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Handing Out Impounded Cash

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on January 2, 2017 in Immoral Conversations |

One of the things I am constantly hearing here, especially when interacting with the older generation whose memory goes back further than mine, is how fair the British were, back in the day. By this they mean following the second world war and, in some cases, during those years too. I can’t say that this is a feeling held by everyone, but practically everyone who I have had dealings with seems to hold this opinion, and a completely different one for the Americans. It is at such times that I tend to keep quiet – in my already very quiet manner – and not mention the fact that I am American. It is something they cannot tell by looking at me, but they also don’t take me for an Island Monkey either, which I most certainly appreciate.

The general opinion of Americans, on a scale of one to don’t like, tends away from the one sad to say, and especially since the election of our next president. Not that everyone is against him, but many simply do not understand how the American people, so interested in justice and democracy, could possibly… you get my drift.

There is another thing which increases my understanding of this level of fairness, and it is justice with and without the courts. This is not, I hasten to add, another post on white supremacy, gun control or Black Lives Matter, but does have to do with justice. In the United States, as many will already know, it is possible for the police in some States to confiscate cash, cars and other possessions from suspects without a warrant. These items then have to be demanded back, often through a court of law, regardless of whether the suspect is a criminal or not. I have read tales, and I am sure they are easy to find on our Internet, of innocent people out to buy a house, with cash for the house or a deposit, caught by the system and their lives being ruined as a result.

Spare Cash

Screenshot Source: Twitter / West Midlands Police

The British, with all their fairness, have a similar set of laws. Similar, not the same. They are allowed to confiscate the wealth and possessions of criminals to a value set by the courts according to the crime committed and the value of loss incurred by other people or by the State. That is, the criminal, upon conviction, doesn’t just go to prison or get a fine, they also pay for their crime in the broadest sense of the idea. This, according to the West Midlands Police, is to ensure they know that crime does not pay, and that other criminals get to know it too.

The advantage here, quite aside from the fact that this money is then used for good causes, is that the criminal has been convicted and is clearly guilty of his or her crime. It is not just someone caught up in a roadside check who happened to have a large stash of cash in their care and the wrong skin color. Having been convicted, the criminal knows it is pointless trying to get their ill-gotten gains back again, since the confiscation has been ordered by a judge sitting in court too. In the United States, the victims of this fraud – and I can see it no other way when looking at the various stories of people who have found themselves on the wrong end of the law through no fault of their own – sometimes have to spend years fighting to get back what was and is legally theirs, and which was taken without due cause or justification.

I think we Americans still have a great deal to learn from the ways of the British – and Europeans – especially when it comes to what is right and good, what is fair and sensible.

  • Viktoria Michaelis.

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When You See It: Happy New Year!

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on January 1, 2017 in Immoral Conversations |

I decided to seek out one of those generic new year images – fireworks and 2017 emblazoned across the photograph, that sort of thing – but the selection was rather limited. Sifting through what was on offer on Flickr, I found school buses, images of a foggy day in Beijing and policemen doing their jobs around crowded streets in the USA, UK and elsewhere. Not the most festive of images, admittedly, but a clear indication of what we had in 2016, and what is likely to continue into 2017 and beyond. Most will already have heard of the gunman in Istanbul, or the mass pile-up on the A7 in Germany due to foggy conditions. The one with thirty-nine deaths, the other with six.

So what sort of image should one use to celebrate a new year, a new chance, a new beginning? Hiding behind the fairy tale Disney-like (no offense) images of peace and plenty isn’t going to work any more. In many ways I don’t think this image of peace and goodwill to all has worked for many years. It is also difficult to use humor, since there is always going to be someone who takes offense, objects, complains. You just need to take a short glance at the number of apologies, of Facebook and Twitter deletions private and public people have been forced to bring out, even when the majority of those reading understand, take no offense. Here a shout-out to Steve Martin: I understand what you meant about Carrie Fisher, a pity that others didn’t.

New Year's Fail

Image Source: Rika Oyen – Creative Commons

Will our intolerance – on all levels – change in the coming year? If anything I believe we will become even more intolerant of many minor things. I say minor on purpose, since it is increasingly clear that the major things which are wrong, which should not be allowed, which should be condemned and fought against are increasingly being side-lined by interest groups. The minor infractions, or things which aren’t an infraction at all, being instrumentalised and brought to the fore. The most obvious: a man is elected to high office despite his sexual activities, but a woman is not because of the sexual activities of her husband. Yes, I know, there is much more to it than that, but this ‘much more’ only makes it bigger and worse.

