Friday, March 31, 2006

The dark side of the earth

This is a day late and a dollar short, but a very cool alternate view of Wednesday's eclipse, provided by NASA.

If you're leaving, don't say goodbye

Fifteen years ago today, I was a typical twenty-one year old college student. Carefree, reckless, and like most of my peers, seemingly immortal. Imagine my shock, when, on this day fifteen years ago, I found out that my best friend and his roommate were killed by a drunk driver. This was something that shouldn’t happen to us, couldn’t happen to us, yet it did.

At the time the grief was so overwhelming, so unstoppable, I sunk into a depression and eventually a sickness of my own. I spent days, weeks, months, imagining my friend, who had been supine in the back seat of the car, falling asleep on the trip home that night and never waking up again. I imagined the force of the impact as the drunk driver hit them head on after entering the interstate the wrong direction. I imagined the weight of the luggage crushing my friend, the injuries not relating to the impact of the crash that killed him. I replayed it thousands of times in my head, and spent a lot of time imagining all the scenarios that would have led, instead, to my friend arriving home safe and sound. I zealously went to his grave every week with red and white roses, symbolizing friendship, to place at his headstone. I saw him and heard him everywhere, all around me, and every time I closed my eyes I saw him at our last meeting, in the stairwell of the Humanities building at Belmont, making plans to get together and watch a long awaited new episode of Twin Peaks after we both returned from Spring Break. I can still see him standing there, and I can still see his graven, pallid image in the casket – an image I never wanted stuck in my mind, but my friends thought I should see. They thought it would give me closure. Instead, it haunted me.

After fifteen years I can’t say I’m over his death, and I don’t expect I ever will be. My thoughts on a day to day basis are no longer focused on him, sure, but he is, as his gravestone read, forever in my heart. He was responsible for awakening me from a dreamless sleep, a sterile, mindless existence that I had plunged into as a result of a cynical and depressed outlook on life. He taught me how to live again and yet, he had to die. I will never understand why.

I also can’t seem to find it in my heart to forgive the drunk driver responsible for their tragic accident. I’m not a religious person, it isn’t mandate for me to forgive, but I still feel a moral responsibility to forgive, yet I can’t. Even the fact that the drunk driver was sixteen years old doesn’t help me, in fact, it makes me even more angry. Why a sixteen year old was allowed to drive in the first place, since he was on allergy medicine, blows my mind. The fact that this sixteen year old also decided to imbibe alcohol on top of the allergy medicine makes the crime unforgiveable. And the death of the sixteen year old in the same accident does not settle the score. Why can’t I feel sorry for the kid and his family? Why can’t I forgive and move on? Why are my mind and heart so small in this case?

I suppose I’ll never come to terms with the answers to these questions or the death of my friend. For now I will simply remember him with love and fondness, and hope that some day I will learn to forgive.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The burden of responsibility

The big story in Greece right now concerns two patients at Hippokration Hospital in Thessaloniki who contracted HIV from infected blood transfusions. The story is a sad one, especially for the 17-year-old patient, and of course people all over Greece are up in arms about the situation.

I'll admit that I tend to be on the side of the righteous objectors in this case. The director at the hospital says they are not responsible, and my husband, being a doctor himself, concurs with that opinion. While I don't necessarily place blame on the hospital, I do believe they bear some of the burden of responsibility in regards to an incident like this. Then again, so does any blood donation center and any person who donates blood. Why donate blood if you choose to lie about your sexual and medical history? Are you trying help, or harm?

My husband says that one test (PCR) that would ensure to a greater extent (not 100% though, no test can guarantee 100%) that no blood would be infected would cost around fifty euros per unit. If you add that figure to the 500,000 units of blood that pass through Greece every year, that is a pretty hefty number - 25,000,000 euros. Are the righteous and indignant people of Greece willing to help foot the bill in their taxes or medical costs? To me, the added cost would be worth it - even if I never needed a blood transfusion myself, I would feel better knowing that it would be more unlikely for a 17-year-old girl to contract HIV from a blood transfusion. Still, I find that it is easy for Greeks to be on the warpath without being willing to share the burden of the solution. Obviously, if hospitals had to eat this cost, it would increase health care costs for everyone. Should blood transfusion patients have to pay it on their own? It is a solution - but in my opinion, a cruel one. If the people of Greece want safer blood, they need to want safer blood for all, not just themselves.

It seems as though the Health Ministry has taken the issue at hand, although there has been little to no mention of the cost of the new program, and how effectively it will be implemented.

There is one thing I think people of Greece (and perhaps worldwide) need to remember: we should all bear the burden of responsibility. Our lives are worth it.

Isn't it ironic

My husband is on one of his infamous week long leaves from work. The nice thing about Greece, and especially the military, is that he gets copious amounts of leave every year - more than anyone who has been working shorter than 20 years in one place in America will ever get. So he gets to take a week here and there, to serve his needs for rest and relaxation and, ostensibly, to take care of some things that get neglected in the day to day busy-ness of his working life.

Oh, we had great plans for this week. So many things were going to get accomplished. Nine days in a row for my husband to not only fly his little Microsoft Flight Sim planes, but also plenty of time to take care of other things, including finishing the hook-up of our surround sound system, which he had grand plans for over three months ago. To his credit, at that time he actually bought all (most) of the needed cables, screwed one speaker into the wall and put up a screw for a second speaker. To tell you the truth, I'm not even really criticizing him here for not getting it done. While I enjoy the results of surround sound, I do not particularly enjoy it when my husband endeavors to undertake such projects. Something usually goes wrong to the extent that he is hanging ten feet off the balcony with twenty cables, a hammer, and a small piglet while shouting all manner of curse words, both in Greek and English, at a decibel level sure to be heard in the farthest reaches of Asia and the frozen tundra of Antarctica.

