Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition!
I already did. It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

USA and the violence

If violence leads to more violence, what do you make of all these articles?
We have Chinese tortures in Guantanamo, a fight for concealed weapons in an airport and a federal surveillance law the allows phone companies to listen your conversation without being legally responsible. All of your conversations!
My comments will be brief, because the articles are kind of enough.
I don't understand that mania in USA to make laws more and more aggressive towards the individuals. And I also don't understand why people seem to not care. I mean, isn't it obvious why all the 3 articles concern EVERY American? It's easy to not care while you are at the safe side, but the truth is that you can very easily change the side and with each of this laws it gets easier. And I don't mean that the decent people will get terrorists-they won't, hopefully. But the point is that the distinction between decent people and terrorist is getting very cloudy. And freeing telephone companies from legal responsibility isn't helping. I might agree with legal surveillance under certain conditions, but check the time limits in the article. They can observe you for days even if one lawyer agrees there could be a possibility that you are a terrorist. That could go totally WRONG! Not always, but even once is enough to devastate someone's life. Not to mention how easily all those spying could go in the wrong hands.
I won't comment the Chinese tortures-the articles says enough.
However, I'll just have a word on the problems in Atlanta. I don't understand why people would want to wear weapons in an Airport. I mean, there is so much security there, it must be the safest place ever! The next step is what-having weapons in an air plane? Can you give me just one reason why this is wrong? Oh, yeah, sometimes people can get crazy in a plane. How about people firing a gun in a turbulence? Nice. The only problem is that a bullet hole in a plane can effectively crash it. Oh, well.
Enough from me, now the articles. Oh, yeah, one more thing-I wouldn't care so much about USA if it didn't try to influence it all over the world-like the biometric passports for people with visa-free regime with USA. I ask, what are the passports of the american people?!

China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo

Published: July 2, 2008

WASHINGTON — The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Some methods were used against a small number of prisoners at Guantánamo before 2005, when Congress banned the use of coercion by the military. The C.I.A. is still authorized by President Bush to use a number of secret “alternative” interrogation methods.

Several Guantánamo documents, including the chart outlining coercive methods, were made public at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing June 17 that examined how such tactics came to be employed.

But committee investigators were not aware of the chart’s source in the half-century-old journal article, a connection pointed out to The New York Times by an independent expert on interrogation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 1957 article from which the chart was copied was entitled “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From Air Force Prisoners of War” and written by Albert D. Biderman, a sociologist then working for the Air Force, who died in 2003. Mr. Biderman had interviewed American prisoners returning from North Korea, some of whom had been filmed by their Chinese interrogators confessing to germ warfare and other atrocities.

Those orchestrated confessions led to allegations that the American prisoners had been “brainwashed,” and provoked the military to revamp its training to give some military personnel a taste of the enemies’ harsh methods to inoculate them against quick capitulation if captured.

In 2002, the training program, known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, became a source of interrogation methods both for the C.I.A. and the military. In what critics describe as a remarkable case of historical amnesia, officials who drew on the SERE program appear to have been unaware that it had been created as a result of concern about false confessions by American prisoners.

Mr. Biderman’s 1957 article described “one form of torture” used by the Chinese as forcing American prisoners to stand “for exceedingly long periods,” sometimes in conditions of “extreme cold.” Such passive methods, he wrote, were more common than outright physical violence. Prolonged standing and exposure to cold have both been used by American military and C.I.A. interrogators against terrorist suspects.

The chart also listed other techniques used by the Chinese, including “Semi-Starvation,” “Exploitation of Wounds,” and “Filthy, Infested Surroundings,” and with their effects: “Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator,” “Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist,” and “Reduces Prisoner to ‘Animal Level’ Concerns.”

The only change made in the chart presented at Guantánamo was to drop its original title: “Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance.”

The documents released last month include an e-mail message from two SERE trainers reporting on a trip to Guantánamo from Dec. 29, 2002, to Jan. 4, 2003.

The harshest known interrogation at Guantánamo was that of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a member of Al Qaeda suspected of being the intended 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Qahtani’s interrogation involved sleep deprivation, stress positions, exposure to cold and other methods also used by the Chinese.

Terror charges against Mr. Qahtani were dropped unexpectedly in May.source

Senate Approves Bill to Broaden Wiretap Powers

Published: July 10, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to a major expansion of the government’s surveillance powers, handing President Bush one more victory in a series of hard-fought clashes with Democrats over national security issues.

The measure, approved by a vote of 69 to 28, is the biggest revamping of federal surveillance law in 30 years. It includes a divisive element that Mr. Bush had deemed essential: legal immunity for the phone companies that cooperated in the National Security Agency wiretapping program he approved after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The vote came two and a half years after public disclosure of the wiretapping program set off a fierce national debate over the balance between protecting the country from another terrorist strike and ensuring civil liberties. The final outcome in Congress, which opponents of the surveillance measure had conceded for weeks, seemed almost anticlimactic in contrast.

Even as his political stature has waned, Mr. Bush has managed to maintain his dominance on national security issues in a Democratic-led Congress. He has beat back efforts to cut troops and financing in Iraq, and he has won important victories on issues like interrogation tactics and military tribunals in the fight against terrorism.

Debate over the surveillance law was the one area where Democrats had held firm in opposition.

But in the end Mr. Bush won out, as administration officials helped forge a deal between Republican and Democratic leaders that included almost all the major elements the White House wanted. The measure gives the executive branch broader latitude in eavesdropping on people abroad and at home who it believes are tied to terrorism, and it reduces the role of a secret intelligence court in overseeing some operations.

Supporters maintained that the plan includes enough safeguards to protect Americans’ civil liberties, including reviews by several inspectors general.

But some Democratic opponents saw the deal as “capitulation” to White House pressure by fellow Democrats.

The issue put Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, in a particularly precarious spot. He had long opposed giving legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in the N.S.A.’s wiretapping program, even threatening a filibuster during his run for the nomination. But on Wednesday, he ended up voting for what he called “an improved but imperfect bill” after backing a failed attempt earlier in the day to strip the immunity provision from the bill through an amendment.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, who had battled Mr. Obama for the nomination, voted against the bill.

Senator John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, was campaigning in Ohio and did not vote, though he has consistently supported the immunity plan.

Support from key Democrats ensured passage of the measure.

The legislation also expands the government’s power to invoke emergency wiretapping procedures. While the N.S.A. would be allowed to seek court orders for broad groups of foreign targets, the law creates a new seven-day period for directing wiretaps at foreigners without a court order in “exigent” circumstances if government officials assert that important national security information would be lost. The law also expands to seven days, from three, the period for emergency wiretaps on Americans without a court order if the attorney general certifies there is probable cause to believe the target is linked to terrorism.

Democrats pointed to some concessions they had won. The final bill includes a reaffirmation that the FISA law is the “exclusive” means of conducting intelligence wiretaps — a provision that Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, and other Democrats insisted would prevent Mr. Bush or any future president from evading court scrutiny in the way they say that the N.S.A. program did. source

Airport’s Ban on Guns Is Disputed in Atlanta


Published: July 2, 2008

A decision by Georgia legislators to relax the state’s gun laws has led to a dispute over whether people can legally carry concealed firearms in the nation’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

A Georgia gun rights group filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Atlanta on Tuesday after airport officials said they would continue to enforce a ban on concealed weapons in the terminal despite the changes to the state law. The changes, which were approved by the Georgia legislature in the spring and took effect on Tuesday, relax the state’s prohibition on carrying weapons on public transportation and in some other areas, including restaurants serving alcohol.

Benjamin R. DeCosta, the airport director, said the changes applied only to public transportation like buses and the city subway and were not intended to allow people to carry guns at the airport. He said allowing civilians to carry concealed weapons in the terminal, which serves millions of travelers each year, would pose severe problems for the police and airport security workers.

