Monday, April 27, 2009

Ethics victory over Religion in Berlin

Berlin's citizens were faced with a call for a citizen's (or people's) vote (or Volksentscheid) this last weekend. The question Berliners were asked to vote on centered on this: Should Berlin's pupils be forced to choose between ethics or compulsory religion classes or should ethics classes be compulsory for all pupils. Ethics classes were introduced some three or four years ago in Germany. The government of the multi-cultural and multi-religious German metropolis realized that, with many of the city's pupils coming from non-Christian backgrounds, it would be problematic to force these pupils to choose between Catholic or Protestant religious classes. Instead, probably also as a means to build social cohesion in the city state, everyone has to take ethics classes these days there. The same ethics classes for everyone.

The Christian churches and its conservative party forced a citizens' vote on the issue, and were massively trounced in Berlin. Only 14.2% of all Berliner's entitled to vote cast their vote voted in favor of the ongoing child abuse that religious classes really are. Let me be clear here: with religious classes I mean the brainwashing of pupils according to a particular religious ideology. I have no problems at all, with the system that is in place in for instance South African public schools, where children receive information about a large number of religious ideologies, as opposed to them being indoctrinated for years by 'teachers' preaching a particular religious ideology. This is what happened to me, for instance, during my primary and secondary school education in Germany. So, I am pleased to report that things are steadily improving in good ol Germany. It goes without saying probably that I also believe it is good news that critical thinking skills in ethics that are a valuable tool to have will remain compulsory in Berlin.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Human dignity and individual liberty

There is an argument going on among well-intentioned and more or less knowledgeable bioethicists about the question of whether there is much use in deploying the concept of 'human dignity' in resolving conflicts about normative questions in the field. Here is a good critical take on the issue.

Typically the issue of dignity is wheeled in by opposing sides when they don't like the stance held by the other side, and they have no good arguments left to defend their own take on the matter. Here's a few examples: voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. There's opponents of physician assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia who claim that such means to end a persons life are not dignified. Certainly the Roman Catholic Church thinks so. If you know anything at all about this debate, you will know that 'Death with Dignity' is also the battle-cry deployed by voluntary euthanasia groups. The same concept is used without blushing by groups for diametrically opposed means. That's odd indeed.

Up to this point I talked about the concept of dignity as if there was one. Of course, if neither the euthanasia folks nor the anti-euthanasia folks are able to demonstrate that the other side is wrong in their use of the concept of dignity, quite possibly there is something wrong with the concept, or, more to the point, quite possibly there's no concept.

Is voluntary euthanasia the exception pointing to a small problem with the idea of 'dignity', or is there actually more evidence that 'dignity' might just be a vacuous motherhood-and-apple pie thing suitable for and against anything and nothing. Well, in fact, there's plenty of other examples. IVF and artificial insemination (to go the the other end of our lives) are in the same boat as euthanasia. Christians routinely argue (well, claim) that our dignity is violated if we use such means of modern reproduction, allegedly because it's against our nature to do so. Of course, they don't mean a matter-of-fact type nature, they mean their normative understanding of what our nature should be like. It is well known that people who require access to such means of reproduction think their their dignity as rational agents is violated if the state or others prevents them from exercising such a choice (gays and lesbians come to mind, for instance). Both sides deploy the idea of 'dignity' to advance their diametrically opposing stances! Odd indeed.

Pornography is another, and my last example. There is no consensus at all about the question of whether someone violates his her or dignity (and that of others) by watching or participating in the production of pornographic material.

