The Reality of Life in Greece

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Christopher Humphrys, Daily Mail

athens-greece A dream job? I thought so. I had left the grey skies of London and the big black hole in my bank account for the sunny skies of Greece. My salary as a cellist playing in a small Greek orchestra was relatively modest, but I could still afford to eat out every night, rent a nice apartment and spend long summer holidays on the Greek islands.

By the time I met my beautiful future wife, Penelope, my mind was made up. I could see no reason for ever wanting to live anywhere else but Greece.

That was 20 years ago. This week, as Greece woke up to the reality that it was effectively a bankrupt nation, I could see many reasons.

Civil unrest: Protesters clash with riot police over Greek ‘austerity measures’

Here’s a snapshot of everyday life in a nation on the brink of civil catastrophe.

Before I set out for work on my motorbike yesterday morning, I first had to plan a route that would avoid the latest demonstration and the inevitable tear-gas that would accompany it.

As I passed the debris of the previous night’s riots, I heard the police helicopters buzzing overhead and tried to avoid eye contact with the nervous policemen on almost every street corner, fingering their carbines.

The vibrant but essentially law-abiding city of Athens has become a tense and slightly threatening place to live. It’s all happening because of the Greek economy, which this week collapsed even further as global credit agencies downgraded the rating of Greek government bonds to ‘junk’ status.

But in truth, the rot set in long ago. For decades, Greece has been living a lie. To say the nation has been living beyond its means is the understatement of the century. We have been indulging in an orgy of over- spending and over-borrowing beyond the wildest imagination.

Let me introduce you to my oldest friend, John, the man I went to school with in Britain and the man who first persuaded me to try for a job in Athens. He was already living here. In the years since then, he has become as Greek as the Elgin Marbles. He has a Greek wife, Greek children and a deep love of the country he thinks of as his own.

greece But today he is desperately looking for a job back in Britain. And that’s because five years ago he managed to do something we all hankered after: he got a job with the state orchestra.

The important part of that sentence is the word ‘state’. It’s not a very good orchestra, but when you work for it you are on the state’s payroll, and that’s the gravy train that just about everyone in Greece wanted to board. It meant a job for life. The pension was eye-watering by British standards and so were the benefits.

Try this for size: a full year’s maternity leave; a year’s sabbatical if it took your fancy; and no matter how badly you played your music, you were utterly secure in the knowledge that you would never be sacked. These rules applied to every single state job in the land.

Now, in the spending cuts that are surely going to have to be made, John is terrified that his gold-star state job could vanish overnight — a bleak prospect with unemployment spiralling, but one that looks increasingly likely.

Unrealistic: Greeks may protest, but for too long they have relied on EU cash

Take another friend of mine, whose father died when she was only 25 years old. She inherited his state pension even though she was a well-to-do lawyer in her own right.

I have plenty of other friends who work for the state. I use the word ‘work’ loosely. Some of them are conscientious and do their nine-tofive hours with a degree of enthusiasm. But the fact is that some didn’t even bother turning up for work at all; they do other jobs instead, but still collect their state salaries.

I think of them as ‘ghost workers’ — and every Greek knows at least one of them. These ghosts have been milking the taxpayer for every penny they could take.

Now, let’s look at that word ‘ taxpayer’. In Greece, tax has long been something regarded by most people as entirely optional. You may choose to pay it, or you may not. There are a hundred ways of finding loopholes — some of them legal, many of them not.

The state has always acknowledged as much. And so, rather than pursuing the tax cheats with all the might of the law, they offered an amnesty: instead of being investigated for tax evasion, people were able to volunteer a one-off payment to make the problem go away.

How much? Just e2,000. And that’s it. No questions asked, even if you had been avoiding a tax liability of tens of thousands.

Greece 5400 But then, why on earth would the politicians seek to end this blatant corruption when they have been at [the receiving end].

One government minister was found to have built an enormous villa on the side of a mountain in a highly desirable location just outside Athens. Not only did he have no planning permission, but he built it with cheap labour supplied by illegal immigrants. His penalty, when the papers made a big fuss about it, was to be demoted — but his house still stands.

It’s impossible to calculate how many houses in Athens have been built illegally. What is certain is that somebody, somewhere, has been making a huge amount of money in bribes from the owners.

