Just a Little Common Sense

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Archive for May 2010

Stop the Executions! An Open Letter From Iranian Mothers

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COLOGNE, Germany. A group of Iranian mothers aims to spread the message of Daye Saltaneh – the mother of Farzad Kamangar, who was executed by the Islamic regime two weeks ago. The group plans to protest in front of the state parliament, asking the government to support their cause.

The Mother of Farzad

Daye Saltaneh, mother of one of the executed prisoners.

Dear fellow freedom-loving citizens!

More than two weeks have passed since the executions of the political prisoners Farzad Kamangar, Shirin Alam Huli, Ali Heidarian, Mehdi Eslamian and Farhad Wakili Rad. Executions of complete arbitrariness, without even informing the prisoners families or lawyers beforehand. Executions on charges that were, according to the families’ lawyers, absurd and untrue. Farzad Karmangar, a teacher and journalist, was the nineteenth Karmangar family member to be executed by the Islamic regime of Iran.

In Frankfurt/Main Farzads family conducted a memorial celebration in honour of the five executed prisoners. During the event, a letter from Farzads mother was read, mirroring the suffering of a woman who has just lost her child. The tears and the silence of the audience honoured Daye Saltaneh whose wish it is that other mothers are spared the same fate; who thinks of other prisoners who are about to be executed, and who appeals to us to stand up and fight for the release of those in captivity. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Phil

May 28, 2010 at 16:18

Friday Fun Fact #3

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By strict botanical definition, strawberries aren’t fruit.

What is commonly called the “seeds” of the strawberry are the actual fruit (achene), while the flesh is derived from some adjacent tissue rather than the ovary.

Written by Phil

May 28, 2010 at 10:07

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The Church is Losing Members at Record Pace

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(via hpd.de)

ITALY. The italian Union of Rational Atheists & Agnostics (UAAR) is reporting that the online form for church-membership termination has been downloaded from their website 5500 times in April alone, compared to an average of 3500 the previous month. This number should be seen as a minimum of actual membership-terminations, since the form can be multiplied and also be obtained elsewhere.

AUSTRIA. In the archdiocese Vienna 14.158 people left the catholic church between January 1st and May 20th 2010. The number exceeds the churches worst expectations.

GERMANY. In Munich, capital of Germany’s most conservative and catholic state, the numbers of people leaving the church have tripled in comparison to the year before. This is remarkable because the local law doesn’t make leaving the church an easy business; writing a letter won’t do. To leave the church, a munich resident has to show up at the office in person and pay a ‘processing fee’ of 30€ (roughly 50 USD). Despite this chicanery, 1909 people left the church in march, 1614 in april. The numbers of january and february are 616 and 684 respectively, which is reoughly the same as the year before.

It seems that the churches handling of the abuse scandal is taking its toll.

Written by Phil

May 22, 2010 at 21:20

Synthetic Life!

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Mycoplasma Mycoides cells with artificial DNA

Mycoplasma Mycoides cells with artificial DNA

I know I’m a day late with the story, but as a recompensation I will give you a nice vid from the press conference where J. Craig Venter recaps the whole process and talks about some of the potentials and implications.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about: Craig Venters Company Synthetic Genomics has finally succeeded in ‘booting up’ an entirely synthetic genome within a living cell. As he puts it, they “started with four bottles of chemicals” – then they put together a DNA-molecule the size of 1.100.000 base pairs, which is a huge achievement in and of itself. Todays machines aren’t able to create pieces that large, so they created lots and lots of tiny pieces and spliced them together. It’s a complicated process becuase it does not tolerate even the tiniest of errors. But they did it. They then managed to implant the artificial DNA in a bacterial cell (the process of wich is another breakthrough), and now that cell is alive. It’s the first cell that has a computer for a parent. I’ll leave it at that and hand the mic over to the man himself.

If that was too technical, Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Phil

May 21, 2010 at 20:02

Friday Fun Fact #2

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Second episode of random, mindboggling numbers.

If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 3rd largest by population, ahead of the United States and only behind China and India. (via socialnomics.net)

Also: Social networking has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the net.

