Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"It's Better to Lose an Eye than Your Name"

An ancient Greek saying, meaning that you would suffer less if you lost your eye than if you lost your good reputation (name).
"Good reputation" is a virtue prized highly by Greeks, which is probably why this ancient saying has survived 3000 years and more and it is still being taught to our children today.
Unfortunately, not all our children heed their teachings and some of them become greedy, reckless, snatching little bastards! Or big bastards. After all, the ancient Greek pragmatists bequeathed us with still another saying: "Who can have the honey and not take a taste of it?" 
It seems some Greeks did find themselves in a position to possess or be in charge of some honey, and taking a large ladle partook freely from it. This had as a result that ALL Greeks suddenly lost their name (good reputation)!
But enough metaphors. Graft, theft, embezzlement, corruption are not new vices and Greeks did not invent them, at least not in modern years. (They may have learned from the examples of others!) There is a deep seated feeling in Greeks, especially after the complete degradation of Greece during World War II, or even before that, from the 400-year Ottoman occupation of Greece, that they (Greeks) are somehow being taken advantage of, that breaking laws and regulations is a desirable "feat" since these laws were imposed by "the enemy".
Not that every Greek is a rebel who cheats, steals and lies at every turn! On the contrary, most Greeks, like most everyone, are honest, good, law-abiding citizens that wouldn't dare create problems for themselves or anyone else. However, this "rebel mentality" resides deep in the psyche of so many that it is deemed better to turn a blind eye to infractions of the law by others than rat on them to the authorities. A climate of "tolerance" for the "cheaters" has been born, therefore, making the problem so insidiously difficult for the authorities to deal with.
And then some people carried it too far. They took so much of the "honey" that the jar was empty when there came time for the reckoning. And Greeks immediately got "a bad name" among their peers in the EU (who may have been tasting the honey too but gosh! they would never admit that!!) And who better to become a scapegoat for of all of EU's problems than the black sheep with the bad rep?
There are many in Greece now that would rather be half-blind than black-listed, but the deed is done and the poor, honest, law-abiding citizens (it's always the poor, honest, law-abiding citizens) will pay for it whether they can afford it or not. And they CAN'T afford it since most of them are living on the verge of poverty. But that's the topic of another discussion.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Perchance to Dream

To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

With these words does Hamlet ponder the consequences of suicide and death in his famous sololeque. Hundreds of hours of possible mind wresting thought and desperation condensed into a few words. That is what makes a writer great, and surely, there is no greater writer than that old English bard, William Shakespear.

Many have used this quote as a springboard into a discussion about dreams, an utterly erroneous interpretation, since dreams are the last thing on Hamlet's mind as he speaks. Hamlet speaks of a more permanent sleep, that of death. The dreams he is referring to, are nightmares that may turn into permanent reality if he does end his life. You can almost smell the fear as he utters: "ay, there's the rub."

Fear of death and its possible aftermath has been at the root of the belief in a Hell, as well as the inspiration for most horror movies. It's not so hard to believe that in death, every twisted nightmare our tortured mind created while asleep, exists out there somewhere and we get to experience it, especially if we are wrought by guilt for injustices we have done during our lifetimes. As a matter of fact, it is this fear of eternal torture and its idyllic opposite, Paradise - a place of rewards for the worthy, that are at the root of every religion that ever crossed the face of this planet. Preying at two of the most basic emotions of man, fear and hope, religious institutions have survived and thrived throughout the millenia.

But can any of it be true? Where does our poor soul go after the body has ceased all its functions? Is there such a thing as a soul? Does our consciousness continue in some form or is our last breath the end of all thought and being? So many questions, so few answers. Medical science cannot answer any question that goes beyond that last breath. Religion attempts to provide its own explanations, but without hard, scientific proof, these explanations appear like bedtime stories to the discerning mind. Surprisingly enough, one of the hardest of sciences comes to the rescue with some of the strangest hypotheses to ever come out of a scientist's mouth. I am referring of course, to Physics and our latest discoveries of how reality works. Where our world was solid and real, we are now forced to consider string theories, multiverses, parallel planes, frequencies instead of solid matter, and a universe where God does play dice.

And where does all that take us, my dear Hamlet? Anywhere we want to go, I suppose. If something exists in the realm of probabilities, no matter how small, then it is likely to exist somewhere within the expanded realm of the multiverses. The phrase "anything is possible" therefore, takes on new significance and our minds need to expand in tandem with the universe to encompass all points of view.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Death: Where Knowledge Stops

Death is perhaps one of the most taboo subjects of conversation in "polite society" in most cultures. There is good reason for this. There are no "experts" on the subject of death. We have no scientific knowledge beyond the medical evidence of the cessation of function of the human body, which constitutes the act of dying. Nothing in available science can prove or disprove religious, philosophical and parapsychological claims of a continuation of human existence in some form beyond the final moment of existence on this earth.

