Tag Archives: politics

Some fundies are gonna freak the hell out about this

Scientists just made a breakthrough by creating the first human-pig embryo that could revolutionize healthcare

…The ultimate goal of this type of work is to grow human organs inside of other animals as a means to ending the organ shortage that is costing thousands of Americans — who need a transplant — their lives each year.

Well, not just Americans but we get the point. Now cue the “OMG Frankenstein chimera!” lamentations of the Medieval segment of the public. I’m sure if there’s a Christian Doomsday Clock somewhere, it has moved a few minutes closer to the Apocalypse now.

But seriously, when you overcome your initial revulsion (“OMG, this is so sick!”), and force yourself to study this, you might consider this. Think of this way: if you transplant a kidney into a pig, it’s still a pig. Transplanting cells that could grow one of YOUR kidneys in a pig still makes it a pig, which you might one day need very much.

This scientific achievement holds promise of helping so many people needing organ transplants for everything from cornea eye to kidney transplants. It also helps have a rudimentary understanding of CRISPR gene editing. Regarding “human-pig” chimeras, the key is in understanding “induced Pluripotent Stem Cells”, or iPS for short. There are three types, and the type used to grow organs are iPS cells.

iPS cells offer great therapeutic potential. Because they come FROM A PATIENT’S OWN CELLS (caps mine), they are genetically matched to that patient, so they can eliminate tissue matching and tissue rejection problems that currently hinder successful cell and tissue transplantation.” (source)

Thus, these are NOT cells used from an aborted fetus. Thus,
1) If you need a pancreas transplant, a sample of cells from YOUR own body, like skin cells, are used, and 2) The scientists used a pig’s “egg” and edits out, or snips out its gene for a pancreas, using the CRISPR gene editing. That egg then could not produce a pig pancreas, but – the human skin cell, when injected into the egg, can fill in the void, creating and growing a replica of YOUR pancreas in a pig fetus.

Genius, humane cures, and what the 21st century should be about… I hope we don’t blow this. Medieval fundies, I’m looking at you.

I suppose congratulations are in order?

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Hey, h’America! It’s been a great/disastrous/??? day for democracy, hasn’t it? See, we’ve had our own Mityo “Pishtova” (The Gun) for presidential candidate around here too, and though he couldn’t win the election despite promising free meatballs and lemonade for everyone who dared vote for him, seems like the h’American* version of Mityo has earned a brilliant and shocking victory.

Well done, h’America! You’ve completely jumped the shark now, and proven to be the most [insert expletive containing intelligence-related overtones]** nation on this planet. One thing is for sure: there’ll be a lot of LOLs from here on. But even more cringes.

Some say h’America is in trouble in terms of domestic policy. We the people around the world may’ve seemed concerned about his foreign policies as well, but given PresidentDouche***’s general stated proneness to leave the rest of the world to their means while enjoying himself around his casinos and leaving the folks in his team run the country, this might not be such bad news for us (can we see some hiatus from the frantic nation-building that we’ve seen lately, heh?) Conversely, this could spell disaster for international politics, as various rogue players would be sure to probe the ground and test how far they could push things – which brings us to PresidentDouche’s unpredictability in terms of reaction to their actions. But we’ll see.

What matters though is, if PresidentDouche keeps even 10% of his promises and intentions, h’America is truly screwed domestically – and that’s bad for the rest of the world in the long run, because it can’t help reflecting on the rest of us. The public has reacted to years of elitist disconnect in the ugliest and stupidest way possible, so in a sense this is really a reactionary step backwards. One that now, in hindsight, doesn’t seem as shocking and unexpected as it did a while back.

This, from a foreigner’s perspective.

As for the complex maze that is the US political system, the checks’n’balances that have been put there from day one, will probably smoothen PresidentDouche’s douchiness somewhat. Granted, that largely depends on whom he encircles himself with, from now on. Something tells me Congress, even GOP-dominated, won’t let him Make America Great Again the way he imagined – whatever that means – and for good or for bad.