The standard way of doing business in this country is to resort to a ‘little brown envelope’. It’s not only corruption, such dishonesty denies the state income that should be paying for the schools, the hospitals and every other public service.

And here’s the strange thing. Those public services are, by most standards, very good. I have always found the health service here to be at least as good as Britain’s, probably better. And it’s entirely free.

So how can they afford it when people don’t pay their taxes? The answer, of course, is: Greece can’t. It’s bankrupt.

Nor can the country afford those staggeringly generous state pensions (my father-in-law’s pension is rather higher than my salary), nor the ghost jobs nor — God forbid — the Olympics that they staged with such fanfare in 2004. They cost more than e10 billion, and the long-term benefits from them have been effectively zero.

Yes, there’s a shiny new Metro underground train system and whole areas of the city have been tarted up — but it was done with borrowed money that has yet to be paid back. And those magnificent new stadiums are decaying before our eyes — a sad reminder of why hubris is a Greek word.

Perhaps the greatest corruption of all was the way Greece managed to join the euro. There was no way in the world the government could have met the strict financial criteria, so they took another route: they lied.

With the help of foreign bankers they simply misled Brussels and everyone else as to the true degree to which the state was in hock to the lenders.

They imagined that being members of the euro would cement Greece’s position as a modern, successful European country. Now, as we know all too well, the opposite has been the case.

Certainly, Greece has benefited enormously from being a member of the European Union. This is a fiercely patriotic country and you will see the Greek flag flying everywhere you go.

But here’s a sobering thought: almost every significant building, road, even park has been financed at least in part by you, dear reader. It’s your taxes — routed through payments to the EU — that have helped Greece look the way it does today. But now, of course, the gravy train has careered off the track and is causing carnage.

Yes, the Greek government is now embarking on what is called an austerity program. But it still doesn’t look anything like austere enough.

Here’s an example. It decided that if you own a swimming pool, you must, by definition, be pretty well-off and therefore you should be paying a certain amount in tax. If not, you’re in trouble.

And, of course, it’s easy for officialdom to spot the pool owners: they just look at the pictures conveniently provided on the website Google Earth. So what do the owners do? They cover their pools with green covers so that it looks as though they have nice, big lawns. Old habits die hard.

My own fear is that corruption and tax evasion and borrowing are so deeply ingrained in the Greek culture that even the austerity measures taken, and the combined bail-outs from other EU nations and the International Monetary Fund, will simply not work. Too little, and much too late.

And what then? Well, maybe we will be forced out of the euro — and maybe that will be good for us.

Many of us who live here will not be sorry to see the back of the euro, because one catastrophic sideeffect of joining the single market has been that the cost of living has pretty much doubled.

Meanwhile, the country must learn to live within its means. It must recognise that the state is not some sort of Santa Claus who can always pull another surprise goodie out of his bottomless sack.

For the past couple of years the Greek tourist authority has been selling the delights of this glorious country with the slogan ‘Live your myth in Greece’.

How appropriate that sounds today. We have been living a myth in Greece for far too long. It is now disintegrating, and all of us are deeply worried about what will take its place.

What a sobering lesson for Britain, as you slowly face up to the enormity of your own economic crisis.

12-19

Egypt Welcomes Volcano-Stranded Tourists

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Charlene Gubash, NBC News Producer

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism is determined to keep the good times rolling for stranded visitors.  Although hotels are overbooked by 7 percent in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada and well over 80 percent in Sharm El Sheikh, hotel owners have been ordered not to expel guests who have overstayed their reservations.

Tour companies must continue to foot the bill for tour groups who overstay and if lodgers are traveling solo, hotels are obliged to offer them low rates. If travelers are in financial trouble, they have been advised to contact their embassies.

Stranded Europeans are taking full advantage.

“The travel agent, they pay all for us, room, food, drinks, everything,” said Ulf Daahlbom of Gothenburg Sweden.  He took a five hour taxi ride from Hurghada to take in the sites in Cairo.  “It was beautiful here.  I have been at the Pyramids and the Egyptian museum.”

Two engineers from Ireland and Scotland couldn’t conceal their smiles as they sat in the shade of a tree after a day in 100 degree heat at the Pyramids and Egyptian Museum.  They had been on their way back home from work in the Suez Canal zone when they were obliged to take an all-expense paid vacation.

