Monday, December 15, 2008

AIDS is caused by HIV

When in the late 1990s an intrahospital epidemic in Benghazi, Libya resulted in infection of about 400 children with AIDS, I thought that I'd wish to popularize what we know about this disease and to devote these texts to the Benghazi victims. Since I started this blog, I have written many times to defend the Bulgarian medics accused in spreading the virus (see my posts with label "HIV trial in Libya", the latest of them here), but never to educate. I even thought that I need not write educational texts about AIDS because there are already many of them written by other, more competent authors. Now, however, I am going to write at least one such post.
These days, Indian journalist Rupa Chinai wrote on the WIP site a series of three articles about the AIDS situation in India. Intelectual honesty requires that I link directly to my opponent's writings, but I am unwilling, because I find their contradiction to the best available AIDS knowledge too dangerous if used by somebody as medical advice. Rupa has talent and compassion and presents real problems, such as the massive supply of bogus AIDS diagnostic tests giving false results and the inability of Indian health care system to control (and even monitor) properly the spread and progression of AIDS. However, she is also highly critical to science (which she calls "Western" science) and particularly to current scientific consensus about AIDS and the so-called by her "AIDS lobby" - a loose association of researchers, pharmaceutical companies and Western government agencies as well as international ones such as UNAIDS. Taken together, these convictions lead her to AIDS (HIV) denialism. Actually Rupa claims only to be unbiased observer of the debate between mainstream scientists and "the dissidents" (as denialists prefer to call themselves), but her preferences to the latter seem clear to me; and even if she was truly standing in the middle, this would be enough to me to regard her as belonging to the other camp, exactly as I regard Sarah Palin's wish to teach both creationism and Darwinism as indicative of her being a creationist, though she doesn't insist Darwinism to be thrown away from school.
Thinking what arguments to put forward in favour of the HIV causation of AIDS, I first wanted to point out that anti-retroviral drugs significantly increase the life span of infected patients. However, after reading Rupa's third (last) article, I was happy that I hadn't talked about the drugs, because it featured a group of HIV positive women who had lost their husbands to AIDS but remained in a reasonably good condition for many years by adhering to a healthy lifestyle, adequate (to their opinion) nutrition and "traditional" medicine. While I am glad that these women do so well, I think that they would do even better (and longer) on anti-retroviral drugs, and hope that nobody follows their example. Contrary to what these women, their so-called doctors and Rupa think, it is easy for the "AIDS lobby" to explain their cases: the "bright" period between encountering HIV and developing an AIDS-defining illness varies much between individuals and is 10 years on average. For the women in the report, this period has been so far 12-14 years, which doesn't differ dramatically from 10 years. So they seem just to have longer than average "bright" periods. I bet that other HIV-infected Indians have followed the same strategy but have had shorter than average bright periods, as the elementary calculus of mean values requires. These people, similarly to many Africans, have paid with their lives for the decision to be natural, traditional and non-Western and now aren't around to tell Rupa their stories.
I also wanted to refer Rupa to the Layperson's Guide to the Scientific Literature, published by Prometheus in three parts (1, 2, 3). However, it would hardly be of any use to her in this particular case, because AIDS denialists (similarly to other knights of anti-science and pseudo-science) are characterized by persistent absence of any works published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature; instead, they talk directly to the science-doubting lay public. I am sure that members of the public regard the poor scientific record of "dissidents" as proving not their incompetence but suppression of these good guys by the conspiring big bad "AIDS lobby". Turning one's own incompetence and professional impotence into virtue - what a feat! Why don't these people make careers as PR experts?
So let me return back to basics in my search for arguments. 19th century German microbiologist Robert Koch established four postulates for proving causal relationship between a particular microbe and a disease. Namely, the microbe must (1) be found in all organisms suffering from the disease, (2) be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in a pure culture, (3) cause disease when introduced from this culture to a healthy organism (typically an experimental animal) and (4) be isolated from the inoculated, diseased new host.
In the early years of AIDS research, scientists had problems with the 3rd and 4th postulate because HIV is highly host-specific and common experimental animals are resistant to it. In the late 1980s, three lab workers were infected with a pure, defined HIV strain by accident. They became HIV+ and developed AIDS. As Jon Cohen writes in top scientific journal Science in 1994, this incident alone means fulfilling Koch's postulates for HIV causation of AIDS. However, as noted in the same article, it failed to convince HIV denialists. Is anybody surprised? And can we expect any anti-scientist to change his theories when confronted by contradicting empirical data? After all, if anti-science people would allow their opinions to be influenced by facts, they wouldn't be anti-science, they would be pro-science.
Also in the 1990s, Koch's postulates were also proven using as experimental animal the chimpanzee, which is the natural host of HIV-1 (see Tim Teeter's article HIV Causes AIDS: Proof Derived from Koch's Postulates). Another animal model are immunodeficient mice "humanized" by grafting human immune cells. These mice are susceptible to HIV infection and special measures are needed to prevent them from dying within 1.5 months (Watanabe et al., 2007).
In his post Age of Unreason Prometheus wrote, "Much of “alternative” medicine encourages people to abandon scientific principles that have brought us in the West to a level of health and longevity that are unrivalled in human history. If we want to see what happens (when science is abandoned), we only have to look to those parts of the world where – for economic or philosophical reasons – scientific medicine is unavailable." Like Prometheus (and unlike Rupa), I think that "Western" science cannot be blamed for the poor life quality and short life span of people who are either prevented from accessing its fruits or, alas, reject them by deliberate choice.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Disappointed enemies

As the end of the year is approaching, time comes for various analyses and generalizations. An unescapable subject, esp. in a US election year, is the development of current global war (usually referred to by the misnomer "war on terror" while I prefer to call it "war against the West"). Does either side seem to win so far?
The US election results seem to indicate a loss, or at least a perception of loss. Of course Barack Obama may turn out to be a good President after all. This is unlikely but by no means impossible - history knows much stranger things. However, nothing can ever erase the fact that he was elected with the promise of "change", which, to my opinion, inevitably implied that USA had been going in the wrong direction. This, in turn, matched 100% the claims of America's enemies. To sum up, on Nov. 4 US voters agreed with US enemies that America was bad as it was and needed a change. Of course I may be wrong and I'll be thankful to each opponent who points to me some more benign logic behind the "change" slogan; however, my overall impression is that logic had only a marginal (if any) role on Nov. 4.
On the other side, our enemies are also facing problems. There haven't been major successful terror acts on Western soil since 2005. And the increasing recruitment of people with mental retardation and other mental disabilities as suicide bombers, apart from demonstrating the unlimited evil of the recruiters to anyone who had doubted it, also shows that they may be running short of neurologically typical volunteers to blow themselves up.
More than two months ago, Highlander wrote a post titled US 2008 elections: a cloning apparatus. It was followed by an interesting discussion not only about the (then upcoming) event but also about Israel, Palestine, Arabs, nationalism, citizenship etc. One of the participants was LouLou, a young lady living in the UAE but officially a Moroccan because of her father's Moroccan origin. She said many interesting things and here I want to cite one of them:
"It reminds me of a speech by Al Zawahri soon after Sept. 11 in which he was saying something to the effect that Al Qaeda carried out Sept. 11 to energize and mobilize 'the ummah' to join their jihad and how disappointed he was that 'the ummah' failed to respond and support the Mujahideen. He was clearly expecting some kind of mass universal Islamic suicide-bombing spree. It didn't happen because reality is 'the ummah' is not and has never been an ideological/cultural/political monolith capable of a single, unified response in the manner he dreams about... When this tide of Islamism has receded in the same manner that Arabism receded in the 70's, we will be left with a few Islamist intellectuals and writers here and there lamenting the failure of their grand scheme and attributing it to external conspiracies and 'perceived betrayal' by millions of people whose loyalty was never actually pledged to said scheme."
(For those who are as blissfully ignorant about the term "ummah" as I was in 2001 - it designates the global Muslim community.)
After Sept. 11, I hoped and almost expected that ordinary Muslims would start a powerful movement to reform Islam and many would leave it altogether. (I mentioned this once, again on Highlander's blog, but don't remember on which post.) When this didn't happen, I was disappointed. I realize now that my expectations and demands on Muslims have been, and maybe still are, too high. Human beings cannot en masse acquire superhuman qualities. If we discuss people like Ali Sina, Ayan Hirsi Ali and Nonie Darwish, we can say about them whatever we like (depending on the viewpoint) except that they are typical individuals and everybody can do what they have done. Most people just cannot and therefore the process of defanging Islam, if happens at all, will take generations.
LouLou and I have many differences in our views (and little affinity to each other's personalities), but despite this I find what she says noteworthy. I hope she is right in her rather optimistic prediction. And I owe her thanks for picking and translating those words of Al-Zawahiri. It is good that whenever Islamists say something in a non-English language for limited circulation, there is always a kind soul to translate and post. Now I know that after Sept. 11 al-Zawahiri was disappointed like me, possibly even more. I can only wish him more disappointments with each coming year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Souvenir from the summer

