Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Conversing with Falun Gong

I received the below message from a self-declared Falun Gong practitioner. Presumably written in response to this blog post of mine. Well, read the email I received in all its entirety. Kinda fun. Nutcases united! I think the bits about flying Faluns are pretty funny. My personal favourite though, changing gays, mixed-race and computer engineers who were sent by extraterrestrial aliens to destroy earth. That's pretty cool as far as crazy stuff goes...

Dear professor:
--How are you? I am a Falun gong practitioner. Do you know about Falun gong?

--Do you often have agony? Are you distressed? I tell you a key to calm your distress.
--I am 43 years old. I am a Falun gong practitioner for 15 years. I was poor health and bad temper 15 years ago until I became a Falun practitioner. One day in this year, I suddenly entered into tranquility and I felt so peaceful that I couldn't move at all. Then I saw Li Hongzhi Master sitting in front of me with golden light around him. Our mighty and solemn Master Buddha looked at me with boundless benevolence. Although he didn't say any words, I heard clearly his earnest and tireless teaching.
--Several years ago, when I was first doing sitting meditation, I could clearly hear the turning sounds of Falun when my hand passed by my ear. Also, since practicing Dafa, I have recovered from several diseases. Before I started to cultivate, I had imagined how wonderful I would feel if I had no disease. I have been enjoying this feeling for the past several years. I haven't even caught any colds since then.
--In 1997, Master's hint helped me to avoid a severe train accident. Many people on the train that I missed died or were seriously injured. For a long time, the media outlets in China were afraid to report the accident to avoid frightening the public.
--Since the year 2000, I have seen countless silver lights flying and dancing all over the sky that appear to be Falun. If I get a camera, I would like to take pictures and magnify them so that I can show them to the ordinary people who don't believe it at all. With the coming of the Fa-rectification in the human world, those who have known the truth of Dafa through the efforts of practitioners, and who therefore have righteous thoughts of Dafa and treat Dafa kindly, will be able to see it soon.
--We can save mixed-blood ones, the gay and computer engineers. Although they are the plot that the extraterrestrial aliens sent to our Earth to destroy human, but we can use the “truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance” to change them. We need you help us to practice together. For human, join us!
--If you want to know more about Falun Dafa, you can tell me!
--Good Luck!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Corruption pays @ FIFA

Fun stuff at FIFA. Six members of the voting body that decides where the next world cup takes place have been found guilty of bribery charges to some extent or other. Remarkably so, none of those voting members received more than the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. None of them, for instance, was dismissed from the committee in question. Some of them are banned from voting for up to four years, and that's where it ends.

Now, these guys ended up in a typical Murdoch 'news'papers style sting operation. You know, one of those Ms Ferguson is used to these days. Basically the newspaper offers bags of cash to folks with either access to folks in power (Ferguson) or folks with actual power (FIFA Executive Committee members), films their response to the bribery offer and publishes the results of their sting operation in order to sell more of its 'news'papers. These kinds of 'news'media create the news they then report about.

You can argue about the question of whether it's fair game to offer huge amounts of money to FIFA folks who come from impoverished parts of the world, in the hope that they might take the bite. At least one of those folks made quite clear that he didn't mean to take any of the offered dosh for himself. He wanted it to be channeled to his local football association so that they could build more soccer fields. The other bloke wanted it transferred into his personal bank account, also ostensibly to support soccer in his home country. Who knows what would have happened to that money.

Either way, these votes were on sale, and for FIFA to not kick those folks off their voting committee for good tells you all that you need to know about that organization's ethics code and more important ethics standards!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ghostwriting Ethics

There's obviously ghostwriters and ghostwriters. Some ghostwriters are acknowledged by name (eg in various autobiographies, including Hilary Clinton's, but also in acknowledgments of biomedical journal articles). What these ghostwriters basically do is to grab existing drafts or manuscripts fragments and draft them into a polished whole, but without adding contents of their own. This, arguably is an above-board type activity, provide due credit is given.

Then there's other ghostwriters, such as authors who write whole biomedical journal articles for pharmaceutical companies where at a later stage other authors' (usually senior professors) names are added. This is clearly a fraudulent activity, because the supposed authors in question had no hand in conceptualizing, and drafting the research paper in question. There have been quite some occasions where they didn't even have a hand in the research that was reported. This clearly is unethical, because they made false representations about their research activity in the process. They made their readers believe that they undertook the research in question, and that the paper published under their name was truly theirs.

Equally as bad is the ever-growing industry of for-hire essay and thesis writers that floods university campuses with its advertisements offering to write student seminar papers and theses (even PhD theses!) for a fee. There is plenty of evidence that this industry is significant in size, and that the fraud that is being undertaken here is undertaken by many students at all levels of their studies. Here and here are examples of how this works from the perspective of people paid to write all these fake essays and theses.

All this stuff is pretty bad news, not only because we graduate students unable to write their own contents, but also because these students and we as degree granting institutions make false representations about the then graduates' competencies. The former, of course, make these false representations knowingly. They're fraudsters. Universities, by virtue of awarding degrees make false representations on some occasions, not knowing of course, how many of our graduates are serial cheats. In fact, it seems to be the case that we as academics have remarkably few tool available to us that would permit us to identify customers of paper mills.

