Evolution can be WEIRD – Here are some preposterous examples.

Originally posted on Steemit: https://steemit.com/science/@mobbs/evolution-can-be-weird-here-are-some-preposterous-examples

Previously, I showed some strange aspects of evolution, including convergence and ‘stupid design’. But sometimes, what looks pretty stupid actually serves a pretty niche purpose that has allowed the animal to thrive to this day.

Let’s take a look:

Bats that aren’t very batty

In New Zealand, there is a unique group of bats. You know, those flying rats that fly around catching bugs, in the air.
Except these bats don’t much like flying. They much prefer clumsily scuttling around the ground in the forest.


SourceThough it can fly, many believe, given time, these bats will eventually take to the ground permanently and become a kind of half-way transition species.

But why? Food, of course. These bats live in a habitat in which it’s simply more beneficial for them to stop wasting all that energy on flapping their big finger-wings and instead chill out on the ground.

The rise of a symbiosis between the bat and a particularly interesting plant is suggested to be the primary factor. The Dactylanthus, or ‘flower of the underworld’ is a unique, fully parasitic, yet flowering plant that can produce up to a full cup of juicy nectar in its 10-day flowering period. Perfect for these land bats.

In the meantime, the rest of the basketball-sized plant is underground, attaching itself to the roots of its host. It’s so dependent on its host that it doesn’t even photosynthesize, and will die as soon as its host dies.

Goblin Shark


SourceOk, this one freaks me out every time I see it. Just take a look at its hunting methods (about 35 seconds in):

So this ‘primitive’ shark, or as I think we all feel, ‘shark gone wrong’, has a mouth that can literally be thrown out of its face to catch things to compensate for its snout being in the way.

As terrifying as it looks, it’s actually pretty low on the danger spectrum. It feeds on small fish and molluscs, is barely twice the size of a human, can’t swim very well and has terrible eyesight. This explains the weird protruding jaw, since they cannot find prey with hunting prowess, they instead sit around and wait for things to come to them, before lurching forwards in a split second.

But they’re hunted by better sharks with substantial hunting prowess, so they’re kind of like the undergoblins of the sea. Gotta feel bad for ’em.

Duck-billed Platypus

A famous animal in itself, but the devil is in the detail of this adorable… mammal?

When first brought to England, nobody would believe that it was actually a rela animal, and was just a prank – somebody stitching together the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver and the fur of an otter.

But it’s not just its ridiculous appearance. Platypuses are venomous. This isn’t unique, but it’s definitely surprising. The venom is secreted on a sharp spur on the back of their feet, useful for competing with males in mating season.


SourceThough they have feet, they’re not very accomplished with them on land. The webbing actually retracts when they’re on land, and they waddle around on their knuckles to prevent damaging that extra skin.

Platypuses are monotremes, or mammals that lay eggs. Again, this is not unique, but there are only five living species of mammal that do this, the other four being a variety of anteaters.

Unlike common sense, they only have a single duct for urine, feces and sex instead of multiple openings like real animals.
To make things all the more confusing, the skeleton of a platypus looks very much like a reptile:


SourceWe normally think of mammals being defined as animals that don’t lay eggs, or perhaps don’t have duck beaks, or reptile skeletons, but the main factors that all mammals have are ‘hair, milk, sweat glands, three middle ear bones and a brain region known as the neocortex.’ – three things that platypus succeeds at.

So why do they lay eggs anyway?

The most likely reason is because they took to the water. Millions of years ago, these monotremes were out-competed by marsupials of all kinds, but bearing a live child is bad news if you live in the water, where you would struggle to give them milk without them drowning. That’s not so much a concern with an egg.

While the land-lubber marsupials took over Australia, Platypuses continued to thrive offshore on Tasmania.

Source

Nosey Hummingbirds



SourceHummingbirds in themselves are pretty fascinating, with heart beats as high as 1300 beats per minute, 50 wing flaps per second, and a top speed of over 15 metres/second.

The sword-billed hummingbird is actually a wonderful example of an evolutionary arms race. With a bill longer than its body, life can’t be easy. But is it worth it? Who is the hummingbird racing against?

There are some flowers, such as the Passiflora mixta with particularly long corollas. This means there has to be a very specific symbiosis between animal and plant if they want to get mutual benefits. This is good because not all animals behave the way the flowering plants would like, but making its prize further and further away ensures only the most passionate enthusiasts can seek their reward.

This hummingbird has a beak so long that when resting, it has to tilt its head up in order for it to not fall over. It also has to fly around with its head pointing up, and it can’t even groom itself properly, resorting to a dog-like scratch behind the ears with its feet.

That nectar better be frickin’ tasty.

In this video you can see the extra-long tongue licking away at the feeder:

Giant noses are not unique to hummingbirds, and it seems they are kind of pretty useful in the grand scheme of evolution. Here are some other animals that have developed huge noses for a variety of purposes:

Sawshark


SourceThe saw shark has a huge snout most likely used for advanced detection of prey. Those spines are part of a very sensitive sensory organ.

Sawfish


SourceLike a sawshark, except it’s a fish. Although the sawshark is also a fish so… whatever.

Narwhal


SourceThis ridiculous water-unicorn was a mystery for a while, but there are some sensible observations nowadays. This modified tooth has been seen doing a variety of specific tasks, such as stirring up the sandy ocean floor, fighting, and even slapping fish, rendering them unconscious before gobbling them up.

The tusk can reach 10 feet in length, though they’re often worn down or broken to a smaller size.

Anteaters


SourceAnteaters are pretty well known, but I just find their heads so ludicrous. They have no teeth, and unique stomachs. Whereas most stomachs use hydrochloric acid to help with digestion, the anteaters questionable diet means it’s had to adapt and have formic acid instead.

This diet is generally not great, and anteaters have also adapted to have a lower body temperature than other mammals, at a mere 32.7 degrees C, which helps them use less energy. They also need to sleep 15 hours a day. That gives them 9 hours to constantly slurp up ants before going back to sleep.

What a life.

