. Notably, if you search for “Obama gaffe” this morning on the Google UK News service, most of the links that appear are American, with Fox (of course) featuring near the top. The only prominent link on the subject I could see was from Sky News – which (coincidentally, I’m sure) is owned by Rupert Murdoch, as Fox is.

I’m sorry Obama-haters, but this seems to be a story that’s been 99% concocted by the US media. The British people couldn’t give a damn about a glass raised during our (very dull) anthem. We rate Obama far more highly than Bush (click the poll link above if you don’t believe me), regardless of any misgivings we may have over his continuation of many aspects of Bush’s foreign policy.

Racism and Moronic Science

Satoshi Kanazawa, a British-based evolutionary psychologist, managed to achieve headlines last week by claiming on the web site Psychology Today to have carried out research showing that black women are less attractive than other woman (article now removed but a copy exists here). He of course provoked an immediate backlash from those who had found his “discovery” offensive. Though I immediately doubted his finding, science isn’t served without giving ideas a fair hearing.

So what was Kanazawa’s method? He showed some American men and women a selection of photos of women of various races, and the black women scored lowest. This immediately rings alarm bells for at least two reasons: firstly, how were the subjects selected? More importantly, this took place in America, the country that probably has a greater in-built cultural bias against black people than any other; the reasons for this are complex but primarily descend from the US’s “Jim Crow” racial segregation laws. Although these laws were abolished following the civil rights movement of the 1960s, their social hangover exists to the present day. American society is still very segregated. In a nutshell, any study of this kind conducted only in the United States would be almost guaranteed to “prove” that black women were “less attractive” than whites or Asians. This study is simply an analysis of American attitudes towards black women – and we didn’t need a survey to guess what the results would say.

As if this wasn’t unscientific enough, Kanazawa’s explanation was even more moronic:

Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races…women with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive.

Um right… so he set out to “prove” that black women are less attractive, set up a study that would provide the answer he wanted, and then plucked a random “fact” out of the air to explain it.

I should now point out that in American “one drop” thinking, “black” refers to pretty much anyone who appears to have at least some African heritage; Barack Obama of course is probably 50% African and 50% European, while Tiger Woods is no more than 25% African, yet they’re both referred to as black. It’s likely that many of the “black women” in Kanazawa’s study are actually mixed race rather than African in origin.

So what is Kanazawa up to? Well, he already has form on racial matters, having weighed into the area of race and intelligence previously; this is a favourite one for racists, because IQ tests do tend to give higher scores for whites than blacks. This line of reasoning has been utterly discredited however, as IQ tests have been shown to measure the amount of science-based education a person has received. As more black people get access to good education, black IQ scores have been rising faster than white ones, and the gap is closing; the differences are cultural and social, not genetic – and Kanazawa surely knows that.

So the man is without doubt a racist; his work has also been repeatedly discredited – click here and here for examples.

After this episode, Kanazawa will have little academic credibility left, but will no doubt become a poster boy for American white supremecists, a dying breed who need every bit of credibility they can find.

Banning Sharia And Other Dangerous Things

About six months ago, the US state of Oklahoma pioneered the banning of Sharia (Islamic) law. It’s not too clear why, since Muslims represent only about 0.4% of Oklahoma’s population, but given Oklahoma’s habit a century ago of hanging black men from trees, picking on defenseless minorities seems to be standard Oklahoman thinking. At least 13 states have now proposed such legislation, for no apparent reason other than the fear of minorities that seems to make up an important part of the white American psyche.

I wondered if there were other “useful” laws that Oklahoma should consider introducing, and here’s a selection, with thanks to some helpful people on Twitter.

  • Ban Dragons – Big, scary and fire-breathing. A menace to all God-fearing Oklahomans.
  • Ban Faster-than-light travel - it may be impossible, but do we really want to take the risk? (@ikonografer)
  • Mandatory leashing of unicorns - have you seen the horns on those things? (@DanVerg)
  • Gravity to remain between 9.7 and 9.9 meters-per-second-squared - do you want your weight to increase suddenly without warning? Me neither.
  • Ban christian fundamentalism - proposed by @elizabethr1533 who is obviously a Muslim-loving Commie.
  • Ban monsters under the bed - thank you to brother @cpoffers for this sensible idea.
  • Ban Spiders were suggested by @seancourt, who obviously hasn’t thought about feasibility. Much easier to ban something that isn’t there.
  • Black men to be banned from running for President - no, I didn’t think it could happen either. Does Oklahoma want to risk it happening a second time?
  • Ban Gays - you mean they haven’t already?!?! (@mrrob88 and @jonrod1) – I should point out they were joking. I think.
  • Alligators over 1 metre in length should be forbidden from keeping pet cats (@metalollie) – I don’t think you’re taking this exercise seriously.
  • Bill Bertrand suggested on my Facebook page that False Raptures should be banned. Interesting idea, but far too sensible.
  • Also on Facebook, Tziedel Tammas proposed Equal rights for Martians - that’s much better, though the prospect of Oklahomans voting in favour of equal rights for anything seems unlikely.

