Sunday, November 30, 2008

Genocidal duo's body count comes to light


According to a study published by Harvard University AIDS specialists the surplus deaths caused by the HIV denialist policies of former South African President Thabo Mbeki and his quack doctor and health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang stand at more than 350,000 lives lost. More than 350,000 impoverished South Africans lost their lives because of the genocidal policies Mbeki and Tshabala-Msimang enforced in the country. These policies, driven by the conviction that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, meant that even rape survivors were unable to access postexposure prophylaxis. That in a country were rape is endemic, and where the HIV prevalence stands at about 20 percent or thereabouts. I reviewed the moral implications of these policies here. Medical doctors were forced out of their public sector hospital jobs by ANC ministers, for no other reason than that they provided rape survivors with postexposure prophylaxis, in violation of the monstrous government policies Mbeki and his health prevbention side-kick implemented.

What I can't get my head around is that nobody in South Africa seems to think these days that it might be a good idea to hold both Mbeki and Tshalabala-Msimang personally accountable for these policies, and to prosecute them on genocide charges. Why do politicians seem to get away with murder (that's what their omission to act when they should amounts to)? Even in the USA these days a discussion has begun on whether the Bush administration officials responsible for war crimes (including the torture of enemy combatants) should be prosecuted. Not so in South Africa.

I can't help but wonder whether even black people have got used to the idea that their lives just are not worth enough to bother... How else could one possibly explain the South African people's inaction on this issue? Indeed, how else can one explain that someone with a proven track record in terms of maximising the number of black lives lost to ideological fanaticism remains the official representative of the AU in Zimbabwe. Mbeki, here too, happily goes over the dead bodies of an ever growing number of black people in order to support his fellow lunatic Robert Mugabe.

Honor Roll: Voices of Disbelief

Russell Blackford and I have been working frantically during the last year or so to put together an anthology of Voices of Disbelief. We basically asked well-known to famous philosophers, public intellectuals, scientists, science fiction writers, even a magician to explain why they do not believe in God. In these times of ever increasing religiously motivated violence it seemed to us that publishing voices of reason could be a worthwhile exercise. Authors from all over the world readily agreed to contribute to what we think is a powerful statement of diverse humanist thought. The essays range from personal statements to philosophical argument - and in-between. It's going to be out some time in the second half of 2009 with Wiley-Blackwell, and it's going to be a great read! We are just about to pass a very important milestone in the production process of this volume. We will be sending it off to the publisher on Monday!

Here's the list of contributors:


1. Peter Adegoke
2. Athena Andreadis
3. Julian Baggini
4. Gregory Benford
5. Ophelia Benson
6. Russell Blackford
7. Susan Blackmore
8. Damien Broderick
9. Lori Lipman Brown
10. Sean M. Carroll
11. Thomas W. Clark
12. Austin Dacey
13. Edgar Dahl
14. Jack Dann
15. Margaret Downey
16. Taner Edis
17. Greg Egan
18. Nick Everitt
19. Prabir Ghosh
20. A.C. Grayling
21. Joe Haldeman
22. John Harris
23. Marc Hauser
24. Philip Kitcher
25. Miguel Kottow
26. Stephen Law
27. Dale McGowan
28. Sheila A.M. McLean
29. Adèle Mercier
30. Maryam Namazie
31. Kelly O’Connor
32. Graham Oppy
33. Christine Overall
34. Sumitra Padmanabhan
35. Tamas Pataki
36. John P. Phelan
37. Laura Purdy
38. James Randi
39. Michael R. Rose
40. Julian Savulescu
41. J.L. Schellenberg
42. Udo Schuklenk
43. Michael Shermer
44. Peter Singer
45. J.J.C. Smart
46. Victor J. Stenger
47. Peter Tatchell
48. Emma Tom
49. Michael Tooley
50. Ross Upshur
51. Sean Williams
52. Frieder Otto Wolf

Friday, November 28, 2008

Peaceloving religion of Islam once again triggers mass murder

Fair enough, I am an atheist, so you'd probably expect me to pounce on the carnage currently going on in India. In case you've lived in a cave or had no access to the world for some other reason: a bunch of Islamic militants have, among other things, attacked tourists at hotel pools in India's largest city, Mumbai; in reportedly selfless acts of Islamic martyrdom they also threw hand grenades into crowds of passengers waiting to board their trains in the city's main railway station. These brave warriors even succeeded in murdering a bunch of Jewish people in a synagoge.

