Category Archives: Balkans

Serbian Dreambook: National Imaginary in the Time of Milošević

Some of you may know that my brother is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta. He also works as a visual artist in photography, video, and other media, mostly in collaboration with his wife Gordana who is an artist.

In a few months, his book willl come out – Serbian Dreambook: National Imaginary in the Time of Milošević:

The central role that the regime of Slobodan Milošević played in the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia is well known, but Marko Živković explores another side of this time period: the stories people in Serbia were telling themselves (and others) about themselves. Živković traces the recurring themes, scripts, and narratives that permeated public discourse in Milošević’s Serbia, as Serbs described themselves as Gypsies or Jews, violent highlanders or peaceful lowlanders, and invoked their own mythologized defeat at the Battle of Kosovo. The author investigates national narratives, the use of tradition for political purposes, and local idioms, paying special attention to the often bizarre and outlandish tropes people employed to make sense of their social reality. He suggests that the enchantments of political life under Milošević may be fruitfully seen as a dreambook of Serbian national imaginary.

I have read most of the stuff in the book, at least in some earlier drafts, over the past few years, and I know this stuff is good! It will help you understand Serbia – in the wartime 1990s as well as before and after. And it may help you understand some other nations or some other groups of people (perhaps even TeaPartiers if you are dilligent in adjusting for different contexts, histories, etc.).

So, pre-order the book now – it will come out next May but it will be worth the wait.

Seven Questions….with Yours Truly

Last week, my SciBling Jason Goldman interviewed me for his blog. The questions were not so much about blogging, journalism, Open Access and PLoS (except a little bit at the end) but more about science – how I got into it, what are my grad school experiences, what I think about doing research on animals, and such stuff. Jason posted the interview here, on his blog, on Friday, and he also let me repost it here on my blog as well, under the fold:

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‘Going Direct’ – the Netizens in former Yugoslavia

Back in 1999, during the NATO bombing of Belgrade, bragged that they could send a reporter to Serbia – the first online-only magazine to do such a thing. That was a sign that online-only journalism was maturing. But Dave Winer, while agreeing this is a sign of maturity for a US-based outlet, voiced the opinion that the Web was already there, in Yugoslavia, and that the people were on it, using it. Last week, Dave remembered that episode in a different context and I have, in a few posts before (regarding Mumbai attacks and Iran revolution), wondered why would American audience put more trust into an American reporter parachuted into a foreign country with no knowledge of local geography, history, culture, language and politics, instead of trusting the locals who are steeped into that knowledge – by reading multiples of them, you can quickly learn to detect (and thus ignore in any individual person’s writing) varieties of local political biases and use the collective reporting to get a clear picture and deeper understanding of local events – much deeper than the American reporter can ever dream of doing.
Anyway, I think Dave was right even back then in 1999. So I posted this in the comment of his blog:
Yugoslavia was on the Web in 1999! It just looked different from the Web we are used to seeing in the USA.
Urban centers in former Yugoslavia had a whole bunch of people who were excited about computers. Not having money to buy PCs or software, they built their own and programmed their own. I remember, as early as 1980, young programmers were sending their software to the big Belgrade radio station as audio files. Each day at 10am and repeated at 4pm, the announcers would warn us to get our tape recorders ready to record the audio to get the programs. Most were simple text or image processing programs but some were quite nifty. And nobody ever thought those should be anything but free for everyone to have and use (and read them into their Sinclair ZX Spectrums).
In March of 1991, the first big anti-Milosevic demonstrations were essentially organized and coordinated by a bunch of people in the city center via e-mail (those e-mail messages were later collected and published in a book). I did not have a computer of my own, but I knew some of the guys who did. I lived in the part of Belgrade, at the edge, towards the side where all the military barracks were. One day, during the demonstrations, I heard a distant rumble. March not being a time when we have thunderstorms, I immediately knew what that meant. I got on the phone and called one of the e-mailing organizers, telling him to tell the rest of the network that Milosevic is sending the tanks to the city. I opened the window and counted 40 tanks passing by my house. In the meantime, demonstrators hijacked a few fire-engines and blocked the narrow city streets in the center, effectively preventing the tanks from reaching the majority of demonstrators (I am not taking this as a sign that my message make a difference – I am sure I was just one of many doing the same thing – calling friends in the center to tell them about it). In other words, you don’t need everyone to be online, you just needed a small network of connected folks who can then use phones and f2f to convey information and organize the thousands in the streets (sorta like Iranian revolution two decades later).
In June of the same year, I came to the USA. I immediately got on Usenet where I could see all the reporting from the ground and from the global media. There were instant translations of reports by journalists on the ground writing for various media outlets in countries like Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Israel, Russia, Ukraine and Japan. There were messages by UN peacekeepers on the grounds. There were messages by locals: Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims (not that any of those groups were monolithic – there were 52 political parties just in Serbia at the time, ranging from ultra-left to ultra-right with social-democrats in the middle, each with different interpretation of events and different visions for the future). By the end of the day, from all of these sources, I could piece together a pretty reliable story of what happened that day. Then I would turn on the TV and watch ABC, NBC and CBS anchors straight-out lie about it during evening news, every single night for ten years, just parroting what Albright, Cohen, Clark and Christopher were saying in their press conferences. So did CNN, and so did the NYTimes next morning. That is how I learned not to trust the US media.
Today, Serbia is still one of the least connected nations in Europe (a colleague of mine, Danica Radovanovic now at Oxford University, did a comparative study for her MS on this a few years ago, with hard numbers and all). The most important factor is a huge disparity between city and country – people living in big cities are as connected as you and me, on blogs and social networks and everything else, while rural inhabitants don’t even use e-mail yet.
The second factor is that many of the computer geeks left the country during the 1990s, being well educated, speaking English, and having salable skills – mad programming skills. They got jobs at IBM and such companies around the world, leaving the country to less tech-savvy folks.
But just because they left physically, does not mean they left emotionally, and are now acting as a huge network of the diaspora, and a conduit of information about the old country around the world. They inform their neighbors about the realities of the Balkans, disabusing them of lies they heard from Peter Jennings and Christiane Amanpour back in the 1990s, and they communicate with the people in Serbia (or Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, etc.) and help them develop the Web there.
My deal is Open Access publishing in science and medicine and I have done my part to seed the idea there (two trips in 08 and 09, each time giving two public lectures, three long radio interviews and in 09 also a short TV interview), gather a small bunch of pioneers and feed them information they need to change local system from within. I could not have done that if I remained in Belgrade.
Finally, many people from around the former Yugoslavia have sent their kids abroad during the wars of the 1990s. Those kids are all on Facebook, all friending each other despite ethnic differences, joining the same fan pages of old rock groups or Balkan-only candy brands. Their parents may have killed each other, but kids are OK.


One of the nice benefits of hosting ScienceOnline conferences is that I sometimes get presents. The one that I find totally fascinating that I got this year is the 2009 issue of Phlogiston, the Journal of History of Science published once a year in Serbian language – print only (the journal does not even have a homepage).
Phlogiston cover.jpg
I got this issue from Jelka Crnobrnja-Isailovic who came all the way from Serbia to do a session on challenges to Open Access in developing countries together with her friend and colleague Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove.
The 2009 issue of Phlogiston is dedicated to Darwin and the articles are just amazing – from history to biology to societal implications to applications of evolutionary thinking to other disciplines. There is an article on biases in computer simulations of evolution, and an article on all the species that are named after Darwin himself (ending with the latest – Darwinius masillae). Jelka’s own contribution digs through Darwin’s correspondence to show how strongly Darwin himself disputed the Naturalistic Fallacy, especially in the context of his opposition to slavery which may have been one of the motivators for his thinking about evolution in the first place.
Totally cool reading! I wish the stuff was online so I could link to it, perhaps have some articles translated….

Friday Balkan Food Blogging: Krempita

The Bride Of Coturnix fixed a Krempita yesterday:


How government fights against medical quackery

Remember that ‘vampire’ is one the few words that Serbian language gave to the world. Garlic is THE remedy against everything there…..

What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?

