Sunday, December 23, 2012

On animals first!

(Bulgarian readers can read the same post in my Bulgarian blog.)

During the Socialist era, there was rich folklore of political jokes in Bulgaria. One of them was about an old woman who went to the dictator Todor Zhivkov with a personal request but, because of age-related cognitive decline, couldn't immediately remember what it was. Zhivkov tried to help:

"Is your pension too small?"

"Oh no, it is quite OK. I buy bread and yoghurt every day and sausages "Dog's joy" every week."

"Then perhaps you have a housing problem?"

"Oh no, I own a one-bedroom flat. I share it with my son and daughter in-law and my grandson, and we are very happy together. I wanted just to ask you something, Comrade Zhivkov, but what was it? Oh, I remembered. Who has invented socialism as a system - politicians like you or scientists?"

"We, the politicians, have invented it."

"Thank you! This is exactly what I had guessed."

"How did you guess it?"

"Because, if it were the scientists, they would test it on animals first."

I remembered this joke today after talking with a young man who claimed to have been successfully treated with stem cells after a backbone injury. (The experimental treatment of neurological conditions with stem cells was subject of my 2008 post On the stem cell controversy. For more in-depth discussion, see Prometheus's post Stem cell therapy for autism.)

The former patient claimed that his arms, completely immobilized by the trauma, recovered fully after the "treatment". (I am calling him patient, although some more suitable words are crossing my mind, such as "survivor" or "victim".)

I pointed out that, although I had searched the scientific literature for stem cell treatment of neurological conditions, I had never found any such papers. Moreover, I had not found even reports of successful animal experiments of this sort.

The young man's reply was amazing. He didn't deny that nobody has so far done successfully on animals what had been done on him, but gave a good reason for this fact - there was allegedly no way to test the treatment on rats and mice because they had a different nervous system!

I said that it is not so different. I added that there is a the general rule: to be taken seriously, any experimental treatment must be first tested successfully on animal models.

My God, I would never guess that in the 21st century I'd have to explain time and again to intelligent and educated people what even the demented grannie from the old joke had understood! Namely, that before starting an experiment on humans, the same experiment must have been done on animals and must have produced excellent results that must be shown to the entire scientific community by publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Friday, December 21, 2012

National pride

The image is a painting by present-day Bulgarian artist Ognian Kouzmanov. As far as I know, it has not been inspired by actual people or events.

Bulgaria is infamous for violating the most basic human rights of foreigners seeking refuge or immigration. It still keeps the detention facility featured in my post Prison by any other name published in 2010. In the same year, an innocent pregnant young woman from Armenia was released from the said prison only after a hunger strike, plus a nationwide solidarity campaign.

A year later, in August 2011, I learned from other Bulgarian bloggers about the outrageous treatment of a mixed family by Bulgarian authorities. The case became widely known in Bulgarian public space, but because I am not sure the family would want international publicity, I shall keep them anonymous in this post and have used an artwork instead of their photos for illustration.

A young Nigerian Christian man, after coming to Bulgaria with the intention to seek refuge, found love and married to a Bulgarian woman. His record was clear, so you could think that he would easily become a legal immigrant. However, Bulgarian bureaucrats had a different opinion and refused to legalize his stay in Bulgaria for no apparent reason. So they forced the man to return to Nigeria, separating the young couple.

This absurd situation lasted more than a year. The wife, pregnant by the time of her husband's expulsion, gave birth to a girl which the father could not touch. Finally, she decided to reunite the family by moving to Nigeria with her daughter. There was another little problem - the young mother could not afford the plane tickets. At this point, her blogger friends started a fundraising campaign.

I contributed something which my family budget could bear and wrote a post on Aug. 22, 2011 to alert the readers of my Bulgarian blog. As days were passing, blogger Svetla Encheva, who knew the family personally and had initiated the campaign, wrote that concerned people would do well to donate urgently because plane tickets were expected to double their prices in late September. Thinking of some other couples which all the gold on Earth could not reunite, I decided that our family budget could bear another small donation. Svetla with other activists and friends organized  a fundraising party, an event still uncommon in Bulgaria.

For all this time, not a word about this story appeared in my English blog which you are reading. While I generally avoid appeals for donations here, I have made some exceptions. For example, in early 2010 I wrote a post about how to support Haitian earthquake survivors (though I actually have heavy doubts that money is what Haitians need). However, I decided that the separated family would not be one of these exceptions. The reason was a strange feeling of national pride. I thought that we Bulgarian citizens had been unable to force our government respect the basic rights of people like  this father and his loved ones. If we had proven unable also to collect about 2000 leva (EUR 1000) in real time to reunite the family in exile, this would be eternal shame and solid proof that Bulgarian civil society is nonexistent and the country is just a spot on the map to be avoided at any cost.

The money finally were collected and the mother flew to Nigeria with her baby. Svetla wrote in her post, "First, I miss ... (the mother's name)... Second, I am not sure whether I did the right thing by advising her to depart to Nigeria, instead of encouraging her to continue the struggle here. It was easier for me to raise funds for her travel expenses than to watch her literally collapsing... The fact that we succeeded in reuniting a Bulgarian family outside Bulgaria does not mean that the problem has been solved. Because Bulgarian government continues to separate with impunity families that include Bulgarian citizens..."

I felt proud that we had collected the money. However, similarly to Svetla, I didn't feel quite well about this dubious happy end because it did not solve the principal problem, neither for mixed families in general nor for this family in particular. I was also unhappy that the young mother had been forced to choose between her husband and her country. I was unhappy that the little girl, a EU citizen by birth, had to go to a place like Nigeria, the homeland of murder victim "Adam", in order to be with her dad. Though in this case Nigeria turned out to be more civilized than Bulgaria - it allowed the foreign-born spouse to stay with the native partner. I wondered, what happens to mixed families if bureaucrats of both countries refuse to let the foreigner stay? Where should such families live - on Mars? With an effort to be optimistic, I wrote, "Let's hope that we shall have an occasion to help the family return to Bulgaria one day!"

After that, I often wondered what was happening to them. The mother's e-mail had become known to me during the fundraising, but I didn't want to invade her privacy and preferred to check Svetla's blog for updates. Finally, in July, I saw what I wanted: a post reporting that the family was finally back in Bulgaria and the father had obtained a legal status. Of course they are likely to have further troubles with bureaucracy. Moreover, people like this father and his daughter are in the role of trailblazers forced to endure and fight the racism of our backward society. But for now, we have a true happy end and I hope that after all they will have a good life in Bulgaria.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Dark Ages of scientific ethics

In modern scientific research, a lot of time, efforts and money is used to satisfy ethical requirements. Much of it seems to me pure waste, especially concerning the humane treatment of animals. However, when we feel annoyed by the unreasonable obstacles and neverending paperwork, it helps to remember the dawn of modern science when ethical constraints were nonexistent and realize that today's situation is progress after all.

