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Sunday 1 January 2017

 One day in 2000 I was in Athens, Greece, watching a very young, lovely-looking couple on CNN International. The tv was on mute and all I could read was the caption “Dem Junior Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama”. They were both stunningly young, radiantly connected to each other, emanating a quality of emotion and intellect that spoke to another dimension. I was stunned—after years of being a political journalist, of coming to know politicians intimately, cynicism was a reflex—this couple looked like real people. Really in love. Really wanting to change the world. And they survived a senatorial campaign and made it through, idealism intact? This was nothing short of a miracle. I amped up the TV’s volume, and listened to the junior senator’s interview. It was an epiphany. After that I knew: if this man ever managed to become President of the US, he could change America, and the world. 

Days turned into months, then years, as they are prone to when you are still young enough to feel limitless.

The world changed. My homeland, Greece, went into devolution. 

At an age of settling-down and having babies, I abandoned all I knew and with astonishing equanimity and poise borne of ignorance and naivete, came to New York, telling myself and everyone else, the timeless immigrant tale: it’s just for a bit; I’ll be back. 

As I fell deeper and deeper in love with America, my need to stay here and become part of it, grew and intensified. I thought of only this as I worked, walked endlessly through the night, wrote, cooked. I was entirely alone and the silence in me and around me allowed me to slowly understand of that living breathing creature that I came to know as my America: not so much a mosaic or tapestry like they call it, but a living breathing unity of so many different and multiple parts, even if sometimes jarring with one another. And you could either love and relinquish yourself to it, not so much a reduction, as an addition and evolution, like turning into a butterfly...or hate it—like ISIS does, like isolated haters like the Tsarnaevs or Dylan Roof do, because they cannot understand, let alone love, what they cannot contaminate.

As my love affair with America evolved and deepened, so did my knowledge of it. Every night I spent countless hours poring over books and sites chronicling its history, literature, zeitgeists. Its victories, problems, dreams. Yet as much as I loved it, it still felt wondrously foreign to me. I realised that assimilation is not an exclusively cerebral and pragmatic process. 

So I tried to feel like an American. For a long time I didn’t “get it”. One day, I read a piece in the NYTimes about the parents of the 250 students and 11 teachers who died in the Sewol Ferry disaster. “‘Acceptance’ and ‘healing’ are not in our vocabulary” one parent said” trying to explain why they could not “move on” from the tragedy. That’s when I realised what my problem was. I had been lost in translation. The vocabulary of American emotion and thought hinges on movement, evolution. Whereas I come from Greece, a place where the quality and intensity of light is so blinding that if you are not careful, common sense can become subsumed in a haze of shallowness that only an ancient people are capable of. Words are just words. They do not need to conjure worlds; the worlds of Homer, Pythagoras, Dionysos, Sophocles, Plato, Thucydides are so effortlessly and powerfully alive in Greece, they stifle any other words, turning them into wordiness.

Things are different here in the US. Style is substance. Intelligence honed by velocity can generate genius yet lack heft. Emotions can be intense but transient.

“GIVE ME A CHIA SMOOTHIE!” becomes a matter of life and death—and not just for the characters Lena Dunham portrays. Even dogs here become unsettlingly intense when parted even for moments from their “companions”. Two days ago a tall, WASP-y man, in his late thirties, with a nervous tic in his right...






Saturday 25 June 2016

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/class-as-destiny/

LARB: CLASS AS DESTINY

BY Amalia Negreponti

GRAHAM SWIFT’S NEW BOOK, Mothering Sunday: A Romance, is simultaneously timely and timelessly subversive and provocative. The novella’s plot begins in 1924, on Mothering Sunday (the United Kingdom’s equivalent of Mother’s Day), when Jane Fairchild — maid to the Niven household, and an orphan — is left to her own devices, because the day is one when those in service are traditionally given leave by their employers to visit their mothers and families. But Jane has neither.

Yet Jane’s day of unusual freedom is also due to the fact that the Nivenses will be absent from their home, having embarked on an excursion to Henley in company with two other aristocratic families. The day is momentous for all three families because they all lost children in the Great War. Only two of the children the three families “share” are still alive: Paul Sheringham and Emma Hobday; and through the enterprising matchmaking of the Nivenses, Paul and Emma are now engaged to be married, thus sealing the three families together even more. For Jane, however, this marriage will mean the end of her seven-year sexual relationship with Paul. This Mothering Sunday is to be the last day she will spend a few hours alone with him, prior to his leaving for Henley for the celebrations with his wife-to-be.

The day begins in stark sunlight, with the two lovers locked together in Paul’s bed in the Sheringham mansion. The day ends in darkness, with Jane and her employer, Mr. Niven, visiting the Sheringham household to inform them of the death of Paul, who was killed as he was speeding toward the celebrations in Henley. Yet that is neither the end of the book nor of Jane. It is in fact the beginning of her evolution into a famous writer, as well as a woman who finds meaning, knowledge, and love.

Jane transforms herself into the kind of person that anyone, including her former employers and their kind, would be honored and delighted to meet. She never becomes “one of them,” though, despite the hallowed status she acquires. Until the end of the book, till the end of her life, Jane feels like a “secret agent,” an interloper, “slipping between worlds.” This is perhaps her greatest, if unacknowledged success: through her accomplishment and the world’s acknowledgment of it, she achieves a unique status as one who has risen above class divides. The fact that she never relinquishes her “interloper” role — in fact, she enhances it by toying with the journalists who pursue her, changing her life story every so often, prevaricating about what is fact and what fiction in her books — is an odd testament to her........




Monday 25 April 2016

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. 




Friday 15 April 2016

“Visceral” is how many pundits describe Bernie Sanders.

“Pragmatic” is the word of choice for Hillary Clinton.

The dilemma of choosing one of the two candidates for Democratic Presidential nominnee is often encapsulated as “Dreamer vs Doer”.

Some people personally prefer dreamers and visceral people over pragmatic doers, but there is a general acquiescence that dreams can be dangerous or unstable and emotions that go against interests and rationality, can harm nations. 

So, the thinking process inevitably leads to prefering Hillary over Bernie as the next President of the United States—even if some like Bernie more on a personal level. 

That may or may not be the case. Martin Luther King and JFK were dreamers, and their boldness to make their dreams of changing the world, cost them their lives. But they did change the world. Richard Nixon was a doer. So was George W. Bush.

As for pragmatism, like all practical things in life, it’s good only if effective. Senator Clinton’s pragmatism led her to vote in favor of President W Bush’s Iraq war. It led to the Libya imbroglio which amongst other things, led to the terrorist attack on the US Embassy compound, killing the US Ambassador. It led to an email non-scandal which only proved a blatant disregard for protocol when it comes to matters important enough for the Clinton establishment to bother with. 

As for “girl power”, women sticking up for women, and standing up for people of color, Hillary has not practiced what she now preaches, what she insists all women practice when it comes to voting for Her. When the Libya crisis broke out, Hillary (then Secretary of State) fled from the limelight, leaving the brave Susan Rice (currently national security advisor, an African-American woman of dignity, courage and knowledge) to take the flack and bear the consequences that ultimately put an end to Rice’s luminous trajectory that seemed headed for the State Department and then, even beyond. 

Plato was the perpetrator of the… original sin of discerning between heart and mind, and coming down in favor of the mind as a sine qua non for superior, more elevated, better educated  people. 

The false dichotomy and the primacy given to the “brain vs the heart” continues to this day: emotion is equated to the Hobbesian dark instincts (“limbic”, “visceral”) so deleterious to the individual and society. It ultimately derives its dark, undesirable and unsophisticated nature—and potency— from that element so alarming to the Puritan founders of America: corporeality. The body, with all its appetites. (Although Bernie with his Harvard degree, intellectual passions and sedate, contentedly middle-class, really private private life does not really inspire as a Lothario.)

Whereas the “mind” is equated with intellect, rationality, Ivy League colleges, wonderful jobs, rich social lives, happy Instagram-lovely families with happy nannies, and long life spans. That Hillary and the Clinton establishment and hanger-ons (including one Anthony Weiner) fit this image is testament to the power of belief and interest, over factual reality.

Even the way they speak, and the optics. During yesterday’s Democratic Debate on TWC/NY1 and CNN, Hillary used emotion to appeal to New Yorkers and Americans. “New York values”, 9/11, being a woman; everything came into play. 

At the extreme (maybe too extreme?) opposite was Senator Sanders. His political manner, like his entire campaign, is based on cerebralness. On concepts, ideas, solutions, for the people, by the people. In his endeavor and determination to truly stand for all Americans, for America, for progress and change, for demolishing the money and education barriers that intensify the great chasm between classes, Bernie has painted himself out of the picture entirely. As a whole person, a man with an x private life, with an x heritage, with x emotions, he simply does not exist in the public eye.

Speaking of being the son of immigrants to the US, he intentionally did not refer to his Jewishness, to the fact that his family sought refuge here in America, from the monster of antisemitism that was then rearing its head in Europe—as it is again doing so now. 

He did not speak of his Brooklyn lower middle-class Jewish roots. The truth is that his accents evoke seders, gefilte fish, and warm Jewish hearths, making Fran Drescher sound almost WASP-y and unperturbed. 

In politics though, everything has to be stated and restated, clearly, almost pedantically. Truths have to be claimed, and traits magnified. Everything is larger than life. What you do not claim as yours, your opponent does.

Regardless though of preference...




Saturday 26 March 2016

 It is between the limits posed by the inevitable and the infinite, that we seek to define our freedom, our existence. The physical dimension is constrained by the necessity of life to proceed in a certain order. Therefore, some form of enduring time and physicality has always been attendant to any substantial notion of “home”. Things are hazier today, after the advent of the mobile Internet and the boom in social media and artificial intelligence. 

A lot has been made of the Internet’s alienating potential; yet for many it is the only place they really feel at home. Yet even there, where you belong, matters. Are you for or against? (Trump, liberal values, affordable housing, female empowerment, etc) Even more so than in life, “we” and “they” are not pronouns, they are live minefields, for all concerned.