Feel free to add your own below.

Whatever Happened To Jesus?

Well folks, here we are: 22nd May 2011. The Second Coming was yesterday, according to the lying fraudulent moron Harold Camping. To be fair, as we go to press, it’s still 21st May in some parts of the world. But unless Jesus decides to appear in Hawaii any minute now, we can assume it’s not going to happen.

Us educated, enlightened people can have a good laugh if we choose (watch the hilarity unfold live on the #May21 Twitter hashtag), at the poor suckers who believed Camping and prepared for Jesus. You can imagine their shock and disappointment, even if they didn’t get rid of their worldly possessions or tell their boss to go fuck himself. But really it’s not so funny.

Camping, like anyone who makes money from selling God, Jesus, Heaven or The Rapture, is a fraud and a liar. He’s also a very wealthy man, who’s made tens of millions of dollars from selling false hope to the poor, the desperate and – let’s tell it how it is – the stupid.

He’s not the only bad guy here: the US education system, for example, could be expected to arm people against obvious nonsense like the Rapture fairy-tale. And the desperately unfair distribution of wealth in modern US society has left millions of people poor and desperate enough – within the world’s wealthiest society – to turn to this modern-day witch-doctery for help.

On the other hand… perhaps we shouldn’t be feeling too sorry for those who were hoping for the Second Coming yesterday. The Second Coming would have been Step One; Step Two being the Rapture on 21st October (again, according to Camping). The Rapture is a hateful piece of religious nonsense; it’s based on the End Of Days idea in 1 Thessalonians, with some 17th-century American modifications. The idea is that at the End Of Days, the righteous will literally rise up into the sky (naked, apparently) and ascend to heaven; while everyone else on Earth is condemned to burn in Hell for all eternity. If you follow some of these Armageddon types (as I have the pleasure of doing), you’ll realise that their anticipation isn’t just about rising to heaven; they’re equally excited about seeing us sinners (representing approximately 99% of the world’s population) stay behind and burn in hellfire. Which is hardly the kind of loving attitude Jesus was trying to encourage in his followers. So go on then, enjoy a moment of gloating. They would.

Why Progressives Should Defend Ken Clarke

You won’t often find me defending British Conservative ministers – especially ones who (allegedly) think that some rapes aren’t so bad – but, to quote the song, There’s Something Happening Here…

My 1980s self would be shocked to find me thinking sympathetically about Clarke. He was a minister in the Thatcher government – about as close to an Axis Of Evil that we’ve had in this country. What my young self didn’t know was that even the nastiest, most brutal of politicians can become wiser and more pragmatic with age. Make no mistake, Clarke is still conservative to the core, but some of his views are liberal enough that his appointment as Secretary of State for Justice last year upset many on the Tory right.

What particularly upset the flog-‘em and hang-‘em brigade was Clarke’s pronouncement that prison sizes have become too large, locking up more people doesn’t make for a better society, and that his goal in government was to reduce the size of the UK’s prison population. That made me reflect on how right-wing and authoritarian Labour had become under the Blairites. When a pragmatic Tory minister makes Labour look right-wing, you know the left has taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Yesterday, Clarke was giving a radio interview about his plan to increase the “good behaviour” time that would be offered to prisoners from 33% to 50% for those who plead guilty. In a discussion about rape, he tried to explain that, in the eyes of the law, there are different degrees of rape, pointing out that “…if an 17-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she’s perfectly willing, that is rape…” – in other words, what’s known in the US as Statutory Rape. (Note that the age of consent in the UK is 16).

I doubt anybody reading this would disagree with his point: to claim that a consensual sexual act could be as bad as a non-consensual one would be crazy, and would lessen rape as a crime. However, Clarke went on to talk about “date rape” when (it appears) he meant statutory rape.

