Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Public debate on circumcision of boys

Is it culture or abuse? Come listen to me and join in.

"When slavery was a custom,every right minded person supported it. Nothing is as powerful a legitimizer as social custom,even more powerful than law.

I believe the time has come to acknowledge that the practice of routine neonatal circumcision rests on the absurd premise that the only mammal in creation born in a condition that requires immediate surgical correction is the human male. If the penile foreskin is not merely non functional but a biological disadvantage so severe as to justify its immediate surgical ablation, then surely, it must have atrophied by now."

[Thomas Szasz]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Male genital mutilation

Female genitalmutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."

It is ironic and scary that religious and ritually motivated mutilation of genitals on young baby boys is only called circumcision. And in Norway, we are in full seriousness debating if the state is to do and pay for male genital mutilation - in the year of 2011.

Male genital mutilation removes the ridged band at the end of the foreskin on the penis. One can debate how many corpuscles (a kind of nerve ending that is concentrated in areas of greatest sensitivity) the ridged band has, or if it has sexually sensitive and plays a role in normal sexual function, etc. While these questions might always be debated even by science, it will surely also be individual differences that we can't measure. The only important points here are that we don't know what we remove, but we know there is no immediate medical reason to do it. This operation is irreversible and it also adds potential post operation complications.

No actions, especially the controversial ones, can build its support only on tradition. As a matter of fact, the longer ago it was started the more we should question if the reasons for it is well founded or rational.

The argument that ignorant or bad parents will do it illegally anyway has no merit as it then should also apply to all other bad traditions we have gotten rid of. Do some still hit or harm their children? Yes, but it is not accepted in our society now because we created that change. Children are treated better today and more abuse is being stopped because we don't accept the argument that we should allow something just because we expect someone might break the law.

One of very many perspectives here is this: Type IV of FMG includes the traditional practice of pricking the clitoral hood or clitoris of a baby girl to get a drop of blood. While it isn't close to physically cutting of foreskin on a baby boy, you hear no politicians or religious leaders publicly advocating for pricking being legalized or paid for by the state. All agree that all forms of FMG should be illegal. I claim the reason for this double standard is ignorance and/or misplaced tolerance.

Most of us agree that the very harmful and more known forms of FMG are absolutely terrible and we can't have any tolerance for it today. Still we are seriously, in this modern society, asked to tolerate genital mutilation of baby boys, for absolutely no medical reason, because it is a very old tradition.

I vote for the little baby boy. What he decides to do with himself and his body when he turns 18 is none of my business, but until he is of an age where he is capable of making adult decisions, adults have an obligation to protect him. First and foremost that is supposed to be his parents, but when they fail, it is the responsibility of society to put the human child before any human traditions.

As none of us accept any type of female genital mutilation today (irreversible or not), so do I predict none will accept male genital mutilation in the near future.  

When history one day looks back, how do you want to be judged?

Pet owner: -What would you say if I wanted to get my dog circumcised?
Vet (after a silence): -I'd have to report you to the ASPCA for cruelty.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

I think, therefore I am

The principle of 'free will' is that you are free to make any decision. Examples:

  1. You are free to jump off a bridge.
  2. You are free to believe in God.
  3. You are free to go to the right instead of the left.

With 1 you are physically free, there is no thing or person holding you back. Why do you or don't you? Probably there are immediate instincts weighing in, telling you what you should do (e.g. fright). Maybe it is really high or the water below very cold. You decide not to jump because you can imagine possible consequences based on what you know.

With 2 you argue pro and cons in your head. There are a lot of emotional triggers connected to experiences from your childhood on to adulthood. And there are consequences of going either way - personally and socially - and not all are conscious. You weight these against each other and you select what sounds and feels most likely to you. With a mix of hope, maybe.

With 3 you are at this crossroad. There is an ice-cream parlor to the right and the office to the left. You know what you should do and you definitely know what you want to do. Your brain goes through the consequences and it challenges your values and principles. Based on a long life of learning you pretty much know all the pros and cons the two options have. You choose to go to work and you agree with your choice because you have the experience you know and understand the reasoning process behind it. At the same time the other option was fully possible, But all your considerations have causes even if we aren't smart enough to dissect them all.

