You may be an accessory to murder, m’lud

This makes sense at first glance, but is there a deeper truth being ignored?

An Australian Supreme Court Judge has released a violent Muslim criminal in order for him to emigrate to Lebanon.

Fair enough, eh? A nasty violent man rejects the core principles of western civilisation so requests permission to remove himself and move to a country whose values are more in line with his personal philosophy.

Justice Des Fagan further urged authorities to assist violent career criminal Mohamed Naaman to realise his dream of leaving the country to live in Lebanon as “it would appear to suit all parties”.

Quite right, Judge Des Fagan, let him go and good riddance.

But wait, what’s this?

It was claimed Naaman was preoccupied with Islamic State and once told a Queensland parole officer that he “would go to Syria and become a suicide bomber, then stated he was joking”.

Boom tish! As punchlines go, that’s better than anything in evidence on Saturday Night Live these days.

How did that go down with the esteemed judge?

“He has espoused his adherence to Islam over many years. He has shown himself to be an Islamic bigot, expressing contempt and hatred for anyone who does not accept the Koran, being the overwhelming majority of Australians,” Justice Fagan said.

And there’s this;

Forensic psychiatrist Kerri Eagle said Naaman, a long-term illicit drug user with signs of chronic paranoid schizophrenia, would be highly likely to keep committing violent crimes upon his release from custody.

Oh great. What does the judge think about that?

Justice Fagan agreed, saying: “The only mitigating consideration with respect to this bleak forecast is that the defendant’s past violence has not been of a high level and has not been premeditated.”

Oh, well that’s all right then; he’s not managed to make a bomb yet so he’s mostly harmless. Until that changes. Let’s hope it doesn’t.

The judge seems to need help with basic logic, though;

During the hearing, the court heard Naaman wanted to renounce his Australian citizenship and return to Lebanon, prompting Justice Fagan to ask why he shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

“If somebody wishes to immigrate from Australia … why wouldn’t the state wish to facilitate it if it’s possible?” he said.

Yeah, if he wants to go and we don’t want him here why can’t he be allowed to leave?

There is a reason and fortunately the prosecutor managed to articulate it;

Mr Agius said Australia had obligations to help prevent terrorist acts overseas.

“If he returns to Syria to fight the Syrian government and to kill infidels as he said he wishes to do, under Australian law that would be a serious terrorism offence,” he said.

Yeah, that.

Bill’s Opinion

Whilst no sane citizen of a western democracy would want to share a planet, let alone a country or city, with someone as mad and dangerous as Mohammed Naaman, there is a wider consideration here;

Namely, we are not the fucking recruitment department of Islamic State, shipping future terrorists over to Syria to be brutalised and trained to kill without remorse.

As Sam Harris says, we should judge these people by their words, we should listen when they tell us they want to kill us in the name of Islam and we ought to believe them.

As expensive as it will be for Mohammed to be walking around Brisbane on a curfew with a monitoring ankle bracelet or, better still, bored to tears reading the Koran cover to cover in jail, at least the police know where he is and what he’s doing.

If they wave goodbye to him at the airport, who knows what he’s going to get up to over the next few years? At best, he’ll be blown up by a drone before he’s done anything too heinous. However, other possibilities include furthering the murderous cause of Islamic State, attacking our allies or, worse, our troops or citizens in the region or coming back to a western country but now filled with significant training and even more motivation to do us harm.

Should any of those negative outcomes occur, the families of those hurt or killed would have a solid moral case to make against Judge Des Fagan.

Des Fagan, j’accuse.

“Mental Slavery”

India’s current ruling party, the BJP, is almost the definition of a “broad church”, with moderates such as Prime Minister Modi but also complete loons and extremists such as the Hindu nationalists.

This is the sort of nonsense they tend to get up to when they’ve got half a chance; Shimla to be renamed Shyamala to end “mental slavery”.

This is the latest in a series of renaming activities that have been occurring since Shiv Sena (a really loony Hindu nationalist party, not amateurs at it like the BJP) renamed Bombay to Mumbai in 1995.

