Saturday, June 30, 2012

I Will Not Be Silent

Some might think I’m taking the easy way out this week by posting a story written by Pantelis Houlakis and Yiannis Souliotis that recently appeared in eKathimerini, Greece’s equivalent of The New York Times.  Trust me, I’m not.  Their story focuses on the marked increase of organized, vigilante violence against immigrants to Greece.  Yes, my new book, Target: Tinos, has a twist on that issue at the core of its plot but that is a work of fiction, and what these journalists describe is as real as it gets…something no tourist sensitive country wants to see publicized.  But every day journalists across Greece are reporting more of the same. Their courage is to be applauded by all civilized people, the conduct they report abhorred.

Some say this violence against immigrants is no different from what is happening elsewhere in Europe, it is not unique to Greece.  Others say the flood of immigrants into Greece is directly responsible for the increased level of robberies and other violent crime in their communities and they must protect themselves because their government and police cannot or will not. 

Both may be true—likely are—but neither justifies what is happening in the cradle of democracy as described in this story: 

Violence against Migrants in Greece intensifies.

Brutal attacks against migrants in Greece are becoming almost a daily occurrence, with violent mobs acting almost unhindered as police have failed to make any significant arrests.

As well as Attica
[the region of Greece that includes Athens], where numerous such assaults have been recorded in the past month or so, there have also been reports of similar attacks on the island of Crete, where two extremely violent incidents were carried out in as many days this week.

In the early hours of Monday, a group of unidentified assailants jumped a 25-year-old homeless Egyptian man who had found temporary shelter at Talo Square in Hania’s Nea Hora district. They beat him with metal bars, causing extensive injuries all over his body. The victim was taken to Hania Hospital, where he had to have lifesaving surgery which included the removal of a kidney.

In the early hours of the previous day, a group of four men attacked two Algerian migrants in their mid-20s who were sleeping near the Nea Hora beach. The assailants used iron bars, wooden bats and knives in the assault, and robbed the pair of their mobile phones and money. Hania Hospital treated them for extensive head injuries and stab wounds.

Back in Attica, late on Sunday night, a gang of young men assaulted a Pakistani migrant at the Attiki metro station, in an incident that was recorded by a bystander on a mobile phone camera. Police arrested 25 people in connection with the attack and confirmed that several were members of the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) party, which was elected into Parliament on Sunday with 6.9 percent of the vote on an anti-migrant platform. When the victim of the Attiki station assault failed to positively identify his attackers, all 25 suspects were released from custody.

Golden Dawn political party's flag and logo
These attacks did not come out of the blue, as such incidents have been steadily increasing recently in frequency, causing rising concern among the majority of Greeks.

The first of this recent spate came on the night of May 28, when a Greek man, who remains at large, stabbed a Pakistani national at the Aghios Nikolaos electric railway (ISAP) station.

A day later, a gang brutally beat a Bangladeshi man, also at Aghios Nikolaos station. Witnesses of both attacks said they believed the attackers to be supporters of Golden Dawn, though police investigations could not confirm this.

On the evening of June 1, several Golden Dawn supporters were arrested after attacking a number of migrants they spotted while on a motorcycle rally through the capital -- in central Athens, as well as on Iera Odos and Pireos streets, south of the center. Among those taken into custody was the daughter of Golden Dawn’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos.

Again, no one was arrested.

On June 12, an Egyptian man, who was working legally as a fisherman, was viciously beaten during a mob attack on the home he shared with another three compatriots in Perama, outside Piraeus, in the middle of the night. He told police that at least one of the assailants was wearing a T-shirt with the Golden Dawn logo on it. Five men and one woman were arrested after the victim identified them as being among his attackers. They testified before a Piraeus prosecutor last week and were conditionally released.

In Hania, however, local groups are trying to get a handle on the situation and responded to the latest assaults with the creation of the Anti-Fascist Initiative, holding an open meeting at the town’s soup kitchen in order to discuss the problem and ways of dealing with it.

Representatives of local groups condemned the attacks and called for immediate police action so that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

According to Yiannis Tsoukatos, a member of the Steki Metanaston migrant support center and rights group, the attacks are most likely racially motivated.