I am not alone in the belief that all religions are founded on the desperate need of every human being to explain this terrible prospect of non-existence looming inevitably in our future. The hopelessness of the situation is such that it might explain the creation and existence of the so-called "religious genes" I discussed in a previous blog - a safety valve, perhaps that redirects the attention of the human being away from the finality of death to a soft cushion of beliefs in eternal life, resurrection, reincarnation, heaven or whatnot. We need to believe in something or risk insanity as we contemplate nothingness.

Man is the only creature on earth to our current knowledge that has the ability to think beyond his life, to a time when he will not exist any more, at least in the form he has today. The prospect is daunting and I'm sure everyone has spent a few sleepess nights trying to come to terms with the idea. This is the point where most men and women turn to religion for comfort and solace. A few brave souls who declare themselves to be "atheists" focus on the present and purport to believe that "it all ends here". It's such a dismal outlook that frankly, I believe that if everyone adopted this attitude, suicide rates would go through the roof. Perhaps it was no accident that as soon as the atheist communist regime in the Soviet Union ended, people rushed to reopen the churches and returned to religion full strength.

It is no accident that I'm writing this article today. A couple of weeks ago, the most precious person in the world to me - my mother - died. It's very hard to take philosophically the death of a loved one. For once, my meandering mind froze on its tracks and emotions ruled my world. Those of you who have read my articles in the past may have already surmised that I'm neither religious nor atheist. I try to balance myself in a family whose beliefs run from deep religiousness to complete atheism and I can usually understand their points of view. Yet, this was one occasion where my whole being was begging to turn to religion, to God, for hope, in a place where knowledge stopped.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dermocratic Socialism vs. Democratic Capitalism

Ranging from mutualism (an anarchist school of thought) to market socialism (a blend of communism and capitalism), Socialism as an economic system, combined with the political system of Democracy is probably the most misunderstood form of government and economy in existence. There are good reasons for that. For one, there are many theories on how exactly a socialistic economy should be run. This lack of consensus, in combination with the totalitarian practices of the Soviet Union during its Communist experiment have thrown a dark cloud over the word "socialism" and turned many democratic states to seek their desired freedom in the economic system of Capitalism. On the other hand, recent extreme behaviors of unfettered greed have given rise to thoughts that capitalism of and by itself is not a panacea, rather it holds its own dangers.

It's not my goal in this article to define economic and political terms. Such definitions belong in an encyclopedia, and the reader may easily find the references he or she needs. Instead, I would like to present my personal point of view vis-a-vis the two systems.

There is one word in common for both systems and that word is "Democratic". Democracy, as a political system, guarantees that all matters of the State, including its Economy are decided upon in accordance with the will of its citizens. The question is: can the citizens of a State be manipulated to prefer one system over another by special interests? The answer is "of course"! Powerful special interest groups or even other countries can and have many times in the past manipulated populations and governments to lean one way or the other. In this case, the word "Democratic" becomes irrelevant, since the voters have been "tampered with" and are therefore unable to determine or express their true will.

In a true Democratic government (the way the Ancient Athenians may have wanted it to be) each citizen would be free, educated enough and therefore able to know his own interests and to be able to select freely the candidate that expressed these interests most closely. If the citizens felt that an unregulated economy served them better, then their elected government would lean toward a more capitalistic system. If, on the other hand, the citizens felt that the economy was "too free" and they were being taken advantage of, they would be quick to impose rules and regulations, thereby creating a more socialistic environment for their society. In this sense, neither system is good or bad. They are simply tools to make life better for the people.

So why is there such vehemence nowadays pertaining to which system will reign supreme? The answer is simple. People are not free, adequately informed or uninfluenced enough to be able to determine their own interests. Special interest groups of both schools of thought control the Media and each tries to paint the other in the darkest of colors. In consequence, the citizen is confused and ends up voting for the interests of the powerful and not for his own interests. The economy ends up being a power game and the term "Democracy" goes out the window.

So much for understanding the whys and hows. In the present global situation, what should we do? Well, my opinion is that first of all, we should promote Democracy. Democracy should be promoted not only for Third World countries that have never known this system of governing, but for First World countries that have forgotten the meaning of the word as well. Secondly, everyone should realize that when we talk about economic systems we are talking simply about tools that exist only as long as they can make our lives better, not about ethics or political ideologies. Living within a capitalistic system does not make you more free than living in a socialistic systen or visa versus. Living in a Democracy makes you more free than living in a dictatorship or an oligarchy. As for the preferred economic system? Well... whatever works for the majority!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fairy Tales CAN come true!

