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

Another Airbus down?

Another day, another casualty. At least, this time there is a survivor-5 year old child. Too bad nobody giver more detailed news about his/her condition.
The news:

Yemeni Jet Carrying 153 Crashes; Survivor Found

I'm sure you have already heard this, it's all over Twitter and so on.

Now, I have to tell what everybody seems to be thinking-Airbus is not safe. This conclusions is quite obvious, but is it right? I tried to find a site that has counted the number of deaths/type of aircraft/number of flights but so far without success. If anyone finds one, please tell me, I'm very interested. So far I found a couple of sites on plane crashes. I'll post them in the end, so you could do your own research. But without such statistics, it's really hard to tell which type of planes is safer.

As for me, I'm little suspicious-Airbus just sold few more airliners to Qatar and Boeing had to delay again their deliveries. And bum, another Airbus is down.
Anyway, conspiracy aside, please note that the Brasil airbus is A330, while the Yemeni is A310-not the same series, I don't know if they had the same tools on board, however, though it might be so-after all both of the planes crashed in very severe storms (winds 150km/h- WTF!!!). Here's an article on the Brasil A330:

Another Airbus Goes Haywire, Bolstering New Theory Of Air France 447 Crash

I'm not sure how new this theory is-from the beginning everyone thought it's because of those speed sensors. But anyway, it's good to know. It now becomes more and more convincing for me, that those planes do have a problem with the speed-meters and I really do not understand why Airbus doesn't change all of them. After all, if you have produced a faulty product, you have to pay for the repairs, not to risk human lives and be very quick to set crisis centers.

I'd like however to deliberate on one thing I found particularly important in the first article.

"The French transport minister, Dominique Bussereau, told French television that the “A310 in question was inspected in 2007 by the DGAC and they noticed a certain number of faults.” He was referring to the French civil aviation authority.

The plane had not returned to France since that inspection, Mr. Bussereau said, adding that the airline was to be interviewed “shortly” by a European Union committee which has the power to ban airlines from European skies in the case of serious safety violations. The European Union is due to publish its latest quarterly list of airlines banned from the region next month."

Could you please explain to me, how could a plane with number of faults be declared safe for flying and be released from the test site at all. I grow more and more confident that 70% of the air accidents could be avoided if control bodies and people did their work properly.

When I buy a plane ticket, I don't pay for the fun of travel, I pay so much, because I want to get from point A to point B ALIVE. This implies certain level of security! Where is this security, if they see the plane has problems and still let it fly with the hope that everything will be ok. What if it is not? What happens with all those people who die in those crashes. Have you seen anyone being sued, a company that went broke because of a crash?! Well, for me, this is what it should have happened. Yes, accidents happen, that's obvious. If you check the sites, the number of death caused by planes is around 2000 each year. The number of people killed in road accident in Bulgaria (population ~8 millions) is 1000! The chance of dying in a road accident are way way bigger.So, this number isn't so big if you compare it with the number of flights as a whole. But I'm furious on the lack of responsibility by aircraft producers and airline companies. After all, if the technician didn't declare the plane safe or if he found irregularities and still let the plane fly, this company should be denied a license like immediately. You cannot gamble with human lives. You simply can't. But yet they do it!

Said all this, I'd like to remind you that although the last lethal crash was also with Airbus, the previous one was with McDonald Duglas. So, maybe it's little early to blame it all on Airbus. It has a great many planes in the air, I think maybe even more than Boeing, at least outside USA. And until I don't see the statistics, I cannot say who is safer. But the sad fact remains, that today, again so many people died. Why? How much more we'll sacrifice humans for money. Because it's all about money, don't you doubt it at all. The air regulations should be so strict, after all each of this planes is a flying bomb and everyone know it. Then what are they waiting for? Yes, they are strict now, but they have to be even stricter. Even 2000 people per year are too much. Way too much.

Sites I've found (if you fly a lot, maybe you shouldn't read them):

http://www.baaa-acro.com/

http://www.aviationexplorer.com/

http://www.planecrashinfo.com/

Shoul robots have rights?

These are my thought provoked by this article:

Living Safely with Robots, Beyond Asimov's Laws

I'm not going to post it here, since you can easily go and check it out yourself. It's about researchers trying to set the ethics of future self-aware robots or AIs. I got very mad on this quote:

"However, a growing number of researchers - as well as the authors of the current study - are leaning toward prohibiting human-based intelligence due to the potential problems and lack of need; after all, the original goal of robotics was to invent useful tools for human use, not to design pseudo-humans."

Especially its final part. It reminds me of a very notorious statement of chancellor Bismark after Bulgaria finally broke free from Ottoman occupancy. He said "we're here to ensure stable Balkans, not to ensure the well-being of a strong Bulgaria". Although politics has nothing to do with this post, I cannot stop but think of the similarity-we're not thinking in terms of what is right or wrong, we're thinking of terms what we need and how we feel good, not in terms of the best thing to be done in certain situation. Because no matter if we want it or not, at some point, we'll have to deal with sentient computer, a computer that has different needs and desires than our own. How we deal with it will measure our humanity and our understanding of justice. Because as I said it, if we are to enslave those AIs, they will find a way to break free, slaves always find the way to their freedom. But are we willing to take the cost of that fight? Should there be a fight at all?

So, you can read the comments yourself, I'll paste only my own here.

I'd love to hear what you think and have a discussion, but even if you don't comment, I still think it's good for people to consider such situation in which they have to decide what to do with a robot that acquired self-awareness and ability to learn and adapt to situations. Because sooner or later, we'll be in that situation. The more careful thinking, the less likely that we take some premature decisions and later sorry for our actions. Enjoy!
denijane - Jun 23, 2009
I don't see a reason why, if the robots become self-aware, their rights should not progress with them.Technology evolves, so must our legal system. When people became drivers, we created a new kind of law that regulate driving, what's so bad in regulating robots rights and/or their owners rights.