These photos are taken in the village of Rasnik. The stork nest is located not far from our summer house. The images aren't very good, so I have to explain what is happening. Initially, one of the parents is in the nest with the two young. Then the second parent flies in (both adults can be seen in photo No. 6) and the first one flies out.
I have blogged before about this nest and its inhabitants. One of the storks that used to live there was killed by a stone three years ago; its partner disappeared the following spring. Then in 2007 another pair came to the nest but left it without hatching young. And now, the same or another pair has returned and reproduced.
The photos are dated July. Three or four weeks after they were taken, the young could fly well and the entire family left the nest. I hope they are now well under another blue sky, while here cold winds are tearing down the last leaves.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two words about the US elections

A week ago, Sen. Barack Obama was elected US President. I wanted to write about him before the elections, particularly why I thought it wasn't advisable to vote for him, but I was too busy and missed the opportunity. Now, I'll abstain from bashing him until he has been President for 100 days, as tradition requires. I don't want to be like those Arab dictators who began lecturing the poor man what to do 2 months before he was even sworn in.
So let me just share my thoughts about the phenomena accompanying Obama's victory. I mean all those crowds of people totally out of control, shouting, crying, fainting etc. I have never seen or heard of adults behaving this way without being under the influence of a psychotropic substance. In backward countries like Bulgaria people are quite susceptible to messiah politicians promising the Earth but, frankly, I never thought the same to be possible in an advanced post-industrial country with established democracy such as the USA. I briefly visited a couple of my favourite US-based blogs and other sites. In a number of them, I found accounts of the authors crying when they heard about Obama's victory. How sad. (No, don't expect any links from me here. If an online friend decides it's a great idea to post nude photos of herself, I won't link to them, either.)
To be sure, Obama's opponents were far from perfect; and those always seeking the bright side should be glad that USA, the leading nation in science, was spared the disgrace to have an antivaxer President and a creationist Vice-President. But the pros seem to end here.
As far as I can grasp something rational in the "hope" and "change" abracadabra (most of which, however, clearly works well below the brain cortex), Americans want to renounce their role in the world. They are tired of being good, intrepid, strong and devoted. They are tired of bringing light to the world and receiving mostly hate in return. They want brilliant isolation, keeping all their money at home to pay their own mortgages and letting dictators and terrorist do whatever they wish. I don't know whether this would be good for the USA. It surely wouldn't be good for the world. But if this is what the Americans want, who am I to judge them?

Don't buy stolen things

Several days ago, as my friend was travelling in a tram, two or three Gypsy women raided through it and her cellular phone disappeared from her bag. Usually in such cases people rush to blame the victim ("Why didn't you look after your things?"), so let me mention that pickpockets know their job well and, besides, my friend was a bit out of touch with the surrounding because she was just returning from a funeral.
The phone had been bought via monthly payments, so my friend for a couple of months will continue to pay for a device she no longer owns. However, she is not a material person and easily got over this. She regrets only the digital photos she had made, about 40 files that were stored only in the phone. "They stole my moments," she complained to me.
The police apparently aren't in a hurry to do anything. They said, "Cellular phones are often found but it takes a long time." As far as I know, the mode of operation of a cellular phone allows it to be located within hours.
I don't want to muse now about these nasty Gypsy thieves who make a living by preying on hard-working people too poor to afford a car. They are miserable creatures, how good that we weren't born in one of their families to grow up like them. Neither am I going to rant about our police. We all know that it isn't there to help us. I am now thinking of the white, educated, law-abiding Bulgarians who buy a second-hand phone without much thought about its origin and then brag about the good deal. These people are the reason why cellular phones are stolen. If pickpockets couldn't sell so easily what they steal, they would pick only a few cellular phones to supply themselves and their family members.
So my appeal is: Don't buy a second-hand cellular phone unless you know and trust its former owner. In countries like Bulgaria, there is much chance for the phones offered for sale to be stolen. The same holds true for second-hand computers, car radios, CD players and many other devices.

Friday, November 07, 2008

On the stem cell controversy

Let me begin with a quote from Maria Rossbauer's report Unproven stem-cell therapy ban published in Nature journal on Aug. 20:
"The Bulgarian deputy minister for health has resigned over the country's decision to ban the use of a controversial stem-cell therapy to treat neurological disorders. The therapy, which since 2005 has been carried out on around 250 patients at St Ivan Rilski Hospital in Sofia, contravenes European Union regulations and is of unproven value, the Bulgarian health ministry ruled on 8 August."
Subscribers to Nature can read the whole text here.
I wasn't going to blog about the stem cell controversy, after it had a relatively happy ending, but on Oct. 3 our Faculty Board decided to "condemn the unethical and unscientific statements of members of our community (Prof. Bobev, Prof. Svinarov, Prof. Kremenski) in the campaign against the (Department of) Neurosurgery on the occasion of stem cells". Bulgarian readers can find the protocol of the Faculty Board session here. The three condemned professors apparently blew the whistle and this led to banning the therapy.
I am not a doctor, let alone a neurosurgeon, but let me share my thoughts on the subject.
First, bone marrow contains hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells. Both belong to the connective tissue, which isn't close to the nervous tissue, so I think it isn't very likely for these stem cells to "convert" and differentiate into neurons. Therefore, to my opinion, this low probability hardly justifies injecting bone marrow stem cells into the brain or the spinal cord, which is invasive and (I guess) not 100% safe procedure. At least not until the treatment has been shown to work in an animal model.
Second, after this experimental treatment has still been given a try, I think that after a reasonable number of treated patients (much fewer than 250) the results must have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication, no matter whether they have been negative or positive. The team claims positive results - improvement in as many as 50% of patients. However, without a publication it is unclear whether this improvement has been detected in a "blind" manner (i.e. by people unaware of the treatment) or by the treating doctors or even by the patients themselves. In the latter cases of course we cannot distinguish real improvement from placebo effect.
Third, what I disapprove most in the story is that the patients have paid for the therapy. I think that people undergoing experimental medical procedures must never pay (in some cases they may ever receive payments).
Still, I wouldn't like to condemn anybody because I want to believe in the good intentions of all people involved. However, I don't understand why the Faculty members haven't given such a benefit of the doubt to their opponents. So I wish to express solidarity with the three condemned professors.
Thanks to the colleague who informed me about the above cited documents (you know who you are).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Back to business

After my long maternity leave, I have been back to work for almost two months.
It is refreshing to resume the job one likes and, to be honest, to have a break from the never-ending and brain-devouring work of a housewife. However, there are always "buts".
We are stuck in life like spoons in a cup of puree: if a spoon is taken out, its place stays for a little, then the puree fills it without a trace. You feel it every time when you "return" to a place where you have been absent for a long time: life has intruded into what has been your place.
The most difficult bit is the condition of my lab. It actually belongs to the Medical University, resp. to the Bulgarian government, but I call it mine because I have contributed to it, the criterion used by Exupery's Little Prince to call the little planet his own. Unfortunately, few of my colleagues value the lab as much. Or at least they don't understand what a working lab looks like. They think the important thing about a lab is being clean and tidy. So things making it untidy should be cleared away, even if they are e.g. balances needed to weigh substances and prepare solutions.
The analytical balance had been moved to a corner without proper care. Now it is out of order and I am desperately trying to find someone - anyone - to fix it. There used to be two skilled men at our Faculty able to do this job. Now, one of them has died, the other has retired and nobody can tell me his phone number. It sometimes seems to me that all people in this country who could do something have emigrated, retired or died.
The technical balance had just disappeared. After some - how to say? - balance-hunt I found it in a corner in the restroom, and nobody could tell me how it got there. Actually, I don't really want to investigate it. This means to look back into the past, and I prefer to look to the future.
Last week, a colleague needed to weigh some substance. She asked me, "After all these affairs, have you a working balance of any kind?" I pointed to the long-suffering technical balance recovered from the toilet and she used it successfully. I was so proud of my lab. I hope it will be again what it used to be, and even better.
I wish to write about many things, but there is so much work to be done that I have all but stopped blogging. Please have patience with me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More artwork by my son

(Non-parents are advised to skip this post.)

On Sept. 3, 2007 I posted some drawing by my elder son on his doodle. Let me now show some more, though fairly old - from last November when he was 4. These works were prompted by my husband, because my son doesn't like drawing very much (except on walls and furniture).

A bird.

A helicopter.

A steamship.