For those who came to New York from somewhere else, that place soon fades to a cadence. A cadence invoking a world that both exists and does not exist. New York takes over all concept of home, infiltrating it with the norms and vicissitudes of arrival—a concept fraught with meaning, money, rank, and transcience, quintessential to New York. 

Yet there can be no nostalgia. Old home soon feels all too familiar and yet faraway, almost mythical. Time will soon take its toll on that memory too, easing its intensity, to allow for a natural integration into the ocean where origins transmogrify into ethnic flavors so we can move move on, and then, prepped by this gradual ebbing and decimation, and hardened by all the overcoming...accept and in time settle into a state where home is as transient or permanent as the origin of the next pay-check. Maybe that is why exiles or refugees love their new homes more exuberantly and passionately than most; it is maybe the greatest thing one can hope for: to have lost and been lost only through the greatest inevitability: to have suffered no small deaths.

A former friend, a deracinated American, originally from Boston, now an expat in Paris, felt envious of Bostonians during the last, very snowy winter mix. “Ah… what I wouldn’t give to be back home now; reduced to fighting each other with shovels for parking spots amid the snowdrifts”.This, from an Ivy League man who put the F in fastidious.

Yet he was also an aging man, without children and with no parents anymore. So maybe, when people are feeling unmoored, they envisage home as a return to a place in time when they felt closest to their concept of themselves as limitless.

Or maybe home is what we chose to relinquish. Thereby, the guilt. And home is what remains when everything else is gone; so we dare to abandon it, believing it will be there if ever we return. It’s a delusion so beautiful we never put it to the test. A fantastical place where the past still lives on, foreign and familiar as the present.

An elderly academic—an Eastern European of exotic plumage who has lived here some forty years, still speaks of his house “back home”. Yet once he confesses: I still feel like a stranger in some ways, but the university recently gave me the opportunity to purchase twin burial plots for my wife and myself at a prime location, and at a great discount, so this will always be home, I guess.”

Then you have the global nomads. A lot has been made about this type of meta-modern man. These enlightened individuals seem to belong to another, probably more evolved species than we do. They usually start moving after school (whereas those who moved about in their early years, e.g. children of diplomats, usually follow a less peripatetic existence.) Recently an anthropological-biological research paper explained how some of us have less Neatherdhal DNA within us, than others. Neatherdhal DNA is sedentary and placid, the “other” DNA is headier, more dissatisfied, a wanderer. So maybe the notion of home is, also, a a matter of nature and nurture. 

Home is also defined by whether we have found success and approval in our new environs. Success and its trappings, human, intangible, and material, are a kind of love, even when expressed negatively. They bind. Almost as much as real estate. And in New York, real estate is God.

At the High Line, people speed-walk, speed-talk about real estate, apps, markets and mothers. Yet all, regardless of age, gender, origin, stop in front of the graffitti on one of the edifices adjacent to the Line Park. It is a huge spray-painting of Einstein, bursting with color. “The answer is love” says the caption. It unites us all, in hope. Then the moment passes. 

Normality reasserts itself. People go on being eradicated; through guns, and through indifference—a very NYC brand of competitiveness, carefully curated and convenient humanity, and a penchant for facileness. 

This indifference. In some cases, civilized sociopathy; in others, a reaction to something unknown, therefore outside the “comfort zone” of preconceptions. Too much clarity hurts. Better to think of life It is all indeed like a dream, maybe even an actual dream, a prolonged midsummer nights and days dream. And that our efforts to go on, swept in the wind and taken out to sea where it may in time become part of the sky blue that paints horizons out of our illusions and lives when there is no longer any difference at all between the two.

Home has good days, and bad ones. Usually they coincide with the weather. On balmy days sharp tones and conversations of ‘arrival’, “aggregation’, ‘content’ and college, ‘monetization’ and real estate, soften. 

On bad days, you try not to be devoured by the....




Wednesday 7 October 2015

We are living in strange times. The “Tinder” lifestyle, and “boundary”, “clingy/needy” and “suitable spouse” spiel dissuade us from forming strong emotional attachments to each other. Instead, we are subtly encouraged to connect emotionally to companies providing content, services and consumer goods (Verizon/AOL, Amazon, Time Warner etc) The belief is that this will profit us overall, people and companies alike.
Ish. The only certainty is that companies are now behaving more like individuals, and highly-strung ones at that (take the anguished response of the Twitter avatar for Tinder, after the scathing Vanity Fair expose on it), and people find themselves in situations and jobs where they are often are required to act like automatons: emotionlessly. This is supposed to allow for mindfulness to take over. Usually, this fails. Devoid of emotion, life becomes purely transanctional, and even Donald Trump wouldn’t want such a life.
A few days ago, I realized my Amazon Prime membership was redundant: I no longer buy anything, material or virtual; and as for the Amazon Prime content (streaming specific tv shows and movies for free, as well as full free access Amazon original series; and a few other perks involving music, books) it no longer fits my tastes. Everything I might be interested in, I can purchase anywhere else—GooglePlay, iTunes, or even the network or original seller—for the same price.
My new zen-like transformation aside, I think that quite a few of my millenial generation, especially the older ones, are reaching this conclusion.
The cost of life is one culprit. Rents are skyrocketing all over the US, and especially in the cities we love to live in—New York, San Francisco, L.A, Seattle too. Competition is increasingly intense, and life increasingly uncertain. As a direct outcome we have tighter spending budgets, and far less time, space and confidence to fill with all money can buy.
The over-abundance of good content offered by similar subscription models—and at prices cheaper than Amazon’s—is another factor.
On cable, networks such as ABC (thanks to addictively watcheable series, like Shonda Rhime’s “Scandal”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “How to get away with murder”), FOX (“Empire”), CBS (with its old bestie “The Big Bang Theory”) and NBC (with its “Law&Order” and newbie “Quantico”) are jousting with HBO, ABC, Showtime, PBS Masterpiece for new, invested viewers. “The Affair”, “Downton Abbey”, “Girls” are prime examples.
Then there’s the meteoric rise of Netflix, and now Hulu, as a producer of series beloved to the public (The Mindy Project is currently a Hulu-original series.)
Still, I was reluctant to cancel my Amazon Prime membership. We had been together for years; I was cited as a “loyal” customer. It felt like betraying your old love for a new one. Did I want to be that kind of a person? Was my personal philosophy akin to that of money-makers? (If so, why am I broke?!)
I decided to follow the middle road: keep the membership till it expires (in the next few months), but turn off the auto-renewal settings.
Wrong decision.
Since then, every time I stream anything on my laptop (from a free network series to an episode I have purchased, or even a YouTube video) I am subjected to watching a certain Amazon Prime ad. Experiencing this ad splices time into two increments: before you watch it, when still considering cancelling your Amazon subscription; after you watch it, when even the idea of cancelling fills you with dread, remorse, grief.
I am fairly sure most people who have seen it, know which Amazon Prime ad I’m referring to. It’s not the silly, building-blocks one; it’s the handicapped dog one.
For those of you who have not seen it… don’t, unless you want to be transformed into an unintentional devotee of Amazon Prime.
“Narrated” only through image and sound, and relayed to us through the eyes of a dog and then through the eyes of a person, the ad’s premise is deceptively simple: a dog with impaired mobility (his leg is broken or more permanently handicapped; we never learn) looks on sadly at other dogs leaping and running. His owner/human companion, a sweet, rather scruffy-looking young man who looks like a British, geeky version of a very young Bob Dylan, looks on sadly at his dog looking on sadly at the other dogs. After brief contemplation, he clicks on his phone and orders something from Amazon Prime. “Two -day free shipping” flashes on our screen.
Cut to the next moment. It’s obviously two days later, and boy is carrying dog in pouch around his chest. They walk high above the fray (leaping dogs) into a rosy horizon. Dog and boy wear same expressions of triumph, joy, and connection to each other.
Suffice to say this ad works wonders with anyone who has ever been close to any animal; who has experienced being handicapped; who has felt like an outsider.
With knowledge garnered from sophisticated artificial intelligence data, as well as scientific reviews (such as one recently relaying the information that dogs—and wolves—intentionally make eye contact with us when they want to affect us; it triggers an emotional response that induces...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Saturday 26 September 2015


It was one hell of a week: it started out sombrously with Yom Kippur which was photobombed by the Pope’s shock-and-awe visit to New York which pretty much threw the rest of the week into disarray. Pope Francis’s presence relegated everything and everyone else to the shadows, including the entire world’s leaders—Russia’s Putin amongst them—who met in New York for the UN Summit where they sulked in obscurity, overshadowed even in the UN by Mark Zuckerberg’s impassioned plea to help him and Facebook provide internet access to the entire globe, especially the underprivileged.

Apparently though, this week of atonement, humility, prayer, generosity, brotherhood created different sentiments: it propelled the people producing faux “Frozen” dolls to make a year’s worth of sales of Pope dolls in just three days; it turned crowds of tweens, teens, mature women into maenads, as if Beyonce, Bieber, and a resurrected Kurt Kobain had joined forces for one single concert, with Hamilton as guest dj); it turned newscasters into philosophers, and ignited spiritual dimensions unusual for little children (“He was so much more than nice; he behaved like he was a normal person even though he is so famous…He even asked us to pray for him. Us for him! Imagine what kind of a person he is…”) in those young ones who met with the honored guest.