If a publisher offered me a contract to write a book under a title that would be something like “Unscientific America”, how would I go about it?
I would definitely be SUCH a scientist! But, being such a scientist does not mean indulging in Sesquipedalian Obscurantism. Being such a scientist means being dilligent, thorough and systematic in one’s reasearch. And then being excited about presenting the findings, while being honest about the degree of confidence one can have in each piece of information.
I was not offered a book contract, and I do not have the resources and nine or twelve months to write such a book. But in the next couple of hours days I will write a blog post (this one, I am just starting) thinking through the methodology I would use for such a project, musing about difficulties, jotting down notes and – this being a blog – asking readers for links to information that can either reinforce or challenge my hypotheses. So please follow me under the fold…..

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Open Access Week in Serbia

Open Access Week is in full swing and there is a lot of blogging about its various events in many countries.
OA week was marked in Serbia this year as well. As you may remember, I went to Belgrade twice in the past two years – in 2008 and 2009 and gave a total of four lectures, one brief TV interview, four long radio interviews and a print interview. I am now writing a paper about Open Access for one of their journals as well.
This effort has paid off.
I have remarked before how difficult it is to make changes in smaller countries – the scientific community is small, everyone knows everybody else and there is usually an entrenched hierarchy that resists changes from below.
But, the small community may also be susceptible to a “founder effect” of sorts: if the small group of people with influence starts changing the system, then it is likely to spread very rapidly and get fixed in the entire country.
So, for example in Serbia, there is one enormous university – Belgrade University – and only a small number of smaller schools in other cities. Those smaller universities are almost certain to adopt whataver changes the BU adopts – it is a matter of survival for them. So if Belgrade University adopts some kind of Open Access rule, or decides to give Impact Factor a smaller role in hiring and promotion decisions, then all the other schools will be quick to follow and the entire system of the country will change rapidly.
But how does one change the system in such an enormous and buraucratic entity as Belgrade University? The change will happen if the new rules are first adopted and pushed by university librarians and by the Medical School – the rest of the university will then follow their lead.
So I was particularly happy to see that the OA week event in Belgrade was attended by several of those people who are in positions of influence – Medical School professors and university librarians. You can see the announcements here, here and here.
The meeting was opened by Dr.Simic, the Dean for Research at Medical School at the University of Belgrade. This is her opening address (you can download the MP3 files by clicking on the links – of course, you need to understand Serbian):
Here is the rest of the program:
1.Zoran Zdravkovic (Senior Librarian and Library Manager at Belgrade City Library): Access to Information

2.Sanja Antonic (Biomedical and Biotechnology librarian at the University Library in Belgrade): Impact Factor and the future of Open Access

3.Vedran Vucic (President of the GNU Linux Center): RSS Feed Aggregators of Medical Information

4.Ana Ivkovic (Senior Librarian at Institute for Oncology and Radiology of Serbia, National Cancer Research Center): Social Media and Scientific Information

5.Dr Vera Zdravkovic (Professor of Medicine, Child Clinic, Belgrade University): Open Access and the User

6.Nada Arbutina (Belgrade’s City Library): Where does the Scientific Path Begin?
Ana Ivkovic has also blogged about the event, with some pictures.
Afterwards, they told me that 6 out of 6 presentations mentioned PLoS, two of them going into details of Article-Level Metrics, particularly in the context of reducing the influence of Impact Factor in hiring and promotion decisions. I was also told that 5 out of 6 presentations mentioned me by name, with those who could say “Bora told me” winning over those who could only say “as Bora said when he was here” 😉
Now I have to sit down and write that paper for them – of course, this is the craziest week on record with OA Week, ScienceOnline2010 finalization, anti-Ida paper to monitor media reactions, a manuscript to review for JOMC, galley proofs of another paper of mine to proofread, and more….but I’ll do it this weekend for sure.

Behold the Mammoth

As you may remember, a beautiful mammoth fossil was discovered in Serbia a couple of months ago. I promised I’d try to go and see it myself on my recent trip to Belgrade. And I did get to see it. But the story is more fun than just that…. 😉
First, I tried to get in touch with Dr.Miomir Korać, the Director of the Archaeological park Viminacium to ask for permission to photograph the fossil as well as to interview him. After a couple of e-mail addresses bounced, I got what I think is the correct address…but got no response.
Once I got to Belgrade, I asked my contacts there about this and, as is usually the process there, a friend of a friend of a friend was willing to take me to the site. They also tried to contact Korać, as well as their own bosses, but nobody returned their calls. It is vacation time in Serbia right now, and people are not easily reachable (even by cell phones, not to mention the Web – Serbia has a distressingly low rate of Internet use for Europe). So, what to do? They decided to take me there anyway, and deal with the bosses later. Thus, I will not use their names or photos here (in case they get in trouble) and I told them that I am still interested in talking to and interviewing both Korać and their bosses if they want to contact me.
Why all this worry about bypassing the protocol? Because the fossil is in the middle of a huge open-pit coal mine Drmno (you see, there are maps and satellite images all over the Web), near Kostolac, a mine that provides something like 1/8th of electrical power of Serbia and is thus of strategic importance. For all they knew, I could have been an American spy! But fortunately they trusted the friends of friends of friends that I was not.
So, last Thursday, I got up early and went to the bus station. I took a bus to Pozarevac, a trip I took a million times as a kid. But this time, it was different. The bus was new and modern and clean and comfortable and smelled good. The music was discrete and not the worst of the worst of the newly-composed “folk”. The bus also started the trip exactly on time (to the second!) and arrived exactly on time. Not whenever the bus driver felt inspired to drive as it used to be once upon a time. Capitalism, baby!
It took a couple of hours in Pozarevac until our car that was to take us to Drmno arrived. So we sat in a cafe and got to know each other….over four huge shots of home-made slivovitz! I did not even have breakfast yet! I tried to dilute it by having a couple of big Turkish coffees, a couple of Cokes, some mineral water and a couple of handfuls of peanuts, but still, it was a tough and heroic deed.
Instead of going to Viminacium or even the town of Kostolac, we went straight to the mine (where we had yet another shot of brandy). The office building is nice, large and clean – and powered (yes, right next to all that coal) by a large battery of solar panels. The titles on all the office doors we passed indicated to me that quite a lot of science (mainly geology, but also stuff like vibrations, etc.) is going on there.
Then we got in a jeep and went into the mine itself. I took a lot of pictures of the mine – it is huge and it looks very tidy (I’ve seen a bigger one, Kolubara, when I was a kid, and remember it being, in my childish eyes, quite a mess). As such pictures may compromise (at least in some eyes) the national security and since they are not too related to the fossil, I will not post them here. But here is one, taken from a considerable distance (as much as my little camera could zoom in), showing just a small segment of one side of the open pit – the arrow points to the enclosure where the mammoth is:

Drmno kop.jpg

As you can see, there are at least 50 meters of the mine ‘wall’ hanging right above it – something that mine engineers are now trying to figure out how to secure against sliding, as the mammoth will stay in the spot and be seen by tourists.
The fossil was discovered in a part of the mine that is not in use any more – the coal extracted now is deeper down in the pit. It was found in a layer of yellow sand by a bulldozer driver for a local road-paving company that has a contract with the mine to come in and take away, for free, the sand and gravel they need for road construction. He was happily bulldozing the gravel when he heard a ‘clang’ noise at the blade. He immediatelly stopped the machine, went down to see and, upon seeing a small tip of something that looked like a bone, decided to call the mine bosses who, in turn, called the people from the Archaeological park Viminacium. The archaeological treasure of the area is a source of everyone’s pride there, of course.
It turned out that this is an amazingly well-preserved and almost completely articulated fossil of Mammuthus meridionalis, the Southern Mammoth that is thought to have migrated from North Africa to Southern Europe around 2 million years ago and is probably the ancestral species of all the other, younger species of mammoths found in the Northern hemisphere. The Southern Mammoth had much shorter and finer hair than the later Woolly Mammoth and probably went extinct when the next Ice Age appeared in Europe.
Being a much older species, the Southern Mammoth has not left as many or as complete fossils as the Woolly Mammoth either. Several have been found around Europe (Spain, Bulgaria, Sweden) and one has been mounted and is on display at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. Thus the Serbian fossil, with its exquisite level of preservation, will be carefully studied by Serbian and international teams of scientists for years to come.