A house flanked by two trees, with sun and grass.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Some light on Russian aggression against Georgia

Only the title of this post is mine. Below, I am copying Shlemazl's post Who won the Georgian War, with permission. (Shlemazl is a Canadean Jew of Russian origin. So, unlike most people writing on the conflict, he speaks Russian fluently and has the background information necessary to interpret the current events. Also, as a blogger he is free of the political correctness bondage that prevents Western commentators from calling a spade a spade.)

First, a few little known facts:
- South Ossetia and Abhazia became de-facto Russian dependencies following Georgian civil wars in 1990s. Atrocities were committed on all sides.
- In the 90s Shamil Basayev, a notorious Chechen warlord fought on the side of Russia, Abhazia and Ossetiya against Georgia. Later he carried out a large number of terrorist attacks against Russia, including the one in Beslan which resulted in the death of hundreds of children. (This information was published also in the Bulgarian weekly paper Pro & Anti - M.M.)
- It is believed that Putin's personal hatred of Saakashvili started when Saakashvili referred to the diminutive Russian leader as "Liliputin".
- South Ossetian "separatist" leader Eduard Kokoity is a former Soviet communist with major interests in smuggling and criminal underworld and very recent involvement in the Russian parliament.
- Other prominent "Ossetian" separatists include head of South Ossetian KGB Anatoly Baranov, South Ossetian Minister of Defense Vasilii Lunev, Secretary of Security Council of South Ossetia Anatoly Barankevich and Prime Minster Yuri Morosov. All happen to be ethnic Russian immigrants to the region of South Ossetia.
- Georgia is the only Former Soviet Union country outside the Baltic states where police does not take bribes.
- South Ossetian economy is 50% funded by Russia directly with the balance split between large scale counterfeit/smuggling operations and charging a semi-legal levy on cross-boder trade between Russia and Georgia.
- Until now Russia claimed to have accepted Georgian sovereignty over Abhazia and South Ossetia, but gave Russian citizenship to population of both regions. Others, even ethnic Russians from the former USSR are finding it very hard to get a Russian citizenship.
In the lead up to the conflict
- Putin and Medvedev openly threatened Georgia and its government on a number of occasions, including in early August.
- Russian planes carried out multiple overflight and occasional bombing operations in Georgia.
- "South Ossetian" forces carried out recent terrorist operations in Georgia, including a lethal attack on police station in Gori.
- Russia has carried recent military exercises in the region and brought large numbers of troops and equipment into the region in general and specifically into Abhazia.
What might have happened.
Saakashvili's decision to attack the bankrupt source of terrorism in South Ossetia can be explained in only two ways:
1. Georgia was aware of an imminent Russian attack to take over Georgia and change "regime" and decided to preempt it. If true, the objective was met at the price of losing some territory and thousands of ethnically cleansed + few hundred dead and wounded Georgians. The way the events unfolded, world opinion and leaders were mobilized by the time Russia was in a position to attack Tbilisi. Wouldn't have been the case had Russia initiated a two-pronged attack.
2. Georgia miscalculated and assumed that Russia would not engage in her first direct attack on a sovereign nation since Afghanistan.
The biggest lie.
Russian casus belli. Claims of 2000 dead Ossetian civilians and genocide committed by the Georgian troops suck three cocks. For one thing you wouldn't have been able to walk in Tshinvalli without a gas mask. The actual independently reported number of Ossetian civilians that were killed in the conflict is 44. Clearly the Russians have learned their PR campaign technique from Palestinians.
Incidentally, the figure of 180 dead and thousands ethnically cleansed Georgians appears to be accurate.
Did Russia win?
Not exactly. Honestly, I cannot see a pro-Russian leader coming to power in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldavia or any other currently independent Eastern European country in the next 20 years. Poland quickly agreed to bring in anti-missile defense shield.
Price for a few square kilometres here and there (like Russia needs the land so badly...), includes comprehensive international isolation. Too stark were the similarity with Sudetenland Czechoslovakia and 1938.
Russia lost almost the same number in dead and wounded military as Georgia + planes and other military equipment.
Oh, and by the way... Russian stock market (and pension funds) has lost a quarter of its value.
Last but not least... Strongly anti-Putin candidate for the White House has improved his chances of success.
Don't you think it is such a nice touch that UK's Muslim Public Affairs Committee makes direct use of neo-Nazi website to answer the question "Who started it?" Can you guess?Oh, and I can't help but wonder where are the good old lefty anti-war "anti-Imperialists" on all this.
Source 1, source 2.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In Iran, female student sued for being sexually abused by teacher

Supporters of various totalitarian ideologies labelled as religions often admit that freedom is positioned low in their societies but this is compensated by putting high other values, such as virtue. In these discussions, "virtue" is usually used in a very narrow sense, related only to the sexual lifestiles of women.
We freedom-loving people of course will claim that freedom is higher than virtue. Moreover, we can argue that their societies cannot achieve (or assess) true virtue, only appearance of virtue, because any whore will emulate a virtuous woman if threatened by the appropriate punishments. After all, the whole concept of virtue implies that you acquire it by free choice.
However, the worst feature of these societies isn't their hypocrisy and even their oppression but the fact that oppression is unevenly distributed. The strong, the powerful, the rich can satisfy their urges even better than members of hedonistic Western societies, and the whole burden and blame for their sins is laid on the weak, the oppressed, the victims.
Last month I wrote a post titled This is too much even for the Mullahs, based on Azarmehr's April 13 post Temporary marriage online. In it, Azarmehr described how the institution of temporary bride (sigheh) invented by the Iranian theocracy serves as a cover for prostitution and even for rape, victimizing vulnerable women and allowing powerful men to get away with everything.
In his Aug. 9 post Only in the Islamic Republic! Azarmehr brings another example of how this institution is used:

"... Vice chancellor of Zanjan University, Hassan Madadi, was caught on camera, by students of Zanjan university, while abusing his position and trying to sexually assault a student girl who was due to appear before the university disciplinary committee.
A brave female student went against all the threats and intimidations of the so-called disciplinary committee and university authorities and refused to give in to their demands and instead helped gather evidence to prove the corruption and abusive action of the university vice-chancellor Hassan Madadi. The vice chancellor's demands for sex was caught on mobile cameras by the students who had been alerted by the female student and who burst into Madadi's office to save her. Tens of thousands of people saw the mobile phone video posted on YouTube showing students seizing him, turning him over to the authorities and demanding that he be charged. (
The news outraged Zanjan university students and 3,000 took part in protests...
Any where else in the world, the vice chancellor would have faced the most dire punishments and would have probably lost his job and his university career would have ended for good, but not in the Islamic Republic, which presents itself as the flagship of morality to the unaware admirers of itself.
Any where else in the world, the female student and the other students who stood up to the abuses of the vice chancellor, would have been commended...
After the demonstrations ended and the university closed for the summer holidays, the Zanjan prosecutor announced that 'exposing a sin is worse than the sin itself!' and the woman student who dared expose this abusive official was herself arrested and accused of having an unlawful affair. The university Vice Chancellor has now been promoted and there is talk of whether the Sigheh, Shiite temporary marriage where a man can marry a woman for as short as an hour, prayer verses were read or not before the sexual demands were made by the chancellor.
Four of the students who took part in videoing the abuse and rescuing the girl, Payam Shakiba, Hassan Joneydi, Arash Rayeji and now Bahram Vahedi have also been arrested.
Similar events in other Islamic Republic universities of Sahand and Kermanshah have also resulted in the arrest of the students instead of the authorities who were abusing their position..."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Advocating for institutionalized disabled Bulgarian children

Last year, when I posted about Bulgaria's abandoned children, a commenter wrote, "I am the mother of 2 Roma children that I adopted from Bulgarian orphanages 10 years ago. My daughter was 7 years old. When we were in Bulgaria visiting our daughter we found out that she had a twin. Further investigation let us to find out that the twin was still alive but was "severely affected." We asked for a medical evaluation and we were denied our request. We asked to visit her and we were told we would not be permitted to visit... Every time I look at my daughter I wonder, what happened to this girl named Sofka. She would be 17 now... Maybe someday we will find out what happened to her." I reposted the comment last November under the title Does anybody know what happened to Sofka.
Happily, a regional child protection agency finally did its job and informed the adoptive parents of Sofka's sister (named Penka) about Sofka's whereabouts. She was in the Care home for children and adolescents with mental retardation in the village of Krushari, North-East Bulgaria. My Apr. 21 post where I thought about the future of institutionalized disabled children as they reach adulthood was also inspired by Sofka's fate (though didn't mention her name).
In July, the US family that had adopted Penka visited Sofka in Krushari. Then the mother sent a new comment which I am reposting here, with her permission.

