An evening departure from Zürich to somewhere, sometime in the distant past.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Inventions I'd like to see:

- Virophages, the counterparts of bacteriophages: bacteria (preferably) or viruses that can attack and destroy viruses and die when they've accomplished the mission. Billion-dollar potential.

- Scum eaters: bacteria that inhabit the blood stream and eat plaque or clean up lungs, kidneys, livers. Billion-dollar potential. Improvement of the behavior of oil-eating bacteria.

- A method to split CO2 into carbon (preferably diamonds) and oxygen, for example by feeding CO2 through deuterium or or exposing it to gamma radiation (come on, guys). Billon-dollar potential.

- A political model for the whole world along the lines of a federation that would eliminate the belligerent aspects of competition and focus on intelligence and solidarity. Zillion-dollar potentiall plus abolishment of fairly stupid acts like setting the embassy of ABC on fire and then pilfering shops next door that sell ABC consumer goods.

- An awesome exposé that makes the stupidity of war evident to even the most mentally challenged individuals, including politicians. One need merely argue that the money spent for "defense" would easily pay for luxury healthcare for everyone at no cost and probably even make a lot of taxes superfluous. Trillion-dollar potential.

- A better battery. One of the world's greatest technological challenges is the inability to store energy (except with water). If the Middle East decided to tap photovoltaics to supersede the inevitable exhaustion of fossil fuels, the biggest challenge would be to store the energy which the sun provides for free. Until we get the battery, geothermal energy is a good bet. The earth itself is the biggest battery we have. Free. Trillion-dollar potential. What happened to plasma drilling?

- A mechanical wristwatch that can count down to my loved one's birthday next month.

- A method that would convince people with criminal energy to devote their momentum to good causes without slimming their earnings potential.

- A personal map based on the human genome that would identify eligible actives and must-avoid substances and foods for each individual. Until then, avoid pills.

- A computer program that can generate hilariously funny jokes. Laughter is the best antidote for everything.

- A way to cultivate black truffles in my basement.

Sunday, December 23, 2007, and then some

And a par tri hidgeina pear tree ... Thank heavens for Nick Page et al and Creature Comforts, because otherwise, this would have been an awkward year.

Young women from a faraway country vacationing in St. Moritz like to order caviar face masks. Allegedly, the effect is much like that of Botox. The EPA denied California and 16 other states the right to enforce stricter emissions standards. In a second attempt to kill Pakistan's ex interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, a second (not the first one, of course) suicide bomber mingled among 1200 worshippers in the Charsadda mosque. His explosives killed 50 and wounded 150. Sherpao was unharmed. Shortly afterwards, several persons were arrested in a Quran school where, probably, the wisdom of this practice is being questioned. As we all know meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto has been killed as well. Remember that Pakistan, unlike Iran (probably), possesses nuclear weapons. Zimbabwe's wealthy president Robert Mugabe ranks No. 7 in the list of the world's worst dictators. Subsidized (YES!) bottom dredging plus the use of dynamite and cyanide are escalating the destruction of marine life. The number of people who firmly believe that the cosmos and everything in it was created in 7 – or, in case the creator really rested on the seventh day – in 6 days is rapidly growing, and most rapidly in the country that ranks first in terms of advanced research and development. Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy continues to contaminate my Google news page. So is the election frenzy in the USA. Next phase: Presidents will begin campaigning for their next term in office as soon as they begin their first term, leaving them no time to wreak havoc. Volunteers in Zürich are collecting money for a large bank's CEO who may not receive his customary seven-digit end-of-year bonus due to a writedown in the magnitude of CHF 20 billion as a result of overexposure in subprime paper (more than the total 2005 GDP of Chad, by the way). Lloyd Blankfein (of NYSE: GS) is expected to take home USD 70 million this year, paltry compared to Oprah Winfrey ($260 million) and Tiger Woods ($100 million). Now that Mr. Blocher is no longer a Federal Councillor, Switzerland will probably allow non-Christian communities to build mosques with minarets even though Saudi Arabia and other countries will probably not allow non-Muslim communities there to build churches with bell towers. I continue to question the wisdom of quarter-hour strikes of church bells anyway (if you wake up in the middle of the night, you don't know whether it's quarter past 2 or 3 or 4 or 5). I still think somebody should invent bacteria that eat plaque in the circulatory system and then die when they run out of food. Personalized medicine will come true three years from now. Two weeks ago, three guys from out of town entered a jewelry store 100 yards from my office, held shoppers hostage at gunpoint, demolished showcases, and ran off with the booty. They were later found and will probably be reprimanded with an undisclosed number of lashes with a wet spaghetti. That's the year 2007 in review. Happy holidays, everyone, and donate some money to an honest charitable organization if you have spare change and can find one.