“We want to make sure the airport is safe and secure,” Mr. DeCosta said. He added that airports had previously been the targets of terrorists and that “there should be no ambiguity to law enforcement as to whether people should be carrying weapons here.”

The argument concerns only whether people with gun permits can carry concealed firearms in the public areas of the terminal. Restricted areas, including spaces beyond security checkpoints, are governed by federal law, which forbids unauthorized firearms in those areas.

The dispute in Atlanta comes at a time when the regulation of firearms across the country is changing. In a decision last month, the United States Supreme Court supported the individual right to own a gun for personal use. In a 5-to-4 decision striking down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns, the court rejected the view that the Second Amendment protected the right to keep arms only as part of a “well regulated militia.”

Mr. DeCosta said the city would defend the airport’s policy by arguing that concealed firearms continued to be banned by state law in areas of public gathering, and that the terminal should not be considered public transportation.source

There's no such fun! In the following article, you can read how the American treasury secretary asked Russia for investments. Politely.
It's so dramatic I could almost cry. Dramatic to pathetic.

I'm not so anti-US, as you may know. But still, I enjoy historic moments and this is one of them.
I kind of believe Medvedev in...let's say his...evaluations. I mean, it's very obvious that world economy is a huge crisis. Also it's very obvious, people are not taking the right measures to fight it. USA thinks it will save the day by drilling the shelf, but the truth is this is a long term investment, that could eventually provide oil, but will also kill off coastal tourism. I'm not sure how much oil there is, but in order to stop the world crisis it should be really really much. Because the rest 2/3 of the oil are in the hands of other, non-arab countries that are not likely to get crazy to provide oil, since they earn a big time. So, instead of investing in new technologies that could lead the world out of the crisis, they invest in old ones, that proved good for speculations. For me, that is an absolute nonsense. There is enough technology to make us completely independent from oil. Why not use it?

And, of course, I agree with the observations of Medvedev for the G8-this never was a popularity contest-you get rich, you get into G8. It's not about human rights. And if USA cared so much about human rights, it should focus on Zimbabwe. In Russia, people are opressed more sophisticatedely. Is that a word? I don't know. What I know is that Russia is getting rich, and the rest of the world is getting poor. And that's totally not good. Especially for all of us that don't live in Russia and really don't want to live there.

U.S. Is in No Shape to Give Advice, Medvedev Says

Published: July 3, 2008

MOSCOW — Russia’s new president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, less swaggering than his predecessor but as touchy about criticism from abroad, said in an interview that an America in “essentially a depression” was in no position to lecture other countries on how to conduct their affairs.

With soaring oil revenues bolstering the Russian economy and Kremlin confidence, Mr. Medvedev brushed aside American criticism of his country’s record on democracy and human rights. He also said that a revived Russia had a right to assume a larger role in a world economic system that he suggested should no longer be dominated by the United States.

Mr. Medvedev made his comments on Tuesday in a meeting with a small group of foreign journalists a day after the American treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., appealed in Moscow for Russian investment in the United States. The symbolism of the visit resonated here, in that only a decade had passed since the Russian economy was in shambles and the country was desperate for Western aid.

In the interview, Mr. Medvedev was asked about a call by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, to bar Russia from the Group of 8 because of its record on democracy. Mr. Medvedev,responded that the question of democracy was irrelevant to the Group of 8 and, besides, the United States had more pressing matters to attend to.

“The Group of 8 exists not because someone likes or dislikes it, but because objectively, they are the biggest world economies and the most serious players from the foreign policy point of view,” Mr. Medvedev said. “Any attempts to put restrictions on anyone in this capacity will damage the entire world order.”

Mr. Medvedev said world leaders should realize that the credit crunch and a gathering global recession signaled that the worldwide economic architecture needed to be overhauled. He did not specify how this should be done, but indicated it should entail a reduction in the influence of the United States.

“It has to be improved, it has to be more up-to-date, better protected from risks, and it must not suffer from national egoism, financial and economic egoism, but must be more fair toward other countries; this is absolutely evident,” he said. “This system cannot be oriented toward only one country and only one currency.”

A former law professor who has spent much of his career as a behind-the-scenes bureaucrat, Mr. Medvedev showed a wide-ranging knowledge of foreign and domestic issues, confidently answering questions for 90 minutes without notes and speaking at length without stumbling. The president, who is 42, spoke only in Russian but did not need an interpreter to understand questions posed in English.

Mr. Medvedev provided no glimpses of disagreements with Mr. Putin on policies or strategy, though their stylistic differences were readily apparent. Whereas Mr. Putin occasionally responds to questions with blunt retorts or salty language, Mr. Medvedev tends to offer demurrals and then to engage in a kind of academic discussion of issues.

As he has many times in recent weeks, Mr. Medvedev championed his proposals to reduce corruption, which he acknowledges is endemic in Russia. He was then asked whether he believed that corruption could be beaten back, considering that the country’s political system is dominated by a single party, Mr. Putin’s United Russia.

“A system that was built on the idea that one party holds all the truths demonstrated its weakness 20 years ago,” Mr. Medvedev said. “It failed to cope with new challenges and ceased to exist. That’s why, to ensure the competitive ability of our country on a global scale, we must make use of political competition, among other things. But it must be sensible. This is to say, competition, correctly built.”

Mr. Medvedev often says his background as a lawyer plays a crucial role in his worldview, and when he was asked about his reputation, he returned to that theme. He said that when he was a student, he learned of the importance of the law, and of the right to private property. He said he also realized that there needed to be a struggle in Russia against what he has termed “legal nihilism.”

“For me, these are the ideas that I absorbed when I studied at university, as well as the value of human rights,” he said. “And in our country, they are based on the Constitution. Human rights and freedoms also must be defended unconditionally, and should be the priority of any government. It’s up to you as to how this set of values should be described.”source

People are compassionate, generally nice and caring? Now always. From the following article, describing some unfortunate experiments on the human psychology, you can make some scary conclusions about people. Interestingly enough, the reason behind most of the problems is the sense of authority-whether external and internal. I'm going to write a post on this very soon, because I find the implications quite interesting if not else. But to the question.
In brief, we have 5 experiments, trying to determine the behaviour of people in certain situation. I'm gonna give you a short version here, for the sake of discussion, and also, I'll post the whole article beneath.
5. A group of people is shown 3 lines and a forth line. They should decide which one of the 3 lines looks most like the forth. And the difference among them is VERY obvious. The catch is that they have to say it in a room full of people all of which give wrong answers. The experiment showed that 32% of the people will choose a wrong line if as little as 3 other people in the room claim this one is the correct.
The moral: No matter how obviously right you are, you're likely to give wrong answer just to obey the majority. Because you lack confidence in your opinion. Obviously.
4. Good Samaritan test-2 groups of students-1 to give seminar over the story of the good Samaritan, 1-on other irrelevant subject. Every student had to do it in different time. On the way to the hall, they saw a person that looked like in need of help. Was the Samaritan students more likely to help the guy? No. The factor was whether the students were in hurry or no, whether they'll go telling a story about helping people after they ignored the guy in need wasn't a factor.
The moral:people tend to be kind of hypocrites.
3. Group of students are put alone in a room, talking with someone over an intercom. At some point one of the sides fake an epileptic seizure. 85% of the people got out of the room to seek help for the guy on the intercom. If the situation changed and on the intercom were more than 2 people (for example 4), then only 31% went to seek help!
The moral: Obviously the more people around, the less personal responsibility a person tend to feel.
2. The prison: 2 groups of volunteering students. One to be turned into prisoners, one to be turned into guards. On the second day, everyone get crazy. Prisoners make a riot, guards start harassing them, after that we have cases of abuse, denial of the right to go to the toilet, sleeping naked, general fun.
The moral: In unequal social conditions and without social control, people tend to get crazy and abuse each other. Definitely wrong!
1. AC/DC: A guys was asked to give an electricity shock to another guy if the second gives incorrect answer. The whole thing was supervised by a lab worker who encouraged the punisher to continue. The voltage started at 45V and ended at 300V. The whole process was accompanied by the victims screams and pleas. The result: a third of the people actually stopped at 100V, at the point the victim said he can't take any more. From the rest of the guys 85% kept on pushing the button even after the victim seemed unconscious (from the electricity). The explanation-those who stopped at the beginning said they felt they are responsible for the inflicting of pain and damage to the "victim". The 80% felt it's ok, since someone else told them so.
The moral:Comformity and authority are bad companions.

