Thursday, December 10, 2009

Manuscript troubles

Why is it that the demands and problems presented by a co-author are always inversely proportional to his actual contribution to the work?
(Don't ask me about the events behind this post.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Playing the guilt game

A year ago, Prometheus published a post titled How they do the voodoo that they do so well - Part 2 ("they" are the alternative medicine practitioners). I am quoting it below:

"Eventually, even the most successful, charismatic “alternative” practitioner will have a patient who doesn’t improve enough... For those situations, there are a number of strategies that are typically used. (The first one is,) Did you follow my instructions to the letter? One of the oldest dodges in the “alternative” medicine “biz” is to prescribe a regimen of treatment that is too complicated for most patients to follow. If they get better (by chance), then it was due to the “treatment” – if they don’t get better….well, they didn’t follow all of the instructions exactly, did they?"

I wish to add that, unfortunately, some real doctors also like playing the guilt game and blaming any unfortunate outcome on the patient's non-compliance. Even when - especially when - the neglected bit of medical advice has been backed by about as much evidence as the typical alt-med "treatment".
(The events that inspired this post are too personal to be revealed here.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Reflections on Megrahi's release

Because I am too busy these days, most of the posts I wish to write never see the light of day. However, this particular one was called to life by Highlander's post Donkeys Vs People: The Media Circus. After reading it, I immediately decided to leave aside all other matters that can be postponed and write down my thoughts.
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is a Libyan intelligence officer who had become the sole convict for the 1988 bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001 but was "freed on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government on 20 August 2009 following reports that he had terminal prostate cancer and had less than three months to live". In order to be freed, Megrahi had to drop his appeal.
The release made unhappy just about everybody. Most victims' families, US government and many ordinary Westerners are outraged that the convict was allowed to return home as a free man and received a hero's welcome, while most Libyans seem indignant because he is still considered guilty and his appeal will never be processed.
The Lockerbie bombing set a sad record in the number of civilians killed in a single terror act - 270. As far as I know, the previous record was in the distant 1925 - the St. Nedelya Church bombing in Bulgaria, by communist terrorists. So Lockerbie opened a new era in the history of terror and is undoubtedly very important. However, I must admit that I have never made efforts to be very informed about it. The details of the case are too far from my field of competence, and the information available in public space has been from the beginning too tainted with unsubstantiated guessing and apparent deliberate disinformation to be useful.
If you ask me what I think of Mr. Megrahi's guilt (or lack of it), I'll frankly say that I don't know. As I recently wrote on Anglo's blog, "I generally trust British justice, and I surely don't believe the fancy conspiracy theories circulated around. However, a miscarriage of justice can always happen, especially when a horrible crime is committed and the public insists to have somebody - anybody - punished". I would add that Britain has had sad precedents in convicting innocents after large-scale terror acts - the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. Indeed, their cases were examples of inquisitional-type justice relying heavily on confessions, while Megrahi never confessed anything. However, the little I have read about his case has left in me the impression that linking forensic evidence to him depended too much on the testimony of a single person, some shopkeeper from Malta. While this does not prove Megrahi's innocence in any way, it makes me doubt that his guilt has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt. But again, I don't know the details of the case even to the degree that has been released to the public, and so I may be wrong.
At some time after Megrahi's conviction in 2001, new arguments for his innocence began to be circulated in public space. They can be found on the Web very easily, so forgive me for not linking to them. I just don't wish to, because they do not sound to me believable at all, but rather look like a smokescreen. Briefly, it is claimed that Megrahi has been framed by CIA in order to shield the real perpetrators Iran and Syria, because Libya allegedly was a more convenient target than them. Let me quote what I wrote two years ago on Highlander's blog: "I won't bet my hand that Al-M. is innocent. If he is, I'll think this is despite the "new evidence" disputed now in all media, not because of it. This "evidence" has all the elements of the most persistent Western myths of recent time: the big bad USA deliberately (rather than by honest mistake) going after those innocents who are most suitable targets for the moment, retired CIA officers becoming whistleblowers (this agency's retirement rules definitely need scrutiny) and a conspiracy which managed to remain secret for many years despite involving dozens of people of all sorts. Not that it is impossible. No laws of physics forbid it. But it is highly unlikely. Besides, if it happened this way, why didn't CIA plant evidence also against Al-M.'s co-defendant and buy more reliable witnesses?We must keep in mind that European culture is tolerant to evil. This helps explain many things about Europe. E.g. the abolition of death penalty. I was all for it. It was said to me and others that death penalty isn't needed to protect the society from a murderer, because if the murder is a really grisly one (or more than one), he will be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. And now, after we have abolished death penalty, we are said that no European country has life imprisonment without parole. Letting a murderer walk free after several years in prison is at the basis of today's European psyche. People are conditioned to perceive this as normal. So give people the benefit of the doubt, but beware evil. Don't count on anybody else to stop it. There is nobody."
I still have mixed thoughts about death penalty. I am concerned about the innocents that will inevitably be wrongly convicted from time to time, I worry about the reflections of the death sentence on those who pronounce and execute it, and I am just disgusted by the idea of cold-bloodedly taking the life of a person unable to defend himself. However, I must admit that my opponents were right in one thing - that abolition of death penalty will allow release of any convict as soon as it becomes politically advantageous and the public is looking aside. In Megrahi's case, I fear how easy it turned to make witnesses withdraw their testimony or bring 3rd people to testify that they have bribed the witnesses; and because, unlike Bulgaria, it is (yet) not possible to make forensic evidence in Britain disappear, then you can find a big-mouthed former CIA employee admitting that he has planted it. Don't you share my fear that these tools have the power to make anybody immune to justice?
If you ask why I think somebody in the West would be interested in rescuing Megrahi from the grip of justice, I would answer that the urge to deal with Libya can quite create such interests. First, after Bulgaria joined EU in early 2007, this created solidarity links between it and older EU members. Soon, rumours started that the Bulgarian medics could be traded to Megrahi. If Highlander, the target reader of this post, has endured to this point, I would ask her to look at this 2007 Standart News report titled Saif al-Islam: There Is a Link Between Megrahi and the Nurses. Let me quote a little from it: "There is a connection between the cases of Lockerby bomber's - the Libyan Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi - and the Bulgarian nurses, said in his latest interview the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi Saif al-Islam for the French Le Mond. "We made a link between the cases. We also agreed to discuss the issue on a bilateral level - between Libya and Great Britain. Formerly, it was insisted that this discussion should be held on a broadly European level," he added."
I would not risk to guess whether such "agreement" really existed or not. However, the common rule in deals of this sort is that they are automatically invalidated if one of the sides makes them public. So, the fact is that our medics were allowed to return while Megrahi remained in prison. However, these days we heard again from Mr. al-Islam. Let me quote the Telegraph from Aug. 21: "Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif, claimed the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, was linked to trade deals between Britain and Libya." Understandably, these statements are of little help in convincing Westerners that Megrahi and Libya had no role in the Lockerbie bombing. Personally, during the years of the HIV trial I have heard Mr. al-Islam make and then retract so many conflicting statements without a shadow of embarassment that I have stopped taking him seriously a long time ago. The only rational explanation of his behaviour that I can figure out is that he intends to perplex the stupid Western infidels and show them that their brains are absolutely useless in understanding the world.
At the end of her post, Highlander writes, "My biggest disappointment is that now that the documents have been sealed forever we will never know what really happened on the ill fated Pan Am flight..." I envy her optimism that if the appeal hadn't been dropped, we would know what really happened. However, I still hope that some day the truth may come out. There is a broad agreement that the Lockerbie bombing was state-sponsored (be it Libya or another state). So there is still chance that truth will emerge one day from the archives of the state perpetrator. This happened in the case of assassinated Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov (no relation to me). After 1989, although the archives of our Communist security services were rigourously cleared, they still revealed evidence that Markov's murder was Bulgaria's deed.
My general impression from Highlander's post is that she has fallen in the trap of equating her homeland and people with the regime, a trap too often encountered by those living under rulers similar to Qadafi. E.g. she refers to Libyan authorities that had convicted the Bulgarian medics as "those 'evil' Arabs" (from Western point of view). I guess many other Libyans are in a similar mood. Therefore, I wish to end my post with a quote from the above mentioned Anglo's post. I am finding the quoted text so important that I'll mark it in bold:
"At the end of the day, whether he did this crime or not, Al-Megrahi was working for the Libyan intelligence and I do know from people that worked for Libyan Airlines in the 1980s that he was feared and was involved in many nasty acts against Libyans, this does not make him into a hero..."

