Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Project for alphabet-teaching tool

I have a project for a set of pictures forming a tool to teach the alphabet to preschool children.
Of course, it is a standard method to teach the alphabet by illustrating each letter with an image of an object with a name beginning with it. However, in almost all cases the shapes of objects have nothing in common with the shapes of the letters they illustrate. The only exception known to me is the story How the Alphabet Was Made by Rudyard Kipling. However, even he illustrates only one letter by a common English word beginning with it (s with snake); the other examples in the story are either exclamations or words of an artificial language invented ad hoc.
I have thought for a long time that the alphabet can be better taught if each letter is illustrated by an object that not only has a name beginning with the letter but also resembles it in shape. I have realized this idea for the Bulgarian alphabet. You can see the result at my Bulgarian blog. The letters given in the column are linked to images that will give the general impression even to a reader who speaks no Bulgarian. The illustrations are of rather poor quality because I have used photos done by myself. However, technical perfection is not the important thing - any artist knowing his job could achieve it. It is the idea that is important.
Now, I am offering the same idea concerning the English alphabet for sale. Above is shown a sample - h illustrated with horse. If you are interested in the project and you represent a publisher, a foundation, a rich philanthropist or a 501(c)(3) public charity able to provide fiscal sponsorship, you can contact me at mayamarkov [at] gmail [dot] com.

Libya struggling for freedom

This flag of the kingdom of Libya with the inscription "Free Libya" is taken from Anglo-Libyan's Feb. 18 post. As he wrote earlier, most freedom-loving Libyans still identify with this pre-1969 flag and do not recognize the "all green rug" Qaddafi forced on them.

The bottom photo is again taken from Anglo's blog - Libyans reacting to the speech of Qaddafi's son Saif.

After Tunisians and Egyptians and other Arab nations, Libyans also rose up, demanding freedom.
But Muammar Qaddafi (Gaddafi) is far worse than your average Mideast dictator. Not only is he 100% unscrupulous - many people, including me, have thought for years that he is mentally ill.
Yet, after he surrendered his employee Megrahi to be tried for the Lockerbie bombing and the sanctions against Libya were lifted, Western countries rushed not only to buy oil from Libya and to supply it with foods and textiles and photo cameras, but also to sell arms to it. Why? Isn't it clear that selling arms to a crazy dictator like Qaddafi is the equivalent of selling a gun to a psychopath like Jared Loughner, and that in both cases you can expect the same lethal result, just on a different scale? Now, as Qaddafi is committing a massacre on his people, the Independent reports, "Britain halted military exports to Libya last week but sniper rifles, which may have killed protesters yesterday, were amongst equipment exported to Tripoli last year".
It is difficult to know exactly what is happening in Libya now, because the regime keeps international media out and does its best to prevent its own citizens from reporting any information. Today, Reuters cites witnesses that "Muammar Gaddafi used tanks, helicopters and warplanes to fight a growing revolt". The uprising began in Benghazi - the residents of this city are among the most valiant people on Earth! - and then spread to Tripoli where, according to reports, there are now bodies of scores of killed protesters lying on the streets.
Libyans appeal to the world for help, but what can we, what can even our governments actually do? I just check the media and Libyan blogs time and again, hoping to find some good news.
What we hear sound all but comforting, yet I think that Qaddafi has lost control beyond the point of no return and his days as ruler are counted.
Update (several hours later): Qaddafi gave a hysterical speech in which he said, "I am not going to leave this land. I will die here as a martyr."
Come on, sir! Please do it! Do your nation and the world a favour!
Update (March 2): Unfortunately, Bulgaria has also supplied Qaddafi with weapons. A report by the Guardian reveals that in 2009, we sold to Libya ammunition and fuses for EUR 3,730,000. I recommend you to visit that page and shed a tear or two over Europe's travesty. As a commenter has written below, "Gaddafi laughed when asked if he would step down.
"As if anyone would leave their homeland," he replied, accusing western leaders of betrayal and of having "no morals". And he is absolutly right, we are the people who wanted to be his friend so we could buy his oil and sell him arms knowing full well that he was an unhinged tyrant - but it didn't matter, there were guns and oil!"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Well done, Egypt!