The best-known example of ethics violation is Edward Jenner's work with smallpox vaccination. I remember how at university, hearing that Jenner deliberately innoculated first his baby son and then another man's child with smallpox in order to prove that they were immune, and was later awarded a life pension, a friend commented that he should have been given life imprisonment instead. Now, for the purpose of this post, I have learned some ghastly details about Jenner's work on his baby. Quoting from Tom Kerns's article Jenner on Trial, part 2:

"In 1789, when Jenner was 40 years old and married only a little more than a year, there was in Gloucestershire an outbreak of swinepox, a disease very like cowpox except that it attacked pigs rather than cows. Jenner decided (just after he had been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society) to try immunizing his ten month old son, Edward, Jr, and two of his neighbor's servants, by inoculating them with swinepox. He had learned well from his famous teacher, Dr John Hunter, that one will learn more by "trying the experiment" rather than by just speculating about it. So Jenner performed the experiment by making a small scratch on the servants' and the baby's arms with a lancet and then infecting the scratch "with matter from a pustule of the baby's nurse, who had caught the swinepox infection." Eight days later baby Edward took sick and developed sores, but then (as anticipated) later recovered. Some months after that his father attempted to deliberately infect him (and the nurse also) with smallpox itself, not just once, but five times, in order to test the efficacy of the immunization. No smallpox symptoms of any sort ever developed. The porcination - dare we call it - "took." The protection was effective. Then, two years later, Jenner again challenged his son with smallpox, this time, however, with unhappy results.

This time there was a reaction, and a severe one, but not [probably] from the smallpox. The inoculation material turned out to be contaminated - a constant danger that later threatened to undermine Jenner's work altogether. Young Edward contracted a fever and his arm swelled all the way to the armpit. But he quickly recovered, and a year later Jenner inoculated him with smallpox once again. And once more there was no reaction. Apparently, the Swine-pox protected against smallpox.

Unfortunately, however, in the years following these experiments, young Edward "became a sickly child and exhibited signs of mild mental retardation," though there is no direct evidence that these sequelae were related to the inoculation experiments. Young Edward unfortunately died at the age of 21 from tuberculosis. His father's grief was severe."

I think no comment is needed.

Jenner's Wikipedia page gives a little known detail about the later experiment on 8-yr-old James Phipps: Phipps was the son of Jenner's gardener. So we have all reasons to think that Jenner abused his position of employer to press his gardener into surrendering the boy for dangerous experimentation.

Another example of ethics violation (or plain nonexistence) is the story of "closing" the life cycle of pork tapeworm Taenia solium. The quote below is from Hunter's Tropical Medicine (ed. G. T. Strickland), 7th edition (1988), p. 843, chapter 101. Larval cestode infections (by P. B. McGreevy and G. S. Nelson):

"In 1850, Von Siebold suggested that "bladder worms," which were found frequently in animals and occasionally in humans, were the larval stages of adult tapeworms. He confirmed this in 1852 by feeding hydatid cysts to dogs and recovering adult Echinococcus. The most dramatic demonstration of this alteration of generations was provided by Friedrick Kuchenmeister in 1853 when he fed bladder worms from a pig to a convict who was "scheduled to be dispatched from this life to death by the Guillotine." At autopsy, the adult tapeworm Taenia solium was recovered from the intestine."

While the prisoner's fate was hardly much worsened by forcing him to eat tapeworm larvae, my gut feeling is that it is deeply wrong to do this.

Moreover, in the described form, the experiment doesn't prove much. It is quite possible that the poor man had been host of the adult tapeworm all along. To prove anything, you must feed bladder worms to a group of convicts and later to compare their autopsies to those of a control group. In fact, Kuchenmeister's Wikipedia page reports that he did the experiment on a group of convicts on death row, but again, no controls are mentioned.

How do you think, did Kuchenmeister try to obtain any sort of informed consent from his subject(s)?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Justice for Amir Jennings

Amir Jennings shortly before his disappearance, photo copied from

Almost a year ago, I wrote about the disappearance of then 18-month-old Amir Jennings from South Carolina. His mother Zinah did not report him missing and when questioned, refused to reveal what had happened to him. To me, and not only to me, the entire case chillingly resembled the story of Casey Anthony, unreasonably acquitted for the murder of her 2-yr-old daughter Caylee. This was what I, and not only I, had feared: another mother wishing to get rid of her unwanted toddler had been encouraged by Anthony's "not guilty" verdict and emulated her, hoping to get away with her child's "disappearance".

This post is a tribute to Amir Jennings and therefore shows his picture. My first post did not include such an image. Even if my blog was popular among Americans, I knew the photo would be of little use for the search, because by the time Amir would be found, he would have lost all resemblance to it. He hasn't been discovered yet, and most likely will never be. Caylee's remains were miraculously spotted months after her disappearance, in a swamp - a bag of bones carrying marks of gnawing by wild animals. Just try to look at the world through the eyes of a detective and you will see vast and unaccessible spaces hiding bodies of victims and weapons of crime.

As months were passing, I periodically checked the Web for updates. And the autumn brought them. While everybody was sure that little Amir was no longer among us, prosecutors didn't dare to press murder charges in the absence of a body. So Zinah Jennings was charged with "unlawful conduct toward a child", an expression in US law apparently used for parents allowing or making their children disappear. On Sept. 7, the jury agreed on "guilty" after less than three hours of deliberation, and the judge gave Zinah the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Let me praise the jurors who kept their duty and made the right decision. Of course, a decade behind bars is too little for a monstrous crime like this. Still, the sentence will serve a purpose. Zinah Jennings was pregnant when arrested and later gave birth to a girl. I don't know what will happen to this baby, but at least she will be spared her brother's fate. And at least, as long as Zinah is imprisoned, she won't be able to deliver and kill more babies. Most importantly, other potential child murderesses may be taught a lesson: precedents may be precedents, but Casey Anthony's acquittal does not necessarily mean open season on US children. If you follow her footsteps, you may get a different verdict at the end of the day.

Rest in peace, Amir. On behalf of all who cherish human life, and all who have suffered from evil: We miss you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

First homebirth victim in Bulgaria

Until recently, Bulgaria was spared from the problem of homebirth. Practically the only births outside hospitals were precipitous births due to inability to reach the hospital in time, and secret births by women of very low socio-economic status with the apparent intention to get rid of the newborn. We were a small, poor post-Communist country isolated from the West economically and culturally, so we had little exposure to trendy Western quackeries. We were living in blissful ignorance about "celebrities" like Ina May Gaskin and the Sears family, and theories like Attachment Parenting and Natural Childbirth. Alas, this honeymoon is over. Burgas, the same Black Sea resort where Israeli tourists were bombed in July, now became scene of the first Bulgarian homebirth death.

