Wednesday, November 30, 2005 

Racism: The Road to Nowhere

If you tolerate this, then your children will be next. --The Manic Street Preachers

1478-1834. Spanish Inquisition
1453-1821.Turkish atrocities in Greece.
1915.Armenian Genocide.
1700-1965.Slavery in the USA.
1948-1994.Apartheid in South Africa.
1940-1945. The Holocaust.
1994. Rwandan genocide.
1995. Srebernica.
2004.Darfur, Sudan.

Racism kills. It is not limited to one country, one civilisation, one time period. I've listed only 9 examples of the atrocities mankind has inflicted upon itself in the last 500 years. There are many more and there will be many more to follow because we seem incapable of change. We refuse to learn.

We've had the memorials to the victims. Speeches vowing never to let it happen again. We know about it. We have more power than ever before to implement change and prevent it and yet the best we seem to do is acknowledge its existence.

How many more Holocausts, genocides, mass murders do we need before we get it through our thick skulls that racism affects everyone, everywhere? Our apathy towards it has become the means to ensure its continuity. The continuity of racism will ensure the annihilation of the human race. Over the years, we've proven that we have become more adept at extermination rather than self-preservation. By tolerating racism in our lives, we haven't proven we deserve a better outcome.

**Kudos to Devious Diva for her continued effort to combat racism daily in her blog. If you haven't made the visit, don't waste any more time and click now as part of the Blog Against Racism Day.


Photo Blog of Karpenisi

The town of Karpenisi as seen from my hotel balcony.

Sheepherding dogs blocking us from moving up the mountain till the sheep were off the road. This dog was in front of car and we had one on each side of us and one behind the car to prevent us from moving. No shepherd in sight....just the dogs.

The bus that takes you to the snow centre at the top of the mountain. I have no idea if they still use it.

That mountain is where the snow centre is. That is also where we changed our flat tire from hitting a rock in the middle of the street on the way up. Maybe we should have taken that bus.

The Big Chicken. Since my son thought he discovered a new species of giant chickens, he took this picture. I told him it was a turkey and he thought it was beautiful. Raising a child in the city means he can identify all the sports cars manufactured in the free world but he couldn't tell the difference between a chicken and a turkey.

Mist formations on the way down from Karpenisi. I must have taken at least 2o photos of them. The scenery reminds me of the Cabot Trail back home in Nova Scotia.

Monday, November 28, 2005 

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Once, just once, I'd love to be able to:
hop in my car...
go to the store...
get what I need...
pay for it...
not get in any verbal fights...
drive home with my purchase in under an hour.

You'd think I'd know by now that this is not possible. That things like this only happen in TV commercial. There's a fine line between naivety and optimism. At least there WAS a fine line until last Friday. Now, there's just stupidity on my part.

Besides the logistics of shopping in Athens, active combat training would be a useful prerequisite to deal with the hostile drivers and salesclerks you are bound to encounter in a (what should have been) 20 minute trip to Carrefour.

I decided to go with my friend to Carrefour because she needed to start her Christmas shopping (yes, she's THAT organized and she's still my friend) and I needed to buy my son a new pair of hiking boots for our little excursion to Karpenisi. The plan was a good one and probably would have worked anywhere else but in Athens.

So, at 9am I left my house to pick her up. I didn't even manage to make the 10-minute drive to pick her up at her house before I was blockaded by a driver driving the wrong way down a one-way street. I'm quite accustomed to drivers driving down the wrong way on a one-way street since they usually know it and will pull off to the side of the road to let me through. However, this one didn't. No, he decided to head straight for my car, stopping within millimetres of my front bumper and to scream and shout at me for not backing up to let him pass. Had he not yelled at me, I might have considered it. Had I not any other cars behind me blocking my exit, I might have. Had he not called me "xeni" (foreigner), I might have accommodated him. But all 3 of these things at once? Absolutely not. I rolled down my window and told him he was on a "monodromo" (one way street) and I had priority since he was illegal. He continued to shout at me while cars were piling up behind me. It took two bystanders to finally convince the man that the lady was right and he needed to move before they'd call the police. As I drove by, I 'firmly' suggested he should have taken a driver's test instead of buying his driving licence.

