Dowry Murderers Sentenced to Death in Bangladesh

The BBC reported yesterday that Bangladesh court sentenced three people to death for the murder of a pregnant woman who was unable to pay her dowry. The woman’s husband, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law all face capital punishment, though they are planning to appeal their sentence.

Bridal dowries were outlawed in Bangladesh to avoid precisely this sort of crime, but nonetheless women’s rights organizations in Bangladesh claim that more than 200 women are killed annually because they can’t afford to pay their husbands’ families a dowry.


Bangladesh dowry killers sentenced. The BBC, November 26, 2000.

PETA and Undercover Operative Sued by Veterinarian

The last year has seen a dramatic turnaround in the case of New Jersey veterinarian Howard Baker who was originally convicted of animal cruelty charges only to have his conviction vacated by an appeals court. Now, Baker is turning the tables on his accusers by suing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and one of its undercover investigators for defamation.

The imbroglio started when Michelle Rokke was hired by Baker to work at his veterinary clinic. Rokke is a career animal rights activist who has worked with PETA on a number of hidden camera exposes. Rokke was involved, for example, in a recent undercover investigation of Huntingdon Life Sciences.

In that case Huntingdon sued PETA and Rokke after Rokke, among other things, stole over 8,000 documents from HLS. Eventually the two parties settled that lawsuit out of court with PETA agreeing to stop claiming that Rokke turned up evidence of animal abuse at the laboratory.

Rokke claims she went to work at Baker’s office simply to learn how to care for animals, but it didn’t take her long to start smuggling a hidden camera in to work in a purse over a 10-month period looking to collect evidence of animal abuse. The videotapes she made while working for Baker eventually formed the core of a case of criminal animal abuse that resulted in Baker’s conviction.

That conviction was thrown out by a New Jersey appellate court, however, and Baker charged that not only did Rokke lie about what happened in his office, but that she and PETA selectively edited the videotapes to hide the context of his actions (whether or not this is true in Baker’s case, PETA has a long history of selectively editing such videotapes.)

Now Baker has filed a suit against Rokke and PETA saying that PETA defamed him. This isn’t the first time that PETA has faced such a lawsuit. Animal trainer Bobby Berosini won a judgment against PETA after it distributed videotapes of him disciplining orangutans that were part of a live Las Vegas act. That judgment, however, was later reversed by the Nevada Supreme Court.

Baker’s case is different in one important point from the Berosini case — the Nevada Supreme Court essentially held that Berosini was in a public place and had no expectation of privacy. Rokke, however, taped Baker inside a private office and New Jersey’s state constitution explicitly recognize a right to privacy.

Neville Johnson, an attorney who advised Food Lion in its landmark win against ABC’s “Prime Time Live” for using hidden camera investigators, told the Bergen Record that the cases are very similar. “. . . You cannot commit a crime to expose wrongdoing, because then you would have these people assuming police or quasi-police powers.” Johnson went on to add that the case could do a lot of damage to PETA. “This kind of stuff, done with the approval of PETA management, could bankrupt PETA. This could be the end of them.”

Especially since courts and juries are likely to be less sympathetic to a political activist group than they would be to a legitimate news agency such as ABC News. Not to mention being more grist for the mill for any potential Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization suit against mainstream animal rights groups.


Secret agent for animals draws veterinarian’s suit. Mitchel Maddux, The Bergen Record, November 24, 2000.

Tajikistan on the Verge of Starvation

According to the World Food Program, the former-Soviet republic of Tajikistan is on the verge of massive starvation. Up to 1 million people are at risk of starvation following a severe draft that caused the nation’s grain harvest to fail so thoroughly that the country currently has only about 25 percent of the food it needs to avoid starvation.


New starvation warning in Tajikistan. The BBC, November 24, 2000.

Are Genetically Modified Fish the Solution to Hunger and Declining Wild Fish Stocks?

What role will genetically modified fish play in supplying the world with the fish it wants to eat while at the same time ensuring that declining wild fish stocks get replenished? The answer seems to depend a great deal on who you talk to.

According to Yonathan Zohar, of the University of Maryland’s Biotechnology Institute, GM fish are the wave of the future. As Zohar notes, the genetic makeup of almost every other species of livestock has been modified heavily throughout the past few millennia except fish. That is all about to change as several efforts to create genetically modified fish push forward.

A U.S. biotech firm, AF Protein, has developed a GM salmon that grows about 10 times faster than normal fish. Work is underway around the world to modify at least 25 different aquatic species including flounder, carp, lobster and shrimp.

Of course these efforts face enormous opposition from anti-biotech activists who have resorted to property destruction and other acts of violence to stop such development. The United Nations, meanwhile, is skeptical that GM fish can make any impact on the 60 to 70 percent of fisheries that are threatened. Of course the United Nations has yet to make much of a dent in that problem either, largely because it favors hard to enforce bureaucratic-minded treaties rather than property rights schemes that would give fisherman incentives to allow wild fish stocks to replenish.


GM ‘solution’ to over-fishing. The BBC, September 29, 2000.

