Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christian terrorist kills three in Colorado

On Nov. 27, Robert Lewis Dear (57), a self-proclaimed Christian with a history of anti-Planned Parenthood activity and abuse of women, went armed to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He opened fire and killed two people who were accompanying their friends to the clinic: Jennifer Markovsky (35) and Ke'Arre Stewart (29), an Iraq War veteran who used his last breaths to warn others to take cover. When police came, Dear shot dead one of them, Garrett Swasey (44), before being arrested.

Each victim had two children. Because of the murderer's rampage, two children will grow without a mother and four other children will grow without a father.

Dear's motivation: his anti-abortion views. (Planned Parenthood is the main provider of abortion services in the USA.) By cruel irony, such views are designated by the euphemism "pro-life". I also suspect that racism was involved in his choice of targets, because he is white while Ms. Markovsky was Hawaiian and Mr. Stewart was black.

To me, and to anyone of he meanest understanding, abortion is a basic human right. It reflects the woman's autonomy over her own body. I am not going to discuss the pain perception and cognitive abilities of human embryos and fetuses at different stages of prenatal development. For the argument's sake, let's presume that the fetus to be aborted is as conscious as you and me. Does this give him the right to live? No, because he cannot live on his own, and no human being is obliged to support another one by her own body.

If some patient with a rare blood group has suffered heavy blood loss and you happen to have the same blood group, should you be tied to a bed and forced to donate blood? No, you shouldn't. Nobody would even consider doing this to you, though the health impact of a blood donation is negligible, compared to that of a pregnancy plus birth. Moreover, in most countries - actually, in all countries I know - even the organs of a dead person, no longer useful to him, cannot be taken for transplantation unless family members consent or the deceased himself has stated such a wish before his death. Patients with kidney disease may be dying, but the organs that could save their lives are instead left in the corpse and cremated or put in a grave to rot.

Of all humans, pregnant women alone are reduced to a subhuman status and regarded as mere baby incubators, that is, tools to support the lives of other humans regarded as superior. Why? The answer is simple: because of religion. I know only one group opposing abortion on non-religious grounds, and it is the disability activists. This is actually a reason why I distanced myself from disability advocacy. I don't want to be around people whose agenda includes shaming or forcing women to carry to term disabled babies whom they do not want. However, the Colorado Springs murderer was no disability activist. As Wikipedia reports, "Dear voiced on several occasions his support for radical Christian views and interpretations of the Bible, and praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing "God's work." He also described members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion Christian extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings, as heroes." Dear was the products of a culture where Christian fundamentalists obsessed with looking into women's wombs still enjoy moral authority, and abortion-related attacks make news only if lethal, otherwise they are business as usual.

In destroying three human lives, "pro-life" Robert Dear was driven by his religious convictions and apparently eager to instill fear in survivors. So he is, by definition, a terrorist. His crime must be denounced for what it is, not just a triple murder but also an act of domestic Christian terrorism. And Christians should think how to stand against such atrocities, as well as the entire "pro-life" madness.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Will there be hope after Obama's "disastrous policies"?

From the Jerusalem Post:

"Column One: Rubio, Cruz and the US Global Leadership

by Caroline Glick

At some point between 2006 and 2008, the American people decided to turn their backs on the world. Between the seeming futility of the war in Iraq and the financial collapse of 2008, Americans decided they’d had enough.

In Barack Obama, they found a leader who could channel their frustration. Obama’s foreign policy, based on denying the existence of radical Islam and projecting the responsibility for Islamic aggression on the US and its allies, suited their mood just fine. If America is responsible, then America can walk away. Once it is gone, so the thinking has gone, the Muslims will forget their anger and leave America alone.

Sadly, Obama’s foreign policy assumptions are utter nonsense. America’s abandonment of global leadership has not made things better. Over the past seven years, the legions of radical Islam have expanded and grown more powerful than ever before. And now in the aftermath of the jihadist massacres in Paris and San Bernadino, the threats have grown so abundant that even Obama cannot pretend them away.

As a consequence, for the first time in a decade, Americans are beginning to think seriously about foreign policy. But are they too late? Can the next president repair the damage Obama has caused? The Democrats give no cause for optimism. Led by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential hopefuls stubbornly insist that there is nothing wrong with Obama’s foreign policy. If they are elected to succeed him, they pledge to follow in his footsteps...

On the Republican side, things are more encouraging, but also more complicated...

Bush’s foreign policy had two seemingly contradictory anchors – a belief that liberal values are universal, and cultural meekness.

Bush’s belief that open elections would serve as a panacea for the pathologies of the Islamic world was not supported by empirical data. Survey after survey showed that if left to their own devices, the people of Muslim world would choose to be led by Islamic supremacists. But Bush rejected the data and embraced the fantasy that free elections lead a society to embrace liberal norms of peace and human rights.

As to cultural meekness, since the end of the Cold War and with the rise of political correctness, the notion that America could call for other people to adopt American values fell into disrepute. For American foreign policy practitioners, the idea that American values and norms are superior to Islamic supremacist values smacked of cultural chauvinism.

Consequently, rather than urge the Islamic world to abandon Islamic supremacism in favor of liberal democracy, in their public diplomacy efforts, Americans sufficed with vapid pronouncements of love and respect for Islam...

It is far from clear which side will win this fight for the heart of the Republican Party. And it is impossible to know who the next US president will be.

But whatever happens, the fact that after their seven-year vacation, the Americans are returning the real world is a cause for cautious celebration."

Monday, December 07, 2015

Bulgaria with decent stance about trade with Israel

Nearly a month ago, the European Union decided to label goods made in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

I was outraged to hear this. What was the rationale behind the move? The rationale was to appease the Islamists by showing them that Europe supports the Palestinians and is against the Jews. (And if someone says that you can criticize the Zionist policy of Israel without being against the Jews, I'd suggest to him to analyze the following statement: "I have nothing against Italians, I just want Italy erased from the world map.")

To be a Westerner and to promote or support anti-Israeli policies is ethically problematic, to put it mildly. Besides, it is against your own interests. As Churchill once said, appeasement is like feeding a crocodile - all you can hope at is that it will eat you last. In fact, almost immediately after Europe decided to label the "settlers"' products, terrifying Islamist attacks were carried out in France, claiming 130 lives. France was one of the countries who led the settlement labeling effort. Another one was Belgium, where the attacks were planned. The Islamists are more rational and consistent than us. They look for weak spots and, when they find one, they press.

I am glad that my Bulgaria was among the EU member states that didn't press for labeling. (The others were Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia). Now, I'd wish Bulgaria to refuse to implement the decision, like Hungary.

I wrote this post exactly today to mark the Jewish festival of Hanukkah which began last night. To all who celebrate - happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Compassion to France

This crude drawing is to show my sympathy to the people of France after the Nov. 13 tragedy in Paris, where 129 innocent people were massacred in the newest mass murder in the name of Islam.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Princess mermaid

I am now busy with examining my mother's things and deciding what to take, what to leave and what to discard.

Of course, this work generally makes me sad. However, it occasionally brings nice surprises.

Last week, I found the drawing shown above.

It was made by my elder son at preschool when he was in 1st group, i.e. 3 years old. I was delighted to see it, because it was one of his first recognizable humanoid images.

I asked him what he had drawn. He replied, "a princess". Presumably he meant mermaid but didn't know the word. At that time, he already could read and was learning to write,as the drawing shows, but could not yet talk properly.

I wanted to keep the drawing but couldn't find it and thought that it had become just another lost work. I had quite forgotten that I had given it to my mother.

I suppose that only a parent can understand why I was glad to find it again and why someone would wish to keep such a masterpiece in the first place.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Honoring Taurian Bulgarians and Misho Hadjiyski

(Bulgarian readers can find this post also on my Bulgarian blog.)

In June, my father Dyanko Markov together with Georgi Chunchukov from the city of Dobrich and Filip Pitelov from the Association of Bulgarian Expatriates was invited to attend a ceremony to unveil a memorial plate of Misho Hadjiyski in the village of Inzovka, Ukraine. I of course felt quite uneasy because of the situation in Ukraine and the advanced age of my father. (It was difficult to manage his travel insurance, because for most insurance companies, people of my father's age simply do not exist.) This event made me learn more about the Taurian Bulgarians, whom I had known just by name.