The German enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant initially understood respect for someone's dignity really as respect for a rational, autonomous agent. In that sense, dignity is kind of a short for respect for autonomous persons. That probably is a sensible thing. All other things being equal, we should be respectful of at least the self-regarding actions autonomous beings wish to undertake. May be that is what we should be saying, however. Of course, since then religious folks and invariably the UN have stepped in with a deluge of dignity here and dignity there declarations and statements that resulted into dignity being reduced to a campaign tool for everything and nothing at all. Christianity, for instance, quickly removed the Kantian criteria of reason and rationality and agitated for embryos' dignity, and human rights related claims derived from those. In case of doubt the supposedly necessary respect for these embryos' alleged dignity was used to override women's interest in controlling what's happening with their bodies. The UN has declared, for no good ethical reason at all, that reproductive human cloning is dignity violating. This emperor certainly is naked! Human dignity, warm and fuzzy as it may sound, is a useless tool for advancing arguments on any of the relevant fronts in bioethics. This insight is true regardless of the substantive stance that you'd take on any of these controversial issues, by the way. Dignity really is just a rhetorical tool as opposed to a serious conceptual means to advance discussions on these issues.

Today we are probably well advised, should we face the need to make a snap-decision, to reject dignity related claims unless these claims have another rationale attached to them that is based on some other framework. If anything, you'd probably right if you assumed that more often than not human dignity is deployed as a means of preventing people from making self-regarding choices.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ouch, Marge Somerville is at it again

The Vatican's voice at McGill University, Margaret Somerville, in her endless campaign against any kind of sexual activity other than that of the heterosexual married kind, has struck again. Typically in the Globe and Mail, a Toronto based rag considered a quality paper in Canada. Here's what she had to say.

Here's my response (kinda doubt you'd see it in the paper, so I thought posting it here can't hurt :-). Umm... I take it all 'back'. Here's the edited version of the letter that the paper published.

Sir,

Margaret Somerville's obsession with other people's sexual conduct knows clearly no end.

The obvious flaw in what goes as her argument is this: if incestuous activities among competent adults are truly voluntary, and no offspring is forthcoming, why should the state inflict religious mores of Somerville's kind on such citizens? Volenti non fit injuria - Did our self-appointed ethics scholar really never come across this basic legal and ethical concept?

Somerville's piece suffers from a fairly basic, yet lethal logic error, namely the idea that nature could somehow tell us anything at all about the question of whether incest is a morally good or a bad thing. Even if it were the case that other primates avoid incest, this would tell us nothing about our moral obligations in that regard. They don't drive cars either, so, according to Somerville's fawlty towers logic we should presumably reconsider the use of all means of
modern transport.

The Globe and Mail is to be congratulated for having, once again, commissioned a piece of Somerville agitprop that mistakenly ended up under the heading of 'ethics'. It is unfortunate, that you delayed publication of Somerville's piece to a date after April 01.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Terrible fate for bioethics genomics 'experts'

Reams of bioethics books, PhD theses and papers have been written about personalised genomic medicine, genetic enhancement, much to the skepticism of yours truly (I kinda failed to see the point of investigating the ethics of non-existent technologies, the justice of equal access to such non-existent technologies, eugenics and such non-existent technologies etc etc etc). It turns out that bioethicists writing about these sorts of issues seem to have gotten ever so slightly ahead of themselves and/or the non-existent technologies. Reports the New York Times today, that "genomewide association study [...] has been disappointing in that the kind of genetic variation it detects has turned out to explain surprisingly little of the genetic links to most diseases." The current issues of the New England Journal of Medicine tries to make sense of this finding. Among these findings is that another great pet topic of bioethicists, namely investigating 'the right to know versus the right not to know', and the question of whether individuals should have access to genetic tests seems to be another storm in the non-existent genetic tea-cup. Turns out, to quote again from the New York Times, "“With only a few exceptions, what the genomics companies are doing right now is recreational genomics,” Dr. Goldstein said in an interview. “The information has little or in many cases no clinical relevance.” In other words, the tests results have little to no clinical predictive value.

