Monday, April 28, 2008

Homo sapiens sapiens - Civilisation discontinued

More random stories from Pangloss' best of all possible worlds... incontrovertible evidence of a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God in action.

I'm sure some of you will have heard of the story already. For 24 years a woman was held captive by her biological father and continuously raped. Held in a windowless cell tract in the parental home she gave birth to anywhere between 5-7 of his children. He seemingly raped the girl for the first time when she was 11 years old. Remarkably, in that very same house the man's wife and grandparents lived. There were no less than 6 adults going in and out of the house. It goes without saying that they claim to have had no clue as to what was going on in that house of horrors. All of this happened in a small Austrian town... -

On a slightly - just slightly - more cheerful note, the German news magazine DER SPIEGEL has unearthed the rules governing stoning-to-death activities in 21st century Iran. Kinda cute. Basically the convicted evil doers (say someone who slept with someone other than her husband) will be dug in up to their waistlines. Then their heads will be covered, then finally the crowd can go about the stoning to death business. You know, I was always a tad bit worried that that just might be too easy a death for such a heineous crime. Indeed, that's what the religious authorities in that country seem to have thought, too. The problem is basically this: how can we ensure that people don't die too easily or too quickly, because someone uses too big a stone. Thankfully, and in true testimony to the creative spirit of the Iranian justice system, the size of the stones that people may throw during the various stages of the stoning-to-death festival, is strictly regulated. Little did Monty Python's know when they produced the LIFE OF BRIAN that their mocking of the stoning-to-death ritual actually reflected 21st century Iran.

Thank goodness, having been educated in Germany, I know my Leibniz, so I know, much like Voltaire's Pangloss, that none of this should take my eye of the big truth: This earth was created by God. God is good. God is omnipotent. God is omniscient. It is precisely for that reason that this is the best of all possible worlds. Praise the Lord, imagine how bad it would be on earth if our paradise hadn't been created by HIM etc etc etc

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Xmas in heaven - that's TimTam for you and me :)

It's weekend, but sadly the university network that is currently hosting me in London prevents me from uploading images to the net, hence this not so serious entry has to make-do without a photo of a TimTam's package. I couldn't believe my luck today (a Christmas in heaven type event) when I was about to get on the bus at Shepherd's Bush station. There's a little shop selling all sorts of goodies from Down Under, including revolting stuff like Vegemite. Anyway, I got myself a package of TimTam's originals. You know, others go for Cocaine, marijuana, stuff like that. All I need for my happiness are TimTam's. Those divine chocolate biscuits kindly manufactured in Down Under for Arnott's. Ummm... yummie! They're kind of legend in the country really. Most addicts have their own favorite way of eating them. I picked mine up from a bloke I shared a place with while I did my PhD at Monash. Basically you use the biscuit as a filter and suck your coffee or tea into your mouth thru the TimTam's. I swear to you, if you like sweets at all, and this doesn't bowl you over, nothing will.

Unlike the Colbert Report (with Dorito's), this Tim Tam's ad wasn't sponsored by Arnott's, sadly so.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Oi wei... so far for Londonistan's disaster preparedness

Much has been made of Londonistan's disaster preparedness in the aftermath of the tube and bus bombing a few years back. Well, may I say that I am a tad bit skeptical. Two days ago, on my way back from the local clubs I rushed - together with many many others - close to midnight into the tube station at Tottenham Court road. Something seemingly was wrong with their announcement system as messages continued in a loop (like station manager, report to XYZ). However, eventually the message changed to something like 'this is an emergency, please vacate the station immediately'. I got to be honest, I heard it on the top of the escalators and headed down anyway -together with a few hundred others. Eventually, on the bottom of the escalators my friend and I decided to do a U-turn and leave the station. Station staff told me that there would be no further trains that night due to the 'emergency'. They were quite cheerful about it, and in no particular rush to clear the station of hundreds if not thousands of people meandering around aimlessly in the station. Indeed, while we made eventually our way up the escalators again to catch the nightbus, people still rushed down the escalators, despite the continuing emergency announcements. Surprisingly, nobody bothered switching the downwards escalators off either.