When we Bulgarians talk about Taurica, we usually mean the region north-west of the Sea of Azov, where many ethnic Bulgarians settled in the first half of the 19th century. They kept their language and traditions because there was no local population to influence them - until their coming, the region was desolate. The settlement was under the auspice of Russian general Ivan Inzov. To facilitate the cultivation of Taurica, he ensured that the settlers would have rights of free people. At that time, the Russian peasants as serfs were deprived of such rights.

Taurian Bulgarians generally lived well until the October Revolution of 1917. After that, they together with the other Soviet subjects had to face the repressive terror of the Bolshevik regime. Although they had been farmers for many generations and had turned their land into a granary, they suffered and a number of them died in the Holodomor - the genocide organized by Stalin to subdue Ukraine, considered too unruly.

Memorial of the Holodomor victims near the village of Tyaginka, between Odessa and Taurica. Above, there is an inscription in Ukrainian: "Ukraine, to your sons and daughters, great and small, children and adults, suffocated by the bony hand of the Holodomor in 1932-33..." Below is a verse in Russian by the well-known poet Robert Rozhdestvensky: "Posredine planeti / V grome tuch grozovih / Smotryat myortvie v nebo / Verya v mudrost zhivih." (Amidst the planet, / In the thunder of stormy clouds, / The dead are staring into the sky, / Trusting the wisdom of the living.)

Memorial in the village of Kolarovka (Taurica) of the ethnic Bulgarian victims of Stalinist terror. The inscription in Bulgarian and Ukrainian is: "To the Bulgarians of Ukraine, victims of the repressions."

After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union and occupied Ukraine, Taurian Bulgarians wrote a letter to the Bulgarian king Boris III on April 20, 1942. I am translating a part of the text: "In this war between the two great states, we have been ruined and abandoned. Our prosperous villages have been turned into deserts... We have heard, King, that your Kingdom is an ally of Great Germany, may God help you in everything you do, but we are asking you for one favor: Let our plight is alleviated at last, let the Germans allow us to have in every Bulgarian village authorities of our own, subordinated directly to the Germans rather than to the Russians... Send here to Taurica an envoy to protect us... We shall be glad if you right now decree for all us sixty thousand Bulgarians to be accepted in Your Kingdom. Maybe there will be free lands for us to settle. We are not many, we are here [concentrated in] twenty-eight villages at the shore of the Sea of Azov, between the towns of Melitopol and Berdyansk. We are ready to share in the joys and sorrows of your Kingdom but to be under your protection. If we cannot settle all at once, King, allow to a part of us to come, so that we all move to Bulgaria in one or two years. We had turned Taurica from a desert into a Paradise on Earth. Give us desolate lands and we will settle there, because we have always lived by honest work..."

The letter was signed by 15 people. Most important, however, was the role of a young man whose signature was third, the writer Mikhail (Misho) Hadjiyski from the village of Inzovka. After obtaining permission from the Bulgarian authorities, he led nearly 2000 his compatriots to Bulgaria in 1944. The refugees were traveling on their own, in very harsh conditions, sometimes crossing battlefields with their horse carts. Upon arrival, most of them settled in Southern Dobruja, a region only recently reunited with Bulgaria. Misho Hadjiyski met Savka Nikolaeva, a university student from Sofia, and they married in late August.

However, the refuge in Bulgaria was too short-lived. In September 1944, Bulgaria itself was occupied by Soviet troops who installed Soviet puppets as new rulers. At the end of the month, Misho Hadjiyski was arrested and tortured. Some Bulgarian leftists advocated for him and he was released in the middle of November. However, on December 7 militiamen came to arrest him again and he committed suicide, shooting himself in the head. He was only 28 years old and had been married only for 3 months.

The next year (1945), Taurian Bulgarians who had moved to Bulgaria were sought one by one, dragged into trains and deported to the deserts of Kazakhstan - the method of genocide preferred by Stalin because it reliably destroyed a substantial part of the unwanted population without leaving troublesome evidence like gas chambers. As some commentators noted, the Bulgarian nation had managed to rescue its Jews two years before, but now was unable to rescue the Taurian Bulgarians.

At present, Bulgarian Taurica is divided. Its eastern districts have been affected by Putin's land-grabbing campaign and are currently under the control of pro-Russian separatists, but most of its territory is in free Ukraine, at least for now. Inzovka, named after the benefactor Inzov, is also in Ukraine. Until recently, the village school had no name, but now it is named after Misho Hadjiyski. The naming ceremony took place on June 18 and included unveiling a memorial plate of Misho Hadjiyski at the front wall of the building.

Nona Popova, Mayor of the village of Inzovka, is reading the naming order.

In front of the memorial plate, moments after it was unveiled.

The memorial plate, with inscriptions in Bulgarian and Ukrainian: "To Misho Hadjiyski, writer, human rights activist and Bulgarian patriot, killed by Stalin's repressions, from the grateful Taurian Bulgarians."

The guests from Bulgaria with a folklore group of Taurian Bulgarian children. The tall man is Georgi Chunchukov, next to him is my father.

The photos in this post were sent to me by Georgi Chunchukov; his report about the visit was also of much help to me in writing this text.

Savka Nikolaeva, the widow of Misho Hadjiyski, is still alive but is bed-ridden and cannot attend the ceremonies in honor of her husband. She did not remarry after his death. Stalin's terror not only took the life of Misho but ruined her life as well.

After his meetings with Taurian Bulgarians, my father was impressed that despite the past sufferings and the numerous innocent victims they hated nobody. Now, they only want to be free, to live their lives as they choose and to create material goods and culture. We had heard allegations of strong pro-Russian sentiments among this community, but they turned out to have been much exaggerated. Like most other Ukrainians, Taurian Bulgarians are looking in the direction of Europe and hope for their country to be admitted into the European Union. Alas, "old" Europeans are too inclined to betray the founding principles of European civilization and to seek only security and material well-being, which naturally leads them to collaboration with the aggressor Putin. In the long term (and even not so long), this endangers not only Ukraine but also Europe itself. Therefore, as my father said, the future of Europe depends on the survival of independent Ukraine.

I am glad that in the same year in which the residents of Inzovka could finally honor their countryman Misho Hadjiyski, honors to him and the Taurian Bulgarians led by him were paid also in Bulgaria. This is happening exactly in Dobrudja where the refugees were accepted and hoped to find new homes. A memorial plate dedicated to the Taurian Bulgarians will be unveiled today in the city of Dobrich, in front of the municipality building. So everyone who passes through the center of Dobrich will remember the events of 1944-45 that must not be forgotten.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Drowned while seeking a better life

A month ago, on Sept. 2, three-year-old Syrian-Kurdish boy Alan (Aylan) Kurdi drowned together with his 5-yr-old brother Galip and their mother Rehana after the overcrowded inflatable boat by which they left Turkey and were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos capsized. The victims' bodies were washed ashore back on the Turkish beach. There, a reporter photographed Alan's body and the images shocked the world. I don't post any of them here, because I don't want to absolutely ruin the day of my few readers. Let me just mention that the beautiful little boy lying face down on the sand looked to be just sleeping, which inspired artist Mahnaz Yazdani to draw the above cartoon titled exactly so, Just Sleeping.

As a hopeless cynic, I mention in passing that the strong reaction to the photograph was largely due to the fact that Alan and Galip in appearance - face, haircut, clothes and all, were quite like native Western children, like my sons at that age. The BBC admits the same: "David Cameron echoed many reactions on Twitter when he said that, "as a father" he had been deeply moved. Nicole Itano oversees all creative work for Save the Children, including photography. She is also the mother of a one-year-old girl. "My first reaction was, my god, that could be my child, who has the same colour hair, the same chubby legs," she says... "He looks like he could be any of our children."" If the victim was a dark-skinned child, or a slightly older girl in a headscarf, I doubt that we would have been moved the same way.

