Thursday, March 27, 2008

About Kosovo

On March 19, a month after Kosovo declared independence, Bulgaria recognized it together with Croatia and Hungary.
The reaction of mainstream Bulgarian media is shown e.g. in this editorial of Standart daily: title We surrendered, subtitle We stabbed Serbia because of Brussels, the neigbours (Serbs - M.M.) slam the door in our face. The widespread warm feelings of Bulgarians to their Serbian "brothers" is strange, considering the fact that Serbia is a historical enemy of Bulgaria and has never missed an opportunity to "stab" it. You also see that Bulgarian journalists still cannot learn to separate reporting events from commenting them.
However, Bulgarians aren't alone in expressing hostile reactions to the newborn state. People located at a safe distance from the Balkans and expected to keep their heads calm are calling Kosovo Islamism's New Beachhead and First Step For Islam's Balkanization of the World.
Well, I am also not very happy about the emergence of another Muslim state. And I know that Kosovars, as people, aren't any nicer than Serbs. When NATO in 1999 first gave them the opportunity to be masters in their own house, what did they do? They started genocidal attacks against their Serb minority. If a person in a crowd of Kosovo Albanians was suspected to be a Serb, he would be encircled and killed. A Bulgarian working for the UN became victim of such lynching. Somebody asked him in the street in Serbian what time it was. After our man replied in the same language, he was murdered on the spot.
I also remember the words of the widow of a prominent Kosovar killed by the Serbs: "What makes me particularly sad is that he was buried by Gypsies." You cannot hear such a phrase in a civilized country, can you? We may rightly hate political correctness, but this is because we have too much of it; having too little is equally bad.
However, the question isn't what sort of people Kosovars are. The question is what sort of people we are.
Are we people who stand for a civilization based on universal moral principles, beginning with the Golden Rule? Or are we people of hypocrisy and double standards? You who are against the independence of Kosovo, would you ever agree to live under Serbian rule? Honestly? And if you wouldn't, why do you say that Kosovars should?
Do we believe and stand for human rights, or just for rights of people whom we like and who resemble us? If we deny rights to people because they are different from us and likely to be a threat to us, aren't we guilty of the same sins in which we accuse our Muslim opponents - supremacy, tribalism and us-versus-them mentality?
How can we appeal to Muslims to join our civilization, if we renounce its principles ourselves at the very moment when this seems convenient?
Are we ready to defend our society and culture against Islamism, or we consider this a troublesome and dirty job we'd better leave to Serbian war criminals?
And while putting on our special hats for thinking in order to answer the above "difficult" questions, let's give Kosovars our congratulations and best wishes for the future of their state. It doesn't matter if this is only in lip service. As I said, political correctness isn't 100% bad.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

To residents and residents-to-be of Anniston, AL: The home of your dreams is for sale!

To be precise, this is the house of my online friend Jenny, a.k.a. the Busiest Mommy in America.

Don't consider and protract for too long, or someone else will buy it before you!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Giardia not so primitive after all

(Readers not interested in biology are advised to skip this post.)

In the mid-1990s, shortly after beginning work as biology assistant, I spent a lot of time learning as much as possible about the things we were teaching. So I read that protozoan Giardia lamblia, an intestinal parasite in humans, represented a group of primitive, early-branching unicellular eukaryotes that had never had mitochondria.

Though I was glad that an otherwise banal parasite turned out to be so interesting, its primitivity seemed to me somewhat weird. I mean, you expect to find a primitive organism hiding from competition in some out-of-the-way or extreme habitat, not inside a highly advanced organism. What on Earth had Giardia been doing before its mammalian hosts evolved, and where had it been living?

Back in those days, I had also the good habit to visit the university library at least twice a month to browse the new issues of Science journal. So at some point I learned that genes of apparent mitochondrial origin were found in the nuclei of Giardia and other amitochondrial protozoans, which clearly showed that their lack of mitochondria was secondary. (Giardia lives in anaerobic environment and, hence, doesn't need mitochondria - their function is cellular respiration.) However, these protists were still considered primitive and early-branching.

