Monday, 24 June 2013

Is it only me....

...or is there anyone else who does not see Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon as heroes? I have nothing against whistleblowers, in fact I consider them a necessary control to ensure that power is not corrupted.

The three above mentioned I don't believe fall into the whistleblower category. I say that because their revelations will worsen our personal status and not enhance it. Real whistleblowers, like those that have uncovered the corruption in the UK NHS for example, have made revelations that do enhance our personal status with a probable resultant improvement in the National Health Service to all citizens of the UK.

How will Edward Snowdon's revelations help us? Well lets look at it. He has revealed that the United States spies on its friends as well as its enemies. OMG! What a surprise. Who would have thunk it? Surely we did not need Edward Snowdon to tell us this did we?

The NSA is spying on every citizen via the internet and telephone system. Okay. Well Google have been doing this for years and no one have given up their GMail account or turned to Bing in disgust. We seem to have accepted that Facebook is not as safe as we thought it was.

Lets consider what the NSA is actually doing. They certainly not listening into the conversation you had with your mother yesterday discussing the meal you will be cooking for Saturday night's guest. They certainly are not interested in you discussing last night with your girlfriend. There isn't some perv with an earpiece connected to your landline or cell line. Think about it. How many of us are there and how many of them are there?

No. They are using sophisticated computers to pick up points of threat. These might result in a closer listen into the perpetrators, but I can assure you a couple of hours of what you are cooking on Saturday and they will quickly lose interest. If you are not plotting an attack of some kind you can be fairly certain that the NSA will show no interest in you whatsoever.

Quite frankly I am more concerned that terrorist cells will now, thanks to these whistleblowers, be able to plan and plot in quiet seclusion. I don't see that as improving my personal situation.

It is interesting that all three of these men are facing legal, and I stress "legal", action. Poor Bradley Manning is in custody and will have to account for his actions, but he is lucky he does not live in Palestine where spies have been hanged without the sort of due process that he will be afforded. The other two have taken extraordinary lengths to evade facing the letter of the law. What are they afraid of?

So that is my point of view. All of these men could have taken legal measures to deal with their concerns. The route they have taken will not make an iota of difference to spies. The very nature of their profession is that they are secretive and operate on the fringes of the law. They might be embarrassed, but I doubt if they are bowed. I certainly hope they are not. I sleep a lot better at night knowing that they are working to keep me safe.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The (Mostly) Sleeping Dogs of Athens

I was reading the business section of The National a few days ago and I was drawn to an article about the Greek economic situation. It was not so much the depressing depression which caught my eye, but the accompanying photo. The photo was of a journalist, with camera in hand, photographing a stray dog sleeping on a pavement in Athens. The inference was that with austerity had come an increase in the stray dog situation.

Those of you who have been to Athens will know that Athens and its pavements are no strangers to dogs. I was there six years ago and was taken with the numbers of dogs (and cats) wandering around the streets of the city. I took several photographs of these dogs and cats some of which I will share with you here.

The dogs that I thus captured looked in no way to be starving strays. In fact just the opposite seemed to be the truth. They looked decidedly well fed and cared for. Many of them had collars with tags displaying telephone numbers. I imagined their owners letting them out in the mornings to roam the streets and upon the owners return from work their faithful companions would be on the doorstep to welcome them home. In between the dogs are free to look for entertainment on the streets of the city.

The cats I assume are feral, but they too seemed well fed and I guess that they find sustenance from the concerned citizens. I am not sure whether the street dog numbers have increased due to the recession and whether they are now skinny and unkempt. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been to Athens recently whether this is now the case. I would be very sad if it were so.

Here are a few of the pictures I snapped during my holiday in 2007.

This fellow seems to have chosen his spot very wisely.

This cat was spotted in the grounds of the Acropolis

Good ol' anywhere

Not all catnappers are of the canine persuasion

Probably the stall owner's dog

Yes, anywhere will do thank you

Hmmmmm. Where shall I lunch today?