U5dsoEe1Q57qAz9GzsfpJBLBNeamb6y.gif

Stupid Design – Evolution really screwed us over! *Evolution #2*

Originally posted on Steemit: https://steemit.com/science/@mobbs/stupid-design-evolution-really-screwed-us-over-evolution-2SourceSo in the first part of this series, we took a look at convergent evolution – the process by which two or more separate species develop the same traits despite being geographically separated and isolated for millions of years.

This is, in itself, a demonstration of how brilliant evolution can be; eyes are so complex and specifically formed, yet they developed on SEVEN separate occasions.

Only birds have wings… EXCEPT BATS

Only reptiles have scal – PANGOLIN


SourceSometimes, a great idea is worth hanging on to, and mother nature knows that. But mother nature can also be quite moronic at times, and that’s where we start off; stupid design.

Stupid Design

People naturally look at animals and see the success of billions of years… ok, most smart people. And they’d be right. They’re alive today, or had survived for millions of years, because they evolved in a way that was perfectly adapted to their environment. When that environment changes too rapidly, well, that’s when things typically die off.

But there are some things that don’t seem like ‘adaptations’ at all, but managed to sneak through the evolutionary cracks and survive in animals even to this day.

Giraffe

Perhaps most famously, Richard Dawkins set out to hammer this point home through a dead giraffe.

What he demonstrates is that, given a slow enough process, badly designed elements of an animal can get through without substantial consequence.

In the example of the giraffe (For those of you who cannot watch the video), there is a nerve called the recurrent laryngeal nerve which goes from the brain to the larynx, but rather than taking a direct route of about 2 inches, it takes a huge detour straight down to the heart, U-turning back up and into the larynx, for a journey totaling 4.6 metres!

This inefficient process is a historical legacy going all the way back to fish, in the pre-neck ages. As necks got longer, the nerve subtly got stretched out with no real consequence. You can even see less extreme results in us humans and other animals – even dinosaurs:



SourceThere’s no better place to say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

But sometimes, it IS broken, and life has just has to deal with it

Giraffe 2

Also, ever wonder what it feels like to be born, only to be welcomed with a 5-foot plummet to the ground? Welcome to the life of a baby giraffe. These guys have to sort themselves out, seriously.

Human Stomachs

You know, our stomachs can’t digest the main component in plant matter – Cellulose. Typically, it’s bacteria that does all the breaking down, and cows, for example, have no problem with this. But we don’t have that bacteria at all.

Sea mammals

You’d think, given they spend 100% of their time in the water, they’d learn how to extract air through some kind of… I duno, gill system. This is what convergent evolution was invented for! But no, moving the nose to the top of the head and massively increasing lung capacity should be a sufficient workaround.


It really looks like a nose when you see it close up…
Source

Human feet

26…That’s how many bones in the human foot. 26 moving parts for a rigid body part. Of course, this is another historical legacy from when our apey ancestors needed flexible feet to swing around and and grab stuff, but now, those 26 bones gift us with:

‘ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and broken ankles’ – Jeremy DeSilva of Boston University


Ridiculous
Source

The eye

As imperfect as they are perfect. As Claire Ainsworth and Michael Le Page in New Scientist Put it:

’Their light-sensing structure, the retina, is wired up back-to-front, with the light-sensitive cells behind the nerves and blood vessels that support it. Not only does light have to pass through this layer first, obscuring the image, but the nerves and blood vessels have to dive through the retina, creating a blind spot in each eye.’

Source

Looking back at Part 1 of this series, I showed how the Octopus evolved eyes separately from us, but in the exact same way. They see like we do and the same genes were involved in its development.

However, they got it right. They didn’t have the same evolutionary path as us vertebrates.


Spot the difference
SourceNew Scientist continues:

‘when eyes first evolved in the ancestors of modern vertebrates, the retina arose from an in folding of the developing brain, and the cells that could form light receptors happened to end up on the inside of this fold.’

Having said that, new research supposes a decent reason why.

There’s a whole range of issues with the delicacy and disease-prone eye of a human, but we ain’t got time for that.

All of these are problematic and annoying, but we can just put up and shut up, right? Well… not always.

Fatal Design

If I ask you, you’ll probably start thinking about babies and birth. Correct! What a terrible design. Being bipedal has had a lot of advantages for us, and having a big brain has also had a lot of advantages. But put them together and what’s the solution?

Birth Canal

A narrow birth canal that can actually squeeze and potentially crush a baby’s skull, making it otherwise impossible to birth naturally. Without modern surgery, people just had to deal with it via death.


Source

Pharynx

The pharynx shouldn’t even exist at all. This is the passage that allows food to pass through. It’s also the passage that allows AIR to pass through. How efficient, putting them both together! Sure, it dramatically increases the chances of choking, something we all do at least a few times in any given lifetime, but hey!


Source

Oxygen

Speaking of breathing, how is it that we haven’t actually figured out how to do it?

The human breathing reflex happens due to the detection of carbon dioxide. Think about it. Our breathing reflex is NOT something that comes about directly from the absence of oxygen, the stuff that makes us not die. This indirect way of doing things means that in higher altitudes, humans basically suffocate without even noticing due to the lack of oxygen in the thinned air. Since there is not an abundance of carbon dioxide either, the human body can’t regulate its own breathing.

Wisdom Teeth

If you only have one argument against God, this is the one.
Not only are wisdom teeth vestigial – totally useless – but they are downright painful, and before medicine, ensuing infections could often lead to death. All for a couple of teeth you don’t even need.


Source

Hyena Clitoris

Prepare your imaginations. During Hyena pregnancy, the mother provides a high level of hormones to strengthen the babies within. Unfortunately, these androgens damage ovaries and make it difficult for those children to conceive when they grow up.

What’s worse, is that the clitoris, which also serves as the birth canal in Hyenas, grows up to 7 inches, protruding like a penis from her body.


Source

“Imagine giving birth through a penis,” said study co-author Kay Holekamp of Michigan State University

Errr, no thanks.

The consequence of this is that the tiny shaft – barely an inch in diameter – is ripped apart during birth, providing hyenas with a particularly high death rate in pregnant mothers.