The media and political opposition love to jump on apparent slips by government ministers, so yesterday afternoon’s outcry was unsurprising. But by this morning, the attacks on Clarke had ramped up: and were almost entirely from the right-wing media.

Notably, the most outspoken media were also the ones who have a poor record in defending women’s rights.

The right hates the fact that Ken Clarke is attacking one of the things they hold dear: locking people up and throwing away the key. They smelled blood and they went on the attack, calling immediately for his dismissal (“and with him”, you can hear them thinking, “the idea that prison populations should be reduced”).

The right did exactly as you’d expect – no surprise there. Unfortunately Labour leader Ed Miliband and much of the “progressive” Twitterati followed suit. “What? Ken Clarke said something about rape that seems to have upset somebody or other? DISGRACEFUL – FIRE HIM”… kind-of knee-jerk stuff.

Miliband’s intervention was a sad reminder that party politics come ahead of progressive values; most Labour supporters should be pleased that Clarke, rather than someone far more authoritarian, is the Justice Secretary. But Miliband simply saw the chance to score cheap points.

As for those people who instantly decided that Clarke was guilty – remember, we progressives pride ourselves on bring the smart ones? Read what he said. Think about it. Forcible rape really is worse than a teenager having consenting, underage sex. At least, I think so.

Is Fascism Back in Europe? Did It Ever Leave?

Like all European Jews, I was taught about the Holocaust during childhood. The facts of the event are too staggering for even an adult to comprehend, let alone a child. But the explanation given was fairly straightforward: the German people went through some kind of temporary madness; the “good guys” (Britain, The US and the Soviet Union) went to war; we won and killed Hitler; surviving Jews were freed from the camps; it couldn’t happen again.

Some less palatable facts were left out of the account; the Holocaust was massive in scale, but was just one of countless European attacks on Jews and Gypsies throughout history; it wasn’t just the Nazis, or just the Germans, but a mass genocidal movement that rose spontaneously across large parts of Europe; the only reason it may not happen again was that this time it was a “success” – so many Jews were killed, and so many more fled to New York and Israel that Europe’s thirst for Jewish blood may have finally been sated.

What was “special” about Jews and Gypsies? Simply this: that both groups originated outside of Europe. And Europe hates outsiders.

Most people I know like the simplicity of the “one-off madness” theory. It saves thinking too much, and avoids any worry that similar could happen again. British Jews in particular like to blame Germany for everything; acknowledging you live in a continent that has taken repeated joy in slaughtering our ancestors is too much for most Jews to think about.

I believed in the simple view myself until I started travelling to Italy on a regular basis. I’d fallen in love with the style and beauty of the country, and learned to speak Italian to a good level. Visiting a friend’s family in the Alto Adige, a mixed Italian/German province in the far north-east of the country, helped open my eyes. It was casually explained to me that the city council of Bolzano (the main city of the region) regularly changes hands at elections – between the German-speaking Fascists and the Italian-speaking Fascists. I thought this must be some mistake; surely Fascism died in 1945, never to return?

While in Bolzano, I accompanied a friend to visit her father’s grave. She thought I’d be interested in the Jewish section of the cemetery so we walked around it. She said she didn’t think there were any Jews left in Bolzano – but she didn’t know where they had gone. That was my moment of revelation: by punishing the Nazis for the crimes of WW2, most of the guilty had gone free. History had been re-written. As Europe rebuilt, it had learned fewer lessons than it liked to pretend.

The European far-right struggled to re-establish itself for decades, but bit by bit it has returned to strength. The movements are deeply adaptable – unlike its cousin in America that finds it hard to hate anyone except black people, the European far-right is pragmatic in its choice of scapegoats. It’s no longer considered acceptable to blame Jews for everything? Then parade your “love” for Israel and blame Muslims instead. Homosexuality has become acceptable in Europe? Then gays will no longer be lynched – in fact the new fascists positively embrace homosexuality, brandishing their “tolerance” to show how “intolerant” Muslims are (cleverly ignoring the fact that European gays used to travel to Morocco on vacation when they were not acceptable to the average European).

