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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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.

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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.

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Addressing Ancient Wrongs And Other Legal Means Of Extortion

Friday 26 July 2013

The former Dutch colony of Suriname has joined Caribbean nations to press for compensation from the Netherlands, the UK and France for the lingering legacy of the Atlantic slave trade. Caricom, a regional organization for the Caribbean Community, has taken up the cause and is preparing for a long drawn-out battle with the countries’ governments. It has engaged British law firm Leigh Day, which waged a successful fight for compensation for hundreds of Kenyans who were tortured by the British colonial government during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s and 1960s, the Guardian newspaper reports.

This is just another cynical attempt by the international legal community to extort huge sums of money from society at large, ostensibly to address significant moral wrongs to large groups or populations committed in the past. But while some compensation has been forthcoming to alleged victims of previous wrongs with this method, the record shows that the real winners here are law firms such as Leigh Day – who concoct cases such as these – and who stand to make millions in legal fees while leaving peanuts for those they were seeking compensation for.  The UK’s Daily Mail has referred to these attempts as just another way of “ambulance chasing”.

And so when a country falls for legal schemes such as these the local tax payer takes it on the chin while being completely innocent to whatever injustice had been committed under the flag of their country at some time or another in the past.  The bottom line here is that holding people accountable for wrongs committed in the distant past by their ancestors is morally wrong also – but don’t tell that to the legal lo-life that play these games on the  international stage because all they are interested in is to fatten their own wallets.

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How Can Order Evolve From Chaos?

Scientists have been known to pose the question of how organized matter could have evolved from what would have appeared to be absolutely chaotic conditions when the material universe came into being.

The obvious answer would be that there was no chaos to begin with, as much as it would appear to have been the case. And what would appeared to have been chaos at the outset was simply not understood, or at least not in its inherent nature which was only seen from the outside and without the benefit of knowing how the appearance of chaos related to that which gave rise to it.

Looking at the course of evolution to date would – in my mind – suggest very much the presence of an organizing principle that is in fact  the engine of evolution, and part and parcel of everything that exists, as would be the case if we stop looking at the universe or cosmos as a collection of disparate particles of sorts and instead consider it the one and only unified entity it has always been and always will be.


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