It's all somewhat frustrating. I can't think of any efficient means to actually deal with this problem.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Anonymous vouching and such stuff

Some time ago I attacked Ted Hsu on this blog. Ted Hsu, whatever one might think of him, deserves credit for at least saying what he believes in, even if that does not win him votes, and even if - in the eyes of this commentator - his stances on important issues do not add up. I respect people I disagree with, as long as they have thought about what they believe in, and as long as they put their names to their views.

Bizarrely, yesterday a friend or acquaintance of Mr Hsu told me (in a response to the same blog entry) both how much of a person of integrity Mr Hsu is (I have no reason to doubt his integrity and have never suggested otherwise) and that he's progressive (I have serious reason to doubt that, but then, I suspect what's progressive these days is very much in the eyes of the beholder). Mr Hsu's friend or acquaintance also kind of vouched for Mr Hsu, he or she gave a character witness. Nothing at all is wrong with  this. Where the witness giving turned bizarre was when the friend of acquaintance decided to attack me anonymously. When questioned the rationale given was that he or she always uses his or her pseudonym on the internet. Obviously, if you were to use the pseudonym Don Quixote on the web and you decided to give witness on your friend, you do make a fool of yourself. Why should anyone care about an anonymous writer vouching for someone else about whom we actually know more than about the writer who busies him- or herself vouching?

At least this is something I won't hold against Mr Hsu. You cannot control your friends and acquaintances who decide to praise you anonymously.

For what it's worth, the Liberal Party riding association chose Mr Hsu as its candidate for parliament in the next federal elections. Congratulations are due to Mr Hsu. He fought a bitterly contested campaign well, and he won (no doubt the other pro-life candidate's second preference votes would have flown to him, because he failed to win outright in the first round). Nonetheless, a win is a win is a win! Good on him!

I have supported Bill Flanagan, who lost narrowly to Mr Hsu. Let me predict then that our riding will fall to the conservatives (whose pro-life candidate offers a more coherent conservative package than Mr Hsu) in the next election as a result of this decision of the local Liberal party's membership. But hey, that's what democracy is all about.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Quixotian war on drugs wins another pointless battle

One could consider it amusing, if not laughable, if so many lives were not lost in the war on drugs in Mexico. Today a joint US/Mexican operation managed to find a drug tunnel between the two countries where smugglers transported weed from Mexico to the USA. In what they undoubtedly consider an amazing victory the authorities in Mexico and the USA confirmed also that they seized 25 tons of marijuana. Well, it seems like a Quixotian victory of a kind, if it's a victory at all. A consequence of the pointless criminalization of Marijuana (a drug much less harmful than say alcohol) is an open-ended invitation to criminals to capture the drug market. Quite some of this criminal drug money goes straight back into funding the war criminal gangs fight in Mexico against the Mexican people. It is clear then that the seizure of these 25 tons will actually fuel the war, rather than bring it closer to an end. Why is that?

As it goes in all markets, the price increases when the quantity of the product available remains stable but demand increases, or when there is even less of the product at steady demand or increasing demand. That then is what this 25 ton fund will practically mean. If anything, it might fuel the civil war in Mexico, because the other criminal weed producers will be able to sell their quantities at higher prices. 'Sisyphus'  and 'pointless' come to mind when looked at from disinterested perspective. In addition to being pointless from the perspective of those wanting to 'win the war on drugs', arguably these sorts of 'successes' assist criminals in financing their counter war more efficiently.

Complete waste of time, it appears to me. The societal answer to people's interest in taking drugs should be based on the objective harms that are caused by particular classes of drugs. These harms should not be measured by policies resulting into harms (as criminalization fuels today the civil war in Mexico), but on the intrinsic harmfulness of particular drugs. If a societal responses causes more harm than could be caused by the intrinsic harmfulness of a particular drug policy changes are surely called for.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Praying doesn't work

Interesting side story in the US midterm elections. Christine O'Donnell, a teaparty supported Republican candidate for a cushy Senator job, who gained some claims to fame for saying that homosexuality and masturbation are immoral, that evolution does not take place, and for claiming that clinical trials resulted into mice with human brains, has lost her bid for the Senator seat in Delaware. It seems this nutcase was considered electable by some 40% of the electorate. Tells you quite a bit about that country, doesn't it...

Anyhow, O'Donnell belongs to the kind of people who believe that doing nothing (ie praying) helps achieve whatever you do nothing about (ie pray for). So her and her fans busily prayed for her win. God, unfortunately, was busy with so many other races that he must have missed her prayers. Seems praying doesn't work after all. Bummer... makes me wonder though whether one should suggest to the teabaggers and their Republican lapdogs to pray harder in the future and spend less time poisoning the public domain with their ideology (aka that of their corporate funders).

I assume that she will soon be working for the Fox News network where all failed Republican politicians end up doing their own lil shows or work as talking heads. A million $$ salary is likely awaiting O'Donnell. Should be fun.