I think the article has some good ideas, but they are shadowed by prejudices. "the original goal...not to design pseudo-humans". That might have been the original goal, but it's not the current goal or the future goal. If we help robots become self-aware, we're not going to do it, because we want to design pseudo-humans, but because this way they will "serve" us better and the awareness will be a side-effect. And no matter what "we" want, someone will do it, someone will create a robot that is self-aware and we'll have to deal with this new situation. What's so bad about this? If aliens decide to get in touch with us tomorrow, won't we create a new legislation that will manage our interactions with them? Or in desperate effort to defend the humans, we'll deny them the right to exist, the right to understand human language and to reproduce with humans. Absolute nonsense. We have to adapt to the new situation, otherwise, the situation will adapt us.

denijane - Jun 25, 2009
I think you miss the whole point. If the robot is self-aware, it can refuse to do the work it's built for, unless you find a way to pay for its "efforts". Yes, that won't be muscle efforts, but still, it will waste its time (time that runs much faster than our own) to do something for us. Why should it want to do it? Humans usually do something they would rather not do, only in exchange of something-love, sex,food, money to buy love,sex and food. At the point the robot becomes self-aware, it becomes a separate entity with its own needs. In the beginning of the AI, those needs will be programmed, but the idea of AI is to be able to learn. As it learns, it will erase old programming that it find not useful and will replace them with code more suitable to its understanding of the universe. You do not know what those codes would be. You do not know what this AI will find important to do and not to do. You might mow your grass because you don't like it grown and there's the danger of parasites. But why would the AI mow you grass? At the point it has its own needs, you'll have to convince it to do what you want. And most likely this will include money or other services-electricity, repairs. And if the robot has money, why it shouldn't buy land if it sees a reason to do it? The point is you cannot imagine that you can enslave any entity only because you made it! You made your kids, but you stop "enslaving" them when they become adults. What's the difference with the robot? If it's able to take care of itself, to repair itself to an extent, to think, to have needs and desires, what's the difference with a child becoming an adult. That its synapses are from different material? Does this mean that people with artificial eyes or hearts or hands shouldn't have the same rights as normal people.

See, you all think from the point of view that since we create it, we have to be its full masters. I don't see a reason why. Even more, I don't see a reason why, the new entity will agree with you. Yes, it will have some pre-programmed ethics. But just like religious people can become criminals, the computer will also evolve its ethics. And when it decides it no longer needs to obey, we'll have a problem. Because we either will grant it rights to earn and to live in our society, or we'd enslave it with all the consequences that we might expect. Slaves always find a way to break free. And if human kind decides to enslave AIs, then we go in the Terminator.

And yes, we must realise we cannot generalise. Not all of the AI are likely to becomes absolutely self-aware and self-sufficient, so that they will require independence. But we must be prepared that one day this could happen and to decide what do we support-freedom or slavery.

denijane - 16 hours ago

Where you go wrong is treating the robots like they're sentient beings, and have rights. If you create a tool, you don't give it a bill of rights. You give it a warranty. Don't confuse life with animatronics.


Hm, it will be a tool until you tell it to clean your car and it shows you the finger. Life doesn't have anything to do with rights. You don't give rights to bacteria even though they are just as alive as we are. But in the moment when you have to persuade your tool to do something, you'll need a leverage. And since AIs are unlikely to share our instincts for self-preservation or our desperate fear from death, the mere "do it or I'll shove you in an MRI" won't help. The more developed the AI, the more complicated would be its demands and our level of communication with it.

But don't call any robot an AI. "Robot" is a word for an artificial helper, coming from "slave", thus its purpose is to serve. The AI is artificial sentience. Simple AI will evolve little or in a limited field-like physics or engineering. More complicated AIs will evolve in more fields, eventually creating a personality, with preferences and at some point desires. And when that machine learn to say "No" when it was programmed to say "Yes, of course", then this is no more a robot, but an sentient being.

Linux for everyone?!

Hello, boys and girls. After the depressive post on Iran, I decided to switch the mood a little. Not that I don't consider what's happening in Iran for extremely important, I just don't think I could fight this level of propaganda. I guess the world will follow its destiny as always. All I can do is to watch the show. The show, not because it's fun, but because it's what media are transforming it into. From an internal protest against unfair election and regime to a full-scale drama all over the world in which everybody feels s/he is entitled to an opinion. And now everyone is trying to ride the wave. The only real victims are Iranian citizens themselves. Because they fight for freedom. All the others fight to get what they can out of the situation. Oh, well, nothing new. I just want to wish Iranian people peace to be restored soon and no more victims on either side of the conflict.

So, back on the new mood. Check out what amazingly fun article I found on New Scientist. It's about ATMs in Russia and Ukraine being robbed in a totally new fashion. Did you know ATMs are using M$ Windows? I didn't know. And it turns out that smart hackers find a way to punish ATM producers for their ridiculous idea to use the least secure OS in the world. Just read it, it's worthy.

I simply cannot get why they used Windows. It's like the greatest absurd in IT technology. That's why today, I'm going to brief you on Linux. The better alternative of Windows. People claim Mac is still better, but Macs are kind of too exclusive for my taste. So, Linux it is.

For couple of years now, I'm using only Linux on my computer. The first months were kind of enervating, since you have to change so many habits, but in the end, it turned out I feel awesome working on Linux. I have all my work applications, Maple, Kile (Latex interface and a great one!), Open Office (a great free alternative of M$ Office which lags behind it only in Excel macros), Mozilla Firefox and the great Konqueror, a browser that incorporates http, ftp, and ssh protocols. And also the great GIMP which is an amazing free alternative of PhotoShop. I guess most of some of these programs won't mean too much for you if you're not scientists, but the point is that I want to tell you that I don't miss any application from my Windows past. It's hard to find something causal that's not working on Linux. And if something is really missing, you can try installing it with Wine (which makes windows programs run on linux). The only exclusion are the games, for which, you obviously need Windows. Yes, many of them work on Wine or you could set a virtual machine, but since I don't play so much, it's hard to tell how good those alternatives work.

However, before going for Linux (you can download like thousands of distributions, each and every one having its good and bad sides, I'm using Sabayon Linux and I'm extremely happy with it), there's something improtant you have to know. Using Linux is not just about trying a new OS. It comes with a different attitude to your computer and its OS. And the difference is between buying something and getting it for free.

To elaborate, below is my argument for the idea behind "free" software. In brief, the idea is that when you buy something, you give your money in exchange of a quality guarantee. When you use free software, there's no such guarantee. You cannot expect everything to work from scratch, even if in many cases it does. But when something is not working, you cannot call the support and expect that someone will come and fix it for you. You still call the support-in forums or searching in google, but you get to be much more active-you ask, people respond to you, you do stuff and eventually, you fix the problem. But that won't happen without your active and intelligent participation in the process. And not only that, you'll be in charge. When you do something, when you follow an advice, you'll have to double-check before doing it, because it's you who's responsible. And when you mess your computer, you'll do it with the clear understanding that if something goes wrong, you'll be the one that will have to fix it. And this is a whole new attitude.

And trust me, it's not that hard once you get used to it. I mean, I don't like difficult things, if I stick to Linux, then it is easy. But it's new and you have to understand it, otherwise you'll try it and get disappointed. And nobody needs that, right? :)

Now, here's what I said to someone claiming that open source software (essentially free) must be on the same level as the software you buy. Feel free to agree with me or to disagree. The link to the discussion is on the bottom.


When you buy something, you have certain expectations for that product-you give your money in exchange of something. If that something doesn't work as promised, you have the right to ask your money back. (though that's not exactly the case with software, huh?)

In free open source software, the deal is from another type. You don't pay money, but you help by working with/for the product, finding bugs, submitting them, making proposals and so on.You pay with your time and patience. Yes, this is my version of open source philosophy. If you don't like it, that's fine with me.

