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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Life in the age of madness

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They used to say that you know you're middle-aged when policemen start to look young.

I never really got that. Policemen have looked young to me since the first time I saw one with a gun on his hip.

Here's another test: Do you sometimes find yourself wondering, "Is it just me or has the world gone mad?" When you pick up the paper, is your eye drawn to stories which feed this suspicion?

Do you see stuff on the TV news which others seem to regard as unremarkable, even mundane, and think, "What is it with these people? Can't they see the world's gone mad?"

Take the recent death of a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando. A 12-tonne orca named Tilikum dragged the poor woman into the pool by her ponytail and, according to onlookers, thrashed her to death. SeaWorld's head of animal training said the tragedy was unlikely to cause changes to the shows in which trainers swim with orcas and ride on their backs, but the practice of allowing VIPs to touch the beasts would be discontinued.

Orcas are better known as killer whales. It couldn't be much clearer, could it? Perhaps it could - perhaps they should be called homicidal whales.

Or psychopathic whales. Maybe then people might twig that these aren't overgrown dolphins.

That was just the start of it. The American Family Association (AFA), an ultra-conservative religious group with 200 radio stations across the US, pointed out that Tilikum had been involved in the deaths of two other people and therefore should be put down.

Fair enough, you might think - if he was a dog, it would have been one strike and you're history. But the AFA doesn't want Tilikum to be given a lethal injection or a bucket of arsenic-laced sprats. It wants him to be stoned to death, because the Bible (Exodus 21:28) says, "When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten."

How would that work? Well, basically, you surround the whale and chuck rocks at him until he's dead.

If you think that's weird, get a load of this: the AFA also wants SeaWorld's head of animal training to be stoned to death, because the Bible says, "If an ox kills a second time, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner shall also be put to death."

And no, I don't think there's much to be gained by pointing out to the AFA that Tilikum isn't an ox.

This week AFA's founder and long-time leader Donald Wildmon, who blames obscene content in TV programmes and movies on all the Jews in Hollywood who want to undermine Christianity, stepped down after contracting encephalitis from a mosquito bite. His acolytes are now scouring the Old Testament from Amos to Zachariah to see what would be a fit punishment for the offending insect.

Turning heads at the Geneva Motor Show this week was Porsche's eco-friendly 918 Spyder Hybrid concept car. The Spyder Hybrid can travel up to 24km on electric power, which would take about five minutes at its top speed of 300km/h.

You may wonder what's friendly, ecologically or socially, about a car that goes three times faster than the maximum speed limit. Or why, when we're bombarded with harrowing TV advertisements ramming home the dangers of excessive speed, the auto industry continues to produce cars with far more power than we can legally or safely utilise.

Above all you may wonder why, having just digested the message of the harrowing death crash ads, you're now watching a car ad whose implicit but not subtle message is, "if you think the current model's got grunt, wait till you get behind the wheel of this baby".

But now and again you see something that makes you think, maybe I'm reading too much into this stuff; maybe the world hasn't gone mad after all.

This week Pakistani-born Sheikh Tahir ul-Qadri, a prominent theologian who holds one of the highest positions in Islamic jurisprudence, issued a decree denouncing terrorism and declaring that suicide bombers will burn in hell rather than cavort with virgins in paradise, as Terror Inc's recruiting sergeants promise.

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, a businesswoman has been sentenced to 300 lashes and 18 months in jail for filing complaints against court officials and appearing in court without a male chaperone. The two judges who sentenced her were among the officials named in her petition.

They also used to say that one swallow does not a summer make.

- NZ Herald

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