Monday, 28 March 2011

A superpower not like the others...

Sometimes one has the impression that globalization is nothing more than globalized nationalisms. Among them stands China’s nationalism. What China did was nothing else than make an exact copy of the Western obsession with boundless, endless increase in production and consumption of commodities and sell it to the West at a lower price. Joe Bennett documents the gigantic development of China with his unique narrative talent, in a book in which he seeks the source of his… underpants. His original query: how is it possible to buy so many cheap ‘made in China’ products and be in almost complete ignorance about China and the modus operandi of its economy? Joe travelled to this huge mother of world trade to discover how, where and by whom his underpants are manufactured. What were his impressions? They were mixed. On the one hand, happy (too happy perhaps for Westerners), smiling people. But, on the other, a huge scale in almost everything, a shocking exploitation and mechanization of workers, a dirty and uncontrolled ‘develpoment’. Such a large scale, that human beings get lost on the way, become dots on monitors, like in the port of Shanghai:
excerpt in English (the control tower in the port of Shanghai) not available
China learned to play the insane game of global capitalism, of production of mass commodities out of every proportion, of total control of human beings, better than Westerners. And without biting its own bait, without becoming a consumer itself. But, one may wonder, does not China import anything? Of course it does:

excerpt in English (China's imports and exports) not available
Reading Bennett’s book one realizes that, in the dusk of the hubristic Western consumerist civilization, we see the dawn of its nemesis: its exact copy, selling to it its own products cheaper, faster, and easier. Today’s globalized capitalism could not find itself in a worse adventure than that of depending, for its own survival, on a far more cynical, inhumane, mechanical version of it, tirelessly set to prove that all these cheap copies it massively produces may, eventually, embody globalized capitalism's more authentic spirit.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Elective sympathies

I see, on the occasion of the occupation of the Athens Law School by illegal immigrants, a flood of sympathy flowing their way, in and through references to the sanctity of asylum in its ancient Greek meaning and the sanctity of the immigrants themselves, who, in the cradle of civilization and hospitality that Greece historically is, should have been treated better by authorities. All the leftisthumanists who argue so refuse to see the reality around them. They take the decadence that has stamped Greece in the last thirty years as granted. These humanists take it for granted that Greeks should feel like immigrants in their own country, against the bizarre background of the absurd institution of the university asylum, spineless politicians unabe to deal with it, religious leaders acting like opinion leaders and, most of all, endless symbolisms. Our humanists look above and beyond what ordinary Greeks live through in a free falling country, turning their eyes away: turning their eyes to the immigrants. There is no humanism more inhumane than the ‘humanism’ of shutting your eyes in front of a decadence that you have so much embraced, letting it become part of you, that you take it for granted: so much for granted, that you immediately and unhesitatingly label as ‘Right Wing’ or ‘racist’ anyone who might dare argue against you. Anyone, that is, who might argue that despite everything things may still take a positive turn, that not everything is lost, that Greece does not exist symbolically, despite the fact that it has been plagued for decades by all sorts of outdated symbolisms: the symbolism of the university asylum, the symbolic occupations of universities, schools, roads, public buildings, symbolic strikes by civil servants, the symbolic marginalization of anyone not wishing to take part in this feast of symbolisms. If we truly wish to leave symbolisms behind and return to reality, looking it straight in the eye, we have to see, before turning our attention to the immigrants, what we have to do, what is really happening in this bankrupt country – bankrupt not financially but, most of all, culturally. 