Having a lookout makes for a peaceful sleep

Outside one of Athen's posh 5 star hotels can't be a bad choice

This fellow had decided to make his bed on an island on one of Athen's busiest streets. How he got there and whether he got back safely is a mystery. Check the worry in the pedestrian's eye.

Another owner's dog?

Shame. Poor skinny stray.

Life is a bore

This kitty was checking me out while I was enjoying a meal at a pavement cafe.

 Lazy companions

Ancient monuments are nice and shady.

Shade is where you find it.

Bikers dogs?

 This little guy had a bed.

They were everywhere

I had to check that this one was still alive

These guys were guarding the site of the original modern Olympics.

It seems that guarding is left to the cats. Dogs too sleepy to be of use.

Steps are good.

I am sure tourists are good for a snack.

Well I hope you enjoyed these photos. If you are able to cast any light on whether there are more dogs on the streets of Athens these days and what sort of condition they are in I would appreciate it if you could leave a comment. Thanks.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A Weird Thought

I am often prone to weird thoughts so having one is not so momentous and anyway most of them just need to stay weird and not wend their way to the written form. You might well say the same about this one. Anyway in order to provide context for this weird thought a little background is required.

I worked with a guy, Brian, whose partner, Jan was, for want of a better description, a clairvoyant. Now I do not normally embrace these sort of things, but she had impeccable references. She was used by the SA Police to find the bodies of missing murder victims. She was a faith healer and had a consultation and treatment room decorated with portraits of her many "guides".

The thing that did it for me though was one Sunday when my wife and I had discussed the possibility of moving from Durban North to Westville to be closer to my office in Pinetown and cut down on my commute. We had never discussed this before, but resolved to go and suss out show houses the following weekend.

That evening I got a call from Brian. He was very apologetic for disturbing us on a Sunday evening, but said that Jan was taking a bath and had called him to contact us urgently and tell us under no circumstances to contemplate moving to Westville.

To say that I was shocked is an understatement. How could she have known? Was our house bugged? Needless to say we shelved that idea immediately and I continued to make the long commute to Pinetown.

Now to set the scene that spawned the weird thought. Last night after supper I took a walk along the Corniche. The weather at the moment in Abu Dhabi as we edge into spring is superb. The days are pleasantly warm and the evenings as pleasantly cool.

I was walking along the boardwalk watching the locals in their traditional dress, the expats in their... er.... uh... um... clobber. Little kids were running around playing with balls. Bigger kids rollerblading. The evening was the epitome of balmy.

I was feeling really calm and at ease in this place so far from home and suddenly the memory of the first time I met Jan popped into my head. It was at a Barbecue over 20 years ago. I remember that we were still on our first drinks when I noticed Jan staring at me. Who could blame her. *insert smiley face here* Then she quietly asked me if the name Ahmed meant anything to me? I replied that it didn't and asked why. She replied that he was my guide. He was standing next to me and had been with me a very, very long time. She said that I was an "old soul".

I must confess that I thought she was a little weird and did not give much credence to what she had told me. I find the concept of a guide who stands beside me over many lifetimes a difficult concept to comprehend. I feel very sorry for someone who has to live through so many boring lifetimes.

It was while in my reverie last night that the thought of having a guide called Ahmed could mean that I may have started my journey here in this area many thousands of years ago and having done so could explain why I have so easily come to live here in the desert.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

I am a tad confused

I am an atheist and must confess that I have not taken much interest in religious matters most of my life other than from a political point of view. For the last few days, and I expect in the days to come, it has been impossible to avoid the subject of religion and in particularly the Catholic brand.

What is confusing me is the questioning of the choice of the new Pope. He is too old they say. He is too conservative they say. He is anti gay marriage they say and so on and on. I am struggling to come to terms with all of this.

Although the Pope is elected by a conclave of Cardinals is not their vote led by the hand of God and thereby the choice of the Cardinals is the choice of God? If so how can their choice be questioned from any perspective. Surely any criticism of this choice is a denial of the Pope being God's choice and infallible etc, etc?

