Friday, September 26, 2008

Burrel family denies organ harvesting allegations

As mentioned before, Carla del Ponte wrote in her book the accusation that kidnapped Serbs from Kosovo had been transported to Albania where they had been killed and their organs sold.

Now the Spiegel has gone to Albania to have a look for themselves. They describe the house in Rribe near Burrel (and show a picture) and talked to the owner and his children. The family denied everything and complained that they had had to sleep outside for two nights (in februari!!) when Del Ponte came investigating. The Spiegel notes some inconsistencies in their story. But they also note that the witnesses from 2004 have disappeared and that at that time nothing had been done to safeguard evidence.

It should be noted that organ trade is nothing new to Albania: see these reports. So if Serbs were transported to Albania for using their organs there would be networks ready to "process" them. Very probably those networks are still there and connected at a very high level in Albania's establishment.

Postscript (6 nov 2008): Several media report that two Kosovar doctors have been arrested for organ trade. The name of the doctors had also been mentioned in the case of the abducted Serbs.

Postscript (15 nov 2008): B92 is doing some investigations now. There are also investigations for Serb patients from a Kosovo psychiatric hospial who went missing and the story that UNMIK will investigate the Burrell house.
Postscript (25 nov 2008): The Guardian went to the Burrel house with a camera. The article shows a 3 minute interview with the Katuci familt who lives in the house.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Harassment, departures and defiance in Gracanica

Below the translation from an article in a Dutch newspaper with the title "Pas op, fout nummerbord" about Gracanica.

Take care! Wrong number plate

By: Mitra Nazar
Date: tuesday 16 september 2008 22:12

Inhabitants of the Serb enclave Gracanica try to find their place in the new, independent Kosovo. That is not easy.

If it wasn't so serious you would almost maugh. Ethnic violence in Kosovo, between Albanians and Serbs, doesn't happen often anymore. But the populations are still involved in a number plate war. "Driving with a wrong number plate can cost you your life" tells the Serb Viktor from Gracanica.

In 2006 a British couple who had rented a car in Belgrade drove alongside an Albanian wedding in Kosovo. The celebrators recognized the BG on the number plate and started to shoot. The Brits escaped unharmed. But because of this danger nearly all Serbs in Kosovo have a second number plate in their trunk. A KS sign guarantees a safe journey. Victor however refuses: "I don't recognize the independence so I don't drive with a Kosovar license". His license starts with NP: "Novi Pazar is a city in Southern Serbia were both Albanians and Serbs live. So nobody knows my real parentage."

More than a half year ago Kosovo became independent from Serbia. Unilateral independent, because Belgrade opposed it. The few Serbs who still live in Kosovo still don't resign. The new constitution makes the Albanians stronger than ever before. "They have everything, we have nothing. Now they want to Kosovise us, but we don't want forced integration". Victor is quiet, but in his heart a patriot. "I will tell my children later where the real borders of Serbia are. This is Serb territory."

Greetings from Serbia

Gracanica, where Viktor lives, isclose to the capital Pristina. The Serb village counts about 13.000 inhabitants. Billboards With decayed election posters and the blue-white Serbian flag dominate the scenery. The cyrillic characters on the billboards are clear enough too: Gracanica ís Serbia. Exchange offices change eu'ro's into dinars and the Serbian provider Telenor makes good business. With a Kosovar provider the signal is weak.

A small shop sells Serbian memorabilia. But there is not much demand for coffee mugs with "greetings from Serbia" and T-shirts of famous Serb basketball players, tells the owners. "KFOR-soldiers are our only customers." These NATO troops try already since 1999 to maintain peace in Kosovo.

Gracanica is almost dead. Many Serbs had already left after the 1999 war when the Albanian refugees returned. Since the independence declaration in 17 februari again a large exodus of Serbs has started. It has been forcasted that within ten years not a single Serb will be left in the enclave. For young people there is no future. They go en masse to North Kosovo or Serbia for education and work.