A Review of Mary Gentle’s Grunts

Grunts: A Fantasy With Attitude
By Mary Gentle

Imagine a world where JRR Tolkein wrote a fantasy novelization of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The result might read something like Mary Gentle’s phenomenal fantasy novel, Grunts. Gentle takes the fantasy standards of the constant struggle between good and evil, and turns it on its head by telling her story from the point of view of everyone’s favorite fantasy fodder, the lowly orc.

While on a mission to steal magical treasure from the local dragon on behalf of the Nameless Necromancer, a small group of orcs winds up with modern military weapons — and, thanks to a curse from the dragon, a U.S. Marine-style approach to war.

The first part of the book is a well-done straightforward parody of fantasy novels similar in some ways to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. The orcs run around ordering their enemies to surrender “in the name of the Nameless,” while preparing for the latest installment in the Final Battle of the Army of Light Against the Horde of Darkness. The heroes on the good side are so smug in their goodness, the reader is rooting for the orcs to off them.

The last 2/3rds of the novel is more of a sendup of World War II action movies, and the inanities of modern politics. The Dark One decides he’s had enough with the endless battles between Light and Dark and announces that instead he wants to settle the whole matter once and all with an election (of course the evil lord promises free health care and high taxes), while the orcs busily construct their own military-industrial complex in the middle of the fantasy world.

Normally I’m not a big fan of fantasy novels — for example, I can’t stand reigning king of fantasy Robert Jordan’s books — but Grunts is one of the most hilarious and well-plotted novels I’ve read in a very long time. Although the book is slotted in the fantasy genre, it’s really just an all around excellent satire that works on many levels and just happens to occur in a Tolkein-esque setting.

There is only one caveat I have in recommending Grunts. If you’ve seen Full Metal Jacket you know the movie isn’t very appropriate for young people. Neither is Grunts. The violence is non-stop and described very graphically, along with quite a few sexually explicit scenes, including a few sadomasochistic scenes. They work within the novel, but this probably isn’t the book to give your 13 year old nephew.

Other than that, this is one of the best novels I’ve read in years.

The More Freedom You Have, the Less Privacy You Need

The United States and the European Union recently published a draft version of an international cyber crime agreement with an interesting proviso — the less political freedom users have, the more privacy they will be granted. Conversely, the more political freedom users have, the less privacy the states of the world will cede them. Make sense to you? Me neither.

The proposed agreement is designed to allow police to easily track cyber criminals across national borders. Among other things the agreement would ban the mere possession of “hacking devices,” allow police from member countries access to computer data worldwide, and broaden that access to include close monitoring by Internet service providers which the agreement would now require of member countries.

Ironically, people living in an authoritarian state such as China would have far more privacy protection under this treaty than people living in relatively less authoritarian countries such as the United States and United Kingdom. This is based on the hypothesis that citizens of repressive governments need greater privacy protections than citizens of less repressive governments. Of course this completely reverses cause and effect — the reason countries like China are more repressive is precisely because they don’t constantly invent justification, as this treaty does, to abrogate the rights of their citizens for short term gains.

Besides which, although it is undeniable that European nations aren’t as repressive as China, they (along with the United States) are not perfect and do have backwards-looking laws as evidenced by recent demands from France that Yahoo! block auctions of Nazi memorabilia to citizens of that country. France is especially egregious, as people have been thrown into jail for denying that the Holocaust ever happened. While Holocaust deniers are absolutely wrong about their claims, and are in large measure motivated by racism rather than any genuine concern over historical accuracy, France like China is not above jailing people simply for the words they speak and write.

In both the United States and Great Britain, meanwhile, there is a long history of state law enforcement agencies being used to carry out political repression. Great Britain has often cut human rights corners in pursing IRA terrorists, while in the United States the state has often looked the other way at law enforcement violations of human rights in pursuit of left-wing and right-wing extremists, not to mention the prosecution of the drug war. In fact the United States has decided to emulate France by making it illegal to publish on the Internet instructions on making certain drug compounds.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, of the Simon Weisenthal Center, advised the Council of Europe on the treaty, and confirms by his words that the treaty will allow Western governments to go after web sites and individuals for what amounts to pure speech. According to Cooper, the treaty will allow prosecution of “violent” web sites. “We’re talking about web sites that teach people how to build bombs, claiming it’s for educational purposes.” I hate to burst Cooper’s bubble, but however noxious it might be, the right to publish instructions on how to make bombs — so long as such instructions are not accompanied by incitements to commit crimes — is protected by a long line of Constitutional law. In fact the First Amendment is so liberal in this area, that the U.S. government was unable to prevent a leftist magazine (The Progressive if I remember correctly), from publishing an article explicitly describing how to build a nuclear bomb — something that the United States asserted was a state secret.

Besides, does the world really need this treaty to pursue cyber criminals? Advocates of the agreement site numerous examples of criminals in one country using the Internet to commit crimes in other countries. But for the most part, international authorities had little problem identifying and punishing those troublemakers — usually extremely quickly. Look how fast, for example, the author of the “Love Bug” virus was identified last year. Most other high-profile Internet-related crimes have been solved without recourse to the sweeping police powers called for in the international cyber crime treaty.