Thursday, January 31, 2008

Multicellular prokaryotes

Micrographs of an unidentified filamentous cyanobacterium from the Cyanobacteria page of Frankfurt University site, © 1997, Microbial Diversity. Reproduced with the kind permission of the authors. The left photo is phase-contrast, the right one is autofluorescence after illumination with green light. Most of the cells fluoresce in red due to their content of photosynthetic pigments. One cell, called a heterocyst, remains dark. It doesn't participate in photosynthesis because has another function - nitrogen fixation.
(Readers not interested in biology are advised to skip this post.)
While writing my textbook chapter about bacterial structure, I naturally had to touch the question about the uni/multicellularity in prokaryotes. It is known that in some of them, cells not only remain together after completing division but interract and perform "division of labour", i.e. specialize for different functions. An example is shown above. I am totally in love with this photo and because, happily, its authors Tom Lie and Rolf Schauder allow it to be reproduced, I put it in all places where appropriate.
Most biologists don't consider such organisms as truly multicellular and call them with the catch-all term "colonial". To be called a multicellular organism, an aggregate of cell is required not only to be stable and to have "division of labour", but to reproduce as a whole by a mechanism clearly distinct from the division of individual cells and, moreover, to live as a whole. That is, individual cells must die if isolated from the group.
As far as I knew, no prokaryotic organism met these stringent criteria for multicellularity, therefore I used to write confidently that "there are no multicellular prokaryotes". However, I checked that the current school textbook is calling "multicellular" the filamentous cyanobacteria such as the one shown above.
From the viewpoint of true knowledge, this is of little importance because it depends solely on the criteria for multicellularity used. Many scientific terms, including basic ones (in fact, especially basic ones) have no uniform definition. E.g. I cannot name two textbooks using 100% compatible definitions of levels of protein structure. This doesn't bother scientists at all - with or without a definition, they know very well what they are speaking about. However, students suffer much from the pluralism of definitions, because at exams, no error is considered more serious than defining or using a term in a meaning different from the one accepted by textbooks and teachers of the current course (even if the term is used and defined in a way considered quite valid by other experts).
So I decided that whatever I would write, a little googling on the matter would do no harm. And see what I found at
"I have a question that I have tried to find the answers to myself for quite a while now, but I have failed. I would like to know if it is possible for a prokaryote to have a multicellular form. I know that they can be colonial and undifferentiated or colonial and partially differentiated (such as cyanobacteria), but can they ever be truly multicellular? If so, have we ever found any such organism living or dead? (Or posssibly fossilized?) Or could it even exist, if only in theory?...
Answer (by John Locke): You've preempted the standard response to this question by mentioning the colonial forms of prokaryotes; these are the one of the most familiar multicellular-like prokaryotic organisms. As you probably already know, some of the colonial forms have cells with distinct, though partial, differentiation; that is not the only multicellular form of prokaryotic life, however--enter the multi-celled magnetotactic prokaryote (MMP). This is a multi-celled prokaryote with a somewhat higher level of organization than simple colonial behavior.
Magnetotactic prokaryotes were discovered in the 1970's; they're bacteria capable of orienting themselves according to the earth's magnetic field via the manipulation of ferrous molecules (iron-containing compounds, of course, are affected by the earth's magnetic field). More recently, a unique multi-cellular form of these bacteria has been discovered, the MMP. An MMP exists throughout its lifespan as a motile, hollow ball of cells that is capable of reproducing as a whole--the individual prokaryotes all divide simultaneously, and then two groups of cells separate to form two new MMPs... Prokaryotes that make up the MMP appear to exist only as part of the whole structure and have never been found free-living; indeed, the individual prokaryotes die when removed from the MMP. Like their unicellular magnetotactic counterparts, MMPs are capable of orienting themselves to the earth's magnetic field.
The MMP was only discovered relatively recently, so the references that I give below are necessarily from the scientific literature... There are few resources now available on MMPs for the general public, unfortunately.
Unexpected diversity in populations of the many-celled magnetotactic prokaryote. Simmons SL, Edwards KJ. Environmental Microbiology 9(1):206-15. January 2007.
Multicellular life cycle of magnetotactic prokaryotes. Keim CN, Martins JL, Abreu F, Rosado AS, de Barros HL, Borojevic R, Lins U, Farina M. FEMS Microbiology Letters 15(2):203-8. January 2004.
The MMP continues to be an active area of research, both for its own sake and for its potential applications in electronics and chemical manufacture. While more multicellular prokaryotes may be discovered in the future, the MMP now the only known example of a highly-organized multicellular prokaryote."
The living world will never ceaze to surprise and fascinate us!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Atheism: a proposed addition to DSM-V

This morning, I systematically toured Libyan blogs in the hope of finding a particular picture about Ramadan I had seen in one of them. (I found it eventually in another place). During the search, I mentioned something interesting in a blog I generally don't read, Khalid Jorni's CNN Libya (Update: after a demand by CNN, Khalid had to change the name and URL of his blog, now located here). The post is dated Jan. 28 and titled Union of Libyan Bloggers succeeds in deleting a Libyan blog. I am pasting here an unusually large, unedited quote from its beginning:
"Living in a country where all men head to mosque on Fridays, and 99% of women wear Hijab, always made me think that we are different, innately religious, and naturally immune against godlessness and secularism, but recently I realized that we are as normal, "or abnormal, this is not the point", the point is that people in this country are not different from those who come out everyday in western societies confessing that they don’t believe in God, they are homosexuals, or they are addicted and cannot quit, the only one difference between us and them is that they can speak out, while we have to worry about the possible consequent social stigma before we even take a breath.
Those of you who browse the Arabic language sector of the Libyan blogosphere, have definitely come across what used to be the most popular Libyan blog of Tariq Ali, a Libyan guy who confessed frankly that he didn’t believe in any religion, and wrote things like "all prophets are quacks..bla bla bla", his blog has recently been deleted after the message that had been sent by the Libyan union of bloggers to maktoob, the host of Tariq's blog.
Now Tariq is silent, and I think since maktoob acquiesced in the demands of the Libyan union of bloggers, so the guy must have violated the terms of use of the host of his blog, and therefore his blog deserves to be deleted.
But I wonder if this was the right way to manage!. Did we need to hide him!?, to insult him on the comment section of his blog? To provoke everyone against him?, or to understand his illness, feel sorry for him, and advice him to get help?
Before the atheist Libyans -who are increasing every day- state their objection to the word "illness", I would like to point out that spirituality is now added as a recognized component of health.
Health used to be identified as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, but WHO has recently added spirituality as a fourth component of health, "Libyan physician bloggers can correct me if I am wrong, we have plenty of them", so he who has no spiritual life, who is not a Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.., is now formally considered sick and needs therapy, not to be hidden, not to be insulted, not to be silenced, not to be terminated, but to be helped out with treatment..."
Follow the above link to read the entire post.
I am sorry for Tariq and his blog, but at the same time I think that what happened is good from the viewpoint of safety. The deceptive anonymity of Internet lures people to write things that could put them in trouble if they are found out. And they are too easily found out. We all know how Chinese regime with the help of Yahoo identifies people writing against it in the Web and puts them in jail. So, if Tariq hadn't been silenced now, he could eventually suffer something much worse than losing his blog. If he happens to read this, he is welcome to e-mail me.
Meanwhile, I would suggest to Khalid (and other people who think like him) to take care for the much needed inclusion of atheism in the next, fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I don't know whom they should e-mail, but this is relatively easy to find :-).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Model European state Belarus respects UN resolutions

Belarus, which has the "honour" to remain in history as the last European dictatorship, strictly keeps UN resolutions. In accord with a recent one against "defamation of religions", particularly Islam, a court in Minsk ten days ago sentenced Alyaksandr Zdvizhkou, former deputy editor of the weekly Zhoda, to three years in prison for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in a Danish newspaper (source: Spanish Pundit, hattip Hyscience). The same source continues, "He was found guilty of “inciting racial hatred”... It is highly likely that this was just a pretext for punishing an opposition journalist."
I also think that this must have been just a pretext, but the million-dollar-question is, why were Belarussian authorities given such a convenient pretext? If somebody has doubted that Muslim states are using UN as a tool to spread Sharia to non-Muslim states, I don't know what more evidence is needed.
And if you think that such things happen just in dictatorships, to obscure Slav people who don't matter much anyway, here is more food for thought: in Canada, journalist Esra Levant, who had also reprinted the (in)famous cartoons, has been summoned to Canadian HR Commission because "a Saudi-trained imam, who had called for sharia law to be introduced in Canada, complained to a human rights officer". Also in Canada, as Robert Spencer reports, "The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal have begun proceedings against Mark Steyn, author of America Alone. They are responding to complaints from the Canadian Islamic Congress about an excerpt from the book." The text in question contained quotes from Muslim leaders revealing their expansionist agendas.
I wish to end with a citation from Spencer's article: "In a free society, people with differing opinions live together in harmony, agreeing not to force their neighbor to be silent if his opinions offend them... Wherever offensive speech is prohibited, the tyrant’s power is solidified."

