“These are the times…”

As Brexit Britain and Trumpian America seem hell-bent on descent into bigoted, hate-mongering, ignorance-fuelled darkness, not for the first time I find myself turning to dear, old Tom Paine.

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

This has never meant the simple analogy of military service, but the standing up for the values that your nation and society is meant to represent. It can be a march like the million of women we saw protesting in cities in the US and around the world last weekend (sorry, Piers, I know that offends your pathetically inadequate masculinity, you poor wee ball-less thing) or something as simple as standing up against targeting ethnic and religious groups and saying no, you’re not treating my fellow citizens that way, it’s unfair, it’s illegal and morally wrong.

Also I suspect Tom would have given Trump a kick in the arse if he’d met him…

The sad story of Marius

Today the Copenhagen Zoo has put a healthy young animal to death – Marius, a young giraffe, was found to be genetically surplus to requirements. The zoo allows the breeding then decides if they have sufficient of one particular genetic strain of animal then they can simply get rid of the others to ‘manage the population’. Manage the population. By which they mean exterminating healthy animals. Healthy animals which they encouraged into being through captive breeding programmes then discarded as if they were broken toys. Domestic pet owners are castigated – rightly – if they do not have their animals neutered unless they have specific plans to breed them and to take care of the offspring. This is to ensure fewer abandoned animals left to suffer unwanted (sadly something that is on the rise). And yet in zoos all over Europe they breed species then decide they have sufficient and destroy some of the perfectly healthy offspring. If a domestic pet owner was doing this they would be named and shamed, in zoos it is “managing the population.”

They say they had to cull the animal before it reached breeding age and would want to reproduce. So why not neuter the animal as we do with domestic creatures? Oh, that would interfere with the animal’s ‘natural’ life cycle. Hold on, he’s captive in a bloody zoo! There is nothing natural about that life cycle. Neither is there anything natural about putting a bolt gun to this animal’s head and killing him, you hypocritical, amoral, self-serving bastards. On their page they explain why they have to ‘euthanise’ Marius and again we are into self-serving excuses and outright lies – this is not euthanasia, that’s a last gasp procedure used on animals with terminal illnesses or in great pain which can’t be alleviated, as an act of mercy to end suffering. When it involves a perfectly healthy animal it is not euthanasia, it is slaughter, plain and simple. Stop hiding behind weasel terms, you unethical tossers and stop pretending this is all done ‘for the best’

Marius was offered not one but two different homes in wildlife parks in Yorkshire and in the Netherlands, both of which Copenhagen Zoo turned down as ‘unsuitable’ and declaring it was in the animal’s best interests to be put to death. That just proves the unethical and uncaring stance of those running the zoo, which tries to present itself to the public as a caring place taking care of animals. Well, here’s their real face. It’s not just them, this happens in zoos across Europe, just a year or two ago Edinburgh Zoo got into a PR storm when it emerged they were doing similar with healthy animals they had bred then decided to discard. Unsurprisingly it caused them a lot of problems with many on social media pledging not to ever take their families there to visit again until the policy was halted (many keepers too were upset about it, they look after animals, putting healthy ones to death isn’t what they signed up for). Copenhagen Zoo is apparently one of Denmark’s top attractions – I wonder if a lot of folk will refuse to visit after these vile actions? Earlier in the weekend the director of the zoo said he didn’t understand why there had been such an international outcry at the zoo’s plans. I would submit if he doesn’t understand why this has outraged so many people then he is not a suitable person to be in charge of the welfare of animals and should resign his position.

Killing the innocents

I am utterly disgusted to read that Edinburgh Zoo, famed internationally for its work in the conservation of endangered species, actually practises killing perfectly healthy animals that are ‘surplus to requirement’. After happily tooting their own trumpet at the breeding success of their Red River Hogs the other year it was decided after more piglets were born that the first pair were surplus to requirement and “were humanely euthanised”. Which is a polite way of saying the zoo – an organisation meant to look after creatures – killed two animals who were perfectly healthy. Killing a healthy animal in this manner can in no way be considered ‘humane’. Vile and cowardly and hypocritical, perhaps, but not humane.

