Saturday, December 31, 2005

Where freedom is another word for a whole lot left to lose

The last great commune's unhappy new year

Chris Turner
The Globe and Mail
Saturday, December 31, 2005

"The Clown Army has been on the march only since the summer of 2005, but already the state it protects is in imminent peril - Christiania, a 34-hectare, 35-year-old experiment in communal life, the self-governing freetown in the heart of Denmark's capital.

Grease-painted and red-nosed, in jumpsuits of the same vivid reds and yellows as Christiania's flag, the Clown Army has repeatedly taken to the streets of Copenhagen with horns blaring and drums a-tapping in symbolic defence of its homeland, especially in protest against the frequent police raids.

But despite its best efforts, it becomes an army-in-exile at midnight tonight - because, officially today was the final day of the freetown. On Jan 1, the roughly 900 members of the collective, the neighbourhood's fundamental organizing entity, become individuals under a Danish law passed in 2004.

"Its our whole life and our whole way of living they want to attack," says Peter Plett, who has lived in the freetown since its founding. Christiania might be the last gasp of 1960s-style idealism, or it might be the final unincorporated corner of consumerist West - or both - but it is, at any rate, the last stand of a certain kind of freedom. Its passing would not be incidental.

The new law is one of a host of ways that Denmark's centre-right coalition government has deviated sharply from the orderly social democracy that has characterized Scandinavian politics for the past 50 years. Since it swept to power on a wave of anti-immigration sentiment after Sept. 11, 2001, the regime has moved issues of nationalism and the rule of law to the centre of Danish politics, and the room of oddities like Christiania has shrunk dramatically.

"They will kill the idea of Christiania," says Mr. Plett, who serves in a negociating group meeting with the government to discuss the implimentation of the new law.

Bulldozers may not arrive at dawn to demolish the couple of dozen homes that have been ruled illegal - Christianites have a year to come into compliance.

But there is a sense that something irreplaceble soon will be lost. The phrase "anarchist commune" - evoking ramshackle crash pads and short-lived country encampments - can't account for the elaborate, enduring structure and broad scope of the Christiania experiment.

Here, a short walk from the heart of one of Europe's most obsessively orderly capitals, lies a sprawling warren of funky loft apartments and eclectic, handmade showpiece homes, but no private property. A functioning urban neighbourhood that - but for the most basic of services like water and power - regulates everything from its commerce to its recycling via public meetings, citizens' committees, and direct democracy. A truly communal, all-but-lawless, free city.

Was it inevitable, then, that the order it so openly challenged would eventually demand the last word on its fate?"

Friday, December 30, 2005

On medical news, is the reporting healthy?

"The vast majority of the public gets its knowledge about health and medical matters not from health professionals, but from newspapers, radio, television and the Internet. Even physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other experts look to the news media for the latest developments and controversies that could be of concern to patients.

There is a belief -- backed up not by scientific evidence but by anecdote -- that media reports are highly influential on consumer behaviour.

When there are breathless stories about new "miracle" drugs, such as with the breast cancer drugs Herceptin, patients clamour to get them quickly. And when there are damning reports, such as the risks of heart disease and breast cancer posed by hormone replacement therapy, sales can plummet.

Given this power, this potential to affect the bottom line of big pharmaceutical companies and, more important, the health of many consumers, the media have a responsibility to produce fair, balanced and informed health stories.

But do they?"

Read more in the Globe and Mail.

My Moment of Zen...

Years ago my search for meaning ended with the frightening yet liberating conclusion that all efforts of the Human to find meaning in the universe will ultimately fail because no such meaning exists. The Human has therefore the freedom and responsibility to give his life a meaning which is harmonious with his being, other beings and nature.

I found this meaning in posthumanism, an ethical philosophy which affirms the dignity and worth of all persons, based on our ability to determine what is right using the qualities innate to personhood, particularly rationality and compassion. This form of posthumanism, however, should not to be confused with transhumanism, an ideology of technology I adopted much later.

During this search, one question kept puzzling me: Since knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God is impossible and irrelevant to human welfare, why does the Human have a visceral need to believe in a higher power?

Beyond blaming it on a catastrophic failure in critical thinking or the mental conditioning that comes with being raised and living in a particular family and society, I found one answer in biotheology, a protoscience which explains the evolutionary and neuro-psychological origins of the spiritual impulse. According to biotheologians, the Human animal may be 'hardwired' to seek solace in mysticism to cope with existential angst.

Now that I am a transhumanist, a new question puzzles me that he is also being asked and actually researched by Dr. James Hughes: As neurologists identify the parts of the brain implicated in so-called spiritual experiences, what will be the effect on religion once divine awe, ecstatic bliss, meditative absorption, compassion, and renunciative detachment are all available in a pill or with the flick of a switch?