Friday, August 14, 2009

More about the ship Rudnicar and captain Gorbatenko

In my June 4 post The Rudnicar mission, I had written about the two 1939 voyages of the ship Rudnicar under the command of Anton Prudkin. The Bulgarian Jew Baruh Konfino had organized them to bring Jewish refugees from Bulgaria to Palestine. Reader Chaim left the following comment:

"Many thanks for your article regarding Rudnichar. I was among the fortunate ones to be on it. I was 2 years old then. My parents told me that they came to shore of Palestine in barges. We arrived in January 1940. What I understand is that it was the 4th voyage of the Rudnichar. I wish to know from what port did it sail and who was the captain. This link reports on 3rd voyage."

At the Air Group 2000 site, I found information about the later Rudnicar voyages (after Prudkin's resignation). It is supplied by Atanas Panayotov, quoting the German professor Jurgen Rohwer. I'd immediately refer the Bulgarian reader to this site, and here I'll translate the relevant parts of the text. After the first two voyages under Prudkin's command, the Rudnicar made two more with Grigoriy (Grigor) Gorbatenko as captain.

"In Tel Aviv, our team met and talked with Baruh Konfino's younger son, Itzhak Konfino... He was certain that his father had never approved hiring Anton Prudkin as captain and fully trusted captain Gorbatenko, under whose command Struma perished... The captain's exceptional professional skills are illustrated by what happened on Nov. 7, 1939 (during the third voyage of the ship - M.M.). The Rudnicar and the Cooperator dragged by it found themselves in a heavy storm and only the navigation expertise of Gorbatenko allowed the crew to bring successfully the two ships back to the port of the Rodos Island for emergency repair...
The fourth voyage of the Rudnicar took place from Dec. 1, 1939 to Jan. 7, 1940, between the ports of Varna, Sulina and again Varna and then to Palestine. The passengers were approximately 500..."

This voyage brought my reader, then a young child, and his parents to Palestine. It was the last voyage of the ship bringing Jewish refugees to Palestine. Shortly after it, the Rudnicar was rented by a German company to be used as a cargo ship. As mentioned in my earlier post, its end came in 1942 because of captain's error.
"It is difficult to say why Dr. Konfino did not appoint Gorbatenko as captain of Salvador. The experienced navigator would have prevented the tragedy of Dec. 14, 1940, when 204 passengers, including 66 children, perished. Itzhak Konfino claims that his father had virtually no part in organizing Salvador's voyage, which explains Gorbatenko's absence from this ship." (In my earlier post, another explanation is given - that "no one serious captain agreed to take its command because everybody feared that the passengers and the crew were doomed"; however, the source used there is apparently biased against Konfino, so I would not judge without additional information.)
The Air Group 2000 site then describes the fatal voyage of Struma. According to it, Turkish authorities were not happy with the evacuation of European Jews to Palestine through Turkish waters, but did not want to openly take measures to stop it. Instead, they deliberately ordered Struma to spend more and more days in a limbo, relying on the Soviet submarines known to lurk in this region to do the dirty job. These submarines considered all ships in sight as German and had submerged the Turkish ship Chankaya only days before Struma and almost at the same spot.
Captain Gorbatenko is described by sources as "a Bulgarian of Russian origin". I suppose that he was an ethnic Bulgarian who had no Bulgarian citizenship, because he wasn't treated by the authorities the same way as the other perished Bulgarian crew members. Death certificates were issued to their families but not to Gorbatenko's family. His relations awaited the document for decades.
Struma, "the Bulgarian Titanic" as Panayotov calls it, and the people on its board - passengers and crew, are all but forgotten in Bulgaria. However, the memory is kept in Israel. The source mentions that Dr. Sonya Levi, of Bulgarian Jewish origin and researcher at the Yad Vashem memorial complex in Jerusalem, helped to find the names of Bulgarian crew members. They are:
Grigor Timofeev Gorbatenko, Lazar Ivanov Dikov, Damyan Stoyanov and Osep Garabedov.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Bulgarian resisting corruption is punished by authorities

Architect Georgi Yanev (not to be confused with demagogue politician Yane Yanev) is well known in Bulgaria as practically the only ordinary citizen who tried to fight the massive corruption in the country. First, I am translating part of the Mediapool article Agricultural minister "forgave" architect Yanev for alleging corruption (Feb. 6, 2008), changing the order of some sequences for clarity:
"Architect Georgi Yanev filed a complaint about a 50,000 leva (EUR 25,000) bribe asked from him by two officials from the Republican Road Infrastructure Fund. Last week, a journalist asked him why he, wanting to change the statute of a piece of land, preferred to bypass the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and turn to the road administration. (Yanev) answered that "corruption in the Agricultural ministry is a nightmare". Immediately after that, (agricultural) Minister Nihat Kabil gave him a deadline until Feb. 5 (i.e. 24 hours - M.M.) to either prove or retract his words. "If I do not receive an apology, I will report (Yanev) to the Prosecutor General for libel against a government institution," Kabil threatened... Architect Yanev publicly apologized to the agricultural minister for "having delivered in public space, in a moment of stress, allegations for corruption that cannot be proved". The Minister of Agriculture accepted the apology..."
The next translation is from the June 13, 2009 article "Authorities deceived the architect whose courage they had awarded," by A. Aleksandrov in Sega daily:
"The case with the corrupted officials in the road fund will discourage even the most intrepid from testifying against corruption... The story began in 2008 when after a complaint by architect Georgi Yanev two officials from the road agency were arrested for demanding a bribe of 50,000 leva in order to manage quick acceptance of his project. The arrest of the employees as they were receiving the first half of the bribe was made in a very public way. From the 25,000 leva, 10,000 belonged to the architect and 15,000 to the police. This happened just shortly before one of the important European Commission reports warning that the European money for Bulgaria would be stopped (unless corruption is fought)... The (previous) government several times pointed this story out to Brussels as an example of successful anti-corruption measures. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the prosecution awarded Yanev... Then-Interior Minister Rumen Petkov and Prosecutor General Boris Velchev boasted and repeated many times that they need more citizens like him...
What a surprise when it turned out that the same authorities, after forcing the architect to give his own 10,000 leva to be labeled for proving the corruption, has no intention to give the money back to him. In the beginning, we were told that the money in question was forensic evidence and could be returned only after the case had to pass through the court... Here you see the first insanity - to charge somebody with corruption, Bulgarian authorities represented by the police and the prosecution take money from the victim of the crime for labeling... Is it so impossible to take the money from the Bulgarian National Bank and later return it back there?... Police and prosecution do the same with victims of telephone frauds - those who complain are forced to give their own money for labeling. In other cases, again under the pretext of "keeping forensic evidence", authorities were holding stolen and then found cars for years... It turns out that crime victims become victims of the state as well.
However, this wasn't everything in the case of the architect. Suddenly tax authorities remebered that he owed them 4,000 leva. They even blocked his bank account, and he had no money to pay because another government institution was holding his 10,000 leva...
In the last verdict sentencing the two accused officials from the road fund (one of them got 4 years, and the other who actually took the money just a suspended sentence - M.M.), the court surprisingly ordered confiscation of the money in question. It explained that the behaviour of the witness Yanev deserved condemnation because the project presented by him for approval "had apparent flaws". Therefore, by giving the sum he actually asked the accused for assistance and they just agreed..."
According to a today's report in Trud daily, those same judges said in their verdict that Yanev should be charged as co-defendant for giving the money.
To sum up, what is the result of being a good citizen, speaking out about corruption and helping law enforcement agencies to charge corrupted officials? - A fine of EUR 5,000, the danger of being prosecuted plus the humiliation of a forced apology to a notoriously corrupted minister.
To me, the most disturbing thing in the story is that back in 2008, when it was first made public, a number of journalists and analyzers immediately predicted that Yanev would be forced to pay a high price for his courage and honesty.
You can read about the case in English at the Frog News site, here and here.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Another defender of Chechens murdered

Natalia Estemirova (photo copied from the Guardian, original source Memorial).
After Anna Politkovskaya, another brave woman campaigning for human rights and speaking out against the Chechen genocide has been murdered in Russia. Below, I am quoting her Wikipedia article:
"Natalia Khusainovna Estemirova... (28 February, 1958 – 15 July 2009) was... Russian human rights activist and board member of the Russian human rights organisation Memorial. Estemirova was abducted by unknown persons on 15 July 2009 around 8:30 a.m. from her home in Grozny, Chechnya, as she was working on "extremely sensitive" cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya. Two witnesses reported they saw Estemirova being pushed into a car shouting that she was being abducted. Her remains were found with bullet wounds in the head and chest area at 4:30 p.m. in woodland... near the village of Gazi-Yurt, Ingushetia... In October 2007 she was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award by Reach All Women in War (RAW), a human rights organization supporting women human rights defenders in war and conflict. Estemirova worked with investigating journalist Anna Politkovskaya and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, both of whom were also murdered, in 2006 and 2009, respectively..."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Accused stabs witness to death in courtroom"

The late Marwa El-Sherbini with her husband and son. Photo copied from Europe-Turkmen Friendships, original source unknown.