Some of these name changes have more historic justification than others.

The etymology for “Madras”, for example, referred to it as “black town” in the local language with “white town” reserved for the Europeans.

When Bombay was founded by the Portuguese, it was a collection of fishing huts. The reference back to some ancient temple to “Mumba Devi” is tenuous at best.

As for Calcutta being renamed Kolkata, I challenge anyone not paying extremely close attention to distinguish between the two pronunciations. That’s an expensive change of spelling.

Bill’s Opinion

71 years after Indian independence, what is meant by “mental slavery” is anyone’s guess. Are they suggesting that a name that most residents of Simla/Shyamala wouldn’t associate with the British still has some dangerous colonial issues? Given that the vast majority of Simla residents were born after the British had already left, this seems quite unlikely.

It’s comforting to note that the Indian government has solved all of the pressing higher priority issues facing the country already to be able to allocate any intellectual or more tangible resources to addressing this problem.

Finally, it’s going to be fun observing the inevitable debate about what to rename the country to.

No, seriously, “India” didn’t exist as a country prior to the East India Company’s foray from mercantilism into military expansion; “the Indies” and “India” were European nouns for swathes of territory far greater than the lands of the Deccan.

Most locals would have associated themselves to their local language, religion, ethnicity, region and ruling maharajah, rather than a supra-national identity.

A Bengali and a Keralan would not have recognised themselves as countrymen prior to the 1800s, as witnessed by the lack of support the southerners offered the easterners during the Mutiny of 1857.

The Indians can use whatever place names they want, of course, but using a colonial history as an excuse for driving a Hindu nationalist identity is an act of convenience not logic.

If you try to shoot me, don’t miss

Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser faced off at an unedifying Senate hearing last week. Whatever your political hue, I would hope that you’d agree that the spectacle was a new low point in terms of fact-based civil discourse between the different sides of the political spectrum.

Whichever of them was more convincing to you is going to be largely a function of your previous position during the 2016 election.

The purpose of this blog post is not to attempt to convince you one way or another but to put forward a hypothesis;

The likelihood of Roe vs. Wade being overturned in full or in part has increased significantly as a result of the Democrats’ decisions to hold on to Mrs. Ford’s accusation until so late in the process and the subsequent aggressive tactics to block the Judge’s nomination based on such a low standard of evidence.

In other words, the Democrats may have shot themselves in their collective feet.

Why do I believe this?

Because even the most honest and pure of intentions amongst us is human. Judge Kavanaugh is no exception to this, as his barely-concealed rage last week illustrates. Even if he was previously undecided on whether or not abortion should be ruled legal at a Federal level before his nomination, it’s not a stretch of imagination to suspect he’s changed his opinion during this trial by innuendo.

This is not to say Mrs. Ford is lying about the events of 35 (or thereabouts) years ago; her testimony was convincing, she looked like she believed what she was saying.

Similarly, Judge Kavanaugh looked like he believed what he was saying.

And that’s the point…. a robust legal system does not condemn the accused on the basis of a single witness testimony. In fact, if that’s all there is, such cases don’t make it to trial.

Nonetheless, Judge Kavanaugh has been put through the wringer due to a single witness testimony, deliberately withheld until the last minute.

Why? Why did the Democrats choose this set of tactics?

Roe vs. Wade.

Everything the Democrats have done to block Kavanaugh has had the ultimate goal of protecting the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs Wade, the ruling which made abortion legal in the USA, regardless of prevailing State legislation.

That a Supreme Court ruling disappoints one team and delights another is nothing new or surprising. Perhaps the reason the Democrats have chosen such an unprecedented and, frankly, distasteful set of tactics in combating a perceived threat (Kavanaugh hasn’t publicly expressed an opinion to date) to this ruling is that they know Roe vs Wade was a fudge.

If one reads the history to the ruling, it’s clear that the previous status quo was a hotch-potch of policies along the lines of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and turning a blind eye, inconsistently applied by different States.

To many, the ruling was a Federal over-reach, imposing at a Federal level, power the Constitution gave to the States.