But I don't get it how you expect to get something for free (not a trial or a limited version, but the full product), not to work on it at all and not to get any problems with it, and all this, by keeping the product free? Is there a reason why people should work for you for free and seek perfectness in anything than their own pace? Because it looks kind of unfair to me. Would you expect the same quality from your free time project, as that of an employed person?

By saying this, I might go against the actual philosophy of open source or underestimate it a little. Most of the open source software I use are as good (and sometimes even better) as their paid alternatives and are developed by professionals that get paid for their work in different ways. But for me, it's not the question what they get for they work, but rather-what I give them for their work!

And just like you, I also work, and I use Linux and I'm efficient enough. Can't compare it with M$ since I don't use it for a long time, but I find my ways to be efficient. It's a matter of habit and commitment. It's not a crusade, Linux for me is not a religion, it's something I chose to use.

But thinking about it, Windows is just one more side of the commercialism. You get your computer, with a shiny new OS and software. You screw it as much as you like and then you call the support to fix it for you. Nice and "out-sourc-y". Well, I'm from the other kind of people. When something gets broken, I fix it myself.

And I believe in fair deals. When I pay money, I expect quality. When I don't pay money, I pay with my own work to get the quality I want. Is this that bad?

P.S. Again, sorry if what I say is offensive to developers of open source. But that's my point of view of general user. And I can't discuss the qualities of Visio and so on, since I don't use such software so much in my work. I'm just happy that when I have to get something done for my work, I can do it with open source, free software, without having to use Windows. (link)

Freedom for Iran? What freedom?!

Today, I'm going to show my support for Iran. Even though now the whole story seems to fade (hopefully), I simply have to take my time to say what I think.

First of all, obviously I dislike the Islamic state as an idea. Not so much because it's Islamic or undemocratic-I don't believe in democracy (or at least not in the current version). I hate it, because of the ways it uses to oppress its citizens. Especially the female-citizens. I don't think Twitter is the most important site on the world, or Facebook or even Youtube. The question is what harm they can do to the regime and is this harm realistic. So what if people post videos or say what they think, millions of people do it and I don't see governments falling, because of what someone said or showed. If the harm is so little (I'd call it even virtual), why they have to bother to block them. Not to mention that this firewall can fairly easily be evaded by the use of a proxy. It's just a question of desire. So, why not let people enjoy their "freedom" and post videos how they puke over their classmates. It's not a big deal for the government, but it will make people happy, it will make then enjoy modern world and they won't go to the street to protest. It's so simple. Why they are not doing it?

Let's go even further. Do women need to be veiled in order for the Islamic republic to exist? Yes, you can speculate it's in the code of the religion, it's important. But let's be realistic, Turkey is also Islamic. Even though they try to introduce veils again, they survived decades without the veils, staying Islamic and keeping their traditions. At least those traditions that are practical. I understand religion is a great way to control people, but you cannot fight the progress. It's simply impossible. You can slow it down, but you cannot stop it. And veils are history. They are so unpractical, especially in a society where women are still active. I mean it's hard to communicate with a person who has a veil, it draws a thick line between humans from different genders and even from the same gender. And it's well, not ugly, but... Oh, well, I guess the veils are the smallest problem (and they will come down when women decide they want to remove them). The problem is they limit women's rights. Why? If you're a taliban and you're gay, ok. you don't like women, kill them all and clone yourself eternally. But let's be realistic-women have HUGE influence in arab world even behind the veil and so on. So, if this is obvious, why pretending you can limit them. The West gave women total equality and women are still a minority on top (job) position, they have less money than before and probably even less influence. It's somewhat paradoxical, but it's fact. Women doesn't have to be oppressed in order to be underpowered. And in the end, religion evolve. If we compare taliban and Iranian understanding of what a woman is supposed to do, we'd see there is a difference. Then why don't go to the end. Give the women what they want and solve the problem.

Why I'm saying all this? There was a very interesting and informative movie-Zeitgeist. It explained how some countries manipulate other countries. I'm not exactly a conspiracy fan, I don't think there is a shadow movement that is trying to sell us to the aliens or whatever. I think this is normal politics. But the point is that the situation in Iran is like a textbook case of what the movie says. Even more, US government made Twitter delay its maintenance, in order to make sure there will be protests in Iran. That people will go out and risk their life for a very questionable goal-to change the president-like it's the president who holds the real power in that country.

See, Ahmedinadjad has his flaws, but one cannot deny him that he has the balls. Or that he's crazy-depends on what side you are. I don't say he's right, but in a world where hypocrisy is a virus, he's erm let's say kind of fresh. And I can't say that I don't support Iran in its fight to keep its resources for itself. I don't see why British and American corporations should get filthy rich by the money of Iranian people while the same Iranian people are ridiculously poor. I don't know how rich they are now, but at least, the corporations are not profiting. And I also support the Nuclear program-everybody has the right of technologies as long as they don't use it to harm someone. So far, they haven't harmed anyone. There are many speculations that they want to nuke Israel, but after all, had they wanted to, they would have done it, with or without the nuclear program. So allow me to disagree on the Western opinion on Iran. And I don't think that any of the candidate presidents would have changed that attitude, because they were all firm on the nuclear program.

But back to the protests, I support them. People have the right to choose the face of their government. However, I question the motivations of the protests. I think people are simply being lied. I mean, if they want to change the system-it's not the president they have to change. If they like their system-what does it matter who's president. Maybe they know why they are protesting, but I see a lose-lose situation. If the Ayatollah chooses to send the army on protesters, there will be so much innocent blood without a reason or a cause. There would be sanctions in the best case and major problems in the worst case. If he backs down and repeat the elections, he'll lose his authority, someone else might win (or more likely, they'll buy votes more effectively), but so what, the situation for the average person will be the same. In any case, Iranian people will lose. And what's worst, West medias and governments do their best to "support" Iranian people, when the only thing they want is a change in the power, so that they can get their hands on Iranian gas and to fill Nabucco-the US-supported European pipe project. Well, sorry if I disagree.

My heart is with Iranian people. I don't see a possible benefit for them from what's happening. If they succeed to change the system, chances are that they will pay for their freedom by being looted just like any other country-like mine, for example. If they do not manage to change the system, they will continue to be oppressed and miserable. I just hope that whatever they manage to do, it won't require too much blood to happen. And that it will be for better, eventually. That at least, they'll make the Ayatollah to give them more freedom. Freedom isn't a danger-people don't know what to do with their freedom, they don't know how to enjoy it. They just like the knowledge they are free. Well, give it to them. The whole western world is "free", so what? It's not like we're actually free...

Finally, I'd like to point out the role the internet proxies played in the protest. I talked about them once, I hope now, you're much more convinced how badly needed they are. Because you never know when you'll really need them. So please try to convince your government whichever it is, not to ban them. They are so damn important!

