We Have Lost A Great Mind

I was devastated to hear that Stephen Hawking died today at the age of 76. I know he was very sick for a very long time, but he also had an amazing intellect and he will be sorely missed. I always suck at what to say in these situations, and how to express my reasons for feeling so sad about the death of someone I have never met, so I will leave it and instead quote Neil Degrasse Tyson, whose tweet about Stephen Hawking‘s passing is one of the best put that I have seen.


His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018


Maybe this one is a little too soon, but I also can’t sign off completely without including the tweet from @TheTweetOfGod


It’s only been a few hours and Stephen Hawking already mathematically proved, to My face, that I don’t exist.


The Stephen Hawking that I invented in my head would have liked that.

I still have his latest book on my shelf, waiting to be opened. Maybe now is the time to find the time to read it.

Tough Questions: On Banning Circumcision

Iceland is currently discussing a bill that would ban infant male circumcision and, if it succeeds, it will become the first country in the European Union to do so. I always knew that I would eventually comment on this most touchy of subjects, and in light of this current news I guess now is as good a time as any.

I am aware that for many people, this is not a “tough question” at all. Many have very strong opinions on the subject one way or another, whereas I find myself quite torn on the topic. I am also aware that, as someone who does not own a penis my opinions on the subject are somewhat less valid than someone who has more skin in the game, so to speak, but my current dilemma is mostly based on the science and the fact that both sides often exaggerate or twist it to fit their own notion.

Before we continue yes, I made a circumcision pun. I totally meant it. I apologize… kind of. Now let’s move on.

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What A Mess

I was on a rollercoaster ride these past two weeks, and not just because I was monstrously sick.

The weekend before the elections, it came to my attention that there were massive anti-fascism protests all across Italy. In a period of time in which all I heard coming out of my country is hateful and racist rhetoric, I was overjoyed to hear that all was not lost, and that these protests attracted thousands of progressive people who still live in Italy, and who believe that racism and fascism is incompatible with our Constitution and democracy.

Then, the elections happened.

You might remember the dire predictions that I made in the run up of these elections, where I predicted the triumphant return of the Bunga-Bunga in chief. What actually happened was both better and much worse than I thought. On the better side, it looks like the country has a better memory for who was responsible for this mess than I thought they would, and Berlusconi’s party actually did quite poorly. Also on the better side Liberi e Uguali (Free and Equal), the progressive party that I supported managed to break the 3% barrier, and thus will have a spot (albeit a small one) in Parliament, and good for them.

On the worse side, the Five Star Movement is the party that got the most votes, which shows me that Italians either did not get the message of their gross incompetence, or they simply don’t care and want to burn the whole country to the ground in the hopes of stirring the pot.

On the much, much worse side, Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord had a very good showing, actually getting more votes than Berlusconi. That is worse, because Matteo Salvini is so horrifically racist that up until this recent election he was seen as a national joke rather than a serious candidate (remind you of anyone?). He also believes that the euro is a “crime against humanity”, and that douchey little neckbeards are the way to go in modern day politics. Unfortunately, the racism is still embarassingly strong in my homeland.

Of course, given the fact that there are now three major parties in Italy with one of them whose claim to fame is not forming coalitions with anyone, there is still no consensus nor acting goverment in Italy at this time. Apart from this update, I do not plan on bringing this up again. So, if you want to ask me about how it’s going, or my thoughts on the matter, or make fun of me for the shambles that my country is in, the comments section of this post is where to do that. Other than that, I plan on thinking and writing about other things, because this is just too depressing for me right now.

A Bitter Sweet Victory

This week, a Salvadoran woman was released from prison after serving 11 years of her 30 year murder charge. So, why am I mentioning that as any kind of victory at all, let alone a bitter sweet one? Was it self defense? Was she innocent of the charges? The facts are much more convoluted and depressing than that.

She was convicted of murder because she had a stillbirth, and the courts decided it was all her fault.

You are certainly aware that women’s rights vary enormously across the globe, whether it be in regard to protections against violence, representation in government, or the right to bodily autonomy. In El Salvador, the abuse of women is reflected in the most draconian anti-abortion laws that can be conceived by man.

