Sunday, November 19, 2017

How a student made my day

Two months ago, we at the Medical University of Sofia were carrying out our regular additional autumn exam session, known among students and teachers as the "liquidation" session. It can be best described as "just another last chance" for students who have skipped or failed some exam both at the regular session and at the September corrective session. Unfortunately, while many students had learned at least the minimum of required knowledge and passed, others had not. (The ribosome, already proven to be a Waterloo for some, remained so; this September, two students independently prepared for me depictions of it as a circle surrounded by smaller circles like petals of a flower. I even composed a ribosome haiku: Know thyself and thy ribosome / And remember that it is crazy / To draw it shaped like a daisy.)

After one of those very hard exam days was finally over, I went out in a rush. There was a parent meeting at the school of one of my sons, the first such meeting for this school year. I didn't want to be late. The only way to get there quickly was by a taxi. I saw a free taxi, jumped into it and started to explain the destination to the driver.

Suddenly, a young man - apparently a student at our Medical University - shouted in English: "Doctor! This is a false taxi!" He came closer and pointed at the list of prices displayed at the front window of the car. The numbers were indeed about twice higher than those offered by most taxi companies. I usually check them, but not when I am in a hurry. Expensive or not, this taxi was my chance that night. So I said to the student "Thank you!" but did not leave the car. With it, I reached the school just in time.

That student made my day. I always try to teach well and to examine justly. And while I say that "I do my job the best way I can, and I do not care what others say", I'd wish my efforts to be appreciated... sometimes. That young man showed goodwill to me in circumstances where he could simply pass by. I am sorry that, with my poor ability to recognize faces, I shall not know him if I see him again. But I will remember him.

(This post, stuck in the pipeline together with many others, was called to existence by one of my current 1st year students, who rightly remarked that I should write not just about the poor students but also about the good ones.)

France, we have a problem

Below, another quote from the Newsweek about the scary reality of today's life in Europe - Muslim Anti-Semitism Threatens France's Democracy, a today's report by Simone Rodan-Benzaquen.

"Paris—“In the Merah household, we were brought up with hating Jews, the hatred of everything that was not Muslim.”

These were the chilling words of Abdelghani Merah at the trial of his brother, Abdelkader Merah, who was accused of conspiring with a third brother, Mohamed, to murder three soldiers, three Jewish schoolchildren, and a teacher in Toulouse, France, in 2012.

Abdelghani also revealed, at the time, that “when the medical examiner brought [his] brother’s corpse home, people came over. They cried tears of joy. They said that he had brought France to its knees. That he did well. Their only regret was that he had not killed more Jewish children.”

These appalling remarks, which suggest the environment in which Mohamed Merah was immersed and his family’s way of thinking, have sparked a debate about the extent of hatred of Jews in the French Muslim community.

For years, it has been nearly impossible to speak about French Muslim anti-Semitism.

Many refused to take notice for reasons of ideology, discomfort, or lack of courage. Many feared being accused of “playing into the hands of the far right”... The Merah trial exposed a reality in France: anti-Semitic roots run deep within some elements of the French Muslim community...

French anti-Semitism is distinguished in Europe by its level of violence, ranging from attacks to abductions and even to murders...

Now, some French Muslim intellectuals are speaking out. The most recent example is film director Said Ben Said, who, writing in the French newspaper Le Monde , clearly and courageously criticized Arab Muslim anti-Semitism, after learning that he would not be allowed to sit on a film jury in Carthage because he had produced films in Israel.

The moral courage of such Muslim intellectuals should be commended because we know how difficult it is for them to make themselves heard. Journalists often prefer to invite more controversial figures such as Tariq Ramadan to their TV and radio shows.

And even when these intellectuals are invited, the simple act of denouncing anti-Semitism and extremism makes them susceptible to criticism, insults, and even threats of violence.

They are afraid. How could they not be, when they see that jihadists assassinate French Muslim soldiers and policemen because they are considered apostates, or that outspoken Muslims who denounce violence need police protection?..."

Terrorists should not brag online, hurts job hunt

The text below is from ISIS Members From Europe Can't Get Jobs When They Return Home, a several months-old report by Jack Moore

“I just want to forget everything,” Walad Yousef, a 27-year-old returning fighter, told the newspaper. “I apply for a lot of jobs, but I can’t get any because my pictures are out there.”

Yousef had posted images of himself in Syria on Facebook, posing at a training camp with a Kalashnikov, and encouraging friends to join him. He returned to Sweden and said he had only gone to Syria to help civilians in the eastern city of Raqqa, where ISIS has beheaded several western hostages...