Ultimately, the result shows two more things. One: populism is winning big these days (and not just in h’America), because people feel hugely disenfranchized and disconnected from their rulers. And two: all the polling agencies, pundits, analysts, and all the collective harpies that call themselves the media, can go die in a fire. Their projections and predictions are worth less than a cat’s poop. Whatever they say, the people appear to think otherwise – if most of them are able to think, anyway**.

* An old joke around these parts: h’America, the lamer side of America. Long story. I intend to call her so for the duration of PresidentDouche’s tenure. Trademarked!
** Care to bet what % of the populace are capable of autonomous critical thought? My observations have pointed to roughly about 5%. Although that could vary from country to country.
*** There used to be a PresidentMoron website, dedicated to updating news of GWB’s stupidity daily. It has been down for years, but a new niche seems to have opened in its place now. We’ll be all ears. The showmen around h’America and the world will sure have a lot of work in the upcoming years.

An Exercise In History Deletion

This is going to be about the way history itself can be treated, and twisted, and perverted, for political purposes. Do bear with me. For the target of my contention is your fave boxing bag too: Russia. And for a good reason.

December 5, 1931 was a dark day in history. One of many at the time. It was the day that Stalin ordered the demolition of the Christ the Savior cathedral in downtown Moscow. That same day, the magnificent Memorial of the Bulgars was also blown up in Kazan, in Tatarstan, to the east of Moscow. In the meantime, along with this destruction of massive cultural treasures, a hectic effort in rewriting the history of the Russian Empire was going on. Because it was supposed to be substituted with the glorious history of the emergent Soviet Union. The drive of the Bolshevik propaganda to redraw not just Russian history but the history of all the parts of the world it could put its paws upon, was meant to prove to the peoples of the new empire that the spiritual and historic legacy of imperial Russia was supposed to be perceived as solely the achievement of the Russian people and no one else – and not just any Russian people, but the “right” social groups. Everything that dared to contradict this fantasy, was doomed to oblivion. As collateral, the Bulgar(ian) role in Russian history became a victim as well.

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Saints Cyril and Methodius were two titans of the Early Medieval Renaissance with huge significance for the Balkans, East Europe and the Slavic world. Their disciples brought their legacy and their work to Russia as well, among other places. This fact became a primary target for the Soviet historiography, and was a taboo topic in Russia for a long time. The very thought that the Slavic alphabet that was so important for an entire civilization, was brought by a tiny country like Bulgaria (an empire at the time), was unbearable and unacceptable for the Kremlin. Russia had to be the standard-bearer of the Slavic civilization, and it wasn’t meant to share that pedestal with anybody else. So, the historical truth was quickly substituted with a pseudo-scientific theory about Cyril and Methodius’ imaginary “mission” to the Crimean Khazars in 860. A scribe at the time wrote that Cyril was shown a Bible that was written in a local runic alphabet. That detail is at the core of the Soviet myth that the Slavic alphabet was created in Russia (or under Russian influence). What’s more likely than that story is that Cyril was familiar with the Varangian (Viking) runes that were popular among the northern merchants who were quite influential in Byzantium at the time, and who, among other things, were the trigger factor for the creation of Russia. In fact, the Russian tribes intentionally invited a clan of Swedish Vikings (later dubbed the Rurikids) to come show them how to build a state of their own. Another historical fact that was (and still is largely) a taboo topic in Russia, by the way.

Even a cursory glance at the Grand Soviet Encyclopaedia shows that Cyril and Methodius’ mission and significance is deliberately disparaged, and for political reasons. Instead of clearly stating their South Slavic identity and the explicit Bulgarian patronage of their disciples’ work, they’re being associated with some sort of vague “Slavic influence”.