As is typical for "true" homebirths, the parents are educated, middle-class people. The mother is a 24-yr-old student at the Musical Academy, and the father an accountant. The mother was not sure whether her due date was Oct. 17 or Nov. 17 (!), but was sure that she wanted no blood transfusion and no vaccines. She wrote, signed and submitted requests about this.

The birth took place in the early hours of Nov. 11, most likely starting between 1 and 2 AM. Nobody tried to drive the mother to a hospital or to dial the emergency phone during the birth and for hours after the baby girl was born not breathing. Only in the morning did the mother in-law call the paramedics. When they arrived shortly after 8 AM, they found the newborn stiffened, indicating that she had been dead for at least 3 hours.

The mother and other family members denied that they had planned a homebirth and said that it "had just happened" so, they had waited of true labour pain, then had panicked. Their explanations do not sound coherent and convincing to anyone. The forensic experts are still working on the baby's body, but the inofficial information is that she died before or during labour and never took a breath. The prosecution is now considering whether to charge the mother with causing her infant's death.

I see this totally senseless and preventable tragedy as inevitable result of Western charlatanism spreading to Bulgaria. During the last year or so, I have read - in English - the writings of Dr. Amy Tuteur exposing the toll of homebirth in Western countries, the deaths and disabilities resulting from the absurd decision of first-world women to deliver their babies in intentionally created third-world conditions. At the same time, I was reading - in Bulgarian - claims by newly baptized domestic advocates of "the natural" how much better it is for babies to be born at home or at a birth center under the care of a midwife and to skip the vaccines. The most influential human rights organization in the country - the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, embraced the cause of homebirth and proclaimed that it is the mother's human right to choose where to give birth, and to do it at home if she wishes. The Committee is currently suing Bulgaria for not allowing doctors and midwives to preside over homebirths. Now, the organization is "reacting" to the tragedy in Burgas with deafening silence, and some commenters say it should accept part of the blame.

I hope that the little girl's death will not be in vain, that gullible parents-to-be will learn from the Burgas couple's fatal mistake and avoid it. Let's leave the pink clouds of woo and face the harsh reality: birth is inherently and highly dangerous and, as in every dangerous situation, stupid acts can turn too costly. It is not about "rights" and "choice", it is about life and death. Do you feel lucky? That young musician did, played Russian roulette with her baby's life, and lost. Now, she is alone, lying in a hospital bed without her baby and, of course, without the company of all those smooth-tongued people who brainwashed her that homebirth is OK.

Update: Commenters informed me that there had been other homebirth cases in Bulgaria about which I had not known. The first fatality seems to have been a dead postdate baby born at home by a 32-year-old vet in Sofia. The mother and her husband (also a vet) wanted to have a natural birth, to avoid medical interventions allegedly causing complications and, as the mother said before the birth, to do it like their patients!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Happy Eid!

Today is one of the two most important Muslim holidays - the Festival of Sacrifice, known internationally by its Arabic name Eid al-Adha, and in Bulgaria by its Turkish name Kurban Bayryam. So, happy Eid to all who celebrate!

Some time ago, Highlander wrote a post wishing that, as Muslims like her remember other people's holidays and greet them, other people would do the same. I think she is right. Indeed, I do not feel a need to write special posts congratulating Eid, because I do not do it for Christmas, either (I only send e-mails to relatives, friends and colleagues). I just happen to have an Eid-related post, and unfortunately it is not as pleasant as I hope the holiday will be.

After human populations first disseminated, diverged, and then remixed, there is no escape of diversity. And, to say the inconvenient truth, it is a burden. I am not saying that we must destroy diversity - it should be accepted in most cases, but accepted as the liability it is. Mistaking a liability for an asset is a recipe for disaster, and not just in economic life. This is why most people of all cultures equally resent multiculturalism. By insisting that diversity is a blessing, multiculturalists make an assertion that contradicts the everyday experience of everybody and so make fools of themselves.

My worst multiculti-related problem was three or four years ago, when I had practicals with a group of Turkish students on Friday from 11.30 to 13.00. I rarely had more than half of the group in the lab, because, as they said, they had to go to the mosque and pray. Because practicals are mandatory, it was quite difficult to me to finish the semester successfully. To be honest, I also felt uncomfortable trying to teach young people to whom, by their own admission, prayer was more important than study - I thought we all were just wasting our time. Incidentally, the next semester this group had its biology practical on Monday, but the attendance rate did not improve. Students are first-class swindlers, an older colleague of mine often says, meaning students like these. And I bet that the same people who (ab)use their religion as an excuse to indulge in laziness will be the first to accuse others in Islamophobia.

The Eids are days when you cannot realistically - and should not - expect attendance by Muslim students. However, while Bulgarian Muslims leave just for a day or two, the foreign students disappear for at least a week, and then we must think how to compensate. Anyway. So, when on Oct. 11 a group of Muslim students from different countries said they would not be here next week because of Eid, I said OK, we'll have a longer practical in two weeks, and they agreed. Because Eids are determined based on the lunar calendar, their dates change every year, and I had no idea about when the Eid would take place.

The popular Gloria Gaynor's song I will survive says that you stay alive as long as you know how to love. This can be extended far beyond erotic love: your soul is alive as long as you meet your fellow humans with trust and goodwill triumphing over experience. Unfortunately, interactions with people too often bring experiences that, as Bulgarians say, "ubivat vsichko detsko v nas" (kill our inner child - actually, our inner human). However, even when we are brought to the point of treating others with suspicion, we are still obliged to show the appearence of trust because good manners require it. So I resisted my first knee-jerk impulse to leave the lab, go to my room and make a quick Web search about the date of Eid.

I did this search five minutes later, when the practical was over. And I found that Eid al-Adha in 2012 would be on Oct. 26, that is, not in the week of Oct. 15-19 for which my students had asked a permission to be away, but in the next week when they had promised to come. In other words, they had just arranged a nice 2-week vacation in the midst of a semester, "by permission" of their teacher, at least as far as biology was concerned.

I tried to find them in the cafes around, but they had left the area. Next day, I went to their lecture, but only one student from the group was there, and she seemed not to understand me. Several hours later, I managed at last to find the group - at a cytology practical. I said I had checked the date of Eid and I was very angry. They apologized and said they had make a mistake about the date and they were about to call me to correct it. I openly said that I don't believe Muslims could mistake the date of Eid, but let's leave this alone, I am expecting them all the next week. And they came.