However the whole brouhaha was too much for one John A. Boehner, Republican Majority Leader, Speaker of the House. Only hours after bursting into tears (not an altogether unusual occurence for him) while listening to the Pope’s moving speech to Congress, Speaker Boehner announced his resignation and retirement. The precipitousness and apparently existentially-instigated nature of Boehner’s decision surprised everyone, including President Obama, who, in turn gave a moving, heartfelt speech about the Republican Speaker. For a moment there it seemed we were all about to break into a big American hug.
If all this schmalz seems inexplicable to most people who are not Americans, it is understandable. Faith and family are the two basic tenets of American life, as anyone born in the US, or who has become American later on in life, soon discovers. Yet American faith and family come in many shapes and sizes, iterations and meanings—and all are acceptable as “American”, a way of life that encompasses and transcends every dimension of diversity.
The divine resonance of the American dream and way of life can be empirically proven: We don’t really like other people, we don’t really like ourselves much either, especially here in New York (as the staggering number of psych-specialists of every kind is any kind of indication) but we all love this city, this country. At times we rail at NYC, we weep, why are you doing this to me? we ask. The question is always multi-factored but inevitably involves rent. We decide to abandon it, or our life, for death or New Jersey, or maybe it’s the same, and then we don’t know what to do. And then the following day comes, bringing us one of those small and larger New York miracles. Mystical moments of transcendence that seem to indeed hint at something wider out there. Call them higher power or algorithm, they ignite our lives with meaning. So we look at THAT skyline, and the skylines of Seattle, and Silicon Valley, the prairies of cultural and political gamechanger Iowa, the different worlds of Texas, the mid-West, the mildness and warmth of body and spirit that Florida, as well as other sun-kissed states, deliver to the East Coast demi-gods of success. We look at how America lives in the imagination and daily life of every person around the world, through Mickey and Minnie, iPhones, English, Google, Facebook, medicine, the New York Times, Barack Obama, I will survive, Sex and the City, Sleepless in Seattle, Catcher in the Rye, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, Casablanca, Gershwin, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Coke, kale, freedom, bubble-gum, bagels, Wall street trading, tech start-ups, Harvard, Stanford, Woody Allen, power, love, money, the moon and Mars, Oliver Sacks, a place where the masters of the universe (Google, FB, Twitter, Apple etc) are precocious kids who want to save the world, a bunch of 70+ year olds (median age of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton; now, according to rumors, Mike Bloomberg) are vying for President, and the fastest growing population contingent is +85 years old. We see inter-inter faith, racial and sex families making it work every day, with the naturalness and warmth that only a conviction based on more than just data, incomes, and blueprints for life written by self-help gurus.

Only through this perspective can two outwardly conflicting social trends be explained as coexisting harmoniously: the decrease in religious faith; with the steadfast mainstream social view (as expressed by a recent Pew survey) that Americans have no problem with their children marrying people of (any) other faiths, as long as they do not altogether lack a faith.
However this seeming demonization of atheism (which sends the likes of the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins into orgasms of frenzied outrage) is not so much a position, as a wariness toward a person who claims to be devoid of any kind of spirituality—and is therefore (or so goes the rationale) even more attached to the material world than even a NYC real estate broker.
Yet even for those who defiantly lay claim to materialism as their guiding light, or who seek spirituality in theosophism (a neo-Aristotelian movement based on the belief that “God is dead”, whose famous proponents include the philosophers Hegel and Nietszche), there is a higher power that transcends them and connects them to their compatriots. America.
There is no American, native or naturalized, who does not feel seminal, liminal emotion upon catching suddenly (it’s nearly always unexpected, overglammed as it is by the New York skyline!) sight of the Statue of Liberty. Who does not place hand over heart to mirror the visceral tug at the heartstrings that the hymn of “Amazing Grace” evokes.
America is THE God for its people, whether they be immigrants, refugees, demi-gods, mere, mild mortals, or even (currently, orange-haired) monsters. New York is the American God’s Olympus. Why even the Pope (now proud possessor of a New York City id!) spoke of being moved upon sighting the Statue of Liberty.
So we keep on walking. Two images I saw in the same day, capture our long walk, our limitless will to go on. One of them, a pair of sneakers hanging nonchalantly, from the top of a very high streetlight on 74th and Central Park West. “Just to......
 




Saturday 19 September 2015

   On a tiny island in the middle of the Aegean, the timeless Greek-German enmity and connection assumes another dimension.

Prometheus dove into the sea with surprising impetus. Fearlessly and proudly, almost like the protagonist in a Baywatch trailer. However, it was just the indignation propelling him. The discovery of the banal inevitability of an addicted to surrender, Greek society.

The reason for his rage was the German occupation- five adults complete with children, inflatable armbands and flippers- of the rocky islet in the middle of the bay at Despotiko. It was the size of the tiny room Prometheus and Pandora were renting- for what really was a fortune, considering Prometheus’s salary- on Antiparos.

For the past two days, ever since the German tourists had found the mystic beach, they had decided the rocky islet was theirs and theirs alone. So just stayed there all day, taking up all the islet’s space and guarding it from any misguided French who tried to approach. The French being the only remaining tourists, as for the Greeks they didn’t even attempt to; they just stood gaping at them on the beach and pretended to be – or were – uninterested. Until Prometheus came along. That day.

He reached the rock after a fifteen minute fast swim. Tried to climb onto it. The Germans stood around the rock’s edges.

“Nein”, they told him. An unyielding enemy army.

Prometheus tried to grasp at it and climb on. He couldn’t. The men’s feet were firmly planted on the only places he might’ve found to raise himself onto it.

But he kept on trying.

“There is no room for you!”, one of the women told him sternly, in perfect English.

Glaring at him.

“I will make room”, he told her.

Grasping one of the rock’s less jagged edges, Prometheus tried to get a firm grip.

And then a foot. A flipper- shod foot. A German foot. Firmly put down. On the rock. Brushing Prometheus’s clenched fingers. Almost landing on them. Almost, but not quite. Almost but not exactly there.

And then another foot- the other’s pair. Hovering a little above the rock’s surface, ready to be placed on Prometheus’s fingers. Exactly there. Not almost. But quite. There. On his hand.

The moment careened. Prometheus, half in the water, half clinging on to the rock, as if for furious dear life, waited it out, feeling like a loser in a b-rated movie.

The German looked down at Prometheus in contempt. The Greek boy’s fingers one more provocation, an insult he would no longer take.

Hatred, scorching like the salty water blinding, drowning, a man at sea.

Then Prometheus raised his eyes to the man’s. The man looked down, willed into making eye contact.

They looked at each other, reluctantly at first.

In the eyes of the man, Prometheus heard words of poison and hate that politicians had emitted, distilling their meaning into the collective psyche of the people they governed. He saw the rage and shame for the past that would never go away no matter what, so why do we just keep trying? Let’s end the charade. We are just who we are- and we’re proud of it. And we’ll become the greatest nation in the world again! We already are. So there. To hell with parasitic Southern Europe, to hell with Europe, to hell with the United States! For we are Germany! We will no fund your deficiencies.

Prometheus looked at the man. In their eye-contact something incohate and liminal. Now he understood.

What happens when regret and guilt and atonement get to be too much? When does expiation become an interest rate of a capital that now longer is, has ceased to exist- at least in the eyes of the Bank?

The answer was standing right in front of him.

Prometheus kept clinging. To the rock of rocks. The islet of final destination.

Shivering, for a cool breeze was causing his half- submerged, half- exposed body, to shudder involuntarily.

But he didn’t. He didn’t let go.

Looking at the man.

Willing him to remember. And the man did. Remember.

The memories started flooding back.

Lazy noons of endless summer days spent eating watermelon in the sun, on the magical shores of all the Aegean islands his parents had taken him to when he was little. Playing with Greek boys his age, learning about the Gods of Olympus at school, Homer, The Iliad and the Odyssey. And the sun, oh the sun, that was like no other. That lit up his entire world. The sun which gave his imagination color, sustaining him throughout the long sunless days and frozen nights of his homeland, in Hamburg.

The endless recrimination was absent from these times, from this country- although he had learned in school, that Greece had been amongst the hardest hit by the Nazi invaders; for the Greeks never stopped fighting. Never stopped resisting. Even whilst whole villages were wiped out by Nazi commanders who later became UN personalities, standing for world peace.

But in Greece, he had never been a “German”, that burden of collective guilt he would no longer bear. He had been just another little boy, a cute little blond blue eyed boy all the locals cooed over as if his native coloring was a wondrous accomplishment. He was just another “foreigner”- xenos-, eating watermelon, by the sea.

One foot hovering, above Prometheus’s clenched hand.

The hand that wouldn’t let go.

Then the German foot came down. Ubooted but nevertheless, unmissably Germanic.

Still, a few steps away from Prometheus’s fingers. Allowing the Greek boy vital space to climb onto the islet, if he so wished.

That was everything Prometheus had wished for.

He climbed on, just sat there, on the islet’s edge for a moment. Reclaiming the islet, in quietness, for all who wished to climb onto it.

It was no man’s alone.

It was all of theirs, to enjoy.

They all sat there for a few moments. In the middle of the sea, everything was fresh and possible. The pungent odor of enmity swept in the wind to become part of the sky blue that paints horizons out of illusions and lives when there is no longer any difference at all between the two.

Yet none of them..............  




Wednesday 16 September 2015

Power equals money, and vice versa, used to be a straightforward equation. No longer. The new digital cosmos has made this a very relative concept, transforming what were once purely mercantile products and services, or exclusively cultural creations, into a harmony of content and experience.

The great (and largely false) Platonic divide between spirit and corpus, money and values, is obsolete. As is the endless pontification about how globalisation, the internet, and...life, have rendered western life, but not western values, derivative all over the world.

Wake up. The point, like life, is elsewhere now. On the web. In digital. Evolution is the name of the new game. 

Evolution that encompasses ecommerce and emotion, ideals as timeless and vital as knowledge, freedom, access, communication, adventure, discovery; and as bold as limitlessness in life (artificial intelligence, deathlessness, genetics, space exploration.)

Yet, like all living creatures, people and companies cannot live on love and knowledge alone. The mind requires a physical host; besides, as recent neurological and neuroscience discoveries have proven, the body influences the mind in unknown ways (Oliver Sacks has written at length about this.) Think iPhone: an interdependent union of software and hardware. This is the way all people and companies who belong to the future rather than the past, are headed: feed the body, feed the soul.

Google (or rather, its new iteration, Alphabet) with its Google-X lab, Calico, health labs (it recently created an eye contact that can measure glucose in blood levels) Google Cultural Institute, and dedication to unfettered freedom and free access for all is the quintessential example. If its Google Books settlement had been 

allowed to go through, it would have been as important to education and culture, as Google Search is to everything human.