No power

Igor Popovic is founder of a local Serb NGO. The battle he wages for the recognition of the Serb community in Kosovo becomes increasingly difficult. "We can't count on the protection of the police anymore". After 17 februari the Serb policemen resigned en mass in protest against the independence. The KPS (Kosovo Police Service) in Gracanica is nowmostly composed by Albanian cops. "They arrest Serbs without reason, just to provocate", tells Igor. He isn't very happy with the international presence either: "We didn't notice anything of NATO protection. UNMIK too never cared about us."

Specially power is a big problem. Allthough it is a problem for the whole of Kosovo, in the enclave it is even more so.

In the Sportska Kafé it is rather dark, on the toilet there is a lonely candle. The coffee machine doesn't work and the beer is warm. "Since februari is has become worse and worse" tells owner Uros. "Today I am already five hours without power". According to the entrepreneur the Serb power plant just outside Gracanica has been under construction for months. "The Kosovo government wants the Serbs to pay six years arrears of electicity bills."

Uros however stays where he is. "I was born here and I will enter here my grave. This is my country. I won't flee." Recently the pub owner was arrested by the police. "They took the number plate from my car and threw it away", he tells angrily. "They told me to take a Kosovar license".

For other reports from the enclaves see here, here, here or this 6 part BBC series. Here is a report about Velika Hoca near Prizren.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Serbia's economy in trouble

It looks like Serbia's economy is in for some trouble. With imports of 18 bln US$ and exports of only 9 bln it is things look a bit out of balance - even if you take into account that Serbia is fastly developping. Half of the hole is plugged with foreign investment, aid and transfers of emigrant, but the other half is not covered and might on the long term result in the same kind of meltdown that happened in Argentina in 1999.

The IMF has asked Serbia to "adopt a restrictive 2009 budget to prevent the widening of its current account gap". But the cutting the government budget in order to correct the balance of payments is a very indirect method that only the Friedman-style neo-liberals advocate. Unfortunately they still dominate the IMF. They hate every kind of government involvement in the economy. On the other hand they don't care if an economy crashes (like Argentina did in 1999) because it gives them the tools to pressure for more privatisations.

A more sensible approach in such circumstances is lower the exchange rate. Velimir Ilic is advocating this and I think he is totally right to say that Serbia needs a more export driven economic growth model. Unfortunately he packs his ideas in some anti-EU rethorics what may cause some people to overlook them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Liberals and conservatives

In this post I discuss the campaign speeches of Obama and McCain. I saw these speeches on video. To save time I had to quote them from memory. So the quotes may not always be exact.

Not everybody has the same kind of moral. Psychologists have thought up questions like "is it ok to cook and eat your dog after it has died in a traffic incident?" to show this. It appears that liberals and conservatives have a different reaction to such questions that are also very visible on brain scans. Conservatives find the idea disgusting, while liberals are more moderate and reason that nobody is harmed. This article is about how the liberals and conservatives differ in morals (based on the article "What makes people vote republican" by Jonathan Haidt) and how that works out for the presidential campaigns.

Liberals (in the American meaning of progressives) base their morality on two pillars: fairness/reciprocity and harm/care. So they believe in justice and helping and protecting the destitute. Both values are individualistic.

Conservatives however have three additional pillars: ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity. These are group values. The last one is not only about religion but can also manifest itself in for example an aversion against homosexuals or eating your deceased dog.

While conservatives usually understand liberals (but find them superficial) liberals have serious difficulty understanding conservatives (and find them just irrational with their religion and other "values"). Group values just don't have a place in their thinking.

This can nicely be translated to the American elections. Kennedy with his "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country" was a liberal who did understand. In the beginning it looked like Obama understood it too with his background as a social worker. But he has been unable to generalize his experience and nowadays allows the McCain campaign to cast him as an egoist who has done everything he did just for himself and his career.