This fossil, found at the depth of 27 meters, was about 4m high, 6m long and weighed about 10 tons. It is a female and was named ‘Vicky’. There has been probably no big tectonic activity in the area for about 1 million years – how old this one is estimated to be (the more precise measures of age will be performed soon) – as earthquakes would, over time, have disassembled a fossil embedded in sand.
The fact that the fossil is in sand is on one hand a great gift – cleaning up is easy and fast – but on the other hand it is a big headache as well – how do you move it!? If it was embedded in rock, they could cut the entire slab out and move it to a museum for cleaning and restoration. This is a major mine, close to major roads – there is plenty of heavy machinery, people who can competently use it, and engineers who can figure out how to do it. This is not like finding a dinosaur in the middle of nowhere – technology is at hand and can be used on the spot. But this fossil is not embedded in rock – it is in sand. So what can one do?


First, they could disarticulate the skeleton, take each separate bone to a museum and rearticulate it there. That would take a lot of people, a lot of effort and a lot of time – and something would be lost in the process: the exact position and location of the fossil in the place where it was buried. Another way would be to freeze the sand around it, lift the whole slab and take it to a museum where the sand would thaw. This they think is too risky – the freezing and thawing may damage the fossil.

ulaz u sator.jpg

So, the mine and the museum struck a compromise. The fossil will stay in place. The mine will secure the 50 meters of overhanging soil above the fossil and build two roads: one for the tourists who come to see Vicky, the other for the mine to use for driving around its heavy machinery into the pit. The museum will finish the cleaning and the analysis of the fossil and build an enclosure that will protect the fossil and accommodate the visitors (I am assuming that a museum shop will be built to bring in some revenue).
If any of my palaeontologist readers have better ideas for either preservation or moving, leave them in the comments or contact me. They are all ears.

ulaz u sator2.jpg

Right now the fossil is protected from immediate weather and light by a small canvas tent, which also means that I was not able to take pictures from a distance greater than a couple of feet. I had to crouch to get inside and could only take close-shot photos. I also could not find a good object to include in some shots as a size reference. But I took a lot of pictures from many angles and I hope you can see how wonderfully intact and well-articulated the fossil is. The rest of the pictures are under the fold, followed by a YouTube video (not shot by me) where you can see the fossil as it looked when it was first shown to the media:

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How Facebook got us together

A year ago, almost none of my old school friends were on Facebook. Today, many are.
Facebook statistics show that this past year has seen a huge influx of people, globally, of roughly my age who are not techies or bloggers, just normal people. Over the past 5-6 years, Facebook has evolved and changed quite a lot. Some of the best and most liked functionalities on Facebook right now are blatant copies of the best aspects of FriendFeed and Twitter and Flickr and YouTube and Dopplr and LinkedIn and other services (some of which are now already dead).
As us oldsters are joining in great numbers, there is a clash of generations as we use Facebook differently than the kids do and they feel like we are encroaching on their territory (thus learning how to use the privacy settings is the key).
Unless Google Wave kills off all the competition, Facebook will remain the main and the biggest central place for people of all generations to find each other, have fun, or do business. Just like it did for college and high school kids five years ago, and for the techies and bloggers about a year later, Facebook is now introducing everyone to the wonders of Web 2.0.
If you are one of my 1,161 friends on Facebook (yes, I use it for PR and not just for finding old friends), you have noticed I friended a lot of people with Serbian-sounding names over the past year or so. Yup, those are old friends from school: preschool, elementary/middle school, high school and vet school. And by finding each other on Facebook, and through using Facebook as a tool, we organized, for the first time in many years, to meet in person in Belgrade last week.
You may have also seen me tagged in a bunch of pictures from those reunions – check out the photo sets here, here, here, here and here (that’s uploaded so far – there may be more soon).
Was it an anniversary of graduation? No. Did we meet as a single coherent class of people sharing the same classroom? No. I went to three such parties on three consecutive nights in Belgrade last week.
One meetup was just a few of us from the last two years of high school (nobody brought the camera, alas).
The second meetup was organized over just a few days – it started on Facebook as I told some friends I’d be in Belgrade and would like to meet. They then contacted some others via phone or personal contact in physical space, we chose the venue (the ancient restaurant “Manjez” – yes, the name comes from ‘manege’ as that was the place where King’s horses were stabled and trained a century ago) and whoever could show up showed up. Eighteen of us got together:
reunion at Manjez.jpg
One of them I met last year when I was in Belgrade. Others I have not seen in 20 or 25 or even 32 years. Only two I had to ask for the name. Some I recognized by the walk as they approached the restaurant. Others did not change in their faces at all. Others I recognized once they started talking. Most of us were in the same class in elementary school (1-4th grade), with some I was also in the same school later, including high school, and with one I was even in the same preschool.
Everyone remembered anecdotes from those old days, many brought photographs, year-books and class pictures. We wondered about people nobody’s heard from in years (one of them just e-mailed me two days ago completely out of the blue: he just googled my name). Two of our friends, I heard, died in the meantime (one of them as a conscript in the war between Serbia and Croatia in the early 1990s). Then we walked over to the old high school yard, where I saw that my legend still lives on with the new generations, as you can see for yourself from the graffiti:
Bora grafiti dvoriste.jpg
The third party was a more elaborate affair. While the people found each other on Facebook and started planning there, most of the preparation happened over e-mail over several months. Several people came from abroad. We reserved an entire restaurant for our party, hired a DJ to play the 1980’s Yugoslav music (which was so amazingly experimental and creative that nobody at the time noticed the syrupy, commercialized Western music by the likes of Michael Jackson) and managed to collect 55 of us, plus three of the teachers:
reunion at Lava Bar.jpg
The central point for most of us was 8th grade – the time when the two shifts first met during a field trip (let me explain: half the kids went to school 8am-1:15pm and the other half 2pm-7:15pm, then reverse each week. I was B-shift, with English being 1st and French 2nd foreign language. A-shift had French as 1st – even had some other classes taught in French – and English as 2nd. Most of the people at this party were from the A shift, but we partied and made friends and even dated between shifts in 8th grade so much, it did not matter any more).
But I also knew some of them from before and after. It is also a collection of kids from old Belgrade families. Many of our parents knew each other before we were even born. We all got haircuts from a mother of one of our friends. Another friend’s mother was all of ours pediatrician. If we needed an otorhynolaryngologist, we went to one of our friend’s father. The ties are multigenerational.
While it was fun to meet all of them, including the teachers (and yes, 8th grade crushes), I was most glad to see my best friend from those old days. We spent a lot of time together over the years, visiting each other (our fathers were also friends), going ice skating and horseback riding together, studying math for competitions, partying and just generally growing up together for about eight years of elementary/middle school (1-8th grade). But we have not heard from each other in about 25 years or so. So we spent a lot of time last Saturday night catching up with each other. After getting a degree in architecture, he built and ran a chain of diving schools on the Adriatic coast. As the wars made it impossible to run schools in Croatia while living in Serbia, he shut them down and opened a cafe in the center of Belgrade. He seems to be very happy! After the restaurant kicked all 55 of us out at 2am, we got in several cars and went to his cafe to continue partying and drinking. I got home at 4am, just a few hours before my flight home. But it was worth it. I am still excited and have this warmth in my heart from meeting all those old friends. And it would not have happened if it wasn’t for Facebook.