I have written elsewhere about the unfortunate events that made millions of Syrians refugees. However, Alan's family was no longer fleeing the war and genocide in Syria. They had lived in Turkey for years - for almost all of his short life - in miserable yet safe conditions. So their story is part of the broader, universal narrative of Seeking a Better Life. Alan became known to the entire world, but there are many others who drown, literally or metaphorically, while seeking a better life, and you never hear of them, unless they happen to be someone you love.

By "seeking a better life", I don't mean the efforts to improve one's life but the drive to move to another place and solve all problems by finding a ready-made better life there. My opinion and experience is that, while trying to improve one's life is admirable even when not quite successful, the attempts to find a better life elsewhere are usually destructive. This "better life" is always said to exist in another, far-away place. This is a hint about its true nature: it is a mirage. And, similarly to physical mirages which are unreal but based on real objects and phenomena, this one is based on real places and facts. You'd better not believe that a better life is awaiting you in some Blessed Realm just because you possess photos, presents and other artifacts from this place. Even if you have visited it or have relatives living there - as Alan's father had - you'd better not believe that it is your dream incarnated. If you believe it, you sever your connection to the real world and get detached from reality. Only this can explain why an otherwise sensible person such as Alan's father could think that putting his most precious possession - his wife (who was unable to swim) and his young children - into an overloaded rubber dinghy supplied by unscrupulous modern pirates was a good idea. And even the lucky majority of better-life seekers who reach their destination safely find there not cloudless happiness but ordinary human life burdened with home-sickness and the strain of adaptation.

Seeking a Better Life is in the folklore of all nations. Remember Puss in Boots, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk etc. The penniless hero finds a treasure lying in some cave without an owner, or a castle owned by some wicked being fully deserving to be killed and dispossessed. We read these tales to our young children, as if mixing poison into their breakfast milk. I wish to give examples of other folk tales, of heroes building better lives by work and ingenuity, creating prosperity where none existed before. However, there are too few such stories and they are obscure.

After the destruction of his family, Alan's father talked to some fellow refugees planning to embark on the perilous sea journey and dissuaded them. I am glad for them. Meanwhile, however, masses of thousands give their savings to the smugglers and sail the unfriendly sea to reach an unfriendly land. And I know that it is inevitable. Because to seek a better life is apparently ingrained in human nature.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Ugly Animals by Simon Watt

This spring, I translated to Bulgarian The Ugly Animals by Simon Watt. I've just written a post about it in my Bulgarian blog (better late than never), and here is the announcement by the Bulgarian publisher. I admit I am proud to read at the Ugly Animal Preservation Society website (the above screenshot) that the book is "available in all good bookshops in the UK, USA and Bulgaria" (emphasis mine).

The cover of the Bulgarian translation shows a Galapagos marine iguana - a charmingly ugly animal that can inspire horror-movie screenwriters. I like it very much, though I still prefer the blobfish on the cover of the original which won the viewers' vote for ugliest animal on the planet (to me, this "ugly" fish is even cute, and I definitely like it and the other animals in the book better than the panda).

The Ugly Animals is devoted to species that are both ugly and more or less endangered. Each animal is presented by a nice large photo occupying as much space as the text. I think this is the correct way to address today's overworked, ever-tired readers - with a lot of beautiful pictures and a carefully controlled dose of text. Nevertheless, there are many things to be learned from this book. It is written with much humor, which I have tried to preserve in the translation but I don't know whether I have succeeded.

To me, it is unfortunate that so many otherwise sensible people create a false dichotomy about what we must preserve, ourselves and our civilization or the living world as we know it. I think that we must preserve both, and I believe that we can.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Kangaroo court of Ukrainian film director in Russia

Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is now on trial in the Russian city of Rostov-na-Don because of his opposition to Crimea's annexation by Russia. Mr. Sentsov is a native of Crimea and was arrested there when the peninsula was taken over last year. He was reportedly mistreated in custody. The charge against him is... terrorism.

To me, the story is quite reminiscent of the Stalinist show trials from the 1930s. Unfortunately, it receives little coverage in international media. I heard of it from Bulgarian news sources.

Update: Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Striving for excellence versus free speech

How free should our speech be?

In theory, we are all for free speech. In practice, we conform to restrictions and self-restrictions all the time, and impose restrictions on others. All parents I know start to impose restrictions on their children's speech practically from the moment the child starts talking. The process is long, and many of us, despite our efforts, are periodically called to unpleasant meetings with teachers because of our children exercising too much free speech at school.

Every system striving for excellence restricts free speech. An example is the school. Another, even better example is the business. Have you been badmouthed by a waiter? And if you are, will you endure it in silence for the sake of the waiter's right to free speech?

What is true for the waiter or cleaner is equally true for the CEO. Executives do not allow themselves free speech (read: adolescent talk), because it harms the business. It repels customers and gives the entire company a bad name. Personally, I cannot imagine any businessman saying anything of this sort:

"I am inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa because all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really... Despite the desire that all human beings should be equal, people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

These words belong to James Watson, Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of the DNA double helical structure. After the gaffe, he was forced to retire from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory which he had founded. And I think this was right. While scientific institutions stay apart from the market, they must strive for excellence quite like the companies trying to survive at the market.

Last month, another Nobel Prize winner put his foot in his mouth: Tim Hunt, honored for his important discoveries in regulation of cell division. Talking at a lunch for female journalist and scientists in Seoul, he said:

It's strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls? Now, seriously, I'm impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science, despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me."

For this, he was forced to resign from the University College London, where he had been Honorary Professor. And I think this was right. If a scientist not only harbors misogynist views but cannot keep them to a private, trusted circle of close friends, he must not hold any honorary position. Prof. Hunt damaged the reputation of his University and his country. I also suspect that, with these views and apparently nobody to criticize him through the years, Prof. Hunt has done a lot of damage to the "girls" to whom he has been superior, so his resignation was too little too late; still, better late than never.

I wasn't going to honor Prof. Hunt with a post, but Charles Steele, who disagrees with me and with whom we had a long discussion, suggested to me to write one. So this text owes its existence to him.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ancient Greek complaints of financial problems

When one reads ancient Greek texts, some parts of them seem strikingly actual.

"Strepsiades: Huge, huge debts! They’re all eating me up inside!... I get torn apart with worry as I watch the months go by, the interest mounting up and the payments getting ever closer!.. Bring me my accounts books. I want to see what I owe and to whom. Tally up all the interest... Now, here I am, I’ve got a whole lot of lawsuits and the creditors want to seize all the collaterals! Bloody interest!...

Come down, my dear friend, Socrates!  Come down now, Socrates and teach me what I’ve come to learn from you!

Socrates: You’ve come here to learn what, exactly?

Strepsiades: Oh, Socrates!  If only you knew how anxious I am to learn… to learn all I can about rhetoric.  How to argue convincingly… against all sorts of dreadful creditors who are after my very blood! I want to remove all my painful debts… they’re after all my possessions, all my money – I am… Collaterally Damaged!

Socrates: And how could this ever happen to you without your knowing about it?

Strepsiades: It was a fast thing. Like a horse race!  Such an awful thing, it damned near killed me!  Come, Socrates, mate, teach me one of those two arguments you know. The one that lets you escape debt. Come on, tell me your fees and I’ll… I’ll pay them in full. I swear by all the gods!"

(Aristophanes, Clouds, 423 BC, translated by George Theodoridis.)

"Zeus: Good, Hermes; that is an excellent proclamation: see, here they come pell-mell; now receive and place them in correct precedence, according to their material or workmanship; gold in the front row, silver next, then the ivory ones, then those of stone or bronze...

Hermes: I see; property qualification, comparative wealth, is the test, not merit. - Gold to the front row, please. - Zeus, the front row will be exclusively barbarian, I observe. You see the peculiarity of the Greek contingent: they have grace and beauty and artistic workmanship, but they are all marble or bronze - the most costly of them only ivory with just an occasional gleam of gold, the merest surface-plating; and even those are wood inside, harbouring whole colonies of mice. Whereas Bendis here, Anubis there, Attis next door, and Mithras and Men, are all of solid gold, heavy and intrinsically precious.

