We all need more kindness in this world


Watching all the solidarity after the London apartment building fire and all the terrorist events that seem to be occurring almost daily, it makes me wonder about what unites us.

We hear statements from leaders about how the adversity makes communities stronger, but it makes me wonder about what we can do to avoid these situations.

Can we make a difference simply by moving some muscles on our face and smiling or greeting strangers as we walk past them?

There seem to be a lot of people who become radicalized possibly because of their general state of mind. We are now hearing about so many people suffering from depression and anxiety, it is even now a significant problem for children in first world schools.

I note how it makes me feel when I make positive contact with strangers on the street, it feels good. A simple act of kindness could make the difference for someone who is feeling stressed, depressed or bitter and could stop them from doing something that could have horrific  consequences for themselves and others.

Smile and say hi to a stranger today.

On terrorists and airport security


I was listening to News Talk ZB talkback radio as I got out of the shower this morning. Those who weren’t complaining about ice cream’s for sale at Cathedral Cove (you would think there were more important things on people’s minds), were talking about the latest security measures as a consequence of the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit,

Al-Qaeda have since claimed responsibility for this attempt.

One guy said that they should convict and hang the terrorists within a week of catching them. Didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me, after all the guy was trying to kill himself wasn’t he? Killing this person would only complete part of his goal and help to make him a martyr and this give him access to his 72 virgins or houri.

I don’t really want to dwell on those self-claimed ‘representitives’ of Islam, who are intent on bringing down the US, during a time of Christian celebration. I don’t for a moment believe that they are representative of Muslim people.

What this reminded me of, was a flight I made from Munich to San Francisco earlier this year, which I blogged about previously. There were many Muslim people on the plane, some of whom seemed to have a real disdain towards the European people on the plane. One man got up and started distributing copies of the Koran to fellow Muslim passengers. This was during the night on a long flight and I had just finished watching the movie Traitor on my laptop and the whole atmosphere was very creepy.

The reason I raise this is that renewed terrorist activity has caused major delays at airports around the world, where security levels has been lifted and are causing major inconvenience for passengers travelling to the US. Security measures are easing again, according to the NY Times, which is great, but the effect of all this could cause racial tensions to rise. This has the potential to play right into the hands of terrorist organisations. Their goal has to be causing terror, not necessarily by killing people.

A side effect of this will be a backlash against Muslim people in general. Because aspects of their faith, such as their clothing and burqa in particular are considered threatening to westerners and some see them as being demeaning of women’s rights, particularly as they perceive that many women in the Middle East do not have the same rights and freedoms as they would in the western world. Interestingly some Muslim women who live in the west also want the burqa banned in those countries.

It is great to know that their are organisations like Muslims Against Terrorism, but it would be great if there were more opportunities for people to understand a bit more about the people themselves, especially those who move to the west. It doesn’t help when people immigrate to other countries but want to take their customs and practices with them, such as the wearing of burqa and niqab.

In western countries, we like to see people’s faces as a measure of their honesty and people who cover their faces are often interpreted as people with something to hide. Many people came to countries such as New Zealand to get away from persecution or discrimination about their beliefs. People like to feel that others in their community are like them. New Zealand is big on human rights and political correctness and as the first country in the world to give women the vote, women’s rights are considered inviolate.

People who are different threaten the lifestyle of people in this society, just as westerners look out of place in other countries.

I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is that differences can be both threatening and interesting. Historically wars were about religious beliefs and about the haves and the have-nots. Combine those two, such as when the oil rich nations deplete their resources, or when poor countries need to rally their people into a nationalistic fervour to keep them from thinking to much about wanting to leave their countries to go somewhere where they perceive a better lifestyle and you have a tinder box in the making.

I consider myself a very easy going person. I was born in Holland, came to NZ, went back to school in Holland and made my home in NZ. I love world cultures, languages, food and the mix of ethnicities that make up our country. Yet, hopping on a long night flight full of people in traditional Muslim dress, with a man handing out copies of the Koran to strangers on the flight, speaking a foreign language, while studiously ignoring the ‘infidels’ made me feel very uncomfortable.

