Broken Thoughts of Dr Andreos J. Picaros

Blogs are Sick and Wrong. I know. I have given in to my worst atavistic instincts. I am a pretentious, arrogant and egotistical man. But better I vent my opinions into the dark void of the internet than I force them on the people around me. This way you get the choice to ignore me. Though what I say here might not be true, or even my real opinion. It's more of a place to explore ideas. A sounding-board, a sandbox for the intellect.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Golden Rule

There is one moral code that features in almost every major religion. It has been espoused by philosophers, writers, scholars and thinkers over thousands of years. It is known as the ethic of reciprocity, or the Golden Rule. In a Channel 4 programme some time ago, when asked which principle should be added to the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule received more votes than all the other suggestions put together.

What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not to others

-- Confucius

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow

-- Hillel (Jewish leader)

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

-- Jesus

One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality

-- Hindu text

Wish not for others what you wish not for yourselves

-- Bahá'í text

Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors

-- Seneca

What stirs your anger when done to you by others, that do not do to others

-- Socrates

May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me

-- Plato

We should bear ourselves toward others as we would desire they should bear themselves toward us

-- Aristotle

Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you

-- Muhammad

I will act towards others exactly as I would act towards myself

-- Buddha

Here endeth today's lesson.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reading in politics: an identity crisis

Politics can screw with your mind. If I read the works of Dr Hunter S. Thompson, I find in myself a vicious cynic. If I read the newspapers, I become a sceptical realist. And if I watch 'The West Wing' I am suddenly a rabid idealist. Which of these is my true nature? Perhaps these characteristics aren't mutually exclusive. Perhaps I am none of them, but something else entirely.

Danny: Sit down man, find your neutral space. You have done something to your brain. You have made it high. If I lay 10 mills of diazipan on you, you will do something else to your brain, you will make it low. Why trust one drug rather than the other? That's politics ain't it.

Marwood: I'm going to eat some sugar.

-- Withnail and I, by Bruce Robinson

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Notes on the Global Political Economy (Rehash)

I felt like I ought to post something, so here are some reflections on free trade that I noted down a while back.

'Concerning the impact of rich country protectionism on the developing world, it has been estimated that such policies cost developing countries $1,000 billion a year. Protectionism and unfair trade practices hit precisely those sectors where poor countries have the greatest potential to reap gains from trade. For example, farmers in the European Union receive $16,000 per annum in subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Moreover, protectionism OECD countries also has a detrimental effect on the host country. For example, it has been estimated that American protectionist policies cost consumers in the United States around $32 billion annually.'

-- Global Political Economy: Evolution and Dynamics by Robert O'Brien and Marc Williams

Western nations such as the US and UK fight for free trade and economic (neo)liberalism at the IMF and WTO, not to mention the ongoing(ish) Doha round of trade negotiations. Yet the only things they will not liberalise are the only things that developing nations can do better than we can (eg. agriculture and textiles). We are for free trade, just as long as it works in our (short term) favour. This is not a level playing field if we won't allow others to compete. It is the very antithesis of those same (economically) liberal ideals. This mercantilist hypocrisy harms not only the developing world, but also our own citizens ($32 billion!!!).

Is it possible that the problem with the Washington Consensus, the neoliberal agenda, and economic globalisation itself is not that it has gone too far, but that it hasn't gone far enough? Is it possible that if developed nations committed to their professed ideals and accepted that there will be short term losses (ie. our farmers have a hard time; programming jobs go to India) the end result would, as free traders have always argued, be better for everyone? It's not as if those losses haven't already been offset by phenomenal gains elsewhere (see Ricardo and the theory of comparative advantage). Perhaps it's not that free trade in the global marketplace doesn't work, so much as that it hasn't actually been tried yet.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Case of Scott Panetti

Scott Panetti has been on death row in Texas for 11 years now. Convicted in 1995 for murdering his parents-in-law, Mr Panetti is demonstrably mentally ill - he was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1986.