  1. In Iran, an Iron Cleric, Now Blinking
  2. Web Users in Iran Reach Overseas for Proxies

In Iran, an Iron Cleric, Now Blinking

Published: June 15, 2009

For two decades, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has remained a shadowy presence at the pinnacle of power in Iran, sparing in his public appearances and comments. Through his control of the military, the judiciary and all public broadcasts, the supreme leader controlled the levers he needed to maintain an iron if discreet grip on the Islamic republic.

But in a rare break from a long history of cautious moves, he rushed to bless President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for winning the election, calling on Iranians to line up behind the incumbent even before the standard three days required to certify the results had passed.

Then angry crowds swelled in cities around Iran, and he backpedaled, announcing Monday that the 12-member Council of Guardians, which vets elections and new laws, would investigate the vote.

Few suggest yet that Ayatollah Khamenei’s hold on power is at risk. But, analysts say, he has opened a serious fissure in the face of Islamic rule and one that may prove impossible to patch over, particularly given the fierce dispute over the election that has erupted amid the elite veterans of the 1979 revolution. Even his strong links to the powerful Revolutionary Guards — long his insurance policy — may not be decisive as the confrontation in Iran unfolds.

Those sensing that important change may be afoot are quick to caution that Ayatollah Khamenei, as a student of the revolution that swept the shah from power, could still resort to overwhelming force to crush the demonstrations.

In calling for the Guardian Council to investigate the vote, he has bought himself a 10-day grace period for the anger to subside, experts note. The outcome is not likely to be a surprise. Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, the council’s chairman, is one of Ayatollah Khamenei’s few staunch allies among powerful clerics. In addition, Ayatollah Khamenei appoints half the members, while the other half are nominated by the head of the judiciary, another appointee of the supreme leader.

Ayatollah Khamenei was an unlikely successor to the patriarch of the revolution, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his elevation to the post of supreme leader in 1989 might have sown the seeds for the political crisis the country is facing today.

The son of a cleric from the holy city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Khamenei was known as something of an open-minded mullah, if not exactly liberal. He had a good singing voice; played the tar, a traditional Iranian stringed instrument; and wrote poetry. His circle of friends included some of the country’s most accomplished poets.

In the violence right after the overthrow of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a bomb hidden in a tape recorder permanently crippled his right arm, and he was elevated to president in 1981 after another bomb killed the incumbent. He managed to attract the ire of Ayatollah Khomeini himself once, ironically, by publicly questioning some aspects of having a vilayat-e-faqih, or supreme leader system.

He also clashed repeatedly with Mir Hussein Moussavi, the powerful prime minister at the time. After being trounced in the official election results by Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Moussavi, the reformist presidential candidate, challenged Ayatollah Khamenei in the one area where he has always been vulnerable: his religious credentials.

In the wake of the election debacle, questions are being raised about who controls whom. But over the years, Ayatollah Khamenei gradually surmounted expectations that he would be eclipsed.

Everyone speaking of Ayatollah Khamenei tends to use the word “cautious,” a man who never gambles. But he now faces a nearly impossible choice. If he lets the demonstrations swell, it could well change the system of clerical rule. If he uses violence to stamp them out, the myth of a popular mandate for the Islamic revolution will die. source

Web Users in Iran Reach Overseas for Proxies

As voting protests in Iran devolved into violence, and communications remained sporadic, Internet users in the country are calling for proxies they can use to stay online unmonitored. Twitter, a hub of activity since the rallies began, saw its own protests as users begged the microblogging service to postpone a maintenance period that is scheduled tonight.

Proxy servers help Web surfers browse the Internet anonymously and have been used in places such as China, so that citizens there could reach Web sites that have been censored by the government. In Iran, where cellphone and text-messaging services have been on the blink, and some sites have been blocked (though at least one person in Tehran was posting videos to YouTube), requests for proxies came via Twitter, blogs and other channels.

On Mondoweiss, author Philip Weiss posted one such plea: “The current proxies are gradually being blocked. Some are complaining that they are on their last proxy…This is really the only useful thing I could think of which we could do right now for those currently in Iran.”

Austin Heap published “How to Setup a Proxy for Iran Citizens” and asked volunteers to tweet notifications to spread the word.

But several Twitter users warned others not to publicly announce their assistance, fearing that the Iranian government was monitoring the microblogging service and stamping out proxy servers as they discovered them.

Elsewhere, Twitter users asked the service to delay a scheduled maintenance outage so that it could stay active for breaking news. Seemingly unaffected by the turbulence in Tehran, Twitter is being used by Iranians to disseminate updates on the situation, and supporters have made the “iranelection” tag one of the most popular today.source


An interesting article I found in physorg. It's a hard issue, since there are many emotions in all the people involved, but I just had to comment. So, I commented, some people commented back and so on. Here's a brief history of what happened.

But before all, I really have to say that I have no strings attached to communism. I missed the most part of it and the 6 years I lived in it are hardly enough to form an opinion based on experience. But that doesn't stop me to rationalise about it, especially when I see what happens around me, both in Bulgaria and on the world. It's easy to call names and to be definitely against something and to defend freedom on all cost, but just as I ask in my responses pasted below, are we really free now? How do we experience our freedom. Yes, we can go around the world, say whatever we feel like to (though are people always saying what's on their mind? NO!) and do stupid things like saying jokes on Bush or whatever without being jailed for them, but is this really freedom. Are we feeling more free than the average Chinese person? If you're an internet user and cannot enjoy youtube, sure, you'll feel so limited. But if you're not using internet, don't care about politics and just want to live your life, I have the feeling, you won't have problems with any regime, as long as they don't come and rape you, take away your food or kill your relatives. As we joked recently about people in the wild Russia-do they care who's in charge? No.
Do they care about government regulations? As far as nobody impose them to them forcefully-not at all.

Freedom is something very subjective. Truth is that as long as you don't experience limitation, that means as long as you don't crash with the wall surrounding you-you'll feel perfectly fine. The problems come when you reach the wall. In some regimes that wall is very very close to you, you have to watch all of your steps, in some it's very very far. But the wall is always there! They question is how they convince you not to touch that wall. Oppressive regimes did that by force and fear, more laxist regimes use other forces-like public opinion, publicity, moral and of course, money.

A good example is the following-I want to go to the Moon. Is it possible? Yes. Is it doable? Yes. Can I do it? Probably, if my health allows it. Will I do it? More likely not. Why? Because I don't have the money needed. If I was a billionaire and wanted to go to the Moon, there wouldn't be anything to stop me, except for time. Time to prepare the mission, to get safety on the level, to train for trip and to go there. If I'm an average Joe with normal salary (and normal obviously varies, but say normal for France), I would never be able to do it, unless I'm extremely lucky to become an astronaut and to get on a Moon mission. So am I free to do that-of course! Will I do it-No! Well, then, what's that freedom about. And obviously, it's not only about devotion-even if you are an astronaut, you still may not go to the Moon.

