Category Archives: human rights

Ukrainian “suicides?”

Several days ago Ukraine Today reported the death of a former politician in the Yanukovych government which was overthrown in a coup last year. He was Oleksandr Peklushenko, the ex-head of a regional council in central Ukraine. Authorities are claiming he committed suicide – but he appears to be the 7th, 8th or 9th such Ukrainian opposition politician to “commit suicide” in the past month or so.

I can’t help wondering if the methods used to purge opposition figures in Ukraine have moved well beyond the well-reported process of throwing them into dumpsters.

dumpster

The head of the Chernovtsy municipal hospital for war veterans was “lustrated” in October. Dr. Manolya Migaychuk was accused of not fulfilling his responsibilities and was forced to resign, according to local media.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported  5 officials died in a suspicious way in a single 34-day period between January 28 and February 28 (see Suicide Or Homicide? In Ukraine, Old-Guard Officials Dying Mysteriously).

January 26 — Mykola Serhiyenko, the former first deputy chief of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, died in his Kyiv home after apparently shooting himself with a registered hunting rifle.

January 29 – Oleksiy Kolesnyk, the former head of the Kharkiv regional government, died after apparently hanging himself.

February 25 – The former mayor of the southeastern city of Melitopol, 57-year-old Serhiy Walter, reportedly hanged himself. . . Walter had been dismissed from his post in 2013 and put on trial for abuse of power and ties to organized crime.

February 26 – One day after Walter’s death, the body of the 47-year-old deputy chief of the Melitopol police, Oleksandr Bordyuh, was found in a garage. According to news reports, Bordyuh’s former boss was a lawyer involved in Walter’s trial. Media reported that the cause of Bordyuh’s death was ruled a “hypertensive crisis,” or stroke — a term that police frequently use in instances of suicide.”

February 28 – Mykhaylo Chechetov, the ex-deputy chairman of the Party of Regions faction in Ukraine’s parliament, died after jumping or falling out of the window of his 17th-story apartment. Chechetov was a former head of the State Property Fund. At the end of August 2014 another former head of the State Property Fund, Valentyna Valentina Semenyuk-Samsonenko was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, with a gun lying nearby. She led the agency from April 2005 to December 2008. Her family told reporters they dismissed the possibility of suicide, saying that she had spoken fearfully of someone taking out a contract on her life.”

In recent months, a number of other former and current officials were reported as having “committed suicide” in Ukraine – the former deputy head of “Ukrzaliznytsia”, Nicholai Sergienko, former head of Kharkov regional council, Nikolai Kolesnik, ex-mayor of Melitopol and former MP, Stanislav Melnik.

Who is responsible?

An epidemic of suicides by opposition politicians is of course possible – after all the regime in Kiev is hounding and jailing their old opponents and that must be stressful for the victims. But it is hardly credible.

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Perhaps we could just blindly line up with the current political “wisdom” and blame Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. After all, our news media seems to think “Putin did it!” is a sufficiently sophisticated explanation for all things ranging from the shooting down of commercial airliners to the recent Moscow assassination of Boris Nemtsov (a deputy prime minister in a previous government under Boris Yeltsin).

Or are our media at least intelligent enough to realise that would be asking too much of its readers?

It seems that our news media has instead decided just to keep quiet about this rash of “assassination/suicides” in Ukraine. Maybe they cannot see any political advantage in reporting them – unlike the Nemtsov assassination.

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A couple of “oldies” inject some sense into international politics

Politicking: Stephen Cohen on the Ukraine crisis and his ‘unpatriotic’ views

At last – something sensible from an American perspective on the Ukrainian crisis and the new cold war.

The trouble is – it’s a minority viewpoint and no-one in power seems to be listening.

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Social health policies, freedom of choice and responsibility

Social health policies inevitably raise the issue of the individual’s freedom of choice. While debates around these policies often concentrate on questions of fact, scientific consensus and reliability of evidence, these tend to be surrogates for the underlying values issues. To what extent should I sacrifice my freedom of choice, or my freedom of choice to decide for my children, for the good health of the community? And what if my freedom of choice violates the freedom of choice for others?

hall-offit-fullPaul Offit discussed these issues in a recent Point of Inquiry podcast – Paul Offit, MD, on Measles in the Magic Kingdom and the Anti-Vaccine Movement. He is a Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit is the author of the book Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.

He basically talks about the spread of measles throughout California and neighboring states because of a source of infection at Disneyland. Although measles were eliminated in the U.S. by 2000, the misinformation of the anti-vaccine movement has caused a return of a full-fledged outbreak.

