Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cult of Misery Latest: Pope Delivers Annual Message of Hate

The famously dress wearing Pope, in an early release of his annual message of hate to the world, declared today that stopping homosexual behaviour is as important as stopping the destruction of the rain forest. The BBC News, in a remarkable display of analytical insight and critical thinking skills noted that the Pope hadn't referred to homosexuals as 'sinners'. Strangely, the BBC News didn't note that the Pope might be in need of professional psychological help to deal with his homophobia. Strangely, nobody of the usual politically correct crowd insisted that anti-hate speech legislation be properly applied and the Pope and/or his senior executives be prosecuted.

Happy hol's everyone. I'm away till early January trying to escape Xmas (not an easy task...).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Complete list of civilised countries now available

Very interesting stuff: the UN (that beacon of hope for human rights - NOT) voted on a resolution demanding basic civil rights for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered (lgbt) people. Some 66 countries supported the resolution, and not unexpectedly, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, Old European countries with their respect for civil rights feature prominently on the list. No surprise, unfortunately, that thuggish places like Saudia Arabia, Russia, Jamaica and others are missing in action. No surprise either that the USA and the Vatican cannot be found on the list of supporters of the human rights of lgbt people. No surprise also that South Africa, sliding ever faster itself into a Zimbabwe type failed state, is absent among the signatories of the resolution, despite the fact that the country's progressive constitution binds the government of the day to recognize the rights of lgbt folks.

It's probably useful to reflect on this also in the context of high hopes that people have for the incoming Obama administration in the USA. This guy (leaving aside for a moment the fact that he doesn't even support the idea of universal health care in the USA) has announced today that a known homophobic evangelical preacher will hold the sermon during his inauguration ceremony.

Here then the complete honor list (keep em in mind, next time you plan a vacation!):

Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon,
Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The UN statement, which includes a call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide, was read by Argentina.

Here's a Background briefing from IDAHO, the organisation that launched a campaign to get this resolution off the ground:

On May 17 2006, the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the IDAHO Committee launched a campaign « for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality », and published a list of the first signatories, which include several Nobel Prize winners: (Desmond Tutu, Elfriede Jelinek, José Saramago, Dario Fo, Amartya Sen), entertainers (Merryl Streep, Victoria Abril, Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, David Bowie), intellectuals (Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Bernard-Henri Lévy), and humanitarian organisations like ILGA, Aids International and the FIDH. On IDAHO 2008 (17 May this year) the French government announced that it would bring a LGBT human rights statement to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The text was read today in New York, and was supported by 66 countries in the world, and it clearly inscribes sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights.

The IDAHO Committee is the NGO coordinating the International Day Against Homophobia. This day is celebrated in more than 50 countries in the world, and is officially recognised by the European Union, Belgium, United Kingdom, France, Mexico, Costa-Rica, etc. These actions support international campaigns, like the call launched in 2006 "for a universal decriminalisation of homosexuality"
http://www.idahomophobia.org/

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Call for an End to Sharia Courts

For your information, from me as one of the signatories of the Call for an End to Sharia Courts, the press release of the group that initiated this campaign.
udo schuklenk

Press Release
CALL FOR END TO SHARIA COURTS AFTER REPORT SHOWS WIDESPREAD INJUSTICE
December 16, 2008

A new report showing that Muslim women are discriminated against and encounter gross bias when they subject themselves to Sharia adjudications was welcomed today (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7783627.stm) by The One Law for All Campaign, which is supported by a variety of organisations and individuals.

The campaign's spokesperson Maryam Namazie said: 'This research reinforces our own findings that Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals are discriminatory and unfair. However, the solution to the miscarriages of justice is not the vetting of Imams coming to the UK as the report has recommended but an end to the use and implementation of Sharia law and religious-based tribunals.' She added: 'At present these Sharia-based bodies are growing and appear to have some sort of official backing. But they are leading to gross injustices among women who are often unaware of their rights under Britain's legal system.'

This perspective was reiterated in the One Law for All Campaign's launch on December 10, 2008 in the House of Lords at which Maryam Namazie and campaign supporters Gina Khan, Carla Revere, Ibn Warraq and Keith Porteous Wood spoke; the meeting was chaired by Fariborz Pooya, head of the Iranian Secular Society.

Gina Khan, a secular Muslim, said: 'Under British law we are treated as equal and full human beings. Under the antiquated version of Sharia law that Islamists peddle, we are discriminated against just because of our gender. These Islamists use our plight by meddling in issues like forced marriages, domestic violence and inheritance laws for their own political agenda. To allow them to have any sort of control over the lives of Muslim women in British communities will have dire consequences.' She added: 'Sharia courts must be a pressing concern not just for Muslims but for all those living in Britain. Anyone who believes in universal human rights needs to stand united against the discrimination and oppression visited upon Muslim women.'

Carla Revere, Chairperson of the Lawyers' Secular Society, said: 'Such self-appointed, unregulated tribunals are gaining in strength; they increasingly hold themselves up as courts with as much force as the law of the land, but are not operating with the same controls and safeguards. They appear to be operating in the area of family law and some even in criminal matters, where they have no right to make binding decisions as they claim to do. Even if the decisions were binding, UK courts do not uphold contractual decisions that are contrary to UK law or public policy. We call on the Government and legal establishment to stand up for the vulnerable and tackle this significant and growing problem, rather than ignoring it.'