Here are a few more excerpts from the NYT piece:

Unlike the rare diseases caused by a change affecting only one gene, common diseases like cancer and diabetes are caused by a set of several genetic variations in each person. Since these common diseases generally strike later in life, after people have had children, the theory has been that natural selection is powerless to weed them out. The[...]se diseases were expected to be promoted by genetic variations that are common in the population. More than 100 genomewide association studies, often involving thousands of patients in several countries, have now been completed for many diseases, and some common variants have been found. But in almost all cases they carry only a modest risk for the disease. Most of the genetic link to disease remains unexplained.

Dr. Goldstein argues that the genetic burden of common diseases must be mostly carried by large numbers of rare variants. In this theory, schizophrenia, say, would be caused by combinations of 1,000 rare genetic variants, not of 10 common genetic variants.This would be bleak news for those who argue that the common variants detected so far, even if they explain only a small percentage of the risk, will nonetheless identify the biological pathways through which a disease emerges, and hence point to drugs that may correct the errant pathways. If hundreds of rare variants are involved in a disease, they may implicate too much of the body’s biochemistry to be useful. “In pointing at everything,” Dr. Goldstein writes in the journal, “genetics would point at nothing.”

No doubt some philosopher will be quick to point out that the theoretical analysis in its own right is tremendously valuable. Hey, here's a thought, how about investigating the ethics of other non-existent technologies or things (like the flying blue teacup that created the universe)? It seems to me that given that there's plenty of meaningful real-world problems that bioethicists could be addressing, they should query the ethics of spending their time on fantasy problems pertaining to non-existent technologies.

Thanks to Howard Wolinsky for bringing this piece to my attention (on facebook, mind you!)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama's tortured response to US government sanctioned torture

It is quite remarkable. The Attorney General of former US Pres Bush issued Memo after Memo explaining to the CIA and its operatives that certain kinds of torture of potentially (or really) militant Muslims is acceptable. Health care professionals pro-actively participated in torture based interrogations of such prisoners. All of this was in clear violation of international law on this matter.

Obama, yes, the 'bollocks we can believe in' guy who's now US President, has taken the brave step of publishing these Memos. Now the world knows in detail what kinds of torture US operatives deployed in order to extract useful information from prisoners. That's the good thing. The Memos in question reveal quite remarkable stuff, including sleep deprivation (several days), slamming prisoners' heads against concrete walls, the now notorious waterboarding, loud music, sensory deprivation, keeping prisoners for days in a row naked, and the list goes on. Health care professionals monitored the proceedings and the prisoners' health. The bad thing, much in line with Obama talking the talk but as yet not walking the walk, is that his administration has no intention of prosecuting those involved in torturing inmates, or those who authorised and / or ordered such activities.

To be clear, this will permit the following to get away with torture scotch-free:
a) those who already argue that they were following orders, and who claim that they received legal advice from the Bush administration's Attorney General suggestiong that the torture wasn't torture and so they could (disingeniously) claim to be not in breach of any international law; and
b) those who actually rendered the misleading legal advice; and
c) those who issued the rules authorising torture.

It seems to me that certainly the former Attorney General as well as other senior officials of the Bush administration ought to be held accountable for their actions. This view seems supported by international law. The USA is bound by the UN Convention against Torture, and so is obliged to prosecute anyone against whom clear evidence exists. It is unclear to me why Obama chose not to hold them accountable. One wonders whether he is already oncerned about the question of whether he and his government mates could be prosecuted for their potential future illegal activities... - Surely, if the illegal act of committing, ordering or authorising torture is insufficient to trigger prosecutions under the Obama administration, one wonders what would be worthy of its attention. It seems as if for reasons of cheap political expedience justice related considerations were sacrificed by the man you should not believe in.