Plenty of Bulgarian history teachers now recall that in the Soviet era, they would frequently hit all sorts of road-blocks and wade into all sorts of trouble if they ever dared to cite actual historical facts about the key role of the First Bulgarian Empire for the development and popularization of Orthodox Christianity throughout East and Central Europe, including Russia. The fact that Bulgaria was the first enlightenment factor in this half of the continent, long before Russia, was yet another taboo topic. Which hadn’t been the case before the Bolsheviks – in fact, many Russian writers and academics have acknowledged that “our southern cousins taught us to read and write, and to pray to God”. Citing these was also forbidden in Soviet schools, and severely frowned upon in Bulgarian schools, pre-90s. A pre-Bolshevik professor named Yuriy Venelin (whose words I’ve just quoted) had his grave and memorial plate blown up by the Soviet Moscow authorities in the 30s in result of that stance.

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Another victim of this hectic historical revisionism was St. Cyprian of Bulgaria. He became a Bishop of Moscow and All Russia in the late 14th century. He was born in Tarnovo, Bulgaria, and was among the most influential figures in Russian history, with huge importance for the Russian Orthodox Church. As is the case with Saints Cyril and Methodius, Constantinople was the facilitator of the Russo-Bulgar relations at the time. Cyprian, who was a friend and ally to our own legendary patriarch Euthymius of Tarnovo, was sent on a mission to Russia to help spread Orthodox Christianity in a country that was being torn by civil war and threatened with Asian invasions. The tremendous talent of the Bulgarian cleric managed to bring the warring lords to the table, achieve internal peace, and mobilize the Church and hence the populace to unite against the Tatar threat. Cyprian gained huge support among the people, and embarked on a unifying and enlightening mission until his death in the early 15th century. He was head of the enormous Muscovite and All-Russian Patriarchy.

Centuries after he was canonized and proclaimed a Saint though, his origin and role for unifying Russia and the Church began to be undermined and questioned. At times he was declared a Greek, and his contribution as leader and reformist of the Russian faith started to get ascribed to some imaginary Russian hermit. After long negotiations between the Bulgarian and Russian Patriarchies, about 16 years ago Cyprian’s bones were re-buried at the Uspenski Cathedral within the Kremlin complex. The visitors can now see his tomb, with an inscription from the Russian Orthodox Church, acknowledging his true origin and his significance for the formation of the Russian nation. He had to wait nearly a century to re-gain his status. And that says a lot.

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There’s yet another episode in the history of the bilateral relations that is much darker than this. The 1917 Bolshevik revolution gave way to illusions among the heirs of the Volga Bulgars (living between the Volga and Kama rivers) that they’d be granted a revival of their national identity. They did not want to be falsely given the identity of the Tatar invaders who had conquered Volga Bulgaria centuries before, so they were naive enough to believe the new Soviet regime would help them. But the Bolsheviks first used them for their civil war, and then removed the threat from a possible Bulgar revival by either massacring, deporting, or generally repressing any and all activists who were hoping for a Bulgar autonomy. Instead, the Tatar Autonomous Socialist Republic was created around the city of Kazan. And the dream of Khan Kotrag’s heirs was drowned into the Volga and Kama rivers.

A USSR census conducted at the time of Gorbachev’s perestroika gave a chance to the long-oppressed people to raise their head once more. However, as soon as our newly born democracy attempted to voice its support for our cousins around the Volga, Moscow sent us an angry note, ordering us to refrain from “meddling in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation” (while simultaneously not shying away from meddling into our own domestic affairs, regarding our energy industry, etc). Naturally, being true to its old instinct of laying lower than the grass until all storms have passed, BG duly obliged and shut up. A few years later, a petition was signed by 150 thousand Volga Bulgars who demanded that a Bulgar nation be recognized within the Russian Federation was sent to the Russian embassy (other nations have been recognized for far less, btw). But it so happened that the Second Chechen War broke out at that moment, so our “leaders” figured the moment to press such claims that could be interpreted as “separatists”, was inappropriate. So the cause of the heirs of the Bulgars was again drowned somewhere into the bog of political expedience and coyness.