Monday, July 16, 2007

There are a few things that need to be said today. This entry was inspired by headlines such as "Viagra reduces jet lag in hamsters" (what a newsworthy discovery! I wonder what the going air fares are for hamsters these days) and ubiquitous news coverage of the guy who managed to eat 66 hotdogs (and buns, mind you) in a couple of minutes (can't recall how many). Are we all going nuts? Is it the publicity that makes people do dull-witted things like that? Is it money?

Speaking of money: despite the volume of spam I receive, I still can't understand why so many individuals are doing this. Do all these hordes of anonymous no-reply-possible spammers get paid for inviting me to buy Viagra? Why don't ISPs send a short confirmation message to every originator that that his or her e-mail to me is ready to be forwarded and – if the return e-mail address is bogus – trash the mail and blacklist the address? That one-time check would be so very easy to implement and I would instantly switch to an ISP who offers this service.

Why don't people invest their energy on genetically programming bacteria to eat plaque in arteries and then die, or to gobble up the muck that has accumulated in a smoker's lungs? Why don't governments impose a tax on electricity to force people to switch off their TV sets at night instead of putting them on standby? That would also encourage consumers to buy energy-saving light bulbs (making them cheaper). The American government should impose higher taxes on gasoline, but the extra revenue would probably be spent on missile shields or similar crap. Oh, by the way: I read recently that solar cells covering a mere 1.7% of America's land area would generate enough electricity to power the US. OK, it's a lot of solar cells, but the number is intriguing. I figure the money spent on you-know-which-war would easily pay for that, simultaneously eliminating the need for a lot of coal-fired power plants (OK and putting a lot of coal miners out of work – I don't have the answer to that yet). Another digression: http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~es196/projects/2004final/Ishone.pdf (worth reading).

Also in the news: the exclusivity claim of the Catholic church (holier than thou). As long as nobody drops a dirty bomb on Mecca during the Hajj, I don't give a damn (would they blame Al-Vatican?). But we seem to be headed toward another a showdown. All this, including the idiotic, utterly stupid wars going on all around the world, are such a pitiful waste of human intelligence and energy. But it's the status quo, fueled by everyone's indifference and furthered by fat, corrupt delegates of fat, corrupt politicians who want to preserve their privileges and therefore make sure no consensus is ever reached on any issue at any conference, lest they become superfluous. Oh yes: I wouldn't mind executive greed so much if the people who make a couple of hundred million bucks a year actually did something constructive with their money. Some do, granted, hats off.

An afterthought: tribal societies like Iraq or Afghanistan can't embrace democracy in one generation because the warlords are too greedy for power and money. What a despicable goal for a human life! They should look at www.noma-hilfe.ch to see one of the places where they could constructively wield their influence and invest their wealth (sorry about the picture, but that's life in the real world). Let's not talk about FGM again. It's sickening that this topic goes under the heading traditions and customs. If something is or was customary, that doesn't mean it is or ever was right. It could just as well have resulted from an incorrect translation or interpretation.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

On my way home from a downtown outing, I saw a child in a stroller in the streetcar (a pram in the tram) reading a book with colorful illustrations of princesses and dinosaurs and witches, probably. What caught my attention was that the child spent at least a full minute looking at each picture, taking note of the details. Contemporary TV fare gives a child fractions of a second to look at a picture before the next one pops up. Presumably, a video-fed child eventually develops a different way of seeing the world than a book-fed child.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

CNN reported last night that in Iraq, barbers are among the favorite targets of marauding killers – because they (the barbers) cut beards. I would like you to think about that for 5 minutes, please, and report the relevant passage in the Qu'ran that endorses such action.

