Monday, June 25, 2007

Life will go on

Last year, I blogged about the pair of storks nesting in Rasnik, how one of them was killed for no reason and the surviving one left to die in solitude (
We have gone to Rasnik many times since then and I've always tried not to look at the desolated nest. But last week this nest offered a delighting sight: a new pair of storks standing in it confidently, as if it had always been their home.
Such events fill me with hope that everything will eventually be all right with the world - a rather irrational way of thinking for an atheist.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Political correctness in action: Come, Wolfie, eat me!

When describing the enemy commanders, such as Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri or the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi, people usually include the phrase "very intelligent". However, some my friends (BTW not as pro-American as I am) say that the above mentioned organisms aren't significantly smarter than the average person or at least we do not need to assume this in order to account for their successes. While generally agreeing with the opinion that they ARE very intelligent, I'll try to argue for my friends' opinion in this post.
First, the enemy's agenda is 100% destructive. If they win, I guess they will be in a complete dismay what to do further, similarly to the Spartans after crushing Athens and the Barbarians after ruining Rome. And, owing to the inherent tendency of all matter to take the simplest possible form, a destructive program is much easier to execute than a constructive one. Remember the viruses that subdue and kill cells and organisms million times more complex. Is HIV more intelligent than the human it overwhelms? I would say no.
Second, our and the enemy's combatants operate on a profoundly different background. The Islamic world, while formally disliking Al Qaida, supplies it not only with money but also with unconditional approval of every anti-Western act, no matter how inhumane, and with unlimited numbers of brainwashed young men keen to become martyrs in the name of Allah. The commanders of the Western troops, on the contrary, have to act under the pressure of a pluralized and highly critical society. They are demanded to achieve a military victory without losing a significant number of soldiers, without killing a significant number of civilians, without shooting at enemy combatants if the latter aren't shooting at them at the same moment and without violating the human rights of captured (proven or suspected) enemy combatants. Quite a difficult thing to do, isn't it?
Third (this is related to the above), the enemy attacks not only our infrastructure and people but also the ideological basis of our society, while we try to attack only the enemy's active combatants while praising the ideology (passing as religion) which creates them in the first place. This is the multiculturalist aspect of political correctness.
Political correctness can be defined as deliberate modification of language in an effort to avoid offending a specific group of people. A Bulgarian example of political correctness is the term "Roma", which most Gypsies and human rights activists insist to be used instead of Gypsy. I complied and used it for some years, but then I mentioned that it wasn't serving any useful purpose. It didn't help the Roma integrate, didn't bring them to work, didn't bring their children to school, didn't turn their thieves into law-abiding citizens and didn't dissuade Bulgarian skinheads from randomly attacking innocent Roma just because they were Gypsies. So I reverted to the old term "Gypsy", as readers of this blog know.
I disapprove political correctness because it takes away freedom of expression, impairs the communicational function of language and often tries to obscure or dismiss a real problem by cancelling the words used to indicate the problem. Worse, if you agree to follow the terms of political correctness, you cannot speak against any behaviour accepted by another group, no matter how intolerable this behaviour can be. "There are no moral compasses to tell what is right from wrong. The very notion of right and wrong has come under question... Morality is a politically incorrect subject" ( So political correctness ties our tongues and hands, renders us uncapable of self-defence and inevitably brings moral relativism.
This is bad enough even when the other group also tries to be politically correct. But when it is free from the bondage of political correctness, our political correctness is a recipe for self-defeat, an invitation for hostile action. Bulgarians describe such behaviour with the expression "Ela, Valcho, izyazh me" - that is, "Come, Wolfie, eat me!". Once I commented on Highlander's blog about multiculturalist political correctness: "All people are good, all religions are good. What about the old Mexican religion?" ( Leilouta's husband independently came to the same argument and expressed it much better: "The pretensions of multculturalism and political correctness would break down if an Aztec was in the room asking for volunteers to help make the sun come up the next day" (
Of course the fact that "Multiculturalism in fact has served as the incubator of Islamism" can be explained, keeping in mind that "small minorities can overwhelm the majority by use of coercion" ( As a commentor mentioned, the caption "CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons out of respect for Islam" actually means "CNN has chosen not to show the cartoons because we don't want any of our offices bombed" (
However, the dictate of political correctness cannot be explained by the violence factor alone. The groups demanding modification of language typically aren't violent, aren't rich enough to exert economic pressure, aren't a majority (except in the case of women) and are underprivileged or at least with a history of oppression. And they need not be particularly intelligent. Have we any reason to believe that our Gypsies, on average, are smarter than the ethnic Bulgarians? No, we haven't. But fasten your seatbelts, the most surprising thing is to come now.
Several days ago, as I was serfing on some blogs, I realized that the term "mental retardation" is becoming politically incorrect. In a 2005 statement, Down Syndrome self-advocates demanded the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) "to stop using the word mental retardation and change their name... In the Civil Rights movement, the "N" word was hurtful to African Americans. Likewise, the "M" word is offensive to individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities" ( Two years later, the website of the critisized organization states, "WELCOME TO AAIDD"(FORMERLY AAMR) Mental Retardation No more —New Name is Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities" (
It is not just the professionals in the "intellectual disabilities" area who have to change their vocabulary. Black Eyed Peas group had a song titled Let's Get Retarded with lyric including the following verses:
Everybody, everybody, let's get into it
Get stupid
Get retarded, get retarded, get retarded
This text didn't survive for long. The song is now in a new version titled Let's Get It Started. Journalist Bridget Johnson writes, "I figured there's always a lobby of politically correct police that is the catalyst in these situations, so I e-mailed a representative at the Arc of the United States, formerly known as the Association for Retarded Citizens, the group that had recently tsk-tsk'd teen actress Lindsay Lohan for saying breast-implant rumors involving her were "retarded," a term Ms. Lohan also used to describe the paparazzi. "Did the Arc have anything to do with the change in lyrics of the Black Eyed Peas song 'Let's Get Retarded' to 'Let's Get it Started'?" I asked.
The first thing I noticed on the return e-mail was that the subject line of my e-mail had been changed from "Let's Get Retarded" to "Let's Get It Started."
"Thanks for your inquiry regarding Let's Get it Started/Let's Get Retarded," wrote communications director Chris Privett. "The Arc did publicly call for the song's lyrics to be changed, which included writing several letters to record company executives. We hope our actions played a role in getting the lyrics changed, but as we never heard any response from the record company or the group's management, we're not sure whether they planned to make the change anyway or whether we convinced them that the language was offensive."