Writer Ibn Warraq said: 'Sharia does not accord equal rights to Muslim women- in regards to marriage- she is not free to marry a non-Muslim, for instance; in regards to divorce, custody of children, inheritance, the choice of profession, and freedom to travel, or freedom to change her
religion. In other words, Great Britain in allowing Sharia courts has contravened the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and all the other more legally binding United Nations' Covenants on Discrimination and the Rights of Women... Multiculturalism is turning communities against each other, it is fundamentally divisive. We need to get back to the principles of equality before the law, principles that so many people fought so hard to achieve for so long.'

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: 'Sharia is becoming a growth industry in Britain, putting growing pressure on vulnerable people in the Muslim community to use Sharia councils and tribunals to resolve disputes and family matters, when they could use the civil courts. Sharia law is not arrived at by the democratic process, is not Human Rights compliant, and there is no right of appeal.'

Writer Joan Smith who was unable to speak at the launch sent the following message: 'This campaign is very important because many people in this country - including politicians - have yet to realise the isolation of many Muslims, particularly women, from the wider society. Some of them are already under intolerable pressure from their families, and the principle of
one law for everyone is a protection they desperately need. That's why I give this campaign my whole-hearted support.'

To find out more or support the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain visit www.onelawforall.org.uk.


Some of the signatories to the Campaign

Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Coordinator, Stop Child Executions Campaign, Canada
Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Germany; Coordinator, International Committee against Stoning, Köln, Germany
Sargul Ahmad, Activist, Women's Liberation in Iraq, Canada
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Writer, Washington, DC, USA
Mahin Alipour, Coordinator, Equal Rights Now - Organisation against Women's Discrimination in Iran, Stockholm, Sweden
Homa Arjomand, Coordinator, International Campaign against Sharia Courts in Canada, Toronto, Canada
Farideh Arman, Coordinator, International Campaign in Defence of Women's Rights in Iran, Malmo, Sweden
Abdullah Asadi, Executive Director, International Federation of Iranian Refugees, Sweden
Ophelia Benson, Editor, Butterflies and Wheels, USA
Susan Blackmore, Psychologist, UK
Nazanin Borumand, Never Forget Hatun Campaign against Honour Killings, Germany
Roy Brown, Past President, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Geneva, Switzerland
Ed Buckner, President, American Atheists, USA
Marino Busdachin, General Secretary, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples
Organization, Netherlands
Center for Inquiry, USA
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, UK
Council of Ex-Muslims of Germany, Germany
Council of Ex-Muslims of Scandinavia, Sweden
Caroline Cox, Peer, House of Lords, London, UK
Austin Dacey, Representative to the United Nations, Center for Inquiry-International, USA
Shahla Daneshfar, Central Committee Member, Equal Rights Now - Organisation
against Women's Discrimination in Iran, London, UK
Richard Dawkins, Scientist, Oxford, UK
Patty Debonitas, TV Producer, Third Camp against US Militarism and Islamic Terrorism, London, UK
Deeyah, Singer and composer, USA
Nick Doody, Comedian, UK
Sonja Eggerickx, President, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Belgium
Afshin Ellian, Professor, Leiden University Faculty of Law, Leiden, Netherlands
Equal Rights Now - Organisation against Women's Discrimination in Iran, Sweden
European Humanist Federation, Belgium
Tarek Fatah, Author, Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, Toronto, Canada
Caroline Fourest, Writer, France
Tahir Aslam Gora, Writer and journalist, Canada
AC Grayling, Writer and Philosopher, London, UK
Maria Hagberg, Chair, Network against Honour-Related Violence, Gothenburg, Sweden
Johann Hari, Journalist, London, UK
Christopher Hitchens, Author, USA
Farshad Hoseini, Activist, International Campaign against Executions, Netherlands
Khayal Ibrahim, Coordinator, Organization of Women's Liberation in Iraq;
Arabic Anchor for Secular TV, Canada
International Committee against Executions, Netherlands
International Committee against Stoning, Germany
International Humanist and Ethical Union, UK
Iranian Secular Society, UK
Shakeb Isaar, Singer, Sweden
Maryam Jamel, Activist, Women's Liberation in Iraq, Canada
Keyvan Javid, Director, New Channel TV, London, UK
Alan Johnson, Editor, Democratiya.com, Lancashire, UK
Mehul Kamdar, Former editor of The Modern Rationalist, USA
Naser Khader, Founder, Association of Democratic Muslims, Denmark
Hope Knutsson, Chair, Sidmennt, Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, Iceland
Hartmut Krauss, Editor, Hintergrund, Germany
LAIQUES - Région PACA, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
Stephen Law, Editor, Royal Institute of Philosophy journal, London, UK
Shiva Mahbobi, Producer, Against Discrimination TV Programme, London, UK
Houzan Mahmoud, Abroad Representative, Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, London, UK
Doreen Massey, Peer, House of Lords, London, UK
Anthony McIntyre, Writer, Ireland
Caspar Melville, Editor, New Humanist magazine, London, UK
Bahar Milani, Activist, Children First Now, London, UK
Tauriq Moosa, Writer, Capetown, South Africa
Reza Moradi, Producer, Fitna Remade, London, UK
Douglas Murray, Director, Centre for Social Cohesion, London, UK
Taslima Nasrin, Writer and activist
National Secular Society, London, UK
Never Forget Hatun Campaign against Honour Killings, Germany
Samir Noory, Writer; Secular TV Manager, Canada
David Pollock, President, the European Humanist Federation, London, UK
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, Pakistan
Fahimeh Sadeghi, Coordinator, International Federation of Iranian
Refugees-Vancouver, Vancouver, Canada
Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Chief Executive Officer, Giordano Bruno Foundation,
Germany
Udo Schuklenk, Philosophy professor, Queen's University, Canada
Sohaila Sharifi, Editor, Unveiled, London, UK
Issam Shukri, Head, Defense of Secularism and Civil Rights in Iraq; Central Committee Secretary, Left Worker-communist Party of Iraq, Iraq
Bahram Soroush, Founding member, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, London, UK
Peter Tatchell, Activist, London, UK
Hamid Taqvaee, Central Committee Secretary, Worker-communist Party of Iran
Union des Familles Laïques - section Arles-Istres, France
Union des Familles Laïques - section Marseille-Aix-en-Provence, France
Afsaneh Vahdat, Coordinator, Council of Ex-Muslims of Sweden, Stockholm, Sweden
Marvin F. Zayed, President, International Committee to Protect Freethinkers, Ottawa, Canada