I also cannot understand the disappointment in the appointment of a conservative. How can a Pope go against God's will? Is not the concept of Gay marriage a secular one? The last time I looked there has been no revelation to the faithful to change the teaching of the bible. Could a pronouncement by the Pope that the teachings of the Church since time immemorial have been wrong and that change is now required be considered a revelation by God himself?

If God were to make such a revelation through the Pope what does that say about the other religions such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism et al. Would such a revelation be for Catholics only or for all Personkind?

One commentator on Sky News this morning said that the Church had not kept up with modern trends and it would be good if the new Pope could could, in a manner of speaking, get with the program. Again my question is why?

The president of Argentina wished the new Pope well and said that she hoped he would support more just causes. I am guessing her "just causes" are again secular concepts and a veiled dismissal of religious concepts.

The reason that there are so many religious factions is that the Word has been deciphered by men. It is quite easy to say that when God said .... he really meant ...., but surely it can't be right? And if such interpretations are led by the hand of God which ones are God given and which ones are political?

I am sure that by now you appreciate my dilemma. To just ask all the questions would take more space than the internet provides and you probably fell asleep two paragraphs ago, but to try and boil it down into one simple question it would be; Is the Pope chosen by the hand of God and if so is it right to question that choice?

I will be the first to applaud a Pope who was to adopt more modern, secularist concepts, but I am not holding my breath.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Ric Hangs Up His Cape

I love Facebook. I love the fact that I remain in contact with friends and family despite living so far away from them all. I love making new friends from all over the world that share my interests and open the door for me to new ideas.

I also love the access to information provided by Facebook by way of friends sharing stuff they come across or stuff directly from special interest pages. I also love the fun stuff that people share and yes, I admit it, I love the cats.

But it isn't all fun and cats on Facebook. Sometimes friends share stuff, in good faith, that isn't always the truth. A lot of this stuff is really interesting and it makes me want to share it forward. Being the cynic I am  though I try to check out the veracity of the stuff I share and am amazed by the amount of stuff being shared,  apparently from impeccable sources, that are actually blatant lies.

Now most of the time the lies being circulated are harmless like the list of sayings and their origins from ages past or heartwarming stories of old people or life affirming stories of lessons from nameless teachers. It might be a load of cods wallop, but they don't really affect anyone in a negative way.

Unfortunately there is the dark side of the open internet where information purportedly from respected medical institutions is passed off as real or photos of kids in hospital looking for "likes" in exchange for health. Medical misinformation can lead to dangerous outcomes and even death. Photos of sick kids used without permission for nefarious purposes is an insult to the families and can cause great discomfort to them.

Then there is the middle of the road stuff. Like and share this photo of a clover and you will receive good luck. Pretty harmless raising of people's hopes, but nasty nevertheless.

I saw an opportunity to be the Friendly Super Hero and let people know that the stuff they were sharing was lies. I would post a comment on their share to that effect and even politely put in a link to the source of my information in the hopes that they would realise the possible harm their information was doing and make use of the offered source in the future to check out stuff before they shared it in the future.

Well occasionally I get a thank you. Now and then I get a "mind your own bloody business". And always they continue to share the lies. I guess they think they are doing good and that I am just a painfull do gooder.

Yes I get it. I am not The Caped Crusader. I am the Major Pain In The Ass. Accordingly, and to the great relief of many I am sure, I am hanging up my cape. But remember this. Just because I don't point out the lies and you can't be bothered to verify the information, they are still lies.

Friday, 1 March 2013

It must be true - I read it on the internet

Yesterday's edition of The National had a very interesting editorial. They pointed out that life expectancy for males from the time of the hunter gatherer right up until the early 1900s was only 30. Over this many millennium life expectancy remained constant. Life expectancy for a male today is 72. Why the big change in such a comparatively short time? I think you know the answer.

On the same day one of my friends posted a picture of a rather old looking Chinese man. On the photo was the following message. "Li Ching-Yuen (1677-1933). 256 Years Old. The historical record shatters the myth that humans, with the aid of vaccines and modern medicine, are indeed living longer." 