Last week, while working on my textbook chapter introducing eukaryotes, I found it necessary to refresh my knowledge on their evolution. To my delight, Giardia and the other similar organisms are no longer considered very primitive. It is now recognized that in some lineages the "molecular clock" of evolution produces artifacts, making the branch seem longer than it actually is. (In fact, taking into account the speeding effect of temperature on biochemical processes, we must expect such artifactual branch elongation in mammals and birds, and also in their endoparasites such as Giardia.)

Another curious theory shaping now is that major eukaryotic traits appeared almost simultaneously, and the absence of any of these traits in some extant eukaryotic species must be considered secondary unless proven otherwise. When mitochondrial genes were found in nuclei of amitochondrial protists, scientists began to suspect that mitochondria were acquired at the same time as nuclei (if not even earlier). So the quest to find a primarily amitochondrial eukaryote was all but cancelled. The same considerations seem to be valid for sexual reproduction - at any rate, I wouldn't devote my career to looking for a primarily asexual eukaryote.
Current concepts about eukaryote evolution are briefly described in this TreeOfLife document. Mention that in recent times they are changing literally every year, so don't try too hard to learn the latest theory - it is unlikely to survive for long.

The bottom line: If you find something fishy in a theory, keep an eye on subsequent developments in that field - science may give merit to your doubts.

Update: I am discussing Giardia and some other protozoans of medical importance here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The definition of idiocy

"The (British) Home Office's own guidance issued to immigration officers concedes that Iran executes homosexual men but, unaccountably, rejects the claim that there is a systematic repression of gay men and lesbians."
Quote from Independent, hattip Robert Spencer.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The brotherly love of Islam

The late Amina and Sarah Said (copied from Debbie Schlussel, original source unknown).

It is very sad that the disgusting phenomenon of "honour murders" not only cannot be eliminated from the world but is spreading out of its endemic territories into the West. On Dec. 20, 2007 I wrote about murdered Canadian schoolgirl Aqsa Parvez and mentioned three other victims in France and Denmark. Of course my post wasn't a thorough review. According to Stephen Brown, 48 Muslim women were honour-murdered between 1996 and 2006 in Germany alone. This post is about a recent double honour murder in the USA. Let me first quote Robert Spenser's Honor Killing in Texas:

"Amina Said, 18, and her sister Sarah, 17, smile happily in one widely circulating photo, and Amina is wearing what looks like a sweatshirt bearing the name “AMERICAN.” But their fate may have been the herald of a new, disquieting feature of the American landscape: honor killing. Amina and Sarah were shot dead in Irving, Texas, on New Year’s Day. Police are searching for their father, Yaser Abdel Said, on a warrant for capital murder. The girls’ great aunt, Gail Gartrell, told reporters, “This was an honor killing.” She explained that Yaser Said had long abused the girls, and after discovering that they had boyfriends, had threatened to kill them -- whereupon their mother fled with them. “She ran with them,” said Gartrell, “because she knew he would carry out the threat.” But Said found them, and apparently did carry it out. Honor killing, the practice of murdering a female family member who is believed to have sullied the family honor, enjoys widespread acceptance in some areas of the Islamic world. However, Islam Said, the brother of Amina and Sarah, has denied that the murders had anything to do with Islam at all. “It’s not religion,” he insisted. “It’s something else. Religion has nothing to do with it.”"

You can read more e.g. at Atlas Shrugs and Debbie Schlussel.
For me, in the entire terrifying story, least understandable is the attitude of the victims' brother Islam. Debbie Schlussel quotes the girls' aunt saying he was in fact his father's accomplice: "I believe with all my heart that ISLAM, the brother, is just as guilty as his dad. Why? Because Amina would not go back home! He went over, where she was staying and was crying. "Please come home Amina and talk things out with Dad! He will not hurt you, I give you my word! I promise, you will be safe!" She trusted those words and went with him. Not an hour later....Sarah made that infamous call! She died immediately after she called as he took his time killing her."