The fact that you feel the process of processing all alternatives does not mean you are in a situation to handle the options equally. And as long as they aren't equal they aren't free. You land on your preference. This does not mean everything predestined, it means that everything has a logical cause.

Our choices feel free because we end up selecting what we agree is best. It makes most sense there and then so we do it. But you can't choose to jump off a bridge into your possible death if you aren't suicidal or have that lust for excitement. You can't choose to love the image of a god you find crazy and evil, just like you can't choose to like the taste of poop. And you did choose to go to work because of emotions and logical reasons. With a different brain or other experiences you might have chosen differently.

Free will would have to be a 'device' in your mind with the power to override your ability to reason and knowledge and experience. What is good with that? Wouldn't that just be a meaningless randomize function?

I'd much rather base my actions and choices in life on my ability to think and all my knowledge and experience, than on an ability to randomly make choices unbound by the same. I think, therefore I am.

"What we call chaos is just patterns we haven't recognized. What we call random is just patterns we cant decipher. What we can't understand we call nonsense. What we can't read we call gibberish. There is no free will. There are no variables. There is only the inevitable.”
[Chuck Palahniuk]

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Silly ideas

The whole idea of monarchy is silly.

Some believe it makes good representation for Norway when its representatives (read royal family) travel the world. I doubt that is the whole truth. I am embarrassed that we send someone who is born into such a position to represent us. And I am everything but impressed if a nation send an individual with an inherited position to represent them. To believe our democratically elected representatives treat them with anything more than an obliged politeness is silly. The whole thing is beyond rational and I am not proud to be a part of it.

We live in a democratic state, monarchy represent a very different time and is the opposite of democracy. The majority may very well elect the current king or crown prince to represent us, but it should be based on a democratic and regularly repeated process.

That the current representatives of the Norwegian royal family are good and nice people might very well be true, I have no personal grievance against any of them. For all I know they are all better and smarter than me, but even if so then we are only lucky and nothing more. We should by 2011 be in a position to expect that whatever we do is based on elementary democratic principals and we should strive to live by such elementary principles. No matter if we currently like the monarchs or not.

"The thoughts of man, in order to be of any real worth, must be free. Under the influence of fear the brain is paralyzed, and instead of bravely solving a problem for itself, tremblingly adopts the solution of another. As long as a majority of men will cringe to the very earth before some petty prince or king, what must be the infinite abjectness of their little souls in the presence of their supposed creator and God? Under such circumstances, what can their thoughts be worth?"
[Robert G. Ingersoll, "The Gods", 1872]

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Time travel

When I was younger, and maybe a little attractive, I got myself mixed up in love. It didn’t work out and it has since only haunted and hurt me – why would I want that again?

It might sound stupid for people who mistake infatuation with love. But to me love never fades, infatuation does. If you haven’t been there I don’t believe you can understand what I mean. I know many who say their love shifts, they drop one and turn to the next. Good for them. That’s not how I am assembled.

Living is surviving, you figure out a way to go on the best you can. I’ve been lucky to do have been allowed to do so in a nice and safe place. But it doesn’t take away any of the pain.

Life is here and now, so my school of life has been focused on learning to treasure that.

I find it worth thinking about that almost everything in the universe goes by unnoticed. Makes it pretty special to be me here and now.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

From Hope to Hopelessness

The conclusions are impossible to ignore: Continued occupation and blockade of Palestine will be destructive for Israel in the long run. Israel politics has fundamentally changed compared to the Israel many sympathised with in previous decades and who longed to measure up to western standards. Last and most important; American and European authorities must awaken from their apathy and force normal supply lines to a couple of million extremely vulnerable Palestine’s in Gaza and the West Bank. The Middle East doesn't need more investigation reports. Israel and the Palestine need an international leadership who can force the region out of the spiral of violence.