I can see already the voices saying that we should not confuse that wonderful peaceloving ideology of Islam with these murders. After all, there's another billion of Muslims who just don't do these things. Indeed, Muslim organisations the world all over have quickly condemned these attacks - as they well should have.

My problem with this analysis is that it is both correct, and clearly seriously flawed. At this point in time we have substantial numbers of Muslims thinking nothing of killing unarmed tourists, train passengers, cartoonists, office workers in the world trade center, commuters on trains in Spain and the UK, as well as fellow Muslims, all in the name of Islam. Well, here's my problem, IF that religion was as peaceloving as its adherents routinely claim it is, how come it routinely motivates quite some of its followers to commit mass murder of innocents? How can it be explained, if the ideology of Islam really has nothing at all to do with the continuing carnages the world all over, that not similar carnages are being committed in the name of the unitarian church or the metropolitan community church or in the name of atheism?

If Islam is being misused here by fanatics, one would surely expect that atheism or humanism would also be misused by fanatics to kill - say - religionists. Yet, this never seems to have happened, at least to my knowledge. Naturally, this makes me wonder whether the obvious correlation between Islamic faith and a growing number of crimes against humanity might actually be more than just a coincidence.

In case you're in doubt about the militants' honorable motives: reportedly they carried out the attacks in order to stop further Hindu violence against Muslims in India. I think we can be confident that they have successfully achieved the opposite. No doubt, innocent Muslims will suffer at the hands of vengeful Hindus, and so the inter-religious violence will happily continue, only briefly interrupted by on-and-off random killings of tourists at their hotel pools.

I just saw the other week the movie RELIGULOUS with Bill Maher. I thought it showed quite nicely how monotheism breeds intolerance and hatred. The current outpouring of Islamic barbarism is not that dissimilar to the barbarism committed by Christians during the crusades. The only surprising thing really is that this is happening in the 21st century. Even more surprising that there still seem to be people who think religion got nothing to do with it. Religions are at the heart of the problem. The sooner we get over them , the better we will be for it

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bizarre Canadian court ruling on airfares - celebrating your obesity!

The Globe and Mail reported a day or two ago that a Canadian court has ruled that Air Canada (the yuk factor outfit still operating as Canada's flag carrier) and Westjet (another Canadian airline), can't charge disabled people two airfares if they require their carers to fly with them. I think one can argue about this, but at least I can see how the court could reach the conclusion that charging such passengers two airfares is probably unjust.

What bugs me is that the same ruling is also seen to apply to seriously overweight people. The judgment is basically this: if you are too big for one regular seat, the airline must provide you free of charge with two seats. This is the most bizarre judgment I have ever seen (I'd love to know the judge's weight on this one ...). Here's the problem: for most overweight people (if not for all of them), the decision to eat too much or too many fattie things has resulted into them being overweight. They are by and large responsible for their predicament. Disabled people cannot usually be held responsible for their disability.

So, what would be unjust about charging the overweight crowd for the extra space that they need, and possibly even for the extra fuel needed to transport their fat around the world in an aeroplane? At the end of the day what we are doing as airline passengers is to purchase SPACE on a plane going from A to B (frequently via C, D, and E), as well as the right to truly horrendous 'service', food for purchase, the right to look at armrests and similarly amazing goodies.

My view on this issue would be that if you need more space than the average passenger you ought to be charged for the extra space. Some accommodation is frequently rightly made for very tall people (they didn't choose to grow that tall), so we often find them sitting in emergency exit rows. All that is sensible, but why people's wrong eating habits should be beneficial to them in terms of the space airlines must now provide to them without being permitted to charge them extra, completely escapes me.