This post is a tribute to an opponent - a Muslim woman killed in Germany. Different sources give slight variations in the details of the case. The large quote below is from Wikipedia:

"Marwa Ali El-Sherbini (October 7, 1977 – July 1, 2009) was an Egyptian pharmacist... She was killed during a hearing at a court of law in Dresden, Germany, by a man against whom she had testified after being insulted for wearing an Islamic headscarf.

El-Sherbini was... daughter of chemists... In 1995 she graduated from the El Nasr Girls' College, where she also acted as a student speaker. She was a member of the Egyptian national handball team from 1992 to 1999. From 2000 to 2005 she studied pharmacy at the Faculty of Pharmacy of Alexandria University, obtaining a bachelor's degree.

In 2005, El-Sherbini moved with her husband to Bremen in Germany. In 2008, the couple and their two year old son moved to Dresden, where her husband Elwi Ali-Okaz, a lecturer at Minufiya University, obtained a doctoral research position at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics. At the same time, El-Sherbini worked at the University Hospital Dresden and at a local pharmacy, as a part of an accreditation scheme to practice pharmacy in Germany. Together with others, El-Sherbini founded an association (Eingetragener Verein) with the aim to establish an Islamic cultural and education centre in Dresden. At the time of her death El-Sherbini was three months pregnant with her second child.

In August 2008, Alex W. (a German citizen, born in Perm, Russia of German ethnic origin) shouted abuse at El-Sherbini in a public playground for children in Dresden, in a quarrel over the use of a swing by his niece and El-Sherbini's son. El-Sherbini, wearing an Islamic headscarf, was called an "Islamist", "terrorist" and "slut". Others present tried to intervene, but Alex W. continued the verbal abuse for several minutes until the police arrived at the scene...

Alex W. was charged with defamation, pressed by El-Sherbini, and found guilty by the district court of Dresden, issuing a fine of 780 Euro. During the trial Alex W. claimed mitigating circumstances for the act of insulting El-Sherbini, suggesting that "people like her" were not real humans and therefore cannot be insulted. The Public Prosecutor successfully appealed the verdict to achieve a higher conviction due to the openly xenophobic character of the incident.

At the appeal hearing at the regional court in Dresden, 1 July 2009, eight persons were present in the courtroom: a panel of one professional and two lay judges, the prosecutor, Alex W. as the defendant, his defence counsel, El-Sherbini as witness for the prosecution, and her husband and son as members of the public. No security personnel was present and no security searches of individuals and their possessions were carried out, common in cases without anticipated security concerns and with no persons under arrest present.

After El-Sherbini had testified, Alex W. strode across the courtroom and attacked her with a knife, by stabbing her 18 times while allegedly shouting "You don't deserve to live!". El-Sherbini's husband, Elwi Ali-Okaz, attempting to protect his wife was stabbed to the lung and hip area. A police officer, who was in the court building testifying in an unrelated case was called to the scene to intervene, but mistook Elwi Ali-Okaz for the attacker and shot him in the leg. Elwi Ali-Okaz... was in a coma for two days... El-Sherbini died on the scene... Alex W. is currently held... on suspicion of murder of Marwa El-Sherbini and attempted murder of Elwi Ali Okaz...

The killing was reported on 1 July 2009 in German radio and television and in print media on the following day. In line with common media practice regarding crime victims, due to stringent privacy laws in Germany, El-Sherbini was in the initial media reports only referred to as "a 32-year old witness". The Minister of Justice for Saxony... who had visited the crime scene on the same day, publicly expressed condolence to the "young woman and her family"... The Association of Judges in Saxony (Sächsischer Richterbund) demanded a review of security procedures in court buildings. According to the British media, the German media initially reported on the case at "the back page", and only in the light of the vociferous protests by thousands of Egyptians in Cairo against an apparent "Islamophobia", the German federal government, which had kept silent for nearly a week, issued words of sorrow...

On 6 July 2009, at El-Sherbini's funeral, in Alexandria, mourners referred to her as a "martyr of the head scarf"... Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the German goverment for El-Sherbini's murder and called for international condemnation of Germany.In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded firm action against Germany and stated that "there is a strong view that the crime was a pre-planned attempt engineered by the judicial system and security forces"."

Now, my thoughts about the case.

In line with the good tradition not to criticize the dead (especially if they have suffered a horrible and violent death), I won't comment on Ms. El-Sherbini - not in this post at least. However, while I may disapprove the victim's behaviour, I am utterly disgusted by the murderer. (May I omit the mandatory "alleged"? Thank you.) Not only because he is a murderer, and motivated by hate, but also because he is a narcissistic psychopath feeling entitled to decide who deserves to live and who doesn't. And what disgusts me even more (though I may show sexism here) is that he is a man and he chose a woman as his victim. I strongly hope and expect him to receive the maximum sentence existing in German law.

From the reactions to the murder, most impressive is the grotesque cynicism of the Iranian regime and its leader Ahmadinejad. Apart from the above mentioned official letter to the UN, Iranian authorities allowed and encouraged (if not ordered) public events to commemorate El-Sherbini and progest against Germany. You can see e.g. a photo of a symbolic funeral of Marwa El-Sherbini in Tehran on a post by German immigrant blogger Rose-Anne Clermont. In other words, anti-government protests are banned, but if you folk still feel like protesting, you are welcome to rally in front of the German embassy... I wonder, do Ahmadinejad's thugs really think that if they shed crocodile tears about Marwa, this will make their people forget Neda and all other innocent, freedom-loving Iranian women and men murdered by the regime? I fully agree with Azarmehr that this is hypocrisy beyond belief.

Most of the reactions in Egypt were also, to my opinion, far-fetched (to say the least). However, I prefer not to report them here. I hope that Egyptian people were just venting their shock, grief and anger in words without contemplating any actions. And as days are passing and we aren't hearing of any revenge against Germans, this explanations seems more and more probable. I hope also that I won't have to correct myself here.

Briefly, the weird accusations and conspiracy theories rotate around two facts - that nobody stopped Alex W. from stabbing Marwa 18 times and that the policeman shot Marwa's husband instead of the attacker. I would ask Muslims and their Western leftist friends (e.g. at the Guardian) to lighten up a little and call their common sense. Few are the heroes who, seeing an armed homicidal maniac in action, would rush to stop him and risk becoming his next victim. And it is so natural for police to make mistakes in disastrous, split-second situations. I have heard of quite a few hostage release operations where police have shot bystanders and hostages instead of the kidnappers.

However, there is a point where I fully agree with my Muslim opponents and wish to give them a shoulder. This is the way the crime was initially reported - at the back pages of newspapers, with headlines that didn't mention a word that it was a hate crime and the victim was a Muslim. I borrowed such a headline from Die Welt, Accused stabs witness to death in courtroom, as a title for this post. Doesn't it sound absurd? I found it in a post by a blogger trying to prove that German media did report the case timely and properly. If you are defending the wrong opinion, the usual result is that the more you put "arguments" for it, the more its wrongness is exposed.

Muslims and Leftists were quick to say that the murder of a Westerner by a Muslim would receive far more publicity, and cited the case of Theo van Gogh. To me, this example is irrelevant because van Gogh was already a celebrity when he was murdered. When the Western or "Western wannabe" victim has been an ordinary person, I have observed absolutely the same pattern of ignoring the case and its hate motivation, sweeping it under the carpet and reporting it in the back pages with the smallest font available. Just remember Kriss Donald, Ilan Halimi and Aqsa Parvez. In fact, the headline from Die Welt immediately brought to my memory the (in)famous Washington Post headline about Aqsa Parvez's murder: Canadian teen dies; father is charged.

