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Columns


Sunday 26 April 2015

Wistful Don Draper of these last episodes of the Mad Men saga, has made us feel a little heavier, a little older this season. Don is no longer a grade A asshole—why even Meagan got him apologizing to her (“for what exactly?” even feminists tweeted, ranting against her, devious seductress that she is) and after he handed her a million dollars for no apparent reason. He is wiser, sadder, more human, vulnerably loveable. We all know this cannot end well. 

Truth is, Don evokes the zeitgeist no longer of the Mad Men era, but of our times. We are all kind of sad these days, this year, 15 years into the once-new millenium. Through different paths, for different reasons, but in much the same way. Contrary to the trope “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, in our post-ironic, meta-content way, our private griefs have transmogrified into a generic melancholy spreading over the country like a wistful fog.

Ironically, this “non-happiness” is equally present in the lives of people with families, as well as those who do not and will probably never have them.

A recent slew of essays and books (e.g. the new anthology “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids” edited by Meghan Daum, and Kate Bolick’s “Spinster”) reveals that making the “right” (for each person, this is a different thing) choice does not, alas, directly translate into happiness.

At the same time, families are definitely not a font of unfettered joy for most people. We expend an inordinate amount of our lives working at loving/avoiding/hating/detaching from/forgiving our parents; then working at forgiving ourselves for everything we could have forgiven but didn’t, and everything we should not have not forgiven, but did.

Then we become parents ourselves, our entire life’s perspective shifts radically and becomes attenuated to our kids’ every breath and step in life. Helicopter parenting is now often criticized, as is the level of frenzy and sheer craziness involved in getting their children into those nursery schools that prepare them for those schools which have become select highways to the Ivy League, which in turn defines everything: whether you will become part of the entitled 1%, part of the large increasingly poorer, sadder, murkier sea of “mass middle class”, or-god forbid-part of neither of the two previous classes. Two recent books on this phenomenon are Frank Bruni’s “Where you go is not who you become” and Robert D. Putnam’s “Our Kids”.

Yet no one seems to have come up with a better way of doing things. And until some brilliant disruptor and innovator comes along and does just that, the rat-race for parents and their kids will go on pretty much as it is doing so already.

At the end of this race, sometime in the spring of our kids’ senior year, when college admissions are through, we know if we have won or lost. Either way, that is the moment we embark upon the small death that is called “transitioning into a separate life and identity”, which leaving for college signifies.

This reality which is celebrated as a result of successful parenting, leads many people in their mid 50s flocking to shrinks for help with their “empty nest” sad syndrome. Paradoxical yes, inevitable too, or so it seems anyway.

 

It’s not just in family life though. A feeling of unfulfillment seems to permeate the pursuit of everything else too: power, money, accomplishment, love. In seeking an elusive, ever-mutating “meaning” which we cannot adeptly pinpoint yet whose absence we feel intensely, as distress, even grief, the “no ones” of our world unite with the most important “somebodies”, in solitary, parallel harmony. (David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and author of the “Road to Character” writes interestingly about this http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/06/opinion/david-brooks-the-problem-with-meaning.html )

 

The Have-nots are sad because… they do not have what makes most people (if temporally) happy: money, success, content personal lives. 

The Haves are sad because they have it all and yet their insides emanate grief because they often perceive of their lives to be devoid of meaning. Why sadness claims victims even amongst the scions of absolute privilege and entitlement, the kids of those “in whose favor the cards are stacked” as Hillary Clinton diplomatically put it in her official announcement video. Frank Bruni wrote about this movingly in his most recent article http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-best-brightest-and-saddest.html?_r=0

 

We become sad when we feel our potential going to waste. Sad too, if we feel so trapped into a Sisyphean state of constant transient “arrival”, that even if we have seem to have acheived and possess everything, we can credibly feel we have nothing. People use clinical terms like “depression” to explain what happened to exceptionally gifted, creative, rich, and successful individuals such as Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, L’Wren-Scott, Dr Frederick Brandt. Psych terms help us feel insulated from such conditions; as if defining something as a mental condition conjures a threshold we will never transgress. Yet feeling unfulfilled and lost is a feeling we all share from time to time, so we are all equally at risk.

  Stressed and weighed down by the norms our society lives by; sad when we see values replaced by situations reliant on money alone. Each of us, according to the class we belong to, the money we make, the dreams we had/have, the lives we lead, are sad about something we have too little or too much of.

 

And as any marathon-runner can attest: when you’re running, it all becomes about speed, constant motion and acceleration required to acheive a transient win. Yet what happens when we stop? Because at some point, we all have to. Faced with the omnipotent continuity of online life—Facebook, Twitter and the entire Web—it is hard not to feel alone, small, at a disconnect from everyone else, and even the person we were before we stopped.