I finally managed to pick up my friend and drive to Carrefour. We bought what we came for and a few other things and proceeded to the checkout where I was charged 10€ more than the listed price for a toy that I bought for her son and she was charged 3€ more than the listed price for pillowcases she bought. She let the 3€ charge slide. However, when I was charged 10€ extra we both had a fit because this was the second time in the same store where something we bought was a higher price by the time we got to the checkout. Because I'd already had problems with several other stores in the past couple of months for the exact same thing. Because I just wasn't in the mood for it.

Many times over the years, when the price differs at the checkout from the price listed on the shelf, I question it and complain. And I always hear the same answer..."you must have been mistaken. That price was for another product. You didn't read it well." This time was no different. I can accept that maybe I could make a mistake if I read the Greek description of an item too fast. But this was written in English and I checked it and so did my friend.

I went over to the "Returns" counter to complain and have my money refunded. The clerk told me that I didn't read the tag well and that's why "I was confused" about the price. I told her that my English was excellent and that if the lower price was for a similar item, where was it? Show me the smaller version of the toy if one existed. Like so many clerks before her, she claimed that the 'other' item was out of stock. If an item is 'out of stock', why, then would the price tag for it be still on the shelf? She then explained to me that I should have...wait for it...checked the multi digit bar code of the item with the bar code listed on the shelf.

Enough already. I demanded my money back and told her not to worry about it anymore since Carrefour was no longer on my list of stores to shop. I don't have the time, patience nor inclination to compare hundreds of bar codes when I do my shopping. I'll stick to the stores where the prices on the shelves accurately reflect the prices at the checkout counter although it's getting more and more difficult to find them these days.

Friday, November 25, 2005 

Weekend Excursion

Karpenisi, Evritania-Greece
Because I'm bored with Athens, I'll be leaving for Karpenisi in Evritania today. I'll be back on Monday ready to blog again. Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 

Thin is In for Britain's NHS

Thin enough for the NHS?

If you're obese and you live in Britain, you better pray you're in good health. The BBC reported that

Three Suffolk primary care trusts have ruled patients with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 will not get operations like hip and knee replacements.

Their reasoning for the ruling is as follows...

"The argument that the life of joints is reduced because people are overweight is more relevant to those with a BMI of above 40.

While I'm an adamant believer that people should take responsibility for their own choices in life, this ruling is unfair for the simple reason that it targets only one group of people who, due to their own lifestyle choices (improper diet, lack of exercise and/or overeating) have contributed to their decline in health. This ruling does not take into consideration that not all obese people can control their appetite since obesity is also an inherited problem or the result of an emotional disorder. The lifestyle of most people these days...sitting for 8 hours or more behind a computer, cash register or steering wheel doesn't afford them the time for exercise that manual labour jobs of days gone by once did.

This ruling is also a dangerous one because if obese people are being punished for their lifestyle choices, then can the same ruling can be applied to smokers who need chemotherapy for lung cancer. What about sports enthusiasts who experience higher-than-average sports injuries because of their hobbies? Can we also deny treatment for people who contract sexually transmitted diseases because it is assumed they choose to lead a promiscuous life? Anorexics who choose not to eat? Drug addicts who need to be treated for overdosing?

Obesity affects an ever-increasing amount of today's population and health practitioners are correct to be worried about the cost of treating the ailments of the obese. The same attention that has been given to the prevention of drug addiction, smoking and STDs should also be given to obesity.

If this ban is only applicable to obese people then it amounts to discrimination. If this ban is just the start of an effort to reduce health care expenses, then its ramifications could prove far more grievous than just the denial of a hip replacement.

Saturday, November 19, 2005 

Munch Worked in Retail

I know why he Screams

In my previous life back in Canada, I was a production manager for an ad agency. I very rarely dealt with clients since that was the job of the account executives so I never really honed my "people" skills. My job was to make sure things got done on time, on budget and without mistakes. Because I have been described as a demanding, critical, austere and meticulous person, I did very well at my job but meant that my superiors had to keep clients away from me and that suited me just fine.