Levels of responsibility and consequences

Paul makes the comparison of opposition to vaccination with opposition to blood transfusion.

1: Blood transfusions. A person my refuse to accept treatment involving blood transfusion because of their personal religious beliefs. More questionably they may refuse on behalf of their children. However, the consequences are limited to the person or her child. The decision does not harm the community at large.

2: Vaccinations. A person may refuse a measles vaccination for themselves or their children. But in this case the consequences are not personal – they affect the whole of society. By lowering the degree of immunisation in the community they threaten the lives of others – particularly the most vulnerable, children.

In these two cases the person has refused an intervention, a medical treatment or vaccination, which could be seen to violate their freedom of choice – or even to violate their body. In the first case the consequences are personal, limited to the person who made the wrong decision. But in the second case the consequences are social. An personal wrong decision has taken away the freedom of choice, the health and in some cases the lives, of others in society.

A bit like the personal decision to drive on the wrong side of the road. Society has taken away a small personal freedom of choice in our road rules to protect the lives of all of us.

3: Fluoridation. Social health policies like community fluoridation of water, salt, milk, etc., are recognised as being safe, beneficial and cost-effective. But they are opposed by a vocal minority. Activists will passionately promote the freedom of choice argument and, considering they don’t have the scientific evidence on their side this is often seen as their strongest argument. After all, it is values-based and therefore can’t be tested and rejected by evidence.

But, this third case is different to the other 2.

  • The act of fluoridation or not is social, taken by society as a whole or their representatives. An person may contribute to the decision but cannot decide the issue by a personal action as they can with vaccinations or blood transfusions. Although individual political action, or dissemination of information or misinformation, may influence that social decision – and hence the social consequences.
  • Fluoridation does not involve an intervention or treatment, medical or otherwise. No one is forced to drink fluoridated water or milk, or to consume fluoridated salt. The freedom of choice argument is invalid here because there are always alternatives.

Despite actively promoting the freedom of choice argument even the NZ anti-fluoride activist Fluoride Free NZ provides information on these atlernatives. They list alternative water sources, distillation, ion exchange filters and reverse osmosis. Most of these choices are cheap and available.

So what is driving anti-fluoridation propagandists?

Unlike opponents to blood transfusion they cannot argue freedom of choice to refuse an intervention on religious grounds. There is no intervention. The only personal imposition is that they may wish to buy a water filter (many already have these) or buy water from a different source.

Again, unlike opponents of vaccination they cannot argue freedom of choice to refuse an intervention even on grounds of personal belief – because there is no personal intervention.

Given the lack of any forced or personal intervention I am forced to conclude the freedom of choice issue that concerns the anti-fluoride activists is their freedom of choice to decide the oral health quality of other members of their community. And given the health and scientific expert consensus on the issue they are really arguing for their freedom of choice to decide the oral health of others on the grounds of their own minority personal beliefs or convictions.

In last year’s High Court judgement on the question of fluoridation in South Tarinaki, Justice Hansen wrote:

“Provided it does not have consequences for public health a person has the right to make even the poorest decisions in respect of their own health. But where the state, either directly or through local government, employs public health interventions, the right is not engaged. Were it otherwise, the individual’s right to refuse would become the individual’s right to decide outcomes for others. It would give any person a right of veto over public health measures which it is not only the right but often the responsibility of local authorities to deliver.”

The freedom of choice the anti-fluoride activists are promoting is their freedom of choice to decide health outcomes for others – not themselves.

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The information war – The NZ Listener takes up arms

First – have a look at this satirical programme from Germany. It has English captions but is worth watching a few times for the subtleties.

I have commented before about the information war going on around the Ukrainian conflict. It might seem like a distant issue here (and it usually doesn’t get much coverage). But I believe the biassed propaganda we are exposed to is dangerous because of its jingoism.

And this week the NZ Listener brought the conflict right into our living rooms with an editorial which uses the same innuendo and unconfirmed claims that feeds this jingoism (see Alarmed World).

Out of the blue in a piece seeming to be about Islamic State and the conflict in the Middle East we get this:

The West faces a similar test of its resolve in Ukraine, where attempts to deter Russian-backed aggression have been largely ineffectual. The world knows that Russia supports the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine, that it has troops on Ukrainian soil and that it probably supplied the missiles that brought down a Malaysian airliner. Yet the European Union’s sanctions against Russia have succeeded only in provoking economic counter-measures that have hurt European food producers, for whom Russia was a $19 billion export market, and threats to ban “unfriendly” airlines from Russian airspace.