Another sign of spinelessness - or a sign of more to come from Obama?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Good news on whale hunting barbarism

It seems both bad weather and successful operations by anti-whaling forces prevented the Japanese whaling fleet last year from killing more of these gracious mammals. Instead of the 985 whales they're permitted to kill for 'scientific purposes' they only managed to slaughter 'only' 680. That probably means less whale-burgers in Japan. Terrible fate... - Well, now that the high-seas animal protection activity is over - and I much like the result it has achieved - I wonder how much longer will it take the whale-lib folks to take care of the millions of higher mammals that we torture in our animal mass breeding factories for our daily food production. Or is the focus on whales due to them being kinda cuter than your average pig? Evidence seems to suggest that pigs' intelligence is comparable to that of a three year old average gifted kid...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

OMG it's Easter again

... and there's no end in terms of speeches by Catholic Church senior management folks that would fairly qualify as evil propaganda. Augsburg's Bishop Dr Walter Mixa (he's the bloke wearing the colourful dress in the picture) declared that without God there's no end to what people would likely do to each other. He used in his Easter 'sermon' (in his particular case hate speech given on Church property to Church members) the examples of atheist nationalsocialism and atheist communism and the murders these regimes committed against millions of humans as examples of what happens when God's law isn't obeyed.

Well, fair enough, the good German bishop is paid to run propaganda campaigns against non-believers [in Germant only about 22% of the population believe unequivocally that God exists, while 23% do not (the rest is sitting on the philosophical fence)], but still. He chose to ignore that it wasn't atheism that motivated the Nazis or the Soviet style communists but Nazi ideology and Soviet style communist ideology. So, both with respect to the Nazi crimes and to the Soviety style communist crimes atheism did not trigger the horrendous crimes committed.

The same, of course, cannot be said for the crimes Christians and Muslims committed in the name of their respective Gods. The Christian crusades and the massmurders they resulted into were motivated entirely by religious belief. Similar stories can be told with regard to most monotheistic religious ideologies. Will any German authority go after the good bishop and charge him for hate speech related crimes? Of course not! Once you're a dress wearing middle-aged to very-aged man who represents an organisation that routinely is embroiled in child sex abuse cases, it seems you can say whatever you like.

Talking about double-standards! Indeed, I wonder whether my truthful description of the bishop (as dress-wearing etc) above would qualify by UN standards as a human rights violation, given that it could be read as mocking the representative of a major religion. According to the UN Human Rights Council that qualifies squarely as a human rights violation... -

In fairness to the Catholic Church, however, it tries to make up on the odd occasion for its all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good God's failings! The Vatican sent this Easter 500 Easter eggs to the victims of the earthquake in Italy. Neat gesture by one of the richest organisations on earth!

Friday, April 10, 2009

First international response to UN blashpemy-as-human-rights-violation farce

As regular readers of this blog will recall, the UN Human Rights Council has issued a declaration that in many ways gives room for permitting those societies that are bent on oppressing free speech, to introduce blasphemy legislation. These oppressive regimes could easily hide under the UN's ludicrous assertion that criticism of religions is some kind of human rights violation (as if religion was a human being). Anyway, below (thanks to Russell Blackford for pointing this document out to me), is a declaration/petition of NGOs opposed to this move.


We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations,

Deeply concerned by the pervasive and mounting campaign by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to produce U.N. resolutions, declarations, and world conferences that propagate the concept of “defamation of religions,” a concept having no basis in domestic or international law, and which would alter the very meaning of human rights, which protect individuals from harm, but not beliefs from critical inquiry;

Deeply concerned by the attempt to misuse the U.N. to legitimize blasphemy laws, thereby restricting freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press;

Deeply concerned that “defamation of religions” resolutions may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters, and other independent voices;

Alarmed by the resolution on “defamation of religions” recently tabled at the current 10th session of the UN Human Rights Council;

Alarmed by the draft resolution on freedom of expression circulated by Egypt, whose amendments seek to restrict, not promote, protections for free speech;

Alarmed by the recently-announced initiative of the U.N. “Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards” to amend the International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) by adding a protocol on “defamation of religions”;

Alarmed by provisions in the latest draft outcome document of the Durban Review Conference that, through coded language and veiled references, endorse and encourage these anti-democratic initiatives;

1. Call upon all governments to oppose the “defamation of religions” resolution currently tabled at the UN Human Rights Council, and the objectionable provisions of the freedom of expression resolution;

2. Call upon all governments to resist the efforts of the “Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards” to alter the ICERD;

3. Call upon all governments not to accept or legitimize a Durban Review Conference outcome that directly or indirectly supports the “defamation of religions” campaign at the expense of basic freedoms and individual human rights.

