Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bulgarian police intimidating a blogger, again

The title reminds my 2007 post Bulgarian police intimidating a blogger, and the two cases are distressingly similar. Now, however, we are not seeing the wide publicity and the blogger solidarity we saw in 2007. It seems that Bulgarians are in apathy after seeing in more and more detail the logical consequences of electing a cop to the position of Prime Minister, and after losing hope that EU would not tolerate a Third World situation in a member state. I learned about the present case from Svetla Encheva's blog.
The air of the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora has been regularly polluted with high doses of sulphur dioxide for years. This pollution even has its own article in the Bulgarian Wikipedia. The presumed pollution sources are two large old-fashioned power stations located nearby. Some people, including blogger Genadi Mihaylov from Stara Zagora, also suspect a local military training square. Residents of the city have protested many times, to no avail.
Below, I am translating Genadi's Jan. 21 post Come to talk at the police station:

"'Hello, Mr. Mihaylov?'
'Yes, I am.'
'Good morning, I am calling you from the Stara Zagora Police Department.'
'I am calling you in relation to something that happened. Can you come to us to talk today?'
'Has something serious happened?'
'No, nothing, I just want to talk with you. When can you come here?
'In an hour or two, I suppose.'
When such a gentleman with extremely polite voice wakes you up, the wake-up is truly effective - like a laxative.
'Have you used Internet to announce the date of the protest?'
'Yes, in several Web forums.'
'And you have mentioned the word 'eggs'?'
'Yes, but I meant something entirely different. I have not appealed to anybody to spit on the minister...'
'This turned out to be a media speculation... You have attended the (Jan.) 18 protest (for clean air), haven't you?'
'Yes, I have.'
'And you haven't thrown eggs, have you?'
'No, I haven't.'
'And you do not know who has?'
'I only heard about it later from the news. I have no idea.'
'Have you seen any masked boys?'
'Yes, there were some.'
'Do you know who they were?'
'No, I don't. They were masked, how could I recognize them, even if I knew them?'
'Oh... One egg was thrown and the media reported it was raining eggs... so (superiors) called from (the capital) Sofia (emphasis by Genadi - M.M.)... anyway. Write down your full name and what we talked here...'
At that point, that uncle policeman (who was quite heavily built) opened at his computer a folder named 'eggs'. There were two my photos, this and this one. The next file was a text downloaded from the Web. Everything was of course absolutely serious.
I guarantee with my honour that everything I have written above is true.
Gas pollution poisoning hundreds of thousands of human beings vs. a bird embryo thrown at the local authorities by a gang of teenagers - nice, really nice.
Welcome to Absurdistan.
Of course that was not the entire conversation. In reality, it lasted half an hour, possibly an hour. The reason they called me to the police station was that I had posted the subject (on the forum) by copying the announcement for the protest which was already distributed all around the Web. Apart from the announcement, I really mentioned taking eggs (to the protest), but how could I know that someone would really take (and use) them? The basic idea was whether I could name the culprits. The policeman told me that at least several more people from the same forum had been called for questioning the previous day..."

Monday, March 15, 2010

International Women's Day in Iran, 2010

The text below was written by Saba Sobhi, Iranian freedom-loving university student, and posted on the WIP site. I advise you to read it, no matter what opinion you have of March 8 in general.

"We were returning from university talking with my friends about International Women's Day in last year and in years before, we wondered what should we do this year. On our way before we reach Vali-e-Asr intersection we saw a young girl maybe a high school girl.
Three surly women wearing chador and two bearded men with guns were surrounding her like hyenas surrounding their bait. They were harassing her and the poor innocent girl was horrified; her eyes looking for help.
She was quiet at first but talking with her eyes she asked: what have I done? What have I said?
When we got closer we noticed that they have searched her back and had found some posters with the picture of a woman on it crying in protest.
These street searches are executed in any time of the day and anywhere.
On the posters one could read this poem:
I will strike on the roots of the henchman,
You miserable you are the hay I am a woman!