Not that my husband is incapable of completing such projects successfully. He has done miraculous things since we got married, things he didn't even know he was capable of doing without his dad doing it for him. But any project always ends up being such a chore, and I hate to make him work that hard just for our entertainment, although it is fun watching my little handyman at work.

At any rate, Wednesday is now over. We haven't yet called the guys to install our new air conditioner/heater (the one that we bought, ahem, in August), we haven't yet taken care of some official business that needs to be tended to, and we haven't hooked up the surround sound system. We did, however, take care of some health related issues, watch a total eclipse, play some World of Warcraft and we have had plenty of cuddle time. So not too bad, I guess.

At this point, however, I think we should give up ever making plans for my husband's leave, and just let the mood strike how it will. We get more accomplished when he is working, anyway.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Total eclipse of the Internet

Thanks to modern technology, viewers around the world will have the opportunity to view tomorrow's total eclipse online.

The University of Athens will offer a live broadcast of the eclipse from a premium viewing point on the isle of Kastellorizo, or you can watch 85% of the eclipse from Athens. NASA will also be offering a live broadcast of the eclipse. We'll only be seeing 70% of the eclipse here in Thessaloniki, so we'll be watching online.

The webcast of the eclipse at the NASA site will start at 5am eastern time in the U.S. (1pm here in Greece) and, the eclipse will peak at 5:55 am (1:55pm in Greece).

Happy eclipse-watching!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Move over Yaweh, God, Allah - Zeus and Co. are back, baby!

In a ruling by a first-instance court in Athens last week, Zeus and the other 11 Olympians made a comeback. The court ruled in approval of the formation of an association of people who worship the Olympian 12. I would hope they would make such a ruling, although sometimes I doubt the idea of religious freedom exists in Greece.

Obviously, the Church of Greece is not too fond of such an association, while some people have claimed that such a group smacks of idolatry.

“I support everybody’s right to practice their faith, whichever it may be, without hindrance,” said Apostolos Vrachiolidis, a journalist and one of the founding members of the association. Members of the group deny that they engage in idolatry. “We simply want to worship the gods of our ancestors freely,” a member who preferred to remain anonymous told Kathimerini.

Personally, I can get on board with such a group. I’ve always been particularly fond of Zeus and his cronies, their jolly antics and warmongering ways. Still, what of the gods and goddesses beyond the 12? There is a rich pantheon full of deities to suit every need, not limited to just the 12. I guess it is best to start with the 12 and branch out, because a lot of them might be a bit shy to re-emerge after Christianity smashed them all to bits. At any rate, I’m glad to see that there are people in Greece who still see the merit in the old religion. Maybe they will restart the Oracle at Delphi and at some point perhaps I can run into a band of Maenads to hang out with. I’ve always wanted to go all out on a blood-letting, ecstatic frenzy.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Today in Greece we celebrate Greece's Independence Day, the day in 1821 when the Greeks stood up to the Ottoman empire and declared "we aren't gonna take it anymore". I won't fill you in on all the details since EllasDevil already did a good job over at his blog. Ironically, today's celebration comes days after the Turkish government cried casus belli against Greece yet again, for some inane reason relating to the property line in the Aegean. Maybe fences do make great neighbors.

Greece has a heritage to be proud of. Let the men and women who declared "freedom or death" on this day 185 years ago always be remembered, and may beautiful Greece never bow to a foreign empire again.

Friday, March 24, 2006

If you really want a song stuck in your head

One hour of Nena's video for the hit song 99 Red Balloons?

It seems one contributor to VH1 Classic's drive to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief chose to pay $35,000 to have 99 Luftballoons playing for one hour.

Now, I'm not knocking the song OR the video, although the latter was pretty cheeseball, but it was the 80's so it is excused. I thought it was a pretty cool song then and I still enjoy it now. But I fear that playing the video continuously for one hour would put the world in imminent danger of reality imitating the song.

I guess VH1 doesn't really have a choice in the matter. But I have to ask, why? Who in their right mind would want to hear (and not only that, pay $35,000 to hear it) the same song over and over again for a whole hour? (Unless, of course, we are talking about someone who just broke up with their significant other and that is a whole different story) At least it wasn't something truly awful, like The Ketchup Song or Ice, Ice, Baby.

It is for a good cause, though, so we can afford to suffer. Not to mention there is this great invention for the television called the remote control - so we can change the channel if the pressure gets to be too much. Still, it would be nice to know why, lest it remain one of the great unanswered questions of our time.

Are pets worth this much?

Denizens of Vienna are being offered a tax exemption and a bag of "goodies" for their beloved pet dogs - if the pet owners can pass a two hour "test" of dog ownership. The test contains two parts - a written exam and a practical exam, which entails a walk with the dog around the city. Examiners are looking for responsible dog owners - ones who understand dogs and the responsibility of having dogs, which basically means people who speak the secret language of dog and pick up their dog's poop and know how to keep their dogs quiet.

The people who pass the exam get a tax exemption of 43.60 euros along with coupons for dog related items.

I have to wonder, could I pass a similar cat exam? I'm thinking no. Sure, I've had three cats for ten years, but it is more like they own me. I can't make them behave and they all have freakish psychological problems. One of them I am certain is an alien, who frequently makes contact with her mother ship, teaching the alien race all about humans. One of them is a 25 pound fatty who can't seem to understand the concept of inertia. One of them is a 5 pound tiny little freak of nature who almost never speaks but could be Satan. Still, do I have enough understanding of these cats to pass a written exam? Hardly. And I can't imagine taking them on a walk through the city. That would certainly be a disaster. Their breath alone would keep people out of our path. Generally speaking, I think the world is a better place if strangers aren't introduced to these cats, even if it entails a 43 euro tax deduction per cat.