Its new shake-up (after the hiring of a former financial executive in COO role) allows for greater freedom and focus in pursuing ideals: by to cultivating their more commercial ventures (ads, analytics, GooglePlay, the internet of things, etc) they can reach for the moon—and stars. This is manifested by its recent acquisition of Dr. Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, one of the world’s leading scientists in behavioral-health research, to head Google Life Sciences, which seeks to develop technologies for early detection and treatment of health problems. According to the NYT “In his new job, Dr. Insel will do an about-face of sorts, turning back to the psychosocial realm, only this time with a new set of tools. One project he has thought about is detecting psychosis early, using language analytics — algorithms that show promise in picking up the semantic signature of the disorganized thinking characteristic of psychosis.”.

Moment-to-moment mental tracking has also become a commercial reality, and the idea is for further evolution, to employing the power of data analytics to make behavioral studies much more objective than they have been before, and to make mood and language tracking an easily and universally accessible tool in order to identify and treat mental health conditions in situations where it would be left unnoticed until it was too late—for the patient, and everyone else.

Facebook is also following a similar path, in a different way. What originated as an e-connection, then e-commerce tool, has now also become a major media force (see original content agreement it reached with the New York Times, National Geographic, Buzzfeed), financial tool (money transfer), A.I. (Occulus) developer, phone text (Messenger platform), and is now branching out into “good for the world, good for the poor, good for the soul” activities. Providing wifi access to third world countries, creating health foundations, blocking and banning hate speech are all concrete examples. As is its new announcement about the forthcoming launch of a new "empathy" button (actually a "dislike" one, exclusively however to connote sympathy or compassion for posts whose content is painful, ill-suited to "likes"; easier said than done; it will, I believe prove a challenge for FB to gauge the true meaning of "dislikes".)

In this new wondrous world, new coalitions are forming, and old companies take on new iterations. FOX partners with National Geographic; Hulu and Netflix resist buy-outs and have started creating original content already starting to trump that of the dinosaurs (networks), something cable companies are already losing money over.

In the meantime Jeff Bezos of Amazon wants to rule over space (as well), something he will seemingly have to battle over with the car and battery innovator, Elon Musk. Star Wars, the new beta version.

And the beating heart and mind of the universal consciousness and subconscious, Twitter, is, slowly becoming the main venue for thoughtful information, for communication, for knowledge (for those who seek it of course.) Its allowing unrestricted length for direct messages (in contrast to the 140 character rule of tweets), and the new “commentary” option on retweeted or quoted tweets are already transforming it into a new, valuable educational tool.

At the same time, education is fast becoming a value and commodity, financially and digitally accessible for most of humanity. From the vast archives of free digital libraries, to scientific fora (such as elifesciences.org) and…Google, the world is now a place where knowledge, culture, education, is just a tap away. Companies such as Whispersync (now part of Amazon), Prime Lending Library and Oyster, help drive people to read and learn more. 

Apple is handing out iPads and Macbooks as part of the White House ConnectEd initiative, where Google also plays an integral role; IBM is pioneering a STEM school model called P-Tech, which it, Microsoft, SAP and others are implementing in public high schools; and last week Facebook said it would expand its partnership with Summit Public Schools, which runs K-12 schools in California and Washington state.

Elon Musk of Tesla has already started a montessori elementary school, originally for his kids; and a for-profit start-up school, Altschool, is backed by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, as well as venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund. 

At the same time, established education companies, such as Weld North, are becoming leaders and pioneers in digital learning (especially for the more vulnerable, those who need help to do it) as well as provide school improvement services. At the heart of these services lies the ideal, the vision of providing the new generation with easy access to intellectual, cultural, and value-based education of quality that can elevate human existence to a whole other dimension.

After all, in the beginning there was the Word. The Alpha and Omega.




Thursday 6 August 2015

 Is man kind? No. Yes. Some people, sometimes—though I’d be hard pressed to offer any names.

AirBnB’s provocative new ad launched this summer, raised the issue, insisting we “go out there”, into the world, and find out.

Well we did. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association we are on a killing spree. Since the beginning of 2015 we have reversed 55 years of falling US homicide rates. At the annual meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Association on Monday, police chiefs grappled with the fact that some cities are seeing a 50% increase in murders compared with last year. In New York, the progressive and ever enterprising Mayor de Blasio tried to put a positive spin on it: yes, homicides have increased, but overall, crime rates have fallen. 

Take only the past few weeks: massacres—in churches and movie theaters; shootings at parties, on bridges, on the sidewalk. Stabbings in parks. When that was not enough, our bloodlust migrated abroad, killing lions. This, strangely, incited threats of vigilantism far more than any massacre of people. Maybe because we all subconsciously believe ourselves to be more or less non-innocent, necessary participants in this war the world is.

On Twitter, Nina Bernstein (@NinaBernstein1) the New York Times’ investigative reporter quoted a criminal justice expert as saying: "America is snowballing into the most violent summer the country has seen in decades." 

After that, those who, a week ago, insisted in endorsing the petition for a global ban of A.I. war machines (robots who may altogether replace humans in warfare http://futureoflife.org/AI/open_letter_autonomous_weapons) seemed rather sweetly and idealistically utopian. We seem very enterprising in combining all the old and new ways in doing harm to one another. The weapons we avail ourselves of generally do not include weapons of mass destruction (the robots potential power is being compared to nuclear weapons, whose deterrence factor has proven to be strong over the past few decades—as most recently evoked by the Iran deal.) 

Besides, as it turns out, artificial intelligence and robots are at risk from us, not the reverse. A sweet Canadian robot named hitchBOT http://m.hitchbot.me was “killed” on August 1st, in Philadelphia, by two men in a car. hitchBOT’s journey had started in Salem, Massachusetts, and it had hoped to make it to San Francisco, California. 

Enter the real world: RIP hitchBOT. The site dedicated to the robot now writes: “Though hitchBOT’s trip ended abruptly, its love for humans will never fade.” 

Therefore, hitchBOT joins the ranks of dreamers, gurus and gods, from Prometheus to Gandhi and Socrates to Jesus, who believed in humanity—and were betrayed.

It’s not really a tragedy because hitchBOT was not alive alive—right? Without wanting to dip into the murky waters of what exactly constitutes life; when it starts; and which forms of life should we sanctify, hitchBOT’s killing is pretty scary. If we can’t refrain from harming a cute dreamer robot, then we certainly can’t refrain from doing it to a person (who, by definition is not so placidly loveable and malleable as a small robot.)

Two weeks ago—even though it feels a lifetime ago—the NYTimes investigative reporter, Sarah Maslin Nir, decided to respond on Twitter to people asking her about an attack launched against Nir’s groundbreaking nail salon series, that claimed the story was flawed. Even though a.......




Tuesday 4 August 2015

 Envisage it: a world populated by dogs and dinosaurs; hominids and extraterrestrials; mamoths and butterflies; and all of us humans of course.

That’s our new world, the one we are currently starting to inhabit. Some of us just don’t (want to?) realize it yet. It takes some getting used to, but once transition is over, the knowledge hits you: it’s beautiful and bountiful. It can move our society, globally, to a place of greater humanity, justice and opportunity, if allowed to evolve unfettered by archaic sociopolitical and financial notions, and by all preconceptions.

Let’s check some stats: Americans, increasingly, buy more from the Internet than retail; and spend less on pricey stuff. True. Yet when it comes to local restaurants, cafes, candy-shops, frozen yogurt, even bookstores (in the age of Amazon, the big bad chain sellers of “You’ve got mail” have become stricken deer, and soon Meg Ryan will have to pay Tom Hanks alimony—of course they’re divorced in their current iteration) money flows, abundantly.

We have gone from small, to medium, to big, to mammoth, and now to a time of everything: small, medium, big and mammoth. Take furniture: there are the behemoths like Amazon; but there are also the big companies that are still selling alot, even if mostly online (latest casualty, the Crate and Barrel store on Madison in midtown that just closed.) Gazillions of small stores have all mushroomed: from insanely priced, “Deco” stuff, to mom and pop stores “Traditional American-made dinner table” (I always expect them to be manned by Laura Ingalls Wilder lookalikes.)

Old telecom and media blends with new, and private comes to the assistance of public (Google Fiber joins President Obama’s low-cost Internet initiative http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2015/07/google_fiber_joins_obamas_low-.html)

Newspapers have become like magazines; magazines more like platforms; sites more like traditional newspapers; and TV news has created a whole new niche, delivering relevant, often vital news to local communities (weather-alerts, train delays, even muggings in Central Park—something that the Press and Internet reported only after ABC Late Night News made it into a real, and not over-hyped, story.)

Through its digital iteration and attendant site, radio, like NPR, has gained a new lease on life and relevance, with a broader, young audience. 

And of course, the mother of all media, is Twitter. 

It’s a free, as well as free for all, world. Anything goes and everything does. Size and generation does not matter, only content does.

Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon are the big players in cloud computing; Cisco does battle against malware and hackers in a more traditional way () vilifying the kind of people Mr Robot makes us feel more ambiguous about. Github may still be small financially, but the software it shares and the value of what it freely provides users to evolve software, carries great potential. 

Streaming is something everything does, and has been doing “since forever”; it feels like Apple’s recent fudged foray into music streaming was too little, too late—one more initiative to follow ibooks to obsolescence. Some things, like music streaming, don’t work with some behemoths (same thing with Amazon Prime Music.) A bit like the universe asserting some balance: guys there’s enough here for everyone. Pandora, SoundCloud, YouTube, iTunes whatever one wants. From the pay-per-song model to the streaming business, people want different options.

Same thing with online payments. Banks (like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America who have launched an online app for transfers) compete with Facebook Messenger; Apple Pay with Google Wallet; and PayPal is warily considering Jack Dorsey’s Square, which is already being challenged by Stripe. 

Verizon bought AOL; NBC Universal is considering a stake in BuzzFeed; NASA, Amazon, Google partner to manage drone-traffic control.

Small, local and personalized, sell more than mass-oriented. The experience delivery industry is also on the rise, yet the products and services industry is not doing too badly, either.

Millenials love privacy and freedom, and value meaning in their lives and jobs, much more than they do money. 

The same goes for the new… dynamic demographic of 85+ people (as exhibited in a wonderful series by John Leland of the New York Times.)