Poseidon: Hermes, is it in order that this dog-faced Egyptian person should sit in front of me, Poseidon?

Hermes: Certainly. You see, Earth-shaker, the Corinthians had no gold at the time, so Lysippus made you of paltry bronze; Dog-face is a whole gold-mine richer than you. You must put up with being moved back, and not object to the owner of such a golden snout being preferred."

(Lucian, 2nd century AD, Zeus the Tragedian, translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Saving Greece in two quick, easy steps

To say that Greece is in trouble would be an understatement. In January, the Greeks elected the far-left Syriza party because of its promises to end austerity measures. The victorious leftists formed an incompetent government (led by Alexis Tsipras) that pushed the economy off the cliff. While the country was spiraling downward, Mr. Tsipras decided to use several millions of the last precious euros available in Greece to hold a rush referendum about whether to accept creditors' conditions (?!), though Greek constitution, maybe for a reason, explicitly bans referendums on fiscal matters. The vote took place on July 5. The majority of participants voted against the deal, as the Prime Minister had advised them. After that, all hell broke loose, and now Greeks are staying in lines in front of ATM machines to obtain a maximum of 60 euro per day.

Nevertheless, many Greeks are still out of touch with reality and are now railing that the creditors have "humiliated" them. "What is at play here is an attempt to humiliate Greece and Greeks, or to overthrow the Tsipras government," said Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Vice-President of the European Parliament and member of the Syriza party. When economist Megan Greene tweeted: "Earth to Greece: blackmail really really REALLY is not going to work. The ones with the dosh lost patience long ago", Greek users replied: "who is blackmailing who? I think ur a little bit lost", "very interesting the choice of the word "blackmail" to describe letting people decide for themselves (i.e., Democracy)", "Greece to earth:Greece is tired of blackmails too." They still don't get that Greeks are not entitled to having luxury lives at other people's expense, and that democratic vote cannot give you unlimited access to other people's money.

If you are a Greek and you have read thus far, you belong to the important minority of those who understand that income is determined by productivity of labor rather than wishful thinking. I guess, you are wondering what to do in this dire situation. I can offer an approach that proved successful during the Bulgarian crisis of 1996-97. Indeed, the situation in Bulgaria was milder, because nobody could accuse us in destroying an international currency (we had a hyperinflated national currency) and, besides, all sums relevant to Bulgarian economy, such as the debt and the GDP, were - from the viewpoint of international financial institutions - pocket money. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the method worked, and it is worth trying, especially after trying so many things that have never worked anywhere, nor have they been expected to.

Here is how to save Greece in two quick, easy steps:

1. The rant of touchy Mr. Papadimoulis contains a grain of truth: EU countries and financial institutions don't want to see Prime Minister Tsipras anymore. So Greek patriots should stop waiting in front of ATMs like sheep and instead take to the streets and riot until their parody of a government resigns.

2. After successfully implementing Point 1, some decent, credible person with sense and basic economic knowledge in his head should be appointed as caretaker Prime Minister and urgently sent to negotiate. (I think e.g. Mr. Samaras will do.) His difficult job will include, among other things, to convince the annoyed creditors that the Greeks have learned their lesson, have reformed and are now a brand new nation, nothing to do with the people who voted so foolishly at the parliamentary elections half a year ago and the referendum a week ago.

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Russia's lie about NATO

From Luke Coffey's article For Eastern Europe, Moscow is an existential threat, published by Al Jazeera:

"Russia's myths
There is a common misconception that the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act prohibits the permanent basing of NATO soldiers in central and eastern European countries. Russia regularly perpetuates this myth. This is not true. 

In regards to the question of permanent bases the Act states:
NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.
Since this agreement was signed in 1997, Russia has failed to remove troops from Moldova as promised and increased troops in Ukraine, Armenia, and Belarus - all of which border NATO. 

During this same period, Russia has also conducted cyberattacks against NATO allies, invaded Georgia (and is still occupying 20 percent of that country), used energy resources as a weapon against its neighbours, and most recently, annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine.

Consequently, the "current and foreseeable security environment" has changed since 1997. Therefore, NATO is able to rightfully create permanent bases in its Eastern European member states."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ramadan makes no sense

Now is the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims are required not to eat and even to drink water (!) from sunrise to sunset.

This makes no sense and has no effect, except to make people feel miserable and interfere with their productivity. The requirement to fast during Ramadan is just another good reason to leave Islam.

Yesterday, the Islamic State caught two under-age Syrian boys eating and punished them by hanging them from a pole by their wrists. They were suspended at noon, and "they were still there in the late evening", according to an AFP report. I cannot yet find any information what happened to the boys in the end.

Commenter Mt. Pilot wrote the following:

"And we all know that all-ah is well pleased if you don't drink anything when it's a hundred degrees (Fahrenheit, roughly corresponding to Celsius 40 - M. M.) in the shade. He gets giddy and joyful when his creation is made to suffer for him.

Christ only asks that you believe in Him and make an attempt to follow His commandments... and even when we fail, all He asks is that you ask for His forgiveness.  His yoke is light and He is quick to forgive and slow to anger.  Follow Christ.

I'd add that you do not need to follow Christ, you can follow any deity you choose, or (what I prefer) try to find your path on your own. What is sure is that it is not a good idea to follow a God who demands you to torture yourself for no good reason. No wonder that so many intelligent Muslims leave their religion, if they can afford it, i.e. if they are lucky to live in a free land. Unfortunately, the two boys in the report are not so lucky.

Update: Reader Cat Brehme left the following comment to this post:

"My colleague is a Muslim and during Ramadan she just completely shuts down. She's tired, quiet and completely unproductive. Basically, you can just forget about her for a month and do her work for her. I don't follow any religion and I don't understand how intelligent people can enslave themselves to any religious rituals that don't make any sense whatsoever. This applies to any religion but especially Islam and Judaism. If I ran a company I would not employ any practising Muslims as they work a month less than anyone else does. It's completely unfair to your co-workers but just like anything to do with Islam, you cannot say anything because it's politically incorrect."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Unearthed: 7,000-yr-old tool workshop

In northern Bulgaria, there is a village named Kamenovo, close to the city of Razgrad.

(The map is from Bulgarian Wikipedia. I changed the bottom inscription to Latin, but kept Kamenovo with the original Cyrillic, because it is too difficult to change.)

It has been known for some time that stone tools found across the entire Bulgarian territory, and even beyond it in the southern Balkans, originate from the rocks in the vicinity of that village.

Now, archeologists claim to have found the prehistoric workshop for stone tools.

(The photo is copied from a DarikNews report, in Bulgarian, which is also the basic source for this post.)

The large-scale production of flint tools is thought to have started in early Chalcolithic age, about 4,800 BC. Between 4,500 and 4,200 BC, it expanded and supplied much of the Balkan Peninsula with tools. So we have large-scale production, division of labor, long-distance transportation and trade - a civilization, I'd say, if a fairly primitive one.

If you ask a young-Earth creationist about this time period, he will reply that the Universe did not yet exist!

To me, one of the strangest details in the story is the name of the village. "Kamenovo" means "Village of the stone(s)". Well, I guess that residents of the place in later ages have also found some use of the high-quality stone. Though I cannot find in the Web any reports of modern quarries, this is a more logical explanation than to suggest preservation of the name through more than 6 millenia and several languages.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Comparative criminal law: ISIS and Saudi Arabia

In my February post European Citizenship, I expressed outrage and dismay that the European People's Party, which is generally "my" party, opposed a European Parliament resolution in support of Raif Badawi.

What was the reason for this? According to Vote Watch: "The EPP group voted against the resolution and explained that it could not support the text as it stands because it associates Saudi Arabia with the organisation Islamic State, in regard to the type of punishments used. EPP representatives argued that they disapprove of the said association..." This rationale was confirmed by sources close to EPP, but I will not cite them, because they have not authorized me to do this. (Of course, the decision of the European People Party did not prevent nice people from its group to vote for the resolution despite the official party line.)