The best part of this story, however, is the typo at the end of the English translation:

As per the opinion poll, 85% of the Viennese viewed licenses to own a god in a positive way.

I would think most people would view licenses to own a god in a positive way, but I could be wrong. Although I'm not sure which god I would want. Maybe Loki. Or Apollo. Dionysus, perhaps. Anubis, even. It would be difficult choice, so I'll hold out on getting my god license for now.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

You know you are a weather junkie when... get excited when you learn that Greece is finally getting Doppler radar.

I read the report with glee, turned around, chirped the news to my husband and clapped happily. He responded with a look of sheer terror and perhaps some regret. You can take the girl away from the Weather Channel but you can't take the Weather Channel away from the girl. Or something like that.

I can't help it, I miss my Doppler radar.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The psycho princess and the satanic pea

I am one of those people who is violently anti-vegetable. I blame my mother for this, because if it hadn’t been for her dire need to make sure my brothers and I only ate wholesome, nutritious foods and never were able to eat anything fun I surely would be eating my vegetables now. I’m not prejudiced against all vegetables, most fresh, uncooked vegetables I can endure, if not enjoy (hey, I’ll always eat a salad as long as I don’t have to chop all that crap for myself), and I’ve been known for my deep personal relationship with okra and tomatoes, ah, what a torrid affair. Many cooked vegetables I can eat politely and even manage to nod my head and smile, but there are three members of the vegetable world that I despise so enduringly that no amount of manners can keep me at a table within fifty yards of their presence (at least, that is what the restraining order says).

My three vegetable arch nemeses are brussel sprouts (hey, does anyone really like these nasty ass tiny pretending to be cute little cabbages things?), lima beans (oh for the love of god, this stuff is so soft and mashy and so not as good as a potato), and peas. Oh yes, I know, peas, those cute little round green things that come in a pod and are soft and sweet and all babies love them. I’ll have you know that those cute little round things are certainly devil’s seed, and I’ll not have them near me. They are small, they have a weird consistency and they roll all around your plate and fall off your fork and get mashed down on the floor because even the cats won’t eat the damned things. I hate, hate, HATE peas.

So imagine my utter horror when, enjoying a McVeggie burger from McDonald’s, after a couple of bites I look down and see a whole McPea staring me in the face. I’m not an idiot, I mean, I know veggie burgers are simply mashed up vegetables in a tasty fried hamburger shaped patty, but I pretend I don’t understand this. I get along quite well with veggie burgers as long as no whole vegetables pop out of them. And yet here I was, face to face with the third horseman of the vegetable apocalypse, the Pea.

My first instinct was to fling the sandwich across the room, scream bloody murder, and run haphazardly out of the apartment, down the stairs, and into the streets of Thessaloniki, as far away from the Beelzebub pea as I could manage. But as I looked over at my husband happily enjoying his Big Mac and absorbed in the episode of Frasier we were watching, I thought such behavior might startle him unnecessarily, not to mention be the impetus for jokes such as “I never knew you were one pea short of a pod” and “don’t be pea-ved”. So I did what any mature adult who has a mild dislike of peas might do, and quietly removed the evil pea, with my bare hands, and threw it away.

I washed my hands repeatedly, desperately trying to remove the feeling of what it was like to touch a pea. So small, so delicate, and so, so evil. I should have crushed it between my fingers when I had the chance, but surely the stain of pea blood on my hands would never wash away, and I’d be forced to quote Shakespeare for the rest of my life.

After having survived the incident, I am only a little bit worse for wear. I’m not sure I have the strength to face another McVeggie burger again, but we’ll see. With hope and understanding, maybe the pea and I can learn to get along. But not today.

You look like you could use a drink

A patient my husband had treated at the hospital brought him a gift: one of those fancy boxed bottles of scotch whiskey, a brand he and I have never heard of before.

I'm trying to decide what the message was here, if it was "you are such a terrible doctor please put down the rubber hammer and drink yourself into a stupor" or "you are so frazzled, I think you need a drink". It could be either one, so we'll pretend it is the latter, and drink to our heart's content.

Fire, but you can't walk with me any further

Yes, this is another DVD rant. It is bad enough that we can't get a copy of Blade Runner in Region 2 DVD, but why the HELL haven't they released the second season of Twin Peaks in ANY region?

Look, I know the first season was much stronger, but the second season wasn't entirely lost. There were some good episodes. The Windham Earle storyline was quite interesting. Diane Keaton even directed an episode. And David Duchovny in drag - need I say more??

I hope it isn't because they think they won't sell enough of them. I know plenty of Twin Peaks fans who are chomping at the bit to complete the series.

I know they released it all on VHS at one point, if you can find them. But see, I already have them on VHS, from when I taped them off the damn T.V. I need DVD quality Twin Peaks.

Ok, I bitched, and now I feel better. See, this is why blogs are good. Sure, I could get a diary and write all this crap down, but it is much more satisfying hitting the "publish post" button.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I dream in pastel

My husband and I are quite fond of DVDs, and have quite a nice collection going. Every couple of months, if our budget allows, we like to add new titles. We are both as fond of TV shows as movies, and have collected several complete sets of our favorite television shows – including X-Files, Friends, and Star Trek: TNG. Yes, we are indeed geeks.

I have a few rules, though, when it comes to DVD purchases. I won’t pay more than 15 euros for a movie and no more than 35 euros for a TV season (unless of course it something we are dying for, like when the new Seinfeld seasons are released). I’ve noticed over the years of DVD purchasing that frequently prices will drop significantly after a certain amount of time has passed, so I can usually get things for the prices I want. The downside is we have to wait.