Top: Egyptian protesters, many days before their victory. Copied from Feb. 1 post of Jordanian blogger Roba, original source Reuters. For other beautiful photos of the protests see Roba's Feb. 6 post.
Bottom: One of the fallen Egyptian freedom fighters - 23-yr-old Sally Zahran. Copied from msn.com, original source unnknown.

When East-European countries, including my Bulgaria, suddenly freed themselves of communism in the "Autumn of the Nations" of 1989, I enthusiastically thought that my adult life would coincide with a global reign of freedom.
Some years later, I started to think exactly the opposite - that 1989 was not a dawn but a rare spark in a realm of darkness, and I would not live long enough to witness another similar spark.
But it is here and now - the so-called "the Arab Spring" is sweeping the North Africa and the Middle East, and it seems that nothing there will ever be the same again.
All began in Tunisia by a hitherto unknown man, 26-yr-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi. For many years, he had been harassed, humiliated and blackmailed by arrogant and corrupted police and municipality officers during his overwhelming work to feed his family. When they confiscated his goods and beat him in December last year, this was the straw that broke his back, and he publicly set himself on fire. And then, the whole country caught the fire. Protests escalated, until the dictator Ben-Ali was forced to resign and flee to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14.
This was an awakening for other Arab nations who suddenly realized that their dictators were not invincible. In one country after another, protesters filled the squares. The events are still ongoing and the balance of forces uncertain, with one honorary exception - Egypt, where the protests beginning on Jan. 25 on the Tahrir ("Liberation") square in Cairo and in other cities forced the dictator Hosni Mubarak to resign on Feb. 11.
I wish I could welcome the Egyptian Revolution with my whole heart but, to be honest, I must admit that my feelings are mixed. I admire the courage of the protesters and their love for freedom, and I wish them and their whole nation all the best. However, I am afraid that events may take an unfortunate turn - and I am not alone. Because the main opposition force in Egypt is the infamous Muslim Brotherhood, many Western commenters see the shadow of the 1979 Iranian revolution - which also began with striving for freedom, and ended with establishment of a grotesque theocracy and slaughter of freedom-loving people. Tunisia is a tiny country, so nobody seems too bothered by the rumours that a motley crew of Islamists and Communists is heading for the elections there. However, Egypt is an important state, a regional power; and while the threats/promises of the Muslim Brotherhood to make a war with Israel may well be empty words, nobody is willing to bet on it.
Of course, I feel uneasy with this opinion, as a supporter of a wrong cause. Any statements that a nation is not yet ready for democracy and could not apply it correctly smell of racism and are usually voiced by enemies of mankind and civilization. Which, unfortunately, does not always guarantee that they are untrue... My opponents may ask, and will be right - how could a nation under a dictator teach itself to master democracy? How can you ban a person to immerse his foot in water, and then claim this is for his own good because he cannot swim? As the Benghazi Citizen (I hope he is OK) said, "No nation throughout history was ready for democracy, because those who ruled made sure that their people (or their subjects) are never ready."
In the particular case of Hosni Mubarak, he presented himself as a friend of Israel and the USA (enjoying a nice $1.5 billions of aid per year; as someone commented in the Ha'aretz forum, "real friends don't need to be bribed"). At the same time, he used his goverment-controlled media to enhance the antisemitic and anti-American feelings of Egyptians. Sandmonkey, who himself took part in the Egyptian revolution, wrote on Feb. 3: "A veiled girl with a blurred face went on Mehwer TV claiming to have received funding by Americans to go to the US and took courses on how to bring down the Egyptian government through protests which were taught by Jews... State TV started issuing statements on how the people arrested Israelis all over Cairo engaged in creating mayhem and causing chaos." So, whatever happens, I am not going to miss Mubarak. I cannot even call him what Paul Johnson called the former Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, "a loyal if disgusting ally of the West". Mubarak was disgusting but did not come anywhere near being a loyal ally. The best I can say of him is that he did not order a crackdown on his people and stepped down when the number of victims was "only" in the three-digit range (365 as currently reported by Wikipedia). However, I have all reasons to think that this was not Mubarak's merit; rather, the military sensed the direction of wind (as we say) and forced him to resign in time.
To continue the analogy with the swimming - normally, people are trained to swim under the supervision of skilled swimmers. When some country is stepping on the path to democracy, someone else must keep watch, give directions and be ready to intervene if things go terribly wrong. Outside Europe, this "someone" can be only the USA. What a pity that the Arab Spring had to happen exactly when the White House is occupied by a man able only to talk. As a person who makes her living almost entirely by talking, I know very well the limitations of what you can achieve this way.
But let's leave all these worries for another day. When a tyrant is oustered, it is time to celebrate. Well done, Egypt, congratulations! I remember a poem, by an unknown author, written in the unruly days of late 1989:

"Не бой се, народе, в тебе е силата,
днес си изграждаш нова съдба.
Добри или лоши - Бог знае ги новите,
но старите трябва да паднат сега!"

