Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Hurricane Ophelia heads toward Ireland

Hurricane season still has 45 days left but it’s already one of the most terrible on record. Ophelia, is being the 10th consecutive hurricane developed in the last 10 weeks in a row breaking the previous record of 9. The last time this happened was way back in 1893.

Now a category 3 hurricane, Ophelia marches towards Ireland and British Isles (image by NOAA). It is more likely to evolve into an extratropical cyclone as it passes over cooler North Atlantic water. But even as a storm, strong winds that could exceed 80mph (130km/h) and heavy rain are expected to blow into the southwest parts of Ireland and west parts of the United Kingdom on Monday, 16 October.

Stay safe!

 

Σεξουαλική παρενόχληση στο χώρο εργασίας

H υπόθεση του Ηarvey Weinstein ξαναέφερε στην επιφάνεια το ζήτημα της παρενόχλησης στο χώρο της εργασίας.

Παρά την αυξανόμενη συνειδητοποίηση του προβλήματος, η παρενόχληση και ο εκφοβισμός παραμένουν σημαντικά ζητήματα στο χώρο εργασίας. Η σεξουαλική παρενόχληση στην εργασία μπορεί να πάρει πολλές μορφές, από ακατάλληλα και προσβλητικά σχόλια και αστεία, σε ανεπιθύμητη επαφή, αγκάλιασμα ή φιλιά και αιτήματα για σεξουαλικές χάρες.

Σύμφωνα με μια έρευνα του βρετανικού σωματείου εργαζομένων TUC, το 2016, από τις 1500 γυναίκες που ερωτήθηκαν, το 52% ανέφερe πρόβλημα παρενόχλησης. Επίσης διαπίστωσε ότι ένα τρίτο είχε υποστεί ανεπιθύμητα αστεία και ένα τέταρτο ανεπιθύμητο άγγιγμα.

9 στις 10 περιπτώσεις ο δράστης ήταν άνδρας. Σχεδόν μία στις πέντε γυναίκες (17%) δήλωσε ότι ήταν ο άμεσος προϊστάμενος τους ή κάποιος με άμεση δικαιοδοσία πάνω τους.

Περίπου το 79% των γυναικών που δήλωσαν ότι υπήρξαν θύματα σεξουαλικής παρενόχλησης δεν ενημέρωσαν τον εργοδότη τους. Οι κυριότεροι λόγοι που αναφέρθηκαν ήταν κυρίως ο φόβος ότι η αναφορά θα επηρέαζε 1) τις σχέσεις τους στην εργασία (28%), 2) τις προοπτικές σταδιοδρομίας τους (15%).

Η μόνη λύση να αντιμετωπιστεί το φαινόμενο είναι να σταματήσουμε να φοβόμαστε. Μην διστάσετε να πείτε στο άτομο που σας παρενοχλεί ότι η συμπεριφορά του είναι απαράδεκτη και να σταματήσει αμέσως. 9 στις 10 φορές θα σταματήσει. Αν ανήκει στο 1% μην διστάσετε να τον καταγγείλετε.

“Forgetting is as integral to memory as death is to life.” – The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine

Jacob, an immigrant gay poet of Arabic origin, lives in San Francisco.  Born Ya’qub in Yemen, his mother was a prostitute in an Egyptian brothel and his father a wealthy entrepreneur from Lebanon. He lived in Cairo and Beirut, where his Lebanese father consigned him to an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. He later moved to San Francisco, where he has watched his six friends die during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. All that left to him are scars and memories, and an unbearable sense of loss. Thirty years later, he is still grieving the deaths of his friends, and talks to his dead lover, Doc.

I lie on my side, head sunk in the pillow, waiting for first light, for the lift of the curtain, waiting for you, how your right hand used to entwine with my left in the universal slow dance, how our bodies fit in bed, yet you didn’t show up.

The Angel of History is framed around the single night Jacob spends in the waiting room of a mental health facility somewhere in San Francisco. Mostly, it takes place in his head. Depressed and paralysed by grief, Jacob mixes his memories with his deepest desires and feelings. He feels that he has lost the capacity to be in control or function in the everyday world. He feels that his life in no longer worth living.

It is then that the Angel of History makes his appearance. It is Satan, Iblis in Arabic. He wants to bring Jacob back in life by urging him to remember. He battles with Death who wants Jacob to forget. The angel of remembering an the master of Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.