They have tried to excuse this despicable action on a directive from a larger European organisation, but they can’t hide the fact that they, a zoo, have quite willingly taken the lives of healthy, defenceless animals. This is a vile action and there is no justification for it that can disguise the zoo’s dreadful actions; it makes their stance on the conservation and good treatment of animals laughable and those who made this decision into utter hypocrites. Consider what these vile people have done if you are ever tempted to spend your hard-earned money on a trip to Edinburgh Zoo. And if you have been recently perhaps you should wonder which of the wonderful animals you marvelled at may someday find themselves also surplus to requirements…

Sinning

According to Vatican research men and women sin in different ways – for men Lust is the biggest temptation of the Seven Deadly Sins. Well, wow, imagine that – men are obsessed with shagging! Hold the front pages for that shocker. Said findings come based on research on confessions by a 85 year old Jesuit – I’m sure an ancient celibate can tell us all about sexual matters, which is why we should all take advice on sex and related manners such as family planning from the Catholic Church. Oh, hold on, I meant to say, cobblers to all of that. Fortunately I do not commit any sins whatsoever. Not, I hasten to add, because I am a paragon of virtue but because, thankfully, I am free of the superstitious shackles of fairy tale religions and so the concept doesn’t apply to me. Ladies, apparently, are more likely to give in to the sin of Pride than lust, which, like the nonsense statistics which say men commit more adultery than women, begs the question if this is accurate then who are the men committing lustful affairs with? Or is it more likely that the women simply don’t want to admit to being a bit naughty?

Easter pic

Saint John’s church at the corner of Princes Street in Edinburgh, below the Castle, has appeared on here a number of times over the years because of the always interesting painting which the minister and some artists often put up on a board by the side of the church; often they comment on current events and morality and I always find it heartening to see them so prominently displayed so everyone travelling along Princes Street sees them. I was in town with Mel this afternoon when I noticed this one they had created for Easter; given the news today about the ceremony for the lighting of the Olympic torch it became doubly appropriate.

In case you missed it, as the head of the Beijing Olympic committee rose to make his speech at the traditional lighting of the Olympic torch before it is carried through various nations before going to China some pro-Tibet protestors got through the security. Sadly the television cameras rapidly panned away from the scene until they had been removed, which I consider to be utterly shameful, craven and cowardly. If China doesn’t like it, cobblers to them, but don’t censor such a broadcast to the rest of the world you spineless cretins. Further protests took part along the route as the first runner carried the torch, with local Greeks apparently being somewhat surprised and bemused by cries of Free Tibet, which strikes me as rather odd – considering Greece was under the dictatorial rule of the Ottoman Turks for centuries, fighting for its freedom you’d think the Greeks would have been applauding the pro-Tibetan supporters.

Personally I hope the progress of the torch around the globe continues to attract these kinds of protests – I’m tired of people making excuses about keeping politics out of this and how it detracts from the Games and from the symbol of the international spirit of co-operation and peace the torch symbolises. Let’s be honest, the minute it was decided it was okay to host the Games in a country with an appalling human rights record, a country which keeps down another culture by force, which restricts its own citizens, stifles freedom of speech (often with the help of major web companies, to their shame) and even harvests the organs of executed criminals (and in a state like China do you want to bet all those executed were vicious criminals or just people they wanted rid of?). A country who, when their leader visited London complained to the Prime Minister that people were ‘allowed’ to protest his country’s policies in public on his route in. Bollocks to them. Humiliate and embarrass the totalitarian sods at every single public venue while the world’s media eye is focussed on them. They wanted the Games for international recognition, they have to take the flipside of that which is increased visibility of the shortcomings of their country’s vicious policies too.

And if any Olympians are still whining about it all detracting from the games then to hell with them – human rights are more important than some numpty in shorts running round a track and rather than attacking demonstrators they should perhaps be questioning their own morality in taking part in games held in such a land.

Hypocritical bastard

George Bush asked in a BBC interview if America still held the moral high ground after scandals of violated civil liberties, civilian deaths, tortures and Abu Ghraib: “Absolutely. We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition. We believe in freedom.” This from a man who is trying to veto a bill from the US Senate (how very democratic of him) which makes the use of water boarding illegal for the purposes of interrogation. In other words he is trying to make the use of torture legal. How this fits in with his previous statement is beyond me. How this retarded monkey can say things like this then apparently believe he is on the side of Good is beyond me. And just how so many fucking idiots can go along with it, vote for it and support it is utterly beyond me.