The assertion the “world knows” has become a substitute for evidence! The world certainly knew when the USSR invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia, or the US invaded Iraq. We could see the evidence. Tanks surging across borders, planes bombing, troops on the ground. But nothing of that here (except the occasional soldier who claims to have lost his way – or fuzzy satellite photos of combine harvesters*).

[Yes, I know the presence in Ukraine of Russian and other voluntary (or even mercenary) fighters is well established – fighting on both sides. But that is not the same as invasion of a foreign army the media often claims.]

The “world knows” that Russia “probably” supplied missiles used to shoot down Malaysian airline MH17 – when the world knows nothing of the sort! At this stage this issue is wide open (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact) – but it seems our media thinks we don’t deserve anything better than unwarranted claims on such a serious matter.

That shows no respect for the victims of this tragedy.

As for the danger of this sort of biased reporting and media manipulation, and the jingoism it promotes, we can read the last paragraph in the Listener editorial.

“What has become painfully apparent, in both the Middle East and Ukraine, is that the democratic West is susceptible to paralysis and self-doubt when confronted with the forces of totalitarianism and autocracy. Perhaps it’s time to consider what the world’s fate might have been without the moral resolve exhibited by Churchill and Roosevelt in World War II.”

Isn’t this the sort of talk used to prepare a population for war?


UPDATE

* Of course I have taken poetic license here about these fuzzy photos. After all,  whether these were photos of artillary or combine harvesters is not evidence for or against an invasion. We know that both sides in Ukraine have plenty of artillery weapons and are using them. But for the pedantic, and those confused by my aside, here are some links to the combine harvester/artillery story:

Dave Lindorff writes about it in his article Satellite Images of Alleged Russian Artillery in Ukraine Come A-Cropper. He produced this photo below:

combines.preview

And commented:

“In the ongoing propaganda campaign mounted by the Obama administration to claim that Russia has “invaded” Ukraine from the east, it offered up some grainy black-and-white satellite images purporting to show heavy Russian military equipment inside Ukraine.

I earlier noted how unlikely it was that heavy mobile artillery pieces would be set up in a perfect line in what appeared to be a field of crops, with, as the government claimed, cannons aimed towards Ukrainian positions in toward the west. As I pointed out, there was no sign of piles of ammunition alongside these “units” as we routinely see in closeups of heavy mobile artillery — for example in photos of IDF pieces positioned outside of Gaza. I also noted the unlikelihood that such equipment would have been set up in an open field, unprotected by trees or other cover, and lined up to make for easy targeting by enemy artillery or air attack.

Now an alert reader from the agricultural state of Texas (Laredo, TX to be precise), has sent a note suggesting out that what the supposedly incriminating images most likely show are combines in a field of grain or some other crop planted in rows. He sent along photos showing harvesters, which of course feature a long, straight “cannon-like” tube which is used to shoot the harvested grain up and into an accompanying truck to be hauled off to market or to a storage silo.”

Here is a higher resolution of the satellite photo which, I understand, came from the US State Department:

artillery_2

(from European Union Court of Justice Imposes Anti-Rasmussen Rule – Sanctions Cannot Be Imposed by Reason of Fabrication, Lies, Dissimulation)

I wouldn’t pretend to draw any definite conclusions from these photos but I think Dave Lindorff  has a point:

“Now maybe the released satellite images do show Russian artillery, but given Washington’s extensive history of abject lying in the interest of promoting its war agenda (think Gulf of Tonkin, Iraq WMDs and mobile poison gas factories, Assad gas attacks in Damascus, etc.), it’s worth taking the claim with a “grain” of…well, in this case actual grain.”

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Some answers to the confusion about the #MH17 crash site

Given my comments yesterday (see Making political capital out of the deaths of innocents) I thought it worth sharing this video. It is of a press conference in Donetsk given by  Alexander Borodai, one of the leaders of the anti-Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine. Its about 30 minutes long, including the extensive Q&A. Video quality is not the best but there are English captions.

Personally I think it helps address some of the avalanche of  misinformation we are getting at the moment. And it is far more respectful to the innocent victims.

Alexander Borodai 19 Jul press conference about Malaysian #MH17 crash – YouTube.

Important Note: To activate subtitles, click on the (cc) button in the dashboard at the bottom of the video, then, in the Captions menu, select English or French.

Thanks to Sonya Roussina

Lugansk – a modern Guernica?

