Posts in English

Rehabilitation of Police Officers?

Since change from the top seems unlikely. Civil society should establish programs to reach out and provide alternative career options for current police officers who are willing to leave their jobs.

For example, they may help them transform into lawyers. NGOs may fund masters programs in different Law schools, provide them with extra tuition help, enroll them in human rights courses and help them establish small combined legal offices through grants.

Khaled Said

I think by now you might have heard of Khaled Said. The Alexandrian 28 years old who died minutes after two secret policemen approached him in an internet café sparking outrage after a photo following the autopsy was published on the internet. Two blurry photographs of a bloody disfigured head.

What happened exactly is still under investigation by the prosecution. Witnesses say he was beaten by the two secret policemen. They say they did this so violently, that they smashed his head into a marble shelf in the internet café or into an iron door outside the café or marble stairs in an entrance of the nearby building or all of the aforementioned. They add that he cried for help and said he was dying.

The police, including the ministry of interior, claim that upon seeing the two secret policemen he swallowed a small wrap of hash which made him choke and die. They say they didn't hit him. And the two policemen say he fell from the ambulance stretcher, which caused the few superficial post-mortem injuries.

The reason they approached him was first circulated that it was part of a routine ID checking and he refused to show them his ID. Another reason, we were told, that he had a video exposing the police distributing hashish among themselves. I heard the family denied that this was true today in a press conference.

The minister of interior was quick to inform us that Khaled was a suspect/convict/drug addict. A nasty guy who people shouldn't give too much attention about anyway. Kalb we mat.

Instead, people were incredibly angry. Facebook was full to the brim with all forms of digital campaigning and solidarity.

Exploring family relations from online obituaries using text mining and data visualisation tools

Using a copy of all the obituaries published online by the Ahram newspaper from January 2002 till April 2008 it is possible to use Linux command line tools (gawk, sed, bash) to find family relations between individuals in certain professions. An example given here explores the family links between a sample of 456 Egyptian state security officers.

This is a very brief description of the method.

  1. The first step is to convert the HTML files downloaded by curl into one giant text file.
  2. Then to move each separate obituary into a line of it's own.
  3. Extract officer names sandwiched between rank and place of work into a separate text file.
  4. Search for the names of each officer through each obituary, family links between different officers can be discovered.
  5. The output is in GraphViz .dot format, which draws a graph similar to the one below.
  6. Graph showing 63 family links between 174 officers from 456 Egyptian state security officers. Each link corresponds to a family tie of a variable degree of relationship including in-laws.

    Graph showing 63 family links between 174 officers from 456 Egyptian state security officers. Each link corresponds to a family tie of a variable degree of relationship including in-laws.

    This is just a preview of what might be possible using a data set of 43,156 obituary. Without control group(s), this graph says nothing other than it's pretty and that there are family links between officers. Other methods for analysis of data could be done using statistical methods to answer different questions.

    UPDATE: I attached the list of SS officers and the script used to find links between officers and output a .dot Graphviz file. You can download the obituaries dataset from here.

Torture is a virus of the mind and the cure is absolute prohibition

electron microscope image of the polio virus

Torture is an organism that lives in the dark, it's done in secret and seems to be successful in staying as such. It's more successful in hiding when it's inexplicable. The fewer the (logical) reasons behind torture, the more your testimony will be difficult to believe and the more questions will be raised around your absence. Even from people who know you best.

This organism evolved the ability to live in the dark. From being part of the law in the middle ages to a rejected practice. So to survive, torture denies its own existence (read: torturers deny the existence of their actions) which is the best way to keep a secret and stay in the dark and avoid rejection (read: persecution/justice).

The ticking time bomb scenario is an idea that torture has spread to make itself less objectionable and thus nourishes it. Other more primitive ideas include deterrence.

Logically, asking 'why did they torture someone' implies that there can be an acceptable reasons for it to happen. Thus devoting part of our mental capacity to come up with excuses to make it less bewildering and thus less objectionable (like the ticking time bomb scenario). It's our nature, it's how our brain works. It tries to make sense out of things. This creates, unknowingly, a crack in our morality for torture to inhabit.