Add to that a continued threat of terrorism and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of violent situations on international aircraft, based on a perceived threat, which may be caused by as simple a situation as I found myself in. Given that non Muslim people are not highly motivated to make dialogue with Muslim people in their community, I think the Muslim people need to open doors in their community. A classic example was the goodwill generated when the Aisha Mosque in Wallsall opened their doors to the local community. Comments from local non Muslim people were very favourable.

I hope more Muslim communities will not take the lead and open their doors and their arms in fellowship and help to break down the barriers. But I also believe that if they want to live in the West, they should also liberalise some of their practices, particularly when out in public. This doesn’t mean turning their backs on their culture and history, just making an effort to not appear so different in public. Islam Open Days are another good way for people to learn more about beliefs and lifestyles and perhaps reduce some of the fears, but of course most of the people who go to them already have an affinity towards them. The challenge is to bring in the rest.

This is of course just my opnion and I welcome you to comment and share yours.

Could Swine Flu Be Man Made?


I have to start by saying I don’t think it was, but it is a ligitimate question, given that bioviolence is something that many countries around the world will be considering and it is an obvious threat from terrorists. We don’t hear anything about the neutron bomb these days, but the concept of killing off people but leaving the environment intact, is not new.

Several years ago I was helping a water authority with mobile data communications around the same time as a meeting of world leaders . Even though bioterrorism has not been seen in this country, there were was hightened vigilence of the city’s water reservoirs, to ensure that they were not deliberately contaminated as a protest against the international meeting.

You would have to have your head in the sand to not consider the act of unleashing a virus as a possible act of warfare and in order to run tests to assess the viability of such an exercise, it would seem that the best way to test whether this is possible, would be to try it on humans.

Swine Flu has so far only been highly contagious in one city of the world. Most of the deaths occured in Mexico or a small number of people who had been to Mexico City. If you were running tests, you would of course not want your tests to accidentaly kill off a large percentage of the human race, you would want it to be in  controlled environment, particularly one where your countries citizens were a vast minority.

It is common public knowledge that the US military does research into infectus diseases and according to The Frederick News, Fort Meade is investigating the possibility of missing virus samples fromthe U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to consider wht the Army would have such an Institute. You could ligitimately suggest that they need this in case other countries or terrorist groups decide to engage in bio-warfare and of course in order to understand how to defend against such attacks you would of course have to know how to create the viruses.

The web is littered with sites like Freedom Watch saying that since 9/11 the US has been preparing for further terrorist attacks and that biological warfare would make a lot of sense. Many of these sites appear to be from civil liberty organisations and while many of them are based on reasonable foundations, there are obviously many that appear on the redneck fringe.

Nevertheless, this type of warfare of sorts has been documented for thousands of years, with the first known use of biotics was from 1500 – 1200 BC where Hittite texts suggested the use of ergot being used to deliberately contaminate water wells. Ergot was the same hallucinatory that is said to have been the foundation of the Salem witch trials, where the rye was contaminated causing LSD like hallucinations. So the concept is nothing new.

I spent quite a lot of time looking for any credible authority that suggests that there is any credibility to this possibility, but they all seem to quote Freedom Watch and similar sites as their source.

So was Swine Flu N1H1 man made? I doubt it. Is it possible, of course. Could a virus like this be mutated and used by terrorists or foreign governments as a military weapon, absolutely.

So back to the future. According to NZ Herald, the current list is now over 6,600 people in 33 countries, including over 70 deaths. The media in the US keeps saying they aren’t seriously concerned at the moment because summer is coming and the bacteria doesn’t survive for long in warm temperatures. Of course in New Zealand we are now heading into the flu season and there are currently around 400 people in isolation as I write this blog. A bit different to the bird flu we were worried about.