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Of course, Soviet “national engineering” has been well-known far and wide for years. Formerly influential regional powers like my country have been of particular interest in various partitioning efforts, for the sake of fulfilling various geopolitical purposes. The peak of this was reached during our own pro-Soviet regime (1944-1989), where our obedient Soviet marionette governments were actively used to “create” such mongrels like a Macedonian, Moesian, Thracian and Dobrudja nations. Moscow built a neat and nice theory regarding the establishment of a new “Gagauz” nation in the Ukrainian and Moldovan autonomous republics, especially in the regions tightly packed with ethnic Bulgarians. The ripples of all this nation-building can be felt even today. Brothers are pitched against brothers, arguing who’s more authentic than the other. The purpose of all this was clear: rob nations of their identity, dilute their historic legacy. Divide and rule, you know.

We’ve often been told that we owe our freedom to the benevolent Russians, because they liberated us from the Ottomans. In fact, ever since the Russo-Turkish wars of the 19th century, we, along with a number of our Balkan neighbors, have consistently been used as both a source of manpower for the Russian nation-engineering and re-population purposes (the Southern Steppes of Crimea and Caucasus had to be Russianized and absorbed into the expanding empire, after all), and as a host territory to dump the respective indigenous Crimean and Caucasian peoples into, in exchange (particularly in the eastern portion of Bulgaria). Given the Russian efforts from the near past to erase our legacy and diminish our role for the formation of the Slavic civilization, I could say that if anyone still believes that Russia’s intentions towards my country have ever been benevolent (and I’m speaking of Russia the state and the government, as opposed to the Russians-the-people), then they’re as naive as a 3rd-grader. Because if anyone has been paying attention in history classes, they’d have noticed by the 3rd grade that something’s terribly wrong with the whole “Russia is our friend” narrative.

Of course, that’s not just directed at us. We’re no special snowflake. In fact, Russia likes to do that all the time, with anybody. Kremlin’s historical revisionist prowess has been well-known. As any other craft, it’s been passed from master to apprentice. Therefore, it’s hardly a surprise that the various artificial nations that have sprung from this nation-building frenzy would start inventing histories of their own at some point. Just look at the way the “antique” history of the Former Yugoslav Republic of…. Blabla-bla, was invented, perfumed, put in a shiny package, and sold to the public. After all, the complexes and deficiencies of a (quasi-)nation that has not existed until recently and is therefore rather confused about its own identity, always tend to reflect on the way its (hi)story starts to look under closer scrutiny. And some national stories do reek of cartoonish ridiculousness, indeed.

A Giant On Clay Feet

Since recently I’ve been hearing the talking points of some Russophiles both at home and abroad taking precedence over common sense, I’ve bothered to do some work in summing up some facts, which I hope would help put those Putinite talking points into perspective. Because the Russian propaganda ain’t sleeping for a minute, definitely not around these latitudes. Just a disclaimer: the lines below are not directed at the Russian people as a people. Indeed, they’re quite lovely people when taken individually. What I can’t approve of is the way that nation has allowed itself to be ruled for centuries, and the results that’ve come out of it. So do bear with my diatribe.

1. By various estimates, Russia ranks 8th or 9th in terms of GDP. However, the Russian economy is about 7 times smaller than those of the US and EU, 3.5 times smaller than the Chinese, 1.3 times smaller than the Japanese, and 0.73 times smaller than the German economy. But what’s more interesting, a country with 148 million people like Russia is producing GDP which is twice smaller than that of a country like Italy, and just barely bigger than Canada’s, which is many times smaller in population. If anyone claims this is a sign of an efficient economy, I’d recommend they re-read their economics study-books. Source: here.

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^ See? Doesn’t look that big now, does it? (No, Russia ain’t the huge green blob. Russia is the squashed blue stain that’s squeezed between the real players.

2. 95.7% of Russia’s national treasure is formed by natural resources, and 70% of the Russian exports are oil and gas. Whichever way we look at it, Russia is a mere supplier of raw materials for the more developed economies of the world. If we believe the Russian economy is capable of producing cheap products of good quality, we’d better think of how many Russian goods (affordable, and of good quality) we’ve bought anywhere for the last 5-10 years. Personally? I haven’t bought even one. And I live less than a thousand miles away from there. Source: here.