Guess, if this had been a real emergency, this would have ended in a huge tragedy, mostly because people did not bother responding to the emergency announcement at all. When I say people, I mean both passengers as well as station staff.

Tales from Londonistan: Red Ken vs Blond Boris

The battle for the job of Mayor of Londonistan is on in all earnest. On May 01 it'll be Ken Livingstone or Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. The campaigning in the UK's capital is heating up nicely, and the choice, kind of, couldn't be starker. Other than red Ken and blond Boris there's my good friends, the Lib Dems who have chosen as their choice of losing candidate Brian Paddick, an openly gay ex cop with sensible views on most things. There's also the usual rabble of weirdos like the BNPs Richard Barnbook.

Anyway, good ol Ken has been a central figure on Londonistan's political stage for some three decades, no less than 8 of which as the capital's mayor. Frankly, by any standards, he hasn't made a hash of it. He is rapidly increasing the quantity of affordable accommodation in the capital, has introduced the congestion charge to get at least some car nuts people to use Londonistan's public transport system, he has been consistently supportive of women's, gay and ethnic minority issues and so on and so forth. Still, there has been the odd corruption scandal, but nothing, it seems that would have benefited him or his family financially in any way.

Blond Boris main claim to fame is that he ran the SPECTATOR, a conservative reasonably intelligent magazine. He also makes oodles of money as a regular commentator in THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, a right-wing broadsheet. As an MP for the conservative party he has rarely been heard of, except when making oddly disparaging remarks about all sorts of people both in the UK and elsewhere. He suggested at one point that men should vote for the Conservatives, because this would translate into their wife getting bigger breasts, and they'd be more likely to drive a BMW M3 (nice car, btw). While this is all quite amusing, and I kind of like Johnson's quirkiness, no doubt, this makes him unelectable by most peoples' standards. Why anyone of sane mind would consider this bloke for mayor ... beats me.

It seems as if lots of people are plain tired of seeing Ken Livingstone's face as mayor. There might be a surprising hang-over if people suddenly discover that their not very reflective boredom with an old policy wonk like Livingstone might suddenly translate in Boris Johnson becoming the mayor of London. Scary thought, but there you go.

Monday, April 21, 2008

African trade unions against Bob Mugabe

For the last couple of weeks a shipment of Chinese weapons has unsuccessfully tried to reach its destination, Zimbabwe, the country ruined by Bob Madhat Mugabe and his thugs. Of course, initially the shipment was provided with the usual coverage that African leaders like Thabo Mbeki are known to offer to African dictators ('we have no idea what's on the ship, it might just be cereal for the starving Zimbabweans'). Well, since then a combative South African priest, Rubin Philip, a senior management member of the anglican church organisation in South Africa, went to the Durban High Court and managed to get a verdict preventing that the weapons can be transported across South Africa to Zimbabwe. Good on you Rubin Philip!

In addition to this action the international trade union movement has joined forces against this weapons shipment. In effect trade unions across Southern Africa declared that their members would not help unload the shipment of weapons. Organized transport workers declared that they would not transport the weapons to Zimbabwe. It seems Comrade Mugabe has lost his other comrades' support. The longstanding African tradition of accepting foul leaders, as long as they're black, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Mind you, even the Germans are getting in on the act. A German government bank assisting third world development lend a couple of million Euros to a state owned Zimbabwean steel company. The loan was guaranteed by Zim's able government. Of course, it was never repaid. The place is bankrupt and comfortably burning its non-existent midnite oil, mostly courtesy of South African tax payers. Well, the German bank quickly pounced when it heard the story of the shipment. It also went to the Durban High Court to get the shipment seized in lieu for the money owed to it by Bob's government.

It goes without saying, the Chinese captain quickly moved his rustbucket out of South African waters and has since looked for a new harbor to unload his deadly freight. Mozambique's foreign minister declared that he would not permit the shipment to be unloaded in his country. Rumours have it that the ship is en route to Angola, but it has been suggested that the ship would barely have enough fuel on board to reach the most southern harbors of that country. Looks like end game on that front for Bob Madhat Mugabe.

