Kim Jong-un: Not Worth Assasinating!

I know that it was only meant to be a box-office comedy – a joke, by any other name – but the idea fielded in the movie The Interview that the assassination of Kim Jong-un would be a concept worth considering isn’t. No, not really.  Kim Jong-un is purported to be the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).  And his being “the supreme leader” of this miserable acreage of human sorrow is of course a lie equal in magnitude to the application of the word “Democratic” as in “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”.

Everyone – and I mean everyone, including the unfortunate people that are purported to be North Korea’s “citizens” knows that the latter are better referred to  as “inmates” in the world’s largest prison camp. Or maybe it might be better to refer to them as “hostages” in the worlds longest hostage taking, ever since the partition of Korea at the end of in 1945. This resulted in the creation of the Communist-aligned Democratic People’s Republic of Korea headed by the former guerrilla leader, Kim IL-sung, who effectively took possession of this territory and its  population for his own personal use; it allowed him and his clique of fellow Stalinists to live like royalty of the fat of the land, regardless of how little there was to begin with or would be left over for anyone else between its borders and who – as a result –  have been starving ever since.

Well, the clique of Stalinist thugs are still all there, and it would be overly optimistic to think that the elimination of one of these thugs – and in particular the one with a physique of a marshmallow sporting a 50 cent haircut – is going to make a difference to how this unfortunate farce of a country is managed. The fact is that within this gang of thugs leadership is a function of the need of the gang to survive as a unit – so even if you are a seen as a prominent member of it and seemingly in a leadership position, you remain vulnerable,  to be replaced at any moment if the survival of the gang demanded it.

In this context we can consider the sudden purge and execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek in 2013, who was at one time considered his mentor and  instrumental in Kim’s rise to power in December 2011 and for a while regarded as the second-most powerful figure in North Korea. The point to focus on here is the resiliency of criminal gangs to fill a sudden void in their leadership structure regardless of what caused the void in the first place, i.e., if this came about because of internal or external factors. All that matters is their ability to hang on to power, by hook or by crook – as the saying goes –  and with respect to the latter of these means, they couldn’t be more suited for it.

Posted in People & Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Religion is the Scourge of Mankind

Reading about the atrocities committed by Jihadist militants in Iraq and Syria today in their attempt to establish an Islamic state, the burning questions remains as to how will we rid ourselves of those amongst us who use religion as an excuse and a weapon to kill or otherwise terrorize populations in the name of some arcane and barbaric mythical beliefs.  Without a doubt, the world needs to find a way to rid itself of this deadly horde of  miscreants who’s minds appear to be infected by the sickly, nonsensical ideology of the religious fanatic who will murder the innocent man, woman or child just because they refuse to subject to them

But  it is hard not be reminded of similar acts of barbarism committed in the name of a religion in earlier times,  when very much the same thing was going on to advance the interests  of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe.  Lest we forget, in slaughtering the infidel unwilling to convert to their version of Islam the Muslim Jihadis of today appear to have taken a page from the late great King Charlemagne – or Charles the Great – the king of the Franks. In the year 800 he became the first emperor in Western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier; he is sometimes referred to as the founder of modern Europe.

During his campaign to establish an empire in full support of the Church, he felt compelled to Christianize newly conquered people upon penalty of death, which lead to such events as the massacre of 4,500 captive rebel Saxons in October 782 in what is now known as Verden in Lower Saxony, Germany. The unfortunate Saxons had rebelled against King Charles’ invasion and his subsequent attempts to Christianize them from their native Germanic paganism.

Oh, and don’t let us forget the Massacre at Béziers, Languedoc, France, on July 22, 1209. When the Roman Catholic Church established the Inquisition, it was set up, initially, to wipe out the Cathar movement in southern France where it had taken hold in opposition to the hitherto dominant Roman Catholic religion. The pope would not put up with the competition so he mounted a crusade against the Cathars, and under leadership of the Abbot of Citeaux the town of Béziers was taken on 22 July 1209 and all its inhabitants were killed – more than 20,000 people – every man, woman and child. That this would have included many thousands of Roman Catholic adherents also didn’t seem to matter. When questioned about this, the Cistercian abbot-commander of the Catholic crusaders,  is on record of having said that: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eis. (Kill them all, the Lord will recognize His own).