Charlotte Krum, a stewardess for Scandinavian Air, has nothing to go back for since her airline has been grounded.  She and her husband and four children were on a Red Sea get-away when spewing volcanic ash extended their stay.  “It’s nice for us to have the opportunity to show them [the children] all the sites in Cairo,” she said. “We just came from the Pyramids and now we go to the museum.  We are trying to make the best out of it.”

Krum and her family came to Cairo to try and get a flight to Greece, but seemed in no hurry. Traveler’s insurance covered the first four days of their stay.  “Everything has been working out quite well.  We have some nice rooms here.”

Egypt jealously protects its biggest money earner: tourism.  About 12 million tourists, at least 65 percent of them from Europe, bring in about 11 billion dollars a year and 12.6 percent of the workforce lives off of tourism.  All guests are welcome, even those who overstay.

While many hotels over overbooked, EgyptAir and other regional carriers sit idle on the tarmac.  They are suffering to the tune of 250 million dollars a day.  Before noon on Monday, more than 16 planes were grounded on Cairo’s tarmacs.

But in Egypt’s airports, you won’t find hapless visitors trying to catch some sleep on makeshift bedrolls, or slumped in plastic chairs. Tour guides are under strict orders not to drop anyone off at the airport until they have confirmed their flights.

12-17

World’s First Arab Robot

November 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

facebot-ibn-sina-robot Known more for its architectural feats and infrastructure genius, the UAE is charting new waters in Artificial Intelligence with the creation of the Arab world’s very first Arabic-speaking robot. Named after the famous 11th century Islamic scientist and philosopher Ibn Sina, or Avicenna in English, the robot appears extremely life like and bears quite a resemblance to his namesake while also speaking in classical Arabic. Ibn Sina wears traditional Arab clothes complete with a flowing gilded robe and headdress. A series of motors in his face help him to move just like his human counterparts.

The robot is the first humanoid robot that can carry on a conversation and articulate human gestures as well as facial expressions in the Middle East. Ibn Sina can also ‘see’ and is programmed with software that helps him recognize objects, remember faces, understand dialogue and respond verbally. A team of students at the UAE University with the guidance of Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Nikolaos Mavridis, designed Ibn Sina.  Hailing from Greece, Mavridis spearheaded the project alongside 12 international students, which also included several local UAE citizens.

Ibn Sina can fulfill a number of tasks including answering specific questions, connecting to the Internet and providing other information. According to Mavridis, Ibn Sina is destined to be cloned and will go into public service as a shopping mall information clerk. The prototype Ibn Sina already serves a full day at the help desk at the local Al Ain Mall where he also directs shoppers to stores carrying items that they are looking for. However, Mavridis estimates that it will take another six months and a team of five students to perfect Ibn Sina so that he is more useful and delivers a flawless performance.

Funding for the project was made by the ruler of the UAE himself with an investment of almost $200,000. Ibn Sina is also used for other projects in the university laboratory as students are more than eager to use him as an, albeit robotic, guinea pig.

A gentle buzz has slowly started forming around the world’s first Arabic robot with several companies reaching out to Mavridis and his team to learn more about Ibn Sina. In a recent interview Mavridis revealed his own hopes and dreams for the future of technology in the tiny Gulf kingdom, “Given all the growth that is happening right here at this moment, it’s important that apart from building the largest tower in the world and all of these beautiful buildings, to try to do something that has to do with scientific and intellectual achievements. For that reason we chose Ibn Sina as the character from which our robot was inspired in order to bring back his values to our students. He brings together a lot of traditions, ancient and more recent traditions.”

Ibn Sina is also becoming an old hand at social networking. He has his very own Facebook account. Ibn Sina can ask someone new their name, look them up on Facebook and become friends with them online. And with over 115 friends on his profile page, Ibn Sina looks well on his way to becoming a social networking guru in no time at all. Bots and humans forming social connections online is just the tip of the iceberg in artificial intelligence, at least in the UAE. The UAE University plans to further develop its robotics department and laboratory. Recent research conducted by the Information Data Corporation projects that IT development and projects will grow by over 12% over the next five years in the UAE at an estimated cost of almost $2 billion dollars.

11-46

Did Hitler Want War?

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick J. Buchanan

poland 1933 polemap
   
Poland, 1930 German map of Poland, 1942

 

On Sept. 1, 1939, 70 years ago, the German Army crossed the Polish frontier. On Sept. 3, Britain declared war.