Irish Catholic Church in fight for donations

Funny story on the BBC news website (thanks Darragh - again). A Catholic priest in Ireland urges his followers not to donate to beggars standing outside the church doors, and asks instead that they give their money to him. The argument, it seems, is that the beggars might use the money on themselves (unlike his organisation with sends quite a bit of what it collects on to its Politbuero in Rome). Worse, as he explains, these beggars might be remote controlled by evil third parties - very much unlike his organisation.

Just so that his followers get the message, he explains that not giving to beggars when one could also hand cash over to the church doesn't violate bible tenets. There you go :-). Of course, as we all know, the church has not only problems with church staffers going after young boys, nope, there's also ... well... interest in other people's money.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie Oi Oi Oi

Great news from my adopted home country, Down Under. It seems, since that sad little racist throw-back-to-the-50s man John Howard was finally turfed out of government by my fellow compatriots, the new Labor government is pushing at long last ahead with a progressive republican agenda. Reportedly a think-tank type event had several government ministers on record suggesting that it would be a good thing if Australia became a republic by 2010.

Here's fingers crossed, thumbs pressed, the lot, for that to happen. After all, it's a major hassle for that elderly English woman to travel to all those ex-colonies and pretend that she cares one way or another. And savior the thought of Prince Charles becoming the next King of England... another good reason to become a republic soon. It's really just a matter of becoming a grown-up country, isn't it?!

Pace Charlton Heston :0)

Courtesy of Darragh Hare... my weekend entertainment offering :0)

DEAD acting legend Charlton Heston has launched a campaign for the right to shoot angels with a variety of high powered assault weapons.

Is heaven run by nancy boys?

The 84 year-old, who played Moses, Ben Hur and himself in an episode of Friends, said his heavenly gun rack would be used primarily to shoot the souls of dead animals, including dead deer, dead rabbits and dead pigeons.

But he insisted he and other dead people had a right to protect themselves with a machine gun if an angel broke into their cloud.

Heaven is a relatively crime-free area with gun ownership restricted to licensed hunters and a handful of the bigger saints.

Heston said last night: "I thought heaven was supposed to be a free country. Instead I find it in the grip of hippy communists, pansies and sissy-boy abortion doctors.

"What are these people afraid of? If you've done nothing wrong then the chances of me shooting you are reduced significantly."

He added: "As someone who played Moses in a film, I think I'm more qualified than most to speak on behalf of God.

"The Almighty loves nothing more than spending a weekend in the woods, talking about the Constitution and polishing his favourite Uzi 9mm."

Heston arrived in heaven shortly after a gun had been prised from his cold, dead hands, as predicted.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Criticizing organized religion - The latest human rights violation

Yep, you read it correctly. While organized monotheistic religions have been uniquely responsible for the oppression of countless citizens the world all over, the UN, that true beacon of hope for anything corrupt, has nonetheless for a long time been the last best hope for human rights campaigners. Not any longer, thanks to an ominous UN outfit called the United Nations Council on Human Rights. The defenders of human rights on the council consist of such nice countries as Syria, China (PR of) and Cuba. Well, quietly colluding with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Council a few weeks back announced a revised mandate for the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. UNCHR managed so successfully to defeat the very purpose of having such a Rapporteur. IHEU advises that 'the Rapporteur will now be required to report on the “abuse” of this most cherished freedom [of expression - US]. We fear this will be interpreted to include those daring speak out against Sharia laws that require women to be stoned to death for adultery or young men to be hanged for being gay, or against the marriage of girls as young as nine, as in Iran. ... The amendment was passed by 27 votes to 15, the OIC states being supported by China, Russia and Cuba. Canada, India, and a number of European states spoke out against the change of focus from protecting to limiting freedom of expression.' Here's the wording of the newly defined role of the Special Rapporteur: “To report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination …” - Ein Schelm were boeses dabei denkt! - As Canada pointed out, '“Requesting the Special Rapporteur to report on abuses of [this right] would turn the mandate on its head. Instead of promoting freedom of expression the Special Rapporteur would be policing its exercise … If this amendment is adopted, Canada will withdraw its sponsorship from the main resolution.”

