Monday, September 24, 2012

Closing Time

Well I owe an apology to readers here, I have not updated The Harvest in a long while. 

In August I had to complete my MSc dissertation and quickly started work afterwards. Since then I have put off coming back here and now I'm thinking it may be time, after two years of posts, to wind this blog up.

If that's going to be the case, first I want to thank readers and contributors here, everyone who kept me on my toes with comments and criticisms and also all of you who just popped by to read. Thanks, folks! It's been a lot of fun coming up with ideas every few days and having you all test them for cracks.

Coming to the end, I can look back now with a critical eye.

The blog has never had a clear theme. That's mainly because of my own very wide interests. The Harvest blundered from articles on international politics and religious conflicts to wood carving and children's literature. I find that most things are interesting in some way! I also think that a wide range of knowledge can be beneficial: to be Philip Tetlock's fox, not his hedgehog, in knowing lots of things instead of one big thing. I understand, though, that visitors may have been baffled by this lack of focus, and it is probably a failing in this blog.

Not earning any money from the blog, I was unable to devote myself to it like I would have to a professional project. This meant that the quality of writing and research was not as high as I'd have liked, and sometimes I ended up filling gaps with very short posts. I tried to combat some of the mistakes I saw in news media but squeezing this writing into my dwindling spare time meant that I was unable to do the kind of analysis that I thought was missing from wider media. That has been a source of occasional frustration.

Still, I wrote here about things that fascinated me, so hopefully some of my readers have enjoyed my posts here! Thanks again for sticking around and commenting and sharing my articles. I will leave the blog up for the foreseeable future, and the email address in my About Me section still stands. Time to bow out for now, good luck!

Monday, August 6, 2012

How people got mad wrongly about Batman murders coverage


After the Batman premiere in Aurora, Colorado was attacked by a single gunman, I started seeing images like this one above being passed around on Facebook. There were angry complaints that police and media were treating suspect James Holmes differently than they would have treated a non-white killer. Specifically, Holmes was called a killer or madman or gunman, but not - they argued - a terrorist. A non-white or Muslim killer would have been called a terrorist, they said. Another post:


I was doubtful at the time. Now, though, we have another mass-murder event, and early reports are describing a white suspect.

But this time multiple news sources are quoting the local police chief John Edwards, who has called it a 'domestic terrorist incident'. That is, days after people complained that white killers are not called terrorist, a white killer is being called terrorist.

From Google News, a few of the American media sources calling the attack terrorism:


So why is this one being called a terrorist attack and the Batman massacre was not? The most obvious likelihood is that people think only a crazy individual would attack Batman fans, while it is easier to imagine a political agenda by one who specifically targets an ethnic minority.

As for the complaint that James Holmes was unusual in being called a 'suspect', and was captured alive, remember the Fort Hood massacre in 2009. CNN led with the headline 'Officials: Fort Hood shootings suspect alive; 12 dead'. The suspect in that attack, psychiatrist  Nidal Malik Hasan, is of Palestinian ancestry and shouted 'Allahu Ackbar' while killing his victims. Yet he was also captured alive, and many American media outlets called him a suspect. NBC - in an article that was called Hasan a 'gunman' in the headline - even remarked that:
A senior administration official told NBC News that the shootings could have been a criminal matter rather than a terrorism-related attack and that there was no intelligence to suggest a plot against Fort Hood. 
Far from emphasising Hasan's ethnic or religious background, NBC seemed to go out of their way to avoid labelling him an Islamist terrorist. 

These complaints about media coverage of events are easy to make, but very hard to prove. How do we know what media 'would have' done had the attacker been of a different nationality or religion or ethnicity? In this post I show that at least some of the complaints about media bias are completely mistaken, with white killers called 'terrorist' and Arab killers called 'suspect'. 

A convincing criticism would need to be rigorous, exploring a huge number of media publications and broadcasters, covering a large number of different incidents.

Years ago I helped to moderate a huge International Relations discussion forum. The other moderators and I were denounced by members for being biased: for being anti-Muslim, pro-Muslim, anti-Western, pro-Western, anti-Indian, pro-Indian, racist, left-wing, right-wing - all at the same time! For a while we had a Dutch liberal, a Swiss anarcho-capitalist, a Pakistani communist and I, all moderating together, yet even with our diverse backgrounds we were accused of having some kind of collective agenda.