3. I’ve been hearing Russians spouting the narrative that Russia is some kind of defender and paragon of Orthodox values, as opposed to the rot of the godless West. Personally, I can’t wrap my mind around this notion – I don’t get what makes the Russian Orthodox “values” so different from the standard Ten Commandments, and how is Russia propagating these values, since the divorce rate in that country is 51%. The US divorce rate is comparable, 53%. What’s more, evidently even the most prominent “defender” of Orthodox values could himself be divorced, which is exactly Putin’s marital status. It’s a public secret that the reason for his divorce was his romance with Alina Kabayeva, a former Soviet gymnast. On top of all that, if the purported Orthodox traditions are so strong in Russia, then how come the words “Russian woman” have long been associated with “harlot” around here (especially along our coast, which is so full of temptations)? Source: here.

4. Russia has the highest documented abortion rates in the world (34.7 abortions per 1000 births). Yep, you heard me. The highest in the world! But that’s just one factor for the rapidly waning population of that country. Immigration is the other. People are voting with their feet, apparently. I suppose Western liberal democracy is to blame for that as well? Source: here.

5. Barring the African countries (with the exception of the Maghreb), Russia has the highest registered HIV-positive rate in the world – 1.2 million infected. Source: here.

6. Russia has hard drug use levels (1.8 million people) which are comparable to those of the Third World. Source: here.

7. The homicide rate in Russia is 9.2 per 100,000, while that in the US is 4.7. And the US is being criticized for being a violent place!? Mind you, Russia shares the same area in the ranking with such nice places like Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Burundi, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Iraq, Guinea-Bissau, The Philippines, Gabon, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Angola, Djibouti, The Gambia, Haiti, Togo, Zimbabwe and Uganda. Among the more developed countries, only Mexico and Brazil are higher. Source: here.

8. The levels of corruption in Russia are staggering. And that, for a country that claims to be a leading economic powerhouse. The latest Transparency International ranking puts Russia at the 136th place (out of 174). Only Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya, Venezuela, North Korea and a few former Soviet republics are worse than that. Quite a nice record indeed. Source: here.

9. Russia is ranked 152nd out of 178 in terms of freedom of the press. Again, quite a remarkable record. Again, Russia shares the company of such nice Third World countries like Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and North Korea in this respect. Source: here.

10. Despite the constant muscle-flexing, Russia isn’t the military juggernaut we usually see on the Red Square parades, either. The US spends between 581 and 610 billion dollars on defense, China follows with 129-216 billion. Russia is either 3rd or 4th with 70-84.5 billion. Saudi Arabia is somewhere there as well, then follows Britain, France, Japan, India and Germany. One must be very infected with confirmation bias in order to believe they’re the most badass force in the world. Source: here.

11. Russia ranks 10th in the world in terms of suicide rates per capita, with 19.5 suicides per 100,000. Only Turkmenistan, South Sudan, India, Burundi, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Tanzania, Mozambique, Suriname, Lithuania, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Guyana are worse. The US is 50th with 12.1 suicides. I don’t know, Russians must be killing themselves so much out of sheer happiness for living in such an awesome place – or something. Source: here.

12. Russia is 4th in the world in alcohol consumption per capita (over 15 years of age). Only Belarus, Moldova and Lithuania are ahead. I’ve mentioned what “Russian woman” is associated with; well, in the meantime, “Russian man” is associated with “drunkard” around these latitudes (and not only). Source: here.

13. Russia has one of the highest homeless populations in the world, about 5 million. In comparison, those are 3 million in the EU (with almost 3 times more population), and in the US that number varies between 0.6 and 2.5 million, depending on the estimate (with twice the total population). Source: here.

14. You’d think people in the Middle East and East Asia are slaughtering each other like flies on the roads? Wait and see what’s happening in Russia. Most countries that rank higher than Russia in that respect are in Africa and Latin America (excepting Saudi Arabia, China and India out of the more developed countries). On the other hand, the road victims in Russia related to the number of vehicles is 4 times that in any developed country. Source: here.