If Roe vs Wade was a ruling on something less emotive than abortion, say, the use of wood-fired stoves in built-up areas of habitation, there obviously would be nowhere near as much angst on either side of the debate. Most likely, the ruling would have been successfully appealed long ago and, following its reversal, some States would have passed legislation allowing for the use of wood-burning stoves at differing times of the year and for differing reasons. In other States, using wood-burning stoves in towns would have remained illegal.

Bill’s Opinion

Brett Kavanaugh and his family have had to endure atrocious abuse by bad faith political actors using the faux cover of due process.

Regardless of whether Mrs. Ford was attacked 30-something years ago and regardless of whether Brett Kavanaugh was the attacker, if he is subsequently confirmed as the next Supreme Court appointee, he is going to have to be the most objective human in history to not be biased towards overturning Roe vs Wade should such an appeal reach his office.

I’m not suggesting he should do this but an argument could be made along the lines of, “I will recuse myself from voting on this ruling as the inherent issues during the controversy of my nomination were due to Roe vs Wade and, as a consequence of the resulting personal distress, I now have a conflict of interest“.

Personally, I hope he is nominated and overturns the law at the first opportunity; the Founding Fathers were rarely wrong in the design of the American Constitution and I see no reason why abortion shouldn’t be subject to the proven efficiency of the “marketplace” that the system of States being able to write their own criminal law code provides. If you can’t legally have an abortion in Texas, you could still have one in California, for example.

Unfortunately, the precedent of allowing such a low standard of evidence to be a credible reason to derail a Supreme Court appointment is likely to have long-lasting negative effects that both parties will have plenty of time to regret.

Nihilists gonna nihilist

We’ve all heard that lemmings jump into the sea every year, drowning themselves because they are just following the herd. Except they don’t. That’s actually a myth invented for a Disney wildlife documentary, and it has blinded us to the truth about the weird lives of lemmings for decades.

That’s ok though, we’ve filled the vacuum ourselves;

We’re the only species evolved enough to consciously go extinct for the good of all life, or which needs to.

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement would very much prefer it if you could refrain from reproducing and persuade everyone you know to follow suit.

Why?

Well for the same reason The Club of Rome would like you to stop breathing;

The Earth has cancer and the cancer is Man.

They’ve taken the Buddhist (and several other religions, to be fair) belief that life is mainly suffering, extrapolated it and come to the conclusion that the most appropriate response is that we put a stop to the whole cycle.

Is this a reasonable conclusion supported by the weight of evidence, do we think?

First, let’s look at the reasons put forward by this group, why do we need to take such a radical step? Is it to reduce human suffering?

No, the explanations given on their website are all to the benefit of the surviving species and, in fact, are quite disparaging and unsympathetic about human suffering, as this example illustrates;

Naturally, it’s not that simple, but just for fun, let’s envision an impossible dream: all human sperm suddenly and permanently loses viability—no impregnated human egg begins meiosis to form a zygote—none transforms from embryo into the sacred fetus, is carried to term and sentenced to life. Zero conceptions, wanted nor un.

A wonderful fantasy. Phones in crisis pregnancy centers would fall mysteriously silent. Sperm banks would go bankrupt after fraudulently milking the infertile. Adoption agencies would fruitlessly increase baby bounties, and charge an arm and a leg for whoever’s in stock, damaged or not. Needless panic would be hilarious. Like people frantically searching for their oars after the boat has beached.

Or, to paraphrase, “Yes, you pathetic people who feel the need to altruistically raise someone else’s orphaned child just because you are infertile, how pathetic of you compared to us, the people with the monopoly of righteousness.”.

So, it’s all about the surviving species.

Ok, let’s ponder that concept for a moment. Will a lack of humans cause flora and fauna to have an increased level of happiness? Well, we could have a lengthy debate about the nature of happiness and even consciousness, but one suspects we’ll not reach much of a consensus before anyone reading this becomes personally extinct.

Flip it around the other way perhaps; will a lack of humans result in a net reduction in pain and suffering of plants and animals?

