Massacre at Palmnicken, East Prussia, January 1945.

During the last days of the German Reich, on 26 January 1945, approximately 7,000 people, mostly Jewish women – began their death march from their Königsberg prison towards the town of Palmnicken in the Samland region on the Baltic coast.

They had been herded together in Königsberg from across all of East Prussia,  and their evacuation march was one of many death marches from Nazi concentration camps by Jews imprisoned in East Prussia  – from January 1945 onwards.

With the Soviet troops already in East Prussia, the Nazi regime had begun their chaotic last minute attempt to remove all traces of the East Prussian concentration camps and their evacuation. And while much has been written about the desperate but entirely futile attempts by the Nazis to remove all traces of their state-sponsored genocide program against the Jews of Europe, relatively little was known about their criminal deeds in much of East Prussia after the Soviets took over control of the area via the Potsdam agreement of 1945. However, some of it was revealed in 1994 via a memoir covering the war years by Martin Bergau, a former Hitler Youth member from the coastal town of Palmnicken—where the massacre was to reach its tragic climax—who had witnessed the crime at the age of sixteen. Shortly after the massacre he had been taken prisoner by the Soviets; after his release he had not been allowed to return to his home in East Prussia.

When the prisoners were led out of the Königsberg factory early that morning, there were no longer any overland routes to the Reich. Many of the prisoners were shot in the city of Königsberg, their corpses left on the streets. The prisoners whom the SS herded to Palmnicken went without food or warm clothes.

One survivor, Maria Blitz (née Salz), recalled:

We were wrapped in dirty, threadbare blankets and on our feet we wore crude wooden clogs, which made moving forward on the snow and ice—in addition to our constant mortal terror—pure torture. Our clothing consisted of rags and paper, which we had tied together with wires to protect ourselves from the cold. Anyone who could not go on or fell over was shot immediately or beaten with a rifle butt. My sister Gita could not go any further—she had violent diarrhea and collapsed. We tried to get her back on her feet, but she asked us to leave her lying there, she wanted to go to her mother—whom we had already lost in Auschwitz. She was shot.

Many of the inhabitants of Königsberg also remembered the march. Rose-Marie
Blask witnessed it on a very dreary and cold afternoon:

I was 14-years-old back then. … I saw a procession of people on the other side of General-Litzmann-Strasse [the former Fuchsberger Allee]. I stood near a tree, it was already getting dark, the air full of snow, and no one could see me. Then I saw in horror that the SS were driving a long procession of prisoners in front of them. Again and again, an SS man raised his arm and a person fell in the snow, though I could not hear a gunshot. I don’t know how long I stood there, as if frozen. At any rate, I saw a lorry following on behind. The dead were lifted out of the snow and thrown into the back of the lorry.

The distance from Königsberg to Palmnicken is approximately 50 kilometers. During the march, the guards shot around 2,000 to 2,500 prisoners who had collapsed from sheer exhaustion; they left the corpses on the side of the road. The Begleitkommando then went on its way, leaving an SS man nicknamed the Genickschußkommissar (“the shot-in-the-neck commissar”) behind to murder any fleeing Jews. Only 3,000 of the approximately 6,500 to 7,000 original prisoners arrived in Palmnicken, most probably on the night of 26–27 January 1945. Two hundred to three hundred corpses were found on the morning after their arrival, between Palmnicken and Sorgenau, a distance of about two kilometers.

In circumstances marked by extreme chaos, the SS encountered an unanticipated obstacle on the procession’s arrival at the amber mine in Palmnicken.  Their plan had been to drive the Jewish prisoners into the Anna Grube, a disused mine shaft, and then to seal up the entrance.  However, the mine’s manager refused to open any of the mine-shafts intended for the mass murder: the mine was needed for the Palmnicken water supply. Instead, he allowed the main gate be opened so that the exhausted and freezing victims could be housed in the mine’s large workshop.

The next morning,  Hans Feyerabend , estate-manager and a highly respected man in the region arrived; he stated that as long as he was alive, the Jews would be fed and none killed; Palmnicken was not to become a second Katyn. He ordered straw, peas and bread and had cattle slaughtered. The factory canteen had to cook for the exhausted women.  Shortly after, on 30 January 1945, Feyerabend was found dead,  his own his own gun in his mouth. It seems that there was no investigation as to whether he had committed suicide or had actually been murdered.

