Thursday, July 28, 2005 

The War on Idealogy

Who attacked our country? The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda.
President George W. Bush, Sept. 20, 2001

Al-Qaeda is not an organization. Al-Qaeda is a way of working ... but this has the hallmark of that approach."
Prime Minister Tony Blair, July 14, 2005

4 years ago, Bush and Blair waged war against an organization known as Al Qaeda. Now they admit what many of us have known for a long time... that the fabrication of Al Qaeda was a slick way to market and sell a war against an idealogy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005 

Hindsight is Always 20/20 Vision

On July 22, a 27 year old Brazilian man living in London was shot 8 times by the London police.

This statement is enough to make many people rush to judgement and condemn the London police force as barbaric and trigger-happy for killing an innocent man but was that the case? Did Jean Charles de Menezes deserve to die like that? Of course not. But this wasn't an example of a young man taking a walk and several policemen deciding arbitrarily to stalk him and then shoot him because they had nothing better to do for the day. Other factors came into play that day which may not completely justify the shooting but may somewhat lessen the abject horrific reaction to his death.

As the facts emerge surrounding the incident, we are informed that he had been living in the same block of flats that was being monitored by police linked to the fail bombing attempts the day earlier. He was wearing an unseasonal overcoat which seemed more than just a bit odd on a hot summer's day in London. After he left his flat, he was trailed by police to the Stockewell tube station...a journey of about 15 minutes. If the police were, indeed, trigger-happy, they no doubt would have shot him as he left his flat but they didn't. They waited. Once inside the tube station, he started running and failed to heed officer's warnings to stop. Witnesses at the scene have said he jumped the ticket barriers, ran down the escalator and attempted to board the train with more than 20 officers in pursuit.

Consider this:
  1. You are a police officer trying to prevent further terrorist attacks in the wake of fatal attacks 2 weeks prior in the same location.
  2. You knew another attack was being planned. (the very next day another 4 bombers did attempt that very thing)
  3. You then saw an individual exhibiting overtly suspicious behaviour as mentioned above.
Would you be led to believe he was capable of committing a bombing attack? If yes, what would you do? Wait to see if he actually would blow up the train and then shoot? Shoot him in the leg while he used his hands to detonate the bombs strapped to him? Those were probably the questions that ran through each and every one of those police officers' minds but unlike you, they didn't have the luxury of 5 days in the comfort of your living room miles away to contemplate them.

Hindsight is always 20/20 vision. Armed with the information known after the fact, it's quite easy to judge someone's actions. Making split decisions are difficult even without having the added stress of a crisis situation. How many of us would be so calm and rational if we suddenly found an intruder in our house in a high-crime neighbourhood? Many will say that this isn't a fair comparison because police are trained to be rational and calm in stressful situations. While this is true, we also must ask ourselves if we really would have wanted them to hesitate if Mr. Menezes had been one of the 8 other bombers who did carry out their attacks? In a world where suicide bombers are becoming a daily occurrence, would you really want them to wait that one second which could be the difference between life or death for thousands of others?

As unfortunate and truly tragic Mr. Menezes' death was, I cannot say the London police force acted inhumanly. Mr. Menezes was partially responsible for his own fate. Had he stopped running and heeded the officers' instructions, this distressing event would have had a much better outcome.

Thursday, July 14, 2005 

It's All Earthlan To Me

While grocery shopping a few days ago, I was comparison-shopping between different products. This task was made a lot more difficult because of the packaging. Not the design of it but the fact that each package had a minimum of 6 languages and because there were so many languages, the type was reduced to such a size that rendered reading the information impossible. Try figuring out which type of toothpaste to buy once you've decided on ultra-white and cavity-reducing over tartar-reducing and herbal mint flavour. Once you reach this stage, then you must figure out what other brands of toothpaste offer the same selling points for theirs. To do this, you must wade through the French, Bulgarian, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and Hungarian languages to find at least Greek or English so you know exactly which one is herbal mint and not baking soda. That's one of the easier examples. Try reading instructions once they're printed in 6-8 languages. I'm going blind not to mention insane.