(Pointing to Ahmadinejad’s calling the brave youths of Iran as hays).
And then;
the Iranian women honor the universal Women’s Day.
One of the Pasdar women (Revolutionary Guards) repeated the sentences and said: what else you wanted to do? This is striking at the structure of the state. To whom are you taking these posters? Do you want to distribute them among the school girls so that they would take into the streets on Women’s Day? Don’t you think we know what you intend to do? People like you have sunk the country into chaos. Moreover this so-called Women’s Day belongs to Moharebs, to seculars, this is an Islamic country and we don’t have a Women’s Day. This is none of your business. Just study your lessons and watch your veil!
People gathered there and protested: let her go. What has she done? What’s your business with her?
But while people were shocked with the act the Pasdars threatened her with gun and made her to get into their car and drove away.
I and my friends, while choked even more with our everyday tears were very sad because we couldn’t do anything for that innocent girl.
The girl was shouting: what have I done? It is only written that I am not hay I am a woman, what’s wrong with that? But her cries and our protest didn’t help.
These scenes are seen a lot in the sad streets of the city. Of course by Women’s Day coming up, street arrests have increased too..."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Norberg's Financial Fiasco in Bulgarian

The cover of Financial Fiasco: left - the original, copied from Amazon.com; right - the Bulgarian translation, copied from the site of the publisher MaK.
After Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, another libertarian book has been published in Bulgarian in my translation: Financial Fiasco, by Swedish historian Johan Norberg (published by the Cato Institute, 2009). I have written about it also in my Bulgarian blog; Bulgarian readers can go directly there.
This book describes and analyses in a way understandable for lay readers the global financial crises which reached its maximum in 2008 but is still reluctant to go away. According to the author (and I agree), the worst in this crisis is that it has caused comeback of the ideas for massive government intervention in economics. Norberg discusses and rejects the arguments for such intervention and defends the free market. To give the reader a taste of Financial Fiasco, I am quoting below parts of the closing Chapter 6 (but the other chapters are also excellent, so read the entire book if you can!).
"What exactly happened? How could overenthusiastic homebuyers in the United States sink the global economy? Many politicians across the world quickly declared that the crisis must have come from inside the financial system, that the reason must have been that market players had been given too free a rein and made toobig mistakes...
Politicians who had never hesitated to claim credit for each one tenth of one percentage point of growth or for each new job created now immediately went to great pains to pin the blame for the downturn on their lack of influence. But did they lack influence?
Critics say that the financial market was completely unregulated. But 12,190 people work full time on regulating the financial market in Washington, D.C., alone—five times as many as in 1960. The big wave of deregulation is said to have begun in 1980. Since then, the cost of the federal agencies in charge of regulating financial operatorshas increased from $725 million to $2.3 billion, adjusted for inflation.
A ‘‘Hoover myth’’ is now developing about President George W. Bush to the effect that he was some kind of a deregulator. However, during his eight years in the White House, new federal regulations were added to the tune of 78,000 pages a year. That is the highest pace in the history of the United States. Bill Clinton reduced the number of federal bureaucrats by 969; Bush increased their number by 91,196. Clinton reduced the cost of financial regulation slightly;Bush increased it by 29 percent...
(Some people) talking about inadequate regulation simply mean that the authorities did not understand the risks in the markets, paid attention to the wrong things, and made reasonable behavior harder and unreasonable behavior easier. Indeed. But that the government often acts incompetently is not news. And that is precisely why it is pointless to compare the real-life market economy, in all its imperfection, with an ideal image of how hypothetical, perfect
authorities would govern the economy. It goes without saying that we must compare it with the real, imperfect authorities that we actually have.