My thoughts on the subject. First of all, I don't think this is representative of the humans motivation and behaviour. But however, it's easy to see where the problem lay-comformity without questioning, obeying orders without questioning, playing a game without questioning the rules. More or less , the problem for me seems to be that people love to act blind and not to think. Not all of them, of course, but everyone prefers to follow the easy way, rather than to think for a second whether what he/she is doing is good/needed/right. Why? I'm gonna talk on this in one of the next posts probably, but the simple answer is-because they taught us so.
We are taught all our life that truth is relative, that our reasons/thoughts/questions are bad (oh, of course, they stimulate the independent thought in school, the point is they stimulate it for an hour or 8, but in the rest of the time, you're taught how to obey orders without being convinced they are right). We are trained to conform and not to ask and be a problem. I don't advocate anarchy-quite the opposite, I oppose irrationality. What I mean is that some people profit from us being unsure and unconfident. They make us forget what is important to us, so that they can tell us what is wrong and what is right and we-to believe it without question.
But on that-the next time. Now, the article:

5 Psychological Experiments That Expose Humanity's Dark Side


By Alexandra Gedrose
Source:
Cracked.com

Psychologists know you have to be careful when you go poking around the human mind because you're never sure what you'll find there. A number of psychological experiments over the years have yielded terrifying conclusions about the subjects.

Oh, we're not talking about the occasional psychopath who turns up. No, we're talking about you. The experiments speak for themselves:

#5. The Asch Conformity Experiment (1953)

The Setup: Solomon Asch wanted to run a series of studies that would document the power of conformity.

Subjects were told that they would be taking part in a vision test, along with a handful of people. The participants were then shown pictures, and individually asked to answer very simple and obvious questions. The catch was that everybody else in the room other than the subject was in on it, and they were were told to give obviously wrong answers. So would the subject go against the crowd, even when the crowd was clearly and retardedly wrong?

The Result:

All they had to do was say which line on the right matched the one on the left. Really, the only way you could get the line questions honestly wrong is if you took two doses of LSD that morning and rubbed them directly on your eyeballs.

Yet, sadly, 32 percent of subjects would answer incorrectly if they saw that three others in the classroom gave the same wrong answer. Even when the line was plainly off by a few inches, it didn't matter. One in three would follow the group right off the proverbial cliff.

What This Says About You: Imagine how much that 32 percent figure inflates when the answers are less black and white. We all tend to laugh with the group even when we didn't get the joke, or doubt our opinion we realize ours is unpopular among our group. So much for those lectures you got in elementary school about peer pressure and "being brave enough to be yourself."

#4. The Good Samaritan Experiment (1973)

The Setup: The Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, if you hadn't heard, is about a passing Samaritan helping an injured man in need, while other, self-righteous types walk right on by. Psychologists John Darley and C. Daniel Batson wanted to test if religion has any effect on helpful behavior.

Their subjects were a group of seminary students. Half of the students were given the story of the Good Samaritan and asked to perform a sermon about it in another building. The other half were told to give a sermon about job opportunities in a seminary.

As an extra twist, subjects were given different times that they had to deliver the sermon so that some would be in a hurry and others not.

Then, on the way to the building, subjects would pass a person slumped in an alleyway, who looked to be in need of help.

The Result: The people who had been studying the Good Samaritan story did not stop any more often than the ones preparing for a speech on job opportunities. The factor that really seemed to make a difference was how much of a hurry the students were in.

In fact, if pressed for time, only 10 percent would stop to give any aid, even when they were on their way to give a sermon about how awesome it is for people to stop and give aid.

... the truth is us common folk are just as likely to be hypocrites as the politicians. After all, it's much easier to talk to a room full of people about helping strangers than, say, actually touching a smelly and bleeding homeless man. So even pointing out their hypocrisy becomes a form of hypocrisy.

#3. Bystander Apathy Experiment (1968)

The Setup: When a woman was murdered in 1964, newspapers printed that 38 people had heard and seen the attack, but did nothing. John Darley and Bibb Latane wanted to know if the fact that these people were in a large group played any role in the reluctance to come to aid.

The two psychologists invited volunteers to take part in a discussion. They claimed that because the discussion would be extremely personal individuals would be separated in different rooms and talk to each other using an intercom.

During the conversation, one of the members would fake an epileptic seizure, which could be heard on the speakers.

The Result: When subjects believed that they were the only other person in the discussion, 85 percent were heroic enough to leave the room and seek help once the other began the fake seizure.

When the experiment was altered so that subjects believed four other people were in the discussion, only 31 percent went to look for help once the seizure began. The rest assumed someone else would take care of it.

What This Says About You: Obviously if there's an emergency and you're the only one around, the pressure to help out increases massively. You feel 100 percent responsible for what happens. But, when you're with 10 other people, you're only 10 percent as responsible. The problem is everybody else only feels 10 percent responsible too.

Or maybe it comes down to just how plausible an excuse we can make for ourselves. We just need the slightest excuse to do nothing.

#2. The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)

The Setup: Psychologist Philip Zimbardo wanted to find out how captivity affects authorities and inmates in prison.

Zimbardo transformed the Stanford Psychology Department's basement into a mock prison. Subjects volunteered by simply responding to a newspaper ad and then passing a test proving good health and high-quality mental stability, which are very important factors in deciding who goes to prison. These volunteers were all male college students who were then divided arbitrarily into 12 guards and 12 prisoners. Zimbardo himself decided that he wanted to play too, and elected himself Prison Superintendent. The simulation was planned to run for two weeks.

The Result: It took about one day for every subject to suddenly go as insane as a shit-house rat. On only the second day, prisoners staged a riot in the faux detention center, with prisoners barricading their cells with their beds and taunting the guards. The guards saw this as a pretty good excuse to start squirting fire extinguishers at the insurgents because, hey, why the hell not?

From that point on, the Stanford Prison that had already gone to hell, just continued to ricochet around in hell for day after day. Some guards began forcing inmates to sleep naked on the concrete, restricting the bathroom as a privilege (one that was often denied). They forced prisoners to do humiliating exercises and had them clean toilets with their bare hands.

Incredibly, when "prisoners" were told they had a chance at parole, and then the parole was denied, it didn't occur to them to simply ask out of the damned experiment. Remember they had absolutely no legal reason to be imprisoned, it was just a role-playing exercise.

Over 50 outsiders had stopped to observe the prison, but the morality of the trial was never questioned until Zimbardo's girlfriend, Christina Maslach, strongly objected. After only six days, Zimbardo put a halt to the experiment (several of the "guards" expressed disappointment at this).

What This Says About You: Ever been harassed by a cop who acted like a major douchebag, pushing you around for no reason? Science says that if the roles were reversed, you'd likely act the same way.

As it turns out, it's usually fear of repercussion that keeps us from torturing our fellow human beings.
#1. The Milgram Experiment (1961)

Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to test willingness of subjects to obey an authority figure.

He ran an experiment where the subject was told he was a "teacher" and that his job was to give a memory test to another subject, located in another room. The whole thing was fake and the other subject was an actor.

The subject was told that whenever the other guy gave an incorrect answer, he was to press a button that would give him an electric shock. A guy in a lab coat was there to make sure he did it (again no real shock was being delivered, but the subject of course did not know this).