Maybe it had been a misunderstanding after all? I hope so; I generally like this group. And, as a teacher, I must blame myself for not checking the date beforehand. Let this be, as we say, an earring on my ear - i.e. a good lesson for me. As soon as I am supplied with a calendar for 2013, I intend to find out when the Eids are and to highlight their dates on the calendar with a thick, red, permanent marker, to avoid similar situations in the future.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Anti-blasphemy laws create monsters: case report from Pakistan

This post is to illustrate the inevitable consequences of anti-blasphemy laws and other violations of free speech allowing authorities and vigilantes to silence people by force. I learned about the Pakistani girl's story from the Mogilino blog, to which I am redirecting Bulgarian readers. In this disability advocacy blog, activists published an open letter urging Bulgarian government institutions to stand publicly in defence of a young disabled girl threatened by a harsh sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan. Below, I am copy-pasting media reports.

"Girl held in Pakistan, accused of burning Quran pages
By Katie Hunt and Nasir Habib, CNN
Mon August 20, 2012
An 11-year-old Christian girl has been arrested after being accused of blasphemy by burning pages of the Quran in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
According to a statement released by the president's office Sunday, the girl, identified as Ramsha, was accused by a local resident of burning pages of the Muslim holy text after she gathered paper as fuel for cooking.
Local media reports said the girl has Down syndrome. CNN was unable to confirm these reports, and a local police official said they are not true.
Qasim Niazi, the police officer in charge of the station near where the incident took place, said the girl does not have a mental disorder but is illiterate and has not attended school.
The accused girl had told him she had no idea there were pages of the Quran inside the documents she burned, he added.
Niazi said that 150 people had gathered on Friday where the neighborhood's Christian population lives and threatened to burn down their houses.
"The mob wanted to burn the girl to give her a lesson," he told CNN.
Other Christian families living in the area have fled fearing a backlash, he added..."

BBC News, 8 September 2012
A Christian girl in Pakistan who was arrested on blasphemy charges has been released from prison in Rawalpindi, a minister has said.
On Friday a judge ordered her release and set bail at about $10,500 (£6,200).
The girl, thought to be 14 years old but with a younger mental age, was arrested last month after a mob accused her of burning pages of the Koran.
Last week an imam was remanded in custody, accused of planting burned pages of the Koran in the girl's bag.
The case against the girl, known as Rimsha, has sparked international alarm and has been condemned by human rights groups.
Blasphemy is not a bailable offence but her lawyers pleaded that she was a juvenile.
The girl's lawyer said she had been released after two guarantors posted a bond against assurances that she would reappear in court, the AFP news agency said.
Pakistan's minister for national harmony said the girl was transported by helicopter to a safe location where she was met by her family.
Her father had previously said he feared for his daughter's life and for the safety of his family.
Rimsha's parents were taken into protective custody at an undisclosed location following threats. Many other Christian families fled the neighbourhood after her arrest.
Rights activists have long urged Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws, under which a person can be jailed for life for desecrating the Koran.
In March 2011 Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs, was killed after calling for the repeal of the blasphemy law.
His death came just two months after the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who also spoke out about the issue.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97% of the population are Muslim.
In the past accusations of blasphemy have led to vigilante killings by mobs."

I don't think these reports need any comments, just wish to mention that the otherwise fine BBC report is marred by a misleading, politically correct and factually incorrect title. Had I read only the title, I would think that the girl has been released unconditionally and has no more troubles with the law.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Extra patriam non est vita

During the four decades of Communist rule, Bulgaria was a closed country. Visiting other countries, let alone emigrating to them, was not a right but a privilege granted to few. Whatever you may say about the achievements and simple joys of life in communist Bulgaria, the fact that residents were not allowed to leave meant that it was essentially one big prison. And when in 1989 frontiers were opened, the effect was similar to breaking open the gates of a prison. The wild, thoughtless rush to the dreamed Free World was only enhanced by the Communist victory at the heavily falsified 1990 elections and other subsequent disastrous events.

As in every country with emigration reaching the scale of evacuation, it started to be regarded as default and remaining in the homeland as exception. Entire generations of children grew up knowing that they are likely to emigrate in the future. It is difficult to describe this climate to those who haven't lived in it, the climate in which reporters are chasing 16-yr-olds with the question "What is keeping you in Bulgaria", and a textbook for 7th-graders asks, "Would you choose for yourself the emigrant's fate?". Young people wishing to remain are often pushed by parents and peers to "go West for a couple of years to try - you may begin to like it". And some actually emigrate despite suspicions that they would not be happy abroad, just to prove themselves; because those who remain are stereotyped as good-for-nothing people whose only virtue is the realistic assessment of their laziness and incompetence that would not allow them to succeed in the West.

The sequential (and apparently neverending) massive emigration waves have of course further weakened the country. Even if Bulgaria ultimately survives, the exodus of its most active and talented youths, the blossom of the nation, has devastating effects. Though most emigrants support their remaining families and many engage in actions for the country's benefit, this can never substitute for the contributions they would make if they had remained here. Worse, the spirit of homestayers is broken. When they are fired, injustly punished, robbed, denied medical help or otherwise hit by Bulgarian reality, their primary impulse is not to think how to solve the problem but to lament that "this is not a decent country and will never be", and to regret that they have not left it in time. Young people, even if still here, are not sure for how long this would last and have little interest to work for the future of Bulgaria. And because those who should be the most active citizens are either already absent or ready to pack, politicians and their corrupted circles can do whatever they want without being bothered by civil resistance.

I wish now to write about those who left, though I cannot use 1st person here. Beyond doubt, most of them have earned a living standard they would never enjoy in Bulgaria. Many have found prospects for their abilities and have made spectacular careers. But how many have found true happiness? People are rarely sincere about this, so I cannot be sure. But my observation is that, as with other cases of mass psychosis, people rushing to the default direction often neglect or silence their internal voices. In their new countries, they may suffer from home-sickness and may subject themselves to dangers they know nothing about. In the same way as in Bulgaria we navigate our way between crazy drivers, stray dogs and pickpocket gangs and still manage (in most cases) to stay out of harm's way, other countries have other dangers to which native inhabitants are used. Every human dwelling, no matter how advanced, is hazardous and requires a set of adaptation skills - I would even say, survival skills - which are acquired unconsciously and, for that reason, cannot be taught to newcomers.