Now, that I have to deal with dozens of customers a day, I feel out of my element. I literally have to bite my tongue so many times in a day, it's a wonder I still have one. The stupid things that come out of people's mouths just invite my wrath. The stupid things they do, send me off the deep end. Thank God we own the stores otherwise I would have been fired by now if I was working for anyone else.

I've blogged some examples last year and in January of the odd things that I deal with but if those aren't enough to convince you that I'm daily driven to the brink of insanity, keep reading. There's more. Now, I want to blog the things people have DONE in our stores as well as what they say.

The Porno Section
This section of both stores is in a separate room and I monitor it like a hawk. Why? Because men just can't seem to keep their hands out of their pockets. We have posted signs outside the room to let them know it's monitored by CCTV but that doesn't seem to deter them from doing the unthinkable. When I confront these deviants to kick them out, Mount Vesuvius has nothing on me when I explode. One guy even had the nerve to ask me why I was so angry. He was lucky I was wearing boots that day otherwise he would have had my shoe print on the back of his neck.

Then there are the customers who complain that their porno DVD has no subtitles. ????!! I just tell them that grunts and groans are pretty much a universal language and don't need subtitling. If they're missing the "plot" in a porn movie then maybe they need to be talking to a sex therapist instead of renting porn to begin with and bugging me about such stupidities.

Underage kids who try to rent porn irritate me. When I refuse to let them into the porn room without ID, their standard response is "My mother doesn't mind." My response to that is "I'm not your mother. Let her come in and rent them. " And I send them home to do their homework.

Kids & Parents
One girl brought a bicycle in the store to ride it while her mother was choosing a movie. I waited the obligatory 10 seconds for the mother to say something to her child. She didn't. So I told the girl to remove the bicycle from the store and I'll take mine to her house so we could ride them together in her mother's living room. The mother wasn't too happy but at least I didn't have to explain to our insurance company how a 7 year old broke her leg riding a bicycle in our store.

Another woman's 4 year old urinated on the upstairs' floor. When the mother came to the counter I thought for sure she'd ask for a mop since I had seen the whole thing on CCTV. Instead, she asked me to clean up the mess without one hint of embarrassment on her face. I took the mop and bucket upstairs and told the child that I didn't like what he did especially since he did it out of spite because his mother wouldn't buy him the Finding Nemo DVD and that it better not happen again or he would not even be able to rent Nemo let alone buy it.

Why parents expect me to do their job of disciplining and monitoring their children is inexplicable. This happens far too many times. Parents don't have the backbone to tell their spoiled kids to behave when in our stores. They will tell the children that the "lady" is going to get mad at you if you don't behave. Of course, I will get angry but why should it be MY job? I'm not the parent. No store clerk has ever admonished my son in public, I was always quite capable of disciplining him myself. I've been asked to lie to their children as well and tell them that we don't have a particular movie when we do or that the MP3 player they want is not for sale. And then the same people wonder why I have to be so rude about it.

When we first opened the stores, 10 & 11 year olds would rent movies like Hellraiser, Nightmare on Elm Street and Scarface or other movies I would think was inappropriate for children of such a young age to watch. I used to phone the parents to inform them what their children were watching and then I stopped phoning because not one parent ever told me not to rent the movie. Sometimes, I still refuse to rent certain movies to kids anyway just because I don't think anyone under the age of 18 should see a movie (marketed as a thriller) about the notorious paedophile serial murderer John Wayne Gacy .

I could go on and on but this blog has to end some time and I need some material for my next Snitch 'n Bitch instalment.

Thursday, November 17, 2005 

Disconnecting From OTE

Disconnecting becomes 500% cheaper

Back in June, I blogged OTE's grandiose and extravagant early retirement scheme. At a cost of 1.5 billion€, they planned to get rid of thousands of useless OTE employees whom they never should have hired in the first place. The average cash windfall each of these employees will receive, on average, is 250,000€. As if that isn't offensive enough, the Finance Minister, Alogoskoufis reassured us that

"Taxpayers won't be burdened. (June 3, 2005-Athens News)

Fast forward 5 months to the present and we have this little newsbite...