Employers fear that returning fighters may commit attacks or help others to commit attacks and do not wish to be associated with them, said another returnee who has changed his name to Yousef.

"You in the media have scared them. I do not know why they are afraid," said a jihadi from the southern city of Malmo of the fears that employees and civilians had of returning foreign fighters...

Sweden is one the best countries for a foreign fighter to return if they want to reintegrate. It is trialling a rehabilitation programme that gives Swedish extremists housing, employment, education and financial support. Anna Sjöstrand, the municipal coordinator against violent extremism in the city of Lund, said in October 2016 that it is much cheaper to reintegrate someone than to abandon them...

 The country suffered only its second radical Islamist attack in April when an Uzbek national plowed a truck into civilians on a busy shopping street in central Stockholm. The attack left five people dead. Authorities arrested the driver and said he had sympathies with ISIS. ISIS did not claim the attack, but it generally does not take responsibility for attackers who are captured alive..."

The moral? If you really, really want to join ISIS or another similar bunch of good fellows, at least do not brag all over the Web about it. May cause problems if some day you change your career.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Does academic success matter

When my children have problems with their school grades, I try to put things in perspective. I tell myself that, ultimately, being alive and healthy is what matters. I also remind myself that academic success does not guarantee a successful later realization, let alone happiness, and I remember some who were nearest and dearest to me and had straight As at school, and were responsible, hard-working and compassionate, yet did not get the happy and long lives that they deserved.

But this thought gives no comfort.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Immigrants listen to leftists, lose jobs

From a yesterday's report by Macradee Aegerter at

"Local workers fired after not going to work on ‘A Day Without Immigrants’

DENVER -- Dozens of people say they were fired for taking part in a protest in Denver. Thursday’s “A Day without Immigrants” movement closed restaurants, shops, and jobs sites across the United States.

The moment was an effort to show the Trump administration how much immigrants contribute to the country’s economy. Many skipped work and vowed not to spend any money that day.

Now dozens of local masonry workers say they are without a job...

Ray was the foreman of two crews working for JVS Masonry.

He said when he told his boss his crews would be missing work Thursday to support the cause of immigration, he was told, they would be fired.

“You stand for what you believe, make sure you stand for whatever consequences are going to come… He said whoever took the day off today can find another job tomorrow,” Ray read from the texts on his phone, sent by his boss, Jim Serowski, the owner of JVS Masonry.

All of them, he said, fired for standing up for families.

“The guys that we have out here that have families that are afraid to go out and get a gallon of milk, get gas, going to get groceries in case they get stopped and deported,” he said of why they wanted to take part in the movement.

But family is what the owner of JVS Masonry said he supports.

“If you want to go to work to support your family. I don’t care if you have antennas coming out of your head, I really don’t care. If you’re going to betray the company then I have a concern,” said Serowski.

For him, he said, it comes down to business.

“I have no view on immigration laws or anything going on with that. All I know is I have a business to run,” he said..."

Earth to protesters:

When a country accepts an immigrant, the idea is not to give him the good life he is dreaming of. The idea is to use his labor at the lowest cost possible. He will be expected to work hard, often under conditions that the locals find unacceptable, and to keep his mouth shut. A legal immigrant could in theory prosper by starting a successful business, but this is easier said than done.

The "Day Without Immigrants" protests were most likely organized by local well-to-do leftists who can take a day off whenever they feel like it, without any consequences. Actually, the economy would hardly suffer even if all those leftists who have overtaken the US academia quit work for good. But the poor immigrant workers should think well whether it pays to take advice from these people. Now, some immigrants who have listened to the the anti-Trump leftists have as a result lost their jobs. A good lesson maybe, but hard. I do not expect the leftists to be helpful in finding new jobs for the unemployed. They are far better at destroying jobs.

At least, Mr. Serowski has promised to take back those fired workers who reapply.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Vegetarian parents forcing their obsession on children

I have just read this on Dear Abby:

"Dear Abby: I have been a vegetarian for 12 years. My husband has been one on and off for five years. I thought our children, 7 and 3, had never had meat in their lives. I recently found out that my father-in-law has been feeding them chicken nuggets from fast food. I was, and still am, very upset about it. It has been six months, and I haven’t talked to him since and no longer let my kids go over there without my husband. He texted me an apology that seemed very sarcastic and made me even angrier. Everyone says I need to get over it, but no one has confronted him about it. This has put a strain on my relationship with my husband. Can you please advise me on what to do next?
Furious in the South

Dear Furious: Text messages are, by definition, terse. Accept the apology you were given and move forward. That said, however, continue to insist that your children be under their father’s supervision when they visit their grandfather because his judgment is questionable, and he has already shown that when they are with him, your wishes will not be enforced.