I checked the acceptance speeches of the two candidates and noticed a few differences in style:
- as usual, McCain tells about his experience in imprisonment in Vietnam. But it is a personal story and he tells about it as a turning point in his life. Obama doesn't have any similar personal story.
- McCain creates more of a "we" atmosphere: "we have to ..", ".. my friends".
- McCain positions himself unashamed as the leader, summing up (and exagerating) his experience. This very probably wouldn't work for Obama.
- McCain puts things in black and white. He devotes a whole section of his speech to comparing Obama's policies and his like "Obama wants to raise taxes; I want to lower them". He does this in an almost ritualistic way: Obama wants ...; I want ... Obama wants ...; I want ..., etc., etc.. He isn't always very truthful but it works in creating an us-versus-them atmosphere. Obama applies the typical liberal trick of describing someone else as not logical. For example (about fighting poverty) "it is not that McCain doesn't care. He just doesn't get it".
- McCain takes more effort to give his talk a personal style. He not only thanks people at the beginning, but also thanks a fellow prisoner in Vietnam when he mentions his name in his biographical story. Sometimes it looks rather artificial. Where Obama talks in general about the people from New Orleans or people who can't afford medical care McCain names one specific person (with name and state) who lost his farm in the real estate crisis and one in another position. McCain is positioning himself in this way as a leader who knows and understands his followers, while Obama positions himself more as the rather anonymous leader who voices the opinion of his followers.

So the largest difference seems to be in leadership. Where McCain emphasizes his own responsibility ("I want"), Obama hides behind the collective and logic ("he doesn't get it"). This gives McCain more authority and he exploits that by making broad and often inaccurate statements about Obama's position. Obama's academic reactions mean that most people will remember McCain's position better. Take the example of Palin's statements about war with Russia. If Obama's running mate had made such a statement McCains campaign would have stated that Palin wants World War III. Obama's campaign seems unable to exploit the issue.

The Georgia War was a good example of how weak a leader Obama can be. When McCain made a more anti-Russian statement than him he changed his own statement to become more anti-Russian too. This was not only a misjudgment of the situation. It was also a missed chance: Obama needs a case where he can say flatly to McCain that McCain is wrong and this was a good opportunity.

If Obama wants to win the election he needs the support from some of the people with a conservative frame of mind. So he will have to show himself a leader who stands for his points and who doesn't hide behind some common opinion.

For who wants to check. Here are the acceptance speeches of Obama and McCain.

Why Trump Persists

Postscript 1: Here and here are other scientific article about another differences between liberals and conservatives. According to the first article "Subjects who had expressed a high level of support for policies "protecting the social unit" showed a much larger change in skin conductance in response to alarming photos than those who didn't support such policies. Similarly, the mean blink amplitude for the socially protective subjects was significantly higher, the team reports in tomorrow's issue of Science". It seems that there is a strong heriditary element involved.
According to the second article are more likely to like classical music and jazz, conservatives, country music. Liberals are more likely to enjoy abstract art. Conservative men are more likely than liberal men to prefer conventional forms of entertainment like TV and talk radio. Liberal men like romantic comedies more than conservative men..

Postscript 2: According to a Gallup poll: "Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent".

Postscript 3: Classical mutual descriptions: "a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged" and "a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested".

Postscript 4: Here is Jonathan Haidt on television. The page also shows an internet discussion.

Postscript 5: George Lakoff is another scientist with a theory about the difference between liberal and conservative. He notes that "strict parenting" is not supported by science and sees it as a kind of abuse that is transmitted over the generations.

Postscipt 6: Some Harvard studies showed that conservatives are more easily disgusted.

Postscript 7: Red vs. blue family in black and white is a book by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone that deals with the issue. Some quotes:
In blue states, families tend to be well-educated, have high-paying jobs, be tolerant of diversity and be politically liberal. They marry later in life, have children in wedlock and are dedicated co-parents.

Red-state families, however, seem to be stuck in a time warp — they tend to be more strict in their religious beliefs and aspire to abstinence until marriage and marriage for life. But they often fall short of these goals: Red states have high rates of teen births, young ("shotgun") marriages and divorce. Red-state families are also less likely to be college graduates, get top jobs or create households where husbands and wives share equally in parenting and chores.