Now, since the EU has expanded to include 25 member countries with an additional 10 languages, I will probably give up all together trying to figure out what is what and just buy the box with the nicest design and let the chips fall where they may.

We need to simplify this packinging and signage Tower of Babel. I think it's about time linguists invented a new language...Earthlan. This new language would be taught to all children once they enroll in school. Within 25 years, it's entirely possible that every product around the globe, not to mention signage in other countries, would only have 2 languages...the local language and Earthlan. This would also reduce the size of packaging needed to print ingredients, instructions and manufacturer's addresses. A watch battery would no longer need to be encased in a piece of plastic 25 times the size of the battery just to fit in all that information. Environmentalists would love it. Because it's a language created from scratch, any country couldn't use the excuse that it's a hegemonist action by another country. For all the naysayers who will tell me that it would be impossible to invent a language with phonetics common to all languages, I would say that it wouldn't matter because when you teach a new language to children at such a young age, they'll have no problem adopting any new phonetics. I've seen it already in many children who already speak 2 other languages dissimilar to their native tongue. My own son has done it.

While we're on the subject of simplification. It's about time we eliminated time zones. With global communication becoming easier by the second through technological advances, it's a complete waste of time to figure out what time a podcast will be online in your time zone. AST, CMT, NFT, EXT, GMT +/-4 will all be things of the past and instead they can be listed as a straightforward, 24-hour time stamp. ie., "Live 8 global broadcast-1900h." or Set up a conference call between Tokyo, Rome and Caracas at 15ooh." It doesn't matter anymore if it's night or day in another country...once you get used to doing business with people in different countries, you know if your time request is night or working hours for them. Even if you don't know Australia is 6 hours ahead of your time zone, you'll soon figure it out after 3 phone calls at 2pm and no one is in the office. Stock traders have become accustomed to adjusting to doing business in several global cities. I believe everyone can. No more Daylight Savings Time either. Humans are entirely capable of giving themselves longer days or shorter days as need be without having to change their clocks twice a year. Even maps would look better without all those unneccessary lines drawn all over them.

Monday, July 11, 2005 

Licence Plates & Textbooks

While travelling to Xylocastro this weekend, I noticed that all the new cars were missing licence plates on the road. I guess it's official then. Greece really HAS run out of licence plates. I remember reading the article a couple of months ago that the Ministry of Transportation had problems regarding the tender for a supplier of EU compatible licence plates. I thought it was an odd story then and foolishly thought they'd have found a some sort of feasible solution for the problem by now. Their idea of "feasible" and my idea of "feasible" seem to be light years apart. I would have thought even using the old licence plate format until a new supplier could be found would have been a practical solution. Apparently, the Ministry of Transportation disagrees and decided that laser-printing new licence plate numbers on paper and then affixing it to the rear windshield of a car with cellotape seems more appropriate. With such preposterous examples of government ineptitude, I keep wondering how the State manages to extract such exorbitant taxes from its population.

If this were an isolated example, I'd find it laughable pecularity rather than the norm it seems to be. Greece also seems to be having problems printing school textbooks. Because of a another 'snafu' in the tender process, thousands of Greek school children will show up school without textbooks because the government can't seem to acquire the 15,000 tons of paper necessary to print the books. They might be able to get their hands on 3,000 tons of paper to print the most necessary books but no word yet as to whether or not they've even managed to do so let alone print them. Considering the solution found for the licence plate problem, I wouldn't be at all surprised if my son started 6th grade with just the photocopies of the covers of the books he's supposed to have and a note from the teacher encouraging students to imagine what the content of the books would be.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005 