Hate crimes are an important thing, especially during a global war. And they must be reported. At least I think so. One can say that straight reporting of hate crimes may perpetuate the hard feelings, trigger revenge actions or make some people emulate the culprit. All this may be true, but still I think that sweeping such cases under the carpet does more harm. And I would appeal to all my opponents to defend free speech and honest reporting. Because you never know when you will be the person needing it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Let's not take eyes off Iran

Left: photo of Neda Agha-Soltan, from Wikipedia. Right: photo of Taraneh Moussavi, from Azarmehr's blog.
Today, July 25, is global day for solidarity with the people of Iran (hattip: Azarmehr). I do not know what we can actually do to help them, but I am sure in one thing: we must not forget them, we must not let Iran step down from the news headlines. We must keep eyes on Iran, because when eyes and cameras are turned away, darkness falls and all imaginable and unimaginable outrages can be done under its cover.
The photos above show the faces of two beautiful young Iranian women who were recently murdered by the criminal Iranian regime. Neda Agha-Soltan was a 26-year-old philosophy student who went out to take part in the protests against the fake elections, although she wasn't a very political person. On June 20, she was shot by a sniper in the chest and died within minutes. She became a symbol of the protests after her death was recorded on amateur videos and uploaded in the Web by witnesses. Authorities did not allow Neda's parents to hold a proper funeral service for her and forced them to vacate their home.
Taraneh Moussavi (age unknown to me) was arrested when supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi (apparently no relation to her) gathered at a mosque to hear him speak. Then, she went missing. At one moment, she was hospitalized unconscious with injuries indicating rape. On July 16, Taraneh's burned body was found in the outskirts of Tehran.
These are just two of the many fallen freedom-loving Iranians.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Short overview of extant tyrannies

After two weeks of large-scale protests, events in Iran took a sad if predictable turn. The regime performed a crackdown against the demonstrators, arrested hundreds if not thousands of them and set up special courts to try them. Nevertheless, sporadic small-scale protests still continue, and it seems that things will never be quite the same again.
Meanwhile, in China, "The CCP distracted people’s anger under its tyrannical rule by provoking racial hatred between Han Chinese (the dominant ethnic group in China - M.M.) and Uighur (a Muslim minority - M.M.). The CCP produced another Massacre in Urumqi immediately after it incited bloody incident against Uighur in Guangdong" (quote from Shao Jiang's blog). The regime has admitted to 184 victims, mostly Han allegedly killed by the rioting Uighurs. In Western media, these events are largely neglected or reported with poorly disguised sympathy to official China - see this AP report for example.
Below, I am copying almost all of Azarmehr's July 7 post China Protests:

"More than 150 Uighur ethnic people have been killed by Chinese riot guards... The pictures of the Chinese riot guards in their uniforms wielding their batons are similar to their colleagues in the Islamic Republic, the indiscriminate shooting at the crowds, the widespread arrests and terror are all similar to what we see in Iran, but thats not where the similarities end. The Chinese government like their friends in Ahmadienjad's junta fear information. They too blocked all access to mobile phones and the internet.
In theory the atheist Chinese Communist Party should be the furthest possible from a Shiite theocracy junta but the truth is, ideology is always just an excuse and a tool with totalitarian regimes. None of them believe in the ideologies with which they justify all human rights abuses they carry out. In practice only one thing matters to them, survival in power and in this they behave the same, help each other, stand united and support each other despite their ideological differences.
And in the same way the 'useful idiots' behave the same, they care not about people, they have their own hidden agendas. Are the Muslims in UK marching in support of their Chinese brothers? Are they gathering outside the Chinese embassy? Did 'stop the war' activists care about 10% of the Chechen population killed by the Russians? Did they care about Chechnya being flattened by massive Russian bombing? No of course not. They pick and choose their issues according to their agendas which has nothing to do with human rights or people suffering."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iran struggling

Photo: Protesters in Tehran on June 17 (copied from Sandmonkey's blog, original source unknown).
After a fake election, Iranian people have taken to the street to protest, to stand for their votes and probably for something much more fundamental. Many have already been murdered by the regime's security forces; still, ther is hope that a change for better will come against all odds.
Below, I am trying to translate a part of The Blind Shephards' Herd, by Valeri Stankov. It is one of the most popular modern Bulgarian poems and was written in the near past when Bulgaria was not that different from today's Iran.
"Blind shephards pasture us for many ages.
They push us upward, make us climb forever
Where only dry and sticky weeds await us
With roots pulled out of earth by stormy weather.
We hardly see grass even after rainfall,
Though we are promised green and juicy meadows.
And if one steps aside to leave this main goal,
Then lurking wolves attack him from the shadows.
The shephards' voices all are hoarse from shouting,
They curse us, call us miserable bastards.
And we keep climbing up this desert mountain
In dire hope to reach their promised pastures...
But day shall come to reckon with the shephards:
Like avalanche, we'll fall on them together,
For butcher's knife is ultimately better
Than being led by a blind man forever."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Rudnicar mission

A commenter recently asked me to "quote in English some information about the Rudnicar mission of Prudkin". I had written about Prudkin in my 2007 post Prison art.
Below, I am translating parts from the article "The collapsed building at the Alabin Street in Sofia had a dark secret related to Ruse", by Boyan Draganov, published in RuseNews on Nov. 13, 2006. Follow the link to the original page to see photos. Because I have never read anything about navigation in English, my translation is fairly illiterate; but as people say, better than nothing.

"At the Alabin Street in Sofia, a 5-storey building collapsed, killing two young women. This tragedy reminded us that until Sept. 9, 1944 this house had belonged to the eye doctor Baruh Konfino. His name and activity are related to (the town of) Ruse via Captain Anton Prudkin who had been born in Ruschuk (the old name of Ruse - M.M.)...
In 1912-1913, many Jewish families from the White Sea beach and the neighbourhood of Odrin moved to Bulgaria. They were not granted Bulgarian citizenship but still lived happily for more than 25 years. However, in 1939 they were ordered by the government to leave Bulgaria. Hundreds of men, women and children from all parts of the country gathered in (the port city of) Varna. There came also many Jews from Poland, Hungary and Romania. All were seeking a way to sail to the Promised Land. However, they hadn't the papers that would allow them to use the regular ships. The only option was to travel illegally...
Konfino was a rich Jew and a Bulgarian citizen. He made a plan to bring by his own ships to Palestine those Jews who wanted to go there. This was a very difficult undertaking because very few fit ships were offered for sale and they were unbelievably expensive. The market was offering only old small wooden ships deserving retirement. Their owners wanted to get rid of them by sale rather than by decommissionment. Konfino's arrival was a chance for these owners and they used it properly... Nobody thought that the old ships would almost certainly bring tragedies. Most of the refugees also viewed them as their only chance for escape.
In 1939, Baruh Konfino and his wife Dora became owners of the 400-ton Rudnicar ship originally produced in Stockholm in 1875. (The name means "Miner" and is pronounced "Rudnichar" - M.M.) Until 1939 Rudnicar transported coal from Burgas to Varna. After that, it was abandoned in the channel connecting the sea with the Varna Lake and was described as "a wreched wreck with the shape of a ship". Dr. Konfino realized the risks presented by Rudnicar and was very careful in his choice of a captain to carry out the difficult voyages.
He picked Anton Prudkin, an experienced navigator with adventurous life, the only Bulgarian captain able to sail the Bosphorus the Dardanelles without a pilot and eager to accept any deal and risk... He accepted Konfino's offer. A difficult repair of the obsolete ship began. After disinfection, 23 baskets full of dead rats were carried out...
In the summer of 1939, Rudnicar sailed for Palestine with the first group of Jews, most of them rich. Prudkin successfully brought them to the shores of Palestine. There, in open water, the Jews were transfered to boats that brought them illegally to the Promised Land... After a short repair Rudnicar, carrying about 100 passengers above its capacity, began another risky voyage. This time, it was dragging the large boat Success, also full of refugees. During the voyage, a storm began. Rudnicar began to leak. Worse, the S-wheel of Uspeh was damaged. A sailor jumped in the unruly sea and repaired it. Both vessels reached Palestine successfully.
For the two voyages, Prudkin received 250 000 leva. However, he refused a third one, because Konfino declined his demand for a bonus per each transported Jew. On Oct. 6, 1939 Prudkin resigned as captain of Rudnicar. He considered organizing a voyage without Konfino, but failed.
The fate of Rudnicar was sad. In 1941, Germans rented it to transport military equipment. On Feb. 14, 1942... near the Bosph0rus it hit ice and started to leak. The captain Georgi Karlovski musjudged the situation and panicked. Instead of bringing the ship to the shore and rescuing it, he and the crew took to lifeboats and abandoned it. After that, Rudnicar kept afloat for about 20 hours before sinking.
The Konfinos did not miss Prudkin and began to develop their high-profit business on even a larger scale. In the spring of 1940, they bought a ship initially called Shipka and renamed to Libertat... Because illegal voyages of refugees to Palestine had become more often..., the British government warned the Bulgarian Jewish community that each such ship, if caught, would be confiscated, its captain sentenced to 8 years and a fine, and the refugees deported back. However, nothing could stop the Jews longing for freedom. In the early morning of June 14, 1940, Libertat sailed off to Palestine. 360 people were crowded aboard... Libertat reached the shore of Palestine successfully but was confiscated by the British. The fate of the crew and the captain was not known...
Next, Konfino bought the wooden ship Salvador... It was 100% antiquated and rotten... A cosmetic repair was done, in which the Jewish refugees worked for free... The ship was supplied with only 80 lifebelts. No one serious captain agreed to take its command because everybody feared that the passengers and the crew were doomed. Konfino required the refugees to sign statements that they were boarding on the ship voluntarily and were accepting all risks of the travel. Finally, a man with no expertise of navigation was appointed as captain. He did not even buy navigation devices. The crew consisted of 4 sailors.
On Dec. 26, 1940 (there is some error, presumably it is Nov. instead of Dec., see below - M.M.), Salvador departed from Varna with more than 320 Jewish passengers (different sources give their number between 327 and 360). 89 of them were children under 12. The ship was overcrowded. The refugees had paid expensively... It is thought that Konfino had a profit of 900 000 leva from this voyage...
In the night of Dec. 11 to 12, 1940, the ship found itself in a violent storm... The merciless waves threw it on the rocks of Djambaz Tepe, near the town of Silivri. Only 123 people survived, the rest perished. The drama of Salvador became known in Bulgaria and was discussed in the Parliament. Many voices accused Konfino and wanted him to be prosecuted. However, the tragedy of the unfortunate Jews was soon forgotten.
Dr. Konfino hastily organized the next voyage of refugees to Palestine. The ships of death continued to travel. This time the Konfinos bought a ship named Struma. It was built in 1867... The Konfinos adapted it for passenger transport. Struma was sailing under the flag of Panama but had a Bulgarian crew under the command of captain Grigoriy Gorbatenko...
After leaving Varna, Struma sailed to Constantza where it was overcrowded with 778 Jews. 103 of them were children. Before the ship had even left the port, its engine broke. A Romanian ship was rented to drag it to the Bosphorus. The refugees paid for this with gold, wedding rings and family jewellery.
Turkish authorities kept the ship in front of the Bosphorus for 71 days without water and food supplies. Dysentery broke out aboard; nevertheless, the refugees were not allowed to step on land. Then, Struma was ordered to leave the Bosphorus into open sea.
In the morning of Feb. 24, 1942, at a distance of 14 miles north-east of the Bosphorus, the ship was shot at and submerged by the Russian submarine ДЩ 213'' under the command of D. Dezhenko. The Russians had mistaken Struma for a German cargo ship. Only a 19-year-old Ukrainian Jew named David Stolyar survived in the ice-cold sea water.
The fatal voyage of Struma put an end to the illegal emigration (from Bulgaria) to Palestine."