This shows that "blue" families have adjusted to the evolution of America's family culture, while "red" families have not, Ms. Cahn and Ms. Carbone said.

"The blue paradigm is the other end of the sexual revolution. Its families have been remade and the remaking is a huge success," they wrote. But red families are still trying to live in bygone times, and when children fail to live up to lofty aspirations, these families bear the consequences.

Postscript 8: This article about the algorithm of the dating site mentions that Conservatives are far more open to reaching out to someone with a different point of view than a liberal is." That is, when it comes to looking for love, conservatives are more open-minded than liberals..

Postscript 9: "Politics, Odors and Soap" by Nicholas D. Kristof discusses how liberals and conservatives differs in values. According to the book “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt for liberals morality is largely a matter of three values: caring for the weak, fairness and liberty. Conservatives share those concerns (although they think of fairness and liberty differently) and add three others: loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity. The consequence is that conservatives are capable of understanding liberals but that liberals often have great difficulty understanding conservatives.

Postscript 10: Also nice is Can Drinking Make You Conservative? (and Other Questions About the Political Brain). It discusses a scientific study that asked people to consent or dissent to some political statements like "private property should be abolished". It found that the more alcohol people had consumed the more conservative their opinion - independent of their normal political orientation.

Postscript 11: The disadvantage of smarts is an interview with Satoshi Kanazawa on intelligence. He claims that man originally is conservative and that only in our modern society intelligence has become more important. As he sees it it has lead to liberalism, atheism and consumption of alcohol and drugs. But he thinks it doesn't help - and may actually harm - with traditional human activities like making friends, raising a child and finding a partner.

Postscript 12: The Atlantic has an article about the link between disgust and conservatism (Liberals and Conservatives React in Wildly Different Ways to Repulsive Pictures). Some quotes:
Compared with liberals, they’d previously found, conservatives generally pay more attention—and react more strongly—to a broad array of threats. For example, they have a more pronounced startle response to loud noises, and they gaze longer at photos of people displaying angry expressions.And yet even in this research, Hibbing says, “we almost always get clearer results with stimuli that are disgusting than with those that suggest a threat from humans, animals, or violent events.

According to a 2013 meta-analysis of 24 studies—pretty much all the scientific literature on the topic at that time—the association between a conservative ethos and sensitivity to disgust is modest: Disgust sensitivity explains 4 to 13 percent of the variation in a population’s ideology.

His own research finds that “disgust influences our political views as much as or even more than long-recognized factors such as education and income bracket.”

In one notable experiment, Schaller showed subjects pictures of people coughing, cartoonish-looking germs sprouting from sponges, and other images designed to raise disease concerns. A control group was shown pictures highlighting threats unrelated to germs—for instance, an automobile accident. Both groups were then given a questionnaire that asked them to assess the level of resources the Canadian government should provide to entice people from various parts of the world to settle in Canada. Compared with the control group, the subjects who had seen pictures related to germs wanted to allocate a greater share of a hypothetical government advertising budget to attract people from Poland and Taiwan—familiar immigrant groups in Vancouver, where the study was conducted—rather than people from less familiar countries, such as Nigeria, Mongolia, and Brazil. Familiarity does make a difference.

Foul odors can be just as effective as a sticky desk. Another experiment involved two groups of subjects with similar political ideologies. One group was exposed to a vomitlike scent as the subjects filled out an inventory of their social values; the other group filled out the inventory in an odorless setting. Those in the first group expressed more opposition to gay rights, pornography, and premarital sex than those in the second group. The putrid scent even inspired “significantly more agreement with biblical truth.” Variations on these studies using fart spray, foul tastes, and other creative disgust elicitors reveal a consistent pattern: When we experience disgust, we tend to make harsher moral judgments.