Islam showed no compassion for his sisters after their death, either. Phyllis Chesler reports, "Islam Said blames his sisters’ deaths on their boyfriends. On March 8, 2008, the Lewisville High School celebrated the lives of the honor murdered Amina and Sarah Said. Local media was there. I watched as Islam grabbed the microphone and characterized his sisters’ boyfriends as “gang members” who “killed his sisters.” He also said: “They pulled the trigger, not my dad. My dad is the victim here.” "

I find it also worrying that this case wasn't reported by the "big" mainstream media, at least not widely, so I had to compile my post exclusively from Islamophobic sources.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Shame on you, President Parvanov and Premier Stanishev!

This post belongs to my "Shame on you" rubric explained in my previous post Shame on you, Minister Gaydarski!.
I am not a supporter of current Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, as shown by two earlier my posts - Don't vote for Georgi Parvanov and Never elect hunter President - bad for wildlife.
Of course the fact that I dislike the President may reflect just my political views and personal preferences. But please read below what he said on March 8 in the city of Ruse while opening a discussion on the subject For the children of Bulgaria in an open and committed way (source: Netinfo):

"I was deeply disturbed by that documentary (BBC's Bulgaria's Abandoned Children - M.M.) which wasn't made with love to Bulgaria, which is a part, a detail of an anti-Bulgarian campaign provoked by people unknown to me and with purposes unknown to me."

I'd wish to ask the President two simple questions:
1) After you cannot figure out what interest could anybody have in discrediting Bulgaria by a documentary about care homes, doesn't it come to your head that the presumed anti-Bulgarian campaign may simply not exist?
2) Following your logic, Germans in 1946 could, instead of focusing on de-Nazification, say that documentaries about Auschwitz hadn't been made with love to Germany. Can this comparison show you how irrelevant and monstrous your comment was? Need we Bulgarians be taught humaneness the way Germans were?

The next day (March 9) journalists asked the Premier Sergey Stanishev whether he shared the President's opinion. Stanishev replied, "The BBC documentary about the orphanage in Mogilino is extremely biased and distorts the reality about the care that is done. From each reality, fragments can be taken in isolation and deeply moving scenes can be obtained this way" (source: Mediapool).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shame on you, Minister Gaydarski!

Regular readers of my blog know that I have a "column" of posts titled "Shame on you, Minister ..." and containing outrageous statements of our ministers about Bulgarian institutions for disabled children such as Mogilino. Because these statements are meant to circulate only in the Bulgarian public space, I think it is good to translate and post them in English, so that everybody could see what sort of people rule Bulgaria and what attitudes they have towards abandoned children and disability. So far, I've had such posts about Ministers Grancharova and Maslarova. This post is devoted to the health minister Radoslav Gaydarski. On Feb. 29, he was presented at the opening of a day care center for disabled children in the town of Vidin and made a statement. I cannot find in the Web the entire statement, so I am translating below excerpts published by Dnevnik and Mediapool.

"A premeditated campaign is being carried out against the Bulgarian people for allegedly having a callous attitude towards disabled children, the poor and the elderly. This doesn't correspond to the truth and aims to discredit our country.
Throughout Bulgaria, there is hardly a city or a region without care homes for the elderly, the disabled and the abandoned children. Of course some care homes are in a better condition and some are in a worse condition, but it is clear for everybody that the current government and its predecessors have done their job as allowed by the funds available in our state.
Nobody can deny that extraordinary efforts are being made to improve the lives of these people, especially the children. All this cannot happen in several years, because a country in transition and with insufficient funds cannot manage for all who need special care to live in wonderful conditions.
It is not the fault of the Bulgarian people that we have so many children in care homes. It is not the fault of our people that we lack the financial capacity to build health facilities like the one we are opening now. It is the fault of those who unintentionally create these difficult conditions in the country.
I am disgusted by the libel against the Bulgarian people. In two days, there will be a discussion on "the children of Bulgaria" in Brussels. The large part of these children, I am talking about Mogilino, have been born by very young mothers aged 12-14. They have been abandoned by their families. To accuse the Bulgarian people for not caring for these children is, to say the least, unpleasant and dishonest, because the children in these institutions are cared for using funds given by all of us.
The day care center we are opening now is a wonderful facility. It is much superior to a number of similar European facilities."