Now all this happened a long time ago, but the justification for this kind of slaughter remains an intrinsic part of the foundation of the Christian faith: the bible, for in Deuteronomy XIII.12-16, the faithful are instructed as follows:

If thou shalt hear say in one of these cities …, Let us go and serve other Gods …; then shalt thou surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly and all that is therein. … And thou shalt burn with fire the city and all the spoil thereof every whit for the Lord thy God. … And it shall be a heap forever; and it shall not be built again.

Today the Christian faith appears to be more benign, but as can be evidenced from recent events in the Middle East, innocent people continue to be slaughtered in the name of some god or prophet or another. One might claim that this kind of action has nothing to do with the religious beliefs themselves – and that they are misused when wielded as weapons of murder and destruction. No – it is precisely the unsubstantiated and irrational nature of these beliefs that allows them to be used in this manner. When you think you have the creator and eternity on your side – all your actions are justified; you cannot be wrong!  Until we shake off the influence of these dangerous beliefs, our species will continue to be murdered for them.

This leads me to say that to believe in the existence of a god or other kinds of super-natural beings is terrible affliction and a seemingly endless source of human tragedy. Because – while in principle these are nonsensical and hence harmless beliefs– it is at the same time the sickly smell of centuries of savagery and senseless slaughter of thousands  of people in the name of such beliefs – and primarily in the competition between such beliefs.  And when you read up on human history and listen to the news today, this shall be revealed and – in my mind – made abundantly clear: “Religion is the Scourge of Mankind”.

Posted in People & Culture, Philosophy & Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beckham Legacy

Beckham-haircutWatching the Word Cup soccer events in Brazil has been very entertaining for the majority of time, but no thanks to David Beckham and his regrettable legacy of ugly short-back-and sides haircuts and ugly tattooed forearms (and beyond)  that seems to have permeated the soccer player culture of late, judging by what could be seen on the field during the various cup games.

This  trend of self-defacement appears to have infiltrated the sports-world in other areas. Brilliant F1 driver and sometimes emotional marshmallow Lewis Hamilton  seems to have fallen for the same thing, finding it necessary to augment his personality with various decidedly unflattering hairstyles, as well as tattooed or henna-applied  public endorsements of faith or other kinds of metaphysical confusion.

lewis hamilton tattoes

The Illustrated Man

Surely, it is one thing to be inspired by the talent once displayed by Beckham as a soccer player of note. But it is quite another thing to think that – in order to emulate this gift – one has to assume Beckham’s abysmal taste in haircuts and predilection for bodily graffiti as a  necessary condition to be able to kick a soccer ball with some success.  And that your success on the field, or  – for that matter – with anything that you are trying to be a star at,  is predicated on being decorated in some baroque fashion, for all to see.

Al right, so it is a cultural thing, a fashion of sorts and the need to belong or associate that drives people to adopt such forms of physical self-defacement.  But, why should I care?

Well, in the end it means nothing to me, other than a mild annoyance and being disappointment with another aspect of humanity. This is about sheep being sheep, and not having any  ideas of your own, and lacking the ability to discern quality and originality from kitsch and shallow pretence, and revealing yourself as a limited personality in need of a crutch.

Posted in People & Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Multiculturalism and Islamic Radicalism

According to recent Dutch media articles, the conflict in Syria has become a catalyst for radical Muslims in the Netherlands, with messages becoming more explicit and widespread, the Dutch security service AIVD said on Monday. Radical texts spoken by young preachers and social media are leading to jihadist propaganda being spread more quickly, leading to ‘further radicalization on a wider scale,’ the AIVD said in a new report.