So my new year image is a ‘spot the mistake’ one because if we’re going to concentrate on the smaller things, then we can start here. Perhaps, by correcting the minor things, we can also correct the major in this coming year. Let us all hope so, and get to work!

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A Sausage By Any Other Name

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 28, 2016 in Immoral Conversations |

I’ve come across bureaucratic nonsense many times over the few years I have been in Europe, fortunately seldom in my own case although, well, it’s bound to happen eventually. I still recall reading of the (in)famous Welsh Dragon case: a sausage company in Wales was informed by the local council that they could no longer call their famous sausages Dragon Meat because there was no dragon meat in them (they ran tests!), and it might confuse vegetarians into thinking that the sausages were meat free. The company was forced to include the word ‘pork’ in the title, and I am sure all Welsh vegetarians let out a massive sigh of relief.

Not to be outdone, although a decade has gone by, the German agriculture minister is now seeking revenge on behalf of the Welsh population, who love their dragon-free dragon meat, by telling producers of vegetarian and vegan products that they should no longer name their products after similar ones where meat is used, such as wurst – the German word for sausage. It would seem that by using the generic term wurst many meat eaters could be confused into buying a non-meat product, with all the dangers this involves.

Banning Names

Screenshot Source: Twitter / FAZ

Now, I can understand Christian Schmidt’s problem: he clearly has to save these poor souls from their own inability to see what it is they are purchasing. After all, it clearly says on the packaging of all of these products that they are either vegetarian or vegan and they are normally sold in a separate section of supermarkets and smaller stores, so confusion is almost guaranteed. Added to which, meat-free generally have pretty little signs and symbols on the packaging to confirm they are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, whereas meat products do not.

The word wurst however, like sausage, is a generic term: it refers to a type of product in a certain form and not to its contents. No one has demanded that pork sausages no longer be called sausages because beef sausages were there first, and customers could be confused. We, the general public, assume that the average person on the street, when making their daily or weekly purchases, has at least a minimal level of education and can see what they are buying, whether they can read the label or not. It is much the same as the example from Wales: pork is in the ingredients list, how can there be confusion? And what harm would it do a meat-eater to try a vegetarian sausage for once? Would they even be able to tell the difference (it’s all in the spices, I’m told) between animal and vegetable?

There are some vegetarian products which could well do with a name change – vegetarian chicken nuggets comes to mind – but sausages? I think the minister should settle down into his Christmas pudding and concentrate on other things where there is a need, rather than ending up with a bad stain on his name similar to that of Martin Bangemann twenty-five years ago.

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Putting Your Trust In God, Or Reality?

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 27, 2016 in Immoral Conversations |

I have nothing against people who wish to believe, no matter what their chosen path is and so long as it is for them. I’m not a fan of those who insist on going from door to door, selling their religion, their religious wares or, worse still, insisting that they know the only way and everyone else is going to hell in a bird basket, to say nothing of those who insist on pressing the benefits of their religion upon other people by acts of terrorism.

What I really cannot understand is how a person can claim to be an independent spirit, in control of his or her own life, refusing to buckle under the unfair demands of a partner, and then come out with something like this:

Trust In God?

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Jamielyn

It is wrong, we are told, to subject ourselves exclusively to the will of another person, to the extent that we are oppressed, lose our free will and many of our rights. This is what many fight against – against arranged marriages as an example – and yet…

And yet they allow themselves to be dictated to, to blindly obey an entity which has a set of rules so loose they can be adapted to mean absolutely anything, according to the mind and desires of the interpreter. An entity which has no form and, to be honest, little meaning. The follow this idea blindly, and try to justify their actions with a ‘God’s Will’ defense.

Reminds me of the French Cistercian monk Arnaud Amalric who is purported to have said: “Kill them all, God will recognize his own”, where I ask myself: what did this god reveal later, and what are we doing following such advice?

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Donald Trump Challenges Barack Obama

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 26, 2016 in Internet |

A British newspaper recently claimed that one Tweet from Donald J Trump has been mocked by other Twitter users. If they had been keeping up with the news, and with Twitter, they’d have seen that every Tweet is mocked, and not just by other Twitter users; also by the news media, internationally on social and political levels and in private conversations. This is probably not the kind of publicity a press relations officer would want for their candidate, but all news is good news, and Trump’s words on Twitter, and seldom elsewhere as this seems to be his press conference medium of choice, are certainly bringing him plenty of attention.