By the way: Any country in which protesters raise "Middle-Earthers go home" banners ("Middle-Earthers" is just an example) should receive a resolute response: The Middle-Earthers should go home on the spot, regardless of the consequences, and all citizens of that country (the one where the protests take place) should be expelled from Middle Earth immediately. That would be potentially lesson-teaching consensus politics. Protests should be taken seriously.

A special day: Friday, September 1, 2006

This morning at about 10 o'clock, I took a look-out-the-window break and discovered a spider weaving a web right in front of my face. I brushed it aside (so sorry, honestly) and saw another spider under the roof overhang doing the same thing. Later, at 3 pm, I noticed huge swarms of tiny moth-like creatures flurrying around with those zig-zag trajectories that butterflies choose, apparently to evade predators. I'm not sure what kind of signal sent the spiders into a web-weaving frenzy, but quite obviously, they must have known somehow that food was on the way. Dogs and cats, they say, can sense earthquakes before they actually occur. There's so much out there we don't know, and it depresses me when I realize how many schools are denied the resources they need to change kids' perceptions about the wisdom of wisdom.

In a small Swiss town, a 5-year-old girl was recently raped by young teen boys. They and/or their parents hail from Eastern Europe, it appears, and while I was wondering what kind of family values the youngsters had assimilated, it occurred to me that it is still semi-legal in Switzerland for kids to download porn and violence clips to their cell phones and trade them in the schoolyard. Certain TV channels advertise the availability of such clips in disgusting commercials after midnight, and a lot of money is made. Kids and cell phones: a paradigm change for the worse. And those "business people" who urge the audience to send an SMS containing "four-letter-word plus one digit" to a three-digit number know perfectly well that viewers include minors. Collateral damage?

On the news two or three days ago, an Iranian government official personally greeted a lineup of notables at UN headquarters in New York, shaking hands with each one, but skipping the sole woman (who incidentally was more than appropriately dressed for the occasion) without so much as casting a glance at her. It seems the Qu'ran has some kind of rule about that. Or, at least, some kind of opportune interpretation of a perhaps otherwise obscure passage. Does any other faith forbid men to shake hands with a woman in a formal setting? I don't know. There's so much I don't know.

Iran wants to enrich uranium and this seems to be an absolutely untenable prospect for parts of the international community. Now, South Africa has expressed the same intention. The National Rifle Association in the USA advocates the right of every citizen to own a gun (or, for that matter, a whole arsenal of weapons for those so inclined). Consequently, the NRA should endorse the privilege of every nation on earth to have weapons as well. After all, no religious book or set of laws I know about says that the USA has more rights in this regard than other countries, so if we respect the sovereignty of nations as we respect (certain) human rights (at certain times), then isn't it OK if every country on earth has nuclear bombs and uranium enrichment facilities? Or am I missing something?

Brits are just now beginning to realize that in their very own backyards in London, Birmingham, and Manchester, hatred is festering. The hate is directed at their personal ideals, their lifestyles, and their religion (infidels) – even though Britain and France (granted, due to their colonial past) have been the most generous among all Old World nations in terms of immigration policy. Bite the hand that feeds you. In Switzerland, voters will soon be asked to decide on (selectively) tightening immigration policy and while it was something I rejected outright when the issue was first brought to the table, I am beginning to wonder if my judgement is sound. Chinatowns and Little Italys all over the world are, to my knowledge, not breeding grounds of hatred for the host country, but I don't particularly relish the idea of having mosques in every other Swiss town where imams can (and already do) radicalize their communities.

I have a hard time believing that I could open a church of any kind in Yemen or Saudi Arabia and start preaching hatred to my adherents without getting skinned alive the next day. Yet a devout Muslim lady who lived in Switzerland had the "right", for many years, to operate a hate-inducing website, calling this country one of the world's worst and most repressive with respect to her ideals. Could an "infidel" do the same, with the tables turned, in any Muslim country? The playing field isn't level.

The marginalization now also of law-abiding and open-minded Muslims who embrace the values of their host countries is the unquestionably the fault of a few misguided extremists and the hesitation of respected Muslim leaders to ostracize them. It is the fault of clerics such as Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the man who issued the fatwa that resulted in Anwar Sadat's assassination and another one that encouraged acts of violence against American civilians, effectively endorsing 9/11. Because of him, Bin Laden is still widely loved and admired. And as long as that's true, we have a problem.