OTE said on Tuesday that its EPAK connection charges, which offer users Internet access via a regular phone line, will increase by 75 percent during the day and 500 percent for those wishing to surf at night. (Kathimerini)

I think it's pretty safe to say that a 500% price increase is a burden to taxpayers, wouldn't you? Yes, good citizens of Greece, despite Mr. Algoskoufis' statement, we are once again the proud owners of another couple of billion euros of debt. The man can't seem to get a budget passed. His attempts to combat tax evasion failed miserably. He thinks he can combat thousands of cases of money laundering with two men with a borrowed computer. He is the second most disliked man in the ND party and so when he says taxpayers won't be burdened, he still expects people to actually believe his distortions of the truth.

Here's the fuzzy logic for their decision to up the charges...

Industry sources said that the move is aimed at pushing more users on to the faster — and more expensive — ADSL connection. (Kathimerini)

Considering that Greece already ranked last for Internet usage in the EU because of the already high cost of internet connection (double the EU rates), those numbers will no doubt shrink even further. So much for Greece's new Information Society Observatory superbly blogged over at Phylax...with this new price hike the only thing they'll be observing is users disconnecting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 

Six Feet Under

Athens Rent-A-Graves

When you move to another country, your main concern is how you'll be able to live and adapt to a new country. You don't spend much time thinking about how you're going to die. At least I didn't. Call it optimism or ignorance. Either way, the last thing on your mind is what your death and burial will be like. Even after living in Greece for 7 years, I still never gave it much thought. Until January of this year.

My husband's 91 year-old grandfather died in January. When he died, I felt better for just having known such a good, decent, kind, generous and principled man. After 91 years of surviving two world wars, civil unrest, famine and a military junta, his death did not come as a shock to us. His funeral came as a big shock to me. I was accustomed to a North American funeral involving a funeral home, eulogies to be prepared and written, which priest, how many days for the viewing. When I asked my husband about how we were going to arrange his grandfather's funeral, he was surprised and said "what's to arrange? It'll be over and done with in a day."

And true to his words, a quicker and more indifferent funeral I had never experienced. The priest who officiated did not offer kind words of condolence and spiritual hope to the family. Instead, he read the same funereal words he probably had read at dozens of other funerals. There was no one who stood up to read sincere and poignant eulogies for the man who had affected so many lives. A man who had provided for not just his own immediate family but his extended family as well. Most of whom still live in the houses he bought them while he was alive while he died in a small but immaculate one bedroom apartment. 91 years of life on this planet and the best we could do for him was a few grains of sitari (wheat) thrown on his rent-a-grave while a religious stranger spoke emotionless words. It just didn't seem right.

He deserved better. His family deserved better.

In Greece, most funerals are like his. You die. Your family rents a grave for 3 years since there is no space left to bury our dead in Athens. It's so bad that the bodies don't even decompose because there's just not enough soil to do the work. On the 9th day after your death your closest friends and family pay one of the many priests walking around the cemetery to officiate for 5 minutes and you go back home waiting for the 40 day memorial service. Then they return again on the 1 year anniversary of your death to repeat the same banale process. After 3 years, you get exhumed and if you don't pay for a reburial elsewhere, your bones are thrown down a well. Cremation (and embalming) is illegal. The Greek Orthodox Church claims that cremation is sacrilege so it's forbidden but digging up the dead isn't considered desecration? The Church makes more money off burials than cremation. Priests, who are paid by the State, also get paid in cash (most likely never declared for taxation) for performing all these ceremonies when someone dies.