Obama v Trump

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Donald J Trump

The Internet is, however, a place where hardly anything goes unchallenged. There is always someone who claims to know better – whether it is Trump or anyone else – and they’re prepared to type in their two cents worth, and defend their standpoint – mostly. So it is with the claim by Trump that he’d have beaten Barack Obama, had he been able to stand for a third term. Someone has challenged this assumption, and put a poll out on Twitter.

Obama v Trump

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Tony Posnanski

Of course, this is the popular vote, and probably not representative, but it is there. I doubt that Trump has seen this poll, possibly none of the news media have either – yet (but some do read here and stories seem to follow on from things I have written!) – but it could happen. Trump tends to Tweet and then move on, never a reply or a justification. Clearly he believes that once he has had his say, there will be no naysayers out there, so why bother reading the replies and comments?

Even so, if these ratings, on the poll, were in a real election, it would be a landslide. A real landslide.

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The New, Younger, Fashionable Doctor Who

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 25, 2016 in Internet |

You could be forgiven for thinking, taking only the Tweet from the BBC as your reference, that Doctor Who has been reinvented as an American super hero in tight underpants and a mask. Perhaps they are trying to jump on the bandwagon which is Marvel Comics and the success of their super hero films, well, mostly. Not that they need to; Doctor Who has been a success with its television audience for several decades, and will likely remain so for several more. But why, then, a Tweet over Doctor Who with just a superhero in front of a US city nightscape?

Dr Who

Screenshot Source: Twitter / BBC

Of course we don’t want spoilers before watching such a masterpiece, but suggesting that the Doctor has made such a massive change in his appearance, in one of his many rejuvenations or reincarnation could bring many Whovians – as they are apparently called – to the barricades.

Real Dr Who

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Independent

Luckily The Independent is there to rescue the day for the BBC, and bring those rather shy characters – the Doctor and his assistants – back into the light and their well-earned place alongside the superhero of our youthful dreams.

Whichever world it is this time has been saved, again.

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Searching For The Phantom

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 24, 2016 in Internet |

One of the jokes about searching for criminals of recent years has been the screenshot of a news announcer next to a phantom image which had a surprising similarity to him. It highlighted to problems police have with creating an image of assailants through the artistry of a victim’s description and the skills of a sketcher. Some images are good, some are surprisingly bad.

Phantom Picture

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Metropolitan Police

And some are so good you can almost feel the anger and fear when looking into their eyes. Let’s hope the assailant is captured, and that the Metropolitan Police offer this artist a job.

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Anis Amri Is Dead: Now The Work Begins

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 23, 2016 in News & Opinion |

The news that Anis Amri, the terrorist suspected of driving a lorry into the Christmas market in Berlin, is dead came from Italy and spread very quickly through the media. For many this is good news; a terrorist has been eliminated and cannot strike again. For others it is merely the beginning, and the trail which has been left is long and complicated. It may well begin many years ago, when this man first came into contact with the wrong side of the law, but it certainly does not end with his death.

Questions which need to be answered include whether he was involved in other crimes in Europe; who he was involved with along the way, from Italy, from France, from Germany; how was he able to move so quickly back towards Milan; how did he come to possess a weapon; who supplied him, who hid him, who advised him.

Berlin Attack

Screenshot Source: Twitter / Peter Neumann

Unlike Peter Neumann, I am not surprised he managed to get as far as he did. Immediately following the attack the police and security services were too involved with the crime scene and with the pursuit and then questioning of another man who could have been involved. They relied on witnesses as much as on their own resources and, in this case, they were disappointed. It took time for the real culprit to be identified. Amis Amri was filmed in Moabit, a section of Berlin, and it was assumed that he must still be in the area, rather than the possibility that he was arranging his escape being taken into account. He and his helpers had enough time to make arrangements for him to leave the city, if they hadn’t been made in advance.

There can be no doubt that other people were involved in this act of terrorism, as in the attack in Nice back in July, in the background. His suppliers and those prepared to spirit him out of the country again, should he survive, are still among us, and it is against these people that the police must now concentrate their investigations.

I do not doubt that we will see several people answering for their actions over the coming weeks, for their involvement in terror against a country which has been their home, which has given them a living, which has looked after and protected them. Amis Amri may well be dead, but the cause which assisted his act of terror will not be buried with his lifeless body. Not yet.