The fact that the Senate had to even pass a law declaring this process illegal to begin with speaks volumes – most civilised countries would consider such torture utterly illegal to begin with and not need to pass extra laws. This is how the self proclaimed good guys fight the good fight. No wonder the world is such a bloody mess. Neitzche’s cautionary passages on fighting monsters and becoming a monster in the process was obviously not on the reading curriculum for Bush or his supporters. Although since the brain-dead numpty seems to have difficulties with the fairly simple task of putting words together for coherent speech it shouldn’t be a surprise that he isn’t well educated or well read.

Evil bastards


Japan is unhappy with Australia. Why? Because of pictures released showing the hideous slaughter their whaling fleet inflicts on harmless animals for ‘scientific research’ – said research seems to consist of proving that shooting a large mammal with an explosive harpoon causes a long, slow, lingering, painful death and that you can cook the bits later for food (although actually there is some research which says they can hardly give whale meat away in Japan, so why they pursue this slaughter is beyond all comprehension and one is left to think those responsible are just evil bastards). One set of images taken clearly shows the swines killing a mother and a calf then dragging their carcasses up into their mobile concentration camp ships.

These pictures didn’t come from Greenpeace, they came from observers in a team of Australian customs officers.

It is explicitly clear from these images that this is indiscriminate killing of whales, where you have a whale and its calf killed in this way… And to claim that this is in any way scientific is to continue the charade that has surrounded this issue from day one…” Peter Garrett, Australian environment minister.

Japan’s state-supported Institute for Cetacean Research (where they research whales by killing them slowly and chopping up their carcasses like some sea-going Jack the Rippers) has claimed that releasing these pictures “created a dangerous emotional propaganda that could cause serious damage to the relationship between our two countries.” Well no argument on the first part – it does create emotions but I can’t help but think they are more worried about being seen by the entire world committing these atrocious acts than anything else. They were caught out slaughtering a mother and calf on camera. There’s no excuse for that. And to then try and blame Australia for showing what these bastards were more than happy to do when they thought no-one would notice is just plain cowardice. Then again, this is a country that still likes to pretend they didn’t engage in systematic torture, rape, murder and even using humans as guinea pigs for chemical warfare experiments during the Second World War. Maybe Japan needs to have evidence shoved in its nose and be made to see what the hell it has done.

I’ve got a great idea for some maritime ‘scientific research’ – let’s see scientifically what happens when we fire torpedoes into a whaling ship…

All at sea

I came to this story by Johan Hari of the Independent via Boing Boing – Hari joined a regular cruise organised by the ultra right wing National Review in the US, a cruise ship full of rich, white, right wing Americans. I have no problem with the fact that people hold different views from what I would consider reasonable (not to mention humane and moral), but these people are off the scale for willful ignorance, arrogance, bigotry, stupidity and an ability to tune out real events in a manner that would make even Fox News blush in shame.

If they lived in their own little warped world that would be fine, but cry for the world because these are the sorts of shagwits who have urged on the foreign policies of the current US administration and if anyone disagrees they are obviously communist-liberal-muslim-sand-nazis out to destroy The American Way Of Life (TAWOL), which obviously for them includes freedom of expression as long as you express nothing but agreement with them. Warning, reading this article may make you very angry and demand the public disembowelling of Rush Limbaugh.

Christian bigots

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (well, he’d be hard pushed to be a Calvinist minister with a name like that, really, wouldn’t he?), head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales is demanding that legislation which makes it illegal to discriminate against gays is not applied to church organisations, a law which makes it a crime for people like the narrow minded B&B owner who refused to give a double room to a gay couple to do so again, just as it is illegal for businesses, organisations or public services to discriminate against people on grounds of colour, ethnicity or religion. In fact new laws are going alongside this to ensure equality protection for Catholics, ironically, while the head Catholic demands the right for the church organisations to be exempted and practise bigotry. Specifically he is threatening to close down the successful Catholic-run adoption service if the law goes through without an exemption because they will not want to give a child to a gay couple to adopt.

