Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ted Hsu - Liberal Pro-Life Pro-Choice Candidate

There is an interesting race going on in the Liberal riding of Kingston and the Islands. The current member of parliament, Peter Miliken, has decided to step down. Unsurprisingly - we're not in North Korea after all - there's a bunch of candidates gearing up to become the next official Liberal party candidate for parliament.

Five people - sadly all guys - are on the ticket. It's been all a quite Canadian  affair - as in polite, not to say sedate - so far. That is until one of the candidates, Ted Hsu (a Princeton trained physicist) decided to go on the attack. Hsu is an interesting chap. I went to the first all-candidates event the Liberals organised. Being a bioethics professor, I worked for the last year or so fairly intensely on a Royal Society report on end-of-life decision-making in Canada. I asked Hsu where he stands on the matter of decriminalising assisted dying in some form or shape. Anywhere between 60-75% of Canadians (more than 80% in Quebec) support such a policy change. To my surprise Hsu prevaricated and went on to say that he would have to be very very certain that that would have to be a good idea. That his electorate overwhelmingly supports such a policy change was of little consequence to him. The language of 'very very certain', of course, makes no sense. Either you're certain or you're not. There is no such a thing as 'very very certain'. I became suspicious that Hsu might actually be a closeted pro-lifer. I disagree but respect folks holding such views. However, I am skeptical as to whether the Liberal party is really their natural home. Hsu put his foot in his mouth during the event on some other issues. For instance, he praised Cuba's health care system and suggested that we'd learn from it, while he busily suggested the outsourcing of government services. Doesn't really gel, or does it?

Well, Hsu's public stance on the pro-life issue doesn't exactly gel either. During the second all-candidates' event, when pressed, he acknowledged to be a pro-lifer. Some of my feminist colleagues have suggested that pro-life is a euphemism hiding what really amounts to an anti-choice and anti-freedom ideology. Good on Hsu for being honest on this sensitive issue though. Obviously the question then remains how that hangs together with his professed liberalism. Well, in a youtube attack video going after one of his competitors, Bill Flanagan, Hsu comes out both as pro-life and pro-choice. - Think having your cake and eating it... - He explains that he supports women's legal right to choose, and that he would not curtail the use of Canadian tax monies to support developing world health services that support abortions. Of course, being pro-life - by definition - means to subscribe to the view that abortion is akin to murder.  You know, your baseline as a pro-lifer is the idea that fetal cell accumulations should be treated as if they were persons (as Catholics want us to see it). So, here we have a professed pro-lifer who subscribes to the view that tax monies should be used to support what pro-lifers considers akin to murder.

Mr Hsu, this stance of yours doesn't gel. It's comparable to saying that you're against nuclear power, that's it's a bit like a crime against humanity (pro-life ideologues are wont to comparing abortion to the Holocaust, mass murder, genocide and other such niceties), but that you won't switch off any existing legally operating power plant. I wonder how you would deal, if you ever got elected, with proposed legislation designed to decriminalise assisted dying? Your very very certain is clearly just a cover for saying 'never'. I for one am not looking forward to any conscience vote you might be able to cast should you ever get elected, Mr Hsu. I'm glad to note that at least you wouldn't touch existing legal reproductive rights of women, even though you subscribe to ideological views that consider those exercising such rights as murderers. I have got to say, this is about as plausible as celebrating Cuba's health system and wanting to outsource government services.

What's next Mr Hsu?