Of course we were just trying to be balanced and reasonable. Those denouncing us for bias were the ones with the real agendas. Blinded by their own political or religious zeal, they saw conspiracies against them everywhere. Media can distort one's understanding of events, but I feel that institutions that are expected to be fair, like the United Nations, media, or courts, will always be attacked for being unfair by consumers with agendas and prejudices. 

The really common biases are among consumers of media, not producers. When was the last time you saw someone complain about media bias in their favour?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

How religion created science, liberalism, and peace

A lot of my friends have anti-religious views. They tend to see religions, especially Christianity, as having retarded the natural progress of humanity by inhibiting science and inciting wars. They like Richard Dawkins, and share his support for Professor Steven Weinberg's statement that:
With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion.
I read these anti-religious comments by my friends on Facebook with a growing sense of doubt.

Recently I listened to a BBC History Extra interview with historian Michael Hunter on the great 17th century scientist Robert Boyle, one of founders of the scientific method. Boyle, a pioneer of scientific experimentation, was motivated by a religious zeal - for religion. He was a devout Christian, and was concerned by an apparently godless movement rallying around philosophers like Thomas Hobbes. Boyle created the foundations of modern science not despite his faith, but because of it: he believed that his discoveries of a deeply complex scientific reality were evidence of God's design.

This does not fit with those anti-religious narratives I encounter. In those views it was the destruction of Christian power following the Reformation that led to the growth of science. As Christianity fell away, Enlightenment ideals prospered, irreligious humanism emerged, and old ills like slavery and sexism were overthrown.

Yet the Enlightenment period was one of fierce religious passion and its greatest thinkers were mostly devout believers. Modern people may look back and perceive a linear progression from the darkness of religious superstition to the light of secular knowledge, but this is anachronistic. The heroes of science and liberalism took religion for granted; it was a spur for discovery, not an inhibitor. Today we talk about Newtonian physics; Isaac Newton wrote seriously about witchcraft, magic and alchemy. Today anti-religious commentators talk about the illiberalism of Christianity; John Locke - the Father of Liberalism - was a passionate Christian who saw reason as a God-given trait that could only bring humanity to a belief in Jesus.

If homo sapiens first emerged over 100,000 years ago, and the liberal and scientific ideas modern anti-religious humanists value went undiscovered until finally emerging among deeply religious Christians in deeply Christian societies, it seems odd to blame Christianity for retarding them.

I will propose a different narrative for how religion, morality and science emerged. Readers, please correct me if I make mistakes, I'm straying out of comfortable territory here and really just tying facts together with guesses.

First, humanity evolved from pre-human primates. These newly intelligent humans had nothing to explain the world around them, but they did have a natural hereditary instinct to project human characteristics onto nature. A bolt of lightning might feel like anger from a god of the sky, so early humans would have attempted to negotiate with, manipulate, control or supplicate themselves towards the spirits in the same way that they negotiated with other human beings. This was the earliest folk religion, and it was an everyday part of life in a world with no secular-sacred division.

Natural curiosity led groups to develop creation myths to explain their existence. They had not yet worked out any alternative mechanistic view of nature so religion was the way in which everything was understood. It played in that time the roles that culture and science and law all play today. Almost everyone who bothered to think was religious because there was no convincing alternative narrative. An irreligious individual then was not any enlightened atheist, he or she was simply incurious.

As most of early human development happened when people were scattered in small clans, human instincts favoured suspicion of the outsiders, who might be dangerous. As Lawrence Keeley explained in War Before Civilization, small tribes were perpetually terrified that their neighbours would attack, so they pre-empted these attacks with raids of their own. There was no concept of a universal humanity that had universal human rights, so tribes raided, raped, enslaved and cannibalised their neighbours - who were as alien to them as wild animals.

As communities became more populous and complex, new cultural rules emerged to unite the former enemies that were absorbed into big communities, to justify power inequalities and to protect public goods. In places like Egypt and Japan, rulers justified their domination of the land by claiming divinity. Ancient Rome became exceptionally powerful because of its ability to absorb non-Roman enemies, offering them citizenship in exchange for service in the Roman army. I read anti-religious commentators complain that religion is 'about controlling people'. Of course it is: without universal rules to bind tribes together the early states would have collapsed back into tribal anarchy. The natural animal instincts to fight and steal and cheat had to be controlled.

This gave the ancient states a conundrum, too. Should they tolerate different religions when their own political legitimacy was connected to a consensus on their divinity? Rome brutally suppressed Jews, British druids, and Christians who resisted Roman Imperial divinity but in different periods was relatively tolerant of religious dissent.