Fifteen years ago, when people of my generation were still young and making choices, I wasn't too confident in my decision to stay. I didn't try to defend it, let alone persuade other people, just wished to be left alone. When a loved one tried to convince me to emigrate, I said, "I do not tell you to stay - why do you tell me to depart?". Now, people of my generation are middle-aged. Middle age is the time when you are no longer free to choose, because choices have remained behind. The true mark of middle age is not the slow bodily decline becoming apparent, but the disappearance of second chances. It is time to draw a line and summarize the outcome of the two strategies - emigrating and staying. Now I see that, against all odds, those who remained in the Bulgarian misery are generally better off. And I regret that, as my loved ones were carried away by the wave, I didn't try to persuade anybody, didn't help anybody to stay.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Burgas, the city that was attacked

On July 29, eleven days after the Burgas bus bombing, we briefly stopped in this city on our way to the smaller resort town of Primorsko.
I am uploading three photos so that you get some impression of Burgas. They show, respectively, a figure from the Burgas 2012 Sand Festival (an exposition in the city park), an old anchor now used as street decoration, and a restaurant.
I hope you get the impression of peace. What makes some people so eager to destroy peace, happiness and life? Today is the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and I still haven't a good answer to this question. I'll update this post at some later moment to tell more about Burgas. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mustafa Kyosov, the Bulgarian victim of Bulgas bus bombing

Photo from the village of Yurukovo, taken by blogger "The Guerrilla".

In my previous post, I listed the Israeli tourists killed in the July 18 Burgas bus bombing. This post is devoted to the only Bulgarian victim of this atrocity - the bus driver Mustafa Kyosov (36).
Mustafa was married, with an 11-year-old daughter who is in 5th grade. He was originally from the village of Yurukovo, in the mountrains of South-Western Bulgaria. Like the other people of this village, he belonged to our old-established Muslim minority. Some say he was an ethnic Turk but most sources about Yurukovo state that it is populated by Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims).
As wrote "The Guerrilla" from whose blog I have copied the above photo, "not only is (Mustafa Kyosov) the only victim of this tragedy that has not been honoured, he is the faceless victim - we have not seen his image yet". This is quite true. While the Israelis were buried with honours, not one Bulgarian official attended Mustafa's funeral - only the Grand Mufti. And I haven't seen his photo published anywhere. We still do not know what he looked like.
Bulgarian news sites show pictures of distraught relations and friends, but I prefered one showing a typical view of Mustafa's home village. Some may find this reality beautiful and romantic while others would see in the same image appalling misery. The truth is that, while these villages are beautiful and comfortable for most of their residents (who have never become accustomed to modern accommodations), there are absolutely no jobs over there. Villagers are engaged in subsistence farming but it cannot really provide subsistence. For old people - maybe, but not for parents struggling to educate their children. Mustafa was the only breadwinner of the family, because his wife was unemployed. So he left his home and went to the other corner of the country, to the Black Sea coast, to find a job and support his family by honest work.
When a loved one dies in an accident or a crime, we can never forgive ourselves for not persuading him to be somewhere else at the fatal moment. Shortly before he was killed, Mustafa complained of home-sickness. In telephone conversations with his brother and uncle, he said he missed his family so much that sometimes wanted to tear apart his contract and return. Now they of course wish he did, and wish they had told him to follow his heart.
It is not yet known for sure who is behind the Burgas bombing but it seems safe to assume that it was Islamists' work. Did the masterminds feel any regrets that an innocent Muslim became "collateral damage"? I don't think so. When in 2006 Hezbollah shelling killed two Israeli Arab brothers aged 3 and 9, its leader called the children "martyrs for Palestine" and offered condolescences, case closed.
Mustafa Kyosov isn't the first Bulgarian driver killed by Islamist terrorists. On June 30, 2003, Krastyu Radkov (46) was shot on the West Bank by members of the Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in violation of the declared ceasefire. Krastyu was driving a truck full of bottled water for workers of some construction site. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs said they had mistaken him for a Jewish settler. "Sorry, we thought he was a Jew" - this is the closest to apology you can hear from Islamists.
In the summer of 2004, Ivaylo Kepov (32) and Georgi Lazov (30), while driving a load of used cars in Iraq, were captured by Al-Zarqawi's men and then murdered. One of them was beheaded on video. I remember an argument at that time illustrating the pitiful human tendency to blame the victim (of which I have written elsewhere). The other person argued that, while the double kidnapping and murder was very regrettable, it was also understandable because Iraqis were "fighting occupation". I said that whatever one might think about killing of soldiers, these victims were just drivers bringing cars for sale - and whatever the locals were thinking of the war and occupation, they should have welcomed the cars, because everybody wants to own a car. My opponent stayed silent for a moment, then put forward a brilliant argument: "But these cars were second-hand!"
However, Mustafa Kyosov's murder was different, because while his unfortunate colleagues had travelled to the battlefields, he was killed in his own peaceful country. He became the first victim of modern global terror on Bulgarian land. This modest, hard-working family man should have lived unknown - instead, he left this world and entered History. Our pompous officials could at least make an effort and honour his funeral ceremony.

The Israeli victims of Burgas bus bombing

From left: Amir Menashe, Kochava Shriki, Itzik Kolengi, Elior Priess and Maor Harush. Photo taken from Haaretz, original source Reuters.

In the immediate aftermath of the July 18 Burgas bombing of a bus with Israeli tourists, I wrote that the victims were thought to be seven. This happened to be true: five Israelis, the Bulgarian bus driver and the perpetrator himself died in the carnage. Because it is not reasonable to count terrorist suicide murderers as victims of their own attacks, I should refuse the number to six. Yet they are still seven because the only female victim - Kochava Shriki (name pronounced "Koshava", age given 42 or 44 by different sources, from Rishon Lezion) was pregnant at last, after 4 years of fertility treatment.
Amir Menashe (28) was married, with a 10-month-old son. His friend Itzik Kolengi, or Kolangi (28) was married, with a 4-month-old daughter. Their wives were injured; happily, the babies were left at home. Amir and Itzik were from Petah Tikva, the same city where a decade ago  suicide bomber attacked an ice-cream parlour, apparently targeting young Jewish children and killing an 18-month-old girl and her grandmother.
Elior Priess, or Price (25) and Maor Harush (25) were friends from Akko (Acre).
They all were young, happy people who should have lived for many more years. They came to Bulgaria to enjoy the summer and the sea in peace. My country, while having many drawback, is known to be peaceful. I am sad that it betrayed its guests in such a tragic way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Massacre of Israeli tourists on Bulgarian land

Today (July 18) the Bulgarian sea town of Burgas (Bourgas) became scene of outrageous bombing of Israeli civilians. After being brought to Burgas airport by a flight from Tel Aviv, a large group of Israeli tourists took seats in a bus which was to bring them to a nearby resort. As the bus was departing, a bomb exploded in its front part.
By now, 7 people are reported dead, but the real number may be higher. Dozens have been wonded, including a child and two pregnant women. A bystander said, "There were screams and I went out of my car to check what was happening. I saw the people getting out of the bus, they were screaming, some were coming out without legs, others without arms." Shocked policemen said, "We are literally collecting small pieces of flesh from the victims. There are body parts 300 meters away from the bus, so we cannot tell the number of victims for sure."
My condolescences to the victims' families and to those wounded and traumatized. I hope Israeli intelligence agencies will find out who is behind this massacre. Unfortunately, I don't think our security apparatus can do any good. While I understand that even the best intelligence can overlook the preparation of a terror act, I am angry, because our "services" are overstaffed and overfunded. They have generous subsidies even in the worst crisis, they receive more than the entire Bulgarian Academy of Sciences just to monitor telephone communications... and still they do not serve the public (to say the least) and do not provide the security which is their function.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Animal welfare and European bureaucracy impose malnutrition

Animal welfare is usually regarded as a noble concept and a milestone of human civilization. Those living in the insulated reality of the Western world may sincerely believe this. However, my experience as a Bulgarian, i.e. resident of one of the poorest countries in Europe, points otherwise. Animal welfare is a bizarre idea with disastrous consequences, especially for poor people. It is destroying decades of progress concerning human rights and well-being.