In one of my next blogs I will see what I can find out about the 2nd wave. Traditionally these sorts of viruses come back again in waves with the waves often having mutated and being far more virulent than the first and this is one of the problems for the makers of Tamiflu, because the antivirus they make now in massive quantities, might be powerless against the next wave of the bug. Will the 2nd wave start down under, or will it come in 4-5 months on the Amercian continent. Will we be ready for it?

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

For the last word, lets look inside a Mexican Swine Flu Isolation Ward.

Whos Looking at you on Facebook?


Sometime ago I wrote a couple of blogs about What can they find out about you on Facebook. In the second blog I did some digging into a random person who hadn’t managed her privacy settings. You will find many references to Facebook and other social network applications in my recent blogs, but here’s the thing, I wrote about what they could find out about you, but not so much about who’s looking.

I have also often blogged about how Science Fiction has a way of becoming reality and it seems that many of my favourite writers were foretelling the future. Some of these blogs were: A San Francisco Artist wanting a bionic eye, Living Longer with Cryonics, using In-Vitro to feed the future, Sky Scrapers and High Society, and tracking people with RFID.

Whether it was Orwell, Bradbury, Philip K Dick, Heinlein or any of my other favourites, they often had a common thread. That is a police state environment where privacy and personal freedom becomes something for people to fight to win back. Where for whatever good reason, governments gave themselves the right, initially with good intentions, to spy on the public or restrict their ability to communicate their personal beliefs. That was what the 5th Ammendment was all about. Of course some countries, like New Zealand don’t have a formal constitution and we generally have the attitude that everyone is trustworthy and honest until proven otherwise. I’d have to say that in many ways this has also served us well downunder, in that even though crime is rising at alarming rates, especially violent crime and the police now charge people for using unreasonable force in defending themselves, we are a much safer country than many I have visited in recent years.

Just on that topic of self defence. What actually is reasonable force. If you are faced with someone with a gun or other weapon, who knows how to use it and has experience with violence and you don’t, the situation is very different for a law abiding person who has never had to defend themselves before. If you know someone else will use whatever means they can to hurt you, possibly even kill you and are unpredictable. At what point does self defence become unreasonable. If the person who attacked you is o the ground but you are afraid they will get up again and running isn’t an option. If you are afraid and your heart is full of adrenalin, how can you be expected to know how or when to stop? Police are trained in the use of restraint and know how to deal with difficult situations, where the public are not. I don’t have the answer, but I do feel that criminals need to know that they won’t always get away with violent crime and that victims should have the rigt to defend themselves. But I digress.

Anyway, what prompted this reminder, that I hadn’t focussed much on who would want to look at your personal information on Facebook, was a story in this morning’s NZ Herald (which I couldn’t find online), with the Headline Govt plans to spy on social website users. I did find a story from the Daily Mail yesterday which in essence says that they plan to be able to monitor all email, social networking sites etc, because it is fertile ground for terrorists to communicate and plan.

Now I don’t have a problem, providing information is monitored under a search warrant, but blanket ability to go through all Internet usage of everyone is pushing it a little too far don’t you think? They are wanting the right to not only read everything you write, publish or comment on the net, but even to get a record of every single URL or website you visit.

I’ve always worked on the basis that I have nothing to hide, and indeed if you Google my name, you will be able to find out pretty much anything you want to know about me and my life. Maybe that’s a good thing because it makes me kind of transparent. But by giving government organisations rights beyond what anyone can do on the internet, the ability to intercept everything you do on the web, must be an invasion of good citizens privacy and I hope that there will be restrictions put in place, just as is required in most countries for telephone taps etc. The fear is that in any society there are corrupt individuals who could abuse their position. That is where we need protection.

There is no doubt that the threat of terrorism means that new measures must be put in place to locate terrorists, terrorist training grounds and do whatever is necessary to keep us safe from harm. But like any law and order legislation and policies, there must be reasonable suspicion and controls. Otherwise the risk that more of the Science Fiction writers stories about oppressive states undermining the rights of its citizens could become a reality in the ‘developed world’. I want to feel safe from harm, but I also want to know that my individual rights to freedom of expression and belief are protected.