The brain

The mother of all f**k ups. I mean, it’s wonderful and all, but there’s a phenomenal amount of inbuilt imperfections that are simply inexcusable. Wisdom teeth, for example. You can blame big brains for those.

Mental conditions are so rife in the human brain that we need a giant, 947 page book, the DSM-5 just to remember them all.

Many of these ‘disorders’ which lead us to shortened lives, suicides, homicides and more were actually evolutionarily advantageous back in the day, but our rapid change in lifestyle and culture made them a hindrance.

Bi-polar disorder, for example, is considered a mental tool that would have had a couple of advantages. First, mood swings would align with seasons and light, in the same kind of way bears hibernate or other creatures change their persona rapidly.

Second, bipolar disorder in women could have been advantageous for procreation, being more ‘manic when it’s summer time and convenient to get busy. This is backed up by the fact that bi-polar disorder is most prevalent in women of reproductive age.

Others include:
• OCD, which served as a psychological immune system
• ADHD was a great tool of innovation
• Dyslexia was a side-effect of a creative, problem-solving mind (only made a hindrance since the invention of writing)
• Austism, which served as a kind of survival superpower back in the hunter-gatherer days, working solo rather than in social groups.
• Stress, another wonderful survival skill now used to make us sick and die more easily.

So there you have it. A small sample of a huge, tangled mess we all put up with; humans AND animals. Next time you look in the mirror, admiring your own perfection, think again.

Amazing evolution #1 – Convergence

Welcome to the first of a three-part (or more) series about the wonderful world of evolutionI will cover at least three topics without being patronising and going back to basics:

  • Convergent evolution
  • Unintelligent design
  • Artificial evolution

Evolution is one of the most elegant theories ever conjured up, alongside other classics such as F=ma and E=mc^2. Everything from all fields of science, be it biology, genetics, geology or even physics, simply fits in place like a jigsaw piece. Every time. Without fail.

But it seems to get a bad rap anyway. Not everybody believes Darwin like they do Newton and Einstein, and many think evolution is simply SO beautiful that a higher power simply created it all.

Well, yes, it’s often beautiful. I mean, who doesn’t like the occasional tape worm chomping away in their gut?

But to me and millions around the world, the long and arduous journey over billions of years through time and death is far more beautiful and fantastical than a snap of fingers.

I want to show people the limitless nature of nature, and how remarkable it can truly be. Put away your preconceptions of belief, disgust and cute mammalian bias, and let’s dig in.

Convergent EvolutionFirst I will explain how this works, and then I’ll jump into some awesome and sometimes bewildering examples of what is basically glorified coincidence.

FlyingSometimes, life has a good idea, say, wings. But life is not a single entity handing out good ideas to those who deserve it. Life did not give butterflies wings, and then, after hours of begging, finally handed them over to bats. No, these were totally separate good ideas that came about from the same initial ingredients. Birds, bats, MQ-9 Reaper drones, they all came to the same solution through entirely unique processes.

BirdsThere are about 10,000 species of birds that we so far know of, and they come in boring form or splendorous form.


a boring mockingbird
A Splendiferous Greater Bird of Paradise!But if evolution is so true, what use is half a wing? Surely there was a point between the time when there wasn’t a wing and when there was a wing?

Well, yes. According to science, feathers, as well as human hair, evolved from reptile scales. All three are formed from the same part of the embryo of each animal group. They all develop from something called ‘placodes’ – patches of thickened skin.

A dinosaur who developed the mutation of lighter scales and later feathers may benefit from insulation, keeping eggs warm and would also exploit the properties of feathers for aerodynamic escapes, higher jumps or even becoming more virtuoso tree climbers. I’m thinking chickens. Chickens can’t fly but they make good use of those feathers nonetheless.

With escape in mind, you can easily imagine the steady process from higher jumps, leaping from tree to tree before eventually lifting off entirely.

BatsBats are not birds, they’re mammals. There are about 5,500 species of mammals. A bat’s rise to Batman-like abilities came through a different process via mammalian genes. Compare a bird wing to a bat wing:

Nice picture. The most striking thing here is that a bat wing appears to be more finger than anything else, put together with skin like my old school friend’s webbed feet. The bird’s skeleton, on the other hand, made the hand stubbier and extended the actual arm. A bat’s wing is essentially a giant hand.

InsectsInsects are not bats or birds, they’re invertebrates. There are around 1 million types of insects. As we learn in primary school, bugs don’t have skeletons in the way we do, so there’s no skeletal x-rays to be seen. This, combined with the fact that insects don’t fossilize very well makes it very difficult to actually find evidence of the process of acquiring flight.


oh, wait, here’s an insect x-rayThere are theories though, generally looking at how they were developed from insect appendages for balance, hopping around on water and so on. The strongest evidence suggests development from abdominal tracheal gills or similar, as can be seen in this lovely shrimp-like machilis.


Thank you, WigglesworthHere’s the cute version:

OthersSo here we have three distinct processes in which flight has formed. But there are several other examples of animals that seem to be in that very transitional phase, like the ridiculously adorable flying squirrel, which actually glides steadily.

The flying fish, which has been caught on camera flying for a full 45 seconds

Frogs, lemurs, even snakes and lizards are working on taking to the skies!

What we can see is that even distant relatives simply re-use the genetic components provided in our DNA, shuffling them around to better adapt to the environment. There is no new material in a bat’s skeleton or a human or bird skeleton. It’s all just re-proportioned.

SwimmingFish swim. Fish live in water. Dogs can also swim but they usually don’t live in water, because dogs are mammals. Dolphins and whales are mammals too, so why do they live in the sea?

This is a pretty wild evolutionary U-turn which made sea creatures crawl up to land, realize it ain’t all that, and then hop back into the sea where it’s cool and less smoky.

Whales harbour the same skeleton we humans do, reformed to hold bigger, better lungs and a bigger heart. They even have tiny, vestigial legs deep beneath the blubber, and hair across their whole body – at least as babies.


A whale before it made the leap into water… I guessDolphins are wonderful examples of convergent evolution so drastic that they can easily be mistaken for sharks to the untrained eye, a fish millions of years separated from mammals entirely. This is why a dolphin’s tail is horizontal compared to the shark and fish’s vertical tail – They were separate inventions.