In the same essay (read it all at, Johnson asks, what about "the words 'idiot,' 'imbecile, 'moron,' etc.?" All are medical terms once used to define different degrees of mental retardation that eventually took on slang meanings synonymous with "stupid"... Language is constantly evolving. Special Olympics now uses "people with intellectual disabilities" instead of the now frowned-upon "mental disabilities." However, I think we could point out plenty of intellectually disabled people who aren't retarded--particularly in an election year--and vice-versa. But what happens when this term, too, evolves into slang? "Dude, you are so intellectually disabled." "Getting breast implants is intellectually disabled." "Let's Get Intellectually Disabled"--new revision of the Peas track?"
So we see that two important attributes of our culture - freedom of expression and clarity of language, can be successfully attacked by an unarmed, unfunded minority of people who not only aren't particularly intelligent but have proven and self-confessed mental retardation. Now just think about the chances of this culture to survive if facing an enemy with some arms, some funds and intellectual abilities generally within the normal range.
Disclaimer: I have nothing against mentally retarded people in general. I dislike only those of them who want to censor my language (see above), plus the precious few who come to our Medical University with the aspiration to become doctors (

An opinion poll for Arab readers: Are you for Israel or against it?

In his latest post, AngloLibyan describes how he went to the mosque to pray and instead had to listen to a US lecturer offending Arabs (, I advise you to read it - it's interesting). AngloLibyan, arguing that not all Arabs deserve to be "completely written off", wrote, "what about the young & old Arab men that are continuously killed by Israeli soldiers just because they are fighting for their land, what about Arab men that defended Lebanon and other countries too?"
I commented, "I don't understand you, AL. You have a "No to terrorism" appeal on your blog, yet you seem to cite as model Arabs those who are engaged in terror." AngloLibyan replied, "maya.m, from your experience with Arabs I am sure you know that we all believe that the Palestinian struggle and the Lebanese defendeing of their country against Israels vile and unjust aggression is a just cause".
This gave me the idea to start an opinion poll among Arab readers: Do you support Israel, or are you against it? You may take part in the poll by posting a comment.
In this poll, to "be against Israel" means to stand for the destruction of Israel or for its retreat to a territory smaller than the pre-1967 territory. If this is your opinion, please write what, according to you, should happen to the Jewish citizens of Israel.
To "support Israel" means to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish national state on a territory equal to or larger than the pre-1967 territory and to defend itself when attacked, like every other state. You need NOT be very happy that Israel exists or be anti-Palestinian. You may want Israel to retreat within its pre-1967 borders and a Palestinian state to be created on West Bank or Gaza, this doesn't disqualify you as a supporter of Israel. It does disqualify you, however, to consider the Palestinians and other Arabs "fighting for their land" something other than terrorists or, at best, hotheads delusioned by peer pressure and generations of misleading propaganda. Please write also how you think the problem with the Palestinian "refugees" should be solved. (I flanked this term by quotation marks because for me, a refugee is a person fleeing from an area of conflict, not this person's grandchild.)
The poll has no deadline, so you may take part in it, no matter when you are reading this. Anonymous comments are wellcome, especially pro-Israeli ones. I don't want people to lose friends because of my poll. If you are commenting anonymously, please write which Arab nation you belong to and, if you are an expatriate, where you live.
If you change your opinion after posting it, you are welcome to post again; please explain what has made you change your mind.
Non-Arab readers may comment also, but their opinions won't be counted. If commenting anonymously, please state that you aren't Arab, so that not to interfere with the poll results.
My working hypothesis is evident from my second comment on AngloLibyan's post: "I know from the Web that there are many Israeli Arabs who support their country (one of them, unfortunately, became known for shooting British pro-Palestinian activist Thomas Hurndall). Some other Arabs also support Israel ( You are right that this is a rare opinion. I haven't heard it from any Arab living or staying in Bulgaria. However, I am not sure exactly how rare this opinion is because of the apparent absence of free speech."
Perhaps my presumption about a significant minority of pro-Israeli Arabs is just wishful thinking. However, my experience has taught me that a uniform opinion usually is an artifact of suppressed dissent. It was thought in 1984-89, and still is thought by some non-Bulgarians, that the ethnic Bulgarian majority uniformly supported the forced renaming of our ethnic Turks. In fact, my entire family and most of my friends were against it. However, we didn't speak up, because this would just get us into trouble. But I would take part in an anonymous Web opinion poll, if there were such things at this time.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Parents aren't justly evaluated by society