After doing a scan for our TV show collections in progress (Law & Order, Scrubs, Northern Exposure) and finding them all well above my price requirement, I decided to start looking for a new favorite. Not wanting to sift through pages and pages of DVD titles, I put in a few off the top of my head: Moonlighting, St. Elsewhere, and finally, Miami Vice. Bingo! The first season of Miami Vice was well within my price range, and after consulting with my husband and extolling the virtues of the show, the order was placed (along with Field of Dreams and Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro).

Now, I know what you are thinking. What virtues can Miami Vice possibly have? It was a cheesy cop show from the 80’s, right?

My answer to that is yes and no. Sure, it has copious amounts of cheese. Tons of melodrama and overacting. Unrealistic scenarios. I actually had a friend who was so addicted to the show he went to Miami to become a cop and was disappointed that his salary was nowhere near enough to buy anything these guys had. Well, duh. Still, the series had some merit.

  • Michael Mann. I like this guy’s vision. His use of color to set mood. Sure, he didn’t direct many episodes, and only wrote a couple. But the show was his puppy, he was the executive producer. Not to mention his directing career took off with such movies as Heat, The Insider, and Ali, to name just a few. Not to mention he often uses Lisa Gerrard’s music for soundtrack selections.
  • Mega 80’s super star guest appearances. Ted Nugent, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and Sheena Easton, to name a few.
  • Super cool soundtrack. Go, go, Jan Hammer!
  • It is a cop show, so that means detective work, and mysteries to be solved.
  • It epitomizes the 80’s – style, music, mood, setting, attitudes – how classic is that?

Now, I could go on, but I won’t. I’ll spare everyone anymore shameless blather about this 80’s TV show. That’s right, I feel no shame. I’m a product of the 80’s, and damn proud of it!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Man in the High Castle

I recently had the pleasure of reading my first Philip K. Dick novel. I feel pretty secure in saying pleasure, even though I’m not entirely sure of my final reaction to the book. The Man in the High Castle is about an America in which FDR was assassinated in his first term and the Germans and Japan won World War II. Yet the novel isn’t entirely that simplistic, in fact, for perfectly postmodern shits and giggles, embedded in the novel is the story of a writer who lives in the neutral Rocky Mountain States who has written a highly controversial book about what the world would have been like had America and England been victorious. The book is a best seller, and of course banned on the German controlled East Coast, but the Japanese on West Coast don’t feel quite as threatened by it. The reactions of the different characters to this “novel” are varied and sometimes amusing – as one Pacific American muses how much worse things could have been.

There are a handful of characters representing various backgrounds in the novel and we get to know them well, in each case following them through a journey of sorts, some more intense than others. Dick does an excellent job following through with each character, and twisting the novel within the novel throughout the storyline. What starts to be a horrifying alternate reality ends up reflecting on the true modern world – mirroring back and forth and back and forth until the end, which I won’t spoil for anyone. Ultimately it is the ending I am unsure of – it will probably require a second reading for me to make up my mind on whether it is an ending of pure genius or a postmodern copout.

I like Dick’s writing style, although sometimes his predilection for succinctness irritates me. Not that he excludes anything necessary in his brevity, I just felt “cut off” now and then in this work – I want to see deeper, and he does not allow it. At any rate, I look forward to reading The Simulacra and eventually trying out more Dick novels.

Not that there's anything wrong with that

I like Rammstein. I think they have an old school Iggy Pop flavor, but in German, and slightly more intense (although I have to say I find old school Iggy Pop to be pretty damned intense). I don't necessarily have any problems with naked German men either, but honestly, if you are in the middle of a normal conversation when you see Rammstein's video for their song Mann gegen Mann for the first time, it is a bit unnerving to the extent that you might entirely lose your train of thought.

I'm just saying.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Writers make the best snark

I can't get over the beautifully written rant by Annie Proulx about the sad, staid Academy voters and the disappointment over the Best Picture award going to safe favorite Crash.

Sour grapes? Maybe a little bit. Bitter truth is more like it. Only a writer safely tucked away from the specious faces of the city of Angels can be supercilious in the face of a Hollywood snub. I know I am not the only one who agrees with her biting snark.

Thank you, Annie, for saying it for us.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Good luck, Belmont!

Just a cheer today for my alma mater's basketball team, the Belmont Bruins, who are playing their first NCAA match against the UCLA Bruins today.


UPDATE: A loss of 78-44 is not too shabby for Belmont's first trip to the tourney, especially against a team that is predicted by some sports enthusiasts to go to the Final Four. Congratulations, Belmont, on a job well done. Keep it up, and I won't be surprised to see y'all in the finals someday.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

America, a love letter

As I walk outside my senses are obscured. The sounds and voices I hear are familiar, but somehow strange. My sight is clouded, everything looks the same, but different. I can’t remember where I am, the blurred sights and sounds could place me anywhere. A child’s voice, laughing. A mother responding in kind. Car horns honking, traffic sounds. Dogs barking in the distance. Is it America?

My vision clears, my hearing sharpens. I do not recognize the language the people speak. The buildings aren’t as familiar as they seemed. The signs bear strange symbols, unfamiliar and daunting. This is not America. No, I am in Greece, but sometimes if I squint my eyes and dull my hearing I can imagine it is America. The generalities are the same. People work and play and shop and do what they can to survive and perhaps make life fun. The dogs bark the same, the children play the same. We all fear, love, and hate.

After nearly three and a half years in Greece, it seems I am always searching for America. Little pieces of it, here and there. Vast remembrances of things past, good days and bad, and everything I left behind. Life here is so similar, yet so different. How can that be? How can people be so similar and so different? And how can I stop looking for the shadow of an America long gone, one put behind me, no longer my future, forever my past?