These early multitribal cultures were probably a mix of obvious moral rules that are still familiar today (do not steal or murder), and less recognisable religious rules and taboos. When different cultures met, they must have gone through a natural selection process. Cultures which failed to protect the material well being of the people would probably disappear as more efficient civilisations conquered them. Cultures which failed to defend their own rituals and taboos would vanish over time too, replaced by those cultures that more jealously defended their norms. Hence, perhaps, Judaism survived conquest after conquest by greater regional powers when most other religions and cultures vanished; the Jewish faith was stricter and less willing to accept heresy or external modification than others.

From this period of early states and empires, when sacred and secular were still one, emerged for the first time the religious idea that there is a universal humanity for whom one set of natural rights apply. Scott Atran writes:
Cannibalism, infanticide, slavery, racism and the subordination of women are vastly more prevalent across cultures and over the course of history. It wasn’t inevitable or even reasonable that conceptions of freedom and equality should emerge, much less prevail among genetic strangers. These, when combined with faith and imagination, were originally legitimized by their transcendent “sacredness.”

...Human rights weren’t discovered but invented for social engineering of a kind unprecedented in human history. The American and French Republics began to render real the fictions of individual and equal rights through new mores, laws and wars, and not through independent scientific discoveries.... As philosopher John Gray of the London School of Economics convincingly argues, it is universal forms of monotheism, such as Christianity and Islam, that merged Hebrew tribal belief in one God with Greek faith in universal laws applicable to the whole of creation that originated the inclusive concept of Humanity in the first place.

Universal monotheisms created two new concepts in human thought: individual free choice and collective humanity. People not born into these religions could, in principle, choose to belong (or remain outside) without regard to ethnicity, tribe or territory. The mission of these religions was to extend moral salvation to all peoples, whether they liked it or not. 
Thus in a period when the Roman Emperor Commodus was having one-legged cripples tied together to serve as 'giants' that he would club to death in the gladiator ring, Christ's followers were preaching about compassion and salvation, in which the poorest and weakest were more likely to be saved than the powerful. I can't help but feel this was a huge step forward.

Historian Peter Watson told BBC's History Extra that ' as many scholars have said, firstly the invention of Jewish monotheism, and then Christianity, and the idea of an abstract God, who nonetheless can be known, provokes the idea of scholarship, of inquiry, that leads to progress, to science and so forth. And this makes the Old World, according to this theory, a far more curious entity than the New World.'

To us it seems obvious that we are all part of the same human species, but there was nothing inevitable about the idea that two-legged animals that speak must be our human cousins. So uncertain was this concept that Pope Paul III wrote the Sublimus Dei in 1537, announcing that Native Americans were not 'dumb brutes created for our service' but 'truly men and... capable of understanding the Catholic Faith'. He forbade the enslavement of the Native Americans on those grounds: the Indians were humans with the potential to become Christian, 'even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ'.

Yet the old tensions and abuses persisted even after the rise of universalist religions, partly because humans were still at an early stage of technological and diplomatic development. Borders were insecure, food supplies fluctuated and famine was always a danger. Today I see anti-religious commentators blame religion for medieval European wars. Yet Europeans had been hacking each other to bits for thousands of years and were probably at their most peaceful during the Pax Romana, when the advanced institutions and military domination of the Roman Empire kept the smaller tribes and kingdoms peaceful. With the collapse of that military authority, Europeans returned to their natural state of anarchistic violence; the alternative to embracing violence was to be victimised oneself. Christians killed Christians, Pagans killed Pagans, Muslims killed Muslims, Mongols killed everyone. Borders of conflict were as often within religious civilisations as they were between them.

As order returned and some countries began to become very prosperous, they were finally stable and secure enough to take seriously the religious morality they had preached but little practiced over the centuries. Hence the British Empire cheerfully traded in African slaves until it was mighty and secure, but by then the loudest voices on the side of abolition were devout Christians, especially Quakers, who criticised slavery on Christian, not irreligious humanist, grounds.

Of course religious people did terrible things which they justified on religious grounds. Yet it seems that people had been doing horrific things forever. In Western Europe, in deeply religious societies, some deeply religious people founded science, liberalism, slave-abolitionism and so on. It seems upside down to blame Christianity for depravities that existed everywhere and ignore advances that existed nowhere else.
Anti-religious commentators look back to a violent, oppressive past, see religion, and conclude that religion caused the violence and oppression. I suggest that poverty, political instability, technological backwardness and scientific ignorance caused both the oppressive violence and the domination of society by religious belief. As societies developed, borders stabilised and hunger abated, the worst excesses of oppression declined too, often because devout religious people denounced those social ills on religious grounds. Alongside those political and technological developments were scientific developments that created ideas of nature as a giant, godless mechanism. Atheism emerged from the discoveries of Christian scientists.