Good real estate agent needed to sell Gaza to Egypt

Last May, in my basic post about the Mideast conflict, I wrote that its solution could include joining Gaza to Egypt. I was wondering why nobody else seemed to consider such a simple thing.
These days, Gaza is in the news again. Briefly, Israel cut off all supplies and, as a result, Gazans cried they were starving and invaded Egypt.
This naturally led to a lot of talk about Gaza, why it is such a thorn in the world's ass and what could be done about it. I am happy to see that some people say the same thing I suggested less than a year ago (though I have no reason to think that any of them has been actually influenced by me). In FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Pipes has a brand new article titled Give Gaza to Egypt. More importantly, a suspicion is growing in Egyptians that, as Sandmonkey puts it, "Israel's plan is now clear: The Israelis want to throw Gaza on Egypt, and Hamas is playing into their hand." He continues, "Sorry kids, but we are not going back to the days of Pre-1967. You took over those areas, you can't give them back to us 40 years later after its run by Iranian-backed- Muslim Brotherhood Islamists who are armed to the teeth. Pottery Barn rules apply here too Israelis: You broke it, you are just gonna have to buy it."
I understand Sandmonkey's point. Nobody in the world would want a territory like Gaza. In fact, neither Egypt nor Israel would mind taking the territory; it is, as usual, the population that is the problem. But, dear Egyptians, please don't be selfish! Make a sacrifice or two, for the sake of world peace! Name your price and swallow the unwanted bit, as participants in some reality shows do :-).
(I feel like joking on the subject because nobody has been killed in the current crisis - not yet at least.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Don't judge harshly because you/your people can one day be in the same shoes"

Left: Katherine "Katie" McCarron, copied from Not Dead Yet, originally supplied by her family. Right: her mother and murderer Karen McCarron, copied from HoiNews, original source unknown.
About a week ago, I had an argument with a relative about the Mideast conflict. It naturally brought me to saying that Palestinians were such and such (let's not repeat adjectives unnecessarily, I have explained my opinion in detail in the post Mideast Conflict: The Dire Consequences of a "Deadly and Disgusting Bias").
Then, my relative replied, "The same things you are saying about the Palestinians have been said by (West-) Europeans about our Bulgarian revolutionaries in Macedonia."
Well, I know that some of these revolutionaries, while not doing quite the same things as today's Palestinians, weren't the sort of person you want for your son in-law, either. The best example perhaps is Yane (Jane) Sandanski (1872 - 1915). He has been unduly euphemized by historians (see e.g. his Wikipedia page) and today has a resort town named after him. Consider, however, how he raised funds for his cause: "In 1902 Yane Sandanski, together with some of his companions, kidnapped the Protestant missionary Ellen Stone and exacted ransom of 14 500 TRL for her, which initiated the so-called Miss Stone Affair. Despite the persecutions, they managed to take the ransom and use it for weapons, which were needed for the revolutionary struggle. Miss Stone was released and later she read lectures for the Macedonian cause in America" (source: BGglobe).
I have read details about this kidnapping in For Freedom and Perfection, a sympathetic biography of Yane Sandanski by Mercia MacDermott. Miss Stone had a pregnant companion (her name was Tsilka, if I remember correctly). The kidnappers seized her together with her mistress and didn't release her despite her pregnancy advancing to term. She gave birth literally in Stone Age conditions, in a cave, with only Miss Stone to help. It was sheer luck that she and the baby survived and did well. So I have no kind thoughts and words for Sandanski and his gang of terrorists, no matter how Bulgarian they were and what noble causes they claimed.
The Scripture says, "Judge Not Lest You Be Judged". We have a proverb with a similar meaning, "Laugh only at a priest, because you will never become one." It is true that we shouldn't indulge in excessive and hypocritical judgement of others. But this doesn't mean that we must never judge anybody in order to avoid being judged ourselves. Would you like a society where everybody would let others do as they please in order to enjoy the same "freedom"? I think that we not only can but should demand others to keep some norms - and of course apply the same norms to ourselves, our families and our community.
This reminds me of an event that was the central subject at Autism Hub ten days ago. On Jan. 17, Illinois physician Karen McCarron was convicted of first-degree murder of her 3-year-old daughter Katherine "Katie" McCarron (see above photos). Karen had smothered the little girl to death with a plastic bag. The motive: Katie was autistic.
Society showed mixed reaction to the murder and the verdict. Some people, notably disability advocates and parents, strongly condemned Karen McCarron. However, as Wikipedia puts it, "news articles and weblogs have emphasized the difficulties in raising a child with autism, and some suggested that McCarron may have been stressed by lack of support and dealing with Katie's autism." In fact, Karen had no reason to be stressed so much, because she hadn't even cared for her daughter after the diagnosis. As you can read in the same article, Katie had been taken by her father Paul to North Carolina, where the educational opportunities for autistic children were better, and was reunited with her mother only ten days prior to the murder. Paradoxically, the fact that Karen had been free from care was also used by some to exonerate her. Quoting the HoiNews article from where I copied the photo: "Authorities are not commenting as to her motive, but people who know Karen McCarron said the challenges with autism can be too much to handle... Her husband took Katherine to North Carolina, Karen stayed with their other child at their home in Morton. “And that had to be overwhelming in itself, because now your support's not there, you're both separated, you know... she was an excellent mother and she was out there to help her daughter the best that she could,” (therapist and autism mother) Floyd said." (However, see also the outraged comments to this article by parents of both special-needs and typical children.)
Blogger "Doubting Thomas" touches another aspect and so brings McCarron's case to the subject of this post. He writes, "Prosecution attorneys say she was mentally stable. However, they are attorneys, and not doctors, and should not diagnose on the fly. She also just killed her daughter. How stable is that?... But here is the big money question, and ultimately, my point: Do any of you realize that **your autistic child** could be in the same position as Karen McCarron someday?"
Eh well, every murderer, with or without a disability, has parents. And I am sure that in quite many cases they have been good parents. We know well "where children come from", but we do not know, and never will, where their souls come from. I pity Karen McCarron's parents. However, we cannot keep our pockets filled with excuses for all sort of criminals, just in case some of our children happen to become criminals when they grow up.
In a sense, every murderer is "not normal". I always wonder when I watch on Discovery channel programs about how murderers' brains have different wave patterns and their attorneys use this to demand a lighter sentence. I mean, why is a murderer's brain expected to be exactly like a non-murderer's brain? However, from this "difference" there is a long way to "mental illness" pronounced enough to account for a lighter sentence. And unlike Thomas, I don't think McCarron (who had no previous diagnosis) qualified for "guilty but mentally ill" verdict. People like her are so dangerously close to us, to "good normal" people. Had Katie happened to be a typical child, nobody would ever know about the monster hidden inside her mom.
Our civilization has reached a stage when diseases, disabilities, accidents and wars are a rare exception, rather than rule of life, as they have been in previous centuries. However, this has had the unpleasant effect of making us intolerant to everything depriving our lives of the comfort we feel entitled to. Have a non-perfect child? - Get rid of him. We want perfect children only. As autistic blogger Joel Smith put it, "Being a parent of an autistic child gives you a special right: a “Get Out of Love Free” card."
In a society where so many people can blame a disabled child for her own murder (just read some of the above quotes), too many parents may be tempted to follow Karen McCarron's footsteps. This, to my opinion, gives "high degree of public danger" to her crime. The concern that we, or somebody of our circle, may some day be in a criminal's shoes should not be a reason for lenience. On the contrary, in such cases the sentence must serve to ward off future similar crimes by scaring potential criminals. I think the jurors have done their job well and while nothing can bring Katie back to life, their verdict has likely saved the lives of some other children.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

UN is inconsistent, happily

In late 2007, UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "defamation of religions", particularly Islam. I wrote about it in my Jan. 11 post.
Now, every normal legislative act not only bans some unwanted human actions but specifies punishments for those who are caught doing such actions. Without a prescribed punishment, plus a mechanism to bring it into effect, you have no legislation but empty talk, as in the UN. How should be actually treated those who defame Islam? Fined, banned from taking positions in government, imprisoned, executed? It is enough to think a little over this to see how laughable the UN resolution is. It can work only in the Western gag culture of political correctness and self-censorship... or, better, in the context of Sharia law.
One of the most chilling features of Islamic societies is the zeal with which violaters of presumed God's orders are punished. Jews and Christians believe, for example, that God has given the Ten Commandments. However, I haven't heard of people executed solely for, say, lying or being disrespectful to their parents - not even in the darkest ages of the Judeo-Christian world. In contrast, Muslims take God's orders very seriously. They tend to ascribe capital punishment for each violation of the Koranic rules, unless the book specifies a lighter punishment. They even tend to punish by death "crimes" for which the Koran does specify a lighter punishment. E.g. the "holy book" says that an adulterous woman should be lashed, but in many Muslim societies she is stoned instead.
Naturally, one of the worst crimes in Islamic societies is blasphemy. Here is an ongoing case in Afghanistan: "An Afghan court sentenced a 23-year-old journalism student to death for distributing a paper he printed off the Internet that three judges ruled humiliated Islam, an official said... (Chief judge) Wahab said he did not immediately have the details of the paper that (defendant) Kambaksh circulated, other than that it was against Islam. He said Kaambakhsh discussed the paper with his teacher and classmates at Balkh University, and some students complained to the government" (source: International Herald Tribune).
You should expect the UN to be happy. Here is a country respecting it and taking its resolutions seriously, unlike wicked countries such as USA, Switzerland and so many others. But instead, UN mission in Afghanistan opposes Afghan death sentence (source: BBC). And, while thinking that the 2007 resolution against defamation of Islam may have encouraged Afghan judges to sentence the young man to death, I welcome the current inconsistency. Possibly, if we live long enough (say, 200-300 years), we'll see UN catching up with the Enlightenment and passing resolutions in favour of free speech and separation of religion from state.