Open Access in Belgrade

As you know, I gave two lectures here in Belgrade. The first one, at the University Library on Monday, and the second one at the Oncology Institute of the School of Medicine at the University of Belgrade. As the two audiences were different (mainly librarians/infoscientists at the first, mainly professors/students of medicine at the second) I geared the two talks differently.
You can listen to the audio of the entire thing (the second talk) here, see some pictures (from both talks) here and read (in Serbian) a blog post here, written by incredible Ana Ivkovic who organized my entire Belgrade “tour” this year.
The second talk was, at the last minute, moved from the amphitheater to the library, which was actually good as the online connection is, I hear, much much better in the library. Library got crowded, but in the end everyone found a chair. What I did, as I usually do, was to come in early and open up all the websites I wanted to show in reverse chronological order, each in a separate window. Thus, the site I want to show first is on top at the beginning. When I close that window, the second site is the top window, then the third, etc. Thus I do the talk by closing windows instead of opening them (and hoping and praying that would not take too much time).
Knowing how talks usually go in the States, I prepared to talk for about 50 minutes. But, when I hit the 50 minute mark, I realized that nobody was getting restless – everyone was looking intently, jotting down URLs of sites I was showing, nodding….so I continued until I hit 60 minutes as which time I decided to wrap up and end. Even then, nobody was eager to get up and leave. I was hoping I’d get a question anyway….and sure, I got 45 minutes of questions. Then another 20 minutes or so of people approaching me individually to ask questions….
I used the Directory of Open Access Journals as the backdrop to give a brief history of the Open Access movement, the difference between Free Access and Open Access and the distinction between Green OA and Gold OA.
Then I used the site to explain the brief history of PLoS and the differences between our seven journals. Of course, this being medical school, I gave some special consideration to PLoS Medicine.
Then I used the Ida – Darwinius massillae paper to explain the concept of PLoS ONE, how our peer-review is done and to show/demonstrate the functionalities on our papers, e.g., ratings, notes, comments, article-level metrics and trackbacks.
Then I used the Waltzing Matilda paper to enumerate some additional reasons why Open Access is a Good.Thing.
Trackbacks were also a good segue into the seriousness by which the scientific and medical community is treating blogs these days. I showed Speaking of Medicine and EveryONE blog as examples of blogs we use for outreach and information to our community.
I showed and explained (which they seemed to particularly be taken with and jotted down the URL), showed and explained the visibility and respect of such blogging networks as and Nature Network and then Connotea as an example of various experiments in Science 2.0 that Nature is conducting.
I put in a plug for ScienceOnline conferences and the Open Laboratory anthologies as yet another proof how seriously Science 2.0 and science blogging is now being taken in the West. Then showed 515 scientists on Twitter, The Life Scientists group and Medicine 2.0 Microcarnival on FriedFeed as examples of the ways scientists are now using microblogging platforms for communication and collaboration. I pointed out how Pawel Szczesny, through blogging and FriendFeed, got collaborations, publications, and in the end, his current job.
Then I described Jean-Claude Bradley’s concept (and practice) of Open Notebook Science and showed OpenWetWare as a platform for such work. I pointed out that Wikipedia and wiki-like projects are now edited by scientists, showing the examples of A Gene Wiki for Community Annotation of Gene Function, BioGPS and ChemSpider and ended by pointing out a couple of examples of the ways the Web allows citizen scientists to participate in massive collaborative research projects
But probably the most important part of the talk was my discussion of the drawbacks of Impact Factor and the current efforts to develop Article-level metrics to replace it – something that will be particularly difficult to change in developing countries yet is essential especially for them to be cognizant of and to move as fast as they can so as not to be left behind as the new scientific ecosystem evolves.

A beautiful Mammoth fossil discovered in Serbia

mamut1.jpgAn almost complete and beautifully preserved fossil of the Southern Mammoth, Mammuthus meridionalis was discovered a couple of weeks ago by a team of archaeologists led by Miomir Korać from the Archaeological Institute Belgrade and the Director of the Archaeological park Viminacium in Eastern Serbia.
The fossil, pretty much articulated and all in one place, was discovered at a depth of 27 meters (about 88.5 feet) in sand, which indicates that this area did not experience a serious earthquake for at least a million years or more since the animal died. It was identified as a female. She was about 4.5 meters tall, about 6 meters long, and weighed about 10 tons.
Southern Mammoth is one of the oldest and one of the largest species of mammoths. It is thought to have migrated from Africa into Europe between 1 and 2 million years ago. It was hairy, but not nearly as much as the later Woolly Mammoth, and thus not as adapted for the cold climate of the Ice Ages.
It will probably take only a couple of months to clean up the fossil, analyze it and articulate the skeleton, as it is so well preserved in sand. It will be displayed near the site of discovery, i.e., it will not be shipped to a bigger museum elsewhere.
I will be visiting Belgrade next month for a few days and I am trying to figure out if I could go to Kostolac, see (and photograph) the fossil and interview the researchers. I will let you know how that turns out.

Trip to Germany and Serbia

Later this month, I’ll be attending the 59th Meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany. The list of Nobel Laureates (about 20 of them) and the list of about 600 young researchers from 66 countries are very impressive. Of course, not being a chemist, I’ll have to do some homework before I go, learning what these people did to get the prizes.
The program certainly looks interesting – there is a lot of “meta” stuff beyond pure chemistry, so I will always find interesting sessions to attend and blog from. Yes, I am going to be there as a blog-reporter. I understand that PZ will also be there in the same capacity.
The meeting is from June 28th to July 3rd, after which I’ll fly to Belgrade for a few days, to visit my Mom and meet some friends (especially those I missed last year). Ana, Vedran and some others are already trying to organize for me to give lectures and interviews while there.
If you’ll be either at the Lindau meeting or in Belgrade at the above dates, let me know. I’ll be flying through London, but will not have much or any time to stop and do any socializing there this time around.

Happy birthday, Milutin Milankovic

MilutinMilankovic.jpgToday is the 130th anniversary of the birth of Milutin Milankovic, a Serbian geophysicist best known for Milankovitch cycles that describe periodicities in Earth’s climate.
Vedran Vucic is in Dalj (near Vukovar, Croatia), Milankovic’s birthplace, today for the birthday celebrations. He says that the house in which Milankovic grew up has been renovated for the occasion. I am assuming it has been turned into a museum. As I will go to Serbia again this summer, perhaps Vedran and I can take a trip to Dalj, where a group of science popularizers are interested in hearing about Open Access publishing, science blogging and other developments in science communication.
[Image Source – Portrait of Milutin Milanković by Paja Jovanović (1859-1957)]

My interviews with Radio Belgrade

Last year in May, when I visited Belgrade, I gave interviews with Radio Belgrade, talking about science publishing, Open Access, science communication and science blogging. The podcasts of these interviews – yes, they are in Serbian! – are now up:
Part 1
Part 2
I know that this blog has some ex-Yugoslavs in its regular audience, people who can understand the language. I hope you enjoy the interviews and spread the word if you like them.

Undergraduate science summer camp at Petnica Science Center

Petnicacrowd.jpgPetnica Science Center has been doing science summer camps for high school graduates and undergrads for 25 years and many of its alumni went on to have good careers in science both in Serbia and abroad:

Petnica Science Center is the biggest and, probably, the oldest independent nonprofit organization for extracurricular science education in SE Europe. Since 1982, Petnica has organized more than 2,500 programs (seminars, workshops, research camps…) for nearly 50,000 students and science teachers in 15 disciplines of science, technology and humanities. Majority of programs are designed for secondary-school students although there are a lot of programs for primary-school pupils, university students and science teachers. Attendants of regular Petnica programs are coming from all countries of former Yugoslavia and all these courses are being realized in Serbian language. However, Petnica occasionally organizes programs (like PI) in English for international participants.

Petnicasmrdi.jpgAfter a decade of wars and sanctions, Serbia has a moderate elected government, nice economic growth and is safe (you can browse my blog for posts related to the area). It is also a huge European center for birding/birdwatching and wildlife. It also needs to recover from a decade of brain-drain and no other scientific institution there is as worthy of support as Petnica. Adventure, science, visiting a beautiful and interesting place – think about it and sign up for their Petnica International summer science on August 2nd to 15th, 2009:

The aim of this program is to enable young scientists to practice scientific research by working on their own research and presenting their results and ideas. Students will also have a chance to attend various theoretical lectures and laboratory exercises, to learn how to use some important software packages and experience work in the field.
Interested students should fill in the student application form, write a personal statement, and provide two letters of recommendation. The personal statement should list your interests and explain why you would like to attend PI 2009, as well as anything else you think is important for us to know. All registration materials should be submitted by e-mail to pi AT petnica DOT rs no later than May 31, 2009. The program fee – including tuition, learning materials, accommodation, meals, admittance to the recreation center and field trips, is €500. There are no application fees. Also 30 percent of the total number of pupils will be funded by the organizers, and if you need financial support, do not hesitate and contact us.