Incidentally, since it came into existence, the Council on Human Rights failed to criticize China (PR of), Iran (IR of) and other routine violators of human rights for their actions.

I wonder how the UK voted on this issue, seeing that it has also instituted some kind of blasphemy legislation (aka hate speech legislation) that's designed to prevent people from being critical of religious ideologies.

The OIC has since called on the Dutch government to prosecute a Dutch MP for 'defamation of religion.'

There are those, of course, who believe the hype that goes with the UN, and they probably think it's worth putting up a fight over the Council on Human Rights and its Rapporteur. There are also those who believe that the earth is flat, pigs can fly, and that nuclear power is safe. Perhaps our UN believers and these people should get together and begin an NGO of the willing-but-naive to change the situation :).

Freakshows abound - Welcome to the 21st century

I don't know, we are not doing too well, or do we, as a species? I mean, on the one hand we got all those hi-tech gadgets, plastic bags and the Airbus 380. We even got the Hummer so that men with really small penises may drive their fragile bodies to their half a mile away gym. That's pretty cool, ain't it? Shows how far advanced we really are, as a species!

And yet, as the item of my last posting on this blog shows, we are capable of committing atrocities against weaker creatures seemingly without batting an eye lid. A bunch of ex-Mormons is currently being prosecuted in the USA for having subjected girls as young as 12 or 13 to forced marriage and rape in their polygamous compound in Texas. The polygamists (it's not about polygamy, btw, it really is about the systematic sexual abuse of young children) defend their activities by pointing to the sacred right of - you guessed it - 'religious freedom'. Madhat Bob Mugabe is once again stealing the election in Zimbabwe, happily aided by 'democrats' such as Thabo Mbeki and the rest of the rabble euphemistically referred to as 'African leaders' in the African Union. The honorable exception here: Botswana's Foreign Minister, Phandu Skelemani! The Chinese leaders treat folks in Tibet pretty poorly, the Burmese dictators crushed civic society's latest uprising while ASEAN stood idle by (well, more or less), the genocide in Sudan continues unabated. On the topic of China (the PR of, that is), isn't it mind-boggling that they're going to reduce the Beijing pollution during the international doping competition euphemistically referred to as the 'Olympics', only to restart all those heavy industries after the doping troupe has moved on. I mean, aren't they telling us that their citizen's well-being is of no concern to them, while the athletes competing during the Olympics matter? Well, at least Chinese dictators' disregard for the citizens of the country is consistent. Wasn't it Chairman Mao who declared that Chinese people are expendable, seeing that there is more than a billion of them...

Hey, my friend (second item below) visits his well-heeled and truly societally 'respected' boyfriend on Barbados, and ends up staying in a hotel so that nobody could possibly expect his partner to be a pervert. I mean, hello... how low are people prepared to stoop?

I am aware of all the usual this-n-that responses, excuses, explanations for any of these seemingly unconnected stories, but frankly I am skeptical. I think that these stories tell us something about the promethean shame. We experience ever more rapid technological advancements, yet our advancement as human beings seems bizarrely slow (if not stuck). Makes me wonder whether our continuing primitive responses and gross moral failings in any of the areas mentioned shows that we are hardwired to some extent to respond as we do, and that we seemingly can't step above instinctive responses that are plain unacceptable. I know, there are exceptions to this, but our evolution as civilized entities seems frighteningly slow and always ready to break down in crises times. The veneer of civilization is thin indeed. It goes without saying, my list is kinda random and simply lists what I noticed while watching TV and being on the phone the other day - you'd extend it infinitely!

Oh well, on this cheerful note, enjoy your weekend. I got to get going. This sermon ends HERE.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Starving a dog to death in the name of 'art' - Honduras or Bizzaristan?

Dear Reader,

I am providing you in this blog entry with information forwarded by my good friend Bonnie Friedman. If true this is truly horrendous.