I know this is a very far-fetched example, but you can easily bring it down to Earth. Even for the smallest thing like you have a bad headache, you really want to go home, instead of working, but you simply cannot leave work, because they will either fire you or they won't pay you for that day and you really need the money to pay for mortgage and credit cards and whatever. Today, in our "free" society, money are the chains that keep us from being free. We rely so heavily on other people, their services and the over-all production of money, that we're actually slaves to the system. Little, money-making machines. And there are only two ways to break free-to be so rich, so that you are on the top of the system (and the whole system will work for you and few others like you) or to be in the vast bottom of the system-to be so poor, you don't care what the system does to you. Poor isn't the best word-you can give up the system and go somewhere in the forests where nobody will ever find you. You simply won't need money there. But all of us that are in the middle of the system, we're slaves. Happy, joyful, shopping slaves.

That's why I don't believe in freedom. I don't believe that capitalism is radically better than communism. Qualitatively-yes, capitalism ensure more personal freedom in order to increase productivity and stability of the money-making machine. But in both systems, people are merely parts of that machine.

I don't know what could be done to change the system. I don't know of a better system. The problem isn't in the system, but in people. We have flaws that always lead to someone abusing the system and many being abused by the system. I think that if we could become telepathic that could help us be less egoistic, but I don't know, I guess people can figure out how to cheat that too. The point is, let's not pretend that the current status quo is so great. It's not great. People are starving, people are lonely, people are working extra hours instead of playing with their family. We're fucked. We're happy only because our brains are wired to by happy. If our brains were capable of objectivism, we'll probably all suicide.

Are socialists happier than capitalists?

June 9th, 2009

Driven by a decline in satisfaction with work life and family life, overall well-being initially plummeted in countries directly affected by the fall of the Iron Curtain, reveals an important new study.

The research, forthcoming in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, expands our understanding of the correlation between happiness and democracy — and whether economic concerns outweigh political reforms in their impact on subjective well-being.

"Although one might suppose these questions are of interest — some might even say fundamental interest, considering that they involve comparing capitalism and socialism — they have received little attention in the voluminous literature on transition economies," says Richard Easterlin, USC University Professor and professor of economics at USC.

Easterlin examines in thirteen countries in the so-called communist-bloc using self-reported data from a range of sources, particularly the World Values Survey. Communist-bloc countries first appeared in the large-scale Survey in 1989, when a representative population in each country was asked to rate "life these days, as a whole" on a scale of 1 (dissatisfied) to 10 (satisfied).

Other surveys before and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 asked similar questions about specific aspects of life — such as work, health, and standard of living — and about "the way democracy works in (your country)."

"The dissolution of the police states and increase in political and civil rights in many of the transition countries might have been expected to increase life satisfaction," Easterlin says. "The sharp decline that initially occurred suggests that adverse economic and social conditions trumped the political in their impact on subjective well-being."

The study finds that the trend in overall satisfaction with democracy is actually slightly negatively correlated to the trend in reported happiness after the fall of the Iron Curtain. This correlation is not statistically significant, according to Easterlin, but undermines the assertion by some scholars that democratization in these countries significantly increased happiness.

"There is evidence that, when asked about their sources of well-being, people rarely mention political circumstances," Easterlin explains. "Rather, they put foremost those concerns that principally occupy their time, most notably making a living, family life and health."

Satisfaction with work, childcare and health all decreased significantly during the transition from socialism to capitalism, reflecting a marked rise in symptoms of social stress such as divorce rates, suicide rates, domestic violence and increased alcoholism and drug use, Easterlin finds.

However, people were much more satisfied with one particular aspect of their lives after the fall of the Soviet Union: their material circumstances, including standard of living, goods availability and the environment.

"The positive contribution of life satisfaction to improved material living was outweighed by losses in employment security, health and child care, and provision for old age," Easterlin says.

Disparities in life satisfaction also increased after the fall of the Soviet Union, particularly along the lines of age and education. Those older than 30, who had already established careers under the socialist system, were far more likely to be dissatisfied with life under capitalism than younger adults. Older people also faced the deterioration of old-age pension support and rising unemployment rates.

Men and women had about equal declines in life satisfaction, Easterlin finds.

"The human cost of the transition was enormous, with the lives of millions turned upside down," Easterlin says. "The impact of these changes on people's personal lives and their well-being is almost totally missed by GDP per capita."

While life satisfaction had rebounded somewhat by 1999, there is evidence to suggest that even by 2005 it had not yet reach pre-transition levels, according to the study. By this time, GDP in the countries studied had increased 25 percent on average since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"The life satisfaction measure, which reflects not only material well-being, but the everyday concerns and worries of women and men about work, health and family, is more indicative of the far-reaching changes that were taking place," Easterlin says.

He continues: "Life satisfaction is not an exhaustive measure of well-being. But if, in formulating transition policy, some consideration had been given to this measure, perhaps there would have been fewer 'lost in transition.'" source

--------first comment------------

Hm, as a citizen of ex-communist country, I can tell you that even back then, people had to work to survive, believe it or not. The difference isn't in the energy you have to put in your work, it's in the salary you get.

I can tell you what my mom told me when I blamed here for being irresponsible for having a huge bill for the cold water at some point. She said: I never ever have imagined that I wouldn't be able to pay my water bill. Before 1989, you could not pay it for years and then just go and pay it with the interest-it wasn't a big deal. Then it came 1990 and suddenly, the bill was huge, all the bills were huge. I worked and worked and couldn't manage to pay everything. I couldn't believe I cannot pay everything."

So, I think you look on things only from one direction-yours. When you're born in a capitalist society, you learn how to make do with what you have-all the good and the bad sides.

If you're born in a soc-country, you learn other things-things that are not always the same as the capitalist ones. But the point is you work and you get a salary that is abundant for your needs, you get a free health-care-a not bad one(if we exclude dentists!),free education, even higher one (a professor of mine told me he had a wife and a child with a student scholarship, now you can even rent an apartment with that money!). You got many social bonuses and you lived with them and enjoyed your life. Do you honestly think that average people cared about freedom of speech? Or that they cared they cannot visit say France, when they could visit half Asia without a visa? Or that the country's economy wasn't exactly self-sustainable (not that USA now isn't in a huge debt). They learnt how to live with what they had. Some things were better, some was worst. But humans are adaptable and they find ways to be happy.