Wrong verdict, and wrong message sent out to society. I need to reconsider, obviously. Perhaps I should aim to gain quite a bit of weight before I board my next intercontinental flight, so that even in economy an airlines must provide me with plenty of space. All that this means, in the real world, is that people of average size must subsidize the space overweight people require (free of charge). That is unjust. It is so evidently unjust that one wonders in which dreamworld the judges reside that passed this judgment. If anything, as a society we have a strong public health interest in encouraging people to lose weight. It's good for them and it's good for our health care bill. Perhaps uncomfortable plane seats could be a good start!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Beware of Jacob Jensen products

I bought this watch a year or two ago on an international flight. I always fancied Jacob Jensen's simple and clean designs. It's a really nice piece,titanium casing, sapphire glass, basically it's a good quality piece at a - well - good quality price.

Well, here's my warning then to anyone reading this blog: these time pieces have a serious design flaw and Jacob Jensen got to be asked whether he knows and has factored this design flaw into his time pieces as a continuing source of income. The rubber arm wrist lasts just a bit more than a year. So, basically with the close to non-destructable titanium casing and the virtually unscratchable glass you bought a watch that could last for a very long time. How convenient then that Jacob Jensen forces his customers to purchase an expensive new wristband every single year (that's the half-life of these wristband in my experience).

I wrote to Jacob Jensen to complain about this, but duly got embroiled in fights over receipts and warranties. This, of course is missing the point. Say you got a 1 year warranty, that would give you at best one wristband free of charge (or none, if it lasted slightly more than a year). The wristband are designed in such a way that no regular wristband from your local watch dealer would work, it got to be the branded Jacob Jensen wristband.

Clever, hu? Your option is to either throw the thing out after slightly more than a year, or to become a permanent customer for Jacob Jensen's expensive wristband replacements.

For better or worse, I've thrown the watch out, and am getting even by trying to hurt his business just this little bit - by means of this blog posting. Don't buy Jacob Jensen products, there's probably a nasty catch!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

WHO wastes scarce health funds on fashionable diseases

It is probably no secret to regular visitors of this blog that I tend to speak in the most scathing terms about the UN system and its associated freeloading agencies and staff. My favorite target tends to be UNESCO, because its overpaid Paris based staff is more often than not particularly incompetent and useless, certainly in my area of expertise.

I have, in the past held my fire when it came to WHO, even though I knew from personal experience with that outfit, that they're not much better. By and large bioethicists (such as Alex Capron) have performed pretty well there, hence the ethics unit seems to have been more or less closed down (ie exists only on paper or its website). The leading medical journal THE LANCET published this week an analysis of the budget allocations WHO has decided upon, and correlated those with the (mostly developing) world's disease burdens. (LANCET 2008; 372: 1563-9)

It turns out, in the words of the authors, "Three-fifths of WHO funds were spent on communicable diseases excluding HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, which accounted for roughly 11% of global mortality. Conversely, non-communicable disease accounted for more than half of global mortality and almost half of global DALYs, but received roughly a tenth of all WHO funds. We recorded a similar disparity with injuries, which claimed 9% of global mortality and 12% of global DALYs, but received less than 1% of global funds. Further inspection of the WHO budget showed that the resources used for communicable diseases excluding HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria were mainly driven by WHO extra-budgetary funds for immunisation and vaccine development. WHO’s regular budget allocated US$14·3 million to this area of work, corresponding to 6% of WHO’s regular budget. By contrast, WHO’s extra-budgetary funds allocated $512·4 million, roughly 36 times as much as in the regular budget, corresponding to about 30% of WHO’s extra-budgetary allocations for infectious disease control."

The upshot of this is that WHO is clearly setting its eyes on fashionable diseases such as AIDS (much like Greenpeace is in the habit of rescuing cuties like wales but not gazillions of pigs in mass breedings factories), despite objectively more important disease targets. The maximisation of QALYs and DALYs per invested health care dollar should be the only criterion for deciding how to spend scarce resources. It is unethical to waste funds available for health care delivery and research on outcomes that are foreseeably suboptimal in terms of QALYs and DALYs. The criticism leveled here against WHO can arguably be made against private funders such as the Gates Foundation.

This all reminds me of the insanely wasteful NIH Fogarty International ethics programs in my own field. There's endless research ethics training in developing countries the world all over, as if these countries did not have substantially bigger fish to fry in terms of health issues.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Up-date on Lutz Heilmann vs wikipedia.de

Mr Heilmann has told wikipedia.de that since most of the incriminating claims about him had been removed from his entry, he's happy for wikipedia.de to be available to everyone with immediate effect. No doubt the internet community's massive email campaign directed at his parliamentary faction has had the desired impact. Nice lil victory for freedom of expression I suppose.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lutz Heilmann, The Left Member of Parliament, ex Stasi operative

Truly in line with the traditions of the former East German secret service, the Stasi, its ex-operative Lutz Heilmann (photo to the left) is resorting to censorship to prevent nasty information about his past from reaching the public eye. Heilmann today 'serves' as a member of parliament in the Left faction.

Censorship in the 21st century you might say? Not really. This posting here then is part of the process of keeping information flowing freely. Feel free to reproduce it and post it elsewhere. Thankfully there is little our ex-Stasi operative can do about it outside Germany!

Here's what happened. The German version of wikipedia.org (wikipedia.de) has/had an item on Heilmann that included unpleasant information about his past full-time service in the Stasi. The main point of criticism is not so much that he was a Stasi operative as that is true for very many people in Eastern Germany, but that he tried to hide that information when he ran for higher office. In fact, in fairness to Heilmann, he seems to have worked for the Stasi straight after high-school for about 5 years, in a department responsible for the safety of the East German leadership. This really isn't the problem probably, what is the problem is that instead of rectifying whatever objective errors there were in his wikipedia entry, using the usual means within wikipedia to do so, he chose not do so, and instead to bring down the whole site by way of going to court. Talking about throwing the baby out with the bathwater...

Heilmann is unhappy about information concerning his past that was uncovered by DER SPIEGEL. The magazine reports that Heilmann lied about his past by claiming that he served in the East German army from 1985 to 1990 when really he worked for the Stasi. This and other unpleasant tidbits about Heilmann have been put together in an entry in the German wikipedia version. Heilmann sued and in effect forced the German version of the wikipedia off-line. www.wikipedia.de is currently offering its visitors a placeholder, informing them that unless it removes the offending item (about Heilmann) it has been ordered by a German court to stop the redirect to the US based servers that host www.wikipedia.de. Thankfully the German courts have no jurisdiction in the USA, and freedom of expression is taken a bit more seriously in that country (thank you First Amendment). It is here where the entry about Mr Heilmann is still available in its full glory.

Censorship in the 21st century... you got to be kidding Mr Heilmann.

In case you value freedom of expression, you might wish to consider donating to the German branch of wikipedia in order to support it in its legal battles with Mr Heilmann.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tough luck GM, Ford and Chrysler

Guess this shows that I am a philosopher. I truly can't get my head around governments thinking that it is sensible policy to throw good money after huge amounts of bad money (aka the 'big three', GM, Ford and Chrysler). These companies have spent decades building insane cars - an example is shown above. Their quality sucks big time, their fuel economy is a joke, yet for some bizarre reason more likely to do with national pride than anything else, they keep getting propped up by our tax monies. To readers outside Northamerica ... these dinosaurs masquerading as cars are really everywhere. The question surely arises whether we as taxpayers should at least be adding conditions to such madness? Like: you get our billions only if you meet certain standards of fuel efficiency, the utilization of recycled materials, etc? Surely the argument from jobs can't be sufficient to justify burning billions of $$. It probably would be cheaper at this stage to simply pay these people their salaries without asking them to build cars that nobody sane could possibly want to buy to begin with! Actually, here's my suggestion: add the GM, Chrysler, and Ford workers to the government payroll and require them not to produce any further cars. Use the saved money to develop industries aimed at generating efficient public transport systems. Welcome to the 21st century.