Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The last one




There is a cartoon on Facebook – two aliens in a flying saucer looking down at earth way beneath them where it would seem all hell has broken out and the one is saying to the other, “As far as I can tell they’re fighting over which religion is the most peaceful.”
 This dear loyal readers and others is my last Blog. I have written almost 800 of them and it seems to me my choice of subjects is extremely limited; limited that is to what, as Frank Moque would say, the subjects that cause me to ‘rant yet again.’ By the way Frank, congratulations on becoming a Chelsea Pensioner.
Chris said to me the other day, why don’t I write about pleasant things, nice things, instead of mounting my soap box and gong on ad nauseum, but life isn’t about all things bright and beautiful as that rather stupid hymn says ignoring, as it does, nature red in tooth and claw and assorted horrors, and every day new stories emerge for me to have another rant over, the things about which I feel so strongly; man’s cupidity, stupidity, cruelty, ignorance and superstition in myth, mystery and magic, and the problem of over population and the destruction of the world’s natural resources. There you go, count them on the fingers of one hand. Looking back I find basically that is it. There are exceptions of course but they would appear to be few and far between. So…
What for example to you make of a fourteen year old girl being shot because she wanted to be educated? What is the religious mind-set behind this viciousness or is it merely a question of power? What do you make of albinos in Africa being murdered for their body parts to make magic muti? What do you make of the slaughter of elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns, the first for money, the second in the belief that they have magical medicinal powers? What do you make of the decimation of that wonderful creature the gorilla for bush-meat? What do you make of small children being raped in the belief that it is a cure for AIDS? What do you make of gays being tortured and murdered by vigilantes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan? What do you make of Protestant versus Catholic in Northern Ireland? Or Shia versus Sunni in the Middle East? Or the Israel/Palestinian problem? The hatred that engenders? What d you make of American fundamentalists who believe everything in the Bible and deny evolution despite all the proof to the contrary? What do you make of Islamists in Mali destroying ancient shrines as being idolatrous but, worse, buying young boys to become soldiers and destroying families’ lives? Or extremists in Libya destroying Sufi shrines? Or Coptic Christians in Egypt being attacked for their religion? What do you make of Sharia law with its executions, flaying, amputating, flogging? What do you make of Ghana’s witch-camps were women accused of witchcraft are forced to live the rest of their lives in virtual imprisonment? What do you make of a teenage Maldivian girl being sentenced to a hundred lashes for having sex with an older man?
So it goes on and on and on and (except for the elephants and rhinos) we haven’t even touched on the subject of money or remembered the horrors of the past.
As far as the problem of population is concerned let us consider just one country, Uganda. In 1960 the population stood at 6.8 million. In 2010 it reached 33.4 million and it is estimated that by 2060 it will have exploded to 112.6 million. Can the earth really sustain this kind of growth?
So, as it used to be said in old Hollywood travelogues, “as the sun sinks slowly in the west we say farewell to…” In this instance not a place visited but a Blogger read. There will be no more.
Thank you for being with me so long.    Glyn.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The downside





The downside. Even paradise has to have some disadvantages. Who wants to spend eternity listening to ruffled feathers, hallelujahs and everlasting twanging harps? So – Firstly, corruption. This is a real bugbear but is Greece any different from anywhere else? Name me a country free of corruption. Even communist countries, China, Vietnam, are grappling with it. Don’t know about North Korea but who knows anything much about that strange Alice in Wonderland. In South Africa it now seems to be a cause for murder. A great deal of the aid donated by richer countries to the poorer ends up in individual offshore bank accounts, or possibly returns to the country of origin in the shape of extremely expensive property purchases. Perhaps the difference with Greece is that it is a way of life, affecting not only the high and mighty, but the lowly. It is called the fakelos – the envelope – and the fakelos will expedite things and solve your little problem in a flash. But there again, is Greece all that different? I remember in Liberia I wanted to make a telephone call to London and all attempts from the hotel were a waste of time – sorry, sir, all lines are busy. So I had to go down to the exchange, slip the operator a bung and was through in seconds. There will be a cure for the common cold before corruption is finally defeated.
Greece borrowed a great deal of money from Germans bankers. What was the money for? To purchase warplanes, helicopters, tanks, submarines, none of which the country wanted or needed. How were Siemens, Krupps and any other supplier paid? With their own money of course; which leaves Greece paying a great deal of interest. And why were these expensive and unnecessary items ordered in the first place? Well, I don’t know how true it is but the story goes that the German manufacturers supplied certain Greek individuals involved with quite substantial bribes. That, if true, as it very well maybe, is corruption on a grand scale.
So what other drawbacks are there? Litter! It seems Greeks simply do not care how they littler their streets and their beautiful countryside. It is a gigantic problem. The authorities do there best to counter the positive tsunami of litter and fly-tipping, but again it would appear to be a hopeless battle. In Athens the bins are cleared every night and even here on Crete our bins are emptied twice a week. Before the advent of the supermarket and mass packaging the problem was not so acute as most of the rubbish the Cretans discarded was biodegradable. The tourist season doubles the problem of course and so has the influx of expats over their last five or so years. On an island where and how do you get rid of all that rubbish? But it is not just litter. I know I’ve ranted on about this before but the graffiti is everywhere and appalling and is sheer unsightly vandalism. But again what city escapes this mindless crap? There are street artists of course but that is a different thing altogether and their work can brighten up an otherwise dull environment.
Smoking. Greeks are tobacco addicts and for the most part in many enclosed places are taking absolutely no notice of the law on smoking.
Unemployment. Because of the depression over the last few years, made even more acute by Greece’s debts and the savings demanded by the bankers, it is reckoned that 50% of those under 25 are unemployed. In the IKA building in Souda where I go for my monthly lung check-up, just inside the main doors there is an area behind a counter and glass partition where five girls were employed. One of their jobs was to make future appointments with the various doctors and apartments. Last week the office was empty and Doctor Vulgarides informed us they had been told one night to leave and not come back.  I always felt IKA was overstaffed but multiply that by every IKA office and what do you get? These girls are hardly likely in the current climate to find work elsewhere. They are now unemployed, on the dole, not paying any tax, and what does this do to for the overstretched Greek economy? Appointments are now made by telephone.
The big problem is the antiquated system of bureaucracy. Despite the use of computers everything is still also written out by hand in ledgers that could have come out of a Dickens novel and everything is copied and copied and copied and goes from one department to another to be approved and stamped. Greece uses as much paper in a week as would take the Brazilian rain forest years to replace.
Taxes – the less said about the Greek tax system the better. Even the taxman doesn’t understand it and the rules seem to change on a weekly basis. It would take a Blog by itself to try and navigate the maze. Everyone in Greece has a tax number and you can’t lift a finger or twitch a muscle but the taxman wants to know about it though people, especially professionals, have been getting away with murder for years. Like doctors whose returns are put at 12000euro when in fact their income is probably closer to 50000. Every financial transaction according to law requires a certifiable receipt. Pull the other one. Let me just say finally that the system militates against any form of entrepreneurship. Friends bought a small hotel in Georgeopoli and were busy renovating (spending a lot of money in the process) ready for their first season when they were landed with a tax demand for 3000euro. Why? When they hadn’t even opened and started to earn? That’s the law. Someone else told us the other day that she was tired and would like to close her business but couldn’t afford to as, if she did, she would immediately be landed with a tax bill of 10000euro. See what I mean? Why? It’s the law.
Rip-off merchants. Taxi drivers seem to come in for the most flak here but, again I ask, is Greece any different from anywhere else? Douglas and I were well and truly ripped off by a taxi driver in Italy.