At the end of 2005, Switzerland's population consisted of 22.2% foreigners from all over the world. By far most of them came with a vision and an objective. They are integrated and good neighbors, including, in my circle of respected aquaintances, an Iranian neurosurgeon and an Iraqi university professor with whom I would gladly share my table. Those who come here with the ultimate intention of establishing an Islamic state under Sharia law – and that is the objective of the fundamentalists: to give us infidels throughout the Western world the opportunity to convert to Islam and save our souls – will have a serious problem convincing me to be their friend. Yes, I know about the crusades and inquisitions. Does humanity have to go back to square one and do it all over again?

Mid-August 06

Freedom of the press

The Australian writes:

"...US sources said that the main fear of British authorities was that terrorists planned to hide micro-bombs in false bottoms built into opaque energy drink bottles, enabling them to still drink the contents.

The devices may have been liquid explosive but experts said that it was more likely to have been a more stable peroxide material similar to that used in the 7/7 attacks last year.

The apparent intention was to explode the device using a detonator concealed in the flash mechanism of a disposable camera to puncture a hole in the aircraft skin. MP3 players or electronic key fobs could also have been used to trigger an explosion...."

Well, well. Thank you for divulging this information to all the would-be martyrs who feel the need to punish the West. Meanwhile, the sleepers are learning from the mistakes of the activists. I especially liked the part where the article mentions freezing the assets of 19 men involved in the plot to down airliners en route to the USA: they now know that their bank accounts are being monitored. It's insane. This kind of reporting is a challenge to the criminal mind.

Thoughts as July 2006 finishes playing out

The monarch butterflies (left) that live in the Great Lakes area and on the east coast of the USA fly 5000 kilometers to the mountainous region of Cerro Prieto in Mexico in late September. At an altitude of 3000 meters above sea level, millions of them attach themselves to trees and hibernate at near-freezing temperatures until February. Then, the monarchs head back north, laying the first eggs in Louisiana and Texas. The grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of the monarchs that set out for Mexico eventually make it to the summer meadows in the Great Lakes region. Scientists can only surmise how they find their way back.

Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo is about the size of France and has a population of approximately 4 million. Katanga is extremely fertile and could feed all of East Africa and a large portion of southern Africa. Moreover, it sits on giant deposits of copper, cobalt, and coltan. The people there are dying of starvation because of the civil war. Apart from other atrocities, both rebel Mai Mai fighters and government troops are burning entire villages and destroying the livelihoods of the local population. This is happening despite the presence of 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers that cost $1.5 billion a year to "operate." Time Magazine recently reported that over $100 million in funds largely donated by European governments to pay soliders in the new Congolese army have disappeared.

The above are just two stories (one is poetic, astonishing, and commands respect for nature, the other is disheartening and makes me mad that perverted tyrants can oppress entire nations) that I picked up a few days ago when I caught up on reading – amid all the reporting from Beirut and the ongoing tidal wave of news on all the other things that are going wrong in the world. Meanwhile, a whole lot of people in the "civilized" world are watching soaps and telenovelas, reading interviews with heavy metal bands, and wondering who's going to get divorced next in Hollywood. Wars, corruption, and political jockeying for power (solely for the sake of power) are just so rampant that all the good and beautiful things in life don't get enough exposure. It's quite depressing.

Someone should establish a "white mafia" that disposes of individuals who suck up their countries' assets and funnel away aid funds for personal enrichment. If you have an island someplace really remote in the Pacific (I'll supply the plans for desalination and some seeds for vegetables), if you have talents like James Bond and can take some of these guys to that island, and if you have enough money to finance it all, please contact me.

Thoughts in February 2006

I saw a most disconcerting documentary about the work of Dr. Vandana Shiva. It started with a segment on cotton. Responding to dramatized television commercials touting the merits of and profits achievable with genetically engineered cotton, Indian farmers paid four times the price of ordinary seed for patented seed and the result was abominable. Boll weevils destroyed much of the harvest despite the promises made by the seed "owner" and many farmers had to sell land to pay off their debt. I don't have any special ties to India and it is likely that similar offensives by agrogiants are occurring elsewhere in the world, but it is very disturbing. The story doesn't end there. India has countless wheat varieties that have evolved throughout the millennia. Farmers have been exchanging seed for generations, even across the border between Pakistan and India! Now, the agroindustry is being granted patents to many of them – for existing plants!

I urge you to read this:

http://www.countercurrents.org/en-shiva270404.htm

and look for other sites that describe Dr. Shiva's work against agroindustrial indecency, a largely unknown phenomenon that threatens the livelihoods of farmers in the world's poorest countries. She has good arguments. Log on to www.denkmal-film.com and klick on "Leben außer Kontrolle" in the navigation bar on the left. You may wish to order a DVD. It will knock you off your socks.

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The escalation of the Feb. '06 caricature saga worries me, especially given the fact that very young children in certain Middle Eastern countries are institutionally served up highly racist TV fare in which adherents to other religions (not just "infidels" in general) are portrayed, also in cartoons, as monkeys and pigs (uncensured, of course). Not many people know this. It's a dangerous sandbox game and a lot of lies and hypocrisy are involved.

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After having read an article in National Geographic on stem cell research, I was trying to establish a personal position on that subject. The issue of using embryonic or fetal "matter" to further research and save much older people's lives revolves, I think, around the point in time when a foetus becomes aware of its existence or, in other words, when life starts. About 46 million abortions occur in the world each year, legally and illegally. It's just an observation. <http://womensissues.about.com/cs/abortionstats/a/aaabortionstats.htm >

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Thoughts in October 2005

If it weren't for the sorry state of the world and the slew of catastrophes it has had to endure in the recent past, I wouldn't have much to worry about. What I am worrying about most these days is that certain news items, for instance those related to car bombings in Baghdad, tsunamis, earthquakes, some bunch of religiously fanatic assholes taking responsibility for yet another suicide attact, and all manner of corruption clips just don't faze me any more. It's not really indifference. Perhaps it's resignation and the feeling that I can't do anything to make the world a better place: there seem to be more bad guys than good guys.

But the news item that follows just totally knocked me off my socks.

Brian McGrory writes in the Boston Globe (September 16, reproduced without his permission but with a sense that it's OK):

Injustice for almost all

Every once in a while, usually for brief periods of time, the world starts to gain the veneer of sanity.

Papi hits another game-winning home run. The moronic head of FEMA is sent packing from New Orleans. George W. Bush accepts blame for the miserable federal response to Katrina.

Then, just when you think that all the pieces are falling into place and that maybe, just maybe, this collective life isn't so crazy after all, something happens to remind you that, yes, in fact, it really is.

Take the case of Nancy Gertner, Palmer & Dodge, and an especially repugnant criminal by the name of Daniel LaPlante.

By way of acquaintance, Gertner is a US District Court judge. Palmer & Dodge is an elite downtown [in Boston, ed.] law firm.

Daniel LaPlante is a convicted triple murderer and not just any triple murderer, either. He broke into a neighbor's house in rural Townsend in 1987, raped and executed the pregnant mother who lived there, then drowned her 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son in separate bathtubs. He smirked at the jury that convicted him.

The Superior Court judge who presided over his trial, Robert Barton, now retired, said: “Of the 150 murder cases I heard, he is one of only five that I would personally have no problem pulling the switch on the electric chair myself. He was incorrigible, he would never be rehabbed, and we'd be wasting our money feeding and clothing him.”

We've also wasted our money doing something else: pushing a lawsuit on his behalf. Which is where Gertner and Palmer & Dodge fit in.

In 2001, LaPlante complained about his safety in prison, and he was placed under extensive lockup. Unhappy with that, he sued state officials in federal court. Among other complaints, he said he wasn't given unfettered access to the prison law library. He said he was mislabeled as a sex offender. He complained that officials intercepted “sexually explicit” photographs mailed to him. He said a guard stole his shower shoes.

Palmer & Dodge took the case, supposedly pro bono, though please read on. In fact, it didn't just take the case, it seemed to devote itself to it, assigning a partner, a senior associate, a midlevel associate, and a junior associate - four lawyers in all.