The subject was told that the shocks started at 45 volts and would increase with every wrong answer. Each time they pushed the button, the actor on the other end would scream and beg for the subject to stop.

The Result: Many subjects began to feel uncomfortable after a certain point, and questioned continuing the experiment. However, each time the guy in the lab coat encouraged them to continue. Most of them did, upping the voltage, delivering shock after shock while the victim screamed. Many subjects would laugh nervously.

Eventually the actor would start banging on the wall that separated him from the subject, pleading about his heart condition. After further shocks, all sounds from victim's room would cease, indicating he was dead or unconscious.

Between 61 and 66 percent of subjects would continue the experiment until it reached the maximum voltage of 450, continuing to deliver shocks after the victim had been zapped into unconsciousness or the afterlife. Repeated studies have shown the same result: Subjects will mindlessly deliver pain to an innocent stranger as long as a dude in a lab coat says it's OK.

Most subjects wouldn't begin to object until after 300-volt shocks. Zero of them asked to stop the experiment before that point .

What This Says About You:

Charles Sheridan and Richard King took this experiment one step further, but asked subjects to shock a puppy for every incorrect action it made. Unlike Milgram's experiment, this shock was real. Exactly 20 out of 26 subjects went to the highest voltage.

Almost 80 percent. Think about that when you're walking around the mall: Eight out of ten of those people you see would torture the shit out of a puppy if a dude in a lab coat asked them to.

source similar content from NY Times

Everybody heard myths on what a mobile phone does to our brain. Well, in this article you may find an answer. It looks as they are doing us something, but the effect is not lethal. Actually, it equates to a half a cup of coffee, which I guess is moderate for people that don't have coffee anyway.
In short-the transmissions of the GSM stimulate the brain beneath the phone to increase its alpha waves, if this is a right way to say it and dampens the delta waves. The alpha waves seems to be the switch between outside and inside stimulus and in the case, it makes you more alert to the environment. Which can prevent you to fall asleep or make you more nervous. The interesting thing is that this effect lasts for much more than the transmission itself. Ok, enough shortening, read the article :)

Mind Control by Cell Phone

Electromagnetic signals from cell phones can change your brainwaves and behavior. But don't break out the aluminum foil head shield just yet.

By R. Douglas Fields
Source:
Scientific American

Hospitals and airplanes ban the use of cell phones, because their electromagnetic transmissions can interfere with sensitive electrical devices. Could the brain also fall into that category?

Of course, all our thoughts, sensations and actions arise from bioelectricity generated by neurons and transmitted through complex neural circuits inside our skull. Electrical signals between neurons generate electric fields that radiate out of brain tissue as electrical waves that can be picked up by electrodes touching a person's scalp.

Brainwaves change with a healthy person's conscious and unconscious mental activity and state of arousal. But scientists can do more with brainwaves than just listen in on the brain at work-they can selectively control brain function by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). This technique uses powerful pulses of electromagnetic radiation beamed into a person's brain to jam or excite particular brain circuits.

Although a cell phone is much less powerful than TMS, the question still remains: Could the electrical signals coming from a phone affect certain brainwaves operating in resonance with cell phone transmission frequencies? After all, the caller's cerebral cortex is just centimeters away from radiation broadcast from the phone's antenna. Two studies provide some revealing news.

The first, led by Rodney Croft, of the Brain Science Institute, Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, tested whether cell phone transmissions could alter a person's brainwaves. The researchers monitored the brainwaves of 120 healthy men and women while a Nokia 6110 cell phone—one of the most popular cell phones in the world—was strapped to their head.

A computer controlled the phone's transmissions in a double-blind experimental design, which meant that neither the test subject nor researchers knew whether the cell phone was transmitting or idle while EEG data were collected. The data showed that when the cell phone was transmitting, the power of a characteristic brain-wave pattern called alpha waves in the person's brain was boosted significantly. The increased alpha wave activity was greatest in brain tissue directly beneath to the cell phone, strengthening the case that the phone was responsible for the observed effect.

Alpha Waves of Brain

Alpha waves fluctuate at a rate of eight to 12 cycles per second (Hertz). These brainwaves reflect a person's state of arousal and attention. Alpha waves are generally regarded as an indicator of reduced mental effort, "cortical idling" or mind wandering. But this conventional view is perhaps an oversimplification. Croft, for example, argues that the alpha wave is really regulating the shift of attention between external and internal inputs. Alpha waves increase in power when a person shifts his or her consciousness of the external world to internal thoughts; they also are the key brainwave signatures of sleep.

Cell Phone Insomnia

If cell phone signals boost a person's alpha waves, does this nudge them subliminally into an altered state of consciousness or have any effect at all on the workings of their mind that can be observed in a person's behavior? In the second study, James Horne and colleagues at the Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre in England devised an experiment to test this question. The result was surprising. Not only could the cell phone signals alter a person's behavior during the call, the effects of the disrupted brain-wave patterns continued long after the phone was switched off.

"This was a completely unexpected finding," Horne told me. "We didn't suspect any effect on EEG [after switching off the phone]. We were interested in studying the effect of mobile phone signals on sleep itself." But it quickly became obvious to Horne and colleagues in preparing for the sleep-research experiments that some of the test subjects had difficulty falling asleep.

Horne and his colleagues controlled a Nokia 6310e cell phone—another popular and basic phone—attached to the head of 10 healthy but sleep-deprived men in their sleep research lab. (Their sleep had been restricted to six hours the previous night.) The researchers then monitored the men's brainwaves by EEG while the phone was switched on and off by remote computer, and also switched between "standby," "listen" and "talk" modes of operation for 30 minute intervals on different nights.

The experiment revealed that after the phone was switched to "talk" mode a different brain-wave pattern, called delta waves (in the range of one to four Hertz), remained dampened for nearly one hour after the phone was shut off.

These brainwaves are the most reliable and sensitive marker of stage two sleep—approximately 50 percent of total sleep consists of this stage—and the subjects remained awake twice as long after the phone transmitting in talk mode was shut off. Although the test subjects had been sleep-deprived the night before, they could not fall asleep for nearly one hour after the phone had been operating without their knowledge.

Although this research shows that cell phone transmissions can affect a person's brainwaves with persistent effects on behavior, Horne does not feel there is any need for concern that cell phones are damaging. The arousal effects the researchers measured are equivalent to about half a cup of coffee, and many other factors in a person's surroundings will affect a night's sleep as much or more than cell phone transmissions.

"The significance of the research," he explained, is that although the cell phone power is low, "electromagnetic radiation can nevertheless have an effect on mental behavior when transmitting at the proper frequency." He finds this fact especially remarkable when considering that everyone is surrounded by electromagnetic clutter radiating from all kinds of electronic devices in our modern world. Cell phones in talk mode seem to be particularly well-tuned to frequencies that affect brainwave activity. "The results show sensitivity to low-level radiation to a subtle degree. "

Croft of Swinburne emphasizes that there are no health worries from these new findings. "The exciting thing about this research is that it allows us to have a look at how you might modulate brain function and this [look] tells us something about how the brain works on a fundamental level." In other words, the importance of this work is in illuminating the fundamental workings of the brain-scientists can now splash away with their own self-generated electromagnetic waves and learn a great deal about how brainwaves respond and what they do. source


The power of the brain

Often I talk here about the power of the brain. Well, it's not like it's omnipotent, at least in that form, but still. Check this stories and tell me they are not making you feel little bit more powerful than before. And little bit more confused. I mean, if our brain controls everything we feel, see, touch, smell and hear, how are we supposed to trust our Reality that it is what we think it is. Well, I can't answer this question, but for me, it isn't so much a matter of explanation. I prefer the practical side. Yep, my reality might be slightly different than yours, but I don't care as long as i can use it in my benefit.