Six years later, 50 million Christians and Jews had perished. Britain was broken and bankrupt, Germany a smoldering ruin. Europe had served as the site of the most murderous combat known to man, and civilians had suffered worse horrors than the soldiers.

By May 1945, Red Army hordes occupied all the great capitals of Central Europe: Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Berlin. A hundred million Christians were under the heel of the most barbarous tyranny in history: the Bolshevik regime of the greatest terrorist of them all, Joseph Stalin.

What cause could justify such sacrifices?

The German-Polish war had come out of a quarrel over a town the size of Ocean City, Md., in summer. Danzig, 95 percent German, had been severed from Germany at Versailles in violation of Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination. Even British leaders thought Danzig should be returned.

Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia? Because the Poles had a war guarantee from Britain that, should Germany attack, Britain and her empire would come to Poland’s rescue.

But why would Britain hand an unsolicited war guarantee to a junta of Polish colonels, giving them the power to drag Britain into a second war with the most powerful nation in Europe?

Was Danzig worth a war? Unlike the 7 million Hong Kongese whom the British surrendered to Beijing, who didn’t want to go, the Danzigers were clamoring to return to Germany.

Comes the response: The war guarantee was not about Danzig, or even about Poland. It was about the moral and strategic imperative “to stop Hitler” after he showed, by tearing up the Munich pact and Czechoslovakia with it, that he was out to conquer the world. And this Nazi beast could not be allowed to do that.

If true, a fair point. Americans, after all, were prepared to use atom bombs to keep the Red Army from the Channel. But where is the evidence that Adolf Hitler, whose victims as of March 1939 were a fraction of Gen. Pinochet’s, or Fidel Castro’s, was out to conquer the world?

After Munich in 1938, Czechoslovakia did indeed crumble and come apart. Yet consider what became of its parts.

The Sudeten Germans were returned to German rule, as they wished. Poland had annexed the tiny disputed region of Teschen, where thousands of Poles lived. Hungary’s ancestral lands in the south of Slovakia had been returned to her. The Slovaks had their full independence guaranteed by Germany. As for the Czechs, they came to Berlin for the same deal as the Slovaks, but Hitler insisted they accept a protectorate.

Now one may despise what was done, but how did this partition of Czechoslovakia manifest a Hitlerian drive for world conquest?

Comes the reply: If Britain had not given the war guarantee and gone to war, after Czechoslovakia would have come Poland’s turn, then Russia’s, then France’s, then Britain’s, then the United States.

We would all be speaking German now.

But if Hitler was out to conquer the world — Britain, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, South America, India, Asia, Australia — why did he spend three years building that hugely expensive Siegfried Line to protect Germany from France? Why did he start the war with no surface fleet, no troop transports and only 29 oceangoing submarines? How do you conquer the world with a navy that can’t get out of the Baltic Sea?

If Hitler wanted the world, why did he not build strategic bombers, instead of two-engine Dorniers and Heinkels that could not even reach Britain from Germany?

Why did he let the British army go at Dunkirk?

Why did he offer the British peace, twice, after Poland fell, and again after France fell?

Why, when Paris fell, did Hitler not demand the French fleet, as the Allies demanded and got the Kaiser’s fleet? Why did he not demand bases in French-controlled Syria to attack Suez? Why did he beg Benito Mussolini not to attack Greece?

Because Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps.

Hitler had never wanted war with Poland, but an alliance with Poland such as he had with Francisco Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, Miklos Horthy’s Hungary and Father Jozef Tiso’s Slovakia.

Indeed, why would he want war when, by 1939, he was surrounded by allied, friendly or neutral neighbors, save France. And he had written off Alsace, because reconquering Alsace meant war with France, and that meant war with Britain, whose empire he admired and whom he had always sought as an ally.

As of March 1939, Hitler did not even have a border with Russia. How then could he invade Russia?

Winston Churchill was right when he called it “The Unnecessary War” — the war that may yet prove the mortal blow to our civilization.

11-38

World’s Youth Leaders Gather to Address the Challenges of Militarization, Nuclear Weapons and the Misuse of Religion

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Kathmandu_street
File:  A busy street in Kathmandu.

(Kathmandu, July 10, 2009)  The International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security was inaugurated by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, in Kathmandu on 10 July 2009.  Organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest multi-religious organization accredited with the United Nations and headquartered in New York, the Summit brought together approximately 100 Nepali and 50 international religious and civil society leaders from 25 countries.[1]   Other prominent participants in the Summit included Mr. Kul C. Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF; Mr. Taijiro Kimura, Director, UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific; Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General, the World Conference of Religions for Peace; and Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network.

Globally nearly 1,000 people a day die from various kinds of weapons.  Military spending in 2008 reached a new high of $1.464 trillion, even as the global economy faltered and the majority of the world’s population continued to live in extreme poverty.   Four billion dollars worth of small arms are traded legally each year, while another $1 billion is traded illegally.  The world is confronted with proliferation of nuclear weapons, continued use of cluster munitions, landmines and other conventional weapons, rising military expenditures at the expense of development, and the misuse of religion in support of violence and war.

His Excellency Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the President of Nepal, stated that “We need to harness the power of the world’s religions to counter violence with the message of peace, love and compassion, especially among the youth of our nations. I want to compliment the Religion and Peace Academy of Nepal (RAPAN) and the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) for convening a very timely ‘International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security’ in Kathmandu.”

Mr. Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, and president of Mayors for Peace, a global coalition of mayors from 2,926 cities in 134 countries and regions, stated in his message that “The possibility of proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons are growing, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is on the verge of collapse.  Mayors for Peace welcomes the possibility of working with the world’s religious communities and young people through the Religions for Peace global network to promote our 2020 Vision, a program to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” 

Mr. Kul Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF noted that “Youth are the soul of the society.  They are essential to transform culture of violence we are seeing at present to culture of peace, which is an intrinsic and inherent part of Nepali culture.  Based on my long association with Religions for Peace, I am confident that this conference will help advance a powerful campaign for peace and non-violence through multi-religious cooperation in Nepal and around the world.” He urged the World Conference of Religions for Peace to support a massive campaign to rollback violence in Nepal as a direct follow-up of this conference in Nepal, and consider similar campaigns in other post-conflict countries in the world.

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said, “This Summit intends to further unleash the positive socially transformative power of religion, underline the crucial role of young people in shaping our world, and highlight the added value of multi-religious cooperation and multi-stakeholder approach to disarmament for shared security, development and peace.”

Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network said, “This Summit is a great opportunity for religious youth leaders to discuss major challenges to shared security and develop action plans.  Based upon these, Religions for Peace youth leaders from national, regional and global networks will launch a campaign on reducing military expenditures to advance shared security.”

[1] Afghanistan, Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the US.  

11-30

Examples of Advanced Ancient Technology

February 26, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Harun Yahya

Excerpted from the book A Historical Lie: the Stone Age

The Nimrud Lens

A discovery made by the archaeologist Sir John Layard in 1850 raised the question of who actually used the first lens? During a series of excavations in what is now Iraq, Layard discovered a piece of a lens dating back 3,000 years. Currently on display in the British Museum, this fragment shows that the first known lens was used in the days of the Assyrians. Professor Giovanni Pettinato of the University of Rome believes that this rock-crystal lens—which, according to him, is a major discovery shedding considerable light on the history of science—could also explain why the ancient Assyrians knew so much about astronomy, having discovered the planet Saturn and the rings around it.

To what use was this lens put? That answer may be debatable, but it’s still obvious that not all bygone societies lived simple lives, as evolutionist scientists maintain. Past societies made use of science and technology, built deeply-rooted civilizations and enjoyed advanced life styles. Only limited information regarding their daily lives has come down to us today, but practically all we know shows that none of these societies ever underwent evolution.

The Baghdad Battery

In 1938, the German archaeologist Wilhelm König discovered a vase-like object now known as the “Baghdad Battery.” But how was it concluded that this object, some 2,000 years old, was used as a battery? If it actually was used as a battery—which the research carried out certainly indicates—then all theories to the effect that civilization always progresses and that societies in the past lived under primitive conditions, will be totally demolished. This earthenware pot, sealed with asphalt or bitumen, contains a cylinder of copper. The bottom of this cylinder is covered with a copper disk. The asphalt stopper holds in place an iron rod, suspended down into the cylinder, without making any contact with it.

If the pot is filled with an electrolyte, a current-producing battery is the result. This phenomenon is known as an electrochemical reaction, and is not far different from the way that present-day batteries work. During experiments, between 1.5 and 2 volts of electricity was generated by some reconstructions based on the Baghdad Battery.

This raises a very important question: What was a battery used for 2,000 years ago? Since such a battery existed, obviously there must have been tools and devices that it powered. This once again shows that people living 2,000 years ago possessed far more advanced technology—and by extension, living standards—than was previously thought.

The Mayans: Another Civilization That Refutes the Idea of the Evolution of History

Almost all evolutionist publications have one thing in common: All of them devote considerable space to imaginary scenarios regarding why some biological structure or characteristic of a living thing might have evolved. The striking factor is that all the stories evolutionists dream up are depicted as scientific fact. The fact is, however, that these accounts are nothing more than Darwinist fairy tales. Evolutionists seek to present the scenarios they come up with as scientific evidence. Yet these accounts are all entirely misleading, of no scientific worth, and can never constitute evidence for evolutionist claims.

One tale so frequently encountered in the evolutionist literature is that of allegedly ape-like creatures turning into human beings, and of primitive man gradually becoming a social entity. Despite there being no scientific evidence to support them, reconstructions of these supposed primitive human beings—in which they are depicted as walking only semi-upright, grunting, walking together with their “cave-families” or hunting with crude stone tools—are the best known parts of this scenario.

These reconstructions amount to an invitation to imagine and believe. With them, evolutionists seek to convince people not on the basis of concrete facts, but of fantastic speculation, because these are based on their authors’ prejudices and preconceptions, rather than on scientific facts.

Evolutionists have no qualms about keeping these stories in the professional literature, nor about presenting them as if they were scientific truth, even though they are well aware of the erroneous nature of their accounts. However, these scenarios so frequently voiced by evolutionists constitute conjectures, not scientific evidence, for the theory of evolution, because there is no evidence that Man is descended from an ape-like ancestor. In the same way, no archaeological or historical evidence suggests that societies evolve from the primitive to the more advanced. Man has been Man ever since he first came into existence, and has created different civilizations and cultures in all periods of history. One of these civilizations is the Mayan, whose remains still inspire amazement today.

Historical sources refer to a tall figure in white robes who came to the communities living in this region. According to the information contained on monuments, the belief in a single God spread for a short time, while advances were made in science and art.

The Mayans: Expert Mathematicians

The Mayans lived in Central America around 1,000 BCE, at a considerable distance from other advanced civilizations like those in Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. The most important features of the Mayans are the scientific advances they made in the fields of astronomy and mathematics, and their complex written language.

The Mayans’ knowledge of time, astronomy and mathematics was a thousand years ahead of that of the Western world at the time. For example, their calculation of the Earth’s annual cycle was a great deal more accurate than any other such calculations before the invention of the computer. The Mayans used the mathematical concept of zero a thousand years before its discovery by Western mathematicians, and used far more advanced figures and signs than their contemporaries.

The Mayan Calendar

The Haab, the civil calendar used by the Mayans, consisting of 365 days, is one of the products of their advanced civilization. Actually, they were aware that a year is slightly longer than 365 days; their estimate was 365.242036 days. In the Gregorian calendar in use today, a year consists of 365.2425 days. 67 As you can see, there’s only a very small difference between the two figures—further evidence of the Mayans’ expertise in the fields of mathematics and astronomy.

The Mayans’ Knowledge of Astronomy

Three books which have come down to us from the Mayans, known as the Maya Codices, contain important information concerning their lives and astronomical knowledge. Of the three—the Madrid Codex, the Paris Codex and the Dresden Codex—the latter is the most important in terms of showing the depth of the Mayan knowledge of astronomy. They possessed a very complex system of writing, of which only less than 30% has been deciphered. Yet even this is enough to show the advanced level of science they attained.

For example, page 11 of the Dresden Codex contains information about the planet Venus. The Mayans had calculated that the Venusian year lasted 583.92 days, and rounded it up to 584 days. In addition, they produced drawings of the planet’s cycle for thousands of years. Two other pages in the codex contain information about Mars, four are about Jupiter and its satellites, and eight pages are devoted to the Moon, Mercury and Saturn, setting out such complicated calculations as the orbits of these planets around the Sun, their relationships with one another, and their relationships with the Earth.