See how Gaydarski's statement was commented on the Mogilino blog:
"Of course the minister quite conveniently omitted saying that exactly his subordinates - doctors, midwives, nurses, - convince mothers of disabled newborns to place them in an institution. Visit the page Is is easy to raise a disabled child in Bulgaria to read exactly how doctors react when a child with a problem is born. In short, they say, "Leave him in an institution, he will never become a person, you will have another child, the brain of this one is boiled." I can understand why some families abandon their children. It is exactly because Gaydarski's Ministry doesn't offer much of an alternative. Is there quality health care for these children? No. Does the health fund pay for each necessary drug? No. Are there enough rehabilitation facilities in Bulgaria? No. Are there modern prostheses and other accommodation devices? No. Are there kindergartens willing to integrate disabled children? No. Is there psychological counselling for parents of disabled children? No. Besides, the Minister apparently doesn't realize that if in our country 14-year-olds are giving birth, then his ministry isn't doing his job properly."
I agree with this comment and I want to add several words of my own.
First, Dr. Gaydarski is clearly bragging that there are so many institutions in Bulgaria. He thinks that this proves the caring attitude of Bulgarian people towards abandoned children, the disabled and the elderly, because institutions are supported by taxpayers. It seems that, at the back of the Minister's mind, some alternative method of dealing with disabled people is lingering that doesn't require money, and he is giving us and himself credit for not opting for this method. I wonder, what could it be? Throwing the disabled into the nearest river, possibly? Let's not forget that this has been done before, in Europe, less than a century ago.
Second, you can see that the Minister tries his best to perpetuate the myth that the plight of abandoned disabled children is poor because of the insufficient funds available, while in fact it is humaneness that is in short supply.
Third, the remark about the 12-14-year-old mothers is a shot in the direction of Gypsies. It is their girls who sometimes have babies in their early teens. Among the Bulgarian majority, teen pregnancies are much rarer and are almost invariably terminated. I don't think Dr. Gaydarski knows for sure that exactly the children at the Mogilino care home are born by very young mothers. At least, he shouldn't be allowed to review their cases in such detail without a proper reason. So I think he is just guessing that "young girls produce disabled babies and then abandon them". As far as I know, very young mothers have a higher risk for premature delivery, which in turn increases the risk for some disabilities. However, older parents are at a higher risk to have children with other disabilities, such as Down syndrome and autism. The Minister didn't address this issue. This proves that his attitude was racist, a detail that would escape the attention of a non-Bulgarian reader. We who live in Bulgaria and know the context of the situation can see that he made a miserable attempt to exonerate the Bulgarian majority by laying the blame for abandoned disabled children on the Gypsies.
At the end, I want to say that I am sad when I think that Gaydarski is a doctor.

UPDATE: On March 9, Netinfo quoted Gaydarski saying that "it makes sense only for well-prospecting children to be taken out of care homes and integrated in the community" (Bulg. има смисъл само перспективните деца да бъдат изведени от домовете и да се интегрират в обществото).
I would say that if somebody had seen Gaydarski as a child and had labeled him ill-prospecting, perhaps some things would have been spared to us all...

University teachers vote with their feet

It is no secret that Bulgarian teachers, including university teachers, are scandalously underpaid. I've mentioned this fact before. In my Sept. 15, 2007 post, I wrote, "Although our educational system is in decline and people are right to criticize it, it still works amazingly well, taking into account how little resources and attention it receives from society. It is a working perpetuum mobile. How long will it endure? When I began my work as assistant in 1994, I had to compete with five people. Now, when we have vacant positions, the candidates coming are usually as many as the positions. Sometimes the interview fails because the candidate doesn't show the qualification required by law for the position of university assistant. It is a sure sign that a job is underpaid when the only people willing to do it are not really qualified for it."
In a later post dated Oct. 11, 2007 and devoted to the teachers' strike, I wrote, "Teachers receive outrageously little support by Bulgarian society. A legion of people, including university graduates, suddenly began to care about the aborted reforms in Bulgarian education, saying that there are many teachers who should be fired, that bad teachers shouldn't receive the same pay increase as good ones (though nobody finds it wrong that good teachers now receive the same fixed low wages as bad ones), that teachers are guilty for the absence of reforms, that those teachers who think they are underpaid should leave rather than protest and if they don't leave, it is because they cannot find other jobs, which proves that they are incompetent and don't deserve even their current wages!"
Unfortunately, Bulgarian authorities at each level and the entire Bulgarian society continue to think that people will devote themselves to teaching, no matter what is done to discourage them. Eh well, not quite. Bulgaria seems to be running short of educated fools ready to do highly qualified work for no money. The two assistants who were appointed last at our Department are leaving. This is what people call "voting with one's feet".
So, to those who advise teachers to leave if they find their salaries too low - there are people following your advice. So what? Does this fix a single thing in the education system?