1. UN Watch
2. International Humanist and Ethical Union
3. Freedom House
4. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
5. Centre for Political Studies (CEPOS)
6. Muslim Council of Canada
7. International Association of Prosecutors
8. World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission
9. Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty (Italy)
10. The International Quranic Center (IQC)
11. International Press Institute (IPI)
12. Human Rights Without Frontiers International
13. Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme (LICRA)
14. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
15. American Islamic Congress
16. World Union of Progressive Judaism
17. United Nations Association of Mauritius
18. World Jewish Congress
19. Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
20. Association for World Education
21. Association of World Citizens
22. International Publishers Association
23. The Institute for African Alternatives
24. International Jurist Organization
25. Frontiers Association (Lebanon)
26. International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty
27. Rationalist Association
28. Greek Helsinki Monitor
29. British Humanist Association
30. Sidmennt Ethical Humanist Association
31. National Secular Society
32. B’nai B’rith International
33. International Foundation for Population and Development
34. North London Humanist Group
35. Endeavour Forum Inc.
36. Association Suisse des Libres Penseurs
37. Humanist Academy of Scotland
38. Media Institute of Southern Africa (Regional Secretariat and its chapters in 11 SADC countries)
39. American Humanist Association
40. Darfur Peace And Development Centre
41. American Atheists
42. Media Institute (Kenya)
43. Union of Freethinkers
44. Maharat Foundation (Lebanon)
45. Open Doors USA
46. Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji)
47. One Law for All Campaign
48. Organisation against Women’s Discrimination (Iran)
49. The DiaHumanism Institute
50. Women's international Zionist Organization (WIZO)
51. Canadian Humanist Publications
52. Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS-Azerbaijan)
53. Indian Humanist Union
54. The Tandem Project
55. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
56. International Committee to Protect Freethinkers
57. Center for Security Policy
58. World Citizens Foundation
59. South Sudan Movement in Disapora
60. International PEN Writers in Prison Committee
61. Atheist Foundation of Australia
62. Minority Rights Group (Greece)
63. Nigerian Humanist Movement
64. National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
65. Social Development Foundation (India)
66. Swedish Humanist Association
67. Rationalist Forum of Hyderabad (India)
68. Manava Vikasa Vedika (India)
69. European Union of Jewish Students
70. Centre for Study of Society and Secularism ( India)
71. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
72. North East Humanists
73. Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI)
74. Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES-Nepal)
75. New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists
76. Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL)
77. International Council of Jewish Women
78. Humanist Canada
79. NGO Forum (Mauritius)
80. European Humanist Federation
81. Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM-Serbia)
82. Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations
83. Burgerbewegung Pax Europa
84. Media Watch (Bangladesh)
85. Finnish Humanist Union
86. Humanist and Ethical Union of Kenya
87. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI-Egypt)
88. American Jewish Congress
89. Atheist Centre Andhra Pradesh (India)
90. Spurthi Dalit Humanist organisation (India)
91. German Forum for Human Rights
92. Jihad Watch
93. Rationalist Association of NSW
94. Adhra Pradesh Rationalist Association (India)
