Sunday, December 26, 2004 

Bombing Our Way to Earthquakes?

Since experiencing my first earthquake here in Greece in 1999, I toyed with the idea that earthquakes could be caused or triggered by bombs especially nuclear bombs.When today's earthquake off the coast of Indonesia happened, I decided I wanted to test my theory. After a bit of cursory research into my hypothesis, I found out that this is just not the case.

Since July, 1945, there has been a total of 2,044 nuclear weapons tests globally by the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China. Then I checked out how many earthquakes happened prior to 1945 (941) as opposed to post 1945 (861). So, the number of earthquakes has decreased since the creation of the first nuclear bomb...not increased as I had expected to find.

Bruce A. Bolt, a leading expert on seismology also concludes that earthquakes are not triggered or caused by bombs.

Therefore, I must also conclude that, although nuclear bombs can kill people by direct hits, radiation and radiation fallout, they do not cause earthquakes. And even though the US, Britain and France regularly have conducted nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific, they did not contribute to this latest devasting earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. Sumatra just happens to be located on the Australian quake plate and is bound to suffer earthquake damage anyway.

Even if it appears that earthquakes are more deadly now than they've ever in history, they really aren't for two reasons. Earthquakes and the damages caused by them haven't been recorded with any great accuracy before the 19th century so any information we might have for that time period would only be "guesstimates". Since the 20th century, there has been a population explosion on our planet and when you have more people (especially in densely populated cities), it only stands to reason that we'll have more deaths and damages as a result.

Despite all the evidence otherwise, there is still a part of me which believes that you can't continually pound the earth and not have some cause and effect type of relationship.


Sunday, December 19, 2004 

Knock, Knock, Knocking on Europe's Door

So Turkey finally got itself a starting date for EU negotiations on accession. It's been a long time coming and it's all fine and lovely that Turkey wants "in" but is it even feasible? I don't think so.

Greece has been a member of the EU for over 20 years and is still lagging behind the other original 14 members and Greece is light years ahead of Turkey. How does anyone think Turkey can pull this off when it's barely a second world country itself? Even though they expect these talks to take a decade before there will be a final decision, the logistics of having 70 million people from a nation where the words 'human rights' don't exist in their political dictionaries, just seems next to impossible.

It's quite upsetting that even the talks leading to a negotiation date almost broke down in Brussels when Turkey still refuses to recognize south Cyprus. If they want to join the club, they better start by showing a sign of good faith. They illegally invaded Cyprus and divided that island in 1974 and now they refuse to recognize the southern part. I believe no negotiations should even start until Turkey makes a 100% complete withdrawal from north Cyprus and full recognition of the island. Until then, they can stew in their own rancid juices.

Once, the withdrawal takes place, then start the accession talks. They know they've got to implement almost 80,000 pages of EU laws as well and there should be no compromises on any of them. Look at the mess Greece got itself into by understating its deficit, clearly breaking the EU Growth and Stability Pact and it got away with it. Germany has broken the 3% deficit ceiling as well but it's a manufacturing powerhouse. Greece isn't and neither is Turkey so when the rules can be constantly broken without punishment then what's the point of having the EU anyway? The current method of punishment is just levying fines on the errant EU member. Again, this makes no sense in the case of Greece and Turkey who are poor enough anyway making it impossible to even pay the fines. There's a distinct possibility that the judgements against Greece have probably been paid with EU aid money. If Turkey were to try to pull off the same stunts that Greece has, then it's game over.

I would love to see all countries enjoy the standard of living enjoyed by western Europe but the only way to do it is to plug the holes in the recipient's sieve before more aid can be poured into it. The EU is doing its best to compete with America but it has to first asorb the 10 new members of the EU. Allowing every other Vaclav, Ivan and Kemal into the fold before they've achieved 100% of EU entrance requirements and without the complete assimilation of all present members is a recipe for economic disaster.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 

Slavery in the 21st Century

Until the 20th century, the word 'slavery' has been synonomous with black Africans, plantations and the American south and before that with the population of conquered nations being forced into slavery by their victors. Today, it has taken on a new meaning. Human trafficking. Victims are recruited from mainly poor eastern European countries, Asia and Africa to be sold for use in the sex and labour trade. Estimates range anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 women each year being smuggled for the sex trade in the European Union. Ukraine's government estimates that about 400,000 Ukrainian women have left the Ukraine since independence for work in the sex industry. (

Human trafficking is not limited to just women, children are also fair game for lucrative trade of human beings. Children from countries like Albania, Thailand and Cambodia are also being bought and sold for use as prostitutes or as beggars. It's a booming business that hasn't shown any sign of decline for several reasons:
  • apathy of citizens in the destination countries
  • absence of tough laws to prohibit and punish such crimes
  • lack of education in recruitment countries to inform potential victims of recruiters' operating tactics