Hypnotised Patient Has Two Teeth Removed Without Anaesthetic

Under hypnosis: Leslie Mason experienced only a mild sting when dentist Dr Bhavin Bhatt removed two of his teeth

Source: Daily Mail

Brave Leslie Mason used mind over molar to have his teeth removed without anaesthetic - using only hypnosis as a painkiller.

The father-of-seven needed two rotten teeth and their roots removed in a procedure which normally requires a general anaesthetic in hospital.But he couldn't afford the £400 cost of private treatment so offered to be a guinea pig for a new experimental type of hypnosis.

Mr Mason remained conscious with his eyes open throughout the two-hour procedure - and felt nothing more than 'a bit of a sting'.

The 54-year-old said: 'It was incredible. There is no worse pain than that inflicted by dentists but I didn't feel any.

He was hypnotised by a friend John Ridlington, 59, a qualified hypnotist and clairvoyant, who had been in discussion with a dentist friend about the potential of dental treatment under hypnosis.

Mr Ridlington, from Dunmow, Essex, said: 'We all have the ability to control pain with our brains.

'Our brains control everything about our bodies and our subconscious is the most powerful part - it controls our breathing and the blood pumping through our veins.

'Hypnosis taps into the subconscious mind. It's all about mind over matter.'

Mr Ridlington spent 45 minutes getting his friend into a relaxed state of mind and taught him to visualise his favourite thing - historic battle re-enactments - to distract his mind from the pain.

Whilst wielding an imaginary medieval sword, Leslie visualised a dial numbered one to 10 - one for no pain and 10 for excruciating pain. As soon as he felt a twinge he mentally turned the dial back to one.

Mr Mason said: 'A couple of times the dial went up to two but I simply turned it back down. I felt nothing more than a quick sting lasting for less than a second.'

'The ability to offer treatment without sedation is great - people can suffer side effects from the sedation.

Mr Mason has previously used hypnosis to stop smoking, which he took up at the age of 15, and successfully quit his 40-a-day habit.

He said: 'Not everyone is as susceptible as me to hypnosis so it won't be for everyone. But it's an area that should be exploited further - there are so many benefits." source

The Psychedelic Berry That Rewires Your Taste Buds


By Rebecca Sato
Source:
Daily Galaxy

Imagine drinking Tabasco sauce and thinking it tasted like a sugary glaze, or drinking a bitter beer that your taste buds are certain is chocolate. Imagine having a magic pill that could turn lemons into candy.

The berry known as “miracle fruit” has the odd ability to rewire the way the tongue perceives bitter and sour flavors for up to two hours after consumption.

The fruit has been growing in popularity in the US as the guest of honor at bizarre soirees known as "flavor tripping parties" where tasters eat the strange little fruit and then consume sour and bitter foods to experience the oddity of how their tongue transforms the flavors in a reality-defying fashion.

In Japan some restaurant will serve patrons low calorie desserts made from healthy (though unappetizing) ingredients. After diners pop a single miracle fruit, these yucky dishes become sumptuously divine. The miracle fruit is a dieters dream come true, and now the US is starting to catch on.

The popularity of this “taste bud teasing” berry is steadily growing a cult following. The base flavor of the food remains, but all bitterness and sourness is removed. A lemon still tastes like a lemon, for example, but like a sweet candy version of lemon without the pucker inducing sourness. Linda Bartoshuk, a scientist at the University of Florida’s Center for Smell and Taste says there are no known dangers associated with eating miracle fruit.

The Miracle Fruit plant (Synsepalum dulcificum) was first documented by an explorer during a 1725 excursion to West Africa, where local tribes picked the berry from shrubs and chewed it before meals. The berry itself is lightly sweet with an unremarkable flavor, but what gives the berries its strange flavor twisting property is an active glycoprotein molecule, with some trailing carbohydrate chains, known as “miraculin”. This molecule binds to the tongue's taste buds, causing anything bitter and sour that is consumed afterwards to taste sweet. This effect generally lasts between thirty minutes to two hours.

Technically the Miracle Fruit is not a sweetener, it’s a simply a “taste-bud tricker”. Attempts have been made to create a sugar substitute from the fruit, particularly with diabetics in mind, but those attempts have ended in failure amid accusations that the FDA was catering to the sugar industry, which supposedly feared a loss in business that could potentially be caused by a drop in the need for sugar. Similar arguments are noted for FDA's regulation on the natural sweetener stevia, which is required to be labeled as a "dietary supplement" instead of a "sweetener" in spite of the fact that it works well as a sugar substitute.

Controversy and conflicts of interest over sugar substitutes is nothing new for the FDA. Aspartame (also known as Nutrasweet or Equal) is perhaps the most famous example of blatant special interests overriding science. When Donald Rumsfeld was CEO of Searle, the conglomerate that manufactured aspartame, he was frustrated that the FDA wouldn’t approve his sugar substitute. So what did he do? He fired the FDA Commissioner. Conveniently, Rumsfield was on President Reagan's transition team, where he only waited a single day after the new president was in office to oust Jere E. Goyan from his position as FDA Commissioner. Goyan had refused to approve the use of aspartame due to studies documenting increase of cancers in rats. Rumsfeld appointed Arthur Hull Hayes in his stead, who in spite of the FDA’s Board of Inquiry (which found aspartame to be unsafe), overruled Goyan’s ban and approved Aspartame. Hayes then embarked on a lucrative career working for the PR Agency of the manufacturer. Aspartame is now used in Diet Pepsi, Diet Coke, tabletop packets, and countless other foods in spite of reputable studies linking it to serious health risks including the development of cancerous tumors.

Miracle fruit, on the other hand, is considered completely safe to eat, with no known side effects, other than the “flavor tripping” ones, of course. While it’s anyone’s guess if miraculin will eventually be converted into a commercial sugar substitute, there are ways to experience its naturally transforming effects in the meantime. Small vendors sell the berries directly over the Internet in original form, or as freeze-dried granules/tablets, which gives it a longer shelf life than the fresh fruit. The tablets and granules must be sucked on, since the effect comes only from direct contact between miraculin and the tongue. To get the effect from fresh fruit you place the berry in your mouth and scrape the pulp off the seed with your teeth, and then swirl the paste around in your mouth for about a minute. Then voila, all that is bitter becomes sweet.

Bon apetit! source

Violence in Video

I wanted to post that for a while, but of course, didn't have the time.
So here it is.
Couple of weeks ago, I spent a week in Spain. Coming back home, I was welcomed by some weird news. First, I heard there is radiation from the nuclear plant. Absolute nonesense but people started drinking iodine. The whole thing was very stupid since there was no radiation, we're too far from the plant anyway and people in Romania /if we accept the guys from the plant are hiding something/ would have signaled Europe in any case. Anyway, that just shows how easily to manipulate scared people are.
The next morning, before going for the usual baklava and toulumbi we turned on the TV. And oh, surprise surprise, we saw that!


I have to say it-I wasn't there/and lol, i'm not the one screaming/. We were in probably the opposite direction of Sofia which was good for us, since the blast felt in the whole city and was kind of strong. And that it woked the citizens at 6:30am-time that we happily slept trough on our villa. Even if we heard it, we didn't woke up. However, the smoke was visible for days and the explosions continued 2 or 3 days too.

What shocked me, well, one of the things, is how scared the people were. And by people I don't mean 14-25 years old people, but adults, men that were in the army, men and women old enough to remember the bombs in Sofia after WWII. They all were so scared, they were crying. And notice-there were no victims, no one was hurt.
I'm shocked because those men could have to protect us in case of a war and they cried and were so shocked that their existence might cease at some point. It was almost ridiculous. I mean, ok, it was scary, obviously, but shit happen. Well, in normal countries the army don't try to blast its own people, but even so. There are all kind of disasters-earthquakes, tsunamies, huricanes, flood, chemical or nuclear accidents...Whatever, it could happen. And it's absurd to see all that panic and absolute terror in the faces of grow-up people. And that in a country that never lost its flag in battle. Ridiculous!
Even more, in the time we live in, it's very likely to see major natural disasters/for example, the last time giant glaciers melted there were major earthquakes, but thats a story for another post/, so it's absolute suicide not to prepare the people to react in such unfortunate occasions. We just have to be ready!