 

That’s why no one really stops. Ever. Even for those few who defy the mainstream, in order to pursue more “meaning” in their lives, it’s anybody’s guess whether they will find what they are seeking. There are no guarantees and everything comes at a cost.

 

Yet even those who objectively lead lives that transcend the rat-race most of us are currently involved in, and whose lives are meaningful to humanity (like the doctors who left the US to volunteer in Africa, saving Ebola patients) can fall prey to the same sadness of those of us pursuing more individualistic lives. Meaningful rarely coincides with happy, scientific research has recently proven.  Making other people happy doesn’t always translate into becoming happy or feeling meaningful ourselves. We are all our own greatest paradox: solipsistic, parochial, far-sighted, generous, parlous and exemplary, individualistic and humanitarian.

That we know we are all this tangled mess, and we have enough intuitive intelligence, cognitive and verbal erudition...... 




Friday 27 March 2015

Is the war currently waged between the West and ISIS a war of civilizations or not? Is it a war of religions? Ethinicities? The diverse opinions on this have been fueling spats between journalists and thinkers for some time now (most recently the New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/clash-civilizations-isnt who took on the NYTimes http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/17/opinion/roger-cohen-islam-and-the-west-at-war.html and the Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/)
Yet all this theoretical rumination it is, I believe, deflecting our attention from a less theoretical approach to the vital question: how to stop the wildfire effect ISIS is, mainly through the Internet, generating in young people the world over? 

Hearts and minds. It's what always works, historically. Once the problem of survival has been solved (and it has, for the young, Western-born recruits of the terrorist organization that is actually fast becoming a new and expanding territory), people have proven to subsist on only material goods. We need food for the mind, ideas, a vision which imbues our life with meaning, and for which we would (even) die. Poignantly if ironically, the more we have (freedom, democracy, products) and the more stable our lives become, the more elusive the pursuit of this vision becomes.

"Peaceful times are rarely interesting, yet I would not wish interesting times on any man" the great British thinker and historian, Eric Hobsbawm was fond of saying. Having experienced most of the twentieth century within a Jewish family with a penchant for picking wrong countries as refuge at the wrongest possible times (until they managed to escape to Britain) he had possibly one of the most extensive experiences of what it means to live in a time inflamed by passionate, absolute adherence to various, usually conflicting, ideologies.

Wars are uniquely endowed for igniting passions and solving existential problems. You pick sides and fight. When there is a dearth of wars, they are supplicated by cold wars, movements over matters directly impacting peoples' lives.

The hippie movement changed the world and the way we live, not just in the US, its place of origin, but throughout the world. It stopped wars, liberated women, empowered artists, embraced-no, celebrated-LGBTs--as well as all those millions of people who were considered "misfits" and were summarily cast out of society and discriminated against in a vile manner because "they did not follow the rules." Once it succeeded in changing society, the movement became redundant 

The same happened when The Free World won the Cold War over The Evil Empire. Although now the grandiose terms imposed by the victors--America--when the win was still fresh, now sound funny, they were quite accurate. For many of us Europeans, especially from the Second World War onwards, our being able to live and live freely were incumbent on America beating Russia. 
Of course for those who did not get a first (or even second) hand experience of what it meant to be strangled within the Soviet Union's iron fist, in time things became rather tepid. Especially once America had its first African-American President, gay marriage became legal, and 9/11 started ebbing, most remaining passions involve marathon running, paleodiets and ice-bucket challenges. Tepid stuff, indeed.

It is a fact: world orders, ideologies, and systems which define how we live (and die) are like marriages. They need date-nights and revamping from time to time. All the more so when based on democracy, freedom and all the values America stands for. In the land of Lady Liberty where the pursuit of "more and more" meets the pursuit of happiness, sometimes it is easy to forget that the most elementary happiness most people here already possess as an unalienable right, is more than most people in the world can even aspire to.

Reiterating the "values and ideals and freedoms we stand for" can appear vapid rhetoric to teenagers who have never had these freedoms questioned. They may also appear false to people who have become isolated and feel discriminated against (that may or may not be the actual case.)

Things have reached the point where "capitalism", especially the US garden variety, has become a rather arcane, if not dirty, word. Piketty http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/03/31/forces-of-divergence merely enhanced and put into numbers what the Europeans have accusing the US of, and quite openly since the 2008 financial crisis: inequality is at an almost feudal high, the walls of privilege are hard (if not impossible) to scale for most people, the impermeable arrogance of the entitled has turned more than just New York into "A tale of two cities" as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio poignantly iterates. The depth and nuanced quality of this inequality is only highlighted by the fact that Rep Scott Walker, a possible Presidential contender, stands for everything regressive yet is supported by large swathes of the population who perceive of him as a maverick, a kind of anachic wild card who will challenge the status quo of the rich getting richer, the poor and middle class, poorer, and politics, a game between dynasties.