Friday, 24 October 2008

Citizens Advice Bureaux: a rare commodity in Greece

I assume many of you who have spent some time or live in Greece may have suffered mistreatment at the hands of the Greek state and its various agencies. Now, however, Citizens Advice Bureaux are also available in Greece. You can turn to them for any problems faced in your contacts with the Greek state - provided, of course, you ARE NOT in a hurry and you live in or around Athens. Why do I say that? Because yesterday, when in need of a Citizens Advice Bureau I found out that, alas, there is ONLY ONE in Greece located - where else - in Athens. So, how was I to make contact with them from Salonica? Fortunately, one could also send a report of their problem by fax or post, and that is exactly what I did. At the same time, however, I remembered something else. About ten years ago I was living in England. So, memories came to me of how different things were there with Citizens Advice Bureaux. Οur advice helps people resolve their debt, benefits, housing, legal, discrimination, employment, immigration, consumer and other problems and is available to everyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, age, nationality, disability or religion: this is what they promised and I can now testify that it was exactly like that. Despite the fact that I was not a British citizen I got all the help I needed. How did I discover them? I just took a walk on the one and only central road of the small town in which I then lived. That town was Leamington Spa. Have you heard of it? I guess not. Still, even in this little provincial spa town one could find a Citizens Advice Bureau, to which I turned and, as I already said, was helped a great deal. Today, ten years after that, I made a telephone call to Athens, to the one and only Greek Citizens Advice Bureau to ask if they received the report I faxed to them yesterday. They said that there seemed to be no record of it and that I’d better call again, come Monday or Tuesday.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Can an opinion leader keep a low profile?

The new Archbishop looks, prima facie, like a low-profile person; and less ambitious, compared to his predecessor. (How, really, could one be MORE ambitious than the late Christodoulos?) He is also said to be in favour of well-educated clerics and to be in good terms with the Patriarch. What I would personally like to see is a man who would not try to convince us that he is ‘our Hieronymus’. Because, if populism is obnoxious when exercised by politicians, journalists or other public figures, when it becomes a key characteristic of a cleric it’s something even worse: inappropriate. I therefore wish that the new leader of the Greek Orthodox Church proves worthy of his role as a religious leader in a modern European nation-state; and less ambitious than his predecessor as another kind of leader. I refer of course to the Archbishop as an opinion leader. As a man who has the power to lead to the formation of social tendencies, awaken or quieten passions, prejudices and beliefs and who influences decisively millions of modern Greeks in their attitudes. (By the way, I didn’t see, in the Greek newspapers, any articles on the quite significant, in modern Greece, role of Hieronymus or his predecessor as opinion leaders.) So, let this man prove to be indeed low-profile, modest and humble. In other words, what the ministers of another low-profile but overambitious person were not. I am referring to our prime-minister and his cabinet, who proved that ambition and modesty do not go well together, as they never did. I am not saying that one should not be ambitious. But the quality of our ambitions is, alas, equivalent to the quality of the society in which we live and prosper; and, of course, relentlessly equivalent to the very quality of our personality. Modesty, on the other hand, is in Greece a high speed train. I am not, of course, referring any more to the Archbishop or the government officials, but to the rest of us. For whom modesty is, I think, a very fast train – compared to which the French TGV looks ridiculously slow – with the Terminal Station ‘Margins of Society’ as its destination.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

What is happening in Burma?