So much for Multiculturalism – or the bitter fruits thereof! Before Merkel stated something similar not all that long ago about the German implementation of it, even Blair, the happy clappy multi culti prophet of yore in the UK had to eventually admit that multiculturalism (an awkward neologism invented by the Canadians while under the spell of that great philosopher king Trudeau) is a failure.

Based on the principle that if national unity it is to mean anything in the deeply personal sense, it must be founded on confidence in one’s own individual identity, and that a “vigorous policy of multiculturalism will help create this”. Instead, it deepened the divisions between traditional cultures through the creation of cultural silos, which – in the case of some Muslim communities – became the ideal breeding grounds for the radicalization of youth.

Anyone wishing to understand more about this problem as opposed to just bark at it, they might do well by reading this insightful article first published in 2006 by Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester, in the Telegraph about the origins of Islamic Radicalism, titled ”Multiculturalism is to blame for perverting young Muslims” .

Posted in People & Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Journey To The Planet Mars: Are We There Yet?

Sunrise on Mars

Behold, intrepid Mars colonist, the Sun sets on your new home. Maybe take some photos along from a similar event on good old Mother Earth to remember her by … (photo courtesy of  NASA)

As a long-standing Sci-Fi fan I have been trying to get my head around the Mars One concept – the brainchild of Dutchman Bas Lansdorp, a 36 year old engineer who plans to spend $6 billion dollars in order to realize the project.   The goal is to establish a human settlement on Mars, and as such the effort is portrayed as “the next giant leap for humankind”.  The one catch is that this project does currently not include a way to leap back to earth from there …

The most amazing thing of the whole thing is that – when the word went out that they were looking for volunteers for a one way trip to Mars – people have been lining up to be part of this mission.  “The trip of a lifetime” said one volunteer that made the shortlist. Well, yes, and “likely the very last trip of a lifetime” might also be an accurate description of it.

But, “Getting there is half the fun!” or so it is said.  In case of the Mars One project it may take up to 7 months, or maybe a little longer … should the space-vehicle miss its target.  Not likely, that, but there is always that possibility, in which case there will be an opportunity to admire the outer regions of the solar system before leaving it indefinitely and traveling “to infinity and beyond”, as Buzz Lightyear is so fond of saying.

To be sure, Mr. Lansdorp does not plan to make the trip himself. He will be occupied by the production of a reality TV show that is meant to finance the project as it will feature his Mars-bound flock as they get on with the business of colonizing the dusty red planet.

It is said that exploring the solar system as a united humanity will bring us all closer together. Mars is the stepping stone of the human race on its voyage into the universe. Human settlement on Mars will aid our understanding of the origins of the solar system, the origins of life and “our place in the universe”.

Now I would not want to make light of any of these lofty objectives, but there is a kind of charming naivety about the whole project that makes me question the depth of the brain trust behind it.  While cocooned in a space capsule for a seven month trip through a vacuum, I wonder how long into the journey it would take the Mars-bound traveller to realize that that “our place in the universe” is in fact the very planet that spawned us, as well as being responsible for its well being.  And as we have evolved into the creatures that we are today, it has become possible to reach out and touch the stars vicariously, and not only in an intellectual sense, but also in a physical sense with the help of some very clever technology, and allowing us to do so from within the comfort and safety of our own planet’s environment.

There will be no fact either physical or logical about Mars – or the universe at large, for that matter – that, in principle,  cannot be discovered remotely and without physically going there, except for perhaps one thing:  no matter how romantic the language describing this as a heroic adventure in space travel, “the next giant leap for humankind”, etc., being the subject of a reality TV show to be fired off to a lifeless planet with no foreseeable way of getting back here has to be the dumbest thing anyone could have signed up for in a lifetime.

