Just a Little Common Sense

For a life based on reason, ethics, literature and art.

Just a Little Common Sense is Moving! (My Last Post at WordPress)

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I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, and after much consideration I’ve finally deceided to move this blog over to blogger.com. There are many reasons for this, the main one being the restrictions worpress imposes on its users. Blogger offers less assistance, but more freedom. I like that better – it feels more like being my own webmaster rather than being a user subjected to terms and conditions.
Another thing that bothers me is my username. When I first signed up for WP I merely wanted to check it out, and didn’t consider the possibility that “humanizzm” with its silly double-z-spelling would stick with me for good.

There’s more, but let that suffice. The point is that from now on, my musings can be found at commonsensehumanism.blogspot.com. I already started the process of reviewing all the stuff I’ve written over the past 15 months and moving some of it over to the new location. I’ll rewrite some of it before I publish it again, and I’ve found many drafts I had forgotten about that I look forward to finishing now. Needless to say, I’ll also continue writing new stuff.

I won’t delete this blog anytime soon – as long as some people are still reading this, I see no reason to take it off the web.

For those of you who would like to stay up to date with my posts but aren’t on blogger: Feel free to add me on google+, follow me on twitter, or like the Just a Little Common Sense facebook page. Each new post will be published on all three platforms.

So, that was it. My last words on wordpress.com! Anything else can be found at the new location from now on. Why don’t you head over right now and take a look? I hope to see you there.

Written by Phil

December 26, 2011 at 23:31

Posted in Common Sense

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European Court Deals Blow to Stem Cell Research

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The battle first started when Greenpeace sued against German neurobiologist Oliver Brüstle, who had patented his method for the production of neuron precursor cells from human stem cells in 1997. The battle was taken from one authority to the next, being appealed in each round. Now Europe’s highest court has banned stem cell patents.

picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Human Embryonic Stem Cells

At first glance, this seems a reason to celebrate: While the necessity of private funding in science is obvious, patents on certain methods or cell types mean the privatization of certain lines of research, restricting the freedom of science and placing scientific progress firmly in the hands of private financial interests.

But the wording of the European Court makes it clear that this is not a victory for free science over private economic interests, but a victory of conservative values over scientific progress.

Single cells are deemed human.
The European Court has ruled that cells fall into the definition of a human embryo starting at the moment of their fertilization. The same takes effect even for unfertilized eggs that have been coaxed into proliferation by a transplantation of nuclei or other techniques.

So basically, they’ve ruled that single cells have human dignity to an extent that justifies protection by the law, and their reasoning boils down to the ever-failing argument from potential. They’ve put a gun to the head of European science, and pulled the trigger with a smile.

“the fruits of years of translational research by European scientists will be wiped away and left to the non-European countries. European researchers may conduct basic research, which is then implemented elsewhere in medical procedures, which will eventually be re-imported to Europe,”[…] said Brüstle. […]
Professor Austin Smith of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge, agrees: “This unfortunate decision by the Court leaves scientists in a ridiculous position. We are funded to do research for the public good, yet prevented from taking our discoveries to the market place where they could be developed into new medicines. One consequence is that the benefits of our research will be reaped in America and Asia.”

(source: eurostemcell.org)

The ruling has prompted outcries from scientists and organizations all over Europe. “This is a devastating decision which will stop stem cell therapies’ use in medicine. The potential to treat disabling and life threatening disease commonly using stem cells will not be realised in Europe,” said Professor Pete Coffey of UCL, London.
Such reactions are understandable, as the decision threatens too invalidate over 100 embryonic stem cell patents in Britain and Sweden.

The legal battle over the issue is expected to continue, as the European Court’s decision is not compulsorily binding to all European nations, but a guideline and interpretation of legal issues that the high courts of individual European nations are expected to follow and implement in their respective countries’ laws.

In an interview with the austrian newspaper Der Standart (link in German), Brüstle said he sees the verdict as a stigmatization of stem cell research in general: “In the end this isn’t about my patent, but a sweeping announcement: ‘What you’re doing is not moral’.”

Written by Phil

October 24, 2011 at 12:57

More Than Just “Occupy” Wall Street!