Additionally, there are multiple types of river dolphins that survive in fresh water, all of which evolved separately across the world in China, India and the Amazon.

Walking…or notThis is not a snake. It’s a legless lizard. Get your head around that one.

SeeingEyes are the most amazing and intricate little balls of jelly I can currently think of. Eyes are commonly used to argue the existence of God, but a closer look and you see there’s nothing really unique about the process that eyes took to go from ‘no eye’ to ‘eye’.

And this is so true, that eyes also evolved multiple times.

Humans and squids, for example creepily evolved the same eyes using the same genes, separately. In fact, the most recent ancestor of human and squid died out over 500 million years ago.


Actual squid eyeCompound eyes in insects and crustaceans are another example of a solution to blindness. In fact, the mantis shrimp’s eyes are capable of seeing much more than we can. Where we have 3 photoreceptors to pick up red, green and blue light, this shrimp has up to 16 receptors, 6 of which can see into the Ultra-violet range.

…Such a shame their brains aren’t big enough to discriminate between colours anywhere near as good as us, but hey, nice try.

Eyes have formed in their own way at least six times, from the camera eyes of octopuses and humans to the mirror eyes, cup eyes, pinhole eyes and compound eyes of… other… freaks.

CamouflageCamouflage Is a necessity for so, so many animals. It’s no surprise that many animals mimic other animals sharing the same environment. If your neighbor never gets any shit because he’s bald with tattoos and a gun, but you can’t afford that kind of protection on your salary, the cheaper solution is just as effective; shave your head, fake tattoo stickers and a water pistol should suffice.

The same thing goes in the animal kingdom, where plants often mimic each other to ward off threats or, more strangely, attract customers. Sexually.


To a bee, this is a pretty legit mateBut a plant mimicking a plant, or an animal mimicking another animal for the benefit of itself is not convergent evolution. These things happen as a response to external stimuli.

It’s much stranger and more fascinating when you see a whole range of frogs evolve the same appearance around the world, having had no internet to exchange ideas at the time. They all found the same solution to hide from predators and blend into the background.

HearingWe like to hear with our ears. It works pretty well. Echolocation is something else entirely. I mean, it’s not really, it’s a kind of hearing, but a skill we lack, nonetheless (aside from that one blind kid).

Bats and Dolphins both evolved this separately. Scientists in London revealed that ‘200 sets of genes had been identically mutated in dolphins and bats’. The bizarre thing is that not all of those genes were for echolocation. Some were actually linked to vision. Bats that do not use echolocation lack all of these shared genes entirely.

IntelligenceWe normally like to think of intelligence as Us vs. Them in the natural world. We are super smart; they are pretty dumb. Apes are kinda smart I guess, but only because they’re trying to be like us, if Jungle Book taught me anything.

But intelligence comes in many different forms, and the intelligence of some birds expresses that wonderfully.

Crows are considered one of the most intelligent animals out there. They can adapt easily to human intervention, learn tool use quickly and effectively and even show their own ingenuity without training.


Crows have noticeably bigger brains than other birds. In terms of proportion, they are the same as ChimpanzeesSome crows in Japan have been spotted carrying nuts high up to a lamp post, dropping the nuts down to the road below for cars to crush, waiting for traffic lights to turn red and enjoying the easymeal in safety.

Despite having a totally different brain structure, the mental tools shared among primates, dolphins and crows – anticipation and natural reasoning – is otherwise identical. Almost no other animals in nature share these problem solving traits. Other intelligent birds are known to hold grudges – remember specific birds that stole food or annoyed them in some other way, and punishing them later by not providing food sources, for example.

So there you have it, the wonderful world of convergent evolution. I mean, this was barely a scratch on the surface. Just a brief look at the Wikipedia list will make your mind spin with apathy.


…and then someBut I have a habit of writing too much, so hopefully this will inspire people to go on that wiki page and take a look and learn the wonders of how leaves have evolved multiple times, pitcher plants learnt to trap animals the same way, swim bladders evolved in fish and octopuses, different orb-weaving spiders evolved, migrating birds and dolphins have half their brain sleep with the other half awake, some snakes share the same camouflage, opposable thumbs are found in primates, bears and opossums; fingerprints in humans and koalas, prehensile – controllable – tails in mice and monk… Ok I’m done.


High five

Originally posted on Steemit – https://steemit.com/science/@mobbs/amazing-evolution-1-convergence

Local Walkabout – Shanghai, China

A lot of people post their travel blogs here, which is great, but I’d love to see more local walkabouts in various countries around the world, getting into the grit of real life.

Now, I’m no photographer, and I made no effort to pretend otherwise, but here’s a bunch of photos of my area, no more than 5 minute’s walk from my home in any direction, in the heart of Shanghai, China. Hopefully my descriptions will add some actual value to the sub-par images. So please enjoy the journey with me!

So first up, we have this little enclosed business area with a nice restaurant which is within visual range of my apartment. It’s not interesting in and of itself, but in context of it’s surrounding, I thought it symbolic of the substantial wealth divide rampant in the city/country.

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A few metres away, a typical public toilet. For those who have read my article about toilets in China, your imagination should be running wild by now.

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As you walk, you can see a school is around somewhere…

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To continue, you have to go through a couple of small shack homes pretty much. It looks as if they have been there for many years and urbanization has done its best to consume its surroundings and make it public.

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Around on the side of the little house is a sign in Chinese saying ‘If you want one of our plants you can just ask, stop stealing our shit’ – more or less.

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Here you can see the rich area immediately behind, and some random biker just casually passing through.

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‘Great wall’ internet. 50M is not particularly fast in Shanghai, you can easily get double, but it’s actually faster than I’d ever get back in England (I mean, for the price I’d pay). Right now I have 50M for 90GBP per year.

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Not the best of photos, but I wanted to demonstrate how just about any small home can become a store, and this guy had been doing quite well running a fruit stall until the authorities made all the shops keep to their assigned spaces and to stop spreading onto the street. Now he’s left with a few measly benches of peaches and barely gets by.