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Hoax, Cry Wolf, Fake News Damage

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 22, 2016 in News & Opinion |

In Aesop’s fairy tale, a young shepherd boy found it amusing to alert local villagers with the claim that his flock of sheep was being attacked by a wolf. The villagers, out of concern for their own livelihoods as much as anything else, would immediately come out to his defense, to drive the wolf away, protecting his flock and their own from attack. There was, however, no wolf, just a series of false alarms which, after a while, annoyed the villagers. Eventually the shepherd boy called them out when his flock was really being attacked by a wolf, and they did not believe him. No one came to his assistance.

Imagine what it would be like if the fire service reacted in this way. Ten false alarms in your area over a day or two, and they do not react to the eleventh. Or the police, the ambulance service and countless others who are constantly being called out with false alarms, wasting their time for no good reason other than the childish prank, or malicious intent, of one person. That any community, be it a Muslim one or otherwise, should be worried by such Cry Wolf actions, by false alarms and fake stories is understandable. They hit the news just as hard as any other story at the moment, but with the downside that, very quickly, someone finds out they are false and the story gets twisted. No one is going to believe that a small boy died in the arms of Santa this coming year, even if it does happen. Likewise, fewer and fewer people are going to believe that Muslims are being attacked, when the revelation of one or two faked attacks precedes them.

Muslim Hoax Fear

Screenshot Source: Twitter / ABC News

We can look on it at a much larger scale: would anyone believe the government ans the CIA if they claimed that a certain dictator had weapons of mass destruction following the lies surrounding the Gulf war? Admittedly the scale is completely different, but it runs from the same idea. Someone cries wolf too many times, and no one comes out when it is real. We’re not in Hollywood here, where a young woman can tell everyone there is a problem with the plane, they disbelieve her and she has to save the world on her own. These fake stories lead the way for real criminals to escape justice, for people to be assaulted and abused without any chance of help. And that cannot be right.

Whether an individual person, or a news organization, those who spread fake news, who fuel the fires which lead to us not reacting when the time comes, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They should not have the option of hiding behind the First Amendment when it comes to putting lives in danger, but be forced to stand up to the responsibilities surrounding their actions.

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Terrorism: The Passage Of Information

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 21, 2016 in News & Opinion |

We are going to be overwhelmed with a wealth of information in the next few days, and all of it information after the fact which was available before the fact. This has been the case in so many terrorist attacks worldwide, so many crimes, that it is almost parr for the course that we learn everything designed to prevent when it is too late. We have CCTV in many cities, we have foot patrols, we have databanks packed with information, we have no-fly lists and we have international cooperation agreements. We also have a series of organizations and laws which are designed to protect the interests of ordinary people, whether they be citizens or refugees.

All of these are good things, on the whole, were it not for the fact that no one has yet shown any interest in working in cooperation with anyone else. Information is not shared, laws are not enforced, people die.

The Passage of Information

Screenshot Source: Twitter / MIT Press

I picked out this illustration originally to make some form of joke about how all geeks and nerds look the same in the eyes of some. Now I am using it to illustrate something completely different. The passage of information. This shows how it should work, if all the agencies who claim to be working together did work together. One country would tell another, without the need to implicate their sources, what they know about a dangerous person. Take, for example, someone who has been convicted of a crime in one European country: that country informs the remaining EU members of the conviction of a refugee so that an attempt to enter another country can be stopped, so that this criminal cannot just move from one land to another with impunity and commit more crimes.

It would appear that this does not happen, certainly not in the case of the attacker from Berlin. Convicted of a crime in Italy, he comes to Germany where, if the Italians had informed the appropriate authorities, he would never have been accepted. Convicted of a crime in Tunisia, his home land, it should have been easy enough to send him back to serve his sentence. Except for the fact that he did not have, we are told, a passport and so could not be sent back!

I am in full agreement with the helping and accepting of refugees wherever possible, predominantly in the short-term so that they can return eventually to their home lands and rebuild. But I also believe that these refugees should be checked, as far as is possible, and a decision on their future made as quickly as possible, that decision being then carried out immediately. I also believe that the various intelligence and security agencies – European and from the American continent – should work together in reality, and not just on paper. This version of cooperation would result in quicker decisions, better security and as a deterrent to those with ideas other than terrorism.

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