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With some of the images of death and destruction coming out of the conflict in eastern Ukraine Picasso’s work “Guernica” is starting to take on more meaning for me.

 

Inna Kukuruza – “her eyes spoke to the whole world”

Inna

Iconic photos are often associated with historic event, especially conflicts. The picture of the man stopping a Tank in Beijing during suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 is an obvious one.

For me the photo above will always be connected with Ukraine and the current conflict there. As one blogger put it, Inna Kukuruza’s “eyes spoke to the whole world.”

She was a civilian victim of the recent jet attack on the centre of Lugansk in Eastern Ukraine (see Lugansk war crime). Over the past few days I have watched (or tried to watch) videos of the attack and it’s aftermath. This has been extremely difficult because they are just so graphic. I decided not to include any videos here – although if you have a strong stomach the blog post Inna Kukuruza shall not be forgotten has a brief extract.

Alan Turing receives royal pardon

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Photo credit: The Telegraph

Here is the official press release on the Royal Pardon for Alan Turing.


Pardon for WW2 Code-breaker Turing

By Jamie Grierson, Press Association Home Affairs Correspondent

Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon for a 61-year-old conviction for homosexual activity. Dr Turing, who was pivotal in breaking the Enigma code, arguably shortening the Second World War by at least two years, was chemically castrated following his conviction in 1952.

His conviction for “gross indecency” led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) where he had continued to work following service at Bletchley Park during the war.

Dr Turing, who died aged 41 in 1954 and is often described as the father of modern computing, has been granted a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen following a request from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. “Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind,”

Mr Grayling said.

 “His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the Second World War where he was pivotal to breaking the Enigma code, helping to end the war and save thousands of lives.

“His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed.

“Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.”

Dr Turing died of cyanide poisoning and an inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained his death was accidental.

There has been a long campaign to clear the mathematician’s name, including a well-supported e- petition and private member’s bill, along with support from leading scientists such as Sir Stephen Hawking.

The pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy will come into effect today. The Justice Secretary has the power to ask the Queen to grant a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, for civilians convicted in England and Wales.

A pardon is only normally granted when the person is innocent of the offence and where a request has been made by someone with a vested interest such as a family member. But on this occasion a pardon has been issued without either requirement being met.

In September 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown apologised to Dr Turing for prosecuting him as a homosexual after a petition calling for such a move.

An e-petiton – titled “Grant a pardon to Alan Turing” – received 37,404 signatures when it closed in November last year. The request was declined by Lord McNally on the grounds that Dr Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence.


S. Barry Cooper, a University of Leeds mathematician who has written about Turing’s work, added the comments below:

This is a historic event, coming just before the 60th anniversary of Alan Turing’s passing in Manchester on June 7th, 1954. The historic injustice can never be undone, but it is wonderful that the Government has officially restored Turing’s reputation, and removed the distraction from his amazing scientific and personal achievements.

There are still thousands of others whose lives were changed forever by the law ‘as it was at the time’. No doubt, having shown that we can be generous and do what is necessary regarding Turing, the situation of others will get more consideration.

All thanks must go to the host of wonderful people who have prepared the ground over the years – one hesitates to mention any names, because there were so many, including subscribers to this list.

But, … many thanks to Andrew Hodges for his truly marvellous biography of Turing – there have been others, with their own special qualities (such as being shorter!), but Andrew’s is one of the all-time great biographies, and has done much to help us understand both man and his thinking.

Both UK Government petitions raised the issue of the conviction. The first, initiated by John Graham-Cummings, leading to the Gordon Brown ‘apology’, was a break-through in our thinking, and brought over 30,000 people into the campaign.

The William Jones petition mentioned by Chris Grayling showed you could do it twice! and get even more signatures, building on John’s initiative and the excitement and world-wide reach of the 2012 centenary celebrations.

And then Lord Sharkey, with his private members bill, and John Leech MP carrying the bill forward to the Commons – and a whole spectrum of MPs from different parties, and other famous figures lending their support.

And finally, Chris Grayling cutting through the formalities with such decisive effect, and with such nice timing.

On the broader front there was a coming together of many different communities. The gay community, mathematicians, computer scientists and scientists from many areas, artists, musicians, creative thinkers and artists of all kinds, many for very personal reasons, some on the autistic spectrum empowered by the iconic example of Turing’s history.

And the international dimension has been fantastic, moving, exciting, generous, and totally engrossing in its variety and interest. And our friends in the media have been great too … the list is a long one.

