Nigeria: Teenage Girl to Be Publicly Whipped for Pre-Marital Sex

    The ongoing takeover of Afghanistan by the Islamic extremist Taliban movement has received a lot of coverage in the United States, especially among feminist organizations who have rightly highlighted Afghanistan’s ongoing war against women’s human rights. Less well reported, however, are the victories that Islamic extremists are gaining in Nigeria, putting that country on the verge of civil war.

    In January 2000 the Nigerian state of Zamfara adopted Islamic law, Sharia, and since then it has been joined by seven other Nigerian states. Although not carried quite to the extremes that Sharia has been in Sudan and Afghanistan, it is nonetheless turning Nigerian into a nightmare.

    One of the more egregious violations is a return to public whipping of both men and women who engage in pre-marital sex. Several months ago a young couple caught engaging in sex were sentenced to a public lashing, and last week a court in Zamfara sentenced a pregnant 17-year-old girl to 180 lashes. The sentence is to be carried out 40 days after the girl gives birth.

    This sentence is particularly cruel since 100 of the lashes come for engaging in premarital sex, but 80 of the lashes are punishment for the girl’s compliance with a court order to name any men she had sex with. The girl complied and named three men she had slept with, but after police were unable to “prove” any of the men had sex with her, the Islamic court convicted her of falsely accusing the three men.

    Among other punishments, the BBC reports that “in August, two motorcycle taxi riders in Zamfara were lashed in punishment for carrying female Muslim passengers.”

    Like Sudan, Nigeria has a majority Muslim population in the north, but a majority Christian population in the south, and the spread of Sharia and Islamic extremist has led to violent clashes between Christians and Muslims that threatens to erupt into a full-fledge civil war along the lines of what has transpired in Sudan over the past few decades.


Sharia sentence for pregnant teenager. The BBC, September 14, 2000.

Snails Further Understanding of Human Brain Aging

    The BBC recently ran a fascinating story about medical researchers using the snail, of all things, to help further understand the way that brains age. As the BBC’s Helen Briggs noted, one of the intriguing things about loss of higher cognitive functions as human beings age is that it is often not so much caused by a decline in brain cells but rather, for some reason, existing brain cells lose the ability to perform their functions and instead begin acting in different ways.

    The same thing happens to snails as they age. “When you look in the brain of an old snail you find the little group of brian cells that controls the snail’s feeding is defect,” researcher Richard Faragher told the British Association’s Festival of Science. “It is defective because the snail is old. Altered neuronal function with aging is what we colloquially call senility.”

    The other reason for using snails is that the snail turns out to be the only animal at the moment for which researchers have completely mapped its various brain functions. This allows researchers to study and test hypotheses on the simpler snail brain which might yield insight into what happens in the brains of human beings.

    “Because the snail is so much simpler,” Faragher said, “we hope to be able to understand it and then apply that understanding to more complex animals, such as rates and mice, or you and me. … Comparative biology is one of the strongest tools in the basic biochemist’s arsenal when he tries to understand any fundamental process.”

    Given that, don’t expect to have to wait to long before the Animal Liberation Front extends its activities into liberating oppressed snails.


Snails battle senility. Helen Briggs, The BBC, September 11, 2000.

Where Pollution Kills

    Those of us who live in Western industrialized countries are used to hearing our governments and environmental movements claim that our fellow citizens are exposed to unprecedented levels of pollution. The truth is in fact quite the opposite — it is those living in poor, largely non-industrialized nations who face the greatest exposure to pollution.

    A World Health Organization conference on pollution recently claimed that up to one billion people are annually exposed to pollution levels 100 times those of the WHO’s acceptable pollution levels. In reporting on the conference, the BBC reported as “startling” the claim that dangerous levels of pollution are experienced largely by people in developing countries, but this reality was always there for anyone to see.

    Prior to industrialization, the West also experienced the sort of pollution problems now largely the province of the developing world. Rather than something like electricity or natural gas for heating, many in the developing world burn wood, coal and in some cases animal dung as a primary energy source. Combine that with the fact that many housing structures in the developing world are poorly designed with little ventilation and the result is often very high exposure to pollutants.

    The WHO estimates, for example, that half a million children die each year in India as a result from respiratory infections they contract in part from massive exposure to indoor pollutants. And the WHO report apparently doesn’t even begin to mention the health problems caused by polluted water in much of the developing world (few people get cholera in industrialized nations).

    Contrary to environmentalists who see rich industrialized nations as antithetical to human health, in fact it is the sort of ages-old pre-industrial methods still being used in much of the Third World.


Pollution ‘hits rural poor hardest’. The BBC, September 15, 2000.

European Governments: High Prices Are Good for Consumers

    If you thought gasoline was high in the United States for much of the summer, you can be thankful you weren’t living in Europe where gas prices dwarf the U.S. prices. Throughout Europe many consumers recently said “Enough” and engaged in protests and civil disobedience to urge governments across the continent to do something.

    And in Europe government is definitely the source of the problem. In Great Britain, for example, the market price of a gallon of gasoline isn’t that much different from the United States — currently about $1.31. But the UK government then tacks on almost $3.40 per gallon in taxes, so the cost per gallon to consumers is a whopping $4.71. The case is similar in the other European nations. Italians pay $2.53/gallon in taxes, and Germany $2.56/gallon. Fuel taxes in the United States are too high, but in Europe they’re downright exorbitant.

    And the response of European governments boils down to a simple sentence: live with it. French truck drivers won a temporary 15% cut in the fuel tax, but other countries are holding the line. Both the UK and German governments have said they will not be lowering fuel taxes.

    German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had to be helicopter in to an event in the city of Schwerin after protesters blockaded the land routes with trucks and tractors. Schroeder wanted protesters to “drop this dangerous game because it could threaten the growth and employment prospects we currently have.” If the German state blocks growth with confiscatory gas taxes, that’s okay with Schroeder. Let the consumers who bear the brunt of idiotic tax policies dare to protest, however, and they become a threat to the entire nation’s economic prospects.

    European governments in general seem to view end consumers of goods as annoying pests who don’t understand the joy of government intervention in the market. Germany, for example, recently took the bizarre act of ordering Wal-Mart and several other large grocers to raise their prices in that nation. The German Cartel Office complained that Wal-Mart as well as grocers Aldi and Lidl were selling some products such as milk, butter, flour and cooking oil below cost which is illegal in Germany (in the United States such actions are legal or illegal depending on the prevailing winds of antitrust politics, with the U.S. going after Microsoft for allegedly under pricing while simultaneously going after record companies for overpricing the cost of goods).

   The Germans apparently think the grocers are lowering prices to drive smaller concerns out of business, after which they will raise prices, but I have yet to see any concrete example of this happening in the real world. Much more likely is that the sort of economies of scale enjoyed by advances companies such as Wal-Mart have made in inventory management allows them to offer some basic goods that have mature pricing schemes at a slight loss since they more than make up the small loss on the wide range of other products such huge mega-markets sell.

    The sheep weren’t buying the justification, with one man telling the Associated Press that, “Life in Germany is expensive enough as it is. When the likes of Wal-Mart come along and force the others to pull down their prices, that’s a good thing.”

    Leave it to Europe’s pseudo-socialist governments to enter the new millenium championing the fine art of screwing the consumer with high prices.


World ‘faces oil crisis’. The BBC, September 12, 2000.

Fuel crisis grips Europe. The BBC, September 12, 2000.

European leaders remain defiant over fuel protests. CNN, September 13, 2000.

Germany targets Wal-Mart. Stephen Graham, The Associated Press, September 9, 2000.