Not only is it illegal to get an abortion at any time and for any reason, but you will also be charged with murder not only if you seek an abortion, but even if you do not seek get enough prenatal care and have a stillbirth. I usually do not speak in black and white terms, but I literally cannot conceive of any way that they can make their anti-abortion laws even more extreme.

Luckily in the case of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, she was not forced to serve the entirety of her sentence. I am happy that she is now free, but I am also deeply depressed as to the details surrounding her release, hence my description of the case.


A woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder after having a stillbirth has been freed in El Salvador in a case highlighting the dire consequences of the Central American country’s total ban on abortion.


Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, 34, was released on Thursday after serving almost 11 years for a crime she has always vehemently denied. Her sentence was commuted by the supreme court on the grounds that there was insufficient scientific evidence to determine that she had intentionally caused the stillbirth, but her conviction was not overturned.


She was not released because the government of El Salvador has budged an inch from their horrific laws regarding women’s rights, but rather because they decided that she was convicted on insufficient evidence. Activists must and are still appealing these sentences on a case by case basis in order to try to counteract this gross violation of human rights.


Vásquez is the 16th woman to be freed as a result of appeals and campaigns by reproductive rights groups and lawyers working under hostile conditions perpetuated by the conservative media and powerful anti-abortion groups. A 17th woman, Mayra Figueroa, who was jailed for 30 years in 2003, will be freed next month.


This story is both happy and tragic. Happy for Teodora and her family, but tragic for all the women who still have to suffer under these brutal laws.


And I Know It Worries You

The recent comments of a Polish politician on women’s rights has been spread far and wide on the internet today. My favorite format, however, is this video which includes a direct response from a Spanish MEP.


I like this video because her response is the thing that you have to keep in mind when confronting someone who is so brazenly, unabashedly misogynistic. It is very similar to those who are brazenly, unabashedly xenophobic. They are the ones that feel small, weak and inadequate. They are the ones that, deep down inside, know that they will not make the cut if they are subjected to fair and open competition with women or immigrants. People who are confident in their abilities and their strengths do not bother arguing against opening up the workplace and giving others opportunities to compete, because they do not fear being out-competed. But people, especially men, who deep down know that they don’t match up reject this feeling, lash out, and reassure themselves that at least the virtue of their body parts from birth puts them above other people, and that they will always be superior to someone.

I say especially men not because I think that men are more likely to be assholes, but because men are also victims of a patriarchal society in this case. There is a lot more pressure put on boys to be strong, to show no fear, to become breadwinners. It is for this reason that I think that men are more likely to lash out in the face of their inner feelings of inadequacy. Luckily fewer and fewer boys are being raised in this antiquated mentality, and hopefully people like this will become an old relic of the past. I simply bring it up because it needs to be repeated: men are hurt by patriarchal societies too, just in different ways. Let’s do away with it then, shall we? And those who bleat be damned.

A Pleasant Reminder

After recent global political events, it is easy to lose heart at the direction the world is going in. Sometimes, it is important to remember that, while we do experience temporary setbacks, the overall trend of our global society is a positive one. This video summarizes this sentiment.


There is one slight mistake in the video. Unfortunately measles, thanks to the dangerous anti-vaxx movement, has actually made a comeback in the United States. This is discouraging and needs to be fought tooth and nail, but it still does not negate the entirety of the video’s message.

I often think of society’s upward progressive trend as one of those graphs that plot global surface temperatures over the decades. It is not a straight line up, but rather a jagged one with many small, localized peaks and valleys, as other factors play a role in global temperatures on a small scale. If you focus in on any one of those, you might think that the trend is spiking downward, but it is important to pull back and view the graph as a whole in order to understand the real trend.

It is quite ironic that I use a climate change graph as an analogy, as the upward trend of global temperatures is deeply troubling, while the upward trend of social progress is very encouraging, and climate change is perhaps the only major reason why 2017 is a worse year to live in than previous ones. I will however take a few moments to appreciate the positive message of this video before refocusing on the things we need to fix, change and fight for.

Being encouraged by our society’s successes is not a bad thing to keep in mind when you’re preparing for your next fight, after all.