This yet unexplored dynamic may very well in time, prove productive, in a way similar to that proven to the health, mental and emotional benefits generated when elderly people interact daily with infants or very young children. 

Life is both softening and hardening, in different ways. We are becoming more open-minded and global; and at the same time, more insular and local, individual-based.

This constant change and versatility in the way we are now increasingly living mirrors the new fluid equilibrium of big, enormous, small and tiny; of ideas and ventures; products and vision; private and public.

For example: “Big issues” such as artificial life, access, knowledge, innovation are largely dealt with only on the Internet.

On the other hand, it’s a fact that behind most practical local stuff like food delivery, car washing, the entire tourism industry,even real estate, we now have digital start ups. 

Original content that prices quality and social impact over profit, can be found on some cable providers (HBO, AMC, PBS) and on the “newbies”—Netflix, Amazon Prime. 

Our daily grocery-shopping involves “real world” shopping at outdoor vendors, Whole foods, Trader joes, and supermarkets; as well as online at sites like Amazon and Google Pantry, and Freshdirect. 

Social media is one of the major incubators as well as testing grounds for this free new world and state of being. Facebook and Twitter are two completely different animals (and one hopes Jack Dorsey will keep this in mind when initiating the changes he spoke of last week in an endeavor to make investors and markets happier) which offer diverse multiple experiences to their users.

Twitter is more media-geared, news related and more open to the ‘cosmos’. Vines and DM’s have not really caught on.

Facebook is more ‘local’ and ‘individual’. It mirrors the real world in the complexity of layers between friends, and its norms hew closely to social norms. Its Messenger app was so successful it became a whole another platform—one that includes free money transfers between friends and family. Its function as news medium does not seem to have been so successful (despite the involvement of the New York Times, BuzzFeed, the National Geographic etc); and its public platform for debate on “big” issues is starting to generate buzz only now, after the public sharing of the private woes of two Facebook executives—Sheryl Sandberg, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Still, even in this “sharing”, there can be striking differences. Zuckerberg and Sandberg have always been vocal about what their work encompasses, and reticent about their personal lives (philanthropic ventures included.) Their recent public “shares” used the power of Facebook to enlighten and free from shame or fear, people suffering in the specific ways Zuckerberg (the miscarriages he and his wife Priscilla Chang suffered https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101322049893211) and Sandberg (the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg https://www.facebook.com/sheryl/posts/10155617891025177:0) had come to know. They did not paint idealistic self-portraits, they just divulged how they came to tap into wells of sorrow and misfortune that often fester in silence.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is the way the old masters of the Internet use the new media. Take Bill and Melinda Gates, for example: on Sunday, Melinda released photos of her carrying litres of water on her head, alongside women in Malawi who have to do this every day; and then washing the dishes with them.

One can imagine the vocal adulation and less vocal scorn this post received. Certainly self-aggrandizing and simplistically populist, it still manages to drive home the plight of women all over Africa; and it makes a compelling case about the difference…not being indifferent can make to millions of people there.

Politics too, portrays this fluidness and wide array of new choices open to everyone. We know how the system works, and that it will probably come down to Clinton v Bush in the 2016 election. Yet the fact that many voters prefer Trump to Bush or Perry; and Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden (but not Martin O’Malley) to Hillary, is indicative of new, quietly ground-breaking shifts in the economy.

The inequality gap is larger than ever, and the middle class and its traditional professions are languishing, horribly. Yet at the same time, people are saving their lives by learning how to code and are easily reinventing themselves as part of a growing, new, affluent middle class.

There are of course, certain aspects of the economy and of politics that appear obdurate, either because change is not in their interests (cable companies for example, re wifi; taxi-drivers re Uber; hoteliers re AirBnb; literary agents and booksellers re Amazon, etc) or because they have been calcified due to partisanship (certain aspects of the immigration issue, for example.)

Such problems have become endemic to the start-up (digital meets money) world too. Incumbents, preconceptions, illusions have permeated the new establishment too. 

On Twitter, recently, @cleantechvc recently engendered much empathy by writing: “Too often I see people just go radio silent because they mentally don't want to deal with a tough choice. In entrepreneurship, this can be deadly.” Everywhere else too, relationships included.

On Sunday, the New York Times published an article by Claire Cain Miller, noting that the “next Mark Zuckerberg” is 38 with16 years of work experience http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/02/upshot/the-next-mark-zuckerberg-is-not-who-you-might-think.html

The article mentions venture capitalists saying, on record, that they “can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg… a small number of data points ends up incredibly captivating our imaginations. The truth is we might just be wrong… it all depends too much on timing, luck and human judgment.”

The riposte was swift from the great entrepreneur, investor, and software engineer Marc Andreessen @pmarca “I can never figure out why people think this is surprising. It's obvious on the ground!”

He’s right. The truth is it’s a big brave free world out there, an eat-all-you-can and like buffet. Yet our primitive flaws, in mind and body (metabolism and mortality!) constrain us, making us gravitate to the small and individual, just when the numinously collective cosmos has swung into view. 

 

 

 

 

  




Wednesday 29 July 2015

Is man kind?

 

The news of Cecil's slaying came as I was standing at a bus stop on Columbus, skimming Twitter on my phone. “Go wild in New York” said the ad displayed on the side of the bus stop. It was a Bronx Zoo ad, portraying some of its cutest arrivals: the red panda.

I rested against it as I read about the torture and killing of Cecil, one of the most famous lions at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Cecil loved humans and often approached park visitors. He trusted them.

 A Minnesota dentist, is, according to the authorities, Cecil’s slayer. According to the allegations, Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie, Minn., paid at least $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, who was a protected lion (wearing a GPS collar and tracked by the Oxford University research program.)

Together with his accomplices, Palmer—allegedly; although there is nothing alleged about this—lured Cecil from the national park to an unprotected area (to avoid legal charges) by strapping a "dead animal to his vehicle."

Once Cecil was outside the national park land, Palmer (allegedly) shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, but did not kill him. He and his companions then tracked the wounded animal for 40 hours, before shooting and killing him. Cecil was skinned and beheaded.

Palmer’s defence was that he relied on locals to make the hunt legal, and 

"had no idea that the lion…was a known, local favorite, collared and part of a study.”

This story will probably play itself out amid legalese that lawyers will throw at each other. Boundaries, whether Cecil transgressed them of his own volition or was deceived into doing so, and protected status will be the verbiage that will be used in an effort to administer a certain kind of justice to this atrocity.

It’s understandable: boundaries, status, rules and transgressions define the lives of all animals, including the human kind. Yet our rules also get to define the lives of all other animals. Not because we’re better, or less wild, or wiser. Just because we can. We need to, we also want to. 

It’s a very tenuous balance we need to keep with animals. Some we consider wild; others we breed to eat; others we keep as companions, to be loved and cherished. 

Although I do not eat animals, I can understand those who do. I would never wear or carry leather or fur, but after a double whammy of pneumonia two winters ago, I did get a Canada Goose coat. I don’t really mind mice and rats on the streets and subway, but I draw the line when it comes to inside. 

The northwest of Manhattan where I live, seems to have turned this summer into a refuge for bewildered wild ones: Two coyotes; one baby alligator ambling on the sidewalk; squirrels trying to cross Central Park West; racoons skittering down the underpass from Riverside Park to the boardwalk on the Hudson on 93rd; a family of groundhogs parked outside the Delacorte theater (perhaps they were Shakespeare-philes); racoons careening down 81st all the way to Amsterdam avenue, have all passed through, leaving behind a range of diverse emotions.

 

Not everyone loves the wild ones unconditionally, especially in the heart of our urban jungles. Understandably. Dealing with New York life is already too wild to celebrate encounters with any other (man or other animal) than our cat or dog. And even in smaller cities and towns, bears on your porch, foxes outside your apartment building’s garage, and stricken deer on the highway, are not always the stuff of Disney movies. 

Some do like the wild ones—at a distance. Like zoos—and I must agree when it comes to pythons and cobras, for example. Others prefer to visit them in sanctuaries for psychotherapy visits (wolf sanctuaries are recently in therapeutic fashion.)

Others just want to limit their contact to their own cats and dogs, as well as maybe those “of our kind” (animals and their human companions.) The class system rules supreme, especially in New York. We cannot expect to treat animals better than we treat humans.

And yet, we do. I have often wished I were a dog, here in New York. It’s like being stuck in permanent infancy with doting parents whose helicoptering involves just being loved unconditionally. 

We love our pets so because they are the only creature we are “allowed to” (normatively, pragmatically) love unconditionally. We do not fear their betrayal, we do not fear their competition, their ignorance and perversion. It’s safe.

Even so, it is a mark of civilization to be kind and respectful of the needs of those who have no voice or rights.

It is ingrained in American society. Initiated by the vital emotional need (to love somebody dammit, without wondering about potential cost) and refined by social norms. Responsibility, respect, as well as love, come with the territory of deciding to have a pet. Every time I see yet one more person patiently carrying a dog through a snowstorm, or pushing an incapcitated cat in a pram, or limping along with a companion who has a tiny artificial dog limb, I forget everything that divides us: money, connections, way of life, family, everything. Our humanity grows through our behavior to animals. Witnessing........ 




Sunday 26 July 2015

This is a story about those of us who have neither power nor money, and who need a basic modicum of both in order to survive in today’s world (where wolves act in a therapeutic capacity towards the more agressive species—humans.) 

 

The girl sitting on the sidewalk on the crossroads of 79th and Broadway does not belong there. Beautiful in an astonishingly innocent way, she does not appear to be more than 18. Wisps of dligently combed and demurely tied back blond hair frame her flawless skin and hopeful, self-contained eyes. She bites daintily at a sandwich, carefully brushing crumbs off her blue shirt and ironed buejeans. Although on the sidewalk, she is sitting on a clean orange duffel bag of the kind one can only imagine a mother choosing, to send her child off to college, fully-packed. Unperturbed by the traffic, she is greedily reading from an Emily Dickinson anthology. Hardback, pristine. She has not even crafted a “Pleas Help” sign yet; nor deposited a plastic cup or bag in front of her, to collect money from any willing to give.