The "said association" between Saudi Arabia and ISIS "in regard to the type of punishments used", however, is the pure and simple truth. The diagram below, which went viral, is copied from the article Crime and punishment: Islamic State vs Saudi Arabia, by Mary Atkinson and Rory Donaghy, published in the Middle East Eye on Jan. 20:

From the same article:

"The Islamic State (IS) and Saudi Arabia prescribe near-identical punishments for a host of crimes, according to documents circulated by the militant group. IS published a list of crimes and their punishments on 16 December 2014 to serve “as an explanation and as a warning” to those living in territory under their control in large parts of Iraq and Syria. The document lists hadd crimes, which are considered to be “against the rights of God,” and includes fixed punishments for theft, adultery, slander and banditry. Crimes deemed hadd and their punishments are derived from the Quran and the hadith, the collected teachings and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad... But  while IS has actively sought exposure for their brutal punishments, Saudi Arabia has worked to keep evidence of their actions within the conservative kingdom. Authorities on Saturday arrested a police officer accused of videoing a woman being publicly beheaded in Mecca."

So the European Parliament members could be confident that criminal law of ISIS and Saudi Arabia is practically identical, as the resolution stated. Maybe the European People's Party worried that stating this inconvenient truth was too undiplomatic. However, the West's experience with Islamist states (e.g. the saga of the Bulgarian medics accused in infecting Libyan children with HIV) shows that it is to no avail to be diplomatic with them. If you are, they just smile in your face and continue their barbarities.

British minister: Torturing innocents is OK if Muslims want it

Quote from Francis Wheen's UK ministers have started to defend Saudi Arabia's flogging of Raif Badawi - it's breathtaking (the Independent, June 16):

"...Asked about the flogging and jailing of Badawi, the Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay said in the Lords last week: “We maintain our view that freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression are core rights that lead to long-term stability and good governance.”

But? Yes, of course there was a but, and one to take the breath away: “My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population.”

Do they? Last Friday I asked the Foreign Office how the minister could be so sure. No answer has yet been forthcoming. Perhaps the “vast majority” of Saudis are indeed fanatical sadists who rejoice to see liberal bloggers whipped. Or, then again, perhaps they aren’t...

Even if you were a Saudi who deplored the flogging, you wouldn’t say so publicly – especially when you saw what happened to a man who did. Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was given a 15-year jail sentence last July for criticising the judiciary and so “inflaming public opinion”. How the judges measured that inflammation was not revealed. Perhaps Baroness Anelay gave them the benefit of her psephological expertise.

(Psephology is a branch of political science which analyzes elections and public opinion.)

So we have here a truly democratic Baroness, for whom what is supported by the vast majority of the population is right. The Saudi population allegedly supports beating a man over a blog, so Britain has to recognize this. If the same or another population supports stoning a woman for adultery or burning her because she looks like a witch, this presumably must also be recognized.

Oh, wait. Not every population is entitled to having its opinion automatically recognized. The vast majority of the British population never supported uncontrolled immigration of Third World Muslims and enslavement of local girls by them, yet British authorities had no problem allowing this. So what matters is apparently not what the population wants, but what the Muslim population wants - or at least its most aggressive subpopulation. It is exactly this thinking of cowardly or self-hating Westerners that has made Islam an existential threat to the civilization.

Monday, June 15, 2015

To all for whom Edward Snowden is hero

From today's Yahoo!News report titled Britain pulls spies as Moscow cracks Snowden files: reports

"London (AFP) - Britain has been forced to remove some of its spies after Russia and China accessed the top secret raft of documents taken by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, British media reported.

The BBC and the Sunday Times cited senior government and intelligence officials as saying agents had been pulled, with the newspaper saying the move came after Russia was able to decrypt more than one million files.

"It is the case that Russians and Chinese have information. It has meant agents have had to be moved and that knowledge of how we operate has stopped us getting vital information," a Downing Street source said, according to the newspaper.

Downing Street told AFP on Sunday that they "don't comment on intelligence matters" while the Foreign Office said: "We can neither confirm or deny these reports".

The BBC said on its website, meanwhile, that a government source said the two countries "have information" that spurred intelligence agents being moved, but said there was "no evidence" any spies were harmed.

Snowden fled to Russia after leaking the documents to the press in 2013 to expose the extent of US online surveillance programmes and to protect "privacy and basic liberties"...

Snowden worked as a contractor at the CIA and National Security Agency, where he was able to download 1.7 million secret documents that showed how hundreds of millions of people had been under surveillance, according to the Sunday Times.

He previously claimed that "no intelligence service" could crack the documents, saying he was able to "keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments".

But an intelligence source told the Sunday Times: "We know Russia and China have access to Snowden's material and will be going through it for years to come, searching for clues to identify potential targets."

An official from the interior ministry added that "(Russian President) Putin didn't give him asylum for nothing"..."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Raif Badawi and the value of thinking differently

Copying from a Tomowolade's post with the above title at Politics ad Infinitum, a British blog:

"Raif Badawi has been punished for the crime of thinking differently. In Saudi Arabia, the crime of thinking differently can land you with 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison...

What can be done to save Raif Badawi? Not much. Saudi Arabia is a geopolitical ally and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

What can be done to challenge the ideology that justifies Badawi’s oppression? A significant lot.

Civil society in the west is insufficiently hostile to Islamism because it assumes criticism of ideas is equivalent to bigotry against people. It assumes that a progressive case against fascism with a brown face is a contradiction in terms. It assumes, most of all, that Islam is a defamed religion and further criticism intensifies this defamation. In its desperate plea to eschew racism, the left has nourished de facto blasphemy law – and its primary victims are Muslims like Raif Badawi who think differently.

When gender segregation is condoned by some, and when the niqab is celebrated as a symbol of empowerment, and when student groups cheerily align with theocratic fascists, something stunningly clear emerges: In fetishising Islam as the religion of the oppressed, the left has lost sight of the people Islamism oppresses.

This is the great travesty of our age, for there are many like Raif Badawi out there... They face ostracism from people who want to kill them for thinking differently...

It’s important to support groups like the council of ex-Muslims... We should challenge Islamism whenever we see it, and defend liberalism whenever we don’t. It is important to celebrate our right to think differently – for it is our most precious freedom, and it should be extended to all."

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bad news from Saudi Arabia

Bad news keeps coming from Saudi Arabia. In February, the court upheld the 15-year prison sentence of human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair, lawyer and brother in-law of Raif Badawi. He refused to renounce his pro-freedom activity and repent for it and so seems to have nullified whatever tiny chance there was for reduction of the sentence.

"Saudi Arabia jailed my entire family," complained Samar Badawi, wife of Waleed and sister of Raif. "When Walid was first jailed, I was just a wife. By the time the ruling was issued, I had become a mother. It was in court that he saw his daughter, Jude, for the first time. His daughter is almost a year old now, and her father is absent from her life."

Four days ago, the Saudi Supreme court upheld also the sentence of Raif - 10 years and 1,000 lashes. There are fears that he will be beaten tomorrow, as he was in January.

The touchy Saudis have again rejected criticism for their early-medieval "jurisprudence".

The million-dollar question is, why are Western countries still so eager to trade with Saudi Arabia? Why do representatives of the free nations love torturers' money so much?

Update: At least, the flogging was not resumed on Friday.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"Not all are bad" indicates inherent flaw

I visited Dr. Amy's post Congratulate me; I'm on the Anti-Vax Enemies List!! and found something  noteworthy in the discussion below.

Commenter MaineJen, replying to an opponent, says:
"...Do you hear the similarity between "But not alllllllll male gamers threatened that female reporter with death!" and "But not allllllll CPMs ignore safety standards, take on high risk cases they have no business overseeing and refuse to transfer care even when both mother and baby's lives are in danger."
When you have to make the "But not alllllll..." argument, there is something inherently flawed and wrong-headed about the culture you're defending. Do you agree?"
(CPM is "certified professional midwife", a poorly trained variety of midwives who are allowed to practise in the USA, God knows why.)