Ah, yeah, the story,for the non-Bulgarian readers-this was an army place to store old guns and mines and bombs. They put them there to wait for their "utilisation"- making them safe. Well, obviously people stole from the firearms, so they had to cover the crime and blasted it/my version/. The good thing is that they did it very professionally and nobody got hurt. The bad thing is that there is a airport nearby (?!) and it's kind of international and it kind of stopped working for a day and my cousin was trapped in Rome while someone get in charge and decide it's safe to let the planes fly. And that a little flying metal part on the way of a plane could get the fireworks much much worst.
Well, anyway, everything now is ok. Just some people didn't have windows for a while.

But the video is pretty cool I think. You can almost feel the shockwave gettting trough you. Well, the screaming sucks, but oh, well.
The moral? Don't store any explosive substances near a big city, let alone a capital, or an airport. For your information, there was 20tones of throtil nearby the burn depot. So, just imagine what would have happened if those got fired. Europe would have a capital less. And in case something explode near you, get cover, then leave the area. Just don't panic and don't make assumptions. Not every smoke in the form of a mushroom it's from a nuke!

And by the way, the same day, there was an earthquake :)

P.S. A link where you can find more on the story. In case you wonder, no one was found guilty and no politician or military leader took charge and signed a resignation because of what happened.

The art of persuasion

Ok, here's an extremely long article I found on the art of persuasion. I'm not particularly fond of such articles, because they remind me of the techniques used in all the internet sales letters that sound like they offer you everything but in reality they give you nothing. So I post this here, so that you can either use it for your own good, or at least be aware of those tacktiques so that you can avoid their sleazy hands. I edited the article VERY heavily, so that it contains only essential information. If you wanto to read the whole story-check the source.

The Power of Persuasion: Eight Ways to Get Exactly What You Want


By Dan Jones and Alison Motluk
Source:
New Scientist

Persuasion is a key element of all human interaction, from politics to marketing to everyday dealings with friends, family and colleagues. "Persuasion is a basic form of social interaction," says Eric Knowles, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "It is the way we build consensus and a common purpose."

For those who don't want to be persuaded, there are lessons here too. Knowing the strategies charmers and advertisers adopt can help you resist their guile.

1. Be a mimic

When you're aware of it, it's one of the most infuriating behaviours imaginable. Yet mimic someone's mannerisms subtly - their head and hand movements, posture and so forth - and it can be one of the most powerful forms of persuasion. That's the conclusion of a number of recent studies.

William Maddux at the INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau, France, explored the effect of mimicry on 166 students in two role-play experiments, one involving negotiation between job candidates and recruiters, the second between buyers and sellers (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol 44, p 461).

In both cases, the outcome of negotiations was better for the would-be persuaders when they employed subtle mimicry.

But be warned, overt mimicry can backfire on the mimic, or at least be very embarrassing if detected, says Tanner. "It's far from a free shot at persuasiveness."

The crucial factors are: be subtle, leave a delay and, whatever you do, if you think there's even the slightest chance you've been rumbled, stop.

2. Look at it this way...

If you want to bring people round to your point of view, try "framing", a favourite tactic of spin doctors. "Framing is about leading people to think about an issue or opinion in a way that is advantageous to you," explains George Bizer of Union College in Schenectady, New York. "For example, opponents of inheritance taxes prefer to frame them as 'death taxes'."

Framing is a key tactic in election campaigns, so Bizer wanted to see whether voters were more or less persuadable to change their views when asked to frame them in different ways.

These findings fit with a broad body of research suggesting that negative information frequently has a more powerful influence than positive messages. So if you want to sway someone when they choose between two options, a good tactic is to be negative about the option you don't want them to pick.

3. Less is more

In most battles, outnumbering your opponent will hand you victory, and it would seem common sense that the more arguments you can call on, the more persuasive you'll be. Yet, the evidence suggests otherwise. A number of studies have revealed that the more reasons people are asked to come up with in support of an idea, the less value they ascribe to each. The result: asking people to "think of all the reasons why this is a good idea" is likely to backfire, and may serve to harden their views.

This finding has some clear practical implications. "If you want to persuade people by getting them to think positively about your message, idea, product or whatever, ask them to generate just a few positive thoughts - three at most - because that's easy and they'll feel confident about their positive thoughts," says Tormala.

Conversely, next time you're in an argument, avoid the temptation to spin the "give me one good reason" line; it'll only strengthen your adversary's hand.

4. Grind them down

Hunger is a powerful thing, but how many times have you reached for a quick snack, only to regret it when it's lying heavily in your stomach? Just as your standards for food quality can slip when your stomach is empty, so you should avoid engaging in argument or doing battle with sales people when your mental batteries are running low. Conversely, if you're trying to be persuasive, strike when your target is running low on mental energy.

Of course, there is a form of mental exhaustion that doesn't require thought: nag them into submission. Children have got this technique sussed, says Burkley.

5. The medium is the means

In this fast-paced world, we seldom have time for face-to-face meetings. You are just as likely to conduct your personal and business negotiations by email, or some other electronic medium, as you are in person. How does this impact your powers of persuasion?

In a study of same-sex groups, half the discussions took place in an online chatroom, the other half sat face-to-face.

While overall men rated the proposals similarly whether they participated in the electronic or face-to-face sessions, women in face-to-face sessions rated them more highly than those who only took part online. Guadagno and Cialdini suggest this is because groups of women tend to form communal bonds and reach agreement. Electronic communication disrupts the exchange of social cues women use to establish a communal bond and is therefore less conducive to persuasion.

On the other hand, groups of men typically try to establish their competence and independence, which can lead to competitive encounters. When two men who have not met before debate a point, online interaction is about as effective and persuasive as face-to-face.

But if they have met and had a competitive exchange, subsequent face-to-face meetings are less productive, whereas online exchanges fare far better. So while online communication can prevent women "connecting", it can help men suppress competitive urges that hamper persuasion.

So, if you're a woman and want to persuade other women you'd be better off meeting face-to-face, while men are less confrontational if contacted by email. The researchers are now studying these effects in mixed couples.

6. Style over substance

Persuasion, it turns out, may have as much to do with how you say something as what you're saying. And the less time you're allowed to think about the content, the more the style of delivery matters. At least, those are the findings of two marketing professors who decided to tease style and substance apart.

In particular, hesitant phrases such as "I mean", "you know" and "isn't it?", "mmm" reduced a speaker's power. But no one had looked at the exact relationship between style and content.

"If you can't pay attention to what the speaker is saying," Sparks says, "you pay attention to how they say it."

If you want to be persuasive, don't stumble, pause or use language that shows hesitation. And for goodness sake, don't give your listeners time to think about what you're really saying.

7. Get them angry

Angering people may seem like an odd way to go about persuading them, but according to Monique Mitchell Turner, a communications professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, it is seriously underrated as a tool of persuasion.

Much study has gone into how emotions aid persuasion. The best known and most studied is fear. It serves well in campaigns that try to steer you clear of certain activities, like smoking or unprotected sex.

But fear doesn't always work, says Turner, and over time, people become more resistant to scare tactics. The same applies to guilt.

Anger is different. For one thing, it's focused on someone else's misdeeds, not your own. Also, it's a very utilitarian emotion, she says, usually in response to a perceived injustice. "Anger makes people feel empowered," Turner says.

There has been a long debate, she says, about whether anger can be constructively harnessed. She has found that, given the right conditions, it can.