See also: Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing receives royal pardon

Cyber bullying of science

cyberbullyingI am always amazed at how easily public discussion about scientific issues can degenerate into childish and nasty attacks on science, and scientists. This is especially true for internet discussion – this medium really does seem to bring out the worst in some people.

Over the last few years we have seen climate science, and climate scientists treated this way. I have always tried to support that science, and those scientists, from afar and never thought I would become a victim of such nastiness myself.

Then I got involved in the fluoridation issue.

I am not critical of everyone who opposes fluoridation – some of my best friends oppose it. I can understand why some people will advocate personal freedom over social good. I can even understand the chemophobia and other misunderstanding which can make the less scientifically literate person a bit wary of fluoridation.

Anti-fluoridationists – a strange social mixture

But the anti-fluoridationists are a strange social mixture. Amongst the well-meaning environmentalists and health advocates there are some really irrational people. Conspiracy theorists are common. Some are concerned about chemtrails, others about Agenda 21 and attempts by the UN to control birth rates! Then there are the right-wing extremists, supporters of the US Tea Party Republicans, absolutely opposed to any community measure for social good.

The anti-fluoridation movement is a strange mixture of left and right, concerned greenies and outright libertarians. One wonders what would happen to these groups if the fluoride issue disappeared and internal strife broke out.

Unfortunately, it seems that quite often in the current controversy the more extreme conspiracy theorists and anti-science elements seem to be making the running. Speaking and acting for the more genuine members of the anti-fluoridation groups.

Internet bullying

I thought this only happened with teenage schoolgirls, or young female celebrities, but now find that even someone my age can become a victim. This video demonstrates the sort of attacks people who speak out about the science underpinning fluoridation can be exposed to. It really does put into context the decisions by local Health Boards not to participate in political meetings on fluoridation because of threats to, and attacks on, their staff.

VINNY EASTWOOD ATTACKS PRO FLUORIDE SCUM 23Sep2013 

In a way, this sort of bullying is a bit of a compliment. Perhaps I have done something right to have upset these anti-science extremists. But it is not about me. This sort of thing illustrates the sort of nasty hysterical anti-science propoganda out there on the internet. The worrying thing is that this guy actually does have a following (about 9500 subscribers to his YouTube channel). When I expressed ignorance of who he is one commenter told me that “everyone” in Australia and New Zealand has heard of him!

Yeah, right. But he is obviously popular with a certian group of people.

Image credit: uknowkids 

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
Fluoridate our water Facebook page
New Zealanders for fluoridation Facebook page

A sombre night in Boston

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Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) tweeted the above picture today from the International Space Station. As he wrote – “A somber Spring night in Boston.”

Boston Marathon bombings

I think it demonstrates the sort of high-tech world we now live in – high connectivity, immediate information transfer and amazing technology. We have astronauts in near earth orbit tweeting condolences and images in  response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon. But the bombs themselves probably also relied on the technology of cell phones for their detonation, even though they may have been relatively primitive devices themselves. On the other hand, authorities quickly closed down cell phone communication – maybe preventing further detonations. And they are investigating records of cell tower transmissions – hopefully this will give them leads enabling rapid arrest of the perpetrators.

Technology – it’s a mixed bag. It can be used for evil as well as good.

Empathise with victims of terror everywhere

The other thought this atrocity evokes in me is that our technology and culture seems to restrict our empathy to the “first world.” The world we see everyday on our TVs. Inevitably we wear cultural blinkers.

What happened in Boston today happens regularly in a number of “third world” countries, and we hardly hear about those events. Meetings, markets, churches, mosques and other places humans gather together are regularly bombed in a number of “third world” countries. Just in the last few days dozens of people were murdered in Iraq in this way. Wedding parties are bombed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sometimes these people are “collateral damage” –  victims of invading or intervening countries committing acts of war. More often they are people purposely targeted in terrorist acts committed for religious, ethnic or ideological reasons.

Whatever – innocent people around the world are regularly killed in such hateful attacks – and we hardly notice. So, while I react with an understandable grief and anger at the shocking waste of life and widespread injuries in Boston today, these feelings are tinged with guilt.

I felt the same way when I reacted to the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001. Even today, when I hear or read the term “9/11″ I inevitably think of another “9/11″ – the bloody coup which overthrew democracy in Chile on September 11, 1973. A coup which lead to the torture and murder of thousands of Chileans.

No, I am not critiquing people for this inevitable cultural blindness. I just wish the great technology we now have would do more to make us realise we are all in this together. That it would more quickly break down the cultural barriers which cause this blindness.

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