Suddenly, apparently within a few months, far-right nationalism is confident and resurgent. The seed of this growth was in large part sown on 9/11, but it’s taken a decade for the anti-Muslim narrative to evolve. Mostly, the new nationalism is finding strength in the same places that embraced fascism in the 1930s: France and Italy, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, across much of Europe. Nationalism is presented in fresh, acceptable forms. While we were on the lookout for jackboots and racist mobs, it instead presents itself in the form of Geert Wilders, who has gained popularity in The Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, and the boringly-British duo of Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage in the UK. It cloaks itself as “concern” over “excessive” immigration or as “defending our sovereignty” from the European Union. We forget so fast that Europe, by nature, is the world’s most warlike continent, and that the EU has created the longest period of peace in European history.

So here we are again – it’s not so much that far-right nationalism is back, it’s just that we forgot it never went away.

(Update: a Dutch translation of this article is available. Thanks to krapuul.nl)

SlutWalk Upsets Morons

I love how mass movements seem to appear from nowhere in the Internet age, and SlutWalk is my latest favourite. It began predictably enough – a Toronto policeman called Michael Sanguinetti expressed his opinion that if women want to avoid sexual assault, they should avoid dressing as sluts. It’s a nasty view, but hardly an original one. The idea that women are responsible for male sexual violence against them goes back to the dawn of history, and is the basis of dress rules for Orthodox Jews, nuns and Muslim women in burqas.

This idea is often self-fulfilling – in Catholic Southern Italy or Islamic Morocco, local women dress conservatively, and when more scantily-dressed tourists appear, local men take this as an invitation to touch without permission – or worse. The more conservative a society, the more women are likely to be branded as “sluts”, and treated as if they have already given consent to whatever may follow. In Bible-belt America, the same branding can be achieved by the use of “chastity rings”, the Southern equivalent of the burqa. If enough young women wear these rings, those who choose to opt out may be assumed to be “up for it” and face sexual harassment, thus “proving” that wearing a ring is the right thing to do.

Thanks to the power of social networking, Sanguinetti’s comments were quickly disseminated, and a new movement was born: the SlutWalk, with the stated aim of standing up against rape culture and slut-shaming. Probably for the first time in history, people took to the streets worldwide to oppose the idea that being a “slut” is somehow wrong.

Promuiscuity by women has been feared and hated since Biblical times, some examples include:

Kill people who commit adultery:

If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

Kill a priest’s daughter if she’s promiscuous:

A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9)

Kill a girl who isn’t a virgin when she marries:

…if [on her wedding night] evidence of the girl’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)

So it’s hardly surprising that modern-day Christians, Jews and Muslims have a problem with “sluttish” behaviour”. But the religious brigade aren’t the only ones trying to “protect” women from the “pressure” to engage in casual sexual behaviour: a puritanical brand of feminism has emerged that seems to believe exactly the same thing: sex is something men do to women, and therefore the best thing for women to do is resist the pressure of “sexualisation”. Strangely, these so-called “feminist” ideas are the exact opposite of those held by the early feminist movement of the 60s and 70s; this was a movement to liberate women, from male control, including the liberation to enjoy sex whenever and however they wanted.

One of the flag-bearers of puritanical “feminism” is Gail Dines, a campaigner against “sexualisation” and “objectification” (whatever those might be). While SlutWalks aim to reclaim the word Slut, and use it in a positive context, Dines wrote in the Guardian that:

While the organisers of the SlutWalk might think that proudly calling themselves “sluts” is a way to empower women, they are in fact making life harder for girls who are trying to navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence.

In other words: being a Slut is a bad thing. It can never be a good thing, so stop trying to make it a good thing. Given that Slut is a synonym for “promiscuous female” (or sometimes male), Dines is saying (wrapped up in feminist language) that promiscuity is wrong, and women shouldn’t be encouraging men, because they’ll only take advantage… which is pretty much what Officer Sanguinetti said in the first place.

I should note that (despite some popular misconceptions), not all feminists are anti-sex or pro-censorship like Gail Dines. But Dines and others like her have hijacked the feminist mantle, with help from the supposedly liberal media, including The Guardian. It should be noted that Dines makes her living from selling books and lectures about the menace of sexualisation – and she clearly knows that fear sells.

Helped by the mass media, along with Facebook and Twitter, The SlutWalk phenomenon has spread globally, with walks planned in many cities, including London on 4th June (UPDATE – the London SlutWalk is now on 11th June). I’d encourage proud sluts of all genders and sexualities to get out on the streets to show the religious and the feminist moralisers that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a healthy, consensual sex life whenever, wherever and with whomever we like.