First, people have to be convinced that the issue is relevant to them, that it affects them or their children or their community. At that point, says Turner, you need to hammer home what's wrong with the world as it is. Once you have got people roiled up, you can offer them a way to remedy the situation (Public Relations Review, vol 33, p 114).

"When those feelings of anger are accompanied by the feeling that there is a solution to this problem, then the message is more likely to be persuasive," she says.

8. Resistance isn't futile

A growing body of evidence suggests that breaking down people's resistance to persuasion can be even more important.

The reason for this is that people are naturally suspicious of attempts to persuade them. This is especially true if they think they are being duped.

Resistance means that very persuasive arguments can backfire. People who successfully resist persuasion often become even more entrenched in their wrong-headed opinions, and the stronger, more credible or authoritative they perceive the attempt at persuasion to be, the more certain of their opinions they become when they resist it (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 83, p 1298).

At first blush, this seems paradoxical. You might think a strong, authoritative argument would hold greater sway. Not necessarily. It seems that if people resist good arguments presented by an expert, they conclude their own arguments must be even stronger.

How to overcome this deadlock? Tormala's colleague Richard Petty of Ohio State University says: "Present positions closer to your target's views, then move them towards your goal a little at a time." You could also try charming them by boosting their self-esteem. "When people feel good about themselves, they are more open to challenging messages," he says. source

Evolution of mulsim society

Another favourite subject. I know the majority of readers probably don't see why they should care about it, but I can explain to you in very simple words. Our planet may look big from the plane, but is small and finite. There is an increasing number of people sharing a limited amount of resources. It's obvious we all have something in common and sooner or later, we'll have to interact with the societies different from our own. Currently there are several such. Some are closer to us /like Russian or Indian/ some are not /like Arabs and China/. We may not always like them, but if we all want to profit from our interaction, we have to learn to understand them.
I do believe in the win-win deals, so I monitor those societies closely. I do want to know what should I expect. So, here is another look on the progress of the muslim society.
I give you 2 articles on quite interesting issues.
The education in Algeria and the doomed battle for women virginity.
The first I edited it a little because it was absurdly long. The point is that Algeria finally realises that Islamisation from national identity turned to national danger. And they started trying to change the course of the country and bring more western elements in it. Which I approve. I particularly like the pic of the girl sitting with the boys and listening to music. I really have no problems with any religion. I have problems with the oppression that some people use to manipulate people, something that isn't really needed since your faith is in your heart. That's why I applaud the efforts of Algerian government to evade the fanatism and I wish them luck.

The second article tells the story of many muslim girls living in Europe who want to have sex and also to be alive. Which obviously is working ok, since surgeons can reproduce their hymen and everyone to be happy. The next obvious question is why don't you just abandon that nonsense of sex after the marriage. In which, mind you, they are surprisingly similar to some good Christians in the west that claim that the pre-marriage abstinence is the best way to fight diseases and unwanted pregnancy. Of course, I don't agree with that. Sex is good for us and should be done intelligently, not blindly. But this is another question which I won't bring right not. Enjoy the article!

In Algeria, a Tug of War for Young Minds

Published: June 23, 2008

ALGIERS — First, Abdel Malek Outas’s teachers taught him to write math equations in Arabic, and embrace Islam and the Arab world. Then they told him to write in Latin letters that are no longer branded unpatriotic, and open his mind to the West.

Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times

A woman passed students listening to music recently after classes at the Okba Ben Nafaa secondary school in Algiers.

Malek is 19, and he is confused.

“When we were in middle school we studied only in Arabic,” he said. “When we went to high school, they changed the program, and a lot is in French. Sometimes, we don’t even understand what we are writing.”

The confusion has bled off the pages of his math book and deep into his life. One moment, he is rapping; another, he recounts how he flirted with terrorism, agreeing two years ago to go with a recruiter to kill apostates in the name of jihad.

At a time of religious revival across the Muslim world, Algeria’s youth are in play. The focus of this contest is the schools, where for decades Islamists controlled what children learned, and how they learned, officials and education experts here said.

Now the government is urgently trying to re-engineer Algerian identity, changing the curriculum to wrest momentum from the Islamists, provide its youth with more employable skills, and combat the terrorism it fears schools have inadvertently encouraged.

It appears to be the most ambitious attempt in the region to change a school system to make its students less vulnerable to religious extremism.

But many educators are resisting the changes, and many disenchanted young men are dropping out of schools. It is a tense time in Algiers, where city streets are crowded with police officers and security checkpoints and alive with fears that Algeria is facing a resurgence of Islamic terrorism. From 1991 to 2002, as many as 200,000 Algerians died in fighting between government forces and Islamic terrorists. Now one of the main terrorist groups, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or G.S.P.C., has affiliated with Al Qaeda, rebranding itself as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

There is a sense that this country could still go either way. Young people here in the capital appear extremely observant, filling mosques for the daily prayers, insisting that they have a place to pray in school. The strictest form of Islam, Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia, has become the gold standard for the young.

And yet, the young in Algiers also appear far more socially liberal than their peers in places like Egypt and Jordan. Young veiled women walk hand in hand, or sit leg to leg, with young men, public flirtations unthinkable in most other Muslim countries.

The two natures of the country reflect the way in which Algerian identity was cleaved in half by 132 years of French colonial rule, and then again by independence and forced Arabization. Once the French were driven out in 1962, the Algerians were determined to forge a national identity free from Western influence.

The schools were one center of that drive. French was banned as the language of education, replaced by Arabic. Islamic law and the study of the Koran were required, and math and science were shortchanged. Students were warned that sinners go to hell, and 6-year-olds were instructed in the proper way to wash a corpse for burial, education officials said.

There is a feeling among many Algerians that they went too far.

“We say that Algeria’s schools have trained monsters,” said Khaoula Taleb Ibrahim, a professor of education at the University of Algiers. “It is not to that extent, but the schools have contributed to that problem.”

Over the years, the government has pushed back, reintroducing French, removing the most zealous religious teachers and trying to revise the religious curriculum. Seven years ago, a committee appointed by the president issued a report calling for an overhaul of the school system — and it died under intense political pressure, mostly from the Islamists and conservatives, officials said.

But this year, the government is beginning to make substantive changes. The schools are moving from rote learning — which was always linked to memorizing the Koran — to critical thinking, where teachers ask students to research subjects and think about concepts.

Yet the students and teachers are still unprepared, untrained and, in many cases, unreceptive.

“Before, teachers used to explain the lesson,” Malek said. “Now they want us to think more, to research, but it’s very difficult for us.”

The Family

In Algeria, your sense of identity often depends on when you went to school.

Hassinah Bou Bekeur, 26, enjoys watching the Saudi satellite channels and the news in Arabic. She watches with her mother and four younger sisters in one room. But her father, Nasreddin, 60, stays in another room so he can watch in French, the language of his education.

“He is not very strict,” she said of her father, with a touch of affection and disappointment in her voice. “We have more awareness of religion now.”

She took the veil when she was 20; one sister did so at 17, and another sister at 15. The youngest, Zeinab, is only 12 and does not yet wear the veil. The veil is a symbol of the distance between father and children. While Mr. Bou Bekeur studied the Koran, Islam was not the cornerstone of his identity. He says he even drank alcohol — which is prohibited by Islam — until 1986. “

The Bou Bekeur family illustrates the outcome of Algeria’s school-based Arabization project. The family is close but the generation gap is extraordinary. It is not solely the result of schooling — but the history of the education system here helps explain the distance between the generations.

It begins with occupation and schools designed to train people for a French-run system. Even after independence, the schools needed to continue to train in French because the government needed managers and experts to replace those French citizens who had left the country, officials here said. In 1971, officials said, the Arabization project began in earnest, when French was prohibited as a language of education.