So accurate was the Mayans’ knowledge of astronomy that they were able to determine that one day needed to be subtracted from the Venusian orbit every 6,000 years. How did they acquire such information? That is still a matter of debate for astronomers, astro-physicists and archaeologists. Today, such complex calculations are made with the help of computer technology. Scientists learn about outer space in observatories equipped with all kinds of technical and electrical apparatus. Yet the Mayans acquired their knowledge 2,000 years before the invention of present-day technology. This yet again invalidates the thesis that societies always progress from a primitive to a more advanced state. Many bygone societies had just as advanced a level of civilization as current ones, and sometimes even more so. Many communities today have not yet achieved the levels attained by societies in the past. In short, civilizations sometimes move forwards and at other times backwards, and both advanced and primitive civilizations sometimes exist at the very same time.

Network of Roads in the Ancient Mayan City of Tikal

Tikal, one of the oldest Mayan cities, was founded in the 8th century BCE. Archaeological excavations in the city, which stands in wild jungle, have unearthed houses, palaces, pyramids, temples and assembly areas. All these areas are connected to one another by roads. Radar images have shown that in addition to complete drainage system, the city also enjoyed a comprehensive irrigation system. Tikal stands neither by a river nor by a lake, and it was found that the city made use of some ten water reservoirs.

Five main roads lead from Tikal into the jungle. Archaeologists describe them as ceremonial roads. Aerial photographs show that Mayan cities were linked to one another by a large network of roads totaling some 300 kilometers (190 miles) in length and demonstrating detailed engineering. All the roads were made from broken rocks and were covered over with a light-color hard-wearing layer. These roads are perfectly straight, as if laid out with a ruler, and the important questions remain of how the Mayans were able to determine direction during the construction of these roads and what equipment and tools they used. The evolutionist mentality cannot provide rational and logical answers. Because we are dealing with a marvel of engineering, hundreds of kilometers long, it is crystal-clear that these roads are the product of detailed calculations and measurements and the use of the necessary materials and tools.

11-10

Movie of "Human" Ataturk Stirs Emotions in Turkey

November 10, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ibon Villelabeitia

Ottoman turkey2
Ottoman Empire Turkey today

ANKARA (Reuters Life!) – A new film that portrays Turkey’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as a lonely, hard-drinking man beset by doubts has whipped up emotions in a country still grappling with his legacy 70 years after his death.

Ataturk, a former soldier, founded modern Turkey as a secularist republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

Portraits of a stern-looking Ataturk adorn the walls of government offices, schools, shops and living rooms across the sprawling nation, testament to a man who has achieved the status of a demi-god among most Turks.

"Mustafa," a documentary that chronicles Ataturk’s life from childhood to his death on November 10, 1938, presents an intimate and flawed Ataturk rarely seen before, angering hardline secularists who have called for a boycott and say the film is an enemy plot to humiliate "Turkishness."

The film, which has drawn large crowds, has fed into a climate of soul searching in Turkey, where democratic reforms, social changes and an impassioned debate over secularism is shaking the pillars of the autocratic state left by Ataturk.

"This documentary is the product of an effort to humiliate Ataturk in the eyes of Turkish people," wrote columnist Yigit Bulut in the secularist Vatan newspaper.

"Do not watch it, prevent people from watching it and most importantly keep your children away from it to avoid planting seeds of Ataturk humiliation in their subconscious," he said.

On Monday, at 9.05 a.m., factory sirens wailed, traffic halted and school children stood to attention, a ritual Turks have followed for 70 years to mark the moment of his death.

"I wanted to show a more human Ataturk than the Ataturk they teach us about at school and in the military service," respected director Can Dundar said in an interview.

"Ataturk has been turned into a dogma or a statue by some of his supporters, but I wanted to show a more real Ataturk — a man who fought difficulties, loved women, who made mistakes, who was sometimes scared and achieved things," Dundar said.

Although the film contains no revelations about his life — thousands of books are published every year on Ataturk — "Mustafa" is the first film that emphasizes the private side of the deified leader over his military and nation-building feats.

Dundar shows him writing love letters during the battle of Gallipoli, where Turkish troops fought foreign occupiers.

Blending archive pictures, black and white footage and re-enactments, he is also seen dancing, drinking raki, wandering his palaces in lonely despair and becoming more withdrawn as he is overtaken by age and illness.

He died of cirrhosis of the liver in Istanbul, aged 58.