By comparison, when my grandfather died 11 years ago at the age of 92, his funeral service lasted almost two hours. The priest knew my grandfather personally and many members of his family by name. So many people came that the funeral home that they had to extend the viewing days so more people would have a chance to pay their respects to our family. People I had never met drove hours just to make sure someone in our family knew what my grandfather had done for them . I was so touched by the outpouring of emotion and love from them that I actually have good memories of my grandfather's funeral. I had hoped I would be able to remember Pappous Yianni's funeral in the same way. But I can't. I feel we didn't do his life justice. My husband now wishes we had taken more control over how it was arranged. We can't bring him back, but we at least could have been comforted by the thought that we gave him a funeral befitting such a wonderful man.

His funeral made me realize that the way you leave this life is just as important as how you entered it. Therefore, I've made my wishes known to those closest to me that I do not want strangers anywhere near my grave and if I could get buried in the middle of some field in a Hefty bag, that would suit me just fine. No money to be spent on useless rituals or fancy graves. I'd want donations made to as many reputable charities as possible. Most importantly, I would not want any memorial services where people feel obligated to show up. The most I would hope for is that every now and again, that they think of me while they're living their lives and not mourning over mine. I dislike miserable people around me while I'm alive, I certainly don't want misery surrounding me when I'm dead.

Monday, November 14, 2005 

At the Mercy of My PC.

The fate awaiting my PC

If I had a clue, I'd be dangerous.
If I had two, they'd rattle.
If I had three, I would be able to successfully post a blog this week.

I haven't abandoned my blog. My blog seems to have abandoned me. This is the second time I've tried to post a blog this week and I've lost it. The first one was because my blogger editor froze just as I was about to post and the second time was because I decided to type my blog at work and save it to a floppy disk. It's still on the floppy disk. I'm almost to the point where I would take a screen shot of the file I can't open and leave it at that. Even that effort has been foiled since my floppy drive is holding the disk hostage. So once my temper subsides, I will rewrite the blog once again...and have the presence of mind to make a backup. I just hope there will be someone around to read it.

Of course, there is still the distinct possibility that my PC has become self-aware and will spontaneously combust just to put the last nail in my blog coffin.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005 

Reporting Greece's Evils

Has it come to this?

What's going on in this country? For months now, the priests, politicians and public figures caught up in scandals have been blaming the media for their demise. Every day new revelations of corruption, embezzlement, fraud, drug and sex trafficking, lying, money laundering, pimping and theft keep surfacing and all the guilty parties can do is blame the media for reporting their sins.

Even newspapers have jumped on the political propaganda bandwagon demanding the TV tribunals stop exposing the scandal. The media has even turned on its own by presuming that it has to provide solutions for the problems they bring to light. That's not the media's responsibility, that's the government's job.

I always thought the role of the press was to accurately and without bias, report the events around them. Just because what they report does not meet with approval from their subjects doesn't make it any less accurate or less worthy of being reported. The freedom of the press is one of the major indicators of a democratic country. Greece is no exception as its Constitution proclaims to protect that right.

Article 14 (2) of the Greek Constitution states
The press is free. Censorship and all preventive measures are prohibited.

That sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it? But if you read the clause immediately after you will see freedom has restrictions and the Constitution defines in which cases the press can be of them being an
a) insult to the Christian and all other known religions,

I guess freedom of the press exists only when the press acts as a mouthpiece for the clergy and politicians.

Last week, Greece's NCRT (National Council for Radio and Television) shut down Athens radio station Best 92.6 because of comments made by journalist, Grigoris Psarianos. He criticised the Church during a show back in July. The NCRT claimed the remarks made during the show were vulgar and then made the unusual decision to shut the station down without warning or a fine. The station has stated that it will appeal the ruling and defied the order by continuing to broadcast with the full support of Reporters Sans Frontieres and the International Federation of Journalists.

I find it hypocritical that the parties who attack the media for being vulgar are themselves IN the media because of their own vulgar actions. The same people are claiming to have the public and national interests at heart by 'protecting' us from the ugliness being exposed. I don't need their help to decide what I can and can't read or watch. I'm fully capable of thinking for myself. If other people don't like what they read or see, I have three words for them: head, hole, sand.

Why Greece wants to take a huge step backwards and return to a Junta controlled media state is beyond me.