 

Carbon Tax on petrol, yet another great idea?


get-in.jpgThe New Zealand Government has once again raised the prospect of a Carbon Tax on Petrol, rated as 7 cents in the litre. The concept I gues is based on a user pays scenario, so the more you drive, the more carbon you burn. Given that in most parts of New Zealand our public transport systems are pretty substandard, it looks like most of us will pay the price.

They have talked for a long time about measuring exhaust emissions and setting levels below which you can’t pass your Warrant of Fitness tests, but that still hasn’t come in. Of course that doesn’t generate significant revenue and the NZ Government has just announced a significant budget deficit, not that these 2 things are in any way related. I’ve also noticed that many of the ‘greenies’ drive diesel cars that blow black smoke and are often covered with soot, as are many of the buses I follow on the motorways. I suspect that the black soot on the bus I saw recently covering an advertisement on the back of a bus which said “we are drivers too” is a carbon waste product.

Currently, according to Caltex NZ, 41.6% of the price we pay for petrol in NZ is tax, so why not just round it up to an even 50%? The story was good though and I was impressed with Caltex’s excellent suggestions on how to use less fuel, some of them are very good. I suspect though that most people will continue their normal lifestyle. It’s like the old story of putting a frog in a pot of warm water and bringing it to boil slowly. We still love our big cars and we want to enjoy the great outdoors which is why many of us love in New Zealand.

The thing that amazes me is that we are still so slow with introducing alternative fuel engines. Toyota and Honda have done very well with Hybrid engines and they can’t seem to get enough to meet demand. Maybe the government should do something to encourage these vehicles and lower the import taxes on them. It’s yet another example of why the things that are good for you cost so much more. Give businesses in the cities an incetive to buy Smart Cars, but of course we have a problem with renewable energy as well, especially after a long dry summer. But wait, what about solar power? This is another tangent, but I read a couple of years ago about people in the USA getting major rebates for installing solar energy in their homes, plus the ability to sell their surplus power into the grid. We have certainly had more than enough sun this year, well actually I wouldn’t mind if it lasted all year round, but the point is we aren’t harnessing it and we aren’t offering people an incentive to help with the cost of making it happen.

So, we continue to encourage the use of fossil fuels (yes I know we are starting to include small amounts of biofuel into the mix, but all that will do at this stage is allow the oil to last a little longer. We know oil is a finite resource and once we have run out and the Middle East has caved in, what then? My prediction based on current consumption is that fuel will become incredibally scarce, travel and tourism will become incredibly expensive and this could have a disastrous effect on economies like ours.

So lets see what happens. Petrol prices go up because of oil scarcity, whether through resource depletion or through wars and terrorism. Oil prices also go up because of carbon taxes as oil companies have to buy carbon credits to meet their obligations. Taxes go up because they are based on a percentage of the price, whether through excise, GST, carbon, road user and others. The cost of living goes up because this impacts on everything we do, all goods and services involve transport. Domestic tourism and entertainment will suffer as people decide it costs to much to go anywhere. We all become a nation of obese couch potatoes because it’s cheaper to sit at home to watch sport or cable TV instead of going out and getting some exercise.

One day it will be too prohibitive to go anywhere except for special occassions and we will we end up living virtual lives, never leaving our homes at all.

Actually I wouldn’t mind the carbon tax if it was used on R & D for alteratives, for incentives for people to develop and commercialise alternative fuels and engines to run on them. The whole concept of carbon taxes seems to be punitive instead of constructive. What happened to Kiwi innovation? We’re still patting ourselves on the backs for inventing number 8 fencing wire, Hamilton jets and bungee jumping. Let’s pay people for coming up with new renewable energy resources instead of punishing people for using the only resources they have available to them, there’s a novel idea? There might even be international carbon credits in it.