On the evening of  Feyerabend’ death, Kurt Friedrichs – who was both the Palmnicken mayor and the regional Nazi Party group leader – ordered a dozen armed Hitler Youths including  Martin Bergau to accompany some SS-men to the disused Anna mine. They should also to ask civilians if they had seen fleeing Jews, as well as to search the woods for any in hiding. They could either shoot the victims immediately or hand them over to the SS. Bergau recalls:

When we left the municipal office with the SS-men, it was already quite dark. …  When we reached the northern part of the town, we turned left and went down the path to the closed Anna mine. We reached the squalid buildings, situated at sea level. I noticed a group of around forty to fifty women and girls. They were captured Jews. A diffuse source of light sparsely illuminated what seemed a ghostly scene. The women had to line up in twos, and we were instructed by the SS-men to escort them. Around six to eight SS-men might have belonged to the command. I could not tell whether they were Germans or foreigners, as their commands were extremely terse. Once the line-up was complete, two women at a time were led around the side of the building by two SS-men. Shortly afterwards two pistol shots rang out. That was the sign for two more SS executioners to take the next two victims to the building, which was shrouded in twilight, and shots soon resounded there again. I had had to position myself pretty much at the end of the long line. A classmate stood right across from me with a cocked rifle, watching over the women on the other side. One woman turned to me and asked in good German if she could move two places forward; she wished to walk this last path with her daughter. In a voice nearly choked with tears, I granted this brave woman her request. … Then I accompanied a mother whom I will never forget to her daughter.

With Feyerabend out of the way, the fate of the remaining 3,000 prisoners now lay in the hands of the SS. The latter now opted for a different approach. On Wednesday evening the prisoners, under the pretence that they were being taken to safety from Pillau to Hamburg by ship, were led out of the factory’s northern gate on the quickest route to the sea, from where they were forced to march south along the icy Baltic seashore. The seashore and the town thirty metres above were separated by a broad strip of park and woodland. Therefore only a few of the inhabitants of Palmnicken saw what happened that night. The SS machine gunners gathered together the widely dispersed column from the back, and, each time separating the last group from the rest, chased their victims onto the ice and into the water under machine gun fire. In the darkness and haste, the SS could not murder all of the Jews systematically, in spite of their use of flares. Many Jews were initially only wounded, some not even hit. Some fainted and froze to death, or became trapped between ice floes and drowned. Others died on the beach after days in agony. But some survived;  Zila Manielewicz, born in 1921 in Ozorkow, recalled the following:

When we arrived on the shore, it was already darkest night. … Suddenly I was hit on my head with a rifle butt and I and I fell into a precipice. I gained consciousness in the water. At this time, dusk had already fallen. The shore was full of corpses and the SS men were still hovering over them. …. Towards morning the SS men disappeared. Around this time we became aware that about 200 of us were still alive. We got up and climbed onto the beach. The path we had taken that night was itself full of corpses and the seawater was red from the victims’ blood. Together with two other Jewish women, I dragged myself to the closest German village; …

Another account, by Pnina Kronisch,born in 1927 in Belzec:

Then they threw the murdered Jews into the water by kicking them. As the seacoast was covered with ice, the murderers pushed their victims into the icy water with their rifle butts. Since I was at the front of the column with my sister Sara, we were the last in line to be shot. I was also laid down on the seacoast together with my sister, though I was not killed by the shot that was aimed at me but only wounded in my left foot, and my face was soaked in the blood of the murdered Jews lying next to me. During this time my sister was killed. I did not wait until the Germans threw me into the sea—I threw myself in and remained lying next to the ice floe, which already was caught up in the water and hit by the waves. The Germans believed I was dead, and since I was alone, to my good luck, and last in line to be murdered, the Germans got into their sleds and drove off. Before dawn I scrambled out of the sea and hid in the coal store of a German farmer who did not live far from where these events occurred.

While the snow had hidden the signs of murder, it soon melted when a thaw set in and bloodstained puddles filled the ditches along the roads, and to the local population it was immediately apparent that a massacre had taken place. Helene Zimmer, a former resident of Palmnicken , stated the following to the Ludwigsburg court:

Then we went back to Palmnicken on foot, along the shore instead of along the completely congested road. It was a very painful march taking several hours. … Just before Palmnicken, actually between Nodems and Palmnicken, we suddenly saw countless corpses lying on the shore, and also heard desperate screams still coming from the water. As far as I could see, those lying on the shore were all dead, and every now and then we could hear desperate cries coming from the water. … The water along the shore was partly frozen and ice floes floated around, between them were the seriously wounded or dead people. Many of them were dressed in the same striped clothes. There were also many women among them. … I was so shaken at the sight that I covered my eyes with my hands. … We then quickly went on walking because we could not stand the sight.

It is estimated that the total number of those who survived as approximately fifteen of the original group of 7,000 individuals. The crime was reported to the Soviets when they captured Palmnicken ten weeks later. Eventually, a final rite took place under Soviet supervision, with around two hundred girls and women from Palmnicken being forced to unearth 263 corpses with their bare hands. The bodies had been buried in a thirty meter long trench near the Anna mine — 204 women and 59 men.