People are noticing this child, sitting on the sidewalk, emanating desperate idealism and deep-rooted conviction that miracles and magic can happen in New York as long as you’re open and hopeful and in love with the city. We’re all shocked, and moved. For a brief moment, united in our consternation. What will happen to this child? We can see she does not belong there. She is not one of the hundreds—many of them, very young; almost all, artists—of homeless who roam the summer streets of New York. In a few days, this will change. The street will swallow her. She will disappear from our view, or altogether. It is what it is. The world can be a sad, bad, mad place.


A few days later, on the corner of Prince and Crosby in NOLITA, a group of pretentiously “destroyed” twenty-year olds peel out of a brownstone so grungy and dirty, that renting even its basement would be equivalent to renting a palazzo in Italy. On one of the walls, three words are spray painted: “Uber me a pizza”. Beneath it, a girl is sitting on the sidewalk. Early twenties, with an Asian-African delicate richness to her beauty, she is dressed to the nines. Lace beige shorts, a tight t-shirt, satin ballet flats. Her thighs are one with the dirty street. Immersed in a book (Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath”) she is unperturbed by the fact her apparently designer handbag rests on what could be aspirationally called an incohate compost heap. 


A purple long car pulls up. The brakes screech, slightly, like trying to make a point. She looks up. “Hey!” As she rushes I see the sign on the driver’s window: Uber. My intimations of dark things, die hard, happily. For the moment, this girl will not vanish. For the moment being the operative phrase. Fluidity is the nice name for the game, and you never know when you are the one waiting for Uber, or have become the one working for Uber. 


In this economy, it’s no secret, no shame. Everyone does Uber, and Uber is used to ferry everything: from people, to dogs, to pizzas. One hopes the list stops there (and dead bodies are still ferried about in the trunks of black limos driven by men who used to moonlight on the Sopranos, and work in waste disposal in New Jersey and on the East River.)

Uber is of course, just a symbol for a growing reality.

A recent www.newyorker.com piece about a house in Brooklyn whose residents claim it is haunted, and therefore seek a “ghost” discount on their rent, referred to one of the building’s doormen. In an aside, the piece mentioned that the man supplements his income by being paid to stand in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets, as well as Cronuts. That is usual, as we all know. It’s the gig economy. Craigslist may seem to perceive of it as mainly “Pretty girls make big bucks easily. All safe, all legal. No clients outside Manhattan, above 100th street. Live the NYC dream!” and “Seeking arrangement with understanding woman with big bosom and small feet”, but in reality it encompasses everything and anything. From cleaning houses, to running errands, flying kites with kids, bartering, teaching yoga, cleansing karma, unclogging sinks, scaring off predatory ex-boyfriends, helping bored lonely pensioners fish in the Hudson. Outsource, Thumbtack, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and many more. 


The gig economy is one of the driving forces behind the recent positive jobs report. 

Large swathes of the middle-class are surviving exclusively thanks to the gig economy. 

http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/23/new-york-strikes-a-welcome-deal-with-uber/

Millenials and many people of all ages are subsisting exclusively, or complementing their income, through these new venues. This reinforces them: both the new “middle little guys”, and the new ventures seeking to replace the old behemoths in power. This makes the establishment—the old “little guys” (e.g. taxi drivers, nail salon workers, hotel workers, fast food workers), and the old “big guys” (taxi medallion owners, hotel owners, fast food chains)—really mad. 

And it’s not just about the money. 

The old establishment powermongers envy the new juggernauts for their effortless ease, their sexy freedom in making people like them, and want to spend money on their services. Once they too were like that (although, it is hard to evoke a world when real estate and hotel entrepreneurs, taxi drivers, airlines, big industry, delivery services, and telecom were liked by the public.)

The old establishment workers envy the new gig-ers, their freedom in working when they need to, where they prefer, as long as they want to. The gig-ers wish they had a good, steady job with health insurance, holidays, and days off. The grass always looks greener on the other side, unless you’re at the top—in which case, it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on.


The de Blasio-Uber standoff highlighted the clash of the two worlds: the medallion taxi drivers and Uber. Charges of corruption and big-bank backing were exchanged. Public transport, as well as the vagaries, vicissitudes, and paradoxes of the gig economy (a comprehensive article on this can be found at http://www.fastcompany.com/3042248/the-gig-economy-wont-last-because-its-being-sued-to-death) became grist for the mill of the vicious war that broke out in the heart of summer. Things came to a head when every site, newspaper, prime time TV show, and even MTA bus (!) became festooned with Uber’s vituperation against de Blasio’s plans to effectively kill its business in New York.


It all felt unexpected and rather shocking, yet it shouldn’t have.

 

It’s a world of extreme competition for even the meagerest trophy. And when the trophy encompasses something less (traditional) than a steady pay cheque and the trappings of belonging to a larger entity that cocoons as well as demands, then we’re in unchartered waters. That’s when the jungle happens.

 

So, as de Blasio argued, that’s when the city (or state, when we’re talking federal level) should step in and put restrictions and regulations into place. 

Not so fast.

This concept works only when dealing with “traditional economy” jobs—and in many cases, it’s long, long overdue. It seems city/state step in to ameliorate conditions for the little guys, and establish the basics of justice and freedom, only when journalists raise the issues and campaign for them.

One recent such example: the introduction of a $15/hour minimun wage for fast-food workers http://ny.eater.com/2015/7/22/9008347/new-york-minimum-wage-fast-food founded on a probing article written by the New Yorker’s William Finnegan http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/15/dignity-4 a year and a half ago.


Yet, things become more opaque and equivocal when dealing with small businesses. 

An example: the New York Times made much of its story on the alleged exploitation of nail salon workers (by Sarah Maslin Nir http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/nyregion/at-nail-salons-in-nyc-manicurists-are-underpaid-and-unprotected.html) but early today the New York Review of Books ran a story by a former NYTimes reporter, Richard Bernstein, alleging that The New York Times front-page exposé of a culture of wage-theft at nail salons that has been systematically ignored by city and state authorities, is neither true nor well-reported http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2015/jul/25/nail-salons-new-york-times-got-wrong/


Wherever the truth may lie, this instance manifests two things: First, that it is difficult to know where the balance lies in many areas of work (blue-collar, white-collar, small business owner are no longer worlds away in the new economy) and second, that competition (in this case between two behemoths of traditional media, the NYTimes and the NYReview of Books) evens out the playing field and may lead to an overall eventual justice for all involved. 


In any case though, nails and cuticles aside, the American way of life has far transcended the world of good old fashioned capitalism. Amenities that used to cost a fortune have become necessities, usually free of charge. Information, education, communication, entertainment, money transfers. Products and services very few had access to, are now, instantaneously, or almost instantaneously, available to all—and at.................




Monday 13 July 2015

‪#‎ThisIsACoup‬ was, last night, the most trending hashtag on Twitter. “Greeks Face 'Humiliating,' Anti-Democratic Austerity Demands from the Troika” was how Twitter explained it.
The hashtag was inspired by a New York Times OpEd written by Nobelist economist Paul Krugman, notorious for his fervent desire to apply his best intentions in “shapeing destinies” in a kind of Lawrence of Arabia way—but from a world of safety and entitlement away.
The truth, I believe, is different. 
Every story has its back-story, heroes, and villains. So does the Greek crisis epos (after nearly 6 years I think we can safely call it an epic drama.) But because it is a neverending story, everything is of the moment in the Greek crisis. There are no safe bets. “Trust no one” like Mulder told Scully in the X-Files.
Yet throughout this crisis, four things have become clear:
First: Everyone showed their worst sides. Everyone also botched things, at some point. The EU and IMF with their pig-headedness in insisting on Greece continuing to implement punitive measures that only deepened the crisis for everyone. The ECB refusing to take a haircut on the Greek bonds it held, thus burdening only the other shareholders—Greek banks and funds (and private shareholders) with the cost of the haircut purportedly done to alleviate Greece. Greek politicians who did not reform the economy as promised in the bailout agreements, and who consistently pandered to the worst instincts of the people-whom they never saw as “the Greek people” but as “voters”. Tsipras, for hollow brinksmanship, and for taking so long in understanding what was at stake (Greek survival.) Varoufakis-just through existing. 
The Greeks, who voted NO… demanding to remain within the eurozone on their own “others pay for us to sit around” terms. (Still, this Greek insanity can be understood better by the fact that many of those responsible for getting the country in this situation were “sensible Europeanists”—yet totally corrupt. And many of those who voted “No” in the referendum were anti-Syriza, yet the hits they had taken for far too long, blurred the lines between fighting and fatalism.)
The Twitter Marxists (Scandinavians, French, Brits, Greeks) and some American game theorists, who urged Greece onwards to jump off the cliff (leave the EU and somehow miraculously recover—in the arms of Putin? God only knows what is going on in their minds)
Second: Yes, there are villains. Two of them. Scaheuble and Varoufakis. 
All along, Schaueble planned to expunge the EU of Greece. This much was proven by the plan he had devised, that was leaked to the media two days ago.
Was Schaueble sadistic toward Greece and Tsipras? Of course he was. Schaueble’s tactics and intentions embody everything that Germany and the Germans have, consistently, for 70 years, been trying to change—in optics and substance. 
Schaueble’s best “ally” in giving his malevolence and nefarious plans, free reign, was the former Greek Finance Minister, Yianis Varoufakis. There is no denying that Varoufakis is charismatic, brilliant and informed. Yet his whole demeanor and “russian roulette” attitude to the destiny of Greece would have—and did—enraged even the most devoted Hellenist. He hurt Greece’s cause more than anything and anyone ever could, at a “life or death” moment. 
Third: Redemption came into the game too. Enter Merkel, Hollande, and Tsipras. 
Merkel is not Schaueble. Throughout the years, and especially throughout the months Syriza has been behaving like an arrogant, entitled, wayward child (to put it mildly) the German Chancellor has kept her equanimity and persuaded the other members of the EU to do the same. She may suffer from the same flavor of German truculence re inflation, but she has also proven to be the only one believing that the European Union cannot exist, as an ideal and shared endeavor, if any of its members are missing. She is also the one putting her (representing the German nation) money where her convictions lie. That Schauble may turn this against her, ending her political career, is something she knows. 
Tsipras also proved to care more for his country, Greece, than for his political career. He is already “over”: he has lost his own party’s parliamentary support, and will rely on the opposition parties (all mainstream, “establishment” ones—who, by the way, are the ones responsible for squandering and appropriating the funds Greece relied on to survive, and then, cooking the books) to implement the measures he committed to.
French PM Francois Hollande, during the past week, proved to be more than a man with a tumultuous love-life. The new Greek proposals that served as the basis for the final deal, were crafted by the French delegation. The French also, within the Eurogroup and EU summit, openly clashed with Germany and fought to preserve Greece’s existence (in the eurozone.)
Fourth: God Bless the USA. If it weren’t for US pressure, Europe would have jettissoned Greece long ago. The support that the US government (President Obama and Finance Minister Lew; Secretary of State Kerry was tied up with the Iranians!), media (from the New York Times’ OpEds and extensive reports, down to the last blog) and social media (Twitter) showed Greece was of invaluable. The right kind of words, delivered passionately and enduringly, become actions. And generally speaking, US actions are things the world—Europe, at least—respects. That almost every American with a Twitter account stood up yesterday and spoke for Greece, calling Germany’s bullying “indecent and sadistic and reminiscent of a Nazi past” changed the zeitgeist inside the EU summit negotiating room.
This, is more or less, how things went down last night. Crazy, unfair, wrong—or not, they may be. But a coup? No, they were not. Sometimes you have to sacrifice everything to get what you most want/need. It’s harsh. But still, a choice: #ThisIsNotACoup