For more information, please contact Maryam Namazie, email:
onelawforall@gmail.com, telephone: 07719166731; website:
onelawforall.org.uk.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Buch's administration responsible for policies that led to torture of detainees

This needs no further comment!


AP by Joby Warrick

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan Senate report released today says that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials are directly responsible for abuses of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and charges that decisions by those officials led to serious offenses against prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere.

The Senate Armed Services Committee report accuses Rumsfeld and his deputies of being the principal architects of the plan to use harsh interrogation techniques on captured fighters and terrorism suspects, rejecting the Bush administration's contention that the policies originated lower down the command chain.

"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," the panel concludes. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."

The report, released by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., and based on a nearly two-year investigation, said that both the policies and resulting controversies tarnished the reputation of the United States and undermined national security. "Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority," it said.

"Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right," wrote Petraeus, who at the time was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy."

Fascinating background on Nobel Prize money

The German language weekly broadsheet DIE ZEIT has published an interesting backgrounder on the Nobel Foundation, ie the organisation bankrolling the 1 mio $ per pop Nobel prizes. It turns out that the foundation's investment people burned a lot of its money by means of investing in hedge funds instead of safer shares. The initial donor who established the foundation, Alfred Nobel, insisted that the foundation invest the money only in 'safe shares'. A Swedish radio station did the maths and reported that it is in serious doubt these days whether there's enough cash left to fund the generous prize monies that the winners have grown accustomed to.

There are also questions to do with good judgment when the committee chairs of several of the foundation's selection committees went on luxury junkets to China (ie business class fares, luxury hotels, that sort of thing), while being quizzed on what China would need to do in order to score nobel prizes. Quite amusing in a way, one is used to endless corruption when it comes to that Olympic farce and its committee, but nobody probably expected similar conduct from chairpersons of nobel prize selection committees. Anyhow, as to China, that country routinely censors information about the nobel peaze price winners from its bulletins, because it is too concerned that its name might once again be mentioned by the winners in the context of civil rights violations or cosying up to dictators in Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma. The kind treatment meted out to nobel committee bigshots might explain why there was no nobel prize for Chinese human rights activists this year.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, given this context of clearly less than transparent activities, it turns out to be the case that the largest commercial sponsor of the foundation's commercial arms (nobel media and nobel web) is the pharmaceutical multinational Astra Zeneca. The discovery made by this year's nobel prize winner in medicine (namely that the sexually transmissible HPV causes cervical cancer) has led to a somewhat controversial vaccine against that virus. There is some argument ongoing whether the side-effect profile of the vaccine is too significant and its efficacy too low to justy using it in every teenage girl prior to her becoming sexually active. It turns out to be the case that the owner of the patents to the vaccine is no one other than Astra Zeneca. So, the largest commercial sponsor of the foundation's activities also happens to market the product that was made possible by the discovery of this year's winner. Having said that, the nobel prize winner well and truly deserved the price (as arguably many others for different discoveries in medicine), and he personally does reportedly not financially benefit from any sales Astra Zeneca makes.

Still, it seems that not all is nobel in the house of Nobel ...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Economic crisis leads to even more good news

The economic crisis that Anglosaxon style capitalism has brought us into might not only herald the end of those dreaded US car manufacturers (here's wishful thinking), no, there's more good news: this could even herald the end of Formula 1. Yes, the end of men driving around in circles in gas guzzling racing cars for no good reason at all. Honda has already withdrawn from sponsoring a Formula 1 racing team, and rumours have it that there will be more to follow. Stay tuned ... and fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Bizarre system of democracy in Canada's constitutional monarchy

A farce - by the standards of most, if not all, liberal parliamentary democracies - has just taken place in Canada. A couple of weeks ago a minority government under the conservative PM Stephen Harper took office. The thing is, as it goes with minority governments in democracies, only a minority of Canadians actually support the government. The opposition parties consisting of the Liberals, the leftish NDP and the Quebec based nationalists have a comfortable majority in parliament over the Conservatives. So, most sensible minority government PMs would have navigated compromise courses to ensure that their government is not brought down by the parliamentary majority. Sensible politics and Stephen Harper is well and truly a contradiction in terms. So, very quickly he pissed off the parliamentary majority to such an extent that they clubbed together, signed a deal and declared that they'd oust his government.

In most liberal democracies (probably all West European ones) the president or governor general (if it's a former British colony of sorts), if there's a working majority in parliament, would task the majority coalition formally with forming government within a certain period of time. That failing there will be elections.

Now, you might think this German-Australian expat shouldn't be that judgmental about the banana republic equivalent machinations of Canadian politics. So for what it's worth, Ed Shreyer, a former governor general of Canada, had this to say on the same matter: "I'll put it this way and I will make this a plain-spoken sentence. Nothing should be done to aid and abet the evasion of submitting to the will of Parliament. I think one can stop there. It's about as basic as that."