A continuation of the current development will lead to new and bigger confrontations. Continued occupation, blockade and colonization of occupied land around Jerusalem and West bank will be perceived as such an intolerable provocation in and outside the Arabic countries that in the long run will undermine the security for the whole region - including Israel.

A first step to break the Gaza isolation could be a sea based corridor direct to Gaza from Cyprus that UN, together with USA and EU, can overlook the security and content of. Similar corridors can be organised on the land border crossings from Egypt to Israel. This way the security of Israel will be safeguarded because American and European inspectors can stop smuggling of rockets and other weapons.

UN suggested such a corridor to the Israeli minister of defence in 2006. EU have already had border inspectors at the border crossings, but they never got any responsibility by Israel.

It is not true that the current Israeli border regime ensures the needs in Gaza. UN's relief agency UNRWA can document that under half of the needs of population are met - even in good months. Israel has for years used closing of borders as collective punishment every time extreme groups have tried to do their terror. No government in any state, not even Israel, is able to avoid all violence at any time from its varying population.

The Israel historian Tom Segevs had a gloomy analysis of Israeli politics at a talk in Oslo this week: "You must not believe that Israel is a country that will live by a western standard. Israeli politicians have stopped believing we can live in peace with our neighbours. My country is fundamentally changed. The public in most countries are worried for the existence of the Palestinians. There aren't ordinary people in Israel."

Many who through the times have worked for peace in the region have replaced their hope with hopelessness and deep despair. Palestinian extreme groups like Hamas and Islamic jihad has contributed their part to undermine hopes for the future. But Israel has time and time again systematically assisted extremists on Palestinian side by bombing vital civilian infrastructure. Moderate and unpolitical aid workers give up and escapes Gaza.

The situation increases the desperation in the region, and a will to use militant violence - especially among young people who feel they are in a seemingly impossible situation.

The text was extracted, amended and freely translated from an article in the largest Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on June 1st 2010. Author of the full article is Jan Egeland who is the Director of The Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

"Imagine there's no heaven; it's easy if you try
No hell below us, above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today ...

Imagine there's no countries; it isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace...."

[John Lennon, "Imagine"]

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Benefit of the doubt

I don't like justifying who or what I am - or what I do. I ask others to judge me based on what they see. I trust that good people who do an honest and fair check easily will see the true me. I’m pretty much WYSIWYG. I don't care much for wasting time or emotions on anybody who aren't honest or care enough to give me a fair chance before judging.

Many criticize or question me for being so public about my personal life on the Internet. I hear you, but have my reasons for being so transparent. However; I'm neither immune nor ignorant to the risks.

When I was as young I was very fascinated by computers. I bough my first when everybody I knew thought it was a silly fad and I got my first e-mail address long before even I knew the word Internet. Not that I could use it as I didn't know anybody else with an Internet address at the time. Back then we used the phone and called up Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) to communicate. Norway was interestingly enough the first country outside USA that got connected to ARPANET (the origins of Internet). The connection to this global wonder also gave me access to Usenet and later IRC, and my international network grew rapidly. I still have many very dear friends from all over the world that I met those first pioneering years.

Through my burning interest I got into IT at my work in the Norwegian postal services and my professional career started taking off. I was privately very interested in subjects like free speech, privacy and encryption, but also eager to explore hyper text and the new possibilities in web pages. My first personal web page was my training ground and I received a lot if recognition and awards for it. I developed several web sites for organizations I supported, like free thought, atheism and anti drugs.

While I was a strong supporter of the right to protect your individual privacy, I never had a problem being open about my personal life. In many cases it was sort of therapy. I'm still a very private person. First of all I have nothing to hide; I'm just a non-violent secular humanist who believes in personal ethical awareness and responsibility. And I believe we have a responsibility to be good role models in society. As a human living in peace and freedom thanks to many before me who fought for it, I feel obliged to pick up the stick. As I for over 20 years have worked with youth, I try to show them how I in my life strive for that through sharing and dialogue.