"Our journey to find Sofka and be united with her is over. We just returned from Bulgaria yesterday. It was a life changing experience and I want to share with all of you that Sophie is doing much better than we anticipated. In fact Sofka now WALKS!!! We got to spend a few hours with her and she appeared to be in pretty good health though very small. We observed that she seems to have the capability to learn and may not be as cognitively impaired as we had feared. So doesn't speak BUT she definately understands her surroundings and given that she has just recently learned to walk I feel that she may be capable of much more.
The director of this institution has only been in his position for 6 months and I will tell you that he appeared to be a very sincere man who wants to help these kids. We specifically asked him what his needs are since it is our intention to provide as much support as we can. He cited that his most urgent need was a physical therapist. He said that it is hard to attract that kind of skill set to this village. The pay is not too great. We promised to do what we could to help him find someone and if we need to we would suppliment what they could pay. (A therapist has just been appointed - M.M.) We are also going to provide Sofka with a walker to aid in her progress with walking. When she is done with it they will give it to another child. He indicated to me that a Dutch group has provided their caregivers with so training and the woman who works with Sofka works one-on-one with her. She was very attached to this woman. It was obvious that this method was working since she has just recently started to walk.
We were able to interact with many of the other kids there. They were very friendly and they all appeared to be healthy. My 13 yo son was with us and they LOVED hanging with him! He loved meeting them to and wants to come back next year and spend more time with them (I suggested he do Karaoki with them). The care givers I met were all very nice and they all wanted to see pictures of Penka, Sofka's sister.
In what I felt was a real show of trust the director asked us if we were interested in seeing the area where the really severe, bedridden kids were. We did, even my son went in to the newer building. It was not easy but there was no foul smell and the areas were clean. The kids were thin and he said that he had added another meal (4 meals) to see if that would help them gain weight. He also cited that he only has 3 caregivers in this area for 40 kids but he is looking to triple that in the very near future.
We are now setting up a means to send financial support to Krushari. My son is taking on fund raising as his Bar Mitzvah project.
Next summer we will return with Penka. She is very excited to meet her sister and when she saw the pictures of her she said "Mom we are so cute arent we?"
As I said, it was life changing for me to go there. I feel that they are doing what they can to help these kids. Anyone who can go there and offer the skill sets that they need should contact me at mbaeck@verizondotnet."

I have stated before that I am for deinstitutionalization of disabled children and adults (and also of non-disabled abandoned children). However, institutions are still the reality for Sofka and many others and I would wish to express my admiration of those employees who try their best to make this reality as good as it, and of devoted community members such as the author of the above message.
Bulgarian readers can also read here about two girls from the Krushari care home who are integrated in 6th grade of the local school.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Concept for unity of life, kindergarten-level

At the beach, I collected a handful of seaweed and showed them to my son.
"Do you know what this is?" I asked.
"Fish," was the answer.

Russian aggression, again

There is an old saying that Russia feels secure only when expanding. After 1990, what was going around came around and the states forcibly included in the Soviet Union gained or regained independence. However, Russian government never lost the desire to mess with their affairs and, when possible, to swallow parts of them.
Last week, "Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili had gambled on a surprise attack late Thursday to regain control over his country's pro-Russian breakaway province of South Ossetia. Instead, Georgia suffered a punishing beating from Russian tanks and aircraft that has left the country with even less control over territory than it had before... Thousands streamed into the capital. Those left behind in devastated regions of Georgia cowered in rat-infested cellars or wandered nearly deserted cities. Georgia, which is pushing for NATO membership, borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia and was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their own affairs without international recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s. Both separatist provinces are backed by Russia, which appears open to absorbing them. Medvedev said Georgia must allow the provinces to decide whether they want to remain part of Georgia. He said Russian peacekeepers would stay in both provinces, even as Saakashvili said his government will officially designate them as occupying forces" (source: AP via Yahoo! News).
For the record, I believe in self-determination and think that if people (people, not the mafia) of the regions in question truly want to separate from Georgia and join Russia, this insane wish must be granted. I don't think sending Georgian troops there was a good idea. Pointing guns at people is unlikely to convince them that they are better off under your rule.
However, while agreeing with Pres. Medvedev that "Georgia must allow the provinces to decide whether they want to remain part of Georgia", I'd ask him, what about Chechnya? Why are other states oblived to give their breakaway regions self-determination but Russia may wage genocide until the last person wishing independence is dead?
And don't the above described developments remind anybody of Nazi Germany that went on a "peacekeeping" mission to defend the allegedly mistreated ethnic Germans in Sudetenland and quickly ended up occupying the entire Chechoslovakia?
Let me end this post with two more quotes, this time from Brusselsjournal:
"Russians launched offensive operations beyond the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, marking a dramatic expansion in their war aims — well beyond the putative casus bellum of protecting Russian citizens. (It should be recalled that these “citizens” are Abkhaz and Ossetian locals who were issued Russian passports without, for the most part, ever setting foot in Russia)" (source).
"I wonder is there... chance to see millions of exalted young people passionately marching for peace in Georgia… It shouldn't be too much of an effort. All they have to do is brush the dust off from the "not in our name", "no blood for oil", "war is not the answer", etc placards, paste Vladimir Putin’s and Dmitri Medvedev’s faces over Bush’s or Blair’s on the "worst ever", "mass murderer" and "real terrorist" placards... I am also wondering, will we hear of passionate peace activists, who are determined to go and chain themselves to Georgian government buildings and other such sites to offer human shield against malicious and deliberate bombing by Russian planes on civilian targets. Anyone? Also, it would be refreshing to see similar sense of outrage and hysteria on the part of western media that we witness when American planes hit a "wedding party", armed to their teeth, when reporting bombings of apartment buildings and markets by Russian air forces in Georgia... Plus, has anyone warned already that the Russian military invasion of its tiny neighbor is bound to stir up anti-Russian sentiment and create a groundswell for Georgians to recruit young people to their cause?... Ah, who am I kidding? It is one thing to march against the country that liberated half of Europe and kept it that way for the following 50 years. It is quite another to march against a nation that enslaved half of Europe and kept it under a bloody slavery for 50 years" (source).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blogs on hiatus

I am creating this post for the URLs of blogs that haven't been updated for a long time. I don't want to delete them entirely, but don't want inactive links in the blogroll, either. I'll check them periodically, hoping that somebody will eventually resume blogging.

Big Pharaoh
Freedom for Egyptians
Or does it explode?
Shlemazl (this one actually is still active, but open only to invited readers, so it's no use keeping the link on blogroll. Jew haters made Shlemazl hide his blog.

Pointless Spring

Friday, July 18, 2008

Does Bulgaria persecute dissidents from Turkmenistan?

Today is apparently my day to blog about extant dictatorships. Of course there are too many of them to cover, but I've already written posts about Iran and China, let's now "honour" Turkmenistan a bit, and also return to Bulgaria.
We Bulgarians are too overwhelmed by our hardships and too selfish to care about those who are in even more miserable situation. We often forget that, at least, we have been given freedom while billions of human beings are still oppressed, and we do not show much solidarity with them. Some of my earliest posts from 2006 (dated May 10, 12 and 15, respectively) told the story of a Belarussian dissident to whom our authorities refused political asylum.
On May 9, the Guerilla wrote a post about watching the documentary Shadow of the Holy Book. It "exposes the immorality of international companies doing business with the dictatorship of oil-and-gas-rich Turkmenistan, thus helping to hide its human rights and free speech abuses - all in the name of profit and corporate greed" (quote from the latter site). After discussing how easily companies based in democratic countries break their moral codes and become accomplices of a dictator, the Guerrilla adds, "Unfortunately, we heard (though it wasn't included in the documentary) that the Bulgarian state rendered Turkmenbashi the service to persecute Turkmeni dissidents on Bulgarian land... Damn gas deals!"
I have no details, so I can only hope that this isn't true! But I feel obliged to post it - let the Turkmenis are cautious about seeking asylum in Bulgaria.

Letter from China

If you want to know what is happening in China, don't trust media reports too much. Their authors are blinded by the enormous proportions of China, by its superpower status and its fast economic progress (though the latter is perceived on the basis of official Chinese statistics, which reminds the alleged economic prosperity of USSR and is likely to be about as authentic).
The quote below is from a letter written in April by a guest worker in China. I prefer not to give more details about the author and where I found the text; let me just mention that I am not the blogger to whom the letter was addressed.