Hey, not so in Canada. Here, bizarrely, the governor general can suspend parliament for weeks in a row for no good reason. And that exactly is what she did! Now the minority government can continue for another couple of weeks time, despite the fact that the majority of elected parliamentarians declared in writing that they (representing their electorate, ie the majority of Canadian voters) do not support the government. As if this complete disregared for democratic process wasn't enough, the governor general can also decide, after the suspension of parliament (if the recalcitrant majority still insists on electing a new government) to call a new election. Again, why bother taking the views of the democratically elected representatives of the people seriously? No need in Canada.

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.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Why Some HIV Transmissions Should be Punished

I am reproducing here a commentary that I wrote for the Bioethics Forum of the Hastings Center.

The Canadian legal system is currently bracing for another case in which a man is prosecuted for allegedly infecting multiple unsuspecting women with the HIV virus who had unprotected sexual intercourse with him. Two of these women have died of AIDS. Various other cases have successfully been prosecuted, usually involving men who knew they were HIV infected and who chose to have unprotected sexual intercourse with a number of women. (See Matthew Weait, Intimacy and Responsibility: The Criminalisation of HIV Transmission, Routledge, 2007.) Some of these women became infected, others did not. Either way, the HIV-infected men knowingly subjected these women to the risk of infection with a life-threatening illness.

Many liberal democracies have made HIV transmission a criminal offense, including the United States, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In most countries, HIV-infected people have been successfully prosecuted for transmitting HIV to their sexual partners. The main reason for this is – obviously – that an HIV infection is harmful to the carrier of the virus. At this point in time it means the infection with a delayed-onset serious chronic illness that results into an, all other things being equal, excess number of deaths among those infected.

Some AIDS activists and their academic allies insist that criminalizing HIV transmission and punishing the perpetrators is not a sensible way for us as society to say that such conduct is unacceptable. In a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Scott Burris and Edwin Cameron, both legal scholars, assert that “the use of criminal law to address HIV infection is inappropriate except in rare cases in which a person acts with conscious intent to transmit HIV and does so.” But the arguments brought against the criminalization of HIV transmission simply do not withstand critical scrutiny.

Silliest, perhaps, is the argument that criminalizing HIV transmission will not necessarily prevent people from transmitting the virus. On that logic we might as well do away with traffic regulations that punish people for speeding. Nobody is naive enough to assume that such rules prevent all people from speeding, but they might act as a deterrent in some or even many cases. It also sends a strong signal that we as a society think such harmful conduct is unacceptable. Another often-criticized argument is that the law is not an effective public health tool. Nobody in favor of criminalizing HIV transmission claims that it is, however. Criminalization might help in preventing some new infections, but we might also wish to deploy the law to punish behavior that led to significant harm to others.

Some have argued that there is no evidence of a deterrence effect from criminalization. It is difficult seeing how this evidence could be established to the point of it becoming uncontroversial, however. It has also been suggested that putting the onus of protecting their partners on an infected person, or even requiring them to advise their sexual partners of their HIV status, would have a detrimental effect on people’s willingness to get tested. The proposition here then is that that the criminalization of HIV transmission could actually yield harmful public health consequences. This argument might have had some currency when successful AIDS treatments did not exist. In those bygone times, people at high risk of HIV infection had little incentive to find out about their infection, given that there was very little that they could do about it if they tested positive. Today, however, life-preserving treatments exist. It strikes me as highly implausible that someone at risk of HIV infection would choose to forgo potential timely life-preserving care in order to be able to continue to have unsafe sex without worries about sanctions.

Another argument alleges that prosecutions of gay men who subjected their sexual long-term partners recklessly and knowingly to the risk of HIV infection demonstrates evidence of a homophobic legal system. This charge seems particularly baseless. A homophobic legal system would permit gay men to continue to engage in high-risk behavior. A society that cares about the well-being of its gay members will try to prevent new infections of gay men from occurring, even if it means prosecuting some of its gay citizens.

Then there is the racism charge. Having lived for a number of years in South Africa, I have come to appreciate that the prevalence of the virus is substantially different in different populations in different parts of the world. I am not surprised to see more African-born heterosexual men prosecuted than North American Caucasian men. The average South African heterosexual African male is substantially more likely to be infected with HIV than is the average Canadian-born, heterosexual Caucasian male. The prevalence of HIV in the former population is substantially higher. No big surprise then that among the few people prosecuted overall there should be an African face. None of that, in its own right, constitutes evidence of racism.

Another argument states that we should not criminalize HIV. Yes, the claim, published recently by legal minds in a leading American medical journal, is that we are criminalizing HIV if we punish people for transmitting it. This is a truly strange argument. If we punish people for transmitting HIV to their partners, who had no reason to assume that they were consenting to that risk when they had unsafe sex, what we criminalize is what people do with the virus, not the virus itself or even the people who happen to be infected.

There are reportedly about 60,000 HIV-positive people in Canada and about 1,000,000 HIV infected people in the USA. So far, very few have been prosecuted for allegedly transmitting HIV. The same is true for most other countries. I do not believe that we are sliding down a slippery slope, at the bottom of which we will launch legal proceedings against most infected people. One reason is that most infected people behave very ethically. The HIV-infected people I know personally prefer to forgo sex than to engage in unsafe sexual activities, even if their sexual partners insist. The thought of harming their sexual partners horrifies them. And so it should.