Becoming a World Citizen

"" I am a citizen, not of Athens, or Greece, but of the world. "- Socrates (5th Century B.C.)

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) is an international peace organization with branches in 50 countries. Initiated in 1975, AWC has NGO status with the UN's Department of Public Information (DPI), and Consultative Status with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The goal is working with people, progressive governments, and international institutions to create a Global Village of lasting peace, social and economic justice, and the foundation for a new civilization based on respect for life and the environment. The key to achieve this goal is for people to think and act as responsible Citizens of the World.

World Citizenship is not a replacement for national citizenship, but rather a new responsibility in this interdependent world to work together across national boundaries to secure our common fate.

AWC is working with people, progressive governments, and international institutions to help create a democratic world community with global governance capable of maintaining lasting peace and justice through international law. The key to achieve this goal is for people to think and act as responsible Citizens of the World.

"The age of nations is past, the task before us now, if we are to survive is to shake off our ancient prejudices, and build the earth."- Teilhard de Chardin"

What do Cyborg Democrats believe?

"Democracy is a human invention and a political "technology" which historically is still very young and whose power and potential has neither been fully understood nor realized.

As a human invention, it is imperfect and will always be but it also can be improved, just as a car or computer or, using a better analogy, a software programme, can be upgraded.

Politics is like the "Operating System" of society and to remain free and prosperous, it is to our advantage (in addition to being our civic duty) to constantly improve democracy as the least worst of all possible political "Operating Systems".

Because of globalization and the need to agree on basic common rules of civilized conduct in our global community, we would be remiss if we did not explore the possibilities of using the political technology of democracy to solve global problems."

The Twilight of Atheism?

From Publishers' Weekly Review:

"Oxford University's Alister McGrath has distinguished himself not just as an historical theologian, but as a generous and witty writer who brings life to topics that would turn to dust in others' hands. Here he explores the history of atheism in Western culture, observing that atheism seems to be succumbing to the very fate - irrelevance and dissolution - that atheists once predicted would overtake traditional religion. How did atheism ("a principled and informed decision to reject belief in God") become so rare by the turn of the 21st century? McGrath leaves no stone unturned, nor any important source unconsulted, in tracing atheism's rise and fall. Beyond the usual suspects of Marx, Freud and Darwin, McGrath surveys literature (George Eliot, Algernon Swinburne), science (Jacques Monod, Richard Dawkins) and philosophy (Ludwig Feuerbach, Michel Foucault), managing to make such intellectual heavy lifting look effortless. As a lapsed atheist himself, McGrath is a sympathetic interpreter, but he also relentlessly documents what he contends are the philosophical inconsistency and moral failures of atheism, especially when it has acquired political power. Yet believers will find no warrant here for complacency, as McGrath shows how religion's "failures of imagination" and complicity with oppression often fostered the very environment in which atheism could thrive. Indeed, he warns, "Believers need to realize that, strange as it may seem, it is they who will have the greatest impact on atheism's future." Readable and memorable, this is intellectual history at its best."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Hughes on Code 46

From Wikipedia: "The film Code 46's retro-futurist depiction of the necessity to enforce laws against "genetic incest" is sometimes cited by bioconservatives as another reason why reprogenetics is a bad idea. However, bioethicist James Hughes argues that such laws are 1) not only an infringement on the reproductive rights of citizens but 2) they have no rationale in public health (which should not be confused with procreative beneficence), and only make sense as a moral panic-induced reaction to the idea of possible "incest" among clones of a brother and sister, or other combination coupling."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Europa Rising?

From Foreign Policy's The Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2005:

"The French and the Dutch both rejected the European Union (EU) constitution this year. Back to the drawing board for Europe, right? Wrong. Brussels isn't letting pesky voters get in the way of European integration. Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament who is skeptical of the promises of integration, has identified 12 significant parts of the constitution that are being implemented despite the French and Dutch results—including the establishment of the European Defense Agency, a European Space Programme, and an EU diplomatic corps. European Commission spokesman Mikolaj Dowgielewicz says charging ahead isn't a problem because "these are not the things why people voted against—or in favor—of the constitution. People did not vote against the constitution in France and the Netherlands, or in favor in Spain, because of the Space Agency." Europeans should have seen this coming when, in June—after the votes were counted—EU President Jean-Claude Juncker said, "I really believe neither the French nor the Dutch rejected the constitutional treaty." Maybe he missed the stories about the "no" votes, too?"