“They were carried out by a gang that most probably has a racial motivation,” Tsoukatos said. “These immigrants live within our society and they have never harmed anyone. Unfortunately, they had no work and were forced to sleep outdoors,” he added of the three recent victims, who were known by the local community as quiet people who could often be seen lining up for food at the soup kitchen.

Late on Tuesday, the Hania branch of the Steki Metanaston released a statement saying: “Society as a whole needs to stand united and strong against such phenomena of extreme racism. We need to create a protective net around all people against these fascist gangs. This is not just about the migrants or those who help and support them, but about society as a whole because migrants are the fascists’ first target because they are the weakest target. Then it will be everyone else.”

Meanwhile, two anti-racism rallies have been organized in Nea Hora next week, at 7 p.m. on Monday and Thursday, to condemn the attacks.

According to regional councilor Serafeim Rizos, “the murderous attacks of the past few days against economic migrants must be condemned by the whole of society, because it is the business of everyone to stop the spread of such phenomena.”

Hania bar representative Nikos Tzaras said on Wednesday that the attacks are a breach of the civil code and have no ideological content. They are committed, he said, “by people who have no regard for human life and who have no connection to society. The police must investigate these crimes and society must consider the magnitude of the problem.”

There are people of good will clamoring for their government to act—to protect citizens and immigrants alike.  If their leaders do not listen things will only get worse.  And quickly.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Will the meek inherit the earth?

I’m not quite sure where to start this blog.  As usual I have several things in my mind, several ideas I want to write about, not as cleanly related as I would like, but rather knotted like old spaghetti.
So perhaps, as the famous king gravely said, I should start at the beginning and go on to the end.  Then stop.
I’ve always wondered about the well known Biblical quotation “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5).  It was the word “meek” that puzzled me.  How could meek people inherit the earth?  It didn’t make sense.  So I dug around a bit and found something that helped me.  Apparently the ancient Greeks used the word – in Greek, of course – to describe a wild horse that had been tamed to accept a bridle.  So in the quotation above, meek has a different meaning to how we use it today.  It didn’t mean someone who was timid or retiring or subservient.  It referred to people who had brought their strength under control or, in the religious sense, people who had focused their efforts in the service of God. 
In my last blog a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about two people who had died.  The one, who had just passed away, Prof. Phillip Tobias, was a world authority in paleo-anthropology.  The other, who died nearly 200 years earlier, Saartjie Baartman, a Bushman, was taken from South Africa and exhibited as a freak in England and France.  The link between them was that Tobias was instrumental in bringing Saartman’s remains back to South Africa, where she now is a symbol for the women of South Africa.
Now I have to report a third death – that of another Bushman, Dawid Kruiper, who passed away last week in his mid 70’s.  He was the leader of one of three main Bushman groups in Southern Africa, called the Khomani San (San being another word for Bushman – if you want to know the differences between Khoi, San, Basarwa, and Bushman – all of which refer to the same peoples, read the author’s note in DEATH OF THE MANTIS).
He became famous politically because in 1994 he addressed a United Nations working group concerning the rights of indigenous peoples.  For those of you who saw the remarkable movie, THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, he played the role of a Bushman tracker.
In many ways, he was lucky to have had a life at all.  His grandmother was wounded in one of the last recorded Bushman hunts – yes, as hard as it is to believe, Europeans sometimes hunted Bushmen rather than eland or impala or lions.  She was pregnant with Dawid’s father at the time.  Because his father survived the massacre, he was given the name Regopstaan – Stand Upright, because he rose up when others didn’t.  Then in 1936, Regopstaan’s wife gave birth to Dawid.
Dawid’s family lived in traditional Bushman style as hunters and gatherers, but also sold their skills as hunters and trackers to farmers who wanted to attract a tourist trade.  After a number of unsatisfactory and unsatisfying years, Dawid decided to put his efforts into getting land set aside for the remaining Bushman.  Initially he lodged a claim in 1996 – in the new South Africa – for his clan, which numbered about 200.  He asked for part of his ancestral land in the Kalahari Desert to be given back.  Hundreds of other Bushman heard of his efforts and wanted to be included in the effort.  The Department of Land Affairs thought that having as many people involved in the claim as possible would help the effort.  It persuaded Dawid to accept them as part of his clan.
“We will not say no to our San brothers,” he said.  “We would like to allow them on the bus.”
In 1999, 40,000 hectares (about 100,000 acres) of land with little or no water were set aside.  Needless to say, the new government in South Africa made a great deal of this episode, trumpeting its responsibility and compassion.
Of course, the story doesn’t have a happy ending.  The government, once the trumpets had stopped sounding, failed to follow up on its obligations.  The little infrastructure that had existed disappeared or deteriorated, and whatever game that lived on the property also disappeared, probably through poaching or thirst.  Furthermore, like what has happened in so many similar places, there was dissent among the Bushmen.  Dawid and his followers wanted to live in the traditional hunter/gatherer way. 
In an interview, he once said:
Listen right now, while I am talking, to the sound of that weaver bird. As the leader of the San people, I do not want to be living like a millionaire. I do not want that life, it is not me. I just want to live the natural way. I am most comfortable like that, like that weaver bird.
Even if his nest falls down or is burned out by lightning, it is easy for him to gather grass and rebuild his house. I can move anywhere, anytime. I can collect my home, my grass, and rebuild my home. And that is the way I would like to be. On the other hand, like that bird, if I can just have freedom and rights, I would be happy.
Others, however, wanted to enjoy the comforts of a more modern lifestyle.  To quote Chris Barron, who wrote Dawid’s obituary in the South African Sunday Times, “(The outsiders) outmanœuvred him in meetings and were soon steering the bus he had invited them to board.”
He continued to try and make the government meet its obligations, but was largely unsuccessful. 