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Occupy Wall St.
Protesting the fact that Banks are abusing the current social-economic system is absolutely necessary, and I’m glad it’s happening. But the only thing that really scares the shit out of bank CEOs and managers is when their profits are under threat.
Of course, threatening banker profits is not an easy thing to do, but one thing every single one of us is capable of is to vote with our feet and take our savings to businesses with less of a cut-throat attitude. What I am talking about are Ethical Banks. While still being privately run businesses, these banks are above all distinguished by being transparent and selective about the projects they finance. They will happily invest in projects that have social and/or environmental aims, but shun companies who pollute or exploit. In essence, they sacrifice profit margins for a secure and fond clientele that doesn’t hate them.

The arrival of Ethical Banks threatens to change the game. If they can become major players they might outstrip traditional banks – because just as people are willing to pay more for milk from happy cows, many are happy also accept marginally lower interest on their savings in exchange for the knowledge that those savings will not be used to steer global economy further into a huge ocean of shit.

So, here is what I suggest we do: Let’s take our money out of the savings accounts, and move it to one of the ethical or green banks.

Granted, ethical banks are still banks. I do not kidd myself into believing that they are responsible because their CEOs are such good-hearted people – But responsibility has become a product, and the demand is growing rapidly. The laws of their own game will force them to stay transparent and responsible in order to stay in play. It is in our power is to change the market. If we succeed, we will simply force conventional, irresponsible take-no-hostages-bankers out of business.

Personally I do not think that this is the cure to our problems; but it sure is exchanging the disease for a more benign one, giving us some air to look for alternatives.

So, go to wikipedia and take a look at its small but growing List of Ethical Banks. Perhaps join the Bank Transfer Day on facebook. Take your money out of irresponsible and greedy hands, and trust your savings to (however slightly) more responsible people. If possible, do it on november 5th, because the more people do it on the same day, the bigger is the chance of wide-spread media reports.

Don’t tell yourself that it won’t make any difference. I can guarantee it won’t do any harm. So, if nothing else, just humour us. There is a lot to gain, and nothing to lose by trying.

Written by Phil

October 19, 2011 at 21:03

Pope Speaks, Germany Protests

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After some struggle and public controversy, the pope was allowed to speak at the Bundestag in Berlin. It was a small victory for him though, as over one hundred delegates chose not to appear as a gesture of protest.
I feel with them: For anyone with modern values it must be painful to watch Europe’s last absolute monarch speak at the very heart of our democracy – The pope is the head of the only western state that has yet to ratify the international Bill of Human Rights.

Anyhow, the ruling conservative politicians just couldn’t have that. And so they chose to initiate what I view as one of the most pathetic moments in Germnan politics of (at least) the last two decades: They filled the empty seats with extras.

Which, by the way, I think ought to have consequences. The absent delegates in this case perfectly fulfilled their function of representing the German public. Masking this fact to the media (as well as to the pope!) is to lie to the people they are supposed to represent, in order to make a guest feel welcome who is unwelcome to half of the people here.

Anyhow. Meanwhile, more than 20.000 people went to the streets, making their anger at this blatant disregard of our constitution known. Among the many groups reporting the protest were, among others, several Human Rights organizations, the “Black Block” of the left-extremist AntiFa (anti-fascist initiative) and of course numerous feminist and gay groups. Here’s some pictures:

The Pope’s reaction to the protests, of course, was consistently in line with his churches’ policy: He ignored them.

Written by Phil

September 26, 2011 at 00:45

Two TV Ads for a Ban on All Religion

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There’s an Australian series called “The Gruen Transfer”. It’s kind of a comedy show with political context. I can’t really claim to have seen it, as it’s an Australian show and I only get to see snippets on YouTube. However, One of these snippets is what I’d like to share with you today: It’s a segment called “The Pitch”, in which they apparently ask different advertisement agencies to produce TV ads advertising completely unsellable ideas, such as “bring back child labour” or “Let’s Invade New Zealand”. In the end they vote for the best of the submitted ads.
In the following segment, the chosen theme is “Ban All Religion”. Two Agencies took up the challenge, and here is what they came up with. Enjoy!