DOWN FROM A PEDESTAL

"Mustafa" has spawned extensive commentary in newspapers and on television since it opened two weeks ago. Nearly half a million movie-goers saw it in its first five days.

One Turkish newspaper said the film, with a 1-million-euro budget, had "brought Ataturk down from his pedestal."

"I found it interesting to learn more about who Ataturk was as a human being," said Gorkem Dagci, a 22-year-old engineering student. "He was not flawless, he was like the rest of us."

"Kemalists," who see themselves as true guardians of Ataturk’s legacy and have built a personality cult around him, say the film is an insult to Turkey’s national hero.

Nationalists are furious that the boy who plays Ataturk as a child is Greek. Ataturk was born in Thessaloniki (in today’s Greece) and Dundar used local children while shooting on location.

Turkcell, Turkey’s main mobile phone provider, pulled out of a sponsorship deal for fear of irritating subscribers.

After wresting Turkey’s independence from foreign armies after World War One, Ataturk set about building a country based on Western secular values. When surnames were introduced in Turkey, Mustafa Kemal was given the name Ataturk, meaning "Father of the Turks."

He introduced the Latin alphabet, gave women the right to vote, modernized the education system and removed religion from public life. But he also created an authoritarian state and left the army as guardian of order. Under the military constitution drafted in 1982, it is a crime to insult Ataturk.

Today, democratic reforms aimed at European Union membership are straining notions such as secularism, nationalism and a centralized state. The secularist old guard of generals, judges and bureaucrats is losing its grip on society as a rising and more religious-minded middle class moves into positions of power.

Battles between the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party and the secularist establishment over the use of the headscarf have revived the debate over Islam and secularism in modern Turkey.

Critics say Kemalists have turned Ataturk’s legacy into a dogma to defend the status quo. Many of his diaries and letters believed to touch on the issue of Islam and Kurdish nationalism are kept out of public view in military archives.

"The foundations of the republic are being discussed and the secularist establishment feels uneasy," author Hugh Pope said. "The debate around this film is a reflection of that but also of a maturing society that can discuss these things openly."

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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The Hummus War

October 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

081008_hummus

The inconspicuous chickpea, while puny in size, is causing a major war of words between Israel and Lebanon. Both countries lay claim to inventing the savory dip that has become a worldwide hit thanks to the tasty travels of visitors to the Middle East which has caused a dramatic demand for Hummus in North America as well as other regions like Japan.

So what’s all the fuss about? Apparently, Israel has been laying claim to such Lebanese national dishes as Hummus, Falafel, Baba Ghannoui and Tabbouleh, which have been adorning the dinner tables of Lebanese families for centuries. The Director, Fadi Abboud, of the Lebanese Industrialists Society is launching a lawsuit against Israel for infringement across food copyright laws. “It is not enough they (Israelis) are stealing our land. They are also stealing our civilization and our cuisine,” said Abboud in a recent interview. The case will be mirrored after the successful feta cheese copyright dispute, where the European Parliament declared Greece as the sole country with rights to brand the salty dairy product as originating from the Greek culture, which includes a mandate that says any cheese that bears the name ‘feta’ must be produced with either sheep or goat’s milk.

This culinary war is not merely about bragging rights but rather millions of dollars in export revenues that are at stake. In the USA alone, the domestic market for store-brand hummus has grown by 78% this year alone. Hummus sales in America are valued at approximately $250 million dollars for this fiscal year and that figure is set to skyrocket as the demand for hummus continues it upwards spiral. The global market for Hummus is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

The reason for the popularity of hummus is that it really is the perfect food. It’s smooth, goes down easy and digests well especially since it does not cause the ‘gassy’ after effects that most bean-based foods do. Hummus is also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, healthy nutrients like iron and manganese, and is an excellent source of fiber. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey has even listed Hummus as one of the best foods for weight loss in her ‘O’ magazine citing that the creamy dip is filling and nutritious enough to snack on a few times a week.

Only time will tell who will win the rights to hummus as it remains to be seen just exactly where Lebanon will file it’s lawsuit given that it is officially at war with Israel. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the Palestinians also lay claim to being the originators of Hummus, however they have stayed out of the fray for the time being. If the case ever does appear in court, it’s likely another hummus contender may step in the ring. However, while their busy duking it out in court, anyone with a blender can whip up their own Hummus at home. Just visit www.allrecipes.com and search the word ‘Hummus’. Happy dipping!

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