Witchhunts in Cambodia

August 14, 2014

Not a country I know about, but apparently it’s one with enough superstition and belief in the supernatural to create mobs intent on accusing ordinary people of black magic and sorcery. Why they thought Pov Sovann was trouble? He was into traditional herbal healing and well respected locally for it. A group reportedly 200 strong confronted him at his home and several followed him up to his bedroom and ultimately bludgeoned him to death. There had been rumours and fears that he’d caused the death of some locals via curses.

Sovann might be the fourth such case in the country this year, up a bit from previous years. Not many deaths all told, but enough for people to start taking notice. Of the hundreds that took part in the latest attack, few if any have been arrested and human rights groups, journalists, anthropologists and economists are weighing in on this disturbing trend.

The article goes on to state that Cambodia has 400 years of history with this “death to sorcerers” business, but back then it was government-sanctioned execution rather than neighbourhood gangs and the accused were tied up and thrown in the river. If they still survived after 15 minutes, then they were definitely using black magic to do it and were killed in some other way. Only by drowning would it prove they were innocent. Sound familiar?

“Witchcraft is born in the time of misery,” said Ang Choulean, a historical anthropologist with the Royal University of Phnom Penh, citing an 1862 book that was published in English under the title “Satanism and Witchcraft: A Study in Medieval Superstition.”

“If one understands that, one can understand anything,” Choulean said, adding that although massacres had happened throughout the world, they still happen in Southeast Asia in times of insecurity or war.

They have no minimum wage and low-level work may only net a person $2 a day.

Using a complex econometric model, economists Joerg Baten of the University of Tuebingen and Ulrich Woitek of the University of Munich connect grain prices with the fluctuating number of accusations of witchcraft.

The result: “[A] 30 percent decline [of real wages] implied a 60 percent increase in accusations,” Baten said.

“An econometric analysis of data from these regions demonstrates that in fact, there is a significant relationship between economic pressure and witch hunting activity,” the paper reads.

I don’t know where to go from there. It’s weird. They aren’t really helping their situation by accusing their neighbours of witchcraft. I’d be curious about the religious leanings of the perpetrators. The country is a mix of Buddhist, Christian and Muslim (and others) so deep down do they think they’re trying to please a god who might reward them? If they vanquish evil God might make the country prosperous. Or is it a violent attempt to fix the karma and bring them to a place of peace and harmony? Maybe it’s pointless asking for a rationale when people are being this irrational…

For some reason I watched Beneath the Planet of the Apes

August 8, 2014

Well, one reason: it was there.

It’s the sequel following the original Planet of the Apes film. It had its moments but it was pretty stupid overall.

Another ship crash lands on the futuristic Earth and the surviving astronaut, Brent, hopes to find out what happened to Taylor, Charlton Heston’s character in the first film. I was going to rehash it here but it’s been done.

The ending took me by surprise somewhat, I have to say. Charleton Heston blows up the world with the Almighty Bomb that a society of mutant humans had been worshiping. Maybe the humans would have used it on the gorillas, maybe the gorillas would have used it on the humans. Taylor ultimately decides neither race of sentient beings deserves to live anymore and hits the button.

Every single character you got to know in this movie was totally irrelevant because as soon as control of the movie was given back to Taylor, he decided (still) that human beings just weren’t deserving of anything and finally, and decisively damns them all to hell. To be fair, the idea that this cynical character, after enduring so much emotional trauma would do something this drastic isn’t entirely crazy. In many ways, Taylor was always headed to this place from his very first speech in the first film. Maybe being the destroyer of the Earth was his destiny.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been up to him to make the decision, but I suppose somebody had to do something and this was the best of bad choices…

I wonder if the writers were focusing on any particular part of human history as inspiration for these films. Were they meant to be a warning, or just some silly fun for summer movie goers?

“The Turtle Moves…”

July 9, 2014

I can’t resist a Terry Pratchett quote when the opportunity arises.

This is really about the senseless killing of a tortoise by a Uganda police officer, however.

After Onegiu had killed the tortoise, a group of people belonging to the Charismatic faith prayed for him, before burning the dead reptile to ashes.

When contacted for a comment on the incident, Nebbi DPC Onesmus Mwesigwa burst into laughter and went about how Onegiu had called him, telling him what had happened.

“Yes, I got that report because Onegiu called me and narrated how the tortoise came to his house and tried to grab his legs. “As, you know in the villages, there is a lot of superstitions where people think ‘somebody is after me’. But, we consulted with some elders and his colleagues.”

The police boss called for calm from the residents and police officers, maintaining that their lives are not in danger as they may have assumed.

It wandered into his house and rather than figure out a way to lure it out gently, he harassed it with a plastic chair and shot it dead once it finally did wander out again. Was that really necessary?

And the prayer stuff.. take a superstition, add some hard-core religion and you’ve got a recipe for a special kind of insanity — at least when viewed from the outside by a skeptical atheist like myself.

Perhaps it made for some good (but strange) PR for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal currently underway in the country. Who knows. Downright stupid and an abuse of the man’s power in the community, if I do say so. So very stupid.