“Death can ruin everything with a single touch. Oblivion is his trade,” says Saint Catherine of Alexandria

It is during that night of waiting that the painful past rose vividly before Jacob. Remembrance would be his salvation. But at what cost?

The Angel of History is a story of one life. A journey through love and sex, religion and war, death and loss and the need to remember.  As in Walter Benjamin’s essay with the same title, The Angel of History, is about how one looks back in order to live again.

His face is turned toward the past.  Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet.  The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.  But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.  The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Illuminations, 257-58)

Fourteen saints of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern origin come to help Jacob. Yet their message is unclear and their power is limited. They are caught between hope and catastrophe. Present but transient, hilarious at time.

Rabih Alameddine has written a novel unlike any other. This is not a book about identity politics, although it can be seen as political. It is a book about a single person that fights his own demons and saints. It is not an easy read. It is beautiful and moving. At the same time, it is also dirty and horrified. Highly recommended.


*Featured image: A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus”.

A Road Trip to Greece: From Patras and Galaxidi to Kallidromo and Lichadonisia

A friend’s wedding in Partas, Greece’s third-largest city, brought us back to Greece at the late August. Still summer, sunny and hot, the plan was to share with our friends their wedding day joy and happiness, and then to take a short road trip while enjoying the beach and sun. We left Athens early in the morning and instead of taking of the fast motorway, we chose the old national road. It is longer than the motorway but it runs along the coastline through small seaside towns and picturesque villages. It is therefore, more interesting. That is, after you pass through Aspropyrgos and Elefsina. The region around these two cities, about 20 km from Athens, is one of the biggest industrial zones in Greece, home to petroleum refineries, quarries and steelwork plants.

Ancient Corinth

 

 

Our first break was in the Ancient Corinth, an important city-state during the Hellenistic and Roman times. The most remarkable monuments in the archaeological site which lays on the northern foothills of the Acrocorinth hill, are the temple of Apollo and the Ancient Agora. It certainly worth a visit.

Derveni

Derveni

Our next break was in the seaside village of Derveni about 140 kilometres from Athens. Derveni in the Turkish language means narrow passage and indeed the village is located in a narrow strip of land between the mountain and the Corinthian Gulf.  In the interwar period, Derveni was a prosperous town and the central station of Greece for the transhipment of goods abroad by trains and boats to Itea. The visitors can still admire the view of traditional houses built of stone, wood and red tiles.

 

Patras

We arrived at the outskirts of Patras, late in the afternoon. Patras is a busy, chaotic city. Because of its position and its port, it was called Greece’s Gate to the West. The heart of the city is the enormous central square, Plateia Georgiou, named after King George I of Greece. The square was built under the Ioannis Kapodistrias government as a part of the 1829 plan to rebuild the devastated centre of Patras after the Greek War of Independence.  The low town and the square was designed by Stamatis Voulgaris, one of the first architects of modern Greece, in the form of a European city, and reflected the commercial and intellectual life of Patras.

We chose to stay in Psathopirgos, a small, quiet village with a long beach and clean waters, located just 8 kilometres outside Patras, facing the amazing Rion-Antirion bridge, one of the longest cable stayed deck bridges of the world that connects Peloponissos with Sterea Ellada.

Axaia Clauss winery

You cannot leave Patras without visiting the oldest winery in Greece.  Around 1860, the Bavarian Gustav Clauss purchased 60 acres of land in the area of Riganokampos just outside Patras. Gustav’s initial interest was in blackcurrants, but he also planted a few black vines, indigenous in North Peloponnese, as a hobby. The local history says that Gustav fall in love with a beautiful young lady, with dark (mavro in Greek) eyes and hair. Her name was Dafni. Unfortunately, Dafni died very young and when the inconsolable Gustav produced his first sweet, fortified wine, he named it Mavrodafne (Mavro and Dapfne). The winery’s beautiful old stone buildings provide a lovely setting and a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside and the city of Patras.

Galaxidi

We preferred to take the ferry to cross the narrow stretch of sea between Pelopponesos and Sterea Ellada. Not only because the toll fare in Rio-Antirio bridge is expensive (€13.20), but it was also a good opportunity to enjoy the fantastic view of the bridge from below. The ferry costs only € 6.50 and it takes about 35 minutes to do the crossing.