"Unfortunately, I have no access to your blog. I suppose that, similarly to many other Web pages, it is made unaccessible from China. I am very angry at the whole situation here. Frankly, I am quite afraid by the thought that China is the new superpower... I see you are aware of the events happening here, but let me add several interesting facts from the last few days:
1. The Party sent a mass text message to all Chinese, "advising" them not to buy anything from Carrefour (the largest hypermarket here, it is French btw). And guess what - after May 1 no one Chinese will shop there. Let me clarify the reason. I talked about this with a colleague from Singapore and he said, "My girlfriend is against this Party initiative, but she also isn't going to shop at Carrefour, because if she does and some of her colleagues hear about it, they will begin to hate her." There are some very malicious people here, hating those who don't march with the majority and ready to expose their hate. You get the situation, don't you? Chinese are so brainwashed that it is hard to believe!
2. The Party sent a mass e-mail message to the Chinese, explaning how malicious Western European people are. There were attached photos (ultra manipulated) of Chinese in Paris weeping because of what happened there with the Olympic fire. Quote: "See our HEROES"... To me, these things just suck! My boss commented the situation, ”We are the strongest and most powerful nation in the world, nobody has the right to stand against us”. Can you imagine this coming from the mouth of an educated Chinese citizen, with much international experience. Imagine then the "thoughts" of an ordinary Chinese who has had the great luck to graduate 3rd grade... And this is the nation coming forward - scary, isn't it?
...I am a complicated personality. And despite being "material", I am much tormented by the things I described and therefore I decided that China isn't for me, at least not at the moment... I am going to leave soon. I may return when this nation becomes a little more mature, but during the last 6 months I realized that if Chinese mentality is to grow up at all, it will require a loooooong time... I intend to seek a job in South Africa or in some pretty corner of Europe... I need a more normal place, these Chinese exhausted me too much..."

This is too much even for the Mullahs!

On Apr. 13, Iranian-British blogger Azarmehr posted that temporary marriage in Iran is already available online. Temporary marriage, if I get the point correctly, is a procedure allowing the man to make some vulnerable woman his temporary wife (sigheh), to rape her as much as he wishes and after having his fill of sex to abandon her in shame and disgrace. In his post, Azarmehr called these marriages "legalized prostitution".
A commenter wrote, "Why are you so concerned with bashing Islam? You have no idea what you are even writing about. These marriages are called muta'a marriages... (They) are intended to help downtrodden widows or widowers regain their footing in life (and satisfy their sexual urges) within the confines if Islam."
Azarmehr replied, "Actually sigheh is nothing to do with Islam and is an invention of Shiite clergy only. Of course you are too young to remember and probably haven't talked to any Iran-Iraq war veterans to find out how the mullahs like leeches, would turn up outside a martyr's (i.e. fallen soldier's - M.M.) house, and force the martyr's wife into temporary marriage. It got so bad that those who went to defend the country would stipulate in their will that their wives should not become sigheh."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Something rotten in Bulgaria, but also in EU agriculture

In its Bulgarian variant, democracy means that people elect rulers entangled in corruption and organized crime and then the country is shaken by an endless row of corruption and crime scandals, till the next elections. The current scandal is a really juicy one. Let me quote Daniel McLaughlin's article Bulgaria likely to lose EUR 500 million in funding because of corruption, published on July 17 in Irish Times:
"Fears are growing in Bulgaria that the European Union will withhold funding next week to punish it for its failure to tackle organised crime and corruption... Sources who had seen drafts of the EU reports told Reuters that Bulgaria would probably be stripped of some EUR 500 million and be threatened with future losses unless it intensified its fight against corruption and cleaned up the way cash from Brussels was spent... The funds to be withheld relate to agricultural, road-building and technical assistance projects that have already been frozen due to graft investigations by EU anti-fraud agency Olaf. Yesterday's Bulgarian newspapers were full of striking details from a supposedly confidential report sent by Olaf to Bulgaria, in which the government is accused of having links with alleged criminals, and state agencies are lambasted for their lack of co-operation in corruption inquiries. The Olaf report... focuses on one particular "criminal network composed of more than 50 Bulgarian enterprises and various other European and off-shore companies"... The report said the network was run by two businessmen, one of whom "allegedly financed the election campaign of the current Bulgarian president"... "There are powerful forces in the Bulgarian government and/or Bulgarian state institutions who are not interested in punishing anyone from the circle around (them)," Olaf concluded. Prime minister Sergei Stanishev denied that the group had state protection and accused the EU of overstating the corruption problem in Bulgaria."

I have little doubts in the accuracy of the Olaf report and wouldn't want to defend Bulgarian government, president, police and judiciary. However, I would like to ask some questions.
First, why the hell was the report supposed to be confidential? Who has decided that European taxpayers shouldn't know how their money is tunneled astray and we Bulgarians don't deserve to know what is happening in our country?
Then, why is agriculture in EU supposed to be subsidized in the first place? Shouldn't farmers concentrate on their farming business and finance it by selling their crops at the free market? Why are they forced instead to waste their time and energy on paperwork in order to obtain subsidies? Why are ordinary Europeans burdened with excessive taxes to pay subsidies to farmers who are best at filling paper forms (rather than at farming), and also salaries to bureaucrats who process these forms and shuttle them from one desk to another? And isn't it clear that the entire industry of subsidies is an excellent growth medium for corruption?
Probably countries with developed civil society and rule of law can afford the EU subsidizing industry without sinking into the quagmire of corruption (though the quagmire of inefficiency will remain). However, countries like Bulgaria haven't much rule of law. And while ordinary citizens are struggling with Third World-like poverty, EU subsidies only serve to further enrich the gang that is ruling the country.

Sad day for civilized world

July 16, 2008 was a sad day for the civilized world.
"Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas turned over to Israel two coffins containing the bodies of Israeli soldiers captured two years ago... The U.N.-mediated swap closes a painful chapter for Israel, which launched a war in 2006 against Hezbollah in response to the soldiers' capture in a cross-border raid. It is likely to be a significant boost for Hezbollah at a time when it is trying to rebuild a reputation tarnished after its guerrillas turned their guns on fellow Lebanese in May. After the bodies handed over by Hezbollah were confirmed to be those of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Israel was to turn over five Lebanese prisoners — including a militant convicted in what is perceived here as a monstrous attack (the author refers to Samir Kuntar (Kantar), featured in my previous post - M.M.)... Lebanon's Al-Manar TV quoted senior Hezbollah official Wafik Safa at the border as saying the bodies were in a "mutilated" shape from injuries they suffered during the raid... "We are handing over the two Israeli soldiers that were captured by the resistance ... and whose fate has been unknown until this moment," Safa said. "Now you know their fate"... In the Gaza Strip... people celebrated in the streets and handed out sweets in support of Hezbollah. Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza's Hamas prime minister, called Kantar an "Arab nationalist hero" and said his release was "a great day for the Arab nation." He warned Israel that it will also have to "pay the price" for a soldier Hamas has been holding since June 2006" (source: Aron Heller from AP, via Yahoo! News.)
In my July 29, 2006 post about the soldiers' kidnapping, I failed to upload their photos for some technical reason. I am doing this now. The images are taken from Wikipedia.
Commenting the prisoner swap, Shlemazl wrote that "the Israeli public, which supports the decision, has more heart than brain".
I fully agree with Shlemazl on this and on the Israeli decision being a grave mistake. And not the first one in the story. Back in 2006, Israel yielded to external pressure and aborted the war without a serious military justification. When will the Israelis realize that 95% of the world population will either rejoice or at least sigh with relief if Israel ceases to exist? To try and appease a force with a lethal attitude toward you is a recipe for suicide.
The swap included also handing over the remains of some 200 Hezbollah combatants. I don't mind this; in fact, I wouldn't mind if those remains had been handed over to their families unconditionally. But releasing captured enemies in exchange for hostages will only encourage future attacks and kidnappings. And releasing live enemies in exchange for dead hostages will only encourage Israel's enemies not to bother to keep captured Israelis alive. (In this case, if Wikipedia is accurate, the two reservists were killed during the initial attack rather than in captivity.)
It is a natural and legitimate wish not to leave your people behind. To get them back, or at least their remains. The principle to bury your dead people properly, as far as I know, is reinforced in Judaism (though, frankly, I wonder how some Jews still think that God exists and is worth believing in).
If Israel had stood tall and firmly refused any deal with the hostage-takers, it would have been a very painful decision. But the strategy formulated by F. Kagan as "“Just end the pain now and deal with the future when it gets here” is a road to Hell.
Let's repeat: Rewarding any behaviour, in any way, will encourage and reinforce that behaviour. Rewarding kidnapping and murder means subscribing to more future kidnappings and murders. In fact, while the deal to get back the remains of Ehud and Eldad will surely provoke more attacks in the future, their fate was likely a product of other similar deals in the past. As Kuntar's Wikipedia article reports, several years after his sentencing, "the Palestinian Liberation Front seized the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, demanding that Israel release Kuntar, along with 50 other Palestinian prisoners, though Kuntar was the only prisoner specifically named. The hijackers killed a wheelchair-bound American Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer during this raid and had his body and wheelchair thrown overboard. In 2003, Israel agreed to release around 400 prisoners in exchange for businessman Elchanan Tenenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers held by Hezbollah since 2000. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah refused to accept the deal unless it included Samir Kuntar... Israel then agreed to release Samir Kuntar on condition that Hezbollah provided "solid evidence" as to the fate of Ron Arad, an air force navigator missing in Lebanon since 1986... Inspired by the prisoner swap, Hamas vowed, a few days later, that they would also abduct Israeli soldiers to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners. Hassan Nasrallah simultaneously told his supporters that Hezbollah would continue to kidnap Israelis until "not a single prisoner" remained inside Israeli jails."
So the future is now and if Israelis want more from it, they must stop rewarding their enemies. Especially if bodies are all that the enemies will give in return.