Petnicasunce.jpgIf you are still hesitant, you should read this ‘Science in School’ article: Learning through research: a Serbian tradition:

Twenty-five years ago, in a village called Petnica, 100 kilometres south-east of Belgrade, an unusual science education centre was founded and soon became a hideaway for many rebellious secondary-school and university students from all over Yugoslavia. The attractive landscape and rich natural resources, such as a canyon, caves and archaeological sites, caught these students’ attention. Even though they were deeply unsatisfied with the formal education system, they were truly enthusiastic about nature and scientific work, and realised there was much more to education than school. Long before Petnica was formally established, some camps were organised for students of Belgrade University and members of a movement called Young Researchers of Serbia. Eventually, they managed to find government support to start an organisation with a few employees, a pile of books and a couple of Spectrum computers. Thanks to their efforts, an extracurricular educational centre was established for future generations of curious minds.
Petnicabiblioteka.jpgSince its beginning in 1982, Petnica Science Center has organised nearly 2300 programmes (seminars, workshops, camps and small conferences) for more than 40 000 secondary-school pupils, university students and teachers interested in science and technology. Today, Petnica is the largest independent, non-profit organisation for out-of-school science education in south-eastern Europe. Programmes at Petnica help students to focus on the scientific method and to write science reports and papers.

Read the whole thing. Then sign up for the summer program.

The One and Only Serbian Restaurant in Manhattan

A couple of times over the past few years I tried to find if there was a Serbian restaurant in New York City, but Google could not find one. So, I gave up looking and assumed there wasn’t one. And that was true – until recently. Last night at the meetup, Nikola Trbovic told me there is one now – opened just last June: Kafana on Avenue C (between 8th and 9th Street, see reviews here and here).
So, tonight, after watching the amazing August: Osage County on Broadway, The Bride Of Coturnix and I went to ‘Kafana’ to give it a try. And we were not disappointed – the atmosphere was pleasant and the food was great – just like home. Under the fold are some pictures: Cocta (“drink of our and your youth” – rosehip-based Cola), Gibanica (philo-dough cheese pie), Zeljanica (spinach pie), pecene paprike (baked peppers), ajvar (a pepper salad mix), Sopska salata (tomato, cucumber, onion and cheese salad), Sarma (stuffed cabbage), Karadjordjeva snicla (a thin pork steak, rolled with cream cheese, breaded) with cabage salad, and Niksicko pivo (the best Montenegran lager), ending with Reform torte, espresso and a bite of popular “Best Wishes” chocolate:

Continue reading

Belgrade and Serbia for tourists

A review of nightlife and some awesome pictures:

War on Christmas? Ho-ho-ho!

There is no clearer and better example of Artificial controversy than the War on Christmas, as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity re-invent it every year in order to boost their tanking ratings. What War on Christmas? Just drive along a street and see all the lights on houses, go into a store and look at the merchandise while listening to the Christmas music, peer into people’s windows to see decorated Christmas trees and presents, or turn on any radio station – Christmas is everywhere.
But, believe it or not, there are people who are even stupider than O’Reilly and Hannity – people who really want to ban Christmas! Who? The Bosnian education authorities:

“Is Santa Clause a religious figure? He doesn’t wear anything religious (maybe only a funny hat like the Pope). He is dressed in red – probably a communist, in which case it’s safe to say he’s not that religious. He is fat and round just like Buddah, but I guess that’s probably the consequence of a reindeer meat diet and too much coke.
By banning the Santa, people from the Bosnian education authorities who did this proved that ultra-nationalists from all three sides in Bosnia – Croatian, Serbian and Bosniak, have two things in common – 1. they all really, really hate Santa, and 2. they are all really, really stupid. This ban would probably not last thanks to the outrage it caused among normal people in Bosnia and the decision will probably be reversed, just like after that Darwin ban situation in Serbia some time ago.”

Best Pictures of 2008

From The Big Picture

2008 has been an eventful year to say the least – it is difficult to sum up the thousands of stories in just a handful of photographs. That said, I will try to do what I’ve done with other photo narratives here, and tell a story of 2008 in photographs. It’s not the story of 2008, it’s certainly not all stories, but as a collection it does show a good portion of what life has been like over the past 12 months. This is a multi-entry story, 120 photographs over three days:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Those are some amazing pictures. Some are gory. Some are poignant. Some are tragic. Here are two of the more light-hearted ones from the collection – a woman cantering her horse alongside the Tour d’ France competitors, and the fans of Red Star Belgrade soccer team lighting up the red flares during a game:

Schutz Happens

The Schutz Family recently arrived in Belgrade and are blogging the experience. Read the posts about Sounds of Serbia and Survivor, Serbian Style to begin with….
Hat-tip: Victor

Croatian Facebook Group Results in Arrest

That’s interesting:

Croatia currently has over 400,000 users on Facebook and that is more than a 15 percent growth over last month according to our own internal statistics. Facebook tends to be one of the first locations that younger generations turn to for expressing their political frustrations. There is no doubt that Facebook will continue to be a center for political expression.
Svetlana Gladkova suggests that the primary reason he was arrested was not simply that he created the Facebook group but that, “he is actually the president of one of the local branches of the youth of SDP (social democratic party) which is in opposition to the government in Croatia.” Niksa Klecak was eventually released due to a lack of evidence after being initially arrested for keeping “Nazi symbols and propaganda at home.”

Two rare white lion cubs were born in Belgrade Zoo on Tuesday

The (apparently un-embeddable) video of the cuties is here (I wouldn’t do that with my hand, though, what you see at one point….).
Hat-tip: Viktor

If you are planning to travel to Belgrade…

…you need to find the useful information by following the links in this post.

What is wrong with the picture?

Serbian Ministry of Health, as part of their fight against AIDS, inserted a condom inside a women’s magazine this month. The condom is German-made, named “Bumper-Bumper” and in a fun-looking package:
[Image from]
The timing is unfortunate (I’m sure it was planned months in advance and was too difficult to pull back at the last moment) – this was mailed out just 2-3 days after a guy in Belgrade killed his wife – a pretty brutal case of domestic violence that everyone is talking about (this is not something that happens often there).
Question #1: Why are condoms not sent to men? Are the guys there not reading any magazines? Sports? Tech? I am sure there is some research that shows that this is more efficient, but aren’t the guys those who should care of this thing?
Question #2: what is wrong with the picture?
Hat-tip: Danica

Now we know where Lorax is lurking

Macedonians plant six million trees in single day:

Thousands of Macedonians took to the hills and forests on Wednesday to plant six million trees in a single day as part of a mass reforestation drive in the Balkan country.
The main aim of the campaign was to replant Macedonia’s forests after extensive wild fires over the past two summers, and organizers trumpeted the scheme’s environmental benefits at a time of global warming.
“Our goal is to make Macedonia “greener” and make people more aware of the needs of this planet,” said Macedonian opera singer Boris Trajanov, who initiated the project.
Thousands of people were bused to the planting sites, including more than 1,000 soldiers who planted some 200,000 seedlings at 14 sites.
“If Macedonia, a country of two million people, can plant six million trees, we can only imagine how many trees can be planted in other, bigger countries,” he said.

Dreamy Belgrade…

From, via…..

Good Bye, Yugo

The last of the old Yugo cars rolled off the production line today.

Here is some history of it. Yugo cars, known abroad, never came even close to Zastava 750 for its emotional meaning for Yugoslavs. Hey, I learned to drive in one of those:

RSS Feed aggregators as sources of information and knowledge in medical sciences

RSS Feed aggregators as sources of information and knowledge in medical sciences (in Serbian – PDF) is an excellent article by Vedran Vucic geared towards medical professionals in Serbia. He will talk about this at the Belgrade’s Medical School this Saturday as a part of a symposium on electronic libraries, biomedical information, and Open Access.