He was also a well known traditional healer, whose knowledge of the healing attributes of indigenous flora was widely known.  He managed to make some money by selling potions and remedies to people across South Africa.  He was also the inspiration for a profit-sharing agreement with the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, which developed an appetite suppressant drug from the hoodia cactus – something that the Bushman had been using for tens of thousands of years.  He had long argued that the specialized knowledge of the Bushmen should not be taken without compensation.
See how well hoodia works!
I tried to find a picture of me next to the pool, but ...

Dawid was a remarkable man – meek in the original sense of the word.  A man who focused his energies to try and inherit back that part of the earth that had been stolen from his people.  He succeeded at one level, and his clan received part of what had been taken, but what he was given was largely uninhabitable.  In many ways it is easy to say his energy and focus ended in little gain for the Bushmen.  On the other hand, he helped make the plight of the Bushmen visible on an international stage and never ceased arguing that the Bushman approach - that the earth belongs to all - was better than the western concept of people owning parts of the earth.   

 Hamba kahle, Dawid.  Rest in peace.  I will look for you amongst your ancestors in the night sky.
Stan – Thursday
PPS.  In researching hoodia for this blog, I came across a weird website selling hoodia-based pills (  It’s worth a quick look.  Its English is atrocious and one paragraph reminds me of how we once learnt that Columbus discovered America: “Hoodia was discovered relatively not long ago. Bushmen living in Kalahari Desert (a tribe of hunters with rich culture and history) have been using it for a long time. They have been inhabiting Africa fore more than 100000 years.
PPPS.  I am getting tired and bored of my prolonged seriousness in blogs.  Will amend my ways!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sun, sun, rain, sun

Today it rained here in the Reykjavik area for the first time in about three weeks. It might have rained once at night during this period but other than that the days have all been warm and sunny, as have the nights since we are now in 24 hr day mode. A three week dry spell might be something people in drier areas of the world are used to but here it is almost like a foreboding for the apocalypse.

We have had to water our lawns and plants, which is a recent development and today I left a meeting where one of the attendees was bewildered as he had arrived in a shirt and it had started pouring down in the meantime. He had unluckily walked instead of doing the typical Icelandic thing which is to drive, no matter how short the distance. Preferably in a modified off road truck. It can get so bad that if you need something from the trunk of your car you try and reverse to reach it. This does not work of course.

Plants and trees are not our thing here in the north. No one really knows what the trees are called, except for the few botanists and biologist that have furthered their education and taken a PhD. The rest of us call trees with needles Christmas trees and the rest are leaf trees. And we would recognise a palm tree although we have none at all. Iceland is pretty much a no tree zone. But this lack of tree familiarity dates far back, we have a very old saying that goes: The apple seldom falls far from the oak. Which makes no sense seeing that apples don’t grow on oaks. Well maybe in the old days.