Before I go on, spare me the argument from all the Lexus Liberals that even the most heinous criminals have the right to legal representation. They do. But is a convicted murderer really entitled to a battery of downtown lawyers because he wasn't getting access to the library and his pornographic pictures in the mail?

Palmer & Dodge won the suit, and, lo and behold, its pro bono work wasn't free any more. Federal law allows a firm to submit a bill when it wins a civil rights case, and it did: $125,000 in all. Judge Gertner ordered the state to pay $99,981 of it.

That bears repeating: State taxpayers spend $100,000 on behalf of a convicted murderer who slaughtered a pregnant women and her kids.

“We did it as efficiently as we could,” said George Olson, a Palmer & Dodge partner. “When we took the case, we didn't expect to be compensated.”

Of course not.

Gertner blamed the state Department of Correction for fighting the suit and running up legal costs. She didn't respond to a message yesterday.

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly was the assistant district attorney who prosecuted LaPlante on murder, and I called him to see if he remembered the case.

“I'll take that case to my grave,” he said, quietly recounting the green Osh-Kosh overalls that the little boy wore when they pulled his body from the tub. He described LaPlante as a constant escape risk who, given the chance, would absolutely kill again.

“To be worried about his civil rights?” he added. “The victims had no civil rights. He executed them.”

In short, LaPlante gets top-shelf legal representation. Palmer & Dodge gets another hundred grand. And as too often happens, state taxpayers get nothing more than the bill.

Written by a fine journalist: mcgrory@globe.com (thank you unbeknownst, Brian)

July 2005

London: The rationale given on an Islamic website (which may or may not have affiliations with the UK-born Pakistani recuits who commited the crimes) for the terror attacks in London was that London is the capital of a country of infidels and unbelievers. London is home to more than a million Muslims. They seem to enjoy life in the UK but innocent Londoners have now been punished for accommodating and tolerating them. My take is that the terrorists should have instructed the Moslem community to leave the UK since it is a haven of sin. I am still waiting for a respected mujtahid to issue a fatwa against terrorism.

Noma: Cancrum oris affects children aged 2 to 6 in the sub-Sahel region (Niger, Mali, etc.). Look at www.nomahospital.org (in Sokoto, Nigeria), it saves a lot of words. The disease is tabooized and considered a curse of Allah, so many parents don't bother to seek medical assistance. So much for the influence of religion on society.

The Orange Order: In the same vein, the Portadown Orange Lodge that stages the Drumcree parade every summer must be composed of men with very small minds.

Happy slapping: There's a new trend in Switzerland. Kids with camera cell phones violently attack innocent people in the street and take pictures of their often seriously injured victims. The pictures are then sent to friends or published on the Internet – for a laugh, I guess. The next step: drive-by shootings à la Los Angeles? It's pitiful.

Slogans: In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, Swisscom uses the claim "Go far. Come close." Stimorol chewing gum says "Free your mouth". Coca-Cola suggests "Refresh your world". I fail to see the merits of these English claims aimed at native Swiss-German speakers. Most of them were probably created by copywriters who wouldn't last 5 minutes in primary school if they had to converse in English. Befreie deinen Mund! It must be greatness that only intelligent people can appreciate.

The news in early November 2004

These days, "Jay-Z tours without R. Kelly" gets about as much exposure in Google news as "Bush is reelected". I thought about the second event, at length, and came to the conclusion that obviously, more people in the USA understand "I pray every day and hope things come out right" (which is equivalent to chanting Inch'Allah) than "We must cut the budget deficit". America has so many brilliant minds .... In Switzerland, some newspapers said the Catholic church told its followers that voting for Kerry was a sin.

It is equally obvious to me that few people with clout and power in the USA realize that virtually all it takes to stop terrorism is to endorse and expedite the creation of a Palestinian state, a move universally ratified in 1947. Why is it being postponed again and again? It's like two kids playing in a sandbox. An uppity have-not and a spoiled brat haggling over territorial rights and water with a short-sighted parent babysitting on the outside.

Plenty of Americans, understandably, now have a "kick-ass" attitude toward Osama, whom many (dangerously) equate with Islam. George Bush can kick ass, and he will. The confrontation of religions is escalating. Things are likely to get worse unless Arafat's death in Paris has some redeeming effect.