Many people in the destination countries view these people as illegal immigrants instead of victims. In Greece, the police will put children under 12 years of age into detention centres and arrest those over the age of 13 for deportation along the border without ensuring their protection or reception by Albanian authorities. Women are arrested and charged with prostitution or living illegally in the country. (

A movie recently released in Greece demonstrates the apathetic attitude prevalent in many destination countries. The premise of "R20" is a middle aged man looking to 'spice up his life' and is prescribed a mystery cure by his psychologist,--'R20", which means "a Russian woman, 20 years old". The man visits a mobile prostitution brothel where women are basically caged inside a truck offering sexual services to the clientele. The movie is marketed as a comedy of all things. Considering Greece's status as a 'Tier 3" country for human trafficking, (Tier 3 being the worst for allowing and often promoting the human trafficking industry as defined by the US State Dept.) this film never should have been made.

I've talked to many people regarding the issue and the standard response usually is "the women shouldn't be so stupid as to believe promises of the recruiters in the first place." We can't judge these women using our own standards and education since these women often come from places so poor and remote that they will take risks that western people would even think about twice. Often, the recruiters pose as employment agents looking for waitresses or bar staff in the EU workplace. Once the women have made the trip over the borders, their passports are stolen from them and their lives take a dramatic turn for the worst.

Laws and Prosecution
The EU is trying to get laws passed within its member states to establish a minimum common penalty for the crime bosses who traffic humans. Doctors of the World is lobbying for the criminalisation of both the clients and owners of premises where human trafficking takes place and to suspend deportation of the victims.

In Greece, an anti-trafficking law was passed and there were 140 arrests in 2003 under the law, but no data has been given yet on any convictions. Some NGOs have stated that the police themselves are complicit in the human trafficking industry so it's no wonder that many human traffickers haven't been convicted. I'm sure Greece isn't the only country facing the involvement of the police force in such a dirty industry. Amnesty International has claimed the UN peacekeepers in Kosovo in 1999 fueled the illegal sex trade with up to 20% of its soldiers paying for sex from trafficked women and children. (

In the rest of the EU, arresting organizers of the human trafficking ring has been hampered due to the silence of both the women and children. The problem is compounded by the fear of the victims thinking they will be deported or murdered for talking.

Victims of the human trafficking industry must be protected if they are to testify against their captors or even to have the courage to leave them once inside the destination country. They need to have somewhere to go without fear of being harmed, forced again into the trade or deported back to their native countries where they may be found again.

Doctors Without Borders has opened the Greece's first shelter for victims which is a step in the right direction but like many countries, more are needed.

Prevention Through Education
People inboth the recruitment and destination countries need to be educated regarding the risks involved in such an industry. Young women need to be aware of the dangers which face them by trusting others with offers of riches in another country. The clients need to be aware of how they are exacerbating the problem...that the women they pay for sex usually aren't there of their own free will and the money they pay them goes directly into the pockets of more men who continue the cycle by procuring more women illegally.

Even women who choose of their own volition to become sex workers legally in countries such as the Netherlands complain that they suffer since the prostitutes recruited illegally and work illegally have a negative impact on their own earnings since they will provide their 'services' at cut rates.

Most nations recognize the extent of the human trafficking problem. Now, it's time to actually do something about it.

Thursday, December 09, 2004 

Bribing Your Way to Destruction

Just as the saying goes "there is more than one way to skin a cat", there is more than one way to swindle someone in Greece.

Paying and receiving bribes undermines the integrity of a nation putting not only the economy at risk but people's lives as well. Most Greeks consider bribes to be 'fees without a receipt' which sounds so much better than the dirty word 'bribe'. Whenever anyone accepts money to perform a service they are already paid to do or to produce a favourable outcome, it's a bribe.

It's only a traffic violation but when it's in Greece, it could be the difference between life and death for a lot of people considering the sorry state of road conditions here. When policemen take bribes to tear up traffic offence tickets, it might be you who takes that fateful step into the path of a serial speeder who should have had his licence revoked long before he or she has a serious accident. It might be your child who gets hit at a crosswalk when the driver knows that the STOP sign doesn't really mean "STOP". If they take bribes from brothel owners operating without licences, the human traffic industry gets a boost.

The Greek word "fakelo" literally means "envelope" in English. As innocuous as this word might sound it belies it's figurative meaning which is "bribe". Doctors, lawyers, judges, policemen, civil servants in Greece are notorious for asking for and receiving a fakelo. This whole system, which is commonplace and basically accepted by Greeks as a way of life here, is an abomination and needs to be eradicated.

One of my friends paid 3,000€ to her doctor to deliver her baby. Even though the couple has private health insurance and federal health insurance which covered 100% of the total cost of the delivery, the fakelo is paid to the doctor and no receipt is given. The husband of another woman I know had to pay 10,000€ to his doctor when he was admitted for a heart attack. He was a retired member of the Greek Air Force and therefore, had full medical coverage as well. The reason the doctors give for taking bribes is that they don't get paid enough and what's worse, they say it ensures the patient the best care while in the hospital. That's like being paid to fix a car and then saying "that'll be an extra 30o0€ to make sure you can drive it out of the garage" but 1000 times worse since a person's life may hang in the balance. This is sheer extortion and yet people continue to pay these bribes. They even justify them. In the birthplace of the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, they ought to be ashamed of this corrupt practice. I guess this part of the Hippocratic Oath has been omitted in Greece..."I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption;"

Lawyers will take a 'fakelo' from a client in order to procure a positive decision in a lawsuit or to get immigrants a favourable decision for a residence permit.

Civil Servants
Many people here pay tax officials bribes to get their tax payments reduced but in doing so, the government finds itself deeper and deeper in debt trying to pay for infrastructure improvements, education, healthcare and pensions because everyone's shirking their tax obligations. The government then has to increase the taxes and come up with more draconian laws in order to squeeze money out of the people. What the government does or doesn't do with your tax dollars is another story. But you can't cry 'foul' when the roads are a mess and the schools are abysmal since you do nothing to alleviate the situation. Pay the tax, then make the government accountable with your vote.

I was asked to pay 200€ in order to get my driving licence here. This was AFTER I had already driven for 18 years and passed driving tests in two other countries and AFTER I had already paid 1200€ to pay for driving lessons as required by law. I refused to pay. I still passed with perfect marks. But other people paid the bribe when they should have failed and then we wonder why Greece has so many road accidents.

Development and housing officials routinely accept bribes for issuing building and safety permits. The next time a someone buys a house that is built to substandard specifications and there isn't a single right angle in the house, they'll know why. In an earthquake zone, payments to cut corners on construction and mainenance requirements is a very risky thing to do as the relatives to the victims of the Ricomex factory disaster of the 1999 earthquake discovered.

This common and corrupt practice of bribery should be abolished and it's a simple thing to stop. Just ask for a receipt when a bribe is demanded or just don't give one at all. It is not my fault doctors, lawyers and civil servants think they're underpaid. They should have chosen a different profession. There is NO justifiable excuse for anyone to give or take a bribe no matter what lies the bribe takers tell them. Bribery is synonomous with corruption regardless of the word chosen to describe it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004 

Religion and Corruption

When I first came to Greece almost 7 years ago, I was amazed at the number of churches I saw here. There's one on practically every street corner and there seems to be a new one being constructed on every second street corner. I thought it strange that more new churches would be needed considering the only increase in population comes from mostly non-Orthodox immigrants.

And this simple observation started a chain reaction of thoughts relating to religion and corruption.

In a country of about 10.6 million people and 98% of them followers of the Greek Orthodox religion, I can understand that they would predominantly have Orthodox churches here instead of an assortment of other denominational churches. But why so many of them? I hypothesized that it was perhaps Greeks were such devout and pious Christians that they needed to have physical manifestations proving their devotion to God. But if this were true, why was such a 'Christian' nation so corrupt? Then I thought of other religious nations such as the Philippines, Italy and Mexico who were also notorious for their corruption and I then concluded that the most corrupt nations on the planet were also the most religious ones.

I went on the hunt to find some evidence to back up my theory. Enter Transparency International, an NGO which is, itself, devoted to combatting corruption. I downloaded their list of the least corrupt countries and found that, my theory seemed to be accurate. According to the Corruptions Perceptions Index 2004 (, the least religious countries were also the least corrupt countries. Finland being the least corrupt Greece ranked 48 places lower at 49--just a notch ahead of El Salvador. (Phillipines-102; Italy-42; Mexico-64)

What is it about a religious society that prides itself on the values religion is supposed to instill ends up being more corrupt than it's ungodly counterparts. A working paper on the causes, correlations and results of corruption ( Section 4.3 raises an interesting point. As well as proving that there is a direct link between corruption and religion, it suggests that the reason for it may be religion's hierarchal structure. People "the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally".

Another reason could be the teachings of the Church itself. One of the Church's main attractions to its members, is the fact that it offers a better life for its followers elsewhere off the planet. Life on earth is then, merely a passing phase for them on the path to eternal salvation in heaven or paradise on earth after death. Therefore, if all you have to tolerate is a couple decades of corruption in order to reap the rewards of a promised Utopia later on, then you might just be more inclined to turn a blind eye to the sins you see around you.

Sunday, December 05, 2004 

Alexander the Legally Gay

Apparently, the 25 lawyers who sued Warner Bros. and Oliver Stone for implying Alexander the Great was gay in the movie "Alexander" have decided to drop the suit. They came to the conclusion, that, after viewing the movie in a private session on Thursday that there really was nothing offensive about the way Alexander's bisexuality was portrayed.

Now, I bet they wished they had listened to my advice and watched the movie before going through the trouble to file the lawsuit.

At least now they know that Alexander can still be great no matter who he sleeps with.

Thursday, December 02, 2004 

People vs. Pharma Cartels

While Al Qaeda, Iraq, the US elections, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Globalization and Immigration monopolized the headlines for the past four years, the Pharmaceutical Cartel was happy to be relegated to the Financial News section.

Now, it's time to make them front page news again for several reasons.

Obscene Profits Off the Sick and the Dying
You see, making your profits off sick and dying people makes you a Blue Chip company. Even though the industry is rife with ethical and moral scandals, they still manage to make money. And lots of it. In 2001, just the nine largest drug manufacturers alone made a whopping 33% profit...$30.6 billion. But yet they claim they can't provide cheap drugs because they spend so much money on research and development and can't possibly spare a cent on lower cost drugs. Of course, this is an outright lie. Take a look at the high-cholesterol drug, Lipitor for example. They spend 61% of their money on marketing and manufacturing, executive pay, worker costs. Only 15% goes to actual research. According to, it costs roughly $800 million to bring a new drug to market. Considering the billions they make in profit, surely they could spend a bit less on marketing and a bit more on research and development to provide lower cost, life-saving drugs to the people who really need it. And they'd still have enough money left over to continue their reign as Wall Street's darlings. These drug giants have profits bigger than many countries federal budgets and their CEOs salaries and stock options make oil rich nations look like paupers. (Inisider dirt on the industry) (Pro Pharmaceutical) (Drug Company profits 2003) (Profits & Salaries 1999)

Financially Rich but Morally and Ethically Bankrupt
In order to get their drugs to market, they need to have clinical trials. Clinical trials is just a fancy name for finding human guinea pigs to test their drugs. They find these people several ways. One way is to pay doctors to refer their patients to the drug companies.

The drug companies pay doctors thousands...sometimes as much as $500,000-$1,000,000 a year... to refer patients to the clinical trial programs. Each patient referred to a trial nets them upwards of $1,000 per person and they get bonuses for reaching their recruitment target. Since money is involved in this scheme, doctors neglect to tell patients just what is involved with the trials and sometimes don't even bother to check if the patient has a medical condition which might have serious consequences for them if they take the drug.

(In addition to paying doctors to recruit patients, they also spent $13.2 billion in direct marketing to physicians, five times the $2.5 billion spent in direct-to-consumer advertising.)

The other way is to trick them. By not telling patients that the drug is experimental, what the side-effects of the new drug are or how often the trials are unregulated, unsuspecting patients believe that it's no worse than taking an aspirin and the benefits far outweight the risks. Sometimes, the patients are children...usually from the financially disadvantaged classes. In New York city, they took orphaned and foster care children and force fed them the experimental and toxic medicine. In Nigeria, Pfizer conducted clinical trials on 200 children with cerebral meningitis. 5 of them died and many others were left with disabilities. As Vera Sherav said (the spokesperson for the Alliance for Human Research Protection) ""Would they have done those experiments with their own children? I doubt it." (Nigerian scandal) (Pfizer scandal)

The Pharma Cartel also spent more money than any other industry trying to influence politicans than ANY OTHER industry...oil lobbyists included.

So...they pay off politicians. They pay off doctors. They pay themselves. Yet they still cry poverty when it comes to giving poor people the life-saving medication they need. It's understandable that they want to protect their patents on their drugs for the research and development that they do carry out but to deny people the chance to buy these same drugs at an affordable price when many of them suffered to help bring the drug to market is just deplorable.

Banning Food Supplements
The days we took calcium to strengthen our bones and potassium to maintain our blood pressure may be over if the EU has its way. A bill known as Directive 2002/46/EC, which is scheduled for enforcement on 1 August 2005 , is designed to harmonise the market across all Member States. It would result in the removal from sale many currently available forms of essential minerals including forms of calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium. If this bill goes through uncontested, we will only be able to buy these common nutrients which we have used for decades, over the counter. And once that happens, the drug companies will have won again at our expense. We will be forced to fatten their profit margins by buying these nutrients or pharma variants of them from the drug companies instead.

So the next time you visit your doctor or fill a prescription, you might just be inspired enough to check out alternatives to the glitzy and overpriced brand name drugs to send a message to the Pharmaceutical Industry. Let them know that a slick ad campaign, shady business practices and doctor coercion aren't the best way to get you to shell out your hard-earned money on designer drugs.