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On my way to work, I like to go down these little secret alleyways where the poor families tend to reside. Behind this blue door is a space a little larger than a single bed. Many people use this space as storage down this alley, but at least half of them serve as actual bed-sized homes. It’s quite something to observe when walking down here at night and you get a little peak at them watching a tiny TV with a tiny fan blowing in their faces.

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Trash is typically picked up… infrequently, and most of these trash areas are overflowing for some days, usually until the weekend. In some cases, the piles continue to grow for weeks at a time. On the way to work, one sometimes fills up the entire street until it becomes impossible for cars to actually get by.

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Graffiti in training

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About 2 years ago somebody came up with the bright idea of putting cigarettes into grab machines, and you can pretty much see them everywhere now. Hardly a surprise given that at least 350 million people smoke in China.

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When the trash piles get to a certain size, you can sometimes see weird little auctions where an old lady has been curating various bits of useful trash and others can come and buy it from her, I suppose?

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In the midst of all the housing there lies a secret, female-only temple.

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This guy will unlock any door. I’ve been locked out a few times. It’s quite disconcerting that he can just waltz up to any home and break in silently without a care in the world, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.

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Getting into the more populated areas now, you can see the monstrous buildings hiding behind the residential areas.

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Dogs are rapidly becoming a family treasure here, and we’re seeing a growing discomfort with the eating of dogs, and the festivals of dog slaughter, like Yulin Dog Festival, in which 10,000 or more dogs are tortured and skinned alive before eating, because the suffering they go through makes them taste better. Apparently.

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Street food is pretty amazing here. Who knows how safe, but I’d say at least 40% safe.

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Directly across the street you start to see more modern Shanghai. This cafe opened just a few months ago and is proving to be incredibly popular, with customers out the door most days. It turns out the owner of this restaurant is from Hong Kong and is a high school friend of my long-time Hong Kong friend. I’ve yet to take advantage of that via discounts… but I will.

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One of the good things about Shanghai is that they are doing very well at making the city greener. You’ll find most streets lined with trees like this, and in the narrower, French colonial streets, they block the sunlight and create a wonderfully nature-shaded walk. Given the mega city Shanghai is and its mass of cars and pollution, the ubiquitous trees and plants are a very welcome addition.

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I’d say this hospital is about 6 minutes away from my home. This is where I got my toenail removed after it became ingrown. It’s not a good hospital. They removed the whole nail, something that is outdated and generally a bad idea, then they made me return several times to agonisingly and ruthlessly tear off the bandaging and replace it. But the very act of replacing it re-opened the wound and just made matters worse. I took it into my own hands and it healed quickly. Then it grew back even worse and I now live with daily blood stained socks until I find a more decent hospital on the cheap (Work does not provide insurance). Story of my life.

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Going into the subway…

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Down we go. Shanghai has one of the biggest subway systems in the world, and despite its size, a place like downtown Shanghai will see some outrageous numbers of people during rush hour, as you can see:

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Technology is pretty substantial under here. You can scan your phone on this machine and charge your subway card, which also can be used to pay for taxis, buses and all that.

The app you use to scan can also pay for bills, book cinema tickets, flights, book restaurants and all sorts. Pretty amazing stuff.

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Buses outside in this central Shanghai area are powered by electricity. You can see the kind of tram lines above this bus.

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Saw this overtly proud backpacker

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The recent crazy of shared bikes is another pretty wonderful addition to Shanghai and other cities around the country. One day, bright orange and silver bikes popped up out of nowhere on the streets – Mobikes. You scan their QR code and you can download a fully English app where you can locate the bikes in your area (always at least one within a few metres, it seems), then you scan the bike code which unlocks the wheels.

Per use, you will pay between 0.5 RMB and 1RMB (around 10cents), depending on the bike.

Within no time, a new, bright yellow, Chinese language only bike came about – OFO. Many prefer this because it’s cheaper, more ‘bike-like’ in comfort and other issues. Within the week you had blue, even cheaper bikes, green electric bikes and now there are even shiny golden bikes.

It’s a little overwhelming, filling the streets and causing problems, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Quality of life has gone up and I wouldn’t be surprised to see pollution data fall in the near future.

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Sometimes it really does come across like the government can’t physically see residential homes and just blindly build giants on top. In reality, the government has the right to demolish and build on any area, and give homeowners a deadline to get out. They do get a rather comfortable compensation (well in Shanghai, at least), but some simply refuse to leave. In some cases the government, rather than make a big fuss about it, simply build around those homes.

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If you look really carefully, you’ll see two Starbucks in this single image. Can you spot them?

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You’ll often find a lot of interesting information, maps and the like on various walls, even back-streets like this one.

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One of my favourite things about East Asia is the love of secret little Cafes. Some do not advertise at all or even have a sign on the front, but simply depend on word of mouth through social media. This one takes up the entire house and is a lot more than just a cafe. Upstairs there is a Playstation room, a bean bag room, a boxing room, a meeting room, a massage/relax room and a whole bunch more.

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Finally I get back home and take a look out my window

On the surface I guess it’s barely worth mentioning, but this sight is particularly unusual in Shanghai, the world’s biggest city and with a population of 25 million people. Sure, you get all the roads lined with trees the same boring trees, but to see these huge, ancient beasts right outside my window is super rare. Finding this apartment was a stroke of luck – these green giants reduce my stress levels by about 60%!

Thanks for coming with me!

China – the bad, part 3

This is Part 3 of my series on China. Each part can be read separately, but you can read part 1 here
https://steemit.com/politics/@mobbs/china-1-the-bad-part-1

and part 2 here
https://steemit.com/politics/@mobbs/china-2-the-bad-part-2

Previously I discussed:

Economy
Population
Culture (in part)
Health & Safety
Corruption

I’d like to explore more aspects of culture, with my Steemian friend, who, as a Chinese woman, has a first-hand account, @ginafraser. So let’s begin

Equality

In many ways, much of what I say here would probably apply globally, but China has a systematic approach to inequality which, though changing in some of the major ‘first tier’ cities like Shanghai and Beijing, still has a long way to go, and in much – perhaps most – of China, has an unchanged attitude towards equality, in particular, gender equality. I find this particularly striking given their socialist history. According to the Gender Inequality Index, China ranks 91 out of 187 countries (some tied), and 99th in the Gender Gap index.