From the BBC site, pertinent questions and interesting - I think - answers on the events in Burma: Q&A: Protests in Burma. As demonstrations in Burma continue to gather pace, the BBC looks at what triggered the protests, who is involved and what they could mean for the country's military leaders.What sparked the protests? On 15 August the government decided to increase the price of fuel. Both petrol and diesel doubled in price, while the cost of compressed gas - used to power buses - increased five-fold.The hikes hit Burma's people hard, forcing up the price of public transport and triggering a knock-on effect for staples such as rice and cooking oil.Burmese people are angry about the sudden fuel price increasePro-democracy activists led the initial demonstrations in Burma's main city, Rangoon. When about 400 people marched on 19 August, it was the largest demonstration in the military-ruled nation for several years.The authorities moved swiftly to quell the protests, rapidly arresting dozens of activists. Nonetheless, protests continued around the country. Numbers were small, but demonstrations were held in Rangoon, Sittwe and other towns. Why are monks involved? The monks started participating in large numbers after troops used force to break up a peaceful rally in the central town of Pakokku on 5 September.At least three monks were hurt. The next day, monks in Pakokku briefly took government officials hostage. They gave the government until 17 September to apologise, but no apology was forthcoming.When the deadline expired, the monks began to protest in much greater numbers and also withdrew their religious services from the military and their families.There have been protests every day since the deadline, both in Rangoon and elsewhere, and they are getting bigger by the day. Tens of thousands of monks are now involved.More and more Buddhist monks have been joining the marchesThe participation of the monks is significant because there are hundreds of thousands of them and they are highly revered. The clergy has historically been prominent in political protests in Burma.Because of the clergy's influence, the government has tried hard to woo many senior abbots. The fact that these abbots have chosen to remain silent is a sign for many people that they condone the protests.Analysts believe that any violence against the monks could trigger a national uprising. What has the government done about it? At first, the country's military leaders held back, letting the protests continue.But on Monday they said they were ready to "take action".By late Tuesday, troops and riot police began to arrive in Rangoon, and a dawn-to-dusk curfew was introduced.On Wednesday violence broke out at the Shwedagon Pagoda, Rangoon's holiest shrine, as police used baton charges and tear gas to try to stop monks embarking on a ninth day of protests.Further clases are being reported on Thursday. Are the protests still about an apology? For some of the monks, yes. But for others, it has now gone far beyond that.A group called the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks has emerged to co-ordinate the protests, and on 21 September it issued a statement describing the military government as "the enemy of the people".They pledged to continue their protests until they had "wiped the military dictatorship from the land of Burma", and they have called on people across Burma to join them.One rally marched past the house of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, clearly linking the monks' movement with a desire for a change of government. Are others joining in? In the initial days of the protests, the public did not appear to be involved - commentators suggested that they were too scared of retaliation.But this has gradually changed as the demonstrations have grown in size.Footage of one protest showed people lining the route as the monks marched, forming a chain to protect them from any retaliation from soldiers.Aung San Suu Kyi was able to greet the monks over the weekendAnd on 24 September, thousands of people responded to a call from the monks and joined a massive protest in Rangoon.Key members of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) are now said to be joining the protests, after initially distancing themselves from the action. When did Burma last see protests like these? The last time Burma saw anything on this scale was during the popular uprising of August 1988.These protests were triggered by the government's decision in 1987 to devalue the currency, wiping out many people's savings.Demonstrations began among students and then gradually spread to monks and the public. These culminated in a national uprising on 8 August 1988, when hundreds of thousands of people marched to demand a change of government.The government sent troops to brutally suppress the protests. At least 3,000 people are believed to have died.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Maria Callas December 2, 1923 - September 16, 1977

On the 16th of September the Greek general election will take place. On that same date Maria Callas died 30 years ago. So, I decided to run my own pre-election campaign: its aim is that this divine voice reaches as many people as possible from now until September the 16th.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Vacations diary part II: Spain-Catalonia

Let me start with the positive things, that is with the people we met in the guest house we stayed: a lovely couple from Belgium, the German owners, a newly wed couple - the girl Irish, the boy German -, a very decent English family, but also not in the guest house a Dutch former circus clown that showed us around in a small winery we visited as their public relations man. We also liked a lot the local Penedès wines, even the whites, which until then Imust admit didn't hold in great esteem. In the positive things I must also include Gaudi's city: Barcelona, but in the negatives the thousands of tourists flooding it. We also didn't like the food, which we found overpriced, too - or perhaps we just went to the wrong places. The landscape was another thing we didn't like: destroyed by construction cranes, as the whole of Catalonia seemed to be under construction, cranes and lorries everywhere. Also, in comparison to Italy but also France, Catalonia didn't prove very hospitable, at least as regards the very poor number and variety of agritourist places on offer: we had a really hard time finding internet access and then a place to stay, after twenty long hours of driving from Italy through Southern France to Barcelona. Sant Martí Sarroca, a village near our guest house.

A church perched on a hilltop near the village.

Details from La Sagrada Família, the cathedral Gaudi didn't have time to finish, in Barcelona. I have a feeling that he wouldn't have liked the vending machines the Spanish put inside, which you have to also pay 8 euros to see. The interior generally seems to be under construction, with not much to see - except the vending machines, of course!

At the famous monastery of Montserrat, near Barcelona.

A small winery in Penedès. The Dutchman who showed us around spoke six languages, traveled through Europe for 2o years as a circus clown where (at a circus) he also met his Italian wife. He came to Spain to meet and train near a famous clown and started working in the Penedès wineries, ending up as the puclic relations man of this one.

Strolling through Barcelona.

At the Dali Museum in Figuears near the French border.

A counrty house's garden door in Gaudi style, in a village that was a real work of art, near Figueras. Garraf beach, near Barcelona: summer houses.