People need to be reminded that this is the downside, and that, more than any other time in recent decades, measures are being taken to address these problems and solve them. 

From the Presidential to the federal and municipal level, even the private sector, there are efforts to make all our lives better, safer, fairer, more enriched, happier. Obamacare, more affordable housing, the FCC enforcing net neutrality, and two women, Mary Jo White http://www.wsj.com/articles/sec-head-seeks-uniformity-in-fiduciary-duties-among-brokers-advisers-1426607955 (chairwoman of the SEC) clamping down on corrupt practices in the financial world, and FED chairwoman, Janet Yellen, practicing cautious middle class-onomics to keep America safe and more equal (http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/03/09/janet-who-most-americans-have-never-heard-of-fed-chairwoman-janet-yellen/) all these people and institutions are daily making an increasing if not ostentatious difference in bettering our lives. For the first time in human history private companies and individuals invested with a great deal of power are using it not to make money but make a difference the world over. Google is trying to make all the universe and its knowledge free and accessible to all; it is also safeguarding our privacy as the NSA snooping debacle revealed. It is also disrupting Big Telecom's arbitrary autocratic rule over the Internet by making wifi cheap if not free. In its free time it is pioneering in the domains of health gene-tech research, artificial life, and space--all advances meant to be released to the world, free of charge or any discrimination. Facebook is bent on changing the world through enabling every single person to become connected--on a more concrete level, the plan is to provide free wifi to third world countries where there is no network. Why even more traditionally market-based companies such as Apple and Tesla are deeply involved with fostering values and ideals that are emblematic of America. All, regardless of whether they are more profit-based than others, are making the world more accessible (in terms of connectivity, access, knowlege, as well as travel and transport) to...the world, saving us all time, money, life, and enriching our lives in every way we did not until recently even dream of desiring. The Hyperloop, Uber, AirBnb, why even Tinder!

This growing trend challenges the "Wold of Wall Street" and "Flashboys" crass, profligate, cynical, often offensive paradigm of life and action that has for the past thirty years or so defined the financial industry, as well (to a less insalubrious degree) as much of the corporate world. Yet it is not mirrored in popular culture (which to a large degree concentrates on the malcontent, "ironic" subversive cynicism adopted, ironically, by mostly the children of the entitled and liberal!)

I don't believe most young recruits, start out wanting to become the assasins we see on the Internt, slaughtering innocent Westerners they abduct. According to most psychiatrists, we--even the evildoers--do not aspire to be evil. With the sole exception of the clinically insane (the verdict is still out on sociopaths) even the most consistently evil of us need to justify our behavior to ourselves as stemming either from injustice we have suffered, or from a passionate adherence to some kind of -ism (an ideologically based vision like all religions, as well as socio-economic orders such as communism, fascism, marxism, why even capitalism.)

Why does ISIS's recruitment find fertile ground epecially in young Westerners who come from immigrant Moslem families who espouse or eschew Islamism to varying degrees? For much of the same reasons most of us spend half our lives rebelling against our parents and the other half trying to civilizedly distance ourselves from them while at the same moment we are obsessively retracing our origins and ancestry (on a personal as well as DNA-based level) on the constantly multiplying sites that do so for most affordable rates. If Freud were alive today he might put it this way: we want to become our parents--not as they are but as they "should've/could've been". The beta version. In order to become our parents we need to kill our parents much as Zeus took on his father Cronus. In the case of ISIS "killing" becomes less of a metaphor. For these young Muslim recruits, the pursuit of this utopia becomes feasible in a dystopian world only a plane-ride away. There, they believe, they can be permeated with the culture and convictions their parents lost or were taken from them in order to assimilate into the Western world they emigrated to. That they are choosing to regress to the worst version of the conditions their parents sought egress from, making great sacrifices in order to do so (especially in the case of immigration to the US) recedes so far into smallprint it is forgotten. (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120144/trauma-genetic-scientists-say-parents-are-passing-ptsd-kids)

The US needs to amp up its soft power: movies, TV, internet, music, books, everything. Engage with Internet leaders like Google, Facebook( https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101322049893211), Twitter (http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/17/8226173/rhapsody-twitter-music-integration), 23andme.com, Apple, Amazon; get the movie and music industries on board; everyone from bad-ass rappers, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce (please though, not Taylor Swift); get all the other industries on board too ("ISIS kills pistachios") from ad men to cheese-makers. We need to remind people of the good that America, like no other country and society, abundantly offers its people, because otherwise it will all go bad. We need to remind them we were all strangers here once. And that we (all of us, despite inequalities and problems) have it better today than at any other time in the past. Blame our all-too-human human nature (focusing on what we still don't have and forgetting how much we have gained and progressed, as the rockstar scientist and thinker Steve Pinker (http://stevenpinker.com/pages/frequently-asked-questions-about-better-angels-our-nature-why-violence-has-declined") often points out.