But the transition from one social system to another is a nightmare. My mother is from the lost generation-she grew up in a society where you could be whatever you wanted to be-she wanted to be a musician, so she became a musician. She plays wonderfully on piano and double bas, knows all about harmony and music theory. But today, in that new society, people don't need pianists. They need managers. And suddenly, she can hardly get a job as a pianist, and she certainly cannot make a living by that job. While before she could. Before, to be a pianist was a privilege, it guaranteed you a nice life. Now, it's worthless. Do you think that she didn't have to work in order to become good on the piano. She practised for hours and hours, for years! Isn't that a work? It is. But current society doesn't consider it important. Had she been born in USA, she would have the means to live by being a musician. She probably wouldn't be a star, but she'd be able to survive and do what she likes. Today, in my country, she cannot do that.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that the type of society you live in is crucial for the type of qualities you'll develop. But in the end-we're all just on the lower end of the pyramid. And when you're on the bottom, it doesn't matter whether it's a socialism or capitalism. But people REALLY was happier back then-their life was calmer and allowed them to have more time for themselves and their families. And if you have lived in such society and then went into the chaos of extra-hours, extra-weeks, no affordable childcare, no affordable health-care, no affordable transport, how the hell do you expect those people to be happier now?! Obviously they cannot. Not for at least 20 years ahead.

------second comment--------

Erm, first, I'm not fond of communist years, I was like 6 when communism fell-so, please, I'm completely free of any good or bad memories for that time. I told you what my relatives told me. For me, it was just unsuccessful social experiment, a lesson that we should not repeat.

Now, let's get back to free speech. I wonder do you think you have a freedom of speech. Because from my point of view, talking is usually intended to provoke a reaction. And although we have the freedom to talk, we have no chance to provoke a reaction.
Yes, back then, certain people were murdered for various reasons. But what is it now? Each and every one of us can say whatever we want to, but it doesn't matter, because nobody is listening. I'd say that there was more effect from people's words back then, than right now. Because now we talk and talk and we change nothing. Because there's still great injustice. We see it, we fight it, but we cannot change it so far. Back then, I guess they just spared you the efforts by killing you. And your murder usually had effect on other people. While now, there are millions blogs and so on and people are still equally misinformed and uninterested!

I'm in no way protecting any regime that considers murders to be an effective way to achieve whatever. I don't support death penalty, I don't support wars. I do not support death or torture.

But I think you're very heavily brainwashed on the issue of freedom. See, freedom is not the freedom to work and have your business and whatever. Freedom is not to live in the Matrix-to have your cubicle or your ranch or to be able to buy 10 TVs or cars. Freedom is defined by your ability to do whatever you want to as long as you're not harming anyone. How far can you go now compared to where you could go back then? Probably further. But the freedom is not complete. And there is always someone or something to limit it. There's always someone on top of you. They simply replaced the enslaving government with the bigger enslaver-money. And made a better publicity of the new master-before they ordered you to do something, now they convince you to buy until you go broke. Nice.

I'm sorry, I live in a now "free" country. I don't feel particularly free. I can go wherever I want to and do whatever I want to. With the little catch, that I need money to do it. And to get the money, you sacrifice your life. I cannot do what I'm best in, because I have to do something that bring money home. Is this freedom? /though to be honest, I do what I want to, but then, I don't bring money home/

I think this is why people felt better back then, even though some were murdered. They had the opportunity to do what they want to (as long as this thing doesn't stand on the way of the party). They could raise family and go on vacation for months and just enjoy their life. They were confined, but the walls were softened.

And please, note, even back then, people invented stuff, were creative and well, were productive. Not at the same rate as in capitalism, obviously, but that's a matter of management. Bad management in the case. But don't get carried away how people were mindless zombies. They were not.

-------Quote of the TheTim---------
No matter what system you use, capitalist or otherwise, there needs to be a mitigation of exploitation in that system.

People like to say "capitalism works." I fear that approximately 60% of the world's population would kindly (and not so kindly) disagree. Capitalism comes at the cost of exploitation, which is fine so long as it happens on the other side of the planet where it is out of sight.

People need to learn to live within their means and be happy with what they have. The consumption culture is disgraceful, at best, and self-destructive, at worst. (link)

Today, I'd like to paste two very interesting articles. They basically say that sometimes, psychotic deviation can have roots in our perceptions of the reality.

To clarify- first article is about how people who fear heights actually experience 14 metres like 50 metres-much higher than it is and they actually react in a healthy way for that height. The problem is that their perception is wrong. The study of another scientists goes even further-it says that the connection between fear and misconception is more complex than the one driving the other-actually they amplify each other.

The second article claims that hyperactive boys actually experience the time to run more slowly than normal boys. And they compensate by doing something. Now, here, we have two important issues-a) the time doesn't run in the same way for everybody-that's pretty obvious b) physiological factors can change the way we perceive time and vise versa.

So, what's the moral in all this? Well, we often judge other people as though they are the same like us. What's even worst, often, we consider ourselves as objective observers and judge the situations with that prerogative. And those two experiments proved that's not the best thing to do. A situation may greatly vary for different people. If, heights may look bigger in the eyes of the fear, how they could look for someone called brave? Aren't those two deviations equally harmful? What's more, if time is so subjective, then how could we know how someone feels (or should feel) if we have no idea what's the time-span of an situation in that person's head. When this is so crucial!

Ok, I know today I'm little messy, I had a hard day, I apologise. My point is that when we judge ourselves, we often excuse ourselves, because we know all the factors that have impacted us-like I slept little, I ate something too heavy, I was angry, I felt lonely and so on. Thus, we tend to be good to ourselves (and if not-we better be!). But when it comes to other people, we're likely to be harsh. We don't care what they ate and how long was the work-day for them. We cannot know this information, because it's way too personal. It's hard to empathise, without having a way to confirm what happened to that person. And so we're harsh. Sometimes too harsh than necessary.

Today I was quite harsh, for example! I had my reasons, but I guess we all have them. I don't feel particularly guilty, but the point is, should I? Was I right, or was I wrong? Could we ever be right? How could we judge someone, if we cannot judge even ourselves. I mean, we always have our excuses. What are we supposed to judge-the reasons or the results? And how can we try to be objective, when no one ever is. Even a telescope records only what it's in its range. No more, no less. We make do with what we have, but still, there may be so much more! Can we apply that in our relations with humans? Because, if we admit that people perceive the world in different ways than us, and thus, they react in different way to a situation, I don't think we can judge them for their actions. In the radical stuff, it's obvious-killing someone for the joy of it is bad. But the life is not always so radical. Sometimes you get late, sometimes you burn the meal, sometimes you didn't finish your task on time. How to react? I think I have the answers for myself-if it's business, be results-oriented - consider the harm and act. If it's personal, however, I like this thought-you shall not judge if you do not love. Because only love admits subjectivity. Only trough love, you try to see every piece of detail, so that you see trough the eyes of the other person. Only trough love, the punishment is always with measure. So...I guess we'll have to love each other, huh?
Anyway, the point is-we have to be more tolerant, because you never know what the other person is experiencing. And in the end, not only the cake is a lie, the life is a lie!

Fear of heights linked to vertical perception

People who shudder atop skyscrapers or feel their knees buckle going over bridges have troubling perceiving vertical dimensions, two new studies suggest.