Semlin Judenlager

This is a website worth spending some time on and looking at every page:

This website is linked to a British Academy funded research project on the post-World War Two memorialisation of one of the main sites of the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Serbia, the Semlin Judenlager. Established by Nazi Germany in December 1941 on the outskirts of Belgrade, Semlin (also known by its Serbian name Sajmište) was one of the first concentration camps in Europe, created specifically for the internment of Jews. Between March and May 1942, approximately 7,000 Jewish women, children and the elderly (almost half of the total Jewish population of Nazi-occupied Serbia) were systematically murdered there by the use of a mobile gas van. After the Jewish interns were killed, Semlin was turned into an Anhaltelager, a temporary detention camp for political prisoners, captured Partisans and forced labourers, most of whom were subsequently transported to various labour camps in Germany. Between May 1942 and July 1944, 32,000 inmates (mainly Serbs) passed through the camp, of which 10,600 were killed or died of starvation, exposure, or disease. Semlin was the largest concentration camp in Nazi occupied Serbia.
In spite of its importance as a place of the Holocaust, the Semlin Judenlager played a marginal place in the memorialisation of the destruction of Serbian Jewry in post-war Yugoslav/Serbian society. The research project seeks to explain why this is the case by looking at the representations of the camp in Yugoslav/Serbian historiography of the Second World War, in the media and at commemorative ceremonies between 1945 and the present. It explores the nexus of ideological and institutional dynamics implicated in remembering the Holocaust in Serbia, and specifically the manner in which the memory of the destruction of the Jews was assimilated within the dominant symbolic orders, first within multi-ethnic Yugoslavia – where the heroism of the Partisans, rather than the victimisation of the civilian population, constituted the primary object of memory – and later within the post-Yugoslav ideological milieu, which was dominated by Serbian nationalism and preoccupied with the suffering of Serbs under the Ustasha regime in Croatia during the Second World War.
In exploring the creation, maintenance and transformation of the memory of the Semlin camp since 1945, the project also considers a number of broader issues relevant to the understanding of Holocaust memorialisation in Eastern Europe, including the dynamic relationship between the historiography of the Holocaust and its place in public remembrance, and the continuities and discontinuities between the Communist and post-Communist periods in the way in which the destruction of Jews is understood and remembered.
At present, the website contains a brief history of the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Serbia, a history of the Semlin camp between 1941 and 1944, and an insight into the life at the Semlin Judenlager through the letters of a nineteen year old inmate, Hilda Dajč, which are made available for the first time in the English language. Also, it contains an account of the post-war fate of the site of the Semlin camp, which outlines the various attempts over the years to commemorate the victims. Finally, the site offers a ‘virtual tour’ of the main sites in Belgrade relevant to the history of the Holocaust.

Once you are done with the website, do yourself a favor and order Gotz and Meyer by David Albahari – you will find yourself finishing it in one sitting:

Embodiments of the banality of evil, Gotz and Meyer are two German SS noncommissioned officers who drive a truck in which, over a period of weeks, they gas to death 5,000 Jewish inmates of a Belgrade concentration camp. “They are conscientious, they always arrive on time, they are calm and cheerful… their uniforms tidy, their step light,” and they even hand out chocolates to cheer up the children they are about to kill. The nameless narrator of this haunting Holocaust story, a Jewish teacher in post-Cold War Belgrade, fixates on the two men to get a handle on the murder of his parents’ families by the Nazis. Serbian novelist Albahari (‘Bait’) imagines the mundane circumstances of their lives as their obscene task dulls into everyday routine, and delves into the history of those who died in the camp. He elaborates the details of the Nazi extermination apparatus, how the carbon monoxide gas acts, the hopeless stabs at normality by the imprisoned Jews. Eventually, the narrator’s flat, prosaic recitation of facts merges with hallucinatory reveries in which both his relatives and their murderers come to life. Even as his attempts to extract meaning through a historical recreation of the catastrophe grow increasingly futile, they yield in the end a numbed but moving elegy.
“What would I have done?” is a fundamental question in Holocaust literature. Translated from the Serbian, this stirring novel draws on a wealth of archival materials, maps, and Nazi bureaucratic records about the concentration camp at the Belgrade Fairgrounds, from where, over five months in 1942, 5,000 Jews were loaded into a truck and gassed. A Serbian Jewish college professor looks back now and obsessively imagines himself as perpetrator, victim, and bystander. Who were the two drivers who connected the exhaust pipe each time so that the fumes killed the passengers? How did it become just a routine job? Who buried the heaped corpses? What if one kid tried to resist? How could Belgrade citizens not know? There are no chapters or even paragraphs, but the spacious text is simple and eloquent, and readers will be drawn into the professor’s obsessive first-person narrative in which the horror is in the facts of bureaucratic efficiency and the unimaginable evil in ordinary life.

Obama-McCain race – a Serbian parallel lesson?

For some reason, my (rare) posts in which I make direct comparisons between Serbia and the USA (usually about politics) tend to become wildly popular (as in: spreading like wildfire on digg, redditt, stumbleupon, etc.). See, for example: Bush is Milosevic, Comparative Wingnuttery, Darwin in Serbia, More about me, The Warriors, Never Again!, Sixteen years ago today, We are now officially living in a dictatorship and When religion goes berserk! for examples of my typically inflamatory prose on the topic 😉
Let me take a stab at another one, connected to the current US election. I’ll try to keep it short if I can.
But first, read this essay by Jasmina Tesanovic about the demise of the Radical Right in Serbia:

The political climate has changed in Serbia. Boris Tadic, the Pro-European president, is wisely minding the nation’s business and doing it relentlessly. The ex-president Kostunica was doing the opposite.
A couple of days ago, journalists from various press groups were beaten up by Radical goons; at that point the new government declared Serbian journalists to be equivalent to Serbian police performing public duties, and severely penalized the street-thugs for attacking free speech.

For about fifteen years (starting around 1988), the Serbs had to endure: years of hated Milosevic; starting and losing five stupid, bloody wars nobody wanted; the surprising and sad spectacle of their brothers and sisters in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro turning their backs on them and leaving the union; economic hardship, hyperinflation and poverty; mass exodus of young intellectuals; mass influx of illiterate and armed refugees from the wars; deaths and wounds of loved ones recruited by force into the military and sent out to wars; sharp rise in crime and general thuggery; media serving as PR for Milosevic; opposition media getting shut down and beaten; election after election getting stolen by Milosevic; each election being followed by humongous, multi-day demonstrations in big cities, infused with fiery rhetoric of the democratic opposition, leading to vandalism, skirmishes with the police, deaths from gun-shots and a war-zone mentality; being made into pariahs of the world; daily reading lies and demonization of Serbs in the foreign press; getting bombed in 1999 which just paralyzed the opposition’s fight against Milosevic, strengthened his regime, delayed his downfall, not to mention killed many innocents, peppered the area with unexploded bombs and depleted uranium, and resulted in massive environmental degradation.
After enduring all of this and finally getting rid of Milosevic, replacing him with the loud revolutionaries of the opposition movement, the Serbs realized they had enough of the excitement. They wanted someone who will stop the yelling and get down to work instead. They looked for a technocrat, someone who will actually work on fixing the economy and improving the country’s standing in the world. Neither the defeated Socialists, nor greasy, bearded Radicals, nor fiery revolutionary Democrats quite fit that bill. The Serbs were looking for someone who is…..boring!
And they found it in Boris Tadic. He got elected, and later re-elected as the President of Serbia. He is so boring and grey that I guess he does not need security in the street – nobody will recognize him. He probably goes grocery shopping by himself.
Yet, as much as people there are vaguely grumbling (doesn’t everyone everywhere always grumble?), they are largely satisfied with his job. When I visited Belgrade in April I was stunned – the city has never looked so clean and colorful and vibrant. Lots of new shops and restaurants, people were cheerful, well-dressed and generally optimistic. It’s not perfect, but everyone notices that the movement is in the right direction – things are slowly starting to happen and they are all good.
Now, to the parallel with the U.S. We here have had a long time of excitement as well – a stupid, bloody war we cannot win, stolen elections, media acting as PR for the Administration, an economic crisis, shredding of the Constitution, obvious cold shoulder from the rest of the world, torture, wire-tapping, firing of District Attorneys, outing of a CIA operative, Terry Schiavo circus, appointment of extremist judges at all levels (starting with Roberts and Alito), Katrina and FEMA, ridiculous airport “security”, and now scandalously dishonest campaigning by McCain and incitement of the most extremist, racist, violent fringes of the society at the Palin rallies.
I think people had had enough of that excitement. They are not looking for fiery rhetoric. They want someone who will get down to work. They are looking for someone boring.
And Obama, with his poker face and unflinching cool, is exactly that. The angry faces of McCain at the three debates and the hate-mongering by Palin are exactly NOT what people are looking for. Slander, attack ads, sneering, fiery rhetoric, hate and fear – not this season, thank you. The slogans are not working any more. Obama’s boring explanations of policy details, things that used to guarantee an electoral loss for a Democrat in the past, are exactly what people are yearning for right now. He exudes competence – even if the audience does not understands the nuances of the policy, Obama obviously does and thus can be trusted to do his job well.
Thus, even though many people in the country are uneasy with Obama because of his race, or because they truly believe the lies about him being a terrorist, or because they have something irrational against Arabs, they will STILL vote for him. Their need for stability and calm is stronger then even their racism and fear. Look at these examples:
Sean Quinn reports from Pennsylvania:

So a canvasser goes to a woman’s door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she’s planning to vote for. She isn’t sure, has to ask her husband who she’s voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”
Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: “We’re voting for the n***er.”
In this economy, racism is officially a luxury. How is John McCain going to win if he can’t win those voters?

Or this stunning focus group report:

Reagan Dems and Independents. Call them blue-collar plus. Slightly more Target than Walmart.
Yes, the spot worked. Yes, they believed the charges against Obama. Yes, they actually think he’s too liberal, consorts with bad people and WON’T BE A GOOD PRESIDENT…but they STILL don’t give a f***. They said right out, “He won’t do anything better than McCain” but they’re STILL voting for Obama.
The two most unreal moments of my professional life of watching focus groups:
54 year-old white male, voted Kerry ’04, Bush ’00, Dole ’96, hunter, NASCAR fan…hard for Obama said: “I’m gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He’s gonna be a bad president. But I won’t ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President.”
The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. “Well, I don’t know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I’m sick of paying for health insurance at work and that’s why I’m supporting Barack.”
I felt like I was taking crazy pills. I sat on the other side of the glass and realized…this really is the Apocalypse. The Seventh Seal is broken and its time for eight years of pure, delicious crazy….

The Bradley Effect appears to be gone or reversed:

It may be generational. Expressions of racism are strongly correlated with age, and is much more common among pre-Boomer adults. However, a smaller and smaller fraction of the electorate each year came of age in the segregation era. The Pew study that I linked to above reports that 92 percent of Americans are now comfortable voting for an African-American for President. In 1982, when Bradley’s race occurred, that number was more like 75 percent. (Although the Bradley Effect isn’t about racism per se — it is about people misleading pollsters because of social desirability bias — racism is nevertheless one of its prerequisites).

The lunatic fringe will vote for McCain, surely. Those for whom anti-choice position is the litmus test will vote for Palin. But many lifelong conservatives will vote for Obama this time around. And if the things start getting better, they will vote for him again in four years. And they may become Democrats, as will surely their kids. The GOP brand will be so damaged, it will take years to recover, if at all. Just like Serbian Radicals.


To Irena Ilic (see here) for winning the Junior Division of the Show Jumping Balkans Championship a couple of weeks ago in Istanbul.

BlogOpen-South East, regional friendly and professional meeting of bloggers

Danica announced:

The third BlogOpen: meeting of all the participants in blogosphere (from authors, readers, IT workers to mainstream media) will happen on October 4-5 in in Bor, Brestovacka banja, Serbia. Main goals of this public meeting are:
1. Discussion about the topics and problems characteristic of this manner of public communication;
2. Realization of virtual communication in real, public space;
3. Calling wider public’s attention to this mode of authors’ presence and to the importance of an information society;
4. Promotion of an information society, electronic communication and the role of Internet as a source of information, educative tool, interpersonal networking and fostering of democracy;
5. Making notice of the most significant and most successful blogging authors and their impact as creators of public opinion and as sources of information.
More about BlogOpen in English and some valuable information – on this page, the list of speakers is here, and the program. I’m inviting all of you who are interested in these topics to join us as this will be great opportunity to participate and discuss different range of current burning issues, as well as to brainstorm and contribute in some solutions not only in local/world wide blogosphere but in social media and alternative education processes. You can register here. If you are not able to come, I’ll twitter from the conference some interesting points and thoughts.

A video is worth a thousand fliers

Vedran tells me that people from the Oncology Institute in Belgrade, who usually give women little brochures that describe breast self-exam in words, are now using – and loving – the two videos (originally from here) he has embedded into his Gynecology aggregator. Another win for Open Access.

Open Access and science blogs in the Anglo-American School in Belgrade

Vedran continues to spread the Openness in Serbia:

Anglo-American School Belgrade, a small private school in Belgrade, started its academic year with an opening ceremony celebrating the joy of learning.
Teachers who gathered on the first day of school learned about the intention of the school management to offer them a number of links to Open Access repositories and Open Access RSS feed aggregators for use in educational practice. Teachers learned about the freedom of knowledge and, with great enthusiasm, started to explore a variety of resources of information in order to enrich lectures and to train the students to seek the information and knowledge on the Internet by using Open Access repositories, scientific blogs, open notebook and other methods of disseminating freedom of information and knowledge.
PLoS and scientific blogs were found very attractive due to possibility to communicate with scientists directly. The parents supported the school’s intentions to offer more resources of information and knowledge and to follow efforts of scientists worldwide to share their experiences, thought and knowledge.”

Wildlife of Serbia looks like an excellent site: represents the largest on-line wildlife photo collection from Serbia. All photos on this site are made according [to] wildlife code of ethics.
The basic aim of this site is to illustrate Serbian wildlife and biodiversity, current needs for nature conservation as well as possibilities for sustainable development of tourism.

Serbian silver medal

On the right (use the left-right arrows to see more detail):
I hear the guy on the left is also famous.
And how does it feel to lose by 1/100th of a second!? If he won a bronze instead, he would have been happier.

Oncology Blog Aggregator

I heard that this is how it happened: when I went to Belgrade and talked about OA at the med school at University of Belgrade, I mentioned that Vedran is the local Web guru for them if they need anything. Someone from the Oncology hospital was there and later she contacted Vedran and asked him to make a blog aggregator that pulls together what people are writing about cancer. So, he did it – the Oncology Blog Aggregator is now live. If you know of good cancer blogs that should be included in the aggregator, let me know in the comments.

The importance of free speech

Excellent article by Jasmina Tesanovic about the final gasps of the Serbian Radicals (the right-wing nationalists and war-mongers) :

A couple of days ago, journalists from various press groups were beaten up by Radical goons; at that point the new government declared Serbian journalists to be equivalent to Serbian police performing public duties, and severely penalized the street-thugs for attacking free speech.

Imagine that in the USA?! And what about Citizen Journalists? Can I haz my blue uniform now?

Yugoslav boxing legend

Mate Parlov died yesterday. A boxer, a gentleman, and a poet.

Potential abuse of users’ privacy in Serbia

Serbia: New Instructions and Law Regulations on Online Privacy:

On July 21, RATEL, Serbia’s Republican Agency for Telecommunications, posted a Document of Instructions for Technical Requirements for Subsystems, Devices, Hardware and Installation of Internet Networks on their official web site. This news didn’t go unnoticed yesterday in Serbian blogosphere and internet community, as many bloggers expressed various opinions as well as disapproval because of the potential abuse of users’ privacy.
This document of instructions defines technical requirements for authorized monitoring of some specific telecommunications and provides a list of duties for telecommunication operators, which are obligated to act according to the Constitution Law of Republic of Serbia as well as elements of it.
According to element 55 (Law of Telecommunications), subpart 3, these Instructions were issued by RATEL in cooperation with public telecommunication operators and the governmental body responsible for immediate conduct of electronic monitoring.
This means implementation of massive tracking and archiving in all forms of electronic communications for the purposes of the national agency for the security.

Check the blogospheric responses there….