Wednesday 25 February 2015

Hillary is the Beyonce of politics.

The epiphany came to me, effortlessly, after watching Beyonce’s “Lemonade” on HBO, and listening to her lyrics on Tidal, her husband’s, Jay Z’z, streaming service.
When you stop being a girl and become a woman, only then do you really understand what being a woman entails. You have to be brighter, better, more dedicated, more disciplined, more principled, more serious than any of your male peers just so you have a shot at the life they have.
Women also bear the burden of shame heavy on their backs. Slut-shamed. Shamed as prudes. Shamed as nothing less than monstrous Medeas if they make a mistake, when they are spouses and mothers. The list goes on.
The perversity of this mentality though, that no amount of political correctness or female empowerment spiel has ameliorated, hits peak point when a woman is cuckolded, or in any way betrayed, by her significant other. Even though her husband may be lambasted as a “cheater”, the wife is always demeaned. The pity and empathy she is given in loads implies that she did not “deserve” to be cheated on “just because her husband found a more attractive/sexy/young alternative.” In public perception, the woman is divested of an integral element of her feminity. And this element of feminity that far transcends the spectrum of sexuality and age, is a vital part of who a woman is as a whole person. So essentially, the wronged wife is wronged twice. Once by her husband, and once by everyone else.
This process is anathema to any woman, especially a strong one like Hillary always was. It is also entirely irrational and unfair. Yet Hillary knew better than to try to change this mentality in principle a priori by projecting herself as a role model. She turned to action for her personal empowerment. Keeping her head held high, she trudged through the mud, through sheer will managing to come out on the other side, pristine, rejunevated, and now on her way to becoming the nation’s first female President.
The fury emanating from Hillary’s demeanor as she stood by a penitent President Clinton as he apologized to the nation for the Lewinsky scandal, initially seemed to be the living depiction of “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
But Hillary was so much more than that. Part of her fury originated, I believe, from this fact exactly: that her entire (charismatic) persona and personal path was cast aside, in the public’s perception of her as a one-dimensional betrayed wife.
Yet the problem was, that despite it all, Hillary has always been, has always wanted to be, if not The Wife, certainly Bill’s wife. Her timeless affection for and connection to Bill Clinton is almost palpable. It feels like the one chink in her armor. Her Achilles heel. Which, through time, hard work, genius strategy and pure back-breaking discipline, she turned into a strength. The so-called “Clinton machine”, now newly empowered with the addition of Chelsea Clinton, seems invincible. And this is largely due to Hillary.
Still, she, understandably, did not tackle the stigma attached to women who however powerful, wonderful, beautiful they may be, are, in the eyes of the world, divested of their attributes just because their husband got silly.
For a season or two, it seemed as if a fictional character, Alicia Florrick of the “Good Wife”, would become the role model women needed to liberate themselves of the stigma of being the beleaguered wife. She didn’t. Half way through inept politicking, erratic standing by her renegade husband, switching jobs like pantsuits, she also turned into a sex freak—which, alas, proved to be only an inner trigger for her profound, overwhelming love and need for yet another man: the enigmatic Jason.
And then Beyonce, the real Queen of America, came along. With her “Lemonade” album. Making lemonade out of lemons, she quotes Jay Z’s grandmother, while seamlessly expressing her rage (at him?) for cheating on her.
For the first time, because of Beyonce’s guts, charisma, fame, breathtaking beauty and sex appeal, and talent to channel her experience into Art, the betrayed woman has become, in the eyes of men and women alike, a goddess. And the cheating man in question, even though still loved and forgiven, appears simply ridiculous. 




Thursday 5 February 2015

«Huffington Post»

The relentlessly upbeat, upscale and photogenic advent of the Braverman clan minus its progenitor Zeek, propelled forward into a future of happiness was the final scene of Parenthood. For me though, an unabashed acolyte of the series from the first episode of the first season, the finale felt completely alien, evincing the slogan with which a completely disparate series, the new season of Girls, was promoted on the MTA buses: "The only way to grow is up". 