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles,
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows
Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead,
There’s something wrong
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you…
Here am I floatin’ ’round my tin can far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.
(from “Space Oddity”, on the 1969 David Bowie album)

Posted in People & Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Big Pharma Being Fined Once Again

I guess these guys just cannot help themselves: Being Bad comes naturally to Big Pharma, as evidenced by their history in the marketplace. Over the last 10 years the pharmaceutical industry has raked up a least 11 billion USD in fines for all kinds of absolutely unconscionable behavior, ranging from publishing fake journals to plug their own products,  hiding information about the deadly consequences of their drug during the testing phase, to bribing physicians to promote off-label prescription  of  anti-depressants leading to increased suicides in children. See my earlier post from 2012 on this matter.

So now the European Commission has fined drugmakers Johnson & Johnson and Novartis a combined 16 million euros or about $21.95 million on December 11 for delaying market entry of a cheaper generic painkiller in the Netherlands.

European Commission Vice-President Joaquin Almunia, in charge of competition policy, said the two companies “shockingly deprived patients in the Netherlands, including people suffering from cancer, from access to a cheaper version of this medicine,” Xinhua reported.

The commission said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson’s patent on a patch containing the drug Fentanyl expired in 2005, however in July 2005, it signed a so-called “co-promotion agreement” and paid Novartis to delay launching a generic version.

The delay lasted 17 months, and was more profitable for both companies than competing honestly would have been.

Fentanyl is a pain-killer 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used notably for patients suffering from cancer.

US pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson was fined 10.8 million euros while Novartis of Switzerland was 5.5 million euros.

“Today’s decision should make pharmaceutical companies think twice before engaging into such anticompetitive practices, which harm both patients and taxpayers,” said Almunia.


Posted in People & Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mandela a Role Model for Political Leaders Anywhere

Not much that I could contribute  in addition to the already huge volume of praise that has been uttered on behalf of Nelson Mandela. The man was a marvel of political dexterity under the most difficult circumstances – converting his own history as a political prisoner into a position of power and influence to eventually become the leader of a nation free from Apartheid.

I wonder if any of this massive outpouring of grief and admiration for a former national leader gives pause to other national leaders currently at the helm of their country and consider their own potential for a similar response in a future scenario.  Hopefully, a few will take  pointers from this if they care at all about the legacy they leave behind, and how they want to be remembered by history,  if that should be more than a footnote. For this they need to consider the notions of compassion and goodwill towards their fellow human beings, and these will be difficult if not impossible qualities for many to reflect on within the context of their own ambitions and given the way in which some scoundrels have managed to seize and maintain control of their country.

But let us just hope that Mandela’s  legacy of moderation carries enough momentum to forestall the rise of completely opposite characters of political dexterity in South Afria, such as that former ANC youth leader and intellectually-challenged-brawler-in-waiting  Julius Malema who appears to have taken neighbouring Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe as his role model. Lest we forget, Mugabe –  the complete antithesis to Mandela – single-handedly reduced one of the most prosperous  African nations to a hell-hole of starving, suffering humanity. No nation on earth deserves such as fate, but this is what happens  when you motivation to rule is driven by hate (of the former colonial rulers  and the legacy they left behind left) – as opposed to reason and the desire to create a better life for your people  – as it will destroy everything in its path to achieve its objectives. Nelson Mandela showed us the way towards a more enlightened means to rule a country, and in that sense he was a superior human being who made the world a better place for everyone.

Posted in People & Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Can Something Come From Nothing?

For some folks the question whether something can come from nothing appears meaningful in discussions around the existence of God or the creation of the world. For instance, how did the world come into being, and what was there before it came into being: something else, or was there nothing. And if there was initially nothing other than a God, how was he able to create something from nothing, etc.

Aside from discussions around the existence of a God – usually a matter of wishful thinking versus a rational discourse about substantiated beliefs –  it is easy to get caught up in language games. Words pushing  words – without actually being to assert anything either concrete or definitive. For instance, if something is not nothing, and nothing is not something – then, presumably, these terms are mutually exclusive, and it would be difficult to use either term, something or nothing, in some kind of meaningful relationship beyond stating that the one excludes the other on purely logical grounds.