Even early feminism identified sexual equality with Christianity:
‘Christ is being crucified in Holloway’ – so ran the headline in the 5 June 1914 issue of The Suffragette. In this case, the Christ crucified in prison was the leader of the movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, but in fact any other suffragette in prison was liable to be likened to Christ. ‘Woman [is] ...crucified’, proclaimed Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, co-editor of Votes For Women, in a 1911 editorial. Indeed, suffragettes so consistently identified themselves with Jesus Christ that if, as Pethick Lawrence wrote, ‘[t]he Woman’s Movement means a new religion’, then this new religion certainly bore a distinct relation to the old one.
Liberalism, gender equality, abolitionism, science, religious tolerance: all were born out of a religious Europe, usually from deeply religious thinkers who were inspired by the Bible.

One might argue that religion is no longer necessary in our stable, modern, liberal democracies. Perhaps, now that the edifice of human rights and science is built, we can kick away the scaffold of religion; at least, though, acknowledge its role in creating the beliefs now held dear. Perhaps the truth is closer to the opposite to Steven Weinberg's statement. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil. But for most people to be consistently good and overcome their natural animal instincts to grab and kill - that takes some kind of universal ideology, like a religion.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bank of England keeps rate at Ancient Roman level?

I was surprised to see this headline on Finfacts.ie today:

The Bank of England kept its benchmark rate at a '1694-year low'? That means that the rate hasn't been lower since 318AD, back when Britannia was a Roman province! Right through the collapse of Rome, the invasion of Saxons and Angles, the Viking attacks and Norman conquests, the Bank of England kept its rates above 0.75%!

The first paragraph explains that this is the lowest rate since the foundation of the Bank of England, in 1694, a rather different meaning; perhaps the person writing the headline was not the person writing the story!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just William, and a dose of Silent Evidence

In December I pointed out that The Graham Norton Show, by only interviewing successful music or film stars, might be misleading viewers about their own chances of success. Such shows never interview people who fail:
But the fascination in hearing the lives of only successful people means we miss the evidence of the unsuccessful majority.
This is a big theme of Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan, where he writes about the 'silent evidence' that, by its very nature, is never observed - like the terrorist attack that doesn't happen thanks to wise policies - so it struck me as quite an important and modern insight.

I was delighted and amused, then, to see the following conversation in a second-hand, first-edition copy of William and the Space Animal by Richmal Crompton, published in 1956. Crompton wrote a long series of books about the adventures of the irrepressible English school boy William Brown published from the 1920s: really hilarious observations of life in Britain in this period, often poking fun at the fashionable beliefs and norms of the day. In various books Crompton teased her compatriots for their interests in Eastern mysticism and communism, for their hypocritical self-righteousness and youthful extravagances, all from the perspective of the energetic and mischievous William.

In this case William and his friend Ginger are discussing the possibility of their getting to the moon somehow. The boys had, Ginger reminds William, tried lots of ways already, but William is an optimist and eager to keep trying.
'We've got to keep on tryin' till somethin' does come off. Somethin's sure to come off sooner or later. Stands to reason it will. That's what happened to all the inventors in hist'ry. They went on tryin' and tryin' an' in the end it came off.'

'Yes, but you dno't know about all the ones that tried an' tried an' tried an' it didn't come off.'
Silent evidence, in a children's book, in 1956!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Anniversary of Potsdam: the coming rain of ruin

The 26th July is the anniversary of the issuing of the Potsdam Declaration in 1945, a document created by the United States, Britain and China outlining terms of surrender for Japan. Germany had already fallen and Japan's defeat seemed inevitable, yet they fought on with terrible losses; the Potsdam Declaration was offered to Japan as a final ultimatum.

The language of the document is astonishing to modern eyes. It was written with total imperial confidence and clarity, referring to the Allies as 'the aroused free peoples of the world'. It was a bleak and dreadful warning to Japan should they dare resist.
The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.
It sought to distinguish between the Japanese people and 'those self-willed militaristic advisers' who had taken Japan to war, encouraging the Japanese to 'follow the path of reason'. It ordered the removal of those guilty parties from power, announced that Japan would be occupied by the Allies until the demands were all satisfied, insisted on the obliteration of Japan's Asian empire, and the disarming of its entire military. It called for war crimes trials, and the establishment of a liberal democracy. Industries associated with armaments were to be temporarily forbidden.