In 1945 Palmnicken became part of the Soviet Union and Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad. After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1992 it became part of the Russian Federation. The mass grave in the Anna mine disappeared into a sand dune. In the 1960s, the corpses would finally be unearthed by amber excavators. The corpses were thought to be those of Soviet soldiers murdered by the Germans, and a memorial stone was duly erected, bearing the inscription ‘Eternal Glory to the Heroes’. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union the Komsomolzen laid wreaths every year at the site and organized parades. Following the collapse—in 1994—it became possible for Martin Bergau to convince the regional authorities that the bodies lying at the site were in fact Jewish.

And so ends another sad tale of man’s inhumanity to man – what an infinitely tragic species we are! Clearly, there can be no almighty god, or at least not one that is capable of compassion, empathy, love or self-respect – and in which case he might as well kill himself. Or perhaps he did that already, realizing what kind of creature he hath wrought here on earth, as we must have started slaughtering each other from the moment we found ourselves capable of it.

Today is January 27 2015, Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Lest we forget …

Excerpted from:
Endlösung on the ‘Amber Shore':
The Massacre in January 1945 on the Baltic Seashore—
A Repressed Chapter of East Prussian History

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Life’s a Tale Told by an Idiot?

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

As we are about to close off the current year there is much about present day life and its effect on the overall state of the world in particular that appears to lend credibility to this quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as much as like to think that this isn’t true.  Hopefully, there is some substance to our lives that cannot be reduced to the insanity of a world going nowhere in a hurry except downhill in a frenzy of mindless consumption, exploitation, seemingly out-of-control population growth and – in particular - deadly ideological and religious conflict.  How will we ever save ourselves from this debilitating and ultimately self-destructive behaviour, and instead conclude that Life is a Gift that should be protected, nurtured and celebrated everyday – and to at least try to live accordingly, to the benefit of all of us!

Saving ourselves from ourselves – a seemingly impossible task without a doubt! For instance – and speaking of idiots who tell tales full of sound and fury, signifying nothing – how will we ever rid ourselves of the current hordes of murderous religious fanatics I wrote about earlier in Religion is the Scourge of Mankind. I’m referring of course to the Islamic Jihadist, who’s heads are full of metaphysical confusion about the nature of the world. If their religious beliefs signify anything, it is once again the stupefying fact how easy it is for anyone to believe absolutely nonsense, and how this may lead to the most deadly of consequences for those who reject them.

Now fortunately for the world, the majority of religious beliefs are harmless, to the extent that thou shall not be killed for rejecting them.  Less fortunate for us are the more vicious strains of nonsensical religious gobbledygook, and held by those who do not believe in the separation of church and state, such that you will be robbed of your livelihood or even your life if you do no succumb to their particular and often bizarre edicts.

It is the nature of ALL religious beliefs to be unavailable to substantiation, so they are in principle nonsensical, and any claim to their truth lies in the realm of fantasy and imagination. In this context, the separation of church and state was a necessary step in the liberation of thoughts and ideas away from the tyranny of the church and its monopoly on what we might be able to conclude about the nature of the world. In Europe this signified the gradual demise of the Holy Roman Empire, leading to the end of the Dark Ages and the RC church ability to influence all matters of state, including the ability of its citizens to express themselves freely about the world without the fear of retribution. Truth would finally be matter of evidence and rational discourse as opposed to being dictated by church dogma, allowing sciences to flourish and humanism to benefit from concepts and ideas not coerced by beliefs about metaphysical beings.

So what to do about the human pestilence known as the Islamic Jihadi?  Surely, nothing what I say or do here will make them change their murderous ways.  Nevertheless, I would like to remind them of the one biblical saying by their competition on the religious front that I can agree with, as follows:” … for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword (Matthew 26:52)”.  As a result, sooner – rather than later – they will be wiped off the earth, and the earth will be a better place for it. Amen.

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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 just one of these thugs – and in particular the one with a physique of the Pillsbury Doughboy sporting a 50 cent haircut – is going to make a difference to how this unfortunate farce of a country is managed, i.e., that the gang would be taken down or its absolute hold of the country be somewhat diminished,  as much as this individual as been portrayed as the absolute leader of it.

The fact remains that – as with most criminal organizations  – the survival of a gang does not depend on any of its members being able to maintain their position of influence within its hierarchy. Instead, it is a function of the need of the gang to survive as a whole, so even if you are a seen as a prominent member of it – and seemingly in a leadership position –  such a role remains inherently fluid, and always vulnerable,  to be replaced at any moment if the survival of the gang as a whole 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.

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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”.

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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.

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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” .

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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)

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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.


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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.

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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.

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