Alien claims connection to Jesus, hits a woman with a shovel

June 25, 2012

Apparently bath salts were involved. Robert William White, 20, was arrested in Greendale, California after his ingestion of bath salt-infused soda helped him come to the conclusion that he was an alien being with a direct line to Jesus and needed to kill a 77 year old woman. Initially the shovel had been used in an attempt to kill birds but once the woman told him to stop, witnesses say, he hit her over the head with it.

White then made off into his nearby apartment building, where he was holed up for around an hour, before police used a key to enter the flat and subdue and arrest him.

“He seemed completely out of sorts,” Northwest Glendale Police Lt. Bruce Fox told the Glendale News.

White was screaming incoherently and “not following orders,” he added. He also allegedly swung twice at an officer, but his punches were blocked.

The woman, whose name wasn’t released, was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was treated for what police described as non-life-threatening injuries.

That’s good, at least. Hell of a shock for her, though. I can’t imagine what it must be like for White, to need a hit so bad that bath salts seem like a good way to get it.

Old news: it’s hard to be atheist in Indonesia

May 22, 2012

Via the Jakarta Globe, January 19, 2012:

An Indonesian civil servant who posted “God does not exist” on his Facebook page has been taken into police custody for his own protection after he was badly beaten.

The man, identified as Alexander, 31, now faces the prospect of losing his job, or even being jailed, if he fails to repent and accept one of six official state religions.

Blasphemy carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Atheist Ireland felt like taking a stand over this. Their own country passed a blasphemy law in July of 2009. While briefing local politicians about the Indonesia case, they implied that Ireland is partially to blame for it. Two Senators agreed and in February of this year, they asked their government leaders to support Alexander Aan. Said Jillian van Turnhout:

While I fully support the repeal of this law, I do not believe the intention of the blasphemy legislation introduced by Mr. Dermot Ahern in 2009 was to infringe upon the rights to freedom of expression, religion, belief and conscience in Ireland. Nor do I think it is a desirable consequence that our law is being used to support such infringements, including against Christian religions in Islamic countries anywhere else in the world.

The Guardian picked the story up again in May. The article states that the country runs with a state philosophy of pancasila, which requires all citizens to pick one god (or set of gods) and believe in that completely. Aan’s initial refusal to choose to be Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Confucian or Hindi might encourage more people to reject every religion and thus become uncontrollable individualists without ethics or morals, so he has to be beaten by mobs and imprisoned as a warning for everyone.

While his lawyers estimate there may be up to 2,000 atheists in Indonesia, “there’s no real way of knowing”, Fajrin says. The repercussions are too dangerous.

According to Andreas Harsono, a local human rights activist, Aan’s case is just one of a growing number of examples of religious intolerance across Indonesia, ranging from harassment to mob and arson attacks against groups such as the Baha’i, Shia and Ahmadiyah Muslims – sometimes ending in death.

Last year, the local Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded 244 acts of violence against religious minorities – nearly double the 2007 figure.

Official state religions there might be, but some are preferred over others. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has closed 80 Christian churches a year since he took power in 2004. Aan has “converted” to Islam – he’d been going to mosques as a kid with his family even though he didn’t believe – and issued a public apology for his Facebook post, too. Unfortunately, the Islamic Society Forum still calls for the death penalty in this case; too little, too late.

He looks out the window to where a group of inmates are celebrating their Sunday by performing karoake to drum’n’bass in the dusty prison yard, most of them smoking, all of them barefoot. “I only want to see a better world and help create a better world,” he says. “If I cannot … then I would prefer to die.”

While he has Atheist Alliance International and Britain’s Council of ex-Muslims in his corner, it probably won’t affect the predicted grim outcome. His country will make an example out of him, and then atheists the world over will have to double efforts to try to stop this from happening again. But it will probably happen again. None of those guys will wake up the next morning and think they made a mistake. No, they’ll think they did Allah’s will and will pat themselves on the back for it, then go after some other person who dares to think or dress a bit differently.

I feel for him.

“You are what you eat” – yes, but you don’t eat video games

May 16, 2012

Fox News reports on two different video games released on the same day, one from Lightside Games focusing on Jesus’ life and the other being the demon haunted Diablo III, a product from Blizzard Entertainment.

The timing was not lost on Brent Dusing, CEO of Lightside Games.

“Both games immerse the player, and you are what you eat,” Dusing said in a statement. “While one game goes one direction, ‘Journey of Jesus: The Calling’ players walk in the Messiah’s steps, in an authentic experience of Israel in Christ’s time.

Diablo III sounds like Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned up to eleven, an adventure pitting a “barbarian, witch doctor, wizard, monk or demon hunter” against the fiends from Hell with the fervent hope that the “good” guys will triumph.

Journey of Jesus is free to Facebook users, so it probably will get a lot of play – by those who already claim to be Christian (whether they dutifully follow Christ’s footsteps or not). I suspect it’s going to be of little interest to people from other religions so wouldn’t be a useful tool for converting them. And the atheists who try it will probably try to pick it apart as they play, not use it as a means of learning any real history about that era.