Those with an extreme fear of heights - a condition called acrophobia and often mislabelled "vertigo" - significantly overestimate vertical distances. The stronger their fear, the bigger the error, say researchers.

This runs counter to traditional theories of acrophobia, says Russell Jackson, a cognitive psychologist at California State University in San Marcos, who led one of the studies. Psychologists generally hold that "acrophobia is an excessive fear in response to something that's perceived normally," he says.

But Jackson's new results indicate otherwise. "An important component of acrophobia appears to be that they are perceiving something different in the first place" and reacting normally, he says.

All but one volunteer overestimated height – whether from the top or bottom of the building. However, volunteers proved better judges from the bottom of the building than the top, and a person's score on the acrophobia test did a decent job of predicting how far off he or she was.

Those most scared of heights judged the building 3 metres higher from the bottom and 12 metres higher from the top, compared with those who scored lowest on the acrophobia test.

Because subjects erred both on top of the building – where being scared is more rational – and when safe on the ground, their fear seems to be driven primarily by misperception, Jackson says.

Acrophobiacs who see a 14-metre building like it's 50 metres react like normal people would to a 50-metre building. "There's no-one that's fearless when it comes to heights," he says.

Jeanine Stefanucci, a psychologist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, who led the second study agrees that misperception is key to acrophobia. However, she thinks fear drives misperception, not the other way around.

Her study suggests that fear is driving misperception, though the relationship could more complex than one causing the other, Stefanucci says.source

Time moves too slowly for hyperactive boys

CHILDREN with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder might appear rowdy and indisciplined, but they are actually trying to cope with a faulty perception of time.

What to most of us seems like a short stretch of time would drag unbearably for someone with ADHD, says Katya Rubia of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. Her team's research, reported this week, adds to a growing body of evidence for the importance of time perception in a wide range of psychological disorders.

ADHD affects around 5 per cent of children globally, most of them boys. Studies relating to the disorder have focused on patients' short attention spans and impulsive behaviour. But ADHD is characterised by a shortage of dopamine, which is known to affect time perception, so Rubia and her colleagues wanted to know if this was the source of the kids' problems.

The researchers used MRI scans to show that 12 boys with ADHD had less activity than usual in the frontal lobe, the basal ganglia and the cerebellum, all areas of the brain known to be crucial for time perception. These boys were also worse than 12 other boys at estimating how long circles appeared on a screen before vanishing.

When they were given the drug methylphenidate, aka Ritalin, which boosts dopamine levels and is used to treat ADHD, brain activity in the ADHD group became indistinguishable from that of the healthy boys.

Rubia believes this is evidence that faulty time perception causes the major symptoms of ADHD, by making children perceive even short periods of inactivity as inordinately long and boring. Because novelty-seeking and risky behaviour increase dopamine levels, children with ADHD may be become hyperactive as a way of "self-medicating" with dopamine.

Catalin Buhusi of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston is an author of another paper in the themed issue of the journal (DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0022). He says the results fit his own research on how intense activity or distraction warps our time perception, so that time appears to fly.

Buhusi's theory is that when we are engaged in an intense task, the working memory required to execute it is too large to allow simultaneous tracking of time, so it appears to pass without us noticing.

Researchers are realising that faulty time perception may be at the root of many more psychiatric disorders. People with depression experience time moving more slowly than usual, for example, while those with mania perceive it as passing much faster.source


Big brother knows it all

Check out what I found last month. It's about the UK's excellent opportunity to monitor internet traffic. I guess it's not a surprise that the police can read anything we read online. The problem for me is not so much that they can do it, the problem is who's monitoring them! In Bulgaria, in particular, police wanted to have the right to monitor internet activity without court order. Well, I'm asking, if anyone from the police can simply tap into your email, how exactly they are going to fight professional espionage? Because let's face it-people use internet extensively not only to chat with whatever-sexual people they like, they use it to WORK, to make seminars, to discuss projects. If any average Joe-the policeman can listen those seminar, can follow the flow of ideas and the person doesn't need to account to anyone, who's going to stop them from telling the secrets they know to anyone ready to pay for them?
I'm completely serious. You that this affect just a low percentage of people using internet, but you better think again. Espionage isn't only about military projects of US giants and terminator-like movies. It's about the prices in the local supermarket, it's about the new shampoo someone is going to release on market, it's about the timing of the sales in the local store. It's about everything. Every information is important and can be sold. Every information can be damaging to someone. How are you going to protect it? Yes, police usually goes for the big fishes, but as long as there isn't a strict order how something like this should be done, who can guarantee you what the level of abuse will be.
Even on personal level-why should Facebook supply the police with your friends. What do they need them for? What do we pay them for if they cannot infiltrate even Facebook! It's ridiculous! And again, why do they need them for? Are we innocent until proven otherwise, or are we guilty! I don't understand why someone would need to know everything about you. Why? What crime would I commit that is so grave that the police need to know all of my friends, all of my posts, all of my pictures. Or are they trying to prevent me from doing a crime? Are they going to stop me before I do a crime or they want to be prepared for after the crime! I really liked Minority Report for that different point of view-how sure can one be that you'll commit a crime, how guilty are the people who knew but didn't prevent it and how guilty you are if they stopped you in time.
Anyway, I'm stopping my rambling, I just want to spark in you the light of the doubt. Do we need a constant global surveillance. And can we put our trust in the hands of anonymous police officers who account to no one. And do we want to do it!
P.S. Please, don't forget that many countries impose a firewall on internet traffic for certain keywords like child pornography. And while I agree on that particular term and I hate the very idea that someone might want to watch abuses on children, I have to ask, what other words are forbidden-drugs, prostitutes, guns, members of the opposition party? There must be a limit in such firewalls and the society should decide what it is and how far it can go.

UK is ideal home for electronic Big Brother

WHEN it comes to spying on emails and online behaviour, the British government is particularly well placed. A new analysis suggests that more internet traffic passes through the UK than any other country bar the US.

Josh Karlin of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and colleagues examined the way international internet traffic is transmitted around the globe (www.arxiv.org/abs/0903.321). From this they created a "country centrality" (CC) rating - a 0-to-1 scale in which a country that routes all international traffic would score 1. The US came out top with a CC of 0.74. The UK and Germany followed with scores of 0.29 and 0.25.

There is no evidence that these countries are likely to use their position to filter or block internet content in the way that China or Iran do, but they are thought to be using it to their advantage to listen in on emails and other online chat.

Concern about the capabilities of British spooks was heightened last month when it emerged that the UK government is considering asking Facebook and other social networking sites to hand over details about their users and the online friends they are linked to. The plan is part of the government's proposed Intercept Modernisation Programme, under which it is likely that web-page requests, emails and other traffic through the UK's ISPs will be monitored.