Can the politicians of the EU really be so blind as not to see that the way they are going about things is wrong wrong wrong? In Xania, two of the main tourist shopping streets are devastated. In one thirteen shops have closed and in the other fourteen. Again I ask what does this do for the Greek economy.
Well, I suppose there is nothing new about this situation. Other countries (including Germany I might add) have experienced exactly the same circumstances before now and pulled themselves out of the mire. I am sure Greece will do the same.
There is a very old folk song (these songs are called rebetika) the song is ‘Greece will never die’ and I firmly believe that to be true.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Greece




It occurred to me that some women who reach the apex of political power bring down upon themselves either distrust, ridicule, or downright hatred. There are a great many women leaders, presidents or prime ministers one never, or hardly ever, hears of; but here I am thinking in particular of the giants, Mrs Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, What got me thinking on these lines was Lewis rushing to the defence of Gauleiter Merkel who, as head of the troika, has certainly earned for herself the distrust if not the hatred of the Greeks. Whatever her true feelings are towards Greece she gives, and has in turn always given the distinct impression that she hates Greece and the Greek people. Of course I don’t personally know the woman and I can only go by the news I receive via the media. If I do her a disservice I can only apologise. Her quick visit to Greece was not received quietly.
Maybe she’s a wee bit worried that Germany will at last be called upon to make just reparations for the horrors of the occupation in WW2, Greece being the only occupied country that has never received compensation.
But let us try and get rid of some of the fallacies about Greece that seem to circulate in the outlook of people and the media of Germany, the UK, and others further afield. Having lived here for sixteen years and loving the country I am sometimes totally gobsmacked at the stories that circulate in the international press.

1) Greece is a third world country. Wrong. Greece might be bankrupt but it is far too cultured to ever be considered a third world country, not in any sense.

2) Greece, Athens in particular, is dangerous. When Athens hosted the Olympic Games (hardly the effort of a third world country) I am led to believe Australian newspapers advised their readers not to go because of the danger they would face as though Greece was some sort of Afghanistan.  They thus robbed the event of many a potential visitor. Athens, until fairly recently, was a city in which one never felt threatened (except for pickpockets, the bane of any large city) and we have never felt threatened there in any way. I have felt threatened in London, in Glasgow, in Leeds, in Manchester, in Liverpool, in Bradford, but never in Athens. Unfortunately times have changed with the advent of so much hardship which has led to an increase in crime but that was inevitable and the city is still possibly one of the safest on earth.

3) Greek food is oily and the choice is limited. Nonsense. The Mediterranean diet has been proved to be the healthiest and, as for variety, I have tasted some of the most delicious lip-smacking tongue-tingling food in restaurants here. Agreed tourist restaurants all do seem to have the same menu but not all restaurants are tourist orientated.        

4) Greeks demonstrate and riot at the drop of a hat. Well, didn’t I hear about some pretty hefty rioting in the UK recently? And countries like France also seem prone to this phenomenon. Rioting has been going on for centuries and the Greeks are no better or worse than anyone else. Think of the most recent rioting in Bangladesh. Also, although the news gives a completely different impression, when rioting does take place it is confined to a very small area and except for the wanton damage caused to buildings and businesses in that area, no one in their right senses has to be involved or affected by it.

5) This one is the humdinger. Greeks are the laziest people on earth. This just couldn’t be further from the truth. Greeks are the hardest working.  In order to make ends meet many have two or more jobs and work hours that British workman would riot over if expected to do the same. And, talking of hard work, try joining in the olive harvest. I tried it for one day and it nearly killed me.

It is highly unfortunate and uncalled for that UK banks and newspapers put out these stories: don’t holiday in Greece, you won’t be able to get your money out of the bank, there is a food shortage, etcetera, all if it total nonsense but it has meant that Greece, relying as it does to some extent on tourism, has seen the figures this year down by something like 20%.  That’s a great help in bad times. Everyone suffers as a result. Thanks a lot.