Saturday 11 July 2015

 Eris, the Greek goddess behind the Trojan War, is now provoking a world war. It’s on Twitter and it’s about the ongoing Greek crisis. Around the clock, heads of state, economists, Europeans and Paul Krugman engage in verbal warfare that roils markets globally.




Monday 6 July 2015

The Gods Abandon Greece

 

“When suddenly, at midnight, you hear/an invisible procession going by/…don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,/work gone wrong, your plans/all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly./As one long prepared, and graced with courage,/… say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.” (Konstantinos Kavafys, Greek poet)

 

This is the story of my mother and myself. It is also is that of most Greeks. Our stories of who we and our families are, inevitably encapsulate the story of Greece—the circumstances, manipulation by great powers, corruption of Greek elites, and the internal discord that led to Greece now slipping to devolution, soon to be oblivion.

Everyone is a Greekologist at the moment. Still, the buzz is ending—and it’s long overdue I suppose. The world will move on to other things, other crises, other interests. We the Greeks will be remembered either as heroic victims (who did not pay their taxes) or as profilgate, arrogant madmen (who did not pay their taxes.) As Leonard Cohen says, there is truth that lives and truth that dies, and how my motherland and nation will be remembered, will shape whatever future it may have. So I am writing to preserve the truth I have known all my life.

On Sunday night, my mother and I watched the Greek referendum results, thousands of miles away from each other. On a bad Google hangouts connection (wifi is sketchy now in Athens) we were alone together, silenced by despair. Earlier in the day, my mother had, with trepidation, left the apartment to cast her “Yes” vote. Yes, to remaining in the eurozone. Even so, she was torn. Many of those responsible for getting the country in this situation were proponents of the “Yes” vote. Many of those rooting for “No” were anti-Syriza, yet the hits they had taken for far too long, blurred the lines between fighting and fatalism.

The only child of a single mother, I was born in a country where, even in 1980, the mother had no right over her child. My mother worked day and night, as an interpreter and guide (it was the only way she could be paid in dollars and not drachmas), in order to send me to an American school. To this day, the sight of dollars generates awe, fear and longing in me.

My American education came at a heavy price though, for my mother. Although licensed by the Greek state, travel guides were not recognized as a profession by social security until the ‘90s. This meant that when my mother retired after almost 45 years, all she received was a 300 euro pension—the kind the EU wants to further cut, making no distinction between high and low pensions, and no consideration as to the current age of the pensioner, as well as the age when he/she received the pension. European… thoughtlessness has made Greeks suffer for many generations.

In 1923, in Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey) my mother’s father, Spyros, returned from his American school one afternoon to find his family slaughtered by Turkish troops. He watched people he knew, killing and being killed as the French and British looked on from their ships in the harbor. 

My grandfather, my mother's father, managed to escape to the Greek mainland. During the Nazi Occupation of Athens (especially brutal because when Greece was asked to capitulate, the national response "OXI" was so overwhelming it forced the dictator, Metaxas, to adhere to public emotion--and that led the Nazis to decide to make Greece an example of what happens to those who resist), my grandfather, like many middle-class people, he worked in an office by day, and by night fought with the Resistance. Like many Greeks, he used all the family savings to buy milk and eggs for the women and children starving in the streets. The milk and eggs were provided by the black-marketeers—a small group, some of whom, after the war, used their riches to become ship owners and industrialists. Now, they have decamped to London and Geneva.

My mother followed in her father’s footsteps. In 1967 the Greek Junta seized power. It was a Colonels' dictatorship supported by the CIA (thereby engendering an anti-establishment conspiracist sentiment in the Greek people that lingered for decades, adequately manipulated by politicians, from the center to the extreme left.) My mother left her well-paid job as flight attendant at Onassis’s airlines “Olympiaki” so she could become part of the Resistance, and the subsequent movement to constitutionally get rid of the German-imposed king. 

A few years after the Junta fell and the dethroned king fled, Greece came under the governance of PASOK, a center-left party founded by Andreas Papandreou, an American-trained economist, son of a former Prime Minister of Greece. The incipient democracy easily fell prey to his demagogery. “The EU and NATO are the same syndicate” and “Banish the US military bases (in Glyfada, Athens) because they kill people” were slogans he launched, fermenting anti-western sentiment in the nation. “The poor will become rich” was another. His charisma made him a demi-god in the eyes of half of the Greek public—the half he rained (the then, seemingly endless) EU subsidies on. His crony socialism created a new class of nouveaux riches, while creating an atmosphere of natural entitlement and discord among those who benefited and those who did not. For me, it practically meant that my mother and I could not afford to take a holiday, and—adding injury to insult—doughnuts, bubble gum, and American books were hard to get by and cost a fortune. 

My mother just worked and worked, taking care of me and my grandmother. When the Junta fell, she, together with some of her companions, watched people who at best tolerated, at worst collaborated with the Junta, receive a "resistance bonuses" (like a pension, regardless of age). It was one more event that created a rift in my people that endures to this day, through other guises.

After the restoration of democracy to Greece, my mother shied away from politics in disgust. Like most Greeks, she always hoped someone incorruptible and effective would come to power “some day”; like all Greeks, she never expected that to happen. Still, she never ceased hoping, not even after my grandmother passed away in a public hospital where, like all public hospitals, life and death was largely determined by what politician you knew, in addition to the size of the daily bribes the (underpaid) doctors and nurses received.

While studying Law, at 18, I became a foreign affairs reporter. 

I felt the limitations of my country and language, yet could not conceive of a life elsewhere. Besides, Greece was on the rise. In 2001, five years since Andreas Papandreou passed away, in London, in the arms of his decades younger spouse, known for her love of luxury real estate, psychics, and soft-porn selfies, Greece acceded to the Eurozone. In 2004 Athens hosted the Olympic Games with phenomenal success. Greek banks, as well as the Greek welfare system, grandiosely funneled money to all the Balkans, even Turkey. Greece was dreaming big dreams. 

Yet the country’s foundations were sinking. Papandreou’s successor, the correct yet pusillanimous Kostas Simitis succeeded in his endeavor for Greece to accede to the eurozone. Still. Many of the elites close to the government allegedly made billions during the final depreciation of the drachma, on the eve of the entrance to the eurozone. This set the tone for what was to follow. Everything was a business, and all business was black. It is telling that during the years that followed, all over  Greece, not just Athens, myriads of bouzoukia centers (something between a concert venue and a club) opened. In even the seediest bouzoukia, millions of euros were consumed each night in grand reserve champagnes, thousand-dollar whiskeys, flowers to rain on the performers who sang old rebetika songs of Greek expatriation and pain-nostos and ponos. European companies, like the German Siemens, were among the protagonists in this nexus of corruption. 

Greek life entails taking the incredible (and not in the surreal Chagall way) into stride. In 2006 a major scandal erupted involving Greek monks and the government of Kostas Karamanlis. The epicenter of this conspiracy was a monastery in Mount Athos, a peninsula in northern Greece where entry is prohibited to all females—from women to cats. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin frequently sojourns there.

The Greek people lost all trust in church and state. Despair started overtaking us. Overwhelmed by all that terrible and wonderful complicatedness with our roots that we never get over, some people forgot how to forgive; others forgave too much. Every line that was drawn soon became a bad mad farce...and then a gap.

On December 6th 2008, a 15-year-old Greek student, Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed by two policemen in the anarchist ghetto of Exarcheia. The boy’s death resulted in large protests and demonstrations, which escalated to widespread rioting. The extreme left (Syriza, and its more extreme siblings) started rising in popularity.

On May 5th 2010, swarms of black-hooded, masked anarchists overtook a massive anti-austerity demonstration in Athens. One of the many gasoline bombs they threw, set fire to a bank building. Three people died, trapped in the burning building. One was a young pregnant woman. The divide between "us" and "them" started growing. For some, "them" were the anarchists; for others, "them" were the Europeans, as moral instigators. 

Like many middle-class, moderate Greeks, I started feeling an outsider in my own country.

Things got worse, even worse, then plateaued. We paid inordinate taxes; our property devalued; private sector salaries were cut mercilessly; even Greek yogurt became pricier than anywhere else. Banks that had served as vehicles to enrich to the already very rich, were bailed out by the state. "Good" banks were saddled with the rising public debt. The “blue chip” bank stocks the “little people” had sacrificed generations of savings to buy, turned to ashes. The loans the middle-class economy had relied on, stopped. Big companies downsized. Small ones closed. We all lost someone we knew to suicide. The escalating price of electricity made summers fatal for the vulnerable and old who could not afford to use their air conditioners. Throughout the winters Athens was covered the fog of pollution generated by people burning anything they could lay their hands on to stay warm. My mother with her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease could not breathe. Even so—or maybe, exactly because of the diverse hits nearly everyone was taking—we expected that things would get better, soon. 