The smell following a rainstorm is wonderful. Every speck of dust has been grounded and the freshness of the crisp clean air is something one wonders why perfume makers don’t try to tap into. Why would anybody want to smell like a cloying rose when you can smell like sweet rain?

And now it has stopped raining and the air outside beckons. My dogs are also beckoning but not as elegantly. I actually feel like jogging for the first time in my life. This is possibly an exaggeration as this has once before happened to me. And I managed to sit it out. I am of a generation that grew up at a time where if you saw a grownup running this person was either being chased by someone very angry and stronger that the one running, or it was a lunatic.  But things have certainly changed; everyone is running all over the place – in between driving. The running is for a work-out involving going from A to A, while the driving is for everything else involving moving, but from A to B.  

I do not get the clothing used for jogging here and probably in other, warmer places of the world during winter. It involved pants that are very tight to cut the air resistance, much like body-paint really. Firstly, body paint is not a good look if you are a woman whose name is not Giselle, or if you are a man of any name. And secondly the point is working out so why would you want to make it easier but cutting down the air resistance. If you jog as a human billboard you need only run about half of what you do wearing the body paint pants. And that means you get back home sooner and can go out for a drive.

But the guy in the photo above is wearing more traditional running attire, i.e. shorts, although his legs are not what one usually associates with athletics. This man is Oscar Pistorius from South Africa, the first amputee ever to compete in the world series in track and field. His legs are an Icelandic invention, produced by a local company named Össur, which I can say very proudly is global leader in orthopaedics.
This being said, the air smells so nice I am still tempted to try running.

There is lunacy in the air tonight.   

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Paris - a bookstore for sale

My friend Penelope on the right has put her wonderful English language bookstore in the Marais on the market - dream location on rue Saint Paul and a community of readers who want to keep a bookstore in that location. Anyone interested? 
Night on Canal Saint Martin Wedding or Baptism 'callison' favors an afternoon view of Place des Vosges

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, June 25, 2012

Daniel K. Ludwig and the Jari Project

Daniel K. Ludwig was the very model of a self-made man.
He left school after the eighth grade and worked in shipping-related jobs before striking out on his own to ship molasses around the Great Lakes. He was then nineteen.
Before he was done (he died in 1992 at the age of 95) he was the sole owner of National Bulk Carriers, one of the largest shipping companies in the United States.

He pioneered the construction of supertankers. He expanded into banking, cattle ranching, real estate, mining and insurance. He founded a chain of luxury hotels in Mexico, Bermuda and the Bahamas, had operations in the Americas, Africa, Australia and the Middle East and was, at one point, the richest man in America, #1 on the Forbes 400 list when it was first published in 1982. 
He was a philanthropist, too, who donated more than one billion dollars of his fortune researching cures for cancer.
But he maintained a low profile, stopped talking to the press in the 1950’s and few Americans ever heard of him.
Not so in Brazil. Here Ludwig is famous, his name inextricably linked to one of the most ambitious industrial projects ever undertaken in the history of man. And even more remarkable for where it was undertaken: in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest.
The Jari Project began in 1967, when Ludwig made the biggest land purchase ever registered to a private individual. It was  larger than the American State of Connecticut, and spread out, about equally, on either side of the Jari River, the stream that separates the current-day States of Pará and Amapá.

Back then, though, it was all federal land – and it was from the Brazilian Federal Government that Ludwig bought it.
Initially, Ludwig’s plan was to exploit his new acquisition by ranching and farming, but he soon expanded it to include mining and the manufacture of cellulose, for which he intended to plant fast-growing trees, pulping and processing them right there in situ.
For that he had to construct two factories, one for manufacturing the product and one to generate electricity.
And he had to undertake a vast project to develop the infrastructure.

The factories were built in Japan, and they were designed to float, so they could be towed, by sea and river, to their final destinations – a distance of over twenty five thousand kilometers.

The infrastructure included a railroad, a port, more than nine thousand kilometers of roads, and a town (Monte Dourado on the map above). The latter occupied an area of sixteen square kilometers and included housing, schools, clubs, shops, a police station, a hospital and an airport.
It took more than a decade to do it all. In the process, Ludwig’s town grew to more than thirty-thousand people.

But then the authorities in Brasilia began to fear, as they put it, loss of sovereignty.
The truth of the matter was that Ludwig, a foreigner, had simply become too powerful for the politicians to stomach.

So they played the nationalist card. (The title, above, which appeared on the cover of a magazine of the time, reads, The American Invasion.)
Ludwig, frustrated and annoyed, abandoned the project in 1982. He estimated that he’d sunk, in the dollars of those days, almost one point two billion into it.
He got some back, but only a small part. After all, who could afford to buy it?
Finally, in 2000, the factories were bought by the Orsa Group ( ) a company dedicated to sustainable development. And now, Ludwig’s factory is profitably producing vast quantities of cellulose – and doing it in a way that enabled them, in 2004, to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. 
( ).

A happy end to a somewhat unhappy story - and all thanks to the vision of an American entrepreneur.
Leighton - Monday

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Starts and Stars

We're officially underway on the release of The Fear Artist.

How do I know?  Well, for one thing, I'm on an Internet connection that's slower than the radioactive half-life of lead, at the Anaheim Convention Center, where the American Library Association is holding its annual convention.  

The wonderful people at Soho arranged for me to be here, doing a presentation about the book onstage at the rear of the hall and then (theoretically) signing cartons full of advance reading copies for thousands of adoring fans. I say "theoretically" because the thousands of fans turned out to be dozens (I am NOT complaining) and, out of the 20-30 cartons of books Soho sent to the convention hall, only three went missing, and guess whose books were in them.

Ever optimistic, I entertained a brief vision of signing the slender wrists and smooth shoulders of, umm, comely lasses, but the reality is (as reality so often is) somewhat more prosaic.  Instead of an hour of Autograph Anatomy, I'll be sittting with an excitingly decorated clipboard and promising signed books to anyone foolhardy enough to give me a name and address.  Then on some future leisurely afternoon I'll sign all those books and mail them.  Still, the idea that I'll be mailing out my signature to people who actually want it is attention-getting.

The "stars" part of the headline is a bit cheerier.  The book has now been reviewed by all four of the primary publishing trade papers, and it got starred reviews--the highest accolade--in three of them, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal.  This is a first for me, three stars.  The fourth trade, Smirkus--I mean, Kirkus--gave it a good review, refreshingly free of the slivers of glass they slip into so many of their pieces, but they sat on the star, which I hope had very sharp points.  So I'm a three-star general rather than a four-star, but once again, I'm not complaining.  My editor, Juliet Grames, keeps saying, "So many stars."

In July and August I'll be on a book ramble, popping up in (so far) Phoenix, Austin, Houston, San Diego, and various locations in Southern California, including Rolling Hills, Redondo Beach, and Thousand Oaks.  I might also go to Seattle and Portland if they'll have me.  As soon as I have all the dates locked down, I'll share them.

Now I'm working on the next book, and it doesn't seem to know what a big deal I am.  It's treating me like a duffer, like someone who's never filled out a form, much less written a whole book, and a three-star book at that. And as always, this feels like a brand-new predicament and one I'll never be able to solve.

So what else is new?

Tim -- Sundays

A Secret Love Affair of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I guess it’s only natural that our deepest longings for sweetly remembered innocent moments come amid the most unsettled current times.  Greeks are no exception to that phenomenon and my good friend and cataloguer of all photographs Mykonian, Dimitris Koutsoukos, has just the antidote for troubled times.

Fifty-one years and two weeks ago today (June 10, 1961 to be precise), America’s first lady, Jackie Kennedy, set foot on Mykonos for the very first time.

She’d escaped the whirlwind publicity of her visits to London and Rome for a promised not harried visit to Greece, courtesy of the invitation of Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamalis and the hospitality of the Nomikos Greek ship-owning family.

Here are photographs by Life Magazine photographer James Burke documenting Jackie Kennedy’s arrival in Mykonos harbor off the yacht Northwind and her first steps of what would prove to be many on the island.  They also record Jackie’s first meeting with one who would prove to be a love of her life. I’m talking about Petros the Pelican, and when he passed away twenty-five years later it was the then Jackie O who gifted a new pelican, Irini, to the island.  But that’s a story for another time.