When I was younger, I thought there was something to the notion that violent video games make people violent but then I came around to the notion that people who already have a proclivity towards violence are the ones more likely to be interested in playing those games. Research is starting to swing that way, too.

What the research does show, in a nutshell, then is this:

Teens who are already angry or aggressive likely should be limited in their playing of violent video games
Teens should not play M-rated games
Girls especially should not play M-rated games
Video game is an important social development interaction for boys. Parents should keep this in mind when taking such time away from them in punishment.
And of course, all things in moderation. Playing a video game for 6 or 8 hours straight is unhealthy behavior at any age.

I’ve played my share of “shoot ’em ups” and I’ve yet to become a violent offender. That’s anecdotal, I admit, but still true. I’m not much of a gamer anyway. The Man loaned me his old Nintendo and I still can’t get Mario past the first few levels. I like puzzle games, or board and card more.

I never play the games on Facebook but for kicks I signed up for the app so I could try it out. I decided to play as a woman and already I’ve cut a bunch of wood, picked a fight with a Roman and witnessed Jesus getting baptized. Whee. What childish fun. If I play again, I’ll update you on my progress.

“Don’t be that guy!” ads target offenders not victims

September 30, 2011

Rebecca Watson’s “Elevator Guy” debacle over the summer highlighted a problem women and men need to deal with, not just in atheist circles but across our communities. I just learned this week that there’s an anti-rape ad campaign going on in Canada and posters hanging up in men’s rooms of bars and other places are inadvertently following in Watson’s footsteps here. I heard about it on CBC on the drive home from work one day and a quick poke of the interwebs finds me an article about the launch of these ads in Edmonton back in November. Chloe writes for Feminsting and her source is an article that no longer exists via her link, alas.

In a series of posters, it addresses the legal reality that a woman who is extremely drunk, or even passed out, cannot consent to sex. With messages like “just because she isn’t saying no… doesn’t mean she’s saying yes ”and“ Just because you’re helping her home… doesn’t mean you get to help yourself,” the campaign targets “opportunistic offenders,” as Edmonton Police Superintendent calls them. According to the Vancouver Sun:

The three advertisements were chosen after focus-group testing showed the messages were clearly understood by, and resonated with, young men.

Campbell said she hopes the “graphic” and “blunt” messages make a real difference in educating young men and reducing sexual assaults.

A friend of mine dropped a tweet on Facebook yesterday about Saskatoon’s Premier Fine Wines, Spirits & Specialty Foods Festival going on now. Cammi noted,

Just left the wine premiere festival. great time, not sure how I feel about a rape whistle as a keepsake though.

Too bad she didn’t mention which booth provided it, or if it was something being given to women on their way in. I wonder what guys would have been getting.

I’ve never been raped. I’m starting to feel incredibly lucky because I can say that. A random check of statistics on sexual assault led me to some grim numbers.

Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
1 – 2% of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police
1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
11% of women have physical injury resulting for sexual assault
Only 2 – 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
About 50% of sex assaults occur on dates
60% of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of 17

And it goes on.

I’ve certainly been in positions where, had the company been different and less respectful of my right to consent, I’d be counted in those numbers. I’ve been stupid in bars ever since I was old enough to legally be in one. That’s 19 in Saskatchewan. I’m 37 now. Maybe “lucky” doesn’t begin to cover…

Chloe thinks this campaign shows promise.

This kind of approach is the only kind that can truly end sexual assault. After all, in the words of Karen Smith of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, “as long as society directs prevention strategies at women, we all stop looking at what the real problem is – the perpetrators.”

I’m going to hold off on the applause for a bit yet. I don’t really know how ads like this will impact behaviour. Will they be taken to heart by the jerks truly in need of the lesson, or will they just freak out the inept, geeky flirters and result in a lot of lonely hearts going home defeated before they even get a chance to start a chance romance?

Over the summer, dozens of cities held SlutWalks. The events were prompted by shitty comments a police constable in Toronto made regarding victims of sexual assault. Saskatoon hosted one and some Freethinker friends and I were among the hundred or so hollering down the blocked off streets about respect and the like. One of these friends is one of those women born for cleavage, short skirts and hooker boots. She loves the style and how she looks, and her husband (and others) do as well. I almost wonder how we wound up friends, as I have my ample cleavage hidden usually and tend to keep my pants on. She’s sexually vocal, as well, not one who feels she should be ashamed of her carnal interests. I certainly admire her for that but have, on a few occasions, wondered how close she’s gotten to becoming a statistic, too. I’d hate to see her get hurt simply on account of how she’s dressed and false perceptions on the part of other people in terms of what kind of person they think she is. I think that’s badly worded, but hopefully understandable.

It is completely unfair to train girls and women into thinking that they have to hide themselves in public lest randy men lose all sense of themselves if they see a little skin or hair. Why should it be up to women alone to protect themselves from predators? Why shouldn’t guys carry more of the responsibility on their shoulders?

I don’t know. What do readers think? Can a campaign like this change much or is it more likely to be a fart in the wind?


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