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Iran and the UN

We are writing to ask that the UN general assembly condemn stoning as a crime against humanity and issue an emergency resolution calling for an end to the medieval and barbaric punishment as well as the immediate release of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and others sentenced to death by stoning.
We also ask that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not be allowed to address the general assembly and that his government be boycotted.
A government that still stones people to death in the 21st century must have no place in the United Nations or any other international institution or body.
Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, International Committee against Stoning and International Committee against Execution, Germany
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Iran Solidarity, Equal Rights Now and One Law for All, UK
Shahla Abghari, Women's Rights Activist, USA
Boaz Adhengo, Project Nabuur Capital, Kenya
Ophelia Benson, Editor, Butterflies and Wheels, USA
Helle Merete Brix, Writer and Journalist, Denmark
Roy W Brown, International Humanist and Ethical Union, UN Geneva Main Representative, Switzerland
Ewa Dabrowska-Szulc, President, Pro Femina Association, Poland
Richard Dawkins, Scientist and Author, UK
Sanal Edamaruku, President, Rationalist International, India
Sonja Eggerickx, President, International Humanist Ethical Union, Belgium
Caroline Fourest, Writer and Columnist, France
A C Grayling, Writer and Philosopher, UK
Maria Hagberg, Chairperson, Network Against Honour Related Violence, Sweden
Leo Igwe, Executive Director, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Nigeria
Hope Knutsson, President, Sidmennt the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association Reykjavik, Iceland
Julia Kristeva, Président, Jury du Prix Simone de Beauvoir pour la Liberté des Femmes, France
Ghulam Mustafa Lakho, Advocate High Court of Sindh, Pakistan
Anne-marie Lizin, Senate Honorary Speaker, Belgium
Huguette Chomski Magnis, President of Mouvement Pour la Paix et Contre le Terrorisme, France
Reine Marcelis, President, Synergie Wallonie pour l'Egalité entre les Femmes et les Hommes, Belguim
Pragna Patel, Chair, Southall Black Sisters, UK
Fariborz Pooya, Director, Iranian Secular Society, UK
Hassan Radwan, Management Committee, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, UK
Yasmin Rehman, Women's Rights Campaigner, UK
Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society, UK
Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Philosopher, Writer, and Spokesman of The Giordano Bruno Foundation, Germany
Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Philosophy and Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics, Canada
Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, Philosopher and Writer, Belgium
Issam Shukri, Head, Committee for the Defence of Secularism and Civil Rights in Iraq, Canada
Joan Smith, Writer and Human Rights Activist, UK
Annie Sugier, President, Ligue du Droit International des Femmes, France
Viviane Teitelbaum, MP and President of the Council of Women, Belgium
Giti Thadani, Writer and Filmmaker, India
Shishir Thadani, South Asian Voice, India
Richy Thompson, President, The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, UK
Olga Trostiansky, President, Coordination Française pour le Lobby Européen des Femmes, France
Nira Yuval-Davis, Organising Group, Women Against Fundamentalism, UK
Michèle Vianès, Regards de Femmes, France
Ibn Warraq, Author, USA

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Il Papa in good ol Britannia...

What a 4 days it must have been in Britain and the world, if you take the BBC World's word for it. Nothing much else happened in the world. The Pope visited Britain. As you might know, unlike other religious sects, the Catholic church was given a piece of land by the fascist state under Mussolini's dictatorship, and has henceforth called itself a state. So, accordingly, when the Pope visited Britain for 4 days, it's been a state visit. This charade, courtesy of Mussolini, explains why the cost of the state visit was fully paid for by UK tax payers, the tax payers of one of Europe's most secular societies. Surprisingly, our head of state then went out of his way to convert Brits in public speech after speech (pardon me, in mass after mass after mass) to his state. Not really, of course. The Pope busily tried to convert Brits to Catholicism. Begs the question why British taxpayers should pay their hard earned money for giving him that privilege. Imagine Barack Obama, or, heaven forbid, Stephen Harper, would head to the UK on a state visit to tell Brits that they'd join his country (or, more to the point, his political party). People would consider that distinctly inappropriate. Funnily, these diplomatic rules don't apply to the old man in the red Prada shoes.