Now we know that what goes on the Net stays on the Net. As I in 1996 got involved in public education about a criminal and dangerous cult, I knew I couldn’t rewind my steps. I also saw that I was in a unique position to make a difference. I knew this unscrupulous cult would come after me with all they got the moment I stepped up on the barricade. For 13 years they have spent millions investigating me to find any dirt. First they try to scare and intimidate, then they investigate. If that fails, the third step to spread lies to black agent you. The goal is simple: To discredit you personally and professionally. Ideally ruin you utterly.

The cult believes that their critics are criminals and crazy – that is why they are critics according to their "logic". Therefore, finding my crimes will prove this. I have seen many good people silenced under this pressure and said to myself I will not be silenced by threats. By being open about my life I want to disarm them, there is nothing for them to find. I have no "buttons" they can push that will help them and I have already shared much more than they could find. And former cult victims have told me it was important to see me being so open and friendly, as a contrast to the lies the cult told them about me. It was part of their awakening.

Despite all the lies against me, I have managed to build a great professional career, I've received a lot of recognition in international media, I'm now on the national board of the largest Humanist association in the world - and despite all the resources used over so many years, the cult have not found one single bad thing on me. To me that is a darn good reference – privately and professionally!

Today I have over 20 years of personal history documented on the Net. A lot of it is personal, and a tiny fraction is lies. This has an impact on my life and I can not change the past. I can only continue striving to live a positive and constructive life. I can only continue to be open about my personal life to balance the lies.

So if you read about me, please at least give me the benefit of the doubt.

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
[Benjamin Franklin]

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hermits don't kiss

I was on the KLM flight over the Atlantic from Europe to the U.S., my bag stacked full with all the cool magazines I only buy when travelling and the 80GB iPod fully charged. I'm as close to Heaven this Atheist will ever be.

I always loved the radio - I don't even have a TV at home any more - but with odd working hours I usually only remember to listen to it while in the car. Podcasting has added a wonderful new dimension to my life! I can listen to or watch all my favourites when it suits me. In my pocket I got great stand up video casts from Comedy Central, fascinating science programs from The Naked Scientist and Verdt å vite, skeptical wisdom on Skepticality, mind-blowing talks from TEDTalks, ethical challenges from Verdibørsen and Norwegian linguistic fun on Språkteigen. And that's only a small sample of endless free entertaining and educational stuff I travel with. In my little precious pod I also have all my music which is able to trigger every chemical emotion my brain can induce. I can not conceive a life without it. Even got a few movies, sitcoms and photo albums on it. Oh, almost forgot the huge collection of great audio books! The only problem is finding time to enjoy it all! That's why I love transatlantic flights.

On the tourist class distant and tiny monitor, with the color red out of balance, they were showing a love flick. Obviousely not a classic as I can't remember which. By chance an article titled "Why We Kiss" in Scientific American Mind (vol. 19 no. 1) had just caught my interest. My first thought was that it must be a limited topic, but they had it as their feature article. Turns out new research has revealed a hidden complexity behind this exchange of bodily fluids. Kissing, the article explains, might have evolved from mouth-to-mouth feeding of primate infants by their mothers. It could then have morphed into a strategy for comforting hungry children in the absence of food - and later into a more general way of expressing affection.

I catch a glimpse of a screen-kiss in the end of the cabin. I'm reminded of my last transatlantic flight. I was on the aisle end of this 3-seater with a couple in their thirties on my window side. After the seatbelt sign was turned off the aisle was starting to fill up with children fully charged to explore this new and narrow universe. I always love to get eye contact with passing small children, and if they hold it I reward them with a slow wide smile. Probably sounds weird, but it feels like planting a little friendly seed in their developing memory banks - telling them in a non-verbal way that life and humans are nice and friendly too. For me it's like winning the lottery every time one of them return the gesture with a wholehearted smile. It can literally make my day.