There is a much smaller number of infected people out there, however, who clearly could not care less about the well-being of people they profess and pretend to love and care about. It seems to me that virtually all of the cases that have been prosecuted so far, both in Canada and elsewhere, are about those sorts of cases, and not about people who acquired the virus during one-time sexual encounters with partners they knew little to nothing about. Most infections occur under the latter circumstances, and they are fairly straightforward cases of harm to self. The ethical and legal maxim volenti non fit iniuria should be applied here: if you consent, you cannot complain. There is little doubt in my mind this explains more than anything else why we have seen few prosecutions. The successful prosecutions so far in the United States, Canada, and Britain have focused on egregious cases of tremendously harmful wrong-doing.

It is the role of the state to use the criminal law to punish such wrong-doing.

Udo Schuklenk, professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University, holds the Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics and is Joint Editor-in-Chief of Bioethics, the publication of the International Association of Bioethics.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Disabled kid can't sue the doctor responsible for the disability - in Canada

This is one of those 'I'm not a lawyer, but ...' type posts. Today's GLOBE&MAIL has a report about a court case in Canada. Basically a doctor prescribed an acne medicine that was known to lead to birth defects to a pregnant woman. The woman eventually gave birth to a disabled newborn (an ear missing, part of the newborn's face is paralysed).

The court's judgment rests on two claims: 1) 'because the woman and her fetus are one - both physically and legally - it is the woman whom the doctor advises and who makes the treatment decisions affecting herself and her future child.' This doesn't seem entirely unreasonable. 2) The second claim is that 'granting a child the right to sure doctors for damage caused before birth would also interfere with a woman's right to an abortion'. This seems truly implausible. One can hold consistently that fetuses do not have a right to be (ie grant women a right to abort for whatever reason they see fit), and at the same time that if the pregnant woman decides knowingly and voluntarily to carry it to term that certain duties of care are owed to it, eg the duty to offer it the best possible shot at a life worth living. Anita Kleinsmidt and I have advanced this argument (admittedly in a different context) in the American Journal of Public Health.

There is no contradiction in this point of view, because one can hold the view that moral standing begins at the moment of birth (or viability). However, if the pregnant woman decides not to avail herself of the option of abortion, it's highly probably that a viable child will be born. Any action undertaken by the mother that would reduce such off-spring's best possible shot at a life worth living would require very good reasons (eg the mother's life and future well-being at risk).

The doctor should have inquired whether or not there was a pregnancy prior to prescribing the medicine and/or it would have been necessary for him/her to inform the pregnant woman of the risk of birth defects in case the medicine is taken during pregnancy. The GLOBE&MAIL article seems to imply that the pregnant women did not give informed consent to this risk, because she wasn't informed as she should have been. The doctor clearly erred in his professional obligations both to the mother as well as to the fetus she decided to carry to term (unaware of the risk she subjected the fetus to, due to the doctor's negligence) if she/he failed to elicit informed consent from the pregnant woman at the time. For that reason it is surprising that the Court should have ruled that the child has no case against the doctor.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Christian weirdos in Kingston

Guess what, I went for a walk with two guys (one gay, one straight) along the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Kingston. Here is how we became victims of a vicious Christian ambush. Three youngish women (perhaps teenagers) surrounded us.

They had been thoroughly trained to identify 'sinners' and make them repent. So, they asked us whether we all believe in God (at which point my slightly smarter and faster German friend quietly disappeared in the direction of the water, aiming to demonstrate that he can walk on the same).

Well, I have lived in anglosaxon countries for a bit too long, so I am a tad bit politer, even when I interact with weirdos. Anyhow, the God gals went over their cue cards and explained to us that God loves us. They knew that they were speaking to gay guys, and we all know what God thinks of gay guys, don't we? Well, God supposedly loves us because God loves all sinners (to be fair, that makes sense to me, because - from what I gather - sinners live kinda more interesting lives then those who manage to live without sin, so why shouldn't God love the more adventurous crowd?). Well, eventually the God girls decided to go for the kill. They realised that probably the self-identified atheist gay guy (your's truly) might run away, screaming in mental anguish. So they resorted to grabbing my friend's and my hand. There we stood in a circle holding hands. (Honestly... I was looking for a hidden camera somewhere as it was all too farcical to be true!) Straight guys would probably have loved that scene, reasonably attractive young women holding hands with two guys they never met before in their whole lives, at the Lake shore, the sun going down, you get the picture. Back to the God squad going for the kill... - One of the girls started reading a kind of confession, and asked God for forgiveness from another one of her cue cards. She asked us every few lines to repeat after her. It was truly hilarious. I duly repeated after her the stuff about sinners and forgiveness and God loving me (I never met God, but they seemed quite certain that God really loves me, so who was I to argue with them???).

So, beware, if you're wandering along Lake Ontario in Kingston, Ontario, and you go peacefully about your business (eg enjoying the tranquility of the lake), there's odd Christian weirdos out there hassling you for no particular reason. They also think it's perfectly appropriate to invade your space and privacy. No big surprise in that, I suppose, seeing that were on a mission. They invited me and my friend to meet the rest of their forgiving crowd during church times. It didn't seem to occur to them that their sanctimonious self-rightous bull*#@# could sensibly be construed as highly offensive by halfway educated people who don't think about sex among consenting adults in terms of sin but in terms of fun. As most selfrighteous people, however, they seemed very comfortable about their own holiness.