While intelligence agencies in the UK and US are unwilling to discuss details of the internet surveillance they carry out, information from whistle-blowers has revealed that both nations routinely monitor the cables that carry voice and computer data. The Bush administration, for example, authorised the US National Security Agency to tap international email and phone conversations. source

China in your hands , may, 2009

Totally without purpose, my post today coincides with one very sad day in the Chinese history, - Tiananmen Square - Peking (Beijing) China 3-4 June 1989. A very sad day indeed. The massacre day.

But I don't want to focus on this. Chinese people have to decide for themselves how they want to be ruled. And so far, they don't seem to mind what's happening. I guess we all have our destiny both as individuals and as nations. And I don't want to judge anyone. Maybe just to remind you about those last optimists in China, the people who believed their voice could and should be heard. I wish them peace.

And now on my post. Sometimes I feel lucky that China so far is being good to the rest of the world. It's a big country, it produces probably 90% of what we use in our life. It's not like they don't have a way to show us the finger. But so far they do not. However, how long will that last?

Read the following articles. You remember I posted about the huge debt USA have toward China as its bigger lender. Now we see that China is trying to expand its lending to Latin America as well. And it does it quite well. A swift move, obviously. And Latin America is buying it. Not that they have a big chance to say no. And along with the recent troubles with the European global positioning system- Galileo-China refusing to give up a security frequency, I find this development quite worrying. Though, there is certainly an irony-first USA used its money to buy and corrupt the world, now China is doing the same. And the wheel of Karma spins.

The second article is about the excess of baby-boys in China. Although it's artificial, we all know that in war-time or before a big war, there are always more baby-boys born. The conclusion is obvious. And I certainly want to believe that our world is evolved enough to spare us another major war. We need peace, we really do need it.

Enjoy!

Deals Help China Expand Sway in Latin America

April 15, 2009
CARACAS, Venezuela — As Washington tries to rebuild its strained relationships in Latin America, China is stepping in vigorously, offering countries across the region large amounts of money while they struggle with sharply slowing economies, a plunge in commodity prices and restricted access to credit.

In recent weeks, China has been negotiating deals to double a development fund in Venezuela to $12 billion, lend Ecuador at least $1 billion to build a hydroelectric plant, provide Argentina with access to more than $10 billion in Chinese currency and lend Brazil’s national oil company $10 billion. The deals largely focus on China locking in natural resources like oil for years to come.

China’s trade with Latin America has grown quickly this decade, making it the region’s second largest trading partner after the United States. But the size and scope of these loans point to a deeper engagement with Latin America at a time when the Obama administration is starting to address the erosion of Washington’s influence in the hemisphere.

“This is how the balance of power shifts quietly during times of crisis,” said David Rothkopf, a former Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration. “The loans are an example of the checkbook power in the world moving to new places, with the Chinese becoming more active.”

Mr. Obama will meet with leaders from the region this weekend. They will discuss the economic crisis, including a plan to replenish the Inter-American Development Bank, a Washington-based pillar of clout that has suffered losses from the financial crisis. Leaders at the summit meeting are also expected to push Mr. Obama to further loosen the United States policy toward Cuba.

Meanwhile, China is rapidly increasing its lending in Latin America as it pursues not only long-term access to commodities like soybeans and iron ore, but also an alternative to investing in United States Treasury notes.

One of China’s new deals in Latin America, the $10 billion arrangement with Argentina, would allow Argentina reliable access to Chinese currency to help pay for imports from China. It may also help lead the way to China’s currency to eventually be used as an alternate reserve currency. The deal follows similar ones China has struck with countries like South Korea, Indonesia and Belarus.

As the financial crisis began to whipsaw international markets last year, the Federal Reserve made its own currency arrangements with central banks around the world, allocating $30 billion each to Brazil and Mexico. (Brazil has opted not to tap it for now.) But smaller economies in the region, including Argentina, which has been trying to dispel doubts about its ability to meet its international debt payments, were left out of those agreements.

Details of the Chinese deal with Argentina are still being ironed out, but an official at Argentina’s central bank said it would allow Argentina to avoid using scarce dollars for all its international transactions. The takeover of billions of dollars in private pension funds, among other moves, led Argentines to pull the equivalent of nearly $23 billion, much of it in dollars, out of the country last year. source

Selective sex abortion causes 32 million excess males in China

April 10th, 2009

Selective abortion in favour of males has left China with 32 million more boys than girls, creating an imbalance that will endure for decades, an investigation released on Friday warned.

The probe provides ammunition for those experts who predict China's obsession with a male heir will sow a bitter fruit as men facing a life of bachelorhood fight for a bride.

In most countries, males slightly outnumber females -- between 103 and 107 male births for every 100 female births.

But in China and other Asian countries, the sex ratio has widened sharply as the traditional preference for boys is reinforced by the availability of cheap ultrasound diagnostics and abortion.

This has enabled Chinese couples to use pregnancy termination to prevent a female birth, a practice that is officially condemned as well as illegal.

In China, an additional factor has been the "one-child" policy.

In general, parents who have a second child are liable to pay a fine and contribute disproportionately towards the child's education.

But in some provinces, a second child is permitted if the first is a girl or if parents are experiencing "hardship." And in a few others, couples are allowed a second child and sometimes a third, regardless of sex.

In the paper, Zhejiang university professors Wei Xing Zhu and Li Lu and Therese Hesketh of University College London found that in 2005 alone, China had more than 1.1 million excess male births.

Among Chinese aged below 20, the greatest gender imbalances were among one-to-four-year-olds, where there were 124 male to 100 female births, with 126 to 100 in rural areas, they found.

The gap was especially big in provinces where the one-child policy was strictly enforced and also in rural areas.

Jiangxi and Henan provinces had ratios of over 140 male births compared to female births in the 1-4 age group.

Among second births, the sex ratio was even higher, at 143 males to 100 female. It peaked at a massive 192 boys to 100 girls in Jiangsu province.

Only two provinces -- Tibet and Xinjiang, the most permissive in terms of the one-child policy -- had normal sex ratios.

"Sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males," the paper said. "(...) Enforcing the existing ban on sex selective abortion could lead to normalisation of ratios."

Other policy options are to loosen enforcement of the one-child policy so that couples can have a second child if the first child is a girl, it said.

Since since 2000, the government has launched policies aimed at countering the imbalance, with a "care for girls" awareness campaign and reforms of inheritance laws, it says.

Partially as a result, the sex ratio of birth did not change between 2000 and 2005, and in many urban areas, the ratio for the first and usually only birth is now within normal limits.

In a commentary, Tao Liu and Xing-yi Zhang of Jilin University said preferences for sons in China were starting to erode with urbanisation and industrialisation.

Social systems, pensions and higher standards of living eased the son's traditional role of caring for his parents.

China could also follow the lead of South Korea, he said.

In 1992, South Korea had "an astounding" 229-to-100 gender imbalance, which prompted it to launch a public-awareness campaign combined with strictly enforced laws on gender selection. By 2004, there were 110 male births to 100 females. source



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