I am proud to be American. I can still say that, I don’t feel a cowering Peter, forced to deny where I once belonged, even if I don’t belong anymore. My America is not the America of George Bush, or Bill Frist, or Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama. My America is not the America of tortured prisoners, tenuous civil rights, fractious tolerance, an America where women may lose the right to their bodies and gays are a gimmick for something in style. My America doesn’t care if you compare a president to a tyrant, a king to a leper, a nun to a whore. My America doesn’t take umbrage to things that offend it, or impose itself on the world. My America admits a lifetime of wrongs and celebrates a lifetime of successes. My America doesn’t spy on itself for selfish reasons. My America can’t be freeze-dried and packaged and sold to a hundred countries. My America is filled with faces that are happy and sad, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old, foolish and wise, Caucasian, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Indian. My America understands the meaning of freedom.

If we look hard enough we can see glimpses of this America all around us. This America will never die. It exists in the hearts and minds of millions of people. So I still imagine America around me, now and then, the reflection of it on the world around me. I feel it so close I could touch it, and then it vanishes to vapor around me. This America I miss.

This America I love.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Gimme a sign

After 15 years, the body of a buried Orthodox monk was found intact and undecayed. The bishop of the Fthiotida prefecture is calling it a "sign of God", although I am not entirely sure what the sign says, except maybe "why in the hell did you dig up this monk's body?" I know I wouldn't mind an answer to that question.

Supposedly the church is not intending to make the preserved monk, Vissarion Korkoliakos, a saint just yet, and they aren't calling for pilgrims to flock to the body. Apparently church officials were trying to play down the incident, and we all know flashing "signs of God" and calling in medical examiners are sure ways to keep something under wraps.

While I am certain, in my lack of faith, that there is a proper scientific explanation for the phenomenon, four doctors and the Athens coroner cannot adequately explain the preservation, and are calling it a unique case, which is doctor speak for "We have no friggin' idea."

Monday, March 13, 2006

The weirdest thing I've ever seen at McDonald's

Sure, they've had disastrous sandwiches through the years. Burritos, pizza, and in Greece, a "Greek" style sandwich.

But now they are offering a spring roll type thing, fresh on the Lenten menu for all the Greek Orthodox customers who are fasting. I'm not surprised, really, more Greeks than I'd expect take the fast quite seriously (as evidenced from all the fish smells coming from nearby apartments of late) and I suppose the fast food (no pun intended) restaurants have to keep up or lose a crucial number of customers over a six week period. But spring rolls? Really?

Admittedly, I had to try them, simply because I've been craving Asian fare and haven't had the opportunity in a long time (in other words, we haven't found a Chinese restaurant in Thessaloniki yet). They weren't bad, all things considered. But still, spring rolls, at McDonald's? Supposedly they are offering some sort of shrimp too. Um, not to be rude, but, there are plenty of places to get fresh seafood in Greece, I don't think we need to get our shrimp at McDonald's.

I guess I just never thought I'd see the day that McDonald's was anything but the burgers, fries, and McDonaldland cookies I used to love as a kid. I guess it is all about evolution.

Oh no, not reality again

I had one of those weekends where, by choice, I was blissfully unaware of what was going on in the world. A nuclear war could have erupted and I wouldn't have known about it, until it was too late, of course.

I'm one of those people who gets addicted to news, but after a certain amount of time can't handle it anymore. Perhaps I take things too seriously sometimes. Who knows. I'll go through stages where I'm all about the news, all the time, and then suddenly, no news for days. Couldn't care less about the news. The news pretty much always sucks, anyway.

Instead, my husband and I watched Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which was, surprisingly, much better than I expected, although apparently not following the true story it is based on much), and various miscellaneous crap (but enjoyable crap). I finished The Robots of Dawn, baked an apple pie, and made homemade pizza.

All in all, it was a pretty damn good weekend, despite the rainy weather.

But now...back to the news.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Only in the E.U.

Irishman Tommy Savage was convicted on charges of criminal involvement for smuggling four (4!) tons (TONS!) of cannabis into Greece from the Netherlands in 1997.

Guess what his sentence is?

5 years.

Sure, he could only be tried as an accomplice due to lack of evidence, even though they are sure he masterminded the operation. In America (well, Tennessee, as state laws are different) he would have to pay taxes on it, have all his property seized, and would probably get a nice hefty sentence. I've heard of people who received upwards of 20 years for possession, but that might be a myth to scare people off drugs. But you can bet your bottom dollar someone in America accused of smuggling four tons of cannabis wouldn't end up with a 5 year sentence. No, they would probably get life in prison. Hell, some particularly ruthless states might go for the death penalty.

I do know one thing. If marijuana was legal, no one would have to smuggle four tons of it anywhere. But I suppose that is a whole other post.

Murder and Mennonites

On the literary front recently I finished In Cold Blood and A Complicated Kindness. In Cold Blood had been on my list for years and years, and the release of the movie Capote finally nudged me to go get a copy (mainly because I wanted to avoid the inevitable spoilers that might come my way). I am not sure how A Complicated Kindness ended up on my list, but I’m not sorry it did.

In Cold Blood is a mesmerizing, well-written tale about the brutal murder of a farmer’s family in Kansas in 1959 that focuses on the two young men who committed the homicide. What is especially amazing about this book is the tenderness in which Capote writes about the two killers, almost endearing the reader to them. Capote does not deny their guilt or the brutality of their crime, but his enlightening look into the minds and backgrounds of the murderers brings a humanity to them that is unexpected. The story also opens up a dialogue about capital punishment, but I felt it was presented without any sort of judgment or bias from the author.

A Complicated Kindness is set in a Mennonite community in Canada and is told from the point of view of a Mennonite teenager, stunned by the disappearance of her mother. The story is tragic yet funny at times, and the girl’s pain and loss is deeply felt by the reader. Not being familiar with Mennonites I cannot speak to the authenticity of the community represented in the novel, however, it is seems to be a community torn by its strict adherence to the religious rules of their sect. The main characters – the teen and her father – are richly written and quite disturbed, yet somehow the girl manages a glimmer of hope, or at the very least, acceptance.

Right now I am reading The Robots of Dawn to satisfy my increasing robot/scifi fetish. Who knows where I will end up from there.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I'm sorry, I thought this was America

A high school social studies teacher in Colorado was put on paid leave after comparing Bush's State of the Union speech to speeches Adolf Hitler made. The Cherry Creek School District put him on leave pending an inquiry as to whether he violated a policy requiring that "balancing viewpoints be presented in class".

A student apparently taped part of the 50 minute lecture and sent the tape, representing about 20 minutes of the lecture, to a Denver radio station.

On the recording, Bennish told the students that some of Bush's speech "sounds a lot like the things that Adolf Hitler used to say. We're the only ones who are right, everyone else is backwards and our job is to conquer the world and make sure that they all live just like we want them to."

Later in the recording, Bennish said he was not claiming Bush and Hitler were the same, "but there are some eerie similarities to the tones that they use."

This is a valid reason to put a teacher on leave? Because he told his class that there were similarities to the speeches? My economics teacher at Hume-Fogg used to make political cracks all the time, no one thought anything of it. Are we saying that today, in America, social studies and history teachers can't bring up criticisms or comparisons of the current administration with anything that happened in the past, without facing criticism, forced leave, and perhaps dismissal?

I do think it is a valid method of teaching to draw comparisons, and allow students to think about those comparisons and whether or not they agree. This is how we form opinions, after all. Sure, the comparison was against one of the most evil men of the 20th century (second only to Montgomery Burns, I'm sure), but if the comparison fits for this teacher's purposes, so be it.

I know, I know. Plenty of people will say "but these types of things shouldn't be presented in the classroom". Why not? Are we not allowed to discuss current politics in the classroom anymore?
Are we not allowed to discuss Hitler? Can we not compare Hitler to Stalin? FDR to Lincoln? Clinton to Bart Simpson? (I am not making actual comparisons of these people, by the way, I am just throwing things out there)

As these types of cases creep their way into American life, I have to wonder if it is the beginning of something bigger, of something worse. To the final loss of privacy, freedom of speech, and all the things America holds dear - or used to hold dear. Perhaps it is simply liberal overreaction.

I pray that is the case.

UPDATE: Here is a transcript of what was on the tape. I read over it and I still don't see a discussion any different than any discussion that I had in class in high school. The teacher repeatedly states that he just wants the kids to think about these things. In the end, saying that a teacher can't say these things about American politics is like the Japanese saying they can't teach their students about the Chinese/Japanese wars and whatnot. I don't care who you are, you can't avoid some sort of bias in a teacher. And if this teacher was gloriously praising Bush and everything else, none of this would even be an issue. It would all be ok. And if a liberal minded kid taped that discussion and took it home and a parent complained, well, it would be just a bunch of liberals crying over nothing.

Also, was it a Social Studies class, or a simple World Geography class? If it was just geography, ie. locations, captials, populations, exports/imports - then perhaps the discussion was not warranted, although I don't think it should have resulted in him being forced to take leave. I do find it hard to believe, however, that a high school has a simple geography class, without delving into the historical, social, cultural, and political aspects of each country.

EDIT: Julie O. at her site They Get Letters has lots of good information about this case.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Blog Against Sexism

In honor of International Women's Day, Vegankid is hosting Blog Against Sexism Day. This is my offering.

Whenever I went out to eat with a male friend, it was inevitable that the waiter or waitress would set the check down in front of my friend. Sure, occasionally it would occur that the server decided to put it in a neutral position in the middle of the table, but for the most part the check ended up in front of my male companion. This action is rather benign, all things considered, but it works well to illustrate the sexism that runs rampant in American society, among men and women. A non-sexist society would always opt for the neutral placement of the check, but nope, not in America. People still assume the man is paying.

This example, of course, is not a blatant example of discrimination between the sexes. It is rather trivial, something easily corrected, although I always had to laugh if I used my credit card with my name on it and the resulting credit slip was still placed before the man.

Growing up, I would have barely recognized the difference between boys and girls if it weren’t for the common “games” kids play at a young age, revealing the physiological aspects of their different gender. My parents raised me to think that no matter what, I could do or be whatever I wanted. They didn’t force feed feminist ways or ideals into my head, they just ignored normal distinctions between the sexes. Sure, my mother wanted me to wear pretty dresses now and then, but she didn’t argue too much when I preferred pants and tshirts. So when I said I wanted to grow up to be Carl Sagan, neither of them said “but you can’t, because he is a male” or “wouldn’t you prefer to be a teacher, or a nurse?” No, instead my parents said, “well, then go be Carl Sagan.”

Ok, so I didn’t end up anything like Carl Sagan, aside from a propensity for science fiction, the search for intelligent life and a love of χορτo. It is irrelevant, however, because in my mind, had I followed that path, there would have been nothing that could stop me. While I am glad that parents raised me without seeing my gender as a limiting force, I blame them for not preparing me for what I would meet in the “real world”.

I wrote before, in a post on racism, about one of my first jobs, and my misogynistic boss. This was perhaps my first real encounter with sexism.

In my sophomore year of college I started working as a dispatcher for my college security department. The department was crawling with current and ex-military men, most of them misogynistic, several of them racist, and only a couple of them well educated. The director of security at the time (he is no longer the director and is now in fact, deceased) was himself ex-military and ignorant of mind. One of his favorite “jokes” was to laugh and say “a woman can become a patrol officer when she can piss in a cup from 6 feet away”. Now, how he actually thought a man could piss in a cup from 6 feet away is beyond me, because most of the patrol officers couldn’t even seem to aim for the toilet in the single department bathroom. This was not the only “limitation” he saw in a woman’s abilities. This man was misogynistic to the core, and felt that a woman could either be a housewife, a secretary (his assistant director was female, but she did all his dirty work, and ended up essentially a well paid secretary), a teacher or a nurse. He’d occasionally joke that women could be prostitutes and strippers as well but only if they were “stacked” and had nice bodies. He’d scoff at women students, saying he didn’t know why they bothered going to school. He was a real piece of work.

There were times that I couldn’t believe the words that came out of his mouth. Not only that, I couldn’t believe that the other officials found him amusing and even provided their own sexist comments. At one point there were only three women working there, and while I wouldn’t say anything stooped as low as sexual harassment, we certainly had to deal with a bevy of jokes in poor taste and other insults towards women. Why did we take it? I suppose because we knew that in the end, we were better than these men. We were educated, intelligent women and we weren’t going to let insensitive comments from troglodytes get us down.

In theory, I understand why women are considered the “weaker” sex, not able to do all the same things men can do. It boils down to one thing – pregnancy. Men have to protect their progeny, and the women carrying their progeny. But when you consider that most of us are only pregnant for a fraction of our life span, it just doesn’t add up. Sure, some women aren’t as strong as men. But some are stronger. Intelligence is a grab bag, based on many factors such as genetics, education, environment. I can’t think of anything that men can do that a woman can’t, aside from producing sperm. Yet still some women are paid less than men for doing the same job. Women are underrepresented in the sciences. Women lose out on law partnerships, corporate executive positions, and tenured professorships. Women are still traded as sex slaves in countries all over the world. And women are increasingly losing their right to choose an abortion.

This is not to say that sexism against men does not exist. Male nurses are often laughed at, male secretaries ridiculed. Men still bear the pressure of providing, and ignominy if they can’t provide, even if their wives provide well enough. The bottom line is that until we start to look past the lines that delineate male and female and start accepting the strengths and weaknesses of individuals rather than genders, we can hardly call ourselves civilized people. As long as we continue working towards civilization, there is hope.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


I love that a German court has banned a screening of a film about the German "cannibal" Armin Meiwes, on the grounds that he has the right not to become the subject of a horror film.

It is nice to know that you can get suspended from school just for viewing a website. I realize the content was questionable, even dangerous, but really. It just serves as another example of America's declining freedom.

Babies are apparently quite eager to help adults, as this study found that babies as young as 18 months show signs of altruistic behavior. Don't try to trick the babies though - they are too smart for that.

Big Brother is alive and well and scheduled for an appearance at a Metro Nashville park near you. Ostensibly, this program is meant to curb illicit sexual behavior in the parks. What they don't realize is people who engage in illicit sexual behavior of this kind will especially appreciate the presence of cameras. In a common show of insouciance by the American public, one parkgoer claimed "If it eliminates the problem, makes the park safe, I guess that's part of being an American in the 21st century. You have to give up some of your rights." Americans just keep bending over, don't they?

Greece has been accused of dozens of illegal car seizures from foreigners visiting the country. Visitors to Greece have six months before they have to register their foreign cars in Greece, supposedly the seizures only occur once that six months has elapsed. However, many foreign visitors are claiming that is not the case, and they have been fined and their cars seized without cause. I'm not sure what the truth is, but the Greek government has to make up for lost income somehow, right?

Fred Phelps and his congregation of inbred family members just can't stay away from protesting the funerals of dead soldiers. I'm still trying to figure out why Mr. Phelps thinks America supports homosexuality, especially when so many people are doing what they can to make sure gay marriage stays illegal. Phelps maintains that you can't preach the gospel without talking about the hatred of God. Nice religion. It looks like Reverend Phelps has a good old fashioned war on his hands, with hundreds of bikers showing up at funerals to offset the Phelpsian protesters. And mama told me not to go off with guys on motorcycles.

A lesbian at Hood College in Maryland has won the title of Homecoming King. Yes I said king. Now, while generally speaking I don't have problems with such things, I don't think it is really fair for a lesbian who isn't in the process of gender transition to try to take on roles such as homecoming king. A lesbian can still be a lesbian and be queen.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I live in the wrong time zone

So, I stayed up til 7am to watch the Oscars last night. I blame it on Jon Stewart, who did a fabulous job as host and should be asked back next year, although I am not sure the Hollywood audience appreciated him enough. Only Jon Stewart and his team could create campaign ads for leading actress. Only Jon Stewart could wake up in bed with George Clooney. We love ya, Jon.

As to the winners, meh. I am quite happy for Reese Witherspoon, but the rest I have no opinions about, since I haven't seen any of the movies yet. I'm not entirely sure the pimp song deserved the Oscar after hearing all the songs, but none of the songs were really that spectacular. Sorry, Dolly.

The real award should go to Jennifer Garner, who recovered gracefully from a near dive when walking out on stage. Not to mention she is looking great after "recovering" from giving birth.

While we were all sleeping off the glamour of Hollywood's big night, the governor of South Dakota signed new legislation banning nearly all abortions in his state. The only legal abortions would be those that save a woman's life. Ironically, most abortions do seem to save a woman's life, in one way or another. It is a stark reminder that despite all the pioneering efforts made in film to spread the message of tolerance and human rights, the U.S. is still taking steps backwards.

EDIT: Christ, now I read that Tennessee is bringing up a bill that would basically alter the language of the Tennessee Constitution to say that it doesn't "secure or protect the right to an abortion or require the funding of abortion". What is happening to my country?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

By what virtue fame

As I wade through entertainment news and all the stories about who is progressing in every reality show, I solemnly realize one thing – fame has become a virtue in the 21st century Western world. Everyone seems to desire it in one way or another – from participating in a reality show to divulging secrets of the stars - fame, or at least 15 minutes of it, appears to be a driving force in human lives. People can even become famous for doing virtually nothing, as in the case of dear old Paris Hilton, along with a bevy of reality show “stars” who whore their way around in an effort to be “the last one standing”. To be fair, at least the folks on shows like American Idol must sing for their supper, so their fame is won by their talents.