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Random thoughts in August and September 2004

A message to Shamil Basayev. Please read the section about monkey brains below. And then explain how the Russian government can be faulted for atrocities against children (not politicians!) for which you take responsibility. Unfortunately, extreme stupidity cannot coexist with shame.

Lobsters and cows and monkeys. I can't really see the rationale behind shipping lobsters live from the point of origin to a place 5000 kilometers away just so a chef can check if it still has enough life in it to squirm when it gets dumped in boiling water. I humbly suggest the lobsters be boiled and frozen where they are harvested - and then shipped.

Livestock is also treated badly on the way from the point of origin to the point of consumption. Mankind hasn't got a grip on that yet. What will it take to create some kind of respect for animal life? I think it was there before the making of food was industrialized.

Then again, there are people (in a few parts of the world) who eat live monkey brains, in other words, the brains of monkeys clamped into tables that are made especially for the purpose of easy skull removal followed by dining. It's an old tradition, they say, so maybe nothing can be done about it. Cleaving off the skull of a primate to spoon its brain, however, dramatically crosses the line of what I consider "normal". The cult of "fresh" can be taken to extremes, but what for?

Darfur. The politics behind what's happening in Sudan are a sorry deja-vue: a government is paying and arming Arab militiamen to rape, kill, pilfer, and burn villages. It's that religion thing again. Then, China and Pakistan are against UN sanctions, even if it means that 10,000 people a month continue to die from Janjaweed rampages and disease. It's the oil thing. The power thing, the money thing, the stupidity thing. We human beings are indeed nature's supreme dimwits.

Wood provides 75% of Sudan's energy and the demand for charcoal (oil found in the west inthe early 1980s is exported for money and guess whose pockets it flows into) has depleted many forests in the country. Fewer forests means less rain, of course. Poor land management is expediting desertification: the Sahara is encroaching onto previously arable and forested land. I was in Khartoum (where the White Nile and the Blue Nile merge) and Port Sudan in early 1970. It was once a proud and beautiful country, even though a few million land mines are still buried throughout the country, visiting cards from World War II. I'm still waiting for someone to rationally explain why genocide is happening in Darfur.

I do hope Syria is not testing chemical weapons in Darfur as claimed by Die Welt on September 14, 2004. The Sudanese government, incidentally, has approved a draft law that will make it easy for politicians to censure the press. Sudanese authorities have already arrested an editor and confiscated newspapers. Go to www.sudantribune.com if you're interested.

On the pragmatic side: In the refugee camps, women (not men) walk 20 miles and more a day to gather wood to make fires to cook whatever they have. Somebody who's in charge down there should look at www.solarcooking.org and similar websites before the very last shrub is torn out of the ground and set afire.

Forest fires. Spain, Portugal, Corsica in the summer of '04. There are some real people out there that walk around with jerry cans full of gasoline and set fire to forests. The outcome of that action is the deployment of hundreds, sometimes thousands of firefighters, evacuations, the loss of homes, and general tragedy, not to mention the animals that lose their habitats and, in most instances, their lives. Another outcome is deforested land that the jerry-can people or their middlemen then buy and later develop. If governments would insist that such acreage can never be developed but must instead be reforested, there would probably be fewer incidences of arson. Since this is not happening, some members of government must have real estate interests on the side, yes?

A message to Al Jazeera. Try to imagine what would happen if you didn't provide coverage for warlords who desperately need a media outlet to deliver their messages of doom. Instead, you could try to comment on issues like stoning to death women who commit adultery. Or take a strong stance against female circumcision. Or broadcast interviews with high-ranking Muslim clerics who denounce terrorism. There are so many exciting things you could talk about!

Bangladesh. The floods are devastating. Nearly two-thirds of the country were submerged on August 3. Hundreds of thousands of people's houses were washed away. The Worldwatch Institute published an article written by Payal Sampat that explains why things will get worse in Bangladesh, where the government spends considerable energy on infighting and doesn't really have the wherewithall to effectively help its taxpayers. Remember that every river, including the Ganges, starts out clean.

Borrowed from UNICEF: he's 40, she's 11. They are married. Afghanistan. Gasp.
Dear Mr. Warlord, contact me for information on how you can help kids like this one.