These statistics may not go against any of your expectations, but let’s dig a little deeper into what this actually means, culturally.

Women in much of China are considered as little more than a homestay maid that provides sexual release for the men. But these women also have to be the right kind. A woman’s value rapidly deteriorates in China based on their age and whether or not they are a virgin.

Marriage markets

When I say value, I really mean value. A common sight in China – even in Shanghai – is the rather famous ‘Marriage Markets’. So much so that they’re even a tourist attraction on many websites.

Here you can essentially sell off women to eager, aging, single men. You can advertise men too, but unlike women, the men tend to increase their value with age, and it’s their wallets that really matter.

剩女

China has a popular idiom ‘剩女’ or ‘leftover women’, which refers to women in their late 20’s that are still unmarried (Just recently, the nation somehow collectively decided to lower this age to mid-20’s). After that threshold, your value decreases and your chances of finding a partner in the markets (and elsewhere) plummets. Women typically then feel pressure to get whatever they can take. Additionally, the ‘virgin system’, as @ginafraser puts it, causes value to drop even more. I find this particularly bewildering given that there is a huge gender imbalance in the population in the other direction; a surplus of 33 million men reside in China.

Once a woman finds a man and the man proposes, it’s not unusual for the woman’s family to put a price tag on their approval. My friend’s fiancée was given the go ahead after a nice, brand-new, widescreen TV was put on offer, for example. Some may simply ask for a lump cash sum to prove you’re a good person somehow.

Rights

Women typically have less rights overall. Mao Zedong, in his little red book, insisted that gender equality is a necessity in society, citing equal pay for equal work decades before modern SJWs were even born. But his words did not match reality, with very few discrimination cases and little to no protection against harassment until very recently when Xi Jinping started to make some reforms, and even that led to little change.

Even anecdotally, I know of sexually harassment to friends of mine in public; men touching their underwear with their penis in the subway. Others witness older men casually masturbating over them. ‘When she later asked Beijing locals about the incident she was told that older men were allowed to take part in this kind of activity as they are senile and it was just the way things were.’

According to a Chinese Non-governmental organization, a massive 70% of women here have experienced sexual harassment at work, and 15% have left their jobs because of it.

Furthermore, domestic violence is as high as 40% against women, and even higher in rural areas. Like everything here, the main issue is simply a lack of legislation and enforcement. There is no protection or shelters for abused women, no helping organizations, and abuse is largely considered a ‘family matter’ to the authorities. With that in mind, divorce is not granted on grounds of ‘abuse’. It’s just not a valid argument for divorce in China.

Now we get to the ugly bit.

Unwanted children & abortion

As mentioned above, there are 33 million more men in China than women. That’s a huge number, even for a population as big as China. It may be partly due to the one-child policy I talked about in part 1.
As the policy took over (though many exceptions were available), there was pressure in rural areas to birth males, who are apparently better at work. Women are undesirable; not good for work. So there is a natural desire to abort the fetus or failing that, abandon the baby so they can try again for a boy.

Often, a family is allowed a second child IF the first one is a woman, because this first attempt is considered a ‘failure’. I should note that this attitude in and of itself is common all over including Vietnam and India. This continental gendercide is winding down slowly, like every other problem, but not nearly fast enough. Abortion rates are still incredibly high in China. 336 million abortions were reported since the one-child policy was put into effect, or 13 million each year, many of them forced.

Suicide rates are higher in women than men in China – The only country in the world other than some small island with a population of about 10 people. Now we can start to see why.

CCP

The Communist Party of China, of which there are almost 90 million members, enjoys plenty of general rights compared to the rest of the expendable population. Becoming a member is considered ‘the ultimate resume boost’ to start off, and, going back to the marriage market, your value shoots up substantially. You are culturally more respected and become more influential, because becoming a member is something considered only for the elite – despite it being 7% of the entire population.
To put the cherry on the cake, members literally have more rights according to the Chinese constitution: ‘Article 35 proclaims, “Citizens of the PRC enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration.” Another segment guarantees workers the right to strike, to speak out freely, air views fully, hold large debates and write big-character posters.’ – With a big asterisk at the bottom citing ‘applicable to members of the party only’

Well, that’s nice.

Censorship

China is probably most famous for its incredibly powerful censorship system. With the great firewall, and the lesser known great cannon, billions of dollars put into watching and controlling dissent through social media, internet and a full range of hacking skills, there’s little anybody can realistically do and get away with it – foreigners like me included.
A fellow co-worker, for example, was on skype to his son one day, when he got a phone call from the internet company. ‘Sorry to disturb your call with your son, but’.

Wait, what? It seems they were sitting there, watching them chat through their own computer screen before calling him up, which violates no privacy rights whatsoever. If a private company has that kind of power, what does the government have?
A lot.

五毛党

The Chinese government hires something they call ‘五毛党’, or ’50 cent army’. This is a massive array of individuals paid to manipulate public opinion online (though it’s just as likely it’s an official duty of membership to the CPC). They are responsible for faking 450 million social media posts according to research.

They are also there to snitch on dissenters among other things. They specifically focus on ‘derailing discussions unhelpful to the communist party’. Essentially, they are professional trolls.

Wechat

Wechat is China’s Whatsapp. But it’s so much more than that. It’s an incredible, powerful device that transforms life as we know it. But I’ll get into that in the ‘good’ post later on. The problem is that wechat consumes almost every aspect of life. In the app, you can call taxis, pay your bills, book cinema tickets or flights, order food or pay at restaurants, charge your phone, unlock a shared bike and a whole manner of oth – oh, and chat with your friends.

With 900 MILLION users depending on this all-consuming app, it’s a little worrying when you realise they have a very cozy relationship – as is required – with the government. Censorship is bountiful, and there are 50-cent eyes required in every group chat over a certain number of members. Members of large group of 500 or more also have to register their phone numbers so there’s no escape

The parent company, Tencent, without telling anybody, censors a whole range of key words and images that appear in newsfeeds, typically things relating to political issues like Tiananmen square, the Hong Kong protests and so on. Many users have been arrested and some reportedly ‘disappeared’ (a common theme in China) for writing dissenting ideas where more than a few people could read it.