Some people throw things into water, other people rescue things

The Short Reign of Pippin IV isn't among the best works of John Steynbeck. However, it contained a scene that impressed me. The main character, Pippin, once walked by a river and saw several young men dragging a statue to the water and an old man trying to stop them. Pippin rushed to help the old man but the result was that he was himself thrown into the water, together with the statue, after a little beating.
When the hooligans left, the old man helped Pippin come out of the water.
"Why did they throw the statue into the river?" Pippin asked.
"Some people just seem to like throwing things," the old man answered. "Besides this statue, they have thrown three more into the river. Here are the empty pedestals."
"I can go back into the water and look for the statues, I am all wet anyway."
"No, you shouldn't, you'll catch cold if you do. I'll take care. I do it regularly."
"Why do you do it?"
"Some people just rescue things."
"That's true, you rescued me as well. But why don't you attach the statues firmly to their pedestals?"
"Oh, you don't understand. If I do this, the youths will submerge them again, pedestals and all. And I am not sure I'll be strong enough to bring the statues out if they are with their pedestals."
I remembered this scene when I heard of recent events at my workplace. After I went into maternity leave, all reagents and equipments used by me remained under the care of my colleagues. Unfortunately, they weren't quite as caring as I had hoped. About a week ago, they discarded as unusable the refrigerator and a microscope, without informing me.
Happily, my colleagues and friends working in another room saw the refrigerator in the corridor and were quick to take action. They opened it and found it full of my bottles of reagents. The latter had spent God knows how long at room temperature and were covered by mould reaching centimeters in length.
My friends selected the reagents that looked saveable, brushed the mould off their packages and sheltered them in their regrigerator. They told me by the phone what had happened and suggested to check a small freezing camera where I also had reagents. Unlike the refrigerator, it wasn't presumed to be out of order. It was "just" disconnected from power supply and, again, there was no sensible explanation why.
As for the microscope, I had actually never used it. Its power supply had disappeared and, although I was planning to find a new one, I never found the time and money to do this before the maternity leave. I didn't even need this microscope because there was another, working one in my room. So I wasn't in a hurry and just left it stand quietly behind my back, doing absolutely no harm to anybody. Why was it scheduled for destruction? Don't ask me. Luckily, a younger colleague saw it in the corridor and took it to his room. However, in a striking resemblance to Steinbeck's story, he couldn't rescue the microscope stand because it was too heavy for him. I hope the microscope will be able to work well without its stand.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Vote for science

Copy-pasting Orac's March 6 post:

"There's an idiotic poll up at Larry King Live with the question: "Do you believe vaccines cause or contribute to autism?" Idiotic, because it's science that says whether or not vaccines cause or contribute to autism. Whether the public thinks they do or not is irrelevant to the biological, medical, and clinical science that say, to the best of our knowledge, they do not.
Even so, please go tell him the real science about vaccines and autism. The pseudoscientists have already stacked the deck, and clearly antivaccinationists are voting, as the numbers are running around 80% to 20% in favor of "yes" as of this posting.
Vote now, and bring some balance!"

I blogged about vaccines and autism on Jan. 14 , Feb. 1 and March 4.

Never elect hunter President - bad for wildlife

I have blogged about Bulgarian President more than a year ago in my post Don't vote for Georgi Parvanov. Below, I am translating from today's Netinfo post without commenting.

