Saturday, September 20, 2014

How to Get Sentenced to Death in Iran: All You Need is an Internet Connection

Imagine a world free of irony and satire, one where dissent and public discourse was governed by such equivocal statutes that their mere utterance or reproduction thereof carried the same punishment as murder or rape. Publish an image like the one above - or embed a link to an image like the one above, or post a comment supporting an image like the one above - and you would find your self stripped of your property, locked in solitary confinement and forced to endure a grotesque parody of due process to decide your fate.

For the hundreds of thousands of Iranians on social media, it can take less than an image like the one above to be found in violation of state law. In the case of Soheil Arabi, a blogger who operated several Facebook pages which are alleged to have violated Branch 76 of the Tehran Criminal Court's obscenity laws, the result has been a death sentence handed down on September 16th - a sentence Arabi had until today to appeal.


It's a story which has garnered virtually no major media coverage which is not surprising, considering the temerity with which American, Canadian, and British media engage the horrifying elements of the Islamic world, that is, if they address them at all. One perverse but positive result of the rise of ISIS is the group communicates clearly and in plain English when addressing threats to the West, and command the attention of CNN.

You may be thinking that comparing Iran to ISIS is not entirely fair or accurate.  Except that the goal of ISIS is to establish the same system of Sharia Law in an Islamic Caliphate not unlike the ramshackle system established under the 1979 takeover by the Islamic Republic. Iran abandoned almost all its secular government and judicial infrastructure and embraced Sharia law for 30 years under the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamic Republic serves an example of a major middle eastern state - one in which men are treated like animals, and women regarded as even less - from which we can extrapolate an idea of what ISIS seeks to install on a national level.  

Although the Iranian system has evolved away from some of the most apparent Sharia traditions, the judicial system still maintains strict blasphemy laws, the interpretation of which can be very broad indeed.  The charges against Soheil Arabi as detailed by the Independent include an obtuse condition for what could loosely be called leniency:

Article 262 of the Islamic Penal Code states insulting the Prophet carries a punishment of death, however, article 264 of the Penal Code says if a suspect claims to have said the insulting words in anger, in quoting someone, or by mistake, his death sentence will be converted to 74 lashes.

In the idealized Caliphate envisioned by ISIS, one would have trouble imagining so forgiving a condition as article 264. For the citizens of Iran, no outside influence is needed in promulgating restrictions to freedom of expression. As recently as last month, one Grand Ayatollah, a man named Nasser Makarem Shirazi, declared that access to high-speed internet and 3G is not only "against Sharia," but a crime "against moral standards."  Having posted the remarks on his website (the irony evidently lost on the man), one could dismiss them for the crack-pottery they are except the reality is such insistence that "Judicial officials must not remain indifferent about this vital issue," carry the weight of his station needed to find a receptive audience.

In the meantime, Soheil Arabi is standing trial on further charges of "propaganda against the state." His execution date is yet to be scheduled.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

At Last, Photographic Evidence of Fairy Folk

After two weeks of nothing but horrible shitty news in the world, isn't it time that we got back to other not-so-heavy but important ass fairies.

In April of this year, Professor John Hyatt claimed to have captured fairies in photographs taken in the forests of Lancashire, UK. Hyatt, who lectures on art research at Manchester Metropolitan University, has released the  pictures entitled "Rossendale Fairies," to the Whitaker Museum in Rossendale where they are currently on display.

The Rossendale Fairies.

"I was just taking sunset through the trees and when I enlarged the photographs later in the studio, I saw these figures," he wrote. "They are not doctored apart from I increased the size of a detailed section of a larger photograph along with the DPI to stop them being just large pixels -- normal size enhancement techniques.

John Hyatt, Fairy Hunter.

It was a bit of a shock when I blew them up, I did a double take," he told the Manchester Evening News. “I went out afterwards and took pictures of flies and gnats and they just don’t look the same." 

This is a real documentary.

Shockandahh's in house Cryptozoologist; Amy Allen; elaborates on the subject. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that is another authentic fairy sighting. No further research is required to prove this photo is 100% proof that fairies exist."

The Cottingley Fairies photos were proof enough for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

"Everything is there in the photo; tiny arms, legs, a head and wings. As summer comes to an end, the magical fairy folk begin to gather food and supplies in anticipation of winter, the fairies are clearly collecting their harvest of mushrooms, berries and water for fall. This is typical behaviour for this time of year.”

So there you have it, folks.  Photographic evidence of tiny humanoids casting enchantments. Your move, Bigfoot.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Comedy Without Cause Featured on CBC's Punchline!

We're super excited to let you know that our sister site, Comedy Without Cause, has been featured on the CBC's new online comedy endeavour, Punchline.

Our sketch entitled "Psychic Lawyers" stars Mark Junop and yours truly in an advertisement for the ultimate legal dream team!

Punchline is CBC's (that's the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, not the Canadian Bagel Company) newly launched web portal featuring both original Canadian comedy and featuring stuff culled from across the inter-webs. Take a gander at "Psychic Lawyers" on CBC Punchline and let them know you like what you see!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why We May Never Have the Answers to Flight MH-17

Anyone who has stayed up late watching marathons of disaster shows knows at least one thing about air crashes.  Whether the culprit is terrible weather as in Air France Flight 447, a catastrophic technical failure like American Airlines Flight 191, or a terrorist bomb as destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, the scene of the crash is always secured by investigators as they determine first and foremost if they're dealing with a horrific accident or a crime scene.