Written by Phil

May 21, 2010 at 19:10

About ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad Day’

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Afghan depiction of Muhammad, 1436

Afghan depiction of Muhammad, 1436

I’m all for free speech, but I think Draw Muhammad Day is a silly idea. I think so because all it does is to play into the hands of hate-mongerers on both sides. My problem here is not that it does antagonize, but that it doesn’t do anything but antagonize.The one thing that criticism of Islam always has to be careful about is not to be hijacked by xenophobes. It is too easy to get pushed into the ‘ignorant-racist-redneck-corner’, and once in there, it’s hard to get out. Criticism of Islam needs to distinguish itself from islamophobic propaganda and racist hate-mongering. We are not Islamophobes, we are rational people standing up for our rights and against censorship.
Draw Muhammad Day is sending out all the wrong signals. What it really does is to play into the hands of the more moronic fractions on both sides. On the Muslim side we will have extremists using this to demonize us in the eyes of new recruits: ‘Those westerners, look at how hatefull they are and how they lack the slightest respect!’ On our side, we will have the racists using it for the same thing: ‘Oh, look at those evil freedom-hating muslims: they already shut down Facebook to censor a few cartoons, I wonder when they will burn the next embassy?’ Both these groups will welcome Draw Muhammad Day. It is oil to their fires. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Phil

May 19, 2010 at 18:36

Abuse in Catholic Organizations is a Deep-Rooted Structural Problem

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The abusive nun

"Never Again!"

The media generally limits itself to refer to the whole business as ‘abuse’, and while that’s technically correct, there is a need to clarify this very abstract term. So what, exactly are we talking about when we speak of ‘abuse’ in catholic organizations? It’s not just molestation, which is what most people think of in this context, if they do permit themselves to think about it at all.
What the victims had to go through is far from being limited to sexual abuse. There are people all over the world who are now finally finding the strength to unveil the horrors of their childhoods in christian care homes, and the stories emerging are simply shocking. They were kept in solitary confinement for days on end, drugged, raped, deprived of sleep and of food, used as forced labour, beaten, humiliated, and even forced to eat their own vomit.
Take a second to let that sink in, take a second to imagine. Once we’ve established an understanding of the situation, we can move on to discuss the causes. Read the rest of this entry »

A Humanist Manifesto

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I just browsed through Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great, intending to look something up for a discussion I’ve recently had with a friend. A paragraph from the first chapter cought my eye, and once again I wasn’t able to put the book down until over an hour later. I really admire Hitchens’ command of the english language; there are few writers so effortlessly eloquent.
There is only one thing to criticize: His misleading use of the word ‘atheist’. Theism is usually defined as the belief in a single God as personal, present and active in the governance and organization of the world and the universe. All that is necessary in order to qualify as an atheist, is not to believe in that. Even if one defines atheism as the positive doctrine that there is no god (there is some controversy about wether atheism describes a lack of belief in existence, or the assertion of the nonexistence of god), the values that Hitchens names are absolutely optional. Atheism is one belief, not a belief system. That is also why ‘atheism’ is written with a lower-case ‘a’, while ‘Theism’ is written with a capital ‘T’. What Hitchens laudates here are essentially the values of Secular Humanism, and are far beyond simple non-belief. Anyhow, it is a beautiful and moving piece of writing, so enjoy: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Phil

May 18, 2010 at 21:15

The Good Old Days

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Aaaaah yes, the 80s… To be honest, I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. At the time that they feel so nostalgic for I was about 5 years old. I love this music, but dammit, I’m just born 20 years too late, and on the wrong continent. I never really considered myself part of what’s left of the newschool hardcore-scene, either. While I love the music and the attitude, I never much liked the clothes and I disagree wholehartedly on the political part. I don’t care much for anarchy, and while I can to some degree identify with the ideals of the Straight Edge sub-scene, most Edgers are way to full of themselves and too elitist for my liking.
But still, I just love the music. Gorilla Biscuits, Dead Kennedys, Have Heart, Comeback Kid, Sick Of It All, Black Flag, Dritte Wahl, Chain Of Strength, Raised Fist, Minor Threat – My life would be so much less without them. H2O are great, too. And “What Happened?” is one of my favourite songs, even though I obviously do not share their nostalgia.

Anyhow. Watching this, I just cannot help but wonder – Are they aware of the irony that there is in hiring a professional filmcrew to produce a well-made, high-end videoclip (including computer generated graphic effects!) to go with a song that is pure nostalgia for the good old days in which Hardcore bands like them had no money?

Written by Phil

May 18, 2010 at 02:46

Aim For The Sky

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via TED.com

In this clip from 1972, Viktor Frankl elaborates on reasons to be idealistic. Quoting Goethe, he says “If we take man as he is, we’ll make him worse. But if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he is capable of being.” I love this clip because it so perfectly mirrors my own attitude. I am not unrealistic in my utopianism. I know how little the odds are that we actually get there. But still, nothing less than Utopia is the goal we should set ourselves. Not because we are delusional and arrogantly overestimating our own capabilities, but to set a deliberately exaggerated goal as a motivation in order to achieve the best possible result. If you want to reach the treetops, aim for the sky.

Written by Phil

May 17, 2010 at 15:44

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