There is in fact a whole new language created by Chinese netizens meant to be a code to bypass censorship, but the grip gets tighter every day.

Censorship is incredibly fast and efficient here, so word has to spread fast if anybody wants to even hope to make a difference and get people informed.

VPNs

VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are surprisingly not illegal in China. But with the vast majority of the country totally unaware of what that is, it doesn’t mean much anyway, and it allows the hypocritical government to access whatever they please. Just recently however, there has been a crackdown on VPNs, and now only VPNs registered and authorized by the government may function in the country. Surprise, surprise.

Media

Typically, all media is heavily censored. Songs cannot sing about anything controversial, TV shows are all safe and family friendly (there is no age rating in China, so EVERYTHING has to be safe viewing for EVERYONE), Video games have to be safe and friendly, literature has to be compliant and family friendly. And safe.

There was a period drama released a couple of years ago called ‘Empress of China’ which, famously, was pulled from the network without warning, and was not heard of again until a few weeks later when it was re-instated. See if you can spot the difference:

That’s right. NO CLEAVAGE.

Blood is also unacceptable for the most part. The recent movie Logan was released here surprisingly, but only after a full 14 minutes were cut out. I’m sure you can guess which bits.

Most international movies released here (of which only 36 are allowed in a given year), have a scene or two cut from it. Which leads me to the final section of Part 3.

International Affairs.

You may have noticed a sharp rise in Chinese actors in minor roles in big movie hits across America. This is no accident. With China rapidly becoming the biggest cinema market, and by far the fastest rising market, it only makes sense that Hollywood sucks their… little red book. But over here, it’s even more pronounced. What you don’t see in America are the additional scenes specifically recorded by Hollywood to include a dialogue or action by some famous Chinese actress or actor being patriotic and all round heroic. Some movie examples are:

• Iron Man 3 – An extra scene showing famous Chinese actors as heroic doctors operating on Tony Stark
• X-men – Fan Bing Bing, the most famous actress in China, played a useless role
• Transformers – It includes a wide range of Chinese product placement
• World War Z – Left almost unrecognizable after all mention of China was removed
• Dozens of other movies (Looper, Pixels, Karate Kid, Django Unchained, Hunger games, and so on) – Scenes cut entirely for
Chinese viewing.

It’s safe to say that China is having a substantial impact on the Hollywood industry. Directors are carefully planning their movies to be suitable and attractive enough to fit into that small, 36-movies-a-year movie list in China.

One Belt, One Road

China is of course a global power, and boy, do they know it. But naturally, it’s never enough. Just recently, Xi Jinping has released grandiose plans for the ‘One Belt, One road’ initiative; a giant update of the old silk road

The move plans to economically connect the world with China for developmental and cooperative reasons. But it’s not all it seems to be.

It has already gone under fire when footage of Kenyans protesting about the new rail system being installed by China surfaced. The rail system connecting the one belt will triple import and export times.

The Kenyans were protesting for a pay raise from $2.50 to $5… per day to start, but there was also protest about the track cutting right through a protected wildlife reserve, treatment of workers and all round poor conditions, such as firing Kenyan staff without cause, firing Kenyans for asking for more pay, dredging sand from beaches for construction, and stealing water from local communities.

This is common across Africa with Chinese companies, with many human rights laws being broken, with outbreaks of cholera, no protective gear and more.

But not to worry, it’s a divided issue, and at least thousands of new jobs have been provided to install the project. Sounds great! Except… the companies China brings to Africa import their own labour. Very few Kenyans actually got to work on the project.
The problems get bigger still. Kenya will be forcefully buried into debt as a result of this project. Kenya’s debt is now 700% of its annual budget – 60% of which belongs to China.

Similar plans are happening around the entire belt. In Vietnam, plans to ‘help develop’ the country will add additional debt equal to the country’s entire annual budget. There is certainly something sinister about this peace project.
500 billion dollars was given in trade in Latin America, with a further 250 billion in direct investments. Yes, almost a trillion dollars in the continent. As for One belt? An estimated 3 Trillion dollars will be sunk into that beast.

There are even broader efforts by China of global domination. In New York Times Square, for example, there is a huge propaganda ad playing 120 times a day, and has entire sections of newspapers dedicated to Chinese patriotism all over the country. Chinese propaganda is commonplace with entire TV channels dedicated to praising the CPC and more.

Overall, China spends around 10 billion dollars on international propaganda, compared to the US’s $666 million.

Make of that what you will.


Can you spot the propaganda?

To conclude

China’s influence on the world is phenomenal, and its rate of growth is even more astonishing. As worrying as this might be, the internal issues are, to me, a much greater concern. Political battles, human rights abuses, an extremely alarming disregard for safety standards and health, pollution disasters, substantial poverty, inequality, animal cruelty and a whole range of aspects I didn’t get time or space to cover, they all lead to one thing:

I need to make a Part 4!

But I promise it will be a lot shorter next time.

Thanks for reading this far, and a special thanks to @ginafraser for her personal knowledge included in this article.

Brainwashing – Old and New

Original post here – https://steemit.com/psychology/@mobbs/brainwashing-old-and-new

I’d like to preface this post with a…hmm… ‘Trigger warning’ (urgh). Further down it goes anti-Islamic, and generally anti-religion. But I want to be very clear that it is not anti-Muslim or anti-religious person, and I try to make that clear distinction.

The critique of an ideology is not bigotry, so if anybody has opposing opinions, we can discuss it civilly below!


Brainwashing is such an overused term when trolling or generally arguing on the internet, that the potency of its effects are often undermined.

Then

Brainwashing is an incredible global force that in many ways has defined and carved civilisation. Think about that. Some ridiculous Chinese people revere in Hitler’s achievements, saying he’s strong and changed the world for the better with some sacrifices – Just like Mao!

Historians often claim that Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire was one of the best things that ever happened to us; it connected the east with the west and set up the blueprints of continental trade and communication that we thrive on to this day.