Okay, so okay, what is the downside? Next time.v

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Taking offence





It would seem Muslims are not the only ones to take offence at anything they consider derogatory to their religion. Christians ain’t that far behind. Admittedly they don’t go in for mob violence so much but it still doesn’t take a lot to light the fuse. In Pakistan an eleven year old retarded girl was in danger of her life from the mob until protected because they accused her of blasphemy. Now a Greek man has been arrested accused of “malicious blasphemy and insulting religion.” He was arrested by the cybercrime police. What was his blasphemy? On Facebook he took a dig at a deceased Orthodox monk. Under the Greek penal code anyone who publicly and maliciously blasphemes God or the Orthodox Church or any other religion tolerated in Greece can be imprisoned for up to two years. Have the cybercrime police nothing better to do? And how do you blaspheme God if you don’t believe in God?
US nuns, who have come under fire from the Vatican, say they will hold further talks with church leaders but will not "compromise their mission". The Vatican has said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (?) violated church teaching on birth control and homosexuality, among other issues. Church officials have appointed three US bishops to oversee and overhaul of their organisation. "Dialogue on doctrine is not going to be our starting point," Sister Farrell said. "Our starting point will be about our own life and about our understanding of religious life." A Vatican report accused the nuns of adopting "certain radical feminist themes". The nuns, who say they have been unjustly criticised, returned to the US from Rome at the end of the talks to decide what to do next. They know they have the support of many ordinary Catholics in the US, who have been organising vigils outside churches. After the report was released, there were protests outside the Vatican embassy in Washington, and over a hundred members of the US Congress sponsored a resolution to commend the nuns for their service. Just as well the Inquisition no longer exists – or does it?
A theatre in the south Russian city of Rostov has dropped a production of Jesus Christ Superstar after protests by Orthodox Christians. A Russian company was due to stage the rock opera at the Rostov Philharmonic this month. Protesters had complained the opera projected the "wrong" image of Christ. News of the cancellation baffled members of the cast and caused indignation among commentators wary of Church interference in public life.
Local Russian Orthodox protesters lodged their complaint with prosecutors in Rostov-on-Don, citing a "new law protecting the rights of believers", they described the musical as a "profanation" and said any such production should be submitted to the Russian Orthodox Church for approval. It is unclear to which law the protesters were referring. The lower house of the Russian parliament is currently considering a bill which would make it a crime to offend the "religious feelings of citizens." Religious sensitivities became a real political issue in Russia this year with the prosecution and jailing of three punk musicians, from the band Pussy Riot, for performing a political protest song inside a Moscow cathedral. (You have to admit that was rather asking for trouble.)
The award-winning rock opera has been performed across the world, with several film versions produced. Russian theatres have been staging it for more than two decades.
You really do have to be careful as to what you post on Facebook. Back to the mob. Muslims protesters have attacked Buddhist villages in Bangladesh after an image said to show a burnt Koran was posted. Witnesses said angry crowds set fire to homes and temples in the Cox's Bazar district, forcing families to flee. The man accused of posting the image is in protective custody. Police say he was tagged in the photo but did not post it himself. Buddhists in the area said their possessions were stolen before their homes were destroyed.
"Before they set fire to my home, they looted everything," a resident said. "They took our possessions, money, gold and even computers. Then they torched the house. I am now living under open sky."
Hundreds of protesters are said to have rampaged through Buddhist neighborhoods, smashing statues, burning down monasteries and attacking houses. The violence spread to the outskirts of the port city of Chittagong, where a Hindu temple was also attacked.
Well, well, who would have believed it? What will the religious get up to next?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sects




Some quaint or interesting snippets about sects.
Four members of a breakaway Muslim sect in Russia's Tatarstan region have been charged with cruelty against children for allegedly keeping them underground. Police discovered 27 children and 38 adults living in catacomb-like cells in an eight-level underground bunker. The sect's elderly leader, Faizrakhman Sattarov, had reportedly wanted to build his own Islamic caliphate beneath the ground. The sect was uncovered during an investigation into recent attacks on Muslim clerics in Tatarstan, a mainly Muslim region on the River Volga. According to the Russian website ‘Islam News,’ Mr. Sattarov, 83, in the mid-1960s, after interpreting sparks from a trolleybus cable as a divine light from, God declared himself an Islamic prophet.
Nineteen under-age children were removed by the Russian authorities. Officials said the children, aged between one and 17 years, had never left the compound, gone to school or been treated by a doctor, and had rarely seen the light of day. Sattarov and his followers began to shun the outside world. Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the community to work as traders at a local market. (And presumably to do the shopping with the money they made. After all, even a prophet has to eat.)
The cramped cells descend on eight levels under a decrepit, three-storey brick house on a 700 sq m (7,530 sq ft) plot of land. The house was built illegally and will be demolished, local police were quoted as saying. What were the toilet facilities I wonder? A prophet has to evacuate his bowels and empty his bladder like everybody else.
Members of an Amish breakaway group in Ohio have been found guilty of hate crimes for forcibly cutting the beards and hair of community members. The 16 defendants - six women and 10 men, including four sons of Samuel Mullet the leader face 10 years or more in jail over the incidents, prompted by a dispute over religious differences. Prosecutors said the victims' hair was cut because it has spiritual significance in the Amish faith. Defence lawyers argued the attacks did not amount to hate crimes but were incidents of internal family disputes. It’s a long long story involving violence and oddball punishments like men being forced to sleep in chicken coops and it only becomes more and more ridiculous.
Back to the main stream: Roman Catholic priests have read out a letter from the leader of the Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, in each of the Church's parishes in Scotland, criticising the Scottish government for plans to introduce gay marriage, trying, as he puts it to change what he considers to be the only legitimate definition of marriage - the lifelong union of a man and a woman. The letter also announces the launch of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family to co-ordinate a campaign against gay marriage. It says: "We reaffirm before you all the common wisdom of humanity and the revealed faith of the Church that marriage is a unique life-long union of a man and a woman." In March, Cardinal O'Brien described gay marriage as a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right". This from a celibate (and what could be more unnatural than that?) of whom one has to ask if he has ever been in love, ever been one to one close to another human being rather, than his idea of god and his Christian beliefs, right or wrong?
The operative words above are ‘common wisdom of humanity.’ Boy, does that cover a wide field, there simply ain’t no such animal and, if you don’t believe me, comment on this Blog, analyzing ‘common wisdom’ and telling me exactly what it is. Then there is ‘the revealed faith of the church’ and ‘universally accepted human right,’ both statements as invalid as ‘human wisdom.’ And finally ‘life-long’ which these days doesn’t seem to amount to diddly-squat with a great many as the divorce courts will testify.
What the good cardinal fails to understand is that marriage was not created by Judeo-Christianity or Islam. It existed long before, as did same sex marriage which was, for example, quite common in Rome or so I am led to believe, and Greece? Where even if it wasn’t called marriage per se it did consist of and was accepted as the union of two of the same sex.
It all boils down to ignorance fear and hatred of which ignorance is probably the worst.v

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Filming




Well who would have believed it? This is Blog number 550. I don’t know how many good folk read them, probably no more than a handful, but I write them for my pleasure if nothing else, even if I haven’t really anything worthwhile to say. Douglas says one day he is going to edit them. Well, his task just grows bigger and bigger especially if I should reach 600!
I have at last joined Facebook (or have I already mentioned this?) and my list of friends grows and grows. I am quite amazed how many from more than twenty odd years ago have been in touch. It does seem to me though that some people use Facebook purely as a personal bulletin board with comments that are not all that interesting except maybe to a small inner circle.
Filming – Chris and Douglas have been involved in the making of a commercial for INKA, a large supermarket chain. The actual filming round and about our area of the woods took only two days though the two of them were busy a long time beforehand sussing out locations, props, etcetera. Mind you, most of the props in the end came from our house. We were denuded of Victorian knick-knacks, gimcracks asnd gewgaws: plates, bowls, jugs, vases, cutlery, stools, baskets trays, and even garden ornaments. Can’t wait to see the finished result to recognise it all. We even had a cook and his assistant in our kitchen cooking for a unit of thirty people: chicken and saut√©ed potatoes, bean salad, coleslaw and more. Mind you, they did clean up beautifully when it was all over and after it was all over Chris and Douglas were both totally exhausted. I said I don’t really know how the commercial would have been made without them. Knowing the Greeks it would have been of course but it would have been a different kettle of fish that’s for sure. Douglas is the doyen of production managers but it took every bit of effort to keep the unit on track. Greeks tend to be a little on the haphazard side even when they agree with each other and the director tended to change his mind and want something else with every set-up. He is, in Douglas’s words, too much of a perfectionist but he is a bloody good director as his work on ‘The Island’ only goes to prove. If there was any chance of my writing a screenplay that actually stood a chance of being produced I would be more than happy to leave it in his hands.
The neighbours were agog with all the coming and going and the aftermath is that we have a kitchen and a fridge stuffed with euros worth of food, some of which has already been given away as we will never finish it all. There are melons, apples, oranges, grapes by the kilo, olive oil, about three dozen eggs, and a veritable mountain of cheeses, some in a jar of olive oil.
A short while ago, to follow in the wake of Chris’s commercial, Douglas was roped in to do another and, from what I’ve heard of that, I simply can’t wait to see it.
Retirement? Forget it. In fact Chris has been trying to do far too much (a concert was mooted for November but we insisted he put it off till the New Year) and right now he is going to be booted off to the Athens flat for a well earned rest.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hubble





Further to a previous Blog: after writing it I read about The Hubble Space Telescope producing the most extraordinary views of the Universe to date. Called the Extreme Deep Field, the picture captures a mass of galaxies stretching back almost to the time when the first stars began to shine. This view required Hubble to stare at a tiny patch of sky for more than 500 hours to detect all the light.
“It's a really spectacular image,” said Dr Michele Trenti, a science team member from the University of Cambridge. “We stared at a patch of sky the size of the moon for about 22 days, and obtained a very deep view of the distant Universe and how galaxies looked in their infancy."
The Extreme Deep Field will become a tool for astronomy. The objects embedded in it can be followed up by other telescopes. It should keep scientists busy for years, enabling them to study the full history of galaxy formation and evolution.
Data acquired in 2003 and 2004 saw the telescope burrow into a small area of space in the Constellation Fornax (The Furnace). Again, it necessitated many repeat observations, and revealed thousands of galaxies, both near and far, making it the deepest image of the cosmos ever taken at that time. Hubble helped astronomers calculate the age of the universe, about 13.7 billion years old. (Tell that to the creationists.) The Hubble telescope was carried into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle. It has taken more than 2,000 separate exposures over 10 years using its two main cameras - the Advanced Camera for Surveys, installed by astronauts in 2002, and the Wide Field Camera 3, which was added to the observatory during its final servicing in 2009. To see what it does, Hubble has to reach beyond the visible into the infrared. It is only at longer wavelengths of light that some of the most distant objects become detectable. Of the more than 5,000 galaxies in the XDF, one of them  is a candidate for the most distant galaxy yet discovered. If this is confirmed, it means it is being seen just 460 million years after the Universe's birth in the Big Bang. Scientists time that event to be 13.7 billion years ago.
Until that corroboration, another of the image objects probably holds the record. This galaxy is seen as it was 600 million years after the Big Bang.
But as remarkable as the XDF is, it is a prelude for an even deeper Hubble view. A team led from Caltech (US) and Edinburgh University (UK) has acquired more than 100 hours of additional observations, doubling the exposure time in the all-important near infrared wavebands made possible. The expectation is that it will contain galaxies even closer to the Big Bang. To see the first starlight in the Universe will most likely require Hubble's successor. The James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, will carry a much larger mirror and even more sensitive instruments.
It simply boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bankers




“How much could taxes be raised without triggering mass protest? How tightly could imports be squeezed without precipitating a collapse in production? How far could wages be reduced without provoking labour unrest?” Greece 2012? No, Germany 1923. Take note Gauleiter Merkel, it could happen to you again. It has happened time after time. There simply is nothing new and history repeats itself. After World War One every country involved was in debt up to their collective eyebrows. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the following Great Depression it took a long time, some pretty hefty loans and, hard work for currencies to be stabilised. And who pulled the strings? Why, no one else but the bankers of course, four men in particular! I learn all this from a fascinating, and rather frightening book, titled “Lords of Finance” by Liaquat Ahamed.
The blurb on the back cover of the book reads. “In Lords of Finance we meet these men – the four bankers who truly broke the world. Their names were lost to history, their lives and actions forgotten, until now. Ahamned tells their story in vivid and gripping detail, in a timely and arresting reminder that individuals – their ambitions, limitations, and human nature – lie at the very heart of global tragedy.
And what have modern bankers been up to? Apart from paying themselves enormous bonuses of course and being pulled out of the mire of their own making by government money?
Money is the root of all evil. It is a pity the fat cats of this world who in their insatiable greed want more and more, legally or illegally, and who cling on to their treasures no matter what can’t see the harm they do. This book is a must read, but don’t take it to bed with you. It could give you nightmares.
American friends have asked solicitously whether the situation in Greece has affected us and, fortunately, the answer is it hasn’t impinged on us yet to the extent it has affected the Greeks. The price of goods has rocketed of course. Greece is no longer that inexpensive country we first knew. The price of petrol at nearly 2euro a litre is partly to blame as is VAT at 23% and god alone knows what price heating oil is going to be this winter. One is going to have to be extremely abstemious and hope the winter won’t be as bad as the last. We don’t eat out nearly as much as we used to and that applies to a lot of people so restaurants suffer because of it. Though prices in restaurants seem to be pretty stable it’s obviously more economical to eat at home and eating out has become a treat. We’re fortunate in that our income is in sterling but, even so, we do still have to be careful. We see shops and business folding every day and the politicians like the ostrich with their heads in the sand. Okay, okay, I know ostriches don’t actually do that but it is a good description of those who live in an ivory tower and refuse to face reality.

PS: In the September issue of Opera magazine there is an advertisement for a competition – a new opera preferably with a GLBT subject -$20000 prize money and guaranteed performance so I wrote a libretto based on the life of the Baron Jacques D’Adelsw√§rd Fersen, a rare and exotic bloom indeed. There is plenty of information about him on the internet and there has been at least one novel written – “Exile of Capri” by Roger Peyrefitte. The only problem is I can’t find a composer and, if I should find one, could he undertake to write a full length opera in six months? Submission date 29th March. I must admit an advertisement in September hasn’t given much time although it is not quite as bad as some Greek ads I’ve seen for events that give no time at all to attend. Anyway, if anyone knows a composer willing to undertake such a massive task please let me know but time is running out fast.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Astronomy




We know we will never suffer a Mars attack as, thanks to rover, we can see the planet harbours no life. But, once again the big question, what are the chances of life in some form or other existing elsewhere? Well, technology has advanced so much in the last few years, and that includes astronomy, our knowledge has expanded at the rate of knots and, I would imagine, will go ever faster until the day comes when we will know for certain about alien existence. Our world is very small. Our world is miniscule, our world is a drop in a vast ocean. Where does it rate in the scheme of things? A new study suggests that every star in the night sky is host to 1.6 planets. (Don’t ask me how you get .6 of a planet because I don’t know) but this implies there are some – wait for it because this is staggering, take a deep breath – there are some 10 billion earth-sized planets in our galaxy. Ten billion! How does a hitch-hiker get around that?
Using a technique called gravitational microlensing, an international team found a handful of exoplanets that imply the existence of billions more. Gravitational microlensing is a method that uses the gravity of a far-flung star to amplify the light from even more distant stars that have planets. While the number of actual events and detected planets was low, the team was able to estimate how many such exoplanets must exist.
Researchers from more than 20 international institutes and universities have worked on this. “Just the recent 15 years have seen the count of known planets beyond the Solar System rising from none to about 700, but we can expect hundreds of billions to exist in the Milky Way alone,” said co-author Dr Martin Dominik, from the University of St Andrews. Astronomers used a number of relatively small telescopes that make up the Microlensing Network for the detection of small terrestrial exoplanets to look for the rare event of one star passing directly in front of another as seen from Earth.
The team witnessed 40 of these microlensing events, and in three instances spotted the effects of planets circling the more distant stars. While the number of actual events and detected planets was low, the team was able to estimate how many such exoplanets must exist.
Gravitational microlensing can find planets of all sizes and distances. It can currently spot a planet as small as Mercury, orbiting at a similar distance to its host star, or as far away as Saturn.
Obviously infinity is a reality and the question I have to ask is where in the human mindset does god come into all this? And what price astrology?
.

 


Friday, September 28, 2012

To be or not to be - a Catholic




Following after the popcorn and dental floss stories here is another. Cecilia Gimenez: The woman who ruined a prized Jesus Christ fresco in Spain, her do-it-yourself restoration in a church leaving the 19th Century fresco of Christ described as “resembling a hairy monkey in a very ill-fitting tunic,” but she is now demanding royalties after her botched restoration became a hit with tourists.
“Everybody who came into the church could see I was painting,” the eighty odd years old said. Her lawyers, say any economic compensation would go to charities. (?)  Thousands of people have since visited the church near Zaragoza and Ryanair, jumping on an obvious bandwagon, is now even offering deals to the north-eastern Spanish city, encouraging tourists to see the fresco in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Borja. Ms Gimenez said with the best intentions she had decided to restore the work by Elias Garcia Martinez because of its deterioration due to moisture. She claimed to have had the permission of the parish priest to carry out the job. “How could you do something like that without permission? He knew it!” she was quoted as saying. But during the restoration, the delicate brush strokes of Elias Garcia Martinez were completely obliterated. The once-dignified portrait is now an abomination. Ms Gimenez appears to have realised she was out of her depth and contacted the city councillor in charge of cultural affairs. Cultural officials said she had the best intentions and hoped the piece could be properly restored.
Well, thinking of a couple of stories in the news makes me wonder if the church, various churches, is anything more than power and money. I think of the fundamentalist preachers in the states who coin a fortune by selling the idea of god to the deluded in need of comfort and now Germany's Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax. A German bishops' decree which has just come into force says anyone failing to pay the tax - an extra 8% of their income tax bill - will no longer be considered a Catholic. The bishops have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church. I should think this will have more of them leaving. Catholics make up around 30% of Germany's population but the number of congregants leaving the church swelled to 181,000 in 2010, with the increase blamed on revelations of sexual abuse by German priests.
If the religious tax is not forthcoming, Catholics will no longer be allowed to receive sacraments, except before death, or work in the church and its schools or hospitals. Without a “sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused,” the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children.
And while on the subject of sexual abuse the Roman Catholic Church in the Australian state of Victoria has confirmed that more than 600 children have been sexually abused by its priests since the 1930s. The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, described the figures as "horrific and shameful". Campaigners say the true number of abuse victims could be up to 10,000. Abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests has been a major issue in Australia recent years. During a visit in July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI met some of the victims and made a public apology for the abuse.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Compensation




Continuing with our thoughts on how silly this world is becoming. Before now we’ve had a good laugh on all the stupid judgments  made in courts of law both in America and the UK as far as compensation is concerned which has led to everyone walking on eggshells just in case but even then something is likely to take one by surprise. I think in particular of the woman been awarded massive compensation because she thought that as her Winnebago was automatic she could go back and make herself a cup of coffee while the vehicle drove itself. Not only was she awarded a hefty sum but the company had to provide her with another vehicle and explain in its instruction manual that automatic does not mean it drives itself. Then there was the lady who burnt her mouth in MacDonald’s because her coffee was too hot, another hefty payout, and the lady who tripped over an infant in a furniture store, the judge not taking into account that it was her own infant. And now we have a $7000000 pay out, yes, folks, seven million dollars, in the case of the poisonous popcorn.
A US man has been awarded $7.2m (£4.4m) in damages after claiming he developed "popcorn lung" from inhaling the artificial butter in microwave popcorn. A Colorado jury agreed with Wayne Watson that a popcorn manufacturer should have had warning labels that the bag's fumes were dangerous to inhale. He developed respiratory problems in 2007, after regularly eating popcorn.
"Popcorn lung" is a form of irreversible disease that scars the lung and makes it difficult for air to flow out.
The verdict is the latest in a series of successful cases, including those by popcorn plant workers who became ill. The cases link diacetyl, an ingredient in the flavouring, to health problems. Mr. Watson had previously settled with flavourings company FONA International Inc., though we aren’t told how much he got from them; but add it to seven million dollars and more, that comes to one hellava lot of popcorn.
And for those of you who munch popcorn and sugary delights here is another juicy twenty-first century story to chew over.
Eleven inmates in a suburban New York jail have sued their prison for $500m (£300m) and access to dental floss, saying they are losing their teeth. In a civil rights lawsuit filed on 10 September, the inmates say they are suffering cavities and pain because they are unable to floss.
Deputy Correction Commissioner Justin Pruyne defended the ban, saying floss can potentially be used as a weapon. Santiago Gomez, the lead plaintiff, says other jails permit flossing.
The inmates at the Westchester county jail in Valhalla say without floss they develop cavities and bleeding gums, despite brushing their teeth three times a day. They also say they need constant dental work for temporary fillings because they are denied crowns and root canals.
Mr. Pruyne said staff were exploring if there were products "which would be appropriate in a custodial situation... maybe some sort of floss that breaks easily" but that "staff and inmate safety come first".
Are hundreds of thousands of inmates in prisons all over the world losing their teeth because they don’t have dental floss?
Mr. Ripley, you really can’t make it up.

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Actor's Finger.



The world gets sillier and sillier, more and more stupid. We drown in a veritable tsunami of trivia. “Actor Simon Russell Beale had to leave the stage during Wednesday's performance of Timon of Athens at London's National Theatre after falling and dislocating his finger. The star slipped during an intense scene in the second half of the play.” Whoa! Golly gosh! Oh, my word! This is headline news? This is going to set the world on fire? The soldiers in Afghanistan are going to be more worried about Mister Beale’s finger than they are about the Taliban? The Jihadists and terrorists are going to give up their murderous ways? The Japanese and Chinese are going to stop squabbling for a while over those little Pacific islands? The Israelis and Palestinians are going to come to some kind of accord. Fighting in Syria will come to a stop? The mega-rich will suddenly develop a social conscience and start being philanthropic? Politicians will become honest? Mexican drug gangs will stop knocking each other off at the rate of knots? In fact the supply of drugs will dry up altogether. Loggers will stop destroying the world’s remaining rain forests? Poachers will stop the slaughter of wild life, especially endangered species?  The problem of the world’s overpopulation will be solved and the Pope will come to his senses and agree contraception is a good thing? Fundamentalists and Creationists and flat earthers will suddenly see the light of day. Mitt will include a message of sympathy in a campaign speech; try to say it in Spanish and taste toes yet again. None of these things are as important as an actor breaking his finger on stage and his understudy having to go on after only five weeks rehearsal Po po po, poor fellow as a Greek would say. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s population hasn’t a clue as to who Mr. Beale is anyway. 
Speaking to the BBC, the understudy described the numbing moment he realised he had to take over from the play's star. "The audience gave me a tremendous welcome and I just got straight into it," he said.
Some of those who watched the play praised the cast's performance on Twitter.
"Just saw Timon @NationalTheatre - pertinent and excellent - Simon Russell Beale and Paul Dodds both cracking (and all the rest too)," wrote Bleeding Heart Films.
"Saw Simon Russell Beale break his finger on stage," added actress Kate Bancroft. "Well done to Paul Dodds for taking over in Act 4!"
God save us! It’s no wonder it’s called Twitter.
Beale resumed his role as Timon on Thursday night. "He had his fingers splinted at the hospital. It was his right hand so he has had to slightly amend his performance,"
Well well well, this is where I bite my cheek to stop from laughing. Who would ever have thought of something so dramatic actually happening in a theatre?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

God's messages




I’m back on the religious bit once more so, if you’re fed up with it,  not again I hear you say, now is the time to cop out, switch off, retire, retreat, go make a cup of tea because there is something to be said, not just about one of them, but all three major religions.
Let’s start with Islam. The whole of the Middle East and further afield is evidently a mass of rioting faithful because evidently they believe a short rather bad amateur film seen on the internet and purportedly about the life of the prophet is insulting to Islam. The film was evidently made by some Coptic Christians based in America, which is a wonderful excuse for the hate America mobs (as if they needed an excuse) to create merry mayhem and indeed, at least one American diplomat has died. The film was evidently sponsored by that well-known fundamentalist Christian idiot the Rev. Jones who once nearly caused world war three by threatening to burn copies of the Koran. The Egyptian government has issued warrants for the arrest of all those involved and obviously is hoping America will extradite them in which case they will be tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. So what is new? We hear that the Coptic Christians in Egypt are apt to have a very bad time of it but to make this film seems to me a lesson in abject folly.
So, as the Rev. Jones is behind it, what other nasty shenanigans have bigoted American fundamentalists been up to?
Well, in Cameroon a man is (or has been) sentenced to three years in prison for sending a note to another man saying I love you. Uganda extends the penalty for homosexuality to life. They have dropped the death penalty clause, realising I suppose that if carried out this would put them beyond the pale. In fact, South Africa apart, it would seem that to be gay in any other African country is to risk everything in life worth living for, including love. Now we know that Africans are conservative and traditionalists but what is behind all this? Well, surprise, surprise, but no surprise really, it seems those fundamentalist so-called Christians are at it again, swarming into Africa and preaching hatred as is their wont. As they have been fighting a losing battle with the acceptance of gays in more civilised parts of the world (Russia excluded) they obviously feel Africa is a new frontier where they stand a better chance of having their God’s message received and acted on.
And finally to Judaism.
With hoodies covering their faces and cans of spray paint in hand, they may look like average teenage vandals out for a night of mayhem. But on the streets of Arab East Jerusalem, some young Jewish people are up to more than just graffiti. They are part of what has become known as "price-tag gangs" and they are risking their safety to send a very political message. Price-tagging is the term they use for a range of acts, from vandalism to arson attacks and religious desecration. They carry out these crimes as an act of revenge. Primarily, they are warning their own government that there is a price to pay for any attempt to give what they believe is Jewish land to the Palestinians as part of the fragile peace process. The price-tag gangs come from the hilltops of the West Bank, Arab territory that has been occupied by Israel since the war of 1967.
Israeli homes built on occupied land are illegal according to international law but Israel regards the West Bank as territory whose final status is yet to be determined and has built 120 settlements here - around 300,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem.
But there are also 100 small outposts scattered on strategic hilltops some of which are illegal under Israeli law because they are built on private Palestinian land. For the hilltop youth - price tagging is their calling card and they have sworn to sacrifice all to prevent this land being given to the Palestinians.  Moriah Goldberg is one of them. The 20-year-old was captured on CCTV in February in a Palestinian village. She slashed open sacks of building materials, cars were sprayed with graffiti saying "revenge" and insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Moriah, who is under house arrest in the ultra nationalist Israeli settlement of Tapuach, in the West Bank, did not deny her actions.
"A 'price tag' means that when the government of Israel decides to evict a settlement, an outpost, even the smallest wooden shack in the land of Israel - it has a price. Maybe it will make them think twice before they do it again." The Israeli government's move to label some of the price-taggers' behaviour as acts of terrorism does not faze her.
But where, you ask, does religion actually come into this? Well, heed well the words of Miss Moriah Goldberg because they are what every religious fanatic of whatever persuasion spouts. "Faithless Jews who don't fear God can call me a terrorist if they want. I don't care what they say about me. I only care what God thinks. I act for him and him alone."
Wow! A latter day Mosesette! How did God tell her what he wants? Did he text her? Did he send her an e-mail? Did she hear his voice come down from the clouds? Did he whisper in her ear? Did she have a vision? How did God communicate his wishes to her and above all why did he choose Miss Goldberg?
Amid the price-tagging and tension over Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, peace talks with the Palestinians are frozen. Regardless of what happens to the peace process the government knows it has to tackle the enemy within before Jewish militancy in the name of God yet spirals out of control. You can do and say anything if you know he is on your side.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Memories




This is not meant to be maudlin or morbid or an indulgence in sentimentality. Think of it rather as a meditation. After my Blog about Merrill’s deterioration we received a number of sympathetic messages amongst which was one from our friend Ray Bluett in Tasmania. When his own dog died he tells us, evidently his vet quoted an old comforting saying by an anonymous writer the last line of which is “we walked together for a little while,” and, reading it, I couldn’t help but feel that sentiment summons up so succinctly the beginning and ending, the all of our existence. I read somewhere once that when you reach the ripe old age of seventy or more (probably more as we seem to be living longer and longer – some of us that is) if you have six friends remaining from forty years ago consider yourself lucky. Well I must be lucky as I can think of at least ten still with us, still walking together, but how many many are no longer with us. They walked their while with us and are gone: family, relations, friends, old lovers, pets no longer with us, some unfortunately dying very young.  All we have are the memories of the time we walked together. Of course it is not only those who have died; some friends just disappear into the blue and one can’t help wondering why. Maybe it’s just the natural way of things, everything eventually coming to its inevitable end. Even a relationship that lasts for say fifty or sixty years or more is but a nanosecond in the great scheme of things.
My mother, apart from the occasional aria like “Softly Awakes My heart” from “Samson and Delilah” loved to sing those sentimental old Victorian ballads that I remember to this day. Such a one is “I’ll walk beside you.”

I'll walk beside you through the world today
While dreams and songs and flowers bless your way
I'll look into your eyes and hold your hand
I'll walk beside you through the golden land.

I'll walk beside you through the world tonight
Beneath the starry skies ablaze with light
Within your soul love's tender words I'll hide
I'll walk beside you through the eventide.

I'll walk beside you through the passing years
through days of cloud and sunshine, joys and tears
And when the great call comes, the sunset gleams
I'll walk beside you to the land of dreams.

Another was…

Once in the dear dead days beyond recall
When on the world the mists began to fall,
Out of the dreams that rose in happy throng
Lo to our hearts love sung an old sweet song
And in the dusk where fell the firelight gleam,
Softly it wove itself into our dream.

Just a song at when the lights are low,
And the flick’ ring shadows,
Softly come and go,
Though the heart be weary,
Sad the day and long
Still to us at twilight comes love’s old song,
Comes love’s old sweet song.

Our dad’s party piece whenever he was asked to sing was “Somewhere a voice is calling.”

They might have been Victorian but they have still been sung by modern artistes including Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and I guess when my time comes people will hear my voice calling and remember I walked beside them for a little while.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mermaids





It never ceases to amaze as to just how gullible humans can be and I am not referring here to all the religious claptrap that’s been bandied about for generations but on a more simple level, the April Fool kind of caper. Remember how many years ago Orson Welles radio programme “War of the Worlds” from the H.G.Wells story created such widespread panic in the United States. Well Aliens are forever on people’s minds and in the news and maybe one day some will actually come to light. There is a hilarious quirky Tim Burton film made in 1996 called “Mars Attack” starring Jack Nicholson, Glen Close, Pierce Brosnan among others in which the seemingly indestructible Martians are finally defeated by very loud terrible pop noise. I wonder if anyone was taken in by that one. Hopefully not it I great fun ands so bizarre.
I remember an April fool’s joke many years ago put out by the BBC showing spaghetti growing on trees and for one fleeting second I think I wondered about it so who knows how many people were taken in by it?
But what started this off was a news item from America (where else?) concerning mermaids.
There is no evidence that mermaids exist, a US government scientific agency has said.
Fantastic news. The National Ocean Service a division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) made the unusual declaration in response to public inquiries following a TV show on the mythical creatures. It is thought some viewers may have mistaken the programme for a documentary. “No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found,” the service wrote in an online post. Aquatic humanoids huh?
Images and tales of mermaids - half-human, half-fish - appear in mythology and art from across the world and through history, from Homer's Odyssey to the oral lore of the Australian aboriginals. The article was written from publicly available sources because “we don't have a mermaid science programme”, National Ocean Service spokeswoman Carol Kavanagh said, adding that at least two people had written to the agency asking about the creatures.
The inquiries followed the broadcast of “Mermaids, The Body Found,” on the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet network. The Discovery Channel has acknowledged the programme was a work of fiction but its wink-and-nod format apparently led some viewers to believe it was a science education show.
But in fact believe it or not, mermaids have existed. At the University of Lincoln, staff and students have been examining the mummy of what is known as the Buxton mermaid. Her hair is human and the tail is definitely fish.
Anita Hollinshead, a conservation and restoration masters student, came across the mermaid while working at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
“We think that it came from the mid-19th Century,” she said. “She may have come from Japan or the Far East. A lot of these kinds of mermaid came from that area and were made by fishermen and they sold them to supplement their income as sort of fake mermaids. Sometimes people bought them thinking they were the real thing. They were very popular side-show attractions, particularly in London in the mid-19th Century.” X-ray examinations have shown the mermaid's upper body is built upon a wooden and wire structure. There is evidently also a merman but how do you tell the difference? Is he really equipped with the necessary? A question I can’t answer.

 

 


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Merrill




It’s quite amazing what communications come to one via the internet. What for example do you make of this?
Headed ‘To Mr. Glyn Jones a request for two hand written autographs.’
Dear Mr. Jones,
Will You be kind enough to make a precious gift of 2 hand-written ( not
printed ) autographs ( one for ALEXANDER and one another for my brother
VLADIMIR )? We shall be glad to receive Your original autographs sometime.
Thank You very much in advance ! We shall feel highly honoured.
We wish You all the good lucks and all the best always and everywhere ! Let
the successes and the joy of life accompany You in all Your deeds !
Sincerely,
ALEXANDER and VLADIMIR STOLYAROV,
ROSA LUXEMBURG ST. 50-11,
71112 BERDYANSK,
UKRAINE.

Well, apart from the not so good English, the address is genuine and the request is genuine but the whole thing, according to the research Douglas has done, is evidently some sort of scam. Note the signatures need to be hand written, not printed. Reminds me of Bond’s shaken not stirred. We can’t really fathom out how it is supposed to work. Presumably money is involved somewhere down the line but what possible use can my signature be in the Ukraine? Evidently anyone who has a website is fair game, even someone as unimportant as me. I, being flattered by the request, might have responded but naturally the communication was immediately deleted. I still do get the occasional fan letter from Doctor Who fans wanting an autograph but these are usually accompanied by a photograph they’ve taken off the telly and sometimes even include  postage stamps which aren’t much use from Greece but a nice thought.

Getting old, coming to the end, is no joke. Our lovely Merrill, she who wrote the Christmas letters and who over twelve years has given us so much pleasure, is now completely incapacitated. Her legs are simply useless and she cannot stand up on her own let alone walk. She has to be carried everywhere, and held up even to eat her dinner or shit and piss. I say it like that, shit and piss, because I hate poncey words like “evacuate her bowels” Her back legs went first but now it is all four and it has happened so fast. It breaks my heart to see her lying wherever she is put down, she must be so frustrated because she is as alert as ever. If she were a human she would be bed ridden but a bed ridden patient could at least have books or the telly or something to keep them amused. We are making as much fuss of her as we can but, looking at her watching us, one cannot help but wonder what is going on in that little canine brain. Does she know she is reaching the end? Can she sense it somehow? Or is she just frustrated at being so completely incapacitated?
A friend suggest steroids might help but when she was taken to the vet (Merrill that is not the friend) he dismissed that idea, not because it wasn’t a good suggestion but because of side effects on the liver and kidneys. In fact he took tests and the liver showed a marked tendency towards problems so he suggested half a Depon a day which is what she has though she hates taking it even in food.
Now we have to ask ourselves, is she in pain? We don’t believe so. Does she have any quality of life? Well at the moment we think maybe she still has although her condition must be similar to locked-in syndrome and I fear soon, if nature doesn’t get there first, we will have to make that decision we would rather put off forever.


Friday, September 14, 2012

More alive than dead




A fascinating story on the news: a woman in India who has for twenty-four years fought to prove she is alive. Asharfi Devi was declared dead in 1988.  She was married at the age of 12, became a mother at 19, was deserted by her husband at 23 and was declared dead at the age of 40.
Now 64, her efforts to prove she is still alive finally paid off  when a village council in May of this year ruled that she was indeed alive.
Asharfi Devi's parents married her to a local farmer, Ram Janam Singh, of Barun village in Rohtas district of the northern state of Bihar in 1960. In rural India, weddings are almost never registered and Asharfi Devi doesn't have any documents to prove her marriage, but she vaguely recalls that she was around 12 when she married. What she remembers well though is her delight at being dressed in the bright red bridal sari and the loud Hindi film songs blaring from a loudspeaker perched atop a tree trunk outside her parents' thatched house.
Her happiness, however, was short-lived. Soon after her wedding, she discovered that she was her husband's second wife - Ram Janam Singh was a widower whose first wife had died sometime before his second marriage. At 19, Asharfi Devi became the mother of a baby girl. But, by now, she says, her husband had started abusing her physically and mentally.” Four years after my daughter was born, my husband deserted us so we went to live with my parents," she says. As time passed, Asharfi Devi married off her daughter Bimla Devi to a vegetable vendor, Anil Kumar Singh, while living at her parent's house. Her father and brother paid for the wedding.
Asharfi Devi says her husband declared her dead to prevent any claim on his property Her world fell apart when she found out that he had procured a fake certificate of her death from the Sasaram district municipal council and also taken another wife - his third. The death certificate was issued on 30 December 1988.
"At the age of 40 I was declared dead, officially," says a distraught Asharfi Devi. She then began her long fight to prove that she was alive. She approached the police, the politicians and even the courts. "I knocked on every door, from police to the court, but no-one could prove officially that I was alive, despite being convinced that I was alive. I was crestfallen," she says. To continue her battle to prove that she was alive, she moved in with her daughter and son-in-law into a hut in the village, barely half a kilometre from her husband's home. She says she was threatened by her husband and his new wife.
She now lives with her daughter and son-in-law
"He was transferring all his property in the name of his third wife after proving me officially dead," Asharfi Devi says. "He even had me sent to jail after implicating me in a false theft case in 1993-94," she says.

In desperation, she filed a petition before the village council last year, claiming that she was alive.
For eight months, the council examined all the evidence and in May, it invited Asharfi Devi, her husband and family members, villagers, local police, administration officials and journalists for the judgement day.
"After examining all the facts and evidences, the village council delivered justice to Asharfi Devi by proclaiming that she was alive," The order has brought her some relief: "Now I have papers to prove my existence. I am not dead."
But Asharfi Devi's husband, Ram Janam Singh, continues to deny her existence.
"Asharfi Devi died in 1988," he says. "I don't know why this woman is claiming to be my wife. Ask her, what can I say?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

China




In a previous Blog I wrote about the worry eighty percent of British mothers have about the future of their offspring and, coincidentally, later in the book reviews in The Sunday Times culture section I read about – “A society in trauma.” That was the headline.
And it isn’t about Greece or the UK or any other European country it’s about – China! It’s all very well wealthy Chinese buying up property overseas and indulging in toys like executive jets, how is it really with the country? Well, according to “The End Of The Chinese Dream – Why Chinese fear the future” by Gerard Lemos obviously all is not well and I hope the reviewer Frank Dikotter won’t mind my quoting him in part.
“Invited to lecture at a university in Chongqing between 2006 and 2010 Gerard Lemos obtained permission to erect “wish trees” in several neighbourhoods in Chongqing and Beijing. He then sampled the cards people attached to the branches, gaining access to the innermost concerns of hundreds of displaced farmers and factory workers. Rather than finding the industrious and increasingly prosperous workforce that is so often shown on state television. Lemos discovered a traumatised society in which most people are left to fend for themselves. Millions of poor farmers, forced to leave the countryside, face the prospect of unemployment, the absence of basic healthcare and lack of any state pension. Many of the elderly are financially dependent on their children. But China (like everywhere else I suppose) is an aging society and the one-child policy places a huge burden on the single children who have to provide for their relatives. Education is compulsory but not free. It can absorb one third of a family’s income as local officials discover ever more ways of gouging money from parents, ranging from fees to cover building repairs to stipends for teachers in public schools.
In the cities a university education is the highest ambition, but even here despair is the norm. Up to a third of graduates (about 2 million young people each year) cannot find a job. So desperate are they for work that when a local government in Shandong advertised for people willing to shovel excrement, five graduates were chosen out of 400 applicants.
Of 191 nations listed by the World Health organisation in an equality report in 2000 China was 188. Regular health scandals too, from contaminated milk to eggs with poisoned yolks have undermined people’s confidence in the food they eat.
As much of the world seems starry-eyed when it comes to the apparently inevitable “rise of China” Lemos shows that the country’s ordinary people are deeply pessimistic.”
We come up against that selfsame problem I keep on about, the ever increasing population that is going to increase ever faster. It’s like a snowball rolling down the mountain; it gets larger and larger and is impossible to stop. What is the answer? Who knows?