Martin Jahnke acquitted

Pro-democracy Chinese expatriots rallying in support of Martin Jahnke - photo copied from Shao Jiang's blog.

Martin Jahnke, about whom I have written in my previous post and earlier, is "a postdoctorate student who threw a shoe at Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, during a lecture at Cambridge University... (He) has been cleared of any offence. The District Judge said there was insufficient evidence to prove that Jahnke behaved in a way likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
The judge found Mr Jahnke not guilty following a two-day trial at Cambridge Magistrates' Court
" (quote is from June 2 Telegraph report).
Bravo to the judge, apparently there is still justice in Europe.
Today, June 4 2009, is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. May the victims rest in peace and may freedom soon come to China.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The hidden cost of dictatorships

When the trial of Martin Jahnke who threw his shoe at the Chinese prime minister was scheduled for three days in June, "presiding magistrate Julie Ferguson said she had concerns about the proposed length of the trial and the cost to the taxpayer."There is a huge implication for the public purse here," Mrs Ferguson told the court. "We very much hope it (the trial) will not last as long as that (three days)."" The quote is from a Cambridge News report which was commented by two readers, both defending Jahnke and lamenting the "waste of time and money" for his trial. It was initially set for June 2-4 but, because June 4 is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and apparently some magistrates feel uneasy to side with the Chinese regime exactly on this day, the trial was moved to June 1-3; a report about its first day can be found at the BBC site. So I am reminding my readers to keep an eye on Cambridge to see what will happen. Meanwhile, I wish to write a short post about the cost of dictator regimes in general.
The impact of dictatorship on its victims is fairly evident - the lost lives, the lives crippled by repression, the lost happiness because some buraucrat orders you what to work and where to live, the lost peace of mind because you have always to look behind your shoulder, the lost prosperity because dictatorships invariably create and perpetuate poverty. All these effects are fairly evident, though most victims of dictators tend to whitewash the regime in order to justify their obedience without admitting the fear underlying it. I with to write about the cost leveled by dictators on people who are, or initially have been, outside their scope. This cost is less evident, so I am calling it "hidden", although it can easily be seen by anyone of the meanest understanding.
Like magistrate Ferguson, I am wondering why Jahnke's trial is scheduled to last 3 days, as if it is a complicated money laundering affair or a murder case with unusually messy forensic evidence. But whatever the length of the trial, it would cost time and money. We could also keep in mind the lost productivity of Jahnke himself and presumably of his co-workers. So part of the cost of a dictatorship is based on the suppression by democratic states of people protesting against this dictatorship on their territory. I wish to remind also that, according to Chinese dissident expatriot Shao Jiang, "some European governments abused police powers, out of shameful deference to the CCP, and violated the rights of peaceful demonstrators during Wen’s visit to the EU". So EU authorities had banned or quashed legal protests against the Chinese regime and this may have contributed to Jahnke's decision to resort to object-throwing.
One could argue that all these costs would have been spared if protesters hadn't tried to hold rallies and Jahnke hadn't thrown the shoe. This is another aspect of dictatorships' cost: creating abroad an accepting and "tolerant" mindset that has the same ultimate result - reduction of freedom even in democratic countries.
Dictator states have three major ways to subdue democratic states. The first is by open and plain force. Although current dictator states tend to lag in technology, they develop, buy or steal enough of it to develop devastating weapons (up to nuclear bombs). Democratic powers, or their alliances, could still defeat the dictators but usually prefer to appease them because of eagerness to avoid war at all costs. As a result, we witness pariah states like North Korea and Iran successfully bullying and blackmailing the so-called free world.
The second method is by economic pressure. We saw it e.g. during the cartoon crisis when Islamic countries pressed Denmark to renounce freedom of speech by boycotting its products. We could also remember how different companies doing business with Saddam Hussein strongly supported him and opposed any action against him. For that reason, I think democratic countries should minimize their economic ties with non-democratic ones. I know that many serious people would disagree here. They will say that any pressure by (democratic) governments not to do trade with this or that country is undue regulation of economy and so violates democracy by itself; and also that minimizing international trade would hurt the population living under the dictator's rule, which is hardly what we want. For that reason, many Americans who are not pro-communist at all want the embargo on Cuba to be lifted. However, my impression is that, when trade with a dictatorships occurs, we do not observe prosperity and democratization brought by the free market; rather, we see corruption of the free market by the dictator's regime. I realize that it is impossible and undesirable to cut all economic ties with undemocratic regimes, especially if we take into account how many countries deserve the label. (E.g. Turkey is often considered democratic, but it is still denying the genocide against the Armenians and so cannot be considered more democratic than Germany would have been if it were denying the Holocaust.) However, I think that at least we must keep a red light on when trading with a dictatorship.
The third method of dictatorships to influence the free world is by emigrants. As far as I know, this is a new problem. Dictatorships of past such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union didn't enjoy much support by the people leaving (escaping) them. On the contrary, these expatriots were among the fiercest opponents of the regime. However, today's most important dictatorships - the Muslim states and China, manage to convince their people that the regime and its toxic ideology are the same as motherland and identity. Unfortunately, at the same time democratic contries brought down to zero their integration potential and opened their gates to anybody who would wish to walk in. Small wonder that we saw Danish Muslims fall over themselves to harm their country and appeal for help to their countries of origin (which they presumably had left screaming not so long ago). The reaction of Chinese expatriots to Jahnke's act also was telltale - little support and much condemnation. Apparently the majority of Chinese identified themselves with Prime Minister Wen and the Chines totalitarian regime.
The dictatorships' hidden cost also has another aspect which may seem negligible but in fact isn't. It is the impact on individuals who have had the luck to be born in the free world but have fallen in the scope of some dictator and have suffered the logical consequences. The first example coming to mind of course are those women who marry somebody from undemocratic country and then let their lord and master lure them to the hellhole he calls homeland, or kidnap their children and bring them there. Another example are the guest workers who carelessly accept a job in a dictatorship and then get into trouble, e.g. our medics who were convicted for infecting Libyan children with HIV. In all these cases, the democratic country has the lose-lose choice either to let its citizen in hell or try to negotiate his release by paying ransom and/or making all sorts of concessions. The negotiations in too many cases are not successful; and even when they are, the cost is extremely high, because the dictator quickly realizes the benefits of holding a hostage. In the case of the Bulgarian medics, Libya sucked tens of millions from Bulgaria and its Western allies. I guess that for some smaller dictatorships taking Westerners hostage in one way or another may be an important source of revenue and other goodies.
If you are asking what I am proposing to be done - well, unfortunately, nothing. Dictatorships are by definition almost impossible to reform or overthrow from inside (especially when they have oil or other resources and so have no problems with subsistence). As for democratization by external (military) force, it becomes increasingly more problematic. The average citizen of a democracy tends to like and support the dictators more than he would ever support democracy. On the other hand, the average citizen of a dictatorship, even when claiming to disapprove the (fallen) dictator, tends to oppose democracy fiercely. Both phenomena are excellently illustrated by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and their aftermath. So for the moment I have no solution in mind; I hope that, when a solution appears, some bright mind will recognize and realize it. Of course this cannot happen until the White House is occupied by Mr. Obama whose idea of his duty is to apologize, embrace and go to bed with every single dictator he can find. However, his term will not last forever, so let's be optimistic and hope for a better choice next time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No worker can ever be underpaid