Commenter The Bofa on the Sofa added:
"I like your description so much I am going to co-opt your words:
Bofa's Law
If your defense of a group consists of "Not all of them are bad," there is something inherently flawed about the culture you are defending.

Emphasis added by me. To acknowledge intellectual ownership, I intend to call it MaineJen - Bofa Law.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Why Islamophobia is healthy

Copying a fresh report I found at Yahoo! News:

"French 'anti-Islamophobia' group on trial for plotting attacks

Paris (AFP) - Members of a French group that said it was formed to combat Islamophobia went on trial in Paris on Monday accused of plotting terrorist attacks. 

Led by 37-year-old "emir" Mohamed Achamlane, the 15 members of Forsane Alizza, who called themselves the "knights of pride", have denied involvement in a terrorist organisation. 

Achamlane told the court he had no "terrorist inspiration" and only wanted to defend Muslims against mounting Islamophobia in France. 

The group was formed in 2010, gaining attention for organising protests against the government's decision to ban veils in public. 

It was disbanded two years later by the government, which described it as a "private militia".

After it was disbanded, the group put a message on its website demanding that French forces leave all Muslim-majority countries. 

"If our demands are ignored, we will consider the government to be at war against Muslims," the message said.
Achamlane told the court on Monday that he was only calling for the "legitimate defence" of his community, adding "I am not racist, I am not an anti-Semite."

But prosecutors have put forward evidence including a list of "targets" that highlighted Jewish shops in the Paris region. 

Achamlane also tried to explain why he had released videos of himself giving inflammatory speeches with Kalashnikov rifles in the background, and using phrases such as "By all-powerful Allah, we will put scars on France."

"We wanted to make a provocative video with a wall of Kalashnikovs and my bearded head to redress the balance," he said, specifying that he felt Muslims were "excluded" from French society.

"There is no radical or moderate Islam," he added. "There is only authentic Islam."

A police raid in 2012 led investigators to fear the group was armed, although it remains unclear if the weapons found were real or usable.

Each member of the group faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The trial is due to run until June 22 or 23."

No comment is needed, but still I'll write one.

As many people have pointed out, "Islamophobia" is a misnomer, because "phobia" means irrational fear, while the fear of Islam is perfectly rational. A Russian dissident once wrote that there is nothing wrong with anti-Communism, it is just the healthy reaction of a normal person when Communism is shown to him. The same is true for Islamophobia.

Time and again, our experience shows that the label of Islamophobia is used by aggressive Islamists and their leftist allies to shame us into submission while they are trying to destroy our civilization. The above report is about a group of alleged wannabe terrorists in France presenting themselves as an "anti-Islamophobia" brigade. In the USA, the Tsarnaev brothers also praised Islam and criticized Islamophobes, then proved Islamophobes right by killing children and women in the name of Islam. In January 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev tweeted, "I don't argue with fools who say islam is terrorism it's not worth a thing, let an idiot remain an idiot." At his trial, Tamerlan's mother in-law testified that Tamerlan "always wanted to talk about how Islam was good". The inevitable conclusion? If you accuse people of Islamophobia, this puts under suspicion not their decency but yours.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Defending non-traditional names against racism smacks of stupidity

Groundless and ridiculous accusations of racism are one of the best ways to make a fool of oneself. Quoting from Karthick Ramakrishnan's essay Condemning non-traditional names smacks of racism, published in the Los Angeles Times:

"Duke University professor... Jerry Hough wrote that African-Americans “just feel sorry for themselves” and compared “the blacks” unfavorably to “the Asians.” He argued, specifically, that African-Americans adopt “strange new names” because they lack a desire for integration, as opposed to Asian-Americans, who choose “simple old American” first names... It seems worth pointing out that unfamiliar names are not necessarily a barrier for advancement. A prominent circuit court judge, and likely next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, is named Padmanabhan Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan."

A characteristic feature of poor argumentation is that the author produces arguments that suit better his opponents. Why is Judge Srinivasan using as his first name "Sri" - an abbreviation which may not be American but is certainly simple, old and, above all, easily pronounced? Maybe because he has found out that having to spell your name every time and to teach people its pronunciation is not the best way to make a career. I also suppose that, had he been born in America, he would most likely receive another name.

Ramakrishnan's text continues: "Unusual but European-sounding names — such as Imogen and Maxton — gain in popularity each year, and these are unlikely to lead to discrimination..."

I googled the two names and found out that they are not "European-sounding", they are European. Imogen is a character from Shakespeare's Cymbeline, and Maxton is a Scottish clan. So they may be rare but they are as traditional as it gets.

I wonder, why does an established journal like the LA Times publish such an article? I guess, because it is fashionable to deny reality and common sense. Reality is that, as one commenter wrote, "the faux Afro or ridiculous Hollywood names or trailer trash names that send a red flag to schools and employers... connote uneducated parents and/or urban ghetto and/or white trash." And common sense tells that if a child is born to trash parents, he is more than likely to be a trash himself, due to important environmental factors (their upbringing) and maybe even genetic factors (their heredity). Of course, there is a chance that the young person with the strange name will turn out to be a beautiful flower grown on bad soil, but employers hate taking chances. So, as another commenter asked, "Why would anyone hamper their child's chances at gainful employment and success in business?" Why, indeed?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jailing Heather Hironimus "shames the United States of America in the eyes of the world"

Heather Hironimus is a Florida mother who was jailed so that to "consent" to her son's circumcision. British journalist Ally Fogg has a good article in today's Business Insider, which I am copying below.

"Jailing Heather Hironimus in Florida marks watershed in America's relationship with circumcision

Legal and ethical consent is more than just a mark on a piece of paper. A scrawled signature is worth nothing if it does not represent freely volunteered, informed agreement. Consent offered under duress of coercion, fear or force has no meaning, no value.

The piece of paper signed by Florida mother Heather Hironimus is not a document of consent but a testament to a dysfunctional legal system that has become detached from fundamental principles of justice and human rights and which shames the United States of America in the eyes of the world.

The courtroom photos record Hironimus at the time of the signature, bound in handcuffs, sobbing uncontrollably, throwing her head back with hands clenched in a prayer for support or forgiveness. When she took the pen from her lawyer, it was subsequent to nine days held in jail with clear conditions from the presiding judge that she would be imprisoned indefinitely until she offered that signature.

Those nine days followed three months living in hiding in a domestic violence refuge. At the time of putting pen to paper, Hironimus was clearly distraught, distressed and presumably exhausted. Any document signed at such time has about as much validity as a confession to the Spanish inquisition.

What was the cause that drove the Florida justice system to such ignominious lengths? Astonishingly, the entire case hinges on a single decision resolved amicably by millions of American parents every year – whether or not to circumcise their sons.

The origins of this saga lie in a parenting agreement signed by Hironimus and the boy's father, Dennis Nebus, at the time of birth. The parents were not in an ongoing relationship and they signed an agreement on shared parenting, which included a clause stating that it would be the father who would schedule and pay for any circumcision procedure.

Nebus never took up the option until the child was three years old. In the intervening time, there were two important developments. The first was Hironimus learned more about the consequences of circumcision, including risks of complications from either the procedure or the anaesthetics involved.
Like ever-growing numbers of American parents, she came to believe or understand the supposed health benefits to circumcision are spurious and do not justify the risks and the loss of bodily integrity.

Secondly, and equally significantly, her son grew old enough to have an opinion as to what should happen to his own penis and decided he did not want bits of it cut off by a doctor for no sensible reason.

Nonetheless, in 2014, a Florida judge ruled that in signing the original parenting agreement, Hironimus had signed away any right to change her mind at any time, and lost the power to object to the permanent surgical mutilation of her own son.

For refusing to comply with the judge's ruling, Hironimus was held to be in contempt of court and still faces the prospects of criminal charges for interference with custody, a felony offence with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Her son, who has been named widely in press reports and on social media, but whose identity is formally protected in legal proceedings, is currently in the care of his father.