Many years ago, I read (in Bulgarian translation) the book "Children who are different" by Gerda Jun. It included the stories of 11 children with special needs, told by their parents. One child had cerebral palsy, one had attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, the others were mentally retarded and often with other conditions as well.
A narrator father of a girl with mental retardation (of unknown origin) had also two younger, typically developing children. Once, the school where they were studying sent to his workplace a letter that his children were awarded for success in the socialist school (this was in the German Democratic Republic). As this letter was read aloud in front of all colleagues, the father in question had a strange feeling. He knew his two children were doing well in school without any help from him. The situation was different with his eldest daughter, who couldn't attend a regular school. He had put much efforts to help her achieve the best development she could, yet nobody praised him. So he asked, "Does society acknowledge most the parents who really deserve most?".
Although my parental experience is still short, I can confirm first-hand that this father was right: the public opinion is utterly unjust when judging a parent. And one of the reason is that the child is regarded as a white sheet of paper and the parent as a demigod in full control of what will appear on this sheet. People underestimate the fact that a child's development follows its own built-in program that often couldn't, or shouldn't, be changed from outside.
During the last month or so, my elder son has been praised 4 times for his reading skills. (He doesn't really read yet but he knows the entire Cyrillic alphabet, the Latin letters without analog in the Cyrillic alphabet and can read short words.)
Praise was also addressed to me, although I have done almost nothing. Yes, about 3 months ago I spelled words to him, to help him understand that this is what letters are for. But his interest to letters, numbers and other printed symbols emerged at age 18-20 months without any help from me.
At the same age, something less pleasant happened. My son stopped saying the few words he could say ("mama", "dada" and several of this kind). He also became somewhat alienated from us and the world in general. This regression was followed by a plateau period of more than a year during which his skill development was almost zero. During this period, I of course was very unhappy and anxious. I was wondering what was happening to the child, thinking of all sorts of conditions from impaired hearing to mental retardation. Some of the people around encouraged me and urged me to believe in the child. However, others reacted in a way that only made matters worse, blaming me for all problems. According to them, my son stopped developing properly because I:
- wasn't paying enough attention to him;
- was working too much on my PhD thesis and too little on him;
- returned to work;
- wasn't talking to him all day (as if later in life we learn a foreign language by turning on a radio to listen to it all day);
- wasn't bringing him out to spend long enough time playing with other children;
- was often bringing him to my mother and leaving him alone with her (this is the favourite theory of one of my husband's relations who hates my mother and thinks she will surely damage any child in her custody).
At some time after my son's 3rd birthday, his speech slowly reappeared and resumed its development. The kindergarten has surely helped this, but I have the impression that most of his new talk was as spontaneous as his earlier silencing.
I recently learned that there are other young children (usually boys) who have strong interest in printed symbols, learn to read early without much training from outside and often are speech delayed. This phenomenon is called hyperlexia. Moreover, as many as half of children with hyperlexia regress at age 18 months and nobody has any idea why.
So I was blamed that my child wasn't talking and now I'm praised because of his precocious reading skills. Neither was my guilt/merit, unless in the sense that my genes were involved (I was also a late talker and early reader). My son was the same child and I was the same parent 2 years ago as we are now. So I would advise other parents, regardless of whether their child's development is typicall or not, to do what they think is best for him and not to listen to irresponsible talk by people who have nothing better to do than judging others.