But there were not enough educators qualified to teach in Arabic, so Algeria turned to Egyptians, Iraqis and Syrians — not realizing, officials say now, that many of those teachers had extreme religious views and that they helped plant the seeds of radicalism that would later flourish in a school system where Arabization became interchangeable with Islamization. In the Bou Bekeur house that meant children far more religious than their father — and their mother.

“The foundation of religion, I learned in school,” said Mr. Bou Bekeur’s son, Abdel Rahman, 25. “We pray more than them and we know religion better than them,” he said of his father’s generation. “We are more religious. My father used to drink. I never drank. My father asked me if it was O.K. to take a car loan. I told him, no, it is haram,” forbidden in Islam.

So his father did not take the loan. His father is a quiet man in a house of strong-willed people. He can barely help his children with their homework, because his Arabic is poor. And he worries about their future, and the future of his country.

“Now they are at a crossroads,” Mr. Bou Bekeur said of his children and their generation. “Either they go to the West, or stay with this and become extremists.”

The children do not respond to such remarks. They often give their father a kind of sad, knowing smile, as though they have done the best that they can with him, and are pleased with the progress he has made.

Mr. Bou Bekeur seemed pleased. “Women have more opportunities today than they used to. Women can participate in sports and still be respected,” he said in his naturally soft voice.

“No,” Hassinah said, gently, shaking her head at her father. “My way of thinking is more influenced by religion. My religion tells me ‘no, that’s not right.’ ”

Zeinab, the 12-year-old, was seated in the corner, headphones on, humming a song by Beyoncé, and smiling as she did homework.

The friends.

Malek, Amine and Lamine are each dealing with the forces shaping their world in slightly different ways. Amine has chosen religion; Malek, who has gelled hair and a slight stutter, has taken a middle road of religion, girls and rap; and Lamine appears a sentry of the left, interested in beer, girls and, he hopes, a life in France.

Each has felt the push and pull of the political-ideological fight going on in Algerian schools, between those who want to maintain the status quo and those who hope to reopen a window to the West. The messages the young men receive through teachers and the curriculum are still, almost uniformly, aimed at reinforcing their Arab-Islamic identity. But that is changing, slowly, and not without a fight.

“We would never have imagined Algeria could one day be faced with violence that would come from Islam,” said Fatiha Yomsi, an adviser to the minister of education.

“He is an Islamist. He would not shake my hand before,” Ms. Yomsi said as she introduced an Arabic teacher during a morning tour of Al Said Hamdeen high school here. Then as she walked around, she pointed out the front line in the struggle, keeping boys and girls together in class.

“You see, all these classes are mixed,” she said. “It is very important. We fought for this. That is why I am targeted for death.”

At stake are the identities of young people like Malek, Amine and Lamine — and their futures.

The young men focused on trying to pass their exams, because Algiers is full of examples of those who have not. More than 500,000 students drop out each year, officials said — and only about 20 percent of students make it into high school. Only about half make it from high school into a university. A vast majority of dropouts are young men, who see no link between work and school. Young women tend to stick with school because, officials said, it offers independence from their parents.

Algeria’s young men leave school because there is no longer any connection between education and employment, school officials said. The schools raise them to be religious, but do not teach them skills needed to get a job.

This is another cause for extremism, and it is one reason the police do nothing to stop so many young men from illegally selling everything from deodorant to bread at makeshift stands.

“These stands are illegal, but they let them do it as a matter of security and because of unemployment — instead of them going out and carrying weapons,” said Muhammad Darwish, a social studies teacher in the Muhammad Bou Ras middle school, as he passed masses of young men selling on the street.

The sky was blue, the wind heavy and the clouds white on a May day when Malek dropped to the pavement and began to break dance, his feet in the air, his shoulders pressed to the ground. Suddenly Algerian rap played from Lamine’s cellphone as they danced and laughed — until they stopped.

Amine wrapped his arm around Malek’s shoulder and they recited the Koran, their voices carrying through the wind. Lamine stood by, silently.

source , a great slide show (I recommend it)


In Europe, Debate Over Islam and Virginity

Published: June 11, 2008

PARIS — The operation in the private clinic off the Champs-Élysées involved one semicircular cut, 10 dissolving stitches and a discounted fee of $2,900.

But for the patient, a 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent from Montpellier, the 30-minute procedure represented the key to a new life: the illusion of virginity.

Like an increasing number of Muslim women in Europe, she had a hymenoplasty, a restoration of her hymen, the vaginal membrane that normally breaks in the first act of intercourse.

“In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt,” said the student, perched on a hospital bed as she awaited surgery on Thursday. “Right now, virginity is more important to me than life.”

As Europe’s Muslim population grows, many young Muslim women are caught between the freedoms that European society affords and the deep-rooted traditions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.

“If you’re a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage,” said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. “So if you’re looking to marry a Muslim and don’t want to have problems, you’ll try to recapture your virginity.”

No reliable statistics are available, because the procedure is mostly done in private clinics and in most cases not covered by tax-financed insurance plans.

But hymen repair is talked about so much that it is the subject of a film comedy that opens in Italy this week. “Women’s Hearts,” as the film’s title is translated in English, tells the story of a Moroccan-born woman living in Italy who goes to Casablanca for the operation.

One character jokes that she wants to bring her odometer count back down to “zero.”

“We realized that what we thought was a sporadic practice was actually pretty common,” said Davide Sordella, the film’s director. “These women can live in Italy, adopt our mentality and wear jeans. But in the moments that matter, they don’t always have the strength to go against their culture.”

The issue has been particularly charged in France, where a renewed and fierce debate has occurred about a prejudice that was supposed to have been buried with the country’s sexual revolution 40 years ago: the importance of a woman’s virginity.

The furor followed the revelation two weeks ago that a court in Lille, in northern France, had annulled the 2006 marriage of two French Muslims because the groom found his bride was not the virgin she had claimed to be.

The court ruling did not mention religion. Rather, it cited breach of contract, concluding that the engineer had married her after “she was presented to him as single and chaste.” In secular, republican France, the case touches on several delicate subjects: the intrusion of religion into daily life; the grounds for dissolution of a marriage; and the equality of the sexes.

Some feminists, lawyers and doctors warned that the court’s acceptance of the centrality of virginity in marriage would encourage more Frenchwomen from Arab and African Muslim backgrounds to have their hymens restored. But there is much debate about whether the procedure is an act of liberation or repression.

The plight of the rejected bride persuaded the Montpellier student to have the operation.

She insisted that she had never had intercourse and only discovered her hymen was torn when she tried to obtain a certificate of virginity to present to her boyfriend and his family. She says she bled after an accident on a horse when she was 10.

The trauma from realizing that she could not prove her virginity was so intense, she said, that she quietly borrowed money to pay for the procedure.

“All of a sudden, virginity is important in France,” she said. “I realized that I could be seen like that woman everyone is talking about on television.”

Those who perform the procedure say they are empowering patients by giving them a viable future and preventing them from being abused — or even killed — by their fathers or brothers.

A specialist in what he calls “intimate” surgery, including penile enhancement, Dr. Abecassis says he performs two to four hymen restorations per week.

The French College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians opposes the procedure on moral, cultural and health grounds.

“We had a revolution in France to win equality; we had a sexual revolution in 1968 when women fought for contraception and abortion,” said Dr. Jacques Lansac, the group’s leader. “Attaching so much importance to the hymen is regression, submission to the intolerance of the past.”

The lives of the French couple whose marriage was annulled are on hold. The Justice Ministry has sought an appeal, arguing that the decision has “provoked a heated social debate” that “touched all citizens of our country and especially women.”

At the Islamic Center of Roubaix, the Lille suburb where the wedding took place, there is sympathy for the woman.

“The man is the biggest of all the donkeys,” said Abdelkibir Errami, the center’s vice president. “Even if the woman was no longer a virgin, he had no right to expose her honor. This is not what Islam teaches. It teaches forgiveness.” source

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