I am not a grinch: I have never begrudged the Bravermans and their spouses and myriad offspring their eventual happy endings to all their troubles. And they all had more than their fair share of nitty-gritty reality: Cristina's (Monica Potter's) heart-rending battles with corrupt and therefore successful (...) politicians, depression, and eventually, most potently, cancer, all compounded by her almost preternaturally destined for trouble elder daughter, Haddie (Sarah Ramos); Sarah's (Lauren Graham) difficulty to find stability of a financial as well as existential nature; Max's (Max Burkholder) horribly challenging struggle to overcome the emotional, social and human cost that severe Asberger's can wreak on sufferers and their families; the deleterious consequences of errant fathers on their children's psyches and lives (in the case of Sarah's children, Amber (Mae Whitman) and Drew (Miles Heizer), and Crosby's (Dax Shepard) son, Jabar (Tyree Brown); the trouble Julia's (Erika Christensen) preteen daughter Sydney (Savannah Paige Rae) had in adjusting to new, adopted siblings as well as the derailment of her parents' marriage; even the effect of infidelity on the most primal and intrinsic bond of the series--the marriage of the Braverman patriarch, Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) Zeke, to his wife, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia).

That they all pulled through, reaching that "Paradise Regained" state of grace on "the other side", was fortunate and not unrealistic; there are only two ways any drama can go, so any regular Joe has a 50% to happiness--let alone the Braverman community's charmed circle. 

What felt schmaltz-y to me was the ersatz "sorrow intermingled with joy" and utter lack of grief and its distorting, depraved quality, as exhibited in the "watch us play baseball in Zeek's memory" video, by the entire Braverman clan. It was also terrifying to see how rapidly and smoothly the members of a family so closely involved with one another--they don't really have the time or will to do much else--moved on from Zeek's death to an, apparently, infinite and unfettered by any shadow, abundance in terms of money, success and fertility .

So, OK, so we lost Zeek but it's alright folks, we got a replacement brand-new baby Zeek from Amber who also somehow figured a great hubbie in the equation too, two more babies on the Julia-Joel (Sam Jaeger) side, one more on the Crosby-Jasmine (Joy Bryant) side, and god forbid we forget the new adorably cute puppy, perfectly curated to match the effortlessly sleek good looks of the family.

The whole sequence felt like overwrought imagery set to provoke a celebratory "Hallelujah" effect, everyone so moved, and elated, embraced by their lives, all wrapped up and elevated within a generous and warm cocoon of optimism and elation and true emotion and complete dearth of boundaries or endings. And I...... 




Wednesday 6 August 2014

«Huffington Post»

A lambent light flickering in the sky as I emerge from the subway station on CPW and 86th. It is, peculiarly, not offset by the primal effulgence of the city that although familiar incurs a vestigial astonishment each and every time one glimpses it. It must, I think, be a plane gliding over this part of Upper Manhattan, towards what we New Yorkers, call "the rest of the world."

"That's a star dying, a supernova thing," a tony voice next to me echoes in a resolute manner. It belongs to a Graydon Carter doppelganger apparently returning from walking his dog, to his select condo building overlooking the park. We watch in silent communion as the moment passes, and the light evanesces. As we take our separate ways a small brightness ignites, within our reach. Fireflies -- and on the residential side of the street! My path back home is illuminated by the tiny sparks of these short-lived lightning bugs and of the light they lend these late summer days to those of us remaining in the city. I call them "The Firefly Days."

Time feels weightless and moments are born seemingly full of infinite possibility -- like the caption to the chalk painting on 91st and Third. "Infinite possibilities here, now, New York City." And it is exactly because of what this city uniquely is -- the 24-hour center of the world -- that this transient softening of life in it can occur these short summer days where sharpness, black ice, and dog-angst at even a moment's separation from their owner seems a forgotten thing of the past......

We listen to each others stories while waiting our turn to pay the young guy manning the vegetable and fruit stalls all along Broadway. Our life becomes more like a story 




Monday 17 March 2014

It came to me, while walking home in one of our most recent snowstorms that appear to have become sine qua non for New York. The epiphany. I was closer to Athens, Greece, than I ever had been, despite being half a world away. Oh, the irony (pronounced the way Sheldon from the “Big Bang Theory” would render “Oh, the horror”). I had moved to America to start afresh, putting aside the hurt of seeing my country decay and suffer, somehow settling in with a wild-eyed complacency into a long-drawn out death that the Greeks do not know how to remedy, and the EU frankly does not seem to want to. Yet wherever I looked and whatever I watched or read, there was Greece, or to be more specific, my home-town, Athens.

Take the language: from “cryptic”, to “kinetic”, “eclipse”, “miasma”, “titanic”, “epitome”, and to millions more words, the state of affairs today is that middle-class Americans employ more Greek words in their vocabulary than any other nation or language. In fact, given the state of education in Greece at the moment, Americans probably speak better quality Greek than their Greek counterparts, and have a broader vocabulary.

The food: The ubiquitous pathos of adulation for the benefits of Greek yogurt, fyllo, extra virgin olive oil, olives and stuffed vine-leaves, has weaned me off them forever. 