Humans have evolved to be omnivores. However, many individuals, families and whole cultures decide to reject human nature and be vegetarians or vegans. There are some legitimate health reasons, e.g. kidney problems. Also, some people just do not like meat. However, the overwhelming majority of vegetarians are such due to crazy religious taboos on animal food or even crazier concern with welfare of non-human animals at the expense of humans.

Of course, everyone can make his food choices. The problem is that vegetarians and other food-restricted and food-obsessed individuals typically are big-time bullies and force the entire family to follow their diet. Of course, the spouse is likely to have been a vegetarian from the beginning, because vegetarians tend to intermarry (other people consider them weird and prefer to keep a distance). But even if the partner has initially had normal food habits, as in this case, he will be forced to submit, as is the rule when a non-fanatic marries a fanatic. Then, the happy couple will make their children vegetarians from the day of their conception, though a developing fetus and child has much higher nutritional needs than an adult. A friend of mine knows a vegan child whose tooth eruption was delayed for many months. That boy's teeth grew only after the grandmothers conspired to give him cheese secretly. Some children have suffered much more. There are reports of babies brought to death or brain damage by their vegan parents.

The "Furious" mother from the above letter has been a vegetarian for 12 years. She has a 7-yr-old child, which means she is unlikely to be younger than 25. She has enjoyed growing on a normal diet containing animal food, but now it seems to her a good idea to raise her children on crappy food. Doesn't she see how disgusting it is to force on your children something that most people hate and that has not been forced on you when you were a child? No, she doesn't. She feeds her children as if they are cattle, and nobody can do anything about it. Her husband is a spineless creature. He doesn't have the will to leave her,  doesn't have the will to resist her attempts to make him vegetarian, doesn't have the will even to keep the diet she is imposing on him (therefore he is "on and off"). Of course he doesn't have the will to fight for his children and guarantee their normal nutrition. The grandfather tried to do something, but was caught.

I am disappointed by Abby's reply, but some commenters had more to say:

"If you don't like what the kids eat on grandpa's watch, then stop using him as free childcare and hire a sitter who will do exactly as you instruct. You probably won't be happy even then because you sound like the sort of person who can't let anything go, who enjoys being livid over some first world problem, and who has a litany of woes that you love to go over with whomever will listen."

"Furious sounds like a control freak. An occasional McNugget isn't going to harm her children. It seems she found religion as an adult, and that's fine, but it takes a very carefully planned diet to raise a healthy child without meat. Maybe Granddad doesn't know how to do that. There is a reason we are omnivores."

"Maybe your kids want meat. Have you bothered to ask them?"

And a comment on the report about the damaged babies: "All you vegan adults, go for it. Everyone needs a religion/hobby. All you would-be vegan parents, consider that your strongly-held beliefs about meat should extend into strongly-held beliefs about not having children. A childless life actually fits very nicely into the stated vegan goal of a sustainable world where animals are completely free of human exploitation."

I just hope that Furious' children against all odds grow up normal.

Friday, January 27, 2017

My little Gilgamesh

At a certain age, children are tormented by existential problems.

Last summer, traveling back from our Black Sea vacation, we visited the city of Ruse at the Danube. We were there for first time. It is a beautiful city, full of culture and history. We especially liked the museum of history, arranged impressively by enthusiastic experts supported by EU funds. For example, one could see a prehistoric sickle from an antler horn with inserted sharp flint pieces as blades; and above, a video showed a woman harvesting with such a sickle. She was in a crude dress, as if it was woven also using Stone Age technology.

Another item was the skeleton of a woman killed during the Indo-European invasion. It was exposed as it had been found, only cleared from above for easy observation. The sight shocked my 12-yr-old son. He apparently realized his own mortality, fell in a whiny mood and kept talking about bones, graves and dying for days. After we returned home, my mother in-law told me that we shouldn't have scared the child like this. I said, in a serious voice, that I realized my mistake and would never again bring the kids to a museum (a promise that I would not keep, of course). I also gave my son Astrid Lindgren's Brothers Lionheart to read. I liked how he, by the end of the book, sensed the sad mood even before it was revealed that Jonatan was paralyzed and both brothers would die.

Half a year later, he had a history lesson about ancient Mesopotamia. It mentioned the epic of Gilgamesh. My son said about the hero:

"He went to seek immortality like me, as I intended!"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Austrian convicted for exposing inconvenient facts about Prophet Muhammad

 From the ECLJ site:

"The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is called upon to decide on the scope of the right to criticise Islam in the case of ES v. Austria, (No. 38450/12) in which a speaker was convicted of blasphemy: for criticising the sexuality of Muhammad.