WANTED: Opposition Leader

Have you seen this man? I didn’t think so. Neither has most of Greece. He is the president of PASOK…the opposition party in Greece. It’s not as if he hasn’t had anything to oppose in the last year and half that New Democracy has been in power. Karamanlis has given him enough ammunition but he does nothing with it. His face has been noticeably absent from the media. No interviews on TV regarding his future plans for Greece. No soundbites about the Ano Liossia garbage mess, the bank strikes, or even the over generous payouts Karamanlis saw fit to give to useless OTE employees. Nada. Not so much as a blip on the media and public radar. I would love to know what’s holding him back from doing his job. If he expects to have any hope of winning the next election then he must at least prove that he’s at least cognizant of the problems Greece is facing and to keep New Democracy on their toes. As far as I can tell, the only opposition facing Karamanlis and his entourage comes from within his own party. Militiades Evert, former ND president and prime minister, has dug up some dirt on the recent bank pension reforms. This is work that he shouldn’t have had to do. Papandreou should have found it. Could he be afraid of skeletons still left in the closet during his party’s 20 year reign in power? If Papandreou tries to grill Karamanlis regarding his recent spate of unpopular decisions, then quite possibly Karamanlis would only be too happy to make them public. Or maybe Papandreou just believes in the proverb that if he gives Karamanlis enough rope, he will eventually hang himself.

Friday, July 01, 2005 

O Canada!

Today is July 1st and I should have had the day off, gone to the beach and then down to the Halifax waterfront to watch the fireworks. But none of that happened because Greeks don't celebrate Canada Day. Maybe I should have thought out this whole moving-to-another country idea more carefully. But what's done is done. So now, all I can do is blog Canada Day instead of actually celebrating it.

When I woke up this morning, I was actually a little homesick. That doesn't happen very often but today being Canada Day, I spent most of my day thinking about what it means to be Canadian. Apparently, a lot of Canadians have pondered this question and give up after 5 minutes. I used to do the same thing but not anymore. Now, I know what being Canadian means. It's not the Maple Leaf on the tail of an Air Canada plane. It's not the Canadian flag flying over our embassy. It's not Molson's on tap at your favourite pub. Those are just symbols of our country. I never knew what it was to be Canadian until I left Canada. Living outside the country for the past 7 years has given me some insight which always eluded me while living in my insulated Canadian world and I will now share some of them with you.

Enjoying clean air, green grass and blue water. Living in smog-filled Athens, I long for the days that I could wake up in the morning, take a deep breath full of truly fresh, clean air and not need half a litre of caffeine to kick start my brain or a Clarityn to open up my nasal passages in order to take a breath of hazy smog.

Access to a great healthcare system. Hospitals that don't look like 3rd world orphanages and family doctors who won't misdiagnose you 90% of the time. Surgeons who don't demand thousands of euros in advance before they operate on you.

Having a quality education. Canadians consistently place in the Top 5 of OECD reports on education and literacy. Like most Canadians, I mistakenly assumed that all schools have chemistry and physics labs, in-school libraries and soap in the washrooms. It's quite a disappointment to realize that my education 30 years ago was far more advanced than what my son receives now.

Being tolerant. I love the diversity of Canada's mulitcultural, multi ethnic background. It's proof to me that immigrants can make a strong country. I like, that even in a small city like Halifax, I could choose from a wide variety of ethnic cuisines...Italian, Thai, Hungarian, Greek, Arabic. It's like travelling the world without leaving your own city.

Decent governance. Scandals plague every government but the level of corruption in Canada's is minimal compared to many other countries. We just don't realize what REAL corruption is. I've never been asked or compelled to give a bribe to get any paperwork processed. Government offices are usually clean, efficient, organized and the staff polite and service-oriented. When my husband and I had to renew our passports, I thought it would take me forever applying for my Canadian one outside the country. I was so wrong. I phoned my embassy and was told what I needed...I requested all the necessary papers via email from Canada and forwarded them to my embassy here in Athens. The whole process took me less than 10 working days. It took my husband over 6 weeks to renew his Greek passport. Our tax burden may be higher than a lot of countries but it becomes less of a burden when I realized just what I get in return for it.

Complaining. Canadians love to complain. Maybe it's what makes our country stronger. We don't put up with government's front page news if a mid-level politician buys himself a new garbage can with taxpayers money. We expect our telephones, electricity and roads to be in perfect working order and if they're not, heads must roll until we feel they've learned their lesson. We don't care if they're the result of acts of God...we must have better service and if that means getting our Foreign Minister to talk tough with God, then so be it.

So, I wish all my fellow Canadians a Happy Canada Day along with the wish that 2005 just might be the year that more than 5 out 0f 10 people learn the words to our national anthem!