The narrative: from the “Hunger Games” to Jack Snyder's “300” and its sequel opening theaters today, "300: Rise of an Empire"; from operas and theatrical productions at the Met and on Broadway, Greek myths and history serve as an eternal fountain of inspiration for writers, journalists, historians, movie and TV producers (they, in particular seem overly fond of the Oedipus tragedies.) 

Last but maybe not least, the unavoidable mirroring: that as Athens was a unique historic case, in its time a city-state with no peer in the rest of the world, so is America in our times. It is especially poignant, to me at least, that this “new” empire retains and propagates in its cultural DNA and collective subconscious, the spirit of the old empire. Yet it seems to an extent to appropriate this for itself, ignoring the (admittedly bad) evolution of the old empire that is today’s Greece. Although that is really Greece’s fault. Modern Greece’s basically, but also, to an extent, ancient Athens’s. It opened the way to casting itself and its future children into oblivion with the Peloponnesian War, creating a paradigm of mishegoss and self-destructiveness that we Greeks have striven to emulate since. This destruction came not long after the heroic battles that all the city-states of Greece, united, fought against the Persians, one of whom was the naval battle of Salamis that Jack Snyder’s “300: Rise of an Empire”, opening today, recreates. This battle is considered one of the most significant battles in human history in that a Persian victory would have annulled the development of Ancient Greece, Athens in particular, and by extension western civilization. We would not be where and who we are if it wasn’t for those guys.

So what in the Olympian gods’ name happened to send Athens from the zenith to the nadir in tragically little time? Frankly, what happened was that after that war, the Athenians peaked. From the latter half of the 6th century to the early 4th century BCE. Their exemplary “polis”, the first democratic city-state ever created (within a loose federation with the other Greek cities; an early rendition of the US) had invented and conceived of everything there was to invent and conceive of, had said all there was to say in diverse ways (from literature—Greek tragedy and comedy, Homer, the myths, fables etc—to political writing—Demosthenes, Kriton, Lysias and other great orators—philosophy—need one mention Socrates, Plato, Aristoteles?—and historical writing—Thucydides, Xenofontas spring to mind) and had even implemented and since lived under that “least bad” of constitutions: democracy. 

Despite the fact they were ‘homini universales” who divided their time between pursuits of the spirit as well as the body, and left ample time for pleasure as well as politics and mere ‘thoughtful perambulations’, they also excelled in battle and sports. So, because more is better—to borrow a line from many an ad currently out there, as well as from the world of the market—and they could, they decided to become an empire state. They soon did, taking over most of the Mediterranean and colonizing it. Athens remained a paradigm of democracy, even though anyone who disagreed was given the cold shoulder and, reduced to a nonentity in the eyes of the community, ignored entirely thereby. The way Athens perceived of "the rest of the world", its subjects, as well as its allies (the other Greek states, like Sparta, with whom, standing united they had beat the Persians) changed intrinsically too. Politics became a high stakes, essentially closed game, and.... 




Friday 17 January 2014

«Huffington Post»

To begin with, for all the evident, timeless reasons countless people from all over the world and from all walks of life have flocked to America's shores, land borders and airports: because it is indeed exceptional; a unique continent-state whose ideals, vision, dreams and power encapsulate and transcend the best of what humanity has created and aspired to. Also because, as the legend goes, you have a better shot at freedom, success and happiness than anywhere else in the world -- and if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

It would be only normal and fair to continue with the United States' follies and canards -- usually of global destructiveness (given the country's size, power, and passion) -- its shortcomings, inchoateness in many issues, and unresolved, deleterious chasms. Yet, we live in a world of relativity and last night's State of the Union speech brought hard home to me, a European expat (a rather ironical retro term for a very recently arrived immigrant from a recently bankrupt Eurozone country, Greece) that the current state of the Federal United States of America that President Obama described in his speech, the people he spoke directly to, and the guiding principles and ideals on which he based his moderate speech, were exactly what we Europeans had been priding ourselves on for decades, and aspiring to reach, through the creation of the federalized European Union.

Health care for the non-privileged? Now that this notion has become obsolete and even ridiculed and reviled in most of Europe, it is becoming the norm for America. Pensions? Now the U.S. is set on a plan to help the most vulnerable save for retirement, the EU has done away with pensions altogether -- even, as in the case of Greece, retroactively, in the case of people who have spent their entire lives saving upfor these pensions. Energy independence and environmental responsibility? Now Europe's financial woes and overall curmudgeon mentality is allowing it to turn a blind eye to even the most blatant evidence of climate change, America seems to prefer conservation, solar power and freedom from uneasy dependencies on the Saudis or Russians. Social benefits for the more vulnerable -- like single mothers, or single people with no families or children? Like with gay marriage, America is the consistent pioneer in this field too. As in technology.