After Putin's visit

Russian President Putin's visit to Bulgaria about which I wrote on Jan. 13 took place last week. In Sofia, activists of the opposition DSB party posted some placards saying, "Putin out". However, the posting was banned by the municipal authorities. On the placards already posted (and also on other surfaces), other placards were put saying, "Welcome, Mr. Putin". I saw them first-hand.
A colleague from our Medical Faculty moved me by e-mailing an invitation to attend protests against the visit. Unfortunately, the baby keeps me out of rallies, so I just watched the protests on TV. The security measures were unprecedented. Hundreds of policemen were guarding several dozens of protesters carrying the portrait of Anna Politkovskaya (Putin is believed to be behind her murder). Police also prevented bystanders from joining the protest. Residents of the Black Sea port city of Burgas (Bourgas) had also come to protest against the planned Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
Bulgarian citizens were promised beforehand that treaties would be just discussed during Putin's visit and eventually signed later. However, as Frog News reported, "an impressive amount of contracts was signed at the conclusion of negotiations between President Vladimir Putin and his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov... Bulgaria will become an active partner in the construction of the pipeline “South Stream”, which passes through the Black sea from Novorusiisk to Bulgaria and a number of other European countries. Yet another contract has been signed for the construction works of 4 new nuclear power reactors, built by Russians to “the sole benefit” of Bulgaria in the nuclear power plant of Belene. Furthermore, Russia will offer a loan of EUR 3.8 billion in case Bulgaria has certain difficulties in the process of constructing the nuclear power plant. Another agreement was signed, concerning the international project company in charge of the construction of the pipeline Bourgas-Alexandropoulos."
As you see, Bulgaria's dependence on Russian energy sources, both conventional and nuclear, is sealed for decades to come. Netinfo reports today that "a Russian consulate will be opened in the town of Belene to provide services for the Russian citizens employed permanently at the construction of the second Bulgarian nuclear plant... The Russian Consul in the city of Ruse estimates that their number will be about 2500".
The "South Stream" pipeline reportedly gets on the nerves of many European politicians because it follows almost the same path as the planned Nabucco pipeline. Europeans are unhappy about receiving such a large share of their gas from Russia and would want to have an alternative supplier, such as Iran. A wonderful situation, isn't it? Don't you, like me, dream of some future beyond the fossil fuel era?
Today, a new rally against the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline was held in Burgas. Local people are protesting because the pipeline will surely destroy what has remained of the environment, plus any perspectives of tourism development. The large Bay of Burgas is shallow and with a circular stream. Hence, its self-cleaning capacity is near zero. It has been damaged enough by the existing port and oil refinery. Now, its death sentence has been signed with the new agreements.
In her 2003 article Bush's Warsaw War Pact, so-called journalist Maureen Doud quoted an unnamed Soviet (?) expert saying, ''Bulgaria used to be Russia's lapdog. Now it's America's lapdog.''
It seems that Ms. Doud and the person who in 2003 still called himself "Soviet expert" were right only by halves. Bulgaria apparently is still Russia's lapdog.
Update: As a symbolic "counterweight" to Putin's visit, opposition-minded Bulgarians had invited former dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. Unfortunately, the visit was cancelled due to health reasons. Bukovsky was already on his trip when he suddenly felt unwell. Taking into account some recent operations by Russian secret services, it would probably be good for Mr. Bukovsky to visit a toxicologist.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Educational crisis leads to desperation and idiotic moves

I have known for years that the educational crisis isn't just a Bulgarian but a worldwide phenomenon. And because people don't know what to do about it, and when they know they haven't the guts to do it, they resort to desperate idiotic incentives.
I've just read in Yahoo! news about the latest one: two Georgia schools have started "a 15-week pilot program that is paying high-schoolers struggling in math and science $8 an hour to attend study hall for four hours a week... The eighth- and 11th-graders chosen had to be underperforming in math and science, and many are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches. The hope is that the bribes will boost students' motivation to learn, attend class and get better grades. Aside from the hourly wage, eighth-graders will get a $75 bonus, and 11th-graders $125, if they improve their math and science grades to a B and achieve certain test scores... The initiative is aimed at math and science because many student struggle in those subjects even if they excel in others. "
Why do I find the idea idiotic? First, because it offers no reward to the students who already attend all classes and have good scores, even if they also come from poor families. In essence, some students are rewarded for having been underachievers and absentees.
Second, the project is stupid because it includes 11-graders who are 16 or more (the story features a particular 16-year-old student). In most countries, 16 is the age limit ending mandatory education and allowing full-time work. To my opinion, if a teenager aged 16 or more cannot cope with school, he should leave and start work. The politically correct idea that everybody could and should complete secondary education inevitably leads to declining educational standards, not to mention the resources wasted to keep in school people who don't belong there.
But yes, leaving school early closes many career options. The poor ones will not be able to attend university. Here we come to another politically correct idea: the dream of a world "where everyone advances to higher education and thence to symbol-manipulating employment in accountancy, or law, or the ever-swelling government bureaucracy, and nobody has to be a cleaner or cable layer... Dirt will cease to accumulate in buildings and cables will lay themselves spontaneously" (quote from J. Derbyshire).
It is comforting to know that not only Bulgarian educational policymakers are idiots.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bulgarian government takes revenge on teachers

Last week we learned from the TV news that teachers who give private lessons will be obliged to report this. Also, they will not be allowed to teach privately students from the same schools (which means that smaller towns having only one school automatically become private lessons-free zones).
Hearing this, I immediately connected it to the teachers' strike that took place last autumn (mentioned in my Oct. 16, 2007 post). At the end, teachers' salaries were raised only slightly. I am not sure if the pay increase even compensates for inflation. And now, rulers take a petty-minded and malicious revenge on teachers for daring to raise their heads. Even my husband, who has no connection to education, was quite outraged.
I am reading now (e.g. here) that these changes are proposed by government and haven't been yet voted by the National Assembly. Also, I don't see the restriction on teaching students from the same school. It is possible that it isn't actually written in the proposed act and somebody is only trying to intimidate. We'll see.
Teachers will be obliged to report their private lessons not to tax authorities, as a normal government would require, but to the school principal. Maybe the ministers thinks that it is good if private lessons are given only by teachers who are principal's friends. Or that the principal will guarantee high quality and reasonably low price of the private lessons given by his employees. Or there is another reason I cannot grasp? Can anyone please enlighten me? Because I am apparently too stupid.
The late Ani Drandarova had written on a similar occasion, "Bulgarian state resembles a wretched husband who lies that he is going on a business trip in order to check whether his wife would invite a lover. Such a husband will have a hard time of it! Such a state will have a hard time of it!"
Update: A discussion on the subject on my Bulgarian blog reminded me of something that also has to be said: Many university teachers give private lessons to students and candidate students. Why doesn't anybody speak about them, only about school teachers? Recently, an associate professor from the Sofia University was recorded by a reporter posing as a candidate students using a hidden camera. She not only offered private lessons to the young man but also promised to write him an inflated grade if she happens to assess his work at the entrance exam! Why aren't university teachers ordered to declare to the Dean if they give private lessons, and to teach only people studying at or applying for other universities? Because we university teachers were good and obedient and didn't strike. So we may now teach privately as much as we wish and nobody will go after us. Perhaps only an occasional wicked reporter with a hidden camera :-).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My e-mail

A recent commenter has rightfully wondered why my Blogger profile shows no e-mail address. The reason is that I have bitter experience with displaying such addresses in public. My office e-mail was included in the abstracts of some my articles uploaded in PubMed. This is a good thing, it allows colleagues to e-mail me and request reprints from the articles (the standard way a researcher keeps himself informed about other people's works in his field). However, it had an unpleasant side-effect - spammers picked my e-mail. The result: when at work, I receive every day about 30-40 e-mails trying te sell me Viagra or weight-losing medicine. My colleagues with works published in PubMed are in the same situation. In fact, when we are at work and an hour passes without a spam e-mail dropping, we know that there is a technical problem with the server. And about a third of the spam messages carry viruses. I think that the server has to filter the spam and the other virus-containing messages. Now, everything that goes into the server reaches the users, and we are let to fight the viruses as we can.
I'll display my e-mail address, not in my profile but in this post, and in somewhat disguised form, hoping the spammers will overlook it. Here it is: mayamarkov at gmail dot com.