The Pope managed to attract only a fraction of the crowd his predecessor attracted. This didn't stop him, of course, from insisting that UK policies should follow the teachings of his state - agh, damn, religion this time... what a mess this is with this 'state' visit. He busied himself with hectoring UK policy makers on the inapproriateness of permitting gay folks to live in state recognized civil partnerships. The Catholic church, ooops, 'state' doesn't do human rights, it does Catholicism and God. No news in that, of course. For some reason UK government characters fell over each other insisting that they do faith in public life.

No clever person would want to be found anywhere close to a bloke who's been busy preventing information about pedophile priests the world all over from reaching the police, and who's been busy with ensuring that these criminals don't go to jail where they belong. Not so in Britain, people in power queued to shake the old man's hand. I felt sorry for the Queen, who had pretty little choice on this occasion. The Pope busily apologized for the pedophilia scandal, but since when is this sufficient to avoid criminal prosecution? Let's just say that the British police failed its duties to protect the public entirely on this one. The Pope left Britain unscathed, he was not arrested as the head of an organization that has spent decades protecting child molesters among its employees the world all over.

The Pope left us with a remarkable insight, 'science can't explain our existence'. Even if that was true, of course, neither does 'God', so what's the big deal? He also left us with a remarkable demand, namely that we should leave the cold reality that we live in behind and return to his state, ugh, his ideology.

I must say, I am somewhat reassured after this visit. The decline of this organization - and organizations like it - across the developed world will undoubtedly increase. Only true fundamentalists will join forces with such reactionaries, no matter how colorful their clothes. This emperor is truly pretty naked, his going in drag notwithstanding. In many ways that's a good thing. I never had issues about people holding weird beliefs. What irritates me is that invariably, once they're in large numbers, they try to force everyone else to live by their holy book. That really is annoying. The Pope tried to persuade Brits precisely of that, join my ideology was his message on his 'state' visit. No chance this is going to happen, even with the current 'faith doing' conservative 'liberal' government in that country. Match and win for the enlightenment - may be not in Uganda and Jamaica, but pretty much everywhere in Europe at least. It's a start.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nuttish pastor and the world media

People, I truly don't get it. You surely have read about the pastor running this small church in Gainesville, FL. He planned to burn a couple of Koran books to commemorate September 11. This guy is clearly a nutcase. He was for a couple of years in Germany. He gained a reputation for being xenophobic and militantly anti-Turkish. His daughter, who still lives in Germany, thinks he's a nutcase. He eventually had to flee the country because he misappropriated money from his congregation. So, a typical sect leader that man is (I won't mention his name or link to his outfit to reduce any publicity for him and his cause).

Now, we all know that many Muslims get quite worked up when their religious symbols are being mocked. They tend to burn US flags and more often than not kill each other - bit Homer Simpsonesque - in their anger. All quite amusing when watched from far afield. Presumably then they'd be really unhappy if someone burned their book of stories. To be fair, Christians would probably be pretty annoyed if someone burned their book of stories, and so it goes. People got quickly concerned that in enlightened places like Pakistan, and Afghanistan there might be attacks by forces of the Islamic enlightenment against Westerners hanging about there to support the existence of the corrupt regimes running those countries. You know, the people that pour billions of our tax $$ into Afghanistan so that Mr Karzai can dump that money into their national bank that has been stripped naked by its senior management (conveniently including Karzai's brother).

Anyhow, so this nuttish thieving pastor in the USA threatens to burn a few Koran books on the lawn of his sect headquarters. Nobody would have taken any notice of this in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and whatnot, IF Western media hadn't made such a big issue about it. Ever since our nuttish thieving pastor has held the US government hostage (imagine that government folks appealed to him personally to not burn those Koran books). I mean, really??? You just encourage copycats. I'm tempted to threaten burning the Koran books to get ... umm, let's see, what could I want? Serious nonsense. I do not understand why the world media have given this nutcase the oxygen to make this an international media event! Utterly irresponsible and unprofessional.