15. You’d think Russia is preaching to the West out of some sort of pride for its social achievements? Well, in terms of social inequality Russia isn’t much better than, say, the US (a Gini coefficient of 39.7 against 41.1). Mind you, the highest concentration of billionaires (read: fraudulent exploiters) is in the US (190), while the billionaires in Russia (read: generous, socially responsible folks) are 86. Given the population differences, their concentration isn’t that different. Source: here.

16. In terms of government budget, Russia is 12th in the world. The revenue part of its budget is 1/6 of the US one, 1/4 of the Chinese, and 1/3 of the Japanese. What’s more, Russia has a state budget that’s a tad smaller than Australia’s (16% smaller revenue), and just a bit bigger than the Dutch one (try to compare Russia to the Netherlands on the map). Source: here.

17. That said, about half the budget revenue in Russia comes from the sales of oil and gas. This makes Russia resemble the likes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, rather than the US, Japan, China, Germany, Britain or France. No need to even begin discussing how the lack of diversification puts that budget in tremendous risk. Because it’s already happening (really: check the Rouble and compare its fluctuation to the movement of the global oil prices – noticing something?) Source: here.

18. The economic freedom index ranks Russia 139th out of 177. In terms of business climate, it’s 92nd out of 189 (although improving slightly in recent years). Source: here.

The list could go on for a while. The point is, the inconvenient truth for Russia, which too many Russophiles around here are willingly failing to see, is that Russia has turned itself into a country that’s a mere resource and energy appendix to the world economy. It’s got a un-free, corrupt and demoralized population, but meanwhile a large military and most importantly, aggressive, self-centered leaders. In many of the indicators for social, economic and political development, Russia rather resembles a Third-World country, only with a much colder climate, plus lots of nukes.

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I also don’t get the argument that Russia is somehow a paragon of something, an example to be emulated, hence superior to others in some way (except for size). A protector and champion of traditional values? Doesn’t seem to be the case, no. It remains a mystery how exactly these values are manifested, since Russia is among the worst in a number of negative rankings that are directly related to ethics, morality and the personal value system. I wonder how come at least part of the so loudly preached traditional Russian values haven’t been harnessed and channelled into creating more wealth and prosperity for the Russian people, as is the case in so many other more developed countries. Are Western liberal democracy and “tolerasty” to blame for Russia’s dire predicament? That doesn’t make sense.

Now looking at the facts and the data, I wonder which area of social life does the Russian state excel at, where exactly is it superior to the rest of the world – that’s important for me to know, if I am to be following the Russian model of governance and societal development, as some people are trying to convince me. What useful and important contributions has Russia done for the last few decades, which may’ve changed the world to the better? Apart from various forms of dictatorship, oppression, iron-fist governance, oil, and gas, I mean? Is there a product, a service, a technology, a model which the Russian society has offered to the world lately, which has made humankind’s existence easier, better, and all in all, more meaningful? And isn’t it a bit sad that such a huge potential is lingering dormant, useless, and utterly suppressed under a mountain of apathy and mediocrity? Hell, Russia could’ve become a truly prosperous country by now! After all, it’s not like it hasn’t given tons of amazing geniuses to humankind! Then what has happened? Where has all that gone?

Well, here’s what. The one thing that has been hindering the Russian people from unleashing their true potential, is the fact that they’ve always been stuck under the heavy boot of their own rulers, face firmly pressed against the mud. They’ve been oppressed, humiliated and used since time immemorial. They’ve been ruled by despots. And we’re seeing the results now. As for our very own Russophilia or Russophobia, they’re here to stay for quite a while. We East Europeans would always be divided on those issues. It’s inevitable, given our own complicated history. The real question we should be asking ourselves though, is: where do we go on holidays, what currency do we keep our savings in, where do we want our children to study, which foreign language do we want to learn, where would we rather immigrate, what music do we listen to and what books and movies do we read and watch? No need to give me an answer. I think everyone could easily answer this for themselves. And the answer they’d get would be the best proof which model we’d choose for ourselves.