In many respects, the Hironimus case stands as a lightning rod for the developing debate around circumcision in the US. For more than a century American baby boys were routinely circumcised immediately after birth. The justifications have changed over time, from prevention of masturbation to hygiene considerations and latterly to the prevention of disease, and it seems that as the validity of each is disproven, a new rationalisation is forthcoming.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now just about the only organisation of its type in the developed world that continues to recommend the practice. Nonetheless, the proportion of American parents who are refusing to continue the tradition is growing rapidly with improved awareness and education.
A recent YouGov poll found only 55% of newborn boys are now circumcised and it is expected that within a generation or two, a clear majority will be left intact. The same poll found one in 10 circumcised men in the US regret having had the procedure conducted.

The Hironimus case crystallises an increasingly impassioned debate between anti-circumcision campaigners (or "intactivists" as they choose to be known) and the traditions of the medical profession and cultural habits.

The debate swings on whether circumcision is considered a permanent medical and surgical intervention that brings to bear the full framework of ethics and consent or not. In no other circumstances would a signed parenting agreement, even if considered a legal contract, be considered unchangeable and permanent consent to surgical procedure at any time.

The simple truth is such documents are intended for practical management of finances and access arrangements, and in normal practice are regularly renegotiated and rewritten as circumstances change for one or other parent. In no other circumstance would parental consent for a surgical procedure be considered inviolable and irreversible even years later.

At least on face value, the son's bodily integrity would appear to be supported by the terms of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which promises to enable him to develop "in conditions of freedom and dignity". Both mother and child would also appear to have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on their side, which ensures their life, liberty and security of person as well as their freedom from cruel or degrading treatment.

One does not need to be passionately opposed to circumcision, for oneself or one's child, to see the horrific injustice that is now being played out in Palm Springs.

I struggle to believe that even the most ardent supporter of circumcision could accept such a procedure should be inflicted needlessly upon a terrified and distressed child, or that such an irreversible operation should ever be undertaken without the express agreement of both involved parents.

Ultimately it may be practicalities that decide whether this circumcision is conducted or not – it looks increasingly likely Nebus will be unable to find a surgeon who is prepared to operate in such circumstances.

The debate on the ethics and necessity of routine infant circumcision is not yet resolved but the balance of opinion appears is shifting rapidly. It may well be that in years to come society will look back on this habit of our era as a peculiar, if not downright barbaric anomaly. When that time comes, the lasting, iconic image might not be of a bleeding baby or a surgeon's scalpel, but the brutalised, tear-stained face of a heartbroken, handcuffed mother."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The world condemned Soviet aggression in 1939, cannot condemn Russian aggression now

Below, I am copying in its entirety Paul Goble's post Russia Must Be Expelled from UN Just as USSR was from League of Nations, Rabinovich Says:

"Staunton, March 26 – Vladimir Putin is “not Yeltsin’s successor but Stalin’s,” and Sergey Lavrov is the successor of Stalin’s commissar Vyacheslav Molotov, Slava Rabinovich argues. Consequently, the world must “begin the difficult but necessary process of excluding Russia from the UN Security Council” just as the USSR was expelled from the League of Nations.

 “The lies of Churkin and Lavrov in the UN General Assembly and Security Council are impermissible,” the Russian businessman says. “The lies of Putin to heads of governments are impermissible … The actions of the Russian Federation towards its neighbors are impermissible. The annexation of the territory of others is impermissible” (
Once again, he says, the world is confronted by “lying scoundrels and international criminals.” How did it react 76 years ago?

By the end of 1939, the League of Nations included 40 countries, including the USSR which had become a member in September 1934 on the basis of a French initiative. Prior to that time, Moscow had “actively cooperated” with the League and its various committees and taken part in its negotiations.

But on November 28, 1939, the USSR denounced the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty and the 1932 Soviet-Finnish Non-Aggression Pact, and two days later, Moscow began its invasion of Finland. Helsinki called on the League to take measures to end the war.
On December 4, Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s commissar for foreign affairs, responded that “the Soviet Union is not in a state of war with Finland and does not threaten the Finnish people because it had concluded on December 2 a Treaty on Mutual Assistance and Friendship with the government of a newly created Finnish Democratic Republic (FDR)."

According to Molotov, the Soviet Union was simply working with the FDR to “liquidate” the threats to peace which had been “created in Finland by its former rulers,” who he said had lost the authority to run the country and with whom Moscow would no longer negotiate. The USSR, he said, would from then on talk only with the FDR. (You can read Molotov's reply here - M. M.)
If the League of Nations took up this issue on the basis of Helsinki’s complaints, Molotov said, the USSR would not participate in its sessions.

But the League, under pressure from demonstrations across Europe against Moscow’s obvious aggression and attacks on civilian targets in Finland, decided to go ahead. On December 14, it convened the 20th session of the Assembly of the League of Nations to consider a finding that the USSR was guilty of aggression as defined by the League in 1933.   
Twenty-eight of the 40 member states voted to approve that finding. Nine abstained, including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, China and Switzerland). But none objected because those opposed, including the USSR, refused to participate in the meeting.

On the basis of that vote, the Council of the League of Nations voted to exclude the USSR, condemning “the actions of the USSR directed against the Finnish state” and calling on the League’s member states to provide support for Finland.
Moscow reacted by denouncing this action as having excluded the 183 million people of the Soviet Union from international representation and by declaring, in the same statement, that the UK and France were supporting those who had provoked this war and that Moscow was thus now free to provide more assistance to its allies fighting inside Finland.
As Rabinovich points out, “history is repeating itself,” albeit so far in part, with the leaders of the member states of the League of Nations showing more commitment to the founding principles of that organization than have the leaders of the member states of the United Nations to its principles now."
Today, after all its land grabs, what exactly must Russia do in order to be declared aggressor and expelled from the UN?

Friday, May 22, 2015

US mother jailed for resisting son's circumcision

First, quote from the article Time for U.S. Parents to Reconsider the Acceptability of Infant Male Circumcision, by Danish doctor Morten Frisch, published at Huffington Post:

"Do the benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control -- echoing the 2012 policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics -- have recently suggested that they do. What many Americans are not aware of, however, is the fact that the United States is not just unusual, but actually unique among developed nations in finding such widespread medical support for infant male circumcision. This support originated in the late 1800s, when doctors promoted the operation as a "cure" for masturbation; today it comes primarily from doctors' trade associations -- such as the AAP -- that protect financial and other interests of physicians who continue to perform such surgeries. Doctors in peer nations, by contrast, along with the medical associations that represent them, tend to see the U.S. circumcision ritual as more of a cultural habit, not something rooted in sound medical science...

In recent years, more and more circumcised men have begun speaking out in favor of leaving baby boys' penises intact. According to one recent poll, fully 10 percent of circumcised U.S. men wish they had not been circumcised. Many argue that future generations of boys and men should have the chance to decide for themselves whether something as significant and personal as an irreversible surgery on their sexual organ is what they really want, when they reach an age of understanding.
But doesn't circumcision promote health and hygiene, as the AAP and CDC suggest? The short answer is no. In fact, only one health claim is even potentially relevant to young boys in western countries: the claim that circumcised newborns may have an approximately 1 percent lower absolute risk of getting a urinary tract infection in the first 1-2 years of life. One possible explanation might be the distinctly American habit of trying to retract young boys' foreskins in order to wash their penises -- a practice that should never be done, because retraction is unnecessary for proper hygiene in infants and can cause small tears, which may increase the risk of infection. But even if this "circumcision protects against UTIs" claim is accepted, approximately 100 circumcisions would have to be performed to prevent just one urinary tract infection. Compare this to girls, who get urinary tract infections far more frequently than boys do: no one proposes that we remove their labia or their clitoral hood in infancy. We just prescribe antibiotics, when necessary.

All of the other claimed health benefits apply to adolescents and men after their sexual debut. Consider penile cancer. A reduced risk of this disease is a favorite argument used in support of circumcision. But penile cancer only develops in older men, and is so rare in Western countries that it would take between 900 and more than 300,000 circumcisions according to some estimates - with all the associated risks of surgery - to prevent just one case.