There is something else I must say though: If I purchase or obtain by other legal means a pile of books (any books), I should be perfectly entitled to burn them! Big deal. They're mine. If you can't handle that, make sure I can't get hold of your holy book, whatever it might be.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Calling it a day on proceduralism in bioethics

It is unusual that an influential approach within our field is called ‘fundamentally wrong’ by its creator. Reidar Lie, a staff member of the US government’s NIH Department of Clinical Bioethics, and a leading expert on research ethics did just that in reference to the fair benefits approach that he substantially helped bring into being. In a recent commentary Lie conceded that there is ‘something fundamentally wrong’ with the approach.1 Lie proposed a procedural account of justice in international health research instead of a substantive approach. This approach reduces ethics in international health research to a market-like transaction, whereby what is fair is what is negotiated between international pharmaceutical multinationals and their – frequently impoverished, undereducated - local prospective trial participants. There is much talk about partnerships and collaboration among fair benefits proponents, but really market norms reign supreme. Fair benefits proponents amassed – to some extent meaningless – surveys of prospective trial participants’ wish lists in terms of what they would like to receive in return for their trial participation. These laundry lists are indicative of how desperate some trial participants really are (some asked for food and soap, for instance). However, unlike what the NIH staff wanted us to believe, these surveys never told us anything of significance with regard to what benefits, if any, should reasonably be made available to such trial participants.

What triggered Lie’s change of mind? His reaction was informed by an excellent paper in the US journal Hastings Center Report.2 Alex London and Kevin J.S. Zollman tried to put the fair benefits approach into action. Amongst their most significant findings was that the approach would likely result into a race to the bottom, whereby pharmaceutical companies would use their bargaining power to search across the globe for the cheapest possible deal to undertake their research. London and Zollman rightly concluded that the approach would produce results that would not even meet standards of fairness endorsed by its own proponents. Other aspects of the procedural approach to fair benefits have been sharply criticized by other bioethicists.3

It is time to move beyond this approach to fair benefits in international health research, and it is time to stop propagating it in developing countries under the guise of capacity building efforts. Alternative concepts aimed at addressing the normative problem at hand have been proposed. I am looking forward to how this debate will unfold.

1 RK Lie. 2010. The Fair Benefits Approach Revisited. Hastings Cent Rep 40(4):
2 AJ London, KJS Zollman. 2010. Research at the Auction Block. Hastings Cent Rep 40(4): 34-45.
3 RE Ashcroft. 2008. Fair Process and the Redundancy of Bioethics. Public Health Ethics 1: 3-9. U Schuklenk. 2010. For-Profit Clinical Trials in Developing Countries — Those Troublesome Patient Benefits. AJOB 10(6): 52-54.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Open Access industry - basement based academic 'journals' in action

and here, an invitation I (a bioethicist/philosopher) received to review a manuscript. Do note the title of the journal (not my field) and the title of the article they need reviewed (has nothing to do with either my field or the journal).

moronia in academia...

International Journal of Peace and Development Studies


Dear Colleague,

We received a manuscript titled "



" I wish to inquire if you can create time to review this manuscript.  We will be most grateful if the manuscript can be reviewed and sent to us within 2 weeks.
Please find the abstract below:
 Abstract: The problem of truth in science - the most urgent problem of our time -   is discussed. The correct theoretical analysis of the generally accepted foundations of theoretical physics  is proposed. The principle of the unity of formal logic and rational dialectics is a methodological basis of the analysis. The main result is as follows: the foundations (i.e. classical thermodynamics, the special theory of relativity, quantum mechanics) contain logical errors The existence of logical errors is irrefutable proof of incorrectness of the theoretical foundations and means that theoretical physics enters the greatest crisis. The crisis in physics leads inevitably to the general crisis in science. The crisis as effect is explained by existence of the global cause: the crisis is a collateral and inevitable result of inductive method of knowledge of the Nature.

I am looking forward to your response and will be grateful to hear from you.

Kindly acknowledge the receipt of this mail

Best Regards,

Emekagbor Richard,

Editorial Assistant,
International Journal of Peace and Development Studies (IJPDS).