Underneath the picture is the story that this man lived for 256 years, sired 200 descendants during his lifetime and survived 23 wives.  He lived on herbs, rice wine and a variety of berries and other healthy stuff such as ginseng. The veracity of this story is enhanced by a reference to Wikipedia.

My guess is that most people reading this won't bother to click on the Wikipedia link, but will just hit the share button rather as it is easier. Those that do bother to click on the link would see that the article is disputed by the editors of Wikipedia with good reason given for their scepticism.

Now I understand that there is a massive movement to a more healthy lifestyle to try and overcome the health risks of obesity and other diseases, but the willingness of people to circulate poorly researched information and sometimes downright lies in the name of healthy living is astounding.

This week someone posted on Facebook that John Hopkins Hospital had rethought their advice on Cancer and were now suggesting the dumping of chemotherapy for a healthy diet and fitness regime. A one minute check with would have revealed this to be a total lie.

John Hopkins have nothing to do with this scam, but their name is being used to give credence to the nonsense being suggested. Seeing the John Hopkins name also makes it easy for Facebookers to hit that share button. After all John Hopkins is a respected medical institution and if this is what they are saying it must be true.

I consider people who willy nilly pass on advice to eschew modern medicine, vaccination etc. for a healthy lifestyle without checking and establishing its veracity to be dangerous. I agree that a healthy lifestyle in concert with modern medicine will result in us having a better chance of longevity. A healthy lifestyle to the exclusion of modern medicine will result in the possibility of early death and a return to a life expectancy of our hunter gatherer ancestors.

Many diseases are not a result of poor eating or lack of exercise, but genetic predisposition. Just look at the number of healthy athletes who die young despite their optimum lifestyle. Look at the number of fatties who smoke and drink and live to their nineties despite their overindulgence.

Please help me here. Am I missing something?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Medical Marketing

I read a very interesting story in today's edition of The National highlighting the swing by the medical fraternity from fat as being the major culprit for heart disease to carbohydrates, especially sugar. So how come has the fat theory been king for so long.

Well, according to the article, fat was the victim of 'Medical Marketing'. What does this mean. Well they cite the example of Ancel Keys a researcher at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s. Prof. Keys punted the idea that saturated fats and cholesterol were responsible for heart disease. So strong were his beliefs that he used very powerful means to promote his ideas. A quote from the article;

For several decades Prof Keys used a potent mix of hand-picked data, denigration of critics and sheer force of personality to persuade official bodies in the US to promote carbs over fat in dietary advice

So strong was the spell woven by Prof Keys and his followers that repeated failure of large clinical studies to back their claims made little difference.

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Although it has been difficult for the Sugar lobby to make its point they are now being listened to and the medical fraternity is beginning to sway towards sugar and away from fat. Now I don't want to get onto the conspiracy theory bandwagon. I am sure that Prof. Keys was motivated by a sense of duty to promote a theory he believed in.

What I do want to discuss is whether this concept of Medical Marketing is occurring today. The internet is a source of much punting of alternative health options. Many of these theorists have little scientific backing, but use strong marketing tactics.

The Alternative Medicine industry love their conspiracy theories and crush any argument against their claims with unproven accusations of conspiracy between government, the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession. The problem is that they can cite many successes for their treatments.

What worries me is that many dread diseases can spontaneously enter periods of remission. I worry that people who are ill will forgo life saving medical treatment for the promise of a 'natural' cure. I am not an expert in this sort of thing. I would like some of these alternates to be true. It would be wonderful to think that we could cure illnesses without having to dip into our medical aid, or need medical aid at all.

What I do believe in is using natural health products to support and improve the efficacy of prescribed medications. I am not yet ready to chuck out my prescribed medications or my natural supplements just yet. What do you think?

Just as an aside. I am so confused by reading that sugar is bad, sugar is good; reading that fat is bad, fat is good; reading that cranberries are bad, cranberries are good that I don't know what to give up so I have decided to give up reading.