Kingston beware! Nobody knows how many of them have been let loose by their local pastor. I think Tourism Kingston ought to warn visitors coming to town that there is Christians out and about that are on a mission. May be some kind of Christians-on-a-mission alert? Telling tourists that there is no need to call the mental health services or the police. These Christians are harmless. They will leave eventually.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Farewell to the genocidal duo

Good bye to Thabo Mbeki and his health prevention side-kick Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, formerly health minister of South Africa. Manto, like AIDS denialist Thabo was kicked out of the Presidency, was shafted from the health ministry during the ANCs recall of 'comrade Mbeki'. A lot of South Africans are worried about what might come unter Jacob Zuma, a shady Zulu warrior tainted by a substantial number of scandals including corruption and sexual conduct. But truth be told, what can be much worse than the AIDS policies of the Mbeki government, policies responsible for hundredthousands of preventable AIDS deaths among the impoverished Black majority population in the country. Mbeki also presided over the systematic undermining of state institutions (including the security services, the courts and the national broadcaster) into mouthpieces of his administration. Many South Africans seem to have forgotten already that the president of the South African Medical Association called - justifiably so - these Mbeki/Tshabalala Msimang policies 'genocidal'. It's a shame - as South Africans of all shades are fond of saying - that the country doesn't seem to have more competent politicians prepared to step up to the serious challenges the country faces. That being the case it seems somewhat inevitable that a vindictive paranoid (arguably antidemocratic) character such as Mbeki was replaced by a washed-up populist ala Jacob Zuma. Interesting times ahead for the rainbow nation... - Only the future will tell though whether Zuma really will do much worse than Mbeki.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Being gay in Iraq isn't fun these days...

I reproduce here a circular human rights activist and fellow humanist Peter Tatchell has send me. You might want to consider supporting the cause. There is information about donations at the end of his post.

Sexual cleansing in Iraq

Islamist death squads are hunting down gay Iraqis and summarily executing them

WATCH the video link below – and weep

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=uB7TcPGXlHY

By Peter Tatchell

The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 25 September 2008

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/25/iraq.humanrights

STOP PRESS: This morning, after this article was published, news came from Iraq that the coordinator of Iraqi LGBT in Baghdad, Bashar, aged 27, has been assassinated in a barber shop. Militias burst in and sprayed his body with bullets.

The so-called improved security situation in Iraq is not benefiting all Iraqis, especially not gay ones. Islamist death squads are engaged in a homophobic killing spree, with the active encouragement of leading Muslim clerics, such as Moqtada al-Sadr, as Newsweek recently revealed.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/155656

One of these clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Shia Islam, issued a fatwa urging the killing of lesbians and gays in the "worst, most severe way possible."

http://gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=18202189&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

The short film, Queer Fear - Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq, produced by David Grey for Village Film, documents the tragic fates of a several individual gay Iraqis. You can view it here:

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=uB7TcPGXlHY

Watch and weep. A truly poignant and moving revelation about the terrorisation and murder of Iraqi lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Since this film was made, the killings have continued and, many say, got worse.

http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/07/24/gay.iraqis/index.html

For gay Iraqis there is little evidence of the transition to democracy. They don't experience any new-found respect human rights. Life for them is even worse than under the tyrant Saddam Hussein.

It is a death sentence in today's "liberated" Iraq to love a person of the same-sex, or for a woman to have sex outside of marriage, or for a Muslim to give up his / her faith or embrace another religion.

The reality on the ground is that theocracy is taking hold of the country, including in Basra, which was abandoned by the British military. In place of foreign occupation, the city's inhabitants now endure the terror of fundamentalist militias and death squads. Those who are deemed insufficiently devout and pure are liable to be assassinated.

The death squads of the Badr Brigades and the Madhi Army are targeting gays and lesbians, according to UN reports, in a systematic campaign of sexual cleansing. They proudly boast of their success, claiming that they have already exterminated all "perverts and sodomites" in many of the major cities.

http://articles.latimes.com/2007/aug/05/world/fg-iraqgay5

http://gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=17008100&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

http://gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=17008200&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

http://gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=18605093&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

You can view photos of a few of the LGBT victims of these summary executions here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/outrage/sets/72157600042494571/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/outrage/sets/72057594087304767/

My friends in Iraq have relayed to me the tragic story of five gay activists, who belonged to the underground movement gay rights movement, Iraqi LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender).

Eye-witnesses confirm that they saw the men being led out of a house at gun-point by officers in police uniform. Yes, Iraqi police! Nothing has been heard of the five victims since then. In all probability, they have been executed by the police - or by Islamist death squads who have infiltrated the Iraqi police and who are using their uniforms to carry out so-called honour killings of gay people, unchaste women and many others.

The arrested and disappeared men were Amjad 27, Rafid 29, Hassan 24, Ayman 19 and Ali 21. As members of Iraq's covert gay rights movement, for the previous few months they had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, relaying details of the murders to the outside world, and providing safe houses and support to other gay people fleeing the death squads.

Their abduction is just one of many outrages by anti-gay death squads. lslamist killers burst into the home of two lesbians in city of Najaf. They shot them dead, slashed their throats, and also murdered a young child who the women had rescued from the sex trade. The two women, both in their mid-30s, were members of Iraqi LGBT. They were providing a safe house for gay men on the run from death squads. By sheer luck, none of the men who were being given shelter in the house were at home when the assassins struck. They have since fled to Baghdad and are hiding in an Iraqi LGBT safe house there.

Large parts of Iraq are now under the de facto control of the militias and their death squad units. They enforce a harsh interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for what they denounce as "crimes against Islam." These "crimes" include listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber's shop, homosexuality, dancing, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative.

Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of major parties in the Bush and Brown-backed Iraqi government. Madhi is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, and Badr is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad's governing coalition. Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship. The allied occupation of Iraq is bad enough. But if the Madhi or Badr militias gain in influence and strength, as seems likely in the long-term, it could result in a reign of religious terror many times worse.

Saddam Hussein was a bloody tyrant. I campaigned against his blood-stained misrule for nearly 30 years. But while Saddam was President, there was certainly no danger of gay people being assassinated in their homes and in the street by religious fanatics.

http://gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=17008362&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

Since his overthrow, the violent persecution of lesbians and gays is much worse.

http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com/2007/08/for-gays-in-iraq-life-of-constant-fear.html

Even children suspected of being gay are abducted and later found shot in the head.

http://gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=17008362&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

Lesbian and gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police, since the police are heavily infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia. The death squads can kill with impunity. Pro-fundamentalist ministers in the Iraqi government are turning a blind eye to the killings, and helping to protect the killers. Some "liberation".

* Iraqi LGBT is appealing for funds to help the work of their members in Iraq. Since they don't yet have a bank account, they request that cheques should be made payable to "OutRage!", with a cover note marked "For Iraqi LGBT", and sent to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT.

More information on Iraqi LGBT or to make a donation by PayPal: http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com/


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ben Goldacre: 1 - Matthias Rath: 0

Victory for Ben Goldacre, Guardian columnist and regular debunker of bad science. Humiliating defeat for Matthias Rath, the German born vitamin peddler. What happened? At a cost of 500,000 GBP the Guardian defended a libel suit the vitamin salesman had brought against the newspaper for a series of articles Goldacre wrote some time back about his activities. He withdrew the case eventually and the court awarded initial cost of 200,000 GBP to the paper.

Goldacre published a series of three articles in the paper that reported in some detail the disgraceful activities Rath was involved in in South Africa where he tried to convince AIDS patients to use his vitamins instead of AIDS drugs. Rath made claims about the poisonous effects of mainstream AIDS medicines and reportedly conducted unapproved clinical trials with impoverished AIDS patients in South African townships. Here is how he tried to persuade AIDS patients to stop taking life preserving drugs and to use his alternative concoctions instead. Supported covertly and not so covertly by South Africa's incompetent health minister Manta Tshabalala Msimang he managed to go about his business for far too long. You can see him making out on the photo I posted above to the left of Anthony Mbewu, Manto's principal medical research honcho and head of the country's Medical Research Council. But then, hey, don't be too surprised, the country is rapidly becoming a banana republic. No surprised that these sorts of characters find each other quickly.

Reportedly Rath has since begun advertising campaigns in Russia where the incidence of new AIDS cases is increasing quite dramatically. Read here Goldacre's take on the issue. Sarah Boseley, the newspaper's health editor tracks Rath's 'career' here. Here is an analysis of deaths that occurred in his illegal trials in South African townhips.

What is remarkable about this guy is that he has pretty much disregarded all principles of medical professionalism and instead used (uses) his medical degree to convince lay people that his quackery is based on sound science. It is remarkable that he is still permitted to call himself a medical doctor.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Helping Alla Krasavica

Do you know Alla Krasavica? I don't. She's looking for 'love' (and, no doubt cash), and she's from Russia. She wrote to me... a nice letter, ending with a request for my details. She also wants me to pick her up at an Australian airport (it's unclear to me why she would have written to a South African email address used by a gay guy to achieve that objective, but hey, like her Nigerian counterparts... brain is usually not the strongest feature of these scam artists).

Well, in case you feel like getting fleeced by Alla, here's her message to me ('her' contact details are at the end):

Greetings from Russia to you dear friend!!!
I hope, that this letter will cause you interest.
It is possible this letter will change our destinies... I ask you to give some minutes and to read my history.
For the First! This letter from agency of dating of the internet.
I have given them this letter and to me has told, that they will send it to the Australia.
My name - Alla. I - from Russia, Saint Petersburg.
I’m - 27 years old woman. My Birthday March, 14 1981.
I want to tell you that was happened with me. Some time ago I have got acquainted through Internet with the man. His name is Patrick from Sidney. We began to correspond with each other. Shortly we had sympathies to each other. I would not tell that it there was a love, but the sympathy was big. We have thought that our relations should leave on a new stage and both wished a meeting. I have collected all necessary documents, and in September I receive the visa.
But that there was further it awfully. Patrick has written to me that is not ready to serious relations with me and would not want that I came. It has very strongly shaken me, I did not expect that he can do it... I cried and did not know what to do, I was deceived.
I want to forget this awful liar faster. And to use the chance which has dropped out to me.

The purpose of my letter: I shall receive the Visa of the Visitor of the Australia on September.
I want to arrive to the Australia, but I have no any friends or familiar who
can meet me on airport. I really hope, that you can do it for me.

But if you will answer to me I will write more about me and about my life.
Probably we can develop our relations also.
So, please, write to me on my E-mail:
I hope, that you will have interest after reading my letter.
Also I have interest too. Please inform me:
1 - your name?
2 - your city?
3 - your age?
4 - to send me your photo also?
5 - would you like to meet the woman for love?

Please reply only my personal e-mail: allakrasavica@gmail.com

Ok, I will close for now, but I will wait your answer so much!!!
I really hope that you will give me chance to have meeting!!!
Waiting for your answer,
Yours friend Alla from Russia.