Our next stop was Galaxidi, a historical small sea-side town, and one of my favourite little corners in the world. Galaxidi, with its beautiful stone houses, and its small two harbours, is one of the prettiest sea side towns in the mainland Greece. In the past few years, and due to its proximity to Athens, Galaxidi has become a popular weekend destination, but it is still a tranquil place, even during the summer months. Walking around in the narrow cobblestone streets you get the impression that time ceased at the time of its prosperous period, between 1830 and 1910, when Galaxidi was a major maritime power.

A Day in Delphi

Tell ye the King: the carven hall is fallen in decay;
Apollo hath no chapel left, no prophesying bay,
No talking spring. the stream is dry and had so much to say

Delphi is about one and half hours away from Galaxidi.  It was thought to be the centre of the world, the site of the omphalos, the ‘navel of the world’. According to the legend, when Apollo slew the monstrous dragon-serpent Python, his body fell into a fissure at the centre of Delphi. The Oracle of Delphi – the priestess Pythia – sat over the fissure and the fumes that arose from the decomposing body of the Python brought her into a trance-like state. Recently, the scientists have learned that the fumes were actually ethylene, a gas with hallucinogenic effects, coming from a chasm in the intersection of two major fault lines. The temple of Delphi lies exactly on the intersection of these two fault lines and the nearby rift of the Gulf of Corinth, one of the most geologically active sites on Earth.

The pantheon of gods and goddesses had a powerful presence in the lives of people.  The Greeks honoured and feared them. The magnificent temples represented their desire to pleased them. Delphi was the chosen place of Apollo.

The archaeological site is situated in a magnificent natural setting between two rocks in the Mt. Parnassus. The view from the theatre down the mountainside is truly spectacular.

Mt Kallidromo – Molos – Lichadonisia

From Mt Panassus in Phokis we drove to Mt Kallidromo in southeastern Phthiotis. Kallidromo is beautiful and interesting mountain with particular aesthetic values and ecologically sensitive areas. We crossed the narrow mountain pass of Kallidromo, between the villages of Modi and Reggini and we found ourselves on the other side of the mountain, at the Maliakos Bay.

We spend a couple of days in Molos (disclosure: I was born there), a village between the mountain of Kallidromo and Maliakos bay, exploring the surrounding small villages, the beaches, and the thermal springs of Thermopylae, known for the treatment of rheumatic conditions.

If you ever find yourselves in the area do not neglect to visit the Folklore Museum of Molos, housed in the old elementary school (also my school when I was young). It is a small treasure with material that has been gathered with the constant effort of the Cultural & Folklore Society and the kind contribution of the citizens and families of the village and of the wider region.

Our last destination, before we return to Athens, took us to Lichadonisia, a cluster of seven volcanic islets in Maliakos bay. Lichadonisia, according to the legend, took their name from Lichas, the friend and servant of Hercules.

Deianeira, the wife of Hercules, was very jealous of him. One day while she was walking alone across the river, the centaur Nessos, attacked her sexually. When she shouted for protection, Hercules shot a poisoning arrow into the Centaur’s chest from across the river. While he was dying, he told Deianeira that a robe anointed in his blood would work as a love portion for her husband. Deianeira believed him and saved some of his blood.

One day that Hercules was preparing for a trip to Cape Cenaeum, the northern cape of Euboea, Deianeira  gave him as a gift a tunic poisoned with Nessus’ blood. When Hercules wore it, it stuck on him and caused to him pain so horrible that went mad and in his anger he killed Lichas. Lichas body pieces fell around and Neptune transformed them on islets.

It is a wonderful story, but in reality Lichadonisia emerged after a big earthquake thousands of years ago. The main feature of the islets is the black rock that encloses the small sandy bays with the crystal clear waters. Nowadays, Lichadonisia are uninhabited, nevertheless until the 1970s three families lived in one of the two biggest islets, Manolia. The second biggest isle is called Strongyli. Remains of ancient settlements also found in couple of the isles. There are no hotels or other facilities in Lichadonisia; the visitors can spend the night in Kamena Vourla or in the fishing village Agios Georgios, in Euboea.

 

 

 

Superforecasting: Are you a fox or a hedgehog?

Forecasting might appear to be a game but in fact it is real. We are making forecasts every day, when we are buying a product at the supermarket, or when we decide to date someone or live with him. We are making forecasts when we make financial investments.