Personally, I’d vote for the first ad because the second one is based on an argument that has been shown to fail repeatedly. That wars are waged and people are killed in the name of religion is nothing new, it has been pointed out millions of times. The only reaction it gets is “well, that’s just the extremists.” It’s the old and tired the-center-vs-the-fringe-debate, and it’s unlikely to be won by posing the same argument yet another time. The subversive argumentation of the first clip is way more likely to actually change minds, plus it’s not as negative as the second one.
“Religion is bad, let’s do away with it!” puts most people instantly on defense, even if they are not themselves religious. “Religion is outdated, we can do way better than that!” is a message much more likely to open people up to reconsider their views.

Written by Phil

September 8, 2011 at 00:05

Humanism PR Advice: Drop the “Secular”

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There are a lot of Humanist organizations and individuals out there who insist on calling themselves “Secular Humanist” rather than just “Humanist”.
While it’s easy to see why (since most Humanists are rather well-educated, many of them have a little fetish for academic accuracy), I do not think that being meticulously precise is a particularly smart idea in this case. The Happy Human, cheering for the one life we have.

So here’s a little PR advice: Drop all qualifiers. Do realize that most people on the street have never even heard of the term “Humanism” before. That fact alone is enough to make it the smarter move to present a united front to the public, as uncomplicated as possible.

Humanism is fine as it is.
From a PR point of view, “Humanism” is already a brilliantly chosen name. Most people who’ve never heard it before can already guess that it’s a somewhat humanitarian idea, and this is a positive association that we should strive to maintain at all cost. The same is true for the “Happy Human” symbol: It’s perfect. Don’t fix what ain’t broke. The name and the symbol give exactly the right impression, and that, as any PR-pro will tell you, is worth incredibly much.

Disassociating ourselves from “religious” Humanists isn’t worth it.
I am aware that there is a recognized form of religious Humanism out there. But if you google “Humanism”, if you look it up on Wikipedia, or any encyclopedia, they are not what comes up first. We are. Humanism is in itself a secular idea: The name itself makes it perfectly clear that humans are what it’s all about, not deities or other allegedly “higher” ideals. We, the secular ones, are the mainstream of Humanism, and calling ourselves “secular” or “agnostic” Humanists is to surrender that, to leave the term for others to claim.
Again: We are the mainstream. If the few religious Humanists do good, it will be free PR for us. If they don’t want that, fine. Then we ought to leave it up to them to disassociate themselves from us, not the other way round. What we most definitely should not do is to surrender our brand, our trademark, just because we don’t want a few modern, liberal and harmless theists on our side.

POST SCRIPTUM: Some people seem to have misunderstood what I was getting at. My aim was never to play down the role of secularism or criticism of religion. Both are deeply necessary, and if you are familiar with this blog you know that I spent some serious time debating faith-heads and arguing against religious tenets, religious organizations, and even wrote a post pointing out the damage that is caused by even the most moderate and liberal theistic belief.

But Humanism has an agenda. We strife to change our society, even all societies. This entails the pursuit of very concrete political goals, and to achieve those goals as a group of non-government organizations, we have to think practical. The various religious communities around the globe have demonstrated what a lobbyism can achieve in nominatively secular democracies. Non-believers are usually ignored, and the majority of them is completely unaware of all the religious privilege they unknowingly sponsor with their tax-dollars.
So there is a dire need for a Humanist lobby. Religious organizations are crumbling, their numbers dwindling, and Humanism needs to demonstrate its ability to fill the gap.
In a democracy, the political power comes with the number of people one can claim to represent. Humanist organizations are in need to gain some weight to toss around in the political arena. This is the reality of the situation that we need to face. To put it in radical terms: We have a product to sell on the market place of ideas, and the competition is hard. We need to awaken interest and cater to the masses. This is not a simple task, but there are known and proven ways to get there. From this point of view, the “secular” is not only superfluous, but even counterproductive and damaging to our cause.