Monday, January 21, 2008

When things go wrong...

I am thinking of my Libyan online friend Hignlander who wrote she is right now in desperation, for some unspecified but apparently important reasons.
It is easy to say that the happiness, the fullness and meaning of life are still here and will be felt when the current overwhelming hardships fade away, as the sun still exists when hidden behind a cloud and will shine again as soon as the cloud passes.
There is a poem titled Don't Quit, by an unknown author. You can read it e.g. here. I am pasting its beginning and modifying it a little to obtain a rhythm I like more (quite an arrogance, with my English):

When things go wrong - they sometimes will,
When your life's road seems all up hill,
When funds are low and debts are high,
And you can't smile but only sigh,
When care is crushing you a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Starting a school biology textbook

I am starting to publish in my Bulgarian blog a series of texts fitted to serve as a biology textbook for school (grade 5-6), as I want to see it. Details here.
My Bulgarian blog is generally a short version of this blog. However, at present I don't intend to translate the primary school-level teaching materials to English. It isn't clear at this stage whether I'll finish the work successfully even in Bulgarian. So, if you are a Bulgarian reader interested in the "textbook", check my Bulgarian blog from time to time.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The authority problem in the Age of Unreason illustrated by "celebrity idiots"

(Warning: long post.)
Age of Unreason is the title of a post by one of my favourite bloggers, Prometheus. He writes in it, "After centuries of slow but steady progress against the forces of unreason, a single generation is trying to send us back to the Dark Ages. After centuries of scientific progress in medicine, a single generation brings back homeopathy, naturopathy and introduces any number of new variations on shamanism... Much of “alternative” medicine encourages people to abandon scientific principles that have brought us in the West to a level of health and longevity that are unrivalled in human history. If we want to see what happens when that happens, we only have to look to those parts of the world where – for economic or philosophical reasons – scientific medicine is unavailable."
Let me begin with Oprah Winfrey. She is described by Wikipedia as "the American multiple-Emmy Award winning host of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the highest-rated talk show in television history... an influential book critic, an Academy Award-nominated actress, and a magazine publisher. She has been ranked the richest African American of the 20th century... She is also, according to some assessments, the most influential woman in the world."
Personally, I've held a low opinion about Ms. Winfrey ever since I learned that she supports Palestinian terror (see details e.g. at CAMERA and Garbanzo Toons). And, to return to the subject of this post, she clearly belongs to the Age of Unreason. Wikipedia again: "Recently, Winfrey has been accused by magician and skeptic James Randi of being deliberately deceptive and uncritical in how she handles paranormal claims on her show. In 2007, Winfrey began to endorse the controversial self-help program The Secret. It claims that people can change their lives through positive thoughts, which will then cause vibrations that result in good things happening to them." Last September, Oprah invited to her show Jenny McCarthy... but if you belong to my target group of readers, you are likely to ask, "Who the hell Jenny McCarthy is?"
Wikipedia describes McCarthy as "a model, comedian, actress and author. She first appeared in Playboy magazine in October 1993 and was named Playmate of the Year in its June 1994 issue. She later began a career in television and film and has recently started writing books... Though McCarthy initially rose to fame because of her sexual image, a frequent source of her celebrity derives from toilet humor... In 1993, McCarthy underwent breast augmentation to enhance her look as a model for Playboy. McCarthy had the implants down-sized in 1998... (Her) son, Evan Joseph, (was) born on May 18, 2002... In May 2007 McCarthy announced that her son was diagnosed with autism in 2005... In June, 2007, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA) named McCarthy as its spokesperson. Her stated goal is to educate the public that autism is treatable... (Her book) Louder than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism was published Sept. 17, 2007. McCarthy told Oprah that her son was developing normally until he received his measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (at 15 months of age). She has stated in her book, and on her appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show that her husband was unable to deal with their son's autism, which led to their divorce." (I have changed the order of some of the above pasted sequences - M.M.)
Now, I may be a puritan and an extreme feminist, but I admit I have little respect for women who photograph themselves undressed for money. Of course anybody is free to produce and publish any pictures (as long as the people photographed are consenting and over 18), but I think that magazines like Playboy and women contributing to them perpetuate the worst sexist stereotypes. If we, the other women, meet obstacles in our careers because of being women, or if men discuss our appearance when we try to explain our views, I think this is partly "thanks" to ladies like Ms. McCarthy. So, if a woman has appeared in Playboy, I put on her the entire burden to prove that she can be something more than a mere sexual object. And if, without providing any such proof, the lady becomes "an author" and begins "writing books" on serious subjects such as parenting and autism, my reaction is, Save us God! (Representative pictures of Jenny here, unfortunately I cannot paste one because they seem to be all copyrighted.)
The Oprah site has a page about Jenny McCarthy but it contains a narrative rather than the actual interview that took place in the talk show. So I'll rely on reports and commentaries by people who have watched the show. At Left Brain/Right Brain site, the phenomenon is described as New McCarthy-ism (as far as I know, this post introduced the term): "Step aside, people: Jenny McCarthy is armed with Google, and she’s not afraid to use it... No joke: McCarthy was cheered lustily by the studio audience for announcing that, after her son was diagnosed, she typed the word “autism” into the Google search engine, launching a courageous and audacious search for the truth. And what came up? Why, story after story about remedies and recoveries and other amazing stuff your pediatrician is paid handsomely by the CDC (the US Centre for Disease Control - M.M.) not to tell you about... McCarthy spoke particularly of clicking on a link “up in the corner” (I believe those are what are known as “advertisements”) and learning about the wonders of biomed... (Here, "biomed" refers to the quack "biomedical treatments" of autism widely advertised to parents of autistic kids by snake oil salesmen - M.M.) There was something chilling about the way she described getting an employee of a play gym fired for suggesting her son might have a “brain problem”... Oprah also cooed approvingly when McCarthy defended biomed by saying, “Well, chemotherapy doesn’t work for everybody either”... And naturally, vaccines had to come up. McCarthy said she had invoked what she calls her “mommy instinct” to finger the MMR in the case of her son. Then Oprah read a response she had received from the CDC (at least she took a stab at social responsibility by contacting the agency) that talked about the lack of scientific support for the idea that thimerosal triggers autism. McCarthy scoffed and said, speaking of her son: “He is my science.”"
Science blogger Orac discusses the show under the title Jenny McCarthy and Oprah Winfery: Two Crappy Tastes that Taste Crappy Together on Autism. He writes, "Jenny McCarthy... was apparently quite susceptible to woo. Indeed, she once ran a website for "Indigo Moms." The website was apparently taken down shortly before the release of McCarthy's book, perhaps to take away an obvious bit of evidence of her New Age credulity..., but Joseph points to a source that tells us a bit about "Indigo Kids": "Jenny, who runs, is of the belief that Evan is a 'crystal child,' and she herself is an 'adult indigo.' This belief suggests that 'indigo/crystal phenomenon is the next step in our evolution as a human species.' Proponents also suggest that many indigo and crystal children are wrongly diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, and autism." There's more about what "indigo children" are here, and McCarthy herself has written about it here. In addition, Kristina Chew also discussed some of the woo found on the IndigoMoms website before it was shut down around the time McCarthy's book was released. I think McCarthy's involvement with the "indigo children" movement shows all you need to know about her critical thinking skills. Of course, if she really thinks she is an "indigo adult" and thus part of the next step in human evolution, she probably has a very inflated view of her own reasoning abilities."
After the Oprah show, Jenny McCarthy was also invited and interviewed by Larry King. Prometheus commented on Not Mercury's blog, "Why is it that "everybody" (i.e. Oprah, Larry King...) is willing to take as Gospel the opinions of a woman who - by her own admission - believed a total stranger who stopped her on the street and told her that her son was a "Crystal" or "Indigo" or whatever (I can't keep that sort of nonsense straight)? Isn't it much more likely that her latest "revelation" is as fanciful as the previous one(s)? Is there an epidemic of gullibility going on?"
On Steve's blog, commenters wrote, "Jenny McCarthy appeals to parents by being just like them except with a porn star appearance. She doesn't particularly pretend to be smart or educated. She says "I'm just like you. We're in this together. We know things those smartypants scientists can't figure out with all their numbers." People enjoy identifying with glamorous porn stars (God/FSM help America)"; "The US has a strong tradition of anti-intellectualism. Keep in mind that, for example, the majority of Americans do not believe in evolution. If something is said by a scientist, that makes in suspect in and of itself."
There are many more good texts about Jenny on the Autism Hub, I am sorry that I cannot mention all of them. Outside the Hub, Debbie Schlussel writes about Bimbo Science: "Doctor" Jenny McCarthy & The New McCarthyism: "You've heard of "junk science." Now there's a new form, which I call "Bimbo Science." The latest (and maybe the first of many such bims to come) "scientist" to come along and dismiss accepted, proven medicine is former Playboy model, Playboy video star, and all around blow-up doll Jenny McCarthy. She's parading around all the usual shows that welcome Bimbo Science--Oprah, The View, etc.--claiming that vaccines caused her son's autism. But while the "New McCarthyist" has a medical degree from the University of Google, Dr. Ari Brown, a Medical Doctor, pediatrician, and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics exposes McCarthy's many lies and idiocy in one of the best Wall Street Journal op-eds I've read in a while... Dr. Brown refers to Jenny McCarthy as an "actress." That's being charitable. But who knew America would actually be taking medical advice from this bim?... While life often imitates art, it's sad that the world of "Idiocracy" is already this dominant."
Knudsen also has an excellent post titled Jenny McCarthy to Host Autism Symposium: "Los Angeles, CA-A meeting of the world's foremost experts on neurodevelopmental disorders and vaccine science, moderated by autism authority and former co-host of MTV's Singled Out Jenny McCarthy, will be held today at UCLA's Schoenberg Auditorium. "For years now, the scientific community has lagged behind the overwhelming anecdotal evidence that has been collected and compiled in places like Google and YouTube," Dr. McCarthy explained..."
Now, after criticizing two female celebrities, let me add a gentleman to the list. Citing Autism Street's post Where Is Trump's Science Team: "I was really beginning to think that Jenny McCarthy would be an extremely popular candidate for being considered the “celebrity idiot of the year” by many scientific thinkers in the autism blogging community. I suppose I should have known better about claims to the singular, where the plural is not only possible, but likely. Jenny apparently has company... (Quote from) the Palm Beach Politics blog: "Trump: Autism linked to child vaccinations... In an interview with Palm Beach Politics, Donald Trump offered a controversial opinion on a new topic: autism. The New York-Palm Beach real estate mogul is no doctor, but he said he thinks the rising prevalence of autism is related to vaccinations given to children at a young age."... Mr. Trump, do you have any science to go with this nonsense?"