'In 2007, the 'artist' Guillermo Vargas Habacuc, took a dog from the street, tied him to a rope in an art gallery, and starved him to death. For several days, the 'artist' and the visitors of the exhibition have watched emotionless the shameful 'masterpiece' based on the dog's agony, until eventually he died. Does it look like art to you?

But this is not all... the prestigious Visual Arts Biennial of the Central American decided that the 'installation' was actually art, so that Guillermo Vargas Habacuc has been invited to repeat his cruel action for the biennial of 2008.


It's free of charge, there is no need to register, and it will only take 1 minute to save the life of an innocent creature.'

I found this youtube item on our Latino 'artist'.

You don't want to go to Barbados today ...

Not sure about that one? Why wouldn't one want to go to Barbados today? Well, my friend (let's call him John Doe) is flying today from Toronto to Barbados, coughing and sneezing like there's no tomorrow, happily spreading the flu virus across the (sadly main) cabin. So, if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be on that flight, and you forgot or chose not to (like he did) get your flu shots in time, you're fairly likely to find yourself sick like the proverbial dog in a few days, probably half-way thru your vacation on the island.

Fair enough, you might say, that isn't nice, but there's probably other sick people on that flight. However, that response is surely begging an interesting moral question: should he (and them) have canceled their trip in order to prevent innocent other air travelers from getting infected by the flu virus? I think that there can be no doubt, passing knowingly such an infection on to other parties in a confined space such an airplane for the duration of several hours constitutes a case of harm to others. Nobody on the plane volunteered to be subjected to that sort of infection risk and almost certainly everybody (not already vaccinated) on that particular flight would have preferred not to have been on that flight, considering the risk of reasonably serious disease. It's not that the flu is 'just' a nasty illness keeping us sick for 10-14 days, no, it actually kills a lot of people each year. Up to 1500 people die each year of flu related complications in Canada alone. Worse, those people infected on the plane, doing what people usually do when they go on Caribbean vacations (eg drink, increase the skin cancer risk by means of roasting in the sun for no good reason, have sex), will almost certainly ensure that folks on Barbados will also pick up the flu from them. A lot of people will get sick as a result of Mr Doe's decision to board a flight to Barbados today.

Well, before the divorce papers arrive in the mail, what reasons could be deployed against this analysis: For starters, the volenti non fit iniuria principle can probably be deployed. After all, we all know prior to boarding planes that there's bound to be some irresponsible passenger or other who dragged his infectious illness onto the plane. Unlike with multiple drug-resistant TB, of course, we can actually protect ourselves against the flu reasonably well, and at low risk for ourselves, simply by getting vaccinated. So, if we board a plane anyway, voluntarily and unprotected, this can arguably be read as consenting to the risk of catching an infection. That doesn't mean that we want it, but we surely didn't go out of our way to prevent it from happening. Another reason in support of Mr Doe's decision to fly anyway, is that most airlines will almost certainly not reimburse for tickets canceled that late in the day, so he would have suffered a substantial financial loss had he chosen to stay in bed. Corporate policies in other words, incentivise people to follow courses of action that are detrimental to public health. Quite possibly some employers might have required him to take his leave anyway, as scheduled, instead of taking sick leave.

All of that is regrettable. Surely we should have policies in place that reward people like Mr Doe for behaving responsibly and in a slightly more caring manner toward fellow travelers. That we do not is remarkably short-sighted.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Food vs Cars

Quite ironic, isn't it? For oodles of years environmentalists have told us that we should use public transport and avoid using 1-2 ton vehicles to transport our little bodies from A to (3 min away) B. Well, now we've got food riots on our hands and things will be getting worse on that front. How did that come about? Well, ever more farm lands are being wasted for the production of 'biofuels'. So, again, in order to fuel 1-2 ton vehicles to transport out bodies from A to (3 min away) B, we rather see poor people go to bed hungry then to turn to public transport ourselves. How bizarre can behaviors (and, indeed, public policies)get without us noticing that they are unacceptable? Beats me!