Lebanese greet child murderer as hero

Left: Danny Haran and his daughters, Einat and Yael, one week before their death. Right: the murderer Samir Kuntar. Source: CAMERA.
The genocidal and evil nature of Islamism is most evident when non-Muslim children are deliberately murdered by Islamists. The best known act of this kind is of course the 2004 Beslan school massacre, but there are many others, targeting mostly Israeli Jewish children. Let's remember the 2001 Tel Aviv Dolphinarium disco bombing, the 2002 Petah Tikva ice cream parlour bombing, the 2002 kubbutz Metzer shooting of two brothers (aged 4 and 5) and their mother and the numerous attacks against Israeli school buses, one dating as early as 1970.
In 1979, a group of four Palestinian militants led by Samir Kuntar (Kantar, then 16) "entered Israel from Lebanon by boat... They arrived at the coastal town of Nahariya. The four killed a policeman who came across them... (Two of them) broke into the apartment of the Haran family... They took 31 year-old Danny Haran hostage along with his four year-old daughter, Einat. The mother, Smadar Haran, was able to hide... with her two year-old daughter Yael... Israeli witnesses claim Kuntar's group took Danny and Einat down to the beach, where a shootout with Israeli policemen and soldiers erupted. Kuntar shot Danny at close range in the back, in front of his daughter, and drowned him in the sea to ensure he was dead. Next, he smashed the head of 4 year-old Einat on beach rocks and crushed her skull with the butt of his rifle... Kuntar denied killing the 4-year-old and said she was killed in the shootout... Kuntar asserted in court testimony, only published in 2008, that Israeli gunfire had killed Mr. Haran... and that he did not see what happened to Mr. Haran’s daughter... Smadar Haran... accidentally suffocated Yael to death while attempting to quiet her whimpering, which would have revealed their hideout" (source: Wikipedia).
Despite Kuntar's denial, his rifle butt was shown to have traces of Einat's brain tissue (source: CAMERA). He received five life sentences.
When in 2006 Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers , Mideast people believed from day 1 that the idea was to exchange them for Kuntar (source: e.g. Sandmonkey).
On July 16, the deal was done. The Israelis received from Hezbollah the two kidnap victims - in coffins, and delivered Kuntar - in good shape, together with four Hezbollah combatants captured during the 2006 war. The five militants "got a hero's welcome from tens of thousands of cheering Hezbollah supporters and kisses from the U.S.-backed prime minister... "Your return is a new victory," President Michel Suleiman told the freed men as he stood in combat fatigues supplied by Hezbollah" (source: Sam Ghattas from AP, via Yahoo! News).
Though common sense tells us that there must be something wrong in a culture that continuously produces genocidal murderers, you cannot automatically blame any community for the deeds of its members. You first have to show that the actions of these individuals find strong popular support. And here we have a problem with Arab societies: because free speech and other attributes of democracy are in short supply, it is difficult to find how people not belonging to the ruling gang feel and think. However, Lebanon is believed to be as close to democracy as it goes in the Arab world; and I find it unlikely that participants in the welcome rally were forced to attend it, except perhaps some women and children brought there by the heads of their families. So we have a rare opportunity to observe first-hand the Lebanese "street", i.e. public opinion. And what does our poll show? A child murderer is greeted by tens of thousands and condemned by an occasional anonymous blogger.
What is civilization? Thinking of the above described events, I am coming to the following ad hoc definition: Civilization is a frame of thinking that doesn't allow its members, under any circumstances, to regard the terms "child murderer" and "hero" as synonyms. Plus the economical, technological and military power needed to preserve this frame. Arabs are of course unhappy when other people regard them as uncivilized, but I wonder, how many of them are ready to pay the price for being civilized?
One of the oldest and most popular tools of peace propaganda is to assert that we needn't be hostile to our enemies because they are human like us. They love their children, too, sing lullabies to them as we do. One needs some courage and cynicism to ask, "Well, they may love their children, but does this guarantee that they will love, or even tolerate, our children? As if in reply, a Palestinian failed suicide bomber said, "I don't have anything against Israeli children, but I know there is a possibility that this Israeli child will grow up and come to kill my son or my neighbor's son. Therefore, I think he should be dead now."
Our enemies are human indeed, but if we remove the fragile frame of civilization, what does remain from the human? A Darwinian creature who will happily kill other people's children to make more space for his own progeny.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Surviving global war with mental retardation

My blog generally isn't intended for mentally retarded people. In fact, if I have such readers, they are likely to find some my posts very offensive. But today I'll make an exception.
We are living in a global war and people who should be 100% civilians get involved. Lynndie England had been oxygen-deprived at birth and apparently had borderline mental retardation. Nevertheless, she was allowed to join the US army, sent to Iraq and after taking part in Abu Ghraib prison abuse, was sentenced to jail. But at least she wasn't taken advantage of and sent to a suicide mission, as the enemy did with Nicky Reilly.
I learned Reilly's story not from the news but from a disability forum. In fact, it was reported by some major media, but not on their front pages. They really care not to make Islam look bad, so they stress on Islamist terror only when it is lethally successful. Thank Heaven, in this case it wasn't.
On May 22, Nicky Reilly (22) tried to set off a suicide bomb in a crowded restaurant in Exeter, England. The bomb misfired and Mr. Reilly was the only one injured. He was autistic, had the mental capacity of a typical 10-year-old and was coming from a troubled family. The consensus opinion of his neighbours was that he had been brainwashed by Islamists. After converting to Islam several years ago, Nicky Reilly changed his name to Mohammed Rasheed, started to hate his family and to call them infidels. Significantly, he "had a screensaver of the Twin Towers in flames from the 9/11 attacks on his home computer and would often watch a video of the atrocity" (source: Inside bizarre world of the Big Friendly Giant, by Jamie Doward on The Observer). Before detonating his device, Reilly "had been sent a text message of encouragement".
Reilly's story would be troubling enough if it was isolated, but it isn't. Doward quotes Haras Rafiq, executive director of the (British) Sufi Muslim Council: ''Many converts to Islam have a sound spiritual reason, but there are also some who get brainwashed by extremists because they don't have the mental foundations to counter their arguments." Rafiq also "said the grooming of vulnerable people for suicide missions was well documented in the Middle East and claimed that there had been cases of terrorist organisations hacking patient health records to identify the vulnerable." In the Newsweek article Al Qaeda's New Recruits, authors Isikoff and Hosenball write: "U.S. officials acknowledged that the Reilly case points up a general concern they have about efforts by extremists to prey on the mentally handicapped... Earlier this year, two markets in Baghdad were attacked by women suicide bombers who allegedly had been targeted for recruitment by Al Qaeda because they were mentally handicapped... A British counterterrorism expert, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive matters, said that the Palestinian militant group Hamas also had a history of recruiting mentally handicapped or emotionally vulnerable people to carry out suicide missions."