Don't be afraid, people, you have the strength
To build your new destiny today.
God knows, good or bad the new rulers will be,
But the old ones must step down now!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Gypsy adoption

I have been planning for a long time to write a post about adoption of abandoned Bulgarian Gypsy children by non-Gypsy Bulgarians and foreigners. (I prefer to call them Gypsy, not the politically correct Roma.) Gypsies in Bulgaria, as in other European countries, have always occupied the low end of the socio-economic ladder. They still have a high birth rate, many of the babies are unplanned and some of them are left in orphanages. And because the abandoned "white" non-disabled babies are fewer than the families seeking to adopt a child, the overwhelming majority of non-disabled children in Bulgarian orphanages are of Gypsy origin.
You can ask why the prospective "white" adoptive parents don't take these children as well. Essentially, the answer can be summarized by a confession that we white Bulgarians are damn racists. The former Communist government in the 1980s tried to integrate (as we would call it today) the Gypsies by denying their existence as an ethnic and cultural minority. The success of this pretence was zero, and from that time is the saddest story about racism I have ever heard. A childless couple from my city adopted a baby, allegedly without knowing that he was of Gypsy origin. In the beginning, everything was wonderful. The local diagnostic and medical center had a special wall to show photos of children best cared for, and the adopted boy had his image put on this parents' wall of fame. However, as he grew, his Gypsy appearance became apparent. For that reason, the adoptive parents decided they wanted him no more and left him back at the orphanage.
Traditionally, Bulgarian couples wishing to adopt tend to have unrealistically high requirements to the child being adopted. An employee at a child protection agency ironically described children wanted for adoption as "5-6 months old, healthy, beautiful, white, blonde, intelligent, having a university student as biological mother and, if possible, her professor as biological father".
Happily, things are changing and the same employee added that more and more white families not only take the chance to adopt a Gypsy child but later call to say how happy they are and offer their services to encourage other couples to adopt a Gypsy. Couples from other countries have less racial prejudice, but there is so much bureaucracy and obstacles to international adoption that too few children can benefit by it.
Recently, a family "indirectly known" to me adopted a Gypsy toddler. A friend was a bit worried and asked whether the child was predisposed to become a thief after growing up. I was happy to assure him that this has nothing to do with the biological ethnic origin. (I mentioned the case also in my Bulgarian blog.)
Another concern of prospective adoptive parents is that their child may never grow up to be close to their level of intelligence. This reason to worry is more legitimate. I do not believe that there are significant differences in IQ between different ethnic groups, but there are other possible factors affecting the intelligence of children available for adoption. These children may have had suboptimal prenatal development (a malnourished or even substance-abusing mother), they may have had a difficult birth, and they may be already damaged by their stay in an orphanage prior to the adoption. Anybody adopting any child, especially a child coming from a disadvantaged group such as the Gypsies, must prepare himself well for the possibility that he may never brag about the academic achievements of the child.
Of course, anybody deciding to become a parent must be ready for this possibility. People become parents for selfish reasons, for their own happiness, and always have an idealized image of the future child which must gradually be adjusted to reality. So, if a parent of a younger child tells me that his child, biological or adopted, has disappointed him, I could only say - welcome to the club!
However, there is a difference between birth and adoptive parents, and let's not trivialize it. Whatever our biological children bring to us, we still see "our blood" in them. In adoption, spirit triumphs over biology. And when a white person adopts a child, he needs a bigger heart if the child is Gypsy. He has to come to terms with the fact that his baby is so much unlike him. He has to face his own prejudice, conscious and subconscious. And if he lives in Bulgaria or another East-European country, he knows that he must also confront the racist society, stand up for his child and teach the child to stand up for himself. Therefore, I admire those white people who adopt abandoned Gypsy children. They and their children are trailblazers who, I hope, will in the coming years catalyze the integration of the entire Gypsy community.