One of the doctrines dominating the economic "thought" in Bulgaria can be summarized as "Prosperity by starvation wages". Its proponents claim that, because of the lack of natural resources in Bulgaria, the only way we can have a competitive economy is by paying super low wages, far below their market value. Of course, the real result of this policy is bringing labour productivity down to the level of wages, because productive people tend either to become less productive or to emigrate. So Bulgarian economy is anything you like but NOT competitive.
However, our brave employers, both government and private ones, never let facts deter them from logic. And their logic is really impenetrable. If an employee never asks for pay rise, he is apparently happy with his wage and it doesn't need to be increased. If he asks for pay rise, he is arrogant and insolent and so doesn't deserve even a penny more.
Here, I expect some people considering themselves economic experts to ask me how I can determine the market value of a wage. No problem, darlings - like the market value of any other product: by the law of demand and supply. If you want to buy a pair of shoes for (say) EUR 10 and cannot find any shoes costing as little, or if the few shoes you find at that price are of too low quality to be used by any person alive, this means that current market value of shoes is definitely above EUR 10. By analogy, if nobody agrees to work for the wage you are offering, or if the only people who agree are those who cannot really do the job, this is a sure sign that the position is underpaid. I have already mentioned this a year ago in my post University teachers vote with their feet.
In the private sector, I have heard of numerous cases when the employer refuses to increase somebody's salary from (say) 500 to 600 leva, then the worker leaves and the employer has to replace him with two people receiving 700 leva each and combined doing less work than the lost employee. However, the situation in the government sector isn't significantly better, and I strongly suspect that private employers are just following the example of government. The immediate trigger for me to write this post were the obstacles put to my colleagues Victor and Eva (not their real names) to prevent them from receiving higher wages.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson" in Bulgarian

It is pleasant to brag and I think there is nothing wrong with a little bragging after having done a good job.
Some time ago I wrote how nice it would be to make Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson known to the Bulgarian reader. Recently, the book was published in Bulgarian in my translation. The price is 10 leva; more details at the sites of the publishers MaK and Iztok-Zapad.
Economics in One Lesson defends the free market with simple and logical arguments understandable for a broad circle of readers (i.e. no special expertise in economics is needed). I am glad that the book is published in Bulgaria right now, in the midst of the global economic crisis. Unfortunately, market disturbancies mess with people's heads and we are seeing more and more economists who are expected to be in their right mind to insist on stronger government intervention in economy and even for total government control. Here in Bulgaria, we have been there and done this. Let's prefer experience, logic and common sense.

The above text is a literal translation of my May 9 post on the subject on my Bulgarian blog. After that post, I had a discussion with a Bulgarian-American commenter. She expressed disagreement with me and said that every single sane economist is now demanding more government intervention. She also cited a Nobel Prize-winning economist who seriously stated that free market must be abandoned and replaced with another economic system. I didn't quite understand what exactly this new system was supposed to be; it seemed that only the mighty intellect of a Nobel Prize winner could do such a feat. Because my rule is to avoid advertising the enemy for free, I won't give the name of the guy here. I am writing about him just to show that the problem turned out to be much more serious than I was anticipating. Where are the sane and honest economists? Please speak out and try to bring people back to their senses! We lay folks cannot and should not fight your battle. I am too often bashing arrogant ignorant people to risk presenting myself as one of them, a lay person criticizing experts. Anyway, with my translation of Hazlitt's book I have already done my best.
Instant update: I decided, however, to reveal the identity of my renowned in-absentia opponent - Paul Krugman.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


This post is essentially composed of a quote from the preface of Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin (Pantheon Books, New York, 2008), a book I can recommend to everybody with interest in biology. By posting this text, I am greeting a colleague and friend who is right now struggling with comparative anatomy. I am also celebrating the year of Darwin, which had not yet been marked on this blog.

"This book grew out of an extraordinary circumstance in my life. On account of faculty departures, I ended up directing the human anatomy course at the medical school of the University of Chicago. Anatomy is the course during which nervous first-year medical students dissect human cadavers... This is their grand entrance to the world of medicine, a formative experience on their path to becoming physicians. At first glance, you couldn't have imagined a worse candidate for the job of training the next generation of doctors: I'm a paleontologist who has spent most of his career working on fish.
It turns out that being a paleontologist is a huge advantage in teaching human anatomy. Why? The best road maps to human bodies lie in the bodies of other animals. The simplest way to teach students the nerves in the human head is to show them the state of affairs in sharks. The easiest road maps to their limbs lies in fish. Reptiles are a real help with the structure of the brain. The reason is that the bodies of these creatures are often simpler versions of ours.
During the summer of my second year leading the course... my colleagues and I discovered fossil fish that gave us powerful new insights... That discovery and my foray into teaching human anatomy led me to explore a profound connection. That exploration became this book."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Harsh sentence for Nicky Reilly

Nicky Reilly (photo copied from the Guardian, original source PA.)

I first blogged about Nicky Reilly on June 26, 2008. These days, I googled his name to check for any news on him and saw that he was tried and convicted in January. Below, I am quoting most of a Jan. 31 report from the Times:

"Nicky Reilly, Muslim convert, jailed for 18 years for Exeter bomb attack
Adam Fresco, Crime Correspondent
A vulnerable Muslim convert who was persuaded by extremists to attempt a suicide bomb attack was jailed for a minimum of 18 years yesterday.
Nicky Reilly, 22, who has Asperger’s syndrome and a mental age of 10, was described by his lawyer as the “least cunning” person ever to have been charged with terrorism...
At his trial in October last year Reilly, from Plymouth, Devon, who appeared in court as Mohamad Abdulaziz Rashid Saeed, pleaded guilty to attempted murder and preparing an act of terrorism.
Sentencing him to life imprisonment at the Old Bailey yesterday, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said that although the attack was “an unsophisticated attempt”, Reilly was a “significant risk” to the public.
After his conviction, counter-terrorism officials said that extremists had taken advantage of his low IQ to groom him.
Reilly, who has an IQ of 83, had first been taken to see a pyschiatrist when he was 9 and tried to take an overdose at 16. Kerim Faud, representing him, said: “He may comfortably be deemed to be the least cunning person ever to have come before this court for this type of offence.”
He is thought to have met British-based Muslim radicals in internet cafés near his council home, which he shared with his mother.
Security sources said that radicals encouraged him to visit internet chat rooms and other websites, where he encountered men based in Pakistan who helped to mould a violent hatred of the West. He discussed with the men what his targets should be and they directed him to bomb-making websites.
In a suicide note left in his home he paid tribute to “Sheikh Osama” (bin Laden) and called on the British and US governments to leave Muslim countries. He said that Western states must withdraw their support of Israel, and that violence would continue until “the wrongs have been righted”.
On May 22 Reilly put his plan into action... When he arrived at the Giraffe restaurant he ordered a drink and sat for ten minutes before heading to the lavatory to make the bombs.
Fortunately for the 24 customers and 11 staff in the restaurant and the 20 more people lunching outside, the bombs exploded in the cubicle.
Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said yesterday: “I am quite satisfied that these offences are so serious that only a life sentence is appropriate. This defendant currently represents a significant risk of serious harm to the public.
“The offence of attempted murder is aggravated by the fact that it was long planned, that it had multiple intended victims and was intended to terrorise the population of this country. It was sheer luck or chance that it did not succeed.”
He accepted that the attack was unsophisticated but added: “Those who attempt to commit suicide and in doing so murder other people are almost invariably unsophisticated in many aspects. That lack of sophistication saved many Londoners on July 21, 2005.”