Some may consider 2014's State of the Union speech heavy on domestic policy but too light on foreign policy. For any European, it struck an ideal balance. The majority of Europeans today were born after the second World War, therefore were raised on an abhorrence of anything military. We considered warfare to be an abomination to possibly be endured if our country came under attack by an invading power, and after we came together in the EU, even this possibility of self-defense became an issue that would be resolved under EU-NATO auspices. Therefore President Obama's reference to ending wars, ceasing to endanger American lives, and seeking to diplomatically resolve thorny issues like the war in Syria and Iran's nuclear potential...




Monday 30 December 2013

«Huffington Post»

The runaway success of Spike Jonze's new movie Her owes much to its already over-analyzed single sex scene -- virtual, of course. The subsequent effusion of articles about interactive sex experiences concentrates on the technical stuff that can assist in creating "the closest thing to the real thing" -- while forgoing all the drama, uncertainty and messiness in having to deal with an actual sex partner: How to find him/her? How to try for the serendipitous occurrence of mutual desires and appetites? What to do afterwards?

The hi-tech gizmos already in play are multiple and diverse, and all grounded in the basic assumption that any encounter that seeks to be intimate has to be both visual (hence the necessary interplay with a webcam) and sensory (hence the electronically operated machinal devices). 
Some rely on a traditional foundation, like 3D-printed sex toys and the Limon (Minna Life). Basically a vibrator, it ostensibly can also serve as a couple's sexual memory-bank, recording and customizing intensity levels.

Something equally reliant on the here and now, using technology in an auxiliary way, is a new unisex product Durex, the condom colossus, has in the works. Fundawear, "touch over the internet" as aptly defined by the company, consists of, according to a YouTube video, a pair of underpants -- available in male and female versions -- with built-in vibrating nodes remotely activated and operated by an iPhone.

The app's menu is quite evolved, involving a multitude of on-screen "buttons" that each operate different nodes, allowing for a more customized -- should we say "personal"? -- experience mirroring what the couple would do in a "real" intimate set-up.

Then there are the gizmos heavily reliant on technology allowing not just for the recording and digital transmission of sexual sensations, but also -- to a degree -- for their simulation.

One of these is RealTouch, a product line of USB-connected sex devices (one device curated for straight men, another for gay men), promising actual "interactive sex" over the Internet. The customer can choose from over 1000 specially encoded videos that sync with the movements of real touch, while for those who apparently desire to forego the slog of acquiring and/or maintaining a significant other, the company also delivers access to a slew of "models" well-versed in the use of RealTouch's devices, who are available "for private, one-on-one fantasy encounters."

All this for a price, of course, unlike a failed sexual encounter involving a real-life volunteer surrogate in Her.

Yet, this newly garnered ballyhoo about hi-tech gizmos offering interactive sexual experiences, most of which have already been around for several years now, entirely ignores the fact that even in Her's image of a dystopian future not far from us, the single -- and ostensibly mind-blowing and physically orgasmic -- sex scene relies on no remotely operated nodes, special underwear, or USB devices, no significant other, surrogate, or model on the other side of the Internet. It consists of the act of verbal foreplay between two entities (how else to speak about the coupling of a human being and an artificially intelligent operating system the human has downloaded onto his phone, computer and other devices?) only after the two have become familiar, shared intimately mundane details about their likes and dislikes, become a staple of each other's daily lives, and therefore forged a strong intellectual and emotional bond.

To put it plainly: it's about two... beings who have opened up to one another, gotten to know each other, fallen in love, and require nothing more than each other's voice.... 




Tuesday 26 November 2013

«Huffington Post»

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amalia-negreponti/the-glass-wall-50-years-a_b_4335574.html

When residing in the U.S., an aspiring but not yet permanent resident, the first crucial step to acquiring the American-ness I have come to love and desire -- you find yourself caught up "between worlds." No longer part of the world you came from, neither however are you -- officially at least -- yet part of the world you fell in love with and came to, the U.S. So you become more sensitized to the world around you, more observant to the people and situations that usually do not register in your consciousness, sometimes slipping past entirely unnoticed.

A simple example: any given day just take a walk down Broadway -- it doesn't need to be in the not-so-affluent nether regions of the city below midtown, or west Harlem -- its pavements are peppered with homeless people. Two things stand out: how young or old they are; and how they are immersed in books -- either reading, and/or peddling them. They sit quietly on the pavements, demanding nothing, expecting nothing, probably not hoping for anything any more, inured to despair encapsulated in that all-too-convenient Western rendition of karma "It is what it is." Through them weave the successful of this city: seemingly untouchable and impermeable suave men, and women so perfect it's kind of scary; girls, no more than 25 or so, sporting diamond rings of the kind you estimate as a percentage of my homeland's GDP and spouting unintelligible gab about futures, and IPOs and fluctuations in bonds of companies only for the financial cognoscenti.