There have been two hypotheses linking vaccines to autism causation: one implicating the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal which was widely present in vaccines in the recent past, and another one implicating the live viruses in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. If you, dear reader, want to know what science says about the vaccine-autism link, let me inform you: it's disproved. In fact, it was never considered very plausible because autism symptoms don't resemble symptoms of known vaccine complications or of actual mercury poisoning. Populations with known exposure to mercury haven't higher prevalence of autism. Epidemiological studies showed that removing thimerosal from mandatory childhood vaccines, as well as skipping the MMR vaccine, does not curb autism prevalence a bit. And attempts to induce an autism-like condition in animal models by vaccine components have been unsuccessful. Of course many people still think that their child's autism has been caused by vaccines. They are likely to remain that way; in fact, some of them openly say that no scientific evidence will ever succeed to shake their belief.
The three celebrity idiots discussed above illustrate the deeper problem present-day societies have with authority. Here, by "authority" I mean a person to whom we voluntarily transfer our decision-making power, such as a doctor when we have care for our health or a Member of Parliament when we vote. Some American commenters cited above were highly critical of their own society and described the problem as specific for the USA. It is beyond doubt present in the USA - just compare the Founding Fathers to the people populating the American political landscape in recent decades. However, it is not restricted to the USA. It is a global problem.
What have Oprah Winfrey, Jenny McCarthy and Donald Trump in common? They have all succeeded to become rich and well-known people. It seems that in today's Western world, the ability to earn money has remained the single attribute of authority.
The ability to become rich requires some specific intelligence and skills, but isn't correlated with ability or expertise in any other field. It isn't even necessarily accompanied by high general intelligence. Anybody who has been around rich people, especially if he has tried to educate them, is likely to agree with me. It is understandable that the rich themselves tend to mistake their income for actual intelligence. But why do other people do the same?
After the Oprah's show with Jenny McCarthy, some my online friends - autistics and parents of autistic children, suggested writing to Oprah and explaining to her why the show had wronged autistic people. (And it wronged them in many other ways besides the vaccine thing, it will become tomorrow if I try to explain in debth.) I disagreed. I wrote, "I've repeatedly observed that (1) few individuals can do more harm than popular TV show hosts and (2) glorious career and earning millions are quite compatible with moral and intellectual qualities far below the average. The question is, why people let themselves be influenced by celebrities instead of thinking with their own heads? I don't think writing Oprah would be to any avail. Do it, it will do no harm either. But people like her are very pompous and consider themselves very good and smart. They think they make no mistakes and even if they make one, it cannot be noted and should not be pointed out by mere mortals."
Because celebrity idiots parasitize on society's backwardness, they cannot be expected to work for the cause of enlightenment. So it's no use to try and recruit them as our allies; they are our natural enemies. If we manage to bring enlightenment, it will be despite them. Let them keep their damn money, but not the undeserved respect and authority they enjoy now. Authority must be given to people based on their expertise, intelligence, record of decent life and loyal service to society and adherence to solid moral principles even in situations when this is unpopular.
Isn't it a bit scary that the last sentence sounds so old-fashioned?
Update: Jenny McCarthy was Larry's guest again and here is how Gawker reports it (hattip Kev): "Larry King had noted medical expert/softcore video star Jenny McCarthy on the program last night to talk about AUTISM. Specifically, how it’s caused by VACCINATING YOUR CHILDREN. This is patent conspiratorial nonsense, but it’s very popular conspiratorial nonsense. Of course, in a battle between concerned, credulous parents and medical experts, the media will generally frame it as, say, Debate Rages Anew on Vaccine-Autism Link. Faced with a panel of three trained pediatricians, Ms. McCarthy shouted “BULLSHIT” twice."

Reminiscences from Bulgarian literature triggered by the Judge Rotenberg Center

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center is an institution located near Boston that houses severely disabled students and uses on them various "behaviour modification techniques", including electric shocks. Last September, an article in Mother Jones magazine featured the Judge Rotenberg Center and I blogged about it under the title Double Standard.
To my surprise, the Center's Director, Dr. Matthew Israel, commented on my post and gave a link to his response to the Mother Jones article. I am not going to give a link to the response; those interested in it can follow the above link to my old post and find Dr. Israel's comment. At any rate, I wasn't impressed by it but I am not going to explain in details why. Joseph and Mike Stanton, here and here, explain it well in my humble opinion. I'll just paste a sentence from the latter Mike's post: "If Matthew Israel was treating diabetes he would dispense with medication and use electric shock every time they looked at a candy bar."
What was striking to me was that Dr. Israel cared to find my post and comment on it. This clearly shows that he is actively searching the blogosphere and putting his twopence on every blog that criticizes his institution, no matter how obscure. So the good doctor doesn't leave his cause undefended or, as we Bulgarians say, doesn't leave his donkey (stuck) in the mud!
Thinking of this, I remembered the 1923 poem Visiting the Devil by Bulgarian poet Hristo Smirnenski (1898 - 1923). Bulgarian readers can find the poem at Slovo; for other readers, I'll translate its beginning as I can:

In all my life, I'd never think
I could receive such favour:
To be invited for a drink
By no one else than Devil.

Or, I would say, to receive a comment by the Devil himself on one's humble blog.
Meanwhile, the New York Times also wrote about the Judge Rotenberg Center. The article, by Leslie Kaufman, is titled Parents Defend School’s Use of Shock Therapy. It is not exactly my cup of tea but, keeping in mind what I wrote last November, what else could be expected from the New York Times? In particular, the article suffers from the defect recently pointed by Andrea as "falsely ascribing equal weight to “both sides” of a controversy". Almost half of Kaufman's text is devoted to Susan Handon, who was unable to cope with her severely disabled daughter and because other institutions refused support, she was happy to have the girl placed in Judge Rotenberg Center and shocked. So, the experience of an exhausted mother is given the same weight as the long, painful path of civilization to renouncing torture.
Recently, another work of Bulgarian literature gave me a reminiscence of the Judge Rotenberg Center. It was the 1945 novel Doomed Souls by Dimitar Dimov (1909 - 1966). The plot of the book is the love of an Englishwoman to a Spanish Jesuit monk, and the scene is war-torn Spain in 1936. It is fiction, but it has its base in Dimov's observations on Spain in 1943-44. He was a vet and won a scholarship for a one-year study in the Cajal Institute in Madrid.
Dimov describes Spaniards from both sides of the civil war embracing their opposite causes with equal courage. (Alas, where was that courage in 2004? Nations develop and move away from old stereotypes.) Among them, the Jesuit, named Ricardo Eredia, is a character that no reader will forget. He is a medical doctor but has none of the enlightenment we tend to associate with this profession. On the contrary, he is a merciless fanatic possessed by the dream to build a global Catholic empire. I would describe him as the sort of person who today would go to Al-Qaeda and be met with open arms. Eredia has real prototypes - Jesuits met by Dimov in Spain, both in the Cajal Institute and outside it.
After returning to Bulgaria, Dimov described his arguments with Jesuit researchers in the Institute. The Jesuits had the opinion that only humans have souls and could feel joy and suffering. On the contrary, Dimov regarded the "soul-producing" human brain as a product of evolution and, hence, ascribed something soul-like also to other animals. Once in the lab, he pointed to the cage with experimental mice and asked his opponents, "Do you say that these creatures have no soul at all, no ability to feel and suffer?" The Jesuits replied, "Yes, none at all." To show his opinion more clearly, one of them took the cage and applied voltage to it. The animals began to squeak and writhe in pain and horror. However, the monks (who often talked about sympathy) were watching unmoved because, to them, animals were only biological machines unable to feel and suffer.
I'll add, perhaps some people think that disabled humans also have no souls and cannot suffer?
(The biographic information about Dimitar Dimov is from an essay by Krastyo Kuyumdjiev which is attached to the 1974 edition of Dimov's novels.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Putin is coming to Bulgaria

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin will "make us happy" by visiting Bulgaria.
Personally, I don't want this person to set foot on Bulgarian soil, let alone to sign dubious agreements with our rulers. For similar reasons, I don't want here Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Blogger Nikolay Pavlov has written more on the subject better than I could. Bulgarian readers, see his post here. You will find there also a link to an online petition set to show that quite a few Bulgarian citizens don't want Putin to visit our country.