Yes, it is important to criticize religion. But it is important as a result of the values we hold, because it is a cause of suffering, and at the same time poses one of the largest obstacles on the road to societal change and progression.
Criticism of religion is thus important purely for practical reasons, and has no inherent value of its own. It is not, by itself, a core principle of Humanist thought, but merely a result of it.
My donations to charity, too, are results of my Humanist values. Like criticism of religion, they are not by themselves a tenet of my creed, but merely a means to the end of alleviating suffering. Like my loud and uncompromising secularism, donating to charity is something my Humanism compels me to do, but not by themselves the center of my Humanistic thinking.

The reason I don’t call myself a “secular” Humanist is the same reason I don’t call myself a “donating” Humanist.

Written by Phil

August 30, 2011 at 19:14

Ethical Journalism: You’re Doing It Wrong

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CNN - Doing Breivik's bidding.

I’d like you to pay attention to the caption beneath the picture at the top of the screenshot. Here’s what it says:

Anders Breivik’s purported manifesto says he planned every detail of his rampage, down to this photo being released to media. [Emphasis added]

It appears that somebody waltzed into CNN.com’s editor’s office, said something along the lines of ‎”Hey look, there’s this guy who’s just murdered almost 100 people. And here’s some pictures he’d like us to publish. I’ve got a great idea: Let’s publish them, along with a deep, insightful and understanding story on what motivated him, telling the world exactly all those things he wants us to tell the world. Let’s regurgitate his propaganda, word by word. Let’s quote him a lot. Don’t you think that’d make a great story?” – and was applauded all around.

There’s a German word for this: Leichenfledderjournalismus. It’s a compound word that translates to corpse-stripper journalism, describing the kind of journalism that will report anything that sells, completely free of ethical considerations and without any concern or sense of responsibility for the consequences. It’s usually reserved for those selling stories by using unnecessary close-ups of starving children, mortal wounds or giant puddles of blood, but I think it’s quite fitting here.
It’s sickening beyond words to see the world’s big Media outlets being tossed a manifesto explaining in detail how the mass-murderer wants them to behave, just to follow his instructions word-by-word. They publish his pictures, they propagate his views. Anything the star of the hour wishes.

Breivik was to appear in a hearing this monday, the 25th, to “explain” his motives. The residing judge (who apparently has no name) ordered the proceeding “closed for security reasons”, disabling that sicko from propagating his views further. I applaud him. It’s merely a gesture as the mainstream media are doing a better job of spreading Breivik’s propaganda than he could possibly have hoped for, but it’s a gesture of common sense and decency.

PS: I’ve deliberately cut off the picture in question, and just as deliberately I’ve failed to provide a link to the source of both the screenshot and my anger. I do not doubt anybody willing to view the picture won’t have any trouble finding it, but at least they’ll have to do so without my help.

Written by Phil

July 28, 2011 at 10:11

Things a Police Chief Shouldn’t Say

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CNN.com just published an article about the attacks in Norway in which they interviewed Norway’s National Police Chief, Sveinung Sponheim. It’s nothing extraordinary: He talks a bit about the suspect and the situation in general. What made it interesting to me is the phrasing. Here is what he said, regarding the uncertainty of the number of victims of the Oslo bomb attack and the ongoing search for survivors in the damaged structures:

it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle and a very difficult search. There are body parts in the buildings,” Sponheim said.

Now I’m not sure if I’m being squeamish saying this, but I think this is incredibly tactless. I think someone whose job consists mainly of making public statements ought to do better than comparing the search for body parts to a puzzle game.

Written by Phil

July 24, 2011 at 10:03

Dr. Death is Dead – Long Live Dr. Death.

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My aim in helping the patient was not to cause death, my aim was to end suffering. It’s got to be decriminalized.

Jack Kevorkian, also known as “Dr. Death“, died today at the age of 83. This brave man helped 130 terminally ill patients to end their suffering and die with dignity.
Kevorkian fought for a person’s right to decide when to end their own lives, famously saying that “dying is not a crime”.

May he rest in peace.