Those who know me will confirm that I am definitely not a fan of Islamic extremism - or, for that matter, of any thing Islamic.
However, the harshness of the sentence raises my outrage. 18 years! I know of many Palestinian failed suicide bombers who were non-disabled and nevertheless were treated much more leniently by Israeli courts. Justice must be driven by more serious considerations than the knee-jerk feelings of people concerned for their own safety. Reilly has mental disabilities, which in any civilized country should mean not to hold him responsible the way a typical person would be held after doing the same thing.
I also think that some disability advocacy and self-advocacy movements may be doing a disservice in such cases. In recent times, they often make efforts to portray people with mental disabilities as identical to non-disabled people in all respects except in the need of some extra services. As the Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered stated, "Our mission is to ensure that people with disabilities (a) are treated as equals, (b) are given the same decisions, choices, rights, responsibilities and chances to speak up to empower themselves, and (c) are given opportunities to learn from mistakes, as everyone else". However, in real life there are too many mistakes that can be made only once. I understand that nobody wishes to be stereotyped as a person with decreased ability to tell right from wrong, but I fear that the demand "Give us all the rights and responsibilities of the non-disabled" is leaving people like Nicky Reilly behind.

To end this post (in fact, as an instant update to it), I am quoting a comment to Fresco's report in the Times:
"Prison? Secure hospital accommodation surely, and all since the support he needed earlier in life was absent or inadequate. I fear the real terrorists were the first people to accept him and warmly (but falsely) welcome him in. Tempting, for a depressed outsider.
(adult with Asperger's) Chris , Launceston, UK"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Together or apart?

It is still discussed whether disabled children should be educated separately from non-disabled or together with them, but nowadays most people accept the latter opinion - even for disabilities that affect the very process of learning, as well as interacting with other people.
On Feb. 25, S. Ravishankar published on the WIP site the article From Marginalized to Mainstream: A Call for Inclusive Education in India. It reflects the author's personal experience as mother of a special needs girl who moved from India to America to seek better education for her daughter. Here are some quotes: "Through our own experiences, I’ve come to believe that the kind of change India needs will only come when society fosters sensitivity to the concerns of special-needs individuals by mainstreaming them with typically-learning children of their own age... In our search for a private tutor, we chanced upon two highly-trained and experienced teachers specializing in special education. Our child did quite well under their tutelage, but being a gregarious individual, needed to interact and socialize with typically-learning kids. Richard Riser, director of the London-based educational organization was quoted in India Together saying, “Special schools are dead-ends for special-needs children. They promote isolation, alienation and social exclusion"... India has a long journey ahead. A change in attitude towards people with disabilities will only come when more disabled people are included in regular schools and the workforce; they must be given the opportunity to participate in society as individuals of equal standing. Educating them alongside other children is the first step towards a more tolerant and well-adjusted society." Another interesting observation is that the quality of education was directly proportional to teachers' wages.

I discussed the article with some autistic friends and one of them replied, "One thing the author said bothered me:"Our child did quite well under their tutelage, but being a gregarious individual, needed to interact and socialize with typically-learning kids." What, other disabled kids aren't good enough?"
I said, "I think this is a very important question and it has come to my head, too... The current school system is set so that the education of each student heavily depends on the level of the other students in the classroom. As a result, each parent wishes his child to be among better performing children. If the child is above average, then classmates at the same level are acceptable, but if the child is below average (for any reason - disability, poor language skills, poor socio-economic background), then the parent doesn't want his child to be among children in a similar situation because they would allegedly "keep him behind". My opinion is that some way must be found for the education system not to depend on young children as co-teachers and rely on them - teaching should be responsibility of the adult professionals. Then parents will stop regarding other children as mere tools in the education of their children (or,alternatively, as obstacles to good education)."
Another mother added, "One thing that bothers me about this especially with autism in mind is that many parents assume that children learn social skills simply from being around other children. I can attest to the fact that that is simply not the case. Children on the (autism) spectrum do not pick up social skills by osmosis... Other children can be very unpredictable to an autistic child and that is the reason they may not enjoy being around other children... I seriously doubt that self absorbed children would even try to figure out a way to engage an autistic child. I was either ignored or made fun of in school by all but a few and I see the same thing with my son when he is in an environment with typical children. I would prefer my son to be in a class with peers who may take an interest in him. Right now he is in an autism unit at school and actually has friends because they share interests... He is very limited in speech but he writes their names and smiles and points to their picture excitedly as if to say this is my friend."

It is indeed strange how adults think that involuntary coexistence, which they wouldn't wish for themselves, would do wonders for children. This discussion reminded me of Estranged's March 11 post Kindergarten, part 2: Silvia, most of which I am translating below:
"One of the first things I saw at kindergarten was a child swallowing the ENTIRE soap in the bathroom. The teacher got angry and shouted that he would soon vomit. After a short silent waiting, her words came true and the child really vomited the soap. It was a disgusting sight. I was seeing such a thing for first time in my life, but I did not show my surprise to the others. That place was the hell for me and I was preparing to consider all sort of shocking things as normal.
The sight of the vomited soap did not prevent me from eating my lunch because I was already taught that I had to eat 100% of the meal in all cases, no matter how I was feeling.
However, I first checked my lunch for hidden surprises. In that place, paranoia was the only way to survive. As I was checking my milk, a drop from the spoon fell on my pants. I dried it quickly. At that moment, I heard the teacher telling all children, "See, he stained himself because he is Zhilov."
The only purpose of these words was to offend me publicly, this was quite evident. Something else, however, bothered me. I asked myself, Why did she say "Zhilov" (his family name - M.M.) and not "Vesko" (his first name)? What had my Zhilov family name to do with dropping milk on my pants? Since when does the name given to you determine your spoon-holding skills? Would I use the spoon better if I had been born with another child's name?
I was trying to discover in her words some hidden sense but it evidently didn't exist. It was just a stupid and illogical attempt to insult. For umpteenth time, adults were making fools of themselves by talking nonsense. This worried me because it meant I couldn't rely on adults at all.
Finally, I figured out the true meaning of those words. It came after a little while: "You boast that at the age of five you play the piano and can read... (I had never boasted, my grandmother was bragging about me and doing me much harm.) And at the same time you cannot drink a cup of milk. You are like Silvia."
Meanwhile, Silvia was sitting under the table and rolling a boiled egg in the dirt and dust. This statement also failed to offend me. I was really like Silvia and not ashamed of this.
Silvia was the first girl I befriended. We were both five years old. However, she behaved like a baby. She couldn't talk, and her drawings were meaningless scribbles.
Silvia and I weren't Real Children. One of the first things I learned was that I was required to play with a ball. Every Real Child in the world should be able to do this. However, I was seeing a ball for first time and had no idea what I was expected to do. Silvia and I were staying in the yard, and after some trials I learned how it was done. (Silvi, to my regret, couldn't, though I tried to teach her.) At the third day, I already had a good personal ball-playing record. I was glad but, interestingly, I had no illusions. I didn't expect my success to lead to my recognition as a Real Child - I already knew that there was nothing fair about the entire business, so it wouldn't matter even if I had managed to stand on my nose.
I protected Silvia from the real children. They said I was her boyfriend...
Later, I left the kindergarten. I was hearing stories about how Silvia's classmates at school humiliated her. They forced her to drink water from pools and to eat mud. Then Silvia went to a special school and - oh wonder! - after several years became a relatively normal person. A feat I never managed to do.
Silvia surely does not remember me, but I do remember her. I have changed the name of course."

The term "Real child" is interesting. Independently from Estranged, the Chaotic Idealist last year wrote in a post titled Real People:
"I started a conversation with a random stranger.
Me: "I've got Asperger's. It's like mild autism. I guess nowadays I'd have been a special ed kid."
Her: "That's OK. I like special people just as much as real people."...
I wonder if that's common? Do people really think we're not as "real" as other people? And what does "real" mean?... "Real" is probably an unofficial synonym for "normal"."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Be careful with dates

In a follow-up to my March 12 post, I am copy-pasting a yesterday report from the Cambridge News site without any modification or comment.