Of course, we could involve the distinction between denotation and connotation and denotation – what event or object a term refers to versus what this  object or event means or signifies, e.g. the difference between Venus the evening star and Venus the morning star – they both reference the same object but we have different contextual meanings for them – and is something British analytical philosophers such as Austin spent a lot of time on, or Frege’s Sinn and Bedeutung, which means something similar in my mind – although Bertrand Russell would likely disagree – but in the end we would in all likelihood be even less clear of what we mean by the distinction between something and nothing other than that nothing is the negation of something.

The question that might be meaningful to me in some sense is the one that asks: is the concept of non-existence even available to us?  Clearly, the answer is no. Nothing – nothing existing – is not available to us for discussion except, perhaps, in some abstract sense, where we can approach the concept of non-existence, which – of course – is really a contradiction of terms, and by pointing this out, we have come as close to it as appears feasible, given the rules of language that are there to keep things intelligible to the extent that some kind of discussion it about appears possible. And that should not be a function of the fact that – when we say something like “in the beginning there was nothing” – we have actually implied the existence of nothing at some time or another, as that would clearly be a function of grammar as opposed to making an ontological statement. Clearly, our language is misleading us here.

Posted in Cosmology & Evolution, Philosophy & Religion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Compensation For The Srebrenica Massacre

From today’s Guardian newspaper:

The Netherlands has been ordered to pay compensation for the deaths of Bosnian Muslims in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in a ruling that opens up the Dutch state to compensation claims from relatives of the rest of the 8,000 men and youths who died.

The judgment by Holland’s supreme court is the final decision in a protracted claim brought by relatives of three Muslim men who were expelled by Dutch soldiers from a United Nations compound during the Balkans conflict then killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

The Guardian further reports  that – although the case related only to the murder of three victims – it confirms the precedent that countries that provide troops to UN missions can be held responsible for their conduct.

Regardless of where this might lead from a legal point of view (any sign of Leigh Day yet?) if the  Srebrenica debacle taught us anything it was that these so-called  UN “peace keeping missions”  will show themselves to be no  more than paper tigers  at heart as soon as their mettle were to be tested. Unfortunately, the Dutch battalion found itself at the receiving end of such a test,  when they failed miserably in their task to protect the local population.

It is a moot point to suggests that solders from a different UN-member country would have acted differently,  as in the end it can be shown that the entire affair goes to the bureaucratic quagmire at the centre of the UN.  Not to excuse the Dutch or its military leadership there at the time, but  the abject failure to protect the local population there should also be put at the feet of every member nation of the UN, e.g.,  for putting out such rules of engagement for UN peacekeepers to only use force for self-defense.  Presumably, this kind of asinine reasoning also underpinned NATO’s failure to bomb Bosnian Serbian positions when they were about to overrun the Srebrenica enclave, leaving the Dutch on their own to deal with the butcher Mladic. Sadly, that was the wrong thing to do.

Posted in People & Culture | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Will This Be A Way to Feed The Hungry Mouths Of The Future?

The world’s first lab-grown burger has been cooked and eaten at a press conference in London today. The artificial meat patty, which was served with a sesame seed bun, tomatoes and lettuce, was created from cells taken from a cow by scientist in Netherlands. Strips of muscle were created with tens of billions of lab-grown cells -20,000 strips of muscle sinew, costing scientists a whopping $330,000 to make.

During the 20th century alone, the population in the world has grown from 1.65 billion to 6 billion – and if this rate continues, feeding future generations more efficiently will be no small part of the problem. However, it is the insatiable appetite for consumer goods that is a much bigger problem, and the desire for profit that enables it. In the end, the human race will have consumed this planet in the ultimate act of self-cannibalization, and join the ranks of species that have gone extinct before it in the mindless quest to devour it all. Hopefully, we will come to our senses before that.

Posted in People & Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment