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Columns


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.



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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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