Friday, January 11, 2008

UN doesn't want us to criticize Islam

In December 2007, UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "defamation of religions". Predictably, the only religion mentioned in the document was Islam (hattip: Joseph Klein in FrontPage Magazine).
Media Watch Watch lists how different countries have voted. I am pasting from there:

In favour: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Against: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States.

Bulgaria is in the Against list. I am proud of my country! And because I have so few occasions to be proud of it, this makes me really happy.
This resolution, and the comparison of the two lists, shows well why UN is of no use. It gives equal weight to countries like Canada and Switzerland and to what I'll refer to as "In Favour List Countries". And because there are, unfortunately, more In Favour List Countries in the world than countries like Canada and Switzerland, UN resolutions reflect what governments (not necessarily people) of In Favour List Countries want.
Here in Europe, blasphemy was a crime back in the Middle Ages. In many of the In Favour List Countries, life is like it was in the Middle Ages, or worse. So their rulers may be unaware that the Middle Ages are actually over. Isn't there anybody to kindly inform them about that? (From a safe distance, of course.)
In the meantime, I invite the UN General Assembly to come and shut down this blog.

Pharmacies for pharmacists only! Air companies for pilots only!

Our district traditionally has had one pharmacy. About a year ago, another one was opened. However, it was closed three or four months ago. I thought, apparently the consumer demand for pharmacy products in our districts isn't high enough to allow a second pharmacy.
However, when I went to the pharmacy yesterday to buy cold remedies for my husband and saw that it was closed, too, I understood something else was going on.
Bulgarian business in general is burdened by a myriad of regulations, rates and taxes. For pharmacies, there are even more of them because here buraucrats find it easy to claim that they are thinking about the patients' well-being. However, the predictable net result is that Bulgarian patients buy drugs at higher prices than patients in other European countries with much higher incomes. And keep in mind that in Bulgaria, unlike other countries, you typically pay out of your pocket 100% of the drug's price even if it is prescribed by a doctor and you have a perfect medical insurance. Worse, many drugs, including life-saving ones, aren't available in Bulgaria at all because the regulations and taxes make it impossible for manufacturers and pharmacists to profit from them, or simply because the manufacturer cannot cope with the grotesque paperwork required for the drug to be allowed for sale.
Right now, pharmacists are protesting about the latest attack on their profits by government (you can read details at Novinite). They complain they will be driven out of business and officials reply that this would be no disaster because Bulgaria now has more pharmacies per capita than other European countries. Eh well, I suppose other European countries have also fewer grocery stores and supermarkets, because the majority of people use their cars when shopping and prefer fewer but bigger shops. However, in a country where most people have no cars and will not have them in the foreseeable future, you just cannot say that it is OK if shops supplying an entire district go bankrupt. This enormously affects quality of life.
Now, the nearest pharmacy is located at about 1.5 km from my home. This is quite a long distance when the weather is bad or you have to walk through snow, as now. Worse, you have to walk through an underpass with stares which has no accessibility accommodations. I hate going there with the baby pram (just think about wheelchair users - it is absolutely impossible for them to climb down and up the stairs). So I decided not to do the journey.
In the evening, I told my mother in-law that the pharmacy has closed. She said, "I know. This happened three weeks ago, you just haven't mentioned until now. The owner has no Master degree in pharmacy, just a Bachelor degree. So the regulations ban him from owning a pharmacy. The same problem had the owner of the other pharmacy that was opened in the district last year. He also had to close."
Arrrrrgh! Indeed, one of the myriad regulations about pharmacies is that only Masters of Pharmacy can own them. Capital weekly commented that following the same logic, you must allow only pilots to own air companies! The regulation in question must have been introduced because of lobbying by pharmacists with Master degree.
I would say that these people are stupid and have the inability to think long-term that is typical for stupid people. They may be happy now for driving their competitors out of business, but as years pass, time will come for them to hand the business to their children. And then they may not be so happy, because not all children of Masters of Pharmacy will also succeed to acquire the degree!
Buraucrats give the usual explanation: "This is the practice in other countries." Why must we import every illogical thing that is practiced in other countries? I agree that the people who supply the drugs to the pharmacy and sell them to the patients should be pharmacists. But why the owner also? Master of Pharmacy degree needed to fill the tax forms?
The result, as we see, will be - many poorer people left without access to any pharmacy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

About my "About me" and this blog in general

Until now, my "About me" text was as follows:
"I believe that people are in this world to take care of it. I don't think there is somebody else to do this for us, and I don't think we can find a better "meaning of life". To my Bulgarian readers: I decided to make this blog entirely in English to avoid doubling my work. This is not because I think Bulgarian and other "small" languages have no future. My other site is almost entirely in Bulgarian."
I have just changed the text to a disclaimer that I am not superior in any way (see the right side of this page). Why have I done this? The remark about the English language was outdated after I started a second blog in Bulgarian. However, the real problem was the beginning of the text. It carried an implicit message that I consider myself a good person. So I think it was partly to blame for the habit of some commenters, instead of addressing my actual arguments, to waste energy in attempts to prove me bad or stupid or - fill in another adjective of the same category. The last of these commenters was Nomad (see her comments to my posts about Ilan Halimi and Aqsa Parvez). She helped me realize that my "About me" text was inappropriate and had to be changed. I don't really think that now I am insured against more comments of that type, but at least from now on commenters should know that they are banging on an open door.
Actually, I do attribute some good qualities to myself. The opposite would be a dangerous symptom of depression. However, I do not require or expect from other people to value me as high. And the entire matter is quite irrelevant to blogging. I am neither a lonely soul seeking friends nor a politician fishing for votes, so I am not obsessed with producing favourable impression. Most of my readers are real-life friends who apparently accept me for who I am. As for the others - who actually cares whether an Internet stranger is a good person? When you read a blog, an article, a book or any other text, do you give a damn about the author's personality? I usually don't, it is the text that matters.
An anonymous commenter wrote the following under my first post about Boyko Borisov: "You come across as a pretty fascistic person, but I do find some of your thoughts stimulating and most of them interesting. If I lived in your household I would probably go through spells of not speaking to you, as well! Keep it up."
This is maybe the highest praise this blog will ever receive - especially because its author doesn't like my personality too much. It is almost like receiving the "Thinking Blogger" award. I am writing primarily to stimulate people's thoughts, as well as my own. When I started the blog, I even considered calling it The Light of Reason. However, I feared that I could some day see myself in a funny situation like the blockhead Islamist who named his blog Critical Thoughts. So I just gave the blog my name. This is safe.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Creationism and my (unpleasant) touch with it