A Match Made in Heaven :) My dear friends Maria and Panagiotis:

Friday, April 4, 2008

FYROM Revisited - or- After the Veto

Whenever you start discussing ANY of the Balkan countries, you inevitably end up discussing history. A multitude of peoples (Greeks, Slavs, Turks, Bulgars, even Italians) lay claim to lands that have been occupied by all these, plus Germans, British, Ottomans, Byzantines, Venetians and just about everyone and their brother who came to this fair peninsula and suddenly wanted to build a summer home in the area! (Not that I blame them - I would too!)

Just as I and my neighbor bicker about where exactly his land ends and mine begins, just as any of you would bicker with your neighbors about your own land borders if these borders were not painstakingly surveyed, marked and firmly decided by deed, so do all these nationals bicker among themselves and argue endlessly about the right of first ownership, quoting endless passages from history in order to prove their point.

It's silly, really. We live on ONE earth, a very tiny planet - the only hospitable planet in our corner of the universe - "a mote in God's eye" - as vulnerable in our existence as the tiny ant that can be stepped upon indifferently by the smallest, weakest child - and yet we fight over who has the right to squat in what corner, and whether the particulat ant about to be squashed is called a red ant or a black ant.

Hmmmm? You say that it's important to the ant? *Sigh* Perhaps the ant's soul would rest easier if his gravestone said "Here Lies a Brave Red And" instead of "Here Lies a Brave Black Ant".

But enough of the ant metaphore. We are all humans and as such we have our little weaknesses that we need to humor and cater to. It's almost an adage that individuals need an identity. An identity declares many things. It identifies us to everyone else as not simply a vagrant who is wondering the face of the earth with no past, no family, no roots - and therefore, possibly dangerous. It tells others that we are so and so who belongs to these people, who have accomplished such and such, that we have a permanent home which it there and we can return to it at any time and therefore we are an individual of means and worth, not to be taken lightly. We are bred to honor and serve the concentric circled groups that surround us - our imediate family, our area, our country and so on, in continuously growing circles that diminish in importance as we move away from the center.

Why am I getting into this socio-psychologico-historical discussion at this point? Because, unless we understand the very basic forces that govern the need for an identity in people, we will never understand what moves the native of FYROM to stay adamant in his claim "I am Macedonian" and what moves the native of Greece respond "Over my dead body"!

So, who were/are/will be the "Macedonians" anyway and why all this fuss? By historical accounts, Macedonians (the name means "the long - see tall - people") were one of the ancient peoples who lived in the environs of northern Ancient Greece - which happened to be a lot larger then in all ways than it is today - spoke Greek, worshipped the ancient Greek gods, and considered themselves Greek in all ways. Ancestors of these Macedonians still survive today. They are spread throughout the ancient Macedonian territory, although many of them have elected to move to the modern Greek area of Macedonia.

Throughout the centuries, many other nationalities moved into this area, including Bulgars, Turks, Slavs, gypsies, etc. After World War II, the ancient territory of Macedonia was split into 3 parts. The northern part was given to Yugoslavia, the southern to Greece and the western to Bulgaria. Tito, wanting part of the sparkle and glory of ancient Macedonia to rub off on his people, called the southern province of Yugoslavia, "Macedonia".

See the excerpt below:

HOW THE LIE WAS CREATED Otecestven Vestnik (Sofia daily), 19 June 1991

STALIN TO BULGARIAN DELEGATION (G. Dimitrov, V. Kolarov, T. Kostov) The
Kremlin, 7 June 1946

Cultural autonomy must be granted to Pirin Macedonia within the framework
of Bulgaria. Tito has shown himself more flexible than you - possibly because he
lives in a multiethnic state and has had to give equal rights to the various
peoples. Autonomy will be the first step towards the unification of Macedonia,
but in view of the present situation there should be no hurry on this matter.
Otherwise, in the eyes of the Macedonian people the whole mission of achieving
Macedonian autonomy will remain with Tito and you will get the criticism. You
seem to be afraid of Kimon Georgiev, you have involved yourselves too much with
him and do not want to give autonomy to Pirin Macedonia. That a Macedonian
consciousness has not yet developed among the population is of no account. No
such consciousness existed in Belarus either when we proclaimed it a Soviet
Republic. However, later it was shown that Belarusian people did in fact exist.

Alexander’s Macedonia was Greek - Historian Robin Lane Fox

The wide variety of people living in the Balkans lead to friction. Throughout history there has been some sort of cause or other that people have been willing to fight for, and this is especially true in this area. Emotions run high and tempers are hot. It's not coincidence that TWO World Wars began in this area!

FYROM, being a chance amalgamation of people living in the area, lacks the framework of common traditions, history, religion and identity that would qualify them as a single people. Their own history being less that a century old, they borrow freely from the single entity in the region that can boast roots that run back to deep antiquity: Greece and in particular in this case: Ancient Macedonia.