As the pictures of the horrifying scene of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 flooded news feeds and social media, the most disturbing have already confirmed a few vital clues.  We know from radar reports that there is virtually no doubt that a missile struck the plane carrying nearly 300 innocent people. The photos and videos across Live Leak for those who can stomach such horror, confirm that the airliner fell apart in the sky and the victims, men women and children littered among the debris, some with hardly a scratch on them - fell to earth.

Cor Pan made a tragically prophetic facebook post before boarding the
doomed MH-17: "If the plane disappears, this is what it looks like."

In the United States, The National Transportation Safety Board is responsible for securing and investigating these types of disasters.  Within hours, the NTSB dispatches emergency workers to begin the task of coordinating the recovery of bodies, preserving every tiny fragment of debris, and liaising with the FBI if there's reason to believe foul play.  Each step is crucial in making sense of what has happened and ensuring everything can be learned to prevent the same tragedy from reoccurring.  In this case, the Ukrainian government and the Malaysian Transport Minister are trying to gain access to the site for an internationally-led investigation.

Compounding the tragedy in the Ukraine is that MH-17 and the 298 people who lost their lives were not only innocent bystanders, their remains and all evidence of what exactly happened are at the mercy of warlords and militiamen collaborating with the Russian governmentInstead of securing the site, cellphone video and pictures of the scene show anyone from armed combatants to civilians in their summer clothes, pouring over the wreckage, looting passengers' belongings, absconding with pieces of debris as macabre souvenirs.

Their is no recovery of evidence, only a haphazardly, uncoordinated mess as bodies, after having been left in the field, are being taken to various small villages near the crash site. Meanwhile Russian Separatists are carting wreckage off to god knows where.  The Associated press has reported that despite pleas from the Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, US President Barack Obama, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that access to the site has been not only hampered, but critically mishandled before investigative efforts:

An international delegation visited the crash site Friday evening but was only allowed to view one small portion. While the delegation was leaving under orders from armed rebel overseers, two Ukrainian members lingered to look at a fragment of the plane, prompting a militiaman to fire a warning shot in the air with his Kalashnikov.

During past investigations by the NTSB, there have been monumental challenges to collecting evidence such as the crash of Value Jet Flight 592 which plunged into the Florida Everglades. In that case, the DC-9 was obliterated and completely obscured from site beneath a remote, alligator infested swamp.  The recovery of even the tiniest fragments, and of course the flight data and voice recorders, helped investigators piece together the jigsaw puzzle from which emerged a picture of flammable cargo improperly stowed in the cargo hold having ignited and doomed the jet. 

For Flight MH-17, whose flight data recorder has already possibly been absconded by people unknown, uncovering the full picture of what happened and who is ultimately culpable may not be possible from the now desecrated evidence.  Radar reports of a missile launched from specific longitude and latitude may still provide the smoking gun and from which a coordinated response from the international community will be paramount to ensure the passengers of MH-17 did not die in vain.  Tragically for now, those responsible have been doing their best to mitigate the search for truth while depriving the victim's families of any closure they could take from such senseless act of mass murder.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Science Illiterate Public? Science Illiterate News Media...

Last week a story about science and technology swept across mainstream media.  The headline signalled that a watershed moment in artificial intelligence had been reached: Turing Test Passed by Computer.  For those who may not be acquainted with Alan Turing's proposed "test," the mathematician and father of modern computing suggested that around the the new millennium, computers would be capable of conversing via text in a manner so human-like that "average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning."

The Turing Test.

Needless to say that on the day on which this milestone is reached, humanity will have ventured into a new unknown technological, and some would argue, moral frontier.  It's certainly a story one would think the media would have thoroughly verified before spreading across TV, print and the inter-webs. Or not. As it turned out, as anyone who read further than the byline, the truth of the matter was that a piece of software colloquially known as a chat-bot had merely been refined by a 13 year old to win a contest at The University of Reading.

The distinction is not a subtle one and speaks volumes about the level of reading comprehension present in the newspaper editing rooms across the globe. Even a cursory scan of the Wikipedia page for "The Turing Test" would have squashed this complete non-story from being pimped out by CBC, The Guardian, BBC others.

In the following days, many of the same news outlets back-pedalled with embarrassing op-eds and the usual grotesque displays of false-equivalence - with the Toronto Star going so far as to pit a lone dissenting Canadian professor against Kevin Warwick from the University of Reading: Warwick adds that critics questioning how good the test is should know that ‘we are all skeptical in the same way…but what we did was the Turing Test’.

Even the shittiest porn sites are filled with Chat-Bots trying to seduce you,Turing style.

There's a reason that news stories of a scientific nature are usually under-reported, buried deep in the news cycle, or just plane wrong.  Most of the blame rests on the journalistic premise of objectivity through the granting of equal coverage to "both sides."  The problem with representing scientific topics in this way is that for one, the "sides" are drawn along lines between those who share a consensus across disciplines, versus a few lone dissenting whack jobs.  In addition to that, there exists a confounding of common language; many words have usage in scientific discourse that differ slightly from their vernacular.

In my opinion, the solution to this problem is two fold.  First we need to have a course in critical thinking taught not as a college or university elective, but as a high school compulsory for graduation. Secondly, in a few years, a crop of journalist will spring up with sharper reading comprehension skills and the quality of the written word, field report, and talking-head pundit will be elevated from a sixth grade level.

(Of course, even when CNN manages to explain the Higgs Boson, the comments section takes you a on ride of academic discussion...)

Then we'll see coverage that presents scientific topics, if not in depth, then at least briefly summarized with a hint of accuracy that so eludes all coverage outside of actual scientific literature.