Poor Canadians - voting on two non-starters

It's funny living in Canada these days. The next federal elections are probably closer than those in the USA yet the gun-toting Alaskan governor and her five children are higher on the Canadian agenda than local politics. There's no big surprise in this.

The current conservative minority government is run by a mean-spirited populist politician (Stephen Harper). His main claim to fame are a failed foreign minister (he left secret documents with his that time girlfriend, a woman with reported links to a local biker gang), a health minister whose main claim to fame are attacks on a harm reduction facility in Vancouver (the facility offers drug addicts access to clean needles as a means to reduce the occurrence of infectious diseases among drug users), cuts of federal arts programs, and other populist this-n-that. While these sorts of activities undoubtedly are designed to rally his redneck base, Harper would not stand a chance in hell to get a larger share of the vote in the upcoming elections (the economy is tanking...), the Liberals have kindly come to his help.

They elected Stephane Dion, a likeable but inept academic turned politician. In the middle of a serious economic crisis in the country, sky-high energy prices just ahead of another long Canadian winter his main claim to fame is to have proposed a tax increasing environmental policy. Our environment is important, very important, the policy is comprehensive and pretty good to my mind, BUT it isn't a straightforward bread-and-butter issue for most voters, so he's on to a losing streak. Indeed, that's what all the polls are showing. Dion's Liberals have also kept the Conservatives in power by means of not voting down their legislative program in the parliament for the last year or so.

So, the Canadians are faced with a mean spirited redneck who offers some kind of leadership versus a kind spirited liberal unable to offer any kind of leadership skills. No wonder they're watching CNN to see how things pan out south of the border...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thank goodness the farce is over: Olympic World Doping Orgy has successfully concluded

Ok folks, fair enough, I am a NERD, you could not pay me to watch sports events. I tried, but truly, any third rate crime caper is more likely to catch my attention than athletes high on chemicals running faster than their compatriots hundred years ago who were not able to access similarly undetectable hi-tech stuff.

I mean, the French Tour de Farce has long ceased to be taken seriously by anyone other than pharma reps trying to sell anabolica to farmers.

Just look at some of the Olympic outcomes...

  • 51 gold medals for the PR of China - the Chinese anti-doping folks claim that 99.5% of all athletes were not doped, seems China benefited neatly from this clearly delusional assessment.
  • The same Jamaican bloke broke three world records in three days - overall the runners form that island state managed to grab 6 gold medals and nothing much else
  • A US American bloke broke 7 world records among his 8 gold medals in 8 days

How likely is it, even if we grant top fitness and - in the case of Chinese athletes a lot of local support - that this happened without pharmaceutical ... ummm ... sponsorship?

Wouldn't it be fairer if the sponsor also received - in retrospect - a medal for concocting chemicals that propelled athletes ahead of the more naturally inclined crowd without the doping tests detecting anything? I think it would be so much fairer to celebrate the chemists, too. Why can't we have a separate competition for chemists supplying drugs to Olympic athletes? I would like to know what makes them faster, so next time I go on a bike trip I can grab some of that juice, too!

I won't event talk much about the civil rights violations committed by China so the world could have its sporting farce. Some of those folks who had a life and their own little houses were made homeless in the process of building those pompous architectural monstrosities conjured up by some architect suffering likely from penis envy or some other inferiority complex. Reportedly many of these people still live under bridges and the like. They will never be able to return to their homes as they have been bulldozed into the ground so doped athletes could have nice shower facilities. But hey, even this pales in comparison to the PR of China's international track record: it supports dictators and mass murderers in Zimbabwe and Sudan, it executed about 10,000 of its own (Chinese) citizens during the last year alone... and I could go on. Still, at least we know now that they're capable of building giant ugly things (no surprise in this really: give an architect a pile of dosh and she will invariably come up with something giant or other - gives em an opportunity to pass by their legacy every other day and say 'I did this - world, admire me!') and conjuring up nice fireworks on the land stolen from those folks now 'housed' under bridges. I still think it's remarkable how happily well-paid engineers and architects rose to the challenge of building giant chunks of concrete and steel on land they knew was stolen from its original owners by a totalitarian regime. No questions asked, as long as the pay is right. Professionalism in action... - Great games. Thank goodness it's over.

And now, go, flame me, I don't care :). I'm just glad these days there's cable and one can choose to watch something else. When I was younger we had the choice between Olympic games and Olympic games on our tellie (chosen by our dad for the rest of the - otherwise bored - family).

Voices of Disbelief - Sunday PM Marketing

I am all fired about about a really cool book Russell Blackford and I have been working on during the last couple of months. Wiley-Blackwell will publish it some time next year. It's great for us to have found such a large and prestigious international publisher for the book as this will give us quite a bit of marketing muscle to deploy!

Basically what Russell and I decided to do is to ask people on our respective electronic rolodexes why it is that they don't believe in an omniscient, omnipotent 'good' God running the universe. Call it a humanist/atheist coming out party if you wish. And you know what, I am well and truly thrilled about what we've got so far (which is 27 chapters out of about 50 or so - with some time to go for our deadline). Remarkable philosophers, science fiction writers, medical doctors, newspaper columnists, political activists from around the globe have gathered to tell the world in a way not only why they don't believe in God, but arguably also why you shouldn't buy into that clap-trap either. Very moving personal accounts, entertaining stories, philosophical analyses and so on and so forth will result in a most enlightening, entertaining and challenging book. I'm truthfully over the moon, seeing how great this project is coming together. I won't be mentioning any of the names of the contributors yet, but rest assured, most of them are household names in their respective fields of work.