Struma newspaper: Parvanov went hunting the next day after train tragedy
Struma, a local newspaper based in the city of Blagoevgrad, stirred a controversy by reporting yesterday that President Parvanov took part in a wolfhunt on March 1 - the next day after nine people died in a fire on the train Sofia - Kardam.
The hunt was organized by forest rangers from the town of Simitli...
The President allegedly killed only a fox. He arrived at DiMario hotel in Simitly at 5.30 AM on March 1. However, National Security Agency personnel cut off and guarded the hotel from the previous day, Feb. 29...
The President's press center reacted today by announcing that "President Georgi Parvanov hasn't taken part in any hunt gatherings although on March 1 he was in the mountain near the town of Simitli"...
Struma reporters were advised by hunters from Simitli to keep quiet...
Commenting the controversy, Petar Yankov from the Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds stated that the open season for water birds in Bulgaria has been prolonged twice because of the President. In both cases, this happened at 7 PM on Fridays - Feb. 1 and 8, respectively. The permission for prolongation was granted in violation of Bulgarian and European laws by the Chairman of the State Forest Agency and the Ministry of Environment and Water.
Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds appealed the permission in the Supreme Administrative Court. "This bad practice must be terminated. It brutally uses legal loopholes," Yankov wrote. According to him, open season could be prolonged only to control epidemic or damages caused by the birds, and nothing of the kind was happening in the present case."

Update: The following quote is from a Dec. 4, 2008 post at the Novinite site:
"Bulgaria President Shot Protected Wild Animal During Uzbekistan Visit
During his visit to Uzbekistan in early November, the Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov had shot a wild mountain goat, the "arhar" - a protected animal, registered in the endangered species "Red Book", the internet news site Fergana.Ru, registered and published in Moscow, reported on Tuesday."
The hunt took place in a natural park where all shooting was prohibited. The Latin name of the animal in question is Ovis ammon. You can read more details at the Fergana site.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sen. McCain joined the ranks of celebrity idiots

As the US presidential campaign is gathering speed, we non-Americans are paying more and more attention to it. The show is good and, while we aren't entitled to cast votes, we at least can participate in the campaign (by our blogs).
Until now, the candidate I liked most was Sen. John McCain. However, I just read the following in the New York Times Web site:
"McCain Steps Into Debate Over Cause of Autism
By BENEDICT CAREY, published: March 3, 2008
“It’s indisputable that autism is on the rise among children,” Senator John McCain said while campaigning recently in Texas. “The question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”"
I've already blogged on Jan. 14 and Feb. 1 about the vaccines-cause-autism theory disproved by science but still promoted by what another blogger called "celebrity idiots".
I wonder, why did Sen. McCain publicly make a statement on such a serious problem without first doing even the most basic homework? Did he really believe what he said, i.e. has he the same (low) level of intellectual skills as ageing porn star Jenny McCarthy? Or did he say it without really believing it, i.e. is he the sort of politician who in his hunt for votes would consciously and unscrupulously endanger the health and very lives of children?
Pick one of the two opportunities, dear Americans - I don't see a third one. And please think well whether to vote for such a person, whatever other virtues he may have.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Disabled Bulgarian woman sterilized against her will

Source of the information below is the Feb. 3 post of the Mogilino blog, Bulgarian readers can go directly there.
After BBC broadcasted Kate Blewett's shocking documentary Bulgaria's Abandoned Children, Bulgarian authorities and "patriots" have been busy with PR disaster management. A documentary titled Home was produced and aired on the Bulgarian National TV Channel on Feb. 3. I haven't seen it, so I am relying on Yana Domuschieva's description in the above linked Mogilino post .
The documentary showed a family caring for their own disabled child, a foster family with a disabled foster child (the only disabled Bulgarian child currently enjoying foster care), a rehabilitation center for disabled children and a protected home for young disabled people. The picture portrayed was very rosy. Indeed, only the personnel of the rehabilitation center and the protected home was interviewed, not any of the inmates.
However, human rights activist Slavka Kukova reported that last winter a not so rosy event happened in the same protected home that was praised in the documentary. One of the young disabled women had vaginal bleeding (for unclear reasons). Her problem was dealt with by removing her uterus and ovaries. She was told that she didn't need these organs anyway. After being sterilized, the woman fled the protected home and was raped in the street.