Friday, June 26, 2009

Iran OUT - Michael Jackson IN

Michael Jackson, I'm sure you know by now, died age 50 in LA yesterday. If you watched news programs during the day, you'd have thought the world had ended. The oppression of the Iranian people by the Islamic regime? The Islamic dictators' latest demands for the execution of the protest leaders? Not worth a mention on primetime news. Iran: OUT! Who cares when a pop star dies? Michael Jackson: IN.

The BBC World (more or less the only English language news program I consider worth watching) in yet another lapse of judgment wheeled out the author of a book about Madonna (sic!) in order to waffle on about Michael Jackson. After all, expertise in speculating at book length about one celebrity surely provides you with expertise about any other celebrity, particularly a dead one. Uri Geller, a 'close friend' of Michael Jackson's bored people to death with useful, analytical information about Jackson being 'now in a better place'. I'm sure Geller is going to bend yet another spoon in Jackson's memory. Jackson's family lawyer, undoubtedly beginning a cottaging industry of conspiracy and other theories of causes of death, told the world that Jackson died on pain killers. At least there's trained lawyers to inform us about what really happened, that is prior to any autopsy. Much like in the aftermath of Lady Di's untimely demise fans went into overdrive, crying hysterically and declaring that the world has come to an end.

All of that passed for news. It's not the first time in recent days that the BBC stuffed it up. A few days ago they interviewed (in the aftermath of the Iran election debacle) a London based, female 'Iranian artist' on the election. Much in the spririt of Western reporting about the country's flawed elections and the public uprising in the aftermath, the BBC expected its guest (artists that she was, no less) to say something critical about what was going on in Iran. Instead the woman went on a rhetorical rampage defending the oppressive regime, even refusing to have herself cut short by the BBC's anchorwoman. While this was all kinda funny to watch, truth be told, it makes me wonder about the judgment of those folks in charge at BBC World.

I would completely understand that US based channels switch from Iran to Jackson. Nobody expects serious news coverage from them, they're infotainment outlets. The BBC though, that is painful! Ugh.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran: Open Letter to UN General Secretary

To: Secretary General of the United Nations, His Excellency, Mr. Ban Ki Moon

From: Akbar Ganji, journalist and political dissident

June 23, 2009

Dear Mr. Ban Ki Moon,

Evidence shows that in the Islamic Republic of Iran elections are not free, competitive or fair, and they never lead to a real transformation in the country’s political structure. Several reasons exist for this:

Article 110 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ir00000_.html) places most of the power in the hands of the Supreme Leader (rahbar) and institutions that are directly under his control. Article 57 of the Constitution places all three branches of the government – namely the executive, legislative and the judicial branches – “under the purview of the absolute [divine] rule and [divine] leadership” of the Supreme Leader. The people of Iran only have a say in voting for the presidency, the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles), and local councils. Even if the people’s representatives were to be elected on fair and competitive grounds, they would be unable to bring about any real reforms in the affairs of the state. Non-elective institutions, such as the Guardian Council, the Exigency Assembly, and the High Council of Cultural Revolution, often thwart and nullify the action of elected institutions.

In practice, the real power in Iran lies in the hands of the Supreme Leader (rahbar) and it goes beyond the letter of the law as written in the Constitution. According to Article 98 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Guardian Council has the authority to interpret the Constitution, and members of this Council are directly appointed by the Supreme Leader (rahbar). The Guardian Council holds that the power of the Supreme Leader is not limited by the letter of Constitution, rendering the powers of the rahbar of the Islamic Republic virtually limitless.

The recent Iranian elections were carried out under these same limiting circumstances. Moreover, political dissidents are excluded from the pool of candidates, and a pre-condition for being considered as a candidate is to express their belief in and adherence to Islam, the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, and the absolute authority of the Supreme Leader. In the latest parliamentary elections, the Council of Guardians disqualified some two thousand potential candidates and excluded them from the candidates’ pool. Again, in the most recent presidential elections, the Council of Guardians disqualified four-hundred-seventy-one applicants for candidacy and only allowed four candidates into the competition, all of whom had previously been top official positions in the Islamic Republic over the past three decades. During the Friday Prayer congregation on June 19th, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic publically divulged that the one candidate who came closest to his own personal views was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In the election held on June 12th 2009 more than eighty percent of eligible voters participated under these very restrictive and pre-screened conditions. Sadly, their free choice was rejected even in this latest election, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced as the winner.

Most Iranians concur that their vote has not been truthfully accounted for. All across the country, the people have come out and held peaceful rallies to protest electoral violations that amount to a drastic violation of their right to shape their future. Sadly, the government of the Islamic Republic has faced off these peaceful and civil protests harshly, and several innocent people, including students in the nation’s universities have been barbarically assaulted by the state police. Numerous political and civil activists have been imprisoned without due process and, and at the same time, communication networks have been widely disrupted and severe restrictions have been placed on the activities of reporters and international observers.

We, intellectuals, political activists, and defenders of democratic rights and liberties beseech you to heed the widespread protests of the Iranian people and to take immediate and urgent action by:

1) Forming an international truth-finding commission to examine the electoral process, vote counting and the fraudulent manipulation of the people’s vote in Iran

2) Pressuring the government in Iran to annul fraudulent election results and hold democratic, competitive and fair elections under the auspices of the UN

3) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to release all those detained in the course of recent protests

4) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to free the media that have been banned in recent days and to recognize and respect the right of the people to free expression of ideas and the nonviolent protesting the results of the recent elections

5) Pressuring the government of the Islamic Republic to stop its harsh and barbaric treatment of the people of Iran

6) Refuse to recognize Ahmadinejad’s illegitimate government that has staged an electoral coup, and curtailing any and all forms of cooperation with it from all nations and international organizations

Sincerely,

Akbar Ganji

Jurgen Habermas

Martha Nussbaum

Philip Pettit

Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd

Nader Hashemi

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nixon on interracial kids


The US Supreme Court struck down laws criminalizing abortion in its landmark Roe v Wade decision. Richard Nixon was Pres of the US of A at the time. The New York Times today quotes from another batch of his never-ending tapes. They were released yesterday by the country's National Archives.

'Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster “permissiveness,” and said that “it breaks the family.” But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases — like interracial pregnancies, he said.

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding, “Or a rape.” '

No wonder the Republican Party is so widely reviled. They haven't had a great deal of success in terms of picking sensible leaders, hu?

Boycott Siemens and Nokia products

There's strong evidence that Siemens and Nokia sold mobile phone monitoring equipment to the Iranian regime. Reports the Wall Street Journal: 'Interviews with technology experts in Iran and outside the country say Iranian efforts at monitoring Internet information go well beyond blocking access to Web sites or severing Internet connections.' ... and 'Iran is "now drilling into what the population is trying to say," said Bradley Anstis, director of technical strategy with Marshal8e6 Inc., an Internet security company in Orange, Calif. He and other experts interviewed have examined Internet traffic flows in and out of Iran that show characteristics of content inspection, among other measures. "This looks like a step beyond what any other country is doing, including China." ... 'Instead, in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.'

Here's how that works:

'Deep packet inspection involves inserting equipment into a flow of online data, from emails and Internet phone calls to images and messages on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Every digitized packet of online data is deconstructed, examined for keywords and reconstructed within milliseconds. In Iran's case, this is done for the entire country at a single choke point, according to networking engineers familiar with the country's system. It couldn't be determined whether the equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks is used specifically for deep packet inspection.

All eyes have been on the Internet amid the crisis in Iran, and government attempts to crack down on information. The infiltration of Iranian online traffic could explain why the government has allowed the Internet to continue to function -- and also why it has been running at such slow speeds in the days since the results of the presidential vote spurred unrest.'


I have to concede, it's beyond me why business organisations such as Siemens and Nokia would sell technology to dictatorships that permit the dictators to oppress their peoples even more effectively. I do think this is a clear case for a boycott of their products.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Germany's Parliament on Advance Directives

To the surprise of many observers (given the still predominantly Christian culture in the country) the German parliament has resolved that patients' advance directives are legally binding. Doctors or other health care professionals who choose to ignore them will in future be prosecuted on grounds of having committed bodily assault. What is significant in a positive way is that such advance directives do not require that the patient in question suffers from a terminal illness. It's a bit odd, to my mind, that patients do not need to get doctors' advice on the substance of the advance directive (so as to ensure that their document really covers what they think it covers).

Of course, advance directives only kick in in circumstances where the patient is unable to express his or her own wishes, that's why they are needed in advance of a certain health problem that renders a patient for instance comatose. Doctors will have to ascertain whether or not the situation that the patient finds him- or herself in is covered by the advance directive. In case there's a conflict between the executors of the patients' wishes and the attending health care professionals' considered opinion, a court of law has to make the call on the advance directive. At this point in tome about 8 million adult Germans have issued legally binding advance directives. For the first time in German legal history these advance directives have legal bite, so to speak.

The German Catholic bishops have since raised 'concerns', as they usually tend to do when people make up their own minds about how they'd like to live and die.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

MD'ed crackpotism

Apologies all for the hiatus since the last posting. I am currently on the road again and it's difficult to catch up with work as well as the blog when one's office is far away. Anyhow, I was in Montreal a few days ago and discovered on rue St Denis a lovely buffet style vegetarian place called Restaurant le Commensal. Delightful food. As is often the case with such places, they don't 'just' serve food, but they also serve a bunch of varying ideologies, frequently simply hippie'ish, but not always. I recall in Melbourne a place that served very basic (and very cheap) vegetarian food that was owned by the religious sect that was in the habit of buying Rolls Royces for its guru. So, I wasn't too surprised when I found a book called 'Soul Wisdom', written by Dr Zhi Gang Sha. The good doctor claims to be trained in both Western as well as Chinese traditional medicine. The book claims that he is also 'an expert in the most advanced cellular healing sciences now occurring in China'. You might have guessed already that the good doctor's cutting edge research is so recent that it has not made it yet into peer reviewed journals. Guess he's a good candidate for Oprah Winfrey's show. I'm sure, by now you know about her habit of promoting health related charlatans of the 'wish your cancer away' variety in her TV show.

Well, our Soul Wisdom doctor fits that bill. His book, to my great horror, made it to #1 of the New York Times bestseller list, if the book's cover can be trusted. It begins with a chapter on how the Divine chats to him, enters him and others and has chosen him to help others. Simple as that, most likely on a cellular cutting edge level. But then, the divine isn't cellular or is it, pardon me, or is he (it's a 'he' according to the good doctor). Anyhow, the book offers a healing method called 'divine downloads'. Sounds initially like a server from which people who purchased the book could download healing blurbs. Ha, that at least would have required the doctor to produce however inane content to be downloaded, and that would have meant work. So, instead, his divine downloads are hidden in paragraphs of the book. You can download em at any time by closing your eyes and hitting the invisible, imaginary divine download button. Say you're suffering from terminal liver cancer, all you got to do is chant a lot, go to the relevant page and download the invisible divine download ... or something like that. If you don't feel anything, that simply means you're not ready for it. If you feel your liver cancer has disappeared, the divine download worked obviously, if it hasn't, you chant a bit and you're sorted.

Here's a quote from the intro, just to give you a flavour of the book:

'The Divine continued, "... I offer my healing and blessing by transmitting my permanent healing and blessing treasures." I [ie the good doctor]asked, "How do you do this?" The Divine answered, "Select a person and I will give you a demonstration."I asked for a volunteer with serious health challenges. A man named Walter raised his hand. He stood up and explained that he had liver cancer, with a two-by-three centimeter malignant tumor that had just been diagnosed from a biopsy. I then asked the Divine, "Please bless Walter. Please show me how you transmit your permanent treasures." I saw the Divine send a beam of light from the Divine's heart to Walter's liver. The beam shot into his liver, where it turned into a golden light ball that instantly started spinning. Walter's entire liver shone with beautiful golden light. [The divine reportedly said...] "I have just transmitted or downloaded my Soulsoftware for Liver to Walter. It is one of my permanent healing and blessing treasures."