Playing it Seif

From Foreign Policy's The Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2004:

"When Libya gave up nuclear weapons in late 2003, some pundits claimed that the U.S.-led war in Iraq changed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's mind, while others hailed the breakthrough as a product of patient "carrot and stick" diplomacy. But in 2004 it became clear that another Qaddafi might be calling the shots: Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar’s second son. The 32-year-old actively lobbied his father to end Libya's standoff with the West, give up weapons of mass destruction, and open the country’s economy. "They both want to keep the country in the family, and Seif wants Libya to be a normal country—no more funding terrorism, developing nuclear weapons, or being isolated economically," says John Pike, director of In March 2004, Seif publicly chastised Arab governments for badmouthing the Bush administration's Greater Middle East Initiative to promote democracy, saying "instead of shouting and criticizing the American initiative, you have to bring democracy to your countries." He also said Libyan Jews who were persecuted decades ago are entitled to compensation and urged them to return to Libya; his father later echoed the proposal. Seif insists that he is not preparing to take over the reins from his father, but he has clearly carved out a significant role. In March 2004, he told reporters that British Prime Minister Tony Blair would soon visit Libya; only later did London confirm. He conducted the negotiations over weapons of mass destruction with British and U.S. intelligence, and he arranged to have members of the U.S. Congress visit Libya in January 2004."

Now what I found to be the most interesting idea this man came up with is being called the Seif Islam Qaddafi proposal, a proposal to create peace for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, which he made at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

Its main points are:

  1. The creation of a binational Jewish-Arab state called the "Federal Republic of the Holy Land."
  2. The state would be composed of 5 administrative regions, with Jerusalem as a city-state.
  3. The return of all Palestinian refugees to vote on the proposal.

Hughes on Gattaca

From Wikipedia: "The film Gattaca's retro-futurist depiction of genetic discrimination is now widely cited by bioconservatives as one of the convincing proofs that liberal eugenics is a dangerous idea. However, bioethicist James Hughes argues that 1) astronaut-training programs are entirely justified in attempting to screen out people with heart problems for safety reasons; 2) people are already discriminated against by insurance companies on the basis of their propensities to disease despite the fact that genetic enhancement is not yet available; and 3) rather than banning genetic testing or genetic enhancement, society should ensure the privacy of genetic information, and strictly control when genetic information can be used to make decisions in education and employment."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Age of Information Overload?

"Books are being scanned to make them searchable on the Internet. Television broadcasts are being recorded and archived for online posterity. Radio shows, too, are getting their digital conversion -- to podcasts.

With a few keystrokes, we'll soon be able to tap much of the world's knowledge. And we'll do it from nearly anywhere -- already, newer iPods can carry all your music, digital photos and such TV classics as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" along with more contemporary prime-time fare.

Will all this instantly accessible information make us much smarter, or simply more stressed? When can we break to think, absorb and ponder all this data?

"People are already struggling and feeling like they need to keep up with the variety of information sources they already have," said David Greenfield, a psychologist who wrote "Virtual Addiction." "There are upper limits to how much we can manage."

It may take better technology to cope with the problems better technology creates.

Of course, if used properly, the new resources have vast potential to shape how we live, study and think."
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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Join the Christmas Resistance Movement!

"You know holiday shopping is offensive and wasteful. You know Christmas "wish lists" and "gift exchanges" degrade the concept of giving. You know Christmas marketing is a scam, benefiting manufacturers, stores, and huge corporations, while driving individuals into debt. You know this annual consumer frenzy wreaks havoc on the environment, filling landfills with useless packaging and discarded gifts.

Yet, every year, you cave in and go shopping.
The relentless onslaught of advertising exerts constant pressure. So do the unified bleatings of herds of shoppers, who call you "Scrooge" if you fail to enthusiastically join their ritual orgy of consumption. Friends and family needle you with gift requests, store windows beckon with shiny colorful packages, the same "classic" holiday jingles are piped constantly through every speaker in town.

How can you resist?

Join the Christmas Resistance Movement!

The growing CHRISTMAS RESISTANCE MOVEMENT is joined in solidarity against the Shopping Season. For every 100 automatons who call you "Scrooge," there's a sparkly-eyed CHRISTMAS RESISTOR who supports YOU in NOT BUYING INTO THE HOLIDAY HYSTERIA.

Together, we boycott Christmas Shopping, Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, and every variety of Christmas Crap. We refuse to support the Holiday Industry. We show our love for friends and family by giving our time and care, not by purchasing consumer goods. We maintain the integrity of giving by giving spontaneously and from our hearts, rather than during a specified season.

You are not alone. Together, we can RESIST CHRISTMAS!"