Now, as Europeans are preparing for Easter, some are angry at the scarcity and high prices of eggs as a result of the European Union's Welfare of Laying Hens Directive. Egg prices are particularly sky-rocketing in Bulgaria. As a result, "hens get happier while people get unhappier" (in the words of a Bulgarian egg producer quoted by EUBusiness).

To make it clear why, I shall refer to the post Happy Hens and Stupid Minister by well-known Bulgarian blogger Longanlon. The title of the post refers to the Bulgarian agriculture minister Miroslav Naydenov, and it bashes EU bureaucrats and their Bulgarian overzealous followers for elevating hen's happiness to top priority and making consumers and farmers unhappy by forcing on them high egg prices and expensive farming methods, respectively. The post is good, but it is part of the discussion that is a must-read, and I am going to translate it for you.

A commenter asks, "People spend much on junk food, why not pay more for high-quality eggs? If hens are bred in a better way, the nutritive value and the taste of eggs will be different... Why shouldn't eggs be more expensive and of higher quality?"

The blog host replies, "Because for some people priority is not "the high-quality food" but just "the food"... For the poor, eggs used to be the only cheap food of animal origin. I talked to the shop assistant at the corner shop where most customers are modest-income. She said that, after the price of eggs climbed, only I am buying them. She showed me the empty places in egg packages, she had sold only 6 eggs for a week."

(In Bulgaria, when prices go up, shopkeepers begin to sell single items of goods indended to be sold in packages, such as eggs, baby diapers, drug tablets etc. - hence the empty places in the package.)

So you see that the directive banning sale of eggs laid by "unhappy hens" causes harm far beyond interference with a beloved traditional spring festival. It will force many thousands of Bulgarians to restrict their egg consumption, which has been their main source of animal protein. Possibly the champions of animal happiness in the rich countries of "Old Europe" are blissfully unaware that tens of thousands of EU citizens still suffer from protein malnutrition. Someone must inform them of that fact. And if they know it and still think that the welfare of laying hens is more important than welfare (and health) of human beings... - then I fear the problem is very deep and it will not be easy to find a solution to it. At any rate, for the near future humans will continue to be deprived of food in the name of the tentative happiness of laying hens.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The story of my site

Photo: My brother's collection of computers in 2001, when he was studying computer science.

(Warning: long, and not cheerful, post; but still advise you to read it if you create or manage intellectual property and especially if you own a small site.)

When I first started my work as biology teacher, nearly 20 years ago, I was shocked by the poor quality of the textbook our students were forced to use and the absence of suitable teaching materials in Bulgarian. I decided to write a better textbook. Slowly, in the late afternoons and some evenings and weekends, I prepared a collection of biology texts.

At that time (the mid- and late 1990s), I had no idea how I would eventually publish my work. We were only beginning to use the Internet and had no opportunity to contribute to it. As for publishing on paper, it was reserved for people richer and more powerful than me. I was even inclined to recruit some more senior "co-author" one day to help publish the texts. It was another era, possibly escaping not only the experience but even the imagination of younger readers.

I gradually shared with some friends and colleagues the idea of the "textbook" and even some of its content. Among these friends was a young colleague working at another city. I'll call her by her nickname - Tanya. In late 1999, she had to prepare for an exam important for her career and complained that the official textbook was unusable. "Haven't you any more human source?" she asked. I said that some unpublished texts of mine might be what she needed. Then I downloaded my "textbook" on three floppy disks and sent them to Tanya by mail, together with the password needed to open the files.

A day before the exam, which was to take place in Sofia, Tanya called me by phone. She said she was glad that we would meet the next day. She thanked me for the files and said they had been very useful for her to prepare for the exam.

This was the last time I heard Tanya. We were awaiting her the next day but she never came. The car in which she was traveling had a fatal crash on the way to Sofia.

Tanya's death deeply saddened me. Because our last conversation was about my "textbook", I was unable to touch it for two or three months. Then, slowly, I resumed work.

At the beginning of 2003, two important things happened. First, I had a publication as a ghost author - not of parts of the "textbook" but of some other works written specifically for that purpose. And I discovered I had undergone a change of heart. My teaching texts had finally seen the light of day, but I was not at all satisfied. I no longer wanted just to publish my work to be read - at any rate and under anyone's name. At that time, I was pregnant with my first child and I thought that my texts were also my offspring and I didn't want them adopted by other people, no matter what those other people would give me in return or whether I would ever had another chance of publication.

Second, something very weird happened with a textbook written by some senior teachers. After they had given their draft chapters to the textbook editor, he showed me one of the manuscripts written by a lady I'll designate only as L. By chance, this editor was among the people who not only knew about my work but had even briefly seen the files. Imagine my surprise when I recognized, in abbreviated form, the early versions of some of my teaching texts.

It wasn't rocket science to reconstruct what had happened. Tanya had apparently either printed my files or stored them in her office computer as copies not protected by password. After her death, L., who worked at the same facility, discovered these files and naturally attributed them to Tanya. And when L. was invited to contribute to the new textbook, she decided to make use of what she had found and so to take the credit without doing too much hard work.

I explained the situation to the editor. L. soon came to Sofia, perhaps called by him. He left us two in a room to "clarify the situation". It was a very unpleasant conversation, both for me and for L., who thought she had robbed "just" a dead author and was nastily surprised to confront a living author. Though at one point she confessed to have used as sources texts found among Tanya's things, she fiercely denied any wrongdoing. She insisted only researchers who had made important discoveries could claim copyright, but not other people explaining their discoveries in educational texts. (An interesting concept, wasn't it? And in such a case, why on Earth would her name appear on the cover of the damned textbook?)

Finally, the editor told L. to somewhat change the chapters so that they would no longer be quite identical to my texts. She did this - of course, the changes were all distortions diminishing the quality of the original. Meanwhile, I decided I had had enough and I would take measures to prevent the same from happening on a larger scale.