Panetti was nonetheless declared fit to stand trial. He rejected the use of a lawyer and chose to represent himself. He appeared in court dressed as a cowboy. The following is an extract from his testimony:

Fall. Sonja, Joe, Amanda, kitchen. Joe bayonet, not attacking. Sarge not afraid, not threatened. Sarge not angry, not mad. Sarge, boom, boom. Sarge, boom, boom, boom. Sarge, boom, boom.

Sarge is gone. No more Sarge. Sonja and Birdie. Birdie and Sonja. Joe, Amanda lying kitchen, here, there, blood. No, leave. Scott, remember exactly what Scott did. Shot the lock walked in the kitchen. Sonja, where’s Birdie? Sonja here. Joe, bayonet, door, Amanda. Boom, boom, boom, blood.

Demons. Ha, ha, ha, ha, oh, Lord, oh, you.

-- Source: Amnesty International AMR 51/011/2004

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Atkins v Virginia (2002) that executing the mentally ill is unconstitutional, and should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Nevertheless, Scott Panetti remains on death row.

If you believe that this man should not be executed, I urge you to lobby the appropriate authorities to spare his life. Yes, it is interfering in the affairs of another country. I see no problem in peacefully doing so in order to save a life. Even if you don't oppose the death penalty, this is an extraordinary case. Few supporters of capital punishment would see it as acceptable to allow the penalty to include the mentally ill.

The easiest way is to write a letter. I know it doesn't sound like much. But it isn't just one letter - there are thousands being sent about this case and every single one increases pressure on the authorities.

The Honourable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
State Capitol
PO Box 12428
TX 78711

Postage to the USA is 50p.
You can also email Governor Perry here.

His Excellency Mr Robert Holmes Tuttle
American Embassy
24 Grosvenor Square

More information:

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

A 'Prosperous and Great Country'

Today's Sunday Times is extremely depressing. One theme seems to dominate - suffice to say that people are butchering each other in various ways, everywhere.

I came across a very interesting article about the underground railroad from North Korea to China. Various private individuals are helping people flee the regime of Kim Jong-il. If any of these refugees are returned to North Korea, they face penalties ranging from beatings to torture and death.

North Korea’s politically determined classification system restricts nearly all aspects of education, labor, and health care. Membership in the Workers’ Party, which is imperative to an individual’s professional success, is restricted to people whose political background fits certain criteria. Although all North Korean children are required to attend school for eleven years, it is generally children of the elite who are allowed to advance to college and hold prominent occupations. Access to medical care is also strictly based on the classification system, as hospitals admit and treat patients depending on their social background.

-- Human Rights Watch report on North Korea

According to the Sunday Times article, North Korean border guards have been known to feed wire under a prisoner's collarbone in order to move them as if on a leash. One woman tells of how, when she gave birth in a prison cell, she was made to kill her own child.

The Chinese authorities return any refugees, claiming that they are merely illegal immigrants. These wordgames allow China to evade her obligations to international conventions on refugees, which forbid their return.

The authorities in North Korea are known to run gulags for political prisoners. There is no freedom of speech, expression or religion. Forced labour, forced abortions, torture. Elections with 100% turnout and 100% approval of the status quo. Then, of course, there's famine.

To some extent, these issues are not up for debate - few would argue that the dictatorship in this 'democratic republic' is anything other than another vile blot on the history of our time.

The underground railroad shows that the situation is not hopeless. To those men and women who risk their lives operating this latter-day Schindler's ark, we currently offer only platitudes. Certainly the diplomacy is difficult. Chinese ambiguity on the issue is one of the problems. But difficult is not the same as impossible. Brutal, repressive regimes like Kim Jong-il's do not last forever.

We owe it to those individuals standing up for humanity and their consciences in helping fugitives escape (as well as those suffering in North Korea, of course), to make yet greater efforts to free the population from the despotic, lunatic, depraved, degraded, barbaric and murderous grip of Kim Jong-il and those who collaborate with him. I'll admit that I'm not sure how it should be done. But one thing I do know is that restricting imports of iPods won't change anything.

The title of this post quotes the state motto of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

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