So let me offer some tips that could help people like Reilly survive the current war.
1. If you have mental retardation, don't become a combatant of either side. Don't repeat the mistakes of Lynndie England and Nicky Reilly. If there must be war, let other people fight it.
2. Do not change your religion. This will only isolate you from your family and community. Even if some religions are truly better than others, God is unlikely to be so touchy about the exact way people worship Him. Specifically, do not convert to Islam. This may make some unscrupulous people try to use you as a tool for their goals.
3. If you are born in Islam or have already converted to it, practise your religion modestly and piecefully. Remember Tip No. 1 and do not ever consider to join jihad. Disabled Muslims are exempted from jihad (see the Koran, Sura 4, Verse 95) and you are disabled.
4. Do not listen to people who persuade you to convert to Islam or, if you are already a Muslim, to join jihad. Do not participate in arguments with them. They will use their faster, sharper minds to take advantage of you. If such people try to argue with you, just repeat, "These things are too complex for me, I cannot understand, I have mental retardation." Pretend that you do not understand anything at all. This isn't the moment to prove that you also can reason. Leave the other person as soon as you can. Inform about the incident your parents or other trusted people.
5. Do not let anybody convince you that your life is insignificant and you must make some self-sacrifice to add value to it. Your life is valuable as it is. Enjoy it.
6. Do not let anybody convince you that someone else deserves death. How would you feel if the same is said about you? The Nazis did say that mentally retarded people do not deserve to live, and killed thousands. Now, some people say that "infidels" do not deserve to live. I wonder how they can be so pompous to judge who is to live and who is to die. Do not listen to them. Live your life and let other people live theirs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No disabled people in our part of the bus

Discrimination is sometimes described as "sending people to the back part of the bus", as was done in the US South to black people in the bad old days. However, the essence of discrimination isn't sending the victims to the back part (considered worse than the front part). It is merely isolating them, sending them to the part where we aren't now.
Our public transportation vehicles contain several seats in the front part designated for disabled people, sick people and mothers with young children. Unfortunately, this is occasionally used by other passengers to allocate these people only to their reserved seats, while the traditional etiquette orders you to offer them your seat, no matter where you are sitting.
Actually, mothers often prefer to go to the middle or back part, because they fear that the child will disturb the driver and he will call them names or even order them out of the vehicle. This is especially true for mothers of ill-behaved children and children with some disabilities. "Ill-behaved" actually means "behaving like a child rather than like an adult in miniature" and the disabilities I mean are mental retardation and other disorders that make it impossible for a child to behave like an adult in miniature, no matter how much you beat him.
A week ago, I was returning my elder son from kindergarten. We were sitting in the middle part of a trolley bus slowly making its way through the evening traffic. An old lady with a big sac and a 5-year-old girl entered the nearest door. The girl was clearly different or, if we put political correctness aside, there was something wrong with her. She hadn't the focused intelligent eyesight and precisely coordinated movements of a normal 5-year-old, her upper jaw was too large and she occasionally uttered frightened, unarticulate sounds.
Nobody else offered his seat to the grandmother and the girl, so I did, saying, "Please come here with the child". The old lady, plus some other passenger, said, "But you are also with a child!". I replied, "My hero will be OK standing." And then somebody else said, "There are special seats in the front part for such disabled people."
Nobody commented anything. A sitting woman invited my son to sit in her lap. This was very kind and came just in time, because my ill-behaved child hates to travel standing. However, I couldn't help thinking that she wouldn't invite the other child to her lap.
Let me end the post with a quote from Svetla's Feb. 26 post. It commented a charity pop concert urging the TV viewer to donate a small sum for the children in the Mogilino care home via an SMS message. Svetla wrote, "Instead of shedding tears, listening to pop music and sending SMS messages for the poor "mentally retarded" children and at the same time avoiding them like leprosy-infected in the street, we'd better realize that they deserve respect and paying regard to their human dignity no less than any of us."

Friday, June 20, 2008

My Westerner's demands to Muslims

On May 15, another Bulgarian blogger wrote that religious denominations are unimportant for her, so the attempts of us her commenters to "convert her to anti-Islam" were to no avail. On the same day, I replied with a post on my Bulgarian blog where I asked what more had Muslims to do in the name of Islam in order to "convert her to anti-Islam", and wrote what Muslims, on the other hand, had to do in order to make me renounce my Islamophobia.
Now, I am translating those demands to English and publishing them here. This is blog action against Islamism as a reaction to the June 2 suicide attack against the Danish embassy in Pakistan which killed 8 people.

To renounce my Islamophobia, I demand from Muslims to recognize the right of existence of:
- Israel;
- former Muslims;
- critics of Islam;
- Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and all other people not belonging to any Abrahamian faith;
- homosexuals;
- clitores.

They must also recognize the equal rights of:
- non-Muslims;
- women.

I'd wish to add something about separation of religion from state, de-criminalizing food, alcohol and sex... but let's not be maximalistic.
The above listed demands are absolute, non-negotiable, and I think that no Westerner should ever consider any compromise regarding them. I reserve the right to make additions to the list if something appropriate comes to mind.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blog action against Islamism

There is a site that periodically announces "blog action day", i.e. appeals to bloggers to write posts devoted to a particular subject on a particular day. However, I think we don't really need special days and a special site or another authority to call us to blog action. Any ordinary blogger can do the job as well. So I use the opportunity to appeal for blog action against Islamism. My idea is to react to every major action of Islamists by numerous anti-Islamist texts, images, videos, music and whatever else comes to mind.
While some of the anti-Islamist and anti-Islamic propaganda could, in isolated cases, change the views of our opponents, this is not what I am pursuing and certainly not what I am hoping for. The core of my idea is to try behaviour modification on Islamists. Behaviour modification means influencing another person's actions by rewarding him for wanted behaviour and/or punishing him for unwanted behaviour. It is widely used in animal training, upbringing and education of children, and virtually all aspects of adult life. Islamists use it on us all the time, while we most of the time unduly abstain from using it on them. Let's change things. They don't want anti-Islamist and anti-Islamic stuff in public space? Let's guarantee that when they resort to coercion or terror, they'll get more of what they don't want. As said Christopher Hitchens in his must-read essay God-fearing people: Why are we so scared of offending Muslims?, "It is often said that resistance to jihadism only increases the recruitment to it. For all I know, this commonplace observation could be true. But, if so, it must cut both ways... And the advocates and apologists of bigotry and censorship and suicide-assassination cannot be permitted to take shelter any longer under the umbrella of a pluralism that they openly seek to destroy."

Proposed rules for Blog Action against Islamism:
1) Write explicitly that your post is participation in blog action and specify to which event you are reacting. That is, make it clear that without the particular undue Islamist action your anti-Islamist or anti-Islamic post would never appear on your blog. This is especially important for blogs that are Islamophobic all the time.
2) Try not to write things you may regret later when you calm down. We claim to stand not only for our interests but also for universal principles. So we regard all people as humans with rights, no matter how malicious their views may be. Besides, it's good to remember that were we born in a Muslim community, we would most likely be quite like the people whose behaviour we condemn now.
3) It isn't necessary for the published material to be new and created by you. However, if you are using another person's work, cite properly the original author, unless he prefers to stay anonymous. While it isn't practical to ask specific permission from the author, you should consider whether he would mind his work republished on your blog and proceed only if you think he wouldn't. This rule has an exception - Islamists wouldn't want their words to be cited in such context, but still I think it is OK to do so.

Of course traditional media can also participate in such action, which they actually are already doing. In 2006, after Denmark became target of Islamists because of the famous cartoons, a number of European newspapers republished them. Earlier this year, a group of Danish newspaper republished the cartoons again as a reaction to an Islamist plot to assassinate one of the cartoonists. However, most people cannot publish in media other than blogs, therefore I am writing specifically about blog action.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The good and the bad side of Bulgarian money

Bulgarian money (image copied from here). At the bottom of the photo, i.e. the right sides of the bills, you can see the figures for recognition by the blind - circles, triangles and rectangles.

Current US dollars can be recognized by vision only. However, as Monique Garcia wrote in Chicago Tribune on May 21, "A ruling Tuesday by a federal appeals court in Washington may change all that. The judges found that because different denominations of paper money are indistinguishable by touch, the government is discriminating against blind people. The decision could force the Treasury Department to make significant changes to currency, such as printing different-sized bills for different amounts or giving them raised markings."

The news, plus a link to Garcia's article, was reported by a member of autism-disability forum AutAdvo. This started a discussion about how bank-notes (bills) could be made distinguishable to the blind. I wrote, "Our bills of higher nominals already have signs for the blind. They are circles and triangles about 3 mm big and slightly protruding." In fact, as you can see in the above image, even the smallest bill of 2 leva (EUR 1) is marked by figures, in this case two rectangles. I was mistaken because I don't rely on the raised marking to recognize bills. When holding a bill, I can only sense that this place of it is different; I hope that blind people with their trained touch can really sense the figures.

This money story makes me proud of my country (which doesn't happen often at all). We have surpassed much more developed and civilized nations. Watch us, Americans, and learn from us!

However, there is a sad moment in my delight, because I remember a night radio program in late 1996 or early 1997. The radio host had invited the representative of the International Monetary Fund for Bulgaria - an unusually high-ranking guest for a program broadcasted live between 12 PM and 4 AM. The host asked him whether he would advise Bulgarians to trust their currency and if so, what arguments he would use. The IMF man replied jokingly, "Yes, I would tell Bulgarians to like their money, because it is very beautiful!"