Other claimed benefits of circumcision, including a lowered risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, are based on studies of adult men -- not infants -- undergoing circumcisions in poor, African countries. Making health policies for newborn boys in the United States based on studies of adult males in Africa is scientifically unjustified. The situation in Europe, where most men are not circumcised, provides an important insight: all of the diseases that circumcision is claimed to prevent are about equally or even less common there than in the United States. For example, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the United States, where most men are circumcised, is 2-6 times higher than in non-circumcising countries of Northern Europe. While there are many cultural and other variables that play into these differences, the point is that the percentage of excised foreskins in a given population is far from the most relevant factor...

Studies from western countries do suggest that circumcision is associated with an increased risk of adverse sexual experiences, which even the CDC has recently acknowledged. Curiously, however, the CDC failed to mention this important finding in their newly proposed federal recommendations, made public in December of 2014.

What about complications? It is often said that these are "low" for circumcision, but there are at least two problems with this. First, research into complications is surprisingly superficial: there is no systematic mechanism in place to collect data on complications, and some problems (like the removal of too much tissue to allow for a normal erection) may take years to develop or recognize -- so they will never be recorded in an official database. Second, our tolerance for risk should be extremely low - in fact, close to zero - when we are talking about an unnecessary surgery performed on a healthy individual before he can provide his consent. Each year, thousands of U.S. boys undergo reparative penile surgery for complications. Clinical studies show that somewhere between 7 and 20 percent of newborn boys undergoing circumcision will develop a potentially serious complication called meatal stenosis, a narrowing of the urethral opening on the tip of the penis that usually requires surgery. Ignoring this fact, both the CDC and the AAP rely on poor quality register data to conclude that there is less than a half-a-percent risk of complications in newborn boys. Judged from the frequency of meatal stenosis alone, this estimate is likely to be at least 14 times too low...

Based on both medical and ethical considerations, routine circumcision is not a sensible procedure in countries where individual rights (like the right to bodily integrity) are more than a political buzzword. Boys need cosmetic genital surgery no more than girls do. And keeping one's intact genitals healthy and clean is simple regardless of one's gender: mild soap and running water are all that is needed. Cutting off a functional, protective and sensitive body part is a far-reaching decision that the vast majority of Europeans believe should be left to its owner when he becomes old enough to understand the consequences. Despite the recent, backward-looking statements by U.S. medical organizations, more and more Americans are beginning to agree."

Recently, a Florida mother named Heather Hironimus got in the news for refusing to circumcise her son. The boy, now 4, was born out of wedlock. Ms. Hironimus didn't want to marry the father Dennis Nebus and even tried to hide from him the baby's existence. To me, this shows pretty clearly how much the guy is worth. Unfortunately, today's push for "equal rights of both parents" and the bla-bla-bla about the tender heart of each and every father (read: adult male with functioning reproductive organs) increasingly puts women and vulnerable children under the power of abusive men, as in the bad old days and today's Third World. In this case, the father insisted to have a say in parenting and the two parents signed a court-approved parenting agreement which included circumcision of the boy.

However, the mother soon changed her mind, took her son and fled in order to prevent him for being circumcised. The saga dragged for 4 years but the end is near: "In a remarkable turnaround after a week behind bars for contempt [of court] and an initial hearing in which she was ordered to remain jailed, court reconvened and a sobbing Heather Hironimus signed paperwork giving approval for the surgery, recoiling in tears and clasping her shackled hands after it was done... Upon arriving in court Friday, shackled and wearing a navy blue jail jumpsuit, Hironimus quietly invoked her Fifth Amendment rights when asked if she had signed the consent agreement. [Judge Jeffrey] Gillen said she would be jailed indefinitely unless she did." (Source: today's report by Mark Sedensky, AP via Yahoo! News.)

I don't know what made the mother initially give her consent. Let me, however, quote a comment to the same report: "Even if there is a compelling medical reason, this is still an elective procedure. Every medical treatment should be weighed for Benefits-Versus-Risks. A simple example is antibiotic treatment. Even if I feel my patient may benefit from an antibiotic, I cannot administer the antibiotic if the parent objects (as long as the kid is not in danger of dying from the infection). Please also understand that a legal parent is allowed to change their mind about treatment at any time. Therefore, Ms. Hironimus is allowed to change her mind, even though she signed an agreement a couple of years ago. Sometimes there are valid reasons for a parent to change their minds regarding treatment, such as new treatments being available, better diagnostics, etc. The courts should understand that medical providers welcome parents to update their decisions continuously." Even before I had read this comment - apparently by a doctor, I had pointed out several times that the patient or his legal representative can retract his consent at any time, and if I sign a contract for (say) cosmetic surgery and then reconsider it, nobody would have the right to drag me to the operating theater and bind me to undergo the surgery.

My online friend Jane Meyerding had similar thoughts on another occasion: "Although incredibly resistant to change, the mass of governmental routine can spread itself quickly to cover new situations. The Cuban "boat people" -- the thousands of refugees who left Cuba for the U.S. in 1980 -- are a case in point. According to a newspaper report, 354 of these Cubans were incarcerated in the McNeil Island federal prison while the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) routine was applied to them... I happened to answer a newspaper ad that winter for part-time transcription typists and wound up transcribing tape recordings of their INS hearings. The job paid $7 an hour -- more than I've ever made, before or since.As I sat there... certain INS forms and documents came up again and again in (and as) evidence: I-589, "the State Department letter," the Refugee Act of 1980...
I was amazed at how quickly a newly established routine can come to take precedence over the chaotic reality of human lives. In every case, the INS court upheld the artifacts produced by the routine as more valid than the living, breathing, remembering, spoken testimony of the Cubans themselves. For example: Several of the defense lawyers objected to the admission as evidence of the I-589 forms. An I-589 is a "request for asylum" and, in these cases, the I-589s were filled out by INS agents who were communicating with the Cubans through interpreters (many of whom were not fluent in modern Cuban Spanish)... These interviews followed a period of intense stress and confusion -- imprisonment in Cuba, sudden release, and virtual expulsion in many instances, after a televised invitation from the president of the United States saying the U.S. would welcome them "with open arms." Then there was the crowded and dangerous boat trip to the near-mythical "land of the free" -- where they were immediately imprisoned. The refugees had received mixed messages from all sides -- for example, being told "sign here or you won't be released" and then being targeted for deportation on the basis of the "statement" they "voluntarily" signed...Well, it seemed patently obvious to me and to the refugees' lawyers that the I-589 forms were not worth diddlyshit as evidence. But listen to the judge: "I will overrule the objections. I admit this document as a statement made by the applicant. I admit it both for substantive and impeaching purposes. And I admit it as being a government document that was prepared in the routine course" of INS procedures [emphasis added]. The document -- born of routine -- was considered a more trustworthy expression of the applicant's reality than his own words spoken there in the courtroom. And whenever there was a discrepancy between the routine-blessed document and the words of the human being, the judge invariably chose to believe the piece of paper." (Emphasis mine - M.M.)

The unfortunate Cubans, at least, were not US citizens. What made US authorities subject US citizen Heather Hironimus to such outrageous, fascistic treatment? I guess, because it would be a bit of a scandal to admit that millions of US baby boys have been subjected to unnecessary and potentially risky surgery over decades. It is difficult to admit that the Emperor has no clothes.

Meanwhile, what is the moral of the story? Girls, never-ever have a baby with a man you feel you cannot trust! Use reliable contraception and if it fails, go straight to abortion, leaving aside any ethical and other considerations. If you don't want a man next to you, just a baby, use the services of a sperm bank. Apparently, this is the only way to prevent psychopaths like Dennis Nebus to poison your and the child's life and to abuse you as much as they wish, backed by the authorities. I am so sorry for Heather Hironimus and her child. I hope that this child will grow to become a strong man and will sue the hell out of his "father" and the state of Florida.

Update: A commenter at an ABC News report puts a good question:

"If the judge had the right to enforce the previous agreement, then why did he force the woman, under duress, to sign again? If a signature that the woman later changed her mind about was not satisfactory, how is a signature that has been obtained under duress any better? If the judge could override the woman's objection, why didn't he do just that? Forcing her to sign a consent form under duress is bizarre and cruel. I can't see how it could possibly be legal."