These days, my cousin's husband Constantin Chipev sent me a New Year greeting and a link to his article refuting creationism. It is titled Scientific creationism - is there ground for it in Bulgaria? and is published in the Nov. 28, 2007 issue of Kultura weekly paper. Bulgarian readers can find it online here.
The article made me realize that the nasty phenomenon of creationism (call it scientific if you like, communism was also once called "scientific") is getting stronger and time has come when everybody working in science or education has to struggle against it. Unfortunately, my participation in the struggle must begin with bringing a skeleton out of the closet, that is, confessing an old sin. One of the jewels of creationism available at the Bulgarian book market lists my name as "scientific editor". Just don't ask me for the title of this book because I don't want to give any free advertising to guys who have too much undeserved money anyway.
Here is the story. I knew a woman with whom we had enough mutual sympathy to call each other friends. Unfortunately, she suffered a crisis in her life. She coped by joining a community which passed as Christian but was in fact a cult organized around a leader. I did what most other people would do in my shoes. In other words, I severed my contacts with the lady but was conscience-stricken for failing to help her and for leaving her behind.
Unexpectedly, some time ago my ex-friend contacted me. She said that the people she was working for were translating from English a great book about evolution. Would I agree to see a part of the text and check whether the terms were correctly translated? My displeasure was immense, but I just couldn't decline. So I read what she gave me and corrected two or three terminological inaccuracies.
Then she asked me whether I would agree my contribution to be acknowledged by listing my name as a scientific editor. Because some researchers from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences had seen the book and although they recognized the power of its arguments (sic!), they refused their names to be connected to it because they feared unpleasant consequences for their careers.
Of course I knew right from the beginning that those guys wanted not my insignificant editor's work but my very name. Because creationists, while trying to prove our science stupid, entangled in contradictions and unable to explain this and that, at the same time are very eager to cite names of scientists or teachers in support of creationism. However, I agreed because of the old friendship. When I declined any payment, they gave me a Bible plus a copy of the book I had "edited".
I am now feeling miserably because I agreed, but I would also feel miserably if I had refused. I just was in a lose-lose situation. To grasp my loss, you must understand that for teachers and people of science, reputation is invaluable capital. So I did major and irreversible damage to my capital. Remember that despite the very low incomes of ordinary Bulgarians in general and teachers/researchers in particular, no money could convince the other people contacted by the creationists to mar their reputations as people of science. I agreed only because of special circumstances of deeply personal, emotional nature.
Some time later, I read in FrontPage Magazine an article defending "intelligent design" (the current fashionable variety of creationism). You can find it here. I added a comment in disagreement. There were many other comments by evolutionists, most even better than mine. Unfortunately, all comments seem to be deleted now.
I also wrote an e-mail to the author. Because he wasn't a scientist, I tried to explain why "intelligent design" has nothing to do with science. In my message, I also described my experience (more openly than in this post, because here I keep in mind that my ex-friend or her family member could accidentally come across my text). The article's author didn't even bother to answer my e-mail. You can fully understand how I felt only if you have also revealed, with utmost effort, embarassing facts about yourself for the sake of a cause, just to find that your story isn't welcome.
Creationism has gradually gathered strength as a part of the anti-intellectual trend described by blogger Prometheus as a coming Age of Unreason. In the USA, the number of creationism supporters has exceeded the "critical mass" after which an opinion is considered too popular to be entirely dismissible. That is, if you try to explain to Americans why it is shameful for sane people with normal intelligence in the 21st century to have creationist views, you will face the same surprise as if you try to explain to Palestinians why it is wrong to attack Israeli school buses. Even non-creationists will accuse you of arrogance and advise you, if you really have any arguments, to offer them in a polite way to try and convince "moderate" creationists. Support to teaching creationism spoils otherwise good articles on unrelated subjects, e.g. Deroy Murdock's Keep Christmas "Christmas". And Europe seems to follow the same path. It is sad for me to watch conservative Christians and Jews, whom I respect, making themselves laughing matter for the enemy. Happily, our worst enemies - the Islamists, aren't much in a position to laugh because they are stubbornly committed to their own, Islamic creationism.
Let me now say two words about creationism itself. It claims that science in general and the Darwinism-based evolutionary theory in particular is unable to explain the diversity and perfection of the living world. That life's emergence on Earth was too fast to be explained by natural processes and the living organisms are too complex to have evolved by mutations and natural selection. All this allegedly compels us to acknowledge that organisms are products of "intelligent design".
Creationism is based on so deep ignorance about science and such factual and logical errors that when criticizing it, we wonder where to begin. E.g. creationists with much emphasis "prove" that Darwinism is "just a theory" and so bang on an open door because all science is "just theories". If present-day science "isn't able to explain" something, we must just wait until it becomes able to explain it, rather than renouncing science and embracing quackery. In fact, science even now explains perfectly many of the problems which creationists in their ignorance proclaim inexplained. And when a scientific theory is wrong, it is just replaced by a better scientific theory and not by extra- and antiscientific concepts. At last, although science is a quest for the truth, it never claims that it does or ever will possess the whole truth. Such a claim is a characteristic of religion, not science.
The root error of creationists is using supernatural forces as an explanation for natural phenomena. To illustrate how absurd this is, I'll give an example from criminology, which resembles science because it treats only natural phenomena and doesn't promise the whole truth. Let's say that the body of a man with slit throat was found in an out-of-the-way street last night. The police of course will begin seeking the perpetrator. They may never find him but this will not make them resort to the working hypothesis that the victim has been slain by an angel with a sword of fire. If he has been a thug terrorizing the entire town, somebody may say that "God has punished him". However, this will mean that God has used as His weapon another thug with a knife, not that God has sent an angel with a sword of fire.
Let's consider that the murder investigation comes to some contradiction. E.g. the forensic expert says that the man was already dead at 10 PM while a witness says to have walked that street at 11 PM and seen no body. Will this make us think that God has accelerated the post-mortem processes in the body so that to make His role apparent? No, we shall seek a natural explanation again. We'll think that the witness is lying, the expert is wrong or the murder was done somewhere else and the body was moved after 11 PM. If you implicate God in the unclear circumstances around a crime, everybody will question your sanity. Why are phenomena in living nature considered to be different?
I hope that you already understand why arguing with creationists is to no avail. Their heads are impermeable to the arguments of reason. They are like people who are sure that Earth is flat. Or like the character from The Good Soldier Svejk who admits that Earth is a sphere but thinks that inside it there is another, bigger sphere. To argue with creationists means to regard creationism as an ordinary faulty scientific theory, i.e. to attribute to it undeserved legitimacy. As physicist Pauli would say, this doctrine not only "isn't right, it isn't even wrong". Hence, we'd better not argue with these people, just struggle against them.
At the end, I am throwing them a challenge. Dear creationists, would you enlighten us about what message is sending to us your "intelligent designer" by creating, with remarkable speed and ingenuity, drug-resistant bacteria? Perhaps He doesn't want us to use chemotherapy? Then I appeal to you, if you really stick to your convictions, not to take antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, however serious it is.
Update: I had forgotten that I had already written shortly against creationism in my chapter The cell as a basic unit of life. Viruses. Origin of life (published in 2006, in Bulgarian). The final sentence of this text advises the creationists "to stick to the Genesis or whatever religious cosmogony fits their taste, instead of disguising their anti-scientific message in science-like terminology and tormenting their brains with scientific problems".

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Size matters

Social pressure is difficult to endure, even for adults. We make much sacrifices so that, as Anglo-Saxons say, "to keep up with the Joneses". For children, it is even more difficult. Many years ago, before I had a family of my own, I walked in the city center with a friend who had. She stopped to buy for her son some bright-coloured, patterned socks that costed ten times more than ordinary socks. I questioned the purchase and she explained, "All children in his kindergarten wear patterned socks."
The 2006 Christmas party at my elder son's kindergarten was easy for the parents. We were asked to pay some money and employees used them to buy "Santa's" presents. Each child received some treats and a toy (in my son's case, a small plastic military car). However, in 2007 it was strictly forbidden for kindergartens to collect from parents any money other than the tuition fee, so we were asked to bring a toy and some treats in order to be given by Santa at the Christmas party.
Because I didn't want to go long distances with the baby, I was confined in my choice to what could be found in the district. I liked most a metal model of a MIG-29 plane. Indeed, it was small (to be precise, 20 cm in its maximum lenght), but this didn't bother me, because the present at the 2006 party was also small and I thought this tradition would be kept.
However, my mother in-law who brought the present to the kindergarten told me nervously in the evening, "I saw other parents bringing such big parcels...". It was Dec. 14 and I still had time to take measures, but I left things as they were.
After the Christmas party at Dec. 19, my mother in-law picked the child from the kindergarten. She said, "The other children had such big presents that they were unable to lift them, so each child was accompanied on his way downstairs by an employee carrying the parcel. Only our boy was walking on his own. At one point, he wanted to go back up the stairs in order to meet and talk to Santa, as he said; but ultumately he came down, holding the bag with the treats in one hand and the little plane in the other."
"We must prepare for him big Christmas presents. They may be junk but apparently they must be big," said I when I heard the story. But I still couldn't realize the magnitude of the disaster. Instead of supplying a big present immediately, I was going to wait until Christmas.
Dec. 21 was the last school day before the holidays. As my mother in-law brought my son from kindergarten, I said happily, "Indeed, this term was shortened because of the teachers' strike, but still it is remarkable that he didn't miss a single day because of disease!"
There is a superstition that if you say such a thing, you are pulling the devil's tail. Next morning, my son awakened at 6 AM with a fever of Celsium 39.1. His cheeks and ears were bright red. He talked much better than usually, saying perfect sentences in a row, "Switch off the lamp!," "I want to drink water," "My throat aches." After we brought his fever a little down, he curled in his bed, saying "nice bed" and "doctor", apparently reminding us that he must see a doctor. Then he said, "present". I brought him the plane but he threw it aside with disdain. I promised to bring him another present and left the room. My mother in-law heard from him a last remark, "A small present, right?".
After completing the urgent tasks (seeing a doctor, buying the prescribed antibiotic and giving him the first dose), I left both children with their Grandma and went to seek a present. I chose a plastic toy bicycle. It costed only EUR 2, much less than the plane, but was bigger - maximum length 33 cm (no joke, I've just measured it). My son appreciated it. He said many times, "nice present". He even tried to ride it.
When I told my mother the story, she said, "You were right! The other parents are parvenus. At home, they may put under the Christmas tree presents as big as half the room, if they like. But it is bad manners to bring gigantic presents at kindergarten."
I hope she is right, but still I couldn't feel happy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

For whom is the truth inconvenient?