Note: I came across the website of author, writer, journalist Nikos Dimos. Read his thoughts and experiences with Greek censorship.

Sunday, November 06, 2005 

Fighting the Online Porn Hydra

Surfing made safer.

For the past year, newspapers have been reporting a global crackdown on internet child pornography resulting in the arrests of hundreds of paedophiles and child porn racketeers. Dozens of them have been located and arrested in Greece as well. Although I applaud the efforts being taken by law enforcement to rid these dregs of humanity from our society, I know it's not enough. The porn industry is a multi-billion dollar marketplace and even though the number of arrests have increased, the police and concerned citizen groups (click this link just to see what the freaks are capable of) can't keep up with the number of new online porn sites which appear every day. New heads on this perverted Hydra sprout up faster than they can chop them off which means parents, like me, have a dilemma on their hands. Do we forbid our children to access the internet and deny them the chance to become part of the Digital Age? Do we allow them access and then monitor their web surfing 24-7?

Both solutions are impossible. No parent can monitor their children around the clock. If you ban them from internet access at home, they will still get online at any of the numerous online Net cafes or even at their friends' houses. With porn spammers becoming more aggressive, software like CyberSitter, can greatly reduce the amount of garbage kids see from websites and instant messaging. Up until now, anti-porn shields relied on a database of known sites and spammers in order to block questionable content from your child's eyes. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing.

Soon, a new product will be on the market to help concerned parents and educators. It's called Filter X and was developed in Greece by information technology experts at Democritus University of Thrace. What makes this filtering software so special is its ability to scan text and graphics of sites BEFORE your child accesses them and it does it all within a fraction of a second. The software has been tested over the past 2 years in a pilot program in schools across Greece and the EU and will soon be available for purchase. Since brainpower is about the only growth export sector in Greece these days, I only hope that it's release won't be delayed by bureacratic red tape and will pave the way for more Greek hi-tech products to hit the market in the near future.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005 

Θα Γυρίσω? I Don't Think So.

How do you translate an Austrian accent in English into Greek?
You don't.

When DVDs first came on the scene, I just loved to play around with the added features they offered...subtitles in a dozen languages, "behind the scenes", interviews and the games. The most fun I had was switching voices into other languages but after hearing Clint Eastwood say "Do you feel lucky, punk?" in Hungarian, the novelty soon wore off. Some actors weren't meant for dubbing. No one but Eddie Murphy can DO Eddie Murphy.

Now that I'm back to watching movies in their original format, I find myself driven to the brink of insanity from reading the poorly translated subtitles. Sometimes, the translation is so bad, that even my husband will turn off the subtitles so he can understand the movie better.

I'm baffled by this phenomenon. In a country where there are more frontistiria (private learning institutes) for English than there are public schools, why is Greek translation from English so bad? I can't remember the last time I actually saw a movie where a number was translated correctly. Learning numbers in another language is usually covered by the second lesson...after the alphabet.

If a scene in a movie isn't translated properly, the entire meaning is lost. Here are some examples.
  • CSI Las Vegas. Catherine asks one of the other CSIs to get her a "double double" because she knew she would be up all night on a complex case. The translation for it read as "hamburger" and not "coffee".
  • In another movie I watched recently, one of the characters asked her cop partner if he had "her back" and it was translated as "do you love me?" Viewers would be waiting for a romance to blossom instead of a partner who would do his job and protect her.
  • Pootie Tang. A completely forgettable movie had it not been for the translations. Most English speakers would have needed to watch this movie with English subtitles but that didn't stop Greek translators from entirely rewriting the movie.
  • Stigmata. Early into the movie, they actually translated Spanish PHONETICALLY into Greek. So, "hola, que pasa" didn't get translated as "hello, what's going on?" but as ολα και πασα.
I think translation for movies should be left to native speakers of both Greek and English. The problems arise when a non-native speaker tries to do it. Considering that the price of an original DVD is quite expensive...often over 30€, you'd think the Greek distributors would at least try to give us value for our money and get decent translation for them.