As it turns out, what tastes foul to us is typically a sour or bitter substance—which can be a marker of contaminants (think of spoiled milk). Several years ago, Pizarro learned that people vary tremendously in the number of bitter receptors they possess on their tongue, and thus in their taste sensitivity. What’s more, the trait is genetically determined. They recruited 1,601 subjects from shopping malls and from the Cornell campus and gave them paper strips containing a chemical called Prop and another chemical called PTC, both of which taste bitter to some people. Sure enough, those who had self-identified as being conservative were more sensitive to both compounds; many described them as unpleasant or downright repugnant. Liberals, on the other hand, tended not to be bothered as much by the chemicals or didn’t notice them at all.

The researchers went a step further. Taste receptors, they knew, are concentrated in fungiform papillae—those spongy little bumps on your tongue. The greater the density of papillae, the more acute your taste. So they dyed subjects’ tongues blue (which allows the papillae to be more easily observed), pasted a paper ring on them like those used to prevent pages from tearing out of a metal binder (to create a standard area to be evaluated), and recorded the number of circumscribed papillae. The degree to which subjects’ views tilted to the right was, they found, in direct proportion to the density of papillae on their tongue. This result may have bearing on a puzzling partisan split in food preferences. A 2009 survey of 64,000 Americans revealed that liberals chose bitter-tasting arugula as their favorite salad green more than twice as often as conservatives did. It may also have a bearing on conservative President George H. W. Bush’s famous hatred of broccoli—an unusually bitter vegetable.

Postscript 13: Experiment Shows Conservatives More Willing to Share Wealth Than They Say
In 2018, four economists at the Center for Experimental Research on Fairness, Inequality and Rationality at the Norwegian School of Economics conducted a huge experiment — mostly via face-to-face interviews — using the Gallup World Poll. The Norwegian team, led by Bertil Tungodden and Alexander Cappelen, worked with Gallup to survey 65,000 people across 60 countries about their beliefs related to the gaps between the rich and the poor.
Once you strip away the ideological veneer and look at specific cases, the differences between political parties become superficial in at least one respect: Conservatives will redistribute riches acquired at random, and liberals will reward good performance.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Progress on the ICJ case and the Alexander Borg-Olivier question

Inner City Press has an article about how the Serbia's ICJ case is going at the United Nations. They seem optimistic that many countries will support it - even the US hasn't decided yet to vote against it.

BTW: does anybody know the exact text of the Serb resolution?

Another item is Alexander Borg-Olivier. This man lobbied as UN employee with the Malta government to recognize Kosovo: a direct violation of UN neutrality. He also oversaw the (illegal) transfer of money from the privatisation office to the Kosovo government (the money should be used to pay ownership claims but until now virtually nothing has been paid). Even worse: he is now advising the Kosovo government. This again goes against UN rules. As he is now paid by the EU this puts the EU in a questionable position.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Georgia War is not over yet

Reading the Western press one can easily get the impression that the war in Georgia is over and that we only have to wait if and when the Russians will leave. Only the Russian accusation that the US ships bring not only humanitarian aid but also weapons suggest that some trouble may still be brewing.

A New York Times article "Georgia Eager to Rebuild Its Defeated Armed Forces" mentions that the US probably has not yet decided whether to support rebuilding Georgia's army, but that the (non)performance of the Georgian army in the war is a strong argument against rearming and NATO membership. But such a rebuilding is for the long term.

More troubling fro the short term is what I read read on Exercises in Translation, a website that translates articles from the Russian and Georgian press. Some quotes:

Georgia continues to carry out provocations in South Ossetia. According to the president of the republic Eduard Kokoity, a Georgian special forces team was recently disarmed by divisions of the Ministry of Defense. "They were going to carry out a diversionary strike in the village of Аrtseu [Арцеу] under the guise of being Georgian policemen," stated Kokoity.

[...] He noted that activity had been observed among the Georgian forces and that the command of the Georgian Armed Forces continues to restore the fighting capacity of its divisions.

Based on reports from troops on the ground, Nesterenko spoke of an incident last night that took place not far from a peacekeeping post in the Karaleti region. As Nesterenko explained, Georgian forces carried out provocative actions directed against the Russian peacekeepers. He assumed that the incident was specially organized. The representative believes that such actions do not help to stabilize the situation in the region.

It looks like Georgia doesn't want to resign to the present situation.