All this was accompanied with clear and terrible language:
Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay....

We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.
Prompt and utter destruction: some people believe this was a hint of the nuclear weapons that the US had already tested by the time the Potsdam Declaration was drawn up. There is a strange story about the Japanese government's response to the Declaration, incidentally, related by a 1968 National Security Agency document about the dangers of mistranslation:
Reporters in Tokyo questioned Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuki about his government's reaction to the Potsdam Declaration. Since no formal decision had been reached at the time, Suzuki, falling back on the politician's old standby answer to reporters, replied that he was withholding comment. He used the Japanese word mokusatsu, derived from the word for "silence."
This word, unfortunately, has two meanings:
mokusatsu ... , 'l1-suru, v. take no notice of; treat
(anything) with silent contempt; ignore [by keeping
silence]; remain in a wise and masterly inactivity.
The NSA document suggested that Suzuki had intended to say the Japanese equivalent of 'no comment', but international press interpreted it as a contemptuous 'not worthy of comment'. 
U. S. officials, angered by the tone of Suzuki's statement and obviously seeing it as another typical example of the fanatical Banzai and Kamikaze spirit, decided on stern measures. Within ten days the decision was made to drop the atomic bomb, the bomb was dropped, and Hiroshima was leveled.
Hard to know if one mistranslated word had really led to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but American President Harry Truman did reference the Japanese rejection of Potsdam in an official announcement following the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima:
It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.
In any case the Japanese kept fighting for a few more months, and the rain of death continued: in the catastrophic (and more bloody) fire-bombing of Japanese cities and finally the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I lived for a year in a small town near Nagasaki City, and whenever I visited I felt a little proud of the bustling and friendly modern city that had recovered from the bombing.

Strange times. The utter Allied confidence, the talk of annihilating another country, and with such unquestioned moral confidence, seem odd now. One of the 'aroused free peoples of the world' the Declaration said had defeated Nazi Germany was the USSR, with whom the Western Allies would plunge the world into the Cold War within a few years. I usually feel sceptical when people talk about 'simpler times' but certainly they were different times from now. I cannot imagine George W. Bush announcing that Iraq would face 'prompt and utter destruction' or a 'rain of ruin' if it failed to surrender. But I don't really understand why things have changed - readers feel free to contribute thoughts below.

Anyway here is the entire Potsdam Declaration in full:

  1. We-the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war.
  2. The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.
  3. The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan. The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.
  4. The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.
  5. Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.
  6. There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.
  7. Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan's war-making power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.
  8. The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.
  9. The Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.
  10. We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.
  11. Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit the exaction of just reparations in kind, but not those which would enable her to re-arm for war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be permitted. Eventual Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted.
  12. The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government.
  13. We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is Everyone Western?

I am rather busy with my MSc dissertation these days so I don't have as much time to keep this current as I'd like, sorry to regular readers.

One small point today. I was in a McDonalds earlier to get some lunch and I found there a phenomenon I had noticed in McDonalds in Dublin several times before: foreigners. Many, diverse, foreigners. There were Spanish, Chinese, East Europeans, sub-Saharan Africans, French; I was served by a woman from some South East Asian country I guess, and a gang of Italian teenagers squeezed onto the table beside me.

Years ago I had noticed that Irish pubs, so famous and emblematic of Irish culture, seemed to generally be full of white faces, lacking the ethnic diversity of the streets while immigration was high. Perhaps the alcohol was off-putting for many immigrants for cultural or religious reasons.

In McDonalds, though, all the Europeans and Africans and Asians attended. I could look up and see Indonesian girls in hijabs and Australian backpackers and Indian students all chatting over their Big Macs. My guess here is that McDonalds is simply so widespread that it is represented in every single one of those countries, and carries familiarity and a taste of home. When Filipino or Polish youths want somewhere to meet where they can be confident of the kind of food and drink available, a place that is not so alien and different from home, McDonalds is the place to go.

If that's true, it's a testament to the near-global dominance of a kind of American culture. Commentators discuss the falling power or influence of the West, the economic rise of the East, but it has happened along with a massive shift towards a celebration of American, Western culture by a great many people in the East. In one sense, then everyone is Western now.