The corner of my eye was distracted by the couple beside me, there was something going on that my subconscious couldn't quite decipher. In the middle of trying to steal a smile from a cute little kid crawling eagerly down the aisle, it was revealed by some improper sounds from my neighbours. Abruptly both needed to leave their seats. I was getting embarrassed like I'd seen something I shouldn't have. In the back of a plane in tourist class there are limited places to look away and I couldn't help noticing how they went from restroom to restroom. There seemed to be something wrong with all of them for the guy, while she was eager to enter any. Finally their negotiations were over and they settled on one. It's like saying "Don't think of an elephant" - are you able to think of anything else? I was wondering if they really thought nobody noticed, while my eyes shifted to the sky outside the window. Sharing smiles with kids suddenly felt improper.

The worst part wasn't over. When they eventually returned they were in the mood to talk with me for the rest of the flight. I'm a very liberal guy, but the situation just got a little too intimate and embarrassing to me.

The evolution of intimate kissing might have been sped by silent chemical messengers called pheromones. It's controversial if humans are able to sense pheromones, as specialized pheromone detectors hasn't been identified in humans, unlike in many animals. Some suggest we might be able to detect them through our nose or mouth. That could explain such curious findings as a tendency of the menstrual cycles of female dormitory mates to synchronize or the attraction of women to the scent of t-shirts worn by men whose immune systems are genetically compatible with theirs. I'm reading on as we pass over Island on the right.

Kissing supposedly unleashes a cocktail of chemicals that govern stress, motivation, social bonding and sexual stimulation. If pheromones do play a role in human courtship and procreation, the article continues, then kissing would be an extremely effective way to pass them from one person to another. Of the dozen cranial nerves that effect human cerebral functions, five are at work when we kiss, shuttling messages from our lips, tongue, cheeks and nose to a brain that snatches information about the temperature, taste, smell and movement of the entire affair. I find stuff like this fascinating at 30,000 feet. :)

Kissing and love boost the same brain chemicals associated with pleasure, euphoria and a motivation to connect with a certain someone. Researchers have found an unusual flurry of activity in two brain regions that govern pleasure, motivation and reward. Addictive drugs such as cocaine similarly stimulates these reward centres, through the release of dopamine. Love, it seems, is a kind of drug for us humans.

I am unwillingly being reminded of my lost love and that it must be over seven years since I kissed someone last. I wonder if the next 'happy pill' will be a pill that sends the same stimuli to the brain as a kiss does. A love or kissing pill maybe?

"The great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."
[Thomas Henry Huxley]

Monday, February 25, 2008

Media Circus

On Saturday my fight against the Cult of Scientology was feature article in the magazine "Magasinet" which comes with the national newspaper Dagbladet (English translation here).

I happen to have many opinions. Public debate and democracy is very important to me and of course I want the issues I think is important to be debated publicly. When it comes to the fight against the Cult of Scientology it isn't easy to get someone to stick their head out - since most know what these guys are capable of doing to critics. I refuse to be silenced out of fear and said early on that I would not give in to it. Little did I know that I would have to say that for over 10 years.

I receive a lot of amazing support, and of course that helps and motivates me. It is good to know you make a difference. But for me personally this battle has only cost a fortune and given a lot of grief. I'm not complaining, I knew exactly what I entered into and would definitely do it all again, but it is a little exhausting. Especially when some think I do this only to put my own face in the spotlight. Honestly, that is a side of it that I truly dislike and wished I did not have to do. I would have liked to prioritize my personal life with maybe start a family or focus more on my career. Being a public critic of a criminal cult makes both very difficult, it is actually a threat against both. I've never received a cent for what I am doing and cover absolutely every cost from my own pocket.

The henchmen of the cult is out trying to "character assassin" me now due to the article so I felt it appropriate to repeat this fact.

Internet provides us, the ordinary woman and man, real democratic weapons against fascistic cults. Because everything now is transparent, and we now can unite in numbers, we can bring even the biggest and most scary monsters to their knees. While nobody can do everything, we are dependant on all of us doing a little right. First you need to educate yourself, think, and dare to take stands in different issues. Don't be afraid they are wrong - challenge them in debate and find out. But stand for something! Only dead fish swim with the stream. The risk is that if you stand for nothing, you are likely to fall for anything.

Evil things happen when good men do nothing.