Greece on the other hand, has had its history and tradition tresspassed violently way too often throughout the years. The people and the government of Greece are not happy at all to see the claims of FYROM to the name, the history and even the land of an important part of Greece. Greece is angry at wild claims from FYROM that they have been persecuted by Greece or that there are "Macedonians" right now inside Greece being persecuted!! Greece views these false claims as expansionist propaganda, possibly fed by foreign interests who would benefit from unrest in this region.

And there are plenty of reasons why foreign powers would meddle in the politics of this area, the most obvious one being the vast and coveted oil fields around the Caspian Sea. A shortcut route from the Caspian to the Aegean via Thessaloniki would shave off thousands of kilometers from the alternate route via the Adriatic for the pipelines they are already planning to build.

It's a simple, clear and ruthlessly practical reason that justifies in the mind of these oil monger powers any type of upheaval, war and sacrifice necessary to achieve it.

Skopjians - if you are reading this, take heed. Those who claim they want to help you, are in fact playing you for fools. They don't care about your inependence or your identity. They care only about themselves. You can be sure that Greece will not allow you to usurp things that rightfully belong to it. Your hardheaded hunger for a nonexistant identity will only lead you to disastrous consequencies.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What's in a name?

It's been a long, long time... Had to go back in time to take care of a few matters in Ancient Greece, but I'm back now.
And guess what I find upon my return?
My descendants are fighting over one of our most famous names with those squatters up north!
Yes, I'm talking about Macedonia, of course.
Between you and me I never really liked Alexander too much. Too quick to take out his sword, too eager to get good men killed in senseless wars, too uppity for my tastes. He was, however, a good Macedonian and a great Greek. He spread the ideals and the culture of Greece throughout the known world - and that was no small feat for that time and age.
But back to our current problem. Let's analyze it in the manner we would have done back in my time, during my first incarnation.
Why would a tiny upstart "nation" want to call itself "Macedonia", and more importantly, why should Greece care?
Apparently, neither one of these questions have simple, clear-cut answers.
FYROM (the Former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia) was apparently named that way by Tito, with the excuse that the land area was originally part of the Ancient Macedonia. And it was.
After World War II, Macedonia was split into three pieces. One-third was kept by Greece, one-third was given to the Bulgarians and one-third was given to Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia under Tito apparently never had any serious designs to reunite Macedonia, he simply called this Province Macedonia to get on the nerves of the Greeks - and he succeeded.
Tito went a step further. Not satisfied to simply usurp the name, he patiently undertook the long task of teaching every school child born in FYROM after 1946 that they were the actual descendants of the Ancient Macedonians,ergo Alexander the Great was not a Greek but a Slav!
According to Tito's version of history, FYROM is the true Macedonia and all the people who live either in Bulgaria or in Greece are conquered people! Never mind that the Slavs did not appear on the scene until the year 800 AD, never mind that Greek was the spoken language of Macedonia in ancient times and that the Macedonians shared the same culture and the same religion as Athenians and Spartans.
FYROM youths are convinced that they are the true Macedonians - they bought into Tito's propaganda. Therefore, it's only logical that when the time came to choose a name for their newborn country, they would choose "Macedonia".
So what? you might ask. Is Greece afraid of this new, tiny country whose people would be starving if it were not for the financial aid sent by Greece and for the jobs created by Greek businessmen there? It's kind of silly, isn't it? If anything, Greeks should be flattered that their ancient civilization was of such importance that a whole nation would fight hand and tooth to be named as one of the city-states of yore. And the Greeks would indeed be flattered if FYROM was located in the US or in Australia or even in Asia. But hey, guess what? FYROM shares the Macedonian border with Greece. And Bularia next door shares the other Macedonian border with both and is keeping a close eye on what is happening. Of course, they are all gentlemen. No one would ever go so far as to imagine that there would be a dog-eat-dog fight in the Balkans over a piece of land! These things just don't happen on this peaceful Earth!
I do have a vivid imagination!!
Enter the Americans, the Russians and the Europeans. Each one of these super powers have special interests in the Balkans. The Americans would love to have a NATO military base in the heart of the Balkans to keep an eye on Europe and Russia, Russia and Europe don't much like that plan, plus they all have interest in the oil and gas pipes coming in from the Caspian Sea. Hmmm... a quandrum.
How does the silly name of such a small country manage to provoke such passions?
Here it is in a nutshell:
1. Both countries lay claim to the name and passions rise high over it.
2. No one really wants trouble, but no one knows how to avoid it.
3. None of the parties involved have any imagination to come up with an original name for this place.
I suggested "Pseudo-Macedonia" and the Greeks were enthusiastic about it, but it didn't go down too well with the Slavs!
So what's in a name? Possibly the match that will light the fuse to the biggest bomb of the 21st Century.