"Trial moved due to anniversary
A STUDENT accused of throwing a shoe at the Chinese prime minister has had the date of his trial moved because it clashed with the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Martin Jahnke, a 27-year-old Cambridge University student, was due to stand trial between June 2 and June 4, on charges of causing harassment, alarm, or distress to Wen Jiabao.
But magistrates in Cambridge today agreed to change the date of the trial after hearing that June 4 is the anniversary of the massacre, when Chinese soldiers killed hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing.
The trial will be held from June 1-3."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The cow that wanted no subsidies

I have already mentioned on this blog Vassil, who lives in the village of Rasnik next to the summer house of my mother in-law. Of all villagers whom I know, he is the best and the one with whom I really can talk, however different our lives have been.
During his most active years, Vassil has been a miner and a steel worker. He has told me how in the Socialist era he had to get up at 4 am to reach his workplace in time, because he hadn't zhitelstvo (permission to live in a particular city) that would allow him to rent an accomodation closer to his work. Democracy gave him the right to live wherever he wished and he prefered to return to his village after retirement. He couldn't step on the rails of a typical Bulgarian retiree, staying idle in some overcrowded urban flat and complaining that his pension doesn't suffice for anything. He chose instead to become a subsistence farmer in a village without regular water and electricity supply, sewage, pavement and - possibly worst of all - doctor.
Vassil is living with his wife and his sister, whose husband died many year ago. Both he and his sister have sons who live elsewhere. Vassil is the main worker in the household. With the help of the women (and of his son on weekends), he manages a cow, a dozen of sheep, about 20 chickens, two dogs of the Karakachan breed and, in most years, a pig. These animals produce much of the food consumed by the three subsistence farmers and even something remains to be sold. We occasionally buy from them fresh eggs and milk. Last year, they even found time for volunteer work on the construction of a new Evangelical church in the village. It is small, resembling an ordinary modest house and located just beneath our house.
At age 70, Vassil is hopelessly behind the modern fashions in farming. He can work without rest and pasture his cow in any weather, but he could never fill and submit forms to the EU buraucrats in order to receive taxpayers' money for nothing. I regularly argue with my husband about European farm subsidies. I am against them, he says that they must be sound after they are universally accepted in the EU. He said once, "Without subsidies, our farmers will be driven out of business - from where will you buy milk then?". I answered, "From Vassil's cow - she wants no subsidies".
On Sunday, we saw Vassil's wife coming back from church. She told us that Vassil had suffered a brain stroke 20 days earlier and was still in coma in a hospital. His loved ones could only pray for him to come back alive. The two women knew, however, that even in this case he would never be the pillar of the family again. He would depend on their care, and they were prepared for it. They started to dispose of the animals they couldn't look after. The cow had been sold the previous day (Saturday). Talks were under way with some relations to take over the sheep. Even the chickens were to be reduced in half. How easily our deeds go away.
Update: Vassil died on May 29.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

NATO countries bullied by their "ally" Turkey

Image: a cartoon of Prophet Mohamed, by Kurt Westergaard, downloaded from the Mohammed Image Archive, originally published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. It is inserted in this post as blog action against Islamism. I intended to abstain from publishing Mohamed cartoons out of respect to Anglo-Libyan, but an event of these days became the straw breaking the camel's back.

First, let me quote a report from Independent:

"Danish Prime Minister elected secretary-general
By Brian Brady, Sunday, 5 April 2009
One of the most troubling disagreements of the two-day summit was finally resolved towards the end of the gathering, when the Danish Prime Minister overcame Turkish opposition to become Nato's new secretary-general. Anders Fogh Rasmussen (pictured) was heavily backed by the biggest European powers, but his campaign to succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was threatened when Turkey objected over his failure to ban Denmark-based Roj-TV, seen as the mouthpiece of the Kurdistan Workers' Party. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also complained that Mr Rasmussen had failed to sanction those responsible for a Danish newspaper's publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed in 2005 (emphasis mine - M.M.). However, Turkish officials said Ankara dropped its objection after the US President Barack Obama answered Mr Erdogan's "objections" during a private meeting. Mr Erdogan told Turkish television that he had received "guarantees" from Mr Obama that one of Mr Rasmussen's deputies would be a Turk – and that Turkish commanders would be present at the alliance's command."
Daniel Pipes is more open about the concessions: "The Dane won the job only after engaging in intensive negotiations with Turkish president Abdullah Gül hosted by Barack Obama. Fogh Rasmussen promised to appoint at least two Turks and publicly to address Muslim concerns about his response to the cartoons. More broadly, Erdogan announced. Obama "gave us guarantees" concerning Turkish reservations about Fogh Rasmussen. The hoops that Fogh Rasmussen had to jump through to win Ankara's support can be inferred from his cringe-inducing, dhimmi-like remarks on winning the appointment: "As secretary general of NATO, I will make a very clear outreach to the Muslim world to ensure cooperation and intensify dialogue with the Muslim world. I consider Turkey a very important ally and strategic partner and I will cooperate with them in our endeavors to ensure the best cooperation with Muslim world." "
So much about the "secular", "civilized", "model", "democratic", "Westernized" etc. Turkey - as soon as you get down to real business, you find yourself confronting the ugly face of Islamism.
Nizo once commented on my blog that what is important is not the type of the dominating religion but the separation of religious institutions from the state, which has been achieved in the West but not yet in most Muslim countries. This is a serious opinion, but I think recent events prove it wrong and show that as long as you have Islamic background, you can separate as much as you wish and still, when the moment of truth comes, it will be to no avail.
When I ask what the hell is the benefit of having Turkey in NATO, people keep telling me that "it has the 2nd largest army in the alliance (after USA)". In my humble opinion, this is nonsense. What is the use of an army, big or small, if you aren't sure whether it is with you or with the enemy?
Now, what to do with NATO? Change its decision-making process from consensus to majority? Good idea, but it is exactly Turkey that would oppose and prevent it from happening. Dismantle it altogether? Maybe we'll have to, who knows... My sympathy to the people of Denmark, and also to the decent people of Turkey.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Opinion about headscarves-in-school controversy

In recent years, there has been a trend among Bulgarian ethnic Turkish and Muslim women and girls to wear headscarves (I've mentioned this in one of my earliest posts, Headscarves in the lecture room). Media report that Islamic foundations support in different ways headscarved women and their families and organize summer schools to teach girls why a good Muslima must wear a headscarf; and the local people, unaware or unwilling to believe that the only free lunch in this world is the cheese in the mousetrap, happily bite the bait. Right now, emotions are surging because of the elections scheduled for June.
While headscarves definitely aren't my favourite sight, my personal opinion is that they must be allowed in mainstream secondary schools. The reason is that it is most likely the parents who insist on the headscarves, not the girls themselves. And if we forbid a schoolkid to attend public school with her head wrapped, we are likely to infuriate the pious Muslim dad and, as the Bulgarian proverb says, to pick out eyes instead of putting makeup on eyebrows (i.e. to cause harm instead of good). It is quite likely that the father will force his daughter to drop out of school as soon as this is allowed (under Bulgarian law, this means at age 16) or even earlier. Hence, the efforts of government to give students counterweight to their fundamentalist families are likely to have the opposite effect, making the young women even more powerless by depriving them of high school diploma. It is also possible that the father will transfer his daughter to a Muslim school where headscarves are allowed. There, we expect less science and math and more Islam to be taught. Is this what we want?
On March 30, Lyd (who tries her best to see Islam as good) wrote a post titled Religious symbols at school. Her thesis is that banning these symbols is pointless because religion is so deeply ingrained in culture and history that many schools are even named after saints. Commenter Klei then wrote something that I find worth being translated and posted here, though it differs from my own opinion:

"Suppose that headscarves are banned not because they are a religious symbol but because they are a type of hat. Here, we are touching a thing called "discipline" which, to my opinion, is among the most useful forgotten inventions of ancient people.
The school has the task to prepare children for life outside school, and not only by giving them knowledge but also by training social interaction types "equal to equal" and "small unimportant student to big important teacher". The ability to protect ourselves from bigger boys who mock us is much more important for later life than, say, the information in which regions of Bulgaria apricots are grown.
Hats are not allowed at school, period. Children must learn that RULES exist. In this case, it doesn't matter how important the rules are, how useful they are and whether there is some deep reasoning underlying them. This is _school_. It has two functions - forcing you to use your brain and at the same time putting you into the socially acceptable frames.
If somebody insists on wearing a headscarf despite the ban on wearing hats, he shows that for him the artificial pointless limits imposed by religion are more important than the artificial pointless limits imposed by his society. THIS is dangerous, and not only for the individual in question.
I value freedom much, but it must be deserved. And it is deserved by accepting the values of the society you are forced to live in - or by moving to another society which has values closer to your heart. If somebody insists on keeping his wife at home, hiding her from the world and stoning her, and if she doesn't mind it - let them go to a suitable country. THIS one here is a secular one. If you are religious, be religious only within the norms allowed by society. And stop crying and demanding these norms to be expanded."