The Internet was expanding and becoming more accessible for mere mortals like me. I wanted to publish my "textbook" online and I asked my brother George for advice how to do it best. He had emigrated to the USA five years earlier. At first, he had started work at a car repair shop, then taught himself computer science and later "officially" studied it at the Suffolk County Community College. His teachers liked him so much that when the IT department needed another programmer, they invited him. He was very happy with his new job; his American dream was coming true.

George told me that every employee of his college had the right and opportunity to upload his "personal" pages with whatever content he wished, provided it did not violate any law or rule. He said, "Just send to me your texts and figures by e-mail and I'll prepare the pages in no time." And he did. He then kept fulfilling every petty wish of mine of the type "Please put one Enter after this figure and make the font of that paragraph one point smaller". He just refused to be mentioned as Webmaster.

This way, for some time my educational pages were hosted on the Suffolk Country Community College's Web site. The URL was a mile long, but at least it ended with the suitable edu extension. I guess the faculty members are unaware to this day of the help provided by their College to a university in a little-known European country.

In late 2005, however, there were troubles with the College site. As my brother said, some absent-minded (to say the least) employee had by mistake uploaded to the Web personal data of other people. As a result, all employees' pages were closed down with the promise to be reloaded later after case-by-case examination. George said that what we needed was my own site with my own domain name. I suggested to use the opportunity for free pages given by some providers, but he said he would not allow stupid banners to flash across the top of my pages. "Just choose a domain name, and I'll register it and do the rest," he insisted. I chose my name,, to be the domain name.

Things went smoothly and happily until 2010, when my brother died.

He had managed the site and paid for it all by himself and had not bothered me with the practical aspects of this work. After all, he had planned to continue doing it for me for a long time - why not, he was in good health and nobody expected anything to happen to him. Now, I remembered I had once received an e-mail from the host-registrar company. I looked at the print, just to find out which company it was (I didn't yet know that this could be easily done by the so-called Whois search.) It was Hostgool Hosting, Inc.

I e-mailed Hostgool, telling them to contact me for everything about the site. They asked me to login. When I explained what had happened and why I did not even know the username and password, they told me to send them a scan of my brother's credit card.

I was initially unwilling to disturb my sister in-law with such a request, but how could I allow my site created by my brother - our common deed - perish? So I asked her for help. She was very kind and sent me the scan the next day. I forwarded it to Hostgool and they gave me a username and a password.

However, I wanted to transfer the site to a Bulgarian provider. I contacted a guy at one such company and he said they would manage the transfer with Hostgool. Soon after that, however, he called me and said, "Please e-mail Hostgool yourself, because they don't answer my e-mails. To transfer the domain name, Hostgool must give us a code called EPP authorization key."

After days of bombarding Hostgool with messages using every contact route available, I finally received the following message:

"Hello Maya,
Regarding transfers, you must contact from the registration e-mail (the sam e-mail used in the first registration) and by the person who's register the domain so we can give the transfer steps reqired to do the transfers.
Have a nice day
Warm Regards, Support"

I reminded them that doing what they suggested was impossible, and asked whether this was really what they meant. The answer was:

"...You can not transfere a domain not registered by yourself and nobody can transfer a domain registerd by you there is no way makes somebody to transfer a domain registerd by another one
Thank you for understanding
Warm Regards, Support"

(Original spelling and grammar is preserved.)
I complained to my new Web guru about this and he said what I actually already knew from my Web searches - that registrars (i.e. companies that register domain names) are obliged to give the EPP authorization key if their customer wishes to transfer to another registrar, but they are unwilling to do it because they lose money when you leave them, and there is very little you can do to them in case they refuse. So he bought for me another, similar domain -, and uploaded my site there. I tried to look at the things in the most positive way possible and offered candy to some friends to celebrate my brand new domain. However, I am still very angry at Hostgool (may they go bankrupt) and still miss my first domain, the one my brother registered for me (it has been sold to some gamblers and now redirects to their page).

I wished to continue my work on teaching materials, but I have not been very creative at recent time. I have added to the site a page in memory of my brother in English and in Bulgarian, but little more. Of course I am very busy, but this is hardly the sole reason. It seems that the loss not only devastated me emotionally but also had a lasting impact on my productivity. I cannot even memorize the steps in creating or editing a Web page. Every time, I have to start from A and B all over again, painfully remembering why I am doing this in the first place. Though there is also a bittersweet feeling that I am coming closer to my brother by entering his world and making awkward steps in what used to be his realm.

What lessons could be drawn from my site's story? First (as my uncle pointed out back in 2003), avoid showing unpublished work to other people. If the manuscript is not yet ready for publication, keep it in a safe place; and if it is ready, publish it for everyone to see. An unpublished text shown to selected people is in a limbo of which an unscrupulous person can take advantage.

Second, if you are publishing online, think well how to manage it. If your work can be arranged as a blog, think of the big providers such as Google (Blogger) and Wordpress. They host blogs for free and have never (so far) betrayed me. Everybody knows the warning against the "free lunch" but, in my experience, the free lunch (unlike the cheap lunch) has been quite OK. See e.g. this site for kids' songs arranged as a Wordpress blog.

If, however, you prefer (or have to) set up your own site and buy a domain, be careful whom you choose as host and registrar. Do not opt for a company bragging mainly about the low prices it offers. Sometimes these low prices can cost you too much. You may be forced either to submit to your registrar's blackmail and stay chained to it forever, or leave your domain name behind as I did. If I were using my site for business, I would lose much money from the domain name change; and even owners of non-commercial sites suffer when they are disconnected from their readers. So try to find a respectable company. See what other people have said about its services; after I got into trouble with Hostgool, I found - too late! - that other customers had complained from it (e.g. here and here). Check whether the company gives a valid street address, phone number and names of contact people. Did you mention that the above cited e-mails were signed " support team"? I think that, despite today's magic of doing business online, a company with an office in your city is to be preferred. If you feel discontent, you can at least appear there in person and make a nice offline scandal.

Last, we all who contribute to the Web must think about the future. What's the use of noble incentives like Project Gutenberg aiming to make our heritage available online, if nobody cares for works created today? Why are those who publish online, and those who read online, so careless? We entrust the fruits of our minds to small sites dependent on yearly payments, and as soon as the subscription expires (e.g. because of the author's death), the site is doomed to disappear. We need a new type of charities - digital heritage foundations, to take over and host pages of contemporary authors who cannot care for their work themselves anymore. In the meantime, it will be wise if every individual author makes some provisions about his own personal site.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Casey Anthony already having followers

Undated photo of Zinah Jennings, copied from AP's report (original source: Richard County Jail).