Karadzic arrested

Serbia captures fugitive Karadzic:

Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, one of the world’s most wanted men, has been arrested in Serbia after more than a decade.
He has been brought before Belgrade’s war crimes court, in accordance with a law on cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, the Serbian presidency said. The Bosnian Serb wartime political leader disappeared in 1996.
He had been indicted by the UN tribunal for war crimes and genocide over the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica.

Perhaps his poetry will get better once he starts writing it in jail….
Update: picture – Karadzic on the right as we remember him, on the left in “disguise”:
And, do not miss this, Jasmina Tesanovic has a good look at the news.

When religion goes berserk!

I guess it is unlikely you have not already heard about the big brouhaha that erupted when Bill Donohue targeted PZ Myers for showing disrespect towards a belief that made some religious nuts go crazy and violent against a child (yes, Eucharist is just a cracker, sorry, but that is just a factual statement about the world). If not, the entire story, and it is still evolving, can be found on PZ’s blog so check out the numerous comments here, here,
here, here, here, here and here.
Also see what Greg Laden and Tristero say. [Update: see also John Wilkins and Mike Dunford for some good clear thinking on the issue.]
Of course, since it is Bill Donohue, everyone’s favorite douche-bag, I went to see what is said on the blogs of my other two friends who, quite recently, had to survive the army of ogres that Donohue can send to make good people’s lives miserable – Melissa and Amanda.
On Shakesville, Jeff Fecke wrote about it.
On Pandagon, it is Jesse Taylor (yes, he is back there on his old blog) who wrote about this today (as Amanda is in a middle of a move and offline).
Both posts also triggered an interesting round of comments.
So, go and check out all those links, spend several hours immersed in this topic, and you’ll both learn a lot and get really, really angry (at whom? That’s your choice).
But while I was at Pandagon I also saw that Amanda started reading (and blogging about) Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” (I never wrote a real book review of it, but most of what I intended to say found its way into some posts of mine, e.g., here, here, here and here). The initial post triggered an interesting discussion in the comments, so Amanda added some clarifications which triggered another round of interesting comments.
The main question in both of those Pandagon thread is how to define religion. The focus is on what people believe, thus there is a lot of parsing the words going on, trying to define “God”. “personal god”, “supernatural”, etc. This is important as the second recurring question in those threads is if Stalinism/Maoism is a religion or not.
If you have been reading my blog for a very looooong time, back at the time when I used to write about religion (and politics) much more often, you may recall that I think of religion in somewhat different terms. I think that the main reason religions evolved is to ensure group cohesion. In other words, I think that the social aspect of religion is the most important one and that other aspects – beliefs, canonical works, behavioral rules, priestly hierarchy, ceremonies, etc. – are additions that in some way help ensure the group cohesion. This is why I was really mad at both Dawkins and Dennet for their outright dismissal and refusal to even consider the group-selectionist ideas of David Sloan Wilson whose book, Darwin’s Cathedral, although thin on data, is in my mind the best-laid-out hypothesis and the most promising avenue for future research on the evolution of religion. For the same reason, I think that Dawkins’ and Dennett’s infatuation with memes is misplaced and that the memetics will be pretty useless in this endeavor (or in any endeavor for that matter – it is an immature photocopy of sociology and linguistics with new terminology).
What does it really mean “group cohesion”? In the olden days, this was a feeling of belonging and loyalty to one’s own tribe – obviously maladapted to the modern world of multicultural societies, global economy, fast travel, instant communication and overpopulation. The inevitable result of group cohesion is the division of the world into an in-group and out-group. Members of the in-group are friends to be defended, while the members of the out-group, barely human, are to be detested and, when possible, killed.
For the group cohesion to work, one HAS to, by definition, feel that one’s group is superior to all other groups. This sense of superiority is enhanced by the additional “attachments” that may differ between different religious traditions, e.g., the belief in an inerrancy of the leader who gets orders directly from the group’s omnipotent god(s), various trance-inducing chants and dances, behavioral rules, sacred books, etc. All of these also promote internal policing by the group – those of “weak faith” are detected and punished mainly by other members, not necessarily by any kind of official armed forces, though some groups may use the latter as well.
In many religious traditions, the group cohesion is further enhanced by the sense of insecurity as “the other” is portrayed as much more dangerous than reality warrants – this persecution complex is a great way to ensure that all group-members “stick together” and severely punish the members who question the wisdom of the leaders, beliefs and behaviors.
In many religious traditions, the group cohesion is also enhanced by adding another layer of personal sense of insecurity – the strict sexual norms render both men and women insecure: the men do the macho man-bonding stuff in order to keep each other courageous (those who survive wars will get to breed in the end, after all), while women try to find security by exchanging sex for protection with powerful men.
To go back to the question of Stalinism/Maoism as a religion, if one looks at the religion as group coherence mechanism detached from what people believe, then the answer is Yes – those were religions (and so is being a Republican, for what that matters). But I will try to support this statement with the example I know best – that of Yugoslavia:

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Maps of Old Belgrade

Several people e-mailed me to alert me to the new blog post on BibliOdyssey that depicts several old maps of Belgrade, some very intriguing, some very beautiful.

Equestrian sports in Serbia

Before I went back to Belgrade, I did not know if there was a website with information about the racing and equestrian activities there. There used to be one some years ago, but it has not been updated in a very long time. So, I was happy when, while there, I was given URLs of the Belgrade Racecourse website and the Federation for Equestrian Sport of Serbia website. The former looks good and easy to navigate.
The latter is little old-timey in appearance but that may be on purpose, to emphasize the long tradition. It is also a little too PDF-happy for my taste – it is OK to use the format for things like forms that need to be downloaded, filled out and sent in, but it is not needed for calendars and results – I would have organized them differently.
What is missing on both sites is an English version (for at least some parts of the content) and something interactive – perhaps a forum or a blog. There used to be one for racing/trotting folks and one for equestrians on the old site, but not any more. For someone like me, the only way to communicate with old friends and current people is via Facebook. There should be a better way especially that so many of the old riders now work as trainers in other countries and would probably like to have a way to keep in touch.
What I would also like to see is an accumulation of historical material. I remember many volumes of books at the office back then and there, full of information about Serbian (then Yugoslav) horses, from pedigrees to results to newspaper clippings. I’d love to see all those things scanned in and organized in some way on the site.

Museum Night

The fifth annual Museum Night in Belgrade and other Serbian cities will be held this Saturday, May 17th:

More than 130 museums and galleries in 23 towns in Serbia will be open just for you, so the only decision you have to make is to choose a good company. We hope you are in good shape because there will be so many interesting exhibitions, concerts and performances that you will literally have the whole Belgrade under your feet!

What a great idea – pick a day, have special exhibits, events and concerts, all for free, and get the entire town to come out and enjoy.

EuroVision 2008

I am kinda glad I went to Belgrade earlier and escaped the craziness of the EuroVision contest. The tickets have been sold out for a long time now. At least the European visitors will see how pretty Belgrade is now and how nicely it has recovered from a decade of wars, sanctions, hyperinflation, mismanagement and bombing.


This one is for Rob, one of those strange-metered (7/8, or 1-2-3;1-2;1-2/1-2-3;1-2;1-2/…) Macedonian songs of old:

There are many more like this in the menu there on YouTube….

EuroTrip ’08 – Belgrade, the Horses

Yesterday I went to the Belgrade Racecourse and the barns and was happy to meet many of my old friends, including my old trainer (with Professor Steve Steve below) as well as some good new kids, including two sisters who used to own and ride my old horse. There were two small show jumping classes yesterday (3’6″ and 4′), both with simple, nicely flowing courses appropriate for the very beginning of the show season. The horses are all better than what we used to ride, the rides went smoothly, and both sisters placed in the bigger class that included a jump-off:

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EuroTrip ’08 – Belgrade, Easter lunch

Today is Orthodox Easter. Most everyone here will have lamb for lunch today. We did something different….
First, for breakfast I had snenokle (here is a recipe from a delightful Balkans food blog Palachinka) and I ground some chocolate on top of them:
Then, we had eggs. Not just painted on the outside, but simmered for many hours in onion husks, olive oil and a bunch of spices until the eggs were brown to the core:

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