Do people ask why someone was infected with Polio? There is how, but the answer for why Polio isn't really an answer; it's either God or bad luck. People ask why HIV and got mixed up with how and created the stigma. Well you can ask Polio for why it picked someone to infect and the honest answer will be to self-propagate. The same thing with torture, any reason given is for self-preservation. I know this sounds absurd, but torture tries to propagate itself.

The neurons that shaped civilization

The NDP Synagogue 2

Lina Attalah and Mohamed El Dahshan of Al-Masry Al-Youm followed up on my post about the Magen Abraham synagogue that was turned into an NDP office in Hadayeq el-Quba. They did a very good job in finding answers to many of the questions regarding why this building is in such a horrible state.

the interior of hte synagogue

“This temple was built by the Adda family,” says Carmen Weinstein, president of the Egyptian Jewish Community Council (JCC).

"The Adda's were a Jewish Egyptian family of industrialists and bankers, who contributed to the growth of the Egyptian economy in the 1940s. I wish the state would preserve this temple, which is unique in this part of the city." For Jewish communities in Egypt before 1952 it was customary to erect neighborhood synagogues. "In each neighborhood, the local Jewish collectivity built a synagogue," says Weinstein, who also points out that while 29 synagogues once existed in Cairo, only 13 remain.

When contacted for more information about the building, Cairo Governorate officials expressed surprise with respect to the building's unusual status, and gratitude that Al-Masry Al-Youm reporters brought the matter to their attention. According to one governorate employee who wanted to remain anonymous, the building is recognized in the district's files, but has no licenses or ownership documents.

"This means that no measures of demolition, or restoration, have been taken with respect to the building. Nevertheless, the Hadayeq el-Qubba district headquarters believe the construction to be stable and safe," he says. "Since there has been no ownership documents for the synagogue, the government has put its hand on it."

Madness constitutes only 15% of all psychiatric diagnoses

Severe mental disorders constitute only 15% of all the psychiatric diagnoses in the ICD-10

The hypothetical column on the left is meant to show that as a result of the stigma of mental illness, most people think that mental illnesses are always severe.

Delirium is a totally reversible state, people with dementia need long term care and can never be more harmless. Lots of people recover from psychosis totally and some retain symptoms.

The stupid bouncers won't let Per in

UPDATE: Read Sarah's post she has more details.

Woke up this morning to learn from Twitter and text messages that early this morning at 2am, Per Björklund was stopped by the Cairo Airport security and wasn't allowed entrance to the country. He is to be deported back to Prague.

The NDP synagogue

In April 2008, in Hadayeq el Qobba I stumbled upon this synagogue which was turned into a public affairs office, NDP office, a nursery and a small mosque.

Taking photos is strictly prohibited. But I managed to snap some shots while claiming that I am studying architecture and interested in the building style.

This is apparently the most looked after synagogue in Egypt. Thanks to Farouk Hosni. Probably the next president of the UNESCO.

UPDATE: Yes, it is "the most looked after" synagogue as in the wooden floors are in a horrible shape, cables coming and going everywhere, horrible neon lights, overstuffed filing cabinets piled over each other rusting, broken window panes replaced with cardboard and the whole sanctity of the place, that was once there and can be vaguely felt radiating from the large dome and the star of David windows, is replaced with a grim dark grey Mogama3 feel.

UPDATE 2: Lina Atallah and Mohamed El Dahshan of Al-Masry English went and investigated this synagogue: The curious case of a Cairo synagogue.

معبد الحزب الوطني


Blindfolding is commonly used by security forces that physically torture people. It works by making the victim disoriented and fearful. A person will lose his orientation to place and the sense of direction first. Then, if applied long enough for more than a day, it can make some experience visual hallucinations. It makes a blow, a kick or an electric shock unpredictable and thus far more distressful.

These were some of the effects on the victim and they were quite straightforward. But what about the effects on the perpetrator?

Here is what a former Israeli military commander said in an interview to the BBC:

''Maybe [the kid is] blindfolded for him not to see the base and how we're working... But I believe maybe we put the blindfold because we don't want to see his eyes. You don't want him to look at us - you know, beg us to stop, or cry in front of us. It's a lot easier if we don't see his eyes.

''When the kid is sitting there in the base, I didn't do it, but nobody is thinking of him as a kid, you know - if there is someone blindfolded and handcuffed, he's probably done something really bad. It's OK to slap him, it's OK to spit on him, it's OK to kick him sometimes. It doesn't really matter.''