Let me first copy an Associated Press report from today:

"SC police: Mother won't tell them where son is

by Meg Kinnard
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It's unknown how long investigators would have gone without any information on a missing 18-month-old South Carolina boy if his mother hadn't crashed her car Christmas Eve.
Twenty-two-year-old Zinah Jennings and her son, Amir, were reported missing by the boy's grandmother, who hadn't seen either of them since Thanksgiving.
The mother didn't turn up until police responding to the single-vehicle accident learned she was listed as a missing person.
She's now in jail, charged with lying to authorities about where the boy is, prompting a search by local, state and federal authorities spanning the Carolinas, Georgia and beyond.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott says Jennings immediately began giving conflicting statements about where the boy was

This disappearance of a toddler, unreported by the single mother, finally reported by the grandmother, after which the mother started endless lying, immediately brings to mind an earlier similar case - of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony. After Caylee's skeletal remains were found in a swamp, jurors let themselves be persuaded by defence that her mother Casey Anthony was not guilty of murder, manslaughter and child abuse.

At the Frontpage Magazine's symposium on Casey Anthony verdict last year, blogger Rob Taylor was furious: "The idea of “solid proof” is a myth. A child is dead and her mother avoided reporting her disappearance, then tried to frame someone else. Before juries were populated with armchair forensics experts this would have been an open and shut case... The disregard many people have for the victim, for Justice in the philosophical sense and for the truth is what troubles me here. The legal system worked – Anthony had a fair trial in front of a jury of her peers. That doesn’t mean Justice has been served. Caylee Anthony was thrown out like garbage, found with duct tape on her remains. We all know why people duct tape the mouths of children shut. We know why some drugged out party girl doesn’t report her child missing... The connection between who we give our sympathy to and cultural decline is clear. You can pretend that... there’s some reasonable explanation for not reporting your child missing or even that you truly believe that it’s necessary to let guilty people go free to ensure that innocent people aren’t imprisoned. What you cannot pretend is that there aren’t consequences to your pretense, one of which is the corpse of a Caylee Anthony."

Exactly. Commenting the case in my Sept. 6, 2011 post Unreasonable doubt, I wrote, "Seeing Casey Anthony acquitted and commentators praising the verdict as a victory for the US justice system, other people may be tempted to emulate her." I fear that this is what has happened in South Carolina, and while I wish very much for little Amir to be found alive after all, I have little hope that his grandmother will ever hug him again. We'll see what will follow and whether Zinah Jennings will be let, like Casey Anthony, to step over her child and continue her life as a free woman.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Anders Breivik found insane

Anders Breivik (photo copied from the Guardian).

On July 22, 2011 Anders Behring Breivik, the nice-looking young Norwegian pictured above, detonated a bomb in the center of Oslo, killing eight people. Then, while the capital was in horror and dismay, he sailed to the nearby island of Utoya, where Norwegian socialists organized a youth camp. Dressed as a policeman and heavily armed, he shot in cold blood at the defenceless, mainly young people, killing 69 people. The youngest victim was a girl named Sharidyn Svebakk-Boehn who had just turned 14. She had a blog where the last entry is dated July 20, 2011 - two days before her death.

Breivik was motivated by his Islamophobic and anti-multiculturalist views. For me, it meant that the perpetrator of a most horrific mass murder had views very similar to mine. I admit it created an eerie and uneasy feeling in me, and inevitably led to some soul-searching. I discussed my thoughts on Rose-Anne's post The Look of Crazy. It was not very suitable for this purpose because verbal abuse was guaranteed, but I simply wished to discuss it, and Rose-Anne was the only blogger known to me who wrote a meaningful post on the subject.

Two months later, the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks overshadowed this more recent massacre. And now - sad to say but true - the Norway victims seem all but forgotten. Most people seem to think that in the current situation, we'll have some Breiviks and we have to accept this, period. Just hope that you and your loved ones won't be around a Breivik when he detonates, because, as Rose-Anne correctly stated, usually there is no way to recognize such a psychopath before he has exposed his lethality.

What about his views? I think the observations of Breivik and his description of the current situation in Western Europe are quite true. What is wrong is his proposed solution, his choice of action. And we must admit that every time when we confront a danger associated with human beings, some of us may wish to solve the problem by exterminating these human beings. In the 1970s, some people fought communism by rounding up thousands of suspected communists to a stadium, torturing and killing many of them. In the 1940s, some sought to defeat Nazism and prevent its relapse by ethnically cleansing millions of Germans, sending mothers with babies out at Celsium -20 just because they happened to be German. And in the 17th century, other people tried to fight plague by locking victims inside their houses. All this is inhumane and utterly unacceptable, yet it does not mean that communism or nazism are acceptable, either, or that plague adds beautiful diversity to human population and so should be embraced despite its tendency to kill people here and there. I'd also point out to anyone else worried by the similarity of his views to Breivik's that we are actually comparing our sincere, unmoderated views to a highly moderated version of Breivik's views, because he took much care not to look as right-wing extremist in order not to attract attention by authorities.

From the moment when I heard that Breivik was captured alive, I was worried by the inadequacy of the punishment he could receive under Norwegian law. The maximum prison term in Norway is 21 years, and the treatment of prisoners is reportedly quite benign. The idea is that the criminal is not a source of evil but a poor person who needs help to reform and become a good member of society, rather than punishment. Like every system of morality and justice centered not on actual and potential victims but on the perpetrator, this shows its charlatanism to full degree when confronting a murderous psychopath like Breivik. During the discussion at Rose-Anne's blog, I wrote, "I may be barbarian... but I am glad that Bin Laden was shot dead, and I wish the same had happened to Breivik. We already have more of his oratory than any reasonable person would want. Now, he will have a due process in a country having humane prisons and no death penalty. He will smile from the bar in the faces of victims' parents, adding insult to injury. Yes, it is a principle that everyone is entitled to a fair trial... but he gave no fair trial - no trial of any kind - to the kids he murdered."

People, however, have found a way around this problem. In late November, Breivik was psychiatrically evaluated and declared insane. Factually, this is 100% wrong. Breivik is a very intelligent person who planned his actions with great deliberation and self-possession. He bought a farm for the sole purpose to be able to buy nitrate fertilizer needed for the bomb without arousing suspicions. (Other wannabe terrorists who hadn't the resources or far-sightedness to pose as farmers have been arrested soon after buying fertilizer, e.g. two young men of Arab Muslim origin detained in Berlin on Sept. 8, 2011.) However, from a not-so-formal point of view I think the psychiatrists did the right thing. No trial to be used as a tribune by Breivik, no smiling in the faces of victims' mothers, no release (I hope) after a decade or two. The very tissue of what we call our life depends on putting thick walls between ourselves and creatures like this murderer, although we can do it only after it is too late.