This dialogue, taking place in the most surreal hours of the night, quite fitted the surreal situation in Bulgaria at that time. We were suffering hyperinflation of the type usually observed after a world war. Upon receiving my salary, I thought what I could do to prevent it being eaten away by inflation and decided to buy paper for the printer at my workplace. (Of course my employer had to buy this paper, but Bulgarian university teachers are forced to finance their work with their meager wages.) So I went to the bookstore just to discover that a package of print paper costed a little more than 3 my monthly salaries. At the maximum of hyperinflation, my salary had thawed to the equivalent of $ 4, and $ 0.6 of it was actually held as income tax.

The next government, after quashing the hyperinflation, made a monetary reform. The beautiful bills to which the IMF representative was referring were replaced by new ones, also beautiful, and with raised marking for the blind. So far so good.

However, poverty remained chronic in Bulgaria and ordinary people were trained to think that there is nothing wrong if their incomes increase at a slower rate than inflation. Now, analysts are warning us to prepare for a new surge of inflation, based on increase of fuel and food prices.

But at least we have better money than the Americans.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Realpolitik about Georgi Stoev

Most Bulgarian bloggers who are worth reading write under their true identities. An exception is the right-wing political blog Realpolitik, by anonymous author(s).
My previous post was dedicated to the death of Georgi Stoev, a writer who exposed the organized crime in present-day Bulgaria. Realpolitik also has a post on the subject, written on the very day of his death (Apr. 7) and titled They murdered Georgi Stoev for the sake of us all. Below, I'm translating several lines of it:
"Our analysis: Georgi Stoev was shot dead by the Monterey Ring, this is obvious. There was no way for them to let him talk all over the place that Lyuben Gotsev is capo di tutti capi and an old friend of the Margin. There was no way for them to let him testify against Madzho... On Realpolitik, we have been writing about the Monterey Ring for a long time. When we started the blog, we had a discussion whether to reveal our names. The opinion not to show them on the site prevailed because we didn't want to be entangled in made-up lawsuits. The story of Georgi Stoev showed the existence of dangers far more serious than a made-up lawsuit. In Bulgaria, they already assasinate writers in order to shut them up."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The death of Georgi Stoev

I rarely write about the organized crime in Bulgaria and its powerful grip on our lives and when I do, the posts are of copy-paste type such as the ones dated May 19, 2006 and the May 11, 2007 . Not only have I no expertise in this subject, but reflecting on it for too long fills me with hopelessness and apathy, because I see no sign that rule of law and civil society in Bulgaria will ever prevail over the mafia.
However, when a writer is murdered and there is strong suspicion that this is because of his writings, no other writer (in the broadest meaning of the term) can remain silent.
On Apr. 7, writer Georgi Stoev, 35, died after being shot in the street with three bullets. It is not known (and is unlikely ever to be known) who pulled the trigger, but the victim knew it was going to happen. He left behind a 7-year-old daughter. He had separated himself from her mother, perhaps to spare her and the child the inevitable risk.
In his youth, Stoev was involved in Bulgarian organized crime. He had first-hand experience with its two most important groups, designated with the acronyms VIS and SIC. Later on, he turned his back on mafia and began to write books about it. He was an example of the writer of the future as Varlam Shalamov imagined him - not a person educated in literature with little knowledge of reality, but a person with much real-life experience and expertise, plus innate gift of writing.
I didn't know his works because in recent years financial reasons force me to stay away from the book market. However, after the murder my husband bought one of his books, SIC. It was describing not only the racketeering activities of the mafia thugs but also their ties with high-ranking members of all major political parties. After reading it, I told my husband that I wonder how the author of such things could survive that long. He suggested that it was possible because Bulgarian crime lords and politicians don't read books (though, unlike us, they can afford whatever books they wish).
However, it is not quite clear whether Stoev's murder was really motivated by his books, because there was also another story centered around Mladen Mihalev, nicknamed Madzho (Madjo). Journalists call Madzho "a businessman", which in Bulgaria has become a standard euphemism for any person with a huge income of murky origin. Madzho was portrayed in SIC and other books by Stoev. In fact, SIC was dedicated to "M.M. - M.", a clear reference to Madzho. The 2007 dedication stated, "I am not certain about our present relationships and wouldn't call you a friend now, though I used to. But I am not afraid of you, we'll meet as equals and this time I'll set the rules of the game." This makes me think that Stoev either was too naive or had too little instinct of self-preservation.
I am sorry that this post turns more about Madzho than about Stoev, but this seems inevitable if we want to face the truth about why Stoev died and in what a country we continue to live. I am translating from an unsigned article titled Do you remember who Madzho is from the May 18, 2007 issue of Capital weekly:
"... His name made headlines when the gangster war broke out in 1993... Madzho was the person whose nerves yielded and he fired an entire charger of bullets into the entrance of the Sevastopol casino at Rakovski Street in Sofia. Unfortunately for him, (rival gangster) Karamanski had made an ambush and Mihalev was wounded by a shot from an apartment across the street... His "business career" included supplying oil to Serbia during the embargo and forcible insurance... Mihalev was one of the four founders of SIC in late 1994... In 1995, Mladen Mihalev bought First East International Bank... In 1996, several hotels in (the mountain resort of) Borovets were privatized by Madzho. He later bought and built several more hotels in (the sea resort of) Sunny Beach... Because the (rival gangsters) Margin brothers are threatening his life, Mladen Mihalev is now living abroad, most of the time in Switzerland... Madzho's activities are allegedly directed by the former Interior Minister and Deputy Director of First Administration of (former Communist) State Security service, General Lyuben Gotsev... The general doesn't deny he knows Madzho but denies any influence upon him."
The reason Capital weekly paid attention to Madzho were some events that took place on May 16, 2007. Let me quote Reporters Without Borders:
"18.05 - Bulgaria: Court security officials beat photographer. Emil Ivanov, a photographer for the newspaper Express was beaten up by court security officials in Sofia on 16 May when he tried to take photos of underworld figure, Mladen Mihalev, key witness in a trial for the murder of an associate, Milcho Bonev. Tight security has surrounded the hearings, including systematic searches of journalists. Interior minister, Roumen Petkov, announced the opening of an investigation."
The "key witness" actually appeared in court with a 3-hour delay to give completely useless testimony. However, his appearance made big news because of the way it was handled by police. They took unprecedented security measures, "occupying" the Palace of Justice and its surroundings in the center of Sofia. Eyewitnesses told shameful stories of policemen standing side by side with the thuggish private guards of Madzho and indistinguishable from them, of judges stopped by police and forced in the most disrespectful way to prove their identity in order to be let into their own offices. Nobody was surprised when 55-year-old Emil Ivanov, after photographing these security measures, was brutally beaten by police and forced to erase his photos. (More details here and here, in Bulgarian.) All commentators agreed that there was no real threat to Madzho's life and the entire parade of force aimed to show the public that Bulgarian state supports Madzho. The investigation mentioned by Reporters Without Borders later vindicated the uniformed beaters. One of them even threatened to sue his victim for libel. It is a sad Bulgarian reality that our police and prosecution not only let organized criminals do whatever they want, but help them terrorize the population by beating and prosecuting whoever tries to expose them (another example: our authorities wanted to prosecute BBC journalists for reporting a ring of child traffickers).
Let me return to Georgi Stoev. He claimed that recently Madzho contacted him and ordered him to organize a group to carry out assassinations. Stoev didn't want to do this and passed this information to the prosecution. The result was disastrous: information leaked from the prosecution to Madzho. Stoev wanted to testify against him but only after his arrest. Prosecutors were not going to arrest Madzho and, as they claim, instead offered Stoev the protection our law has for such cases (which is essentially useless). I doubt that they were ready to do even this; it is easy for them to say it now - he is unable to refute it. I cannot figure out how Stoev, knowing our prosecution, could think they would do their duty; and even if they wanted, they had no evidence against Madzho other than Stoev's words. Anyway, they were not interested in charging Madzho, turned Stoev away and after a short time he was dead.
A day before Stoev's murder, "Borislav Georgiev, the executive director of a multimillion-pound energy company in charge of maintaining a controversial nuclear power plant, was shot outside his apartment block" (quote from The Independent). These two contract killings in two days finally led to the resignation of the Interior Minister Rumen Petkov, presumably after pressure from EU. Petkov's reputation was already marred by many previous deeds, notably a meeting with two underworld bosses known as Galev brothers. Nevertheless, Petkov retained a high position in Bulgarian political life and was included in the talkes about the new Cabinet.
So Stoev was silenced, his characters who killed him are untouchable and enjoying their dirty money and high positions. Trying to construct some good end to a story that has none, I think of my husband's reaction. He usually skips voting, but now every time when Stoev's name is mentioned in the news, says, "I will vote next time - and not fot them."
"They" are today's rulers who transfered their power to the underground world.