Sure, factory-farmed animals will not experience the short and poor quality lives they currently have, mainly because they won’t be born. What about those animals that will be born in the wild after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil? Do we think they will organise themselves in to peaceful communes or will they just fall prey to the next apex predator down the food chain?

We might even ponder a future earth without humans where another species evolves to fill the vacuum. Do we think the new intelligent species will pick up our musty old literature, read what we did to ourselves, be inspired for the love of Gaia and hold a vote to do the same?

Bill’s Opinion

If you’re reading this looking for the answer to the ultimate question of why we are here and what our purpose is on the planet, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave feeling slightly short-changed.

However, we can have a good punt at what the meaning of life isn’t.

We are not born to capitulate, roll over and die. There is nothing unique or beautiful about giving up, it’s been the easiest and most likely thing to happen throughout the history of the planet.

The philosophy behind VHEM has a fundamental flaw; they’ve confused the statement, “life is mainly suffering” with the statement “life is always suffering”. The gap between the two statements is filled with beauty, kindness and joy, albeit brief.

No, if you think humans are a cancer that needs to be surgically removed…. you go first.

Better still, let us know how you get on once you’ve reached TELAH.

God only knows what I’d be without Zhou/Zhe/They

Picking holes in the belief systems of the religious is a fun but ultimately unsatisfying exercise.

By definition, faith doesn’t require empirical evidence. Therefore anyone with an enquiring mind can use the Socratic method to dismiss claims of the reality of reincarnation, prophets flying to the moon on winged horses or all animal life descending from ancestors saved from a flood on a boat.

We couldn’t let this pass, however; Episcopal Church considers making God gender neutral.

The headline is, in itself, amusing. Presumably God might have an opinion that should be considered by the committee, given that he/she/zhe will have to live with their decision?

I’m sure the church committee wouldn’t have phrased the headline in the same way so we won’t dwell too long on it.

Obviously the motivation behind this investigation is erm, something, something, blah, blah, diversity and inclusion.

One wonders whether there’s a a risk of a guest appearance by our old friend the law of unintended consequences, however?

Why?

Let’s look at the uneasy relationship the Christian faith has had with science, particularly evolutionary biology over the previous 159 years. There has been a cautious dance undertaken by people of faith to accomodate the increasing evidence that all life today is a result of millions of years of evolution and, therefore, the planet and all the beasties crawling on it wasn’t actually created in 6 days a few thousand years ago.

Somehow, otherwise intelligent senior members of the church have managed to negotiate a position whereby God still exists but the parts of the bible that seem to describe particular biological or geological situations that conflict with observed reality are to be taken as symbolism not “gospel truth”.

So, a gender neutral God, what’s the problem?

Firstly, perhaps we should remind ourselves of the evolutionary history and purpose of there being any genders at all. Put simply, having 2 distinct genders enables genes to be more effectively passed on to the next generation as new combinations will find evolutionary advantages that neither parent might have exploited with theirs.

Gender, therefore, is a function of reproduction.

A discussion about the gender of the creator of the universe and all life therein should also seek to answer what purpose the gender (or not) serves?

Does God reproduce sexually? If so, with whom? Mrs. God?

If God doesn’t need to reproduce sexually, then there’s no obvious use for a gender for God. Presumably this is going to be the crucial question the church committee pondering God’s gender has to get to grips with.

A supplemental question might be, “if God has a neutral gender, how might he/she/zhe reproduce?”. Presumably reproduction does occur by God as humans were made in their image (Genesis 1:27).

Bill’s Opinion

It might seem like a smart move to decree that the Christian God is gender neutral, but it risks opening up a much wider set of questions for which the church may struggle to find comforting answers.

Ultimately, the dogma behind most religions (probably all religions but I’ve not investigated every one) require a suspension of the use of logic and empirical evidence. Exposing logical fallacies with religion is therefore the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

You have a faith in something? What if you’re wrong?

Today’s investigation is on location from Varanasi, Benares, or at least three other names the place has been called over the centuries. This is the 2nd last stop during a pleasant holiday visit to India.

