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14 July, 2007

Has The World Gone Mad?

It's been a strange week.

In the southern Iraqi town of Basra, fierce giant badgers are roaming the docks. The locals believe they were introduced by the British Army to spread panic but local experts say the animals are indigenous – just not often seen in the city. Giant, killer badgers are odd enough but what is much, much more disturbing is that people could think for a moment that the Brits set them loose on the town. What possible chance do the invading armies have of winning the 'hearts and minds' of the Iraqis if the conquered have such a complete and utter misconception of who their conquerors are?

Meanwhile, a 45-year-old man in Sydney has been on a rampage in a restored tank. He drove his tank at dead of night through several Sydney suburbs apparently targeting mobile phone towers. He managed to take out six mobile phone tower sheds and an electricity sub-station (easily confused with a mobile phone tower in the dark) before his tank stalled as he tried to demolish a seventh. Apart from trying to keep people out of his way, there wasn't much the police could do about it except watch. Now, I hate mobile phone operators as much as the next guy, but to spend all that time and money on buying and restoring a tank just so you can have a little rampage and knock down a few towers seems just a little over the top. Surely it would have been easier to start a socialist party, sweep the country in a landslide election and nationalise them all without compensation? Far less bother and so much more satisfying.

And then there was the guy in China who got married this week. The bride a normal-sized Chinese woman, 1.68m tall. He is the world's tallest man, Bao Xishun, who is 2.36m tall. It seems he's a really nice guy under all that enormousness but was driven to advertise for a wife – probably for all the obvious reasons. Curiously, he only got 20 replies. Now, if it had been the West, they'd have built a 'reality' TV show around it and had thousands of female contestants being slowly and tediously eliminated for months before finally picking some completely unsuitable extravert with outsize breasts to appear in the season finale on Mr. Bao's arm. As it was, there was a quiet courtship and the bride seems like a very nice person. Bao is famous not only for his record-breaking length but also for saving two sick dolphins by using his very long arms to pull plastic rubbish from their stomachs. But the really odd thing is, he's Chinese. Aren't those guys suppose to be small?

Finally (Ha! Finally! I didn't mention the mystery philanthropist in Japan who has left at least $40,000, in envelopes each containing $100, in public toilets around the country. Nor the fact that a member of the pop-group Queen has just finished writing up a PhD thesis he started in 1971 and which was rudely interrupted in 1974 when he took 33 years out to become a worldwide global mega rock guitar hero.) Finally, I should mention that Dr. Mohammed Haneef has at last been charged with 'recklessly providing resources to a terrorist organisation.' Dr. Haneef has been infamously held without charge in Australia for 13 days while being questioned by the police about alleged involvement with a UK terrorist group responsible for recent botched car bomb attacks. The strange thing is that, after all that questioning by Australian and British anti-terrorist police, the charge is that Dr. Haneef 'recklessly' (not intentionally) gave a phone SIM card to the terrorists. Stranger still, this kind of recklessness, under the new anti-terrorism laws (America's finest export to the world) could cost him a further 25 years in gaol. Of course, in law, 'reckless' implies that Dr. Haneef didn't care if the terrorists blew people up. That is, that he was indifferent to the consequences of what he did. The common usage of the word to mean something like 'foolishly unthinking' isn't what he has been charged with. It is quite possible, the charge says, that he could clearly foresee what would be done with the SIM card but he just didn't care. Which is a pretty strange thing to charge him with in itself, don't you think? The anti-terrorist laws have the concept of conspiracy to commit a terrorist offence. So why not use that? Presumably because there is no evidence for it – only evidence of the doctor's indifference.

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