95. Satya Shodhak Sabha, Gujerat (India)
96. Arab Archives Institute (AAI-Jordan)
97. Open Doors International
98. Council of Australian Humanist Societies
99. Jubilee Campaign USA
100. Simon Wiesenthal Centre
101. Humanist Society of Queensland
102. Algerian Centre for the Defence and Promotion of Press Freedom (CALP)
103. Atheist Alliance International
104. CWA, Switzerland
105. Rationalist Society of Australia
106. Media Rights Agenda (MRA-Nigeria)
107. Humanist Society of New Zealand
108. Consultative Council of Jewish Organisations
109. Center for Inquiry, Low Countries
110. Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
111. World Union of Jewish Students
112. Humanist Association of Northern Ireland
113. Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS-Venezuela)
114. Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute
115. Humanist Association of Ottawa
116. Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP-Liberia)
117. Liberté de Conscience (Luxembourg)
118. Syria Reform Party
119. The Free Press Society (Denmark)
120. International Free Press Society
121. Muslims Against Sharia
122. Centre for the Study of Social Change (India)
123. Danish Atheist Society
124. Mouvement Pour la Paix et Contre le Terrorisme
125. Minnesota Atheists
126. Free Media Movement (FMM-Sri Lanka)
127. Cultural Bridges
128. American Ethical Union
129. Hotline Human Rights (Bangladesh)
130. Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association
131. Women's Missionary Society AME Church
132. Unie Vrijzinniger Vereningingen (Belgium)
133. Humanistisch Verbond
134. Humanistischer Verband Deutschlands
135. Montagnard Foundation, Inc.
136. Humanist Association of Ireland
137. United American Committee
138. Humanistiche Vrijzinnige Vereniging (Belgium)
139. Quadlibet Strategic Ventures NFP
140. Netradana Protsahaka Sangam (India)
141. Human Rights Service (Norway)
142. Pink Triangle Trust
143. Gujerat Mumbai Rationalist Association
144. Southern California Ecumenical Council
145. Viveka Vidyalayam (India)
146. International Christian Concern
147. The International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA)
148. International Multiracial Shared Cultural Organization
149. Disha Dalit Humanist organization (India)
150. European Union of Public Relations
151. Socio-political Analysis and Research Organization (India)
152. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
153. Jana Vignana Vedika (India)
154. Society of Catholic Social Scientists
155. Society for Humanism and Social Change (India)
156. Evangelical Alliance UK
157. Indian Radical Humanist Association
158. Fondation Genereuse Developpement (FGD-Cameroon)
159. Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association
160. Center for Inquiry International
161. Swedish Youth Humanist Association
162. Religious Freedom Coalition
163. Act for America
164. Belfast Humanist Group
165. Council of ex-Muslims of Britain
166. Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti (Italy)
167. Secular Student Alliance
168. Summit Ministries
169. Doha Centre for Media Freedom (Qatar)
170. Zionist Federation of Sweden
171. Sydney Atheists
172. Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech (Kazakhstan)
173. European Network Church on the Move
174. Traditional Values Coalition
175. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
176. Humanist Society of Queensland
177. Jewish Human Rights Coalition (UK)
178. Redeem the Vote
179. Pray in Jesus Name Project
180. Humanist Society of Victoria
181. Index on Censorship
182. Unity Coalition for Israel
183. Sociedad Humanista-etica, Deodoro Roca (Argentina)
184. Secular Party of Australia
185. India Committee of the Netherlands
186. Humanistische Alliatie (Netherlands)
187. Norwegian PEN
188. International Federation of Liberal Youth
189. Hope for Africa International
190. All India Christian Council