The problem was not that we had too few regulations; on the contrary, we had too many, and above all faulty ones. Some readers may object that by pointing this out, I am mainly quibbling about the meaning of words and fighting an ideological battle. I grant you that you may have a point there. Please feel free to call the problem whatever you like if you have political reasons for doing so, just as long as you are aware of what it consists of. Because what would be fatal would be for slogans about ‘‘insufficient regulation’’ to give rise to the idea that the crisis happened because the government was absent, and that the government must therefore intervene and regulate more to avoid a repeat...
When businesspeople and senior executives do a bad job, they are—eventually, at any rate—thrown out on their ear. When politicians and financial authorities do a bad job, however, they get more power... . After government authorities had helped create the worst financial crisis
in generations, the climate of ideas has now shifted dramatically in the direction of bigger and more active government... Create a crisis, and people will give you more power to fight it. This
could be called the ‘‘Stockholm syndrome’’ of politics—our utter dependence on our hostage taker makes us develop a relationship with him and start taking his side against the rest of the world... As I have shown in this book, today’s crisis is in many ways the result of our failure to break sufficiently free from the 1970s mentality and from the dream of the government as supervisor, monitor, helper, and supporter

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blaming America by junk science

I have just read the March 4 BBC report Fallujah doctors report rise in birth defects, after following a link from the WIP site. I am quoting a part of it below:

"Doctors in the Iraqi city of Fallujah are reporting a high level of birth defects, with some blaming weapons used by the US after the Iraq invasion.
The city witnessed fierce fighting in 2004 as US forces carried out a major offensive against insurgents...

Doctors and parents believe the problem is the highly sophisticated weapons the US troops used in Fallujah six years ago.
British-based Iraqi researcher Malik Hamdan told the BBC's World Today programme that doctors in Fallujah were witnessing a "massive unprecedented number" of heart defects, and an increase in the number of nervous system defects.
She said that one doctor in the city had compared data about birth defects from before 2003 - when she saw about one case every two months - with the situation now, when, she saw cases every day.
Ms Hamdan said that based on data from January this year, the rate of congenital heart defects was 95 per 1,000 births - 13 times the rate found in Europe

A commenter has left the following remark at the WIP site: "Bloody warmongering U.S. commits war crimes with impunity. I am disgusted and ashamed. Sincerely."
I wrote, "Comparing the congenital heart defects incidence in Fallujah to that in Europe, rather than to that in the same city in earlier years, in other Iraqi cities or in other Mideast countries, should immediately raise the red flag. Hoffman et al. (2002) in their article "The incidence of congenital heart disease" (J Am Coll Cardiol, 2002; 39:1890-1900) point out that this incidence varies greatly depending on which defects you count, and that including all of them gives a rate of 75/1,000 live births - only a little less than reported here for Fallujah. Of course there may be true increase in birth defects causally linked to the US weapons; but so far, the data presented remind me the infamous "vaccines cause autism" speculation."
In fact, the 95/1,000 heart defects statistics is the only number cited in the BBC report. All other data are anecdotal, such as how many defects a doctor "saw" before and now (which could be due simply to her now seeing a larger total number of babies, or to her hospital acquiring better diagnostic equipment).
According to Hoffman et al., "there is no evidence for differences in incidence in different countries or times". I would add that even if there are significantly more birth defects in Fallujah than in Europe, the cause could be selective abortion of malformed fetuses after ultrasound diagnosis in Europe, higher prevalence of consanguineous marriages in Iraq, other genetic factors or environmental factors unrelated to the US-led war. Identifying correlation, let alone causation, is serious business. So far, the presented "data" seem to show only that the war has had psychological impact on Fallujah doctors and their patients.
Of course, we cannot exclude true increase in birth defects in Fallujah caused by the 2004 US operation. Weapons are not presumed or expected to be healthy. However, such an increase can be revealed only by research worth this name, preferably followed by publication(s) in peer-reviewed journal(s). I find it unfortunate that the BBC is so happy to embrace any piece of junk science (if not plain propaganda) as long as it makes the USA look bloody and warmongering.