There are two huge things wrong with this request. First of all, the minute we start making exemptions for one law like this for one religious cult (and all organised religions are by definition cults, be they tiny fringe groups or huge ones like the RC church) then we open the floodgates for a slew of religious groups and others to demand they are allowed to pick and choose what they want to follow, which is useless. This is one of the reasons we base law on reason today and not on religious dogma, as most civilised countries do. The second is simple and plain bigotry – I don’t care how much the Cardinal and his chums say it isn’t, it bloody well is, they are bigoted bastards and that’s it. If an ultra protestant or Muslim adoption agency refused to let Catholic couples adopt the Cardinal would (rightly) kick up a stink. And the fact he is prepared to shut down the agencies rather than comply with the law, in other words to put his prejudices ahead of the kids needing new homes shows that his argument that they are principally interested in the welfare of the children is utter hypocrisy. Imagine a man in charge of an organisation run entirely by men who dress in what looks like dresses and have a reputation for interfering with choir boys being worried about placing kids with gay couples, what a nerve…

The SF Future and moral dilemmas

Yvonne over on Nemeton had a thought-provoking post on a recent scientific endeavour which is working on changing science fiction into actual science: teleportation. As she points out they realised something SF writers and readers have known for a long time – with a teleport or transporter you don’t actually break the person down into energy and beam them to another location, what you actually do is create a copy of them at the receiving station. So in essence you have a clone, which may not seem like a big deal to the person involved if, say, the other version of them was created at a receiving station on another world and they will never come in contact with them. But what if that copy beams to another location and another copy is made? And if you want to stick with the idea of only one person what do you do with the original? If that original is destroyed would it be murder? This may sound like an esoteric moral argument but consider that the same problems arise if you are talking about a copy of a person created by cloning technology, which is a science we are progressing on rather faster.

It did get me thinking about other moral dilemmas that come about through new technology in science fiction. For example, Richard Morgan’s powerful debut Altered Carbon (and its sequels) has a technology called memory stacks, whereby people have the essence of their memory and personality backed-up, meaning that in the event of death you can be transferred into a new body. Richard also spins further on this having a disparity between the rich and poor, with rich people not only having a stack but one which backs-up via satellite every few hours in case someone blows their head off and destroys their stack (true death) and also keep a bank of specially cloned bodies in a secure location ready to be downloaded into, almost like putting on a new Armani suit.

Richard has organised religions almost extinct in this future because they hold that you cannot copy the soul, so a stack if a diabolical invention and believers should shun it. So they die off after a normal lifespan and that’s it for them, while most other folk may also wonder at this point to but decide on a more pragmatic approach, e.g. they would rather have the chance to keep on living, so have a stack and try to get re-sleeved. The main character, Kovacs, is also sent to other worlds by needle cast, which basically transmits your stack to another world to be downloaded into a new sleeve there (it is illegal to have another copy in another sleeve at the same time), muddying the waters even more as to how original is that person? Are they still them? Or are they just a digital copy? What if your brain is implanted into a totally different, alien body as in Paul Chadwick’s Concrete? Is it live or is it Memorex as they used to say…

Which brings you to AI – assuming you could create true Artificial Intelligence, would you treat it as ‘alive’? That is to say, would you accord it the same respect, rights and privileges of any human being? Or would you treat it as merely a clever box of tricks? Leaving aside how the AI may think about all of this for a moment, how humans would react to AI and treat it would probably say more about human’s morality than anything else. Would you deny it rights and therefore essentially treat an intelligent being as a device to be used – essentially a slave? Sounds silly? Well, it’s not been unknown for people, even in the last couple of centuries, to argue that it was alright so enslave a group, say Africans, because they didn’t count as fully human therefore there was no moral ambiguity for even a good God-fearing Christian in holding slaves. This is an area that has been covered by a lot of SF – Star Trek the Next Generation did it well several times and Asimov’s I, Robot is an obvious key text – and while we may be a long way from having to face such a moral problem for real it is still a fascinating intellectual exercise – to say nothing of how it relates to how humans perceive other humans, let alone artificial beings. And we haven’t even touched on aliens yet of course!

Of course you can combine AI tech with copies of human minds by having human’s downloaded into a computer, which is quite common in SF dealing with the Singularity (where IT gets to a level where AI comes to pass, everything accelerates at an incredible rate and you end up with a post-human civilisation – see Charlie Stross’ Accelerando for example). If a person decides to have their memory and consciousness uploaded into a computer then would it still count as being them? We’re always saying how it is what’s inside that counts, would we stick by that maxim? Or would we just use a mind-in-a-box as a particularly clever computer to serve our needs? Ken MacLeod had a tale a few years ago where one character uses the uploaded mind of another person almost as her PDA – against the wishes of the mind, who would very much like to get out of this servitude and be uploaded into a new body again, please.

It’s all fiction – for the moment – but it does get the old brain thinking, doesn’t it? Assuming of course that we are all real, we are all conscious and we do all ‘think’ and aren’t just subroutines of some vast digital intelligence…