191. American Coptic Associations
192. National American Coptic Assembly
193. Advocates International
194. American Islamic Forum for Democracy
195. American Maronite Union
196. American Textbook Council
197. International Media Lawyers Association (IMLA)
198. Australia - New Zealand Secular Association
199. Centre d' Action Laique
200. Coalition for Defence of Human Rights in the Muslim World
201. Foundation for Democracy in Iran
202. Middle East Christian Committee (MASREQ)
203. Norwegian Humanist Association
204. Skeptics Australia
205. Society for Humanistic Judaism
206. World Maronite Union
207. Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America
208. Centre for the Defence of Human Rights & Democracy in Africa (CDHRDA-Nigeria)
209. The Legal Project at the Middle East Forum


If your NGO wishes to sign the statement, please email us at civsoc@unwatch.org.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Something funny and reasonably clever: Top 10 Atheist Billboard Ads

I hate the music, but hey, check it out. Youtube has a video offering the 'top 10' atheist billboard ads. Some are more clever than others, check em out for a laugh.

Incontrovertible evidence of health care professionals' participation in torture

In case you have not yet seen this document, check it out. It's a confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting torture on a number of inmates in CIA torture camps.

Importantly, the report also documents health care professionals' participation in the described cases of torture. It's a pretty grueling piece to read, but that's probably all the more reason to check it out!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Update on alleged homophobnia @ Canadian college

Just a brief up-date on the story about the alleged homophobia at the Canadian college. People on various blogs pointed out that the story in question might not have been true, particularly the alleged homophobic email by the faculty member in question. The sender address (ie the faculty member's) seems to have been copied (using Photoshop or some such program) on top of the offending message. When I tried to check the message in question myself, in order to follow-up on internet detectives claiming fraud, the student alleging homophobia had removed the file in question. This suggests quite strongly that she made the whole story up, why else would she remove the file that would demonstrate that her claim about homophobia at the college is correct?

Justice has been served: Johnson Aziga found guilty of first degree murder

After bad news from Canada (see posting below), here's some good news. Johnson Aziga was found guilty of first degree murder charges. Aziga, you may or may not know, is an HIV positive guy who continued to have unsafe sex with a substantial number of women. Some of these women eventually seroconverted, at least two died on AIDS as a result of their infection. In a precedent setting trial Aziga was found guilty both of first degree murder as well as 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault. Seven of the eleven women he had unsafe sex with became infected, two of whom died. I have commented on this issue some time ago in the Hastings Center Bioethics Forum, as well as the International Journal of Law in Context.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Madonna's children

I'm fascinated by the rich and famous' child buying sprees in developing countries. Here's what fascinates me: The kids that they tend to take out of - usually lousy - orphanages are beyond reasonable doubt better off by being raised by a very wealthy person such as Madonna (or more to the point, likely by the people she pays to bring up her biological as well as adopted children). I would not be so certain when it comes to less well adapted stars - say, like Michael Jackson. So, in a way all the drama and bickering surrounding Madonna's adoption plans seems completely out of place. The net effect of these folks' adoptions is positive. The children in question will be better off, and, in Madonna's case, her biological children might also benefit from being brought up in a mixed-ethnicity environment. Seems good news all round.

And yet, I have some nagging doubt along these lines: If Madonna and folks like her really cared that much about impoverished kids in developing countries, instead of wasting a lot of their money to bring up just one or two (and adjust them to their own decadent lives), why can't they do something slightly more useful. Slightly more useful? As in: like Oprah has done with her South African girls' school. The same resources Madonna deploys to buy herself another third world child could arguably help many more kids in that same part of the world if they were deployed differently.

It seems, in other words, as if Madonna's motives are a tad bit more selfish than just wanting to help an impoverished kid live a good life. However, it's also true that we usually don't bicker too much about rich people spending their resources in a less than perfect manner (Oprah cruising in her private jet to South Africa to check out her school is a case in point - I have not heard anyone crying 'wasteful'). We accept that they're entitled to spend their money as they see fit, especially if it goes to good causes.

What's fair to say though, it seems to me, is that Madonna could indeed have done better. It's also fair to say that her intentions are probably not as selfless as she would like them to appear. And still: it is unfortunate that the Malawian court did not permit her to adopt the child she planned to purchase. That child would have been better off as a result of her actions, and nobody would have been any worse off.

On a personal note, I trust regular readers of this blog will be pleased to know that I seem to have at least a superficial knowledge of popular culture.