But close your eyes and imagine being there. Imagine being the victim of Khan’s wrath, of Hitler’s ideas and ideology. Imagine being thrown into the mud ad a group of nomadic, brutal men throw planks of wood on you and your child, so you serve as the foundations for a victory party, with dozens of horses and hundreds of men trampling you from above, breaking your ribs, your children’s skull, and the hundreds of other victims surrounding your now broken and lifeless corpse.

Suddenly, that continental connection doesn’t seem so important.

Imagine looking up in your final breath, having had a bullet in your lungs, and seeing a field, plain and flat, as far as the eye can see on a snowy winters day in Stalingrad, yet you can’t actually see any grass or plains, but instead, carcass after carcass, lined up head to toe, messy piles reaching as far as the eye can see, like blades of grass that had just been mowed down by an industrial lawnmower.


battle of Stalingrad… the results

Suddenly, Hitler’s ideology doesn’t seem so valid.

Time is a natural brainwasher, and a very powerful one at that. We look at the 1200’s in amazement, but we can’t grasp the kind of world the 1200’s under the power of the Khan. It’s just too far away.
ISIS is nothing, ISIS is an ageing mosquito, slowly buzzing near your ear compared to the world our ancestors lived in.

This kind of brainwashing is inevitable in most ways beneficial. Living with this kind of knowledge every day would be the end of us.


Now

But although there are still countless atrocities going on right now, we really do live in a time of comparative peace. In fact, it is easily the most peaceful era in human history.

But as a result, a new kind of brainwashing has been born: Voluntary Brainwashing. And I can’t stand it.

Recently, my home country, England, has seen Islamic terrorism hit its shores again. It’s terrible, and it happens all over the world on a regular basis. Pick any birthday, and you can be sure to find a bunch of deaths related to Islamic terrorism on that day (I checked). So do we really have to keep pushing the ‘not all Muslims’ agenda, one of the most prominent forms of voluntary brainwashing?

Not all Muslims are terrorists. Obviously. If they were, we would all be dead right now – INCLUDING all Muslims, since they largely can’t agree with each other.

But it’s totally beside the point.

It’s like saying ‘not all North Koreans are evil dictators’. yeah, we know. But we also know that those North Koreans are trapped, brainwashed by the powers that reside over them, helpless. The only knowledge they get is the knowledge they’re told, the knowledge those almighty leaders want them to know.

In Islam, the exact same situation. Yet we condemn north Korea and for some absurd reason, do everything we can to revere Islam.

Every single terrorist attack that decapitates a dozen teenage girls, or injures 500 London commuters or the specks of beheadings and knifing and axing and van driving with a Muslim behind the wheel, weapon and action, with every one of them, it takes mere seconds for the solidarity movement to jump onto social media and say NOT ALL MUSLIMS!

Yeah. It’s not the Muslims that are the problem. It’s Islam.

Islam is one of the most successful brainwashing tools the earth has ever known. All religions are pretty efficient at this, but i’d say they are not voluntary.

You, as a Muslim, are trapped. You are victims of forced, lifelong brainwashing. From the day they are born, they are surrounded by adults who don’t want to teach them to think for themselves. They want to teach them to obey the ideals of a prophet of war, a vengeful God. A belief system that demands world dominance and the slaughter of all non-believers. How can you believe anything else when everything around you tells you otherwise? How can you escape when you are threatened with death for leaving?

For the vast majority of Muslims, there’s no way out.

So given how trapped they truly are, how can it possibly help those presumably millions living in fear of their leaders and Gods and prophets, but still blind to their faith from a lifetime of brainwashing, when those non-religious folk or Christians or general liberal minds across the west stand around with their fingers up their arses pretending Islam is a beautiful religion that people have simply distorted?

No.

Islam, like every religion, is a serious problem. And I’m very aware that you, as a westerner (probably) are more likely to get crushed by your fridge than fall for a Jihadist bombing, or get gunned down by a latino or whatever, but again, beside the point.

Most of these statistics showing that Muslim terror attacks are the least likely threat to you are generally based in the US, where Muslims are barely 1% of the population, and terrorist attacks are typically rare on the whole. When you go global, Muslims are 6 times more likely to commit an act of terror compared to the rest of the population)

Here is about 25% of the Islamic Terror attacks that have occurred in the last 30 days. I couldn’t fit the whole thing in one image.

But I want to focus on the very core of the religion, not it’s distorted offshoots.

There are many, many overwhelmingly alarming problems inherent to the ideology as a whole that simply do not fit in our comparatively peaceful world. It may have been a useful tool during the era of empirical conquests and cultural revolutions, but saying it has a place in this world, in 2017 is just dangerous, voluntary brainwashing.

It promotes suppression of women, it often prohibits freedom of religion around the world and it resists democracy and freedom of speech at every turn with a brutal Sharia Law.

When you learn that a vast number, of nations with huge populations think stoning somebody for adultery is the way to go (89% in Pakistan, 81% in Egypt), and those who wish to leave the religion should be put to death (62% in Malaysia, 66% in Palestinian territory), can you call yourself a Feminist or a Liberal as you desperately try to protect them by reminding us that NOT ALL MUSLIMS are terrorists?


When you learn the Koran teaches global conquest, to dominate over all other religions, be it through death or simply out-breeding slowly over generations (as told by spatterings of current leaders of Islamic groups around the world), are you still going to sit there, twiddling your thumbs reciting ‘NOT ALL MUSLIMS’? or ‘Christianity used to be just as bad!’ or ‘Some Christians in Africa are brutal too!’

Think about it. Don’t brainwash yourself. Religious people, especially Muslims, need saving. They are trapped victims of the most powerful psychological tool mankind has ever created.

If you are a Muslim reading this from a moderate family in a moderate country who feels fine with what you’re doing and what your religion stands for around the world, well, I don’t know what to say, but you are lucky enough to be in a country where you can make that choice, whichever way you decide.

Let’s make Critical Thinking the new global superpower and do away with all this fantastical, menacing nonsense. Stop giving a hand to a religion that goes against literally everything we believe in.