It goes without saying, and possibly to avoid law suits, the divine explained that the download alone isn't going to heal Walter's liver cancer. Walter has to work on it. He needs to chant for at least two hours per day: 'Divine Liver Soul Software heals me.' If he didn't do that, he might just have died from his liver cancer. However, Walter chanted 'Divine Liver Soul Software heals me' for very many hours. And, there's the good news, his liver cancer just disappeared. Amazing stuff, completely unclear why we bother with modern medicine, when all that's needed are invisible divine software downloads!

Can you imagine, a 300 pp book, filled with crap like that, aimed at people suffering serious ailments? I'm surprised that people are able not only to get away with this, but also that there's a reading audience out there that catapults such bollocks to the #1 spot of the New York Times bestseller list. Scary scary.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Another murder aimed at furthering the 'pro-life' agenda

It had to happen, the pro-life affirming loonies in the USA have taken yet another person's life. George Tiller, MD, a medical doctor specialising in reproductive health services, including medically indicated late-term abortions, was gunned down outside a church service in his home town. I'm probably as shocked about this killing as most reality based people. However, there's a deeper issue about this, at least to my mind.

The religious ideologies that triggered the murder of Tiller (and, in the past, others like him) want their adherents to subscribe to the view that from the moment of biological conception (marriage and all, you know the drill) the developing embryonic cell mass is of infinite value and should be treated as if it was a person. Well, persons - all other things being equal - are usually seen to have a right to life. At a minimum this is understood as a negative right, ie I must not interfere with such a person's right to life (by way of killing that person).

Let me be clear: I do think the view that something that has no central nervous system, that has no capacity to suffer, and that has no higher brain function has a right to life, makes no sense at all. What harm could possibly have been done to such a thing if it is destroyed? None at all, at least as far as I can see. It is for that reason that I reject the idea that we should treat the developing embryonic cell mass from the moment of conception as if it was a person. After all, it isn't a person, so why bother? It's a bit like saying that I should treat the leader of the opposition as if she was the leader of government. She might have the potential to be the next leader of government, but right now she is not. I surely cannot smuggle the right to be treated as if you were the leader of government into the potential to become the leader of government. A lot of potential things never eventuate (eg my potential to be an astronaut will not ever be realised).

However, and here is where I am troubled about this matter. IF someone really holds the barmy view that the embryonic cell mass after conception is infinitely valuable and should be treated as if it was a person from that moment onwards, it is only logical that you consider abortions murder. In turn it is perfectly reasonable for such a person to treat abortion providing health care professionals as if they were murderers. Surely it is not unreasonable (from such a person's perspective) to try to prevent further murders from happening. Ergo it should not come as a big surprise that Doctor Tiller was murdered by a 'good citizen' trying to prevent further murders at the hands of the good doctor.

So, the pro-life crowd's handwaving along the lines that the murderer is not one of theirs, makes not much sense. The ideology they propagate leads, to my mind inevitably so, to the killing of people like Tiller. Freedom of speech seemingly covers Catholic propaganda ministers freedom to spout lies about a supposedly ongoing 'genocide', whereby the deliberately and mistakenly refer to blobs of cells as 'children'. IF you really believe that propaganda, surely it's not unreasonable to conclude that in order to stop the genocide the perpetrators of the genocide must be stopped. Killing one person (eg Dr Tiller) is clearly seen by some of those on the pro-life side as the lesser of two evils. They are only able to reach this conclusion, however, because the church hierarchy continues to propagate outrageous nonsense about 'genocide' and 'holocaust' and whatnot when it comes to abortion. This is where the blame for Tiller's murder as well as that of others like him squarely belongs. You shouldn't be too surprised if some people at least do actually fall for your agitprop.

GM and all ...

sez it all...