Forecasting is important. On a personal level because the ability to forecast may be the difference between success and failure. And despite the unwillingness of some decision-makers to examine and accept scientific evidence – think the case of parents who opt out of vaccinations for their children, or the lack of action to lower the level of greenhouse gases that are heating up the planet – as societies, we have started embracing evidence-based policies in order to deal better with contemporary challenges.

Superforecasting – The Art and Science of Prediction is a fascinated book, about lots of things I didn’t know about.  Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner tell us why forecasting is so important and crucial in our daily lives, look into what make people good forecasters, and what elevates forecasting to superforecasting.

Because of people like Tom Friedman and the rise of big data, people have started to have an interest in forecasting. But despite the interest, forecasters’ accuracy is not measured and forecasting itself is not very well analysed at all.

There is an inverse correlation between fame and accuracy, says Philip Tetlock, a psychologist who teaches at Berkeley. The more famous an expert is, the less accurate he is. Tetlock’s conclusions are based on a long-term study, the Good Judgment Project which won a massive four‑year US government‑sponsored forecasting tournament.

There is a story in the book, the fox vs hedgehog metaphor that is very interesting. The story is based on a fragment of a poem written by the Greek poet Archilochus, 2,500 years ago.  It actually says: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” ‘Πολλ’  οίδ’  αλώπηξ, εχίνος δε εν, μέγα’, for those who know ancient Greek.

The meaning of this epigramma, is  that the “hedgehogs” devote their whole life to one big issue, insist on their views, and  they are reluctant to change them even when they fall out. They are so committed to their ideology that they expect solutions to everyday problems to come through some great theory, their favourite theory, preferably.

On the contrary, the “foxes” tend to be more eclectic. They use accumulated interdisciplinary knowledge and adapt their approaches according to real circumstances, while doing their own self-criticism whenever necessary. Above all, they recognize the complexity of the world in which we live in, and rely more on observation and less on theory.

Of course, if you are a producer for a television show, you tend to go with the hedgehog. You don’t really care if she is a good or bad forecaster. What you really need is a media pundit, someone who is bold and decisive, one that can tell an interesting story …. the eurozone is going to melt down in the next two years, for example.

‘Foresight isn’t ‘a mysterious gift bestowed at birth,’ says Philip Tetlock. It is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, and of updating beliefs. Broadly speaking superforecasting demands focus, thinking that is open-minded, careful, curious, less ideological, and above all, self-critical. The most systematically and thoughtfully we go about forecast the better we do.

I really liked this book and I enjoyed learning about these things. I had a look on the website and I even made my first attempt on forecasting. I am now looking forward to see the results. Am I a fox or a hedgehog?

Norman Foster: A life in Architecture by Deyan Sudjic

I admire architecture.  Our relationship with architecture is intimate and fundamental,  it sustain and shape us. Architecture has practical purpose but a beautiful building can also be a moving aesthetic experience.  The last few decades the boundaries between art and architecture are increasingly blurred. Many, including architects, argue that the concept of architecture is a form of art, a “work of art that we can move through and live in,” said President Obama, in 2011,  during the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Architects can be artistic, they may draw inspiration from art, but they are not artists,  at least not in the traditional meaning of the word. Architecture is so much more, says  Deyan Sudjic in his book Norman Foster: A life in architecture. It is a passion, a calling, as well as a science and a business. Or, as Paul Rudolph said, “Architecture is a process of finding out what you need to know.”

The book is a biography of one of the world’s most lauded architects, “written with his full co-operation” Sudjic adds.  It tells the story of a young man in a terraced house near a railway crossing in Levenshulme in Manchester, his dreams and aspirations, as well as his progress from Manchester University to Yale and from there to Foster and Partners HQ in Battersea and to House of Lords.

It is a portrait of a man that developed radical architecture, a visionary who wanted architecture to reflect the social conditions of the new age. The book is a good introduction to Norman Forster, it explores his work, his influences, and some sensitive issues, like the expense of the Hong kong and Shanghai Bank and the wobble in the Millennium Bridge in London. There is a special mention to Buckminster Fuller. Both Bucky Fuller and Paul Rudolph, his teacher in Yale, fundamentally influenced the work and the way Foster view the world.

The book is a careful, respectful and well-written biography. There are some intimate anecdotes and insights, but it lacks a sense of excitement and leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

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