How Far We’ve Come

A couple of days ago, there was a terrorist attack in Israel, during which a man drove a truck straight through a group of Israeli soldiers waiting to get on a bus, killing four and injuring over a dozen more. In the wake of this tragedy Germany made a gesture of solidarity towards Israel, resulting in one of the most powerful images I have seen in a while has cropped up on the internet.



The top panel is the Bradenburg Gate in Berlin 80 years ago. The bottom panel is the Bradenburg Gate yesterday.

80 years. Not thousands, not hundreds, but a meager 80 years have passed between those two pictures. It puts into perspective how far Germany has come, and how much change a single person can witness in their lifetime.

This is not about agreeing or disagreeing with Israel’s policy with regards to Palestine. Germany itself often disagrees with the far-right position of the current Israeli Government, as do I for that matter. But when innocent people are mowed down by either terrorism or state violence, we can stand in solidarity with the murdered and their families. We can feel for them, regardless of which side they were on, or what their personal political opinions were.

That picture gives me hope and reminds me that, even in the midst of terrible things to which you cannot see a way out, dramatic change is possible, it has happened, and I can believe it will happen again.

When Is It Going To End

The lighthearted tone I was trying to adopt here has fallen marvelously flat in light of recent events.

Last night, in Berlin, someone drove a truck at speed through a Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 48. This is horribly reminiscent of the attack in France on Bastille Day, and I think it’s most likely that the culprit in this case was inspired by that horrible act of violence. My best friend was there at the time, and I was so glad to hear she was OK, while at the same time I am devastated for those who were killed.

At the moment, an investigation needs to take place to see if this was a planned terrorist attack, a crazy person taking it upon himself to do something horrific in the name of Isis, or someone with a different political motivation or purpose. This time, the culprit seems to have been apprehended alive, so we will probably find out in the next few days.

Given that the Russian ambassador to Turkey was also murdered in retaliation for Russian’s involvement in Syria on the same night, we can say that the escalation is here. It’s arrived. And I have no idea how we’re going to fix it. I can honestly say that I cannot imagine where, when and how this is going to end.


Edited to add: Same day, in Zurich, someone burst into an Islamic Center for worship and shot three people. Monday 20th of December 2016 found itself to be a focal point of deranged killers in Europe. As I said, the escalation is here. Please, enough.

Feeling Helpless

If you follow the news, you know that the situation in Aleppo has gotten far worse in the past few days. Syrians still in Eastern Aleppo are putting out what they believe might be their final messages, some with a last desperate plea for help, some with goodbyes, some with pure frustration.


Some, like the Professor in this video, express their disillusionment with the UN and the International community, and describe in more detail the despair and terror that they are currently facing.


His frustration is perfectly justified. I know that the political situation in Syria is a complicated clusterfuck of epic proportions. I know that there is no easy or obvious solution on how help those people. I know that the International community is not sitting on a perfectly logical and organized effort simply because they enjoy watching people die. But when you see those people suffer this way, when you feel for an instant a fraction of the terror that they must be facing every minute of every day, you can’t help but want to scream in frustration. Dammit there has to be something we can do! Women are committing suicide to avoid being raped, people are being executed in the streets, lit on fire and bombed into oblivion, how can we sit here and watch and do nothing to help these people!

This is why I would make a terrible world leader. I can’t be cold and pragmatic in the face of these stories, and I am sure I am not privy to a fraction of the situation in Syria that they are.

Upworthy has posted a list of 7 real things you can do to help the people of Aleppo. It is a predictable list: support Doctors without Borders and a variety of other charities that are helping, organize a protest, support refugees. These are all important things that everyone should do regardless, but it wont change the continuous bombing, the people trapped under the rubble, the mass executions in the streets. I hate this helplessness.

What more can we do as individuals other than donate what we can where we can, and try to keep talking about this enough so that the people who do have the power to do something about it are pressured into taking some kind of action. Whether it is taking in more refugees (depending on which country you live in, some countries are already taking in as many as they can possibly sustain), or coordinating with other world leaders and coming to a consensus as to what to do on a military level. But this hodge podge free-for-all bombs away and let’s see what happens has got to stop.