Written by Phil

June 4, 2011 at 02:03

Memories – Of My Father

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Going through a box of old stuff, my brother recently unearthed some really interesting stuff: An A4-sized sheet of paper with photographs glued to the front, and a text written by our late father on the back. The photographs date from roughly 1930 to about 1990 and depict my father’s father at various stages of his life. All of them are pictures neither of us had seen before. The text on the backside is entitled “Memories – Of my father” and was written by our dad on the day our grandfather died.
Reading it, for the first time in my life I realized that I know next to nothing about my grandfather. We’ve always been a rather atomic family. Relatives tend to live rather far away and contact tends to be maintained loosely. We did visit my grandparents when we were kids, but not too often, and almost never for more than a single day at a time. My grandfather died when I was 7 years old, and until then I had mostly stayed out of his room, which he only left for meals.
To a seven-year-old, he was an intimidating figure – a grumpy old man sitting in a dark and dusty room, tied to strange and noisy machines that seemed to serve the purpose of doing his breathing for him. This is what he looked like then, and how I remember him:
Paul Schaub

I never spared this man much thought – he simply didn’t play any significant role at any point in my life. Still, reading my father’s recapitulation of his life had me choking down tears. I’m not sure whether that’s due to the depressing facts of my grandfather’s life, or a reaction to the sadness of my father’s voice speaking from the old text. One way or the other, the summary of my granddad’s life is a story worth reading, so here it is:

Memories – Of my father Left: My Grandfather

Born on October 4th, 1921 in a well-off family, he spent a childhood that, according to his own account, was “happy”. With his brother he noshed on raisins and marzipan in his uncle’s Bread-factory, and was allowed to ride along in his beloved grandpa’s (the 7th German to own a Penny Farthing bycicle) Ford “Model T”.

The beginning of his adolescence concurred with the beginning of the Nazi-reign in Germany. Convinced as well as indoctrinated by the new ideology, he volunteered to serve at the warfront at the age of eighteen.

Chaperoned throughout his teenage-years by the HJ (Hitler Youth), he spent his youth in the trenches of a horrible war, and returned “home” in 1946 as a young man from russian war captivity – One bullet in his stomach, the lung penetrated by another, leg injuries, Frostbite, “Russian Periodontitis”, Malaria – without teeth of his own and plexiglass-implants below his knees instead of real bones. A physical wreck at the tender age of 25.

An iron will to persist, cheerfulness and humor (later also alcohol), were the sanctuaries that allowed him to forget his lack of physical ability.

Whether office parties at the post-war-employer’s, rounds of Doppelkopf (a card game) or simply with friends at a bar – with his blunt or sharp remarks, superficial or subtle jokes, his flat crudities or his fiery esprit he always was at the center of any social gathering. Somebody who made people laugh – and made them forget the surrounding debris and its causes, push it to the back of their minds at least temporarily.

He, himself a master of suppression, was considered a humorist, a blithe spirit, the life of every party – and liked that role. Nobody could or wanted to see his suffering, which he wouldn’t allow to surface for even a moment.

A new job, marriage, the birth of his son – the highlights of the fifties.

He lived without regard for his infirmity – which he put out of his mind, but which still existed. Whenever he spoke of scars or injuries, it was like he wasn’t talking about himself, but about entirely abstract objects.

But the suppression of reality did not enable him to endure the permanent burden of a life in the workforce. In his early forties he was as often certified sick as present at the workplace, and was signed unfit for work (or, as he called it, “broken”) before the age of fifty.

1975 his physician predicted that he’d have perhaps two, maximally three years left to live. 1978 he moved to the countryside in good spirits, hoping to be able to catch his breath in the fresh air and for an improvement of his condition. But nothing did improve.

His ailments didn’t get worse, either, but the chronic presence of his condition and the continuing, for him always surprising experience of his physical limitations increasingly wore him down.

The continuous intake of drugs and the accompanying side effects lead to an increasing loss of physical balance, which in turn was medicated with even more drugs (with side effects of their own). Even though he made fun of that essentially ridiculous loop with unbroken (gallows-) humor; the captivity in this vicious circle too exhausted a large amount of his strength.

Today, on February 10th, 1995, his strength is finally drained.

Written by Phil

May 16, 2011 at 22:46

Posted in Germany, Life

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