The city is built at the point the holy river Ganges pauses its south easterly direction to take a diversion north, making it the most auspicious part of the most auspicious river in India. Bathing here absolves one of sin. Dying here guarantees instant Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth).

In the words of the Daily Express tagline, all human life is here. The tiny backstreets behind the Ghats (steps) down to the river are the Indian equivalent of a Victorian circus freak show with lepers, cripples, the accidentally-maimed (and some deliberate, either self-inflicted or by relatives looking for an income), Hirjas (transsexuals), more wandering cows than one can possibly imagine and all of their subsequent manure, piles of rubbish, human waste and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Most of the Ghats are used for bathing and offerings but several are “burning Ghats” where a constant activity continues to cremate those lucky enough to have died here. Everything is on show, nothing is left to the imagination.

Around 18km north of Benares is the smaller city of Sarnath, location of the Deer Park, where Gautam Buddha first preached to his followers after reaching enlightenment two and a half thousand years ago.

The location is also significant to Jainism, a religion with much in common with Buddhism and of a similar age, as one of their main prophets spent significant time here.

Buddhists from all over the world congregate here in temples built by Nepalese, Tibetan, Thai, Chinese and many other nationalities.

This is a holy place. In addition to to the Indians making their way to the Ghats, many westerners can be seen seeking enlightenment from the gurus. One can tell those seeking spiritual guidance from the tourists by their lack of hygiene and the fact that they dress even more embarrassingly than the overweight Americans in supermarket denim with elasticated waists.

In the main, the hippies are are just playing at this exotic religion thing though; beyond a silly haircut, mildly regrettable tattoo and several months of their life wasted on bhang (marijuana), they can still have a shave and a shower and go home to a corporate job and the comforts of modern life.

There are many more in the world and in history who make much greater commitments to their faith though, from the ascetics who perform bizarre physical feats such as keeping one arm aloft for decades or Simon Stylites sitting on top of a pillar for 37 years, acts of abstinence like vegetarians, celibate priests, teetotal muslims, acts of violence such as the Crusaders or Jihadists or simply routine drudgery like attending an Anglican Communion service every Sunday.

The question in the title stands; what if they are wrong? In addition to the three religions listed in Varanasi above, there are Christian and Muslim populations. Logically, at least four out of these five religions must be completely wrong about most of their dogma.

Back to the question; Seriously? All that effort, all those hours of contemplation and prayer, the money spent on donations for buildings, pilgrimages, tatty plastic icons (manufactured in poor conditions in Chinese factories), votive offerings, the offspring you indoctrinated?

Where’s the tangible evidence that any of it, not even the majority of it, but ANY of it was for a correct and truthful concept? Where’s the evidence that it made even the slightest positive difference (even as a placebo) to the human condition, even if it wasn’t yours?

If you’re reading this and feeling warmly smug and self-righteous about your atheism, let’s ask the question a different way; do you hold any beliefs to be true for which you cannot demonstrate incontrovertible supporting evidence?

Look deep, is there perhaps an underlying belief that, if only we’d implement the correct version of Socialism, abject poverty, corruption and tyranny wouldn’t eventually follow like it has all those countless times before?

Maybe you have no relevant qualifications or domain experience but you firmly believe that the world will warm to catastrophic levels and by simply pulling a lever and halting the economy, humans can prevent it?

Or perhaps somewhere inside your heart there’s a suspicion that the world can’t support any more people, despite the evidence to the contrary that millions upon millions of people are living healthier, longer lives than ever before and we are producing exponentially more food?

Bill’s Opinion

A few years after The Buddha died, Aristotle possibly said, “the life unexamined is not worth living“.

He also was one of the first philosophers to examine what is now known as empiricism, a search for truth by putting great reliance on that which can be observed.

Don’t waste your life, resources or emotion on that which cannot be proven to be correct. A working hypothesis is fine as long as we drop the idea once it has been proved incorrect or unlikely. Kill bad ideas quickly, it’s better to have a question mark than the wrong answer.

Namaste!