At first I found this whole idea distasteful. How shallow and superficial are the virtues of fame, how empty, devoid of soul. But then I had to wonder how different is this fame from that of the ancient Greeks, who won their fame by honor and glory in battle, by being strong and resourceful leaders, by building a powerful nation? Is it unfair for me to pass opprobrious judgment on today’s standard of fame while glorifying that of the ancients?

Obviously, today we value different things than what the Greek ancestors valued. We aren’t building civilizations here, hell, we aren’t even maintaining civilizations. We live in a society that seems to value the prettiest over the smartest, we suffer day in and day out in our dour, dull lives, and thus, our entertainment, our pleasure, must be beautiful. Yet we derive enjoyment from seeing people just like us frolicking about on television, we revel in a world where anyone can be famous. We fight wars for dubious reasons, there is no code of ethics there, no honor, no expectation. Yet the virtues of the ancients aren’t necessary to maintain today’s society – or are they? Sure, our world can’t be made up of individual city-states with men who are allied together in the event that someone snubs their honor. If honor is at stake today, well, we just pretty much have to grin and bear it. Sure, there is always a guy somewhere willing to step up for his girl, but our society isn’t based on protecting and maintaining honor. I daresay our society is based on protecting and maintaining dishonor, for as long as you can get away with it.

Of course, I can’t say I want to go back to ancient times, when most women were relegated to motherhood and housekeeping, and wars were deadly and frequent. But I sure would like to live in a world that didn’t admire such a shallow and superficial fame so much. It is ok to be dazzled and interested in fame, but to hold it to the high regard we seem to hold it today is a bit unwarranted. It is sad to think that today’s Pericles earns his fame by winning a talent show – and on that note the tensile thread of civilization snaps and breaks, the remnants blowing away in the Saharan wind.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

In which I am actually looking forward to the Oscars

For the first time in a brazilian years I am looking forward to the Oscars. Not because I am hyped about the movies that are up for awards. Not because I love the actors and actresses involved (ok, ok, I am SO rooting for Reese Witherspoon, because I think she is a great actress, not to mention a Nashville girl, and us Nashville girls gotta stick together). Not because I love seeing stars dressed up in their finest attire (ok, so I like that just a little bit, especially when someone wears something really atrocious).

No, I am looking forward to the Oscars this year because of the fantabulous Jon Stewart. I can't think of a better Oscar host. And I really hope he isn't too toned down for the Oscars, although I know he can't be like he is on The Daily Show. Or can he?

Sure, it will be on at 3am here, but they will repeat it again at 9pm on Monday. I'll have to do my best to avoid watching any news or reading any blogs before I watch it Monday, although I'll probably still be awake at 3am tomorrow night. Still, the stupid Greek announcer person will be talking all over everything because they won't have had time to subtitle it yet. I don't want anything interrupting my Jon Stewart.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Let me take you down...

Strawberry season has officially begun in Greece. We had our first shortcake a few nights ago - the strawberries were ok, but still not quite ripe.

Today, we got some more fresh strawberries that look FANTASTIC. Rich red, ripe, sweet, gigantic. Genetics are definitely on their side, and soon, they will be in our bellies. Someday we will have a digital camera so I can actually produce proof of such fabulous things, but perhaps it is good we don't. It might make some folks jealous.

Strawberry fields forever.

In which I thought I knew what I was doing

I’ve been progressing well, but slowly, in learning Greek. It is a good pace for me, since sitting and memorizing crap nonstop makes me want to poke my eyes out in an Oedipal rage. Now I realize that some things will need to be memorized, but looking at lists of endings and conjugations and pronouns is akin to looking at some kind of weird modern art, I just don’t get it. It is much easier to learn by practice, and when you see something enough you began to memorize it without really thinking about it.

I’ve been feeling pretty cocky lately as I realize I’m finally getting the hang of it. Remembering how to spell everything for my “quizzes” is much easier when you realize what endings are required for nouns and verbs and whatnot. As I prepared my “homework” for today’s lesson I felt good. I was declining nouns (is that what you say, decline nouns? I’m pretty sure you don’t conjugate them) and knew all my endings and was prepared for my lesson. Imagine my horror when reciting proudly to my mother-in-law and she looked at me sadly and said “no, I’m sorry, that’s not correct.” $*(%*!(%$)#$(#! irregular words. Irregular nouns and verbs should die in a fire.

My confidence shaken, I proceeded to recite the rest of the lesson carefully, suddenly unsure of myself again. Picking up on my distress, my mother-in-law looked at me and said “Is ok. Greek grammar…is difficult. Eh. It will come”.

She is right. It will come. But I still have a long road ahead.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What a marriage must endure

My husband and I disagree about many things, but we bear these disagreements well. Abortion, capital punishment, religion - our opinions are completely antipodal on these matters, yet it doesn't interfere with our happy home.

There is one debate, however, that threatens to sever the marital ties forever: whether or not Mr. Big is right for Carrie on Sex and the City. Yes, yes, I know, the series has come and gone, but somehow this little argument just keeps popping up (probably from watching early episodes of Law and Order). I think Mr. Big is a bad, bad man, and that Carrie should have stuck with Aiden. My husband thinks he is perfect for Carrie, in fact he has gone so far as to suggest that Mr. Big and Carrie are exactly the same type of person. Pfffft. I should have known, really, since he likes Mr. Sloan on Alias.

Still, the vows were for better or for worse, and I suppose I can live with this Mr. Big loving man.
But it shall forever be a test of my patience, and our TV watching will never be the same. Never.