The above video mocking Al Gore and his Nobel Prize-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth was found by my son, who is right now interested in videos about penguins. The video lists "Things you can do to stop global warming: Stop exhaling. Become vegetarian. Walk everywhere (no matter the distance). Take cold showers."

My opinion about Gore is not all negative. I liked what I found in Wikipedia about his participation in the Vietnam war: "Gore opposed the Vietnam War and could have avoided serving overseas by accepting a spot in the National Guard that a friend of his family had reserved for him, or by other means of avoiding the draft. Gore has stated that his sense of civic duty compelled him to serve in some capacity... With seven months remaining in his enlistment, Gore was shipped to Vietnam, arriving on January 2, 1971... Gore said in 1988 that his experience in Vietnam: "didn't change my conclusions about the war being a terrible mistake, but it struck me that opponents to the war, including myself, really did not take into account the fact that there were an awful lot of South Vietnamese who desperately wanted to hang on to what they called freedom. Coming face to face with those sentiments expressed by people who did the laundry and ran the restaurants and worked in the fields was something I was naively unprepared for.""

These days, we have real winter. I have difficulties dragging the baby pram through the snow to the nearest shop to buy bread. The vegetables left carelessly at the glazed balcony became as solid as stones because the water inside them turned into ice. The TV broadcasts horror stories about people who froze to death in snow-drifts, about patients who died because of impossibility to reach the hospital in time. The entire continent is held captive in the snow. At the other side of the Atlantic, Winston also writes that it is difficult right now to believe in global warming.

Of course all this doesn't mean that global warming isn't real or isn't due to human activity. However, I dislike the way Gore and his award-givers address the problem . First, they politicize an important problem and utilize it to serve a narrow partisan agenda. Second, they distract the attention from the current conflict threatening our civilization. Third, his message is addressed predominantly to the West. Restrict, restrict, restrict consumption, you bad Westerners. It is true that those who buy and drive pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles without really needing them are guilty toward Mother Nature. However, it is much more important how many of us are there. If there were only a billion of humans, the planet would easily endure even if every single adult had a sport utility vehicle. And here the West has done its part of the job. USA has a replacement birth rate and some population growth due to immigration alone. Other Western nations are imploding. Gore briefly mentioned the population burden but he travels and lectures exclusively in the West. Of course it is much more politically correct to tell Westerners that they should consume less, rather than to turn round and tell non-Westerners that for the sake of our dear poor planet, they shouldn't have so many babies.

Last but not least, the documentary seemed fitted to an audience of 10-year-olds. One of the most serious dangers to a culture is erosion of intellect, and it is only encouraged by catering to people with modest intellectual abilities. Because intelligence, similar to commodities, is produced and supplied when there is demand. Perhaps Gore foresaw that schools would request copies of his film; but what worries me was that I haven't heard any commentator of An Inconvenient Truth, even those highly critical of it, to mention the low level of the message.

About Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson"

Bulgarian readers are invited to visit the newest page of my site at There, I have translated citations from the classic libertarian book Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. I hope that some Bulgarian publisher will drop, will be impressed by the text as I was and will decide to publish it. It is shame that Bulgarian readers are still deprived of this remarkable book.

Shame on you, Minister Maslarova!

The title resembles my Nov. 26, 2007 post Shame on you, Minister Grancharova. And, again, I'll write about the outrageous reactions of Bulgarian ministers to the scandal with our care homes for abandoned disabled children.
Emilia Maslarova is Bulgarian Minister for Labour and Social Policy. After a BBC documentary showed disabled children abused and neglected to the point of starvation at an institution in the village of Mogilino, Maslarova accused the BBC in manipulation and misinformation (see my earlier post Bulgarian government - unit measure for arrogance).
Unfortunately, the public outcry to Maslarova's words apparently hasn't been sufficient to prevent her from producing more arrogant nonsense of the same kind. This entitled the Minister to have a post of mine devoted especially to her.
I had heard that Maslarova had said about the children in Mogilino that "they can only as much" but hadn't taken care to find the original quote. I have now: blogger Dilmana reports that it is from an Oct. 9, 2007 interview of Minister Maslarova by Horizont radio channel:

"Maslarova: We are talking about children with severe intellectual aberrations.
Interviewer Irina Nedeva: Do you really think that these children have severe intellectual disabilities and "can only as much"?
Maslarova: I say what experts in this field, medical experts, say: that these children can be supported, can be taught some games, but we hardly can make these children adequate in every respect... - because some of them are with a severe form of oligophrenia... - I invite these ladies to go e.g. to the (care home in the village of) Krushare, to see children resembling small corpses, who just don't react. I know how much efforts employees there make to keep these children clean, fed, they feed them, so let's not go against nature because unfortunately medicine hasn't found a method to recover these children the way we would want."

Below, Dilmana's post gives an interview with Dr. Asparuh Iliev, a Bulgarian MD and neuroscientist living and working in Germany. I advise all Bulgarian readers to go there and see it all. He thoroughly debunks Maslarova's statement and at the end challenges her to cite the names of the medical experts who allegedly said that nothing more could be done for the institutionalized disabled children. By the way, this brilliant professional and admirable personality has been one of my first students. Bravo, Asparuh! I am happy that I have been your teacher.
Unfortunately, Maslarova couldn't even stay at that point. She continued bringing disgrace to herself and the Bulgarian government with her big mouth. The Dec. 12, 2007 post of the Mogilino blog gives a large quote from her interview by Info radio channel at the same day. Bulgarian readers are advised to follow the link, and for other readers, I am translating below.

"Interviewer: Tell us something that interests everybody these days. Have you already begun bringing children out of the Mogilino care home?
Maslarova: Let me say frankly, this is a very brutal, pre-exponated manipulation. It is regrettable that Bulgarian media also joined because if I want to, excuse my expression, discredit a country, I can make a much more scary documentary. Much more.
Interviewer: Let me make it clear for the listeners, we are talking about the BBC documentary about this care home.
Maslarova: Yes, I want to tell you that we have already closed two care homes without anybody hearing and without making such noise. The order to close the Mogilino care home was issued back in 2006. However, it is not under the jurisdiction of our Ministry, although we reap all "laurels", it is affiliated to the municipality of Mogilino and the municipality rejected the order, which right it has. However, all (necessary) measures are taken, children are gradually brought out of the care home. These children are taken into account for building of protective homes which will be ready very soon for the children who are over 18 years old. There are 35 children over 18 in the care home - young people with mental retardation. Several children will be reunited with their families. Unfortunately, most parents don't want to take back their children from the care home, so we all will have to care for them. This is no drama. I want to stress that the children in the care home have food, clothes and the needed conditions. So we don't need old clothes sent from somewhere. Everything will be over in 4 months. So we are working very hard on this problem. I regret that it had to be made dramatic this way, and with the participation of Bulgarians receiving money for this, but it is another matter."
Interviewer: You mean that somebody was paid to discredit Bulgaria by this documentary?
Maslarova: Of course money was given to make the documentary, and not little money. And people from Bulgarian non-government organizations contributed to the documentary. I wish to say that we have taken all necessary measures. The children are OK, they are healthy, they are already regularly visited by doctors from (the city of) Ruse. The problem was that they cannot have this expert medical help every day because Mogilino is located 40 km away from Ruse and the commute is difficult."

Most of the above needs no comment, but let me cite some facts reported by the authors of the Mogilino blog: "After the documentary, much was changed in Mogilino. About 15 children were hospitalized. Some of them had been dehydrated. One (Stoyan) underwent oesophagus surgery and finally stopped vomiting... The children already have five meals per day. They eat fruits, a kind of food they hadn't seen for months. The needs of each child have been assessed and most of them receive specialized therapy."

Maslarova & Co., please resign! We have had enough of your governing. As long as you stay in power, my blog will look like a bulletin of ministerial idiocies. And I would prefer to blog about other things. By the way, could you kindly inform me where people are paid for "discrediting Bulgaria" in public space? I wish to submit my application.

UPDATE: In late February, Minister Maslarova offered more jewels on the subject. Irina Novakova reports Maslarova's words in the Feb. 29 issue of Kapital newspaper:
"Showing the film Bulgaria's Disabled Children in the European Parliament isn't fair to the country (Bulgaria). I refused to travel to attend the film-show and the discussion about disabled children in Bulgaria. My reasons to refuse were that all Bulgaria shouldn't be demonized on the grounds of a film and the problem mustn't be turned into a political one.
I don't think that the government should travel (to Brussels) only because somebody produced somewhere a movie which was shot as a fiction one, not as a documentary. For me, the film is biased.
A substantial part of people in institutions such as the one shown cannot be integrated in the society because they have very severe disabilities. Therefore, there will always be institutions with bars at the windows. The important thing is to assure good living conditions in them
Recently, Belgium sent to Mogilino an expert group to check the situation on the spot and to see how to help Bulgaria in solving the problem. Maslarova commented their work: "The (Belgian) group politicized the situation and this is dishonest for an EU member state with which we are equal partners. The Belgians wagged a finger at the Bulgarian side which isn't good for the bilateral relationships. I am beginning to think that old (EU) states use the problems of new member states to solve some internal problems of their own."