In 2012, I abandoned all I knew and with astonishing naivete, came to New York, telling myself and everyone else, the timeless immigrant tale: it’s just for a bit; I’ll be back. The gods laugh at the plans people make, we say in Greek. 

The other day, right in the middle of Greece’s devolution, my mother’s time here was up, she had to return. Permanent resident status cannot be extended to mothers. Only to husbands and kids (even though I have neither). At the airport I cried. 

In Athens now, crime is rife, the supermarkets are cleaned out. No one knows what is yet to come. It is a world that my elderly mother will have to navigate entirely on her own. This endeavor becomes even harder without a pension, and no access to medicince for her very serious lung condition.

“What can we do?” I asked her helplessly over the Internet.

“Go on” she says. “What can we do? My one joy is that you are in New York. Because our home, is no longer home. It is nowhere any more.”




Saturday 4 July 2015

My America, Our America


Today, July 4th, Independence Day it's worth noting this: the last frontier, the unmentionable racism. The discrimination middle-class, adult immigrants face, here in the enlightened metropolis of the United States. 


I should know, I feel it almost each day ever since I came here to the US, three years ago. 

It’s an inbred racism born of an intrinsic connection to land, and the attendant xenophobia about having to share it with others. Strangers. Aliens, as is the official term for us. What makes this racism especially insiduous and rife is its target: those immigrants who are not rich, nor dirt-poor and/or fleeing war, famine, state prosecution, and other life-threatening extreme situations. 


Who are these people? Well it’s easier to say who we are not:


We are not the uber-rich globalites who make New York unaffordable for everyone else not in their income bracket, whether native or immigrant. These people may not be liked but the multitudes, but they can afford to—and do—rise above the general fray. They are also, rarely, immigrants; merely sojourners who can afford to spend gazillions on luxury real estate which they visit infrequently. 


We are not refugees of war-torn and poverty-stricken lands; workers doing the kind of jobs most Americans don’t deign to (like nail-salon workers, farm laborers, prostitutes) but patronise.


We are not “ex-pats”. The versatile definition of this word has been hotly debated over in recent weeks. By “ex-pats” I mean those middle to upper-middle class professionals who come to the US from generally stable and prosperous countries (e.g. the UK and France) on the wings of their employer—a large and powerful American company (think investment banks, private equity, tech, gene-tech, media) who sponsors them and generally acclimatizes them to the American way of life. 


We are not students either (I call them “ex-pats” in waiting.) We wish we could afford a US college education but we generally lack both the money and the time to do anything but try to survive alone in a foreign land. 


We are not undocumented immigrants. Our entire life’s savings are blown on (largely corrupt) immigration lawyers; on subjecting to the exploitation of landlords who take advantage of our foreigner status; on learning to move past the opaque peremptoriness we often encounter when trying to find a job requiring cultural assimilation; on doing whatever it takes to do things the arduous, legal way.


We are the dreamers without the capital D-that is reserved for the American-born children of undocumented workers. We are adult immigrants. We abandoned our homelands for a dream: the dream of America. It contains the American dream but also transcends it. Most of us are self-employed (writers, actors, artists, journalists etc) and we all know how farcially tragic and generic this condition can be, especially in New York. Yet the pursuit of happiness is an ideal to be found only in the US Constitution. 


As President Obama mentioned yesterday: ”One of the remarkable things about America is that nearly all of our families originally came from someplace else. We’re a nation of immigrants. It’s a source of our strength and something we all can take pride in.”

Not all do. Yet, I did not expect to read a proud declaration of xenophobia, a racist rant against us middle-class immigrants, the lowcase d dreamers, in the mainstream media.

I am referring to “Real New Yorkers Can Say Goodbye to All That” http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-06-01/real-new-yorkers-can-say-goodbye-to-all-that published on BloombergView by Meghan MacArdle. Ms MacArdle now lives in Washington DC, a place where, as she writes, "everyone I know is here because they care about ideas”--a truth I am sure everyone involved in politics will willingly attest to.


Although Federico Garcia Lorca makes the case for saying goodbye to all that (“The first to leave understand in their bones there'll be no paradise or leafless loves; they know they go to the filth of numbers and laws, to artless games, to fruitless sweat.” Poet in New York: A Bilingual Edition), Ms MacArdle still emanates a lot of rage for having had to do exactly that, noting that she was forced to leave New York when her “old life was torn down abruptly to make way for someone else's plans... ultimately because of all those people who flew in on the wings of their childhood dreams.” 


She may have a point. Natives have been bemoaning immigrant influxes since the first homo sapiens left their homeland in Africa and spread to the Middle East then Europe, then the rest of the world. There is a reason evolution and revolution are only one r apart. Adam Gopnik wrote of this in a recent New Yorker piece of his on Anthony Trollope. “The idea of progress is at the heart of his vision: that liberal Victorian faith in perpetual progress in lessening distances, with the understanding that a new proximity of peoples, however welcome, will always be as strange for the encroaching as for the encroached upon.”


Of course not everyone is a progressive (especially on Bloomberg.) Yet no one has the right to express racism, as does Ms MacArdle. In her essay she writes: “We did leave our hometown because of all these aspirational New Yorkers… For us, reading the impassioned essays of the city's adult migrants is a bit like reading the love letters from your father's new 22-year-old bride…If you are still marveling at the fact that you actually get to live in the city of your dreams…You are a tourist who has possibly overstayed your visa…Those people…the joyous immigrants penning paeans to the city…are so besotted by New York that they will cling to its towering walls with bloody fingernails if that's what it takes to stay there.”

Immigrants? Adult migrants? Visas? Tourist visas? So far as I know, moving to New York (or any state from that matter) from another state does not require a visa (yet!) So, according to BloombergView, the problem lies not with with those realizing the all-American myth of coming to the quintessential land of opportunity. It lies with those of us who come here as adult immigrants, from foreign countries, alone, on middle-class visas. With those of us who give all, even our life-blood as Ms MacArdle says, to come here to the US and stay here. We are the problem, in the eyes of this unchronicled, covert racism. 


Down at Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty gleams green hope in the gloam, juxtaposed against the city’s skyline. It carries all our hopes, gods and words; the many filaments of lives from every of the world. It signifies that my America, our America is not so much a mosaic or tapestry like they call it, but a living breathing unity of many different and multiple parts, even if sometimes jarring with one another. We are one.

 




Friday 3 July 2015

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1CBX4CZRUDZEJ

For the love of Greece

by PROMETHEUS SMITH
A CIA agent and a girl try to save Greece

It is a fictional account of real events currently unfolding in Greece. The story takes place over 7 days whose outcome will define the world's destiny. Greece is going bankrupt, terrorism and violence taking over. Anarchists are fighting neo-Nazis; hedge fund managers playing crooked games; in the ancient subterranean tunnels of Athens, Russia is hatching an evil plan for global supremacy. Carter (an American CIA agent) and Athena (a Greek Twitter journalist) try to save the day. But can they?




Friday 26 June 2015

 1. Facebook is the God of social media.

 

The people you follow on Facebook are your demi-gods. 

Their gorgeousness, goodness, intelligence, success is unmatchable. Do not even attempt it. 

Always remember to like their posts devoted to empowering adequately Instagram-photogenic calamity-stricken countries/women/children. Don’t worry this may lead to a display of opinionatedness (opinions are a tricky business; something only Lena Dunham should do.) Legions of media advisers, whiteshoe law firms and DC lobbyists compose what the demi-gods post, so you are safe liking and sharing it. 

In any case, it’s not just Hillary who knows the power of selective erasing and apologizing for past endorsements of little things, like wars. 

 

2. Do not post pictures you may ever want to be forgotten. 

We are not Europeans (the EU recently forced Google to implement the “right to be forgotten”            for any Europeans who had stuff—from convictions to bad selfies—they wished to relegate to oblivion.) 

Ensure that anything you share on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook etc will not put present you or future you or any of your family that you care about in a “challenging” (it’s Park Slopean for “compromising”) position. 

If you must have it spelled out for you, everything can be “challenging”. Exceptions: food, flora, fauna, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Never underestimate the career-building power of these categories. Pictures of cute puppies, well-lit images of the Brooklyn Bridge, and pithy captions to ethnic food-porn of yet one more New York restaurant will take you places—unlike your resume. Unless of course you’ve gone to the right schools. In this case, you do not have to conform to any of these rules. Or any others for that matter.

 

3. Do not take social etiquette in vain. 

Downton Abbey is a hotbed of anarchy compared to the conventions of social media. 

Favoriting but not retweeting makes you out to be a calcluating creep. Liking the post of a Facebook friend whom you do not know in person is OK. Sharing it, is not. Especially when it’s a pic of their girlfriend in negligible attire.

Poaching the friends of your friends is NOT OK. Unless you appropriate them entirely, and then some. If you are capable of this, then most of the other rules do not apply to you, either. 

 

4. Remember the sabbath day. 

It’s the most-read, most-posted day. Heaps of free time, no Sunday paper or brunches. A whole day of quality time to expend on posting our lives for the world to observe and envy, and for us to feel important and meaningful.

 

5. Honor your father and mother. 

Deliberate at length whether they are mature enough to be thrown into the multiverse. 

If they have reached the necessary level of self-knowledge, respect and yoga, lift the age-restrictions and limits from their computers and smartphones. 

Monitor them frequently. Otherwise you will create a Frankenparent (= a parent who—consider the monstrosity!—becomes more than just your parent.) There is no telling what worse horrors this may lead to. Think Bernie Sanders.

 

6. You shall not unfriend (social media equivalent of “kill”.) 

Exceptions to this rule may be granted in the case of some heinous breach of social etiquette. Prime example: a friend has sent you a direct message asking for something—from sex to a job. Anything, basically, that you are not at all disposed to provide. 

Following is another animal altogether. You can follow, unfollow and re-follow at your will. Even skilled users of social media (the psychiatric term is “egopaths of sociopathic dimensions”) cannot keep.........



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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