Seeing all this, aside from you feeling a fool -- and useless to boot -- evokes what Norman Mailer's described in the Presidential Papers, when referring to the time when Kennedy came to power: the "fissure in the national psyche," a divide between two worlds co-existent in America, always parallel, never colliding or contacting -- the "official" America, and that of the "inner life of the U.S." Nowadays, 50 years after President Kennedy's assassination, the two worlds are that of that the increasing majority of impoverished former middle-class, as well as the have-nots; and that of the big-time behemoths of our social and political establishment in their penthouses and mansions. The glass wall between the two seems impermeable, unbreakable, yet both these universes are intimately linked, sometimes through cause and effect, others through sheer randomness; yet one single rock can suffice to bring the wall down, shatteringly revealing us all to be inhabitants of the one same, interchangeable world.

Well, recently reading a book called The Age of Oversupply (Portfolio/Penguin) I got the feeling its author, Daniel Alpert, was one of the few who both care and are in a position to actually get actively involved in solving this problem those supposed to be solving, don't seem to. Not as a politician though, nor as a financier gone philanthropist. Starting out as an investment banker, he is now one of the country's foremost economic thinkers writers and commentators and a Fellow of the Century Foundation. Featured in the 2010 winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Inside Job which tells the story of the 2008 global financial crisis, he is also a founder of the World Economic Roundtable program of the New America Foundation -- its board includes Google exec Eric Schmidt, former Presidential....... 




Sunday 11 August 2013

«PROTO THEMA»

Ως μεγάλη επιτυχία παραστήθηκε η επίσκεψη που επιτέλους αξιώθηκε να κάνει ο Αντώνης Σαμαράς στον Αμερικανό Πρόεδρο Μπάρακ Ομπάμα. Ο Σύριζα φυσικά επέκρινε ό,τι έκανε ο Έλληνας πρωθυπουργός λέγοντας πως παρίστανε την κατάσταση στην Ελλάδα ως περίπου ρόδινη, και ότι δεν απέσπασε και τίποτε ουσιαστικό από τον Ομπάμα.

Και οι δύο εκδοχές έχουν στοιχεία αλήθειας, ενώ η δέ πραγματικότητα είναι μία άλλη, τρίτη “χώρα”. Είναι καταρχήν αλήθεια πως έφτυσε αίμα ο έλληνας πρωθυπουργός να τον δεχτεί ο αμερικανός πρόεδρος. Η Αμερική πλέον έχει εισέλθει σε μία περίοδο απόλυτης εσωστρέφειας--απόδειξη ότι στην τηλεόραση, αλλά και στο Ιντερνετ, τα δύο πιο διαδεδομένα μέσα ενημέρωσης, “διεθνή” δεν υπάρχουν, ούτε καν οι επικείμενες Γερμανικές εκλογές έχουν μνημονευτεί-- και απεμπλοκής από όλο τον κόσμο, στρατιωτικά, οικονομικά, πολιτικά. Το μόνο που την απασχολεί είναι η εσωτερική της ανάπτυξη--ουσιαστική και οικονομική--και το να μαζέψει “σοβαρό” χρήμα από μεγάλους παίκτες, όπως η Κίνα. Η δέ ρευστή κατάσταση που επικρατεί στον μουσουλμανικό κόσμο (Βόρεια Αφρική, Συρία, Τουρκία) καθώς και ο φόβος νέου τρομοκρατικού χτυπήματος σε βάρος της, επιτείνουν αυτή τη νέα “παθητικότητα” της Αμερικής ως προς την ανάληψη πρωτοβουλιών και ηγετικού ρόλου στην χάραξη μιας νέας εποχής για όλο τον Δυτικό κόσμο.

Υπ’αυτήν την έννοια είναι επιτυχία και μόνο που ο Αντώνης Σαμαράς, με προσωπικό του κόπο και με “όπλο” τη σοβαρότητα και αποτελεσματικότητα που δείχνει ως πρωθυπουργός της Ελλάδας, κατάφερε να πραγματοποιηθεί αυτή η συνάντηση κορυφής με τον Αμερικανό Πρόεδρο. Ο συμβολισμός μιας τέτοιας επίσκεψης παράγει.......... 



 

My beloved terrorist
Published by: LIVANIS
First printing: 2001
Pages: 403
Hellenists: Greece does not wound them
Published by: LIVANIS
First printing: 1999
Pages: 314
 
 

 

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