The speaker who filed the case before the Strasbourg Court was convicted of publicly “disparaging a person who is an object of veneration”, namely “Muhammad” the "prophet of Islam", in a way likely to arouse justified indignation, in violation of section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code.

The contentious statements were made during a series of lectures entitled “Basic Information on Islam” at the Institute of Education of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), given in front of about thirty participants.

The speaker is alleged in substance to have said that Mohammad had pedophile tendencies (he “liked to do it with children”) because he married a girl of six (Aisha) and consummated that marriage when she was only nine. The speaker noted that this was problematic since “the highest commandment for a male Muslim is to imitate Muhammad”, adding more generally that “Muslims get into conflict with democracy and our value system.”

Following a complaint made by some journalists, the speaker was ordered to pay a 480 euro fine or serve sixty days in prison in default of payment. The Austrian courts gave this ruling in order to protect the "religious feelings" of Muslims and the “religious peace” in Austria.

The speaker brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights who will decide on whether freedom of expression prevailed over the respect for Muhammad and the “religious feelings” of Muslims."

(Reported by Gregor Puppinck, hattip Coel.)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The spirit of Christmas

Merry Christmas, or whatever solstice festival you are celebrating! We are now in the happy phase of relaxing after the "active" part of the holiday. No one at home is actually believing, but nevertheless we like the tradition to set up a Christmas tree, to put presents for the kids under it, to invite relatives for a plentiful tasty dinner and then to rest with full stomachs and cautious hopes for the next year. To me, this is the spirit of Christmas.

The spirit of Christmas includes also helping people in need. I like this part less. A major reason for not liking it is that those in need, or their agencies, try to track down the helping people and to harass them with never-ending demands for more help. For example, there is a poor lonely man in our district who lives by collecting bottles and other recyclable items from the garbage. Though I disapproved his drinking, I had some sympathy for him because of his love to animals. He had "adopted" a stray dog and we gave him bones to feed it. Then some neighbors poisoned the dog and he was devastated. "Those dirty, nasty Gypsies!", he exclaimed, though he himself belongs to this minority. After that, he tried to bring up a litter of stray cats. He asked me for milk to feed them, and I bought some. Then, he asked me to buy also a bread for him... Briefly, he asked more and more from me, until I set a fixed sum of 10 leva (EUR 5) per month. But even now, he routinely "forgets" that he has received the money and asks for more before the month is over.

In early December, when that man approached me, I had no bill of 10 leva, only of 20 leva. I sighed, gave him one and said that the extra money was for Christmas. He seemed happy. But yesterday, while I was on last-minute shopping, he asked for money and tried to convince me that I had promised to give him for Christmas. I told him that I had given him Christmas money weeks before and that there was apparently a misunderstanding. I don't know how he felt, but I was angry.

I had another experience of the same type with some students. During the last 4 months, my duties included holding a lecture course at a college loosely affiliated with my university. This work is so unwanted that we literally throw lots about who is to do it. Last year, a colleague picked the losing lot. This year, it was me. I tried to do the work as well as I could, and I invested much time to prepare the course. I even began to like it and thought that I could take it voluntarily the next year.

The exam was last Thursday. Just before it, the students gave me a nice Christmas card. I thanked them though I actually disliked this attempt to predispose me to be too generous. One of the students, who had attended the lectures regularly, approached me and asked me in a low voice whether there would be a bonus for regular attendees. I said that I hoped the regular presence would result in better test scores. So the exam began.

The results were a blow not only to many of the students but to me as well. Colleagues who had participated in the course the previous year had warned me that the level of these students was very poor, but I still didn’t expect 20 out of 50 students to fail, after we put the threshold at just 4 correct answers out of 15. After the exam, the failing ones (who included most regular attendees) were very unhappy, esp. those with 3 correct answers: “Only because of 1 score! Couldn’t you ask us additional questions (to reconsider the grade)?” I pointed out that it was not just 1 but 12 scores that they had got wrong. Then they went to complain to their administration, but were told to study harder.

Yesterday, as I opened my e-mail to send and read Christmas greetings, I saw a message from those students, about whether we could do the exam in February instead of September. They had my e-mail, because I had used it to send them the teaching materials I had prepared for them. And now they were using it to write me that I should write to the Dean to fix a date for the second exam in a month which, according to the rules of our university, is not meant for exams at all. It seems that the less productive a person is, the more prone he is to demand things from others.

So, when a friend at a forum asked about what New Year Resolutions we had, I could present only one: to make sure that someone else troubles with this course next year.